Baha'i News -- GRAPEVINE: British Ambassador, always impressive Nov. 7, 2002

GRAPEVINE: British Ambassador, always impressive


BRITISH Ambassador Sherard Cowper-Coles, who never fails to impress when making appropriate remarks in Hebrew, once again demonstrated his linguistic skills when addressing an audience of Beduin municipal leaders and representatives. In the course of a visit to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the ambassador participated in the closing ceremony of the municipal training workshop for Beduin leaders, and spoke to them not in Hebrew but in Arabic.

Not really surprising, considering that he served for several years in Egypt. When the mood takes him, he occasionally tosses Latin and classical Greek into his speeches as well.

The workshop was the third to be completed in recent years under the direction of outgoing chairman of the university's Politics and Government Department, Prof. David Newman. The workshops were funded first by the Abraham Foundation, then by the European Community and most recently by the British Council. This particular workshop was unique in that the 50 participants were all members of the "unrecognized" Beduin villages and townships, and it was led by scholars and practitioners from within the community itself, such as Dr. Thabet Abu-Raas and Dr. Ama'a Al-Huzeil. Participants were taught that the best way to advance their political demands for municipal status is through an understanding that knowledge is power and, in the words of Newman, "standards are as important as status."

Other guests at the closing ceremony included Beduin MK Taleb Al Sa'ana and the Ministry of Interior's representative for the southern region, David (Dudu) Cohen, who is responsible for all municipal affairs in the Negev, and for whom this was the first public meeting in his official capacity with leaders of the unrecognized communities. In light of the recent decision by Interior Minister Eli Yishai to create a new Regional Council as a first step in the attempt to meet some of the Beduin demands for municipal status, a lively exchange of opinions developed in which several constructive ideas were put forward.

When Cowper-Coles spoke to the Beduins on a personal level, they told him that despite all their difficulties, they would rather live in a democracy like Israel's than in any Arab state in the Middle East.

THERE'S more than a little anxiety in the corridors of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, where staffers are wondering when the axe will fall and how much damage it will do. The reason? IBA director general Yosef Barel has appointed the Hebrew University's Dr. Linda Efroni, an expert on wages and labor relations, as his personal adviser on wage contracts, retirement and efficiency.

The appointment has fueled speculation that Bar-El is contemplating large-scale dismissals. The only consolation that IBA employees have is that Efroni has been an outspoken advocate for the worker, drawing attention to exploitation by employers. It is unlikely that she will be willing to sacrifice her integrity at this stage of her life.

LACK of chemistry between IDF spokeswoman Brig.-Gen.Ruth Yaron and her deputy Col. Miri Regev has led to a parting of the ways. It may also lead to Regev doffing her uniform. Regev was asked by former chief of General Staff Shaul Mofaz to be his spokesperson before he had any idea that he was going to be defense minister. One of the spokespeople for former defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer had to leave the army in order to accept the position. If Mofaz's offer to Regev is still open, she too will have to leave the army.

FORMER foreign minister Shimon Peres believes he can still play a significant role in the peace process even if he does not hold a government position. It's just a shame that he could not remain in office until the initially projected October 2003 Knesset elections, two months after his 80th birthday. No doubt the Knesset will give him all the fanfare he deserves next August, but the event would have had just a little more dignity and meaning if Peres were still a minister. Then again, who knows, now that early elections are in the offing, Peres may get the birthday present he didn't expect. Even if Labor doesn't win, if Sharon is still leader of Likud, he'll make another attempt to form a national unity government, and no doubt will want Peres at his side.

Aside from that, Peres still has at least 20 good years of service left in him. America's oldest and longest-serving politician, Strom Thurman, a Republican senator from South Carolina, isn't running for office again because he's turned 100 and wants to give the younger guys a chance. After 48 years in the Senate, he may feel that he has nothing more to give. But Peres, who thrives on innovation and dreams up new concepts all the time, has both the physical and mental stamina to keep going for a long time to come, besides which he has more than 20 years to go if he wants to be the first centenarian in the Knesset. He has already broken the joint record held by Josef Burg and Tewfiq Toubi. They were each MKs for 40 years. Peres has been an MK for 43.

THOUGH officially long out of the political arena, Israel's fifth president Yitzhak Navon, who after the presidency returned to politics and became education minister, is also part of that tough breed that traces its political roots to the Ben-Gurion era. Navon, who is now over 80 and currently serves as chairman of the National Authority for Ladino culture, was recently awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Miami. The university also inaugurated the Yitzhak Navon chair for the study of the culture and traditions of the Jews of Spain and the East.

One of the signatories to the honorary diploma and the establishment of the chair is Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida and brother of President George W. The initiative for the establishment of the Yitzhak Navon chair came from Yoel Scherf, Carmel Shashua, Raphael Elkayam, and David Kadosh, four Israeli businessmen who live in Miami and contribute a lot of money to Jewish education and culture in the US and Israel. In Israel they have also established soup kitchens, community centers and scholarships for needy students. Each of them contributed $150,000 toward the Yitzhak Navon chair, and a further $400,000 was contributed by the State of Florida.

Studies, which have already commenced, are under the direction of Dr. Zion Zohar. Navon received a right royal welcome in Miami, where Israeli expatriates and the Jewish community at large couldn't do enough to show how pleased they were to have him in their midst.

ROMANIAN Ambassador Valeria Mariana Stoica is an engineer by training with a passion for model trains. When she was invited to the recent housewarming party that artist Sali Ariel and her husband, internationally syndicated cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen, held at their new home in Herzliya Pituah, she arrived early because she had another engagement. Kirschen is also a lover of model trains, and had a whole system up on a table in the dining room. Kern Wisman, the Jerusalem representative of the Baha'i movement, is another model train afficionado who also arrived well before the other guests. The three of them were like kids in a candy store, jumping up and down as the trains went around the tracks.

FOREIGN correspondents in many countries enjoy the closest thing there is to diplomatic immunity because the governments in their host countries don't want them to file negative reports. Once upon a time it was like that in Israel too, with the Government Press Office kowtowing to the requests and even demands of foreign correspondents in ways that were beyond belief, delivering story ideas and dignitaries in every sphere on a silver platter.

All that has changed under the stewardship of GPO director Daniel Seaman, whose battles with the Foreign Press Association have been widely reported in the Hebrew media. Seaman is sticking to the letter of the law, and refuses to issue press cards to Palestinians working for foreign media outlets. He has put them in the same category as any other Palestinians who are not allowed to work in Israel. He's also holding up work permits for foreign TV crews on the grounds that there are plenty of good Israeli cameramen out of work.

©Copyright 2002, The Jerusalem Post

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