12/08/2011 03:21

Philanthropists Morris Kahn and Geneva-based Phillippe Nordmann received Council for a Beautiful Israel awards at President’s residence.
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Philanthropists Morris Kahn and Geneva-based Phillippe Nordmann received Council for a Beautiful Israel Yakir (Distinguished Citizen) awards on Wednesday at the annual ceremony at the President’s Residence.

The council recognizes individuals, organizations, institutions and industrial plants that have undertaken projects to beautify the environment and to improve the quality of life.

The Magshim (Realization) award went to the 35 development towns from Kiryat Shmona to Eilat that are collectively celebrating the 60th anniversary of David Ben-Gurion’s decision to send new immigrants to barren stretches of rock and sand all over the country, and to establish vibrant communities.

Both the South African-born Israeli Kahn, and Nordmann, who came from Switzerland for the ceremony, have been and are still engaged in projects that enhance the quality of life in development towns. Both are also engaged in many other activities in Israel.

Kahn, who made his fortune from Amdocs, is the chairman and one of the founders of the Aurec Group, a leading provider of software and services in the fields of communications and information.

Nordmann is the cofounder and president of the Philias Foundation that encourages corporate and social responsibility. In addition to environmental projects, he finances research into AIDS and campaigns for AIDS awareness. He also funds many of the hospital clowns whose antics and patter do so much to cheer up both junior and senior patients.

Nordmann also supports Neve Or, an AIDS treatment center at Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot, the Kiryat Yaarim Youth Village for children at risk and a rehabilitation program for convicts who have been released from prison. In addition he supports programs that encourage children’s creativity. Many of the projects to which he contributes are in development towns.

Kahn, whose name consistently appears on the Forbes list of the World’s Richest People, is a man of the sea, a yachtsman and a former diver. He was very proud of his own association with development towns. In 1958, two years after his arrival in Israel, Kahn opened the first factory in Beit Shemesh, which made bicycles. After that he opened a factory for the manufacture of gloves. He bought the leather in Europe, had it cut in Tel Aviv and went from one development town to another to teach people how to sew them. The finished product was then exported.

More recently he established the Zalul Environmental Association, dedicated to protecting the seas and rivers of Israel. Zalul is managed by his son Benjamin who is a marine biologist.

The award he had received, said Kahn, was not for him but for Zalul which has fought on many fronts, the first being a decade or so ago, when Kahn became aware that a lot of young navy divers were dying of cancer. They had undergone IDF training in the polluted Kishon River near Haifa.

Zalul forced the creation of a government commission of inquiry that was headed by former Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar. As a result of its findings the navy was forced to stop diving in the Kishon. Zalul also helped those former divers who were ill and provided assistance to the families of those who had died.

Another triumph was stopping kibbutzim from farming fish in the Red Sea. By farming fish in the sea, the kibbutzim were destroying the coral. The battle took seven years, but the fish farms were moved to ponds on land and Kahn was happy to report that “the coral is returning to life.”

The next battle was to fight against the pollution of Israel’s rivers by sewage.

In tandem with this campaign Zalul fought municipalities that were dumping sewage into the sea.

The Council for a Beautiful Israel was founded in 1968 by Aura Herzog, whose husband, Chaim Herzog, was later the state’s sixth president.

A private organization that receives no government support, its impact on national aesthetics and environmental and ecological issues has been enormous.