Close encounters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with British Prime Minister Theresa May in London on Wednesday, June 6, 2018 (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with British Prime Minister Theresa May in London on Wednesday, June 6, 2018
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Although Argentina backed out of a friendly soccer game against Israel, thereby giving the Palestinians a minor victory, it was obvious that the Palestinians had not alienated the world against Israel. It’s true that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu encountered criticism of measures against Gazans who attempt to infiltrate into the country and send rockets and fuel-filled kites into areas near the border, but on the whole the body language of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May said a lot for Netanyahu’s ability to win friends and influence people.
■ DESPITE THE cancellation of the soccer game, a large front-page advertisement in Thursday’s Jerusalem Post announcing a Jerusalem Day of Prayer for all Nations marking the June 7, 1967, reunification of Jerusalem, was signed by numerous Christian clergy from around the world, including Norberto Carlini of Argentina; Angus Buchan and Graham Power of South Africa, which has recalled its ambassador; and Ismail Serinkin of Turkey.
■ THE PREVIOUS day, when all the hue and cry about the cancellation of the game was headlined in electronic and digital media reports, also happened to be National Unity Day in Israel, but the only real unity was against Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, who was widely regarded as the spoiler of what would have been a pleasurable experience for soccer fans.
If the game had taken place in Haifa as originally planned, the money wasted and the ensuing frustrations and anger might have been avoided. The Palestinians didn’t start making noise about the game before the shift of venue, which was yet another brinkmanship attempt by Regev.
■ IN COMMENTING on nationwide disappointment, President Reuven Rivlin said that even his grandchildren (who presumably had tickets) were upset. Rivlin, an avid soccer fan, would have had to watch the game on television because, as head of state, he cannot publicly desecrate the Sabbath.
■ BY THE way, Israel is not the only country in which politics intrude on sport. At the beginning of this week, Sweden and Iceland each announced that the political leaders of their respective countries would not attend the opening next week of the FIFA World Cup Games, in protest against the current political situation in Russia and its tense relationship with the European Union. The absence of Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven and Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir along with members of their respective governments will not affect the attendance of Swedish and Icelandic soccer fans, who will be in Russia to cheer on their teams.
INTERNATIONAL JEWISH Unity Day 2018 was launched at the President’s Residence on Wednesday. Generally known as the Jerusalem Unity Prize in memory of murdered yeshiva students Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel, it was established as a joint initiative of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, the families of the three boys, and Gesher, the Jewish outreach organization, to commemorate the outpouring of national and international solidarity after the boys were kidnapped and murdered by terrorists.
As the week of mourning was coming to an end in the summer of 2014, Barkat and the families searched for the appropriate way to nurture the unity that so characterized the Jewish people during that fateful period between fearful uncertainty and tragedy.
After much thought, they came up with the idea of the Jerusalem Unity Prize and Unity Day to commemorate and promote that sense of togetherness and hope that was so tangible during those 18 days from the kidnapping to the discovery of the boys’ bodies.
Prizewinners were the Jewish Unity Project, Florida; Runners Without Borders; TEC Center (Technology, Education and Cultural Diversity); and Koolulam, which encourages mega community singing groups. A lifetime achievement award was also given to Taglit-Birthright, in recognition of what it has done to connect assimilated young Jews with their Jewish heritage and with Israel.
■ BRITAIN’S MOST highly publicized transgender couple, Hannah Winterbourne, who was born a man and is now a woman, and Jake Graf, who was born a woman and is now a man, are currently in Israel to participate in the Pride Parade taking place Friday in Tel Aviv, where gay pride flags and banners decorate commercial and residential premises throughout the inner city.
Winterbourne, 31, is a captain in the British Army and served in Afghanistan while still a man. Graf, 40, is an actor who used to be an actress. The couple married in March of this year, and is having a delayed honeymoon at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv.
They were visited at the hotel by British Ambassador David Quarrey and his spouse, Aldo Henriquez, who are also participating in the Pride Parade and will wave to the crowd from a British Embassy float.
■ The transgender couple’s honeymoon visit is being covered by Britain’s Daily Mail, which reported that the hotel upgraded them and gave them a beautiful suite overlooking the sea. While in Israel, the newlyweds intend to spend a lot of time on the beach.
■ STRANGE THOUGH it seems in the Jewish homeland, the bulk of the Israeli media is not sufficiently interested in the Jewish world to have a full time Jewish affairs reporter. The point was made by Benny Teitelbaum, the Jewish world reporter for the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation.
Teitelbaum, who received a Certificate of Merit at the annual B’nai B’rith World Center- Jerusalem Award for Journalism Recognizing Excellence in Diaspora Reportage, said at the awards ceremony in the Konrad Adenauer Conference Center in Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim that he met up in New York with Zvika Klein, who covers Diaspora affairs for Makor Rishon, and the two had discussed the possible formation of a Diaspora Affairs unit within the Journalists Association in Israel to facilitate discussion forums where they could exchange views. It didn’t come to fruition, because there were hardly any journalists covering that beat on a regular basis.
To illustrate the importance of covering Diaspora affairs, Teitelbaum cited his own entry in the B’nai B’rith competition, where he showed in a television program that even though Israel encourages Jewish immigration from France, it refuses to accept the qualifications of French professionals, especially doctors and nurses. There has been some progress toward recognition since his program was aired, but not enough. He told the story of a French doctor who had come to Israel every year for 20 years to volunteer in the IDF Medical Corps, where his professionalism had been appreciated. But when he came on aliya, his qualifications were not recognized, even though they’re recognized all over Europe.
Yair Sherki of the Israel News Company, whose series Brooklyn – The Holy Borough, dealing with the lifestyles of the ultra-Orthodox community of Brooklyn, whose members, unlike their Israeli counterparts, he said, get up at 4 a.m. to study and to pray and then go to work in various Jewish and secular professions, won the award in the broadcast media section.
In his acceptance speech, he noted that while the annual Celebrate Israel Parade was taking place on Fifth Avenue, elsewhere in New York there was a mega anti-Zionist gathering organized by Satmar Hassidim.
Sherki had conducted nearly all his interviews in Hebrew, and it was interesting to note that even the ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionists with whom he spoke replied in Sephardi Hebrew and not the Ashkenazi Hebrew of the shtetl. Sephardi Hebrew can be categorized as Zionist Hebrew.
Amotz Asa-El, who writes regular “Middle Israel” columns in The Jerusalem Post and The Jerusalem Report, and who has written for major publications in the United States and England, spoke of the growing schism between Israeli and Diaspora Jewry and between different factions in Israel. The text of his acceptance speech will be published in the upcoming edition of the Report, where his winning series originally appeared.
Keynote speaker for the evening was Elliott Abrams, former US deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy and currently senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies on the Council for Foreign Relations.
Abrams said that while it was a pleasure for him to be in Jerusalem, it was a pleasure that most American Jews have never had – “not once.” American Jews and Israel are drifting apart, he said, adding that it is incorrect to say that American Jews are infused with a love for Israel. In fact, it was never so, he added, comparing American Jews’ visits to Israel with those of other countries. Seventy percent of Canadian Jews have visited, he said, 80% of Australian Jews, and 95% of British Jews, while the ratio of American Jews was only 40%.
He suggested that it is wrong to sentimentalize and exaggerate American levels of affection for Israel. American Jews and Israelis live very different lives, he said. “Israelis are from Mars, and American Jews are from Venus.”
He also spoke of the waning sense of Jewish identity and Jewish peoplehood in America, where some Jews define themselves as “Jews of no religion” and are not raising their children as Jews.
He doubted whether such attitudes were influenced by Israeli government policies.
“A change of government would not affect American Jewish support for Israel,” he opined.
As for Israel’s obligation to world Jewry, “Your first obligation to world Jewry is to survive and thrive,” Abrams declared.