NON-RESIDENT New Zealand Ambassador Hamish Cooper has come to Israel to join his Australian colleague, James Larsen, in today's 90th anniversary commemoration and celebration of The Battle of Beersheba, in which descendants of the ANZACs who fought in that battle will reenact it.
This is 90th anniversary season. Tomorrow, November 1, the Tel Aviv-based Jabotinsky Institute will mark the 90th anniversary of the Jewish Legion and the Zion Mule Corps as well as that of the Balfour Declaration, and will host a symposium under the title "This is your task."
The speakers will be Prof. Yehuda Lapidot, Prof. Yigal Ilem and General (Res.) Doron Almog. The moderator will be Yossi Ahimeir, the director of the Jabotisnky Institute.
There will be a number of ceremonies held to mark the signing of the Balfour Declaration, the actual anniversary of which is Friday, November 2. One of the main functions, the annual Balfour Dinner held by the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association (IBCA), will take place on November 5 at the Tel Aviv Hilton.
Larsen has had his hands full with Battle of Beersheba arrangements, and with the fourth annual International Water Technologies and Environmental Control Exhibition (WATEC), which is being attended by several Australian ministers, and is also expected to attend the Balfour Dinner.
Apropos the Battle of Beersheba, Maj.-Gen. (Ret.) W. Digger James, the patron of the Australian Light Horse Association and the association's president, Phil Chalker, who will be in Beersheba today, take great pains to explain the difference between the Light Horse and the Cavalry.
"Light Horse are infantry soldiers with infantry weapons. They're unique. They don't carry sabers," says James. "The Light Horse carries the soldier into battle. He dismounts and enters the battle with his weapons, and a horse handler takes the horses and handles them."
WATEC AND the Prime Minister's Economic Conference, which have brought a huge number of dignitaries from many countries to Israel, have kept many ambassadors and other diplomats on their toes.
South African Ambassador Fumanekile Gqiba and his wife, Vuyiswa, held a reception in honor of South Africans participating in either or both conferences.
They had a lot of competition. On the same night, there were national day receptions hosted by Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan and by Czech Ambassador Michael Zantovsky.
Tan, who held his reception early in the evening, showed up in Zantovsky's garden after his own guests had gone. In fact, several such as Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, and of course members of the diplomatic community, were on both guest lists.
ALTHOUGH HE has cut down on the number of national day receptions that he attends, it was unlikely that President Shimon Peres would decline the Turkish invitation.
He has been an annual feature at Turkish receptions for years, and considering that he will be going on a state visit to Turkey just before mid-November, there was no way that he was going to miss out on this year's reception marking Turkey's 84th anniversary as a republic.
As always, he was instantly surrounded by a throng of people as soon as he set foot in the spacious garden.
Everyone wanted to shake his hand and be photographed with him - and Peres in his customary fashion, had patience for all of them. Because so many people were eager to talk to him, it was impossible to start the proceedings on time.
When they eventually did begin with the playing of the national anthems of both countries, the impression was that there are more Turks in Israel than there were in previous years, or that those who were here before have suddenly become more patriotic.
Their voices rang out loud and clear as never before. Tan began his address in halting Hebrew, but his hundreds of guests appreciated the gesture and applauded him loudly.
When he finally switched to English, he said that he hoped that he had pronounced the words correctly.
"I tried my best," he said. "I'm sure you'll excuse my mistakes."
He mentioned several times how honored he and his wife were to have Peres attend their reception, spoke of the excellent relations between Israel and Turkey, the developing trade ties, the Turkey-Israel energy corridor, the Industrial Zone at Erez and the industrial zone project in the West Bank.
He said that Israel was a country with which Turkey enjoys high level connections, and announced that Turkey is opening a cultural center in Jaffa.
In listing some of Turkey's commonalities with Israel, Tan could not refrain from mentioning terrorism from which Turkey has suffered no less than Israel, saying "Turkey has endured the evil of terrorism."
He also agreed with Israel's contention that there has to be "a determined and global fight against terrorism to rid the world of this menace."
Tan told Peres that his visit to Turkey was "enthusiastically expected," and provided yet another opportunity for the expansion of relations between the two countries.
Peres, who celebrated his 84th birthday in August, raised a
laugh when he said that he personally represented Turkey's national day.
Applauding Turkey's modernity and democracy, despite the fact that it is a Muslim country, Peres said that if all the world was like Turkey there would be less problems and the Muslims would have less problems.
He spoke glowingly of Turkey's revolution and development, of its flourishing democracy, its open mind and its goodwill to its neighbors. He also thought that an injustice had been done to Turkey in the impositions put upon it in its efforts to join the European Union.
"The pressure on Turkey was unduly heavy," he said, adding that it would be beneficial for Europe to have Turkey as a member.
AT THE Czech residence Zantovsky congratulated government representative Haim Ramon and his wife, Vered, on their recent marriage. Zantovsky had intended to present his whole address in Hebrew.
In fact, he had struggled bravely the previous year, but this year he decided that if his guests wanted to hear his progress in Hebrew, they would have to come back next year.
He was sorry that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who visited Prague in June, could not be present, but he was appreciative of the huge bouquet of flowers that she had sent.
Both Zantovsky and Ramon spoke about the close ties between Israel and the Czech Republic that go back to before the establishment of the State. Zantovsky was proud of the fact that his country had been one of the 33 to vote in favor of UN General Assembly Resolution 181, that on November 29, 1947 paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel.
Ramon recalled the tremendous military assistance that the nascent state had received from Czechoslovakia.
As the NATO Contact Point Embassy in Israel, said Zantovsky, the Czechs had advocated closer cooperation between the Alliance and Israel.
He hoped that some of the obstacles that have stood in the way of Israel's participation in some of NATO's programs and operations would soon be removed.
"We share some of the same concerns with regard to the threats posed by militant ideologies and their terrorist weapons," he said. "The specter of a nuclear, hostile Iran is as unacceptable for us as it is for Israel."
FEW HEADS of foreign missions can boast that they know Israel as well as outgoing Austrian Ambassador Kurt Hengl, who combined his country's national day celebrations with his own farewell.
Hengl has the rare distinction of serving three times in Israel. He began as cultural and press attachÃ©, became political and economic counselor, then was charge d'affaires and twice an ambassador.
He met frequently with prime ministers Golda Meir, Yitzhak Shamir, Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.
In his farewell speech, Hengl regretted having missed out on seeing Shimon Peres as prime minister during the latter's two terms of office, and said that he had waited patiently for Peres to become president.
Describing himself as "a sort of fire extinguisher of bilateral crises," Hengl reviewed the various phases of his career in Israel, and what his country and he personally invested towards the improvement of bilateral relations which knew many ups and downs, but which today is "in a honeymoon period of common appreciation and sympathy."
During his first stint in Israel in 1971, Hengl had to intervene in the crisis between Golda Meir and Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky in connection with the immigration of Soviet Jews via Austria's transit facilities at Schonau.
Another crisis was during the Waldheim period "when Austria began resolutely to dig in its own history and to discover, that under the protective layer of her being the first victim of Nazi-German expansionism and of the Moscow declaration of the allied powers, very unpleasant aspects of collaboration and home-made anti-semitism had been hidden."
Since then, he said, Austria has not been the same any more and has shouldered and honored its responsibility towards Jewish Austrians and their descendants, many of them living in Israel, as well as towards foreign forced laborers.
In 2002, Hengl was again called on to extinguish fires when JÃ¶rg Haider's right-wing party became part of Austria's national coalition government.
He was happy that all these things were now behind him, and said that he would not have been able to overcome all these obstacles and cause relations to flourish without the help of his wife, Jacqueline, and his dedicated office team.
Busy in his final weeks of tenure, Hengl - who is retiring from the foreign service after a long and distinguished career - described the official visit in September by Austria's new prime minister, Alfred Gusenbauer, as a sort of farewell gift, because Gusenbauer's coalition between Socialists and Christian Democrats signified the end of the former coalition with Haider's Freedom Party.
Hengl, who is unashamedly a Zionist, was also glad to have been in Israel to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations, in the context of which Austria decided to install a "long overdue" permanent military mission in Tel Aviv which is headed by Col. Nikolaus Egger.
Austria is planning to increase its cultural presence in Israel during 2008 when it joins in Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations, said Hengl.
On a more serious note, he announced that the Austrian and Israel parliaments had agreed to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Nazi occupation of Austria.
At the time, Mexico had been the only country to protest, he said.
"Had Hitler been stopped at that moment, perhaps the history of Europe and the fate of the Jewish people and of us, would have been dramatically different."
Hengl cited as an example of the importance that Austria attaches to its relationship with Israel, "the building up, with the help of our Israeli friends, of a university of excellence in the image of your Weizmann Institute in Rehovot."
He also welcomed the pilgrimage to Israel this week by the Conference of Austrian Bishops, headed by the Cardinal of Vienna, Christoph SchÃ¶nborn, and looked forward to the anticipated visit to Austria next year by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and that to Israel by Austrian President Heinz Fischer.
In a reference to the many obstacles that have obstructed the path to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Hengl suggested that the successful settlement between Austria and Italy on the thorny issue of South Tirol could perhaps serve as a helpful example.
"In a package, every small and controllable step of one party was to be matched and linked to a similar small step of the other party, and we both moved on slowly, but surely," he said. "At the end, in 1992, there stood a joint declaration to the United Nations, that the differences, which had poisoned our bilateral relations for almost 80 years, had been settled satisfactorily."
Hengl expressed the hope that efforts in Annapolis would bring progress and that finally swords would be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks.
He then proposed a toast to "the peace, prosperity and happiness of the people of our beloved Eretz Yisrael."
Retirement does not mean that Hengl will stay away from Israel in the future. On the contrary. His new job is with a scientific research project on anti-semitism, which is guaranteed to bring him to Israel at least two or three times a year.
AS IS too often the case, the people congregated in Tel Aviv's Dan Panorama ballroom were so busy talking to one another, they found it difficult to stop and listen to the speeches of their host, Ukrainian Ambassador Ihor Timofieiev and Israel's Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, who was representing the government.
The ambassador, in greeting the guests, explained that in addition to the National Day festivities, the reception was also a celebration of the 15th anniversary of the establishment of an embassy in Israel and the creation of diplomatic ties.
He stressed that Ukraine, in that period of time, has been growing and developing, but especially in the areas of democratic and human values. After noting the good relations between the two countries, the ambassador turned to immigrants from his own country and addressed the gathering in their own language, though this did little to diminish the competing noise level.
Dichter also noted the ever-improving relations between Israel and Ukraine, and suggested that in line with the veteran Jewish prayer, "Next year in Jerusalem," the reception next year should be held in Jerusalem.
At the request of the ambassador, Dichter - who had been speaking English - moved to Hebrew, and even though the ambassador asked that the guests be quiet, his words fell on deaf ears.
But Dichter persevered and extolled the Ukrainian contributions and roots of many of the Yishuv's founding fathers, early politicians and famous writers, saying that there were more than 1.2 million people in Israel today with some direct Ukrainian connection.
THE SULTRY weather did not deter diplomats from many embassies as well as large representation of the local Hungarian community and some well known Israelis from attending the National Day reception hosted by Hungarian Ambassador Andras Gyenge and his wife, Aniko.
Perhaps the invitees realized that they would be fed what was reportedly the most delicious Hungarian goulash. Those who eat only kosher could smell it but not taste it.
The speeches began with the reading of the Poem "A Sentence about Tyranny" which was written in 1950 by Hungarian poet Gyula Illyes, and which became a rallying cry during the short lived revolution of 1956.
Gyenge explained that though the revolution began in 1956, it didn't succeed until 1989 to actually bring independence to Hungary. He also announced that earlier in the day, former justice minister and Holocaust survivor Tommy Lapid had been decorated by the Hungarian government, as had Irene Steinfeld of Yad Vashem, and that they were the current guests of honor for the evening.
In recounting the struggle for independence and freedom endured by Hungary, the ambassador suggested that perhaps there was some significance in the fact that Hungarian Independence Day was so close on the calendar to the anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, whom he called a "freedom fighter and a person dedicated to independence from tyranny."
Gyenge closed his remarks with a quotation of US president John Kennedy in a speech made on the first anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
"October 23, 1956, is a day that will live forever in the annals of free men and nations. It was a day of courage, conscience and triumph. No other day since history began has shown more clearly the eternal unquenchability of man's desire to be free, whatever the odds against success, whatever the sacrifice required," he said.
Government representative Rafi Eitan recalled that he was a university student at the time of the 1956 rebellion.
He and his classmates, many of whom had socialist inclinations, were cheered and encouraged by the staring down of tanks and the bravery shown by the Hungarian people, and horribly saddened when the effort did not succeed at that time. He also said that from personal experience by way of his one-time employer and others, Hungary in many respects formed and shaped the nature of Israeli society.
IT WAS an amazing week last week for Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem directorate, to be twice recognized in Europe. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy presented him with the French Legion of Honor. The following day in Spain, he accepted the Prince of Asturias Award on behalf of Yad Vashem.
The award was as much about the Holocaust as it was to the institution that perpetuates its memory and disseminates information about it. Shalev did not feel comfortable about accepting the award simply as a representative of Yad Vashem.
He felt that he should be joined by Holocaust survivors. He duly invited Holocaust survivors and Righteous among the Nations to join him as guests of honor.
The people who accompanied him were Dr. Felix and Ruta Zandman, David Azrieli, Moshe HaElyon, Isaac Querub, Zygmunt Rotter Fleischer, Mazal Behar Mordoh, Adela Sans Briz, James Vandoor Koppel and Andree Geulen.
They originated from Poland, Greece, Spain, Lithuania, Austria and Belgium and represented people in hiding, partisans, camp inmates, free fighters and rescuers. Not only were they present at the ceremony, but they were also participants.
IT'S NOT unusual for diplomats to maintain a relationship with people they have known in their various postings, nor is it unusual for them to return to the places where they served.
But it is not common for them to remain involved with those places. Zvi Mazel, one of Israel's former ambassadors to Egypt, has remained involved - possibly because he served in Egypt twice.
Before he was elevated to the rank of ambassador, he served with the historic first Israeli diplomatic mission in Egypt, and several years later returned as ambassador.
His wife, Michelle, who is a writer, wrote a book about her Egyptian experiences. This week, the Mazels were back in Cairo to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Sha'ar Hashamayim synagogue. The synagogue is actually a little older than a century, but the celebrations were delayed until now.