Grapevine: The French connection

Avi Primor new head of Council on Foreign Relations, Irish Embassy marks St. Patrick’s Day and opera recital graces AACI’s new building.

CURRENTLY SENIOR adviser to the political arm of J Street, the American pro-Israel, pro-peace movement, former diplomat and former MK Colette Avital has received a boost in the recognition bestowed on her by France. Best known diplomatically as consul-general in New York, even though she had previously served as ambassador to Portugal, Avital earlier in her diplomatic career was spokeswoman for the embassy in Paris, and has retained an affinity for France.
France also has an affinity to her and some years ago demonstrated that by making her a knight of its Legion of Honor. Last week Ambassador Christophe Bigot, acting on behalf of President Nicolas Sarkozy, promoted her to officer of the Legion of Honor, and at a reception that he hosted to mark the occasion, spoke of the special connection that Avital has with France and with the French language in which she is absolutely fluent.
He recalled the warm friendship she had enjoyed with Jacques Chirac when he was mayor of Paris and she was spokeswoman for the embassy. That friendship continued after Chirac became president of France. Bigot also saluted Avital’s efforts toward the advancement of peace, and praised her for the sterling work she had done when an MK to trace the Israeli bank accounts of Holocaust victims and to have the funds transferred to their heirs.
In response Avital spoke of the significance of the values of liberty, equality and fraternity which France had given to the world and which had been her guidelines in all her political battles. She thanked Sarkozy and the people of France for their support of Israel in its struggle for peace and thanked them again for thinking her worthy of being an officer of the Legion of Honor.
Although she failed to gain a realistic place on Labor’s Knesset list, Avital has remained an active member of the party, which would in part explain the presence of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is also Labor Party chairman, and Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, who is tipped to be the next Labor Party leader.
• ALSO IN line for a Legion of Honor decoration is Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv Yisrael Meir Lau, who was notified last Thursday that it will be conferred on him in recognition for the assistance that he has given to the French Jewish community. A date has not yet been set, but it is understood that he will receive the award from Sarkozy himself and not via Bigot. Given Sarkozy’s waning popularity in the recent French regional elections, it’s just as well that the president is elected for a five-year term, so he’ll still be around for awhile to do the honors by Lau.
• A MONTH prior to his assassination, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin visited Kiev to inaugurate a Jewish cultural center. It had never occurred to him that the visit would also contain a personal dimension. But the Jewish community wanted to surprise him – and it succeeded. Community leaders told him that they had located the place where his father, Nehemiah Rabichov, had been born in 1886, the village of Sidorovichi in the Western Ukraine. Rabin did not go there because the Ukrainian officials told him that village no longer existed.
However last week, his son Yuval Rabin did make the journey to Sidorovichi, thereby closing a circle in more ways than one. The village does exist. It once boasted five Jewish families. Now there are none. Limmud FSU, headed by Chaim Chesler organized for a plaque to be put up in memory of Nehemiah and Yitzhak Rabin, and will erect a monument that should be completed in three months time. The Limmud group was greeted by the villagers who stood waiting with the traditional tray of bread and salt.
The theme of this year’s Limmud conference was Jewish Nobel Prize laureates from Russia and Israel. The opening session was in memory of Rabin, and Yuval was there to represent the family. Also among the 650 people attending the three-day conference was Yoram Dori, a long-time strategic adviser to President Shimon Peres, who is also a Nobel Prize laureate. Dori presented the main points of Peres’s address to the German Bundestag in which he described his taking leave of his grandfather, who was later burned alive by the Nazis who set fire to the synagogue in which he prayed.
• VETERAN DIPLOMAT Avi Primor has been elected as the new president of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations. He succeeds the founding president David Kimche, who died this month. Primor, who heads the IDC Herzliya Center for European Studies, spent more than four decades with the Foreign Ministry. He earned enormous respect for his service as ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany and to the European Union.
“As a disciple of Dave, dating back to my days as a diplomat in Africa at the beginning of the 1960s, I am very honored to play a role in continuing the activity of the council, which constituted such an important part of his life’s work,” said Primor, who was not only a colleague but a close friend of Kimche’s.
Taking this into account World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said that Primor was especially qualified to carry on Kimche’s legacy and to ensure the continued vitality of the ICFR and its journal. The ICFR, established in 1989, operates under the auspices of the WJC and has hosted many important foreign visitors who have presented their views in a nongovernmental setting.
• SOME PEOPLE are angry and frustrated when their names are omitted from certain invitation lists. Others are frustrated by the fact that their names are included in too many lists, forcing them to make choices. Case in point occurs tonight, with at least two major gala events taking place within an hour of each other in different parts of the country.
In Jerusalem, Oscar winning film producer Arthur Cohn, together with Shaare Zedek Medical Center, is hosting the local premiere of his film The Children of Hung Shi.
Meanwhile, the Tel Aviv Art Museum and the M.T. Abraham Center are hosting a by invitation only reception and special preview of a first time exhibition here of 74 bronze sculptures by iconic French artist Edgar Degas (1834-1917), whose works are particularly identified with dance. The gala opening in the Simon and Marie Jaglom Pavilion is strictly for museum members and patrons, but will be open to the general public from March 26. The exhibition has been curated by Museum director Mordechai Omer. The bronzes were cast from previously unknown lifetime plasters made directly from Degas’ original waxes, with the artist’s knowledge and consent.
Among those present in Tel Aviv will be Mayor Ron Huldai, who chairs the museum’s Board of Directors, French Ambassador Bigot, Walter F. Maibaum and Carol Conn, curators of the Degas Sculpture Project Ltd., Amir Kabiri, president of the M.T. Abraham Center for the Visual Arts, and, of course, Omer.
The problem is that the Shaare Zedek invitation was sent out well ahead of that of the Tel Aviv Museum, and several people who had accepted it were of two minds about it after also receiving the elegant black and gold TAM invitation. For those who are truly obsessed with seeing and being seen, they can show up for 15 minutes at the Jerusalem Theater, say hello to 20 or 30 people and zoom off to Tel Aviv in the hope that there will be no traffic congestion.
• WITH THE sounds of traditional Irish music, the waft of Guinness in the air and some of the guests appropriately wearing some item in green, there was no doubt that it was St. Patrick’s Day at the residence of Irish Ambassador Breifne O’Reilly and his wife, Eavan Doyle, who were hosting a reception in celebration of Ireland’s National Day. They warmly welcomed guests with the traditional Gaelic greeting of caed mile failte, 100,000 welcomes.
The diplomatic community was widely represented as were Irish expats living here and their non-Irish spouses. Aura Herzog, whose late husband, sixth president Chaim Herzog, was born in Ireland, kept up the Herzog family tradition of associating with his Irish roots. Also present was Ruth Dayan, who recently celebrated her 93rd birthday. The country’s first resident ambassador to Ireland, Zvi Gabay, who always makes a point of attending Irish events, was seen in deep conversation with Israel Ireland Friendship League chairman Malcolm Gafson, who seized the opportunity to invite Boaz Moda’i, ambassador designate to Ireland, to the league’s annual Shir Ha’irim that took place four nights later.
Moda’i, who will take up his duties in Dublin in August, was making his first public appearance as ambassador designate. He sported a tie with the flags of all nations, with the most prominent flags being those of countries with which Israel has no diplomatic ties. Moda’i is the son of former beauty queen and World WIZO honorary president Michal Moda’i and the late Yitzhak Moda’i, who held several ministerial posts, most notably finance minister. Michal Moda’i will now have a very good reason to follow up on her trip to Ireland of last year. O’Reilly also came to the well attended league event and proved that River dancing is not only for the professionals.
• CELEBRATED FILMMAKER Jon Landau, producer of Avatar and Titanic, toured Yad Vashem with his wife, Barbara Downey, during his visit last week. The couple spent time at the Holocaust History Museum and the Visual Center, where they were excited to discover two films, The Man in the Glass Booth (1975) and The Pawnbroker (1965), produced by his late father Ely Landau. They viewed part of The Man in the Glass Booth at one of the center’s viewing stations.
Yad Vashem’s Visual Center is dedicated to creating the world’s most comprehensive archive of cinematic work related to the Holocaust. Currently some 6,100 films have been catalogued, with more than 3,800 films and 60,000 testimonies available for viewing on demand.
Landau also called on President Shimon Peres, who invited him to spend a year in Jerusalem and work on his next project. Landau wants to create a cinematic learning center that will produce three-dimensional films using the most advanced technologies. Landau liked the idea but was in no hurry to commit himself.
• THE SCHEDULE of almost every visiting foreign dignitary includes a visit to Yad Vashem, usually immediately before or after a meeting with the president or the prime minister. However Elisabeth Heister-Neumann, minister of education for the German state of Lower Saxony, opted to begin her official visit at Beit Hatfutsot, where she viewed the “Judaica Twist: Innovation in Judaica Design” exhibition. She was accompanied by Michael Furst, chairman of the Association of Jewish Communities of Lower Saxony. Avinoam Armony, the museum’s CEO, took her on a tour of the complex and briefed her on its educational programs and commitment to preserve the memory of Jewish communities that were destroyed or faded into obscurity, and to encourage the revival efforts of small Jewish communities. Heister-Neumann said that she was impressed by the sense of vision of the people running the museum.
n CURRENTLY FAMILIARIZING himself with people and places here is Liang-Jen Chang, the representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Tel Aviv. Chang used to be a print media and television journalist. Thirty years ago he wrote about the Israel-Arab conflict and its relationship with the US, and being here is for him the crown of his diplomatic service. When he began his diplomatic career, the common language for diplomats was French. Now it’s English. Likewise, in Taiwan and China, he says, Cantonese used to be the common dialect of educated people; today it’s Mandarin. Chang is fascinated by all that goes on here and loves to go to restaurants and sample the different gourmet foods, but says that restaurants and hotels are very expensive.
Like Israel with the Palestinians, Taiwan and China are improving their relationship through economic ventures, because that’s the easiest way to break the ice. Direct flights between Taiwan and China were resumed in December 2008, and now, says Chang, there are well over 200 a week.
Hoping to interest Israelis to enter into business ventures in Taiwan, Chang presents an almost irresistible incentive. Israeli companies that manufacture in Taiwan can get tariff exemptions both in Taiwan and China. As for Taiwanese products here, he’s happy to see the popularity of the Acer brand of PCs and laptops which are manufactured in Taiwan. They’re also doing very well in Europe.
• THE NEWS room was packed on Tuesday to bid farewell to Shani Rosenfelder, who is stepping down as managing editor of, The Jerusalem Post’s popular Web site, and moving to the world of hi-tech.
“I started working here two days before the tsunami hit Southeast Asia (December 26, 2004), and it’s been quite a tumultuous ride ever since,” Rosenfelder said. “In the last five years, we have covered two wars, two elections, one Hamas takeover of Gaza and a never-ending flow of news making headlines worldwide. I feel as if I have been at the forefront of showcasing news from Israel to the world.”
Jonny Hadi, deputy managing editor, praised Rosenfelder for being animpressive boss and teacher, and “turning into the most readEnglish-speaking Web site in the Middle East.”
Rosenfelder is being succeeded by Moshe Raphaely, 29, who served ashead of the news desk at Nana10, one of the country’s leading Websites. Before that, he worked at Army Radio and Educational Television.Raphaely, a resident of Tel Aviv, has a master’s degree inneuropsychology from Tel Aviv University.