Politically, Israel and much of the world are experiencing an era of change, as seen in local election results, party elections and parliamentary elections; and in those countries in which elections are held for heads of state and government, change is also evident.
But the way that a new incumbent treats a predecessor says a lot about the character of the person who triumphed in the elections. For instance, Einat Kalisch-Rotem, who defeated three-term mayor Yona Yahav in the Haifa municipal elections, will not allow Yahav to enter city hall.
Kan 11’s Michal Rabinovich did a feature on long-term mayors Yahav, Shlomo Bohbot of Ma’alot-Tarshiha and Jacky Sabag of Nahariya, who each lost the race last October.
Sabag, who after 30 years in office was defeated by Ronen Marley, took his loss badly, and said that the voters were a bunch of ingrates.
Bohbot and Yahav were philosophical, partially because citizens in their respective cities come up to them in the street and embrace them, and both are now working as consultants to weak municipalities in the hope of giving them a boost. Both are also former Labor MKs. Bohbot, who served as mayor for 42 years, is also a former chairman of the Union of Local Authorities (now the Federation of Local Authorities). When seeing the deterioration of the Labor Party, he offered Labor chairman Avi Gabbay the wealth of his knowledge and experience, but was rebuffed.
Rabinovich wanted to take Yahav into Haifa City Hall, but Kalisch-Rotem would not allow him or a television crew into the building. He stood across the road and told Rabinovich that Kalisch-Rotem had even refused to go through the traditional motions of the changing of the guard and had refused to meet him, even though he had sent her a congratulatory message.
Several municipal employees waved to him from the windows, while others, who were more courageous, came out and crossed the road to embrace him, but asked that their faces be blurred on camera.
That in itself says a lot about the current Haifa incumbent. Just as it is important to be gracious in defeat, it is equally if not more important to be gracious in victory.
■ EXTREME NATIONALISM is having an erosive effect on democratic values and on relationships between countries and different population groups within the same country. Israel and the United States are no exception. Nationalism, fundamentalism and racism are tearing at the fabric of both countries and not only at their relationship with each other but at the relationship of American Jews with Israel. The subject is being increasingly raised in blogs and in op-ed pages in newspapers and magazines in both countries.
On Wednesday, March 6, it will be discussed at the David Hartman Memorial Conference for a Jewish and Democratic Israel. In a conversation moderated by Alan Abbey at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, Micah Goodman and Yehuda Kurtzer will explore nationalism, marginalization and Jewish peoplehood with regard to nationalist revivals in the US and Israel. They will examine how this affects American Jewry and its relationship with the Jewish state and how Israelis perceive and respond to the new American and global nationalisms.
■ WHEN THEY met this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must have felt a twinge of envy over the record of his Samoan counterpart, Susuga Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who has been his country’s prime minister since 1998, and a member of parliament since 1980. Netanyahu, who is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, is just a few days short of a total of 13 years, and if the Likud wins the election and he succeeds in overcoming his legal problems, he could possibly make it to perhaps 17 years, though given Israel’s record of falling short of the term in which a government is supposed to serve, that is highly unlikely.
Although the cards seem stacked against him at the moment, it should be remembered that there is a wide gap between legality and morality, and even if indicted after his hearing, Netanyahu could still win his day in court if his lawyers present a good case.
■ YESH ATID chairman Yair Lapid seems to be a misfit in the Blue and White Party, not only because he’s militarily outranked by three former chiefs of staff, but also because of his physique and his attire. He’s shorter than each of them. When they went to the Syrian border this week, Benny Gantz, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi each wore black jackets. Lapid chose brown leather. At a previous party rally, the three ex-army men wore dark suits, and Lapid wore light blue.
Whether this is a deliberate attempt on his part to stand out in the crowd is hard to tell, but, clothes aside, his body language indicates that he’s working very hard to try to fit in, and somehow he’s not exactly succeeding. He lacks the camaraderie and shared background that exists between Gantz, Ya’alon and Ashkenazi.
■ AWARD CEREMONIES in Israel are usually late afternoon or evening affairs, but with his election campaign taking up a lot of his time, Netanyahu is attending a 9:30 a.m. ceremony on Wednesday, March 6, at the Foreign Ministry. For the third successive year, he will present the Prime Minister’s Prize for the study of the heritage of Eastern Jewry. The prize was established by the government at the initiative of Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, as a means of encouraging research into Jewish communities in Arab countries and Iran. The Social Equality Ministry each year allocates NIS 150,000 in prize money for equal distribution between three winners deemed to have made significant contributions to the enhancement of knowledge on the subject.
This year’s winners are Prof. Moshe Amar, who has researched more than 70 books on the sages of Morocco; Prof. Yehudit Henshke, who has studied the languages, dialects, customs and traditions of Jewish communities in Arab countries and Iran; and Prof. Mordechai Zaken, who has studied the history of Kurdistan Jewry. Gamliel says that the establishment of the prize has led to significant breakthroughs in knowing and understanding the background of Eastern communities.
■ AS PREVIOUSLY mentioned in this column, the number of events being held in conjunction with International Women’s Day is mind-boggling. MK Tzipi Livni may be temporarily out of the political limelight, but she’s still in great demand in the peace camp, and will be the keynote speaker at a Women Wage Peace rally in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, on Friday, March 8.
Women Wage Peace is an organization made up of the female demographic mosaic of Israel in which women of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds have come together to prove that peace is not only desirable but possible. They also believe that women should be included in peace negotiations and the final decision-making process.
The event begins at the Tel Aviv Museum, where women will congregate in the plaza and at 10:15 a.m. will begin to march to Rabin Square, where they will come together in the Mothers’ Tent to dialogue with one another and to listen to Jewish and Arab speakers and singers, including Yael Deckelbaum, the singing mascot of Women Wage Peace. A group of Arab and Jewish singers will have the crowd join them as they sing “We Shall Overcome,” which was originally a Gospel song, but became popular in the 1960s as the hymn of the civil rights movement in America.
■ FACTORY 54 is hosting a celebrity book launch and discussion at the TLV Fashion Mall on Thursday evening, March 7. Television personality Dana Weiss will start the ball rolling in a conversation with Liat Levi-Kopelman, the author of You’re the Boss. The book is in Hebrew, and the grammatical gender in the title is of course female, bearing in mind that this is the week in which women are in the forefront.
Among the celebrities who have indicated their attendance are Noa Tishby, Esti Ginzburg, Yarden Harel, Netta Garti, Ofira Asayag, Yael Goldman, Mali Levi, Noa Rothman, Anna Aronov, Hila Nachshon, Shelly Gaffney and Sandra Ringler.
■ THE AMBASSADORS to Israel of France and Germany are both women, which may explain why they chose to put out a joint announcement about the presidencies of the UN Security Council by their respective countries during March and April, 2019. The announcement states: “In March and April 2019, France and Germany will successively hold the presidency of the UN Security Council in New York.”
“The jumelage [twinning] of the French and German Council presidencies is a premiere in the Security Council and symbolizes the strong cooperation and friendship between our two countries in the service of international peace and security,” stated French Ambassador to Israel Hélène Le Gal and German Ambassador to Israel Susanne Wasum-Rainer. The two ambassadors noted that France and Germany have jointly developed two ambitious and complementary programs of work conveying their strong common commitment to multilateralism. The two presidencies will provide the opportunity to focus on some of the top priorities and main values of their two countries and of the European Union in particular, said Le Gal and Wasum-Rainer.
These include: respect of international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles, with a high-level common initiative on April 1; strengthening the participation of women in peace processes and the protection of women in armed conflicts, in particular against sexual violence; human rights at the heart of peacekeeping operations; and small arms control, with a joint initiative on best practices.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will be present at the United Nations to jointly promote several initiatives.
■ YOU KNOW what happens when someone offers you a choice from a large box of assorted Belgian chocolates. They all look so delicious and mouth-watering that you don’t know which to pick. With the chocolates you can ask whether you can have two or even three, but when there’s a multi-choice cultural event with several options taking place simultaneously in different venues under the same roof, it can be a very frustrating experience.
That’s the way it is with what looks to be a very interesting International Women’s Day program at the National Library on Thursday. Sessions will last from 20 to 90 minutes, and printed programs will be distributed to enable participants to plan their evening. Titled “Female Scholars, Writers and Artists at the National Library,” choices include: documentation and study of Israeli ethnic music; songs of women from the Atlas Mountains; book surfing of writing by and about women; the incarnation of Zuleikha, who was the wife of Potiphar; the disappearance of women during the Inquisition trials of Anusim in South America; a reading of the works of Leah Goldberg; a film screening; and women illustrators.
The events begin at 7 p.m., and among the lecturers and performers are: Tamar Zigman, Neta Elkayam, Nitza Toledano, Dalit Williams, Raquel Ukeles, Aliza Moreno, Bilha Ben-Eliyahu, Dorit Gani, Ahava Cohen, Orly Simon, Yehosheva Samet-Shinberg and Ada Vardi.
■ TWENTY LEADERS and supporters of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces from across the US will join the FIDF Women’s Mission to Israel, which begins on March 7 and ends on March 15. The mission is being led by Brig.-Gen. (res.) Gila Klifi-Amir, a 30-year veteran of the IDF who served as the chief of staff’s adviser on women’s affairs and handled all matters concerning women’s military service.
“This mission delves into a multitude of facets of Israeli society from the unique perspective of women,” says Klifi-Amir. “We will celebrate the hard-won achievements of women in Israeli society, particularly within the context of the IDF. As the first woman to join an IDF battalion commanders course, I was challenging societal expectations of women. In this male-dominated environment, if I were to fail, people would say that women simply weren’t capable of getting this far in the army. I felt that an enormous responsibility rested on my shoulders, not just for myself but for generations to come.”
Mission participants will receive in-depth briefings by senior military officers, meet regular soldiers and state leaders, hear from Israeli women innovators who are reshaping Israeli society, and get a behind-the-scenes look at strategic IDF bases. They will engage with women in IDF combat positions, and will visit the Israel Space Agency to hear from Israel Aerospace Industries’ Inbal Kreiss, the deputy director-general of the space division, who, together with SpaceIL, designed and built the Beresheet spacecraft, which was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on February 21.
Mission participants will also meet Forum Dvorah – a professional network of the most senior women in Israeli foreign policy, security, public policy, and law who aim to advance the status of women. In addition, mission participants learn about Israel’s humanitarian efforts to treat victims of the Syrian civil war, regardless of whether they are civilians, soldiers or rebels.
Of course, no women’s mission comes to Israel without going shopping, and this mission will have an opportunity when it visits Maskit, one of the iconic Israeli brand names that after being dormant for many years was revived by Sharon Tal when she returned to her native Tel Aviv after working for three years as head embroidery designer for Alexander McQueen.
Originally conceived by Ruth Dayan in 1954, Maskit was based to a large extent on adaptations of the traditional clothing, embroidery and jewelry designs of the immigrant populations that came to Israel from 70 countries.
Some of the world’s most famous women had purchased Maskit creations from the flagship store in New York, at the glamorous fashion shows organized by and for Israel Bonds, or when they visited Israel.
When Tal decided to resuscitate Maskit, she consulted with Dayan, who gave the young designer her blessing and advice. The end result has been stunning.
Just as in bygone days when the wives of the presidents and prime ministers of Israel wore Maskit on official trips abroad, Nechama Rivlin, the wife of the current president of the state, has quite a few Maskit items in her closet, including evening wear and a magnificent pants suit with an embroidered jacket.
Incidentally, on Wednesday, March 6, Dayan is celebrating her 102nd birthday.
■ THE BIBLE tells us that a new Pharaoh arose in Egypt who did not know Joseph. One gets the feeling that there’s a similar situation at both the Ben-Zvi Institute and the Truman Institute, each of which organized events to mark the 40th anniversary of the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
The interesting thing is that only two former ambassadors to Egypt were invited to participate. One was invited by the Ben-Zvi Institute and the other by the Truman Institute. But people who were part of the first Israeli diplomatic mission and even the second were ignored. Admittedly, Eliyahu Ben-Elissar, Israel’s first ambassador to Egypt, is no longer in the land of the living, but people who served with him most certainly are. They include a couple of diplomats who even returned to Egypt as ambassadors – namely, Ephraim Dubek and Zvi Mazel. Others who were part of the first diplomatic mission include Aharon Barnea, Eli Laniado and Uzi Netanel. These were diplomatic pioneers who were not afraid to come with their families to a country that only seven years earlier had been at war with Israel, and had remained hostile afterward.
Prof. Shimon Shamir, who founded the Academic Institute in Cairo and in 1988 was appointed by Shimon Peres as Israel’s third ambassador to Egypt, made international headlines in 1990 when he resigned, following a change of government in Israel. Shamir, who had been a political appointee, said that he could not effectively represent the policies of a right-wing government.
Mazel was in the negotiating team for normalization agreements with Egypt, and continues to be in demand by the local and international media when analysis of events involving Egypt is required.
■ POPULAR SINGER Yehuda Poliker, who often preserves and promotes his Greek heritage through his music, has written his autobiography. Like many second-generation Holocaust survivors, his was a traumatic childhood. Instead of his father telling him the usual fairy stories, he told him about relatives who had perished or been murdered in the Holocaust, about death camps, about atrocities. He could feel his father’s pain, and he wanted to do something to assuage it, but he didn’t know what to do.
He had an older sister. His mother didn’t want any more children. His father did, and frequently asked his mother whether she was pregnant. When she finally became pregnant with their son, namely Yehuda, she arranged for an abortion but admitted this to his father, who promptly got in touch with the physician who was to perform it, and canceled it.
Poliker’s mother was incapable of showing affection, and he made excuses for her, noting how young she had been when she lost her own parents. But in her own way, she showed him that she loved him.
■ SOME 12TH graders are already 18 and will be voting for the first time in the April 9 elections for the Knesset. They will be among some 800 12th grade students who will converge on the Smolarz Auditorium at Tel Aviv University on Sunday morning, March 10, where they will put some tough questions to Finance Minister and Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon, Labor Party chairman Gabbay, co-founder and leader of the New Right Party Naftali Bennett, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg, Hadash-Ta’al chairman Ayman Odeh, Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abecassis, Bayit Yehudi chairman Rabbi Rafi Peretz, Education Ministry director-general Shlomo Abuav, and the executive director of the Citizen’s Empowerment Center in Israel, Einat Fischer-Lalo. The students will also put forth suggestions for future legislation. The event has been organized by the CECI.
In the course of the morning, a survey will be taken, during which students will be asked about the issues most important to them, and whether those who are eligible to vote will exercise their right. The main purpose of the gathering is to strengthen the connection between the electorate and the elected, something unlikely to happen until there is electoral reform, with Knesset members representing a region or a cluster of cities, and elected in primaries by the residents of those regions or cities.
Both CECI and the Education Ministry are eager for first-time voters to have some kind of connection with those who are vying for seats in the Knesset. Many first-time voters follow their parents and vote for the same party. But others prefer to be independent thinkers, particularly during a period in which political parties are moving away from the values and policies of their founders.
■ INASMUCH AS terrorism is not to be tolerated, bereaved Israeli families whose loved ones have been killed by terrorists, and bereaved Palestinian families whose loved ones were terrorists and were killed by Israeli soldiers, have in some cases overcome feelings of vengeance and have realized that the only way to prevent future fatalities is through reconciliation.
One such person is Yuval Roth, who in 2005 founded the Road to Recovery, which today has more than a thousand volunteers who take Palestinian sick children as well as adults from checkpoints throughout the West Bank and Gaza, bring them to Israeli hospitals for treatment, and later take them back. Roth is a bereaved sibling. His younger brother Udi, while returning home from reserve duty in the army in 1993, was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists.
Roth joined the Bereaved Families Forum, which includes Israelis and Palestinians. Because the forum is not a political organization, its members can go to schools and speak to students on the importance of finding common ground rather than perpetuating hostilities. He found common ground with many of the Palestinians in the forum, and when asked by one of them whether he could drive his brother, who had a brain tumor, to Rambam Medical Center, Roth readily agreed. Soon another Palestinian asked for a similar favor, and then another and another. Roth contacted a few Israelis who he thought would be willing to help such cases, and the number of volunteers kept growing, with the result that his goodwill act evolved into the Road to Recovery.
The volunteers are people from both the Left and the Right of the political divide. Ideological barriers somehow fade into the background when it comes to helping the sick – especially sick children. This volunteer activity on the part of Israelis from many different backgrounds and walks of life has helped to change the perceptions of many Palestinians who previously hated Israelis and viewed them with suspicion.
This week, Jews and Arabs got together for a fund-raiser for the Road to Recovery, which operates on a shoestring budget but also takes into account that those rides to pickup points, and to and from hospitals, take up a lot of gasoline, and not all the volunteers can afford that expenditure. The event was also a tribute to Roth, who is living proof that one person can make a difference.
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