Grapevine: Global justice

Bagdonas said the history of Lithuania is inseparable from that of its Jewish population.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Lithunian Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Lithunian Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Difficult though it may be to believe that any member of Knesset who is intent on keeping his or her seat would go abroad less than three weeks before the April 9 elections – it is happening. Because she’s in what appears to be a safe place on the Labor Party list, Merav Michaeli will be in New York next week to address members of Ameinu, which advocates a liberal-based progressive Israel. Michaeli will speak on the Israeli Left and the upcoming elections. The fact that organizers of the event are not revealing the venue for Michaeli’s appearance speaks volumes for where American Jewry stands politically these days. The only clue is that she will be speaking at an apartment on the Upper West Side. The address will be given to people who RSVP to Ameinu’s invitation.
■ IF THERE’S a cooling off period for diplomats such as there is for Israeli army officers before they can enter the political arena, former US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro has apparently crossed the finishing line and is now free to say whatever is on his mind. His wife, Julie Fisher, reached that point a lot earlier than Shapiro. He recently tweeted: “Memo to my Republican friends: If you wanted to make a serious play to convince Jewish voters to leave the Democratic Party, you could not have a more laughable, pathetic, ridiculous (and offensive) leader of the campaign than the guy tweeting at us from the White House.”
■ FOR THE fifth and last time during his service in Israel, Lithuanian Ambassador Edminas Bagdonas hosted a concert and reception in honor of the anniversary of his country’s restoration of independence. Bagdonas will be winding up his post later this year. The event in the Asia Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art was actually a multiple celebration. It marked the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way, which on August 23, 1989, was a peaceful political demonstration in which some two million people in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania held hands forming a human chain that extended from Tallinn to Riga to Vilnius, in protest of the ongoing Soviet occupation of the three Baltic states, which had been Soviet bloc countries since 1940.
Over the centuries, Lithuania had been occupied by various foreign powers, but on February 16, 1918, in the final year of the Great War, its independence was restored. The February date is known as State Day in the Lithuanian calendar.
On March 11, 1990, Lithuania was able to hold a democratic election, and on that date the elected parliament declared independence from the Soviet Union. The date is referred to as Restoration of Independence Day, but the Soviets did not recognize Lithuania’s independence until 1991.
Although Lithuania is now a democratic republic, it was once a powerful empire. It is a country whose people are becoming increasingly conscious of their history and so it also celebrates the anniversary on July 6 of the coronation of Lithuania’s first monarch, King Mindaugas, who was crowned on that date in 1253.
Jews first came to Lithuania in the eighth century. Bagdonas said the history of Lithuania is inseparable from that of its Jewish population. He deeply regretted the decimation of Lithuania’s Jewish population during the Holocaust and said that today, “we devote special attention to the memory of the Shoah.” He noted that Lithuania’s government has approved the definition of antisemitism and is committed to preventing a recurrence of the tragedy that all but eradicated Lithuania’s Jewish community.
“There is no place for antisemitism in Lithuania,” he declared, adding “Lithuanian and Israeli relations are the best they have ever been.” This relationship was enhanced, he underscored, by the first-ever visit by a prime minister of Israel to Lithuania, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has family roots in Lithuania, went there in August 2018. It was further cemented by the visit to Israel in January this year by Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, who delivered an address at the Cybertech Conference.
Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, who represented the government, got himself into a little Baltic confusion when he congratulated the government and the people of Latvia. He was loudly corrected by the large representation of Lithuanian expatriates in the auditorium.
Apologizing for the gaffe, Kara spoke of commonalities between Lithuania and Israel, saying that they were both young, proud democracies facing international and regional challenges.
He praised the work done by Bagdonas and by Israel’s Ambassador to Lithuania Amir Maimon, who is Israel’s first resident ambassador to Lithuania and like Bagdonas will be concluding his term this year.
Kara spoke of Israel’s appreciation of the efforts being made by the Lithuanian government to preserve the memory of the pre-Holocaust Jewish community, and to combat antisemitism through educational programs and student exchanges so that the younger generations in both countries will get to know each other and build a better future.
■ IMMIGRATION AND justice are issues confronting many countries, including Israel, as people flee from conflict zones and abject poverty in an attempt to build better lives for themselves and their families. For host countries of these refugees, there is the problem of deciding whom to accept and whom to reject, whom to deport and whom to imprison. Though most such migrants are decent albeit desperate human beings, they bring with them the customs and traditions of their native countries, which are often in sharp contrast with those of their host countries. There are also violent and criminal elements among them who steal, rape and kill, and sometimes the many are punished for the evil inclinations of the few. These and other issues related to immigration and justice will be discussed at the third global forum of the National Library, taking place in Jerusalem from March 17 to 19. Participants include human rights activists, journalists, rabbis, diplomats, academics, poets, legal experts and politicians, many of whom were migrants themselves or are the offspring of migrants. Among them are Mustafa Akyol, Eli Amir, Nahum Barnea, Yuval Cherlow, Abby Joseph Cohen, Irwin Cotler, Stanley Fischer, Thomas Friedman, Ruth Gavison, Micah Goodman, Moshe Halbertal, Jamaica Kincaid, Dan Kurtzer, Benny Lau, Jack Lew, Mark Lilla, David Makovsky, Agi Mishol, Dominique Moïsi, Itamar Rabinovich, Dilip Ratha, Haim Sabato, Jonathan Sarna, Anita Shapira, Natan Sharansky, Yuli Tamir, Jeremy Waldron, Joseph Weiler, along with other international and Israeli figures.
The Global Forum is a central element of the National Library’s transformative renewal serving as a singular platform for contemporary discussions inspired by the Jewish, Israeli and universal intellectual traditions embodied by the National Library’s collections, values and vision.
■ OF THE forum participants, at least one is entitled to congratulations. Poet Agi Mishol has been selected as this year’s laureate of the prestigious Zbigniew Herbert Literary Award. Zbigniew Herbert, who died in Warsaw in 1998, was one of Poland’s best-known poets, essayists, drama writers and moralists. He was a member of the Polish Resistance and the Home Army during World War II, and became one of the most widely translated of post-war Polish writers. The award has been conferred annually since 2013 by the Zbigniew Herbert Foundation based on the recommendations of an international committee comprising poets, essayists, translators and publishers.
Mishol, who says that Herbert has inspired her own work, actually met him in Jerusalem in 1991 when he was awarded the Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society.
Katarzyna Herbert, the poet’s widow who created the foundation that bears his name, said: “I believe that my husband would be delighted to hear that his award is going to a poet from Israel who, in her work as well as in her public statements, opposes nationalism, including that which plagues her own society. Herbert always thought that writers should be on the side of those who are harmed, regardless of the price they would pay for it.”
■ WHO WOULD have thought three months ago that cannabis would become a dominant issue in the national elections? For that matter, who would have thought that Moshe Feiglin stood a chance of getting back into the Knesset? But medical cannabis transcends political differences, no matter how extreme, because people in pain respond to whatever may ease their suffering.
One suspects that if Feiglin’s son David, who in his late teens was critically injured in a car crash in June 2010, and who was in a coma for three months, after which he was hospitalized for a long period of time, cannabis might not figure so prominently on Feiglin’s political agenda – if at all.
Feiglin’s right-wing views are a little too extreme for Likud, but now that it appears that he may pass the threshold required for a Knesset seat and may even get as many as four seats, Likud is courting him, because he may prove to tip the scales in a right-wing coalition. So far, Feiglin is not committing himself to align with either Likud or Blue and White, but surprisingly, he may win over some voters with liberal views, if they have an acute need for medical cannabis. Feiglin is advocating for the legalization of cannabis and he has attracted a lot of young left-wing audiences.
Whether they will vote for him remains to be seen. Meanwhile, he will be speaking in English on Saturday night, March 23 at Ichud Olam, 86 Ben Yehuda St., Tel Aviv. The meeting is titled “The Politics of Cannabis in Israel” and is being conducted under the joint auspices of the Tel Aviv International Salon and The Times of Israel. There will be a Q&A session after Feiglin’s address.
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