Grapevine January 6, 2021: Fake news of a different genre

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Rachel and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi attend the coronation of King George VI, London, 1937. (photo credit: BEN TZVI INST/ COURTESY)
Rachel and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi attend the coronation of King George VI, London, 1937.
(photo credit: BEN TZVI INST/ COURTESY)
The Ben-Zvi Institute was established in 1969 as a memorial, research, educational and cultural institution to promote and preserve the key interests of Israel’s second president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, who was a keen student of the history and geography of the Land of Israel and of the Eastern Jewish communities.
The sprawling campus includes the hut that was the official residence of the president before the construction of the somewhat larger and at that time more impressive President’s Residence, which has been occupied by presidents Zalman Shazar, Ephraim Katzir, Yitzhak Navon, Chaim Herzog, Ezer Weizman, Moshe Katsav, Shimon Peres and now Reuven Rivlin.
The institute this month issued an alert to collectors to be wary of a con merchant who is selling what he claims to be a rare photograph of Yitzhak and Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi taken at their wedding in 1918. However, according to the institute, this is not a wedding photo but a photo taken nearly 20 years later, when the Ben-Zvis represented the Yishuv at the coronation of King George VI, in May 1937, and were asked to wear formal attire. Many copies of this photograph were subsequently circulated on postcards, so it hardly falls into the category of rare. Apparently, the photograph was obtained when a thief broke into the home of the Ben-Zvi grandchildren and stole personal family items, which have been put up for auction.
The institute also published a photograph taken at the Ben-Zvi impromptu wedding on December 31, 1918. In the morning the couple attended a meeting of the Ahdut Ha’avoda Central Committee, at which someone suggested that the wedding ceremony should be performed at the conclusion of the meeting – and that’s what happened. Rachel wore her usual modest attire and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi was in the army uniform of the Jewish Legion of the British Royal Fusiliers.
■ VETERAN JOURNALIST Menachem Horowitz, writing in Mako-N12, states that it’s time to put away the black flags and to stop the demonstrations near the Prime Minister’s Residence and to express dissatisfaction where it belongs – at the polling booth.
Horowitz is not a Jerusalemite, so he writes with objectivity when he focuses on the large demonstration that took place last Saturday afternoon much closer to the residence than any previous demonstration, and proved once and for all that the prime minister’s official residence should not be in a residential neighborhood. Horowitz commented that after half a year, it was time to give the residents of Rehavia some peace and quiet. The demonstrators do not confine themselves to Rehavia, but protest also in Talbiyeh. The Prime Minister’s Residence is on the seam of the adjacent neighborhoods.
There is now an ever-growing WhatsApp group of Rehavia and Talbiyeh residents who want to reclaim their territory. Not all object to demonstrations, but say they should be limited to once a week. What bothers them more than the noise and the trespassing to answer calls of nature in the gardens of apartment blocks is that the frequency of demonstrations has had a negative impact on property values in the area, and people who want to get out and find a quieter place in which to live cannot get anywhere near the sum they want for the sale of their apartment.
While it has long been acknowledged that neither the President’s nor the Prime Minister’s Residence should be in residential neighborhoods, the only effort to amend the situation as far as the prime minister is concerned turned out to be a very expensive flop.
The site for the proposed residence was close to Cinema City, the Foreign Ministry and the Supreme Court. Work on the infrastructure of the project began several years ago, before the introduction, near the site, of two light rail lines, the infrastructure for which is almost in place.
Although the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) had approved the original construction plans for the residence, for some odd reason it had not been updated about the light rail or the tall towers being constructed at the entrance to Jerusalem. The proximity of the light rail, say agency representatives, creates a security problem. Residents of the tall towers could look straight into the Prime Minister’s Residence, and this, too, would create a security problem. So more than five years since the start of the project, it was scrapped, while the Shin Bet went in search of another site, and came up with a solution that does not take population growth into consideration, which is to build it in the grounds of the existing Prime Minister’s Office.
A previous architectural design commissioned and executed during the periods that Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert were prime minister did make allowance for population growth and the avoidance of traffic congestion in the inner city and even provided for most, if not all, government ministries to be under one roof. The estimated price of construction at the time was NIS 650 million, which was widely considered to be too expensive. When Benjamin Netanyahu returned to office in 2009, he scrapped the project, but revived it in 2014, with the idea that the design be more modest than its predecessor.
The original project would have, in the long run, represented a great savings in government expenditure, in that many of the premises rented by government ministries would no longer be necessary, as the vast majority of offices would be part of the national precinct. Now, the project, if it ever materializes, will be smaller but at least three times as expensive.
■ IF SHE is elected to the Knesset, Tel Aviv lawyer Michal Diament, an alumnus of Tel Aviv University, who has joined Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party, thereby provoking the wrath of Transportation Minister and Likud MK Miri Regev, whom she does not know personally, will to some extent equal a Dayan family record. While there have been many instances of two generations of a family becoming legislators, to date, the only three-generation family are the Dayans, beginning with Shmuel Dayan, his son Moshe, and Moshe’s daughter, Yael. Moreover, the Dayans had two cousins who became MKs – Amos Hadar and Yigal Hurvitz, in addition to which Moshe Dayan and Ezer Weizman were brothers-in-law, Uzi Dayan is Moshe Dayan’s nephew, and Yael Dayan’s daughter married Yossi Sarid’s son, thereby adding yet another political dimension to the family. Diament happens to be the granddaughter of former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, whose son, Yair, was both an MK and a minister. If Diament becomes an MK, her family will also be a three-generation family of legislators, although the Dayans will continue to hold the record for the number of family members serving in the Knesset.
In addition to Yitzhak Shamir, other prime ministers whose sons or daughters also served in the Knesset were Yitzhak Rabin and his daughter, Dalia Rabin, Menachem Begin and his son, Bennie, and Sharon and his son Omri. Olmert does not have legislators among his offspring, but his father, Mordechai Olmert, served in the Knesset before him.
■ COME FEBRUARY 21, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein will temporarily take his mind off the coronavirus and the upcoming Knesset elections to participate in the Zoom event honoring the family of his wife, Irina Nevzlin, and her father, Leonid Nevzlin, for the important roles they have played in the transformation of Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People.
Irina Nevzlin has chaired the museum’s board of directors since 2012, but long before that, her father in 2004 saved the financially strapped museum from closure by establishing a relief fund. The museum was enhanced by Nevzlin’s launch of the School for Jewish Peoplehood Studies. He had previously created the Leonid Nevzlin Research Center for Russian and Eastern European Jewry at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and in 2010, the Nevzlin Center for Jewish Peoplehood at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. Through his NADAV Foundation, Nevzlin has made substantial contributions to numerous educational and cultural projects. He also did so in Russia before making aliyah. He is a former president of the Russian Jewish Congress.
■ ALTHOUGH EDELSTEIN has stated publicly that he is no longer a candidate for president of Israel, conductors of surveys seem to be under the impression that he will change his mind. So far, only three people have officially declared their candidature – Shimon Shetreet, a law professor and former minister, Economy Minister Amir Peretz, who is chairman of the Labor Party, and Yehudah Glick, a Temple Mount activist and former Likud MK.
Other names that have been mentioned are those of educator and Israel Prize laureate Miriam Peretz, Jewish Agency Chairman, former Labor Party chairman and former minister Isaac Herzog, and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Arab businesswoman Ilham Khazen has also announced an intention to run, but has not formalized it. Netanyahu’s court cases are expected to drag out for several years, and might even be suspended if he becomes president.
If the vote were to be given to the public, the winner by a wide margin would be Miriam Peretz, who has declared that she is not a candidate. The vote is strictly limited to members of Knesset. That would not rule her out if she decides to run, but a past or existing member of Knesset might have a better chance, as previous elections would indicate.
In a survey conducted among the general public last October by Channel 20, Miriam Peretz received 50% of the vote, Netanyahu 23%, Amir Peretz 10%, Edelstein 9%, Shetreet 5% and Glick 3%.
In a more recent poll taken by Geocartografia on December 28 and 29 at the behest of the Jerusalem weekly Kol Ha’ir, although there was a difference in the percentage points, Miriam Peretz was still in the lead, with 27.7%, followed by Yehoram Gaon with 16.4%, Herzog 11.6%, Amir Peretz 8.4%, Edelstein 8.4%, Shetreet 4% and Glick 3.1%. The latter survey was conducted by phone among male and female respondents aged 18 and over representing all sectors of the population. The margin for error was 4.4%. The survey was not really fair, because all seven names were presented to respondents instead of them being asked if there was someone in the country whom they would like to see as president. Some of the respondents may have thought along these lines, as 6.8% of them rejected all seven.
■ RETIRED SUPREME Court judge Dalia Dorner, who competed unsuccessfully in the last presidential elections, is stepping down from her 14-year role as president of the Israel Press Council, but continues involvement with the media. At age 86, the indefatigable Dorner has established the Institute for Communications and Media in Israel, which to some extent will compete with the Press Council, which, if still headed by Dorner, would represent a conflict of interest. Funding for the institute has reportedly come from a childless couple who created a foundation for the support of a free, independent press.
■ READERS OF The Jerusalem Post are familiar with the opinion pieces written by Isi Leibler, but there’s a lot more to him than the opinions he expresses in this newspaper. A former leader of Australian Jewry, a key figure in the World Jewish Congress, a pioneer in the global struggle for the liberation of Soviet Jewry, a quasi-diplomat and an international businessman, Leibler is the subject of a comprehensive biography, published by Gefen and written by Suzanne Rutland, professor emerita of the department of Hebrew, biblical and Jewish studies of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Sydney, that has just come of the press. The book, Lone Voice – The Wars of Isi Leibler, is the product of many years of dedicated work and very long hours in Leibler’s archive and library.
Leibler is happy for anyone to peruse his extensive library, much of which has already been donated to Bar-Ilan University, but he does not allow anyone to remove anything from his apartment in Jerusalem. Thus, a lot of Rutland’s research had to take place during her extended visits to Israel, and therefore it took several years for her to actually have all the background from which to write the book, which she describes as “a labor of love.” Indeed, she refused to take payment from Leibler, because she wanted her intellectual independence. She didn’t want people saying or thinking that she had to write in a particular style or to include certain content because she was being paid. Leibler understood that and hardly changed a word in the book. He just corrected a misspelling or a misinterpretation of a fact here and here.
None of us know how events beyond our control affect our destiny. Leibler, as a young man, was in Israel, hoping to become a diplomat, when he received news that his father had died. His mother told him not to return to Melbourne for the funeral, but to go to Belgium, because when he did come back to Melbourne, he had to take over the family diamond business, and in Belgium he could learn exactly what that entailed.
That piece of information adds to the fascination of the book. No one knows in advance how events beyond their control will affect their destiny. The reader is left wondering how different Leibler’s life might have been, had his father not died when he did.
■ KAN 11’s hardworking reporter Suleiman Maswadeh, who has the Jerusalem beat and covers a variety of events all over the city, but lately has covered demonstrations more than anything else, has covered the anti-Netanyahu demonstrations from every possible angle and, unlike some of his colleagues, has delivered unbiased reports.
However, in a studio comment, after having reported on the violent demonstrations related to the death of Ahuvia Sandak following a collision in which the car he was in was being chased by police, Maswadeh was apparently unable to contain himself and said that if the demonstrators were Arab youth, they would get far different treatment from the police.
Even though the police have used a heavy hand against some of the demonstrators, an unusually high number of police have been injured during these demonstrations, which gives credence to Maswadeh’s opinion, because it implies that the police have been too lax in their efforts to quell the violence.
■ ON ANOTHER KAN-related subject, Eldad Koblentz, the head of the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, which is the KAN roof body, sees no reason to pander to those people who want him to suspend veteran journalist Geula Even-Sa’ar.
It is not her professionalism that is being questioned but, rather, her marital links. Even-Sa’ar is married to Likud defector Gideon Sa’ar. Koblentz, who regards Even-Sa’ar as a seasoned professional, says that it’s not as though people don’t know who her husband is. Their relationship is not a secret, and if it’s common knowledge, there is no reason for her to make a career sacrifice in order for Sa’ar to be able to pursue his political ambitions.
■ AFTER 10 years of writing both in English and Hebrew for Haaretz, Chemi Shalev penned his final column last week and received a flood of posts from fans who will miss his in-depth analyses of both the Israeli and American political circuses.
Shalev was born in America by chance. His father, a diplomat, was serving there, and Shalev spent his early years more as an American than as an Israeli. That American spark has stayed with him, and he feels equally at home in both Israel and the US.
Shalev started his career in journalism 35 years ago with the Post, and was one of 30 journalists who joined an exodus led by the late David Landau in January 1990, when members of the editorial staff resigned in protest at editorial interference by the publisher, the late Yehuda Levy.
Because journalism is one of those professions that can be practiced anywhere in the world by people who have just arrived in the country, Shalev has worked extensively abroad, partly because he is married to Nili, the director-general of ISERD (the Israel-Europe R&D Directorate at the Israel Innovation Authority), and who before that worked for more than 20 years representing the Economy Ministry in Israel, the United States and Australia.
In addition to the Post and Haaretz, Shalev has worked for Davar, Israel Hayom and Maariv in Israel and was also the Jerusalem correspondent for the New York-headquartered The Forward. While in Australia, he was the associate editor of The Australian Jewish News.
In his farewell column, he did not say why he was leaving Haaretz. It could be that the paper is downsizing due to financial difficulties, or because Shalev has passed his 67th birthday, and 67 is considered to be the retirement age for males. Shalev did mention that Haaretz is suffering loss of advertising revenue.
He does not intend to fade into oblivion. His final paragraph in his farewell column was “Au revoir, dear readers, it has been a privilege and a pleasure. We’ll meet again, I’m sure, and hopefully soon.”
Meanwhile, the Shalev byline has not disappeared from the media. His daughter Tal Shalev is the political correspondent for Walla News.
■ THE MOST COMMONLY asked question today is not “Who are you voting for?” but “Have you been vaccinated yet?” Despite doubts and fears, large segments of the public have been lining up at vaccination centers, arriving with and without an appointment.
Celebrities who want to be jabbed are getting a lot of publicity, among them spoon bender and mystic Uri Geller, 74, who brought his act with him to one of the Maccabi health clinics last Thursday and later posted on his Facebook:
“Hi my dear friends, I got my vaccination today and it did not hurt at all. I feel fine and I urge everyone, definitely those over 60, to get the shot.”
■ COMEDIAN AND impersonator Tuvia Tsafir, who was born on December 31, celebrated his 75th birthday on Reshet Bet last Friday, with an improvised conversation between Ariel Sharon, Peres, Yitzhak Shamir and Netanyahu. It sounded so authentic that anyone who had not heard Tsafir being interviewed beforehand by Liat Regev would have been under the impression that they were listening to something political culled from the radio’s archives.
Tsafir said that his 50th and 70th birthdays had been no big deal, but 75 is already a serious age.
■ WHILE IT was confirmed last week that the mansion in Herzliya Pituah that for decades had been the residence of the US ambassador had been sold for $67m., the name of the buyer has not been made public, although it is widely believed to have been Sheldon Adelson, whose representatives have declined to comment.
■ TRAGEDY OFTEN brings previously anonymous people into the public eye and sometimes turns them into celebrities, almost against their wills. That’s what happened to Iris Yifrah, Rachelle Sprecher Fraenkel and Bat-Galim Shaer, the mothers of yeshiva students Eyal, Naftali and Gil-Ad, who in June 2014 were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian terrorists. Because of their joint tragedy, the three mothers with their husbands became part of each other’s extended families, and were suddenly in demand as public speakers and writers both in Israel and abroad.
Now Bat-Galim Shaer will become an even more public figure in her new role as chairwoman of the Central Zionist Archives. She was appointed last month by Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of the World Zionist Organization.
The archives are located next door to the Jerusalem International Convention Center, whose CEO, Mira Altman, has decided to step down after 19 years at the helm. It’s strange that she should be leaving when the JICC is going through a massive NIS1.8 billion overhaul and expansion that will make it the largest convention center in the Middle East, replete with hotel, shops and other amenities.
[email protected]