Grapevine June 25, 2020: Women on the front lines

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

MORAN ATIAS (from left), Nitza Raz Silbiger, Ofra Bel, Ettie Oziel and Aline Bizimana. (photo credit: TAL ZELINGER)
MORAN ATIAS (from left), Nitza Raz Silbiger, Ofra Bel, Ettie Oziel and Aline Bizimana.
(photo credit: TAL ZELINGER)
Many organizations and institutions which had scheduled events that coincided with the coronavirus crisis either canceled them or re-organized them and held them on Zoom, or other social media platforms. But the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel, which annually hosts an International Women’s Day event, preferred to postpone and wait for better days. Thus, despite the new spike in coronavirus cases, the event that had been scheduled for March took place this past Wednesday at the palatial Herzliya home of the charming Olessia Kantor, whose multi-faceted life would make a fascinating television series. The primary purpose was to honor women in different fields.
Award recipients included Aline Bizimana, president of the International Women’s Club and wife of Rwandan Ambassador Joseph Rutabana, who was named Woman of Valor; Nitza Raz Silbiger, the outgoing director of the Protocol Department at the Foreign Ministry, who received a Life Achievement Award; Ofra Bel, the deputy mayor of Herzliya in charge of international relations for her initiative in establishing a hotline with the diplomatic community; international actress, model and social activist Moran Atias, who has come home to Israel after years in Italy and the US, in recognition of her volunteer work at Sourasky Medical Center and Ettie Oziel, deputy director of nursing at Ichilov as the representative of all the nurses who gave so much of themselves during the crisis, even to the point of endangering their own health.
Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen, who is currently on maternity leave, sent a message commending the Ambassadors’ Club for honoring women. Lamenting the rise of domestic violence during the coronavirus lockdown, Cohen pledged to learn more about inequality with the aim of introducing legislation to guarantee women more equality and less violence.
Several ambassadors who had seen each other only on Zoom in recent months were delighted to finally get together again.
Just for once, male ambassadors were outnumbered by females, although not all female heads of missions were present. Guests also included honorary consuls, members of the International Women’s Club, Neta Blum, head of Aviation Technology at the Defense Ministry, who was named by Forbes Israel as one of 30 change motivators under 30, and ZAKA founder and chairman Yehuda Meshi Zahav.
Among the female ambassadors present were those of Austria, Nepal, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Ghana, Thailand, Slovenia, Denmark and Cyprus.
Ambassadors’ Club founder and President Yitzhak Eldan, a former MFA chief of protocol, told them that they had broken through the glass ceiling.
Oshra Friedman, deputy director general of the authority for the advancement of the status of women, said that whenever there is a crisis and one partner in a marriage has to stay home, it’s usually the wife. Even though women account for 51% of the population, she commented, their voices are not heard. When decisions are being made, women are missing from the room.
Bizimana, in accepting her award, said it was not only a personal honor, but an honor for her country. She was proud of the advancement Rwanda has made toward gender equality. Today women represent 30% of the decision makers in government, parliament and other areas, she said.
Raz Silbiger, a 40-year veteran of the Foreign Ministry, 30 of them in the Protocol Department, worked hand in glove with Eldan for seven years. She had seen her role as an important mission in representing the State of Israel, she said, adding that it had been a privilege to be in touch with all foreign diplomats serving in Israel, and to create good and lasting friendships with many of them
Bel was hailed as a great partner of the Ambassadors’ Club.
Atias declared that for her, every day is International Women’s Day. She had been raised by strong, independent women with fine values that included giving without expecting anything in return. She hoped to continue their legacy.
Oziel said that she was accepting the award on behalf of 2,500 male and fem ale nurses who give their all but do not get the recognition they deserve.
Musical entertainment was provided by Paraguayan harpist Marc Carlsberg
■ EVERY NOW and again, there’s an IDF chief of staff who does not want to be saddled with responsibility for Army Radio, and like several politicians, wants to close it down. Present Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, like some of his predecessors, is annoyed by the aggressiveness of both senior civilian broadcasters as well as the young men and women in uniform who only a year or two ago were in high school. When star broadcaster Ilana Dayan was doing her mandatory military service at Army Radio, she managed to aggravate many politicians as well as then-chief of staff Moshe Levi with her penetrating questions. At a meeting this week with Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Kochavi asked him to either close down Army Radio or turn it into a civilian station.
■ ON TUESDAY evening Gantz came to the defense of Channel 12 political pundit Amnon Abramovich, who was verbally abused and in danger of physical attack while covering a right-wing demonstration in the Tel Aviv Museum plaza. The demonstration against the judicial system was attended by several right-wing politicians. It had initially been planned as a massive show of support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the application of sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria, but when organizers realized that participation would not be in the thousands and would barely be in the hundreds, they moved the venue from Rabin Square to the Museum Plaza. Abramovich, a tank driver hero of the Yom Kippur War who still bears unsightly burn scars on his face and body, has long been the nemesis of the Right, particularly of Netanyahu. He was also the reporter who broke the story of the attempted money extortion from then-president Moshe Katsav, prior to the reason for the extortion being made public and leading to rape
charges and Katsav’s subsequent conviction and imprisonment. Prior to his election to the presidency, Katsav was a Likud minister and MK. Gantz condemned Tuesday’s attack against Abramovich who had to be led from the scene by police escort. Gantz tweeted that it was permissible to voice different opinions, but absolutely forbidden to threaten reporters as the media is a cornerstone of democracy.
President Reuven Rivlin also released a statement in which he said that such a situation was unacceptable and that no reporter should require the protection of police bodyguards while doing his job regardless of the views that he espoused. No one should feel threatened, said Rivlin.
As police physically held back the crowd while escorting Abramovich from the scene, Abramovich was taunted with cries of “Go home,” “Traitor,”, “Fifth columnist” and “Burnt garbage.” The latter was in relation to his war injuries. Abramovich took it all in his stride.
■ ALTHOUGH SEVERAL Israeli entertainers and media personalities identify with right-wing political parties, it is somehow a given that entertainers and journalists identify with the Left – perhaps because one of the most frequent calls by leftists is for freedom of speech. Thus it comes as no surprise that writer and comedian Yonatan Gefen and actress Rivka Michaeli publicly identify with Breaking the Silence, which is the nemesis of all right-wing politicians. Former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon also identifies with Breaking the Silence. The question is whether people who are highly qualified for certain positions should be disqualified for supporting soldiers who refuse to serve in the disputed territories or organizations such as Breaking the Silence, or whether political leanings should be ignored. Former science technology and space minister Ofir Akunis fueled controversy when he refused to approve the appointment of Prof. Yael Amitai, who was widely considered to be one of the best qualified people to serve on the board of the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development. The reason that Akunis was so negatively disposed to Amitai, was because way back in 2005 she signed a petition in support of those Israeli soldiers who did not want to serve in the territories.
Current STS Minister Izhar Shay of Blue and White, has no such qualms, and in mid June gave Amitai the green light.
There is absolutely no reason for professionalism to be tainted by real or perceived politics. Then again, semantic differences make it very difficult to get past politics. A few examples. People on the Right refer to Judea and Samaria. On the Left, it’s the West Bank. On the right, it’s applying Israeli sovereignty to land that is legally Israel’s. On the Left, it is illegal annexation of occupied territories. A Jew who deliberately kills a Palestinian Arab is a freedom fighter to fellow Jews on the Right, and a terrorist to fellow Jews on the Left. Likewise a Palestinian who kills Jews is a terrorist, even to Israelis on the Left, but to fellow Palestinians, he’s a freedom fighter. Until we iron out our semantic differences, any hope of renewal of the peace process will have to wait.