People living in close proximity to the official residence of the prime minister received a government envelope in their mailboxes last week. Inside the envelope, on the letterhead of the Prime Minister’s Office, was a terse note advising that renovations to the residence have begun, and apologizing in advance for any inconveniences that the work may cause. Presumably, the expectation is that there will not be another round of elections in the foreseeable future and that it is therefore necessary for the property to be ready for occupancy by the end of this year, if not sooner.
Given that neither of the alternate prime ministers lived in the house, the public has the right to know why renovations did not begin a year ago.
But the question that now remains is whether the spruced-up residence will be occupied by Benjamin Netanyahu, Yair Lapid or Benny Gantz. Although Gideon Sa’ar has steadfastly declared that he will not sit in a coalition government with Netanyahu, he could in the final analysis do a Bennett, and insist on being prime minister. What sweet revenge it would be for him if the plot pans out that way, as unlikely as this seems at the moment. On the other hand, who would have believed 18 months ago that Naftali Bennett, with just over a handful of Knesset seats, would be prime minister?
The interesting thing about politics is that no matter how well we think we know what’s going to happen, there are always surprises.
The political surprises
■ APROPOS NETANYAHU, in a recent Grapevine column, the question was posed as to whether he will participate in the Israel Hayom preelection conference at Zappa Tel Aviv on Thursday, October 27. The answer is that he will, along with most other heads of political parties, including left-wing and Arab parties.
Several books have been written about Netanyahu and about the 1996 Knesset elections upheaval when Shimon Peres went to bed thinking that he had won and woke to find that Netanyahu was the new prime minister. It was Netanyahu’s first step to becoming the politician with the longest record in that post.
Now, a book has been published by former education, culture and sports minister Limor Livnat, who ran the public relations and publicity during Netanyahu’s 1996 campaign. Livnat came to politics from the world of advertising and public relations, which may account for the fact that for a long time, she was the only member of Netanyahu’s team, other than Netanyahu himself, who believed in the strategies proposed by innovative American political strategist Arthur Finkelstein, whose genius was legendary.
Other members of the Netanyahu team denigrated him, pointing out that he didn’t understand Hebrew or the Israeli way of doing things. While they rebelled against his advice, Livnat followed it almost religiously, especially on the subject of political jingles, which Finkelstein said should be cut down to about 15 seconds – 30 at the most. They should be short, hard-hitting and repetitive, he declared.
That advice was eventually heeded, and Israeli strategic and communications consultant Moti Morel came up with the slogan “Peres will divide Jerusalem.” This was a slightly milder version of his initial slogan, which was “Peres will abandon Jerusalem.” Finkelstein approved the slogan, and Peres narrowly lost the election on the basis of a political lie.
Livnat also sheds light on one of the reasons for the animosity that Sara Netanyahu feels toward Ayelet Shaked. It seems that Sara is hostile toward any attractive woman who works closely with her husband.
Following the political debate on television between Netanyahu and Perez on the eve of the elections, Netanyahu and his wife were scheduled to come to Likud campaign headquarters. Livnat was asked to leave before they arrived, so as to ensure that Sara would not be upset by her presence. Livnat, who had barely seen her family during the last three weeks of the campaign, refused, saying she had given the campaign her all, and she was not about to move in order to ensure Sara Netanyahu’s peace of mind. There have been bad vibes between the two women ever since.
IBCA annual meeting postponed
■ ORIGINALLY SCHEDULED for mid-September, the annual meeting of Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association (IBCA) members and friends at the residence of the British ambassador had to be postponed due to the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Fortunately, it was possible to reschedule for last week. The guest speaker was Andrew Abir, the deputy governor of the Bank of Israel, where he has worked since 1987, rising in the ranks to his current position, to which he was appointed in 2020.
A native Brit, he confessed to being happy to have the opportunity to address an audience to which he could speak in English. The topic of his address was “The return of inflation? Challenges for monetary policy.”
British Ambassador Neil Wigan mentioned that his own first job and been with the Bank of England, and was so interested in what Abir had to say that he literally leaned forward in his front-row seat.
Wigan, when greeting his guests, said that he had been greatly moved by the outpouring of respect and condolences from all sectors of the Israeli population following the queen’s death, which was far more than he had expected.
In a reference to King Charles, whom he had hosted when the monarch, then Prince Charles, was in Israel a little over two-and-a-half years ago, Wigan said that the king was very impressed with what he had seen in Israel. Wigan also mentioned that the king has a strong personal connection with Britain’s Jewish community.
As for relations between the UK and Israel, Wigan noted two-way high-ranking visits, trade relations that are in the realm of $10 billion, and Britain’s willingness to enter into negotiations with Israel for the establishment of a free trade agreement.
Special guests at the IBCA event included Canadian Ambassador Lisa Stadelbauer, Australian deputy head of mission Matthew Wise and first secretary and head of the chancery at the Indian Embassy Naveen K. Ramakrishna, whose field is economics and commerce.
Quietly in the background, making sure that everything was as it should be, was the manager of the residence Jacqueline Milliner, who has spent close to 30 years there, and has worked with nine ambassadors.
IBCA chairwoman Brenda Katten voiced everyone’s pleasure at being in a typical setting of a British country garden. In other words, they had been transported to a piece of England. This, by the way, extended to the refreshments, which included the British staple of fish and chips plus a good whisky selection.
The economy is on a downward curve almost everywhere in the world. Still, compared to other countries, Israel is doing relatively well, said Abir, underscoring that Israel emerged from the pandemic in much better shape economically than most other countries, which are facing double-digit inflation, which so far has been prevented in Israel.
Inflation has become a global problem because the supply of any number of commodities cannot meet demand, and the situation is fast approaching that of the 1970s when double-digit inflation resulted in high-interest rates and increased taxes, which in turn affected employment and the cost of living.
Over the last 20 years, said Abir, inflation was a nonissue, which made business planning easier, reduced interest rates, enabled stability of economic growth and reduced unemployment.
Production slowed down or came to a total halt during pandemic lockdowns, as a result of which people did not spend their money, and many ended up with more funds than they were able to muster before the pandemic. The upshot was buying sprees, but having to wait much longer than in the past for the delivery of new cars and electrical appliances.
In places where there is no longer a lockdown, people finding themselves with money want to spend it, and will buy almost anything that is available.
Despite the hefty price tags, they’re also buying apartments, but in new projects, they’re waiting much longer than they did in the past, in order to be able to move into their new abodes.
The reason for this, said Abir, is that when the average apartment complex was four or five stories high, it took around two years to complete the construction project. Now, because land is scarce, real estate entrepreneurs have to build upward instead of outward, a factor that means that every project takes more than the estimated time for completion.
Commenting on a growing trend to cut down on globalization and to rely more on domestic employment and production, Abir opined that this is a mistake because globalization has connected hundreds of millions of people to the global workforce and has provided access to products that are cheaper in other countries.
The good news, however, is that “Israel’s economy is in a tremendously good situation compared to other countries. The unemployment rate has dropped, and Israel now has the highest level of employment that it ever had.”
Abir enthused that “this a tremendously positive factor” and credited hi-tech with being Israel’s engine of growth, which thrived during the pandemic.
“Our balance of payments has never been so good,” he continued, noting that as much as the use of energy costs in Israel, it is nowhere near as high as in other countries.
The bad news is that nontransferable services are costing more, and imported products will go up in price.
Abir is nonetheless optimistic that as the world continues to emerge from the pandemic and lockdowns, inflation will come down.
Roman Catholic Archbishop and the Anglican Archbishop against relocating British embassy
■ BOTH THE Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has come out against relocating the British Embassy to Jerusalem, citing such a move as being detrimental to the possibility of peace.
Yet both the Vatican and the Church of England are represented in Jerusalem, which is the cradle of the three great monotheistic faiths.
Charles is the supreme governor of the Church of England, and if he does not object to it being represented in Jerusalem, why should the archbishop object to relocating the embassy to the Holy City, which also happens to be Israel’s capital?
A Sukkot soiree to never forget
■ THERE ARE many ways of product marketing, but for Jeffrey Mark, the owner and president of J. Mark Interiors with showrooms in Jerusalem and New York, the best way is to throw a party – preferably New York style, to which he invites past, present and potential clients, who sit on the sofas and armchairs that he and members of his team have designed, network with each other, listen to good music and indulge in high-quality food and drink.
Last Saturday night, he hosted a Sukkot soiree, with a black, white and gold 1920s theme. Waiters and waitresses, dressed in black and carrying pedestaled trays of canapes were on the constant move among the guests. There were also black-clothed buffets with additional mouthwatering offerings. The bar was black and styled as a speakeasy, and the four-piece band, whose members were also clad in black, played 1920s-style music. Although the invitation did not stipulate a dress code, most of the female guests wore black.
Gloves came back into vogue during the pandemic when health professionals and people working in restaurants wore gloves in order to avoid transmitting germs. But the gloves on display at the soiree were not of the surgical hygiene variety, but the elegant, old-fashioned long gloves that reach just above the elbow. Also on display were the long strands of pearls that were popular among flappers, and to add to the fashion element, there were books and artworks related to Gucci, Hermes, Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld.
Somewhat more updated was a book along whose spine was written: “The only way to do good work is to love what you do.” The quote came from the Apple personal computer pioneer and entrepreneur, the late Steve Jobs.
There is no doubt that Mark loves what he does, as evidenced by the frequent changes in his showroom. He not only supplies furniture and furnishings but also helps clients to decorate the interiors of their homes so that his designs can be displayed to their best advantage while reflecting the taste of the home occupant.
Everyone loves a party, and people were coming and going all night. It was a great prelude to Sukkot, which emphasized the difference between temporary and permanent housing.
Efrat mayor invited Palestinians to his sukkah every year
■ ON THE subject of temporary housing, meaning the sukkah, Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi has made it a practice to invite his Palestinian neighbors to his sukkah. He also invites local Arabs and Druze who come from all over the country, mainly out of curiosity but staying to discuss mutual problems. Once Palestinians, local Arabs and Jews begin to discuss mutually troubling issues, suspicion and hostilities begin to fade.
Revivi believes that a lot of the negative feeling between Jews and Arabs is based on ignorance. Once they begin to know and understand each other in his sukkah, attitudes start to change. When he first began to hold an open house in his sukkah, he asked his Palestinian friend Yusuf how many people he thought might come. Yusuf estimated that maybe 10. More than three times that number came from his village, and over the years the numbers continue to multiply.
Unfortunately, due to the high crime rate in the Arab community, plus the recent acts of Palestinian terrorism, there is a tendency to paint all Arabs with the same brush. This is very unfair. So is collective punishment, in which innocent people are penalized for the crimes of one or two members of their community. The majority of Arabs are law-abiding and are interested in a peaceful existence for themselves and their families.
Revivi is not the only Israeli who understands this, and there is a lot of goodwill and cooperation between Jews and Arabs – including Palestinian Arabs – that is below the radar and doesn’t receive publicity. Just another example of good news being no news.
Danish Jewish community
■ VETERAN FOREIGN correspondent Hanne Foighel, who is a print and broadcast journalist for Danish media outlets, recently authored a book in Danish, Stone on stone – my 400-year-old Danish Jewish roots, which was published and launched last week by the Danish Jewish Museum.
When one thinks of Jews in relation to Denmark, it is usually in terms of how the Danish resistance movement managed to evacuate the overwhelming majority of the country’s 7,800 Jews during the Holocaust.
Perhaps because Denmark’s Jewish community was and is so small, little is known about it, even in the Jewish world.
The history of Jews in Denmark goes back to the 17th century. Foighel opens a window to that history by using her own family history to “walk through” centuries that Jews owe to the generosity of the Danish Crown. She cites a letter written November 25, 1622, by King Christian IV, who invited the Sephardi communities in Hamburg and Amsterdam to move to his new trade town Glückstadt with a view to boosting trade.
Foighel, who grew up in Denmark, tells the story of Jewish life in the 20th century, the flight to Sweden by the previous generation, life as refugees and the remarkable homecoming, and includes pages of Jewish European history. Through the life of her father, an acclaimed international lawyer, a government minister and a judge at the Strasbourg European Court of Human Rights, she explains Jewish influence on the international development of the protection of individuals, terms like “crimes against humanity,” “genocide,” and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
A symposium on the book is anticipated in early December at Tel Aviv University.
Denmark voted for the partition of Palestine at the United Nations in November 1947, and established diplomatic relations with Israel in February 1949. In the state's early years, thousands of young Danes came to volunteer on kibbutzim.
However, as increasing numbers of Palestinian refugees found a haven in Denmark, more attention was paid to the wider picture of the Middle East, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on which Denmark frequently sided with the Palestinians.
For all that, Israel never forgot its debt to Denmark both for saving the Jewish population from the Nazis, and for the vote it cast in November 1947. A square and a school in Jerusalem are named for Denmark.
The late Esther Herlitz, who was one of Israel’s early ambassadors to Denmark, for the rest of her life was almost as loyal to Denmark as she was to Israel.
Binyamina celebrating its centenary
■ NOSTALGIA IS definitely in the air this week in Binyamina, which is celebrating its centenary. Originally an agricultural town, Binyamina is one of many Israeli towns and villages in Israel named for members of the Rothschild family. It is named after Baron Abraham Benjamin Edmond James de Rothschild. Binyamina is famous for its winery, which was founded in 1952 by the Zeltzer family, and is currently celebrating its 70th anniversary.
During this week’s Binyamina Festival, there was a special tribute at the opening on Tuesday night to native son Ehud Manor, who was one of Israel’s best-known and most prolific lyricists, whose songs such as “Ein li eretz aheret” (I have no other land) and “Habayta” (Homeward) are classics that will linger for generations. The centenary year was declared at the Manor tribute, possibly out of consideration of the fact that he often wrote and spoke about Binyamina. Also part of the festival was Chava Alberstein, who sang some of her all-time favorites.
Having their own celebration, in addition to the festival, are Hahaverim shel Natasha (Natasha’s Friends), who are appearing Wednesday tonight, marking their 30th anniversary. That’s a very long time for a band to keep making music, though they still have a long way to go to keep up with the Rolling Stones, the seemingly immortal British rock group that was formed in 1962. Mick Jagger, 79, and Keith Richards, 78, are the only members of the original Rolling Stones who are still with the band.
Getting back to Binyamina, another of its famous native sons is former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Rishon Lezion celebrating a milestone anniversary
■ ALSO CELEBRATING a milestone anniversary is Rishon Lezion, which at its festival this week paid tribute to the memory of singer and actor Arik Einstein, who died in November 2013 at age 74. Einstein will again be commemorated, this time in a joint capacity with Uri Zohar, who died in June of this year at age 86; and actor and director Tzvi Shissel, who died in July last year, two weeks before his 75th birthday. All three were members of the musical comedy group Lool (Chicken Coop), which in the early 1970s commanded large audiences.
Acknowledged as one of Israel’s most talented directors, actors and comedians, Zohar gradually became religiously observant to the extent that he became ultra-Orthodox and relinquished his entertainment career. Zohar and Einstein, who was completely secular, remained close friends despite their differences. The friendship was cemented when two of Zohar’s sons married Einstein’s daughters.
Lool left an indelible impression on Israel’s entertainment scene, and Lool sketches are often broadcast on the radio almost half a century after Lool disbanded.
The Lool tribute will take place on Thursday, October 27, at 6 p.m. in the Rovina Auditorium at Habima Theater, and again on Friday, October 28, at 11 a.m.
Master of ceremonies will be Yoav Ginai, who is now an Army Radio broadcaster. He previously worked for many years for the now-defunct Israel Broadcasting Authority and was closely associated with Eurovision, traveling as a member of the Israeli team to Eurovision contests. He is also an actor, songwriter and program editor.
Among the entertainers who will appear in the tribute are Alma Zohar, Adam, Shlomo Artzi, Shlomo Vishinsky and Dori Ben Ze’ev.