Grapevine: A successful revolution

Though a sincere friend of the Jewish people, Balfour is far from happy with some of Israel’s policies, and had intended to mention this in his speech, but a friend counseled him against it.

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November 10, 2018 23:02
FROM LEFT: Baron David de Rothschild, Lord Jacob Rothschild, Ronald S. Lauder and Robert Kraft.

FROM LEFT: Baron David de Rothschild, Lord Jacob Rothschild, Ronald S. Lauder and Robert Kraft. . (photo credit: SHAHAR AZRAN / WJC)

In last Friday’s Grapevine, reference was made to the annual Balfour Dinner hosted by the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association in Tel Aviv and the Herzl Award dinner hosted by the World Jewish Congress in New York, but not much was reported about either.

This is an attempt to make up for the lacunae.

Among those attending the IBCA dinner, which was addressed by Lord Roderick Balfour and former Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, were British Ambassador David Quarrey, former Ambassador to the UK Daniel Taub, Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan, Nigerian Ambassador Enoch Pear Duchi, who came in the traditional attire of his country, and honorary consul for the Marshall Islands Ran Rahav. Also attending were Canadian Ambassador Deborah Lyons and Cyprus Ambassador Thessalia Salina Shambos, both of whom will appear on a panel at the annual Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem on November 21. Also present was Dame Shirley Porter, who in many respects is the face of Britain in Israel.

Though a sincere friend of Israel and the Jewish people, Balfour is far from happy with some of Israel’s policies, and had intended to mention this in his speech, but a friend counseled him that it was inappropriate, given that the dinner was by way of a celebration, so he simply confined himself to stating that he had wanted to say something controversial, but that he wouldn’t. He did, however, accept a letter from a delegation of Combatants for Peace signed by Palestinian coordinator Muhammad Oweida and Israeli coordinator Tuly Amit Flint. Prof. Galia Golan, one of the members of the delegation, told The Jerusalem Post that they have nothing against the Balfour Declaration. They just thought that it should also include a shared homeland for the Palestinians.

Although Israelis tend to think in political terms of Arthur James Balfour – or AJB, as he is called in the Balfour family circle and beyond – Lord Balfour spoke of his great-uncle as a great intellectual and a formidable philosopher, who together with his siblings was immersed in scientific learning and debate. He was also a great friend of the Rothschilds – a friendship between the two families that continues to this day.

Quoting a conversation between his great-uncle and Chaim Weizmann, who had influenced him and very importantly had invented acetone, which was of great benefit to the British during the First World War (the centenary of the end of which is being commemorated on Sunday), who later became Israel’s founding president, AJB said: “You know, Dr. Weizmann, after this war, you may get your Jerusalem.” And the rest is history.

Quite an achiever in his own right, Lord Balfour claimed not to have inherited the family genes. “I just happen to be the bearer of a name so respected in this country,” he said.

For all that, he is a great admirer of Israel’s scientific achievements, in which he happens to invest quite handsomely. He actually talked about several of them, as well as about the scientists who had worked on them for years.

Sharansky talked about Jewish resurgence and survival. Born during the Communist era, he knew nothing about Judaism and didn’t have a bar mitzvah. “I was born into a society in which I had no identity and no freedom,” he said. Speaking of himself and other Jews, he recalled that “the one thing we all had was antisemitism. We knew we were Jewish because it was written on our ID cards. Then came 1967 and great news about Israel, which became central in our lives. Then we read the Balfour Declaration and Exodus, and we discovered our identity and our desire to belong, which gave us the strength to fight for our freedom.”

Sharansky declared the Zionist revolution to be the most successful revolution of the 20th century, and credited it with eventually destroying Communism.

■ ROTHSCHILD IS a name in Jewish tradition that is associated with philanthropy of the highest order. The general public may be aware of the symbols of the state, such as the Knesset and Supreme Court buildings, that were financed by members of the Rothschild family, but there is so much more in so many different areas of achievement – not just in Israel but in many parts of the Jewish world.

Although they literally have centuries of philanthropy attached to their name, the Rothschilds rarely receive the honor and accolades due to them. The World Jewish Congress decided that it was high time to show this famous family a token of appreciation, and last Wednesday in New York presented the family with the WJC Theodor Herzl Award, which recognizes Herzl’s mission to create a safer and more tolerant world for Jews.

The WJC’s Teddy Kollek Award was presented to Robert Kraft, whose philanthropic fingerprints can also be seen in Israel and beyond. Speaking on behalf of the family, Lord Jacob Rothschild, who accepted the award together with Baron David de Rothschild, who is chairman of the governing board of the WJC, said that his family was proud to accept the award because Herzl “made the almost impossible happen after 2,000 years. In doing so, he no less than changed the history of the world.”

Proceeds from the dinner will be used for the security of Jews worldwide.

■ 2018 MAY well be the year that history will designate as the year in which women came into their own in Israel. It’s not that women did not previously occupy prominent positions, but there is far greater visibility in local government, the Knesset, high-ranking positions in government ministries, hi-tech, real estate, medicine, law, banking – almost everywhere these days, women are making an impact, including in Israel’s Arab and religious communities.

Now the question is being raised as to whether women can be a bridge between a Jewish and democratic state. In all probability, few people thought of it as a gender issue. But on Sunday, November 11, at 8 p.m., Tehila Friedman, a member of the Yesh Atid Women’s Council, a leader in the liberal religious movement and a former chairwoman of Ne’emanei Torah V’Avodah, a Modern Orthodox movement promoting pluralism and democracy, will speak in English on how women can serve as a bridge. The venue is the home of Davina and Nir Kriel, 9 Rashbag Street, Jerusalem.

■ WHAT A frustrating week last week must have been for American-born Israelis or Israelis born to American parents who had to give up their citizenship when they went into diplomatic service or were elected to the Knesset. Some of them would have surely wanted to vote in last week’s election.

 Among those who come instantly to mind are Michael Oren, who is both an MK and a former ambassador to the US, Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, Dore Gold, the former director-general of the Foreign Ministry and before that Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, former MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, former consul-general in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is the son of American parents, and MK Rachel Azaria, whose mother was born in America.

■ FRIDAY MORNING events are very popular in Tel Aviv, so much so that the IPO Foundation moved its annual gala from a glittering nighttime event to a somewhat more casual event that took place at brunch time last Friday at the Tel Aviv Hilton with a matinee concert by composer and pianist Lahav Shani, who is the incoming musical director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and golden-voiced soprano Chen Reiss.

The Hilton has traditionally been the home away from home for the IPO and the Foundation and Friends of the IPO, as well as for Zubin Mehta, its longtime director, who automatically heads for the Hilton when he exits Ben-Gurion Airport.

■ WHEN SHE came to Israel at the end of last month, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland’s itinerary included an address at an event organized by the Israel Council on Foreign Relations. During that meeting Freeland foreshadowed last week’s apology by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for Canada’s refusal to allow the hundreds of Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis to land in Canada.

She also explained that because she was raised on a farm, her metaphors tend to be based on rural life. When Laurence Weinbaum, the executive director of the ICFR, announced that Freeland’s handlers had indicated that it was time to wind up, Freeland’s spontaneous response was: “Handlers? You make me sound like a cow.”

Incidentally, several of the survivors of the St. Louis were present when Trudeau made his formal apology, including Ana Maria Gordon, the only one of the survivors who actually lives in Canada. She was four years old when the ship was denied entry. Trudeau, who met with Gordon privately, said in his public apology that Canada turning its back on European Jews was “unacceptable then, and it is unacceptable now. He noted that there are still Holocaust deniers, and that antisemitism remains prevalent in Canada, with Jews as the most frequent targets of religiously motivated hate crimes.

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