It would be difficult to find someone more adequately suited to lead the Israeli delegation to the March of the Living than Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog. Some of his relatives were among the victims of the Holocaust. His father, Chaim (“Vivian”), an officer in the British Army, was among the liberators of Bergen-Belsen, where a memorial stone was erected in his honor during his tenure as the sixth president of Israel.
After the war, Israel’s chief rabbi, Herzog’s grandfather for whom he is named, and his uncle Yaakov Herzog went to Europe to search for surviving Jewish children in order to bring them to Israel. The Second World War concluded three years prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. Many Holocaust victims dreamed of getting to the Land of Israel, and after the war the Jewish Agency was involved in the clandestine activities of getting survivors out of Europe, and onto a boat sailing for what was then Palestine. So from almost every possible angle, Herzog had a reason to lead the Israel delegation on the March of the Living.
And there’s one more reason: His paternal grandfather was born in Poland. Also attending the March of the Living was Israel’s most well-known and respected Holocaust survivor, former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who has been at every March of the Living since its inception three decades ago. Special attention was paid at this year’s March to the decimation of Greek Jewry, and among those present to represent second-generation survivors of Greek Jewry was singer Yehuda Poliker, whose parents were both Auschwitz survivors.
The March of the Living carries with it the “Phoenix rising from the Ashes” syndrome in that most of the participants continue on to Israel to celebrate Israel Independence Day, which for Poliker will have additional significance this year as he will be one of the beacon lighters at the official opening ceremony on Mount Herzl.
■ MOST HEADS of foreign diplomatic missions, if they are well-disposed toward Israel, become unofficial ambassadors for the Jewish state when they return to their home countries. That will also be the case with British Ambassador David Quarrey when he returns to London in three weeks’ time. But rather than make the argument for Israel, Quarrey will encourage people to come and see for themselves, though he is the first to admit that one doesn’t realize quite how a complex a country this is until one actually lives here. He had visited Israel more than 20 times from 2004-on before taking up his posting almost four years ago. By actually living here and experiencing so much of its diversity, he gained a far deeper insight into what makes Israel tick than in all his previous visits in his various capacities.
It has long been a custom for British ambassadors to annually host members of the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association at a garden reception and to deliver an address on UK-Israel relations. Quarrey did this for the last time on Tuesday, though many of the guests arrived at the British residence in Ramat Gan ahead of their host, who had been in Jerusalem to attend the opening session of the Knesset and went back the following evening to attend the Holocaust Remembrance ceremony at Yad Vashem.
Most British ambassadors to Israel enthuse about the level of relations between their country and Israel, and Quarrey was not only no exception, but stated that relations are broader and deeper than ever. He emphasized that people don’t realize how much is happening between the two countries, especially in commerce, where trade last year exceeded $10 billion, making the UK Israel’s third-largest trading partner, and the biggest European investment partner.
Quarrey doubted that the final outcome of Brexit would affect UK-Israel relations one way or another.
The tech revolution has helped to develop new partnerships between Israel and top British companies, he said, and there is also an important science relationship with British and Israeli scientists working together on the science of aging. When bids were published for this program, Quarrey noted, more than 90 offers were received, with 34 coming from UK universities. Those included three of the world’s top 10, proving that things are changing in terms of academic boycotts, and that most British universities are happy to collaborate with Israeli academic institutions. There are less visible areas of relations, such as security, said Quarrey, adding that there has been a great transformation in the level of engagement in the security world.
Recalling that when he presented his credentials, President Reuven Rivlin had asked him when Israel could expect a visit from the queen, Quarrey said he was delighted to have been involved in organizing the visit last year by Prince William, the first British royal to officially visit Israel.
His one regret during his term here, Quarrey said, was that there had been no progress in the peace process, and not a single high-level visit between Israelis and Palestinians, a situation which he found to be unhealthy.
Quarrey’s other regret is the growth to record levels of antisemitism in Europe including the UK. “It is impossible to imagine British life without a strong Jewish community,” he said.
As of now, Quarrey does not know what his next job will be. He plans to spend three or four years in London, which is one of the reasons he has not been advised of his options. Diplomats who are being posted abroad are usually given six months’ to a year’s notice. Those who will be working on the home front often don’t find out what’s available until they actually return home.
Meanwhile he is glad to be succeeded by Neil Wigan, who was working at the embassy in 2004, when Quarrey paid his first official visit to Israel, and was the person who greeted him at the airport on arrival.
■ SAYING GOODBYE to someone or something one loves is never easy, and for Yossi Benayoun, an international soccer star and one of the greatest Israeli players of all time, who turns 39 on May 5, the decision to quit playing has not been easy. He figures that physically he’s still up to par for another year, he told a media conference this week, but he has to get used to the idea of switching roles. Benayoun will play the last professional game of his career on Saturday night, playing for Beitar in a match against Ashdod.
From Beitar’s perspective, it’s not a particularly important game, but the anticipation is that the fans will turn up in their multitudes to give Benayoun the kind of send-off he deserves. However, he’s not leaving soccer altogether, nor is he leaving Beitar, whose manager he will be next season, working together with owner Moshe Hogeg and Hogeg’s representative, Eli Ohana, who in his time was also an international champion soccer player. Ohana, 55, currently chairs Beitar, and launched his career as a player with the Beitar Youth League. He might be able to give Benayoun a few tips on how to graduate from player to manager.
■ON WEDNESDAY morning Labor MK Amir Peretz, in an interview on Reshet Bet, noting that the date was May 1, said that he would be happier to have received congratulatory May Day greetings because it is still so important to show solidarity with the workers. He was equally conscious of the fact that it was the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, and voiced his sorrow that in this day and age there are still Holocaust survivors who are not being properly cared for and do not have enough to eat.
■ THE MEDIA can be fickle, as witnessed in the treatment accorded to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, who when he first threw his cap into the political ring was greeted with near-messianic fervor by the media, which featured him in front page stories and gave him loads of publicity elsewhere. But once he failed to win the Knesset elections, albeit by small margin, he was dropped, if not exactly like a hot potato, at least an unappetizing one. Even President Rivlin, who happens to be fond of Gantz, threw a barb in his direction at the opening session of the Knesset.
Last month, when Rivlin was conducting consultations with delegations from the various parties represented in the new Knesset, the Arab parties complained that Gantz constantly referred to them as non-Jews, and not as Arabs. This rankled with them because they are proud to be Arabs. In calling for the closure of ranks among different segments of the population, Rivlin said at the Knesset: “Although the flag of socioeconomic policy was not raised with great force in the elections, it is the issue that will determine in which direction our ship sails.... Now is the time to fight for our common home where secular, religious, ultra-Orthodox, Jews and Arabs (yes, they are called Arabs and nothing will happen if we say it), Right and Left, can find themselves equal. Let us remember, we were not doomed to live together, we were destined to live together.”firstname.lastname@example.org
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