Grapevine July 12, 2023: Winds of change

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 TOM NIDES, Ruth Marks Eglash, and Eilat Lieber. (photo credit: LIAM FORBERG)
TOM NIDES, Ruth Marks Eglash, and Eilat Lieber.
(photo credit: LIAM FORBERG)

In his final official act this week as US ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides changed roles, and instead of being the interviewee, became the interviewer.

He made no secret of the fact that he enjoyed the experience.

“Usually, I’m grilled by journalists. Now it’s my turn to interview a journalist,” he said.

The occasion was the launch of the book Parallel Lines by British-born journalist Ruth Marks Eglash, who has also lived in the United States, but has spent more than half her lifetime in Israel working for both local and international publications including The Jerusalem Post, The Washington Post, and Jewish Insider. The book marks her debut as a fiction writer.

Nides acquitted himself extremely well as an interviewer, which is not exactly surprising considering that he is married to Virginia Carpenter Moseley, CNN’s senior vice president of newsgathering for the network’s US operation. In a marriage, each spouse absorbs certain attributes of the other.

 ROBERT SINGER, Marc Hamon, and Technion president, Prof. Uri Sivan. (credit: SHARON TZUR, TECHNION)
ROBERT SINGER, Marc Hamon, and Technion president, Prof. Uri Sivan. (credit: SHARON TZUR, TECHNION)

Nides described Eglash, whom he knows well, as “a spectacular journalist and a terrific person.” He was curious about what prompted her to write fiction. In a nutshell, she said that it’s the greater freedom that it offers. Eglash said that there are so many restrictions, word limits, and the need for quotes in journalism, that she simply needed more space. “I wanted people to understand what it is to live in this crazy city that is always under scrutiny.”

“Did you learn anything? Did any light bulbs go off?” questioned Nides.

Indeed, she learned a lot, and in the course of the many interviews she did for the book, she was frequently “shocked and surprised” by what she learned from her three young adult children, their friends, haredim, and Palestinians.

Though on the same page in their realization that both the Israelis and Palestinians are staying put and not going anywhere, Nides was genuinely looking for something to tell the US State Department about what is really going on and what America should do about it. “The Palestinians didn’t benefit from the Abraham Accords,” he observed.

“There is some optimism that at some point people will learn to live together,” said Eglash, but emphasized that a new model has to be found and that there must be more out-of-the-box thinking.

Eglash made it clear that things have changed a lot since the Oslo process and the promotion of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She emphasized that President Joe Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken are both outdated in their concepts about the region.

Although he refrained from saying so, there was a hint that Nides agreed.

He commented on the amount of attention paid to the West Bank but not to the Arab population of east Jerusalem.

Eglash remarked that the young Arabs in east Jerusalem have a huge identity problem. Are they Israeli Arabs, Arabs resident in Israel, or Palestinians? She calls them whatever they want to be called, and respects how they want to be identified.

But she felt sorry for the educational burden they have to carry. In order to have as many options as possible for higher education, they do both the Israeli and the Palestinian matriculation exams, so that if they are not accepted to an Israeli university, they still have the options of Palestinian and Jordanian universities.

Proving that he’s familiar with Israeli controversies, Nides asked a rather unexpected question. Does Eglash think that the press is biased against Israel?

Momentarily taken aback, Eglash replied that this was one of the reasons she decided to write the book. Taking the question to the opposite extreme, she said that the Israelis say that they are not biased (against the Palestinians) but the Palestinians say they are. There are different narratives on each side.

The book was launched at the recently restored Tower of David Museum. Director and chief curator Eilat Lieber said that this was the most perfect location to launch a book about young Jewish and Palestinian women, who might never have met, had their paths not crossed during a terrorist attack.

The well-attended event drew a large number of Israel’s English-language journalists.

It would be a fascinating literary experiment if they all got together, decided on the theme and the main characters for a book, and then each wrote a random chapter, leaving it to a good editor to put the chapters together to make a story. It could conceivably be a best-seller.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if Nides continues with his weekly Shabbat Shalom tweet from his home or office in the US. Eglash mentioned that this was one of the things about him that she liked so much.

It’s certainly a useful means of maintaining contact with his many friends and acquaintances in Israel. Presumably, though no longer in office, he will meet up again next week with his good friends Isaac and Michal Herzog, when the president visits the US at the invitation of President Biden. 

Is Israel's army filled with rotten apples?

■ ISRAEL ASPIRES to have a moral army. For the most part, this aspiration is realized, but as in every army, or every society for that matter, there’s always a rotten apple in the barrel, and sometimes there are several rotten apples.

The rotten apple syndrome appears to have penetrated Israeli forces in Jenin, according to a statement released by the Jerusalem-headquartered Foreign Press Association.

“The FPA is concerned about a July 4 incident during the IDF operation in Jenin, in which an Israeli soldier inside a military vehicle opened fire at a TV camera and live transmitting device belonging to FPA members from Al-Araby TV. The equipment was destroyed. 

“Footage of the shooting clearly shows the soldier firing at the equipment, breaking the lens, knocking the equipment to the ground, and causing it to catch fire. FPA members Amid Shehadeh and Rabi Munir from Al-Araby TV and other journalists, who were clearly identified as journalists in helmets and protective vests, took shelter inside a nearby building and were later escorted out by a Red Crescent ambulance.

“The FPA has repeatedly sought clarification from the IDF, which says it is still examining the incident. The FPA calls on the army to allow journalists to do their jobs freely and safely.”

Israel's president prays

■ IN LAST Friday’s edition of The Jerusalem Post, it was noted that President Herzog regularly joins in the morning prayer services in the synagogue on the grounds of the President’s Residence. On Saturday, someone who prays there on weekdays related at a kiddush in the nearby Hurva Synagogue about Herzog’s concern about the worshipers.

On one occasion, when Herzog happened to be in Tel Aviv very early in the morning, he learned that worshipers in the presidential synagogue were one person short of a minyan – the 10-member quorum required for a proper service. So he rushed to Jerusalem to fulfill his duty as the tenth man, and after the service, returned to Tel Aviv. 

The apple has apparently not fallen far from the tree. Restaurant reviewer Gloria Deutsch, who is originally from England, as is her husband Alex, has a somewhat different story about the president’s father, the late Chaim Herzog, that demonstrates the concern of the Herzogs in enabling people to fulfill their religious needs.

Before moving to Netanya, where they have lived for several years, the Deutsch family lived in Kfar Saba. In 1983, their daughter Rachel had finished elementary school and needed to go to junior high school. There was no school for religious girls in Kfar Saba, and she would have had to commute every day to Petah Tikva. Her older sister Anna had attended the Amana private school in town, but Rachel wanted to stay with her friends

The elder Herzog, who was then a new president, was visiting Kfar Saba and stopped with then-mayor Yitzhak Wald, at the central square. Deutch, being a proper British gentleman, was dressed in a suit and tie, although it was mid-summer. He approached and said, “Excuse me Mr. President, but we are having a spot of bother here over religious education for girls. We wondered if you might be able to help.”

Deutsch then handed the president a letter explaining the whole problem. Herzog took the letter, put it in his jacket pocket, and said he would look into the matter.

Wald was livid, but couldn’t do or say anything. A few weeks later, the Har-El high school opened in Kfar Saba, thanks to the president’s intervention.

Needless to say, attempts at such an approach today would be much more difficult. Since the murder of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, the president, and the prime minister, are surrounded by bodyguards who make sure that no one – not even a man in a suit and tie – can get near either of them.

The only kosher Korean restaurant in Israel

■ BELIEVED TO be the only kosher Korean restaurant in Israel, Seoul House on Chabad Street in Jerusalem’s Old City was closed recently for several days. That’s because owner and chef Tzipporah Rothkopf and her staff were in Tel Aviv joining hundreds of others at the Korea Festival 2023, hosted by the Korean Embassy at Tel Aviv University’s Smolarz auditorium.

Rothkopf, who is Korean, converted to Judaism many years ago, and leads an Orthodox lifestyle.

In the afternoon of the festival, there were exhibition booths that individually and collectively provided a perspective of what South Korea has to offer in tourism and cuisine. One booth was operated by Seoul House staff, and others by Kimchi’s TLV and So Bing, a Korean dessert restaurant that is also in Tel Aviv and specializes in Bingsu, a kind of Korean ice cream made from shaved ice.

There were also displays by popular Korean electronics companies such as Samsung and LG, whose products can be found in most Israeli households. Several Israeli companies also participated.

It was fascinating to see how many Israelis were interested in K-culture, or for that matter, anything Korean. They loved the traditional Korean costumes, the K-drama, travel options, and more.

Some tried their hand at Korean calligraphy. Others were interested in Korean drama and dance. And there were also those who displayed interest in Korean language courses offered by some of Israel’s universities.

Korean Ambassador Kim Jin-Han kicked off K-Pop World Festival Israel 2023, which this year marks its 10th anniversary. “I sincerely extend my gratitude for the love and affection Israelis have shown toward K-culture, especially K-pop, and the Korean embassy will continue to play a role of facilitating people-to-people exchanges between the two countries in return for your constant support,” he said. 

Approximately 1,200 tickets for the K-Pop Festival in Israel were sold in only three days

The climax of the festival was the performance of the Korean fusion music band Ensemble Su, which played traditional Korean music, including “Arirang,” a popular Korean folk song, and K-pop and Israeli songs. The latter were sung by Noa Kirel, and included her Eurovision special – “Unicorn.”

In a lucky draw, someone in the audience won an Incheon-Tel Aviv return flight sponsored by Korean Air, which resumed direct flights last December, enabling the number of Korean visitors to Israel to return to the pre-pandemic level.

Noa Kirel breaks up with Tomer Cohen

■ APROPOS NOA Kirel, she and her significant other, Tomer Cohen, have gone their separate ways after a much-hyped relationship of almost two years. Kirel headed for the US to boost her international career, and Cohen, who is a fashion model and student at Reichman University, is focusing on his studies.

Technion inaugurates new building

■ UNIVERSITIES AND other institutes of higher education eagerly look forward to the annual meetings of their boards of governors, which usually are held from several days to a week. During that period, new projects are launched, and there are ribbon-cutting ceremonies for official inaugurations of new buildings. 

During the recent meeting of the board of governors of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the Marc Hamon Anières House was inaugurated. The building is a dormitory designed to house 120 Technion students who are a part of the Anières program.

“When Anières representatives first visited the Technion many years ago, it didn’t take us long to understand that we shared the same values,” said Technion president, Prof. Uri Sivan. 

“The ensuing conversation was all about values, rather than bricks and mortar, and to this day values are the base of this special partnership. Anières is an inspiring program, and I hope that the partnership between us is for life.”

Marc Hamon studied at the ORT Central Institute in the town of Anières, Switzerland near Geneva. This facility, which operated from 1947 to 1997, was established to educate instructors; in 1959 this included engineers.

A few years after the closure of the institute, the program was revived in Israel with the help of Robert Singer, who was then CEO of World ORT. It was reincarnated as an educational project of World ORT Kadima Mada, in collaboration with the Na’aleh program of the Education Ministry, the Jewish Agency, the Technion, and the WIZO Nahalal Youth Village. Today, Anières House offers amenities such as shared study spaces, a club, a large balcony, a gallery, and more, with its student population expected to grow.

In expressing his pleasure at inaugurating Anières House, Hamon said: “This is a major milestone for the Anières Project. In 1999, I was visiting Geneva, accompanied by an Anières alumnus like me. It brought back memories of how much influence that school, created by Dr. Aron Syngalovski, has had on my life. I approached ORT, and we started working with the Technion. We opened in 2013, with 30 international students studying in Nahalal. 

“Now we finally have a building for our students, here, on campus, and our dream has become a reality. We dream of giving socio-economically disadvantaged, young, bright students the opportunity to study engineering at one of the best engineering schools in the world. This is an opportunity better than the one we had.”

In commending Hamon for his vision and his initiative, Singer, said: “Marc Hamon was born in Morocco. In Anières, Marc Hamon was given an opportunity. He took it, and he triumphed in his career. And he never forgot it was his duty to likewise help others. I hope the students of today will one day be in the same position.”

Rani Rahav's son is getting married

■ THIS PAST March, Rani Rahav, Israel’s best-known and most influential public relations executive, sent out “Save the Date” notices for the wedding of his son Roye to Graziella Drahi.

Then in June, he sent out another notice announcing a change in the date. The wedding had been brought forward by two days. The second message also requested guests to dress elegantly and to be on time for the ceremony. 

Many guests spoil the beauty of formal occasions, such as weddings, opera, and theater premieres, inaugurations of new presidents, and prime ministers by turning up in ultra-casual attire. Rahav and his wife Hila, who have an overcrowded social calendar, are well aware of this and wanted the wedding of their only son to have a proper formal ambiance.

It was still too early for invitees to begin preparing tuxedos and evening gowns for the occasion when a third notice was sent out last week. It explained that the wedding festivities would be on a much smaller scale than originally envisaged, and with due apologies, those guests who were not among the nearest and dearest of the families concerned, were disinvited. 

Rani Rahav has never been someone to do things in a small way. When Roye reached bar mitzvah age in 2007, his parents hosted a massive party at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds for thousands of guests. 

It wasn’t a matter of showing off. It was simply that Rahav makes friends with nearly all his clients, invites them to his home for special events, and is invited to their homes and other places where they may be hosting weddings, bar mitzvah celebrations, milestone anniversaries of the companies they own, or organizations that they head, and other important events. 

In addition, Rahav is the honorary consul of the Marshall Islands, which places him on the invitation lists of many diplomats, some of whom he also represents professionally. He also acts as an adviser to many public figures. 

Both Rani and Hila are engaged at the executive level in a number of philanthropic organizations, developing over the years a very wide circle of friends and acquaintances with whom they wanted to share the joy of their son’s marriage. One can imagine their disappointment when the guest list was trimmed. 

But they decided that even if they couldn’t have everyone they wanted at the wedding, all those who were disinvited would at least be indirectly recognized. To that end, the Rahavs planted trees through Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund in honor of the disinvited guests, and will be sending them tree certificates in the near future.

The newly planted trees will help to rehabilitate the forests that were severely damaged in last summer’s forest fires.

Bahrain's ambassador to Israel is also ambassador to Cyprus

■ IT IS not uncommon for ambassadors of both large and small countries to be accredited to more than one country in the region in which they are resident. Some are accredited to just one additional country, and some to as many as four or five.

When Khaled Youssef Al-Jalahma, the first ambassador of Bahrain to Israel, presented his credentials in September 2021, it was a whole new learning experience. He was already a seasoned diplomat, but after all the anti-Israel feelings in the Arab world, he did not know what to expect. 

He was pleasantly surprised when showered with hospitality, and even more so when he discovered how many Israelis were interested in doing business with Bahrain or simply visiting as tourists. 

Now that he’s quite familiar with Israel, another notch of responsibility has been added to his belt. He is currently also his country’s ambassador to Cyprus. He has not wasted any time in presenting his credentials to President Nikos Christodoulides, and discussing the strengthening of bilateral relations and cooperation on a number of levels.

Al-Jalahma is not the only ambassador stationed in Israel who is also accredited to Cyprus. Kazakhstan ambassador Satybaldy Burshakov, who is highly respected among colleagues in Cyprus, can certainly give him some pointers.

National Economic Conference is almost here

■ THE NATIONAL Economic Conference due to be held at 101 Rokeach St., Tel Aviv on July 18, will include a number of political figures, as do most national conferences. Only this time, the opposition will outnumber the coalition. The only sitting government minister featured among bankers, industrialists, heads of national enterprises, and other sundry professionals is Moshe Arbel, who holds the Interior and Health portfolios. 

The inclusion of opposition leader Yair Lapid and Yisrael Betanyu head Avigdor Liberman is logical, as both are former finance ministers. Likewise, it makes sense to include former economics minister Orna Barbivai, who is currently running for mayor of Tel Aviv. 

Current Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, and current Minister for the Economy and Industry Nir Barkat, are not listed, nor are other coalition MKs. But Mansour Abbas, who chairs the Ra’am Party, is listed among the participants, as is former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit. 

But the participants who are currently having the greatest impact on Israel’s economy and urban renewal projects are Barak Rosen and Assi Tuchmeir, the founders and owners of the Israel Canada group which has built and is building new commercial hubs, tall residential towers, and luxury hotels.

In a sense, Israel Canada is responsible for redesigning and restructuring Israel. 

Yehonatan Geffen's furniture all donated to Palestinians

■ AFTER Aviv Geffen’s sister, Shira Gefen, last month donated all the furniture from the home of their late father – the multi-talented Yehonatan Geffen – to Palestinians facing eviction by the IDF from their homes in Masafer Yatta, the singer-songwriter proved that giving away one’s possessions is a family trait.

Knowing that his younger son Elliot had outgrown some of his toys and books, Geffen got him to clear out his cupboard and transfer the items which he no longer used to the children hospitalized at Sheba Medical Center. Geffen suggested that other parents follow his example.

Zvika Fogel: Protest government decisions, but do it legally

■ IN A RADIO interview with Arieh Golan on KAN Reshet Bet, Otzma Yehudit MK Zvika Fogel said that it was legitimate for the opposition to fight government decisions so long as they acted within the law. 

There were many decisions by the previous government that he disliked, he said, but it would never occur to him to break the law by protesting illegally.

Like others choosing different paths toward a common goal, which in most cases is national unity, as distinct from national uniformity, Fogel urged opposition members and protesters to change their perceptions of him. “I am their rival, not their enemy,” he said.