Grapevine July 17, 2022: Distinguishing between leaders and their policies

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 US VICE-PRESIDENT Joe Biden with then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, in 2016.  (photo credit: DEBBIE HILL/POOL/REUTERS)
US VICE-PRESIDENT Joe Biden with then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, in 2016.

The euphoria over the visit to Israel by US President Joe Biden is over, but no doubt there will be analyses throughout the week and wide-ranging reports of his visit to Saudi Arabia in Israeli, American and global media. What is sad and more than a little disturbing however, is the negative attitude on the part of several American media outlets to a sitting president while he is out of the country. This includes certain right-wing Jewish press that constantly denigrates Biden online in the most disrespectful and humiliating fashion. America is supposed to be a bastion of democracy. Even if people were disappointed by the results of the last presidential election, it was democratically held – and Biden won. Those who want to criticize when the president is at home should distinguish between the man and his policies, and should certainly show loyalty to the chief when he is not at home to defend himself. Whatever flaws he may have, there is no doubt that Biden is an American patriot who has devoted the larger part of his life in service to his country. Here in Israel, the same can be said of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Whatever disturbing characteristics he may have, there is no doubt that he is a patriot, and that he, too, has given a large slice of his life to the country. A little more logic and balance in attitudes to such people would not go astray.

A book about Shimon Peres

■ A DIMINUTIVE, fashionably attired, energetic and almost ageless grandmother, Yona Bartal, who for 21 years was the right hand and closest confidant of Shimon Peres, was urged from the time of his death almost six years ago, to write a book about his ideas and his meetings with world leaders – in particular the secret meetings. Bartal accompanied him to all of them. Her photo album can attest to that. There are photographs with royalty, with the Pope in the Vatican, with presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and other movers and shakers from all over the world.

The book has finally been written, and although it’s all in a positive light, it is certainly a contributing factor in the unveiling of certain previously hidden aspects of Israel’s unfolding history.

Bartal and Efrat Duvdevani were working in senior positions for Yitzhak Rabin at the time that he was assassinated and began to work with Peres when he took over as prime minister. They continued to work with him in the years that followed and when Peres became president, he took them with him to the President’s Residence where Duvdevani was the director and Bartal, the deputy director. They later went with him to the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, where Peres continued to hold court as visiting world leaders and former world leaders sought to meet him. Duvdevani was appointed director-general of the Peres Center, and Bartal was again her deputy, though it could easily be argued that Bartal was the closer of the two with Peres.

 US PRESIDENT Barack Obama receives the Presidential Medal of Distinction from president Shimon Peres in 2013. (credit: GPO) US PRESIDENT Barack Obama receives the Presidential Medal of Distinction from president Shimon Peres in 2013. (credit: GPO)

After Peres died, Bartal founded and is the executive director of the Peres Circle, which is one of the fund-raising arms for the continued activities of the Peres Center and offers a range of perks to its members.

Having at last written the book in which she recalls having been with Peres during his highs and lows, including when he lost the prime ministerial election and later the presidential election, before eventually being elected after Moshe Katsav concluded his term.

Peres had an amazing ability to bounce back after defeat, a factor that Bartal attributes to his not being obsessed or impressed by titles. According to Bartal, titles meant nothing to Peres. Deeds following dreams were important. In fact, in reviewing dreams that became realities, Peres said that his only regret was that “we didn’t dream big enough.”

With regard to the esteem in which Peres was held, Bartal recalled that after losing the prime ministerial elections, Peres had some meetings in Paris. Word reached the Élysée Palace that he was in town and the president of France invited him to a meeting and gave him a full ceremonial welcome.

In America, Peres was invited to former president Bill Clinton’s family home as well as to the White House.

What many people don’t know is that during his presidency, Peres, despite their extreme political differences, invited Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, to dinner every two weeks to discuss affairs of state and the world – and there was not a single leak of what transpired during the whole seven-year period.

Herzog Medical Center

AMBASSADOR TO the United Kingdom Tzipi Hotovely hosted a reception at her residence in honor of Herzog Medical Center, which is believed to be the oldest mental health facility in the Middle East.

Hotovely said that she was honored to be able to host experts in this field as well as in other spheres of medicine and welcomed the opportunity to discuss new developments in the attitude to and treatment of mentally ill patients, with the aim of encouraging cooperation between Great Britain and Israel. In addition to Herzog Medical Center President Yehezkel Caine, senior HMC staff, along with British and Israeli mental health experts, the event was attended by British members of the Friends of Herzog Hospital, headed by the organization’s chairman Jonathan Lauffer, who said that his family had been involved with Herzog Hospital for more than 60 years.

Dr. Bitya Lichtenberg, director of Herzog’s Community Mental Health Center spoke of the recently opened unit for youth with various mental problems.

Sir Simon Wessely, Regius Professor of Psychiatry, King’s College London, a globally acknowledged psychology expert, and Dr. Danny Brom of Herzog’s Metiv Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma, presented a series of intriguing case studies.

WHII 2022

■ THE WHII 2022 conference on innovation and ideas in women’s health was held in Tel Aviv last week. Israeli and international medical personnel and entrepreneurs were unanimous in their conviction that they could help to make a significant positive difference in women’s lives.

Wolfson Medical Center’s CEO Dr. Anat Engel chaired a panel on women’s innovation with the participation of President of the Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Dr. Jeanne Conry, and Dr. Eliezer Shalev, president of Tel Hai College.

The panel discussed various ways in which questions about women’s health are being dealt with in different countries and suggested ways to prevent diseases common to women.

Following the conference, in a session on “hot topics in women’s health and female sexual wellness,” Engel spoke of the relevance of using social media to professionally support pregnant women and female sexuality and the use of social media platforms to promote education on these important issues.

International scientific conference

■ ON JULY 18-19, Bar-Ilan University’s Faculty of Education and Center for Energy and Sustainability will host an international scientific conference on Biology Education for Well-Being focusing on the role of 21st century-skills for informed, responsible and active citizenship.

The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities issued a call for proposals for a conference addressing challenges facing the State of Israel and selected the proposal submitted by Bar-Ilan University Prof. Michal Zion together with Dr. Idit Adler from Tel Aviv University. The Academy is providing funding and additional support for the conference.

According to the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), Israel’s population density and heterogeneity are among the highest in the world, a factor that poses significant environmental and health challenges, says Zion, who organized the conference. “The climate crisis is global, but it also affects Israel. Flooding, fires, and difficult winters have been on the rise here in recent years. In the health sphere, COVID-19 has magnified some of the serious health challenges Israel faces,” she continues. “The bottom line is educating future generations. If we emphasize 21st-century skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving, creativity, self-regulated learning, social and emotional skills and media literacy in health and the environment, we will mold a future generation better able to cope with these challenges,” she asserts.

Zion runs a center for biology education in the Faculty of Education and leads the environmental education unit at Bar-Ilan’s Center for Energy and Sustainability.

Speakers at the conference will include, inter alia, Ambassador Gideon Behar from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Prof. Nadav Davidovitch from Ben-Gurion University, who will address the environmental and health challenges in Israel; and Dr. Gilmor Keshet-Maor, head of the science division in the Ministry of Education, who will highlight the skills needed to address these challenges.

The gathering will include two days of seminars, roundtables and working groups led by national and international scholars.

The aim of the conference is to create a set of recommendations for the Ministries of Education, Health and the Environment to promote well-being through education that can be implemented locally and globally.

On the third day, guests from abroad will participate in a multicultural tour of Israel. This will include stops at a nature reserve in the Golan where students from local schools will present their projects connecting 21st-century skills with environmental issues. One of these projects, spearheaded by Zion, is known as “Take the Garbage with You,” an initiative that aims to teach Israelis to take personal responsibility for their own trash by not leaving it in the public domain. Another stop on the tour, will be in the Bedouin village of Zarzir, north of Nazareth, where participants will be hosted by a Bedouin family.

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