GRAPEVINE: Swan song

The latest news from the Israeli social and diplomatic scene.

DEPUTY KNESSET Speaker Nava Boker with Yung Sheng Chi Representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office at Taiwan National Day Reception. (photo credit: STEVE LINDE)
DEPUTY KNESSET Speaker Nava Boker with Yung Sheng Chi Representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office at Taiwan National Day Reception.
(photo credit: STEVE LINDE)
 Most of the invitees to the Taiwan National Day reception at the Tel Aviv Sheraton hotel this week, were unaware that it was also the swan song for Ambassador Vincent Yun- Sheng Chi, who for political reasons is known as the Representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office. Most countries that have full diplomatic relations with China, or that aspire to such, refrain from acknowledging the ambassadorial status of Taiwanese heads of missions. But now that he’s retiring, perhaps the People’s Republic of China will be a little more lenient towards a representative of the Republic of China and allow him his correct title.
Actually it was used by Knesset Deputy Speaker MK Nava Boker, who could get away with it because her speech was in Hebrew. She referred to him not as Natzig (Representative) but as Shagrir (Ambassador).
Due to political complications, although members of the Knesset Israel-Taiwan Parliamentary Friendship Group come to events hosted by the Taipei Representative, people from the Foreign Ministry do not, with the noted exception of retired ambassador Zvi Gabay, who since his retirement has been a regular guest. A more recent retiree, Shlomo Morgan, who worked in the Protocol Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was also present, as was Vered Swid, the former status of women adviser to the prime minister. Swid attended such events even when she worked in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Yun-Sheng is retiring because he has reached the age of 65, though he looks a lot closer to 45. He and his wife have every intention of returning to Israel as tourists. She particularly loves Israel and is sorry that they have to leave. In expressing appreciation for all the courtesies accorded to him, Yun Sheng asked that the same consideration be given to his successor. He was very proud of the fact that Taiwan was the first democracy in Asia and the first Asian country to promote the concept of freedom of the press.
Despite numerous difficulties and challenges, he said, Taiwan’s pursuit of democracy and freedom never died.
President Tsai Ing-Wen is committed to building Taiwan into a freer and even more democratic state, he said. As for relations with Israel, Taiwan treasures its friendship cooperation and partnership with Israel, said Yun Sheng citing ever-increasing cooperation in trade relations, hi-tech, science and medicine, and growing tourism in both directions.
Boker, who last spring led a parliamentary delegation to Taiwan, said that she was very impressed by what Taiwan has achieved and that economic and cultural relations between Israel and Taiwan have never been better. A sign of the high esteem in which Taiwan holds Israel could be seen during the playing of the national anthems.
During “Hatikva,” a moving documentary of modern Israel’s 70-year history was screened. This was a rare gesture at a diplomatic reception.
It is not unusual for hosts to screen videos depicting the history and folklore of their own countries – but not of Israel.
The event included traditional Chinese cuisine and a Chinese drum recital. Ben Wang, a highly talented artist who was born and raised in Taiwan but who has been living in Jerusalem since 1994 and is married to an Israeli, showed an exhibition of his works. His wife and their daughter, who has just completed her army service, were also present. Among the MKs present in addition to Boker were Yoel Hasson, Shuli Mualem, Avraham Neguise and Anat Berko.
■ EVERY YEAR during Sukkot, the Christian Embassy in Jerusalem gives a boost to Israel’s incoming tourism by holding its dynamic Feast of Tabernacles attended by several thousand Evangelists from around the world.
“We are expecting one of our biggest crowds ever at this year’s Feast,” ICEJ President Dr. Jürgen Bühler said at the beginning of the week, and anticipated that some 6,000 people would be participating in this year’s festival, which runs from October 6 to 11. Many of the participants arrived well in advance so that they could have an individual Holy Land experience in addition to the mass experience that is part of the Feast of Tabernacles program. They are also conscious of the fact that this is the 50th anniversary year of the reunification of Jerusalem, and they want to be part of that too.
This will be the 38th annual Feast of Tabernacles. Officially, it begins on Friday night with an outdoor meal and concert at the Ein Gedi Oasis along the shores of the Dead Sea and then moves on to Jerusalem’s Pais Arena. As happens every year, there will be a march through the capital, which hopefully will not conflict with the mega-presence of Women Make Peace. The economic impact on Israel in terms of money being spent on accommodation, food, transport and gifts is expected to be in the range of $18 million to $20 million, according to an ICEJ spokesman.
■ IN LAST Friday’s Jerusalem Post, columnist David M. Weinberg wrote about who he considered to be the most interesting Jews of 5778. In other words, he pre-empted the annual Post list of the most influential Jews. Influence does not necessarily come from making headlines, though people whose names are frequently in the headlines may give the impression that they have much more influence than is actually the case. Often though, it’s people in the background, whose names do occasionally appear in the headlines who are more influential than the people they are pushing or supporting.
The Post, on principle, has a policy of not including its writers in its lists of influential Jews, but if that policy did not exist, there is no doubt that columnists Caroline Glick and Isi Leibler, each of who have tremendous followings in Israel and beyond, would definitely be somewhere in the forefront.
Another columnist, Michael Freund, in one of his other capacities as head of Shavei Israel, has been responsible for Jewish renewal in Eastern Europe, Asia and South America by bringing people of Jewish extraction back into the fold, teaching them Judaism and arranging for their conversions.
The trouble with all such lists is that it’s difficult to be universal without mentioning the same people over and over. The big fish in the big sea continue to enjoy global recognition.
The big fish in the small sea have lots of recognition in their home communities and possibly their home countries, but beyond that, hardly anyone other than members of international organizations whose events they attend, has ever heard of them. It’s therefore understandable that there are protests from certain quarters on behalf of people whose names were omitted.
There is no intention here to name 50 or 100 such people, but here are a few to think about: Film producers and distributors Leon and Moshe Edry, without whom the Israel film industry would be negligible. Then there’s public relations executive Ran Rahav, whose list of clients includes many of Israel’s top companies in their diverse fields. If Rahav didn’t have wide-ranging influence with the media, these companies would take their business elsewhere.
Then, there’s a whole bunch of Russian oligarchs who were born in the USSR, made millions during and after the transition period to a so-called democracy and want to be among the movers and shakers of the Jewish world, as well has having esteemed positions in the non-Jewish world in the countries in which they live. One of the best known of these outside of Israel is Len Blavatnik, who was born in Odessa, grew up in Moscow, went to America where he acquired US citizenship and made pots of money and who also has a luxury residence in London.
Blavatnik, who is said to be worth $19.5 billion, gives away millions of pounds and dollars every year, and in 2015 was named Britain’s richest man.
A gift of £75m to Oxford University sparked considerable controversy.
The signatories of a public letter accused the university of failing to investigate whether Blavatnik and other oligarchs played any role in what they described as a state-sponsored campaign of harassment against BP in Russia.
The signatories demanded Oxford “stop selling its reputation and prestige to Putin’s associates.” The signatories included several Russian expatriates, among them Pavel Litvinov, Vladimir Bukovsky, Vladimir Milov and Ilya Zaslavsky, all of whom have suffered at the hands of the KGB.
Blavatnik who was knighted this year in recognition of his philanthropic activities, has significant investment and philanthropic interests in Israel, including a stake in Channel 10, which has recently come in for considerable publicity because it is tied to police investigations into alleged improprieties by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Amongst his various philanthropic activities in Israel, Blavatnik provides scholarships for outstanding Israeli soldiers.
The best-known Russian oligarch in Israel used to be Arkady Gaydamak, but these days it is Leonid Nevzlin, who is the key financial backer of Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People. Although he has put his daughter in charge, without Nevzlin’s support, the museum would have a hard time staying afloat.
Then there’s celebrated NBA basketball player Omri Casspi, who plays for the Golden State Warriors.
Though not religiously observant, Casspi refused to play on Yom Kippur, setting a very fine example for other Israelis and for secular Jews in general.
Then there’s Prof. Avi Rifkin, head of the shock trauma unit at Hadassah, whose pioneering techniques have been instrumental in saving untold numbers of lives.
And there’s serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist Jonathan Medved, whose OurCrowd “family” of millionaires and billionaires have had a significant impact on Israel’s economy. Influence is a lot more than getting one’s name in a newspaper headline.
■ FORMER AMBASSADOR of Moldova to Israel Larisa Miculet, who is currently her country’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, continues to maintain her Israel connections.
Miculet, who served in Israel from January 2006 to December 2010, sent Rosh Hashana greetings to Israeli friends and acquaintances.
She is not the only former ambassador to Israel who was later assigned to the UN. Amongst others whom she had met during her time in Israel were two ambassadors of Kazakhstan, Kairat Abdrakhmanov and Birganym Aitimova.
Miculet has made it her business to maintain collegial relations with Israeli representatives at the UN, Ron Prosor and present incumbent Danny Danon, with whom she has celebrated Jewish holidays. It’s nice to know that many ambassadors, when they leave Israel, continue to take an interest, and that some come back on vacation or on official visits in new capacities such as foreign minister.