Grapevine, October 2, 2020: New man from down under

The movers and shakers of Israeli society.

ISRAEL AMBASSADOR to Vietnam Nadav Eshcar and Vietnam’s Minister for Agriculture Nguyen Phu at Hanoi airport to farewell Vietnamese students who have to come to Israel to study agriculture in the Arava. (photo credit: AICAT)
ISRAEL AMBASSADOR to Vietnam Nadav Eshcar and Vietnam’s Minister for Agriculture Nguyen Phu at Hanoi airport to farewell Vietnamese students who have to come to Israel to study agriculture in the Arava.
(photo credit: AICAT)
Australia’s new ambassador to Israel, Paul Griffiths, arrived last week and presented his credentials to Meron Reuben, the Foreign Ministry’s chief of protocol. Although it was known for some time in various circles both in Australia and in Israel that Griffiths would be succeeding Chris Cannan, his appointment was held under wraps even after Cannan returned to Australia almost a month ago. Griffiths posted on social media that he was on board and looked forward to continuing Cannan’s excellent work. Even though he’s been in the country for more than a week, his presence was not immediately made known on the website of the Australian Embassy, which continued this week to list Cannan as the ambassador. No doubt that Griffiths, like his immediate predecessors Cannan and Dave Sharma who is now a member of parliament in Australia, will take a keen interest in the Malka Leifer case, which has been a matter of diplomatic embarrassment to Israel, due to the long delay in extraditing the former principal of a Melbourne religious school for girls who is wanted in Australia on 74 counts of sexual abuse of her former students.
The case has dragged on for several years, with Leifer feigning mental instability in the hope that the courts will rule she is not fit to stand trial.
Australian prime ministers, members of parliament and the attorney-general have consistently raised the issue with their Israeli counterparts, and the matter was also raised with President Reuven Rivlin by visiting Australian dignitaries – as well as when he was in Australia early this year.
After examination by a psychiatric panel, which pronounced her mentally fit, the Jerusalem District Court ruled last month that Leifer, who has evaded extradition since 2014, can be extradited. Dassie Erlich, Nicole Mayer and Elly Sapper, three sisters who were sexually abused by Leifer, have led the campaign to have her brought back to Australia to stand trial.
The sisters have come to Israel several times for Leifer’s court hearings, and among the Australian expats who gave them moral support was Manny Waks, who himself was the victim of sexual abuse by two staff members of the Chabad Yeshiva in Melbourne where he was a student. Some of his siblings were also abused. Waks, who was born in Israel but raised in Australia, reported the abuse to the school administration, which chose to do nothing. Waks later lodged a complaint with the police, who were equally lax in taking action. With the aim of saving other children from the traumas that he had experienced, he went public, eventually winning his case in court and causing much turmoil in the Jewish community where several people had no choice but to resign from leadership positions. When he initially went public, Waks, who now lives in Israel and who returned when he was 18 in order to do his army duty before completing his university studies in Melbourne, was ostracized by many of the people who had been part and parcel of his life. But there were many others who appreciated what he had done and who joined organizations that he founded in order to combat child abuse.
Waks, who is in frequent demand as a public speaker in Israel and abroad, recently launched another organization VoiCSA(voice against child sexual abuse) which includes a broad global coalition of Jewish religious and lay leaders. Among his successes with another similar organization was changing the statute of limitations in New York in relation to the Child Victims Act.
His book Who Gave You Permission? is now available.
The Sapper sisters were ecstatic when they learned of the ruling of the Jerusalem District Court, but their joy was somewhat premature. Leifer can still appeal her extradition, and before she is extradited, her case has to be reviewed by Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn. If there is another election in the interim, Nissenkorn won’t have much time in which to review the case. Whatever happens, it’s doubtful that the Sapper sisters will have closure before late 2021.
COVID-19 TRAVEL restrictions notwithstanding, and lockdown taking a toll on education among other things, young people from different parts of the world are still coming to Israel to study, including a group of agricultural students from Vietnam, who made history by arriving on the first direct flight from Hanoi International Airport to Ben-Gurion Airport. They were seen off in Hanoi by Israel’s ambassador to Vietnam Nadav Eshcar, and Vietnam’s Minister for Agriculture Nguyen Phu. The students are now in quarantine in Jerusalem, but will proceed to the Arava International Center for Agriculture Training (AICAT), whose director, Hani Arnon, lauded Eshcar along with Vietnam’s ministry for agriculture, the Oleco company and the Israel embassy for their joint effort in repatriating 135 Vietnamese students who had been stranded in Israel during the previous lockdown, and bringing an additional 240 students from Vietnam to study advanced agriculture methods.
■ EVANGELICALS WERE absent this year from High Holy Day services at synagogues in central Jerusalem. The Evangelicals who come each year under the auspices of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, arrive in the capital to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles during Sukkot. Many come a week or a few days early, and like to come in groups to synagogue services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. On average, some 5,000 come from a hundred different countries. This year, according to ICEJ President Dr. Jürgen Bühler, a record turnout was expected, but lockdowns, travel bans and social distancing put an end to months of planning, and the Feast of Tabernacles, for the first time in 40 years, will be online.
There will be rich content, but it will not be the same as the festive gatherings of bygone years. It is doubly disappointing for those who hoped to participate, because this year marks the 40th anniversary of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, which was founded in September 1980. Among the many activities during the Feast of Tabernacles is a colorful parade through downtown Jerusalem, in which many of those waving to the local crowds wear the national costumes of their respective countries. There is great disappointment not only on the part of the ICEJ and the thousands of Christians who had planned to be in the Holy City, but it is also a major blow to Jerusalem’s tourist industry in terms of loss of potential revenues.
As far as Sukkot is concerned, that too will be disappointing in that there will be no open house this year at the President’s Residence. Since the days of Israel’s second president, Yitzhak Ben Zvi, there has been an open house at the President’s Residence on Sukkot, with people coming from all over the country to wish the president well and to try to have a photo taken with him. The president has a small symbolic sukkah that he decorates together with local children, but the large sukkah is usually decorated by the Agriculture Ministry with creative arrangements of Israeli fruits and vegetables, some of which are quite exotic and rarely seen in supermarkets or open-air markets. That’s not going to happen this year, and by next Sukkot there will be a new president, who hopefully will be able to welcome the national human mosaic. The blessing of the priests (Birkat Kohanim), which annually brings thousands of people to the Western Wall, will be significantly reduced this year. Rivlin’s virtual sukkah will be accessible to the public on October 6 between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. at www.sukkot-president-science.co.il.
■ ANYONE WHO has an interest in the Grimaldi royal family of Monaco knows that its current ruler, Prince Albert II, is passionately involved in environmental issues and has actively promoted environmental causes for many years. He has led a number of environmental initiatives, both local and international. In 2006, he established the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation which advances environmental protection and sustainable development, supporting studies and research on environmental issues, technological innovation and social awareness practices.
In June, 2018, the prince visited Tel Aviv University, where he received an honorary doctorate and met with researchers in various fields of sustainable development.
The subject is very close to his heart, which is why he gladly accepted the invitation for an online meeting on the subject with entrepreneur investor and philanthropist Aaron G. Frenkel, Colin Price, head of the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, as well as head of the Frenkel Initiative for Combating Pollution and Nico Roseberg, a sustainability entrepreneur and Formula One world champion.
Their discussion, which centered on environmental issues and sustainability development was also attended by TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat and Prof. Francois Heilbronn, president of the French Friends of Tel Aviv University, who acted as moderator.
TAU and Monaco have had a collaborative relationship for several years. In December 2017, a TAU delegation participated in a gala event focusing on the environment, smart cities and ecology, in collaboration with the Prince Albert Foundation.
The following year, when the prince received an honorary doctorate from TAU, it was in recognition of his deep commitment to preserving the environment for future generations, while promoting collaborations for finding solutions to problems of climate, water and ecosystem diversity.
In Monaco in September, 2019, TAU launched the Frenkel Initiative for Combating Pollution. This initiative, supported by Aaron Frenkel, is a continuation of the joint agreement for combating pollution signed during Albert II’s visit to TAU. “Many organizations headquartered in Monaco are now in contact with scientists from Tel Aviv university, working on different projects aimed at combating pollution. Frankel voiced the hope that others will join him and create a momentum of projects for bettering the countries in which they live and the world as a whole.
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