THE BODYGUARDS of US Ambassador Richard Jones have a phenomenal opportunity to enhance their cultural knowledge and appreciation. They have to accompany him wherever he goes, and one was seated right behind him last Thursday night at the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra's last concert before its American tour. The concert was one of many cultural events on the ambassador's calendar, and was part of the discovery series of American originals. At the after-concert cocktail reception hosted by Isaac and Shlomit Molcho, Dan and Susan Propper and the American Friends of the JSO, Jones enthused about the performance and said that it made him proud to be a representative of the country that inspired such wonderful music. Referring to the pre-concert lectures by JSO Musical Director and Principal Conductor Leon Botstein, Jones remarked that Botstein not only presents music but explains it. Indeed, there are numerous Botstein fans who cannot afford to pay for concert tickets, but who come to his mind-blowing lectures, which are given free of charge. Jones lauded Botstein for popularizing obscure works and educating people through his lectures. "He's a real Renaissance man," said Jones. In response, Botstein remarked that he never envies ambassadors, because they have to attend hundreds of events, often as an obligation. But the concert was something the ambassador didn't have to come to, observed Botstein, adding, "I'm very pleased as an American to have that kind of support from the representative of my country." As for the music itself, Botstein said that he was glad to have a large contingent of Russian musicians learning a hoe-down. On a more humble note, Botstein said that he comes from a large family of Zionists who have never been to Israel. He never thought that he would have the opportunity, he said, to make a contribution in such a sustained way. After the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra he asserted, "the JSO is the most important orchestra in Israel."
IT'S BAD enough when the Immigration Police embarrass Israel by arresting diplomats in the street or invading diplomatic premises, but they really overdid it earlier this month when they allegedly beat, kicked and attempted to choke Reina Cohen, the wife of Leonardo Cohen the Ambassador of the Dominican Republic. Aside from the fact that the Cohens are Jews and Zionists, Israel has a special relationship with the Dominican Republic, which provided a haven for Jews fleeing from Nazi-occupied Europe, through DORSA, the Dominican Republic Settlement Association Inc. that was sponsored by the American Joint Distribution Committee.
The incident involving Reina Cohen was yet another chapter in an unfortunate series, and was reported not only in the Israeli media, but in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, the US, Egypt - and, of course, all over the Internet.
Only a few months ago, South African Ambassador Fumanekile Fumie S. Gqiba was detained at Ben Gurion Airport. Before that, Immigration Police broke into the house of Argentine Ambassador Atillo Molteni.
Chinese diplomats have probably suffered the most, because the Chinese Embassy and the Chinese Consulate are across the road from each other in the northern end of Tel Aviv's Ben Yehuda Street, and staff are constantly running back and forth between the two buildings, without taking any of their personal belongings with them. Police frequently stop them and accuse them of being illegal workers because they don't have any form of identification with them.
Two years ago, one such person was the Chinese consul. While making his way from the consulate to the embassy, he was hauled off and imprisoned, instead of accompanied to one of the buildings, where he could provide ID.
Numerous complaints have been lodged with the Foreign Ministry by ambassadors and consuls who come from countries where the bulk of the population may be dark-skinned or Oriental-looking.
IT MAY have been coincidence - or clever planning on the part of Beit Hanassi - but for two consecutive nights, television viewers were afforded a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the life of the president. On Saturday night, Yehoram Gaon presented his mini-documentary on Moshe Katsav on Channel 2, while on Sunday night, a more comprehensive insight by Uri Goldstein, Channel 1's legendary maker of documentaries, was screened on Mabat Sheini (A Second Look).
Katsav allowed Gaon to sit in his seat behind the desk in his office, but exhorted him not to touch the red phone, which is the presidential hot-line.
He subsequently took Gaon into his private quarters in which there are several chess sets on display, and then escorted Gaon on a tour of the grounds of Beit Hanassi, that included the synagogue in which Katsav and several men from the surrounding neighborhood pray each morning.
Although Katsav is now observant, he confessed to Gaon that there had been a time when he was "utterly secular."
But he had felt that there was something missing in his life, and had turned to religion - more so after his meeting in a ministerial capacity with then Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan, who happens to be an expert on Talmud. Katsav was ashamed. Here was someone who wasn't Jewish who could quote Talmud chapter and verse, whereas he, a Jew, had never studied it. He has since made up for the lacuna. Katsav and Gaon also reminisced how, as youngsters, they had come to "the hut" (hatzrif) to shake hands with Israel's second president, Yitzhak Ben Zvi, several years prior to the construction of Beit Hanassi.
Gaon, who has told the story many times, came with his father, and Katsav with a group of immigrant school children from Castina.
Goldstein's documentary focused more on the president's activities - the annual open house for Succot; Katsav's relationship with his staff; his practice of paying condolence calls to the families of soldiers killed in the line of duty; a visit to an Arab village; and Katsav at home in his garden. It was all rather mundane, prompting Goldstein to ask Katsav where the drama was.
Katsav was passionate in his reply.
"The drama is of the story of the boy from the transit camp who became president of Israel," he said.
IN SDEROT, they're singing the love song of Mayor Eli Moyal sent via SMS to his bride-to-be, Monique Ben-Melech. The bottom line is that he's used a lot of words to lead up to the simple bottom line sentence: "I love you."
The SMS, one of many sent by Moyal to Ben-Melech, was set to music by one of Moyal's Sderot constituents, singer/guitarist Micha Biton, and it has become a big hit down south. Moyal and Ben-Melech, a television make-up artist, met almost a year ago when she was assigned to apply his make-up prior to an interview. There was instant chemistry - and the rest is history. There was supposed to be a wedding last year, but for various reasons it was delayed. However, the relationship remains strong and the two are planning summer nuptials.
WITH THE profusion of Lolitas who are entering the fashion-modeling business, a model aged 20-something is already over the hill.
Israeli supermodel, television presenter, actress, wife and mother-of-two Galit Gutman is a little older than 20-something, but obviously has that indefinable quality that makes her as much in demand today as she ever was.
Gutman, who has the chameleon capacity to change her image from ice princess to vamp and everything in between, is still a hot favorite with bridal-wear designer Danny Mizrahi, whose muse she has been for more than a decade, and with H&O, whose campaigns she has been leading since 2003.
Gutman recently signed a $100,000 deal with H&O to head the company's upcoming summer campaign.
Although she has modeled for all of Israel's leading fashion houses, as well as for several global name-brands, she became much more famous as the presenter of channel 10's reality show, The Models.
TELEVISION PERSONALITIES may occasionally disagree with one another, but unless they're members of a round-table panel where shouting and vehement opposition are par for the course, they are usually careful to maintain an even temperament. Not so Guy Peleg, Channel 1's police and crime and reporter. Peleg, who secured an interview with Shoni Gavrieli, the father of MK Inbal Gavrieli on the day that headlines blasted that Shoni and his brother, Reuven, had been arrested for operating an illegal gambling network through Internet cafes, came out strongly in defense of the Gavrieli family when talking to various news anchors. While the anchors persisted in calling the Gavrielis white collar criminals, Peleg kept reminding them that regardless of what may have been published about the Gavrielis over the years, neither Shoni nor Reuven had ever been charged with anything. Moreover, he asserted, Inbal Gavrieli had nothing to do with the business activities of her father and uncle, and was therefore a totally innocent party. Inbal Gavrieli came under considerable criticism for using her parliamentary immunity to prevent police from searching the family home. In the interview with Peleg, Shoni Gavrieli said that it would not have mattered if the police had conducted a search, since he had nothing to hide.
THE ISRAEL Council on Foreign Relations, due to the fact that most of its members are retired diplomats, has an excellent relationship with the Foreign Ministry. It is therefore often in the position of being able to arrange for high-ranking visitors to come and lecture to the organization.
Rarely, however, can it boast the most important citizen of any particular country. The exception to the rule will be exercised next week when the ICFR will be addressed by Latvian President Varia Vike-Freiberga in the course of her state visit to Israel.
JUST AS Israeli election campaigns are getting heated up with political parties engaging in personal attacks on rivals, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is setting an example of the importance of maintaining mutual respect. Thirty members of the ADL's Coalition for Mutual Respect have arrived in Israel to gain a better understanding of the country, both as a democratic and a Jewish state which upholds freedom of religion, and protects the rights of worship of people of all faiths.
"This is a special opportunity for Jewish, Christian and Muslim members of the Coalition to travel together and learn more about each other's common roots," said Phyllis Gerably, the managing director of the ADL Israel office. The Coalition, whose mission it is to speak out against incidents of prejudice and hate, was founded in 1995 by former board chair Regina Rogers in memory of her parents, Julie and Ben Rogers. Its members, who include clerics, religious leaders and academics, meet on a regular basis in Southeast Texas.
ONE OF the world's greatest experts on 15th-Century Spain, the Spanish Inquisition and the life of Don Isaac Abravanel, 95-year-old historian Benzion Netanyahu attracts nearly as much attention as his son the politician. Netanyahu's lecture on Abravanel at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem was booked out well in advance. The BHC newsletter warned those of its subscribers who had not registered for the lecture that there was no more space in which to accommodate people who wanted to hear him.
THE FRIEND and spiritual mentor of public relations executive Aura Wolfe, Rabbi Nachman Kahane, the Young Israel Rabbi in Jerusalem's old city, never refuses an invitation to come to her home. Thus, last Saturday night he was present at a Melave Malka that she hosted to bring together friends who had been working too hard and who really needed a break and an opportunity to rediscover each other. As is common in religious Jewish circles, the hostess, before asking the rabbi to share some of his wisdom, rained compliments and blessings on his head, and after saying how much he had helped her during her 12 years in Israel, wished him to continue doing what he was doing for her and for others "till 120."
"Till 119," protested Kahane. "I need a year for myself."
THE HEBREW University, in conjunction with 21c, hosted a briefing for journalists and diplomats on the Knesset elections. The three academics who presented assessments and fielded questions did not agree with one another on several issues, but there was consensus with regard to Kadima's ongoing and even increasing popularity, despite the fact that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has left the political arena. Prof. Gabriel Sheffer, Dr. Yitzhak Reiter and Dr. Gideon Rahat all agreed that Kadima's popularity could be attributed to public sympathy with Sharon's illness. Even his 10-year-old daughter had written a letter to Sharon wishing him good health, said Reiter, admitting that if anyone had asked him 10 years ago whether he would allow anyone in his family to write to Sharon, the response would most definitely have been in the negative.
NONE OF the three academics would hazard a guess as to the final outcome of the elections.
Sheffer lamented the demise of ideology, declaring that neither the politicians nor the public had any interest in ideology. Even his students were not interested, he said. Of 40 students in his seminar, only three had read the party platforms.
The key point of agreement between the three speakers was that even if Kadima drops from the lofty position that it has attained in recent surveys, and winds up with only 25 seats instead of 44, it will still be the lead party in the center between Left and Right, and in a position to form coalitions with either. Reiter noted that contrary to previous elections, Arab parties will not play a significant role and will not be able to influence the decision on who will ultimately become prime minister. There was disagreement among the speakers as to whether corruption was a factor in influencing the way people will vote. By coincidence, one of the journalists present just then received a beeper that Likud MK Naomi Blumenthal had been convicted of election bribery and the obstruction of justice. (Only a week earlier, Blumenthal had been at Beit Hanassi as a member of the Knesset Constitution and Law Committee, and out of consideration for those people who were not seated at the table with the president, but in the pews behind, took a tray of petits fours from the table and passed it back.
Hospitality, whether legal or illegal, is obviously one of her characteristics).
Rahat observed that corruption was always part of the Israeli political scene, but that it had changed its style. In the old days, party leaders took money for their parties and not for their pockets, he said.
POLITICAL PARTIES are glamorizing their images with fashion models and television stars. First it was Labor with Melanie Peres; then it was Kadima with Anastasia Michaeli; next it was Herut with former beauty queen Yana Hudriker; and most recently The Greens, whose platform is the quality of the environment, successfully recruited Sophie Tzadka.
A WOMAN'S work is never done, according to the old adage. It becomes an even greater truism if the woman is a minister in the government and carries several portfolios. Case in point is Tzipi Livni, who on Monday, in her capacity as Minister for Immigrant Absorption, participated in a press conference to mark the 30th anniversary of Ethiopian aliya; then later as Foreign Minister met with her German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier; and in between, as Justice Minister, failed to impress on Supreme Court President Aharon Barak the need to appoint temporary judges to deal with the growing backlog of cases.
Barak and Livni do not see eye-to-eye on several scores, most notably the appointment of Hebrew University law professor Ruth Gavison to the Supreme Court. Livni is in favor, Barak is against. According to the pundits, Barak is putting up every possible barrier prior to the national elections on March 28, in the hope that with the new government there will be a new justice minister who will be more pliable than Livni.
A THOUGHT for the day is always included in the monthly newsletter sent out by Ella Gaffen, marketing director of the Jerusalem Gate Hotel. The current piece of advice is: "Never put both feet in your mouth at the same time, because then you won't have a leg to stand on."