Grapevine: The lion has roared

Yediot Aharonot reported on Thursday that yet another Hollywood celebrity –Robert De Niro– was coming to Israel to join President Shimon Peres in celebrating his 90th birthday.

Peres receives peace award 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Spokesman of the President's Residence)
Peres receives peace award 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Spokesman of the President's Residence)
There are generally no rules about sensitivities, and what pushes one person’s buttons may be water off a duck’s back for someone else. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back for Aryeh Shumer, who was director general of the President’s Bureau under Ezer Weizman, was the announcement in Yediot Aharonot on Thursday that yet another Hollywood celebrity –Robert De Niro– was coming to Israel to join President Shimon Peres in celebrating his 90th birthday at the fifth Presidential Conference, which opens at the Jerusalem International Convention Center on June 18.
Speaking to Ayala Hasson and Hanan Kristal on Israel Radio’s It’s all Talk, Shumer – while expressing the greatest admiration and respect for Peres, and wishing him many more years of life – called on him to cancel the conference in deference to the number of Israelis living below the poverty line or barely making ends meet. Such an extravaganza with thousands of people was not appropriate under the present economic climate, said Shumer, adding that someone had to be paying the expenses and appearance fees of the celebrities. He recalled that in Weizman’s first year as president, there had been a large solidarity conference aimed at strengthening Israel-Diaspora relations that had been attended by 1,500 people – and it had been held in the garden of the President’s Residence.
What bothered Shumer most was the financing of the conference under the Basic Law. The president, he said, is not allowed in any way to be involved with fund-raising. Linking the name of Peres to the conference as well as to the official opening of the Peres College in Rehovot – where former US president Bill Clinton will deliver the keynote address – smacks of his participation in raising funds to finance the conference, Shumer said.
Former cabinet secretary Israel Maimon, who has been chairman of the Presidential Conference since its inception in 2008, was flabbergasted.
The Presidential Conference and the President’s Bureau are two totally separate entities, he said, but admitted that the conference organizers had exploited the president’s 90th birthday to attract some 2,000 overseas participants from among the 4,000 plus people attending the conference. Unlike the conference hosted by Weizman, said Maimon, none of the funding was at the expense of the Israeli taxpayer, but came from individuals and organizations – which are all listed with full transparency on the conference website. Moreover, he insisted, many of the celebrities are paying their own expenses, and contrary to practice abroad, none of the 200 or so speakers is being paid a speaker’s fee. The fact that someone of the stature of Peres can attract so many great minds, topnotch business people, academics and giants in other fields is a blessing for Israel, Maimon declared.
Much of the conference will be broadcast in real time all over the world – a factor that Maimon believes will counter much of the negative publicity Israel has received in recent months. Shumer remained unconvinced.
■ IT’S FORTUITOUS when two international conferences to which a leader in his field has been invited take place in the same country – albeit not in the same city. At the beginning of this week, world renowned architect and designer Daniel Libeskind was in Haifa to participate in the Haifa Waterfront Conference, which was hosted by Mayor Yona Yahav at the Dan Carmel Hotel and the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology. Libeskind and three colleagues – Martha Schwartz, Gregg Pasquarelli and Vanessa Kassabian – broke away from the conference, and accompanied by several Israeli colleagues, traveled to Jerusalem to meet with Peres, who indicated that he was familiar with their work.
The purpose of the Waterfront Conference was to broaden the debate on the rehabilitation and revitalization of the waterfront, with a view to making Haifa one of the most beautiful and economically lucrative port cities in the world.
Libeskind is due to attend another international conference next week in Jerusalem, where according to the program of the Second Jerusalem International Tourism Summit, he is scheduled to speak at two of the sessions.
Some really big names in the global tourist industry and its sideline industries, such as the design and construction of tourist facilities and attractions, will spend two days in the capital discussing myriad tourism-related issues. Among the participants from the US will be Sheldon Adelson, one of the most generous of Jewish philanthropists, who has donated tens of millions of dollars to Israeli projects, primarily Yad Vashem – to which he and his wife, Miriam, have given more than any other private donor. Adelson is the founder of Las Vegas Sands Corp., a leading global developer of integrated resorts combining vacation destinations with mega-convention facilities, entertainment and casinos; he is also the founder of Comdex, the world’s largest trade show with a presence in several countries. He will receive a special JITS honor in recognition of his ongoing contribution to the development of Jerusalem.
Appearing on the program just ahead of Adelson is Michael Leven, president of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., who travels frequently to Asia to check the progress of the company’s investments in Singapore and Macao. Leven is also a philanthropist, who inter alia has provided many scholarships for students at Hadassah College. Among the speakers towards the end of the conference will be architect Michael Arad, the designer of the National September 11 Memorial at the World Trade Center. Arad is the son of veteran diplomat Moshe Arad, who is a former ambassador to the US.
It seems that prophets are heard best when outside their own cities.
If the design by an Israeli was selected to memorialize the victims of the World Trade Center tragedy, it stands to reason that an internationally celebrated, Polish-born architect in the person of Libeskind, who designed the Jewish Museum in Berlin and museums in other parts of the world, would lose out to a Finnish company in the contest for Poland’s Museum of History of Polish Jews.
■ IT WAS a hectic week for Australian Ambassador Andrea Faulkner, who was saying her final goodbyes – or as she put it, “lehitraots” – before leaving Thursday after concluding her period of tenure.
Faulkner just missed out on an upcoming Australian Trade Mission, which her successor Dave Sharma may miss by a whisker – or may welcome before he even unpacks his suitcases. Sharma’s appointment was announced only as recently as May 16 by Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr.
A senior career officer with Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Sharma was most recently assistant secretary in the Africa branch and previously acting first assistant secretary of the international division in department of prime minister and cabinet. This will be his first posting with the rank of ambassador. It seems that in recent years, Australia has developed a keenness for its diplomats to cut their ambassadorial teeth on Israel.
Faulkner’s first ambassadorial posting was to Israel, as was that of her predecessor James Larsen. Sharma, his wife, Rachel, and their three daughters are due to arrive here some time within the new two to three weeks. The high-level Australian Trade Delegation is due to arrive on June 10, so time will tell whether Sharma will be on hand to greet them. Faulkner welcomed a trade delegation very soon after her own arrival in Israel, as did Larsen.
On Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry hosted a farewell luncheon for Faulkner in the presidential suite of the Mount Zion Hotel in Jerusalem.
That day, Faulkner dealt with packing in the morning, and in the evening hosted her own farewell, which was attended by several ambassadors from Pacific Rim countries, plus other ambassadors who are also leaving this summer. They included Irish Ambassador Breifne O’Reilly; Brazilian Ambassador Maria Elisa Berenguer; and head of EU Delegation Andrew Standley, who with his wife, Judith, will be taking up a posting in Mexico, where they are unlikely to have the same freedom of movement they have enjoyed in Israel.
There was also considerable Australian representation, which included embassy personnel, and all were able to relax – with the exception of Faulkner’s unflappable and eversmiling personal assistant Esti Sherbelis.
Among the other Australians were Danny Hakim; Jack and Selina Beris; Harvey Belik; Ann and George Fink; Nathan Cherny; Amiel Gurt; and several others. In her farewell speech, Faulkner said that she loved parties but she wasn’t happy to be having this one, because she was leaving Israel. It had been a privilege for her to represent Australia in Israel, she said, noting the strong bilateral relationship between the two countries that goes back to the early 20th century.
Looking around at her guests, who included diplomatic colleagues, academics, and representatives of the science, media, arts, sport and business communities, she attributed the rich relationship between Israel and Australia to all of them in different ways. She thanked the diplomats for their camaraderie, and so many of the people present for opening their projects, organizations and homes to her, “so that every day, I found something new in Israel.”
Also present were representatives of the Israel Postal Company, who together with Faulkner and Israel’s ambassador designate to Australia Shmuel Ben-Shmuel, had a few days earlier participated in the Israel launch of a series of stamps marking the charge of the Australian Light Horse Brigade in Beersheba in October 1917.
The stamp was initially released earlier in the month at a ceremony in Australia in conjunction with a World Stamp Exhibition in Melbourne.
The Australian release in the office of Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy Minister Stephen Conroy was attended by Israel’s outgoing Ambassador to Australia Yuval Rotem. One of the stamps features the statue of an Australian Light Horseman in the Park of the Australian Soldier in Beersheba, a gift of the Australianheadquartered Pratt Foundation, which supports numerous social welfare and environmental projects in Israel.
Faulkner was wary of mentioning names of people in case she left someone out, but felt the need to express appreciation to Paul Israel, executive director of the Israel-Australia Chamber of Commerce, with which the embassy works very closely, and to Michael Ronen, who heads the Foreign Ministry’s Pacific division.
■ JOURNALISTS ARE also guilty sins of omission. Apologies are extended to Ami Bergman, the representative of the Joint Distribution Committee who not only was one of the speakers at this week’s memorial ceremony in Jerusalem for Carmen Weinstein, the late president of the Cairo’s Jewish community, but was also mentioned by other speakers as Weinstein’s salvation when she needed kosher food and ritual objects for communal Jewish celebrations.
Unfortunately, it was overlooked in the item about Weinstein in Wednesday’s “Grapevine,” but not forgotten.
■ MORE THAN 100 Friends of WIZO, an organization created in 2004 as distinct from WIZO itself and comprising mainly English speakers, attended the annual Sponsor a Child fund-raising luncheon and fashion show in the Rosmarine Court Gardens in Herzliya Pituah, and were treated to a closeup view of the 2013 Gottex swim and beachwear collection.
Several Gottex representatives were present, among them creative designer Molli Gradand sales director Gila Erlich, who worked in close cooperation with Sylvia Milrod, a longtime member of Friends of WIZO, to ensure the success of the event.
Others present included World WIZO president Tova Ben-Dov; Prof. Rivka Lazofsky, chairwoman of the World WIZO Executive; Janice Gillerman, wife of former ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman; Linda Sagol of Keter Plastic; Faigie Zimmerman, chairwoman of the Israeli Opera Friends Association; Dame Shirley Porter, a longstanding WIZO supporter; and wellknown Israeli anchorwoman Dalia Mazor. Also spotted in the crowd were several leading businesswomen and diplomats.
In the course of the event, Friends of WIZO co-chairwoman Betty Crystal launched a 10th-anniversary Friends of WIZO campaign, with a NIS 1 million goal. Campaign funds will go toward the renovation of the WIZO Biranit Day Care Center, located in a low-income neighborhood in south Tel Aviv.
■ CANCER, ONE of the most dreaded of often fatal diseases, has claimed yet another Israeli fashion icon – supermodel Penina “Pinchi” Mor. Known for having the longest and most beautiful legs of all of the nation’s fashion models throughout Israel’s 65 years of statehood, Mor, unlike some of her colleagues, maintained a youthful face and figure until the very end, and even in her 50s could strut her stuff in a bikini. She succumbed to cancer on Tuesday and was buried on Wednesday in the Even Yehuda cemetery.
Mor was 62, but looked more like 42. Like the sensuous Tami Ben- Ami, who was the seductive focus of the international paparazzi and who died of cancer at age 40 in 1995, Mor was a top Gottex model, helping to put Israel’s No. 1 swimwear brand on the world map.
Mor battled cancer for two years, and in the early period of her illness continued working.
She began her modeling career in the 1970s, and for more than a decade lived up to the nickname of “the gams of the state.” When she posed on a runway she was absolutely statuesque, but she had a playfully aggressive streak in her nature – and when she paraded along the catwalk, it was with an audacious spring in her step.
In addition to modeling, Mor also helped produce fashion shows, ranging from simple productions with only two or three models to major extravaganzas with as many as 30 models. When producing these shows, she worked closely with gala events producer Moti Reif and fellow model Hani Peri.
Mor was the darling of the gossip columnists and her name appeared in gossip columns in all of Israel’s major publications for close to three decades. In 2003, Judith Gottfried, the daughter of Gottex founder Lea Gottlieb, who was a designer in her own right and helped to create many of the Gottex collections, also died of cancer.
A couple of years back, Rojy Ben-Joseph, another well-known designer who designed swimwear under the Rikma label, but who was best known for adapting traditional Middle Eastern fabrics into striking East-West caftans, trousers and other creations, also died of cancer; and last December, Nurit Bat-Yaar, a former model who became the longtime fashion editor of Yediot Aharonot and also produced the marvelously illustrated Israel Fashion Art 1948-2008, also died of cancer.
Bat-Yaar was one of Israel’s most venerable fashion experts. There have been other top-ranking fashion models who were diagnosed with cancer, but in their cases, the disease was detected before it could do much damage.