Grapevine September 8, 2023: Not all in clover

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Flag of Ireland (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Flag of Ireland
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Israel and Ireland are often at odds over Palestinian issues, and Ireland’s perception of Israel’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians was one of the issues raised by Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defense Micheal Martin during his visit to Israel this week.

Though often critical of Israel’s policies relating to the Palestinians, Ireland is among those countries which have not recognized Palestine.

In an address at Jerusalem’s Theatron Hotel to the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, which is an adjunct of the World Jewish Congress, Martin spoke on some of the issues that he had discussed earlier in the day with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, such as Israeli expansion into the West Bank in what Ireland regards as occupied Palestinian territory.

Ireland has frequently urged the protection of civilians in Gaza and the West Bank as well as the application of international law.

Echoing former Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney who said when addressing the same organization in November, 2021, that assumptions are sometimes made in Israeli media and public discourse that Ireland’s position on the conflict is evidence of hostility towards Israel, Martin asserted that “This is simply wrong.”

Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney speaks at the launch of his party’s manifesto for the Irish general election, in Dublin, in January 2020. (credit: LORRAINE O’SULLIVAN/REUTERS)
Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney speaks at the launch of his party’s manifesto for the Irish general election, in Dublin, in January 2020. (credit: LORRAINE O’SULLIVAN/REUTERS)

His current trip includes the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.

He is often asked, he said, why Ireland and Irish people care so much about this issue of a conflict that does not impact on Ireland directly. One answer is Ireland is a small and neutral country, whose security and existence depend on the compliance of all nations with international law and the rules based on international order.

It is on this basis that Ireland speaks and unreservedly condemns terror attacks on Israeli citizens, he said.

“We fully recognize the destabilizing role certain actors in the region are playing,” said Martin, adding that he understands that these factors can influence Israeli reactions

He made the point that at the same time, there is also a need to recognize that there are many Palestinians who share the aspirations to live their lives in peace and security and have the right to self-determination.

Martin also referred to settler destruction wrought in Palestinian villages.

Relating to Iran, Martin said that he was acutely aware of the deep sense of threat felt in Israel, and shares Israel’s concerns about steps taken by Iran. He assured his audience that he was under no illusions.

As for the future, he hoped to see the day when there would be an Israeli and a Palestinian state side by side, each with Jerusalem as its capital.

Following his address, Martin patiently answered questions, and was not remotely evasive. The questions were not limited to the customary three or four. Almost everyone who wanted to ask a question got the chance to do so.

The event was moderated by Prof. Dina Porat, an expert on Holocaust history and antisemitism who also demonstrated her skills in hosting international dignitaries.

Former Canadian justice minister and international human rights activist Irwin Cotler arrived in Israel just in time to attend the lecture and to give a vote of thanks on behalf of the ICFR.

In the audience were many diplomas including Ireland’s ambassador designate Sonya McGuiness, whose husband Feilim McLughlin is the Irish representative to the Palestinian Authority.

Also present was Stephanie Hallett, deputy chief of mission at the US embassy, who had to travel the shortest distance. The other diplomats came from Tel Aviv and Herzliya Pituah. Presumably, when US Ambassador-designate Jack Lew takes office he will be the American attending such events. Hallett had only one bodyguard sitting behind her, though there was at least one more in the room. This was unusual, as American ambassadors usually have a larger security detail.

Charity time

■ IT’S THAT time of year again when charitable organizations are asking for donations in order to feed the poor during the upcoming holy day period. Some are also packing food baskets and boxes to deliver to families living below the poverty line, Holocaust survivors, and other potentially vulnerable citizens. Some organizations also make an effort to provide community dinners at a symbolic or no cost, or to arrange for people to be invited to private homes whose owners are willing to host strangers.

Among the organizations preparing food boxes for needy families is Migdal Or (Lighthouse), headed by Israel Prize laureate Rabbi Yitzhak David Grossman. Best known for his work with at-risk youth, Grossman has many other good deed strings to his bow. Not only does he get some of these young people to join him in packing thousands of boxes, so that each can have a mitzvah to his credit for the new year. Additionally, Grossman draws in well-known personalities at a special annual gathering, among them Miriam Peretz, Rani Rahav, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and MK Yuli Edelstein who chairs the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The event was almost marred by the abuse of office by Transportation Minister Miri Regev, who demanded that her driver keep going when stopped by one of Gallant’s security officer. The driver was reluctant to keep driving for fear of hitting him, but Regev was insistent. The security officer suffered light injury as a result.

In the past there have been many more volunteers packing pre-Rosh Hashanah boxes, but since the rise in political tensions that have caused such severe rifts in society, and even in families, there has been a 25% fall in the number of volunteers.

A diverse synagogue service

■ DURING COVID when most Shabbat and High Holy Day prayer services were held outdoors, Rabbi Eli and Chanie Canterman, the directors of Chabad Talbiya-Mamilla in Jerusalem, organized High Holy Day Services in Sokolov Park. Throughout the year all kinds of people came to Chabad for various reasons, but somehow one doesn’t see such Jewish diversity at regular synagogue services. But because it was outdoors, and a public park, it attracted people from ultra-Orthodox to Reform. A huge tent was set up with synagogue style seating for those people who favored Orthodox tradition, but otherwise people sat wherever they wanted, and however they wanted. That meant that there were clusters of females only or males only, but also husbands and wives who sat together – and it didn’t bother anyone. The Ultra-Orthodox men, identified by their attire, stood slightly behind everyone else, but were part of the service, the beauty of which was enhanced by the magnificent voice of Cantor Naftali Hershtik. This year, the Cantermans will not be holding services in the park, but in the nearby former President Hotel at 3 Ahad Ha’am Street, Talbiya, where the cost of tickets for seats at services will be considerably less than those at regular synagogues. For a little extra money, congregants can also order meals. Advance registration is required at or 0546813737 on WhatsApp. Prayers will be led by Yisrael Hershtik, one of the many talented members of the multi-generational family of cantors.

Herzog's symbolic gesture to unity and diversity

■ IN WHAT appeared to be a symbolic gesture to the unity yet diversity of the 12 tribes of ancient Israel, President Isaac Herzog on Wednesday awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor to 12 individuals and institutions in recognition of their contributions to state and society.

The outdoor ceremony was held on the rear patio of the President’s Residence where round tables, chairs, white sofas and armchairs had been set out for the wine and cheese reception that preceded the ceremony.

Mingling in the crowd were young people and senior citizens, Sephardim and Ashkenazim, Jews, Arabs, Circassians, and Druze, religious and secular, haredim and Reform, academics and industrialists, immigrants and native Israelis, politicians such as Benny Gantz and Fleur Hassan-Nahoum – a large swathe of Israel’s diverse population.

In his address to the honorees and the large audience, Herzog also mentioned his pleasure at seeing such a wide ranging representation of Israel’s demographic mosaic.

Herzog did not wait till the actual ceremony before he emerged, but came out and chatted to his guests.

Medal recipients were :Moroccan Jewish statesman and senior adviser to the King of Morocco André Azoulay; international law Prof. Irwin Cotler; singer and composer Chava Alberstein; social entrepreneur Adi Altschuler; Prof. Meir Buzaglo; Rabbi Menachem HaCohen; Prof. Mona Khoury; Maj.-Gen. (res.) Dan Tolkowsky; journalist Carmela Menashe; soccer player Bibras Natcho; educator Dr. Assad Araidy; social entrepreneur Lena Stern who established a center for holistic treatment of cancer patients; and Kemach which promotes employment amongst haredim.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Carmella Menashe spontaneously approached the microphone, endorsed what Herzog is doing to restore national unity and asked him to safeguard Israel’s resilience and democracy.

Speaking earlier in the day at the grave of former president Shimon Peres at a memorial gathering marking the seventh anniversary of his death, Herzog reiterated his despair over the national crisis, and his determination to resolve it, as he had stated during his trip abroad this week. Herzog is now using every opportunity to deliver this message.

In the evening he paid tribute to Peres who initiated the Presidential Medal of Honor under its original title The Presidential Medal of Distinction. In the audience were key representatives of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, including the center’s chairman, Peres’s son, venture capitalist Chemi Peres.

30 years since Oslo

■ ON SEPTEMBER 13, 1993, Israel’s then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat signed a declaration of principles commonly known as the Oslo Accords. It is known that Rabin had deep reservations, but he went ahead in the hope that this would be the beginning of the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As everyone knows, it wasn’t. In recent weeks, in marking the 30th anniversary year of the signing ceremony on the lawns of the White House, Israeli media outlets and think tanks have run features, interviews, and seminars on why the Oslo Accords failed.

One of the greatest experts on the Oslo Accords is Dr. Yossi Beilin, who as deputy foreign minister was deeply involved in back channel negotiations that led to their signing. Beilin, who is still involved in peace process activities, believes that even though Oslo failed, it was worth the effort. It was like any gamble. It could succeed or fail.

Under the auspices of Media Central, Beilin and Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman, a former deputy director for foreign policy and international affairs at the National Security Council in the Prime Minister’s Office, will this coming Sunday, September 10, at 11 a.m. discuss lessons learned from the Oslo process, and the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations. The event will be held at MediaCentral 7 HaRav Kook Street, Jerusalem. Media Central provides a variety of services to journalists and others with the aim of giving them a broad, and as accurate as possible a picture of Israel. Anyone interested in attending Sunday’s event should RSVP ASAP at Space is limited.

CORRECTION: In Wednesday’s Grapevine, the name of the Japanese Minister should have been listed as Yasutoshi Nishimura, and not as published.