Grapevine November 20, 2022: Ambassadors on the go

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides shaking hands with Former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (photo credit: Gil Shimon US Embassy)
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides shaking hands with Former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman
(photo credit: Gil Shimon US Embassy)

After surviving considerable social solitude during COVID-19, ambassadors and other heads of foreign missions are once again on the go, visiting projects and institutions all over the country, participating in conferences, traveling to their home countries with high-level Israeli dignitaries and hosting independence/national day receptions and various cultural events.

The Tel Aviv International Salon, which hosts a Meet the Ambassador series, which enables young professionals to meet with foreign diplomats stationed in Israel and to hear them talk about global issues and the bilateral relations between their countries and Israel, has pulled out all the stops. Following a meeting last week at the Rothschild Gallery with Estonia Ambassador Veikko Kala, there will be another meeting on November 24 with the ambassador of Peru, Carlos Chavez-Taffur – this time at the ambassador’s residence, where participants will also have the opportunity to see items of Peruvian art. It is customary for ambassadors to display their country’s art in their embassies and their residences.

■ FINLAND’S AMBASSADOR Kirsikka Lehto-Asikainen, together with Norway’s Chargé d’Affaires Bjorn Klauman, will launch the Nordic Film Festival at the Herzliya Cinematheque on Sunday, November 27.

■ THE ANNOUNCEMENT last week that past and present US ambassadors to Israel David Friedman and Tom Nides, who are on opposite side of the political fence, will be leading the 2023 March of the Living to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland illustrates the importance of putting differences aside when an important cause is one on which both sides agree. The March of the Living is due to begin April 16.

Friedman and Nides are not the only US ambassadors to indicate that events that led up to the Holocaust must be remembered in order to prevent them happening again.

 PARTICIPANTS IN the March of the Living at Auschwitz-Birkenau, May 2019: The educational and emotional benefits of a well-designed visit to Poland can be huge, says the writer.  (credit: YOSSI ZELIGER/FLASH90) PARTICIPANTS IN the March of the Living at Auschwitz-Birkenau, May 2019: The educational and emotional benefits of a well-designed visit to Poland can be huge, says the writer. (credit: YOSSI ZELIGER/FLASH90)

On November 2, US Ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski, accompanied by Emily Martinez Roca, commissioner for human rights, and Jeanne Briganti, cultural attaché at the US Embassy in Warsaw, visited the Warsaw Ghetto Museum, which is due to open in April on the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The museum is housed in Bersohn and Bauman Hospital within what was the ghetto area. Brzezinski also visited the excavations at Mila 2, formerly Mila 18, where Mordechai Anielewicz and his resistance fighters put up a futile but courageous fight against the Nazis.

Relating to both the museum and the excavation site, Brzezinski said: “Even by standing here and seeing these physical rooms and buildings, I feel like I am bearing witness going back in time and can feel the people, many of whom were extinguished. Visibly moved in the former hospital building, Brzezinski said: “This is an important thing for people to see. You can’t just erase something – and that is what the Nazis tried to do. They tried to make people stateless, to take away their identity – and what you are doing is resurrecting it.”

Brzezinski has a special interest in Warsaw, where his late father Zbigniew Brzezinski was born. The senior Brzezinski was the 9th US national security advisor under president Jimmy Carter from 1977-81. Before that, he was an adviser to the John F. Kennedy campaign. He also supported Lyndon Johnson’s presidential campaign.

It will not come as a surprise if Brzezinski decides to join Friedman and Nides.

Milestone anniversaries of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising are traditionally attended by the president or prime minister of Israel, so there is a strong likelihood that President Isaac Herzog will also be in Poland at that time and will meet with President Andrzej Duda, with whom he has spoken on the phone. It will not be Herzog’s first visit to Poland to where he can trace some of his ancestors, but it will be his first as president.

Reuven Rivlin visited Poland several times as president, and Herzog’s father, Chaim Herzog, as sixth president, visited Poland in May 1992, a year after Lech Walesa, Poland’s first democratically elected president, had visited Israel.

Diplomatic duties

■ HUNGARIAN AMBASSADOR Levente Benko was busy last week escorting President Katalin Novak, Hungary’s first female president, who was in Israel for a two-day working visit during which together with Hungary’s Defense Minister Kristof Szalay-Bobrovniczky, she visited an Iron Dome battery, toured Yad Vashem, with which Hungary has a strong relationship, met with Hungarian Holocaust survivors and with President Herzog, outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid as well as Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, who came to the hotel for their meeting. Netanyahu is a very familiar and frequent visitor to the hotel, which despite increasing competition, still holds the highest record for diplomatic and political guests. President Novak also met with representatives of Christian communities. A relatively new head of state, Novak was elected in May of this year.

Global focus on Ukraine

■ AS FAR as refugees go, the global focus is on Ukraine. But there is war and unrest in many other parts of the world from which refugees are fleeing, but without the same kind of support that is being offered to Ukrainian refugees. For instance, who pays attention these days to refugees from Afghanistan? Some private people who wish to remain anonymous have done so, and are funding a fellowship for distinguished Afghani scholar Prof. Mariam Ahmady, who is teaching at, of all places, Stern College for Women at Yeshiva University.

Before her arrival in New York in early November following an arduous departure from Afghanistan, Ahmady was a long-time psychology professor at Kabul University. Ahmady was fortunate in immediately receiving a position as visiting professor at Stern College. Her expertise includes special needs, addiction, adolescent psychology and educational psychology. YU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Selma Botman was delighted that students and faculty will have an opportunity to meet such a talented scholar and educator.

Ahmady was chair of the Counseling Psychology Department, Psychology and Educational Sciences at Kabul University. In addition, she worked with USAID on a number of projects, presented at numerous international conferences and published the results of her research.

Zoom activities

■ SO MANY organizations and institutions carried out their activities on Zoom or via streaming over the last two years, while others put plans on hold indefinitely, and like Rip Van Winkle are waking up to a very different world in which familiar stores and buildings have disappeared, the scaffolding of tall towers is visible on numerous construction sites, roads are being dug up to create infrastructure for advanced public transport and many of their favorite entertainers have gone to the concert platform in the sky. 

There were many newspaper and magazine articles about how the world will never be the same again. To some extent, that’s true. But many of our favorite entertainers are still with us and giving us pleasure. Among them is the Hebrew University Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Anita Kamien, in cooperation with the Faculty of Humanities, the university’s Musicology Department and the Dean of Students Office. Concerts by this orchestra are by way of opening the door for young musicians for whom music is not a hobby but a career choice. The November 21 evening at the Mormon Auditorium in Jerusalem will include both orchestral and vocal masterpieces with Canadian soprano Sharon Azrieli as the vocalist. 

For Azrieli, this is more than a concert tour. Every visit to Israel is also a family reunion. If the surname is familiar, she is one of the daughters of the late David Azrieli, who pioneered shopping malls in Israel, and built the iconic Azrieli Mall in Tel Aviv. One of her sisters, Danna, lives in Israel, and is a well-known philanthropist and real estate entrepreneur.

Medal of Honor

■ NOT EVERYONE goes around with their past stamped on their forehead. Thus when Eylon Levy, who is the foreign press spokesman for President Herzog, was master of ceremonies at the event at which Nicos Anastasiades, the president of Cyprus, was awarded the Medal of Honor, many people, including those who work with Levy, were unaware of his background and rushed to tell him what a fantastic job he had done. The person who heaped the most compliments on him was Chief of State Protocol Gil Haskel, whose late father Arye Haskel had been one of the star broadcasters on the English-language channel of Israel Radio. Haskel was not to know that Levy is a professional broadcast journalist who worked in the English-language television news section of Channel One television, which became obsolete when Gilad Erdan, as communications minister, set the ball rolling for the demise of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which was subsequently replaced by the Israel Broadcasting Corporation. 

There are English-language broadcasts on radio, but the English-language television news broadcasts, replete with relevant visuals, have never been revived. When English-language news on television was first introduced by the late Yosef Barel, who was then the IBA director-general, it was in the realization that it was a valuable tool for foreign diplomats. While there are alternatives today, they are on commercial channels. It is essential that foreign-language broadcasts should also be relayed on public broadcasting radio and television networks.

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