Grapevine: Paraguay's old friends and newly-reopened Israel embassy

Newly installed Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes owes his success in no small measure to an Israeli campaign strategist.

Paraguay's President Horacio Cartes 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Paraguay's President Horacio Cartes 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A report by Yediot Aharonot’s Itamar Eichner makes it very clear why Paraguay has decided to reopen its embassy in Israel after an eight-year hiatus.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin visited Latin America last week and met with newly installed President Horacio Cartes, who told him how much he appreciated Israel and that he wanted to strengthen bilateral relations. The extent of that appreciation was revealed by Eichner, who wrote that Cartes owes his success in no small measure to an Israeli campaign strategist by the name of Yechiel Leiter – who happened to have been a senior adviser to Ariel Sharon when he was an MK and bureau chief, and senior adviser to Netanyahu when he was finance minister.
The American-born Leiter, who is an ardent Likudnik, has in fact held an incredible number of senior positions, the most recent being chairman of the Ports and Railways Authority. He has also found time to earn several academic degrees in a variety of subjects, publish several books and father eight children.
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Meir Khalifi, for his part, was Netanyahu’s military aide-de-campe and is the Paraguayan president’s adviser on security matters – and it goes without saying that Cartes’s bodyguards are Israeli.
Paraguay, which closed its Israel Embassy for budgetary reasons, has maintained a cordial relationship with Israel throughout the years.
For the same political reasons that other embassies are not located in Jerusalem – whereas in most other countries embassies are located in the capital, Paraguay in the past settled upon an interesting compromise.
Rather than move to Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan or Herzliya Pituah, the country had its embassy in Mevaseret Zion – which is technically outside of Jerusalem, but still within the 02 telephone area code.
■ GIVEN THE number of times that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has met with or read about President Shimon Peres, one would think that he knows that he’s dealing with an Israeli – and not with someone of Iberian or Latin American extraction.
Post Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde, who is an avid photographer, joined the large media turnout when Ban met with Peres last Friday morning, and photographed Ban’s inscription in the presidential guestbook – where he spelled the president’s name with a ‘z’ instead of an ‘s.’ This is actually a common mistake.
It’s amazing how many foreign dignitaries, when addressing the president, call him “Perez” instead of “Peres” and lay stress on the second vowel.
■ AS A politician, Ehud Barak was a manipulative personality whose popularity waned within his own ranks as well as among the wider public. His popularity rating took a downward spiral after the 2009 elections, when despite having said that he would not join the Likudled government, he reneged on his promise. His hostile relationship with chief of general staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, who at the time was an extremely popular figure in the eyes of the general public, contributed to Barak’s negative image, as did letting his wife become the fall guy when the couple employed an illegal foreign worker in their home.
When his leadership of the Labor Party was threatened, Barak formed a breakaway party – Independence – which enabled him to remain in the government. However, he then realized he had little hope of gaining more than a half-dozen Knesset seats, if that, in any future election – and in November 2012 announced his retirement from politics.
Early last week, his mother, Esther Godin-Brog, died at the age of 100, having celebrated her triple-digit birthday only a few weeks earlier.
She had been of sound mind until the very end. Because Barak had been abroad at the time, the funeral at Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon was delayed until Thursday. Usually, when a close relative of a public figure dies, there are masses of condolence notices in the newspapers for two or three days in a row. In this case, the paucity of such notices was palpable. One of Barak’s three brothers, Avinoam Brog, a well-known political pollster and market researcher, received a condolence notice from his company.
Of the other two brothers, Muli and Reuvi, only one received a notice in the press.
Kibbutzniks and personal friends attended the funeral. With the exception of Shalom Simhon, past and present members of the government who had served together with Barak – the most highly decorated soldier in Israel, a former prime minister, defense minister and foreign minister – were conspicuous in their absence, as were army top brass. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who succeeded Barak, was not there, nor was Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz. In view of the animosity between them, Ashkenazi could hardly be expected to attend, but Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yoav Galant, who had been Barak’s choice for the 20th chief of general staff – and whose appointment had been approved, then rescinded following allegations he had usurped public lands to build a home – did come.
So did Barak’s former wife, Nava, with her present husband. Her own mother, Rachel Cohen, died this week and was buried at the old Tiberias cemetery.
If Barak were still in office, threequarters of the Knesset would have shown up at his mother’s funeral.
One MK who did come was current Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich, who had been one of the most vocal critics of Barak when he led the party.
■ PERHAPS THE cold shoulder accorded to Barak is yet another sign that this is the season in which the mighty are falling. Motti Zisser, once an extraordinarily generous philanthropist who spread his largesse to Jewish causes abroad as well as in Israel, is currently in debt over his head and may have to lose his palatial home in Petah Tikva.
Lev Leviev, another generous philanthropist on an international level, recently suffered a substantial jewelry heist, and is also trying to take care of debt problems.
Nochi Dankner, who not so long ago was the golden boy of the formerly flourishing IDB, is in the process of being ousted – but at least in his case, there is some cause for happiness. His son, Omer, will be marrying Lee Grebenau on September 1.
It won’t be one of those massive, glittering affairs with a thousand guests. Some 150 people have been invited to the wedding ceremony, which will be held in the Dankner family home in Herzliya Pituah. As the Dankner family is quite large, a considerable proportion of the guests will be relatives. A more informal celebration will be held at Nitzanim Beach two days later for friends of the couple.
■ THE REFRAIN of one of the many songs by prolific composer and lyricist Naomi Shemer is “Anashim tovim b’emtza haderech – anashim tovim meod,” which translates as, “There are good people in the middle of the road – very good people.”
The violence and corruption so frequently reported in the Israeli media sometimes makes us forget how many really good people in this country are doing wonderful, selfless work on behalf of others.
One such person is Rosh Hanikra businessman Gadi Shabtai, who was a prominent activist in the campaign for the release of Gilad Schalit, and who subsequently became a leading Western Galilee figure in the fight for social justice.
More recently, Shabtai became aware of the tragedy which had struck the Karnat-Kalchuk family of Kfar Baruch in the Jezreel Valley.
Close to two months ago, Yamit Karnat-Kalchuk, a mother of five young children aged two to 12, was diagnosed with cancer and immediately hospitalized for intensive chemotherapy at Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center. Her husband, Ofer, has constantly been at her bedside to give her support and comfort. As such, the eldest of their children, Daniella, has been left to look after her younger siblings.
That would not have been so terrible, as the family lives with other close relatives. But two weeks ago, their house caught fire and Dudi Kalchuk, Daniella’s uncle, was badly burned when rescuing his daughters and his mother from the blaze. Before her mother had been diagnosed with cancer, the family had been planning a celebration for Daniella’s bat mitzva, but with her mother in hospital, the festivities were canceled. Daniella understood and didn’t complain.
But news of the family’s triple tragedy traveled throughout the Galilee, and came to Shabtai’s attention. He thought it wasn’t fair for a little girl who suddenly had so much responsibility thrust upon her, to miss out on her bat mitzva – especially in view of the recent tragedies she had experienced.
Shabtai decided to launch a Facebook and personal campaign to give her a celebration she would always remember, and many people willingly contributed money. Someone paid for the reception hall. MK Yitzhak Vaknin arranged for a donation of more than 100 gourmet meals, as well as the equipment to transfer and heat them. Someone offered to photograph the party, another person donated a cake and decorations. When a friend of Daniella’s mother took her shopping for a dress for the special occasion, the shopkeeper gave it to her as a gift. Moreover, Daniel Fahima, who was seriously injured in last year’s terrorist attack against a busload of Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, came to the party last Thursday and acted as DJ.
Shabtai was very touched by the speed and volume of the response to his request, which gave a little girl a ray of sunshine during a dark period in her life. As Shemer put it so well: There are good people, many good people, in the middle of the road.
■ AS HAS been noted in several previous Grapevine columns, the members of Israel’s entertainment industry have really big hearts when it comes to supporting philanthropic causes – especially those related to health and to children.
Thus it comes as no surprise to learn that singer David D’Or is providing his talents gratis to the Israel Cancer Society, for its annual fundraiser at the Rabin Center in Tel Aviv on August 31.
Among those who have already said they will be attending are philanthropist and social activist Raya Strauss; lawyer Ori Slonim, whose name is usually linked with Variety, the organization that supports mentally and physically challenged children; and MK Meir Sheetrit and his wife, Ruthie, a communications and strategy executive. The Sheetrits have been involved in numerous cancer-related projects over the past 20 years or so, since their daughter, Miri, was diagnosed with cancer and died in her midteens.
Also attending will be Gabi and Esti Rotter, co-CEOs of Castro; former deputy defense minister Dalia Rabin; former Israeli ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval; socialite, businesswoman and TV star Nicole Raidman; and many other wellknown personalities.
It’s not certain whether D’Or will sing the national anthem, which he was prevented from singing at Bloomfield Stadium during the brief Barca peace visit, for fear of trampling on the sensitivities of local Arab children who were present.
But no one is going to get upset if he sings “Hatikva” at the Rabin Center. On the contrary – it’s a very appropriate venue for the airing of the national anthem.
D’Or, who is currently celebrating his 25th anniversary as a professional performer, is frequently invited to sing at state dinners at the President’s Residence and at other events in which Peres has a key role. He had invited Peres to attend his performance this past Sunday at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv, but was not certain until the last minute whether the president would show up. Peres entered the auditorium just as the lights went down and took the opportunity to tell the audience about his long-held admiration for D’Or, saying he was happy, at long last, to listen to more than one or two songs from D’Or’s extensive repertoire.
The president’s praise was not the only kudos that D’Or, who frequently appears in Asian countries, received that night. Korean Ambassador Kim Il-soo conferred honorary South Korean citizenship on him.
D’Or, who is a visual artist as well as a performing artist, launched an exhibition of his paintings after the show, as well as a new CD of his most popular songs.
■ TOMORROW, THURSDAY, August 22, the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, in partnership with Haifa-based Yad Ezer L’Haver, will co-sponsor the second annual Miss Holocaust Survivor – with an anticipated audience of more than 5,000 people at Haifa’s Romema Sport Arena.
The Miss Holocaust Survivor beauty pageant in Israel aims to bring joy into the lives of the aging Holocaust survivors who participate.
It highlights their stories of courage and resolve, and raises awareness of the needs of survivors in Israel.
The 18 finalists include several who came from abroad to take part.
Eighteen is a very significant number in Jewish tradition, having the gematria (Jewish system of assigning numerical value) of life. Judging will be based more on inner beauty and poise, with the panel of judges including cosmetics queen and former model Pnina Rosenblum, and media personality Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes. Several cabinet ministers, 15 Knesset members, 70 foreign diplomats – many of them ambassadors – and numerous Holocaust survivors from across Israel, as well 200 IDF soldiers, have indicated that they will attend.
■ EARLY THIS month, Defense Minister Ya’alon and Chief of General Staff Gantz made up for a 54-year delay, by awarding a medal for outstanding service to Avraham Goldenberg, 75. Goldenberg had been unable to attend the 1959 ceremony in which his buddies in Southern Command had given the award, because he was busy escorting prime minister David Ben-Gurion to Sde Boker.
This seems to be the month, or at least the year, in which the IDF is making up for previous lapses. Last week, Gantz, with the endorsement of Ya’alon, who is himself a former chief of general staff, decided to end the long battle of Yitzhak Pundak, and notified him that he would finally receive the rank promised to him 60 years ago.
In 1954, Pundak was told that he was being promoted to the rank of general. He waited and waited, but the promotion never came. In 1959, which is coincidentally the year in which Gantz was born, Pundak, then 46, was informed by chief of general staff Haim Laskov that the promotion would not be forthcoming. An angry Pundak quit the IDF, but continued to wage a battle for what was due to him. In 1971, he rejoined the IDF, serving for two years with the rank of brigadier-general. During that period, he served as governor of Gaza. Throughout the years he continued to fight for the broken promise to be honored, and was denied time after time. In June of this year, still fighting for his honor, Pundak turned 100. This time, his request did not go unheeded. After all, who could deny the birthday wish of a 100-year-old man? Some of the officers in the IDF’s personnel department warned Gantz that he was setting a dangerous precedent, but he doubted there was any risk of too many centenarians claiming an elevation in rank any time in the future. This will be the first time in the history of the IDF that a retired officer will be promoted to general.
Pundak commanded the 53rd Battalion of the Givati Brigade in the War of Independence, and subsequently headed the nascent Armored Corps. While in the IDF, he had several clashes with Ariel Sharon, who he considered to be cruel and brutal in the manner in which he fought and dealt with Palestinians. Pundak spoke out on a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza following the first intifada, but was rebuffed at the time, and it took several years before Sharon adopted the plan as his own.
In civilian life, Pundak, who was born in Krakow, Poland, was the first head of the Arad Municipal Council and later served as Israel’s ambassador to Tanzania. After that, he headed the Jewish Agency’s delegation to Argentina. Following his retirement from public life, Pundak, who still has all of his faculties, continues to regularly lecture to soldiers about the history of the Hagana, of which he was a member, and that of the IDF.
■ THE APPLES don’t fall far from the tree in the Leibler family. Matriarch Rachel Leibler – who is 100-plus (one must never ask a lady’s true age), and had another great-greatgrandchild last week – started Emunah, the religious women’s Zionist organization in Australia. She got her daughter- in-law, Naomi, interested to the point where she served as copresident of Emunah Aviv in Melbourne, then world president after she came to live in Jerusalem.
Naomi is now honorary world president, and her daughter-in-law, Rose Leibler, is one of the founders of Emunah B’Simcha – which operates under the auspices of Emunah Jerusalem, and provides starter kits for about-to-be-married young couples with severely limited financial resources. The kits consist of some of the essentials required to build a new home.
Among the close friends of the Leibler family is bestselling author, powerful orator and retired diplomat Yehuda Avner, whose internationally acclaimed book, The Prime Ministers, was seized upon soon after publication by both documentary and feature filmmakers. Emunah B’Simcha succeeded in getting part I of the documentary, which focuses on Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir – and will be screening it at the Begin Center during Hol Hamoed Succot on Monday, September 23. Avner will be present at the event, which is being sponsored by Beit Hanatziv, and will share reminiscences of working with some of Israel’s prime ministers.
The starting price for tickets is NIS 150 each.
■ WHETHER IT is on Yom Kippur or the Gregorian calendar date of October 6, Israelis will soon be commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War.
The Gregorian calendar date also marks the 32nd anniversary of the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, who had been the first Arab leader to visit Israel in November 1977 and the first to sign a peace treaty with Israel in March 1979. One of his brothers, Atef Sadat, who was a pilot in the Egyptian Air Force, was killed in the Yom Kippur War, which the Egyptians refer to as the October War.
Notwithstanding the passage of time, people who were in that war still carry the memories as if the horror of it all took place only yesterday.
When Israeli nurse Maureen Ben-Nun, who works in the intensive care unit at Rehovot’s Kaplan Medical Center, went to Amman recently to participate in a groundbreaking conference of Middle Eastern Nurses Uniting in Human Caring – a first-of-its-kind gathering convened by Dr. Jean Watson and her Watson Caring Science Institute – she did not expect to meet a nurse who had four decades earlier treated wounded Israeli prisoners of war.
The nurse, a Jordanian, had faithfully fulfilled her professional duties, putting restoration of health as a priority over any concerns she might have had about caring for the well-being of the enemy – and had been carrying the memories with her for the best part of four decades. She was so pleased to learn there was a nurse from Israel with whom she could share some of those memories.
It was purely by chance that Ben- Nun came under the category of an Israeli nurse. Thirty years ago, while living in England, she was thinking of a vacation in Greece, when her travel agent suggested that it might be more interesting for her to go to Israel. Following the agent’s recommendation, she came to Israel and fell in love with the country – and with an Israeli who was destined to become her husband. She went through a conversion process, got married and raised a family. Ben- Nun has been working at KMC for almost as long as she’s been in Israel, nursing critically ill patients back to health.
Amman will again be the venue of the Middle East Critical Care Assembly, which is scheduled to be held at the King Hussein Cancer Center on November 7, 2013, with the participation of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists and other allied healthcare professionals who are devoted to the promotion of intensive care medicine.
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