Grapevine July 14, 2023: The power of the press

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 OUTGOING US ambassador Tom Nides in a farewell moment of prayer at the Western Wall.   (photo credit: WESTERN WALL HERITAGE FOUNDATION)
OUTGOING US ambassador Tom Nides in a farewell moment of prayer at the Western Wall.

Judging by the consternation generated by three-times Pulitzer Prize winner, author, and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, with a sentence in his highly critical yet informative attack on the Netanyahu government, it is obvious that despite strong competition from social media platforms, the power of the traditional press remains intact.

Toward the end of his review of Israel’s proposed judicial reform, Friedman wrote that he has no doubt that US President Joe Biden will send a message via President Isaac Herzog “that when the interests and values of a US government and an Israeli government diverge this much, a reassessment of the relationship is inevitable.”

Even though Friedman made it clear that he was referring to the basic diplomatic approach and not to military and intelligence cooperation, which he believes will remain strong, the word “reassessment” sent shock waves through certain Israeli quarters.

Something else that should have bothered readers in the US as well as Israel was the article’s easy accessibility. As a rule, only NYT digital subscribers can read a whole article. Otherwise, they can access only one or two paragraphs. This article was available in full, with no technical hitches during the access process. Such a departure from the norm poses the question: Is there a special relationship between the NYT and the US State Department which in all probability would be interested in having the article read by as many Israelis as possible?

Those Israelis who downplayed the importance of the article charged Friedman with having an anti-Netanyahu agenda.

 FROM RIGHT, Menachem Oren, Tom Nides and Eli Beer.  (credit: UNITED HATZALAH‏)
FROM RIGHT, Menachem Oren, Tom Nides and Eli Beer. (credit: UNITED HATZALAH‏)

That supposition may well be true, but that doesn’t mean that Friedman doesn’t care about Israel.

From 1984 to 1988 he spent time in Jerusalem as NYT bureau chief, following a previous stint in Beirut. Before that, while a high school student, he spent all his summer vacations at Kibbutz Hahotrim in the north of the country.

In 2002, Friedman met Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, whom he encouraged to normalize relations with Israel with a view to putting an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. A month later, Abdullah proposed an Arab Peace Initiative at the Beirut Summit.

Jews and non-Jews of varied religious and political persuasions care deeply and passionately about Israel – but from different vantage points. None of them should be accused of sabotage by people of opposing views. Perhaps if they listened to each other more, instead of formulating uninformed decisions, there would be less conflict and greater cooperation.

Day of Disruption or Resistance Day?

■ IN MOST reports about nationwide protest demonstrations last Tuesday, the overall event was alternately referred to as the Day of Disruption or Resistance Day. The difference between the two words exemplifies the challenge of understanding and accepting the other, despite the fact that we do not agree with each other.

Several Israeli performing artists and others engaged in cultural activities posted a video on social media platforms on Monday, urging the public to go out and protest. Among those who participated in the video were Ran Danker, Alma Zak, Anya Buchstein, Yaniv Bitton, Avi Greenik, Shay Avivi, Chemi Rudner, Achinoam Nini, Dror Keren, Nelly Tager, Shani Klein, Yahli Sobol, Aya Korem, Alona Sa’ar, Roy Bar-Natan, and Eran Tzur.

Among those seen in the Kaplan Street crowd was singer-songwriter Aviv Geffen accompanied by his older son Dylan. The singer was briefly arrested for pushing a policeman. But let’s not kid ourselves, the automatic reaction of demonstrators being jostled by police is to simply push back. A demonstration, no matter how peaceful, is not a site for adopting the Christian principle of turning the other cheek.

For all that, one wonders how many of the above-mentioned know exactly what the protest issues are all about. Protest demonstrations have become a reason to get up in the morning. They’ve become a social activity enabling shy people to talk to total strangers because they’re both protesting together.

Anyone who has a feeling of not belonging, can instantly belong. Just find a spot near the center of the demonstration – and when everyone shouts “Shame!” the person with the feeling of not belonging shouts too – and suddenly, he or she belongs. But how many really understand what they are protesting?

Tom Nides visits United Hatzalah

■ THOUGH NO longer officially US ambassador to Israel – having performed his last official act last Sunday, Tom Nides on Monday kept catching up with last-minute commitments, which included a visit to United Hatzalah headquarters in Jerusalem to learn about the work of what is purportedly Israel’s largest fully-volunteer EMS service, 6,500 volunteers nationwide – and still counting. Former Ambassador David Friedman, a veteran supporter of United Hatzalah even prior to his diplomatic appointment, also visited during his tenure.

Nides was accompanied by real estate developer Menachem Oren, a long-time friend of the organization who also shared stories with the ambassador about the lifesaving efforts of the network.

In addition to meeting volunteers from different backgrounds, religions, and regions of Israel, Nides was able to meet 50 US and Canadian students who have come to spend their summer training in first aid and emergency response as part of the NCSY Hatzalah Rescue summer program. Nides interrupted a training session to take time to speak to the students.

“On my first trip to Israel when I was just 14 years old, I remember that I hiked in the Sinai and up Masada and it was very inspirational for me. It was something that I will always remember,” he told them. “Likewise, this summer for you is a very cool thing to do and it is something that you will always remember. Now you’re 15 or 16 or 17, and in a few years, you will look back and think to yourselves, ‘Wow! That was very cool.’ Hopefully, you’ll understand what an organization like this does. I’ve seen their motorcycles and ambulances all around since the moment I got here. The idea that within 2-3 minutes, anywhere in this country, there are volunteers who go and save people’s lives is marvelous. You see why this is called the start-up nation. These are volunteers! I’m honored to be in your presence and honored that you are all doing this. I’m telling you that when you wake up in a few years in your college dorm room, or whatever it is that you will be doing and you tell your friends and family that you learned what it is to be in EMS in Israel, and you learned to give back for a month. I’m telling you, it will be one of those moments in your life that you will look back on and be able to say, ‘That was really cool.’”

At the conclusion of the visit, Nides summarized the experience by saying: “I just spent 45 minutes visiting this organization and now I grasp the concept that the volunteers in this organization save the lives of anyone and everyone, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and everyone else, free of charge. It is simply amazing. I’m honored to be here and honored to see what this organization does and be a part of it. I say to all of you involved, thank you for being who you are and what you are doing.”

United Hatzalah founder and President Eli Beer, in expressing appreciation to Nides said: “I want to thank you for coming and for everything you shared. You are an incredible person and I am proud to share the mission of our organization with you. I am honored that you want to be involved and I hope that together we can save more lives.”

Friedman has been back to Israel several times since completing his ambassadorial role, and there is little doubt that Nides will return – not necessarily in some official capacity, but simply because he loves Israel.

There are some issues on which Democrats and Republicans agree, even though they differ on policy.

Something else they agree on is the importance of the Western Wall. Friedman was the first US ambassador to openly visit the Wall, and because he happens to be a kohen – a member of the priestly tribe – he also joined other members of the tribe in blessing the population.

Nides, who began his tenure in Israel with a Hanukkah visit to the Western Wall, has made frequent visits since then, and finalized his tenure with another visit and an emotional prayer for peace for the region.

Israel's retirement sector has grown, and it is expensive

■ THE FACT that Israel’s senior citizens are, generally speaking, living considerably longer than those of the previous generation has resulted in the construction of many new retirement homes and villages that offer high standards of apartments plus a variety of occupational therapies, lectures, sporting activities, and outings. The present generation of senior citizens is not only older but more physically and mentally fit than in generations past. This, of course, has resulted in a new source of revenue for print and electronic media which frequently carry advertisements for attractive residential and nursing facilities where senior citizens can live with their peers and continue to enjoy life.

The monthly rent and maintenance costs in most of these places are in excess of the basic wage, and beyond the economic means of many people. The solution is not to sell one’s private apartment but to rent it out for a sum that covers the cost of living in the retirement home. That isn’t always possible, but when it is, that’s a real boon, because it means retaining an essential asset, which gives owners a great sense of fiscal security. But now, in addition to the advertisements that show contented residents and beautifully appointed public and private spaces, activities are of a nature designed to interest the wider public and are not only open to residents and their personal guests, but are advertised.

For instance, this morning, Friday, July 14, there is what is known as Shabbat Tarbut, a cultural sabbath, at the Mishan Brodetzky Retirement home at 68 Brodetzky Street, Tel Aviv, within easy walking distance of the Ramat Aviv Mall. Such events are usually held on a Saturday morning, but taking into account that some of the Mishan residents have hearing impairments, and not wanting to offend those who are Orthodox by using a microphone, Mishan has moved Shabbat Tarbut from Saturday to Friday morning. Featured speakers are Culture and Sport Minister Miki Zohar, and MK Chili Tropper, with Sefi Ovadia as moderator. Entertainment will be provided by veteran singer Shula Chen to keyboard accompaniment. The event starts at 10 a.m. and is supposedly open only to those who have registered in advance. There is no harm in trying at this late stage. The number is 054-230-3836