Grapevine March 12, 2021: People in the Book

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

ISI LEIBLER receives his honorary doctorate at Bar-Ilan University with his wife, Naomi, and BIU faculty members. (photo credit: COURTESY BIU)
ISI LEIBLER receives his honorary doctorate at Bar-Ilan University with his wife, Naomi, and BIU faculty members.
(photo credit: COURTESY BIU)
 There have already been several reviews of the biography of international Jewish leader and businessman and Jerusalem Post columnist Isi Leibler titled Lone Voice: The Wars of Isi Leibler. Historian Suzanne Rutland spent twenty years assembling it to provide a comprehensive picture of this universal Renaissance man who was born in Belgium, grew up in Australia where he spent approximately six decades, traveled the world, especially to Soviet Russia, and now lives in Israel. Although book reviews have appeared in publications on at least four continents, the book has not yet been properly launched.
This lacuna will be amended by Bar Ilan University on Tuesday, March 16, at 6 p.m. Israel time. The launch will be a Zoom affair, with speakers including BIU President Prof. Arie Zaban; former prime minister of Australia John Howard, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein who is mentioned in the book among former Prisoners of Zion, retired Supreme Court justice Prof. Elyakim Rubinstein; plus an interview with Isi Leibler by veteran journalist Ehud Yaari, reflections by the author Prof. Suzanne Rutland, and remarks by BIU student Abigail Leibler, who happens to be one of Isi Leibler’s many grandchildren.
Why Bar Ilan? For one thing, in 2015 Leibler was awarded an honorary doctorate from Bar Ilan University in recognition of “his tireless efforts to address the challenges facing the Jewish nation at every historic crossroad.” In addition, BIU has been entrusted to be the permanent custodian of Leibler’s massive, 40,000 volume library of Jewish books in English. Howard also received an honorary doctorate from BIU in May 2000, at which time he was still prime minister. He has visited Israel several times since then and likes to joke that when he came to Israel before he was prime minister, he stayed at the Jerusalem International YMCA. But after he became prime minister, he crossed the road to the King David Hotel. He is one of many personalities mentioned in the book. Howard is a founding member of the Friends of Israel Initiative, an international body that includes several former world leaders who have come out against the investigation by the International Criminal Court into alleged war crimes by Israel. A 
book launch related to Leibler would be incomplete without a former Prisoner of Zion, given that Leibler was at the forefront of the global campaign for the liberation of Soviet Jewry – hence, the participation of Edelstein. Aside from being a highly respected journalist and a personal friend of Leibler’s, Yaari also happens to be married to an Australian. Rubinstein is also a personal friend, and the participation of author Rutland is a given.
There will also be a musical interlude with Dudu Fisher, whom Leibler brought to Russia in 1989 to sing at the opening of the Solomon Mikhoels Center in Moscow which Leibler established together with Russian theatrical entrepreneur Michael Gluz. It was the first Jewish cultural center to be established since the Bolshevik Revolution and was named in memory of the famed Jewish actor who was murdered by Stalin. Needless to say, Fisher is also mentioned in the book. For people who were involved in the Soviet Jewry campaign to “Let my people go” this book launch will be a very nostalgic occasion.
■ THE NOT quite complete tell-all interview that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan had with Oprah Winfrey, not only brought British racism to the surface, but was also reminiscent of the suffering not only of Princess Diana but also that of the Duke of Windsor who, like Harry, gave up everything for the woman he loved and who, like Harry, fell in love with an American divorcée. Actually, the Duke of Windsor gave up a little more. He was King of England and abdicated the throne. He lived in exile in Paris for 35 years, unable to return without the explicit permission of the monarch. If he returned without this permission, he would lose his income. The agreement was first made with his brother, King George VI, and inherited by Queen Elizabeth. The first time the Duke of Windsor returned to England for a brief visit was for the funeral of King George VI in February 1952. At that time, he had been away for almost 16 years. He died twenty years later in Paris, but his body was brought back to England for burial. Harry has been stripped of all his favorite duties, but it’s doubtful – given her public statements – that the queen would deny him the right to return to England. After all, considering the fact that three of her four children got divorced, and that two of them were subjected to the most salacious but unsavory publicity, Harry’s decision to go with his wife to America is a minor scandal in comparison, especially since he has far less chance of inheriting the throne than did his great grandfather.
But there seems to be no valid reason to deny his son a title if his youngest nephew and some of his other relatives have been conferred with titles. Kate Middleton was also a commoner before she married Prince William. By the way, at the end of April, Kate and William will celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary – and they were an item for eight years before they got married.
The queen’s response to the globally publicized interview is hearteningly that of a loving and concerned grandmother, proving that blood is indeed thicker than water.
■ NOT EVERYONE would get excited over an interview with Robert Meeropol, but Reshet Bet’s Ron Nesiel was thrilled to do so in the 70th anniversary year from the beginning of the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the couple that was charged with espionage and passing secrets to the Soviets about a project geared to the production of an atomic bomb. Although Julius Rosenberg did pass secrets to the Soviets, the data did not include anything related to a nuclear bomb. Ethel Rosenberg was innocent of the charges filed against her and – according to her son – the authorities were aware of this. Her brother and his wife who were active Communists falsely implicated Ethel in order to get themselves out of trouble. The Rosenbergs were given an electric chair execution.
In those days, Communism was a very dirty word, and anyone suspected of being a Communist was hounded and automatically condemned. It was the age of McCarthyism during which then-Senator Joseph McCarthy carried out a vicious campaign against anyone believed to be a Communist. They were blacklisted, denied employment and were constantly followed by FBI agents. The truly sad part is that so many of the people that McCarthy deprived of a livelihood were Jews, and many of them had careers in Hollywood as writers, actors, directors, producers.
The Rosenbergs’ death sentence in the electric chair was carried out in 1953, in a highly publicized example of miscarriage of American justice. Following the execution of the Rosenbergs, their young sons Robert and Michael were adopted by Abel Meeropol. They changed their surname to his and in that way were able to grow up in a regular Jewish home without people pointing at them. Robert has been working for some time in an effort to exonerate his mother and is hoping that under the Biden administration he will finally succeed. He believes that part of the reason that his parents were given the harshest of punishments was that they were Jewish. There was no lack of antisemitism in America in those days, despite the fact that many Jews rose to prominent positions in different fields. His adopted father – who was a poet – saw a strong parallel between the suffering of Jews and America’s black citizens. Meeropol wrote the lyrics for the song “Strange Fruit” dedicated to the African Americans who were lynched and hung from a tree dripping blood like strange fruit. This disturbing song reminds Robert that racism and antisemitism are two parts of the same evil. He told Nesiel that his parents were executed in “a legal lynching,”
Jews, then as now, were suspected of dual loyalty. The prosecutor Irving Saypol, then-Judge Irving Kaufman, as well as attorney Emanuel Bloch who represented the Rosenbergs were Jewish, but the prosecutor and the judge went out of their way to prove they were loyal only to America. Robert Meeropol believes that the authorities knew that his mother was innocent but arrested her in the hope of using her charge as leverage to get his father to confess to a crime greater than the one he actually committed. Robert also believes that antisemitism was at the root of the unreasonably long period that Jonathan Pollard spent in prison, taking into account his cooperation with the authorities and that other people convicted of similar crimes, spent considerably less time behind bars.
■ APROPOS POLLARD, much as he would love to live a nice quiet and anonymous existence, many people recognize him in the street – despite the coronavirus mask – and ask to have a selfie with him. Pollard is too polite to refuse, especially when recognized by the media. He already had that problem in New York. Recently, he was recognized by Ari Kelman, the political reporter for the haredi website Behadrei Haredim. Still, it’s a small price to pay for being able to walk around Jerusalem without a GPS monitor.
■ AFTER CAMPAIGNING in Arab towns and villages, and making promises that it is doubtful that he can keep, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has acquired a new nickname. Some Arabs still refer to him as Bibi, but others call him Abu Yair.