Grapevine: Diplomatic Dilemma

Reuben opted to go to the Mexican reception, not only because Mexico has had diplomatic ties with Israel for 63 years, but because he had served in Mexico and one of his daughters was born there.

Shimon Peres with Emmanuel Macron. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Shimon Peres with Emmanuel Macron.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As has been mentioned previously in this column, people who are on the guest lists of the diplomatic circuit often have a problem when two embassies or consulates host a function on the same date and at more or less the same time. Those who get invitations to both will sometimes go to the one closest to home last, or they may decide to attend only one, as did Chief of Protocol at the Foreign Ministry Meron Reuben, who had invitations to both the Croatian celebration of 20 years of diplomatic relations with Israel and the Mexican Independence Day celebration hosted by Ambassador Pablo Macedo.
Reuben opted to go to the Mexican reception, not only because Mexico has had diplomatic ties with Israel for 63 years, but because he had served in Mexico and one of his daughters was born there. He is also very partial to Mexican food.
Former chief of protocol Yitzhak Eldan had yet a third diplomatic event and went from the Croation reception to another one hosted by Latvian honorary consul Sara Allalouf, who is also a vice president of the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel, which was founded and is headed by Eldan. Nitza Raz-Silbiger, who is the director of the Protocol Department at the Foreign Ministry, was at the Croation event, and was so busy talking to various diplomats that she never made it to the Mexican reception.
■ AT THE Croatian reception, hosted by chargé d’affaires Tina Krce at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv, there were more speeches than usual, partly because the Israeli and Croatian philatelic services had issued special stamps to mark the occasion, and their representatives were among the speakers.
A special guest was Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, who stressed the need for Europe, the United States and Israel to stand together in the battle against radicalism and extremism. “This is a very important issue for all humanity,” he said. Chances of defeating extremist elements are better than ever before, he said, because Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, are facing the same threats as Israel, and the common enemy has created an opportunity to join forces against it.
Krce repeated much of what she had written in an op-ed published that day in The Jerusalem Post, emphasizing the excellent political relations that Croatia has with Israel today and that bilateral agreements have been signed in nearly all areas, as well as a Memo of Understanding on military cooperation.
Yet despite all that, there has not been a Croatian ambassador in Israel since April 2016, when then-ambassador Pjer Simunovic was promoted to chief of staff of the National Security Council. He is now back in the diplomatic corps, and last month was officially appointed Croatia’s ambassador to the United States. His was among 12 new appointments, which did not include Israel. When asked, after Simunovic’s departure, when a successor would arrive, Krce replied that a new appointment would not take place until after the elections.
Croatia’s parliamentary elections were held in September 2016, and a new prime minister, Andrej Plenkovic was installed, but as yet, no ambassador to Israel has been appointed, despite claims of close cooperation and good chemistry between the leaders of both countries.
■ A FEW days prior to the Croatian event, Kazakhstan’s Ambassador Doulat Kuanyshev hosted a reception at his impressively designed residence in Herzliya Pituah to mark the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Kazakhstan and Israel. Nearly all the guests commented on the beauty of the residence, and several spent time looking at the many photographs on the walls and sideboards. Right in the entrance were photographs of Shimon Peres, Reuven Rivlin and Benjamin Netanyahu with Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev or with Kuanyshev.
Elsewhere, family photographs were charmingly interspersed with official photographs that illustrated Kuanyshev’s extensive ambassadorial career.
A most hospitable host, Kuanyshev, in addition to greeting his guests at the door, made sure to engage almost each and every one of them in conversation afterward, and tried hard to conceal his disappointment in the fact that there were no representatives from the government. Three ministers who had indicated that they would attend canceled at the last minute.
Cyprus Ambassador Thessalia-Salina Shambos, who lives next door, showed up a little after most of the other guests wearing a stunning strapless red dress caught in a bell shape at the knee. She is easily the most elegant ambassador in the country and also one of the most hard-working. Among the other ambassadors present were Serbia’s Milutin Stanojevic and his wife, Ceca, who is both a fluent Hebrew-speaker and an expert on Jerusalem; the Netherlands’ Gilles Beschoor Plug; South Africa’s Sisa Ngombane; Ukraine’s Hennadiy Nadolenko; Egypt’s Hazem Hairat; Russia’s Alexander Shein; Turkey’s Kemal Okem; Germany’s Dr. Clemens von Goetze; Ireland’s Alison Kelly; Sri Lanka’s Periyasamy Pillai Selvaraj; and Slovakia’s Peter Hulenyi. Most of them live within easy walking distance and were bantering about how long the walk had taken them. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai was also present and engaged in serious conversation with the Russian ambassador.
In his address Kuanyshev quoted Israel’s great statesman Abba Eban, who once wrote that “the mark of imperfection is written on all human achievement, and is inscribed on ours as well. Not every goal was achieved, not every standard fulfilled. But in the broad perspective of history, at the end of two decades, we could face mankind in a posture of confidence.”
Kuanyshev found an echo in these words with regard to Kazakhstan.
“We firmly believe that we can play a significant role in promoting peace and stability, being a model in social and economic development, a dependable and efficient partner, being an impartial mediator, both in Central Asia and beyond, and in being particularly engaged in promoting comprehensive nuclear disarmament and a global dialogue of cultures, religions and civilizations,” he said.
He noted that in the earliest days of its independence, Kazakhstan had resolutely opted to get rid of nuclear arms and stand for nonproliferation.
Subsequently, in December 2009, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously endorsed Kazakhstan’s proposal that August 29 be proclaimed as the International Day Against Nuclear Tests.
Citing examples of Kazakhstan’s progress in the international arena of large and important organizations, Kuanyshev said that in 2010 his country was the first Central Asian, post-Soviet, and predominantly Muslim nation to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Kazakhstan is currently a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.
He credited his country’s success to the wisdom and policies of Nazarbayev, and mentioned the recent talks between Nazarbayev and Netanyahu and the upcoming joint Economic Commission that will meet in Israel under the co-chairmanship of ministers Ze’ev Elkin and Bakhyt Sultanov.
■ EVERY HOTEL in Israel would welcome the repetitive headache of the staff of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, which in the last week of October will again run out of rooms, when more Australians and New Zealanders will be coming to Israel than have been here at any one time (not counting the total number of immigrants from the antipodes) since World War II, when thousands of Anzacs were deployed in the region.
More than 2,000 Aussies and Kiwis are expected to converge on Israel in the last week of October to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba and the inauguration of the Anzac Museum. Delegations from both countries will be led by prime ministers Malcolm Turnbull of Australia and Bill English of New Zealand.
The various organizations and institutions associated with the festivities report that there are long waiting lists of people who did not register in time, but who are eager to come. There is room for only 3,000 people at the official ceremony, but there are other, unofficial Australian, New Zealand and Turkish ceremonies taking place in other closeby locations.
Hotels between Jerusalem and Beersheba or possibly Jerusalem and Eilat will be fully booked. The Beersheba hotels were booked out months ago. Indirectly, this is yet another example of what the Anzacs have done and are doing for Israel.
Such a high rate of tourism in an off-season period is rare. There will also be large numbers of people coming from Britain for the Balfour Declaration centenary a few days later.
■ DURING A visit to the city of Ariel last week, President Rivlin toured the Ariel industrial zone, accompanied by Economy Minister Eli Cohen and Manufacturers Association president Shraga Brosh. They met with local businesspeople and regional and community heads and stopped off at the Achva halva and tehina processing plant, where Rivlin, who is a vegetarian, happily tasted the products but, not content with that, also stirred the pot, after first donning the white hygienic uniform that all of the employees of the plant are required to wear.
■ BARELY A week after being the subject of adulation at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, soccer star and Israel’s National Team Captain Eran Zahavi was subjected to catcalls and boos when the team lost to Macedonia on Saturday night. At the close of the game, after Macedonia had kicked a winning goal, Zahavi ripped off his captain’s armband and threw it on the ground, then subsequently resigned both his captaincy and team membership, before returning to China, where he plays for Guangzhou R&F. Last year Zahavi was appointed a “peace ambassador” by Israel’s ninth president, Shimon Peres, and last month participated in a game between Jewish and Arab youth sponsored by the center. He hasn’t given up on being a peace ambassador.
■ WITH JUST over a year to go before the next municipal election, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is still playing his cards close to his chest, or some might think that he’s dancing at two weddings simultaneously.
While still trying to establish a presence for himself in the Likud, Barkat is also making nice to the ultra-Orthodox Lithuanian representation on the Jerusalem City Council, but is fast losing friends and supporters in other sectors of the community.
Currently fighting Barkat every step of the way are members of the Hitorerut in Jerusalem (Awakening Jerusalem) Party, which is a rebellious member of Barkat’s coalition, and has spoken out and voted against an agreement that Barkat reached with the Lithuanian council members without consulting the rest of the coalition.
■ EVER SINCE their teenage daughter Miri died from cancer in 1987, former MK and government minister Meir Sheetrit and his wife, Ruth, have dedicated their lives to projects that will make life easier for other youngsters like Miri and for their families. Miri’s memory and the things she loved are preserved in these projects.
In addition, dynamic Ruth is an energetic activist with the Israel Cancer Association, which on Saturday evening, September 9, will hold a NIS 1,000 per plate gala dinner catered by celebrity chef Baruch Yehezkeli at the Jaffa-based Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. All proceeds will be used for advanced cancer research for the benefit of patients and their families.
Guest speaker will be Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Aaron Ciechanover, and entertainment will be provided by Rami Kleinstein. Citations will be given to people who have contributed greatly to the work of the ICA.
■ AT AGE 91, industrialist, investor, philanthropist and former MK Stef Wertheimer is still going strong.
Wertheimer, whose life story would make for a gripping Hollywood movie, flourished in business, and from a small metal shop in the backyard of his home grew in economic stature to become a billionaire.
He is widely acclaimed in Israel for building industrial parks, including in areas where there is a prominent Arab population.
His best-known industrial park is Tefen, which he built in 1982, and in addition to being an industrial center is also a cultural center with a museum and an area for holding concerts. Wertheimer likes to entertain at Tefen and to demonstrate to his guests the true meaning of integration.
He also likes to show people around his more recent industrial park in Nazareth, where Jews and Arabs work side by side in harmony and cooperation, proving that where goodwill exists, coexistence is not a problem.
A recent guest at the Nazareth Industrial Park was Turkish Ambassador Okem, who toured the premises and also learned about the other five industrial parks that Wertheimer has established. Okem was impressed and said that Wertheimer is an example of a man of economic vision who turns his dreams into realities. Okem also appreciated Wertheimer’s efforts to set up industrial parks in Turkey.
There are many areas in which Israel and Turkey can work together to build up hi-tech industries, said Okem.
■ LED BY Nicholas Moore, managing director and CEO of Australian- headquartered global investment bank Macquarie Bank with $366 billion assets under management, one of the most high-level business delegations to come to Israel from Australia spent last Friday in Jerusalem visiting the Old City and Yad Vashem and experiencing a traditional Shabbat by attending Shabbat services at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue and subsequently partaking of a Shabbat dinner at the King David Hotel as guests of international lawyer and acting president of the Great Synagogue Zalli Jaffe, who frequently hosts delegations of the Israel-Australia Chamber of Commerce.
An accomplished public speaker, Jaffe usually introduces his guests, most of whom are not Jewish, to some of the intricacies of Jewish customs, law and lore. This time, he gave the honor to one of his good friends, Rabbi Yitzhak Aharon Korff, chaplain of the city of Boston, who was present with his Jerusalem- born wife, Devorah. Each is a direct descendant of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the hassidic movement, and both are therefore related to heads of various hassidic dynasties. Korff is also a lawyer, diplomat, businessman and newspaper publisher, and stood out from the crowd in his distinctive black kapote and shtreimel. He is the owner and publisher of The Jewish Advocate, the oldest continuously circulated English-language Jewish newspaper in the United States. When in Israel, the Korffs are frequently among the congregants at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue.
In Jewish tradition the birthdays of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, are not celebrated, said Korff, but on Rosh Hashana, the birthday of Adam, the first human being, is celebrated. Korff made the point that Adam had neither creed nor color nor race nor nationality.
He was the universal human being, from whom all humanity is descended.
Another non-Australian guest at the dinner was Booky Oren, corporate vice president for business development at Netafim in addition to heading his own company, Booky Oren Global Water Technologies.
Some of the members of the delegation were interested in water production and management, others in renewable energy, and the rest in venture capital.
Oren spoke of how technology helps to create water, desalinate water and even locate water with the use of a generic key. He also showed a small, less-than-pocketsize device that can instantly determine the amount of electricity in water, so that whoever uses it knows whether the water is suitable for drinking.
Last month it was announced that the Mexican petrochemicals giant Mexichem had agreed to purchase 80% of Netafim for $1.5b.
Netafim has won global recognition for its effective and efficient drip irrigation systems.
■ IT IS unlikely that MK Merav Michaeli will be among the Labor Party members attending the New Year’s toast hosted by Knesset opposition leader Isaac Herzog at the Council for a Beautiful Israel on September 11. CBI was founded by his mother, Aura Herzog. Michaeli is heading south – no, not to Beersheba or Sderot but to Australia, where she will deliver lectures in Sydney and Melbourne.
Traveling with her is her significant other, Lior Schleien, who created and hosts the satirical show Back of the Nation, which, generally speaking, pokes fun at politicians and their foibles. Schleien will also put on a show in Melbourne – but in Hebrew, whereas Michaeli will be speaking in English in both Sydney and Melbourne. They are going to the island continent as the guests of Habonim Dror, a global Socialist-Zionist youth movement. Michaeli has titled her talk “Optimism is a political statement.” In Melbourne she will be in conversation with journalist and author Julie Szego.
Michaeli and Schleien, who have been together for several years, have an interesting relationship. They live in the same building – but in separate apartments, which affords each of them privacy when they need it, but nonetheless the assurance that the other is close at hand.
■ AMONG THE guests who attended the luncheon in honor of Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev was Macedonia’s chief and only rabbi, who actually lives in Hashmonaim in Israel and commutes to Macedonia’s capital of Skopje every few weeks to tend to the religious needs of Macedonia’s 250 Jews. Rabbi Avraham Kozman is also a member of the ZAKA rescue and recovery organization. As far as he is aware, his is the only kosher home in Macedonia, and when he is in Macedonia when the country is visited by religiously observant Jews, many find their way to his table.
At the luncheon, Kozman had the task of coaching Laurence Weinbaum – the director of the Israel branch of the World Jewish Congress and the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, which hosted the luncheon – on how to greet the guests in Macedonian. The multilingual Weinbaum makes a point, at ICFR events, of greeting guests of honor in their native tongue, but Macedonian is not one of the languages at his disposal.
■ KNOWN AS one of Israel’s greatest Francophiles, Shimon Peres personally knew every president of France from de Gaulle onward.
He even met Emmanuel Macron, but not in an official capacity, as Macron was elected several months after Peres’s death. In some respects, Chemi Peres, who now chairs the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, is walking in his father’s footsteps, and in the course of a visit to France last week met with Macron, who told him that he was pleased that he was continuing his father’s legacy. Senior figures at the Élysée Palace told Peres that Macron will in all likelihood pay a state visit to Israel in the first half of 2018.
Peres was included in a reception that Macron hosted for heads of international companies who are part of the Global Positive Forum.
Peres told Macron that his father had followed Macron’s career with interest, from the period in which Macron had been economy minister and the two had met at the Ambrosetti Forum at Lake Como, to which Shimon Peres had been invited every year, and which he religiously attended, even when not in the best of health.
This year, Chemi Peres replaced his father at the Ambrosetti Forum, where he met with several world leaders, including Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni. Following their meeting, the two distributed Shimon Peres Memorial Prizes to three young inventors – Christian Salvatore, Massoud Hansani and Sanhdra Rey – from Italy, Afghanistan and France, who are engaged in projects of artificial intelligence, detection of land mines through wind energy, and creation of light from living organisms.
Gentiloni commended commemorating Shimon Peres in the world of technological innovation, to which Chemi Peres responded that his father believed that the future of the world is linked to science, technology and innovation.