Grapevine: Between Jerusalem and Berlin

A round-up of news briefs from around the nation.

The Hanukka menorah at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Hanukka menorah at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Many Jews suffer from some form of identity crisis. Among the more commonly known crises are those proud Israelis and proud Zionists who do not agree with government policies and who, if they speak out against them, are sometimes accused of treason. One doesn’t have to look very far for examples. Frequent targets in this regard are organizations such as the New Israel Fund, J Street and Breaking the Silence. Some Jews may not speak out – they just distance themselves.
A case in point is filmmaker Sharon Ryba- Kahn, who is a French national, who spent her teenage years in Israel where her mother worked as a Middle East correspondent, and who at age 18 bought a one-way ticket out of the country so that she would not have to serve in the army.
Her decision not to serve probably derived from the fact that she had been a student at the French School, where 70 percent of the students were Palestinian. They knew she was Jewish, but they didn’t know that she was also Israeli. Because several of them were her friends, she was familiar with their home environments and with what bothered them. In the school, they were all equals; but if she became a soldier, they would no longer be equals. She was as much at home in Ramallah or Bethlehem as she was in Tel Aviv or in Jerusalem, where she lived with her mother.
After leaving Israel she spent time in Paris and New York, and she now lives in Berlin.
It took her 12 years to return to Israel. When she did return, she realized more than ever that she had freedoms that Palestinians cannot enjoy. She also came across three young women – Noga, a high school teenager who dreams of serving in an elite combat unit of the IDF; Moran, a religious social worker who has chosen to live in Sderot, under the constant threat of rockets; and Hanadi, an Arab woman from the northern part of the country, who also lives in Sderot, attends Sapir College and is fighting to maintain her identity.
Ryba-Kahn had not intended to put herself in the movie that resulted from her meetings with all three, but soon realized that without her the production would not have sufficient meaning. The result was a film called Recognition which was shown last week at the Jerusalem Cinematheque at the 17th Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival. It’s not exactly a Jewish film, nor is it a non-Jewish film.
At its Israel premiere it was shown to a politically active audience whose reactions were loud and emotional. On the following day it was shown to a mainly female audience whose reactions were also emotional but very positive, with in most cases an ability to identify with each of the characters.
Ryba-Kahn was on hand to answer questions, as was German producer Matthias Schwerbrock, who said that he, too, had evaded army service. Ryba-Kahn said that without her grandmother Madeleine Kahn, who is the film’s executive producer, it could never have been made.
This was Ryba-Kahn’s first film. Her second, she said, will be about her grandmother, who was also sitting in the audience.
How much of herself Ryba-Kahn discovered on her journey of self-discovery remains uncertain, but one of the interesting things that emerges is that Hanadi says to her that she thinks that Ryba-Kahn has become more Jewish and less Israeli. Then again, isn’t that what happens to most Israelis living in Berlin?
■ WHILE GUESTS are always charmed by the cultural offerings by way of song and dance which are integral to the national day receptions of Kazakhstan, the show stealer for the evening at the reception marking the 24th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s independence was former prime minister Ehud Olmert. He wasn’t the only former prime minister who had accepted the invitation of Ambassador Doulat Kuanyshev. Ehud Barak was also there. But what amazed many people was that Olmert, despite all his legal problems, could look so happy, carefree and debonair, chatting easily to people whom he knew and posing for photos with the ambassador.
Despite the economic crisis that is currently plaguing his country, Kuanyshev invited hundreds of people to join in his national day festivities, though he did announce that there would be some belt-tightening at the embassy. He based much of what he had to say on the State of the Nation address that President Nursultan Nazarbayev delivered in Astana on November 30. At that time Nazarbayev had spoken of global new realities.
Ever the optimist, Nazarbayev said: “Global crises create not only risks but also new opportunities. Most global companies earned their initial successes when economies around them were hit by crises. Virtually all nations that became successful in the past half-century have literally started from scratch.”
Nazarbayev’s speech was devoted almost entirely to economics, glorying in past achievements and planning how to overcome the present downturn.
“We are facing a difficult time, but we will overcome all these challenges,” he said. “I am confident we will come through this new global crisis even stronger. Thanks to our common will and strong traditions of unity, Kazakhstan will achieve new levels of development! “All crises are temporary. They come and go. Only our fundamental values are eternal, our commitment to the independence of our country, the unity of our people, and the well-being of future generations.”
Kuanyshev, speaking alternately in Russian and English, peppered his speech with a little Hebrew as well. He spoke of the challenges of economic growth, and how at the insistence of Nazarbayev, the country’s economic reforms will continue. Israel, he said, remains the focal point of Kazakhstan’s economy, know-how and technology.
Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay, who represented the government and people of Israel, said that over the past 24 years Kazakhstan has emerged from the ruins of the Soviet Union and established a strong economy with the fastest growth rate in the region.
He did not refer to the current crisis but instead spoke of cooperation between Israel and Kazakhstan in all fields and said that Israel is looking forward to further progress and joint economic projects in the areas of industrial innovation, tourism, aviation links, agriculture and water. This cooperation was discussed during the political dialogue between Israel and Kazakhstan that took place in Jerusalem last month. Gabbay also referred to the shelter given by Kazakhstan to thousands of Jews who sought a haven during the Holocaust.
■ IT’S VERY trendy these days to get famous entertainers to sing the national anthem at a formal ceremony. But guests attending the festive dinner at the King David Hotel to enable the inclusion of more people in the Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Dialogue, headed by Australian businessman and philanthropist Albert Dadon, did not bargain for the operatic vocal range of the renditions of the Israeli, Australian and British anthems by countertenor David D’Or, who played vocal acrobatics with each of them to spontaneous applause and a roar of approval.
Speaking from the podium a little later, Australian Attorney-General Sen. George Brandis referred to D’Or’s rendition as “flamboyant.” A little later in the evening, when D’Or sang “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” Dadon, who is a jazz musician, which he was before he became a businessman, accompanied him on guitar.
It was a night of rubbing shoulders with politicians, social activists, academics and retired high-ranking military officials.
Among the latter were Avigdor Kahalani, Gershon Hacohen and Gal Hirsch, who was Gilad Erdan’s first choice for police commissioner, but proved to be too controversial a candidate. Also present were Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma, British Ambassador David Quarrey and opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who was telling everyone how, as a young boy, when his father was Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, he and his siblings had the chance to meet celebrities from all over. To prove it, he posted a photo of himself and his sister Ronit with Frank Sinatra on his Facebook page to mark the 100th anniversary of Sinatra’s birth.
Among the other guests were Daniel Taub, former ambassador to the UK; MK Michael Oren, former ambassador to the US; attorney Arnold Roth, better known as chairman of the Malki Foundation; investment marketer Philip Braude; Australian businessman Barry Batagol, president of the Bentley Drivers Club of Australia; Joan Ryan, chairwoman of the British Labor Friends of Israel; Sir Eric Pickles, chairman of the Parliamentary Conservative Friends of Israel; John Spellar, former UK minister of state for the armed forces and former minister of state for Northern Ireland; Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce chairman Leon Kempler; Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce executive director Paul Israel; and Australian Minister for Industry, Innovation & Science Hon. Christopher Pyne, MP. Gabbay said that he could understand Australian-accented English because his wife was from Australia.
Also seen were Gerald Steinberg, the head of NGO Monitor; former MK Moshe Feiglin, who had to give up his Australian citizenship for his short-lived term as a parliamentarian; Nachman Shai, who 30-plus years ago was the commander in chief of Army Radio, engaged in earnest conversation with present incumbent Yaron Dekel; award-winning Australian journalist Tony Walker, who 30 years ago was the Middle East correspondent for The Melbourne Age, and who keeps returning to Israel; Lord Trimble of Lisnagarvey and many other notables.
■ PRIOR TO the dinner on Sunday, following a presentation by Itamar Marcus from Palestinian Media Watch, Dialogue participants went to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and the PA education minister, who were asked about the naming of a girls high school after a terrorist, Dalal Mughrabi; sporting events named after terrorists; branding anyone who supported peace initiatives through sport as traitors; and the preaching of hatred through the education system. According to the Australian Labor Party’s Glenn Sterle, who is the senator for Western Australia in the Parliament of Australia, Australian and UK delegates were at all times respectful and courteous to the prime minister when putting their questions.
The prime minister gave a brief overview of the situation between Israel and the PA . He shared the concerns the PA has with Hamas and the reconstruction effort of the PA in Gaza. He told the group that the Palestinians are willing to commence peace talks toward a two-state solution with Israel, but not until there is a freeze on the expansion of settlements.
The term “occupation” was used numerous times, said Sterle.
When questions from the delegation were put to the prime minister, the responses were varied, Sterle added.
“Firstly, there was complete denial that any schools in the West Bank were named after terrorists. He challenged us to check our information. He reiterated a number of times that our information was incorrect.
But when he was returned to the question by other members of the delegation, he then went into defending the practice of ‘honoring’ terrorist-suicide bombers.”
Sterle noted that Hamdallah was at pains to share with the group the actions of Israeli soldiers who have killed numerous Palestinian youths who have done nothing more than throwing stones at the soldiers. He used the expression “they are not here having a picnic” several times when talking about the soldiers’ presence.
His reasoning, said Sterle, was that Israel honors its “terrorists” by naming streets, buildings and airports after them. Names such as Ben-Gurion, Sharon and Meir – people who, he said, killed Palestinians – were cited. He also mentioned Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Muslim worshipers at prayer in Hebron.
At one stage, said Sterle, Hamdallah got a little agitated as the group continued to bring him back to the topic of honoring terrorists through sporting events and the education system.
The same theme of questioning was put to the education minister, and the same answers came back to the group. Trimble opened the session with the process of inclusion between children from both sides of the Northern Ireland conflict. The minister appeared not to be interested in further conversation in this area, though he did say the assistance of the international community was needed to commence peace talks.
Sterle, for whom this was not the first Dialogue gathering, said that it is imperative to have the visit to Ramallah included in all Dialogue visits. “It is definitely worthwhile for delegates to meet and hear from the PA ,” he said, and strongly recommended a briefing from Palestinian Media Watch before any meetings with the PA .
■ PYNE WAS in Israel primarily in line with the Australian government’s new economic policy, which is based on innovation and ties with technically advanced nations. He met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and within the scope of Australia’s global innovation fund participated in the launch in Tel Aviv of one of five of Australia’s overseas “landing pads” for start-up entrepreneurs.
Pyne was very interested to learn about Israel’s start-up culture and was given a detailed introduction at Jerusalem Venture Partners, which is one of the capital’s major start-up hubs. Pyne also met with representatives of the Hebrew University, which for many years has had a strong relationship with Australia.
There is a certain pride among the Australians who came to Israel for the trilateral dialogue in the relationship between the countries, which spans almost a century. At various meetings it was noted by Australians that the successful outcome of the Battle of Beersheba won by the Australian Light Horse unit presaged the Balfour Declaration, and 30 years later Australia cast the first vote in favor of the United Nations resolution on the partition of Palestine.
■ ON THE following day, the Dialogue was taken to the Knesset, where MKs, including Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, left various committee sessions to participate briefly in the Dialogue and then excused themselves and returned to regular Knesset business.
Kulanu MK Oren, relating to pressure on Israel to return the Golan Heights and commenting on the situation in Syria, wondered to whom Israel should return the Golan Heights. Oren went so far as to ask, “Does Europe want us to return the Golan Heights to ISIS?” “BDS seeks to put up a wall between our countries and peoples,” declared Public Diplomacy Minister Erdan, when he joined the Dialogue. “Cooperation on security will keep all our countries safe,” he said. He also made the point that delegitimization of Israel represents a threat to Jewish communities in the countries of their dispersion. “Delegitimization and demonization of Israel leads to attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions.”
It also undermines efforts toward peace, he said.
Gidi Grinstein, founder and president of the Reut Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank, has been researching the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for a decade and said that it poses a strategic threat with potential existential implications.
It calls into question Israel’s right to exist and the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. Groups promoting BDS sooner or later begin to target Jews as well, he said.
Mordechai Kedar of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies stated that one of the things that fuels BDS is the mistaken belief that peace between Israel and the Palestinians will solve all the problems of the Middle East. “So many people believe that Israel is the problem of peace in the Middle East,” he said, “and that if there is peace between Israel and the Palestinians, it will bring peace to the Middle East. This is insanity!” Zionist Union MK Shai remarked that BDS has not yet produced its desired result and that tens of thousands of Palestinian jobs are being lost as a result of BDS.
Steinberg described BDS as “a huge industry which does a huge amount of damage, and a lot of it is from government funding.
At least €100 million a year goes to BDS organizations.” He clarified that many governments believe that they are contributing to human rights organizations. There must be more focus on where money comes from.
Following the money is important, he said.
Edelstein said that combating Islamic terrorism is Israel’s main priority, but was sufficiently aware of reality to add that “when the ISIS problem is resolved, there will be another organization.”
Likud MK Avi Dichter doubted that Iran would stick to the nuclear deal and was certain that Iran’s nuclear and military capabilities are under the radar. This opinion was shared by other speakers. “When Iran violates the agreement, we have to be sure we’ll have them for lunch before they have us for dinner,” said Dichter.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said that the deal was a way of making Iran kosher, “but even so, Iran is the biggest sponsor of terrorism.”
Taub, who is an international lawyer by training, was concerned that international law is being abused. “International law is not the enemy,” he said. “What we are struggling against is abuse of versions of international law.
Eli Groner, the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, injected a spirit of optimism by disclosing that despite BDS, 10 percent of global investment in cyber in 2014 was in Israel, and this year it doubled.
■ INCOMING MOSSAD chief Yossi Cohen, who is winding up his term as the prime minister’s national security adviser, attracted a full house at his synagogue in Modi’in last Saturday, when he was given the honor of delivering the sermon. Cohen, who was raised in a religiously observant home, emphasized that Israel could not have been without the help of God, and that His help is needed just as much today.
Cohen, who is a former deputy chief of the Mossad, jokingly drew an analogy between himself and the biblical Joseph, who was second-in-charge under Pharaoh when his brothers came to Egypt and did not recognize the powerful man who stood before them. “I know what it is to be second-in-command,” he said. “It’s better to be in charge.” In discussing the Torah reading of parashat Miketz, Cohen frequently made comparisons to the work of the Mossad.
■ DURING HIS recent visit to New York, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat conferred honorary citizenship of Jerusalem on prolific writer and moral conscience of the world Elie Wiesel, who has a strong affinity to Jerusalem, even though he is not an Israeli, and in the past declined an offer to become president of Israel. Had he taken up the offer, his residence would have been in Jerusalem.
However, when he and his wife, Marion, were married on April 2, 1969, the wedding was held in the Ramban Synagogue in the capital’s old city. The first recipient in 1997 of the Guardian of Zion award, Wiesel came to Jerusalem for the ceremony and attended most of the subsequent ceremonies at which awards were given to other notables, and has visited Jerusalem many times on other significant occasions. In 2005 he was present at the inauguration of Yad Vashem’s Holocaust History and Holocaust Art museums.
■ DECEMBER 16 is an important date for Heart to Heart, the organization that enables Christians from around the world to play a significant role in the lifesaving activities of Magen David Adom’s paramedics. Heart to Heart Israel director Jonathan Feldstein, who is currently in the United States, will today take delivery of the gift of two ambulances from Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association at a dedication ceremony at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“The ambulances we are donating will make a big difference in helping to save lives in Israel – one of the most conflict-ridden areas of the world,” said Franklin Graham.
“Our prayer is that by providing these ambulances, lives will be changed both physically and spiritually.”
■ THE TA IPEI Economic and Cultural Office in Tel Aviv together with members of the Taiwanese community who are resident in Israel will travel to the Negev Wednesday morning for the dedication of a Taiwan Grove.
Even though Taiwan does not enjoy full diplomatic relations with Israel, both the government and people of Taiwan are happy to participate in Israel’s development.
Together with local Taiwanese, TECO has contributed NIS 32,000 to Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund toward the establishment of the grove. The donation shows the effort and determination to work with Israel to fight against global warming to prevent desertification and to assist in the rehabilitation of the ecosystem in the Negev. The grove, with 1,000 seedlings, will be located in an area of approximately half a hectare.
Participants in the dedication ceremony will also join in the tree planting in Gilat.
The ceremony will be conducted by Michael Ben Abu, director of the Israel fund-raising department of KKL-JNF, and Yun-sheng Chi, representative of the Republic of China (Taiwan) in Israel.
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