Grapevine March 4, 2020: Diplomatic exodus

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Guatemalan ambassador Mario Bucaro last Thursday held a simultaneous welcome and farewell at the Guatemalan residence in Jerusalem’s Yemin Moshe neighborhood.
Although few people are as much in love with Jerusalem as Bucaro, he left this week after only 18 months in the country because he received a promotion which he couldn’t refuse. His new posting is that of Guatemala’s ambassador to Mexico, which is Guatemala’s most important diplomatic mission.
Other ambassadors who left recently include Ecuador’s Maria Gabriela Troya, Greece’s Elias Eladis and China’s Zhan Yongxin. Panayotis Sarris, the Greek ambassador-designate, is already in Israel.
The new Chinese ambassador, Du Wei, arrived on February 15, and was immediately quarantined, so it was not until this week that he got to meet the who’s who in the Foreign Ministry, where there was a little consternation prior to Du’s arrival. Several staff members were somewhat nervous about his presence despite reassurances from the Health Ministry.
Ambassadors due to leave in coming weeks include Nigeria’s Enoch Pear Duchi, Canada’s Deborah Lyons and Malta’s Cecilia Atardi Pirotta.
■ DIPLOMATICALLY SPEAKING, February 27 was quite an important day in Israel. In addition to Bucaro’s farewell luncheon, Japanese Ambassador Koichi Aiboshi and his wife, Motoko, hosted a reception honoring the birthday of Emperor Naruhito. It was also the national day of the Dominican Republic, with Ambassador John Guiliani hosting a reception, and it was also the 30th anniversary of the resumption of full bilateral ties between Poland and Israel, the major celebration of which will be on June 4, when Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski will host a conference on Polish-Israeli youth, university, professional and city exchanges at Hamishkan Music and Arts Center Ra’anana.
On the actual anniversary date itself, Magierowski tweeted a photograph and mini biography of Polish-born Mordechai Palzur, who was Israel’s first ambassador to Poland following the reestablishment of diplomatic relations. Palzur has held numerous diplomatic positions but remains strongly connected to Poland and his native city of Tarnow.
On February 26, Ambassador to Poland Alexander Ben Zvi presented medals on behalf of Yad Vashem to descendants of 10 Righteous Among the Nations who had saved the lives of Jewish adults and children. Three of the deceased were also posthumously conferred with honorary Israeli citizenship.
Deputy Speaker of the Polish Parliament Malgorzata Gosiewska, who also participated in the awards ceremony at the Polin Museum of the History of the Jews of Poland, said that Poland was the only country in which the Germans had imposed the death penalty for anyone aiding Jews. She stressed that thousands of Poles had risked their own lives and those of their families to help Jews who were fleeing the barbarity of the Germans.
The Guatemalan luncheon was attended by most of the Latin American ambassadors and embassy staffs, as well as some ambassadors from other countries. Meron Reuben, the Foreign Ministry’s chief of protocol, presented Bucaro with a JNF tree certificate attesting to the fact that 18 trees have been planted in his name in the Ambassadors’ Forest in the Negev.
Also present were representatives of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem Development Authority and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, Rabbi Yosef Garmon, Roberto Spindel, the president of the Israel-Latin American Chamber of Commerce, and Guatemala’s most long-standing friends in Jerusalem, Werner and Pamela Loval, who served in the Israel Embassy in Guatemala when it first opened 60 years ago. The couple have a permanent souvenir of Guatemala. One of their daughters was born there, and Werner has for many years been the honorary consul for Guatemala in Jerusalem. The Lovals have made a point of befriending every Guatemalan ambassador to Israel.
At the luncheon Bucaro, noting the embassy’s return to the capital, said: “We were the first.” He was speaking of the original opening of the Guatemalan Embassy in 1955. At that time, Guatemala was the first country to open a legation in Jerusalem, and also the first Latin American country to open an embassy in Israel.
Though unable to attend, because he was on the election campaign trail, Foreign Minister Israel Katz sent a letter thanking Bucaro for the excellent work he had done in heightening Guatemala’s profile in Israel.
Bucaro, who declared himself a Zionist, said that he was concluding his role as Guatemala’s first ambassador to Israel in the 21st century, and opening a new chapter in his life. He thanked Mexican Ambassador Pablo Macedo for all the help he had given him since his new appointment was announced.
Referring to Mexico as Guatemala’s big brother across the border, Bucaro noted that, in addition to the embassy, there are 14 Guatemalan consulates in Mexico. One of the things he intends to do in his new capacity is to increase the fight against antisemitism.
Bucaro promised that he would promote Jerusalem wherever he went in the world, saying “diplomacy helps to make things possible.” He suggested to all his guests that they pray for the peace of Jerusalem. “It doesn’t have to be in a church or a synagogue,” he said.
He also said that just as Israel has created green corridors with the planting of trees, Guatemala intends to do the same. Speaking privately to The Jerusalem Post, he said: “I am a Zionist and I will stay a Zionist, and I will return to Jerusalem.”
■ AT THE evening reception at the Japanese residence in Herzliya Pituah, there were fewer guests than usual. Some had also been invited to the Dominican Republic national day and had opted to go there or to go there first, and others, such as a large group of Japanese businesspeople, plus an Israeli pop culture personality, had to stay away because they were in quarantine.
Sheldon Ritz, the Dan Hotels director for sales to embassies and government ministries, who had been at the Guatemalan event earlier in the day, rushed into the Japanese residence for a quick hello and goodbye while on his way to Ben-Gurion Airport, from where he was taking a plane to the US to attend his first-ever AIPAC Policy Conference. He was very excited to be invited, not only because of what AIPAC represents, but also because it gave him an opportunity to do some additional networking.
■ GUESTS ENTERING the Japanese residence could not help but admire the display of exquisite figurines marking Japan’s Hinamatsuri doll festival, celebrated annually on March 3 in honor of female children and their continued health and happiness.
The ambassador empathized with those Israelis who had been quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, and said that he was happy to have read about the return from Japan of Rachel Biton, whose photo he had seen. “She looked to be in good shape,” he said.
Among the worst hit in Israel by coronavirus is El Al, the national airline, which has lost tens of millions of dollars in canceled flights. Aiboshi said that he had received a phone call from El Al CEO Gonen Usishkin informing him that the launch of direct flights to Tokyo would not take place as planned.
However, Aiboshi was optimistic that the virus will have abated by the time that the Israeli Olympic team has to leave for Tokyo, and expressed the hope that athletes would return to Israel with many medals.
Representing the government was Agriculture and Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, who took time out from the election campaign to pay tribute to Japan, which in 1952 was the first Asian country to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. He described Japan as “Israel’s oldest friend on the Asian continent.” While both Israel and Japan lack natural resources, he said, they are each blessed with ingenuity and an indomitable spirit.
The two countries enjoy economic, scientific, technological and cultural cooperation, and ties strengthened by the visits of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Japan. The two countries are currently negotiating for a free trade agreement. Mutual trade between the two countries is in the range of $3.9 billion. Hanegbi also referred to Japan’s valuable contribution to regional stability in the Middle East.
■ JUST A month after addressing OurCrowd, and two weeks after actually joining OurCrowd, Jason Greenblatt, former US special representative for international negotiations and one of the chief architects in the drafting of President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” is back in Israel to discuss the plan, not with Israeli politicians but with members of the Israeli public.
Greenblatt will be a member of a panel that includes Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Brett Stephens, formerly an editor-in-chief of the Post, a former Wall Street Journal editor and columnist and currently a columnist with The New York Times. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who will act as moderator, is a broadcaster, lecturer, writer of books and widely syndicated columnist.
The three will get together this coming Saturday, March 7, at 8 p.m. at Social Space in Tel Aviv’s Kikar Atarim on the beach end of Ben-Gurion Boulevard. The event is hosted by the Tel Aviv International Salon, which specializes in organizing events for young professionals in their 20s and 30s.
Greenblatt, who was born to Hungarian refugee parents in Teaneck, New Jersey, is a real estate lawyer by profession and one of the closest and most trusted advisers to Trump, with whom he has worked for close to quarter of a century, which certainly beats most of the high-ranking people who have passed through the Oval Office during the Trump administration, with the notable exception of US Ambassador David Friedman, who is also a lawyer, who has worked with Trump since 1994.
■ FORMER AMBASSADOR to Egypt Zvi Mazel had not planned to celebrate his 81st birthday by delivering a lecture to the Herzliya Cultural Group, which meets at the Seven Stars Residence, usually on Thursday mornings. Mazel, who turned 81 on March 4, was actually scheduled to speak to the group on March 26, and former ambassador to the US Michael Oren was scheduled to speak on March 5 about US-Israel relations and whether the “Deal of the Century” is doable.
But Oren happens to be on a lecture tour in the US, and was unable to return in time. The two former ambassadors swapped dates, and Mazel will be speaking on Thursday about Israel-Egypt relations, and will pay tribute to former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who died last week and who, during his presidency, had met with Mazel many times.
■ FOR MORE than a year now, Yehoram Gaon, singer, actor, director, moderator, author and more has received accolades in honor of his 80th birthday, which was actually celebrated near the end of December last year.
Long before that, Gaon was invited to sing at the Nobel Prize Awards ceremony when Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat were Nobel Peace Prize recipients. Ten years later, Gaon was awarded the Israel Prize. In 2017, he was one of the torch lighters at the opening of the Independence Day ceremony on Mount Herzl. The following year, Gaon was one of the recipients of the Jerusalem Prize awarded by the Besheva media group. Last summer, there was a tribute concert for him at Safra Square in Jerusalem, where front row members of the audience included Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion.
Among the most recent tributes to Gaon was that of the Rimon School of Music, which last week dedicated a gala evening to Gaon at the Beit Lessin Theater in the presence of his family, his close friends and the many supporters of the 35-year-old Rimon School, which is widely regarded as one of Israel’s leading music schools. Rimon currently has 600 students. Many of its alumni are leading figures in Israel’s entertainment industry.
The program included a large selection of Gaon’s most popular songs, including one that was written for him last year by Idan Raichel, and which Gaon dedicated to his granddaughter who was sitting in the audience. Gaon also sang duets with some of the Rimon students and businessman and philanthropist and chairman of the Friends of Rimon Udi Angel, who is well known for his love of Hebrew songs.
Gaon, who was born in Jerusalem, and who is a former deputy mayor of the city and holder of the arts and special education portfolios, is strongly identified with Jerusalem, even though he no longer lives there. Jerusalem is referred to as the City of Peace, but in fact it is the city of controversy, and Gaon is the subject of a current controversy, because he has been included among the 12 recipients who will be named Yakir Yerushalayim on Jerusalem Day. Not everyone in the capital is happy about that, despite the fact that Gaon’s repertoire almost always includes songs about Jerusalem and that he made a documentary film titled I am a Jerusalemite.
There have been some nasty comments on social media stating that there are more deserving people who actually live in Jerusalem. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of the other people being honored with the title Yakir Yerushalayim were not born in Jerusalem, whereas Gaon is a native son.
In an interview with the local Jerusalem tabloid Kol Ha’ir, Gaon said that to be named Yakir Yerushalayim meant more to him than receiving the Israel Prize or lighting the beacon on Independence Day.
■ THERE ARE quite a number of milestone anniversaries this year, not the least of which is the 100th anniversary of the San Remo conference in which David Lloyd George of Britain, Alexandre Millerand of France, Francesco Nitti of Italy and Keishiro Matsui of Japan came together in the Italian resort city to decide on the future of conquered Ottoman territories in the Middle East. Other representatives at the historic meeting were from Greece and Belgium.
To commemorate this event and its implications for the Middle East in general and Israel in particular, more than 200 people gathered in Canberra, the capital of Australia, to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, which is perhaps more fragile than it was in previous years. The initiative for a Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem breakfast on the island continent came from former MK Robert Ilatov, who while a legislator was chairman of the Christian Allies Caucus, and Albert Veksler, a staunch Christian Zionist. Because the caucus is strongly affiliated with the Knesset, the prayer breakfast in Australia was held in Canberra’s old and current houses of parliament.
The caucus encourages Jewish immigration to Israel and is active in combating antisemitism, anti-Zionism and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement – all of which were discussed at the prayer breakfast.
As far as is known, this was the first time that a caucus Jerusalem prayer breakfast was held in Australia. It was organized by Jane O’Neil and Jamie Pryor and attended by both federal and state politicians, as well as prominent political figures from New Zealand, Fiji and other Pacific islands. Both Ilatov and Veksler, who also lives in Israel, traveled to Australia for the event. On an official level, Israel was represented by Ron Gerstenfeld, the No. 2 at the Israel Embassy. Zionist Federation of Australia head Jeremy Leibler was unable to attend, and the ZFA was represented by a former president, Ron Weiser. Leibler sent a letter of appreciation for the caucus’s unwavering support in the face of rising antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiments around the globe.
■ MANY GOOD-HEARTED people prefer to make charitable donations by giving of their skills – gifts that are sometimes worth more than a monetary contribution. Jerusalemites Devorah Wolf and Marcel Rebo are cases in point.
She’s a cosmetician and makeup artist, originally from Australia. He’s a master hairstylist who lived in America for many years and had some of the top Hollywood stars as his regular clients. Wolf and Rebo have salons a couple of doors away from each other near the capital’s main luxury hotels. While each has celebrity clients, they like to devote their skills to making ordinary people feel good about themselves, and they do this on a philanthropic basis.
Last week, they took a group of volunteer girls who are part of the Bnot Sherut Bodedot program run by Nefesh B’Nefesh for lone civilian volunteers who have no family in Israel.
Almost everyone knows about lone soldiers. In addition to lone soldier programs run by Nefesh B’Nefesh, there are several other organizations that do their best to provide the comforts of home for lone soldiers. Such young men and women are also included among the 120 outstanding soldiers who are honored annually at the president’s Independence Day ceremony.
But few people know about the lone civilian volunteers, who get far less recognition than the lone soldiers. Many such volunteers spend a gap year between high school and university in Israel. Some come for only a few weeks or a few months. The majority belong to various Zionist youth movements, but there are many religiously observant young women who are not affiliated with such movements, and who come under the wing of Nefesh B’Nefesh.
It was a group like this to which Wolf and Rebo applied their skills last week. Wolf always tries to give her pro bono clients tips on how to apply makeup to improve their appearance while maintaining a natural look. Rebo cuts and styles their hair in a way that enables them to care for it themselves afterward.
This week, their skills will be devoted to 10 teenage girls from Shalva who were all born with Down’s syndrome. Wolf is going to teach them how to properly apply makeup, and Rebo will give them hairstyles that are most flattering to them. Few things beat the reward of seeing happy faces after a makeup treatment and a new hairdo
■ WHAT GOES around comes around. Former MK and former head of the Labor Party Shelly Yacimovich was a longtime radio and television broadcaster before entering the political arena. Now that she’s stepped away from politics, she’s going back to where she started her broadcasting career – namely, Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, where on Wednesday evenings at 5, beginning tonight, she will cohost a 90-minute current affairs program with another former MK, Yigal Gueta of Shas, who resigned his seat in the Knesset after making it public that two years earlier he had attended his nephew’s same-sex wedding.
Gueta joined KAN in January 2018. At one stage, he was also given his own television show, and in addition to broadcasting with Ran Binyamini and Yacimovich, he also has his own Friday radio show. Binyamini’s last broadcast with Gueta was on Tuesday. As of Wednesday, Gueta will be broadcasting daily with Yacimovich.
■ THE MOST common definition of democracy is government of the people, by the people, for the people. In other words, when the majority of eligible voters elect a party and its leader, it is incumbent on the rest of the population to accept the result.
When he went to vote on Monday, President Reuven Rivlin said that Israel doesn’t deserve another awful, grubby election campaign, and that he hopes this would be the last time he would be voting during his presidency.
It’s no secret that Rivlin was reluctant to previously task Netanyahu with forming a government, but it’s possible that he may have no choice, or alternately, he may have to choose someone else from the Likud.
That would be a very interesting situation, as the next person on the Likud list is Yuli Edelstein, whose goal, according to the pundits, is succeeding Rivlin in July 2021. Would Edelstein want to be the next prime minister, and, if not, would Rivlin make his choice in relation to the list, or would he choose No. 4, Gideon Sa’ar, who worked so hard to enable Rivlin to become president?