In the eye of the storm last week while considering Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's request that he dissolve the Knesset, President Moshe Katsav was yet again the subject of media attention with the floating of a rumor that Likud wants him to re-enter politics, head the party and lead it to victory in March. Next week, he will again be the subject of attention when he celebrates a milestone birthday - Katsav turns 60 on December 5.
WORDS OF wisdom: Entertainer Yehoram Gaon was discussing political developments in his Friday current affairs show on Israel Radio. Weighing the chances of the three major parties, Gaon said: "The miracle of the elections will be not if Sharon's Kadima Party wins or Amir Peretz's Labor Party or even Likud. The miracle will be if political leaders, after the elections, continue to advocate what were their stated policies before the elections."
Gaon was taking the integrity concept a step further than President Katsav, who is urging that voters demand clear platform presentations by all political leaders. It's one thing to present a platform - it's quite another to abide by it, considering that there is still no word for "accountability" in Hebrew. However, the Jerusalem College of Technology is working on a solution for the latter, for which it hopes to get Hebrew Language Academy approval by the time it introduces its MBA course next year.
AMONG THE people whom Katsav met with during his few days of weighty decision-making was Knesset member Uzi Landau, the most strident of the Likud rebels. After the meeting, Landau was in a buoyant mood and told reporters that Sharon's new party couldn't win because, unlike Likud, it lacked ideology. When asked by reporters whether he would serve under any of his Likud rivals in the event that he lost the race for party leadership, Landau replied: "Of course! That's democracy."
Landau arrived at Beit Hanassi sporting a large Jonathan Pollard badge on his suit. In response to inquiries as to the reason, Landau said: "Because we should remind ourselves every day to extend a hand and rescue him. He was our man and has been deserted by every government."
ONE CAN'T help wondering whether Professor Uriel Reichman, president of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, picked up any political tips from the governing mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, when the latter visited the IDC last week. Wowereit was hosted by Reichman, who announced this week that he was joining Sharon's party. Of course, Reichman could find out all he wanted to know about the inside scene of politics in general and Israeli politics in particular from his vice president, Professor Amnon Rubinstein, who served as a member of Knesset and a government minister before returning to the world of academia.
WHILE AT IDC, Wowereit took time to meet with German students and quiz them on their views of life in Israel. The Germans are enrolled in three-year courses at IDC's International School, where classes are conducted in English. The best way to learn about Israel, said Wowereit after chatting with the students, is to spend time in the country and observe it from various aspects. It's easy to give advice from afar, he said, but much more difficult to actually live in Israel.
EARLIER THIS year, when he rescued the Jerusalem Betar soccer club from financial collapse, commentators said of Betar's new owner Arkady Gaydamak that the Russian-born billionaire industrialist, whose name has been linked to international arms deals and diamond mines (and who, on Monday morning, was interrogated on suspicion of being involved in the Bank Hapoalim money laundering scandal), was trying to buy his way into respectability and Israel's business community. He has indeed succeeded in the latter, and has been listed as one of the speakers in next week's prestigious Israel Business Conference organized by Globes, the financial daily.
Gaydamak will participate in the session headlined "Not Just for Sport," in which he and other entrepreneurs will attempt to answer the questions: Are sports just another investment or a way of creating an image? Can respect and ego be leveraged? How much does investment in sport help business? Which is more exciting - a successful business transaction or a victory for the team?
In the panel with Gaydamak, who also owns the Hapoel Jerusalem Basketball Club, will be Elon Herzikowitz, chairman of Isfar Investments and owner of Maccabi Tel Aviv; Shaul Schneider, the director-general and CEO of Israel Sports Betting Board; and Moshe Teomim, chairman of Gitam BBDO and head of the Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer club.
Gaydamak has also given millions of shekels to religious and medical organizations and institutions. Like fellow Russian billionaire Leonid Nevzlin, who stepped in to rescue the Diaspora Museum from bankruptcy, Gaydamak, who lays tefillin [phylacteries] daily, is interested in perpetuating Jewish heritage. He's also thinking of trying his luck in politics - but he may well discover that money doesn't buy everything. Meanwhile, he's being courted left, right and center by schnorrers of every stripe, and even though he's undoubtedly aware of the reason for his popularity, he continues to give generously.
AN INTERESTING intellectual exercise will take place next week in the course of a public dialogue between eminent Talmudist Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz and former government minister Natan Sharansky, who is arguably the most famous of former Prisoners of Zion and who is admired and endorsed by US President George W. Bush. Steinsaltz and Sharansky, both residents of the capital, will meet in Jerusalem at the 13th annual tribute dinner hosted by the Israel Friends of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. Moderating the dialogue will be Shira Breuer, principal of the Pelech Religious Innovative High School for Girls.
ASSOCIATED THROUGHOUT her life with Yiddish Theater and in recent years with the tourism industry, ex-Canadian Ella Gaffen tries to combine the two. When she worked at the hotel at Neve Ilan she introduced an annual Yiddish cabaret. Later, when she became director of marketing and sales at the Jerusalem Gate Hotel, she promised that she would bring in some form of Yiddish entertainment toward the end of the year, just as she had done in Neve Ilan. She's cutting it very fine. In conjunction with Yung Yiddish, which by sheer coincidence is headquartered 200 meters from the hotel, she is organizing a festive dinner followed by a Yiddish cabaret and klezmer recital. Although the date for this fun event happens to be December 31, make no mistake - according to Gaffen it's not a new year's eve party, it's a Hanukka party. Fortunately, this is a leap year in the Hebrew calendar - thus enabling Hanukka to fall on December 31.
IT'S AMAZING how incognito someone can be when he's no longer the running mate in the US presidential elections. US Senator Joseph Lieberman, who in 2000 ran unsuccessfully with Democratic candidate Al Gore, arrived in Israel without any fanfare, but was spotted in the old city of Jerusalem by The Jerusalem Post's eagle-eyed defense correspondent Arieh O'Sullivan, who noted that he was wearing a kippa and obviously celebrating Shabbat. The would-be veep, who was holding a toddler, was flanked by two bodyguards.
IT'S NOT often that European leftists identify strongly with policies advocated by Israel. Thus it was pleasantly surprising to hear self-declared leftist Edith Mastenbroek, a member of the European Parliament, voicing the same sentiments about Hamas as those espoused by Israel. At a meeting with President Katsav, Mastenbroek (a member of the European Parliament's committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs) said: "The most important thing is to have Hamas disarmed. They must accept democracy. After the elections they must have disarmament. This is the only way. This is where Palestinians must show where they stand. It will be a decisive moment."