Grapevine November 12: Yet another honor

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

MOSHE KANTOR (left) with Wolfgang Sobotka. (photo credit: Ouriel Morgensztern/EJC)
MOSHE KANTOR (left) with Wolfgang Sobotka.
(photo credit: Ouriel Morgensztern/EJC)

European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor has an array of awards from the governments of Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Belgium, France, Italy and Romania, as well as an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University in recognition of his work in campaigning against antisemitism and all other forms of racism and incitement, for preserving the memory of the Holocaust, for promoting tolerance and reconciliation and for actively working towards peace.

The Russian-born billionaire and philanthropist, who now lives in England, but is constantly on an international Jewish commute, puts his money where his mouth is and has generously contributed to numerous projects in the above-mentioned countries.

This week he added to his collection of awards, when he received the highest civilian award of distinction that Austria can confer – the Grand Decoration of Honour in Gold for Services to the Republic of Austria.

Wolfgang Sobotka, president of the National Council, Austria’s parliament, conferred the award in the absence of President Alexander Van der Bellen, who went into quarantine after his secretary was diagnosed with COVID-19. Sobotka described Kantor as a visionary Jewish leader, who is leading the fight against antisemitism, promoting Jewish culture and preserving the meaning of the Shoah for future generations.

When a Jewish leader is chosen for an award, the first question that comes to mind is whether to accept it or not, Kantor explained. “For me the answer to this question is whether the Jewish community is content and whether it feels that I have served its interests faithfully. In the case of Austria, I did not hesitate for one second. Today, Jews in Austria feel at home, that they are an integral part of Austrian society and that their concerns are taken into account. This decoration is not for me personally,” he insisted, “but for the Jewish community and its leaders.” Kantor thanked the Austrian government for its comprehensive response in securing and promoting Jewish life.

JONATHAN DAVIS (standing, fifth from right in dark shirt), VP of Reichman University and head of the Raphael Recanati International School, with lone soldier students. (credit: Shira Gazit)JONATHAN DAVIS (standing, fifth from right in dark shirt), VP of Reichman University and head of the Raphael Recanati International School, with lone soldier students. (credit: Shira Gazit)

Later in the day, Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai, who was in Austria as the official representative of the government at Kristallnacht ceremonies, in particular the unveiling of the Shoah Wall of Names, spoke of rising antisemitism throughout Europe and the world at large. Last year, in Austria alone, he said, there was a significant increase in antisemitic incidents, with a total of 585 hate crimes.

Antisemitism is not an issue that Israel or the Jewish world can resolve, he said. “It is the responsibility of nations and institutions around the world to take action against this ancient virus.

Kantor has spoken out on this issue many times, and when speaking to journalists on Tuesday said antisemitism as a crime, should be written into the legislation of every country.

■ FOREIGN COUNTRIES are increasing their presence in Jerusalem. Colombian President Iván Duque, who this week opened his country’s first diplomatically accredited innovation and entrepreneurship agency abroad, chose to do so in Jerusalem. In doing so, he joined Brazil, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Australia’s Victoria state, which have opened trade and cultural offices in Israel’s capital, a step widely interpreted as an initial move towards relocating embassies to Jerusalem. So far none of the governments of the above countries has indicated they are in a hurry to do so, but there are four countries with embassies in Jerusalem – US, Guatemala, Kosovo and Honduras.

Given the strong Palestinian presence in Latin America, it is a courageous step on the part of any Latin American country to set up an embassy in Jerusalem. Perhaps the time has come for Israel to also take a courageous diplomatic step and to rethink its relations with Taiwan, whose trade office under the title of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office has been functioning as such in Tel Aviv for years, because Israel, in deference to China has not agreed to full diplomatic relations, though a series of Taiwan trade office heads have been ambassadors, who have served as such in other countries.

Among them is present incumbent Paul Kuoboug Chang, who is a professional diplomat. Taiwan also has a separate trade center in Tel Aviv, and has numerous joint agreements with Israel.

■ WHAT ARE the real challenges in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute? Bren Carlill, the public affairs director of the Zionist Federation of Australia, has been engaged with the subject for 20 years and has written a book about it which will be launched on Sunday, November 14, at 11 a.m. Israel time and 8 p.m. AEDT. Carlill will be discussing its contents with Eran Lerman, former Israeli deputy national security adviser, and now vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security. The discussion will be interactive with members of the Zoom audiences in Israel and Australia joining in. Prior to the discussion, there will be remarks related to the book by ZFA President Jeremy Leibler and Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus.

■ REICHMAN UNIVERSITY Vice President and head of the Raphael Recanati International School Jonathan Davis, invited the 300 former lone soldiers in the school for pizza in the center of the campus. Many accepted the invitation, including students from South Africa, South America, the US and Australia. Davis, a former lone soldier, has a special place in his heart for others like him.

Among those attending the pizza fest was Sharon Berhovski, 24, from Germany. “I served in the Spokesperson Unit and later on as a commander in the Artillery [Corps],” she said. “My service was challenging but meaningful. I met a lot of people that I consider some of my best friends now. Luckily, I was also honored to get accepted to be a Heseg scholar, on a scholarship for lone soldiers based on personal excellence.

“A lot of my friends from the army also study here at the RU so there is quite a lone soldier community here and it is great to be with people who have a similar background to mine, and are going through the same things as I am.”

■ ALL SORTS of good things are happening as an outcome of the Abraham Accords. Delegations from Morocco and the United Arab Emirates were welcomed at the Bar-Ilan University campus in Ramat Gan this week, something that would have been an impossible dream prior to the signing last year of the accords.

A formal delegation from the UAE Ministry of Education met with Bar-Ilan leadership as a step towards building academic cooperation with broad-ranging impact.

BIU President Prof. Arie Zaban noted the significant growth in the student body over the last four years, as well as a sharp increase in STEM and artificial intelligence research. Bar-Ilan, he said, is on a clear path to becoming an innovative campus that strongly highlights the university’s innovation, collaboration and entrepreneurship among its researchers and students. “Connecting Bar-Ilan to society-at-large, industry and the international arena is part of our DNA,” he said.

In this context, he mentioned that connections with the UAE academic community have already advanced. He cited cooperation with Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi and Gulf Medical University in Ajman. “It was very emotional and exciting to establish contact and sign the agreement with GMU,” said Zaban.

A small group of Emirati students is studying online at Bar-Ilan University, noted Prof. Moshe Lewenstein, VP for international students.

Academics engaged in various disciplines at BIU spoke of their work.

“For me, the epicenter of sustainable energy research was Bar-Ilan University,” said Prof. Lior Elbaz, of the Department of Chemistry, who explained why he joined BIU after working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Elbaz, who has started an Israeli fuel cell consortium at BIU in collaboration with other universities, shared his dream to establish a Middle East collaboration with the UAE and volunteered to help set up hydrogen economy (storing energy from the sun during the day for use at night) and fuel cell projects there.

Earlier in the week, during the visit of a Moroccan delegation to Bar-Ilan, a cooperation agreement was signed.

■ VISITORS TO the Bible Lands Museum will be surprised to see the new integrated exhibition in which contemporary art is interfaced with archaeological antiquities of the region. There was a very large turnout at the opening of this new exhibition last week, though the majority were senior citizens, few of whom were able to find a seat during the drawn-out opening ceremony. Museum Director Yonit Kolb noted that the permanent exhibition teaches viewers about ancient art that has disappeared from the world, but integration with modern art is in line with the vision of the museum’s founder, the late Elie Borowski, who said the past is a foundation for the future. Curator Shira Friedman received loud cheers for having performed the mammoth task of selecting works of art that would complement the permanent exhibition, but she said it was not as difficult as it seemed because so many well-known artists have reflected archaeology in their works.

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