Grapevine September 29, 2021: Timely legislation

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 MICHAL AND ISAAC Herzog with Gilat and Naftali Bennett. (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)
MICHAL AND ISAAC Herzog with Gilat and Naftali Bennett.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM, GPO)

Just two weeks ahead of the 80th anniversary commemoration of the Babi Yar massacre, Ukraine’s parliament last week passed a law defining antisemitism, banning it in the country, and classifying it as a crime. The bill was approved by a comfortable majority of 283 in relation to the required minimum of 226.

Perhaps more than for most presidents signing a bill into law, this particular bill was particularly meaningful to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy who is Jewish and who lost members of his family in the Holocaust.

No one knows exactly how many Jews live in Ukraine today. Estimates vary between 56,000 to 140,000. Before the Second World War, the Jewish population numbered in excess of 2.5 million, of whom approximately 1.5 million died or were murdered in the Holocaust. Ukraine’s overall population today, is in the realm of 41 million, with Jews representing a minuscule percentage.

Most Jewish Holocaust survivors chose not to remain in Ukraine, where during September 29 and 30, 1941, close to 34,000 men, women and children – most of them Jewish – were killed in one of the worst, inhuman atrocities: a mass shooting on the edge of a ravine on the outskirts of Kyiv. This was part of a Nazi master plan to kill all the Jews in Ukraine.

The definition of antisemitism within the context of the new law is hatred of Jews, calling for or justifying attacks on Jews, making false or hateful statements about Jews, and denying the mass extermination of Jews during the Holocaust.

The definition also includes the vandalization of buildings, monuments, and religious institutions.

The authors of the bill said that they were motivated by “the lack of a clear definition of antisemitism in Ukrainian legislation which did not allow for the proper classification of crimes committed” against Jews and Jewish owned property. This bothered them because “in practice, it led to the actual impunity of offenders,” they said.

The bill provides for claims for compensation for material and moral damage to victims and/or their property, and violators may face penalties under existing hate-crime laws.

Commenting on the new legislation, Natan Sharansky, who was born in Ukraine and who is chair of the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial Center said that this law will contribute greatly to the global battle against hatred and discrimination of Jews.

Coming as it did, so close to the 80th anniversary of the biggest single massacre of Jews on Ukrainian soil, this is an important piece of legislation that stresses the dangers of this age-old hatred and its prevalence today, said Sharansky, who will be in Ukraine next week for the commemoration ceremony.

■ OCTOBER WILL be a very fateful month for candidates who are hoping to become the next chair of the Jewish Agency of Israel. One of those candidates is Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan Nahoum, who believes that the composite of her various identities make her an ideal choice for the post, and would help to usher in a new era for the 92-year-old institution. The Jewish Agency has never been chaired by a woman, though one came close. 

In the 2018 elections, the dynamic Johanna Arbib-Perugia, a passionate Zionist leader from Rome who had served as a member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency, chair of the World Board of Trustees of Keren Hayesod, and president of the Jerusalem Foundation nearly won. She was also the choice of then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to succeed Natan Sharansky who had decided to step down after nine years at the helm. The one thing that Arbib-Perugia was lacking, was a permanent address in Israel. In the final analysis the person elected as chairman of the Jewish Agency was Isaac Herzog. 

Hassan Nahoum, is not only a woman, but a Sephardi woman with proven leadership abilities. A lawyer by profession, she knows from personal experience what it means to be an immigrant and what challenges immigrants face as they try to integrate into mainstream Israeli society. Having lived in the Diaspora for a little over half her lifetime, she is familiar with the way that Diaspora Jews think. As a lawyer, she is trained to look at the broader picture and to think logically when seeking solutions to problems. On top of all that, she’s also an experienced fundraiser. “A main challenge for the Jewish people is not how everyone prays,” she says. “It’s the unaffiliated who are our greatest challenge – the disconnected, the apathetic, the disengaged young Jewish people totally disinterested in their heritage and Israel.”

■ IN A demonstration of even-handedness, President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal last Thursday hosted opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara in the presidential Sukkah. The get-together – at least as far as the photographs were concerned – was somewhat more formal than when the Herzogs hosted Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his wife Gilat in their private living quarters at the end of July.

As a former opposition leader himself during the Netanyahu administration, Herzog could empathize with the former prime minister and even did so in his inauguration speech in the Knesset.

Thursday was an extremely busy day for the Herzogs who also hosted servicemen from the company of the late Barel Hadaria Shmueli, who was critically wounded in a shooting incident on the Gaza border at the end of last month and died of his injuries. The servicemen all serve in a Mista’arvim unit in the southern division of the Border Police.

The event was also attended by Amir Cohen, the commander of the Border Police and singer Adir Getz. While Barel was in hospital, his commander sent Getz a video clip, made two months earlier, of Barel performing one of his songs, Just As She Is. The artist posted the clip on his social media at the time and wrote that he hoped to perform the song with Barel. After Barel’s death, he came to the President’s Residence to perform the same song in Barel’s memory, together with Barel’s fellow servicemen.

R., a friend of Barel’s who served with him in the same team, told Herzog about their special relationship: “I served for about a year with Barel in the same team, a year in which we slept, ate, laughed, and lived side-by-side and participated together in many operational activities, on which I won’t elaborate. For me and my friends in the team, Barel was a role model. We compared ourselves to him on everything and hoped to be like him. When Barel was fighting for his life in the emergency room at Soroka Hospital, the medical team was amazed by the number of mattresses covering the floor because of all the friends who wanted to be there in those difficult moments and to be by his side when he woke up.”

President Herzog and his wife were visibly moved both by R’s telling of Barel’s charismatic influence and by the musical performance. The president offered his condolences to the servicemen in Barel’s company and said: “What you are doing is extremely meaningful, and you should be very proud of yourselves. This should be the feeling that sticks with you throughout your service and the rest of your lives. I think that the painful memory that you are bearing, about a soldier who is no longer with us, will stay with you for the rest of your lives and will give you a sense of proportion and meaning in life. You will bear his memory and pass it down the generations, and there is something very comforting about that.

“I want to wish you only peace and quiet. May you fulfil your missions in the best way possible, and may your unit succeed in any task it is given in order to protect our country. May we all have a ‘sukkah of peace,’ and may this sukkah of peace remind us that we are all human – both the people under your command, and also those you interact with. We are all human in the end.”

Michal Herzog added: “Like the whole People of Israel, I too watched Barel singing Adir Getz’s song, and I am grateful to Adir for coming here. I think he moved us all. On behalf of all mothers, and as the mother of a combat soldier, I am looking at you and I know how much your team is your family. I know that Barel’s passing has left a hole in this family, and I want to give you strength and wish you only days of peace.”

Amir Cohen, in thanking the Herzogs for hosting this event, said: “By inviting us, the servicemen of the Border Police, to your home, we can see the historic link between the Border Police and the Herzog family. The relationship between the Border Police and your father, the late Chaim Herzog, began when he served as the commander of the Jerusalem district and was the first to deploy Border Police forces here in Jerusalem and to give them operational responsibility along the old municipal border in Jerusalem. With the liberation of Jerusalem, as the military governor, your father saw the Border Police as a unique operational force, and he entrusted it with the mission of security in Judea and Samaria – a mission that continues into the present. The sixth president was also the man who in 1998 placed the flag at the Police Heritage Center to commemorate fallen soldiers from the Border Police.”

■ LATER IN the day the Herzogs visited Shalva, the National Center for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities where they heard the Shalva Band and blind vocalists Dina Samteh and Anael Khalifa belt out Be Preserved, the latest in a series of Shalva hit songs, which in this instance relates to social media bullying. Some thirty years ago, the president’s father, president Chaim Herzog, met with Yossi Samuels, who was the inspiration for the creation of Shalva, which was established by his parents – Kalman and Malki Samuels – because they could not find a suitable facility to treat Yossi who had been rendered blind and deaf as the result of a faulty vaccination when he was an infant.

For Herzog, who was photographed with some of the young people whose potential has been developed by Shalva therapists, it was in a sense the closing of a circle, as his father had been photographed with Yossi Samuels, who despite his disabilities, is amazingly adventurous and courageous.

In congratulating Shalva for its numerous success stories, Herzog said that the significance of what it does can be seen in the fact that so many of its graduates have been able to build careers and integrate into so many different spheres of life. Such achievements were not deemed possible ten or twenty years ago, he said.

While mingling with students and volunteers, Herzog met 9-year-old Or Gal who is struggling with severe delayed development, as well as autism and epilepsy; Adi Elimelech, who after a fall during Sukkot several years ago, was left paralyzed; and 26-year-old Ortal Karp, who came to Shalva when she was six years old and told him about growing up inside Shalva and being helped to integrate into mainstream society as well as into the workforce.

■ THE DEFENSE establishment in one way or another is paramount in the activities of both the president and the prime minister of Israel, not to mention the defense minister. On the evening of the same day that Herzog hosted the Border Police, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, accompanied by Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel visited lone soldiers in the Sukkah of the Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center where they met religious and secular soldiers from Israel and Diaspora communities who had chosen to leave family and friends with the aim of contributing to Israel’s security. Earlier in the day, Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with scores of excited young men and women who belong to Tzofim Garin Tzabar (the literal translation of which is Sabra Sea Scouts), who converged on the Defense Ministry’s central Sukkah in the Kirya in Tel Aviv, and who likewise come from Jewish communities around the globe and eventually join IDF combat units. In addition to Gantz, and military top brass they were greeted by Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata. Tzofim Garin Tzabar is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary. Gantz told his guests that alongside strategic relationships with countries around the world, and Diaspora Jewish communities, Israel is obligated to maintain the strongest army in the region, with the best people possible. He said that the Tzofim Garin Tzabar were among such people, because even though they knew in advance that the army was no picnic, they had chosen to serve and to play their part in defending Israel’s security and in realizing the vision of the founders of the state. They had obeyed a command of conscience – a moral and ethical command that guided the veterans of the army, and continued with the generation of today.

Tamano-Shata said that there are times in which she feels a particular pride in being part of the Jewish People and the nation of Israel. Looking at the young people who are so strongly motivated to serve, gave her enormous pride, she said. “You chose to come to Israel and to join the IDF. You are the proof that even though not all our people reside in Zion, they are nonetheless responsible for each other.”

■ ANYONE WHO read Hannah Brown’s interesting and affectionate interview with Moshe Edery in the Simhat Torah supplement of The Jerusalem Post this week, could not help but notice that despite his invaluable contribution to Israel’s movie industry as a producer, distributor, owner of multiplex cinemas, and more – the Israel Prize has eluded him. Without the investment by Edery and his late brother Leon, many of Israel’s best films might never have been made. The Edery brothers were the largest investors in Israel’s film industry, and Moshe Edery continues in that role. What many people fail to realize is that indirectly, Edery is doing more for Israel’s public diplomacy than all of the professionals who are engaged on this seemingly unsuccessful project.

It isn’t quite as unsuccessful as people seem to think. While there is a great deal of anti-Israel feeling in the world, Israelis are doing very well for themselves while making no attempt to hide or disguise who they are. It’s the opposite of aliyah. Israelis love aliyah, but hate olim, whereas so much of the world hates Israel, but loves Israelis. What has arguably most led to the popularity of Israelis is the film industry which owes so much to Edery. People flock to see Israeli movies, and idolize Israeli film stars, especially wonder woman Gal Gadot. Many Israeli directors and film stars admit that without Edery, they would not be where they are today career-wise. Edery has won recognition here and there within the industry, most recently at the Haifa Film Festival, but it is well past time for recognition from the Israeli establishment. If anyone deserves the Israel Prize – it’s him.

■ LAST SATURDAY, September 25, singer Yardena Arazi celebrated her 70th birthday. Unlike women in salaried positions, she did not have to retire before reaching her mid-sixties, and since she’s not a judge, she doesn’t have to retire, now that she’s reached the age of 70. With longevity becoming the norm, rather than the exception, perhaps it’s time to do away with mandatory retirement age, and instead to determine a minimum age at which both men and women can apply for and receive a senior citizen’s pension based on whatever other regular income they receive. Arazi is still performing as are other singers and actors in their nineties, eighties and seventies. Among them are nonagenarians Lea Koening and Yaakov Bodo, Gila Almagor 82, Sassi Keshet 74, Liora Rivlin 76, Shalom Hanoch 75, Danny Sanderson 71, Dudu Fisher 70, Sasson Gabai 74, Chava Alberstein 74, Gidi Gov 71, Moni Moshonov 70, Ze’ev Revach 81, Tuvia Tzafir 75, Shlomo Artzi 71, Matti Caspi 71, Ilanit 74 and Yehuda Poliker 70 – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

■ SEVERAL OF the above mentioned began their careers as members of the IDF’s Nahal Entertainment Troupe. One of the key attractions at the recent Binyamina Festival, was an intergenerational representation of singers who during their mandatory army service had been members of the Nahal Entertainment Troupe, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary. Some one-thousand people, including Binyamina-Givat Ada Mayor Itai Weisberg enjoyed a night of nostalgia produced by the Asner Brothers in conjunction with the Binyamina-Givat Ada Community Center. 

Among the performers were Tuvia Tzafir, Daphna Dekel, Sassi Keshet, Ophira Gluska, Gabi Amrani, Shula Chen, Liron Lev, Raz Shmueli and several others who were once household names.

■ BIRTHDAY GREETINGS are in order to former prime minister Ehud Olmert who celebrates his 76th birthday on September 30. Olmert is an occasional columnist for Maariv and The Jerusalem Post. Two years ago Olmert joined Ashkelon-based medical cannabis company Univo as an investor and professional adviser, who helps to promote the company in Israel and globally.

■ INASMUCH AS it is a great source of personal pride to the Hebrew University’s Prof. Eliezer Rabinovici to be elected president of the prestigious CERN Council, it is an even greater source of pride to Israel that one of its citizens has been chosen to succeed Dr. Ursula Bassler who has been in the post for three years, and who prior to her own election was deputy director at France’s National Institute for Nuclear and Particle Physics (IN2P3 - CNRS). Bassler had warm praise for her CERN successor.

“Prof. Rabinovici is a brilliant theorist in the most advanced fields of research” she said. “During my presidency, I very often had the occasion to exchange with Prof. Rabinovici, whose advice and contributions have always been very helpful to steer the ongoing discussions. I am confident that the Council is welcoming an excellent president, whose concern for science is of the utmost importance.”

Although Rabinovici has been a member of the CERN Council for 16 years, Israel has been a member state only since January 2014, when it became the 21st member state of the Geneva-based science collaborative. Israel was an observer state from 1991, and an associate member from October. 2011.

In January 1995, Shimon Peres, as foreign minister, paid an official visit to CERN, and did so again as president in March 2011, when he was welcomed by then director-general German physicist Rolf-Dieter Heuer.

■ FOLLOWING TO some extent in the footsteps of his father, venture capitalist Chemi Peres, who served as a Cobra helicopter pilot in the Israel Air Force, and in 1996 fought in Operation Grapes of Wrath, has become an ardent advocate for peace and greater normalization in the Middle East. Shimon Peres turned from a hawk to a dove, and many senior IDF officers who distinguished themselves in battle later joined the peace camp. Chemi Peres, who inter alia serves as chairman of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation that was established by his father, this week participated via Zoom in a rally being held in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, in which Sunni leaders, activists and members of the armed forces called for normalization with Israel in the spirit of the Abraham Accords. Theirs were lone voices in the wilderness which met with opposition and threats – but every revolutionary movement has to start somewhere. 

The event organized by the New York based Center for Peace Communication (CPC) was praised by Peres, who in an address to the plenary session, said that it was part of his father’s vision, and was both historic and inspirational. He noted that Iraq was once ancient Babylon where the Jewish people who had been exiled there, thrived and developed their culture, the influence of which exists to this day. 

He also saw normalization trends in the Middle East as a model for hope that they would have a positive impact on Israeli-Palestinian relations and prospects for peace. He saw the initiative for normalization and peace communications as an inspiration for the future, especially for those Israelis whose family histories relate to Iraq. In 1993, together with Arye Naor, Shimon Peres wrote a book The New Middle East, which was a blueprint for what began to evolve almost three decades later. In a 1996 follow-up, Peres collaborated with journalist David Landau to produce The Battle for Peace. A state memorial ceremony for Peres who died on September 28, 2016, will be held on Mount Herzl on Monday, October 4.

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