Grapevine July 15, 2022: When France sides with Ukraine

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 MOTHERS OF lone soldiers with their sons and daughters serving in the IDF. (photo credit: AVIRAM VALDMAN)
MOTHERS OF lone soldiers with their sons and daughters serving in the IDF.
(photo credit: AVIRAM VALDMAN)

It is not customary to observe a minute’s silence at a National Day reception. But at the request of French Ambassador Eric Danon, the guests at his Bastille Day reception this week joined him and Ukrainian ambassador Yevgen Korniychuk in observing a minute’s silence for the human losses caused by Russia through its invasion of Ukraine.

In a strong verbal onslaught against Russia, Danon declared: “The war has returned to the gates of Europe.” Danon accused Russia of invading a sovereign state in breach of the charter of the United Nations, and of waging a cruel war of multiple abuses and war crimes on the part of the Russian Army. Danon was certain that the Russians will lose the war, “because they have lost their soul.”

He was critical of the Russian claim – which he termed an obscenity – of wanting to denazify the Ukrainian government.

Resenting the comparison to acts of collaboration during the Second World War, Danon noted that on July 16, France will commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv’ Roundup, the mass arrest by French police of thousands of foreign Jewish families.

This collaboration with the Nazis and the responsibility of the French Government at the time, was acknowledged by President Jacques Chirac, 27 years ago. Danon declared that at a time when direct witnesses are becoming increasingly fewer, he would like to reiterate President Emmanuel Macron’s absolute commitment to fighting antisemitism in all its present manifestations.

 AMIR SZOLD (credit: Toni Bar) AMIR SZOLD (credit: Toni Bar)

Referring to recent meetings between Macron, President Isaac Herzog, and Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Danon said how pleased Macron had been that Lapid had chosen France as his first travel destination as prime minister. Re-affirming France’s commitment to Israel’s security, and emphasizing the development of cyberspace cooperation between France and Israel, Danon also spoke of France’s commitment to the stability of the Middle East, and its support for the normalization process between Israel and Arab states.

On a personal note, he said that he and his family love Israel deeply “because it is a place where the past and the future co-exist in all things, as well as the religious and the secular…” He quoted Macron as saying: “Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people. I never stopped saying it. This in no way prevents us from recognizing and respecting the attachment of other religions to the city.”

The statement was followed by applause from the crowd, and an emotional reaction from Agriculture Minister Oded Forer, who was representing the government.

“What you said about Jerusalem is very important,” he told Danon, but then went on to talk about the long history of friendship between France and Israel, and the wide spectrum of research and development in which they cooperate, including innovation technology and cyber. Alluding to the need for increased food security, he suggested that this was an area in which the two countries should work together, because Israel already has the technology and has conducted considerable R&D in agriculture.

Forer also expressed appreciation to Macron for his consistent support of the Jewish community and commended France’s support of every human being regardless of religion, race or gender.

During the singing of the National anthems, Danon, who is Jewish, barely moved his lips during the first stanza of Hatikva, but then allowed himself to sing wholeheartedly.

Just before the playing of the anthem of the European Union, he called EU Ambassador Dimiter Tzantchev to the stage and also invited him to join in the toasts.

This thoughtful and respectful gesture was no less unusual than the minute of silence for Ukrainian victims of the Russian initiated conflict. Ambassadors of other EU member states have displayed the flag and have usually, but not always, played the anthem, but have generally failed to acknowledge the presence of the EU ambassador or to include him in the ceremony.

■ AMONG THE diplomatic guests at the Bastille Day reception was Vietnamese Ambassador Ly Duc Trung, who instead of wearing a suit, stood out in the crowd in a traditional white ensemble, which he said he preferred to wear on ceremonial occasions. The French reception was brought forward to JuIy 12, so as not to clash with President Joe Biden’s visit. July 12, 1993, is also the date Israel and Vietnam entered into diplomatic relations, so Ly Duc had two reasons for wearing traditional attire.

■ FORMER GERMAN Government spokesman Steffen Seibert is Germany’s new ambassador designate to Israel and is due to present his credentials in August. Seibert has already been welcomed by his Israeli opposite number Ron Prosor, who tweeted his welcome message “from one ambassador designate to another.” Seibert also received a welcome tweet from Israel’s former ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff.

■ WHEN VISITING Israel, mothers of lone Soldiers who are serving in the Israel Defense Forces know that sooner or later they will hook-up with their offspring. But 35 such mothers from the United States, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Mexico and South Africa. who came to Israel with the Momentum organization, thought last week that they were attending an educational seminar at the new Nefesh B’Nefesh Campus in Jerusalem, and were happily surprised to be reunited with their sons and daughters serving in the IDF.

Momentum is a global movement founded by Lori Palatnik in 2009 to facilitate a deeper connection between Jewish women to their Jewish values and to deepen their connection to the State of Israel. Since its founding, Momentum has brought participants from 35 countries to Israel.

The mothers of lone soldiers arrived as part of a much larger delegation of 550 women participating in Momentum’s flagship 8-day trip, organized in partnership with the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs.

The emotional mass reunion derived from a joint effort between Momentum and the FIDF – Nefesh B’Nefesh Lone Soldiers program.

The FIDF-Nefesh B’Nefesh Lone Soldiers Program cares for some 3,500 immigrant soldiers from around the world currently in active service. This program, with the full support of the IDF, offers guidance, support and care for all immigrant lone soldiers during each stage of their service, after release from the army and during the adjustment stages to civilian life.

“It’s remarkable for us to have helped assist the emotional reunions of these incredibly devoted and supportive mothers of our lone soldiers,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh. “These mothers and soldiers demonstrate for us all how modern-day Zionism is flourishing and we are grateful to them for the crucial role they play in defending the Jewish State.”

Part of the tour for the mothers included a meeting at the President’s Residence the previous day with Michal Herzog, the President’s wife, who is a staunch supporter of lone soldiers.

“It should not be taken for granted that your children chose to serve in the IDF and it should certainly not be taken for granted that you are supporting them from afar,” she told them. “As a mother of three former soldiers, I can’t imagine what it would be like to have children serve when you are so far away. But what I can say is that serving will be a life-altering experience for them where they will make friends that will remain loyal to them forever.”

■ IT MAY be a relatively brief period of glory, but whether it is short, or whether election results allow for a long extension, Na’ama Schultz can take pride in the fact that she has made history as the first woman in Israel to be appointed director general of the Prime Minister’s office.

Schultz was previously director of Yair Lapid’s office at the Foreign Ministry, and has moved with him to the Prime Minister’s office.

Regardless of the outcome of the elections, Schultz will be able to have her current position listed indefinitely on her curriculum vitae.

■ AT A time when diplomatic relations between Israel and Poland had soured, non-diplomatic relations between the two countries continued to flourish.

Case in point is that of Dr. Amir Szold, who in a ceremony held in Poland, was recently named an Honorary Member of the European Surgical Association for Endoscopy (EAES). Szold, who is one of Israel’s leading surgeons and an entrepreneur in the field of medical technologies, is Medical Director of Asia Medica,

EAES whose membership comprises some 3,500 surgeons from across Europe, chose to honor Szold in recognition of his longstanding contribution to the development of innovative and groundbreaking techniques and technologies for minimally invasive surgery, and in light of his deep involvement in the education and training of surgeons from all levels around the globe.

After many active years in EAES, Szold succeeded in introducing the Israeli Association as a member in the European Association. He formerly headed the Technological Committee of the EAES, founded and headed the Israeli Association of Endoscopic Surgery, and inter alia, currently serves as a member of the Board of the Israeli Surgical Association and the Executive Committee of the Society for Medical Innovation and Technology (SMIT).

Just a few days later, diplomatic relations between Poland and Israel began to warm up again, and Israel’s ambassador to Poland Yacov Livne was permitted to present his credentials.

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