TURKEY'S AMBASSADOR designate Ahmet Oguz Celikkol arrived last week, just in time to host this Thursday's reception marking the 86th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey. Some invitees have already indicated that, in view of the recent strain in relations with Turkey, they would give the party a miss. On the other hand, there is talk of Israel buying water from Turkey, and Israelis with business interests in Turkey are not suspending them. This is not the first glitch in Israel-Turkey relations, and presumably not the last - and for some people, a party is a party, regardless of who may be hosting it.
Aside from that, the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, in cooperation with the Israel Turkey Business Council, will on November 1 host a discussion between Alon Liel, a former ambassador to Turkey and currently a faculty member of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, Prof. Ofra Bengio of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, and Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies, on "Israel and Turkey: Where to from Here?" Moderator at the event, to be held at Beit Shalom in Jerusalem, will be Menashe Carmon, chairman of the Israel Turkey Business Council.
MEMBERS OF the Foreign Ministry's Protocol Department had a tough time last week with all the comings and goings of present and past heads of state, prime ministers, foreign ministers, et al. who came here for the second Presidential Conference on Facing Tomorrow. But even on Thursday night, after the conference was over, there was no respite. The Foreign Ministry's chief of protocol, Yitzhak Eldan, after spending three days in Jerusalem shepherding visiting dignitaries, consulting with conference organizers and advising on matters of protocol, found his way immediately to the Herzliya Pituah residence of Hungarian Ambassador Zoltan Szentgyorgyi and his wife Dr. Lilla Madaras to join them in celebrating the 53rd anniversary of the Hungarian revolution.
Among the other guests were Hungarian Deputy Prime Minister Csaba Molnar and his wife, Chairman of the Hungarian Federation of Jewish Communities Peter Feldmajer along with Federation executive director Gustav Zoltai, former deputy head of mission at the Hungarian Embassy Csaba Czibere , who is now head of mission at Hungary's representative office in the Palestinian Authority but lives in Jerusalem's Yemin Moshe, Hungarian honorary consul in Jerusalem Yossi Weiss and his wife Anita, and Greek Ambassador Kyriakos Loukakis who has yet to present his credentials.
Due to a misunderstanding Science Minister Daniel Hershkowitz thought that he was there to represent the government, but it transpired that Michael Eitan, the minister for the improvement of government services, was tasked with that responsibility. Eldan offered Hershkowitz the opportunity to speak as well, but Hershkowitz good naturedly declined, not wanting to rain on the parade of his colleague.
Szentgyorgyi, noting that this year is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain, claimed that this political phenomenon began in many respects with the Hungarian revolution of 1956. Another 20th anniversary that the ambassador found pleasing was the marking of the renewal of diplomatic relations between Hungary and Israel. Emphasizing Hungary's commitment to Middle East peace and security, Szentgyorgyi spoke in glowing terms of the cooperation in nanotechnology between Hungarian, Israeli and Palestinian scientists who work together in harmony.
SOME OF the guests made an early departure from the Hungarian reception in order to attend a getting-to-know you party hosted by Irish Ambassador Breifne O'Reilly, who presented his credentials just under a month ago.
AUSTRIAN AMBASSADOR Michael Rendi introduced a few changes into the Austrian National Day celebrations this year by having the ceremonial part of the event in the sunken garden around the pool instead of in the far more humid atmosphere of the patio directly beneath his residence. There was also a brass army quartet that played military music, folk tunes, jazz and of course a couple of Strauss waltzes. Austrian soldiers serving with peacekeeping forces on the Golan Heights prepared traditional Austrian food for the guests.
Speaking alternately in Hebrew, German and English, Rendi enthused about how much he and his wife enjoyed Israel and disclosed that they were about to have a sabra extension to their family. Bilateral relations between Austria and Israel are at their best, he said, even though they are marked by the horrific events of the last century. Austria has accepted responsibility for that black chapter in history and is now interested in moving forward to the future, he indicated.
Soon after his arrival in Israel two years ago, Rendi reached out to young Israelis of Austrian background, inviting them to reconnect. He was pleased to report that there are growing numbers of such young people, many of whom were at the reception. The outreach initiative was not entirely his, he admitted. It had been signaled to him by Austrian Holocaust survivors in the hope that their grandchildren and great grandchildren would reconnect with the country from which they had to flee.
Minorities Minister Avishay Braverman, who lost five uncles and three grandparents in the Holocaust, said that the shared history of Austria and the Jewish people could fill many pages - with some glorious chapters and some tragic. Braverman listed Jews who had made a contribution to Austrian culture, among them Stefan Zweig, Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, Martin Buber and Karl Popper. He also made a point of mentioning Theodor Herzl, "the founder of the Zionist movement that led to the creation of the State of Israel" who though born in Hungary, spent much of his adult life in Austria.
ZIONIST COUNCIL of Victoria President Danny Lamm wanted to do something really special for Israel's 60th anniversary, and hit on the idea of a two-volume anthology of stories by Australian Zionists and Australian expats living in Israel. The Israeli book launch of Building a Nation was held last Friday at the Begin Center, with 17 of the 20 olim authors present, and Australian expats converging on Jerusalem. The problem was that many of the authors were unknown to most of the other Aussies present. To his credit, Lamm took the criticism as constructive and said that he would try to raise sufficient funds to put out another book which would be largely devoted to contributions by Australian olim, including those who were more widely known.
Among the omissions were prime minister's spokesman Mark Regev, the most public of the faces of Australian olim; Jack Beris, a civil engineer, who built Kiryat Wolfson, Jerusalem's first mega sized luxury housing complex; Tal Becker, an important legal adviser in the Foreign Ministry; Isaac Ernest, who was for many years an English inspector of schools in the Jerusalem district; Yehuda Dayag, tour guide and former director of the Israel office of the Zionist Federation of Australia; Peter Adler, who is the Israel director of the Pratt Foundation that funnels some $4 million a year to Israeli projects; Paul Israel, who directs the Israel-Australia Chamber of Commerce; and hi-tech entrepreneur and former Bezeq director-general Izzy Tapoohi.
Immigrant Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein said that he never once regretted having made aliya, but understood that aliya is a very personal decision, and is not necessarily for everyone. Australian Ambassador James Larsen said that the stories of Australians who came to Israel to make a contribution are important. If their experiences are not recorded, he noted, they will be forgotten.
NEW FASHION trends seldom take into account women who are generously proportioned or those whose mode of dress is dictated by religious constraints. In the latter case, the layered look so prevalent here may well be attributed to the ingenuity of women of the West Bank who began wearing sundresses over blouses and T-shirts, mini-skirts over long skirts or pants and skimpy tops over longer, more modest tops. This has now become the fashion for women across the spectrum.
However, with the notable exception of Kedem Sasson, few designers subscribe to the concept that fashion should not be created with only the very slim in mind. Adi Krif-Navon, an image lecturer in the Midrasha L'Ofna network of fashion design schools, teaches her students not to be slaves to "thin is beautiful" philosophies but to cater to the needs of buxom women and of religious women.
Krif-Navon is a living example of niche market consumerism. Like many women in the first months after giving birth, she was carrying around a little extra weight. Looking for a dress that was comfortable, fashionable, slightly sexy, yet nonetheless conservative, she went from store to store in what proved to be a fruitless search. Then it occurred to her that since she was teaching fashion design, she could surely design something for herself - which she did. The compliments that she received made her think a step further. Realizing that there were many other women with the same problem, Krif-Navon opened a studio in Jerusalem, designed a collection for sizes 40-50, held a sale which was most successful, and is now busy designing another collection. She also captured the attention of three Jerusalem boutique proprietors who are now selling her creations.
AFTER ALL the hype by the various public relations outlets associated with the second annual Presidential Conference on Facing Tomorrow, participants on the opening night did not fill the Jerusalem International Conference Center. This was particularly noticeable in the roped-off super VIP section where there were many empty seats, and where the rows kept getting emptier as the night wore on.
However, at the start of the evening morale was high, there were lots of public figures from Israel and abroad mingling in the lobby, and there was very little evidence of the frustrations that had preceded the opening of the doors.
The conference was scheduled to begin at 8, and the opening of an exhibition highlighting the country's hi-tech industrial achievements at 6. The doors of the center were to remain closed till 5. This was a decision reached by organizers without taking into account that people who had come early last year and had been admitted, might come early again this year so as to get through registration as quickly as possible.
Thus at 4 there was already a small crowd gathered outside. By 4:30, those waiting to be admitted included former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, internationally renowned sexologist Dr. Ruth Westheimer and lawyer Danny Jacobson whose family founded the Anglo-Palestine Bank. Without disclosing his identity, Halevy castigated security for keeping people waiting outside, especially after 5 p.m. when it could be seen through the plate glass doors that the staff on the registration desks were still getting their act together.
IF WESTHEIMER had not been recognized, she was certainly compensated at the brief ceremony prior to the ribbon cutting of the hi-tech exhibition. Sitting on the aisle, she was warmly greeted by President Shimon Peres as he made his way to the dais. Then at the end, when he was exiting, he saw Raya Jaglom on the other side of the aisle and stopped to kiss her. "What about me?" demanded Westheimer. "Don't I deserve a kiss too?" The gallant president turned around and obliged, placing Westheimer, who also hobnobs with presidents of the US, in seventh heaven.
IN THIS part of the world, everything starts at Jewish or Mediterranean time and the conference was no exception. When the official party eventually entered the hall, there were cheers and applause for Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, but none as loud or enduring as those given to Quartet envoy Tony Blair, who was given an even bigger fanfare at the conclusion of his address - partially in response to his remarks about Iran.
"I believe it is completely irresponsible to allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons," said Blair, adding that the problem was not simply a weapons problem, but "weapons with an ideology." Blair's appearance caused a little consternation among the Brits in the audience who commented on a change of hair style and hair color. Unless there's been a change in the interim, Blair's hair is a soft shade of apricot.
DESPITE SOME of the organizational glitches, it can safely be said that the conference was a huge success in both the quality and variety of the content and some of the thought provoking issues raised by speakers in panel sessions more than in plenary sessions. For Peres, it was also a great personal triumph not only in terms of physical and mental stamina but also in popularity. Peres worked hard, speaking on a number of subjects at plenary and panel sessions, and was given a huge boost of adrenalin by way of individual and crowd adulation.
Blair said he should be studied and cloned; Netanyahu dubbed him a national treasure. Broadcaster Dan Shilon described him as ageless, and various leading figures from several countries spoke of his intellect, his vision, his commitment to peace and his standing in the world, and declared their pride to be included in his circle of friends. For Peres, whose political career was mired in controversy, vilification and public humiliation, notwithstanding his many extraordinary achievements, the presidency has truly become the jewel in his crown.
Meanwhile, he's already busy planning the third Presidential Conference on Facing Tomorrow, to take place in 2010. He's also getting ready to visit South America later this month.
JEWISH AGENCY Chairman Natan Sharansky, who disdains a tie and usually wears his shirt with the top buttons undone, is apparently as allergic to name tags as he is to ties. While everyone else at the conference was walking around with a large name tag suspended from a neck ribbon, Sharansky clutched his in his hand.
ALTHOUGH HE had not initially been listed as a speaker on a conference panel on "Is aliya good for the Jews?" Rabbi Michael Melchior, a former minister for social and Diaspora affairs, when coming in as a replacement asked whether he could speak the truth. On receiving the green light, he proceeded to shock some members of the audience when he declared that aliya, Jewish identity and Jewish peoplehood were not on the government agenda. When he was a junior minister without portfolio, he said, his budget was higher than that of the minister for immigrant absorption. Melchior also told members of the Reform Movement that they should not feel that there is discrimination against them, because Orthodox conversions are not recognized either.
IT'S DIFFICULT enough for Defense Minister Ehud Barak who signed over his multimillion dollar consultancy to his daughters upon his return to government to account to State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss for several million dollars that came into the firm after he allegedly quit. Worse than that, his soon-to-be ex son-in-law, Ziv Lautenberg, is reportedly claiming half of Michal Barak's share of her father's enterprise. Does that mean that there won't be a divorce if he doesn't get it?
IN HIS weekly program i>The Israel Connection, anchorman Elihu Ben-Onn spoke on Sunday to colleagues in China who last month launched the China Radio International (CRI) Web site in Hebrew to provide Israelis with information about China. The site includes an interview last Friday with Ambassador to China Amos Nadai, who had just returned to China after participating in the Experience China celebrations in Tel Aviv hosted by Ambassador Zhao Jun in honor of the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. At the beginning of last week, Minister of the State Council Information Office Wang Chen and CRI deputy director-general Xia Jixuan attended a press conference in Tel Aviv where the launch of CRI's Hebrew on-line service was announced.
LONESTAR PUBLIC Relations CEO Charley Levine was on his way to his home state of Texas last week for Pastor John Hagee's Night to Honor Israel at which he annually contributes up to $10 million to organizations here. National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau happened to be on the same El Al flight to Newark and Canadian human rights activist Irwin Cotler was also on board.
In Newark, their domestic connection to San Antonio was changed. Landau, who was in the airport's business lounge, did not hear the announcement for the revised departure time, and he and the three people accompanying him therefore did not make it to the gate.
The plane pulled out and was just about to take off when the steward announced, "This has never happened to me before, but we are going back to pick up some delayed passengers." Other passengers voiced their displeasure. When Landau embarked, he discovered that his first-class seat had been given to someone else because he hadn't shown up. He absolutely forbade the stewardesses to move the person who had been upgraded and then he went around apologizing and explaining what had happen. His popularity rating soared enormously, and he received high praise from passengers and crew alike.
But that was not the end of the story. Someone on board had a heart attack and the plane diverted to New Orleans. Landau used the delay time to bone up on the Bible in preparation for an address that he later delivered at Rodfei Shalom, the largest synagogue in Texas. The plane arrived at its destination five hours late, but still with two hours to spare before Shabbat.
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