HE MAY be out of office and approaching his 92nd birthday, but Shimon Peres – former president, prime minister, foreign minister, finance minister defense minister and holder of other ministerial portfolios in a long career of public service – remains a human magnet.
He attracts large crowds to events at which he’s the guest of honor, he is still pursued by the international media and he continues to receive foreign dignitaries who feel that an official visit to Israel is incomplete without a meeting with Peres. In England this past week, as guest of honor at the annual Zionist Federation dinner at Grosvenor House, where he was interviewed by i24 news presenter Lucy Aharish, the former president’s presence drew a crowd of 900 people. He was also interviewed on the BBC, where he acknowledged that there are people in Israel who say peace cannot be made with the Arabs, but declared that he thinks they are wrong. There were also several print media reports about his views on peace, a two-state solution, his confidence in PA President Mahmoud Abbas, relations with the United States and other issues.
Although BBC and Telegraph interviewers attempted to get him to say something specifically critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Peres did not allow himself to fall into that trap. He refused when asked to name the person responsible for the crisis in Israel’s relations with the US, to specifically name Netanyahu, saying that blaming anyone would serve no purpose.
■ JUST AS it was more than a little late in being appointed, Israel’s 34th government was late in posing for its traditional photograph with the president.
In past years, the government came straight to the President’s Residence following its ratification by the Knesset. This year, several days went by before the members of the government arrived at the President’s Residence, and even then, the ceremony that was originally scheduled for 2 p.m.
Tuesday, started more than 15 minutes late.
The ministers were grouped on a red carpet in the main reception hall while Netanyahu, who holds five portfolios, and President Reuven Rivlin read out official statements.
This year’s ceremony lacked the electric spark that characterized its predecessors when ministers and their spouses came in the evening and partook of a sumptuous buffet in the main hall while waiting for the president and the prime minister to join them.
This time there were no spouses – not even Sara Netanyahu.
The only minister of whom it could be genuinely said was dressed up for the occasion was Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev. There was nothing wrong with what Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Senior Citizens Minister Gila Gamliel were wearing, but it just didn’t look dressy. The male ministers were certainly no advertisement for Saville Row with the possible exceptions of Construction Minister Yoav Galant, Science Technology and Space Minister Danny Danon and Minister- without-Portfolio Ophir Akunis. In fact, some of the ministers were so shlumpy that Avi Ohayon, the director of the photography department at the Government Press Office, declined to photograph them until he had straightened their ties and got some of them to close their jackets. He even had a go at Rivlin and Netanyahu, but stopped short of getting them to sit in a graceful pose. Each of them sat as if on a saddle.
In the very early afternoon, a table of cookies, cakes and beverages had been set up in the grounds for the media whose members sat on the lawn and schmoozed for the best part of two hours before taking their positions inside the building. In a makeshift area adjacent to the main reception hall professional caterers had laid out a somewhat more elaborate spread for the MKs, which they could consume only if they arrived well in advance of the ceremony.
Some who went back afterwards discovered that all the tables had been cleared. In addition to the red carpet inside the building, another had been rolled out under the pergola and swept clean. But after the ceremony when all the ministers had departed, it was full of dusty footprints.
■ CONTROVERSY AND complaints about the privatization of postal services has led some companies to hire their own delivery personnel. Case in point was the delivery to the Who’s Who of Jerusalem of some 300 invitations to the launch next Thursday of the capital’s Museum Residence neighborhood, where some of the Who’s Who have already purchased apartments. Tens of couriers were dispatched to deliver the stunning gold-framed invitations into the hands of the invitees, including one to Mayor Nir Barkat, who was photographed immediately on receipt and who confirmed his attendance. Others who have indicated their intention to attend include Prof. Avi Rifkind, legal eagles Yehuda and Tami Raveh, Shimon Barzilay the owner of the local Subaru dealership, Amir Lazar the CEO of Leumi Mortgage Bank, architect Amatzia Aaronson and several other personalities. The project is one of several undertaken for the beautification of Jerusalem by Israel Brothers, who are veteran property developers. Although the project has no relationship to the Israel Museum per se, it derives its name from its geographic proximity to the museum, and the gala dinner in celebration of the launch will be held at the museum.
■ ISRAEL’S STAR hoopster Omri Casspi took a slight break from the NBA’s Sacramento Kings in order to fulfill an important commitment in Israel. No, it wasn’t a charity game or a TED ideas presentation. It was something that would have a far greater impact on his future. During a relaxing stay at the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem last weekend, he popped the question to his girlfriend, Shani Ruderman, with whom he has been keeping company for the past year, and to indicate the seriousness of his intent presented her with a diamond ring.
Her response was affirmative. On learning of the couple’s engagement, Guy Kleiman, the hotel’s general manager, decided they deserved a little more pampering by way of celebration.
■ AT AGE 72, Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin did something he’s never done in his life before. He entered a pub.
It was one of the Irish pubs in Israel. In fact it was the Dublin pub on the Herzliya beachfront. The reason he was there was because it was Paraguay’s National Day.
Max Haber Neumann, the ambassador of Paraguay, decided that rather than host a reception at his residence or at a five-star hotel, he would celebrate at a more convivial venue – an Irish pub. Begin quipped that whenever he comes home his wife asks what he did all day. And he has to tell her that he did nothing. But now he can say that he went to an Irish pub. Curiously, when it came to delivering the speeches, Begin removed his glasses in order to read his speech, while Neumann fumbled in his pocket to find his glasses so that he could put them on to read his speech. Begin said he hoped the two opposite measures taken for speech-reading would not be misinterpreted and turned into a diplomatic incident. Neumann was very happy that he had been the first ambassador to host a minister of the 34th government of Israel at his country’s National Day celebration.
He considered it quite a coup for Paraguay.
■ SEVERAL OF the guests who attended the National Day reception celebrating the 43rd anniversary of the reunification of the Republic of Cameroon complained that Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel had delivered his address in Hebrew. Most of those who complained are quite fluent in Hebrew themselves but thought it insulting that the minister making a speech to an audience whose common language was English, would choose to speak in a language that the majority did not understand. Worse still, it was a long speech that was read out again in English by Shlomo Morgan of the Foreign Ministry’s Protocol Department.
Some of the ambassadors present wondered why ministers are not forced to study English on assuming office. A former Israeli government minister who was part of the conversation but preferred that his name not be published, replied: “because we’re never in office long enough.”
Henri Etoundi Essomba, the ambassador of Cameroon and dean of the Diplomatic Corps, together with his wife, Esther, hosted the reception. He was actually quite pleased Ariel had been selected to attend the event, because Cameroon is focusing on agro-economics, which means there will be a great deal to discuss with Ariel’s office. It was a great honor for Cameroon, he said, that it is the first country to host Ariel since his appointment. Both Essomba and Ariel dwelt on the intense cooperation of their two countries in fighting radical Islam and terrorism. Last year was a very painful year for Cameroon, said Essomba, citing incidents provoked by Boko Haram. Many people had been killed in the northern part of Cameroon, he said, simply because they didn’t share of the views of this radical Islamic group, which came from a neighboring state. In the interim, said Essomba, the authorities in Cameroon have managed to stabilize the situation and to safeguard their territorial integrity. Ariel said Israel follows very closely the struggle of Cameroon against terrorist organizations.
“Cameroon’s struggle against terrorism is Israel’s struggle against terrorism and we stand shoulder to shoulder with Cameroon in its battle against the terrorism of radical Islam,” said Ariel.”
■ THE BEST laid plans of mice and men often tend to go awry, and that’s what happened when Prahlad Kumar, ambassador of Nepal, was planning his country’s Republic Day reception. He had originally planned to have it May 28, then decided to move it to June 1, which will be the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Nepal and Israel. But then came the catastrophic earthquake in Nepal and neither May nor June were suitable times for celebration when so many had been killed or injured, and even more had been left homeless. Kumar is planning an event for later in the year in order to thank the Israel government and Israeli search and rescue operators and the medical emergency team for all that Israel has done for Nepal.
■ PRIOR TO the official launch of the new StandWithUs headquarters off Jerusalem’s King David Street, ardent StandWithUs supporters Barbara and Bernard Diamond hosted a buffet reception to introduce some of their many friends to the organization that does so much to preserve Israel’s honor and dignity on university campuses in the US and elsewhere in the world and, equally important, teaches young people to respond to attacks against Israel and how to refute the false charges to which Israel is subjected. Barbara Diamond catered most of the event herself, though some of her friends, aghast that she should take on such an onerous task, offered to help out so in addition to the dishes – mostly with an Asian flavor – that she prepared, there were other offerings by Sheila Zucker, Fayge Schwartz, Ruchi Seidon, Shoshana Stern, Suzie Frankel and Eti Kornbluth.
Diamond was careful to place labels next to each dish with the name of the person who prepared it and the name of the dish itself. Later, when introducing some of the leading figures of StandWithUs, she was thrilled that all the chairs inside the lecture hall were filled. The crowd was warm in its applause for speakers Michael Dickson, director of StandWithUs Israel; Michelle Rojas-Tal, diaspora education director; Hen Mazzig, Israel education director; and Richard Corman, director of development who shared some of their experiences and spoke of the organization’s impact on the Jewish state and the Jewish people. Dickson said that since moving to its current premises five months ago, StandWith Us had been inundated with requests from groups and individuals wanting to know how to counter all the lies and distortions about Israel and Jews that are permeating university campuses in the US, Europe and beyond. “We’re on the front line in a battle against images and words,” said Dickson, who emphasized the power of one to make a difference. “The biggest challenge we face is that most people are apathetic,” he said, adding that “BDS is a modern-day blood libel.” Rojas-Tal, the product of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father could have avoided all the hassle on the basis of her family name, which is Hispanic. But she chose to become involved. “We have a story to tell and we’re teaching people how to tell that story,” she said. Mazzig, who has spent a lot of time on the university campus circuit in the US, has had to fight some pretty tough battles in the war of words, but because he is equipped to confront almost every kind of situation, he has managed on occasion to overcome hostilities from anti-Israel students and faculty staff.
■ MATI JERUSALEM Deputy CEO Michal Shaul-Vulej was invited to participate in the Clinton Global Initiative Middle East and Africa Meeting, sponsored by the Clinton Foundation. More than 400 people, representing dozens of countries, attended the conference, hosted last week by Bill and Chelsea Clinton in Marrakech, Morocco.
The focus of the conference was to address social, environmental and economic challenges facing the Middle East and Africa, including the fields of infrastructure development, energy saving and employment of young people. At the conference, MATI presented a program for development of business initiatives among young people in the ultra-Orthodox and Arab sectors of Jerusalem and developed ties with bodies likely to assist in the financing of these programs.
“Participation in this conference is a great honor for MATI Jerusalem,” said Shaul-Vuleij.
“Our invitation is a seal of approval for our extensive work promoting economic and business development in Jerusalem, our employees and the organizations that have supported our efforts work for almost 24 years.”
Vulej said she was very excited about participating in the conference: “I was astounded to find out how central the topic of business entrepreneurship development was at this event. Bill Clinton, his daughter Chelsea and other participants repeatedly emphasized business entrepreneurship as a key solution to economic problems in the region. Having worked extensively in this field, I consider their efforts to be powerful confirmation of our activities and our conception of business entrepreneurship as the best idea of all.
The conference emphasized the particularly young age of the region’s population (in Jerusalem, the median age is 23.7), noting that countries cannot create and supply the vast number of jobs required by their young people. This is why business entrepreneurship is becoming more and more relevant as a means of creating new jobs and developing present and future job markets. Vulej added that this inspiring event also emphasized the significance of cooperation between the government, civil society and financiers in their quest to achieve change.