Grapevine: ‘Ashkenazi Arabic’

Jordan's recalled ambassador to Israel, Walid Obeidat (photo credit: screenshot)
Jordan's recalled ambassador to Israel, Walid Obeidat
(photo credit: screenshot)
DEFERENCE to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday, at Jordan’s Independence Day celebrations hosted by Ambassador Walid Obeidat at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv, began his greetings and his compliments to King Abdullah and Queen Rania in Arabic. His accent lacked some of the gutturals of the language, but he nonetheless earned a huge round of applause from those guests who speak or at least understand Arabic.
Rivlin himself said afterwards that those who don’t understand Arabic would not have understood him anyway, and those who do, would not have understood his pronunciation. When the tall, handsome and charismatic Obeidat was subsequently asked about the standard of Rivlin’s Arabic he replied, “He was speaking Ashkenazi Arabic but I understood him.”
It was a great honor for Jordan, said Obeidat, that the president had attended the reception. Rivlin did not come alone.
He was accompanied by nearly all his senior staff, as if this was some kind of a state visit. Indeed, there was speculation among many of the guests as to some kind of unannounced enhancement of relations between Israel and Jordan, considering that Obeidat had been recalled in November in protest over Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, and returned only in February.
But even before that there was a certain tension in relations, so much so that there had not been a Jordanian Independence Day reception since 2009, and even this one was three weeks late considering that Jordan’s 69th anniversary of independence was actually on May 25. Misunderstandings and disagreements of the past were put on the back burner as guests were warmly greeted by the ambassador, and members of his staff, who personally thanked each and every guest for coming.
The ambassador’s wife, Mais, and their daughter were attired in the traditional dress of Jordan, and several of the male guests wore keffiyehs and gold-embroidered gallabia robes. There were also a lot of women wearing hijabs, and a few of the religiously observant Jewish women present wore head scarves tied in the manner of the national religious camp.
There were quite a number of men in kippot, including Dore Gold, the recently appointed director-general of the Foreign Ministry, and there were even a few haredi (ultra-Orthodox) male guests, the most prominent of which was Matityahu Cheshin, who is often referred to as the haredi consul. Amongst the diplomatic guests, the person who benefits the most from the fact that so many embassies have opted to hold their events at the Dan Panorama is Croatian Ambassador Pjer Šimunović, who lives across the road in Neveh Tzedek and has an easy walk from his home to the hotel and back.
The Dan Panorama tries to introduce some of the traditional foods of whichever country is celebrating a national day at the hotel, and this time provided a typical Middle Eastern feast, which was a joy to the eyes and the palate. In fact, so many people were delighted with the display of meats, salads, dips and honeyed pastries that they kept taking photographs of the buffets. Spanish Ambassador Fernando Carderera sampled the honeyed pastries, which reminded him of those back home – interesting considering that Spain is now offering citizenship to anyone who can prove descent from the Jews expelled in 1492. It should be remembered that the Muslims were also expelled and scattered around the world, and many of their descendants, known as Moriscos are now demanding Spanish citizenship. It’s quite possible that these pastry delicacies, which are also part of the North African Jewish and Muslim kitchens, originated in Spain and the recipes have been among traditions preserved by both Jews and Muslims from generation to generation.
While most ambassadors opt to have the national anthems played at the start of formal proceedings, Obeidat preferred to have them at the end. When talking about Jordan’s commitment to a twostate solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict he spoke of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with east Jerusalem as its capital. Getting everyone to stand at attention for the anthems after the speeches was a good strategy.
Emphasizing the need to talk about the importance of realizing a two-state solution, Obeidat warned that failure to reach peace could result in recurring war and military conflict.
He referred to the vision and courage of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Jordan’s King Hussein who signed an historic agreement confirming the end of belligerence, ensuring mutual recognition and the establishment of diplomatic relations.
Journalist Eitan Haber, who had been Rabin’s bureau chief, was among the guests who heard the tribute to the two deceased leaders.
Obeidat said that despite the magnitude of events in the Middle East over the last year, Jordan had demonstrated its ability to build bridges between nations and ideas through dialogue and engagement.
Jordan had been blessed with wise and compassionate kings, he continued, and under King Abdullah, the kingdom was moving forward in the areas of democracy, participation and security by promoting understanding and dialogue as tools to confront extremist ideologies, with the aim of fostering respect, compassion, social justice, tolerance and consensus.
King Abdullah and the Jordanians are against Islamophobia, which Obeidat said is “a poison based on false ideas.” Referring to global terrorism, which has claimed so many lives, Obeidat said “we all condemn violence against any community or minority. It is religiously unjustified.”
Despite regional challenges he said, Jordan is continuing with its development and improvement of the quality of life through continued reforms. He also spoke of Jordan opening its arms to regional refugees and of the mutual projects such as the Red Sea-Dead Sea conveyor belt in which Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians are jointly engaged. “Providing water is essential in the region,” he said.
With regard to the peace process, Obeidat pledged that Jordan will continue to help the parties to move forward and will spare no effort while keeping the necessary calm.
Rivlin described the Kingdom of Jordan as “a shining light of tolerance and harmony” and “an island of stability in a very complicated region.” Despite the festive atmosphere of the evening, Rivlin did not forget to publicly convey his condolences at the burning to death of Jordanian pilot Flt.-Lt. Muath al-Kasasbeh, who was seized by Islamic State soon after his plane crashed in Syria in December 2014 and was murdered by the terrorists in February.
Rivlin also had high praise for “the concern and care of the Kingdom of Jordan for the Syrian citizens who fled for their lives from the terrorism in their country.” He said Jordan had shown a wonderful example of humanity, hospitality, concern for others and help for the needy, which he said was in the spirit of the commandments of Ramadan.
■ THE AFFECTION that President Rivlin has for Israel’s Arab community and his efforts to ensure that its members enjoy equal rights and equal opportunities to those of their Jewish neighbors, is well known. The subject was raised at his inaugural presidential address in the Knesset, and has been part and parcel of his presidency both in word and deed. His wife, Nechama, is also a champion of equality and this week attended the inauguration of the Arab Museum of Contemporary Art and Heritage in Sakhnin, in the North.
Other speakers included Belu-Simion Fainaru, who together with Avital Bar- Shay founded the museum, Mayor of Sakhnin Mazen Ganaim, and French Ambassador Patrick Maisonnave.
Nechama Rivlin noted the museum’s importance as a place that blended Jewish and Arabic works of art. She said, “When we think of Israeli and Arabic art and creativity, the pieces are not simply created in parallel spaces, but often compete with each other for space. Artists compete about who will better sculpt this land.
They ask, who will paint with a starker brush, who will draw the features of this land more accurately. And so art becomes a competition. It was specifically for this reason, she said that she was delighted to be at the opening of the Arab Museum of Contemporary Art and Heritage in Sakhnin.
“This museum, which blends the work of Jews and Arabs, is a revolutionary museum. It is a museum that urges ‘coming together.’ It is a museum that challenges the artists who live in their own private spaces, and calls on them to meet with other artists, from other places, with different associations. A new partnership and cooperation will be created here, which does not distinguish between Arab or Jew. The time has come for us to recognize that we do not live in parallel spaces, but rather share the same space, a space in which we must meet, not as strangers, or out of pain, but as partners,” she said, adding her hopes for the success of the project as a meeting place between Arabs and Jews as well as Arab and Jewish artists.
Relating to the current controversy surrounding the arts in Israel, Rivlin quoted her husband’s remarks from the previous day, in which he had stated, “Art is not the property of this or that camp, the Right or the Left, Mizrahi or Ashkenazi.
Woe to us if art falls victim to dangerous politicization from one side or another.
Art is not a weapon but a tool for dialogue and communication; a tool that breaks barriers, and does not build walls.”
■ IDC Herzliya keeps on attracting support from Israel and abroad. Israeli-born media mogul Baruch Ivcher, who has been living in Peru since 1970, has contributed generously to the IDC, most recently to the School of Psychology, which now bears his name. When Ivcher studied law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, one of his fellow students was Uriel Reichman, who 30 years later became the founding president of IDC.
At that time Ivcher donated a million dollars to the fledgling project. Ivcher had been running a law office in his native Hadera in 1970, when his brother Menachem, who owned a mattress company in Venezuela, asked him to help him out by managing a small company in Lima, Peru. Ivcher and his wife, Naomi, a graduate of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design thought it might be fun to spend two years in South America – but they became entrenched, except for a couple of years when Ivcher’s Canal 2 television station exposed government corruption in president Alberto Fujimori’s administration and Ivcher was stripped of his Peruvian citizenship. For a while the family moved to Miami and subsequently back to Israel, living in Herzliya Pituah. When Fujimori’s criminal regime was fully revealed in one of Peru’s greatest ever corruption scandals, Fujimori fled to Japan. Ivcher was exonerated and the Peruvian Congress passed legislation revoking all the charges against him. Throughout the years, Ivcher has continued to keep his finger on the pulse of IDC. When the School for Psychology, which was established in 2007, needed an urgent cash infusion, Ivcher readily agreed to supply it. As a result the school will now bear his name in perpetuity. Many of Ivcher’s friends from academia and the business world attended the naming ceremony and the cocktail reception that accompanied it.
Among the guests were Ambassador of Peru Gustavo Otero, Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav, former Supreme Court presidents Meir Shamgar and Aharon Barak, Castro clothing chain co-director Gabi Roter, businessman Adi Keizman and his wife, supermodel Esti Ginzburg, chairman of Hachshara Energy and former Ma’ariv owner Ofer Nimrodi, deputy chairman of the Dan Hotel chain Ami Federmann, former Israel ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval and his wife, Kenna, president and CEO of the Dori Media Group Nadav Palti, architect Ilan Pivko and many other well-known personalities.
In some respects, the event was also a reunion and the closing of a circle. Barak, who came with his wife, Elisheva, a former vice president of the National Labor Court, was Ivcher’s law professor at the Hebrew University. He now teaches at the Radzyner Law School at IDC. Reichman remarked on the fact that many of his fellow HU law students in 1963 had gone on to impressive achievements in the fields of law, academia and business, and he was happy to see some of them sitting together at this time. Reichman praised Ivcher as a champion of freedom of expression and a person of courage and integrity who remained true to his beliefs even at the risk of financial ruin.
Ivcher said that he and his wife were very pleased to be able to contribute once more to IDC. Twenty years ago they had dedicated the auditorium at IDC, and now they had the opportunity to dedicate the School of Psychology whose graduates will make inroads into the study and understanding of the human psyche.
■ IT’S FAIRLY rare for three of the living of the country’s 10 presidents to be in the one city at the one time. It’s unlikely that the fourth, who is currently completing a prison sentence, will at any time join the other three. However on June 24, President Rivlin intends to attend the launch of the autobiography of fifth president Yitzhak Navon at the capital’s North African Heritage Center, while on the same date, ninth president Shimon Peres will be at the National Library to participate in a program honoring the memory of celebrated poet, playwright, journalist and translator Natan Alterman who arrived in Tel Aviv from his native Warsaw 90 years ago, and who died 45 years ago. Alterman was as close as one can get to being the poet laureate of Israel and Peres knew him personally.
■ NOTWITHSTANDING THE tensions in relations between Turkey and Israel, the heads of the Chambers of Commerce of both countries get along quite well. Uriel Lynn, president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce and his Turkish counterpart Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu, president of the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey, were seen in friendly and even animated conversation at the congress in Turin, Italy, of the World Chambers Federation, which was attended by representatives of more than a hundred countries. The two were primarily discussing a WCF document on the basic rights of entrepreneurs and employers, which will eventually become law. Lynn, who proposed the bill, told the WCF plenum that it would strengthen motivation for the creation and development of new business enterprises, which in turn would strengthen national economies. A new business era is dawning in all countries, he said.
■ IT SEEMS that after a long falling out, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder have mended their fences. It is to Lauder’s credit that he never allowed the humiliation that he suffered at Netanyahu’s hands to affect his commitment to Israel, his continued investment and his philanthropic contributions.
The thaw was already evident when the two met in Paris in January this year, at the unity march against terrorism, but even more so this week when Lauder, at the head of the WJC Steering Committee, met with Netanyahu in his office to discuss urgent geopolitical issues facing the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Topics that were discussed included the resurgent spread of anti-Semitism, BDS, Iran and the possible revival of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.