Grapevine September 28, 2022: An auspicious occasion

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 (FROM LEFT), Michael Evans Jr., Yoel Razvozov, Nir Kimhi and Daniel Voiczek. (photo credit: SHIMON YAIR COHEN)
(FROM LEFT), Michael Evans Jr., Yoel Razvozov, Nir Kimhi and Daniel Voiczek.
(photo credit: SHIMON YAIR COHEN)

■ THE DATE was not a random choice when the executive board of the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel decided to hold its Diplomat of the Year awards on September 21. This is the annual date of International Peace Day as determined by the United Nations. It also happens to be the date of the National Day of both Armenia and Belize, and it fits in with the cycle of events held in celebration of the second anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords.

The gathering in the spacious hall of the Herzliya Cultural Center was somewhat larger in number than that which had been hosted the previous day by President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal.

There were four recipients of awards: two heads of diplomatic missions and two businessmen who also happen to be honorary consuls.

The fact that the two diplomats, Khaled Al Jalahma, the ambassador of Bahrain, and Abderrahim Beyyoud, the head of Morocco’s liaison office in Israel, represent two of the Arab countries with which Israel has signed a normalization agreement, was in the perception of ACI founder and President Yitzhak Eldan, a choice made in the spirit of the Abraham Accords. They are the first two representatives of Muslim countries to be honored in this manner in Israel.

Eldan, who was born in Morocco, quipped that he had to be careful to demonstrate objectivity.

 (FROM LEFT) Yoram Naor, David Fattal, Ambassador Khaled Al Jalahma, Ambassador Abderrahim Beyyoud and Yitzhak Eldan. (credit: AVIV HOFI) (FROM LEFT) Yoram Naor, David Fattal, Ambassador Khaled Al Jalahma, Ambassador Abderrahim Beyyoud and Yitzhak Eldan. (credit: AVIV HOFI)

He was very pleased to have received a congratulatory letter from Herzog, who in addition to congratulating the recipients, commended Eldan, a retired veteran diplomat who was the longest serving chief of state protocol, for his ACI initiative.

Gil Haskel, the current chief of state protocol, said he was proud to have so incredible a role, and proud to represent an incredible country. Although he has attended other ACI events, he pronounced the Ambassador of the Year event as “very special” because it was organized to recognize “two very special ambassadors, as well as two prominent businessmen who bring a lot of pride to Israel in the international arena.”

Noting the date, Haskel underscored that the prize was being given to the “ambassadors of peace.”

It had been a great honor for him, he said, to receive each of them when they arrived in the country. “Abraham, our joint father, could not have wanted for better representatives.”

Had anyone told him three years ago that such an event would happen, said Haskel, he would have thought they were dreaming.

Before the awards were presented, Tigran Gasparian, an Armenian-Israeli singer, sang a song taken from the Jewish liturgy Oseh Shalom, the Hebrew lyrics of which mean: He who makes peace in high places, He will make peace for us and for all Israel, and let us say Amen.

Gasparian introduced a slight change, and instead of “all Israel,” decided to sing “the whole world,” which was certainly appropriate at a diplomatic event on International Peace Day.

Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Martin Mwanambale, the ambassador of Zambia, reminded his colleagues that the United Nations had established International Peace Day to strengthen mutual understanding, dialogue and coexistence, with a related theme each year. This year’s theme was “Ending racism and building peace.” “Our world is hungry for peace, given the conflict around us,” he said, singling out the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing war.

The Abraham Accords represent the wish for greater stability in the region, and have influenced other countries, said Uri Rothman, a deputy director-general in the peace department of Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

Both diplomatic recipients said the awards were an incentive to make them work harder. The ambassador of Bahrain said he had not known what to expect in Israel, but received such a warm welcome, and so much cooperation from the Israeli people, that he wanted to share the award with them.

Introducing his remarks in Hebrew, the head of the Moroccan Liaison Office in Israel said he did not have words to express his feelings.

Yoram Naor, an international businessman and philanthropist, is the honorary consul for Belize and the Caribbean and is well known for his diplomatic skills. He is also a founding vice president of the ACI.

David Fattal, who is honorary consul for Denmark, heads the largest hotel chain in Israel, and on the night before being presented with the award, opened the Leonardo Gordon Beach Hotel in Tel Aviv.

Fattal, who manages 250 hotels, 60 of which are in Israel, started out as a waiter to support his university studies in law. When he went into hotel management, it was with three hotels. He never imagined that his enterprise would grow to the extent that it has. He was also happy to report that after three difficult years during the pandemic, tourism is not only back on keel, but booming.

Fattal was introduced by former justice minister Avi Nissenkorn, who during his term had been involved with the Abraham Accords, and who is currently president of the Israel Hotels Association. Amir Hayek, his immediate predecessor at the IHA, is currently Israel’s ambassador to the UAE.

Areas of cooperation

DESPITE ONGOING hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, there are many areas of cooperation that people on both sides don’t necessarily know of. Some of these cooperative ventures are supported by organizations from other countries. An example is Project Rozana, a non-political, not-for-profit humanitarian project that involves cooperation between Israel and the PA and is supported by friends and organizations from Australia, Canada and the USA. Australian Board Member Lee Ann Basser returned home last week after spending three weeks in Israel talking to both Israelis and Palestinians who are engaged in the project. The various organizations in all the countries that work for the Rozana project actively develop and fund transportation of sick children, and occasionally adults, from the West Bank and Gaza, for treatment in Israeli hospitals; training of Palestinian doctors and other healthcare professionals in Israel in order to improve healthcare for Palestinians; and provision of medical equipment and medications that are not readily available in Gaza or the Palestinian Authority. This is people-to-people contact on a humane and professional basis.

■ TOURISM MINISTER Yoel Razvozov attended the award ceremony for Outstanding Employees of the Tourism Ministry, which was held at the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem. Aside from the main reason for his being there, it was also an opportunity to meet the new president of the museum, Michael Evans Jr., who had just returned from Ukraine where he had delivered 50 truckloads carrying tons of medical equipment, food and medication that were brought in by the Friends of Zion to serve the needs of thousands of Ukrainians of all faiths, who continue to live in a war zone.

Evans updated Razvozov on what the Friends of Zion are doing not only for Ukrainians but for also for Holocaust survivors and needy children. Evans showed Razvozov the special crate in which Israeli children are encouraged to place the toys they have outgrown or they no longer want, so that they can be distributed to children whose families cannot afford to buy toys or to children in Ukraine whose homes were destroyed and whose toys could not be salvaged.

■ REPORTS THAT Britain’s new Prime Minister Liz Truss is considering moving the British Embassy to Jerusalem, will, if it eventuates, mean a return by a representative of the British government and the king to the Holy City. It should be remembered that when Viscount Herbert Samuel took up office in 1920 as British high commissioner for Palestine, he was stationed in Jerusalem where his Sabra grandson Viscount David Samuel, who later had a hereditary seat in the House of Lords, was born.

If the embassy does move, Israelis can almost be guaranteed of a small dose of British pomp and ceremony. At all the Queen’s Birthday receptions hosted over the years by a series of British ambassadors, there was always a kilted Scottish piper playing the bagpipes. There were occasions when tradition went way beyond that.

■ THE MANAGEMENT of the Tel Aviv Cultural Center has decided to add a dimension to its movie screenings by having a local iconic personality who can somehow be identified with the movie, give a talk prior to the showing of the film. Coming up on October 20 is a British production, which in Israel is billed as The Chef but whose title is actually Boiling Point. Starring Stephen Graham as the charismatic Andy Jones, the executive chef in an upmarket London restaurant, which is always booked to capacity and looks very glamorous, the film takes viewers into the kitchen where tempers tend to rise to boiling point. The film is distributed in Israel by United King, which was founded by Moshe Edery and his late brother Leon. Of the various celebrity chefs in Israel, the one chosen to give the pre-screening talk is Haim Cohen, who, together with Edery, was interviewed on Reshet Bet radio by Liat Regev. Cohen said the behind-the-scenes depiction of kitchen tensions is exactly what happens in any high-class restaurant.

The tiniest thing could go wrong, and it becomes a catastrophe. Sometimes it’s so nerve wracking that Cohen has asked himself whether it’s really worth being in the profession – but in the next breath admits that he would not want to be in any other.

Food is part of the culture of any country, but according to Cohen, it is also part of family tradition to be passed down from generation to generation. To most people, nothing is so exciting to the taste buds as a favorite dish prepared by their mother or grandmother. With the recipe being passed down to the next generation, it becomes a favorite within the family, and the grandma is permanently attached to its name. Even if a grandchild never knew the grandmother, that grandchild knows the taste of her cooking, and it’s talked about at the table. That’s tradition.

When Regev asked Edery where he would be for the Rosh Hashanah meals, he replied: “Home with family. The whole Edery clan comes to us.”

“How many?” asked Regev.

“Around 40,” was the reply.

Regev was incredulous. “Forty?”

Edery laughed, and by way of explanation, said: “We’re Moroccans.”

■ THE PRESIDENT’S Office last week put out a press release to the effect that it is bringing in the Jewish New Year by launching two new digital media platforms: an English-language Twitter account for the institution of the Israeli Presidency, and a TikTok page.

According to the release, the institutional Twitter account (@IsraelPresident), complementing the president’s personal account (@Isaac_Herzog), will be used to share regular English-language updates about the activities of the Office of the President, including public engagements by President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal Herzog.

The idea is to broaden the president’s digital outreach in a similar fashion to other presidential offices around the globe.

The new TikTok page (@beithanassi) will invite followers to join virtual tours of the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, bring them up close to the 120 outstanding soldiers who are honored by the president on Independence Day, and even introduce them to the First Feline as it struts down the red carpet.

The TikTok account will share sleek and original video clips about events at the President’s Residence, keeping younger audiences up to date with content about the presidency and the home of Israel’s citizen No. 1.

That’s all very well, but unlike presidents in other countries, Israel’s president does not hold press conferences and seldom gives interviews to local media, and when interviews are requested, the response is almost invariably negative.

Transparency should be the hallmark of both the head of state and the head of government.

That includes giving interviews and holding regular press conferences.

The prime minister does give interviews and holds press conferences. The president abstains, although his spokespeople fall over themselves in releasing mountains of often irrelevant information that is far from newsworthy.

Events that were open to the media under presidents Reuven Rivlin and Shimon Peres are closed under President Herzog, but were open when his father was in office.

A recent example includes the traditional pre-Rosh Hashanah visit to the President’s Residence by members of the Bee-Keepers Association, which in past years brought not only different kinds of honey but various foods made with honey, which is one of the symbols of Rosh Hashanah fare.

In response to the press release, an attempt was made to go into the president’s personal Twitter account and into the new Twitter account. In both cases there was a warning from Microsoft that the account was unsafe, and that by continuing, the user could lose information.

The verbatim message was: “Microsoft recommends you don’t continue to this site. It has been reported to Microsoft for containing misleading content that could lead you to lose personal info, financial data, and even money.”

The president’s Facebook page proved to be more accessible, and indeed according to the photograph and the brief report, the event was as it always had been. They came with their children and their products, dressed in the protective white uniforms they wear to avoid bee stings. There was no valid reason for closing this event to the media.

The meeting was at 12, and a Hebrew press release was sent at around 2 p.m.

Any journalist who disdains a notebook and works with a laptop or even a cell phone would have had the story sent to the news desk of his or her media outlet within 15 minutes of the conclusion of the event, and it would have included comments from the bee-keepers.

Sometimes releases from the President’s Office arrive several hours after the event, give minimal coverage to his guests or interlocutors, and sometimes embargoes are placed on releases, even though the information they contain has been in the public domain for days and even weeks, as for instance the president’s participation in the Munich memorial for the 11 Israeli athletes murdered at the 1972 Olympics.

■ NORMALIZATION AND mutual high-level exchange visits notwithstanding, when the UAE launches a prestigious international scholarship program, it is for study in the US or Canada, even though Israel, which is closer to home, has English-language educational programs at various levels. The scholarship program known as ADEK, is under the directive of Khaled Bin Mohamed bin Zayed. The idea is to find promising high school students, who in 2028 will be sent abroad to study. While it is understandable that most of the recipients will be enrolled in Ivy League colleges, most Israeli universities and colleges have very high standards.

■ BE THAT as it may, at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, they were delighted this month to welcome UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, whom they told what the Peres Center has done and is doing to promote peace, prosperity and tolerance in the region. ABZ had apparently done his homework because he seemed to already know a lot and was particularly laudatory about the center’s pivotal role in instilling the values of tolerance and coexistence in the younger generation and inspiring them to develop pioneering ideas and innovative initiatives in areas such as entrepreneurship, medicine and the preservation of the environment.

■ JUST BEFORE the spate of Sukkot festivals begins, David D’Or will host his annual Jerusalem slihot concert at the Sultan’s Pool on Wednesday and Thursday nights, September 28 and 29, with guests Idan Amedi, Amir Benayoun, Kobi Aflalo, Shuli Rand and Shlomi Shabat. With that kind of a line-up, it’s a program not to be missed.

One of the great things about performances in the Sultan’s Pool is that even when performances are sold out, people who could not buy tickets can still hear the music, even if they can’t see the performers.

■ IN 1948, the year in which the state was established, the population was well below one million. Today, it’s almost 10 million and growing both in terms of the birth rate and immigration. Let’s be honest, a significant ratio of immigrants have not come to Israel out of Zionist ideology or idealism. Many Holocaust survivors came because they had nowhere else to go. Their families had been murdered. Their homes had either been destroyed or were occupied by antisemitic squatters, and Israel was actually urging them to come. Later, Jews who lived under oppression or repression, sought to make better lives for themselves in Israel. Israel used to send out aliyah envoys to various parts of the world to drum up immigration.

Now there are too many people in Israel at ground level.

But real estate developers, encouraged by local municipalities, have been building upwards in order to accommodate the burgeoning population. That may be fine for people who don’t leave their apartments, but it’s a nightmare at ground level – roads are not being made any wider.

So while buildings with unaffordable rentals are going up, at ground level, there’s barely room to move without literally bumping into someone, not to mention the chaotic traffic congestion on the roads. Whenever a new highway is built to ease the situation, the perverse reaction is that people buy more cars.

It’s going to get worse and not likely to get better as people continue to live longer, and thanks to Russian President Vladimir Putin, thousands of Ukrainian and Russians are making Israel their temporary, if not permanent, home. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, over the past year 177,000 babies were born and 53,000 people died. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do the math. New immigrant couples are likely to contribute to the birthrate.

Inasmuch as Israel has been a country of immigrants and has encouraged immigration, the day may not be long in coming when immigration will be discouraged. People like Pnina Tamano-Shata, the minister for immigration and absorption, will have a problem, and institutions such as the Jewish Agency may become redundant.

■ FLORIDA’S GOVERNOR and other Republican governors are coming under fire in the US media for sending busloads of refugees to places they don’t want to go to, or to places other than the ones to which they thought they were going. Sounds a bit like Israel in the 1950s when new immigrants fleeing persecution were sent to transit camps in the middle of nowhere. Even Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of former Republican president Donald Trump, who was an active member of the Trump administration, has come out against this treatment of refugees and has been reported as saying that this is very troubling. 

“We have to remember that these are human beings. They’re people, so seeing them used as political pawns is very troubling to me,” said Kushner in an interview on Fox News. Kushner’s attitude may have derived from the fact that his paternal grandparents, Joseph and Rae Kushner, were Holocaust survivors who came to America in 1949 as refugees after spending three and a half years in a displaced persons’ camp in Italy before they were admitted to the US. In an interview that his grandmother gave long after the family had made its fortune, she remarked on the fact that even after the Holocaust no one wanted to take Jews in. “We never understood that,” she said. “Even president [Franklin] Roosevelt kept the doors closed. Why?”

■ JUDGING BY the video clip, Yanki Farber’s bakery in Bnei Brak is a very popular establishment whose clientele includes German Ambassador Steffen Seibert, who tweeted: “The still warm Challah is irresistible. We’ll be back for more.”

While in Bnei Brak he also got to sample the cholent, and loved it.

Yet another means of cementing German-Israel relations.

■ JAZZ IS in the air. Lovers of jazz have a cornucopia of opportunities to listen to leading local and overseas artists at a number of upcoming jazz festivals. The Red Sea Jazz Festival opens at the Port of Eilat on November 10. Under the heading of Hot Jazz, which opens near the end of November in Tel Aviv, bands and individuals from New Orleans, Paris, London, Cuba, New York, Amsterdam and Barcelona will give a series of performances at the Beersheba Center for the Performing Arts, Zappa Jerusalem, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Zappa Herzliya, the Kfar Saba Cultural Center, Abba Hushi House, Haifa, and the Bnei Tikva Performing Arts Center, with details available on the Hot Jazz Facebook platform or by telephoning 03-5733001.

In advance of the Jaffa Jazz Festival, which opens in Tel Aviv on October 13, three jazz-loving ambassadors and their spouses have got together to hold a gala event at the residence of one of them. The three diplomatic couples hosting the event are Austrian Ambassador Nikolaus Lutterotti and his wife, Betina, Finland’s Ambassador Kirsikka Lehto-Asikainen and her husband, Riku, and Irish Ambassador Kyle O’Sullivan and his wife, Carol.

Some of the artists appearing in the festival will provide the entertainment.

■ PRIOR TO the Tishrei holiday season, representatives of the Israel Consumer Council visited the stores of more than 40 supermarket chains to compare prices of 165 items that in many households would be purchased for festival fare. Findings showed that discount king Rami Levy could still keep his crown with a bill that came to NIS 2,499. The most expensive was Super Yuda, with a bill for NIS 3,510. Prices in all supermarkets are expected to rise after Sukkot, but Levy has pledged to do his utmost to keep prices at an affordable level.

The absence of government price control is part of the problem. A well-known brand of instant coffee for instance varies in price from NIS 16.90 for a jar, to NIS 29. Likewise, Concord kiddush wine varies from NIS 19 for a bottle to NIS 34. It pays to know where to shop.