Grapevine July 29, 2020: Democracy as a tool rather than a value

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

FROM LEFT: Tamir Kobrin, general manager of the King David Hotel, chefs Yossi Shitrit and Roi Antebi, together with Ronen Nissenbaum, president and CEO of Dan Hotels. (photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
FROM LEFT: Tamir Kobrin, general manager of the King David Hotel, chefs Yossi Shitrit and Roi Antebi, together with Ronen Nissenbaum, president and CEO of Dan Hotels.
(photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
On the intellectual side, some savants are wondering whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s failure to pay his legal advisers, who so far have amounted to 15 and still counting, may be part of a strategy to extend the period of his various trials and the actual date on which he has to appear in court. Each time he gets a new attorney, that lawyer, who is invariably a leading figure in defending people charged with white-collar crimes, has to study thousands of pages of legal documents, and for this reason receives a certain leniency from the court.
Perhaps the Knesset should debate the setting up of an insurance policy to pay the legal expenses of any government minister charged with a criminal offense allegedly committed while that minister was in office.
It’s not just a matter of money but also of prestige.
One only has to see what happened to Ehud Olmert. Even though he stepped down from his role as prime minister before his trial, and even though he was found guilty, the sentence that he was given points to a relatively mild offense. But even if he had been found innocent, his political career was over. Arye Deri was able to make a comeback because he has a large niche following and because he is almost 14 years younger than Olmert. Netanyahu, who will turn 71 in October, will be at least 75 or even older by the time all his cases have been heard. When his legal representatives are not paid the hefty fees owed to them, they mostly leave of their own accord, and will continue to do so if he persists with his nonpayment strategy.
Although most of the population presently appears to be against Netanyahu, in the event of another election – which hinges on failure to pass the national budget next month – polls indicate that the Likud would win by a large majority. Gideon Sa’ar learned to his cost that challenging Netanyahu for the Likud leadership was not a very good idea, and at this moment in time, there doesn’t seem to be anyone else in the Likud who can match Netanyahu’s talents.
Then again, a lot can happen in Israel in a very short span of time.
In the Saturday night spillover to King George Avenue, people could be seen sitting on plastic chairs at the edge of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue plaza. It was hard to tell whether they were demonstrating in comfort or whether they were spectators at the greatest show in town.
Among the demonstrators in Jerusalem were Joint List MKs Ayman Odeh and Ofer Cassif, who were seen in France Square, erroneously referred to by most reporters as Paris Square. In Caesarea demonstrators included former MK Stav Shaffir and veteran journalist Dan Margalit, who in 1977, while working as the Washington correspondent for Haaretz, was instrumental in bringing down the government of Yitzhak Rabin when he published the fact that Leah Rabin maintained what was then an illegal bank account in the United States. The bank account had been opened when Yitzhak Rabin was ambassador to the US, and Leah Rabin had neglected to close it. Now aged 82, which is considered a high-risk age in relation to coronavirus, Margalit was at the weekly black flag Kabbalat Shabbat organized near the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on Friday, and on Saturday joined demonstrators in Caesarea.
■ ALSO IN the high-risk age group is President Reuven Rivlin, who will turn 81 in September. This week Rivlin was in Haifa, and on Thursday of last week, accompanied by Agriculture Minister Alon Schuster, Rivlin decided to do his bit for people in need who receive regular food supplies from Leket, the National Food Bank. At the Leket logistics center in Moshav Gan Haim, Rivlin joined other volunteers in packing fruit and vegetables.
Earlier in the day, at a meeting with social workers and Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Minister Itzik Shmuli, Rivlin, a former Knesset speaker, lashed out at those members of government and of Knesset who are contemplating yet another round of elections this year. Rivlin, who has already sat with representatives of the various parliamentary factions following the elections of March 2015, April 2019, September 2019 and March 2020, cannot bear the thought of having to go through yet another spate of mutual mudslinging in an already fractured society during his final year in office.
His flagship project Hope, bridging social gaps between the different sectors of society, was given a serious setback by the pandemic, which, instead of uniting these sectors, cemented their isolation from each other.
In addition, there is the possibility that an idea floated roughly a year ago to the effect that some special deal will be worked out with Netanyahu whereby, if he is still prime minister when Rivlin’s term ends, he will step down from office and become Israel’s 11th president, may turn out to be more than speculation. As improbable as that idea may seem now, it may be less far-fetched as time moves on and could actually materialize. This is no less frightening to Rivlin than the fear of another election, even though Netanyahu’s fiercest opponents would agree that without the indictment hanging over his head, Netanyahu would make an excellent president.
■ ON SATURDAY night participants in Jerusalem demonstrations were asked to videotape what was happening around them and to distribute the material on social media platforms.
Adam Keller of Gush Shalom sent out links to five such examples of video footage, one of which was somehow reminiscent of a Woodstock happening with flower children waving bouquets, singing, dancing and apparently having a good time. For many of the participants, the protests are a release from the restrictions imposed by the Health Ministry. For others they are a genuine cry of economic pain, disapproval of the manner in which the coronavirus crisis is being mismanaged and opposition to what is perceived as moral turpitude.
■ THERE ARE also many who object to the Knesset granting Netanyahu’s cabinet emergency powers in matters concerning coronavirus. The extent of those emergency powers has not been fully spelled out, just as the emergency powers given to the president of the United States remain shrouded in mystery.
In an op-ed article in The New York Times, Gary Hart, a former Democratic senator and a presidential candidate in the 1988 elections, wrote: “We have recently come to learn of at least a hundred documents authorizing extraordinary presidential powers in the case of a national emergency, virtually dictatorial powers without congressional or judicial checks and balances. President Trump alluded to these authorities in March when he said, ‘I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about.’” Hart goes on to declare: “No matter who occupies the office, the American people have a right to know what extraordinary powers presidents believe they have.” He concludes by stating: “Surely, regardless of party or candidate preference, we can all agree there is no justification for a president to have dictatorial powers kept secret from Congress, the press and the American people.”
■ WHILE ANTI-NETANYAHU demonstrators were massing in Jerusalem and Caesarea on Saturday night, they were missing out on nearby culinary delights. Guests at the King David Hotel, which is less than a 10-minute walk from the Prime Minister’s Residence, were enjoying the joint culinary creativity of celebrity chef Yossi Shitrit, who cooked up a storm with the hotel’s executive chef, Roi Antebi; while at the Dan Caesarea, which is a 40-minute walk from Netanyahu’s private residence, executive chef Daniel Fogel hosted celebrity restaurant chef Avivit Priel Avichai. Cooking together, the two decided that food can be fun.
■ IT’S OK for a woman to be provocative but not for a man to respond to that provocation. That seems to be the convoluted message of the Israel Women’s Network in response to the international furor created by a social work student atop the statue of the menorah opposite the Knesset on Tuesday night of last week. In an open letter signed by IWN CEO Michal Gera Margaliot, she quotes the student, who said: “All I want is leadership, the ability to earn a living and to live my life in dignity.”
Baring one’s breast in public with television cameras documenting every move is not exactly dignified, especially when such an action takes place not even alongside but on top of a symbol of the state. Vulgarity and disrespect do not go hand in hand with dignity.
Noting the diverse reactions expressed on social media platforms, Gera Margaliot, while siding with the bare-breasted young woman, decried the fact that violence against women continues without any measures to stop it.
The logical conclusion of any man at the demonstration would be that if the young woman was so blatant about baring her breast, maybe she would be equally liberal about baring her bottom. Feminists would of course argue that she could stand totally naked and say “no,” which would mean that any man who didn’t believe her and took advantage of her nudity could be charged with sexual assault. People with a more conservative viewpoint would ask why provoke if you don’t want it to go any further?
But, of course, there is more to it than just a bare breast.
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin wrote on Facebook: “Shame. I support every person’s right to protest, demonstrate and express their opinion. But there is no country that allows you to desecrate the symbols of the state.”
Likud MK Tali Ploskov tweeted: “Not like this. Protest is a right, sometimes even a must, but not like that. Not in undressing, not in violence, not in bestiality. Not by humiliating the state emblem. You exaggerated. You lost your way. I would listen to you, but not like that.”
Last week, in line with the current global vogue for smashing statues of former national leaders, the IWN demanded that the bust of former president Moshe Katsav, who was imprisoned on rape charges, be removed from the Knesset compound. It is doubtful that Rivlin will accede to this request, recognizing that the history of a country, whether good or bad, should not be erased.
■ WOMEN WHO objected so vociferously to a male heading the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality should apologize to committee chairman Oded Forer, who is demanding that organizations and institutions that report incidents of sexual abuse to the committee should do so in real time and not long after event, so that suitable action can be taken to prevent a recurrence.
Women who advocate for greater inclusion of women in male-dominated committees, on the grounds that women bring a different perspective to the table, should realize that there are two sides to the coin, and that men bring a different perspective to committees dominated by women.
■ AFTER A close brush with death during a severe bout of coronavirus, while on a fund-raising mission in the US, and missing out on Seder night, without even knowing that he had done so, Eli Beer, the founder and president of United Hatzalah, though still weak, returned home from Miami on the private plane of Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, in time to celebrate Second Passover (Pessah Sheni).
As grateful as he was for that at the time, there was another miracle in store – the birth of his first grandchild, of which he was not only the grandfather but the godfather, or sandek. On the day following the circumcision ceremony, Beer announced on Facebook that the previous day was one of the happiest days of his life. Earlier in the year, he added, he would have said that this was the worst year in his life, but in the final analysis, it had turned out to be the best year. Holding his first grandson and being the sandek made him feel very lucky, he wrote. Beer also took the opportunity to publicly thank every single person who had prayed for him and had done good deeds to merit his recovery while he was battling COVID-19.
Thanking the Divine Creator for sparing his life, Beer considered this a second chance to celebrate with his family and to continue with his life’s mission, which is to save lives and to arrive on the scene of a medical call within 90 seconds, and to help anyone in need regardless of who they are.
■ ANOTHER ORGANIZATION whose mission is likewise to save lives is ZAKA, which is heavily involved in transporting COVID-19 patients. To make ZAKA’s work more efficient and more effective, businessman and philanthropist Moshe Indig – together with other contributors, including the Israel Aircraft Industries’ workers committee, headed by Yair Katz, and Morris Willner of Florida, who owns the Jerusalem Gate Hotel near the entrance to the capital – has donated three ambulances to ZAKA for the specific purpose of transporting coronavirus patients. The ambulances, which are fully fitted with the most advanced respiratory equipment, were donated in memory of Indig’s brother Dov who fell in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Each ambulance is designated for a different city – Eilat, Sderot and Jerusalem. Their total value is NIS 1.5 million.
The dedication ceremony of the ambulances took place near the Tower of David in Jerusalem with the participation of Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, ZAKA founder and chairman Yehuda Meshi Zahav, Public Security Deputy Minister Gadi Yevarkan, MK Michael Michaeli, World Zionist Organization vice chairman Yaakov Hagoel and Brickstone Private Safe Services CEO Dvir Indig.
■ ALL THINGS are relative. In the The Jerusalem Post Magazine last Friday, there was an article about the paucity of immigrants in the Knesset, both as legislators and as parliamentary aides.
In the years leading up to the creation of the state, the political leadership was largely in the hands of people who had come with the third and the fourth aliyot of young pioneers. Although there was never a time in which the Land of Israel was totally bereft of Jews, they were times when they were very few in number. Thus the newcomers were able to band together and assert themselves, with the result that in the first Knesset there were more than 90 foreign-born legislators out of the total 120 MKs. Of the ministers in the first government, only one, Bechor Shalom Shitrit, was a Sabra, born in Tiberias. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was born in Poland. Golda Meir, whom Ben-Gurion characterized as the only man in his government, was born in Kiev, but emigrated from the US. Zalman Shazar, Eliezer Kaplan and David Remez were from Belarus, Dov Yosef from Montreal, Moshe Sharett from Ukraine, Pinchas Rosen from Germany, Haim Moshe Shapira from Russia, Yitzhak Meir Levin from Poland and Yehuda Leib Maimon from
Bessarabia. The MKs who were born abroad came from Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Bessarabia, Romania, Austria, Hungary, Yemen, South Africa, Greece, Denmark and Germany.
Of Israel’s prime ministers, seven were born overseas, and of the nation’s 10 presidents, seven were likewise born overseas. The three Sabras, all born before the establishment of the state, were Yitzhak Navon, Ezer Weizman and Rivlin.
As immigration increased, and the new immigrants brought Sabra babies into the world, the ratio of immigrants to native-born Israelis changed, which is why today there are fewer immigrants in the Knesset.
However, one foreign-born current MK, Sharren Haskel, who was born in Canada, is advocating for a reform which, if accepted, may benefit untold numbers of couples. Until the pandemic, any couple that did not wish to be, or could not be, married by the rabbinate went abroad to be married, and the marriage was subsequently recognized for all legal purposes in Israel. But because of the difficulties posed by coronavirus, many couples that would opt to marry abroad cannot do so. Haskel proposes that, under the circumstances, foreign ambassadors be given the right to perform marriages which will be recognized by the Israeli authorities.
■ AT PROTEA Village on Wednesday, residents and staff will be celebrating the 100th birthday of Phyllis Lader, who grew up in Glasgow, and spent a large part of her life in Britain, where she was involved with WIZO, which this year is also celebrating its 100th anniversary. There was a mutual advance exchange of birthday wishes.
Chief among the guests at Lader’s triple-digit birthday party will be Seyma Lederman, 92, originally from Australia and a fellow Protea Village resident, who celebrated her own birthday in mid-July. The two women are best friends and constantly in each other’s company. Lader has been living at Protea Village since she was 90.
Lader lived in Britain through the trauma of the Second World War, during which period two of her five children were born. Lader hates war because the casualties are usually young people who have barely had a chance to taste life and whose dreams are shattered by a bullet or a bomb. In fact, she spent several years going to schools and speaking out against war.
In Israel, Lader met some of Lederman’s six children and became somewhat of a surrogate mother to them. However, the two women did not meet until 2012, when Lederman and her Australia-based children came to Israel for Passover to celebrate with those of her children and grandchildren who live in Israel.
Lederman had, of course, heard of Lader, and finally met her at the Ra’anana home of her son Elie Lederman. The two women enjoyed each other’s company, and when the time came for Lader to go home, rather than have her daughter pick her up, Elie Lederman insisted on driving her and took his mother along for the ride. Lader was already living in Protea Village, and when Elie tentatively suggested to his mother that she might care to move there, too, she dismissed the idea as totally ridiculous.
Back in Australia, at around Rosh Hashanah, Seyma Lederman had an epiphany and decided that she wanted to live in Israel, and that the only place she was willing to call home was Protea Village. She felt somehow that Lader was calling her. With hindsight, she says it was the best decision she ever made. She loves her daily chats with Lader, and they never run out of conversation.
It’s not certain whether Lader, who is still a British subject, has received the letter sent by the queen to all British subjects on their 100th birthday, but if Lader doesn’t have it yet, she knows it’s on the way.