GRAPEVINE: A double dose of blue blood

Royal and diplomatic visitors honor Tel Aviv and other cities with visits this week.

SLOVENIAN AMBASSADOR Barbara Susnik and Deputy Minister for Public Diplomacy Michael Oren share a toast on Slovenia’s National Day (photo credit: Courtesy)
SLOVENIAN AMBASSADOR Barbara Susnik and Deputy Minister for Public Diplomacy Michael Oren share a toast on Slovenia’s National Day
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Britain’s Prince William will not be the only royal visitor to Israel this month. He will be preceded by blue blood Prince Albert of Monaco, who will be heading for Tel Aviv University, which will confer an honorary doctorate on him next Tuesday. The ceremony will take place in the Porter building for environmental studies. Prince Albert has been the ruling monarch of Monaco since 2005. He takes a great personal interest in the quality of the environment and is particularly interested in protecting the marine environment.
In 2006 he visited the North Pole – the only ruling sovereign ever to do so while in office. He also serves as adviser to the Orphans International organization. At an unveiling of a memorial for Monaco Jews who died in the Holocaust, Prince Albert aware that some of his countrymen had betrayed Jews to the Nazis during World War II, asked for forgiveness.
TAU and the Principality of Monaco collaborate with each other in several areas. Last December a delegation from TAU, headed by President Prof. Joseph Klafter, together with Prince Albert, took part in a gala event in Monaco, focusing on the environment, smart cities and ecology.
■ IT’S VERY important to any ambassador hosting a national day reception that a representative of the Government of Israel be in attendance to deliver greetings. The ministers are supposed to work on a rotation basis, but many are unwilling to perform the task. One of the few who was prepared to do so again and again was Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, but it appears that his role has been taken over by deputy minister for Public Diplomacy Michael Oren, who apart from being a natural, given his role in government, is also a native English speaker and a fine orator, who when deviating from the speech prepared for him by the Foreign Ministry, does so with eloquence and humor or with the right degree of drama. During this past week, Oren has represented the government at National Day receptions hosted by Slovenia Ambassador Barbara Susnik at Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People, Georgian Ambassador Paata Kalandadze at the Eretz Israel Museum and Swedish Ambassador Magnus Hellgren at his residence in Herzliya Pituah. The latter two were actually on the same night, with many diplomats going first to the Georgian reception in Tel Aviv and then moving on to Herzliya Pituah, which is the area in which most of them live.
■ ON TUESDAY of this week, Slovenian Ambassador Barbara Susnik celebrated her country’s National Day at Beit Hatfutsot in a somewhat unique manner by hosting a panel discussion and exhibition on the Jewish soldiers on the Isonzo Front during World War I. The event was supported by the Slovenian Foreign and Culture, Education, Science and Sport ministries, the Slovenian Milko Kos Historical Institute and the Center of Jewish Cultural Heritage Synagogue Maribor.
The panel discussion was organized in cooperation with the Museum of the Jewish People, with veteran news editor, journalist and historian Oren Nahari. Slovenian researchers and historians Dr. Renato Podbersic and Prof. Boris Hajdinjak delivered presentations on the Jewish presence in Slovenia throughout history, and in particular during World War I.
Hajdinjak spoke of the history of Jews on the territory of what is today Slovenia, and explained the geographical importance of the Slovenian town of Maribor for the Jewish community living on the route between Venice and Vienna. The 14th-century Maribor Synagogue is one of the oldest preserved synagogues in central and southeastern Europe.
Podbersic presented the exhibition on the Jewish soldiers of the Austro- Hungarian Army on the Isonzo Front during World War I, illustrating the conditions under which Jewish soldiers lived and the efforts they made to observe their religion and their Jewish traditions on the front. According to military statistics and estimates, around 40,000 Jewish soldiers fell in the war, but it is not known how many of them died on the front.
The panel discussion was followed by a National Day reception, addressed by Susnik and Oren. Susnik reviewed some of Israel’s achievements during 70 years of statehood and also voiced satisfaction at what she said were excellent and strengthening bilateral relations and cooperation between Slovenia and Israel, particularly in tourism, economy, cultural exchange and scientific cooperation.
Slovenia’s proclamation of independence 27 years ago was based on the belief in the right to self-determination of every nation, which is also the central theme of Slovenian national anthem, she said. Slovenia therefore supports all efforts for peace and stability in the Middle East that can be achieved through a negotiated two-state solution. While Slovenia condemns recent attacks that created damage to Israeli territory, it is concerned whenever civilians are killed, she said, alluding to the deaths of citizens of Gaza.
Oren emphasized the similarities and shared values between Israel and Slovenia. He also congratulated Slovenia on having recently conducted democratic national elections and wished the country success in the process of the formation of a new government.
He listed some of the wide areas of cooperation between the two countries and peoples, among which the Port of Koper as an entry point most of Israeli goods to Central Europe and the increasing number of Israelis visiting Slovenia. Despite the absence of an Israeli embassy in Slovenia, both countries make great efforts to advance bilateral relations, he said. While acknowledging occasional differences in views in the political relations, between the two countries, the such differences are discussed through a dialogue based on mutual respect and understanding, he said.
■ UNFORTUNATELY, OREN was not available to continue on to the Carlton Hotel in Tel Aviv where Philippines Ambassador Nathaniel G. Imperial was hosting the 120th anniversary reception of the proclamation of Philippine independence.
Apparently no other member of the government was available either, and the task then fell to Meron Reuben, the chief of protocol at the Foreign Ministry, but given the fact that the Philippines offered a haven to Jews during the Holocaust and was one of the 33 countries voting in favor of the partition of Palestine in November 1947, government ministers could have been more considerate on such a special anniversary.
Among Israeli officials who did attend were Ambassador Michael Ronen, director of the Foreign Ministry’s South East Asia Department, and Rafael Harpaz, Israel’s ambassador- designate to the Philippines.
Imperial said that under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines has embarked on a more independent foreign policy, following the dictum of being “friends to all and enemy to none.”
In keeping with the spirit of nationalism that inspired its forefathers when they fought for and declared independence in 1898. The Philippines is diversifying or re-balancing its external relations to include all the major powers and economies, while maintaining its ties with traditional allies and partners, he said, while emphasizing that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will remain at the core of Philippine foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region.
As part of this new direction, he continued, the Philippines will open this year and the next, several new embassies and consulates around the world. In Israel, this will include the opening this year of a new consulate office in west Jerusalem under the leadership of Shimon Weinbaum, who is the Philippines honorary consul in Jerusalem.
Referring to his country’s role in opening its doors to Jews fleeing Nazi persecution, and to helping pave the way for the establishment of the State of Israel, Imperial said: “There is a big reservoir of goodwill between our two countries. The challenge has been to transform the promise of that bond into a stronger and more multi-faceted partnership.” He was pleased to report that this is what he has been doing during the four years of his tenure in Israel.
In the economic sphere, we have been trying to raise the volume of two-way trade even as we try to address the perennial trade imbalance in favor of Israel. To this end, he brought a 17-member business delegation to Israel last November, and hopes to bring another this year.
There has also been a rapid growth in two-way tourism, and he was hopeful that by next year there will be direct flights between Manila and Tel Aviv, a dream he said would heighten tourism and business cooperation.
The Philippines continues to be a major source of caregivers in Israel, with the figure reaching 24,000 last year, he noted, as he expressed deep appreciation to Israel for hosting them, and for ensuring their welfare and the protection of labor rights.
In this context he spoke of this year concluding a bilateral labor agreement that will decisively address the lingering problem of illegal placement fees, which is detrimental to Filipinos working in Israel.
The embassy has also partnered with the Bialik Rogozin School, whose student population primarily comprises children of migrant workers in Israel – and presently has more than 600 Filipino students born in or raised in Israel who speak only Hebrew and are confused about their identity and cultural roots. With a core of volunteer teachers, the Philippine Embassy has introduced a course teaching them the Filipino national language, as well as the history, culture and traditions of the Filipino people, to prepare them for their eventual return or visit to the Philippines.
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