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THERE ARE always British peers at the annual Balfour Dinner hosted by the Israel Britain and Commonwealth Association. At least two of them, Dame Shirley Porter and Jerusalem-born Viscount David Samuel, are permanent fixtures because they reside in Israel. But this year, for the 90th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, there were quite a few additional members of the British aristocracy, among them guest speaker Sir Ronald Cohen, Dame Vivien Duffield, Sir Peter Gershon, Lord Leslie Turnberg and Lord Leonard Steinberg, who came with the Conservative Friends of Israel and who is one of four members of the House of Lords who regularly wears a kippa.
Some of the British visitors participated in an Anglo-Israel Colloquium at Kfar Blum last weekend. Cohen participated in the Prime Minister's Conference for Export and International Cooperation. Also present were two former ambassadors to the Court of St. James, Yehuda Avner and Moshe Raviv, who coincidentally served together as counselors in Washington under then Israel Ambassador to the US Yitzhak Rabin.
Cohen, described in the British press as one of the founding fathers of European venture capitalism, has large-scale investments in Israel and is also involved in economic projects with the Palestinians. Another Israel connection is his wife Sharon, the daughter of Yossi Harel, who commanded the Exodus (immortalized in the book by Leon Uris and the film starring Paul Newman).
Balfour dinners are traditionally addressed by a British speaker and an Israeli speaker. The Israeli on this occasion was Minister Isaac Herzog, who made the point that out of the illustrious list of British dignitaries who had spoken at Balfour dinners, Cohen was the first businessman to address the gathering.
Key players in the Balfour Declaration and subsequent support of it were duly noted by IBCA chairperson Brenda Katten, Cohen and Herzog, who between them gave credit not only to Balfour, but also to Chaim Weizmann,Lord Rothschild, and Winston Churchill. Cohen quoted extensively from the famous Churchill White Paper of 1922, clarifying what the Declaration meant with regard to a Jewish National Home in Palestine. Asserting that a great debt of gratitude is owed to Winston Churchill, Cohen said that if it had not been for Churchill's speech supporting the resolution that reunited Jews with their homeland, "we would not be here today."
Reviewing the current situation and the "painful political stalemate" between Israel and the Palestinians, Cohen compared the strong Israeli economy to that of the Palestinians, which he said was in a dire state of collapse. Cohen saw improvement in the Palestinian economy as the best tool for achieving peace, and looked to Northern Ireland as a paradigm, saying: "It was economics that made peace possible. The most important factor in achieving peace was the improvement in the lot of the Catholics in Northern Ireland." Economic momentum drove progress towards peace in Ireland, said Cohen, and the Israeli leadership and the international community have also begun "to take on the message that politics alone won't do it."
Herzog, who has a strong sense of history, said: "We tend to forget that there are moments in history that give us the moral justification and legal right to be a sovereign state." In this context he also referred to the 60-year-old UN resolution 181 for the partition of Palestine, and stated that the Balfour Declaration and Resolution 181 "are the two founding documents of the modern State of Israel and homeland for the Jews." But what looms over the Jewish people in its own state, he continued, is the conflict with our neighbors "that has given so much pain and sorrow to people on both sides." The only solution, he said, was a two-state solution, with two peoples living side by side. He saw the Annapolis summit conference as an important step in that direction.
THERE MIGHT not have been a Balfour Declaration had the Fourth Australian Light Horse Regiment not emerged victorious from the October 31, 1917 Battle of Beersheba, thus enabling General Allenby's subsequent conquest of Jerusalem on December 9. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev was among the many Australians and Australian expats who were in Beersheba last week for the 90th anniversary events related to the battle. Regev was born and raised in Melbourne, where his name was Mark Freiberg. In 1981, after graduating from Mount Scopus College and the University of Melbourne, where he earned a BA in political science, he settled in Israel, where he did his army service, taught high school, completed an MA at the Hebrew University and taught international relations and strategy at the Defense Forces Staff College. Ten years after his arrival in Israel, he joined the Foreign Ministry, where he has held a number of important positions. Asked at the Beersheba festivities whether he was there as an Israeli or an Australian, Regev replied without hesitation: "Always an Israeli."
AMONG THE Australian expats was Prof. Haim Marantz of Ben Gurion University, who on the previous evening had joined the large delegation that came from down under for the occasion and had swilled a lot of beer... "I'd forgotten how much Aussies drink," he confessed.
ONE OF the major sponsors of the 90th anniversary program in Beersheba was the Pratt Foundation, which is in the process of constructing "The Park of the Australian Soldier." The park will be formally inaugurated next April and will be fully geared to the needs of disabled children. It will also contain an amphitheater that can seat 300 people, a waterfall, and a monument to Australian soldiers who fought in Beersheba. The park is modeled on one in Ra'anana and will feature wide comfortable pathways, a labyrinth for the children to play in, a roofed playground and many other elements, including trilingual storyboards about the Australian forces in Beersheba. The Patron of the Australian Light Horse Association, Major-General W. Digger James (Ret), and the Association's president, Phil Chalker, were very excited to see the extent to which construction of the park has progressed, as were many of the Australians who were taken to see it in its present form. Nehemia Ari, the landscape architect of the project, described it as unique. It is the first time he's planned a roofed playground and the first time he's designed anything largely intended for children with physical and mental disabilities. Among the Australian expatriates who came to see the park was international karate champion Danny Hakim, who founded the non-profit association Budo for Peace that brings Israeli and Palestinian youngsters together to learn about self-control and harmony through martial arts. Hakim is the son-in-law of Canadian-Israeli architect, real estate developer and philanthropist David Azrieli, who is also building an important facility in Beersheba catering specifically to children and youth at risk. While in Beersheba, Hakim also met up with a Beduin colleague who teaches martial arts. Also present was "Clean Up Israel" founder Philip Foxman, who is involved in a volunteer capacity in a number of Israeli environmental awareness projects. Foxman, who was wearing his grandfather's World War One medals, regularly yo-yos between Australia and Israel and seems to have an endless supply of "Clean Up Israel" caps to hand out.
WHEN HE goes to Turkey next week, President ,b>Shimon Peres is likely to visit the house that his mentor David Ben-Gurion lived in when he studied law in Turkey nearly a century ago. A plaque was put up on the building toward the end of last month. Given the strong ties between Ben-Gurion and Peres, it is unlikely that the Turkish authorities will miss the opportunity to share this piece of Ben-Gurion's early history with the president. n AT THE opening of the Yad Vashem exhibition on Muslim Albanians who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, American photographer Norman Gershman, who photographed the Albanians, explained the title of his project - "BESA" - meaning code of honor. Essentially, BESA means putting humanity above all else, and demonstrating concern for the welfare of others above oneself. Throughout his wanderings in Albania, Gershman kept asking people to explain BESA to him. At one time he was in a restaurant with someone who said to him: "If a terrorist came into this restaurant, I would throw my arms around you. I would rather that he kills me than he kills you." Such selflessness blew Gershman's mind, but he wasn't surprised, because several years earlier he had visited Albania's most noble and beloved citizen Mother Theresa, whom he called "the greatest Albanian in the world." Yehudit Shendar, the curator of the exhibition, announced that BESA had been chosen by the United Nations to be the next exhibit at the UN's headquarters in New York for International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, 2008.
VISITORS TO Israel this past week included Melvyn Salvay, a Los Angeles based aeronautical engineer and professional airplane designer. Salvay not only designs planes, he also flies them. But in recent years, at the request of his late wife, he has refrained from solo flights. Salvay regretted that during this recent visit to Israel, he was too busy touring to fly. Just as a point of interest, he's 88-years-old.
Israel is somewhat indebted to Salvay as one of the designers of the Kfir. In the spring of 1970 he was working for Rockwell International Aeronautics when he received a call from the Israel Air Force asking him to come to Israel. This call was placed immediately after DeGaulle called for an embargo on the Mirage fighter planes, which Israel had bought and paid for. Salvay's employers at Rockwell not only gave him a year's leave of absence, but told him to pick a team of 150 people to take with him. He came with his wife and children, and helped design the Kfir fighter plane that was used in the Yom Kippur War. He also helped redesign the Arava, and when he went back to America, he was a member of the team that designed the B1 Bomber.
MOST FOREIGN diplomats say they regard Israel as their favorite posting, and many promise to return. Some maintain e-mail contact with Israeli friends and are happy to welcome and entertain them in their home countries or in whatever countries they are serving in. Not all of them make good on their pledge to return to Israel. Among those who have are former German Ambassador Wilhelm Haas and his wife Sylvia, who return every year, and bring together their closest friends - mostly people of German background as well as Israeli diplomats who served in Germany. They were back again over the past week and on Sunday hosted a dinner for their friends at the Tel Aviv Sheraton. During his period of tenure in Israel, Haas often described himself as a "yekke," the name given to German Jews who came here in the 1930s, and despite the intense heat, continued to wear their jackets because it was considered impolite in Germany to wander around in one's shirtsleeves.
ANOTHER FORMER ambassador to Israel who returns quite frequently is former US Ambassador Sam Lewis, who on this occasion came to participate in the Saban Forum. Yet another former US ambassador who is often in Israel is Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Forum at the Brookings Institute. When TV cameramen photographed the handshake between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, Haim Saban moved quickly to try to get into the frame with them, but he wasn't quite fast enough. However, still photographs did capture the trio and were duly published in the press.
IT'S NOT often that one sees the Chief Rabbi embracing a woman in public, but Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi and former Chief Rabbi of Israel Yisrael Meir Lau has known Raya Jaglom for so long that he is almost like a relative - and he's certainly a good neighbor. They have lived across the road from each other on Tel Aviv's Rehov Sharett for many years. The occasion was the funeral of Josef Jaglom, who died last week at the amazing age of 104, and who kept working on a regular daily basis well into his 99th year. Josef Jaglom, who came to live in Tel Aviv in 1939 and was a well-known businessman and philanthropist, was buried in Tel Aviv's historic Trumpeldor Cemetery last Friday. In delivering the eulogy, Lau said that he could not refrain from noting the date, November 2, the 90th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. Josef Jaglom had been 14- years-old at the time of the Declaration and Lau wondered to what extent it influenced his decision to eventually settle here. Standing in a clearing with the tombstones of Chaim Arlozorov and Ahad Ha'am directly behind him, Lau said that to many Tel Avivians, the names on the tombstones in this particular cemetery had little resonance. But these were the people who, like Jaglom, had built Tel Aviv and were integral to its early development. There was a lot of Talmudic polemic as to why people live to an old age and Lau cited several reasons why Jaglom had deserved to add years to his days. One of them was that he refused to engage in idle gossip, was never heard to say a bad word about anyone and came to the defense of those who were bad-mouthed by others. He also gave generously to the needy and never got in the way of his wife's works for numerous organizations and institutions. Jaglom's daughter Nurit, surrounded at the entrance to the cemetery by childhood friends with whom she had grown up, recalled that none of them would go to the dentist unless accompanied by her father. His grandson, Daniel Jaglom, said that even at age 99, he used to check the mail and the accounts, and occasionally spotted errors that had eluded much younger pairs of eyes.