Grapevine: A name in politics

It seems that the surname Lieberman is a key to a career in politics. Joe Lieberman. Avigdor Lieberman. And now there’s also Luis Lieberman.

  • IT SEEMS that the surname Lieberman is a key to a career in politics. First, there’s Joe Lieberman, the United States senator. Then there’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. And now there’s also Luis Lieberman, a former banker who recently became vice president-elect of Costa Rica, making history as the first Jew to reach so high a position in the Costa Rican government. Lieberman ran alongside Laura Chichilla, who became her country’s first female president. Maybe the three Liebermans, and any other Liebermans in politics whom we don’t yet know about, could get together in Jerusalem on Independence Day.
  • DESPITE CONTENTIONS by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that his wife does not interfere in his decision-making, an interview with Alon Pinkas in last Friday’s Yediot Aharonot would suggest otherwise. Pinkas, who was tapped by Netanyahu during the last election campaign to serve as Israel’s next ambassador to the United Nations, fell from favor after writing an article in Newsweek analyzing Netanyahu’s failure in Washington. A former consul-general in New York and a much-sought-after commentator by global news outlets, Pinkas, at Netanyahu’s request, met with him on several occasions before and after he became prime minister, and was told by Netanyahu that he was the ultimate candidate. After the article was published, Netanyahu was unhappy, but did not discount his candidacy. However, Sara Netanyahu, according to the interview, said that anyone who could write such an article was not suitable to serve as the country’s ambassador to the UN. Pinkas subsequently received an e-mail from Bracha Shor, a close friend of Sara Netanyahu’s, advising him that the prime minister’s wife had torpedoed his nomination and that if he still wanted to be considered for the post, he should settle things with her. A photograph of the e-mail was published in the paper.
  • AMONG THE aides surrounding President Shimon Peres is Joseef Avi Yair Engel, who acts as the president’s official photographer but who is also his envoy for special missions. A member of Kibbutz Ramat Rahel, Engel spent 10 years as the manager of the Ramat Rahel hotel and knows a thing or two about getting tables cleared quickly. Last Friday, just before Peres was due to address the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Engel was annoyed to see that conference participants were eating breakfast in the same room where the president was soon to speak.
Believing it the height of rudeness for people to be clinking plates, cups and flatware while the president was talking, Engel ordered everything off the tables, and the waiters at the Inbal Hotel obeyed with alacrity. On Sunday, at the opening plenary of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors – held at the same venue – there were no breakfast tables in the banquet room. However, there was a coffee bar at the back of the room, and people did use it while Peres was speaking.
  • FEBRUARY SEEMS to be a good month for birthdays of politicians, diplomats and even cities. Friday, February 26, is the 82nd birthday of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who fell victim to a brain hemorrhage on January 4, 2006, and has been in a coma ever since. As no one really knows what comatose patients can or can’t hear, perhaps a nurse who reads this column will take the trouble to wish him happy birthday.
  • ANOTHER FEBRUARY birthday was that of former Shas leader Aryeh Deri, who is rumored to be seeking a political comeback. Deri celebrated his 51st birthday on February 17.
  • ON THE diplomatic and city fronts, there are two important birthdays on February 28. Polish Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska will have 53 candles on her cake, and the city of Rehovot can lord it over Tel Aviv – which recently concluded its centenary celebrations – that it is celebrating its 120th anniversary by reenacting the historic 1898 visit to the city by Zionist visionary Theodor (or Binyamin Ze’ev, as he’s called in Hebrew) Herzl. Legend has it that when Herzl visited Rehovot, he actually wept at the sight of a cavalcade of Jewish horsemen riding tall in the Holy Land. Traveling with David Wolffsohn, the designated director of the Jewish Colonial Trust; Max Bodenheimer , president of the World Zionist Organization in Germany; Reuven Schnirer, vice president of the Zionist General Council; and Eretz Israel engineer Joseph Seidner, Herzl descended from his carriage and gazed in wonder at the procession of horsemen that came out to greet them. It was the first time that he had seen so many Jewish horsemen, and it was an emotional experience. Later he wrote in his diary: “They sang Hebrew songs and surrounded our carriage. Wolffsohn, Schnirer, Bodenheimer and I looked with tearful eyes at those swift and manly horsemen.”
Accompanied by Rehovot Mayor Rahamim Malul and City Councilman Matan Dil, who is chairman of the 120th anniversary festivities, a latter-day Herzl look-alike will welcome Peres and go with him on a virtual tour of the city, which has expanded enormously since the original visit, when it was just a small settlement. There will also be songs and dancing and other festive events – not to mention a procession of horsemen, one of whom might be former Rehovot mayor Shuki Forer, who is a grandson of Ya’acov Forer, one of the founders of the city. The original settlers came from Poland and were joined by immigrants from Yemen in 1908. This will be the president’s second official visit to Rehovot in less than two weeks: Last week he visited the Hebrew University’s Rehovot-based Department of Agriculture.
  • SOME 1,000 people from across the political spectrum and the business and entertainment communities were invited to the so-called “surprise party” for the 74th birthday of Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin (Fuad) Ben-Eliezer. The party, which had already received a mention in the Hebrew press around a month ago, was a week later than Ben-Eliezer’s actual birthday, making it possible for Defense Minister Ehud Barak to join in the festivities. Although there’s a six-year age gap between them, they celebrate their birthdays on the same day, February 12. Fuad, who accidentally received an invitation, kept the secret until Saturday night, when he was inundated with good wishes – but Barak got the better present: a new granddaughter born last Thursday.
  • HE WASN’T THE only Barak to welcome a new baby into his family. Dr. Asher Barak welcomed his third child, Yam, a sister to Ayeli and Einiya, whose mother happens to be Ahinoam Nini. Fellow singer Miri Mesika and her husband Uri Zach are also expecting the stork to deliver a daughter. Mesika, like Nini, is continuing to perform despite her advanced stage of pregnancy. Nini was giving concerts until almost the last minute.
  • IT’S NO secret that Netanyahu wants Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer to serve another term. The main reason is, of course, his respect for Fischer’s expertise. But there could be another underlying reason: It transpires that Fischer is a member of the priestly tribe – in other words, a Cohen – and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have someone who can give the priestly benediction in the pivotal position of Israel’s economy.
  • APROPOS OF FISCHER, before leaving for China in an effort to persuade the Chinese authorities to impose severe economic sanctions on Iran, he was among the many guests at the Kfar Shmaryahu residence of Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jun, who hosted a dinner to celebrate both Chinese New Year – this year being the Year of the Tiger – and 18 years of diplomatic ties between China and Israel. Amos Nidai, Israel’s ambassador to China, was also there, as was former ambassador to China Ora Namir and numerous prominent businesspeople – most notably Nochi Dankner, who has a very warm relationship with the Chinese ambassador. The two claim to be twins, having been born a week apart, in November 1954.
  • AS FOR Ehud Barak, the fact that he has not yet been able to find a buyer for his 31st-floor apartment in the Akirov Towers in Tel Aviv, has not prevented the defense minister, who was also at the Chinese reception, from putting down a hefty deposit on another apartment in a prestigious complex that will be ready for occupancy in about four years. Allegedly responding to complaints that the head of the Labor Party should not be living in such luxurious surroundings as his current ones, Barak put his apartment on the market some 18 months ago, but couldn’t find anyone prepared to pay the asking price of NIS 40 million. A few months back, the price was lowered to NIS 30m., but there were still no takers. The highest offer was NIS 27m., which was not good enough. Presumably Barak and his wife Nili will find a buyer before they move into the no-less-luxurious environment of the Assuta Tower some five years hence, where their neighbors will include Bank Leumi CEO Galia Maor.
  • AFTER THE Australians honored the heroes of the Light Horse who engaged in the victory against the Turks in the  World War I Battle of Beersheba, it is now the Kiwis’ turn to honor their heroes, who also fought with the British forces against the Turks. New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully will arrive in Israel next Monday to participate in the unveiling of a monument in memory of 50 New Zealand soldiers who lost their lives in the battle near Ness Ziona. The event will be cohosted by Ness Ziona Mayor Yossi Shvo and non-resident New Zealand Ambassador Andrea Joan Smith, who is stationed in Ankara. Smith, who is primarily ambassador to Turkey, also represents New Zealand in Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Also in attendance will be Gad Propper, who is New Zealand’s honorary consul in Israel, and Michael Ronen, who heads the Foreign Ministry’s Pacific Desk.
  • SPEAKERS AT the National Conference on Energy, which opens on March 3 at the Tel Aviv Hilton, do not include Shai Agassi, Israel’s chief promoter of energy-saving electric cars. Did someone goof, or was Agassi unavailable?
  • FOLLOWING HIS call at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, for a boycott of products advertised by supermodel Bar Refaeli, who evaded army service by entering into a fake marriage, Maj.-Gen. Avi Zamir was interviewed on Channel 2’s Meet the Press. Military reporter Ronny Daniel asked him why he kept harping on Refaeli and other celebrities who didn’t serve, when it was much more important to clamp down on employers who fired employees who absented themselves from work in order to do reserve duty in the IDF. Zamir noted that it was illegal to fire employees for this reason and said that the IDF would be taking legal action against employers who contravened this law.
  • ONE CELEBRITY who has decided it’s better late than never to join the army is actor and model Michael Lewis, who actually received an exemption due to a heart murmur. But after Lewis exerted himself with partner Anna Aronov in the xxDancing with the Stars contest, which they won, there was a huge outcry from the Forum for the Promotion of an Equal Share in the Burden that urged Israeli companies not to employ Lewis because he hadn’t served in the IDF. The upshot is that Lewis, 22, has applied to join the army.
  • WHILE ON the subject of models, one of the younger members of the Rabin family has just entered the modeling profession. Omer Rabin, the 12-year-old granddaughter of the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the daughter of Yuval Rabin, has signed up as the presenter for Gold, a company producing clothing for girls. Omer, who bears a striking resemblance to her grandmother Leah Rabin, has also inherited her taste for fashion. Omer Rabin got the job by chance when she entered a Gold store to buy herself some clothes. The designer asked her if she would be willing to model. She said she would have to ask her parents. Knowing that this would make her happy, they gave her the green light, and time will tell whether it’s a passing fad or an early career move.
  • RECIPIENTS OF the prestigious Harvey Prize, awarded annually by Haifa’s Technion, are David C. Baulcombe of the United Kingdom and Shuji Nakamura of the United States. The two laureates, who came to Israel for the awards ceremony, participated in a symposium in which each presented a paper related to his field. Nakamura, a professor at the University of California, spoke on the current status of solid-state lighting to reduce energy consumption, while Baulcombe, a professor at the University of Cambridge, added a humorous note to his address on how work with plants revealed new ways of treating and diagnosing disease in humans: His presentation was titled, “Of Maize and Men or Peas and People.”
  • FLORIDA REAL estate developer and Jewish community activist Steven Muss is keen to aid Israel’s development. Toward this purpose, in 1981, he honored the memory of his father by endowing the Alexander Muss High School in Hod Hasharon to help support the country’s education system. In 2003, the school expanded to take students from grades 1-12 and was renamed the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education. Stephen Muss has now launched another similar project in the Negev in partnership with the Jewish National Fund. He had discussed the idea with Peres when the latter was minister for the development of the Negev and the Galilee, and continued to plan the project with current Minister Silvan Shalom. The cornerstone was finally laid last week. In addition to educating youth living in the Negev, the school will also have special programs for students from English-speaking countries so that they, too, can be part of the realization of David Ben-Gurion’s vision to make the Negev bloom.
  • THREE YEARS ago Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America (WZOA), received a gift of $75 million from William and Karen Davidson on behalf of Guardian Industries Corp. of Auburn Hills, Michigan. It was one of the largest commitments ever made to a Jewish organization, and was used to support the new inpatient tower at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. The new facility, the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower, honors the memory of William Davidson’s mother, who was a founder of the organization’s Detroit chapter and whose family in 1917 hosted Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold in their home. During the week of that visit, Davidson’s mother was Szold’s driver.
  • SOMEONE ELSE who honored his mother with a major gift to Hadassah is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who in November 2003, in celebration of his mother’s 95th birthday two months later, inaugurated the Charlotte R. Bloomberg Mother and Child Center, located on Hadassah’s Ein Kerem campus in Jerusalem.
Speaking last Thursday to the Nechama Chapter of Hadassah in thecapital, Barbara Sofer, the Israel-based public relations director forHadassah WZOA, challenged other business tycoons to come up with biggerand better projects in honor of their mothers. She also announced thatdespite the protests by Hadassah Medical Center staff members who donot want to see a replacement for director-general Prof. ShlomoMor-Yosef until after the organization celebrates its centenary in twoyears’ time and the Davidson Tower is completed, a search for asuccessor had already begun.
  • TIMING IS everything, especially for people who have to travel a longway to get anywhere. Among those with the longest trip to Israel areAustralians. Mark Leibler, one of the Australian members of the Boardof Governors of the Jewish Agency, happens to be one of Australia’sleading taxation lawyers and is a senior partner and head of the TaxDepartment with veteran Melbourne law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler.
Taking advantage of his current visit to Israel to attend the Board ofGovernors meetings, Leibler will be one of the speakers Wednesday at aseminar on “Israeli Tax Ramifications on Australian Family Trusts andInherited Australian Assets” for people living in Israel. The seminarwill take place in the law offices of Herzog, Fox & Neeman.