GRAPEVINE: More than just a matter of semantics

A round-up of news from around Israel.

Guatemala president Jimmy Morales meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Guatemala president Jimmy Morales meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Hot on the heels of the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem is that of the Embassy of Guatemala. When people talk of moving the Guatemalan Embassy, they are promptly corrected by Guatemalan Ambassador Sara Angelina Solis, who says: “We are not moving. We are returning.”
She notes that Guatemala’s history with Israel goes back to before the establishment of the state, when Jorge Garcia Granados, his country’s ambassador to the United Nations and one of two Latin American members of the 11-member United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, in 1947 lobbied Latin American countries to vote in favor of the partition plan.
In 1956 Granados was Guatemala’s first ambassador to the nascent Jewish state, setting up his embassy in Jerusalem as the first foreign embassy in Israel’s capital.
Also serving in the embassy was Francisca Fernandez-Hall, who later was promoted to ambassador and became the first female ambassador in Israel, where she served for 11 years, including as dean of the diplomatic corps. Before that, she was the first woman in Latin America to receive an engineering degree.
On May 17, said Solis, Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales will inaugurate the embassy, which is already operating at the Malha Technology Park. A third embassy will open in Jerusalem this month when President Horacio Cartes arrives to inaugurate the Embassy of Paraguay.
Solis was the guest of honor this week at a Jerusalem Day reception hosted by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, whose executive director, Jürgen Bühler, announced that it was a historic occasion because it was the last time that the ICEJ would host a Jerusalem Day reception without any foreign embassies being officially stationed in Jerusalem. He also disclosed that it was a particularly historic occasion for ICEJ vice president and spokesman David Parsons, a lawyer by profession, who had been part of the team that wrote the first draft of the Jerusalem Embassy Act.
Among the many Jewish and Christian guests was Costa Rican Ambassador Esteban Alfonso Penrod, whose foreign ministry transferred its embassy out of Jerusalem in August 2006.
Getting back to Guatemala, Parsons said that it had the greatest Evangelical ratio of any country in the world. Approximately 50% of its population are Evangelicals. Morales is an Evangelical and so is Solis, who served in a non-ambassadorial capacity in Israel 19 years ago. When she was again assigned to Israel, this time as ambassador, she asked God to show her what her mission would be. Now she understands that her mission was to bring her embassy back to Jerusalem.
■ RUSSIA IS not yet at the stage where it will bring its embassy to Jerusalem, but Ambassador Alexander Shein will next month bring its Russia Day festivities from Tel Aviv to the Holy City.
In case anyone was wondering whether the annual Fourth of July bash hosted by US Ambassador David Friedman is going to be held as always at the US residence in Herzliya Pituah or in Jerusalem – the answer is neither. Last year, when he saw his guests sweltering in the humidity of an Israeli summer, Friedman decided that he wanted a spacious, air-conditioned venue in which guests could be cool in more ways than one.
■ APROPOS RUSSIA, where, at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is celebrating the anniversary of the victory of the Red Army over the Nazis, anyone who has seen the docudrama The Invisibles, about Jews who remained in Berlin during the Second World War, will be reminded of the moving scene when the Russians entered Berlin. Two young Jewish men came out of hiding and were almost shot by a Russian soldier, who did not believe them when they said they were Jewish. They kept repeating who they were, and he kept doubting. Finally, he said to them if: “If you are Jewish, recite the Shema. ”This they did, albeit haltingly, and then all three fell on each other’s necks in an emotional embrace. The Russian soldier was, of course, Jewish himself.
Russia this year released its own wartime documentary, Sobibor, to mark the 75th anniversary of the daring October 1943 escape from the notorious death camp that was masterminded by a Jewish Soviet army officer, Alexander Pechersky, who was a prisoner of war.
Poland is building a new museum on the site to document the Nazi atrocities, and has excluded Russia from any of the planning, in addition to which it has downplayed Pechersky’s role. It will be interesting to see whether the bulk of the victims commemorated at the museum will be listed merely as Poles or also as Jews.
■ GUESTS ARRIVING for the inauguration of the Finnish Embassy on the 31st floor of the ultramodern Adgar building, just a few doors from the Menora Mivtachim Arena in Tel Aviv, did a double take when they saw Leena-Kaisa Mikkola standing in the entranceway to the embassy’s public area. Mikkola is the immediate predecessor of current ambassador Anu Saarela. “I’m not here anymore,” said Mikkola laughingly, as friends and acquaintances greeted her in delight. Mikkola served as ambassador to Israel for four years, completing her tenure in August 2016. She is currently the director for Africa and the Middle East at Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Also present was Finnish Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Anne-Mari Virolainen. Among the many guests, who included several ambassadors, the one who traveled the shortest distance was Swedish Ambassador Magnus Hellgren, whose embassy is in the same impressive building but on a lower floor. At the moment, said Saarela, “we feel as if we’re at the top of the world, and for the time being, we’re the top embassy.” The interior of the embassy is of Finnish design and includes Finnish furniture and artwork – all modern and clean-cut.
Finland is one of Israel’s most long-standing bilateral partners, having recognized Israel as early as March 1949, followed by the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1950. Noting that Finland and Israel are each world leaders of innovation and technology, Virolainen said that her country hopes to create new areas of cooperation with Israel in these fields. In congratulating Israel on its 70th anniversary, and voicing her wish for peace in the whole region and the hope that the two-state solution would soon become a reality, Virolainen also declared that Israel is one of the great economic success stories.
■ YOU DON’T have to be religious to be part of the annual Shavuot pilgrimage to Jerusalem’s Beit Avi Chai on the night of Shavuot. Although the organization itself observes the religious prohibitions, it does not impose them on participants in its variety of Shavuot lectures and learning groups. Thus, the audience runs the gamut from ultra-Orthodox to barely affiliated. What are the latter doing there? On Shavuot, it’s the best show in town – an opportunity to meet friends if one is walking from one of the city’s neighborhoods, or an opportunity to network once one gets there. There are lecturers in Hebrew and in English, offering the greatest number of choices for bilinguals, but English-speakers whose Hebrew is not yet sufficiently fluent to follow a Hebrew lecture will also find several choices.
The only problem is that as large as the premises are, there’s never enough room on Shavuot to accommodate everyone, so it’s all on a first come, first served basis, which can be very frustrating for those who’ve walked a very long distance to hear a particular speaker, only to discover that there’s no room left in the hall, and ushers will not allow them to enter. Last year, Beit Avi Chai expanded its Shavuot activities by utilizing the courtyard of the Jewish Agency building across the road, and is doing so again this year with a special program for youth organized in conjunction with the Jerusalem Municipality. It’s a pity that they can’t put up a tent across the road on the other side and utilize part of Independence Park.
The Shavuot night theme this year is “What is your story?” – enabling the Jewish narrative to be seen through the lenses of Jewish history, philosophy, classical Jewish texts, Israeli literature and poetry. Speakers include seasoned scholars as well as young educators, academics, scriptwriters, poets, authors, journalists and cultural personalities, with presentations geared to appeal to diverse tastes.
Among the speakers are Emuna Elon, Avivah Zornberg, Isaiah Gafni, Shai Finkelstein, Amit Segal, Maor Zaguri, Bilha Ben-Eliyahu, Elhanan Nir, Yair Agmon, Yuval Malchi, Tamar Kay, Rivka Neriya-Ben Shahar, Shimon Azoulay, Amichai Chasson and Ro’i Ravitsky. The English program will be led by Zornberg, Gafni and Finkelstein.
In addition, from 11 p.m. there will be all-night study of the five books of Moses led by personalities from the worlds of journalism, literature and cinema, who will join journalist, author and film director Agmon for 45-minute sessions. During the night, theatrical storyteller Inbar Amir will lead an interactive story workshop. Light refreshments will be constantly available in the Beit Avi Chai courtyard, with an acappella group performing during lecture breaks. Admission is obviously free of charge.
■ CHINESE INVESTORS and philanthropists are demonstrating increasing interest in Israel, particularly in the hi-tech sector. Among them is Jack Ma, the founder and chairman of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, whose revenues in 2017 came close to $160 billion
On his first trip to Israel, with an entourage of 35 senior Alibaba executives. Ma met political, business and hi-tech entrepreneurs, including Netanyahu and Economy Minister Eli Cohen. Ma was also one of the recipients of an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University.
Naturally, he visited Alibaba’s development center in Tel Aviv following the acquisition late last year of Israeli software and vision tech startup Visualead. The center was established within the framework of a $15b. initiative – the Alibaba DAMO Academy, an acronym for discovery, adventure, momentum, and outlook. The DAMO Academy is instrumental in developing tech centers in major cities around the globe, with the aim of collaborating with the DAMO Academy headquarters in Alibaba’s central office in Hangzhou.
■ EVERY NEW baby that comes into a family is a blessing, but more so in the families of Holocaust survivors, even when they are second- and third-generation survivors. For Ethel Sara Goldmeir of Beit Shemesh, the birth of her 17th grandchild held special meaning. Goldmeir, a professional artist, was born in a DP camp in Germany. She and her husband, Harold, came on aliya from Chicago, where their 17th grandchild, Lev Yisroel, was born to their daughter Abby and her husband, Ron Swidler. The baby came into the world on Holocaust Remembrance Day and was circumcised and inducted into the faith on Independence Day. For his grandmother, there was a lot of symbolism in the two dates, and thanks to modern technology, the baby’s progress can be followed on Facebook and Skype.
The baby’s father, a firefighter, was called to duty very soon after the birth, and had little opportunity to bond with the infant in the first week of Lev Yisroel’s life, but he’s been making up for lost time ever since. In addition to the extension of their family in Chicago, this week the Goldmeirs became great-grandparents for the first time – to a little Sabra born in Tel Aviv.
■ WHILE NO one doubts that Canadian-born philanthropist Sylvan Adams and the State of Israel pulled off quite a coup in bringing the start of Giro 2018 to Israel, it may well have been a lesson in what not to do in future planning of events that go from one end of the country to the other.
Yes, thousands of people turned out to cheer the participating cyclists, and it was a big thrill to see that cyclists from Arab states had not been deterred by the fact that the starting event was taking place not only in Israel but in Jerusalem. Nonetheless, thousands of other people were inconvenienced – not only those who couldn’t cross the road or get to places of work, to appointments with doctors, or social engagements, but also those whose businesses were affected. It is impossible to estimate how much money was lost to businesses that usually do well on Fridays, but who did very poorly last Friday because potential customers could not get to their premises.
It was very frustrating for some Jerusalemites who had gone shopping to their local supermarket before the roads were closed, but discovered after leaving the supermarket that they couldn’t take the same route home or even get into the side streets on which they live, because, unlike the proverbial chicken, they couldn’t cross the road. It was extremely difficult for elderly residents with mobility problems. One can only imagine the inconvenience caused to regular light rail passengers during the hours in which the service was stopped to accommodate the cyclists.
There are other routes through parks and forests, and spectators who are genuinely interested will find their way to the most off-the-wall venues. Alternately, the municipality could operate a free shuttle service that would take people to within easy walking distance of their destinations.
■ NETANYAHU’S ULTRADRAMATIC presentation of the Iranian nuclear archives met with mixed reactions, though there was consensus that spiriting the archives out of Iran was a terrific coup for the Mossad. But comedian Tom Aharon put a pin in Netanyahu’s balloon when he asked who in this day and age keeps files in a binder? He also asked who would bother to weigh half a ton of paper or read in such a short time 55,000 pages that purportedly constitute the contents of a secret archive? Fellow comedian Roi Bar Natan, paraphrasing the prime minister, commented that Netanyahu had actually said nothing, because there was nothing to say.
■ WHEN PEOPLE die, especially well-known personalities, family, friends and acquaintances suddenly remember long-forgotten anecdotes about the deceased.
Jerusalemite Larry Wachsman, originally from New York, when reading in The Jerusalem Post last week of the death of veteran newsman Jay Bushinsky, remembered listening to news reports during the Six Day War. The two main radio correspondents whose reports were broadcast in New York were Bushinsky, who at the time was reporting for Westinghouse Broadcasting Company, and Bruno Wasserthiel, who was reporting for United Press International. Wachsman was listening to a live broadcast by Bushinsky, who was apparently near the scene of the action. Without missing a beat, Bushinsky suddenly switched to Hebrew because a woman was walking in the line of Jordanian fire. Bushinsky screamed at her and told her to lie down on the ground so that she wouldn’t be hit. “That told me that he was a real mensch,” said Wachsman. “I’ve carried that memory ever since.”
■ IN THE dim and distant past, the majority of Israeli politicians were affiliated directly or indirectly with the Socialist International, especially Shimon Peres, who was one of its vice presidents and later honorary president. With Israel’s political shift to the Right, the Socialist International lost much of its relevance in Israel, but certain members of the Labor Party continue to look to it for guidance.
In fact, Socialist International secretary-general Luis Ayala was in Israel this past week, and met up in the Knesset with Deputy Speaker MK Hilik Bar, a longtime friend and a former secretary-general of the Labor Party. Bar lauded Ayala as a friend of Israel and an indefatigable fighter for social equality and human rights wherever he goes in the world.
Early morning radio listeners on May 1 may have heard snatches of the Socialist International anthem, which under a different administration used to be played in full.
■ LONDON-BORN JERUSALEMITE Zaki Djemal is a social activist and one of the founders of Kulna Yerushalayim (We Are All Jerusalem), which aims to bring together Jews and Arabs of different backgrounds and age groups through mutual love of games, sport and music. This summer, during the FIFA World Cup in Russia, the historic gates of Jerusalem’s Old City will transform into a goalpost as Jews and Arabs come together for a special soccer happening.
The aim is to bring some 200 young players from east and west Jerusalem to compete in a penalty shootout against world-famous goalies. Whatever their differences, Arab and Jewish youth who are passionate about soccer have shared admiration for several international players. That’s why Djemal and others involved believe that the event scheduled for July 10-11 will be a success.
Because it’s designed to be a happening, the event will include live music, sports legends and screenings of matches on the ancient walls surrounding the Old City, in addition to the penalty-kick competition. Organizers hope to bring famous goalies such as Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon, Germany’s Oliver Kahn, France’s Fabien Barthez, Spain’s Iker Casillas, and Denmark’s Peter Schmeichel to come to play alongside the youngsters. For the purpose of attracting as much attention as possible, organizers have created a website, Goals and Gates (, in which information will be regularly updated.
■ ALTHOUGH THERE have been some nasty clashes between fans and players of Beitar Jerusalem soccer team and Arab teams and Muslim players recruited to play with Beitar, sport is nonetheless seen as a means of bringing Arabs and Jews together in a spirit of harmony. The Peres Center for Peace and Innovation has been doing this for years, bringing youngsters from both sides together in competition and spicing up the games with the presence of soccer stars and diplomats.
This is about to happen again this Thursday, May 10, when some 800 Arab and Jewish youth from Israel, the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority are to meet at the Herzliya Stadium to play in the 2018 Peace Tournament. The event will be moderated by television host Tal Musari.
At the event, Maccabi Netanya and National Team star Dia Saba together with sportswoman of the year Lee Falkon will be named ambassadors of peace. Players from Hapoel Beersheba, Maccabi Netanya, Bnei Sakhnin, Maccabi Haifa, and Maccabi Petah Tikva will form a peace team that will play against a diplomatic peace team that will include ambassadors Gianluigi Benedetti of Italy, Hellgren and Chris Cannan of Australia, along with other diplomats.
■ ANTICIPATING THE war of words between Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at the inauguration of 18 judges and registrars on Monday, President Reuven Rivlin tried to inject a light note by publicly voicing birthday greetings to Shaked, who was celebrating her 41st birthday. Rivlin complimented her by saying, “It’s your 24th, isn’t it?”
A break with tradition in the ceremony was the absence of a court registrar as master of ceremonies. This time it was veteran radio announcer Dan Kaner who introduced each of the new appointees to Rivlin. Something else that was different was the number of very young children in the hall, indicating that younger people are now being appointed to the bench, in contrast to somewhat older appointees as recently as a decade ago.
■ CELEBRITY CHEF Moshe Segev caused a bout of diplomatic indigestion when he served dessert in a metal shoe at the dinner hosted by Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, in honor of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife, Akie. Aside from shoes being a no-no in Japanese culture, where they are often removed at the door when entering someone’s home, the particular shoes chosen by the chef were so unaesthetic. A Cinderella’s slipper might have been a little less offensive, and certainly much more attractive.
Aside from anything else, it showed that despite Israel’s progress in the world, the country is not yet sufficiently sophisticated for a celebrity chef, whose wife happens to be a leading fashion stylist, to realize that one doesn’t put shoes on a table – certainly not on a table on which food is being served at the same time. But then again, who would expect him to be any different from fellow Israelis who so often put shoe-clad feet on the seat of the bus or the train, despite signs that urge them not to? The faux pas was widely publicized, not only in Israel.