Israeli Elections: A labor of love? - comment

Having the rare quality of being both an honest and courageous politician, Merav Michaeli has become a hot favorite on the international Zoom circuit.

Labor leader Merav Michaeli affixes a Mezuza outside her party's new campaign headquarters (photo credit: Courtesy)
Labor leader Merav Michaeli affixes a Mezuza outside her party's new campaign headquarters
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Elections notwithstanding, Labor chair Merav Michaeli finds time to speak in English not only to potential voters – many of them recent immigrants, as she did last week through the Tel Aviv International Salon – but also via Zoom to audiences as geographically far apart as the United States and Australia. Having the rare quality of being both an honest and courageous politician, Michaeli has become a hot favorite on the international Zoom circuit. Today (Sunday) at 9:30 p.m. Israel Time, she will be speaking about the elections and the role of the rejuvenated Labor Party to members of Ameinu in the United States. Michaeli will interact with Nancy Kaufman, a long-time senior Jewish communal professional who was a Hatikva delegate to the recent World Zionist Conference.
Then on Sunday, March 7, a day ahead of International Women’s Day, she will speak to the Zionist Federation of Australia in conversation with ZFA’s information chairwoman Adele Stowe-Lindner. Michaeli, who visited Australia in 2017 as the guest of the ZFA, has been a long-time champion of women’s rights.
■ TEL AVIV Mayor and former Knesset hopeful Ron Huldai, who decided not to join forces with Labor and took his party out of the Knesset elections after his running mate, former Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn decided to return to private practice as a lawyer, will nonetheless vote Labor, he tweeted, because he believes in Michaeli’s ability to revitalize the party.
■ SPEAKING IN Hebrew in an early International Women’s Day program on March 3 at 8:30 p.m., Michaeli will join fellow and former MKs in “The Battle Against Sexual Violence: From Social Protest to Political Strength.” The event is co-hosted by the Association of Rape Crises Centers in Israel and Walla News, and can be seen on the Walla website and Facebook accounts. Other present and past legislators who are participating include Oded Forer, Yisrael Beytenu; Karen Barak, Likud; Tamar Zandberg, Meretz; Michal Shir, New Hope; Yoav Segalovich, Yesh Atid; Irit Silman, Yamina; and Aida Touma Sliman, Joint List. 
The moderator will be journalist and television presenter Merav Miller. Orit Sulitzeanu, executive director of the Association of Rape Crises Centers, will be making the opening remarks. Given the shocking number of women killed by husbands or partners over the past year, coupled with incidents of violence that almost ended in death, Israel is sorely in need of more shelters for battered women. Victims of violence need to have places in which they will be immediately accommodated if they fear for their lives or those of their children. There also needs to be a hotline victims can call so someone can instantly come and intervene, and if necessary, take them to a safe place.
■ FORMER MK Daniel Ben-Simon, a Moroccan-born journalist and author, and Andre Azoulay, a senior adviser to King Mohammed VI of Morocco and formerly to the late father of the monarch, King Hassan II, who was greatly loved by the Moroccan Jewish community, will engage in a conversation about their common roots. Speaking in a series of meetings jointly sponsored by Haaretz and Beit Avi Hai, the two will discuss the special relationship between Moroccan-born Jews and the country of their birth, even though they may no longer live there. The meeting can be viewed on the websites and Facebook pages of both Haaretz and Beit Avi Hai. 
Azoulay sits on the executive boards of numerous dialogue and interfaith organizations headquartered in different parts of the world. His daughter is UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay, who was previously France’s minister of culture.
■ THERE HAVE been many reports about marital problems resulting from restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially loss of income and insufficient private space. Concerned that so many marriages around the world are directly or indirectly challenged by the pandemic, author Chana Levitan, who believes that marriage should be a life-long proposition, organizes global marriage summits in which she brings international marriage experts together virtually for two weeks. The current summit runs from March 1-14 and is free of charge. Anyone who signs up will receive a free copy of Levitan’s e-book 12 Ways to Keep the Spark Alive in a Marriage.
For complete details of how to sign up, and the names of the experts who have each made a video available for 48 hours, go to facebook.com/ChanaLevitancom.
■ THE LION of Judah, established some 30 years ago as an outgrowth of the Women’s Divisions of the United Jewish Appeal and the United Israel Appeal, is one of the largest women’s philanthropic organizations in the world. Its membership of some 18,500 women of all ages each pledge to donate a minimum of $5,000 a year of their own money (not that of their husbands), toward the creation of social justice and the strengthening of the most vulnerable sectors of society. 
Their goal is to give a better future to Jewish populations around the world while preserving human dignity and building up Jewish identity. They work in partnership with the Jewish Agency, JDC and World ORT. On March 4, Lion of Judah, headquartered in the US, will begin a weekly four-part series exploring religious diversity in Israel.
The Israel branch of Lion of Judah is primarily dedicated to the advancement and empowerment of women and girls in Israeli society, including in the army. During the coronavirus crisis, Lion of Judah Israel (LOJI) focused its philanthropic goals on projects for women suffering from sexual and domestic violence, a growing issue that has kept LOJI members much busier than they would have liked. However, that did not stop them from celebrating Purim with their sisters abroad via Zoom. Last week they held a Purim party online with Lion of Judah Montreal. The event included songs, games and a cooking demonstration by new immigrant chef Shawna Goodman.
In January, more than 60 LOJI members took part in Lion of Judah’s First Virtual International Conference, “Virtually Limitless,” which involved thousands of participants around the world. LOJI, which was founded 25 years ago, is currently headed by lawyer Ricky Rosenberg and Dr. Fischer Brands co-chair Sigal Bar-On.
■ WHEN ASKED about what he plans to do after he concludes his term as president in July, Reuven Rivlin usually says that he will spend more time with his grandchildren and take them to “football matches” around the world. One suspects, following his visit last week to Tel Hai College in the North near Kibbutz Giladi, that Rivlin will devote a lot of his time advocating for colleges in the Galilee and further north to be given higher academic status. 
At least one such college is due to be recognized as a university by the Council for Higher Education. The council, for some unknown reason, fights such efforts, as was the case with Ariel University. Its status was elevated three years ago, when Education Minister Naftali Bennett won the battle for AU to inaugurate a medical school, the cost of which was underwritten by the Adelson Foundation. 
In promoting more facilities for higher education, Rivlin is fond of telling people that the only university in Israel at the time he was a student was the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It was not, however, the only facility for higher education. The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, established in 1912, preceded the Hebrew University, and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, which was established originally as the Daniel Sieff Research Institute in 1934, existed before Rivlin was born.
Today, Israel has nine universities and 31 colleges, but with an expanding population, more institutions for higher education are needed so that more people can earn the qualifications needed for the professions they want to enter. Aside from that, some of the existing colleges deserve to be upgraded.
■ ALTHOUGH SOME countries with dark chapters in their history are reluctant to confront their past, Portugal does not fall into that category. After receiving the credentials last week of Portuguese Ambassador Jorge Tito de Vasconcelos, and conveying his congratulations to President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa on his reelection, Rivlin told Vasconcelos that while Israel and Portugal enjoy very good relations these days, the period when Jews were expelled from Portugal must not be forgotten. 
“Portugal is part of our Jewish heritage,” said Rivlin. Stressing the importance of keeping alive the memory of what Jews experienced in Portugal, the ambassador told Rivlin that a new Jewish museum had recently opened in his country. Although the younger generation might have heard of events of former times, he continued, “They are not aware of the seriousness of the situation.” The new museum, along with slightly older Jewish museums in Portugal, will help to give Portuguese citizens a better understanding of their history.
Portugal, like Spain, has given citizenship to people who can prove descent from Portuguese Jews who fled persecution or were expelled in the 15th and 16th centuries.