Grapevine January 19, 2022: Change of image

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 UAE JEWISH community leader Rabbi Levi Duchman (right) and Israeli Consul-General in Dubai Ilan Sztulman with children of the Jewish community on Tu Bishvat. (photo credit: JEWISH UAE)
UAE JEWISH community leader Rabbi Levi Duchman (right) and Israeli Consul-General in Dubai Ilan Sztulman with children of the Jewish community on Tu Bishvat.
(photo credit: JEWISH UAE)

It’s no secret that many public figures behave much differently in private than their public image would suggest. For that matter, most of us behave somewhat differently in private than we do in public. But when a public figure cultivates a lovable image, we tend to be shocked when it comes to light that the public figure is far from the person that we thought him or her to be.

A case in point is Israel’s 10th president, Reuven Rivlin, a beloved hail-fellow-well-met avuncular personality, who, according to a Channel 12 television report last Saturday by Yossi Mizrachi, instilled fear in his staff, humiliated them, yelled and swore at them, threw objects at them, and frequently reduced female staff to tears.

As someone who closely covered the activities of President Rivlin during his seven years in office, the writer of this column can point to a few faults in his character, but nothing so damning as what was revealed by Mizrachi in his investigative report in which he claimed to have spoken to 10 staff members in the President’s Residence, most of whom had worked there during the whole of Rivlin’s tenure, and some of whom were still there.

During that period, they all helped to maintain Rivlin’s public image and did not share their grievances about his short fuse with the media. No one could have guessed the state of labor relations. Similarly, few visitors to the President’s Residence could know what a huge staff worked there, because only some eight or 10 could be seen at public events, and it was invariably the same eight or 10 people. The others worked in rabbit warrens throughout the building, including underground, and no outsider would be aware of their existence.

Rivlin, the champion of democracy, whose frequent comment to almost every audience was: “There is no conflict between a democratic and Jewish state and a Jewish and democratic state,” was also a champion of inclusiveness and integration of the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities into the workforce in general and hi-tech in particular. He comforted the families of fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism, and he frequently traveled abroad on diplomatic missions for the state.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG as a baby in the arms of his mother Aura. (credit: HERZOG FAMILY) PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG as a baby in the arms of his mother Aura. (credit: HERZOG FAMILY)

It was difficult to believe the examples given of his allegedly erratic behavior, except for one thing. Several weeks after Isaac Herzog took office as president, several of the employees who had remained at the President’s Residence said that it was now a much happier place in which to work.

■ WITH REGARD to President Herzog, he is now back in Jerusalem, after spending the week of mourning at the home of his late mother, Aura, in Herzliya Pituah, where literally hundreds of people came to express their condolences to him, his brothers, Yoel and Michael, and their sister, Ronit.

Although Herzog and his wife, Michal, have a home in Tel Aviv’s Tzahala neighborhood, they are spending the period of his tenure in Jerusalem, because as No. 1 citizen, it is his duty to live in the capital.

It is also the duty of the prime minister to live in the capital, especially if part of his message, not only to world Jewry but to the world at large, is that Jerusalem is central to the tradition of the Jewish people. But how can he be considered sincere, if he chooses not to live in Jerusalem himself?

While the excuse that he did not want to disrupt the lives of his children by moving to Jerusalem for the relatively short period in which he will be in office is plausible, it should be remembered that diplomats who go abroad for two to four years take their children with them, and it doesn’t seem to do them any harm.

When Herzog’s father was Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, he took his younger children with him, and Herzog was enrolled at the Ramaz School – a factor that obviously had no negative effect on his character or his career.

■ IN THE latest developments in the Benjamin Netanyahu legal saga and its accompanying speculations, the question has again popped up with increasing frequency as to whether Herzog will pardon the former prime minister and present leader of the opposition. The question was already asked when Herzog was still a candidate for the presidency, and now is being asked again as politically minded journalists are playing out every possible scenario in their interviews with Likud MKs.

The question becomes more pertinent as doubts arise as to whether Netanyahu can receive a fair trial. Judges are only human, and inasmuch as their rulings are supposed to be based purely on evidence, it is difficult to believe that years of allegations against Netanyahu coupled with the huge volume of reports and analyses which these allegations received before Netanyahu was indicted would not in any way influence the conclusions of the court.

 THE FREIGHTER 'Yafo' being built in 1955 for the Israeli shipping company ZIM in the German shipyards in Hamburg under the reparations agreement between Germany and Israel. (credit: GPO) THE FREIGHTER 'Yafo' being built in 1955 for the Israeli shipping company ZIM in the German shipyards in Hamburg under the reparations agreement between Germany and Israel. (credit: GPO)

After all, judges do not live in an ivory tower. They read newspapers, listen to radio and watch television. Much of the media is ill-disposed toward Netanyahu, and some of the vitriol crosses every journalistic redline.

In some of the interviews, it would also seem that journalists are trying to create a rift in the Likud and general disillusionment with Netanyahu. However, the former prime minister, who for the time being is still the leader of the Likud, continues to have several loyal foot soldiers, among them Miki Zohar and Shlomo Karhi.

Interviewed this week on KAN Reshet Bet radio by Yaakov Eichler, Zohar declined to say anything against Netanyahu, nor would he play Eichler’s guessing game as to what Netanyahu will do next, why he has taken the recent decisions which the media attribute to him, and whom Zohar will support if Netanyahu steps down from the Likud leadership. Although the questions were provocative and Eichler kept trying to put words into his mouth, Zohar kept his cool and, other than making it clear that he still regards Netanyahu as a great leader, was noncommittal in all his answers.

Karhi – when interviewed on the same station the following morning by Aryeh Golan, who has a somewhat more forceful manner than Eichler, whose style is more in the nature of catching flies with honey – likewise refused to say anything negative about Netanyahu, but, rather than be noncommittal, came out strongly in Netanyahu’s defense.

But when it all boils down, no one really knows what the end result will be, and even people well versed in the law may not be aware of legal loopholes which are still at Netanyahu’s disposal. However, the new developments in his case and his political career do provide a diversion from the overabundance of news about COVID-19, its variants and their effects.

■ IN-HOUSE HISTORIAN at Haaretz Ofer Aderet often comes up with very interesting historical background to a variety of stories about the people whom he writes about. Last Friday, he wrote an obituary for veteran journalist, Jerusalem-born Yehuda Litani, who was among the first journalists to write about the injustices being done to Palestinians.

Although he spent much of his working life with Haaretz, Litani also worked for a number of other media outlets, including The Jerusalem Post, where he worked for four-and-a-half years as the Middle East editor.

Although Aderet listed some of the other places where Litani had worked, he omitted the Post, which was a rather serious sin of omission in that Litani was not a native English-speaker, and at the time, the Post was Israel’s only English-language newspaper. The various English-language digital news services that exist today did not exist then, so it can safely be said that Litani gained vast experience in reporting in English during his stint at the Post.

■ DIGITAL MEDIA has also made outreach much easier for organizations seeking to raise more funds for the work they do. But it’s very annoying for Israelis who receive requests from such organizations to see them portray Israel untruthfully.

For some years now, Israel has had a healthy economy and is no longer a nebbishy state in need of charity. It is, of course, appreciated when mega donations are made to hospitals, universities and cultural centers, but in general, there is no reason for private overseas donors to support the IDF or nonexistent orphanages.

On January 18, 1994, Yossi Beilin, who was then deputy foreign minister, raised the ire of World WIZO delegates when he addressed their conference in Tel Aviv and told them that Israel has a strong economy and does not need Diaspora charity. “Use your money for your own community needs,” he told them. He was subsequently reprimanded by then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and sharply criticized by WIZO’s leadership.

But the truth is that then, as now, Diaspora Zionism is largely checkbook Zionism rather than ideological Zionism. Once the raison d’être for giving money to Israel disappears, the cracks in the relationship between Diaspora Jews and Israel will become ever wider.

Let’s be honest, there’s a Jewish syndrome about having a chair at the table. Once certain so-called needs are no longer present, there is no reason for the continued existence of the support organization, which means bye-bye to the president, the chairman, the executive board, and the heads of committees, who will all lose their place at the table, because the table itself will cease to exist. In Yiddish, the chair at the table is known as a benkel. To be deprived of that benkel can be an extremely traumatic experience.

■ WITH INTERNATIONAL Holocaust Remembrance Day coming up next week, David Sela, chairman of the Council for Promoting Israeli Heritage and editor of the Online Nostalgia website, has come up with a reminder of the fierce opposition that there was in Israel to accepting any form of compensation from Germany.

At 4 p.m. on January 7, 1952, MK Menachem Begin (who lost close family in the Holocaust) led a mass protest demonstration in Zion Square, after which the protesters marched to the Knesset, whose members were scheduled to vote on January 9 on the government’s proposal that Israel should enter into negotiations with Germany in order to receive monetary reparations.

The atmosphere in Jerusalem was tense. Would the Knesset accept or reject the government’s proposal? At that time, Israel was in need of funding to settle the Jewish refugees and displaced persons who came in droves to the country. Most came with not much more than the clothes they were wearing. Those who were Holocaust survivors had lost nearly all their possessions during the war.

All the streets around the Knesset building, which was then in the heart of town, on the capital’s King George Avenue, were barricaded, and traffic was not permitted to pass. Police had sealed off the area with barbed wire. In addition, soldiers were deployed at the entrance to the city to stop busloads of workers, rounded up by their trade unions, from stampeding into the city in order to “defend the interests of the state.” No one other than MKs and residents was allowed in or out of the area surrounding the Knesset building, nor were people permitted to gather in groups of more than three individuals. Other than business enterprises dealing in food, all shops and factory plants in the area were closed, and police patrolled the surrounding streets nonstop.

Demonstrators threw stones at the Knesset windows and tore down police barricades, brawling with police in the process. Approximately 100 policemen were injured.

In the final analysis, the Knesset voted in favor of negotiating with Germany, and Begin was suspended from entering the Knesset for three months.

Had the Knesset voted differently, it’s doubtful whether Israel would have been able to progress to the extent that it has, and whatever progress it would have made would have been much slower.

■ DUE TO the latest pandemic developments, many events have been canceled, postponed or relegated from in-person to social media. This includes the 34th annual ceremony for the Raoul Wallenberg Prize in Human Rights and Holocaust Studies, donated by the Swedish Friends of Tel Aviv University.

The ceremony, scheduled for Wednesday, January 19, at 11 a.m. (Israel time), will be held via Zoom and can be accessed at https://tau-ac-il.zoom.us/j/83149562672.

Prof. Raanan Rein, head of TAU’s S. Daniel Abraham Center for International and Regional Studies, will deliver opening remarks, and there will also be greetings by Swedish Ambassador Erik Ullenhag and Prof. Irwin Cotler, head of the Raoul Wallenberg Human Rights Center.

The event will be chaired by Prof. Dina Porat, the founding head of TAU’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, and prizes will be awarded to Pessia Farsi, PhD candidate in the department of Jewish history, and Omri Elmaleh, PhD candidate, the Zvi Yavetz School of Historical Studies.

■ IN CONTRAST to the expression “vote with your feet,” Rabbi Baruch Plaskow is using his feet to raise money for the hospital. The rabbi is a runner who, on Friday, February 4, will be running a half marathon at the Dead Sea, and is looking for sponsors. The run is approximately 28 kilometers, and Plaskow is looking for people to sponsor each kilometer in the hope of creating greater involvement with Laniado. Money pledged will be used for additional beds and equipment in Laniado’s new intensive care unit. Donations by check or credit card will be accepted and can be pledged by email to [email protected] or phoned in to the Laniado office at (09) 860-4785 or Sue Levy, 054-581-5125.

■ A PROVOCATIVE headline, “Where are the Jews?” appeared in an issue of Rolling Stone last week. The headline related to a story by Tatiana Siegel about Hollywood’s Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which opened with a gala splash on September 25, yet somehow ignored the Jewish pioneers of the industry.

It was a double slap in the face because many of the donors to the $484 million project are also Jewish, and, strangely, so are many of the senior museum officials, who wanted the museum to reflect diversity and inclusiveness, although inclusiveness took a long time coming to Hollywood.

Thus, there are exhibits honoring black, Asian and Hispanic producers, directors, actors, screenwriters and composers, but Jews have largely been left out in the cold. The construction of the museum took some 16 years, and its initial purpose was to present the history of America’s film industry, which was largely developed in Hollywood.

Located on the legendary Wilshire Boulevard, the museum at its opening four months ago attracted a star-studded guest list, though as Siegel wrote: “eyebrows were raised by the fact that the A-list revelers mingled mask-less inside the 33,000-square-foot space on Wilshire Boulevard at a time when celebrities were publicly chastising those who ignored COVID precautions.”

She went on to note that “a much bigger controversy was brewing. Donors and influential Academy members, many of whom already had received private tours, were outraged that Hollywood’s origin story – wherein a group of mostly Jewish émigrés fled persecution in their home countries to create what would become a multibillion-dollar, American-led industry – was conspicuously absent.”

A similar complaint was published in The Forward by prizewinning journalist Sharon Rosen Leib, who had more reason for being angry over the omission.

“I’m sensitive to this because Hollywood history is my family’s history,” she wrote. “My great-grandfather Sol M. Wurtzel came to Hollywood in 1917 to run Fox Studio for his boss William Fox. Sol worked at the studio until 1950, frequently putting in 60-hour weeks and producing 700 movies along the way. He joined the Motion Picture Academy at its inception in 1927.”

Rosen Leib also listed some of the pioneers of the industry whom she referred to as “Hollywood’s founding moguls.” They included “Sol’s tyrannical boss William Fox, Adolph Zukor (Paramount), Harry and Jack Warner (Warner Bros.), Carl Laemmle (Universal), Sam Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer (MGM) and Harry Cohn (Columbia) – all Jewish. They achieved global reach by creating celluloid dream factories whose moving pictures rapidly became America’s most influential cultural export.

“But at the museum, they are ghosts. Their presence hangs over the halls – there would literally be no museum, no industry, without them. But the museum’s current installations devote meaningful space only to mogul Louis B. Mayer as the prime mover in founding the Academy and the villainous executive who tormented Judy Garland.

“If these long-dead Jewish moguls could speak, I imagine they’d say, ‘What are we, chopped liver?’”

Rosen Leib also reminds readers that Jews suffered discrimination and were excluded from American society until they made big money. Some of the major on-screen names in the early years of Hollywood included Al Jolson, Fanny Brice, George Burns, Eddie Cantor, Leslie Howard, Groucho Marx, Paul Muni, Molly Picon, Hedy Lamarr, Edward G. Robinson – all Jewish and barely the tip of the iceberg. Even today, very little comes out of Hollywood without Jewish names among the credits – and these days they don’t have to anglicize them in order to disguise their religious identities.

Getting back to Rosen Leib, she makes the point: “If the aim is inclusivity, then the Academy Museum’s exclusion of its Jewish forbearers strikes me as, at least, ironic. The marginalization of Jews in early 20th-century America led directly to Hollywood’s creation. Why not celebrate and acknowledge this from day one?

“These mainly Eastern European Jewish immigrants, most of whom, like my great-grandfather Sol, grew up dirt poor without the benefit of higher education, were considered uncouth, scrappy Hebes (and worse) by the antisemitic WASP establishment. ‘Good’ Christian society marginalized and vilified them – only taking notice when the Jews’ déclassé industry started making big bucks.”

■ THE JEWISH community of the UAE combined the celebration of the first anniversary of its Jewish Educational Campus with Tu Bishvat and held a festive tree-planting event with Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund. Some 100 children from the local Jewish community are educated at the campus, which is the only Jewish educational facility in the UAE.

The dual celebration was attended by senior officials from Israel and the UAE, KKL-JNF and the leader of the Jewish community, UAE Rabbi Levi Duchman, in the presence of Israel’s Consul-General in Dubai Ilan Sztulman.

KKL-JNF managing director of the Israeli Pavilion at Expo 2020 Naveh Shachar said: “We are excited to plant a tree within the Jewish Educational Campus in the UAE, for future generations. KKL-JNF promotes cooperation with the UAE government, striving for environmental development and fighting climate change. This event symbolizes these excellent relations, and we trust that we will continue this cooperation for our mutual benefit.

Duchman said that marking the first anniversary of the campus together with KKL-JNF is “a symbol to our commitment and rooted connection to our growing community here. We have thankfully received a warm and special welcome from Emirati leadership, which much supports our community, and we are grateful for this important support, as we continue to work in order to enable every Jew living, visiting and working in the UAE to lead a full Jewish life.”

Since 2014, the growing Jewish community in the UAE has enjoyed various Jewish institutions and community services established by Duchman through the local organization Jewish UAE, which he founded for this purpose. The local Jewish community and the many Jewish visitors are free to lead a Jewish life in the UAE. Facilities include synagogues in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the unique Jewish Education Campus, which includes a kindergarten, a Hebrew school and a youth club serving children aged one to 16, the organization’s government-certified kashrut, business networking and relocation services, all in a remarkable collaboration with the Emirati leadership.

KKL-JNF is a key partner in the Israeli Pavilion at the Dubai Expo 2020, in which it presents a variety of content and activities related to the connection between Israel and the UAE in the areas of climate crisis management and technological solutions that KKL-JNF develops for sustainable planning, forestation, environment and water.

■ DOING THE rounds of social media in Australia is an advertisement by MasterCard featuring an image of Serbian tennis champion Novak Djokovic, who was expelled from the island continent because he was not vaccinated. The slogan on the advertisement reads that MasterCard is “accepted across the world when your Visa isn’t.”

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