Grapevine May 12, 2023: A matter of attire

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PRESIDENT WILLIAM RUTO of Kenya signs the guest book at the President’s Residence while his wife, Rachel, and President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, look on.  (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
PRESIDENT WILLIAM RUTO of Kenya signs the guest book at the President’s Residence while his wife, Rachel, and President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, look on.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

Strangely enough, Michal Herzog, who caused a bit of a stir when she wore a pants suit to the coronation of King Charles III, wore a dress on Tuesday this week, when she and President Isaac Herzog hosted a state dinner for Kenya President William Ruto and his wife Rachel.

The loose-fitting dress in a dusky pink, embossed with a sprinkling of delicate silver ferns, hovered slightly above the ankle and would have blended perfectly with the various pinks and blues worn by many of the other guests at the coronation.

Apparently, she preferred to wear it in Jerusalem, rather than in London.

What's on the menu at the state dinner?

■ THE MENU at the state dinner varied somewhat from the usual fare, in which the main course comprises medallions of beef, except for those guests who are vegetarians or vegans. This time there was no meat on the menu. The main course was seared sea bass. When one of the members of the Kenyan delegation was asked whether Ruto was vegetarian, the answer was no, followed by the statement: “He’s flexible,” and an explanation that fish is a staple food in Kenya. It was therefore a thoughtful gesture to have fish rather than meat as the main course. The evening was moderated by actress Noa Lavie, who greeted guests in English, Hebrew and Swahili. Daphna Dekel, who sang “Jerusalem of Gold,” then a song in Swahili, and another in English – “You’ve Got a Friend” – was very enthusiastically received by the Kenyan guests.

Earlier in the day, Herzog hosted a formal reception with a military honor guard and representatives of different faiths.

Kenyan President William Ruto prayed at the Western Wall, 9 May 2023 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)Kenyan President William Ruto prayed at the Western Wall, 9 May 2023 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Both presidents attended the coronation of King Charles III in London last Saturday but did not meet, because there were simply too many people, and they were not seated anywhere near each other. Representatives of Commonwealth countries were allocated rows closer to the front than representatives of non-Commonwealth countries, and Kenya has been a member of the Commonwealth since 1963.

That was the same year that Golda Meir, as Israel’s foreign minister, visited Kenya and together with then-prime minister Jomo Kenyatta, who later became the first president of Kenya, laid the cornerstone for the Israel Embassy in Nairobi.

From London, Ruto, his wife, members of his staff and his ministerial delegation went to the Netherlands where he last visited as vice-president in 2013. From there they continued on to Israel.

Ruto’s immediate predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Jomo Kenyatta, paid a state visit to Israel in February 2016. It was the first visit by a president of Kenya since 1994, when former president Daniel Moi came.

MK Elazar Stern, in his former capacity as intelligence minister, visited Kenya in September last year as the government’s representative at Ruto’s swearing-in ceremony.

Stern said at the time that Kenya is of strategic importance for Israel. This was reiterated by Herzog on Tuesday.

Herzog thanked Ruto for Kenya’s support for Israel at the UN and also at the African Union, albeit unsuccessfully in the latter case. After two decades of failed efforts to obtain observer status at the AU which comprises 55 member states, Israel was finally granted observer status in August 2021 but it was a short-lived triumph. Israel’s observer status was suspended in February this year.

Together with Israel, Ruto, along with other friends of Israel, will continue to work toward lifting the suspension.

One of the things that he has in common with Herzog is a deep interest in climate change and is hosting an international conference on the subject in September. He invited Herzog who was unable to confirm whether he would be available.

During his two-day visit to Israel, Ruto conducted talks on security, health, energy, water management, irrigation, agriculture, food sustainability, communications technology and investment. He wants to make Kenya investment-friendly by doing away with double taxation and reducing restrictions.

Kenya is in the process of large-scale development but is in need of additional resources.

“This is a great opportunity for the private sector to come on board,” said Ruto.

Among Kenya’s great assets are its runners. “We envy and will always envy Kenya for its runners,” said Herzog, who added that Israel’s champion marathon runner Lonah Chemtai Salpeter is a Kenyan married to an Israeli.

Going table to table to meet guests

■ AT THE dinner in the evening, Herzog took Ruto from table to table to introduce him to all the guests, some of whom included business people from the various spheres in which Kenya has a particular interest.

Up until the time of Shimon Peres, it was customary at state dinners for visiting presidents, for guests to file past the two presidents before the dinner, and to be introduced by the Chief of State Protocol.

That stopped with Reuven Rivlin, who started to take his presidential guests around the room. Herzog has expanded on that idea by taking his presidential guests of honor to every table, which in effect enables everyone present to take home a selfie with the two presidents if they so desire.

At the dinner, Ruto gave an eloquent address in which he called Israel “a nation that we love,” and spoke of the beginnings of the independence of each. The reality of the State of Israel came just before Kenya gained its own independence, he said.

In what could be interpreted as a nod to Israel’s actions in defense of national security, Ruto said with regard to Kenya, “We are thoroughly committed to our freedom and peaceful coexistence.”

During his brief, but intensive stay Israel, Kenya and Israel signed two agreements: one on tourism and the other on environmental protection. These were in addition to 22 existing MoUs between the two countries.

Journal gets Zoom launch

■ IN THE present circumstances and under the current administration, the word Nakba is all but taboo. Perhaps that’s the reason why the latest edition of the Palestine-Israel Journal was launched with a Zoom conference rather than the usual live conference which in the past has been held in Jerusalem at either the American Colony Hotel or the YMCA with the participation of both Palestinians and Israelis. But this time, the event held in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (Foundation) was conducted under the title of “75 Years Palestine Nakba / Israel Statehood” which was perhaps a little too provocative to pass unnoticed. In fact, the invitation to join the Zoom meeting was so last-minute that it definitely gave rise to the theory of fear of official reaction to the word Nakba. Speakers included: Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal, former president of the International Society of Political Psychology; Ziad Abu Zayyad, cofounder and coeditor of Palestine-Israel Journal, a lawyer, and former minister in the Palestinian Authority; Dr. Alon Liel, former Director-General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and a former ambassador; and Dr. Talal Abu Rokbeh, managing editor of the Al Mowataneh Journal in Gaza, with Nidal Foqaha, Director-General of the Palestinian Peace Coalition as moderator.

Inaugurating Irwin Cotler Institute

■ THE INAUGURATION of the Irwin Cotler Institute at Tel Aviv University will take place this Sunday, May 14 at 4:30 p.m. Following the reception there will be a screening of the intriguing documentary First to Stand: The Cases and Causes of Irwin Cotler.

Those who cannot join in person will be able to access the live stream at:

Irwin Cotler, an internationally renowned human rights activist and lawyer, is the International Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, an Emeritus Professor of Law at McGill University, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and longtime Member of Parliament.

High Court chief goes to France

■ SUPREME COURT President Esther Hayut, was out of the country as Operation Shield and Arrow began to escalate this week. Hayut was in France where the legal system is somewhat different than that of Israel or those of English-speaking countries. Nonetheless, Hayut was interested in how French Law operates, and what, if anything, Israel can learn from it. Among the various legal institutions that she visited was the High Court of Appeals. France has had its own problems with attempts at judicial reform which were scuttled by former president François Hollande. Hayut’s visit to France was within the context of bilateral seminars which have taken place for several years and which are part of the dialogue between France and Israel.

Run, Yariv Levin!

■ IT’S AMAZING how some things can be lost or changed in translation and how things can be much more meaningful in their original in witty wordplay. Last Friday, for instance, Haaretz ran an in-depth profile on Justice Minister Yariv Levin. In Hebrew, Yariv means rival or enemy. So the Hebrew title of the story was Da et Yariv which translates as Know the Enemy.

In English, it was called: “What makes Yariv Levin Run?” Borrowed from the title of Budd Schulberg’s best-selling novel What Makes Sammy Run? Protagonist Sammy Glick is as heartless and ambitious as Levin is rumored to be. If the book that was published in 1941 was written by a non-Jew, it would have been deemed antisemitic. But because it was set in the dog-eat-dog environment of Hollywood, which at that time, was dominated by Jews at all levels of the movie business, it would have been reverse racism to cast the characters as non-Jews.