Grapevine: Voices from the left

Yaïr Lapid (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Yaïr Lapid
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
THE DEMONSTRATION around the corner from the Prime Minister’s Residence last Saturday night, by a coalition of Center-Left to extreme Left organizations, was one of the largest leftist gatherings that have come together in Jerusalem in a very long time.
And it wasn’t a one-time phenomenon: Peace Now director-general Yariv Oppenheimer declared it the first of many, aimed at giving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his marching orders.
Former cabinet minister Yossi Sarid said he was deliberately not addressing himself to Netanyahu, “because there’s no one to talk to.”
Former Shin Ben (Israel Security Agency) chief Carmi Gillon dubbed Netanyahu “an egomaniac who will bring destruction on the State of Israel.” He also warned “with full professional responsibility” that if MKs and others continue to go up to the Temple Mount, they will be responsible for the outbreak of a religious war.
Meretz MK Esawi Frej, in an emotional address, spoke of conversations he has with his daughter Amna, a student at the Hebrew University and an on-campus Meretz activist, who on the one hand is challenged by fellow Arab students – who ask her why her father belongs to a Zionist political party; and on the other hand has to contend with the discriminatory attitudes of some Jewish students.
Because her father is a legislator, she asked him to explain exactly what the Jewish Nation-State bill entails and how it differs from the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence gave Arab citizens equality, he told her, but even if this was not carried out in practice, “it at least gave us hope.
The law that Netanyahu wants to impose will extinguish that hope.”
■ THERE’S A Hebrew saying that it’s not enough just to be right, you also have to be wise. Even though Jews may have the right to ascend the Temple Mount, at this tension-filled point in time, it’s not the wise thing to do – because the repercussions will affect not only those who decide to take the risk, but also countless innocent people who will be the victims of riots and terrorist attacks.
What is needed right now is responsibility, not ego and defiance.
MK Moshe Feiglin has said nothing will stop him, and there are a few other MKs who are similarly inclined.
What will they say afterwards to the families of people killed in future riots and terrorist attacks as a result of their folly? ■ HUMOR HAS a way of creeping into the most serious of situations.
Demonstrators burst into laughter on Saturday night when Peace Now’s Oppenheimer announced the police were concerned about the lack of balance in the crowding of the street, and had requested that people move to the left.
■ ISRAELI ACTORS who go to Hollywood are often cast as Arabs, but Israeli filmmakers such as Eran Riklis prefer to use genuine Arabs – who not only know the language and manners of their people, but also the mentality. Logically, Arab actors can bring more to the role than those who are not Arab, such as Jewish Israelis selected by Hollywood casting agents only because of their black hair and dark complexions.
Hollywood tends to ignore the fact that there are also light-skinned Arabs with blue eyes and red hair.
Riklis, who directed Dancing Arabs based on the book by Sayed Kashua, selected Tawfeek Barhom to play the lead role of Eyad, an Arab boy with a high IQ who is sent to an Israeli boarding school. Interviewed on Israel Radio by Yoav Ginai, Barhom, whose own story is in some respects similar to that of the character he plays, said: “There are a lot of psychopaths, including people in the government for whom racism is more a business than ideology.
Most people in the country are interested in living a normal existence, but the psychopaths fan the flames of hatred.”
■ “MY SISTER is a settler,” quipped Abdullah Azar, a very personable immigration officer and manager of the visa, immigration and citizenship office at the Australian Embassy.
Azar was born and currently resides in Jaffa, where his family has lived for many generations. His sister lives in one of the predominantly Jewish outer suburbs of Jerusalem. The neighbors in her apartment block know she is Arab and it doesn’t bother them, even though the political affiliations of several of them are right of center.
■ SPEECH IS silver and silence is golden, goes the old adage, but the refusal of two prominently placed women to file charges of sexual assault and harassment has made silence anything but golden. Each of them confided about the respective incidents to good friends, who of course spread the stories far and wide, and it didn’t take long before they reached the media.
In one case, a female judge was allegedly raped by a police officer.
In another involving former diplomat and MK Colette Avital, who currently heads the umbrella organization of associations of Holocaust survivors in Israel, was told in the lewdest terminology by Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund chairman Efi Stenzler that he was dying to have intercourse with her. Stenzler has denied the story, saying he would never use such language; however, according to Channel 2, Avital confirmed it but refused to discuss it any further.
If it wasn’t for the allegedly foul language, one suspects that a woman of the world such as Avital might even have taken it as a compliment.
Avital is one of those fortunate women who have survived the vicissitudes of time, and looks nowhere near her age. In a way, it is flattering when a woman over the age of 70 is told by a man he has the hots for her.
However, because neither she nor the female judge have filed complaints, speculation has gone viral – with imaginations running wild in the regular media as well as on social networks.
Many incidents, not only those of a sexual nature, tend to be distorted because people don’t listen, misread information and then draw the wrong conclusions. A case in point was President Reuven Rivlin’s refusal to have Amir Benayoun sing at the first annual commemoration of the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands and Iran – because the president perceived that Benayoun had crossed the racist barrier in a song he had written and posted on his Facebook page. Racist attitudes run contrary to Rivlin’s principles.
■ IT MAKES no difference what strata of Israeli society people come from, the common denominator is the smartphone with the built-in camera they put to use at every possible event. At the aforementioned inaugural commemoration of the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands and Iran, moderator Yossi Alfi, when asking people to turn off their phones and not use their cameras, reminded them: “When we came to Israel, we came without cellphones.”
Strangely enough, Iraqi-born writer Eli Amir, whose books have created greater awareness about Jews from his part of the world, was not invited, although he was mentioned by Rivlin in his address. When listing writers from Arab lands who have made great contributions to Jewish and Israeli culture, Rivlin omitted another famous Iraqi-born writer: Sami Michael, who writes of the dreams and struggles of both Jews and Arabs, and has long been the proponent of a Palestinian state.
Among those present were the two elder statesman of Israel’s Iraqi community, Shlomo Hillel and Mordechai Ben-Porat, who are both aged 91, and were leaders in the Iraqi Jewish underground that facilitated the Iraqi Jewish exodus.
■ THERE ARE growing numbers of people around the globe who believe religious leaders will be more successful than politicians in resolving conflict, because the masses are more inclined to listen to people of the cloth than to politicians whose personal agendas may override national considerations.
Within the framework of interfaith dialogue, Rivlin met last week with a five-member delegation of imams from Senegal. In welcoming them to Jerusalem, “the capital of Israel and the city that is holy for all monotheistic faiths,” Rivlin endorsed the importance of interfaith dialogue and ongoing meetings between people of different faiths.
“There is not, and never will there be, a war between Judaism and Islam,” he told the delegation. “Your arrival here signifies to me friendship and understanding, and the ability for us to come together, each with our own beliefs yet in agreement that God is the only God.”
Imam El Hadji Oumar Diene replied that during their visit, delegation members had the opportunity to see Israel up close, in terms of religion, economics and society. “We are pleased and grateful for the hospitality,” he said. “We came for peace and an interfaith dialogue, and we are pleased with what we have seen and experienced during our visit. We pray to God in the hope that peace will come to Israel and the entire world.
“We saw that you made great efforts to extend your hand toward peace; we hope the other side will extend their hands to you in peace, and that you live in coexistence.”
■ FORMER MILITARY correspondent for The Jerusalem Post Yaakov Katz, who is currently foreign affairs adviser to Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, recently addressed foreign students of former Chicagoan Dr. Harold Goldmeier, who are enrolled in Israeli courses for college credit while spending five to nine months in Israel.
The program is part of Masa through American Jewish University in Los Angeles, called Aardvark Gap Year Program in Israel – Tel Aviv.
Katz, who before taking up his position with Bennett completed a year of study at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, explained Israel’s foreign and economic policies, adding context to what the students had learned in class. He also shared several personal stories about his travels abroad, including a trip to Bali with Bennett, and inter alia spoke of the perception of Israel among foreign diplomats and politicians. Katz reviewed the most pressing issues currently facing Israel and the West, including a nuclear-armed Iran, state-sponsored terrorism and the BDS movement gaining traction on university campuses, and among European nations with which Israel is engaged in trade.
Students demonstrated great interest in the range of topics he discussed and eagerly asked questions, which is the best compliment any speaker can get.
■ IN THE midst of the electoral brouhaha, Finance Minister Yair Lapid found time to go to the Peres Center for Peace, for the launch of the “Safe Place” exhibit of photographs of prominent Israeli women by his wife – journalist, author and photographer Lihi Lapid. The photos were taken in coordination with a petition signed by Shimon Peres and members of No2Violence Against Women, which outlines women’s rights and calls on the UN to adopt universal legislation on the cessation of violence against women. Peres, who has long been a supporter of women’s rights, declared that whoever raises a hand against a woman, also raises a hand against society, tradition and the future.
Among the women featured in the exhibition are Sara Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni, Limor Livnat, Gila Almagor, Galit Gutman, Rona Ramon, Hanna Laszlo, Yael Arad, Karen Leibowitz, Agi Mishol, Keren Mor and other household names. This is one of several campaigns launched by women’s organizations such as WIZO, Naamat, the Association of Rape Crisis Centers and others, with the participation of well-known men – in the hopes that when a man tells a man not to raise a hand against a woman, it may be more effective than a woman saying the same thing.
■ ON MONDAY night, despite the rumblings in the coalition and prior to his meeting with Netanyahu, Lapid honored a speaking engagement at the Ramat Gan residence of Italian Ambassador Francesco Maria Talo, within the context of the 15th meeting of EU ambassadors, commercial counselors and scientific attaches with chairpersons and managers of Israel-EU countries’ bi-national chambers of commerce and industry. Talo, representing the Italian presidency of the EU; Lars Faaborg-Andersen, head of the EU Delegation in Israel; and Gad Propper, chairman of the Israel-EU Chamber of Commerce and Industry, co-hosted the event – which in itself was part of a wider Israel-Italy scientific and economic conference, under the title of “Let the Complex Be Simple.” Lapid spoke on the topic of, “Let the economic complex be simple: Simplification of decision processes in the economic context.”
What he said was indicative of what would follow in his meeting with Netanyahu later that evening.
“I call from this stage to the prime minister and all the parties: Take the IDF out of the political debate. Do not recruit our fighters to an election campaign. Even during difficult and stormy days in the past, the Israeli leadership avoided dragging the IDF into political arguments – and that tradition should be maintained,” he said.
Lapid claimed that the upcoming elections are not about a particular issue, not about security or society, “but an election between those who came to work and those who came to block everything. We came to work; that’s all we wanted, that’s all we still want. That’s all we asked of our coalition partners – to stand by their guarantees and let us work,” he said.
“The two major initiatives the prime minister decided to block – the budget and the housing reforms – were guarantees,” Lapid continued.
“The government promised the people of Israel that it would pass a social budget and bring down the cost of living. The prime minister sat next to me for 11 hours in a government meeting during which we approved the budget, clause after clause. He sat opposite me in the Knesset and voted for the value-added tax exemption on housing.
When we guarantee something to the public, we must carry it out.
“The prime minister chose to act irresponsibly and not to fulfill his promises to the public. Instead of lowering the cost of living, passing a social budget, improving salaries for the middle class and supporting the weakest in society, he prefers to raise taxes and pay the ultra-Orthodox parties now, from the pockets of the Israeli middle class. This is a deal with haredim of the oldest kind: An attempt at a fire sale of the equal burden law, of the reduction in budgets for yeshivot, of the introduction of the core curriculum into ultra-Orthodox education – all of which were aimed at preventing an entire generation of haredim from living a life of poverty,” Lapid told his audience.
“Israel is not in an easy situation.
Our relations with the US have been damaged because of patronizing and at times, insulting behavior.
Gaza is not demilitarized. An entire generation finishes each month in debt. We could have worked together to fix it; we could have carried on instead of going to unnecessary elections. The idea that I tried to create an alternative government with the ultra-Orthodox is an absurdity pushed by people who have transformed suspicion and spin into a way of life. Instead of cooperation and hard work, we got paralysis and obstacle after obstacle.
“I said to the prime minister on more than one occasion, ‘If you don’t want to work, at least don’t stand in our way as we change the country. Don’t keep the Israeli public from what they deserve.’ Now, we will have to wait until after elections so that we can continue to deliver on our promises.”
After midnight on Monday, Lapid released a statement in which he said: “Netanyahu is leading Israel to unnecessary elections. He chose to act without consideration for the national interest and to place the needs of the Israeli public at the bottom of his list of priorities.” He repeated the gist of these remarks at an energy conference in Tel Aviv the following morning.
■ JUSTICE MINISTER Tzipi Livni, who represented the government at the Romanian Embassy’s National Day celebrations – hosted at the Tel Aviv Museum by Ambassador Andrea Pasternac – admitted that due to the turmoil in the Knesset she had almost decided not to come, but felt that she could not do that to Pasternac at the last minute.
In addition, Pasternac had made a request that no other ambassador had ever made of her: asking her to speak in Hebrew instead of English.
Pasternac delivered her own address in Hebrew, talking about the strong ties between Romania and Israel stretching back way before the establishment of the state – when in 1882, immigrants from Romania founded Zichron Ya’acov and subsequently became an integral part of the success story of Carmel Mizrahi wines. Today, said Pasternac, there are seventh- and eighth-generation Israelis living in Zichron Yaacov who still maintain close contact with Romania, and even speak the language.
As an example she called on Ruth Benhaim, the matriarch of the Benhaim winery, whose ancestors come from the part of Romania where vineyards and wine production are prevalent. Her family originally made wooden kegs for wine, and later expanded into producing it.
The ambassador also referred to Romanian Unification Day – which in 1918, following the end of World War I, marked the unification of Transylvania, Bessarabia and Bukovina with Romania. In this context, she also noted that the nationalist trends now surfacing in Israel are also evident in Romania and other parts of Europe.
Livni commended Pasternac on her command of Hebrew, saying that while other foreign ambassadors occasionally introduce a sentence or two in Hebrew into their remarks, it is rare for one to deliver a whole address in Hebrew, and to be able to read it in the language and not in transliteration.
Taking her cue from Pasternac’s mention of abiding ties of multi-generational Israelis of Romanian ancestry with their mother country, Livni commented that there are some 400,000 Israelis who carry Romania in their hearts. Harking back to a previous era, Livni said that when the State of Israel was still very young, there was a desire to sever immigrants’ ties with the culture of their native countries, and to create the new Israeli. In Livni’s view, this was a mistake, because she believes everyone should bring a different facet of Jewish life from a different place, to enhance Israel’s standing as a multicultural society.
Livni could not resist alluding to the Jewish Nation-State bill, to which she is opposed – considering it an internal danger no less great than the external dangers of Islamic radicals.
Israel is experiencing a period of extreme tension, she said.
The large diplomatic representation among the guests included retired Israeli diplomats who were either born in Romania, such as Meir Rosenne, Moshe Arad and Colette Avital; or who served as ambassadors in Romania, such as Zvi Mazel. Also present was Tamar Samash, ambassador-designate to Romania, who will be serving her second stint; she previously was deputy chief of mission during Mazel’s term.
Conversation among the many foreign diplomats present focused to some extent on the inauguration earlier that day of the Knesset caucus aimed at improving the status of Israel’s diplomats – who are underpaid, overworked and are, in fact, soldiers without uniforms. Their lives are often put at risk when serving in countries in which there are population groups and political parties hostile to Israel. Diplomatic Corps dean Henri Etoundi Essomba lauded the Knesset initiative, saying it was inspiring – since in most other countries, lawmakers would not side with diplomats, and the subject would never come up for debate.
Bureaucracy – the bane of all our lives – prevented Aviv Shiron, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director- general for Western Europe, from attending the caucus meeting, because his name was not on the Knesset list and the person checking the list was not interested in his credentials.
He hung around for 20 minutes trying to gain entry, then gave up and returned to work.
■ AMONG THE diplomats and people of Romanian extraction, mingling at the Romanian reception was Sheldon Ritz, deputy general manager and head of the food and beverage division at Jerusalem’s famed King David Hotel. Ritz was networking among ambassadors, who continue to favor the King David when looking to accommodate visiting dignitaries – despite the nearby wealth of competition that has sprung up in recent years. While some foreign dignitaries do indeed stay at the Leonardo Plaza, Mamilla, David Citadel, Waldorf Astoria, Inbal and Mount Zion hotels, the overwhelming majority still opt for the King David – which maintains an aura of old world nobility.
Ritz runs a mini-Foreign Ministry.
Over the next few days, guests at the King David will include the Irish defense minister, the Lithuanian prime minister and the Korean foreign minister.
■ TEL AVIV Mayor Ron Huldai, who is chairman of the Tel Aviv Museum’s board of directors, should instruct museum guards to have more respect for senior citizens.
More than 20 Romanian expatriates arrived at the museum a halfhour or so before the National Day ceremony was due to begin. The guard denied them entry, even though they showed him their invitations.
One elderly woman asked to be allowed to sit on one of the chairs at the entrance to the foyer.
His reply was that she could sit on the concrete slabs outside. The slabs are low and not user-friendly to creaking bones. An elderly man who desperately needed to use the toilet asked several times for permission to go inside for this purpose and promised to return immediately. He was also denied entry by the guard.
Yet another example of how petty bureaucracy rules the roost.