ORDINARILY, THE minister of tourism would not be invited to a special ceremony to mark the inauguration of a stamp honoring the memory of a former foreign minister. However, when the tourism minister happens to be the nephew of the deceased minister, it puts a different complexion on protocol. Although the NIS 7.30 stamp commemorating Abba Eban was issued three months ago, the Foreign Ministry will this week host a special ceremony to be attended by members of Eban's family, veteran Foreign Ministry staffers including retirees, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Communications Minister Ariel Attias and Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog. The latter's mother, Aura Herzog, is a sister to Abba Eban's widow, Susie Eban.
AS FAR as the Herzogs go, tourism mixed with diplomacy has become a family affair. Michal Herzog, the wife of the minister, is scheduled to take a group of wives of ambassadors on a tour of the North on Thursday. The itinerary includes the Binyamina wineries, Zichron Yaacov, Old Acre - which is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site - and Caesarea. Michal Herzog is no stranger to the diplomatic community, having attended many diplomatic events hosted by her mother-in-law. She has also met many diplomats through her husband and through her own work with the Rich Foundation.
IN 2003, former cabinet minister Roni Milo was all set to go to London as Israel's ambassador to the Court of St. James, but backed out at the last minute because of his wife's professional obligations. Except in the case of some non-resident envoys, being an ambassador means living abroad. Being an honorary consul, by conttrast, offers a few diplomatic perks, but the holder of the position remains on home turf. Milo was, therefore, this week able to join the diplomatic community after all when he was officially appointed honorary consul for Ecuador. There are several other honorary consul appointments in the pipeline to be announced in coming weeks.
THE TEL AVIV University campus is becoming increasingly popular as a venue for diplomatic receptions. Last week Finnish Ambassador Kari Veijalainen hosted a national day reception and concert at the Buchman-Mehta Music Center on the campus, and Lithuanian Ambassador Asta Skaisgiryte Liauskiene chose Beth Hatefutsoth, the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, which is also on campus as the venue for the reception marking the 15th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Lithuania and Israel.
Representing the government at the Finnish reception was Tourism Minister Herzog, who recently represented Israel at the centenary celebrations of the Helsinki synagogue. Ever since Finland became independent in 1917, Jews have enjoyed full civil rights, including during World War II when Finland refused to give up her Jews to the Germans.
Commenting that Finland is usually a shy country, Veijalainen could not help but boast that in the recent Gallup Poll on world corruption Finland was listed as one of the most minor offenders. As for standard of living, it is on a par with Sweden and Switzerland. Moreover, Finland was the first country in Europe to grant women suffrage. As far back as a century ago, 19 women were elected to the 200-member Finnish parliament. The number of women legislators has more than trebled since then. The first woman minister was appointed to the Finnish government as early as 1926, and today eight of the 17 ministers are women. Finnish cultural attache Susanna Kokkonen, who was mistress of ceremonies, raised a laugh when instead of making the usual request that people close their mobile phones, she asked them to turn off their Nokias.
WHILE WAITING in the lobby of Beth Hatefutsoth for the arrival of Vice Premier Shimon Peres, who flew to Washington immediately afterwards, Skaisgiryte Liauskiene proudly declared that Peres was a Lithuanian. One of her guests observed that it depends on the occasion. Sometimes Peres is reported to have been born in Poland and at other times in Belarus.
"It's only because of the changing borders," retorted the ambassador.
However, when Peres was speaking from the stage, he dispelled the notion that he'd been born in Lithuania when he announced that he'd been born 100 kilometers from Vilna in Belarus. Before saying that, Peres quipped: "You cannot be Jewish unless you're Lithuanian."
He went on to talk about Vilna, which was not only the center of Yiddish culture but of Jewish culture in general. Peres also referred to Lithuanian-born poet and political activist Adam Mickiewicz, who though known as Poland's greatest poet, always remained a Lithuanian at heart. Married to a Polish-Jewish woman, Celina Szymanowska, Mickiewicz, in 1855, recounted Peres, organized a Jewish legion to fight against Russia in the Crimean War.
Even though she could not claim Peres as a fellow countryman, Skaisgiryte Liauskiene could take solace in the fact that there was at least one very distinguished Israeli among the guests who was indeed born in Lithuania - and that was former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, who together with other Lithuanian expatriates took obvious delight in the superb performance of one of Lithuania's most celebrated mezzo sopranos, Judita Leitate, who came to Israel specially for the occasion.
Skaisgiryte Liauskiene said that it was very important for her to have her reception at Beth Hatefutsoth, because so many Lithuanians - and especially Lithuanian Jews - can be counted in the Lithuanian diaspora, and also because the museum is named for Nahum Goldmann, the founding president of the World Jewish Congress who was born in Lithuania and spent part of his childhood there before moving to Germany.
In comparing the turbulent histories of Lithuania and Israel, Skaisgiryte Liauskiene observed that when the State of Lithuania was established in 1918 (after winning the battle against the Bolsheviks), the State of Israel did not exist. When Israel was declared a sovereign state in 1948, the State of Lithuania no longer existed. Lithuania found itself under Nazi occupation and Communist rule. Tens of thousands of Lithuanian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, but Skaisgiryte Liauskiene said she was proud of the fact that there were also Righteous Gentiles among the Lithuanians who have been honored at Yad Vashem. She was also gratified that Lithuania has produced a great number of Israeli statesmen.
KENYAN AMBASSADOR Felistas V. Khayumbi hosted the 43rd anniversary of Kenya's independence celebrations at the Tel Aviv Hilton recently. She and all the female members of her staff looked most impressive in traditional garb which, though recognizably African, was decidedly individual. Khayumbi chose a magnificent outfit of floral patterned appliqu d and embroidered lace in shades of lilac and violet. She opened the festivities by saying, "Shalom and Jambo." The latter is the Swahili word for hi or hello, but has a certain magic to it when uttered anywhere in Africa and in Kenya in particular.
The importance of independence to the people of Kenya could be gleaned by Khayumbi's reference to a "jubilant occasion" especially in view of the fact that a large number of Kenyans currently visiting or studying in Israel were present. "It is a day to reflect on the depth of our nationalism," she said.
Speaking of trade and investment Khayumbi noted that Kenya remains an attractive and reliable business partner for Israel. She also encouraged Israeli investors to take advantage of the many opportunities that exist in Kenya. Relating to the collapse of a building in Nairobi at the beginning of the year, Khayumbi thanked the Israel government for its friendship support and the readiness with which it sent a rescue team to search for survivors and take them out of the rubble.
In a sense, this was an act of reciprocity. Environment Minister Gideon Ezra, who represented the government, recalled that even before the establishment of full diplomatic relations between Israel and Kenya, the latter had come to Israel's assistance in the Operation Entebbe rescue. As for last January's rescue operation, Ezra said that following Kenya's request, Israel immediately sent a mission and afterwards helped set up a special operation to deal with future crisis situations. He was pleased that Kenyans continue to come to Israel to study in different courses, especially those provided by Mashav, the Israel Foreign Ministry's Center for International Cooperation. He looked forward to extending further cooperation and cultivating closer ties, he said.
Following the speeches, guests were treated to a documentary film showing the spectacular diversity of Kenya's people and landscapes.
US AMBASSADOR Richard Jones and his wife Joan made their residence available for a reception and concert marking the launch of the Bahalachin Ethiopian Jewish Heritage Center on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. Among the dignitaries who attended were former immigrant absorption minister Yair Tsaban, who welcomed many Ethiopian immigrants during his period of tenure, prominent human rights lawyer Amnon Zichroni and his wife Miri, Murray and Hana Greenfield - among the first to work on behalf of Ethiopian immigrants in Israel - former opera singer Sylvia Talsit-Lustig and Ethiopian Ambassador Fesseha Asghedom Tessema.
Bahalachin Executive Director Shlomo Akale cut a noble figure in his snow white traditional Ethiopian attire, as did Kes Amha Nefat, who blessed the event at its commencement. He was one of several kessim who attended, and Jones made a point of personally greeting each of them. Lauding the establishment of the projected Jewish Heritage Center, Jones said that Americans understand the challenges faced by new immigrants who play a key role in sculpting society. Quoting from the immortal lines of Jewish poet Emma Lazarus engraved on the Statue of Liberty, Jones recited: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...." and asked whether that wasn't what the Ethiopian struggle has been about.
As for the Heritage Center, Jones repeated a sentiment popular among philosophers and historians: "You can't tell where you're going unless you know where you've been." History, he said, is not made by buildings and monuments, "it's made by people." He applauded the Ethiopian Jewish community for wanting to share "a beautiful cultural heritage" with others.
Just a little of the Ethiopian Jewish heritage and tradition was conveyed by a group of musicians and dancers together with singer Simon Nega. The musicians played Ethiopian instruments that included the Kabaroo, a drum made of tin and leather; krar, a five-stringed bowl-shaped lyre made from metal; masenko, a one-string fiddle of leather and wood, with the string made from horse-tail hair and the bow containing a single string; and washint, a bamboo flute with four finger holes.
Architect Richard Herman explained what the $4 million Heritage Center would look like once it is completed and described its various facilities. Alkale said that Jerusalem had been selected as the site because Jerusalem was the place that Ethiopian Jews had dreamed about for centuries.
NIGERIA'S POPULAR ambassador to Israel, Dr. Manzo George Anthony, and his strikingly beautiful wife Mary, who played a major role in making Israelis aware of the beauty and variety of traditional African fashions, will return home at the end of January. The somewhat sudden departure is attributable to Anthony's promotion, details of which have not yet been disclosed.
IN A long career as a news reporter and presenter, Channel Two's Oded Ben Ami has interviewed numerous dignitaries and celebrities, but not necessarily two billionaires in quick succession.
In an early news broadcast aired on Saturday night, Ben Ami interviewed Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban in connection with the third annual Saban Forum that opened in Washington on December 8.
Less than four hours later, Ben Ami stood on stage at the David Intercontinental Hotel, Tel Aviv and, in his capacity as master of ceremonies at the opening of the annual Globes Business Conference, conducted a videophone interview with real estate, casino and media mogul Donald Trump and two of his three children, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, who both have executive positions in the family business. Donald Trump, whose estimated net value is $2.9 billion, ranks 94th in the Forbes list of America's 400 richest people. Saban is close behind in 98th place. His net value is estimated to be $2.8 billion. For the record and in the interests of integrity, Ben Ami announced at the beginning of the Saban interview that the latter is a shareholder in Keshet, one of the two Channel Two franchisees.
That said, Ben Ami conducted a lengthy political discussion with Saban, covering among other things the Bush administration's policies vis- -vis Iran and Iraq, and Hillary Clinton's chances of returning to the White House as America's first woman president.
Saban, known to be a good friend and supporter of the Clintons - who both participated in the forum - said that whichever Clinton was in the White House would be good for America. In the subsequent video conference with the Trumps, in front of a live audience of more than 1,000 people, Ben Ami, referring to Israel's leadership crisis, asked Trump, "How do we tell them, 'You're fired?'"
IN A better-late-than-never move, the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya last week honored the memory of deceased education, culture and sport minister Zevulun Hammer, who died in January, 1998, by dedicating an auditorium in his name in the presence of members of his family and some of his closest colleagues. These included Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, MK Zevulun Orlev, former MK Shaul Yahalom, well-known lawyer Yaakov Weinroth, who counts several prominent politicians among his clientele, and former Herzliya mayor Eli Landau.
Hammer, who was minister during the 9th, 10th, 12th and 14th Knessets, was one of the leaders of the National Religious Party and the World Mizrahi Movement. In his younger years he was also chairman of the Bar Ilan Students Union. IDC founder Prof. Uriel Reichman said that the IDC owed Hammer a debt of honor because it was Hammer's decisiveness that enabled the IDC to get accreditation for BA studies at a time when it was still fighting to be recognized as an academic institution.
Reichman had been particularly impressed by Hammer's decision in view of the ideological differences between them. "IDC Herzliya strives to help Israel and the Jewish people," said Reichman, "and that's where Zevulun Hammer and his deep commitment to the Jewish people came in."
Lau recalled Hammer's modesty as his "calling card" and his most dominant trait. "When we talk about the National-Religious Movement, Zvulun was the hyphen that connected the two," said Lau. Weinroth credited Hammer with having led the religious community from the margins of society into the mainstream even though he did not have the personality of a revolutionary. "Zvulun took everything one step at a time. His small deeds led to a large revolution."
Hammer's daughter, Kinneret, spoke of the great respect that her father had for his fellow beings and said that every day he would record the requests that he had received from various individuals on small slips of paper.
GIVEN THE fact that until the last elections Aliza Olmert had never voted for her husband's political party, there was considerable speculation as to the extent of her influence on his views, bearing in mind that he had moved from the right to the center. The priorities he listed in his address to the Globes Business Conference just before leaving for Germany on Monday left little doubt that at least in one area, Olmert has been greatly influenced by his wife.
Aliza Olmert is the long-time president of Orr Shalom, which provides a safe haven for children at risk. Olmert said that 50,000 of the children born in Israel in 2007 will be born into poverty and domestic violence. Several years down the line, it will take many millions to rehabilitate them and cure the social ills that they incur along the way. Olmert wants to introduce a dramatic new social welfare policy that will focus on these and the 330,000 Israeli children currently categorized as being at risk. In the first instance, he wants to make a budget of NIS 400 million available for two projects - one a preventive project for children aged 0-3 years and the other a rehabilitation project for children from backgrounds of socio-economic distress. As things stand at the moment he said, only 12 percent of the child welfare budget is allocated towards preventive measures for children who are potentially at risk. In 2007, he plans to introduce a pilot project aimed at 15,000 children in the 0-3 group in twenty towns and cities.
"It's not enough," he conceded, "but it's a start."
Olmert pledged to remain with the project for as long as it takes, even after he appoints a full time minister of social affairs. "I've been a long distance runner all my life," he said, "and I'm going to run a long distance with this one too.
NOT ALL Irish academics have an interest in boycotting Israel, says Malcolm Gafson, the chairman of the Israel, Ireland Friendship League, which in association with the Open University, and with the support of the Cultural Division of the Irish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will next week host Prof. Dermot Keogh, head of the History Department at the University of Cork. Keogh, who is also a visiting professor at several prestigious academic institutions in Europe and the US, has authored books on the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, the Vatican and the birth of Israel. Keogh will be in Israel from December 18-22 and will be lecturing at the Hebrew University Jerusalem, Ben Gurion University and Tel Aviv University in addition to the lecture that he will deliver on December 21 at the Open University in Ra'anana in the presence of Irish Ambassador Michael Forbes. On that occasion his topic will be: "The delicate nature of relations with Israel: Irish, European and Vatican Historical Perspective."
ANNOUNCING PROUDLY that she had lost ten pounds in weight, Barbara Wisman, the Baha'i representative in Jerusalem, told a group of women at a cocktail reception that she had been very good about staying away from desserts. Someone mentioned that the best way to keep a diet was to reward oneself at the end of each week, so that the diet would not take on the form of an ongoing punishment of self-denial. Wisman said that she knew several women who operated on this principle, maintaining a strict diet during the week but eating anything they wanted on Shabbat.
"For me every day is like Shabbat," lamented Esther Etoundi Essomba, the wife of the dean of the diplomatic corps in Israel, the ambassador of Cameroon. Etoundi Essomba is actually quite slim, but she remembers when she was a lot slimmer.
IMITATION MAY be the highest form of flattery, but few women want be in the position of wearing the same outfit as someone else to a gala, glitzy affair - especially when the designer outfit costs the princely sum of $8,500. America's first lady Laura Bush found herself in the embarrassing position of wearing the same outfit as three other women at the exclusive White House reception that traditionally follows the Kennedy Center Honors. It's one of the biggest nights in Washington's social calendar, with film stars, socialites and other celebrities vying with each other for elegance and style.
"With guests in the spotlight, designer gowns are always scrutinized," reported CBS News correspondent Thalia Assuras, who quoted Letitia Baldridge, Jacqueline Kennedy's chief of staff and White House social secretary, as saying that the gown was beautiful but oh, what a faux pas. Baldridge said that they should have all congratulated each other on their good taste and the fact that they could afford the dress, but added that when Jacqueline Kennedy was first lady, she made sure that her couturiers could guarantee that no one else was wearing that outfit that season. Assuras wondered how it was possible for such a social gaffe to be made when someone was spending that kind of money. Still in affluent society, $8,500 might be chicken feed. After all, the closet life of garments owned by socialites is relatively short before they are discarded to make way for something new.
Laura Bush was in the fortunate position of being not too far away from her own closet. So, reported Assuras, she made an executive decision and went upstairs and changed.