Grapevine: From Dimona to Davos

A year in review from Greer Fay Cashman.

US President Barack Obama gestures during news conference 37 (photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Barack Obama gestures during news conference 37
(photo credit: REUTERS)
At least two newspapers started the new year by implying there is serious competition between President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Yediot Aharonot ran a front-page teaser for an inside story by Itamar Eichner about how Peres was excluded from the 50th-anniversary celebrations of the Dimona nuclear reactor, whose headquarters masqueraded as a textile factory for decades. When Peres was asked by late US president John F.
Kennedy whether Israel was building a nuclear bomb, his reply was: “Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear power.” That response was for many years Israel’s stock answer to the question, regardless of how it was phrased.
According to Eichner, Peres did not receive an invitation to the jubilee festivities due to orders from on high. Netanyahu, along with other ministers and former ministers, was there – but the architect whose imprint is all over the project, and whose name was mentioned in one speech after another, including Netanyahu’s, had not been invited.
Peres was conspicuous in his absence, which made a number of the 3,000 guests feel uncomfortable.
If it’s any comfort, Mordechai Vanunu, who decided to declassify information and thereby turned a myth into a reality, was also excluded – even though his blabbing raised Israel’s international profile.
The Prime Minister’s Office insisted that Netanyahu had nothing to do with the guest list, and was a guest himself. The event was organized by the Atomic Energy Commission, whose members may have feared that if the pioneer of their enterprise was present, he would steal the show. The truth of the matter is that he was entitled to; it was, after all, his baby.
The other hint at competition was in TheMarker, where Zvi Zrahiya wrote of the superfluous number of ministers and MKs, and their aides and security details, who would be going to Davos for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. Peres has for well over a decade been Israel’s key representative at the gathering in Davos, which is attended by several heads of state and government, prominent figures in banking and economics, and the top brass of global companies. This year Netanyahu was also invited, and he, rather than Peres, will be Israel’s keynote speaker.
Peres will have several opportunities to speak at various meetings from January 22-25, but it will be Netanyahu who addresses the plenum.
Peres most famously engaged in an angry exchange at Davos in January 2009, with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Their verbal battle ended when an angry Erdogan stalked of the stage; the story made international headlines.
Davos is a great opportunity for international networking, but it’s very in-your-face to the Israeli taxpayer, who is already reeling from massive increases in the cost of living with no compensatory increase in salary – while hardearned taxes are being used to pay for the comfort and security of elected officials and their lackeys.
■ ALTHOUGH THE US Presidential Medal of Freedom has nothing to do with freedom per se, but is awarded in recognition of individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors,” in the case of one honoree, the medal’s title should be taken literally. On Wednesday, when Peres received a letter signed by 106 MKs, who called on US President Barack Obama to grant clemency to convicted Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard, the president told MKs Ayelet Shaked and Nachman Shai, who initiated and delivered the letter and who head the Knesset lobby for Pollard, that it was both a right and a duty for him to bring the request from across Israel’s political spectrum to Obama.
“It is my clear responsibility to voice such clear consensus,” he said, adding that he does so with pride. Peres, who has raised the Pollard issue with Obama on a number of occasions, said that he could not recall such previous consensus on either humanitarian or political issues.
At this stage of the game, it’s not good enough for Peres to simply play postman. In forwarding the letter, probably via US Secretary of State John Kerry, he should also return his Medal of Freedom, with a polite note stating that neither he nor any other Israeli leader can accept an American award with the word “freedom” in its title while Pollard’s freedom continues to be denied. It may not initially be the key to Pollard’s cell door, but it will generate a lot of media attention in the US and beyond, and perhaps Obama will then be sufficiently embarrassed to finally do the right thing – and sign the document that will allow Pollard to board a plane for Israel and live out the remainder of his life as a free man.
■ WHILE SEVERAL influential people might want to see Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky as Israel’s 10th president, it isn’t certain that Sharansky would be happy in the job, because it does come with a certain dress code. Sharansky, who as an MK, government minister and in his current position has managed to avoid wearing a tie, often shows up at formal events without a jacket as well – but would have to conform as president. Other former Prisoners of Zion such as Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein wear a suit and tie, so there’s no valid reason for Sharansky to do otherwise and defy social conventions.
After all, more than a quarter of a century has passed since he last defied the KGB.
Defiance then was an act of heroism.
Today, all it does is draw needless attention.
■ IF EVERY cloud has a silver lining, the fiscal misfortunes of Nochi Dankner and Moti Zisser may prevent a lot of feuding in their respective families – though one suspects that even with the enormous losses that each has sustained, there’s still plenty of money tucked away somewhere.
Inasmuch as riches enable people to enjoy the good life, they do on occasion lead to terrible family friction. A recent example was the losing battle that Doron Ofer fought against his sister Liora, to get a larger slice of the estate left by their father, Yuli Ofer. Their stepmother, Ruthie Ofer, also went to court to try to get more than had been provided for her in their father’s will.
The brothers of the late philanthropist Sami Shamoon – who died in May 2009, leaving an estate worth approximately NIS 1.7 billion – have been fighting his wife Angela and daughter Alexandra for what they believe to be their share of the estate. In addition, an orphanage that bears Shamoon’s name contends it was promised several million shekels by the deceased billionaire, whose widow did not want to honor his pledge. In the drawn-out battles, Alexandra Shamoon last July petitioned the Tel Aviv District Court to dismiss retired judge Gal Gottsegen, the trustee of the Shamoon estate, who she and her mother at various times have charged with siphoning funds from the estate to indulge in a sumptuous lifestyle.
Yet to be settled is the estate of the eccentric, Brazilian-born young multimillionaire Guma Aguiar, who divided his time between Jerusalem and Florida and supported numerous organizations and institutions. Aguiar went missing 18 months ago when sailing in Florida. His motorboat washed ashore, but there was no sign of his body. A manic depressive, Aguiar was having marital problems and was also at severe legal odds with his uncle, Thomas Kaplan, with whom he had made his fortune, and there were people who believed that he was not dead – but had simply disappeared to escape the turmoil in his life. His wife and his mother then began fighting over the extensive property that he owned in Jerusalem, which had been transferred to the custody of the administrator-general, and was put on the market last October.
■ AFTER SERVING for 45 years in the Foreign Ministry, Gideon Meir, who is currently a senior deputy director-general heading the public diplomacy department, will be stepping down at the end of the month. Meir for the last time this week represented the ministry at a series of presentations of credentials by new ambassadors, who gave their letters of credence and letters of recall of their predecessors to President Peres.
Meir told Peres, who is a former foreign minister, that he was leaving with mixed feelings.
On the one hand, the Foreign Ministry has been a major part of his life. On the other, he will now have more time to spend with his grandchildren and to enjoy cultural pursuits.
Fortunately, he also sits on the Mevaseret Zion Council, so there’s no immediate danger of his vegetating in retirement.
Aside from that, if he looks around at former colleagues who retired before him, he will see that many have been snapped up by think tanks and global Jewish organizations. Some are also teaching in colleges and universities, and some are even working in international commercial enterprises, where their connections and experience are considered to be of value.
■ EVEN THOUGH Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has a woman president in the person of Prof. Rivka Karmi, and the Israel Academy of Science and Humanities is headed by Prof. Ruth Arnon, female faculty staff in most of Israel’s institutes of higher education complain of being bypassed when promotions are in the air. It is therefore doubly interesting to find a different situation at Bar-Ilan University, where many academics on the distaff side have been promoted to senior positions.
Why doubly? Because despite its many secular and non-Jewish students, BIU has the image of being a religious establishment.
Indeed, many of its faculty members as well as its students are religious – but there are also those who are not.
The proportion of women in senior positions at BIU warmed the cockles of the heart of Vered Swed, director of the Authority for the Advancement of Women in the Prime Minister’s Office, when she visited the campus. In fact, it was one of the key topics of conversation in her meetings with BIU president Prof. Daniel Herschkowitz, rector Prof. Haim Taitelbaum and senior administration officials.
Swed met some of the female faculty and heard others. The partial list included: Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, BIU deputy president; Prof. Miri Faust, the deputy rector; faculty deans such as Prof.
Zemira Mevarech (Social Sciences), Prof. Shulamit Michaeli (Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences) and Prof.
Malka Schaps (Exact Sciences); Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, head of the Ruth and Emanuel Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women; and Judith Haimoff, vice president of external relations.
Faust told Swed that in her previous role as adviser to the rector on the advancement of women, she oversaw the opening of breastfeeding rooms at the university, and initiated a plan enabling female doctoral students who had recently given birth to receive an extension in the deadline for submitting their PhD theses.
“2013 was a revolutionary year, in that there were more females than males who received their doctorates in exact sciences, engineering and medicine,” said Prof. Bilha Fischer, chair of the BIU Department of Chemistry, who is currently serving as adviser to the rector on the advancement of women.
■ A COALITION of some 30 women’s organizations from across the political spectrum this week launched a national campaign calling on the government to adopt UN Security Council Resolution 1325. The campaign follows a conference held at the end of October 2013 to launch an action plan for the implementation of the resolution. The conference coincided with the 13th anniversary of the Security Council’s adoption of the resolution on women, peace and security, which reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction, and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. The resolution also calls for all parties involved in conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, especially all forms of gender abuse.
Judging by Israeli media reports, not enough is being done in this country to protect women from gender abuse, where too often high-ranking public servants, including members of the police force, are among the perpetrators.
Domestic violence is also rampant, given how many women from all strata of society turn to shelters for battered women. Led by former MK Prof. Naomi Chazan, who together with Prof.
Chana Herzog co-directs the Center for the Advancement of Women in the Public Sphere (WIPS), the coalition will utilize social media and other outlets to promote its action plan, which it hopes the government will adopt on March 8 – International Women’s Day.
The 10-point action plan calls for: an increase in the ratio of women in government, as well as in the legal and security establishment; the inclusion of more women in peace negotiation teams and among government policy-making bodies; new legislation to protect women against sexual violence; greater economic assistance for women trapped in conflict situations; support for women educating communities on peace and security; training security forces on women’s rights issues; and increased resources for women’s projects dedicated to peace and security. Among the organizations in the coalition are WIZO, Na’amat, the Association of Rape Crisis Centers, Itach-Maaki: Women Lawyers for Social Justice, Ruach Nashit and others, which may be diverse in their attitudes and policies, but are united in their goals.
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