Grapevine: Move over Yuli Edelstein, here comes Miriam Peretz

A petition is being circulated for the nomination of Miriam Peretz to serve as the next president.

Miriam Peretz at the recent launch of the English translation of her bestseller, ‘Miriam’s Song.’ (photo credit: ANAV SILVERMAN)
Miriam Peretz at the recent launch of the English translation of her bestseller, ‘Miriam’s Song.’
(photo credit: ANAV SILVERMAN)
Later this year, the campaign for the election of Israel’s 11th president will begin, as President Reuven Rivlin will complete his tenure in July 2021. So far, three names have been tossed into the ring: Health Minister Yuli Edelstein; Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog; and, as part of a possible political swan song, which actually seems unlikely, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Now, there’s yet another name. It doesn’t belong to an MK. It doesn’t belong to a man. It belongs to a bereaved mother, educator, and Israel Prize laureate. A petition is being circulated for the nomination of Miriam Peretz to serve as the next president.
Peretz was born in Casablanca, Morocco, in 1954 and came to Israel with her parents in 1963. The family initially lived in a transit camp and later moved to modest housing in Beersheba. Her parents were illiterate and barely learned to speak Hebrew. Her father worked as a street sweeper, but Peretz was ambitious, and picked up the language through songs on the radio. Very early in life she understood the importance of education, and went on to gain a degree at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
Following her marriage, she gave birth to six children, two of whom, Uriel and Eliraz, were killed in the course of military service. Following Uriel’s death, her husband, Eliezer, died of a broken heart.
An educator by profession, Miriam Peretz became a school principal, but reached out way beyond the classroom to bereaved parents of IDF soldiers. She also became a kind of surrogate mother to wounded soldiers. Refusing to give in to her own sorrow, she continued to help others. Because so many people, including former US president Barak Obama, were touched by her story, she was invited to be a guest speaker at many events, where she proved to be an inspiring orator.
In 2014 she was chosen to light one of the beacons ushering in Independence Day, and in 2018, the 70th anniversary year of the state, she was awarded the Israel Prize and was asked to deliver the address on behalf of all the prize recipients. In her speech, which was constantly interrupted by applause, she asked that people respect each other and engage in discourse in which they listen to each other and work together to bring light into the world.
In September last year, Rivlin hosted the Women in Diplomacy Network which brings together Israeli women diplomats with their colleagues from other countries who are serving in Israel.
“Women have fought and continue to fight for the right to represent their countries as diplomats. The fight for equality was, and still is, a just cause, and you are proof of its success,” Rivlin told his guests, adding: “In your professional life you bring greater diversity, a different perspective and fresh thinking to the world of foreign policy conflict resolution and diplomacy. In our complex and challenging world, that has never been more important. It is not just for women to fight for gender equality. We must all demand it and work towards it.”
Rivlin singled out Golda Meir as a role model for Israeli women, and remarked that he hopes to see a woman president in coming years.
Women seem to be doing best in law-related professions, with the late Miriam Ben-Porat, a former Supreme Court judge, as the country’s only woman state comptroller; three women Supreme Court presidents; two women National Labor Court presidents; and women presidents of District and Magistrate’s courts. Dorit Beinisch, who was first woman president of the Supreme Court, was also the first woman state attorney. Having paved the way, she was succeeded in that role by Edna Arbel, and since Beinisch retired from the judiciary, there have been two other female presidents of the Supreme Court. There have been two female justice ministers, and there has been one woman governor of the Bank of Israel, though several women have headed commercial banks. Women are making increasing inroads in public life and the civil sector, and therefore 2021 may be the year in which Israel gets its first woman president.
■ GREECE ALREADY has a woman president in the person of Katerina Sakellaropoulou, who last Thursday, together with Rivlin, issued a statement marking the 30th anniversary of full diplomatic relations between Israel and Greece.
Underscored was the fact that beyond strong political ties, this relationship has grown significantly over recent years in many sectors. Israel and Greece work together in the fields of economy, defense, science and technology, as well as culture, with the Diaspora communities of the two countries playing a major role in building a bridge of friendship. The EastMed pipeline project advances energy security in the European Union and brings neighbors in the Eastern Mediterranean closer, as does tourism.
Netanyahu and his Greek counterpart, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, discussed all the above subjects and more in a videoconference at the conclusion of which they held a virtual toast. It was actually quite amusing to see Netanyahu rise from the table to hold up a glass to the big screen as Mitsotakis similarly did in Athens.
■ THERE ARE also unofficial ways of marking milestone anniversaries of relations between two countries.
On his Friday radio program on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, Yaron Enosh referred to an anecdote in a book about Shimon Peres written by the late president’s longtime friend and confidant Avi Gil, who worked closely with Peres in his various roles. Gil wrote of the time that Peres, as foreign minister, visited Greece and briefly mentioned that Peres had met with Mikis Theodorakis. Enosh knows someone who was on that trip and who supplied him with more details.
It seems that Theodorakis, one of the most outstanding composers in Greece, who had contributed greatly to making Greek music so popular in the world, could not understand why he had never been nominated for the Nobel Prize, which he believed he richly deserved. When he heard that Peres was in Greece, he sought to meet him, in the hope of learning the Jewish secret for having so many members of the Mosaic persuasion among the Nobel laureates.
Things were not going too well for Peres in Greece, and he thought that he might shake off the gloom if he went for a sail on a yacht. The Israel ambassador was asked to make inquiries. It just so happened that Minos Matsos, one of the most prominent of Greek music impresarios, was Jewish, and owned a yacht. He represented all the top singers and musicians, including Theodorakis, who naturally was on board. Peres was known to be particularly partial to tiny Greek grilled sardines, which were definitely on the menu, and thus the meeting between Peres and Theodorakis took place.
Peres was very fond of having conversations with intellectuals and representatives of the arts, and he and Theodorakis talked for a long time. When the yacht anchored on one of the islands, the two went ashore, and walked through the sand. They were seen by some youngsters who instantly recognized Theodorakis and began calling: “Mikis, Mikis.” Peres was somewhat miffed that he, who after all was an international personality, had not been recognized. Then, out of nowhere, appeared two German tourists, who recognized him straightaway and called “Shimon, Shimon.” And the situation was saved. Theodorakis asked Peres to nominate him for the Nobel Prize, but Peres never did.
Enosh, who makes a point of befriending every Israeli ambassador to Greece, interviewed current incumbent Yossi Amrani, who has been in office since September last year. Amrani said that in addition to their magnificent architecture, the Greeks are wonderful people, full of the spirit of life and oozing culture. He loves everything about Greece, including the cuisine, and he delights in going to market where he can find the largest, tastiest tomatoes that he’s ever eaten, not to mention the amazing cakes, cookies and chocolates.
■ IT COULD not exactly be considered the closing of a circle last week when 119 new immigrants from Ethiopia arrived in Israel on the official memorial day for the thousands of Ethiopian Jews who dreamed of coming to Jerusalem but succumbed to the many vicissitudes along the way, and whose dream was never realized. The date was also Jerusalem Day, so it was doubly symbolic. But perhaps even more important was the fact that the aliyah and integration minister who, together with Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog, was waiting to greet them on arrival was one of their own – Pnina Tamano-Shata.
Together with Herzog, she presented a long-stemmed red rose to each of the newcomers, including small children, for whom she bent down to speak to them at eye level. It was probably reminiscent of the fact that she herself had arrived in Israel as a three-year-old, coming through Sudan and Operation Moses. An attorney, social activist and former journalist, with a master of public policy degree from Tel Aviv University and a bachelor of laws degree from Ono Academic College, she was the first Ethiopian-Israeli woman to become a member of Knesset and also the first to become a minister.
When she came to Israel in 1984, no one in her group could imagine an Ethiopian-born minister in the government. In fact, there were people who had never previously seen a white person.
Many of the Ethiopian immigrants who came to Israel some four decades ago had a hard time being accepted by mainstream society, yet despite their difficulties, they managed to produce doctors, lawyers, hi-tech experts, senior army officers and more.
Conscious of the hurdles that earlier generations of her people had to overcome, Tamano-Shata promised to do all that she could to assist the newcomers as they start to build their lives in Israel.
Earlier in the day, at the memorial ceremony for Ethiopian Jews who died trudging through the desert while trying to get to Jerusalem, Netanyahu said that he is “very proud to head a government that has, for the first time, a minister and a deputy minister of Ethiopian descent,” adding that to see Tamano-Shata and deputy minister Gadi Yevarkan in their present positions is a landmark for the people and the State of Israel.
Politicians of Ethiopian birth or background have served in the Knesset since 1996, the first being Addisu Messele, followed by Shlomo Molla, Rabbi Mazor Bayana, Aleli Admasu, Tamano-Shata, Shimon Solomon, Avraham Neguise and Yevarkan, who have collectively represented some half dozen different political parties.
In addition to the Ethiopian immigrants last week, there were also 111 from Ukraine and 41 from Russia. Judging from Facebook queries about entry regulations, isolation, housing and employment, there are also a lot of American Jews sitting on their suitcases and waiting for the right date on which to make the migratory transition from the United States to Israel.
By the way, anyone who has not yet sampled Ethiopian cuisine and has an adventurous palate should make their way to the Empress Zewditu Memorial Building at 40 Hanevi’im Street in Jerusalem, where at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2, the Embassy of Ethiopia, in collaboration with Ethiopian restaurants, will host an event on Ethiopian cultural cuisine diplomacy, and will also promote other aspects of Ethiopian culture and tourism.
■ IN HONOR of Jerusalem Day, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo decided to name one of two lion cubs after Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion. Given the mayor’s surname and the fact that the Lion of Judah is the emblem of Jerusalem, the youngster’s name is entirely appropriate.
The cubs belong to a rare species of Asiatic lions which are in danger of extinction. These lions, also known as the Lions of Judah, lived in the Land of Israel up till the 12th and 13th centuries but disappeared as they became the victims of hunters. The two Jerusalem lions are part of an international zoo initiative to save and preserve Asiatic lions.
■ A GOODWILL gesture designed to bring fresh water to African villages in Cameroon, Madagascar and Morocco was temporarily stymied by the coronavirus pandemic. Lebanese-born Jewish billionaire art collector David Nahmad, who lives in Monaco, owns what is believed to be the largest private collection of works by Picasso, said to be worth billions of dollars.
Nahmad was persuaded to sell one of his Picasso paintings, Nature Morte, painted 99 years ago, to be the tempting prize in a raffle for the cause. The raffle was handled by Christie’s Auction House in Paris, with raffle tickets sold at €100 each. The draw was supposed to have been on March 30, but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was finally held last week, with Claudia Borgogno of Italy emerging as the winner. Considering what has happened to the world’s economy over the past two or three months, it was an excellent investment. The painting is worth €1 million. The raffle attracted more than 51,000 people who purchased tickets.
Organizers had insisted on paying Nahmad for the painting, rather than ask for an outright gift, because they thought that in this way, other collectors could be persuaded to part with various works from their collections to benefit future humanitarian projects.
■ IF ISRAEL had a Constitution, some of the legal conflicts and embarrassments that have been foisted on the nation might have been avoided. There have been efforts in the past to emulate that sector of the French Constitution that applies to criminal or civil proceedings against the president, but, in the case of Israel, to apply such conditions to the prime minister.
According to the French Constitution: “Throughout his term of office, the president is not required to testify and is not subjected to any criminal or civil proceedings, nor to any preferring of charges or investigatory measures. All limitation periods are suspended for the duration of said term of office.”
“All actions and proceedings thus stayed may be reactivated or brought against the president no sooner than one month after the end of his term of office.”
The president of France may not serve more than two consecutive five-year terms, and precisely because there is a time limit attached to his or her period of service, there is no doubt that if the president has engaged in activities that are in violation of the law, the president will eventually have his or her day in court.
In America, likewise, the president may not serve more than two consecutive terms, though in America they are for four years, not for five, but America again differs from France in that the president can be impeached. Given the chaos, bad blood, broken alliances, threats, sullied reputations, job losses, protest demonstrations, pro-Bibi campaigns, excessive deployment of police and huge financial expenditure and waste which in one way or another can be linked to the Netanyahu cases, it would seem that to mirror the French system would be in Israel’s best interests.
One of the first things the Knesset should do, in view of the fact that the passing of the Norwegian Law will make the over-inflated government even bigger and more useless than it is already, is to pass a law limiting the number of times in which anyone can serve consecutively as prime minister. Regardless of whether it’s two or three terms, the maximum has to be specifically stated and entered into law.
By the same token, the Knesset should also decide on the maximum number of people who can serve as ministers at any one time.
If, indeed, the Norwegian Law is implemented, perhaps Netanyahu will mend fences with MK Gideon Sa’ar, a former minister and former cabinet secretary, who was No. 5 on the Likud list following the Likud primaries, but for whom Netanyahu found no place in the government or at the head of a Knesset committee. Unlike some of his colleagues, Sa’ar accepted his role as an MK and nothing more without complaint. Unlike Nir Barkat, who also ended up without a prestige position, he wasn’t even promised a monthly meeting with Netanyahu.
Then again, just as Netanyahu wanted to distance Danny Danon, who in 2014 was the first person to challenge him for the Likud leadership, and sent him to be Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, he may also offer a plum ambassadorial post to Sa’ar.
■ AS FOR Netanyahu’s trial, radio listeners and television viewers will be subjected to infinite numbers of interviews with retired judges, attorneys and academics specializing in various categories of law. Curiously, Prof. Ruth Gavison, who is well respected not only in Israeli but also in international legal circles, wrote in a social media post in September that she doubted that the prime minister could have a fair trial, because he has already been tried too often by the media.
Similar sentiments were expressed this week in a radio interview with law professor and retired judge Oded Mudrik, who in the past served as one of Netanyahu’s lawyers. When asked whether he thought that the Jerusalem District Court judges who are currently assigned to one of Netanyahu’s cases would remain unaffected by what is happening outside the courtroom, Mudrik replied that he hopes so, but doubts that they could remain aloof from what the media have already decided.
The interviewer, who from time to time has been part of that kangaroo court, took umbrage, and his tone became much more aggressive as he asked Mudrik what made him think that the media have already decided. The question was almost laughable since the interviewer himself, over the course of many months, had repeatedly asked legislators and people in law professions whether they thought that someone with three indictments against him should be permitted to serve as prime minister. The question was never asked in a conversational tone of voice but in a rising crescendo.
Just how immune can three judges be? They’re only human. Are they expected to refrain from listening to news and talk shows for the duration?
Netanyahu is reputed to be a great actor, yet even though the demonstrations in his favor were organized by people in his office and by Likud functionaries, one can’t just twist the arms of a thousand Holocaust survivors and get them to come from all over Israel and stand in the burning sun. Netanyahu seemed genuinely moved when he thanked them and other supporters via Facebook. Despite all his shticks and tricks, Netanyahu is a human being, and is sensitive to situations. In one of the more humiliating days in his life, he could not help but get a boost when he saw the turnout.
■ MEDIA OUTLETS frequently report on each other, but seldom promote each other’s events. However, since Haaretz is working in collaboration with the Jewish Agency, the Ruderman Family Foundation and the Hebrew University on a Judaism, Israel and Diaspora Conference in which one of the participants will be former Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief Bret Stephens, who is currently an op-ed columnist with The New York Times, the promotion in advance of Shavuot and in the spirit of tikkun olam (repairing the world) is more or less kosher.
The conference will be broadcast live on Wednesday, May 27, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., on the Haaretz website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel, and will remain available online. Among the 24 speakers will be Rivlin, US Ambassador David Friedman, Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich, Herzog, Senior British Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, head of the 929 (Torah) Initiative Rabbi Benny Lau, French philosopher and filmmaker Bernard-Henri Lévy, president and CEO Jewish Federations of North America Eric Fingerhut and Chani Lifshitz, the codirector of Chabad of Katmandu, Nepal, who on rabbis’ orders had to withdraw from being a torch lighter at the recent Independence Day celebrations.
Although she was well known to thousands of Jewish backpackers from Israel and around the globe, the rabbis may have done her a kindness by ordering her to relinquish the Independence Day honor. The story ran like wildfire through the Jewish world and made Lifshitz much more widely known than she had been before, and excited greater curiosity about what she does and why she does it.