Grapevine: A parting of the ways

Meridor laments the leadership vacuum, a new exhibit captures how journalists used to work, and mutual enthusiasm flourishes among artists.

FORMER JUSTICE and finance minister Dan Meridor and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert go back a long way together. They were both second generation MKs raised in the Revisionist ideology of their fathers, and elected on a Likud ticket. When Meridor's sons were bar mitzva, Olmert not only came to the party, but also to the synagogue service, indicative of a close friendship. It must therefore have been difficult for Meridor to speak out against Olmert at the opening day, in the Knesset, of the annual Herzliya Conference. Meridor was one of the panelists in the session on the Winograd Committee and National Security Decision-Making, and had to leave early, so he was spared the embarrassment of being asked at question time to elaborate on his remarks, which didn't mention Olmert by name. What he said was that, "There are people who are capable of being elected but not of making decisions. The public should elect people who not only reflect their ideology, but who have the capacity to lead. The person elected should not devote time to getting re-elected, but to learning, so that he would never get to the stage of saying: 'They told me, but what do I understand?'" Former national security adviser Maj. Gen. (Res) Uzi Dayan was much more forthright, directly accusing Olmert of lacking in values and moral conscience. Dayan blamed the prime minister for irresponsibility in the war's final stages, when 33 soldiers were killed, and when Dayan said there was good reason to halt the operation, and also for declaring in advance of January 30's final Winograd report that he would not resign regardless of its findings. All the Israeli speakers were directly or indirectly severely critical of Olmert, which prompted Kadima Council Chairman and Rishon Lezion Mayor Meir Nitzan, who was sitting in the audience, to shout out in protest. Kadima MK Amira Dotan, who was scheduled to sit on the panel, was absent due to illness and Nitzan demanded to be allowed to replace her. Labor MK and deputy Knesset Speaker Colette Avital, who was chairing the session, agreed to let Nitzan speak at question time, but not to sit on the panel in Dotan's stead. Incensed by Dayan's repeated charges that Olmert was guilty of moral negligence, Nitzan thundered: "Uzi, you've crossed the line!" To which Dayan responded: "I want them to take up this issue in the Knesset and stand up to the Winograd test. It's a test of responsibility." * KNESSET SECURITY personnel must have seen a lot of strange objects in people's bags and backpacks, but one of the conference participants brought a hot water bottle and a terrycloth robe. Perhaps he was thinking of staying the night. As commendable as it was for the conference organizers to honor Jerusalem by having the opening day at the Knesset, the lobby outside the auditorium is not architecturally geared for meals. Lunch was sheer bedlam, even though several buffets had been set up on different levels. The formal dinner in the Chagall Hall in the evening should have been easier to organize, but not all the student waiters knew how to pour wine or from what side to serve; these and other lapses made for spillages and complaints. While the food was quite tasty, most of the guests never got past the main course. Some didn't even wait for that. After more than an hour and a half of speeches from Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, President Shimon Peres, Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, Natan Sharansky in his capacity as chairman of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies, Prof. Uriel Reichman, founding president of IDC Herzliya under whose auspices the conference is held, and a few words from Prof. Uzi Arad, the IDC's director of the Institute for Policy and Strategy, who was the chief organizer of the conference and the moderator for the evening, some guests had simply lost their appetites and left. Very few stayed for dessert, which happened to be delicious. * IT'S NOT all that many years ago that journalists going on assignment a long way from home carried their typewriters with them, and telephones with dials were par for the course. Some of this was visible in the photo exhibition that opened last Friday at the Jerusalem Theater to mark the jubilee of the Foreign Press Association. The photographs all featured members of the FPA at work or in moments of relaxation, and brought to mind some of those who have passed on - Michael Elkins, Arye Wallenstein, Andy Meisels, Gideon Berli, Peter Allen-Frost, Andre Brutman and Sven Nackstrand among them. Of the living members, only photographer David Rubinger, who curated the exhibition, looks more or less the same as he did 30 years ago. Most people had difficulty recognizing Marlin Levin one of the founders of the FPA, and Anna Ponger, who was pictured on assignment working on her typewriter, was asked if she still had it. Many people looked nostalgically at Eric Silver's mane of dark hair which has since turned grey and is closely cropped. The beautiful and legendary Linda Rifkind, who worked for some 25 years as foreign press coordinator in the government Press Office, recalled that Elkins used to make passes at her, which she politely rebuffed. He then told her he would make a voodoo doll of her and that she would think of him every time he pricked it. He must have pricked it a lot, she surmised, because she used to think of him often. Among the people who came to the opening were retired diplomat Benny Abileah and his wife Ruth, and Meron Medzini, who was director of the GPO during the Yom Kippur War. Rubinger said that it was no secret that a lot of FPA members were Israelis with dual nationality. Some of them bent over backwards in their efforts to be "objective" with regard to the Palestinians, whereas others were overly patriotic with regard to Israel. In Rubinger's view to "tell the truth, no matter how ugly, is the best form of propaganda." Since FPA members were criticized by both the Israelis and the Palestinians, he concluded, they must be doing something right. * THERE WERE also a lot of photographers at Beit Shmuel in Jerusalem on the previous evening, for the opening of Windows of Grace, an exhibition by photographer Isaac Harari, whose photographs have frequently appeared in The Jerusalem Post as well as in many other publications. Harari has always been fascinated by the window shutters and doors of Jerusalem, which for him are the common denominator for all strata of society. Rubinger was also at Harari's exhibition and said that he had always known Harari as a press photographer, and now saw a new side of him. "The difference is amazing." A press photographer can't be an artist because he has to present reality, but Harari has reached the stage, said Rubinger, where he can photograph whatever he wants. * THE LATE Cantor Mordecai Goldstein, who died in Jerusalem last September, knew that he was going to miss out on the bat mitzva of his granddaughter Adi Mushkin. But Goldstein, who loved all kinds of music including Broadway and jazz, ordered his family to go ahead with the celebration and to make sure that there was plenty of good music. And that's exactly what happened last Saturday. Inasmuch as his family was saddened by his absence, they all came together from Israel and abroad to carry out his deathbed wish. Adi was called to the Torah at Jerusalem's Moreshet Yisrael congregation, where her grandfather had been president. Her other grandfather, Benny Mushkin, conducted the major part of the service and her parents, Shira and Noam Mushkin, were also active participants. Her grandmother Barbara Goldstein delivered such an inspiring address that Rabbi Adam Frank suggested maybe she should be the rabbi. When the candies were thrown at Adi, Frank was the first to scoop them up and munch them. Even rabbis will be boys. * IN ADVANCE of Tu B'Shvat, the Jewish National Fund in Manchester, England, held JNF Green Sunday at Mamlock House, where JNF volunteers gathered to mount a telephone campaign to raise more money for the greening of Israel. Among them was JNF stalwart Jerome Landau, who has been involved with the JNF for more than 60 years. Green Sunday was founded in Manchester 30 years ago, and has spread across the UK. * ARTISTS SOMETIMES admire each other's work, but not always, and often they're quite bitchy about each other. Last week, at the opening of a painting and sculpture exhibition at the beautifully appointed Kfar Saba Cultural Center, artist Sandra Skarbek, once a celebrated fashion illustrator and journalist, was being congratulated over and over by strangers who fell in love with her colorful fantasy world. Several asked if they could come to her home to see the rest of her paintings. One of the admirers was the sculptor with whom she was sharing exhibition space, Lena Cherniak. "I'm impressed and enchanted," enthused Cherniak, who said that she wanted to see more. The two women had never met before.