Grapevine: Not in tune with the occasion

On issues of racism, memories are quite long, and therefore Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, should have perhaps given more thought to who he invited to sing at the UN.

NECHAMA RIVLIN with the late Aharon Appelfeld. (photo credit: FACEBOOK)
NECHAMA RIVLIN with the late Aharon Appelfeld.
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
While few would dispute the haunting quality of the amazing voice of singer and songwriter Amir Benayoun, who is one of three top-ranking Israeli singers who will appear in a Holocaust Remembrance Day recital at the United Nations in New York, some might wonder at the wisdom of having him perform at an event that, aside from being a commemoration, is also a declaration of opposition to all forms of racism.
In November 2014, Benayoun was disinvited from the President’s Residence, where he had been scheduled to perform at an event commemorating the expulsion of Jews from Arab Lands. But he fell out of favor with President Reuven Rivlin when he released a new song under the title “Ahmed loves Israel.” The song is about an Arab student in Jerusalem who Benayoun calls “ungrateful scum, who will stab you or eventually shoot you in the back....” Rivlin, who has dedicated himself to national unity and to reconciliation between different sectors of Israel’s population, was livid, and absolutely refused to have Benayoun perform in the President’s Residence.
On issues of racism, memories are quite long, and therefore Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, should have perhaps given more thought to who he invited to sing at the UN at a time when people around the world are reminded of the worst form of racism in contemporary history.
Still, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev must be very pleased that in addition to Benayoun, Danon invited singers Miri Mesika and David D’Or, none of whom is Ashkenazi.
■ FOR THAT matter, Rivlin, whose ancestors came from Lithuania to Jerusalem, during his meeting this week with Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide, spoke about Jews who had come home to Israel from all the lands of Jewish dispersion and had all become Israelis. Nonetheless, Rivlin, who was born in 1939, nine years before the creation of the State of Israel, called himself a Palestinian, and said that of his nine grandchildren, two were Yemenite with dark complexions, two were Moroccan, one was Iraqi and the rest were of European background. “Unfortunately no one is perfect,” he said of the latter.
■ OTHER VISITORS coming soon from Norway are the members of the Satyricon black metal band, formed in 1991 in Oslo. The band’s first three albums typify the Norwegian black metal style, but since its fourth album, which was released in 1999, the band has also included elements of traditional heavy metal in its repertoire. Satyricon was the first Norwegian black metal band to join a multinational record label, and signed up with EMI. The band is scheduled to perform at Barby in Tel Aviv on January 24.
■ IN RECENT weeks, Rivlin, who is a voracious reader, and who together with his wife, Nechama, visits book fairs and cultivates people who have contributed to Israel’s literary output, has been among the eulogizers of literary giants Nava Semel, Ronit Matalon and Aharon Appelfeld.
Thus, it was a joy for the Rivlins last week to be able to attend an event in celebration of the launch of a book by Haim Be’er, who published an anthology of some of his writings over the past 50 years. The event was held last Thursday at the Konrad Adenauer Center in Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim neighborhood.
Before lauding Be’er, Rivlin paid tribute to Appelfeld, who died in the predawn hours of that day. Quoting something that Appelfeld himself had said, Rivlin characterized literature as something that brings light out of the darkness. Appelfeld not only knew how to bring the light out of the darkness but knew how to enlighten humanity with his great ability to create light, after rising from the ashes of the darkest period in human history, said Rivlin.
Referring to Be’er as “my younger Jerusalem brother,” Rivlin reminisced about the days when Jerusalem was smaller and more intimate. Rivlin said that he himself might not understand so much about being a wordsmith, “but I understand Jerusalem with all my heart.”
With that particular understanding, he credited Be’er for his ability to share so much of the Jerusalem experience with his readers by resurrecting buildings that no longer exist and drawing images of the city’s characters, whose memories are buried in the dust of time. Rivlin said that the book is not only intellectually inspiring but spiritually uplifting.
■ IT WOULD seem that there are some areas in which Israel’s legal system is superior to that of the United States.
In attempting to take legal action to prevent the distribution of Fire and Fury, which purports to tell the inside story of chaos in the White House, President Donald Trump’s angry reactions to material in the book have served to turn it into a best-seller, probably way beyond the interest it might have generated had he simply done nothing.
In Israel it’s much easier to prevent publication of a book that might be damaging to someone’s character. In 1996, Doron Neuberger, the first husband of Sara Netanyahu, decided to publish a tell-all book reportedly with embarrassing details about her mood swings and what she was prone to do in anger. A court order temporarily prevented the book’s publication. In the end, the book never saw the light of day, but even without it, the pervasive unflattering comments about Sara Netanyahu, in particular the manner in which she treats her staff, continue unabated.
■ BETWEEN HAVING to deal with problems related to his wife and his elder son, not to mention investigations into his own conduct and the kangaroo court conducted by a large representation of the media, it is a miracle that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can continue to function as he does. Regardless of the eventual outcome of the investigations, his abilities call for admiration.
As for son Yair, despite his apologies for anything he may have said under the influence of alcohol in the hot-potato recording that has now become a media delight, and his contention that what is heard on the recording does not reflect his real views, the Talmud states that when a person is inebriated, his true character comes to the fore and he can be measured bekiso (by his pocket), bekoso (by his cup) and beka’aso (his anger). In other words, if he has had too much to drink, he cannot prevent the truth from coming out of his mouth. It was bad enough when Yair Netanyahu took the family dog for a walk and refused to pick up its droppings from the pavement. Some of his Facebook comments have also embarrassed the prime minister. But this most recent revelation tops them all.
■ THE BATTLE between Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is, according to some political pundits, not just a matter of who is stronger and who hopes to one day succeed Prime Minister Netanyahu, but is more personal than that. It’s a vengeance game in which Kahlon is allegedly getting back at Barkat for refusing to support him when he formed Kulanu and was running for the Knesset. Kahlon’s brother Kobe Kahlon, who was a deputy mayor of Jerusalem and had served in various positions on the city council for seven years, resigned in mid-2015, and it was rumored that there was bad blood between him and Barkat that was related to the fact that Barkat had not backed Moshe Kahlon.
■ DUTCH FOREIGN Minister Halbe Zijlstra, who took office in October 2017, is currently in Israel and is bound to get more than the usual red-carpet treatment, in appreciation of an op-ed he wrote in 2015 in the NRC Handesblad daily that was highly critical of the nuclear deal with Iran that was led by the Obama administration, calling it a historic error. Pro-Palestinian elements in the Netherlands regard him as being very pro-Israel.
■ AS ISRAEL celebrates the 70th anniversary of its independence, popular French Algerian singer-guitarist Enrico Macias, who is Jewish and has been to Israel many times, will come on a weeklong tour in celebration of his personal anniversary – his 80th birthday. He will be accompanied in concert by the Ra’anana Symphony Orchestra. The tour will begin on Thursday, May 24, in Beersheba, and will continue through to Tel Aviv, Petah Tikva, Ashkelon, Haifa and Jerusalem, with a grand finale in Netanya, which, with its large French population, is considered to be the Nice of Israel.
Macias, whose real name is Gaston Ghrenassia, will actually turn 80 on December 11, but decided that May is a more appropriate time for him to be in Israel. He has been to Israel periodically since 1964, and after he was banned for many years by Arab countries, he was invited by president Anwar Sadat to perform in Egypt.
■ ACCORDING TO law, former prime minister Ehud Olmert still has to wait another six years plus a few months before he returns to the political arena, if he cares to do so – by which time he will be almost 80 – but by then he may not care to. He is still in demand as a speaker at home and abroad, and has no problem in giving in-depth talks in English or Hebrew without resorting to notes.
Last month he spoke at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, at the invitation of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. The moderator was Daniel Kurtzer, a former US ambassador to Israel and Egypt, and now the S. Daniel Abraham professor of Middle East policy studies at Princeton University.
Kurtzer was one of the few people who asked Olmert about his conviction. Most of the other questions centered on the status of Jerusalem, threats to Israel’s security, the twostate solution and the failed peace process.
■ APPROXIMATELY 250 students from 13 academic institutions throughout Israel last week participated in the national conference of the Israel Model UN Association hosted by Bar-Ilan University. Conveying images strikingly similar to real-life UN delegates, the students, dressed in suits, simulated UN activities, sought solutions to pressing international issues and honed their negotiating skills and public speaking, research and policy-making abilities. The aim of the organization is to train the next generation of Israeli diplomats and global leaders.
Speakers at the conference, which was conducted in English, included former ambassador to the US and Deputy Minister Michael Oren, association president Gavriel Ben- Haim and Naama Levy of the UN Department at the Foreign Ministry.
Emphasizing the importance of public diplomacy, Oren, in his opening remarks, said, “Hamas and Hezbollah have understood that the real battle is in the propaganda arena. Israel must understand that beyond military and technological [warfare] and cyberwarfare, we must fight for the world’s public opinion. Countries of the world vote against us at the UN. India, not long ago, supported the cancellation of Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, and has already canceled a multimillion-dollar missile deal. All this, despite the good relations Israel has with India.
“In order to preserve and strengthen our right to exist, Israel must act in the public diplomacy arena,” he declared. The great difference between Obama and Trump, he said, “is that Trump sees Israel as a solution rather than a problem. Israel fought for its right to exist. We need to sharpen our battle through public diplomacy against organizations or people who oppose the existence of the State of Israel.”
Stating that his generation fought wars, Oren said “our time is slowly passing. The role of the current generation is to advance Israeli diplomacy and to repair Israel’s image around the world. That is the role that I bestow upon you model UN’ers.”
The conference at Bar-Ilan University is the second of six conferences organized by the association for this academic year. The conference was organized for the third consecutive year by Bar-Ilan’s Model UN Society. In addition to conferences, students of the Israeli Model UN Association participate in weekly training sessions, enrichment workshops led by senior diplomats, delegations to various countries, and various projects in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry, foreign embassies and the Knesset.
■ THE ETHNIC genie has once again escaped from the bottle. Although people of North African background have reached the pinnacle in almost every field in Israel, they have not done so in relation to their ratio in the population, and even the successful ones talk of discrimination and racism. In an interview on Kan 11, comedian Tom Aharon, who is a very funny guy and extremely popular, said that when he was progressing in his career, there were remarks such as “here comes another Franc.”
Hey people, it’s 2018. Why should ethnic differences matter? Decency, talent, skills, intelligence and knowledge should be the factors taken into consideration, not the color of someone’s skin, the shape of their nose or the slant of their eyes.
■ WHEN HADASSAH-Israel decided to present Pamela and Werner Loval with the Builders of Jerusalem Award, it wasn’t the kind of presentation that an organization simply makes to a big donor. Not that the Lovals have shirked in contributing to Hadassah, but they have pioneered and contributed to so much more in Jerusalem, though neither is a native Jerusalemite.
She was born in England and came to Israel to join her father, who was a volunteer in the Hagana. Werner Loval, who was born in Germany, and whose original surname was Loebl, went to England on a Kindertransport – but that was not where he met his future bride. After the war he was reunited with his parents, who had managed to get to Ecuador. After his father died, he and his mother moved to the US, where he was drafted into the army before becoming a citizen. When he came to Israel, he desperately wanted to be a diplomat and joined the Foreign Ministry. At the same time, he was active in the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, and it was at a joint meeting in Jerusalem of AACI and Hitachdut Olei Britannia that he met a pretty young woman by the name of Pamela Sabel. There was an instant attraction, and they were married at the King David Hotel in 1956.
In 1960, Werner was one of the initiators of the capital’s Nayot neighborhood, where he and Pamela and their four children lived for many years. He was also one of the founders of Kehilat Har-El, which on January 19 and 20 celebrates its 60th anniversary.
The Lovals also served Israel’s interests abroad in various embassies in Latin America, and Werner continues to be the honorary consul of Guatemala in Jerusalem. In 1960, he was appointed deputy chief of mission in the new Israel Embassy in Guatemala and was also accredited to El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama. He was later assigned to Mexico.
On his return to Jerusalem at the end of the 1960s, he established a small real estate company, which quickly evolved into Anglo-Saxon Jerusalem – and became a veritable empire.
Pamela worked in the Israel Embassy in Guatemala. After the Lovals returned to Israel, she worked in the public relations department of the Hebrew University and became personal assistant to university president Avraham Harman, who was a former ambassador to the US and who praised her for her ability to interact well with other people and to keep classified information classified.
Pamela subsequently worked as the personal assistant to Aura Herzog, when her husband, Chaim Herzog, was president of the state. Pamela is a lifelong member of Hadassah and supports the Hadassah Tamar Chapter. She is active in the International Women’s Club, the Friends of the Hebrew University, the International Council of the Israel Museum and Rotary Jerusalem. She’s also an avid Scrabble player.
Among the guests at the presentation was Guatemalan chargé d’affaires Carlos Meyer. Also invited was Carla Gracia Granados, the granddaughter of Guatemala’s first ambassador to Israel, Jorge Garcia Granados. Previously married to a former El Salvador ambassador to Israel, she now heads the giant Mexican mining and steel company Altos Hornos, which is trying to redevelop the Timna copper mines near Eilat. Granados was out of the country. Otherwise she would have been present.
Although Pamela is 81 and Werner 91, he was not the oldest person in the room. That honor went to Hadassah stalwart Ruth Richman, who is also a member of the Tamar Chapter, and who moved to Israel with her late husband in 1992. Richman recently celebrated her 104th birthday, doesn’t look anywhere near her age, and has all her faculties intact.
Werner is usually the spokesman for the family, but this time he gave the honor to Pamela, who said that he actually has a longer association with Hadassah than she does. While at the Foreign Ministry, he was charged with escorting Eleanor Roosevelt and her granddaughter Nina during their visit to Israel, and the itinerary included the Hadassah Youth Aliya children’s village and Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem. The tour also included a visit to a Beduin encampment near Beersheba, where Eleanor Roosevelt purchased a baby camel for her granddaughter, to Nina’s great delight, but US authorities made it clear that it could not enter the country, so Nina gave the camel to a poor Beduin boy. Another connection mentioned by Pamela was that her eldest son Jonathan was part of the architectural team that designed the Hadassah Mother and Child Center.
Proceeds from the event went to Hadassah’s neonatal unit, with which several of those in attendance had a connection. Dorraine Gilbert Weiss has a Haredi paratrooper grandson who spent the first weeks of his life in the neonatal unit, and Danby Meital has a son who also spent his first weeks there and who is now a fine young man.
Guests in general represented milestones in the Lovals’ social and community circles, including residents of Nofei Yerushalyim, a retirement complex for active senior citizens, to which they moved from Nayot in 2008.
Hadassah-Israel’s fund-raising project for 2018 is a rehabilitation center for wounded soldiers and victims of terrorism.
■ A TWEET from Doron Bainhorn featured a video that showed the positive side of a traffic jam in Gush Etzion. The music blasting from a Breslov vehicle had a greater effect than blaring horns of impatient drivers, and a Palestinian and a Breslov Hassid danced around each other in joy. “Music has charms to soothe the savage breast,” wrote William Congreve in The Mourning Bride in 1697. It was relevant then, and it’s obviously relevant now.
■ WHEN HE was a yeshiva student, Deputy Defense Minister Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, the eldest of five brothers, also worked as a delivery boy, rising very early in the morning to deliver baked goods to pastry shops before buckling down to his studies. He never learned any culinary skills himself, and admitted in a radio interview to Emily Amrusi and Yuval Elbashan that he can’t even make an omelet for himself. But he’s very good at cleaning house, ironing and folding clothes. When asked about his favorite music, the Moroccan- born Dahan surprised his interviewers by saying that he likes to listen to the songs of the Red Army.
Amrusi and Elbashan come from different sides of the political fence, and their sparring is often interesting, as are the points on which they agree. What they have in common is that both are divorced with children, and neither bad-mouths the former spouse. After interviewing Dahan, Elbashan admitted that housekeeping is not his forte and said that, since his divorce, his clothes are always wrinkled. He asked Dahan if he could call him to get some tips.