Grapevine: A site for an embassy

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely announced that the ministry’s key project over the next year or two is to bring all the foreign embassies to Jerusalem.

FROM LEFT: Mickey Dahav, CEO of the Spirit of Israel; Tirza Brody; Ofra Fuchs Manor and Tal Brody. (photo credit: Courtesy)
FROM LEFT: Mickey Dahav, CEO of the Spirit of Israel; Tirza Brody; Ofra Fuchs Manor and Tal Brody.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Two weeks ago, when speaking at a reception hosted by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat at city hall, US Ambassador David Friedman hinted that the US Embassy move to Jerusalem would be sooner than initially stated by US President Donald Trump, after which Barkat said there was room for all the embassies in Jerusalem. Heaven only knows where, because the city is already congested.
Last week, when speaking at a StandWithUs gala dinner in Jerusalem, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely announced that the ministry’s key project over the next year or two is to bring all the foreign embassies to Jerusalem.
Since the announcement that the US Embassy move will take place in May and will temporarily be housed in the Consulate in the capital’s Arnona neighborhood until a suitable site for an embassy is found, real estate agents in the capital are in a frenzy searching for a site that will help to promote their images and earnings.
As American casino tycoon and mega philanthropist Sheldon Adelson has offered to foot part of the bill for the construction of an embassy, perhaps he can persuade Lev Leviev, the controlling shareholder in the Africa Israel Group, to sell him one of the company’s properties, which is situated in an ideal location in the upscale neighborhood of Talbiyeh, within only a few minutes walking distance of the American Center and the other US Consulate, which faces Independence Park, not to mention the fact that it’s just around the corner from the Prime Minister’s Residence.
The property in question is the former President Hotel, which extends for a whole block. Originally built by the late Haim Shiff in the early 1950s, it became an immigrant absorption center in the 1990s. It was the first hotel in Jerusalem with a swimming pool, and guests included David Ben-Gurion and his wife.
The property was acquired by Africa Israel nearly 30 years ago, and the plan was to tear down the existing structure and to build a luxury apartment complex. But the municipality wanted the property to remain a hotel. Leviev refused, and finally, in August 2014, it was announced that a compromise agreement had been reached and that Africa Israel would build a 180-room hotel, plus a couple of dozen apartments. Since then, there has been no progress. The building continues to deteriorate and looks like an abandoned property. Leviev would be doing himself, the neighborhood and the US government a favor if he sold it to Adelson.
Admittedly, there might be a few bureaucratic problems because so much of the surrounding area is residential, and the neighbors might protest. On the other hand, it’s doubtful that the municipality would object to the establishment of a US Embassy on the site.
But there may be problems regarding Adelson’s offer, which instantly sparked a debate on social media as well as regular media in the US as to whether it would be legal and ethical to accept his gift.
■ MEANWHILE, THE International Christian Embassy Jerusalem is currently approaching the leaders of other nations urging them to join the United States in relocating their embassies to Jerusalem. These efforts are being coordinated by the Jerusalem head office and include letter campaigns and direct lobbying of government leaders by their local Christian communities.
“We are very grateful once again that the Trump administration is continuing to carry through with its commitment to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, where it has always belonged,” said ICEJ president Dr. Jürgen Bühler. “We join the Israeli people and government in saluting this well-timed gesture.”
■ GHANA’S ambassador-designate, Hannah Ama Nyarko, who is due to present her credentials to President Reuven Rivlin on March 12, though not the first female ambassador from an African country, is the first female ambassador from an African country who is resident in Israel.
Even before presenting her credentials, Nyarko, a veteran diplomat who inter alia has served in her country’s embassies in the United States and Belgium, has already settled into activities in Israel, and earlier this month was among the speakers at an international and academic workshop related to overpopulation in Israel. The workshop, at Tel Aviv University, was a joint project with the University of Maryland.
■ APROPOS RIVLIN, other than Jerusalem, his favorite subject is democracy, the concept of which he frequently promotes, invariably adding that there is no contradiction between a Jewish and democratic state. He will doubtless make this point yet again when he speaks at the opening session of the Israel Democracy Institute’s March 11 symposium on “Democracy on the Move,” which will be held at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.
■ AMBASSADORS OF member states of the European Union were in a quandary last Thursday as to whether to attend a seminar cohosted by the Bulgarian Embassy and the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, or to attend the Estonian Independence Day reception hosted by Ambassador Sulev Kannike.
Estonia is a member of the EU, but Ambassador Emanuele Giaufret, who is the head of the EU delegation in Israel, was among the speakers at the seminar and couldn’t really bow out in view of the topic, plus the fact that Bulgaria currently holds the presidency of the Council of the EU.
Other ambassadors whose countries are member states of the EU, and who chose to attend the seminar, included Sweden’s Magnus Hellgren, Spain’s Manuel Gomez-Acebo, Poland’s Jacek Chodorowicz, Serbia’s Milutin Stanojevic, Cyprus’s Thessalia-Salina Shambos and Malta’s Cecilia Attard-Pirotta. Myanmar Ambassador Maung Maung Lynn, who never misses an opportunity to enhance his knowledge, was also present. Lynn is currently in a spot of legal trouble resulting from allegations of improprieties by his former driver Tomer Moshe, who this week filed a complaint against the Myanmar Embassy in the Tel Aviv District Labor Court as reported on the News1 Internet site.
But back to the seminar: In introducing the subject, which was “Whither Europe: Has the Death Knell of Liberalism and Tolerance been Sounded?” Bulgarian Ambassador Dimitar Mihaylov noted that recent surveys indicate that a comfortable majority of Europeans have confidence in the future of the European Union.
Prof. Sharon Pardo, who chairs the department of politics and government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said that he is optimistic about Europe being a torchbearer of liberalism and tolerance, despite Brexit, the immigration crisis, the resurgence of Russia and political developments in some European countries.
Relating to Israel’s relationship with Europe, Pardo said that without Europe, Israel would be in a far worse position in terms of trade markets, diplomacy, direct investment and politics. He credited prime ministers Ben-Gurion, Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu with the realization that Europe is promoting liberalism and tolerance.
A large number of Israelis want to be part of the European Union, said Pardo, adding that “Israel has the largest concentration in the world of would-be Europeans.” Fifty-five percent of Israelis are would-be European citizens, he claimed.
Despite all its faults, he insisted, the EU is still the leading revolutionary process of power, especially in areas of market research, higher education and investments. “It may not unite, but it binds its members,” he said, though he acknowledged that it does not have the same global scope as the United States. Even so, he is convinced that “Europe increasingly defines our global world. While the US founded most global institutions, it is the EU that modernized them.”
Conceding that the EU has been in a constant state of crisis since its establishment, Pardo believes that “it has emerged stronger from each crisis.” He admitted that he is worried by the rise of neo-Nazism and the far Right, but attributed this to the failure of governments in Europe to engage with their citizens.
Giaufret, who holds a PhD in history and international politics, said that he is inclined to agree with Pardo. “In the corridors of Brussels there’s a saying: ‘Never waste a great crisis.’” There has been a convergence of crises that shook the world over the past 10 years, he said, listing inter alia the financial crisis and problems with national debts that became unmanageable; unemployment; the resurgence of Russia; the wave of terrorism, the migration crisis; and Britain’s decision by referendum to leave the EU. “How can we so quickly project an image of openness after so many crises?” he asked, and instantly provided the answer: the ability to manage a crisis. “We were stronger together than alone.” He also underscored that the European Central Bank had contributed enormously to relieving the burden of the economic crisis in Europe, which was an offshoot of the economic crisis in America, and rehabilitating the economy.
Describing the EU as “a political project which is there to serve European citizens,” Giaufret said: “We realize that we have to reconnect to citizens.”
Dr. Amichai Magen, head of the MA program in diplomacy and conflict studies at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at IDC Herzliya, taking on the role of Cassandra, who in Greek mythology voiced prophecies that no one believed, said: “We are seeing the erosion, weakening and collapse of Europe.” In his perception it is “in the worst stage that we’ve known.”
The world has turned upside down, he said, with China now the promoter of free trade. Institutions are not delivering what is expected of them, he commented, and this also impacts on the EU. “The essential elements of the EU have not changed in 60 years, but the world has radically changed.” Society is being torn apart, he said, and people are beginning to talk about de-globalization. “The EU was moving toward convergence, but what is happening is profound divergence. European citizens have a lack of trust not only in the EU but in their own national governments.”
While things are looking up at the moment for the EU with more initiatives for European integration, it won’t work, said Magen, unless Europe is able to fix its democratic deficit.
■ THE VENUE for the seminar is a preserved and restored building dating back more than a century. It was purchased in 1945 by the Discount Bank, which in 2009 launched it as a private museum which can be visited by appointment only and at no charge. In photos, documents and videos, it tells the history of the bank, the history of Tel Aviv and the history of Israel. The ground floor is dedicated to the past; the second floor, to the present; and the third floor, to the future or, more accurately, to future banking – as currently envisioned. The museum has many special events, and workshops on finance for children and youth during summer vacation and holiday periods.
There is a video of Haim Yavin declaring the 1977 political turnaround with one word, “Mahapach!” followed by footage of a jubilant Ezer Weizman jumping on top of an exhilarated colleague.
Representing Discount Bank at the event was Yuval Alkabetz, the manager of the Bat Yam branch, who said that the Bulgarian Embassy had been a loyal customer and a great partner for almost 20 years, and that it was a pleasure to deal with Mihaylov.
■ THERE’S SNOB value in color, as evidenced in the special tribute book to be presented next week to outgoing Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky at a gala dinner at Cipriani, 25 Broadway, New York City, under the auspices of the Jewish Agency for Israel North American Council.
The tribute pages are categorized as Ambassador, Builder, Patron, Sponsor, Friend, Supporter, and are colored sapphire, platinum, gold, silver, and blue. Along with tables for 10, they are priced at $50,000, $25,000, $10,000 and $5,000. The latter does not include a table for 10. It purchases two tickets and a half-page tribute on a blue page. On the other hand, whoever forks out $250,000 also gets invited to the predinner VIP reception.
For those not attending the dinner but wanting to make a significant contribution via tribute pages, the prices are: sapphire $50,000, platinum $36,000, gold $30,000, silver $25,000, bronze $18,000, blue $10,000, blue half-page $5,000. Here the categories are extended to also include sponsor, friend and supporter. There are also some white pages at $1,000 each.
The Jewish Agency should do very well out of all that.
The dinner chairmen, honorary chairmen, and co-chairmen are all philanthropists whose names are indelibly inscribed in a vast array of Israel projects. They include James and Merryl Tisch; Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson; Len Blavatnik; David and Serena Koschitzky; Henry and Julia Koschitzky; Robert Kraft; Peter May; and Charles Ratner.
Guest speaker is former US president George W. Bush, whose family has a long history with Sharansky. In December 1987, when George H.W. Bush was vice president, he and Sharansky participated with some 250,000 Jews in a rally in Washington’s National Mall calling for Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev to grant three million Soviet Jews their freedom. The rally was on the eve of a summit meeting between Gorbachev and president Ronald Reagan, who the previous year had facilitated Sharansky’s release from a Soviet prison. Before Sharansky’s release, George H.W. Bush was present when Avital Sharansky met with Reagan to plead her husband’s case. In January 2005, George W. Bush recommended that fellow Americans read Sharansky’s book The Case for Democracy. In December 2006, he honored Sharansky with America’s highest civilian decoration – the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
All in all, there is no one more appropriate than George W. Bush to deliver the keynote address.
■ LAST WEEK at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations at the Inbal hotel in Jerusalem, Andrew Borans, the executive director of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, asked Sharansky what qualities Netanyahu should seek in deciding who to nominate as Sharansky’s successor to head the Jewish Agency. Sharansky immediately asked whether the question had been planted by Jerusalem Post chief political correspondent Gil Hoffman.
Sharansky noted that Hoffman has been hot on the trail of possible candidates who might succeed him, and said that he has found him to be a particularly shrewd reporter. Sharansky told participants that in the past when there were headlines about him in the Post, his staff was perplexed about their source, until he told them that he had walked to synagogue with Hoffman on Shabbat.
■ FORMER CHAIRMAN of the Conference of Presidents Seymour Reich arrived in Israel ahead of most other participants, due to some important family business here. His oldest granddaughter, Leya Amiram, was celebrating her engagement to Yehuda Chocron, the son of Sima and Albert Chocron of Netanya, and Reich went to Tel Aviv ahead of the conference to join in the family’s festivities.
Leya is a graduate of Ono Academic College with a degree in marketing, advertising and communications. Her fiancé is a pastry chef, working at Toto Restaurant in Tel Aviv and is also an events producer. Leya’s father, Avi Amiram, is a well-known criminal lawyer, and her mother, Jaime, is an English teacher who made aliya from New York 31 years ago and met her husband at Tel Aviv University, where they were students. Yehuda’s parents are now retired, but his mother was previously engaged in diamond manufacturing, and his father was in the construction business. The wedding is due to take place soon after Rosh Hashana, and it is not yet known whether Yehuda will bake the wedding cake.
■ IT’S THE season for giving awards to nonagenarians. Last week the Israel branch of the World Jewish Congress honored Prof. Yehuda Bauer, 91, with the Nahum Goldmann Medal, and this week Netanyahu awarded the Public Diplomacy Prize to former foreign minister, defense minister and ambassador to Washington Moshe Arens, 92, at an event at the Foreign Ministry attended by past and present combatants on the diplomatic battlefront.
It was natural for Netanyahu to refer to the latest developments in the proposed move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and to once again express heartfelt appreciation to Trump, but it was no less important, he said, to salute Arens for his many merits. Netanyahu said that it was time to show public and personal gratitude for all that Arens has done for Israel.
“I have gained much from our friendship, from the help over the years, from the wise counsel, and from the rare understanding that cannot be gainsaid. You told me: ‘Every day I look at the State of Israel with happiness because the dream has been realized.’” On his own behalf and on behalf of the citizens of Israel, Netanyahu thanked Arens for what he had done toward the realization of that dream and wished him many more good and satisfying years.
■ IT’S NOT that Matthew Bronfman doesn’t want to open an IKEA store in Jerusalem, which, aside from being the capital, has Israel’s largest population by far, but there have been too many bureaucratic hassles along the way; and so instead of IKEA setting up shop in one of Jerusalem’s industrial zones, it is going outside the city to the Jerusalem Corridor.
Meanwhile, Bronfman specially came to Israel from his home in New York to join his partner Shulem Fisher at the opening this week of IKEA Beersheba, the fourth in the chain of home wares and furniture mega-stores that are part of the multinational group that was founded in Sweden in 1943.
Ambassador Hellgren was present, as were Shuki Koblenz, the CEO of IKEA Israel; Jack Jackson and Karl Armelin, development managers for IKEA worldwide; Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich; Beersheba Chief Rabbi Yehuda Deri, who affixed the mezuza to the premises; and leading business figures from the Negev.
Among the traditions at the opening of new IKEA stores is the symbolic splitting of a block of wood, and the Beersheba opening was no exception. In honor of IKEA’s origins, guests were treated to a Swedish breakfast. Over the past decade there has been incredible development in Beersheba, which is now well and truly the jewel of the South.
■ A GOODWILL ambassador for The Spirit of Israel, a nonprofit enterprise founded in 1998 by the Jewish Agency and United Israel Appeal, and aimed at recruiting Israelis to spur volunteer and philanthropic efforts to strengthen the weaker sectors of Israeli society, former basketball champion Tal Brody this week received the Spirit of Israel Ehud Manor Award. The presentation was within the framework of a fund-raising event at the Smolarsz Auditorium at Tel Aviv University attended by some 900 volunteers and donors.
Brody was honored in recognition of the long-standing and valuable volunteer work that he does for society as a whole, but for youth at risk in particular. The award is named for Israel Prize laureate, songwriter, translator and radio and television personality Ehud Manor, who died suddenly in April 2005, leaving a legacy of more than 1,200 songs. Manor was among the earliest volunteers for The Spirit of Israel, and his widow, singer Ofra Fuchs Manor, maintains a strong connection with the organization. The Spirit of Israel CEO Mickey Dahav noted that Brody has been associated with the organization since its very inception, and his wife, Tirza, is also involved.
■ COMPETITION IN almost every kind of business has become so tough that business enterprises have to keep coming up with new gimmicks to woo potential customers. The management of the Kfar Saba branch of the Mercantile Bank decided to sweeten the deal by presenting every new business customer with a gourmet cake baked by celebrity pastry chef Dudu Outmezgine at a reception marking the opening of the bank’s new premises.
Senior personnel from other branches of the bank were also present. Kfar Saba general manager Sofi Ben-David hosted, among other colleagues, Vered Avitan and Ronit Shai.