Grapevine: Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Peres is to celebrate his 85th in Dimona, former Egyptian ambassador Bassiouny causes a stir, and righteous gentile Anna Riesen Flescher passes away.

Peres speaks 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Peres speaks 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
DIMONA MAYOR Meir Cohen has been busy organizing an unforgettable 85th birthday party for President Shimon Peres. Well known for his love of the Negev and his determination to fulfill the dream of his mentor David Ben-Gurion to see the Negev bloom, Peres frequently visits communities in the south of the country and his office is directly or indirectly engaged in many Negev projects. Although his official birthday is on August 2, Peres decided to celebrate it this year on the Jewish calendar date which coincides with August 21 - tomorrow. When he arrives in Dimona, he will be greeted in the traditional Jewish manner with bread and salt, though visitors to the former Soviet Union are aware that in many parts of that region, guests are also greeted with bread and salt, which means it's not an exclusively Jewish tradition. Peres will proceed from the entrance of Dimona to City Hall, where he will be greeted by representatives of all sectors of the Dimona community, including pre-school children. After a brief formal ceremony, Peres will visit the Black Hebrews who have assembled a one thousand voice choir to sing "Happy Birthday" to him. The Black Hebrews are known not only for their musical abilities, but also for the colorful eye-catching clothes they wear, and this will add to the festive ambience of the president's visit. After that, Peres will meet with a group of children who will interview him on a variety of subjects. Peres loves to interact with children, and this may well be the highlight of his day. Peres will have lunch at the home of Cohen and his wife, Naama. It will be interesting to see whether other luncheon guests include Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit and his wife Ruth, who is Meir Cohen's sister. After a brief afternoon rest, Peres will continue to Ben-Gurion Park for a mega performance by various Dimona entertainment groups. He will also receive a giant birthday cake, though it is not yet known whether he will be required to blow out 85 candles, which even for someone of his admirable stamina, is still some feat. The long day will conclude with a performance in his honor by singer Sarit Hadad. It won't be quite the same as Marilyn Monroe singing to John F. Kennedy, but by Israeli standards, it will certainly be a spectacular event. THE MINOR storm in the teacup in the Israeli media last week resulted from remarks attributed to former Egyptian Ambassador Mohammed Bassiouny, who today heads the Foreign Relations Committee in the Egyptian Parliament. Bassiouny reportedly, in an address at the National Library of Alexandria, said that he had served in Israel as an intelligence officer and not only as an ambassador, that he had suffered greatly during his two decades plus tenure in Israel and that other than Sephardi spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, he had no friends in Israel. In conversations with Israeli journalists from both the Hebrew and the Arabic media, Bassiouny denied the remarks attributed to him in the Egyptian press - but the fact of the matter is that his background in Intelligence was well known in Israel and almost everyone in Israel with whom he came into regular contact knew that he was a spy. It was also known that his wife, Nagwa, was a spy. Individually and together, the Bassiounys cultivated an enormous circle of people whom they invited to their many parties and whose parties they attended. The relationships between them and many Israelis were so strong and constant that they were invited to everything from circumcision ceremonies to barmitzvas, engagement parties, weddings, Seder nights and Rosh Hashana feasts - and they accepted gladly. Gregarious and almost always outwardly cheerful, they were widely considered to be the life and soul of the party. Bassiouny had a very special relationship with Ezer Weizman, possibly as a result of Weizman's close relationship with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who like Weizman, came to politics from the Air Force command. Everyone realized that no ambassador would stay in a foreign country for so long a period if his intelligence pipeline was blocked. From an Israeli perspective, it was much easier to deal with Bassiouny than with some unknown entity. He was a genial host, easy to talk to anywhere at any time, and it was a case of "better the devil you know than the one you don't." If Bassiouny and his wife were indeed miserable in Israel, they did a very good job of hiding it, as hundreds of photographs in newspaper archives will testify. The two were not only smiling most of the time, but actually exuded a certain radiance. But as Yediot Aharonot reporter Smadar Perry, who knows the Egyptian scene very well, pointed out in an Israel Radio interview with Ayala Hasson in Egypt, Bassiouny has to toe the Egyptian line and to say things there which he never would have said here. It's also possible that his present attitude may have been shaped by the humiliation he suffered towards the end of his tenure by the revelation that he allegedly tried to rape a local belly dancer. In a follow-up to the story, Perry, writing this week in Yediot Aharonot, stated that Bassiouny's remarks had generated a lot of anger in Egypt. Mubarak was angry that Bassiouny had disclosed an uncomplimentary comment that the Egyptian president had made about Ovadia Yosef. The intelligence establishment was angry that he had disclosed that he had been a spy, and the Foreign Ministry was angry about his comments about how terrible it had been for him in Israel during his 21 years here. "If he suffered so much in Israel, why did he keep asking for an extension of his tenure?" wrote Perry, quoting an Egyptian Foreign Ministry source. As for having no friends in Israel, there are plenty of people, some of them Bassiouny's former neighbors in Herzliya Pituah and Kfar Shmaryahu, who were invited to Cairo by the Bassiounys who professed to be happy to see them and who hosted them in a generous manner. DESPITE THEIR much-publicized antagonism towards each other, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish and Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann looked almost like a couple of lovebirds last week at the swearing-in ceremony at Beit Hanassi of six new judges. At the conclusion of the formalities, Beinish was seen chatting animatedly with Friedmann and introducing him to various people in the room. That was the only highlight in an otherwise extraordinarily tepid event. As swearing-in ceremonies go, this one did not conform to established tradition - possibly because quantity, or lack thereof, may impact on quality. In the past, ceremonies of this kind - in which there have been several more judges - have lasted at least an hour and usually an hour and a half, but this one lasted less than half an hour. True, each extra judge sworn in takes time, but not nearly as much time as the long speeches of Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish and her predecessor Aharon Barak, along with whoever happened to be Justice Minister at the time. While his predecessors were often long-winded, current Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann believes in brevity and his speeches have tended to be short and basically of a congratulatory nature. President Peres had made a slightly longer speech, virtually free of controversy, other than his reference to the budget. At a previous swearing-in ceremony only seven weeks ago, Beinish waxed long and passionate when she lashed out against public opinion makers who she said, are zealously laboring to transform the legal discourse, which should remain within the walls of the courtroom, into an unprofessional public debate with the aim of influencing the judicial process. There was nothing of this nature on Wednesday. Beinish made some very brief remarks, saying primarily that it was a joyful day both for the new appointees and the courts, that their contributions were valuable to the judicial system and that they had a heavy work load ahead of them. The judges, three of whom had previously served in other courts, sat with bemused expressions on their faces. This was not what they had expected, nor what they had experienced at their previous swearing-in ceremonies. The faces of the journalists who usually cover such events also registered surprise and disappointment. In fact, Rabbi Judge Asher Kula of the Nazareth District Court, who had been asked to speak on behalf of himself and his colleagues, had the longest speech, referring to the pursuit of justice as expressed and alluded to in the Torah portions for last week and the previous week. Even if there had been only one judge sworn in, he or she deserved better. SOMETIMES IT seems that the ebullient Alice Krieger knows just about everyone in the country. Although she can't get all her friends and acquaintances together at one time, she has a pretty good try twice a year - at Hanukka and for her birthday, which falls in mid-August. The rest of the time she entertains smaller groups at the frequent dinner parties that she hosts. A natural networker who has worked in major public relations capacities in Israel and abroad, Krieger loves meeting new people, many of whom instantly become her friends, and introducing them to other friends of long standing. She was able to do this yet again at her birthday party last Thursday. When she meets new people, Krieger seldom allows the occasion to be little more than an exchange of names and business cards. She engages the person in conversation and usually invites them to one of her dinner parties or to one of her larger gatherings, or both. Mixing a lot in diplomatic circles, Krieger's guest list often includes diplomats. This time was no exception. Among the diplomats were Ahmed Helmy, First Secretary at the Egyptian Embassy, Sri Lankan Ambassador Wijekoon Mudiyanselage Senevirathna, Japanese Ambassador Yoshinori Katori and Nigerian Ambassador Sam Azubuike Dada Olissa. Minister for Housing and Construction, Zeev Boim and his wife Edna were also there, as were Director of Interreligious Affairs at the American Jewish Committee Rabbi David Rosen and his wife Sharon, spiritual leader and educational director of Yakar, Tel Aviv Rabbi Yehoshua Engelman, Yitzhak Frankenthal, founder of the Arik Institute for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace and of the Parents Circle Family Forum which comprises some 500 Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost loved ones as an outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; internationally renowned photojournalists and Israel Prize laureates David Rubinger and Micha Bar Am, artists David Tartakower (who is also an Israel Prize laureate), Ofer Lelouche and Motti Mizrahi, globe trotting foreign correspondent Neheda Barakat, investment portrfolio manager and financial consultant Harry Sapir and his wife Tirza and many others. Like many women, Krieger is coy about revealing her age, and at her birthday party last year announced that in future she would be counting backwards from 50. This time, she said that she would be 48 next year and quoted Oscar Wilde who famously said: 'Never trust a woman who tells you her real age; a woman who tells you that would tell you anything'. SOME SENSE of the new image of Geula Even was given to viewers at Even's swan-song appearance as the anchor of Channel One's weekend magazine. Gone were the loose tresses and the bangs. Instead, her hair was swept back from her face and caught in a ponytail. The effect was quite striking and illustrative of what a difference hairstyle can make. This was even more obvious in Yigal Ravid's nostalgia program, "The Way it Was," when he brought bald, balding and graying rock singers from the sixties and early seventies into the studio and showed them clips taken in their respective heydays when they all had thick mops of hair that reached to the collars of their shirts and even further. In those days they were also very slim, whereas today most of them have pot bellies. Apropos Even, no permanent replacement for her has yet been determined. In the meantime, there will be rotating anchors from among the IBA broadcasters who present news and current affairs programs. APPROXIMATELY HALF a year has passed since the Haifa Technion announced that as of the new academic year, its MBA program would be conducted in English. That news should not have been terribly earth- shattering in view of the fact that one of the selling points of the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya is that it conducts many programs in English. But apparently it rankled with Israel Radio's Anat Dolev, who came very close this week to declaring that the Technion was abandoning the Zionist enterprise. As a result, Prof. Boaz Golani, Dean of the Technion's Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management, was called upon to defend the Technion's decision. English has become the global language of business, he said, and if a small country like Israel was to compete to the best of its potential on world markets, its representatives had to be properly equipped, not only in terms of management abilities, but also linguistically. Aside from that, he pointed out that there was nothing wrong with exposing students to other cultures and other languages. But Dolev, who is fearful that courses in medicine and all the sciences will eventually be taught in English as well, insisted that this was unnecessary and pointed out that at Tel Aviv University's School for Overseas Students, foreign students are given crash courses in Hebrew, and after a relatively brief period are able to integrate into courses given in the Hebrew language. Her argument completely ignored the point that Golani was making, but to enforce her own views, she called upon Prof. Moshe Ben-Asher, president of the Hebrew Language Academy, to support her argument, which of course he did, using much the same example, but substituting the Hebrew University for Tel Aviv University. What both Dolev and Ben Asher chose to ignore was that an MBA is not a first degree course, which means that whoever takes it has already gone through at least fifteen years of elementary school, high school and university education in Hebrew. Under the circumstances, doing another degree course in English or in any other language could hardly pose a threat to Hebrew education - and after all, the whole purpose of education is to enhance knowledge and broaden one's horizons. As Golani pointed out, several overseas universities teach MBA courses in English for the same reason as the Technion wants to do so. It doesn't seem to have harmed them. It's unlikely to harm us. THE RECENT declassification and release of the files of America's Office of Strategic Services, better known as the OSS, the spy network created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the country's first centralized intelligence agency, brought to light a number of surprises. It was revealed that American icons in a number of fields were also spies. Some of the people named in the 35,000 personnel files of the OSS subsequently settled in Israel. One of them was the late Arty Roth, who came with his young bride Sarah, and lived in Jerusalem for almost 55 years before his death. The Brooklyn-born Roth was pulled out of boot camp simply because he could speak at least one other language than English. He was later given sealed orders from the State Department, and shipped out to North Africa on the Aquitania, a former British luxury cruise ship which the Americans were using to ship out their troops. The voyage took forty days, and the chief steward, aware that Roth was an orthodox Jew, arranged for him to have free access to the galley so that he could eat whatever was permissible from a Jewish dietary point of view. Dressed mostly in civilian clothes, Roth spent time in Alexandria, Eretria and Tel Aviv. The clandestine Jewish organizations fighting the British somehow found out that the young American was a nice Jewish boy and tried to recruit him, but he refused, saying that his immediate loyalty was to America. However, soon after the war was over, he compensated for that refusal by joining Teddy Kollek in procuring arms for the Yishuv. Recalling some of the stories that he had shared over the years with his family and friends, Sarah Roth commented that the interesting thing was that the Americans were not so much interested in gathering intelligence on German operations. What they really cared about, she said, was the spread of Communism. That worried them a lot more than the Germans. WORLD-ACCLAIMED attorney Alan Dershowitz and his brother Nathan, who is also an attorney of note, lost their mother Claire Dershowitz last week. An officer of several leading Jewish organizations, Claire Dershowitz, who died at age 95, was born in New York to Polish immigrant parents and spent most of her life in Brooklyn. An excellent baker, she was known to bring her specially baked cookies to court when her sons were engaged in cases. On one such occasion in a case involving the Jewish Defense League, federal judge Arnold Bauman asked whether she was providing cookies to the lawyers. When she sheepishly admitted that she was, the judge insisted on tasting one as well. In another trial, Nathan, who was then chief counsel for the American Jewish Congress, was on the opposite side of a constitutional case from Alan. When the press called and asked her which side she supported, she replied: "Both of my boys are smart, so let the judge decide." THE POIGNANCY of the need to give Holocaust survivors what they are entitled to, not only in name but also deed, is emphasized when a survivor dies. People battling for the rights of Holocaust survivors often say that the government will finally come to its senses when they've all died out. That's a real tragedy when one takes into account that the youngest Holocaust survivor may have been born in the first four months of 1945 and is therefore 63 years old. Most other survivors are in their seventies and eighties and some are even older. The death last week of Anna Riesen Flescher is an example of why things must be done while people are still alive. In February of this year, at a ceremony in Yad Vashem, Flescher was given the title of Righteous Among the Nations. A Swiss citizen, then named Anna Riesen, who came to Rome before the war, she replaced her sister, who was working for Galician-born Joachim Flescher, a successful psychiatrist and psychoanalayst. In October, 1943, when the Germans began rounding up Jews and deporting them to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Joachim Flescher was initially able to hide with one of his non-Jewish patients and Riesen visited him regularly and brought him food. Then the two hit on a daring plan, whereby she would take over his apartment and he would hide in it. On one occasion, the apartment was searched by Germans looking for escaped prisoners of war. On another, Reisin was interrogated by Italian fascists. Flescher was hiding in the apartment on both occasions. There were several other close scrapes. After the war, Flescher resumed his practice and moved to the US in 1949. Riesen joined him there a year later and they were married. Their two daughters, Diana and Sylvia, both doctors, were born in America. They attended the Yad Vashem ceremony at which their mother was honored, as did family friend Aliza Olmert, the wife of the prime minister, and Renate Schrenk, Cultural Attache at the Swiss Embassy. Why did it take so long for Anna Riesen Flecher to receive the recognition she deserved? There is no acceptable explanation. The decision to recognize her was made only six months earlier. There's something very telling in the fact that since January of this year, well over 40 Swiss individuals have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. It has taken much too long to recognize the suffering of the rescued and the heroism and humanity of the rescuers.