Grapevine February 24, 2021: Constitution long overdue

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

MK NIR BARKAT inspects a document at Beit Abba alongside a portrait of Abba Ahimeir. (photo credit: Courtesy)
MK NIR BARKAT inspects a document at Beit Abba alongside a portrait of Abba Ahimeir.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 The packaging of Basic Laws into a constitution is long overdue, former Supreme Court justice and former attorney-general Elyakim Rubinstein said at a Zoom event hosted this week by the Israel, Britain and the Commonwealth Association.
Although he doesn’t hold out much hope for a constitution any time soon, he believes the time to be ripe, because it will guarantee Israel’s Arab population the equality they seek. Arabs represent 20% of the population, he said, and for them equality is a redline that was written into the Declaration of Independence but not copied into Basic Law.
Rubinstein began his lecture by explaining the structure and workings of the court system in Israel and how it differs from those of England and America. In Israel, for instance, anyone can petition the court on matters related to government decisions, and sometimes such petitions are heard on the very day of the appeal, whereas in England and America, petitioners have to wait for a very long time to appear before the Supreme Court.
Certain political elements have attacked the Supreme Court saying that it is too liberal, too secular, too left-wing said Rubinstein, “but this is a distorted image of the court, which is there to protect civil rights.” He noted that while there may be differences of opinion on certain issues among the judges, “the notion of human rights is common to all.” Categorizing the court as “a strategic asset,” Rubinstein said: “The court sees itself as a guardian of democracy.”
■ THERE’S NO accounting for coincidence. After visiting a beach in Herzliya on Monday to inspect the damage caused by an oil spill, President Reuven Rivlin held a working meeting at his official residence with Egyptian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Tarek el-Molla.
Rivlin told his guest that the timing of his visit was important, as more and more Arab countries are joining the path of peace and normalization that started more than 40 years ago with the signing of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty.
Rivlin conveyed his thanks to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the Egyptian government for its commitment and activity in Gaza, saying: “We need to continue to work together to resolve the humanitarian situation in Gaza, in a way that will bring home our soldiers, who are being held by Hamas. This is our moral obligation.”
Regarding bilateral relations, Rivlin said: “It is time for our businesses, our people and our younger generation to meet each other. Relations can flourish and benefit us all if our peoples truly get to know each other, not just cooperation between governments.”
Earlier in the day in Herzliya, Rivlin characterized what he saw as both an eyesore and a heartache, and said it was a wake-up call for a national environmental protection plan to ensure that Israel would not experience such unpleasant surprises again in the future. “It is a national duty that we must not neglect,” he said.
■ BEIT ISSIE SHAPIRO, a pioneering innovator in developing therapies and models for children and adults with disabilities, has for the past six years partnered with industrial design students from the Holon Institute of Technology to create Purim costumes for children who can move around independently only with the use of wheelchairs or walkers. Being dressed in costumes that highlight, rather than hide, their wheelchairs or walkers gives these youngsters confidence and happiness and opens up new design possibilities in Israel, imbuing enhanced meaning to both design and inclusiveness.
“This special initiative was born out of a need we identified in the community. Children with disabilities who use wheelchairs or walkers would have their costumes hidden by their mobility apparatus,” said Noa Nitzan, director of the Technology Center at Beit Issie Shapiro. “We realized wheelchairs and walkers could elevate a costume and make them one of a kind. These devices could become a part of the costume. For example, a wheelchair can become a construction worker’s dump truck or Batman’s Batmobile, and a walker can become a soccer goal.
Adi Shpigel, director of social impact projects at HIT, is convinced that students gain relevant design principles beyond the classroom, and this sensitizes them to the world around them. “This initiative molds the future of Israeli design, exposing the designers of tomorrow to the world of disabilities. This project is the first step in opening their eyes to the possibilities and things to consider when designing for such people.”
The project has since been adopted by other Israeli organizations.
■ SO MUCH is happening daily in the sphere of political developments that anything that happens on a Monday is usually old hat by Wednesday and totally irrelevant by Thursday. But the interview that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave to Channel 12’s Yonit Levi on Monday of last week, after generating discussion all week, was still being analyzed in weekend newspapers.
Even people opposed to Netanyahu admitted that he was a master in front of the television camera, not to mention dealing with interviewers who lost their cool and almost lost the plot. Netanyahu’s facial expressions occasionally betrayed annoyance, but not his voice. He was calm, controlled and convincing. Levi’s questions had been designed to rock him, but he never gave her the chance, and she became progressively agitated, almost screaming at him, which did nothing for her image, but which boosted his. There were even some political pundits who said that the interview was great for Netanyahu’s election campaign.
As though the interview itself were not sufficiently humiliating for Levi, who is actually a very good journalist, the unnatural body language she is forced to adopt, leaning so far to the right that she almost but not quite fell off the chair, became fodder for a hilarious skit by the Zehu Ze! team, with Moni Moshonov playing the part of Levi, and actually falling off the chair several times during the “interview,” and Avi Kushnir doing a wonderful take on Netanyahu.
The sad thing is that when Levi, as a guest interviewer, interacts with people on stage, she does not employ that exaggerated body language and those unnatural facial expressions, but is herself and is far more effective.
The other downside in her exchange with Netanyahu was that she was not given a prompter, and therefore spent most of the time looking down at the questions in her notebook instead of looking directly at Netanyahu, who, when he spoke, looked directly at her.
■ CONSPIRACY THEORIES were flowing thick and fast last week with regard to the repatriation of an Israeli woman who had crossed into Syria. The sworn-to-secrecy session of the government added fuel to the conspiracy fire, but the secret was soon out in the open despite signed declarations affirming that discussions would remain classified. Several people not in the government but involved with Israel’s security, when asked in various interviews about the top-secret meeting, said that they didn’t know, and if they did know, they couldn’t say anything. Several journalists claimed to know, but said they were bound by censorship regulations. Yet enough hints were dropped by both security personnel and journalists to put almost anyone on the right track.
Some cynics suggested that it was another election ploy by Netanyahu, and that the whole matter could have been settled quietly on a strictly need-to-know basis. Happily, no one has yet suggested that Syrian President Bashar Assad has a special interest in keeping Netanyahu in power.
However, representatives for Israel’s Ethiopian community were angry that action was taken so swiftly with regard to the young woman in enemy territory, whereas Avera Megistu, who crossed into Gaza in September 2014, is still missing, as is Israeli Bedouin Hisham al-Sayed, who entered Gaza through an opening in the fence in April 2015.
In an interview last weekend with Yaron Dekel, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, without any prompting from Dekel, said that everything possible was being done to bring Megistu home. But Avi Yalou, one of the spokesmen for the Ethiopian community, contended that if Megistu were white, he would have been home long ago.
When Gilad Schalit was held captive in Gaza, he added, Channel 12’s Oded Ben Ami monitored nightly how many days Schalit had been held in captivity, but Megistu and Sayed hardly ever rate a mention.
■ MEANWHILE, ON the diplomatic front, President Teodoro Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, in a telephone conversation with Netanyahu last Friday, said he would like to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem.
Although Netanyahu will undoubtedly claim credit for the move, the credit really belongs to Yardena Ovadia, a successful international businesswoman, who grew up in Dimona and discovered that she has a knack for big business.
Ovadia, who divides her time between Equatorial Guinea and her palatial home in Savyon, is a close friend of Mbasago, and has done wonders for Equatorial Guinea’s health system through her company International Medical Services, which built a state-of-the-art hospital in Equatorial Guinea and brought several Israeli doctors there to pass on their know-how and techniques to local physicians.
As Equatorial Guinea’s honorary consul in Israel, she has also brokered the sale of $100 million worth of arms to Equatorial Guinea. In fact, both countries owe her – big-time.
■ TIMING BEING everything, it is interesting that the reopening of hotels last Sunday, especially in Eilat, coincided with the 72nd anniversary of the hoisting of the ink flag signifying the Israeli conquest of Eilat, when the area was still a barren desert.
Speaking at the state ceremony that was attended by Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi, who has joined Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party, Netanyahu was totally upbeat, remarking on Eilat’s development and recalling that then-company commander (and later Maj.-Gen.) Avraham Adan of the Negev Brigade had said that when scaling a pole to hoist the ink flag, all that he could think of was that he shouldn’t lose his grip and slide down. Netanyahu was certain that Eilat, which has developed splendidly over the past seven decades, would likewise not slip down.
Referring to the Ramon International Airport which was opened two years ago, Netanyahu said that moving the airport from the center of town to its present location in Timna was a strategic decision, and he is sure that once tourism gets under way again, many thousands of tourists from abroad will flock to Eilat.
■ ISRAELI MEDIA outlets were quick to publish the story of Ibrahim Maher, the head nurse in the Covid unit at the Emek Medical Center, who, realizing that his Chabad patient Shlomo Galster would die before his family was able to arrive at his side, did more than hold his hand. Aware that Jews in their last rites recite “Shema Yisrael,” and knowing how significant this was to Galster as a religiously observant Jew, Maher recited the prayer with him. It was also important to Maher that Galster’s daughter should know that her father had been able to recite the Shema before his death.
During the pandemic, a lot of preconceived notions that Jews and Arabs have had about each other dissipated, as doctors and nurses from both sides simply helped other human beings regardless of faith or race.
It’s not only in hospitals that this happens.
Last week, Zvi Raviv, a well-known Jerusalemite, and his wife, Sheila, went for a night-time walk with two of their granddaughters along Hamesila Park which borders the old railroad that was built during Ottoman rule. Raviv, who is a tall man, and not exactly a lightweight, did not notice a stone in his path, tripped and fell flat on his face. No effort on his part or on that of his wife and granddaughters could bring him back to his feet.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, two couples who passed on the nearby road came to his aid. They helped him to get up, and they treated his injuries. They were Jerusalem Arabs, and without them Raviv would have been stuck indefinitely, because there was no one else around. He would love to find them and know who they are, so that he can properly convey his appreciation for their goodwill.
The result of his fall was a broken nose, eight stitches and bruises over much of his body. “When I’m already doing something,” he says, “I do it thoroughly!”
■ FORMER YESH Atid MK Dr. Ruth Calderon, as the daughter of a Bulgarian father, is very close to the Bulgarian community in Israel. In 1996, she founded ALMA, with the aim of familiarizing secular Israelis with traditional Hebrew texts. Though secular herself, Calderon loves to explore the wisdom in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic texts, and feels that a lot of people are missing out, because they have not been exposed to these writings.
More recently she realized that while several ethnic and national groups in Israel maintain the culture of their countries of origin or those of their parents or grandparents, not very much is known in Israel about Bulgarian culture, though several Bulgarians, or people of Bulgarian background, have made their marks in different fields, including politics.
So, earlier this month, Calderon, together with others who have Bulgarian DNA, inaugurated a Bulgarian Cultural Center to teach Israelis about Bulgarian music and literature, and to acquaint them with Bulgarian Jewish history and cuisine.
Included among some of the noteworthy Bulgarian immigrants are former MKs Yaakov Nitzani, Yaakov Nehoshtan, Emanuel Zisman, Michael Bar-Zohar, who was David Ben-Gurion’s official biographer, and Victor Shem-Tov, who was health minister.
Other Bulgarians who rose to fame in Israel include actor Albert Cohen, fashion designer Roji Ben Yosef and Holocaust survivor Shelly Hoshen, who is a former member of the Tel Aviv City Council and the founder of Yad B’Yad, which helps children from low socioeconomic backgrounds along with their parents.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi is the son of a Bulgarian Holocaust survivor, actor Moshonov’s parents were immigrants from Bulgaria, while television personalities Ya’akov Eilon and Oshrat Kotler are also of Bulgarian parentage.
■ ON THE subject of Bulgarian-born Israelis, people who tune into the early morning program on KAN radio’s music station could be forgiven for thinking that something has gone amiss on their radio frequencies. The familiar voice belongs to broadcaster and actor Alex Ansky, who for nearly half a century broadcast on Army Radio, and for 30 of those years anchored an early morning program called 707 because it started at seven minutes past seven. Ansky and Army Radio parted company in January of this year, and almost immediately he was taken on by KAN. Whether this is worth noting in Guinness World Records remains unknown at this stage, but it’s definitely rare for someone to start a new job at the age of 81.
Ansky, who came to Israel as a child, is the father of Michal Ansky, the female member of the adjudicating panel on the MasterChef Israel television show. She has previously appeared in other food-oriented programs. She is the daughter of Sherry Ansky, the second of Alex Ansky’s three wives. Sherry Ansky is a food journalist and author of cookbooks. Michal Ansky learned a lot of what she knows in her mother’s kitchen.
■ WHILE IT’s somewhat unusual that Alex Ansky, at 81, promptly landed a new job, it’s not all that unusual for KAN to employ veteran broadcasters who are well past retirement age. The oldest in all probability is former sportscaster Gideon Hod, 86, who is a music buff of all genres and who presents a weekly musical program on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet. Others include Dan Caner, 75, who no longer presents news bulletins but has a weekly musical program of golden oldies, and supplements his income by acting as master of ceremonies at Foreign Ministry events as well as some at the President’s Residence and elsewhere; Moshe Timor, 80; Aryeh Golan, 73; and Carmela Menashe, 72; Yitzhak Noy, 78; and Gadi Livne, 70.
Former MK Shelly Yacimovich, who will be 61 on March 28, was a radio and television personality before becoming a legislator and spending 13 years in the Knesset, including three stints as opposition leader, returned in early 2020 to her career as broadcast journalist on Reshet Bet, where she cohosts a current affairs program with former Shas MK Yigal Gueta.
■ GIVEN THE mammoth spending by the Finance Ministry and the National Insurance Institute during the coronavirus crisis, coupled with the fact that people are living longer and reasonably healthy lives, the Knesset may have to introduce a bill to either change retirement age from 62 for women and 67 for men to something like 65 and 70, respectively, or simply eliminate retirement age.
In many places, especially those in which there are collective work agreements between management and staff, people are forced to step down at retirement age, and many are then rehired on personal contracts.
The whole question of employing postretirement-age personnel stems back to Dr. Naomi Nevo, a sociologist who for many years was employed by the Jewish Agency. When she reached the age of 60, which was then retirement age for women, she was told that she had to go out on pension. Charging that this was discriminatory, Nevo appealed to the District Labor Court, which rejected her appeal. She then went to the National Labor Court, which also rejected the appeal, but Nevo refused to sit down and lick her wounds. Her next stop was the High Court of Justice, which showed that new laws are enacted while old laws contradicting the new laws are still in place. A 1987 statute included provisions that differentiated between men and women, but going back further, to 1951, the three judges came across the Women’s Equal Rights Law, which prohibits discrimination against women.
This was an exceptional case in which the High Court of Justice intervened against a ruling of the National Labor Court. What added insult to injury for Nevo was that the agency offered a personal contract in which she would earn more than she did on salary. In ultimately winning her case, Nevo paved the way for any woman who wants to keep working after a certain age.
■ PURIM RESTRICTIONS will result in numerous Zoom programs, and will also send many people on a YouTube search for Jewish humor. Canadian American actors Jamie Elman and Eli Batalion, who are the creators and stars of YidLife Crisis, got together with some of their Jewish comedy friends to put together a Purim special called Adarable, which Elman says is suitable for the whole of the month of Adar. Many of the award-winning couple’s programs in a mix of English and Yiddish are available on YouTube.
■ LIKUD MK and former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat visited Beit Abba, the former home, mini museum and archive in Ramat Gan that perpetuates the memory and the legacy of Dr. Abba Ahimeir, a Russian-born journalist, historian and political activist, who was one of the idealogues of Revisionist Zionism. He was also the father of well-known journalist Yaakov Ahimeir and former Likud MK Yossi Ahimeir, who was director of the Prime Minister’s Office during the administration of Yitzhak Shamir, and who is also the director-general of the Jabotinsky Institute.
Yossi Ahimeir is also the custodian of Beit Abba, and was happy to welcome Barkat, who demonstrated great interest in all that he saw and was very interested in what Ahimeir recounted about his father. Barkat also shared some of his political ideas, in particular the economic growth plan that he has initiated for Judea and Samaria.
Barkat wrote in the visitors’ book: “As someone who is dealing with strategic planning for how the State of Israel should evolve 30 years from now and onward, to come to this place to see and to learn of the work of Abba Ahimeir is inspiring and worth emulating.”