The Grapevine: Presidential perks

Israeli society is generally very forgiving of white-collar crimes, and convicted felons are seldom ostracized during the trial, while in prison or after their release.

rabbi dov lipman (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
rabbi dov lipman
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
One of the perks of being a high-ranking public servant or a senior staff member of that public servant is that one gets to go places and see things that are not always accessible to the general public.
For instance, most visitors to the area bordering the Gaza Strip never get to see the underground tunnels created by Gazan terrorists to enable access to Israel. However, when President Reuven Rivlin this week paid a visit to the area bordering the Gaza Strip and met with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir and Gaza Division chief Brig.-Gen. Yehuda Fox, as well as with soldiers of the Beduin Tracker Unit, Combat Engineering Corps and Givati Brigade who were serving in the region, he also got the underground tour and was able to inspect one of the tunnels. Following briefings by the top brass and conversations with the soldiers, Rivlin proclaimed that “the IDF is prepared and ready to face any threat, above or below the ground.”
Someone else who shares in the president’s perks is Government Press Office photographer Mark Neyman, who is the photographer most frequently assigned to cover the president’s activities in Israel and abroad. Apropos abroad, the president will be traveling to Ukraine at the end of September for the annual commemoration at Babi Yar of the massacre by the Nazis and their Ukrainian collaborators of more than 33,000 Jews of Kiev on September 29-30, 1941. Massacres on the site also included Soviet prisoners of war, known Communists and members of the Roma community. Altogether, between 100,000 to 150,000 people were killed at Babi Yar during the Nazi occupation.
■ IN MARCH 2008, former Comverse Technology CEO Jacob “Kobi” Alexander, who two years earlier had fled to Namibia after being indicted in the US on 35 charges of backdating stock options, celebrated his son’s bar mitzva.
There are very few Jews in Namibia, so Alexander and his wife, Hannah, decided to fly in relatives and friends from Israel and the US. Somewhere between 200 and 250 of the rich and the famous accepted the invitation for the three-day bash, which included entertainment by Gazza, a popular Namibian singer, along with Israelis Einat Sarouf, Ya’akov “Kobi” Shimoni, better known as Subliminal, and rapper Yoav Eliasi, better known as Hatzel (The Shadow), who was recently in the news for having joined Likud and making disparaging remarks about members of the family of MK Bennie Begin. Among the guests were sculptor, fashion designer and museum owner Ilana Goor, advertising executive Yoram Bauman, and PR celebrities Rani and Hila Rahav. There were also a lot of big names from the business world.
Israeli society is generally very forgiving of white-collar crimes, and convicted felons are seldom ostracized during the trial, while in prison or after their release. Most are immediately taken back to the bosom of the Israeli social merry-go-round.
Alexander was in the news again this week. Tired of being exiled or alternately fearful of extradition, he made a plea bargain deal through his lawyer Benjamin Brafman, under which the charges would be reduced. Alexander, who was arrested as soon as he landed in New York, had hoped to avoid prison until after his sentencing, scheduled for December 16. His lawyers offered a $25 million bond, but the judge was unsympathetic and ordered Alexander to be detained for the duration. The maximum sentence for the crimes to which Alexander has pleaded guilty is 10 years, which could mean another decade of exile for the Kfar Saba-born millionaire. His one hope is that of precedent. Other people who have committed similar crimes have received lighter sentences.
■ WHEN HE was a Yesh Atid MK, Rabbi Dov Lipman participated in several Knesset delegations to foreign countries, and even led a couple. The fact that he’s no long an MK does not mean that his travel days as a representative of Israel are over.
Lipman is currently on the other side of the Equator on a two-week series of speaking engagements, making more than 30 presentations in Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand. In Australia he was the keynote speaker at the Zionist Federation of Australia Educator’s Conference. He got to see quite a lot of Australia, speaking in Melbourne to students of Mount Scopus College, many of whose graduates now live in Israel. Also while in Melbourne, Lipman’s book An ‘American’ MK: Behind the Scenes in the 19th Knesset was launched by Zionist Victoria. At the launch, Lipman spoke of leaving the comfort of his home in the US, learning to speak Hebrew fluently, getting into Israeli politics, fighting religious extremism, helping lone soldiers, supporting animal rights and becoming a leading activist in public diplomacy. En route to Australia, Lipman was last week the scholar in residence at the Ohel Leah Synagogue in Hong Kong, where he spoke about religion and state in Israel, coercion and freedom.
In Canberra, he was welcomed by Ambassador Shmuel Ben-Shmuel, and met with embassy staff and with members of parliament in an effort to boost further Australian support for Israel. At the end of this week, he will speak at the opening of the annual Jewish Writers’ Festival in Sydney. The trip will end in Auckland next week at the closing session of Limmud New Zealand.
■ OLYMPIC BRONZE medalist Yarden Gerbi is sharing her glory in a most humane fashion. Gerbi has put the name patch she was wearing in Rio on auction, with proceeds from the sale going toward buying sophisticated equipment for the Children’s Oncology department at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. This is not the first time that she has shared her win with children suffering from cancer. After winning a gold medal at the World Judo Championships in 2013, she held a similar auction to benefit children with cancer. The auction, which began on eBay this week, will continue till August 29. Within the first four hours of the auction, the highest bid was $12,100, which is indicative of the pride that Jews everywhere feel in Gerbi’s win. There’s also something special about having her patch and doing a good deed at the same time. The highest bidder will not only receive the patch but will have it signed by Gerbi.
■ IT’S NOT rugby, it’s not gridiron, it’s not soccer, it’s Australian Rules Football – and guess what? There are quite a few Israelis who know how to play it. In fact, a combined team of Israeli and Palestinian players, under the auspices of the Peres Center for Peace with the help of the Pratt Foundation, participated in the 2008 Australian Football International Cup.
The Israelis included Australian expatriates who did not have to be taught how to play the game, and the Palestinians caught on quite quickly. The team went to Australia and not only competed but also received a lot of publicity by proving that coexistence is possible when the focus is on sport and not on politics.
Down Under, where the weather is currently more conducive to football, teams have already engaged in matches for the Australian Football League Finals. Some of the staff of the Australian Embassy would have liked to go home for the AFL finals, but as they couldn’t, they’re doing the next best thing and holding their own match on Friday, September 23, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., which will allow religiously observant players and spectators who are Jewish to get home to just about anywhere in Israel before Shabbat. The game will be played at Sportek in Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park.
Among the people who’ve already indicated interest in either playing, cheering or soaking up the Aussie atmosphere, replete with pies and beer, are Tom Berber, David Borowski, Guy Laor, Avi Morrison, Ilan Buchbinder, Ya’acov Young, Yonatan Shapira, Danny Brill, Ariel Goldsmith and David Lipshutz. Anyone else who cares to attend should inform the Australian Embassy by September 12.
■ THE MONTHLY Rosh Hodesh gathering of women at the home of Avraham and Leah Sand on Moshav Me’or Modi’im, which was founded by Shlomo Carlebach, the singing rabbi, will have special meaning this time, not only because Elul is a month of introspection in which people confront their flaws and their wrongdoings and do their utmost to make amends, but it is also the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the moshav, whose original members were largely made up of people whom Carlebach, with his amazing charisma, had not only brought back into the fold but had turned into religiously observant hippies. Among the speakers will be some of Carlebach’s early followers, including Emuna Witt Halevi and Lilian Rich.Participants will also partake of a pot luck vegetarian lunch. The event is on Sunday, September 4, from 10 a.m. till the late afternoon.