The Jerusalem Post

Grapevine September 27, 2023: Unsung heroes on the diplomatic front

 BAHRAINI AMBASSADOR Khaled Yousif Al Jalahma (right) with Yitzhak Eldan.  (photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
BAHRAINI AMBASSADOR Khaled Yousif Al Jalahma (right) with Yitzhak Eldan.
(photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

The Foreign Ministry is brimming with unsung heroes – men and women who are true patriots, who sacrifice their personal lives and ambitions for the well-being of the state and its citizens. They receive little or no public recognition when years of their work in quietly forging diplomatic relations in Africa and Asia, but also elsewhere in the world, finally bring desired results. It’s the prime minister or the foreign minister or both who reap the kudos, while the foot soldiers remain unrecognized in the field.

Two such foot soldiers who, long before the Abraham Accords, worked toward creating open diplomatic relationships between Israel and other countries in the region were recognized on the third anniversary of the accords at a ceremony held by the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel, at Kfar Shmaryahu residence of Bahraini Ambassador Khaled Yousif Al Jalahma, whose staff, both at the embassy and the residence, was extremely cooperative in helping to organize the event, which took place on International Peace Day. It was entirely appropriate that it be held at the residence of a Gulf state ambassador.

The two unsung Foreign Ministry heroes were Ambassador-at-large Bruce Kashdan, who for more than 30 years has been quietly working with countries in the region, building up relationships based on personal integrity; and Joshua Zarka, the deputy director-general for strategic affairs at the ministry, who in past years has been involved in special operations together with Kashdan, whom he described as “a living legend.”

Kashdan, who has been working below the radar since 1991, did not have a photograph of himself published until after the signing of the Abraham Accords, and quiet but public acknowledgment in some circles of the role that he had played.


Both Kashdan and Zarka were given special awards created by Holy Gems, whose luxury jewelry is composed of precious gems mined from the first deposit of precious gems discovered in the Holy Land. The award was mounted on olive wood, which is a symbol of peace.

 JOSHUA ZARKA (left) with Bruce Kashdan. (credit: SIVAN FARAG)
JOSHUA ZARKA (left) with Bruce Kashdan. (credit: SIVAN FARAG)

Kashdan quipped that in the years that he worked as an ambassador-at-large, he had never been given anything other than a visa. But then, in a more serious vein, he said that it all started at the Madrid Conference in 1991. The Gulf states were not involved, but they sent observers to see how the talks might affect regional interests, and Kashdan had been designated to liaise with them. The talks continued in Washington and Moscow, and Kashdan got to know the observers from the Gulf states very well.

Not long after the talks in Madrid, he received an invitation to one of the Gulf states, whose leaders felt that Israel might be able to contribute to their interests.

Shimon Peres was foreign minister at the time, and when Kashdan asked him whether he could accept the invitation, Peres replied that he didn’t know if it would be legal for him to do so, and that he would have to ask prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Rabin said that Kashdan could go for one night.


He went, and during that brief visit learned about the commonality of anticipation and cooperation. In other words, there could be a relationship so long as it was done quietly, on the basis of trust and friendship, and served mutual interests.

Further invitations followed from other Gulf states, and each time the stipulation was that relations be carried out quietly and on the basis of trust.

By and large, these relations involved economics, which Kashdan said was an important factor in bringing politics forward and making things happen on the ground. It was also important for the population to understand that whatever was being done was for the benefit of the population, because that would justify what the government was doing.

Zarka, like Kashdan, is something of a legend in the ministry. Among his many achievements was working for years to develop diplomatic relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council. He also served as the foreign minister’s special envoy to the Gulf, and director of external relations at the Israel Atomic Energy Commission. During his period as envoy to the Gulf, he worked closely with Kashdan. He said that when he and Kashdan initially met in one of the Gulf states, Kashdan told him “We make peace,” and written on a plaque on Kashdan’s desk were the words “Never Quit.” At the anniversary event, Zarka said that it was the first time that he had heard Kashdan speak in public of his mission.

Zarka also called Yitzhak Eldan, the Moroccan-born founding president of the Ambassador’s Club, a legend. Eldan was the longest-serving chief of protocol at the Foreign Ministry, and held several other high-ranking positions before that. Gil Haskel, the current chief of protocol, was one of his protégés, and was naturally in attendance.

Unable, after 41 years in the Foreign Service, to divorce himself from diplomacy, Eldan, immediately after his retirement, founded the Ambassador’s Club, now in its 12th year. In addition, he initiated the School for Young Ambassadors, in which he teaches bright young bilingual or multilingual high school students how to defend Israel in debate, how to present the positive aspects of the country, and how to discipline themselves. He takes them on trips abroad to meet their peers in other countries, as well as government ministers, parliamentarians, and leading figures in the Jewish community.

He recently took them to Morocco, where they were hosted in Rabat by Habek Abdelati, the president of the Diplomatic Foundation of Morocco, who came to Israel last week and visited Yad Vashem, the Old City of Jerusalem, and the holy places of the three great faiths. He was the first Moroccan dignitary to visit Israel following the devastating earthquake in Morocco. Abdelati, who also received an award, spoke of the good relations between Muslims and Jews in Morocco. A close confidant of King Mohammed VI and before that of King Hassan II, he recalled the recognition by King Hassan of the humane treatment of the sick and the poor by two Jewish citizens.

Eldan asked for a minute’s silence to honor the memories of the close to 3,000 people who lost their lives, and the many more who were injured, in the earthquake.

A US voice at an Abraham Accords event

■ GIVEN AMERICA’s influential role in the signing of the Abraham Accords, it was par for the course that Stephanie Hallett, the deputy chief of mission and acting ambassador of the US Embassy, would be among the speakers.

Hallett noted the significance of having the third anniversary celebrations on International Peace Day, because peace is what the Abraham Accords are about.

Democrats and Republicans alike are interested in an integrated, more cooperative Middle East, she said.

She also spoke about shared challenges and opportunities, and emphasized that the US commitment to regional integration and building on the Abraham Accords is unwavering.

An award for the Bahraini ambassador

■ THE ARABIC word for ambassador is “safir,” which sounds very much like sapphire. Here again, the good offices of Holy Gems came to the fore with a special Safir award for Jalahma, who said that when he first came to Israel, “we were at the beginning of a very long journey But we have achieved so much, and there is potential for so much more that we can do.” Even before Kashdan mentioned the importance of facts on the ground, Jalahma urged everyone present to visit Bahrain to understand the country and to build up the Abraham Accords in the region.

President Isaac Herzog had been invited to attend, as had Foreign Minister Eli Cohen. But Herzog was otherwise engaged, addressing the annual Armored Corps memorial ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, and Cohen was in New York to attend the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.

Herzog sent a letter in which he lauded Kashdan, “who has tirelessly served as a bridge between the State of Israel and the Arab and Islamic worlds.”

Cohen sent a video in which he referred to the dramatically changed history of the Middle East; a new chapter in peace; and expansion of the Abraham Accords. He was particularly pleased that Israel Embassies have opened in all the countries of the Abraham Accords.

A sign of hope for the future was evident in the address given by 17-year-old Gaya Shohat, one of Eldan’s young diplomats, who spoke of her vision of the day in 20 years’ time when it would be possible to drive from Jerusalem through the whole region, with open borders between one country and the next. It would not be just a physical journey, she said, but one of the heart and mind.

In the book that he wrote shortly before his death, Peres, in assessing Israel’s achievements, wrote: “We didn’t dream big enough.” Shohat has a very big dream. Who knows? It may come true.

Musical performance at the Abraham Accords event

■ THE MUSICAL performance at the Abraham Accords event was by Firqat Alnoor, which specializes in classic Arabic music. Its 25 musicians and 10 choral singers include Jews and Arabs. Among the Jews are talented ultra-Orthodox musicians.

The light orchestra is the joint brainchild of Hana Ftaya, Ariel Cohen, and Prof. Yehuda Kamari. It has performed in Dubai, Cairo, and Morocco, as well as elsewhere around the globe.

Jewish education in the UAE

■ ON THE same day that the Abraham Accords were being celebrated at the Israeli residence of the Bahraini ambassador, Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, the president of Yeshiva University, was in Abu Dhabi to participate in a panel discussion that was integral to the launch of the first year of programming at the Abrahamic Family House, under the title of “Rethinking Sustainability and Peace Through a Spiritual Lens.” The discussion highlighted YU’s continued commitment to deepening ties and spreading Jewish values in the global community.

Fellow panelists included Dr. Monica Menendez, associate dean of engineering for graduate affairs at NYU Abu Dhabi; and Rabbi David Rosen, special adviser for interfaith and Jewish affairs to the Abrahamic Family House. The event also included remarks by Abdulla Al Shehhi, director of the AFH.

As far as is known, this was the first-ever event in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where Jews, Muslims and Christians discussed sustainability. They talked about environmental preservation, the climate crisis, and the importance of religion and ethics in addressing these challenges.

Since opening in February 2023, the AFH has served a global audience and provided a platform for Jewish values to be shared. The venue offers a model of tolerance and education, housing a mosque, a church, and the Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue.

Berman’s participation marked the latest in YU’s work to strengthen ties with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities on an international stage. In April 2021, Berman addressed the first-ever Holocaust commemoration event in an Arab country, at the Crossroads of Civilization Museum in Dubai. Additionally, in May 2023, YU partnered with Mohammed Bin Zayed University for Humanities on a first-of-its-kind academic conference in the UAE, titled “Interacting Philosophies, Shared Friendships,” at which faculty from both universities offered scholarly reflections on Judaism and Islam’s political, philosophical, and social interactions to an audience of community members; Emirati, Israeli, and American dignitaries; and students.

Berman was accompanied on this recent visit to the UAE by a delegation of students and faculty from the YU Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought. The students met with local and Israeli dignitaries, including Ahmed Almansoori, the founder of the CCM; Amir Hayek, Israeli ambassador to the UAE; Israeli Consul-General Liron Zaslansky; and Marc Sievers, former ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman and director of the office of the American Jewish Committee Abu Dhabi.

Dado's ouster

■ LAST WEEK, within the framework of 50th anniversary commemorations of the Yom Kippur War, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi invited the family of the late David “Dado” Elazar, who was chief of staff during the Yom Kippur War, to talk about Dado’s legacy. Under ordinary circumstances, that would have been a normal thing to do. But Dado was forced to resign at the end of the war due to the heavy toll of casualties and the fact that the army had been unprepared. Dado died a little over two years later at the age of 50. Some said at the time that he had died of a broken heart resulting from the humiliation of being ousted from the IDF, in which he had given so much of himself, in which he had chalked up many achievements, and which he loved so much.

The ouster was due to investigations by the Agranat Commission, which held Elazar personally responsible for the failure to be prepared for war. Not everyone in the senior ranks of the army or the general public agreed with this, and the controversy added to Dado’s pain. At the conclusion of the meeting last week, in which the conversation had been about Dado’s character, his career in the army, and also his death, as well as the lessons learned from the war, Halevi presented Dado’s widow, Telma Elazar, the Order of the Day which Dado had written at the end of the war, in which he underscored that despite the shocking surprise attack and the heavy losses, the IDF stands erect due to the courage of comrades who fell and those who were wounded. “Because of their courage and their loyalty, the State of Israel will achieve security and peace.”

Why does Herzog refuse to give interviews to Israeli media?

■ INASMUCH AS Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came under fire for giving interviews in English to the American media, but refusing to give interviews in Hebrew to the local media or to representatives of Israeli media who are stationed in America, he does occasionally hold press conferences in Israel, and gives briefings during his trips abroad.

But Herzog does not give interviews to Israeli media in any language, nor does he hold press conferences, and worse still closes many events that were previously open to the media under his father, president Chaim Herzog, president Ezer Weizman, president Moshe Katsav, president Shimon Peres and president Reuven Rivlin. These events were also open under presidents Ephraim Katzir and Yitzhak Navon. But under the present administration, not only are they closed, but several are not reported by the president’s spokesman’s team. It is hard to tell whether this state of affairs derives from Herzog’s own decision, or whether his spokesmen have decided for him. Either way, the affairs of Citizen No. 1 demand more transparency.

Why is it wrong for him to close meetings to the media? Because many of the events involve organizations and institutions whose representatives may have something important to say. But when there is a press release, the president’s speech is included, either in full or with the main thrust of what he said, but the speakers for the organizations and institutions barely rate a mention unless they are well-known public figures, and even then, whatever they said is reduced to a couple of sentences, and more often than not the reader is informed that they thanked the president for his hospitality.

When journalists are present, they do report the speeches of both the president and the representatives of organizations and institutions, for whom this is extremely important. Herzog himself is very personable, affable, polite, and friendly, so it is hard to understand the presidential attitude to the media. Due to the huge volume of publicity that he has received on the judicial reform issues, the general public may not realize that other events that he hosts or attends are not being covered.

However, among the few events that journalists are permitted to attend is the annual open day in the president’s sukkah, which this year will focus on sport – a game for everyone. The event will also emphasize the values of sport, one of the most crucial of which is fair play.

Visitors will be able to watch ninja athletes, paralympic champions, acrobatics, and more, and there will be several activities in which the public can participate.

Sport is one of the more positive achievements of Israel, and this year Israeli athletes, particularly those with physical disabilities, have distinguished themselves in international championships, and have brought great pride to the country.

The gates to the President’s Residence will open at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, October 3.

By the way, one untruth that all presidents of Israel have in common is the statement made many times in public that the President’s Residence is actually the residence of the people of Israel. Except for the open house on Sukkot, just try to get in without an invitation or prior official approval. Security personnel will stop you before you get your foot in the door. Surprisingly, it’s much easier to take a tour of the White House.

Netanytahu's coalition partners are a curse, Yariv means adversary

■ APROPOS NETANYAHU, his use of the biblical analogy of the blessing and the curse related to his hopes for diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia, but anything biblical is open to interpretation. For Netanyahu the blessing and the curse so far was forming a coalition, which for him was a blessing; and the curse has been in two of his coalition partners, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who have caused him embarrassment and aggravation. The same can be said of Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who is a member of Netanyahu’s own Likud Party. “Yariv” in Hebrew means adversary, and Levin has lived up to his name in more ways than one.

Rahav, Drahi families marry

■ HIS LARGE and diverse clientele, coupled with his close involvement with various social welfare and cultural organizations, plus the fact that he is the honorary consul for the Marshall Islands, brings a surfeit of invitations to numerous events to Rani Rahav and his wife and business partner, Hila. The Rahavs have probably lost count of the number of weddings they have attended over the years, other than those that, for one reason or another, were memorable. But none were as memorable as the one they will attend on Thursday, September 28, when their only son, Roye, marries Graziella Drahi, the daughter of Patrick and Lina Drahi.

Rani Rahav is arguably Israel’s best known public relations consultant and strategist, while Patrick Drahi is a French and Israeli media mogul, who, among other assets, owns I24, the multilingual media outlet. Drahi is also a generous philanthropist. He and his wife and children established the Patrick and Lina Drahi Foundation, which supports innovative programs in the fields of science, education, and the arts.

When Roye Rahav was bar mitzvah, his parents hosted a mega celebration with thousands of guests. They thought that under the current circumstances, even more people would be attending the wedding, and sent out save the date notices. But the guest list proved to be so unwieldy that it required serious trimming. Rahav felt bad about disinviting people, but had no choice. By way of compensation he planted trees with the Jewish National Fund in the names of disinvited guests, and each of the people for whom a tree was planted received a certificate to that effect.

Kol Nidre for USY

■ A LONG-HELD Kol Nidre night tradition in Jerusalem is for United Synagogue Youth, the junior arm of the Conservative movement, to sit in a circle on the ground at the crossroads of four streets and to sing Hebrew songs after the service. People returning home from synagogues in all four directions stop at the edge of the circle to either listen or to join in the singing.

This year, there were fewer young Americans in the circle than in seasons past, but included in the circle for the first time were senior citizens, most notably Rabbi Paul and Nina Freedman, who over the years have hosted hundreds, possibly thousands of USY members in their home, which is directly across the road from the Conservative synagogue. Paul Freedman was the first international president of USY, is a past USY international director who helped to found USY’s college programs. Though long past retirement age, he and his wife continue their work with young people.

Incidentally, the seniors in the circle were not seated on the ground. They sat either on regular chairs or wheelchairs, but were well integrated with the youth, and sang with great enthusiasm.

Yom Kippur at the Great Synagogue

■ THE YOM Kippur service at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue was, as always, spirited and inspiring. The choir, conducted by Elli Jaffe, is among the best in the country. Jaffe is also a composer and musician.

At the conclusion of the service, the choir sang the national anthem, but not to the familiar tune. The first half was to a different tune, which may have been composed by Jaffe, who often introduces new melodies to traditional songs. Whether it was his composition or someone else’s, it obviously won the approval of congregants, who applauded loudly to signify their appreciation.