Grapevine September 1, 2023: A man for all seasons

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 FROM LEFT: Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Reena Pushkarna, Indian Ambassador Sanjeev Singla, and Kunal Pushkarna. (photo credit: NIR PEKIN)
FROM LEFT: Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Reena Pushkarna, Indian Ambassador Sanjeev Singla, and Kunal Pushkarna.
(photo credit: NIR PEKIN)

Although Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir probably appear in news stories more frequently than do other members of the government, the politician who is arguably interviewed more often than any of his 119 colleagues is Yisrael Beytenu founder and chairman Avigdor Liberman, despite the fact that he is currently a member of the opposition. But in his long parliamentary career, Liberman has held several ministerial positions and has acquired knowledge and expertise which make him a favorite go-to politician for journalists covering various aspects of the national crisis. Liberman’s ministerial roles have included National Infrastructure, Transportation, Strategic Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Defense and Finance. Aside from that, he is a willing and cooperative interviewee, who when he criticizes the government, does not simply bluster insults but provides logical, back-up information. He also has a well-developed sense of humor which comes to the fore in many of his interviews, and which is one of the reasons that journalists give him so much air time and print media space.

Tandoori Lands End opens

■ INDIAN AMBASSADOR Sanjeev Singla and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai were among the many well-wishers who came to celebrate the official opening of Tandoori Lands End, which is the latest culinary venture by celebrated Indian Restaurateurs Reena and Vinod Pushkarna and their son Kunal, who for some four decades have brought a taste of India to Israel. In the restaurants that they have opened and closed, they have not only introduced Indian cuisine, but also Indian culture in the clothes that Reena Pushkarna always wears, and through the Indian cultural and diplomatic events with which they have been associated. While India has had a series of official ambassadors to Israel for the past 30 years, the unofficial ambassador in the person of Reena Pushkarna has remained constant. None of the official ambassadors resent this. They have been happy for her to cater their events and pleased that there was an authentic Indian restaurant close to where they live. The Pushkarnas have also introduced new Indian ambassadors to their friends and to various dignitaries and celebrities – most notably to Zubin Mehta, a fellow son of India, who was the long-time director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

The official opening of Tandoori Lands End had originally been scheduled for July 11, which unfortunately coincided with one of the largest anti-judicial reform demonstrations in Tel Aviv, meaning that most invitees would have their paths blocked while trying to reach their destination. So while the new restaurant, with its impressive, elegant, east-west décor, went through an extended running-in period, the official opening was postponed to a date when both the ambassador and the mayor could find an opening in their calendars, so that they could jointly cut the ribbon as a symbol that Tandoori Lands End is officially open for business. On Wednesday of this week, they could be seen with other guests who included diplomats, members of the International Women’s Club of which Reena Pushkarna is a long-time member, veteran clientele, and personal friends. It was a tribute not only to the restaurant but to its proprietors, that Huldai, who because of his crowded schedule, makes hit-and-run appearances at many events, stayed for more than an hour at this one.

Israel's Foreign Ministry needs new diplomats

■ NOT ONLY is there a dire shortage of teachers to educate the next generation of the People of the Book, but diplomacy is another profession currently lacking in incentives. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is utilizing social media in the hope of attracting new blood. The only real incentive is the opportunity to see the world. But for some years now, budgetary cuts have reduced the ability of Israeli diplomas to further Israel’s cause in the countries to which they have been posted. Moreover, many talented people who have the potential to be effective diplomats would be unwilling to represent a government with whose policies they may disagree. The recent fiasco surrounding the meeting between Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and his Libyan counterpart Najla El Mangoush is yet another reason for potential diplomats to resist such a career choice. The whole incident is rather sad for Cohen who chalked up quite a number of successes in a relatively short period of time. But his diplomatic faux pas has obviated all his achievements. Israeli diplomats have interacted with counterparts from enemy countries since day one. Abbas Eban, long after his retirement from the foreign service, used to tell of closed-door meetings with diplomats who would either ignore him or insult him in public, but who were good friends in private. Something similar can be seen with Knesset members from opposing parties who conduct diatribes against each other in the plenum or in Knesset committees but are buddy-buddy in the Knesset corridors.

 Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman is seen at a faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, Israel, on June 19, 2023. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman is seen at a faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, Israel, on June 19, 2023. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Israel ministers must speak to Jewish community leaders abroad

■ SENIOR ISRAELI government ministers, when paying official visits abroad, know that in addition to meeting with their counterparts and other dignitaries, they will have to either meet with Jewish community leaders or attend a wider Jewish community event.

Thus, when Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was in the US this week, it was a given that in addition to attending official meetings, he would also address a gathering of the Friends of the IDF. He did so in Chicago at the home of an FIDF supporter in the presence of some 150 guests. The get-together was actually a fundraiser for IMPACT! Scholarship program which since 2002, has provided four-year college scholarships to more than 20,000 combat and combat support veterans from low socio-economic backgrounds. Gallant is a former FIDF board member and part of the group that founded IMPACT! in 2002. In speaking about recent terrorist incidents in Israel, Gal said: “Over the past weeks, we have experienced a wave of terror attacks in Israel – and the murder of innocent civilians by Palestinian terrorists. And while facing complex challenges, we know that our bond with the United States is a pillar of Israel’s security. As Minister of Defense, I have set a clear directive, placing the ties between the United States and Israel, above all.”

In alluding to recent negative attitudes towards Israel, Gallant added, “I will do everything in my power to defend the State of Israel, to protect the IDF and its commanders, and to unite our society.”

Among those in attendance were Izzy Levy and Al Frank, cofounders of the IMPACT! Scholarship program; Secretary to the Minister of Defense Brig.-Gen. Guy Markizano; Maj.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman, IDF attaché to the US; Orna Pesach, executive director of the IMPACT! Program; and Shuki Peretz, Doron Lavy, and Dr. Dor Gilboa, three IMPACT! graduates.

 Defense Minister Yoav Gallant addressing a gathering of the Friends of the IDF in Chicago (credit: Bonnie Robinson)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant addressing a gathering of the Friends of the IDF in Chicago (credit: Bonnie Robinson)

Porush tries to help sex offender go to Uman

■ “WE THOUGHT Litzman was gone and we were finally rid of government ministers who work for rapists,” wrote Labor chair MK Merav Michaeli on her WhatsApp account following Hebrew media reports that Jerusalem Affairs Minister Meir Porush is aiding convicted felon Rabbi Eliezer Berland in his efforts to enter Ukraine in time for Rosh Hashanah so that he can go to Uman and visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslav. Berland, who heads the Shuvu Banim sect, was convicted on charges of sexual abuse and did jail time. The Ukrainian authorities have vetoed his entry into the country. Ukrainian Ambassador Yevgenyi Korniychuk confirmed to Haaretz reporters that at a meeting with Porush several weeks ago, Porush had raised the Berland issue. Korniychuk had informed Porush that there must be a formal request that would then be forwarded to the authorities. In any case, there is a court injunction against Berland that prevents him from leaving the country pending the hearing of a case in which two of his victims are suing him for NIS 4 million.

Porush is no political novice. He has been involved in politics since boyhood as assistant to his late father Menachem Porush, who was a member of Knesset for 18 years. Meir Porush has been a member of Knesset since 1996, and before that was a member of the Jerusalem City Council for 13 years. He twice ran unsuccessfully for mayor – first in 1983 and again in 1989.

One would have thought that he would have learned from the Malka Leifer case that cost Yaakov Litzman his political career. But apparently, Porush suffers from that misplaced belief on the part of Israeli wrong-doers, that whatever happens to other people won’t happen to them. It would not hurt for more research to be done on why so many people of the cloth and their accomplices are guilty of rape, pedophilia, sexual harassment, and other sex-related crimes. It was widely prevalent amongst the Catholic clergy and, unfortunately, there have been many instances both in Israel and the Diaspora of rabbis causing harm to women and children by sexually abusing them. The actions of a few can result in the public’s loss of confidence in all.

Police save mayor from haredim

■ IT’S NO fun being a female mayor in Beit Shemesh, where Aliza Bloch this week had to be rescued from a school by police when attacked by a group of religious extremists who believe that the only functions of a woman are to cook, clean, and give birth. It’s not the first time that Bloch, who happens to be Orthodox, has been subjected to attack, but she has stood her ground and is running for a second term. It helps to have a name that rhymes well. Her Hebrew campaign slogan is Efshar lismoch al Aliza Bloch (You can rely on Aliza Bloch). Among the people who commiserated with her following her ordeal, were several politicians and President Isaac Herzog, who encouraged her to stay strong and said that he was unequivocally opposed to all forms of violence.

Incidentally, any visitor to Beit Shemesh will be amazed at the level of development. Construction sites are visible in all parts of the city, and architects designing residential complexes must be aware that the balconies on every unit, must include space for a kosher sukkah, meaning that part of the balcony must be under the open sky and not covered by the balcony of an above apartment. Between Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem, there is a huge expanse of virgin territory, covered in diverse vegetation – with not a single structure. Some of this land could have been used to create a new neighborhood instead of changing the character of Jerusalem, and adding to its already crowded population with the construction of tall towers in almost every neighborhood in the capital. Jerusalem has the highest population ratio in the country, with somewhere in the range of a million residents.