Grapevine October 28, 2022: US - round two

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 HOUSE SPEAKER Nancy Pelosi hosts President Isaac Herzog and his older brother Michael, who is Israel’s ambassador to the US (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
HOUSE SPEAKER Nancy Pelosi hosts President Isaac Herzog and his older brother Michael, who is Israel’s ambassador to the US
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Responding to a joint invitation by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer, President Isaac Herzog will address a joint meeting of Congress in advance of Israel’s 75th-anniversary celebrations. The date for Herzog’s return to the US has not yet been set, but obviously, it will take place sometime within the next six months. Herzog and Pelosi are friends of long standing. Also present at their meeting on Tuesday, and subsequently at the White House meeting with President Joe Biden was Herzog’s older brother Michael, who is Israel’s ambassador to the US. In terms of public service, the Herzog dynasty can be compared to the American Kennedy and Bush dynasties in which there have been several generations of public service.

■ WHILE HERZOG was primarily in the US at Biden’s invitation, he had a whirlwind round of other meetings including one with the Atlantic Council at which he engaged in conversation with former US ambassador Dan Shapiro. The event was in honor of the second anniversary year of the Abraham Accords.

Herzog, in noting Israel’s growing integration into the Middle East, shared his vision of cooperation on matters such as climate change that affects the whole region, and was optimistic that one day there will be a Middle East Treaty. He acknowledged that it might take a generation before such a development eventuates, but was confident that the region will one day supply energy to Europe, Africa and Asia.

■ DENYING THE request of Likud leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to hold a hearing in his corruption trial on October 31, the eve of the election, could backfire in his favor. Some right-wing voters who are undecided about which party to support, may think it unfair to deny a request of this kind, and will therefore opt to cast their ballots for Likud. Another possible case of every cloud having a silver lining.

 THE HERZOG brothers in the White House with President Joe Biden (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO) THE HERZOG brothers in the White House with President Joe Biden (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

■ MANY PEOPLE are unfamiliar with the rules of the game in practices in which they are rarely involved. Moreover, not every minister of education can be expected to know the rules of diplomacy nor can any chief of state protocol anticipate the nature of a breach and do something to prevent it. Thus, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton who was representing the government at the Austrian National Day reception hosted by ambassador Nikolaus Lutterotti and his wife Bettina, did not wait for the ambassador to propose the traditional toast but did so herself.

Other than that, all the long-standing traditions of an outdoor Austrian National Day reception were preserved including softly played jazz emanating from the poolside sunken garden, and apple strudel for dessert.

The ambassador when making his address kept anxiously looking upwards, concerned that it might rain on his parade as it did on that of one of his predecessors.

But as has happened so frequently in this era of climate change the weather forecasts were flawed.

Aware of the hectic period during the few days preceding the elections the ambassador was particularly appreciative that Shasha-Biton had taken time out from campaigning to join his reception, which took place for the first time since 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic had prevented receptions in 2020 and 2021.

Lutterotti spoke of the strength and stability of relations between Austria and Israel and mentioned some of the areas of cooperation such as innovation research; trade and investment and combating the climate crisis.

But the cornerstone of the relationship he emphasized, was Austria’s steadfast commitment to fight all forms of antisemitism, Holocaust denial and distortion.

Austria has a historic responsibility to do so: he asserted.

He also related to a law passed in Austria for the restoration of citizenship to Jews who had been stripped of citizenship during the Holocaust.

Some 7,700 new Austrian citizens live in Israel, he said, adding that many more are being processed.

Relating to the revived and vibrant Jewish community of Austria the ambassador remarked that the Jewish community is fundamental to Austrian culture and history.

Moving on to global affairs, Lutterotti said that in the Middle East, old conflicts remain unresolved but that the maritime border agreement between Israel and Lebanon was “positive and promising.”

Turning to the conflagration between Russia and Ukraine, he charged Russia with committing war crimes and displacing millions of people, and warned that Russia is willfully putting the security of the global community at risk.

Citing as an example of the excellent relations between Israel and Austria, Shasha-Biton lauded Austria’s raising of the Israeli flag in May last year in solidarity with Israel’s response to ongoing rocket fire from Gaza. She also referred to Austria’s support for Israel at international forums and its adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. This is something that Israel does not take for granted, she said.

■ ON THIS coming Sunday, prior to the Knesset elections and the November 3 Terezin 2 conference, a delegation of the World Jewish Restitution Organization headed by Chief Operating Officer Mark Weitzman, will meet with President Herzog. Also in attendance will be government ministers and members of Knesset.

The purpose of the meeting is a red alert call to Israel’s politicians to exert their energies in what may be the last chance to pressure Europe to move forward with the restitution of property to Holocaust survivors and their heirs.

Weitzman, who joined the WJRO after almost 30 years with the Simon Wiesenthal Center is credited with being the “architect” of IHRA’s Working Definition of Antisemitism and was also in the forefront of the authoring of IHRA’s Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion, which was adopted by the 34 member countries of IHRA in 2013.

There will be representatives of 47 countries at the Terezin 2 conference in the Czech Republic next week.

Weitzman who has spent the larger part of his life in fighting for justice for Holocaust survivors, believes that this last-ditch effort is more crucial than ever before.

■ SOME AUSTRALIAN expats, who in previous years attended all ceremonies that were in any way related to Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACS) who fought and died in the Holy Land, are boycotting the annual Battle of Beersheba commemoration on Monday in reaction to Australia’s decision not to recognize West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Steven Sattler of Jerusalem and formerly of Melbourne, after receiving his invitation from the Australian Embassy, wrote to the embassy and to the Australian Ministry for Foreign Affairs stating that if they won’t recognize his country’s capital city Jerusalem, he could not understand why his invitation had come from a town called Canberra “when in fact Sydney is the capital of Australia.”

Though Sattler is usually accurate on Australian history, it is a common mistake to think that Sydney is the capital. Because it was the location of first European settlement on the island continent, is the most scenic, is noted for its legendary Sydney Harbor Bridge and its imaginatively designed Opera House, attracts the most tourists, it follows that people naturally think of Sydney as the capital. Canberra was established in January 1911, well over half a century after Sydney.

The Battle of Beersheba anniversary commemorates the defeat of the Ottoman forces by the British and their cohorts, the ANZACs. There is always an additional ceremony at the nearby Turkish monument. Curiously, on Monday evening, there will be a reception celebrating the 99th anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of Turkey.

■ WHILE MANY eligible voters are lamenting the fact that they have to go to the polls for a fifth time in a four-year period, and are already contemplating a sixth round, more thought should be given to the possibility that this is one of the reasons that so many young Israelis are opting to live abroad. Given the ongoing political instability, they see very little hope for their futures if they stay in Israel. Many 18- and 19-year olds will be voting for the first time, and could possibly make an impact. Meanwhile, Laurence Weinbaum, the director-general of the Israel branch of the World Jewish Congress and the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, says that this will be the fifth time that his 23-year-old son will cast his vote. Just think; everyone in his age group who will exercise their voting rights will be doing the same.

■ NEW ZEALAND’S new non-resident ambassador to Israel, Zoe Coulson Sinclair, who together with the ambassadors of Moldova, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Mongolia and Palawi will be presenting credentials to President Herzog on Monday, will take advantage of her stay in Israel to meet up with Kea, a global New Zealand organization with a branch in Israel, to introduce herself and to speak about the work of the embassy, bilateral relations and potential partnership opportunities for New Zealand and Israel. Coulson who is also her country’s ambassador to Turkey, is stationed in Ankara. All Kiwis and friends of New Zealand are welcome to attend on Friday, November 4, at 10 a.m at HESEG House, 45 Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv.

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