Rafael Hadad. Would make a good Mossad agent?
Photo: AFP

Who are you, Rafael Hadad?

Friends say Israeli food enthusiast and artist who was released Sunday thanks to Avigdor Lieberman's efforts after spending five months in Libyan prison 'keeps away from politics', despite calling foreign minister a 'political dwarf' in blog entry after Turkish ambassador 'chair incident'

Even without his recent entanglement and mysterious arrest in Libya, it seems Rafael (Rafram) Hadad isn't the most stable person you could meet. His friends say he is a social and amicable person, an adventurous person who loves food and art, but is not too fond of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who secured his return to Israel. His friends jokingly say he would make a good Mossad agent.


Hadad, 34, immigrated to Israel at the age of two from the island of Djerba near Tunisia. This is the island where, according to tradition, Jewish priests were exiled to after the destruction of the First Temple. Djerba is home to devout Jews who have maintained their faith for generations, and to this day Djerba Jews in Israel uphold their traditions in a devout, conservative community.


"He's a strange bird in a positive way," one of his acquaintances says. "He's colorful, special. He's come a long way from the place from which he came – from a very conservative society he has become very liberal-leftist."


Hadad's family was very prominent on Djerba. His grandfather, who helped raise him, owned a well-known printing press, "Hadad Press", which published prayer books. Books printed by Hadad press could be found in every home in the community.


'Not an extreme leftist'

Hadad's most recent adventure in Libya began after the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, an incident which turned every Israeli in an Arab country into a suspected spy. Some of his friends warned him not to go, but his adventurous desires overpowered the voice of reason. "He went because of food," one of his acquaintances says.


"His plan was to organize gourmet trips to Tunisia. He is a coordinator for the Slow Food Movement in Israel – an organization that advocates eating food that honors the environment in which it is produced." Some of his other friends, on the other hand, say he went to photograph Jewish sites in Libya.


Friends say his love of food has led him to travel around the world, without much consideration for borders. "He is a very positive man," his best friend Roy "Chicky" Arad says. "He loves food more than anything else. When we were in Jordan together, he 'swiped' hummus back to Israel. His trip to Libya may seem extreme, but for him, it was completely natural."


According to Arad, Hadad is an artist at heart, as well as an exhibition curator. "He really is a man of many talents," Arad says. "He is involved in many fields. In the past, he was number one in the 'Petek' party, that artistically ran for elections, but didn't really submit itself for elections. We were curators at an exhibition together in the past, and he is a member of the poetry magazine Ma'ayan, where I am one of the editors."

With Lieberman after release (photo courtesy of Foreign Ministry)


According to Arad, Hadad actually isn't the adventurous type. "He is a pretty mellow and cowardly guy, not one to go bungee jumping," he says. "He just believes that he belongs in the Middle East. He is a humanist, and a people lover, not an extreme leftist."


Another acquaintance says, "Rafram is a very curious person. He is a chef and an artist and he has many faces. He is an incredible writer. He takes photographs and does different types of visual arts. He has good command of the Arabic language, and he enters villages in the territories and east Jerusalem fearlessly."


Chef Erez Komorovsky remembers, for example, the time he ate a stuffed pigeon in Cairo alley after being recommended to do so by Hadad. "He sent me there and I did not regret it," he says. "Rafram is very curious about anything to do with food. He is a dear man, a lover of people and a great food enthusiast. I am sorry for what he's been through in recent months, and I am very happy it's all over and that he is finally home."


Political blog entry

In a blog he opened Hadad refers to himself as an artist and "deals mainly with photography and culinary culture by coordinating for the Slow Food Movement." In one post on his blog, Hadad describes a trip to Tunisia in 2008, which was mainly an exploration of his roots. "I really loved this city," he wrote about his visit to Bizerte. "I am sitting across a small bay with boats, a completely Mediterranean view, very close to the city's market. The houses are low and painted white with turquoise-colored windows. I promise myself that I will return to this city."


One can learn of his political views from the fact that he spent time in a military prison for disobedience. His blog is another indication. After the 'chair incident', between the deputy of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman – one of the pillars in the deal for his release – and the Turkish ambassador to Israel, Hadad wrote in his blog: "In order to show the Turk what national strength is, he (Daniel Ayalon) also made sure there wasn't even a plate of pretzels on the table. It is interesting how the catastrophe of Lieberman as foreign minister (where is he, by the way? thank God) shrinks in comparison to the political dwarf that is trying to ignite the most sensitive region in the Middle East."


"He is a very special person," says Hussam Abbas, the owner of el-Babor restaurant and a close friend of Hadad's. "I don't understand how he survived in prison for so long. He is such a gentle person, who loves to travel, loves food, music and life. He does not deserve to sit in prison. I have no idea what he was arrested for, and I also didn't want to hurt his case. I wanted to intervene a few times and help him, and I heard of some family going to Libya, but they told me to stay quiet, keep a low profile and not do anything."


According Abbas, Hadad stayed away from politics. "He is no politician," he says. "On the contrary, he keeps his distance from politicians and does a lot for coexistence in Israel. We are good friends and I feel like he is my brother. When my father passed away, he came and sat with me at home in Kafr Kanna and stayed three days. Also when my brother died, several months afterwards, he was with me. He knows a lot about food, and is very much connected to Arabic food. I even learned a few things from him. He is also a computer genius, and helped me promote my business on Facebook. I am very happy he's back."


Actor Alon Aboutboul has also ran into Hadad on a number of occasions. "He is a very kind and warm person," he says. "He spoke to me a lot on Facebook and he is very dedicated to food. He would do anything to get his hands on meals. He invited me to all kinds of complex meals, all kinds of things for people addicted to food and challenges. Once he invited me to a trip to Algeria, I asked him if it's safe and he explained that he knows the ways to get in and that it's okay."


True to Jerusalem

"Rafram is the kind of people that no longer exist these days," says Daniel Zach, the chef at Carmella Bistro and a member of the Slow Food Movement. "When I heard he was arrested I told myself, 'this would only happen to Rafram'. He is so naive, bohemian, travels around all kinds of countries, a citizen of the world – but not one with money, but one who considers every country his home. He also defines himself as a Tunisian, so maybe this is part of his behavior."


Hadad, a basketball fan and a supporter of Hapoel Jerusalem, stays true to Jerusalem. "He is a Jerusalemite through and through," Zach says. He could not live without Jerusalem. He is always followed by a trail of pretty girls because he is different, romantic, unusual. He has different priorities from the rest of us. We all, all his friends, we were very concerned recently."


Sarit Sardas-Trotino contributed to this report



פרסום ראשון: 08.10.10, 19:01
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