The Grapevine: Jaffa-bound

At Peres Center for Peace US Ambassador Dan Shapiro time was approaching when Israeli and Palestinian leaders would have to declare whether Kerry’s peace initiative was a success.

Dan Shapiro 370 (photo credit: Courtesy of US embassy Israel)
Dan Shapiro 370
(photo credit: Courtesy of US embassy Israel)
WHEN HE leaves office towards the end of July, President Shimon Peres will be accompanied by a large segment of his staff, who will be ensconced with him at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa, where Ido Sharir, one of his former senior staff members at the President’s Residence, together with other people with whom Peres has worked in previous capacities, is already installed.
Sharir is executive-director of the Peres Center for Peace, and as such this week welcomed US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, whom he briefed on the center’s activities. Shapiro said that what the center was doing to promote peace was very impressive and in line with the visions of Peres and US President Barack Obama, as well as of US Secretary of State John Kerry. Shapiro added that the time was fast approaching when Israeli and Palestinian leaders would have to declare whether Kerry’s peace initiative was a success or failure.
Shapiro recalled that when Obama was in Israel last year he had said that the leaders would take decisions only when the public pressured them to do so.
Shapiro was inclined to think that leaders on both sides are influenced by public opinion. Several of the center’s projects are supported by USAid and Shapiro said he was pleased and proud that America is of assistance in such important undertakings. Executive-Director Sharir added that, as members of a non-political, non-profit organization totally committed to the promotion of peace, tolerance, cooperation and mutual understanding, the people at the Peres Center are equally cognizant of the impact and importance of public opinion.
■ MEANWHILE, WITH only just over six months of his presidency left, Peres is working at a hectic pace to fulfill all his commitments, though he did have to cancel out on trips to Myanmar and, due to unrest, Thailand. However, he still has a few overseas visits to make before the completion of his tenure. He will also be receiving several heads of state coming to Israel. Whoever succeeds him will have a hard time living up to the standards that Peres has set and inspiring the same degree of staff affection and loyalty. Last week, Peres was symbolically back at his old stomping grounds of the Foreign Ministry to open the annual conference of Israeli ambassadors and heads of delegations abroad, who come home during the Christian world’s holiday period when government offices in other countries are either closed or operating with skeleton staff.
Peres first took office as foreign minister in the previous premises of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, but those buildings were destroyed and in their place a whole new neighborhood, replete with streets, has been built across the territorial sprawl adjacent to Jerusalem’s International Convention Center. Although Peres served twice as foreign minister, the total period came to only three years, and David Levy, who so far is the only person to have served three times as foreign minister, served for a total five years. The longest serving foreign minister was Golda Meir, who was in the post for 10 years, followed by Abba Eban, who was there for eight years and Moshe Sharett, the first foreign minister who also served for eight years, but for five months less than Eban. Although Peres and current Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman are politically poles apart, there is mutual respect and Liberman made a presentation to Peres in recognition of his significant contribution to Israeli diplomacy. The large attendance at the conference indicated that Israel is not as alone in the world as some of our leaders would have us believe. Usually where there is an Israeli ambassador, his or her counterpart from the host country is serving in Israel, which makes for a very widespread series of bilateral relationships.
■ MOST ISRAELI diplomats and other emissaries who are sent to New York enroll their children in Jewish schools, one of the most popular being the Ramaz School that was founded by Rabbi Joseph H. Lookstein and continued by his son Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, who regularly brings student groups to Israel. The Ramaz Upper School, which encourages its students to spend a year of Torah learning in Israel, which often results in a decision to make aliya, is very well represented in this country. It stands to reason that those of its alumni who live here occasionally want to get together for a reunion. It’s happening on Thursday, January 23 at the Shir Hadash congregation in Jerusalem.
The guest speaker for the evening will be Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, who attended Ramaz when his father, Chaim Herzog – as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations – famously tore up the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism, thus emulating his own father, Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog, who in 1939 had led a protest procession through the streets of Jerusalem to the Hurva synagogue in the Old City, where he tore up the British White Paper restricting Jewish immigration to the Holy Land. Another former student is The Jerusalem Post’s Knesset reporter Lahav Harkov, who says she will also be there. The organizing committee of Ramaz alumni includes: Leron (Kornreich) Altman, who graduated with the class of ’91; Oren Ben- Avi,’86; Beverly Gribetz, ’69; Chendy (Kornreich) Harkov, ’79; Louis Lipsky, ’77; Amanda (Greenfield) Ritz, ’78; Rhea (Zirkes) Schwartzberg, ’72; Ephraim Tepler, ’03; Orna Yeheskely-Fuchs, ’78; and Rachel (Abrams) Pear, ’94, who with her husband, Rabbi Ian Pear, founded the Shir Hadash congregation, a factor that made it much easier for the organizers of the reunion to find a venue.
■ IT’S GOING to have the aura of Daniel entering the Lion’s Den when Ron Pundak, one of the architects of the Oslo Accords, participates in a debate on “20 years after Oslo: Success or failure?” at the 11th annual Jerusalem Conference, which has moved from its traditional Mount Scopus venue to the Crowne Plaza Hotel at the entrance to the city.
The Jerusalem Conference is essentially a bastion of right wing activists, where the left-leaning Pundak will stand out like a sore thumb. Others participating in this particular discussion will be Shas leader Arye Deri, the Yesha Council’s Danny Dayan, journalist Dan Margalit, Director of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies Ephraim Inbar, Rabbi Chaim Steiner of Merkaz Harav Yeshiva, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, who is also chairman of World Likud, and Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron. The two day conference will be held on February 3 and 4. Out of 60 speakers and moderators, less than 10 are women, six of whom are participating in a session on religious feminism and the extent to which it is a breakthrough.
■ RAPE IS one of the most terrible and most prevalent crimes world wide. No one can provide an exact statistic, because rape often goes unreported.
Rape victims reeling from shock, shame and fear often go home and try to overcome their emotional and physical pain unaided by relatives or professionals. It remains a deep, dark secret, often because the victims are scared of being blamed for something that was in no way their fault, or in some communities, an unmarried victim is afraid that if she speaks out, she will be regarded as tarnished and will be unable to find a man willing to marry her. In some ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, if the rapist is known to be Jewish and the victim is married, her husband has to divorce her, because though she unwillingly had sex with someone else, it is regarded as adultery. Former beauty queen Linor Abargil, who 15 years ago brought pride to Israel when at age 18 she won the Miss World contest, having participated in the pageant with amazing courage – was the victim of rape, a fact that did not become public till some time after she won her title. A month and a half before the pageant, while modeling in Milan, she had asked travel agent Nur Uri Shlomo to arrange for her to return home. He told her there were no flights from Milan and that she would have to fly from Rome. He offered to drive her, saying that the trains from Milan to Rome were fully booked. On the way to Rome, he stopped the car and raped her at knife point. She tried to fight him off but he was stronger and punched her in the face. He gagged her with masking tape and tied her hands. Later, he put a plastic bag over her head and tried to strangle her. It was subsequently discovered that she was not his only victim.
Abargil’s mother gave her the courage to speak out and not to feel ashamed. Realizing that there were tens of thousands of other rape victims around the world who were reluctant to speak out, Abargil began a global mission to make a difference.
The upshot was a documentary film, Brave Miss World, which took five years to make and was released in the United States in December. Abargil’s story has received enormous media coverage over the years, and is doing so again today in Israel. The film is due to be shown soon on Channel 2. Other than the rape, Abargil – who had a successful modeling and acting career – also came to media attention when she married her first husband, international basketball player Sarunas Jasikevicius, who is not Jewish. In 2006, soon after it became known that the couple was engaged, right wing activist Baruch Marzel, who was then chairman of the United Jewish Front party, published an open letter to Abargil entreating her not to marry out of the faith because of all the dangers accruing from assimilation, including the identity problems of children of mixed marriages.
Abargil ignored the plea, but the marriage didn’t last, and following her divorce two years later, Abargil went in the other direction and became religiously observant, a factor that became increasingly obvious in her choice of attire. She also began to study law and is today a qualified lawyer. In 2010 she married her second husband, Oron Kalfon, with whom she has three children, including a set of twins. She has retained her religious life style, and as a married woman keeps her hair covered.
In the film, other rape victims come forward to tell their stories, including famous actress and author Joan Collins.
The film reopened old wounds for Abargil as it did for rape victims who appear in it and as it will for other rape victims who watch it. Hopefully all victims of violence will learn from the film that in the fight for justice, one cannot remain silent.
■ WHAT HAPPENS to the peace process if something untoward happens to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas? When the question was put this week to Brig.-Gen. (res) Michael Herzog at a briefing at the offices of The Israel Project, he was unable to give a pat answer, because to the best of anyone’s knowledge, Abbas has not groomed anyone to succeed him. Herzog, who has been involved in the peace process for the past 20 years, is in popular demand, and will be addressing members of the Foreign Press Association, the week after next.