Grapevine April 17, 2019: Perpetuating misinformation

A round-up of news from around Israel.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU – the elections were all about him (photo credit: REUTERS)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU – the elections were all about him
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Not for the first time has the writer of this column made the point that the Prime Minister’s Residence is not on Balfour Street but on Smolenskin Street. It’s true that the residence is on the corner of the two streets, but the side entrance is on Balfour Street, and the front entrance is at 9 Smolenskin Street.
Every press photographer who has photographed people entering or exiting the Prime Minister’s Residence knows this. So does every political reporter who has been there to cover an event, and yet there is this persistence, even in this august publication, of referring to Benjamin Netanyahu’s longtime abode as being located on Balfour Street.
Among the measures taken to protect visiting dignitaries to Israel, security is highest for presidents of the United States. Thus, when Donald Trump came to Israel, a security pavilion was constructed along the length of the front entrance to the Prime Minister’s Residence. That pavilion still stands in Smolenskin Street, not Balfour Street. Balfour may be easier to pronounce – and yes, Israel certainly owes a debt to Lord Balfour, without whose November 2, 1917, letter to Baron Rothschild, the Jewish people might still be waiting to return to their ancestral and spiritual homeland. Smolenskin Street seems to be virtually unknown, even to taxi drivers, and more often than not, they and other drivers who punch it into Waze omit the final letter because the name is unfamiliar.
For the record, Peretz Smolenskin was a 19th-century writer, editor, preacher, chorister and traveler. His family took its surname from its place of origin, Smolensk, which was part of the Russian Empire. He was a member of the Haskala (Enlightenment) movement, and the founder and editor of the Hebrew literary journal Hashahar (The Dawn). A Zionist before the Herzlian era, and a promoter of the Hebrew language prior to the advent of Ahad Ha’am, Smolenskin was a prolific writer who, in addition to his numerous articles, published several novels in Hebrew. He traveled widely throughout Europe, but unfortunately died an early death just three weeks before his 43rd birthday, after succumbing to tuberculosis. In a sense, he was a man before his time, because he advocated concepts that were later accredited to others.
■ IT WOULD be interesting to know how many Israelis living abroad who happened to be in Israel on Election Day and wanted to vote were denied the opportunity.
One example is Yehuda Kabillo, who lives in Australia, but who has a large family in Israel and returns every year to catch up with relatives and with developments in the country. Like many Israeli expatriates, Kabillo knows a lot more about what’s going in Israel than people who actually reside here. As he still has an Israeli identity card and travels in and out of the country on an Israeli passport, he figured that he ought to vote, considering that he was going to be here on Election Day.
He telephoned the Interior Ministry and was told to present himself at a polling station in Rehovot near where he used to live before emigrating. The relatives with whom he was staying live in Jerusalem, but having been told to go Rehovot, that’s what he did. However, the person at the ministry had neglected to tell him that he needed the appendage to his ID card, which he did not have. So when he showed up at the polling station, his name was not on the list of eligible voters. He asked if he could see the list just to double check. Perhaps there had been an error in the spelling of his name. There had not, because he found his three sons listed. All three were born in Israel and left the country as children.
Kabillo, who was born in Morocco, came to Israel as a child, and still remembers being sprayed with DDT and the cramped conditions in the transit camp where he and his parents, along with several siblings, had been sent. Being denied the right to vote took him mentally back to other deprivations.
It’s a known fact that many Israelis come home for brief visits at election time. Unlike Americans who live abroad, Israeli expats or tourists cannot vote outside the country in municipal or Knesset elections, unless they are abroad in service to the state. But those coming to vote should not have any obstacles put in their path.
The ministry has a branch at Ben-Gurion Airport. In the month prior to elections, it could be moved downstairs to the arrivals section, in order to help returning Israelis whose documents may be lacking or may not be in order, to remedy the situation so that they can vote. In addition, El Al cabin crews could be instructed to announce the existence of such a branch. It’s really not so difficult to arrange. It would save a lot of frustration and disappointment, and ensure that Israelis retain contact with Israel even if they don’t live here.
■ FORMER JERUSALEM mayor and current Likud MK-designate Nir Barkat is already doing what a parliamentarian should be doing and is getting to know the various institutions around the country. Last week he paid a visit to Ziv Medical Center in Safed, was taken on a tour of the facilities and was briefed on the MRI. He also met up with medical clown Tal Stein.
■ PERHAPS BECAUSE they believe in diversity, British Ambassador David Quarrey and his husband, Aldo Henriques, come up with different venues for the queen’s birthday receptions that are first-time experiences for many of the guests.
Last week, in celebrating the 93rd birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, they chose the Appleseeds Academy in Ramle, which resides in a historic building built by the British in 1935. The building was restored with the help of the Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Foundation. A London-based couple, the Wohls spent a lot of time in Israel, and though both are now deceased, the legacy they left continues to support numerous causes in the UK, Israel and the former Soviet Union. Together with other charitable foundations, the Wohl Foundation supports the Appleseeds Academy, which is a bridge or stepping-stone for youth from underprivileged families to study entrepreneurship and various technologies, so that they can go out into the world with the same skills as young people from affluent families.
Many of the hundreds of guests mingling in the grounds, as the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers British Army band played golden oldies in the background, had never been to Ramle before. Quarrey urged them to return and explore the city, which has so much history.
While Quarrey was delighted to be hosting the queen’s birthday party “in such a special place,” he was also sad because this was the last time that he would be doing so in Israel. He described his four years here as “an amazing experience.” He is very proud that the balance of trade between the UK and Israel has exceeded $10 billion and that Israeli companies are investing in the UK and vice versa, in addition to joint ventures in which, for instance, Israeli and British scientists are working together. The security experts of both countries have never worked so closely to keep the people of Britain and Israel safe, he said.
Some of the highlights of his period in Israel were welcoming the prince of Wales and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis during the first official visit to Israel by a member of the royal family; attending the funeral of Shimon Peres together with leaders of the world; attending a dinner in London together with the British and Israeli prime ministers, hosted by Lord Rothschild to mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration; and participating in Tel Aviv’s gay pride parade.
His one regret is that no progress has been made in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. “The two-state solution is the only way to secure peace and justice,” said Quarrey. He raised a laugh from the crowd when he said that he had been asked about Brexit when attending an Arab ceremony. He admitted that he doesn’t know what will happen with Brexit, “but whatever happens, the relationship between Britain and Israel will continue to get stronger.”
Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, representing the government, spoke of the long relationship between Israel and Britain, which predates the establishment of the state, praised Britain for recognizing Iran as a terrorist state, and for accepting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. She also thanked Quarrey for all that he had done to enhance relations between the two countries, and was happy that he had chosen to celebrate in Ramle, “a city which shows how different people can live together in harmony and partnership.”
Quarrey will be returning to England in May, with one of his final receptions in Israel being for the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association, to whose members he will talk in greater detail about the four years that he and Henriques have spent in Israel. In England they will celebrate the 10th anniversary of when they first met. He is very happy being married to Henriques, he said, adding that everyone should be allowed to be with the people they love.
Quarrey is one of several ambassadors leaving over the next month or two. Among the others are Martin Weiss of Austria, Edminas Bagdonas of Lithuania, Gilles Beschoor Plug of the Netherlands, Pavan Kapoor of India, and Perlyasamy Pillai Selvaraj of Sri Lanka.
■ THE ISRAEL-AUSTRALIA Chamber of Commerce makes a point of providing a Sabbath in Jerusalem for visiting delegations and trade missions from down under, and tries to accommodate them in hotels from which they will have a magnificent view of the Old City. Last Friday night, it was the King David Hotel, to which the delegation returned after attending services at the Western Wall. Earlier in the day, the group had been to Yad Vashem. An introduction to Holocaust history and Jewish religious ritual is also part of the IACC program, and in general participants have been both curious and appreciative, as the majority are not Jewish.
The men were absolutely thrilled to be able to join in the dancing that heralds the Sabbath at the Western Wall service and said that it was an experience they would never forget. Most of the 20-plus private investors came with spouses, and for most it was also a first time in Israel.
All were greatly impressed with Yad Vashem, though investment adviser Mark Laurie, who came with his wife, Frederika, thought that the pledge of “Never Again” in relation to the Holocaust rang somewhat hollow, given the genocide that has taken place in different parts of the world since the Second World War. Shahen and Sonia Mekertichian, who are both of Armenian background, were very keen to take time out to visit the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City, while Sam and Carmen Tarascio, who are of Italian background, were eager to go to Bethlehem. Also present was Catherine O’Ryan, who heads the Jerusalem-based Australian Trade and Defense Office, which opened without fanfare in March, but will be officially opened sometime in May, after O’Ryan returns from Canberra, where she is going to celebrate the wedding of one of her daughters.
Guest speaker for the evening was Jonathan Mirvis, the Hebrew University’s leading academic specialist in social entrepreneurship and social innovation. In illustrating the importance of education in Jewish tradition, he told the story of Rabbi Yohanan Ben-Zakai, who lived during the Second Temple period, when Jerusalem was under siege, and the zealots were refusing to surrender to the Romans and would not allow anyone out of the city. Only the dead were able to leave, so Ben-Zakai faked his own death in order to be transported out of Jerusalem in a coffin. His disciples carried him to where Roman General Vespasian was encamped. The general didn’t believe that there was a dead body in the coffin and was about to stab it with his sword, when the disciples begged him to desist because it was forbidden to kill a rabbi. Ben-Zakai stepped out of the coffin and said that if Vespasian would allow him to open an academy of Torah study in Yavne, the general would become emperor. Vespasian promised that if the prediction came true, he would grant Ben-Zakai’s request. In less than a year, Vespasian became emperor and kept his pledge.
In offering a vote of thanks to Mirvis, Sajan Koch, originally from India, and speaking with inherent Indian eloquence, said that the visit to Israel had been a voyage of discovery. He had been raised in a conservative Christian family, which studied the Bible very closely, and many places he had learned about, he had now seen with his own eyes. Many of the values that he had learned in India were similar to Jewish values, and he quoted some in Sanskrit and then translated them to English. Judging by the attention that both Koch and Mirvis received, everyone present was genuinely interested in what they had to say.
■ MORE THAN a third of the incoming Knesset members are parliamentary novices. There are also several MKs who over the years have switched parties, but no one in the incoming Knesset can equal the number of years of parliamentary service of three deceased members of Knesset: Shimon Peres, Tawfik Toubi and Yosef Burg. Peres holds the record, having served for 47 years in Knessets four to 17, inclusive. Toubi is second, having served for 41 years from 1949 to 1990. And Burg is in third place with 39 years, from 1949 to 1988. Curiously, the three MKs who are currently the most veteran of Israel’s living parliamentarians are Netanyahu, Amir Peretz and Tzachi Hanegbi, who all became MKs in 1988.
■ MANY POLITICAL pundits are predicting that the partnerships in Blue and White won’t last the distance, because there are too many differences between the four people at the top, even though three of them are former IDF chiefs of staff. What Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi do have in common is that all four are the sons of Holocaust survivors.
Some people believe that Blue and White is the harbinger of Israel’s adoption of a two-party system; others think it’s too soon to tell, and the most negative give the party five years at most before it fades into the dust of history.
Some former parties changed their names or merged with others, and some simply died a natural death. Among former parties that are no more, and which in some cases were large and powerful are: Alignment, Gahal, the Joint List, Moledet, Tkuma, One Israel, Religious Torah Front, Kadima, Zionist Union, Tehiya, Hatnua, Tzomet, Yahad, Rakah, Noy, The Third Way, Shinui, Sheli, Poale Zion, Black Panthers, Yisrael B’Aliyah, Telem, Rafi, Maki, the National Religious Party and Gil. And that’s not all. It’s quite possible that Blue and While will go the same way.
■ THE ARAB parties are furious about the hidden cameras in polling stations in Arab villages, and women who have been degraded because of their gender are equally angry.
A case in point was reported in Haaretz. In Bnei Brak, where the general rule is gender segregation, the earth shook when a woman was included in the committee overseeing the ballots on Election Day. Notwithstanding the fact that a large segment of the haredi population refuses to acknowledge or fulfill its obligations to the state, its members, including great rabbinical figures, do go to cast their votes so that they can put their people in the Knesset to advocate for the values that haredim hold dear.
Among the great rabbis who came to do their democratic duty was Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, the leader of the Ger Hassidim. It happened that because the venerable rabbi never so much as looks at a woman, the female supervisor would have to leave while the rabbi produced his ID card and then went behind the screen to vote. Initially, she refused. The polling station was managed by a Likud representative, who was approached by the rabbi’s disciples to ensure that no woman would be present when he entered. The trampling of democracy was replaced by diplomacy. The man in charge of the polling station suggested to the woman that she take a lunch break. Alter, accompanied by a huge phalanx of Hassidim, entered the polling station, cast his vote and left. One of his followers later explained to the Haaretz reporter that no insult was intended. This was just one of Alter’s principles.
■ ON SUNDAY both President Reuven Rivlin and Netanyahu attended a special event in Jerusalem for the bereaved families of fallen soldiers. Rivlin broke with protocol when he asked not to be seated alongside Netanyahu, the reason being that on Monday he was scheduled to begin consulting with political parties as to which MK they thought was most capable of forming a government.
Only when seeing how many people filled the auditorium at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, could anyone who had not lost a close relative in service to the state realize the enormous price paid for Israel’s safety and security.
For those families who waited years for the release of prisoners – such as Hezi Shai, who was captured in the Battle of Sultan Yacoub and released after three years; Elhanan Tannenbaum, captured in Lebanon in 2000 and released by Hezbollah in 2003; and Gilad Schalit, captured in October 2006 and released by Hamas in 2011 – the suffering endured by these prisoners and their families had a happy end, although a heavy price was paid for their freedom and that of other lesser-known captives.
Likewise, a heavy price was paid for the return of the remains of Druze soldier Samir Assad, who was killed near Sidon in 1983, but whose body was not returned till 1991; Yossi Fink and Rahamim Alsheich, killed in Lebanon in 1986 and returned to Israel in 1996; and Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, whose bodies were returned in July 2008, two years after were abducted by Hezbollah.
These are only a few of the soldiers who were returned to Israel alive or dead. There were quite a lot more, and each time the exchange ratio of prisoners returned to Hezbollah, Fatah or Hamas was infinitely disproportionate. While waiting, the families of the captured soldiers were mostly frustrated and angry, believing that not enough was being done by the government and the IDF to bring the captives home.
The truth is that every prime minister of Israel works to bring home anyone who fell into enemy hands. But it’s not something that can be done helter-skelter. They have to wait for situations to present themselves. Sometimes it takes only a year or two. Sometimes it takes more than 30 years.
■ POPULAR SINGER Eyal Golan has just released a new record and continues to draw in the masses at every concert. His current romance is going well, and the one cloud on his horizon is the difficulty he is experiencing in getting an American work permit. For this reason he has engaged leading American law firm Wildes & Weinberg, which represented John Lennon from 1972 to 1976 and helped him win an infamous deportation battle. Using the same strategy, the firm is now trying to help Golan with his problem.
In 1973, when Lennon was living in New York City, Wildes & Weinberg helped the former Beatle, after US immigration authorities threatened to deport him. On March 23 of that year, Lennon was ordered to leave within 60 days, due to a 1968 conviction in England for marijuana possession.
But Wildes & Weinberg founding partner Leon Wildes led a legal battle against the deportation, in part by proving the US was selectively targeting Lennon. Wildes also argued that the US could not judge the character of its prospective visitors, based on charges sustained within foreign courts, without any evidence that the accused knew about the criminal conduct.
The case became a landmark immigration case that helped inspire president Barack Obama’s DACA policy, deferring deportation action against the children of undocumented aliens.
Now Wildes & Weinberg is trying to help Golan, whose US visa request was denied, based on the fact that employees of his music company were convicted of tax evasion.
Golan has always maintained that he had no knowledge of the wrongful actions carried out by his staff, yet he remained linked to the case because of particularities of the Israeli tax system.
The Department of Homeland Security approved Golan’s application for an O-1 visa, which allows artists and others of extraordinary abilities to live and work in the US. But now the State Department has said it will review Golan’s character to determine if the visa can be approved.
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