Grapevine June 15, 2022: Israel has largest Portuguese diaspora in Middle East

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara; Yael and UK Ambassador Neil Wigan. (photo credit: BRITISH EMBASSY IN ISRAEL)
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara; Yael and UK Ambassador Neil Wigan.
(photo credit: BRITISH EMBASSY IN ISRAEL)

Israel has the largest Portuguese diaspora in the Middle East, according to Portuguese Ambassador Jorge Cabral, who disclosed this interesting piece of information in the course of a wide-ranging address at the Portuguese residence in Kfar Shmaryahu in honor of Portugal’s national day.

Cabral and his wife, Maria Rita, hosted a reception attended by members of the diplomatic community, friends of Portugal, and Israelis who also have Portuguese citizenship. Portugal’s national day is celebrated on June 10, the date on which the nation’s national poet Luís de Camões died in 1580. It also commemorates Portugal’s independence from Spain in 1640.

Portugal’s 5.5 million strong global diaspora is approximately half the size of Portugal’s resident population.

Cabral paid tribute to the Portuguese diaspora, particularly that in Israel, for its resilience and courage in maintaining the Portuguese cultural heritage and the Portuguese language.

He also saluted the 45 years of diplomatic ties between Portugal and Israel, saying that the relationship is closer than ever with more diversified areas of cooperation, particularly in the realm of innovation technology and entrepreneurship.

In this context, he warmly welcomed Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel, noting the relevance of communication in society.

Although Portugal’s ancient history with the Jewish people is far from laudatory, during the Holocaust, Portuguese diplomats were among those who risked their lives to save thousands of Jews. Most noteworthy among them was the Portuguese consul-general in Bordeaux, France, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who, like Sweden’s Raoul Wallenberg and Japan’s Chiune Sugihara, defied orders by issuing lifesaving documents to Jews. In recent years, Portugal recognized Sousa Mendes as a national hero.

Cabral was pleased to report that more Israeli companies are investing in Portugal, and he is hopeful that Portuguese companies will invest in Israel.

Both Cabral and Hendel noted that direct flights between Tel Aviv and Lisbon are almost back to their pre-pandemic schedule, and that there is at least one direct flight every day.

Hendel also enthused about cooperation in technology, and said that Portugal’s small Jewish community is growing. He also commended the Portuguese government for its readiness to allow Israel Air Force planes to land on Portuguese territory during training sessions.

In reference to tourist ties between Israel and Portugal, Hendel spoke of food, wine, music, culture and nature reserves, which he believes Israelis will enjoy, “and of course the brilliant football.”

Seen among the guests were Colette Avital, a former ambassador to Portugal, Yitzhak Eldan, the founding president of the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel, Avi Marom Milberger, vice chairman of the Israel Chamber of Mediators, which recently signed an agreement with the Portuguese Chamber of Mediators to resolve problems between Israeli and Portuguese businesspeople, and the Foreign Ministry’s Chief of Protocol Gil Haskel, who managed to tear himself away from the various foreign dignitaries who were in Israel this week, but is already preparing for the visits of Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte and US President Joe Biden.

■ THERE ARE certain norms at formal receptions hosted by ambassadors. At either the beginning or end of the ceremony, the national anthem of the ambassador’s country is played, followed by that of the host country, with the ambassador and the guest of honor standing side by side, facing the other guests.

If the ambassador’s country is a member of the European Union, the EU anthem is also played. At the conclusion of the ceremony, a tray of wine is brought onto the stage, and the ambassador toasts the host country and its head of state or government, and the guest of honor toasts the ambassador’s country and its head of state or government.

The ambassador delivers a speech, after which the guest of honor is invited to do likewise. During the speeches, the two stand side by side.

Afterward, one of the ambassador’s assistants sends out a press release plus photographs of the ambassador with the guest of honor.

Things didn’t quite work out that way at the reception hosted last week by British Ambassador Neil Wigan at his residence in Ramat Gan in honor of the platinum jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.

After delivering his own speech Wigan left the stage to make way for Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who also left the stage after completing her speech, but not before raising a toast. After the playing of the anthems had already begun, the ambassador decided that perhaps he ought to get back on stage.

INTERIOR MINISTER Ayelet Shaked raises her glass at the British ambassador’s residence in Ramat Gan to toast Queen Elizabeth II on her platinum jubilee. (credit: BRITISH EMBASSY IN ISRAEL)INTERIOR MINISTER Ayelet Shaked raises her glass at the British ambassador’s residence in Ramat Gan to toast Queen Elizabeth II on her platinum jubilee. (credit: BRITISH EMBASSY IN ISRAEL)

Just as the two had not stood together during their speechmaking, they did not stand together for the toasts. Each stood alone on the stage with the British defense attaché and the chamber music quartet.

But that was not the worst of it. In the press release disseminated by the embassy, there were two attractive photos of Shaked, who is very photogenic. One showed her raising her glass for the toast, and the other modeling a hat by British milliner Danielle Mazin. But there was not a single photo of Shaked with the ambassador, though surely some must have been taken when she arrived.

However, there are two photos of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, with the ambassador. One is a photo of them being greeted, and other is a group shot of the Netanyahus with Wigan and his wife, Yael. The Netanyahus met briefly with Shaked as she was coming and they were going.

The release of the photographs raises the question: Did the Brits expect Shaked to be out of office in the near future? Or were they perhaps expressing a political preference? While it is true that Netanyahu was Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, and is working hard to return to that role, such favoritism under the circumstances is not exactly diplomatic. Aside from that, the Netanyahus left before the start of the official ceremony.

Britain

■ ON A less controversial note, the British media pulled out all the stops in reporting platinum jubilee events, publishing historic photographs of the queen, interviewing people who had met her or worked for her – and more.

On the date of the thanksgiving prayer service at St Paul’s Cathedral, former royal bodyguard Richard Griffin was interviewed by Sky News and told the story of two American hikers on a walking holiday coming toward the Queen while Griffin was accompanying her on a picnic in Balmoral. Though known for being a stickler for duty and pomp and circumstance, the queen also has a delightful sense of humor, which was the crux of Griffin’s anecdote. The queen always stopped to say hello to people, and it was clear that the Americans did not recognize her. In the course of the conversation, one of them told the queen about their holiday plans, where they had been, and what else they still intended to see.

He then asked where she lived, and she told him that she lives in London, but has a holiday home on the other side of the hills. The man then asked how long she had been visiting the area where they stood, and she replied that she’d been doing so since she was a little girl – for 80 years.

“Well, you’ve been coming up for 80 years, you must have met the queen,” said the tourist.

Quick as a flash, the queen said, “I haven’t, but Dick here meets her regularly.”

So the American turned to Griffin and said “Oh, you’ve met the queen. What’s she like?”

Because Griffin had been with Her Majesty for a long time, and knew that he could pull her leg, he replied: “She can be very cantankerous at times, but she’s got a lovely sense of humor.”

The next moment, the man put his arm around Griffin’s shoulder, gave his camera to the queen and asked her to take a picture of them. Then the queen and Griffin swapped places, and he photographed her with the two Americans, who still didn’t have a clue who she was.

After they continued on their way, the queen said: “I’d love to be a fly on the wall when they show those pictures to their friends in America, and hopefully someone will tell them who I am.”

The Netanyahus

■ BACK TO the Netanyahus: Was it merely coincidence, or a failed attempt to divert attention from his family’s libel case against former prime minister Ehud Olmert? After taking a respite from social media, Avner Netanyahu on Sunday returned to Instagram and posted a photograph of himself and the current romance in his life, 24-year-old Amit Yardeni, a computer science student and an Israeli Ninja athlete.

It may be remembered that Avner, 27, the younger son of the Netanyahus, had a long-term relationship with Noy Bar. The couple, who were engaged to marry this summer, called off the wedding three months ago and went their separate ways. There was speculation that Avner’s mother was not fond of Noy, a factor that contributed to the breakup. Whether that’s true or not, it did not take Avner long to find another ladylove. Avner is considered to be the good guy in the family, and has barely been touched by the scandals. Even when he met with his father during the height of coronavirus restrictions, when family Seders were held on Zoom rather than in person, the media were more inclined to castigate his father than to criticize Avner, who enjoys much more favorable media coverage than his older brother, Yair. Avner has said in the past that while he loves his family, he is not involved in its political activities or its squabbles.

Romance

■ IT SEEMS that romance is one of the best ways to get American Jews who have not yet visited Israel to make up for lost opportunities. Interior designer Amit Dishon, who went to New York to study and found romance along the way, came home shortly before the wedding to introduce her fiancé, actor Jake Hoffman, to her family. It was Hoffman’s first time in Israel, but in all probability will not be the last.

Hoffman, 41, is the son of award-winning versatile actor Dustin Hoffman, and looks very much like his father at the same age. Although the senior Hoffman has been married a few times, Jake has never been married before.

■ WEARING A Pride US Embassy Jerusalem T-shirt, US Ambassador Tom Nides attended Jerusalem’s 20th March for Pride and Tolerance on June 2, and last Friday, again clad in the Pride T-shirt, plus a hat in the pride rainbow colors, he joined the Tel Aviv Pride Parade, from where he tweeted: “Marching for tolerance, dignity, and respect in the Tel Aviv Pride Parade. Shabbat Shalom!”

Nides will soon be moving out of the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria into his new rented residence on the capital’s Emek Refaim Street. The US owns several properties in Jerusalem, including one that was long ago designated for an embassy or an ambassador’s residence or a combination of the two, but the extensive plot of land has lain barren for years.

Freedom of the press

■ HOW MUCH freedom of the press is there in a digital era? Some might say too much; others might say not enough, because too much editorial content these days is sponsored, though ways have been found to avoid using the word, while acknowledging that the item does not necessarily reflect the views or impressions of the writer.

An international conference on Freedom of the Press will be held at the Begin Center in Jerusalem on Thursday, June 30, at 9:30 a.m. with guest speakers Richard Gingras, the Los Angeles-based vice president of Google News, and Julie Pace, the executive editor and senior vice president of the Associated Press. Ginsgras is a veteran entrepreneur of other digital news outlets, and since 1979 has been a proponent of Internet innovation. Pace was previously AP’s Washington bureau chief. She is the third consecutive woman journalist to head AP worldwide.

Entry to the conference is free of charge, but advance registration is required at jerusalempressclub.com/registration. The conference is co-sponsored by the Union of Journalists in Israel, the Jerusalem Press Club and the Begin Center. The Uri Avnery Prize for Courageous Journalism will be awarded at the event.

Uri Avnery, who was one of Israel’s best-known editors and journalists, trained many of Israel’s leading journalists who worked at his magazine HaOlam HaZeh, which he owned from 1950 until its closure in 1983. His watchword was to report without fear.

Avnery, who died in August 2018, just a month short of his 95th birthday, was also a member of Knesset and a peacemaker who met with PLO leader Yasser Arafat when it was still illegal to do so. He was the founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement, and continued to participate in and initiate peace and protest demonstrations almost until the end of his days.

Freedom of the press is not only freedom of expression and freedom of information, but is also freedom of movement and freedom to pursue one’s profession.

Several Palestinian journalists who have been working for years for international media outlets that have bureaus in Israel are suddenly being denied Israeli press cards. The reason given is “security.” Israel is very suspicious of Palestinian journalists, believing them to have nefarious intentions, even when they have proven bona fides.

A mere whiff of suspicion is enough to deny an application for a press card on the basis of security. This means that the applicant cannot enter Israel and cannot properly pursue his or her career. There must be a more rational way of dealing with journalists considered to be security risks.

Incidentally, it’s not only Palestinians who have trouble getting Israeli press cards. It’s also foreign freelancers, who even if they can produce evidence of published articles, if they are not specifically on assignment with a letter and a payslip to verify the legitimacy of their case, they, too, will be denied a press card, and sometimes they will also be denied entry to the country.

Israel is generally very hospitable, but anyone who has had to deal with a tough-minded security officer who has missed out on the public diplomacy class is well aware of what a nightmare that can be – even for Israeli citizens traveling into or out of Ben-Gurion Airport.

■ YAD VASHEM is back in the travel business, and is organizing a five-day tour to Poland November 6-10 inclusive. Participants will learn of the rich spiritual heritage of the Jews of Poland. They will also visit the towns and villages in which the inhabitants were primarily Jewish, learn about Jewish community life, visit the remains of the ghettos and death camps, and learn more about the story of the Jewish communities of Poland, and the fate of their members during the Holocaust. Reservations will be accepted until July 6, and must be accompanied by a monetary deposit. For further information call (02) 644-3011.

■ AS OF June 15, and up to and including August 31, visitors to Jerusalem’s First Station will be able to enjoy short films produced and directed by students of the capital’s Ma’aleh School of Film and Television, which, on the eve of Jerusalem Day, held a movie marathon. Audiences won’t get to see as many films at the First Station, but the films they will see have all been screened at film festivals in Israel and abroad, and cover Jerusalem’s demographic mosaic, with particular emphasis on the ultra-Orthodox community which has become a subject of curiosity and interest to movie buffs in Israel and around the world.

Among the films being shown is Eliran Malka’s 71 Square Meters, though he is best known for writing and directing the popular television series Shababnikim.

■ FOR MORE than a decade, there has been talk of establishing a university in the Western Galilee. The initial move in that direction was Bar-Ilan University’s establishment of the Azrieli Faculty of Medicine in 2011. But beyond promoting and developing healthcare facilities, not much progress has been made toward a full-fledged university.

Meanwhile, the population is growing, and students want an academic facility closer to home than the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology or the University of Haifa.

There is consensus among mayors and council heads in the Western Galilee that a university is an essential component in the development of the region’s economy. The presence of a university would encourage more high school students to continue on to higher education, which will provide them with qualifications in computer science, law, economics, medicine and any number of other subjects, which will enable them to pursue productive careers that will contribute to the economy, the culture and the social welfare of the region and the country as a whole.

Towards this end, Arab, Druze and Jewish mayors and council heads took out a full-page advertisement in Haaretz this week to plead their case. Among the 25 signatories were: Shimon Lancry, the mayor of Acre, Radi Najm, the head of the Beit Jann Council, Rafik Halabi, the mayor of Daliat al-Carmel, Shlomo Buhbut and Arkady Pomerantz, the past and present mayors of Ma’alot-Tarshiha, Amos Netzer, head of the Zvulun Regional Council, Ronen Marelli, the mayor of Nahariya, Wahib Habish, the mayor of Yirka, and others throughout the Western Galilee.

■ THE SCHECHTER Institute of Jewish Studies has announced the appointment of Prof. Ari Ackerman as the academic institution’s new president, effective October 1, 2022.

 ARI ACKERMAN. (credit: ITAI NADAV) ARI ACKERMAN. (credit: ITAI NADAV)

Ackerman joined the Schechter Institute faculty in 2001 as a lecturer in Jewish education and Jewish philosophy. He was subsequently dean of the graduate school from 2015 to 2018, and since 2018 has been the incumbent of the Golinkin chair for TALI education at Schechter, serving as the academic consultant to the TALI Education Fund.

Ackerman earned his PhD from the Hebrew University, and conducted his postdoctoral research at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University. His academic research and publications are in the areas of Jewish thought and the philosophy of Jewish education.

Ackerman succeeds Prof. Doron Bar, a historical geographer and expert on holy places in Israel, who is stepping down from his role as president of the graduate school after seven years.

During his term, Bar launched the Maccabee MA Program for Community Leadership, promoted the expansion of Schechter’s successful adult education programs and created partnerships with organizations and institutions in Israel and Europe.

Prof. David Golinkin, president of the Schechter Institutes Inc., in thanking Bar for his seven years of devoted service, noted that since March 2020, when Schechter had to reinvent itself in the Zoom era, Bar was in the forefront of change.

■ ACCORDING TO the rumor mill, Construction and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin has seen the writing on the wall and, after seven years in a variety of ministerial posts, has decided that sitting in the opposition is not for him. The word is out that he would like to be chairman of the Jewish Agency.

Aside from the fact that he’s a Johnny-come-lately, he has to contend with demands by the Likud’s David Amsalem that he return NIS 3.5 million in loans that he took five years ago for his unsuccessful election campaign. Amsalem alleges that Elkin has not repaid a single agora, and says that, under the circumstances, Elkin is not fit to be a minister. If he’s not fit to be a minister, he’s likewise not fit to be a chairman of the agency.

Unless Elkin changes his mind about the egalitarian section at the Western Wall, to which he is opposed, his chances of becoming agency chairman are minimal.

Meanwhile, Yediot Aharonot reported that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is promoting his deputy Idan Roll for the post of agency chairman, but stated that the lead candidate is retired IDF major-general and Israel Prize laureate Doron Almog, the founder of Aleh Negev, a warm, therapeutic residential facility for people with severe physical and/or mental disabilities.

■ SINCE WHEN have bus drivers become the arbiters of modesty? Haaretz reported this week that 13-year-old Tamara Lahav from Kibbutz Ma’barot was waiting to board a bus last Friday afternoon, but the driver would not allow her to enter. The reason? She was wearing a tank top and shorts. The driver asked if she had another garment to cover her attire, and when she replied that she didn’t, he closed the door in her face, saying she was too provocatively dressed.

Her mother, Yael, has lodged a complaint with the relevant authorities, and was assured that no driver has the right to refuse someone admission to a bus on the basis of how they are dressed.