Austrian Ambassador Martin Weiss and his wife, Susan, hosted a concert in the spacious poolside garden of the Austrian residence in Herzliya Pituah to mark Austria’s presidency of the Council of the European Union, which became effective on July 1. The rotating presidency, which changes every six months, was previously held by Bulgaria, whose Ambassador Dimitar Mihaylov was among the guests mingling in the crowd at the Austrian residence.
Not all representatives of member states were present, as some had already left on summer vacations. But definitely on hand was Emanuele Giaufret, head of the Delegation of the European Union to Israel, and there were also some Asian friends and colleagues, such as Indian Ambassador Pavan Kapoor and his wife, Aradhana Sharma, who had just returned from a home visit to India, and Myanmar Ambassador Maung Maung Lynn and his wife, Michelle Mu, who as usual came attired in national costume of their country, even though the invitation specified casual dress. Sharma said that she was pleased not to have to wear a sari, but the elegant Indian designer dress with the faux bolero that she wore did not exactly fit the definition of casual.
Before the concert got under way, Weiss said that he was happy to see so many people who were not watching soccer on television. Europe is facing challenging times these days, especially with regard to its relationships with America and China, whose social models are different from those of Europe, he admitted, which is one of the reasons that Austria, despite the huge honor, also has a huge responsibility. Russia also poses a challenge, he said. “We are in the middle and trying to move Europe forward.”
One of the biggest challenges facing Europe right now is how to deal with asylum-seekers, whose presence is a challenge to the European system. On the positive side, Weiss noted that Europe has done away with borders. He tried to imagine how that would work in the Middle East, then laughingly pushed the idea aside.
Taking up the open borders concept where Weiss left off, Giaufret said: “Who could have imagined in 1945 that there would be open borders between France and Germany – but we have created a family which is a model for the solution of many problems.” Despite the sometimes profound disagreements between Israel and the EU, he said, Israel and the EU are close friends and cooperate on many levels.
The music was provided by Swing de Gitanes from Israel, who specialize in gypsy swing, and rock band Löven from Austria, whose singer/guitarist Sami Goodenough happens to be the best friend of the brother of Damaris Deubel, who is married to singer, songwriter and musician Idan Raichel. Naturally, Raichel and his wife were among the guests, and when Raichel was invited up on stage to perform with the Löven band, he happily agreed. Asked whether he would perform one song or two, he said that even though he was scheduled for a performance in Tel Aviv at 10 p.m., he would sing two songs. “I’m very unpunctual,” he explained, which is in character with a general Israeli trait. He finished the second song at 9:58, told his wife that he was taking the car, and left it to the band to see her home, as she preferred to listen to her Austrian friends play, because she can hear her husband any time.
■ The Chelsea Football Club and the World Jewish Congress this week launched the International Pitch for Hope competition in the first stage of a three-pronged joint initiative against racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and any other form of discrimination in sport. The competition is headlined Red Card for Hate. Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich is himself a victim of discrimination in that he was forced to come on aliya because Britain refused to renew his visa, despite the fact that he contributes to the livelihood of so many British people. There has been a general rise in antisemitism and racial discrimination in the United Kingdom.
Pitch for Hope calls young people aged 18-23 in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Israel to submit proposals for unique and creative projects aimed at harnessing the spirit of camaraderie in sports and building bridges between people of all backgrounds, faiths and walks of life.
The campaign has been in the planning stages for more than half a year. In the UK and the US, Chelsea FC and the WJC have been reaching out to potential participants representing institutions that work toward coexistence, including Jewish and Muslim organizations, as well as leading educational institutes. The competition in Israel will be directed at Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze participants from all over the country, including the most peripheral communities in both geographic and socioeconomic terms. Seven institutions have already indicated their participation in the Israeli section of the competition, with a focus on the visual arts.
Finalists will be invited to present their proposals in September at Chelsea FC’s Stamford Bridge stadium in London to a panel of judges representing the WJC and Chelsea FC. The winners from each country will receive a $10,000 grant from Chelsea FC and the WJC to develop and implement their pilot project.
The competition will subsequently expand to Germany and France for a following round next year, in response to high demand from soccer clubs across Europe.
This initiative was facilitated by generous contributions from Abramovich and WJC president Ronald S. Lauder.
WJC CEO Robert Singer said: “Antisemitism is as dangerous in the sporting world as it is in civil society.... It is our duty, as fans and as teams alike, to work together to put an immediate stop to this phenomenon. The World Jewish Congress and Chelsea Football Club are committed to sending a clear message that the spirit of sport must be tolerance and respect, not hatred and xenophobia. We look forward to seeing the creative proposals submitted by our participants, and are confident that, working together, we will make a difference.”
Chelsea FC chairman Bruce Buck said: “We hope that our joint initiative will start a process that we believe is vital and long overdue. Change does not happen overnight. It takes time, education and understanding, and therefore we have devised the initiative as a long-term project that will grow and build, and hopefully inspire other clubs to follow our lead and create their own antisemitism initiatives, as well as working together with us on joint campaigns and activities.”
The FIFA World Cup has also been affected by racism. There was outrage caused by British fans who sang antisemitic songs and gave Nazi salutes in a Russian pub. In Israel, there has been no shortage of slurs against Arab players and non-Arab Muslims. Antiracism, like charity, starts at home.
■ WHEN HE returns to Israel from his state visit to Croatia toward the end of this month, President Reuven Rivlin may well surprise most of the other passengers in the plane. Rivlin, who makes a point of taking no-frills flights, will be traveling to Croatia on El Al, but on the way back he will be flying Arkia. Just how often do Arkia passengers get to fly with the president?
■ RUMORS ALLEGING that “Toy,” the song with which Netta Barzilai won the Eurovision Song Contest, might have been plagiarized led, naturally, to discussions about plagiarized music. Singer/composer Kobi Oz is always worried that a melody that he hears in his head has been plagiarized from something he heard on the radio. Oz spoke of this in a conversation that he conducted on his Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet program with composer, conductor and pianist Gil Shohat. Whereas Oz is always wary of stepping on someone else’s musical toes, Shohat believes that all composers are subconsciously influenced or inspired by something they’ve heard, and just a tiny fraction of that may appear in their own compositions, but with a completely different arrangement, so that the original melody would be picked up only by the most educated ear. Plagiarism is supposed to be the highest form of flattery, but not where reputation and money are involved. Inspiration and influence in music should not be regarded as plagiarism, said Shohat, who played a few bars from several classics, but to a rock tempo to prove his point.
■ EDUCATION AND Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, who is this week hosting principals of Jewish schools from around the world, told his guests about Israeli manners. One of the points he gave was that one must never let the person with whom one is having a conversation finish his sentence. Another point was that in Israel, when taking an elevator, one doesn’t wait for people to exit before pushing one’s way in. It’s not just the elevator. It’s also the bus and the train. Bennett stopped short at that, omitting to say that apologies are a rarity and table manners go back to the caveman.
■ EMBASSIES AND consulates are becoming increasingly flexible insofar as the date is concerned for celebrating the national days of their respective countries. US Ambassador David Friedman and his wife, Tammy, last week hosted the Fourth of July Independence Day bash on the third of July, and French Ambassador Hélène Le Gal is hosting Bastille Day festivities on July 12 instead of July 14, but the French Consulate-General is hosting them on July 15. In both cases the date was moved from the actual anniversary because July 14 this year falls on Shabbat.
The French Consulate-General in Jerusalem, like other consulates-general and consulates in the capital, primarily relates to the Palestinian community and not the Israelis. Thus it comes as no surprise that one of the sponsors of the reception being hosted by the French Consulate-General is the Bank of Palestine, and another is the Haslamani Group. Another interesting aspect of this reception is that the doors will be closed at 8:30 p.m., meaning that latecomers will not be admitted.
As for the American Independence Day reception, many members of the International Women’s Club, of which the wife of the US ambassador is traditionally a member, were very upset. Many of the new friends and colleagues of Tammy Friedman, who for the past 30 years or so were on the guest list for the Fourth of July bash, discovered that this year they were not invited, and were very hurt to be excluded. Also very disappointed to be taken off the guest list were a number of former senior government officials, who likewise had been guests for years and suddenly discovered that they were no longer invited. Some even felt insulted.
■ ALMOST IMMEDIATELY after being elected chairman of the Jewish Agency, outgoing opposition leader Isaac Herzog went south – no, not to Beersheba or Sderot but to Australia, where he was given a warm welcome by Australian Labor Party colleagues as well as by the Jewish community. In a sense, Herzog was wearing two hats and, doubtless throughout his career as agency chairman, will continue to be identified with Labor politics.
Labor Party leader Luke Foley, who heads the opposition in the New South Wales Parliament, told a gathering of party colleagues that one could be on the Center-Left of politics and still be a strong supporter of Israel. Foley also spoke of the role played by foreign minister Herbert Vere Evatt in the creation of the State of Israel and of the long-lasting bond between the Australian Labor Party and Israel.
The Herzog family has its own long-lasting bond with Australia. Chaim Herzog, the father of the agency’s new chairman, first visited the southern continent soon after the Six Day War and returned in November 1986 as president of Israel. He was the first president of Israel to visit the island continent.
Meanwhile, this week, Isaac Herzog’s older brother, retired brigadier-general Michael Herzog, who is currently an International Fellow of the Washington Institute, participated in the multinational conference of the International Institute for Strategic Leadership, which brought together political figures, strategists, academics, former diplomats and NGO leaders from Australia, Israel, the UK and America. The Herzog brothers appeared on the one platform at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev on Tuesday of this week at a symposium on “Israel and the Middle East – the Political Process and the Challenges,” which was part of a series of events commemorating their father in the centenary year of his birth. The Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy is located at BGU. The actual date of the 100th anniversary of Chaim Herzog’s birth is September 17.
■ APROPOS THE IISL which was initially founded in 2009 under another name by Australian businessman, philanthropist and jazz musician Albert Dadon, it originally started off as a bilateral Australia-Israel project similar to the Australia-America Leadership Dialogue, and it mushroomed into a trilateral enterprise that included the UK, and grew again to include the US.
At formal EU events in Israel, it’s customary to play “Hatikvah,” the anthem of the country hosting the event, and the anthem of the EU, which is based on the final movement of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” Dadon went one better at the IISL gala dinner this week, when he arranged for a wonderful singer to sing “Hatikvah,” “Advance Australia Fair,” “God Save the Queen” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” His next target is Canada, so the next time around, there will be five national anthems, including “O Canada.”
Keynote speaker at the gala dinner was former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who was making his third appearance at the IISL. The first time was in 2012 in London, the second in Jerusalem in 2014. Dadon is a great admirer of Olmert and said this time and on a previous occasion that Olmert is the best prime minister that Israel ever had.
■ AUSTRALIANS GALORE, both those who live in Israel and those who came to Jerusalem from down under, were among the guests at the gala dinner. There were also Brits, Israelis and Americans, but the Australians seemed to be the most visible and included Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan, former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, Shadow Minister for Defense Richard Marles, and member of Parliament Michael Danby. Among the Aussie expats were lawyer Zvi Ehrenberg, international lawyer Arsen Ostrovsky, who is currently executive director of the Israeli Jewish Congress, former Bank Hapoalim lawyer and currently translator of Hebrew literature Amiel Gurt, former bank executive Irene Gruber, executive director of the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce Paul Israel and several others, most of them graduates of Melbourne’s Mount Scopus College. Among the Israelis, in addition to Olmert, were former minister Gideon Saar, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Hilik Bar and former ambassadors Ron Prosor and Daniel Taub.
Dadon, who was born in Morocco, grew up in Israel and France, before making his permanent home in Melbourne in 1983. Although he has diversified business interests, his main focus of business activity is real estate development. He is also a cultural powerhouse, and in 2002 founded the Australia-Israel Cultural Exchange, which, among other things, organizes Australian film festivals in Israel and Israeli film festivals in Australia. A professional jazz musician, who continues to play despite his many other family, political, cultural and business interests, Dadon is the owner of a popular jazz club in Melbourne known as Bird’s Basement, and early this year acquired the name and assets of Sydney’s iconic Basement jazz club, located in the central business district, which closed down after 45 years. Dadon is now looking for a new nearby venue. Unfortunately, he has no intention of opening a jazz club in Israel, and says there are some good ones already in existence. Nonetheless, Israelis will soon be able to tune in to Bird’s Basement 24/7 via an app that will be launched sometime this year.
Although jazz is one of the great loves of his life, the jazz clubs are commercial enterprises, and what he does in Israel is more in the nature of philanthropy. A great believer in dialogue as a tool for enhanced knowledge and mutual understanding, and highly successful in his various undertakings, Dadon says that the secret is to like what you are doing and to be happy doing it.
Olmert admires Dadon no less than Dadon admires Olmert, who described him as “a very committed Jew” with a great interest in the State of Israel.
■ WHEN VISITING foreign dignitaries bring gifts for heads of state and government, they are often symbolic of the relationship between the two countries or of some historic event, and are also valuable in monetary terms. But the gift that US President Donald Trump sent with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un tops them all. It was an Elton John recording of “Rocket Man.”
■ ISRAELI LAW Professor Yuval Shany has been chosen to chair the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which is composed of a panel of experts who review the adherence of member states to a human rights charter. Shany, who is deputy president of the Israel Democracy Institute and a member of the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Law, was selected unanimously by the Geneva-based committee’s 18 members. According to its website, the committee “monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its state parties.” Although Israelis have been members of the committee in the past, this is the first time that an Israeli was chosen to lead the body.
Speaking to Army Radio on Tuesday following his selection, Shany, who has been a member of the committee since 2013, admitted that the forum is often confused with the UN Human Rights Council, which has gained notoriety for its persistent condemnation of the Jewish state. “If I had a shekel for every time that people confuse between the two bodies, my financial situation would be different,” he quipped. Shany, an expert in humanitarian law and human rights, admitted he had been involved in some behind-the-scenes “conversations, a little lobbying... it wasn’t very dramatic or very interesting. Global politics plays much less of a role” in the professional committee, he explained. “People are chosen – quite surprisingly in that environment – according to their suitability for the position.”
Shany’s predecessor left a month ago to become a judge at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Shany started in his new role with a report on Bahrain, followed by Algeria. Countries are called on to submit reports on their adherence to the rights covenant, reports which are then reviewed by the committee. The committee convenes for a four-week session three times a year. At some point, Israel, too will be asked to appear before the forum of experts, an event that happens every few years. This is unlike the council, “where Israel is always present,” Shany noted.
■ IT SEEMS the Grenada is the nemesis of this column. First there was a mix-up between Grenada and Granada, and then, when reporting elsewhere in the paper that Grenada’s first ambassador to Israel was an ardent Zionist, we apparently exaggerated the point, based on gleanings from a conversation. He has clarified that he is pro-Israel but not an ardent Zionist.
The conversation also led to the impression that he keeps kosher – but he doesn’t. Such innocent and well-meant mistakes serve as a warning that the things we read and hear about other people are often the erroneous impressions of a single person, but when repeated can place a permanent stamp on that person’s character and career.
If Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement activists around the world get hold of the book Israeli Innovations – Breakthrough Products that Changed the World, they will have a lot more divesting to do – this time to their own discomfort, as they discard products in their possession that have Israeli components or are totally Israeli in concept, content and manufacture.
The bilingual book, produced in English and Hebrew by the Economy Ministry, was released on Sunday at an event at the President’s Residence, where 10 giants of Israeli industry were honored with leadership awards within the framework of Israel’s 70th anniversary celebrations. In a foreword to the book, Economy Minister Eli Cohen writes: “Israel is a country which since [its] establishment has recognized the importance of research, development and innovation for the purpose of the nation’s prosperity.” Further on, he states: “Right now, while you read this book, thousands of Israelis are working diligently on future inventions that will make our lives on this planet better, longer, and easier.”
One has to wonder how many BDS people are secretly hanging on to their Israeli-invented products, while calling on the rest of the world to ditch them.