Grapevine: A grim reminder

President Reuven Rivlin at the bedside of Ahmed Dawabsha, 4, at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin at the bedside of Ahmed Dawabsha, 4, at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
IN THREE months, radio and television outlets in Israel will be broadcasting twenty-yearold archive material of the dramatic announcement by Eitan Haber making the official statement that prime minister Yitzhak Rabin had been killed by an assassin.
Haber was a respected Yediot Aharonot journalist before taking up his position as Rabin’s bureau chief, and he returned to journalism after Rabin’s death.
This week, following circulation on social media of photos of President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in SS uniforms, coupled with the horrendous threats and slurs against them, Haber published an op-ed piece in Yediot under the heading: ‘Mr. President, Rabin Also Disdained The Threats Against Him.’ Haber, who met with Rivlin this week, said he was instantly reminded of the voices of hate-filled incitement and the ugly posters that were circulated prior to Rabin’s death.
Rivlin is not quite as contemptuous of the threats as Rabin, who dismissed them with a wave of his hand. But Haber thinks that Rivlin should treat the threats more seriously than he does. It takes only one madman from among Israel’s eight million citizens to harm and to kill, he wrote, recalling last week’s incident in Jerusalem which claimed the life of Shira Banki who had participated in the Gay Pride Parade. Haber concluded his piece by recalling that many years ago there was a slogan on the wall of the pilots’ training room of the Israel Air Force which warned ‘Look carefully around you. The one you don’t see is the one that will knock you down.’ ■ PERHAPS RIVLIN takes the threats more seriously than Haber realizes.
He was unable to attend Banki’s funeral due to a previous commitment to the General Federation of Students and Young Workers which was celebrating its 90th anniversary at the Haifa Convention Center.
In addition to Jews, Federation members include Muslims, Christians, Druze and Circassians, thus symbolizing national unity, which is something that Rivlin constantly encourages. Banki’s death and the inhuman death a few hours later of Palestinian toddler Ali Dawabsha overshadowed the celebration as they have done at many events in recent days.
Rivlin eulogized Banki as the victim of a hate crime and stressed the need to actively fight incitement and hatred. “The battle against incitement and hatred does not begin and end with police protection,” said Rivlin. “When a murder has already occurred, condemnation and outrage will not help.
Silence and indifference to both real and virtual threats will only increase the danger. We cannot wait for the moment of truth in order to fight hatred, incitement and violence.
Educating about tolerance and allowing others to define their identity must begin at school, within the tribe, in the nest, and in the youth movements.”
Rivlin emphasized the need to act immediately to create a healthier social fabric which is stronger and more inclusive. He made it clear that he was not advocating a blurring of identities into some kind of national melting pot. What he was aiming for was to build bridges of partnership and mutual respect between the different sectors of Israeli society. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog who also spoke at the event declared that war must be waged against Jewish terror.
■ EARLIER IN the day, Likud MK Avi Dichter, in an interview on Israel Radio, said that the throwing of a firebomb, even if it failed to injure anyone, was an act of terror. A former head of Shin Bet – the Israel Security Agency – Dichter said that it was a mistake to judge terror only by its victims and not by its intentions.
While the conversation did not include Gaza, it was clear that the example was also relevant for the situation with Hamas. Israel has been trying to get the world to understand this in relation to rockets sent to Israel from Gaza.
The fact that the rockets have been generally ineffective – other than to sow fear – is irrelevant. What is important is the intention, but the world just doesn’t get it. Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On who spoke on the same program and endorsed most of what Dichter had said, also disclosed that nearly all Knesset members are subjected to threats and receive so many that usually they don’t even bother to report them to the police. Given the environment in which we live, perhaps they should be a little less blasé.
■ AFTER THE frenzied attack by knife wielding Yishai Schlissel against participants in the Gay Pride march in Jerusalem last Thursday, the large turnout at a spontaneous rally in the capital’s Zion Square on Saturday night was hardly surprising. Nor was it surprising that politicians from different parties were quick to condemn violence and incitement and to call for tolerance, despite the fact that they are not always good examples themselves. It was gratifying to see Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis and lay people insist that Schlissel’s way and the way of the perpetrators of the arson attack in Duma is not the Jewish way.
What was difficult to accept was that while the rally was in progress, there was also great indifference by people window shopping and sitting in coffee shops along the Ben Yehuda Mall and on Jaffa Road.
Zion Square sits at the intersection of the two. Society often pays a heavy price for indifference.
The media reports of the rallies that took place in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Beersheba on Saturday night focused primarily on what was said by politicians and by the past and present presidents of the state, Shimon Peres and Rivlin respectively. But paid little attention to what was said by the religious representatives, which was a strange omission considering that both Schlissel and the still-unidentified perpetrators of the Duma arson and murder appeared to be acting in the name of religion.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai attended the Tel Aviv rally, which was originally planned to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the deaths of Nir Katz and Liz Troubishi at the hands of a murderous gunman at the Bar Noar LGBT Youth Center, but quickly evolved into something of a broader nature.
The Haifa rally was attended by Mayor Yona Yahav, and the only reason that Mayor Nir Barkat was absent from the Jerusalem rally was because he was out of the country and was represented by deputy mayor Tamir Nir, who read out a message from his boss. Barkat, who is a friend of the Banki family and who was once Shira’s teacher, attended the funeral. So did many members of the legal community console Shira’s parents, Uri and Mika, who are both lawyers. Among them was former Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch, another family friend.
At the time of the rally, Shira was still fighting for her life and prayers for her recovery were being recited all over the country. “It is impossible to say that our hands have not shed their blood,” said Rabbi Benny Lau in Jerusalem, regarding both crimes. “We have to take responsibility,” he said. “No one should have to live in a closet because that means death. No one should be afraid to live in the open. We have to release people from fear,” he said to great applause.
He did not regard the perpetrators of the two dastardly deeds as Orthodox or even religious. “In the name of which Torah which God does someone set fire to a whole family?” he asked. Lau also took exception to the use of the expression: “A Jew doesn’t stab another Jew.” This was racism, he charged.
“What should be said is that a Jew doesn’t stab another human being – period.”
Fellow Orthodox Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein, one of the founders of the Tzohar Association of Rabbis, said that he represented many people from his community who were outraged by these acts of violence and intolerance. Relating to the Torah portion for the week which contains the commandment not to kill, Feuerstein said that he had repeated the commandment several times in his own congregation.
What happened in the name of religion is a travesty, he said. “It’s not Jewish and it’s not right.” He assured his audience that the doors of hundreds of Tzohar rabbis are open to them, especially to Orthodox members of the LGBT community who may confront greater dilemmas than others. “Come to us when you are in distress,” he urged. “Our doors and our hearts are open.”
Disputes cannot be settled with knives said Feuerstein. “These are not people of Torah. We ask ourselves where were we to allow this to develop. We don’t shirk responsibility.”
Jewish fundamentalists are no different from any other fundamentalists said Izhar Hess the CEO of the Masorti Movement in Israel.
“A rabbi who says that it is forbidden for Jews to sell a house to an Arab has no place among the rabbis of Israel.”
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the executive director of the Reform Movement for Progressive Judaism in Israel said that people who care must go out into the streets and raise their voices against intolerance. “We failed twenty years ago,” he said alluding to Rabin. “Let’s not do it again.” He also pledged that Reform rabbis will rejoice with same sex couples under a bridal canopy, and will unite with them against zealots.
■ FORMER KNESSET speaker and former Israel ambassador to Poland Szewach Weiss celebrated his 80th birthday over the weekend, nearly four weeks later than the actual date which was July 5. He received congratulatory telephone calls from two of his successors, Rivlin, and Yuli Edelstein, the current speaker. Weiss was very upset over what is happening to and in Israel.
It almost makes one ashamed to be living in Israel, he said in a radio interview with Haim Ador.
The xenophobic events that took place towards the end of last week, go against the grain of Judaism he said, and from the perspective of his own political ideology, go against everything that social democrats believe in. Weiss was Knesset speaker when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, and nobody read the writing on the wall, he recalled.
It was inconceivable that anyone would murder a prime minister of Israel. It was something that simply couldn’t happen – but it did, he said. Likewise no one could imagine the nationalistically motivated murders and attempted murders that have taken place since then – but they have. With so much hatred, racism and perverted patriotism, Weiss said he was greatly worried about what will come next.
But he should remember that murders for nationalistic or political reasons or simply for misplaced revenge have been part of Israel’s history before and after the creation of the state. Victims include Haim Arlozoroff, Count Folk Bernadotte, Rudolf Kastner, and Emil Grunzweig. There was also the murder of seven Palestinians at a bus stop by Ami Popper, the murder of 29 Palestinians at prayer by Baruch Goldstein and most recently the burning alive of Mohammed Abu Khdeir by Yosef Haim Ben David assisted by two minors. And that’s a very partial list. Jews don’t do that kind of thing? It may be against Jewish law, but there are a small percentage of Jews, including those who pray three times a day, don phylacteries, don’t shave and wear fringed garments, who take the law into their own hands and interpret it according to their own bloodthirsty rules.
■ CURIOUSLY, TOLERANCE abounds in Azerbaijan, which way back in 1918 became the first democratic and secular republic with a Muslim majority. This idyll did not last very long because Azerbaijan was incorporated into the Soviet Union. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan once again became independent and democratic. Outgoing Israel ambassador to Azerbaijan, Rafael Harpaz, said at a press conference this week at the close of his tenure that Azerbaijan is a model of tolerance for the whole world, and noted that the 9,000 Jews living in Azerbaijan live in safety without fear. Harpaz described his three years in Azerbaijan, as wonderful, said that he loved touring the country and sampling its cuisine and was certain that relations between Israel and Azerbaijan would continue to strengthen regardless of who his successor(s) might be. He has made many personal friends he said, and will return to see them, not as a diplomat, but as a tourist.
■ IN AN interview that she gave last year to Channel 10, Anne Pollard, the former wife of jailed Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, said that she felt “abandoned and betrayed” by Israel, and had not received what she believed to be her “rights” from the country which she said she had served before and during her five years in US prisons. Pollard, who has resided in Israel since 2010, gave a similar interview last week to Channel One, saying that she was betrayed not only by the state of Israel but by her husband.
“I don’t know why he dumped me,” she said. “I would have done anything for him.” Despite the fact that he divorced her, she was very pleased for him that he was being released and said that she would have fought for his release under any circumstances, because having been imprisoned for five years herself, she know how terrible that could be. She said it was time that the Israel government recognized her role. During the period in which she and her husband were passing classified information to their handlers she said, they were treated almost like family, but that didn’t last once they were caught.
■ DESPITE THE pall cast on happy events in the capital by Thursday’s stabbing, friends and members of the Israeli Opera – most of them non Jerusalemites – managed to temporarily put the tragedy aside and to focus on the Opera’s 30th anniversary celebrations hosted by President Reuven Rivlin and his wife Nechama in the grounds of the president’s official residence.
The gardens, front and back, were set up like a European salon and there was a wonderful display of extravagant opera costumes.
Argentine tenor Gustavo Porta, who since 2005 has performed in several Israeli Opera productions including Carmen on Masada, specially came from Argentina for the occasion. Other soloists included Naama Goldman, Hila Fahima, Ira Bertman, Mirela Gradinaru, Vladimir Braun, Yael Levita, Oded Reich and Noah Briger who sang arias from Dido and Aeneus, Rigoletto, The Magic Flute, Tosca, Turandut, Norma, The Barber of Saville, Carmen and Schitz – a contemporary Israeli opera. Daniel Cohen conducted the Rishon Lezion orchestra in all but one of the arias. Schitz was conducted by Eithan Schmeiser. Opera lovers sitting in the balmy Jerusalem night air had ninety minutes of musical delight. Members of the opera who were not performing were scattered in different rows and anyone who had the good fortune to be sitting near them could hear them singing softly in a kind of operatic karaoke together with the performers. Rivlin said that while people could boast of famed opera houses in cities around the world, he could boast that the opera was in his house. Master of ceremonies Chaim Topol said that the wonderful thing about opera was that it incorporated so many of the visual and performing arts.
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev said that opera, which had once been a distant dream in Israel, has become a beautiful reality. She paid tribute to the late Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat, who together with Uri Offer, the opera’s director during its first decade, pushed hard to fill the cultural void that had been left with the death of Edis de Philippe, the American soprano who had founded the Israel National Opera. The revival under the title of The New Israeli Opera came under the aegis of The Council for Arts and Culture and was initially part of a partnership between the Cameri Theater and the Israel Chamber Orchestra. At the time, Offer went from being director general of the Cameri Theater to director general of the New Israeli Opera.
He was also present at the 30th anniversary gala. Regev characterized the Israeli Opera as being “the true voice of Israel.”
Current Israeli Opera director Hanna Munitz, was proud to have brought opera to schools, community centers and cultural centers, so that children would gain an early appreciation, and people living in peripheral communities could get a taste of opera without having to go to Tel Aviv. This time, Tel Aviv and points north came in large numbers to Jerusalem. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai was present with his wife Yael. Dan Gillerman, a former Israel ambassador to the United Nations and currently chairman of the Opera’s board, arrived with his wife Janet, and former Israel ambassador to the United States Zalman Shoval was there with his wife Kena. Also seen were former governor of the Bank of Israel Jacob Frenkel, former government minister Moshe Shahal, former Tel Aviv council woman Shelly Hoshen, and Austrian Ambassador Franz Josef Kuglitsch and his wife Maria.
There were not too many Jerusalemites, but prominent among those present were Ovadia Soffer a former long time Israel ambassador to France, and his wife Dorin. The event also coincided with Munitz’s birthday, and after the singing of “Hatikva” when guests were just turning around to leave, Cohen conducted one of the world’s most popular songs – albeit not an operatic aria – “Happy Birthday to You” – and everyone joined in.
■ WHEN ISRAELIS are described as sabras – prickly pears that are rough on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside – the description is often apt. An illustration of this initially appeared on Ynet this week and was subsequently reported in other Israeli media.
Anat and Lior Solomon could not believe what was happening to them on their wedding day. No one from his family other than some cousins showed up at the Harmony in the Garden banquet hall at the Kanot junction. None of the invitees other than a few members the bride’s family were in attendance and the bride and groom were at loss to understand why so many of their invitees had failed to come. It’s quite possible that the blame lies with the Israeli postal service which has become notorious for late deliveries of mail, and in the case of invitations sometimes a month or more after an event has taken place. Whatever the reason, a relative of the groom thought she had come to the wrong venue when she saw how empty the hall was and took the initiative of posting a Facebook message, asking web surfers to come and cheer up the bridal couple.
Close to 2,000 people – religious and secular, old and young – responded. Many didn’t read the message till 10.30 p.m. at night, but came anyway. Some actually came with gifts – mostly money.
Although they were total strangers, they embraced the bridal couple as if they were long lost friends. But what was really heart warming was that the Facebook guests included singers Nazi Shukri, Harel Moyal and Regev Hod, who naturally performed free of charge.
■ IT’S THAT time of year again.
Every summer a bunch of diplomats with whom many Israelis have finally become familiar, even to the extent of developing friendships, pack up their belongings and go home or on to their next posting, and a new bunch of ambassadors and diplomats of lower rank come to take their places. This summer is no exception, and on Thursday, five ambassadors will be presenting their credentials to President Reuven Rivlin, beginning with the ambassador of Cyprus Thessalia Salina Shambos.
Next will be David Quarrey, the ambassador of the United Kingdom, followed by Dr. Clemens von Goetze, the ambassador of Germany.
After him will be Joseph Rutabana, the ambassador of Rwanda and the last will be the non-resident ambassador of the Seychelles Winslow William Waven. Ambassadors present their credentials in chronological order meaning that whoever arrived in Israel first is first in line. The fact that the British and German ambassadors present one after the other is somewhat interesting given that Britain and Germany fought each other in the Second World War, the British and the people of pre-state Israel were enemies and that Nazi Germany sought to exterminate world Jewry. Yet seven decades after the war, Germany and Britain are colleagues in the European Union and representatives of Britain and Germany are within a half hour of each other presenting their credentials to a Jewish president of the State of Israel. Who would have thought in 1945 that such a thing was possible?