Grapevine: Of missed opportunities and awesome octogenarians

Abba Eban said the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. It would appear that Israel has also missed more than a few opportunities.

In ONE OF the legacies of the late Abba Eban was his oft-quoted remark that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. It would appear that Israel has also missed more than a few opportunities. David Kimche, former deputy chief of the Mossad, former director-general of the Foreign Ministry and current president of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, listed three of those missed opportunities at the launch of the council's new foreign policy journal The Jerusalem Review of which he is the publisher. The launch was held at Tel Aviv University to mark the start of major cooperative endeavors between the ICFR and the university's political science department and Abba Eban graduate studies program in diplomacy. Kimche disclosed that peace between Israel and Egypt could have been achieved long before the historic meeting between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. In February, 1971, Gunnar Jarring, the United Nations special representative to the Middle East, came to Jerusalem with the message that Egypt was ready to enter into a peace agreement on condition that Israel withdraws from Egyptian territory and returns to internationally recognized borders. When Gideon Raphael, who was then director-general of the Foreign Ministry, brought the proposal to prime minister Golda Meir, she read it and tore it up. She was adamant that Israel would not return to the June 1967 lines. Sadat understood that he could not get the Sinai back through peaceful means. Had his initiative not been rejected, said Kimche, the Yom Kippur War, with horrendous sacrifice of life on both sides, would not have happened. Another opportunity was lost in the middle of the Six Day War when an Israeli intelligence officer was sent to the territories to learn the attitudes of the Palestinian elite. Based on his findings and that of his team, he wrote a recommendation for the establishment of an autonomous Palestinian authority and stated that the majority of people from the West Bank were ready to enter into a peace agreement with Israel. At that time there were no Jewish settlements on the West Bank, and the PLO was not yet a major influence, as Fatah had been established only in 1965. The recommendation was knocked on the head by Shimon Peres and Abba Eban, who argued that it was Jordan that had declared war against Israel and therefore any peace negotiations had to be conducted with Jordan and not the Palestinians. Kimche mused on how different the history of the region might have been. The third example was in 1978 when there was so much animosity between Israel and the USSR that Soviet diplomats were forbidden to make small talk with Israelis at cocktail receptions. There was one small pipeline left open and it wasn't used till Begin came to power, said Kimche. A secret delegation headed by Yevgeny Primakov came to Israel and told Begin that the USSR was willing to return its ambassador to Israel on the condition that Israel recognizes the PLO. Begin refused and spent an hour telling him why it could never happen. Of course it did happen, but much later. Again, Kimche could only speculate on how different history might have been if talks with the PLO had started at that time. n APPEARING AGAINST as distinct from with Eliad Shraga, the self-appointed conscience of the nation via The Movement for Quality Government which he founded and chairs, former justice minister Tommy Lapid said that he never believed the day would come when he would hear himself defending former Shas leader and former Minister for the Interior Arye Deri. Lapid and Shraga were interviewed on Channel 10's Media File by Haim Zissovitch in connection with Shraga's demand that Channel 10 drop Deri from the talk show in which he appears with Lapid. Shraga said that he would not have a man convicted of corruption coming on television and talking about how to deal with corruption in the government. Both Zissovitch and Lapid remonstrated with him and reminded him that Deri had already paid his debt to society. Lapid went even further and said that in every other country an organization such as Shraga's would be fighting for freedom of speech instead of trying to silence speech - namely Deri's. Shraga in turn reminded Lapid that he had not always adopted so liberal an attitude towards Deri. In fact he had been one of his most vociferous and acrimonious critics. At this point Zissovitch could not resist running archive footage of an acerbic Lapid all but foaming at the mouth as he berated Deri, calling him every kind of low life under the sun. n FORMER PRESIDENT of Ben Gurion University MK Avishay Braverman returned to the campus last week to honor the memory of Sara Tadmor, the honorary president of the Israeli Friends of BGU who was killed in a tragic train accident in August last year. Braverman was one of more than a hundred relatives and close friends of Sara and Dov Tadmor who came together to dedicate the Sara Tadmor Auditorium at BGU. Standing on a stage filled with fragrant white that lilies set the tone for a moving memorial service that paid tribute Sara Tadmor's lifelong commitment to beauty in the service of society. Braverman who had worked very closely with her said: "Sara would have been happy to be here today. She would approve of the clean lines, the aesthetics of the auditorium and would be particularly proud that it was designated as a place for the community." Located in the soon-to-be inaugurated Deichmann Building for Community Action, the Sara Tadmor Auditorium will serve as the home for the Barvaz Theater group of local high school students, and will provide a venue for outreach activities to Beersheba's youngsters. Braverman recalled how he had first met Sara Tadmor when he was newly heading the struggling university and told of how she took it upon herself to introduce and promote BGU among the most fashionable and affluent sectors of Tel Aviv society. "She brought Lea and Yitzhak Rabin to campus and organized events in Tel Aviv that helped raise the University's profile. She understood the unique spirit of BGU, the mission of the University and infused all that she did with her own special aesthetics and love of life." Current University President Prof. Rivka Carmi noted that "though Sara's personal beauty will not return, her guiding beauty of spirit will always be with us." Almost overcome by emotion, Dov Tadmor spoke from the heart about his late wife's love for BGU and the joy she felt exactly three years earlier when she was honored on Ben-Gurion Day with the Negev Award. Lamenting his own loss, and the absence in his life and that of her friends and family, Tadmor remarked on the celebration of his wife's legacy in the beauty of the auditorium. "I look at her picture here on stage, at her name on the sign outside the door, and my heart breaks, but I know that this would be her wish and that it would make her happy," he said. Among those who came to pay tribute to Sara Tadmor and her legacy were her successor as president of the Israeli Friends of BGU, Raya Bendror Strauss; former education minister and vice-chairman of BGU's executive committee, Aharon Yadlin; world chairman of Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal Avi Pazner, actress Aviva Marks, public relations guru and philanthropist Ran Rahav, president of the Council of Women's Organizations Michal Modai and mental retardation expert Rachel Limon. n IT WAS an emotional moment for all four Yiddish performers who were singled out for honors by the Israeli Union of Performing Artists, but most especially for veteran actress Ettel Kubinska, one of the founders of the Yiddishpiel Theater Group who appeared in its first production Sholem Aleichem's "It's hard to be a Jew." Kubinska's personal Yiddish Theater history extends to far beyond the beginnings of Yiddishpiel. At age 15, she joined the Moscow Jewish State Theater that was directed by the legendary Solomon Mikhoels, who recognized her talent and assigned her leading roles in several productions. After the Yiddish State Theater was closed down by Stalin in 1949, Kubinska joined another theater group. She later came to Israel and played on the Habima stage for 15 years. The award was not only her own but in memory of Mikhoels who was killed in a car accident in January, 1948. The accident is widely believed to have been an assassination within the framework of Stalin's attempt to eliminate the Jewish intelligentsia. Also honored were Yiddishpiel founder and director Shmuel Atzmon, and veteran actors Yaacov Bodo and Yankele Alperin, who though octogenarians, continue to perform. n ASIDE FROM a long, symbiotic relationship, The Jerusalem Post and the paper's veteran art critic, cartoonist and book reviewer Meir Ronnen have a birthday in common. The Post celebrated its 74th anniversary on December 1 and Ronnen celebrated his 80th birthday on the same date. In a series of birthday-related festivities, Ronnen was honored by his colleagues at the Post, where else but in the news room. Joining current members of the editorial staff were two former Post members: Israel Prize laureate David Rubinger who used to be in charge of the paper's photo archives which contain many of his own contributions, and writer Ernie Meyer, who achieved an international reputation for his expertise on Holocaust history. Ronnen came to the Post in 1949 after having worked for publications in Australia and Japan. It was in that year that he met Rubinger and they have remained firm friends ever since. The two recalled that in those days they used to zoom around the city on motorbikes. Although Rubinger is a little over two years older than Ronnen and Meyer will be celebrating his 84th birthday next week, neither celebrated their eighth decade on the paper's premises. Those who did were the late Ruth Connell-Robertson, who was among the founders of radio broadcasting in British Mandate Palestine and later switched to the print media and Post archivist Alexander Zvielli who is already 85 and still going strong with regular by-lines in the 'From Our Archives' column. The late Moshe Kohn, who worked for the paper for more than 30 years, also kept writing beyond his 80th birthday. In fact the Post was way ahead of its time in continuing to employ people well past pension age while they were still capable of working. Ronnen enjoys the distinction of having given the paper its name. Founded in 1932, it was previously called The Palestine Post. In 1950, he protested to management that was now a misnomer. They thought about calling it The Israel Post, but Ronnen said that the title didn't have a ring to it, and suggested that it be called The Jerusalem Post, a name that continues to resonate throughout the world. Ronnen said this week that he wished that he'd taken out copyright on it. What is the most appropriate gift for a man of 80? Linda Amar, the assistant to the editor-in-chief, came up with the perfect solution: breakfast, a sauna and a massage at Jerusalem's rather unique Mount Zion Hotel. n JERUSALEM Post staffers congregated in larger and smaller groups to bid farewell to Hilary Leila Krieger, who is flying off to take over as the paper's correspondent in Washington. Past and present staffers showed up in large numbers at a party hosted by the paper's former Arab Affairs reporter Orly Halpern. Krieger was also feted by close friends and given a semi-official send-off in the newsroom of the paper. "You're not really leaving," commented Editor-in-Chief David Horovitz. "You're just filing from further away." n It's certainly a lot further than the journey taken last month by Eetta Prince Gibson, who left the editorship of In Jerusalem, the Post's weekly local publication, to move upstairs to take over the reins of The Jerusalem Report, the esteemed bi-weekly magazine. Prince Gibson was also given a farewell party at one of the capital's well-known coffee shops. n FORMER EDITOR of The Jerusalem Post Ari Rath, who will be 82 in January, came in for a special citation from Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik at the opening at the Hebrew University of the international conference marking 50 years of Israel-Austria diplomatic relations. Plassnik mentioned Vienna-born Rath and Gideon Eckhaus, the chairman of the Austria-Israel Society as having a great share in the spirit of understanding and partnership that exists between the two countries. Plassnik and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni both referred to the high and low points in bilateral relations, but Plassnik was much more aggressive in talking about Austrian responsibility for what happened during the Holocaust, which she referred to as "the Shoa". "It is not for the human soul to forget," she said as she spoke of the emergence of "a new and active culture of remembrance." Bringing the lessons learned from the Holocaust to latter-day hostilities, Plassnik quoted from Livni's recent address to the Euro-Mediterranean ministers in Finland where she said: "The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the mother of all conflicts - it is the child of hatred. The voices of those in the region who believe in true coexistence need to be clearer and louder - their actions must be bolder and more decisive, so that the noise, the destruction and despair created by this hatred can finally fade away and the space for true peace be created." Supplementing these ambitions, Plassnik added: "We must not allow extremists to destroy the hope of Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace with their families." Due to other commitments the two ministers had to leave soon after their respective addresses, but the informal Plassnik, wove her way through the Senate Hall, shaking hands and embracing Austrian expatriates who have become Israeli citizens. It was people to people contact by example. n IN PREVIOUS years the Thai National Day festivities that coincide with the birthday of King Bhumibol were held in a hotel. This year, on the occasion of the King's 79th birthday and the 60th anniversary year of his ascension to the throne, Thai Ambassador Kasivat Parruggamanont decided to host the National Day celebration in his palatial Herzliya Pituah residence where the amazing traditional Thai vegetable sculptures and the exquisite floral arrangements were much more in place amid examples of Thai art than in a hotel setting. And of course the menu was totally Thai. The reception spilled out from the spacious entrance hall onto the semi circular patio and into lush garden alongside the pool. Although former tourism minister Benny Elon was present, there was unfortunately no current government minister available to convey greetings. However, Amos Nadai, the Foreign Ministry's deputy director-general for Asia and the Pacific was on hand to read a personal message from Livni, who wished the King good health and long life. Nadai who served in Thailand for three years recalled the privilege of having met the King in the royal palace. Illustrating Thailand's place in the hearts of the Israeli people, Nadai said that more than 100,000 Israelis visit Thailand annually, and that 26,000 Thais working in Israel are making a significant contribution to Israeli agriculture. Bilateral trade was in excess of $1 billion. in 2005 he said. The invitation to the National Day event had specified formal or national dress, and indeed several female guests from Asia and Africa did come in beautifully crafted costumes, while a number of Israeli women availed themselves of the opportunity to wear their evening gowns. After welcoming everyone to his home Parruggamanont spoke of how the King had dedicated his life and energy to his people and his country. He also spoke of the "sudden but peaceful change of government" last September, noting that it was now understood that this was a golden opportunity for political reform and a new and improved constitution. n THOUGH LISTED as the keynote speaker at the fund-raiser for Machon Meir held at the Jerusalem penthouse of Yael and David Medved, former MK Natan Sharansky delivered remarks after those of student Hagai Israeli, and conceded that Israeli's was a hard act to follow. Born and raised on the Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz of Ein Hashofet, Israeli was at odds with fellow kibbutzniks because he believed in God. But that was not the only problem. "I started looking for spirituality in the wrong places - alcohol, drugs and music," he confessed. One day, Yair, another young man from his kibbutz who was studying at Machon Meir suggested that he might like to give it a try. "It was like a small ray of light in my darkest years," recalled Israeli, who had been trying for years to wean himself off drugs and drink. At Machon Meir, there was the familiarity of Yair, who had become religiously observant, but there was also the understanding of the teachers and fellow students. Israeli succeeded in kicking his self-destructive habits and starting a new chapter. Through Machon Meir, he also met his wife. "Machon Meir gave me a reason to live and I thank them with all my heart," he said. One of the reasons that Machon Meir Yeshiva knows how to deal with people like Israeli is that Rabbi Dov Begon, the founding head of the yeshiva, was also raised on a non-religious kibbutz, and also spent part of his youth searching for himself. "I didn't go to India," he said. "I sat down and studied Torah and I told myself that if I find something good, I won't keep it to myself - I'll share it. This philosophy remains with me." n WHILE SEEDS of Peace brings together potential young leaders from places of conflict, an experiment has been going on since February of this year to bring together Palestinian and Israeli adults at what is called the Seeds of Peace Caf . Proof of the success of the experiment was evident this week when some one hundred Jews, Christians and Muslims of varying age groups came to the American Colony Hotel in east Jerusalem to celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas and Eid-al-Adha and to listen to stories of some of the traditions of each faith as presented by Prof. Lawrence Besserman of the Hebrew University, Anne Clayton of World Vision and Nabil Kayali, the director of Bridge International Schools. A three piece band managed to inject a Middle Eastern flavor into some traditional klezmer tunes, and performed lively renditions of Christmas carols, but didn't seem to have any specifically Arab music in its repertoire. One Israeli young man in earnest conversation with a young Palestinian woman was explaining Hanukkah fare, namely that a doughnut is not merely a doughnut but a soofganiya. The doughnuts provided by the hotel did not quite live up to soofganiya standards. They'd been fried for far too long and were brown instead of gold. n THE PILOT program of the Israeli or Jewish version of Hard Talk was taped last week, and the second program conducted by investigative journalist David Bedein was taped this week in front of a live audience with Daniel Seaman, the director of the Government Press Office in the so-called hot seat. Bedein warned Seaman that he would ask some very tough questions. Of the two, however, Seaman came across as being much tougher. For those who think that they might be living in a post-Zionist era, an earful of Daniel Seaman will convince them otherwise. Seaman wasn't playing to the camera. He didn't even look at it. The American-born ex-paratrooper was talking from his gut - and the message came across loud and clear.n