Grapevine: Letting the ethnic genie out of the bottle

Rivlin: “It’s a national mission to publish the writings of a Zionist leader.”

Reuven Rivlin (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Reuven Rivlin
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
It may not have been the intention of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to let the ethnic genie out of the bottle when he sparked furor over the composition of the Israel Prize adjudicating panels, but the ensuing controversy certainly brought to light two factors relating to ethnic and gender discrimination. What is yet to receive far more attention with regard to the Israel Prize is the paucity of awards to Israel’s minorities, especially Arabs. Many objections were voiced in 1992, when the prize was awarded to Emile Shukri Habibi, a poet and a Communist politician who became the first recipient of the prize for Arabic literature.
Habibi was one of less than a handful of non-Jews that include Catholic theologian Father Marcel-Jacques Dubois, conductor Zubin Mehta and Druse adviser on minorities to a series of Israeli presidents Kamal Mansour.
When the prize was first awarded in 1953, there was one woman, Dina Feitelson- Schur, who received it for education, but there were no non-Ashkenazim. It was also a woman, Hanna Rovina, who received the prize for theater, acting and stage arts when it was first awarded in 1956. It was not until 1961, that a Sephardi, Yehuda Burla, was awarded the Israel Prize, which he received for literature.
Burla was born in Jerusalem to a Sephardi family of Turkish origin. In 1968, renowned Kabbalist, Jerusalem-born Rabbi Ovadia Hadaya whose father, Rabbi Shalom Hadaya was from Aleppo in Syria, became the second non-Ashkenazi recipient.
Yemenite-born Halachic authority Rabbi Yosef Kapach was awarded the prize in the category of Jewish Studies in 1969, and the following year Iraqi-born Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who in 1973 became Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel, was a recipient in the category of rabbinic literature.
It must be acknowledged that more women than non-Ashkenazi people outstanding in their respective fields were chosen, but there were many years in which neither was included. Shoshana Damari covered the ground on both counts in 1988, but it took another decade before the prize was awarded to her arch rival Yaffa Yarkoni. Rabbanit Bracha Kapach was a recipient in 1999 for her work in helping the needy.
While no-one would begrudge either Damari or Yarkoni, there is a huge question mark as to why the Israel Prize for communications was never awarded to Hanna Zemer who was editor-in-chief of the now defunct Davar from 1970 till 1989, the first woman to edit a major Israeli newspaper and an internationally recognized journalist. The Jerusalem Post also had a woman editor in the person of Lea Ben-Dor, but she was not appointed until 1974 and her tenure in that role lasted for only one year. Prior to her appointment following the death of Ted Lurie, she had been the paper’s political commentator with staunchly hawkish views.
■ A WALK-OUT by two of the panelists in an Ir Amim sponsored debate on the future of Jerusalem was probably the most exciting aspect of the event. Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy, a former deputy finance minister and before that the head of the Jerusalem branch of the Israel Police, and Anat Berko, a Likud candidate in the upcoming Knesset election, heard the word “occupation” a little too frequently for their comfort but were really rattled when obscenely heckled by Hadash supporters, one of who had a large portrait of Stalin on the front and back of his sweatshirt.
Aida Touma-Sliman, who is in fifth place on the joint Arab list, said she was only just learning about politics over the past month or so, and the most important lesson was not to take insults personally.
An articulate, dignified, determined and logical speaker, who appears to be genuinely interested in finding a mutually acceptable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Touma-Sliman will be an asset in explaining Palestinian positions to her Jewish colleagues. Ir Amim invited representatives from all the political parties to participate in the debate, but only five accepted. The other two were Labor Party MK Hilik Bar, representing the Zionist Union and former Meretz MK Mossi Raz, who after a long hiatus is returning to the political arena as No. 6 on the Meretz list.
The moderator was veteran Jerusalem journalist and political commentator Shalom Yerushalmi. He said that he was happy to be able to conduct a dialogue on Jerusalem that has somehow been omitted from the political platforms of the various parties, but he was frustrated that the debate was taking place in the Burla Bar instead of a larger forum. Actually the bar was probably the better choice of venue in that all five parties notified members in the capital of the event, and altogether less than 100 people showed up. They made the bar look very crowded, but had it been in a large hall, it would have looked almost empty.
Yerushalmi lamented that even though Jerusalem is at the crux of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, Israel remains a country with a capital that is not recognized by the rest of the world, and there is no peace in the so-called City of Peace.
Speaking in terms of Israel per se, he said: “We don’t conduct peace talks. We flee from peace. This election is without purpose.”
Topics that came up in the course of discussion were Jewish provocations on the Temple Mount, the shocking poverty rate in Arab neighborhoods, the violence which permeates the country, the absence of any concrete government policy and whether Jerusalem should or should not be divided. Before their walkout Levy and Berko were adamant that Jerusalem must remain united. The other three panelists thought differently, though Bar, a former member of the Jerusalem City Council and a resident of the city, said he had no problem in ceding the neighborhoods that were exclusively populated by Arabs to the yet-to-be established Palestinian state, but proposed joint administration of the old city.
Touma-Sliman said that in her eyes United Jerusalem is not a legal entity. If it was, citizenship would have been granted to all the Palestinians living within the city limits. Under the occupation, she continued, neither Jews nor Palestinians feel safe. If Jerusalem is divided she pointed out, the new Palestinian administration will have to take responsibility for building additional schools and caring for the poor, relieving the Jerusalem City Council of the burden.
Berko insisted that for the most part, Jerusalem is a city of coexistence, but Raz disagreed saying it was two cities, one Arab and one Jewish, and even the Arab city was divided by a wall, he said. With the exception of Berko, there was consensus that the government has no real desire to tackle the problem and is merely paying lip service to the concept of two states for two peoples. There was consensus that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians must not be allowed to change its nature from political to religious.
Among those present was Osnat Kollek, the daughter of legendary longtime Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, who said that her father would have agreed with Bar. Ir Amim (City of Nations) promotes a sustainable political future for Israelis and Palestinians and works towards Jerusalem being a city that ensures the dignity and welfare of all its residents, safeguarding their historical and cultural heritage.
■ CHINESE AMBASSADOR designate Zhan Yongxin is pleased to be his country’s seventh ambassador to Israel, because of the importance of the number seven in Jewish tradition and culture.
His main mission in coming to Israel, he says, is to promote greater partnership and cooperation between China and Israel, especially in an era of globalization.
China is Israel’s largest trading partner in Asia and third-largest trading partner world wide. At the Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year, reception that he hosted at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv, the envoy and his wife were warmly greeted by Regional Cooperation Minister Silvan Shalom, who spoke of the similarities of the two countries despite their differences in size, population and geography.
But both represent ancient civilizations that are constantly facing new challenges, he said. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai was also among the many dignitaries in attendance.
■ OVER THE past year or two, a number of third age entertainers have come to Israel to perform. They have attracted large attendances not only in terms of their peer generation, but also from people young enough to be their grandchildren.
Among such entertainers have been Leonard Cohen, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, Mick Jagger, Paul Anka, Charles Aznavour and scheduled to come in May is French songstress Juliette Gréco, who on February 7 celebrated her 88th birthday and is on her final tour. Gréco, whose mother fought with the French resistance against the Nazis, is the icon of French chanson music and will undoubtedly attract the French immigrant community. Unfortunately, not everyone will have the opportunity to hear her, because she is coming for only one performance.
■ IT SEEMS that one is never too old to volunteer. Magen David Adom Jerusalem volunteer Norman Feingold celebrated his 90th birthday this month with the inauguration of a fully equipped emergency ambulance dedicated in his name by the British Christian Friends of MDA, who over the years have raised funds for numerous MDA essentials. This time around they launched a £90,000 for 90 years campaign and reached their target.
In addition to Feingold himself, there were numerous speakers, some of whom had specially come from Britain for the occasion, all pointing to him as a model of commitment to the saving of lives and to working on behalf of the community. In addition to the ambulance in his name, he was given a special MDA citation in recognition to his many years of service.
■ A RECENT addition to the family of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau is a granddaughter, who is the offspring of his son Yedidya and daughter-in-law Te’ena. The baby is number three in this branch of the Lau family. Babies in general are a blessing, but more so in the families of Holocaust survivors for whom each birth in the family is a revenge against the Nazis’ Final Solution. The baby’s great-grandfather is Tel Aviv chief rabbi and former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who is arguably the best known of the nation’s Holocaust survivors.
■ NO MATTER how busy he was, it’s on the cards that President Reuven Rivlin would have found time to receive a delegation from the Jabotinsky Institute and the Zionist Library of the World Zionist Organization that presented him with the 13th volume of The Letters of Ze’ev Jabotinsky.
This particular volume contains letters that he wrote in 1938. Rivlin as a Jabotinsky disciple was delighted with the gift.
Representing the Jabotinsky Institute were Prof. Arye Naor, Mordechai Sarig, Dr.
Karni Jabotinsky-Rubin, Dr. Moshe Halevy, Lior Haimowitz and Yossi Ahimeir, who are all well known to Rivlin from his days as a Likud politician. The Zionist Library, which is a partner in the publication of The Letters, was represented by Amos Yuval, who is the director of the Bialik Institute, and lawyer Yaacov Aharoni.
“It’s a national mission to publish the writings of a Zionist leader,” said Rivlin, as he pointed to other Jabotinsky books in his own library.
He reminded his guests that as Knesset Speaker, he worked towards obtaining a budget of NIS 5 million for the Jabotinsky Institute for new publications of Jabotinsky’s letters. Rivlin pledged that throughout his term as president he would continue to do his utmost to ensure that the institute will continue to receive funds for this purpose.
Rivlin revealed that soon after taking office, he had hung a portrait of Jabotinsky on the wall in the President’s Residence.
“Ben-Gurion’s portrait had been hanging here for 64 years. It was time that the portraits of Herzl and Jabotinsky should hang here as well,” said Rivlin.
Ahimeir remarked afterwards that he was happy to see that the president had not forgotten his roots.
■ KNESSET MEMBER Dov Henin is taking a temporary break from the campaign trail to honor Rosa Luxemburg, an early Jewish feminist, philosopher, economist and social justice activist, who was born in Poland in March 1871, became politically active in 1886 and moved to Germany in the 1890s. In 1914, she was one of the founders of the Spartacus League, a German Marxist revolutionary movement that was the forerunner of the German Communist Party. The name chosen for the League was in memory of Spartacus, who led the largest slave rebellion in ancient Rome. Luxemburg was a teacher of economics and Marxism and one of her students was Friedrich Ebert, who in later life became president of the first Weimar Republic.
Foundations have been established in the memories of both Luxemburg and Ebert, and each operates in Israel as well as in Germany. Ebert died in office in 1925. Luxemberg was murdered in January 1919 after being captured and tortured by the Cavalry Guards Rifle Division of the Free Corps. Her body was thrown into Berlin’s Landwehr Canal. It was eventually recovered and buried in the Friedrichsfelde Cemetery in Berlin, where on the second Sunday of January each year, Socialists and Communists gather to pay their respects. In recent years, the discovery of another body caused controversy over whether the one in the grave was actually that of Luxemburg.
Among the most frequently quoted of her writings are those related to her thoughts on freedom that are no less relevant today than they were a century ago.
“Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of a party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of the dissenter. Not because of the fanaticism of ‘justice,’ but rather because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effects cease to work when ‘freedom’ becomes a privilege. Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element.”
On Thursday at a symposium on Rosa Luxemburg at Beit Sokolov in Tel Aviv, Henin will join Angelika Timm, who heads the Luxemburg Foundation’s office in Israel; German MP Petra Pau, the leftwing vice president of the Bundestag; Giora Rosen, the editor of Kav Adom publishing house of the United Kibbutz Movement; Prof. Moshe Zuckerman of the Faculty of Humanities at Tel Aviv University, who spent several years in Germany; Eva Illouz, Prof. of Sociology at the Hebrew University and the president of Bezalel Academy of Art and Design; controversial Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy; Florian Weiss, the CEO of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Berlin; and peace activist Nabila Espanioly, who was presumed to succeed Muhammad Barakei as Hadash head, but in the party’s primary election lost out to Hadash secretary general, charismatic lawyer Aiman Ouda, who has more knowledge of in-depth Zionist history than most Jews.
■ DEPUTY HEALTH Minister Tzachi Hanegbi doesn’t stand on ceremony.
When he attend the 20th-anniversary celebration of Save a Child’s Heart in which special citations were given by Ometz to Dr. Yitzhak Berlovitz, the director of Wolfson Medical Center in Holon where SACH is located, and to lawyer Mira Bornstein, who heads the SACH Board of Directors. He sat in the second row behind the two honorees. Ometz is an nongovernmental organization that fights corruption and recognizes praiseworthy individuals and organizations for their contributions to society. Over the past two decades SACH has saved the hearts of more than 3,500 children from 48 countries some of which are hostile to Israel. Political differences have never been a consideration.
The salient factor is the ability to give a sick child with a defective heart the ability to live a normal life. Berlovitz said that he was proud to be associated with such a universal humane project.
■ FOR MANY diplomats, Israel is a stepping stone to promotion, and there have been several examples of ambassadors being recalled before the end of their posting to take up positions as foreign ministers or directors general. Uruguay Ambassador Bernardo Griever falls into the latter category and has been promoted to director general of his country’s Foreign Ministry. Gratifying as this may be, Griever who is Jewish, was sad to learn that after a little over five years he would be leaving Israel, in which he will continue to have an abiding interest. Over the years, Latin American countries have sent several Jewish envoys to Israel, sometimes more than one from the same family, though not necessarily at the same time. One was even a Sabra and returned home permanently after completing his posting.
David de la Rosa, the former Colombian ambassador, was born in Jerusalem to a Sephardi family and for several years has been living in Herzliya Pituah. Though no longer a diplomat, he continues to mingle in diplomatic circles and his wife is an active member of the International Women’s Club.
■ IT WOULD not have made David Ben-Gurion very happy to see that there was a Yiddish book stand at the Jerusalem International Book Fair. Because she works with Yiddish organizations and institutions, Bella Bryks-Klein was asked by The National Authority for Yiddish Culture to organize and manage its stand that was a conglomerate of seven institutions: Beth Sholem Aleichem, Arbeter Ring (Workman’s Circle), Yiddish Forward, Dov Sadan Project for Yiddish Studies, Beit Leyvik, Magnes Press and Zak Yiddish Word of the Week. When he was prime minister, Ben-Gurion outlawed Yiddish, even though he himself was fluent in Mamaloshen.
As far as he was concerned, it was the language of the Diaspora and had no place in the reborn State of Israel. He would be shocked to learn how much interest there is in Yiddish almost 67 years after the establishment of the state. This is not the first time that there has been a Yiddish stand at the book fair. It has always been somewhat of a mini-magnet in comparison to some of the other stands, but it certainly tweaked people’s interest and curiosity and it did so again in its new venue at the First Station. Bryks- Klein was gratified to report that sales exceeded NIS 10,000, which may not seem a lot, but all things being relative, it’s a triumph for a so-called dead language that refuses to be buried.
■ ICONIC JOURNALIST Bob Simon, who was killed in a traffic accident in New York last week, had carte blanche to all the who’s who of Israel not only in terms of interviewing them, but also in terms of social networking. He played tennis with Yitzhak Rabin and went bicycling around Tel Aviv with Mayor Ron Huldai. When they got off their bikes to relax by the sea shore, Simon asked Huldai how he could live with the all the surrounding regional tension.
Huldai replied that he had no alternative, and then alluding to the chaotic traffic of the Big Apple, pointed out that in New York you can walk out into the street and get hit by a car. Unfortunately, he wasn’t very far off the mark. Simon was a passenger in the back seat of a hired car. He was a great lover of opera, and a private funeral service was held for him on Tuesday of this week at the Metropolitan Opera House.
CBS where he worked for 47 years will host a public memorial tribute to him later in the year. Simon recalled on one of his television programs that when he and his wife Francoise played a doubles match of tennis against Yitzhak and Leah Rabin, the game would end in a handshake if the prime minister lost and an invitation to dinner if the Rabins won. It was always worth going to dinner because the prime minister became very mellow after a few glasses of scotch and frequently gave Simon tips for stories without actually revealing state secrets.
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