Grapevine: An Asian presence

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Andrew Brem presents British Airways oldest employee award tp Alex Zielony while BA ambassadors John Folwer and Sheila Beesley look on. (photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
Andrew Brem presents British Airways oldest employee award tp Alex Zielony while BA ambassadors John Folwer and Sheila Beesley look on.
(photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
There was a time when Asian people were few and far between in Israel, but over the years, as Israel made greater inroads into the Asian continent and developed human aid, economic and diplomatic relationships with various countries, not only their ambassadors and a handful of diplomats of lower rank have come to Israel, but their business people, students, pilgrims and tourists as well. Thus, it was interesting to see that the division between Asians and non-Asians at the Independence Day reception hosted by South Korean Ambassador Suh Dong Gu only five days after he presented his credentials was approximately half-half, with guests including nearly all the Asia and Pacific ambassadors, along with their spouses in some cases. Thai Ambassador-designate Pannabha Chandraramya will bring her Asian colleagues together again next week when she hosts the Thai National Day reception.
At the Korean reception, the official ceremony began with the singing of the anthems by Korean singer Lee Dam-Ji, whose glorious pure voice was such that Israelis present who usually join in the singing of “Hatikva” were silent so as not to drown out her voice.
Education Minister Rafi Peretz, who represented the government, mouthed the words but refrained from singing them aloud.
Ambassador Suh in his welcoming remarks noted the presence of Korean community leaders. He singled out 2019 as a landmark year in bilateral relations, highlighted by the visit to Korea last July by President Reuven Rivlin, followed by the conclusion in August of negotiations for the free trade agreement between South Korea and Israel.
Suh commented that this is good news for consumers in both countries. For Israeli consumers, it means the ability to purchase Korean brand-name products such as Samsung, LG,Hyundai and Kia at lower prices, he said.
For Korean consumers, it means greater access to a wide range of Israeli hi-tech products in the coming years
Emphasizing that the State of Israel and the Republic of Korea were both established in 1948, Suh spoke of the achievements of the two countries in terms of rapid economic growth along with democratization in a relatively short period of time, despite external security threats and a lack of natural resources.
Suh also spoke of the importance of personal connections through tourism, educational and cultural exchanges. He was happy to note that the numbers of Korean visitors to Israel are steadily on the rise, so much so that beginning in January, Korean Air will add one more flight between Ben-Gurion Airport and Incheon, making a total of four flights a week.
Peretz saw it as symbolic that two modern countries with long histories, rich in culture and with shared values had come into being in the same year. Like Suh, he noted that both countries were lacking in natural resources, but had learned to develop their human potential and stand in the front lines of advanced technology.
He praised Korea’s dedication to accuracy and integrity, and commented that most Israelis use cellphones that were made in Korea.
■ IN COMPANY with the mother country and Indian embassies around the world, the Indian Embassy in Tel Aviv this week marked the 70th anniversary of the adoption of India’s Constitution by the Constituent Assembly on November 26, 1949.
Rather than a large-scale celebration, recently installed Ambassador Sanjeev Singla assembled officers of the embassy and together they read out the Preamble of the Constitution to remind themselves of the basic democratic principles of their multi-cultural country.
Congratulatory messages were received from President Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai.
All the messages other than Netanyahu’s were video-taped, and each of the dignitaries emphasized India’s democracy and the values and challenges that it shares with Israel. Rivlin and Huldai also spoke of how impressed they had been during their respective visits to India.
Netanyahu, who arguably has the closest relationship with India, having walked barefoot with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the waters of the Mediterranean at Haifa’s Olga Beach, sent a warmly worded message in which he said, “Congratulations to my dear friend, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and to the people of India on the 70th anniversary of India’s Constitution Day. On behalf of the people of Israel, I wish the people of India a happy Constitution Day. Jai Hind! Jai Israel.”
The year 2020 will be intensely busy for Indian embassies around the globe, with numerous cultural events highlighting the diversity and beauty of India. In Israel, this ambition will be further facilitated by the opening of an Indian cultural institute in Tel Aviv.
■ BRITISH AIRWAYS, which is this year celebrating its 100th anniversary, went through its archives to collect data on milestones in its history and to find its most veteran employee. Whoever does a Google check of British Airways will learn that it actually came into being in 1974 as a merger between four different British airline companies and their various associates and subsidiaries, the oldest of which was launched in 1919. Even though these companies no longer exist as separate entities, their history is preserved under the British Airways banner.
The last place where the company expected to find its most-veteran employee was in Israel, and he’s older than the fused airline company. His name is Alex Zielony, and he’s 103 years old and still going strong, though long-ago retired. When BA decided to launch its new A350-1000 Airbus on the London-Tel Aviv route, it decided to award an oldest employee citation to Zielony. “We owe it to people like Alex, for the place we are in today. It is my great honor to meet an aviation pioneer such as yourself, who helped to establish the aviation industry from its earliest days,” said British Airways chief commercial officer Andrew Brem.
As for choosing Israel as one of the first destinations for BA to put the A350 into daily operation, Brem said that Israel is an important market, and that Tel Aviv is one of the five most popular travel destinations.
■ THE US has confirmed its participation in the International Holocaust Forum, marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Soviet Red Army. As yet, the Americans have not divulged the identity of the key participant. There are no hotel rooms left in Jerusalem, and if there is no alternative, the American delegation will have to be accommodated in Tel Aviv. Five presidents of different countries will be staying at one of Jerusalem’s newest luxury hotels, the Orient, but the hotel with the largest number of heads of state is the King David.
A recent confirmation has come from Poland, which will be represented by its president, Andrzej Duda.
Among the world leaders traveling the furthest distance to participate in the conference at Yad Vashem will be Australia’s Governor-General David Hurley and his wife, Linda. Their visit to Jerusalem in January will not be their first. A former officer in the Australian Army with the rank of general, Hurley had a 42-year military career, during which time he was in Israel more than once, including at the dedication ceremony of the Park of the Australian Soldier in Beersheba, which was officially launched by one of his predecessors in office, Maj.-Gen. Michael Jeffrey, who had also been a long-time army man and was the first Australian career soldier to be appointed governor general. He dedicated the park together with then-president Shimon Peres. The park was a gift to Beersheba by the Melbourne-headquartered Pratt Foundation. Hurley was also in Israel for Peres’s funeral.
■ NOT ALL of Israel’s diplomats are Jewish, which is as it should be, because minority groups in any country should be entitled to the same opportunities that are available to the majority.
Thus, it is gratifying to know that George Deek, Israel’s ambassador to Azerbaijan, is a Christian Arab. And Israel’s acting consul general in Miami, Ishmael Khaldi, is believed to be Israel’s first Bedouin diplomat. Khaldi was born and raised in the Bedouin village of Khawalid in the Western Galilee, and served in the IDF and the Israel Police prior to joining the Foreign Service in October 2004.
Initially he served in the Arabic Media Department as the spokesperson to the Arabic media during the disengagement from Gaza, and later served for three years as deputy consul general in San Francisco. He subsequently served as policy adviser to then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, and after that as counselor for civil society affairs at the Israel Embassy in London.
Khaldi is the author of A Shepherd’s Journey: The Story of Israel’s First Bedouin Diplomat. To break the stereotypical image of the Bedouin, he enrolled at the University of Haifa, where he earned a BA in political science, and then went on to Tel Aviv University to complete a masters’ degree in international relations.
■ THE NEWS that El Al will attempt a non-stop flight to Melbourne in 2020 is hardly surprising. In September 2017, at a reception hosted at his residence by Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan, senior El Al and Qantas officials celebrated the launch of new code-shared flights, in the presence of government officials, diplomats and travel industry executives.
The new code shares, which followed the signing of a memorandum of understanding earlier in the year between the Qantas CEO and the president of El Al – which was witnessed by Prime Minister Netanyahu and then-Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull – went into effect almost immediately, and was yet another step in the move to strengthen relations between the two carriers.
■ QANTAS HAS since added its QF code to El Al-operated flights from Tel Aviv to three Qantas hubs: Hong Kong, Bangkok and Johannesburg. El Al has added its code to Qantas services operating between Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Hong Kong; between Sydney and Bangkok; and between Sydney and Johannesburg.
Customers can earn and redeem frequent flyer points on both airlines.
El Al maintained offices in Australia long before the signing of the MoU. At one stage, it was problematic for El Al to fly to Australia due to the presence of armed security personnel on its flights, but today, given increased security hazards, several airline companies employ armed security marshals.
President Rivlin is due to visit Australia next year. It’s possible that he may be a passenger on the initial long-haul flight.
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