It’s a classic case of “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” After endlessly accusing the Palestinians of distorting history, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to have done so himself, and on one of the most sensitive Jewish issues in contemporary history.
Worse still, all the stinging backlash about him trying to whitewash Hitler and substitute the mufti of Jerusalem as the person who conceived the Final Solution to the Jewish Question came not only on the day of Netanyahu’s 66th birthday but on the day that he flew to Germany.
And then, to top it off, the Germans would not allow any shifting of the blame.
It’s a great spider’s web for a mystery novel, and it’s had repercussions way beyond Israel and Germany.
As was expected Likud ministers and other prominent Likud personalities came to Netanyahu’s defense, and so curiously did his nemesis Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union.
Even though Netanyahu gave a somewhat lame-duck explanation for what he had said, let’s be a little more realistic. Presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, et al seldom do their own speech writing. They are simply too busy. Although Netanyahu is a master of the spoken word, given the current crisis plus other affairs of state, he really doesn’t have time to do his own speech writing, and it’s quite admirable that he can deliver speeches with both ease and drama, unlike some other public figures who trip over the words of a speechwriter and sometimes can’t pronounce them. Every public figure expects his writers to check their facts – and referring to a single Google entry instead of several can lead to major embarrassment. The question that remains is whose head will roll.
■ FORMER PRESIDENT Shimon Peres will be among the speakers on Sunday at the opening of the official state memorial ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. It will be the first time that Peres will appear at a public event at the President’s Residence since he left office in July 2014.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who spent part of his youth at the President’s Residence when his late father, Chaim Herzog, who was Israel’s sixth president, served two consecutive terms, will also be present at the memorial event, as will Construction Minister Yoav Galant, Deputy Knesset Speaker Hilik Bar and members of the Rabin family.
In his address, Peres will speak of that fateful night when he and Rabin participated in a mega peace rally in Tel Aviv, which in itself ended on an ecstatic note but in the final analysis ended with three bullets and Rabin’s death.
■ FORMER DIPLOMAT and MK Esther Herlitz, 94, read in last Wednesday’s Grapevine that President Reuven Rivlin, at the state dinner that he hosted for of Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili and his wife, Maka Chichua, mentioned the letter sent by a group of 18 Georgian families to the United Nations Human Rights Committee demanding the right to leave the Soviet Union. This letter was the springboard for the worldwide movement for the liberation of Soviet Jewry, although it had begun on a smaller scale several years earlier in a number of Jewish communities around the globe. As it happens, Herlitz was the recipient of the letter. This is her email account of what happened.
“In 1978, when I was ambassador in Copenhagen, I came home at night and received a telephone call from someone who said he was a Jewish scientist who had been at a scientific meeting in Georgia and had a letter for Golda and the UN secretary; would come to the Sheraton Hotel and hand it to me.
“I got into my car and drove to the hotel.
For the life of me, I do not know what made me go to meet with an unnamed, unknown man, to meet someone who might kill or kidnap me, as had happened earlier to the Joint’s Charlie Jordan.
“As a matter of fact, there was a man at the hotel reception who, without introducing himself, gave me an envelope and disappeared, no name. On arriving back at my residence, I called Nehemiah Levanon, my Russian affairs contact in Israel, who was delighted and reassured me that ‘it was bona-fide case’ and to send the envelope to him. This was the famous letter of the 18 Georgian Jewish families mentioned by you.
I am alive and kicking and got a book of Georgian poetry as a great gift from the Georgian Jewish community.
“This is how you make history. I did make friends with many Georgian families when they arrived to Israel.”
There seems to be a discrepancy between the dates mentioned by Rivlin and by Herlitz, but people are often confused about dates, and what’s really important is that the struggle for Soviet Jewry was one of the major triumphs of the Jewish world.
■ COEXISTENCE TAKES many forms. With ethnic designs as one of the major fashion trends for the new season, Yaron Minkowski, who was one of the designers participating in Gindi TLV Fashion Week, commissioned Palestinian weavers from Hebron and east Jerusalem to come to his studio to produce fabric in the pattern of keffiyehs. Most of the dresses he designed from these fabrics were loose, caftan style, inspired by the traditions of the region, though there were other, more romantic styles. The fusion of Palestinian fabric with Israeli creative design was Minkowski’s effort to show that the strife, suffering, pain and tension that have enveloped the Middle East can be overcome by people of goodwill, and that positive things can result from collaborative efforts.
By the way, he wasn’t the only Minkowski in the show. His 12-year-old daughter, Ori, who has been sketching fashion since she was a little girl, has demonstrated incredible talent for someone her age, and her creations were considered worthy of being included in the show. As a result, father and daughter will be showing their respective creations together in the future.
It should be remembered that Karen Oberson started her fashion career by including a handful of her designs in shows by her famous father, Gideon Oberson, and they are not the only two-generation design family in Israel’s fashion industry.
■ DURING HER visit to Israel this week, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite met with a delegation from the World Jewish Congress and told its members that Lithuania acknowledges its history. “Our Jewish heritage is part of the heritage of Lithuania.
Our support for Israel comes automatically,” she said. “We understand what is going on in the Middle East, and we coordinate our position with the United States.”
WJC CEO Robert Singer, in referring to the strong relations between Israel and Lithuania, said that Lithuania’s support is much appreciated.
Singer also raised the issue of neo-Nazi rallies held each year in Vilnius and Kaunas and stated that the Jewish world was greatly distressed by this phenomenon, especially given the tragic history of Lithuanian Jewry.
Grybauskaite agreed that this was problematic, but explained that it was difficult for the government to act unless the groups involved openly used Nazi symbols or explicitly incited to anti-Semitism and racism. She assured the delegation that this was an entirely marginal phenomenon. “They make lots of noise but represent very few people,” she said.
■ ALTHOUGH HOTELIERS are complaining about the dearth in tourism, people are coming.
Numerous Zionist organizations are bringing solidarity missions, business and special interest delegations continue to arrive, but perhaps the most unusual group touring Israel this week is composed of 19 senior citizens from New Jersey, who are in Israel under the auspices of the Jewish Home Family, a nonprofit organization which runs eldercare organizations serving the community, including the Jewish Home at Rockleigh nursing home, Jewish Home Assisted Living in River Vale, New Jersey, and Jewish Home at Home, which includes all aspects of aging while remaining in one’s private abode.
The seniors were planning the trip for a long time, and refused to be deterred by the recent surge of violence. Given the choice to postpone, they were determined to come at this time. Small wonder, they are octogenarians, with Abe Sopher, 89, Miriam Goldfarb, 87, and Harold Cohn, 86, as the senior members of the group. They figured that if they didn’t come now, they might never come.
For some of the participants, this is a firsttime visit to Israel, and they were very excited to be coming. They were given a bon voyage party with a huge blue-and-white cake before they left New Jersey.
Their 10-day itinerary is quite daunting, and includes a tour of the Galilee; a visit to a winery in the Golan; an overnight stay at a kibbutz; the Judean Desert; the Dead Sea; Beit Halochem, where they will meet with wounded soldiers; Latrun; then Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, the Israel Museum, the Western Wall, the Davidson Center, Independence Hall and Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People, in Tel Aviv – and that’s just a short list.
They all say that they are having the time of their lives. They all came to Israel with a mission.
They are carrying notes from members of the New Jersey Jewish community with messages and prayers to put in the crevices of the Western Wall. This was a task they took very seriously, because they knew they were proxies for the people who had written the notes and for whatever reason could not come to Israel to deposit them themselves.
■ A SOMEWHAT larger group of more than 200 public figures from Europe, the United States, Asia and the Antipodes will be in Jerusalem on November 3-4 to attend the First Jerusalem Summit, which is being co-sponsored by the International Leaders Summit, the Heritage Foundation, the Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe, the National Religious Broadcasters and Family Research Council and will co-host the first Jerusalem Leaders Summit. The public policy event will include discussion on strengthening the rule of law, threats to the security of Western democracies, economic freedom and the contributions of innovation and technology to the benefit of individuals around the world.
The summit follows recent meetings in Europe and the United States that brought together US senators and Europe’s elected representatives with think tank leaders from across Europe and the United States in addressing key global issues, particularly those on the security and economic fronts.
“Our common civilization, based on the foundation of the rule of law, liberty and economic freedom, which has contributed to the security and prosperity of societies, is facing unprecedented challenges and threats,” says Natasha Srdoc, co-founder of the International Leaders Summit. Speakers will include past and present cabinet ministers, parliamentarians, diplomats, economists, et al, from abroad, plus several of their Israeli counterparts.
■ WHEN INTERNATIONAL figures come to Israel and visit various institutions, it is often a first-time encounter between the heads of those institutions and those personalities.
Not so in the case of NASA chief Maj.-Gen.
Charles Bolden when he took an extended tour of the Bar-Ilan University campus, with specials focus on its nanotechnology, engineering and archeology facilities. Bolden was welcomed by BIU president Rabbi Prof.
Daniel Hershkowitz, with whom Bolden was well acquainted from the time that Hershkowitz served as Israel’s science, technology and space minister.
“I’m here to convince your president to put some of your research on the International Space Station,” Bolden told graduate students during his tour in the laboratory of Prof.
Yaron Shav-Tal, of the university’s Nano-Medicine Center. Bolden also met with Dr. Yaakov Tischler, an expert in nano-photonics. The two had much in common, since Tischler is American and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, which Bolden almost attended.
Bolden spoke of three challenges confronting NASA in its aim to improve exploration of Mars: reducing radiation, improving possibilities for a safe landing, and increasing the speed of travel to the planet, which is 54.6 million kilometers from earth.
At the Faculty of Engineering researchers briefed Bolden on their efforts to develop methods of protection against computer hacking.
At the conclusion of the visit, Prof. Aren Maeir , director of the Ackerman Family Bar- Ilan University Expedition to Gath, showed Bolden a number of finds from the excavations he has led for the past 20 years at Tell es-Safi (Gath of the Philistines). The first was a Late Bronze Age cylinder seal which, when rolled on putty, produced an imprint of animals.
Using special equipment Maeir and his team then demonstrated how they can identify the composition of the seal. Maeir noted that the type of analytic equipment used at the site of the excavations is similar to the range of analytic equipment on the Mars Exploration Rovers. In an ensuing discussion about similarities between the exploration of Mars and archeological work, Bolden spoke of the recent discovery of water on Mars and its significance.
■ THOUGH LONG privatized, El Al, which is still considered to be Israel’s national airline, celebrated its 350th “Ambassador” Israel event in New York at the home of Israel Consul- General Ido Aharoni. The mission of the Ambassador program is to foster goodwill and diplomacy as well as inspire groups worldwide to be advocates for Israel.
EL AL pilots and flight attendants from many backgrounds, which are not obvious when they are dressed in uniform, share interesting and thought-provoking personal stories. The EL AL ambassadors speak to organizations and schools throughout the world in cities from where EL AL offers scheduled flight service. Programs are specifically tailored to accommodate each organization and take place in a variety of locations, including university campuses, high schools, community centers, as well as in synagogues and churches.
“We congratulate our ‘ambassadors’ for undertaking Israel’s advocacy and are thrilled for their success around the world,” said Aharoni.
Launched in 2011 in conjunction with the Jewish Agency, Stand With Us and the Foreign Ministry, more than 500,000 people worldwide have participated in these “people- to-people” programs.
The EL AL “ambassadors” volunteer their time, and there is no charge to host a program.
It would not hurt if some of them also shared their stories on the home front. A little patriotism doesn’t go astray.
■ IN AN immediate reaction to Israel’s current crisis of violence, the UJA-Federation of New York has initiated an emergency response to help manage the escalating needs of Israelis during the current wave of terrorism, releasing $100,000 to the UJA-founded Israel Trauma Coalition.
“When Israelis are in trouble, UJA is there,” said UJA-Federation CEO Eric S.
Goldstein. “With our support of ITC, an organization we founded during the second intifada, we are moving to ensure urgent needs can be met, including expanded training on trauma response and preparedness across Israel to reinforce skills for individuals, teams and first responders on how to respond to emergency.”
Since the onset of the terrorist attacks, ITC has seen a spike in calls to its emergency hotlines for emotional first aid. ITC is providing specialized training to psychologists to support families who have lost loved ones, and others who might be suffering from post-traumatic stress stemming from past insurgencies. Community-wide counseling sessions provide tools and skills to help adults and children cope with anxiety and fear.
The ITC has been called upon to counsel the Public Security Ministry and the police on population behavior during emergencies, and to work with Arab and Jewish local councils.
There is a pressing need to work with local teams on psychosocial coexistence to approach the acute challenges raised by the situation, said Goldstein, noting that this intervention is being implemented in Jerusalem, Ramle, Lod, Rahat, Lehavim and Meitar.
The Tuesday lecture by Dr. Gabriel Sivan as mentioned in the Grapevine column in In Jerusalem has been postponed due to a death in the family.