Grapevine December 30, 2020: Who shall serve

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

RONNIE FORTIS (left), general manager of the Tel Aviv Hilton, with the hotel’s head of public relations Motti Verses. (photo credit: Courtesy)
RONNIE FORTIS (left), general manager of the Tel Aviv Hilton, with the hotel’s head of public relations Motti Verses.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It seems that there is a serious flaw either in police training or in the system of discerning which applicants are suitable to serve in the police force. Although most of the men and women serving in various units of the police force are dedicated to serving society by maintaining law and order, there are some rotten apples in the barrel who are lacking in sensitivity and who needlessly use violent methods against innocent people.
One of the most widely publicized cases in recent weeks was that of police bursting into the home of mentally disturbed Yosef Fleischman, who lives alone in Jerusalem’s Beit Yisrael neighborhood adjacent to Mea She’arim.
The predawn invasion caught Fleischman unawares. Police demanded that he identify himself, and he refused. They dragged him barefoot out of the house. His only protection against the cold Jerusalem night air was his pajamas.
At the police station, they discovered that they had the wrong man. So they sent him packing, without a police escort to take him home. He had no money with him, and no documents. Moreover, he was completely disoriented.
Relatives who come to his home daily to take care of him saw that he was absent and immediately lodged a report. He was eventually found lying in mud and feces in the Jerusalem Forest and suffering from hypothermia. He was taken to Shaare Zedek Medical Center, where he was visited by many people who were outraged by his story. Among the visitors were Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana. Fleischman’s relatives, who are extremely angry over what happened to him, have demanded the dismissal of the police who arrested him.
But there is a happy ending to the story. Young people in the neighborhood decided to renovate his somewhat neglected apartment. They painted all the walls, and brought new furniture and gave the place a whole new look. Fleischman, 66, who has since been discharged from the hospital, is still acclimatizing himself to his greatly improved environment. Sometimes, it takes something really bad to happen to bring out the good in people. This was one of those occasions.
■ SOME OF the better-class hotels that were used as quarantine centers ruined their reputations with poor service, inedible food and bedding that looked like it hadn’t been changed.
While hotels were not open to the general public, a number of hotels were not completely closed, even though they were not exactly open for business. Hotels that for years have hosted airline crews and business delegations did stay open, because even with the limited number of flights to Israel from abroad, there were dignitaries and businesspeople still coming, and many Israelis who had been stranded flew home on foreign carriers whose crews stayed in Israel overnight and sometimes longer.
Among the hotels that, for precisely these reasons, did not close was the Tel Aviv Hilton, whose general manager, Ronnie Fortis, also kept many staff members on board to ensure the upkeep of the hotel’s standards. Those staff members of “our team,” as Fortis refers to them, who were not needed were not dismissed, and the hotel management remained in contact with them. Renovations that had been planned well in advance were carried out, and the absence of guests probably made it easier.
Fortis released a video of himself walking through the empty public areas of the hotel. Everything was spruced up, flowers were in place – but what was missing was the buzz and bustle of humanity that was always part and parcel of the Tel Aviv Hilton for more than half a century.
Fortis, who is also Hilton Israel country manager, is optimistic that life will return to normal in 2021, and people will once again start flocking to the Tel Aviv Hilton, as well as to other hotels in the chain.
■ BLUE AND White MK Ram Shefa, head of the Knesset Education Committee, was asked by Israel Radio Reshet Bet’s Aryeh Golan about his future political plans, but refused to divulge them before speaking to party leader Benny Gantz. In typical fashion, Golan placed his own interpretation on what had occurred in their conversation, with Shefa interjecting to declare that this was not what he had said, and that he would make his plans public after he speaks to Gantz, whom he said he admires.
■ LEGAL ADVISER to the Foreign Ministry Tal Becker tweeted last week: “Decades ago my father left Marrakesh for the young Jewish state. Today, I fly to Rabat as part of the official Israeli delegation to open a new and promising chapter in Israeli-Moroccan relations.”
Becker is, of course, not the first Israeli to close a personal circle in terms of diplomacy. Former Colombian ambassador David de la Rosa, who had been living in Colombia for many years, was actually born in Jerusalem. After returning home as a diplomat, he chose to stay.
Several Israeli diplomats who left East European countries when they were under Nazi occupation or under Soviet rule returned there as Israel ambassadors. Among them were Polish-born Katriel Katz, Mordechai Palzur, Gershon Zohar and Shevah Weiss, who were all ambassadors to Poland; Czech-born Avigdor Dagan (originally Viktor Fischl), who was ambassador to Czechoslovakia.
And, of course, the best examples were British-born Yehuda Avner and Daniel Taub, who returned to England to serve as ambassadors to the Court of St James, and American-born Michael Oren and Ron Dermer, who returned as ambassadors to the United States.
■ CONVENTIONAL WISDOM has long been calling for electoral reform – yet still without success. Electoral reform cannot happen while veteran MKs are still in office.
The first rule should be that every party should hold primaries to ensure that its representatives are democratically elected and not merely the choice of the party leader. Some system of proportional representation must be introduced, but not necessarily according to the British system. In the final analysis there should be two representatives of each region – one from the party of the prime minister and one from the party that has the second-largest number of mandates. On regional issues, these two can work together.
On municipal levels, major changes that affect the lives of residents who may be opposed to such changes must be put to a community referendum. In Jerusalem for instance, there is substantial opposition to the light rail running through Emek Refaim, or to the introduction of a cable car to the Western Wall, but Mayor Moshe Lion is going ahead anyway, without taking into consideration the majority view of his municipality’s constituents.
On the national level, the French system of not prosecuting a sitting prime minister should be introduced, so that the prime minister can continue to do his job, without the mass opposition demonstrations that we have witnessed over the past year by people who would like Benjamin Netanyahu to vacate the Prime Minister’s Residence. At the same time, the prime minister should be limited to two consecutive terms of office, but may compete again after his or her successor has served at least one term.
■ APROPOS THE Prime Minister’s Residence, among the questions asked last Sunday in the popular television quiz show The Chaser was after whom was the street where the Prime Minister’s Residence is located named? Of the three possibilities that were offered to the contestant, the latter correctly chose the foreign minister of Great Britain. When it came to checking whether the answer of quiz genius Itai Hermann, who takes on the role of The Chaser, coincided with that of the contestant, which it did, Hermann followed up by saying that the residence is actually on the corner of Smolenskin, thereby vindicating the writer of this column, who for years has waged a futile battle to have Peretz Smolenskin (a Zionist before Herzl) duly recognized, considering that the front door of the residence is located on Smolenskin Street. Unfortunately, too many Israelis have never heard of Smolenskin.
■ ‘HAARETZ’ POLITICAL cartoonist Amos Biderman has a delicious sense of humor. In last Friday’s paper, following the defection of Higher Education and Water Resources Minister Ze’ev Elkin from the Likud, Biderman created a cartoon of a political group of defectors with Elkin in the lead, spraying Netanyahu with a hose attached to a tap in his forehead.
Although it was necessary for Elkin to be in the lead, so that he could wield his hose, there was a happy-looking Gideon Sa’ar dancing behind him. Sa’ar may be a savvy politician, but with a political turncoat such as Elkin in his stable, he should watch his back.
■ THE JERUSALEM Journalists Association is suing the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation (KAN) for illegally canceling a program that has been on the air for 21 years, throughout which it has been consistently hosted by broadcaster Elihu Ben-Onn. The association’s legal representative, the law firm of Tal, Kadari, Shamir & Co., has written to the corporation’s management demanding the return of the program The Israel Connection to Reshet Bet, from which it has been broadcast around the world every Wednesday night. The program is an important vehicle in linking Diaspora Jewry to Israel.
Management does not have the authority to remove a program from the regular lineup, states the legal counsel. From a legal standpoint, that particular responsibility belongs to the corporation’s council, which has not met in more than eight months.
Doing away with a program of this nature at a time when it is vital for Diaspora Jews to maintain an Israel connection, and for Israel to repair its relations with the Diaspora, seems to be very shortsighted, which is unfortunately a national characteristic.
■ BEN-ONN’S IS not the only call-in program being axed by the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation. Night owls, particularly people of North African background with right-wing political views, are going to miss hearing Jojo Abutbul, who is knowledgeable on many subjects, and whose often brusque, folksy manner fits in with the stereotyped image of characters portrayed in what were known in Israel as burekas movies.
Abutbul, who is also a sportswriter for Yediot Aharonot, and who in his time has also been a sports broadcaster, and has broadcast on other programs, used to be an obnoxious know-it-all, who frequently argued with his callers. But then a year or so ago, he took ill, and after his recovery his manner softened to the extent that during his final programs this week, he was literally blessing almost every caller. He kept telling people that he wasn’t going off the air, and that management was simply rearranging schedules and that all the broadcasters would continue on one of the corporation’s stations. When listeners tried to pin him down as to the station on which they would be able to hear him, he couldn’t say.
Abutbul’s program, like that of Ben-Onn, is an important asset. In his case, it gave political leaders a sense of what pleased and what bothered a certain sector of the public, which is certainly important in a country that holds elections as frequently as they are held in Israel.
■ IT’S FOUR consecutive months of celebrations for Genesis Prize recipient Natan Sharansky, who last Thursday was feted at the President’s Residence, where the award ceremony was held with a limited in-person attendance and a somewhat larger attendance on Zoom and other social media platforms. On November 6, Sharansky celebrated the 34th anniversary of becoming a first-time father when his elder daughter, Rachel, was born. Then this month he added the Genesis Prize to his many other awards. On January 20, Sharansky will celebrate his 73rd birthday, and on February 11 he will celebrate the 35th anniversary of his arrival in Israel immediately following his release from a Soviet prison, and his first visit to the Western Wall to recite a prayer of thanks from a small, well-thumbed book of Psalms which had been given to him by his wife, Avital.
Sharansky gave the statuette that came with the $1 million prize to his wife as a private token of appreciation. During the years in which he was incarcerated Avital Sharansky traveled far and wide speaking to world leaders and asking them to use their influence to secure her husband’s release. She also addressed many assemblies of Jews around the world. After Sharansky came to Israel and became an almost instant human rights activist, as he had been prior to his arrest, she joined him in the beginning, as he formed his political party, but gradually faded into the background, to be his sounding board when he came home.
She has accompanied him to certain events at which he has been honored, but otherwise she remains the key representative of the home front command.
Genesis Prize winners divide the money they receive among various worthy causes. Sharansky focused on philanthropic initiatives engaged in efforts to halt the spread of the coronavirus, but he also gave consideration to organizations dealing with mental traumas and mental illness. Some mental conditions derive from anxieties related to the coronavirus.
In his address to Sharansky, with whom he met privately before the ceremony, President Reuven Rivlin said, “Natan, you never rest. You took on new roles to promote Jewish unity, strengthen Israeli society and fight antisemitism. It is therefore no surprise that you have chosen to use the $1m. Genesis Prize money for philanthropic and hi-tech initiatives that are trying to address the greatest challenge facing the world today, the coronavirus. The grants were made with a particular focus on the most vulnerable populations in Israel.
“Thank you, Natan, my dear friend! I know that you will not stop here. You will continue to take on new challenges and to fight for the Jewish people and for human rights. We are all looking forward to seeing what you do next.”
Noting that a year had passed since he had been chosen to receive the prize, Sharansky said: “So much has changed since then.” He thanked the people behind the Genesis Prize for the opportunity to make a significant contribution to fight the disease.
“Confronting the social challenges that Israel faces, the contribution of the Israeli hi-tech industry to the global fight against corona is a great source of pride that warms my heart,” he said. “The most basic Jewish value of mutual assistance has been realized – and I call on other Israeli companies to join this effort.”
Curiously, the award ceremony took place on the 50th anniversary of the First Leningrad Trial. Six months earlier, an attempt to hijack a civilian plane and escape to Sweden, and ultimately Israel, was foiled. The 16 refuseniks involved in the operation were arrested, charged with treason, and in most cases given heavy sentences. Following international protests, the sentences were reduced.
Sharansky had nothing to do with this group per se, but one of the members, Yosef Mendelevich, wound up in the same prison as Sharansky and devised ingenious methods of communicating with him through toilet bowls and radiators. Just thinking about how to outwit the Soviets may have helped to keep both men sane. Today, they both live in Jerusalem. Mendelevich was released from prison in 1981 and came directly to Israel.
■ WHEN YOUR father-in-law is the president of the United States, it can help to launch you on a whole new career, as Jared Kushner discovered, first when helping Donald Trump in his initial election campaign, and later when, as senior advisor to the president, he became a successful international mediator.
In the spirit of all in the family, Trump, who in the course of winding up his tenure is signing a bevy of pardons and commutations, included not only his cronies but also Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, who served jail time on numerous counts of tax evasion, tampering with a federal witness, illegal campaign contributions, and lying to the Federal Election Commission. In the final analysis, he pleaded guilty and, as far as is known, did not ask for a pardon, but got one anyway. What turned many people against him was his witness tampering. The victim was his sister Esther’s husband, William Schulder, who had also been his business partner. When he learned that Schulder was going to testify against him, Charles Kushner hired a prostitute to seduce Schulder and, with the aid of a hidden camera, videotaped the couple having sex, after which he gave the evidence to his sister. Surprisingly, he served only two years in prison, and then went back to his highly profitable real estate business.
Even though Trump may be leaving politics, there is wide speculation that his daughter Ivanka Kushner will be carving out her own political career. She and her husband recently purchased a $31m. mansion in Florida from singer Julio Iglesis, thereby fueling rumors that she intends to run for the Florida Senate or make a bid to become state governor. If that happens, her husband will surely be helping his wife, just as he helped her father.
■ IT SEEMS to be the season for scorning women, as evidenced in the Knesset this week, when Likud MK Uzi Dayan quoted Shakespeare in accusing MK Yifat Shasha-Biton of betrayal because she has opted to join Sa’ar’s New Hope Party.
Aside from quoting from the bard in his failed effort to undermine Shasha-Biton and paint her as a deserter, Dayan is no thespian, and was unable to infuse his quotes with the required drama to make them effective. All he succeeded in doing was raising the ire of women’s organizations as well as of a number of well-known figures in the male domain, who joined the chorus of condemnation of Dayan for crossing every redline.
Former Likud MK Sharren Haskel, who resigned from the Knesset and has also joined Sa’ar’s party, tweeted her sharp criticism of Dayan.
If she were still in Australia, where she spent six years studying veterinary nursing and working as a veterinarian, she might be joining another chorus of condemnation against the Mizrachi Organization, which has unceremoniously dropped the only female member of its synagogue executive at a time when equal gender representation is the watchword on executive boards of business enterprises and community organizations.
A large sector of Melbourne’s Modern Orthodox community is up in arms over the dismissal of Keren Zelwer from the executive board of the Mizrachi synagogue, which is one of Melbourne’s more prominent synagogues, and whose members have long been in the forefront of community leadership in various other organizations. Zelwer is widely recognized for her organizational abilities, her strong work ethic and her sense of justice. Modern Orthodox congregations all over the world are including women in their executives. When there are religious events, such as prayer services, there is gender segregation, but otherwise, women are given equal consideration.
■ OF COURSE, not every male politician or community leader wants to keep women at bay. Whether or not one agrees with the ideology of Yesh Atid founder and leader Yair Lapid, it cannot be denied that he has no problem in recruiting female members to his party. He is currently engaging in talks with former foreign minister and justice minister Tzipi Livni, who two years ago was humiliatingly ousted on live TV from a partnership with Labor by then-Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay, who has since quit politics himself.
Gabbay’s declaration of the dissolution of the partnership came as a complete surprise. Although shock had registered momentarily on Livni’s face, her dignity remained intact as she left the room. Even though she took time out from politics, she was in frequent demand as a participant in international conferences related to Middle East peace. Now, with elections on the immediate horizon, she is being viewed as a political asset, and Lapid is not the only one who is courting her.
■ ALTHOUGH THE intention was not there, Naftali Bennett invoked memories of the late Shmuel Flatto Sharon, who in his signature French accent had asked during his election campaign for the Knesset: “What have you done during the past year on behalf of the state?” This has now become part of Bennett’s campaign slogan. He is advising every voter, before casting a ballot, to look at what candidates have done for the state during the past year, and then to decide for whom to vote. It’s also a paraphrase of the quote from the famous speech by US president John F. Kennedy 60 years ago in which he said: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
■ THE FRIENDS of Rabin Medical Center, headed by chairman Pini Cohen, held its annual fundraising gala on Zoom, with the participation of the major donors to RMC and its Beilinson and Hasharon campuses. This year’s gala, which raised NIS 70m., was dedicated to the medical teams of doctors, nurses and researchers who have been working 24/7 in their efforts to save the lives of coronavirus patients and to prevent others from joining the pandemic statistics.
The event was also in tribute to the memory of one of Israel’s famous writers, Amos Oz, who died two years ago. The cardiology unit in the new medical tower for in-patients will be named in his memory.
A special citation was presented to Anat and Dr. Shmuel Harlap for their extraordinary contribution to the development of the new cardiology unit at Beilinson, which is visualized as a powerhouse of medical innovation.
Among those attending on-screen were RMC director Dr. Eytan Wirtheim and wide-ranging philanthropists Shari Arison and Danna Azrieli, along with many other generously minded people who collectively have donated tens of millions of shekels to RMC over the years. Entertainment was provided by Rami Kleinstein.
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