BRITISH AMBASSADOR Tom Phillips was a veritable Anglo David against a hostile group of largely British expatriate Goliaths, who as Israelis voiced their displeasure with British attitudes toward their country in somewhat more strident tones than those used by Jews in the land they left behind.
Phillips courageously stood his ground on somewhat sensitive issues, which was not so difficult because in general the whole affair was conducted in the civilized fashion in which Brits generally behave.
The occasion was an an Any Questions evening cohosted last week at the Begin Heritage Center Jerusalem by the British Zionist Federation and the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association.
The strident tones were actually outside the auditorium. Inside, the questions, which had been collected in advance, were asked by moderator Andrew Balcombe, who is also the BZF chairman. There was only one instance in which the civilized behavior was disrupted and that's when Phillips spoke of occupied territory. The terminology provoked anger from some members of the audience.
Phillips was instantly defended by Miri Eisin, the former media adviser to and spokeswoman for prime minister Ehud Olmert. Eisin recalled former prime minister Ariel Sharon saying to the Knesset that occupation was not a good thing.
No longer in an official position, Eisin allowed herself to say things which she might not have said in the days when she was one of Israel's most eloquent spokespeople.
For instance, in response to a question about Gilad Schalit, Eisin, speaking as "a citizen, a colonel in the army and a mother of three," said: "There is no easy solution to Gilad Schalit. We in the State of Israel are committed to our soldiers. At the end of the day every soldier matters. If I'm going to send my kids to the military I want to know they're going to come home. No price is too high."
Prof. Gerald Steinberg, of the Political Science Department at Bar-Ilan University and a Jerusalem Post columnist, deplored the fact that human rights organizations have largely ignored Schalit.
Phillips, who has met members of the Schalit family, said that an attempt was made via the Red Cross to send Rosh Hashana cards to Gilad. "The Red Cross tried hard" but apparently did not succeed. "We can feel the difficulty," said Phillips. "This is a high value society. The fact that one individual matters so much is admirable."
Concurring with Steinberg, Daniel Taub, a senior legal adviser in the Foreign Ministry, said "the deafness of the international community is shocking." He cited so-called human rights activists to whom he had brought up the matter of Schalit, but they could not bring themselves to mention his name in their reports.
Phillips neatly evaded a question related to the Goldstone report as to whether British soldiers in Afghanistan could also be accused of war crimes on the basis of accusations made against Israeli soldiers in Operation Cast Lead.
When Phillips was asked to explain Britain's apparent change of attitude to Israel, he said that the non-vote on the Goldstone report in Geneva was due to the fact that Britain was in discussion with the Israeli government at the time, and the discussion had not concluded. Britain abstained from voting on the Goldstone report at the UN Security Council because it had decided to stand back from the process because Israel had failed to launch an independent inquiry.
As for the possibility of arrest of certain senior Israeli figures should they go to Britain, British law allows for extraterritorial extradition which applies not just to Israelis but to anyone. However even if Israelis were arrested, Phillips doubted that there would be much chance of prosecuting them.
Trade relations are still sound, he pointed out, with two-way trade standing at around Â£2 billion, in addition to which a large number of Israeli companies are listed on the London Stock Exchange.
Despite all the publicity to the contrary, there are no academic boycotts. "There's a lot of talk, but nothing has happened," said Phillips.
He admitted that there has been a shift in the center of gravity.
Eisin said that she has heard the narrative of occupation all her life, but what she found disturbing was the changing narrative that delegitimizes Israel.
For all the criticism of Britain, Taub declared Britain to be one of the key anchors for protecting Israeli interests in the international community.
Phillips underscored that both main political parties in Britain support Israel's right to exist in the Middle East. "We think Israel's best security comes through peace with its neighbors and a two-state solution. It's the only way to get a guarantee of Israel as a secure state in the Middle East."
n WITHIN THE framework of the event, Balcombe announced the founding of the European Friends of Israel, an English-speaking group that he heads together with Brenda Katten, the immediate past chairwoman of the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association, and a group of other people. As a rule, IBCA functions are held in Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan or Herzliya, but more than 50 IBCA members made their way from the Coastal Plain to Jerusalem as did students from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and from other institutions and organizations.
EFI intends to establish good relations with ambassadors primarily from European countries stationed here and to discuss with them specific issues affecting the country and the way it is perceived in the countries they represent. The aim is to promote pro-Israel sentiment. EFI also wants to boost aliya, plans to run aliya fairs for tourists and is already running training programs in Europe for young Jewish leaders. It also intends to launch an extensive home hospitality program to give diplomats, foreign media and potential olim a glimpse of the real Israel.
n TWO NIGHTS later, a huge overflow audience of English speakers showed up at the same venue for the launch of Hadar, a new Anglo pro-action group which believes that Anglos have a lot to contribute to Israel's development and public diplomacy. Director and founder Shalom Helman heaped praise on acting chairman Bobby Brown, who in turn heaped praise on moderator, New York born journalist Ruthie Blum Leibowitz (whose parents, siblings and husband are all in the communications business), and described her as a great intellectual.
The impression that was conveyed was that RBL was one of the Hadar founders. The fact of the matter is that she was asked to moderate the event, but as she told people afterward, she doesn't believe that being Anglo is necessarily a cohesive factor. The founding leadership of Hadar is identified with the political right, as is RBL, but if the organization puts political affinities aside and opens its doors to all Anglos, RBL says that she would have more in common with a right-wing sabra than with a left-wing Anglo.
As an example she cited former Meretz MK Naomi Chazan as someone with whom she would not have anything politically in common. Though born in pre-state Jerusalem, Chazan spent her adolescent and early adult years in the US where her father, the late Avraham Harman was ambassador from 1959-1968. In addition, she received her BA and MA degrees from Columbia University. This, coupled with the fact that both her parents were born in England, makes Hazan, whose column regularly appears in The Jerusalem Post, an honorary Anglo.
n THERE WAS also a large turnout on Saturday night at Jerusalem's Great Synagogue where Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief David Horovitz interviewed Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on the completion of his first year in office. Among the subjects that came up for discussion were the Sabbath riots instigated by the Eda Haredit, the ultra-Orthodox, anti-Zionist group which has been protesting the operation of parking areas and the employment of Intel personnel on Saturdays. When asked whether the Eda Haredit pays municipal taxes, Barkat replied in the affirmative, thus dispelling yet another negative myth.
n welfare and sOCIAL SERVICES Minister Isaac Herzog wears many hats, and it was difficult to tell in exactly which capacity he was speaking at Tel Aviv University's Buchman Faculty of Law to mark the launch and conferment of the Abba Eban Doctorate Scholarship for Diplomacy and Law which was awarded by philanthropist David Azrieli and the Azrieli Foundation to Olga Frishman for her research on the globalization of legal thought. Herzog's wife Michal chairs the TAU Law Graduates Association of which Isaac Herzog is also a member. He is also a nephew by marriage of Abba Eban. His aunt Suzy Eban is the older sister of his mother Aura Herzog. Both were present along with other relatives.
In addition Herzog is well acquainted with the Azrieli Foundation, which though it donates primarily to educational projects, also contributes generously to social welfare. Herzog commented that it was appropriate for a scholarship in Eban's memory to be donated to a law school because at the time that he was foreign minister, it was still possible to differentiate between international law and international politics. In the interim he noted, international law has become the tool of international politics and vice versa.
As for international law, Herzog was proud to relate that the late Prof. Hersh Lauterpacht, one of the 20th century's leading experts on international law, was a cousin to his mother and his aunt. To close the circle on that point, Prof. Hanoch Dagan, observed that Eyal Benvenisti, professor of human rights at TAU, who delivered the keynote address in which he analyzed Eban's speech to the UN on presenting Israel's application for admission, had previously occupied the Hersh Lauterpacht Chair of International Law at the Hebrew University.
Azrieli, alluding to Eban's talents as a mediator and to the crisis situation currently confronting TAU's Board of Governors of which he is a member, said that Eban is sorely missed. When the opportunity presented itself for him to do something in Eban's memory, said Azrieli, he felt privileged to be part of such a project. Azrieli lamented the fact that so many young people today are unaware of the historically significant contribution made by Eban to the creation of the state.
n AMERICAN EXPATS Charley and Shelly Levine, who are well known in local public relations and real estate circles, wanted to give their new American in-laws Emanuel and Fran Schiowitz and the guests they brought with them from New York a truly memorable experience to take home. So although both families are Ashkenazi, the Levines acceded to the wishes of their daughter Dori and organized a true Moroccan henna two days in advance of her marriage to Avi Shiowitz. Aside from a little hassidic music and the ethnic affiliation of most of the guests, the only Ashkenazi element was the missing bridegroom. Whereas the bridegroom also participates in a genuine Moroccan henna ceremony, in religious Ashkenazi circles, the bride and groom do not see each other for a week prior to the wedding.
The idea to go Moroccan was hardly surprising. When the Levines and their young children arrived here just over 30 years ago, they had Moroccan neighbors who adopted them and introduced them to Moroccan culture with which they fell in love. The friendship has continued and so has the love for all things Moroccan. The wedding itself was a strictly American affair with the overwhelming majority of guests being American olim or visitors from America who had specially come for the occasion.
The Levines like to do things in style and are always eager to ensure that family and friends are well fed. Thus the reception at the Jerusalem Crowne Plaza prior to the ceremony was a banquet in itself. Because the date coincided with Thanksgiving, the huge buffet selection included roast turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.
n IN RESPONDING to the honorary doctorate conferred on her last week by Ben-Gurion University, Prof. Alice Shalvi recalled that in 1969, she had been sent by the Hebrew University to set up the beginnings of an English department at the fledgling university which physically bore no resemblance to the present sprawling campus. As difficult as the physical conditions were, morale was high because there was intense commitment on the part of the faculty. There was something very special in pioneering a university in the Negev. In addition to her teaching role, Shalvi was elected to a series of important administrative positions, learning along the way what it meant to run an institute of higher learning.
But she learned the most important lesson when the dean of the Department of Humanities resigned and she decided to apply for the post. It wasn't enough to be interviewed by the various powers-that-were at BGU. She was also interviewed by their opposite numbers at the Hebrew University. And in each case, even though she was fully qualified and experienced for the job, the response was: "But you're a woman." She had never felt so humiliated, nor had she realized the extent of gender discrimination in academia. The lesson changed her life - not only her life but the lives of untold numbers of women here, many of whom were inspired by her to become feminist activists whose advocacy resulted in legislation that gives women equal opportunities.
Nothing could have been more rewarding to Shalvi than the fact that the current president of BGU is a woman. Shalvi was this week the recipient of yet another prize - the Leibowitz Prize named for controversial historian and philosopher Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, awarded to her by Yesh Gvul, the organization founded by combat soldiers who selectively refuse to serve in areas that are not part of Israel proper. The award was made at Tzavta in Tel Aviv, and her fellow recipient was Rabbi Arik Ascherman, director of Rabbis for Human Rights.
n WHILE ILLNESS prevented Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from traveling to Germany this week, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who was also ill, showed up at Israel Gateway's annual foreign trade convention at the Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv at which some 20 countries were represented. Livni was on hand to launch the Safe City conference aimed at dealing with the rising crime rate in many of the world's major cities. For this reason the conference was attended not only by business people and commercial attaches but by representatives of foreign governments, homeland security technological personnel, mayors and law enforcement officials.
n THE MASKED man who came up behind American immigrant Miriam Segal in Beit Shemesh and attempted to attack her and snatch her purse, did not know that he was dealing with a black belt martial arts expert, even though she looked like one of the town's average Orthodox women. Initially, Segal thought it was her husband who was being playful, but quickly realized, when the man spoke Hebrew, that she and her baby strapped to the front of her torso were in danger. In a deft move, she threw the man to the ground, but then his knife wielding partner came on the scene, and Segal had to quietly talk him out of using his weapon. For some reason, he suddenly gave up and let her move away. The 35-year-old ex-Floridian and mother of four has been in the country for less than two months. It wasn't the nicest introduction to her new environment, but she proved that she was well equipped to handle the situation.
n IN THE process of making her farewells is Larisa Miculet, the ambassador of Moldova who is returning home next week after four years here. Miculet came to the foreign service from her country's justice system, and her legal background was extremely useful. At this stage, she's not sure of what the future holds, but she does want to continue serving her country in a diplomatic capacity.
Also leaving is Australian Ambassador James Larsen, who with his wife Antoinette Merrillees, a diplomat in her own right, is returning with their children to Australia. They are leaving in January so that the children can start school in the new school year. Larsen's father-in-law Robert Merrillees served as Australia's ambassador here more than 20 years ago. He and his wife now live in France, but visited frequently during Larsen's stint here - the last time for nine months. Larsen and his family spent vacations in France and will continue to do so, except in future they'll also try to combine their vacation trips with visits to Israel.
n AT THE other end of the diplomatic spectrum, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman will in all likelihood appoint Vilna-born Dorit Golendar, 60, who heads Radio Reka's Russian-language department, as the next ambassador to Moscow. Golendar came here in 1967 and a year later began broadcasting in Russian to the Soviet Union. She was subsequently one of the founders of Radio Reka.
Rumor has it that Alon Pinkas, who was tipped to be the next ambassador to the UN, may have his plans torpedoed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.