Grapevine: Cravat diplomacy

A round-up of news from around Israel.

FROM LEFT: Axel Hilgers, Heike Birlenbach, Ofer Kish and Tal Muscal. (photo credit: Courtesy)
FROM LEFT: Axel Hilgers, Heike Birlenbach, Ofer Kish and Tal Muscal.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When he addressed the AIPAC conference in Washington on Monday, US Vice President Mike Pence was wearing a blue tie in exactly the same shade of blue as that which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was wearing in his video address from Jerusalem.
When Netanyahu was in China earlier in the month, he wore a red tie in a shade similar to that of the Chinese national flag, Sara Netanyahu wore a dress in more or less the same shade in honor of their Chinese hosts, whereas Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang wore a blue tie in honor of his guests.
In Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wore a blue tie to match the one worn by Netanyahu, but down under cravat diplomacy was not a two-way street.
The Australian national colors are green and gold, and if Netanyahu did wear a tie in either of those colors or both, the photographers covering his visit missed it.
■ THE SONG “Jerusalem of Gold,” written by Naomi Shemer for the Israel Song festival of May 15, 1967, at the request of then-mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek, was almost prophetic in its lyrics, considering that the Six Day War erupted in June, resulting in the reunification of Jerusalem and restoring access to the Western Wall, the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives.
The song also boosted the career of a young singer who was virtually unknown, but whose name became eternally associated with the song, even though others have sung it in concert halls and have recorded it.
Wherever Shuli Natan appears on stage, she is expected to sing what has become Israel’s alternative national anthem.
Natan, who on March 16 celebrated her 70th birthday, is on a 50th anniversary Jerusalem of Gold tour, and will be appearing on Wednesday, April 12, at the Jewish Music and Culture Festival in Givatayim. The twoday festival has three concerts each night with different artists, one at 6, one at 8:30 and one at 9:30. Shuli Natan will be performing at 6 p.m.
■ AS ONE of the pioneers of Israel’s venture capital scene and as one of the founders of the Israel Venture Association, Chemi Peres commuted between Israel and the United States, especially during the period in which he served as chairman of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce, a position he held during the period of his father’s tenure as president of the state. At the time, the younger Peres was elected to be president of the chamber but declined the title, saying that one president in the family was enough.
Though involved with the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation during his father’s twilight years, Chemi Peres, since the death of his father last September, has taken it upon himself to preserve not only the memory but the legacy of Shimon Peres, which he does in his role as chairman of the Peres Center.
It was in that capacity that he attended the opening on Sunday of the AIPAC conference in Washington, where he met on stage with 12-year-old Yousef Qaraja, a Palestinian boy from Halhoul, who had a life-threatening heart condition. When he was two years old, his life was saved through one of the healthcare initiatives of the Peres Center that had been conceived by Shimon Peres.
Following the screening of a brief documentary on his life, Qaraja addressed the mammoth audience and asked them to continue working for peace, “for me and for my friend Shimon Peres.”
Chemi Peres said that he had never been so proud to be his father’s son. “He was one of the forefathers of the State of Israel and worked to establish the Israeli defense industry.
My father devoted his life to peace-building; he believed that through innovation, medicine and education, peace could be achieved, and he believed that science and technology could be harnessed in the service of tikun olam. My father said, ‘Let us dream big, let us make the world a better place.’” The Peres Center’s Saving Children program has saved the lives of around 12,000 Palestinian children, for whom medical treatment has been provided in Israel.
■ SOMETIMES IT’S convenient to have a non-Jew in the family, especially a doting father. Doing the rounds on social media is a photograph of US President Donald Trump with his daughter Ivanka, who, since her conversion to Judaism some years ago, has been religiously observant. The made-up photo caption has her asking him to buy her hametz for Passover. The question is, did he negotiate the purchase the way he usually does in a deal? ■ THE SENSITIVE, informative and even painful documentary series Today it’s us, tomorrow it’s you, in which Itta Glicksberg takes viewers behind the scenes of the workings of the Israel Broadcasting Authority and also introduces the faces that go with familiar voices, also provides data beyond the actual achievements and woes of the IBA.
For instance, an in-depth interview with former IBA CEO and editor-in-chief Yair Aloni brings to light the intention when the Shaare Zedek Medical Center moved from its original building on Jaffa Road to its current complex, to turn the building which dates back to 1902 into a hotel. “As if there were not enough hotels in Jerusalem already,” exclaimed Aloni.
Since the IBA moved into the building more than 20 years ago, after having previously had its corporate headquarters in the Clal building down the road, well over a dozen hotels have been constructed in Jerusalem. In fact, the Israel Hotels Association will be holding its annual convention in one of them – the Waldorf Astoria – on Wednesday.
Before he became CEO, Aloni was in charge of preparing for future challenges of the IBA and, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post at that time, shared his dream of building a broadcasting village that would extend from the original Shaare Zedek to the Jaffa-Sarei Israel intersection and would house both public and commercial broadcasting services as well as the offices of foreign broadcasting companies. Bureaucratic tangles prevented that vision from becoming reality, although part of it does exist and did exist then. The Jerusalem Capital Studios building diagonally opposite Shaare Zedek, where the Post is located, contains the offices of many foreign and local media outlets, including the Channel 10 news division.
Glicksberg’s documentary also contains clips from media conferences, demonstrations and emergency meetings. In one of the latter, Geula Even-Sa’ar is shown advising colleagues not to enter into any negotiation with the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, which recently appointed her as its chief news anchor.
■ MANY ISRAEL IS who go to the United States to work or study usually have no intention of remaining there and always plan to return home, but the date for that return remains open-ended. That’s what happened to Rabbi Israel Porath, who was born in Jerusalem in 1886 and died in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1974. A student of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, who ordained him, he was active in numerous Torah and social welfare projects before leaving Jerusalem in 1923.
He had planned to finally come home after his retirement, and everything was almost settled, but for the fact that he fell ill and did not recover. However, his family brought him to Jerusalem for burial, and many members have since settled in Israel – most of them living in Jerusalem and surrounds.
Porath became a prominent figure in America, not only in Cleveland but in the wider Jewish community and beyond. He was fluent in seven languages, met with US presidents, was friendly with Abba Hillel Silver, was in correspondence and in personal contact with many of the great rabbis of his day, was in the forefront of the Soviet Jewry movement and was founder and dean of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council.
A great rabbinical scholar and authority whose manifold writings on Torah and Halacha were interspersed with observations of the world around him, he never got around to editing them into book form. They were scattered and stored in different places before and after his death. He had wanted to write his autobiography, based on these writings, and had hoped to do so during his retirement in Jerusalem.
In the final analysis, some of his grandchildren, after deliberating for some 15 years, decided to honor their grandfather’s dying wish and to work toward finding the documents and publishing his biography.
It was not an easy task, and the book in Hebrew, under the title Mishkenotecha Yisrael and in the process of being translated into English, was launched last week at the Dati Leumi Synagogue in Har Nof, where four generations of his family, including in-laws plus Cleveland expats, filled the men’s section and part of the women’s section, sharing memories of the man they loved and admired. Six of his great-grandchildren who are all called Israel participated in a panel discussion.
Rabbi Marvin (Mordechai) Spiegelman, who served with him on the Orthodox Rabbinical Council, recalled that Porath never entered into an argument, but if he disagreed, he simply said that rabbis under whom he had studied had a different viewpoint.
Porath’s granddaughter Yehudit Spero said that as learned and busy a man as he was, he always had time for his grandchildren, and that when she was studying to be a teacher, he kept recommending potential husbands to her. She didn’t like any of them and kept saying, “He’s not my type.” After he’d heard this a few times, Porath said “Type, type, type – what you need to do is marry a typewriter.”
Porath’s grandson, Rabbi Jonathan Porath, related that when he was about three or four years old, he was delegated to recite the “Ma Nishtana” at his grandparents’ Seder. But instead of the usual toddlers’ singsong, he came out with “Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, jingle all the way...,” to which his grandfather smiled and said: “Maybe next year.”
■ TUESDAY WAS Good Deeds Day, whose concept was initiated in Israel by Shari Arison, and each year involves increasing numbers of people both as doers of good deeds and as beneficiaries.
But there are people who do good deeds all year round and don’t need a special date in the calendar. Members of Israel’s entertainment community are constantly being called on for pro bono performances for good causes or to visit sick children in the hospital, and for the most part, they oblige.
Sometimes they don’t even wait to be asked.
Michal Waizman, professionally known as Michal Haktana, is a favorite star of children’s programs, and was performing live this week at Cinema City in Jerusalem. But a few days earlier, she visited a retirement home in north Tel Aviv, where she met with a group of senior citizens within the framework of a project called Foresake Me Not in My Old Age, and found it to be an exhilarating experience in which she learned so much from conversations with them. She promised to return and to perform free of charge and asked them to invite their grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be with them on that day.
Super model Bar Refaeli and her mother, Tzipi, who are so often in the gossip columns of the Israeli and international media, and not always portrayed in a flattering light, choose to visit wounded soldiers in the hospital, to bring them gifts and to spend time chatting to them. Tzipi Refaeli also visits sick children at Schneider Children’s Hospital.
It would be a little too much to expect Bar, a relatively new mother, to accompany her there. It would be too traumatic when she has a baby at home.
■ TRANSPORTAT ION MINISTER Israel Katz has severed all connection with Or Yarok (Green Light), a road safety organization established in 1997 by Avi Naor after his 19-year-old son Ran was killed in a road accident.
Katz refused to attend Or Yarok’s 20th anniversary convention and said he wanted nothing more to do with Or Yarok, because it has become a political organization that is constantly attacking the government and the Transportation Ministry.
Katz was in a milder mood earlier in the week when he attended a ceremony at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, where a unit in the emergency care department was named after former Mossad chief Meir Dagan on the first anniversary of his death. The unit, which was established 15 years ago to ensure that patients who underwent complicated surgeries are under constant observation, was where Dagan was hospitalized following his liver transplant in Belarus.
■ IT SEEMS to be the year for the restructuring of organizations, institutions and business enterprises. Lufthansa, the German national carrier, which also has offices in Israel, has gone through a restructuring process, including its Israeli personnel. To celebrate new appointments and promotions, the Lufthansa executive held a reception in Israel.
Heike Birlenbach, senior vice president of sales, Lufthansa Hub Airlines, and chief commercial officer, Hub Frankfurt, which is Lufthansa’s home base, paid a lightning visit to Tel Aviv for the occasion. During her visit it was formally announced that Ofer Kish has been appointed CEO of the group in Israel, which includes Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines and Swiss. Kish succeeds Rolf Koller, who held the position for three years, and who has reached retirement age after working with the group for 30 years.
Birlenbach congratulated Tal Muscal, a former economics reporter with the Post, on his promotion to head of Group Communications for the Americas. She also announced that Axel Hilgers, regional sales manager for the Russia-CIS region, will now be responsible for Israel as well.
Birlenbach said that Israel is one of Lufthansa’s most important destinations, which is why it was among the first countries that she visited following her own appointment.
■ FRIENDS AS well as colleagues from other embassies were surprised and shocked to learn that charismatic, efficient, obliging and ever-smiling Esti Sherbelis, the personal assistant to Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma and his predecessor, Andrea Faulkner, was leaving the embassy due to restructuring by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs.
Sherbelis was also the embassy’s public diplomacy officer, a job that she absolutely loved because it put her in touch with so many people in so many varied fields of activity, and it was an ongoing learning process, which Sherbelis, as a former school teacher, enjoyed. She has also worked in public relations, which was a good background for public diplomacy. In addition to being part of a team that strengthens the connection between Australia and Israel, the best part of her job, she said, was in the relationships she developed with so many people who enriched her life.
Now that she’s been bitten by the international relations bug, it may be difficult for her to settle for something else. But she’s a very resourceful individual, and she’s bound to be snapped up soon by an embassy, an NGO or an institution that needs a director of external relations.
Meanwhile, there are two vacant positions at the Australian Embassy for whoever is qualified to fill them. One is political/economic research and public diplomacy officer; and the other is to work in accounts and executive support. The responsibilities of the two vacant positions can be seen on the Australian Embassy Facebook page.
Sharma, who has been one of the most popular, active and involved Australian ambassadors in Israel, will also be leaving soon, after four years in Israel, having secured a one-year extension on his appointment.
It’s particularly sad for both Sharma and Sherbelis, who have worked so hard for the centenary celebrations, at the end of October, of the Battle of Beersheba, in which the Australian Light Horse played such a pivotal role.
■ BEING RELATED to a famous person may sometimes be costly in terms of one’s own image. Estee Perez, when interviewing Moshe Ya’alon on Israel Radio, and asking him about his relations with Netanyahu, suddenly slipped in an unexpected question: “How’s Static?” It had been revealed earlier in the month that Ya’alon and the singer known as Static share a certain DNA .
The question was followed with a request to Ya’alon to explain how they were related, which he did, and then said: “Up until a week ago I was the former defense minister and the former chief of staff. Now that my family ties have been revealed, I’m the uncle of Static.”
■ THERE ARE very few Israelis who have not yet come across the tragic story of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, the Palestinian physician from Gaza whose three daughters and a niece were killed by Israeli military action during the final days of Operation Cast Lead in 2009.
Abuelaish had been working in Israeli hospitals, had many Israeli friends and, as a fluent Hebrew-speaker, had been frequently interviewed by Israeli media. A man who bears no hatred, he was the embodiment of coexistence. When he was home during the war, he broadcast by phone on Channel 10 to tell Israelis what the situation in Gaza was like. He was making a broadcast of this kind when his home was targeted by an Israeli tank and was shelled, with the result that the four girls were killed. After the tragedy, Abuelaish, a widower, took his remaining children to Canada, where he has won great esteem.
Currently back in Israel, he is suing the State of Israel for wrongful death, and says that if he wins the case, the money will go to a foundation that he established in memory of his daughters to provide scholarships for students in the Middle East. The case is due to conclude on April 19.
One of his friends is political and social activist Alice Krieger, who in addition to being a social activist is also part of Tel Aviv’s high society and knows a huge number of influential people as well as many diplomats. She decided to give Abuelaish a platform from which to address such people in her home. She also had other Palestinians among her guests, as well as several ambassadors and political activists.
They listened spellbound as Abuelaish told his story, of how he turned his personal tragedy into a victory of the spirit, and there was consensus that this was one of the most moving events that Krieger had ever hosted. Not everyone whom she invited was able to come, so for their benefit she posted a video of Abuelaish’s address on her Facebook page.
■ CULTURE AND Sport Minister Miri Regev has decided to this year include a Jew from the Diaspora among the beacon lighters on Independence Day. Diaspora Jews have done so much for Israel in general and for Jerusalem in particular that this year, on the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, it is appropriate to include a deserving person from the Diaspora.
She believes that this decision will help to strengthen Diaspora-Israel relations.
There are, of course, many Diaspora individuals who have generously supported numerous causes in Israel, but few who not only represent world Jewry, but have represented Israel’s interests on the diplomatic front, have donated to educational and environmental causes in Israel, have invested in Israel’s communications industries and other business ventures and received minimal recognition for all this from the State of Israel.
One such man is Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, who courageously comes out against Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and any form of antisemitism and has no qualms about voicing his complaints to world leaders – not by Twitter, Instagram Facebook or any other form of social media, but faceto- face.
Lauder has established something of a media village in Jerusalem, at Jerusalem Capital Studios, which also has a branch in Tel Aviv. He has made an a enormous contribution to Ben-Gurion’s dream of making the Negev green, and he has also established an employment agency in the Negev which links well-qualified people with academic and business enterprises, to ensure that graduates of Ben-Gurion University don’t relocate to elsewhere in the country. Through his investments in Israel, he provides many jobs, and he’s also made a major contribution to the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, and for years funded Jewish education and community outreach in Jewish institutions throughout Eastern Europe. There’s a lot more, but the above suffices to indicate that Lauder is a tough act to follow.
The Culture and Sport Ministry and the Diaspora Affairs Ministry are advertising abroad, asking for nominations.
[email protected]