GRAPEVINE: Enter the Queen of Pop

Mover and shakers in Israeli society.

THEN-PRESIDENT Shimon Peres poses with pop singer Madonna during their meeting at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem in September 2007.  (photo credit: MOSHE MILNER/GPO/REUTERS)
THEN-PRESIDENT Shimon Peres poses with pop singer Madonna during their meeting at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem in September 2007.
This week, in addition to hosting the Eurovision Song Contest, KAN 11, the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, celebrates its second anniversary of going to air. The Public Broadcasting Law, enabling the establishment of the corporation and forcing the closure of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, was passed on July 29, 2014. The new legislation stipulated that 25% of the employees of the new enterprise would come from the IBA and Educational Television, but it was not until March 2015 that Eldad Koblentz was appointed to head the IBC.
Even before that, the very existence of public broadcasting was under threat, and despite the amazing job it’s doing with Eurovision, it is still under threat, with certain members of Knesset and the prime minister’s older son, Yair Netanyahu, calling for its closure.
There was also a lot of unhappiness on the part of employees who did not want to broadcast from studios in the least desirable part of Modi’in. According to the Public Broadcasting Law, the IBC is supposed to broadcast from Jerusalem. It took a while to find suitable premises, and even longer for those premises, which were still under construction, to be ready for the IBC to move in. Up till now, only its news broadcasts have been from Jerusalem, but in recent weeks it has been gradually moving equipment into what will be its permanent home.
Apparently, some of this activity has been taking place on the Sabbath. Nonreligious employees may not see anything amiss in this, as the IBC broadcasts on both radio and television on the Sabbath, and since this constitutes work, what difference does it make if equipment is moved into the studio on the Sabbath?
The difference is that the latter can be seen from the street, and the building in which the IBC is headquartered is in the capital’s Givat Shaul neighborhood, bordering the Har Nof neighborhood. Both areas are predominantly haredi, and the local populations object to work being done on the Sabbath. Some of these objections have been conveyed to the Jerusalem City Council, one of whose members, Arieh King, has sent letters of complaint to Shas leader Arye Deri, who lives in Har Nof, and to Ya’acov Litzman of United Torah Judaism.
Curiously, the IBA’s studios were also headquartered in a haredi neighborhood. Residents of Romema frequently complained about cars of IBA employees being driven through the neighborhood on the Sabbath, and over the years, there were frequent haredi demonstrations outside the IBA’s television studios.
■ POP SUPERSTAR Madonna, who is due to arrive in Israel on Wednesday, will once again be staying at her favorite Israeli hotel – the Dan Tel Aviv. She has also stayed at the David Intercontinental, but that was in conjunction with a major Kabbalah happening that took place at the hotel in 2004. Otherwise, she stays at the Dan, where she has been a returning guest for several years.
She initially stayed there in October 1993, when she came on her first visit to Israel to perform in Tel Aviv. Not wanting to be bothered by paparazzi and eager fans, she had initially booked accommodation at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, where staff pulled out all the stops to ensure that everything would be to her satisfaction. But in the final analysis she opted not to stay in Jerusalem, due to a misunderstanding over her reservations.
She had arrived in Israel with a 112-member entourage of managers, back-up singers, dancers, musicians, stagehands and security personnel, plus almost 20 tons of equipment, which included a specially constructed stage, as well as sound and lighting equipment. Madonna had expected a whole floor of the hotel to be put at the disposal of her people, but when she learned that her local manager had ordered only 15 rooms, and that the hotel was fully booked and unable to make changes to suit her, she promptly got back into the limousine that had brought her from the airport in Lod to Jerusalem, and demanded to be taken to Tel Aviv. Fortunately, the Dan Hotel had been able to accommodate her needs, and it’s been her Israeli home away from home for most of her other visits.
All in all, Madonna has been to Israel in 1993, 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2012. During her visit in 2009, she had dinner at Tel Aviv’s famed Stefan Braun Restaurant with Tzipi Livni, who was then leader of the Kadima Party.
■ APROPOS LIVNI, after Labor chairman Avi Gabbay unceremoniously dismissed her, and she subsequently realized that she had lost her political clout and decided not to run for reelection to the Knesset, she did not do a disappearing act and sit home with her knitting. She is still very much in demand as a public speaker.
Livni is in the United States this week to participate in a community dialogue organized by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston’s Jewish Federation. The conversation is planned as a broad discussion on civic life in Israel and America, trends in Jewish life and community, and reflections on the next generation in Israel and the Diaspora.
Next week, on Tuesday, May 21, she will engage in another discussion, at Tel Aviv University, on a subject of interest to many Israelis – “Democracy Under Siege.” The discussion is within the framework of the prestigious Dan David awards, and fellow discussants will include one of this year’s Dan David laureates, Prof. Michael Ignatieff, who was awarded the prize in the field of defending democracy. Also joining the discussion will be Prof. Shlomo Avineri of the Hebrew University and Prof. Yuli Tamir, who is president of the Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art. Avineri is a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry; Livni is a former foreign minister and justice minister, and Tamir is a former education minister.
■ IN A sense, this discussion is a continuation of that of the previous day, Monday, May 20, when Christophe Deloire, executive director of Reporters without Borders, which is also among the recipients of the Dan David Prize for 2019, will be a member of a panel discussion at Tel Aviv University headed “Stop the Presses – the Attack on Democracy and the Fourth Estate.” This particular event is in honor of World Press Freedom Day. The other panelists will be Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of Haaretz, Dalia Dorner, president of the Israel Press Council, and Efrat Peres Lachter from Chanel 12 News. Moderator will be Prof. Akiba Cohen of the university’s Dan Department of Communication.
Later in the day, the French and German embassies will join forces to host a reception to mark World Press Freedom Day, with Deloire as the guest of honor.
The two discussions on Monday and Tuesday will take place in the Raya and Josef Jaglom Auditorium in the George Wise Senate Building of Tel Aviv University.
The decision by TAU to restore the respectability of the media, in recognition of the fact that a free press is one of the pillars of democracy, comes at time when both the media and democracy are being pilloried by ultra-right-wing nationalist groups around the world, including in Israel.
■ A MEMORANDUM of understanding will be signed on Thursday, May 16, between the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the United States Department of the Interior. Until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu succeeds in forming a new government (or alternately announces that he can’t), Ze’ev Elkin remains environmental protection minister. Under such circumstances, he will be the signatory for Israel, while Ambassador David Friedman will be the signatory for the US. The signing ceremony will take place at the Castel Heritage Site.
The MoU calls for the protection and conservation of wildlife, diverse landscapes and important heritage sites of the two countries, with the aim of cooperation on these issues between Israel and the US to ensure a better future for citizens of both countries. In Israel, nature lovers on the Golan Heights are shocked over the poisoning of eagles, which unlike animals have no sense of smell and are therefore unable to detect the poison, which quickly spreads through their bodies.
■ ON SEPTEMBER 1, many countries around the world will commemorate the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, which began with the German invasion of Poland. For Jews, it was the greatest catastrophe in modern history and, from a numerical standpoint, the greatest catastrophe in the whole of Jewish history.
So much has been written about the Holocaust. Tens of thousands of testimonies are contained in archives of Holocaust museums and research centers around the globe, in addition to documentation that was recorded in real time by the Nazis and by secret photographers both Jewish and non-Jewish – and yet there is still so much we do not know.
For instance, Markus Blechner, the son of Holocaust survivors and honorary consul of Poland in Zurich, while welcoming the fact that Yad Vashem has decided to recognize Konstanty Rokicki as Righteous Among the Nations, laments the fact that other Polish diplomats operating in Switzerland during the war have not been recognized.
Rokicki, who was Polish vice consul in Bern, worked feverishly between 1941 and 1943 to provide false papers for Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis. He was part of what was known as the Bernese Group, which acquired blank Paraguayan passports and filled them in with names and other details pertaining to Jewish refugees. Rokicki acted under the full diplomatic protection of ambassador Aleksander Lados, who headed the Polish legation to Switzerland from 1940 to 1945, and his deputy Stefan Ryniewicz.
In 2017, Blechner wrote to Yad Vashem, asking that all three Polish diplomats be recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, as there is ample evidence that indicates the involvement of all of them in rescuing Jews. His request has been supported by relatives of the rescued, as well as by members of the Rokicki family, who under the circumstances are reluctant to accept the Yad Vashem medal, because they believe that the whole of the Polish wartime legation in Switzerland is deserving of it.
Poland’s Ministry of Culture is now also interested in bringing to light the efforts made by Polish diplomats and members of Polish resistance groups, as well as ordinary people who simply acted out of basic humane considerations in the attempt to save Jews from being deported and murdered by the Nazis.
■ ONE OF the interesting phenomena about Jewish people, regardless of the extent to which they do or don’t identify Jewishly, is that when they visit another country and come across things Jewish, they become almost obsessive about exploring such places, especially if there is some kind of relationship to the Holocaust or some other form of antisemitism.
Not all Jewish visitors to London may be familiar with the Wiener Library, which claims to have the world’s oldest Holocaust archive and Britain’s largest collection on the Nazi era. It was founded by Dr. Alfred Wiener, a German Jew, who after fighting in the First World War, returned to Germany in 1919 and was horrified at the surge of right-wing antisemitism, in which Jews were blamed for Germany’s defeat.
Wiener, working with the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith, tried to combat antisemitism through writing, lobbying and speaking publicly. From 1925 (the year in which Hitler published Mein Kampf) he perceived a greater threat from the Nazi Party than from any other antisemitic group or political party. He initiated the establishment of an archive to collect information about the Nazis, in order to undermine Nazi activities.
Wiener and his family fled Germany in 1933 and settled in Amsterdam. It is believed that his first archive was destroyed. Later that year he set up the Jewish Central Information Office at the request of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Anglo-Jewish Association. The JCIO essentially continued the work of the earlier archive.
Following the November Pogrom of 1938, Wiener made arrangements to transfer his collection to the UK. It arrived the following summer, just as the Nazis invaded Poland.
Throughout the War the JCIO served the British government as it fought the Nazi regime. Increasingly, the collection was referred to as “Dr. Wiener’s Library,” and eventually this led to its renaming.
After the war, the library, having amassed early survivor testimony, assisted prosecutors at the Nuremberg trials and helped to shape the emerging academic study of the Holocaust.
Today, the collection is among the largest and most respected in the world and continues to grow. In 2011 it moved to its current premises in Russell Square and began a program funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund to improve access and open its collections to the widest possible audience. In 2013, the Wiener Library celebrated its 80th anniversary.
For its summer exhibition, which opens on May 30, the library is featuring works by Gerty Simon, a powerful but largely forgotten photographer who mixed with the cultural elite of Weimar Berlin and captured their likenesses in the lens of her camera. Because she was Jewish, Simon fled from Berlin in 1933 and made a new home for herself in Britain.
In 2016, the Wiener Library received a donation of documents and photographs from the estate of her son Bernard Simon. Among his personal effects were 327 large-scale prints of photographs taken by his mother. The collection also included material on exhibitions of Gerty Simon’s work held in Berlin and London and newspaper reviews. It was obvious from this material that Simon had once been a prominent and successful photographer, with connections to actors, writers, composers, dancers, artists, academics and politicians. A number of her subjects were later persecuted by the Nazis, with some becoming refugees themselves.
Simon came with her son and her portfolio to Britain, and it is clear from the identities of those of her subjects who were photographed in London between 1934 and 1936 that she rapidly established a footing in influential circles in England’s capital.
Her photographs are now being shown to the public for the first time in more than 80 years. Among the personalities in the photographs are singer and actress Lotte Lenya, theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, ballet dancer Alexander Iolas and many other celebrities of the era.
■ WAY BACK in 1988, Leah Shakdiel became the first female member of a religious council in Israel, a position she was able to hold only after a ruling by the Supreme Court. A religious Zionist who covers her hair to signify that she is a married woman, Shakdiel, who lives in Yeroham, is also a longtime peace activist who works with organizations such as Machsom Watch and Rabbis for Human Rights.
Shakdiel was one of the speakers last week at the Sharing Sorow, Bringing Hope ceremony in Tel Aviv in which Israelis and Palestinians came together on Remembrance Day to honor the memories of their loved ones. Shakdiel and her husband were almost denied entry. Security guards found it difficult to believe that a man with a kippah and a woman wearing a hat and dressed in the style of the National Religious Zionists would come to such an event. The Shakdiels were suspected of being troublemakers, allied with the ultra-right-wing demonstrators who had come to protest the gathering.
■ FORMER LABOR MK Hilik Bar, who announced in January that he would not be running for reelection, will nonetheless keep his finger in the political pie. He also announced at the time that it was his intention to form a civic body whose mission it would be to promote a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israel conflict, which for more than a century has been a shadow over the lives of people in the region.
Bar headed the Two-State Caucus in the Knesset, and in both the 19th and the 20th Knessets chaired the Lobby for a Solution to the Israel-Arab Conflict.
Last week Bar was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Georgian American University in Tbilisi, in recognition of his contribution to the development of Georgian-Jewish relations, and for fostering a peaceful process in the Near East.
Bar, who was highly active during his six years in the Knesset in promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace and advocating the two-state solution, fighting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and strengthening Jewish ties worldwide, said he was surprised and honored to be recognized in this manner by GAU.
In 2013, Bar established the Knesset’s Caucus for the Resolution of the Israeli-Arab Conflict, and also published the diplomatic outline for the resolution of the conflict, a peace plan he has been pitching in Israel since 2015 as well as in parliaments and the most prestigious academic institutions around the world.
In his address at the honorary doctorate ceremony, Bar said: “Among too many people and leaders in the Middle East, the word ‘peace’ is nothing more than lip service. The word ‘peace’ remained just a word in our prayers and in our holy books. We need leaders who are ready to walk the extra mile and cross the Rubicon in order to make peace. Real leaders do not manage conflicts; real leaders solve conflicts. A real leader does not think only about the next election results or his own political survival. Real leaders take courageous decisions that will ensure a better future for our next generations.”
Bar said that he is “a proud Israeli, a proud Zionist and a proud Jew.” He is proud of what Israel has managed to accomplish and achieve in only 70 years. “We fulfilled the ancient Jewish dream of rebuilding our homeland in our Promised Land. In only 70 years we created a strong and modern Jewish state, living in the ancient Jewish homeland. Each day Israel pushes the boundaries of technology, medicine and science to the ends of human imagination. Our people rose from the ashes of the Holocaust, and created an oasis of liberty, democracy and freedom, in the very heart of the Middle East.”
In order to be an even prouder Jew and a prouder Israeli, Bar said he wants Israel to also demonstrate to the world a real attempt to make peace. “It is possible, and it is in our hands. We proved it before, when we had courageous leaders, with even bigger enemies than the Palestinians,” he said.
While at the GAU campus, Bar also inaugurated the Herzl Hall room for the provision of detailed information about Judaism, Zionism and the history of Israel, from biblical times, through the Holocaust and until Israel of the present day. Herzl Hall was established in cooperation between Bar, GAU and the Beit Israel foundation chaired by Itsik Moshe, who also heads the Israel-Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
■ FORMER PRESIDENT of Paraguay Horacio Manuel Cartes, in the course of a private visit to Israel on Sunday, called on President Reuven Rivlin. The two last met in May 2018 at the opening of the Paraguayan Embassy in Jerusalem. Rivlin was delighted to once again meet the former Paraguayan leader and thanked him for all his efforts in developing relations between their two countries during his term as president, and also since then. Cartes continues to be involved in developing academic and trade links between the two countries.