Grapevine: Shalom Britannia

As a diplomat, Outgoing British Ambassador Matthew Gould remarked, he was not allowed to say anything controversial, but pointed out that one can’t talk about Israel without being controversial.

British Ambassador Matthew Gould, March 3 (photo credit: BEN KELMER)
British Ambassador Matthew Gould, March 3
(photo credit: BEN KELMER)
During their close to five years in Israel, outgoing British Ambassador Matthew Gould and his wife, Celia, have hosted numerous parties, receptions and dinners – sometimes as many as two or three in the one day – but nothing could compare with their farewell bash-cum-Queen’s Birthday reception at Ariel Sharon Park last Thursday, where some 1,000-plus guests gathered to wish them well.
The couple’s two Sabra daughters, Rachel and Emily, were there along with Gould’s parents, who flew in from London for the occasion. A three-piece band unashamedly calling itself The Beatles and playing and singing Beatles music that sounded remarkably authentic added to the acutely British atmosphere, which was also highlighted by Union Jack placemats on the white tables and offerings of fish and chips, among may other culinary options at the 12 food tables. A large, four-sided bar was placed in the middle of the huge boardwalk deck, and there were numerous displays of hi-tech enterprises that are part of the Israel-UK technology hub, which also included start-ups from Nazareth.
Guy Spigelman of Presentense, one of the organizations supporting the integration of Arab start-ups into Israel’s hi-tech community, was one of several people on-hand to explain some of the products of creative minds and to introduce guests to tech wizards from Nazareth.
The organization of the overall event was superb and staff were all extremely polite, patient and friendly. There was an endless supply of kosher food and as one American- accented guest remarked while waiting for a serving of fish and chips, “You know this is a British function because there are queues and no one is pushing.”
Despite the gravel paths and boardwalk deck, many of the female guests wore spikeheeled shoes. Celia Gould, who is famous for her super-high stilettos, seemed to have no trouble walking around with Emily in her arms. Rachel upstaged her adoring father, poking her head over the lectern as he delivered his address and making faces at the crowd, which laughed good-naturedly.
Among the guests specifically acknowledged by Gould was Nepal’s Ambassador Prahlad Kumar Prasai, to whom Gould said: “We all stand with you and grieve, and want to see your country back on its feet.” Among other guests Gould acknowledged were Likud MK Gilad Erdan, who was representing the government; State Comptroller Joseph Shapira; Supreme Court President Miriam Naor and her husband, Prof. Arye Naor; and Zionist Union co-leader Tzipi Livni.
Also seen in the crowd were US Ambassador Dan Shapiro and his wife, Julie Fisher; ever-youthful former foreign minister and defense minister Moshe Arens, who at 89 still has a sprightly gait, walks straight-backed and is his own driver; Sir Ian and Lady Carmel Gainsford; Zionist Union co-leader Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal; MKs Bennie Begin, Danny Danon, Omer Bar-Lev, Sharon Gal and Revital Swid; former minister Gideon Sa’ar and his wife, broadcaster Geula Even; the prime minister’s chief spokesman Mark Regev; hotelier Michael Federmann; singer-composer Tzvika Pik; former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy and his wife, Hadassa; former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon; former cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser; actress Aviva Marks and her husband, Alush Noy, who in 1956 received the IDF’s highest honors; entrepreneur, businessman and seventh- generation Israeli Oded Gera and his London-born lawyer wife, Ella; along with many other well-known figures.
Gould said that in view of the fact that he and his family are returning home, it was a bittersweet occasion for him. It had been a huge honor, he declared, to be the first Jewish ambassador from Britain – which had given his grandfather refuge – to Israel, “the homeland of the Jewish people,” and a great privilege to be here.
Gould, who has never made a secret of how much he loves Israel, said it was a wonderful, unique posting for diplomats, packing in more politics, innovation, history, controversy, nature and beauty in each square kilometer than anywhere else he knows.
As a diplomat, Gould remarked, he was not allowed to say anything controversial, but pointed out that one can’t talk about Israel without being controversial. Noting that Israel had recently gone to the polls and that Britain was on the verge of doing so, Gould – who this week is hosting an election party – expressed confidence in the ability of the new governments to work with each other.
The ambassador emphasized, as he has done on many occasions, that Britain is a friend of Israel and opposes any attempts to delegitimize it or call its existence into question. Likewise, it opposes any attempts to boycott Israel or to impose sanctions against it.
London and Jerusalem face common threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, but differ on how to treat those threats, he said. He was certain Britain would continue building technological partnerships with Israel, and stated that Britain wants to see progress towards peace. In the absence of such progress, he warned, Israel would lose support and peace would become harder to achieve.
Referring to the many friendships he and his wife have made during their stay in Israel, Gould said they knew that nowhere else would be quite the same. He was partially comforted by the fact that their two little girls would always have the fact that they were made in Israel documented on their passports.
“We know we will take with us many memories, and also many friendships that will not end when we fly back to London,” he noted.
Erdan said he was particularly pleased to represent the government on this particular occasion and in this particular place, which had been his first environmental achievement in a previous post as environment minister.
“Just as we did to this hill, we transformed this country to a place of excellence,” Erdan declared with pride; the hill was previously Israel’s largest waste dump.
Reflecting on Jerusalem-London relations, Erdan instanced the volume of trade – which he said had doubled over the past four years, to the extent that Britain is now Israel’s No. 1 trading partner in Europe. He was also appreciative of the fact that “Britain is encouraging peace and stability in the Middle East,” but more than that, he underscored, “The UK understands the importance of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.”
Several times throughout his address, Erdan referred to the many positive statements Prime Minister David Cameron has made in relation to Israel, leaving little doubt as to who he would like to see emerging as the winner of the British elections. But regardless of the result, he pledged that the new Israeli government being formed would work tirelessly with the new British Government.
After the speeches there was a wonderful rendition of the national anthems, during which Gould joined Israelis in singing “Hatikva.”
At least three of his non-Jewish predecessors had done the same.
■ THE YOUN GEST British royal, Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge who has displaced her uncle Prince Harry in the lineage to the throne, has received a gift from Israel – though it wasn’t sent directly to her. It was sent to her great-grandmother, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, with a congratulatory letter signed by President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, on their own behalf and on behalf of the citizens of Israel.
The gift, a wide-skirted pale pink dress with unpressed pleats extending from the high waistline, designed in Israel and with the words “From Israel with Love” embroidered on the bodice in large, bright-red capital letters, will have to remain in storage until the princess is at least 6 months old; it is far too large for a week-old baby. A gold safety pin is attached to the dress bearing a heart – a popular gift for a newborn baby in most parts of the world – some tiny colored beads and a hamsa, a Middle Eastern amulet in the shape of a hand signifying blessings for good luck and success.
The dress was packed in a pink box tied with a huge satin bow.
■ FOR A long time in the pre-state era and in the early years of the state, people made fun of German and Austrian immigrants who maintained their European manners and mode of dress, and often had great difficulty mastering the Hebrew language. The most popular joke was about academics who had become bricklayers, and who in passing bricks to each other while still wearing their jackets and ties would say, “Bitte Herr Professor”and “Danke Herr Doktor.”
A jacket in German is a jacke. The pronunciation was distorted and became jekke, often spelled yekke because the “J” in German and most other European languages is pronounced like a “Y.”
All this leads up to Jekke Bund, an event held recently under the auspices of the Association of Israelis of Central European Origin, to highlight the contribution of German-speaking immigrants to Israel’s intelligence, espionage and security services. Most came to the Land of Israel as part of the Fifth Aliya in the 1920s; some, like Reuven Merhav, are the offspring of those immigrants. Merhav, a former diplomat, served for many years as a senior intelligence and security services official in Israel and abroad.
But there were many others, the most senior of whom was Aliza Magen, the deputy chief of Mossad, the only woman to rise to so high a rank. In fact when Sima Shein, the head of the Mossad’s research desk, was chosen over Magen to light a trailblazer’s torch at the opening of the Independence Day celebrations on Mount Herzl, there was a hue and cry from Mossad veterans – who believed the honor should have gone to Magen, a field agent who was often involved in dangerous assignments. Magen spoke briefly at the gathering in a packed auditorium at the Eretz Israel Museum, but could not be persuaded to divulge any secrets. For her, everything is still classified information.
Dan Asher, a former intelligence agent who entered the spy business 50 years ago and is now more of an academic, reeled off a list of names of German Jews who were initially detained by the British – who when they realized they were not Nazis, used them as spies or recruited them into the army. After the establishment of the state, some of them continued to do for Israel what they’d been doing for the British.
One of the first in this category was David Shaltiel, who was also a diplomat; another was Shalhevet Freier, the son of Youth Aliya founder Recha Freier, who began his military and intelligence activities in the British army and was subsequently active in Israeli intelligence operations in Europe. Still another was Asher Ben-Natan, who was simultaneously a senior diplomat. The list went on to include Pinchas Pik, Prof. Avraham Reifenberg, Gabriel Ber, Mordechai Gihon, Max Binet and many others, whose activities were carried out under the cover of academia diplomacy and public service.
Several of the former agents were in the audience.
At the end of the day, it was obvious that whoever laughed at and mocked them were ignorant of the enormous contribution by Jekkes to Israel’s national security.
■ THE BRITISH Zionist Federation has confirmed that Israeli television journalist Lucy Aharish will attend their gala dinner tribute to Shimon Peres on May 17. Aharish will interview the former president in the presence of some 1,000 people.
An Israeli Arab of Muslim faith, the charismatic i24 News presenter recently made international headlines when she was selected as one of the 12 trailblazers who lit a beacon at the official Independence Day opening ceremony.
The brief address she gave on that occasion was a stirring reminder that coexistence is possible.
Aharish will conduct an informal interview with Peres, whose anticipated attendance has already attracted a huge number of people.
Organizers say this will be the largest-ever gala dinner in the history of the Zionist Federation, with members of the peerage, MPs, diplomats and heads of Jewish and Christian communal organizations among the guests.
Because she is an Israeli Arab in the full sense of that symbiosis, Ashraf has spoken to the emotions of many people who admire her staunch loyalty to both her own people and the State of Israel. She has proved that conflicts of interest can be overcome.
■ WHETHER THEY are religious or not, and whether or not they are attacked in the media for their political views, business practices or any other fault that can be dredged up by those who cannot be gracious about members of the tribe who have the good fortune to be born into affluence, or to have achieved it through their own acumen and the sweat of their brows, it cannot be denied that most of these exceedingly wealthy individuals share their riches for the common good. Whether it’s Charles Bronfman, Ronald Lauder, Sheldon Adelson, Morton Mandel, Michael Steinhardt, Poju Zabludowicz, Dame Vivien Duffield, Dame Shirley Porter, Len Blavatnik and a host of others who have contributed to health, social welfare, culture, education, sport and other projects in their countries of domicile and in Israel, it cannot be denied that the world would be poorer on all levels without their generosity.
Blavatnik, recently named the richest man in England, has channeled his philanthropic endeavors in Israel in much the same way he conducts his global business enterprises – with diversification as the key strategy. He supports a Chabad food bank in Kiryat Malachi, which on a regular basis supplies food to 5,000 families in 25 Israeli cities; prior to Jewish holidays, the food distribution extends to 30,000 families in 73 cities and towns. Blavatnik is particularly keen on soldiers. For some years now, he has donated scholarships through the Association for the Well-Being of Israel’s Soldiers to the 120 outstanding soldiers selected annually for Independence Day honors.
But he is no less interested in preserving the past as he is in helping others to build a future. Just as the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archives, including the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, is one of the world’s most comprehensive resources for moving image materials related to Jewish issues, the Holocaust and World War II – including tens of thousands of personal testimonies by survivors – the Blavatnik Foundation has focused on documents, letters, postcards, photographs, diaries and personal testimonies related to 19th- and 20th-century Jewish history. The foundation puts particular emphasis on people who fought in or with the Red Army throughout the Second World War, and particularly those who helped liberate the death camps and other concentration camps.
Because the Soviet Union was more or less cut off from the Western world for decades, far less is known of the role played by Soviet Jews in the history of World War II. Aware of this, Blavatnik – who was born in Odessa, Ukraine, but now has American citizenship and lives in England – undertook to digitally record more than 1,000 personal testimonies of World War II veterans of the Soviet Army living in 11 different countries. Both the Spielberg and the Blavatnik Archives are particularly pertinent this year, because it is the 70th anniversary of both the end of the war and the triumph of the Red Army – which in its greatest moments of glory was one of the liberators of Europe.
Some of these veterans live in Israel and on previous anniversaries of VE Day, have assembled at Yad Vashem for commemoration ceremonies.
Many come with the medals and ribbons they earned, and some who are still slim enough come in their Red Army uniforms, or part of the uniform. This year they will gather on May 7 at the Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum at Latrun; the event will also be attended by President Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
■ WORLD PRESS Freedom Day was remembered this week at the Jerusalem Press Club, which like other press clubs around the world honored the memories of fallen colleagues.
Eetta Prince-Gibson, a former editor-inchief of The Jerusalem Report, a sister publication of The Jerusalem Post, remembered Steven Sotloff, the American-Israeli journalist who was cruelly beheaded by Islamic State terrorists at the beginning of September. She first met Sotloff, she recalled, when he was only 24; even then, he was already a consummate professional, with a background and an ability to provide context. His reporting was excellent, compassionate and well-written, said Prince-Gibson; it was even spell-checked.
Sotloff was a freelancer who was not adequately protected by his publication while in dangerous territory, but he really cared about what he was doing. When Prince-Gibson, in an email correspondence, once asked him why he was doing what he was doing, his reply was, “It’s my contribution to the world.”
AP Bureau Chief Josef Federman recalled the morning of August 13, 2014. It had been a scorching day, and a truce had been declared in Gaza. But then he received a telephone call informing him that Italian AP video journalist Simone Camilli and his freelance translator, Ali Shehda Abu Afash, had been killed in an explosion in the Strip. They had been working on a story about Israeli shells dropped into Gaza when one of the shells accidentally went off. Someone else who had been working with them was seriously injured, but at least he was alive.
Federman said there had been tremendous cooperation from both the Israelis and Palestinians in getting the bodies out and getting the injured man to hospital, but everyone in AP’s Jerusalem office felt permanently scarred.
Federman had known Camilli since he was a rookie and had watched him develop into a fine professional.
Reuters Bureau Chief and recently elected chairman of the Foreign Press Association Luke Baker, on his second stint in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, lamented the fact that foreign media are spending less on professionals, instead sending freelancers with insufficient training and protection into war zones. Baker, who worked for several years in Iraq, said that while he was there five journalists were killed by American troops. One of the deceased was a Palestinian cameraman shot by a US soldier who thought his camera was a rocket.
Haim Shibi, who as the international liaison for the Jerusalem Journalists Association will be traveling to South America for an international conference, said he will propose the establishment of a hotline for Israeli and Palestinian journalists who are in trouble while covering stories. The hotline will supersede political difference, and will be there for humane and professional reasons.
JPC director Uri Dromi said his club will also host an international conference on May 25-27 on freedom of the press, co-sponsored by the Israel Democracy Institute and the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. One of the conference highlights will be a candid discussion between Solène Chalvon, Liberation correspondent in the Ivory Coast and a columnist at Charlie Hebdo, and Prof. Eva Illouz, a world-renowned sociologist who was raised in France but now lives in Israel. In a column she wrote in the issue of Charlie Hebdo published in the immediate aftermath of the fatal attack on its premises, Chalvon dismissed the contention that the satirical magazine deserved its fate because of its “editorial foolishness,” asserting that “freedom of expression will survive.”
Yet while millions took to the streets in Paris in solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, polls show that almost half of the country’s population favors limiting freedom of expression on the Internet. Illouz has consistently lauded France for its ability to embrace strangers into the homeland of human rights, but recent events may indicate that the France she remembers may not be the France of today.
■ THERE’S NO doubt that the vast majority of the tens of thousands of people who came to Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park on Saturday night to take advantage of Robbie Williams’s offer to “Let me entertain you” went home properly entertained – perhaps even overly so. But whether people thought him good, bad or mediocre, one thing was certain: Israelis may not have money for housing and really scrape the barrel to pay for rent, but they always seem to find the wherewithal for mobile phones and entertainment. Performances by local and international stars almost invariably attract a full house when indoors, and thousands more when in a public park – and the tickets are usually quite expensive.
Of course, there are some people for whom money is no object. VISA Cal credit card general manager Doron Sapir is a case in point.
Another is television personality Erez Tal, and of course any member of the Arison family doesn’t really have to think about the expense factor, nor does supermodel Bar Refaeli. One suspects that musician Yossi Mizrahi, who was sitting in the VIP section, received a gratis ticket – because his wife, singer Ninet Tayeb, was the warm-up act before Williams came on stage.