Lay of the Land Weekly Newsletter- 17 September 2020

Unveiling the contours and contrasts of an ever-changing Middle East landscape

Reliable reportage and insightful commentary on the Middle East by seasoned journalists from the region and beyond

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Lay Of The Land extends Happy New Year greetings to its readers around the world wishing days of joyhappiness and above all “Good Health” to all, and now with  “a new vision” in the Middle East, peace and prosperity for all its peoples.

What’s happening in Israel today?  See this week’s daily ‘The Israel Brief’ broadcasts on LOTL  YouTube   by seasoned TV & radio broadcaster, Rolene Marks familiar to Chai FM listeners in South Africaand millions of American listeners to the News/Talk/Sports radio station WINA broadcasting out of Charlottesville, Virginia. You can subscribe to LOTL news from Israel and enjoy at a time of your convenience.

The Israel Brief

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Articles

(1)

“In The Mood”

British Trade Union inclined to ignore Covid-19 while promoting anti-Israel sentiment

By David E. Kaplan

Gulf Apart. Anti-Israel rhetoric at UK trade union conference while messages of PEACE from Israel and the Gulf.

While Britain’s second largest trade union is promoting resolutions against Israel over abandoned positions of yesterday, it ignores today’s movement towards peace and its monumental significance for a new Middle East of tomorrow.

“In The Mood”

(Click on the blue article title)

(2)

His Name was Navid Afkari

Iranian Wrestling Champion murdered by the regime for protesting.

By  Rolene Marks

Crushing a Celebrity. Afraid of his influence, Iran executes 27-year-old champion wrestler, Navid Afkari.

“Wanted for Murder” – the state of Iran. Why did Iran execute its most celebrated wrestling champion? We examine the shocking circumstances surrounding the state contrived execution of a popular icon – Navid Afkari.

His Name was Navid Afkari

(Click on the blue article title)

(3)

To my Breslov and Balfour Brothers and Sisters

By Richard Shavei-Tzion

From Balfour to Breslov. In striving for the good of their cause, crowds gathering are an instrument for the harm of themselves and others.

In keeping with we are our “Brother’s Keeper”,  the writer insightfully appeals to his kindred spirits who for whatever good cause create large crowds, to “Think  Big” beyond “the confines of your communes” for the greater health of us all.

To my Breslov and Balfour Brothers and Sisters

(Click on the blue article title)

LOTL Cofounders David E. Kaplan (Editor), Rolene Marks and Yair Chelouche

To unsubscribe, please reply to layotland@gmail.com

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

The Israel Brief- 14-17 September 2020

The Israel Brief -14 September 2020 – Bahrain normalises ties with Israel. Iranian plot to assassinate US Ambassador to South Africa. Israel heads to lock down.




The Israel Brief -15 September 2020 – Historic peace agreement will be signed today. Lock down updates. Serbia bans Hizbollah.




The Israel Brief -16 September 2020 – We look at the Abraham Accords. Rockets fired on Israel. Schools closed as Covid 19 stats rise.






The Israel Brief -17 September 2020 – Israel heads into lock down. El Al has a new owner. Worrying statistics about Holocaust knowledge.


While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

His Name was Navid Afkari

Iranian Wrestling Champion murdered by the regime for protesting.

By  Rolene Marks

His name was Navid Afkari. His life was full of promise. A talented sportsman, Afkari was a champion wrestler, proudly representing his country, Iran. He was 27 years old with a glorious future ahead of him. The Iranian regime recently executed champion wrestler, Navid Afkari.

Navid Afkari. Former wrestling champion executed by Iran despite calls to stop death sentence.

Iran is not a country that is synonymous with human rights. In fact, their record is as dismal as it gets. Some of their gross violations include the hanging of members of the LGBTQ community by crane, regardless of age, using lethal force to subdue protests, sometimes even killing hundreds of protestors, suppressing any rights to the freedom of expression and gender discrimination with women’s rights activists also face abuse. Ethnic and religious minorities endure entrenched discrimination. Torture and other ill-treatment, including through the denial of medical care, remain widespread and systematic; and committed with impunity. The right to fair trials is often denied and cruel, inhuman and degrading judicial punishments are carried out. Scores of people have been executed, sometimes in public; several under the age of 18 at the time of the crime.

Iran is routinely called out by human rights advocates for their ongoing violations.

The irony is that global powers who are aware of this, still allow Iran place on international bodies like the UN Commission on Criminal Justice, the Permanent Court of Arbitration and various others.

Looking Back with Anger. Iran executed champion wrestler Navid Afkari despite widespread pleas to spare him, prompting angry reactions from Iranians at home and abroad on social media platforms.

Why would Iran execute one of their star sportsmen? The circumstances surrounding this execution, which many are calling cold-blooded murder smack of conspiracy because Afkari dared use his voice.

Navid Afkari was among the vast crowds who took to the streets during the 2018 protests in Iran, opposing the totalitarian dictatorship of Khamenei and the rapidly deteriorating living conditions. He was arrested and charged with multiple offenses shortly after the protests. Among his charges were “insulting the supreme leader”, “waging war against God (aka. moharebeh)”, and the alleged case of “Hasan Torkman’s murder”.

Hasan Torkman was a secret security agent of IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) which were tasked with silencing the protests and after his death he was buried as a “martyr” by the regime, signifying his position. Akfari strongly denied this blatantly bogus murder charge and there was no evidence linking him to the case. The court sentencing was influenced by two sources that they claim showed him as the murderer. It was obviously a situation where Afkari was framed but what was the Iranian motivation?

Crushing an Icon. Afraid of his influence, Iran executes 27-year-old champion wrestler, Navid Afkari.

It could only have been his high profile as a young champion posed such a threat that he had to be silenced permanently. They could ill afford having their tyrannical views challenged by young people following in his example and demanding change and a better way of living.

Akfari was given two death sentences. 

While Afkari initially confessed to the murder charge, he would later retract stating he had been tortured into making a false confession.  During the hearings he stated:

   “I told the inspector that neither do I know the secret agent (that has been killed), nor have I heard his name! But under torture, and to save my family, and for Vahid (one of his imprisoned brothers), I gave them what they wanted.

Once I had been freed from the pressure of solitary confinement, the basement, and the tortures, once I stepped back onto the prison, I immediately wrote to the judicial offices and filed my complaint (against their use of torture) and screamed that I am not a murderer. I requested them to take me to the forensics bureau (for medical examinations of his scars). Per their report and eye-witness account (of my torture) and other evidences, it was made clear that I had been tortured. No matter the countless times I wrote and pleaded that all my confessions were obtained under torture; or how there is not a single shred of evidence in this damned case that could prove my guilt, but they did not want to hear our voice. I figured they were looking for a neck for their noose.”

Many campaigned to save his life. From human rights groups, online social media campaigns by Iranians, to important people and organisations including U.S. President Donald Trump, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, and UFC President Dana White. A global union representing 85,000 athletes called for Iran’s expulsion from world sport if it executed Afkari. All appealed for Afkari’s life to be saved, but to no avail!

On Saturday, the 12th of September 2020, Navid Afkari was executed. For many, this was cold blooded murder.

The European Union (EU), Olympic Committee and countless others condemned the killing of Afkari:

The European Union condemns this execution in the strongest terms. Human rights remain a central feature of our engagement with Iran. We will continue to engage with Iranian authorities on this issue including through the local EU representation in Tehran and also on individual cases such as this recent execution,” an EU foreign affairs spokesperson said in a statement.

A German foreign ministry spokeswoman also condemned the execution, saying, “There were considerable doubts about the rule of law in the proceedings, and we also take very seriously the allegations that Navid Afkari confessed only under torture.”

The Olympic Committee expressed their outrage and shock.

Condemnations are not enough. Many are calling for Iran to be banned from sports and political bodies for their gross violations of human rights. It cannot be forgotten that Iran is not only guilty of gross human rights abuses; but is also the world’s foremost supporter of state sponsored terror and is responsible for the loss of life in attacks from Buenos Aires to Jerusalem. The killing of a champion to push a political agenda and make him an example to the millions who want to exercise their fundamental right to protest is extremely concerning.

Protests Abroad. Iranian opposition supporttyers of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) protesting the execution of Iranian wrestling champion Navid Afkari on September 12, 2020 in Berlin, Germany

While there were many campaigns and condemnations, the killing of Navid Afkari did not dominate headlines or garner major global reactions. There will be nobody taking a knee for Afkari. Hollywood celebrities will not be putting out impassioned social media statements.

There needs to be justice for Navid Afkari and the countless others killed by the despotic Iranian regime. This will only come when the global outrage is so strong that Iran feels the shame of exclusion from major international agencies and bodies and is roundly condemned and isolated.

His name was Navid Afkari. He was a champion. May his memory be blessed.

Navid Afkari’s last audio message from prison before his execution





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

To my Breslov and Balfour Brothers and Sisters

….And to all brethren who prioritize acting upon their beliefs and desires at the risk of spreading COVID-19 by flouting the regulations

(Courtesy of the Times of Israel blog)

By Richard Shavei-Tzion

I feel your pain!

Having to desist from the sacred acts which you have been performing zealously for decades and which define your lives, seems intolerable.

Passion is a potent component of the human experience. Without it, there would be no oomph to life. It is the catalyst for great love and joy, spirituality and depth, but it can drive hatred and war, destruction and death. None of us have the monopoly on fervour. We do not share Muslim and Christian beliefs, but we can agree that their adherents are as ardent as us in their devotion. Yet this year St. Paul’s Square, the Catholic Holy of Holies, stood empty through Easter as the Pope conducted virtual video services. The Hajj in Mecca was performed by 1,000 symbolic pilgrims rather than the regular two million worshipers.

My Breslov brothers, we have something in common. For many years, we have met at the airport as I too set out annually to far off lands for the High Holidays, to sing the melodies and invoke the magnificent liturgy which has become wrapped around my soul. I will sorely miss this pilgrimage of sorts, made all the more painful by our local rabbi’s judicious decision to strip our services of much of its sublime poetry. While I cannot comprehend the spiritual value of the Rabbi Nachman experience, ordinarily I would defend your right to participate in this ritual as long as it did not impinge on the freedom and safety of others.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men pray close to the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in the Ukrainian city of Uman. (File photo: Reuters/Konstantin Chernichkin)

As for my brothers and sisters who gather en mass every Saturday night outside the Prime Minister’s house in Jerusalem’s Balfour Street, I admire your commitment. While I am not a great proponent of taking to the streets, I do support your fundamental democratic right to protest and commend your efforts in pursuit of your political principles.

However there are times when we are faced with the competing right to personal freedom and the societal need for order and control. We must all sacrifice one for the other to a degree. Without balances, we can have no liberty to pursue our dreams, mutual and personal.  There are times when matters of life and death, tilt the scales, when sacrosanct individual privilege is outweighed by the right to personal safety, to the protection of life itself. It is our communal misfortune to be living in such times, when the gathering of multitudes has become the seed of suffering and death.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, June 27, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While there are those who claimed at the beginning of the pandemic that they had the “Ear of God” who said that “He would protect the pious”, it turns out that God’s word got lost in the translation. Finally, now that many of the pious of all religions have been stricken by the plague, we must accept what Paul Simon has known for decades. “God only knows, God makes his plan. The information’s unavailable to the mortal man.” (Slip Slidin’ Away.)

As for our Balfourites, you will agree that actualizing your license to protest thereby exposing thousands of heavy breathers to contact with one another has not managed to tilt the balance of power an iota. In addition, perhaps gathering outdoors reduces risk but it does not eliminate it.

So many people have sacrificed so much in compliance with the harsh decrees imposed upon us. If there is great disappointment in being deprived of a seminal once-a-week or annual event, consider the anguish young couples have experienced as their once-in-a-lifetime wedding dreams have been shattered. (That is of course unless you are related to the Belz Rebbe or an insider in the celeb scene in Tel Aviv or family of an important hamula.) Think of the heartache of parents, siblings and offspring who this year on Remembrance Day, with great, silent forbearance, forfeited their holy right to visit the graves of their loved ones who have fallen in the defense of our nation, in order to protect us all.

For the first time since Israel’s founding, military cemeteries on Israel’s 2020 Memorial Day to the country’s war dead were blocked off due to Covid-19 with people asked to pay their respects in private. Seen here  was the normally busy market in Jerusalem during the sound of the siren.

Representatives of both your camps point fingers at each other, reminding us of the other side’s transgressions. Please understand, not only do two wrongs not make a right, they also make fertile ground for disease and hardship.  This is not the time to assert one’s claims to freedom of individual expression based on the other’s wrongdoing. This is the moment for cooperation and compromise in a cause that unites us all.

“One Voice” A Gift to Israel. A first-of-its-kind video 15 Choirs from around the world sing “Oseh Shalom” in honor of the State of Israel’s 70th Anniversary. Music: Roman Grinberg. Concept and production: Richard Shavei-Tzion

Imagine the impact you Breslovers would make by declaring that you were ceding your holy experience, just this once, in favor of the safety of the House of Israel. Consider the Kiddush HashemPikuach Nefesh and Or Lagoyim, three of the loftiest Jewish principles achieved by one act of Loving Kindness.

I believe Rabbi Nachman would agree.  

Think of the material support you would accrue for your heartfelt cause if you Balfourites announced that henceforth your protests would be implemented through social media rather than on the streets, in order to ensure the wellbeing of the thousands of attendees and by extension, every citizen in the country.

What a great paradigm of leadership and unity you would all display. How many healthy souls and hearts could you win over to your great causes?

Gratitude in the Corona Age. 60 People share their gratitude for special moments and to special people

Our decrepit leaders have raised the “Divide and Rule” maxim to a new level. Defy them.

Think bigger than the confines of your communes to our greater commonality and we will all be blessed.

[The author has been traveling for many years to serve communities in the Diaspora over the High Holidays]


You’ll Never Walk Alone. The Ramatayim Men’s Choir, Jerusalem sends a blessing in this time of Carona



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Richard Shavei-Tzion is a widely published poet and is the author of “Poetry in the Parasha” and the Prayer for the Preservation of the Environment. His occasional articles on human and Jewish topics have been published around the Jewish world and his photographic images have been displayed in solo and group exhibitions Richard is the director of the Ramatayim Men’s Choir. He manages commercial property and a medical center in Jerusalem.


While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

“In The Mood”

British Trade Union inclined to ignore Covid-19 while promoting anti-Israel sentiment

By David E. Kaplan

What’s with the United Kingdom’s second largest trade union with 1.2 million members? What does it say about Unite that its obsession against the collective state of the Jews – Israel – is far more important than the health and wellbeing of its million-plus members or its fellow workers abroad?

Mood in the Street. British trade unions vote ‘overwhelmingly’ in 2019 to pass motion boycotting Israel.

Unite has been angrily accused of ignoring the global crisis for workers caused by the Coronavirus pandemic after submitting a motion condemning Israel for its proposed annexation of parts of the West Bank to be discussed at this week’s 152nd annual Trade Union Congress (TUC) conference starting this Monday.

While the once proposed “annexation” is off Israel’s political agenda and news media, clearly with the British trade union Unite, it remains a ‘present and clear danger’ warranting a resolution. No matter that the landscape has shifted and there prevails a new  spirit of rapprochement towards the pursuit of peace and prosperity.

Unite’s antiquated understanding is hardly surprising when its boss, Len McCluskey, a former stalwart Corbyn supporter, once described allegations of antisemitism within Labour as “mood music”.

Red Alert. In battle mode, ‘Unite’ union boss Len McCluskey once called allegations of antisemitism within Labour “mood music”. (Photo: Getty Images)

What will likely set the misguided “mood” at this week’s trade union conference is the proposed anti-Israel Unite – Motion 66 – condemning Israel over an issue that is no longer relevant.

What raises the spectre of anti-Semitism is that this will be the ONLY international motion to be debated at the conference.  No other country in the world with the most horrendous human rights violations attracts the attention of Unite which is fixated on Israel.

It is little surprise that the proposed motion of condemnation by Len McCluskey’s union is being greeted with anger by some in the union movement.

Steve Scott of the Britain Israel Trade Union Dialogue (BITUD) told the London-based Jewish weekly, the Jewish Chronicle that

It’s strange that in a time of unprecedented struggle for workers worldwide, including massive job losses and health consequences of Covid, that the only international motion at the TUC doesn’t offer solidarity and support to workers across the globe.”

While ignored by Unite, Scott draws attention to the “considerable cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians during the Covid-19 crisis to get people back to work, noting that the “Histadrut (Israeli TUC) at the moment have issued notice of a General Strike to defend all public sector workers who face pay cuts.”

Asks Scott:

 “Isn’t this something we should be sending solidarity  messages for rather than condemnation?”

Adhering to the facts on the ground, Scott continues:

Considering that the annexation proposals have been rescinded since the recent recognition agreement between Israel and the UAE, this motion also seems to be out of date. Why aren’t we now calling for a return to talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships in light of the peace moves in the Middle East.”

By the time, the issue is raised for discussion at the Conference, Bahrain too will have joined the UAE in normalising relations with Israel. Yes, there will be challenges, but the trend and trajectory towards peace is set.

However, facts on the ground are not what interests Unite. One only has to look back at its past public positions over the past decade when during Israel’s conflicts with Hamas, the union consistently sided against Israel adopting the most inflammatory and one-sided language.

True Colours. Delegates to the annual Trades Union Congress conference in Manchester on 12 September 2019 waving Palestinian flags supporting resolutions denouncing Israel.

In 2012 during Operation Pillar of Defense, a statement issued under McCluskey’s name “unreservedly condemned outrageous Israeli aggression,” accusing the Jewish State of “terrorizing an entire population.” The statement made no mention of the thousands of terrorist rockets fired on the civilian populations of Israel!

Under some pressure at the time, McCluskey budged only slightly, conceding that Unite was “wary” of Hamas – only in part – because “the terror group had expelled the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions.”

Eighteen months later, during Operation Protective Edge, Unite’s statement only briefly noted the murder of three Israelis youths before railing against “Israeli-state racism and apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing”, “colonisation”, accusing Israel of committing “war crimes with complete impunity,” and suggested:

This isn’t about rockets from Gaza. It’s about Israel fighting to maintain its control over Palestinian lives and Palestinian land.”

Clearly on McCluskey’s watch, the Unite union has shown an unremitting hostility towards Israel and Zionism.

Off the Mark to Off-line

Interestingly and no less intriguing is that Unite’s anti-Israel motion to be discussed this Monday and Tuesday afternoon will NOT be aired to members of the public or other trade union members who register to watch online coverage of the event.

Why?

Is it feared that certain ugly truths will be revealed to the public or might embarrass the new Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer who is set to address the conference? After all, his first act as party’s new leader, when he replaced Jeremy Corbyn in early 2020  was vowing “to tear out the poison” of antisemitism within his party “by its roots”.

Off the Air. While thousands of Trades Union Congress (TUC) members are expected to tune in online to the discussions and panels hosted at Congress 2020, including the keynote speech from leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer (above), the discussion on an anti-Israel resolution proposed by ‘Unite’ will not be broadcasted.

With positive signs of a Middle East transforming towards rapprochement, would it not be better for this conference to read the signs of shifting sands and instead of one-sided attack resolutions against Israel to rather adhere to the words of  Steve Scott:

 calling for a return to talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships in light of the peace moves in the Middle East.”

With Flying Colours. Proud to be on the path to peace, Tel Aviv City Hall  is lit up with the flag of the United Arab Emirates after Persian Gulf state announces peace deal with Israel on August 13. (Photo: AP/Oded Baliti)




While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

Lay of the Land Weekly Newsletter- 10 September 2020

Unveiling the contours and contrasts of an ever-changing Middle East landscape

Reliable reportage and insightful commentary on the Middle East by seasoned journalists from the region and beyond

Home

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Also available on YouTube @The Israel Brief  – Simply click on the red subscribe button to receive alerts when a new report is posted.

What’s happening in Israel today?  See this week’s daily ‘The Israel Brief’ broadcasts on LOTL  YouTube   by seasoned TV & radio broadcaster, Rolene Marks familiar to Chai FM listeners in South Africaand millions of American listeners to the News/Talk/Sports radio station WINA broadcasting out of Charlottesville, Virginia. You can subscribe to LOTL news from Israel and enjoy at a time of your convenience.

The Israel Brief

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Articles

(1)

Sights from the Saddle

A perspective on a “cycling revolution” in Israel and changing Middle East

By David E. Kaplan

Ready to Ride. From the Negev desert to the roads of Dubai and Paris, Israel pedaling proudly into the future.

As Israel participates for the first time at the 2020 Tour de France with team ‘Israel Start-Up Nation’, the brand Israel  as a modern democratic hi-tech powerhouse is resonating across new landscapes.

Sights from the Saddle

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(2)

The Holocaust is NOT Entertainment

“Trauma Porn” is the sickening new trend surfacing on social media

By  Rolene Marks

The Clock is Ticking. Time for action with TikTok swamped with disturbing antisemitic content.
 

A disturbing new trend is taking place on the social media platform, TikTok. Described as “trauma porn” – young people are re-enacting scenes in which they pretend to be victims of the Holocaust or 9/11 – not for educational purposes, but for “likes” and views.

The Holocaust is NOT Entertainment

(click on the blue article title)



(3)

A New Dawn in Dubai

Once a gulf apart, now Israeli emissaries set to serve Jewish community in the Gulf

By  Michael Jankelowitz

Picture Perfect. An idyllic vista of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that will see an influx of Israeli visitors. 

Following the signing of the historic Abraham Accords in August, emissaries from the World Zionist Organisation  are being sent to the UAE to serve the Jewish community in Dubai – a FIRST to an Arab country! Is this a portent for a “warm” rather than the old familiar “cold peace”?

A New Dawn in Dubai

(click on the blue article title)



(4)

A Corona Cry for Help

The JNF in South Africa responds

By Beverley Price

Stand and Deliver. The JNF distributing  food parcels to the needy community in South Africa.

It was Mandela that brought  a shidduch (match) between South Africa’s Mamelodi community and the Jewish National Fund so  when during the height of the Corona pandemic, a cry  from that community for food was heard by the JNF, it was a call for action.

A Corona Cry for Help

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LOTL Cofounders David E. Kaplan (Editor), Rolene Marks and Yair Chelouche

To unsubscribe, please reply to layotland@gmail.com


While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

Sights from the Saddle

A perspective on the road ahead as the wheels of Middle East progress are spinning in sync with the wheels of Israel’s top cyclists at the Tour de France

By David E. Kaplan

What a difference 7 months can make!

In February 2020, Israel’s pro-cycling team, Israel Start-Up Nation (ISN) took part in a cycling tour in the UAE that this August, signed a historic groundbreaking “normalization deal” with Israel  – a deal that not only formally ended an economic boycott but will likely lead to transforming the political landscape of the Middle East. “Normalisation” is the name of the new game and what was once “abnormal” is today peddling at high speed into “the new normal.”

If in February Israeli professionals were in Dubai cycling, in a post-Corona world Israeli tourists will be there shopping.

Israel Start-Up Nation. Confident, proud and ready to ride into the future.

More than seeing it coming was  ISN’s co-owner and the man behind Israel’s cycling revolution, Sylvan Adams, who played a sporting role in these welcome developments. A cycling enthusiast responsible for the Middle East’s first indoor velodrome  in Tel Aviv and who brought the “Grand Start” of Giro d’Italia to Israel in 2018 so  astutely observed before February’s 2020 tour in Dubai:

When our leaders decide  to make peace, we would already have prepared the GROUND for a warm peace.”

Literally on the ‘ground” as the signs were all too evident for Adams on the streets in Dubai in February:

 “Our cyclists had the national blue and white colours emblazoned on the front of their jerseys. They carry the name of our nation on their backs and fans were standing in line to receive autographs of our riders who they earlier had cheered in the streets of the United Arab Emirates.”

Up and Ready. Israel’s Start-Up Nation cycling team training ahead of the 2020 Tour de France.

And now in September, when both the UAE and – for the first time – Israel are participating in the 2020 Tour de France, we see developments of the new agreement between Israel and the UAE taking shape by facilitating easy banking, lowering financial impediments to making investments between the countries, and promoting joint investments in the capital markets. The word out is that there will soon be additional agreements in aviation, tourism, trade tech, research, energy and academia.

Adams is astute when it comes to marketing Israel through sport. In an interview with the writer with the Hilton Israel Magazine at the time of the start of the Giro d’Italia in Israel, Adams said, “It was not just the biggest sporting even in Israel but the biggest event in Israel’s history – period!”

Point taken. Where have a billion people watched an event – “any event”- in Israel?

Over a billion people worldwide,”said Adams, “watched the first three days of the race in Israel. What this TV global audience was exposed to was not an Israel as a ‘news item’ but as a normal country, basking in sunshine with exquisite scenery and wonderful warm people. They saw our biblical sites as well as modern Israel and learnt about our culture.”

History is Made. Israeli cyclists whizz through the streets of Nice in the south of France on the first day of the Tour de France. (Photo by Noa Arnon via Facebook)

Upping the Pace

And now with Israel Start-Up Nation participating in the 2020 Tour de France, the Jewish State is riding its way into the history books as the first Israeli team to participate in one of the most watched sporting events in the world.

Dynamite Duo. Cofounder of Israel Start-Up Nation, Sylvan Adams (left) and Israel’s first Israeli rider in a Tour de France, Guy Niv.

For three weeks, Israel’s cycling team “is being watched by three-and-a-half billion television spectators as we represent the whole country,” says Adams, “showing our true face, warmth,  friendship, diversity, tolerance, bringing our message of peace to people all around the world.”

The 107th Tour de France got underway on the French Riviera on Saturday, 29 August, two months later than planned and under the shadow of the Coronavirus pandemic.  That shadow, however, did not darken the spotlight on the state of Israel as it participates  in what is described as “the world’s most prestigious and most difficult bicycle race”.

For 26-year-old Guy Niv, the first Israeli to ride in the Tour, “It is a dream come true; I have goosebumps thinking about it,” he said before the race.

I am honored and privileged to represent my country and team in the biggest race in cycling. And to be the first Israeli to do so? It might sound cliché, but my dream of a lifetime has now been realised.”

On Track. With the Arc de Triomphe in the background at the western end of the Champs-Élysées, Gur Niv is fulfilling a childhood dream.
 

Niv’s journey, which hopefully will lead to crossing the finish line on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées on September 20,  began at the same place in 2007 when he was thirteen years old.

“I went on a Bar Mitzvah trip to watch the Tour de France and now as the first Israeli rider in the 2020 Tour de France, I have the opportunity  to close a circle.” He had no illusions that it would be the ultimate challenge, saying, “I have concerns; it will be a mental challenge, not just a physical one, but I’m ready for this mission.”

Carrying the Colours. Members of the Israeli cycling team, Israel Start-Up Nation (ISN), training in northern Israel in May 2020. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

The Tour de France is certainly a “big deal,” not only for the riders but for Israel. To this point,  the dream of competing in the Tour de France was “almost unthinkable only five years ago when we launched the team,” says Adams. “Now it’s come true. A professional team with world-class Israeli riders alongside the finest international talents, racing with pride in one of the world’s most prestigious sporting events.” Adds Israel Cycling Academy co-founder,  Ron Baron that “when we founded the team five years ago, we dreamed of this moment. But we strive for more than just the glory of racing in the Tour de France. We want every kid in Israel to say, ‘I can be Guy Niv one day. I can get to the Tour”.”

Niv is the only Israeli on the team, which also includes Ireland’s Dan Martin, André Greipel and Nils Politt from Germany, Ben Hermans and Tom Van Asbroeck from Belgium, France’s Hugo Hofstetter, Latvian cyclist Krists Neilands and from South Africa, Daryl Impey, the first ever from that country to wear the ‘Yellow Jersey’  at a Tour de France. That was back in 2013.

Now in 2020, “Around 3.5 billion viewers in hundreds of countries across the world will see the Israeli flag and hear the message of the Israel Start-Up Nation team that this is a country bringing unrivalled innovation to the world,” said Adams.

The Road Ahead. The writer interviewing Sylvan Adams in  2018 in Tel Aviv following the the Giro d’Italia in Israel, where he said, “Next up, is the Tour de France”.

Taking on the challenges of navigating success in a turbulent Middle East or grinding up the Alps and Pyrenees in the Tour de France, it’s always “a lot of uphill”.

Equipped with boundless grit and chutzpah, little wonder for the mix-up sometimes of the ‘Start-Up Nation’ thought proudly as the ‘Upstart nation’!










While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

The Israel Brief- 07-10 September 2020

The Israel Brief -07 September 2020 – Balkan states and Africa? The diplomatic warmth continues. Israel’s Corona Crisis. Terrorist responsible for murder of Rabbi Shai Ohayon indicted.



The Israel Brief -08 September 2020 – Israel’s Corona curfew balagan. Men in the media campaign against rape. Madagascar forms parliamentary alliance in support of Israel.





The Israel Brief -09 September 2020 – Trump Nobel Prize nomination. Is Israel headed to lockdown? Serbia warns Israel over recognising Kosovo.





The Israel Brief -10 September 2020 – Corona crisis lock down talks. Cooperation between UAE and Sheba Medical Centre starts. Fire in Beirut port.








While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

The Holocaust is NOT Entertainment

“Trauma Porn” is the sickening new trend surfacing on social media

By  Rolene Marks

Social media once the place of vacuous status updates and shameless selfies has fast morphed into something more insidious. While social media can be a very powerful tool for sharing information and educating people, it is often used by many to push a more nefarious agenda and the competition for “likes” and “follows” often prompts some to share some really questionable content.

An example of antisemitic content spread through TikTok.(photo credit: screenshot)

Social media platform giants, Facebook and Twitter have faced increased criticism over their perceived leniency on antisemitic posts.  Facebook is currently targeted in a campaign from several organisations and well known personalities that calls on CEO’s to suspend their advertising because of online hate and several weeks ago, Jews and their allies embarked on a Twitter “walkout”. For 48 hours, a silent protest was held in objection to twitter’s failure to block or remove anti-Semitic posts. Since then, there has been a lot more attention – and action paid to posts that may be offensive.

But social media is like the proverbial head of Medusa. Do away with one serpent; another one takes its place. The most recent iteration is Tik Tok. Most famous for being a platform for Quarantine dance offs, TikTok has become the platform for something truly appalling – “trauma porn”.

According to experts, TikTok users may be exploiting some of history’s biggest atrocities in videos due to a morbid fascination with traumatic events.

A far-right TikTok user account. (Photo credit: Screenshot)

“It’s easier to go viral on TikTok than it is any other platform,” explains leading social media expert Unsah Malik, author of Slashed It. “Users are clearly attempting just about anything, no matter how offensive the subject matter, to end up on the ‘For You’ page and get a higher engagement rate.”

One of these subjects of “morbid fascination” is the Holocaust. The genocide of over 6 million Jews at the hands of the Nazis as well as the Roma, Sinti, LGBTQ and any others, the murderous regime deemed undesirable, has become fodder for “likes” on this social media platform.

Young people are taking to TikTok to “reenact” scenes of videos of themselves with fake injuries or the appearance of suffering the effects of starvation – and then talk about being murdered in the Holocaust, claiming that they are now in heaven. Some are even re-enactments of scenes inside gas chambers. This profoundly offensive trauma porn is unfortunately, garnering views and likes in the hundreds of thousands. They are even accompanied by a soundtrack.

While the videos do not appear to be comedic, they are often accompanied by the song “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars.

TikTok is swamped with shocking antisemitic content.

The Auschwitz Museum has also weighed in on this saying:

“The trend visible on TikTok can be indeed hurtful and even considered offensive,” the museum said in a statement posted on Twitter. “Some of the examples online are dangerously close or are already beyond the border of trivialisation of history and being disrespectful to the victims.”

Some of the videos were created not to commemorate anyone, but to become part of an online trend. This is very painful,” the museum added.    The ‘victims’ trend on TikTok can be hurtful and offensive. Some videos are dangerously close or already beyond the border of trivialisation of history.

 But we should discuss this not to shame & attack young people whose motivation seem very diverse. It’s an educational challenge.

And a challenge it is.

There is an important distinction to be made between movies and documentaries that exist for the preservation of memory and education – not videos for likes and shares. Although it is not just the Holocaust that is the subject of these TikTok videos (some have “reenacted” what they would imagine being a victim of serial killer, Ted Bundy, or killed in the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York must have been like), the Holocaust has become trivialised by many seeking to either compare Coronavirus restrictions to the singling out of Jews for persecution or used to justify flouting mask rules. No; wearing a mask to prevent the spread of a potentially deadly virus and save lives is NOT akin to having to wear a yellow star that labels you as an inferior race!

TikTok is rife with racist, antisemitic content. (Photo credit: Screenshot)

It is more than evident that Holocaust awareness and education is sorely needed. The lessons that we should be learning from one of the grossest examples of man’s inhumanity to man and genocide of the Holocaust is how important it is to educate future generations. As time marches on, so we lose our precious survivors – and firsthand eyewitness accounts.

The onus is on us to ensure that we continue to bear witness by educating responsibly to ensure that genocide is widely understood and that perhaps the worst example of it in human history  – the Holocaust –  is neither trivialised or ever happens again.









While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

A New Dawn in Dubai

Once a gulf apart, now Israeli emissaries set to serve Jewish community in the Gulf

By  Michael Jankelowitz

Following the signing of the historic Abraham Accords in August, no less historic will be the sending of long-term emissaries to the Jewish community in Dubai by the World Zionist Organization (WZO). Why this is monumentally moving is that this will be a first time Israeli emissaries are sent to serve a Jewish community in an Arab country!

The resounding message is that far more than a ‘practical peace’ – something Israelis are accustomed to  –  but a portent of a ‘warm peace’ – what we all aspire to and embodied in the spirit of the Abraham Accords.

Picture Perfect. An idyllic vista of Dubai that will be seeing an influx of Israeli visitors. 

After all, the name of ‘Abraham’ in the accords holds special meaning to Jews, Christians and Muslims as the common patriarch of the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

By so naming the deal, Israel and the UAE hope to publicly display their ancient ties and a commitment to a future of peace and prosperity.

It is to this warming milieu in the Gulf that the WZO is sending its emissaries – a young married couple Yaacov and Zolty Eisenstein.

The Eisensteins will work with a South African expatriate in Dubai, Ross Kriel, who is President of the Jewish Council of the Emirates (JCE), an umbrella group established by Jews living in the country.

Destination Dubai.  World Zionist organization emissaries  to the UAE, Yaacov and Zolty Eisenstein (photo credit: Courtesy)

The small Jewish community of the United Arab Emirates has welcomed the historic agreement between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi to formalize relations, praising the Arab Gulf state for its pluralism and religious tolerance.

I am so moved by the many messages of hope that I have received from Emirati friends of our community on hearing this news,” says Kriel. “Our community members look forward to direct flights to Israel and welcoming Israeli friends and visitors to the UAE.”

Winds of Change. Fluttering in the wind, a United Arab Emirates (UAE) flag waves alongside an Israeli flag. (photo credit: REUTERS/CHRISTOPHER PIKE

Food for Thought

A Jewish community has been operating in Dubai for about a decade with estimates as to the size of the community in the UAE ranging from the low hundreds to 1,500. There are three functioning congregations – two Orthodox and one egalitarian – and one kosher eatery called “Elli’s Kosher Kitchen”. Clearly it has established a reputation as it has caught the eye – or more the palette – of UAE Culture Minister Noura al-Kaabi who gastronomically observed that it has added “a new chapter in Gulf food history”.

Looking Ahead. The Minister of Culture and Youth, Noura Al Kaabi looks ahead to cultural exchanges between the UAE and Israel. (Chris Whiteoak / The National)

Also a former South African, Elli is the wife of Ross Kriel. She reveals that after receiving repeated requests for kosher food over the years while living in Dubai, she started Elli’s Kosher Kitchen “to provide fresh, wholesome, homemade kosher meals to travellers.” 

Man on a Mission. President of the Jewish Council of the Emirates, former South African, Ross Kriel in Dubai.

Describing the newly formed Jewish Community of the Emirates, Elli says it “grew organically out of the homes of a few expat families living in Dubai. These families used to get together occasionally for Shabbat. After we moved to Dubai in 2013, my husband did not want to pray alone and was determined to create a functioning Jewish community. Striving for a minyan, he started weekly Shabbat services in our living room using a wardrobe as the Aharon Kodesh. Chagim were also initially observed in our home. The development of the community continued in my home for two years until more space was required. Our community, albeit small, is vibrant, warm and embracing, diverse, inclusive and eclectic in its makeup.”

Kosher Cuisine. Opening her business in response to growing demand, Elli Kriel preparing Shabbat bread in the kitchen of her Dubai villa. (Pawan Singh / The National)

It is to this “vibrant, warm and embracing” community that emissaries Yaacov and Zolty Eisenstein will soon be arriving to serve on behalf of the World Zionist Organisation.

Clearly, this is “history in the making” avers Chairman of the WZO, Avraham Duvdevani, asserting: “This is an important milestone in the existence of the World Zionist Organisation.”

In a process started a few months before the announcement of the Abraham Accords, the WZO, which has a framework of hundreds of emissaries worldwide – including in small, dispersed communities – has been in touch with the Jewish community in Dubai. This followed a request from the Orthodox Union of Jewish Congregations of America to send emissaries for the first time to Dubai’s Jewish community and now with the historic decision to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, what could be more “normal” than sending such ideally suited emissaries.

Changing Perspectives. A man sporting a Jewish ‘tallit’ looks out over the Dubai skyline in the United Arab Emirates. (video screenshot)

The Eisensteins will establish and run a Jewish kindergarten, teach about the heritage of the Jewish People and Israel, will establish an Ulpan for learning of the Hebrew Language and will organize community events around the Jewish festivals. Highly motivated, they have already begun working in time for the upcoming Jewish Festivals.

The emissaries are part of the “Ben Ami” programme of the Center for Religious Affairs in the Diaspora of the WZO, which has 36 emissaries operating in 23 countries. Most of these Jewish communities are small and dispersed, however, these are the first emissaries that are being sent to a Jewish community in an Arab country.

Says WZO Chairman, Avraham Duvdevani:

This is an important milestone in the history of the Zionist Movement through all its years of existence. We will continue to operate in every way to strengthen the connection between the State of Israel and Jewish communities in the diaspora and to strengthen the Jewish identity of our people throughout the world, including tiny dispersed communities.”

Monumental Milestone. Upbeat over the sending of emissaries to the UAE, Chairman of the World Zionist Organization Avraham Duvdevani  aims to strengthen the connection between the State of Israel and Jewish communities throughout the world.

This news has been received with great enthusiasm by communities around the world and what has been truly moving, has been to see the reaction from the Emiratis, who are looking forward to welcoming their new Israeli friends.

With Israel working on a direct airline route from Israel to Dubai that will fly through Saudi air space, Elli’s Kosher Kitchen will definitely have many more mouths to feed!




About the writer:

Michael Jankelowitz, has worked for the World Zionist Organisation and Jewish Agency  for Israel in various capacities since leaving the National Union of Israeli Students in 1978. He has worked in the WZO’s Student Division in New York and Jerusalem and was the Jewish Agency’s representative to the Jewish organization, Hillel in Washington DC and advisor on World Jewry to the JAFO treasury. He has also worked as spokesperson for JAFI.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs