Grapevine: In defense of history

Peres was both a longtime resident and an honorary citizen of Tel Aviv.

A photograph comemmorating former president Shimon Peres, who died on September 28, 2016 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A photograph comemmorating former president Shimon Peres, who died on September 28, 2016
Following the demise of Shimon Peres, it was frequently stated in the media and by political science experts and historians that his death spelled the end of the era of the founding fathers. That’s not quite true.
We still have people such as former education minister Aharon Yadlin, 90, poet laureate, novelist and journalist Haim Gouri, 92, chairman of the Palmah Museum Shaike Gavish, 91, and former Mossad chief Zvi Zamir, 91.
There are undoubtedly others, but Gouri, Gavish and Zamir have been more in the public eye, and are currently fighting an attempt by the government to build a memorial to assassinated cabinet minister and former high-ranking army officer Rehavam Ze’evi at the Palmah memorial site at Sha’ar Hagai on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
The old soldiers say that their objection has nothing to do with recent allegations that Ze’evi sexually abused many young women under his command. What irks them is that although Ze’evi was a member of the Palmah, he was definitely not part of the Harel Brigade which engaged in fierce and bloody battles in the area during the War of Independence.
Gavish, who is also a hero of the Six Day War, says that to change the name of the site to the Ze’evi memorial is an insult to the soldiers who fought and died there as well as to their families. Yadlin, age notwithstanding, is still an active member of the Labor Party, and his advice is sought from time to time by Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog, who visits him at Kibbutz Hatzerim in the Negev, where he lives.
■ APROPOS HERZOG, Channel 2 news anchor Oren Wiegenfeld interviewed the opposition leader last Tuesday night about the persistent rumors that he was joining the government and would be given the foreign minister’s portfolio.
Herzog denied that any meetings to this effect had taken place in recent weeks and said that the rumor was being perpetuated by certain people with vested interests who are members of the Likud as well as people from his own Labor party.
When an aggressive Wiegenfeld kept interrupting him, Herzog asked him what was the point of the interview if he, Wiegenfeld, would not allow him to complete a sentence.
Wiegenfeld kept parrying until Herzog finally said, “This is like a Talmudic discourse. First you ask the question one way, then you ask it another.” Herzog stated that no matter how the question was put, the answer would remain the same.
■ MOST COUNTRIES that have diplomatic relations with Israel are interested in Israel as the Start-up Nation with amazing achievements in technology.
Japan is no exception, even though it has some remarkable technological achievements of its own.
Japanese Ambassador Koji Tomita had organized a Japan innovation night for the last Wednesday in September, to which he had invited members of two Japanese delegations that had come to Israel for the Tel Aviv Cities Summit DLD (Digital Life Design) Conference.
He also invited their Israeli counterparts and Israeli government officials with a view to encouraging networking. Unfortunately, Peres had died in the predawn hours of that day, and Tomita, taking into account the fact that Peres had been a great proponent for technological development, decided to go ahead with the event.
Among the Israelis in attendance was Minister-without-Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi, for whose presence Tomita was extremely grateful, as well as for his contribution to the four-party meeting in Jericho. Many of the guests were equally happy that Hanegbi had joined them, and actually lined up to speak to him.
Regarding Peres, Tomita said: “This morning we all woke up to the tragic news of the demise of president Shimon Peres. The government of Japan joins hundreds of others around the globe in paying a sincere tribute to one of the most distinguished leaders in the world politics in our memory.
“Personally, I have had the privilege of meeting the president twice since I arrived here. On each occasion, I was deeply impressed with many of his qualities which made him such a great man, including his intellect, vision and compassion. But the one that impressed me most was his optimism: his absolute confidence that, with effort, we can make a better future.
“As you all know, technology was an important source of his confidence in the better future. He had this grand vision of man transcending through technology to solve today’s problems, such as conflicts and poverty. And he tried to leave his legacy by transforming the Peres Peace Center into a hub for international cooperation in science and technology.
“Our vision may not be as grand as president Peres’s. Very few people can match the president in grandness of a vision. But we all share a strong belief in technology’s role in the efforts to shape our future. I am very pleased to see a great partnership starting to take shape in this area between our two countries as this gathering demonstrates.”
Tomita noted that the Japanese guests were among the largest, if not the largest, business delegations to visit Israel. Taking advantage of the DLD Conference, they has been very active in engaging the Israeli counterparts to establish human contacts, which he said are the most important aspect of Japan’s efforts to move forward in its partnership with Israel.
Commenting on the fact that Japanese and Israelis are “two different peoples with different mind-sets and from different corporate cultures,” Tomita asked his guests to imagine a situation in which they tried to do business without human relations.
“Mr. Levi is trying to work out a business deal with Mr. Yamada. One morning Mr. Levi makes his proposal through email to Mr. Yamada, and as all the good Israelis do, he expects his answer that afternoon.
“But in Tokyo Mr. Yamada has to first talk to his boss. He then spends the next few days organizing meetings with people from product development, marketing, finance, legal and what not. Then he takes his boss to his boss’s boss. And then his boss’s boss to his boss’s boss’s boss. And his boss’s boss’s boss to his boss’s boss’s boss’s boss. And finally he goes to the board meeting for a final decision.
“So by the time Mr. Yamada completes this rather arduous process, chances are that Mr. Levi has already concluded a deal with somebody from another country. But by doing so, he may be losing an opportunity to work with a reliable partner with a full commitment and capacity to develop his idea into a world-beating product.
“The moral here is the need for better mutual understanding, and the only way to satisfy this need is to create more opportunities for human contacts.”
Tomita concluded that this was why he was so pleased with the success of the Japanese delegation, and was grateful to all the Japanese participants for making the long journey to Israel, and to the Israeli government for organizing the excellent programs.
■ THE FUROR over the attendance of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Peres funeral has still not abated.
The Palestinians are castigating him, and Israeli Jews doubt that he sincerely came to pay his respects, and claim in many quarters that he was aware of the political implications if he failed to attend when world leaders traveled long distances to honor Peres. Abbas, they say, simply realized that he could not afford to absent himself. But Abbas and Peres had a long history, and it’s just possible that Abbas genuinely wanted to do the decent thing, in contrast to the behavior of members of the Joint List who boycotted the funeral.
Last week delegations of Arab mayors, Beduin leaders and Druse leaders paid condolence calls at the Peres Center for Peace and told the late president’s daughter, Tsvia, and her brothers, Yoni and Chemi: “Shimon Peres was the father of all of us. We feel as you feel. He will be missed by every citizen and by the state as a whole. Whoever boycotted the funeral did so out of his own personal conviction, and not in the name of the Arab public.”
Other Arabs, who came individually and not as members of a group, expressed similar sentiments.
Peres was both a longtime resident and an honorary citizen of Tel Aviv.
At several bus stops in the city, there was a large sign in English featuring an illustration of the kind of black ribbon that mourners pin on their lapels. The text was minimal: “Shimon Peres 1923-2016 Rest in Peace.”
The most poignant location of one of these signs was at a bus stop on Ben-Gurion Boulevard. How appropriate that Peres should be linked in death with his lifelong mentor.
■ AT THE Peres funeral, television cameras kept focusing on three sad-faced women who were sitting together. One could not contain her tears. The three were Efrat Duvdevani, the director-general of the Peres Center, Yona Bartal, the deputy director-general, and Ayelet Frish, the spokeswoman. All three had worked with Peres throughout his presidency and had followed him to the Peres Center, continuing with the same devotion and loyalty they had displayed in Jerusalem.
Duvdevani and Bartal had worked with him for years before he became president, and all three women had traveled abroad with him and had even been present at secret meetings.
They were extensions of his family.
They looked after him and he looked after them. Frish wept openly, and Duvdevani and Bartal, who together with Frish and members of the Peres family were involved in the funeral details, said that they were glad to have to be so busy that they were unable to give way to their emotions.
At the shiva, Frish and Bartal, dressed in black, were constantly on hand to give their support to the Peres family.