Grapevine October 20, 2021: A matter of ethics

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 INDIAN FOREIGN Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar (left) with Isaac Molho, chairman of the Israel Museum Board of Directors.  (photo credit: LAURA LACHMAN)
INDIAN FOREIGN Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar (left) with Isaac Molho, chairman of the Israel Museum Board of Directors.
(photo credit: LAURA LACHMAN)

It may be trite to say that power corrupts, but when we see how many elected officials are brought to trial on charges of corruption, there is no escaping this sad reality. Part of it has to do with a general lack of respect for ethics, or to be more charitable, an ignorance of what ethics is all about. The status quo perturbs the Faculty of Law at Tel Aviv University to the extent that it has organized a conference on the ethics of elected officials that will take place in the Law Faculty building on Thursday, October 21, at 4 p.m. in conjunction with the second anniversary of the passing of former Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar who was considered one of the giants of the legal profession. Opening remarks will be delivered by Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit after which there will be two-panel discussions on the ethics of Members of Knesset; and the ethics of government ministers.

The first discussion chaired by retired Supreme Court Justice Yitzhak Zamir will include MK and former minister Yuval Steinitz, Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon and former MK Haim Oron. The second panel which will include an address by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, will be chaired by Dina Zilber, a former deputy legal adviser to the government, and will include former justice minister Tzipi Livni and Prof. Asa Kasher, TAU scholar emeritus of ethics, who was a member of two commissions of inquiry headed by Shamgar. The event will include a documentary film about Shamgar, and an analysis of his contribution to Israel’s legal system from the perspectives of former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak and Prof. Suzie Navot of the Faculty of Law at the College of Management.

■ FORMER AMBASSADOR of Cyprus to Israel, the very popular Thessalia Salina Shambos, may soon be returning to Israel in another diplomatic capacity. After completing her tenure here and returning to Cyprus, she was appointed political director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and recently was promoted to director of the Ministry’s Middle East Division, which means that from time to time, she will be visiting countries in the region, including Israel, where she has many friends.

■ APROPOS CYPRUS, several ambassadors serving in Israel, are also non-resident ambassadors to Cyprus, and it’s truly a feather in the cap of any of them to be singled out for an award in Cyprus, while residing in Israel. Last week, the honor was bestowed on Kazakh Ambassador Satybaldy Burshacov who received the Non Resident Diplomat of the Year Award from the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry in consultation with the Cyprus Kazakshtan Business Association which was understandably very enthusiastic about the decision.

The Association works very closely with the Embassy in promoting bilateral trade.

■ AS A Preview to the New Orleans Jazz Festival which started last Saturday night, Norwegian ambassador Kåre R. Aas in conjunction with the New Orleans Jazz Festival hosted a sparkling evening at his residence in Herzliya Pituah. In his welcome address, Aas spoke of the strong ties between Israel and Norway and said that it was a pleasure to be part of Israeli society as a diplomat. His embassy is working tirelessly to strengthen bilateral relations, he declared, noting that culture and music are important parts of cooperation between the two countries. His last posting before coming to Israel was in Washington DC, said Aas, as he reminded his guests that jazz has sometimes been called America’s gift to the world. Acknowledging that trying to define jazz is very difficult, Aas quoted Louis Armstrong who once said: “If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.” However what is known, Aas continued, is that jazz originated in the southern US some time in the late 19th century, which is almost around the same time that Tel Aviv was founded.

It is fitting that a musical tradition known for improvisation, for finding new and unorthodox ways has its own festival in a city that is known worldwide for innovation and finding new hi-tech solutions, he commented. “One thing that defines jazz is improvisation, and one thing that defines Tel Aviv is innovation. Guests enjoyed not only the music, but also the food.

■ ONE OF the trappings of being an ambassador, is a luxury car with a driver. German ambassador Susanne Wasum-Rainer does not always take advantage of this privilege, and can often be seen riding around Herzliya Pituah on her bicycle. The residences of her fellow ambassadors are so close to each other, she explains, that it’s not worthwhile to take the car, so she rides her bike.

 KELLY ODES, an immigrant graduate of Reichman University. (credit: ALON GILBOA) KELLY ODES, an immigrant graduate of Reichman University. (credit: ALON GILBOA)

■ CHANGES IN government can often be confusing, even more so when such changes reflect on diplomatic relations. Russian ambassador Anatoly Viktorov and his wife Olga hosted a reception at the Russian residence in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the renewal of full-fledged diplomatic relations between Russia and Israel. But in fact, the renewal was not with Russia, but with then-almost-dissolved USSR. Relations with the Russian Federation did not come till two months later. Some future historian will iron out the kinks. Meanwhile, it was a well-attended reception where mainly Russian-speaking guests – several of whom representing former USSR satellite countries – mingled happily on the elegant patio before coming inside to hear the speeches. Among the dignitaries present, other than ambassadors of foreign countries, were former prime minister Ehud Olmert and Chief of State Protocol Gil Haskel. There are almost always veterans of the Red army at Russian receptions, and this was no exception. Ephraim Papiesiu, 96, straight-backed, and looking very dapper in cream pants and a forest green blazer, had medals running from shoulder to hemline on both sides

Viktorov, speaking in Russian and partly in English, spoke at an incredible speed, obviously wanting to convey a lot of information in as brief a period as possible.

Known for having a great sense of humor, he tried to coax people inside by telling them it was safe, and that they could come near him because he’s been vaccinated. Although there is a difference of opinion as to which country was the first to recognize the nascent State of Israel in 1948, Viktorov declared that it was the USSR.

Since then, he said, relations have passed through different periods, and were fully resumed on October 18, 1991, on a mature, advanced and trust-based level. There is much cooperation in many areas such as law enforcement, dialogue between foreign ministers, economics, health care and education. Viktorov emphasized Russia’s cooperation with Israel as against those who are trying to rewrite the history of the Second World War, and in combating antisemitism, xenophobia and ethnic hatred.

Relating to solutions for regional problems, Viktorov said that Israel’s security must always be taken into account, and that Russia was always ready to contribute to finding solutions within the framework of the Quartet in addition to offering to host a meeting in Moscow between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

An important function in the close relations between Russia, and Israel, he said, was in the large number of Russian speakers in Israel and in Israel’s enactment on May 9, 2017 of an annual national holiday celebrating the Red Army’s victory over the Nazis.

Though invited to the reception, President Isaac Herzog was unable to attend due to another pressing engagement. However, he sent a prerecorded video in which he recalled the Red Army’s liberation of Auschwitz, and his pride in that fact that his father Chaim Herzog who as Israel’s sixth president, had received the credentials of Aleksandr Bovin, the first ambassador after the renewal of relations.

He also spoke of the contributions that Russian immigrants have made to Israel’s development and leadership, and looked forward to a resurgence in Russian tourism to Israel.

■ HERZOG WAS unable to attend the Russian reception because he was attending the changing of the guard ceremony at the Israel National Security Agency (Shin Bet), where opposition leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after mentioning the names of various dignitaries present, deliberately chose not to mention Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Although the media made a big deal out of it, it was basically tit for tat. Bennett, when addressing the large crowd that attended the fifth anniversary commemoration of the death of former president and prime minister Shimon Peres, neglected to mention Netanyahu, who was sitting in the front row. Chemi Peres who chairs the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation that was established by his father more than quarter of a century ago, later made a point of mentioning Netanyahu, but it didn’t really compensate for being ignored by the prime minister, whose role Netanyahu regards as illegal and undemocratic considering that Bennett’s party has only six seats in the Knesset. While the law states that the prime minister and the leader of the opposition should have regular monthly meetings, such meetings have not been held under the current administration. Meanwhile, Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi, who is a former minister and national security expert, has suggested that Bennett include Netanyahu in the security cabinet on matters pertaining to Iran, on the grounds that Netanyahu’s long experience in this realm should not be ignored.

■ PERHAPS THE mutual antagonisms can be toned down, or still put aside on Thursday, October 21, when Netanyahu celebrates his 72nd birthday. This will make him one of the oldest members of the Knesset, if not the oldest per se, though there certainly have been older MKs in the past such as Yosef Burg, Menachem Porush, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Benyamin Ben-Eliezer, among others. It would be interesting if politicians on the Left would bring Netanyahu a birthday cake as a peace offering.

■ WHEN HERZOG’s predecessor Reuven Rivlin came into office, one of the first things that he emphasized to journalists who cover events relating to the president of the State, was that the presidency is an office that must be transparent. Thus, when visiting presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers arrived at the President’s Residence for official receptions or working meetings, the first part of the meeting was always open to the press, and sometimes more than the first part with either Rivlin or one of his representatives telling journalists what was off record. Not so with Herzog. Although Herzog generally maintained an open-door policy with regard to the media in all his former positions, the overwhelming majority of events that he has hosted since taking office are closed to the press. Moreover, events of organizations outside of the President’s Residence, but in which he participated live or through a prerecorded video have been omitted in press notices of his schedule, even though the organizations themselves may have published his participation in newspaper advertisements, press releases and Facebook posts, well ahead of the event. It’s understandable that outside of his family and closest friends, he is no longer referred to as Boogie in deference to presidential dignity, but to close himself away from the press is out of character for him, and in the final analysis may detract from his popularity.

■ ON HIS third visit to Israel and his first as minister for external affairs, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar – prior to being a politician was a distinguished diplomat who served as India’s ambassador to the United States, China and the Czech Republic, high commissioner to Singapore and a member of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s entourage on his historic visit to Israel four years ago – was introduced to a large gathering at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel by Indian Ambassador Sanjeev Singla. Singla was busy accompanying him on a very intensive itinerary, though both men looked so relaxed that it was hard to believe that they had been rushing from one place to the next. The majority of those present were members of the resident Indian community of diamond merchants, as well as many Indian Jews who have made aliyah over the past 40 plus years or so.

Bearing in mind that before the establishment of the State, the King David Hotel had housed the headquarters of the British high command; the scene of women in resplendent saris and some of the men in Nehru shirts and jackets was reminiscent of the colonial period during which India was ruled by the British Raj.

The assembled guests were there for the launch of a book Bombay-Mumbai City Heritage Walks by Prof. Shaul Sapir.

Earlier in the day, Jaishankar visited the Indian Cemetery at Talpiot and paid homage to the brave Indian soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice during the First World War. He later visited the Indian Hospice situated opposite Herod’s Gate in the Old City, which remains a symbol of India’s 800-year presence in Jerusalem. He then had a productive meeting with Israeli and Indian business people. Following that he helped to launch the book written by a retired Hebrew University historical geographer, who was born in Bombay, made aliyah in his youth and after living in Israel for 40 years, returned with his wife, Ann, to what is now Mumbai and was fascinated by the amazing architecture and monuments throughout the city and captivated by everything he saw. Sapir made 20 more trips to India over the following few years, and also to England to do further research into Jewish Bombay. In a previous book he explored the Jewish urban heritage of Mumbai and this time around, he offers readers 14 city walks, 15 easy to follow maps, 120 historical and architectural landmarks and sites, almost 900 notes and more than a thousand photographs. He said that Mumbai is a photographer’s delight and one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

In his own address, Jaishankar, again referred to the Indian soldiers who had fought in the Land of Israel during the First World War, and noted that on September 21, 1918, Indian soldiers had liberated Haifa. Jaishankar said that each time he comes to Israel, he leaves with a sense of an unfinished journey. “Like India, Israel needs a lifetime to discover.” Unlike Jewish Diasporas in most other parts of the world, he underscored that the Indian Jewish community had existed peacefully and equally in India for hundreds of years, maintaining its identity while absorbing certain Indian customs. “It’s rare in Jewish history for Jews to live in equality as they did in India,” he observed, adding that the Jewish community had contributed to the building of India. He cited David Sassoon as one of the founders of the Bank of India, and stated that Jews had made contributions as educators, medical doctors, administrators, lawyers, mayors and performing artists.

On Monday, Jaishankar visited the Israel Museum which he toured with the museum’s Chairman of the Board of Directors Isaac Molho accompanied the museum’s senior curators, who introduced him to him to the Shrine of the Book, the section on Indian art in the Asian Art Gallery, and the Cochin Synagogue in the Wing for Jewish Art and Life.

Standing before the original, reconstructed Cochin Synagogue, Jaishankar said the 16th-century wooden structure is an appropriate place to reflect on the relationship between India and Israel. “In many ways [the synagogue] expresses the deep civilizational bonds” between the two nations, he said, noting that the relationship between them is “rooted in history, but very much part of modernity, as well.”

It would not be surprising if Jaishankar returns to Israel in the first half of 2022 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of full diplomatic relations between India and Israel.

■ AFTER 34 years as Public Relations Manager and spokesman for the Israel Hiltons, Motti Verses this week announced that he is stepping down, but not stepping out of the tourist industry. He is now entering a new phase of his career as a consultant to diverse enterprises under the tourism umbrella, and will promote them on English language video clips. He will be working under the new brand name of Travel Flash Tips through which he will give viewers travel tips about restaurants, hotels, spas, wineries, hiking trails, beaches and more in Israel and abroad.

Verses sent a video clip to regular returning guests of the Hilton hotels in Israel, as well as to Hilton staffs in which he outlined his years of service and said what a privilege it had been to meet with world leaders, movie stars, internationally acclaimed musicians and sports legends and people who made history such as astronaut Neil Armstrong.

Verses began his hotel career in the first Jerusalem-based Hilton, which later became the Crown Plaza and is now the Vert Hotel. For most of his career, he has been headquartered at the Tel Aviv Hilton, with frequent visits to other hotels in the chain.

■ FOR MORE than nine months, there has not been a US ambassador in Israel, and for more than a year there has not been an Israel ambassador to Australia. It’s hard to tell how such absences affect diplomatic relations especially in cases such as Israel and Poland, which have each recalled their ambassadors, with no evidence of returns or new appointments in sight. As for an Israel ambassador to Australia, Amir Maimon has been nominated, and is awaiting government confirmation. Maimon was previously ambassador to Lithuania, where he became very friendly with Darius Degutis, a former Lithuanian ambassador to Israel, who was later Lithuania’s first ambassador to Australia.

■ IN THE whirl of farewell events that she has attended, Anjan Shakya, the ambassador of Nepal, who returns home on Friday, October 22, decided to host a farewell of her own in order to thank some of the people who befriended her, and helped her greatly enhance the relations between Nepal and Israel. Held in high esteem by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for more achievements in just over two-and-a-half years than all her predecessors put together, a sign of the impact that she has made was in the multiple Foreign Ministry representatives at her residence for her Thank You reception. They included Deputy Director General for Asia Rafi Harpaz, Gil Haskel, former Israel Ambassador to Nepal Yaron Meir and Yitzhak Eldan, a retired ambassador and former chief of state protocol who is now the president of the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel. Also present were Adina Gottesman, who for many years prior to the opening of a Nepalese Embassy in Israel, served as Nepal’s honorary consul; and mountain climber Nadav Ben-Yehuda, who with or without the title of honorary consul has acted as an unofficial spokesman for Nepal. He was the first Israeli to climb Nepal’s Mount Annapurna 1, and is the Israeli who has climbed the most mountains that are more than 8,000 meters high. All were lavish in their praise of Shakya, commending her not only for her accomplishments, but also for her charm. Harpaz said that she had taken Israel by storm, and was a role model not only for other Asian ambassadors, but for all ambassadors. Haskel, who was previously head of Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development during which time he visited Nepal, recalled that Shakya – a former singer and media personality – had taken him around and because she was so famous, they were surrounded by her fans wherever they went. He told her that she had left a legacy that would be difficult to continue. Meir said that he could not understand how come he had never met her in Nepal, but only in Israel, where they had formed a close friendship. Eldan said that they should be thanking her instead of the other way around. It was easy after she had been in Israel for only one year, to choose her as Ambassador of the Year, he said, explaining that the title usually goes to someone who has served for at least two years. “In a very short time, you conquered the hearts of so many,” he said. “You are an artist in public diplomacy.”

Shatya said that she would be happy to personally welcome all the friends that she’s made in Israel to Nepal, and promised not to change her WhatsApp number so that she remains in touch with the 2,000 people who are listed there.

■ COMMERCIAL AND Industrial Club President Yona Bartal hosted Adi Sofer-Tanai, the CEO of Facebook Israel., who recalled with some degree of emotion when she and Mark Zuckerberg had helped former president Shimon Peres to open a Facebook account. Sofer-Tanai told CAIC members at the Tel Aviv Hilton about some of the next generation developments at Facebook, and gave the impression that nothing is beyond what the imagination can conceive.

■ REICHMAN UNIVERSITY graduates always include new immigrants, and this year was no exception, especially in view of the fact that the graduation ceremony was in tandem with Aliyah Week. Among the graduates was Kelly Odes who came to Israel from South Africa as a lone soldier and serves in the IDF Spokesman’s unit, responsible for communicating with international media. Before joining the army, she enrolled at IDC Herzliya which was how Reichman University was known in its first quarter-century of operations. At IDC, she spent a year and a half in the Argov Fellows Program in Leadership and Diplomacy, which seeks to prepare around 20 exceptional students in their final year of BA studies for leadership. Prior to becoming an Argov Fellow, Odes was a research intern at IDC’s Abba Eban Institute of International Diplomacy.

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