IF ANYTHING confirms that former communications minister Gilad Erdan was shooting from the hip when he decided, almost immediately after coming into office, to close down the Israel Broadcasting Authority, it is the latest delay in implementing the July 2014 Knesset vote to dismantle the IBA. Erdan pushed through the vote without taking the repercussions into account. One closing date was given, then another and another, and a so-called final extension was set for September 30, 2016.
As far as the IBA is concerned, “final” is not much more than a word in the dictionary.
On Monday night, the Histadrut spokesman announced that the dismantling of the IBA would not go into effect for more than another year. It appears that the Israel Broadcasting Corporation was yet again unable to get its act together with the result that Histadrut (Federation of Labor) chairman Avi Nissenkorn and Communications Ministry director general Shlomo Filber agreed to postpone the execution until 2018, in line with an earlier statement to the Knesset plenum by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that the IBC would launch its broadcasts from Jerusalem from day one. Anything could happen until then.
Meanwhile some 200 people, including several well-known radio personalities, have signed on the dotted line with the IBC.
Among them is the multi-talented Vered Yiftachi Green, who has a daily morning show on Reshet Gimmel covering the police, law, and Jerusalem beats, as well as the nation’s president on Reshet Bet. Also among the signatories are Esti Perez, Aryeh Golan, Keren Neubach, Yoav Krakovsky, Yaakov Ahimeir and Eran Zinger. Some very good and experienced radio journalists have not been taken on or have been offered a paltry salary of NIS 7,000 gross per month after having worked for 30 years for the IBA. Several other IBA journalists, whose colleagues say are very good at their jobs, failed to make the grade with IBC. These people will at least be given a temporary reprieve that could go on for much longer than the vaguely targeted date of the IBC launch. The postponement also means that there will be plenty of time in which to find suitable studio space in Jerusalem, which according to law must be the home base of IBC ■ IN TYPICAL Israeli fashion, IBC chairman Gil Omer was not officially notified of the postponement and heard about it through the electronic media. The news did not make him a happy camper, considering the intensive effort that has gone into making sure that IBC could go to air in accordance with the September 30 deadline. Omer was meeting with various movers and shakers on Tuesday in a bid to reverse the postponement decision. In addition, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has announced that he will not make public funds available to keep the IBA going beyond September 30.
■ AT 84, Shmuel Shai is not the oldest regular broadcaster in Israel. That honor belongs to Walter Bingham, who at 92 is still running around to press conferences. But Shai is arguably the most veteran broadcaster, and last Friday, at the Tzavta cultural center in Tel Aviv, he celebrated his 60 years in radio.
He held a number of important positions at Israel Radio over the years, and has a weekly program called “Shai LeShabbat,” a word play on his name, which means a gift, for the Sabbath. One of the beautiful things about radio, says Shai, is that it allows the listener’s imagination to soar, and to visualize events being described or the face behind the voice.
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■ THE PROTOCOL DEPARTMENT of Israel’s Foreign Ministry traditionally organizes farewell luncheons or dinners for departing ambassadors who have completed their tours of duty. As far as Meron Reuben and Nitza Raz-Silberg, who head the protocol department, are concerned, there are just too many farewells over the past few days and in the immediate future. Among those who are leaving or who have already left are the ambassadors of Belgium, Latvia, France, Ecuador, Switzerland, Greece, Kenya, Cameroon and Estonia. But new envoys have arrived or are expected over the next two weeks, and will present their credentials on August 3. They include the ambassadors of India, Chile, Myanmar, Estonia and Lesotho.
Indian ambassador designate Pavan Kapoor has been in Israel for more than four months waiting for the opportunity to present his credentials.
■ AT A seminar hosted at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem last Thursday by the World Jewish Congress’s Israel Council on Foreign Relations, the guest speaker was the charming multi-lingual Katharina von Schnurbein, European Commission coordinator on combating anti-Semitism. She declared that anti-Semitism must be fought in all its manifestations, whether it emerges from the right wing, left wing, is religion-based, or presented as anti-Zionism.
“The struggle is not for Jews alone,” she said, noting that it was also a problem of the European Union. She was refreshingly frank in answering a bevy of questions from the audience, but when retired diplomat Mordechai Paltzur, who was Israel’s first ambassador to Poland following the renewal of relations that had been severed in 1967, asked her whether it was possible to organize a convention of prominent anti-Semites to ask them straight out to state why they hated Jews so much, she looked at Paltzur in momentary disbelief, and then told him that he was perfectly free to do so. In other words, the EU wouldn’t dare. Still, it would be an interesting experiment to see how many anti-Semites would respond to the invitation, and whether they would be prepared to attend such a conference in Israel.
■ BEFORE TAKING up his new position as Israel consul general in New York at the beginning of August, Danny Dayan, who had previously been appointed Israel ambassador to Brazil, which rejected him because his permanent home is in the West Bank, has been doing the rounds, making his farewells.
In a conversation with Yossi Ahimeir, the director of the Jabotinsky Institute, Dayan said that he hoped that people would not confuse him with Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations Danny Danon. Both are stationed in New York.
Both have the initials DD, and both are called Danny. Maybe they’ll discover that it’s to their mutual benefit and that they can double for each other without too many people being any the wiser.
■ APROPOS OF Danny Danon, he has approached UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with a request that he make what is essentially the parliament of the world accessible to people with disabilities – not merely in terms of getting inside the building and finding the offices which they are seeking, but also in terms of employment.
Danon reasons that if the Knesset, working with the Israel Elwyn and SHEKEL agencies, can employ people who are physically and/ or mentally challenged, there is no reason for the UN to do otherwise.
Social integration at all levels is now the name of the game, and people who have been promoting this for years, such as philanthropist Jay Ruderman, who divides his time between Boston and Rehovot, have long been citing as examples iconic personalities such as Steven Hawking, Beethoven, who was deaf, Mozart who is believed to have had ADHD or Tourette’s Syndrome, or a combination of the two and Albert Einstein who failed his college entrance exam the first time around. The bottom line is: Don’t look at what people CAN’T do but at what they CAN do.
■ THURSDAY OF this week will be a test of tolerance for Jerusalem – a grim reminder of what intolerance, hatred and incitement to violence can do. Participants in the annual Gay Pride Parade cannot help but remember Shira Banki, the bright, happy 16-year-old who during last year’s parade was stabbed by religious fanatic Yishai Schlissel.
Banki was critically injured and succumbed to her wounds three days later. A popular adolescent with a lot of friends, Shira had been raised in a family in which there is respect for human dignity and the rights of the other.
Shira was not a member of the gay community.
She was heterosexual, but believed in the right of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals to conduct their lives in accordance with their sexual orientation. It was this belief that prompted her to join in the Gay Pride Parade.
Due to a flaw in police vigilance, Schlissel, despite his obviously out-of-place appearance, was able to approach the route of the parade and launch his assault, which resulted in six people being stabbed. Shira was the sole fatality.
At her funeral at Kibbutz Nachshon, her parents Uri and Mika eulogized their daughter as intelligent, gentle, beautiful, curious and musical. She also loved theater. They were proud of the way she had blossomed, and they were even prouder that she had chosen to put her values into practice.
Her death was totally senseless, but if there is any comfort at all that her family may derive, it is that Shira Banki has become an icon of tolerance and respect for others.
Although there were previous attempts to refrain from condemning the gay community, following Shira’s death it became politically and socially incorrect to make any negative reference to the LGBT sector of the population, though certain religious leaders have not refrained from calling them an abomination.
Last year, at a rally in Zion Square following Shira Banki’s death, Rabbi Benny Lau (who is a first cousin to Chief Rabbi David Lau) said, “No one should have to live in a closet. A closet is death. A home is life. We must make sure that no boy or girl, man or woman, is denied the chance to live in an open house full of love and warmth. That is our responsibility in the name of the Torah.”
This week he was among many who called on Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, head of the Bnei David para-military academy, to apologize for calling gay people perverts.
At the beginning of this week, President Reuven Rivlin and his wife hosted Shira Banki’s family along with representatives of the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance.
“Shira was murdered for the freedom of every woman and man to express themselves and their sexuality freely. It is the right of every man and woman to be who they are, to love as their hearts desire, and to express that love openly. We must promote a safe public space in which even if there is disagreement, there is respect for each and every person,” said Rivlin.
“We must differentiate between disagreement and violent, hurtful, and destructive dialogue that at times also incites. We must end the incitement against the LGBT community.”
■ ON THE following day, Rivlin effusively welcomed Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes, terming the latter’s visit “historic.”
Cartes is the first president of his country to visit Israel.
Cartes also referred to the visit as historic, adding that he could not understand why he was the first in view of the fact that the relationship between Israel and Paraguay predates the establishment of the State. Paraguay was one of some dozen Latin American countries that on November 29, 1947 voted in favor of United Nations Resolution 181 on the partition of Palestine.
Prior to his arrival at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, members of Cartes’s official entourage of some 30 people, along with other dignitaries in the reception line, waited outdoors for almost half an hour, and sweltered in the grueling heat. Also waiting were a military honor guard and an Israel Defense Forces band.
Protocol demands that men wear suits or uniforms on such occasions. Even representatives of the Paraguayan media conformed to this dictum. The Israeli media representatives did not.
Rivlin said that in recent years, Israel has strengthened its relations with Paraguay, especially its security, economic and cultural relations. Noting Paraguay’s fertile terrain, Rivlin stated that Israel could improve those relations considerably by sharing its agricultural technologies with Paraguay, thereby enabling the country’s produce to flourish to its full potential.
Generally speaking, said Cartes, when there is talk of bilateral relationships, the emphasis is usually on trade. As important as trade figures may be he said, common values are even more important.
The value that Israel places on trade and diplomacy can be seen in its efforts to join Latin American economic conglomerates. In December 2007, following two years of negotiations, Israel signed a free trade agreement with Mercosur, becoming the first non-Latin American country to enter the powerful regional trade bloc that comprises Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Subsequently, after intensive lobbying, Israel also became the first Middle East country to gain observer status at the Pacific Alliance established by Peru, Columbia, Chile and Mexico.
Aside from being historic, the visit, or at least the welcoming ceremony, demonstrated a rare degree of patriotism. When the band struck up the Paraguayan national anthem, the 30+ Paraguayans present sang loud and clear, proudly raising their voices in the Jerusalem morning air.
Later, after visiting Yad Vashem, Cartes participated in the traditional tree planting ceremony, and was emotionally moved to be planting a tree and setting down roots in the Holy Land.
At a state dinner that Rivlin hosted in his honor on Monday night, Cartes met Noa, a Paraguayan-born career officer in the Israel Air Force who has flown on combat missions.
Noa, 27, was adopted when she was six months old and brought to Israel. She has served with the IAF for nine years.
Even prior to its vote on the partition of Palestine, Paraguay, during the years 1933 to 1939, had demonstrated its friendship toward the Jewish people by absorbing close to 20,000 Jews fleeing Nazi oppression, said Rivlin. Paraguay has continued to stand alongside Israel in world fora, Rivlin added, noting that this sometimes entailed risk to its own interests. He also commended Cartes for his personal and outspoken support on Jewish and Israeli issues.
Cartes said that being in Israel was the realization of a dream. Rivlin mentioned that in his most difficult days, Cartes had been helped by a Jewish family from Brazil – the Messer family. Cartes acknowledged this, saying that he was virtually adopted by them and that two members of the family, Julio and Dario, had accompanied him and his daughters to Israel.
■ IT MAY well be said that Netanya is an extension not only of France’s Riviera, but of France itself. Over the last few years it has increasingly come to resemble Nice, which is its twin city. It’s not just a matter of introducing French coffee shops and restaurants or stocking food stores with French delicacies. In snatches of conversation on public transport, French is the dominant language. Bookstores that not so long ago replaced English books and magazines with literature published in Russian, have now given priority to material published in French. Notices in the windows of real estate agents are in French and French music wafts out from various enterprises into the street. It is small wonder then, that one of the largest Bastille Day celebrations last week took place in Netanya’s Square. None of the merrymakers Thursday night expected to be back so soon in a show of solidarity with the people of Nice following the terrorist attack during Nice’s own Bastille Day celebrations, leaving 84 dead and more than 300 injured.
It used to be that in Israel everyone knew someone who had witnessed or been injured – or worse still, killed – in a terrorist attack. But now it’s a global thing among Jews. On Friday on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, news anchor Chico Menashe interviewed the director of external affairs and special projects of the Municipality of Nice. The conversation was conducted in Hebrew. The dual national on the other end of the line was multilingual Nathalie Siran, who was the secretary to the editors at The Jerusalem Post in the 1990s, and after a stint at the Foreign Ministry returned to France. Siran had been on the promenade and had seen the approach of the truck driven by the terrorist. However, friends had called her to the beach below and she went down to meet them. That decision may well have saved her life.
In Netanya on Saturday night, French ambassador Patrick Maisonnave, his voice reflecting the pain of yet another terrorist attack on his country, said that France is again experiencing the tragedy and the horror of terrorism. He recalled a series of previous terrorist attacks in March 2012, in January and November 2015; as well as the most recent on July 14, 2016. These dates are written in letters of blood and impressed in France’s collective memory, he said. Thanking Netanya Mayor Miriam Fierberg-Ikar for her instant positive response to a solidarity rally, and Deputy Minister for Regional Cooperation Ayoub Kara and Nice Deputy Mayor Martine Ouaknine for their participation, Maisonnave said that he is aware of the strong links between Nice and Netanya and therefore knows how this latest tragedy has touched the emotions of the city’s residents, especially those with relatives or friends in Nice. It had been obvious to him, he said, that there was no place in Israel better than Netanya for the solidarity rally “Terrorism is faceless and has no borders – not in Toulouse, not in Nice, Paris, Brussels, Orlando, Dhaka, Istanbul, or many other cities of the world, including those in Israel,” said Maisonnave. It was no coincidence, he said, that the date chosen by the killer was that on which France and her allies celebrate the values of liberty, equality and fraternity.
“The objectives of terrorist killers are to sow confusion and to introduce discord, compelling us to renounce our democratic principles – in particular our values of liberty, of which tolerance is the corollary.” Attacks on soldiers, Jews, homosexuals and mass targets are designed to instill the poison of fear, he said. “It’s a war of attrition. The only alternatives we have are clear – submission or resistance.”
Maisonnave said that he did not detect any desire on the part of his compatriots, Israelis, Americans or others to submit.
“Just two days ago we celebrated Bastille Day here, in this square. We never imagined that we’d be back here under these circumstances. Now we mourn alongside our twin city,” said Fierberg-Ikar, adding that the residents of Netanya will never give way to terrorism.
On Seder night in 2002, 30 people were killed when terrorists bombed Netanya’s Park Hotel, and last month a knife attack in the city’s market was prevented by an alert passerby.
■ AS A result of terrorist attacks and rising anti-Semitism in France, which ironically was the first European country to accord full civil rights to its Jewish population, many Jews are opting to leave. France, with a Jewish population of around 500,000, has the largest Jewish community in Europe – but this could well diminish.
The Jewish Agency, in partnership with the Immigration and Absorption Ministry and United Israel Appeal, is today bringing a flight of more than 200 French Jews – half of them adolescents, children, toddlers and babies – to Israel. The newcomers will be greeted at Ben Gurion Airport by chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive Natan Sharansky, Minister for Immigration and Absorption Sofa Landver, Interior Minister Arye Deri, and United Israel Appeal Chairman Eliezer (Moodi) Sandberg. According to Jewish Agency sources, this is the largest aliya flight from France scheduled to land in Israel this summer. More than 8,000 French Jews settled in Israel in 2015, compared to around 7,000 in 2014. The numbers in 2016 are expected to be considerably higher.
■ ONE OF the things that Israeli television viewers and radio listeners learned following the failed military coup in Turkey, was that Alon Liel who from 1981-83 served as Israel’s Charge d’Affaires in Turkey, is not the only expert. Electronic media outlets did a remarkable job in rounding up diplomats who had served in Turkey and academics specializing in various aspects of Turkey, as well as counterterrorism experts who know something of Israel’s cooperation with Turkey in fighting terrorism, even during the time that diplomatic relations were at a low ebb. Gabby Levy, Israel’s last ambassador to Turkey prior to the diplomatic downgrading in September 2011, was arguably the most updated on events in Turkey, and Pini Avivi, who was ambassador to Turkey from 2003-2007, was also au fait. This is not to imply that Liel is out of the picture, but simply an acknowledgment that there are other experts.
■ AFTER RECEIVING a thumbs-down reaction from most countries with which the UK has diplomatic relations, Boris Johnson, Britain’s new foreign secretary, can at least feel comfort in the fact that he has friends and admirers in Israel. Johnson, who was here in November 2015, primarily as guest speaker at the annual Balfour Dinner hosted by the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association, was a great hit for nearly all the reasons that leading figures in other countries abhor him.
People who are certain that his diplomacy will be like that of a bull in a china shop should remember that contrary to the old adage, leopards can and do change their spots– or at least their perspectives – when they move to the other side of the table. A perfect example is Israel’s late prime minister Ariel Sharon.
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