Grapevine January 5, 2022: Corruption unmasked – but ignored

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 FOREIGN MINISTRY employees protest against their working conditions. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
FOREIGN MINISTRY employees protest against their working conditions.

One wonders how many Knesset members watch KAN 11 broadcasts in which investigative reporter Oren Aharoni travels around the country – mostly to peripheral areas – to uncover corruption on the part of mayors and council members.

His peregrinations, his often futile efforts to engage mayors in conversation, his conversations with opposition leaders and angry and frustrated residents, point to a kind of crooks’ paradise at municipal levels where laws are broken with impunity, and mayors rule the roost with the kind of iron fist that was common among the Mafia.

An example that Aharoni has come across more than once is the absolute rule of the mayor who will not tolerate opposition, to the extent that opposition leaders are kept out of city hall, are not able to attend meetings, and are not given the protocols of council meetings. They cannot get past the door even in the daytime when wanting to pay their own arnona bills.

In a recent episode, residents of a particular neighborhood had been complaining for years about the condition of the street on which they live and had been asking the municipality to pave it. Nothing happened until the mayor moved onto the street, and all of a sudden, in next to no time, the street was paved in accordance with the highest standards. The bill was, of course, paid through the courtesy of the public purse. The mayor contributed zilch.

Ordinarily, some Knesset members would have made a big production out of Aharoni’s findings. The police would have mounted an investigation, and the mayors in question would have either had to suspend themselves or resign. None of these things happened, because the police apparently don’t go after big fish in a small sea – only the big fish in a big sea.

 LATE FORMER MK Geula Cohen presents then prime minister Ariel Sharon with an illustrated poem book by Uri Zvi Greenberg in 2002.  (credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO) LATE FORMER MK Geula Cohen presents then prime minister Ariel Sharon with an illustrated poem book by Uri Zvi Greenberg in 2002. (credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)

■ ON THE subject of mayors in general, according to a report in Bonus, the financial supplement of the Jerusalem weekly Yediot Yerushalayim, the police have determined that the life of Mayor Moshe Lion is under threat.

It’s not the underworld, or a group of terrorists that is threatening him, but some angry members of the ultra-Orthodox community who are out to wreak vengeance on Lion because he will not respect the general opposition by members of their community to a light rail line going through the main sectors of their neighborhood and adjoining other ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, Lion has a reputation for ignoring the wishes of the residents of the capital. Determined to turn the holy city into the most modern and technologically sophisticated capital in the world, he has encouraged real estate developers to build ever higher towers for tens of thousands of anticipated additional residents, without much consideration for the wishes of existing residents, especially those living in neighborhoods with a special character, or those living in small, narrow streets. It matters not that proposed changes in construction and traffic regulations have met with the opposition of residents, who have sent angry letters to city hall and the Jerusalem District Planning Committee. Lion continues to do what he thinks is best for the city, even when one such letter comes from Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Robert Aumann.

Of course, there’s method to this madness. The addition of thousands of residential and commercial units will result in a huge city income increase in rates and taxes. Let’s not forget that, by profession, Lion is an accountant.

■ UNDER THE former administration, there were several clashes between the government and the employees of the Foreign Ministry over budget cuts, stealing of thunder and not giving credit where it was due.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Every major diplomatic success by the leader of any country is the end result of hours, days, months and sometimes years of grinding work by professional diplomats who get very little credit and even less pay for what they do. While prices of just about everything continue to rise, Foreign Ministry staff in Israel are experiencing salary cuts, minimal if any overtime pay, even though they are expected to be on call 24/7, less participation in the cost of educating their children abroad (though they are expected to send their children to Jewish schools, where fees are usually very high), and no real compensatory incentives for the risks to their lives.

In the early years the state, to be accepted for work in the Foreign Service was a kind of status symbol. Applicants were extremely patriotic and devoted to duty. Zionism was still a noble movement, and to be part of the Zionist enterprise was akin to laying the groundwork for the coming of the Messiah.

After all that had happened to Jews in the first half of the 20th century, Zionism was indeed the road to redemption, and the Foreign Service had a significant role in the Zionist enterprise. Its members were soldiers without uniforms, often taking on dangerous missions in which they risked not only their lives but those of their colleagues and their families.

Sometimes it’s risky just to help a fellow Israeli who has been imprisoned for doing something that is legal in Israel but illegal in the country that the Israeli is visiting, as happened in the recent case of lawyer Maya Rayten-Stol, who entered Belarus with 2.4 grams of medical cannabis for personal use, plus a permit for its use from the Israel Health Ministry. But medical cannabis is illegal in Belarus, and Rayten-Stol was arrested and imprisoned on a charge of drug smuggling.

Her release was eventually facilitated by President Isaac Herzog, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, who all called their opposite numbers in Belarus. Rayten-Stol was imprisoned for almost two months. During that period she was constantly visited by an Israeli consular representative, who also provided her with toiletries and clean clothes, but unfortunately was unable to provide her with painkillers.

The situation is even more complex when the Israeli diplomat is trying to help someone who knowingly engaged in a criminal activity, was caught, incarcerated, and faces 15 years and upward in jail.

All this is without reward, and most Israeli young men and women who want to see the world while simultaneously serving their country, now opt for professions in hi-tech rather than as government representatives.

That would explain why both the Foreign and Economy ministries have mounted intensive campaigns for cadets to join them and see the world. The texts make it seem as if these are glamour jobs – which to the outside world they are. But insiders know that, to a huge extent, they’re anything but glamorous.

■ ANOTHER SEEMINGLY glamorous profession, which is more hard work than glamour, is being a member of an airline cabin crew. Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli this week told the Labor faction in the Knesset that, together with the prime minister, she and her staff had succeeded in formulating an agreement between the Finance Ministry, El Al and Arkia whereby the jobs of dedicated workers who have no safety net to guarantee their continued employment will be protected. Michaeli said she would not rest until an agreement had been successfully negotiated on behalf of the employees of Israir.

■ AT THIS time of the year, social media platforms are flooded with requests for financial aid. Many of the organizations and institutions are genuine and do good work, but there are some that should be treated with suspicion.

Those of who us who are alert, as is KAN Reshet Bet health reporter Dikla Aharon Shafran, will have noticed that certain organizations that purport to be dedicated to children with life-threatening illnesses keep featuring the same child long after the child has recovered or, Heaven forbid, has died.

This week she cited the case of a child who had genuinely been a cancer patient, but had recovered. The child is precociously endearing, with sufficient personality to tug at the heartstrings and was used by the organization helping her family to raise money for her treatment by featuring her in a personalized fundraising campaign that specified a goal of tens of thousands of shekels. The child has since recovered, but the campaign is still active, and Aharon Shafran wants to know why, and where the money is going.

Many people who want to help the sick, be they children or adults, are hesitant about contributing to such campaigns, because they don’t know whether their money will be directed toward the treatment of the patient or toward the inflated salary of someone whose title is director of external relations. While the highest level of charity is simply to give without asking questions, charitable people don’t want their donations to go to waste. There’s an old Jewish maxim, Respect but suspect – which certainly applies to Internet campaigns for funds. It’s not that difficult to find out whether the person featured in the campaign is genuinely ill or whether it’s a model who has been paid to play the role of a patient, or whether it’s someone who has recovered and is no longer in financial need.

What is really needed is an ongoing fund, to be administered by the Health Ministry, for the purchase of medications that are not in the health basket. Every now again, the Hebrew media feature stories of critically ill people who could be restored to health by a certain very expensive medication that is not in the health basket. Perhaps an ongoing campaign for such medications could be entrusted to the Health Ministry so that these expensive medications can be acquired when needed, and can save lives.

The fund could be kicked off by what is done in Greece to collect funds from people who do not obey the restrictions imposed in relation to COVID-19. Grecophile Yaron Enosh, who tells listeners to his weekly radio program about what he encounters on his frequent trips to Greece, says that fines imposed on Greek citizens are automatically added to their electricity bills. If they don’t pay the bill, their electricity is cut off. Enosh concedes that the system is not exactly democratic, but it works. If this were introduced in Israel, it would certainly give a great boost to a fund for medications not in the health basket.

■ ALTHOUGH SHE lives in America, the heart of Miriam Adelson remains firmly rooted in Israel, where she and her late husband, Sheldon Adelson, supported several educational and medical causes, and in most cases provided more funding than any other donor. They were the biggest-ever donors to Yad Vashem, which Miriam Adelson continues to support, along with mega donations to other institutions and organizations.

To mark the first anniversary of the death of Sheldon Adelson, she and her family are honoring his pledge to give $40 million to the Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv for the establishment of the Adelson National Center for Advanced Cancer Therapy, which will include Israel’s first proton therapy institute. There will also be clinics for outpatients and special units for inpatients, in addition to the oncology research institute.

However, Wednesday, January 5, will mark the official launch of the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Educational Leadership Academy at Yad Vashem, where it is anticipated that several prominent figures will attend to honor the memory of Sheldon Adelson, who died almost exactly a year ago. The actual Hebrew calendar date of the anniversary of his passing was last Friday, and the date according to the Gregorian calendar is January 11. Yad Vashem decision-makers thought it appropriate to hold the ceremony between the two dates, even though the academy has actually been functioning for some time.

Now that there are few Holocaust survivors left to present first-person accounts of what they endured, Holocaust education becomes all the more important, especially as surveys indicate serious deficiencies of basic awareness and knowledge of the Holocaust among individuals and groups around the globe. This ignorance of an extremely dark chapter in human history comes at a time when antisemitism is on the rise and the Holocaust is being downplayed, distorted and even trivialized.

There are physical and verbal attacks against Jews. Nazi symbols are being used in demonstrations against Jews. Synagogues and Jewish community buildings are being attacked and defaced, and many incidents are reminiscent of 1930s Germany and Austria.

As the number of Holocaust survivors continues to dwindle, and the passing of time blurs the horrors of the Holocaust, there is a clear and urgent need for intensive Holocaust education and remembrance activities worldwide.

Because the anniversary of Sheldon Adelson’s death is just over two weeks away from International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the powers-that-be at Yad Vashem considered this to be an appropriate time for the launch of the academy. Among the goals of the academy is the spearheading of efforts to enhance effective, accurate and meaningful global Holocaust education programs creating more intensive initiatives, in the classroom, lecture halls and cyber world, in order to perpetuate the relevance of the Holocaust not only to the youth of today, but also to future generations.

The Adelson Educational Leadership Academy will focus much of its activities and programing, both at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and online, on widening the scope of Yad Vashem seminar graduates, who will become ambassadors of Holocaust education around the world.

The academy will also forge closer and more productive networking between the most effective of these graduates with enrichment activities that will aid their efforts toward broadening the horizons of educators, diplomats, opinion-shapers, clergy and civic leaders, as well as senior staff in the military and security forces.

The academy will also reach out to official visitors to the Mount of Remembrance, in order to foster new international partnerships and cooperative agreements.

“The way to fight rising antisemitism is through consistent and comprehensive activity to expand knowledge about the Holocaust and its causes among various circles, including potential leaders,” said Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan. “The establishment of the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Educational Leadership Academy will reach many circles as well as the next generation of leaders in a variety of areas of life, and enable them to know the historical truth about the Holocaust, Dayan continued, adding that this is vital in the fight against ignorance and misconceptions.

■ “WHEN HE was still the chairman of the Jewish Agency, I told President Isaac Herzog that I would make sure that he would receive the new volumes, 20 and 21, of the writings of poet Uri Zvi Greenberg that are published by the World Zionist Organization’s Bialik Institute,” said Gusti Yehoshua Braverman, chairwoman of the World Zionist Organization’s Department of Irgun and Israelis Abroad, after proudly fulfilling her promise last week.

This was the closing of a circle in more ways than one. Yehoshua Braverman was accompanied by the poet’s 95-year-old widow, Aliza Greenberg, who told the president that exactly 30 years earlier she had given the first volumes of the series to his father, president Chaim Herzog. The current President Herzog, who happens to be a voracious reader, showed astonishing familiarity with Greenberg’s writings and the story of his life.

Yehoshua Braverman came not only with the books, but also with a replica of the pin that was worn by delegates at the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897. The Zionist movement will this year celebrate its 125th anniversary, with major events being planned in Basel and Jerusalem.

Yehoshua Braverman said that she had given the replica of the pin to Herzog because, as president of the State of Israel, “he is the No. 1 Zionist.”

■ ONE OF the greatest admirers and promoters of the works of Uri Zvi Greenberg was the late Geula Cohen, the firebrand mother of Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi. Cohen, who died two years ago, exactly a week before her 94th birthday, established Beit Uri Zvi Greenberg in 1999 on the capital’s centrally located Jaffa Road.

The facility is a cultural and educational center dedicated to Greenberg’s legacy, but also functions as an inspirational meeting place for writers of all ages, while simultaneously promoting the spirit of Zionism.

One of the things that Cohen liked to do was to have public readings of Greenberg’s poetry, with well-known figures reading his poems. She organized these events not only in Beit Uri Zvi Greenberg, but also in Jerusalem City Hall and in the Knesset. Although they were politically as far removed from each other as possible, she even persuaded former MK Azmi Bishara to be one of the readers.

A brilliant intellectual, Bashara lost his parliamentary immunity while under investigation of allegations of espionage and treason. Convinced that he would never receive a fair trial in Israel, Bashara fled the country, and has for several years been living in Doha in Qatar, where he is the director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies. He is also an adviser to Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

■ AMERICA, LIKE Israel, is a country of immigrants, and many staples in the American diet, such as french fries, hot dogs, hamburgers, spaghetti, bagels and even apple pie, were imported by immigrants. “As American as apple pie” became a catchphrase, but in truth, variations of apple pie can be found in many countries, including Israel.

In fact, when president George W. Bush twice visited Israel in 2008, he and his wife, Laura, were the guests of president Shimon Peres and were served apple pie. Laura Bush was so enamored with this particular version of apple pie that after the presidential couple returned to the US, a request was made to the Foreign Ministry for a copy of the recipe.

In Israel, as in every country, new presidents usually surround themselves with people with whom they have worked during other phases of their careers. However, household staff, as distinct from administrative staff, often continue from one president to the next. Matana Marian, the head housekeeper at the President’s Residence, retired this week after having prepared meals for presidents Chaim Herzog, Ezer Weizman, Moshe Katsav, Shimon Peres, Reuven Rivlin and Isaac Herzog.

Soon after Chaim Herzog became president in 1983, he and his wife, Aura, had to temporarily vacate the residence, which was undergoing repairs, and they spent a month in a guesthouse where Marian had been assigned to care for their needs. They were so impressed with her that they asked her to join the president’s household staff. She initially refused because it entailed being on duty on Shabbat. Two years later, the Herzogs again tried to persuade her, but she was pregnant at the time, and finally took up their offer in 1988.

Despite going through several stages of renovations and repairs over the years, the President’s Residence has never had an industrial kitchen, and state dinners are prepared by outside caterers, who set up mobile kitchens in part of the enclosed patio adjacent to the main reception hall.

However, when there are smaller, intimate dinners, Marian has either prepared the whole meal or one or two of the courses, and she has prepared private meals for successive presidents and their families, learning their culinary likes and dislikes along the way. When there were small, intimate dinners with well-known local and international personalities, she also got to meet many of them when serving the meal. In a sense she symbolizes the end of an era.

■ GENEALOGY EXPERT Daniel Horowitz, who works for Or Yehuda-based My Heritage, which was founded 18 years ago, reports that its groundbreaking feature Deep Nostalgia, which animates faces in still photos, went viral within a few days of its release, with literally millions of animations.

Digging for family roots has become an increasingly popular project around the world, and many families who know that they are distantly related to someone but don’t know how, rely on firms such as My Heritage to help them unravel the mystery through access to family histories from several countries.

My Heritage has done so well in reuniting families through its DNA testing and its extensive records that it was recently acquired by Francisco Partners, a leading global investment firm that is interested in expanding and improving ways and means of researching family histories.

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