Grapevine June 19, 2020: Independence on social media

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

RAISING THE flag ceremony on Philippines Independence Day. (photo credit: COURTESY PHILIPPINES EMBASSY)
RAISING THE flag ceremony on Philippines Independence Day.
What do Russia and the Philippines have in common? The date of a national day. Russia celebrates its National Day on June 12, and the Philippines celebrate Independence Day on June 12. In the past, unlike many other embassies, the two have somehow coordinated so as not to have their receptions on the same day. This year, due to the COVID-19 crisis, there was no need to coordinate. The Russians held their celebration a day early because June 12 fell on a Friday, and the Filipinos had two separate receptions, a formal affair on Thursday with an extremely scaled-down gathering in the flesh, and a much wider participation via the embassy’s Facebook page.
There were only three live guests – all from Israel’s Foreign Ministry – joining Ambassador Neal Imperial and embassy staff.
The guests were Chief of Protocol Ambassador Meron Reuben, Deputy Director General for Asia and the Pacific Ambassador Gilad Cohen, and Deputy Director General for International Cooperation and head of MASHAV, Ambassador Gil Haskel.
On Friday, the actual date of Independence Day, there was a flag-raising ceremony to mark the true anniversary of the proclamation of Philippine independence. At the second reception, Imperial was accompanied by Consul General Randy Arquiza, Labor Attaché Rodolfo Gabasan, and Defense and Armed Forces Attaché Col. Raul Villanueva. Joining them were Fr. Carlos Santos, guardian of Saint Peter’s Church in Jaffa, and Simha “Simi” Salpeter, “Kaanib ng Bayan” Presidential Awardee in 2010.
On Thursday, various friends of the Philippines led by Knesset Speaker Likud MK Yariv Levin sent pre-recorded video greetings, and the event was further enhanced by pre-recorded Filipino musical items.
In his address, Imperial said that he had been inspired by the e-reception hosted by President Reuven Rivlin for the diplomatic community to mark Israel’s Independence Day, and thought that this was an ideal solution to celebrating his country’s 122nd anniversary of the Proclamation of Independence, rather than not having an event of any kind.
This was also very important given the large number of Filipinos in Israel.
In his address, Imperial said: “We are currently in a very unusual situation. As much as we talk about the ‘new normal,’ we are all still undergoing a series of rapid and drastic changes that are fundamentally altering the way we do things. Diplomacy is one of them. To date, it is one of many exchanges that we have always believed could only be effective if it takes place in person: face to face, with handshakes. During a pandemic, where human proximity can be deadly, we have had to rethink and re-imagine diplomacy – along with so many other activities – in order to protect everyone involved.
“In these times, when we all find ourselves searching for new ways to carry on with our lives, it is natural to turn to those we trust and share common views or values with. For diplomats based in Israel, we have had the benefit of learning from a country that is recognized for its capacity to innovate.”
Imperial, who is winding up his tenure in Israel, said that he had hoped to do something on a grander scale during the final year of his tour of duty, especially as Israel was his first ambassadorial posting. “In every sense of the word,” he declared, “it has been unforgettable.”
Imperial also emphasized that during the pandemic, Filipino caregivers “have proven themselves to be dependable and indispensable as front-liners for the sick and the elderly in Israel.”
Rivlin echoed these sentiments, saying, “To all the caregivers and the people of the Philippines here in Israel, I would really like to thank you, and even on a personal note, thank you for all the things that you are doing for improving the relations and helping Israeli society.”
He also regretted that Imperial’s final Independence Day reception in Israel could not be done in style, but was nonetheless appreciative of the invitation to join “this very intimate and yet at the same time, very open ceremony.”
Cohen recalled the historic decision by President Manuel Quezon to open the gates of the Philippines to Jewish refugees trying to escape the horrors of the Holocaust in Europe during the Second World War. This was later followed by the decision of President Manuel Roxas on November 29, 1947, to vote in favor of the establishment of the State of Israel,” the only country in Asia to do so,” said Cohen
For those who did not watch the receptions on social media in real time, , the embassy has uploaded videos of the events to its official Facebook page, Philippine Embassy in Israel ( and its official YouTube channel, PHinIsrael.
■ IT HAS taken far too much time for representatives of Israel’s minority communities to achieve significant status in politics and diplomacy. There have always been Arab and Druze members of Knesset, but it is a relatively recent phenomenon to have women from these communities sitting in positions of prominence.
Arab women have served and are serving in the Knesset, but there were no Druze women in the Knesset prior to Yesh Atid’s Gadeer Mreeh, whose previous claim to fame was as the first female Druze news presenter in Israel to broadcast in Hebrew.
As for diplomacy, Eman Emasha is the spokesperson and cultural attaché at the Israel Embassy in Canberra, Australia. She too is a member of the Druze community, and was active in Israel and in encouraging mutual understanding amongst various ethnic and religious groups. With the popularity of Zoom, many Jewish Diaspora communities are getting to interact with Israelis from all walks of life, and with each other, as Zoom programs are conducted simultaneously in different time zones.
Emasha will be hosted by the Zionist Federation of Australia, this coming Sunday, June 21, at 8 p.m. Australian Eastern Standard Time.
She’ will speak about being a diplomat during a pandemic. She will also discuss her background and how her identity shapes and is shaped by her profession.
To register for the program on Zoom, go to
■ IRAN IS making headlines not only for reasons of its nuclear capability and its sponsorship of terrorism, but also in the realm of entertainment. After being bombarded on KAN 11 with promos for Tehran, it is finally due to begin screening next Monday, immediately after the main news program.
Starring as Tamar Rabinayan, a Mossad agent in Iran who was born in Israel to Persian immigrant parents, is Niv Sultan, who spent several months learning to speak Persian. The dialogue in the series is in Hebrew, English and Persian.
Israeli productions have become so popular in America and elsewhere that Apple has signed a contract with Cineflix Rights and KAN 11 to be the show’s exclusive streaming agent. The strikingly beautiful Sultan, who in private life was romantically involved with actor Maor Shwitzer, with whom she shared a Tel Aviv apartment, became engaged to him three months ago, while they were on vacation in Mexico. But a month and a half later, she told him that she wasn’t sure that they were right for each other and broke off the relationship.
Among other Israelis in the cast of Tehran is Liraz Charhi, born in Israel to Persian immigrant parents. Charhi is a niece to singer Rita, and is also a singer in her own right.
Rita decided a few years back to return to her roots and released an album of songs in Persian that was very well received in Iran. Charhi decided to follow suit and has also developed a huge following in Iran.
Among other Israeli entertainers of Persian background was the late Yossi Banai, an extraordinarily talented actor, singer, musician and dramatist, who was raised in Mahaneh Yehuda market , and who in his lifetime and in the songs that he wrote, proved that you can take the man out of Jerusalem, but you can’t take Jerusalem out of the man.
Banai, who died of cancer in 2006, spent many more years living in Tel Aviv than in Jerusalem, but kept returning physically and creatively. He is the best known of the multi-generational multi-talented Banai family around whom a new exhibition based on an historical and musical soundtrack opened this week at Jerusalem’s Tower of David Museum.
Yossi’s brothers, Ya’akov, Gavri and Haim, also became actors, with Gavri the best-known in his capacity as a member of the comedy group Hagashash Hahiver (The Pale Tracker), which delighted Israeli audiences for decades.
Of the next generation of Banais, one of the most popular was musician, singer and songwriter, Meir Banai, who also died of cancer in January, 2017. He was the brother of actress and comedienne Orna Banai and of singer song writer and musician Eviyatar Banai.
Among other Israelis who were either born in Iran, or whose parents or grandparents migrated from Iran, are former president Moshe Katsav, former chiefs of staff Dan Halutz and Shaul Mofaz, Zion Evrony, a former Israel ambassador to the Vatican, and Sima Bachar, who was Miss Israel in 2005.