Grapevine: Holocaust tensions that won’t go away

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

NEWLY ELECTED Prime Minister of England Boris Johnson with Jason Pearlman. (photo credit: HILLEL MEIR)
NEWLY ELECTED Prime Minister of England Boris Johnson with Jason Pearlman.
(photo credit: HILLEL MEIR)
Almost exactly a year following his state visit to Croatia where he was hosted in Zagreb by President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, President Reuven Rivlin will reciprocate by hosting his Croatian counterpart in Jerusalem next week. Despite close cooperation in many fields between Israel and Croatia, Grabar-Kitarovic will arrive amid fresh Holocaust-related tensions in her country and a spike in antisemitism throughout Europe. The Jewish community of Zagreb has for the past three years boycotted all government-sponsored Holocaust memorial events, and has dissociated itself from a Holocaust monument which the government has announced it will erect. Jewish community leaders say the monument is an attempt to rehabilitate the memory of the notorious Ante Pavelic and the murderous Ustashe fascist movement that he led.
During the Second World War, the Ustashe murdered thousands of Serbs and Croatian Jews. When she was in Israel in July 2015, Grabar-Kitarovic apologized to Israel for Croatia’s role in the Holocaust. She returned to attend the funeral of Shimon Peres, but two months later, during a trip to Canada in November 2016, she posed with an Ustashe flag. Rivlin told Grabar-Kitarovic that Croatia must come to terms with its fascist past. Presumably the subject will come up again during her official talks in Jerusalem where plans are underway for the commemorations of the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War and 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
■ IN NOVEMBER 2015, Boris Johnson, then mayor of London, was in Israel as the keynote speaker at the annual Balfour Day Dinner hosted by the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association (IBCA). The dinner was held at the Tel Aviv Hilton, where the Israeli speaker was Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who happens to be a personal friend of Johnson’s. Whether this will serve the Blue and White Party in the September elections remains to be seen. Meanwhile, anyone in Israel photographed with Johnson is digging through old images to prove their connections. Among the first was talented media adviser, British-born Jason Pearlman, who worked with the New Right in the last election and was Education Ministry spokesman under Naftali Bennett and foreign press spokesman for President Rivlin.
Hilton public relations manager Motti Verses dug up a 2015 photo of himself with IBCA chairman Alex Deutsch and Johnson. In 2017, Johnson again visited Israel in his capacity as foreign secretary. Rivlin asked him to use his influence to have the queen or at least a senior member of the royal family visit Israel. The queen seldom goes abroad these days, but her grandson, Prince William, a potential future king of England, was in Israel last year. Israel’s Ambassador to Romania David Saranga, who was then Rivlin’s foreign affairs adviser, was also photographed with Johnson, and posted a photograph of himself and Johnson in animated discussion, but admitted he has wracked his brain trying to remember what they talked about.
■ 95-YEAR-OLD newsman Walter Bingham was born in Germany and came to England with the Kindertransport. He fought with the British Army at Normandy and has received the French Legion of Honor. Bingham is on very friendly terms with the military attaches of Britain and France who are each completing their terms of service in Israel. In order to give them a proper farewell, Bingham hosted a small reception in his downtown Jerusalem apartment. In attendance were British Defense Attaché Col. Ronnie Westerman, who happens to be Jewish, French Defense Attaché Col. Bruno Constantini and German Defense Attaché Col. Juergen Haffner. Haffner came with his wife, Ulrike, and will be serving in Israel for another three years. Westerman, who came with her husband, Ian, and Constantini are each leaving at the beginning of August. The conversation was not about Brexit or British politics, but about the Second World War, in particular the Battle of Normandy, the story of which was revived with the aid of old maps and Bingham’s personal memories.
■ ULTRA-ORTHODOX American Jews have a somewhat more liberal attitude than their Israeli counterparts with regard to the acquisition of higher education degrees in secular studies. This applies to both men and women. Thus the Jewish media in America went overboard this week with the announcement by the National Security Agency that Anne Neuberger will head a new Cybersecurity Directorate that will “unify NSA’s foreign intelligence and cyberdefense missions” with the aim of preventing and eradicating threats to national security systems and the defense industrial base.
Neuberger, known to her relatives and friends as Chani, grew up in New York’s ultra-Orthodox Boro Park enclave and went to Bais Yaakov of Boro Park, a seminary for religious girls, before continuing her education at Touro College. She has been with the NSA for almost a decade and previously worked in the private sector. The mother of two children is married to lawyer Yehuda Neuberger, who serves as AIPAC’s chair of the organization’s Baltimore executive council.
In reporting on Neuberger’s promotion, Yeshiva World News introduced the item with the words Kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of God’s name. Would a religious publication in Israel do the same?
Over the years, Neuberger has said that her life would have been very different without the success in July 1976 of Israel’s Operation Entebbe. Her parents were on the Air France plane that was hijacked by terrorists and diverted to Entebbe in Uganda. They were returning from their first trip to Israel when they were taken hostage. The terrorists had separated Jews from non-Jews and threatened to start killing Jews if their demands were not met. Happily, her parents, who came as refugees to America after the Hungarian Revolution, survived that ordeal, but it gave Neuberger a perspective of organized terror that remains with her to this day, along with the knowledge that seven of her eight great-grandparents were murdered in Auschwitz.
Her belief in America’s freedoms, and her desire to repay the country which took in her parents and grandparents, enabling them to build new lives for themselves, was the driving force in her decision to move from the private to the public sector.
One of her professors at Columbia University where she had studied for her MBA after completing her studies in computer science at Touro, advised her to apply for a White House Fellowship. She waited two years until her children were in nursery school. She had been working in her family business. She thought that because of her background, if she was accepted for a fellowship, she would be sent to the Treasury Department. To her surprise, she was sent to the Department of Defense at the Pentagon, where she very quickly distinguished herself and rose through the ranks.
Not long after she started working there, a cybercommand was established, and she was chosen as part of the pioneering team. Her position on this team evolved into becoming the assistant to the director of the National Security Agency, until this week when she received her promotion, which will take effect on October 1. She has not sacrificed any of her religious values and has won the respect of her non-Jewish and secular Jewish colleagues for sticking to her principles.
■ MUCH HAS been made of Evangelical support for Israel. But Christian Zionists have existed since long before the establishment of the state. This is explained by Rabbi Meir Soloveichik in his book Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land, a biblical history of gentile Zionism. The Israeli launch will be on Monday, August 12, at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem. There will be introductory remarks by Rabbi Dr. Stu Halpern of Yeshiva University.
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