Grapevine December 27, 2020: Below the radar

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

NAUM KOEN with his Israeli niece, Danielle. (photo credit: Courtesy)
NAUM KOEN with his Israeli niece, Danielle.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It has previously been mentioned in this column that when Shimon Peres was shown a list of all the countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations and was asked which of these he had not visited, he had scanned the list and replied, “four.” Then he’d said to his interviewer, “But you haven’t asked me about the countries with which we don’t have diplomatic relations.”
One of those countries was Indonesia, recently rumored as a possibility of openly forging ties with Israel before the Trump administration leaves office.
Connections between Israel and Indonesia have existed for several years. Peres visited Jakarta in August 2000 to meet his close friend Abdurrahman Wahid, aka Gus Dur. At the time, Peres was Israel’s minister for Regional Cooperation and Gus Dur was the president of Indonesia.
The meeting between Gus Dur and Peres was held at Halim Perdanakusumah airbase.
In December, 2007, despite the lack of formal relations between Israel and Indonesia, a five-member Indonesian peace delegation met with Peres, who was then president of the state. The delegation spent a week in Israel under the joint aegis of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the LibForAll Foundation, which promotes the culture of liberty and tolerance. The five Indonesians represented two major Muslim movements: Nahdlatul Ulama, generally known as NU, which was headed by Abdurrahman Wahid, who was no longer his country’s president, but was a cofounder of LibForAll, and Mohammadia. Together, the two movements include 70 million of the 195 million Muslims in Indonesia, out of a total population of 240 million people. Wahid, who died in 2009, was a member of the International Board of Governors of the Peres Peace Center, in which capacity he visited Israel.
Peres told the delegation that Israel would be happy to enter into relations with Indonesia.
Regardless of the absence of diplomatic relations, some Indonesian business people engaged in ventures with Israel. In 2005, Israel provided humanitarian aid for Indonesia following a devastating earthquake.
In October 2006, a seven-member delegation of Indonesian journalists met with Peres, who told them that Indonesia had a significant role to play in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, mainly because Indonesia had introduced a new era in the international community’s perception of Islam, by proving that modernism and religion can walk hand in hand.
■ ISRAELI PEACE activist Danny Hakim, who is a member of the board of ALLMEP (Alliance for Middle East Peace), was delighted to report this week that the United States Congress passed the Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act, historic legislation delivering unprecedented levels of funding for peacebuilding in Israel and Palestine. The law provides $250 million over five years to expand peace and reconciliation programs in the region, as well as to support projects geared to bolstering the Palestinian economy. This legislation is the result of more than a decade of advocacy by the ALLMEP toward the creation of an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.
■ AFTER HAVING brokered the deal between the owner of Jerusalem Beitar and Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan of the UAE, whereby the latter now owns 50% of the club whose fans include an obnoxious group of anti-Arab racists, Naum Koen, a Ukrainian born businessman whose international holding company is based primarily in Ukraine and Dubai, is waiting to see if and when Beitar signs up its first Arab player. Rumor has it that Beitar, which has never in its 84-year history had an Arab player, is thinking up signing up Celtic ace Hatem Abd Elhamed, who wants to return to Israel because he is missing his wife and son.
Koen, who has both business interests and family in Israel, arrived in the country prior to yet another imposition of restrictions. His key business interests are diamonds and real estate.
■ YUNG YIDISH, which is headquartered in Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station, is celebrating 30 years of creativity and culture, as well as having a collected a Yiddish library of tens of thousands of Yiddish books and newspapers. The library is now being revitalized, and Yung Yidish is launching a crowdfunding campaign for this purpose in conjunction with UCL Contemporary Hasidic Yiddish research group. A Zoom evening that will also be broadcast on YY’s Facebook on Tuesday, December 29 at 8 p.m. will feature Yung Yidish founder Mendy Cahan, along with Michal Govrin, Olga Avigail, Polina Belilovsky, Sharon Bernstein, Eli Benedict, Avrum Burstein, Rafael Katz, Gal Klein, Ruth Levin, Eli Preminger, Esti Nissim and the legendary Shane Baker! There will also be a one-time screening of a 12-minute film, made by a talented anonymous filmmaker about Yiddish, Bashevis Singer, Yung Yidish and Yiddish cultural activism. Although the program is free of charge, viewers are asked to donate what they would pay to attend an in-p
erson performance – namely NIS 45.
Naturally, donations in excess of this sum will be greatly appreciated. To learn more about the campaign visit:
■ WHEN SHE sent out a notice of the updated protocol for travel and tourism to Cyprus, which becomes effective in early 2021, on a gradual scale beginning in mid-January and expanding through February and March, while paying careful attention to health safety factors, Louisa Varacias, director of the Israel office of the Cyprus Ministry of Tourism wrote, “I do hope that both our countries will be green by then.” She has a particular reason for expressing that sentiment. Although she is a Cypriot, she was born and raised in Jerusalem.
■ IN BRITAIN last week, the Rothschild Foundation announced that its chief executive, Fabia Bromovsky, is stepping down after 30 years at the helm. Under her leadership stated the announcement, “the Rothschild Foundation has been instrumental in supporting the arts, heritage, environment and social welfare both in Buckinghamshire and across the UK.” Bromovsky added that she had made her decision some time ago, but did not know then what everyone would have to face this year.
The Rothschild Foundation Trustees are now working with the leadership advisory firm Egon Zehnder to find the person most suitable to be appointed the foundation’s new chief executive.
Although Yad Hanadiv, the Hebrew name for the Rothschild Foundation, is headquartered in Jerusalem, the foundation’s British operations are headquartered at Waddeson Manor, which once belonged to James and Dorothy Rothschild, who were childless. Dorothy outlived James, and in her will left Waddeson Manor to Lord Jacob Rothschild.
The property is now a museum and events center, though some 18 months ago, one of the rooms was turned into the James and Dorothy de Rothschild Room, with references to their charitable endeavors and their arts collections.
The room definitely speaks of their Jewish roots and what they did separately and together for Israel.
Among the exhibits in this room is a model of Israel’s new National Library, the official opening of which Lord Rothschild is eagerly awaiting, considering that he donated $120 million toward its construction.
First published in Al Jazeera then picked by other Arab media, an article by Jerusalem academic Jalal Abu Khater, under the title of “The Emiratis in Jerusalem are a slap in the face for the Palestinians,” should be read by all Israelis. When there is anything in the world that appears to be of an antisemitic nature, Israeli embassies and consulates, Jewish organizations and individuals are quick to protest, write op-eds and letters to the editor and mount demonstrations. But somehow most of us fail to recognize, understand or let alone identify with the pain of the Palestinians whenever Israelis score diplomatic points against them.
Abu Khater writes:
“The arrival of hundreds of Emiratis in Israel to enjoy the historic sites of Jerusalem and pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque was a slap in the face for us. After all, millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, just two dozen kilometers away from al-Aqsa, can only dream about stepping foot in the mosque that is the third holiest site in Islam,” he writes.
“Of course, we Palestinian Jerusalemites were already used to seeing Muslim pilgrims from Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia or other non-Arab Muslim-majority countries at al-Aqsa. Over the years, Palestinians rarely had any problem with these visitors, as they overwhelmingly believe this holiest of mosques should not be monopolized by any subset of Muslims, even under the devastating conditions of an occupation.
“But the Palestinian Jerusalemites were not as accepting of Emirati tourists as others. While some still took the position that all Muslim tourists, whatever their citizenship, should be welcome in al-Aqsa, many others protested against Emirati tourists being awarded with the right to easily visit Jerusalem’s holy sites for betraying the Palestinians and forming an alliance with their oppressors.
“We have every reason to be frustrated when we see Emiratis and Bahrainis in Jerusalem, roaming freely under the protection of the Israeli police, taking pictures and buying souvenirs as if they are visiting just another tourist site.
“For a start, it might sound unbelievable to those not familiar with our reality, but millions of Palestinians living in Palestine are denied access not only to al-Aqsa but the entirety of Jerusalem by Israel’s occupying regime. Over the past two decades, Israel has built a complex system of checkpoints, supported by the Apartheid Wall, to deny Palestinians freedom of movement within their own homeland. An entire generation of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza grew up without ever stepping foot in al-Aqsa.
“And this Israeli ‘travel ban’ is not only targeting Palestinians living in Palestine. Palestinian refugees and members of the diaspora living in neighboring countries are still denied their right to return, even for a brief visit.
“Another point of frustration is the fact that Emiratis can now simply take a direct flight from Dubai to Tel Aviv, and walk freely into the country. And Israelis can now directly fly in to the Emirates, with almost no questions asked. This is not an option for most Palestinians. A Palestinian living in Ramallah, for example, would have to first cross into Jordan and then take a flight from the Queen Alia airport in Amman to reach Dubai. This is an arduous journey that involves many checkpoints and takes almost an entire day. Even Palestinians holding American passports cannot just fly into the Tel Aviv airport, if they are also in possession of a Palestinian ID card. So you can see why visa-free travel between the UAE and Israel is irritating to many of us, the natives who are denied that same right in our homeland.”
Al Jazeera interestingly published a disclaimer stating that the views expressed in the article were the author’s own and did not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.
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