Among the guests at the November 29 celebration of UN Resolution 181 on the partition of Palestine at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel in Jerusalem for new ambassadors were Magnus Hellgren of Sweden, Joao Bernardo Weinstein of Portugal, Bernardo Greiver of Uruguay, Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli of the Holy See, and Rabbi David Rosen.
Rosen, who is a well-versed Orthodox rabbi on the personalities, policies and declarations of the Catholic Church, made a beeline for the cluster of Catholics surrounding Girelli.
The paradox was that, although there were some very high-ranking clergy in the group, Rosen, the only Jew, happened to be the only papal knight, having been invested in November 2005.
■ JUST A couple of hours earlier, each of the ambassadors had individually presented credentials to President Reuven Rivlin, who with the exception of Girelli, in addition to regular topics such as bilateral relations, concerns about antisemitism, the evils of BDS and resolving the conflict with the Palestinians, discussed soccer.
It’s common knowledge in the diplomatic community that Rivlin is a football addict, and Hellgren set the ball rolling by telling the president that he was in a bind as to which team to follow. He was initially inclined toward Maccabi Tel Aviv, whose colors are the same as those of the Swedish flag, but said that he has friends among the supporters of Maccabi Haifa who are putting pressure on him.
Then again, the only professional Swedish player in Israel plays for Hapoel Haifa. Hellgren was quite familiar with Rivlin’s connections to Beitar Jerusalem. In conversation with Portuguese Ambassador Weinstein, Rivlin said: “I must congratulate you on the wonderful football your people are playing.
Uruguayan Ambassador Greiver brought his family, and Rivlin was pleased to learn that his two sons play the sport. He reminisced about the only time that the Israeli national team had played against Uruguay at Cuauhtémoc Stadium in Puebla Mexico, where Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, had gone for their honeymoon.
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■ IT WAS to be expected that Egyptian Ambassador Hazem Khairat would be among the keynote speakers at an event marking the 40th anniversary of the arrival in Israel of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat that was hosted by IDC Herzliya’s Institute for Policy and Strategy. It was also expected that institute director Maj-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilead would also be among the speakers, as would a senior member of the US Embassy.
In the latter case is was Deputy Chief of Mission Leslie Tsou.
But the surprise speaker was David Levy, who served three times as foreign minister and several more times as deputy prime minister. He had been the butt of many unkind jokes as a Moroccan immigrant whose education did not extend beyond high school and who earned his livelihood as a construction worker before entering politics. But Levy proved himself to be a master politician and a born statesman who overcame the ethnic prejudice that had been prevalent during the nation’s first half century. All speakers referred to the murderous terrorist attack in which some 300 worshipers in a Sinai mosque were killed. The non-Egyptians expressed condolences to the Egyptian people, and Gilead said that he had the honor of meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi when he was still in the army.
“I know that nothing can break him,” said Gilead, who also spoke about the strategic value of the Israel- Egypt relationship.
In the audience was Dalia Rabin, who was directly addressed by Khairat. He told her that he wanted to express “deep appreciation to your father, who just like Sadat paid for peace with his life.” Khairat called for immense efforts to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians and said that such an agreement is the basis for any regional agreement. “The wisdom and courage of Sadat and Begin are an inspiration that should be minded by politicians all over the Middle East,” he said.
Levy recalled that he had enjoyed excellent relations with the Egyptian administration in the three governments in which he served as foreign minister. “As someone who contributed to the relations between the states, I can say that we are in the midst of an historic junction that obligates leaders who see the region, the future and the mutual interests and take brave and necessary steps, such as Sadat and Begin in order to build a solid dam that will survive any tsunami threatening our future and stability.”
On a personal level, this is an important year for Levy, who is celebrating the 60th anniversary of his aliya and who will turn 80 on December 21. Levy has contributed substantially not only to Israel’s political history, but also to Israel’s demography. He is the father of 12 children, two of who followed him into national politics and became members of the Knesset.
■ HISTORY HAS taught us never to take anything for granted – even the continued existence of the State of Israel, which might not exist today were it for the UN resolution 181 calling for the partition of Palestine. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog in a November 29 interview on Reshet Bet with Arye Golan regretted that only 10 MKs saw fit to attend the special Knesset session on the importance of November 29 and that the only Likud representative was Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.
■ AMERICAN LYRIC baritone Thomas Hampson was scheduled to give his first concert in Israel during the Gulf War. Other performers had canceled and Avi Shoshani, the executive director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, with which Hampson had been scheduled to sing, was certain that another cancellation was on the way. He telephoned Hampson to ask whether he was canceling, too, but Hampson confirmed that nothing would prevent him from performing in Israel, adding that he was not afraid of Saddam Hussein.
Since then, Hampson has been to Israel a dozen times to perform with and for the IPO, most recently on Tuesday night at the annual gala of the IPO Foundation at the Tel Aviv Hilton, which has hosted it for more than half a century. Ronnie Fortis, the country manager for Hilton Hotels Israel, did not miss the opportunity to put in a plug for the Vista, the new boutique hotel-within-a-hotel in the upper floors of the Tel Aviv Hilton.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai spoke with pride of the quality of the IPO and the honor that it has brought to its home city, while Michael Zellermayer, chairman of the IPO Foundation, and Aaron Frenkel, who with his wife, Maja, sponsors the gala, spoke of the importance of music in people’s lives as did Hampson himself. Hampson, who has also performed abroad on behalf of the IPO, donated his services.
His performance together with pianist Wolfram Rieger was divided into classical and Americana – the latter comprising enduring Broadway hits. During his second classical piece, “Secret Invitation” by Richard Strauss, he suddenly stopped, apologized and said that after singing the song for 40 years, he had forgotten the words. Super professional that he is, he started again and this time was word perfect.
Rieger delivered a lively patter between songs, but received tepid applause from the audience during the classical numbers. But the mood changed dramatically, as did Hampson, when he began singing songs by Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Cole Porter. Hampson was obviously in his element singing the American perennials. His body language and his facial expressions changed, and he even danced a little to the tunes.
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