Grapevine: Yes, Prime Minister…

Notwithstanding his exacerbated legal problems, former prime minister Ehud Olmert continues to attract admirers.

Olmert arriving at trial 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Olmert arriving at trial 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
■ NOTWITHSTANDING HIS exacerbated legal problems, former prime minister Ehud Olmert continues to attract admirers. Olmert, who was the keynote speaker at the Gala Dinner at Jerusalem’s King David hotel hosted by Albert Dadon, founder of the Australia-Israel- UK Leadership Forum, found himself not only among friends but also among supporters.
Diplomats and politicians, as well as people from the business community, crowded around him and listened intently to what he had to say both from the speakers’ platform and in private conversations.
Presumably, Olmert will receive a similar reception in April in New York where he will be the keynote speaker at The Jerusalem Post Conference.
Dadon is a businessman and philanthropist of French Moroccan background who lived in Israel before he settled in Australia. Prior to initiating the leadership dialogue, which is relatively recent, he founded the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange (AICE), which inter alia sponsors the annual Australian film festival in Israel and the Israeli film festival in Australia.
Convinced that a dialogue between Australian and Israeli parliamentarians would improve the already good relationship between the two countries, Dadon was gratified to see the formula was so successful that British politicians were eager to join. So this year for the first time, it’s not just a dialogue between Australian and Israeli government ministers, shadow ministers, parliamentarians, academics and other community leaders; it also has a British component with bipartisan representation all around.
In introducing Olmert, Dadon allowed himself to be critical of Israel, saying: “Here in this country, you take one of your best sons and bring him down.”
The remark was greeted with approbation.
Dadon recalled that in 2009, Olmert had given an interview to Greg Sheridan, the influential columnist and foreign affairs analyst of the national daily The Australian, in which he had laid out his peace plan “which had almost gone through”.
What Olmert had told Sheridan, Dadon continued, had recently been confirmed by former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in her new memoir, No Higher Honor. Since then, said Dadon, then it had also been confirmed in a newspaper interview given by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in which he stated that had Olmert remained in office, a peace agreement might have been concluded because they were only three months away from it.
“It’s disconcerting that you’ve cut off possibly one of the best prime ministers you’ve ever had,” declared Dadon, who advocated that Israel should follow the French system and not prosecute a sitting head of government.
With regard to the dialogue at hand, Olmert said it was his fervent hope that Israel will engage in dialogue not only with Great Britain and Australia but with her Palestinian neighbors, “not because I care about the Palestinians, but because I care about Israel. A two-state solution is essential for the future of a Jewish democratic state.”
The most important thing for a prime minister to remember, he said, is not to do what is politically comfortable for you, but what is in the national interest.
Yitzhak Rabin had been such a prime minister, he said. He took a long time to make up his mind. It was painful and he suffered, but once he made a decision it was for the good of the national perspective not his own personal political comfort.
Rabin’s son, Yuval, was in the audience to hear this tribute to his father from another former prime minister, who at the time had been on the opposite side of the political fence.
■ FROM AMONG the Australian parliamentarians, Labor MP Michael Danby, chairman of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade, has been to Israel more times than any of his colleagues. Danby’s wife Amanda, who is fairly familiar with Jerusalem, took a friend who is a first-time visitor, through the Jerusalem tunnels.
The friend, whose knowledge about Israel derives mainly from media reports about the strife between Israel and the Palestinians, was surprised to discover that there were so many delightful tourist attractions throughout the country.
No-one expects it, said Amanda Mendes de Costa Danby, because Israel is never perceived as a tourist destination.
When Greg Sheridan took a three-week trip around the country and wrote a full-page tourist story about Israel in The Australian, he received an unbelievable quantity of hate mail, Michael Danby said.
■ ASIDE FROM bringing together the various Australian, British and Israeli participants in the leadership conference, the gala dinner is also a kind of reunion between Australian expats living in Israel and prominent Australians – both Jewish and non-Jewish – who are visiting the country. Among the Australian expats at the dinner were Mark Regev, Isi and Naomi Leibler, Gary Stock, Paul Israel, Nahum and Elora Feiglin, Arnold Roth, Irene Gruber, Amiel Gurt, Zvi Ehrenberg, Irene Gruner and Peter Adler.
Australian Ambassador Andrea Faulkner was also there, as were British Ambassador Matthew Gould and Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt, who was visiting for the third time in less than a year.
■ OVERSIGHTS CAN sometimes be extremely annoying and embarrassing.
All the speakers at the gala dinner hosted by Albert Dadon were presented with copies of the Random House publication Ben Gurion, by Shimon Peres in conversation with David Landau. Even though he was sitting at a table directly opposite the dais, no mention was made of Landau, who is arguably one of Israel’s best English language journalists.
Landau, who currently writes for The Economist, was editor-in-chief of Haaretz from 2004 to 2008 and, prior to joining Haaretz in 1997, was diplomatic correspondent and managing editor of The Jerusalem Post.
This is not the first time that Landau has been overshadowed by Peres when writing a book based on their conversations, so he took it in stride, remarking at the end of the evening that the veal cutlet served as the main course had been excellent.
■ WHILE ON the subject of Australia- Israel connections, three Jerusalem Post columnists – Rabbi Shmuely Boteach, Hirsh Goodman and Isi Leibler – appear in intriguing new cookbook One Egg is A Fortune by Australian-born Judy Kempler and South African-born Pnina Jacobson.
Boteach, an outspoken champion of Israel, is married to Debby, who is Australian- born. Goodman was the founding editor of The Jerusalem Report (now a sister publication of The Jerusalem Post), whose first publisher was Australian philanthropist the late Richard Pratt.
Leibler, who now lives in Jerusalem, is a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
Though published in Australia, the book features recipes and anecdotes by many world-famous Jews as well as several well-known Australian Jews from diverse walks of life.
The book also contains short biographies of the people who contributed recipes and anecdotes. The latter are all food related, including one about the time Leibler and his wife Naomi, when working on behalf of Soviet Jewry, invited 14 refuseniks to Shabbat dinner in their Moscow hotel room. Word spread, and they found themselves inundated with many more. The Leiblers, who are religiously observant, had brought with them a large quantity of kosher supplies including gefilte fish and vacuum-packed cold cuts, but with so many unexpected guests there just wasn’t enough food to go around. So they cut everything in half, and everyone managed to at least have a taste.
Some of the other contributors include Alan Dershowitz, Itamar Rabinovich, Tovah Feldshuh, Lord Janner, Chaim Topol, David Helfgott, Janet Suzman, Dudu Fisher, Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk and Michael Steinhardt.
■ YAD VASHEM has joined other important institutions in awarding prizes for literature. Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research this week initiated the first Yad Vashem International Book Prize for Holocaust Research, in memory of Holocaust survivor Abraham Meir Schwarzbaum, whose family members were murdered in the Holocaust.
The award, which is also in memory of Schwarzbaum’s relatives, went to Prof.
Christopher R. Browning of the University of South Carolina for his book Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave- Labor Camp; and to Prof. Daniel Blatman of the Hebrew University for The Death Marches: The Final Phase of Nazi Genocide.
The prize is awarded for breakthrough scholarly research on the Holocaust, and both recipients gave lectures related to their research..
■ THERE WILL be several Japanese cultural events in Israel this year within the framework of the celebrations of 60 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries. One of the most ambitious will be a joint Japanese-Israeli production of “Women of Troy” at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv, which will be directed by one of Japan’s most eminent directors, Yukio Ninagawa, who has already arrived in Israel to begin auditions The production has been in the planning stages since 2010, with people from the Cameri Theater initially participating in a workshop in Japan in order to learn Japanese theater techniques. The Israeli actors in the production will include both Jews and Arabs.
■ TEL AVIV’S new King David Museum and Study Center, located in Brenner Street near the corner of Allenby, was formerly a gymnasium. There was limited floor space for the museum, which was established by American philanthropist Susan Roth, so the architectural plan is like the shell of a snail, thus making maximum use of a relatively small area.
Doing the honors insofar as affixing the mezuza was Rabbi Yaacov Israel Ifergen, commonly referred to as “Rentgen” (X-ray) due to his uncanny ability to see beyond the obvious in the people who come to consult him and ask for a blessing. Several Israeli business tycoons acknowledge that they never make a major business decision without talking to him first. Ifergen has another amazing ability: to rattle off gematria equations to suit any situation. In a truly amazing display of mental ability – and without notes – he went through a long series of gematrias to prove the relationship of Susan Roth not only to King David but also to Rachel the Matriarch, to whom Roth is also greatly attached.
At the official opening of the museum this week, Roth, though somewhat overwhelmed, managed to conduct conversations in English, Hebrew and Yiddish with a large group of haredi rabbis who made absolutely no effort to force a separation between men and women. They displayed interest in and curiosity about the exhibits in the museum and had no difficulty conversing with Roth and other women present. They were completely understanding that in such close confines as the spiraling museum it was impossible for people not to rub shoulders, regardless of gender.
Nor did they object at the dinner afterwards to the fact that the entertainer was female. However she didn’t sing. In keeping with the Davidic tradition, she played the harp, and she was modestly dressed so that everything other than her face and hands was covered.
The museum is now officially open to the public, and one of its fascinations is a display of various genealogical charts linking several Jewish families, including Roth and some very famous rabbis, to King David. In her research into the Davidic dynasty, Roth has discovered some extremely interesting “cousins,” several of whom have supported her efforts, most notably Rabbi Shalom Twersky of New York who has been most supportive of her endeavors.
■ EXCLUSION IS the name of the game these days. After Kadima MK Rachel Adatto, who was a prominent physician before entering into politics, drew attention to the grave omission of female doctors among the speakers at the annual Puah conference on fertility and Jewish Law, several doctors canceled their participation and the Israel Medical Association eventually barred its members from attending.
Exclusion is not limited to women. The IDC, which is conducting a conference under the title “From the Shtreiml to the IDF Beret,” doesn’t have a single shtreimlwearer among the listed speakers.
■ EVERYONE LIKES to have a significant milestone in their lives that has nothing to do with having reached a certain age.
Thus Helena Glaser, outgoing President of World WIZO, takes pride in the fact that almost 40 years after having joined the organization, she has gone down in historical record as being the first woman to chair the Zionist General Council. Not only that, she was unanimously elected at the 36th World Zionist Congress in June, 2010.
She had told her husband Ami, who has supported her volunteer work from day one even though it meant a lot of absences from home, that she doubted she would be elected if for no reason other than the fact that every previous chairperson had been male. Thus her victory was a pleasant surprise. Glaser did not rest on her laurels, but immediately introduced a rule that one third of each delegation to the WZC must be female.
Like all Jewish organizations, WIZO faces the challenge of recruiting new young members. Recruitment is now no longer toward an organization but toward a particular project, says Glaser. Whereas several years ago it was the organization itself that attracted new blood, today it has to be a specific cause such as battered women, abused children or preservation of the environment.
Next week’s World WIZO Conference will be Glaser’s last in an executive capacity, after which she will join her former mentors, Raya Jaglom and Michal Modii, as an honorary president.
Jaglom was the longest-serving president that the organization ever had, remaining at the helm for 26 years. At age 92, she remains active and interested, and as coiffured and coutured as ever.
WIZO apparently keeps women young because Glaser, approaching her mid- 60s, looks nowhere near age. She has mixed feelings about completing her role as world president. On the one hand she is drawn by what WIZO does in the realm of social justice but on the other she can’t wait to have more free time to spend with her family.
For years, because of her travels abroad, her freezer was always well-stocked to ensure that her family and particularly her husband, did not go hungry. “Now,” she says with a smile, “we’ll eat fresh food too.”
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