Grapevine: Talking peace at the grassroots level

Several Israeli and Palestinian NGOS have been meeting for years to try to resolve both human and political issues and to find a way out of the impasse.

Rabin peace rally 2011 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/ Nir Elias)
Rabin peace rally 2011 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/ Nir Elias)
Regardless of what may transpire in peace talks between Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, several Israeli and Palestinian NGOS have been meeting for years to try to resolve both human and political issues and to find a way out of the impasse.
Today, an EU-sponsored conference will be held at the Jerusalem Cinematheque under the title, “Jerusalem: Two Capitals for Two States – From Breakdown to Breakthrough.”
There will be both Israeli and Palestinian speakers, including Ron Pundak, Israeli co-chair of the Palestinian- Israeli Peace NGO Forum; Meir Margalit, who prior to last week’s elections held the East Jerusalem portfolio on the municipal council; Saman Khoury, secretarygeneral of the Palestinian Peace NGO Forum; and Rami Nasrallah, chairman of the International Peace and Cooperation Center.
Hopefully, they and other participants will not have to experience the thuggery that was wrought upon a similar group, Minds of Peace, last Friday in downtown Jerusalem. Initiated by Dr. Sapir Handelman, who wants to establish an Israeli- Palestinian congress, the group meets at quarterly intervals in the plaza outside Hamashbir with the aim of total transparency, in that all passersby are welcome to sit and listen to what is being discussed.
The Israelis in the group include religiously observant Jews.
News of last Friday’s meeting provoked reaction from Kahane Tzadak (Kahane Was Right) followers, who came and surrounded the fenced-off area in which the speakers had congregated and began booing loudly, blowing whistles and drowning out all the speeches, even though the speakers were using a microphone. There was also a large police turnout to prevent violence.
It is perfectly legitimate for the Kahane people and any other group opposed to peace or territorial compromise to protest against these issues, but not at the expense of those who advocate them.
■ MANY WOMEN believe they could do a better job at peacemaking than men, and will discuss the issue at a conference to be held tomorrow, October 31, at the Na Laga’at Theater at the Jaffa Port. The closing session will be addressed by five female MKs: Gila Gamliel, Shuli Moalem- Refaeli, Merav Michaeli, Adi Kol and Michal Roisin. There will also be male speakers, including the head of the Delegation of the EU to the State of Israel, Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Anderson, and Robert Serry, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.
■ AUSTRIAN AMBASSADOR Franz Josef Kuglitsch surprised and delighted Israeli guests attending the Austrian National Day celebrations at his residence, when he delivered a welcome speech in nearly perfect Hebrew (with only one grammatical mistake), without resorting to notes.
In the past, ambassadors from other countries have labored to pronounce a couple of transliterated Hebrew sentences, clutching their notes as if they were lifebelts, but Kuglitsch humorously delivered a well-received address in Hebrew before switching to English, and again speaking without notes. Kuglitsch and his charming wife, Maria, it turns out, like to do their Hebrew homework together.
Deputy Welfare and Social Services Minister Mickey Levy, who is the former police chief of Jerusalem, did have notes prepared for him by the Foreign Ministry, but he might have been better off following his host’s example – because he can speak English much better than he can read it. He stumbled over words and changed grammar, but to his credit, confronted the linguistic obstacles and kept going till the end as if there was nothing amiss.
The two most fluent Hebrew speakers in the diplomatic community are US Ambassador Dan Shapiro and Japanese Ambassador Hideo Sato. One might venture to say that Sato, who speaks Hebrew without an accent, has a slightly better command of the language. He smiled in pleasure while listening to Kuglitsch, and said it has recently become a trend among ambassadors posted to Israel to learn to speak Hebrew. “Everyone is speaking Hebrew now,” he said.
One thing is certain: Israelis should be very careful at diplomatic functions if they want to badmouth any diplomat in Hebrew, because that person could very well turn around and respond in kind.
In his address, Kuglitsch employed a hint of irony when he remarked that “one of the preferred occupations of Israeli government ministers is to attend National Day events.” The truth is the Foreign Ministry often has a problem in getting a minister to agree to do so, which is why the government was represented by a deputy minister. Kuglitsch took it in stride, but some ambassadors get insulted at the idea of not only hosting a deputy minister, but also a junior minister – and say they would rather have no minister at all. Some even dispense with the speeches altogether.
Kuglitsch remarked that relations between Austria and Israel were very good, something that he jokingly attributed to himself, but admitted it might have something to do with visits to Israel by the Austrian foreign and defense ministers. “But Austrian troops are no longer on the Golan, and that has nothing to do with me,” he said.
He spoke quite candidly about how much he and his wife love Israel – something that many others, not only Austrian ambassadors, have said before him.
Among the guests that he welcomed by name were Central Committee of Jews from Austria in Israel president, Gideon Eckhaus, and new Ambassador to Austria Zvi Heifetz, who took up his post in Vienna this week.
Kuglitsch also welcomed a group of 20 friends of the Austrian Hospice, who came to Israel to join in its 150th anniversary celebrations. The hospice, located in Jerusalem’s Old City, is among other things well-known for its cuisine. Representatives brought cakes from its kitchen to the ambassador’s residence in Herzliya Pituah. Kuglitsch also mentioned that many Austrian volunteers were helping out at Yad Vashem, the Ghetto Fighters’ House and other institutions in Israel.
In previous years, the fare at Austrian National Day receptions was prepared by soldiers from the Austrian troops on the Golan Heights. “Now I have a new schnitzel chef,” said Kuglitsch in introducing Peter Humel, who had prepared the schnitzel, which has become as much of an Israeli staple as an Austrian culinary tradition.
Judging by the way people filled their plates and went back for seconds, Humel was doing a good job.
Complimenting Kuglitsch on his “excellent Hebrew,” Levy told him that he could come on aliya. For many Israelis, he said, Vienna is associated with Theodor Herzl, the visionary of the Zionist movement, who lived and worked there. Vienna was also the home of Jewish geniuses such as Sigmund Freud, Erwin Schulhoff, Fritz Kreisler, Arthur Schnitzler and Richard Tauber.
While conscious of the positive relationship that now exists between Israel and Austria, Levy noted that Jews cannot forget Austria’s role in the Holocaust. Anyone who visits the Jewish Museum in Vienna is also reminded of the Holocaust in the permanent Installation of Memory by the late Nancy Spero, an influential visual artist whose own Jewish identity was largely influenced by the Holocaust. Daniella Spera, the current director of the Jewish Museum of Vienna who is a frequent visitor to Israel, was among the guests at the reception.
The National Days of most countries are in celebration of independence, either through liberation from foreign or oppressive rule or through discovery by some ancient explorer. In the case of Austria, it commemorates the 1955 treaty of neutrality – when the last foreign soldier from the Allied Powers, which occupied Austria from 1945-1955, left Austrian soil.
■ ISRAEL’S FIRST Lady of Cinema is the amazing Lia Van Leer, who with her late husband ,Wim, launched the Haifa and Jerusalem Cinematheques – the nucleus of Israel’s cinematheque network and all that entails, including a series of annual themed festivals like the prestigious Jerusalem Film Festival – and who established the extensive Israel Film Archive.
She is to be honored this coming Friday, November 1 by French Ambassador Patrick Maisonnave, who will confer on her the title of Officer of the French Legion of Honor.
The ceremony will take place at the ambassador’s residence in Jaffa in the presence of Serge Toubiana, president of the French Cinematheque. The medal is being conferred in the name of the president of the Republic of France, who will be in Israel himself in mid-November, but whose crowded itinerary would probably not allow for him to personally do the honors – though anyone who knows Lia Van Leer would agree she is deserving of it.
Now 89 years old and walking with difficulty, the indomitable Van Leer continues to be a constant presence at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, traveling all over the country to cultural and social events. She also goes overseas to look at new productions. In 2004, she was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement and contribution to society, and she received previous French honors by way of the Ordre du Mérite from president Francois Mitterrand, and the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres from Jack Lang, French culture minister, followed by the higher honor – the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur.
She will now receive yet a higher French award, in appreciation of her services to the film industry.
Van Leer has also received lifetime achievement awards from the Israeli Academy of Motion Pictures and the Israel Film Festival in Los Angeles, and has served on film juries in Cannes, Berlin, Locarno, Tribeca, Chicago, Edinburgh, Rotterdam and Venice, and as host at the 2002 Berlinale Campus.
■ AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR Dave Sharma and his wife, Rachel Lord, are busy involving themselves with charitable causes in Israel. Last week, they hosted some 70 diplomatic colleagues and other friends at the Australian residence in Herzliya Pituah, to create greater awareness of the humanitarian work being done at Safed’s Ziv Medical Center, in treating Syrian patients injured in the conflict now engulfing their country.
Ziv director Dr. Oscar Embon was on hand to answer questions and to state that since February, Sieff has treated 144 Syrian patients, while others have been treated at Western Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya and Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.
Because the government can’t get its act together and decide whether the Health or Defense ministries should foot the bill for treatment, Embon has had to seek funding abroad, and said a Christian foundation in France had provided a major donation to enable continued treatment.
The Sharmas had asked their guests to bring care packages for distribution to the Syrian patients, to let them know the world does care about them. The response was very gratifying, and the Sharmas collected a large number of packages to take to Safed.
Then, that weekend, Sharma, who is very sports-minded, persuaded two embassy staff members, third secretary Ben Rhee and consular services manager David Stark, to join him in a 180-km. bike ride on behalf of Beit Hashanti. The organization caters to at-risk youth, giving them shelter, food, advice, a sense of purpose and loads of affection. Most of the youngsters cared for at Beit Hashanti are runaways who were abused at home, and suffered further abuse on the streets.
During the last five kilometers of the ride, cyclists were joined by youngsters from Beit Hashanti’s Desert Home near Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev. All in all, more than 1,000 cyclists took part in the event, which this year was dedicated to the memory of Shneor Cheshin, the son of retired Supreme Court justice Mishael Cheshin and his wife, Ruth, who for many years presided over the Jerusalem Foundation.
Tomorrow, Sharma is heading south again, this time to Beersheba, for a distinctly Australian event in the Park of the Australian Soldier. There, he and other Australians will mark the 96th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba – in which the Light Horse regiment of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, together with British troops, defeated Ottoman forces. The Park of the Australian Soldier was a gift to the city of Beersheba by the Australian-headquartered Pratt Foundation.
Sharma will be the third Australian ambassador to conduct a commemorative ceremony there since the park’s inauguration in April 2008.
■ THERE WERE quite a number of prominent figures at the festive cocktail party hosted at Beit Hatfutsot by Edouard Cukierman, chairman of Cukierman Investment House and managing partner of the Catalyst Fund, to launch the annual Go4Europe conference.
One of the conference’s keynote speakers was Baron David de Rothschild, chairman of the Rothschild Group, who specially came from France for the occasion. He didn’t make it to Israel in time for the cocktail party, but did come to grace the podium the following day.
Coincidentally, one of the exhibitions at Beit Hatfutsot honors the memory and work of Jehezkiel David Kirszenbaum, whose patron was the baron’s mother, Alix de Rothschild.
Rothschild was not the only conference participant to come from Europe for the conference.
Others included: Maximo Buch, Valencia’s economy, industry, tourism and employment minister; David Hatchwell Altaras, vice president of the Federation of Spanish Jews, head of the Madrid Jewish community and CEO of Excem, which inter alia markets Israeli technology in Spain and South America; French film director and scriptwriter Elie Chouraqui; Pierre Lellouche, president of NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly; Dr. Christopher Proctor, CSO of British American Tobacco; Luc Muller, CEO of the German Otto Group; Dr. Florent Gros, head of Novartis Venture Funds; Prof.
Lorenz Reibling, chairman of Taurus Investment Holdings; and Maurice Levy, CEO of Publicis, the giant Paris-headquartered multinational advertising and public relations firm.
Also present was Roger Cukierman, who for 30 years was the CEO of the Edmond de Rothschild Group, is considered one of the most talented economists in France and in addition to being the father of Edouard Cukierman, is the chairman of CRIF, the representative umbrella organization of the French Jewish community – in which capacity he spoke last week at The Jerusalem Post’s Diplomatic Conference.
■ BRITISH AMBASSADOR Matthew Gould was also a speaker at the Post’s Diplomatic Conference. As Britain’s former deputy chief of mission in Tehran, he based his address on the Iranian threat.
Gould apologized that he would have to leave early because he was recording a television segment with British fashion mavens Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine, who for the past three years have been doing makeovers in Israel, dispensing advice via Channel 10 to Israelis who want a change of image. Gould, who recently hosted Trinny and Susannah at a reception at his residence, said that he was more nervous about appearing with them on TV and talking about fashion than talking about nuclear Iran.
Gould was the first speaker immediately after the coffee break, where latecomers were still partaking of the sumptuous Daniel Hotel breakfast. While waiting patiently for people to return and take their seats, Gould remarked: “It’s very difficult to separate a Jewish audience from a buffet table.” He can say that without being accused of being anti- Semitic, because he happens to be a member of the tribe.
■ DUTCH AMBASSADOR Caspar Veldkamp, who often rides his bike to diplomatic events, has found a companion colleague in Belgian Ambassador John Cornet D’Elzius, also an avid bike rider. The two rode their bicycles to the Post’s Diplomatic Conference, though members of Veldkamp’s staff came by car.
■ IF THE definition of democracy is government of the people, for the people, by the people, there seems to be some kind of anomaly in attempts to limit the number of terms in which someone can serve as mayor, as well as in preventing an elected mayor charged with a crime from holding office.
The number of mayors returned to office in the last election indicates the public doesn’t mind if they serve more than two consecutive terms; and the fact that three mayors facing criminal charges were reelected is perhaps a sign the public believes that someone is innocent until found guilty. A politician who has to suspend his or her political career at least until such time as court proceedings are completed, can very well lose that career because the court case drags on for so long.
A current example of that is that of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who yielding to pressure with regard to allegations of corruption, stepped down in March 2009 – but was not served with an indictment until the end of August of that year. The case against him is still dragging on more than four years later.
Olmert’s record as a prime minister is widely regarded as a good one, and there has been much speculation about his return to politics if acquitted. In the meantime, at least five years of his possible political career will have been put on hold.
The French appear to have a better sense of national interest and refrain from prosecuting a sitting president, waiting until that person is out of office in order to press charges.
A more glaring example perhaps than Olmert is that of the late Simcha Dinitz, a former MK who also served as director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, an ambassador to the US, and chairman of the Executive of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency. Dinitz was publicly hauled over the coals for allegedly abusing his credit card privileges. He had a Jewish Agency credit card, which he apparently used for private purchases as well. The accounts department at the Jewish Agency could easily have deducted these costs from Dinitz’s salary, as the rules required presentation of receipts for all purchases made with the credit card. Instead, his reputation was besmirched all over the media, he was indicted for theft and he was forced to resign.
Yitzhak Rabin publicly spoke out on Dinitz’s behalf, and in the subsequent drawn-out court case, Dinitz was acquitted of all charges. His reputation was saved, but his career was ruined and his spirit was broken.
History may recall the significant roles he played in coordinating weapons supplies from the US to Israel during the Yom Kippur War, helping to facilitate mass immigration from the Soviet Union and the airlifting of thousands of Ethiopian Jews in Operation Solomon. But all these noteworthy achievements cannot quite erase the stain on his character, which remained in people’s memories long after the court had found him not guilty.
■ VETERAN TELEVISION broadcaster Rafik Halabi is entering into a new role.
Often a controversial figure, the prize-winning Halabi, instead of covering politics which he has done for many years, has entered the political arena – and in last week’s elections was elected mayor of the Daliat al-Carmel Local Council, defeating incumbent council head Carmel Nasser a-Din.
A popular figure in circles way beyond the Druse community, Halabi received literally thousands of congratulatory messages in Arabic, Hebrew and English. One woman, who believes he has extraordinary powers, asked him to pray for her recovery from cancer so she can continue to take care of her nine-year-old twin sons.
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