Grapevine: A president who wins friends

There was consensus that this was the best speech that any of them had heard at a state dinner in Jerusalem, because it came from the heart.

GIDI GOV takes a selfie with President Reuven Rivlin, Danny Sanderson (right), Ephraim Shamir (standing, left) and Alon Oleartchik. (photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
GIDI GOV takes a selfie with President Reuven Rivlin, Danny Sanderson (right), Ephraim Shamir (standing, left) and Alon Oleartchik.
(photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
Slovakian President Andrej Kiska is even more peripatetic than the late president Shimon Peres, who was one of Israel’s most frequent fliers. But Kiska got himself into trouble early in March when he went to Poland and took his daughter Natalia and other private individuals with him on a government aircraft. According to a report in The Slovak Spectator, Kiska also participated in the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone for a Polish skyscraper to be built by HB Reavis, a firm that employs his daughter. A parliamentary committee is now investigating the president’s transgressions.
Many countries have rules that forbid officials from taking nonofficial personnel as passengers in vehicles supplied by the state. Israel also has such a rule, which is frequently ignored and possibly overlooked by the authorities because it is so insignificant in comparison to some of the other peccadilloes of public and civil servants.
■ IF KISKA was at all concerned about what awaited him when he returned home, he certainly didn’t show it at the state dinner hosted in his honor by President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday night, which coincidentally was the third anniversary of Kiska’s election to the presidency. When it came to the formal speeches, Kiska discarded the one that his staff had prepared for him and said that he’d like to say something more personal.
When he was 27, he said, he went to the United States in the hope of migrating there. His wife and children remained in Slovakia. He couldn’t do much with his engineering degree, so he got a job in a gas station that was owned by a Jew from Ukraine. The two men spent a lot of time together and developed a friendship. Kiska’s employer knew little English, but he and Kiska were both fluent in Russian. Kiska, who could speak English, became his employer’s interpreter, and went everywhere with him, to his home to meet his family and to social events as well.
In this way, he got to meet a lot of Jews and was enormously impressed by how united the Jews were, and how willing they were to help each other. This surprised him, because people in Slovakia were not like that. When he returned home he was seriously thinking of becoming a Jew as a result of what he had experienced among Jews in New Jersey. He had been smitten by their energy and their will to fight together for a common cause.
He had sensed the same kind of unity during his first three days in Israel. “You speak about problems and try and find solutions. The most important thing is that you want to see results because of your history. My biggest inspiration in Israel is that things are done.” Misquoting Peres, Kiska said, “The thing I was not good at is that my dreams were not big enough.” What Peres said was that “the reality is bigger than anything we dared to dream.” The biggest mistake, said Kiska, “is to live on memories instead of putting dreams in front of you and fighting for those dreams and changing the world.”
In addition to the enthusiastic applause that followed his address, he got the unanimous approval of the members of the fourth estate who were sitting at the press table. There was consensus that this was the best speech that any of them had heard at a state dinner in Jerusalem, because it came from the heart.
■ NEIGHBORS WHO saw Gidi Gov, Danny Sanderson, Ephraim Shamir and Alon Oleartchik enter the President’s Residence could not be blamed for thinking that this was where they were going to launch the comeback of Kaveret, which was wildly popular in the early 1970s. But no, they had come to sing in the Internet Choir that will be singing full blast on video screens on Independence Day. Last year’s Internet Choir proved to be a great success and a lot of fun. The song for this year is “Natati Lach Hayai” (I Gave You My Life).
■ NOT EVERYONE in the European Parliament goes along with the policy of labeling goods from the West Bank to distinguish them from those marked “Made in Israel” or “Product of Israel.”
This week a group of some 15 members of the European Parliament along with some 150 other supporters came together in the central complex of the European Parliament in Brussels to inaugurate a new faction, Friends of Judea and Samaria in the European Parliament, headed by Petr Mach, who explained the need to inform the public and the members of the European Parliament of how taxpayers’ money is misused in support of terrorism at a time when Palestinian products enter Europe without being taxed, while those produced by Jews from Judea and Samaria are specifically taxed. Calling this an injustice, Mach said that the intention is to make this situation widely known and rectify it. The inaugural conference was a first step, he said.
The most moving speaker at the event was Ayala Shapira, who at age 11 suffered burns on 40% of her body when a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the car in which she was riding with her father, who was driving. Three years later, she is still bandaged and receiving regular medical treatments every week. She came to Brussels with her mother and with Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council, to tell her story and to show how terrorists can destroy the beauty of childhood. She had spent eight months in the hospital. On how the Molotov cocktail had shattered the window of the car and fallen between her and her father, she related how everything around her was burning and that she had thought at the time that she was going to die.
Referring to the young terrorist who had thrown the petrol bomb, Shapira said: “The terrorist who threw the Molotov cocktail at our car was 16 years old, only a few years older than me. He knew that if he goes into prison, the Palestinians will take care of his family.” The inference was that Palestinian teenagers from poor families know that the best way to guarantee their sustenance is to attack and kill or maim Israelis, and go to prison, so that their families can receive regular grants.
■ ONE OF the people who has spent years exposing the incitement in the textbooks of Palestinian schoolchildren and the hypocrisy of UNRWA is David Bedein, a social worker turned investigative journalist, who in 1987 established the Israel Resource Agency in Jerusalem to accompany foreign journalists in their coverage of Israel and thereby to balance the media lobbies established by the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Bedein, who has written for numerous local and foreign news outlets, has also written a book, Genesis of the Palestinian Authority, describing how for two decades the PLO and the UN have promoted the idea that the PA and UNRWA constitute innocuous entities that advocate peace in the Middle East, and how he has worked toward unmasking them. The book reflects the manner in which the PA creates financial incentives for anyone who murders a Jew; how UNRWA allows Hamas terrorist groups to take over its facilities; how the PA forges a military alliance with Hamas; how UNRWA and the PA adopt a war curriculum; and much more of which the general public is unaware.
To make all this information known to as wide a public as possible, Bedein has now embarked on a new tack and is willing to conduct conversations via Skype to interested parties all over the world on any day of the week except Saturday. The times to call are: 4 a.m. in Israel; 1 p.m. in Melbourne; 4 p.m. in Honolulu;; 6 p.m. in Los Angeles; 7 p.m. in Denver; 8 p.m. in Chicago and 9 p.m. in Brooklyn. Further details are available at [email protected]
■ MOST OF the people who this week attended the opening at Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People of the photo exhibition “A Lesson in History” through the photography of Chim, whose actual name was David Seymour, were interested in the subject matter of the photographs, especially the color photos that Chim took in Israel in the 1950s and which were being shown to the public for the first time.
But at least one of the 300 guests at the opening was also interested in all the photographic aspects of the exhibition, not just the subject matter. That person was Israel Prize laureate Micha Bar-Am, who, along with the late David Rubinger, documented so much of Israel’s unfolding history. Bar-Am, like Chim, worked for the Magnum Photography Agency, of which Chim was one of the founders, so the two had much in common. Bar- Am attended the opening with his wife, Orna.
Other guests included: Chim’s niece and nephew, Helen Sarid and Ben Schneiderman, who initiated the exhibition at Beit Hatfutsot, Dan Tadmor, CEO of Beit Hatfutsot, Hanna Pri-Zan, chairwoman of Israel Friends of Beit Hatfutsot, and Adi Akunis, director of Israel Friends of Beit Hatfutsot, who was accompanied by her husband, Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis, Dr. Orit Shaham Gover, chief curator of Beit Hatfutsot, Amnon Dik, chairman of Tel Aviv University Friends and a member of the executive of UNICEF in Israel, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, co-chairman of the board of governors of Beit Hatfutsot and Ravit Tralovski, Gil and Hedva Sharon, and internationally renowned investigative journalist Ronen Bergman.
Among the photographs taken by Chim are his documentation of the most important events in the first half of the 20th century: the Spanish Civil War, Europe after WWII, especially the orphans – which made him the first international photographer of UNICEF; and the early years of the State of Israel.
Chim was also known for his photographs of Hollywood stars and world-acclaimed artists. Among them were Pablo Picasso, Ingrid Bergman, Kirk Douglas, Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren, whose names were household words.
Chim was killed by Egyptian gunfire in 1956, while on assignment for Life magazine, which commissioned him to photograph the prisoner exchange in the aftermath of the Suez crisis.
[email protected]