A wolf in sheep’s clothing?
The Hebrew word for wolf is “ze’ev,” the first name of the most recent candidate to announce that he is running in the race for mayor of Jerusalem. Unlike the overwhelming majority of other candidates, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin has not served his apprenticeship.
Outgoing Mayor Nir Barkat lost out the first time he ran for mayor, and spent the next five years learning all the ins and outs of the workings of the municipality. Likewise, Moshe Lion, who until last Thursday was a frontline runner, narrowly lost to Barkat in the last election, and has spent the past four-and-a-half years supplementing all that he learned when he was head of the Jerusalem Development Authority. Meir Turgeman, who is in a spot of legal trouble, but who may yet throw his cap into the ring, has also done his apprenticeship, as have Ofer Berkowitz and Yossi Deitch as members of the city council.
Both Yossi Havilio and Avi Salman are former legal advisers to the municipality and therefore very knowledgeable about its needs and its challenges.
Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai, who is a native son of Jerusalem and a graduate of Gymnasia Rehavia and the Hebrew University, has been testing the waters to see if he has a chance of winning if he runs, so Elkin may face even more competition than is currently the case.
Before Elkin, who incidentally doesn’t live in Jerusalem, demanded the creation of the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry, which became yet another means of spending the taxpayers’ money, there was no such ministry, and there is little likelihood that it will continue to exist under the next administration, unless the prime minister, in putting together a coalition, has no choice, when ministries are being distributed to coalition partners.
Following the 2015 Knesset election, Elkin was appointed aliya and integration minister and strategic affairs minister, but held the latter title for only 11 days before it was transferred to Gilad Erdan. Elkin was understandably pained and demanded compensation. There were no leftovers to distribute, and so the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry was created for him at his request – some say at his demand.
This did not please Barkat, who saw it as a waste of money but decided to cooperate with Elkin rather than enter into a hostile relationship.
A year later, Elkin also had to cede the aliya and integration portfolio, which was taken over by Sofa Landver, but received the environmental protection portfolio, which had been vacated with the resignation of Avi Gabbay.
Elkin’s ambition to succeed Barkat as mayor was not a secret, but for months he kept saying that his candidacy was contingent on approval from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who made it clear that he preferred Elkin at his side rather than in the capital’s city hall. But then, last Thursday, without waiting for the green light from Netanyahu, Elkin announced that he was running for mayor.
There was one minor problem. The law demands that anyone running for mayor must live in the city that he wants to govern. Elkin lives in Kfar Eldad in Gush Etzion, which he argued is part of greater Jerusalem. However, to be on the safe side, he listed his parents’ address and later declared that he had spent much of his life in Israel in Jerusalem, having lived there for some years and having studied and lectured at the Hebrew University before entering politics. His children are now studying in Jerusalem, he said. That still didn’t satisfy some of his interviewers in the media, and Elkin said he would get himself a Jerusalem address other than that of his parents.
Elkin says that Jerusalem should have a Likud mayor. Jerusalemites would prefer to have mayor who puts Jerusalem above party politics, and who is genuinely interested in the welfare of the city and its residents.
Meanwhile, Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, after failing to close down Jerusalem’s First Station on the Sabbath, has made it clear that there will be no ultra-Orthodox support for any mayoral candidate whose platform does not include closure of places of entertainment in the capital’s famed Mahaneh Yehuda market.
Under Barkat the market went through various stages of gentrification that include multicultural gastronomy and music. At night, especially on Thursday nights, the market, with its ever-increasing number of restaurants and bars, becomes a magnet for young people, who come in droves to sample the food, listen to the music and dance into the wee small hours.
Because there are a couple of yeshivot and a religious neighborhoods nearby, some ultra-Orthodox factions are fearful of the effect of what they consider to be debauchery on young yeshiva students. They would do better to focus on what’s happening within the ranks of ultra-Orthodox boys and a girls a little further down the road in Zion Square and its immediate surrounds. If nothing else, the theocracy versus democracy battles that are likely to erupt will add a spark or two to the election campaign over the next five months.
■ PRESENT AT the annual Celebrate Israel Parade along New York’s Fifth Avenue was the ever bouncy Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who was standing in a fancy sports car and waving a small Israeli flag. She was celebrating not only Israel’s 70th anniversary but her own 90th birthday. Westheimer, who was in Israel last month, and before that had been among the on-stage personalities at the annual Jerusalem Post Conference in New York, was one of the very few people at the parade who had actually been in Israel on the day that the modern state was born.
Among the Israelis who were at the parade were American-born MK Yehudah Glick, singers Shiri Maimon and Ninet Tayeb, and of course Consul-General Dani Dayan and Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, who introduced a new tradition by inviting fellow ambassadors at the UN to join him in the parade.
Danon has chalked up a number of firsts in relationships between Israel’s permanent mission to the UN and those of other countries. In April, he brought 40 European, Latin American and African ambassadors to the UN to Israel. That’s certainly a great way in which to win friends and influence people.
■ OBJECTIVITY, A synonym for balance in journalistic circles, is supposed to be one of the cardinal rules of membership in the fourth estate. A really good journalist does not reveal his or her politics, which may account for the fact that when Felice and Michael Friedson, founders of the Jerusalem-based The Media Line, launched their new office, they continued, after well over two decades in the news business, to keep people guessing as to where they stand politically. Before launching The Media Line in 2000, the Friedsons had their own radio show in the US, but running a news agency with a global outreach was always their big dream. A lot of people told them they could never pull it off, but they did.
Among the guests gathered in their streamlined, state-of-the-art premises, which in its very design promotes transparency, were students and graduates of their intern program, which has earned credits for participants from 12 universities so far; most of the American board members, who support TML morally, financially and in friendship; several journalists from different media outlets; Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Hilik Bar; and former diplomat Amir Gissin, who inter alia has served as a consul-general in New York, director of public diplomacy at the Foreign Ministry and adviser to the prime minister. Felice Friedson was particularly pleased to welcome former intern Talia Medina, who now works as executive assistant to Kim Godwin, the vice president of CBS News.
Politically, the scales were tipped ever so slightly to right of center, with logoed mugs filled with jelly beans given to many of the guests who attended the launch. To be honest, we don’t know anything about the sweet tooth habits of US President Donald Trump, but we do know that one of his predecessors, Ronald Reagan, who was also a Republican, loved jelly beans.
The Friedsons also had special honors for their board members, nearly all of whom were present and specially came from different parts of America to join in the celebrations and to attend the inaugural Media Line press and policy conference that was held the following day at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem and is to become an annual event.
One of the principles of TML is to tell the whole story, even if it takes longer to get the views of both sides. Various speakers at the reception made the point that this is the reason that the Friedsons are trusted and accepted by both sides. Relating to this, Bar said: “It’s a culture we don’t have enough of in Israel.”
As a politician who has been the victim of fake news, he said, he could appreciate the TML’s approach. TML specializes in reporting from all parts of the Middle East. Gissin said quite openly that it’s very difficult to report from the region objectively, “but they manage to do it.” Michael Friedson took pride in the fact that TML’s news coverage is “unfettered and unfiltered.”
■ MANY FEMALE MKs refuse to discuss issues on women’s empowerment or to sit on panels on which there are no males. Likud MK Sharren Haskel is an exception to the rule. While she understands the refusal of her colleagues to be party to perpetuating the concept that there is something special about a woman doing what used to be considered a man’s job, she points out that women have not yet gained access to all the opportunities available to men. “We’re not there yet,” she said at a panel discussion at TML’s inaugural conference.
Felice Friedson is a great believer in women’s empowerment. On the wall of her office is a multicolored mantra, “Passion, Persistence, Perfection, Pride, emPower.” She has interviewed women in the Arab world who have broken through the shackles of tradition and have pioneered change.
One such woman was also on the panel – 33-year-old Gadeer Mreeh, who was the first non-Jewish Israeli to anchor a Hebrew-language news program on television. In fact, she was the only one who was anchoring programs in both Hebrew and Arabic on the same day. Explaining that she’s a minority within a minority, Mreeh said that she’s an Israeli citizen, but not Jewish; as a Druse, she’s Arab, but not Muslim. “My identity enables me to see things differently,” she said.
Haskel, who shepherded a broadcasting reform bill that enables all television channels to broadcast news and makes it easier for additional television channels to be established, said she had a very tough time, both as a woman and as the youngest member of her party, and the second-youngest member of the Knesset. So many older and wiser legislators plied her with advice and told her to desist, or in blunter terms told her she didn’t know what she was doing.
The youngest MK ever was former minister Moshe Nissim, whose formula for easing the conversion process met with censure from the Chief Rabbinate. Nissim, who is the son of the late Sephardi chief Rabbi Isaac Nissim, was 24 when he became an MK in 1959.
Haskel said that her motivation to continue derives from the fact that she was a combat soldier and served with the Border Police. The tribulations she underwent as a combat soldier prepared her for fighting battles of a different kind.
Mreeh said that even though women in her community enjoy equality in most areas, even divorce, it is nonetheless a conservative community, and a very religious man came to her parents to say that broadcasting on television is not a proper career for a Druse woman. However, after she became a Hebrew-language news anchor, she received a call from Sheikh Mawafak Tarif, the spiritual leader of the Druse community, who congratulated her and said that he is proud of her because she has become a symbol for Druse women.
■ THE INFLUENCE of social media has caused a lot of introspection in traditional media circles and in think tanks that deal with the role of media. One such think tank, the Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation at Tel Aviv University, in conjunction with the Konrad Adenauer Sifting, is hosting a roundtable and iftar dinner at the Jerusalem Press Club on Wednesday, June 6, to examine the role of media in shaping Jewish-Arab relations in Israel over the past 70 years.
Participants will include Dr. Alexander Brakel, director, KAS Israel office, Jerusalem; Iman al-Qassem, journalist, editor and broadcaster on Israel Radio in Arabic; Dr. Ronni Shaked, Harry S. Truman Institute correspondent on Arab affairs for Yediot Aharonot; Dr. Itamar Radai, academic director, Konrad Adenauer program; Eran Singer, Arab affairs editor, Israeli Broadcasting Corporation; Wadea Awawdy, author, journalist and commentator on Arab and Middle East affairs; Arik Rudnitzky, project manager, Konrad Adenauer program; Shlomi Daskal, Arab media researcher; Nazir Majalli, author and journalist; Elhanan Miller, journalist and blogger on Arab affairs, researcher at the Forum for Regional Thinking; Kholod Massalha, project coordinator of the Arab Center for Media Freedom Development and Research; and Janan Bsoul, independent journalist and researcher at the Forum for Regional Thinking.
The discussion will in part be based on Israel’s Declaration of Independence, in which all citizens are guaranteed equality of social and political rights, regardless of religion, race or gender. This guarantee is not being properly honored in either the Jewish or the Arab communities, and the Arabs in particular feel that recent discussions about a Jewish state and a nation-state are the launching pads for discriminatory legislation against them. The debate has been aired in Hebrew, Arabic in Israel, and has also found its way to publications abroad.
■ THE FORMER mayor of New York and current legal adviser to Trump, Rudy Giuliani, who has business interests in Israel, is currently in the country and will be speaking Wednesday night at OneFamily Gardens in Jerusalem on “Beating Terror in an age of Political Change.” Given that OneFamily cares for victims of terrorism and their immediate families, there could hardly be a more appropriate topic.
■ TEL AVIV’S annual Gay Pride Parade, scheduled for Friday, June 8, is one of the biggest events of the year in the city that never sleeps. Because it attracts so many thousands of participating tourists from all over the world, it is believed to be the largest pride event in Asia and the Middle East and among the largest parades in the world.
This year is a historic one for Israel’s LGBT community, in that it is the 20th anniversary of the parade in Tel Aviv and it also marks 30 years since the annulment of the law banning same-sex relations, which less than half a century ago could have resulted in a prison term. Pride events this year, under the heading of “Community Makes History,” include a meeting at the Museum Tower this week with some of the pioneers of Israel’s LGBT community, who had the courage to come out of the closet before it became socially acceptable not to be heterosexual.
Among these pioneers are Prof. Uzi Even – the first openly gay member of the Knesset, who initiated a change in legislation whereby homosexuals are allowed to serve in the army in all units and in all ranks. He and his partner were also the first same-sex male couple in Israel whose right of adoption was legally acknowledged. Even worked as a scientist at the Negev Nuclear Research Center near Dimona and is a professor emeritus of physical chemistry at Tel Aviv University.
Ofer Erez was the first openly transgender officer in the IDF, and underwent his sex-change surgery while still in service. He is currently CEO of the Jerusalem Open House.
Efrat Tilma was the first transgender woman in Israel to volunteer in the Israel Police. And Boaz Peiper, one of the members of the Israeli drag queen quartet Bnot Pesya, which was the first such group to bring drag into Israeli mainstream entertainment, is an actor, singer, theater director, producer and graphic designer.
■ BRIEFLY IN Israel next week for the unveiling ceremony on Sunday of the promenade of the walls and Crusader market, which will be the new international tourist attraction at Caesarea Harbor, will be Baroness Ariane de Rothschild, who has attended other events in Israel that are hallmarks of the continuing benevolence of the Rothschild family.
An international banker and philanthropist in her own right, she gives much of her time to philanthropy via a historical network of Rothschild family foundations in Switzerland, France, Spain, Israel, the United States and South Africa. She is particularly interested in social empowerment, the arts, entrepreneurship, health and cross-cultural dialogue. She is married to Benjamin de Rothschild, and they have four daughters, Noémie, Alice, Eve and Olivia.
■ ACCOMPANIED BY several members of his embassy, Japanese Ambassador Koji Tomita last week paid a visit to the Ramat Hasharon home of 90-year-old Holocaust survivor Solly Ganor, who at the war’s end was liberated from Dachau. The reason for the meeting was to hear from Ganor himself about what he had experienced during the war, and how he had come to meet Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat, who has been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations, but who for many years was persona non grata in his country’s Foreign Ministry, which since his death has proudly reclaimed him as one of its own.
When Ganor was an 11-year-old boy in Kaunus, Lithuania, in December 1939, his family happened to meet Sugihara, and invited him to join them as they celebrated the lighting of the first Hanukka candle.
Only a few months later, Sugihara, who was the Japanese consul in Lithuania, began issuing lifesaving visas to Jewish refugees from Poland. It’s possible that this man of compassion would have done so anyway, but there were many Jews who believed that the extent of this compassion was born out of the Hanukka miracle, whereby 6,000 Jews were issued with visas and managed to escape the clutches of the Nazis.
Some of the escapees were married with children. Others married later and had children, grandchildren great-grandchildren, with the result that today, some 60,000 Jews worldwide owe their lives to Sugihara. The Ganor family also received visas in 1940 but for some reason were unable to leave Lithuania, and they went through harrowing experiences fleeing from one part of the country to another until they were finally apprehended and deported to Dachau.
The soldier who liberated Ganor from there was by coincidence a Japanese American by the name of Clarence Matsomura of the 522 Field Artillery Battalion.
Ganor proceeded to Palestine, and Matsomura returned to the US. Ganor fought in the War of Independence but kept his memories to himself. He did so for 50 years, until a chance meeting with Matsomura convinced him to write about his experiences, and he wrote a book titled Light One Candle.
At their meeting last week, Tomita heard about Ganor’s encounters with Sugihara, and about his experiences during and after the war, as well as what he had done to commemorate Sugihara’s name and that of his late son, Hiroki Sugihara.
Tomita spoke of the growing ties between Israel and Japan and said that he feels that there are many parallel lines and a natural friendship between the two peoples.
Toward the end of the visit, Tomita gave Ganor a certificate of appreciation on behalf of the Japanese government for his many years of activity and his contribution to deepening the friendship between the two countries.