Grapevine September 16, 2022: A cherry blossom swan song

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 MICHAL HERZOG chats with a lone soldier. (photo credit: GPO)
MICHAL HERZOG chats with a lone soldier.
(photo credit: GPO)

Considering that he will not be running in the November Knesset elections, the celebration at the Waldorf Hotel in Jerusalem of the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Israel could be considered the political swan song of Zvi Hauser, the chairman of the Israel-Japan Parliamentary Friendship Group. Hauser said it was very symbolic that the 70th anniversary celebration should be held in Israel’s capital, and like other speakers, commented on the fact that Japan had been the first country in Asia to recognize Israel.

But Japanese Ambassador Mizushima Koichi, in his address, reminded guests that Japan had in 1917 supported the Balfour Declaration, and in 1920, had been the only Asian country with a representative at the San Remo Conference, which was convened to discuss the manner in which the territories of the defeated Ottoman Empire would be allocated.

He also surmised that Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, would be amazed at the extent to which the relationship between the two countries has developed, and noted that in the past year, 16% of foreign investment in Israel came from Japan.

Though geographically far apart, said Koichi, the shared values of the two countries include democracy, freedom, rule of law, free trade, freedom of navigation of the seas and human rights.

Zvi Vapni, the senior foreign policy adviser to President Isaac Herzog, read out a congratulatory message from the president including his intention to pay a state visit to Japan in the coming year.

 Knesset Member Zvi Hauser honors Japanese righteous gentiles who saved lives in Holocaust, 2022. (credit: KOBI KIVITI) Knesset Member Zvi Hauser honors Japanese righteous gentiles who saved lives in Holocaust, 2022. (credit: KOBI KIVITI)

There were also recorded video messages from Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who was in Japan last month. Lapid, who also sent a video message to the President’s Residence where a memorial tribute was being held for Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, will appear in person next week at a gala event hosted by the Friends of the IDF in New York.

Levy was not the only speaker who mentioned the assassination two months ago of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who had visited Israel and was a great friend of Israel, but Levy was the only one who in the same breath mentioned the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Visiting WIZO

■ ON A more personal level, Levy and his wife visited the WIZO Shelter in Jerusalem for battered women and their children, where they met with members of the WIZO executive, together with members of WIZO’s committee for the advancement of the status of women.

They also met with residents of the shelter and heard their personal stories.

Discussions included the ongoing struggle for gender equality and the fight against gender, religious and racial discrimination, but the main focus was on the challenge of preventing violence against women..

Nurit Levy was appreciative of the opportunity to meet with the residents and to learn about what they plan to do once they leave the shelter. She also praised WIZO for what it does to protect these women and to help them on their new path in life.

World WIZO President Esther Mor noted that Levy has a long-time record of volunteerism in efforts to prevent violence against women.

The importance of diplomacy

■ SO MANY things in every country are based on diplomatic connections, and on listening to what the other person is saying. This was the underlying message of retired ambassador Jeremy Issacharoff,who recently completed a five-year tour of duty in Germany, prior to his retirement from the Foreign Service. Born in England, and trained as a lawyer, essentially to please his parents, Issacharoff, who came on aliyah in 1977, enlisted in the army and afterwards joined the Foreign Ministry, was the guest speaker this week at the home in Jerusalem of Desna and Larry Lauber, whose large garden terrace was filled to capacity by a large audience of mostly British expats who are members or supporters of the Lapidot chapter of Emunah. Lapidot itself supports a number of educational projects. 

Issacharoff, who over the years was involved in negotiations with Egypt and Jordan and who away from the public eye met with diplomats from other parts of the region, including the UAE long before the Abraham Accords, said Arab diplomats should not be underestimated. They are well-educated, highly knowledgeable and highly qualified. Moreover, Issacharoff was sometimes surprised by the depth of the friendships that developed between him and Arab diplomats compared to those which he had developed with representatives of other countries. Much of it was based on trust, he said, and meetings that he had with Arab diplomats in the years before the Abraham Accords had never been leaked. Other than the foreign ministries of their countries and of Israel, no one knew about them. 

Issacharoff also implied that the public in any country tends to view bilateral relations from an ideological or emotional standpoint, and does not take strategic interests into account. An example came at question time when he was asked how he, as a Jew, felt about being Israel’s ambassador to Germany. Issacharoff conceded that not a day passed without some emotional incident, but on the other hand, Germany is Israel’s best strategic partner in Europe. The two countries cooperate on numerous levels, and the German leadership at both federal and state level is committed to Israel’s security. “It’s not just about Jews,” he said. “It’s about themselves.”

Speaking during the anniversary period of the Abraham Accords, Issacharoff said he had been very pleased to be invited to Washington for the signing ceremony, but then added wryly that the invitation had not come from Israel, but from the UAE.

The pre-Rosh Hashanah reception for lone soldiers

■ AMONG THE duties of the wives of the president of the state and the IDF chief of staff is an annual pre-Rosh Hashanah reception for lone soldiers. Michal Herzog and Yael Kohavi rose to the occasion this week, and hosted 20 lone soldiers at the President’s Residence. The soldiers, who serve in different units of the IDF, left their families and friends to make their personal contributions to Israel’s security. They came alone to Israel from the US, Russia, Ukraine, China, Mexico, France and elsewhere. They were joined at the reception by Israeli-born soldiers who are mostly from dysfunctional families who are unable to support them emotionally or economically.

At the present time, according to IDF statistics, there are 6,900 servicemen and women who are designated as lone soldiers. Out of all lone soldiers, 26% are in combat units.

Herzog told her guests that this time of the year presented an ideal opportunity to thank them for their commitment and their service, which is something that should not be taken for granted. She was not only thanking them as individuals, she said, but was expressing her appreciation to the system, which genuinely proves that Israel has a people’s army and that the IDF has a very important role in people’s lives.

Kohavi told them that she had read the biographical data on each of them, and she was well aware of the difficulties that many of them had encountered in getting to where they are now. “My heart really goes out to you,” she said, as she commended their determination, their courage and their ability to define their goals and to set an example for others.

“You might be known as lone soldiers,” she said, “but the aim is to show you that you are not alone, and that we are with you all the way.”

Queen Elizabeth's funeral

■ IT’S A good thing that Iran will be represented only at ambassadorial level next week at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth. Otherwise, President Herzog might find himself in the same embarrassing position as did president Moshe Katsav in April 2011 when he attended the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Leaders of most countries were placed in alphabetical order in accordance with the name of their country, so Iran and Israel were placed alongside each other. Katsav sat alongside president Mohammad Khatami. Both were born in Yazd province.

At a certain point in the service, leaders shook hands with each other, and Katsav shook hands with Khatami and with Syrian President Bashar Assad, who was sitting in the row behind him. Katsav and Khatami briefly conversed in Farsi. Khatami later denied any contact, but the camera told a different story.

Among other absentees from the queen’s funeral is Russian President Vladimir Putin. Nonetheless, the British media claims that the funeral and the reception to be hosted by King Charles will be the biggest diplomatic event in the world. There are more than 170 foreign diplomatic missions in the United Kingdom, in addition to which the UK has diplomatic relations with countries that don’t have embassies in Britain. Aside from that, the UK is a member of numerous multinational organizations, whose leaders have been invited to the funeral.

Slihot prayers before the High Holy Days

■ PENITENTIAL PRAYER services, or slihot, as they are known in Hebrew, will be held during the period leading up to the High Holy Days in synagogues all over the country and throughout the Jewish world. Some of these prayer gatherings take the form of concerts, as will be the case on Saturday night, September 17, when popular singer Yitzhak Meir and his friends will take to the stage at Binyenei Ha’uma, the Jerusalem International Convention Center.

Fans should realize that this is a program for night owls. The doors open at 10 p.m. and the program starts at 11. For those who don’t want to venture out at that time of night, there will be a live broadcast on the website of the Jerusalem Municipality.

For a somewhat more emotional experience, go to Chabad of Rehavia, at 11 p.m., where Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg will be hosting guest violinist Avishai Yohanan.

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