Grapevine October 29, 2021: Back to normal

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG, DRC President Felix Tshusikedi and their wives, Michal and Denise, raise a toast at a state dinner Herzog hosted for the visiting president. (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG, DRC President Felix Tshusikedi and their wives, Michal and Denise, raise a toast at a state dinner Herzog hosted for the visiting president.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

The state visit this week by Felix Tshisekedi, president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, heralded a sign that things are almost back to normal. During the past 18 months or so, visiting heads of state who were given a reception at the President’s Residence had to make do with a very low-key affair, with a symbolic military honor guard and a considerably reduced military or police band. This week, both the IDF honor guard and the military band were back in full throttle, although the state dinner hosted by President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, for Tshisekedi and his wife, Denise Nyakeru Tshisekedi, was slightly smaller in the number of guests than is the norm. Among the guests were MK Miki Zohar; Yossi Abramowitz, who works in energy solutions to improve the quality of life; Simon Fisher, executive director of Save a Child’s Heart, and Haim Taib, president of SACH Africa. When SACH recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, which happened to coincide with Taib’s birthday, a decision was taken to bring one child from each of 25 countries in the coming year to have their heart defects treated and repaired in Israel. In the case of DRC, as a special gesture in honor of the visit to Israel by its president, there will be five children. Over the years SACH has saved the hearts of more than 6,000 children from 62 countries, including those which have no relations with Israel. A child from a 63rd country is expected to arrive in Israel next week.

In his address, Herzog noted that he was moved to learn that Tshisekedi, like he, was the son of a father who was a public figure. Etienne Tshisekedi was a prime minister of his country when it was still called Zaire and was the founder of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress.

President Tshisekedi in his address, recalled that when he had previously visited Israel in 2003, he had never imagined that he would return as his country’s president. He also mentioned that the late Haifa-born journalist and diplomat Tamar Golan had been a friend of his mother, Martha Kasalu Jubukala. Both he and Herzog referred to the strong relations between their countries with Tshisekedi saying “I can’t find words for the depth of our friendship.”

Guests dined on sea bream on a bed of black pasta with Roman artichokes, black olives, cherry tomato and fresh basil, followed by beef fillet in red wine sauce with potatoes and truffles puree and zucchini sticks. There were also vegetarian options. Desert consisted of puff pastry with vanilla cream and caramel, with mini lemon pie and apple tart. Prior to the dessert, the Herzogs took the Tshisekedis from table to table introducing them to the guests.

On the following day, the Herzogs hosted President of the Swiss Confederation Guy Parmelin and his wife, Caroline. But Parmelin’s was a working visit, not a state visit, so there was no state dinner. However, the two presidential couples dined together in the Herzogs’ private dining room.

MICHAL AND President Isaac Herzog with women of Gam Ani Ratza (‘I also run’) to raise breast cancer awareness. (credit: Levi Dvish)MICHAL AND President Isaac Herzog with women of Gam Ani Ratza (‘I also run’) to raise breast cancer awareness. (credit: Levi Dvish)

Between traveling around the country and hosting visiting dignitaries, as well as special interest groups, Herzog also keeps up with important correspondence, such as his letter to King Abdullah of Jordan on the 27th anniversary of the signing of a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. In the letter Herzog, who met with Abdullah several weeks ago, praised the king’s father and prime minister Yitzhak Rabin for demonstrating the true meaning of leadership by taking responsibility for the fate of their nations.

The signing of the agreement, he wrote, “represented the triumph of vision over extremism and cynicism. Twenty-seven years later, the supreme strategic value of peace should be clear to all. Only by deepening and expanding our ties across all levels of government and civil society, and in all fields of cooperation, can we safeguard this indispensable asset of peace.”

On the day that Herzog hosted Tshekedi in Jerusalem, he had to rush between the morning reception and the evening state dinner, to deliver a memorial address at the graveside of Israel’s founding president Chaim Weizmann on the Hebrew calendar anniversary of his death. Unlike most of the nation’s leaders, neither Weizmann, nor presidents Ephraim Katzir and Ezer Weizman or prime ministers David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin are buried on Mount Herzl in the special section reserved for the nation’s leaders. Weizmann and Katzir, both scientists, are buried in Rehovot. Weizman is buried in Or Akiva alongside his son and daughter in law. Ben-Gurion is buried in Sde Boker and Begin on the Mount of Olives.

So Herzog had to go to Rehovot and return to Jerusalem.

Regarding Weizmann, Herzog said that he had come to pay respects not because it was the done thing or because he was obligated by protocol, but because of the enormous debt that is owed to Weizmann, one of giants among Zionists. A portrait that Weizmann gave to Herzog’s uncle, former foreign minister Abba Eban, who is considered to be one of Israel’s greatest statesmen, is displayed in Herzog’s office.

■ AFTER THE indignities that he has suffered, former Labor leader and cabinet minister Amir Peretz may regret leaving the political arena. In December 2020, after facing strong criticism for having joined a Netanyahu-led government, he announced he was running for president. A month later, he dropped out of the race. Prior to the election for the current Knesset, he decided to leave politics, which had been a major part of his life. But Defense Minister Benny Gantz nominated him for the chairmanship of the board of Israel Aerospace Industries, but despite the fact that Peretz is himself a former defense minister, and the one who gave the green light to the Iron Dome, the board ejected him on the grounds that he is lacking in business and managerial experience. This is also a symbolic slap in the face to Gantz, who will probably be brooding next month over what might have been. Gantz was due in a rotation agreement with Benjamin Netanyahu to take over as prime minister in November 2021. It turned out to be a pipe dream, and Gantz – who had entered politics with a bang – discovered that his political clout had been reduced to a whimper. Several political pundits have predicted that something similar will happen to Yair Lapid in his arrangement with Naftali Bennett.

■ IT’S NO secret that Laurent Levy, entrepreneur, real estate investor and the founder of an international chain of optical centers, likes to do things in a big way. One only has to look at the Music Center in downtown Jerusalem, or the hotel and commercial center that he’s building in the capital’s Jaffa Road or the optical center that he opened in Zion Square on the former site of Bank Leumi, that this man is dedicated to extravaganza. He’s also in the process of building a museum in the former Gesher building in Jerusalem, alongside the Waldorf Astoria hotel. But now he’s really gone overboard in a bid to boost Israel’s tourism industry, which officially re-opens on November 1, but Levy is getting in a day ahead of time by flying in 3,000 of his Optical Center employees from around the world on a business-cum-pleasure trip on October 31.

Although he owns property in various parts of Israel, Levy’s main focus is Jerusalem – where he has booked 1,300 hotel rooms in 11 of the capital’s hotels, 300 tour buses and 70 tour guides. Levy, a Frenchman who now lives in Israel, is very patriotically disposed toward Israel and says that people must do whatever they can to improve Israel’s image around the globe, and show visitors that Jerusalem is a city in which Jews, Muslims and Christians can live side by side. Levy has previously flown his employees to the Seychelles and Thailand, but decided that it was important at this time for them to come to Israel, to see the country and its people first-hand and not be affected by the anti-Israel bias in both traditional and social media.

■ WITHIN THE framework of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Michal Herzog welcomed representatives of Gam Ani Ratza (“I also run”), a nationwide initiative of running and fitness groups for women who are battling or who have recovered from breast cancer. Michal Herzog launched the start of a run from the President’s Residence and recorded the final kilometer. The runners are coached by professionals on a completely voluntary basis. The organization comprises 50 groups of approximately 1,000 women in total who live in areas stretching from Nahariya to Eilat, plus 90 qualified coaches certified by the Wingate Institute. To create greater awareness, the group wants to reach a total 40,075 km., which is tantamount to circling the Earth. Both men and women – including soldiers, police, schoolchildren, members of youth groups and others – are involved in this campaign. In addition to Michal Herzog, the women who ran out of the grounds of the President’s Residence were joined by President Herzog, Omri Pedatzur, who initiated the campaign, and four women who have recovered from breast cancer and recently completed a course at Wingate as coaches for marathon runners. Michal Herzog said she had heard many amazing stories about the runners and she marveled at their resilience and the fact that running made it easier for them to bear the treatments which they were undergoing. She also emphasized the importance of regular check-ups from a young age, stressing they could lead to early detection of breast cancer and better chances of recovery.

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