Grapevine April 27, 2023: Constitutionally speaking

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 NOA KIREL with British Ambassador Neil Wigan.  (photo credit: TOM BARTOV)
NOA KIREL with British Ambassador Neil Wigan.
(photo credit: TOM BARTOV)

For several days prior to last Friday, veteran radio broadcaster Aryeh Golan, in reviewing events that made headline news over the past 75 years, would drop in a commercial for a copy of the Declaration of Independence to be included in the weekend newspapers. Indeed, it was – replete with 37 signatures.

Anyone who subscribes to a number of weekend publications found themselves with six or seven or more copies of the declaration courtesy of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation.

Of the three Mandel brothers, none of whom are still living, Morton was the best known in Israel. A frequent visitor, who contributed to numerous causes, he never mastered sufficient Hebrew so as to conduct a conversation, but gave generously to educational and other causes. He and his representatives were always well aware that Israel is a country of immigrants, so if the foundation wanted to spread the message that Israel’s Declaration of Independence is the basis for a constitution, the Declaration should have been translated into English, French, Amharic, Russian and Spanish. But it wasn’t – more’s the pity. Perhaps the National Library or the Zionist Archives will make translations available.

Meanwhile, in conversation with Shalom Kital on KAN Reshet Bet, former MK Michael Bar-Zohar, who was David Ben-Gurion’s official biographer, revealed that the decision to declare the state was taken so hastily that there had not been time to print the text of the declaration on parchment, so Ben-Gurion read it out from paper, signed the parchment more than three quarters of the way down, leaving space for the other signatories, who collectively represented a broad spectrum of the nation – but he did not leave space for Chaim Weizmann, without whom we might never have had the Balfour Declaration.

Ben-Gurion and Weizmann could not abide each other, and on May 14, 1948, Weizmann was in the United States, which was a good excuse for excluding him.

 KOBI OZ in 2007. (credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO) KOBI OZ in 2007. (credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)

Incidentally, the final text of the Declaration of Independence is the third draft – one in which Ben Gurion himself had a hand.

Presumably, much will be published by and about Ben-Gurion toward the end of this year, which happens to be the 50th anniversary year of his death.

Much will also be written about Golda Meir, whom Ben-Gurion referred to as the only man in his cabinet. This is also the 50th anniversary year of the Yom Kippur War, during which time Meir was prime minister.

The advocacy of Isaac Herzog

■ ON SUNDAY, President Isaac Herzog, who remains optimistic that the coalition and the opposition will reach some kind of compromise on judicial reform that will evolve into a national consensus, launched a broader initiative.

Herzog has been advocating national unity since day one in office, and has clarified again and again that unity does not mean uniformity. Unity is coming together to debate diverse viewpoints and different ways in which to reach a similar goal.

Herzog does not limit himself to encouraging unity on a purely domestic level. He wants to unite the whole of the Jewish world. This may be a desire that grew out of his experience as chairman of the Jewish Agency, or it may be the realization that, up till now, unaffiliated Jews have not had a voice in discussions on Jewish destiny and the immediate Jewish future. They have either been swept along in the tides of their respective communities, or they have become dropouts who have assimilated into wider communities.

Herzog wants to give them a voice, as he explained in Tel Aviv last Sunday to participants in the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, after which he tweeted: “Tonight I announced a landmark initiative – Voice of the People – the President’s Initiative for Worldwide Jewish Dialogue. This global council for Jewish dialogue will host serious and strategic discussions about the challenges facing the Jewish people and advise me on them. Most importantly Voice of the People will cultivate the next generation of Jewish leaders and will give young Jews around the world a voice and a platform to influence our collective future. We need our best and our brightest to show up on the front lines of our people.”

Translated, the Hebrew wording of Voice of the People reads as Kol Ha’am, which can also mean All the People, which in a sense is the subtext of the initiative, which provides a platform for inclusiveness, regardless of whether one is affiliated with an organization or movement.

The message of togetherness and inclusive was also intrinsic to the address that Herzog gave at the Remembrance Day service at the Western Wall on Monday night, when he chose to tell the stories of soldiers who fell in battle in the War of Independence and are buried in Plot 9 of the military section on Mount Herzl.

He noted that those buried there and in all the military cemeteries “reflect to us clearly that our fallen heroes over the years – Jews, Druze, Muslims, Christians and Circassians – women and men, immigrants and native-born Israelis from across the country, from all beliefs, opinions and worldviews – gave their lives out of a commitment to a profound existential necessity, building together in partnership more and more floors of our Israeli home.”

■ AS LAUDABLE an aspiration as Herzog’s initiative may be, he is not the first to come up with such a concept. When Moshe Katsav was president, he frequently spoke of a global Jewish parliament. He also hoped to see the adoption of a constitution. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, and Israel seems to be no closer to a constitution than it was 20 years ago.

Like most of Israel’s presidents, Katsav had been a politician – a staunch Likudnik – before ascending to the presidency. Nonetheless, he believed that Israel should be a state of all its citizens, but said that it should not change the Law of Return, the national flag or the national anthem. He was adamant about safeguarding the rights of minorities, saying that without protecting their rights, there could be no democracy.

The issues discussed by the Knesset’s Constitution and Law Committee, which was then headed by Likud MK Michael Eitan, were much the same as they are now: Israel’s Jewish and democratic character; the involvement of Arabs in constitutional debate; communal rights and individual rights; a Jewish state or a state of all its citizens; and whether there is a contradiction between a Jewish and a democratic state.

The late and highly respected Prof. Ruth Gavison of the Hebrew University Law School insisted that defining a Jewish state is a vital issue. Is it simply home to a Jewish majority, or is it a state that promotes Jewish values?

■ AFTER JOINING his predecessor in office David Friedman in leading the first American bipartisan delegation to March of the Living, in Poland last week, US Ambassador Tom Nides had himself photographed in Jerusalem with Republican US Sen. Lindsey Graham, and in his weekly Shabbat Shalom tweet, Nides wrote: “US support for Israel remains bipartisan and strong.”

Nides will again be appearing with Friedman on Thursday, April 27, at The Jerusalem’s Post’s “Celebrate the Faces of Israel” conference at the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.

Former US ambassador Dan Shapiro 

■ STILL RESIDENT in Israel, more than six years after completing his tenure, is former US ambassador Dan Shapiro, who has not made aliyah, and is on a fairly frequent commute between Israel and the US, but who seems to have put down roots in the Jewish homeland.

Although a relatively short period has passed since he was ambassador, a lot has changed in the way diplomacy is conducted.

Shapiro tweeted an interesting article on WhatsApp diplomacy by Joze Pelayo and Yulia Shalamov. During the COVID-19 pandemic, WhatsApp became the premier tool of communication, they write, and go on to explain how WhatsApp upended Middle East diplomacy and what the US can learn from it. Governments, like businesses, during the pandemic had to adapt to new norms of information and negotiations. WhatsApp, the cross-border bridge-building tool, is now used by more than two billion users globally, and has become a successful entrepreneurial tool of statesmanship, leveraging the privacy of direct leader-to-leader engagement between government officials around the world – particularly the Middle East, they reveal.

Diplomats feel freer to form and participate in groups where they privately share resources, coordinate meetings, strategize with colleagues, create informal alliances, lobby for their country’s positions and develop personal relationships.

The writers provide examples from different parts of the world, but caution that there is a risk factor in digital diplomacy, such as inadequate data security and legality issues, as well as transparency in keeping public records.

Germany-Israel ties

■ LAST WEEK, Nancy Faeser, the first woman to serve as Germany’s federal minister of the interior, appointed the members of an international commission to review and reappraise the terrorist attack on the Israeli team at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The attack, the failure by Germany to take adequate preventive measures, and to later adequately compensate the grieving families of the 11 Israelis who were murdered by Black September terrorists have received wide-ranging media coverage over the years, in addition to which Steven Spielberg made a film about it, but it took half a century before the issue was properly addressed.

Faeser, who appointed eight renowned researchers from universities in Germany, Israel and the UK, said: “We can never undo the immeasurable suffering which the family members of the victims of the 1972 Munich Olympics attack have experienced. The attack has left deep wounds. It is shameful that agonizing questions were left unresolved for far too long. For too many years, there was a lack of understanding or reappraisal of the event, transparency about them or acceptance of responsibility for them. We, as the current Federal Government, are keenly aware of this, and it has informed our actions, especially when it comes to supporting the family members and finally conducting a thorough reappraisal of what happened.”

Holocaust remembrance 

■ IN FRANCE last week, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, another woman, Ria Abdul Malak, the French minister of culture, returned three works of art that had been looted by the Nazis to the heirs of the owners whose property had been plundered.

Researchers in the Ministry of Culture had spent years tracing the provenance of these works. Two of them, dating back to the 15th century, were returned to the rightful heirs, while the third, a statue, will be auctioned, and the proceeds from the sale will be donated to Magen David Adom in Israel.

Meanwhile, employees at the French Embassy in Israel, headed by Ambassador Eric Danon, who happens to be Jewish, joined in Poland’s Remembering Together campaign in which Holocaust remembrance is symbolized by the yellow daffodil.

■ THERE HAVE been some noted cases of valuable works of art that were looted by the Nazis and eventually became part of the collections of national museums, and the Jewish heirs to the works entered into drawn-out and expensive lawsuits for the recovery of their property – often without success.

But this month in the Czech Republic, a 75-year-old Jewish woman, who lives in the United States, brought a work of art to a museum.

Ann Altman brought a portrait of her grandmother Anna Wotzilkova, to Brno and donated it to the Mehrin Moravian Jewish Museum.

Wotzilkova was born in South Moravia and was murdered in the Holocaust, as were most of Altman’s relatives.

Altman said that the portrait was very important to her. Her parents, who were able to escape the fate of the rest of their family, fled to England. The portrait was rescued by Altman’s mother’s governess Jana Fukacova, and at some stage in the 1960s, Jiri Fukac, a professor of music in Czechoslovakia, brought the portrait to Altman’s mother. It hung in the dining room in the house in which Altman grew up in England.

As her age advanced, Ann Altman began to think about what to do with the portrait and other Holocaust memorabilia that was in her possession. She researched different museums to assure herself that the objects would be well cared for and preserved, but soon realized that the portrait, which had been painted by a Jewish artist, Emma Lowenstamm, belonged in Brno. Her family agreed that this was the best place for it.

Altman also realized that racism, antisemitism and sexism can be eliminated only by education, by talking about these subjects. As far as antisemitism goes, the portrait is a foundation for talking about where antisemitism can lead.

“We have to talk about it; we have to show young people portraits of innocent people like my grandmother because when they think about the Holocaust, they don’t think about people like her,” said Altman.

Esteemed radio guests 

■ AMONG THE guests that pop star Kobi Oz invited to his weekly talk show on KAN Reshet Bet last Friday was dynamic strategic consultant and television personality Ayelet Frish, who in one of previous roles was spokeswoman for president Shimon Peres. The two had seen each other earlier in the week at the President’s Residence, where, for the first time ever, a Tunisian Holocaust survivor had been invited to share the memories of his experiences. Frish and Oz are of Tunisian background. Both his parents came to Israel from Tunisia. Frish’s mother came to Israel from Tunisia, and her father from Brazil. Raised in a very Ashkenazi Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz, Frish, in her youth, was ashamed of her Tunisian heritage, but as she matured, she realized that there was no reason to feel a sense of inferiority, and began to take pride in the Tunisian values imparted by her mother.

She was also very proud of the fact that for the first time, someone of Tunisian origin had been among the lighters of memorial beacons on Mount Herzl on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Both Frish and Oz are extremely patriotic with regard to Israel, and their conversation was peppered with Israel’s positive achievements.

■ IT IS a happy coincidence that the birthday of Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl happens to be only 12 days before the Gregorian calendar date marking the anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel. Herzl was born on May 2, 1860.

One of Herzl’s greatest and most consistent admirers is Gol Kalev, who has frequently written about him, and who injects Herzl’s philosophy into lectures related to the book Judaism 3.0, which was published a year and a half ago, but which Kalev keeps relaunching, dealing with a different aspect each time and linking Herzl’s vision to current realities. He also engages in conversation on these subjects with prominent cultural and political figures.

Taking all this into account, it stands to reason that Kalev would want to celebrate Herzl’s birthday. He is doing it a couple of days early at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on Sunday, April 30, at 8 p.m., with a reception from 7 p.m. The occasion will be used to inaugurate a think tank whose bottom line will be that Zionism is the new Judaism.

■ THERE WILL be a huge media focus on Britain in May, beginning with the arrivals of world leaders invited to the coronation of King Charles III, which is to take place on Saturday, May 6, though foreign dignitaries will probably start arriving in London on Thursday and Friday. Aside from keeping a sharp watch on the king and Queen Camilla, the media will be checking to see how Prince Harry gets along with other members of his family, particularly his brother, Prince William. The two are barely on speaking terms. On the other hand, when Harry had to choose between his son Archie’s birthday and his father’s coronation, he opted for Dad. After all, Archie will have other birthdays, but Dad will be crowned only once – and he’s waited a very long time for that to happen.

Then, on May 9, which happens to coincide with Europe Day, of which Britain, since Brexit, is no longer a part, there will be the launch of the Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool, from where the Beatles originated and played such an influential role in rock music. Even though they split up half a century ago, and some of them are no longer living, their impact has not faded.

The war in Ukraine 

■ DESPITE HAVING won last year’s Eurovision, war-torn Ukraine is in no position to host Eurovision this year. In the face of Ukraine’s ongoing war against the Russian invader, the UK offered to do the honors.

Last week, only two days after hosting Holocaust survivor Wanda Albinska and her son Luke on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, and listening to their tragic story and that of Wanda’s mother, who was a doctor in the Warsaw Ghetto, the British Embassy turned to another war zone.

British Ambassador Neil Wigan, together with Ukrainian Ambassador Yevgen Korniychuk, in partnership with El Al and the Israeli delegation to Eurovision, hosted a gala pre-Eurovision evening attended by more than 450 guests, including former Eurovision stars, local celebrities, government officials and leaders of the business community. Needless to say, Noa Kirel, who will be representing Israel at Eurovision, was also present.

Wigan was quite excited because a quarter of a century has elapsed since the UK last hosted Eurovision.

In addition to celebrating the UK and heaping good wishes on Kirel to triumph, the event was also a platform for raising awareness of the number of human lives lost in Ukraine, the massive numbers of refugees in countries across Europe, North America and Australia, the physical damage wrought by Russia in Ukraine, and Russia’s determination to keep the war going.

Wigan said that he felt honored that, due to Ukraine’s inability, Liverpool had stepped in to host Eurovision. “This is not only an opportunity to highlight the UK’s rich music history, its colorful city views and its historical and modern sites, but also an opportunity to champion equality and diversity, and to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine,” he said.

Eurovision was always a celebration of joy and respect, said Korniychuk. “It is a bright manifest of European diversity and unity at the same time.” He emphasized that Ukraine is proud to be part of the European family and to feel its unity and support in the most tragic days of Ukraine’s modern history.

Kirel, though one of Israel’s star entertainers, with a massive following, was nonetheless sufficiently humble to say that it was a great honor for her to be able to sing in front of millions of people from around the globe, and to connect through music.

“My song talks about the unicorn, which means that uniqueness exists in each and every one of us,” she said. “Diversity and differences are what make us special and beautiful. I hope to bring honor and joy to my beloved country.”

Even though El Al has long been out of the ownership of the state, it is still regarded as Israel’s national carrier – even by the company itself, as evidenced by what was said by El Al CEO Dina Ben Tal Ganancia. “All of us at El Al are thrilled to be the official transporter of the Israeli delegation to the Eurovision competition. It is such an honor to be the national airline that carries the Israeli flag on company aircraft.

“El Al has always been the bridge that connects between Israel and the world. We see ourselves as flying ambassadors. Part of our values is to promote Israeli success worldwide.”

■ CHEERING MEMBERS of the Indian Embassy were ecstatic last week when Aryan Singh Dadiala, a 21-year-old swimmer, completed a record-breaking swim across Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), taking six hours and 15 minutes to swim 20.5 km. He said afterward that he was proud to be the first Asian to swim across the Sea of Galilee.

 INDIAN DIPLOMAT Pawan Kumar (left) congratulates Indian swimmer Aryan Singh Dadiala on his record-breaking swim across Lake Kinneret. (credit: COURTESY INDIAN EMBASSY IN ISRAEL) INDIAN DIPLOMAT Pawan Kumar (left) congratulates Indian swimmer Aryan Singh Dadiala on his record-breaking swim across Lake Kinneret. (credit: COURTESY INDIAN EMBASSY IN ISRAEL)

Australians in Israel 

■ USUALLY, WHEN Australian expats who are resident in Israel but don’t live in the Negev make their way to Beersheba, it’s at the end of October to commemorate the Australian cavalry victory over Ottoman forces in 1917. But on Saturday, April 29, they will have an altogether different reason – an international Australian Rules Football Tournament. It’s definitely football, not soccer. The venue is Sportec, Nahal Beersheba Park. Four teams will be participating – two from Israel, one from Dubai and a combined side from Europe. Three games will be played, starting at 6:30 p.m. The winners from the first two sides will face off for the championship.

In attendance will be the governor of Australia’s State of Victoria, Linda Dessau, and Australian Ambassador Ralph King. Also among the spectators will be Australian and Israeli dignitaries.

Light refreshments will be on sale, but although they will include hot dogs, there will not be the traditional Australian meat pies and pasties. Beersheba tends to be cool at night, so anyone planning to watch the games should bring a jacket. For further information call Colin Fremder, 050-668-4969.