Grapevine: A boycott in reverse

A round-up of news from around the Jewish world, both in Israel and in the diaspora.

UN Envoy Ron Prosor with Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Yoo Soon-taek, his wife, sampling shakshuka in New York on Independence Day. (photo credit: SHAHAR AZRAN)
UN Envoy Ron Prosor with Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Yoo Soon-taek, his wife, sampling shakshuka in New York on Independence Day.
(photo credit: SHAHAR AZRAN)
There will be no representatives of the Foreign Ministry or any other government office at the Freedom Day reception that is being hosted Wednesday evening by South African Ambassador Sisa Ngombane and wife, Thathanya. The Israeli authorities are displeased by the anti-Israel incitement of pro-Palestinian organizations and institutions in South Africa. To this end, a visa was denied to Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande, who was looking to Israel as a stepping stone to Ramallah.
Following a press conference held on Monday in Johannesburg by various civil society organizations a statement was released declaring: “We consider Israel’s decision to deny Higher Education and Training Minister Dr. Blade Nzimande and three officials from the department entry into Palestine an affront to not only the minister, the department, but also as a diplomatic insult to the South African government and its people.”
It will be interesting to see how many South African expatriates show up at the ambassador’s residence.
Many of those living in Israel today, if not active with the ANC in past years, were sympathetic to its aspirations. Some of them will face a major problem in deciding where their loyalties lie.
■ Outgoing Netherlands Ambassador Caspar Veldkamp hosted a huge King’s Day reception at his residence in Herzliya Pituah. In many respects, the event was an emotional affair because it was his last King’s Day reception in Israel before taking up his new posting in Athens at the end of the summer.
Veldkamp makes no secret of how much he loves Israel, and one of the reasons he’s glad that he’s being sent to Greece is that it’s so close that he can fly over on weekends and continue with the many friendships that he and his wife, Anne, have made. He shared with his many guests the contents of a congratulatory cable that he had sent to King Willem-Alexander on behalf of the Dutch community in Israel, the Dutch military forces serving in missions in and bordering the country and the guests assembled on the lawn of the residence.
“The next year of your reign will once more see the intensive contacts between the Netherlands and Israel including visits by government ministers, members of parliament, business leaders as well as representatives of knowledge institutions and civil society organizations,” he wrote.
“These ties are very strong and diverse to which you have contributed since the beginning of your reign.”
Vedkamp assured the monarch that “your embassy will continue to work actively for the enhancement of these ties with a focus on innovation and new generations in accordance with your government’s policy and our position within the European Union.
We continue to endeavor to reach a durable peace between Israel and the Palestinians and security for the State of Israel in this turbulent region.”
Referring to an exhibition in the residence of copies of paintings by Dutch master painter Vincent van Gogh, who died 125 years ago, Veldkamp confessed to a particular affinity with the artist who had lived and painted in the town in which he was born and raised. He made particular mention of Jon Hak, who is leading a Dutch business delegation to Agritech and brought with him traditional Dutch herring that Veldkamp when making the toast at the end of his speech, swallowed in a long piece and a single gulp and washed it down with a glass of Heineken beer.
Referring to his appointment to the Hellenic Republic, he quipped: “They probably thought that Israel is not enough of a challenge to me.”
During his tour of duty in Greece, he will be dealing primarily with euro zone issues. It will be an intense period for him not only because of the economic crisis in which Greece finds itself, but also because the Netherlands will for the 12th time take on the presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2016. He made no secret of how much he will miss Israel, especially “the beautiful ‘Hatikva,’” which he said “is probably the most beautiful national anthem in the world.”
Missing from embassy staff at the event at which many of the men wore orange ties and some of the women orange gowns to match the orange table cloths, was Second Secretary Luuk Bouwers whose wife went into premature labor. Among the many guests was former Deputy National Infrastructure Minister Naomi Blumenthal and former Foreign Ministry director-general Alon Liel.
For Wadie Abunassar, a counselor and media consultant to embassies, heads of churches and various institutions, this was his second King’s Day celebration in a single day. At lunch time he had been in Ramallah for the reception hosted by Peter Moller, the head of the Netherlands Representative Office to the Palestinian Authority, where guests included PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.
Abunassar is frequently invited to events hosted by the heads of representative offices in Ramallah, and he gravitates there from his home in Haifa as well as to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and several times a week to Herzliya Pituah for diplomatic receptions. He glides easily from Arabic to Hebrew to English and back again. At the Ramallah reception guests were given boxes of strawberries grown in Gaza, but Abunassar didn’t think it was appropriate to bring his box into Israel so he gave it away.
■ For some years, Suzie Frankel and Michelle Katz dreamed of having a place where young at heart people of middle age and beyond could meet on Saturday nights and have fun. The two are friends with Marcos Gershowitz, who happens to be the proprietor of Angelica, one of the better restaurants in Jerusalem. Like several other restaurateurs in the capital, Gershowitz had not planned to be open on Saturday nights during Daylight Savings Time, because Shabbat goes out too late for staff to be able to make adequate preparations in the event that there might be a clientele.
However the idea of a club appealed to him and he agreed to a trial event, which was so successful that it was almost instantly sold out. In fact it was overbooked, and there were people who arrived without having made prior reservations.
Frankel and Katz were thrilled. The large turnout was beyond their expectations, and people hung around for a long time talking to each other, ordering drinks from the bar with the first one included in the NIS 50 cover charge eating or dancing. No one seemed in a hurry to leave.
The next Angelica After Hours event is scheduled for Saturday, May 9 with live music and singer Jessica Katz, who participated in The Voice and who happens to be the niece of Academy Award winning film-maker Steven Spielberg. She is the daughter of Spielberg’s sister Nancy Spielberg-Katz who is the president of Playmount Productions.
Frankel said that the aim is to eventually have members of the club meet on a weekly basis to enjoy a variety of entertainment options. The person most people were happiest to see was Yael Taubman, who divides her time between Florida and Jerusalem.
Although she had been in the country for a week, she hadn’t done much socializing and many of her friends were delighted to see her and give her a big hug. Among others present were Batsheva and Reuven Kantor, Barbara and Bernard Diamond, hairdressers Marcel and Gabriel Reboh, Faigie Schwartz, Yocheved and Moshe Zemel as well as Bible Lands Museum director Amanda Weiss and her husband, Tamir Freund.
■ Before he was president, Shimon Peres was the politician that the media and certain sectors of the population loved to hate. As president, he was enormously popular, and now that he’s no longer a public servant, but remains a much sought after public speaker in the United States and Europe, the media is gunning for him again.
Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former prime minister Ehud Barak, when they were out of office, earned very handsome sums for public speaking, and Barak earned a lot of money as a consultant to major overseas enterprises. Here too, the media got up on its hind legs, but not with the same degree of venom to which Peres is being subjected.
Peres has made it very clear that the money he is being paid is going to educational, social welfare projects as well as those that promote peace and coexistence. Most of these are projects carried out throughout the year by the Peres Center for Peace.
Instead of being proud of the fact that a 91-year-old man still has the stamina to travel around the world to promote Israel and to earn money for good causes the media are up in arms not only with regard to Bank Hapoalim, with which Peres has severed relations, but also with regard to two major international fund-raising organizations the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund and the United Israel Appeal, which each paid him very handsomely for appearances in American states and European capitals.
The complaint was that these are fund-raising organizations for Israel that have taken good money out of operating costs and channeled these funds towards Peres. The fact that these sums were minuscule in terms of monies raised from affluent Jews in all the places that he spoke, is conveniently overlooked.
From the perspectives of KKL-JNF and UIA, he was simply an investment that paid off. They invested in him in order to raise more money for various Israeli environmental and social welfare causes.
With regard to Bank Hapoalim, Chemi Peres, the son of the former president, told The- Marker that it was he who made the arrangement and not his father, and with hindsight, he realized that it had not been a good arrangement.
Meanwhile, Bank Hapoalim turned to Barak to fill the vacant celebrity slot at its 40th anniversary gala in New York, where it set up its first American branch.
■ One wonders if Israelis who were engaged in talks with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat bothered to send him a greeting Tuesday on the occasion of his milestone 60th birthday.
■ At annual Anzac Day commemorations in Israel, the Kiwis remain very much in the background – mainly because New Zealand does not have a resident ambassador. New Zealand’s Honorary Consul Gad Propper always attends, but not the New Zealand ambassador who resides in Turkey, and this year he could not be in Israel because on the 100th anniversary of the landing by forces of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in Gallipoli he had to be there for the central commemoration.
As far as Israel is concerned he is still ambassador designate until Thursday when Jonathan Andrew Carr will present his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin, who attended this year’s commemoration at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Jerusalem.
Rivlin is the highest ranking Israeli to participate in an Anzac Day event at which Israel is always represented by the Foreign Ministry and the IDF.
Among the approximately 300 people present was Eleanor Burns from Sydney, who is the mother of Jerusalemite Wendy Vasl. Burns has a close Anzac connection to both the First and Second World Wars.
Her father, Sam Pesaro, who was born in Perth, fought in the First World War, and her husband Louis Robinson, who was a New Zealander, served his country in World War II as a doctor in Fiji.
The Anzac Day service in Israel is always ecumenical with readings by Christian and Jewish clergy.
The Reverend Samuel Fanous of the Emmanuel Church in Ramle, which is under the aegis of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem offered a prayer that the sacrifice of those who gave their lives may not have been in vain.
“Today we dedicate ourselves to the cause of justice, freedom and peace; and ask for the wisdom and strength to build a better world,” he said.
Jerusalem based Rabbi Raymond Apple, chief rabbi emeritus of the Sydney Great Synagogue and former senior rabbi to the Australian Defense Forces, said: “In the midst of memory and pride may we never forget that war is horror and peaceful striving for life, health and happiness is the greatest blessing.”
Apple prayed that the nations of the Middle East and all the peoples of the globe might find a way to respect each other and live in harmony.
In addition to Australian and New Zealand expatriates living in Israel, the ceremony was attended by diplomats, military attaches, United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) and Multinational Force and Observers representatives, veterans representing ex-service organizations, members of organizations that represent Australian, New Zealand and British interests in Israel, members of several Australian Zionist youth groups, representatives of the Zionist Federation of Australia, the United Israel Appeal of Australia and the Jewish National Fund of Australia who laid wreaths on the catafalque after those laid by Rivlin and Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma.
A total of 40 wreaths were laid including wreaths by representatives of the Turkish and Japanese embassies against whose national forces the Anzacs fought in the First and Second World Wars and by US Ambassador Dan Shapiro.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, a much larger religious service than usual was held at the graves of Jewish soldiers. The service was led by Apple and Dr. Mervyn Doobov.
After that the New Zealanders went to Beit Orot Yeshiva to have their own commemoration and to hear Ezra Pimentel, one of the founders of the Israel Society for the Heritage of World War I talking about the Anzacs, the Jewish Brigade and the heritage sites dating back to the war. John Bok, who heads the Israel-New Zealand Friendship Association, said that there will be an address on the Zionist Mule Corps that served with the Anzacs in Gallipoli at the Jewish Legions Museum on Avihayil on May 18. Also attending the gathering were four members of the New Zealand contingent representing the air force, the army and the navy, headed by Sqn.-Ldr.
Severin Smith of the New Zealand Air Force, who said that this was his third tour of duty in the region. He is serving on the Golan Heights and is on a one year stint observing that the disengagement between Syrian and Israeli forces is maintained. There are four New Zealanders serving with UNTSO in Lebanon, he said, adding that they all enjoy serving in this part of the world “because there is so much history here.”
■ The next time that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon comes to Israel, it’s almost on the cards that at some stage during his stay he will be served shakshuka, an Israeli dish of North African origin that usually is a mixture of eggs poached in a ragout of tomatoes, chili peppers and onions, but often with additional ingredients. Although it doesn’t look very appetizing, shakshuka is indeed delicious, and the secretary-general, who came with his wife, Yoo Soon-taek, to the Independence Day reception hosted by UN envoy Ron Prosor, obviously enjoyed it and in the process proved that he’s taken the trouble to pick up some Hebrew. He pronounced the dish “tayim meod,” which is very tasty in Hebrew and wished Israel “Hag sameah” – happy holiday.
Prosor responded that “Shakshuka is like Israel. It’s a melting pot like our culture, it’s hot and spicy like our nature and once you get a taste of it, you always come back for more.”
The fare for the occasion was catered by Gazala Halabi, an Israeli Druse who has been living in New York for 14 years and owns two restaurants where she prepares Druse and other Middle Eastern delicacies.
■ There are families in which two or three close members have simultaneously served in the IDF, but rarely, if at all, are there 10. Yediot Aharonot had a heart-warming photograph on its back page last Friday in which nine soldiers flanked one civilian.
The soldiers were nine of the 10 IDF grandchildren of Tzalah Eliyahu who lives on Shtula, a moshav on the Lebanese border. A 10th grandchild who serves with the Golani Brigade was unable to attend because he was on active duty, and an 11th grandchild is doing National Service at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.
Eliyahu, 83, has 51 grandchildren altogether, and its possible that the family record for simultaneous service in the IDF may reach even greater heights in the future. Born in Kurdistan, Eliyahu came to Israel in 1951 and was immediately drafted into the Givati Brigade, which was serving in the North, and he has remained in the North ever since. In the early years he lived in Alkush where he was the security coordinator, and in 1969 he was one of the founders of Shtula. He and his late wife produced seven sons and six daughters, 51 grandchildren to date and 17 great grandchildren, with more on the way. Seven grandsons and three granddaughters are doing their army service, and nine of them managed to get together not only for a family photograph but for a special blessing from their grandfather.
■ Contrary to forecasts that Channel 10 would close down, it received a permanent 15-year license this week from the Second Authority for Television and Radio, and there are actually people wanting to invest in it. Among them is Ukraine-born businessman Leonard Blavatnik, whose diverse investments include oil, petrochemicals and media. Blavatnik was at the top of the Sunday Times Rich List that named him as the wealthiest man in Britain, whose worth is in the range of $20 billion.
■ Among the recipients of this year’s Ilan Ro’eh Award, which is given each year by the director- general of the Israel Broadcasting Authority in memory of radio reporter Ilan Ro’eh, who was killed in Lebanon 16 years ago, is Israeli Radio’s Esti Perez, who is receiving it for the second time. Perez worked with Ro’eh at the now defunct Hadashot newspaper when they were both young reporters.
They were not only colleagues, they were best friends – journalists to the core. Then they went to work for Israel Radio where they represented the younger generation.
When Ro’eh was killed Perez thought that something inside her had broken, but she kept working because there wasn’t any real alternative. In accepting the prize she said that when she was a child listening to the radio, it never occurred to her that she would one day anchor the central two-hour midday news and current affairs broadcast on Kol Yisrael.