Grapevine October 10, 2021: Check mates

Several former heads of state and government have made return visits to Israel after leaving office, but none more so than former UK prime minister Tony Blair.

 WORLD CHESS champion Gary Kasparov (right) plays against Natan Sharansky during a simultaneous match against 25 competitors in Jerusalem in 1996.  (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)
WORLD CHESS champion Gary Kasparov (right) plays against Natan Sharansky during a simultaneous match against 25 competitors in Jerusalem in 1996.
(photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Several former heads of state and government have made return visits to Israel after leaving office, but none more so than former UK prime minister Tony Blair who continued to visit as the representative of the Quartet and also by invitation to receive Honorary Doctorates and to participate in international conferences. He’ll be back again at the end of November along with other international headliners: cyber expert and chess champion Gary Kasparov and Mikhail Khodorkovsky who was once believed to be the wealthiest man in Russia.

Khodorkovsky’s wealth was acquired by his obtaining control of a number of Siberian oil fields and unifying them under the name of Yukos which became one of the leading companies that resulted from the privatization of Russian state assets. In 2003, he was arrested and charged with fraud and his assets were frozen by Vladimir Putin. In 2005, Khodorkovsky was sentenced to nine years in prison, and while there was further charged with embezzlement and money laundering. After prominent German politician Hans Dietrich Genscher lobbied on his behalf, Putin pardoned him and released him from prison in December 2013. It was widely believed that Khodorkovsky had been framed for political reasons. One of his good friends and former business partners is billionaire philanthropist Leonid Nevzlin, a former software engineer who has lived in Israel since 2003, and was responsible for saving what was then Beit Hatfutsot, the Jewish Diaspora museum, from closure. 

Nevzlin’s daughter Irina, who is married to MK Yuli Edelstein, and who is a contender for the chairmanship of the Jewish Agency, has for several years headed the Board of Directors of the museum and oversaw its massive transformation project during which it was renamed the ANU Museum. She is also president of the Nadav Foundation that was established by her father and the founder and chair of IMPROVATE, the company bringing Blair, Kasparov and Khodorkovsky to Israel to join hi-tech executives from around the world at a Jerusalem-based conference on innovation.

■ AT THE three-day Israel Agricultural Science Conference held in the first week of October, with some 800 online and in-person participants, special recognition was given to BARD (the US-Israel binational agricultural research and development fund). Prof. Yoram Kapulnik was honored with a plaque at the opening session “In appreciation of your support of agricultural research and marking 35 years of activity of the Va’adia-BARD postdoctoral fellowship program.”

The Va’adia-BARD postdoctoral fellowship program, founded in 1979, is designed to identify and support young scientists who will eventually become leaders in agricultural sciences and technologies in universities and research institutes in the United States and Israel. The primary objective of the fellowship is to enable these young scientists to acquire new skills and techniques while becoming professionally established in the agricultural research community. The program promotes cooperative agricultural research between postdoctoral fellows from one of the two countries and established scientists from the other.

In its years of operation, the program funded 270 fellows. There are currently 17 fellows who are conducting post-doctoral research funded by BARD post-doc grant. Many of the program’s graduates are part of the academic community who teach and conduct research in agricultural science.

■ “FORSAKE ME not in my old age,” the verse from the 71st Psalm, which has been incorporated into Jewish prayer services, apparently has little value for Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority according to a recent article in Yediot Aharonot by Sivan Hilai and Israel Moskowitz. Senior citizens of a triple digit age were surprised by an advertisement in the Hebrew Press calling on people aged 110 and over to contact them with current personal details. Anyone who fails to do this, will be erased from the population registry. Although this falls in line with the law of the land, what it means in essence is that anyone who has reached this age will be deprived of their senior citizen’s pension, unless they comply with the regulations. Although it is unlikely that many people would live to such a venerable age, there are apparently some 1,500 individuals in Israel who qualify, and who do not receive their pensions and who have lost their right to vote because it is presumed that they have died in Israel (or abroad) and that their families have failed to notify the local authorities in accordance with the law. The Population Authority is legally obligated to annually send a notice by registered mail to inactive members of the population to notify them that without proof and updated details that they are still living, their names will be eliminated from the population registry. Some people take great exception to this law, among them Alec Gilad, 82, of Kibbutz Dafna in the Upper Galilee. Gilad’s mother Heinka Gilad three months ago celebrated her 110th birthday, and whose mind is still working well. “She is the diamond of our family, and I’m embarrassed to tell her that her name could disappear from the population registry.” He regards the law that could bring this about as shameful. Most of the people of his mother’s age were pioneers as she was, he says, and should be treated with more respect.

Another example of insensitivity towards senior citizens was published in Haaretz. Reporter Bar Peleg wrote about Barbara Gretz, 93, who is confined to a wheelchair in her apartment in a dilapidated old building in Raziel Street in Ramat Gan. Electricity and water have been cut off for the whole building, and Gretz who lives there under the Public Housing Act, is the only person left in the building which is destined for demolition. Neither Amidar nor the developer of the project to be built on the site, notified her. There is nowhere for her to go until welfare and housing authorities find alternate accommodation for her. Until then, she’s stuck. Gretz, originally from Switzerland, arrived in Israel in 1967, and was placed in an immigrant absorption facility where she stayed for a year before being transferred to the public housing apartment in Ramat Gan. Two weeks ago, someone knocked on her door and asked if she wanted to see a new apartment. Gretz was surprised. She has had very little to do with her neihbors, because of her confinement to the wheelchair, and so she was unaware that they had all left. Her nephew Roni Rotem, who for years has helped her to navigate Israel’s bureaucracy, is the person who deals with Amidar on her behalf. But he too was not notified that the building was being evacuated. Once he realized what was happening, he moved in with his aunt to prevent her from being forcibly evicted. Two days later, he saw that some unidentified people had removed all the solar energy collectors from the roof and had thrown them on the ground. An investigation by the Haaretz reporter indicated that the decision to tear down the building and build another in its place, was made four years ago, but neither Gretz nor Rotem had been informed. The actual evacuation date for residents of the building was known in June of this year, but when an Amidar representative paid an annual inspection visit to Gretz’s apartment in that very month, there was no mention of the evacuation. On learning about Gretz’s misfotune, Danny Gigi, the chairman of the Public Housing Forum said that urban renewal should be first and foremost a social benefit, but it has become a system of greed to enrich the wealth of developers, who use every possible means of getting hold of existing apartments, by making tempting offers and promises to residents who sometimes have to wait for many years to move back into their homes.

■ IT’S NOT only housing which is affected by urban renewal. Proprietors of business ventures also pay a heavy price. In Jerusalem, the introduction of the light rail into Emek Refaim will negatively impact not only its residents, but shops, restaurants and coffee houses. In Tel Aviv, it will be much worse. One of the first things that Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli was able to achieve after lengthy negotiations with the Tel Aviv Municipality, the Finance and Housing and Construction ministries and the Israel Lands Authority, was to clear the South Tel Aviv central bus terminal which accommodates buses from all over the country in a large multi-story area – built some thirty years ago – to replace the smaller central bus terminal some ten minutes’ walk away. While it is admittedly an eyesore, the central bus terminal in addition to being a transport hub, also has scores of shops and eateries where a huge variety of merchandise is available at affordable prices. It also houses cultural and religious ceters. The much more modern bus terminal in north Tel Aviv, has far fewer shops and eateries, and no room in which to absorb those from south Tel Aviv. Nor does it have enough room for all the buses whose routes will be dispersed to other parts of the city. While the evacuation will not take place overnight, and may even take a few years, it would be foolhardy not to build a sophisticated modern central bus terminal somewhere in the southern area, before demolishing the existing structure.

■ THE ANNUAL Jerusalem Marathon Winner which was not held last year when the coronavirus scare was at its peak, will definitely be held this year. The date is Friday, October 29, and registration closes on October 23. At the time of going to press, more than 10,000 runners from all over Israel and abroad have signed up, including professionals who will compete in the special 10-km. run. Altogether runners have the choice of a full 42.2-km. marathon a half marathon of 21.1 km., a 5-km. run, a family run of 1.7 km. and a community run of 800 m. Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion said that after a hiatus of more than a year, it will be a pleasure to return to regular activities of this kind. He hoped that the runners would not only enjoy the race, but also the beautiful scenery of the capital. He seemed to have overlooked the fact that this scenery is marred by construction cranes, partially completed building projects and ditches for infrastructure.