Grapevine November 13, 2020: The protocol triumvirate

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

From left to right: Gil Haskel Talya Lador-Fresher and Meron Reuben. (photo credit: SHLOMI AMSALEM/GPO)
From left to right: Gil Haskel Talya Lador-Fresher and Meron Reuben.
(photo credit: SHLOMI AMSALEM/GPO)
A most unusual sight at the President’s Residence this week was a protocol triumvirate. The occasion was the presentation of credentials by new ambassadors. Usually, a separate presentation ceremony is held for each ambassador, who is led into the hall with pomp and ceremony after inspecting a military honor guard and listening to his or her country’s national anthem played by a police or military band.
Waiting to greet the new ambassadors are President Reuven Rivlin and senior members of his staff, together with appropriate representatives of Israel’s Foreign Ministry – namely, the people with whom each ambassador will have dealings in the future.
As the first ambassador was Malta’s Patrick Cole, the senior member of the Foreign Ministry was Deputy Director-General for Europe Talya Lador Fresher, who five years earlier had left her post as chief of state protocol to become Israel’s ambassador in Vienna, after which she served briefly as Consul General in France. She was succeeded as chief of protocol by Meron Reuben, who is about to leave for the United States where he will be Israel consul general in Boston. Reuben has been succeeded by Gil Haskel, who was previously head of MASHAV, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation.
Last week, Reuben officially conducted his final introduction, but was suddenly back on Wednesday to introduce the new ambassador of Cyprus, Theodora Constantinidou, explaining, “I started with Cyprus and I end with Cyprus.”
Needless to say, the three chiefs of state protocol could not resist posing for a photo.
Cole will be in great demand in Israel’s business community. He has more than 30 years’ experience in the private sector in business development and building strategic partnerships in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
His immediate predecessor, Cecilia Attard Pirotta, was a tireless advocate for improving relations between Malta and Israel, and on her return home, was appointed ambassador for women, peace and security. With all the specially invented ministries in Israel to accommodate coalition partners in the government, it’s doubtful that any future prime minister will create a parallel ministry to that in Malta.
Constantnidou’s immediate predecessor, Thessalia Salina Shambos, also did an amazing job in enhancing relations between Cyprus and Israel, and was constantly on the run between meetings and conferences. Moreover, she was living proof that feminism and femininity are not a contradiction in terms. She worked as hard if not harder than any of her male colleagues and always looked as if she had stepped out of the cover of Vogue, replete with the highest imaginable stiletto heels. Today, she’s the political director at the Cyprus Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Following the presentation of credentials by the last ambassador for the day, President Rivlin walks him or her out of the building in order to be able to thank the military honor guard for their services. He usually explains something about the ceremonies that took place and then goes back inside.
Each ambassador’s exit is accompanied by the band playing “Hatikva,” followed by a stirring melody with a march-like beat. Prior to restrictions imposed by COVID-19, there would be a large honor guard assembled in the forecourt of the presidential complex, while the band stood by the pergola leading into the building.
Due to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, the greatly reduced honor guard stood in the position previously occupied by the band, and the band stood behind a hedge in the garden, directly behind the honor guard.
Rivlin took up the position of conductor, and after the music stopped, he explained to the soldiers that the ambassadors came from countries on four continents: Europe, Australia, South America and Asia. It’s hard to tell whether or not the soldiers were impressed.
■ SHE MIGHT not be the oldest reader of The Jerusalem Post, but Holocaust-survivor Fania Dunetz, who turns 100 on November 15, is definitely one of the most faithful.
“I’m a reader. I read The Jerusalem Post every day,” says Dunetz, who immigrated to Israel at age 88 and resides in an assisted living facility in Jerusalem.
Although she has been isolated twice due to coronavirus concerns in her environment, Dunetz herself is not afraid. After all that she’s been through in her life, she says, a pandemic does not scare her. She’s just annoyed that the situation has called for her to be left to her own resources.
Dunetz’s amazing story will appear in a book called The Tunnel People, which has been written by her daughter Dr. Betty Cohen, and tells the story of 223 people who escaped via a 200-meter tunnel that some of them had built near the fence of the Novogrudok forced labor camp. Some of the escapees were later caught, but 170 were able to make their way through the forest to join the legendary Bielski brothers – four Jewish partisans: Tuvia, Assael, Zusiya and Archik – who separately and together saved an extraordinary number of Jews.
Cohen has spent 13 years researching the material for the book, which has now been edited and is ready to go to print. She has yet to find a suitable publisher, and is hoping that some academic institution whose areas of study include lessons to be learned from the Holocaust will decide that this is a series of sagas which it should publish.
■ IN HIS address to the Knesset plenum with regard to acceptance of the agreement between Israel and Bahrain, Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz suggested that while it is important to reach peace agreements with Arab states, it is no less important to make peace among ourselves. The internecine strife in Israeli society is not only between Right and Left and religious and secular, but also within political parties themselves.
This can be seen in the efforts of coalition chairman Miki Zohar and some of his Likud cohorts who are attempting to oust Danny Danon from the party following Danon’s election to the post of Likud world chairman, a position he held prior to taking up the challenging role of Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations.
When he returned home from New York, it was widely rumored that he had been tapped to be the next Israel ambassador to Australia. When asked about it by various journalists, Danon was evasive. It was as if he was waiting to see if there would be yet another Knesset election. There may well be in the near future, but meanwhile he decided to keep the world Likud chairman’s seat warm. Zohar had fancied the position, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had likewise fancied it for him, so Zohar is now doing a Donald Trump act. All that is certain at the moment is that Danon has indicated that his heart is more with politics than with diplomacy.
■ RESHET BET’S Aryeh Golan was interviewing former minister and Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin, who had been instrumental in developing the Oslo Accords, and who over the years had spent long hours negotiating with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, who died this week from COVID-19 complications. Beilin described Erekat as a true Palestinian patriot, with strong principles but with an ability to compromise, as for instance, on territory. Erekat wanted territorial contiguity for the future State of Palestine, and was willing to exchange land for land in order for this to happen. His ability to compromise on other issues made many agreements possible, said Beilin, who noted that Erekat was opposed to violence and did not see it as a legitimate means of pressure.
In line with the station’s annoying habit of cutting off interviewees in mid-sentence, Golan abruptly cut Beilin off, after he barely had time to express himself. This is now common practice on Reshet Bet, not just by Golan, but by the majority of anchors, although some are gentler than others and at least allow the interviewee to finish the sentence. There are one or two who also ignore the editor in the control room if the interview is on a very sensitive subject and the interviewee is getting hysterical. The anchor then makes an attempt to be empathetic so the interviewee will calm down, but that does not happen very often.
■ THE ISRAELI media are frequently criticized as being too Left wing in its attitude to the prime minister. Former Shas MK Shlomo Benizri takes media criticism to a more devastating level, declaring that in its incitement against Orthodox Jews, it is not much different than the antisemitic, pro-Nazi tabloid Der Stürmer. Benizri made the odious comparison in the course of an interview with the ultra-Orthodox online publication Kikar HaShabbat. Benizri was pained at the manner in which Orthodox communities were being portrayed as spreaders of the coronavirus. He considers this to be incitement, causing hatred toward Orthodox Jews by other segments of society.
“The media dance on our blood,” he declared, and noted that some people actually go out of their way to avoid any kind of contact with Orthodox Jews. Benizri remarked that the sometimes violent actions of police in trying to break up Orthodox gatherings in schools and synagogues and at weddings and funerals, was why the police were called Nazis in some ultra-Orthodox circles. He was also critical of the exorbitant fines imposed on the ultra-Orthodox community for violating lockdown restrictions, and said he perceived this as deliberate targeting.
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