US AMBASSADOR Dan Shapiro intends to sample as much of the Israel experience as he can during his tour of office here – even to the extent of appearing on State of the Nation, the mercilessly satirical television show hosted by Lior Schlein, who with the assistance of Einav Galili, Guri Alfi and Orna Banai, slaughters almost every national sacred cow.
Shapiro took a great risk in being a guest on the final show of the season, but the team was relatively kind to him. When Schlein asked him: “Now that the Americans have Waze, do you think you could find your way to a residence in Jerusalem?” Shapiro grinned and replied that president George W. Bush had given the matter his consideration, as had presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama – and all of them had decided that the time was not yet ripe.
Shapiro did a promo for the prerecorded program on his Facebook page, where he wrote in Hebrew: “Look who’s sitting in the hot seat in State of the Nation.” He admitted that some people thought he had lost his mind by appearing on the show, but added that for him it was a real blast.
■ FOR ALL his good intentions, US Secretary of State John Kerry seems to be a master of the diplomatic faux pas. This past April, prior to President Obama’s trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, Kerry referred to Latin America as “our backyard.” Two months earlier, very soon after his appointment, when praising US diplomats in Central Asia, Kerry invented a new country – Kyrzakhstan – apparently confusing Kyrgyzstan with Kazakhstan and fusing the two.
Last Thursday, after discussing the renewal of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, he told reporters he hoped that direct negotiations would be resumed “as procedures are put in place by both countries.” It seems that Kerry upgraded the status of the Palestinian Authority before talks even started.
In Jericho on the same day, Jordanian Minister of the Interior and Municipal Affairs Hussein Majali was much more diplomatically aware when speaking at the fourth interministerial meeting on the Corridor for Peace and Prosperity. In emphasizing the importance of widespread prosperity and a stable economy, Majali made no reference to countries, but instead referred to “all societies” in the region.
■ KERRY IS not the only one who has jumped the gun. There is already heated discussion in Israel about a referendum, even before anything has been agreed upon by the two sides to the negotiations.
If Israel, despite all the difficulties involved, decides that in all fairness to the people who will be affected and unlike the evacuation of Gush Katif, there will be a referendum, surely the Palestinian population is entitled to the same privilege of voting on its future.
At last week’s rabbinical elections, 150 people were entitled to cast votes that determined who would be the new chief rabbis. This did not involve any land swaps or major changes from patterns set by their predecessors. Without a referendum in Israel, 120 people will vote on exchanges of territory, evacuations and a whole bunch of other conditions related to a peace agreement, which will affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
Even though it goes against the grain of a parliamentary democracy, former minister Yossi Beilin is not averse to a referendum on the final settlement agreement that will end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and hopefully bring about peace. His former boss, President Shimon Peres who was foreign minister at the time that Beilin was deputy minister, is also favorably disposed to a referendum. But whereas Beilin’s reason is to secure a simple majority one way or the other, Peres is so convinced that the majority of Israelis will vote in favor of a peace treaty that from his standpoint, a referendum will simply confirm what he believes.
Speaking this week at the Jerusalem Press Club, Beilin was asked if he intends to return to politics. His reply was “no chance.” But truth be told, Beilin has never been out of politics. The fact that he’s no longer a party leader, minister or MK is neither here nor there. He continues to hobnob with Israeli, Palestinian, American and European politicians – offering what from his perspective is strategic advice – and to contribute political op-eds to the media.
A piece of advice that he’s given to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on more than one occasion is to take a leaf out of the book of Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion – who after the partition of Palestine did not get what he wanted, but took what he could get. If Abbas wants a state, said Beilin, let him take what he can get: a small Palestinian state, with the possibility for further gains in the future.
■ AN OFFICIAL Barca (aka Barcelona Football Club) delegation is due to arrive in Israel this weekend, on a two-day Middle East Peace Tour scheduled for August 3- 4. While Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Washington will be trading scenarios that are still up in the air, the Barca people will be demonstrating some fancy footwork on the ground in the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
Led by Barca president Sandro Rosell, the delegation will meet with Abbas and other Palestinian dignitaries in Bethlehem on Saturday, August 3, and the next day will meet with Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The delegation, which has the support and blessings of both the Israeli and Palestinian governments, includes all the members of Tata Martino’s team, including Leo Messi and Neymar Jr, as well as the other international players who have become household names. Also in the delegation are the club’s directors: Josep Maria Bartomeu, Javier Faus, Jordi Cardoner, Jordi Moix, Ramon Pont, Dídac Lee and Josep Ramon Vidal-Abarca, and football director Andoni Zubizarreta, which collectively gives some indication of the significance that Barca attaches to this initiative.
On Saturday, the delegation will tour Bethlehem and visit the Church of the Nativity. It will then proceed to Mukata, where Abbas will host a reception in honor of the highly welcome visitors from Barcelona. From Ramallah, the delegation will continue to Dura Stadium near Hebron, where a football clinic – consisting of workshops and a diverse array of mini-games – will be held with the participation of dozens of Palestinian children, who will interact with the FC Barcelona players.
On Sunday, the delegation and the team will visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem, before an official reception with Peres and Netanyahu at the President’s Residence.
They will then head to Bloomfield Stadium for a second clinic, where they expect thousands of children to participate – including mixed teams of Jewish and Arab children, who frequently play together under the auspices of the Peres Center for Peace.
Integral to the second clinic will be the launch by Education Minister Shai Piron of a new initiative, The Other is Me, which will be part of curricula throughout the country in the upcoming school year. The goal of this new initiative is to foster tolerance and enhance peace throughout Israel’s education system.
■ NO ONE knows better than a professional actor that all the world’s a stage and everyone must play their part. Chaim Topol, the international star of Fiddler on the Roof, who on September 9 will celebrate his 78th birthday, could not say no to an audience of children with life-threatening illnesses – who urged him to climb up a wall. So dressed in a rappelling outfit, the good-natured Topol, who happens to be chairman of the Jordan River Village, went through his paces to the encouraging cheers of the youngsters and acquitted himself quite well, reaching a height of 10 meters.
The village works in partnership with voluntary organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life for seriously ill youngsters, and provides those aged 8- 18 with opportunities to have as much fun as they possibly can. All of the village’s services for sick children and their families are free. There is 24-hour unobtrusive medical supervision and this, together with the numerous activities available to youngsters of all denominations, makes the village a magical place. For families, it offers not only temporary relief but also the thrill of seeing how much their children enjoy themselves.
■ EACH YEAR, UNESCO in partnership with the L’Oreal Corporate Foundation provides a $100,000 grant to female researchers engaged in groundbreaking studies. This year, two Israeli researchers received $50,000 each, at a ceremony last week at the Tel Aviv Hilton that was attended by Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri and French Ambassador Christophe Bigot.
The two recipients were structural biologist Natali Zeituni of Ben-Gurion University, who is researching disease-producing bacteria, and Adit Naor of Tel Aviv University, who is studying genetic phenomena in halophilic archaea. Peri said that encouraging women to be scientific researchers was both of national and global interest.
For the past 15 years, UNESCO and L’Oréal have encouraged women researchers by either giving an award to one woman scientist on each continent, or splitting the award between two female researchers on any one continent – as happened on this occasion.
■ OF ALL the Russian refuseniks whose names were so familiar to Jewish crusaders campaigning to free Soviet Jewry, none remained so enduringly in the public eye as Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky – who became the living symbol for them all. While many of them have carved out diverse and rewarding careers for themselves in Israel, none has been quite as successful as Sharansky.
On Monday night, in an open discussion at the Jerusalem Press Club with Dr.
Mehmet Oz, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and The Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde, Sharansky, in talking about hope, said that he had found it by dreaming of freedom and belonging.
On previous occasions, he has said that one of the things which kept him sane during his incarceration in a Soviet prison was his ability to play chess in his head.
But at the JPC, it was obvious that another saving grace was his sense of humor. His spontaneous one-liners provoked laughter and cheers, and would have been a credit to any comedy act. For example, in response to Linde’s question as to whether this was a time for healing in the Middle East, Sharansky replied that he was sitting with two specialists – one who was an expert on healthy food and the other on healthy sex.
The bulk of the discussion was taken up by hatred and evil, how to define them and how to deal with them. Oz, who somewhere in back of his mind must have subconsciously been influenced by Stockholm Syndrome, suddenly turned to Sharansky and asked whether he had hated all of his KGB interrogators. They almost became friends, said Sharansky, but he had been sufficiently savvy to understand that they wanted to destroy him and deprive him of his identity.
In recent years, Sharansky’s wife, Avital, has shunned the limelight and has seldom accompanied her husband on his public engagements. However, on Monday night, she was sitting in the front row of the auditorium and was acknowledged by Boteach, who described her as “a global feminine icon who took on world governments.”
At the time of the most intense efforts to secure Sharansky’s release from Soviet captivity, Boteach was a yeshiva student in Jerusalem. The students were not supposed to watch television or listen to the radio, but Boteach bought a small transistor radio and used to lie on the floor of the yeshiva bathroom to listen to it almost every hour on the hour – to find out if there had been any progress in the Sharansky case. As Boteach recounted this, Sharansky smiled and said: “That’s how we used to listen to The Voice of America in the Soviet Union.”
■ AS WAS expected during question time, there was the inevitable query as to why Israel should be expected to release 104 Palestinian prisoners with blood on their hands, when the Americans continue with their refusal to release convicted Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard.
There was no logical or convincing reason, and none of the people on the platform were able to supply a solution that would facilitate Pollard’s release. On the contrary, Boteach, who has visited Pollard in prison and has lobbied for his release, believes the US wants him to die in prison.
The only possible solution to the problem, it appears, is if Israel manages to smuggle American whistleblower Edward Snowden out of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport and says to the Americans: “You want Snowden? Then give us Pollard! Otherwise Snowden stays hidden in Israel.”
It’s not a “nice” thing to do to either the Americans or Snowden – but what the Americans are doing to Pollard isn’t nice either.
■ FORMER MK Gila Finkelstein, who is a member of the Turkel Committee, has come to the defense of Jacob Frenkel, the once and briefly future governor of the Bank of Israel.
In an interview with Arieh Golan on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, Finkelstein said that media reports about Frenkel, including those related to his appearances before the Turkel Committee, were inaccurate.
Israel was lucky to have someone of his stature, she said, who had been willing to forfeit an enormous salary for a significantly smaller one and take up the position of central bank governor. Moreover, she maintained, the Turkel Committee had not received any documentation to suggest there was any truth to the allegations against Frenkel.
For some perverse reason, Israel loves to humiliate its heroes – even those who are high-ranking officers in the IDF, let alone academics who have become enormously successful in other fields, former business tycoons who have fallen on hard times, and religious figures who may have strayed from the straight and narrow. A perfect example is Shas leader Arye Deri, who after having paid his debt to society and been exiled for years from the political arena, is still not permitted in some quarters to escape the shadow of his past.
The questions this begs at the moment are: Who set the ball rolling against Frenkel, and why? The possible scenarios would make a great television series, but the bottom line is that the success of the anti-Frenkel campaign, which caused him to withdraw his candidature, is Israel’s loss in more ways than one.
The person who caused the blight on Frenkel’s personal and professional reputation should remember the old proverb: “As you sow, so shall you reap.”
■ LAST THURSDAY was Army Day for the prime minister. In the morning, Netanyahu was at the induction center at Tel Hashomer to meet with Paratroop Brigade recruits; in the evening, he attended the National Defense College’s graduation ceremony in the amphitheater of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus campus.
Netanyahu was pleasantly surprised at the induction center, when OC Personnel Maj.-Gen. Orna Barbivai presented him with photographs that showed him and his late brother, Yonatan, taken on the day that each was inducted. When he was a rookie soldier, Netanyahu looked remarkably like his younger son, Avner, looks today.
■ WHEN NETANYAHU was running for election in the previous Knesset, his then-spokesman Yossi Levy always created a menacing impression, because he sported a permanent five o’clock shadow that made him look extremely swarthy.
Levy is the spokesman for Moshe Lion, who is running against incumbent Nir Barkat in the Jerusalem mayoral stakes.
Both Levy and Lion have undergone an image change. Each is considerably slimmer than five years ago, and Levy is clean-shaven.
Barkat’s supporters, however, continue to publish full-page advertisements in local Jerusalem tabloids that feature an unflattering portrait of Lion in his heftier days. The accompanying text reads: “Moshe Lion, residents of Jerusalem are interested to know why a man who always lived in Givatayim, who never paid arnona (property tax) in Jerusalem, who never voted in Jerusalem, whose children never studied in schools in Jerusalem and who doesn’t even have a house in Jerusalem – why does a man like that want to run for mayor of Jerusalem?” The advertisement, printed in negative type – i.e. white on black – is signed in very small type: “Presented as a public service by Jerusalem for Nir Barkat 2013.”
Of course, no one knows what sort of a ship Lion will run if elected, but residents of areas in which Barkat has given the green light to street fairs and raucous block parties are unlikely to vote him back into office. Nor are residents living in neighborhoods in which public transportation is stopped because of sporting and entertainment events supported by Barkat. While it is commendable that the mayor is trying to prevent an exodus of young people from the capital, this is becoming a lame duck excuse for inconveniencing older generations of residents – considering the number of entertainment and leisure outlets now available in commercial and industrial areas, most of which are easily accessible via public transportation.
As chairman of the Jerusalem Development Authority, Lion has been closely involved with projects aimed at providing incentives for young people to remain in the capital. The JDA, founded by Uzi Wexler, a former treasurer of the Jerusalem Municipality, has invested in and promoted hundreds of ventures designed to improve the city’s economy, and to upgrade and develop the city’s physical and technological infrastructure.
It has developed new culture and leisure complexes, and helped strengthen the links between academia and industry. It also encourages movie and TV companies to use Jerusalem as the setting for their productions. And that’s only part of the story.
It’s true that Barkat has brought some positive change to the city, but his supporters should be emphasizing the good he has done – instead of badmouthing his rival, Lion.
■ JUST A month shy of the second anniversary of his release from Hamas prison, where he spent five years, Gilad Schalit – who has since become a globetrotter, whose travels have inter alia taken him to France, Australia and the US – is going to Canada, supposedly to thank Canadian Jewry for supporting his cause.
But the real purpose of the visit is to drum up business for the sale of trees, at $18 per sapling. That’s what people wanting to attend his appearances in Toronto on September 16, Montreal on September 17, Calgary on September 22, and Vancouver on September 29, are being asked to pay.
Understandably, his trip is being sponsored by the Jewish National Fund of Canada, which is celebrating its 110th anniversary. The organization’s Facebook page urges readers: “Help us welcome Gilad to Canada by sending your friends a special e-card, along with an invitation to attend this incredible event.” The ecard is basically a purchase form for trees.
■ IT’S SAID that busy people always have time to do one more thing, and one more, and one more. That’s the story of David Zwebner, a ninth-generation Jerusalemite who speaks English with a cultured South African accent. Zwebner’s late father was sent to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where he served as chief rabbi, also serving as a rabbi in South Africa. Zwebner returned to Israel to do his army service and a few years later, in 1981, founded Commstock Trading Ltd., one of the first brokerage firms to receive a license from the Bank of Israel.
The suave and ever-courteous Zwebner sits on several boards of directors, and plays tennis every day. Joined by Anne Ayalon, the wife of the former deputy foreign minister, he will be building a luxurious pilgrim complex in the Galilee that is destined to become a focal point for ecumenical dialogue. More recently, after buying a vacation apartment in Ashkelon, he became a real estate broker and is developing and selling area property.
Even before that, in contrast to the work he was doing as a trader in commodity futures, he completed a tour guide course, and delights in personally escorting groups and individuals around the country – particularly to Ashkelon, which has undergone an enormous, ongoing transformation.
Zwebner is also involved in the construction of a golf and recreation village with a world-class 18-hole golf course, with the possible participation of American business magnate Donald Trump– who, in an exchange of correspondence with Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin, expressed interest in the project.
After acquiring his holiday home in Ashkelon, Zwebner became closely associated with Vaknin and various city philanthropic causes. For instance, he is a board member of the Ashkelon Foundation, even though he lives in Jerusalem.
Ashkelon was originally settled by South Africans in 1949, and they established Afridar. Several streets in Ashkelon bear the names of South African streets, and the city’s first mayor, Dr. Harry Sonnabend, was originally from South Africa. Seeking ways to promote Ashkelon as a pleasant and affordable place to settle, especially for South Africans who love being close to the sea, Zwebner turned to Telfed, the Israeli arm of the South African Zionist Federation, and eventually some Telfed board members travelled from Ra’anana to Ashkelon to meet with Vaknin. Once there, they realized that the city is an ideal destination for immigrants from South Africa.
The upshot was that Zwebner was asked to represent Ashkelon at upcoming aliya fairs in Johannesburg and Cape Town during August. He is taking his wife, Ronit, with him so that she can see where he grew up.