Grapevine: Worthy of a diplomatic note

Zubin Mehta recalls the Yom Kippur War, Barkan names a new neighborhood, and the Taiwanese waive Israeli visas.

Peres with Zubin Mehta 311 (photo credit: Marc Neiman/GPO)
Peres with Zubin Mehta 311
(photo credit: Marc Neiman/GPO)
■ INTERNATIONALLY ACCLAIMED conductor Zubin Mehta has received more awards than he cares to count, but this year – his 50th year with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, of which he is the lifetime musical director – is a special year in that the IPO, founded by Bronislaw Huberman and originally known as the Palestine Orchestra, is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and Mehta, who was born on April 29, 1936, is celebrating his 75th birthday year.
This week, Peres, in honor of Mehta and the orchestra, hosted a concert that happened to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, and was therefore dedicated to the communities of the North, the IDF and the soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice in that war. Peres and Mehta entered the garden compound to a trumpet fanfare and enthusiastic applause. Peres credited Mehta with being a builder of Israel’s culture and a carrier of its hope.
“In the five decades, you became part of us, and we became part of your inspiration,” said Peres, who commended Mehta’s sense of justice, his moving aspiration for peace and his commitment to equality between people, which the president said “made music tear down many walls.” He also noted that Mehta had always made it his business to be in Israel during the country’s most difficult moments – not just on the stage, but in the battlefield during the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, and in the bombarded city of Tel Aviv during the Gulf War.
“You stood by this country when others were hesitant to support it,” he said.
“Your music became a message, a light upon audiences all around the world.”
Mehta also has a blood tie to the military: His sabra son Uri is completing his Nahal service and was named one of the outstanding soldiers in his unit last year. One of four Mehta children born to three different mothers, Uri has served in Hebron, in the Gaza Strip and on the Syrian border.
The conductor related an anecdote from the Yom Kippur War. He had crossed the border into Syria with an NBC crew, and some 10 km. from the front line, had encountered a troop carrier with a tired and dejected-looking Israeli officer. Mehta asked the officer whether he could bring him some water, and the reply was no. “What you can do,” said the officer, “is tell me why you changed the program last week at the concert at Binyanei Ha’uma [the Jerusalem International Convention Center].”
Monday night’s concert was light, with works by Mozart, Puccini and Johann Strauss, including two well-received arias sung by soprano Chen Reiss. Prior to the concert, Mehta conducted an awards ceremony inside Beit Hanassi where he honored benefactors of the IPO by pinning gold IPO logos on them. Singled out for honors were Tova and Sammy Sagol, Yoko Nagae Ceschina, Raya Jaglom, Heide Wolf, Ruth Rappaport and Faigie and Rubin Zimmerman. Unfortunately, Rubin Zimmerman was unable to attend because his brother had just died, but Faigie was at the ceremony to represent the family.
■ ISRAEL HAS been without a Turkish ambassador ever since the April 2010 recall of Ahmet Aguz Çelikkol, and in the meantime, Turkey’s amiable and professional Charge d’Affaires Tolga Uncu has been holding the fort. But now he, too, is departing, and although he would be the last person in the world to deliberately do something untoward, apparently someone neglected to consult the Hebrew calendar prior to the day of his farewell party, which coincided with the 17th of Tammuz.
■AFTER NUMEROUS farewells, Russian ambassador Petr Stegny returned home on July 14, but his successor, Sergei Yakovlev, 63, is not expected to arrive in Israel until the end of August. Meanwhile, the embassy will be headed by Hebrew-speaking Charge d’Affaires Anatoly Yurkov, a veteran Russian diplomat who has served in various capacities in the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv for more than a decade.
■ LAST WEEK, the Samarian settlement of Barkan celebrated its 30th anniversary and the naming of a new neighborhood. When it was originally founded, the state committee responsible for names wanted to call it Beit Abba, in honor of Revisionist ideologist and journalist Abba Ahimeir. But there were strenuous objections from certain quarters among the future residents, and the name was changed to Barkan.
In recent years, the Council of Judea and Samaria has been bringing groups of journalists and opinion-makers to the area in the hope of changing opinions among those who believe Israel should vacate the West Bank. Some six months ago, one of these journalists was Ya’acov Ahimeir, the elder son of Abba Ahimeir. The matter of the name came up in conversation, and it seemed that past objections were no longer relevant. They decided to name a new Barkan neighborhood Beit Abba, and Ahimeir returned for the double celebration.
Unfortunately his younger brother, former MK and current director of the Jabotinsky Institute Yossi Ahimeir, was unable to join him because of a previous commitment – namely to welcome Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to the institute. Lieberman, an ex-Likudnik, had not set foot inside the Jabotinsky Institute for more than 10 years, but when his daughter Michal was awarded a prize there, Lieberman gave priority to paternal pride ahead of politics.
■ THE INAUGURATION of an Israeli industrial hothouse in China was actually celebrated in Tel Aviv’s Eco Tower, where local businessmen met with a Chinese business delegation representing Wujin Economic Zone near Changzhou. “We came to China to introduce new technologies and products, and suddenly ChemChina bought us,” said Shai Givon of Lyecore, a subsidiary of the Makhteshim Agan Group, in talking about the hothouse that has been built for Israeli and other foreign companies in Changzhou. The creation of the hothouse was brokered by Zvi Shalgo, CEO of the PTL Group and chairman of the Israel Shanghai Chamber of Commerce. Lu Qiuming, the leader of the Wujin delegation, announced the establishment of an annual $150 million fund to assist Israeli and other foreign companies to do business with and in China.
■ANYONE PLANNING to go to Asia on an Israeli passport next month or later should be aware that they will no longer need a visa for Taiwan. The reciprocal waiver agreement signed last month by Taiwan Representative in Israel Liangjen Chang of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Tel Aviv, and Simona Halperin at the Israel Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei, becomes effective August 11. Israelis and Taiwanese will be able to enter each other’s countries visa-free for stays of up to 90 days within a six-month period. More than 100 countries already have similar agreements with Taiwan, including the EU. As a result of the agreement, trade and tourism between the two countries are expected to grow dramatically. The volume of bilateral trade currently stands at $1.4 billion .
■ AS FAR as can be ascertained, Alex Giladi was the only Israeli invited to the recent wedding of Prince Albert of Monaco and South African Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock. Giladi, who was accompanied by his daughter Gala, who wore a gown by Israeli designer Yaron Minkowski, is the Israeli representative on the International Olympic Committee; the prince is president of Monaco’s Olympic Committee.
■ LAST MONTH, angry Tel Aviv parents disrupted a Tel Aviv City Council meeting to protest the growing presence of non-Israelis in the city that never stops. Part of the reason is the growing crime rate, and the other is that parents do not want their children to be a minority in the elementary schools they attend.
City Council member Shlomo Maslawy (Likud) sides with the parents. In an interview with Arutz Sheva, Maslawy said that 97 percent of the students attending Hayarden Elementary School in the city’s Hatikva neighborhood are not Jewish. In most cases, they are the children of foreign workers, refugees and people who illegally crossed into the country. By law, all children must go to school regardless of the legal status of their parents, and the Tel Aviv Municipality adheres to this law strictly. There is a strong sympathy for the plight of these children, and a desire to ensure that they don’t get into trouble due to being denied an educational framework.
As for Jewish children in southern neighborhoods, where the bulk of the non-Israelis reside, the municipality has bent the rules to allow them to attend schools of their choice rather than those closest to home, but this does not satisfy Maslawy, who wants all schools to have a Jewish and Zionist character not only in their curricula, but also in their student bodies.