Relations between Israel and the EU have known their ups and downs, and are currently in a state of decline primarily due to events at the Gaza border.
Worried by the deterioration of goodwill, President Reuven Rivlin, aware of the effectiveness of the Gazan propaganda machine and the general success of Palestinian public diplomacy, last week invited ambassadors of member states of the European Union to meet with him at his official residence to hear the Israeli side of the story and to perhaps develop a better understanding of the broader picture of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Rivlin was particularly appreciative of the fact that Ambassador Emanuele Giaufret, head of the EU delegation, had acceded to the invitation and that all the member states were represented.
Rivlin explained the complexities of simultaneously protecting Israel’s borders through the army, fighting political battles and trying to combat the public diplomacy assault coming from all sides. He told his guests that he wanted them to absorb the reality of Israel’s daily struggle against Iran and its sponsorship of Hamas and Hezbollah terrorism.
Giaufret indicated that Rivlin’s message was understood and that the EU is no less interested in Israel’s safety and security than is Israel itself.
■ HOW DOES one celebrate an 80th birthday?
Some people don’t march into their next decade; they ride into it, as did celebrated American lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who was on one of his many visits to Israel, this time to attend the opening of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem. As part of his stay in the capital, he visited the United Hatzalah headquarters, in his capacity as a member of its international board. Dershowitz isn’t the type of person who typically rides motorcycles. Yet, on the morning of the embassy’s opening, Dershowitz rode one of United Hatzalah’s iconic ambucycles (a motorcycle equipped with all of the gear that a regular ambulance carries) and, together with three friends, was driven across town from his hotel.
One of them, South African millionaire philanthropist Isy Danon, honored Dershowitz by donating $180,000 to the organization and had Dershowitz’s name inscribed in perpetuity on the Wall of Founders in the main lobby of the building.
But it didn’t end there.
Dershowitz has admittedly never ridden on a motorcycle before, and as he and four of his friends are all celebrating their 80th birthdays this year, the group got together to donate a motorcycle to United Hatzalah. Eli Beer, founder and president of United Hatzalah, thought that under the circumstances it would be fitting to have Dershowitz ride on one of the ambucycles so that he could personally experience the usefulness of these vehicles when it comes to getting through traffic and cutting down response times in order to save lives.
At the headquarters, Danon recounted the story of how Dershowitz introduced him to the organization. “I recall that you told me that you are approached on a daily basis by organizations who ask you to sit as the chairman of their boards and that you turn them all down, and that you refuse to have your name associated with any organization officially except for United Hatzalah.”
Dershowitz himself picked up the narrative and added, “I do that because I really don’t like to sit on boards. But Eli Beer told me that if I sit on the board of United Hatzalah, he could guarantee me that my service would end up saving lives. So I said to myself, how can I say no to that?”
Dershowitz also suggests to people who are looking for a productive way in which to celebrate a milestone occasion that they choose a lifesaving cause. “My friends and I are all turning 80, and we are chipping in together to buy an ambucycle. Everywhere I go all over the US, whenever I hear of people celebrating a bar or bat mitzva, I tell them not to buy another gift that will sit in a drawer somewhere unused, but to buy an ambucycle. If you can’t do that, buy a (Bluebird) field communication device or something that is used to save a life. There is no better gift in the world than something that saves a life.”
■ ACCORDING TO a report by Richard Johnson in the New York Post, Russian-Jewish billionaire Roman Abramovich can no longer set foot in England. The report states that Abramovich has not been permitted to enter the UK since the expiration of his visa in April, and he was unable to attend the Football Association Cup Final, where Chelsea Football Club, of which he is the owner, defeated Manchester United. Abramovich had to celebrate the win by long-distance.
Relations between Britain and Russia have soured, and according to Johnson’s sources, the Brits would like to force Abramovich, known to be on good terms with Russian President Vladimir Putin, to sell the Chelsea Football Club, so that it would not have an owner who is a Russian citizen.
Abramovich, who also owns a mega-mansion in New York, may elect to spend more time in the Big Apple, or he may choose to settle in Israel, where he owns the site of the old Versano Hotel in Neveh Tzedek, where he is building a residential property. He also has considerable investments in Israel, and has given tens of millions of dollars to various Israeli causes. Britain may have closed its doors to him, but Israel will always be happy to say “Roman, welcome home.”
■ ‘NARCOS,’ THE Netflix series that made anyone who didn’t already know aware of the story of the notorious Colombian drug lord and narcoterrorist Pablo Escobar, presents a fairly comprehensive picture of this complex character born into abject poverty.
Even as a child he decided that he was born for greatness, and from becoming a petty criminal, he rose to control 80% of the cocaine supply to the United States. At one stage he even contemplated becoming president of Colombia, but this was not to be, because at the same time that he accumulated power and money, he also accumulated many enemies. His life was cut short by a bullet on December 2, 1993, a day after his 44th birthday.
Escobar had a son Sebastian, whose given name at birth was actually Juan Pablo, but he changed it to Sebastian Marroquin and works as an architect in Argentina. Realizing that he can’t escape his father’s legacy, he sometimes allows people to call him by his former name, which is what will happen in Israel on June 2, when he has a face-to-face conversation with prizewinning broadcaster and lawyer Ilana Dayan at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv. The Netflix series is fiction based on fact. Dayan, who coincidentally was born in Argentina, will put the fiction aside and focus solely on the facts.
■ MOST INSTITUTES of higher learning in Israel held their annual board of governors or board of trustees meetings in May, but the University of Haifa is going for the traditional period, which is June.
There appears to be a general trend throughout Israel to rejuvenate downtown areas by creating residential facilities and leisure time outlets for students, and Haifa is no exception. This concept will be part of the university’s 46th board of governors meeting beginning June 4.
As is customary on such occasions, honorary degrees will be conferred on a number of outstanding people in their respective fields. Prizewinning author and playwright David Grossman, who this year was awarded the Israel Prize for literature, will be among the recipients of honorary doctorates, as will actuarial science expert Prof. Steven Haberman, immunologist Prof. Irun Cohen, legal scholar Prof. Nili Cohen, costume designer Tzili Charney and education psychologist Prof. Lee Shulman. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein will receive the university’s Leadership Award.
■ LOVERS OF German-language poetry should mark May 31 in their diaries. This is when Josef Tal and Einat Aronson will pay homage to Else Lasker-Schüler, who is considered to be one of the most outstanding German-language poets of the 20th century. Israeli and Austrian artists will join forces in their tribute to her at the Teiva theater, within the framework of the Jaffa Festival. The performance begins at 7:30 p.m.
Lasker-Schüler was a poet and playwright in Berlin, who despite her fame was physically harassed by the Nazis as early as 1932. She moved to Zurich, but found it difficult to work there, so she traveled to Palestine to see if it was conducive to her muse, and eventually settled in Jerusalem in 1937. A year later, she was stripped of her German citizenship, even though she was born in Germany.
An eccentric Bohemian, she also found it difficult to live in Jerusalem, but was unable to return to Europe during the war. She died in January 1945, less than four months before the war ended. Today, Germany is proud of her, and there is a memorial plaque on the house where she lived for nine years in Berlin, and part of the street where she lived has been named for her. There is also a small street named for her in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Nayot.