Grapevine June 22, 2022: A state in crises

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PRESIDENT HERZOG on target at Jerusalem Police headquarters (photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)
PRESIDENT HERZOG on target at Jerusalem Police headquarters
(photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)

Teachers are threatening to strike. Hospital and health clinic personnel are striking against violence on the part of patients and their relatives. Bus drivers are striking because they feel that they are being exploited, and also because they are victims of violence.

Parents of tiny tots are fitting out their children with video cameras and recorders because of the abuse of children in daycare centers. School children are stabbing one another and spreading horrible, harmful gossip about one another on social media.

The government has disintegrated. Political rivals are using insulting language against each other.

Greedy landlords are raising rents to astronomical levels even in low-grade neighborhoods. Prices of consumer goods are rising. Overseas flights are being canceled in the last minute, as pilots pretend to be ill or simply don’t respond to phone calls. Farmers are being discriminated against in what the Finance Ministry prefers to call competition.

Members of the Arab community continue to kill one another, to the delight of non-Arab extremists. Women are being murdered by spouses and siblings, and the crime rate and uninhibited violence in Israel in general are on the rise.

Foreign Ministry employees are threatening to reduce services unless their salaries and work conditions are improved. The Interior Ministry is delaying the issuing of passports and ID cards.

Large-scale construction projects throughout the country are driving residents mad. Municipal councils refuse to consider the wishes of numerous residents who are protesting against major changes in the areas in which they live and pay taxes.

And, of course, there’s the ongoing security problem, which is constantly exacerbated due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In addition to all that, elections are again on the horizon.

There seems to be more between Jerusalem and Rome than meets the eye.

■ INTERVIEWED ON KAN Reshet Bet about Yamina Party defectors who in all probability will be on the Likud list in the next election, former MK Moshe Feiglin, who is yet another victim of Benjamin Netanyahu’s broken promises, said: “You can’t offer someone something that you haven’t got.”

In other words, though current election surveys put the Likud way ahead of other parties, there is still no guarantee that Netanyahu could form a 61-member coalition, unless he, too, chooses to forget his past antagonism toward Arabs and somehow persuades both Ra’am and the Joint List to join him. Even if he tries, it’s doubtful that either would agree.

There’s a certain irony in the fact that the presumed date of the next Knesset elections is October 25, which coincides with the Hebrew calendar date of the anniversary of the assassination of Rehavam Ze’evi, the extreme right-wing tourism minister who advocated the transfer of Arabs from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to neighboring countries. Netanyahu has not gone quite that far, but has reiterated that he will not include any Arab party in a coalition.

In July 2005, the Knesset passed a law to officially commemorate Ze’evi’s memory, even though he caused severe diplomatic friction between Israel and the US by insulting president George H.W. Bush in 1991 by calling him an antisemite, and in 1997 calling US ambassador Martin Indyk a Jewboy, and challenging him to a fist fight.

If, indeed, there are elections on October 25, it’s doubtful that any member of the outgoing government will find the time or inclination to honor Ze’evi’s memory.

■ BOYS WILL be boys, even when they are men, and no less so than when they are heads of state. Most little boys want to fire a gun, and some also want to sit behind the wheel of a police car. President Isaac Herzog did both last week when he visited Jerusalem Police headquarters.

■ ALTHOUGH EVERY holder of high office leaves his or her individual mark there, certain events are traditional and don’t leave too much leeway for change. One such event is the annual award ceremony for the President’s Prize for volunteerism, which is given to around a dozen recipients, including individuals and organizations.

Michal Herzog, the president’s wife, who accompanies him to most events both at the President’s Residence and all over the country, commented that it was mind-boggling to see the volume and diversity of volunteerism in every community.

Recipients at the 49th annual awards ceremony last week were the Israel International Stuttering Association, whose founder, Benny Ravid, was thrilled that the organization, which helps some 100,000 Israeli stutterers, was being recognized; the Interfaith Encounter Association, whose founder, Yehuda Stolov, brings together people of different faiths and nationalities; Bishvil Hahayim (Path to Life), which helps families in which a loved one has committed suicide, and also helps in suicide prevention; Going out to Change – Going out to Learn, an organization that helps people who are leaving ultra-Orthodox communities to integrate into mainstream Israel; Lo Omdot Mi’negged, which provides services that help men as well as women to move out of the cycle of prostitution and to survive emotionally and economically; ERAN, which is an emergency service for people with mental problems and all forms of distress; and the Ramon Foundation, which encourages and helps students in the fields of science, aviation and space while simultaneously promoting the best social values.

Individuals who received awards were Nina Weiner, the founder, with Edmond and Lily Safra, of ISEF, an education fund that reduces social gaps through educational opportunities; Rabbi Joseph Erbluch, who founded a B’nai B’rith-headquartered organization, B’Shvilchem (For You), which provides counseling and guidance for sick people from abroad; Maor Rotem, a 16-year-old student who talks to youth groups about the importance of volunteering; Subhaya Neganiga of Baka al-Gharbiya, who helps needy families and initiates fund-raising projects; Anat Samson Yoffe, one of the founders of B’Shvil Hamahar (For Tomorrow), which is dedicated to seeking and providing suitable therapies for discharged soldiers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders.

■ SOUTH AFRICAN immigrant Eli Kay, who was the first member of his family to decide to live permanently in Israel, and served in the IDF as a lone soldier, was killed in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem’s Old City in November 2021 while employed as a Western Wall tour guide. In the IDF, Kay, 26, served in the Paratroopers Brigade.

Following his death, his family decided to erect some permanent monument in his memory, and opted for a residential facility for lone soldiers, because Kay had been one, and he was very much a people person, who cared for others and got on well with others.

They worked on the project together with Chabad and Telfed, which provides services for South African immigrants. The upshot was that the Eli Kay Home for Lone Soldiers was officially opened last week. South African expats helped to fund the cost of furniture for the home, which will be particularly useful on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays, when lone soldiers need more emotional support than at other times. If they are invited by families who work with and on behalf of lone soldiers, that will be fine. If not, they are each other’s surrogate siblings who create their own family environment.

Kay, who attended yeshiva in Australia before coming to Israel, made many friends there and in Israel, and several of them, together with friends in South Africa, pitched in monetarily and physically to help fix up an existing property and transform it into a suitable home for lone soldiers. According to Kay’s father, Avi, the home is one of several projects designed to perpetuate Kay’s memory. Another is the writing of a Torah scroll, and there will be more projects in the future.

■ IN ITS 30th anniversary year, in July 2012, Ariel College was upgraded to Ariel University, after receiving the green light from the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria. Although senior government ministers, Knesset members and more than 65% of the public approved the decision to recognize Ariel as Israel’s eighth university, the Council of Presidents of Israeli Universities was opposed, and refused to recognize Ariel’s legitimacy because it is in the West Bank.

As education minister, Naftali Bennett fought long and hard for Ariel University to be accepted within the ranks of the Council of President of Israeli Universities, and finally, this week, he could kvell.

On Sunday, Ariel was officially recognized by the forum of university heads, and Ariel’s president, Prof. Yehuda Shoenfeld, was admitted to its ranks.

■ ON THAT same day, the university of Haifa, celebrated its jubilee. Founded on Mount Carmel in 1963, it received full academic accreditation as an institute of higher education in 1972. In the same year its board of governors was established, and in Hamburg, German, banker Erik Warberg founded the German Friends of the University of Haifa, whose current chair, Sonja Lahnstein-Kandel, was present at the triple 50th anniversary celebration, which was held at the residence of German Ambassador Susanne Wasum-Rainer, who has a long and close association with the university, as do several German universities, scientific researchers, local councils and cultural organizations.

The university has several German-based courses on different subjects. But the main reason for holding the event in the German residence was to celebrate the successful transfer from the Tefen Industrial Park of the Museum of the Heritage of German-Speaking Jews to the university’s Hecht Museum, where its curator will continue to be German-born Ruthie Ofek, who after spending most of her life in Israel, including 30 years as the museum’s curator, speaks Hebrew and English with a German accent.

Members of the board of governors come from many parts of the world, and not all are familiar with the museum, which was founded in 1968 in Nahariya by Israel Shiloni. In 1991, it relocated to the Tefen Industrial Park, which was established by German-born industrialist Stef Wertheimer, who was very proud to have the museum on his premises, and always brought visiting dignitaries to see it.

Initially, the museum barely functioned, but following an agreement of cooperation signed in 2005 by the Association of Israelis of Central European Origin, currently headed by Dvorah Haberfeld, and representatives of Austria, Switzerland and the former Czechoslovakia, the museum resumed functioning. Their efforts were supported by Wertheimer, to whom both Israel and Germany owe a lot, said Ofek, who also reeled of a slew of names of Israelis of German parentage, and in some cases of German birth, who had contributed to the museum when it was in Tefen, and to its transfer to Haifa. At a time when it seemed as if the museum had no future.

Haberfeld had come to Wasum-Reiner for help, and the ambassador happily set the ball rolling, involving several people in the embassy as well as some in the Austrian Embassy and in Germany’s Foreign Ministry. The upshot was that Germany contributed €1.2 million toward the project, in addition to many private donations from various German cities, with the promise that more money is on the way.

University of Haifa President Ron Robin said that there is no more fitting place than the Hecht Museum for the new German-Speaking Heritage Wing, which will be a place for academic research, exchanges and commemoration. University researchers will continue to explore the heritage of German Jewry and make it accessible to the public. The transfer includes extensive archives and a 5,000-volume library.

Noting that Wasum-Rainer will soon be concluding her term in Israel, Robin said that in her various capacities she has spent a total of 10 years in Israel. Confident that she will return yet again, he wished her “Auf wiedersehn” (Till we meet again).

Guest of Honor at the event was Vice President of the Bundestag Aydan Ozoguz, the first ethnic Turkish politician to assume this senior position. A federal legislator since 2009, Ozoguz in 2013 became the first Turkish and Muslim politician serving as a minister in a federal government. She was state minister for immigration, refugees, and integration, and continues to work for the integration of immigrants.

She came to Israel at the invitation of Lahnstein-Kandel, and was surprised to see so many inspiring projects at the university, and to learn of some that she had never heard of before. She was particularly impressed by a community leadership program in which Jews and Arabs study together and share information.

“When bridges are being destroyed in Europe, here in Israel, bridges are being built, and we can contribute to that,” said Lahnstein-Kandel.

Wasum-Rainer saw the strong connection between Germany and the University of Haifa as a symbol of trust, and said that she is proud that Germany has a part in the university. She also referred to the huge network of cooperation between the university’s scientists and students and their German counterparts. The new wing at the Hecht Museum represents a new milestone in German-Israeli relations, and is one of cultural and historic importance, she said.

Commenting that Germans are known for their punctuality, perfectionism and precision, Wasum-Rainer said that there is much more to them than that, such as humanitarian values, their love of culture and the arts, and economy, to which Israelis of German origin have made significant contributions.

 GIL HOFFMAN in the Knesset press gallery (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) GIL HOFFMAN in the Knesset press gallery (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

■ TIMING IS everything. Although he let it be known several weeks ago that after 24 years at The Jerusalem Post, he would be leaving at the end of this month to take up a position as executive director of Honest Reporting, political reporter and analyst Gil Hoffman did not expect so dramatic an ending to his farewell party at the Knesset on Monday.

Hoffman, who prides himself on the fact that his reporting and analyses have been free of political bias, declared at the party that no one knows which political party he votes for. He said something similar on Sunday at a farewell party at the offices of Post, prompting Managing Editor David Brinn to remark that Hoffman has everyone’s phone number, from Tibi to Bibi.

The Sunday party was attended by three generations of the Hoffman family, including his father, Yitzhak, his son Ami, and of course his wife, Maayan, whom he met at the Post when both were in the early stages of their careers. Each of them married someone else, but found each other again after their respective divorces.

Hoffman was hailed by his colleagues in the paper’s Internet department as the fastest reporter of breaking news. He was literally onto it as it evolved. Some of his other attributes include his huge stock of telephone contacts, which he was always willing to share; and his natural ability to be a team player when working together with other reporters.

Among the politicians who came to bid Hoffman farewell were Yuli Edelstein, Mickey Levy, Merav Michaeli, Elazar Stern, Nachman Shai, Alon Tal, Simcha Rothman, Yitzhak Pindrus and Zvi Hauser, collectively representing seven different political factions.

Fellow Knesset reporters were also present, with remarks delivered by Amihai Attali of Yediot Aharonot and Yaara Shapira of KAN 11. Hoffman also took his father to that one and introduced him to various politicians.

In addition to his work at the Post, Hoffman is a public speaker who has addressed audiences in each of the states of America, as well as in some other parts of the world.

He has also taught journalism and political strategy at the College of Management, which he will continue to do, and has hosted a podcast, Israel Today, in which he interviewed politicians from across the spectrum. He has been frequently interviewed by international radio and television outlets.

One of the things he will miss is his access to the Knesset gym, where he regularly worked out. He now has surrendered his Knesset access card, which he was not allowed to keep, and as he was driving home on Monday night, the government fell, and there was no point in him turning back to witness the excitement, because without the card, he would not be allowed in.

Growing up in Chicago as one of four children of Israeli parents who spoke Hebrew at home, Hoffman had no problem adapting to Israel, especially as the family frequently came to Israel to visit his grandparents in Netanya. The highlight of his day used to be going to Steimatzky’s to read the Post. He subsequently studied journalism at Northwestern University, and continued to read the Post after coming to Israel as a student at the Jerusalem College of Technology.

As a journalist he has covered 10 elections, and left on the brink of an 11th. Though apolitical in his writing, Hoffman says that he is an Israeli patriot and wants to do something to promote the image of the country, which is why he is making this major change in his life. Taking Hoffman’s place at the Knesset is Eliav Breuer, who is off to an intriguing start.

■ THE MAINLY Irish event in the evening of June 26 is billed as a “ReJoyce Celebration” – and no, it’s not a spelling mistake. The occasion is part of the Bloomsday Festival and marks the centenary year of the publication of Ulysses by celebrated Irish writer James Joyce. It is also the 140th anniversary year of Joyce’s birth. The Israel Ireland Friendship League (IIFL), which usually holds its events in Ra’anana, Herzliya Pituah or Tel Aviv, is on this occasion marking Bloomsday in Jerusalem, and is joining forces with the Israel Association of Writers in English (IAWE), and will jointly conduct a “blooming odyssey” literary night with a presentation mix of Ulysses readings, intermittent on-screen docudrama and atmospheric music of the “Little Jerusalem” days of Joycean Dublin at 8 p.m. at the capital’s Dublin Irish Pub.

Among those in attendance will be Irish Ambassador Kyle O’Sullivan and Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum.

IIFL chairman Malcolm Gafson, who has spent more than half his lifetime in Israel, and still speaks with a rich, Irish brogue, anticipates that many Irish expats and IAWE members and their colleagues will show up for this unique cultural collaboration and celebration.

■ DESPITE THE senseless brouhaha caused by certain ultra-Orthodox figures over the fact that Jewish Agency Chairman-elect Doron Almog spoke at the convention of the Reform movement, few would doubt Almog’s suitably to head the agency, which has been without a chairman for almost a year because there was no consensus over the various candidates on the part of the selection committee.

In most cases, the problem was not one of qualifications but of politics. It was the old story of two Jews, three opinions.

Collectively, in their past and present roles, the people who were named as candidates or potential candidates included ambassadors, government ministers, members of Knesset, IDF generals, academics, the head of a museum, and a deputy mayor, all of whom have proven abilities in leadership in these and other capacities, but who for the most part were ruled out for political reasons, or because of unfortunate statements they had made in the past. Some simply dropped out, and others whose names were bandied about did not make a formal application.

In toto they included Hassan-Nahoum, Elazar Stern, Irina Nevzlin, Michal Cotler-Wunsh, Danny Danon, Omer Yankelevitch, Uzi Dayan, Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, Pnina Tamano-Shata, Idan Roll, Mark Regev, Nachman Shai and Ze’ev Elkin.

Almog was the last-minute dark horse, who gained consensus where others had not. Any of the above who are still interested in holding a significant post in a global Zionist organization still have a chance to apply for the position of chief executive officer of United Israel Appeal, which has been advertised for some time.

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