Grapevine July 20, 2022: They also serve who only stand and wait

Movers and shakers of Israeli society.

 US PRESIDENT Joe Biden with President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, at his official residence in Jerusalem, last week.  (photo credit: EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/REUTERS)
US PRESIDENT Joe Biden with President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, at his official residence in Jerusalem, last week.
(photo credit: EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/REUTERS)

US President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel brought to mind the closing line of a sonnet by 17th-century British poet John Milton, who wrote: “They also serve who only stand and wait.” There was a tremendous amount of waiting during the visit because invitees to various events had to be there more than two hours ahead of Biden’s scheduled arrival.

In the case of television crews from different channels and various countries who on Thursday were confined to a special tent for journalists at the President’s Residence, they made use of the waiting time by conducting interviews with some of the invited guests.

The most popular was Michael Oren, the American-born former ambassador to the US, who is equally fluent in Hebrew and English. Oren went channel-hopping in the limited apace of the tent, as one crew after another sought to interview him.

The second most popular interviewee was Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas, followed by Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, who was simultaneously coping with the Biden visit, the opening of the Maccabiah Games and the closure of various streets in the capital.

Yuval Dayan's handshake

■ OPTICAL ILLUSIONS often lead to the wrong conclusions. Singer Yuval Dayan – who, together with Ran Danker, sang “Let It Be” and “Lu Yehi” at the President’s Residence in the presence of Biden, his host President Isaac Herzog and many secular and religious dignitaries – happens to be religiously observant, and one of the strict rules that she observes is refraining from physical contact with members of the opposite sex. Anticipating that POTUS might want to shake hands with her following her performance, she had notified numerous officials connected with the event that she does not shake hands with males, and would therefore not shake hands with Biden.

That’s the way it was, and Biden, having been briefed, did not initially try to shake hands with her. The scene was reminiscent of the days of president Reuven Rivlin, whose haredi bureau chief, Rivka Ravitz, likewise refrained from physical contact with men other than her husband. The essential difference was that Ravitz stood with her hands behind her back so as to convey the message to anyone who had forgotten, whereas Dayan stood demurely with her hands clasped in front of her. In photographs of the scene, it looks as if Biden put out his hand, and Dayan rejected it. In fact, the hand belongs to Herzog, who was standing very close to Biden and performed the introduction. The photo is taken from an angle that obscures most of Herzog’s head and nearly all of his body, other than the outstretched arm, and if anyone wants to look closely, the outstretched hand is a left hand, not a right hand. But Biden, who is a touchy-feely person, as many of his other photographs with Herzog and Prime Minister Yair Lapid attest, instinctively put out his hand, whereupon Dayan moved her hands into a position of supplication, which is the manner in which Indians tend to greet people, and no one sees anything wrong with that.

Dayan who was berated on social media for allegedly insulting the president of the United States, explained on her Facebook account that a week earlier, she had been asked whether she would shake the president’s hand. She carefully thought about her response. Since the age of 16.5, she wrote, she has been exposed to so many people that she developed the desire to safeguard herself through the way she dressed and through distancing herself from physical contact. She’s never touched drugs or been drunk on stage, she continued. Nor has she ever humiliated anyone. She attributed her moral stance to the values instilled in her by her parents.

When she came to the President’s Residence for rehearsals, she wrote, she made sure that everyone understood that there would be no handshake. For all that, she was bothered that she might shame someone, and had asked Danker to put out his hand in the event that Biden would want to shake hands. The storm of reaction to her not shaking hands never occurred to her.

Waiting for landing

■ ON THE previous day, status did not protect anyone, including the president of the state, the prime minister, the leader of the opposition and other dignitaries, from waiting in the grueling sun of Ben-Gurion Airport for Air Force One to land. To make matters worse, they were clad in suits and ties.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu was seated between Meretz leader and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and Labor leader and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, causing Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz to write last Friday that it was the closest that Netanyahu has been seen next to this government since it was sworn in. To the writer of this column, it seemed that Bibi was the right-wing meat in the left-wing sandwich.

Michaeli's mission

■ NOW THAT she has broken the curse hanging over the Labor Party, Michaeli is more determined than ever to steer the party back to its former glory. In the race this week for the party’s leadership, she scored a landslide victory over rival contestant Eran Hermoni, the party’s secretary-general, who has had several run-ins with Michaeli over the past year.

 TRIUMPHANT LABOR leader Merav Michaeli faces a bevy of press photographers following her reelection.  (credit: COURTESY LABOR PARTY SPOKESPERSON) TRIUMPHANT LABOR leader Merav Michaeli faces a bevy of press photographers following her reelection. (credit: COURTESY LABOR PARTY SPOKESPERSON)

Much as she has achieved or attempted to achieve in her role as transportation minister, it would do her good to try to wipe the smug expression off her face, and to remember that election winners have not necessarily been voted in because they were so popular, but because they were the lesser of two evils. Despite her various successes, Michaeli has also faced a lot of criticism from party members, and it would be extremely beneficial for her to address this discontent in order to attain her goal of moving the party forward.

Just as Labor was the first major political party in 1992 to introduce primaries prior to the national elections, it was also the first of the current political parties to hold a primary election for leadership, which will be followed next month with primary elections for Labor’s Knesset slate.

For two or three days prior to the leadership election, representatives of both campaign teams inundate party members with multiple messages by phone and on various social media platforms, urging them to vote, and of course to vote for a particular candidate.

Labor Party chairpersons since 1992 have included Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres twice, Ehud Barak twice, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Amram Mitzna, Amir Peretz twice, Shelly Yacimovich, Herzog, Avi Gabbay, and Michaeli twice. None of her predecessors who served twice did so consecutively. Michaeli is the first in 30 years to be elected for two consecutive terms, thereby breaking the evil spell that Labor voters had cast on their leaders.

Gantz and Sa'ar

■ APROPOS UPCOMING Knesset elections, several political pundits have stated that Benny Gantz has saved Gideon Sa’ar from a political demise. It’s interesting that while Sa’ar was in the Likud, he enjoyed tremendous popularity, so much so that he believed that he could defeat Netanyahu when he challenged him for the Likud leadership, only to wake up to reality. His popularity had plummeted. After he formed his New Hope Party, it seemed from surveys that his star was once more on the rise, but the election results proved differently, and he was left with a single digit representation in the Knesset.

Opinion is divided as to whether Gantz did the right thing in joining forces with Sa’ar, who may well prove to be an albatross around his neck. The question is whether Gantz will pull Sa’ar up, or whether Sa’ar will pull Gantz down. We will all be wiser on November 2.

Why did Biden visit east Jerusalem?

■ IN ISRAEL, the jury is still out as to whether the POTUS visit to east Jerusalem was political, regardless of assurances by US Ambassador Tom Nides that it was purely humanitarian. During his visit to the Augusta Victoria Hospital, Biden pledged American aid of $100 million to hospitals in east Jerusalem.

Augusta Victoria, which has gone through a series of transformations since its construction well over a century ago, provides special care for Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, who cannot receive similar medical treatment where they live. The hospital has a cancer center, a dialysis unit, a bone marrow transplant unit and a pediatric center.

It is one of six specialized medical facilities in the East Jerusalem Hospitals Network. The others include Makassed Hospital, Red Crescent Maternity Hospital, St. John’s Ophthalmic Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Princess Basma Rehabilitation Center.

There is also a hospice for the terminally ill, which is run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, and cares for patients of all faiths. Its Jewish patients include members of the ultra-Orthodox communities, who are regularly visited by residents of nearby Mea She’arim.

Following his visit to Jerusalem in 1898, German Kaiser Wilhelm II ordered the construction of a guesthouse for German pilgrims, which he named for his wife, Augusta Victoria of Schleswig Holstein.

Though inaugurated in April 1910, it was not completed till 1914. Many of the building materials were imported from Germany.

During the First World War, the complex, which includes a church, served as a German military hospital. It was subsequently used as Ottoman headquarters by Djemal Pasha, then as headquarters for the high command of the German expeditionary corps. Following the conquest by the British forces, the Augusta Victoria compound served as headquarters for Gen. Allenby’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force and afterward as the headquarters of the British Military Administration of Occupied Enemy Territory.

From 1920 to 1927, Augusta Victoria was the official residence of the British high commissioner, the first of whom was Herbert Samuel, a Jew, who became the first Jewish governor of the Holy Land in two millennia, and remained in office till 1925. In 1927, the buildings were severely damaged in an earthquake. In 1928 the compound was returned to its German prewar owner, the Kaiserin Augusta Victoria Foundation.

In the 1930s, the Nazi Party headed by Ludwig Buchalter, a Templer living the German Colony, held meetings at Augusta Victoria, which, when it reopened as a hostel, decided that no Jewish guests were allowed.

During the Second World War, the British moved in again and used the premises as a hospital for wounded soldiers.

It was later returned to its owners, and since 1950 has been run and financed mainly by the Lutheran World Federation and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees.

As a hospital, its credo is to provide healthcare without regard to race, creed, gender or national origin.

The building was heavily damaged during the Six Day War, and restoration work was not completed till 1988.

Humans without Borders

■ FORMER TELEVISION anchor and, after that, executive director of the New Israel Fund Eliezer Yaari, who is currently a volunteer with Humans without Borders, which transports sick Palestinian children and their caregivers from Israeli checkpoints to Augusta Victoria, Hadassah and Shaarei Zedek medical centers, last Friday in his regular corner on Yaron Enosh’s weekly radio program, urged the Americans to threaten to withdraw aid unless a proper children’s hospital with all the facilities required for children with cancer, kidney problems and heart diseases is built in an area under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority.

In order to be treated at hospitals in Israel, including east Jerusalem, these children have to get up at 4 a.m., and endure a long and often uncomfortable ride to where they are being treated. They have to be transferred from a Palestinian vehicle to an Israeli car waiting on the other side of the checkpoint, where volunteers take them to the hospitals in which they are being treated, and return them afterward to the checkpoint.

Yaari believes that children should not be subjected to this, and that a fully serviced hospital should be built in the Palestinian territory.

■ AS FOR the alleged political aspect of Biden’s visit to east Jerusalem, on his way home from Saudi Arabia he tweeted: “We will continue to support Israel’s integration in the region and support efforts to negotiate a lasting peace between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people that allows both peoples to live side by side in peace and security.”

Biden's visit to the West Bank

■ DURING HIS visit to the West Bank, Biden announced two USAID grants. The first grant provides more than $2m. over three years to the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation to establish a Medical Cooperation Consortium that will create sustainable, formalized cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians in the healthcare field. The project will improve cross-border medical cooperation and provide in-person training to more than 300 Israeli and Palestinian medical professionals. Through the consortium and joint training events, Israeli and Palestinian healthcare professionals will together address challenges facing healthcare systems in their communities, while also building trust between people and advancing the prospects for peace.

The second grant provides $5m. over three years to Appleseeds to bring Israelis and Palestinians in the technology sector together to develop career-enhancing skills. The project will bring together more than 1,000 young Israeli and Palestinian professionals from underserved communities to learn technology, leadership and conflict mitigation side by side. In addition to visual design, coding and app development training, participants will receive practical skills to help them advance their careers in the technology industry. Israeli and Palestinian youth will learn together as peers, build trust between people across the region’s burgeoning technology industry, and create advocates for an eventual two-state solution.

The latest grants are part of the US efforts to promote peace and advance a two-state solution.

The Peres Center, since its earliest years, has been involved in bringing Palestinians and Israelis together in medical and technological training, sport, entrepreneurship, innovation and other fields. It arranged for Syrian children wounded in hostilities there to be brought to Israel for treatment, and it also arranged for the training of more than 250 Palestinian physicians working side by side with Israeli counterparts in Israeli hospitals.

All three Peres siblings, Chemi Peres, Yoni Peres and Prof. Tsvia Walden, continue to carry out their father’s legacy and are members of the Peres Center Board of Directors, of which Chemi is the chairman.

Ron Huldai announces mayoral candidacy 

■ IN A Spotify podcast with investigative journalist Nadav Perry, Tel Aviv’s legendary mayor with the booming voice Ron Huldai said that he will make one more run for mayor before retiring from local politics. Huldai, who next month will celebrate his 78th birthday, has been mayor of the city that never stops since 1998.

The ex-kibbutznik, former combat pilot and school principal, who has done so well in leading the Tel Aviv Municipality, failed miserably in his bid to enter national politics in 2021. A longtime member of the Labor Party, he formed a new party, The Israelis, which failed to reach agreements with other parties, as a result of which he decided not to run for the Knesset.

When the conversation turned to elections for the 25th Knesset, Huldai told Perry that he had no one to vote for, but conceded that Lapid has leadership material. Asked about his former political affiliation, Huldai said that today’s Labor Party is not his home.

Virtual meetings

■ ONE OF the key advantages of social media is that one can meet people, both formally and informally, before actually coming face-to-face with them.

When they were both still in Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff, the former Israel ambassador in Berlin, clued Ambassador to Israel Steffan Seibert on some of the people he would meet, and following Seibert’s introductory tweet, many of those people responded with greetings of welcome, and some met him in person at various events that he attended, such as an investiture for former Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev by Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld at an event hosted by French Ambassador Eric Danon. Another was the Egyptian national day, where Seibert caught up with several colleagues.

On Sunday of this week he went to Yad Vashem, which he had visited more than once before, and where Shalev had headed the directorate from 1993 to 2021. Afterward he tweeted in German an excerpt from what his former boss Angela Merkel had written in the guest book, that every visit to Yad Vashem moves her anew.

Seibert, in his role as government spokesman, was also very outspoken against the Nazi atrocities. While at Yad Vashem, Seibert said: “Here the victims are more than just numbers. They are people with life stories, with names and faces....”

Vietnam-Israel relations celebration

■ IN CELEBRATION of his country’s 29th anniversary of entering into full diplomatic relations with Israel, Vietnamese Ambassador Ly Duc Trang and his wife, Phan Minh Trang, hosted a get-together at Beit Asia, which, not surprisingly, is also the venue of the Vietnamese Embassy. The event was attended by members of the Vietnam-Israel Circle of Friends, several of whom came attired in traditional Vietnamese dress; and the culinary presentations were also Vietnamese.

The ambassador is planning a much bigger event for next year, when he will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations, and hopes to bring a high-ranking Vietnamese official to Israel for the occasion.

Tnuva

■ SINCE 2014, Tnuva, the iconic producer of dairy products, has been controlled by China’s state-owned company Bright Food. Originally a kibbutz cooperative, established in 1926, Tnuva, which is Israel’s largest food producer, in 2008 sold the controlling interest in its operations to AJAX, a British private equity firm, and the Israeli Mivtach Shamir Holdings, which together held 76.7% of the company’s shares. AJAX sold to Bright Food in 2014, giving the Chinese investor a 56% controlling stake in the company.

Thus, it was hardly surprising that Chinese Ambassador Cai Run, his commercial attaché and other embassy staff made a point of visiting Tnuva Dairies in Rehovot. Tnuva is responsible for 70% of Israel’s milk supply. They were welcomed by Tnuva chairman Haim Gavrieli and CEO Eyal Melis, who are the Bright Food representatives in Israel, along with other members of the Tnuva directorate.

 FROM LEFT: Haim Gavrieli, Chinese Ambassador Cai Run, Eyal Melis. (credit: RAFI DELOYA) FROM LEFT: Haim Gavrieli, Chinese Ambassador Cai Run, Eyal Melis. (credit: RAFI DELOYA)

In the course of the visit, the ambassador and his team were given an in-depth presentation of innovation in dairy farming and in Tnuva’s role, as well as a review by Shai Cohen, head of Tnuva’s Corporate Innovation Unit, on foodtech progress, especially in relation to future meat. The Chinese team also toured the premises, and showed particular interest in the R&D section.

In the course of the tour, Gavrieli noted that Tnuva, which will soon be celebrating its centenary, has deep roots in the history and development of the state. “There is no greater contribution to Israel than supplying food for its inhabitants,” he said.

Farmers and food suppliers include thousands of families throughout Israel, he continued, noting that 75% of Tnuva’s employees work in peripheral areas. They are dedicated to their jobs, in which they do excellent work in helping to create innovative products, he said.

In thanking his hosts for what had been a riveting experience, Cai Run underscored that China and Israel are working together on a free trade agreement, which will strengthen economic relations between the two countries.

Crime and punishment

■ VERY OFTEN, when public figures are indicted for a crime, their claim is that someone is out to get them. That is often true regardless of whether or not they committed the crime, but when they are found guilty, it becomes obvious that some people are definitely more equal than others.

Former Jerusalem Police chief Nisso Shaham, who was accused of exploiting his position to have sexual relations with several junior women officers, and serial sex offender Alon Kastiel were in recent days given early releases by the parole board despite opposition from the prosecution and protests by women’s movements and some of the victims.

Shaham had somehow managed to convince the court that these sexual encounters had been consensual, and was initially sentenced to community service, but later to several months in prison. Following a plea bargain, in which he admitted to sexual offenses against four women, though more than a dozen others had filed complaints against him, Kastiel, who comes from Israel’s more affluent and influential families, was sentenced to four years and nine months jail time, but was released several months early despite widely publicized opposition from the State Attorney’s Office and his victims. Former president Moshe Katsav was also given an early release after being convicted to seven years in prison on two counts of rape, indecent assault and sexual harassment.

The crimes of all three men were serious, and there is no excusing them, but in comparing the three, Katsav committed fewer offenses, yet was given the heaviest sentence. In fact, he served more time than Shaham and Kastiel combined. Could it be that someone was out to get him?

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