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PRIME MINISTER designate Tzipi Livni, it is said, does not like being compared to Golda Meir, the first female prime minister of Israel. Sometimes one gets the feeling that she'd rather be compared to Britain's Margaret Thatcher. Certainly that's what her appearance conveyed when she arrived at Beit Hanassi to accept President Shimon Peres's invitation to form a government. Instead of her usual pants suit, she was wearing a classic black dress and jacket, elegant black pumps and a double strand of pearls with matching ear-rings. Members of her staff and the security detail at Beit Hanassi had been pondering for much of the afternoon whether she would enter via a side entrance, as had Ehud Olmert when he came the previous evening to tender his resignation, or whether she would go through the front door. In the event, it was the front door.
When she entered Beit Hanassi, demonstrators outside were calling for her to go home and photographers and television cameramen were lined up behind barriers inside the grounds, eager to get her in their frames and thus capture a moment in history. Livni, who was welcomed by Beit Hanassi manager Moshe Mizrahi, ignored them completely - not even a wave of her hand.
THE INTENSE marathon of consultations with political parties over who to ask to succeed Ehud Olmert conducted by the president over a twenty-four hour period will seem lightweight compared to Peres's heavy schedule when in New York.
He left Israel late on Monday night to represent Israel at the 63rd General Assembly of the United Nations, where he is one of several world leaders scheduled to address the Assembly.
Among the others are UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, US President George W. Bush, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Peres has every intention of listening to the latter's address, but it is not known whether Ahmadinejad will give the Israeli president the same courtesy.
Peres has a series of meetings lined up with Ban, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Turkish President Abdullah Gul. There are also some tentative appointments with other world leaders that have yet to be confirmed. In addition, Peres will attend a reception for prize-winning novelist Amos Oz, who will be honored by major American writers and scores of celebrities from across the US; will participate in the opening of the Clinton Global Initiative; will address hundreds of students at New York University; and will have Sabbath dinner on Friday night with 100 Israelis studying in New York. He will return to Israel in time for Rosh Hashana.
STAFF AT Tel Aviv's Dan Hotel have been in a flurry this week getting 21 suites ready for Sir Paul McCartney and his entourage. The ex-Beatle, who arrived in Israel last night, was of course given the Royal Suite, which at his request has an additional piece of furniture - a baby grand piano. The suites were reserved for September 23-26, and according to Dan General Manager Yaacov Sudri, no effort will be spared in making Sir Paul and his people comfortable. "Their wish is our command."
JUDGING BY the festive atmosphere at the residence of US Ambassador James Cunningham, no one would know that America is undergoing an economic crisis. Cunningham, who presented his credentials only last week, hosted a reception for members of Israel's movie industry in honor of the 23rd annual Israel Film Festival in the United States, which is being directed by Meir Fenigstein, who was one of the scores of people who flocked to the residence. Seen mingling on the lawn in Herzliya Pituah were Avi Nesher, Menachem Golan, Moshe Ivgi, Alon Abutbul, Michael Moshonov, Education Minister Yuli Tamir and many others.
"SEE YOU all next week," said Elli Jaffe, the father of the groom, to a packed banquet room of guests at Jerusalem's Regency hotel. It wasn't a slip of the tongue by an excited father. It was simply that there was a gap of only a few days between the weddings of two of his sons. Not that it had been planned that way.
Zeev Nathan Jaffe and Giselle Gugenheim had initially planned to marry in the first week of January. But there were some unresolved issues... Eventually, love conquered all, and the lovebirds came to their parents a couple of weeks ago and said that now they were absolutely sure and wanted to get married as quickly as possible. There was no time to send out new invitations, and so the two families went into a telephone marathon. Anyone who saw the radiant faces of the bride and groom could not help but rejoice for them and with them. The wedding took place at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, where the bridegroom's father is the choirmaster and where his late grandfather, Dr. Maurice Jaffe, who was the prime force behind its construction, also served as president. The bridegroom's grandmother, the supremely elegant Ella Jaffe, with whom he has a special affinity, looked almost as radiant as the bride and groom. The Great Synagogue choir, performing at its best, serenaded the groom, led by his parents Elli and Jacqueline Jaffe, to the bridal canopy and then the bride, led by Elie and Ariela Gugenheim. After the ceremony, the newlyweds approached the Holy Ark, which was opened in all its glory, while the bride's grandfather Marcos Katz, a Kohen, blessed them. During the ceremony itself, the bride's mother had no choice but to accompany her as she circled the groom seven times, because the train on her gown was so long that someone had to carry it for her. On Sunday, the groom's brother Moshe will marry the bride's sister Batya.
IN SOME countries, Israel among them, citizens living abroad, other than those serving the interests of the state, are not permitted to vote in general elections. In countries like Australia, voting is compulsory for citizens resident in the country, but only those who retain an address in Australia while living abroad are permitted to cast postal votes in general elections; other expatriate citizens cannot vote. With the Americans, proof of citizenship, no matter where one lives, gives one voting rights.
Thus it comes as no surprise that the American Israeli Action Coalition has organized a debate between Marc Zell, the Israel co-chair of Republicans Abroad, and Sheldon Schorer, counsel to Democrats Abroad - Israel. Zell will obviously be presenting the views of Senator John McCain, while Schorer will be representing those of Senator Barack Obama. The debate will be moderated by AIAC's chairman Harvey Schwartz. The event will be held tomorrow, Thursday, evening at 7.30 p.m. at Heichal Shlomo in Jerusalem. Although the representatives of the two presidential candidates are debating in Israel's capital, neither will be able to definitively answer the question as to whether the person who wins the election will move the US embassy to Jerusalem in 2009.
HE COULDN'T reside in Jerusalem when he served some decades ago as Australia's Ambassador, but Dr. Robert Merrilees and his wife Helen are currently living here - and enjoying every minute of it. In fact, confided Merrilees when he addressed the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association this week, during his period of service, whenever he and his wife could get away for the weekend, they went to Jerusalem. The preference is hardly surprising because Merrilees is an internationally acclaimed archaeologist, who has devoted himself to research and excavations ever since leaving the diplomatic corps some 10 years ago.
Merrilees, who has a delicious sense of humor, gave his address on the lawns of the Australian residence, recalling that in his day it had been only a one-story structure and there had been no swimming pool. Making the residence available to him was no problem on the part of present incumbent James Larsen, who happens to be married to Merrilees' daughter Antoinette.
Currently in Israel as a visiting scholar at the Albright Institute, Merrilees completed his diplomatic tour of duty in Israel in 1987. His permanent home is now in France. Since the Larsens came to Israel, having been encouraged by Merrilees to do so, he and his wife have visited several times. In his address he spoke about the major changes that have occurred in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem over the past two decades and referred to them as city states, so great is their diversity and their growth. One of the reasons that he was so keen to apply for an Albright fellowship is that his area of expertise is in Cypriot Bronze Age pottery, of which there is apparently a treasure trove in Jerusalem - a reminder of the trade between Cyprus and the Levant some 3,500 years ago.
The Australian Embassy in his day was part of a residential building across the road from the Tel Aviv Hilton. It later moved to the Europa building around the corner from Asia House and has just recently "gone up in the world literally and metaphorically" in that its new location is in one of the highest towers in Tel Aviv. Merrilees could only marvel at the building boom in Israel, at the development of the wine industry and at the huge number of archaeological excavations and discoveries that have taken place.
Later, in conversation with some of the guests, the subject of diplomatic espionage cropped up, and Merrilees disclosed that it was more common practice to use archaeologists as spies than diplomats because they were better trained and equipped to determine the lay of the land. He was quick to note that he had not engaged in espionage - neither as a diplomat nor an archaeologist.
THE QUESTION is asked perennially. If so many of the top people in public relations and marketing in the United States are Jewish, how is it that they can"t help Israel to acquire a more positive image in the world?
It was put last week to Richard Funess, a PR veteran of more than quarter of a century and for the past 12 years president of Ruder Finn Americas. Funess, who is a member of the tribe and has worked closely with Jewish and Israel oriented organizations, was on his first visit to Israel to take a look at the company's Israel operations and to meet with various political figures to get a better grasp of Israel's diversity. Combining business with pleasure, he brought his wife, who is also in PR, and their 11-year-old twins.
He admitted that no one from the company's head office has been to Israel in quite a while, and when the people in the Jerusalem office pressured him last year, he finally agreed to come. Part of the reason may also have been that Ruder Finn, like Israel, is this year celebrating its 60th anniversary.
In the late 1970s, he said, Ruder Finn tried to put together a consortium of professionals to promote Israel, but it didn't work. There were internal issues and points of disagreement in Israel; and in America there was no consensus as to who would drive this initiative.
Funess is convinced that Israel must make a more conscious effort to understand where it stands in the world community, and only then can it begin to try to improve its image. "There's a lot of good news coming out of Israel," said Funess, but implied that its distribution is not properly handled. "Good stories have to be credible," he said when interviewed in the bar of his hotel in Jerusalem. "You need a program, but you have to define your objective, and it has to be a universal objective, not just the objective of one party. There are so many divergent opinions in Israel about what goes on here. There has to be consensus about what is promotable and what is prioritized," he went on, "and you have to be able to measure to see if you've moved the needle."
Like most other professions, Public Relations has changed a lot in the last two or three decades. "It's become a very exciting career and much more credible to the corporate world than ever before," said Funess, who spent 24 years working in broadcasting, television and PR in Los Angeles and 14 years in New York.
Funess recommends PR as a profession for young people "because it teaches them so much about different kinds of business and non-profits and gives them a lot of breadth." Attitudes to PR are different in Israel to those of the US, he said, explaining that Israel is much more project oriented, and at the conclusion of the project, tends to kiss the PR company goodbye instead of retaining it for an ongoing period. In America, businesses are more conscious of corporate social responsibility, he said, and PR companies are retained to help them create an image that shows them to be helping not only the local community but the community at large. The PR firms also get the companies that retain them to understand that they have a responsibility to the people who buy their products and services, said Funess, adding that the big PR market today is Asia.
IT WAS easy for guests at the Jaffa Institute's tribute to Shlomo and Ziva Lahat to drink a toast to them at the emotion-laden event at Beit Hatefutsot last Thursday. The function was sponsored by Binyamina Wineries, who were generous in sharing their output. It was nostalgia time in more ways than one in that throughout the evening, in addition to various reminiscences by speakers including Lahat, a former long-time mayor of Tel Aviv, there was a nostalgic documentary about the start of the Jaffa Institute and of visits made there over the years by Lahat. Beit Hatefutsot, whose whole raison d'etre is putting Jewish history into focus for the future, was a perfect venue, not to mention the fact that Lahat moved heaven and earth to keep the museum going when funding was almost unavailable. â€¢