Grapevine: The bells of peace?

Ephraim Katzir addresses Sadat anniversary event; Ukraine's president angers Kotel rabbi by crossing himself after kissing the wall.

By
November 20, 2007 21:10
Grapevine: The bells of peace?

grapes 88. (photo credit: )

 
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Just as one can't pretend it's raining when one is spat at, one shouldn't try to pretend that it's snowing when one is left with egg on one's face. Therefore, a humble apology is due to Israel's fourth president, Ephraim Katzir, who was mentioned in this column last week as being no longer capable of public speaking due to his advanced age and the frailty of his health. Well on Monday, which was the 30th anniversary of the arrival of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in Israel, the 91-year-old Katzir came to the King David Hotel in Jerusalem to make good on his promise to the people in charge of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center to share his memories of Sadat's historic visit. For much of the evening Katzir sat in his wheelchair with his head hanging forward and his back hunched. But when it came his turn to speak, he straightened up dramatically, spoke in an unhesitating and firm voice, and barely referred to his notes. The evening was the second of two consecutive events organized by the Begin Center to mark one of the most unique episodes in the ongoing saga of the state. Before recounting the experience of driving with Sadat from Lod to Jerusalem, Katzir paid tribute to Menachem Begin, whom he regarded not only as a leader of great integrity, but also as a man who was both considerate and modest. When Begin used to come to Beit Hanassi, recalled Katzir, he greeted all the secretaries with great politeness and kissed their hands. He also made sure that his shoes were polished because it was not appropriate to wear scruffy shoes when visiting the president. As for the ride with Sadat, there were thousands of people lining the roadway and waving. Some held flags, others held banners proclaiming "Salaam Shalom Peace." Sadat was so moved by the warmth and enthusiasm of the reception that he kept leaning out of the car and waving back at the crowd. This caused some anxiety to his bodyguard, who kept pulling him back inside the car. In his conversation with Katzir, Sadat asked about the "old lady," referring to Golda Meir. He also wanted to know about Ariel Sharon, and when Katzir told him that he was the minister of agriculture, Sadat - remembering Sharon's audacious crossing of the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War - declared: "If I would have caught him, I would have made his life miserable." Katzir also recalled the first meeting between Sadat and Ezer Weizman, who was then defense minister, and spoke of the instant chemistry between them and the ease with which they exchanged reminiscences. ALTHOUGH THERE were no Egyptians present on Monday night, even though the evening was essentially devoted to Sadat, there were Egyptians at the Begin Center on Sunday night, where the focus was somewhat more on Begin. Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed Assem Ibrahim Mohamed, who had been listed on the invitation, was indisposed due to ill health, and was replaced by Dr. Sameh Mahmoud Fayek el-Souefi, Egypt's political affairs counsellor. Remarks and addresses were partially in Hebrew and partially in English. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who had spent most of the day speaking English in other forums, announced that she would speak in Hebrew, "because this was also part of Menachem Begin's heritage." Peace, she said, is not just a political document signed by leaders, but must filter down to the population and become a way of life. Leading up to the upcoming Annapolis conference, Livni said: "I hope we can continue the process started by an exemplary leader 30 years ago." El-Souefi raised a laugh when he stated in perfect Hebrew: "I'd also like to speak Hebrew, but I'm not sufficiently competent." One suspects that he is, but he preferred English, and his delivery was absolutely fluent. The Sadat era is not over, he said, because the flag of Israel flies in Egypt and that of Egypt flies in Israel. He agreed with Livni's people- to-people peace objective, but said it would not happen without an end to the state of belligerence, ending the occupation, giving Palestinians the right to their own state, and giving all states in the region the right to live in security within their own borders. Egypt sincerely believed that the Annapolis meeting would achieve crucial developments, he said. Then, quoting Sadat, he added: "When the bells of peace ring, there will be no hands to beat the drums of war." Afterwards, at a "No More War" photographic exhibition, the affable el-Souefi was surrounded by well-wishers and admirers who sought to engage him in conversation. FORMER CO-EDITOR of The Jerusalem Post Ari Rath recalled preparing a special edition of the paper on Shabbat to take to the hotel before Sadat's arrival. He had promised press manager Hananya Levin, who was religiously observant, that the presses would not start rolling till Shabbat was out, and remained true to his word. Immediately after the first print run, Rath rushed over to King David with a hot-off-the-press newspaper for Sadat to read. PRESS PHOTOGRAPHER Dan Landau, the late husband of the writer of this column, had been commissioned by the management of the King David to take photos within the hotel, and had been issued with a pass denied to many of his colleagues. Because our apartment is less than five minutes walk from the hotel, and because Dan was such a generous soul, it became the headquarters for numerous photographers who needed some place to hang around while waiting for an event that was not limited to pool coverage. Dan remained at the King David long after registered media personnel had departed and in his typical manner chatted up one of Sadat's bodyguards, plying him with cigarettes. When Begin showed up at Sadat's door close to midnight, Dan persuaded the bodyguard to allow him into the room. He took a close-up handshake and sped home to develop the film. This was in the pre-digital camera era. All the photographers who had been raiding our refrigerator, drinking innumerable cups of coffee, messing up our bathroom and parking their bodies all over the furniture and the floor gathered eagerly to see the result. The film had a scratch on the bottom which showed up on the print. Dan sat down on the floor and wept. "Who cares about a scratch?" yelled Shmuel Rahmani, the Ma'ariv photographer. "You've just photographed history!" Rahmani grabbed the still-wet print, placed it on the dashboard of his car, and raced off to Tel Aviv just in time to have it published on the front page of Ma'ariv. LEADERS AND ambassadors of countries that were among the 33 that voted in favor of UN Resolution 181 in 1947 which led to the birth of the State of Israel are becoming ever mindful of the fact as November 29 and the 60th anniversary of the resolution draw closer. Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, currently in Israel, mentioned it, and Poland's Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska said at the conclusion of her address at her country's national day celebrations that she was "very proud that my country voted for that resolution." November 11, which for much of the world is Armistice Day, is also Independence Day for Poland, which on that date in 1918 regained independence after 123 years of foreign rule. Many Jews participated in this national endeavor, said Magdziak-Miszewska, who noted that Jews had also fought in the army of Polish commander-in-chief Jozef Pilsudski. "For centuries Jews shared the soil of my homeland, Poland," she said, observing that the type of mutual relations that exist today between Israel and Poland could not have come about without this background. There is cooperation on issues such as terrorism, foreign policy, science and cultural encounters. Next year, in honor of Israel's 60th anniversary year, Poland will host a Polish Culture Year in Israel. Minister-without-Portfolio Yitzhak Cohen said that politically, Poland is one of Israel's best friends in the European Union. He also commented on improved trade relations with the volume of bilateral trade standing at $300 million, reflecting a 20 per cent increase over last year. GUESTS AT the state dinner hosted by President Shimon Peres for Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko last week included ambassadors from most of Ukraine's neighboring countries, such as Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Latvia and Moldova. Contrary to usual practice, there was no pre-dinner receiving line in which guests filed past the two presidents. This may have been because Yushchenko was accompanied by his wife, Kateryna, whereas Sonia Peres has thus far not put in an appearance at Beit Hanassi, and protocol would dictate that under the circumstances, Yushchenko's wife should absent herself. She did so, in fact, at the morning welcome reception for Yushchenko, who had caused a little consternation earlier in the day during a visit to the Western Wall. After kissing the stones, he crossed himself. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, who only a few days earlier had barred Austrian bishops from the Kotel because they refused to remove their crucifixes, looked on in horror. The lack of a reception line was not the only break with protocol. There was no head table. Instead, the two presidents, Kateryna Yushchenko, Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski, Israel's Ambassador to Ukraine Zina Klaitman and her predecessor, Naomi Ben Ami, who is now head of Nativ, sat with one other guest at a round table at which there was one more conspicuously empty chair. An official from the Foreign Ministry, whose accent and attitude suggested that he was of Ukrainian background, was very upset that Ukrainian Ambassador Ihor Tymofieiev was not seated at the same table. The problem was that Tymofieiev had brought his wife, Olena, and there wasn't room for the two of them. After all, at a presidential table, you don't move all the place settings closer together to make room for one more. At the end of the dinner, many of the guests, especially the diplomats, made a beeline for Yushchenko, but Lithuanian Ambassador Asta Skaisgiryte Liauskiene preferred to chat with Peres and drew her colleague, Larisa Miculet, the ambassador of Moldova, into the conversation. She then asked Beit Hanassi photographer Israel Noy to capture the moment for posterity. WHEN AN ambassador-designate is about to leave for his new posting, it is customary for his opposite number in Israel to host a farewell party for him, and German Ambassador Dr. Harald Kindermann was more than happy to do so for Yoram Ben Ze'ev prior to his departure for Germany. But US Ambassador Richard Jones also wanted to host a party because Ben Ze'ev, prior to his current appointment, was the deputy director general at the Foreign Ministry, heading the North American desk. The upshot was that the two ambassadors joined forces and hosted a party at the American ambassador's residence where people on the German guest list mingled happily with people on the American guest list. Of course, some like former Israel ambassador to the US, Zalman Shoval and his wife, Kena, were on both lists, as were Yossi and Daniela Beilin. It is highly likely that Aura Herzog and her son, government minister Isaac Herzog were also on both lists. Ben Ze'ev has a special relationship with the Herzog family, having served as deputy director general at Beit Hanassi when the late Chaim Herzog was president. During the formal part of the evening, Jones reviewed Ben Ze'ev's long career, the many places in which he has served, and the many languages he speaks. "You have spanned the world on behalf of your country," he said. Jones, who is quite a linguist himself, commended Ben Ze'ev for his "broad spectrum of languages" and also noted that his career had included eight years of service in the US. Jones said that he was bidding farewell to Ben Ze'ev not only as a professional colleague but as a personal friend, calling him "one of the most open, insightful officials that I have dealt with in my whole career." He told Ben Ze'ev that this next assignment would be full of challenges, surprises and opportunities, and it would also be one of the most rewarding periods in his life. Kinderman warned him that the assignment would be somewhat complicated. He used the German word komplitziert, which has a much broader and simultaneously esoteric meaning than "complicated." Then, in more serious vein, he said that Germany's relations with Israel were defined by responsibility for the Shoah. "Our relationship with Israel is based on this premise," he said. "We are committed to Israel's security, and I dare say that today, we are friends." Aside from its Holocaust history, another defining fact about Germany is its triple identification, said Kindermann. One is first defined by the city one comes from, then by Germany and then by Europe. Germany is part of a free world that values freedom, democracy and tolerance, he said. Ben Ze'ev paid tribute to two of Israel's giant statesmen with whom he had worked, focusing first on Herzog ("from whom I learned so much"), and then on the late and legendary Ephraim Evron (Eppie), who was deputy director general when Ben Ze'ev began working as a junior cadet at the Foreign Ministry 30 years ago. Evron had asked him: "Young man, what do you want to do?" And Ben Ze'ev replied: "One day I'll sit in your chair" - and he did. In an attempt to put his finger on the pulse of diplomacy, Ben Ze'ev quoted Henry Kissinger, who in a conversation with a Russian diplomat said: "Diplomacy is very difficult but it's better than having a job." PEOPLE WHO worked with Libby Bergstein in the years in which she acted as an adviser on political and Christian affairs, deputy chief of protocol and eventually chief of protocol to Jerusalem mayors Teddy Kollek, Ehud Olmert and Uri Lupolianski knew she was multi-talented, but didn't realize quite to what extent until last Friday, when they attended the opening of her one-woman exhibition called Chair/Imprint. There they saw not only her intriguing paintings and drawings of chairs, but read up on her CV, thus learning that she was born in New York, had been a dancer and choreographer, had lived in Israel for 40 years, has five children and 12 grandchildren, and has inherited the youth gene of her nonagenarian mother, Bess Glaster. Her mother lives in Beit Protea in Herzliya and came to Jerusalem for the opening with a van load of other Beit Protea residents. Glaster, who looks closer to 60 than 90, has just completed her autobiography, aptly titled Finding Bess. Bergstein asked people who came to the exhibition, at the Jerusalem Theater, to bring chairs with them to go on show as an imprint of their presence, and provided tags so that they could be labeled for return. The purpose was to go beyond the reflected motif of her exhibition and to realize that the chair is a place for the present body and a sign of the absent body.

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