Grapevine March 17, 2021: Conspiracy theories

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN on board the flight to Germany. (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN on board the flight to Germany.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
 Politics are fraught with conspiracy theories, fake news, broken promises, sex scandals and corruption. No one is immune, because very few people go through life without committing any transgressions, and the media have a tendency to blow up some tiny misdemeanor into a sin or a crime that is completely disproportionate to the actual facts.
Thus, while there was more than a grain of truth in the reason that Jordan initially barred Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plane from flying through Jordanian air space en route to the UAE, it subsequently relented, by which time, according to reports attributed to Netanyahu, it was too late to return to the original plan. But even if he had not been able to fly via Jordan, it would have taken Netanyahu just a little longer to get to his destination via other available routes. That’s not really such a big deal. So did Netanyahu perhaps have another reason for delaying his much vaunted visit to the UAE?
Remember, it was Thursday of last week. On Friday, the Government Press Office put out the following notice: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, last night, at Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, underwent a successful appendectomy. The surgery was performed by Prof. Alon Pikarsky; the anesthesiologist was Prof. Reuven Pizov. Ms. Netanyahu is in good condition and is recovering in the surgery ward.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu was with his wife until she was taken into the operating room and is with her now. The prime minister and his wife would like to thank the many people, including numerous public figures – the president, ministers, MKs and the head of the opposition – who sent their best wishes for her recovery.”
His wife’s hospitalization could have been one of the reasons that the prime minister delayed his trip. Another was his meeting on Thursday with the Czech and Hungarian prime ministers, Andrej Babis and Viktor Orban, respectively. The temporary diplomatic incident with Jordan may have been a welcome excuse for Netanyahu to back out of going to the UAE without insulting his host.
■ IF SOMEONE were to make a film based on all the allegations that have followed Sara Netanyahu throughout the years of her marriage, few people would believe even half the stories, because they seem just too far-fetched. The latest in this category, which had its genesis in 1993, keeps resurfacing from time to time, and last week was yet again revived in a video by David Artzi, former vice president of commercial and civil aviation at Israel Aerospace Industries. The video went viral, and was picked up by several media outlets.
In 1993, Netanyahu allegedly had an affair with one his campaign managers. Convinced that one of his enemies had videotaped them, Netanyahu decided to preempt any possible attempts at extortion, and made a public confession on television. The video, if there ever was one, never saw the light of day.
Rumors then abounded about a contrite Bibi who wanted to return home, but that Sara would not allow it unless he agreed to certain conditions, and signed a contract to guarantee that those conditions would remain in force. Sara was represented by the late Yaakov Neeman, who at the time was one of the leading lawyers in the country, and Bibi was represented by his relative David Shimron, who remains his personal lawyer to this day.
According to Artzi, who was a friend and adviser to millionaire philanthropist the late Gita Sherover, who was also Shimron’s client, Sherover, who paid Shimron a very handsome retainer, was dissatisfied with him and wanted to sever the relationship. Shimron was allegedly terrified because the loss of income from Sherover would put him financially in the lurch. In 1999, according to Artzi, he asked him to intercede on his behalf, and to prove what a good lawyer he was, he showed Artzi a copy of the alleged contract that had been signed by the Netanyahus – husband and wife, replete with their ID numbers.
Artzi has told his story to several well-known journalists, some of whom, including Ben Caspit, a veteran journalist at Maariv, the sister publication of The Jerusalem Post, have taken him to a lie detector test, and each time he was found to be telling the truth.
Under the terms of the contract, Netanyahu could not travel abroad without his wife, if the visit demanded an overnight stay. She was allowed to attend all classified meetings and would have the final say on the appointments of heads of Mossad and Shin Bet as well as the IDF chief of staff. She would handle all the finances, and Bibi was not permitted to have a credit card. Should Bibi break the agreement, all joint assets would be transferred to Sara. There were several other clauses in the agreement which were all to Sara Netanyahu’s benefit.
Although everyone whom Caspit spoke to about Artzi testified to his integrity, something compounded by the polygraph tests, the story sounds far-fetched for two reasons.
Sara had more to lose than Bibi if the marriage ended in divorce. His first marriage broke up because he had an affair. His second marriage also broke up, though not for the same reason, and neither breakup was detrimental to his career.
Aside from that, Neeman was a true Israeli patriot as well as a brilliant lawyer. He never would have endangered the future of the country by giving Sara Netanyahu so much power.
As for Shimron, would he really be party to a measure that could do so much harm to one of his relatives?
As for Bibi himself, as a soldier he courageously fought off terrorists – and he can’t handle his wife? But then there is so much testimony to support the clauses in the contract that Artzi says he read, even though Shimron vigorously denies that a meeting such as the one Artzi describes ever took place.
In 1996, Doron Neuberger, who was the first husband of Sara Netanyahu, wanted to publish a book about their seven-year marriage. A court order put an end to that ambition. But with hindsight, perhaps it should have been published so as to shed some light on the character of one of the country’s most public, albeit unelected figures.
■ FOR SEVERAL days now, all media genres – print, electronic and social – have given exorbitant space and time to revelations about ZAKA rescue and recovery organization founder and chairman Yehuda Meshi Zahav, who is allegedly a sexual predator whose victims allegedly included children – both boys and girls, haredi women, married and divorced, prostitutes and more. Apparently, his exploits were well known in the haredi community, but hardly anyone ever lodged a complaint with the police.
For people outside the haredi community, it is very hard to digest that someone who has done so much good in bridge building between religious and secular Jews, between Jews and non-Jews, and between Israelis and people of other nations, could do all the evil that has been attributed to him. As far as some of the male victims were concerned, they have said that they were very young, sometimes as young as five, when he allegedly caressed their genitals. They didn’t even know that he was doing something wrong, because in the haredi community, there is very little if any sex-oriented education till a short time before a young man or a young woman is about to be married. When a haredi girl or woman is raped, she is usually too embarrassed or afraid to tell anyone, and has to bear the trauma alone and unaided.
■ CHICAGO-BORN Jewish outreach educator Jeff Seidel is known for hanging around the Western Wall on Friday nights and during Jewish festivals to help Jewish students and tourists from English-speaking countries to find home hospitality for the Sabbath or festivals, because he believes that people-to-people contact is a major component in fostering and strengthening Jewish identity. He also finds home hospitality for locals who haven’t received an invitation from anyone, and he has just put out the word again that anyone in need of a Seder should contact him on WhatsApp at 052-286-7795 or at jeffseidel.com/pesach
No one should be shy about calling him. 
■ IT’S HARD to imagine that the beautifully landscaped secret garden in Jerusalem where Maor Wolf celebrated his bar mitzvah last Saturday was once the soccer stadium adjacent to the Jerusalem YMCA. Replete with elegant walkways, a fountain and a stream and built-in seating in part of the stonework, it has for several months served the congregants of the Ohel Yitzhak synagogue as a place of prayer. In fact, it is so pleasant, and so easy, because of its design, to have separate men’s and women’s sections, divided by a white wicker screen that some of the congregants may well be reluctant to go back inside, once that is permissible. Even the chairs were not of the plastic variety favored by other groups that pray outdoors, but were nicely upholstered and comfortable.
Maor is the grandson of Marcel and Suzanne Hess, formerly of Switzerland. Marcel Hess was known for many years as “the sausage king,” continuing the culinary art that he learned from his father. He prided himself that his sausages won blind tasting international competitions despite the fact that his entry was the only one with kosher meat.
In Israel, the Hess family had a deli, restaurants and a meat processing plant, but they eventually got out of business, though two of their children, Doron and Daliah, the mother of the bar mitzvah boy, ran their Jerusalem operations for a couple of years before closing down. Doron and his wife now live in Sofia, Bulgaria, and were unfortunately unable to return to Israel for the family celebration, due to the conditions imposed on travelers from abroad.
A large proportion of the congregation consisted of Maor’s friends, who closed in on him after he completed reading his Torah portion and pelted him with candy. They later joined his five siblings and three cousins in serenading him. In addition to the regular adult worshipers, there was also a sprinkling of Jerusalem’s Swiss community.
All the Hess offspring have inherited culinary skills. Maor’s sisters Ronith and Shiran, together with their brother Janir, prepared the sumptuous and beautifully presented kiddush, which included a variety of hygienically sealed sandwiches. Some of the fruit was scalloped and cut in thin, uniform slices, which collectively formed a riot of color on every platter. The pièce de résistance was a two-tiered cake frosted in blue and white and topped with chocolate tefillin (phylacteries).
The cake was made by Maor’s 14-year-old cousin Shani Golan, who loves to bake, and has a great knack for it, as demonstrated by the variety of sweet pastries that she also made. She lives in Ra’anana with her parents, Chantal (Hess) and Mordechai Golan. Young though she is, Shani is well known for her birthday, bar mitzvah and wedding cakes. She also bakes cakes for Shabbat for family and friends, and receives a lot of orders.
Marcel Hess, who in addition to his sausages is well known for his cholent, prepared a huge pot of the traditional Sabbath fare, which proved to be a big hit, despite the warmth of the weather.
■ TO CELEBRATE the reopening of hotels, Ronen Nissenbaum, the president and CEO of the Dan Hotels chain, and Matan Lerner, the general manager of the Dan Caesarea Resort Hotel, in conjunction with American Express, hosted leading chef Yossi Shitrit, within the framework of a culinary weekend. Even chefs don’t get free lunches, and Shitrit worked for his supper as well, cooking alongside the hotel’s executive chef Daniel Fogel.
Hotel guests thoroughly enjoyed Shitrit’s purely Mediterranean menu, which was highlighted by local products coupled with culinary creativity. Difficult though it was, the hotel’s operations were run in strict accordance with Health Ministry guidelines.
■ ON WEDNESDAY of last week, Thai Ambassdador Pannabha Chandraramya opened her home in Herzliya Pituah to not one but two culinary events to promote the taste of Thai. The morning event, held in conjunction with the International Women’s Club, was for charity, and the second was for Friends of Thailand. The IWC event was on behalf of No2Violence, with each of the guests making a donation of NIS 150.
In both cases, authentic Thai chefs – headed by Banjongjit Buasawai, the executive chef at the Royal Thai Embassy, along with sous-chefs Somsri Kladsuk and Phuangphloi Setthaphanphisit – gave a demonstration of the basics of Thai cuisine, making sure that what they prepared was easily adaptable to the kosher kitchen.
Everyone present, also had the opportunity to cook and taste to see if they had caught the knack of Thai culinary traditions.
Among the participants at the afternoon event was well-known food blogger Niv Gilboa, who specializes in videotaped restaurant reviews, which he uploads on YouTube.
The ambassador also showed her guests a Thai recipe book from which they could glean more mouthwatering Thai dishes. The foods that guests cooked and tasted included Thai green curry with chicken and avocado, fried salmon with tamarind sauce, and Thai-style stir-fried glass noodles, using genuine Thai ingredients, which they were able to purchase afterward. All the ingredients used are readily available in Asian grocery shops throughout the country.
To ensure that anyone wanting to try their hand at cooking at home would not rely on memory alone, each guest was presented with a Thai cookbook, courtesy of the Thai Office of Commercial Affairs in Tel Aviv.
■ QUITE A number of British immigrants to Israel were born and raised in the East End of London, and many of them know one another from childhood. Some will even remember the legendary Miriam Moses, and will take delight in accepting the invitation of the Jewish East End of London Facebook group to join their virtual cinema presentation of The Life and Times of Miriam Moses at 5 p.m. London time, 7 p.m. in Israel, and noon on EDT, on Thursday, March 18. The free, online screening is being shown as part of Women’s History Month. The documentary, originally made in 1997, is part of the group’s recently digitized collection, and pays tribute to a Jewish East End icon.
Miriam Moses OBE (1886-1965) was a social activist, reformer and the first female mayor of the London borough of Stepney. She was also the first Jewish mayor in the United Kingdom.
Known as the “Angel of the East End,” Miriam Moses began her social work at the age of 18. This film follows her various achievements, from her time as a nurse, her contributions to the Jewish League for Women’s Suffrage, and the founding of the Brady Girl’s Club in 1925, which provided essential aid and social support to local Jewish families and children. The documentary can be seen via the following link: 
https://www.facebook.com/ents/277771563692234/?active_tab=about
■ HISTORY, LIKE beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and the memory of history is often fickle, selectively retaining what we want to believe and developing amnesia on issues that we would prefer to forget or ignore.
Israel prides itself on having a moral army, and indeed the values of the army per se are indeed moral, but not all the soldiers in the army live up to those values, and some soldiers desecrate them. While the army investigates such cases, the findings, if published at all, are underplayed both by the army and the media because we must not allow such incidents to shake our faith in who or what we believe we are.
The same holds true for any other country, including Poland, which prefers to believe that none of its citizens collaborated with Nazis, and if there were any who did, according to a flurry of recent Twitter accounts, they were Poles of the Jewish faith. Yes, there were some Jews who collaborated. It’s an undeniable fact. But in most cases, they did so in the hope of saving their families or other members of their communities. That doesn’t excuse collaboration; it merely explains it. A similar rationale can be applied to some Polish collaborators, but not to all, because Poland was also rife with antisemitism.
All this preamble leads to an international conference, on Wednesday, March 17, under the title “Between Memory and Amnesia: Facing the past in Poland.”
Speakers include Prof. Jan Grabowski, University of Ottawa; Prof. Havi Dreyfus, Tel Aviv University; Prof. Omer Bartov, Brown University; with Dr. Laurence Weinbaum, Israel director of the World Jewish Congress and the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, as moderator.
The conference will be broadcast at 12 EST, 5 p.m. Warsaw time, and 6 p.m. Israel time. To register, google “Between Memory and Amnesia https://ws.eventact.com,” or go to: https://ws.eventact.com/33210?webid=23003286819
■ THROUGHOUT HIS career as a member of the Jerusalem City Council, MK, speaker of Knesset, minister and in his current role, President Reuven Rivlin has always been a champion of Jerusalem. When greeted during interviews on radio or television, he almost invariably replied with “Shalom” or “Good morning from Jerusalem.” At events at the President’s Residence, he often tells the story of his ancestors who came to Jerusalem in 1809. When accepting the credentials of new ambassadors, he sometimes urges them to persuade their governments to move their embassies to Jerusalem.
So why, when he decides to spruce up the contents of his wardrobe, does he go to Tel Aviv? Rivlin was seen this week in the Gan Ha’ir shopping mall, being fitted for a new suit. There are plenty of good menswear stores and fine tailors in Jerusalem. One only has to look at the elegant suits generally worn by members of the Sephardi community to see the proof of this. There was indeed a time when Jerusalem was limited fashion-wise, but that was many years ago. Today, Jerusalem can definitely hold its own in comparison to Tel Aviv, and if the president, who is so deeply identified with Jerusalem, needs a new suit, he should surely look a little closer to home.
■ ON THE subject of Jerusalem, it’s interesting that those countries that have chosen to have diplomatic representation in the capital have chosen different parts of the city. Guatemala established its embassy in the Malha Technology Park, which is also where the new address of the Embassy of Honduras will be, whereas the Embassy of Kosovo, headed by Ines Demiri, is across the other side of town in the capital’s Talbiyeh neighborhood, less than a five-minute walk away from the extension of the Czech Embassy.
The US Consulate, which is also close by, and whose operations were transferred to the US Embassy in Arnona during the tenure of ambassador David Friedman, is reverting to its former role under the Biden administration, and will mostly serve Palestinians seeking visas to the United States.
■ LESS THAN six months after his previous meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, who has been very busy of late, is scheduled to again meet with him on Wednesday, in Moscow.
Although Ashkenazi has said that he will quit politics after the elections, it all depends on whether or not a new government can be formed. In the event that Israel will once more go to the polls this year, an interim caretaker government will remain in place until the next elections. This means that even if Blue and White fails to cross the electoral threshold, the Blue and White ministers will remain in office.
This also means that in July, whoever succeeds Rivlin as Israel’s 11th president will be making a historic decision in that, by that time, it is most unlikely that Netanyahu will be given yet another opportunity to form a government. But for the moment, it is somewhat interesting that both Rivlin and Ashkenazi are this week talking to counterparts in four countries about Iran, the International Criminal Court and Syria.
Rivlin took a very early morning flight to Berlin on Tuesday, and will return to Berlin after meetings in Vienna to stay in Germany overnight. On Thursday, he will leave Berlin for Paris, and from there, will return to Israel.