Grapevine February 7, 2021: Once there were Anglos in the Knesset

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

MACCABI HNAMTE (72) and his wife, Sarah (70), were among the Bnei Menashe couples who remarried recently at Shavei Israel’s immigrant absorption center in Nordia. (photo credit: LAURA BEN-DAVID/SHAVEI ISRAEL)
MACCABI HNAMTE (72) and his wife, Sarah (70), were among the Bnei Menashe couples who remarried recently at Shavei Israel’s immigrant absorption center in Nordia.
Although it appears that there will be no native English speakers in the next Knesset, because party leaders have either opted to exclude them or have placed them in unrealistic slots in party lists, there have over the years been a number of legislators who were either born or raised in English-speaking countries, or were the offspring of native English speakers. Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu qualifies in one of these categories, and is one of several legislators who also distinguished themselves as diplomats such as Abba Eban, Chaim Herzog (who was also the first and so far the only Anglo president of the state), Golda Meir, Moshe Arens and Michael Oren.
There were three Anglos in the first Knesset: Golda Meir, who, though born in Kiev, grew up in the US, Dov Yosef from Montreal, Canada, and Shmuel Katz from Johannesburg, South Africa. Meir and Yosef also served in the first Israeli government, and Yosef had eight different ministerial positions from 1949-1955. Meir was also Israel’s ambassador to the Soviet Union and later became Israel’s first and so far only woman prime minister.
Naftali Bennett, as the son of American immigrants, also qualifies in one of the above-mentioned categories, as did Zena Harman, Tamar Eshel, Naomi Chazan, Meir Kahane, Ya’acov Litzman and Isaac Herzog, among others.
In addition to diplomats already mentioned, others included Irish-born Yaakov Herzog, British-born Avraham Harman, Yehuda Avner, Daniel Taub and Mark Sofer, South African-born Meron Reuben and Australian-born Mark Regev.
There was an American-born president of the Supreme Court, Shimon Agranat, who was born in Kentucky and grew up in Chicago, while Brooklyn-born Stephen Adler was president of the National Labor Court. Immigrants from English speaking countries have also distinguished themselves in many other fields.
Although Anglos may have been more or less overlooked as far as the 24th Knesset goes, there is still hope for that to be rectified when the 25th Knesset is elected. According to the political pundits, there is a strong likelihood that this could happen this year. The deadline for forming a government by whoever the president tasks with this responsibility, by May 18. If he fails and has to return his mandate, the president will choose a second candidate who must fulfill the task by June 15. In the event that he too fails, the deadline for any MK selected by the president to form a government is July 6, a week before President Reuven Rivlin’s tenure expires. If the third attempt also ends in failure, new elections will be held on October 5, a day prior to the Gregorian calendar anniversary of the Yom Kippur War.
JOINT LIST chairman Ayman Odeh, who has dismissed Netanyahu’s package deal for stemming violence in Arab communities as nothing more than election propaganda, may be correct. On the other hand, if it is implemented, Odeh should remember the old Chinese proverb that states that the longest journey begins with the first step.
What is important for everyone concerned is to keep an open mind. No one likes to hear criticism of the things they hold sacred. In Israel, one of the Holy Cows that to many people is above criticism, despite its flaws, is the army. The only person who is excused for bringing flaws in the IDF to light is KAN’s veteran military reporter Carmella Menashe, who acts as an informal ombudswoman between the army and the families of soldiers who have in any way been mistreated. Only last week, she introduced radio listeners to a soldier who had been brutally hazed, and had wanted to commit suicide. Fortunately, he had called his mother, who rushed to the base and saved his life, talking to him on her cell phone throughout the three-hour journey. The soldier had problems to start with and would have under ordinary circumstances been exempted. But he wanted to serve his country and fought hard to be accepted. His commanding officers had been made aware of his condition, but did nothing to stop the hazing, which had reached the point of being unbearable. To make things worse, no one came to the young soldier’s defense, and he was made to feel a total outsider. When his mother asked to speak to his commanding officer, he refused to talk to her and said she had no right to be on the base.
Menashe has previously brought other stories of hazing to the attention of the Israeli public, but apparently, it’s part of army life and very little if anything has been done to stop it.
■ BUT HAZING and other forms of emotional cruelty are not the only cracks in the IDF’s armor. Speaking last week to Kalman Liebskind and Asaf Lieberman about violence in Arab towns and villages, following the death of Ahmad Hijazi, a Tamra nursing student, who was shot by police in crossfire with suspected criminals as he stepped out his home, Tamra deputy mayor Nidal Othman blamed the negligence of the police and of the army for the increasing violence. “How do you think that Arab criminal elements get their weapons if not from soldiers who steal them and sell them?” he asked. Liebskind remonstrated in disbelief, refusing to accept that there were such rotten apples in an IDF barrel. Yet, a few years back, the IDF asked soldiers who had taken army equipment home to return it, no questions asked, no punishment for stealing, Liebskind was reluctant to let Othman continue, but Othman, like many law-abiding Arabs, was furious. “You invited me here. Let me speak and hear me out,” he thundered. The implication was that if the Israel authorities are really intent on eliminating the violence, they have to start first and foremost with finding those soldiers who steal and sell weapons, and secondly must impress on police to continue chasing criminals and bringing them to justice, but not to open fire in residential neighborhoods. Other prominent figures in the Arab community have said that a lot of the criminal activity is borne out of frustration. There is too much unemployment, and even when there was no pandemic, mainstream Israeli society was by and large closed to Arabs, despite claims that they were treated as equal citizens. They were not and are not, though there has been an improvement due to the number of Arab doctors and nurses who have been much more visible than in the past in Israeli hospitals, where they have been treating patients of all faiths, and where prejudices which may have been held by Jewish patients have dissipated.
■ ALL THE world loves a wedding, and many couples enjoy re-committing to each other. This happened a lot with couples from the former Soviet Union who had not been married in accordance with Jewish tradition, and where in some cases one of the partners was not Jewish and decided to convert to Judaism. Because there were so many Russian couples, they were remarried in group ceremonies. More recently, such ceremonies have been conducted among Bnei Menashe immigrants from Northeastern India, who spend their initial period in Israel at the Nordia immigrant absorption center near Netanya. The Bnei Menashe are brought to Israel under the auspices of Shavei Israel founded and chaired by Michael Freund, who seeks out communities with Jewish roots and helps them to reclaim their Jewish heritage and Jewish identity. These days, it’s a lot easier than when he started out, because DNA tests can often prove a relationship to a Jewish community in the past – sometimes the very distant past. The couples approach their weddings that are performed according to the Law of Moses and of Israel, with all the excitement and trimmings of a first-time wedding, regardless of how old they may be or how long they’ve been married to each other. One such couple was Maccabi (72) and Sarah Hnamte (70), who were among 11 couples who were married last week, and who related to each other like most newlyweds, even though they’ve been together for 49 years. All the women wore long white gowns, and had their hair and make-up professionally done. Due to coronavirus restrictions, special permission for the group wedding was obtained from the Home Front Command, with attention being paid to Health Ministry regulations.
IMPROVATE FOUNDER and chair Irina Nevzlin does not waste time. Among the participants in Improvate’s upcoming online conference on cyber technologies on February 11, is Eitan Na’eh, the head of Israel’s diplomatic mission at the Israel Embassy in Abu Dhabi. But the main drawcard for the event is former world chess champion and current cyber expert Gary Kasparov. An Israel-Gulf International Conference, it will also be attended by Mohammad al Mulla, the UAE’s director of business development. The Improvate invitation includes press clippings and links to videos of all its previous conferences, so that people who missed them or who want to know more about Improvate’s operations can familiarize themselves with this company. Nevzlin, by the way, is married to Health Minister Yuli Edelstein. As she is also chair of the board of directors of the Museum of the Jewish People (Beit Hatefutsot), one can’t help wondering when husband and wife find time to see each other. Nevzlin and her father, Leonid, who initiated the transformation and expansion of the museum, will be honored on Sunday, February 21, at the global inauguration of the transformed museum.
■ THERE WAS a time, not so long ago, when the Immigration Ministry was largely inhabited by officials and employees of Russian background. Then came Pnina Tamano-Shata, the first Ethiopian-born minister in an Israeli government. Given the fact that she was determined to help those Jews in Ethiopia who for far too long had been separated from their families while waiting for Israel to accept them, Tamano-Shata thought it was important to have people of Ethiopian origin working with her. And so former journalist and World Zionist Organization emissary to South Africa Danny Adino Abeba was appointed the Ministry’s spokesman. It is unlikely that Tamano-Shata will return to her ministerial position after the Knesset elections. This may also be bad news for the extremely likable Abeba, who was never afraid to speak his mind, and while working as a journalist for Yediot Aharonot, all too frequently wrote about racist incidents in which dark-skinned people were targeted by police and were also victims of social discrimination. Some ministers leave existing staff in place, while others like to surround themselves with their own people with whom they have worked in previous capacities.