Grapevine May 11, 2022: Saving a potential genius

Although a woman’s body is certainly her own, the sperm that enabled the creation of the embryo in her womb belongs to the father of the child.

 ECUADORIAN PRESIDENT Guillermo Lasso waves from the plane in Quito as he departs for Israel. (photo credit: Eduardo Santillan Trujillo)
ECUADORIAN PRESIDENT Guillermo Lasso waves from the plane in Quito as he departs for Israel.
(photo credit: Eduardo Santillan Trujillo)

Israel used to be much tougher on abortion than it is today, but after the recent developments in America, many women in Israel are afraid that it will again be difficult to have a legal abortion.

Although a woman’s body is certainly her own, the sperm that enabled the creation of the embryo in her womb belongs to the father of the child, who should surely have a say in whether that child should be born – especially if the father has a low sperm count and is unlikely to sire any more children in the future.

Rabbi Benji Levine tells the story of his famous grandfather, Rabbi Aryeh Levin, who was approached by the late justice minister Shmuel Tamir, when the latter, a brilliant lawyer, was still a member of Knesset.

Tamir wanted to pass a liberal abortion law, but knew that most of the rabbinate would be against it. He looked for a rabbi who would be more understanding of poor families and social problems, and came to Rabbi Aryeh Levin, who told him that abortion is permissible when the mother’s life is at risk, but otherwise it is forbidden. Tamir was disappointed.

As the rabbi walked him to the door, he told Tamir that he was not the first person to ask him to approve an abortion. Tamir was curious about the circumstances. It was a very nice young couple, said the rabbi, but they were in dire economic straits.

 MARSH DONDURMA with President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and his wife, Lihi. (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO) MARSH DONDURMA with President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and his wife, Lihi. (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

“What did you tell them?” asked Tamir.

“The same as I told you,” was the reply.

“And did they listen to you?” Tamir persisted.

“Oh yes,” said the rabbi with absolute confidence.

“How do you know?” questioned Tamir.

The rabbi smiled and said, “The woman was your mother. If I had sanctioned the abortion, you would not be here.”

Who knows how many geniuses have been lost to the world due to abortions? And how sad it is that so many fertile women don’t want to give birth, and so many barren women would give anything to be a mother.

The end of the story is that Rabbi Benji Levine officiated at the wedding of Tamir’s granddaughter Inbal and said under the bridal canopy that their grandfathers were looking down from Heaven and toasting “Lehayim!” (To life!) to the bride.

■ AT THE ceremony at the President’s Residence this week in which 83 new judges and court registrars were appointed, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut noted that reaching this status had been on the grounds of excellence, dedication, competence in matters pertaining to the law, and personal character. Hayut also included the support that the appointees received from their families.

She urged the judges to listen carefully to the people who come before them in the courts and to make their decisions on the basis of what they hear, because their decisions will have an impact inside the court and beyond.

The most important thing, according to Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, is to improve the service of the justice system. The confidence that the ordinary citizen has in the justice system depends on the manner in which he or she is treated, he said.

Acknowledging that the day was a festive one for judges and the realization of a dream come true, Sa’ar cautioned that being a judge is a difficult task that is not just a professional role but a way of life.

In making its decisions he said, the Judicial Appointments Committee had made every effort to include as great a representation as possible of Israel’s demographic diversity from religious, ethnic, political and national standpoints.

He was critical of judicial activism and quoted highly respected, now deceased Supreme Court judges who in their time had fiercely opposed judicial activism as nonproductive and even dangerous, and had said that nothing good would come of judicial interference in political or religious ideology.

Turning to the restoration of public confidence in the justice system, Sa’ar highlighted the need to eliminate violence and the illegal use of weapons. “Too many people are illegally carrying guns,” he said.

Ensuring social security is one of the primary roles of the Labor Court, said National Labor Court President Varda Wirth Livne, who outlined some of the different stipends and pensions to which citizens are entitled, but which they do not always receive.

She was particularly frustrated by failed efforts on the part of the Labor Court to get the National Insurance Institute to pay a pension to an elderly female Holocaust survivor who had never worked outside the home. According to the NII, she is not entitled to a pension. The Labor Court believes that she is, and she is probably not the only one who is missing out.

Many Holocaust survivors have been waiting for years to obtain their rights from the NII, said Wirth Livne.

Newly appointed Deputy President of the Supreme Court Uzi Vogelman, speaking on behalf of the new appointees, emphasized that judges are obligated to be objective and independent, yet at the same time, they are part of society. “Don’t be influenced by the public or the media,” he advised. “Judge every case on its merits.”

He also emphasized that the courts are the guardians of democracy and as such are honor bound to protect the rights of every individual. “The court is not a place of employment, but a place of mission,” he said.

Across the road from the President’s Residence, a small but raucous group of people who have lost faith in the justice system brandished signs and called out derogatory epithets, which they continued to do long after the ceremony was over.

■ ANOTHER HAPPY event will take place Wednesday at the President’s Resident, when President Isaac Herzog welcomes Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso, who is on a state visit. Lasso was visibly moved in a video clip of his departure from Quito Airport, saying that the visit is historic because he is the first president of Ecuador to visit Israel.

Lasso arrived in Israel with Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Holguín, Production, Foreign Trade & Investment Minister Julio José Prado, National Secretary for Public-Private Alliance & Development Roberto Salas Guzmán and a 100-member delegation of government officials and businesspeople. In addition to meeting with Herzog, Lasso is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Economy Minister Orna Barbivay and Science and Technology Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen.

Together with Lasso, the delegation will tour Israel and meet with local business and innovation ecosystem executives. The visit is designed to strengthen bilateral relations through collaborative initiatives in technology and investments.

On Thursday, Lasso will inaugurate Ecuador’s Innovation and Commercial Representative Office at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and hold Ecuador’s flagship business conference, “Ecuador Open for Business,” to develop investments and public-private partnerships with key players in Israel’s ecosystem.

The delegation will also meet with the chairman of the Israel Innovation Authority, Ami Appelbaum, and the CEO of Start-Up Nation Central, Avi Hasson, to jointly promote innovation and strengthen business ties.

While in Jerusalem, Lasso will meet with Mayor Moshe Lion and visit the Old City and Mount Herzl, as well as Yad Vashem, where he will meet with chairman Dani Dayan. In keeping with tradition, Lasso will participate in a tree-planting ceremony in the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund Grove of Nations in the heart of the Jerusalem Forest.

Ecuador and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1956. The first Israeli ambassador was Tuvia Arazi, whose wife, Georgette (Georgie), was the longtime editor of The Jerusalem Post Letters to the Editor section.

Jews first came to Ecuador following the expulsion from Spain, and during the Holocaust, Ecuador was one of the few countries that welcomed Jewish refugees fleeing from the Nazis.

 BEERSHEBA MAYOR Ruvik Danilovich with Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli. (credit: TRANSPORTATION MINISTRY) BEERSHEBA MAYOR Ruvik Danilovich with Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli. (credit: TRANSPORTATION MINISTRY)

■ ON INDEPENDENCE DAY, not only was the nation’s anniversary celebrated at the President’s Residence at two separate events – one in the morning, and another in the late afternoon for diplomats, military attachés, honorary consuls and heads of religious communities – but so was the 17th anniversary of the Jerusalem-headquartered brass band Marsh Dondurma, which provided the entertainment at the latter event.

Founded in 2007 by upbeat drummer Dotan Yogev, the band, which has played all over Israel and around the world, is a mix of jazz, gypsy, Arabic, Indian and klezmer music, with an occasional Latin twist.

Dondurma is actually a Turkish word for ice cream, and given that the customary buffet at the event was nonexistent, and the only food, other than an assortment of cheeses provided by Jacobs Farm, was Buza ice cream, served from a trailer parked in the grounds, this particular band was an appropriate choice. It was very good ice cream, with a variety of flavors and toppings, and it was interesting to see the long queue of diplomats lining up for a cone or a Dixie.

Year after year, there has been a battle between the budget departments of the Foreign Ministry and the President’s Office. Because the event is cohosted by the ministry, the President’s Office expects the ministry to pay for the refreshments. But the ministry argues that if the president is the main host, regardless of who the guests are, the President’s Office should bear the expense. The ministry has long been suffering from budgetary woes, and one would have thought that Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, who is a former foreign minister, would have been more understanding. But no. Instead of taking a more generous attitude to the ministry, he has tightened the belt.

The upshot was that neither the ministry nor the President’s Office paid for the refreshments. The solution to the problem was to invite the two abovementioned companies as well as several Israeli boutique wineries to contribute and do a little marketing along the way.

And so the diplomatic community washed down its ice cream and cheeses with wines by Pinto and Midbar wineries, both located in the Negev, Shiran from Kiryat Arba, Ben Porat Winery from Yitzhar, Lueria from the Upper Galilee at the foot of Mount Meron, Bar Shlomo Vineyards in the Coastal Plain, Vitkin Winery from Kfar Vitkin, Raziel Winery from Ramat Raziel, Tzora Vineyards in the Judean Hills and Bin-Nun Winery from Kfar Bin-Nun. The truth is that the wines prevailed on the mood, and after the formalities, guests went back for more.

■ ONE OF the customs at this particular event is for all the different defense attachés from the various embassies to pile their caps on a table and to be photographed alongside all of them – a kind of comrades in arms tradition. Although she is certainly not the first woman to serve as a defense attaché, Australia’s Group Captain Louise desJardins was the only female with that title at the reception.

■ AT THE morning reception honoring 120 outstanding soldiers, it could be seen that there is truth in the old adage that all men are equal, but some are more equal than others. Former prime minister Ehud Barak was not seated in the front row, because he currently holds no office. But anyone with a shred of honesty would admit that no one present was more deserving of a front-row seat. Barak was the most highly decorated soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. He later served as IDF chief of staff, foreign minister, prime minister and defense minister.

■ IF US President Joe Biden follows through with his promise to visit Israel next month, it will be his first presidential trip to the country and to the Middle East. At the time of writing, no firm date had been set, although it is generally believed that he will come near the end of the month en route to Germany for a G7 meeting, taking place on June 26-28.

If he does come, he will be greeted by the prime minister of a crumbling coalition and a very shaky government. Biden is not exactly standing on firm ground at home, but he manages to put on a happy face and sounds optimistic.

During his visit here, if it does take place, Biden is likely to reconfirm that one doesn’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist. He will in all likelihood also repeat part of his Independence Day message, in which he emphasized that the US was the first country to recognize Israel, 11 minutes after its establishment.

Discussions on the agenda will include Iran, America’s opposition to large-scale building of additional Israeli housing in the West Bank, and the controversy over the reopening of the US Consulate on Jerusalem’s Agron Street to serve the needs of the Palestinian community. Many long years ago, the US also had a consulate in east Jerusalem, which would be a more logical venue for Palestinians wishing to obtain visas to America, but then again, nearly all the other countries that have consulates in Jerusalem have them in west Jerusalem, though admittedly in some cases they are located in parts of Jerusalem that were in Jordanian Jerusalem prior to the 1967 Six Day War.

A news bulletin indicating that Biden is considering visiting east Jerusalem has been met with consternation by some members of the government, although if Jerusalem is the eternal undivided capital of Israel, there is no reason he shouldn’t visit east Jerusalem, which is inhabited by Jews, Muslims and Christians.

■ FOR SOME 21 years, historian David Sela has been publishing Nostalgia On Line, in which he reminds subscribers of Israel’s heritage, using information from press clippings, archives and other sources to give his 219,000 plus subscribers a taste of the Israel of yesteryear. He also publishes a column in various Hebrew print media.

Last week, he reminded readers that the historic Schocken House, next door to the Prime Minister’s Residence, was once considered by the US as a possible site for an embassy. It would certainly be nice to have the prime minister as a next-door neighbor, but in the final analysis, the Americans chose another venue, and the Prime Minister’s Residence remains unoccupied, despite the fact that there is a prime minister in office.

■ THE EMBASSY of Kosovo is situated in Jerusalem around the corner from the Prime Minister’s Residence, and this week the lights were burning bright at night, even though the chargé d’affaires lives in another part of the city. There were also several black limousines parked outside. The reason: the visit to Israel by Kosovo’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign and Diaspora Affairs Donika Gërvalla-Schwarz.

During her visit to Yad Vashem, the minister signed the first-ever memorandum of understanding officially establishing formal ties between Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies and the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation in Kosovo, a predominantly Muslim country in the Balkans. The MoU marks the start of Holocaust-education teacher training seminars provided by Yad Vashem.

■ GETTING BACK to the Independence Day celebration for diplomats at the President’s Residence, several world leaders sent videotaped greetings, the longest being from French President Emmanuel Macron. French Ambassador Eric Danon, who is surely familiar with this video, nonetheless kept his mobile phone trained on it, in loyal solidarity with his president. Later, the French Embassy sent out a press release with Macron’s text in French and Hebrew.

During Herzog’s visit to France in March, he and Macron formed a close relationship, especially in light of the French president’s strong stand against antisemitism. Macron mentioned this in his congratulatory message and also spoke of his strong attachment to Israel and his concern for Israel’s security.

■ BUT THE most dramatic message came from Czech President Milos Zeman, who, paraphrasing US president John F. Kennedy’s June 1963 “Ich bin ein Berliner” declaration in what was then West Berlin, stated “I am a Jew.” He’s not, but he has said this several times over the years, and not only when he addressed the Knesset or Jewish groups in Europe and the United States.

Although the Czech Republic has no dearth of antisemites, Czech leaders from Tomas Masaryk onward have been extremely well disposed to Jews and to Israel. During the War of Independence, his son Jan Masaryk, who was then foreign minister, signed the order for the sale of weapons to Israel, when most other countries refused. After World War II, Czechoslovakia trained several dozen pilots who became the nucleus of the Israel Air Force.

This week in Prague, at the executive committee meeting of senior Jewish community leaders from around the globe, World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder said that when the Czech government assumes the presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of this year, it should act to “put a stop to Europe’s irrational hatred of Jewish people. It is high time for the Council of Europe to establish a permanent working group on combating the hatred of Jews as well as all forms of racism,” Lauder insisted, adding that antisemitism could potentially resurge as a result of the war in Ukraine. The word “antisemitism” should be replaced by the phrase “Jew hatred,” he said, noting that this more accurately reflects the phenomenon.

■ ON ITS Twitter account , the UAE Embassy published that Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed had sent Independence Day greetings to his Israeli counterpart, Lapid.

■ HIS CURRENT romance is likely to be a long-distance affair for Avner Netanyahu, 27, the younger son of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Avner is due to leave soon for England to study for his master’s degree in archaeology at Oxford University. The junior Netanyahu, who was previously engaged to Noy Bar, with whom he had a long-term relationship, had already set a wedding date, but the couple called it quits three months ago, and it did not take Avner long to find a new love, Amit Yardeni, 24, a computer sciences student who is also an athlete and a contestant in Israeli Ninja. Unless this relationship leads to marriage, the romance will presumably be conducted on social media platforms and by phone rather than in person. Then there’s always the possibility that Yardeni will go to England to be with her beau.

■ FROM TIME to time, there is mention in this column that Holocaust survivors feel that their greatest revenge against Hitler is to raise a family in Israel. Nitza Raz-silbiger, who for many years headed the Protocol Office of the Foreign Ministry, was born on April 20. In that year, April 20 coincided with Independence Day. Her father, a Holocaust survivor who lost his whole family, was so thrilled by his change in status that he stopped every passerby in the street to tell them that he had just become the father of a baby girl. In his case, the revenge was particularly sweet because April 20 was also the date of Hitler’s birthday.

■ SOME OF the invitees to the Victory Day reception hosted by Russian Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov were hesitant about accepting. Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the charismatic Viktorov, with his hearty sense of humor, was among the more popular figures on the diplomatic circuit. But unfortunately, he represents a country whose popularity is waning each day that its forces remain in Ukraine wreaking more deaths and ruination.

Some people found diplomatic excuses not to attend the reception, while others simply ignored the invitation. Some remembered what happened to the countries of Eastern Europe after the victory over the Nazis, and were drawing a parallel with current events.

Ukraine’s neighbors are concerned that the Russian aggression, if it proves to be successful, will spill over the borders, and those countries that became independent in the late ’80s and early ’90s will once again be oppressed, and the Russian Bear will dance in the streets.

Even though Victory Day, which marks the triumph of the Red Army over the Nazis, is an official holiday in Israel, Red Army veterans held a low-key commemoration this year, and, in sympathy with the people of Ukraine, instead of a parade, attended a relatively modest ceremony on Mount Herzl, at the monument to Jewish soldiers in the Red Army.

■ TRANSPORTATION MINISTER Merav Michaeli met this week with Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich to tell him that she had been given the green light for building a light rail system in his city, as part of the plan to develop transport in the capital of the Negev and to help transform the periphery into a cosmopolitan hub. This includes developing the central bus terminal and adding 50 buses to existing public transport.