Grapevine March 1, 2023: Between Jerusalem and Rome

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 SOME OF the members of the Indian Embassy team who ran in the Tel Aviv Marathon.  (photo credit: COURTESY INDIAN EMBASSY IN ISRAEL)
SOME OF the members of the Indian Embassy team who ran in the Tel Aviv Marathon.

Political cartoonist Amos Biderman has added to the historical analogies relating to Jerusalem and Rome. In last Friday’s Haaretz, Biderman drew the likenesses of King Bibi, with a big cigar in his mouth while playing the harp, and Queen Sara drinking pink champagne as they happily watched a futile attempt to douse a blazing inferno. The analogy was, of course, to Nero, the emperor of ancient Rome, who, according to legend, played the violin while Rome was burning. Most historians say the story is untrue. Even so, it has been passed down for almost 2,000 years, so it may contain a grain of truth.


POWER-HUNGRY ministers are biting off more than they can chew and are causing severe damage within the country, and to the manner in which Israel is perceived abroad. Foreign publications are already comparing Israel’s judicial reforms to those of Poland, Hungary and Turkey.

Efforts by the present government to limit freedom of expression, to deny members of the LGBT community the basic right of parenthood, and to send women back to the kitchen rather than allow them to serve in the Israel Defense Forces are indicative of an administration that is going to chalk up a long list of violations of human rights.

Not the least of these was the instant dismissal of teacher Amir Kliger for discussing judicial reform with pupils in a school in Rishon Lezion. He says that he did not tell the pupils to take sides, but he wanted them to understand and explore the issues. But the headmaster of the school accused him of incitement, a charge never previously leveled at him during his 10 years as a teacher.

 FROM LEFT: Japanese Ambassador Koichi Mizushima, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana and MKs Meirav Ben Ari and Boaz Bismuth, co-chairs of the Israel-Japan Parliamentary Friendship Group. (credit: Courtesy Japanese Embassy) FROM LEFT: Japanese Ambassador Koichi Mizushima, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana and MKs Meirav Ben Ari and Boaz Bismuth, co-chairs of the Israel-Japan Parliamentary Friendship Group. (credit: Courtesy Japanese Embassy)

Shimon Peres frequently stated that elected officials and public servants are not the masters of the population but are the servants of the population. This philosophy is alien to the present government.

Public broadcasting is under threat, and so is the independence of the National Library, whose magnificent new building is due to open this year. Founded decades before the establishment of the state, the National Library has long been under the auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which was also founded long before the state. The library has enjoyed a large degree of independence, which has been written into the National Library Law that was enacted in 2007.

Education Minister Yoav Kisch now wants to change that law, whereby the government will decide on the composition of the library’s board of trustees. At the laying of the cornerstone for the new library building in April 2016, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the National Library as “a center of culture, intellectual freedom, enlightenment and progress.” That description may not fit, if Kisch has his way.

Sallai Meridor, chairman of the National Library’s board of directors, has warned that if the government changes the National Library Law, it could threaten the library’s continued existence.

Collectors, family members of famous people and the famous themselves donate extremely valuable collections of books, manuscripts and more to the library for the interest and enjoyment of researchers and the wider public. Once the government has a say in the appointment of the board of trustees and possibly other issues affecting the library, it loses its independence and becomes politicized, which will cause many potential donors to be hesitant about giving it their treasures. It’s possible that some people who donated their collections to the library will ask to have them returned.

The Hebrew University, which owns a third of the library’s contents, has threatened to remove them if the law is changed.

Many writers, including Eli Amir, Haim Be’er and David Grossman, have stated that if the law is amended, they will no longer donate their books or archives to the National Library.

In interviews that he has given, Be’er said that every dictatorship starts with banning books. In Israel, it will mean banning books by leftists and by Arab authors, and who knows how far that will go.

Initial funding for the construction of the new building came from Yad Hanadiv, headed by Lord Jacob Rothschild, and the David (Sandy) and Ruth Gottesman family of New York. Had they known that the library might lose its independence, they might have had second thoughts about funding it. Unfortunately, Sandy Gottesman, who contributed generously to various causes in Jerusalem, did not live to see the opening of the museum. He died in September, last year.


THERE ARE theories that the National Library issue is actually designed to get rid of former state prosecutor Shai Nitzan for his role in bringing Netanyahu to trial. Nitzan, who is now rector of the library, was appointed to his previous post by Netanyahu, as were former attorney-general Avichai Mandelblit and former police commissioner Roni Alsheich, who were all involved in Netanyahu’s indictment on charges of corruption.


PROTEST DEMONSTRATIONS are increasing in number and size. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir accuses demonstrators against judicial reform of being anarchists. It takes one to know one. It was Ben-Gvir who in his youth stole the official emblem from prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s car and boasted that he could get to Rabin, too.


AT THE demonstration in front of the President’s Residence in Jerusalem last Saturday night, retired Supreme Court justice Elyakim Rubinstein called for the demonstrations to continue, and at the main protest on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv, former prime minister Ehud Barak urged that Israelis follow the examples of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King in their separate struggles for social justice and continue with nonviolent protests and rebellion. He also addressed President Isaac Herzog, stating that it was time for the president to decide whether he is on the side of D9 (the IDF armored bulldozer) or on that of the Declaration of Independence.


JAPAN IS continuing with its 70th anniversary celebrations of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel. The reception hosted last Thursday by Japanese Ambassador Koichi Mizushima and his wife, Asako, in honor of the 63rd birthday of Emperor Naruhito, was in a sense a triple celebration. In addition to the emperor’s birthday and the ongoing 70th anniversary events, Mizushima was celebrating the launch on March 1 of direct flights between Israel and Japan. The flights were originally scheduled to start in March 2020, but COVID got in the way.

Mizushima noted that a bilateral aviation agreement between Japan and Israel had been signed in 1999, and that it had taken almost a quarter of a century for it to be implemented. The two airlines flying the route will be Japan’s ANA and Israel’s El Al.

Herzog, who is due to pay a state visit to Japan in the near future, will be able to take a direct flight, which, though still quite long compared to flying to Europe, will take far less time than on previous routes with connecting flights.

Among the many guests in attendance were former president Reuven Rivlin, who recently completed his autobiography, Barak, cochairmen of the Israel-Japan Parliamentary Friendship Group Yesh Atid MK Meirav Ben Ari and Likud MK Boaz Bismuth, and Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, who was the guest of honor. Ohana, who is the former chairman of the Israel-Japan Parliamentary Friendship Group, has a close relationship with the ambassador, who, he disclosed, is a talented guitar player.

Both Mizushima and Ohana expressed their sorrow and sympathy over the devastating earthquake which cost tens of thousands of lives in Turkey and its neighbors. They conveyed their condolences in the presence of Turkish Ambassador Sakir Ozkan Torunlar and wished the injured a speedy recovery and return to normal life.

Mizushima and Ohana also paid tribute to former prime minister Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated last year. Abe and Netanyahu are credited with being the architects of the strong bilateral relationship between Israel and Japan.

Mizushima noted the dramatic increase in the number of Japanese companies investing in Israel, and, on another level of cooperation, said that Japan’s national security strategy will enhance defense cooperation with Israel.

Coming up is the finalization of a bilateral working holiday agreement, which will be a boon for young people from both countries, enabling them to live and work temporarily in each other’s countries and learn about each other’s lifestyles and traditions.

Japan, like many other countries, did not ignore the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Mizushima expressed the hope that the war will soon end.

He announced that Japan will host the G7 Summit Conference this coming May, and that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had deliberately chosen Hiroshima as the venue “because there is no better place to discuss the cause of peace.”

Ohana said that what was once a relationship between two different peoples is now a close friendship with cooperation and exchanges in culture, business, technology, innovation, tourism and more.

“We have become nations which come to each other’s aid in times of need,” he said, including Turkey in that statement.

He concluded by saying that he looks forward to hosting the Japanese leadership in the Knesset.

The Japanese residence had been turned into a quasi- exhibition center with a magnificent display of scenes of Japan mounted on easels in the doorway. Alongside was a Hinamatsuri display of dolls in traditional attire, placed at different levels depending on rank, with the emperor and the empress seated at the top level. Hinamatsuri, one of five seasonal festivals, symbolizes health and happiness. Opposite the doll display was a display of the many utensils used at a Japanese tea party.

In what is usually the dining room, food had been replaced by travel brochures and model planes. On a side table, there were more brochures as well as tribute brochures dedicated to Japanese who had been engaged in rescue and shelter operations during the Holocaust and had saved the lives of literally thousands of Jews. Chiune Sugihara is recognized as the greatest humane hero of them all, but he was not alone. There were other Japanese who risked their careers, and even their lives, to save Jews.


INVITED BY the Knesset to perform on Remembrance Day, veteran singer-guitarist Hanan Yovel declined on the grounds that Knesset members are racist and uncouth. “They have no respect for other people,” he tweeted, “so why should I have respect for them?”

Some of the intolerable insults emanating from the mouths of legislators not only set a bad example for youth who may be watching the Knesset Channel on television, but are also a mark of shame for the Knesset per se. Even Netanyahu, a master of the spoken word, has said things that could be interpreted as incitement, given his choice of vocabulary. At least, unlike Tali Gotliv and Dudi Amsalem, he’s not a screamer – but that may make the content of his speech all the more insidious. In their cases, most people would dismiss them as hysterical publicity seekers.

Following Yovel’s tweet, Amsalem, who suggested that the organizers hire Kobi Peretz, asked derisively: “Who is Hanan Yovel?” which prompted opposition leader Yair Lapid to fill him in on some of what Yovel has done musically over the years.

But unfortunately for Yovel, he chose to abstain from performing at the wrong event. Fallen soldiers are sacred in Israel. Too many families mourn a fallen soldier among their close relatives. Reaction was swift. Some of Yovel’s gigs for Independence Day have been canceled. Sometimes a single tweet can ruin the work of a lifetime.


GERMAN AMBASSADOR Steffen Seibert and French Ambassador Eric Danon are teaming up to host a joint reception in celebration of International Women’s Day. The event will include a panel discussion on “What does it mean to be a feminist in 2023? The impact of women in a changing Israel.” French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne has been quoted as saying there is no contradiction between being feminist and feminine. One can be both feminist and chic, she opined.

Curiously, the first woman to be democratically elected as the prime minister of a country was Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who in 1960 led her party to victory in Ceylon’s general election. Ceylon is now known as Sri Lanka, and Sri Lanka’s new ambassador will be presenting credentials to President Herzog on the same day that Seibert and Danon will be hosting their reception.


ONE OF the interesting aspects of diplomacy is that foreign ambassadors resident in Israel participate in specifically Israeli events. For instance, the British and American ambassadors, together with members of their respective staffs, participate in the annual Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv. The Australian ambassador supports the Israel Federation of Surf Life Saving, and last Friday, 18 members of the Indian Embassy were among the runners in the Tel Aviv Marathon, and took pride, as a group, in representing India.

Among the Israeli runners was singer, actress, television host and fashion model Noa Kirel, the Israeli face of Puma, who will be representing Israel at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, at which she will sing “Unicorn.”


MOST OF the old school Revisionists are either well advanced in age or no longer in the land of the living. That would probably explain why there were barely 40 people in the auditorium of the Begin Heritage Center to mark the 31st anniversary of the death of Israel’s sixth prime minister, Menachem Begin, who was Israel’s first right-wing premier.

In the days preceding the event, Arye Naor, who was Begin’s cabinet secretary, and who was also married to the emeritus president of the Supreme Court, the late Miriam Naor, said that nothing in the proposed judicial reforms was consistent with Begin’s perception of democracy and the law.

This was confirmed by Rubinstein when he spoke at the Begin Center, and by other speakers, former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror and Dr. Tehilla Schwartz-Altshuler, who collectively presented Begin as a man of great integrity, who lived modestly and who cared more about Israel’s future than in puffing up his own ego.

Among the examples given was Begin’s determination to avoid civil war at all costs, and not to return fire when the ship Altalena, with Irgun members and a large quantity of ammunition on board, was fired on by the IDF in response to Begin’s refusal to surrender military equipment which had been purchased by the Irgun. Begin was also credited with being the first prime minister to make peace with an Arab country, a factor which eventually led to the Abraham Accords. When he felt that he could no longer serve the nation, he had the grace to resign.

Rubinstein, who was part of the Israeli negotiating team at Camp David in 1978, regretted that he and former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak were the only team members still living.

A brief documentary, showing clips from Begin’s career, included the day he officially became prime minister. In his address, he paid tribute to Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who had spent the major part of his life advocating and working toward the establishment of a Jewish state, but had not lived to see it. Begin also paid tribute to his wife, Aliza, who he said had walked with him in the wilderness. Indeed, he spent almost three decades as leader of the opposition before the dramatic upheaval in Israeli politics. Yet he was never daunted by defeat after defeat before he savored the sweet taste of victory.

On Thursday, March 9, the Begin Center will host the launch of a book, Derech Begin (Begin’s Way), containing essays by and about Begin. The essays were collected and edited by Dror Bar Yosef, who will be one of the speakers. Other speakers will be Begin Center Director Herzl Makov and Yoram Aridor, who was finance minister in Begin’s government.


IT’S PAR for the course for members of the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association to gather at least once a year at the residence of the British ambassador for a typically British event, which includes a British menu. But it’s quite unusual for the ambassador to host a British tea party for the Friends of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. But that’s what Ambassador Neil Wigan will be doing later this month. We’re not sure about scones with jam and cream, and cucumber sandwiches, but, going on past experience at the residence, it’s almost certain that fish and chips will be part of the fare.


AFTER A seven-year absence, Ayala Hasson, who was the star reporter and anchorwoman on the late lamented ITV, which operated under the umbrella of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, and who in November 2015 left for Channel 10, which likewise no longer exists, is returning to join those of her old friends and colleagues who are working at the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, the successor network to the IBA, where Hasson worked for almost a quarter of a century.

Hasson’s departure from the IBA came as a surprise, given that in August 2014 she made history by being the first woman to be appointed head of the ITV News Department.

In January 2019, Channel 10 merged with Keshet to form News 13, where Hasson anchored the weekly news roundup on Friday nights.

In a tweet to viewers this week, Hasson stated that several months ago she received an offer from IPBC, and had shared this information with News 13’s CEO. In the final analysis, she accepted the offer.

Hasson began her broadcasting career as a police reporter on Israel Radio, and later became the Friday night television anchor and a star investigative reporter with a string of scoops to her credit. She was also a political and diplomatic reporter, frequently travelling abroad as part of the press entourage of prime ministers – mainly that of Netanyahu, with whom she is closely identified, and whom she supports both privately and on air.

Hasson is not the first former IBA journalist to return to her broadcasting roots. After a stint with commercial broadcasting and a career in politics, Shelly Yacimovich returned to KAN Reshet Bet, which for many years, had been her home away from home. Rina Matzliach, another veteran journalist who began her broadcasting career as a sports reporter on Reshet Bet, last November quit Channel 12 for fear that the new government would curtail freedom of speech. She now broadcasts on Thursday mornings on Reshet Bet.

Channel 12 anchor and reporter Tali Moreno joined KAN 11, IPBC’s television channel. Moreno’s style is an interesting contrast to that of veteran news anchor and feature reporter Michal Rabinovich, who wept on screen when announcing the closure of IBA while anchoring Mabat, the channel’s central news program. The two women alternate on different nights in presenting the news.


ACCORDING TO conventional wisdom, the world belongs to the young. Indeed, there was a long period in which top fashion models were aged in their teens and early twenties, and aging actresses were given cameo roles, if at all, while aging female singers had a tough time getting a gig.

Now all that has changed. Former top-line international model Shiraz Tal, after several years away from the limelight, has at age 48 returned to the modeling scene and is the presenter for Golf. Actresses and singers Lea Koenig, Gila Almagor, Rivka Michaeli, Chava Alberstein, Tzipi Shavit, Yardena Arazi, Shlomit Aharon, Riki Gal, Liora Rivlin, Hannah Laszlo and Miki Kam are aged to 93 to 67, and are all regularly on stage or in front of the television or movie cameras. And they’re not the only ones.

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S Day, like Purim, tends to drag on till way past the official date – starting before and finishing long after. Officially, it is on March 8, but some organizations are hosting events ahead of time, while some are waiting for almost everyone else to do their thing, and are having their events toward the end of the month. The Ben-Zvi Institute has chosen to pay tribute to singer, songwriter and composer Ahuva Ozeri, who succumbed to cancer in December 2016. She is featured in a documentary.

The tribute to her on March 15 comes soon after what would have been her 75th birthday. She was born on March 3, in the same year as the establishment of the state.

In addition to the film, Prof. Yosef Yuval Tobi, associate professor of comparative literature and history at the University of Haifa, will give a talk on female singers and dancers in the pre-state years of the country, from Bracha Tzfira to Shoshana Damari, with emphasis on the Yemenite contribution to Israeli culture. Social entrepreneur and literary editor Ilana Shazor will speak of a cultural trend that was born out of poverty.

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