Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said that she and British Ambassador Neil Wigan were in competition with each other to see who had the worst accent when speaking a language that was not their mother tongue.
The occasion was the very British reception the ambassador hosted in honor of the platinum jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest reigning monarch.
Wigan, after briefly greeting his guests in English, Hebrew and Arabic, went on to deliver his speech in slightly flawed Hebrew, apologizing that his command of the language was not what it should be.
It was nonetheless a courageous and commendable effort, though some of the British-born guests wondered why he had spoken in Hebrew when so many of the people present were native English speakers and nearly everyone else was fluent in English.
Shaked delivered her speech in English though she would have undoubtedly been more eloquent in Hebrew.
Both speeches ran along similar lines, relating to the queen’s longevity, her dignity, her devotion to her country and her people and in her service to both, symbolizing the best of Britain.
They also referred to the visits to Israel by Prince William in 2018 and Prince Charles in 2020 and to the fact that during that visit Charles went to the Mount of Olives where his grandmother Princess Alice, recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations, is buried. On a reciprocal note, they mentioned that President Isaac Herzog had been hosted last year by Prince Charles.
They also spoke of the many areas of cooperation between Britain and Israel – diplomacy, technology, science, security, defense, cyber, research and development, innovation, culture and academics. While Wigan said the UK is Israel’s best trading partner in Europe, Shaked spoke of the strategic partnership that had been signed between the two countries last November.
In referring to the monarch, she noted that Queen Elizabeth is not only the queen of England, but also of many of the countries in the Commonwealth, which includes 53 states and 2.4 billion people. Shaked lauded Britain as being among the first countries to accept the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and commended the UK for its efforts in fighting antisemitism.
A video-taped message from Herzog, in which he directly addressed the queen, was shown on a large screen.
Earlier in the evening, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, arrived to express their good wishes via the ambassador. Netanyahu was promptly mobbed by a large circle of admirers. He and his wife, accompanied by his former cabinet secretary Tzachi Braverman, hung around for about half an hour, and left before Shaked arrived.
In doing so they missed out on some of the traditional British foods, which strangely enough did not include fish and chips, a permanent menu item in previous years. Instead there were thinly sliced salmon sandwiches as well as cucumber with watercress and lettuce in tribute to Lord Sandwich, whose name has been immortalized in two slices of bread with a filling between them; Coronation chicken with almonds and raisins in a curry-flavored mayonnaise; King Edward potatoes, named for Edward VII in commemoration of his coronation in 1902; Beef Wellington, named for the first Duke of Wellington; Victoria sponge topped with toffee named for Queen Victoria, who dearly loved sponge cake; and Eton Mess, a strawberry and cream concoction served at Eton College. And for those who wanted to taste everything, there was no problem, because it was all kosher.
Entertainment-wise, there was a wonderful string quartet, which was underappreciated because people were too busy talking.
Among the various attractions was a “throne” created by students at Seminar Hakibbutzim, drawings by Ramat Gan schoolchildren and a display of hats by London-born milliner Danielle Mazin. All in all, it was a fun evening.
Wigan had mentioned in his speech the four days of celebration that had taken place in Britain last week, and had noted that celebrations will continue in Israel on Friday, June 10, when the British Embassy participates in Tel Aviv’s Pride Parade in its royal-themed float...
Wigan’s immediate predecessor was David Quarrey, Britain’s first openly gay ambassador to Israel, who together with his partner, Oliver Henriquez, proudly waved to the crowds from the British float at the gay pride parades in Tel Aviv, widely known as the gay capital of the Middle East.
■ IT IS unlikely that Netanyahu will show up at the Portuguese National Day reception on Monday, but chances are high that he will attend the Russian National Day reception on Tuesday, where the government will be represented by Housing and Construction Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who is also the Jerusalem Affairs Minister. For many years, former minister Sofa Landver was the minister who represented the government at events hosted by ambassadors of Russian-speaking countries, alternating occasionally with fellow Minister Avigdor Liberman. Once Landver was no longer a minister, Elkin stepped in and continues in his role as the government representative at diplomatic events in which the hosts are from Russian-speaking countries.
■ ALTHOUGH there were many British expats at ambassador Wigan’s reception, he couldn’t invite them all, because there are so many thousands.
But in different parts of the country, Brits got together to reminisce, to toast the monarch and to sing “God Save the Queen.”
Marilyn Lyons, who has lived in Israel for more than 50 years and who worked in the consular section of the British Embassy for 37 years before she retired, is, like many British expats, very gung ho about the royal family, and decided to have a street party in celebration of the queen’s platinum jubilee.
In the years in which Lyons worked at the embassy she was often called upon to sing the national anthems of Britain and Israel at the queen’s birthday receptions and other important occasions.
Initially, she invited a few friends for a street party but then she thought there must be many British people living across the country who would love to join in on such an event. So she sent out a poster featuring portraits of the queen at different stages of her life, to various Facebook sites, the main one being “Brits In Israel,” which has more than 9,000 followers. Lyons received considerable positive feedback and the British Embassy and friends supplied her with a huge amount of bunting, flags and Union Jack accessories. Lyons supplied the Pimm’s and music. The picnic-style celebration was held at Independence Park next to the Hilton hotel. People came from all over the country. Some British tourists passing by also joined in when they saw the red carpet and the Union Jacks, and heard the familiar music, and the babble of British voices.
Lyons moved the event from the street to the park due to the space problem and the danger of being run over by a bike or electric scooter.
Elisheva (Liz) Moller of Ra’anana invited British expats to her home where the table was suitably set with Union Jack tableware, and a British-style meal was served.
Lynda Siman Tov of Hod Hasharon, belongs to a coffee klatch of British expats, who decided to have a lakeside meeting with tiny sandwiches, scones and cream, and English tea, with nostalgic British music to add to the atmosphere. Like many Brits, regardless of how long they lived away from England, the members of the coffee klatch take an avid interest in the royal family.
■ US PRESIDENT Joe Biden has delayed his visit to Israel by at least a month, but heads of state and government and other high-ranking officials from other countries as well as the US are flocking to Israel. Next Tuesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will receive an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
The university is honoring von der Leyen for her statesmanship, her contributions to Germany’s security and social justice and her efforts on behalf of women and children, her fight against antisemitism and her commitment to enhancing ties with the State of Israel.
Prior to assuming the presidency, von der Leyen served in a series of senior cabinet minister roles in Germany including federal minister of defence, federal minister of labor and social affairs, and federal minister for family affairs, senior citizens, women and youth.
■ US AMBASSADOR Tom Nides is still busy meeting and greeting people and making new friends. This week he tweeted: “Just had the pleasure of meeting MK Ahmad Tibi for the first time. We discussed challenges and opportunities for the Arab community. Genuine guy who cares genuinely about people. He gave me a misbaha, how about that. “ The tweet is accompanied by a photo of the two men smiling broadly and Nides holding the prayer beads that Tibi had given him.
Following on the heels of his predecessor David Friedman, Nides will be addressing the Tel Aviv International Salon on Thursday, June 16, at the Social Space in Tel Aviv’s Kikar Atarim. 165 Hayarkon St. at 7 p.m. and will answer questions from the audience.
■ MEANWHILE AT the Ramada Hotel in Nazareth, Transportation and Road Safety Minister Merav Michaeli was proving how important it is to keep this coalition government afloat, regardless of its flaws and its fragility. Michaeli was in the city to attend the Quantum Leap conference, which she initiated for the purpose of informing the Arab community that after too many years of discrimination and neglect of Arab society, the winds of change were blowing. Speaking both as a minister and the head of the Labor Party, Michaeli said: “We believe in equality and in everyone’s right to get to where he or she wants to go in life.” The event was attended by hundreds of participants including Ra’am Party leader Dr. Mansour Abbas, Labor MK Ibtisam Mara’ana-Menuhin, Nazareth Mayor Ali Salem, heads of Arab local authorities and Transportation Ministry CEO Michal Frank. Michaeli also inaugurated an additional bus route in the city of Tamra. The new route will improve transport services, reduce travel time, and connect more neighborhoods with the main street.
A change of government could put enhanced transportation in Arab communities on hold indefinitely.