Grapevine November 22, 2020: A presidential perk – a trip to the Dead Sea

After the partial relaxation of restrictions, so many people stood in line for hours to get into stores that were open for business.

RIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu greets US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wearing a Stars and Stripes mask (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
RIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu greets US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wearing a Stars and Stripes mask
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
One of the perks of being the president or the prime minister of the State is that one can go almost anywhere including places forbidden to or out of the range of the hoi polloi. When President Reuven Rivlin’s schedule for the week was released last Sunday, there was nothing of a news nature listed for Thursday, but on Wednesday night there was an update to inform journalists that the president was going to the Dead Sea to meet leading figures from the tourist industry, as well as Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen, to discuss the extent to which the tourist industry and those who work in it were harmed by lockdowns imposed as a means of preventing the spread of coronavirus. Although hotels in the area have reported a spate of reservations, few, if any, are actually full, because a lot of people have gone back to work, a lot are still staying home to supervise those of their children who have not yet gone back to school and a lot don’t have the money to stay in a hotel. What is interesting is that after the partial relaxation of restrictions so many people stood in line for hours to get into stores that were open for business. It’s a known fact that shopping is part of the Israeli DNA, but considering the number of jobless individuals and married couples and the uncertainty of the future, the number of would-be shoppers in cities around the country, was simply astounding.
■ PATRIOTISM CAN be expressed in many ways. In Britain for instance, its quite common to see T-shirts in which the whole front is taken up by a print of the Union Jack. In certain countries, men’s ties bear a national symbol or are striped in the national colors. When US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Israel last week, he came off the plane wearing a Stars and Stripes mask, which, when all is said and done, is more universally American than apple pie.
■ WHOEVER THOUGHT that life would be easier in a hi-tech era has learned that the opposite is true. The dissemination of information has become faster which means that people who want to stay ahead of the game or at least keep pace with it, have to work much longer hours. Case in point is veteran military reporter Carmela Menashe, believed to be Israel’s first female military reporter on radio, who at 4 a.m. on Wednesday reported on the Israeli air strike against Iranian and Syrian military installations near the Israeli border, and updated the report several times throughout the day. On the previous day, she had been heard on both daytime and evening broadcasts, but she did not sound the least bit tired. Although it is no longer unusual for female reporters to focus on military issues, it was an historic moment some 30-plus years ago when Tali-Lipkin Shahak (then Tali Zelinger), was appointed the military correspondent for the now-defunct Davar. She was a second-generation military reporter. Her father, Azariah Rapoport, had been Israel’s first-ever military correspondent. Aside from gender, what was somewhat surprising about Lipkin-Shahak’s appointment was that up until then, she had been a fashion writer. In reporting on this new development in her life and in Israeli journalism, The Jerusalem Post ran a headline “From tank tops to tanks.”
■ EACH YEAR, on the anniversary of the death of Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, the university that bears his name awards Ben Gurion prizes. This year the ceremony, at 6 p.m. on November 22, will be held virtually, meaning that one of the recipients Dr. Tal Zaks, who is head physician at Moderna – which has encouraging results in developing a COVID-19 vaccine – will virtually return to his alma mater. Other recipients are: Dr. Yunis Abu Rabiya, the first Israeli Bedouin to earn a medical degree; Ann Berger, CEO of the Rosetrees Medical Research Fund; Benny Biton, mayor of Dimona; Dr. Shmuel Cabilly, groundbreaking medical scientist; Dr. Hilla Hadass, executive director of Enosh – the Israel Mental Health Association; representatives of the Kfar Rafael Remedial Community; Prof. Varda Shoshan-Barmatz, the director of the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev; and Caroline Simon, honorary member of the Ben-Gurion University Board of Governors and a long-time supporter of BGU’s Faculty of Health Services.
■ RETIRED AMBASSADOR Victor Harel, who has a reputation for speaking his mind, wrote an op-ed article that was published in Haaretz last week in which he told US Ambassador David Friedman that he hoped that Friedman was prepared to submit his resignation to the outgoing president as all US ambassadors in the world are required to do. Harel wrote that, in his opinion, Friedman was the most political and least professional US ambassador to serve here. Furthermore, he accused Friedman of violating the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which explicitly forbids ambassadors and other members of the diplomatic corps from interfering in the internal politics of the countries in which they are serving. Harel continued on this route, saying that the appellation of “the settler’s envoy” that was given to Friedman was entirely apt. He concluded the article by writing he will not shed a tear when Friedman is gone.
Friedman may lose his diplomatic status, but there is no guarantee that he is going away. His predecessor, Dan Shapiro, is still here, meaning that he’s been in Israel for almost a decade. Friedman owned an apartment in Jerusalem long before he was appointed ambassador, and he has immediate family living in Israel, as well as many close friends on both sides of the Green Line. He could very well decide to stay and to lobby on behalf of his friends living in the disputed territories.
■ MANY PEOPLE who have emerged from a sense of despair after undergoing therapy say that what helped was that the therapist listened. One of the most common complaints from people from all spheres of life who are confronting severe problems is that nobody listens. This complaint has frequently been heard among the various groups of demonstrators – especially those who have lost their jobs and their income – but even more so by a strata of society for whom decisions are made without them ever being consulted. Prize-winning broadcaster Keren Neubach – who is a multi-directional social entrepreneur who tackles bureaucratic problems, the inadequacy of mental health facilities, the lack of sufficient shelters for battered women, plus a whole batch of other issues that could easily be resolved, if the decision makers would only listen – decided on the International Day of the Child to give the microphone to children who are the most vulnerable victims of the pandemic. While most children who contract the novel coronavirus recover quickly, and in the majority of cases their illness is relatively mild, their education is suffering badly. After interviewing the very bright and articulate Lily Yanai Ben Yaakov a little over a week ago and being impressed by some of her insights, Neubach brought her back on the program last week to co-anchor telephone interviews with children from all over the country. Most are far from enamored with Zoom because studying this way does not replace the individual attention of the teacher. Kids realize that teachers are also having a difficult time with Zoom, but acknowledge that they are trying hard to do their jobs properly and are giving more of themselves than they might do under ordinary circumstances. More than one caller said no one listens to school kids, and that they would love to speak to the education minister to tell him what bothers them. Others who come from large families explained the difficulties of Zoom lessons when there are several siblings studying at the same time. Not every family with seven or eight children can afford to give each of them a personal computer. In some places there is also an intellectual barter system conducted on social media platforms, whereby a student who is good in one subject but weak in another does a trade-off to coach another student in his good subject while being coached in turn in the subject in which he falters. The initiative for this came from a yeshiva student, because in yeshiva students study in pairs in the hevruta system, whereby they intellectually bounce off each other.
■ OVER THE past few years, the United Arab Emirates has made great efforts to present itself as a friendly, tolerant country that welcomes people of all faiths, and in 2019, the country lived up to this by having a year of tolerance, during which time plans were announced for the construction of a mammoth interfaith compound in Abu Dhabi to be known as the Abrahamic House. Within the compound, there will be several houses of prayer, including a synagogue. This and more will be discussed by Ross Kriel, the president of the Jewish Community Council of the Emirates in a Zoom program to be held on Sunday, November 29 at 8 p.m. (Israel time) under the auspices of the Herzliya Cultural Group. Kriel will discuss what normalization with Israel means to the Jews of the UAE and what it will eventually mean to world Jewry. The lecture is free of charge, but pre-registration is required. For registration and the link, contact Werner Bachmann – [email protected]