Grapevine March 10, 2021: A moment of truth

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

FROM LEFT: Sebastian Kurz, Mette Frederiksen and Tamir Korbin. (photo credit: SHLOMI AMSALEM)
FROM LEFT: Sebastian Kurz, Mette Frederiksen and Tamir Korbin.
(photo credit: SHLOMI AMSALEM)
 Diplomats, when representing their countries abroad, often have to defend policies with which they do not personally agree. It takes courage on the part of a diplomat to state what he or she believes to be the truth.
Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski can be listed among such courageous diplomats, possibly because he was for many years a journalist before entering the foreign service. Last week he tweeted: “Understanding the historical context helps us dispel misperceptions about the attitude of the Polish population towards Jews during the Holocaust. Undeniably, there were thousands of Poles who denounced their Jewish neighbors and perpetrated the most heinous atrocities.”
He went even further than this, possibly understanding the Jewish concept of repairing the world. If you don’t acknowledge what needs repairing, you can’t fix it.
Polish antisemitism before and during the war cannot be denied, but nor can Polish altruism, humanity and heroism that was directed toward the saving of thousands of Jews. Numerically, Poles stand head and shoulders above all other nationalities in the Righteous Among the Nations.
■ CYPRUS FOREIGN Minister Nicos Christodoulides, in an interview with Mercury Global Reports, reiterated that his country’s relations with Israel “are solid, and it is a priority to cultivate them further.
“Nobody can escape geography, but Cyprus and Israel are more than just neighbors. Beyond untapping the potential of our bilateral cooperation, we are setting up a permanent secretariat for all our trilateral cooperation mechanisms which will help to establish a solid framework for these mechanisms, and thus facilitate their expansion and deepening.”
■ JUST AHEAD of International Women’s Day, yet another crack appeared in the glass ceiling when Tel Aviv University’s search committee unanimously recommended that TAU alumna Dafna Meitar-Nechmad be appointed as the next chairwoman of the TAU board of governors. After serving for three years as cochairwoman of the TAU Global Campaign, Meitar-Nechmad will replace Prof. Jacob A. Frenkel, who will be completing two four-year terms.
Her appointment, if ratified by the board of governors at its next meeting, will result in her being the first woman to hold this position at TAU, though a series of 11 women have been appointed to senior positions at TAU over the past year, including vice president for international academic relations, and the deans of the faculties of Exact Sciences, Humanities and Innovative Learning.
Meitar-Nechmad is a former partner in the Meitar Law Offices. No longer a practicing lawyer, she is now a social investor with extensive philanthropic experience. Among her many public roles, she serves on the boards of JFN – Jewish Funders Network and the Metropolitan Opera of New York, and heads the Zvi and Ofra Meitar Family Fund, which supports a wide range of cultural and educational organizations and projects both in Israel and overseas, with TAU as its major beneficiary. In addition, Meitar-Nechmad is a founding member of the Institute for Law and Philanthropy at TAU’s Faculty of Law, which researches and promotes philanthropy in Israel, aiming to advance justice and equality in Israeli society, and serves on its management committees. She is also a member of Committed to Give, an initiative for promoting philanthropy in Israel.
The search committee was headed by Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, who is a former president of TAU. In its recommendation, the committee noted that all its members had been greatly impressed by Meitar-Nechmad’s leadership capabilities, her record as a leader of TAU’s Global Campaign, her extensive experience in the world of philanthropy and fundraising, and her commitment and dedication to the advancement of TAU.
■ AFTER BEING warned that his planned visit to Israel might be exploited by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for political purposes, Pfizer chairman of the board and CEO Albert Bourla decided to postpone his trip till after the Knesset elections. However, he did send a letter to Benita Elkon Baitner, who heads the Pfizer vaccine business unit in Israel, congratulating her on being named a Woman of Valor at the annual International Women’s Day event hosted by the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel.
Elkon Baitner was one of six women in the fields of health, science, society and diplomacy honored by the club at a ceremony held at the Holon Institute of Technology (HIT). Bourla had been invited to attend, and while organizers were disappointed that he had delayed his arrival in Israel, they were thrilled with the contents of his congratulatory letter in which he referred to the club as “an organization known for being a collaborative force for good,” adding: “Receiving this recognition on International Women’s Day is a fitting tribute for one of Pfizer’s inspiring female leaders.”
Other Women of Valor honorees were Prof. Idit Matot, director, Anesthesia, Pain and Intensive Care Division, and director-general, Surgery Division, Ichilov Medical Center; Prof. Irit Sagi, principal investigator, Weizmann Institute of Science; Ruth Amiel Fogel, honorary consul for Paraguay; Eva Madj’iboj, director of the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women; and Sara Alalouf, honorary consul for Latvia. Fogel and Alalouf are also founding vice presidents of the Ambassadors’ Club.
For Ambassadors’ Club founder and president Yitzhak Eldan, the annual event was particularly exciting, as it coincided with the club’s 10th anniversary and did not have to be postponed as was the case last year due to COVID constraints.
There was also a larger-than-expected turnout of ambassadors, honorary consuls, and club members who work for embassies and consulates or who are affiliated with binational and multinational chambers of commerce, such as the Israel-Asia Chamber of Commerce.
HIT president Prof. Eduard Yakubov, in emphasizing HIT’s attitude toward equality of opportunity, said that 35% of HIT’s faculty staff are women, in addition to which HIT has introduced a course in female leadership in technology. He was very pleased that the Ambassadors’ Club had chosen to hold its Women of Valor event at HIT.
Prof. Adir Pridor, head of the department of industrial mathematics, in talking about how wisdom leads to understanding which leads to knowledge, pointed out that the Hebrew for wisdom and understanding is hochma and bina, which each have a feminine suffix.
Dean of the honorary consular corps Gad Propper noted that women in leadership are achieving an equal future.
He also pointed out that honorary consuls do not receive the recognition they deserve. They are unpaid volunteers who, because of their knowledge and connections, can advise and help ambassadors on every level of bridge building between countries. In addition, whereas ambassadors generally stay for only two or three years, honorary consuls are permanently present. In cases where a country is represented only by an honorary consul, he or she often performs the duties of a diplomatically accredited consul.
Although he did not cite his own case, Propper has served as honorary consul for New Zealand for more than a quarter of a century. New Zealand’s ambassador to Israel is stationed in Turkey.
Madj’iboj, who had to attend other International Women’s Day events, did not stay for the whole ceremony, but spoke of what it was like for her three years ago when she was part of the Israeli delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. She had carefully prepared her speech, but on the day she was scheduled to deliver it, she lost her voice. The lack of a woman’s voice in what is ostensibly a man’s world got to her. She told herself that she was representing Israel, and that the voices of women had for too long been silenced.
With or without a voice, she would deliver her speech. She also spared a thought for women who may not be high achievers in the public domain, but who nonetheless deserve recognition. “Let us not only honor those who break through the glass ceiling,” she said, but also those who pick up the broom and sweep up the pieces.
Elkon Baitner said it was specially moving to receive the honor when it was not in a domestic context. It did not belong to her alone, she said, but to the whole of the Pfizer team in Israel, most of whom are women. When she’s not busy with Pfizer, Elkon Baitner also volunteers with United Hatzalah.
Matot is a second-generation expert in anesthesia. Her late mother, who was a Holocaust survivor, who died two years ago at the age of 94, was the first woman in Israel to graduate in this field of medicine, and traveled by bus from her home in Haifa’s Bat Galim to Jerusalem to study at the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Medicine, which is also Matot’s alma mater.
“COVID is a cruel enemy and hasn’t said the last word yet,” Matot warned.
Sagi, who was honored for her scientific research into COVID 19, declared that “scientists are the superheroes of our times,” creating and discovering new knowledge “to improve our daily lives.” She credited scientists with being “quiet heroes not usually recognized by the public,” including her own team in this category, and underscoring that “vaccines show the critical role that science and innovation play in our society.”
She, too, warned that “the fight is far from over,” that investigations into the biochemistry of the virus are continuing.
Alalouf and Fogel each reaffirmed how meaningful it was for them to be part of a club that connects foreign ambassadors with Israel.
Latvian Ambassador Aivars Groza presented Alalouf with an enormous bouquet of flowers. Paraguay’s Ambassador Max Haber Neumann was also present to congratulate Fogel.
The event concluded with international singer Einat Sarouf, inviting all the women present to come on stage to join her in singing “Hallelujah” – not the Leonard Cohen version, but the one with which Gali Atari, a woman, won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1979.
■ ISRAEL’S NINTH president, Shimon Peres, who had received many international honors, believed that it was high time for Israel to have something similar to the French Legion of Honor or the American Presidential Medal of Freedom. Accordingly, he introduced the President’s Medal of Distinction, to be awarded to people and organizations in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the State of Israel or to humanity, through their talents, services, or in any other form.”
It was first awarded on March 1, 2012, and then again in 2013 and during Peres’s final year in office in 2014. Among the total of 24 recipients were Henry Kissinger, Adin Steinsaltz and Zubin Mehta in 2012, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Elie Wiesel in 2013 and Lia van Leer, Rabbi Avraham Elimelech Firer, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Angela Merkel, Giorgio Napolitano and Ruth Dayan in 2014.
Even though the prize itself bore no one’s name, President Reuven Rivlin, for whatever reason, did not award it during his term of office, which concludes in July this year.
At the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, which is dedicated to continuing Peres’s legacies, it was decided to rehabilitate the Medal of Distinction Award, with a very slight twist. As of this year, it is to be associated in perpetuity with International Women’s Day, and it will be awarded to women only.
The first award ceremony was held last week, recognizing women who in one way or another have broken through the glass ceiling in their various fields, serving as role models for women and girls, not only in Israel but around the world.
Peres used to tell both men and women on whom he conferred honors of various kinds, “You are as great as the cause you serve.”
The award ceremony took place in the presence of Efrat Duvdevani, director-general of the center, who was also director-general of the President’s Office during the Peres presidency, Prof. Tsvia Walden, Peres Center board member and daughter of Shimon Peres; and Chemi Peres, Peres Center chairman.
Duvdevani said that the Peres Center is proud of establishing a new tradition of honoring women who have broken new ground, thereby opening doors and creating new opportunities for other women while simultaneously contributing to gender equality. Walden recalled her father’s belief that as long as women are not an active and equal part in everything that happens in society and indeed the world, “then our world will be worth only half.”
Chemi Peres praised his mother and sister as “exemplary women with many accomplishments.” Growing up in a house with two such women prepared him better for life, he said as he welcomed the center’s new initiative and tradition.
The first recipients of the Peres Center’s Medal of Distinction were: scientist and hi-tech entrepreneur Dr. Orna Berry; Arab-Israeli entrepreneur and philanthropist Julia Zahere, whose Al-Arz factory supports charitable causes, including the LGBT community; Lili Ben-Ami, honored by several organizations in the course of a week for founding the Michal Sela Forum in memory of her sister, who was murdered by her husband; Maysa Halabi, a Druze entrepreneur who founded the Lotus project, which trains religious Druze women in software development and assists them in joining global hi-tech companies; Hana Rado, a leading businesswoman and social entrepreneur, who in 2012 founded McCann Valley, a digital media agency in Mitzpe Ramon; Ruth Polczak, a hi-tech entrepreneur, founder and CEO of Fincheck, a fintech company that enables users to make informed decisions about their expenses, loans and finances; Yuvi Tashome-Katz, an Ethiopian-Israeli entrepreneur and social activist; Prof. Shulamit Levenberg, mother of six, dean of the Technion’s Faculty of Biomedical Engineering and head of the university’s stem cell and tissue engineering lab; Shirin Natour-Hafi, principal of the first Arab public high school in Lod; Dr. Yael Gold-Zamir, the first Israeli ultra-Orthodox woman to graduate from medical school and one of the few tech entrepreneurs in her community; and Ariane de Rothschild, French banker and philanthropist, who is responsible for the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation’s support for projects dedicated to supporting art and culture, health and research, environment, social entrepreneurship and intercultural dialogue.
“I loved Shimon Peres very much,” said de Rothschild. He made sure to empower women from all walks of life, always made sure to promote diversity and acceptance of the other. I shall always remain grateful to him for the guidance he provided in asserting my own stance, not only as a wife and a mother, but also as a female banker in a business environment that all too often goes on stigmatizing women.”
■ THE EdR partnership program, in which the Rothschild Foundation partners with other organizations engaging in social entrepreneurship, recently delivered 1,500 food packages across the country, from Ofakim in the South to Tiberias and Umm el-Fahm in the North.
Although the Rothschild Foundation in the 19th century initially supported only the Jewish communities of the Land of Israel, today it supports Israelis of all faiths, ethnicities and national backgrounds.
EdR volunteers who delivered food packages to Umm el-Fahm were greeted by a municipal delegation headed by Mayor Dr. Samir Mahmid.
■ MOST INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day events, as well as media supplements, paid tribute to the many medical professionals who have been involved in battling COVID-19, but conspicuously absent from the vast majority of groups of various women of influence chosen by event organizers and media outlets, with the notable exception of Yediot Aharonot, was the name of Galia Rahav, head of the Infectious Disease Unit and Laboratories at Sheba Medical Center.
The redheaded Rahav has been interviewed dozens of times on radio, television and in the print media. If there was any doubt about her influence, it dissipated during Purim, when Sheba hospital staff unanimously donned red wigs as their fancy dress costumes.
Yet, for some reason, she was overlooked among those compiling lists of women of influence or organizing Zoom meetings with medical experts. The fact that she is being viciously hounded by anti-vaccine groups and individuals may have something to do with her being cast aside.
Appearing more than any other woman in Zoom meetings and the media was Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli, who seemed to be almost everywhere.
■ IN LINE with different strokes for different folks, some people are simply sick of Zoom events, as evidenced by the speedy sale of tickets and enthusiastic attendances at live performances this week, while others, particularly those with hearing and mobility problems, are delighted with Zoom because it enables them to hear better than they do when sitting in an auditorium, and they don’t have to leave home in order to hear an interesting lecture or to enjoy a good concert.
Another Zoom benefit is that many Zoom events are recorded, and are later available on YouTube, which enables busy people to juggle their time better. If a program is missed the first time it is aired on social media, it can be accessed later on Facebook, YouTube or other social media platforms.
That will be the case in the by-invitation-only Jewish Policy Center event in which Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, explores the implications of the Biden administration’s rift with Saudi Arabia and the UAE as it explores possibilities of America renegotiating a nuclear deal with Iran. The event is to take place on Thursday, March 11, after which the recording will be posted on the JPC website.
■ POLITICAL REPORTER and analyst for Yediot Shimon Shiffer, whose career on radio and print media spans 45 years, made the most of his solitary confinement during the pandemic by writing a book based on the events that he had covered over the past four-and-a-half decades, in particular those related to Menachem Begin and Netanyahu.
In an interview with Reshet Bet’s Liat Regev, Shiffer spoke of the frustrations of both prime ministers over the sources of leaks to which Shiffer was privy, and which he published.
Commenting on differences between the two, Shiffer said that Begin was a true democrat and statesman, who would never disclose state secrets, whereas Netanyahu had more than once revealed the contents of material that, to all intents and purposes, was classified.
Shiffer related that one time when he published something that Netanyahu did not want to have made public, an incensed Netanyahu telephoned him and screamed at him, demanding to know his source of information. Without mentioning names, Shiffer replied that he had received it from Netanyahu’s friends, to which the response was: “You know that I don’t have any friends.”
■ ALTHOUGH MOST of the organizers of conferences involving politicians try to be fair by including representatives of both the Right and the Left, there is always someone among the other speakers whose presence indicates the political leanings of the organizers.
Thus, for instance, the Haaretz March 10 Hebrew conference on National Strategy and Security included right-wing politicians Gideon Sa’ar, Naftali Bennett and Bezalel Smotrich, alongside left-wingers Benny Gantz, Merav Michaeli and Nitzan Horowitz, as well as former MKs Matan Vilna’i and Ksenia Svetlova, but the inclusion among the other speakers of former US ambassador Dan Shapiro, who is a sworn Democrat, demonstrates to anyone who may be unaware that Haaretz is politically on the left side.
On the other hand, the Jewish Leadership Conference, which is geared mainly to American Jewry, but can be accessed from just about anywhere in the world, is chock-a-block with right-wing speakers, including former US ambassador David Friedman, who is a sworn Republican, as well as former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who continues to be wooed by Jewish organizations.
That conference is obviously in English, and will take place on Sunday and Monday, March 14 and 15.
■ BETWEEN THE two conferences mentioned above, on March 18, The Jerusalem Post-Maariv Elections Conference will feature a more comprehensive lineup of politicians past and present, headed by Rivlin, a former Likud MK, and including former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who went from the Likud to Kadima, and appears to be leaning more toward the Center-Left, and possibly a little left of center. Uriel Lynn, president of the Federation of Israel Chambers of Commerce, who will be speaking at the conference, is also a former Likud MK.
■ FOREIGN FLAGS are frequently being exchanged at the King David Jerusalem Hotel, as life begins to return to normal. Early last week, general-manager Tamir Kobrin welcomed the UAE’s ambassador to Israel, and toward the end of the week he welcomed Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, who met with Netanyahu, who had previously met at the King David with other foreign dignitaries who had come to Israel during the crisis.
This week, Kobrin also welcomed Brazil’s Foreign Minister Ernesto Aroujo and Eduardo Bolsonaro, the son of Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro. It was almost but not quite like old times.