Diplomats on the move

Gafni recounted that Lapid had said to him in the first phone call: “For you I’m ready to pray."

Danny Ayalon, former ambassador to the US, is currently a visiting professor of foreign policy studies at Yeshiva University.  (photo credit: MOSHE MILNER / GPO)
Danny Ayalon, former ambassador to the US, is currently a visiting professor of foreign policy studies at Yeshiva University.
(photo credit: MOSHE MILNER / GPO)
Diplomacy is a nomadic profession. Even though the way diplomacy is conducted has changed vastly during the pandemic, often resorting to social media platforms instead of face-to-face contacts, diplomats continue to come and go, and ceremonies for the presentation of credentials to heads of state are taking place all over the world, including Israel. During the summer several heads of diplomatic missions left, either to take up postings in other countries or to return to their home countries.
Meanwhile, new ambassadors have arrived and continue to arrive. New ambassadors will present their credentials to President Reuven Rivlin in ceremonies taking place on November 4 and 10. On November 4, credentials will be presented by the ambassadors of Belgium, Uzbekistan, Sweden, Norway and Latvia.
This will be the last occasion on which the Foreign Ministry’s affable but extremely professional Chief of State Protocol Meron Reuben will introduce the new envoys to the president, prior to leaving Israel at the end of November to take up the position of consul-general in Boston.
Reuben’s successor as chief of protocol is Gil Haskel, the deputy director-general for international cooperation, commonly known by its Hebrew acronym, Mashav. Haskel will present the second group of ambassadors from Malta, Australia, Cyprus and Guatemala on November 10.
Curiously, both presentation dates have historic connotations. The 25th anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin is on November 4, while on November 10, 2001, president George W. Bush, in an address to the United Nations, asked the international community to assist in fighting terrorism around the world, and pledged that America would combat terrorism in any place where terrorists were harbored. This was a bipartisan commitment which has been followed by his successors in both parties.
Reuben got himself into a spot of trouble a couple of years back over telling the truth to Haaretz reporter Nir Gontarz, who publishes a weekly column based on telephone conversations that he has with well-known personalities.
Gontarz asked how come the prime minister’s wife was referred to as the first lady when there is no such official position in Israel, especially in view of the fact that if there were such a title, it would belong to the wife of the president and not to that of the prime minister.
As a matter of fact, Rivlin began referring to his wife as the first lady, soon after he took office in 2014. Some media outlets went along with it, perhaps because there had been no scandal attached to Nechama Rivlin, and possibly because it was known that she was ill and never went anywhere without her oxygen cylinder.
However, Sara Netanyahu appropriated the title while Nechama Rivlin was still alive, after US Vice President Mike Pence had referred to her as the first lady at a state ceremony.
Reuben, in the conversation with Gontarz, said that as far as he was aware, there were two terms: “the prime minister’s wife” and “the president’s wife.” “We don’t have a first, second or third lady,” he said. “Maybe the Prime Minister’s Office has begun using new terms.” He added that he did not recall signing off on anything that had “First Lady” written on it, unless it referred to the wife of the president of the United States.
Understandably, his response raised ire in certain quarters, with the Foreign Ministry’s reaction somewhat milder. Reuben was merely reprimanded for talking to the press without first securing permission from the ministry’s spokesman.
Rivlin not only introduced his wife as the first lady, but himself as “the husband of the wife of the president of Israel.”

Before getting back into the swing of diplomacy, Rivlin will this week visit a shelter for battered women. The visit was on his agenda before the number of women murdered in Israel this year rose to 19. It will not be Rivlin’s first visit to the facility. He was previously there with his late wife. On that occasion he heard some hair-raising stories from the temporary residents, who are being helped to charter a new, independent future for themselves and their children.
This time, with the excessive rise in domestic violence due to tensions resulting from lockdown, loss of employment and income, fear for the future and sense of hopelessness and inadequacy, he will probably hear even worse stories. Social welfare authorities and those women’s organizations that are dedicated to combating violence against women receive scores of telephone calls every day from desperate women from all strata of society who in most cases have nowhere to go. There are not enough shelters in the country, and insufficient budgets for those that already exist.
Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Minister Itzik Shmuli says that violent men must be removed from their homes. But unless their wives actually file a police complaint against them, there is nothing to stop them from coming home and yet again beating up their wives and children. Many wives, regardless of their suffering, are reluctant to put their husbands in prison.

Priem Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, October 21, celebrates his 71st birthday, which is unlikely to be the glittering event that was hosted in his honor last year by London-based international real estate investor and developer Zak Gertler, who owns a luxury town house at 9 Bialik Street in Tel Aviv. Gertler is among the many business tycoons whom, over the years, Netanyahu has acquired as friends and supporters, though some have now distanced themselves from him.

Last week retired diplomat Moshe Yegar was mentioned in this column in connection with his role in the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and China, and Israel and India. In Israel, it is somewhat rare for anyone to give credit to someone else or to share credit, but Yegar, in calling this writer to thank her for the Grapevine mention, insisted on giving credit to Reuven Merhav, who as director-general of the Foreign Ministry had sent him to China.
Before taking up his role as director-general, Merhav had been the consul-general in Hong Kong, and was also the representative to Macau. During that period he forged good relations with the Chinese government, and therefore deserved the credit for the establishment of diplomatic ties, said Yegar, who praised Merhav as one of the best directors-general, along with the late Dave Kimche, that the Foreign Ministry ever had. Both Merhav and Kimche came to the Foreign Service from the Mossad, which operates a somewhat different form of foreign service.
Merhav recently completed writing his autobiography, which still has to pass the censor in case there is any material that is still classified. But once it gets the green light, it should make for fascinating reading.
While dispensing accolades, Yegar also had warm memories of a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, the late David Bar-Ilan, whom he knew from their school days in Haifa. Bar-Ilan, who was a year older, was a class higher and, when they were both still teenagers, was Yegar’s commander in the Hagana, though even then he showed a political tendency toward the Right, which later characterized much of his writing.
Bar-Ilan was a piano prodigy, who at age 17 went to the US to study music. In 1948 he returned to fight in the War of Independence, and then went back to the US, where he remained for 40 years before returning to Israel. Yegar, whose various diplomatic positions included consul-general in New York, rekindled their friendship during that time and maintained it after Bar-Ilan’s return to Israel. He was not only a brilliant pianist, said Yegar, but also a brilliant writer.

Unless a deceased person was a terrorist, a despot or a rogue, to speak ill of the dead is not done. The late Michael Strauss, who developed the food enterprise started by his German immigrant parents in Nahariya in the late 1930s into a global empire, was none of the above. In fact, Yediot Aharonot business journalist Navit Zomer, in her obituary for Strauss, who died last weekend, wrote that it should be noted, against the backdrop of Israeli reality, that Strauss was never involved in any kind of criminal activity, never shaved off huge amounts from debt repayments, and never closed down any of the Strauss production plants. The Strauss payroll included 6,500 employees in Israel and 15,000 overseas.
According to his good friend Shimon Shiffer, who is a senior political reporter with Yediot, Strauss, who maintained a strong involvement in the company after handing over the reins to his daughter Ofra some 20 years ago, insisted that none of the employees would be furloughed during the pandemic. His reasoning was that they had helped to build up the company and therefore deserved to stay on board. A measure of the esteem in which Michael Strauss was held was in the unusually large number of condolence notices that for several days were published in the Hebrew press.

While technology will never quite replace real live encounters, one of its advantages is that videos can be left online indefinitely, whereas face-to-face events, once they’re over, they’re gone and remain only a memory. German Ambassador Dr. Susanne Wasum-Rainer, in cooperation with the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Transport, Agriculture and Viniculture of Rheinland Pfaltz, hosted an online celebration to mark 55 years of German-Israeli relations and 30 years since the reunification of Germany.
She had hoped, prior to the pandemic, to make this a gala event, but when this proved unfeasible, she decided to go online with a YouTube presentation last Thursday, to which the German Embassy issued invitations. Diplomatic events are usually by invitation only, and the invitations are generally nontransferable, which means that security guards posted at the entrance to the event make sure that gate-crashers can’t get in. This time, however, anyone who wanted to could watch the prerecorded event on the embassy’s Facebook account. As a matter of fact, it’s still there.
Keynote speakers were the ambassador and Rivlin. No German diplomatic event in Israel can avoid mention of the Holocaust and Germany’s ongoing commitment to fight the forces of antisemitism. This occasion was no exception, with Wasum-Rainer and Rivlin relating to both subjects, and to the warm friendship that currently exists between Rivlin and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
What was also important to the ambassador was that viewers should be aware of the impact of German reunification in terms of freedom, solidarity, Europe, humanity, security, human rights, multilateralism, understanding and the environment.
The anthems of the European Union, Germany and Israel were played by an Israeli classical music trio – pianist Yael Keret, violinist Matan Dagan and cellist Michal Korman.

Although she is a very active parliamentarian, it is unlikely that Likud MK Sharren Haskel will be spending any time in the Knesset over the next three to six months. Haskel and her husband, Eyal Harpaz, on Saturday night welcomed their baby daughter Yael, who made her arrival into the world at Ichilov Hospital. Haskel, 36, who for several years underwent fertility treatment, was ecstatic, and immediately posted a photograph of herself with her baby on all her social media accounts. The expression on her face says it all.

Historian, political commentator, author, former legislator, former Israel ambassador to the US, former liaison to Soviet Jewry, former lone soldier and Maccabiah gold medalist Michael Oren saw the release in September of his latest book, The Night Archer and Other Stories. Oren is waiting for the easing up of coronavirus restrictions so that he can get married to Leslie Meyers, with more of his friends in attendance than Health Ministry regulations currently permit. It will be a second marriage for Oren, who was previously married to Sally Edelstein, with whom he has three children, and whom he divorced after 35 years of wedlock.

With the US presidential elections just under two weeks away, not only academics who are teaching US politics in Israeli universities are being consulted by local media outlets, but also Israelis who are teaching politics and/or international relations in American universities and colleges, and it’s quite amazing how many there are.
Among the names more familiar to the Israeli public are former MK, former deputy foreign minister and former ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon; and Nachman Shai, a former MK and former press secretary to the Israel delegation to the United Nations and later a media adviser to the Israel Embassy in Washington. Ayalon is currently a visiting professor of foreign policy studies at Yeshiva University, and Shai is a visiting professor at Duke University in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Ayalon will, on Wednesday, October 21, be the guest of the Jerusalem Press Club to talk about where Israel figures in the US elections. Shai is often heard on the early morning current affairs program on KAN Reshet Bet, giving updates on the presidential race coupled with his assessment of the moment.

Competition for a successor to three-term secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Angel Gurria of Mexico is heating up. Gurria had contemplated running for a fourth term, but dropped out of the race when Mexico decided to compete for the director-generalship of the World Trade Organization.
Meanwhile, nominees for the top OECD post include Chris Liddell, the deputy chief of staff to US President Donald Trump; Mathias Corman, who was Australia’s longest-serving finance minister, who held the post for seven years and resigned in order to campaign for the OECD position; Greek politician Anna Diamantopoulou; Kersti Kaljulaid, the president of Estonia; Bill Moreau, a former finance minister of Canada; Alain Madelin, a former finance minister of France; Cecilia Malmstrom of Sweden, who is a former European trade commissioner; Vladimir Dlouhy, who is president of the Czech Chamber of Commerce; and it is not quite certain whether Japanese parliamentarian Seiko Noda is also a candidate.
Since its inception in September 1961, the OECD has never had a secretary-general or deputy secretary-general from Greece, Estonia, the Czech Republic or Australia. It will be something of a coup if the candidate of any of these countries takes up the position in June 2021, particularly Australia, which is geographically the most far-flung country of the OECD member states. Corman was actually born in Belgium, which has had a representative with the title of deputy secretary-general. So far, Belgium is not competing this time around.

Apropos Australia, although it is so far from the rest of the Jewish world, it has numerous organizations that support an extraordinary number of causes in Israel as well as a plethora of local Jewish causes.
Jews came to Australia in the first convict ships from Britain. They were followed by gold prospectors, Jews escaping the poverty, persecution and pogroms of Europe, and subsequently by Holocaust survivors and others who were lured by Australia’s sobriquet of The Lucky Country. In many cases, it was and is.
Dutch and British explorers discovered Australia in the 17th century, but it was Britain’s Capt. James Cook who in 1770 mapped the eastern coast of the island continent and claimed it for Britain, ignoring the fact that the indigenous population had lived there for thousands of years. In 1787 the first fleet of 11 ships, led by Capt. Arthur Philip, set sail for Australia to officially transform it into a sovereign British colony.
Although the Jewish community, up until the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, was very small, the first Jewish newspaper was published in Sydney as far back as 1842, with a local edition of the London-based Voice of Jacob, which later became the Jewish Chronicle. As the community grew, additional papers were established, mainly in Melbourne and Sydney, which had significantly larger Jewish communities than Adelaide, Perth Brisbane or Hobart. The newspapers were published in English, Yiddish and Hebrew, with The Australian Jewish News as the key survivor. In Melbourne in bygone days, it competed with The Jewish Herald; and in Sydney, where the local edition was called the Sydney Jewish News (though much of the material was identical to the Melbourne edition), it competed with The Jewish Times.
These publications went through a series of owners and editors, as well as an ever-changing chain of writers, with the exception of the late Pamela Ruskin, an award-winning journalist, who wrote a weekly column for the AJN for 25 years. The AJN also had a Yiddish section – Di Yiddishe Nayes. The Jewish Herald likewise had a Yiddish supplement, which went through a number of name changes, but Yiddish publications carried regular bylines for years, often by writers who had previously made their mark in Europe and were known in literary circles. They included household names such as Yitzhak Rubinstein, Shalom Marantz, Mendel Balberyszki, Gedaliah Shaiak, Abraham Cykiert, Hertz Bergner and Yasha Sher.
When internationally celebrated, prizewinning, Australian-born journalist Sam Lipski was appointed editor of the AJN in 1987, he continued with the Yiddish supplement. Lipski was raised in a Yiddish-speaking household, and speaks Yiddish fluently himself. But Lipski realized that he could not preserve the Yiddish publication indefinitely. The Yiddish writers were dying out, and there was not a new generation to replace them. There were not that many Yiddish readers either. The Yiddishe Nayes finally ceased publication in 1995.
All this preamble is for the benefit of Australian Jewish expatriates of a certain age, who would love to walk down Memory Lane. This is now possible thanks to a new initiative that will digitize and give free access to 180 years of Australian Jewish newspapers. The project is a collaborative effort between the National Library of Australia, the National Library of Israel and the Australian Jewish Historical Society. The current editor of the Australian Jewish News is Zeddy Lawrence.

Those Australian and New Zealand expatriates living in Israel, along with military attachés of various embassies whose armies fought in World War I and World War II, who were anticipating that the easing of Health Ministry restrictions would enable them to meet for the 103rd anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Beersheba, at a service at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Beersheba, and later at the ANZAC Memorial Museum on the edge of the cemetery, plus the nearby Turkish monument and then the Park of the Australian soldier, will be disappointed this year.
Noah Geduld, the public diplomacy official at the Australian Embassy, which hosts the annual event, has advised that this year’s commemoration will be an in-house embassy event, with the publication of videos and stills on Facebook. The victory of Australian and New Zealand troops in the battle against the Turks was instrumental in paving the way a few days later for what has become known as the Balfour Declaration, which in turn led to the proclamation of the sovereign State of Israel.
In addition to it being the start of the renewed reading of the Torah, the significance of the date last Saturday, at least in accordance with the Gregorian calendar, was that it marked the 140th anniversary of the birth on October 17, 1880, of Revisionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky.
In honor of the anniversary an e-book of essays about outstanding Zionist history books is being offered free of charge by Herut North America. The anthology includes essays about classic, hard-to-find books by Zionist thinkers, Israeli political figures, and journalists and is designed to give these history books the attention they deserve and seldom receive. The e-book also contains an exclusive excerpt from the recent book Jews Make the Best Demons: ‘Palestine’ and the Jewish Question, by Eric Rozenman, plus other features, including a never-previously published memorial tribute to Jabotinsky’s biographer, Joseph B. Schechtman.
The Schechtman feature, marking the 50th anniversary of Schechtman’s death, is by Yisrael Medad, the retired director of educational programming and information resources at Jerusalem’s Menachem Begin Heritage Center. Medad’s byline is familiar to Post readers.
Zionist History Books & Jabotinsky: Collected Essays is available at https://herutna.org/jabotinsky-collected-essays/.

There is no love lost between Yesh Atid and opposition leader Yair Lapid and the religious parties in the Knesset, but attitudes may mellow following telephone calls by the very secular Lapid to United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni following the latter’s heart attack, which very nearly cost him his life. In a comprehensive interview with Israel Hayom last Friday, Gafni recounted that Lapid had said to him in the first phone call: “For you I’m ready to pray,” and in the second Lapid had said that even though Gafni could be annoying and sometimes yelled, the whole of the Knesset loves him. To a certain extent, said Gafni in the interview, that changes the attitude toward Lapid.
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