Grapevine November 24, 2019: Broken promises

Feili was always curious about Jews, Judaism, Israel and Zionism, and cultivated these interests as he grew older. Could hardly stay in virulently anti-Israel Iran while espousing pro-Israel views.

KFAR DAROM was a kibbutz within the Gush Katif bloc that was evacuated during the 2005 disengagement. The community has reestablished itself in the Western Negev. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
KFAR DAROM was a kibbutz within the Gush Katif bloc that was evacuated during the 2005 disengagement. The community has reestablished itself in the Western Negev.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Promises, promises – that’s what you get from politicians who seldom make good on their pledges. It’s bad enough when promises made to people such as the evacuees from Gush Katif are broken, but at least they can get work, have health insurance and are eligible for various entitlements available to all and any citizens of Israel. Not so a refugee such as pro-Zionist Iranian writer and poet Payam Feili, who can testify to the obstacle course facing refugees. As a child Feili was curious about Jews, Judaism, Israel and Zionism, and cultivated these interests as he grew older. He could hardly stay in virulently anti-Israel Iran while espousing pro-Israel views.
To make matters worse, he’s also openly gay, and generally speaking, a Muslim country is not a safe or tolerant place for members of the LGBT community.
Based on what he had read about Israel, Feili thought it was the best place for him to seek asylum. His story impressed Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev who went to bat for him and persuaded then-interior mister Silvan Shalom to allow him to enter the country.
But once he was here, he encountered the stone wall of Israeli bureaucracy. He was unable to get a permanent resident’s permit, which meant he couldn’t apply for a job, he couldn’t get health insurance, he couldn’t open a bank account, and in order to survive, he had to depend on the generosity of friends.
He had also considered converting to Judaism, but as far as Israel is concerned, he’s virtually a non-person, so what could he say to a rabbi? Suffering often brings out the best in creative people, and this apparently applies to Feili, who is widely regarded as a brilliant writer. He read from his latest work last week at the Adraba Book Store in Jerusalem.
Israel was negligent in its attitude to Feili, because he could have done much same for the country as did Mosab Hassan Yousef, frequently referred to as “The Green Prince,” and author of Son of Hamas. His father was prominent in the Hamas leadership, but the son turned his back on Hamas, converted to Christianity, spoke up for Israel and with his eloquence and charisma, has become a much in-demand public speaker, who knows what he’s talking about when he warns of the evils of Hamas and extols the virtues of Israel. Feili could have been equally effective when talking about Iran.
■ EDUCATORS CONTINUE to debate as to which is the more effective – reward or punishment. Former mayor of Beit Shemesh Moshe Abutbul, who is currently a Shas MK, last week participated in a conference on road safety in which he suggested that as the paying of heavy fines for traffic violations has not served to reduce road accidents, perhaps it was time to offer an incentive. The Transportation Ministry could spend a few million shekels on buying new cars and raffling them off among drivers who had not received a single fine in the space of a year. The idea of getting a new car for nothing might be more effective than fining people for misdemeanors.
■ NO SOONER had Israelis celebrated Sukkot and Simhat Torah, than Hanukka doughnuts began appearing in the windows of pastry shops. Now, with Hanukka still almost a month away, people are already talking about entertainment for Independence Day festivities. Ramat Gan Mayor Carmel Shama-Hacohen is quite a revolutionary character. He was the first head of a municipality in the center of the country to introduce public transport on Shabbat for the benefit of residents who don’t have cars, and now he has announced that entertainers appearing at Independence Day festivities sponsored by the municipality will receive a ceiling fee of NIS 50,000. In the past, some entertainers received as much as four times that amount for singing only two or three songs, and had as many as four such gigs in the one night, traveling from one town to another. Last year Interior Minister Arye Deri announced a ceiling of NIS 70,000 for an entertainer who performs for a whole hour, but very few municipalities or top of-the-line entertainers complied. It will be interesting to see how many mayors follow Shama-Hacohen’s example – and how many singers and bands will be willing to accept the new scale of fees for services rendered.
As for free Shabbat transport, the mayors of Tel Aviv, Kiryat Ono, Givat Olga and Ramat Hasharon have also decided to introduce this service. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai says that the ability to move during the weekend from one point to another is a fundamental right. Kiryat Ono Mayor Israel Gal believes that the service will help to reduce weekend traffic congestion, and Ramat Hasharon Mayor Avi Gruber says that it is an important initiative that shows that the municipality cares about what is important to its residents. The buses will run at half-hour intervals between 6 p.m. on Friday until 2 a.m. on Saturday, and then again from 9 a.m.- –5 p.m. on Saturday (excluding bus number 710 from Kiryat Ono, which will run every hour). The buses and relevant stations will be branded accordingly and will feature dedicated maps. Every third bus (arriving every hour and a half) will be accessible to people with disabilities. Passengers will also be able to order an accessible bus ahead of time.
■ ISRAEL’S PREOCCUPATION with urban renewal threatens the continued existence of many historical sites that may be situated in prime areas for real estate development. Most developers are more interested in the future than the past, giving little thought to the fact that they are destroying evidence that proves that Jews lived in this land for centuries prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. This is a matter of grave concern to conservationists who are setting up branches in different cities and towns in an effort to preserve what remains of the past.
In Safed, one of the most ancient and historic of Israeli cities, conservationists are looking with alarm at the possibility that the whole character of the city may be changed by developers, and have for the first time established a committee for the purpose of safeguarding historic sites and buildings. The committee, which is integral to the Safed Municipality, is headed by Shalom Elbaz and who is in agreement with Mayor Shuki Ohana. Elbaz says that while the need for urban renewal cannot be ignored, new construction cannot be approved without safeguarding old buildings that have historical value. The committee’s first goal is to ensure the preservation of sites in northern Safed, which are also important in terms of Jewish tradition.
■ ARGUABLY THE king of Israel’s movie industry, Moshe Edery, last week opened yet another Cinema City – this time in Beersheba. The NIS 50 million project, which is the largest in the network that includes Cinema Cities in Glilot-Ramat Hasharon, Rishon Lezion, Jerusalem, Kfar Saba, Hadera and Netanya, is a three-story structure with a cinema bank of 26 auditoria, plus a theater for stage productions, a convention center, a skating rink, a movie museum, a fully equipped playground, restaurants and shops. Cinema City owns 20% of the project, and the company owned by real estate developer Yigal Drori owns 80%. Edery regretted that his late brother, Leon, who died in April last year, did not live to see the realization of his dream. Edery was not the least bit worried that Yes Planet, Cinema City’s chief rival, is located in the same area. The two facilities will bring all of the Negev together, he said.
■ LAST WEDNESDAY President Reuven Rivlin dovetailed meetings with leaders of political parties with other events on his agenda. According to his diary he was supposed to meet with representatives of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers to receive their annual report for 2018 at 12.30 p.m. following a meting with Joint List leaders Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi.
12.30 came and went but there was no sign of the president. The women who had come to meet him waited patiently. Harel Tibi, the director-general of the President’s Residence, emerged from the adjoining room in which discussions were being held, and apologized, explaining that the president was juggling affairs of state with his regular agenda, and that his meeting with Odeh and Tibi was drawing to a close. One of the women asked: “What’s worse – the contents of our report or the political situation?”
Rivlin entered the room 10 minutes later, apologizing profusely and declaring that he would shake the hand of any woman who was willing to shake his hand. Rivka Ravitz who runs the president’s bureau and is currently on maternity leave after giving birth to her 12th child, is haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and doesn’t shake hands with men, but all the women present were happy to shake hands with Rivlin, who chided one of them over what used to be the correct use of Hebrew grammar. Even when there is only one man in a group, it is customary in Hebrew to use male plural terminology. Rivlin said he always makes a point of grammatically addressing females as well as males when both are present, because females are no less important. He acknowledged that there was a time when men were considered to be the more important figures in society, but that time has gone, he said, and women are deserving of equal status.