Grapevine April 7, 2023: Olena Zelenska to meet Michal Herzog

President Isaac Herzog has been heavily engaged in diplomacy. But so has his wife Michal – albeit not to the same extent - hers is more in the nature of soft diplomacy.

 FROM LEFT: Jacob Frenkel, Urs Bucher, Gideon Hamburger, Avichai Mandelblit. (photo credit: Dror Yitzhak)
FROM LEFT: Jacob Frenkel, Urs Bucher, Gideon Hamburger, Avichai Mandelblit.
(photo credit: Dror Yitzhak)

Since the beginning of his seven year term, President Isaac Herzog has been heavily engaged in diplomacy. But so has his wife Michal – albeit not to the same extent. Hers is more in the nature of soft diplomacy as for instance, her invitation to Olena Zelenska, the wife of the president of Ukraine, to visit Israel. Both women share an interest in mental health. Zelenska also meets with world leaders and UNICEF officials to set up Ukrainian libraries in different countries. Her visit to Israel is expected to take place in the near future. Although details of the visit are still being organized, one of her prime objectives is to visit injured Ukrainian soldiers who are hospitalized in Israel.

76th anniversary of UN vote 

■ IT WILL be interesting to see whether the plan of Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and officials of the Foreign Ministry to hold a joint celebration of the 76th anniversary of the United Nations resolution on the partition of Palestine, together with the 75th anniversary of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, will eventuate. For one thing it is being held at Jewish Mean Time – in other words a year too late, and the 75th anniversary year of the proclamation of the state will be more than six months after the actual date.

The whole celebration will be somewhat artificial. The original idea was to invite 75 foreign ministers from among countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel. But not all such countries were around as such, when Israel became a sovereign state. The next idea was to invite ambassadors of countries which voted in favor of partition, but some of those countries no longer exist. Of those that do exist, some have severed relations with Israel.

In the final analysis, it was decided that some 30 foreign ministers would be invited. This could be a big deal, because most of those who do come, will bring their spouses, and in some cases other ministers or business delegations and while in Israel will be accompanied by their ambassadors, while in all probability, their opposite numbers will be summoned home for the occasion. But one never knows what can happen between now and November 29.

Pre-Passover luncheon

■ FORMER ATTORNEY General Avichai Mandelblit was the keynote speaker at a pre-Passover luncheon hosted by the Israel-Switzerland Liechtenstein Chamber of Commerce headed by Gideon Hamburger who is president of the Harel Insurance & Finance Group. Among those in attendance were Swiss Ambassador Urs Bucher; former Governor of the Bank of Israel Jacob Frenkiel; Joseph Ciechanover, a former director general of the Foreign Ministry; Ben Hamburger Deputy Chairman of Harel Insurance; Haj Yehia the Chairman of Bank Leumi; David Fattal the founding owner of the Fattal Hotels group; Dr. Guy Rothkof, a former Director General of the Ministry of Justice; Michel Siboni Chief Executive Officer of Harel Insurance; Eran Yakubovitz; Mickey Zellermayer; Yehuda Raveh; and many others. 

 Outgoing Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit at his retirement ceremony, February 1, 2022.  (credit: DAVID WEIL/GPO) Outgoing Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit at his retirement ceremony, February 1, 2022. (credit: DAVID WEIL/GPO)

Mandelblit, who was critical of the current government, declared that the institution of the Attorney General is the first line of Defense in Israeli democracy. Drawing a parallel between Moses leading the Children of Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land, to the crisis situation of the moment, Mandelblit was confident that if the government steps back from what it proposes to do, “We will all reach the Promised Land.”

Holocaust remembrance

■ THIRD GENERATION actor Elad Turgeman appears in the documentary film, A Journey to Poland, which will be screened on Holocaust Remembrance Day on KAN Educational Channel. Turgeman is the son of actor Dan Turgeman and his former wife Anat Atzmon, who is an actress on both the Hebrew and the Yiddish stage, and has also appeared in films. She is the daughter of Holocaust survivor and actor Shmuel Atzmon who founded the Yiddishpiel Theater.

Among the other actors appearing in the documentary is Amir Banai, the son of actress and comedienne Orna Banai, a member of the talented Banai family, which has also given three generations of its tribe to the entertainment industry. The documentary conveys the perception of the Holocaust among youth of its era. It was filmed in Poland on the sites of former concentration camps and the Lodz Ghetto.

A book on Israeli history

■ JUST BEFORE Israel celebrates its 75th anniversary, a book relating to an historic event that took place during the state’s 60th anniversary, was presented last week to President Isaac Herzog. The book To Fly with Birds and People is dedicated to Israel’s national bird, the hoopoe, which won its place in a nationwide competition, in which it was one of 10 finalists. The competition, conducted as part of the 60th anniversary celebrations of the State, was initiated by ornithologist Dr. Yossi Leshem, who heads the Israel Society of Nature’s Hoopoe Foundation. Leshem compiled the book together with Dr. Abu Ala Rukon.

Prominent British Jews

■ LAST FRIDAY’S Jerusalem Post carried a full page advertisement signed by 98 prominent British Jews, including well-known figures in Israel such as Sir Trevor Chinn, Sir Ronald Cohen, Dame Vivien Duffield, Lord Michael Grade, Lord Levy and other titled gentry, who in tandem with expressing their support for Israel also declared their profound concern about what is happening in the country, and their opposition to judicial reform.

They also welcomed the halt in legislation, and looked forward to both sides in the dispute over judicial reform, safeguarding the appointment of judges from political pressure. It was strange that they could not muster two additional signatures, but gratifying to see that more than twenty of the signatures belonged to Jewish Lords, Baronesses, a Dame, several Knights and an impressive number of King’s Counsel.

On Sunday of this week, some of the Hebrew newspapers carried a similar message in large advertisements placed by Canadian Jews from all sectors of Canada’s Jewish community, but with a more historic Zionist impact, and with more than twice as many signatures. Whereas the British open letter was addressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a copy to President Isaac Herzog, the Canadian open letter was addressed to “Our brothers and sisters in Israel.”

That does not necessarily mean that Canadian Jews care more about Israel than do British Jews, but it points to a different cultural attitude. However, the bottom line is that contrary to what we are fed by the doom-sayers, Diaspora Jews do care about Israel, and they make a distinction between their love for the homeland of the Jewish people and the controversial policies of governments of Israel.


■ TRADITION IS one of the strongest elements in social cohesion. As mentioned last week in Grapevine, due to the chaotic situation in the country, President Herzog cancelled the Iftar dinner to which he had invited ambassadors of all Muslim-majority countries as well as mayors of Arab towns and villages. However, it’s been a long-held tradition for the presidents of Israel to host an Iftar dinner, and Herzog was not about to break with tradition, although he did change the venue. He is going ahead with the dinner during the Ramadan period, but instead of taking place at the President’s Residence, it will be held at Shefaram.

Demonstrations despite negotiations

■ ALTHOUGH REPRESENTATIVES of the coalition and the opposition are talking to each other, demonstrations are continuing, albeit on a slightly smaller scale, and there is still tension in the air. No one can predict whether some thoughtless remark or a pre-meditated or spontaneous act of violence will set off a tinder box, as people have been demonstrating in even greater numbers than before.

A prime example of a thoughtless remark was that of Information Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan, who declared that all physicians who had participated in demonstrations should have their licenses revoked. There is a dire shortage of medical staff in Israel and there are a lot of people with life threatening illnesses who are being treated by physicians, and other medical professionals who happen to believe in equality and civil rights, and who demonstrated in an attempt to preserve those values.

The strike that paralyzed the country last week, was more than a huge inconvenience. Literally tens of thousands of people who had planned to go abroad or to come home from overseas were stranded.

In response to the disruption of flights to and from Ben Gurion International Airport, the Ministry of Tourism, aware that many thousands of tourists were already in the country and were in a state of bewilderment, not knowing whether tourist attractions or public transport were operating, opened a virtual emergency center accessible 24/7 in English, Hebrew and Arabic by phone, Facebook and Whatsapp. Contact can be made via Email:; Whatsapp: +972-55-9726931; Facebook: Israel Virtual Tourist Office Facebook page.

Meanwhile, there’s some very good news on the tourist front. Caesarea, which has previously been cited by Travel & Leisure and the New York Times as one of the best places in the world to visit, has now won another accolade from GIST, Italy’s prominent media group, which named Caesarea as the best archeological site. The high quality of its harbor, underwater sites and its affinity to Rome are also mentioned.

The NIS150 million investment in the excavation, preservation and restoration of the Port of Caesarea has been led by Baroness Ariane de Rothschild, who chairs the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation and the Caesarea Development Corporation which are working in cooperation with Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority and the Israel Antiquities Authority.