Grapevine January 14, 2020: A lapse of memory

Acre is a pearl in the Land of Israel, a paradigm for others in that it exemplifies the fact that people of different faiths and cultures can live together in harmony.

YONI PERES (left) and Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri unveil the plaque of a renamed neighborhood named in memory of Israel’s ninth president, Shimon Peres. (photo credit: COURTESY PERES CENTER)
YONI PERES (left) and Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri unveil the plaque of a renamed neighborhood named in memory of Israel’s ninth president, Shimon Peres.
The city of Acre has renamed a neighborhood in memory of Israel’s ninth president, Shimon Peres, who was one of the founding fathers of the defense establishment. The neighborhood, named Neot Peres, is specifically geared to members of the security forces and their families.
The new plaque at the entrance to the neighborhood was jointly unveiled by Yoni Peres, the youngest of the three Peres siblings, and Acre Mayor Shimon Lankri.
When there is strong leadership of the state, it is possible to form a coalition and to do good things, said Lankri at the inauguration ceremony, attended primarily by members of the Peres Center team and representatives of the Acre Municipality.
During the ceremony, Lankri underscored how strongly Shimon Peres valued national unity. Peres treated all people as equals, said Lankri, “and that’s something that is sorely missing in Israel today.”
It was not certain whether Lankri had chosen to overlook the fact that Peres was unable to form a coalition government, or whether he was alluding to the compromise solution of a rotation government, with Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir taking the first two-year stint and Peres the second two years, even though the two men detested each other. But, then again, each in his own way was a great patriot who put the interests of the state above his personal interests, unlike the current situation in which Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and most of his coalition partners refuse to sit in the same government with Benjamin Netanyahu, though apparently they don’t object quite as vociferously to sitting in the same Knesset.
In speaking about Peres, Lankri was more specific about the latter’s role as minister for the development of the Negev and the Galilee. Peres had a special sense of nostalgia for army personnel, and he was happy to put his weight behind the establishment of a neighborhood designed to meet the needs of people engaged in defending Israel’s northern borders. Over the years, said Lankri, the neighborhood expanded and additional residential units were constructed to accommodate police and their families. It is a matter of pride and honor for Acre to have a neighborhood named for Shimon Peres, he said.
In response, Yoni Peres said that Acre is a pearl in the Land of Israel, a paradigm for others in that it exemplifies the fact that people of different faiths and cultures can live together in harmony. This was one of the reasons that his father so loved to come to Acre, he said.
■ BUT IF Lankri had forgotten the difficulties experienced by Peres in the 1980s, this was small potatoes compared to people involved with the planning and organizing of the conference on antisemitism which has been publicized as the Fifth World Holocaust Forum. The words “global” and “world” are synonymous, and anyone who cares to explore the Foreign Ministry’s website will discover that the Fifth Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism took place in Jerusalem in 2015. In addition, photojournalist Sharon Marks Altshuler, who photographed the fifth and the sixth global forums, has photographs of speakers standing against a backdrop showing the name and the year of the forum.
Of course, it’s possible that the count relates to the key organizers. This time around the ministry, for a number of reasons, was the Johnny-come-lately in planning and organizing. The invitations to heads of state were issued by President Reuven Rivlin, and most of the planning and organizing was done by Yad Vashem in conjunction with Moshe Kantor, who is president of the European Jewish Congress, the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation, the International Luxembourg Forum on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe and, most important in the context at hand, the World Holocaust Forum Foundation, which he established in 2005.
Aside from confusion and memory lapse over whether or not this is the fifth global forum, there is another semi-controversial aspect to its purpose and content.
Rivlin has been talking about it for some months now, and consistently refers to the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which is perhaps the main reason for inviting world leaders, whereas at previous forums, there were very distinguished participants, but no panoply of world leaders as there is on this occasion. The main speaker at the forum from among Holocaust survivors is Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, who is Israel’s most widely known Holocaust survivor and an extremely effective orator, but a survivor of Buchenwald, not of Auschwitz. There is no one listed among the speakers who can claim to be an Auschwitz survivor. When this was put to a Yad Vashem official, the response was that the forum is about antisemitism, not about Auschwitz. But if that’s the case, the world leaders attending will wonder why they were sold a different bill of goods. Admittedly, with the proliferation of antisemitic incidents around the globe, a conference of this kind in the Jewish state is more than valid, but getting the story straight is no less important.
■ THIS YEAR, 2020, marks not only the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, but also the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Stockholm Declaration, under which the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research was established, and is now known as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. This is also the 15th anniversary year of the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Notwithstanding the importance of the Fifth World Holocaust Forum convening at Yad Vashem next week, the major international commemoration event will be organized at the Auschwitz Memorial and will be attended by some 200 dignitaries from around the world, including Rivlin and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
But the most important guests will be approximately 120 Auschwitz and other survivors for whom “Never Again” arguably has more meaning than for anyone else. The survivors will be coming from the United States, Canada, Israel, Australia and several European countries, and will be able to take part in the central commemoration ceremony of the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz. In most cases, this has been facilitated by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation from New York City under the leadership of World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder. Holocaust survivors living in Poland are increasingly confirming their attendance. Prior to the main commemoration, another ceremony will be held at the “Gate of Death,” at which Polish President Andrzej Duda will address Holocaust survivors.
■ THE BEST known of non-Jewish Poles who reported on what the Nazis were doing to the Jews was Jan Karski, who was smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto, and whose empathy for Jews remained constant. His wife, whom he married after the war, was Jewish, and he was no less haunted than she was about the manner in which he her family members had met their deaths. Among the non-Jewish Poles who were prisoners in Auschwitz was resistance fighter Wladyslaw Bartoczewski, who in later years twice served as Poland’s foreign minister. The tattooed number on his arm was 4427. Perhaps lesser known is Polish cavalry captain and intelligence agent Witold Pilecki, a hero of the resistance, who wanted to know more about the atrocities perpetrated in Auschwitz and actually volunteered to be imprisoned there. His, as far as is known, was the first comprehensive Allied intelligence report on all aspects of the Auschwitz concentration and death camp.
The world will know more about him thanks to British writer Jack Fairweather, who stumbled across his story, and was so fascinated that he was prompted to write a biography about Pilecki under the title The Volunteer. Last week the book received the prestigious Costa Book Award for 2019 in the biography category.
■ QUIZ SHOW junkies who watch such programs on Israeli television channels might wonder why so many people are critical of the education system, when such a large proportion of young contestants in their late teens and early twenties demonstrate such a broad knowledge of extremely varied subjects. Unfortunately, they do not represent the norm, but are the exceptions to the rule.
Actor, producer, writer and caustic-tongued broadcaster Natan Zahavi, who writes a weekly column in The Jerusalem Post’s sister publication Maariv, was talking to a friend about the difference between high schoolers in his time and those of the present day. He claimed that the latter are appallingly ignorant. The friend opined that Zahavi was exaggerating. Zahavi said that although he did not matriculate from school and has no academic degrees, he could run circles around today’s youth in various spheres of knowledge. The friend was dubious, but Zahavi was insistent and, to prove the point, he stopped a trio of high schoolers and offered them NIS 300 if they could answer the questions he put to them, NIS 10 for each correct answer.
Basically, he gave them the names of several famous Israelis who are no longer living and asked them to say something about what these people had achieved. The list included Yigal Alon, Avraham “Yair” Stern, Natan Alterman, Shulamit Aloni, Geula Cohen, Chaim Weizmann, Yitzhak Navon, Yitzhak Shamir, Shoshana Damari and Yafa Yarkoni. They were unable to identify any of these people, whose names not so long ago were household words.
They might be excused for not knowing some of the names, but identifying Alon and Weizmann as street names rather than, in the first instance, a Palmah commander who became an influential politician and, in the second, the first president the Israel, who, prior to the founding of the state, played a significant role in securing the Balfour Declaration, was a sad reflection on current education. In the case of Cohen, who died recently, and whose colorful history was reported at length on radio, television and in the digital and print media, their ignorance was unforgivable.
They asked Zahavi why he was giving them such difficult names and not including any of the stars of present-day reality shows.
■ ON THE subject of people no longer with us, the sudden death last week of eminent lawyer Eli Zohar shocked not only the legal community but people affiliated with all the institutions and organizations with which he had been associated, and which in several cases he had served on a pro bono basis.
Unless someone is a villain, it is rare to speak ill of the dead, but it is almost as rare to speak in the many superlatives contained in condolence notices to his family that were published in the Hebrew media. He was described as brilliant, ethical, humane, erudite, always optimistic, culturally savvy, a teacher, a leader and a supporter.
He was the second lawyer of his caliber to die within an 18-month period. In the case of Jacob Weinroth, who died in October 2018 at age 71, it was expected because he had been ill with cancer for some time and his physical deterioration had been obvious. Although Zohar was 79 at the time of his death, he had appeared to be healthy. Aside from their professions, what the two men had in common was that both represented prime ministers of Israel. Zohar headed the defense team for Ehud Olmert, and Weinroth led the defense team for Netanyahu. Zohar also represented former prime minister Ehud Barak.
Among Zohar’s other clients were the late Tommy Lapid, a former justice minister; former MK Omri Sharon, son of former prime minister Ariel Sharon; the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), when it was under the command of Carmi Gillon; Amos Baranes, who was convicted for murdering soldier Rachel Heller, but was later acquitted due to the intervention of Supreme Court Justice Haim Cohn; and Elhanan Tannenbaum, a drug dealer and IDF reserve colonel who was kidnapped by Hezbollah and held in captivity for three years. Zohar also represented the Ports Authority, the Council for Higher Education, the Government Companies Authority, senior officers in the IDF and the police and numerous public figures, including former police commissioner Moshe Karadi, and former governor of the Bank of Israel Jacob Frenkel.
He also appeared before and on investigating commissions, such as those that examined the mass murder in 1994 by Baruch Goldstein at the Cave of the Patriarchs; the assassination in 1995 of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin; and the 1997 helicopter disaster in which 73 military personnel were killed. More recently, he represented the parents of 10 pre-military youth who drowned in flash floods in the South. He served in a voluntary capacity as a defense lawyer in the military court.
Zohar was also extremely active in cultural spheres. For nine years he chaired the theater unit in the Culture and Arts Council, and for three years was chairman of the Acre Festival. At various stages, he also chaired the Israel Film Council and the Gesher Theater.
For many years, Zohar was the legal adviser to Lilach, the organization that supports the right to live and die with dignity; a supporter of the law faculty at Tel Aviv University; and chairman of the ethics committee at Sheba Medical Center.
He is survived by his wife, Nili, who is also a lawyer, and his children, Guy, Itai and Dana. The younger two of the three siblings are likewise lawyers. Guy, the eldest, is a well-known radio and television personality.
■ IT LOOKS like it’s almost a done deal that former Knesset spokesman Yotam Yakir will be the next director of the Haifa Museum. Yakir was chosen for the position by a committee of head hunters which interviewed numerous candidates before making its recommendation to the Haifa Museums Directorate, which in turn unanimously voted to appoint him. However, the appointment needs to be ratified by the Interior Ministry before Yakir can pop the cork on a bottle of champagne.
If all goes according to plan, Yakir, 56, who was born and raised in Haifa, will do his utmost to work in accordance with the vision of Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch Rotem, who wants to turn Haifa into a major tourist destination, with the Haifa Museum as a key focal point in attracting visitors from all over Israel and abroad. There are, of course, other museums in Haifa which operate under the aegis of the Haifa Museums Directorate, but Kalisch Rotem wants the Haifa Museum to stand out from the rest with innovative displays and events.
Yakir, who has considerable experience in communications both as a journalist and a spokesman, and who inter alia headed the news desk at Army Radio, is accustomed to thinking out of the box, which is something he is looking forward to, if the Interior Ministry gives him the green light.
■ SOME PEOPLE can’t let go, and others know when the time has come. A mild tsunami hit the Jerusalem Municipality last week when Zion Turgeman, the CEO of the Ariel Municipal Company for Sport, Culture and Leisure Management, announced that he would retire. Turgeman, 75, feels that he has done all that he can to enhance and develop activities in the three categories for which he is responsible, and at the same time is very proud of what he has been able to accomplish. However, he is not leaving immediately. He has agreed to remain on board until such time as a suitable successor is found. That may take longer than many people realize.
■ TOP-RANKING DIGNITARIES visit Israel all year round, but if there is a summing-up in 2020, in all likelihood, the record will be set in January, and not just because of the forum on antisemitism. This week Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, his wife, Frances, and a state delegation from Pennsylvania were in Israel to boost economic and cultural ties, which in recent years have seriously deteriorated. Wolf is particularly interested in upgrading ties in technology and innovation. Wolf is the first governor of Pennsylvania to visit Israel since 1998, when then-governor Tom Ridge made the trip.
While in Israel, Wolf and his entourage were welcomed by Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund and Jewish National Fund-USA. The delegation from Pennsylvania visited the September 11 Memorial in the Arazim Valley, which is in Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood. The huge cenotaph stands in the 9/11 Living Memorial Plaza established by KKL-JNF in 2009. It has since developed an added dimension in that it honors Americans who in the interim became victims of terrorism. This applies in particular to the victims of the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in October 2018. Soon after this tragic and traumatic event, KKL-JNF put up a plaque commemorating the victims.
Israel was shocked by the shooting that took place in the synagogue, and Prime Minister Netanyahu had called Wolf to express condolences. At the memorial site in Jerusalem this week, where he was welcomed by KKL-JNF board member Emily Levy-Shochat, director of tourism JNF-USA Shahar Hermelin and other officials and dignitaries, Wolf said: “This memorial is a painful reminder of the antisemitic and hateful terror attack that took place right on US soil. This is also a reminder of the responsibility that lies on our shoulders, each and every one of us, to never allow for the triumph of violence and hatred. This is a value that the State of Israel and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have always shared, and I am proud to reaffirm this deep connection with today’s visit.”
Nothing is more symbolic in Israel than the planting of a tree, which not only grows upward but also develops branches. Almost every high-ranking visiting dignitary to Israel plants a tree, and Wolf was no exception.
■ ALTHOUGH THERE has been a decline in monarchies around the world, there is still some magic attached to a royal blood line, which is probably why so many media outlets around the world have been reporting on the decision of Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, to break away from some of their royal responsibilities and move to Canada, where they can be more independent. Queen Elizabeth, who was initially reported to be very upset about the decision, has perhaps taken a closer look at her family’s history.
Harry is currently sixth in line to the throne, and if his older brother, William, fathers any more children, Harry will be pushed even further back with each successive birth. There was a time when the descendants of Queen Victoria or members of her bloodline sat on the thrones of England, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, Russia, Romania, Yugoslavia and Greece. Victoria’s great-great-granddaughter who currently sits on the throne of England and is now the longest-living reigning monarch could be referred to as an accidental queen. Her grandfather George V succeeded to the throne following the death of his older brother. Her father George VI became king only after his older brother, Edward VIII, abdicated to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson. Had Edward remained on the throne and died childless, Elizabeth would never have become queen, because her uncle had outlived her father by 20 years, and therefore the next brother in line was Prince Henry, the Duke of Gloucester. Edward VIII’s marriage had taken him away from England and his family, something of which the queen was acutely aware. She did not want a similar separation to occur in relation to her grandson, and therefore became more supportive of his decision.
If Edward had not abdicated, Prince Charles might never have married Diana Spencer, and would have instead married his true love, Camilla Shand, whom he married only after Diana’s death, when each of them had been divorced. Then, of course, there would have been no William and Harry and no royal crisis, such as that of the past week or two.
When the story of Harry’s defection first erupted, Tory MP Michael Fabricant, who is the son of a rabbi, wrote to the queen suggesting that she appoint Harry as governor-general of Canada. The governor-general is the direct representative of the queen, and Fabricant saw tremendous potential in the relationship between Canada and the UK, if such an appointment was to be made. That could well end up being the compromise solution – though not in the immediate future.