Grapevine June 10, 2020: Sins of omission

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN visits Elbit Systems last week. (photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN visits Elbit Systems last week.
(photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
Seasoned public speakers begin their remarks by acknowledging two or three of the dignitaries present and then apologize for not listing all the others, using as a universal excuse that they don’t want to risk omitting anyone who should be mentioned.
In his appreciation of the splendid work that has been done by Mark Regev, Israel’s outgoing ambassador to the Court of St James, published last weekend in The Jerusalem Post, Neville Teller emphasized the importance of fluent, almost accentless English, on the part of any ambassador to the UK or other representative of Israel, and noted that Tzipi Hotovely, who has been offered the opportunity to succeed Regev, speaks excellent English.
He also mentioned some other fluent English-speakers, such as Abba Eban, Chaim Herzog and Ezer Weizman, and former ambassador Ron Prosor, who speaks perfect English. But he omitted to mention South African-born Michael Comay as well as Yehuda Avner and Daniel Taub, who were both born and educated in England, and who undoubtedly could be categorized as speaking the Queen’s English. To omit these two highly successful diplomats, who, as religiously observant Jews, represented not only the State of Israel but the Jewish people, was indeed a grave sin of omission.
■ A FEW days after introducing his future daughter-in-law Mai Zuzel on his Facebook page, where he is also pictured with her and his son Kobi, Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman met on Sunday with members of his faction along with several businesspeople at the East Reception Halls in Tel Aviv.
Liberman quipped that he had a conflict of interests, implying that perhaps he should not be at that particular venue, given that his son had become engaged and the couple plan to marry in September. Liberman didn’t specify where the wedding would take place, but it could just as easily be at East as anywhere else. On his Facebook page he wrote in relation to his future daughter-in-law that he knows that his son has chosen well.
■ LIKE SO many other annual events, gay pride month in most countries has had to rely on Zoom rather than on the colorful street parades that have become part of the cultural calendar of many cities that advocate acceptance of the other.
President Reuven Rivlin this week insisted that there should be no further reference to conversion therapy, because homosexuality is not a disease.
A series aired recently on KAN 11, with repeat broadcasts, is called The Gay Revolution and features well-known LGBT activist, screenwriter, producer and journalist Gal Uchovsky interviewing openly gay entertainers, politicians and other well-known figures on how young they were when they first realized their sexual orientation, how long it took them to come out of the closet, what reactions they received from their closest relatives and friends, and where they lean politically.
Uchovsky was once notorious for outing people who were still in the closet, but he’s mellowed with time; or because society has become more accepting of the LGBT community, he no longer sees the need.
But even for those who are openly gay, the memory of coming out of the closet can often be painfully traumatic, as is the case with broadcaster Yigal Ravid, who has told his story publicly, and who has also published it on Facebook.
The son of Holocaust survivors, Ravid took a trip to Europe after his army service and met up with a cousin who appeared to be very open-minded and who had several gay friends. He decided to confide in her and to seek her advice as to how to tell his parents. After counseling him to speak to each of his parents separately, she told her own parents, who told his parents, including the fact that he was dating a non-Jewish young man from Austria, whose family was antisemitic.
Ravid could not have imagined a worse scenario on his return home. His parents could not decide which was the more shameful – that their beloved son was a homosexual, that he was dating a gentile, or the fact that they learned of his sexual orientation via relatives and not directly from him. “Outing someone is the ugliest phenomenon there is in the lives of LGBTs,” says Ravid.
Rejecting someone just because of a difference in race, religion, political ideology or economic status is also ugly, but cannot quite be compared with the pain caused to outing someone who has been leading a secret or a double life for fear of exposure and being ostracized.
Sometimes it’s very good for heterosexual women to have a gay male friend. As a teenager in Melbourne, I lived across the road from the late Adrian Rawlins, who was a pioneer of the gay revolution in my hometown. When homosexuality was still illegal, Adrian was arrested for soliciting young boys his own age. He never forced his attentions. It was a typical case of it takes one to know one. I always felt comfortable going places with Adrian because I knew that he would never make a pass at me, and that he would rise to my defense if some other male was pestering me.
Adrian was a somewhat theatrical character, as was his mother. One time when she came to visit him in prison, the warden tried to be sympathetic to this little Jewish lady who was 1.48 meters tall and approximately 1.04 m. wide. “He must have been led into trouble,” he said kindly, giving Adrian the benefit of the doubt. But like every Jewish mother, Adrian’s mom was proud of her son, and drawing herself up to her full height exclaimed with indignation: “He didn’t get into trouble. My son is the trouble!”
In the two years before coming on aliyah, I worked at a newspaper in Sydney, where one of the editors, whom I actually found repulsive, kept making passes at me. One day Adrian showed up unannounced and, seeing the glum look on my face, asked what was wrong. When I told him, he said: “I’ll fix that.” Fearful that he might cause a ruckus, I asked him not to interfere. I could imagine the reaction if Adrian swept into the nasty man’s office in his voluminous, full length, velvet opera cape and delivered a Shakespearean-style soliloquy. But Adrian had no such intention. Remembering that I was ticklish, he drew me to his chest, wrapped the cloak around me and began tickling me. I was roaring with laughter, but with my head buried in his chest, the laughter was muffled and sounded like a sexual encounter. The editor hearing the noise, poked his head around the door, saw me with a man, added two and two and made five, and never troubled me again. As Adrian dramatically exited my office, his face was wreathed in a grin of triumph. Vale gay friend.
■ THE MISTREATMENT by police in Kiryat Malachi of innocent Ethiopian residents, whom they humiliated, injured and arrested and subsequently ridiculed in a WhatsApp group, has led to the transfer and possible removal from the force of several officers, including Kiryat Malachi Police commander Ch.-Supt. Shai Mizrachi, who also committed another serious moral breach in turning the tables on people who came to report that their cars were stolen, by accusing them of collusion with the alleged thieves so that they could cash in on the insurance.
The travesty was first revealed on KAN 11 and quickly picked up by other media outlets. Mizrachi has been demoted, and an investigation into his activities is currently under way.
Meanwhile, the Ethiopian community has had the last laugh. The new police commander of Kiryat Malachi is Ch.-Supt. Mevorach Avraham, who happens to be the first Israeli of Ethiopian descent to hold the position of police commander anywhere in Israel.
■ WITHOUT THE mostly Jewish philanthropy that has poured into the Land and State of Israel over the past 160 years or so, few of Israel’s remarkable achievements would have seen the light of day.
Of all the philanthropists, the Rothschild family, probably more than any other philanthropic individual or group, has left its mark on Israel. Among the earliest of the philanthropist, the Rothschilds continue to support a host of diverse projects in Israel.
The Mandel family of Cleveland, Ohio, through the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation, has poured tens of millions of dollars into Israel. In their mission statement, the brothers underscored that the hallmark of their philanthropy was their commitment to invest in people with values, ability and passion to change the world. Morton Mandel, the youngest of the three brothers demonstrated that passion through his frequent visits to Israel and his hands-on involvement in a variety of leadership programs all over the country, through the establishment of Mandel leadership institutes.
In October 2017, at the age of 95, Mort Mandel came to Israel to attend the laying of the cornerstone for the Mandel building in Jerusalem. His brothers had died during the preceding six years, Jack in 2011 at age 99, and Joseph in 2016 at age 102.
The cornerstone ceremony was attended by Rivlin, then-Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, politicians, heads of NGOs and leading figures from academia.
In addition to his philanthropic contributions and his business investments, Mandel wanted to leave an additional legacy in Jerusalem, where a Mandel leadership center already existed. The $25 million, large, multipurpose building, which was completed after his October 2019 death at age 98, was officially inaugurated this week in the presence of Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, Mandel Foundation CEO Moshe Vigdor, CEO of the Jerusalem Municipality Itzik Larry and representatives of the Mandel family Prof. Jehuda Reinharz, president of the Mandel Foundation; Stephen Hoffman, chairman of the board of the Mandel Foundation; members of the foundation’s executive; as well as representatives of Cleveland’s Parkwood Corporation.
In the course of the inauguration ceremony, a video on the Mandel Foundation’s manifold activities in Israel was screened.
■ FINANCIAL PAGES in the Hebrew media have contained several items about the inability of members of the public to obtain bank loans despite the ongoing volume of publicity about the banks helping the economy to recover by easing conditions for loans.
At least one bank manager is concerned about the little guy who can barely hold his head above water. Last week Dov Kotler, the general manager of Bank Hapoalim, decided to visit branches in what is considered the Health Ministry’s northern periphery. He spoke to local managers, staff and customers in Majdal Shams, the Golan Heights, Kiryat Shmona, Hatzor Haglilit, Safed and Rosh Pina, in order to keep his finger on the pulse of what is happening in all of the bank’s branches. Eventually, he intends to visit every Bank Hapoalim branch in the country, not only to familiarize himself close-up with local developments, but also to boost the morale of bank employees by letting them know that top management is interested in their welfare, and not just in the welfare of the bank itself.
■ WHEN HE founded Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya a little over quarter of a century ago, Prof. Uriel Reichman had many dreams. Some have been realized beyond anything he dared to hope for, but it’s doubtful that he ever envisaged that his interdisciplinary center, which attracts students from around the world, would be recognized as a university in his lifetime and, more than that, would have its name changed so as to glorify his name in perpetuity.
But that’s what happened. The general assembly of IDC Herzliya decided to honor the institute’s founder and president by renaming it Reichman University.
The change has been made without the blessing of the Council for Higher Education, which – though it has recognized IDC Herzliya as an academic research institution and has granted it autonomy with the opening of MA courses, and by authorizing it to confer doctorates in law, computer sciences and psychology – is not entirely happy about the name change, and argues that only the council is entitled to change the name of academic institutions.
However, it is dealing with the fine legal mind of Amnon Rubinstein, who recommended the name change. Rubinstein, an Israel Prize law laureate and former education minister, chairs IDC’s board of directors.
Reichman is due to retire next year, so the name change is a fitting farewell tribute to him in recognition of his vision.
■ PHILOSOPHER AND Israel Prize laureate Prof. Asa Kasher celebrated his 80th birthday on June 6, in honor of which the Friends of Tel Aviv University decided to join his family in feting him. Kasher is widely recognized as an expert on ethics, and has authored the Code of Conduct of the Israel Defense Forces.
Due to Health Ministry restrictions, it was decided to hold the celebration online, with one of Kasher’s former students, TAU president Prof. Ariel Porat, delivering the greetings, and another, Amnon Dick, president of the Israeli Friends of Tel Aviv University, engaging in a wide-ranging conversation with him.
Subjects discussed in their conversation included: the societal effects of the coronavirus; whether the homes of terrorists should be destroyed; political connotations of certain actions by individual soldiers; the Nation-State Law; annexation of the Jordan Valley; whether a person with three indictments against him can serve as prime minister; along with other subjects which are currently on the agendas of all strata of Israeli society.
Kasher did not pull his punches. He views Israel as a work in progress which does not yet have a Constitution, rather than as a mature country. He sees annexation as a source of tension between a Jewish state and a democratic state.
With regarded to an indicted person serving as prime minister, Kasher said that any proper state has rules of ethics, and whoever does not conform to them is dismissed. But in Israel popularity counts more than ethics.
Kasher was also critical of Israel’s political culture. Searching for the most polite description, he said that it was below par, adding that people don’t understand the meaning of democracy or the role of the High Court of Justice.
■ THERE ARE many people in Israel who would like to see a separation between religion and state, but few would take the law into their hands to the extent of committing arson in rabbinical establishments.
Golan Heights resident Zion Cohen, 68, took it upon himself to throw explosives into the premises of rabbinical courts and councils in Tel Aviv, Petah Tikva, Kfar Saba and Ashdod. In the process, he created millions of shekels worth of damage in his efforts to stop rabbinical courts and councils from providing services for secular Israeli Jews. He apparently ignored the fact that there are many secular Jews who still want to have a traditional Jewish wedding, who want to circumcise their baby sons, who want to take their children to synagogue on Simhat Torah and want to give their children bar and bat mitzvah celebrations. It’s not his place to deprive anyone of such services. But the main consideration of the Central District Court on Sunday was the damage he had caused, for which he was charged with arson.
■ MAY AND June are the months in which most of Israel’s major cultural institutions and institutes of higher learning convene annual meetings of boards of governors or boards of trustees.
Although Zoom meetings are currently in vogue, the Hebrew University preferred face-to-face contact if possible, and postponed the 83rd annual meeting of its board of governors to October 24-27 in the hope that by then, all coronavirus restrictions will have been lifted.
However, it did publish the list of people who were to be conferred with honorary doctorates and fellowships at the meeting. Included was the university’s longtime associate vice president Eliyahu Honig, who has held many positions at the university over the years, and has spent so much time there that it has literally been his home away from home.
Honig recently celebrated his 90th birthday, in honor of which the various groups of Friends of the Hebrew University in different countries joined forces to make a video of both greetings and nostalgia. The latter was drawn from photographs in the university’s archives of Honig pictured with numerous people of renown, including David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Henry Kissinger, the late Australian prime minister Bob Hawke, Ariel Sharon, Yitzhak Rabin and Elizabeth Taylor.
Honig came to Israel in 1950 as the sole representative of Australia in the Maccabiah Games. He played a good game of tennis. He later enrolled as a student at the Hebrew University, and more or less never left. He is one of the very few people who has watched the development of the university on all four of its campuses – three in Jerusalem and one in Rehovot.
The original campus on Mount Scopus was officially opened on April 1, 1925. There were very few students, and classes were small. Development speeded up in the 1930s, but in 1939, with the outbreak of the Second World War, the Hebrew University’s contacts with European academic institutions were severed.
At the time, Israel was still a country largely dependent on agriculture, and thus it came as no surprise when the university’s Rehovot campus, specializing in agricultural sciences, was opened in 1942.
During the War of Independence, the Mount Scopus campus along with Hadassah Hospital became a vulnerable island surrounded by enemy forces. Under the circumstances, it was impossible for the university to continue operating in that area. In 1948, Ben-Gurion urged the university to transfer its operations to the center of Jerusalem. Between 1954 and 1967, the university established what is now known as the Edmund Safra campus in Givat Ram.
After the Six Day War in 1967, Mount Scopus was once more accessible, and it was decided to return there, to clean up the mess and to expand the campus. Some of this development was disrupted in 1973 by the Yom Kippur War, with many of the university’s students and faculty among the fighters and the fallen.
Since then, the Mount Scopus campus has flourished, as have the other Hebrew University campuses, and Honig has not only watched these developments, but has been involved in all the events celebrating their success.
■ RANKED HIGH on the list of the 10 wealthiest people in Israel, Michael Federmann, who sits at the helm of the Dan Hotels chain and Elbit Systems as well as a number of other diverse enterprises, is also president of the Israel-Germany Chamber of Commerce.
A generous philanthropist who has shared his wealth with the Hebrew University, the Weizmann Institute of Science, the Israel Museum and the Jerusalem Foundation, among others, Federmann, who keeps a low profile and tries to steer clear of the media, was indirectly involved in helping out during the coronavirus crisis, as some of the hotels in the Dan chain were among the first to be converted for the intake of people with mild cases of coronavirus or people who had to be kept in isolation.
Elbit, whose revenue last year was well in excess of $3 billion, and whose revenue for the first quarter of this year was not unduly impacted by measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, has also been engaged in developing technologies to deal with the virus. During a visit to Elbit last week, Rivlin was shown some of these technologies, including a portable ventilator machine for medical teams in military settings or for ambulance crews.
Needless to say, Rivlin also inspected the company’s newest armaments, on which he was briefed by Elbit CEO Bezhalel (Butzi) Machlis, executive vice president Yehuda (Udi) Vered and by Federmann.
Impressed by what he saw, Rivlin urged the company to keep making miracles.
■ THE IRREPRESSIBLE world-renowned sex therapist and cultural icon Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who last week celebrated her 92nd birthday and is still going strong, will on Thursday, June 11, join a webinar, within the context of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces web series that will be aired at 4 p.m. EDT, which will be at 11 p.m. in Israel. Westheimer, who served as a Hagana sniper, will share her memories of that period.
Jerry Levine, an Emmy award-winning filmmaker, investigative journalist, and former Miami news anchor, will moderate the event. FIDF national chairman emeritus Dr. Nily Falic will introduce Dr. Ruth, who has more than 98,000 followers on Twitter @AskDrRuth.
Though well past retirement age, Dr. Ruth still teaches at Columbia’s Teachers College and Hunter College in New York.