Grapevine, October 7, 2020: Dangerous encounters

The movers and shakers of Israeli society.

US ambassador David Friedman, who is a kohen, was among those who gathered at the Western Wall for the priestly blessing, October 5, 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
US ambassador David Friedman, who is a kohen, was among those who gathered at the Western Wall for the priestly blessing, October 5, 2020
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Even though he understands that the policeman who struck him at the anti-Netanyahu demonstration in Habimah Square last Saturday night did not do so deliberately, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who is considering running for Knesset in the next elections, should not have been in the crowd. At 76, he is in the high-risk category.
But even much younger people were injured in scuffles with the police. Participating in demonstrations at this time is not only taking a risk with one’s health in terms of possible infection, but also taking a risk with one’s safety, because there are no guarantees as to how other people in the crowd will behave, and unfortunately too many misbehave. Demonstrators on both sides of the fence are equally guilty.
■ JERUSALEM MAYOR Moshe Lion, in an interview published by Kipa, the religious digital news site, said that demonstrators crowding near the prime minister’s official residence should take time out to relieve some of the pressure placed on police, who are called on in larger numbers to maintain law and order during demonstrations, a factor that detracts from their availability for other duties.
Some out-of-town demonstrators have rented an apartment near the Prime Minister’s Residence in order to avoid being charged with breaking the 1-kilometer limit on distance from place of domicile.
■ NOW THAT the archives of Haolam Hazeh, which set the tone for investigative journalism in Israel, are accessible online, Liora Goldberg, the social columnist of Maariv, the sister publication of The Jerusalem Post, decided to do a little delving into past political scandals and social gossip.
Founded in 1937 under the masthead of Tesha BaErev, its name was changed in 1946. In 1950, the magazine was purchased by Uri Avnery, Shalom Cohen and two other people who soon bowed out of the deal. Cohen, a staunch left-wing political figure, stayed on board till 1971, after which Avnery continued to edit the magazine till it ceased publication in 1993.
The magazine had two covers: one representing serious journalism on political subjects, and the other, the latest social scandals, reports of which were a hair breadth away from defamation.
Goldberg’s perusal and her selection of items that had in the past titillated the Israeli public indicated that although the people concerned may be different in terms of identity and political affiliations, the situations today are strikingly similar to what they were then.
The first item was about Miriam Eshkol, a former Knesset librarian, who became the third wife of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, who was 32 years her senior.
Modest, almost to the point of being shy, Miriam Eshkol, who died in November 2016 at the age of 87, though married to the prime minister for only five years prior to his death, became an extremely influential figure. Among other things, she chaired the public committee that founded Beit HaLohem, the rehabilitation center for wounded soldiers. She became a significant force in her husband’s life, and was said to influence all his decisions, having the last word on matters of state and on those related to the army, from which she herself had been discharged with the rank of sergeant.
Her lifestyle changed to that befitting the spouse of the head of government. Her nondescript attire was upgraded to the extent that her wardrobe contained the creations of leading French and British fashion designers. She quickly made a number of enemies, who referred to her as Eshkol’s Delilah or klafte, which means “shrew” in Yiddish.
She answered all telephone calls that came to the Prime Minister’s Residence and refused to transfer calls to her husband, unless the caller informed her of the exact purpose of the call. She also kept score of her husband’s friends and enemies.
She accompanied her husband to all official events as well as on his trips abroad, and she liked to hog the limelight. Haolam Hazeh reported in 1966 that on a flight in which she accompanied her husband on a visit to Africa, she vetoed the inclusion of El Al air hostess Ziva Bachar as a member of the cabin crew, because she wanted to be the only woman on board.
Following her husband’s death, she established the Levi Eshkol Memorial Trust. In the course of time, the abandoned and severely neglected prime minister’s residence on 44-48 Ben Maimon Boulevard in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood, which had served as such from 1950 to 1974, was allocated to the Levi Eshkol Memorial Trust and turned into a museum. The house was originally built for a British officer in 1933.
Miriam Eshkol did not have sufficient funds to carry out the renovation task alone and joined forces with the Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel, which helped to restore the property, which had once housed David Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir. Everything that could be salvaged was salvaged, and other identical items from the 1950s and 1960s that could be found in vintage stores were purchased in order to create as authentic an environment as possible.
Unfortunately, Miriam Eshkol did not live to participate in the official opening, which took place a month after her death, but she did live to see the project in its final stages of completion.
Just as a matter of interest, the 125th anniversary of Levi Eshkol’s birth falls on October 25.
■ JOURNALIST, FORMER director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office during the Shamir administration, ex-MK and director of the Jabotinsky Center Yossi Ahimeir is bewildered as to the source of so much hatred in Israeli society. In a Facebook post he writes: “I understand criticism. I know we are not perfect, but personal hate to this extent? They hated Jabotinsky, they hated Begin, they hated Shamir, they hated my father – each in turn. But in hating Netanyahu, they crossed every border, posing the danger of a civil war. But not to worry, they will also hate the next right-wing leader.”
■ RESTAURATEUR AND businesswoman Ruti Broudo, who is best known for owning and/or managing Tel Aviv icons including We R2M, CoffeeBar, The Brasserie, the Bakery, Hotel Montefiore, Delicatessen and Rothschild 12, unable these days to put her considerable talents to use in the restaurant business, owing to coronavirus lockdowns, but unable to be idle, has joined Eshet Lapidot, the women’s philanthropic arm of ZAKA rescue and recovery organization, which engages in search and rescue missions in Israel and abroad, on-site medical treatment and identification of body parts following terrorist attacks, accidental explosions and hard-core traffic accidents.
Eshet Lapidot translates either as female torchbearer or fiery woman. Either way, those who join are passionate about helping Zaka and helping to improve the quality of life of people who have been dealt a cruel blow by fate.
Eshet Lapidot was established two years ago by ZAKA founder Yehuda Meshi Zahav, who said he was excited to have someone of the caliber of Broudo on board.
In his youth, Meshi Zahav belonged to the anti-Zionist camp and was one of the chief organizers of haredi antiestablishment demonstrations in Jerusalem. A July 1989 terrorist attack on a bus on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, just below the yeshiva in which he studied, resulted in 16 dead and 17 injured passengers. The tragedy became the impetus for the creation of ZAKA, and Meshi Zahav’s transformation into an active haredi Zionist. He led a group of yeshiva students to the gorge into which the bus had crashed to begin first aid and rescue operations.
Today he is nonplussed over how a lethal pandemic can have such a divisive effect on the population. He attributes the growing rifts in part to both secular and religious extremists who are interested in causing strife, and says that using force is not the way to overcome it. Only dialogue in the speech appropriate to each sector can help to heal, he says.
■ TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS notwithstanding, the game must go on, which is the reason that the Alba Berlin basketball team came to Israel to play a EuroLeague game against Maccabi Tel Aviv. The German players and their managers arrived late at night, but this did not prevent Kfar Maccabiah general manager Dror Morad from waiting in the lobby to greet them personally.
Even though Morad is 1.96 meters tall, he was dwarfed by Alba Berlin center Kresimir Nikic who stands at 2.13 meters in his bare feet. The hotel, which specializes in hosting sports teams, operates in accordance with purple tag regulations.
■ "As a gesture of respect and gratitude to Israel" the Indian embassy built a sukkah on the grounds of the embassy. The initiative, strongly supported by Ambassador Sanjeev Singla, was that of the public diplomacy unit of the embassy. 
On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two agreed to continue to advance bilateral cooperation in the fight against the coronavirus, with emphasis on technological cooperation and tests.
■ FORMER SUPREME Court president Asher Grunis, in an interview with KAN 11’s Yoav Krakovsky and former MK Aliza Lavie, who now chairs the Herzl Center, admitted to being conservative in his views. Unlike his predecessors Dorit Beinisch and Aharon Barak, who interfered in the political life of the country, he was not a judicial activist. Not only that, but Grunis refused to voice an opinion on matters related to the current crisis, saying that he had set himself a rule of not presenting his viewpoint on actualities.
He did make one minor exception when asked about the public’s loss of confidence in the judicial system. Replying that one had to look at the whole picture, which shows that the public has lost confidence in all state institutions, Grunis noted that in comparison to others, the judicial system is doing reasonably well.
■ BEGINNING THIS past Sunday, Krakovsky has been conducting a series of interviews from the main reception hall of the President’s Residence, in which there is a virtual sukkah which was opened to the public on Tuesday. Although various well-known and lesser-known personalities have featured in the interviews, the most important was, of course, President Reuven Rivlin, who over the past week has been busy in an attempt to persuade the public, particularly in the haredi and Arab sectors, to abide by Health Ministry regulations.
Jerusalemite David Zwebner, who is apparently unaware of Rivlin’s efforts in this regard, posted an open letter to him on Facebook, in which he wrote: “Mr. President of the State of Israel, why are you silent? Why don’t you gather all the ultra-Orthodox rabbanim and leaders together and insist that either they obey the rules of the country and abide by the instructions imposed by the lockdown, or they are granted immediate independence and forced to live in their own state with zero funding from the State of Israel – effective immediately. Enough is enough.”
Zwebner must surely be aware that some anti-Zionist factors of the haredi population are doing just that, and refuse any help from the state.
What would be a more painful and perhaps more effective punishment would be to threaten those who are not Israeli citizens precisely because they are anti-Zionist with instant deportation if they fail to follow the guidelines of the ministry. Some such people have spent most of their lives in Israel, and don’t even speak the languages of the countries in which they hold citizenship.
However, the fact that they ignore the law and engage in demonstrations against the police is no excuse for the police to use extreme force in trying to neutralize what the police perceive as violence. They don’t use guns or knives, although some of the young haredi men tend to make life difficult for police and journalists alike by driving their motorcycles dangerously close to them – but not hitting them.
Perhaps the police should have a few meetings with the IDF’s Roni Numa, OC Central Command and head of the haredi desk in the Israel Shield task force. Numa managed to achieve understanding and mutual trust with the residents of Bnei Brak.
What is unconscionable is police violence against minors, especially a haredi Down syndrome boy, whose condition is immediately obvious.
For all that, in our criticisms of police, haredim and Arabs, we must be careful not to generalize. There are far more people in the police force who are polite, considerate and not violent than there are people who should not be serving in law enforcement. There are just as many, if not more, haredim and Arabs following the rules than those who ignore them, and we must constantly remind ourselves to make the distinction and not tar every individual in a group with the same brush.
■ IN ADDITION to the various telephone and Zoom conversations that he has had with rabbis and community leaders this week, Rivlin called his former rival for the presidency, Meir Sheetrit, who retired from politics in 2015 after having served as a legislator for 34 years, during which he held several ministerial portfolios, including finance, justice, transportation, national infrastructure, education, construction and housing, and interior.
Rivlin had been unaware that Sheetrit was ill, and when he reached him by phone, he learned that Sheetrit was speaking to him from a bed in Hadassah Medical Center, where he was being treated for coronavirus. “Hadassah saved my life,” he told the president.
■ ON TUESDAY, Rivlin hosted his final Sukkot open house in his role as president of the state. He would have liked to personally meet and greet the thousands of people from all strata of Israeli society who traditionally flock to the President’s Residence on Sukkot, but he had to resign himself to hosting them in a virtual sukkah.
On Tuesday, November 3, US President Donald Trump will learn whether this is his last Election Day as a resident of the White House, and certainly by Thursday, November 26, which is Thanksgiving Day, he will know whether he has reason to give thanks for recovering from COVID-19 and for being reelected.
If he is reelected, chances are high that Ambassador David Friedman, who was among the members of the priestly tribe who prayed for Trump’s well-being at the Blessing of the Priests ceremony at the Western Wall on Monday, will continue to serve as ambassador.
If Joe Biden wins the presidential race, chances are that he will reappoint former ambassador Dan Shapiro, who has remained in Israel since the conclusion of his tenure. Shapiro is familiar with all the things a US ambassador needs to know about Israel, and Biden knows him personally. He would not be the first US ambassador to Israel to be reappointed. Martin Indyk served from 1995 to 1997 and again from 2000 to 2001.
Due to Trump’s illness, the US elections have created greater global interest than is usually the case, and in Israel, even in normal circumstances would threaten to overshadow the 25th anniversary commemoration of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, who was shot at the conclusion of a Tel Aviv peace rally on November 4, 1995.
■ DIVERSITY IS the name of the game in business. Rami Levy, the pioneer of discount supermarkets in Israel, who expanded into retail clothing, real estate and communications, is now looking ahead to when the tourist industry revives, and together with Shalom Haim has made a NIS 70 million bid for Israir Airlines, which is currently controlled by the IDB Development Trustee.
Although the bid is low and may be rejected, a lot will depend on whether there are other bidders, and whether they have the courage, confidence and vision that have characterized Levy’s career surge from being the owner of a small storefront enterprise in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market to heading a nationwide business empire.
■ AFTER LOSING the battle for ownership of the Gustav Klimt painting of Jewish socialite Adele Bloch-Bauer, who was the wife of Viennese industrialist and art collector Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, one would think that the Austrians would be careful about restoration of, or compensation for, assets that were confiscated or, more accurately, looted by the Nazis during the Second World War. Initial resistance to claims by heirs of the last real owners of such property has cost Austria dearly.
Now there’s another battle brewing with the heirs of the Austrian branch of the Rothschild family. New York investor Geoffrey Hoguet, the great-grandson of Albert von Rothschild, who headed the Austrian branch of the family, is suing the city of Vienna for skimming funds from a foundation established by Albert von Rothschild with the aim of turning Vienna into the world center for psychiatric research and help for people with mental problems. The foundation was established in 1907 in memory of Albert’s brother Nathanial, who had a keen interest in psychiatry and had left the equivalent of $100 million for this purpose.
The foundation was dissolved by the Nazis in 1938, when they seized its property, including a baroque palace used as a sanatorium. The assets were later taken over by the Vienna Municipality, which according to Hoguet, has been selling the foundation’s assets and skimming from the proceeds for other health programs. The Rothschild association with the psychiatric project has been obliterated, which is even more painful to Hoguet than the extensive sums of money that found their way into the coffers of the municipality.
His case is one of the largest restitution claims with which Vienna has had to contend, given the current value of the original assets. If he wins the case, Hoguet does not want any money for himself or members of his family. He simply wants to have the foundation reconstituted in line with its original charter.
■ IT MAY be the Zoom era or just a natural inclination to return to roots, but the melting pot philosophy of founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion is moving in reverse, as people stuck at home are recreating the recipes that their grandmothers brought from other parts of the world, listening to the music that had been so familiar in childhood, telling the stories learned on a grandfather’s knee and delving into genealogy and its accompanying family history.
Someone who has been encouraging this for years is Yossi Alfi, whose annual Sukkot storytelling marathons at the Givatayim Theater, always had several ethnic components. This year was the first time in more than quarter of a century in which there was no festival, but on Thursday, October 8, the nation’s Sephardi community and people who are fond of the Sephardi liturgy, can tune in to the Ben-Zvi Institute for the premiere presentation of Yehoram Gaon and Prof. Moshe BenBassat reliving their respective childhood experiences in the Sephardi community of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv’s Hatikva Quarter. Their recollections will be laced with anecdotes and liturgical songs related to Sukkot.
The event will be moderated by Dr. Reuven Gafni. Tickets are NIS 50 per person, with proceeds going to the Michael Levin Lone Soldiers Center and the Israel in the Eye of the Beholder fund, a Ben-Zvi Institute initiative aimed at preserving photographs of the Land of Israel, its inhabitants and its development, with the aim of making all demographic sectors partners in the legacy of the nation from every possible perspective. Register by telephone (02) 539-8855 or go to act.ybz.org.il
■ POLITICAL PUNDITS are guessing that Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi is keeping a low profile because he eventually wants to take over the leadership of Blue and White when the public completely loses faith in Benny Gantz for being an unwitting partner in the coronavirus fiasco. However, it may not be Ashkenazi to whom the Blue and White electorate will give its vote. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, rebel leader within the party Miki Haimovich, who votes in accordance with her conscious and not according to party dictates, is gradually inching her way to the top.
■ THE MEDIA are having a field day with public figures who have violated Health Ministry regulations. It was bad enough when the president and prime minister did so during Passover, but even more inexcusable was Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy, who not only was a member of the Corona Committee, but is also a former head of the Jerusalem police force.
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