Grapevine April 3, 2020: To the skies nonetheless

Movers and shakers in Israeli society

El Al crew practices social distancing after landing in Perth to bring Israelis stranded in Australia back home (photo credit: EL AL)
El Al crew practices social distancing after landing in Perth to bring Israelis stranded in Australia back home
(photo credit: EL AL)
In January of this year, Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan was enthusing about El Al's projected first commercial flight to Australia, which was scheduled to land in Melbourne. Cannan was telling Australian expatriates in Israel that the flight would get to Melbourne in time for Passover.
Due to the present crisis, that initial plan was scrapped, and El Al last month flew to Perth to take home Australian Zionist youths working on volunteer projects in Israel, and to bring back Israelis stranded down under. But this week, despite its suspension of commercial flights, another El Al plane left Israel at 5 p.m on Wednesday, this time bound for Melbourne, to bring home another full load of Israelis. Anyone walking along the main shopping areas of Melbourne's Jewish suburbia will hear lots of Hebrew spoken in the street, in shops and in restaurants.
 Meirav Elon Shahar, the Foreign Ministry's coordinator for overseas operations, in a radio interview said that cooperation with the governments of other countries with regard to the repatriation of Israelis was extraordinary – and such cooperation was not by the governments alone. In Bolivia, a man by the name of Felipe put a plane at the disposal of the Israel Embassy to pick up Israelis stranded in five different parts of the country; and in Germany two German airlines are bringing stranded Israelis home to Israel and are putting the cost factor on the back burner.
Although El Al's economic situation is currently at one of its lowest points, the very fact that in its repatriation operations, El Al has flown to countries where it had never flown before in its mission to bring Israelis home, may augur well for future destinations for Israel's national carrier once the crisis is over.
It has already updated its fleet by taking possession of the first of 16 Dreamliner planes at a total investment of more than $1.25 billion. In order to once again take to the skies, it will have to reorganize its fiscal policy and will need a huge cash injection from the government, even though it is no longer a state-owned company.
THE STATUS quo has proved how suddenly life can change and how quickly the freedoms we take for granted can be curtailed by something beyond our control. There are many who mournfully predict that Israel will never be the same again, that economic recovery will take years, and that our social habits will be based on distance rather than closeness.
There is no doubt that much of what was in the pre-coronavirus era will be different. For instance, the world's major sporting event, the Olympic Games, has been moved from this year to July next year. Up until now, the Olympic Games have been held every four years.
Does this mean that they will now be held every five years or that the 2024 Games will go ahead on the originally scheduled date? It certainly makes a difference as far as Israeli athletes are concerned, because unless they are still in top form next year, those selected to go to Japan this year, will lose their places on the Israeli Olympic Team. If they go for several months without training, their prowess will be negatively affected.
As far as professions go, some will become obsolete and others may have to downsize. The fashion industry is missing out on its spring/summer season. Does that mean that this season's styles will be held over to next year? If so, what happens to all the people involved in clothing design and manufacture? How long will it take for entertainers to get back the gigs they had lined up for the coming year, and now that money is so tight, can they be assured of paying audiences? It's all very worrying.
Diplomacy has also changed. Four ambassadors-designate who were scheduled to present their credentials to President Reuven Rivlin on March 23, had their ceremonies cancelled due to restrictions imposed by the Health Ministry.
Actually ,that's rather strange taking into account that Rivlin has been hosting civilian and military officials on an individual basis. There was no reason to cancel the ceremony if 10 people were permitted into the room. Admittedly, the pomp that goes with it would have been absent, but the credentials of the new ambassadors would have been presented in accordance with international protocol.
Nonetheless, the four ambassadors-designate - Margarita Eliana Manjarrez Herrer of Colombia; Du Wei of The People's Republic of China; Panayotis N. Sarris of the Hellenic Republic; and Anne Dorte Riggelsen of the Kingdom of Denmark - received full recognition from Israel's Foreign Ministry, which acting in accordance with the Vienna Convention, decided to recognize the four envoys as ambassadors and not as designates effective March 23, 2020.
Letters of explanation were sent out to the heads of embassies and consulates stating that due to the extraordinary measures being undertaken in Israel to protect public health in the face of the COVID-19 threat, it was unfortunately not possible to hold the presentation of credentials ceremony scheduled for March 23.
In light of these unique circumstances, and in accordance with Article 13 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961), the Foreign Ministry decided that as true copies of the credentials of the four ambassadors-designate were presented to the Foreign Ministry's Chief of Protocol Meron Reuben, they would be considered as having taken up their functions as of March 23.
IN RESPONSE to a post written by Dror Eydar, Israel's ambassador to Italy, Achinoam Nini is giving a virtual benefit concert this Saturday night April 4, on behalf of the people of Bergamo, Italy, which has suffered one of the highest death tolls in Europe.
Eydar wrote: “My heart cannot contain the agony. As the ambassador of Israel in Italy, I receive messages from people all over Italy.” He shared some of the details of a conversation that he had with a woman from Bergamo, Lombardy, who had written to him in desperation.
“I called her, and she wept and wept, and I wept with her,” he wrote. “Please share her cry for help and spread it far and wide. This is a time of emergency and all humanity needs to join efforts in order to combat the deadly invader. Our sages taught us that salvation can come from anyone and from anywhere. So perhaps someone will read this cry, and be able to help these wonderful people.”
The woman had told him that she was sorry to bother him but that the situation in Bergamo was so desperate that hundreds of people were dying every day. Doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers are ill and the entire system is collapsing. Help is urgently needed.
“We are not able to bury our dead. No carrier is willing to enter Lombardy. Coffins are piled up everywhere; all the protection devices are used up,” she told Eydar, and asked if he could help by using other channels.
Although China is helping, she explained, deliveries of orders from China take at least two weeks and no one else is able to supply anything. Doctors work barefaced and fall ill. There are no more gloves or overalls available.
She added that she has close friends working in hospitals, and friends working in supply management. She, herself, is a volunteer and sees people dying. This includes helpless doctors, many of whom have died. One hundred family doctors are seriously ill.
The woman had cancer and her system is weak. “If I fall ill, they will not treat me, because they have to decide whom to treat, and prefer those who will survive,” she said. “Every hospital bed is occupied and so are the corridors.”
She did not know if Eydar, who was calling her from Rome, could hear the ambulances and helicopters around her.
“They don't know where to put the patients. The doctors are collapsing. The situation is that if I get ill, no one would take care of me. I will only be able call the emergency services if I cannot breathe,” she said. “We are alone. We feel alone.”
 In solidarity with Italian state institutions, which this week lowered their flags to half-mast in tribute to the dead, Eydar also lowered the flag over the Israeli Embassy.
Nini, who has performed many times in Italy, was so moved by the message that she decided to do a virtual benefit concert together with her permanent accompanist, guitarist Gil Dor, from the studio of her home.
“This is an important time to show solidarity” she says on her official website.
She is also planning a future virtual concert on behalf of the people of Spain.