Grapevine December 24, 2021: A matter of timing

Movers and shakers in Israeli society

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG, flanked by Yediot Publishing CEO Dov Eichenwald (left) and brother and Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG, flanked by Yediot Publishing CEO Dov Eichenwald (left) and brother and Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Planned timing is a valuable asset. Israel’s Ambassador to the US Michael Herzog, arrived in Israel presumably to sit in on the meetings that US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had with Israel’s leadership. The first of these meetings actually took place at 10 p.m. at the President’s Residence on Tuesday night and included US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, representatives of the US National Security Council and representatives of Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The key topic of conversation was understandably Iran. 

In fact, Iran dominated the conversation with almost everyone whom the American dignitaries met.

But Herzog had more personal reasons for being in Israel at this time. One was his mother’s 93rd birthday on December 24, and another was the launch of the book about his father Jewish Warrior, Chaim Herzog – Soldier and Commander. The launch was held at the Israel Intelligence, Heritage and Commemoration Museum.

Part of the book had been written by Mike Herzog, and edited by Shlomi Heski, but the bulk of the volume was a comprehensive historical research into authentic documents. This material was edited by veteran journalist Shlomo Nakdimon.

 FROM LEFT: US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, President Isaac Herzog and Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog. (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO) FROM LEFT: US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, President Isaac Herzog and Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog. (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog who frequently refers to his father’s achievements, noted that he had been one of more than 1.5 million Jews who had fought against the Nazis, and was among the first of the allied troops to reach Nuremberg and to cross the Rhine. He also participated in the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, where he stood on a box and addressed the inmates in Yiddish telling them that he was a Jewish officer from the land of Israel in the British army.

The president said that when he meets survivors of Bergen-Belsen, they tell him of that moment plus the fact that until his father spoke, their impression was that he was a Nazi in disguise.

Forty years later, said Herzog, his father, as Israel’s sixth president, made the first state visit to Germany by a president of the State of Israel and insisted on going to Bergen-Belsen, where he recalled what had happened there on the day of liberation, and made the point that he had returned as the president of the sovereign Jewish State of Israel.

■ THE SPARKLING Christmas decorations in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s old city, belie the tensions that exist in the area. Attacks by Palestinians against Jews are publicized in the media, but those against Christians are largely overlooked. Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant priests, whether in cassocks or dog collars, and nuns in habits, are no less vulnerable by virtue of their attire and the visible crucifixes around their necks than are ultra-Orthodox Jews, who are recognized by their attire. Earlier this month, the Patriarchs and heads of Churches in Jerusalem issued a statement in which they decried the current threat to the Christian presence in the Holy Land. “Christians have become the targets of fringe and radical groups,” they wrote.

The statement acknowledges the commitment by successive Israel governments to uphold a safe and secure home for Christians in the Holy Land and to preserve the Christian community as an integral part of the religious and demographic tapestry of the country, but contends that politicians and law enforcement agents have done little to curb the activities of radical elements who regularly intimidate Christians.

Some of these radical elements also intimidate Palestinians, physically attacking them and their property. Media reports of such actions are often countered by Jewish readers or listeners, who contend that the Palestinians are out to kill Jews. This does not justify assaulting innocent people. Violence is violence is violence and murder is murder is murder. Not all Palestinians, are terrorists and most likely Christian Palestinians are far removed from terrorism.

Not only radical Jews are attacking Christians. Muslim extremists in Bethlehem and Ramallah are vandalizing churches and desecrating holy objects.

Greek Patriarch Theophilos III, at the annual Christmas reception hosted by past presidents of Israel for Church and lay leaders of Christian communities unfailingly referred to the tribulations experienced by Christians in the Holy Land, but says that the current situation is worse than it has ever been.

It would be bad enough if reports of verbal and physical assaults against Christians remained within the confines of the Holy Land, but the statement that was released went out to the Christian world, and the issue has been taken up by the Vatican and by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, as well as other prominent heads of churches.

According to a recent report by the University of Birmingham, Christian pilgrims in the pre-COVID era contributed some $3 billion per year to Israel’s economy. As much as they want to be in the Holy Land at least once in their lives, statements such as the one referred to above will be a deterrent, and Israel will lose out, not only in goodwill, but in substantial profits.

Israel prides itself on being the cradle of the three monotheistic faiths, and boasts about freedom of worship. But freedom in fear is not freedom. Christians must be free to walk the streets of Jerusalem and, of course in Israel in general, and to worship in accordance with their beliefs without fear that they, or their churches, will be violated.

There should be no reason for Fr. Francesco Patton, the Catholic Church’s custos of the Holy Land and guardian of the Christian holy places to write as he did in Britain’s Daily Telegraph: “our presence is precarious and our future is at risk.”

A pre-Christmas media release by the Central Bureau of Statistics indicates that there are approximately 182,000 Christians in Israel, representing a 1.9% increase over the previous year. Some 76.7% of Israel’s Christian population are Arabs, who comprise 7% of the total Arab community.

■ ONCE THE skies are opened again, it is anticipated that the Peres siblings – Chemi, Tsvia and Yoni – will travel to New York for the inauguration of Peres Place, to be named in memory of their late father Shimon Peres. Shimon Peres was Israel’s ninth president and had also served as prime minister and in various ministerial positions, as well as Israel’s longest serving legislator. Designated to be located at the West 95th Street and Riverside Drive intersection on the Upper West Side, the site is believed to be where Peres lived in an apartment in 1949, with his wife Sonia and their daughter while studying at New York University and the New School.

Peres will be the second former prime minister of Israel to be honored in perpetuity in the Big Apple. The first was Golda Meir, whose American accent continued to lace her Hebrew till her dying day, and therefore it was no surprise that New York City saw fit in 1984 to name Golda Meir Square near Broadway and 39th Street.

■ ON SUNDAY, December 26, former Shas leader Eli Yishai will celebrate his 59th birthday, and the best present he received was the fact that Shas chairman Arye Deri, who he replaced when the later went to prison, has to leave the Knesset as part of a deal that will enable him to avoid going to prison for a second time. Yishai started his political career with Deri in 1988 working as his aide. In 1992, after failing to win a Knesset seat, he was appointed secretary-general of Shas and four years later was elected to the Knesset, holding several ministerial positions over the years. In 2000, following Deri’s conviction on charges of accepting bribes, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who was the spiritual leader of Shas, appointed Yishai in Deri’s place, but told Deri that when he was permitted to again stand for election, he would resume as leader of Shas. When this happened in 2013, it caused a rift in the party, and in May of that year, following Deri’s political comeback, Yishai was ousted by Rabbi Yosef who had always treated Deri as a favored son. Yishai bore the humiliation for about a year, then left Shas, and, in December 2014, formed Yachad which failed to get sufficient votes in the 2015 elections to facilitate Yishai’s reentry to the Knesset. Whether Yishai will now try for a comeback remains to be seen. But meanwhile, on his birthday, he can enjoy the fact that Deri is out – at least temporarily.

Even though he will quit the Knesset, Deri will remain Shas chairman. Shas won a record of 17 seats in the 1999 elections then veered between 11 and 12 seats in the next four elections after which its results were reduced to single digit. Shas was considerably weakened by the death of Ovadia Yosef, which means that Deri will not be chairman indefinitely.

■ JOURNALISTS, DIPLOMATS and leading figures in public relations missed out on the traditional pre-civil New Year’s party hosted by the Government Press Office. The event had been scheduled for last Sunday at the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, where many of the invitees had never been before. The prime minister is always the guest of honor at this event, and in the past made a brief speech and then answered questions from people in the auditorium. The event was always packed to capacity. It was an opportunity to socialize, eat good food and catch up with old friends, but, most importantly, to hear former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in person, instead of watching him on a television screen. This year, the invitations were repeated a couple of times, possibly because there was less enthusiasm about listening to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. A few days prior to the event, people who had registered, and whose registration had been approved, were notified with instructions on what to bring with them, such as a Green Pass, mask, ID or passport and in the case of journalists, their GPO press cards.

On Saturday night, the GPO sent out an apology, explaining that due to growing concerns over a potential new COVID wave in Israel, Bennett had decided to cancel the event.

The program had included singer Marina Maximilian Blumin, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, Energy Minister Karin Elharrar – who would not have experienced the frustrations she suffered in Glasgow because the Museum of Tolerance has a ramp and wide entrance doors – GPO Director Nitzan Chen and of course Bennett. Presumably some compensation had to be paid to the caterers and the singer – and young waiters and waitresses who had hoped to earn a few shekels that evening went without. Bennett would not have had to make contact with any member of the audience. He could have simply entered, given his speech and left.

[email protected]