Grapevine: ‘English is not our mother tongue’

The popularity of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman should not be underestimated, regardless of the surveys taken by political analysts.

The Kollek family 370 (photo credit: The Jerusalem Foundation)
The Kollek family 370
(photo credit: The Jerusalem Foundation)
■ THE POPULARITY of Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman should not be underestimated, regardless of the surveys taken by political analysts.
After news reports throughout the day on Tuesday carried references to Liberman’s possible indictment, he showed up at the King David Hotel on Tuesday night to attend the reception hosted by Japanese Ambassador Hideo Sato in honor of visiting Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and was instantly surrounded by admirers who toasted his wellbeing and wished him luck. Later, when he was summoned to the dais to make a speech, there was a loud and spontaneous ovation as he took his place behind the microphone.
Though smartly groomed and dressed as always in a well-cut, expensive suit, Liberman is not averse to using street tactics despite his suave image. Something was amiss with the hotel microphones.
Gemba had trouble with the microphone, as did Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and a member of the Japanese Embassy staff who acted as master of ceremonies. When Liberman started to talk, there were murmurs of “Can’t hear you” from the crowd. He spat vigorously into the microphone – and it worked fine.
Both Liberman and Rivlin, who addressed the guests after Gemba delivered his speech, announced that they were not going to be politically correct. Alluding to Gemba’s difficulties in pronunciation, Rivlin said: “What we have in common is that English is not our mother tongue.”
Commenting on the long friendship between the two countries currently celebrating the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties, Rivlin said “...though from time to time there are some comments – especially from you to us.” Then, taking on a more serious tone, he went on to the return of the Jewish people to their historic homeland which, he said, “is also the homeland of those born here – and we have to respect that, but they also have to respect that we have returned to our homeland and established a Jewish and democratic state.”
Lieberman was even more politically incorrect than Rivlin, to the obvious amusement of Gemba and other Japanese dignitaries in the room.
Referring to the vibrant democracies of both countries and the frequent parliamentary motions of no confidence in the government, Liberman said: “We both have enjoyed so many governments that sometimes it seems like overdoing.” Japanese culture, Liberman continued, has become so ingrained in Israel that Israelis have become champions in judo and karate and hold the European championship in judo. Israel has also become “a world power in sushi” he declared, saying that he preferred the blue and white sushi of Tel Aviv to that of Tokyo. He recommended that Gemba try it. In a reference to the long-standing and unresolved territorial dispute between Japan and Russia, Liberman said to Gemba: “You have a small problem with a big neighbor – Russia, and we have a big problem with a small neighbor – the Palestinians. I wish we could exchange problems, but [more than that] I wish we could resolve all our problems without threats.”
Earlier, Gemba, who came to the reception after paying a condolence call to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, noted that Israel had been one of the first countries to establish relations with Japan after the World War II. He was pleased that as an outcome of visas issued by Japanese consul in Lithuania Chiune Shugihara, several thousand Jewish people had been able to migrate to Japan and some of them had later contributed to the establishment of the State of Israel. Among them was Nina Admoni, who was one of the guests at the reception. Both Israel and Japan surprised the world with their achievements, said Gemba, who attributed the accomplishments of both countries to national character traits of diligence and an emphasis on education and advanced technology.
Japan would not forget Israel’s assistance in response to last year’s massive earthquake, he said.
Gemba, who also met with Palestinian and Jordanian leaders during his visit to the region, reiterated Japan’s political and economic commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and said that Japan would continue to contribute to the corridor for peace and prosperity, which is a joint economic venture between Japan, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority and is usually referred to as the “peace valley,” and urged Israel and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.
In his meetings with Liberman and Netanyahu, Gemba also discussed Israel’s initiative of railways construction on the Sinai peninsula to connect the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea to complement the function of the Suez Canal; Israel’s discovery of natural gas in the Mediterranean Sea; an Israeli-developed multi-layered missile defense system; the Iranian nuclear issue; developments in Egypt, Syrian unrest and bilateral defense cooperation and exchange. Gemba invited Netanyahu to visit Japan soon.
At the reception, Gemba made a beeline for Defense Minister Ehud Barak, whom he had met when Barak visited Japan in February. The chemistry between the two men was unmistakable, and Barak facilitated most of the introductions between Gemba and various invited guests.
■ THEY WERE born a year apart in the month of May. Last year was the 100th anniversary of the birth of legendary long-time Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of his good friend, Axel Springer. Kollek died in Jerusalem in January 2007.
Springer died in Berlin in September 1986. Springer, a well-known journalist, was the founder of Axel Springer AG multimedia publishing company whose assets include numerous newspapers and magazines, among them Bild and Die Welt, which do so much to inform and influence German public opinion. Today the company controls more than 230 newspapers and magazines and more than 80 online publications.
Springer, partly through his close friendship with Kollek and partly because of his liberal weltanschauung was a great advocate for reconciliation between Germans and Jews and for the rights of the State of Israel. Both these factors figured in to the many projects that he supported through the Jerusalem Foundation.
This week a group of German journalists working for Axel Springer publications happened to be in Israel on what would have been Springer’s 100th birthday and decided to pay respects both to him and Kollek at Kollek’s graveside on Mount Herzl.
The date also coincided with the 152nd anniversary of Herzl’s birth.
Kollek, who was named after Theodor Herzl, was born in Nagyvázsony, 120 km from Budapest; Herzl was born in Budapest. Kollek grew up in Vienna and Herzl’s family moved to Vienna when he was 18.
Joining the Springer group at Kollek’s grave were members of the Kollek family along with president of the Jerusalem Foundation Mark Sofer and other JF representatives. Kollek’s filmmaker son, Amos Kollek, recalled the close friendship between Springer and his father saying Springer was probably Teddy’s best friend in Germany.
They met during Teddy’s first year as mayor of Jerusalem. Teddy, who was a remarkable if unofficial tour guide, drove Springer around the city. This was before unification, and in order to catch a glimpse of the other side of the divided capital, they had to go up to the roof of the old Municipality building, which was less than a 100 meters away from the Jordanian border, the Old City walls and the Jordanian snipers. Kollek had told Springer that Jewish Jerusalem residents had begged him to move the municipality to a safer place in the western part of the city but that he had adamantly refused. He believed Jerusalem would be reunited one day, and then the bullet-riddled building of City Hall would be at its center. Amos Kollek believes that it was this factor that contributed greatly to the special relationship between his father and Springer, who lived and worked in Berlin.
“He had a special burning passion for that city. He thought it was the key to reuniting Germany, which was his most important goal.” Springer had built his office, an imposing tall golden tower, right on the borderline between East and West Berlin, during the Cold War. It stood on Jerusalem Road, a street that had been named after the synagogue that had once stood there. He, too, believed his city would one day be united and with it, the whole of Germany. Both men had tremendous passion for their cities, and also for their symbolic roles. Both saw unifying their cities as their major tasks, said Amos Kollek.
“They shared total commitments to their causes and fought for them.”
Springer’s devotion to Israel was quite unique, said Amos. “He seemed to have taken it upon himself to do anything within his power to support Israel in every way he could and this was imposed also on all the people who worked on his newspapers.”
Over the years Springer contributed to many varied projects and causes in Jerusalem, and his donations were quite substantial. Amos Kollek cited as examples The Israel Museum, the Academy of Music, the Sheich Jarrah Health Care Center, The Konrad Adenauer Conference Center, Neve Ya’acov Community Center; the Jerusalem Theater, the Khan Theater, Akim Community Centers, the renovation of several synagogues, churches and mosques, the German Hospice in the Old City, the Nature Museum, the Van Leer Institute, health education for Arab women, the Youth Wing at the Rockefeller Museum, the Spinoza Seminar, aid to Holocaust survivors, the Arab Library, and much more.
Springer wasn’t happy that the mayor of Jerusalem was living in a three-story walk up apartment and wanted to build a house for Teddy and Tamar Kollek in Yemin Moshe, but the offer was refused. Teddy Kollek explained that he was the mayor of a poor city and therefore it was not fitting for him to live in a grandiose house. Springer understood and did not pursue the matter further. Amos Kollek said he was pleased that Springer’s widow, Friede, continues in his footsteps and is supporting numerous projects that Teddy Kollek and Axel Springer dreamed of together.
■ NEXT WEEK on Lag Ba’omer, hundreds if not thousands of three-yearold Israeli boys will experience their first haircuts. In religious circles this is a very important ceremony. Rabbi Aharon Aberman, the chairman of Lev Malka, which caters for children with cancer, has urged parents of three-year-old boys not to keep the shorn locks but to contribute them to Lev Malka for the creation of wigs for children with cancer, so that when they look at themselves in the mirror they will not be perpetually reminded of their illness.
■ BETS ARE on as to whether former president Moshe Katsav will be allowed to take a short leave from prison on May 20 to attend the wedding of his son to Noam to Orly Avraham. Although Katsav has not yet served sufficient time to be eligible for a furlough, some of his friends say that it’s a Jewish tradition never to bring a person of high rank to the lowest possible point, but rather to allow him a vestige of dignity and honor regardless of what crime he may have committed. For this reason they are optimistic that he will at least be able to participate in the wedding ceremony, even if he can’t stay for the dinner. In the worst case scenario, he can always watch the wedding via Skype – but that would be punishing his family more than it would be punishing him.
■ THE ISRAEL Broadcasting Authority is paying more attention this year to the annual Eurovision Song Contest than ever before, with weekly television programs that take viewers behind the scenes year by year to show the press conferences, the socializing, the Jewish communities in the countries in which the contest is held and other aspects that involve not only the Israeli contestants but the whole Israeli team that travels with them. Viewers quickly begin to realize that it’s not just a competition but an exercise in public diplomacy in which a key player on more than one occasion has been Dana International. In addition to the contest itself and the behind-the-scenes revelations, the IBA on Tuesday hosted a glittering concert at the Jerusalem Theater featuring former Israeli Eurovision stars such as Ilanit, who was the first singer to ever represent Israel at Eurovision in 1972; Izhar Cohen, who won the contest in 1978 and Dana International who won it 20 years later in 1998.
This year’s contest takes place in Baku, Azerbaijan, with 42 competing countries. Because the number of contestants keeps growing from year to year despite occasional withdrawals, there will be two semifinals on May 22 and 24 preceding the night of the final contest on May 26. Israel will compete in the first semi-final and will be represented by the Izabo band, which will sing “Time,” composed by lead singer-guitarist Ran Shem-Tov and Shiri Hadar, who put together both the lyrics and the music. Izabo prides itself on its diversity, which gives it fairly universal appeal.
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