Grapevine: No need for Bibi to step down, says Arens

Arens is opposed to the protest demonstrations in which participants have tried to influence leading representatives of the justice system.

President Reuven Rivlin tasks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with forming Israel’s 34th government, March 25 (photo credit: PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON OFFICE)
President Reuven Rivlin tasks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with forming Israel’s 34th government, March 25
Likud elder statesman and former Foreign Minister and Defense Minister Moshe Arens who is admired and respected for his integrity by Left and Right alike, is not among those who think that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should resign. Interviewed on Reshet Bet on Thursday morning, Arens said justice should be allowed to take its course and the public should be patient and let the institutions of justice to do their work without interference. Arens is opposed to the protest demonstrations in which participants have tried to influence leading representatives of the justice system. He believes that for as long as charges are not brought against Netanyahu, the prime minister should be allowed to do his job.
■ REPORTS WERE taken out of context about the fears of civil war on the part of US Ambassador David Friedman in his off-the-record address to the Presidents Conference meeting in Jerusalem this week. Friedman is alleged to have said that forced settlement evacuation might spark a civil war due to the large number of national religious army officers who have grown up with commitment to the land. The comments were alluded to in a meeting on Wednesday at the President’s Residence of the Major Generals Forum. Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said that when 18-year-old men and women join the IDF, it must be with the understanding that their beliefs are secondary to aims of the army, which are to defend the state and guarantee its continued existence. President Reuven Rivlin said in recent weeks we have all been witness to the fact that the struggle for Israel’s security is still at its height. “Today, we need our young people more than ever in combat units to serve as the spear point of the IDF.”
■ THE NEW law in Poland that criminalizes any reference to Polish culpability in the Holocaust, has unleashed a flood of media responses. Those have included reports of Poles who as children witnessed Jewish neighbors being herded into trucks and gassed or burnt alive, not by Nazis, but by Poles. Recent actions by the Polish Government and by individual Poles have largely been interpreted as antisemitic, though as of yet, have not affected political relations with Israel, despite strong criticism from the government and from Israelis.
Several Jewish organizations are considering canceling travel plans to Poland and some have already done so. The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles – which has condemned the Holocaust bill as “an ill-conceived attempt to whitewash the widespread participation of individual Poles in the persecution and murder of Jews during the Holocaust” – is now considering issuing a travel advisory for world Jewry. In a press release distributed this week, SWC dean and founder Rabbi Marvin Hier and associate dean and director of global social action Abraham Cooper, stated: “We would take such action with great reluctance. We are not enemies of Poland. Our center has brought hundreds of Jewish and non-Jewish leaders on dozens of missions [to Poland] over the past four decades.” The SWC has a long history of solidarity with the forces of democracy in Poland, they added, noting that in 1983, when Poland was still under martial law of the Communist regime, the SWC’s delegation traveled to Poland to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Moreover, millions of visitors to the center’s Museum of Tolerance are taught about righteous gentiles, including the thousands of Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust. In 1998, SWC honored Word War II Polish hero, Jan Karski and in 2010 hosted former Polish President Lech Walesa, who as the head of Solidarity led Poland to democracy.
In 2018, the press release continued, SWC “fears for a Poland that has now seen the history of the Holocaust recast by political forces who seek to bury the ugly past that includes the murder of Jews by Poles during the Holocaust and in the immediate aftermath of World War II. If the antisemitism unleashed continues unabated, Jews will face increasing threats.”
■ NOT SINCE the dedication of its Israel Education Center in Jerusalem in June 2015, has StandWithUs held a gala dinner in Israel, even though it has been in operation for 16 years. However the opportunity to honor Barbara and Bernard Diamond, two of its stalwart supporters, was a good opportunity to make up for a fund-raising lacuna. Guests who filled the banquet room at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Jerusalem paid NIS 500 per person to attend.
Michael Dickson, the executive director of the Israel branch of StandWithUs, reeled off some of the many projects and organizations, specifically in Israel, with which the Diamonds have been actively involved. They’ve been in the forefront of efforts to combat antisemitism in different parts of the world; they helped to get refuseniks out of Soviet Russia; and they were equally active in the move to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel, where they eventually came to live themselves, setting up house in Jerusalem’s Yemin Moshe. In a video in which they spoke of their backgrounds and their commitment to Jewish well-being, it was revealed how they first met at Kennedy Airport in New York, and while waiting to board the plane, struck up a conversation. He asked where she was going and she said Israel via a few stops in Europe. He had just come from Israel and was going to London to finalize his divorce. They kept talking till they boarded and Barbara asked the air hostess if she could switch seats in order to sit next to Bernard. She had no romantic designs on him. She just found him to be an interesting conversationalist. The seat next to him was occupied, but there was a vacant seat in the row in front and so they talked between the seats all the way during the five-hour trip to London. He proposed the next night and six weeks later they were married. Now 45 years later, Bernard, as always a model of sartorial splendor, said his marriage to Barbara has been a most interesting experience and he’s enjoyed it.
Keynote speaker Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, at the start of her address, asked how many of those present live in Israel. When she saw that nearly all hands were raised, she queried why she had been asked to speak in English. The Israeli-born daughter of immigrants from Georgia, Hotovely acknowledged that “to make aliya is to pay a big price. But your son or daughter could become a deputy foreign minister. Think about it.”
Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian situation, Hotovely said that justice is always on the side of the weak. When Israel was born, it was easy for the world to feel sympathy, she said, adding that justice can also be served “when you’re strong and successful.” Where Israel has failed in this respect is in the narrative, she observed. “When it comes to the narrative, we have to be stronger; but as we get stronger our narrative gets weaker. We used to be David fighting Goliath, but now people believe that the Palestinians are David and that Israel is Goliath.” Nonetheless, she contended that when one sees Palestinian terrorism and the security problems with which Israel has to cope, “Israel is still David and the Arab world Goliath.” Charging the Palestinians with trying to erase history, Hotovely told her audience, “We have to speak out about the deep Jewish connection to this land.” Fortunately, Hotovely was not speaking to a hi-tech audience or she would have been roundly booed for saying that she does not like branding Israel as the Start-Up Nation. “It’s too technical,” she said. “We have to focus on the Israeli ethos.”
Asked what it was like for her to speak to hostile campus audiences in the US when she spent a year there during her civilian national service, Hotovely said: “I’ve faced more difficult things in the Knesset than on US campuses.”
Inasmuch as she was preaching to the converted who appreciated her greatly, the star speaker of the evening was Yahya Mahamed (“Call me Johnny”), a Muslim Zionist born in Umm el-Fahm, where he received an anti-Zionist upbringing. The beginning of the change in attitude happened one day when he was looking at a map of the world and saw that his country, Israel, had been omitted. Even though he was not overly well-disposed toward Israel, it annoyed him that the country in which he lived had been left out. But the real turning point was when he needed to get a job. He went to Tel Aviv, found work in a hotel where he was well-treated by management and co-workers who were all Jewish. While in Tel Aviv, he was stopped by a Chabadnik, who inquired whether he wanted to lay tefilin (phylacteries). Mahamed explained that he wasn’t Jewish, he was Muslim. To which the Chabadnik replied: “It doesn’t matter what religion you are, so long as you’re a good person.” This made a profound impression on Mahamed. When teenage yeshiva students Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah were kidnapped in June 2014, Mahamed, also a teenager at the time, thought it wrong to take political vengeance on innocent boys and posted a photo of himself with an Israeli flag with a slogan to bring home the boys.
He was subsequently inundated with hate mail and death threats, so much so that he had to leave his parental home and find a more distant place in which to live. He chose Jerusalem, found his way to StandWith Us, which instantly adopted him. He has since been on many missions abroad on behalf of the movement speaking on college campuses and at parlor meetings, mostly in America. He has also served in the IDF.
“I’m living proof that there is hope for co-existence and peace,” he said.
■ AT THE Hazvi Yisrael congregation in Jerusalem’s Talbiyeh neighborhood, it is customary at the end of Shabbat services to congratulate congregants on celebrations in their families. This pleasant task often falls on Robert Asch, one of the founding members of the congregation, who last Saturday, after going through a string of congratulations to great grandparents, said “We’d like to have some sons and daughters, not just great grandchildren.”