When former prime minister Ehud Olmert
was in prison, many of his friends were able to visit him because they are lawyers, and no one could really prove whether or not they were giving him legal counsel. Eventually, the prison authorities put limitations on such visits, but Olmert at least knew that his friends had not abandoned him. Very few of his friends actually turned their backs on Olmert, which made things a lot easier for him when he got out of prison.
If anyone needed proof that Olmert’s popularity has not waned, he could find it this past Tuesday at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, where scores of friends and acquaintances of attorney Yechiel Gutman and Prof. Dan Koren had come to join them in the launch of their book on the wise and stupid decisions of Israel’s governments from the first to the current period.
To heighten interest in the book, which was selling like hotcakes before anyone involved in the decision-making by governments of Israel had made a statement of any kind, the authors organized a panel discussion that included five former cabinet secretaries, four of whom became members of Knesset and government ministers, and one of whom became an attorney-general and later a Supreme Court judge.
The five, introduced in Hebrew alphabetical order by Prof. Boaz Ganor, the dean of IDC’s Lauder School of Government, were Yossi Beilin, who served under Shimon Peres; Isaac Herzog, who served under Ehud Barak; Dan Meridor, who served under Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir; Gideon Sa’ar, who served under Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon; and Elyakim Rubinstein, who served under Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin.
Olmert, who is a longtime close friend of Gutman, came to the reception that preceded the launch but didn’t stay for the panel discussion, because he did not want his presence to impede anything that the panelists might want to say. Nonetheless, they were photographed with him in individual and group photos, and many people in the crowd came to embrace him as he stood with Gutman.
The common thread among the panelists was that while ministers of the government genuinely had the interests of the nation at heart, they were insufficiently informed, and members of Knesset even less so, when voting on any issue, especially on matters of security.
The bottom line was that, before votes are cast, there must be greater consultation with professionals and experts, but even so there is always the danger of a prime minister who has reached certain decisions and refuses to be swayed by professional opinion. The reference was to Sharon, though he was not specifically named. Still, there were enough hints.
One of the most stupid decisions, according to Gutman, was to annex 28 Arab villages to Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War. Strangely enough, disclosed Gutman, the only ministers who initially objected were those of the National Religious Party, but they eventually capitulated. So many problems resulted from this annexation simply because the subject was not given sufficient in-depth thought, said Gutman.
Rubinstein strayed from the point, primarily to congratulate Supreme Court President-designate Esther Hayut on her appointment. He also preferred to compare the Israel of his childhood with the Israel of today, conceding that not all aspirations were realized, and that the country is far from perfect, “but we do have democracy and freedom of expression – and everyone talks.”
While the panelists were generally careful not to voice criticism of any prime minister, Herzog, in reference to Olmert, voiced praise and admiration, saying: “History will recognize the former prime minister who was here earlier.”
■ FROM THE remarks of the panelists, it seems that there is a desperate need for a minister of checks and balances. Former Likud MK Michael Eitan served as minister of improvement of government services from 2009 to 2013. It was a ministry that was concocted for his benefit so that he could play an active role in the government.
In actual fact, he turned the ministry into something worthwhile, but after he failed to secure his Knesset seat in the 2013 election, he dropped out of the political arena, and the ministry that he had headed ceased to exist.
■ BARELY TWO weeks after bidding farewell to Israel’s new ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff, President Reuven Rivlin met up with him again at Munich Airport when Rivlin and his entourage traveled to Germany to participate in the inauguration of the memorial to the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Black September
during the 1972 Munich Olympics. Rivlin was greeted on the tarmac by Issacharoff and his wife, Laura Kam. Rivlin is scheduled to return home early Friday morning, in time to celebrate his 78th birthday on Saturday in the bosom of his family.
■ WORLD JEWISH Congress President Ronald Lauder takes his duties very seriously and was also among the dignitaries attending the Munich memorial ceremony. Lauder thanked the German government for the long overdue tribute to the murdered Israeli athletes, and said: “Today we mark not just a tragedy but a terrible wrong that took place here 45 years ago. Let me be clear from the start. This monument should not have taken 45 years to build.... This monument is not just about Jews. It is about all people. No one anywhere has the moral right to inflict terror on anyone.
“As president of the World Jewish Congress, I have seen the high price of world silence. World silence led to the Holocaust. We can see the results just 40 kilometers from here at Dachau. World silence also played a role here in 1972, when Palestinian terrorists slaughtered 11 Israeli athletes and their trainers. They did not just commit murder. They destroyed the peaceful tradition of the Olympic Games. Forty-five years after Munich, we see the world’s silence again, with a resurgence of antisemitism throughout Europe.” Lauder joined other dignitaries in meeting with the families of the slain athletes.
■ EXACTLY A week ago, a large gathering at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque included Nechama Rivlin, the wife of the president, who had come to give encouragement to Simcha and Leah Goldin, the parents of Lt. Hadar Goldin, missing and believed to have been killed in Gaza during Operation Preventive Edge. The occasion was the screening of a documentary about the artistic and multitalented Hadar, but also provided some insights into the Goldin family. Hadar was a gifted artist, and some of his work has been seen on television and in exhibitions in Israel and at the United Nations in New York. Members of the Goldin family have been interviewed extensively by local and international radio and television personalities. The film, which was co-produced by Leah Goldin and Yarden Kerem, took two years to make.
In addition to Rivlin, well-known figures in the audience included Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, celebrated broadcaster Ilana Dayan, MKs Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, Miki Zohar and Revital Swid. Directly addressing Leah Goldin, Rivlin said: “We all discover small details about our children of which we previously had no inkling. Today, all of us will join you in finding out what whole world lay behind the smiling young man in uniform.” Rivlin was one of several speakers at the screening.
■ POPULAR COLUMNIST Melanie Phillips, in a lecture and subsequent conversation with Herb Keinon, the diplomatic correspondent of The Jerusalem Post, dropped a couple of historical bombshells, which made several members of the audience sit up and take notice. Herzl may have been the Zionist visionary, but Christian Zionists in Britain and Germany had much earlier decided that Jews should return to their historic homeland.
Though essentially based on their adherence to the Bible, their enthusiasm for the return of the Jewish people was not entirely altruistic. For the Evangelists, there could be no “Second Coming” until the Jews were back in the Jewish homeland.
As it happens, according to Phillips, Arthur James Balfour was a Christian Zionist, who was greatly influenced by Chaim Weizmann, who later became Israel’s first president. Balfour was among those who subscribed to the idea that a homeland for the Jewish people could be established in Uganda. When Weizmann came to talk him out of it, he asked Balfour how he would feel if it was suggested to him that the British move to Paris. “But we have London,” Balfour demurred. “We had Jerusalem when London was still a marsh,” retorted Weizmann. That particular statement made a profound impression on Balfour, and he never again spoke of Uganda as an option.
Phillips noted that the majority of the members of the cabinet that drafted the letter that has become known as the Balfour Declaration were Christian Zionists.
She covered a lot of historical ground in her talk, and made it clear that one of the main reasons that British Jews are not as supportive of the Jewish state as they should be is that they are terrified of being accused of dual loyalty. She also spoke of the decline of the influence of the Church in Britain and of how the British had betrayed the spirit of the Balfour Declaration. Nonetheless, Britain is today among Israel’s strongest allies in Europe, though Phillips doubted that Netanyahu, if he accepts Theresa May’s invitation to celebrate the Balfour Declaration centenary in Britain, will receive a particularly warm welcome from other invitees.
The Jerusalem event was co-sponsored by Europeans for Israel, The Balfour 100 committee, Bet Avi Chai, the Jewish Historical Society of England and the Zionist Council of Israel. As was to be expected, it attracted a full house, with a few frustrated people outside who could not get a seat. Perhaps the next philanthropist who decides to build a cultural center in the capital will take the growing population and its interdisciplinary interests into account and insist on an auditorium that seats at least 500 firstname.lastname@example.org