It would seem that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – by taking on Ran Baratz as head of public diplomacy and media in the Prime Minister’s Office, to replace Mark Regev, who has been named ambassador-designate to the Court of St. James’s – has once again inadvertently shot himself in the foot.
Given the sensitivity of the position, someone should have checked out Baratz’s posts on social media and informed the prime minister of them, before the finalizing of such an important position.
Baratz not only publicly insulted the president of Israel by mocking his importance, but also made fun of the fact that the president sat in economy class on a commercial flight and shook hands with other passengers.
Generally speaking, both the president and the prime minister walk through the cabin of the plane and shake hands with people who are part of their entourage; or alternately, for security reasons, members of the entourage are invited to come to where the president or prime minister is seated to briefly meet and greet. It’s just part of accepted etiquette.
Regardless of Baratz’s claims that he was being satirical and made his derogatory comments in the capacity of a private citizen and not as a spokesman for the prime minister and the government, anyone who provides ammunition for Israel’s enemies through social media should not be in the employ of the state. Criticism of the actions of the prime minister or the president is legitimate, but not by someone considered to be a representative of the state. Whether one agrees with the president or not, he is the symbol of the state, and in demonstrating public disrespect, Baratz invited those who are hostile to Israel to bad-mouth both the president and the nation. After all, if you don’t respect yourself or your own, you can’t expect others to respect you.
The appointment is not yet final, and has to be approved by the cabinet before Baratz accompanies Netanyahu to Washington next week. But it would be problematic for Netanyahu to take someone who has used social media to make even more outrageous remarks about US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to meetings with those very people? Perhaps, as was suggested on Thursday morning by Israel Radio’s Aryeh Golan, it would be better for Baratz to remain a private citizen.
■ ONE HAS to wonder whether there was too much brainwashing with regard to the 20th anniversary commemorations of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, or just too many events. While thousands of people flocked to Rabin Square in Tel Aviv last Saturday night for a mega peace rally, the question goes begging as to whether they were there to honor Rabin’s memory or to listen to former US president Bill Clinton, who has film-star status with the Israeli public.
The question is asked because films about Rabin were screened in several locations on November 4, the Gregorian calendar anniversary date, and not all were sold out. At the Jerusalem Cinematheque, where the excellent documentary Rabin in His Own Words, directed by Erez Laufer, was shown, barely 40 people were in the audience, and most were senior citizens.
Amos Gitai’s award-winning Rabin, the Last Day, which was screened at the Bronfman (formerly Mann) Auditorium in Tel Aviv, had a significantly larger attendance because many of those who came to see the film had been personally invited by film distributors Leon and Moshe Edery, who hosted the screening; Rani Rahav, who does the public relations for Cinema City, which is owned by the Edery brothers; Gitai or members of the Rabin family. Attendance was certainly boosted by the inclusion of nearly all the members of the cast – not just the stars, but also the extras. Shimon Peres, who has attended a number of Rabin memorials over the past week and a half, was also there.
Although Gitai’s film is based on true events, what was captivating about Laufer’s documentary was that it dealt with the saga of a leader from the day of Rabin’s birth to the night of his death. The audience saw him with his parents when he was a baby, and again as he grew older.
They saw him with his sister when they were both children, saw him at school, in the army, together with his wife and children, swimming with his grandchildren and in his various roles.
What was extremely interesting was the camaraderie that existed between Rabin and Peres, despite the rivalry so frequently reported in the media. In 20 years, the public can be forgiven for forgetting Rabin’s wry sense of humor, which comes out several times in the film, and perhaps on the negative side his blatant disdain for Gush Emunim and the far Right.
One of the major positive aspects of the film is that it reminds viewers of people who were once so integral to the nation’s very existence and have now faded into the tapestry of history, barely remembered outside of their families, and in some cases not even heard of by anyone under the age of 20.
Among the many deceased people who appeared on screen were Moshe Dayan in his pre-eye patch years, Yigal Yadin, Ezer Weizman, Uzi Narkiss, Yigal Allon, Motta Gur, Menachem Begin, Golda Meir, Shulamit Aloni, Leah Rabin, Amnon Lipkin Shahak and even former Jerusalem Post publisher Yehuda Levy, who was an eighth-generation Sabra.
There will be plenty of opportunities throughout the month to see both films, and the public should not deprive itself of the chance.
■ THE LATEST storm in the teacup swirling around Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev is her proposed interference in the Galgalatz playlist to ensure that more music by local singers, particularly those of Moroccan and Yemenite backgrounds, is heard. Galgalatz, a pop musical station operated by Army Radio, was founded by Moshe Shlonsky, who was then the head of Army Radio, and went to air on October 31, 1993. It broadcasts pop music, news about traffic with the aim of promoting road safety, and hourly news bulletins.
Regev decided to put in her two cents after hearing a complaint from singer Maya Bouskila that the station tends to ignore her and other Israeli female singers.
Regev’s announcement this week sparked ire in several circles. First and foremost it constituted interference in what is broadcast.
Second, Army Radio is not her purview.
It comes under the aegis of the Defense Ministry, and for years now, a series of defense ministers and chiefs of staff have tried or at least threatened to close it down, present incumbents included. Nonetheless, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, furious at Regev’s interference, has instructed Army Radio personnel not to talk to her.
Regev is a former IDF spokeswoman, so she should know what Army Radio and Galgalatz are all about. Both, like the Israel Broadcasting Authority currently in liquidation, are outside her realm of control. The big questions now are whether there will be a power struggle between her and Ya’alon, who will win, how the outcome will affect Galgalatz and whether an Israeli soap opera about the struggle is being written in the process.
■ SECURITY IS one of the hottest global issues these days, and is the subject of numerous discussions in home countries and around the world. Friday morning, Japan’s security will be in focus at a lecture at the Japanese Embassy in Tel Aviv to be delivered in Hebrew by Dr. Alon Levkowitz, a lecturer and the coordinator of the Asian Studies program at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.
Rising tensions throughout Southeast Asia, North Africa and the Middle East threaten the stability of all states in these regions.
Japan wants to protect not only the physical well-being of its citizens but also the national economy, which could go haywire if regional tensions flare up beyond control.
■ AUSTRIA WASTED no time in sending its new ambassador Martin Weiss to Israel, within only a week after the departure of his predecessor Franz Josef Kuglitsch. But Weiss will have to wait a while until he can present his credentials and will not be among the five ambassadors who preceded him to Israel and will be presenting their letters of credence to President Reuven Rivlin next Monday, November 9.
However, in the evening of that date, Weiss will have an opportunity to meet with Austrian expatriates living in Israel at Beit Ariela in Tel Aviv, where Austrian business journalist and author Florian Horcicka will speak in English about his book The Dirty Money of Dictators (German).
At the event, jointly organized by the Austrian Cultural Forum and the Tel Aviv Municipality, Horcicka will discuss Arab dictators such as Gaddafi, Assad or Ben Ali, African rulers, former Ukrainian president Yanukovich or Marcos of the Philippines, who can pocket their dirty money because of the fact that they live or lived in societies of parallel corruption, which made it easy for these rulers to transfer their ill-gotten gains abroad, with the help of discreet banks and private foundations as well as influential political and business personalities.
■ THIS WEEKEND, Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg, the director of Chabad of Rehavia in Jerusalem, will be among the thousands of Chabad emissaries who have flown into New York from places near and far to participate in the annual International Shluhim Conference, at which more than 5,000 Chabad rabbis from around the globe and across the United States will gather for five days, to inspire one another through a series of workshops and social get-togethers, popularly known in Chabad terminology as farbrengens.
One of the highlights will be on Friday morning, November 6, when all of the emissaries will gather as one at the tent of the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and ask that the rebbe intercede on their behalf and for their respective communities in Israel and throughout the Diaspora. They will pray for health and for blessings and success in all their endeavors.
Toward this end, Goldberg, who has a very close and frequent email relationship with his congregants, put out an email asking whether he could pray for them, and asked that they email back not just with a yes or no but with complete details of what they wanted him to pray for and on whose behalf.
The offer was not a fund-raising gimmick.
Goldberg genuinely wanted to give his people some help and hope. The only condition he imposed was that anyone taking up his offer should send their complete Jewish name and their mother’s Jewish name. He also made it clear that anyone who wanted him to pray for relatives and friends as well could so.
■ THE PROGRAM for the annual Haaretz peace conference taking place in Tel Aviv next week is so top-heavy with foreign guest speakers and Jewish Israelis that those members of the audience who are interested in hearing Palestinian and Israeli- Arab viewpoints are by and large going to be disappointed. Perhaps the most interesting Arab at the conference, Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, will not be there in the flesh but on video in an interview in New York by Chemi Shalev.
The annual Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference at the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem on November 18 will feature Netanyahu, who will have returned from his meeting in Washington with President Barack Obama, and will certainly have some interesting things to say. Also among the speakers will be opposition leader Isaac Herzog, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, head of the European Union delegation Lars Faaborg-Andersen and of course the Post’s ever popular columnist and contributing editor Caroline Glick. There are quite a few other prominent personalities as well.
■ WHAT DO Police Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheich, IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Dov Kalmanovich, State Attorney Shai Nitzan, former Jewish Agency chairman and Knesset speaker Avraham Burg and filmmaker Joseph Cedar have in common? They were all students at Jerusalem’s Netiv Meir Yeshiva High School, which according to a feature story last week in Yisrael Hayom, has an extraordinary record of alumni who were and are achievers. Some of the other former students include Tzohar chairman Rabbi David Stav, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, Hebrew University president Menachem Ben-Sasson, unity guru Rabbi Benny Lau, international businessman Motti Zisser and – surprise, surprise – Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. There are many other people of note, but to list them all would be akin to writing a telephone directory.
■ IT WAS escapism with a twist, says Liat Collins, the editor of the Post’s International Edition and a weekly Friday columnist in the daily paper. A group of Post staffers this week took an hour’s break to tackle the Jerusalem Puzzle Quest (www.JPQ.co.il).
Located in a basement room in the parking lot next to Talpiot’s Hadar Mall, the Post participants found that getting there was the easy part.
Jerusalem Puzzle Quest is a new venture founded and operated by Jerry Glazer and his partner Aaron Weiss, built on the “escape room” concept that is gaining popularity both in Israel and abroad. The first game, called Escape the Nazir, is already getting a name as an activity for families, friends, work colleagues and, in one case, an engagement – with a hidden ring. Collins along with Menashe Koren and graphic designers Michal Torkia, Michal Cohen Eckstein, Orit Hazon Mendel, Hana Ben-Ano, Nechama Rosenstein and Talya Adler had to use all their detective skills to solve the mystery and unlock a well-guarded wine cabinet as the 60 minutes ticked away.
As Collins put it, “We weren’t clueless.
We were surrounded by clues. The difficulty was finding where they were hidden and deciphering them.”
The group also had to avoid the eponymous Nazir. Unlike most escape rooms, the Jerusalem Puzzle Quest has a facilitator and a distraction present in the room.
Koren proved particularly adept at solving the more cryptic problems, and through teamwork (and a few hints) the riddles were solved and the staffers arrived at work feeling as if they’d been on a great adventure.
■ POLISH AND Israeli entrepreneurs, investors and CEOs of biomedical companies will be networking on Monday at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Tel Aviv, which will be the venue for a biomed bilateral business conference that is being held in the context of the 25th anniversary of the renewal of diplomatic ties between the two countries. The significance of the conference can be measured not only in potential monetary terms but also in the participation of dignitaries such as Polish Ambassador Jacek Chodorowicz.
Biomed is an important category in Israel’s exports and imports. The volume of trade over the past year was in the range of $860 million, and is expected to rise in the foreseeable future.
Poland, no less than Israel, encourages innovation technology, and as far as is known, 2,432 start-ups are active in Poland.