Grapevine: Arabs are humans, too

This week's social news.

An Israeli Arab casts her ballot at a polling station inside a church in the northern town of Reineh (photo credit: REUTERS)
An Israeli Arab casts her ballot at a polling station inside a church in the northern town of Reineh
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Too often in the Israeli narrative, Arabs are portrayed as terrorists and brutal killers. In some circles, no provision is made for those Arabs who are decent human beings raising families and hoping that their children and grandchildren will not know the discrimination and hostility that they themselves have experienced. But not all terrorists are Arabs, and not all Arabs are terrorists. However, there is a tendency to generalize so that the message will be stronger.
A similar tendency exists in some parts of the Arab camp, where anti-Israeli or anti-Jewish tendencies begin to germinate.
Among those Israelis who long ago realized that Arabs are human, too, is former Channel 10 journalist Shlomi Eldar. Among the Arabs who would not allow themselves to be dragged into the mire of hatred is Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a physician from Gaza, who has worked in Israeli hospitals and has many Israeli friends. Eldar is one of them.
Five years ago, Eldar moved to the United States, after having made a documentary about Abuelaish, who was mistakenly convinced that his family would not be harmed by Israeli retaliation to rockets fired from Gaza. But in January 2009, two Israeli shells hit his home, killing three of his daughters and a niece, and wounding another daughter and her cousin. In desperation Abuelaish called Eldar, who featured his friend’s anguish live on television and arranged for the wounded to be transported and treated at the Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, where Abuelaish had been employed.
Less than a year later, Abuelaish and his remaining children moved to Canada. His wife had died from cancer shortly before the Gaza war, so the family’s emotions were raw for several reasons.
Eldar was back in Israel last week for the Israeli premier of his documentary film Foreign Land featuring Ghassan Abbas, who played the dumb waiter in The Big Restaurant which ran on Channel 1 from 1985 to 1988 with a mixed Jewish and Arab cast who worked together in harmony, and starred the late Jacques Cohen as restaurant owner Abu Rahmu, and the late Bassam Zuamat as the hilarious chef Hakim.
In Foreign Land, which despite the objection of Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, was screened at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque last Thursday and will be screened on Kan 11 on Wednesday, March 21, at 9 p.m., Abbas and Eldar each tries to find his place in the world, against the backdrop of growing extremism among both their peoples. Eldar admits that he does not feel at home in America, but he doesn’t feel at home in Israel either; and Abbas, although he has Israeli nationality, feels like a stranger in his own land, and cannot understand how Abuelaish, despite the enormous tragedy that he has suffered, can continue to talk about peace. It is an emotionally raw and very honest production.
Among those who came to the Cinematheque last week to see the film, to reconnect with Eldar and to listen to Abbas speak in person about his feelings, were Oshrat Kotler, Aryeh Golan, Dovele Glickman, Yevgenia Dodina, Alex Ansky, Maayan Keret and many other well-known personalities, including former education minister Yuli Tamir and Nitzan Chen, the head of the Government Press Office.
■ THE YOUNG waiter in the Duvshanit coffee shop on Jerusalem’s Hapalmah Street looked vaguely familiar to some of the older diners. They couldn’t quite place him, but after staring at him for a while some reached the conclusion that he looked like a young Bibi Netanyahu. Hardly surprising, because Avner Netanyahu, at 23, looks very much like his dad did at the same age.
When he was a little boy, Avner had a habit of trying to evade security guards. Actually, he was very good at it, and sometimes threw a scare into them when they couldn’t find him immediately. But as he grew older, he became more serious and responsible as well as religiously observant.
On a post-army trip to the Antipodes, he returned home earlier than expected because the family dog, Kaia, was dying and he wanted to be there to comfort Man’s best friend.
Unlike older brother Yair, Avner’s name has not been linked with scandal, although there have been questions as to why he needs a security guard 24/7. But that’s not a decision that he took. Most people who meet him think he’s a really nice and friendly young man. He’s also something of a Bible expert – a trait that runs in his mother’s family. When he was 15, Avner won the National Bible Quiz for Youth.
■ WITH PASSOVER around the corner, Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar – who is currently in Israel and conscious of the beginning of the Seder service, in which all who are hungry are invited to come in and eat – says that this should be more than mere lip service. Many Russian immigrants to Israel have never been to a Seder. Speaking this week at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem, Lazar suggested that if people really want to be true to the message of the Hagadda, they should invite a Russian family to their home for Seder night; or if that is not feasible, should at least take a package of matzot as a gift to a Russian family. To invite Russian immigrants to the Seder would be a mutually rewarding experience, he said.
In Russia itself, more than 200 tons of matzot are being delivered to Jews around the country, and large community Seders are being held in 200 cities. One of these will be attended by one of the sons of Beit Avi Chai executive director David Rozenson.
The Rozenson family lived in Russia for 13 years before coming to Israel. David Rozenson was born in Russia, was raised in America, and was asked by the Avi Chai Foundation to return to the land of his birth to imbue more Jewish awareness in Russian Jews. The contract was originally for a year, but stretched into two and three years, until eventually it resulted in 13 years.
Before going to Russia with a young wife and two children, Rozenson had been warned not to embark on such an undertaking. He ignored the warnings and found Russian Jews to be warm people who were happy to redeem their heritage.
In the time that he spent there, he and Lazar became good friends, and his son’s bar mitzvas were at the Rohr Synagogue in the Marina Roscha Jewish Community Center, which is where Lazar’s headquarters are located. In fact, last October the family returned there for the bar mitzva of Moshe Rozenson.
Lazar on Monday night assured Israelis and any other Jews traveling to Sochi for the FIFA World Cup, being held from mid-June to mid-July, that there will be kosher food available for those who want it, and that there will also be a synagogue and other religious services for those who want to avail themselves.
■ FOR YEARS the so-called Ashkenazi elite looked down on their brethren from North Africa, considered them to be primitive, found fault with almost everything they did, and seemed to forget that Moses, his brother, Aaron, and their sister, Miriam, were not born in Europe.
The North Africans who came here in the 1950s lived under intolerable conditions. They were sent to transit camps, where they had to share the meager facilities, and where food and jobs were scarce. Among them was a 20-year-old young man who, with his parents and other relatives, left their comfortable home in Rabat on Seder night and headed for Gibraltar, near the Moroccan border. Many other Moroccans who attempted the perilous journey across the sea drowned en route.
The 20-year-old was David Levy, whose family was sent to Beit She’an, where conditions were so harsh that Levy often regretted having imposed his Zionist dreams on his parents. He became a builder’s laborer, and projects that he worked on included the Shalom Meir Tower and the Tel Aviv Hilton.
Unafraid to speak up on behalf of fellow construction workers who were getting a raw deal, he quickly became the leader of the whole of the working class population of the town. He tried to join the Histadrut labor federation, but they didn’t want him, because he didn’t have the right ethnic credentials.
Because he was recognized as a fearless campaigner, who genuinely cared about the welfare of his fellow human beings, he was elected mayor. From there he went into national politics, and in the 1977 election was an ardent campaigner for Menachem Begin, who, after his victory, rewarded him by appointing him as immigrant absorption minister. He was subsequently housing and construction minister, deputy prime minister, and foreign minister. He is the only person to have served three times as foreign minister – first in 1990, then in 1996, and again in 1999.
He paved the way for many other Moroccan immigrants to realize their potential, and in fact was succeeded as foreign minister by another Moroccan-born Israeli, Prof. Shlomo Ben-Ami, a historian and former ambassador to Spain, who is currently vice president of the Toledo International Center for Peace.
In relation to recent events in Poland, Ben-Ami wrote in Project Syndicate, an international media organization that publishes and syndicates commentary and analysis on various important global topics, that Poland is not the first country to pervert history and edit the past in order to serve a nationalist narrative.
Among many other Moroccan immigrants who are wonderful success stories are film producers and distributors Leon and Moshe Edery; former minister and legal expert Prof. Shimon Shetreet; former government minister and presidential candidate Meir Shetrit and his wife, Ruth, who owns a very successful advertising and public relations company; Jerusalem Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar; prizewinning actor Ze’ev Revah; former Labor Party chairman and former defense minister MK Amir Peretz; promoter of Mimouna as a national festival Sam Ben Chetrit; chairman of Ruach Tova, founder of Ishra consulting firm and former MK Rafi Elul; former Black Panther and former MK Charlie Bitton; Interior Minister Arye Deri; Yesh Atid MK, former welfare and social services minister, former mayor of Dimona and former chairman of the Negev Development Authority Meir Cohen; and former chief of protocol at the Foreign Ministry Yitzhak Eldan.
When it was announced last week that Levy and Miriam Peretz, who was also born in Morocco, were to be the Israel Prize recipients on the evening of Independence Day, the joy of the Moroccan community was boundless. In interviews that Levy gave after the announcement, it was suggested that his next role might be that of president of the state, but he said that he has already given his share, and that he was not angling for another position. Of course, that doesn’t mean it won’t be offered. Another potential candidate is outgoing Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, who is also among this year’s Israel Prize laureates.
As both Levy and Sharansky are immigrants from different parts of the world who discovered that Israel is not only the Promised Land but the land of promise, perhaps a slight change could be made in the Israel Prize ceremony, so that each of them could speak on behalf of all the laureates. That would be the cherry on top of the Moroccan cake, and would also be yet another source of pride to Russian immigrants.
■ AS FOR Peretz, in addition to becoming an Israel Prize laureate, she has also joined the Israeli Public Council launched by the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, with a view to strengthening Israel-Diaspora ties. The project is run in conjunction with the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, and over the past decade has involved and Jewishly invigorated and empowered 13,000 women.
The 16 council members are all leading personalities in various fields, and include Peretz, who is an educator and a bereaved mother of two Israeli soldiers; Mehereta Baruch-Ron, deputy mayor of Tel Aviv; Lihi Lapid, journalist and author; Prof. Rivka Carmi, president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; Adi Altschuler, social activism entrepreneur and the founder of the Krembo Wings youth movement; Tali Lipkin-Shahak, journalist and broadcaster; Racheli Ebenboim, entrepreneur and activist; Limor Rubin, program director of Israel-American Jewish Relation at The Ruderman Family Foundation; Bat-Sheva Moshe, CEO of Unistream; Rivka Ravitz, chief of staff to the president of the State of Israel; Orna Hozman-Bechor, chairwoman of Ashdod Port; Michal Cohen, director-general of the Rashi Foundation and former director-general of the Education Ministry; Sonia De Mesquita, director of programs, World Jewish Congress; Rachelle Sprecher Fraenkel, Torah educator and director of Matan’s Hilchata Institute; Imi Eiron, CEO of Saloona; and Adina Bar-Shalom, social activist, founder of the recently defunct Haredi College in Jerusalem, 2014 Israel Prize Laureate.
■ MANY PEOPLE might be surprised, in view of the continuing anti-army service battle on the part of haredi political parties, to learn that some of their past and present legislators have actually served in the IDF. Among them are Deri, Meir Porush, Ya’acov Margi, Yoav Ben-Tzur, Yitzhak Cohen and Menahem Eliezer Moses. It doesn’t seem to have done them any harm, so it might be beneficial for all haredi young men.
■ WHEN HE speaks at events at his official residence, President Reuven Rivlin is always the first speaker, which means that he doesn’t comment on anything that other speakers have to say. But on Wednesday, March 21, he will be the final speaker at an all-day conference at Netanya Academic College in memory of Meir Dagan, who was among the directors of Mossad. Dagan, who as a major-general in the IDF earned a reputation as a brave warrior who contributed greatly to Israel’s security, died in March 2016. Among the other distinguished speakers are former government minister Ephraim Sneh and former US ambassador Dan Shapiro.
■ FORMER LABOR MK Einat Wilf, speaking this week at a World Jewish Congress-Israel Council on Foreign Relations event in Jerusalem, said that she had come across a definition of Israel that she liked, but had not been able to track down the author of the statement, which is that Israel is the only country in which the media really is controlled by Jews.
■ AT THE same event, in which there was much discussion on relations between Israel and the Diaspora, one of the speakers, Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, apologized for taking a phone call from his son who lives in Modi’in, but explained that his daughter-in-law was expecting his first Sabra grandchild, and he thought that the call might have been to tell him that she had already given birth – but it wasn’t so. Meanwhile, Yvette Shumacher, one of the organizers of the event, was publicly congratulated on her first Sabra grandchild, who has a Canadian father and a Russian mother.
■ THE VISIT to Israel by American actress and social activist Mayim Bialik sparked an online reunion between two former colleagues who had not seen each other or communicated with each other for four decades. Graphic artist Shelley Beer-Epstein, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was scrolling through The Jerusalem Post website and saw the byline of the writer of this column on an item related to a meeting between Bialik and Rivlin, and was spurred to write about her own encounter with Bialik in May 2015, when the actress responded to an invitation from Temple Beth Israel in Southern Florida.
Beer-Epstein, who worked at the original Israel office of Ruder-Finn in Jerusalem when it was run by Harriet Mouchly-Weiss, designed all the posters, advertisements, tickets and journal for Bialik’s visit. Bialik had come to discuss her career and Judaism at the Temple’s Posnack Jewish Community Center, and Beer-Epstein was rewarded with an autographed message from Bialik telling her what a pleasure it was to pray together. Bialik’s father had passed away not long before, and she was still in the 11-month mourning period and saying kaddish, so the congregation arranged a minyan for her. It also happened to be the anniversary of Beer-Epstein’s mother’s death on the same evening, so the two women prayed together for their respective parents, and stood together shoulder to shoulder to recite kaddish.
■ IN ADDITION to this being the 70th anniversary year of the State of Israel, it is also the 70th anniversary of the assassination of diplomat and nobleman Count Folke Bernadotte, who at the time was the United Nations-appointed envoy sent to find a solution to the Israeli-Arab problem over borders and the division of territory. It is alleged that the assassination was approved by, among others, a valued member of the Stern Group who later joined the Mossad and much later became prime minister. His name was Yitzhak Shamir. Theories as to who actually killed Bernadotte abound, and it is possible that light on the subject may be shed by Dr. Dov Levitan, who on Thursday, March 22, will deliver a morning lecture on Benadotte at the Seven Stars Residence in Herzliya Pituah. Among those attending will be Swedish Ambassador Magnus Hellgreen, who will open the proceedings.
■ ALSO ON March 22 in the evening, Rabbi Moshe Schatz, a Jerusalem-based internationally acclaimed expert on Kabbala and a graduate of, and teacher at, some of the most eminent yeshivot in Israel and the United States, as well as being the author of numerous works on the subject, will be the keynote speaker at a Science, Kabbala and Cocktail event at the Brown TLV boutique hotel lounge, 25 Kalischer Street, Tel Aviv. The event, which is hosted by TLV Internationals and Sabras, is aimed for people in the 20s-to-30s age group. Attendance is free of charge.
■ LAST WEEK on March 14, Stephen Hawking died on what was Albert Einstein’s birthday. But another important scientific event took place on that date, when Prof. David Wallach and Prof. Anthony Cerami were awarded the prestigious Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Award for their research results on the so-called tumor necrosis factor and its cell receptors.
Wallach, 72, of the Weizmann Institute of Science, has won many prestigious prizes and is one of Israel’s preeminent scientists, and Cerami, 77, is the founder of Araim Pharmaceutics in the State of New York. The two traveled to Langen, near Frankfurt am Main, to present their findings and to receive their awards.
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