Grapevine: Olmert's Australian connection

The PM congratulates a new parliamentarian married to his cousin; Russia's envoy dismisses a report that emigrants are being encouraged to return.

  • THE AUSTRALIAN media have been having a field day over the fact that newly elected parliamentarian Col. Mike Kelly, who was among the top Australian military personnel in Iraq, is a cousin-by-marriage to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Although Kelly is not Jewish, he is married to Olmert's cousin, Shelley, who is Jewish and who has brought up their children as Jewish. Several newspapers reported that when Olmert called newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to congratulate him, he mentioned Kelly in the conversation. Olmert was also said to have called Kelly to congratulate him on winning the New South Wales country seat of Eden-Monaro, defeating the sitting member, Gary Naim, of the Liberal Party. Rudd has appointed Kelly as parliamentary secretary for defense.
  • SUCCESS HAS many fathers. Failure is an orphan. Russian Ambassador Piotr Stegny was complaining to former foreign minister Moshe Arens about an article in the Hebrew press claiming that the true purpose of the recently established Russian Cultural Center in Tel Aviv is to persuade Russian emigrants to return to Russia, because Russia wants to lure back its skilled professionals. The article quoted Israeli intelligence sources as saying that the cultural center was headed by a former member of the KGB. Stegny was incensed by the suggestion that the cultural center, which is under the auspices of the Russian Embassy, might be connected with espionage. A third party to the conversation between the ambassador and Arens countered that in one way or another, "all diplomats are spies." At which point Arens credited the late Abba Eban with saying that a diplomat lies for his country and gets paid for it. Stegny claimed that that Eban was repeating something said by some other diplomat many years earlier. He added that the diplomat in question had been dismissed from service soon after. An Internet check on this quotation attributed it to a number of people, all of whom had taken it as their own. But the most far-reaching record of the quote was back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, who sent Sir Henry Wootton as her ambassador to Venice and Bohemia. Wootton was quoted as describing his profession as being made up of honest gentlemen sent abroad to lie for their countries.
  • MEMBERS OF the English Speaking Friends of Tel Aviv University may want to listen to Jordanian Ambassador Ali Al-Ayed speak on a Jordanian perspective of peacemaking and Middle Eastern trends this evening. The genial Al-Ayed will be speaking at TAU at 5 p.m. Two hours later, at 7 p.m., German Ambassador Harald Kindermann is hosting a reception at his residence to witness the presentation of the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany to one of Israel's most internationally celebrated authors, Amos Oz.
  • FOREIGN DIPLOMATS, both Jewish and non-Jewish, seem to be fascinated by Hanukka, and many have included Hanukka celebrations in their national day and other events. Sosan Shin, wife of the Korean ambassador, got in early. On the morning prior to the first night of Hanukka, she invited members of the International Women's Club to a "Meet My Country" event introducing various aspects of Korean culture, including a charming traditional wedding ceremony. However, as a gesture to her host country, she also displayed a Hanukkia in which she had kindled all eight candles - which elicited some bemused comments on the part of some of her guests.
  • ROMANIAN AMBASSADOR Edward Iosiper, who that evening hosted a reception marking the 89th anniversary of his country's unification, also celebrated Hanukka with a festive candle-light ceremony at which Romania's Chief Rabbi Menachem Hacohen performed the honors. National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer was the guest of honor as well as the representative of the government. Ben-Eliezer and Iospier, each wearing a black kippa, flanked Hacohen as he recited the blessing and joined in a lusty rendition of Maoz Tsur. Ben-Eliezer was the most appropriate minister for the occasion, given that he was scheduled to pay an official visit to Romania a few days later. Among the guests at the Romanian reception were former Israel ambassador to Romania Zvi Mazel and his wife, Michelle, who coincidentally were celebrating their 44th wedding anniversary, and MK Colette Avital, who was born in Romania. Iosiper noted that Romania had officially recognized Israel in 1948, and despite the fact that Romania had been under Communist rule, it had enjoyed 60 years of uninterrupted diplomatic relations with Israel. Ben-Eliezer also commented on this, saying that Romania was the only Communist-bloc country which had not severed ties with Israel after the 1967 Six Day War.
  • POLISH AMBASSADOR Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska hosted a reception recently in honor of Bogdan Bernaczyk-Slonski, the director of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute which promotes Polish culture throughout the world. Bernaczyk-Slonski was in Israel to present an outline of next year's Polish Year in Israel in which Poland will be promoting numerous cultural, economic, scientific and tourist-based activities and events. The overall program will be under the supervision of the ambassador. People had asked him why now, said Bernaczyk-Slonski, but he had asked himself why it had taken so long. The truth is that until 2004, the Adam Mickiewicz Institute - which was founded seven years ago and is affiliated with Poland's Foreign Ministry - had been focusing on the European Union to demonstrate the extent to which Poland is part of Europe. The institute has also worked well with the Jewish Diaspora, he said, and it was only natural that it would interact with Israel, a country to which Poland attaches great importance. Even though there are not many Jews in Poland today, there's a great deal of Jewish culture, he said, listing some of the Jewish festivals that regularly take place in Poland. In addition, he noted, Poland has lately begun to publish an appreciable amount of Israeli literature. "This is not a passing phase," he insisted. "Polish-Jewish culture is integral to Polish culture itself." This was partially evident on one of the tables laden with traditional jelly doughnuts, which actually originate from Poland, where they are known as Pa'czki (pronounced "ponchki" in plural, and "ponchek" in singular). Even in Communist times, one could buy them on street corners in Warsaw, where they were often fried on site in big vats. Latkes, by the way, also originate in Poland, where they are known as platcki. On another table were Warsaw delicacies, mainly sausages, the kashrut of which Magdziak-Miszewska admitted she could not vouch for, but she said they were very tasty. They were promptly attacked with gusto by the guests, and disappeared very quickly. On the doughnut table, set in the middle of a flower arrangement, were the Hanukka candles which remained unlit, though Magdziak-Miszewska referred to the symbolism of the light. "Hanukka is one of the most beautiful of Jewish festivals where people can be happy because of the light," she said. "Maybe this time Hanukka may help to light the way to peace and something good will happen in the Middle East."
  • AT THE residence of Ambassador Yoshinori Katori and his wife, Etsuko (where on the seventh night of Hanukka they were celebrating the 74th birthday of the Emperor of Japan), there was a beautiful, silver Hanukkia with seven tall candles that had been lit. Another decorative Hanukkia was featured on one of the sideboards. Large and small Japanese parasols were part of the floor and table décor. All the Japanese women, including those who were not associated with the embassy, wore exquisite kimonos, though not all of them had their hair done up in the elaborate, traditional, Japanese style. Etsuko Katori, mindful of the fact that some of her guests were strict observers of Jewish dietary law, and that others might not be partial to Japanese cuisine, made sure that there was something for everyone, so that no one should go hungry. She ordered a large kosher table of food from the Dan Accadia Hotel, which to ensure that nothing went amiss with dishes from a kosher perspective, brought glass plates. Guests mingled in the reception hall, in the dining room, in the den, in the huge marquee in the back garden and around the swimming pool. Representing the government was Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog, who recalled that his late father, Chaim Herzog, had represented Israel at the funeral of Emperor Hirohito and at the coronation of Emperor Akihito. "For my family, this is a unique opportunity to pay tribute to a great man and a great nation," he said. Herzog recalled having visited Japan two years ago in the company of Shimon Peres, and said that he had been fascinated by the diligent, welcoming and innovative Japanese people. As minister of tourism, he said, he had discussed the possibility of direct flights between Israel and Japan with then prime minister Junichiro Koizumi when the latter visited Israel. Herzog also spoke of his pleasure as minister of tourism in hosting the team of Japanese Sumo wrestlers who went to the Dead Sea and floated on the water. He made a point of thanking the Japanese government for being so heavily involved in the peace process as a donor nation, and said that Japan's example of contribution and technical aid was very important and welcomed by Israel. Katori also referred to the peace process, and opined that the Annapolis meeting had given it strong impetus. "We now have to exert our utmost efforts towards a two-state solution," he said. As for Japanese aid, Katori was happy that Japan, through its involvement in the Valley of Peace project, could provide employment opportunities for Palestinians. While political, economic and cultural relations between Israel and Japan were constantly improving, Katori had to admit that the Japanese people know very little about Israel. Over the past year, he said, there had been several Japanese business delegations visiting Israel, and for most of the participants, it was a first time visit and they had been very impressed. A successful concert tour by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the screening of the award-winning film, The Band's Visit, had made the Japanese people more aware of Israel, but what made them most aware was jeweller Michal Negrin - "who is very well known."
  • IT'S NOT just in Israel that diplomats feel the need to celebrate Hanukka. Indian Ambassador to the US Ronen Sen also held a Hanukka celebration in Washington to which he invited several guests, including Israel's ambassador to the US, Sallai Meridor. This was the sixth time that such a celebration had been hosted by an Indian ambassador to the US. n IF ONE mentions India in Israel, the person who immediately comes to mind is restaurateur Reena Pushkarna, whose friends turned out in force, despite the rain, for the recent launch of her new menus. They include a special children's menu, with chocolate banana ice cream as dessert, and gifts for the kids if they finish their food. Pushkarna, who recently completed her autobiography, which also includes some of her trade secrets, is trying to find time to take a trip back to India, because her publisher wants her to be photographed in an Indian spice market to enhance the authenticity of the illustrations. Actually, Pushkarna couldn't be more Indian if she tried. She is a walking advertisement for India's fashion industry, and in one of her restaurants - at Dizengoff Circle in Tel Aviv - the niches in the wall feature framed exhibits of gorgeous, ancient Indian jewelry.
  • ALTHOUGH HE hardly mentioned it, for Thai Ambassador Kasivat Paruggamanont, the 80th birthday celebration of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest reigning monarch, was also his own farewell reception, prior to taking up his new post as ambassador to Portugal, after almost five years in Israel. The reception at the spectacular Thai residence in Herzliya Pituah featured a well thought-out exhibit of the 60-year reign of the multi-talented American-born king, who has arguably done more for his people than any other ruler in history. King Bhumibol - who said at his coronation, "We shall reign with righteousness for the benefits and happiness of the Siamese people" - has dedicated his life to keeping that promise. He has initiated an extraordinary scale of development projects - some 3,000 in all - in the fields of agriculture, natural resources, energy, transportation, science and technology medicine and public health, education, religion, human self reliance, culture and sports. He is a scientific inventor, a photographer, a painter, a musician who plays saxophone, clarinet and trumpet, a composer with 48 compositions to his credit, and a polyglot who has translated major foreign works. He has traveled far and wide among his people to ensure hands-on implementation of his projects, and thinks nothing of getting down on his knees to plant a tree or to inspect marine life. Paruggamanont referred to him as "a beloved king," and said that he was respected and revered by Thais all over the world. Looking back at the bloodless coup that brought about a change of government in Thailand just over a year ago, Paruggamanont noted that the current government has kept all of its promises: there is a new constitution, and there will be free democratic elections later this month. Thai democracy is stronger today than in the past, he said, and there has been a five per cent rise in the economy. Bilateral trade with Israel has crossed the $1 billion mark. There has been a significant expansion of bilateral ties and cooperation on many levels, especially science and hi-tech, he said. A new bilateral trade agreement has now been concluded and is awaiting signature, he said. He also noted that 35,000 Thai workers have played and continue to play an important role in the dynamics of Israel's economy, and that more than 100,000 Israelis visit Thailand each year. Ruth Kahanoff of the Foreign Ministry brought the greetings of the government and people of Israel, and spoke of the long relationship between the two countries during which "we have learned to understand and appreciate each other more and more."
  • REAL ESTATE and shopping mall developer David Azrieli really enjoys giving away his money. In recent months, he's given away tens of thousands of dollars for projects and prizes in Israel. Most recently, he donated $100,000 to the city of Karmiel, which won the prize for urban planning in a contest initiated by Azrieli and run by The Council for a Beautiful Israel. Karmiel Mayor Adi Eldar accepted the prize on behalf of the city.