Grapevine October 27, 2021: Hungarian rhapsody

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

TOURISM MINISTER Yoel Razvozov, flanked by MK Yorai Lahav Hertzanu (left) and Gezer Regional Council head Rotem Yadlin. (photo credit: Anat Mahanai)
TOURISM MINISTER Yoel Razvozov, flanked by MK Yorai Lahav Hertzanu (left) and Gezer Regional Council head Rotem Yadlin.
(photo credit: Anat Mahanai)

Will Hungary be the first European country to open an embassy in Jerusalem? From remarks made last week by Hungarian Ambassador Levente Benko, it seemed that a move in this direction was on the way.

To mark the anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, which was a nationalist uprising against Soviet control of Hungary, Benko decided that Jerusalem should be the city in which to hold the annual reception commemorating this historic step toward the regaining of Hungarian independence. This was first time, he said, that the reception was held in Jerusalem, “but definitely not the last,” he declared.

After seeking advice for an appropriate venue, he chose the plaza surrounding Montefiore’s windmill because it offers such a magnificent panoramic view of the Old City and beyond.

It was also appropriate to hold the event in Jerusalem, given that Budapest-born Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl is buried in Jerusalem, and that Hungary was among those countries that recognized Israel in 1948, the first year of its sovereignty.

Hungary, as Benko pointed out, in March 2019, was also the first European country to open a trade office in Jerusalem that is staffed by diplomats.

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin talks to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during their meeting in Sochi, Russia, last week. (credit: REUTERS)RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin talks to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during their meeting in Sochi, Russia, last week. (credit: REUTERS)

Due to the pandemic, there was no reception last year, which made Benko all the more pleased to see the huge attendance this year, with most of the guests, including a large contingent of diplomats, coming from the Coastal Plain.

One of those diplomats was Russian Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov, whose presence symbolized that former enemies can become friends, and can also accept unpleasant historical facts, which Benko did not omit from his address.

Moving from the past to the present and the future, Benko said that Hungary is wide open to the Israeli traveler, both tourists and businesspeople, and suggested that his guests should book their tickets to Budapest because, he said, Hungary, which is “competitive, friendly and safe,” is one of Israel’s best friends in Europe.

He also noted that notwithstanding the pandemic, Hungary’s economic growth had increased by 7.5%, fueled by investments and exports.

On the political front, Benko said that Hungary is determined to continue its strategic partnership with Israel, which Prime Minister Viktor Orban intends to consolidate. This includes an invitation to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to visit Hungary.

As for regional politics, Benko stated that there is no better demonstration of the stability of the geopolitical reality than the Abraham Accords.

Representing the government was Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev, who voiced appreciation that the event was being celebrated in Jerusalem, and also thanked the Hungarian government for its staunch support in the international arena, particularly the United Nations and the European Union.

He also underscored that the Hungarian government is renewing a synagogue, refurbishing a Jewish hospital, is also protecting the Jewish community and has a policy of zero tolerance for antisemitism.

Longtime honorary consul for Hungary Josef Weiss was delighted to see Bar Lev, whose late father, Haim Bar-Lev, a former IDF chief of staff, government minister and later ambassador to Moscow, had been Weiss’s commander in the army.

Also among the guests was former president Reuven Rivlin, to whom Benko presented his credentials in October 2018. Rivlin, who has long been Israel’s foremost advocate for Jerusalem, said that he had to come simply because the Hungarian ambassador was holding the event in Israel’s capital.

Representing the Jerusalem Municipality was vivacious Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, who came with her husband, Adam, and charmed people as she effortlessly switched from Hebrew to Spanish to English and back again. Like the legendary Scarlet Pimpernel, Hassan-Nahoum is seen here, there and everywhere – including in Dubai.

Guests dined on spicy kosher Hungarian goulash, for which there was great demand, and few people were in any hurry to leave the late-afternoon event, remaining till well after dusk, when lights winking from houses in the distance looked like candles on a giant birthday cake.

■ APROPOS RIVLIN, this week marked the seventh anniversary of Rivlin’s historic visit to Kafr Kassem on October 26, 2014, to participate in the annual memorial ceremony of the 1956 Kafr Kassem massacre in which 48 Arab civilians were killed, including a close relative of Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej; another relative was severely injured. The victims, who were farmers returning from the fields, were unaware of a curfew that had been imposed by the authorities, and therefore did not obey it, and were shot and killed.

Over the years, Shimon Peres visited, during a Muslim holiday, but no president or prime minister had visited on the memorial day, and no one had ever apologized. Rivlin called the massacre a “horrible deed” and a “serious crime.” His visit to Kafr Kassem came in the wake of several attacks against Arabs. President Isaac Herzog is tentatively scheduled to pay a goodwill visit to Kafr Kassem on Friday.

Frej is interested in having the story of the massacre included in the history curricula in schools, so that all citizens of Israel will learn of it from a historical perspective. He is interested not in fanning the flames of antagonism, but simply in creating some balance in the story of the history of the state.

But he faces extreme opposition from right-wing elements who don’t want to know about any injustice done to Arab citizens and residents by members of the Jewish population, even though there was a left-wing administration at the time of the massacre.

The attitude is similar to that of Poland which refuses to acknowledge that some Poles did collaborate with the Germans, even though the overwhelming majority did whatever they could to resist the Germans, and many actually fought against German occupation and atrocities, and thousands of Poles risked their lives to save Jews.

■ IN THE multi-subject discussions that will be taking place at the 14th annual Journalists Conference in Eilat hosted by the Tel Aviv Journalists’ Association, there are barely a handful of Arab speakers during the four-day event in which there are well over 100 speakers listed.

Arabs are in the news on a daily basis, and not just in relation to murder statistics and acts of violence, but also as medical experts, Paralympic medalists, academics, writers, musicians and politicians.

But what is perhaps most important in relation to this conference is that Arab journalists are gaining firm footholds in mainstream Israeli media, and are no longer confined to Arabic news outlets. Some of the mainstream Arab journalists work not only in Hebrew and Arabic, but also in English and French.

Among the prominent Israeli-Arab journalists who have made their marks in mainstream local and international journalism is The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh. Other well-known radio and television journalists include Lucy Aharish, Lucy Ayoub, Sayad Kashua, Ayman Sikseck, Suleiman Maswada and Muhammed Majadele – and they are not the only ones. Among the most veteran is Zouheir Bahloul, who had a brief romance with the Knesset and returned to broadcasting.

The names of none of the above appear on the list of speakers, which, in addition to many print and electronic media journalists, includes mayors, medical personnel, army officers, educators, administrators – and, of course, the president of the state, who graces one conference after another.

Another glaring factor in the conference is the preponderance of Ashkenazi journalists compared to those whose surnames attest to their North African background. Here, too, the ethnic genie has reemerged from the bottle.

The participant who probably has the longest record in Israeli journalism is former television and radio star and documentary filmmaker Haim Yavin, who celebrated his 89th birthday last month, and who can be credited with anchoring the first television program in 1968 on what used to be called Israel Television before it became Channel 1, and is now KAN 11. Before that, he was a radio news reader on Kol Yisrael.

■ THERE SEEMED to be something unethical in that Construction and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin accompanied Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to Sochi and acted as his interpreter, after having accompanied opposition leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in all his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It’s one thing to cross the floor politically, as several Israeli politicians have done in the past – most notably Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, but quite another to take on a role previously conferred by a rival leader to whose secrets one was privy.

There was really no need for Elkin to accompany Bennett, as Ambassador Alexander Ben Zvi, a very seasoned diplomat, who was transferred from Warsaw to Moscow in 2020, is a native Russian-speaker who, like Elkin, was born in Ukraine.

Ben Zvi, in an interview with Ran Binyamini on KAN Reshet Bet while waiting at Sochi Airport for Bennett’s plane to land, was asked whether he had been vaccinated by Sputnik, and he replied “No, by Pfizer.”

“Why not Sputnik? You’re the ambassador to Russia,” questioned Binyamini.

“I was in Israel at the time,” replied Ben Zvi.

“But, still, you could have had Sputnik in Russia,” Binyamini persisted.

Alexander diplomatically evaded further conversation on the subject by explaining that he doesn’t deal with health issues, and in the same breath declaring that the prime minister’s plane had just landed, thereby putting an end to any further probing by Binyamini.

■ WHEN SHE completed her 12-year stint as El Salvador’s ambassador to Israel in May 2015, Susana Gun de Hasenson presumed that she was retiring from the Foreign Service, and would be free to do some of the things she’d been planning for years but was always too busy to follow through.

The president to whom she presented her credentials in January 2003 was Moshe Katsav, who was astounded to see a female soldier in the uniform of the IDF’s Givati Brigade as part of the family retinue that accompanied her. He had apparently not been briefed that the new ambassador was a longtime resident of Jerusalem, and one of the longest-serving foreign diplomats in the country.

After a little more than a six-year hiatus, Gun de Hasenson has been reappointed to serve as El Salvador’s “new” ambassador to Israel. Unlike most other ambassadors, she has not had to learn a new language. She speaks Hebrew fluently.

With the exception of a one-and-a-half-year period as the minister counselor in her country’s embassy in Sweden, Gun de Hasenson spent all of her 40-plus years as a diplomat in the Jewish state, and was eventually promoted to the role of ambassador.

Ever since she was a little girl, Gun de Hasenson had set her sights on becoming a diplomat. She had been inspired by a meeting with Golda Meir, when the latter, as foreign minister, visited El Salvador; Gun de Hasenson got to meet her because her mother was president of WIZO.

Gun de Hasenson first came to Israel as a tourist while a student in the US. She came to visit her sister, who was already living in Israel, and simply fell in love with the country. Two years later, she was back. She enrolled in the Hebrew University’s preparatory program and remained in Israel to complete her university studies in international relations and political science.

Returning to El Salvador on vacation, Gun de Hasenson secured a job as a secretary at the about-to-be-established El Salvador Embassy in Jerusalem.

While at the Hebrew University, Gun de Hasenson met Dave Hasenson, a fellow student from Finland who was studying political science and statistics but opted to become a tour guide. They married and produced four children, each of whom has triple citizenship – Israeli, Salvadorian and Finnish.

Due to their Israeli citizenship, all four – Mia, Dana, Kelly and Ben – had to do mandatory IDF service. Mia became well known as the chairwoman of the Israel branch of Amnesty International, later moving to London, where she became their international projects adviser. Dana is an alternative psychotherapist, and Kelly a clinical psychologist.

The three girls accompanied their mother when she presented her credentials, but Ben, who was only five years old at the time, was left at home amid loud protests. By the time his mother completed her term as ambassador, Ben was completing his army service. When she presents her credentials to President Herzog, she said, “Ben will be there.”

For many years, the embassies of El Salvador and Costa Rica were the last two remaining embassies in Jerusalem, and, curiously, each was headed by a woman of the Jewish faith. In mid-August 2006, the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry announced it was moving its embassy to Tel Aviv. A week later, the Foreign Ministry of El Salvador decided to do the same.

Ben Hasenson, who was then 10 years old and playing basketball in the junior league of Hapoel Jerusalem, did not want to go to Tel Aviv.

Soon after the announcement of the move, El Salvador’s foreign minister visited Israel and was feted at a reception at the residence of the ambassador in Jerusalem. The minister was fond of children, and when Ben told him he didn’t want to leave and why, and stated that his mommy could drive to Tel Aviv every day and come home, the minister agreed – which is why the residence remained in Jerusalem after the embassy moved to Herzliya.

With hindsight, Gun de Hasenson, in an interview with the Post just a few weeks before leaving office, said that moving the embassy was not a bad idea. El Salvador is a friend of Israel, she explained, and it would not have been beneficial to Jerusalem to have a friend isolated from all the other embassies. From San Salvador’s perspective, the move was a good one because the business community is essentially in Tel Aviv and surroundings, and from the point of view of attracting investments and networking with the right people, it just made life easier.

Following her completion of tenure, Gun de Hasenson and her husband could no longer remain in the El Salvador residence, and did not stay in Jerusalem, but moved to nearby Mevaseret Zion. No date has yet been set for Gun de Hasenson to present her credentials the second time around, but she is excited to be back in harness.

■ ISRAEL’S PUBLIC diplomacy may be lacking, but there is no doubt that its relations with foreign countries are on the rise. Last week Israel was visited by the ambassadors of India and Sweden; and this week the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Félix Tshisekedi, and the president of the Swiss Confederation, Guy Parmelin, are in Israel.

In 1960, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire, established diplomatic relations with Israel, but joined other African states in breaking relations in 1973 under pressure from Arab states. A decade later, DRC was one of the first to reestablish relations with Israel.

The founding of the State of Israel is closely linked to Switzerland, as the first Zionist Congress was held in Basel in 1897, and 15 of the 22 subsequent Zionist Congresses were also held in Switzerland.

Diplomatic relations between the two countries were officially established in June 1951.

■ IT WAS talked about and written about for months, but finally, a Yardena Arazi Street was officially inaugurated on Monday of this week in Haifa, the city of the singer’s youth by way of a 70th birthday present from Haifa Mayor Einat Kalisch Rotem. Arazi, who celebrated her milestone birthday on September 25, is now on the map in more ways than one.

■ FOR THE first time ever, the Miss Universe contest will be conducted in Israel, and considering that it’s taking place in December, the venue is obviously Eilat, and the timing is perfect for the Eilat tourist industry, given that tourists will be permitted to return to Israel from November 1. Those coming from cold climates will probably head for Eilat and give hoteliers a much-needed boost to their business operations.

This particular contest is important not only because of the venue but also because it is the 70th Miss Universe competition. The very beautiful Andrea Meza of Mexico, who is the current Miss Universe, will have to transfer her crown to her successor.

Contestants for the Miss Universe title include Noa Kochba, 22, the newly crowned Miss Israel 2021. A former army medic, Kochba dreams of becoming a doctor despite the vicissitudes of hospital interns.

Curiously, a website that features the 40 most beautiful Jewish women, including deceased beauties such as film stars Hedy Lamar and Lauren Bacall, along with several Israeli top fashion models, omits Rina Mor, who was Miss Universe 1976, and Linor Abergil, who was Miss World in 1998. Inasmuch as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, to ignore two women who hold global beauty titles is somewhat strange.

Whoever wins the Miss Universe title will see more of Israel than Eilat. Bearing in mind that the Tourism Ministry is one of the sponsors of this year’s contest, the next Miss Universe will be brought to the capital for two days of touring and photo shoots, and will get to see other parts of the country as well.

■ BEAUTY IS just one of the components in the judging of the Miss Universe competition.

Smadar Ganzi, just a year away from turning 60, believes that there is still beauty in wrinkles and a figure that isn’t pencil slim. Ganzi, a former fashion model and actress, produces fashion shows, conducts women’s empowerment workshops, teaches modeling, lectures extensively, and appears on television morning shows.

She is fiercely opposed to antiaging projects and products, and believes that anyone who is attractive as a person retains that attraction regardless of gray or white hair or a somewhat expanded waistline. She promotes pro-aging, encouraging both men and women to make the best of what they’ve got.

Within this context, she has put together a onetime fashion show as part of the jubilee celebrations of the Jerusalem Theater, which was a gift to the city by philanthropists Miles and Gitta Sherover, and opened its doors in 1971. The fashion show, which will feature former top models who are past their prime but are still adept at all the techniques of the trade, will be held on Wednesday, November 3, at 6 p.m., with proceeds going to Woman to Woman.

Fashions will be by leading designers such as Yaniv Persy, Eliane Stoleru and Kedem Sasson. Among the sponsors is Ronit Asaf, who was Miss Israel in 1992, and after a modeling career became a successful businesswoman.

The Jerusalem Theatre is the capital’s major performing arts center with six different halls, including: the Sherover Theater (950 seats), the Henry Crown Symphony Hall – home to the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra – (750 seats), the Rebecca Crown Auditorium (450 seats), and also the Little Theater (110 seats). It also houses an art gallery and restaurant, and hosts orchestral performances, operettas, dance shows, plays, musicals, children’s performances, film screenings, the annual International Bible Quiz and many other events.

Miles Sherover, who was born in Poland, was raised in New York’s Lower East Side and made his fortune in Venezuela, died in Jerusalem in 1976 at age 80. The Sherovers, who were patrons of all the arts, and filled their beautiful home near the theater with paintings and sculptures, helped many artists to become better known.

Gitta Sherover continued with philanthropic activities after her husband’s death, and among other things established the Sherover Promenade in Jerusalem and the Beit Gabriel Cultural Center in the Galilee in memory of her son Gabriel who died of AIDS. She gave millions to many projects and causes, especially peace movements, before her death in June 2005 at age 87.

The Sherover Foundation, which she established, continued with charitable bequests and cultural projects after her death.

■ TOURISM MINISTER Yoel Razvozov, a former judo champion and an Olympic athlete, participated in the second Beaujolais marathon which was held last Friday, with 4,000 runners taking off from the vineyards of the Barkan winery, which is under the jurisdiction of the Gezer Regional Council.

Also among the runners were Gezer Regional Council head Rotem Yadlin, Yesh Atid MK Yorai Lahav Hertzanu, Interior Ministry Director-General Yair Hirsh and Yaakov Kvint, the director-general of the Israel Lands Authority.

Ofer Padan, CEO and founder of the Israel Marathon, who brought the Beaujolais race to Israel from France two years ago, was thrilled by the huge turnout, and commented that it was a great way in which to combine sport, a healthy lifestyle and tourism. Indirectly, it also helped the wine industry.

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