Without in any way detracting from the historic importance of photographs of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain and with Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the most moving image of the week as far as Israelis are concerned, was the video clip of a smiling Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, striding across the elegant and impressive auditorium at the opening of the Egyptian Petroleum Show, to greet Israel’s Minister of Energy Karin Elharrar and to invite her to return to Egypt for a longer visit.
This was the first time that Israel was invited to participate in EPS, which is a sign that the long cold peace between the two countries is definitely warming up under the current Egyptian administration. Sisi, the former commander in chief of the Egyptian armed forces, is not only an officer and a gentleman, but also a diplomat. Aware of the embarrassment and discomfort caused to Elharrar when she attended the UN Conference on climate change in Glasgow last year and was unable to get her wheelchair through the doorway, Sisi wanted to assure her that she was very welcome in Cairo, not only at the conference, but also at a later stage. The expression of sheer bliss on Elharrar’s face as she shared her thoughts later with Israeli television reporters, spoke volumes about how honored she felt personally and on behalf of her country.
The brief meet and greet moment with Sisi was captured on video, and subsequently posted on Twitter where it received literally tens of thousands of views.
Curiously, Elharrar is not listed among the speakers at the climate change conference that will take place in Jerusalem next Wednesday, though perhaps she and Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, who is among the speakers, take turns in participating in such events. There are also Palestinians among the participants – yet another proof that when facing a common enemy, people who may usually not be well disposed to each other, join forces. This can also be seen to some extent in the Abraham Accords in that the countries involved are all wary of the Iranian threat.
■ AT ALMOST every event that he attends, President Isaac Herzog is cheered and applauded with people pushing forward to try and get a selfie with him. It didn’t quite work out that way last Tuesday evening when he went to Mercaz HaRav yeshiva to participate in the 40th anniversary commemoration of its former long-time and influential head Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Hacohen Kook. Notwithstanding his good intentions, his pedigree as the grandson of the first Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel and his family’s connection with Mercaz HaRav, Herzog was booed and heckled during his address, and some people left the hall in protest. What was it that he said that was so offensive to the ears of the religious-Zionists? Herzog is greatly disturbed by the death of 78-year-old Palestinian-American Omar As’ad who was stopped by a group of Israeli soldiers as he was driving home in his Palestinian village. As’ad was bound, gagged and left lying in the cold on a construction site, where he died. Herzog was horrified that anyone should be treated that way – especially someone of that age – and said so publicly on more than one occasion, as have Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi. But apparently, for all its glory, Mercaz HaRav has failed to imbue certain Jewish ethics among its students and graduates. Rabbi Zvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook was a great lover of the land of Israel and the people of Israel, but most of all, he was a great lover of the Torah which teaches respect for elders and dealing kindly with strangers in our midst.
Herzog included several inspiring anecdotes about Kook in his address to the thousands of people who came from all over the country to pay tribute to Kook’s memory but with all the best intentions in the world, he was the victim of the ugly side of religious Zionism, which marred so much of the beauty of religious-Zionist ideology. It must have been extremely embarrassing for current head of the yeshiva Rabbi Yaakov Shapira and for religiously observant Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion and his deputy Hagit Moshe.
■ BUT ON the following day, Herzog had a very pleasant experience when he and his wife Michal hosted Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and her delegation at a festive but informal lunch where guests also included US ambassador Tom Nides, the president’s brother Mike Herzog, who is ambassador to the United States, and Ofra Fuchs, the widow of song writer Ehud Manor, who was quoted by Pelosi in her address to Congress following the Capitol Hill riots last year in the aftermath of the US elections. Isaac Herzog, sitting with Pelosi at the Saban Forum in 2016, had introduced her to the lyrics of one of Manor’s songs in which there is a verse: “I can’t keep silent in light of how my country has changed her face. I won’t stop trying to remind her. In her ears I’ll sing my cries until she opens her eyes.” The words touched a chord in Pelosi and she quoted them frequently during the Trump regime.
■ EARLIER IN the day, in addition to her address in the Knesset, where her words captured the hearts of many, Pelosi had a series of meetings including with Labor Party chairwoman and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli. When the pair posed for photos, Michaeli as usual, was dressed in her signature black, and Pelosi wore a reddish-orange orange pants suit. Standing together, the two looked ready for a dramatization of the famous Stendhal novel The Red and the Black, which is about early 19th-century life in France and the battle between the religious and secular elements of the population. Michaeli told Pelosi that the present Israel government has saved Israel from a very dangerous regime that was in place for too long. “The damages that it caused are such that we will be fixing things for a very long time,” she said. Pelosi has been quoted as making similar remarks at home with regard to the Trump administration.
■ JERUSALEM POST Magazine editor Erica Schachne was filled with anticipation on Wednesday. The reason? Her parents, Esther and Gary Schachne, were due to arrive in Israel that night. The senior Schachnes have been to Israel many times but this time did not come as tourists but as immigrants to join two of their three children, Erica and Michael, who had been born and raised in New York, but who, for a number of years (Erica, 12; Michael, 6) have been living in Jerusalem.
The family is hopeful that the third of Esther and Gary’s children, Sarah Schachne Hirschfeld, her husband Arik, and children Owen and Alice – now residents of Great Neck, New York – will join them in the future and make their permanent home in Israel.
The senior Schachnes are each the offspring of Polish and Czech Holocaust survivors. Gary was born in Israel and spent his early years in Gedera before his parents moved to Brooklyn, New York. Esther was born in the Big Apple and grew up in the Bronx. But it was in Jerusalem, not New York, that they met, when both happened to be at the Jaffa Gate at the same time – and all the rest is history.
■ MARRIAGE IS a balance. Former cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz lost his ministerial portfolio following the most recent of the Knesset elections, but his wife Gila, a Jerusalem District Court judge is one of the judges on the short list to fill the vacancies in the Supreme Court. The decision will be made next week.
■ FEARS THAT the COVID-19 pandemic would have a disastrous negative effect on philanthropic contributions to various projects in Israel, appear to be groundless. For example, the Atlanta-based Zalik Foundation and Friends of the IDF (FIDF) this week announced a million dollar grant towards a new Israel Defense Forces (IDF) program dedicated to providing tech education to teenage girls as part of an effort to close the existing gender gap in the IDF – especially in its cyber units – by increasing the talent pool of soldiers, and Israelis, with scientific and tech-based qualifications.
Operated by the Defense Ministry, the new program called Mamriot – which means “taking off” in Hebrew – was developed by Israel’s Cyber Education Center and the IDF Intelligence Corps. Aligning with the IDF’s requirements for cyber and tech units, the program provides young girls from diverse socio-economic backgrounds with unique educational opportunities they may not otherwise be able to receive.
Established in 2018 by David and Helen Zalik, the Zalik Foundation’s mission is to create knowledgeable Jews, ensure children and seniors live with promise and dignity, empower women and girls, promote entrepreneurship, and protect a sovereign and thriving Israel.