Grapevine January 4, 2023: A strange pecking order

 President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal greet leaders of various Christian Churches (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal greet leaders of various Christian Churches
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

Some of the pecking order in the traditional photograph of the new government with the President of the State made sense; standing directly behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog was Aryeh Deri, who was deputy prime minister in addition to being the Interior and Health Minister; Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who in addition to being one of Netanyahu’s closest confidants, was also the chief Likud negotiator for the coalition agreements. But what was Yitzhak Wasserlauf, the Otzma Yehudit minister for the Development of the Periphery, Negev and Galilee doing in the front row, while his boss, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the National Security minister was in the second row? 

For that matter, why was Tourism Minister Haim Katz standing in the front row, while fellow Likudniks and alternate Foreign Ministers Eli Cohen and Yisrael Katz were standing in the second and third rows respectively? The two will also alternate on the Energy Ministry portfolio, though Katz may grow to like the Energy Ministry to the extent that he will prefer to stay there instead of taking over the Foreign Ministry. Cohen, likewise, may prefer the prestige of the Foreign Ministry. 

Of the 32 people in the photograph, including Cabinet Secretary Tzahi Braverman, only five were women of which two Likud stalwarts, Transportation Minister Miri Regev and Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel stood in the front row. Controversial Religious Zionism Minister of National Missions Orit Struck, for whom the money-wasting ministry was specially created, and Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman were dressed in ankle length outfits, while Regev, Gamliel and Galit Distel Atbaryan, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office wore pants.

The event was originally timed to start at 8 p.m. It was subsequently moved to 8.30 p.m. to allow for the first cabinet meeting but did not take place until just after 9 p.m. and took less than two minutes before it was all over.

Ministers started drifting into the building at around 8.20 p.m. and were ushered into a side room that is used as a waiting room where they were served refreshments. Members of the huge media turnout were not permitted to enter the room which was closed under tight security. Some of the media people had been there since 6.30 p.m. and were broadcasting news bulletins in English, Hebrew, Arabic, French, and Russian. Not that there was any real news to broadcast. The bulletins related either to the fact that the photograph had not been taken, or reporters simply rehashed news of the previous week. For television viewers interested in neither football nor politics, December was a terrible month.

 co-impact business movement (credit: ELAD MALKA) co-impact business movement (credit: ELAD MALKA)

Knesset speaker

Amir Ohana is not exactly a newcomer to politics. Prior to his present role, he held two important ministerial portfolios. He was selected because the prime minister had confidence in his abilities and also because of his unflinching loyalty to the prime minister. He was NOT selected or elected on the basis of his sexual orientation. The fact that he is openly gay and Speaker of the Knesset is nothing more than a nine-day wonder, just as Dalia Itzik’s election as the first female Speaker of the Knesset was nothing more than a nine-day wonder.

Still, in ultra-Orthodox circles, being gay is apparently worse than being female. Yet the voices of certain rabbis and their disciples were not raised nearly as loudly or maliciously as they were in relation to Ohana’s current role. The irony is that they have achieved the opposite of what they intended. Even left-wing gays have closed ranks around Ohana and wish him well. His moving tribute to his parents is indicative of what a wonderful job they did in raising him. When the rabbis insult him, they also insult his parents, and those Rabbis whose lack of logic attributes the Meron tragedy to Ohana’s sexual orientation would do well to remember that the ancient Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed because someone caused public humiliation to someone else.

KAN 11 is to be commended for its courage and integrity in permitting severe on-air criticism of its super-hyped drama series Carthago, which is based on what brothers Reshef and Yanets Levi heard from their father. During World War II, Levi senior was placed together with Lehi and Irgun fighters in one of the three British prison camps in Africa. Centered on events in the Carthago camp in Sudan, the plot is built around an improbable situation in which the Irgun and Lehi fighters were in the same prison camp as Nazis and fascists. 

To add to their troubles, the deputy camp commander was a sadist who obviously hated Jews. However, according to the offspring of some of the other Jewish prisoners, the series creates a totally inaccurate impression. There was no sadism in the camp. Some of the British officers were Jewish and got on quite well with the prisoners. More importantly, there were no Nazis or fascists in the same camp, and therefore, most of the events brought to the television screen are false, according to the following people: Shlomo Tzippori, the son of Mordechai Tzippori (who was later elected to the Knesset); Ram Shamgar, the son of Meir Shamgar (who later became president of Israel’s Supreme Court); Eliezer Hillel, the son of Yaakov Hillel; Ido Nechhushtan, a former chief of the Israel Force and the son of Yaakov Nechushtan; and former minister of culture and sport Limor Livnat, who is the daughter of Azriel Livnat. 

All of them have letters written by their fathers while in the camp, and none contain any mention of Nazis or fascists. In a promo interview that Reshef Levi had with Roni Kuban, he said that his father had been in the camp for seven and a half years. However, letters sent home, and in some cases published, indicate that the Irgun and Lehi fighters had been exiled from 1944 to 1948, and not for seven and a half years. 

In an interview with Israel Hayom, Eliezer Hillel said that if any Nazi had come within arm’s reach of Yitzhak Shamir, he would not have survived. 

KAN 11, after filming the reactions of several of the offspring of former prisoners, posed their objections to the Carthago production team and received a response to the effect that the series is not a docudrama, but a fictionalized drama inspired by events of the era. In his interview with Israel Hayom, Hillel did not buy such an explanation. If distortions had been made in a series about Masada, he said, he would not raise any objections about artistic license, because the true story is well known. 

But the story of Carthago is not well known, other than to the families of the prisoners and a few historians, and therefore many television viewers would accept what they saw on the screen as being true, when it is a figment of the imagination. Some prisoners were released early, he said, and were pounced on by the media when they returned home. None of them spoke of Nazis or fascists. If there had been such people in the camp, they surely would have spoken about them.

It is possible that Levi Senior exaggerated when he told his family about the time he’d spent in Africa, and had repeated the story so often that his sons had neglected to verify it. 

The annual

Christmas reception for spiritual and lay leaders of Israel’s Christian communities, which is hosted annually by the President of Israel and is traditionally addressed by Theophilos III, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, took place last week. Among other Church leaders in attendance were Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem; Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land and head of the Franciscan Order in Israel; Sevan Gharibian, the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem; Archbishop Dr. Amer Yousef Matta, the new Greek Melkite Catholic Archbishop of Galilee; Archbishop Yaser Al-Ayyash, patriarchal vicar in Jerusalem of the Greek Catholic Patriarchate; Abba Aman, representative of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Israel; Reverend Zaki al-Urshalimi, representative of the Coptic Orthodox Church; Father Shimon, representative of the Syrian Orthodox Church; Archbishop Hosam Naoum, head of the Anglican Evangelical Episcopal Church in Israel; Reverend Atif Machoul, representative of the Maronite Church in Jerusalem; Bishop Camil Semaan, Syrian Catholic Patriarch in Jerusalem. 

Members of other branches of the Christian faith were also present, indicating that there are as many, if not more movements within Christianity, as there are in Judaism, but the different branches of the Christian faith seem to get along with each other quite well. 

The above-mentioned are the tip of the iceberg. One only has to look at the membership list of the World Council of Churches to realize the many ways in which Christians find meaning in their faith. Theophilos has a gift for religious diplomacy, whereby he starts out by making complementary and soothing remarks, then inserts a carefully worded complaint into the heart of his address and concludes with a blessing. He did so again during the reception held between the Christmas celebrations of the Latin and Eastern Orthodox churches. 

 greek patriarch  (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO) greek patriarch (credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

Theophilos mentioned land holdings of the Churches which are under threat and asked President Isaac Herzog to use his influence in upholding the historic rights and privileges of the Churches. On the day prior to the reception, the Greek Patriarchate released a statement about radical groups that have taken over land belonging to the Church. In this case, it is a piece of land in the Silwan area that belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, which has leased it to the Palestinian Sumrin family since the beginning of the 20th century. The family has continued to cultivate it all that time. Last year, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa went public in the media over the expropriation of Church lands by radical Jewish groups.

Proof that

few things should be taken at face value, was the resignation last week of Israel’s ambassador to France, Yael German. In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, German wrote that the government that he established includes representatives of parties with extreme positions, whose policies and guidelines are, in her view, illegitimate and run contrary to those in which she believes. It should be remembered that German, who was a former Yesh Atid Health minister, and before that mayor of Herzliya who was twice elected on a Meretz ticket, was a political appointee. Moreover, at age 75, she is considerably older than the age limit for a career diplomat. 

Under the present government, she would have been relieved of her position in the near future, so her resignation, though it may have indeed been a matter of conscience, was also a face-saving move.

Keenly interested in helping the public to better understand, accept and integrate people with mental illnesses, Michal Herzog, the wife of President Herzog, will, on Sunday, January 8, participate in a conference on the Orthodox Community’s struggle with mental illness. The day-long conference at the Ramada Hotel, Jerusalem, will include rabbis, psychologists, government ministers, members of Knesset, lawyers, and others involved with the issue in one way or another. 

The title of the conference is “The Courage to Speak about That.” In some religious communities, where marriages are arranged, family members with ailments that might prove to be a deterrent to the other family, are hidden away. Although every human being has a failing of some sort, some of these failings cause concern that they might be hereditary, and would therefore place a blight on any potential marital union.

Discussions at the conference will focus on the need to talk about such subjects and to seek help in the belief that mental disturbances can be either cured or held at bay with proper diagnosis and medication.

In addition

to her desire to help people who suffer from mental illness, Michal Herzog also cares a lot about youth at risk This week, together with Eyal Shviki, director-general of the President’s Residence, and Batel Gerbi, the CEO of the NGO Values in Sport, Herzog launched an initiative “We’re all part of the Game” at Kedma Youth Village. The initiative comprises youth villages dedicated to youth at risk and will be adopted by Israel’s Premier League Football Clubs, in order to give the youngsters a sense of fair play, role models to emulate, and goals in sport that would later reflect in other aspects of their lives.

Michal Herzog told the youngsters: “We are here with great excitement because we believe that sport is part of a positive social process.” Shviki said that he sees a great value in sports as the broadest common denominator in Israeli society. Tom Ben Zaken, the captain of Ashdod F.C. said the players were pleased to donate their time to the youngsters and felt privileged to be part of such a worthwhile initiative.

On the subject of youth at risk, Elem, which for 40 years has been transforming the lives of troubled youth and helping young people in distress, last month received some of the proceeds from the annual Bank Hapoalim sale of Israeli art. But Elem is looking to obtain additional finance, and on Sunday January 8, will hold its annual gala fund-raiser at the Smolarz auditorium on the Tel Aviv University campus. 

Tickets range in price from NIS 500 to NIS 2,000. Those attending will hear personal stories of some of the young people rescued by Elem from lives of crime, prostitution, homelessness, and acute poverty. Entertainers at the event will be Assaf Amdursky, Shlomi Shaban and Yael Kraus. The slogan for the evening is: “All you need is one adult who believes in you and who will change your life.” 

Israel's best

known immigrant from India is restaurateur Reena Pushkarna, who was this week notified by Indian ambassador Sanjeev Singla that she will be among the recipients of the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award which is the highest honor conferred by India on persons of Indian origin living abroad. The award is in recognition of outstanding achievements in India and the countries in which they live. In Pushkarna’s case, it is in the category of business and community welfare.

The award will be conferred by the President of India Droupadi Murmu on January 10. Pushkarna has maintained her Indian identity in the business she runs with her husband Vinod, in the way she dresses, her strong connection to the Indian Embassy, her membership in bilateral organizations which promote relations on many levels between Israel and India, and in her personal efforts to promote such relations.

Although he came to Israel in January 2020, while still Prince of Wales, King Charles III may be the first British monarch to visit the Holy Land. His aunt, Princess Margaret, was rumored to have slipped across the border while visiting Jordan, and his father Prince Philip, made a private visit in 1994 to visit the grave of the king’s grandmother who is buried on the Mount of Olives. As prince, the king also visited the grave. Prince Edward, otherwise known as the Earl of Wessex, and his wife Sophie, have consistently performed royal duties when the late queen or the present king were unable to do so. A greater load has fallen on their shoulders, since Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, distanced himself from the royal family and moved to the United States.

Prince Edward, the youngest of the king’s three siblings, came to Israel in 2007, toured Yad Vashem, and laid a wreath in the hall of Remembrance. Prince William came on an official visit in 2018. Incidentally, Prince Harry is not exactly happy about being called Harry, because his real name is Henry Charles Albert David, he said in one of his many recent interviews.

 The president

of the State, government ministers and Knesset members get an automatic pay rise in their January salaries, even though the sums they earned were pretty hefty beforehand. With the huge increase in the cost of living, perhaps all of the above would care to win the confidence of the public by partially following the example of Economy Minister Nir Barkat, who when he entered the Knesset on a Likud ticket, announced that he was willing to forfeit his salary, and have it sent instead to a charitable organization. For bureaucratic reasons, that could not be done, so Barkat made suitable arrangements with his bank. 

Although there are other people in the government and the Knesset who can also afford to forfeit their salaries, no one would expect them to do so. But what they can do, is put aside the pay rise to either give on a monthly basis to a charitable organization or send to a needy family. Even families in which both parents are working can barely make ends meet, and there’s certainly no room for luxuries. A fiscal gesture by elected officials would go a long way in boosting confidence in both the government and the Knesset.

Last week

Yair Sivan, the diplomatic advisor to outgoing prime minister Yair Lapid tweeted that the past 18 months had been “the greatest privilege of my life.” He went on to explain that this was because he had served a prime minister whom he respects, a government in which he believed, and a country which he loves.

 “There have been incredible moments and achievements we’ll look back on with satisfaction and pride,” he continued and listed “The Negev Summit, forming I2U2, the speech at the UN General Assembly, historic visits across the region and beyond, the deal with Lebanon, closer ties with Jordan and Egypt and more.

“But most of all it’s the people I’ve met and the behind-the-scenes moments that will stay with me. Sitting with the PM and our team just before important meetings, going over speeches one last time and making changes in the car, and flying home together after a big international trip.

“This is my chance to say thank you to Yair Lapid for the opportunity to work for someone who is a model of leadership and integrity. Always calm under pressure, we were lucky to have him lead at critical junctions this past month including moments people will never hear about,” he concluded.

Like many spokespeople for Israel’s presidents, prime ministers, and government ministers, Sivan is an alumnus of the IDF Spokesman’s office. He is equally fluent in Hebrew and English, having spent part of his youth in England. After completing his service in the spokesman’s office in 2011, he was appointed international media spokesman for President Shimon Peres, a position that he held until 2014, the year in which he began working for Lapid, initially as a foreign policy advisor.

Not so long ago

the global watchword was ‘woke’ which initially meant being aware of racial prejudice and discrimination, and then expanded to alertness to a variety of issues related to social justice.

Vocabulary then moved to ‘impact’ which was a natural progression from ‘woke.’ If you know something is wrong, you have to do something about it in order to make an impact.

While equality for all of Israel’s citizens is enshrined in the text of the Proclamation of Independence, the truth is that not all of the minorities enjoy equal opportunities, equal education, or equal social benefits. In the business world, attempts are being made to remedy this situation through organizations such as the Co-Impact Business Council which promotes the integration of members of the country’s Arab population into Israel’s employment sector.

The Co-Impact Business Council recently held its annual conference in Jaffa, with the participation of President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal; US Ambassador Tom Nides; USAID (United States Agency for International Development)/West Bank and Gaza Mission Director, Amy Tohill-Stull; the Director of the Ministry of Social Equality’s Authority for the Economic Development of Arab Society, Hassan Tawafra; and acting Commissioner for Budgets in the Ministry of Finance, Yogev Gardos.

CEOs of leading companies were also present: Ofra Strauss, chair of Strauss Group; Eyal Malis, CEO of Tnuva; Walid Afifi, chairman of the Afifi Group; shareholder of Alfa Omega, Reem Younis; business executives Oded Gera and Aiman Saif; and Tzvika Ziv, Co-Impact’s co-chairman.

Supported by USAID, Co-Impact is founded on diversity, equity, inclusion, and access. Commenting on the fact that Co-Impact placed 1,188 new Arab professionals in Israeli companies, thus demonstrating this shared commitment to diverse working environments, Nides said that America is proud to support such a fantastic organization.

Herzog noted that the atmosphere in the conference hall was one of love, brotherhood, peace, and friendship. 

Co-Impact CEO Nawa Jahshan-Batshon, said that the organization plans to expand in 2023, and emphasized the strategic importance of the organization’s connection with more than 60 of Israel’s major companies.

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