Grapevine July 22, 2022: Naysayers

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 IN FEBRUARY 2014, President Shimon Peres awards the Medal of Distinction to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  (photo credit: GPO)
IN FEBRUARY 2014, President Shimon Peres awards the Medal of Distinction to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
(photo credit: GPO)

It hardly came as a surprise this week, when Morton Klein, the long-term President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), who has been in office for many more years than Benjamin Netanyahu was prime minister, published an op-ed article in The Jerusalem Post opposing the bestowing of Israel’s highest civilian award to United States President Joe Biden. A solid right winger, it is doubtful that Klein would find anything at all worthwhile in the Democratic Party or its leaders.

On the same page, there was another op-ed article by Hebrew University postdoctoral fellow Daniel S. Gross, who likewise was opposed to the honor conferred on Biden, but made comparisons between him and Czech President Milos Zeman, on whom Herzog had bestowed the award earlier in the week, and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, upon whom then President Shimon Peres had conferred the award in February 2014.

In the article, Gross devoted considerable space to Czech history and culture, stating that the latter is distinct. That is actually the root of the operative word in the original name of the award, which was initiated by Peres. He called it the Medal of Distinction in order to emphasize that its recipients were indeed distinct.

For reasons best known to himself, Herzog, who revived the all-but-forgotten award after an eight year hiatus in April this year for reasons that he has not explained, to call it the Medal of honor, which creates confusion, is disrespectful to its founder, and disrespectful to those who received it from Peres. As Herzog has awarded it only twice, he can still return to the original name, while describing it as Israel’s highest civilian honor.

When Merkel received the Medal of Distinction from Peres, it was obvious that she was emotionally moved, as reflected in what she said: “Receiving the highest award bestowed by another country is a great honor for the recipient but, in light of Germany’s responsibility for the tremendous suffering of the Jewish people in the Holocaust, receiving this award today is something of a miracle.”

 MICHAL HERZOG greeted by Prison Service Commissioner Katy Perry at Neve Tirza Women’s Prison. (credit: Courtesy Prisons Service Commission) MICHAL HERZOG greeted by Prison Service Commissioner Katy Perry at Neve Tirza Women’s Prison. (credit: Courtesy Prisons Service Commission)

It’s a Jewish tradition to recognize the good in people, even those with whom we do not always agree. Those who have been critical of Biden receiving the award, might bear that in mind.

■ NO STRANGER to Israel’s prisons, Michal Herzog, the President’s wife, who is a criminal lawyer by profession, visited the Neve Tirza women’s prison this week, and spoke to both officers and inmates. She was greeted by Prison Service Commissioner Lieutenant General Katy Perry.

After touring the prison, Herzog took a front row seat in the prison auditorium, where she witnessed a psychodrama in which some of the inmates shared their backgrounds and their various experiences within the confines of the prison.

A., who was convicted on charges of domestic violence said that she had grown up without parents and had been shunted from place to place. As a result, she had learning difficulties and had problems in keeping herself together. In such circumstances, she understood the importance of masking her feelings in order to protect herself, but circumstances were not in her favor.

Things began to change after she entered prison. “It was here that I was given the opportunity to live and to rediscover myself,” she said. “Thanks to a lot of people, I learned a lot. They believed in me and supported me, even though I smashed dishes. The team here simply did not give up on me.”

Explaining how the psychodrama works, T. said that first everyone had to rid themselves of their ambivalence, in order to reveal their innermost feelings. It had not been easy, she said, but in time, good chemistry between the players evolved, and they were able to know each other better and to strengthen each other.

Herzog told them afterwards that it had been an emotional episode for everyone in the audience, so she could well imagine what it had been like for the women on stage.

She thanked them for giving their all and for sharing the pain, which she believed had pierced the heart of everyone who heard their stories.

Perry noted that when one opens one’s eyes in any Israeli prison, but particularly in Neve Tirza, one see hands outstretched to help each prisoner to advance and to become rehabilitated, so as to ensure that they will not return to prison life.

■ COLOMBIAN AMBASSADOR Margarita E. Manjarrez Herrera, though a career diplomat, is also a lawyer by profession. Last year, she hosted her country’s National Day reception at her elegant residence in Kfar Shmaryahu, but in the interim she has collected many more friends and acquaintances, and therefore moved the celebration to the Tel Aviv Hilton.

In addition to the usual speeches on such occasions, the event included musical presentations and amazing Salsa dancers from the Ensálsate Company. No-one enjoyed them more than the ambassador herself, who danced and sang along on the floor while the two extraordinarily flexible dancers performed on stage to shouts of “Bravo!” from the spectators, many of who also began to dance.

Representing the Government was Health Minister and outgoing Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz, who was in extremely high spirits, as if a weight had fallen from his shoulders.

The occasion was in celebration of the 212th anniversary of Colombian Independence and the 65th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Colombia and Israel. Though Colombia had recognized Israel as early as 1949., it was only in 1956 that Israel sent Tuvia Arazi as her first ambassador to Colombia whereas Colombia’s first ambassador to Israel Jose Maria Franco Ortega presented his credentials to President Yitzhak Ben Zvi in 1958.

Although cooperation and exchanges between the two countries exist on many levels, the ambassador confined herself to three areas: Climate change and energy transition; tourism; and diplomacy, culture and peace, which Manjarrez Herrera believes are inter-related.

The greatest and most urgent challenge for humanity today is confronting climate change, she said, underscoring that it will be a priority for Colombia’s new president Gustavo Petro who will take office on August 7.

On the subject of tourism, she said that following the pandemic, steps had been taken to reactivate tourism, and in 2021, incoming foreign tourists increased by 38%, which was higher than the average for all of South America. This year, Colombia also participated for the first time in the International Mediterranean Tourism Fair in Tel Aviv.

Even though Colombia opened its embassy in Tel Aviv in 1957, it was not until 2013 that a president of Colombia paid a state visit to Israel.

During that visit by President Juan Manuel Santos, that Colombia’s Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism signed a Memorandum of Understanding with MASHAV, Israel’s Agency for International Development and Cooperation. Colombia and Israel also signed a joint declaration to conclude their negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement. The FTA was signed three months later and implemented in August 2020.

In addition to the practical aspects of the diplomatic relationship, such as agriculture, education, defense, trade, investment and innovation, said the ambassador, she always thought that it is culture that nourishes mutual knowledge and dialogue

For this reason, the embassy launched Colombia in Israel– A Look Through Art, an 80-page brochure, in both printed and digital versions, in Spanish, English and Hebrew. The brochure highlights Colombian art in Israel, as an essential element of its diplomacy and as a window through which the Israeli public can approach Colombian culture and identity.

The connection between the two countries has grown, said Horowitz, noting that this was in large measure due to the courage and commitment of former President Ivan Duque, whom he commended for his courage in opening the Colombian Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Jerusalem, last November.

Horowitz also mentioned the benefits of the Free Trade Agreement and, on the purely diplomatic front, also expressed thanks to Colombia for its support at the United Nations for its adoption of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, listing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and for sending its soldiers to be part of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in the Sinai.

In reference to the numerous Colombians who have graduated from a variety of MASHAV training programs, Horowitz said that MASHAV considers Colombia to be a high-priority country.

In congratulating Petro and wishing him success, Horowitz quipped that Colombia, like Israel, is standing before a change of government. At the same time, he did not forget to thank Duque for his friendship and support.

When it came to the toasts, the ambassador invited the Foreign Ministry’s Chief of Protocol Gil Haskel, who is a former director of MASHAV, and Jonathan Peled the Ministry’s Deputy Director General for Latin America and the Caribbean, to join her and Horowitz on stage.

[email protected]