THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE: Soldiers who talk

Channel 2 television's Lucy Aharish (photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Channel 2 television's Lucy Aharish
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
While there is speculation on both the Right and the Left as to whether former IDF chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi will throw his cap into the political ring, and if he does whether he will join Labor or the Likud or perhaps some other party, The Jerusalem Post has snapped him up as one of the speakers at its upcoming fifth annual New York conference on May 22.
Ashkenazi will discuss the controversial issue of the underground tunnels which Hamas boasts do exist and Israeli experts have downplayed regardless of the tapping sounds heard by Israeli citizens living near the Gaza border.
■ ASHKENAZI’S SUCCESSOR as IDF chief of staff, Benny Gantz, is off to Australia toward the end of this month to be the keynote speaker at United Israel Appeal events in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.
Gantz will be crisscrossing the southern continent, speaking first in Sydney on February 28 and 29, and March 1 and 2, then flying to Perth for the West Australian Campaign launch and completing his mission at Melbourne’s gala campaign launch on March 7.
The Australian Jewish community is extremely hospitable, and Gantz is going to be so pampered that he won’t know what hit him.
■ ARAB-ISRAELI journalist, I24 anchorwoman and actress Lucy Aharish leaves a thought-provoking impression on audiences wherever she is asked to speak. The Diplomatic Spouses Club is no exception. Aharish was the DSC’s guest speaker this Tuesday at a reception hosted at the Australian Residence in Herzliya Pituah by Rachel Lord, the wife of Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma.
Aharish shared reminiscences of her childhood in Dimona and her experiences growing up as the only Arab student in her Jewish school. She spoke about her commitment to fighting terrorism, after being the victim of a terrorist attack herself as a child, and her powerful call to action clearly impacted on the audience, whose 70 members listened silently for more than 90 minutes to Aharish’s hard-hitting speech against terrorism and in support of democracy and equal rights for all citizens.
She spoke candidly and passionately about what it feels like to be a member of a minority group and a victim of a hate crime and how she found the strength to hold up her head with pride, refusing to be a victim.
The DSC has had some very moving speakers in recent months, but the consensus was that Aharish had made a greater impression on her audience than did any of her predecessors.
■ THERE’S A certain irony in the fact that on the same day that former prime minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced to additional jail time, Meni Naftali, the former manager of the Prime Minister’s Residence, won the abuse case that he filed against the state for mistreatment that he had endured in the official residence of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.
Although the prime minister’s wife was named the key culprit, the court chose to believe that the prime minister was aware of her abusive behavior. However, because Naftali was not directly employed by the Netanyahus but by the state, the compensation awarded by the judge will not be paid out of the Netanyahus’ personal finances but by the state. In other words, the Israeli taxpayer is being charged for the misconduct in the residence.
Naftali’s lawyer Naomi Landau, when interviewed on Israel Radio on Thursday morning, said that the statement released by the Netanyahu family following the judicial ruling was inaccurate because every opportunity was available to Sara Netanyahu to bring in witnesses to testify on her behalf, but none were forthcoming. The reason that the prime minister’s name was dragged into the case was that he could not have been totally unaware of what was going on in his own home, despite precedents set by former attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein and former prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister Ehud Barak, whose wives took the rap for employing illegals as household help and the husbands were not penalized at all.
■ APROPOS BARAK, February 12 is his 74th birthday. It is also the 80th birthday of former defense minister Binyamin Ben- Eliezer, who held other ministerial portfolios and who was a candidate for president of the state. His is not a happy birthday, as the preliminary hearings of his trial on charges of bribery, money laundering and breach of trust began this week. Interior Minister Arye Deri, who is still haunted by the corruption scandal which in 2000 led to his imprisonment, will be 57 on February 17. Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel and Likud MK Nurit Koren will celebrate their birthdays on February 24. Gamliel will turn 42, and Koren 56. The late prime minister Ariel Sharon was also born in February, and on February 28 his family will mark the 88th anniversary of his birth.
February seems to be a significant birth month for politicians. Among other former members of Knesset born in February were Shmuel Halpert, Stas Meseznikov and Majallie Whbee.
■ IT’S COMMON knowledge that nothing is forever, but sometimes people are so grounded in what they do that they achieve an aura approaching immortality.
Even though he has taken a break from Army Radio since he joined it in 1993, it seems that star interviewer Razi Barkai, the host and founder of the current affairs interview program What’s Burning, is on his way out permanently.
There has been a drop in the ratings for his show, but matters came to a head when Barkai, in an interview with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, made the unfortunate mistake of comparing the grieving parents of Palestinian terrorists whose bodies had not been returned by Israel to grieving Israeli parents whose sons went missing in action in Gaza, who have been declared officially dead by Israel’s military authorities, but whose bodies have not been returned to Israel.
Several Israeli listeners to the program were enraged, but none more so than Simcha Goldin, the father of Hadar Goldin, who is believed to have been killed in 2014 in Operation Protective Edge.
Barkai apologized, saying he had been misinterpreted, but Goldin refused to listen and, together with the parents of Oren Shaul, who was also killed in Gaza and whose body has not been returned, demanded that Barkai be suspended.
In the immediate aftermath, it became known that Yaron Dekel, who heads Army Radio, had hired nationalist broadcaster Erel Segal and, without informing Barkai in advance, had cut Barkai’s two-hour time slot in half and given it to Segal. The reasoning was that the station needs more political balance and also needs to appeal to a younger audience.
Wounded to the quick, Barkai is now considering his options, and there is strong speculation that he may quit Army Radio.
This is not the first time that the rug has been pulled out from under his feet. Barkai, who was previously the anchor of Israel Radio’s It’s All Talk, left when the plum position was given to Shelly Yacimovich, whose former colleagues continue to give her a lot of air time on Reshet Bet.
■ WHILE THE Dan David Prize, awarded in conjunction with Tel Aviv University, is one of the most prestigious in the world, it is somewhat presumptuous to place embargoes on publishing the names of winners if those who were selected for honors have already been informed.
An embargoed press release that was put out early on Wednesday morning stipulated that the information it contained could not be made public until 5 p.m. Greenwich mean time on Thursday, February 11. The release, taking into account the interest of foreign correspondents, also provided corresponding times elsewhere in the world: 12 noon Eastern Standard Time; 9 a.m.
Pacific Standard Time; 5 p.m. in London; 7 p.m. in Israel; and 4 a.m. February 12 in Sydney.
The Israeli time slot was significant in that it was designed to allow for the announcement to be made on the main television news broadcasts and to appear in the Friday morning newspapers.
Although there has been a considerable reduction in the sale of newspapers in general, those people who still read them are more inclined to buy them on Friday than during the rest of the week. However, there’s a snag in that particular strategy in that the highest volume of newspaper advertising is also on a Friday, and therefore priority is given to hard news in the spheres of security, politics and crime. Of course if some well-known personality dies on Wednesday or Thursday, that also takes up space in the paper, as does any kind of controversy on issues of religion.
The official announcement by Prof. Joseph Klafter, chairman of the Dan David Prize board of directors and president of Tel Aviv University, and Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, a former president of TAU and current chairman of the Dan David Foundation, took place last night at a press conference at TAU’s Porter School of Environmental Studies and was streamed live. None of the laureates in the three categories in which the prize was awarded were Israeli, not even in the category of nanotechnology, in which Israel reportedly excels.
■ THE ANNUAL Australian Film Festival, which opened this week at Cinematheques in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, also attracted past and present Israeli diplomats.
Yuval Rotem, a former and highly popular and effective Israel ambassador to Australia, showed up at the Tel Aviv opening, and Meron Reuven, the chief of protocol at the Foreign Ministry, brought his soldier daughter to the Jerusalem opening.
The Tel Aviv audience of some 450 people received a bonus with a live performance by hilarious Australian comedian Jeremie Bracka, whose rib-tickling film on an Israeli emissary to Australia was shown in Israel last year at a reunion of Australian Habonim. The marvelous film The Dressmaker opened the festival in all three locations and was screened to full houses, indicating the esteem in which Australian films are held in Israel.
At the Jerusalem opening, Ben Rhee, who is the political and economics secretary at the Australian Embassy and is also responsible for cultural affairs, said that Sharma had asked that this year’s festival veer away from the Australian outback, which has featured so prominently in previous Australian film festivals. However, this is the setting for some of the best Australian films, including The Dressmaker, which was listed as one of the 10 best films made in Australia in 2015. But it is not the stereotyped outback, and both the acting and the story line make for superb entertainment.
■ WHILE STILL on the subject of films, the Hungarian production Son of Saul, which was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Film category, could have been an Israeli co-production, but none of the decision-makers in Israeli film funds liked the script that was presented to them by Hungarian-Jewish director and co-writer Laszlo Nemes. The film focuses on a dayand- a-half in the life of Auschwitz inmate Saul Auslander, who tries to find a rabbi to perform the funeral service for a young boy who he believes to be his son.
Although Israel has many excellent films to its credit, this time the people with the money were simply blind to the potential of Son of Saul, which was awarded the Grand Prix at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.
If the film does win an Oscar on February 28, there will be a smattering of glory for Israel, because the cast includes actor Amitai Kedar, who has performed more on stage than in film both in Israel and New York, and is well known for his appearances in Yiddishpiel and New York’s Yiddish Folksbiene Theater. He has also performed in Hebrew and English films, television and commercials in Israel and the US. Another Israeli whose name can be seen in Son of Saul credits is actor and singer Mendy Cahan, the founder of Yung Yidish, who served as the Yiddish dialogue coach for the film.
■ JUST AS charity begins at home, so does peace. Prizewinning poet Erez Biton, who is arguably Israel’s poet laureate, believes that there could be more unity and less rancor in Israel if people could only bring themselves to say “Shalom” to each other as they pass each other in the street. It’s not just a matter of people who know each other, but even total strangers exchanging that simple, one-word greeting that can mean so much.
■ STAFF AT the Italian Embassy are in somewhat of a flurry as they prepare for the visit next week by Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti.
Meanwhile, in Italy itself, the Jewish community of Milan is gearing up for the 150th anniversary of its foundation to be celebrated in the spring. Milo Hasbani and Raffaele Besso, the joint presidents of the community, announced that the focus of the anniversary will be a festival of Jewish culture – called Jewish and the City.
The community traces its origins to the beginning of Italy’s War of Independence and eventual reunification. Milan had been one of the cities caught up in the war. Jews had been barred from staying there for more than three days to do business there, while the city was under the rule of the Visconti and Sforza families. Jews therefore lived in the neighboring city of Mantua, where they had established themselves as a community at the beginning of 1800. Once Italy was reunified, the restrictions against Jews were lifted and Jews moved in large numbers to Milan and inaugurated the city’s Great Synagogue in 1892, following it up in ensuring years with a kindergarten and an elementary day school.
With the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s, Milan became a focal point for emigration to the Land of Israel. Jewish emigrants fleeing Europe found their way to Milan, where they were helped by the Delegation for the Assistance of Jewish Migrants. The delegation was established in 1938 by the Union of Italian Jewish communities.
The Great Synagogue was severely damaged in 1943, and the Jewish community of Milan greatly reduced. However, many Jews returned after the war to rebuild the community, which is now thriving with 16 Italian, Sephardi and Ashkenazi synagogues and several kosher restaurants.
■ NOT ALL whistle-blowers achieve fame and international recognition. One of the exceptions is Australian ex-pat Manny Waks, who has raised the issue of pedophilia and child abuse in general in Orthodox Jewish communities and has given extensive interviews and lectures on the subject in several countries.
One such case involves an Israeli, Malka Leifer, who was the principal of the Adass Israel School in Melbourne, Australia, where she allegedly abused three sisters and other girls in her care. She is facing charges in Australia for 47 indecent act offenses, 13 offenses of indecent assault of a minor, 11 rape charges and three additional charges. After one of the sisters made her allegations public, Leifer fled the country and returned to Israel in March, 2008, before an official complaint could be filed.
She now lives in Emmanuel. The official complaint was filed in 2011 and the Australian authorities are seeking Leifer’s extradition to face trial.
Waks has urged all those who support the extradition to show up at the Jerusalem District Court on Sunday, February 21, at 9:30 a.m. Waks founded Tzedek, an advocacy group for victims’ rights, which has succeeded in generating several convictions.