Grapevine: Telling it as it was

Understandably,the Israeli media ended the past week and began this week with tributes to the late prime minister Ariel Sharon.

rani rahav pr AJ 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
rani rahav pr AJ 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

UNDERSTANDABLY , THE Israeli media ended the past week and began this week with tributes to the late prime minister Ariel Sharon. The tributes began more than a week before his passing – when it was first announced that his condition had deteriorated and that he had very little time left in which to live – and will undoubtedly continue until at least the end of this week. Sharon confounded his doctors by living longer than anticipated, and as his son Gilad said, he went when he decided to go.

Veteran Channel 1 political reporter Ayala Hasson appeared to be genuinely distressed by his passing., Recalling that Sharon, as opposition leader, was ostracized by his fellow MKs and sat alone in the Knesset cafeteria, she paraphrased something that Lea Rabin had said, in her characteristically blunt manner, when the masses showed up to offer condolences following the assassination of her husband, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin: “Thank you for coming. It’s a pity you didn’t come when he was alive.” Hasson said that by the same token, all the outpouring of appreciation and admiration for Sharon was well-deserved, but it was a pity that it wasn’t forthcoming when he was alive and functioning.
Avi Farhan, a two-time evacuee, first from Yamit and then from Alei Sinai in the north of the Gaza Strip, was among those Gaza evacuees who attended Sharon’s funeral. He said he harbored no malice toward the prime minister who spearheaded the Gaza evacuation. Farhan, who has yet to move into a permanent home for himself and his family, told Israel Radio that if Sharon had not collapsed, all the evacuees from Gush Katif would have been properly housed a long time ago instead of still living in “caravillas.”
Strictly speaking, Farhan is a triple evacuee. He was born in Libya, from where his family was expelled when he was three years old. In the past, Farhan raised hackles among both Israelis and Palestinians when he said he didn’t mind living in a Palestinian state, so long as he could return to his home.
■ FARHAN’S CERTAINTY about Sharon’s ability to resolve the problems of the evacuees was backed up by the accounts of Sharon’s sensitivity and concern for others that were expressed in the eulogies.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein noted the personal attention that Sharon had given to the housing and absorption of the influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The following day, he told Israel Radio that when he heard the names of the nursing staff who had taken care of Sharon while he was in a coma, he saw that Sharon’s kindness to the immigrants from the former Soviet Union had come full circle, because the nurses were all from the FSU. Marit Danon, who was the executive secretary in the prime minister’s office and worked with Sharon for five years, when eulogizing him told of how he had called her in and asked her to speak to another staff member who was sad-eyed. Danon had done so, and had discovered that there was indeed cause for the sadness.
People with whom the staffer worked closely on a daily basis had not noticed her distress, yet Sharon, who barely knew her, picked up on it in the two minutes that she was in his office.
■ MANY OF the Gaza evacuees and adherents of Greater Israel movements have not forgiven Sharon for the ensuing upheavals not only in the lives of the evacuees, but also in the nation, where political divides gape even further than before. But there are others who say that Sharon must be remembered for both the good and the bad things he did. One such person is former Knesset Member Ya’akov Katz, known as Ketzele, who was one of the founders of the settlement of Beit El as well as the founder of the Arutz Sheva radio station and its offshoots. Ketzele served under Sharon in the 1971 Gaza campaign and again as a member of the Shaked elite unit in the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Ketzele was second in command of Koah Patzi, a 12-man officers’ squad that operated directly under Sharon’s command, carrying out the most dangerous of missions, mostly behind enemy lines. On the eighth day of the war, while fighting an entrenched Egyptian commando unit, Ketzele was hit in the left hip by an RPG missile. He came very close to dying. Sharon, who was strongly opposed to leaving wounded soldiers in the field, sent a helicopter to bring him back to Israel, and in so doing, saved his life. Ketzele was near death for months and finally emerged from Beilinson Hospital with a permanent limp. He worked with Sharon in the Housing Ministry, and said that he could testify to the virtue of Sharon’s bulldozer tactics in ensuring that apartment houses were quickly built to accommodate Russian immigrants, but he couldn’t forgive him for the evacuation from Gaza.
■ THE ANNOUNCEMENT last Thursday that Sharon’s condition had deteriorated even further than in preceding days almost put a blight on the dinner that President Shimon Peres hosted in honor of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaska, who was his country’s first head of state to visit Israel. A senior representative of the Foreign Ministry’s Protocol Department said that contrary to normal practice, there would be no music, because it would be unseemly in the event of the former prime minister’s demise. But an argument emerged in favor of the music that for as long as Sharon clung to life, there was no reason to cancel existing arrangements. And so Meshi Kleinstein, an enormously talented singer with musical genes from both her parents – internationally renowned singer Rita and singer, composer and keyboard instrumentalist Rami Kleinstein – got to perform to the piano accompaniment of Gad Ben-Hadas. Rajapaska and his wife told her they were enchanted by her. Among the guests were Rabbi Mendie Crombie and his wife Talia, who founded the Chabad House in Sri Lanka in 2005 but are currently in Israel getting treatment for one of their children, twoand- a- half year old Chaya Mushka, who was born deaf. Although the menu was vegetarian with the inclusion of fish, the Crombies didn’t eat anything. This frustrated the waitresses, and they offered to get the Crombies something special.
But they declined, explaining that they don’t eat outside their own home. They did spend a lot of time taking photos, some of which later appeared on their Facebook page, most notably of Rabbi Crombie shaking hands with Rajapaska, Peres and Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin.
The Crombies built a large Jewish Center in the center of Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, with a synagogue and a mikva (ritual bath).
There are about 30 resident Jews in Sri Lanka, most of whom participate with the Crombies in celebrating Jewish festivals, and Jewish tourists. Of these, backpackers often seek the Crombies out. For the Passover Seder they get as many as 150 people. There’s a kosher restaurant – Tarshish – supervised by Crombie, who slaughters the chickens himself.
The Crombies maintain close contact with Israel’s Foreign Ministry, which is how they came to be invited to the dinner. They were pleased to meet up again with Mark Sofer, Israel’s former ambassador to India, who was a frequent visitor to Sri Lanka and who currently serves as president of the Jerusalem Foundation.
Rajapaska announced that Israeli businesspeople who he had met were interested in investing in Sri Lanka, which means that the Crombies can expect additional lunch and dinner guests from Israel, and can always be assured of a quorum for prayer services.
■ THOUGH NOT religiously observant, Sharon had a close relationship with the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, who – inadvertently or through Divine providence – saved him from being hijacked and possibly killed. The Rebbe had written a condolence letter to Sharon following the death of his son Gur. Sharon had been very touched by the Rebbe’s words and decided to visit him on his next trip to the United States in July 1968. He was surprised to discover how much the Rebbe knew about military strategies and the Israeli terrain. Sharon was supposed to leave on a return flight to Israel on July 23, but his conversation with the Rebbe continued for much longer than he had anticipated, and the Rebbe urged him to stay even longer and take another flight. Sharon agreed, and the El Al flight he had originally been scheduled to take was hijacked by The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and diverted to Algeria. Jewish passengers on board were held for five weeks and eventually released unharmed. Some said that the hijackers appeared to be looking for someone important and were frustrated not to find him. It was subsequently revealed that their target was Sharon.
■ NEARLY EVERYONE who either wrote a vignette about Sharon or was interviewed on radio or television mentioned his sense of humor as one of his best qualities. Another of his qualities that was frequently recalled was his gentlemanly behavior, as for instance standing up when a woman entered the room and escorting her to the door when she left.
Marit Danon and Limor Livnat, who was a minister in his government before he founded Kadima, each told him that he didn’t have to stand up every time they entered, and Sharon replied that it was ingrained because that was the way he was brought up, and that he couldn’t do otherwise.
Once, at some event that he attended, I cornered him and told him about the discomforts endured by his neighbors because of the security strictures imposed by his bodyguards and suggested that he host a block party by way of compensation.
(At that time, the strictures were far less severe than they are now.) Sharon listened intently, and promised to give the matter his consideration. Unfortunately, he collapsed not long afterwards and that was the end of any possibility that he would invite his neighbors either to the Prime Minister’s residence or to Sycamore Ranch.
■ IN FOREIGN relations, governments are more important than Diaspora Jewish communities, so press releases about the dignitaries attending the Sharon funeral did not include the names of leaders of Jewish communities and organizations.
Among the American Jewish personalities were Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations, who noted that Sharon had always gone out of his way to take into consideration the views of the diaspora community, and Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Both knew Sharon for upwards of thirty years in good times and bad. Speaking on Channel 1, Foxman related that during a period in which Sharon was virtually persona non grata in Israel, he had come to him and said: “You’re the Anti-Defamation League. I’m the most defamed person in Israel. Do something.” Foxman had indeed done something for his friend and had opened doors for him in America, and there were a lot of people who listened to what Sharon had to say.
■ GRATIFYING AS it was that twenty countries sent representatives to pay tribute to Sharon, for many Jerusalemites, especially those living in Rehavia, Talbiyeh and surrounds, it was a nightmare. They are used to traffic being stopped every day to make way for the prime minister’s convoy, but that’s seldom more than a five-minute wait.
Because of all the dignitaries staying in hotels in and near King David Street, that street was closed to regular traffic. The nearby Agron, Ramban, Aza, King George and Keren Hayesod streets were closed to vehicular traffic, though not pedestrians, for anything up to 50 minutes at a stretch. Cars, buses and motorcycles were lined up for three blocks and beyond, waiting for the motorcades to pass.
After the motorcade transporting US Vice President Joe Biden and his delegation had passed, it was briefly thought that it was all clear, but it was a false premise which provided release for only a minute during which dozens of motorcyclists who as usual had maneuvered their way to the front of the line took off like Hell’s Angels on the warpath. Bus drivers do not usually let passengers alight anywhere except at officially designated bus stops. To do otherwise would be to incur a fine. But this time they released passengers in the middle of the road, realizing that to do otherwise would be tantamount to keeping them prisoner. There were long lines of people pounding the pavement to get to wherever the bus could not take them. It was simply faster to walk. In the late afternoon, security personnel in large numbers were deployed in all the main streets and side streets between the President’s Residence and the Prime Minister’s Residence, because Biden visited both President Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
The whole sequence of ceremonies was organized very quickly, from Sharon’s lying in state at the Knesset, to the service the following day, the details with regard to taking care of the foreign dignitaries who came to honor Sharon’s memory and the preparations for the funeral at the Sycamore Ranch.
The planning of the funeral was done by lawyer and former cabinet secretary Israel Maimon, who had some previous experience in a similar vein with the Presidential Facing Tomorrow conferences and with the GA, but in both those cases, he had a lot more time at his disposal.
■ BOTH TITILLAT ING and angering people on either side of the table in Israel’s communications industry was the so-called exposé about public relations giant Ran Rahav published last week in The Marker under the byline of Sharon Shpurer.
Rahav’s firm handles some of the most prestigious accounts in the country, and some of his clients are or have been controversial figures.
Rahav’s business policy is to treat his clients as if they were members of his extended family, and many have become his personal friends after concluding their business. Some of these clients are former felons who have paid their debt to society, and Shpurer was critical of Rahav’s consorting with them. Shpurer recorded a conversation she had with Rahav without his knowledge (which is not illegal) and used it to write a negative two-page spread about him. Rahav responded on his Facebook page that criticism is legitimate, but not when it attempts to destroy a person and his business. In their conversation, Rahav warned Shpurer that if she attempted to denigrate him and his clients, she would have a big fight on her hands that she would probably lose. Shpurer took this as a threat rather than a warning, and as a result of the story she wrote, two camps emerged – one that sides with Rahav and one that sides with her. Rahav, who subsequently apologized, claimed that while she reported much of what he said, anything that she might have said to raise his hackles was excluded from the story. The battle was reported on television with interviews conducted with leading PR people and with journalists. The consensus was that Rahav is a brilliant PR man who sometimes makes mistakes, and that what he said to Shpurer may have been one of them.
Among the interviewees was Ronen Zur, who had been former president Moshe Katzav’s communications director during the latter’s trial, and who had brought a lot of scorn upon himself when speaking on Katzav’s behalf. Zur defended Rahav to the hilt, saying that these days there is not much difference between a public relations spokesman and a lawyer, and that very often, a public figure who may be in trouble consults a public relations expert before turning to a lawyer. He suggested that because the legal status of public relations representatives, spokesmen and communications directors is so vague, that proper definitions and guidelines should be established so that journalists do not hold them responsible for the foibles of their clients in the same way that lawyers are not held responsible. In drawing the parallel, he pointed out that spokesmen, just like lawyers, are there to defend the interests of their clients, but should not be confused with their clients.
■ WHEN INSTITUTIONS and organizations bring interesting people to Israel, other institutions and organizations are inclined to hop on the bandwagon. Thus, Van Leer Institute director Prof. Gabriel Motzkin unabashedly confessed that when he met Konstanty Gebert, the charismatic Polish- Jewish journalist who had been a Solidarity activist and underground publisher, he instantly invited him to come and speak.
Gebert, who has been to Israel several times, was in Israel last week as the guest of The Hebrew University’s Center for Research on the History and Culture of Polish Jewry.
Motzkin was not the only one to take advantage of Gebert’s presence and to hijack him from his hosts.
Contrary to Jewish practice, Gebert arrived early at the Van Leer Institute and spent time looking at the historic, blown-up photos on the walls of the ceremonies announcing the plan to establish the Van Leer Institute, which in two years’ time will celebrate its 60th anniversary.
Most of the photographs feature Gershon Agron, the founding editor of The Palestine Post, which is now The Jerusalem Post. When the photos were taken, Agron was mayor of Jerusalem.
Gebert said that what bothered him in the Arab Spring demonstrations was the absence of leaflets, because he had never participated in a demonstration in which there were no leaflets. He attributed part of Solidarity’s success in overthrowing Communist rule to the leaflets, which people didn’t delete or put in spam folders as happens today with electronic propaganda, but passed them on to someone else, thereby instantly becoming activists. The passing around of the leaflets opened the doors to debate, he said.
Although the Internet can reach an infinitely wider public than people passing on leaflets, as Gebert acknowledged, not everyone is connected.
In Egypt, for instance, only 5.5 percent of the population are connected to the Internet, which means that 94.5 percent were not connected to the debate, which is one of the possible reasons for the failure of the Arab Spring in comparison to the success of Solidarity, he said.
■ NOT SO long ago, proud Jewish mothers wanted their sons to be doctors or lawyers, but the current trend is ‘my son the diplomat.’ One such proud mother is Renee Singer, well known to viewers of ESRAVision and members of the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association. Although her son Raphael took up his first ambassadorial posting a little over three months ago, the video of the presentation of his credentials to Angola’s President Jose Eduardo dos Santos arrived in Israel only recently, and his proud mother sent it around to relatives, friends and acquaintances. Protocol is a little different in Angola to that of Israel, and the presidential palace is infinitely grander than the President’s Residence in Israel. The walk along the red carpet is also much longer, and in Angola involves walking up a couple of flights of stairs, which may or may not calm the nerves of a new ambassador.
■ THE PROMOTION of human rights is becoming increasingly prominent in Israel, as cases of abuse of these rights are frequently published in the media. The Ruth and Emanuel Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women in the Faculty of Law at Bar-Ilan University has received the Gorni Prize from the Israeli Association of Public Law for its noteworthy activities in promoting human rights. The Prize was awarded to Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, Director of the Center, at the association’s annual conference, which was attended by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is a graduate of the Bar-Ilan Faculty of Law, Court President Asher Grunis, and current and former senior figures in the Israeli judicial system.