Grapevine June 24, 2022: A matter of precedent

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG greets members of Yemeni families whose infant children disappeared. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG greets members of Yemeni families whose infant children disappeared.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Whenever something becomes a precedent, there’s a chance that it will be more or less emulated at some time in the future. For instance, after Golda Meir became Israel’s first and so far, only woman prime minister, Tzipi Livni almost became the second. She was tasked with forming a government but was unable to do so, and therefore had to cede to Benjamin Netanyahu.

While the anti-Netanyahu Government of Change was short-lived, it did establish three important precedents. One was that a person heading a party with few seats in the Knesset can become prime minister. Another was that the head of an anti-Zionist Arab party can sit in a government coalition. The third was that political rivals from the right and the left can sit together in a government coalition and put the needs of the nation ahead of their own political ideologies. Many people called it an experiment that failed. But it lasted a year and created a foundation for future attempts of this kind. Political leaders can’t keep mouthing the concept of national unity while they continue to promote national divisiveness through insults and incitement.

Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid became first-time ministers in a Netanyahu-led government in 2013, and called each other “my brother.” This filial relationship had its ups and downs, but on the whole remained intact, as evidenced in Bennett’s gracious swan song address this week and Lapid’s brief response. Something similar, but lacking in the obvious warmth between Bennett and Lapid is that of Aryeh Deri with Netanyahu. In the early years of Netanyahu’s premiership, when nasty rumors about Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, began to surface, Deri publicly told her “Tasimi pass!” (Cross it out). In other words, ignore anything they say about you and keep doing your own thing.

Yair Netanyahu

■ APROPOS THE Netanyahu family, older son Yair, who frequently attacked the Israeli media, was this month issued with a press card by the Government Press Office. Netanyahu junior has often abused the concept of freedom of expression in his social media posts. Journalistically, he has a weekly radio program on Galei Israel and occasionally writes for various publications. Objectivity has never been his strong suit.

 YAIR NETANYAHU, during his appearance on a Norwegian TV channel. (credit: Courtesy) YAIR NETANYAHU, during his appearance on a Norwegian TV channel. (credit: Courtesy)

Twitter friendship

■ MUTUAL TWEETS were posted this week by US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides and Israel Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog, who got together in Washington to discuss the upcoming visit to Israel by US President Joe Biden. Neither of the two wore a business suit. Herzog wore jeans and an open-necked shirt, while Nides wore shorts and a T-shirt. Not only was their attire casual, so was their totally relaxed body language – yet another sign of the close relationship between Israel and the US.

President Herzog

■ MEANWHILE IN Israel this week President Isaac Herzog hosted some of the families of Yemeni and other Middle Eastern origins as well as those of Balkan background who lost close relatives, who suddenly disappeared as infants in the early years of the state. The families had been told by health and social welfare workers that the children – many of who had been in good health – had died. But with few exceptions, there was no proof. The parents had not been informed of funerals nor issued death certificates. Herzog, who characterized this still unsolved mystery as “an extremely bloodstained, painful, frustrating and agonizing open wound,” said that despite committees and commissions on the subject “there are still many questions surrounding this open wound.”

He advised anyone who has not done so to read Dr. Nathan Shifris’s book, published in 2019, about the Yemeni children’s affair: Where Has My Child Gone? This book, which has close to 1,000 pages, has influenced him profoundly, said Herzog.

Noting that he had been following the case closely since his career as a Member of Knesset, government and as leader of the opposition, Herzog voiced appreciation and gratitude to MKs Keren Barak and Naama Lazimi for the parliamentary and public work that they are leading on this important issue. He also thanked former MK Nurit Koren, for her many years of important work in this regard. In the same vein, he praised the work of all those still involved in seeking answers as to the fate of the missing children. In particular, he singled out members of the Amram Association and commended all the NGOs and activists who for years have continued to raise awareness of this painful affair, standing by the side of families who after so many decades are still grieving.

In his former roles, Herzog worked with many of those involved and pledged to continue to do so.

Yitzhak Eldan: diplomat and activist for language preservation

■ FEW PEOPLE have only one interest in life. Retired diplomat Yitzhak Eldan who is the founder and president of the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel, is also the founder of the national olive trail, which he frequently promotes in tandem with Keren Kayemet Le’Israel Jewish National Fund. He also trains senior high school students to be young diplomats and takes them on trips abroad to meet their peers in other countries, to visit houses of parliament, foreign ministries as well as Jewish communities. The Moroccan-born Eldan is likewise very involved in the promotion and preservation of Ladino, in which capacity he went to Safed this week to meet Mayor Shuki Ohana, whose surname also indicates his Moroccan roots. Eldan went to thank Ohana for his role in having his city host an International Ladino Festival that will be held from July 4-7, and to present him with a certificate of appreciation. When he was Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO in 2002, Eldan headed the Israeli delegation to the first-ever official international meeting on the preservation of the Ladino language, which at the time was regarded as a language at risk of becoming extinct. Ladino is the common language of Sephardi communities around the world. In Israel, there is a National Authority for Ladino just as there is a National Authority for Yiddish.

Some of Israel’s best Ladino singers will be performing at the festival – among them Yehoram Gaon and Yasmin Levy.

Eldan will speak at the festival about the importance of preserving Ladino as a vital component of Jewish cultural heritage. Just as Yiddish is a derivative of German, Ladino is a derivative of Spanish. The head of the Ladino Authority for several years before his death was Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, who also wrote the musical Bustan Sefaradi (Spanish Orchard) based on Jerusalem’s Ladino-speaking families from his youth. Navon, who was of Moroccan descent, could speak both Spanish and Ladino fluently. He also spoke Yiddish and Arabic.

MK Stav Shaffir gets engaged

■ SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR and former Labor MK Stav Shaffir, 37, this week announced her engagement to Amit Stibbe, who has been her significant other for the past 18 months or so. It is somehow symbolic that this major change in her status should come at a time when the year 2011 is being evoked. Shaffir, together with Daphni Leef and Itzhak Shmuli led the 2011 protest movement against exorbitant rental prices, the cost of purchasing an apartment and the general fight for social justice and democracy that led to the spontaneous creation of a tent city in Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard.

In the ensuing Knesset elections, Shaffir became the youngest woman ever to be elected to the Knesset and was a very vocal and active parliamentarian in the battle for democracy and the fight against corruption.

Ever-spiraling real estate expenses will not bother her once she gets married. Her fiancé happens to be the son of Eytan Stibbe, the billionaire and former ace fighter pilot, who recently captured international headlines as a ten-day space tourist who was hailed in many media outlets as an astronaut when he was actually one of the pioneers of space tourism.

On Wednesday, Shaffir, in announcing her engagement on social media, wrote “the person whom I love most proposed to me that we should spend the rest of our lives together, and I answered Yes.”

The seafront proposal was made in a romantic setting with the prospective groom doing the traditional thing by going down on one knee as he presented the prospective bride with a ring.

Blue Economy in Haifa

■ HAIFA IS known to be one of Israel’s best examples of coexistence between Arabs and Jews. Thus, it comes as a surprise that at its upcoming Blue Economy conference on July 4 among 38 featured participants, most of who will be speakers, there is not a single Arab. There are a dozen women led by Economy Minister Orna Barbivay and Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem.

Physical and psychological damage

■ EVEN THOUGH Israelis get arrested and convicted for assaults against Palestinians, the courts are not always fair in determining the period of incarceration. While heavy sentences are passed against Palestinians and Arabs who are Israeli citizens who attack Jews, when it’s the other way around, the sentence is relatively light. That was the case this week when, despite requests by the prosecution that Yaakov Cohen be sentenced to four to seven years, for his act of mercilessly kicking Sa’eed Mousa as he lay helpless on the ground during the Bat Yam riots of May, 2021. Cohen was one of several men captured on camera, as they savagely attacked Mousa. The court’s reasoning for the light sentence took into consideration that Mousa had tried to run them down in his car. Cohen was also ordered to pay Mousa damages of NIS 5,000. That sum might have covered the pocket cost for treatment of his physical condition but what did that beating do to him psychologically?

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