Grapevine: From Bahrain to Herzliya

Workers place a banner at the pavilion where the U.S. hosted event "Peace to Prosperity" takes place outside Four Seasons Hotel in Manama, Bahrain. (photo credit: MATT SPETALNICK/REUTERS)
Workers place a banner at the pavilion where the U.S. hosted event "Peace to Prosperity" takes place outside Four Seasons Hotel in Manama, Bahrain.
On Sunday, June 30, the focus moves from Bahrain to Herzliya, where the 19th annual Herzliya Conference is taking place under the heading of “Navigating Stormy Waters – Time for a New Course.” Quite a number of the participants will in fact be coming from Bahrain to Herzliya, including US Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt.
Some of them will meet up again in Jerusalem on Tuesday night at the American Independence Day reception being hosted by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
Of course, it’s no surprise that one of the sessions of the conference will be devoted to the “Deal of the Century.” The Herzliya Conference is an annual gathering of senior Israeli and international figures, including past and present politicians, diplomats, army top brass from Israel and abroad, academics, economists, as well as business people, philanthropists, journalists, political analysts and other individuals of influence. Together they discuss national, regional and global issues, one of which is rising antisemitism around the world. Among the speakers on this subject will be US Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism Elan Carr. This year, gender equality appears to be a significant feature on the agenda, with a large number of women speakers, all of them high on the totem pole of achievement and status. Also getting a larger share of the platform than in former years are Arab speakers, among them Baka al-Gharbiya Mayor Morsi Abu Moch, Ramle Mayor Naif Abu Swiss, and former Hura mayor Mohammed Al-Nabari. There’s even a husband and wife team listed among the speakers, though Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and his wife, Irina Nevzlin, who is president of the Nadav Foundation and chair of Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People, will be speaking on different subjects and at different times.
Also listed is the superbly eloquent Ambassador of Egypt to Israel Khaled Azmi.
It has been a tradition for the prime minister to give the closing address at the conference, but barring any sudden change, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not scheduled to do so, though addresses will be given by his rivals and former rivals, including Tzipi Livni, who is being wooed back into the political fray by more than one party.
At the time of going to press, Livni had not accepted any of these invitations, but she has been accepting speaking engagements in Israel and abroad. If she does decide to go back to politics, and attempts to cancel the September elections fail, she will be cutting it very fine if she goes ahead with her commitment to speak on Monday, August 26, at the St Kilda Town Hall in Melbourne, Australia, where she is scheduled to deliver the annual Gandel Oration for the Anti-Defamation Commission.
Author Ilan Ben-Ami, whose biography of Livni has just hit the bookstores, wrote the book without her cooperation, but was so fascinated by her story, which proves that contrary to conventional wisdom, a leopard can change its spots, that he went ahead with the project. Whether she returns to politics this time around or waits for the next opportunity, Ben-Ami believes she will eventually make a political comeback, albeit not in a position of top leadership.
■ IN TANDEM with the opening of the Bahrain conference on June 25, was the Palestine National Conference which was held in Gaza under the heading of “Together for Liberation and Return.” Organizers said it was to counter the Peace to Prosperity conference in Bahrain. Among the speakers listed was another former female MK who often captured media headlines. Nazareth-born, passionately pro-Palestinian Haneen Zoabi, who so angered fellow legislators during her stormy decade in the Knesset, was the only Israeli citizen among the speakers. Curiously, even though she has called for dissolution of the State of Israel, she continues to hang on to her Israeli citizenship.
■ MORE AND more journalists are writing books these days in an era of dire predictions for the future of the book market. For all that, people are still buying books, and many prefer a book in the hand to a text on the screen. Among the authors of recently published books are past and present writers for The Jerusalem Post, among them Michal Yudelman O’Dwyer, who for many years was a political reporter for the paper, and who later worked for Haaretz. She currently writes a blog for The Times of Israel. She is married to Irish journalist Tom O’Dwyer, a former Jerusalem Post columnist, who also went to Haaretz and who worked for major international news agencies.
Kibbutz-born Yudelman O’Dwyer, who is equally fluent in Hebrew and English, after completing her army service, studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the University of Chicago and the City College of New York. Her book, Somebody I Used to Know, an anthology of short stories, was published in Hebrew and was among the books perused by visitors to Hebrew Book Week in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. Some of Yudelman’s short stories were previously published in English in Tel Aviv Short Stories, one of a series of books edited by Shelly Goldman and Joanna Yehiel, who likewise went from The Jerusalem Post to Haaretz.
■ ISRAELI ENTERTAINERS are well known for supporting causes to help sick children or those coping with disabilities. Among them are singer Miri Mesika and actress and comedienne Shani Cohen. The two were in London at the beginning of the week on behalf of Simcha LaYeled, the Israeli-based child-oriented organization founded in 2004. More than £90,000 ($114,200) was raised and pledged by an appreciative audience that included Israel Ambassador to the UK Mark Regev.
Simcha LaYeled is one of several Israeli organizations that supports children with physical disabilities together with their families, providing them with the opportunities and activities that their able-bodied peers take for granted. The organization is supported by JNF UK, which helped in arrangements for the gala event.
Regev linked Simcha LaYeled to the recent UN finding that Israelis were some of the happiest people in the world – because they care about each other. JNF UK CEO Yonatan Galon spoke about how Simcha LaYeled was an inspirational example of a group of people who were making Israel a better place in which to live.
Two of the children who benefit from Simcha LaYeled, Talia Rubin and Roni Yona, who were flown from Israel for the event, had an exciting time and captured the hearts of the audience. Both girls struggle with debilitating conditions. Talia has Familial Mediterranean Fever, a rare genetic disorder that requires weekly injections at her local hospital. Roni has Morquio syndrome, a rare progressive metabolic disorder that has necessitated multiple surgeries. Roni is largely confined to a wheelchair.
The two little girls upstaged the stars when they sang “Lu Yehi” (“Let it Be”), after which there was hardly a dry eye in the house.
■ IF ANYONE ever doubted the need for a public broadcasting network, KAN 11 and Reshet Bet, which operate under the umbrella of the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, prove how vital such a service is to the ordinary citizen who gets screwed by the bureaucracy and the don’t-care attitude of the system. Former Shas MK Yigal Gueta, who was forced to step down after attending his gay nephew’s same-sex wedding, now works as a radio and television broadcaster and has taken it upon himself to help people who have been given the runaround by local authorities, educational institutions and insurance companies.
In his program on KAN 11 this week, he demonstrated how little insurance companies care for their clients, and how they take their clients’ money and provide minimal or no service at all. In an effort to assist people whose homes were in a horrendous state due to faulty plumbing, leaking pipes, peeling walls and ceilings, et al., Gueta showed viewers how much buck-passing goes on in insurance companies, how people are unwilling to listen to complaints, let alone help to resolve them. All of this was on-camera, with no blurring of faces and no editing out of company names on buildings, as would possibly happen on commercial television. If Knesset committees were doing their jobs properly, these insurance companies would be fined millions for negligence and fraud.
On Reshet Bet, prize-winning broadcaster Keren Neubach has taken up the cause of the homeless, single parents, the physically disabled and mentally ill. She has exposed the horrific situation in Israel in which mentally disturbed people who are harmless both to themselves and society can be locked in a psychiatric facility against their will and without the permission of their next of kin. As a result of her broadcasts, she has succeeded more than once in liberating such people, some of whom tell harrowing tales of the inhuman treatment to which they were subjected.
Also on Reshet Bet, Gili Tamir informs listeners of their rights in terms of social welfare laws for Holocaust survivors, people with disabilities, victims of unfair dismissals, people on maternity leave and a whole lot more. She often brings legal experts into the studio to advise listeners on specific problems. When people who phone in to ask for advice are still unable to resolve their particular issues, Tamir asks them to remain in contact, and if necessary, she will take over and remedy the situation.
This should not happen in a country which prides itself on its democracy, social welfare services and compassion. Whoever the next prime minister might be, he should appoint a new minister to liaise with these three broadcasters and others in the hope of eliminating the many obstacles that stand in the way of quality of life. The minister’s portfolio can be labeled Tikkun Olam.