Grapevine January 20, 2021: When good intentions go awry

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Sara Netanyahu receives her anti-COVID-19 vaccination at the Meuhedet clinic set up at the Jerusalem International Convention Center. (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Sara Netanyahu receives her anti-COVID-19 vaccination at the Meuhedet clinic set up at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
What do beleaguered Alternate Prime Minister and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and popular singer and television personality Aviv Geffen have in common? Both have discovered to their cost that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Gantz, who agreed to form a unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after repeatedly saying that he would never sit in the same government with him, lost credence, colleagues and public confidence, even after publicly admitting that he made a mistake in trusting Netanyahu, and had made his decision because he thought that to enable the formation of a government was the best way to overcome the coronavirus crisis. But these days his popularity has plunged, and election forecasts indicate that he may not pass the threshold; or that if he does, it will be with very few mandates.
Meanwhile it would appear that other parties are not interested in his call to put egos aside and join forces to combat Netanyahu, and the prevailing reaction is that Gantz is more of a hindrance than a help in getting votes.
Geffen, who comes from a politically oriented family and is closely related to the Dayans, is also very public relations savvy, and was aware that if he reached some kind of agreement with Netanyahu vis-à-vis a financial boost to the entertainment community, their meeting and its outcome would receive widespread publicity.
Unfortunately, while acting on the premise that half a loaf is better than none, he was instantly upbraided by members of the special entertainment and culture committee for not checking with them first. “He does not speak for us,” they claimed. In other words, Geffen was a self-appointed negotiator who did not have the authority to speak for the industry. While NIS 70 million may seem to be a lot of money, according to committee members it barely covers 20% of losses in income.
Moreover, Geffen was speaking for entertainers per se, many of whom have been earning money from television appearances, performances in people’s homes, speaking engagements, and the release of new recordings. But the people who are really suffering are the sound and light technicians, the makeup artists, the wardrobe attendants, stage managers and countless others who work behind the scenes and are not in the limelight.
■ YESH ATID MK Mickey Levy says that Gantz makes a new mistake every day. This claim may be borne out by the fact that Gantz, in his capacity as acting justice minister, has ignored the controversy surrounding Haifa District prosecutor Amit Aisman, and has appointed him interim state prosecutor.
Women’s organizations, primarily the Israel Women’s Network have been quick to respond. Several years ago, Aisman, on two separate occasions, allegedly made offensive and sexually explicit comments to young women working in his office. Although he did not face charges of sexual harassment, these incidents put a stain on his professional conduct. Aisman apologized publicly, but this was not good enough for women’s movements which strive to combat sexual harassment in the workplace. A statement released by the IWN was headlined “Will what happened before, happen again?”
In all probability, Aisman’s appointment will cost Gantz votes from the distaff side of the electorate.
■ ALSO SUFFERING the pains of good intentions gone awry is Joint List MK Mansour Abbas, who came in for a lot of criticism by forming an alliance with Netanyahu for the purpose of improving attitudes toward Arabs, rights for Arabs and the elimination of crime and violence in Arab towns and villages, learned a bitter lesson when Netanyahu went to Nazareth and began making promises to Arabs, as though it were all his own idea.
But even people who disagree with Abbas on various issues, credit him with opening a door for Arab integration into mainstream Israeli society, and having a say in the future of the nation.
Taiba Mayor Shuaa Massarweh Mansour, in an interview on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, said that almost every political party is now courting the Arab vote. That represents a sea change from previous positions in which the overwhelming majority of Israeli political parties took what Arabs perceived as a racist position, and refused to enter into any political agreements with them.
Mansour, who has been approached by representatives of several parties and offered a so-called safe place on their election lists, has declined. He believes that he can be much more effective as a mayor, aside from which Taiba already has a longtime representative in the Knesset in the person of Ahmad Tibi.
■ THE INSISTENCE by New Hope leader and Likud defector Gideon Sa’ar on people in his party submitting to lie detector and graphology tests is indicative of what the nature of his administration would be, if he realizes his ambition to replace Netanyahu. While it is true that in view of a long history of repression and persecution, one of the principles of the Jewish people is to respect but suspect, Sa’ar seems to be taking it a little too far.
■ TWO JEWISH entrepreneurial and philanthropic giants died last week – Sheldon Adelson at the beginning of the week, and Baron Benjamin de Rothschild last Friday. Although there was a 30-year age gap between them, both gave extraordinary amounts of money to health and educational projects in Israel, without which the country would not have been able to progress to the extent that it has.
Former chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who eulogized Adelson, recalled: “Nearly 30 years ago, we met in Jerusalem, while I was officiating at the marriage ceremony for Sheldon Gary Adelson, whose real name is Shalom Gedalia, and his bride, Dr. Miri Ochshorn. Our last meeting was also held in Jerusalem, under completely different circumstances: it was at the world convention for International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January 2020, exactly one year ago, at Yad Vashem in the Israeli capital.”
Last week, Sheldon Adelson’s final journey was also in Jerusalem, to his final resting place on the Mount of Olives.
“I will never forget the first time we met, in New York, at the Hilton Hotel, as part of a fundraiser for Yad Vashem,” said Lau. “I was the keynote speaker, and Sheldon and Miri were the guests of honor. Sheldon, who was usually a man of few words, stood up and spoke with all his heart.
“‘You must be wondering what’s my interest in Yad Vashem, what’s my connection to the story of the Holocaust,’ he said.
“‘I’ll be honest with you – I haven’t lived through the Holocaust; my family did not go through the Holocaust, and we had no connection to the Holocaust. I am here because my wife Miri’s parents are Holocaust survivors, and I am here thanks to them.’
“I saw his consideration, how he embraced this aspect of his family, and I was greatly impressed. At the same time, I also learned from conversations with him about his first connection to Israel, even before the establishment of the state. He learned the love of the homeland from his father, who dreamed all his life of coming to Israel, despite the poverty and the great hardship he experienced.
“The father’s dream made its mark on the son’s personality, namely Shalom Gedalia, known as Sheldon Gary. As the father did not fulfill his dream, the son – who was already a man of considerable means – stepped into his father’s shoes and took his first steps in what later became the center of his being – the State of Israel.”
Lau, who was among the earliest recipients of both the first and second anti-coronavirus vaccinations, is one of the few reported cases of being diagnosed as having the virus after receiving the double inoculation. He is believed to have caught it from his wife, but has said that he feels perfectly well, and that he is continuing with his regular activities.
■ IT WOULD be interesting to know who is financing the telephone poll for the Labor Party in which, at the time of writing, there are four candidates for the leadership of the party. Party members are asked four questions. The first names all four candidates, who include current MKs Merav Michaeli and Itzik Shmuli, then three candidates, and then Michaeli alternating with Shmuli, and then individually with each of the two non-MKs. Each of the candidates is given a number, which in Michaeli’s case remains constant. She’s No. 2 each time, when in fact she should be No. 1, because without her stubborn determination, and her courage to go to battle against outgoing Labor chairman Amir Peretz, there would not be party-wide primaries.
When asked in interviews whether she will remain in Labor if she loses, Michaeli, who refused to join Peretz and Shmuli in a Netanyahu-led government, and stuck to her ideological guns, will do so again in the event that someone else is elected. She is amazed that the question should be asked of her, as she has already proved that loss of the race is not synonymous with loss of loyalty. Unlike people in the police force, the army, and even in politics who, if not appointed or elected, resign and leave or, in the case of politics, often join another party, Michaeli intends to stick with Labor regardless of the consequences.
■ CORONAVIRUS HAS put a damper on public appearances by the prime minister’s wife, Sara, who usually accompanies him to major events. For instance, every Election Day, they are at the polling booth together, and when the new Knesset convenes for the first time, she is there in a VIP seat. Most of the time, they go abroad together. In the past, she also accompanied him on the campaign trail. However, this year he’s campaigning mostly on social media, except when he feels the need to go to an Arab city or village.
Surprisingly, when the Netanyahus got their antivirus jabs, they did so separately – he in Tel Hashomer, and she in Jerusalem. Each also got the second jab separately, and again it was a tale of two cities. He went back to Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, on January 9, and she went to the Meuhedet HMO at the Jerusalem International Convention Center on Thursday, January 14.
■ WHEN HE retired from the Foreign Ministry in October 2010, following a 40-year career, the last seven years of which he was chief of State Protocol, Yitzhak Eldan was unable to get diplomacy out of his system. So in 2011, he founded the Ambassador’s Club of Israel, with the aim of acting as a bridge between Israel and the countries with which Israel enjoys diplomatic relations.
As a former diplomat himself, who had served in a variety of positions in Israel embassies and consulates in the United States, Canada and Europe, he knew what it was like to come to a foreign country where one had neither relatives nor friends. So one of the first values of the ACI was solidarity. He understood that aside from any official business that ambassadors have with the Foreign Ministry, they needed a social, cultural and business framework that would almost instantly provide them with new friends, an understanding of the mentality of the host country, and a business network that would strengthen economic and commercial connections with their own countries.
On the latter issue, Eldan brought in a number of honorary consuls to serve as vice presidents of the organization and help facilitate a network of business contacts in the specific industries in which individual ambassadors were interested.
The vice presidents include Yoram Naor, honorary consul of Belize; Ruth Amit-Fogel, honorary consul of Paraguay; Sarah Alalouf, honorary consul of Latvia; David Ben Bassat, honorary consul-general of Nauru; and Meni Benish, honorary consul of Georgia.
In addition, Gad Propper, the honorary consul of New Zealand, who is dean of the honorary consuls, is also an honorary president of the club. There are also honorary members who are prominent in Israel’s business, cultural and academic communities, as well as some retired Israeli diplomats, such as Nitza Raz-silbiger, the former director of the Foreign Ministry’s Protocol Department, who worked closely with Eldan during his period as chief of protocol.
Eldan had been planning the 10th anniversary for well over a year, but his plans for this and other events were disrupted by the corona crisis. Last year, he delayed the International Women’s Day event by several months, so that the honorees could be acknowledged at a live event in a large garden where social distancing could be observed.
There were far fewer people invited to the Diplomat of the Year award toward the end of last year due to limitations placed on social gatherings. So there was only a small group of people, but the event was livestreamed.
In the past the Diplomat of the Year and the honorary consul ceremonies were held together, but because of the numbers problem, it was decided to postpone the honorary consul award, which was scheduled for this week. Then came lockdown, and because it was important for this to be a live ceremony, it was again rescheduled for next month.
Meanwhile, Eldan did not want January to come and go without celebrating the club’s decade of operations. Zoom was a painful compromise, but better than not having the event at all.
Rami Carmel, who is ACI’s digital director, did a splendid no-hitch job in hosting the Zoom, which was also recorded and can be seen on ACI’s Facebook page, where it was livestreamed. Guest speaker was Dr. Andy David, the ministry’s director of innovation, entrepreneurship and technology, who spoke about climate change, the avoidance of carbon emissions and ways of storing energy.
David recalled that when joined the Foreign Ministry, it was Eldan welcomed him. Eldan, for his part, said that when he first met Andy David and learned that he was a doctor, he asked why he wanted to join the ministry. Now, in view of the Foreign Ministry’s role in the pandemic, Eldan believes that doctors should be integral to every foreign ministry in the world.
ACI CEO Itzik Kamilian announced a series of events that the ACI will be holding throughout the year, including trips to Dubai and Morocco. In September last year, the ACI contacted the Ambassador’s Club of Dubai and instantly established a warm relationship, with promises of exchange visits. On Eldan’s birthday, in October, he received a bouquet of flowers from the Dubai counterparts. For the 10th anniversary the ACD not only sent a congratulatory letter, but also a video in which members said that they are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the ACI delegation.
There were numerous other congratulatory letters, including one from President Reuven Rivlin in which he wrote that the initiative in the creation of the ACI “has brought many welcome opportunities to those who represent their countries here in Israel to get to know each other and our nation at a deeper and more personal level. I believe this has brought new perspectives and new friendships.”
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi wrote that he was happy to see that ACI was continuing with its activities despite the corona crisis.
Anjan Shakya, the ambassador of Nepal, who was last year named the ACI’s Diplomat of the Year, told new ambassadors that they will be making a lot of good friends.
To give the club’s anniversary a truly festive aura, despite being relegated to social media, ACI director of external relations Reut Portugal showed a video of a magnificent display of fireworks.
The ACI’s trip to Dubai had originally ben planed for January but, due to lockdown, was rescheduled to later in the year. As for Morocco, the ACI will subsequently be going to Casablanca, which is not only the financial capital of Morocco but the city where Eldan was born.
At the close of the event, which was attended by many honorary consuls and honorary members as well as the ambassadors of Ghana, Kenya, Russia, Finland, Thailand, Sri Lanka, the European Union, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Colombia, Paraguay and Zambia, Eldan displayed a giant anniversary cake and said that he would take it to the lobby of his Tel Aviv apartment to share with any of the ACI members who cared to drop by.
■ RESTAURANT PROPRIETORS have been bemoaning the severe loss of income during the coronavirus crisis. Many had to cease their operations completely, and most of those who switched to takeaway and home deliveries were barely able to get by.
Among the restaurants that have survived are some of the most veteran in the country, including the legendary Penguin restaurant in Nahariya, famous for its giant schnitzels and its authentic apple strudel. Penguin, which is among the oldest Jewish-owned restaurants in the country, and believed to be the oldest in the Western Galilee, was in the news this past week due to heavy rain, which once again flooded the streets of Nahariya and seeped into houses, causing damage to carpets and furniture. It’s a recurring nightmare every winter. Penguin, which 81 years ago started out as a kiosk serving strudel and coffee to new immigrants, was founded by Ernst Oppenheimer. Over the years it expanded considerably, and is the leading restaurant in Nahariya. It is currently managed by the fourth generation of Oppenheimer’s family, but his grandson Ilan Oppenheimer remains very much involved.
Ilan, who has been interviewed on various radio programs, says that the Penguin staff has learned from experience. In tandem with the forecast for rain, staff members placed a large number of sandbags at the entrance to the restaurant. The sand absorbed the water and prevented the restaurant from being flooded.
But even if that precaution had not been taken, there’s no way that the restaurant would have closed shop. “We’ve survived through terrorist attacks, katyusha rockets, wars and floods,” said Ilan. “Nothing will stop us.”
The slightly older Shmulik Cohen restaurant, in the Jaffa industrial zone, is also a story of culinary survival that is now managed by a fourth generation of the family.
Both restaurants maintain traditional menus – the Penguin has a German menu plus a few extras, and Shmulik Cohen has a purely Eastern European menu. When it comes to taste, it appears that tradition prevails.
■ WASHINGTON WAS on tenterhooks this week in anticipation of further violent riots during the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. Martin Weiss, the very popular former Austrian ambassador to Israel who is now his country’s ambassador to the US, tweeted last week: “Never in my wildest dreams - other than in a Hollywood movie - would I have imagined to see images like these from Washington DC, the heart of the United States. This is simply unbelievable. A sad day for the USA.”
■ EDUCATION AUTHORITIES, the Finance Ministry and the Knesset should take serious note of a tweet last month by Biden. “In the 21st century, 12 years of school isn’t enough. That’s why under the Biden-Harris plan, community college will be free – and public colleges and universities will be tuition-free for families earning less than $125,000 a year.”
Admittedly, education in Israel is far less expensive than it is in America, but salaries are also much lower. In low-income households, many youngsters do not finish high school, but drop out when they are 14 or 15 years old to go to work to help support the family.
This should not be happening. Many of these youngsters have potential which should be given the chance to develop.
■ THERE ARE so many memorial days on the calendar that it is becoming difficult to respect or even remember them all. In view of growing racism and lack of respect and tolerance for the other in many parts of the world, including Israel, more attention should have been paid this week to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
More than half a century after King’s assassination, people are still being judged by the color of their skin and not by the content of their character. Were it not so, there would no need for movements such as Black Lives Matter.
Interestingly, in Israel, a Martin Luther King Jr. Square was dedicated in Jerusalem, long before US President Donald Trump transferred the US Embassy to Israel’s capital. But naming a square in the Holy City after King has not served to eradicate racism. People with ethnic African roots, be they Ethiopian Jews or African migrant workers or asylum-seekers, are still targeted by police and by other Israelis with racist tendencies. Unfortunately, too many people pay lip service to diversity while negating it in practice.
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