Grapevine: Two former Aussi prime ministers to be honored

A round-up of news from around Israel.

PRESIDENTS REUVEN Rivlin and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, together with Steinmeier’s wife, Elke Budenbender, sample Israeli beer in the informal atmosphere of the Beer Bazaar at the Mahaneh Yehuda market. (photo credit: MARC NEYMAN/GPO)
PRESIDENTS REUVEN Rivlin and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, together with Steinmeier’s wife, Elke Budenbender, sample Israeli beer in the informal atmosphere of the Beer Bazaar at the Mahaneh Yehuda market.
(photo credit: MARC NEYMAN/GPO)
Israel’s academic institutions are certainly evenhanded where Australians are concerned.
Two former Australian prime ministers, one who headed the Labor Party and the other who headed the Liberal Party, will next week be conferred with honorary doctorates by two universities.
Former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard, the 27th prime minister of Australia and the first woman to be elected to that position, will be among the recipients of honorary doctorates to be conferred by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev on Tuesday, May 16.
Gillard was sworn in on June 24, 2010, and served in that office until June 2013. As prime minister and in her previous role as deputy prime minister, Gillard was central to the successful management of Australia’s economy, the 12th-largest economy in the world, during the global financial crisis and as Australia positioned itself to seize the benefits of Asia’s rise.
Gillard developed Australia’s guiding policy paper, Australia in the Asian Century, and delivered nation-changing policies, including reforming Australia’s education at every level, from early childhood to university education, creating an emissions trading scheme, improving the provision and sustainability of healthcare, aged care and dental care, initiating the nation’s first-ever national scheme to care for people with disabilities and restructuring the telecommunications sector, as well as advancing a national broadband network.
Gillard visited Israel before and after her term as prime minister. Although known to be a good friend of Israel, Gillard, during her term as prime minister, called for Israel to freeze construction in the disputed territories.
Former Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott will receive his honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University on Thursday, May 18, which makes life somewhat easier for Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma. He would have had a real problem if both honorary doctorates were to be conferred on the same date.
Abbott, the 28th and immediate past prime minister of Australia, served from September 2013 to September 2015.
Coincidentally, Tel University is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, and Abbott will be celebrating his 60th birthday in November, the month in which current Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will still be in Israel following the 100th anniversary commemoration on October 31 of the Battle of Beersheba. Never before have three Australian prime ministers visited Israel in the same year.
During his tenure, Abbott introduced legislation to stop illegal maritime immigration.
He also announced a Royal Commission to inquire into trade union governance and corruption and also set into motion the repeal of 10,000 red tape regulations. On his watch, free trade agreements were signed with Japan, South Korea and China, thereby adding to Australia’s attraction as a bridge to Asia.
Abbott, who is still a member of Parliament, has long supported indigenous affairs and continues to do so. Beyond his parliamentary activities, he is a volunteer fireman and a volunteer surf club lifesaver. He also participates in an annual 1,000-km. bike ride that raises funds for breast cancer awareness.
■ IT’S HARD to imagine the election of a president or prime minister of France without the new incumbent instantly receiving a congratulatory message from Israel’s most ardent Francophile, Shimon Peres. It was almost like a voice from the grave when the computer screen featured a photograph of Peres with France’s President-elect Emmanuel Macron. The photograph was in fact taken in 2015 at the Ambrosetti economic conference in Italy which Peres attended each year.
Peres had a close relationship with every president and prime minister of France since the days of Charles de Gaulle, whom he initially met when he went to Paris with Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.
He also enjoyed warm relations with all the French ambassadors who served in Israel, and when the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation was built, it was within relatively easy walking distance of the French ambassador’s official residence in Jaffa.
Peres’s younger son, Chemi, who today heads the Peres Center, and his sister, Tsvia Walden, who has a personal French connection in that her husband, Prof. Raphael Walden, was born in France and was also a recipient of the French Legion of Honor in recognition of his humanitarian work in treating poor, ailing Palestinians free of charge, decided to carry on their father’s tradition and to send a personal, congratulatory letter to Macron.
They expressed their confidence that he would be guided and inspired by hope, optimism and determination, as he leads France toward the future. They added that their father had been glad to have had the opportunity to meet Macron, and had been impressed by his determination, knowledge and leadership. They mentioned that both Ben-Gurion and their father had a strong affinity for France, and of course they mentioned that long before he became Israel’s ninth president, Shimon Peres had a close relationship with every French president since de Gaulle, and appreciated France “as one of Israel’s most loyal allies.”
They wrote that their father “saw in France a great partner for Israel: “two countries united by unbreakable bonds which stem from shared values and commitment to absolute principles: democracy, fraternity, liberty and the equality of all people.”
■ FOREVER LABELED as “the Watergate journalist,” investigative reporter Carl Bernstein, who together with Bob Woodward helped to put an end to the political career of Richard Nixon, held his audience in thrall this week as he delivered the opening address at the International Conference on Press Freedom in the Digital Age. There were several people present who openly stated that they had been inspired to become journalists after reading Bernstein and Woodward’s book All the President’s Men or subsequently watching the movie of the same title.
Bernstein is in Israel for the first time since 1982, when he covered the First Lebanon War, and said that on that occasion, he missed the real story, which was Jerusalem, which he described as “the epicenter of the world.” Any reporter who reports from Washington or the Middle East must come to Jerusalem and also visit the territories, he said. “This is ground zero for geopolitics.”
This brought a few snickers from local journalists and members of the foreign press who are stationed in Israel, who wondered why it had taken him so long to return to Israel, and how he had reached such a conclusion after only a few days in the country.
This came up in discussion during the subsequent coffee break, and Bernstein, without getting offended, took the criticism seriously, and said he would work on a better way to express what he actually meant.
During his address, he emphasized that journalists should not have a hidden agenda.
“We’re reporters – not judges, not legislators,” he said. He also emphasized that to be a good reporter, “sustained inquiry is essential.” The press exists for the public good and not just to create controversy, he said, repeating several times that the role of a reporter is to give readers “the best obtainable version of the truth.”
Donald Trump is not the first US president to come out against the press. In a reference to Nixon, Bernstein said that Nixon had tried to make the issue the conduct of the press at Watergate instead of the conduct of the president of the United States.
“Unreasonable government secrecy is the enemy of the best obtainable version of the truth” said Bernstein.
It was inevitable that the subject of the current US president would come up during the Q&A, and even before that Bernstein had included him in his remarks, repeating what he has said publicly at various forums in the US: “He has lied like no other president of the US in my lifetime.”
■ UNITED ISRAEL APPEAL has introduced an award, Yakir of the Jewish People, in addition to Yakir Keren Hayesod. Despite the rise of antisemitism and anti-Zionism in many parts of the world, non-Jews are increasingly interested in, and supportive of, Israel. One such person is Ye Jianming, who has so many hugely successful business enterprises and so many honors, and who donates to so many worthwhile causes in different parts of the world, that space simply does not permit the listing of them. Suffice it to say that in 2016 he was ranked No. 2 in Fortune magazine’s 40 under 40 list of the most influential young people in business.
The award ceremony was held in the candlelit Zedekiah’s Cave at the closing dinner of the annual United Israel Appeal World Conference. UIA is always on the lookout for new and exciting venues for its closing dinners, but this was not exactly the best choice, as there are 136 steps on gravel down into the depths from street level and insufficient railings to guarantee safety. Several of the women came in stiletto heeled shoes, and one woman actually fell. There were also elderly people among the participants whose legs and hearts were sorely strained on the return uphill climb.
Ye was introduced to the Jewish world in general and Israel in particular by World Jewish Congress vice president Michael Mirilashvili. The languages spoken from the stage were English, Hebrew, Russian and Chinese. Guest of honor was Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who described himself as an example of Israel being a land of opportunity. He had come as a 20-year-old without friends and knowing no Hebrew, and here he was, nearly 40 years later, as defense minister, having previously served in other ministerial capacities, including foreign minister.
The closing dinner is also the night of the gala presentation of the Yakir Keren Hayesod awards, in recognition of long-standing and devoted service within the Jewish community and on behalf of UIA, and in appreciation of exceptionally high-level contributions to UIA projects.
This year’s honorees were Eduardo Miguel Avayu Guiloff, from Chile; Jack Hasen, from Montreal; and Doron and Marianne Livnat, from Amsterdam. All of them give not only in monetary terms but of themselves, in an extraordinary number of handson projects, and they presented very moving speeches as they talked of some of the causes that they support. It is mind-boggling to realize how much the Jewish world continues to be involved in Israel’s development and quite frightening to think of where Israel would be without this partnership.
■ GERMAN PRESIDENT Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier had an Israel experience that was quite different from that of most other visiting heads of state. While many visiting heads of state go to the Old City of Jerusalem, primarily to retrace the steps of Jesus, Steinmeier particularly asked to go to the capital’s famed Mahaneh Yehuda market, and he and his wife, Elke Budenbender, were given a nighttime tour by President Reuven Rivlin, who obviously enjoyed the opportunity to temporarily get back into the real world, despite the heavy security escort.
In recent years the market has become the hub of Jerusalem’s nightlife, with lots of spontaneous entertainment, bars, cafes and restaurants packed primarily with young people. Top-line entertainers from Tel Aviv often stop at the market for a late night repast after a gig in the capital.
Steinmeier had asked in advance for a nighttime tour of the city. It was only natural that Rivlin, as his Israeli counterpart and a seventh-generation Jerusalemite, should escort him. The two presidents met with leading figures and entrepreneurs from the market, who told them about the transformation that the city and the market had undergone in recent years.
During the tour, they tasted some Israeli craft beers at the Beer Bazaar and toured the Shuk Gallery created by graffiti artist Solomon Souza, who had painted works in graffiti on walls and store shutters throughout the market depicting famous Israeli and world figures.
Souza surprised Rivlin by showing him a new piece of graffiti, of the president’s late great-grandfather, Yosef Rivlin, who was among the founders of the first neighborhoods outside the walls of the Old City.
Both presidents clearly enjoyed the informal atmosphere of the market more than the usual formality of meetings between heads of state. In fact, Steinmeier effused about the market experience on Sunday, when the two men got together again prior to a luncheon that Rivlin hosted in his honor.
Among the guests was Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai, who heads the Israel-Germany Parliamentary Friendship Group. Shai is very partial to kumquats. There are a couple of kumquat trees in the presidential garden just outside the main hall. Shai helped himself to several kumquats on the way into the building and found them so tasty that he came out again to pick some more from the tree.
■ NOTWITHSTANDING A crowded schedule last Thursday morning, Rivlin took time out to address more than 300 people from the Big Apple who, as part of the centenary celebrations of the UJA Federation of New York, came to Israel on a weeklong mission to celebrate Israel’s independence, inspect some of the projects they support and to meet with Israelis from all walks of life.
Rivlin said that while he frequently hosts Jewish groups from abroad, this group was really too large to come to him, so he came to them at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem.
The mission also had a crowded schedule, and immediately after Rivlin’s address headed for the buses, to catch up with the next item on the agenda.
Rivlin told them that Jews everywhere are part of one family with the shared responsibility to fight antisemitism and to educate their children with a view to giving them a sense of their Jewish identity and to build the State of Israel, “our national home.”
“We are not only bound together by common enemies, memories of the Shoah and 4,000 years of shared history,” said Rivlin, but also by the future.
Stressing the need for people of different backgrounds – or “the four tribes,” as he generally refers to Orthodox, secular, haredi and Arab – to come together to forge a shared Israeli identity, Rivlin said that while it is not unusual in New York for Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews to come together on one platform, in Israel it is very unusual. “We remember the price for internal division” he said by way of explanation for the study sessions that he and his wife host at the President’s Residence, where Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews participate together.
“Israel is not just a place,” said Rivlin, “but also an idea.” Herzl perceived it as a safe haven, he explained and Ahad Ha’am as the seat of the rebirth of Jewish culture. “But the State of Israel is the focal point of the shared mission of the Jewish people.”
On Wednesday, the mission went to Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People for the opening of an exhibition that is a collaborative project of the museum, UJA Federation of New York and the American Jewish Historical Society.
The exhibition documents the federation’s first 100 years of shaping Jewish life in America and around the world. The exhibition, which will be on view for three weeks, features artifacts and photographs that highlight the federation’s involvement in helping to resettle large waves of Jewish immigrants to the United States in the early 1900s, the work it did during World War I, the Great Depression, the Holocaust, the creation of the State of Israel, the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War, and how it reached out to Ethiopian immigrants to Israel and to Soviet Jewry. The fiscal crisis in NewYork, 9/11, and Hurricane Sandy, are also featured in the exhibition, which, according to UJA Federation CEO Eric Goldstein, “provides a stirring illustration of UJA’s impact.”
The mission participants were welcomed by Irina Nevzlin, who chairs the museum’s board of directors. She told them that the goal of the museum is to tell the story of the Jewish people from around the world, and that the federation’s centenary is part of that story. Among others present was Prof.
Itamar Rabinovich, a former ambassador to the US, who is well known to many of the mission members.
■ ON SUNDAY of this week, a young man showed up at the reception desk of the National Library in Jerusalem in order to return two overdue books. It’s not uncommon for borrowers to keep books for a longer period than specified under the terms of the loan, but in this case, it was overdue for well over half a century. In fact, it was only a few months short of 60 years.
The two books, which are part of a set titled The Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia by W.M. Ramsay, were published in 1895 and were borrowed by the young man’s grandmother on October 31, 1957. Following his grandmother’s death, he was clearing up her estate when he came across the books that bore the stamp of the National Library on several pages. Realizing that the books may possibly be rare and that the powers that be at the National Library would welcome their return, he decided to do the ethical thing and restore them to their rightful place.
Most libraries fine borrowers for the overdue return of books, but in this case, the library decided not to fine the young man, who would have surely balked at having to pay such a large sum for his honesty. The usual sum for overdue books is NIS 1,560 per annum. Thus the total fine would have been around NIS 88,920.
The young man said that his grandmother was a researcher and probably based her doctoral thesis on information she gleaned from the books, which she borrowed even before the construction of the current National Library building on the grounds of the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University, at a time when the library was still housed in Terra Sancta, on the seam of Jerusalem’s Rehavia and Talbiyeh neighborhoods.
The books are now available for anyone to read on the premises of the National Library, but they can no longer be borrowed and taken home.
Some years ago, the IDF introduced a no-penalty period for anyone who brought back any type of military equipment that they had taken home as a souvenir. Perhaps the National Library will do something similar when its new, ultra-modern building is completed in three years’ time.
There must be dozens if not scores of literary treasures floating around Jerusalem and in other parts of Israel, given that for a long time the country’s only institutes for higher education were the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the Hebrew University and the Weizmann Institute, meaning that students from all over the country came to pursue their studies in higher education at the Hebrew University, part of whose campus was also located at Terra Sancta during the 19-year period in which the Mount Scopus campus was inaccessible and even after the completion in 1958 of the Givat Ram campus.
■ AMONG THE many milestone anniversaries taking place this year is one that has been all but overlooked – the 75th anniversary of the Biltmore Conference that took place at the Biltmore Hotel in New York from May 6-11, with the participation of close to 600 people. In the eyes of its participants, it was perceived as a turning point in Zionist aspirations, with sharp disagreement between Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann, who was to be the country’s first president. Whereas Weizmann preferred a diplomatic process whereby what was initially intended as the Jewish commonwealth should receive endorsement from the major powers, Ben-Gurion preferred to create facts on the ground. The conference was attended by some of the great icons of Zionist history, among them Nahum Goldman, Abba Hillel Silver, Louise E. Leventhal, and Tamar de Sola Pool, The conference concluded with an eightpoint declaration, which included: “This conference offers a message of hope and encouragement to their fellow Jews in the ghettos and concentration camps of Hitler-dominated Europe and prays that their hour of liberation may not be far distant....
“In our generation, and in particular in the course of the past 20 years, the Jewish people have awakened and transformed their ancient homeland; from 50,000 at the end of the last war, their numbers have increased to more than 500,000. They have made the waste places to bear fruit and the desert to blossom. Their pioneering achievements in agriculture and in industry, embodying new patterns of cooperative endeavor, have written a notable page in the history of colonization.
“In the new values thus created, their Arab neighbors in Palestine have shared. The Jewish people in its own work of national redemption welcomes the economic, agricultural and national development of the Arab peoples and states. The conference reaffirms the stand previously adopted at congresses of the World Zionist Organization, expressing the readiness and the desire of the Jewish people for full cooperation with their Arab neighbors.
“The conference calls for the fulfillment of the original purpose of the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate, which, recognizing the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine, was to afford them the opportunity, as stated by president Wilson, to found there a Jewish commonwealth.”
The declaration was subsequently approved by the Zionist General Council in Palestine, and the Biltmore program then became the official platform of the World Zionist Organization.