Grapevine February 28, 2020: An Egyptian example

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

CANADIAN AMBASSADOR Deborah Lyons with film producer Robert Lantos. (photo credit: ITZIK BIRAN)
CANADIAN AMBASSADOR Deborah Lyons with film producer Robert Lantos.
(photo credit: ITZIK BIRAN)
All human beings have more than one side to them, but there is a general tendency to categorize people in terms of their negatives more than their positives, rather than looking at both sides together – the good and the bad. Egypt this week, has shown the world that it is important to acknowledge a leader’s positive characteristics, even if he or she has strayed from the straight and narrow to the extent of being charged with corruption, convicted and imprisoned. The three days of mourning for former President Hosni Mubarak are indicative that Egypt, while unafraid to penalize its leaders when necessary, also knows how to honor them. Israel has yet to learn this lesson.
An example is the funeral this week of Eli Moyal who was the legendary mayor of Sderot from 1998 to 2008 and was known for speaking straight from the shoulder and ignoring being politically correct. He was also a member the Likud Central Committee but left the party because he felt that the government was not doing enough for Sderot and said so publicly. There are conflicting stories as to whether he resigned or whether he was expelled. Hundreds of people attended Moyal’s funeral on Wednesday. Likud figures were conspicuously absent. Labor chairman Amir Peretz who is also a former mayor of Sderot was conspicuously present. Israelis who arguably had the most frequent contacts with Mubarak are former ambassador to Egypt Zvi Mazel, whose general knowledge of Egypt is much sought after by various media outlets and think tanks, and Smadar Peri, Yediot Aharonot’s long-term reporter covering Egypt.
In a memoir written the day after Mubarak’s death, Peri wrote that she had met with him at least thirty times. At the first meeting he yelled her for having written about an attempt on his life, demanding who had given her permission to report on that, but he did not deny that it had happened. After that they had many meetings which he initiated and for which he set the ground rules. The first half of the meeting was on record. The second half was an off-record conversation. Mubarak met with Mazel at regular intervals. Mubarak also conducted a fairly even-handed policy regarding Israel in that he met with both government and opposition leaders.
The Sphinx, which is one of the most prominent Egyptian mythological figures, is believed to hold many secrets but does not reveal them. This is also supposedly an Egyptian trait, which is one of the reasons that Mubarak reportedly told Tzipi Livni that she would never be prime minister of Israel. He had told her a secret which was subsequently leaked, though Livni claimed that she was not the source. Nonetheless, Mubarak was correct. She failed to form a government when tasked to do so, and never became prime minister.
■ CANADIAN AMBASSADOR Deborah Lyons, a great believer in cultural diplomacy, which is one of her passions, is also passionate about co-existence, eliminating all forms of racism, and encouraging innovation and sustainable development. She’s also very keen on promoting all kinds of Canada-Israel bilateral activities and will continue to be active in this sphere when she completes her posting in the coming weeks. As one of her final activities, she hosted a screening of the moving and sensitive film The Song of Names, which is based on the novel of the same name by Norman Lebrecht and tells the story of the extraordinary friendship between a Jewish violin virtuoso from Warsaw and a non-Jewish British boy in whose home the young violinist lives. Initially, the British boy resents the young violinist from Poland, but in the course of time develops a close brotherly affection for him. The film opens on the eve of the Second World War. The violinist and the family which is caring for him try desperately to learn of
the fate of his parents and sisters who have been deported to the Treblinka death camp. When he finally learns what did happen to them, the violinist undergoes a total life-changing experience. There is much more to the story, but anyone who wants to know has to either read the book, see the film or both.
At the special screening at the Rav Chen cinema in Tel Aviv, Robert Lantos, a celebrated, prize-winning Hungarian-Canadian film maker, said that these days, when 90% of the box office is largely devoted to flying super heroes, it is extremely difficult to make a serious film such as Song of Names. It premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival, was released in September and was nominated for nine Canadian Screen Awards.
Any film maker who undertook a film such as this, said Lantos was living in “a masochist’s paradise.” Primarily he had been motivated by “the Jew-hatred in the diaspora which has reached a fever pitch.”
Later at a reception at the ambassador’s residence, he said that Lebrecht, a London journalist and who is one of his country’s most influential writers on music, had suggested to him that he read the book, because he thought it would make a good film. Lantos had already retired and doubted that he would be making any more films. After all, forty feature films were quite enough in one lifetime, but he read the book. It spoke to him and he made the film.
Lyons said that Lantos had agreed to be involved in other cultural diplomacy projects, between Israel and Canada. She emphasized the importance of people from different cultural backgrounds telling each other their stories. She had met Lantos by chance during a home visit at which she had attended an event hosted by Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman for the Foundation of Lone Soldiers which they head, and in which Lantos serves as a member of the board. They got to talking and the dynamic Lyons – who is never shy about asking people to do things to enhance the bilateral relations between Canada and Israel – asked if he would do an event with her in Israel, and he agreed.
Lebrecht who is a columnist, historian, broadcaster and prize- winning novelist, wrote the book around twenty years ago. It was his first novel, it was published in 2001 and in 2002 won the Whitbread Award for a first novel. Lebrecht has a strong Israel connection. He attended the Kol Torah Yeshiva in Jerusalem in 1964-65 and after that was a student at Bar-Ilan University from 1966 to 1968.
■ THERE WAS a time when movie theaters in Israel were closing down, because people were watching video cassettes at home. These days they watch Netflix or other movies and television series that can be accessed via mobile phone, lap top, home computer or television set. But none of those have quite the same appeal as the big screen, which is why cinemas are still well attended and why more are being built. One was recently opened in Kiryat Shmona, and another one opened even more recently in Hadera. The Hadera facility is yet another link in the chain of seven Cinema City multiscreen outlets in buildings that in addition to a bank of movie theaters, also has a fairly large selection of eateries and stores that selling products including garments and accessories. Moshe Edery and his late brother Leon pioneered the Cinema City chain theaters that are to be found in different parts of Israel. On hand at the launch of Cinema City Hadera, were Mayor Zvi Gendelman, Moshe Edery and his nephew Avi Edery who oversees operations at the whole Cinema City chain; film director Avi Nesher, actor Yehuda Barkan, actor and TV host Kevin Rubin, real estate developer Nir Shochat, former basketball stars Mickey Berkowitz, Aulcie Perry and Motti Aroesti, Castro co-directors Etty and Gabi Rotter, and many other well-known figures. But the person who got the most attention was Barkan, who in his younger days often played a lovable rogue. Cinema City Hadera was built at a cost of NIS 50 million and includes eleven movie theaters with a total of 1600 seats.
For Moshe Edery, who through his various companies is the backbone of Israel’s movie industry, said that even though he’s been through all the stages of designing and constructing every Cinema City in Israel, every launch brings its own excitement.
Avi Edery said that it was a happy day for the company in its goal to keep on increasing the number of Cinema City theaters so that more people will be able to go out to the movies.
The launch event included dinner and a choice of one of three movies that were being screened – plus, of course, large containers of popcorn.