IN THE period leading up to the general elections for the Knesset, government ministers were rarely available to attend the national day events hosted by various ambassadors. Thus, instead of a minister, the government was often represented by a senior official from the Foreign Ministry. But with the new government now firmly ensconced, ministers no longer have an excuse to refuse, and some of the new ones are having their initial experiences in this particular facet of diplomacy. This was the case with Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon who represented the government at the 37th anniversary celebrations of the unification of Cameroon, hosted by Dean of the Diplomatic Corps Henri Etoundi Essomba, who presented his credentials 10-and-a-half years ago, after having previously served as his embassy's Charge d'Affaires. That's a very long time for any diplomat to be stationed in one country, although Essomba is by no means the only diplomat to be promoted in this fashion.
Tri-color archways of balloons in the Cameroon national colors of green, red and yellow, lent a festive air to the rear garden of the ambassador's residence in Kfar Shmaryahu where a huge cluster of balloons in the same colors floated gently in the pool. The well attended reception was held from 7-9 p.m. Usually the minister shows up sometime between 7.30 and 8, but Ya'alon was somewhat late, and Essomba was concerned that the guests might be gone by the time he arrived. Admittedly some guests did depart, but most were still there. The Foreign Ministry had prepared a more substantive speech for Ya'alon than what it generally gives the ministers to read, and fortunately Ya'alon's English is good. He read fluently, with the right intonation and no mispronunciations, receiving more than a polite smattering of applause. Essomba, leaning casually across the lectern, chose to ad lib and did it well. Speaking also on behalf of his wife Esther, Essomba said that Ya'alon's presence was "meaningful confirmation" of the 49th year of friendly relations between Cameroon and Israel, which he noted go back a longer period than unification. Israel has been in the forefront of countries friendly to Cameroon and has aided in its development, especially in the areas of agriculture and medicine, Essomba continued. Today, that assistance is extending to technologies and communication. In this context, he mentioned an agreement between the Technion and the Cameroon Polytechnic to upgrade the latter's level of engineering, so that graduates of the Polytechnic can work anywhere in the world. Ya'alon said he was proud that Israel had been chosen to help increase Cameroon's poultry production - something with which he was familiar. Ya'alon is a member of Kibbutz Grofit, though these days he's only there at weekends, but still does his share on the farm.
n WHEN ONE doesn't have to make one's own arrangements, it's amazing how much can be accomplished in a two-day visit. UK Trade and Investment Minister Lord Mervyn Davies, on a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, met a large number of people and managed to talk to them on a wide assortment of subjects. With his Israel counterpart Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, he discussed a potential role for Israeli companies during the 2012 London Olympics. In return, Ben-Eliezer asked Lord Davies to consider sending a delegation to Israel for the WATEC International Conference this November. Ben-Eliezer noted that some 70 percent of water in Israel is used by agriculture and outlined the technical advances spearheaded by Israeli companies.
Lord Davies also met Governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer and leading Israeli business people including representatives of Israeli companies that have business dealings with or in the UK. He met some of them at a dinner hosted by British Ambassador Tom Phillips at his Ramat Gan residence and others at a breakfast meeting that he hosted himself at the Tel Aviv Hilton where he was staying. Included amongst the Israelis to whom he was introduced were Shraga Brosh, Amnon Dotan, Gad Propper, Dov Tadmor and Solly Sakal. At his various meetings, Lord Davies noted the excellent trade relations between Israel and the UK, and at his meeting with Fischer said that the UK government and the British financial sector were interested in expanding existing trade ties with Israel. On the Palestinian side, Lord Davies met with Dr. Jihad Al Wazir, the governor of the Palestinian monetary authority in Ramallah, and the new Minister for National Economy Basem Koury, with whom he discussed potential areas of cooperation in Trade and Investment. He also met with Palestinian business leaders.
THE RECIPIENT of this year's Guardian of Zion Award, presented annually by Bar-Ilan University's Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies, is Jerusalem Post Senior Contributing Editor Caroline Glick. Glick will deliver the annual Distinguished Rennert Lecture, which given the current controversy over the future of Jerusalem, is appropriately titled "Jerusalem: the Eternal Front Line."
The award ceremony will take place on Sunday, May 31, at its traditional venue, the King David Hotel, Jerusalem.
After receiving her BA in Political Science from Columbia University, Glick came to Israel in 1991 and joined the army, where she rose to the rank of captain and served in the Defense Ministry as a core member of Israel's negotiating team with the Palestinians. She subsequently served as assistant policy adviser to Binyamin Netanyahu during his first stint as prime minister. She returned to the US to further her studies and after receiving a Master's degree in Public Policy from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, came back to Israel and began writing for Makor Rishon, serving as the paper's chief diplomatic commentator until January, 2008. In 2002 she came to the attention of then Post editor Bret Stephens, who was so impressed by her that he offered her the position of deputy managing editor and senior columnist. She currently writes two syndicated columns each week. Glick covered the US-led invasion of Iraq as an embedded journalist with the US Army's 3rd Infantry Division and reported for the Post, Maariv, Israel's Channel 2 television and the Chicago Sun-Times. One of the few female journalists on the front lines with the US forces, she was the first Israeli journalist to report from liberated Baghdad.
n WITHIN THE framework of the 60th anniversary celebrations of Canada-Israel relations, Canadian Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney arrived in Israel last week and inter alia visited the Jewish Agency's absorption center for Ethiopian immigrants in Mevasseret Zion.
He was accompanied by Canadian Ambassador Jon Allen and Jewish Agency Director General Moshe Vigdor. Coincidentally, Allen's wife Clara Hirsch is engaged in a project in which she teaches English as a second language to children of Ethiopian background. Canada recognized the State of Israel when it was founded in 1948. Formal diplomatic relations between the two countries were established on May 11, 1949. Allen and Hirsch this week hosted a reception to mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries. Since the severing of diplomatic relations between Israel and Venezuela, Canada now represents Israel in that country.
n EVERYONE ENJOYS appreciation, but when a famous, prize-winning, American actress, comedienne, singer, song-writer and radio and television personality takes a liking to the creations of an Israeli fashion designer, it's like winning the lottery. Thus, when Sasson Kedem got a phone call from Fern Penn, who stocks his garments in her Rosebud Israeli concept store in New York, to tell him that Whoopi Goldberg likes his stuff and is wearing it, what could he say but "Whoopi!"? Goldberg, who lives near the store, saw a Sasson Kedem outfit in the window, came inside to try it on and walked out with a whole lot more. Goldberg, who has been under fire from the fashion literati for the mode of dress in which she appears on her television show, retorted that what she says is more important than what she wears. In choosing Sasson Kedem, who designs for courageous individualists who don't have a herd mentality, Goldberg, rather than opting for popular trends, is proving that no-one can stop her from doing her own thing - except that now it will be more eye-catching.
n YAD VASHEM, in conjunction with the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, will host a special performance by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and choirs of adults and children on June 1 of Leonard Bernstein's Kaddish, the text for which was written by Auschwitz survivor Dr. Samuel Pisar. The concert, sponsored by Lily Safra and the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation, is supported by the Israel Ministry of Education, the Alexander Fund and other donors. The Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation has contributed to several Yad Vashem projects, including the Edmond J. Safra lecture hall in the new International Seminars Wing.
Lily Safra will also be in Jerusalem during the following week for the meeting of the Board of Governors of the Hebrew University and the launch of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences in honor of which there will be a special symposium dealing with brain research and brain repair. Speakers at the symposium will include Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Bert Sakmann. Safra is having a busy time during her current visit to Israel. She is also inaugurating the Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center at the University of Haifa, which will confer an honorary doctorate on her. Safra already has honorary doctorates from several of Israel's institutes of higher learning, and she also has the satisfaction of knowing that thousands of university scholarships that she has distributed through the International Sephardic Education Fund (ISEF), which she founded with her late husband, have enabled many young people from deprived socio-economic backgrounds to realize their potential, and in a good number of cases to earn doctorates and professorships on the basis of their scholastic merits.
n AT ITS first annual Jerusalem Day dinner six years ago, the OU Israel held a marathon of speeches, and sold so many tickets that people simply couldn't move in the cavernous banquet hall of the capital's Renaissance hotel. This year, which also marked the 30th anniversary of the Orthodox Union's activities and wide-ranging projects in Israel, the speeches were cut down to a minimum, there was more space between the tables and the videotapes of the two sets of honorees, Rabbi Dr. Sholom and Rabbanit Bayla Gold and Charley and Shelly Levine, showed the honorees in home and work environments and recorded them saying things which were warmer, more authentic and more personal, delivered in front of a cameraman and one or two other people, than anything they would have said on stage to hundreds of people. The organization of the event, emcee'd by David Jablinowitz, better known as David Zeev of Israel Radio's English News, was first class, with one ballroom used for a Jerusalem Day prayer service led by Cantor Avshalom Katz, and an inspiring address by gifted story teller Rabbi Ari Berman, formerly of the Upper West Side Jewish Center and now of Neve Daniel in Gush Etzion.
At the actual dinner, the music was provided by Shlomo Katz, who went through an extensive Carlebach repertoire, singing loud enough to be heard but not so loud as to drown out conversation. The dinner brochure was informative and attractively presented and a guest directory distributed to each guest had not only an alphabetical listing, but also the table number of each person, so that people looking for their relatives and friends would not have to wander around aimlessly trying to find a face in the crowd.
n ROMANIAN PRESIDENT Traian Basescu is scheduled to pay a state visit to Israel at the beginning of June. He will meet with President Shimon Peres and other dignitaries.
n POLAND'S FIRST Lady Maria Kaczynska arrived in Israel last Saturday for the conclusion of Polish Year in Israel, which was by way of a gala concert that was the curtain raiser for this year's Israel Festival. By arrangement with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, Michal Dworzynski, Principal Conductor of the Beethoven Academy Orchestra in Krakow and London Symphony Orchestra Assistant Conductor, conducted the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki's outstanding Symphony No. 3 with Iwona Hossa - soprano, and Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, performed by pianist Jacek Kortus. In addition to the wife of the President of the Republic of Poland, other special guests included Poland's Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, Tomasz Merta and Poland's Ambassador to Israel Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska.
n THE LATTER, along with several other women ambassadors, was invited by former Kadima MK Amira Dotan, who was the first female Brigadier General in the Israel Defense Forces, to visit Netzarim training camp, where they spoke to young female officers who train male combat soldiers. Larisa Miculet, the Ambassador of Moldova, was very impressed as were her colleagues, especially when the soldiers spoke of what motivated them. "It's one thing to read about it, but it becomes much more meaningful when you meet the soldiers in person," said Miculet. The ambassadors also met with volunteer soldiers from France and the US. An American soldier from Washington is responsible for the fact that her family is making aliya. Despite the fact that female diplomats and female soldiers have broken through the glass ceiling, there was consensus that there is still much to be done before there is complete gender equality. One indication of progress in the army would be the appointment of a female chief of general staff. There has been a female deputy defense minister in the person of Dalia Rabin - so perhaps a female chief of general staff is not all that impossible a dream.
n KOREAN AMBASSADOR Young Sam Ma is walking around with the grin of a Cheshire cat, knowing that his belief in the power of the press has been vindicated. Since it was announced in this column earlier this month that he was looking for Jewish veterans of the Korean War in order to give them the recognition that he and his government believe they deserve, there have been 24 applications to the Embassy by ex-service personnel now living in Israel.
n MOST HEADS of foreign missions in Israel enjoy the time they spend here. "I like this country. A lot of diplomats like this country, and they are right," says Latvian Ambassador Martins Perts. In fact, they like it so much that most diplomats when attending the rounds of farewell parties at the conclusion of their respective periods of tenure promise to return. Not everyone keeps that promise, although there are a few former ambassadors to Israel as well as their spouses who return separately and together, not once or twice but many times. The Americans are probably in the forefront of return visits, with Sam and Sallie Lewis, Martin Indyk and Dan and Sheila Kurtzer being among the more frequent flyers. Former British Ambassador Sir David Manning and his wife Lady Catherine Manning were in Israel a couple of months back to catch up with old friends. More recently, former Chilean Ambassador Sally Bendersky, who has family in Israel, came on a private visit and former Austrian Ambassador Kurt Hengl, who had three stints of service in Israel before he retired, but who left his heart here when he returned to Austria, was also visiting. Hengl, a natural born Zionist if ever there was one, was in Israel for EU Day as well as for the official inauguration of his brainchild, a Christian Arab university in Ibillin near Shfaram, which had been operating as a branch of the University of Indianapolis since 2003, but will now be part of the network of Israel's institutes of higher learning.
n FRIENDS AND colleagues who heard the address of the European Union's ambassador to Israel, Ramiro Cibrian-Uzal, congratulated him for several days after EU Day on the fluency with which he delivered his speech in Hebrew, telling him that it was even better than the effort he had made in the previous year. Apparently there won't be a next time for Cibrian-Uzal, who explains that his superiors think that his Hebrew is already good enough, so the next EU Day will be presided over by his successor.
n MEMBERS OF the International Women's Club occasionally take a group trip abroad to the home country of one of their foreign members. Such trips are usually led by the wife of the ambassador of that country. Thus, Talia Fugen Tan, the very personable wife of the Ambassador of Turkey, was planning to lead a group to Istanbul. However the arrival in Israel of a high-level Turkish delegation precluded her from attending to the IWC, and in the final analysis, the tour was organized and led by IWC President Suzette Rayna. The 21-member group spent four days and three nights in Istanbul and had a wonderful time. According to Adina Gottesman, the former Honorary Consul General for Nepal, aside from the charms of Istanbul itself, the reason that the women had such a good time was because there wasn't a single argument throughout the trip.
n THE ARGENTINE Government decided to award Tel Aviv University history professor Raanan Rein the title of Commander in the Order of the Liberator San Martin for his contribution to Argentine culture and its presence in Israel. The award ceremony was conducted in the Art Gallery of Tel Aviv University by Argentina's ambassador to Israel, Atilio Molteni, in the presence of Latin American and Israeli diplomats, university authorities, faculty members and well-known Israelis of Latin American background. Rein, who heads the S. Daniel Abraham Center for International and Regional Studies, was recently awarded an endowed chair by Tel Aviv University (the Elias Sourasky Chair of Iberian and Latin American Studies) and elected Vice President of the Latin American Jewish Studies Association (LAJSA). A member of Argentina's National Academy of History, Rein also served as Tel Aviv University's Vice Rector between the years 2005-2009. The author and editor of more than twenty books and numerous articles in academic journals, Rein is currently a Research Fellow at the Hebrew University's Institute of Advanced Studies and will spend the next semester as a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry at Emory University.