Grapevine September 20, 2022: Freedom of the press

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 Rabbi Levi Duchman and his bride Lea at their wedding. (photo credit: CHABAD)
Rabbi Levi Duchman and his bride Lea at their wedding.
(photo credit: CHABAD)

No democracy is perfect, and democratic freedoms vary from country to country. One of the freedoms generally taken for granted, though not always honored in practice, is freedom of the press.

Last Thursday the media were closed out of events celebrating the second anniversary of the Abraham Accords. In their weekly radio program on KAN Reshet Bet on Thursday evening, Gili Cohen, the chief diplomatic reporter for KAN 11, and Ronen Manelis interviewed Ambassador to the UAE Amir Hayek and asked him why the press was excluded from all events attended by UAE Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Hayek, who is extremely enthusiastic about Israel’s relationship with the UAE, could not supply an answer.

Journalists who cover events at the President’s Residence were not quite as surprised. Under the present administration, most events that were open to the press under previous presidents are closed, and information is obtained through press releases, which means that it is censored. A journalist can see and hear many things that never appear in a press release, and, indeed, when journalists are permitted to attend events, their reports differ significantly from what is contained in the press release.

Thus, when no journalist was invited to the luncheon that President Isaac Herzog hosted for bin Zayed, and journalists were also absent from bin Zayed’s visit to Yad Vashem and his meeting with Prime Minister Yair Lapid, not to mention the reception hosted by UAE Ambassador Mohamed Al Khajah in celebration of the second anniversary of the accords and the historic visit to Israel by his country’s foreign minister, reports of the visit ranged from minimal to nonexistent.

At the latter event, Herzog, who has already been to the UAE, announced his intention to visit Bahrain.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG and his wife, Michal, in the Herzog Room of the residence of the British Ambassador.  (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO) PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG and his wife, Michal, in the Herzog Room of the residence of the British Ambassador. (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Ordinarily, a visit by someone as important as bin Zayed, who came with a top-level delegation, would have been splashed in large headlines across the front pages of Israeli newspapers, but because journalists had been cold-shouldered, the media retaliated.

The Jerusalem Post was an exception, mainly because diplomacy has always been a focal point of the paper’s coverage, ever since its inception 90 years ago. Thus, the report by Tovah Lazaroff was essentially about the meeting between Lapid and bin Zayed, with only a passing mention of the other events on bin Zayed’s itinerary.

With due respect to ABZ, none of the photographs of his visit to Israel that were released were as moving as the videotapes of the wedding of Rabbi Levi Duchman and Lea Hadad, where white-robed Muslim Emiratis with black bands securing their white keffiyehs were seen dancing with Jewish guests, with everyone present radiating joy. This was a true expression of the reunion of the children of Abraham, with Ishmael and Isaac linking hands as they danced together at the wedding. If only such scenes could be emulated throughout the whole of the Middle East.

Coming close to what that video conveyed was another of the warm embrace with which ABZ was received by Lapid. The two men, with broad grins on their faces, hugged each other. It was a delightful scene.

For many of the Muslim guests, the Hadad-Duchman wedding was a first-time experience. Both the bride and the groom were raised in Chabad families in which hospitality and an open house are a given, as is travelling the world to serve Jewish communities large and small.

The bride is the daughter of Rabbi Menachem and Batsheva Hadad, the current Chabad emissaries to Brussels, where her father serves as chief rabbi. Her grandparents Rabbi Yeshua and Rachel Hadad served for decades as Chabad emissaries in Milan, where her grandfather was leader of the Sephardi Jewish community.

The groom, though not yet 30, is the chief rabbi of the United Arab Emirates, where he has introduced the most important institutions of Jewish life, dealing with prayer, education, family purity and the ready availability of kosher food.

He is the son of Rabbi Sholom and Feige Duchman. His maternal grandparents, Rabbi Bentzion and Golda Shemtov, were for many years Chabad emissaries in the USSR and later in London, where he served for 27 years. Impoverished when they married in Siberia, after Rabbi Shemtov had served four years of hard labor for the crime of teaching Judaism, they had to use a bent teaspoon as a wedding ring. That wedding in Siberia was in stark contrast to the glittering affair in the UAE.

Taiwan troubles

■ INCIDENTALLY, THE visit by ABZ was not the only attempt at censorship. At least two journalists who had been scheduled to attend the reception marking Taiwan’s national day dropped out when told by a high-ranking Taiwanese official that they could not report on it, even though reports of previous Taiwanese receptions had appeared in the Israeli media.

Fortunately, not all diplomats are so sensitive, especially US Ambassador Tom Nides, who, because he is married to a senior journalist with CNN, understands that journalists have a job to do, and said as much at a recent meeting with the Israel Foreign Press Association.

Much to be desired

■ THE MEDIA in Israel sometimes leave a lot to be desired. Shlomo Gur, associate vice president of the Claims Conference, was being interviewed on Reshet Bet radio by Uri Levi in relation to the 70th anniversary of the agreement made by Germany with David Ben-Gurion and Nahum Goldman to pay reparations to Holocaust survivors. Gur was explaining that survivors who have never received anything from Germany before will receive a onetime grant. Levi kept interrupting him, oblivious to the fact that this piece of information was extremely important to some Holocaust survivors and their families.

Levi and some of his equally impatient colleagues, such as Liat Regev and Esty Perez, would do well to emulate Yoav Krakovsky, Yaron Enosh and Keren Neubach, who allow their interviewees to have their say, with minimal interjection by the interviewer. Public broadcasting is there to serve the public. When interviewers don’t allow interviewees to finish a sentence, that is definitely not serving the public.

Media conferences

CONFERENCES ARE the big thing in media these days. Everyone is having them. The Post and Yediot Aharonot each had one in New York last week. Haaretz and its business supplement, TheMarker, regularly have conferences, and will host one on democracy next month in Tel Aviv. Israel Hayom recently had a conference on personal safety and security, at which Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev was conspicuously absent.

Last week, even Kikar HaShabbat, the ultra-Orthodox online news service, held a conference at the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria, to which various politicians were invited. But what was perhaps more interesting than anything that was discussed was that among those present were some women who wore pants, and men and women were sitting together.

In a departure from the norm, there were no government ministers this week among the participants listed in Ynet’s conference dedicated to people of the third age, though once-iconic TV news anchor Dalia Mazor was the lead interviewer at the event. Mazor, who is also of the third age, has found it much more lucrative over the years to be the presenter for Ronit Raphael anti-aging products.

Coming up soon at the Vert Hotel is an Orthodox Zionist Conference run by B’Sheva.

All these conferences are well attended and are not free. 

Feeding the poor

■ ON THE subject of feeding the poor, well-known journalist and socialite Judy Shalom Nir Moses, in cooperation with the Snir Association, which was established more than a decade ago to help the weaker sectors of society, hosted a fundraiser at her home in Ramat Gan. The purpose was to raise money to provide at least 1,000 food baskets for the poor so that they could have a more enjoyable holiday season.

The event, attended by some 380 opinion makers and top-line business executives, was copresented by Shalom Nir Moses and Nir Shmol. It included an art exhibition featuring the works of some of Israel’s leading artists, and an operatic performance. Proceeds amounted to NIS 300,000, all of which will be used to distribute food baskets throughout the country. This is not the only activity on behalf of the poor with which Shalom Nir Moses is associated.

While it is definitely important to provide for the poor, it would be beneficial to them and to the wider society if there was some kind of roof body responsible for overseeing how food is collected or paid for and distributed. When the figures of all the organizations and institutions that purport to care for the poor add up, they seem to be far in excess of what may really be the case.

Few people, when approached in supermarkets to add a few extra items to their shopping carts and donate them to the poor, will object. For some, it’s an easier way of giving charity than giving a cash donation. But it’s also a questionable practice. People go to a bank, a post office or a supermarket for a particular purpose. They do not want be solicited while they are in these premises. It’s bad enough when they are badgered by volunteers from various organizations, but there is something almost illegal when the staff of these enterprises ask for charity for the poor, for the IDF and for other causes. There was a time that food collectors for the poor stood outside supermarkets and thrust a pamphlet into the hands of shoppers as they entered, and collected donated food products when the shoppers exited. But now they work inside, and some are quite aggressive when they accost shoppers.

IHRA Antisemitism definition

■ NEWS OF Germany’s intention came more or less in tandem with the signing ceremony in Berlin of Lufthansa’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. Representing Israel at the ceremony was Israel’s Ambassador to the US Michael Herzog. Although this was largely a German-American affair, there is an Israel ambassador in Berlin, in the person of Ron Prosor, who does not appear in the published photos. Still, the who’s who of Germany must have been pleased to welcome two distinguished Herzog brothers who arrived in Berlin within two weeks of each other.

Herzog's birthday

■ WHOEVER MEETS with President Herzog on Thursday, September 22, should not forget to wish him Happy Birthday. The president turns 62 on that date. Also celebrating on September 22 is former education, culture and sport minister Limor Livnat, who was born 10 years ahead of the president.

Rumor has it that although the president will not interfere in the upcoming national elections on November 1, he will attempt to persuade the parties that are finally represented in the Knesset to form a national-unity government, to the extent that it is possible. Considering all the name-calling, backstabbing and other unpleasantries that have been going on, it does not appear that he will reap much success on that score. But one never knows what may come up in the interim that will cause parties to link up and close ranks together.

Political campaigns in full swing

■ NOW THAT election campaigns are in full swing, and the religious parties are being courted by both the Right and the Center-Left, the Israel Democracy Institute’s annual conference on religion and state, which will be held on Wednesday, September 21, is extremely timely. Because there is insufficient space at the institute’s Jerusalem headquarters to accommodate the many people from diverse sectors of the population who are interested in the topic, it will be broadcast live on the institute’s website.

The list of speakers takes into account the whole spectrum of Jewish identity, from anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox to secular Zionist.

Despite extreme differences of opinion among the various participants, it is interesting to note that they all agreed to appear at this conference. They include Shmuel Chaim Pappenheim, former editor of Ha’Edah newspaper and secretary of the Eda Haredit Court of Justice; Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana; Rabbi Yaakov Medan, head of Har Etzion Yeshiva, who 20 years ago, together with the late Ruth Gavison, authored a covenant of religious-secular coexistence; Reform Rabbi and Labor Party MK Gilad Kariv; chairman of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization Rabbi David Stav; and Aliza Bloch, the Orthodox female mayor of Beit Shemesh, which has large pockets of ultra-Orthodox misogynists.

High holy days

■ UNLIKE SABBATH prayers, those for the High Holy Days are conducted only at a specific time of the year and not on a weekly basis. To help congregants prepare for High Holy Day services, rabbis Daniel Naim and Eliahu Uzan, together with cantor Moshe Habusha, will conduct a preparatory workshop for Sephardim at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue on Wednesday, September 21, between 7 p.m. and 9.30 p.m. The cost for participation is NIS 20. Refreshments will be served.

Merav Michaeli 

■ ON THE same date, just a five-minute walk away at the Fuchsberg Center, 6 Agron Street, Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli will join members of the Jerusalem branch of the Labor Party in launching the party’s Jerusalem district election headquarters.

Israel-Japan

■ ALSO ON September 21, as part of the Israel Festival in Jerusalem, and again at the Teder Compound, Beit Romano, in Tel Aviv, are two musical events related to the 70th anniversary celebrations of diplomatic relations between Japan and Israel. These are among several events taking place in different parts of the country which are helping Ambassador Koichi Mizushima to further enhance existing friendships.

When the great East Japan earthquake erupted in 2011, Israel was the first country to send a medical delegation to administer humanitarian aid. Other Israeli organizations followed in giving support to the population in the damaged area of Tohoku. Since then, a special friendship between Japan and Israel has continued to develop.

The Israel Embassy in Japan initiated a project called Israel-Japan Partnership Tohoku Initiative 2021.

The partnership includes Boom Pan, an internationally known Israeli rock band, and Spirit of Tohoku, a traditional Shishi-Odori dance group from Minamisanriku (the Miyagi Prefecture in Japan, where the Israeli medical teams operated), together with additional artists from the region.

At the initiative of the Japanese Embassy, the two groups are performing together and are conducting a workshop to illustrate Japan’s appreciation for Israel’s aid during a period of emergency and tragedy.

The embassy emphasizes that these performances have been made possible through the cooperation of the Israel Festival. The Jerusalem performance begins at 2 p.m., and the one in Tel Aviv at 4 p.m. Admission is free of charge.

Ambassador's choice

■ ALTHOUGH MANY items in ambassadorial residences are permanent, each new ambassador likes to bring some personal objects, particularly when he or she knows in advance that the posting will be for three or four years or more.

The personal items that German Ambassador Steffen Seibert and his wife, Sophia Grundelach, had shipped to Israel finally arrived, and he tweeted a useful list of Hebrew words that he had acquired in order to be able to communicate with the movers. The handwritten list was in Hebrew and German and in transliteration for correct pronunciation.

Ophir awards

■ IT’S BEEN a great week for actor Sasson Gabay, the winner this week of the Ophir Best Actor award for his role in Karaoke, which he received at Zappa Downtown Tel Aviv only a few days after receiving a life achievement award at Reading 3 at a gala event celebrating the opening of the new season at the Baruch Ivcher Beit Lessin Theater.

A serial prizewinner, Gabay made history this week, by being a fourth-time winner of an Ophir award.

At the Beit Lessin event, the Baghdad-born Gabay, who will celebrate his 75th birthday in November, shared the stage with fellow veteran thespian Yona Elian, who will celebrate her 72nd birthday next month. The two have appeared in Beit Lessin productions for more than 30 years.

One of the joys of being an actor is that one doesn’t have to retire if one is still mobile and capable of remembering lines. One of the best examples is Habima’s Lea Koenig, an Israel Prize laureate, who will turn 93 in November and is playing in several productions during the new season.

The Beit Lessin awards and grants are courtesy of Dr. Avraham and Michal Kedar. Special guests at the event, which was cohosted by Beit Lessin director-general Tzipi Pines, chairman Dr. Dov Tamari, and chairwoman of the Beit Lessin Friends Association Hila Rahav, included Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and his wife, Ella, Culture and Sport Minister Hili Tropper, Education Minister Yifat-Shasha Biton and her husband, Ilan, Ambassador of Bahrain Khaled Al Jalahma, Italian Ambassador Sergio Barbanti, businesswoman and philanthropist Shari Arison and Yael Huldai, the wife of the mayor of Tel Aviv.

The event included a musical tribute to singer-songwriter Svika Pick, who died last month.

The considerable quantity of food left over after the sumptuous reception, which was also sponsored by the Kedars, was sent to the Geha Psychiatric Hospital in Petah Tikva, which this year is marking its 80th anniversary.

Religious service

■ WHEN LIMITATIONS were imposed on synagogue congregants during the pandemic, people who might never have prayed together ordinarily, actually came together at outdoor services, discovered that Judaism is more pluralistic than they had realized, formed new acquaintanceships and actually enjoyed the experience of being able to move around freely without disturbing other congregants.

One such series of High Holy Day services was organized in Sokolov Garden Jerusalem by Chabad of Talbiyeh-Mamilla. Congregants ran the gamut of Jewish observance, where the ultra-Orthodox stood back slightly from the prayer tent, where there was distinct separation between men and women. But outside the tent, husbands and wives sat together on chairs or park benches. It was a great display of Jewish unity for a particular purpose.

This year Chabad of Talbiyeh-Mamilla will not be utilizing Sokolov Garden, but, taking into account the possible large number of congregants, will hold Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services at the Jerusalem School of the Arts, just behind the Inbal hotel. Parents will be inside the building, and children will play under supervision in the courtyard.

The Cantors leading the prayers will again be the renowned Yisrael Hershtik and sons, whose voices last year carried right across the garden. Properly trained cantors, other singers and public speakers know how to project their voices even in open spaces.

Guatemala 

■ WHEN GUATEMALAN Foreign Minister Mario Bucaro came to Israel this month to sign a free trade agreement, it was not his only reason for being here. Over the past three years, Bucaro, a former ambassador to Israel who was the first to occupy his country’s embassy in Jerusalem and to set up a residence in the capital’s Yemin Moshe, has many friends in Israel, some of whom he managed to see. His posting in Israel was relatively short but very effective, so much so that he was sent to Mexico, a country which is of major importance to Guatemala. There, too, the posting was relatively short and sufficiently effective to result in Bucaro’s appointment as foreign minister in February of this year.

When Guatemala opened its embassy in Jerusalem a couple of days after the US had transferred its embassy to Jerusalem, Bucaro’s predecessor was still in the country, but left almost immediately afterward, without actually serving in the embassy, which is located in the capital’s Malha neighborhood.

In an interview with the Post in October 2019, Bucaro noted that this was the second time that his country has opened an embassy in Jerusalem. Following Israel’s Declaration of Independence, Guatemala had been the first of several countries to open an embassy in Jerusalem. An Evangelist, to whom Jerusalem is very dear, Bucaro was thrilled to be serving in the city about which he had heard his entire life, and pledged, when posted to Mexico, that he would be back, though he did not think at the time that he would return as foreign minister to sign an FTA with Lapid.

Because the signing ceremony was in Tel Aviv, Bucaro opted to stay at the Dan Tel Aviv Hotel, where he was literally given the red-carpet treatment by general manager Ilan Ben Hakoon.

Promotion

■ IT WAS more or less in the cards that Roni Mahadav-Levin would be promoted to executive director of the Jerusalem Cinematheque, after Dr. Noa Regev several months ago took up the post of director of the Israel Film Fund.

Now it’s official. Mahadav-Levin has taken up where Regev left off.

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