Grapevine July 17, 2020: Herd mentality over Balfour

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

POLICE PUT up additional barricades during an anti-Netanyahu demonstration this week. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
POLICE PUT up additional barricades during an anti-Netanyahu demonstration this week.
For years the writer of this column, who lives three doors from the entrance to the Prime Minister’s Residence, has attempted without success to defend and uphold the memory of Peretz Smolenskin, a member of the Haskala, or Enlightenment, movement, an ardent Zionist and Jewish nationalist whose influence was felt long before Herzl wrote in his diary in September 1897: “At Basel I founded the Jewish state. If I said this out loud today l would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in 50 years, everyone will perceive it”
A small street in Jerusalem’s Talbiyeh neighborhood has been named for Smolenskin. The main entrance to the Prime Minister’s Residence is on this street, as every journalist who has ever covered a demonstration in the vicinity knows. Yet the media, including in this paper, keep referring to demonstrations “opposite” or “outside” Balfour. It’s true that the side residence is on Balfour Street. When there are large-scale demonstrations only residents, security personnel and law enforcement officers are permitted to enter Balfour Street from either direction. Half of Smolenskin Street is permanently barricaded, and during demonstrations, the whole street is barricaded.
Demonstrations never take place on Balfour or Smolenskin streets, but on nearby Rambam Street, which only rarely gets a mention.
■ ANARCHY IS arguably more contagious than the coronavirus. When you get a few anarchists at a demonstration, and they deliberately provoke police into violent action, all that other demonstrators can see is that three or four police officers are holding down one of their number. This brings out violence in otherwise quiet, civilized people, and gives added impetus to other anarchists to step up their incitement.
It’s perfectly legal to demonstrate and speak out against the prime minister, but it’s not legal to be destructive and to engage in vandalism, nor is it legal to attack law enforcement officials who are trying to maintain order. The anarchy in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv this past week has been condemned by President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana.
■ IN ONE of the press conferences at which Netanyahu pledged to give financial support to proprietors of small businesses, he mentioned having to overcome bureaucratic hurdles. The petty bureaucrats are the weak links in any chains designed to pull citizens out of the financial, medical and psychological morass. In fact, Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz have had a tough time fighting the bureaucrats in the Finance Ministry, which was one of the reasons that no decisions were made to give grants to all citizens until this week.
Aware of the blight of bureaucracy, President Rivlin has issued a statement in both Hebrew and Arabic in which he offers assistance to the public in overcoming bureaucratic hassles related to economic hardship and physical and mental health. People seeking such help should phone 02-670-7211, fax 02-588-7225, or fill in an on-line form at
■ IN MAY, a wonderful chorus of female cantors from across America, Israel and Germany got together on Zoom for a memorable rendition of “Jerusalem of Gold” in honor of the 53rd Jerusalem Day. The participating cantors were: Alisa Pomerantz-Boro, Congregation Beth El, Voorhees, NJ; Atalya Lavi, Beit Tefilah Israeli, Tel Aviv; Aviv Weinberg, Celle Synagogue, Berlin; Elizabeth Shammash, Tiferet Bet Israel, Philadelphia; Julia Cadrain, Central Synagogue, New York City; Laurie Akers, Congregation Or Shalom, Vernon Hills, IL; Lisa Peicott, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Los Angeles; Lizzie Weiss, Temple Emanu-El, Beverly Hills; Magda Fishman, B’nai Torah, Boca Raton, FL; Rachel Goldman, Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay, Los Angeles, CA; Rebecca Garfein, Congregation Rodeph Shalom, New York City; Roslyn Barak, Congregation Emanu-El, San Francisco; Sara Hass, Temple Israel, Long Beach, CA; Shira Lissek, Temple Israel, Charlotte, NC; and Vicky Glikin, Temple Emanu-El, Dallas, TX.
Unfortunately, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who is quick to dismiss Conservative and Reform Judaism as fake Judaism, cannot enjoy the YouTube video of their singing, which was also circulated in honor of the 90th anniversary of the birth of Naomi Shemer in July, who wrote and composed “Jerusalem of Gold.”
■ IT WOULD be fair to say that all Polish ambassadors to Israel have a sense of Jewish history, most certainly Jewish history as it relates to Poland. However, it is doubtful that any have been quite as knowledgeable as current Ambassador Marek Magierowski, who this week spoke about the Polish roots of Zionism in a WJC webinar, listing some Polish Jews who had made significant contributions to the Jewish state before and after its creation. He also spoke about his own role in Israel, and the conversations that he has with Israelis of Polish descent.
When they talk about the Holocaust, a subject that frequently enters their exchanges, they talk about Polish heroines such as Irena Sendler, the social worker and nurse who belonged to the Polish Resistance and carried out extraordinary rescue operations in the Warsaw Ghetto. But they also talk about the Poles in villages who denounced their Jewish friends and neighbors to the Nazis.
Unlike his government, Magierowski has never been evasive about the subject. He often makes the point that such actions were not official Polish policy, and can only be attributed to the specific perpetrators. Magierowski also spoke of the Israeli psyche, saying if he could define it in one word, it would be “memory.” Of all the dates in the Hebrew calendar, including Jewish holidays, which he has experienced in Israel, what moves him most is Yom Hazikaron, he said, using the Hebrew terminology for Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars and Victims of Terrorism.
For those who missed the webinar and are interested in what Magierowski had to say, his talk can be seen on the WJC YouTube channel at
■ BASTILLE DAY in France and in French embassies and consulates around the world, lacked its usual pizzazz this year, but that doesn’t mean that there was no celebration.
More than 1,000 invitations were issued by the French Embassy’s Digital Communications and Press Officer Nathan Cahn to join in a series of virtual celebrations that included a piano recital by Alexandre Tharaud, videos of previous Bastille Day ceremonies, the launch of a new program on i24 under the title Conversations with France, in which Benjamin Petrover conversed with French Ambassador Eric Danon about the political, economic and cultural links between France and Israel, in the presence of several people who are involved in the enhancement of such links. Danon was also interviewed in French on KAN Radio.
He also hosted a small reception at which the government of Israel was represented by Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevitch.
There was a live program broadcast on the Facebook page of the French Institute, with jazz singer Déborah Benasouli accompanied on the piano by Yakov Muravin, a performance by students of the Maslool - Bikurey Ha’Itim dance school, and a concert by Michael and Shimrit Greilsammer filmed from the roof of the institute on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard.
■ AIPAC FOUNDER and long-time CEO, Canadian-born Isaiah Leo Kenen, has had a street named after him in Netanya following a decision by the Street Naming Committee of the Netanya Municipality. As far as is known, this is the first time that Kenen has been commemorated in Israel. During Kenen’s 23 years of leading AIPAC, he successfully lobbied the US Congress and the Senate, which resulted in significant economic support for Israel.
The naming of a street in his memory was initiated by Shlomi Veroner, CEO of the Netanya Foundation, and Kobby Barda, a former municipal spokesman and scholar in the Ruderman Program for American Studies at the University of Haifa. His thesis developed into a book – AIPAC’s Grassroots Path to Congress: How Isaiah Kenen built AIPAC to be a Powerhouse.
Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg-Ikar commented, “Street-naming is Netanya’s way to commemorate individuals who contributed so much for the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no official ceremony was held, though one is planned for a future date when large gatherings will again be permissible.
This may actually be a positive element in relation to the current situation, as in 2021, AIPAC will celebrate its 70th anniversary, and a ceremony in honor of Kenen may prompt some leading AIPAC personalities to visit Netanya for the occasion.