Grapevine February 5, 2020: She missed the party

A roundup of news from around Israel.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, with Uganda Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and his wife, Jocelyn. (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, with Uganda Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and his wife, Jocelyn.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
She missed the party
It’s not as though the petite Yona Bartal, who serves as executive director of the Friends of the Peres Circle for Peace and Innovation, has missed out on meeting with people in high places. In the close to 30 years that she worked with Shimon Peres, she often traveled with him when he went to meet with presidents and prime ministers around the globe. She rubbed shoulders with royalty, heads of state and heads of government, both in meetings that were made public and in clandestine meetings that still remain classified.
Still, when she traveled to Florida last week to launch a branch there of the Peres Circle and to talk to different groups and people of influence, she could not help but be excited when she received invitations to two huge parties being hosted by US President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago. Quite a coup for someone who arrived in Israel from Lithuania at the age of three.
But then, before she could decide which evening gown to wear, she received a message telling her that she had to return to Israel immediately. And so she missed the parties. However, given the many invitations she receives to gala events in Israel and abroad, sooner or later she is bound to come up trumps.
■ LAST SATURDAY, February 1, marked the 17th anniversary of the death of Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who, together with other crew members, was killed during the disintegration of the Space Shuttle Columbia as it attempted to reenter the atmosphere.
While in outer space, the families of crew members sent them songs. Ilan Ramon’s favorite song was “Hatishma Koli” (Will you hear my voice). This was the song that his wife, Rona Ramon, sent to him. It became one of the most broadcast songs on radio on the day that their son Assaf was killed in September 2009 when his fighter jet crashed. The song was frequently played again at the launch of the Ilan Ramon Airport and following Rona Ramon’s futile battle with cancer in December 2018.
■ FORMER POLITICAL reporter and Washington correspondent of the now defunct Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) Yaakov Ahimeir, the most veteran, albeit not the oldest, of Israeli television broadcasters, and host of Ro’im Olam (Seeing the World), the longest-running current affairs program in Israel, presented the program for the last time this past Saturday night.
Ahimeir, an Israel Prize laureate and the recipient of many other prizes in recognition of his journalistic abilities, will celebrate his 82nd birthday in July. He is the last of the broadcasters whose careers in television began with the launch of Israel’s first public broadcasting television network in May 1968. Blessed in his youth not only with journalistic talent but with film star looks, he was for many years the most handsome man on Israel’s television screen.
Ro’im Olam, which first went to air in August 1988 with David Witzthum as its host, was presented on a weekly basis by Ahimeir from 1997 onward. It was continued by KAN 11 following the dissolution of the IBA, but a drop in the ratings, coupled with Ahimeir’s own decision to retire, brought the program to an end.
When Ahimeir’s retirement was first announced, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is not particularly well disposed to journalists, tweeted his regrets and praised Ahimeir’s journalistic integrity.
Ahimeir’s final program was preceded last Saturday night by a feature on his career in the KAN 11 news. For his swan song Ahimeir brought on some of his predecessors who had hosted Ro’im Olam – Witzthum, Emanuel Halperin and Oren Nahari as well as Tova Biala and Sari Raz, who had been among the contributing reporters on the show. In fact Raz, like Ahimeir, was among the first broadcasters on public television in May 1968.
Like several other Israeli television broadcasters of his generation, Ahimeir had previously worked in London, broadcasting on the BBC’s Hebrew program and on Israel Radio. Throughout the years, he continued to broadcast on radio and also contributed to print media.
He never hid the fact that he is on the Right of the political spectrum, but he never allowed this to intrude on his professionalism. In the news feature about him, he said that there is no such thing as objectivity, but that it is important to be fair.
The final presentation of Ro’im Olam also included archive footage of some of the material that had appeared over the years, including interviews with journalists working for other media outlets, such as the late Bob Simon, or deceased IBA journalists such as Daniel Pe’er.
Modern technology has not only changed broadcasting quality but also broadcasting content. However, broadcasting tastes are apparently not much different from what they were more than 40 years ago.
Ahimeir told the story of interviewing Yitzhak Rabin following the revelation by Dan Margalit in Haaretz that Lea Rabin had continued to maintain an American bank account, which at the time was illegal.
On the night of the interview, in which Rabin announced his resignation, there had been an important basketball match in which Maccabi Tel Aviv played a major Italian team. Rabin had asked that the broadcast of the interview be delayed so that it would not disrupt the broadcast of the basketball match.
As Ahimeir left the studio in Jerusalem’s Romema neighborhood that night, he was recognized by a passing taxi driver who yelled out: “What was the Maccabi score?” To the taxi driver the result of the game was more important than the resignation of the prime minister. Today, reality shows are much more important to the Israeli public than news about politicians, regardless of the impact on the nation.
The people that he had invited to the studio for his final broadcast had a surprise for Ahimeir, with broadcasts of good wishes from colleagues such as Natan Gutman, the KAN 11 correspondent in Washington, and Yaron Dekel as well as friendly rivals on other television channels such as Ayala Hasson, Arad Nir, Yonit Levi and Ilana Dayan.
The cameras then panned behind the glass panel separating the studio from the control room, where a whole bunch of people joined technical staff in applauding Ahimeir and wishing him well.
When asked what he had not yet achieved, he said that he had always hoped to be asked to be an adjudicator on MasterChef or at the Eurovision Song Contest, but no one had approached him.
For many people, especially those who do not enjoy the aggressive style of interviewing that prevails on television and radio today, Ahimeir’s polite, gentlemanly style will be a great loss.
For Ahimeir himself, there is one compensation. He will no longer have to travel to the studio in Modi’in, which is so despised by former IBA employees now working for KAN, and some even say so on air.
In his farewell address on television, Ahimeir said that although he was sad to leave, he was pleased that he had been given the privilege to serve the nation through the material that he broadcast. This was repeated on KAN radio news broadcasts throughout the evening.
Ahimeir, by the way, was not the only past-pension-age broadcaster. Among the others are Gideon Hod, Moshe Timor, Yitzhak Noy, Dan Kanner, Gary Livne, Avi Etgar and Aryeh Golan.
KAN broadcasting was launched on May 15, 2017. KAN’s official title in English is the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation. One of the conditions under which it was established was that its headquarters should be in Jerusalem. After a long search, it did in fact acquire premises on the main street of the capital’s Givat Shaul neighborhood, but it continues to broadcast from Modi’in, which was initially intended as a temporary solution but, like so many other temporary things in Israel, has assumed the mantle of permanence
■ ON THURSDAY evening, February 6, the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem will host a panel discussion on Martin Buber based on the book by the Hebrew University’s Prof. Paul Mendes-Flohr: Martin Buber, a Life of Faith and Dissent. The home in which Buber resided in Jerusalem was less than a five-minute walk from the Van Leer Institute. Although it’s not a milestone year in relation to Buber, the discussion is coincidentally to take place two days ahead of the 122nd anniversary of his birth. The speakers are from the universities of Cambridge and Potsdam as well as from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
Although it is unlikely that any of the speakers will mention Tirzah Agassi, who was Buber’s Jerusalem-born great-granddaughter, it would seem appropriate for her to be mentioned in The Jerusalem Post, where she was a music critic and a columnist on other subjects for 10 years, before moving to Los Angeles, where in 2008 she succumbed to cancer. Had she lived, she would have been celebrating her 70th birthday on February 26. In addition to her journalism, she was a psychotherapist for the terminally ill and for young people with eating disorders.
She was very interested in finding common ground on which to bring Israelis and Palestinians together, and even wrote a film script about meetings between Israelis and Palestinians who were mutually seeking to overcome animosities. She was looking for a producer at the time she fell ill, and the script never made it to the screen.
■ JUST OVER a year has passed since the death of Amos Oz, one of Israel’s greatest writers and peace advocates. A memorial tribute to him will be held this coming Friday, February 7, at Beit Lessin Theater Tel Aviv, where President Reuven Rivlin, who was a personal friend who had known Oz since they were both children, will share memories of him.
■ IT’S BEEN a busy time for Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan, who last month was heavily involved not only with the various events connected to the visit of Australian Governor-General David Hurley, who came for the conference on “Remembering the Holocaust: Fighting Antisemitism”; but at more or less the same time Cannan kept his finger on the pulse leading up to the January 30 all-night StandWithUs hackathon contest designed to find solutions for Australian bushfire relief.
Among the participants who came together in the offices of Impact Innovation Israel in Tel Aviv were specialists in water purification and management; ridding air of pollution; creating emergency infrastructures; telecommunication; energy; wildlife rehabilitation and animal rescue. Also present were members of the search and rescue unit of the Israel Defense Forces, as well as well-known representatives of the hi-tech and water industries.
Air Koalaty, an application that can identify the level of pollution in the air, won first prize for the ClimaCell team, whose prize is a round trip to Australia.
The hackathon was the brainchild of Ethy Levy, founder and CEO of Impact Innovation Israel, who is a former Israeli commercial attaché who served Australia. Joining her in promoting the idea were United Israel Appeal’s (UIA) marketing firm Natural Intelligence; the nonprofit Appleseeds Academy, which for the past 20 years has been engaged in digital marketing; the Kinneret Innovation Center, which is part of Kinneret College; Grove Ventures; Amazon Web Services; Cisco; and more.
■ AROUND THE same period, Cannan got together with a large group of volunteers from all the Zionist youth organizations in Australia who came to Israel to spend a year volunteering in numerous projects. This not only enhances the spirit of volunteerism, which is prevalent in Australia in general, but also their Jewish identities and connections to Israel.
The volunteers also showed up in full force this past Monday at the Australian Bushfire Relief event at Hangar 11 at Tel Aviv Port. Jointly organized and sponsored by the Zionist Federation of Australia, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael and Jewish National Fund Australia, the Israel-Australia, New Zealand & Oceania Chamber of Commerce, the Australians Living in Israel Facebook Group, Tel Aviv University, TimTam, Billabong and Teva Neot, the event, which was the largest-ever Australia related event in Israel (including the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba), drew in more than a thousand people, from teens to senior citizens, including representatives of the many projects that Australia supports.
Particularly heartwarming was the presence of representatives of leading figures of towns, kibbutzim and moshavim along the Gaza Strip and in the Negev, who, despite their own hardships, brought a contribution of NIS 30,000. There were also members of the Beduin community among the participants from the Negev.
In addition to funds raised during the evening, Teva Naot sent 5,000 pairs of shoes valued at NIS 1.5 million to Australia, and also paid the cost of shipping.
Documentary films of the disaster, which has still not been fully contained, were shown, and some of the statistics related to the catastrophic fires were emphasized. To date, 34 people lost their lives, and 19 million hectares of land were destroyed. More than a billion wildlife creatures, including several species endemic to Australia, were killed, 6,000 homes were burnt to cinders, and 2,500 families are homeless. It is believed to be one of the worst fires in history, covering an area five times the size of Israel.
Several speakers made the point that for more than a hundred years, Australians have been involved with the Land of Israel, fighting on Israeli soil and helping politically and economically whenever help was needed, and now, after so many years of receiving from Australia’s benevolence, it was time to give back.
Curiously, although the KKL-JNF was a prime mover in organizing and moderating the event, no one mentioned the fact that Australian eucalyptus trees were brought to the Land of Israel in the latter part of the 1800s to drain the malaria swamps. Despite the geographic distance, the connection between the two countries goes back a long way and remains strong.
Among the things that Australia and Israel have in common is resilience in the face of adversity, and so the program also included a lot of entertainment, all provided on a voluntary basis.
First up was Noa Zulu, an Israeli-born didgeridoo player. The didgeridoo is a very long Australian aboriginal wind instrument, rarely played by women. Different aboriginal tribes have different customs. In some tribes the didgeridoo is taboo for women; in others they can play it, but not on ceremonial occasions.
Not to be outdone, trumpeter Arik Davidov, who also knows how to blow the shofar, actually blew a whole tune on the shofar, and it sounded great.
Savannah Zwi,an Australian-Israeli musician, singer, songwriter and keyboard instrumentalist, did a great job on a song about Australian feelings; and popular Israeli singer Hagit Yaso came from her home in Sderot to perform.
Koolulam is a social vocal initiative which travels the world, bringing together mass groups of people of different backgrounds and lifestyles to become an a cappella chorus of three-part vocals.
Running backward and forward across the stage and occasionally leaping into the air, Ben Yaffet, the charismatic musical director of Koolulam, put everyone through their paces singing Bob Marley’s “One Love,” and then had them all singing together. It was truly awesome.
But the highlight of the evening, as so often happens at Australian events in Israel, was Jeremie Bracka, an Australian-Israeli human rights lawyer who is also a stand-up comedian, and whose spoofs on Israeli stereotypes and bureaucracy are simply sidesplitting.
To test how many Australians were in the audience, Bracka presented a brief test in Australian English, which he explained is basically made up of abbreviations. Bracka gave the full word, and the audience chorused what it is down under, such as breakfast – brekkie; barbecue- barbie; cigarette – cigi; university – uni; and underwear – undies. Other examples he could have used but didn’t include aggravation – agro; afternoon – arvo; bathing costume – cozzie; biscuit – bikki; and football – footy. There are, of course, many more, which makes it difficult for many English-speakers to understand Australian English. Strine is even harder to understand.
But it wasn’t on Australian English that Bracka nearly brought the house down. Relating to El Al’s upcoming inaugural direct flight to Australia in April, Bracka said that in response to Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” El Al would remove the “occupied” sign from all of its toilets.
Cannan, who was sitting in the front row, spent a lot of time taking photos, and, as far as the event was concerned, was more of a dinkum Aussie than an ambassador, though he did get back into the latter mode when it was his turn to speak. Saying that this has been a tough time for Australia, he paid tribute to the firefighters and first responders who have put their lives in harm’s way, and made the point that even though there has been such an unprecedented disaster, Australia is bouncing back.
■ NEXT WEEK, on Monday, February 10, Cannan will be the guest speaker at the Tel Aviv International Salon’s Ambassador Series, where he will be interviewed by ILTV’s Natasha Kirtshuk on the rooftop of the Alexander Boutique Hotel at 3 Havakuk Hanavi Street, Tel Aviv. They will discuss Israeli-Australian relations, Southeast Asia and beyond. Later in the month he will fly to Australia in order to be there during the visit by Rivlin, who will be accompanied by a large business delegation.
Though primarily in Australia to launch this year’s UIA campaigns in Sydney and Melbourne, Rivlin will also attend a business innovation lunch, which will also be attended by New South Wales Gov. Margaret Beazley. The lunch will be jointly hosted by the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, the Israel Embassy, the Israel Trade Commission and the Israel Export Institute. The business delegation will include experts in agriculture, health, water management and cybersecurity.
■ NETANYAHU’S LIGHTNING visit to Uganda this week was not only a matter of diplomatic coordination but also of fashion coordination. The prime minister wore a red tie to match the red pants suit worn by his wife, Sara, and Uganda Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda wore a yellow tie to match the bold yellow print on the dress of his wife, Jocelyn. One can only wonder whether the fashion coordinates were coincidental or planned.
■ WHILE PERFORMING in Sweden this week, Dana International celebrated her 51st birthday. She didn’t announce it, but her fans obviously knew, because they surprised her by singing “Happy Birthday” in Swedish. If anyone had ever asked her what she considered to be the most unexpected thing in her life, it would probably be the Swedish chorus of “Happy Birthday.”
■ FOR MANY years Japanese ambassadors around the world, including in Israel, hosted a reception in December to honor the birthday of Emperor Akihito, who was born December. There was no reception this past December, and many regular invitees were somewhat surprised until they received an invitation for a reception that takes place this month in honor of Naruhito, the current emperor of Japan, who was born in February.
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