Grapevine: A win for Sara Netanyahu

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 A MEMBER of President Isaac Herzog’s staff donates blood.  (photo credit: COURTESY OF THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT)
A MEMBER of President Isaac Herzog’s staff donates blood.

Will the dismissal by the Jerusalem Labor Court of the case of alleged abusive behavior by Sara Netanyahu against Shira Raban, a member of the household cleaning staff, during the period in which Netanyahu lived in the Prime Minister’s Residence, lead to further similar rulings and disclosures of fake news against the wife of the former prime minister?

Last week, the Jerusalem District Labor Court decided that Raban’s testimony was unreliable, but because of her financial situation, absolved her from paying compensation to Netanyahu.

The outcome of this dragged-out case could open the door to redeeming Netanyahu’s reputation. Ever since she first took up residence in the house on the corner of Smolenskin and Balfour streets in Jerusalem, she has been the subject of gossip and derision, as well as the defendant in several court cases.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sara Netanyahu depart to London, Sept. 5, 2019 (credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sara Netanyahu depart to London, Sept. 5, 2019 (credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)

If one plaintiff’s story was lacking in credibility, why not the others?

■ AMONG THE many discomforts and inconveniences caused by the pandemic, was the depletion of supplies in the Magen David Adom blood bank.

For the past few weeks, MDA has issued a call for blood donors, and MDA’s yellow bloodmobiles have been in evidence in well-populated areas throughout the country. The situation is urgent because blood supplies are at a 40-year low, and now that the country is resuming normal activities, surgeries that were postponed – as priority was given to people infected with the coronavirus – will now take place, and blood supplies will be needed.

Employees of the Office of the President of the State responded to the call, and last week filed into the bloodmobile stationed in the grounds at the President’s Residence to make their contribution to the MDA campaign.

“The coronavirus challenge has created a significant shortage of blood supplies at Magen David Adom’s blood bank. Michal and I have decided to get onboard and call on the public to go out and donate blood,” said President Isaac Herzog. “Blood donations save lives. There are so many people who need it exactly now. I call on the public: go out and donate blood!”

Concurring with her husband, Michal Herzog added: “I think that there isn’t a single family or person who doesn’t know someone who needs help these days. Part of this extremely important work is blood donations. So we here, at the President’s Residence, are setting a personal example and encouraging everyone to donate blood. This is very important.”

Eyal Shviki, director-general of the President’s Office, said: “The privilege of giving something without knowing who will receive it is a beautiful thing. You don’t know who will get your donation, and whoever gets it doesn’t know who you are. And that’s the essence of giving something anonymously. It’s our privilege to give something of ourselves to others, in every sense. It was a privilege today at the President’s Residence to do a great mitzvah. May there be many more!”

■ THE TRIAL of former school principal Malka Leifer, who was extradited to Australia in response to multiple charges of sexual abuse of students in a Melbourne religious school for girls, is not a lone case. Although reports of sexual abuse of minors by men are more common, an extraordinary thing happened when in June of last year, a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) woman by the name of Sara Horowitz posted an item in a closed haredi Facebook group that for two weeks she had been unable to sleep while thinking of an eighth grade teacher who had sexually abused four girls in her class. 

Horowitz added that she knew that throughout the years, many other girls had been victims of the teacher’s abuse. She did not name the teacher, but asked that anyone who attended the Beit Yaakov School for Girls in Jerusalem and had suffered sexual abuse from the most socially minded teacher in the school to get in touch with her privately. 

Horowitz was deluged with responses, and although she had refrained from naming the teacher in question, many of the victims named the same woman, Tzvia Rottenberg, who used to invite individual students to her home when her husband was not there and to lock the door. It started with fondling and led to tongue kissing and more.

The naive young girls initially flattered to be invited to the teacher’s home, soon realized that they had walked into a nightmare, and some are suffering trauma to this day. In at least one case, the experiencer has affected her relationship with her husband. Rottenberg comes from one of the most elite of Lithuanian haredi families with a string of famous rabbis in her pedigree. The story was picked up by Yifat Erlich and published recently in a weekend edition of Israel Hayom.

Horowitz herself had not been a victim. Rottenberg, she said, had invited her to visit in her home and to open her heart to her. But Horowitz had declined. She was greatly disturbed on learning about sexual predators such as Yehuda Meshi Zahav, Chaim Walder and Malka Leifer. 

Several women who had been abused as schoolgirls and could no longer keep their secret, had told her what had happened to them, and she felt that she had to do something to prevent it happening to others. Erlich spoke to many of the women who had responded to Horowitz’s post, and heard harrowing stories from them. The article was not meant to be another scandalous revelation, but rather a plea to parents to teach their children the facts of life and not to be afraid of reporting any abuse against them. 

In the haredi community many young victims – both male and female – were afraid to say anything, because sex is not something openly discussed, and if parents do talk about it to their children, it’s usually just before the young person is due to get married.

But even in secular society, there are children who are afraid to tell their parents that they have been abused by a teacher, a relative, a neighbor or the babysitter. Every parent must give their children the feeling that they can talk to them about anything, without being afraid or ashamed. That is the best way to protect children from abuse.

■ WITH RUSSIA and Ukraine capturing international headlines, followed by Turkey, local political scandals, soaring prices and the failure to curb the increasing Arab crime wave in the Israeli media, there doesn’t seem to be much room available for good news, other than the fact that in many parts of the world including Israel, life is returning to normal after two years of major restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.

With life returning to normal, so is philanthropy.

Israel’s new National Library, which is due to open later this year, has received a substantial gift from California-based philanthropists and supporters of cultural projects Stewart and Lynda Resnick, for whom the entrance plaza and entrance hall in the new National Library complex will be named. 

Within the framework of the library’s activities, they have also established the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Fellowship to bring prominent international scholars and artists to Jerusalem to strengthen the city’s global intellectual and cultural connections and role as a vibrant hub of creativity and learning.

Fellows will produce works of scholarship and art as a product of their encounter with the NLI and its world-class core collections on Judaica, Israel, Islam and the Middle East, and the humanities. International scholars and artists who have made a significant mark in their given fields of endeavor will participate in the five-month-long fellowship, which will include remote and in-person elements.

As generous a gift as this is, it more or less duplicates a long-time existing project of the Jerusalem Foundation that was introduced by the late dynamic mayor Teddy Kollek as long ago as 1973 to provide temporary living and working quarters and a place of inspiration for eminent visiting scholars, writers, artists and musicians. Over the years, giants in all these fields have enjoyed the hospitality of Mishkenot. If such a project has successfully been in place for almost half a century, why establish another similar project in the same city?

The National Library is not the only Jerusalem icon which this month benefited from philanthropic largesse.

Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center and Roman Abramovich announced a new five-year strategic partnership aimed at strengthening Yad Vashem’s endeavors in the areas of Holocaust research and remembrance. The partnership forms part of Abramovich’s global endeavors in promoting Holocaust research and education, as well as combating antisemitism, particularly through his Chelsea Football Club.

The funding pledged by Abramovich will be utilized to significantly enrich Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research, which is explored by scholars from many countries. For three decades, the International Research Institute has been at the center of ground-breaking research initiatives in the field of Holocaust studies, and serves as the basis for both commemorative and educational activities related to the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their collaborators before, during and after the Holocaust. 

This new strategic partnership will expand and bolster Yad Vashem’s research activities, at a time when Holocaust distortion, denial and politicization are rising to an alarming extent around the world.

The partnership with Abramovich will also enable the creation of two new versions of the Book of Names, which will include the names of 4,800,000 Jewish men, women and children who were the victims of Nazi genocide. The concept behind the Book of Names is to restore the identities of the victims from being part of a statistic, to being a person with a name.

Abramovich is one of several Jewish philanthropists born and raised in the former Soviet Union who support a variety of educational, cultural and social welfare projects in Israel. Among the other projects that Abramovich has funded, is the large nanotechnology complex at Tel Aviv University, which stands adjacent to the ANU Museum (previously known as Beit Hatfutsot – the Museum of the Jewish People), that was rescued from closure by Leonid Nevzlin at the request of the late prime minister Ariel Sharon. 

Soon after arriving in Israel from Russia in 2003, Nevzlin established the Leonid Nevzlin Research Center for Russian and Eastern European Jewry at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, has since served on the boards of both the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, and Reichman University and has made significant contributions to projects of other educational institutions.

Abramovich and Nevzlin both live in Israel as does fellow philanthropist Michael Mirilashvili, but others such as Mikhail Fridman, Moshe Kantor and Len Blavatnik, whose names are all linked to charitable enterprises in Israel – mostly in the field of academia – choose to live abroad.