In his youth, President Reuven Rivlin was among those who demonstrated against Israel entering into diplomatic relations with Germany. But many things change in the course of time and on Sunday, Rivlin, as Israel’s No. 1 citizen, will travel to Germany to participate in the jubilee celebrations of diplomatic ties.
He will be received by German President Joachim Gauck, who will host a state dinner in Rivlin’s honor. In the course of his visit, Rivlin will meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Bundestag Speaker Norbert Lammert and other dignitaries.
Israeli-German diplomatic relations were formally established on May 12, 1965, following a controversial reparations agreement in 1952 initiated by prime minister David Ben-Gurion, German chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Nahum Goldman, then-chairman of the Claims Conference. From being the nation that once wanted to eliminate Jews from the earth, Germany has evolved into one of Israel’s staunchest friends and defenders in Europe.
Ironically, it has the fastest-growing Jewish community in Europe, which was boosted to a large extent by the Jewish exodus from the former Soviet Union, and has since been augmented by numerous Israelis – who, for the most part, have settled in Berlin. Since the forging of diplomatic ties, there have been many bilateral state visits.
In January 1996, Ezer Weizman became the first Israeli president to visit Germany. In an address to the united German parliament, he said he could never forgive the murder of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust, and warned Germans to remain vigilant against neo-Nazism and a resurgence of racism. It was not easy for him to be in Germany, he asserted, and having to listen to the memories and voices screaming from the earth.
Weizman was the first foreign head of state to address the parliament following the reunification of Germany. At his meeting with members of Germany’s Jewish community, he said he could not understand how 40,000 Jews could live in the country, and urged them to move to Israel. Today, Germany’s Jewish community numbers in the range of 120,000.
Although Chaim Herzog, Weizman’s immediate predecessor in office, did not visit Germany as president, he was there as a British Army intelligence officer in World War II, participating in the liberation of Bergen-Belsen as well as the interrogation of Heinrich Himmler.
Israel’s first ambassador to Germany was Asher Ben-Natan, who remained there for five years. Germany’s first ambassador to Israel was Rolf Pauls, whose appointment was met with violent protests in Israel – because he had been a career officer in the Wehrmacht, which meant he had served in the army of Nazi Germany. But truth be told, it was difficult at that time to find a German diplomat who did not have some kind of Nazi past.
Even ambassadors who came after Pauls had been in the Hitler Youth, or worse.
There has been a vast improvement in the situation over the years, and in addition to diplomatic endeavors, several German foundations are active in Israel in a number of spheres and have made important contributions to its progress. Most recently, the Axel Springer Foundation was among the contributors to the AKIM Training Treatment and Leisure Center, which will be officially opened in Jerusalem on Monday.
It should be remembered that not just Jews were singled out for extermination by the Nazis. Victims also included people with disabilities, such as those for whom AKIM improves the quality of life.
■ ON MAY 18, a few days after his return from Germany, Rivlin will receive an honorary doctorate from Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan. It will be interesting to see if he restrains himself from bursting into song, especially as one of his fellow honorees will be Yehoram Gaon.
Rivlin was singing at his residence on Independence Day and again on Channel 2 this week, when Erez Tal – on his People program – took him on a nostalgic tour where he met up at his old school, Jerusalem’s Gymnasia Rehavia, with his Arabic teacher and former classmates who included Nili, his first sweetheart.
The program included black-and-white archive material in which Rivlin – then heavily involved with the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club– was much thinner and sported a huge mop of hair.
For anyone who did not know him in those days, it would be almost impossible to point him out in a photograph. The same could be said for former politicians Ehud Olmert and Yossi Sarid, who looked very different in their hirsute days.
Apropos hirsute, the change in Likud MK Yuval Steinitz – almost from one day to the next – is amazing. Yediot Aharonot on its back cover on Wednesday featured Steinitz as he looked only a week or two ago – with gray, almost white, thinning hair – and the madeover man with plentiful dark hair and fewer wrinkles, looking – as one radio anchor declared – like a male model.
Well, everyone has their own approach to a midlife crisis, and this apparently was his.
Steinitz turned 57 on April 10.
■ AND ON the subject of birthdays, Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked celebrated her 39th birthday on May 7 with a wonderful gift from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had agreed the previous day that she could be Israel’s next justice minister. Considering that he was not exactly well-disposed to the idea, it’s almost in the nature of a surprise birthday gift.
■ POLITICAL TURMOIL notwithstanding, some MKs do have obligations to the people who voted for them. So regardless of what is happening vis-à-vis the government or the Knesset, Bayit Yehudi leader and education minister-designate Naftali Bennett accepted the invitation to be the guest of honor at the 90th-anniversary celebration in Jerusalem of AMIT, which inter alia runs a network of schools that impart the values articulated by Bennett’s own party. This will be a good starting point for him in his new role.
■ ONE OF the traditions of the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association is an annual event at the British ambassador’s residence.
Usually some 50-60 people show up to listen to a speaker; this year’s guest of honor was the truly amazing British actress, comedienne, author, columnist and public speaker Maureen Lipman, who drew one of the largest-ever crowds at an IBCA event of this kind.
In fact, the event attracted so many people that it could not be held in the sunken garden section of the grounds because there wasn’t enough room. Instead, rows of chairs were arranged on the more spacious lawns.
Lipman has the gift of spicing very serious subjects with humor and wit – so much so that some people in the audience nearly fell out of their seats laughing. In typical Jewish fashion, she used every self-deprecating expression in the book to describe herself, her emotions, her family and her deceased husband, the celebrated screenwriter and playwright Jack Rosenthal, who wrote the early episodes of Coronation Street. She also mentioned the current man in her life, Italian businessman Guido Castro, who came to Israel with her and was sitting in the front row, obviously enjoying every moment of her presentation – as did every member of the audience.
In introducing Lipman, IBCA chairman Prof.
Alex Deutsch described her as “a Jewish national treasure,” adding that “we are grateful for her wholehearted and public support of Israel.”
He also lauded outgoing British Ambassador Matthew Gould, who during his tenure in Israel had become a household name and was an example of how a British Jew can live in both worlds and yet be a loyal representative of the British government. In fact, Gould has been decorated in recognition of his efforts to enhance relations between the UK and Israel, particularly in the areas of science and hi-tech.
Lipman had the audience laughing almost from the moment she opened her mouth, and speculated on their reaction to her, which she said had to have been: “Doesn’t she look thinner in real life?” She had no qualms about revealing her age, which is 68 according to her birth certificate, and is “78 in the Daily Mail, and 38 if you read the Jewish Chronicle.”
On Sunday she will turn 69, which in her own words makes her “two years older than Israel.”
Growing up in provincial Hull, she continued, Israel for her was a map on a pale blue box that one put some coins into every week.
Her first visit here was at age 16, when she stayed at Kfar Hamaccabiah and met an English actor whom she fell in love with, but didn’t marry. She was married for 30 years to “the great Jack Rosenthal,” who died in 2004; their two children, Amy and Adam, are both writers. “One day, they will make a living, too,” she said hopefully. She’s also grandmother to Ava, age three; and Sasha, born 12 weeks ago.
Lipman was obsessed by medicine, she confessed – “That’s hypochondriac, not Hippocratic.”
She confessed to being “hot-tempered and cold-footed,” and talked about her career, illustrating the story with many of the accents she had been taught and some of the characters she had played. She did a little name dropping – but then, who wouldn’t in her position.
Lipman did not neglect to mention critics, saying that so often they can’t see what’s in front of them, and kill a play or performer without understanding what it’s about. “No one ever created a statue to a critic,” she commented.
She had some anecdotes about the Royal Family, but was happy her late husband had shown the world that England was not only about royalty. She was happy to be from England, she said, and had no intention of leaving.
The remarks she made on Holocaust Remembrance Day, when asked about increasing anti-Semitism in England, have been misreported to the extent that people thought she was leaving England. She has no intention of doing so, though Lipman did say during her monologue that “when the economy goes down, anti-Semitism goes up, so there’s not a Jew in England not looking at his suitcase and wondering when to pack.”
Lipman herself has been the target of anti-Semitism. Upon realizing she was not being accepted by the BBC, she asked her agent why, and the reply was: “If you weren’t so open about Israel, the BBC wouldn’t be so closed to you.” As for being so open about Israel: “My children tell me to shut up, but I can’t and I won’t.”
At the end of it all, Gould congratulated Lipman on her “absolute tour de force,” and commended her for being “a voice for Israel.”
He then decided to tell a joke of his own: Three men were lost in the desert. The Brit said, “I’m hot and I’m thirsty; I must have some lager.” The Frenchman said, “I’m hot and I’m thirsty; I must have some cognac.”
The Jew said, “I’m hot and I’m thirsty; I must have diabetes.”
■ JUST OVER 24 hours before his dramatic press conference in which he announced his resignation and his decision not to join Netanyahu’s coalition, outgoing foreign minister Avigdor Liberman greeted Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Gurgenidze at a ceremony in which former deputy mayor of Jerusalem Yigal Amedi was named honorary consul for Georgia. Also attending the ceremony was Georgian Ambassador Paate Kalandadze, along with members of Amedi’s family and Foreign Ministry staff members.
Liberman said that the appointment of an honorary consul for Georgia in Jerusalem was yet another step forward in the enhancement of good Jerusalem-Tbilisi relations, noting that Georgian nationals no longer need visas to enter Israel. A week earlier, Georgian Agriculture Minister Otar Danelia had led a large delegation to Agritech in Tel Aviv.
■ PROLIFIC BRITISH journalist Melanie Phillips, who will next month be one of the speakers in a panel discussion at the annual Jerusalem Post Conference in New York, was this year’s Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA)’s EMET Award winner – in recognition of her astute analysis of the growing danger of radical Islam in Europe, and the weakness of European political and cultural leaders in the face of unjustified anti-Israel propaganda and policies.
Phillips was the keynote speaker at CAMERA’s annual awards dinner in New York last Sunday, attended by more than 600 people.
She warned that attacks against Israel are motivated not only by its status as the world’s sole Jewish state, but also by its stance as an outpost and exemplar of Western values.
In announcing on its Facebook page that Phillips had been chosen for the EMET award, CAMERA attributed it to “her courageous commentary that sets the standard for all defenders of Israel and the West.” CAMERA also presented David Bar-Illan outstanding leadership awards to several campus students.
Bar-Illan was editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, and a great supporter of CAMERA’s work.
■ MOST PEOPLE attending this week’s Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center conference on new laws of war in Jerusalem were impressed with the high caliber of the speakers, and voiced regret that the conference was only of two days’ duration. Although much of what was said was not new, coming into live contact with some of the speakers instead of watching them on television, and hearing non-Jews speak in the most positive terms about Israel – when Israel comes in for so much criticism in a hypocritical world, which overlooks war crimes and human-rights violations in other countries – was a great morale booster.
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, founder and president of Shurat HaDin, said in a reference to Operation Protective Edge last summer: “Hamas was able to disrupt life in Israel, while the IDF would be open to condemnation if it retaliated. The Western militaries cannot be expected to fight an unfettered, uncivilized enemy when at any given moment, any single tactic they employ might be the subject of war crimes charges. Western fighters must know what is legal and what is not, what is fair and what is not, in modern war. If the enemy determines not to follow those rules, that is its choice, but it cannot then go pleading to the International Criminal Court that it is the victim of war crimes – when it is actually the perpetrator.”
■ HOT ON the heels of this intriguing conference is the fifth Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, which opens at the Jerusalem International Convention Center on Tuesday.
Coincidentally, May 12 is the actual 50th anniversary of the establishment of Israel’s diplomatic ties with Germany – where neo-Nazism is again becoming a significant threat, despite government efforts to quell it.
Among the speakers at the opening session will be Heiko Maas, Germany’s federal minister of justice and consumer protection. The conference will also be addressed by several Muslim speakers and will include a session on anti-Semitism in Arab lands. Coming to the conference with the most poignant message will be Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris.
■ MEDICINE IS one of the fields in which it can honestly be said there is Israeli-Arab coexistence.
There are first-class Arab doctors and nurses in hospitals throughout Israel; their expertise is recognized and they are promoted accordingly. A case in point is Prof.
Mahmoud Abu-Shakra, widely recognized in Israel and abroad as a leading authority on and researcher of rheumatic diseases, specifically systemic Lupus erythematosus, known more commonly as SLE orlupus, in which the immune system attacks the body’s cells and tissue.
Abu Shakra, who was born and raised in Umm el-Fahm but now lives with his family in Beersheba, was recently appointed head of internal medicine at Soroka University Medical Center.
■ CAN A woman still be sexy at age 88? If her name is Juliette Gréco, the answer is definitely in the affirmative. Gréco, who is on a farewell concert tour, filled the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv on Monday for her final, one-time-only performance in Israel. The auditorium was packed and the bulk of the audience represented Israel’s French-speaking community, which gave her a standing ovation.
Attired in her signature black dress and conveying the verve of a woman at least 20 years her junior, the actress and popular chanson singer was accompanied on the piano by her husband, Gérard Jouannest, and accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier.
■ AFTER BEING given an extremely lenient sentence of community service rather than jail time despite convictions of bribery and fraud, Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gafsou returned to office at the end of last month and immediately began settling accounts with his opponents – by firing them. The sentence passed by Haifa District Court Judge Oded Gershon absolved Gafsou of moral turpitude, which thus made it possible for him to return to public office.
Gafsou, who is also accused of racist policies, is making life miserable for other council members and municipal staff, so much so that Deputy Mayor Alex Gedalkin – who heads the Yisrael Beytenu faction – has filed an appeal to the court via lawyer Rachel Ben-Ari to have Gafsou removed from office on the grounds that he returned like a stormy wind and began a round of dismissals and demotions, depriving people of certain rights and responsibilities.
It was also noted in the appeal that Gafsou still has another charge pending in the court – which if he is found guilty of, will prevent him from continuing as mayor. Gedalkin wants the court to exercise damage control before Gafsou comes to trial again.