Grapevine: Remembering a spymaster

David Kimche's contribution to Israel’s security is unfathomable, his career was the the stuff that espionage novels are made of.

david kimche 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
david kimche 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Every nation has its heroes, and one of Israel’s – and in a sense Britain’s – was UK-born spymaster David Kimche, whose contribution to Israel’s security is unfathomable, and whose career was the true life story of the stuff that turned the works of espionage novelists such as John LeCarre into bestsellers.
Born in Britain in February 1928, he became a Zionist at an early age and had planned to be a kibbutz farmer, arriving in the country prior to the establishment of the state. He fought in the War of Independence, completed his PhD studies in international relations at the Hebrew University, was recruited by the Mossad in 1953, and rose to the position of deputy head of Israel’s famous institute for intelligence and special operations. Everyone who worked with him admired his chameleon abilities, amazing techniques and talent for striking up friendships with people in high places – even in enemy territory.
Kimche also had the clarity and flexibility of mind to instantly size up a situation and change his tactics if necessary. In a video tribute in which former Mossad operatives spoke of him, one gave the example of Kimche sitting in a bar with a prominent Arab personality and ordering two whiskeys.
The Arab, who professed to be a devout Muslim, protested that he couldn’t drink whiskey – whereupon Kimche called out to the barman to change the order: to one whiskey and one Ballantine’s. He had realized that so long as the beverage was not identified by name, but only by brand, an Arab sitting in a bar would drink it.
Kimche, who was the dapper, quintessential British gentleman, replete with plum-inthe- mouth accent, went on to become director-general of the Foreign Ministry, where he also left an indelible impression.
After retiring from the foreign service and going into business, which to some extent was a cover for continued clandestine activities on behalf of the state, he founded the Israel Council on Foreign Relations and served as its president.
Former diplomat Avi Primor, who inherited Kimche’s presidential mantle after the latter’s death from cancer in 2010, said at the annual memorial symposium for Kimche at Jerusalem’s Yad Ben-Zvi, that he first met Kimche in Africa when he was still in the Mossad and later worked under him at the Foreign Ministry. Primor recalled, as did former Mossad director Shabtai Shavit, that Kimche had a unique way of getting people to do something they didn’t want to do – and they would actually thank him for it afterwards.
Shavit said of Kimche: “He was my icon and mentor, as he was for other Mossad members.”
What was extraordinary about Kimche, Shavit continued, was that he excelled in all the disciplines of the agency. There were specialists in different fields, but Kimche was like a fish in water in all of them. He had a great record for recruiting agents; he was exceptional when it came to information-sharing with other agencies; he was a genius in the strategy of psychological warfare; he was a master of disguise; and when recruiting agents from enemy countries, he had a special gift for persuading someone to betray his country and his people.
“Dave could do the whole cycle, and he did everything better than anyone else,” said Shavit.
Middle East analyst Zvi Barel commented that Kimche had engaged in many covert and overt operations, but “unfortunately today, he has been replaced by shallow statesmanship, ignorance and extremism.”
The event was attended by members of Kimche’s family, as well as by former Mossad and Foreign Ministry colleagues.
■ THE PROTRACTED Ehud Olmert-Shula Zaken saga has given retired judges new celebrity status. In advance of the verdict, radio and television stations pulled them out of mothballs to get their interpretations on the direction that the wheels of justice might take; the various scenarios put forward by the learned judges as well as by legal experts from various university law faculties vindicated the old saying that where there are two Jews, there are three opinions.
But the vultures were really out for carrion on Monday morning, when it became obvious early in the day that Olmert was not going to get off lightly in the ruling on the Holyland corruption case. Journalists and commentators alike could not disguise their glee; one can only imagine the extent to which they were frothing at the mouth.
On the morning after the announcement of the verdicts, Israel Radio’s Arye Golan suggested that the culprits be made to sit for a full hour every day and stare at the monstrosity which dominates the Jerusalem skyline. Ugly though it is, the huge complex affords its residents a magnificent view of the city.
■ NOT ALL journalists are devoid of sensitivity and objectivity. Channel 1’s economics reporter, Yair Weinrot, who was anchoring one of the weekend news broadcasts, which included an update on allegations against Minister Silvan Shalom, commented on how easy it is to ruin the lives of the accused and the accuser in the court of the media, instead of leaving the matter to a court of law.
Indeed Olmert, Zaken and Shalom are fortunate in that they have sufficiently strong characters to withstand the degradation of allegations, accusations and crushing court decisions. Some people are so depressed by the ruination of their lives that they commit suicide – as happened in Melbourne, Australia, in the case of Ezzy Kestecher, a 27-yearold alleged pedophile who taught at the Chabad yeshiva.
All forms of sexual abuse should be punished by law, but until a judge actually rules on the case, the identities of the defendants and their purported victims should remain classified. Neither the defendants nor the victims should be put on trial by the media, some of whose members seem to be totally unaware or uncaring of what sub judice means.
■ ON THE other hand, no one should be trying to muzzle or close down a free press. In Israel, the term “free press” has developed a dual connotation, in that there is a concerted effort, allegedly spurred by Yediot Aharonot, to either force Israel Hayom, the give-away publication owned by American casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, to start charging – or close it down if it doesn’t.
Adelson has just been given the green light to purchase the financially ailing Makor Rishon and nrg, the website that initially belonged to Ma’ariv. Moreover, in stark contrast to what usually happens in Israel when a media outlet acquires a new owner, there was no talk of the immediate mass dismissal of workers. Adelson has agreed to keep on at least 90 percent of the staff, including freelancers, for at least 12 months.
The future of Ma’ariv, which has gone through several changes of ownership in the last decade, is still pending. Several of its key writers, who were fired by Shlomo Ben-Zvi when he purchased the almost 66-year-old publication, were absorbed by Eli Azur, who heads The Jerusalem Post Group, and became the stars of his weekend publication Sof Hashavua, which is one of several sister publications of The Jerusalem Post. Some of these writers also contribute to The Post, another sister publication that is a Hebrew daily giveaway just like Israel Hayom – but unlike Israel HaYom, was not established to support any particular political leader.
Instead of rejoicing that Adelson had at least temporarily saved the jobs of Makor Rishon and NRG staff, giving them ample time to look for something else while having a certain sense of job security, Economy Minister and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett said that he was saddened by the sale of Makor Rishon, which had a national-religious editorial line. He was particularly displeased that the purchaser was Israel Hayom, which he referred to as Pravda, the propaganda organ of the Communist Party during the era of the Soviet Union. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman has also used the Pravda analogy when speaking of this free daily.
But journalist and Israel Prize laureate Ya’akov Ahimeir is aghast at a proposed bill that will outlaw free daily publications, and told weekly freebie B’sheva that such legislation is undemocratic. Labor MK Eitan Cabel, who initiated the bill – which is supported by Bayit Yehudi – may have had honorable intentions, but didn’t realize how many people would join the ranks of the unemployed if the bill was passed.
■ THE THIRD International Photography Festival, which is taking place this year at the Carmel Winery in Rishon Lezion, will open on Saturday night, April 5. The exhibition, which is essentially by photographers for photographers, is divided into four parts, one of which includes iconic photos, such as: David Rubinger’s three paratroopers at the Western Wall in 1967, after IDF soldiers captured Jerusalem’s Old City; Alex Levac’s famous “Route 300” photograph, showing Palestinian terrorists who were captured alive but executed by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency); Shlomo Arad’s photograph of the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Beirut; Paul Goldman’s David Ben-Gurion standing on his head on the Herzliya beach by the Sharon Hotel; and the photo of informant Mordechai Vanunu’s hand, on which he had written that he had been hijacked in Rome. The last was taken by Dan Landau, a matter of personal interest to the writer of this column – who happens to be his widow.
When Danny took the photo, he had been assigned by Zoom 77, a photo agency that worked primarily for Yediot Aharonot. He received no credit for it, though it was a wellknown fact that it was his photo. Many publications including the Post badgered him for a copy – but in 1986, no Israeli photographer used a digital camera. Danny couldn’t give anyone a copy, because he had given the film to Zoom 77.
After Danny died in September 1994, Mitch Pilcer, who was then a journalist with the Post, wrote an obituary about him, and the photo of Vananu’s hand was used as one of the illustrations. Ely Hershkowitz, one of the partners in Zoom 77, who had refused to put Danny’s name on the credit when he was alive, relented after Danny had died – possibly because at the funeral another photographer, Yitzhak Elharar, had declared, “We all know who photographed Vanunu’s hand.”
This part of the exhibition has been curated by Vardi Kahana, an extraordinary photographer whose most mind-searing photograph is that of her mother and aunts standing in an embrace, with bare arms displaying the tattooed Auschwitz numbers that are a permanent reminder of what they survived.
Kahana got in touch with Hershkowitz to have the Vanunu photo displayed, and insisted that Dan Landau be given the credit.
Hershkowitz had felt a pang of conscience with regard to Danny anyway, so there was no argument. It’s just a pity that Danny isn’t around to enjoy the glory.
■ EVERYONE AMONG the Israel Friends and Business Forum of Beit Hatfutsot was interested in coming to hear a lecture by Dov Seidman, international public speaker, economist, philosopher and author of the bestseller, HOW: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything – but none more so than his brother Ariel, who is CEO of the Edmond de Rothschild Bank in Israel.
Among the others who said they had been glad to come were Eti and Gad Propper, Anat and Shmuel Frenkel, Ronit Hershkowitz, Shalom Seidler, Smadar Nimrodi- Rinot, Dr. Yael Almog, Ruth and Menachem Oren, and Israel Friends CEO Irit Admoni Perlman, who looked upon the evening as pleasure, rather than work.
Dov Seidman’s professional career has focused on how companies and their people can operate in both a principled and profitable way. He is the founder and CEO of LRN, which since 1994 has helped hundreds of companies simultaneously navigate complex legal and regulatory environments, and foster ethical cultures. LRN operates globally and reaches, works with and helps shape winning organizational cultures, inspired by sustainable values – with hundreds of companies comprising more than 20 million people, working in more than 100 countries around the world. Fortune magazine called him the “hottest adviser on the corporate virtue circuit,” and he was named one of the “Top 60 Global Thinkers of the Last Decade” by The Economic Times.
In his lecture at Beit Hatfutsot, Seidman focused on the HOW principles, illustrating his insight into a changing world, and providing clear steps for how to reshape individual and organizational behavior and leadership.
All those attending received a complimentary copy of his book, including a special introduction by his friend, former US president Bill Clinton.
But Seidman also came away with an unexpected complimentary gift. Aided by his brother Ariel, Beit Hatfutsot staff had prepared a Seidman family tree, which for the guest of an honor was a highly appreciated surprise.
■ WHILE PRIMARILY in Austria this week to further emphasize the dangers of a nuclear Iran, President Shimon Peres, as he always does when in a country with a Jewish community, made time for two Jewish community events. One was a commemorative ceremony in Vienna’s Judenplatz to honor the memories of Austrian Jews murdered in the Holocaust, and the other was a festive gathering almost immediately afterwards – virtually in keeping with the Jewish tradition of instantly moving from sadness to celebration, just as dawn comes after dark.
At the Judenplatz ceremony, Peres declared: “The State of Israel is our victory – a fortress of triumph against the dark hand of the Nazis, a home to the memory of our 6 million brothers and sisters.”
Austrian President Heinz Fischer admitted that it taken a long time for Austria to acknowledge its role in the Holocaust. “It is only in the last 25 years that Austria – as a result of a difficult process of awareness- raising – has eventually undergone a fundamental and important change in its historic awareness: From forgetting to remembering,” he said.
Peres noted that the Judenplatz had been at the heart of a vibrant, thriving Jewish community, and that with the horrifying tragedy of the Holocaust, so much culture and heritage had been lost with the snuffing out of lives. Of the 176,000 Jews of prewar Vienna, only 5,000 remained after the dark chapter of the Holocaust, he said.
■ THOUGH WORRIED about negative effects that some of the people from African countries who are seeking refugee status in Israel may have on the neighborhoods and cities in which they have found a temporary haven, many Israelis are disgusted by the way in which all people who have entered the country illegally are treated – but especially those whose deportation is almost tantamount to a death sentence. More than 70 Israeli writers, performers and public figures have signed a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, calling for a more humane solution in dealing with those migrants who claim to be refugees.
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, who while defending government policy is also concerned with how they are treated, this week visited the holding cells in a prison in the South to meet some of the illegals, and to ascertain for himself whether their complaints are valid. Weinstein understands both sides of the story – namely that the residents of south Tel Aviv feel threatened by the influx of both legal and illegal migrants from Africa; and on the other hand understands the migrants, who if they were permitted to work, would have enough money for food and rent, and would not have to steal to survive – and would by and large cease to be a threat to anyone.
Among the writers and performing artists who signed the letter to Netanyahu are Amos Oz, Ehud Banai, Tzofit Grant, Gila Almagor, Gidi Gov, Edgar Keret, Keren Mor, Moshe Ivgi, Yehudit Katzir, Yair Garboz, Moni Moshonov, Yaron London, Assaf Amdurski, Guri Alfi and many other well-known personalities. The letter states that as Jews, the signatories carry the memory of being stateless refugees standing against locked gates. As citizens of Israel, they ask that those seeking asylum here be allowed to stay, and ask the prime minister to listen to the refugees with an open heart.
The letter also makes the point that the refugees are being humiliated and are treated in an inhumane manner, “which as human beings, citizens and Jews, makes us feel ashamed.”
■ HE IS far from naïve, but Joseph Reichmann is genuinely touched and amazed by the number of people who have thanked him for adding to the measure of Jerusalem’s beauty. Reichmann is the representative of the famous Canada-based international property development family which has restored and rebuilt the historic Palace Hotel, now known as the Waldorf Astoria.
Last Thursday, at the ceremony for the affixing of the mezuza, Tourism Minister Uzi Landau referred to the fact that the Palace Hotel had been used for the deliberations by the Peel Commission, which was investigating the cause for unrest in British Mandate Palestine.
Among the media people present was Izzy Mann, who in addition to being a broadcaster is the historian of the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Mann recalled that Jerusalem Calling, the precursor of The Voice of Israel, had been broadcast from the Palace Hotel. In fact, the late Ruth Connell Robertson, who was the first English-language broadcaster, later joined the Post as a copy editor.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who wants to see more tourists in Jerusalem, was obviously thrilled that after six years, construction of the hotel is finally completed. The good news for tourists who might have difficulty in hailing a cab is that there is a bus stop directly outside the hotel, another directly across the road and yet another just around the corner.
During the construction period, Reichmann was there every day to oversee the numerous details that go into a hotel.
Moreover, his wife and his mother, who are both called Esther, have attended to numerous details that many other people might overlook. For instance, chairs and sofas in the lobby and the restaurants are of varying heights, because the people sitting on them will be of different heights and would prefer to sit on a chair or sofa that suits their needs, and from which it will be easy to stand up. That’s just one example of the measures taken by the hotel’s owners and management to ensure guest comfort, hand-in-hand with high-quality service.
The hotel will officially open for business in time for Passover. Until then, curiosity- seekers who would love to step inside and take a look will have to wait, but chances are high that it will become a popular meeting spot – not only because of its luxury brand name, but because its restaurants, bar and coffee shop are all on the spacious ground floor, and will be tempting to passers-by looking through the large arched windows.
■ BRINGING HOLLYWOOD stars to Israel has become a norm in the quest to win friends and influence people, not only politically, but also in terms of creating interest in using Israel as a location for making movies.
Last week, the Tourism Ministry in cooperation with the Prime Minister’s Office, hosted Hollywood actor Blair Underwood, 50, who was taken to religious, historical and cultural sites in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea region, Haifa, Acre, Tiberias and Nazareth. Underwood also met with artists, actors, hi-tech professionals and representatives of various humanitarian aid organizations in Israel, and shared his experiences with his 600,000 declared fans via social media.
■ IT’S NOT quite true that politicians change their attitudes in the transition from the campaign platform to the Knesset podium. Bayit Yehudi, which is the party most representative of religious-Zionism, continues to not only push religious and Zionist values, but to demonstrate that they live by them.
Case in point this week was the faction’s get-together to pack Kimche de Pischa cartons for needy families. Among the packers was Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel.
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