GRAPEVINE: Remembering Bernadotte

The Swedish government refused to believe that Bernadotte had been the victim of a terrorist attack and blamed the Israel government.

Shiri Maimon  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Shiri Maimon
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Swedish Ambassador Magnus Hellgren will next week host a memorial evening for Count Folke Bernadotte, who, as vice chairman of the Swedish Red Cross during the Second World War, successfully negotiated the release of several thousand prisoners from Nazi concentration camps and secured their transport on what history has recorded as the White Buses.
As noble a mission as the White Buses had been, the effort was surrounded by much controversy, including a debate among historians as to whether Bernadotte had initially refused to rescue Jews and had given priority only to Scandinavians. Some historians say that he was pressured by the Danes to organize the release of Danish Jews from Theresienstadt, but others say that at no time did he discriminate against Jewish prisoners. Many eyewitnesses, including the World Jewish Congress representative in Stockholm, testified on his behalf.
On May 20, 1948, less than a week after David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the creation of the State of Israel, Bernadotte, who was a grandson of King Oscar II of Sweden, was appointed United Nations mediator in Palestine. He was the first official UN mediator. A comprehensive plan that he proposed included the whole or part of the Negev as Arab territory, the whole or part of the Western Galilee as Jewish territory, and Jerusalem as Arab territory with municipal autonomy for the Jewish community, coupled with guarantees of protection for all the holy places.
This did not sit well with the leadership of the newly established state, and demonstrated that Bernadotte had not properly studied the history and traditions of the region, especially with regard to Jerusalem. The proposal was rejected, and Bernadotte came up with an alternative, placing Jerusalem, which was a problematic area, under UN control, with separate community autonomy for its Arab and Jewish residents.
Neither the Arabs nor the Jews were happy with such an arrangement. The Stern Group, which had been the most radically militant of all the resistance movements against the British Mandate, decided to nip this proposal in the bud by assassinating Bernadotte, who had also advocated that Arab refugees who had fled the country so as not to be caught up in war should be permitted to return. The assassination was carried out in Jerusalem on September 17, 1948. It was approved by Stern Group leaders Yitzhak Shamir, Natan Yellin-Mor and Yisrael Eldad. A four-member Stern Group team ambushed Bernadotte’s motorcade, and he was shot by Yehoshua Cohen.
The Swedish government refused to believe that Bernadotte had been the victim of a terrorist attack and blamed the Israel government. Even though Sweden recognized Israel in 1950, relations long remained less than warm. Israel made several attempts to improve its relationship with Sweden, including the planting by the Jewish National Fund of the Folke Bernadotte Memorial Forest in 1952. In a 1995 ceremony honoring Bernadotte that was attended by Sweden’s deputy prime minister, Mona Sahlin, Shimon Peres, who was then foreign minister, publicly condemned the assassination and all forms of terrorism and thanked the Swedes for providing a haven for Jews during the Holocaust. Sahlin left Israel ahead of schedule because the Foreign Ministry denied her permission to meet with Palestinian officials at Orient House in east Jerusalem. Since then, there have been several disputes between Israel and Sweden over the treatment and status of Palestinians, with the upshot that in 2014, Sweden became the first European Union member state to officially recognize the “State of Palestine.”
The guest of honor at Hellgren’s reception will be Bernadotte’s grandson Folke Bernadotte III. The evening will include a presentation by Sven-Eriik Soder, director of the Folke Bernadotte Academy, who will discuss Bernadotte’s legacy.
■ DIMINUTIVE ISRAELI songstress Shiri Maimon is not only starring in Chicago on Broadway, but was also the star of the traditional Friday night dinner hosted by the Prime Minister’s Bureau in the aftermath of the UN General Assembly. Following ministers Miri Regev and Ayoub Kara, who voiced their pride in their prime minister, Maimon launched into a spontaneous rendition of “Jerusalem of Gold,” and everyone – including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara – joined in.
■ AT AROUND the same time as he was addressing the UN General Assembly, a video of Netanyahu was shown at the Jerusalem Arena in which he addressed the 6,500 participants in the Feast of Tabernacles hosted by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, and Israeli guests including most of the 70 Holocaust survivors living in Haifa apartments owned by the Christian Embassy, which several years ago came to the rescue when Shimon Sabag, who is the founder of Yad Ezer Lehaver, which was running a soup kitchen for survivors, reached out for help. Sabag accompanied them to Jerusalem and was singled out for praise. ICEJ executive director Jürgen Bühler announced that it wants to at least double the number of Holocaust survivors for which it cares, and will build two or three more stories onto an existing apartment block. ICEJ also helps to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel, and in another video presentation, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog thanked the organization for helping to bring 1,308 immigrants from Ethiopia to Israel over the past two years.
Netanyahu in his video presentation said that he is glad that there is a Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, and he is also glad that there is an American Embassy in Jerusalem – which elicited a resounding ovation. Netanyahu also thanked ICEJ “for standing up for the truth.”
■ THE ICEJ has an annual prize for Christians who have distinguished themselves in service to Israel and the Jewish people. This year’s recipient is Sen. Jon Kyl, who had retired in January 2013 after a long political career, but was recalled to take the seat for Arizona following the death of senator John McCain. At that time the Republican Jewish Coalition released a statement commending his appointment and thanking Gov. Doug Ducey for making an outstanding choice in filling the vacancy left by McCain with another exemplary public servant. “Much like senator McCain, Sen. Kyl has an exemplary pro-Israel, pro-defense, conservative track record,” the statement declared. “Jon Kyl was the author of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, which required the US to move our embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem. That piece of legislation laid the ground work for President [Donald] Trump’s momentous decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem....”
Because Kyl had been tasked with shepherding through the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, he was unable to come to Jerusalem to accept his award, so ICEJ senior vice president and international spokesman David Parsons went to Washington to make the presentation. There could have been no one more suitable, as Parsons had been a member of the team that drafted the bill for the Jerusalem Embassy Act.
■ AMONG THE many Evangelists who came from close to 100 countries to participate in the Feast of Tabernacles was Indian chorister Victor Bennett, who is one of 100 choristers who belong to the 125-year-old Madras Association, which has been negotiating with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to perform Verdi’s Requiem with the IPO in Israel next July under the baton of Zubin Mehta, India’s most famous export to the world of music. There’s somewhat of a financial problem that needs to be overcome, but Bennett is optimistic that a solution will be found.
■ IT WAS difficult to guess whether the combined wealth in the banquet hall of the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria was in the billions or in the trillions, but given that the hall was filled to capacity with accredited investors sitting in a theater-style arrangement, the overall wealth could have quite conceivably been in the trillions.
For the past five years OurCrowd, founded by Jon Medved, has been hosting Passover and Sukkot breakfasts for several hundred accredited investors. It also hosts an annual Global Investor Summit in Jerusalem at which, for one week, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and investors congregate to learn about Israel’s innovative cutting-edge technologies. The event is a terrific booster for Israeli start-ups as well as for Israel’s industry, and an opportunity for early-stage investors in Israeli start-ups to make a lot of money.
At this year’s Sukkot breakfast Medved was happy to point to investors who had made relatively modest investments, the value of which have multiplied many times over. He also noted that there were representatives of start-up companies that had begun in an extremely modest fashion and were now valued in the triple digit millions. The next summit will open on March 7, 2019, at the Jerusalem International Convention Center. This year’s summit attracted 10,200 participants, said Medved, who expects the number to rise to 15,100 in March. Overseas giants are building permanent multinational R&D Centers in Israel, he said. “Venture capital is going through the roof and getting better, and 80% of the investors are from overseas,” with ever-increasing interest from Asia. Over the past year, said Medved, there have been four exits of Israeli companies for a total exceeding $3 billion.
Among the speakers were Aviad Kaufman, CEO and cofounder of RealView, which has invented and developed the Holoscope, which produces three-dimensional holograms, cuts down on surgery time, enhances performance and enables a more successful outcome. It is particularly valuable in the performance of heart procedures.
Another revolutionary invention was introduced by Sarah Levy Schreier, senior vice president for research and development at Sight Diagnostics, who demonstrated how Artificial Intelligence can cut down on time spent in diagnosing blood counts. A small device in every physician’s office can reduce the time factor from three days to 10 minutes and can immediately alert the physician to the illnesses and disorders of the patient, making for less guesswork and greater accuracy in diagnoses.
■ THE BATTLE of Beersheba, the centenary of which was celebrated last October with great fanfare, is often described as the last great cavalry charge in history. A vital component of the British victory over the Ottoman forces, its success has been largely attributed to the courageous charge of Australian and New Zealand horsemen. The exploits of the 4th Light Horse Brigade have become legend in Australian military history, but there was another battle involving Australian cavalry from the same brigade that took place in the Galilee on September 25, 1918, just under two months prior to the First World War armistice. In a fierce, predawn, two-hour battle in which 14 Australian soldiers died, an Australian cavalry unit succeeded in taking command of the Somech railway station within the framework of a major campaign to take the whole of the north of the country away from the Turks. At the time, the Turks and the Germans were fighting together against the British Army, and it was the Germans who opened fire against the Australian horsemen, who were under the command of Brig.-Gen. William Grant as they came up from the south. Grant ordered them to retaliate.
Over the years, the Somech train station, which was no longer in use, fell into a state of neglect. Six years ago, realizing its historic significance, the nearby Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee, the Society for the Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, the Jordan Valley Regional Council, the Rashi Foundation, the Prime Minister’s Office and Israel Railways joined forces to restore the station and to establish a center for Land of Israel studies under the administration of Kinneret College. At the opening ceremony of the restored station, a monument designed in Australia and commissioned by the Australian Cavalry Association was unveiled, and a contingent of Australian cavalry dressed in the uniforms of World War I came riding in on their horses.
For several years now, Australian cavalry personnel, some of them descendants of members of Light Horse regiments, have come to Israel to participate in memorial ceremonies in Beersheba and in the Galilee. The centennial ceremony of the battle at the Somech station took place last week, with the participation of Kinneret College president Prof. Shimon Gepstein and Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan, who spoke of the contribution of Australian soldiers to victorious battles so far from home, which laid the foundations for a firm friendship between Israel and Australia and increasing cooperation in trade, security, technology and academic exchanges.
■ REGULARS ON the Day of German Unity guest list who thought that they might be celebrating this year with Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will be in Israel on the actual date, will be disappointed. The German Embassy, which hosts an annual unity day reception, has deferred it by almost three weeks, and for the third consecutive year will not be holding it at the German residence in Herzliya Pituah. Part of the reason may be that the guest list has been growing, and the residence cannot comfortably accommodate so many people.
■ AMBASSADOR to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff is very proud of his daughter Ella, who last week launched a meeting of the Jewish Start-Up Network at the Israel Embassy which was attended by almost 100 young Jewish and Israeli entrepreneurs, who exchanged views on how to promote ideas and ventures. Issacharoff found the event to be “very inspiring.” Ella’s mother, Laura Kam, was equally impressed and sent out a Facebook report of the event.
■ WHAT WAS Ramadan Dabash, the Muslim Arab running for a seat on the Jerusalem City Council, doing in the sukkah of investment broker and tour guide David Zwebner, whose politics are definitely right of center? Believe it or not, Zwebner who is technically a seventh-generation Jerusalemite, even though he was born in England, is one of Dabash’s most ardent backers. During this past Sukkot, Dabash was in Zwebner’s sukkah on more than one occasion, and Zwebner and his wife, Ronit, previously hosted a parlor meeting for him so that their friends and acquaintances could understand why it is important to have at least one Arab on the Jerusalem City Council to represent the interests of the residents of east Jerusalem.
During the British Mandate period, Zwebner’s grandfather sent his father to England to learn to speak English and to acquire a university degree. When he wanted to return, entry to Palestine was closed to him. Someone told Rabbi Isaac Zwebner that there was a shortage of rabbis in South Africa, so he and his wife and family headed in that direction, thinking that they would stay for only a few years until after the Mandate. They stayed much longer because Zwebner was appointed chief rabbi of Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe), and he felt that he could not leave his dwindling flock. But all his children returned to live in Jerusalem – and he and his wife eventually followed.
David Zwebner, who was still a teenager when he came to Jerusalem from South Africa in 1966, had no reason to befriend Arabs. His uncle for whom he is named was one of the Convoy of 35 who, when they came to Gush Etzion to deliver much needed supplies, were killed by Arabs in January 1948. Zwebner’s uncle had been a brave fighter and a talented writer. Over time, Zwebner learned more and more about him, and although he was already a successful businessman and a grandfather several times over, he had never gotten around to getting a university degree. But in memory of his uncle who had fought in many places and written about his exploits, he decided three years ago to embark on a BA course in tourism and knowledge of the land. He was successful in completing the course, and in the process engaged in in-depth studies of the Israeli-Arab problem, learning that there are major differences between Israeli Arabs, east Jerusalem Arabs and Palestinians. There are, of course, similarities on several levels, but it was the differences that intrigued him.
After he happened to meet Jerusalem City Council hopeful Dabash, a 51-year-old civil engineer who heads the community center in Sur Bahir, which was captured from Jordan in 1967 and is situated east of Kibbutz Ramat Rahel, Zwebner made inquiries among Jews who knew him. He was told that Dabash is a man of courage and integrity who can be trusted. So Zwebner began to help him with financial support and with introductions to people who might be prepared to vote for him.
Having grown up under an apartheid regime, Zwebner is acutely conscious of the importance of equal rights and how they affect relationships. “If we want peace and a united Jerusalem, it is critical that the Arabs should have equal rights,” he declares. Dabash says that the Palestinians are very unhappy with him and are accusing him of trying to normalize relations. He claims not to be interested in politics per se, but in providing better services for the population of east Jerusalem, and this can be done only if an east Jerusalem Arab is on the inside and not on the outside. He wants better educational facilities and opportunities, more integration into the workforce, especially for university graduates, more building permits for housing, a halt on destruction of homes built illegally, more parklands, and a better quality of life in general for east Jerusalem Arabs.
Palestinians and some of the people he cares about don’t share his thinking, and he has been under constant attack on social media but refuses to give in. There was even an attempt to kidnap his young son, which was foiled by his wife, Amal, who screamed at the would-be hijackers, who took fright and ran away.
Dabash believes in the importance of Jews and Arabs getting to know, understand, and help one another, and for the past decade has organized events for both children and adults toward this aim. For instance, he takes Arab children to the Knesset, so that they will know that they are represented there.
He is a product of both the Arab and Israeli education systems. Career-wise, he has studied and worked in Israel and abroad, beginning in an ORT school, then the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, after which he spent two years in Russia and seven years in Moldova. He speaks Arabic, Hebrew, English, Russian and Romanian, and is very much a Renaissance man and unafraid of the threats he encounters on a daily basis. He notes that there are 370,000 Arabs in east Jerusalem in possession of Israeli ID cards that entitle them to National Insurance payments and other benefits that they don’t want to lose. Not all will vote for him, but he is confident that a lot will.
His wife is fearful, but he tells her not to worry, because God is looking after him. He did ask her if she wanted him to drop out of the race. Despite her fears, her reply was “No. Go ahead.”
■ TO HONOR the memory of peace activist, journalist and former MK Uri Avnery, who died in August, the Tel Aviv Cinematheque will on Wednesday, October 3, at 7:30 pm once again screen Yair Lev’s 2002 film Uri Avnery: Warrior for Peace.
Following the screening, there will be a panel discussion with former MK and former Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On and MK Ahmad Tibi. Provided that there are no bureaucratic hassles, the screening will be attended by a delegation from the Palestinian Authority headed by Elias Zananiri; a delegation from Kafr Kassem headed by former MK Ibrahim Sarsour; Latif Dori; Adam Keller of Gush Shalom; journalist Reno Tzror, who is a former correspondent for Ha’olam Hazeh, the weekly magazine that Avnery owned and edited for many years; Palestinian journalist Raymonda Tawil (who happens to be the mother-in-law of Yasser Arafat), who will deliver a Palestinian message; and Naftali Raz, who writes for the Internet magazine On the Left Side. Avnery is widely recognized as the Last Mohican of the Israeli radical Left.
■ IT TAKES a special kind of person to engage in extreme sports – and apparently there’s no age limit. Radio talk show host Walter Bingham, who had planned to celebrate his 94th birthday last January with a sky dive out of a plane, somehow didn’t get around to it, but is making up for lost time next week, closer to his 95th birthday. Bingham, who already holds a Guinness World Record as the oldest radio talk show host who is still working on a regular basis, is aiming for another Guinness record as the world’s oldest sky diver, and all being well, will make his jump on Monday.
[email protected]