Grapevine: Mandela's boss

It is less common knowledge that with the exception of Lazer Sidelsky, a Jew, no lawyer in SA would allow Mandela to clerk for him.

Nelson Mandela (photo credit: REUTERS)
Nelson Mandela
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With black South Africans representing their country at every level at home and abroad, it becomes increasingly difficult – especially for a generation that was born after South Africa relinquished apartheid and adopted democracy – to believe the status quo has been in force for less than 15 years. It was only with the death of Nelson Mandela that the world was reminded of how things used to be in South Africa, when people were judged not by their talents, skills and the quality of their character, but by the color of their skin.
In some parts of the world, it’s still that way. We have been prompted to remember via countless videos that Mandela was the first black South African lawyer to operate his own office and to own a car. It is less common knowledge that with the exception of Lazer Sidelsky, a Jew, no lawyer in South Africa would allow Mandela to clerk for him. Even after he was installed as president, Mandela referred to him as “my boss.”
Indeed, in May 2011, Sidelsky’s sons, Dov (Barry) and Colin, published Mandela’s Boss, which documents the relationship between Mandela and their father. The book, a blend of anecdotes, newspaper articles and memoirs, includes a note that Mandela wrote to Lazer Sidelsky: “To former boss Laz: Compliments and best wishes to a man who trained me to serve our country. I will ever remain indebted to you and [your wife] Goldie.”
Dov Sidelsky, a rabbi who lives in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof, visited The Jerusalem Post offices on Tuesday, and his story of his father’s friendship with Mandela will appear in Friday’s paper.
■ AFTER THE embarrassing hullabaloo as to who would represent Israel at the funeral of Mandela, it is entirely appropriate both legally and morally that in the final analysis, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein will lead the Israel delegation.
According to law, the Knesset speaker becomes acting president when the state’s president is unable to fulfill his duties due to absence from the country or illness. In addition, Edelstein’s first overseas trip abroad as a minister in the previous Binyamin Netanyahu-led government in 1996 was to South Africa, where he met Mandela and even shared a table with him.
Mandela had not realized initially that Edelstein, too, had been imprisoned in his own quest for freedom for his people. Once Mandela did learn of this, the two had a lot to talk about; Edelstein later went to Robben Island to check out the difference between his cell and that of Mandela.
■ CHANNEL ONE’s foreign news editor Oren Nahari, after verifying the previously undisclosed story with Reuma Weizman and getting her permission to broadcast it, told of president Ezer Weizman’s visit to South Africa for Mandela’s inauguration. During a private meeting between the two, Mandela asked Weizman if he minded if another person joined them.
Weizman was hardly in a position to refuse. A minute later, PLO leader Yasser Arafat entered the room in full military regalia. Mandela told the two men to make peace.
Arafat said he was willing, at which point Weizman – who charming as he was, had never quite mastered the art of diplomacy – asked Arafat why he wore a gun if he was committed to peace. Needless to say, the situation erupted, and many moons later peace continues to remain evasive.
■ AT THE state dinner that President Shimon Peres hosted in honor of Guatemalan President Otto Fernando Perez Molina, Peres quipped that he did not know until Monday afternoon whether he would be at the dinner, or en route to South Africa.
He had a struggle with his doctors, he said. They gave him bad news and good news: the bad news was that he couldn’t fly, but the good news was that he could spend the evening with Molinas, his delegation and other guests.
Peres was particularly pleased to welcome Stella Riger-Wiss de Garcia Granados, who in the late 1980s and early 1990s served as Guatamala’s ambassador to Israel, and who currently serves as an adviser to Guatemala’s foreign affairs minister. Garcia Granados is the daughter-in-law of Guatemalan Ambassador to the UN Jorge Garcia Granados, who in 1947, as his country’s representative on the 11-member UN Special Committee on Palestine, worked so diligently to assure the passage of the UN resolution on partition.
It was not the first time that Peres had met her during his presidency.
In November 2007, when Israel was celebrating the 60th anniversary of the resolution that paved the way for the creation of the state, Peres hosted three generations of progeny of the UNSCOP team, including Garcia Granados, who had specially come to Israel for the occasion.
During that meeting, Peres, referring to the resolution, said that it gave legitimacy to Jewish aspirations for a sovereign state, and at the same time brought hope to many people.
Among the other guests at the dinner were several ambassadors from Latin American countries, as well as Israelis who had served in Latin American countries – the most prominent of whom was Israel’s fifth president Yitzhak Navon, who had served as No. 2 in the Israel Embassy in Argentina during the Peron regime.
Among the ambassadors was Bernardo Griever, who had served in previous posts with some of the members of the Guatemalan president’s delegation, and was delighted to meet up with them again. Mexican Ambassador Federico Salas Lotfe, who had been with Peres two weeks earlier during the president’s state visit to Mexico, was also at the dinner.
Oher guests included Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Perry and leading real estate agent Werner Loval, who in his younger years was No. 2 at the then-newly opened Israel Embassy in Guatemala – where the first ambassador to Guatemala, Joshua Shai, was also accredited to El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama. This meant a lot of traveling for both him and Loval, who after leaving the Foreign Service, was appointed an honorary consul of Guatemala in Jerusalem – a position that he holds to this day.
■ DUE TO uncertain weather conditions, and contrary to usual practice, the welcome reception for President Molinas was held indoors, where regulars in the reception line seemed discombobulated, and didn’t know quite where to stand.
Nitza Raz-Silbiger, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Protocol Department, kept moving them around until the line was just right in terms of pecking order.
Raz-Silbiger is a little annoyed with the new crop of ambassadors- designate, some of whom defy the rules. Every ambassador-designate meets with Foreign Ministry personnel for guidelines that will help the ambassador adjust and learn what he or she may or may not do during the interim period in which credentials have not yet been presented and accepted.
The bottom line is that an ambassador- designate cannot function as a full ambassador. They should not give interviews to the media, and should not appear at functions for the diplomatic community – other than those for Independence Day and in advance of Rosh Hashana.
Sometimes dispensation is given for other events, and there are ambassadors-designate who constantly consult with the ministry as to what is permissible. But there are others who just go ahead and do their own thing.
The breaches in protocol are not sufficiently serious to warrant expulsion or a request to the home country of the ambassador-designate that they be recalled, but the Foreign Ministry is aware of the recalcitrants – who should know that if the ministry is not always as cooperative as they would like, they have only themselves to blame for breaking the rules.
Most of the ambassadors-designate currently in Israel will be able to drop the word “designate” from their titles as of next Wednesday, when there will be another series of ceremonies for the presentation of credentials.
■ THERE’S AN old Yiddish saying that you don’t put a healthy head into a sick bed. With all the anti-Israel feeling in the world, one might well ask why an internationally celebrated Moscow-born pianist, who happens to be Jewish, would want to acquire Israeli citizenship.
At a reception held last Saturday night at the Touro Restaurant, which is affiliated with the Jerusalem Press Club, Evgeny Kissin explained that he didn’t want to give Israel’s enemies the opportunity to accuse him of dual loyalties.
He has been defending the Jewish state on many fronts for quite some time, and felt that he would be more in harmony with himself if he continued to do so as an Israeli.
Some two years ago, he discussed this with his good friend, Lady Annabelle Weidenfeld, who encouraged him to go ahead, and used some of her own impressive connections to start the ball rolling.
She didn’t realize at the time just how much bureaucratic red tape had to be cut in the process.
About a year ago, Kissin approached Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky to ask for his help, and sent him a letter stating: “I am a Jew, Israel is a Jewish state and since long ago, I have felt that Israel, although I do not live there, is the only state in the world with which I can fully identify myself – whose case, problems, tragedies and very destiny I perceive to be mine.
“If I, as a human being and artist, represent anything in the world, it is my Jewish people, and therefore Israel is the only state on our planet which I want to represent with my art and all my public activities, no matter where I live.
“When Israel’s enemies try to disrupt concerts of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra or the Jerusalem Quartet, I want them to come and make troubles at my concerts, too – because Israel’s case is my case, Israel’s enemies are my enemies, and I do not want to be spared of the troubles which Israeli musicians encounter when they represent the Jewish state beyond its borders.
“I have always deeply despised chauvinism and have never regarded my people to be superior to other peoples. I feel truly blessed that my profession is probably the most international one in the world, that I play music created by great composers of different countries, that I travel all over the world and share my beloved music with people of different countries and nationalities.
But I want all the people who appreciate my art to know that I am a Jew, that I belong to the People of Israel.
“That’s why now I feel a natural desire to travel around the world with an Israeli passport.”
Sharansky raised the matter with past and present government ministers Dan Meridor, Eli Yishai, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Gideon Sa’ar and Sofa Landver, as well as with high-ranking people in the Interior Ministry. Kissin’s request was so unusual that everyone Sharansky turned to was more than willing to help.
On Saturday night, just before Landver presented Kissin with his Israeli passport and ID card, Sharansky read Kissin’s letter to the assembled guests, who included among others: Lady Weidenfeld; Profs. Ruth Gavison and Shlomo Avineri; conductor and pianist Anita Kamien and her husband, Roger, who is also a well-known pianist; and Sharansky’s longtime adviser Vera Golovensky and her husband, Joel, who practices law in Israel and the US, and is the founding president of the Institute for Zionist Strategies. Golovensky, who has read Kissin’s letter several times, said that each time she reads it, it gives her goose bumps. When she heard Sharansky read it out loud, she literally had tears in her eyes.
What Sharansky, Landver and Kissin have in common is that they were all born in the Soviet Union.
Noting that Kissin is 25 years his junior, Sharansky observed that the situation hadn’t changed much as far as Jewish youngsters were concerned.
It was that way because of anti-Semitism and discrimination, with every Jewish youngster being told by his mother to try harder so that he could be No. 1. This scenario took on new gravity when Sharansky met Kissin’s charming and genteel mother, Emilla, who told him that Kissin started listening to music and understanding it when he was only 11 months old, and began playing the piano when he was still a toddler. He was a child prodigy who very quickly became a seasoned performer.
Many of Russia’s outstanding pianists have found their way to international concert stages through the International Tchaikovsky Competition.
When Sharansky asked Kissin how many Tchaikovsky competitions he had won, Kissin replied that he had never entered any piano contest in his life. As a child prodigy who achieved fame early, there had been no need.
When approval finally came through for Kissin’s Israeli citizenship, he was due to receive his passport and ID card during the Hanukka season, when most government offices are not working at full steam.
The Interior Ministry would have liked him to be in Israel on the Monday of Hanukka, but he was giving a concert recital in Rome that night, so the bureaucrats relented and said they wanted to see him by noon on Tuesday. But there was no Alitalia flight to Israel that would get him to Jerusalem in time. Fortunately, there was an El Al flight leaving 40 minutes earlier than the time he would have preferred to leave Rome.
But that was not the end of the story, according to Lady Weidenfeld.
When they arrived at the Interior Ministry, they discovered that with all the goodwill and string-pulling in the world, everyone had overlooked the need for passport photos. Fortunately that error of omission was amended very quickly, thus enabling Landver to present Kissin with his passport and ID card on Saturday night.
Sharansky delivered his address in English; Landver declared in Hebrew how excited they all were that one of the world’s greatest pianists wants everyone to know that he’s Israeli. Kissin spoke in English, Russian and Hebrew, quoting Shakespeare who wrote, “To thine own self be true,” and Russian poet Nikolay Sokolovsky, who wrote that the greatest betrayal is the betrayal of oneself. Kissin’s mother, who attended the ceremony, has no immediate plans for becoming an Israeli citizen herself, but did not rule out the possibility.
Aside from his musical talent, Kissin is also something of a linguist, and speaks a beautiful Lithuanian Yiddish, some of which he picked up from his grandparents and aunt, but mostly taught himself. It was in Yiddish that he told the writer of this column that he will be giving a recital of Jewish music and poetry at the Kennedy Center in Washington on February 24.
The performance, in which Kissin will recite Yiddish poetry in addition to playing works by Milner, Bloch, Krein and Veprik, is a co-production of the Kennedy Center and Pro Musica Hebraica, which is dedicated to bringing neglected Jewish music to the concert hall. Musica Hebraica was co-founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer and his wife, Robyn, a well-known painter and sculptor.
At the reception prior to the ceremony, violinist Reuven Ben-Hanan kept guests entertained with classical, folk and popular music. It was important to have music at such an event, explained Golovensky, and although a piano would have been preferable, it was too much trouble to bring one down to that level of Mishkenot Sha’ananim.
Not long after the ceremony, Sharansky headed for the airport to fly to Washington – not to join fellow Israelis at the Saban Forum, but for a gathering of Jewish Agency emissaries assigned to positions in the US. Kissin remained briefly in Jerusalem, where he gave a benefit concert on Monday night for the Tel Hai International Piano Master Classes, before going on to his next concert engagement.
■ FRESH FROM attending the Saban Forum in Washington, where he also signed a trilateral memorandum of understanding with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority for water sharing and exchanges, Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom will this evening meet and mingle with English-speaking immigrants in Tel Aviv, and discuss energy and water issues with them. The event, a joint venture of Gvahim and Mazeh 9 – the center for young residents of the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, is part of the “Kitzur Derech (Shortcut)” series specially designed to familiarize young men and women who recently immigrated to Israel with various aspects of the national agenda.
Albeit co-hosted by Mazeh 9, the event will be held at another address – Hesseg House at 46 Rothschild Boulevard. Space is limited, so latecomers may face difficulty in getting in. However, it’s worth trying, not only for the chance to have a face-to-face discussion with a senior government minister, but also for the networking opportunities.
■ FORMER AMBASSADOR to the US Michael Oren, who recently returned from his tour of duty, is in a better position than some of his predecessors to talk about US-Israel relations – not only because he is also an academic, but in that he happens to be an American who grew up and studied in the US.
Raised in New Jersey, where he was an activist in Zionist youth movements and a gold-medal winning athlete in the Maccabiah Games, Oren settled in Israel in the 1970s. He served as an officer in the IDF, a paratrooper in the First Lebanon War, a liaison with the US Sixth Fleet during the Gulf War, and an IDF spokesman during the Second Lebanon War and the Gaza operation in January 2009.
He also acted as an Israeli emissary to Jewish refuseniks in the Soviet Union, as an adviser to Israel’s delegation to the UN, and as the government’s director of interreligious affairs. In addition, he has testified before Congress and briefed the White House on Middle Eastern affairs.
A graduate of Princeton and Columbia Universities, Oren has received fellowships from the US Departments of State and Defense, and from the British and Canadian governments. Formerly, he was the Lady Davis Fellow at the Hebrew University, a Moshe Dayan Fellow at Tel Aviv University and a distinguished fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. He has also been a visiting professor at Harvard, Yale and Georgetown in the US. He is currently a lecturer and researcher at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
Oren has written extensively for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The New Republic, where he was a contributing editor. His two most recent books — Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East and Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present — were both New York Times bestsellers, also winning The Los Angeles Times History Book of the Year prize and a National Council of the Humanities Award, as well as the National Jewish Book Award. Moreover, The Forward named him one of the five most influential American Jews, and our own Post listed him as one of the world’s 10 most influential Jews.
With that kind of background, Oren automatically attracts a large audience at any public forum in which he participates, so a huge attendance is anticipated this coming Monday, December 16, when he addresses the Tel Aviv International Salon on US-Israel relations.
Hopefully, it isn’t going to rain on his parade, given that the venue is Shamayim, on the roof of 41 Melchet Street in Tel Aviv. Attendance is strictly limited to young professionals; anyone who doesn’t fit that description will be turned away.
■ NEXT WEDNESDAY, December 18, Jewish and Arab women will get together in the Knesset to discuss “The Role of Feminism in Society, Religion and Tradition.” There will be several male MKs among the participants, as well as former male MK and government minister Rabbi Michael Melchior. Melchior is the president of the Jaffa Convention, the Citizens Accord Forum between Jews and Arabs in Israel, which promotes public discussion on issues of equality between Jews, Arabs and other minorities in Israel, with a view to correcting disparities and bringing about social change.
Among those taking part in the discussion next week will be: MK Afou Agbaria (Hadash); MKs Aliza Lavie, Yifat Kariv and Adi Kol (Yesh Atid); MK Orly Levy-Abekasis (Likud Beytenu); MK Merav Michaeli (Labor); MK Tamar Sandberg (Meretz); Dr.
Hannah Kahat and Ayelet Vider Cohen (Kolech); Nijmeh Ali and Rina Korach-Sagir (Citizens’ Accord Forum); Rose Amer and Manal Shalabi (women’s rights activists and politicians); Vered Bachar and Adina Bar-Shalom (Haredi College); Dr.
Orit Kamir (Israeli Center for Human Dignity); Samah Salaime Egbariya (Arab Women in the Center); Vered Swid (National Authority for the Advancement of Women); MK David Tzur (Tzipi Livni Party); and Ibrahim Abu-Shindi and Udi Cohen (Citizens’ Accord Forum).
[email protected] GRAPEVINE • By GREER FAY CASHMAN NELSON MANDELA and president Ezer Weizman. (GPO) DOV SIDELSKY, whose father, Lazer, was ‘Mandela’s Boss.’ (Steve Linde) PIANIST EVGENY KISSIN receives documents attesting to his new Israeli citizenship from Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver. (Courtesy Jewish Agency)