Grapevine November 16, 2022: A government of alienation?

Movers and shakers in Israeli society

DIASPORA AFFAIRS Minister Nachman Shai arrives at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem with newly sworn-in ministers in June (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
DIASPORA AFFAIRS Minister Nachman Shai arrives at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem with newly sworn-in ministers in June
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

Outgoing Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai has warned that alienation of Conservative and Reform Jews will cost Israel dearly in terms of support. Contrary to claims in some Orthodox circles that there are far fewer Conservative and Reform Jews than there are ultra-Orthodox in the US, Shai told Arieh Golan on KAN Reshet Bet that the ultra-Orthodox constitute only 10% of American Jewry and that many children of mixed marriages are (halachicly) Jewish. If alienation of Reform and Conservative Jews persists, he said, Israel will have the support of the Evangelists but will lose that of a large percentage of American Jews, who till now have lobbied for Israel in the UN and elsewhere.

Australian Ambassador returns to Canberra at the end of the month

■ THERE WERE slightly in excess of a handful of people who were not Australian expatriates or members of the Australian Embassy staff at the residence of Australian Ambassador Paul Griffiths last Thursday to bid him farewell before he returns to Canberra at the end of the month. Though extremely fond of Israel, where he has made many friends, Griffiths has to go home for family reasons. No successor has yet been named.

While winding up his affairs in Israel, Griffiths was nonetheless acutely conscious of his duties in Israel and his loyalty to endeavors by Australian ex-pats. On the night before his farewell party, he attended the opening of HaGal Sheli Australia-Tel Aviv Surf Education Center, a nonprofit that uses surfing as an educational tool to empower youth at risk from all religious and socioeconomic backgrounds, helping thousands of youngsters to remain in school.

A week earlier Griffiths had presided over the annual commemoration of the Battle of Beersheba, and a couple of days before that had attended the annual lone soldiers brunch for South African and Australian lone soldiers cohosted by Telfed South African Zionist Federation (Israel) and the Israel office of the Zionist Federation of Australia.

 DANNY HAKIM (left) being congratulated by Australian Ambassador Paul Griffiths. (credit: JORDAN POLEVOY) DANNY HAKIM (left) being congratulated by Australian Ambassador Paul Griffiths. (credit: JORDAN POLEVOY)

ZFA director Moriah Ben-David was among the guests at the ambassador’s farewell party, as were Dr. Harvey and Loretta Belik, the first friends the ambassador made in Israel.

The Beliks make a point of befriending all new Australian ambassadors to Israel, but in Griffith’s case, it was particularly important to do so, because he arrived at the peak of COVID-19, when socializing of any kind was extremely limited. But they came knocking at his door anyway, brought him home-baked ANZAC biscuits, invited him to their home many times, and were invited by him.

Other guests, some of whom are close friends of the ambassador, included former ambassador to Australia Mark Sofer, Australian-born former ambassador to the UK Mark Regev, who currently chairs the Abba Eban Institute for Diplomacy and Foreign Relations at Reichman University, martial arts expert and peace activist Danny Hakim, president and CEO of the Israel Lifesaving Organization Paul Hakim, human rights lawyer and CEO at the International Legal Forum Arsen Ostrovsky, and lawyer and surfer Lisa Segelov.

Griffiths, who is a history buff, came to Israel after spending time in England, where he read books about a thousand years of history, and in Israel, he read about 3,000 years of history.

In the week prior to his farewell party, he toured the Old City of Jerusalem and visited Christian, Jewish and Muslim historic sites. A career diplomat, who in Canberra had worked on issues related to the Middle East, Griffiths said that Israel had loomed large in government, and he thought that he knew a lot about Israel, but on arrival was surprised by the depth of community involvement. “It’s incredible to be with people who are doing wonderful work,” he said.

Griffiths did not skirt the recent diplomatic flurry over Australia’s nonrecognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but noted that there has almost always been bipartisan support for Israel on Australia’s part, and was confident that things were moving back in that direction.

He said that he, personally, was leaving Israel as a friend, and would return at every opportunity.

Griffiths came to wide attention in June 2021, when he responded to an immigrant from Australia who complained about not being able to get hold of Vegemite Australia’s favorite toast and sandwich spread. Griffiths supplied it from his own stock, and the story went viral. Since then, Vegemite has become available in Israel at roughly five times what it costs in Australia.

Recalling the Vegemite story, Griffiths confessed that the Australian ambassador does not like Vegemite.

Dorner pleased with Litani being CEO

■ SOME PEOPLE are incapable of being idle. One of them is retired Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, who in 2004, was forced to retire because judges cannot remain on the bench in Israel once they turn 70.

Two years later, in response to waning public confidence in the media, Dorner agreed to become president of the Israel Press Council and somehow ignored the rules about the length of her stay. But by the time she’d been at the helm for 14 years, she had outworn her welcome. In 2014, she ran an unsuccessful race for president of the state and suffered a humiliating defeat. Undaunted, she continued with her work at the Press Council, until she left four years later.

In early 2021, she launched her current venture, the Israel Press Institute, with the help of former president Reuven Rivlin, who had defeated her in the race for president. Earlier this month, Dorner appointed Tammy Litani as the institute’s new CEO. Litani, a veteran staff member of Haaretz, who over the years had been the senior editor of different sections of the paper, succeeds Golan Yochpaz, who is the new CEO of the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation.

After leaving the paper several years ago, Litani joined Keter Publishing as an editor and also taught communications at Sapir Academic College. She is also among the founders of DocAviv and was also a founding member of Shomrim – The Center for Media and Democracy.

Dorner said that she was very pleased to have Litani as CEO of the institute, which has expanded and solidified itself. Dorner thanked Yochpaz for his contribution and wished him well in his new position.

The cardinal role of the institute, she said, is to safeguard the freedom of the press.

Netanyahu's fondness for Indian cuisine

■ WHILE THE Israeli media were busy speculating over which Benjamin Netanyahu the nation would receive in his next stint as prime minister, and whether he could curb the extremism of Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, the Indian newspaper ThePrint, which focuses mainly on politics and policy, was more interested in Netanyahu’s fondness for Indian cuisine.

One of the paper’s journalists, Pia Krishnankutty, interviewed celebrity Indian chef and restaurateur Reena Pushkarna, at whose Tandoori restaurant Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu did their courting more than 30 years ago, and who have returned there many times to the extent that they have become personal friends.

Netanyahu loves adrak ki chai, the ginger-flavored Indian tea, but he’s not terribly keen on Indian chutney. When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel in July, Netanyahu asked Pushkarna to cater the dinner in his honor.

Netanyahu is not the only Israeli prime minister to appreciate Pushkarna’s culinary talents. In 2014, when Ariel Sharon became the first Israeli prime minister to visit India, he included Pushkarna in his entourage. She is reasonably sure that when Netanyahu travels to India, he, too, will invite her.

Pushkarna is fairly bipartisan in her politics. She has also hosted Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres at one of the Tandoori restaurants that she founded with her husband, Vinod, a former ship’s captain, whom she married 47 years ago when she was 16. Tandoori in Tel Aviv was also where the Oslo Accords talks began. The Pushkarnas were fortunate that when Vinod decided to give up his seagoing profession, they came to Israel where Indian cuisine was almost unknown, except by post-army back-packers who had been in India and had developed a liking for Indian food.

The Pushkarnas opened one restaurant and then another and quickly developed a reputation, with Reena becoming a television star. Before India established full diplomatic relations with Israel, Pushkarna was widely regarded as a quasi-ambassador, and she was present at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem when India’s first ambassador presented his credentials.

Krishnankutty did not confine her interview to Indian palate pleasers. She also wanted to know how Israel’s Indian community reacted to the elections and why there was no representative from the community in the Knesset. Puskharna was confident that eventually there will be, just as there have been and are representatives of the Russian-speaking and Ethiopian communities. There are many highly educated and intelligent Indians, she said.

Their intelligence may well be the reason that they have refrained from seeking political office. An intelligent person does not want to be put under a media microscope. Nonetheless, Pushkarna believes that as relations between India and Israel continue to intensify, members of Israel’s Indian community will play a significant role in bridge-building on all levels, particularly those who, like her, are members of the Israel-Asia Advisory Council.

Food and politics aside, Pushkarna has also been engaged in facilitating Bollywood productions in Israel.

Netanyahu trying to form a government

■ IN TRADE Union negotiations, the general rule is to settle all the issues on which the two sides agree because this paves the way for a compromise on issues on which they disagree.

It seems that Netanyahu follows a similar path. In seeking to allay fears about further rifts in society, he emphasized in his acceptance speech, after receiving a mandate from President Isaac Herzog to form a government, that there are many issues on which there is a broad national consensus.

Some of these include an agreement that Israel is the state of the Jewish people; Israel must combat terrorism and the Iranian threat; united Jerusalem must remain the capital of Israel; every effort must be made to achieve peace with more Arab neighbors in the region; the economy must be improved; and despite differences, the people of Israel will continue to exist together.

Netanyahu had hoped to form a government as early as this week, but Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, who are the thorns in his side, have made that improbable if not impossible.

Is Rivlin worried about Netanyahu?

■ IN APRIL of last year, then-president Rivlin reluctantly gave Netanyahu yet another mandate to try to form a government, but in May, Netanyahu, having failed in that task, returned it.

Last week, Rivlin, while in New York to receive the Herzl Award from World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, was asked by some of the guests at the gala event what he thought of the outcome of the Knesset elections. Rivlin, who is still constrained by a cooling-off period from his apolitical role, declined to comment. But later, behind closed doors, he reportedly said that the results, even though they indicated a clear victory and reflected the will of the people, posed a serious danger to Israel.

Out of all the Israeli cities in Switzerland, only one has a street named Theodor Herzl

■ APROPOS HERZL, at an event at ANU – Museum of the Jewish People, hosted by the Israel-Switzerland & Liechtenstein Chamber of Commerce to somewhat belatedly mark the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, Swiss Ambassador Urs Bucher, while noting the warm relationship between Switzerland and Israel, said that there is still room for improvement.

 FROM LEFT: Hanna and Gideon Hamburger with Swiss Ambassador Urs Bucher (credit: Dror Yitzhak) FROM LEFT: Hanna and Gideon Hamburger with Swiss Ambassador Urs Bucher (credit: Dror Yitzhak)

He subsequently explained this to chamber president Gideon Hamburger, saying that while there are Basel Streets in more than 10 Israeli cities, in Switzerland, only one city has a street named for Theodor Herzl. That is something that needs improving, he said.

Will the new government last four years?

■ EVEN IF Netanyahu overcomes the intransigence of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, it’s unlikely that his government will last for four years, veteran journalist Daphna Liel, who has spent the last seven tears as an anchorwoman on the Knesset Channel, told some 400 members of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, at the opening of its 100th convention and the celebration of Hadassah’s 110th anniversary at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem this week.

Liel explained that hardly any government in Israel has lasted a full term. When she was offered the job, Liel, who has spent all of her adult life as a broadcast journalist, thought it would be easy, taking into account the working hours of the Knesset and the summer and winter recesses. She could not have anticipated the number of elections she would have to cover, which would force her to work 24/7. It was not easy for the mother of two young children.

Aside from the intensity of the job itself, there was the headache of dealing with the animosity of Knesset members on both sides, each of which thought she was favoring the other, even though she does not identify politically, she said.

The success of Hadassah can in part be attributed to the fact that it is a sisterhood in the most positive sense of the word. There is ongoing recognition among members for good work, good deeds, caring and devotion to the cause.

Convention chairwoman Joyce Rabin and national president Rhoda Smolow recognized people present both by name and by category. Mothers and daughters were asked to stand; life members, regional presidents, associates, namely male spouses, and those who had made early-bird reservations.

Since people came from all over America, there were glad cries of recognition and many embraces in the hotel ballroom, where Inbal chefs had outdone themselves in the huge variety of offerings of salads, fish, meat, cooked vegetables and desserts on buffets placed around all the walls. In addition, there was a large group of smiling waiters who kept replenishing beverages and removing used dishes from tables to make room for more. The waiters also got caught up in the spontaneous dancing to Israeli music and kicked up their heels as they entered the kitchen. The chefs also came into the ballroom and applauded, and the general goodwill was contagious.

Smolow and Rabin had been planning the convention well ahead of COVID-19, and when it struck, it seemed that the convention might not take place, thus shattering the dreams of the two women. But Hadassah thrives on challenge, and once it was known that the convention was going ahead, registration was fast and furious. Both women expressed their thanks to all those present for enabling their dream to come true.

Herzog making history at the opening session of the 25th Knesset

■ MINOR HISTORY was made on Tuesday at the opening session of the 25th Knesset. It is customary for former MKs to be invited to the reception and the ceremony on this festive day. Several of the invitees were second-generation legislators, but only one, Herzog, was both a second-generation legislator and a second-generation president.

Earlier in the day, he had attended a memorial ceremony in Rehovot marking the 70th anniversary of the death of Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, whose nephew Ezer Weizman was Israel’s seventh president after serving as a legislator and a minister. Herzog was also a minister during his political career.

Yitzhak Eldan in Morocco

 YITZHAK ELDAN (left) with Abdelati Habek (credit: Courtesy Diplomatic Foundation Morocco) YITZHAK ELDAN (left) with Abdelati Habek (credit: Courtesy Diplomatic Foundation Morocco)

■ RETIRED DIPLOMAT Yitzhak Eldan, who is the founding president of the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel, decided to spend 10 days in his native Morocco as a birthday treat in the final year of his seventh decade. Although he had been back before, this was the first time in 30 years, and obviously, there were a lot of changes in the interim. He visited the apartment in Casablanca in which he was born, and quickly rediscovered his roots, feeling very much at home.

While in Rabat, he signed a twinning agreement between the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel and the Diplomatic Foundation of Morocco, and agreed with its president, Abdelati Habek, to hold a series of joint ventures, the first of which will be a business conference with the arrival of an Israeli business delegation in Morocco at a date yet to be determined.

Ichilov Hospital Director congratulated David Broza on 40th anniversary of first album release

■ IT’S A well-known fact that singer-guitarist David Broza spent part of his growing-up years in Spain, where he was greatly influenced by Spanish guitar and Spanish music in general, both of which feature strongly in his recordings and his live performances.

 PROF. RONNI Gamzu (left) with David Broza (credit: Shai Cohen) PROF. RONNI Gamzu (left) with David Broza (credit: Shai Cohen)

Thus, it came as no surprise that when Broza celebrated the 40th anniversary of the release of his first album, The Woman with Me, guests of honor at the Kempinski hotel in Tel Aviv were Spain’s Ambassador Ana Salomon and her deputy, Antonio Millan. Coincidentally, Ichilov Hospital Director Prof. Ronni Gamzu happened to be at the hotel for another event, but hearing the voice of Broza, whom he knows well, he popped in to say hello, offer his congratulations, and publicly thank Broza for his voluntary performances for hospital patients.

Broza, by the way, is the grandson of Wellesley Aaron, the founder of British Habonim and a co-founder of Neveh Shalom, a cooperative Arab-Jewish village in Latrun, whose residents have proved that coexistence in peace and harmony is possible.

Bank Yahav's sponsorship agreement with the Women's Basketball Premier League

■ ASA BANK YAHAV Jerusalem, a newcomer to the Women’s Basketball Premier League, will become much more visible thanks to the sponsorship agreement that was signed between the team and the bank.

 ASA BANK YAHAV Jerusalem Women’s Basketball team (credit: Courtesy ASA BYJWBT) ASA BANK YAHAV Jerusalem Women’s Basketball team (credit: Courtesy ASA BYJWBT)

The agreement includes Bank Yahav’s support for the team’s educational and sports activities in the local community. The signing took place during the “pink” basketball game that was part of a campaign to increase breast cancer screening awareness.

Bank Yahav will gain exposure to various frameworks in which the basketball team is active. The agreement is a natural continuation of the sponsorship and support that Bank Yahav gives to sports in Israel in general and in Jerusalem in particular, said Shaul Gelbard, Bank Yahav CEO.

Kuti Meridan, CEO of the Cosell Association for Physical Education, under whose umbrella the basketball club operates, expressed deep appreciation to Bank Yahav for its decision to sponsor the club.

Bezalel Academy continues to grow and thrive

■ EVEN THOUGH mega philanthropists Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel are no longer alive, their foundation continues to support projects in Israel, the most recent of which was the new Bezalel campus in Jerusalem, though the foundation was not alone in contributing to the impressive facility. The large wing for the arts was gifted by Idan and Batia Ofer.

 FROM LEFT: International businessman and philanthropist Idan Ofer with his wife, Batia, and Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design President Prof. Adi Stern (credit: Oz Schechter) FROM LEFT: International businessman and philanthropist Idan Ofer with his wife, Batia, and Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design President Prof. Adi Stern (credit: Oz Schechter)

Among those who joined Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design President Prof. Adi Stern, executive director Dor Lin, and chairman of Bezalel’s board of directors Dan Meridor for the grand opening last week were Herzog and his wife, Michal; philanthropist Angelica Berrie, the widow of innovative philanthropist Russell Berrie; Jehuda Reinharz, president and CEO of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation; Stephen H. Hoffman, chairman of the board of the Mandel Foundation; Moshe Vigdor, director-general of the Mandel Foundation; Shari Arison, entrepreneur and philanthropist; and Nir Barkat, Likud MK and former mayor of Jerusalem.

The Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, founded in 1906 by painter and sculptor Boris Schatz, is Israel’s most veteran institution of higher education. Its new campus, with its expanded curriculum, offers greater horizons for creativity and will breathe a fresh spirit into the heart of Jerusalem.

German Ambassador participated in series of event commemorating Kristallnacht

KRISTALLNACHT WAS not a one-night commemoration for German Ambassador Steffen Seibert. He participated in a series of events on November 8, 9 and 10, but what was particularly moving for him was attending the dedication ceremony of a Torah scroll at the new Amigour home for elderly Holocaust survivors. Few things could have been more appropriate, as, on Kristallnacht, synagogues throughout Austria and Germany were set ablaze, and many of the Torah scrolls that were rescued were nonetheless damaged.

Never give up on your dreams

■ THE OLD saying that one man’s meat is another man’s poison applies to taste in just about everything, including the fashion model business, in which beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. International supermodel Sun Mizrahi, who hails from Ramat Hasharon, had her heart set on being a fashion model but was rejected by all the key agencies in Israel. Undeterred, she sent photographs of herself to agencies abroad. The upshot was that she is currently one of the most successful Israeli models in the world, and Vogue, one of the most important of international fashion publications, placed her in the No. 1 spot in its list of promising models.

She now flies abroad several times a year for photo shoots that promote the new collections of major fashion houses.

She and her husband live with his parents in Ashdod, but will be relocating soon to Paris.

She currently represents the Milanese fashion house Bottega Veneta in Israel, and is the presenter for Factory 54. She was this week the star attraction at the launch of Bottega Veneta inside the Amor flagship store in Tel Aviv’s upscale Kikar Hamedina.

In September of this year, Mizrahi strutted on the New York Fashion Week runway, as did fellow Israelis Bar Refaeli, Bar Zomer and Eden Fines, who were modeling creations that will appear in spring summer collections in 2023.

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