On Wednesday, the 25th of Elul, President Reuven Rivlin celebrated his 79th birthday in accordance with the Hebrew calendar date of his birth. On Sunday, September 9, he will celebrate his birthday again – this time according to the Gregorian calendar, and his family and friends will have a double reason to wish him a Happy New Year, as the date coincides with the first night of Rosh Hashanah.
Rivlin’s birthday gift this past Wednesday was the launch of a book based on conversations that he had with military historian and journalist Yoaz Hendel, whose CV also includes a stint as director of communications and public diplomacy for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Hendel and Rivlin are at odds over the Nation-State Law. Rivlin uses every opportunity to criticize it, whereas Hendel, who was raised in the settlement of Elkana, believes it to be an excellent piece of legislation.
The launch was held at the Begin Heritage Center, which was the most natural place for the event, other than perhaps the Knesset or the President’s Residence. But as everyone connected with the Begin Center, including Rivlin himself, is a disciple of Jabotinsky, it was considered to be the most appropriate setting.
Speakers included Rivlin, Hendel, Begin Center executive director Herzl Makov, MKs Bennie Begin and Yair Lapid, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, and Dov Eichenwald of Yediot Aharonot Publishing, which published the book. Moderator was educator and social entrepreneur Adi Altschuler, the founder of Krembo Wings, Israel’s first youth movement for youngsters with and without special needs, as well as the founder of Zikaron BaSalon, in which Holocaust survivors tell their stories in a home setting. Altschuler has worked closely with Hendel, Lapid and Bennett, who announced the opening of four integrated schools in which children with special needs study together with mainstream children in the same classroom.
Makov, who found the book so riveting that he read it all in a single sitting, had one point of disagreement with Rivlin’s dissecting of Israeli society into tribes. Speaking of himself, Makov said that although he’s not religious, he’s not secular. So he belongs to neither the haredi, National Religious or secular camp – and he’s not Arab either.
Begin, who is a personal friend and neighbor of Rivlin’s, and whom the president referred to as “my brother,” warned of the erosion of universal values in some Israeli quarters, and cited as an example the attitude of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to judicial activism and to legislation as it affects the Supreme Court. Quoting Jabotinsky on equality and freedom of thought and action, Begin noted that these principles date back to King David and suggested that Israel’s hope is equality as set down in the Torah.
Rivlin, Bennett and Lapid hung on to every word, as Begin proved that in oratory, the apple did not fall far from the tree, and several people in the audience remarked on how much he reminds them of his father. Rivlin embraced him as he came off the stage. Bennett said that as much as he likes and admires Begin, he could not agree with him, and pointed out that by trying to silence Shaked, Begin is going against his own democratic principles. Defending the Nation-State Law, Bennett said that it does not deal with individual rights, but with the national identity of the State of Israel, which is Jewish.
Lapid attacked Israel’s political system, which he said is corrupt, and, as a former media man himself, implied that the media fan the flames in times of political conflict by interviewing extremists from both sides instead of interviewing people from the mainstream who constitute the majority.
Lapid and Bennett sat alongside each other, and prior to the proceedings were engaged in animated conversation. When each was asked whether they were forming a political alliance, each of them denied that they were renewing the alliance of their early political careers.
“Whoever doesn’t vote my way is not my enemy,” declared Lapid.
“There’s nothing more Jewish or democratic than to dialogue over matters of dispute,” said Rivlin, commenting that arguing over principles goes back to Temple times. “When we forget the importance of debate and become afraid, we forget what it is to be Jews,” said Rivlin.
As he had done at several events earlier in the week, Rivlin again attacked the Nation-State Law, saying: “I am a Jew who believes that I can’t be a Jew without being a democrat.”
Rivlin quoted Jabotinsky on issues of Zionism, human rights, equality and individual freedoms, which Jabotinsky regarded as sacred.
“The Nation-State Law in its present format is bad for the State of Israel and bad for the Jewish people,” said Rivlin, who sees it in its broader context, in which debate will be stifled and reduced to one of two possibilities: “You’re either with me or against me. If you’re against me, you’re a traitor, an enemy, regardless of whether you’re a leftist or whether you are the president.”
An abundance of mutual compliments flowed between Hendel and Rivlin, with Hendel saying that he learned from Rivlin how to argue in a civilized fashion.
■ IN A generally informal atmosphere, US Ambassador David Friedman and his wife, Tammy, hosted a New Year toast at the US Residence in Herzliya Pituah on Tuesday, where guests included politicians, diplomats, journalists, businesspeople and many of the personal friends they have made since Friedman took office in May 2017.
This was the second time that the Friedmans have hosted a New Year toast, and Friedman made the point that although it had not been a perfect year, because there were people who had experienced tragedies, overall, it had been a good year.
Among the guests was former MK Ya’acov Katz, popularly known as Katzele, who was one of the founders of Beit El, a West Bank settlement that was supported for many years by Friedman prior to his ambassadorship. The two men have enjoyed a long friendship, and Katz, who also heads the Beit El Yeshiva Center and the Arutz Sheva media outlet, regards Friedman as a brother.
Seen in the crowd in addition to Katzele were Dr. Harvey Belik – a board member of the Israel Aid Mission, which provides disaster relief worldwide, a volunteer at the African Refugee Clinic and a director of Budo for Peace, which uses martial arts to educate Israeli and Palestinian youth toward mutual tolerance and nonviolence – and his wife, Loretta.
Also seen were strategic adviser and media consultant Ayelet Frish, who was spokeswoman and media adviser for president Shimon Peres; Greek Patriarch Theophilos III, Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg and her partner, Uri Zakai; Matityahu Cheshin, known as the haredi consul; Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan; Rodney Sanders, general manager of Jerusalem’s David Citadel hotel, which hosts many American dignitaries, and which for obvious reasons is generally referred to as DC; public relations maven Ran Rahav, who is also honorary consul for the Marshall Islands; opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who put in a brief appearance; and Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, which on Wednesday, September 12, will host a conference at the American Colony Hotel, Jerusalem, on “Oslo, 25 Years After: Realities, Challenges and Future Prospects.”
Among the speakers at the conference will be Gilead Sher, who today heads the INSS Center for Applied Negotiations and is a former chief negotiator in the peace process and former chief of staff to former prime minister Ehud Barak. Also among the speakers will be political and civil society activist Hind Khouri, a former minister in the Palestinian Authority and former Palestinian ambassador to France.
One of Friedman’s guests, who is a longtime veteran of US Embassy receptions and who might prefer not to be quoted by name, remarked on how different the people milling on the lawn were to those of previous years. There were many more who were politically far right of center, and also many more men wearing kippot.
However, there were more than a token handful of people whose political views are left of center. Schenker, who belongs to the latter category, approached Friedman after he had delivered his address and said to him that he disagrees with him on most issues, but he does agree with him on matters regarding Hamas. Friedman smiled and replied: “Now that we have something on which we agree, let’s build on it.”
Friedman tweeted after the reception: “We are grateful that so many friends could join us tonight for a Rosh Hashanah toast. This year, let us dedicate ourselves to building upon our great accomplishments, to making the US-Israel relationship even stronger, and to bringing peace, prosperity and security to the region.”
■ SINGAPORE IS a wonderful holiday destination at any time, but it will be more so by this time next year, when Haifa-born, Canada-raised prizewinning architect Moshe Safdie completes his glorious addition to Changi Airport, which even without his creative genius has consistently been voted as the best airport in the world. First-time visitors will be charmed by the sight of so many orchids in the arrivals lounge and will be amazed by the number and variety of facilities available to passengers in transit.
Safdie has quite a long relationship with Singapore. The impressive Marina Bay Hotel, which is part of the Sands resort empire that is controlled by Sheldon Adelson, is arguably one of the most unique hotels in Singapore, which boasts several architectural masterpieces in its hotel industry.
More recently, Safdie’s firm has completed the Singapore Sky Habitat project, comprising 509 apartments located in two covered towers linked by three aerial walkways. The bridges each contain sky gardens and recreation areas. Also included in the project are swimming pools for adults and children, playgrounds, barbecue pits, a gymnasium, an events hall and a karaoke room. Safdie has taken numerous social needs into consideration, and in linking the two towers with bridges that are much more than pedestrian walkways, he has also made provision for social contact between residents of apartments which collectively constitute a village in the sky.
Safdie is opposed to the general trend by architects to create isolated towers, because he believes that such properties lead to a social disconnect, and he wants the people in the residential projects that he designs to be connected. Hence the garden bridges, which are great for people who don’t suffer from vertigo or don’t have fear of heights, but somewhat off-putting for those who do. But sky habitats will solve housing problems of the future, especially in small countries like Singapore, where land is scarce. When there is no room to build outward, the only alternative is to build upward, and as populations increase in size, residential buildings will become ever taller. Signs of this are already visible in Tel Aviv and surrounds, but single-story buildings in other parts of the country are also on the way out.
Safdie, 80, has several Israel projects to his credit. He was the town planner for Modi’in. Other projects that he has designed include the David Citadel hotel in Jerusalem and the adjacent Mamilla Mall, the Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem and Ben-Gurion Airport. Coming up is an all-inclusive resort and convention center in Ein Bokek in the Dead Sea region. The project will include two luxury hotels, a convention center, a visitors center, a shopping mall, restaurants and entertainment facilities.