Grapevine: A boomerang man

A round-up of news from around Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets Chinese VP Wang Qishan at the Innovation Conference in Jerusalem (photo credit: GPO/KOBI GIDEON)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets Chinese VP Wang Qishan at the Innovation Conference in Jerusalem
(photo credit: GPO/KOBI GIDEON)
Two and a half years after his appointment as Israel Consul-General in New York, Sam Grundwerg, the former director-general of the Israel branch of the World Jewish Congress is returning to Israel. He will take up the position of world chairman of Keren Hayesod to fill the position vacated by Eliezer Sandberg, who was a suspect in the German submarine Case 3000, one of several cases for which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was investigated.
Grundwerg has certainly led an interesting life. After working as a lawyer in Florida, he joined the WJC, where he mixed a lot with current and former diplomats, visiting foreign ministers and other dignitaries. Then he went to Los Angeles, where he began rubbing shoulders with people such as Billy Crystal, Mayim Bialik, Elon Gold, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Barbra Streisand and semi-expats, such as Omri Casspi, Ninet Tayeb, Noa Tishby and Gal Gadot. In his new role, he’ll be mixing with millionaires and Jewish community leaders in all the countries in which Keren Hayesod is active.
Before joining the WJC, Grundwerg worked for a major international law firm in the US. After moving to Israel in 1990, he served as a combat soldier in the armored corps of the IDF, and later as an officer in the reserves. Grundwerg’s wife, Julia, is a nurse by profession. They are parents to three children: Elisha, Felicia and Sarita.
Grundwerg’s new appointment was made in consultation with Netanyahu.
■ ANOTHER TEMPORARY expat who keeps yo-yoing back to Israel is Gavi Friedson of Jerusalem, who for the past couple of years has been living in the United States with his American wife, Katie, whom he married last year. Since his early teens, Friedson, now 29, was involved in paramedics working first as a volunteer with Magen David Adom and then for United Hatzalah. He is now spokesman and deputy director for international operations for the latter, and now travels across the United States and Canada. The fact that he wears a suit most of the time has not blunted his paramedic instincts.
A Tel Aviv University graduate in Emergency and Disaster Management, Friedson was about to leave the airport in Newark, New Jersey, after a flight from Vancouver last week, when he saw what to him was a familiar situation.
An elderly Orthodox woman was being pushed in a wheelchair by her daughter and granddaughter.
As she and her family approached the security line, the woman’s face began to turn blue, then red, and it was obvious that she had stopped responding to her surroundings. Friedson instantly recognized that she was having a heart attack. He flagged the police officers standing upstairs, yelling that he needed a defibrillator and asked them to call 911 for an ICU ambulance. Within seconds, he was able to begin chest compressions. The police helped him to get the woman out of the wheel chair, and together they worked on her for about eight minutes until the ambulance arrived. Friedson was very impressed by the fact that the airport police knew exactly what had to be done in terms of CPR.
Ironically, while still in flight, Friedson had told the people sitting alongside him about his experiences as a medic, adding that one never knows when one’s CPR skills will come in handy and possibly save a life. He is forever advising people to learn CPR.
Friedson is one of those naturally friendly fellows who does follow up on his good deeds. He took the daughter’s phone number and later called to find out what happened after they got to the hospital. Even though the elderly woman’s pulse had been restored, she didn’t have the strength to hold out and she died. But it was really important to her daughter and granddaughter that in a time of need, help had instantly been available. The trio had been on the way to Canada for a family wedding. An experienced emergency first responder, Friedson calculates that in Israel he responded to more than 9,500 emergency calls, and continues to do so when he comes home to visit his family and engage in some Hatzalah business.
Born in Florida, he came to Israel with his parents and two older brothers when he was 10 years old. At age 15 he became an ambulance volunteer. When he was 16, he joined the fire department, and when he was 17 he joined the volunteer police. At 18 he was drafted into the army. But through his whole high school career, he was a first responder, often dropped off at school in the morning by an ambulance. After graduating high school and when on leave from the army, he rode a motor bike, or an ambucycle, as United Hatzalah prefer to call it. In addition to talking and raising money for United Hatzalah, Friedson has been helping out at disaster sites across America.
■ ISRAELIS LOVE conspiracy theories. Way back in 1992, when Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief rival for leadership of Likud was David Levy, Netanyahu in the course of his election campaign had an affair with his campaign manager. Somehow it became public, and the word went out that there was a video cassette of the couple in a compromising position. Someone allegedly called Sara Netanyahu and threatened to publish the tape unless her husband withdrew from the race. Netanyahu subsequently filed a complaint with the police saying that two members of his party were attempting to blackmail him. Netanyahu subsequently made a true confessions appearance on television in January 1993, but did not name the two people whom he suspected, though he hinted broadly that one of them was Levy. Netanyahu admitted to having had an extramarital affair, but said that it had ended months earlier.
Levy’s supporters were of the opinion that Netanyahu had fabricated the whole story to garner sympathy and thereby win the election. Levy never did win the chairmanship of Likud, but he’s the only Israeli politician who served three times as foreign minister.
This month, Netanyahu was in Beit She’an, campaigning for Levy’s son, Jackie, who is running for mayor. Political wounds don’t always heal quickly, but they heal when necessary. Wounds that spouses inflict on each other sometimes leave permanent scars. Former justice minister Yaakov Neeman, who died in January 2017 and was known to be a brilliant lawyer, was rumored to have patched up the marriage, and the Netanyahus have publicly been lovey-dovey ever since, still walking hand in hand.
Some people have suggested that the story behind this week’s headliner involving Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin was also fabricated, though not necessarily by Netanyahu himself. There is no love lost between Netanyahu and Rivlin. Nor is there any love lost between Netanyahu and former minister Gideon Sa’ar, who dropped out of politics and is now making a comeback.
Although it would appear from the article by Mati Tuchfeld in Israel Hayom which sparked the latest Netanyahu controversy that a putsch against him was in the works, that if there is a conspiracy of any kind, it may have another target in mind. There was already a move afoot to further limit the very limited powers of the president. Inasmuch as Rivlin is a dyed-in-the-wool Likudnik, who as president has had to put his politics aside, many of his former cronies are under the impression that he has moved politically towards the left, which to them is tantamount to treason. Anyone who commits treason must be punished, and if the president can’t be unseated, it may be possible to at least clip his wings.
The whole incident could die a natural death, especially in view of the proximity of municipal elections, or it could blow up beyond what anyone imagines. After all, when former president Moshe Katsav lodged a blackmail and extortion complaint with the police, he never conceived in his wildest dreams that the story would immediately become public and that he would be the one going to prison.
■ THIS WEEK, with municipal elections so close, Netanyahu wanted to improve the chances of one of the candidates for mayor, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, and joined him in a tour of Mahaneh Yehuda market, which is very much a stronghold of fellow contender Moshe Lion, who frequently visits the market and is friendly with many of the vendors. The ethnic genie is also at play. Most of the vendors are of North African descent, as is Lion. Elkin is a product of the former Soviet Union.
■ ON WEDNESDAY night, Netanyahu temporarily put local and national politics aside to focus on international politics and investments at the opening of the Prime Minister’s Conference on Israeli Innovation at Jerusalem’s Orient Hotel.
In addition to Netanyahu and his wife, the conference was attended by senior officials, investors and entrepreneurs from around the globe with delegations from tens of countries. Also present were Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev; Economy and Industry Minister Eli Cohen; Vice President of China Wang Qishan; Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google.
In the course of the evening, Netanyahu awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Israeli Innovation to three startups: In the field of health, the recipient was Einat Metzer, CEO and co-founder of Emedgene. In the field of food-tech, the prize was awarded to Eran Baniel, CEO and founder of DouxMatok, and in the cyber field, the award was given to Prof. Yehuda Lindell, founder and chief scientist at Unbound Tech. A milestone event in the 70th anniversary celebrations of the state, the Prime Minister’s conference on Israeli Innovation was initiated by the Culture and Sport Ministry in conjunction with the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation.