Grapevine: Diplomacy at risk

Jordan’s new ambassador to Israel has demonstrated that not all Jordanians are as hostile to Israel as some media reports might indicate.

UK Ambassador Matthew Gould 311 (photo credit: UK Embassy in Israel (YouTube))
UK Ambassador Matthew Gould 311
(photo credit: UK Embassy in Israel (YouTube))
CONTROVERSY ON the home front over the appointment of Jordan’s new ambassador to Israel has demonstrated that not all Jordanians are as hostile to Israel as some media reports might indicate; or even if they are not exactly well disposed, they are guided by common sense.
An example is an op-ed piece by Walid M. Sadi in the October 6 edition of The Jordan Times in which he wrote: “Some people, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood, criticized the appointment of a new Jordanian ambassador to Tel Aviv, terming it as provocative to the feelings of Jordanians.
“This came in the wake of the recent decision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to name Walid Obeidat, an able career diplomat, as the new envoy to Israel to fill a vacuum that lasted for much too long. Even some members of the family of the newly designated ambassador voiced disapproval of having a member of their tribe appointed to Israel and threatened to ‘disown’ him if he accepts this assignment.
“Those who want to stand in the way of Obeidat’s appointment should know that establishing diplomatic relations or appointing diplomats in a country must not be viewed as a sign of gratitude for the ‘good behavior’ of that country. It is a well-known fact that diplomatic relations and the naming of ambassadors is all the more urgent and needed when bilateral relations are tense or sour between the two countries or when regional conflicts are inflamed, thus requiring contacts and channels of communication so that each side knows where the other side stands.
“If anything, the only odd thing about the appointment of an envoy to Israel is the long time it took the government to make this move. It is incomprehensible, to me, at least, that the post of ambassador to Israel should be kept unfilled for so many years, especially when Jordan and Israel have a lot to talk, particularly since their relations have taken a turn for the worse.
“His Majesty King Abdullah never failed to remind the international community that the Palestinian conflict remains the centerpiece of Jordanian diplomacy. Israeli moves to Judaise East Jerusalem, and threats to Islamic and Christian holy sites, are only the latest escalations and provocation by Israel when the 1994 Wadi Araba Peace Treaty between the Jordan and Israel recognized the special role Jordan plays in protecting the holy places in East Jerusalem.
“This is not to mention the increased Israeli violations of the rights of the Palestinian people and its continued occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. If there ever was a need to have a Jordanian ambassador stationed in Tel Aviv, it is now. The Great Muslim leader Saladin went as far as sending his own physician to treat Richard the Lionheart while their respective armies were locked in a bitter and bloody war in 1192 AD.
“We may still learn a thing or two from the glorious Islamic history in dealing with friend and foe. Instead of making things more difficult and daunting for Obeidat, we should all wish him success in addressing the many contentious issues between Jordan and Israel.”
■ MEANWHILE, OBEIDAT has resisted both threats and incentives from members of his tribe in their efforts to dissuade him from taking the post. If he remains adamant and fulfills the mission with which he had been entrusted, he will present his credentials to President Shimon Peres some time this month.
He will be the fifth Jordanian Ambassador to serve in Israel. His immediate predecessor, the very genial Ali al Ayed returned to Jordan in July 2010 when he was promoted to Minister for Communications and Media Affairs in the administration of Prime Minister Samir Rifai. Jordan’s first ambassador to Israel was Marwan Muasher followed by Omar Rifai and Marouf Bakhit.
■ LAST WEEK, just prior to the launch of “Sovev Tel Aviv,” widely estimated as the biggest bicycle event in Israel with the participation of more than 20,000 cyclists, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and Yotam Avizohar, director of the Israel Bicycle Association, signed the Brussels Treaty of the European Cycling Federation (ECF), thus linking Tel Aviv to an impressive list of cities committed to the promotion of bicycle transportation.
Dutch Ambassador Caspar Veldkamp and Belgian Ambassador Bénédicte Frankinet, were on hand to witness the signing.
Goals listed in the treaty include enlarging the number of cyclists in Tel Aviv (including those cycling to work and school), improving cyclists’ safety, combating bicycle theft and continuing the cooperation with bicycle organizations.
The Israel Bicycle Association is Israel’s largest bicycle organization, and a member in the European Cycling Federation (ECF). In congratulating Huldai, who is himself an avid bike rider, Avizohar noted that the data from Tel Aviv proves that the success of his organization’s bike promotion to conform with European standards. A survey of last month indicates that more than 14 percent of daily trips in the center of Tel Aviv are made by bike and that approximately 83% of the city’s residents perceive Tel Aviv as a bike city. In addition there has been a 50% rise in the last two years of residents using the bike as their main means of transportation.
Currently in Tel Aviv there are more than 110 kilometers of bike lanes, a Bike Share Project with more than 20,000 overall subscribers, and tens of thousands of daily and weekly subscribers. Avizohar believes that the potential for bicycle transportation in Tel Aviv is high and that the number of users will significantly grow in the coming years due to what he termed “the clear advantages of cycling for health, environment, freedom from worry about rising gas prices, parking spaces and traffic jams.” All these factors he is convinced, will lead many more residents to adopt the bicycle as a means of transportation for commuting in the city.
In the next few months, the “Bicycle Bill” will be submitted for its second and third readings in the Knesset, he noted, with the main items in the bill detailed as planning bike lanes in cities, bike-parking places and showers for cyclists riding to work, financial incentives for encouraging cycling to work and promoting campaigns for raising cyclists’ safety. If approved, the Bike Bill will enable many more cities in Israel to join Tel Aviv and become bicycle friendly. The main problem is how to achieve this and keep towns and cities pedestrian friendly, as well.
Veldkamp, in offering his own congratulations to Tel Aviv for joining 60 European cities that have signed the Brussels Treaty of the European Cycling Federation, said: “Eighty four percent of the population In Holland owns at least one bike. There are many obvious advantages to cycling: it’s clean, it’s green, it’s cheap and it’s the fastest way of getting around in a city that is equipped for it. Tel Aviv-Yafo is a city of innovation.
We applaud Tel Aviv’s municipality for transforming Tel Aviv into a cyclists’ city and hope to have been an inspiration as a cycling nation.”
■ ON THE subject of bikes, former government minister and current president of Shenkar College Yuli Tamir, is still nursing a broken leg after falling from her bike on Yom Kippur. It’s not only youngsters who traditionally go on bike rides on the Day of Atonement.
At age 58, Tamir is not exactly a youngster.
But every cloud has a silver lining, and in the process of recuperation, Tamir has more time at her disposal to spend with her new grandson, Ilai. Tamir was made a first-time grandmother last month when her daughter Carmel, who is married to Michael Hai of Tel Aviv, gave birth. The baby is in the fortunate position of having not only two sets of grandparents, but also two great grandmothers.
The latter are Esther Rafaeli of Jerusalem and Ada Tamir of Tel Aviv, while the grandparents include Tamir’s former husband Lonnie Rafaeli who is married to shopping mall and hotel tycoon Liora Ofer of Moshav Bnei Zion and Adina Avi Hai of Tel Aviv.
■ GOVERNMENT AND business leaders, along with members of the haredi community, were among the guests of British Ambassador Matthew Gould at a reception that he hosted in honor of British philanthropist, real estate developer and shopping mall mogul Leo Noe, and the Kemach Foundation, which Noe founded in 2007, and which is among the many projects that Noe supports in Israel. Among those present were Education Minister Gideon Saar; Russian oligarch Vladimir Sloutzker; British property tycoon Conrad Morris, who happens to be the father-in-law of Shlomo Ben-Zvi who in all probability will be taking over Maariv; Pinchas Buchris; director-general of the Bazan Group; Yodfat Harel, director-general of Tamares-Israel; accountant Moshe Leon, who is a former director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office; Prof. Eugene Kandel; economic adviser to the Prime Minister; businessman Amir Biram; information technology guru Elisha Yannai; Prof. Manuel Trachtenberg; chairman of the Planning and Budgets Committee of the Council for Higher Education; and former finance minister Avraham (“Beiga”) Shochat.
For centuries Jews have lived by the slogan “Im ein kemach ein Torah” (literally without flour there is no study of the Torah). Since flour is produced in a mill, it implies that one has to work in order to finance one’s studies.
Kemach, insofar as Noe’s foundation is concerned, is an acronym for its Hebrew title Kidum Miktzoee Haredi – Promoting Haredi Employment, or more literally (Employment) advancement for haredi professionals.
Kemach assists haredim to integrate into the work force through counseling, training, scholarships and job placement. Noe told the assembled guests that “Kemach has succeeded way beyond our initial expectations to the extent that I see in Kemach a worthwhile economic investment for Israel by any yardstick.
The time has come for the government to become a full partner in Kemach’s activities and this will enable us to attract additional philanthropists for the benefit of the Foundation and the State of Israel. Every $2,000 scholarship awarded by Kemach will yield an annual profit to Israel’s economy of $16,000 for tens of years.”
Since its inception, Kemach has assisted more than 13,000 haredim, in addition to which more than 6,000 who receive scholarships every month. Over NIS 100 million in scholarships have been awarded since 2007.
Among other speakers was advocate Avi Fligelman, a Kemach graduate and a partner in a law firm in the center of the country. He is one of the living proofs of Kemach’s success.
Gould, who is extremely proud of British achievements in Israel, and who has visited Kemach, as well as Shuvu educational network, another of Noe’s pet projects, underscored that “The mission of Kemach is a vital one for the future of Israel. Kemach has helped tens of thousands of haredim find employment. It has eased the divide between the haredim and the rest of Israeli society. It has shown that Israel can integrate the haredim into the economy in a sensitive way. And it has given thousands of haredim opportunities they would not otherwise have had. I am glad to have the chance to show my strong support for what they do.”
Following an 18 months absence, the British Embassy moved back to its permanent address at192 Hayarkon Street, in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. The building has been completely renovated, and is now a state-of-theart facility bringing together all the sections of the embassy. Gould said that upgrading of the premises had been vital and that he was delighted with the result.
■ KEMACH WAS not the only organization that visited Gould’s succa just before and during the holiday period. He also hosted the Israel Gold Awards that are part of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards Program which honors young people for service, adventure, skills and physical recreation.Gould, MK Ze’ev Bielski and Israel Youth Awards co-founder Michael Gross presented six outstanding students with special awards in honor of their excellent performances during the program.
Just before Succot, members of AKIM, an organization to which both Gould and his wife Celia are strongly attached, came to the residence to help the couple build and decorate their succa. This was the second year in which a succa was constructed at the residence in Ramat Gan. Gould said that he and his wife were delighted to share their succa preparations with AKIM, whose work they have been impressed by ever since their arrival in Israel.
■ REGARDLESS OF the nature of the event, Shimon Peres frequently remarks that he is the oldest person in the room. But this week he may actually find himself at the opposite end of the spectrum. Excluding his staff, who are obviously much younger than he is, as well as various officials and media personnel who will be in attendance, Peres at age 89, may well be the youngest person in the room tomorrow when he hosts a reception at his official residence for senior citizens aged 100 and over.
The event is being held within the framework of Senior Citizen’s Month. This event was introduced during the presidency of Moshe Katsav, who hosted it annually and who initiated a number of projects for the benefit of senior citizens. It was discontinued after Peres came into office, but is being revived thanks to the efforts of Dr. Lea Nass, the deputy minister at the Ministry for Senior Citizens. Aware that many senior citizens are not getting the respect that they deserve, Nass has made the restoration of respect and dignity for senior citizens a top priority.
Among the scores of Israel’s centenarians are Nina Kaplan of Netanya, who was born in 1910 and came to Israel from Brazil in 1969. She came with her father who was 98 at the time. Kaplan who likes to sing, is scheduled to perform at the reception, and if all goes well, will sing “A Yiddishe Mama.”
Among the others who are expected to attend is Zipporah Sandler of Rehovot, who was born in 1912 in Lithuania, and who came to the Land of Israel in 1935 as part of a Hashomer Hatzair nucleus. Women tend to live longer than men in Israel, but there are certainly men in the 100-plus category, including Shmuel Zaharoni of Tel Aviv, who was born in 1912, and who until age 80, continued to sell agricultural products. Zaharoni continues to live an active life and loves to participate in community singing. Nass says that not enough recognition is given to the contribution of senior citizens in the building and development of the state, and this is something that she hopes to rectify.
According to statistics, Israel now has approximately 804,000 citizens aged 65 and over, representing around 10% of the population.
Demographic experts estimate that the number of senior citizens will double by 2035.
Israel’s oldest citizen is 112, according to information released by the Ministry for Senior Citizens. This should not come as a surprise. After all, as we were reminded in the Torah reading on Simchat Torah, Moses lived to be 120, so Israel has an ancient legacy of longevity.
■ AMONG THE once in a lifetime experiences is a boy’s bar mitzva.
When Mark and Felicia Bernstein of Woodmere, NY were looking for a unique way in which to celebrate their son Sammy’s bar mitzva, they thought about making it a meaningful experience not only for Sammy, his family and friends but for others as well. They wanted the celebration to symbolize love of the Torah of Israel, Land of Israel, State of Israel and the brave soldiers of Israel. So they contacted the National Council of Young Israel to inquire about the International Young Israel movement’s Ruby Davidman Torah Scrolls for the IDF project which resulted in a memorable Succot celebration at the Zikkim army base near Ashkelon.
The festivities were attended by some 100 family and friends, and more than 500 soldiers.
Sammy read his Torah portion at the synagogue on the base, with festive prayers led by cantors. This was followed by a celebratory breakfast in the succa on the base. As Sammy, his family and guests left the succa they encountered some 500 soldiers standing at attention by the Torah Scroll adorned in a Torah mantle in memory of Sammys’ grandmother, Rosa Feder.
The sound of music signalled the start of an hour of joyous dancing. Not only the Torah was held aloft but also Sammy and his father Mark. Among those honored with carrying the Torah during the dancing was his Sammy’s grandfather, Moshe Feder. Before all the guests left the base, the commander presented Sammy with a plaque expressing appreciation from the unit. IYIM Israel President Ceec Harrishburg presented certificates to Sammy and his parents to commemorate the special occasion. Also included in the festivities was a demonstration of search and rescue methods used by the IDF in response to civilian disasters and at times of war. There was also lunch in the base succa.
For Sammy Bernstein, it was most definitely a day to remember, and a great way in which to enter Jewish manhood.
■ IT WAS a reunion of veterans of the Israel Broadcasting Authority when former director general Yair Aloni and his wife Rivka Bar Natan celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. Some of those who came to celebrate with the couple, such as Yaacov Ahimeir and Arye Golan, are still heard on Israel Radio and still seen on Channel One, but others such as Rafik Halabi, once an exceedingly controversial figure despite the prizes that he won, have long been absent from the state-owned public broadcasting network. Seven years ago, Aloni, while still in office, resisted a campaign to oust Haim Yavin, who even though he was known as Mr. Television and had brought glory to the IBA by being named an Israel Prize laureate in 1997, had incurred the wrath of right-wing members of the IBA plenum with a five part documentary The Land of the Settlers, which was aired on Channel 2.
Yavin has never made a secret of his leftwing leanings, which sometimes came to the fore in his documentaries but not in his presentation of the news. Some months after the controversy, Yavin resigned. Last month he celebrated his 80th birthday. Even though he stepped down from the IBA, he did not retire from the profession and continues to produce documentaries and teach communications.
■ ANOTHER REUNION took place at Army Radio when current commander in chief Yaron Dekel hosted a 70th birthday party for Muli Shapira, longtime head of the station’s cultural department as well as a program host. Guests included most of the other people who had once held Dekel’s position, among them Yitzhak Livni, Mordechai Naor, Ron Ben Ishai, Nahman Shai Moshe Shlonski, and Avi Benayahu. Conspicuous by his absence was Yitzhak Tunic, who discovered via a media leak that his job was on the line. The top brass had not taken the trouble to inform him personally. All of the above, in one way or another, remained connected in many ways within the field of communications.
■ AMONG THE well-known figures other than Haim Yavin who celebrated their birthdays in September was former prime minister Ehud Olmert, whose 67th birthday at the end of the month was the highlight of festivities at the annual Succot party hosted by Daihatsu dealer Rami Unger and his wife Yael. There were several lawyers present, including Eli Zohar, whose brilliant defense of Olmert in his recent court case got the former prime minister off the hook. Olmert sang a duet with him as well as with singer Anat Sarouf. Olmert not only sings duets with Zohar, but sings his praises wherever he goes.
■ THE IRANIAN threat notwithstanding, Nefesh B’Nefesh continues to encourage aliya and is obviously succeeding. The next immediate venture aimed at arousing interest in this direction is a “Think Israel” conference which Nefesh B’Nefesh is organizing together with The Jewish Agency for Israel, at the UJA-Federation of New York in Manhattan on Sunday, October 21.
The conference, which is geared for Jewish students and young professionals, will focus on careers and life in Israel, and feature various workshops addressing jobs in Israel, higher education, community building, social justice, Israel engagement, and more.
The event will also include an Israel fair where people considering aliya will be able to meet with potential employers, as well as a special workshop for physicians.
Due to the success of similar initiatives in the past, there will also be a “Tweetup” focusing on using social media to bridge the connection between Israel and the Diaspora. The Tweet-up, which allows people who generally connect through social media to come together to meet in person, will feature a lineup of popular Jewish Tweeters, including Lisa Alcalay Klug, award-winning journalist, author of Cool Jew and Hot Mamalah; Bethany Shondark, social media associate at Commentary Magazine; Josh Yuter, Rabbi of the Stanton St. Synagogue, Top 10 Jewish influencer and award-winning blogger; Seth Mandel, assistant editor at Commentary Magazine; and Laura Ben-David, social media coordinator of Nefesh B’Nefesh.
The theme of the Tweet-up is “Confronting the Challenges of Online Israel Advocacy,” allowing passionate Israel supporters the opportunity to effectively advocate for Israel using social media, in addition to bringing those together in real life who already