Grapevine: Babes in arms

TU BISHVAT provided an excuse for prime ministerial hopefuls to dig dirt - not about each other but to make room for a sapling.

THERE WERE quite a number of people running for Knesset whose mother or father had been an MK, a factor that prompted President Shimon Peres to remark two days prior to the election when addressing The National Council for the Child that elections should be based on issues and not on pedigrees. NCC chairman and executive director Yitzhak Kadman, who had just presented Peres with a disturbing report on children in Israel, commented that one of the morning tabloids had featured on its cover the four leading candidates, each holding an infant. Kadman voiced the hope that this was more than just a campaign pose. APROPOS PERES, he voted at the Charles E. Smith School for the Arts behind the Inbal Hotel, where presidents of Israel traditionally vote, and not at a polling station in Tel Aviv in the vicinity of his private residence. On the other hand, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert voted at a school in his old neighborhood on Kaf Tet B'november instead of the Shuvu School literally next door to the Prime Minister's Residence, which serves as a polling station for both municipal and general elections. TU BISHVAT provided an excuse for prime ministerial hopefuls to dig dirt - not about each other but to make room for a sapling. On the other hand, residents of the Ahuzat Beit Hakerem retirement home planted what will eventually be The Prime Ministers Avenue, lined by trees representing each of the prime ministers of Israel from David Ben-Gurion to Ehud Olmert. Veteran Labor Party activist Aliza Mizrahi, who in her heyday worked hard to have Yitzhak Rabin elected as prime minister, was thrilled to be given the honor of planting the Yitzhak Rabin tree. The portraits of all the prime ministers have been placed on pedestals in front of their trees. DOZENS OF intellectuals and academics gathered at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs last Sunday to attend the launch of the English translation of Israel Is Us, the latest book by Italian member of parliament Fiamma Nirenstein. The translation was published by the JCPA. Presenting the book, a best-seller in Europe, were JCPA president and former Israel ambassador to the UN Dore Gold; the Shalem Center's Adelson Institute head Natan Sharansky; and Jerusalem Post features editor Ruthie Blum Leibowitz. An expert on the Middle East conflict, terrorism and anti-Semitism, Nirenstein - who worked for several years in Israel as a correspondent for Italian publications - told the standing-room-only audience that she was touched by the reception accorded her book, especially since it is not only Europeans who don't grasp how crucial a model Israel is to the rest of the world, but Israelis don't seem to get it either. THE CONFERENCE of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations opens on Sunday at the Inbal Hotel. Next Saturday evening (February 21), the organization's executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein will be the guest speaker at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue. His topic will be "After the Elections: What Does the Future Hold?" JERUSALEM MAYOR Nir Barkat has several achievements to his credit in hi-tech, education and philanthropy, but he's not exactly known as Mr. Twinkle Toes. However, on Tu Bishvat, when asked to join the Kurdish community in a holiday dance in the Ben-Yehuda Mall, hizzoner could hardly refuse and managed to keep in step. THE DRAMA began some time between 3 and 4 p.m. last Sunday. Neighbors of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert received a telephone call from his security detail warning them not to step into the street because there was a suspicious object. The writer of this column was one of the recipients of such a call and politely thanked the caller for letting her know. Some 15 minutes later there was a commotion in the street outside, with people running backwards and forwards and then the sound of a voice on a megaphone warning people to stay out of the way. There was a brief period of silence and then a huge bang that all but dislodged yours truly from the chair on which she was sitting. Not a pleasant feeling at all. Rushing to the large window that overlooks the street, she saw the yellow robot firing at some invisible object on the fence that fronts her apartment block. There was no point in running downstairs and telling the man from the bomb squad who was controlling the robot that he was making a terrible mistake. It was a little late for that. The robot kept firing over and over, and there was no response from the antique object that it had destroyed. In other words, it was not booby-trapped. It was an old gramophone that someone, perhaps not realizing its historic value, had put on the fence for any passing scavenger to pick up and take away. Having completed its mission, the robot backed into the middle of the road; and the demolition expert, his face still protected by a mask, went over to inspect the damage. It took him a minute or two to realize that the object was harmless. He picked up what was left of it, inspected it and discarded it, not even bothering to throw it into the nearby garbage bin. He stalked back to where he'd been standing during the blast and, then by remote control, turned the robot around and steered it in his own direction.