Grapevine: A matter of timing

Even though they want to expand consular activities in Jerusalem, it is unlikely that the Americans will do anything about evacuating the hotel, as long as the embassy remains in Tel Aviv.

The US Consulate, on Jerusalem’s Agron Street (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The US Consulate, on Jerusalem’s Agron Street
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Timing is everything. The brightest idea can be rejected, if presented at the wrong time, and an important meeting deserving of publicity can be underplayed, if held at the wrong time.
Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with both of the US presidential candidates, his meeting with Donald Trump preceded his meeting with Hillary Clinton, as a result of which the Netanyahu-Trump handshake, along with Trump’s declaration that Jerusalem should remain united and never be divided again, plus his promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, if elected, was plastered all over the Israeli media, whereas the meeting with Clinton was downplayed, and there was no front-page photograph of her with Netanyahu in the Israeli press on Monday, although there were photographs of the prime minister with Clinton on some Israeli websites on Monday, and photographs of both meetings on Netanyahu’s Facebook page at noon on Monday.
On Clinton’s Facebook page there is a photograph of all living US presidents with the caption “There are five living US Presidents. None of them support Donald Trump. The people that know what it takes know that Trump doesn’t have it.”
Regardless of broken promises to date, the Americans have at least made provision for an embassy move some time in the future. Several years ago, they acquired a large plot of land on which a residence can be built, and they also purchased the former Diplomat Hotel near the US Consulate, which, because of its size, could easily be converted to an embassy, but for the foreseeable future is home to some 500 senior citizens, most of whom are from the former Soviet Union and were placed there by the Immigration and Absorption Ministry.
When the hotel was purchased in June 2014, the ministry pointed out that the residents had nowhere to go and asked the Americans if they really wanted to see so many elderly people pushed out into the street. The Americans, mindful of the ensuing negative publicity if they exercised their right to evacuate the premises immediately, gave the ministry an extension of two years. The extension expired in June of this year, and the residents are still there.
The American government also exercised its option to purchase the land on which the building stands, and strictly speaking can evacuate all the residents immediately.
Even though they want to expand consular activities in Jerusalem, it is unlikely that the Americans will do anything about evacuating the hotel, as long as the embassy remains in Tel Aviv.
■ AT THE 25th anniversary celebration of Armenian independence at the impressive Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center at around the time that Netanyahu was conducting his meetings with the presidential candidates in New York, honorary Armenian consul Tsolag Momjian, who together with his wife, Allegra, hosted a huge number of guests who crowded into Notre Dame’s large courtyard, made the point that in June this year the German parliament approved a resolution recognizing the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, and that in the same month, Pope Francis, during a visit to Armenia, strayed from his prepared address and referred to the slaughter of ethnic Armenians by Ottoman Turks as genocide. More recently, on September 17, the Andean parliament, the legislative body composed of representatives of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile, approved a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide and condemning its denial.
“American presidents since Ronald Reagan have promised Armenian voters that they will use the word ‘genocide’ once elected president, but they never did,” Momjian said.
In the typed text of his speech, Momjian, who was born and raised in Jerusalem, also compared the pledge to the promise by a series of American presidential candidates that they would move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, but when speaking to the crowd, he had second thoughts and refrained from mentioning the embassy issue.
Momjian devoted the bulk of his address to the subject of the Armenian genocide, praising the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee, chaired by Shas MK Ya’acov Margi, for its recognition of the great Armenian tragedy, and Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On for initiating the meeting of the committee.
In the presence of Armenians who attended the meeting, Gal-On said at that time: “Each year we instill false hope in the people who are sitting here. It dishonors the Knesset to continue to go on and on about the issue, year after year, without reaching a decision that the State of Israel and the Israeli legislature recognize the genocide of the Armenian people.”
Momjian also credited MKs from other parties for making similar remarks, and also quoted Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who after visiting one of the Armenian memorial sites said last year that he hopes that members of Knesset will know the right way to vote at the moment of truth.
However, being a realist, Momjian doubted that there would be any change, taking into account the resumption of normalization of Israel’s relations with Turkey. Momjian is particularly sensitive to the genocide issue, as both his father and aunt were orphans as an outcome of the genocide. His father was six years old at the time.
A dual national and speaking both as an Israeli and an Armenian, Momjian expressed the hope that both Israelis and Palestinians would find the formula to live together in peace with a two-state solution, “but on the horizon there is not the thinnest ray of hope,” he said.
As for promises, Momjian quoted Machiavelli, considered by many to be the founder of modern political science, who said almost 500 years ago: “The promise given was a necessity of the past. The word broken is a necessity of the present.”
Among the guests were many past and present members of the Foreign Ministry, including Yael Banayan, long retired but a former minister counselor and deputy director of the Protocol Department, who came with her husband, Shmuel, and Zvi Mazel, a retired ambassador, widely recognized as an expert on Egyptian affairs, who came with his wife, trilingual author Michelle Mazel.
When asked how come there were so many Foreign Ministry personnel at an event hosted by an honorary consul, as distinct from a consul- general or an ambassador, one senior staff member quipped: “They came for the food.
It’s their dinner.” It was a joke, but it was on the verge of being serious. The deteriorating situation at the ministry and the cutbacks in all directions are gradually turning diplomacy into an undesired profession. Israel’s diplomats were once considered soldiers without uniforms, fighting the battle for Israel’s legitimacy.
But as their status is being eroded, so is their ability to influence.
■ AMONG THE many Israeli journalists who were in New York last week and this week was Channel 1’s commentator on military affairs Amir Bar Shalom, who also reports on other issues from time to time, especially when he is on an overseas assignment.
Bar Shalom and his camera crew were walking down the street near the United Nations building when they happened to bump into Jonathan and Esther Pollard.
Forbidden to give interviews to the media, Jonathan – who after 30 years in prison, after being convicted of espionage, is subject to draconian parole measures – was extremely wary in his conversation with Bar Shalom.
He kept looking over his shoulder to see if he was being followed.
What Bar Shalom was able to coax out of him was that his health has improved since his release from prison, but that he is pessimistic about whether the American authorities would ever allow him to realize his dream to live in Israel. In a rare move on the part of the Israeli authorities, Pollard, while in prison, was granted Israeli citizenship in November 1995.
When Bar Shalom asked him whether he thought that Israel had abandoned him, Pollard’s response was “the people are with me,” implying that now that he is no longer incarcerated, the government no longer cares.
Over the years Esther Pollard met several times with Netanyahu, who did indeed raise the question of Pollard’s possible release from an overlong period of incarceration with senior American officials, including President Barack Obama and his predecessors.
If Netanyahu made any effort to contact the Pollards while he was in New York, the media missed out on reporting it.
■ HOWEVER, EVEN if Netanyahu did not make contact with the Pollards, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who was in New York on a fund-raising mission, most certainly did.
Barkat was in a New York coffee shop frequented by the Pollards when he caught sight of them, and went to speak to them.
Barkat always wears the golden lion symbol of Jerusalem on the lapel of his jacket. He removed it and pinned it on the suspenders of Pollard’s trousers, saying: “If it’s forbidden for Jonathan to come to Jerusalem, then Jerusalem will come to Jonathan. We wish for the day that you can come to Jerusalem and make it your true home.” As far as anyone is aware, this was Pollard’s first meeting with an Israeli official since his release from prison.
■ DURING HIS stay in New York, Netanyahu was honored by the Hudson Institute with the 2016 Herman Kahn Award. At the awards ceremony, hosted at The Plaza Hotel in Manhattan last Thursday night, US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, who appears to be on a weekly commute between Israel and the US, shared a table with the Netanyahus and listened as Netanyahu engaged in an on-stage conversation with Roger Hertog, noted philanthropist and chairman of the Tikvah Fund.
The award is named after Hudson Institute’s founder, Herman Kahn, and is presented to leading public servants who exemplify a commitment to Western alliances as the bedrock of global security, prosperity and freedom. Netanyahu was honored for his lifetime of service to Israel; his nation’s efforts to combat Islamic radicalism; his stewardship of pathbreaking diplomatic initiatives in Asia, Africa and Latin America; and his transformative leadership of Israel’s thriving, pro-growth economy.
“No world leader has done more to transform his country’s economy, to open markets and deregulate, and to turn his country into a ‘Start-up Nation’ [which is] the model for the developed world,” said Hudson Institute president Kenneth Weinstein in his remarks. “Prime Minister Netanyahu has accomplished all of this while facing security challenges few can imagine having to face on a daily basis.”
■ ISRAELIS HAVE a very close people-to-people connection with the Philippines, due to the large number of Filipino caregivers in Israel, who with few exceptions prove to be the most devoted and responsible of employees.
However, Israelis don’t know enough about the beauty of the Philippines as a tourist destination.
It is not high on their list of travel priorities. But that may change following the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Philippine Airlines and El Al.
Jaime Bautista, president and chief operating officer of Philippine Airlines (PAL), specially came to Israel for the signing of the MoU with David Maimon, president and chief executive officer of El Al, with a view to bolstering cooperation between the two leading airline companies of their respective countries. The MoU was signed in the presence of Philippines Ambassador Neal Imperial at El Al’s head office in Tel Aviv.
Bautista said that with a growing travel market, tourism programs that are being developed by the Philippines and Israel will certainly contribute to more traffic between the two countries. “PAL is very hopeful that with this MoU signing, there will be sustainability in the market growth that will further improve the relationship between PAL and El Al.
Maimon said the MoU is a way to explore what the two flag carriers can do together to bring more tourists from the Philippines to Israel and from Israel to the Philippines.
Imperial hailed the MoU as an important step in bringing Filipinos and Israelis closer through better air links. He said that the cooperation between the two premier flag carriers will sustain the boom in tourism between the two countries following the signing of a new air services agreement in 2014. Tourist arrivals from Israel grew by 34% last year, and for the first 6 months of this year by about 36%, making it the third-largest tourism market of the Philippines in the Middle East.
■ AT THE pre-Rosh Hashana reception that the president of the State of Israel hosts each year for the heads of foreign missions, Alexander de la Rosa, the ambassador of the Dominican Republic, who is currently interim dean of the diplomatic corps, in voicing New Year greetings on behalf of his colleagues last week, said that his hope is for the resumption of the Middle East peace process, for the talks between Israel and the Palestinians to become a reality, and that all differences between the two be overcome.
De la Rosa took over the responsibilities of the dean in the absence of longtime dean Henri Etoundi Essomba, the ambassador of Cameroon, who left Israel early in April to take up his new posting in Washington.
Before leaving he promised to return for his official farewell. He has yet to do so, though he did send an SMS inquiring about the health of Shimon Peres.
Quoting Netanyahu, who during a visit to the White House in Washington last November said that Israel will never give up its hope for peace, De la Rosa emphasized the need for global peace in a world in which terrorism is violating human rights, creating crises and chaos and destabilizing peace and democracy.
In his opening remarks, President Reuven Rivlin stated that he knows that representatives of all the countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations join him in wishing health and a full recovery to former president Peres. (Coincidentally, a Chinese delegation, headed by the Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Ming, met with doctors and members of the Peres family at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, at around the same time, to personally convey the good wishes of the Chinese government and parliament. The Chinese dignitary declared that Peres is the father of the strategic relationship between Israel and China.) Rivlin expressed appreciation for the cooperation between Israel and the various countries represented by the diplomats, but he is especially happy “with the growing partnerships and friendships with our neighbors in the Middle East and the Mediterranean,” which he sees as a way to build a better future for all the peoples in the region.
Reciting a portion of the Unetaneh Tokef prayer, which is part of the High Holy Day services, and speaks of who shall live and who shall die, who by water and who by fire, Rivlin said that in the region during this past year “we have seen many people die by fire, and when trying to find safety, many have died by water. We have seen many people wander and many people face troubles. These terrible facts are not the actions of God but of people speaking in the name of God.” Standing up to these terrible deeds, said Rivlin, “needs the brave actions of man.”
Referring to lecturer and author Ralph Keyes, who wrote that we are living in a time when politics are led by emotions instead of values, when decisions are made based on what will be popular and not what is necessarily right, Rivlin disagreed with this thesis, saying that if it was true, the whole of the free world would be in danger of losing freedom, liberty and democracy, for which it had sacrificed so much.
It is his prayer, he said, that the world will focus on the politics of values on which [civilized] society was built, “and that we will remember that beneath the politics are people: men, women and children of all faiths and all nations. I hope their voices will be heard equally before the law and equally before society.”
■ AMBASSADORS HAVE the special privilege of being driven into the grounds of the presidential compound, whereas ordinary guests have to walk up the long drive, something more than a little uncomfortable (not to mention dangerous) for female guests wearing stiletto- heeled shoes. Standing under the pergola to greet them was genial Chief of Protocol of the Foreign Ministry Meron Reuben, who was somewhat cheesed off by those who had ignored the request to come without spouses.
Quite a number of those present were ambassadors-designate who were accompanied by their deputy chiefs of mission, because according to the rules they cannot yet function as ambassadors before presenting their credentials. Many, of course, do immediately get down to work, and the Foreign Ministry tends to cast a blind eye to this, knowing the frustrations of having to wait around for months sometimes until credentials can be presented. But if they visit the President’s Residence before they are officially accredited by Israel, they must be accompanied by the deputy chief of mission.
The next date for the presentation of credentials is November 7. There will be similar ceremonies in December, January, and February.
Credentials are presented chronologically in accordance with the date that an ambassador arrives in Israel.
The ministry is in somewhat of a quandary about what to do with the nonresident Fijian ambassador-designate, who was scheduled to present credentials on November 7, but whose prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, will be visiting Israel on that date, and whose presence in the country may, for reasons of protocol, override the presentation of credentials.
■ THE LATEST imbroglio between Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev and the film and entertainment community almost but not quite upstaged news of the prime minister’s doings in New York. Not only were her comments rebroadcast over and over, but culture icons and political analysts were interviewed about why she has these outbursts.
There was more or less consensus that she has advisers who tell to behave this way in order to keep her name in the headlines. Had she just ignored the Darwish poem, the Ophir Awards ceremony, which is Israel’s equivalent to the Oscars, would have been conducted with the dignity it deserved.
Other ministers, particularly those representing the religious parties, as well as prominent rabbis manage to sit or stand quietly at official events in which the program may include things that are offensive to them.
One would imagine that when the chief rabbis are invited to the President’s Residence, the female staff would be asked to dress modestly and to wear skirts instead of pants, and that female singers should not be part of the entertainment. But no request regarding dress is made of the female staff, and there are sometimes women singers. The rabbis do not complain nor do they walk out.
When ministers and deputy ministers representing Orthodox parties attend national day receptions hosted by foreign diplomats, the anthems of both countries are frequently sung by women, who are sometimes dressed in strapless evening gowns. Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman has on several occasions – both at the President’s Residence and at diplomatic events – been present when women are singing. He simply turns his head and focuses on something else. The same goes for Meir Porush. No fuss. No headlines.
■ DANNY DANON, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, is not only a proud Israeli but also a proud Jew who is now attempting to have kosher food available in the UN cafeterias. After successfully convincing the UN to include Yom Kippur as a day of rest, holding a Seder in the halls of Turtle Bay and hosting more than 70 ambassadors for a special showing of Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway, Danon is currently interested in making sure that people who observe the Jewish dietary laws and frequent the UN building will be able to find something to eat without in any way comprising their religious beliefs.
Danon sent a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, explaining that while there are many UN employees and diplomats from around the world who observe Jewish dietary restrictions, kosher food is not available in any of the cafeterias or restaurants in UN headquarters in New York. “For many Jews around the world, eating kosher food is a fundamental aspect of religious practice,” wrote Danon. “We believe that all citizens of the world should feel welcome in the UN,” he emphasized.
In his letter, Danon also requested that the secretary-general act to lower the high cost of kosher catering in the UN. The ambassador noted that when catering official events, the Israeli Mission, which orders only kosher food, is limited to working with one approved supplier and is forced to pay a staggering 40% more than other missions, which have a wide choice of caterers. In the spirit of competition, Danon requested that the UN allow additional kosher caterers to work within the organization’s headquarters and thereby enable the Israeli Mission and anyone else who wants to order kosher catering to lower their costs.
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