Grapevine: Diplomacy on the ball

Israel is like an eligible bride being wooed by many suitors.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Ethiopian Parliament, July 7 2016. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Ethiopian Parliament, July 7 2016.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
The visit to Israel this week by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry may not have been as spontaneously sudden as it seemed. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to do a quick stop on Sunday night in order to attend the official 40th anniversary commemoration of the Entebbe rescue mission and to host his Egyptian guest to dinner followed by the spectacle of the Euro 2016 soccer final on television. Ordinarily, the milestone commemorative event of one of the most audacious of Israeli military feats would have been at 8 or 8:30 in the evening. But instead, despite the fact that it was attended by Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and former president Shimon Peres, it started at 6:30 p.m. and was conveniently held at the Jerusalem Theater, which is literally a whistle stop from the Prime Minister’s Residence.
Speaking at the commemoration, Netanyahu said that four words sum up the Entebbe story. Actually, it’s four in Hebrew and six in English. In Hebrew it’s “Banu lakahat etchem habayta,” and in English it’s “We’ve come to take you home.” Home was a long way from Uganda, said Netanyahu, admitting that some of the hostages, perhaps the majority, had lost hope of ever being able to see home again. “Thirty-one years after the Holocaust, we received proof of the importance of a national home, especially in view of the selection process carried out by the terrorists,” said Netanyahu, alluding to the Nazi selections that meant either death or life.
Referring to the mission as Operation Yonatan, which was named for its fallen commander Yoni Netanyahu, the older brother of the prime minister, Rivlin said:
“Operation Yonatan was and remains the torch that lights our way – even today we have the strength and the spirit...”
The commemoration also included a tribute to Peres, who had been defense minister at the time and had given the green light to the operation, keeping his finger on its pulse until it was completed. Representing all the former hostages who had been freed by the IDF, a woman mounted the stage to present him with a bouquet of flowers and a diary written during captivity in Uganda.
“My name is Sara Davidson,” she said in a trembling voice, “and today I have the privilege to thank you, Shimon Peres, for what you did and for your ability to think creatively. On behalf of my family and all those who were part of that nightmare that we experienced, yet were able to return and to once again become free individuals, I thank you with all my heart.” The two embraced each other in what was an extremely emotional moment.
■ ALTHOUGH HE is one of the most controversial members of the government because there are people who cannot accept the fact that a convicted felon who has paid his debt to society can once again take his place in the political arena, Interior Minister and Development of the Negev and Galilee Minister Arye Deri this week enjoyed the appreciation and admiration of heads of local and regional councils, who could not speak highly enough of his understanding of their needs and of what he has done for them. The praise flowed freely at a conference on the importance of regional clusters which was held at the President’s Residence, and Rivlin also joined the pro- Deri chorus.
In another display of sensitivity to needs, Deri this week changed the rules applying to foreign caregivers employed by senior citizens, enabling those caregivers whose visas had expired to extend them, so that their employers would not have to suffer their absence and so that the caregivers would be spared the expense of traveling to their home countries to apply for a new visa.
■ PARTICIPANTS AT a meeting of the Israel-Cyprus Association at the residence of Cyprus Ambassador Thessalia Salina Shambos commemorated the upcoming 10th anniversary of the death of Prodromos Papavasiliou, known as Papa to many Israelis who were unable to pronounce his name.
Papavasiliou had close ties with the Hagana.
He was extremely helpful to Jews – most of them Holocaust survivors – who had been deported to Cyprus by the British prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, and maintained close relations with the Hagana during the War of Independence.
He was later the representative in Cyprus of Israel’s ZIM shipping company, and subsequently handled El Al flights to and from Cyprus. In 1969, he was the founder of the Cyprus-Israel Friendship Association.
Over the years, Israel honored him in different ways. His ties with Israel were so strong that Israel smuggled him back into Cyprus following the Turkish invasion of his country in 1974. Papavasiliou had been abroad at the time of the invasion. Friends in Israel advised him to fly to Tel Aviv, and from there a small Israeli ship transported him and his family back to Cyprus. A few years later he was appointed Israel’s honorary consul in Cyprus. He died in January 2007 at the age of 87.
Among those present at the meeting at the residence of the ambassador was American- born writer, publisher and filmmaker Murray Greenfield, who after completing service in the merchant marines during World War II became a volunteer in Aliya Bet, the rescue movement that transported Holocaust survivors to the Land of Israel.
The British regarded this as “illegal” immigration.
Greenfield was apprehended by the British, and together with the passengers on the ship was deported to Cyprus, spending time in a British prison there.
Greenfield presented the ambassador with a copy of his book The Jews’ Secret Fleet, which tells the story of volunteers who helped facilitate Aliya Bet.
■ NOT ONLY African countries are interested in establishing and expanding ties with Israel, as emerged from the prime minister’s tour of Africa last week. The same is true for Latin America. It is almost ironic that in an era when misguided people are so busy riding the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement bandwagon, Israel is anything but isolated. Quite the opposite.
Israel is like an eligible bride being wooed by many suitors.
Next week Israel’s red carpets will be laid out for Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes, who is coming to enhance relations in agriculture, technology and education and to discuss cooperation in other fields as well. Cartes, who is coming to Israel as the guest of Rivlin, who will host a state dinner in his honor, will also meet with Netanyahu.
In March, Cartes was awarded the Shalom Prize by the Latin American Jewish Congress for “contributions to building coexistence” through his constant support for dialogue and direct negotiation from a neutral place toward resolving the Middle East conflict.
■ PRESIDENTS, PRIME Ministers and other high-ranking public figures don’t have much time at their disposal for personal interests and family togetherness. This may explain why Rivlin decided to make his visit to the new exhibition of Heroes and Trailblazers of the Jewish People at the Tamar and Milton Maltz Family Gallery at Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People this coming Friday a family affair.
He and his wife, Nechama, will be accompanied by their children and grandchildren and will be able to wander around at their leisure instead of being hemmed in by security guards, who will be on hand but will give the president and his family their own space.
Every culture needs its heroes as role models, and in this respect, Jews are no different from anyone else. There are Jewish heroes in every category, and in recent years this has been evidenced by the number of Jews who have been awarded Nobel and other prestigious prizes. The Jewish ratio among prestigious prizewinners is far in excess of its demographic ratio in the world.
The current exhibition is essentially designed as not only a visual experience but also a learning experience for children aged six to 12, as well as for their parents.
Jewish heroes from different eras and different walks of life, going back as far as Moses, will be featured in this gallery. Visitors will encounter different types of Jewish heroes throughout Jewish history, including scientists, intellectuals, revolutionaries, cultural figures and athletes.
Curators Dr. Orit Shaham Gover, Dvir Tzur and Assaf Galay have explored a long list of names that include Tal Brody, Esther Roth-Shahamorov, Ada Yonath, Erez Biton, Gil Schwed, Moshe Safdie, Woody Allen, Mark Spitz, Dana International, Bob Dylan, Daniel Libeskind, Enrico Macias, Claude Lelouch, Donna Karan, Alber Elbaz, Steven Spielberg, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Sandy Koufax, Henrietta Szold, Sigmund Freud, Jonas Salk, Karl Marx, David Ben-Gurion, Albert Einstein, George Gershwin, Louis B. Mayer and Levi Strauss.
■ VETERAN TELEVISION journalist Geraldo Rivera, who works for Fox News, has been to Israel at least 30 times in the past 40 plus years, initially as a tourist but most often in a professional capacity. His most recent foray to the Holy Land early this month was to celebrate the bat mitzva of Eva Levy, the niece of his wife, Erica, who has quite a large family in Israel. In addition to attending the bat mitzva festivities, the whole family visited the grave in Jerusalem of Erica’s grandmother Violet Malevan.
Erica Levy, a producer of documentaries, is Rivera’s fifth wife and his first Jewish wife, though Rivera himself is Jewish. They met when she was the producer for Rivera Live on CNBC. He is 32 years older than his wife, and they have a daughter. Rivera also fathered children with two of his previous wives. The Riveras were married at Central Synagogue in Manhattan, with Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein performing the ceremony.
■ THE SUBTLE difference between Sephardim, Latinos and Hispanics may perhaps be discerned in the choice of venue for an international conference – the Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles Beach, northeast Miami-Dade County, Florida. Hispanics would probably shun any facility that had the name “Trump” attached to it, given some of the negative comments that presidential hopeful Donald Trump has made about Hispanics, and his promotion of a fence to prevent Hispanics from illegally crossing the border into the United States. But Jewish Sephardim and Latinos or non-Jewish Latinos with Jewish backgrounds don’t seem to have the same anti-Trump sentiment.
Among the Israelis attending the international conference – of Netanya Academic College’s Institute for Sefardi and Anousim Studies and titled Reconnecting 2016: Reinvigorating Shared Latino-Jewish Roots and Heritage – in September will be the college’s president, Avi Arad, its senior vice president, David Altman, and the institute’s Yael Cohen. Also attending will be Netanya Mayor Miriam Fierberg-Ikar and Prof. Sergio DellaPergola, the well-known demography expert from the Hebrew University.
Lior Hayat, Israel consul-general in Miami, will also be attending, and the keynote address at the closing session will be delivered by Danny Danon, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations.
Although most of the subjects in the conference program are related to Sephardim and Anusim (hidden Jews of Sephardi origin), the surnames of most of the speakers are Ashkenazi. That does not necessarily mean that they are not of Sephardi extraction, but it seems strange that there are so few genuinely Sephardi names among the speakers.
■ APROPOS SEPHARDIM, which is the stream of Judaism applicable to most North African Jews, particularly those from Morocco, the fact that some people find it disturbing that Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, who is of Moroccan background, is promoting the Sephardi and North African heritage is really strange, considering that it’s part of the comprehensive Jewish mosaic. But her opponents really went too far in booing her at the opening of the Jerusalem Film Festival when she was talking about the brutal, inhumane murder of Hallel Yaffa Ariel.
As Israel Radio’s early morning news and current affairs anchor Arieh Golan observed when reviewing the morning’s newspapers the following day, there are times when one can boo and times when one shouldn’t. Aside from the total insensitivity of booing while Regev was talking about a life cut short in such a horrible way, one can well imagine the thoughts of foreign visitors to the festival – whether booing the minister was a display of Israeli culture.
■ PEOPLE ON the Right of the political spectrum are holding demonstrations to be permitted to go up to the Temple Mount, or to establish settlements in the West Bank, or to support Elor Azaria, who shot and killed a seemingly neutralized terrorist.
People on the Left of the political spectrum are demonstrating for civil rights, for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and against the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Each side has a cause or a series of causes, and neither side is willing to give way to the other.
This week we saw leading Temple Mount proponents Uri Ariel, Yehudah Glick and Moshe Feiglin being denied access to the Temple Mount because police were fearful that they might provoke a riot, and on the Left there are protests that conscientious objector Tair Kaminer is serving a sixth term in Military Prison No. 6. At the same time, Israel Radio’s Carmela Menashe, who has become the soldiers’ unofficial ombudswoman, is interviewing people who are more than eager to serve but whom the army refuses to accept because of age or low profile.
As far as the left-of-center people are concerned, in addition to protests, public statements and press releases, they are currently marking the10th anniversary of Combatants for Peace – a decade of joint Israeli-Palestinian, nonviolent resistance to what they perceive as the “occupation.”
Among the anniversary events is a new documentary film, Disturbing the Peace, by filmmakers Stephen Apkon and Andrew Young. The film is being screened at the Jerusalem Cinematheque as part of the Jerusalem Film Festival on Thursday, July 14, at 2:15 p.m. with a Q&A session after the screening with Apkon and members of Combatants for Peace who are featured in the film.
The film follows its protagonists, Israelis and Palestinians, as they go from participating in violent action in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to becoming activists in the Combatants for Peace movement, which seeks to end the violence. Throughout their journey, and against the backdrop of another Gaza war brewing, they encounter the opposition of their respective societies, each of which see them as traitors.
The film deviates from the local context and instead conveys a universal story about the human ability to see beyond the narratives, which we tend to accept as reality, and challenge convention in the struggle for freedom. The journey of the film’s protagonists reveals the potential within the human spirit: to liberate ourselves from those stories that no longer serve us, and to create instead an alternate story and a new vision.
On Friday, July 15, also within the framework of 10th anniversary activities, there will be an Israeli-Palestinian Freedom March at the tunnels checkpoint, with the participation of Alistair Little and Jerry Forster, former combatants from both sides of the conflict in Northern Ireland, who in recent years have worked to build bridges between the sides.
■ AFTER RECEIVING the Israel Prize and the prestigious Sokolov Prize among several other important awards, veteran journalist Yaakov Ahimeir last Thursday received a life achievement award at the annual B’nai B’rith World Center awards for journalism, established quarter of a century ago by the late Wolf and Hilda Matsdorf, and expanded since then to include an annual life achievement award in memory of Luis and Trudi Schydlowsky and a special citation established by the B’nai B’rith World Center to honor performing artists who have fostered closer relations between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora.
The latter was awarded to the totally charming Idan Raichel, who, though he had to rush off to a performance, nonetheless decided not to cheat the audience at the awards ceremony at the Konrad Adenauer Center in Jerusalem and performed briefly before exiting. In accepting the citation, he spoke with a degree of modesty tinged with pride, saying that in several countries he and his group are regarded as the sound track of Israel, just as Édith Piaf is regarded as the sound track of France, and Miriam Makeba the sound track of Africa.
Both the Matsdorf prizewinners – Allison Kaplan Sommer of Haaretz and Amanda Borschel-Dan of The Times of Israel – thanked their respective editors for giving them a free hand to write about the subjects that really interest them. Each, at different times, began their journalistic careers at The Jerusalem Post. Broadcast journalist Ahimeir, the winner of the Life Achievement award, did not begin his half-century-long career at the Post but, rather, spent most of it at the nearby studios of Israel Radio and Israel Television (Channel 1).
Guest speaker Ron Dermer, ambassador to the United States, is also a former Post columnist, and addressed The Jerusalem Post Conference in New York this past May.
Dermer, whose mother was born in prestate Israel and whose father was born in the United States, presented himself as a walking example of the US-Israel alliance.
Ahimeir hinted that with the advent of the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, which is due to replace the Israel Broadcasting Authority on October 1, he was on the verge of ending his career in tandem with the demise of the IBA. However, there have been media reports of rumors that both Ahimeir and Golan will be incorporated into the IBC, this despite the fact that Golan has used every opportunity to be critical of the decision to close down the IBA, and he hasn’t had anything complimentary to say about the IBC.
Ahimeir, in accepting his award, admitted that the IBA was in need of a drastic overhaul, but to close it down, he said, “was the most erroneous decision of the government.”
He wondered aloud about the conscience of those who had voted “to destroy one of the most important institutions in the country.”
Dermer, who described himself as “a card-carrying member of B’nai B’rith,” said that most Jewish organizations owe a debt of gratitude to B’nai B’rith for being a pioneer in many areas. He also applauded the choice of Raichel for a citation, calling him “one of Israel’s finest ambassadors in the world.”
Contrary to what BDS reports would have people believe, according to Dermer “Israel is less isolated today than at any time in our history.” In relation to the alliance between Israel and America, Dermer said: “It is without question the most important relationship that Israel has in the world.”
In demographic terms, Dermer credited Israel with now having surpassed the US, and thus becoming “the largest Jewish community in the world,” adding that “New York still has more Jews than Jerusalem.
Despite differences in opinion between Israel and the US over a nuclear Iran, Dermer is confidant that the alliance will grow stronger and that Israel, as an ally, will become more critical in protecting America’s interests. The most dangerous security challenges to the US, he said, will come from the Middle East.
■ QUICK TO welcome the accession of Britain’s second female prime minister, Theresa May, Emunah chairwoman Liora Minka said that women can and should continue to take the lead in public service, in the economy and in matters of social welfare, both in Israel and elsewhere in the world.
While still home secretary last October, May was one of the speakers at British Emunah’s gala dinner, where more than £250,000 was raised to support vulnerable children through centers and services in Israel. Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid was also featured at the dinner in a public conversation with Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
The dinner was held at The Roundhouse in Camden Town, which May noted was “once a [railway] repair shed... From turning around trains [tonight] we are turning around the lives of disadvantaged young people.”
May said that she been struck by the fact that British Emunah first started in 1933 with “a group of women volunteers helping children facing persecution in Europe... not just because of the altruism of those women but because the plight of refugees is very much on our minds.”