Grapevine January 29, 2021: Do unto others

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR Paul Griffiths. (photo credit: AUSTRALIAN EMBASSY)
AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR Paul Griffiths.
(photo credit: AUSTRALIAN EMBASSY)
Israel does not take kindly to anyone who acquires historic artifacts by fair means or foul and takes them out of the country. The attitude in Poland is no different. Just as it’s against the law in Israel, it’s against the law in Poland. As understandable as it may be for any Jewish organization to be excited about the discovery of ten sets of tefillin in a hidden bunker in what remains of the Warsaw Ghetto, there was no excuse for smuggling them out of the country without the permission of the Polish authorities, especially given the political tensions that exist between Poland and Israel.
If there was no longer any Jewish life in Poland, it would still be a criminal offense to remove historically important artifacts, but there is a revival of Jewish life in Poland, especially in Warsaw, Krakow, Lodz, Szczecin, Gdansk, Katowice and Wroclaw. There are Jewish organizations: the Polin Museum which documents the history of the Jews in Poland, the Jewish Historical Institute, the Jewish Community Center of Krakow, the Union of Jewish Communities of Poland, Jewish schools, a Chabad network, the Warsaw Ghetto Museum, which is still under construction and due to open in 2023 on the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the famed Nozyk Synagogue and more.
Thus, the rightful place for the tefillin would be the Warsaw Ghetto Museum. But instead, they are now in Israel, having been procured by members of the Shem Olam Institute. Bad enough that the tefillin were smuggled out of Poland, but instead of keeping quiet – at least for the next few years – the people at Shem Olam allowed the story to be widely published in the Israeli and Jewish world media. Of course, the Poles are hopping mad.
A letter signed by Director of the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute Monika Krawczyk, Director of the Warsaw Ghetto Museum Albert Stankowski, Director of POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews Zygmunt Stepinski was published on digital media by Tomasz Kalinski, head of the Warsaw Ghetto Museum’s promotion department, expresses shock and outrage.
 The letter has also been circulated in Israel by Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski.
■ APROPOS, Krawczyk took up her five-year position at the beginning of this month after many years of holding executive positions in other Jewish organizations in Poland. A lawyer by profession, she was appointed by Piotr Glinski, Poland’s deputy prime minister and minister for culture and national heritage, and publicly introduced in her new capacity by Secretary of State of the Ministry of Culture Jaroslaw Sellin who is responsible for cultural foundations. She succeeds Prof. Pawel Spiewak who held the post from 2011 to 2020.
Exactly a year earlier, Krawczyk made history as the first woman to head the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland. Prior to that, she spent 15 years as the managing director of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage. She also spent four years as a member of the Community Council at the Polin Museum. She has been the recipient of several awards.
■ AS LABOR Party chairman in 2005, Amir Peretz decided to break away from the unity government led by Ariel Sharon, and personally wrote the letter that he ordered Labor ministers to sign, which they all did. However, when newly elected current chair of the Labor Party Merav Michaeli, who had refused to join Peretz and Itzik Shmuly in the Benjamin Netanyahu-led unity government, ordered the two to resign they refused. They simply switched allegiance. Their action and that of Gesher MK Orly Levy-Abecassis, who had formed an alliance with Labor simply to win a Knesset seat, after which she switched sides, begs for electoral reform. All three have betrayed the people who elected them, indicating that ego wins over integrity. Peretz had shaved off his iconic mustache so that people could read his lips when he said that he would never join a Netanyahu-led government. Most calls for electoral reform over the years have focused on proper regional representation. So far, that has not happened.
What is also needed is legislation that forces an MK to resign if he or she betrays specific promises made to voters, such as not sitting in the government of a particular political leader. Amir Peretz wants to be Israel’s next president. Based on his behavior he does not deserve to be president and Israel as a nation should not be represented by a person of questionable integrity.
■ SCRATCH THE surface of the American media world and in all probability, in seven out of ten cases you’ll come up with a Jewish connection or, better still, an Israeli one. With Marty Baron, the executive editor of The Washington Post who is retiring at the end of February after a 45-year career in journalism, you get both.
Baron, 66, was born in Tampa, Florida, to Jewish parents who immigrated to the US from Israel. He launched his career in journalism at The Miami Herald, then moved to the Los Angeles Times, and from there to The New York Times, then back to The Miami Herald as executive editor, and next to The Boston Globe in the same position, holding it from 2001 to 2012. In January 2013, Baron became executive editor of The Washington Post.
This month, in an internal memo, he announced his upcoming retirement at the end of February. On Baron’s watch, The Washington Post won a bunch of Pulitzer Prizes in various categories.
Washington Post publisher and CEO Fred Ryan credited Baron with being responsible for the paper’s “dramatic resurgence” which made it soar to new journalistic heights.
Baron said that he had worked with magnificent staffs on all three papers at which he had been executive editor, and reviewed some of the events that he had personally covered or in the coverage of which he had been involved, adding that the experience had been “deeply meaningful.”
As for the paper’s future, he encouraged it to promote diversity and to cover all communities in depth.
■ FOR SOME odd reason, the webinar sponsored by The International Legal Forum, The Israel Forever Foundation and the Washington law firm Heideman Nudelman & Kalik, PC was off the record, even though it was on Zoom and broadcast to numerous participants around the world who could have easily recorded the proceedings. The subject of the webinar was a discussion on the book Justice in the West Bank? The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Goes to Court was written by Yonah Jeremy Bob, who for the past nine years has been the intelligence, terrorism and legal analyst for The Jerusalem Post. He is also the paper’s literary editor. An international lawyer specializing in constitutional law before taking up journalism as a profession, Bob worked as an attorney for several years. Before moving to Israel, he worked in private practice in the US and was a corporate bankruptcy attorney. In Israel, prior to his career switch to journalism, he held positions with the IDF Legal Division as well as various other positions with the Israeli government including at the Ministry of Justice, the Consulate General in New York and the United Nations.
Joining Bob in the webinar was Lt.-Col. (Res.) Maurice Hirsch, head of legal strategies for Palestinian Media Watch, who served for 19 years in the IDF Military Advocate General Corps. In his last position, he served as director of the military prosecution in Judea and Samaria. He was obviously familiar with the contents of Bob’s book.
During the highly interesting discussion, there was nothing said that has not been previously aired in one way or another in the public domain. What was particularly interesting was the lack of uniformity in legal systems around the world. American-born and trained Bob was obviously au fait with American law. South African-born British-educated Hirsch was well acquainted with British law. Both are also well versed in Israeli law and international law, and the differences are quite thought-provoking. Perhaps a future webinar will be confined to the topic of countries’ legal differences and how they affect people suspected of crimes. If so, it will hopefully be on record and will contribute to the understanding of the layman who is not a lawyer as well as for members of the field.
■ AMONG PEOPLE who can be counted as seeing the glass that is half full, rather than that which is half empty is Arab radio journalist and commentator Iman El Kassem Suleiman who works for the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation. Suleiman is quite happy about Netanyahu courting the Arab vote, despite seemingly racist remarks that he made in the past. After Netanyahu took the first step towards the Arabs, she says, other political leaders followed suit and now there are Arabs in several parties contending for Knesset seats. The younger generation of Arab citizens of Israel is interested in integrating into mainstream Israeli society, and wants to have a say in the decision-making process, she comments. This recent political development is paving the way for such ambitions.
■ COVID RESTRICTIONS notwithstanding, Australia Day in Israel and in Melbourne was a day of great celebration this week with the deportation of Malka Leifer after a long-drawn-out series of court cases. Leifer, the former principal of a school for religious girls, will stand trial for 74 charges of sexual offenses against minors. Australian ambassador Paul Griffiths tweeted “The Australian Government welcomes the extradition of Malka Leifer from Israel to Australia and thanks the Israeli Government for its cooperation and assistance.”
Griffiths also joined the ‘We Remember’ campaign of the World Jewish Congress for International Holocaust Remembrance Day and in addition to showing a photograph of himself with the ‘We Remember’ sign, joined in a diplomatic candle-lighting ceremony organized by the Protocol Division of Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Griffiths lit a memorial candle to honor the memories of Moshe Lugar, Natan Korel, Mordechai Gebirtig, Hannah Szenes, Hinda Tukhman and Alfred Flatow, who perished in the Holocaust.
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