Grapevine: Between Jerusalem and Rome

Who is Israel’s best friend in Europe?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the Expo Milan 2015 (photo credit: KOBI GIDON / GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the Expo Milan 2015
(photo credit: KOBI GIDON / GPO)
Who is Israel’s best friend in Europe? When Israel and Poland were celebrating the 25th anniversary of the renewal of diplomatic relations, Israeli leaders said that Poland was Israel’s best friend in Europe. A couple of months later during the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany, the Israeli leadership described Germany as Israel’s best friend in Europe. And then in recent days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during his visit to Italy, characterized Italy as Israel’s best friend in Europe. Was it all just lip service or diplomatic musical chairs? Actually, in the case of Italy, it may even be true.
It may well be said that Netanyahu upstaged President Reuven Rivlin by getting to Italy ahead of him. Rivlin is due to leave for Italy Wednesday night. Admittedly, Rivlin was initially scheduled to go to Italy in May, but the visit was delayed due to the Knesset elections and the consultations that Rivlin had to have with the delegations of the various political parties to get their recommendations for the person they considered should be tasked with forming a government.
According to the original plan, Rivlin’s itinerary was supposed to include the Milan Expo, but Netanyahu got their first, so it’s unlikely that Rivlin will move out of Rome.
Ostensibly, Rivlin is going to Italy to meet with Pope Francis. In fact, his first stop on Thursday morning will be at the Vatican. In the afternoon Rivlin will meet with his Italian counterpart, Sergio Mattarella, and in the evening he will be the guest of the Jewish community at the Great Synagogue of Rome.
What Rivlin has in common with Netanyahu’s itinerary is a meeting with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, whom he met when the latter was in Israel in July. Whereas Netanyahu met Renzi in Florence, Rivlin will meet him in Rome. It is extremely rare for the head of government and the head of state to pay what almost amounts to back-to-back visits to the same country. While it is not unusual for either the prime minister or the president to include government ministers in his entourage, two separate visits of this kind in the space of a week could only suggest that perhaps they were telling the truth when they said that Italy is Israel’s best friend in Europe – at least for the time being.
In an interview that he gave to la Repubblica prior to his visit to Italy, Rivlin said that Jewish extremists pose the greatest threat to Israel’s security.
■ APOSTOLIC NUNCIO Giuseppe Lazzarotto will not be going to Rome to greet Rivlin on arrival there. Whereas it is usually protocol for the ambassador of a state to travel ahead if a monarch, president or prime minister of the host country is paying an official visit to the ambassador’s country, this particular protocol does not apply to the Vatican, Lazzarotto told The Jerusalem Post.
While he was active in helping to arrange the visit, it will be Rivlin who will be going to Rome, while Lazzarotto remains in Jerusalem.
■ THE PECKING order of Israel’s diplomatic relations could be determined by the seating arrangements at the traditional Rosh Hashana toast which Rivlin hosted this week for members of the diplomatic community.
There were place cards in the front row, but none in the other rows.
In addition to members of Rivlin’s senior staff, the diplomatic seating from left to right was Egyptian chargé d’affaires Dr. Mohammed Moustafa Orfy, who is still holding the fort because Egyptian Ambassador Hazem Khairat has not yet taken up his position; Lazzarotto; Jordanian Ambassador Walid Obeidat; Nepalese Ambassador Prahlad Kumar Prasai; US Ambassador Dan Shapiro; Ambassador of Cameroon Henri Etoundi Essomba, dean of the diplomatic corps; Kenyan Ambassador Lt.-Gen. Augostino S.K. Njoroge; and Ambassador of Ukraine Hennadii Nadolenko, who is making arrangements for the state visit of Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko, who will come to Israel either in November or December.
The visit is definite according to Nadolenko, but the date still has to be confirmed.
■ ALTHOUGH SHE’S not scheduled to present her credentials till November, Ireland’s Ambassador Alison Kelly, who arrived in Israel only on Saturday, was thrilled to be able to come to the president’s reception because it gave her the opportunity not only to visit Jerusalem and the President’s Residence but also to become acquainted with her new colleagues.
Outgoing, friendly and highly appreciative of any goodwill gesture, Kelly is sure to quickly fit into the social fabric of the more established diplomatic community.
■ THE RECENT legislation enacted by Spain and Portugal whereby descendants of Jews expelled from those countries can prove their pedigrees has forced Spanish and Portuguese diplomats in many parts of the world to study the history of Anusim so as to be better equipped to answer questions on the subject. Portuguese Ambassador Miguel de Almeida e Sousa didn’t have to bone up on the subject. He was already familiar with it, and had already spoken about it at international Anusim conferences in Israel. So far, says the ambassador, some 50-60 Israelis of Portuguese descent have applied for citizenship, “but we expect more because there have been a lot of inquiries for information.”
■ HIS LAST month in Israel, before he takes up his new posting in Greece, is a very hectic period for Dutch Ambassador Caspar Veldkamp.
“The Israelis are keeping me busy and the Dutch are keeping me busy,” says Veldkamp who is engaged in the details of upcoming visits to Israel by several Dutch officials. Given the situation in Greece, it will also be very busy for him when he begins working there.
One wonders whether it will be more difficult for him to learn Greek than it was to learn Hebrew. Few foreign heads of mission master Hebrew sufficiently to be able to conduct a conversation, but they can often pick up the gist of a conversation.
■ ONE OF the rare exceptions is Shapiro, who together with his wife, Julie Fisher, will be hosting a pre-Rosh Hashana reception at their residence tomorrow evening with the guest list including not only Jews but Christians, Muslims and people of other faiths.
In his address to his guests on such occasions, Shapiro, who has a good command of Hebrew, speaks in both Hebrew and English and occasionally throws in a few remarks in Arabic so that everyone feels comfortable.
Many people take it for granted that because a diplomatic affair is an official function, it will be kosher. This is far from true.
While some ambassadors do have a kosher table, which quickly becomes unkosher – because of the actions of the guests, not the host – it is rare for an ambassador who hosts a reception at his or her residence to call in a kosher caterer for the whole affair.
There have been three Jewish ambassadors at the US residence, two of whom have served kosher food to their guests. But just to be on the safe side, Jerusalemite Elana Rozenman asked the protocol office at the US Embassy and received the following reply: “Hello, Ms.
Rozenman: Kindly note that the food to be served at the event is certified kosher. Do you have special kashrut requirements, such as glatt or mehadrin?” Not too many embassies would be sufficiently familiar with the Jewish dietary laws to ask that question.
■ APROPOS KOSHER, the anger of the United Torah Judaism Party over the fact that Netanyahu dined at the decidedly nonkosher Enoteca Pinchiorri restaurant in Florence with his Italian counterpart, Renzi, should be directed not only at Netanyahu but at the protocol department of his host, which should have arranged that the two men dine in one of the kosher facilities in Florence.
They may not be as fancy, but they do exist.
Many years ago, when president Chaim Herzog, on a tour of the South Pacific, went to Tonga, where pork was then a staple of the daily diet, and where there were no kosher facilities, his people insisted that he be served fish (of the kind that conforms with Jewish dietary laws) and that the fish be wrapped in silver foil before it was baked in the oven.
■ AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR Dave Sharma, who has recently returned from a visit to Australia after being away from home for two years, will bounce the ball on Friday at an Australian Rules nine-a-side football tournament that will take place at Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv at 8 a.m. The tournament is in preparation for the Australian Football League European Cup in Croatia, in which the Peace Team comprising Israeli and Palestinian players will compete.
The tournament is in memory of the late Peace Team ambassador Henry Jolson, who believed that if Palestinian and Israeli youth could train together and play sport together, they could get to know and understand each other and thus overcome the animosities that have prevented their parent and grandparent generations from making peace. Previous peace teams have played in Australia and elsewhere in the world, and have demonstrated that it is possible not for Israelis and Palestinians to play on the same side but also to become real friends. The Palestinian players sometimes have problems getting to training sessions due to being hassled at checkpoints, but this has not dampened their enthusiasm.
Tournament organizers David Borowski (054-984-7300) and Yonatan Belik (052- 632-1551) along with umpire David Cherny (050-365-0527) are calling on previous Peace Team players or Australians living in or visiting Israel who have played the game and know the rules to come and involve themselves in the tournament.
The Peace Team is not only about sport and natural camaraderie but also about dialogue.
Sport has proved to be a great vehicle for bringing people together. In addition to bouncing the ball to start the game, Sharma will also address the players and spectators.
■ IT’S CUSTOMARY for the president, the prime minister, the education minister and the various mayors to attend the opening of the school year and to sit in with first graders to whom they will join teachers in saying ‘Shalom kita alef’ (Hello grade one).
Facial expressions in photographs indicate that this is always an emotional experience for the adults. For Education Minister Naftali Bennett it was more so because it was his daughter Avigail’s first-ever day at school.
Even though she was somewhat prepared by her older siblings, it was both an exciting and fearful day for her.
What was particularly meaningful about the start of the school year was the date – September 1, which was the 76th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, in which the world Jewish population was decimated. The annihilation of six million Jews and all their potential progeny signified an end to Jewish culture and creativity, to Jewish learning, to Jewish heroism – in fact to all things Jewish. No one could have imagined that the scattered remnants of the Jewish people could recreate what had been lost, let alone surpass it. Yet in Israel, the Jewish population, just 70 years after the Holocaust, numbers in excess of six million people, operates flourishing yeshivot in addition to other Torah institutions, wins international prizes in medicine, chemistry, literature, film, art, music, sport and more, and has built a network of urban masterpieces out of the desert. What a great revenge this is on Hitler and the Nazi regime. And there is more to come from the ranks of all those children who were greeted on Tuesday morning, September 1, with the words “Shalom kita alef.”
■ OF COURSE, something would be lacking in the start of a new school year without Ran Erez, the head of the Secondary School Teachers Association, making his annual strike threat. Erez ran true to form but retracted in time for school to start on schedule.
However, there were a few schools which did not start for various reasons, the most disgusting of which was the reported refusal by parents in Kfar Yona to allow their children to study in the same class as Ethiopian children. What a great lesson in racism on the first day of the new school year – and in a Chabad school of all places. The color of one’s skin has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence or the ability to learn. To turn children into outcasts in their own school in their own country is not only immoral but is nothing less than criminal. What a shame that these parents can’t be prosecuted.
■ IT’S NOT unusual for former heads of state or of government to remain in the public eye in their efforts to do good deeds. Prime examples are former US presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and former British prime minister Tony Blair. But there’s a difference between a former head of state traveling the world to try to repair some of the flaws in the political and socials attitudes of different groups of people and an in-your -face presence at home.
While it’s true that Shimon Peres, who was Israel’s ninth president and who is also a former prime minister, can’t help the fact that he’s one of the best known Israelis in the world, he can do something about giving the impression that Israel has two heads of state, one of whom sits in the President’s Residence in Jerusalem and the other who sits in the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa and often receives visitors who may have also gone to Jerusalem, but a whole lot of others who are more interested in meeting him than in meeting his successor. Some of it has to do with a difference in style. Rivlin is interested in local issues more than in world affairs, and Peres has always been a man of the world who is also interested in local issues but who prefers the global stage.
So it was no surprise this week when Iranian- born peace activist Maryam Faghih Imani chose Jaffa over Jerusalem. Faghih Imani – who in 2003 at age 26 left Iran and now lives in Norway, where she is the founding president of the Center for Cultural Diplomacy and Development – was born on Isfahan to a father who is a well-connected Iranian ayatollah. Raised in an environment that was extremely negatively disposed toward Israel, she couldn’t believe that a whole nation was as vile and as evil as she had been taught.
She could neither understand nor agree with such unfettered hatred. She is particularly passionate about promoting peace between Israel and the Arabs, which is the main reason for her visit to Israel. In Norway and elsewhere, she has been active in promoting understanding and acceptance between Muslims and Jews, and she is also interested in building what she calls dialogues of friendship between Iranians, Israelis and Arabs.
Some of what she does in terms of promoting a cultural dialogue between Iranians and Israelis is shared by another Iranian expatriate, well-known Israeli singing star Rita, who has a huge following in Iran. Rita, who knows Peres well, accompanied Faghih Imani to the meeting with Peres, who spoke to them of the common history of the Iranian and the Jewish peoples and also recalled the pre-ayatollah regime in which Israel enjoyed good diplomatic and military relations with Iran.
In welcoming Faghih Imani, Peres told her that her work for peace demanded tremendous courage and serves as a model to those who believe that peace is made between peoples and not political leaders. “We have many possibilities to bring people together,” he said.
Faghih Imani said that she has great faith that there will eventually be peace between the Iranian and the Israeli peoples. During her stay in Israel, she discovered moral and cultural values that are cherished by both Israelis and the Iranians.
■ NOVEMBER STILL seems to be a long way off, but before we turn around it will be upon us, and with it yet another anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which is almost religiously observed by the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association, which holds an annual Balfour Dinner with a prominent personality from England as one of the guest speakers and a wellknown Israeli as the other guest speaker.
Strange though it may seem, it is often easier to do the long distance organizing than that on the home front. Thus the British speaker will be London Mayor Boris Johnson. The identity of the eminent Israeli speaker is yet to be announced, but the date is November 9 and the venue is the Tel Aviv Hilton Hotel.
■ AT THE screening at Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People last week of the documentary Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace, which contains interviews and archive material with and about people who were engaged in one way or another in facilitating developments that led to the signing of the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, members of the audience included people who themselves had dealt through backdoor channels, though not necessarily the ones on screen.
Among them was Uri Slonim, an expert in backdoor channel negotiations, who has on different occasions negotiated the release of Israeli prisoners of war from captivity in neighboring countries. Among others present were: Dan Tadmor, CEO of Beit Hatfutsot; Irit Admoni Perlman, director of the Israeli Friends of Beit Hatfutsot; Meir Baron, senior wealth manager at UBS; senior investment consultants Hanna and Benny Pri- Zan; MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin and her husband, Ivri Verbin; Amnon Dick, businessman and president of the Israeli Friends of TAU; accountant Meir Fenigstein, founder and executive director of IsraFest Foundation and the Israel Film Festival in the US; actress Gilat Ankori and her husband, director and TV producer Michael Greenspan; publisher and veteran public relations executive Moshe Triwaks; and former Mossad head Nahum Admoni and his wife, Nina.
■ JOURNALIST, AUTHOR, philosopher and television personality Dov Elbaum – who hosts the weekly television program Welcoming the Sabbath, in which he discusses the Torah portion of the week with guests ranging from haredi to totally secular – last week had as his guest former government minister Brig.-Gen. (res.) Effie Eitam, who was born on Kibbutz Ein Gev, was raised secular and became religious.
It was a particular interesting meeting because Elbaum was born in Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim neighborhood and raised haredi.
He left the prestigious Hebron Yeshiva when he was 17 and became secular, but retained a great love for Jewish philosophy.
One of the influential factors in Eitam’s opting to become religious was something that happened to him during the Yom Kippur War. He and his men went into a bunker that was full of dirt and dust, and something flew at him and landed on his shoulder. He thought it was a bat and tried to brush it away, but it stayed put. When he emerged into the sunlight, he saw that it was a dove which absolutely refused to leave him. So for 10 days he fed it, with the bird eating and drinking straight out of his hand. On the last day of the war, he went home to Ein Gev, and the dove disappeared. Some time later, when he was studying at the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva, he told his teacher of the dove and asked him what he made of it. The rabbi replied: “God sent you a guardian angel in the form of a dove, and when you no longer needed its protection, the angel flew away.”
■ A TELEVISION star as well as a master chef, Yonatan Roshfeld has had to eat more than his fair share of humble pie this year. In addition to enjoying his role as king of the kitchen, he really loves to eat, and viewers of Master- Chef Israel on Channel 2 can almost savor his enjoyment when a contestant produces a dish that he really likes. He doesn’t just taste it; he dives in for a second helping and sometimes cleans up what’s left on the plate after his colleagues have also tasted the offering.
Humble pie is not really his cup of tea, but it’s been on his menu for the past few months. First there was the split from Adi’s Lifestyle, owned by Strauss siblings Adi and Irit, who bought out his famous signature restaurant Herbert Samuel. The Yavne Montefiore restaurant which was opened by the trio has closed, and in severing ties with Adi’s Lifestyle, Roshfeld also kissed goodbye to the Tapas Bar on Tel Aviv’s Ahad Ha’am Street and to the kosher Herbert Samuel on the Herzliya beachfront.
This did not put him out of the restaurant business. Together with fellow chef Oded Saida, he opened another restaurant, Aruhat Erev which translates as “Dinner” and which was supposed to take diners on a nostalgia trip of the palate to something in the nature of good home-cooked meals, but not home-cooked prices. Criticism on the Web was fast and furious, not only with regard to prices but also with regard to the quality of the cuisine, which was deemed by many as mediocre at best. Roshfeld had simply not lived up to his reputation, and after less than six months in business he decided to turn off the gas and quit.
■ AMERICAN TELEVISION personality Larry King wound up his visit to Israel this week by visiting the Western Wall and touring the Western Wall tunnels. While at the Wall, he stood for a long time, contemplating what to write on the note that he later placed in a crevice in the wall. One can’t help wondering how many people removed the note to read what the 81-year-old King had asked of his Creator.
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