WHILE THE Supreme Court recently upheld the rules governing mandatory retirement at age 67 for males and less for females, albeit recommending a reexamination of age and gender discrimination, there are other areas in which there is a lack of uniformity when it comes to retirement. Judges retire at 70, but there is no mandatory retirement age for politicians or presidents. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will turn 67 in October, and while there are efforts to limit a prime minister to two consecutive terms, Netanyahu’s age will not be a factor in attempts to unseat him. Similarly, President Reuven Rivlin, who is 76 years old, is arguably working harder these days than he did in his younger years, and particularly this week (though he arguably may have worked harder in the early months of his presidency, when he traveled all over the country paying condolence calls on families that had lost loved ones in Operation Protective Edge.) A short list of his activities this week includes, inter alia: an address to the Islam in Zion conference in memory of the president’s father, Prof. Yosef Yoel Rivlin; a meeting with Martin Luther King III; a farewell to Col. David Rokni, who for three decades has conducted the parade at the opening of Independence Day festivities; a meeting with members of Yad Labanim, which is made up of bereaved families of soldiers who fell in defense of the state; a meeting with church leaders at the Armenian Patriarchate; a meeting with Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders; a meeting with outgoing Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yoram Cohen; receipt of the 1885 flag of Rishon Lezion, which was founded in 1882; the Europe Day reception hosted by the head of the European Union delegation to Israel, Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen; a rehearsal for the annual Independence Day ceremony honoring 120 outstanding soldiers; a memorial for members of the Irgun who fell in the battle for the village of Malha; the traditional memorial event at the Western Wall to mark the beginning of Remembrance Day; and a song event at the Knesset.
And that’s just a short list from Sunday to Tuesday.
Today, he will lay a wreath at the memorial ceremony on Mount Herzl, and on Thursday, he will host the central Independence Day celebrations, which will include keynote addresses and musical performances.
In the early evening, he will host a reception for the diplomatic corps, after which he will participate in the Israel Prize awards ceremony.
■ AT THE Europe Day reception hosted by Faaborg-Andersen and his wife, Jean Murphy, Rivlin voiced “Israel’s solidarity with Europe. He reaffirmed Israel’s deep friendship with Europe and commitment to their shared values.
While acknowledging that Israel and the EU do not see eye to eye on issues of policy, Rivlin made the point that “mutual progress must not be held hostage by the lack of progress between Israel and the Palestinians. This would be a victory for those who are not ready to accept, that the only way to solve the conflict is by building trust between people.” Rivlin also said that “Israel’s relationship with the EU is indispensable. The living evidence that binds us is stronger than what divides us.”
Other than common values, Israel also shares with Europe the challenge of overcoming terrorism.
“Terror is the same in Brussels and Paris as it is in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv,” said Rivlin, who noted that Europe Day came immediately after VE Day, which celebrates the victory of the allied forces over the Nazis.
“Peace is something that should not be taken for granted,” said Faaborg-Andersen, who spoke of the peace that has reigned over the EU’s member states, which for 70 years have been free of armed conflict on what was once a war-ravaged continent. Just as Europe has achieved its potential with countries working together, the envoy envisaged that Israel and the Palestinians would achieve their potential once peace was attained. There can only be peace when people are confident, are at peace with the political system and are reassured that their rights are respected, he said.
Referring to terrorism in Israel and growing anti-Semitism in Europe, Faaborg-Andersen said: “In Israel, you are living daily under the threat of terror – be it from rockets aimed at your cities or knife-wielding youths attacking without warning innocent people walking the streets. This is unacceptable.” He was equally adamant about anti-Semitism, which he said had no place in Europe. “We will not accept that Jewish communities in Europe are attacked and do not feel safe.
Attacks against Jews are attacks against all Europeans and against our European values. We are determined to fight anti-Semitism on every front – whether on the extreme Right or the extreme Left, or when it is instigated by extreme Islamists,” he said. On a personal level, Faaborg-Andersen told Rivlin: “You, Mr. President, have made inclusiveness, respect for everybody’s rights and a vision of a shared society the hallmark of your presidency. You have acted as a moral compass, sometimes at personal risk, in defense of our common values. And we all salute you for that.”
The event was attended by ambassadors of most of the 28 member states of the EU, as well as by ambassadors of other countries, such as Jordan, whose envoy, Ambassador Walid Obeidat, Rivlin greeted warmly. Among the diplomats from EU countries who also came in for a hearty greeting from Rivlin was French Ambassador Patrick Maisonnave.
■ EARLIER IN the day, Rivlin visited the Apostolic Armenian Church in Jerusalem’s Old City to meet with leaders of Christian communities in Israel. He was welcomed by Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian. Among the other prominent theologians in attendance were Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III and Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal. Rivlin spoke of the importance of remembering the victims of hatred, and spoke of the arrival of Armenian refugees to Jerusalem during and after the First World War. In 1915, when the members of the Armenian nation were being massacred, residents of Jerusalem, including his family, saw the refugees arriving in their thousands, he said. “In Jerusalem they found shelter. No one in Jerusalem denied a national massacre that had taken place.” While stopping short of describing the massacre as a Holocaust, which is how the Armenians refer to it, Rivlin said: “We are morally obligated to point out the facts, as horrible as they might be, and not to ignore them.”
Rivlin reiterated Israel’s commitment to the values of freedom of worship, and to the well-being of the Christian community, which has been facing persecution across the Middle East. “I come here today to say in the clearest way: The State of Israel is deeply committed to ensure the religious rights of worship and activity of all communities of faith in Jerusalem and throughout Israel,” the president said.
“These times are challenging times not only in our holy city, but across the region. Civil war and bloodshed in the name of religion have brought much pain and loss to the Christian communities.”
He was proud, he said, that Israel was the only country in the region in which the Christian community was not shrinking, but in fact growing.
“Christianity in Israel is not only about historic or holy sites and the many pilgrims who come to visit them,” he stated. “It is a living faith, a living community. We must work together to make sure this stays that way.” Rivlin also spoke of the difficulties experienced by Jerusalem in recent months, saying: “Terror and death have returned to our streets.
The violent attacks all over the city cause growing fear, and with fear come intolerance and hatred.”
Manougian stated that the Armenians appreciated the sensitivity Rivlin has shown for the community’s concern regarding recognition of the genocide that was perpetrated against their forebears.
Theophilos III spoke of the shared heritage between the Jewish and Christian communities, and expressed deep appreciation for Rivlin’s steadfast condemnation of all forms of prejudice, violence and terrorism, and for his “commitment to freedom of worship and religious expression for all peoples of the holy land.”
Twal emphasized the importance of dialogue between communities.
“In this region, where walls separate one community from another, we must be courageous in opening our doors and hearts to all, regardless of gender, race, religion or nationality,” he said.
■ THE OPENING celebrations of the Independence Day festivities are the province of the speaker of the Knesset.
Rivlin has twice served in this capacity and is well acquainted with Rokni, who, after 34 years as legendary commander of the parades at the beacon-lighting ceremony, will do so for the last time this evening.
Rokni came to the President’s Residence on Sunday to formally announce his resignation to Rivlin, although he had in fact announced it earlier to the powers that be in the Defense Ministry. At the Independence Day rehearsals on Monday, the Knesset Guard gave him an emotional farewell in the presence of his family, which came to surprise him. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein also gave him a heart-warming farewell.
■ RETIREMENT IS not a word in the lexicon of former president Shimon Peres, who, at 92, continues to travel abroad every few weeks, receive visiting dignitaries and host peace, leadership and community responsibility events via the Peres Center for Peace. This week, in advance of Israel’s 68th Independence Day and in protest over displays of racism at soccer matches, Peres hosted a “Mini Mondial for Peace” in which Premier League players were joined by foreign diplomats, mayors from across Israel and 300 Jewish, Israeli-Arab and Palestinian youths at the sports stadium in Herzliya.
Peres spent time in the locker room chatting with the players, blew the whistle to open the game and called on all present to unite against racism and violence on the soccer field. Addressing the players, he said: “There is no room for racism and violence on the soccer field. You players serve as models for young people of every nation.
The fact that you came here to play today, not only with your feet, but also your souls, proves that together we can make a difference.” Peres underscored that violence and racism at football games had a negative effect on children. He was very proud of the fact that under the auspices of the Peres Center, Israeli and Palestinian youngsters regularly came together to play soccer and in so doing, prove that it is possible.
Maccabi Haifa captain Yossi Benayoun, who has also captained the Israeli National Team, said the players were happy to come and lead by example.
At the ceremony to mark the opening of the Mini Mondial, the Peres Center held a moving tribute to legendary player Johan Cruyff, who passed away this year. Cruyff was for many years a staunch advocate for education toward coexistence and tolerance through soccer, and was a strong supporter of the Peres Center’s Twinned Peace Sports Schools project. Peres, together with several of the young Arab and Jewish participants, presented Cruyff’s son, Jordi, with a Peace Team jersey with the number 14 on the back, which was the legendary player’s number. The professional all-stars wore orange jerseys in Cruyff’s memory (orange is the Dutch national color).
Among the diplomats who played were the ambassadors from Albania and Austria, and senior envoys from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United States, Italy, France and Australia. They were joined by mayors and heads of regional councils, including those from Acre, Herzliya and Kfar Saba, as well as the Yoav Regional Council, Sha’ar Hanegev, Abu Ghosh, Hof HaSharon and Shibli. In addition to Benayoun, the Premier League players included Ahmed Abed, Avihai Yadin, Dan Aybinder, Yuval Spungin, Guy Haimov, Pedro Joaquín Galván, Hisham Kiwan, Dai Saba, Haim Margishvili, Omar Padida, Stav Pinish, Zion Tsemach, Ahmed Kasumi, Naor Peser, Dor Alov, Shai Constantine and Ohad Cohen.
“There is nothing like sport and soccer to connect people and religions, and to transcend differences of opinion,” said Herzliya Mayor Moshe Fadlon, noting that this was the third year in which Herzliya hosted the Mini Mondial and Peres.
“We are proud of your vision,” Fadlon told Israel’s ninth president.
Israel Football Association chairman Ofer Eini declared: “If we, adults, can act like these young football players, we can conquer racism and violence together, and have a better future for ourselves and with our neighbors.”
The program, in which Jewish, Israeli-Arab and Palestinian youngsters play soccer together, has been running for 14 years, and each year brings together hundreds of youngsters from all over the country. To date, more than 20,000 have participated in the project.
■ THE EXTRAORDINARILY urbane Sheldon Ritz, who is deputy general- manager in charge of official delegations at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, is soon going to be run off his feet. This is the case at any hotel that is overbooked, but more so at the King David, which at any given time might host more dignitaries – who often have numerous special demands – than other hotels cater to in an entire year. The King David will this month be hosting three overlapping international delegations.
Kathleen Wynne, the premier of Ontario, Canada, will be at the hotel from May 17 to 22 and has booked 60 rooms. Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, who is coming with eight cabinet ministers for government-to-government and business-to-business discussions with Israeli counterparts, has booked 70 rooms for May 21-23.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who is due to arrive on May 21, has booked 100 rooms until May 24.
But before then, Lucy Turnbull, wife of the Australian prime minister, is leading a high-profile women’s business mission to Israel and has reserved 40 rooms for May 12-16. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is preceding his prime minister and will stay at the hotel on May 14 and 15. On the day that he checks out, Ivory Coast Foreign Minister Albert Toikeusse will check in. Toward the end of the month, Croatian Foreign Minister Miro Kovac will spend May 29-30 at the hotel, and Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini will be the last minister for the month, arriving on May 31 and checking out on June 3. At some time over the next two to three weeks, there will also be a couple of US congressional delegations For Ontario’s Wynne, the visit to Israel will also be a birthday celebration.
She will turn 63 on May 21. She is the 25th premier of Ontario and the first female to hold the position.
■ SINGER, POET, actor and journalist Shmuel Shai is one of the pensioners – as distinct from retirees – of the Israel Broadcasting Authority who is still working. More than that, at 86, he happens to be the oldest and most veteran employee of the IBA, having started at Israel Radio in 1956. His weekly program, Shai Leshabbat (a word play on his name meaning “gift for the Sabbath”) is now celebrating its 25th anniversary. It was launched quite by chance during the period that Amnon Nadav was CEO of the radio. Nadav asked Shai to go out in the dawn hours to search out trivial news items in the street to be broadcast on a weekend news round up of items that never made the headlines. Shai wasn’t all that keen to be out and about that early, but orders were orders. Some time later, he was appointed head of the radio’s entertainment division and told Nadav that he couldn’t cope with both jobs. So the CEO asked him to anchor just a lightweight early- morning Saturday show, which over the years has evolved into a platform for off-the-wall news items from the international media, book reviews and bits and pieces of information sent in by readers. The program is very popular and gives Shai a framework and a purpose in life.
■ FORMER NUCLEAR whistle blower Mordechai Vanunu has been charged in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court with violating the conditions of his parole.
Vanunu moved from one apartment to another in the same building without notifying authorities.
He met with foreigners, and also granted an interview to Channel 2 in September 2015. He was charged with similar offenses in 2007. Since his release from prison 12 years ago, Vanunu, who spent 18 years behind bars, has been forced to live an extremely restrictive existence.
He is in a similar position to Jonathan Pollard in that he would like to emigrate, but is stuck where he is – Vanunu in Israel, and Pollard in New York. Neither is permitted to talk to the media even though classified information they might remember must be obsolete by now.
■ SOME 500 pilgrims who are members of the Ethiopian Orthodox faith more or less took over the Grand Court Hotel in east Jerusalem during the Easter period observed by the Church. They celebrated the festival with Abuna Mathias, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.
Mathias lived in exile for three decades during the communist dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam, and during the 1980s was the Church’s bishop in Jerusalem.
He was elected to his current position in February 2013. Mathias was also accompanied to Jerusalem by some 20 of the Church’s senior clergy. He thrilled the pilgrims by blessing them in the city where Jesus walked.
Both Jewish and Christian Ethiopians have a special regard for Jerusalem. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is a true reflection of Judeo-Christian heritage in that it has maintained a number of ancient Jewish traditions, including the practice of circumcision, dietary restrictions and the observance of the Sabbath day. Grand Court Hotel general manager Ronit Hoter-Ishai pulled out all the stops to ensure that the patriarch and his entourage were treated like royalty.
■ BDS CAMPAIGNS notwithstanding, the prestigious biennial Jerusalem Writers Festival has evolved into a major international cultural event that continues to attract the cream of the literary crop. The festival will take place for the fifth time at Mishkenot Sha’ananim, from May 25 through May 28, and will include lectures, conversations and workshops with the participation of numerous well known writers from Israel and abroad. There will also be musical performances, children’s activities and tours. Some of the overseas participants will be coming to Israel for the first time. Others have been here for all or some of the previous festivals.
The main focus of this year’s festival will be international collaboration.
Among the writers from abroad who have indicated that they will attend are Irish novelist Colum McCann; the Paris-based Iranian-French writer Lila Azam Zanganeh, who is an expert on Nabokov; award-winning Indian mother-daughter writers Anita and Kiran Desai; former Chinese intelligence officer and bestselling author Mai Jia; celebrated Columbian author and translator Juan Gabriel Vásque; and Russian-born novelist Gary Shtyengart, who grew up in the United States and specializes in satire. Among the Israeli writers will be Nir Baram, Shira Geffen, Michal Govrin, David Grossman, Etgar Keret, Sami Michael, Meir Shalev, Zeruya Shalev and A.B. Yehoshua.
Outside venues hosting festival events will be the Israel Museum, the ‘Tmol Shilshom literary café and the Jerusalem Bird Observatory.
Among the various events will be a tribute to best-selling author Michael on the occasion of his 90th birthday, with musician Arkady Duchin, dancer Bar Alteras, actor Lior Ashkenazi and others The festival’s opening event, a conversation between McCann and Grossman on writing in times of crisis, the relationship between writer and book, and peace efforts in Israel and Ireland, will take place on May 25 at 7:30 pm.