Grapevine February 16, 2022: Just the facts

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 FROM LEFT: Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, President Isaac Herzog, Maj.-Gen. Orli Markman, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
FROM LEFT: Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, President Isaac Herzog, Maj.-Gen. Orli Markman, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Although it was originally planned for six months ago and then for three months ago, the Israel launch of The Bloody Price of Freedom, by distinguished Washington-based lawyer Richard D. Heideman, finally took place at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem last Sunday, in the presence of a live audience of close to 50 relatives, friends and acquaintances. The event was jointly organized by Gefen Publishing and the B’nai B’rith World Center, Jerusalem.

While COVID-19 restrictions had interfered with previous plans to hold an Israel launch, nothing could keep Heideman and his wife, Phyllis, away from a family celebration. Above all else, they were in Israel to join in celebrating the bar mitzvah of their grandson Eytam, whose mother, Elana, the second of their three daughters, has lived in Israel for almost 17 years and is the executive director of the Israel Forever Foundation.

Before Heideman himself rose to speak, there was a panel discussion on how antisemitism is linked to terrorist organizations. The moderator was Daniel S. Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International, with Irit Kohn, a former president of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of the research division of IDF Military Intelligence, and Yifa Segal, founder and director of the International Legal Forum, as panelists.

What emerged from the discussion is that Israel is doing a poor job in combating defamation and attempts at demonization and delegitimization. Relating mainly to what’s happening in America, especially attacks on Jewish university and college students, there was consensus among the panelists that, for the most part, the Jewish students can’t fight back, because unlike the Palestinians, who are all well versed in their narrative, the Jewish students are ignorant of Jewish history in general and the history of the State of Israel in particular. There is also ignorance in Washington and Europe. When activists on behalf of Israel mention that there was an Arab boycott long before the establishment of the State of Israel, few people know what that person is talking about.

In clear, concise language when he spoke and also when he elaborated on his remarks in the book, Heideman drew the connection between the Nazi manifesto of 1920; the Nuremberg Laws, which disenfranchised and dehumanized the Jews and certain others in the German population; Kristallnacht, which was the burning not only of books, but of people as it moved into the Shoah; the pushing of people into gas chambers and crematoria, and working others to death; the founding of the Arab League in 1945; followed by boycotts and blacklisting of companies and nations that did business with anyone connected with the Zionist enterprise; anti-Israel votes in the United Nations; terrorist attacks and sponsors of terrorism; the recent Amnesty International report and what is happening in the world today.

 GUY ADIRAN (left) and Shlomi Tahan. (credit: Yod Photography Eilat) GUY ADIRAN (left) and Shlomi Tahan. (credit: Yod Photography Eilat)

“It’s not coincidence,” said Heideman, as he drew verbal links in a century-old chain of Jews and later the State of Israel being tainted as apartheid, criminal and racist. “Silence is not an option,” said Heideman, as he reiterated his belief in the profound link between antisemitism, terrorism and the demonization of Israel.

This is a time when all Jews, regardless of their religious affiliations or political ideologies, must unite, he insisted, concluding with a warning about Iran: “When someone says they want to kill you, you darn well better listen.”

■ JERUSALEMITES WHO have been watching the progress of the construction of the new National Library of Israel, which is due to officially open this year, which is the NLI’s 130th anniversary year, can hardly wait for that to happen.

Although the present National Library building on the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University is reasonably impressive, it cannot compare to the new, vastly enlarged and diversified project, which will not only enhance the status of the capital, but will be both a national and international treasure in terms of its collections, facilities and activities.

An indication of its importance is the fact that it has been given center stage at the annual, upcoming prestigious Jewish Book Week in London. A series of events beginning on February 28 can be enjoyed online or in person by people who happen to be in London on any of the dates on which aspects of Israel’s National Library will be featured. Registration is required, and details can be obtained by googling the NLI website.

On Monday, February 28, there will be Jewish Magic with Dr. Yoel Finkelman, curator of the NLI’s Haim and Hanna Salomon Judaica Collection. Finkelman will deliver an online talk about cosmic forces and the supernatural within Jewish history today, at 4:30 p.m. Israel time; 2:30 p.m. UK time; and 9:30 a.m. EST.

Anyone interested in the design and structure of the new library can learn a lot on March 6, in an event titled “From the Ground Up: Building a new National Library of Israel,” in which Hannah Rothschild, Herzog & de Meuron senior partner Jason Frantzen and NLI CEO Oren Weinberg offer a sneak preview of this new landmark for Israel and the Jewish people, at 6:30 p.m. Israel time, 4:30 p.m. UK time, and 11:30 a.m. EST. For those attending the in-person event at King’s Place, London, the price of a ticket is £14.50.

On the following day, March 7, the event called “Letters of Light” focuses on Sefer Yetzira and how it and other ancient, mystical texts can be reflected in modern art. Participants in the online discussion are NLI art adviser Yigal Zalmona and Rachel Elior, professor of Jewish philosophy and Jewish mystical thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. This event begins at 8 p.m. Israel time, 6 p.m. UK time, and 1 p.m. EST.

■ REGARDLESS OF Pew surveys and fears of assimilation, there are still plenty of young American Jews who are interested in Israel and in cementing ties between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. That can be confirmed by Birthright Israel, which is expecting some 2,000 participants from 45 states in North America to arrive in Israel in February and March of this year.

That doesn’t mean the end of the pandemic, but it signifies that we have learned to live with it and to get on with our lives.

The first group is due to arrive this coming Friday, with the largest contingent of 100 young people coming from New York, followed by 54 from California and 42 from Florida. There are several states from which there will be only one or two participants.

There are actually three from Alaska, one of whom is Kayla Dinsfriend, a chef and culinary educator from Sitka. “I have been looking forward to this for so long, it almost doesn’t seem real! I can’t wait to step into the life and culture of Israel and eat all I can along the way,” she says.

Two previous Birthright trips, for which some 3,000 young men and women from North America had registered, did not take place. Now that there is an easing up of the coronavirus and its variants, and life is getting back to normal, Taglit-Birthright Israel CEO Gidi Mark expects the numbers to rise in coming months and is excited at the prospect of welcoming the first group. He anticipates that over the coming year, there will be some 15,000 Birthright participants.

The summer season, which launches in May, will be the last opportunity for young adults aged 27-32 to participate in a Birthright Israel trip. Starting in winter 2023, the trips will be restricted to those aged 18-26.

All participants must be fully vaccinated.

■ CONTRARY TO what has prevailed during the seven months in which he has been in office, President Isaac Herzog posed for photos unmasked at the swearing-in ceremony for Maj.-Gen. Orli Markman, the first woman president of the Military Court of Appeals. Not only Herzog was sans mask, but so were Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, though people in the hall were all masked.

Some may have noticed that Herzog, who in accordance with Jewish tradition did not shave his beard during the 30-day mourning period for his late mother, Aura, continues with his new hirsute appearance, which makes him look more mature. Herzog was always known for his very youthful face.

Among the people in the hall were Markman’s family members as well as those of Col. Maya Goldschmidt, who was appointed a judge in the Military Court of Appeals. When Markman’s husband, Ilan, and their children were called on stage to pose for a photo, it turned out that her two daughters are both in the army, and both were in uniform. Instead of saluting their mother, they ignored the protocol and gave her a big hug.

While there was appropriate applause for all the speeches, the audience went wild over the musical performance by an instrumental and vocal ensemble made up from the Gedolim B’Madim (Great in Uniform) soldiers, who are part of a special unit of young men and women with a variety of disabilities that would ordinarily exempt them from army service. But these are Israelis who want to serve their country, and want to be judged on their abilities rather than their disabilities. They were really good, and the resounding applause was well deserved. They looked so proud to be wearing the uniform of the IDF.

■ TO MARK the 20th anniversary of Operation Defensive Shield, a National School for Leadership in memory of prime minister Ariel Sharon was inaugurated at Reichman University on Sunday just before the 94th anniversary of Sharon’s birth on February 26, 1928, and a month after the 8th anniversary of his death on January 11, 2014.

The ceremony took place in the presence of founding president of the university Prof. Uriel Reichman, whom Sharon had wanted to appoint as education minister, current university president Prof. Rafi Melnik, and members of the Sharon family. Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Moshe Kaplinsky, who will head the school, and Dr. Dana Wolf of the university’s Lauder School for Government, Diplomacy and Strategy discussed Sharon’s leadership as the nation’s 11th prime minister; after which former defense minister and chief of staff Shaul Mofaz, who had been appointed to his ministerial position by Sharon, and Miri Eisen, a former intelligence officer, who after 20 years in the IDF had been appointed foreign media adviser to prime minister Ehud Olmert, and was the first woman to hold that position, discussed Sharon’s military and political leadership. Eisen is now a member of the Lauder School.

She also participated in a panel discussion with other former military and security officers, including former Israel Police commissioner Roni Alsheich, whose name has been linked to the Pegasus scandal.

In fact, media-wise, Alsheich’s presence and what he said overshadowed the overall purpose of the event. Alsheich characterized the Pegasus affair as “media spin” and declared that someone would pay.

On the following day, electronic and print media journalist Kalman Liebskind, reviewing investigations into the alleged misuse of Pegasus spyware by police, remarked in a tone of great sadness that truth no longer has a value. For many journalists, unfortunately, a good story has priority over getting to the truth, no matter whose reputation gets trampled along the way.

This was best summed up in a New York Times column by former Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief Bret Stephens, who, quoting a friend in a column that he wrote last week, reflecting on how journalism has changed, wrote: “Journalists used to act like cynics, but at heart we were idealists. Now, we’re often cynics masquerading as idealists.”

■ BUT THERE are still journalists of the old school, such as Israel Prize laureate and veteran Yediot Aharonot war correspondent Ron Ben Yishai, who has covered events in conflict zones around the world, often risking his life to do so, and has also stepped out of his impartial role to save the life of someone caught in the conflict.

The time-honored adage “Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away” also applies in some cases to journalists. At 78, Ben Yishai is currently in Ukraine to cover a potential conflict, with the eye and the ear of multiple war experiences.

There are a lot of other journalists in Ukraine, who are waiting for something to happen. For the most part, the stories they file this week will be similar in content, though possibly different in style. But it’s almost a certainty that Ben Yishai will come across some aspect of the story that will have eluded his younger colleagues.

■ ONE LAST word on the subject of journalists and journalism. Seldom has so much publicity been given to the removal of a journalist from a particular slot or newsbeat as has been given to Yaakov Bardugo, who, contrary to what was published in some newspapers, was not sacked by Army Radio’s interim commander Galit Alstein, but was merely deprived of his position as coanchor of the evening news roundup. She did not remove him from his Friday program of frequently inaccurate vitriol.

As is now well known, Bardugo resigned on air, claiming that the political Left was trying to silence him. To be honest, there were and are more left-wing views expressed on Army Radio than right-wing views, and while certain people who advocate against the closure of Army Radio say that it should continue, but without political content, that’s a defeatist argument, because everything in Israel is in one way or another political. Perhaps the format should be changed so that the station’s anchors introduce a subject and then leave it to two people from different sides of the political divide to debate the pros and cons. This would at least give listeners – including soldiers – a better means of forming their own political opinions.

Meanwhile there have been reports from various sources that Knesset members of right-wing parties are boycotting Army Radio and will not agree to be interviewed by reporters from that station. Someone should take bets on how long that boycott will last.

Meanwhile, in tandem with the Bardugo brouhaha, albeit merely by coincidence, former Labor Party chairwoman and veteran broadcaster Shelly Yacimovich, who two years ago returned to KAN Reshet Bet radio after resigning from the Knesset, and coanchors a nightly current affairs program with former Shas MK Yigal Gueta, announced that she will soon be leaving the radio, because at her time in life (she’ll be 62 next month) she doesn’t want to be tuned into the news 24/7.

While the vulgarities of Bardugo should not be tolerated, it’s interesting that Yacimovich, who never hid her abhorrence for former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and always referred to him in an accusatory, high crescendo tone accompanied by a string of negative adjectives and adverbs, was often praised for her professionalism, and seldom criticized for her lack of objectivity, or for the fact that she often came across as relating to Gueta in a patronizing manner.

As for closing Army Radio, according to Avi Benayahu, its former chief, neither the defense minister nor the chief of staff has the legal authority to do so. He may be right or he may be wrong, but after so many years of announcements by defense ministers, including present incumbent Gantz, that they were closing down the station, it would be worth determining once and for all the legal status of Army Radio, and who, if anyone, has a right to pull the plug.

■ FOR SOME years now, the Dan Hotels chain has hosted the cocktail reception to celebrate the opening of the annual Chamber Music Festival in Eilat. This year was the ninth time that members of the chain’s executive, along with musicians, Eilat municipal officials and other guests, congregated at the Dan Eilat to toast the success of this year’s festival.

Shlomi Tahan, the new CEO of the Dan chain, said that as the former CEO of Isrotel in Eilat, he is familiar with the impact of the Chamber Music Festival, and confessed that he was excited to be cohosting the reception for such a quality event with Guy Adiran, the general manager of the Dan Eilat and the CEO of the Eilat branch of Dan Hotels.

Adiran noted that it is not easy to organize a festival of this kind during a pandemic, and said he is proud that the Dan chain, and the Dan Eilat in particular, continues to be part of the festival, and brought the chain’s best chefs – Roi Antebi, Asaf Buzaglo, Golan Israeli and Oved Afia – to prepare a culinary feast for the festival’s duration.

Eilat Deputy Mayor Matan Bari thanked the Federmann family, Tahan and Adiran for their contributions to the festival’s success.

■ IT SOUNDS better in Yiddish, say people familiar with the language who are quoting a Yiddishism in translation. Apparently, the educators at Yad Vashem believe so, too, as the announcement of a series of lectures and interviews about Yiddish culture before, during and after the Holocaust is headlined “It sounds better in Yiddish.”

The weekly Zoom series, which begins on Sunday, February 20, at 5:30 p.m., will deal with social, cultural, and political issues, and will also delve into Yiddish poetry and literature.

The lecturers are Dr. Mordechai Yoshkovsky, Benny Mar, Prof. Natan Cohen, Dr. Ella Florsheim and Prof. Avraham Novoshtern, who will presumably be lecturing in Hebrew about Yiddish. The cost of participation in the series is NIS 100. Registration is www.yadvashem.org.

One would hope that at the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day event that is held in Yad Vashem’s Warsaw Ghetto Square, this official recognition of Yiddish will include “The Partisan’s Song,” which was written in Yiddish in the Vilna Ghetto by Hirsh Glick, but was inspired by the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and became the song of resistance of Jewish partisans. After the war, it became the hymn of the survivors. It is almost a travesty to sing it in any other language, but at Yad Vashem, it has consistently been sung in Hebrew.

The Yiddishpiel theater ensemble, which in pre-coronavirus years used to have a Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration at the Jerusalem Theater, always sang “The Partisan’s Song” in Yiddish, as did the audience. Anyone interested in the original Yiddish lyrics can find them in transliteration and in Yiddish on Google.

■ THE HEBREW gossip writers were agog last week in speculating as to why Avner Netanyahu and Noy Bar had called off their wedding, which had been scheduled for this coming July. Some attributed the breakup to the possibility that there was no love lost between Avner’s mom and his betrothed.

Although Avner and Noy, who have been an item for more than two years, announced their engagement last October, sources close to the couple said that they had actually been engaged for a couple months before making the fact public.

Unlike his older brother, Yair, Avner chose not to live at home, though he did visit very often. In fact, he made valiant efforts to stay outside the political limelight, explaining that he could not be responsible for who his parents are, but that he wanted to be his own person. Yet considering whose son he is, and that Bar is the spokeswoman for MK Amichai Chikli of the Yamina Party, it was a given that, depending on the turn of political events, here and there Avner would become a media target.

The media have, however, been much kinder to him than to Yair. Although Avner had expressed the desire to make his marital home in Jerusalem, the couple actually moved to Herzliya. Both are aged 27, and each is completing a master’s degree. Of course, it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all but after all the bad news surrounding the Netanyahu family, media outlets seemed to rejoice in being able to report some good news, which unfortunately has turned out to be premature. Hopefully the couple will sort out their differences and get back together again, but at this stage, few people are holding their breath.

■ ISRAEL HAS been home away from home for internationally renowned conductor Zubin Mehta, who will turn 86 in April, and who was music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra for half a century, before he retired in October 2019.

He is returning this month to conduct a concert series. This is not surprising given that this is the 30th anniversary year of full diplomatic relations between India, the country of his birth, and Israel. Mehta was present 30 years ago when Pradeep Kumar Singh, India’s first ambassador to Israel, presented his credentials to President Chaim Herzog.

Prior to the arrival in Israel of well-known Indian restaurateurs Reena and Vinod Pushkarna, Mehta and the late peace activist Abie Nathan were the unofficial Indian ambassadors to Israel. Reena Pushkarna, who is always dressed in traditional Indian attire, is still regarded as an unofficial ambassador, and is among Mehta’s closest friends in Israel.

When Singh presented his credentials, Mehta also came in a traditional Indian white suit, and was totally overcome with emotion. One suspects that his visit to Israel on this occasion will also be filled with the emotion of joyful reunions.

Mehta is one of the very few non-Israelis to be awarded the Israel Prize. He is also a Wolf Prize laureate, and a recipient of the prestigious Dan David Prize. In November 2020, the World Jewish Congress presented Mehta with their fifth Teddy Kollek Award for the Advancement of Jewish Culture.

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