Grapevine November 6, 2022: Pride before the fall

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

(photo credit: YAACOV SAAR/GPO)

It doesn’t take much to guess that Merav Michaeli’s days as leader of the Labor Party are numbered. Labor is notorious for unseating its leaders, or for making life so uncomfortable for them that they leave of their own accord.

In Michaeli’s case, party members are livid because her refusal to join forces with Meretz resulted in the most humiliating defeat the Left has yet experienced at the ballot box, even though Labor has been in almost constant decline over the past 30 years, moving from 44 Knesset seats in 1992 to less than 20 in 2003 and then to single-digit figures. 

Bad enough that Labor will have so small a representation in the Knesset, but Michaeli’s adamant decision to go it alone resulted in what may be a death knell for Meretz. The party was in painful limbo as to whether it would cross the electoral threshold.

Aside from that, Michaeli’s plans to introduce public transport on Shabbat will be shelved indefinitely, unless some bright ultra-religious MK comes up with a halachic solution to the problem.

There’s an old Yiddish saying that one doesn’t put a healthy head into a sick bed, so finding a gung-ho successor to Michaeli may be problematic; and failure to do so could lead to the demise of the Labor Party, whose earliest members were among the founders of the state.

Regardless of whether anyone’s personal politics are Right or Left, it will be a tragedy if the party, some of whose past ministers were national icons, will be allowed to sink into oblivion.

The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin

■ THE 27TH anniversary, according to the Gregorian calendar, of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin took place this past Saturday, exactly a week after a memorial rally organized by the Labor Party.

Here too, Michaeli came in for a lot of criticism, because the rally, just days ahead of the elections, was seen as being part of the campaign, whereas the killing of a prime minister of Israel in Israel, had sent shock waves through all sectors of the population.

Many people who would have come to a non-political memorial rally stayed away because of the very obvious political link the rally in Zion Square had to the elections. 

While it is known that Rabin’s assassin was Yigal Amir, who was sentenced to life imprisonment with no option for clemency, there are many aspects of the assassination and the investigation into it which are still classified more than a quarter of a century after Rabin’s death.

In a recently published book, Srak Srak by Ran Sarid and Avi Zelinger, the authors question the role of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) in events leading up to the assassination. Srak in Hebrew means blank. “Srak, srak” was a cry that went out immediately after Rabin was shot, implying that there had been dummy bullets in the gun.

It is known that Amir, a law student with a good record as a youth leader, had come under the influence of Avishai Raviv, a Shin Bet operative code-named “Champagne.” Raviv was supposedly an intelligence officer who had infiltrated right-wing groups at Bar-Ilan University. His job was to monitor the activities of the more extreme anti-Oslo Accords groups, one was Eyal, of which Raviv was the leader.

The Shin Bet tried to cover up the fact that Raviv was one of theirs, but gradually, the word got out. Initially, the Shin Bet denied Raviv was an agent, and said he was simply an informant. Later it was acknowledged that he had been tasked with making the ultra-right look bad in the eyes of Middle Israel.

Eyal was in fact set up and funded by the agency on the BIU campus. As bits and pieces of information came to light, increasing efforts were made to stifle the whole story, and the media gradually lost interest because there were so many other issues with which to fill the news pages.

Some people thought Raviv was no less guilty than Amir – perhaps even more so, even though it was Amir who fired the gun. Raviv was never brought to trial.

The Rabin Center in Tel Aviv, which tells the story of Rabin’s career as a soldier, diplomat and politician will be open to the public free of charge for all of this week.

A global day of learning and talking about the Torah

■ NOVEMBER IS rife with anniversaries of the death of famous people. In advance of the second anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, it is anticipated that more than 150 Jewish community organizations and day schools from six continents will, on November 13, join a global day of learning and talking about the Torah.This global commemoration, inspired by Sacks’s passion for learning through dialogue, is called “Communities in Conversation.”

“His words and his mission to inspire deeper conversations on what Judaism means to the individual remain just as relevant as they were when he first spoke them,” said Rabbi Sacks Legacy chief executive Joanna Benarroch.

“His words and his mission to inspire deeper conversations on what Judaism means to the individual remain just as relevant as they were when he first spoke them,”

Rabbi Sacks Legacy chief executive Joanna Benarroch

The event, themed “From Optimism to Hope,” offers participants the opportunity to discuss the writings and philosophy of Rabbi Sacks on the subject.

“My father learned from books, from text, from laws, history, and from world events. But mainly, he learned from people,” said Gila Sacks, explaining the inspiration for the event.

“He would seek out people to learn from, from every possible path of life, and he would do this through conversation – through talking and listening.”

So far, communities and Jewish day schools across Israel, the UK, the US, Canada, Austria, Australia, Bahrain, Indonesia, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Mexico, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have registered to host communal learning sessions.

In September of this year, a memorial event for Sacks was held at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem where President Isaac Herzog hosted more than 200 government officials, religious leaders, prominent Jewish community figures from Britain and members of the Sacks family.

Working hard to show foreign journalists a more positive image of Israel

■ WITH ANTISEMITISM and anti-Israel propaganda on the rise in many countries, major Jewish organizations are working hard to show foreign journalists a more positive image of Israel, and to give them a better understanding of the Jewish people.

At the forefront of these organizations with regard to Latin America is the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, which recently hosted a group of 11 senior print and broadcast journalists from Argentina, Costa Rica, Panama, Uruguay and Chile for a week-long visit to Israel in which they toured the country from the southern to the northern borders meeting with Jews, Muslims, Druze, Baha’i and Christians, and learning the differences between various groups from each.

During the visit, which concluded two days prior to the elections, they learned about Israel’s vibrant democracy, diverse population and freedom of the press.

They visited leading Israeli start-ups, joint Jewish-Druze and Jewish-Muslim projects, toured Masada and stood in awe and horror at Yad Vashem.

The journalists were accompanied by Josef Gabriel, president, B’nai B’rith Costa Rica and vice chair, B’nai B’rith Central America; and Grace Agosin, a representative of the Chilean Jewish community. They were guided by educator Gabriel Ben-Tasgal.

Among the people who spoke to them and with whom they entered into conversation were: Lior Hayat, head of the National Public Diplomacy Directorate; Oded Revivi, mayor of Efrat; Jonathan Peled, Foreign Ministry deputy director-general and head of the Latin American and Caribbean Division; Lior Ben Dor, director of the ministry’s Egypt and Maghreb Department; Middle East experts Jana Beris, Dr. Mordechai Kedar and Dr. Ely Carmon; Prof. Michel Strawczynski, director of the Bank of Israel’s Research Department; former MK Amal Nasereldeen; Reserve IDF Maj. Shaadi Halul, who is the founder of the Israel Christian Aramaic Association, and many others too numerous to mention.

“We remain convinced that there is no substitute to actually visiting Israel and being exposed to its many facets,” says B’nai B’rith World Center Director Alan Schneider.

Singer-guitarist and songwriter Yehuda Poliker

■ THE SON of Greek Holocaust survivors Jacko and Sarah, who loved to sing and to preserve the melodies with which they had grown up, singer-guitarist and songwriter Yehuda Poliker has made his reputation on Greek melodies with Hebrew lyrics, though he does occasionally sing in Greek, has appeared in Greece and has appeared with Greek singers performing in Israel. Greek music is very popular in Israel, and Poliker is popular in both Israel and Greece.

This past Saturday night he sang in Athens at a concert for Birthright, and earlier this year he sang in Jerusalem at the Genesis awards ceremony in which the Genesis Prize was given to Pfizer Chairman and CEO Dr. Albert Bourla, who like Poliker is the son of Greek Holocaust survivors.

Born in Thessaloniki, Bourla has for several years lived in America. During the COVID crisis, in which Pfizer played a key role in developing a vaccine, Bourla received several phone calls a day, including in the pre-dawn hours, from then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Something else that the two have in common, is that they were both born on October 21.

Poliker, who is much closer in age to Netanyahu than to Bourla, will celebrate his 72nd birthday on December 25. On January 13, he will begin a concert tour at Heichal Tarbut (Tel Aviv Cultural Center) in which he will sing only in Greek. It will be the first time he gives an all-Greek performance.

Poliker can frequently be heard both live and in recordings in the weekly Friday afternoon program on Radio Reshet Bet hosted by Yaron Enosh, one of Israel’s best-known philhellenic.

[email protected]