Grapevine: High society

French ambassador's brunch draws media, Australian ambassador homeward bound and extended Carlebach family gathers.

padani akirov (photo credit: Rafi Deloya)
padani akirov
(photo credit: Rafi Deloya)
THERE'S SOCIETY and there's high society. Some 100 Israelis who are friends and supporters of IDC Herzliya rubbed shoulders with Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan at a gala evening in Vienna hosted by its mayor and governor, Dr. Michael Haeupl, in the elegant ballroom of the City Hall. Organized under the title "Europe Builds Bridges in the Middle East," the festive event was dedicated to the Trilateral Center for European Studies, a cooperative project involving the IDC Herzliya, Al-Kuds University in east Jerusalem and the Royal Scientific Society in Amman. The program in Jordan is being conducted under the patronage of Prince Hassan, who in his address castigated European countries for not doing enough to promote the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
The 460 guests from Europe and the Middle East included Austrian President Heinz Fischer, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos, Muhammad Dajani, director of the American Studies Institute at Al-Kuds, and Israelis IDC president Uriel Reichman, former ambassador to Germany Avi Primor, Galia Albin, Chemi Peres, Ami Federman, Gad Ze'evi, Gad Proper and many others.
At the end of this month, IDC will be hosting some of the world's brightest minds at the annual Herzliya Conference. Guests from overseas will include Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi; Moratinos; Dr. Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Russian Federal Duma; Guido Mantega, Brazil's minister of finance; Dr. Zhu Min, deputy director of the People's Bank of China; and Dr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund. Among the Israelis will be President Shimon Peres, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and, of course, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who will deliver the closing address.
  • APROPOS ITALIAN Prime Minister Berlusconi, in addition to being hosted by Netanyahu at a state dinner in his honor, he will also be hosted at a luncheon at Beit Hanassi. While it is not usual for the president to hold a luncheon or a dinner for a prime minister, Peres and Berlusconi are old friends with a strong mutual admiration for each other.
It is customary at state luncheons and dinners to have an entertainer who in some way is representative of the country of the guest of honor. Rita, who was invited to sing for Berlusconi at the luncheon, is not Italian, or even of Italian background. In fact she was born in Iran. But she does have an Italian temperament, and she does bear a resemblance to some of the Italian divas.
She was very excited when Yona Bar-Tal, the second in command at Beit Hanassi, called to invite her. Rita has appeared in front of Peres on several occasions, but not in front of Berlusconi. She has a particular soft spot for Peres from the days when she and her ex-husband, Rami Kleinstein, were courting. Kleinstein's parents lived in the same North Tel Aviv apartment block as Peres, and when Rita went to visit her prospective in-laws, she occasionally encountered Peres in the elevator. He was always courteous and friendly, and continues to be so. He was in the audience at one of her performances a few months back, and came backstage to compliment her.
  • IT HAD all the trappings of an election rally. They played the stirring campaign song. They stood up and cheered, and speaker after speaker came to the stage to praise the leader whose philosophy was also extolled in a documentary film. It was the third annual Jewish Leadership dinner at the Leonardo City Plaza Hotel in the heart of the Israel diamond complex. The ballroom was full to capacity, and MKs Yariv Levin and Danny Danon came to speak of the influence of the leader whom they hoped to see in the next Knesset. The leader in question was Moshe Feiglin, who is offering an alternative to current political norms and whose credo is to return the country to the people and to lead the state on a path of authentic Jewish values.
Feiglin is the nemesis of Prime Minister Netanyahu, who tried unsuccessfully to have him ousted from the party, or at least to prevent him from running for the Knesset. However the law was on Feiglin's side, and he did run in the Likud primaries in which he received 23.4 percent of the votes which put him in the 20th slot on the list. The reason that he is not an MK is that he was demoted to 36th place, which from a religious standpoint gives him much reason for hope because 36 is twice 18, and 18 is the gematria for life.
Speaking of Feiglin's faction in Likud, Levin said: "The target is not to get to the Knesset, but to the government." In fact most speakers referred to Feiglin as the next prime minister, and master of ceremonies Shmuel Sackett, who founded the movement with him, noted that attendance at the dinner was twice as large as last year. Both Levin and Danon were critical of the building freeze in settlements and declared that this was not the way of Likud.
When Feiglin got up to address the crowd, Sackett asked waiters to leave the room. Feiglin remonstrated mildly, saying: "You should have allowed them to stay. They might have learned something." The message that he wanted to convey was one of hope, direction and goals with a leadership "that will take us from the depths to which Israel has fallen, back to the heights."
Listing some of Israel's many accomplishments, Feiglin asked: "How is it that a nation that is so successful is losing its legitimacy in the eyes of the world? How can it be that [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and his cohorts are free to go anywhere they want in the world, while Israeli government ministers are in some countries under threat of being arrested for war crimes?" The reason for delegitimization and growing anti-Semitism had nothing to do with the Israel-Arab conflict, he said, "but because we suffer a leadership which has no faith."
Feiglin said that a succession of Israeli leaders had abandoned Jewish values, but he was optimistic that his movement would lead a nationwide return to such values. Explaining his unflagging optimism, Feiglin noted that "everyone said that the Iron Curtain would never come down - but it did."
  • ONE OF an ambassador's difficult tasks is to get close to all branches of the media. After all, if there isn't a specific issue that warrants a press conference, the media are unlikely to come in droves - unless of course they have another very good reason. French Ambassador Christophe Bigot came to the conclusion that a brunch to celebrate the new year was as good a reason as any, and considering that most journalists do not work on Fridays, designated last Friday as the appropriate date.
And indeed there was a large media turnout at the French residence in Jaffa, with media representatives, including PR people, coming from many parts of the country, with the largest representation from Yediot Aharonot, which was represented by Shimon Shiffer, Itamar Eichner, Noach Kliger and Havatzelet Damari. Ma'ariv's Ben Dror Yemini was also there as were Channel 2's Rina Matzliah, Israel Broadcasting Authority's Yigal Ravid and Makor Rishon's Yitzhak Hildesheimer. Also present were Wadie Abunasser, an international consultant to diplomats and senior church figures, Orly Fromer, who heads the public relations department of Tel Aviv University, and former MK Colette Avital, who is a senior adviser to J Street. She is also among the Israelis singled out for a French Legion of Honor.
Usually, religiously observant Jewish guests at the French Embassy have a hard time finding anything kosher. Sometimes there is a kosher table stuck somewhere in the back if one knows where to go. This time a table labelled "cacher" was way out front, and for early comers, it was the only table that had any nibbles on it. Even after the nonkosher food was brought out, most people continued to hang around the kosher table. To the credit of the waitresses walking around with trays of meat patties, they actually told guests before offering them that they weren't kosher.
Bigot gave an informal address about French foreign policy, but omitted any mention of President Nicolas Sarkozy's new Jewish grandson. Sarkozy's maternal grandfather was a Greek Jew, and his son Jean is married to electronics empire heiress Jessica Sebaoun-Darty, who is Jewish and who last week gave birth to a boy who has been named Solal. Asked about the Jewish grandchild, Bigot confirmed that it was indeed so.
  • THE FAREWELLS for popular Australian Ambassador James Larsen and his wife Antoinette Merrillees are in full swing. The couple, who will return to Australia on Friday, hosted some of their many friends, colleagues and acquaintances at a reception at the Australian residence in Herzliya Pituah on Saturday evening, and they were given a grand send-off by the Israel-Australia Chamber of Commerce at the Azrieli observation deck on Monday evening. They've also been feted separately and together at brunches, lunches and dinners, and Larsen somehow managed to squeeze in his last minute diplomatic duties as well. Among these was his attendance at Bar-Ilan University's ambassadors' forum.
The Chamber of Commerce farewell was one of the most meaningful in that there were so many Australian expatriates present, who in the period that Larsen and his family have been here have become personal friends. Gary Stock, the chairman of James Richardson Duty Free, which was the major sponsor of the event, said that when asked about the sponsorship, Australia-based company executive chairman David Mandie and executive director Evelyn Danos immediately agreed, although they would have rather sponsored a welcome than a farewell. Knowing that Larsen will come back to visit, Stock asked to be given a little notice so that he could arrange a big Australian barbecue.
Kadima MK Ronit Tirosh, who heads the Israel-Australia Parliamentary Friendship League, described Larsen as "a big lover of Israel." All speakers publicly and privately spoke of what an effective representative of Australia Larsen has been, and how much he has done to enhance bilateral relations which have been good since the very beginning of the state, but which are now even better.
Larsen had high praise for chamber director Paul Israel (an Australian expatriate with Israeli roots), who he said had been a constant companion and not only a close professional associate but also a tremendous personal friend. The job of an Australian ambassador to Israel was made extraordinarily easy, said Larsen, because the chamber does six times more than any embassy could be expected to do. Larsen reiterated the "deep-rooted commitment of Australia to Israel" saying "we loved every day of our life in Israel and we will return to Australia with a sense of what Israel is all about which is so different from what you read in the newspapers." He told Stock that he will definitely return for the barbecue.
In speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Larsen admitted to being frustrated because there has not yet been an announcement as to who will succeed him, nor has he been notified about what his next assignment will be in Canberra.
  • GENERALLY SPEAKING, Steve Leibowitz, one of the founding editors of the IBA News, has to turn job-seekers away. But these days, he actually has an opening for a weekend anchor and is looking for someone with professional experience in journalism. IBA regulars Laura Cornfield and Viva Press are both on maternity leave, and Jon Elkins has left IBA, which is the reason that a spot is currently available. Why only one spot if three people are currently out of the picture? Because two of the vacancies have been filled. New members of the IBA News staff are Brian Freeman, a former night editor at The Jerusalem Post, and Sara Levine.
  • FOR MORE than 20 years they have been members of an extended Carlebach family. Many of them have no blood relations here other than their own progeny, and because they were Shlomo Carlebach groupies in the US and later in Israel, they come together for family celebrations where they also make music. The bat mitzva of Elisheva Katz, who is among the younger set of Michelle and Yehuda Katz's brood of six, was yet another such occasion, but unlike most of the celebrations in the extended family, this one at the Jerusalem Gate Hotel, was also graced by two genuine Carlebachs - singer Neshama Carlebach and her infant son. On this occasion, she didn't sing. She left it to the men, although she did appear in concert last Saturday night at Hangar 11 on the Tel Aviv Port. Yehuda Katz, the lead singer in his band Reva L'Sheva, did sing a little, but not much.
The nicest part of the evening was the blessings. One of Carlebach's legacies is that people should bless each other, and those of his followers who were with him in the House of Love and Prayer, or at the moshav in Modi'in, do just that. Elishava received individual blessings for each year of her life, not the proscribed kind that are recited at weddings, but blessings that came from the heart.
  • HE MAY still be having trouble in reentering the political arena, but former Shas leader Aryeh Deri is certainly qualified to talk about political leadership, which is what he is scheduled to do this coming Sunday at a political leadership conference under the auspices of the Lander Institute in Jerusalem. Deri has been listed as speaking on the challenges of political leadership in Israel.
  • JEWISH AGENCY Chairman Natan Sharansky and Minorities Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman were born five days apart in January 1948. Braverman celebrated his 62nd birthday on January 15 and Sharansky's is today, January 20. On February 11, Sharansky, who was arguably the best known Prisoner of Zion and the only one who has constantly remained in the public eye, will celebrate the 24th anniversary of his arrival here following his release from a prison camp in the Siberian gulag. On the following day, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer will celebrate his 74th birthday, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak his 68th. Friends and associates of Ben-Eliezer's are planning a big party for him.
  • POLITICS ARE in the genes in some families. For instance, Braverman's bureau chief is Nadav Gal-On, the son of former MK Zahava Gal-On, and the parliamentary assistant to Einat Wilf, who is filling the vacancy left by Ophir Paz-Pines, is Boaz Cabel, the brother of Labor MK Eitan Cabel, who is currently hobbling around on crutches, having broken his leg after falling off the roof of his home. What was he doing on the roof? The roof was leaking, and on previous occasions, when Cabel had called a handyman to fix the leak, he'd been told that there was nothing wrong. So he went up himself to mark the faulty spot and lost his balance.
  • INVITED TO participate in a Shabbat-Tarbut interview program in Modi'in last Saturday, Michele Mazel, who authored the book The Ambassador's Wife that chronicled her life in Egypt when her husband Zvi Mazel was ambassador there, was accompanied by him to Modi'in. One of the other people on the program was Kadima MK Avi Dichter, who on seeing Mazel's husband in the audience, made some complimentary remarks about him, but referred to him as the ambassador to Gaza. Wishful thinking or Freudian slip?
  • FORMER MOSSAD chief Danny Yatom, who was privy to many secrets during his military, intelligence and special operations and political careers, has decided to reveal some of them that can be declassified and has documented them in a book published by Yediot Aharonot under the title Shutaf Sod (secret partner). The official launch of the book will be held this evening at the Rabin Center in Tel Aviv.
  • INTERVIEWED ON Israel Radio, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz was asked about extending the period of service of Bank of Israel Governor Fischer. According to various reports Steinitz is at odds with Prime Minister Netanyahu who wants Fischer to remain in the post. Responding that Fischer is an asset to the state, Steinetz said that he often wondered how the media knew things about him and the prime minister that they didn't know about themselves. As for Fischer, according to Kibbutz Industries director-general Amos Rabin, he was the salvation of the country's industries by limiting the fluctuation of the exchange rate of the shekel in relation to the US dollar.
  • SOMETIMES PEOPLE who apply to the Search for Near Ones and Dear Ones program hosted on Israel Radio by Yaron Enosh, strike it lucky, and their requests are heard by listeners who can point them in the right direction. But even the most loyal listeners are not necessarily available to listen to the program every day. One caller last week asked Enosh whether there was a Web site listing the names of all the people being sought. According to Enosh there is a plan afoot to set up such a site. This of course means that people living abroad may also be able to supply information, especially with regard to anyone who lost touch with relatives during the Holocaust, but is still alive and residing in another country.

  •  TWO WEEKS ago, Benny Padani, the scion of the famous jewelry family, opened what he termed to be his "second flagship" store in the Akirov Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem and invited the media. Last Friday, he hosted with an official gala opening, to which he invited the social elite, including Alfred Akirov, the owner and developer of the mall. When negotiations were being made for Padani to rent the luxurious premises, most of the store space had already been taken, but construction was still going on at the front of the mall, and the developers offered this area to Padani, declaring it to be "the jewel in the crown." No sales pitch could be more appropriate given the nature of the enterprise.