Grapevine: Diplomacy in the air

This month Canadian Chargé d’Affaires James A. Fox will host a reception in honor of former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney and his wife, Mila.

Canada (photo credit: Wikicommons)
(photo credit: Wikicommons)
Diplomacy is definitely in the air.
Aside from visits this week by Czech President Milos Zeman and Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, there were visits by several senior ministers from the governments of various countries.
In addition, President Shimon Peres on Thursday morning accepted the credentials of five new envoys: Eamonn McKee of Ireland; Patrick Maisonnave of France; Max Haber-Neumann of Paraguay; Henrique da Silveira Sardinha Pinto of Brazil; and Bulgaa Altangerel of Mongolia.
While all this was happening, Italian Ambassador Francesco Maria Talo was at Yad Vashem attending a ceremony in memory of Gino Bartali, who has been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.
In the evening, Spanish Ambassador Fernando Carderera Soler hosted a National Day reception at his residence in Herzliya Pituah; while Ambassador Liang-jen Chang celebrated the National Day of the Republic of China (Taiwan) at Tel Aviv’s Sheraton Hotel.
Next week, Nigerian Ambassador David Oladipo Obasa, Cypriot Ambassador Dimitris Hatziargyrou and Chinese Ambassador Gao Yanping will be hosting their respective National Day receptions.
Then on Monday, October 21, the World Jewish Congress will open its annual conference in Jerusalem, with a symposium moderated by Avi Primor, a retired ambassador who is now president of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations and director of the Trilateral Center for European Studies at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. Panelists will include WJC president Ronald S. Lauder, who is a former US ambassador to Austria; US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, who will talk about the view from Washington; Russian Ambassador Sergey Yakovlev, who will discuss Moscow; and German Ambassador Andreas Michaelis, who will cover Berlin.
The next day, Canadian Chargé d’Affaires James A. Fox will host a reception in honor of former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney and his wife, Mila.
On Thursday, October 24, The Jerusalem Post will host its second annual Diplomatic Conference at the Daniel Hotel in Herzliya, with the participation of Peres, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and British Ambassador Matthew Gould.
Then, that evening, Austrian Ambassador Franz Josef Kuglitsch will host his country’s National Day reception at his residence in Herzliya Pituah.
Meanwhile, Uruguay’s Ambassador Bernardo Griever is getting ready for a hectic five days starting October 27, when his country’s Vice President Danilo Astori begins an official visit to Israel.
Lastly, this month, the Australian Embassy in conjunction with the Australian-headquartered Pratt Foundation and the Beersheba Municipality will on Thursday, October 31, hold the annual commemoration service to mark the 96th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba. In this battle, Ottoman forces were defeated by members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps serving in the Light Horse Brigade, together with British troops.
This is just a short list. There are many other diplomatic events taking place during the remainder of this month.
■ MEMBERS OF Israel’s Lithuanian community came together twice this week to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto. On Monday they attended a special memorial ceremony at Yad Vashem, and on Tuesday they congregated again at Beit Hatfutsot, which Lithuanian Ambassador Darius Degutis characterized as a place where Litvaks feel at home.
Before Degutis addressed the crowd, Dan Tadmor head of Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People, spoke of one of the most famous of Holocaust-era Litvaks, who as a leader of the resistance fighters against the Nazis issued a manifesto to the residents of the Vilna Ghetto, in which he wrote: “Let us not go like lambs to the slaughter.”
The resistance leader was renowned partisan and Hebrew poet Abba Kovner. He survived the war and came to Israel, where he became an influential figure, and it was he who conceived the continuing research monument to the past, present and future of the Jewish people that is known as Beit Hatfutsot. This is one of the reasons for the unbreakable relationship between Beit Hatfutsot, the Lithuanian community in Israel and the Lithuanian Embassy.
Degutis, who has been in Israel for a little over four years, said this was somewhere in the vicinity of the 20th event he had attended at Beit Hatfutsot. When he first came to Israel, he said, he made it his business to quickly meet up with Lithuania’s three honorary consuls, Haim Ariel, Amos Eiran and Amnon Dotan, who were present at the event, along with Joseph A.
Melamed, chairman of the Association off Lithuanian Jews in Israel; Michael Schemiavitz, chairman of the Association of Jews from Vilna and Vicinity in Israel; and Mickey Kantor, deputy chairman of the Vilna Association.
Lithuanian Deputy Minister of Culture Darius MaÏintas, who is also an internationally acclaimed young pianist, told Lithuanian expats and Israeli Friends of Lithuania both at Yad Vashem and Beit Hatfutsot that the Lithuanian government is trying to make amends for a painful past, by preserving the memory of the Holocaust, teaching its history and promoting the Jewish cultural heritage that once flourished in Lithuania.
Lithuanian opera singer Rafailas Karpis, who has a magnificent voice and also happens to be Jewish, has collected an extensive repertoire of Yiddish songs – more than a dozen of which he sang in superbly enunciated Lithuanian Yiddish to the piano accompaniment by MaÏintas. The two presented encore after encore, and the crowd could have happily listened to them all night.
The audience also heard from Julija Sukys, the author of the award-winning, bestselling book Epistolophilia, which through the letters she wrote and received, tells the life story of Ona Simaite, a Lithuanian gentile who managed to get into the Vilna Ghetto on the pretext that she was collecting unreturned library books. Simaite smuggled food and medicines into the ghetto, and smuggled children out.
Sukys, who lives in Canada but was born in Lithuania, was doing some research work in Lithuania when she accidentally came across a pile of letters written by Simaite – who has been honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. Delving through them, she was astonished by the details. This led her on a quest from Vilnius to Paris to Israel, to learn what she could about Simaite, who had lived in all these places. The end result was a prize-winning book.
Degutis acknowledged that up until recent years, relations between the Lithuanian authorities and the country’s Jewish community left something to be desired, but over the past decade there has been considerable improvement in terms of building trust and creating bridges. He credited much of this to his immediate predecessor, Asta Skaisgiryte-Liauskiene.
■ AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR Dave Sharma, who is the father of three very young daughters, has a soft spot in his heart for children. When he read of nine-year-old Noam Glick of Psagot being attacked by a terrorist, he decided to do something to cheer her up. On Monday he sent a driver with a gift to Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, where Noam was hospitalized.
The driver was transporting a stuffed kangaroo, a bouquet of flowers and a personal letter to Glick, in which Sharma wrote how sad he had been to hear about the shooting that took place in her home last Friday night and of the injury she had suffered. He told her she was a brave, courageous girl, expressing the wish she would make a full recovery and the hope she would be cheered up by the flowers and the little kangaroo from Australia, which would remind her that people in other parts of the world were thinking of her.
Neither Sharma nor his driver were aware, when the car set out for Jerusalem, that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef had passed away.
The driver, who frequently travels to the capital, had a terrible time reaching his destination, because so many roads were closed or blocked. It was only later that he discovered why.
Thankfully, Glick has since been released from hospital.
■ ALTHOUGH HE has been in Israel for four months, it was not until Monday night that Sharma and his wife, Rachel, were given an official welcome by the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, which works very closely with the Australian Embassy and always welcomes new ambassadors with a gala dinner. Jewish holidays and the ambassador’s busy schedule got in the way of an earlier welcome.
Monday night’s event at the Azrieli Center Circular Tower in Tel Aviv was sponsored by James Richardson Duty-Free enterprises, which are represented in Israel by chairman Gary Stock. He was present along with other Australian expats and Australians who commute regularly to Israel, as well as Israelis who do business in or with the country, and representatives of institutions that receive support from Australian friends.
Among them were Anne and George Fink, who commute back and forth; Simon Fisher of Save a Child’s Heart, which counts the Finks among its supporters; Uri Aldubi, chairman of the Association of Oil and Gas Industry Exploration in Israel; Isaac Shariv of the Weizmann Institute of Science; Ze’ev Slonim, general manager of Desert Cube; Andy Michelson of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund; and Danny Catarivas of the Israel Manufacturers Association.
There were also members of the embassy, among them Second Secretary Alex McCauley; Third Secretary Ben Rhee; immigration officer Abdullah Azar, who has served under a series of Australian ambassadors; and Esti Sherbelis, the evercheerful and highly efficient personal assistant to the ambassador.
In welcoming the guests, AICC executive director Paul Israel spoke of the constant stream of visitors from Australia who are hosted by the organization. Coming up in less than two weeks is a delegation headed by the Victorian minister for resources and energy, and next month there will be another trade delegation from Western Australia.
Israel also spoke of the activities of the sister organization in Australia, and highlighted some of the events conducted by branches in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth. He also reviewed the AICC’s manifold activities over the past year, and the diversity of members of trade and academic delegations from Australia.
Sharma observed that one of Australia’s longest-standing and multifaceted bilateral relationships is with Israel. He also talked about the tremendous contribution that members of Australia’s Jewish community have made to business, civil society and academia, and through these activities to the bilateral relationship.
Yet for all that, he noted, there is still immense potential for greater collaboration in hi-tech, oil, gas, agriculture and water.
“We have a new government in Australia keen to do more with Israel, so if we – government and business – work together, we will be pushing on an open door,” said Sharma.
The ambassador also credit to his wife, Rachel – who is accomplished in her own right, having advised a federal cabinet minister and most recently, having spearheaded Australia’s successful campaign to be elected to the UN Security Council. Their three daughters, he said, already consider themselves to be a little Israeli – judging by the smattering of Hebrew now heard throughout the house, plus their embrace of Jewish festivals and holidays such as Succot and Yom Kippur, and love of felafel, humous and Israeli breakfast.
Sharma is Australia’s youngest ambassador anywhere in the world, and people in Israel often look for someone more senior in age when they shake his hand at a reception, and then “wait to meet the ambassador” – not realizing they’ve already met him.
AICC chairwoman Dr. Orna Berry said she could relate to this very well, because during her period as chief scientist, people tended to look past her simply because she was a woman – and they expected a man.
Just as a matter of interest, the combined achievements of women scientists in Israel are nothing short of amazing.
■ THE FIRST official function for Bar-Ilan University’s new president Daniel Herschkowitz last Sunday was to welcome Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was making his fourth appearance there, delivering an address only a few days after speaking to the UN General Assembly.
In congratulating Herschkowitz on his appointment, Netanyahu referred to him as a Renaissance man, and said he had been an excellent science and technology minister in Netanyahu’s previous government.
He was confident Herschkowitz would know how to balance budgets and solve problems related to the new issues he will be facing.
Herschkowitz, who has a PhD. in math, recalled that during his term as science and technology minister, Netanyahu more than once requested he challenge him with a mathematical problem. “The prime minister was always able to hold his own,” quipped Herschkowitz.
Now, in his new role, he noted a number of important contributions that Bar-Ilan University has made to the advancement of the State of Israel, including the development of an engine which runs on water, medical drug delivery robots, bringing top Israeli scientists home from abroad, developing the periphery with regional colleges throughout the country, improving medical care at regional hospitals in the North via the establishment of the university’s Faculty of Medicine in the Galilee, and more.
“I envision Bar-Ilan University as a beacon of light not only in the State of Israel, but throughout the world – in science, ethics and values,” he said.
Prior to becoming a politician and preceding Naftali Bennett as chairman of Bayit Yehudi, Herschkowitz was dean of the Faculty of Mathematics at the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology. He also served as dean of continued education and external studies and chairman of the Academic Faculty Union.
On November 3, his installation as university president will be celebrated at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue, where he will deliver the Shabbat sermon.
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