Grapevine: Annexation – a controversial subject

Russia has joined other nations in declaring annexation 'dangerous'.

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR Anatoly Viktorov with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (photo credit: COURTESY RUSSIAN EMBASSY IN ISRAEL)
RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR Anatoly Viktorov with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi
It is not unusual for ambassadors hosting national day receptions to include in their official remarks a wish for peace and prosperity for Israel, coupled with an endorsement of the two-state solution that will enable Israel and the Palestinians to live in harmony side by side.
Such endorsements now have an annexation corollary, as expressed last week by Russian Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov at the Russian national day reception in the compound of Righteous Tabitha in Jaffa. Toward the tail end of his address, Viktorov said: “We believe that the realization of intentions to apply Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank would be a very dangerous development. Israel’s annexation of part of the Palestinian territories would cross out the prospects of a Palestinian-Israeli settlement and provoke a new round of violence.”
The reception, one of the very few to take place during a period in which restrictions are still in force, was held in accordance with Health Ministry regulations. Guests were all asked to wear masks, and there was plenty of alcogel available, for those guests who had forgotten their masks and had neglected to wash their hands.
Guests of honor were Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Water Resources Minister Ze’ev Elkin. There were far fewer guests than in previous years, due to limitations placed on the number of participants. Former aliyah and integration minister Sofa Landver, a native of St. Petersburg, was present, but conspicuously absent was former defense and foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, as were the bemedaled veterans of the Red Army. But among those who did attend were Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III; Archimandrite Alexander, head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, who made the venue for the reception available to the Russian Embassy; Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog; and former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who was acknowledged as such by Ashkenazi when it was his turn to speak.
Earlier in the evening, Ashkenazi and Herzog had been engaged in an intimate tête-à-tête with Olmert, as had Kazakhstan Ambassador Satybaldy Burshakov. Olmert has a long-standing relationship with a succession of Kazakhstan ambassadors. What was interesting to observe was that while Olmert may not be the flavor of the month with many Jerusalem Post readers, he is a firm favorite in political, diplomatic and business circles, where people flock to him like bees to the honey.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the victory of the Red Army over the Nazi occupying forces. A large, wide-ranging victory exhibition was on display around most of the edge of the spacious lawn.
Elkin is notorious for being late, and although he had phoned to say he was on the way, the Russians got tired of waiting for him and went ahead with the official part of the ceremony without him. Elkin arrived just before the toasts at the conclusion of the formalities.
In some countries that were part of the Soviet bloc, national holidays, especially Independence Day, date back to the pre-Soviet era.
The June 12 national day was declared in the early 1990s in recognition of the sovereignty of the Russian Federation, which had broken free of the Soviet yoke.
It is becoming increasingly meaningful to Russian citizens, reflecting the traditions of cohesion and devotion to the motherland that characterize the Russian people, said Viktorov.
Relating to his country’s dramatic transformation in the 1990s, Viktorov said that during a relatively short period in historical terms, Russia had managed to create the legal and economic foundation of modern Russia, ensuring the strength of its sovereignty and democratic structure, while preserving peace and harmony between the peoples of Russia’s diverse population.
Viktorov indicated that Russian expatriates maintain closer ties to the land of their birth than many expatriates from other countries. An example was the upcoming nationwide vote on amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation, in which Russian citizens living in Israel will also be allowed to vote.
High on the list of Russia’s priorities, and an area in which it cooperates strongly with Israel, is the fight against international terrorism, including in Syria.
Moving back in time to another important fight, Viktorov said: “Seventy-five years ago, thanks to the collective efforts of the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition, we managed to gain victory over Nazism and stop the Holocaust. It is gratifying that Israel is cherishing the memory of the Great Patriotic War, and, unlike some other countries, new monuments dedicated to the heroic deeds of the Red Army soldiers, Jewish soldiers and the entire multinational Soviet people are being built in Israel.”
While President Vladimir Putin had previously paid two visits to Israel, his third, which took place in January this year, was of particular significance. Viktorov noted that Putin not only participated in the international conference on Remembering the Holocaust: Fighting Antisemitism, but also attended the unveiling ceremony of the Candle of Remembrance monument, which is dedicated to the heroic defenders and residents of Leningrad during the period in which it was under siege.
Viktorov voiced the hope that many Israelis would visit this monument, which stands as a symbol against those “who seek to rewrite history by whitewashing Nazi henchmen and denying the Holocaust.”
Ashkenazi, who noted that next year Israel and Russia will celebrate 30 years since the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, revealed his personal interest in the triumph of the Red Army over the Nazis. In September 1944, the Red Army liberated Bulgaria, thus saving the life of Ashkenazi’s father, Josef. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” he quipped. He assured his Russian hosts that the people and the government of Israel will always remember the courage and sacrifice of the Red Army and of the people living in what was then the USSR.
Commenting on the venue, Ashkenazi said that it was the first time that he had been there, and he found it to be very beautiful. He was extremely pleased on this occasion to represent the government and people of Israel, albeit to a select group due to COVID-19 limitations. He voiced the hope that “we can soon find a way to get back to normal.”
Speaking of the Russian immigrants to Israel, Ashkenazi said that they serve as a bridge between the two nations.
He also spoke of binational cooperation in fighting international terrorism, of the ever-expanding economic cooperation and of two-way tourism which he hopes could soon be resumed so that people on both sides could enjoy the beauty of each other’s countries.
Unlike most other people, Ashkenazi and Viktorov have no qualms about shaking hands, and shook hands with each other and a couple of other people, even though for the most part they bumped elbows.
Viktorov is his country’s seventh ambassador to Israel. The first was Alexander Bovin, who presented his credentials to President Chaim Herzog in December, 1991. He was the last ambassador of the Soviet Union, and the following day became the first ambassador of the Russian Federation.
■ SOMETIMES ONE wonders why the Jewish world was mobilized and galvanized into mounting Let My People Go campaigns to secure the release of Soviet Jewry, given the humiliation that Russian olim have suffered and continue to suffer in Israel. Not all wanted to come to Israel, and Israel fought to deprive them of their refugee status if they opted for any place but Israel. Yet in Israel, despite having passed any number of bureaucratic tests to prove their Jewish identities, and finally being registered as such, all of a sudden, a child born in Israel is denied its Jewish identity. The Chief Rabbinate has never been happy with the Law of Return which allows people with only one Jewish grandparent to enter the country, and Interior Minister Arye Deri says that if he had been among those who formulated the Law of Return, he would certainly have written it differently.
But a Jewish woman from the former Soviet who is recognized as Jewish, as is her mother, is livid because her Israeli-born child is not recognized as Jewish and is one of hundreds of children in the same ludicrous position. Interviewed on KAN 11, the woman, who came to Israel as a child, as did Deri, wondered whether, if she challenged him to produce documents attesting to the fact that his great-great-grandparents on both sides were Jewish, he could do so.
She recalled that her family and many others had observed Jewish holidays in secret while living under the Soviet regime, and that they had always known they were Jewish. Many of those who had dreamed of one day living in the Jewish homeland had their Jewish identities snatched away from them by the rabbinate and the Interior Ministry, and this affected the manner in which their children were registered at birth, denied them the right to marry in Israel, and denied them the right to burial in a Jewish cemetery.
Rabbi Seth Farber, a champion of inclusiveness for Jews of all stripes, has been fighting this form of bureaucratic cruelty for years. When former legislator and deputy defense minister Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan was director-general of the Rabbinical Court system of the Chief Rabbinate, one of his missions was to prove that people were halachicly Jewish, rather than try to prove that they were not. He went to extraordinary lengths in these endeavors, and sometimes what seemed to be the most insignificant clue led him to what he had hoped to find.
■ MOST FOREIGN leaders who come to Israel stay at the King David hotel in Jerusalem, but the King David has not resumed operations. Thus, when it was known that Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades were coming to Israel this month, their embassies naturally sought to reserve rooms for them and their respective entourages at the King David, but the hotels in the Dan chain are not yet open for business. The first luxury hotel in Jerusalem to reopen its doors to regular guests was the Waldorf Astoria, which was more than happy to host the dignitaries from Greece and Cyprus. It was at the Waldorf that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met his Greek counterpart face-to-face on Tuesday, following their Zoom toast last month to 30 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and Greece.
His visit to Israel was the Greek prime minister’s first trip outside his country since the start of the pandemic. Aside from discussing the gas pipeline, military cooperation and the revival of tourism with Netanyahu, Mitsotakis was primarily interested in strengthening investment relations between Greece and Israel, and toward this end met with representatives of Jerusalem Venture Partners, AMPA Capital, Elbit Systems and the Israel-Greece Chamber of Commerce.
In the evening Mitsotakis and his wife, Mareva, joined Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, for dinner, and on Wednesday he is scheduled to have a working meeting with President Reuven Rivlin. His itinerary also includes a visit to Yad Vashem, accompanied by Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen.
■ ALTHOUGH IT missed out on this occasion, the King David is looking to the future and hopes to attract domestic tourism until such time as foreign tourism is renewed. The hotel is offering guests who are fed up with Zoom the opportunity to meet live lecturers such as legal expert Prof. Suzie Navot; psychology expert, brain researcher and author Prof. Yoram Yovell; historian, author and radio host Dr. Yitzhak Noy; radio host journalist, Grecophile and lecturer Yaron Enosh and operatic singer Goni Knaani. The lectures will be provided for guests staying at the hotel for two nights. Breakfast and dinner are included in the deal.
The King David is the flagship in the Dan Hotels chain. Were it not for the COVID-19 crisis, the Russian national reception last Thursday would have been held at another hotel in the chain, the Dan Accadia, but as indicated above, the Dan hotels have not yet reopened for business.
■ RUSSIA IS not the only country with a diplomatic mission in Israel and national holiday or Independence Day in June. Among the others are Italy, Sweden, Portugal and the Philippines, which all forfeited their annual receptions. There was also the Queen’s Birthday, which even in England was very low-key, without the Trooping of the Color ceremony and the queen riding through the streets of London and waving to cheering crowds.
The queen’s actual birthday is in April, but her official birthday is on the second Saturday in June. This year, the queen, unaccompanied by other members of the royal family, watched a unique ceremony on the lawns of Windsor Castle where the Welsh Guards, suitably distanced from each other, saluted Her Majesty and played the national anthem. This was the queen’s first public appearance since lockdown, and the first time that such an event had been held at Windsor Castle since 1895.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the queen’s grandson Harry, who can longer make use of his royal highness title, was busy doing good deeds. Together with his wife, he signed up with Project Angel Food to deliver meals to the poor and the elderly. Dressed in jeans and casual tops, their faces masked, few people would have recognized Prince Harry or Meghan Markle.
Here in Israel, British Ambassador Neil Wigan was unable to emulate his immediate predecessors, David Quarrey and Matthew Gould, who hosted mammoth Queen’s Birthday receptions, but he will be appearing Wednesday in a Zoom discussion with Ambassador to the United Kingdom Mark Regev, talking about business opportunities in England and Israel. They will be joined on screen by Matthew Salter, the trade attaché at the British Embassy, Yariv Becher, the head of the Economic Trade Mission at the Israel Embassy in London, Idan Fisher of the UK-Israel Tech Hub at the British Embassy, and Anita Leviant, president of the Israel-British Chamber of Commerce. Full contact details are available on the British Embassy website.
■ INITIALLY SCHEDULED to take place on May 10, Poland’s presidential elections were postponed due to difficulties posed by a COVID-19 lockdown, and will now be held on June 28. Earlier in the year, it looked like a shoo-in return vote for incumbent Andrzej Duda, but in the new global political climate of accepting the other, Duda has made the mistake of speaking out too often and too loudly against the LGBT community. His main opponent is Rafal Trzaskowski, who represents the Civic Platform and who was elected mayor of Warsaw just over a month ago. If Trzaskowski, who has served as a member of the European Parliament, minister of administration and digitization as well as secretary of state in Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was also a member of the Polish parliament. If he succeeds in unseating Duda, Trzaskowski will be one of the most short-lived mayors in history.
■ MONEY AND status often pave the way for entry into places and social and business circles that may be barred to ordinary people – but not always. For instance, there’s an acute difference between Israeli-Cypriot billionaire Teddy Sagi, who was born in Tel Aviv, and American Jewish billionaire Brandon Korff, each of whom circumvented the quarantine regulations for people coming in from abroad.
Sagi got away with it, primarily because he had been tested for coronavirus in Cyprus prior to arriving in Israel, he had all the documents required, and had ostensibly arrived to attend a family celebration. The scandal erupted afterward, but it wasn’t Sagi who got into trouble.
In Korff’s case, he wanted to surprise his Israeli girlfriend, with whom he shares an apartment in Tel Aviv when he’s in Israel, despite the fact that they both come from Orthodox backgrounds. About a year ago, Korff, 35, started dating Israeli fashion model and actress Yael Shelbia, 18, who is currently doing her mandatory army service. He was well aware of the quarantine rules when he arrived, but quickly violated them and went out walking with Shelbia. Even before that, he had violated them by being in the same room with her. Shelbia was somewhat more responsible and notified the army of her situation. She was told to stay in isolation for the required number of days. But the immigration authorities were not impressed by Korff’s money or his pedigree, and deported him. Korff is the grandson of Sumner Redstone (originally Rothstein), the controlling shareholder of ViacomCBS; and the son of Grand Rabbi Yitzhak Aharon Korff, the Rebbe of Zvhil-Mezhbizh, who is a direct descendant of the Baal Shem Tov.
■ STATUS ALSO proved to no avail last Friday night when Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz sought to join his friend Amir Peled, a businessman, for a dip in the pool in the Tel Aviv luxury apartment complex in which Peled resides. Although the pool is actually privately operated, the rules pertaining to its use are determined by the residents, who decided that during the coronavirus crisis, no outsiders, be they relatives or friends, could use the pool. It was strictly for the use of residents only. Without consulting his neighbors, Peled got a green light for Gantz from the pool manager. The neighbors were furious, declaring that rules were not to be broken, regardless of who was breaking them.
■ IN RESPONSE to the number of drownings and near drownings in Israel, especially among children, a group of Australian expatriates, with the blessing of Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan, has brought an Australian junior lifesaving concept known as Nippers to Israel. No child is ever too young to be taught to swim, and once children are strong swimmers, they can also be taught lifesaving techniques which they can utilize immediately if they see someone in difficulties in the water, before an adult lifesaver arrives on the scene.
“The Nippers program for young people lies at the heart of the surf lifesaving movement in Australia,” says Cannan.
Herzliya Nippers is headed by Paul Hakim, president of the Israel Lifesaving Federation, along with Danny Hakim who serves as chairman together with Dr. Harvey Belik, Lisa Segelov and Theodora Ben Yakar. All the members of the Herzliya Nippers executive are involved in other social welfare, lifesaving and peace projects.
■ BULLDOZER THOUGH he may be, Finance Minister Israel Katz has more than the usual challenges confronting the gatekeeper to the Treasury. It’s common knowledge that his nemesis is would-be finance minister and former Jerusalem mayor Likud MK Nir Barkat. But Barkat is not the only thorn in Katz’s side. There’s also Economy Minister Amir Peretz, who is chairman of what’s left of the Labor Party, and for whom this may be his last political stand.
Peretz is angry with Katz because the latter is rewarding employers who have returned to business and are taking back staff who were sent on furlough without pay. But employers who were more concerned about the welfare of their employees, and who at great sacrifice kept their businesses going during lockdown so that their employees could earn a salary of sorts, are receiving zilch from the government. Peretz thinks that this is grossly unfair, and intends to fight Katz all the way, because this is not how loyal soldiers of the economy should be treated.
■ LEYVIK HOUSE in Tel Aviv, which is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary with a series of events in Hebrew and Yiddish, exists for the purpose of preserving and promoting Yiddish language and culture and publishing books in Yiddish and about Yiddish. It also promotes Ashkenazi culture as distinct from Jewish cultural activities in countries that are essentially neither European nor Western. Leyvik House endeavors, through lectures, plays, musical works and poetry readings, to preserve the cultural traditions held dear by its founders, who included literary giant Avraham Sutzkever, and encourages Yiddish-language writers by awarding prizes. Among the writers with whom it has an ongoing relationship are Rivka Basman Ben-Haim, Israel Rudnitzky, Moshe Sachar, Moshe-David Hayat and Sarah Singer.
Its next Yiddish event, in the context of its jubilee celebrations, will be this coming Sunday, June 21, at 7 p.m.