Grapevine February 19, 2020: The times they are a-changin’

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin with King David Hotel general manager Haim Shkedi. (photo credit: OREN COHEN)
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin with King David Hotel general manager Haim Shkedi.
(photo credit: OREN COHEN)
As mentioned previously in The Jerusalem Post, President Reuven Rivlin, who this week is paying a state visit to Australia, will take a roundabout route, longer than usual, in order to avoid the Far East, which is currently terra non grata for fear of coronavirus.
Within a period of eight days, Rivlin will be in several different time zones. Traveling via Los Angeles, he will go to Fiji, from there to Australia, and will then return via South Africa. Los Angeles is 10 hours behind Tel Aviv and 19 hours behind Fiji. Happily, there is only one hour’s difference between Fiji and Australia, but Australia is nine hours ahead of South Africa. There is no time difference between South Africa and Israel.
In Australia Rivlin, at the tail end of his visit, will meet with Governor-General David Hurley, whom Rivlin hosted last month together with world leaders who came to commit themselves to remembering the Holocaust and fighting antisemitism. He will also meet with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who almost exactly a year ago berated the United Nations General Assembly for its anti-Israel bias and pledged to defend Israel at the UN.
In Melbourne Rivlin will meet with Governor of Victoria Linda Dessau, who happens to be Jewish. Dessau visited Israel in October 2018. Rivlin will also visit Mount Scopus College (the alma mater of the writer of this column), where he will be greeted by a thousand students from Melbourne’s Jewish day schools.
The first top-ranking Israeli to visit Mount Scopus College was former prime minister and foreign minister Moshe Sharett in May 1957, a year after David Ben-Gurion forced him out of office. In Australia Sharett was joyfully received, with Jewish people dancing a hora at every airport when he landed.
In Sydney Rivlin will meet with New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, and he will also visit the Taronga Wildlife Hospital at Sydney Zoo, where injured animals rescued from the bushfires are being treated.
■ BOTH PRIME Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz have reason to fear a large Arab voter turnout for the March 2 elections.
Part of the Likud election campaign in which a video in Arabic claims that the Likud has done much more for the Arab community than the Joint List, and shows Joint List members sipping coffee and playing shesh besh, backfired last weekend with the return to Israel of Elmazeh Gishi, who had spent nearly six months in a Turkish prison because she had gone to Turkey for a kidney transplant. She was unaware that the person who arranged the transplant was breaking Turkish law, which forbids trafficking in human organs, and was arrested as an accomplice. Joint List head Ayman Odeh went to Turkey in an attempt to secure her release and that of other Israeli citizens imprisoned there.
On Friday, Odeh tweeted that Gishi would be returning to Israel the following day, which she did, but without the fanfare or media interest that accompanied the return from Russia of Naama Issachar. When Gishi arrived on Saturday, Odeh was at the airport to meet her.
Interviewed on KAN Reshet Bet soon afterward, she said: “Ayman Odeh promised, and he kept his word.”
Needless to say, if that sentence becomes part of the Joint List’s election campaign, it will serve to swell both Arab pride and support. If the Arabs know that they have a leader on whom they can rely, of course they’ll vote for him.
Odeh also tweeted after Gishi’s return that a private plane and photo ops with world leaders are not needed in order to take care of the concerns of Israeli citizens who are ignored by the government. He pledged to maintain ongoing contact with the Turkish authorities with the aim of bringing back other Israelis incarcerated in Turkish prisons.
■ NETANYAHU HAS been given star billing at the 17th annual Jerusalem Conference which will be held at the Crowne Plaza hotel on February 24-25, just under a week before the elections.
Two of the regulars at the conference, hosted by the Besheva media group, will be absent. Rivlin will be in Australia, launching the United Israel Appeal campaigns in Sydney and Melbourne, and will also attend a luncheon hosted by the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, depending on whom one speaks to, dropped out of his own volition, or was excluded in response to his aggressive anti-religious stance.
Although the conference is overwhelmingly right-wing in terms of speakers, the Left has not been ignored, and Labor leader Amir Peretz will not be the sole representative of the Left.
■ THAT NETANYAHU is so contradictory elicits the question: what makes him tick? Part of the answer is supplied in a new book, Netanyahu’s Secrets (Hebrew), by speech and body language coach Kaveh Shafran, who is a former news and current affairs anchor with Army Radio. According to Shafran, nothing about Netanyahu is spontaneous.
This opinion is based on Netanyahu’s personal documents, few of which have been previously seen by more than half a dozen people. The documents include notes that Netanyahu wrote to himself about how to stand, how to move, what to emphasize and what to downplay.
In various interviews, Shafran has said that Netanyahu is so focused on the impact of every word that he can rewrite a speech or an op-ed 50 times before he’s satisfied, and that he practices his speeches before a mirror over and over again. Even though Netanyahu comes across as being fluid, every word and every movement in that flow have been carefully calculated, Shafran contends.
■ ON THE subject of books, the timing of a book launch can be very important. Thus former defense minister and IDF chief of staff Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon is launching his book The Longer, Shorter Path on Monday, February 24, exactly one week before the elections. The launch will be held at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University and will include a symposium based on Ya’alon’s insights in his many years of service to the country.
Ya’alon will be interviewed by Dr. Michal Ya’ari on major decisions in which he was involved, after which he will answer questions from the audience. Other speakers will include Amotz Asa-El, a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute and a regular columnist with the Post and The Jerusalem Report, Ilan Greenfield, who heads Gefen Publishing, and INSS director Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin. The event begins at 6 p.m.
■ NOTHING LASTS forever. Even legendary figures eventually disappear. No, this is not about Netanyahu, but about Haim Shkedi, who has spent 43 years working for the Dan Hotels chain, and 25 of those years as general manager of Jerusalem’s fabled King David Hotel. Shkedi, who has greeted royalty, political leaders from around the world, entertainment celebrities, sports stars, Nobel laureates and other distinguished figures, is due to retire on June 30.
Shkedi, who joined Dan Hotels in 1977, when the chain was much smaller than it is now, proved to be born to hotel management and enjoyed a meteoric rise, as the Federmann family, which has a controlling interest in the chain, quickly realized his abilities.
Looking back over the past quarter century, in which he managed the chain’s flagship hotel, Shkedi says that he enjoyed every minute. He also takes pride in the fact that the King David was listed as one of the 10 best hotels in the Middle East by the prestige organization The Leading Hotels of the World.
Shkedi will be succeeded by international hotelier Tamir Kobrin, who will take up his duties on July 1, 2020. In the hotel industry, discretion is most certainly the better part of valor, so anyone who is expecting Shkedi to write a book detailing the peculiarities and eccentricities of the high and the mighty might be disappointed. On the other hand, if Shkedi confines himself to people no longer in the land of the living, he could still produce a highly interesting book. If nothing else, he’ll have a most enviable photo album.
■ THERE ARE just too many milestone anniversaries, and it’s difficult to keep up with them all, especially when something once historic becomes commonplace. It’s been a long time since Israel established diplomatic relations with Egypt. That might be the reason that the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Israel Embassy in Cairo on February 17, 1980, was largely overlooked.
The embassy was initially housed in temporary quarters. Israel’s first ambassador to Egypt, the late Eliahu Ben Elissar, had not yet arrived, and it was chargé d’affaires Yossi Hadass, who was later appointed director-general of the Foreign Ministry, who hoisted the Israeli flag in Cairo for the first time, as a symbol that peace with Egypt was indeed a reality. A mezuzah was affixed to the door post by Naphtali Lau-Lavie. Zvi Mazel, a frequent contributor to the Post on matters relating to Egypt, and his wife, Michelle, were members of that first embassy team. Mazel returned in 1996 as Israel’s sixth ambassador. The Mazels continue to maintain some of the contacts they made in Egypt.
■ ANYONE WHO follows Yossi Alfi’s storytelling programs knows that he takes every opportunity to mention his Iraqi background. There are quite a lot of well-known Iraqis in Israel with many great achievements to their credit but few with as many as Shlomo Hillel, former Mossad agent, speaker of the Knesset, government minister, diplomat, world chairman of United Israel Appeal and more. Even at age 96, Hillel remains active and involved, and will be feted this coming Friday morning at the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda at a gala tribute sponsored by Judy and David Dangoor, who promote the perpetuation of Iraqi Jewish heritage. It goes without saying that Alfi will be among those included in the program.
■ JUST AS an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, an ounce of practice is worth a pound of theory. That’s one of the reasons that the Israeli Center for Young Leaders is so popular with high school students. It encourages Zionism, leadership, activism, entrepreneurship and social involvement, including representing Israel at a quasi-diplomatic level.
One section of the course is geared to “young ambassadors” who learn a lot about Israel’s relations with other countries. They get to visit some of these countries as a group, are taken on tours of parliament, sometimes a presidential palace, sometimes a government ministry and more. They meet government officials and students in their peer group. Sometimes they are called on to defend Israeli policies with which they, as individuals, may not agree, but which, as representatives of Israel, they must promote, just as a professional, full-fledged diplomat of any country has to defend policies that run contrary to his or her values.
The course is taught by retired ambassador Yitzhak Eldan, a former chief of protocol at the Foreign Ministry. Eldan, who is also the founding president of the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel, is in close contact with ambassadors of the countries to which he takes his students, and the ambassadors are happy to be involved in arranging for the students to meet political and other dignitaries. It is this input by the heads of foreign diplomatic missions in Israel that serves to make every trip by the students a memorable and meaningful experience.
This month, “young ambassadors” from the famed Blich School went to Austria, where they met with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in a roundtable discussion with members of the government, and proposed an Austria-Israel youth summit within the framework of the special relations between the two countries.
Kurz, who has been to Israel several times, welcome the initiative, saying: “The youth exchange can help deepen the cooperation between our two countries.” He also told the students that he hoped to come to Israel on a private visit sometime this year. This will be his first private visit to Israel. The previous visits were official. Coming privately would give him the chance to meet some of his guests again. The meeting with Kurz was arranged by Austrian Ambassador Hannah Liko.
Like many other high-ranking officials who like to encourage teenagers to aim high, Kurz did much the same; but in his case, telling them that they could reach the stars carried more weight because when he was previously chancellor from December 2017 to May 2019, he was the youngest chancellor in the world. Before that, he was foreign minister. Even now, during his second stint as chancellor, he is still very young, and in August will celebrate his 34th birthday. Thus, when he tells Austrian high schoolers that they can aspire to be chancellor, they believe him.
■ DO STATISTICS lie? It’s hard to tell beyond the fact that surveys are often inaccurate. Time and again, Israeli media run stories about trying to integrate haredim into the workforce. The general impression is that they don’t work, and simply live on charity. If this were really true, their homes would not be well furnished, their children would not be well dressed, they would not host so many guests at their Shabbat tables; nor would there be so many haredim on international airline flights. It would appear, therefore, that a lot more haredim are working than statistics would have us believe.
Among those interested in promoting entrepreneurship in the haredi community is British Ambassador Neil Wigan, who last week visited Achim Global’s business center in Bnei Brak to get a firsthand update on haredi entrepreneurs and what they’re doing. Escorted by Achim Global chairman Motti Eichler, Wigan toured the premises, beginning with the panoramic view from the ninth-floor rooftop deck overlooking Bnei Brak and Gush Dan.
Eichler noted that Achim is a focal point for business and ingenuity, positively impacting the haredi economy and Israel’s economy at large. In addition to promoting business activity on the local scene, Achim also facilitates contacts between haredi entrepreneurs and business proprietors with businesspeople around the world. Shared workspace facilities in the building are fully adaptable to the norms and needs of haredi members.
Wigan met some of them in the lecture hall, where he was again welcomed by Eichler on behalf of Achim’s founder and president, Marc Schimmel, who was unable to attend. Eichler spoke of how moral standards in business are guided by Jewish law, and also referred to shared interests and values of the UK and Israel. In this context, he was particularly appreciative of the British Embassy’s commitment and partnership in the growing haredi economy.
Team member Yehuda Adler spoke about digital marketing, its impact on haredi businesses and its yet untapped potential. Jay Bragg, who heads a school for teaching English, spoke about the indispensability of English in business, while Moshe Katz spoke about what e-commerce has to offer businesspeople, and what this means for haredi entrepreneurs in 2020. Sales and marketing expert Kobi Rothenberg pointed to the influx of freelancers in the business world and emphasized the positive aspect of freelancing with regard to the haredi population, in that it by bypasses the challenge of working in environments that are often inconsistent with haredi cultural values.
Up-and-coming entrepreneur Aaron Breuer, CEO of SelfCad, presented his responsive, no-training-necessary software that enables easy 3D modeling and printing. In his words, “what Wix did for the Web design industry, SelfCad is doing for the 3D CAD industry.”
Wigan admitted to being duly impressed by Achim’s initiative and enterprising resourcefulness. Emphasizing the positive relationship and cooperation between the UK and haredi start-up entrepreneurs, Wigan expressed his hope that this collaboration will continue to grow.
■ NOT EVERYONE went home after the conclusion of the IMTM Tourism Conference in Tel Aviv last week. Yogesh Kumar Bhattarai, Nepal’s minister of culture, tourism and civil aviation, stayed on with his delegation, as did Nandini Lahe-Thapa, director of the Nepal Tourism Board, in order to further promote their country as a tourist destination and to join Ambassador Anjan Shakya in celebrating 60 years of diplomatic relations with Israel.
During his stay, the minister took the opportunity to meet with his various Israeli counterparts or their deputies, and said that the meetings were very productive.
The colorful 60th anniversary event at Cinema City Glilot included traditional Nepalese dances, breathtaking videos of some of Nepal’s tourist attractions, talks about Nepal’s academic and business outlets, raffles of free trips for two to Nepal, with cost-free visas thrown in for good measure, and, of course, a lavish supper.
Although Nepal enjoys a long bilateral relationship with Israel, there was no Nepalese Embassy in Israel prior to 2007. The embassy was opened in Tel Aviv in August of that year. For 13 years before that, anything to do with Nepal was handled by honorary consul Adina Gottesman, even though Nepal’s ambassador to Egypt, who was stationed in Cairo, was also ambassador to Israel. Gottesman was present last week and was warmly embraced by many of the Nepalese living in Israel, most of whom came in national dress. If there is such a thing as a bar mitzvah for an embassy, there’s still half a year to go.
It’s one thing for tourism personnel to market the positive diversity of their country and quite another for a foreigner to do so. The foreigner in this case was Nadav Ben Yehuda, who will celebrate his 32nd birthday at the end of February. The articulate Ben Yehuda is an Israeli mountain climber who has spent approximately a third of his life in Nepal, where he has also been involved In search and rescue operations and photography.
Extremely enthusiastic about the country and its people, Ben Yehuda, who is the first Israeli to climb Mount Annapurna 1 and most of the other mountains that reach upward of 8,000 meters, kept up an ongoing flow of conversation between other people’s speeches. His love for Nepal is so palpable that one wonders why he ever bothers to come back to Israel.
Shakya bravely made a welcome speech in Hebrew, which earned her approving applause.
Social entrepreneur Uri Sela, who commutes between Israel and Nepal and sets up programs and projects for university students, said that the Nepalese are very curious about everything, which makes them good students.
■ IT’S NICE to see that Gilad Schalit has put on a healthy amount of weight since his release from Hamas captivity in October 2011 after five years and four months of being a prisoner. It was a very skinny young man who emerged from an Israeli army plane and saluted Netanyahu, who was waiting for him on the tarmac, even ahead of Schalit’s father.
Although Netanyahu took the credit for Schalit’s release, the effort was started by Ehud Olmert, who refused to accede to the Hamas demand for a prisoner exchange, despite considerable pressure from the public, which had yielded to a well-run public relations campaign in which Schalit was portrayed as hayeled shel hamedina (the son of the nation).
Netanyahu agreed to the Hamas demand and released 1,027 convicted Palestinian terrorists in exchange for Schalit. For some time after his release, Schalit went abroad on speaking engagements for Israel, and also worked for one of Israel’s leading newspapers.
While readjusting to a regular lifestyle, he became romantically involved with Adi Sigler, but after four years together, they split up. His next romantic liaison was with Ronnie Shiner, but it lasted only four months. In the second half of 2018, he started going out with Nitzan Shabbat, and came to the realization that at age 33, he really ought to settle down. So on Valentine’s Day he proposed – and she accepted. Mazal tov!
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