Grapevine: Human mosaic

IN THE days when he was director of the Israel Museum, one of the people with whom James Snyder worked closely was Dan Meridor, who at the time was chairman of the museum’s board.

ROCKEFELLER MUSEUM, east Jerusalem (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
ROCKEFELLER MUSEUM, east Jerusalem
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

■ IN THE days when he was director of the Israel Museum, one of the people with whom James Snyder worked closely was Dan Meridor, who at the time was chairman of the museum’s board.
Nowadays Snyder, in his capacity of executive chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation, works closely with Sallai Meridor, one of the younger siblings of Dan Meridor, who is international chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation.
Between them, the brothers Meridor have held a number of top-notch positions and still do.
Snyder is on a regular commute between New York and Jerusalem is in the Holy City approximately every six weeks, staying for a week at a time. He was spotted at his favorite coffee shop last Sunday only a few hours prior to his return trip to the Big Apple, engrossed in deep conversation with Sallai Meridor.
On the previous day, he had taken a walk to the Rockefeller Museum, where he was pleasantly surprised to see a number of people who he initially took to be European tourists, but discovered soon afterwards that they were middle-class Arabs who were interested in art and culture. He subsequently went to look at the Palestine Pottery exhibition and found exhibits from three generations of artisans.
A strong believer in cultural diplomacy and cross-cultural exchanges, Snyder is convinced that Jerusalem is the key symbol of cross-cultural enterprise and understanding.
It annoys him that foreign press reports about Jerusalem are full of misperceptions of the city and its human mosaic. Snyder wants to bypass the generally tense and negative image of Jerusalem as portrayed by the media. Regardless of what anyone thinks about Israel and Israeli politics, he says, Jerusalem means something special to people of all faiths. Even people who find it difficult or even impossible to identify with Israel can on some level identify with Jerusalem, he says, and this sense of identification by people from different religious, national and ethnic backgrounds is – in Snyder’s opinion – a factor that makes Jerusalem the most important city in the world
■ THE GRIM reaper waits for no man, and unfortunately last week, it was the turn of Bernie Josephs, an early editor of In Jerusalem.
Bernie was the kind of foot-in-the-door journalist that one sees in British television series. He started out in 1973 with the now defunct London Evening News, moving through the ranks to become the paper’s assistant news editor in 1979
But then he got bitten by the aliyah bug, and he and his wife Billie decided that the kibbutz lifestyle would be good for them and their two children. Their choice was Kibbutz Tzova in the Judean Hills.
It was okay for starters, but Bernie soon got a hankering for the concrete jungle and the family headed for a more urban environment, with Bernie working as Jerusalem correspondent for the London Evening Standard and the Sunday Express.
He also joined the staff of The Jerusalem Post, and after a few months was appointed editor of In Jerusalem.
He worked on all three jobs concurrently.
Then came the kind of news break for which every professional news reporter would be willing to make a substantial sacrifice of some kind.
The story was that of Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear technician working in the so-called textile factory that was in fact Israel’s nuclear weapons facility in Dimona. A pacifist, Vanunu was worried about what would happen if the weaponry got into the wrong hands. So he decided to become a whistle-blower. To share his concerns with an Israeli newspaper would have been pointless because the censor would have prevented publication. He arranged to sell the story to The Sunday Times, but before he could fully deliver, he was apprehended in Rome by Israeli agents and brought back to Israel to spend 18 years in prison on charges of treason.
By this time the story was known in Israel, but the censor would not allow it to be published, and also delayed publication of a photograph of the palm of Vanunu’s hand in which he had written that he had been kidnapped in Rome. Vanunu had held his hand to the window of the van taking him to prison.
Somehow, the Evening Standard got hold of the story and published it, and Bernie was accused of breaking Israel’s strict censorship regulations.
He vehemently denied having done so, but the Government Press Office canceled all the services, facilities and privileges to which as a foreign correspondent, he had previously been entitled.
Bernie’s editor John Leese swore that the story had come from another source and issued a statement to that effect, but it didn’t do any good.
Bernie was still suspected of breaking censorship rules and – if brought to trial – could have spent the next 15 years in prison.
There was no option but to return to London.
He was appointed news and political editor of the London Jewish Chronicle, a position that he held for 10 years.
He subsequently suffered from a degenerative disease. He was 70 years old.