Grapevine January 10, 2021: Will it be a happy birthday?

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Jerusalem's Waldorf Astoria General Manager Avner On (left) with US Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin (photo credit: WALDORF ASTORIA JERUSALEM)
Jerusalem's Waldorf Astoria General Manager Avner On (left) with US Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin
Yamina Party leader Naftali Bennett celebrates his 49th birthday on March 25, the day on which election results should become known. The birthday gift that he would most like is a vote of confidence from the Israeli public when it goes to the polls on March 23.
■ ONE CANNOT help but wonder if the recent rantings by US President Donald Trump who is due to move out of the White House in a week and a half’s time, is a clever ploy aimed at being declared unfit to stand trial for a series of criminal offenses once he is out of office. The irony will be if he receives a pardon from the man whom he refers to as “sleepy Joe”. However, there is a lesson to be learned from Trump. As obvious as it may be that hatred and incitement lead to increasing polarization between the citizens of any country, little is done to control the antipathies by and against certain sectors of the Israeli public. Leftist for instance, has become a dirty word. Anyone with Left leaning politics is widely regarded as a traitor. One example can be found in a widely circulated cartoon related to J-Street, in which one character says to the other, that “J is for Jewish,” to which the response is “no, it’s for Judas.” During the coronavirus crisis, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities and Arab communities have been pin-pointed by the media and by various political and medical personalities as spreaders of the disease. Whoever was previously antagonistic towards these communities, has become even more so, without any real justification. There are also many unfortunate examples of racism expressed not only in the Nation State Law, but also in refusal by a succession of Israeli governments to legalize Beduin villages, despite the immeasurable support that the Beduin community has given to Israel’s security. Likewise, the Druze who are in a somewhat better position, and who have also contributed enormously to national security, feel the sting of discrimination, not to mention Israel’s Ethiopian Jews, refugees from African countries, or the Black Hebrews of Dimona, who after more than half a century in Israel, do not enjoy equal rights and are denied citizenship. The anti-Netanyahu demonstrations around the country, which have in some places gotten completely out of hand, have led to violence, and efforts by police to suppress such actions, have turned large segments of the public against anyone trying to keep law and order. Conversely, there are hot tempered violent people in the police and other security forces, who without cause, have aggressively attacked demonstrators including minors. In Jerusalem, which according to its name is supposed to be the city of peace. But there is anything but tranquility as demonstrators from all over the country converge on the capital – not just in the vicinity of the prime minister’s residence but also throughout the neighborhoods surrounding it, at the entrance to the city and throughout mid-town. Jerusalemites who might agree that Netanyahu needs to be replaced, are becoming so fed up with the disturbances and the effect it has on their life style and property values, that some are beginning to sympathize with Netanyahu. The list goes on, most recently with regard to anti COVID vaccinations and who should get them. With all the publicity given to the need to give priority to people in the 60 plus age group because they are the ones who are most at risk, many such people who made appointments or responded to a call to come without an appointment, were told to go home, because their particular health clinic had used up all of its vaccines, and in too many cases had given the vaccine to much younger people who happened to be celebrities or who had simply pushed through the crowd. In places where younger people who tried to sneak in, but were politely and firmly held back by security and other personnel, there were loud and sometimes violent arguments, resulting in some cases, in a certain resentment towards senior citizens. All this puts national unity in peril, and makes each and every one of us vulnerable not only to disease, but to physical attack.
■ ON THE other hand, it is heartwarming to see basic goodness and kindness in so many people who are reaching out to others who may be in some form of distress. Last week Yediot Aharonot ran a story about 89-year old Holocaust survivor Nilan Reich who suffers from loneliness and difficult health problems, while living in what looks like a garbage dump. The story immediately spoke to readers’ goodwill. Amid the flood of responses, there were those who wanted to give him money, others who wanted to bring him food on a regular basis, others who offered to clean up his home and others still, who said that as soon as health regulations permitted, they would be happy to become his friend. Reich’s story is not an isolated case. There have been numerous similar incidents in which members of the public have contributed food, money, household repairs and more to the sick and needy, especially to the elderly, and to families in which there are many children. Unfortunately, a lot of needy people fall under the radar. Perhaps a different kind of door-knock campaign could be instituted whereby high schoolers could be given certain areas in which to knock on every door and ask politely if there is anyone who needs anything such as grocery shopping, medications, household repairs or someone with whom to have a regular telephone conversation. In such a nation-wide campaign, no-one would fall under the radar, and teenagers would get a valuable hands on lesson in community responsibility.
■ THE INCLUSION of peace activist Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi to the Meretz list does not necessarily turn Meretz into a Jewish-Arab political party. For instance unlike Ron Huldai’s policy of gender equality in his party, Meretz, which since its inception has always welcomed Arabs to its ranks, does not have a policy of an equal number of Jews and Arabs on its list. Another party in the making which favors a Jewish-Arab identity will be discussed on Sunday, January 17 in a webinar featuring Rula Daood, Avraham Burg, Yona Yahav and Prof. David Enoch.
Daood, together with Alon Lee Green, is the co-national director of Standing Together, a grassroots movement that mobilizes people of all stripes, faiths and ethnicities on issues of peace and equality.
Burg a former Speaker of the Knesset and Labor MK, and one of the founders of Peace Now, has been outspoken on many issues related to the inequality of Israel’s Arab population.
Yahav, a former Labor MK, and the immediate past mayor of Haifa, a role he held for 15 years, is chairman of the Haifa Economic Corporation which includes both Arab and Jewish business people. Haifa has been among the more prominent of Israel’s cities in which coexistence is a natural characteristic.
British born Enoch is an Israeli ethicist and legal philosopher who holds the Rodney Blackman chair in the Philosophy of Law at the Hebrew University, and is a member of the Joint Democratic Initiative.
Broadcast time is 1 p.m. EST, 7 p.m. CET and 8 p.m. in Israel.
For registration and the Zoom link, contact:
Apropos Meretz, the seventh anniversary of the passing of its founder, civil rights activist Shulamit Aloni will be commemorated on January 24. In her youth, Aloni fought in the Palmah and was captured by Jordanian forces in the Old City of Jerusalem during the War of Independence. An attorney by profession and the host of a radio program, she was elected to the Knesset on a Labor Alignment ticket in 1965. In 1973, she left the Alignment and established the Citizens Rights Movement which became known as Ratz, which in Hebrew also means run. In the 1970s she initiated a dialogue with the Palestinians. In 1992, Ratz joined Shinui and Mapam to form Meretz which was led by Aloni, and which under her leadership won 12 Knesset seats. When Yitzhak Rabin became prime minister for the second time, Aloni was given the education portfolio, but due to her outspoken opposition to religious domination of political and civil rights issues, she was forced to resign. Early in her political career, Aloni had a running feud with Golda Meir, who despised her. In later years, Aloni surmised that it was because Golda could not abide by Aloni’s individualism. In a radio interview after she had already retired from politics, Aloni recalled that at a political party meeting which she had attended in her days as a member of the Alignment, she had wanted to express her opinion and had begun the sentence with “I think…” at which point Golda interrupted her to say: “There is no I think. There is only We think.”
■ DESPITE THE lockdown, the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Jerusalem specially opened its doors last week to welcome outgoing US Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin, who may now return to being a banker and film producer. Waldorf Astoria General Manager Avner On, summoned a limited number of staff members to come from home to prepare the entire floor in which the presidential suite, is located for the arrival of Mnuchin and his entourage. Preparations included red, white and blue floral arrangements, bowls of Israeli fruits, and bottles of the best Israeli wines. On arrival, the guest of honor and his people were served with hot sahlab, a Middle Eastern liquid milk pudding flavored with cinnamon and almonds to stave off the effects of the cold Jerusalem night air.
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