Grapevine: A sign of things to come?

Two major obstacles to greater successes in tourism are geo-political situation and Israel is a more expensive tourist destination than Europe.

tourisme 1710 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
tourisme 1710 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
It has long been a tradition for of the Israel Hotels Association to host a reception for new members of Knesset and to familiarize them to some extent with Israel’s tourism industry and its importance to Israel’s economy.
Thus, the IHA arranged to have a breakfast reception at the Leonardo Hotel in Jerusalem. The event was called for 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday.
Fourteen new MKs signified that they would attend. A solid representation of the IHA directorate showed up well ahead of time. The top brass of the hotel was also on time. Tables had been laid out with a sumptuous breakfast and several journalists showed up MK Mordechai Yogev of Bayit Yehudi came on time, with MK Mickey Levy of Yesh Atid and MK Moshe Mizrachi of Labor trailing in a little later.
Everyone stood around waiting...and waiting and waiting. The television crews bombarded Levy, who wore a suit and looked good on camera. He gave his interview and left. Yogev and Mizrachi stayed, but both were obviously embarrassed at the absence of their colleagues. Yogev had another appointment and was on tenterhooks waiting to make his exit but was too polite to go before the speeches. He did leave immediately afterwards. Only Mizrachi stayed to apologize for his colleagues and to tell IHA president Ami Federmann and IHA director general Shmuel Tzurel that as someone who originally came from Tiberias, he fully understands Israel’s tourism potential and that he had found what Federmann and Tzurel had to say informative and instructive.
Tzurel told Yogev and Mizrachi that whenever there were new MKs it was a matter of urgency to get them to become the willing ear of the IHA both in good times and bad. Federmann, who had apparently prepared for the worst, declared that it had been his intention to go ahead with the program even if only one MK came. He explained how tourism is the saving grace of Israel’s economy because it is almost the only industry in which the need for human resources keeps increasing, whereas in other industries technology is usurping tasks that were once executed by humans. But for all the loss of employment in other industries, tourism, both incoming and domestic, is on the rise, necessitating more hotels, restaurants and tourist services and attractions, with positive impact directly and indirectly on growth in job opportunities.
The two major obstacles to greater successes in tourism are the geo-political situation, over which Israel has no control, and the fact that Israel is a much more expensive tourist destination than Europe. But this is because costs in Israel are much higher for hotel operators, said Federmann, explaining that if hotels were permitted to pay the same rates and taxes as hotels of equivalent size and standards in Europe, prices for rooms could be radically reduced and, in the final analysis, the government would benefit because tourists would come to Israel and spend more money. What is currently having a long-term negative impact on tourism said Federmann, is that there is no government, and therefore no budget, and therefore no government funding available for marketing Israel as a tourist destination. The pinch of this will be felt not only in the coming summer he said, but also next winter and the summer after.
■ CONTROVERSIAL THINKER Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who never hesitated to say what was on his mind and who was harshly critical of Israel’s territorial policies and attitudes to the Palestinians, remains a controversial figure 19 years after his death. Just as there was a howl of objection over his receiving the Israel Prize after he called on Israeli soldiers stationed in the territories to refuse to obey orders, with prime minister Yitzhak Rabin threatening to boycott the awards ceremony, there is now controversy over naming a street in Jerusalem after him, even though he lived in the city for well over half a century and spent most of that time teaching biochemistry, neurophysiology, philosophy and the history of science at the Hebrew University.
He saved the Israel Prize committee the embarrassment of cancelling the award by refusing to accept it because he wanted to avoid antagonism; but he invited antagonism by continuing to voice and publish his political opinions.
This week, Channel 8, the documentary channel, with the cooperation of Leibowitz’s family, began a series on his life, proving that much of what he foresaw as an outcome of Israel’s policies became an unfortunate reality.
One of his grandsons, when interviewed on Israel Radio, commented on the irony that Leibowitz, who had been strictly Orthodox in his religious beliefs, couldn’t talk to the people with whom he could eat and couldn’t eat with the people with whom he could talk. His views on occupation and territory were considered radical by the religiously observant and enlightening by left-wing secularists.
■ ALSO ON Israel Radio, author, playwright, screen writer and translator Nava Semel was the guest hostess on the weekly “My Week” program on which she mentioned her late father, Yitzhak Artzi, a Holocaust survivor and member of Knesset who had taught his children that when you rise high in any sphere, put a pebble in your shoe to constantly remind yourself where you come from.
■ CONSIDERING THAT this is an election year, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is taking a big risk in once again closing so many of the capital’s streets for the international Jerusalem Marathon this Friday.
The closure gives a whole new meaning to “sharing the burden,” in that it’s always the same areas in the city that are affected by the marathon, the Succot parade and visits by presidents of the United States and Russia. There's no reason why the routes of the marathon and the Succot parade couldn’t be alternated every year.
Even though the municipality has spent a fortune on advertisements in which it advises the public to do its Sabbath shopping at Mahaneh Yehuda Market during the week instead of on Friday, many people prefer to shop on Fridays, either because they want the freshest possible produce on the table, or because they combine shopping with meeting friends in town for coffee or brunch. Thousands of people will be affected.
Downtown Jerusalem will be paralyzed on Friday as far as cars and buses go. One can only imagine how much business merchants will lose. In a sense, Barkat is in the same position Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was in before the Knesset election last month. Netanyahu was a shoo-in for prime minister and, with the exception of Labor, the parties that are now giving him a hard time recommended him as their choice for premier at their respective meetings with President Shimon Peres. No other name was proposed.
A few weeks prior to the Knesset election, local government pundits in Jerusalem were bandying around names of possible rivals to Barkat as he runs for his second term as mayor. Among the options they came up with were Nahman Shai, Mickey Levy, Dalia Itzik, Arye Deri and Meir Porush. Itzik has declared her retirement from politics, though she still has time to change her mind. Shai, Deri, Levy and Porush were all elected to Knesset and it is unlikely that they will risk their Knesset status to run against Barkat and possibly lose.
That currently leaves Barkat as the sole candidate, though there are rumors that Meir Turgeman, once Barkat’s ally and now his opponent, is considering running against him.
Someone else on the Jerusalem City Council who’s risking the displeasure of the electorate is Senior Deputy Mayor Yaacov Kahlon, who is a brother to outgoing Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon. The Jerusalem representative of the family wants to remove all the single story houses lining the light rail route in Kiryat Yovel and replace them with high-rise buildings. In the days of mayor Teddy Kollek, the height of residential buildings, with some rare exceptions, was limited to four stories, and one of the selling points available to real estate agents was the magnificent view of the Judean desert. Depending on location, it’s difficult these days to see the Judean desert even from a penthouse.
All the charm of Jerusalem is disappearing under its new guise of the Manhattan of the Middle East, a title that is even more suitable for Tel Aviv. But the character of Jerusalem, which was always different from that of Tel Aviv, is beginning to blend, and once buildings start going up along the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, as they eventually will, the blurring of identity will be complete.
■ IT WAS a wasted effort for anyone who got dressed up for the official opening last week of Jerusalem’s Ice City, which is a project of the Jerusalem Municipality’s Ariel Company and is sponsored by Isracard. In the -6ºC temperature, everyone had to don special thermo overalls to protect them from the cold. Among those who marveled at the fascinating ice sculptures and installations as well as the breathtaking icecapades by the highly talented Chinese performers, were members of the Isracard board of directors, including chairwoman Irit Izakson and CEO Dov Kotler, who were accompanied by Mayor Nir Barkat, discount supermarket king Rami Levi and celebrity chef Shaul Ben- Aderet.
This the second consecutive year in which Isracard has sponsored the Ice City Festival, which will remain afloat until the end of April. Kotler said that he was proud to be associated with the project, noting that Isracard had found a good partner in the Jerusalem Municipality. Barkat, who will be wearing considerably less when he runs in Friday’s marathon, said that the Ice City was yet another good reason for people from all over the country to visit the capital.
Holders of Isracard credit cards who are registered for the Tohnit Hamaslulim (Routes Program) or who have recently joined the Isracard family can receive handsome discounts for both the exhibition and the acrobatics on ice show, and will be charged NIS 40 per ticket instead of NIS 70 ■ AFTER PROVOKING the ire of a small group of extremists among Beitar Jerusalem football fans by bringing two Muslim players from Chechnya to Jerusalem to join the team, team owner Arcadi Gaydamak went a step further and last week hosted Chechen Vice President Adam Delimkhanov, who paid a brief visit to Israel. Gaydamak, who usually appears in public in a suit and tie, was casually dressed when he went to fetch Delimkhanov from the King David Hotel, and Delimkhanov was equally casually attired.
■ IT’S NOT the first time in his life that President Shimon Peres has woken up with egg on his face. In Knesset elections Peres was defeated by Menachem Begin and Binyamin Netanyahu, and in presidential elections by Moshe Katsav. However, since becoming president, Peres has fared rather well and has said many times that he much prefers being president to being a politician. When he was prime minister or held other ministerial portfolios and asked for something, the reply was more often negative than positive. As president, he gets more positive than negative responses. Last weekend proved to be an exception when Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub said no to a proposal that a combined Israeli-Palestinian soccer team play a friendly game against Barcelona to promote the concept that soccer tears down political barriers. Peres and Barcelona president Sandro Rosell announced the match with great media fanfare last Thursday, and on Friday Rajoub rained on their parade. While conceding that it was a good idea, Rajoub said that it could only happen if the occupation ends. That’s not quite true, because Palestinians and Israelis have been playing soccer together for some years now under the auspices of the Peres Peace Center.
■ IT’S RARE for any head of a foreign mission to hold a national day reception on a Friday, especially in the winter, when the Sabbath comes in early, but one of the exceptions to the rule was Estonian Ambassador Malle Talvet- Mustonen, who celebrated the 95th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia with a reception at the Sky Lobby of HaYovel Tower in Tel Aviv. The event included an exhibition of 85 years of Jewish cultural autonomy in Estonia. Rafael Schutz, deputy director general for Europe’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, members of foreign diplomatic missions, former Estonians and various people from different fields with whom the embassy has contacts were among the guests.
Schutz , speaking on behalf of the transitional government, noted the excellent bilateral and wide-ranging ties between the two countries. He recalled that Israel was among the first countries to recognize the newly independent Estonia in 1991 and emphasized that Israel appreciates the firm support that Estonia has provided in international forums, including at the UN, the EU and NATO.
Speaking from the heart, Talvet- Mustonen focused mainly on the exhibition, saying how glad she was that young people still feel strongly connected with the country their parents came from.
She specifically referred to two young people, Ron and Birgitta who performed the two national anthems, which, according to Jerusalem Post music critic Maxim Reider, was the most moving moment of the reception. Talvet- Mustonen , an Estonian diplomat of the new generation, was recruited to serve her country 20 years ago when Estonia gained independence from the Soviet Union. She is married to internationally renowned violinist-cumconductor Andres Mustonen, who has been participating in important Israeli cultural events, including the Israel Festival, since the mid-1980s.
■ IN AN Internet age in which so much conflicting and corroborating information appears on the web, it’s difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction. Last week there was an item in this column, based on an email received about the opinions of members of the American Secret Service about presidents, first ladies and vice presidents, in which there were highly unflattering remarks about US President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. According to Julie Fisher, wife of US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, we were misled by what she termed “a viral email that contained some real quotes from [Ronald] Kessler’s book and some fabricated quotes.”
What tipped her off, she wrote, was the quote about Obama’s temper tantrums. “Whether someone agrees with his policies or not, he is widely known to be a very calm person who is unbelievably thoughtful. He is the very opposite of someone who would have ‘temper tantrums,’” she wrote, adding “there are so many people in Israel who spread falsehoods about President Obama; it would be very sad to see this quote being taken as fact if indeed it is fabricated.
I know it must be hard in your line of work to figure out what is based on fact and what is not.”
Fisher went to a great deal of trouble to research the quotes and to prove that while some were indeed genuine, those pertaining to Obama, Spiro Agnew and Bill Clinton were not, according to an interview given by the book’a author, who was asked about the quotes that have been circulating via the Internet. Fisher is unfortunately correct in her assessment about Israelis spreading falsehoods about Obama. The feedback on the column that contained the inaccurate quotes was indicative not only of how quickly Israelis are prepared to hear anything that will tarnish his image, but also of how much they enjoy the dirt.
■BRINKMANSHIP IS an important component of diplomacy. Thus it must have given Dutch Ambassador Caspar Veldkamp a diplomatic ego rub, after President Shimon Peres called on the European Union to place Hezbollah on its list of terror organizations, to be able to tell Israel Radio that Holland had placed Hezbollah on its list of terror organizations five years ago ■ ‘JERUSALEM POST’ health and science reporter Judy Siegel Itzkovich will be among the honorees at the annual Tishkofet Gala Dinner at The Avenue on Sunday, March 10. She will receive the Health Awareness for the Public and Community Award. This is not the first time that Itzkovich has been recognized for her contribution to promoting awareness on health issues. Among her other prestigious awards is that of Woman of Distinction in the field of journalism, which was presented to her at a special awards ceremony at the Knesset in 1997 by Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.
■ PAST AND present members of the Sam Orbaum Jerusalem Scrabble Club should save the date in their diaries for the club’s 30th anniversary, which will be celebrated on Thursday, April 11 with a dinner at the Olive and Fish Restaurant and again on Tuesday, April 16, when the weekly Tuesday night club session begins a half hour early so that players can raise their glasses in a champagne toast to the late Sam Orbaum, whose passion for Scrabble led to the creation of what is believed to be the largest Scrabble club in the world, with a consistent attendance of at least 50 people since the club’s launch in a Jerusalem hotel on April 5, 1983. The most consistent player is Sara Shachter, who hardly ever misses a session and, at age 97, remains as formidable a player as ever.
Orbaum, a witty and prolific writer and features editor at The Jerusalem Post, moved to Israel from his native Montreal before succumbing to cancer in 2002 at age 46 after a long battle with the disease. But almost until the end he was the energetic and enthusiastic organizer of Scrabble events in Jerusalem and beyond. When he arrived in Israel and discovered that there was no organized Scrabble Club, he arranged for a Scrabble tournament in Tiberias.
Shachter was among the players who attended and who subsequently told him that he must form a Scrabble Club in Jerusalem.
And the rest is history. Players of all ages, creeds and ethnic backgrounds have attended, with teenagers pitting their skills against opponents old enough to be their great-grandparents. Players have come up with amazing words and scores, and what is most remarkable is how many of the players who in the early years of the club did not count English as their native tongue can beat the pants off many native Englishspeakers.