What do Greece and Yamina Party head Naftali Bennett have in common? A birthday. The country on March 25 celebrated the bicentennial of modern Greece, and will continue to do so for the year ahead. Bennett celebrated his 49th birthday on the same date, but didn’t get the present he would have liked. From double-digit preelection forecasts, he slid down the slippery slope of political uncertainty to far fewer mandates than anyone had envisaged.
The Greek War of Independence from Ottoman rule erupted on March 25, 1821, and the bicentennial was celebrated by Greek expatriate communities around the world. Public buildings, Greek embassies and consulates and Greek-owned enterprises in scores of cities lit up for the occasion. Greece is also ready to welcome Israeli tourists who have been vaccinated and tested for the coronavirus before leaving Israel and on arrival in Greece.
■ REPORTING FROM the Arab sector on Tuesday, Reshet Bet’s Orly Alkalai said around lunch time that the polling stations were almost devoid of voters. She attributed this to a tendency on the part of the Arab population to vote in the evening because they were working during daytime. But even in the evening, Arab voter turnout was poor in comparison to last year, although there were definitely some surprises.
Election Day is a public holiday. Many people took advantage of this and flocked to beaches, parks and other attractions around the country. But if Arabs can work and then vote at night, why not the rest of the population? There is no valid reason for making Election Day a public holiday, especially in a digital age when computerized polling stations can be set up in hospitals, shopping malls, industrial complexes, central bus stations, etc. Voters have to show their ID cards, which include their portraits, so cheating would be minimal. It would save a lot of time and money, and would enable people to vote in places most convenient to them.
■ VETERAN BROADCASTER Yigal Ravid is currently in the US and is one of many Israelis living temporarily abroad who are angry that they have been denied the right to vote in the last four elections. Speaking on Reshet Bet on Tuesday, Ravid acknowledged that those people with Israeli citizenship who are living permanently abroad should perhaps not be able to vote, even though the basic law gives all Israeli citizens that right. He pointed out that he and many others currently living outside of Israel pay taxes in Israel, but could not get home for the elections due to airport closures in the face of the pandemic.
Of course, it is difficult to determine just how many people are affected and to what extent their votes could influence the election outcomes. The Central Elections Committee went to great expense and effort to ensure that any Israeli returning from overseas could vote at the airport, but by noon on Tuesday, less than 50 people had done so to the great disappointment of Central Elections Committee Director Orly Ades. There are sufficient Israeli embassies and consulates around the world to make it possible for any Israeli to vote if they can produce a valid Israeli ID card and passport. This is definitely something that should be on the agenda of the next Knesset.
Israel follows America in so many ways, perhaps it should also do so when it comes to elections. Democrats and Republicans abroad are always extremely active during an American election campaign. There is no reason Israelis abroad should not be equally active. But even Israelis at home are sometimes denied, as happened to a group of paratroopers whose officers would not allow them to go to the polling station on the base until almost 10 p.m. when polling stations closed. The soldiers’ polling station was too far away for them to get there in time. They and their parents are hopping mad, as are top army brass, about the officers violating a basic democratic right.
■ ALMOST, BUT not quite certain to become an MK, Orit Struck, who is number five on the Religious Zionist Party list, when it looked as if she was definitely in, was asked by Reshet Bet’s Aryeh Golan about her immediate plans. She did not hesitate about her priorities and instantly replied, “To finish cleaning for Pesach.”
■ APROPOS PASSOVER, President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday sold all the leaven in the President’s Residence using Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Moshe Amar as his agent. All the leaven in Jerusalem was subsequently symbolically sold to a non-Jew, and will be redeemed after the conclusion of the festival. Although Rivlin is Ashkenazi, in line with his flagship project of uniting the “tribes,” he chooses to conduct this contractual arrangement for the sale of leaven with a Sephardi rabbi. Rivlin also asked Amar to bless the nation and Jews around the world in the hope that everyone will be safe and enjoy good health.
■ POLITICS NOTWITHSTANDING, Rivlin’s focus over the past two weeks has also been in the sphere of diplomacy. He went on lightning visits to Germany, Austria and France last week, where he met his counterparts in those countries, as well as German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. After returning home, Rivlin met with new UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland, who said he hoped to be able to continue the coordination established by his predecessor, Nickolay Mladenov.
Rivlin also hosted 13 foreign ambassadors from the Balkans, Europe, Asia and the Pacific, Africa and South America to whom he and members of his staff explained the workings of the President’s Office and the actual role of Israel’s president and the powers vested in him.
■ ONE OF the traditions of the Israel office of the World Jewish Congress and The Israel Council on Foreign Relations, which operates under the auspices of the WJC, is to hold a model Seder for foreign diplomats in Israel and around the world, as close as possible to Seder night, so that if they are invited to a Seder, they will know what’s going on and will be able to follow the Haggadah. Not knowing whether restrictions for social gatherings would be lifted in time, organizers in Israel, decided that instead of holding the event in a hotel, as was the case in the past, they would do it on Zoom.
Unlike many Zoom luncheons, dinners and suppers where guests usually have to provide their own repast or pay for one to be sent by a restaurant or caterer with which the organizers have an arrangement, the WJC sent elegant boxes to foreign embassies in Israel. As there are more male than female diplomats, the boxes contained a proper kippah made of fabric, a Haggadah, a haroset kit, replete with apples, nuts and wine for making one’s own haroset, a box of matzah and a large, private label bottle of wine. In fact, all the contents of the box were WJC private-label products that featured an impression of Jerusalem where the Israel office of the WJC is headquartered.
People explaining the background to Passover, traditions and what happens at the Seder table were speaking from different parts of the world. Gad Ariely, the chair of WJC Israel, in explaining that the Seder is an annual tradition, quipped that it seems that elections to the Knesset might also become an annual tradition. WJC executive vice president Maram Stern, speaking from Brussels, said that as the son of Holocaust survivors, Passover was very important to him because the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto, began on the holiday, and it was in the Warsaw that his mother attended a wartime Seder.
United Arab Emirates Chief Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, was also among the speakers, as was president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Marie van der Zyl, who is also a member of the Executive Committee of the WJC. She spoke of finding modern-day symbolism in the Seder plate, and said the maror (bitter herbs) was symbolic of the resurgence of antisemitism. Wendy Kahn, national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, demonstrated how haroset is made, and spoke of a similar even that is held in South Africa under the title of “Freedom Seder,” and focuses on human rights and the road to freedom from apartheid.
There are many similarities between the Children of Israel being freed from Egyptian bondage and indigenous Africans being freed from apartheid, she said. “The end of apartheid is the story of freedom.”
The event was hosted by Laurence Weinbaum, director general of the Israel office of the WJC and of the ICFR.
May we all know freedom from the pandemic and the blight it has placed on relations with family and friends.