Grapevine: Between Buzaglo and Balashnikov

The testing of the equality of any situation in Israel in which there been negative bias is known as the “Buzaglo test.”

Netanyahu and Shapiro 370 (photo credit: Courtesy PMO)
Netanyahu and Shapiro 370
(photo credit: Courtesy PMO)
The testing of the equality of any situation in Israel in which it might seem that there has been either negative bias or undue favoritism on ethnic grounds, is known as the “Buzaglo test.”
At a time when Israelis of North African or Western Asian origin suffered discrimination at the hands of the Ashkenazi majority, the test of fairness with regard to how an individual was treated in the job market, in academia or in the law courts was known as the Buzaglo test. In some cases, it is still applicable.
For instance, despite the fact that some of Israel’s leading academics, legal figures, influential politicians and business tycoons can trace their lineage to North Africa or to west Asia, it is doubtful that someone called Buzaglo would be able to spend the night in the Finance Ministry as part of a protest demonstration, as did Avi Balashnikov, the Israeli representative of American billionaire Ronald Lauder, who has heavy investments in Israel. Balashnikov is co-chairman with Michal Grayevsky of the Channel 10 board of directors. He is also the chairman of the board of Jerusalem Capital Studios. Before becoming Lauder’s man in Israel, he was director-general of the Knesset, a position specially created for him by Dalia Itzik, who was then the Knesset speaker.
Balashnikov had been Itzik’s director- general when she was communications minister. Before that he had been vice president of the Israel Export Institute. He became a public figure in 1999 when he joined forces with cosmetics queen and former model Pnina Rosenblum in the failed attempt by her Tnufa Party to win a seat in the Knesset. But unlike many others who failed when making a first bid for the Knesset, Balashnikov did not fade into obscurity. On the contrary, he took an extended ride on the train to power, making many important contacts along the way and sometimes usurping authority.
For instance, when Itzik took over as acting president during the three-month period when president Moshe Katsav suspended himself from his official duties, Balashnikov took over as director-general of the President’s Office even though Moshe Goral, who had been Katsav’s director-general was still serving in that capacity.
All this preamble is to explain why Balashnikov, Grayevsky, and Channel 10 CEO Zeev Haldman camped in the office of Accountant- General Michal Abadi Boiangiu this week instead of outside in the cold Jerusalem night air as protesters staging demonstrations outside government offices usually do.
While Channel 10 employees did stage an external demonstration outside the Finance Ministry to protest non-payment of salaries and the potential demise of Channel 10, the trio, led by Balashnikov, was trying to reschedule Channel 10’s multi-million-dollar debt repayment to the government. Unless an agreement is reached between the parties, Channel 10’s license will not be renewed and hundreds of people will find themselves out of work.
Lauder, who has a 24-percent stake in Channel 10, has expressed willingness to funnel a further $60 million into the financially ailing enterprise – but only if some reasonable accommodation can be reached with the government.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, in an interview with Israel Radio’s Arye Golan prior to a meeting with the trio yesterday, said that there was nothing wrong with sleeping in the Finance Ministry; he had done so himself. There was a three-member team looking into the Channel 10 problem, he said. The aim was to find a solution without compromising the interests of the state.
While Balashnikov and company were able to resist efforts to remove them from the building and declared that they would remain there indefinitely, one cannot help wondering if someone named Buzaglo would be able to do the same.
■ WHEN DISASTERS hit other countries, Israel is quick to send aid. There is some degree of reciprocity, as was seen during the tragic Carmel fire in December 2010 when several countries sent firefighting teams to help.
Now, in addition to that, a group of 20 North American doctors have pledged their readiness to be “drafted” to help Israel in times of national emergency. The physicians made their pledge on election day in the course of a tour of Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. The physicians promised that they would be ready to take the places of Israeli doctors in times of national crisis, such as war, when Israeli surgeons and physicians may be called up for reserve duty on the battlefront. The physicians were particularly impressed with Rambam’s emergency room and the Sammy Ofer Fortified Underground Emergency Hospital.
“I’ve spent several years trying to learn best practices in emergency department disaster preparedness,” said Dr. Peter Sananman of Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. “This was a great opportunity to learn best-in-class systems and processes from those who’ve learned from experience.”
The delegation was sent to Rambam by the American Physicians Fellowship for Medicine in Israel, which has a flagship program in which fellowships are granted to Israeli doctors for advanced clinical training in the US and Canada. The APF also sends members to Israel for an Emergency and Disaster Management Course offered in conjunction with the Health Ministry and the IDF Medical Corps.
The APF is the only North American body designated by the State of Israel to maintain an Emergency Medical Volunteer Registry. Registry members took part in a nationwide Israeli drill testing the healthcare system’s preparedness for a massive earthquake.
“Their response to the simulated call-up was phenomenal,” says APF Israel director Dr. Amir Blumenfeld.
“Sixty-eight physicians immediately volunteered to be in Israel within 48 hours.”
■ SOME PEOPLE keep news of great expectations suppressed until the status of pregnancy becomes impossible to deny. British Ambassador Matthew Gould has no such reservations. When he first came to Israel, he mentioned the fact that he and his wife, Celia, were expecting a baby almost every time he gave a public address. Well, it appears that Rachel is now going to have a sister. The Goulds are also particularly pleased after an absence of several months while the ambassador’s official residence underwent intensive renovations. Not so long ago Gould also moved back to the British Embassy, which he had also temporarily vacated while it was being upgraded into a state-of-the-art facility.
■ GOULD WAS one of the few non- American diplomats who showed up at US Ambassador Dan Shapiro’s celebration of democracy party at the Dan Panorama hotel on Tuesday night. Election fever was running high and the hotel banquet room had been transformed into a piece of Americana.
The far wall behind the bandstand was studded with red, white and blue balloons that combined to form a US mega-flag. At the entrance to the banquet hall, life-sized cardboard cutouts of the two main presidential candidates attracted a lot of attention and many of the guests posed for posterity photos between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.The strategically placed and constantly replenished buffets from one end of the room to the other were laden with fare as American as apple pie and chocolate brownies. There were hamburgers, hot dogs,sweet corn, pickles, coleslaw, sauerkraut and popcorn dispensers.
The very loud bands played American music, and there was also some spontaneous square dancing. Patriotic American expats walked around with large buttons bearing the name of the candidate they favored while large screens tuned to CNN brought America right into the room. Some of the guests who wanted to get a broader view of the elections, albeit from a smaller screen, sat glued to their laptops or tablets. Although there was a happy, relaxed atmosphere inside, with trivia games and cartoons as part of the entertainment, there was a surfeit of security outside as well as in the lobby. Guests who came with invitations in their hands, and whose names had been per-registered by the embassy, still had to submit to metal detectors and very thorough manual inspection of bags. Part of the hotel had been cordoned off to prevent unauthorized entry, but there were still some people who managed to evade the security detail and gatecrash. Instead of wearing a candidate’s button, politically correct Shapiro sported a binational pin on his lapel featuring the flags of the US and Israel. Having been asked many times how the results of the elections would impact on US-Israel relations, Shapiro underscored that “the relationship between the US and Israel is and will remain strong because it is the American people, as well as the American government, that supports a flourishing, secure, Jewish, democratic State of Israel.” Regardless of who won, he said, “the US-Israel relationship is based on America’s unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security, demonstrated by our robust military assistance, our joint development of military technologies and our intelligence cooperation and joint military exercises.”
He also noted that America is Israel’s largest trading partner, importing $25 billion in goods annually and directly employing 60,000 Israelis through American companies based in Israel.
Shapiro, an undisguised feminist, said: “The president of the United States is an almost unique figure among international leaders. Unlike in many systems, he serves as both a head of state and a head of government.
He is both a leader, and a symbol of our country. And I look forward eagerly to the day when I can say, ‘She is a leader and symbol of our country.’”
■ AMERICAN AMBASSADORS who previously served in Israel often return. Sam Lewis has been back several times, as have Martin Indyk and Dan Kurtzer. Thomas Pickering, who served as ambassador from 1985- 1988, and who later in his career was the 17th Undersecretary of State serving in the position from 1997-2000, will be in Israel next week to deliver a lecture on Wednesday to the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He will talk about global developments and their influence on the Middle East.
■ IN THE game of philanthropic musical chairs, in which the more affluent members of Israeli society get together again and again to contribute to a variety of cultural and social welfare causes, most of the same people once more found themselves in familiar clusters at a gala evening in the Recanati Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum in aid of the establishment of a new wing for treatment of kidney diseases, kidney transplants and the treatment of high blood pressure for the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus in Petah Tikva. The treat was a concert featuring Gil Shohat, Shlomi Shaban, Mira Awad and Hadar Atari backed by the Elysium Ensemble and preceded by a gala reception. Friends of the Rabin Medical Center, headed by Pini Cohen, contributed a total of NIS 3.6m. The event, held close to the anniversary of Rabin’s assassination, was made more poignant by the introduction of an original work in Rabin’s memory, which had been composed by Shohat at Cohen’s request. The occasion was also utilized to honor businessman, cultural activist and philanthropist Yoram Petrushka in recognition of and appreciation for all he has done on behalf of the center.
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