Grapevine: And the exodus goes on

It's all change in the diplomatic corps.

grapes 88 (photo credit: )
grapes 88
(photo credit: )
WITH BARELY enough time left in which to pack his bags, Korean Ambassador Shin Kak-Soo was summoned home to be officially promoted to a more senior position in his country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Indian Ambassador Arun Kumar Singh is being transferred to Washington and Japanese Ambassador Yoshinori Katori, who is leaving in September, has also earned a promotion, the details of which he is not yet disclosing. The Embassy of Cyprus is losing both its head and deputy head of mission. On Thursday, Gideon and Dafna Fisher of the Tel Aviv law firm Gideon Fisher and Company are hosting a farewell for George Zodiates, the Ambassador of Cyprus who is being transferred to Portugal, and Italian Ambassador Sandro de Berrnardin, who has concluded four years of service and will be going home at the end of the month. His wife Anna left this week after a final whirlwind round of farewells. People who socialize among the international community are getting ready to once again meet and greet a large new intake of envoys to Israel. n IN THE interim, a former ambassador who served here some 20 years ago, and has been back to visit, is coming with his wife for a five-six months stint, and he won't be staying in Herzliya Pituah, Kfar Shmaryahu, Ramat Gan or even Tel Aviv. Former Australian ambassador Robert Merrillees, who aside from being a veteran and highly respected diplomat, is also a world renowned authority on antiquities, has been granted a resident fellowship from the Jerusalem-based Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, which is the oldest American research center for Near Eastern studies in the Middle East. It just so happens that Merrillees is the father-in-law of current Australian Ambassador James Larsen, whose wife Antoinette, following in her father's footsteps, is a diplomat in her own right. Aside from having his in-laws within easy access for several months, Larsen is also excited about moving the Embassy from its present location in Tel Aviv's Europe House to a more culturally and gastronomically exciting location in a tall tower in the southern part of the city, and is seriously considering twinning the move with a promotion for Australian kosher lamb which is now being imported into Israel. n THE ENERGETIC Larsen, who earlier this year when spending a few days in Jerusalem during the visit to Israel by the Australian Governor General, was thrilled at the opportunity to indulge in an early morning jog around the perimeter of the old city, wants to organize a similar diplomatic peace jog on November 29, the 61st anniversary of the UN Resolution on the partition of Palestine. Australia was the first country to vote "yes" and Larsen is hoping that diplomats from all the countries that voted the same way will join in the jog. Of course diplomats from countries that have since established diplomatic relations with Israel will be welcome to participate as will anyone else who is interested in peace. According to Larsen, the jog should be quite exhilarating, not only because of its purpose, but because the weather by the end of November will be a little nippy, and the jog will be an excellent means of warming up in more ways than one. n ALTHOUGH HE did not present his credentials to President Shimon Peres till Monday of this week, Kazakhstan's new ambassador Galym Orazbakov was already busy playing host last week when he celebrated the 10th anniversary of the transfer of his country's capital from Almaty to Astana, although Almaty remains the country's apple capital and the main center for science, culture, business and industry. It is also a beautiful garden city. Astana is a thriving, rapidly growing, modern city which has borrowed from some of the world's best architectural concepts and adapted them to the Kazakhstan environment. Like all previous Kazakhstan ambassadors, Orazbakov is interested in familiarizing Israelis with Kazakhstan's culture, beauty and business potential. The latter was highlighted in his speech, the beauty in a video documentary and the culture by a group of extraordinarily beautiful dancers and highly talented musicians, most of them playing ancient Kazakhstan string instruments. Both the dancers and the musicians wore exquisitely embroidered national costumes and displayed their strong sense of patriotism by wearing fur hats and fur trims on their costumes at the height of the Israeli summer. The air conditioning at the Dan Panorama hotel in Tel Aviv for some reason failed to penetrate the whole room and only those who were fortunate enough to stand in the range of an air duct were the recipients of something akin to a cool breeze. Everyone else was sweltering and mopping perspiration from their faces - except the dancers and the musicians. Their faces remained remarkably free of sweat and the dancers, who performed quite vigorously, not only had immaculate complexions with not a single bead of perspiration, but there were also no sweat marks on the underarms of their costumes. The 10th anniversary had already been celebrated several days earlier in Kazakhstan, on which occasion President Peres had sent a video-taped message to President Nursultan Nazerbayev in which he praised the decision to move the capital to the center of the country, and in so doing, changing a demographic balance in Kazakhstan, particularly because Astana is a city of the future. The videotaped message was played to Orazbakov's guests who also had the opportunity to view blown-up photographs of the two presidents in discussion when Peres, in another capacity, had visited Kazakhstan. There were also photos of an ecumenical convention hosted by Nazerbayev, in which the tallest participant was Israel's Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger. n AMONG THOSE who accepted Orazbakov's anniversary invitation was Brigadier General Shimon Hefetz with the newly added 'Reserves' to his rank. It had been his last day as ADC to the President of Israel. During a 15-year period he served Presidents Ezer Weizman, Moshe Katsav and Shimon Peres, and also served a six-month stint with Acting President Dalia Itzik. Having completed a working day and therefore officially no longer in the army, Hefetz turned up in civilian garb. n ALSO PRESENT was outgoing US Ambassador Richard Jones who was due to leave Israel the following day. To people who expressed surprise that this was how he was spending his last day as ambassador, Jones said that he still had the rest of the next day before boarding his plane, aside from which he felt that as a former US Ambassador to Kazakhstan, he should be there, and although he was leaving the country, he would nonetheless remain ambassador until the end of the month when he officially retires. The reason that he remains ambassador is that his successor James Cunningham has not yet arrived in Israel and is not expected to do so till mid-August, in addition to which Jones still has to report to the State Department for consultations. n WHILE SO many ambassadors are leaving, new ones have already begun to arrive and four of them presented their credentials to President Peres this week. In addition to Orazbakov of Kazakhstan, there were three envoys from African countries: Jonas Sponkie Malawa of Lesotho, Ali Shauri Haji of Tanzania and Elizabeth Ya Eli Harding of Gambia. Harding, who is the only non-resident ambassador, was the only one of the four who came attired in her country's national dress - a long, flowing, kimono-sleeved, lace-patterned creation with matching head-dress. n MONDAY WAS a very diplomatic day for Peres. After spending the whole morning talking to new envoys, he went to Jaffa in the evening to participate in the Bastille Day reception hosted by French Ambassador Jean Michel Casa and his wife Isabella. While the ambassador read his speech beginning and ending in Hebrew with French in the middle, Peres spoke without notes, starting and ending in French, with Hebrew in the middle. Casa echoed many of the complimentary remarks made by President Nicolas Sarkozy during his recent visit to Israel and also noted that Israel's 60th anniversary year was marked by a renewed close friendship in its relations with France. Emphasizing that over the next six months France will hold the rotating presidency of the European Union, Casa assured Peres that France and the EU would always stand beside Israel in the face of any existential threat, especially that of Iran. But in a demonstration of "balanced" historical record, a pictorial brochure distributed by the embassy in conjunction with the French Institute showed a photo of Yemenite Jews crossing the desert, and another photo of Palestinian Arabs carrying few belongings crossing into Lebanon in November, 1948. The headline translates: "For the Jews an end of exile, for the Palestinians the beginning of mourning." Peres had very warm words to say about Sarkozy, whom he credited with opening doors to a new global economy, a new global environment and new global cooperation. Alluding to the lack of physical contact between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Syrian President Basher Assad, Peres said: "Not everyone is aware that God gave them hands so that they could shake the hands of others." For all that, he commented, representatives of 44 countries came to the same hall and breathed the same air. "Sarkozy turned the improbable into the possible." Observing that change was everywhere with France taking over the presidency of the EU, America in election throes and talk of a possible change of government in Israel, Peres expressed the hope that Sarkozy with his energy and vision for peace might usher in a new era. n FORMER US Ambassador Dan Kurtzer, who was scheduled to give an address at the BESA Center on July 21, has cancelled out due to the upcoming visit of Presidential candidate Barack Obama. n ALTHOUGH SENIOR citizens often get the short end of the stick in Israel, one of the exceptions relates to keeping veteran broadcaster Netiva Ben Yehuda on the air. When the Israel Broadcasting Authority decided to suspend late radio talk shows as part of its cost-cutting measures, fans of Netiva Ben Yehuda, most of whom are aged 75 plus, besieged the IBA with requests to find a way to keep her program going. The upshot is that it has been transferred from Reshet Bet to Reshet Gimmel where it will be broadcast on Wednesdays from 11 p. m. to 1 a.m. Just another instance of grey power. n MANY ISRAELI business tycoons are supporting Sderot in one way or another, but few to the extent of Ronny Douek, the chairman of Zionism 2000, who realizing that Sderot youngsters will not have the same opportunities as those of other communities to attend the various music festivals and musical comedies that are part and parcel of Israel's summer entertainment, purchased 50 tickets for the gala Habimah production of 'Joseph and his coat of many colors' starring Miri Mesika and Yehuda Levy. The event is organized by the Friends of Habimah. n ONE OF the most frustrating things that can happen to anyone is to do something of historic proportions and either not have it recognized or have it forgotten except by those who were directly affected. For many years now, Murray Greenfield, who was one of a group of American volunteers recruited by the Haganah to help bring shiploads of Jewish refugees who had survived the Holocaust to the Jewish homeland, has tried to transfer the memory of that experience to younger generations so that it will remain an integral part of Jewish history. He has lectured on it extensively to youth and adults and together with Joseph Hochstein wrote a book about it, The Jews' Secret Fleet that was first published more than a decade ago. Greenfield was the second mate on the Tradewinds, renamed Hatikva, a vessel that should never have been allowed to sail let alone transport 1,500 Holocaust survivors. Film-maker Alan Rosenthal, who met Greenfield and others associated with the mission many years ago, was fascinated by the story and planned to make a documentary - but somehow it didn't work out. Perhaps the timing was wrong. Perhaps it needed to wait for the perspective of the 60th anniversary year of the state. At any rate, both Rosenthal and Greenfield received a huge round of applause last Friday following the screening at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem of Waves of Freedom, in which archive footage was integrated with recent interviews with some of the volunteers who manned the ships, such as Howard Katz who was present, as well as with Ralph Goldman, 93, whose son David Ben Raphael, the deputy chief of mission at the Israel Embassy in Buenos Aires, was among those killed in the terrorist attack on the Embassy in March, 1992. Goldman, a social worker, was the Haganah officer in New York who interviewed would-be volunteers. In later years, he achieved renown for the work he did in his executive roles in the Joint Distribution Committee. Altogether, there were 10 ships manned by 200 volunteers - not all of them Jewish - which transported 30,000 refugees. Rosenthal, who was careful to thank everyone who had any connection with the film, said that it was made to remind people that Israel came into being as a refuge, a haven and a hope. Greenfield, though delighted with the film, wondered aloud what happened to all the footage that wasn't used.