Liberal and right or right and liberal

Netanyahu and US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power  (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Netanyahu and US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Journalist and military historian Yoaz Hendel describes himself as a rightwing liberal or a liberal right-winger. But according to President Reuven Rivlin, who on Monday night attended the launch of Hendel’s book Be’eretz Lo Zeru’a (In an Unsown Land) at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, in the Jabotinsky equation right and liberal go together. Referring to his own political background, Rivlin said that this was certainly the case when he was young. “The Liberal Party was rightwing and the Right was liberal.”
Rivlin also used the occasion to criticize the controversial bill proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that would enable 90 members of the 120-member Knesset to suspend an MK who acted against the interests of the state. While highly critical of the three Balad MKs who met with the families of Palestinian terrorists, Rivlin said that the president and the speaker of the Knesset are chosen by the Knesset, which also has the power to dismiss them, but to depose a member of Knesset oversteps the fact that the Knesset is representative of the sovereign, namely the electorate, and is not the sovereign itself. It cannot place the elected above the public, he emphasized.
The attorney-general must order an investigation into members of Knesset who have, or are suspected of having, broken the law, and any such criminal investigation should be conducted thoroughly following the removal of parliamentary immunity, he said.
“We cannot allow the Knesset, whose representatives are chosen by the public, to independently overturn the public’s choices. A Knesset that is able, even if justifiably, to today decide upon the cessation of the term of office of such representatives of the public will tomorrow unjustly do so to others, and then where will we be?” Hendel, who is a keen advocate of dialogue between people of opposing views, said that he had chosen to launch his book at the Begin Center because Menachem Begin was a prime example of responsible leadership.
He was pleased that former minister Gideon Sa’ar had agreed to be one of the speakers at the evening, “because his voice speaks with greater clarity since he left the Knesset.”
Observing that as president, Rivlin, who was previously a longtime Likud MK, must now be apolitical, Begin Center executive director Herzl Makov declared that this was impossible when he attended the Begin Center. “In this building Rivlin was and remains a Jabotinskyite and a Herutnik.”
Danny Dayan, who had been designated to be Israel’s next ambassador to Brazil, but whose nomination was rejected by the Brazilian authorities on the grounds that he had been a settlement leader and still lives in what Brazil regards as occupied territory, was part of a panel discussion in which he received a lot of ribbing on the subject. Dayan didn’t really want to go into it, but made a number of passionate Zionist statements that drew spontaneous applause from the crowd – so much so that journalist Sefi Ovadia, who was the moderator for the evening, said of him: “If Danny Dayan wants to be an ambassador – let it be in Israel.”
■ DUE TO arrive in Israel next week on a state visit is Kenyan President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, who is the fourth president of Kenya and the son of Kenya’s founding president, Jomo Kenyatta, and his fourth wife, Ngina Kenyatta. Kenyatta and his wife, Margaret, will be hosted by Rivlin and his wife, Nechama.
■ IN A a moving ceremony at the Knesset this week, Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende, Speaker of the Knesset MK Yuli Edelstein and Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman paid tribute to Jo Benkow, former speaker of the Norwegian parliament, author and Holocaust survivor.
The event was initiated by Liberman, and two books by Benkow that were translated into Hebrew and Russian by the Genesis Philanthropy Group in conjunction with World Yisrael Beytenu were presented to participants. The books, both best-sellers in Norway, include an autobiography titled “From Synagogue to Parliament” and “Olav – Man and Monarch,” which is a product of several conversations Benkow held with his friend Norway’s King Olav V.
World Yisrael Beytenu director-general Alex Selsky reviewed Benkow’s life story, including his family background, as both his parents were refugees from Russia. While the men in the family fled Norway to the UK to join the Royal Norwegian Air Force, all the female family members, including Benkow’s mother, sister and aunt, were murdered in Auschwitz.
Selsky spoke of Benkow’s work on issues of human rights, including his becoming a fiercely dedicated activist for the emigration and aliya of Soviet Jewry. “Benkow openly supported Israel, fought against anti-Semitism and strongly criticized Norwegian leaders who expressed biased views toward Israel,” said Selsky. Liberman lauded Benkow as a great example for Jews around the world.
“He was at the same time a true Norwegian patriot, a proud Jew and a passionate Zionist,” said Liberman.
“Benkow’s Jewish roots informed his activities and he stood up for Israel even when it was unpopular to do so,” noted Edelstein.
Sana Britavsky, deputy CEO of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, explained why the translated books are so important for Israelis and Jews. “Many Jews in the Diaspora are struggling with the question of their identity, but Benkow’s life and story show that nothing can prevent a Jewish citizen from being loyal to their home nation.”
Brende, whose political career began as an adviser and speechwriter to Benkow, declared how emotional and important the event was for him personally, and how he and Liberman would often swap stories about Benkow whenever they would meet.
■ THE VULTURES were lying in wait for former prime minister Ehud Olmert on Monday. They congregated both outside his home in Upper Motza and at the entrance to Ma’asiyahu Prison. It was though he were the first public figure to be convicted – which he certainly wasn’t, and as he himself pointed out, none of the crimes for which he was convicted occurred during his tenure as prime minister.
Public figures were convicted even before the highly publicized trial of Arye Deri, who has proved that there is life after prison.
Not only is there life, but in Deri’s case there’s the life that used to be. But even before Deri’s jail sentence in 2000, there were other public figures convicted of a variety of crimes. Some were sentenced to community service, and others to prison. Before and after Deri, convicted figures included mayors, members of Knesset, ministers and even a president of the state.
In 1975, Michael Tzur, the director-general of Israel Corp, (which was founded in 1968 by the government), was sentenced to 15 years in prison after he was convicted on 18 counts of embezzlement, theft, fraud and bribery. He was released in 1981.
Asher Yadlin, who was due to become the governor of the Bank of Israel, was arrested in 1976 two days before he was due to take office, charged with accepting bribes and sentenced to five years in prison.
In addition to being a former prime minister, Olmert was also a former mayor of Jerusalem. Uri Lupolianski, another former mayor of Jerusalem who was involved in the Holyland scandal, was sentenced to community service. Shmuel Rechtman, a former mayor of Rehovot who later became an MK, was convicted in 1979 for taking bribes and became the first MK to receive a jail sentence.
Among other MKs who spent time behind bars are Naomi Blumenthal, Shmuel Flatto- Sharon, Ofer Hugi, Yair Levy, and Omri Sharon. Former ministers who were imprisoned include Shlomo Benizri, Avraham Hirchson, who was a former finance minister, and Gonen Segev. Other ministers who were convicted but not sentenced to prison are Aharon Abuhatzira, Tzachi Hanegbi, Liberman, Yitzhak Mordechai, Rafael Pinhasi and Haim Ramon.
There were also ministers and MKs who had previously held ministerial portfolios who resigned from the Knesset after their reputations were besmirched, and a former minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, is currently facing trial.
Of all of the above who are still living, the most sought after by the media since Olmert was sentenced was Benizri, who has been endlessly interviewed about prison life and conditions and what advice he has to give to Olmert. One of the most important things for any prisoner, Benizri told Israel Radio on Sunday, is to temporarily forget his previous status and to learn to adjust to his new environment.
On the other hand, what is important to remember is that there is life after prison.
Deri is not the only convicted politician to return to the Knesset. Benizri chose not to and said that one can serve society in other ways, which he does by teaching and lecturing.
With regard to Olmert and in fact any prisoner who is not a security risk, Benizri objected to the fact that whenever they have reason to leave prison, be it for another court hearing or for a family funeral, they have to wear the orange prison uniform and their wrists and ankles are shackled. From Benizri’s perspective, this is an unjustified humiliation. When someone is attending his mother’s funeral, he’s not likely to try to escape, he said. And even if he is thinking about it, he is surrounded by prison guards who will stop him, so there is no reason why he should be shackled.
■ ANYONE WHO was watching television coverage of the catastrophic bus crash on Sunday evening could not help but notice the huge teams of ZAKA and United Hatzala volunteers who rushed to the site to extricate passengers from the bus and to administer medical treatment before the injured were taken to hospitals. The overwhelming majority of ZAKA and Hatzala volunteers are religiously observant and, in the case of ZAKA, most are haredi. Members of both organizations are on alert 24/7 and have received special dispensation from their rabbinical leaders to respond to emergency calls on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. The community service which they provide dispels the myth that haredim don’t serve the country or the cities in which they reside. In addition to being first responders, they also serve in many other capacities.
Ironically, ZAKA was founded following an even worse bus crash than that which took place on Sunday. In 1989, as a result of a terrorist attack, a No. 405 bus veered off the road and into a valley. Seventeen people were killed, and many more injured.
Students in a yeshiva located in an area overlooking the wreckage spontaneously rushed down to the valley to rescue the injured and to do what needed to be done for the dead in accordance with the Halacha. They were led by Yehuda Meshi Zahav, who had previously been responsible for organizing violent resistance to Sabbath violation in Jerusalem.
The experience with the passengers of the No. 405 bus was a turning point in his life, and he established ZAKA soon after.
ZAKA is a Hebrew acronym for disaster-victim identification. Today, it operates not only in Israel, but its search and rescue units go to disaster areas anywhere in the world to join other rescue teams. ZAKA now has more than 3,000 professionally trained volunteers all over the country, including Christians, Muslims, Druse and Beduin.
For some of the ZAKA volunteers, Sunday night’s tragedy did not end after the injured had been dispatched to hospitals and the dead had been identified.
ZAKA often takes over from police in breaking the news to bereaved families, especially in the case of haredi families. Shimi Grossman, 31, married and the father of four, is a veteran ZAKA volunteer and paramedic, a member of the ZAKA Rapid Rescue Motorcycle Unit in Jerusalem, and is also part of the ZAKA International Rescue Unit. He was asked to go to the yeshiva where the 19-year-old brother of one of the dead boys is a student. Grossman had to find the head of the yeshiva, tell him the story, and then together they had to gently get the message across to the 19-year-old that his younger brother was dead. Other ZAKA volunteers had similar heart-wrenching tasks with the families of other victims.
■ WE ARE living in an era of hardy nonagenarians.
Former US secretary of state George Shultz came from America to Israel for the sixth annual meeting of the International Advisory Council of the Israel Democracy Institute, in the course of which he also received an award presented to him by Netanyahu in appreciation of what Shultz contributed to Israel’s democratic principles and economic development. The presentation was made to the 95-year-old elder statesman at a gala dinner at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, where Shultz and Netanyahu also engaged in a tête-à-tête.
The meeting, on February 12-15, was dedicated to a discussion of the critical challenges facing Israeli democracy. Participants were not stuck in the hotel for the duration but also visited the Knesset, where they were hosted by Edelstein; Jerusalem City Hall, where Mayor Nir Barkat explained some of the complexities of Israel’s capital and some of the coexistence issues he hopes to resolve; the Har Etzion Yeshiva; the Gush Etzion Winery; and finally the President’s Residence, where they were hosted by Rivlin.
The list of participants reads like an international Who’s Who. In addition to Shultz, IAC member participants included Prof.
Gerhard Casper; Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella; justice Dorit Beinisch; Prof. Vernon Bogdanor; Prof. Ronald J. Daniels; justice Dalia Dorner; Prof. Moshe Halbertal; former US ambassador Dr. Martin Indyk; Dr.
Josef Joffe; Prof. Christoph Markschies; Prof. Robert H. Mnookin; former ambassador to the United Nations Prof. Gabriela Shalev; justice Meir Shamgar; Prof. Abraham D. Sofaer; and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bret Stephens, who is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.
IDI board member participants included Bernard Marcus; Amir Elstein; Aviad Friedman; Sallai Meridor; Avi Naor; Imad Telhami; Dr. Michal Tsur; and Prof. Zeev Tzahor.
Shultz has of course been to Israel many times and, like his predecessors and successors, spent most of his time in Jerusalem, even though America has yet to relocate its embassy to Israel’s capital. In February 1988, Shultz, then US secretary of state and eager to present his peace plan, arrived with a huge entourage for a four-day stay not at the King David but at what was then the Jerusalem Hilton and is today the Crowne Plaza. At that time Shultz and his party were greeted with peace symbols in the Hilton lobby. A huge white dove with a 5-meter wingspan and an olive branch in its beak, was suspended from the ceiling. Shultz kept returning and by December 1988, after a long round of shuttle diplomacy, he could chalk up a diplomatic dialogue with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which was continued by his successor when he left office in January 1989.
Shultz was apparently very well disposed to the Hilton hotel chain because when the David Citadel Hotel opened in 1998 in its original guise as the Jerusalem Hilton, he was at the gala official opening dinner, together with Eduard Shevardnadze, the president of Georgia, who had been Soviet foreign minister from 1985 to 1991.
■ ISRAEL’S OWN peripatetic and seemingly ageless nonagenarian Shimon Peres, 92, is off to South Africa at the end of the month, and will be quite busy after returning home.
On March 8, which is International Women’s Day, Peres will be hosting supermodel Naomi Campbell at the Peres Center for Peace. It will be her first visit to Israel, and the reason for it will be her participation in a conference on women advancing change.
The conference will highlight groundbreaking (or glass-ceiling breaking) achievements by Israeli women in various fields, including hi-tech, education, science, technology and society. Later in the month Peres will host a Purim party, and given the relatively large number of foreign dignitaries who are expected in Israel in the weeks ahead, he will be busy with some of them, too, as most visiting dignitaries ask to meet with him, as for instance visiting US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.
■ A DIPLOMATIC event that is bound to get a lot of media attention next week will be the presentation of credentials by Egyptian ambassador designate Hazem Khairat, who arrived in Israel several weeks ago. His appointment was announced in June last year, but no date was given at that time as to when he would take up his post. Prior to his arrival, there had been no Egyptian ambassador in Israel for more than three years.
■ THERE WERE a number of events to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the passing of Israel’s larger than life though small in stature songstress Shoshana Damari, whose impeccable diction and dramatic persona added vibrancy to every song she sang.
Reshet Gimmel had a special memorial happening in which singers, in tribute to Damari, sang their own versions of Damari’s greatest hits. As far as this columnist is concerned, the exercise was a travesty and an insult not only to Damari but to Moshe Wilenski, who composed most of the melodies for the songs she sang, as well as to other composers whose works were part of her repertoire. It was bad enough that arrangements were changed, but in several cases the melody was totally unrecognizable.
This kind of self-aggrandizement on someone else’s coattails is not new. Carlebach aficionados have been doing it for years, but not to the horrendous extent that it was done on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet and Reshet Gimmel.
■ AS FAR as Carlebach interpretations are concerned, at least one other singing rabbi who remains true to the master is Rabbi Aaron Adler of Jerusalem, who is the spiritual leader at Ohel Nechama in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood. Adler, who has been singing Carlebach songs since he was in fourth grade in the United States, sounds almost the same as Carlebach when the latter was in his 60s.
Adler provided the entertainment at the installation of Rabbi Raymond Apple as the president of the Israel Region of the Rabbinical Council of America. Collectively, the rabbis and their wives who gathered at the Jerusalem home of Rabbi Emanuel Quint and his wife, Rena, on Saturday night had given more than a thousand years of community service to congregations, Jewish schools and universities in the United States, Canada, England, Switzerland, Australia and points elsewhere. Most are now retired but continue to give lectures, teach and act as mentors in various institutions and organizations. The overall ambience was one of goodwill and camaraderie. Everyone who got up to speak said something complimentary about other people in the room. Apple succeeded rabbis Aaron Borow and Jay Karzen, and their wives, Rabbanit Pearl Borow and Rabbanit Ruby Karzen were praised for their roles during their husbands’ seven-year tenures.
Apple was installed by Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president of the RCA and the son-in-law of Rabbi Norman Lamm, the longtime president of Yeshiva University who served from 1976 to 2003, after which he served as chancellor of YU for 10 years.
Dratch described Lamm as a rabbi of principle, dignity and warmth with a tremendous gift for language and an ability to take halachic positions on controversial and noncontroversial issues. Lamm had made clear to his son-in-law that being an ordained Orthodox rabbi gives you authority to arbitrate on halachic issues, but it also forces you to take responsibility for what you arbitrate.
Lamm has sometimes changed his positions because the situation is different today from what it was yesterday, said Dratch. Rabbi Reuven Tradburks, RCA representative in Israel, said that Orthodox Judaism is going through a rocky period as scandals involving Orthodox rabbis become public knowledge.
Apple quipped that if an organization like the RCA can appoint an Australian as its president, then perhaps America can follow suit. He wasn’t proposing himself as a candidate, but if he were one, he said with a slightly less than subtle dig at Democrat contestant Bernie Sanders, he wouldn’t hide his Jewish identity or his Zionist ideology.
■ IN LATIN, the institute of higher education from which students graduate is known as alma mater, possibly because the university or its equivalent is the womb for the gestation of ideas. This is going to be the case with a new international program that was inaugurated last week at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in the presence of a large number of distinguished guests.
Under the title of IDC Beyond, the program’s aim, or rather its mission, is to cultivate entrepreneurship for the 21st century.
The program’s highlights were presented by IDC Herzliya president and founder Prof.
Uriel Reichman and Dr. Yossi Maaravi, academic director of IDC Beyond. The program is scheduled to begin his coming October.
Studies will focus on promoting start-ups that will have a global impact by addressing the challenges of the 21st century, such as global warming, energy and food shortages, revolutions in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence, and the growing threat of cyber terrorism. Forty applicants will be accepted annually for the yearlong program.
Twenty of the students will be Israeli and the other 20 will be international students from various parts of the globe. Students will work side by side with leading mentors from Israel and abroad, from the stage of formulating ideas for their ventures until such time as thought is translated into reality.
Among those attending the launch were Yoram Tietz, a managing partner at Ernst & Young Israel; Vered Fishbein; Chemi Peres, who is chairman of the Peres Center for Peace and a founding partner of Pitango, a highly successful venture capital enterprise; Dr. Nimrod Kozlovski, a partner at JVP Funds; Liat Mordechay Hertanu, a founding partner of 24me; Ofer Kotler, former CEO of Shikun and Binui Ltd.; and Ronen Sofer, director of the NDG Israel group, Intel.