What’s the Score?

By David E. Kaplan

Israel takes on BDS in a cerebral brawl  at TbT’s 2018 debate at Beth Protea

Words Words Words,” expressed the Great Barb in Hamlet.  They can bring joy or can cause anguish. They can convey truth, or they can tell lies. They can inspire a nation, or they can bring them down.

Words can be pearls of prose and poetry – but they can equally be POISON.

As Jews we have known this for over 2000 years, as Israelis we know it for seventy.

So began the introduction by this writer and debate moderator at the start of Truth be Told (TbT) annual’s The Great Debate held on October 16 at Beth Protea in Herzliya in central Israel.

While disparaging words towards Jews may over the millennia change, not however the mendacious mindset spawning this noxious nomenclature. A new and popular addition arrived early in this 21st century – the 3-letter abbreviation BDS.

A few years ago, if writing about BDS, writers would pen in full  – ‘Boycott Divestment Sanctions’ – because too few of their readers would know what it stood for. Today the abbreviation is part of the everyday lexicon in the ‘War of Words’ against Israel and is weaponized no less than the Qassems, Katushas, Mortars or Grads – aimed at the Jewish state. While these missiles have a prescribed geographic outreach, words have no such strategic limitation.  Their target is not Ashdod, Sderot, Ashkelon or Tel Aviv but all of Israel – not just physical Israel but the very IDEA of Israel.

The members of the panel debating were Harvard graduate Dan Diker, Director of the programme to counter Political Warfare and BDS at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), Gilad Kabilo, the Public Affairs Director of StandWithUs who coordinates worldwide activist campaigns, and Paula Slier an international TV war correspondent.

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The Great Debate. The panelists (l-r) Paula Slier, Gilad Kabilo and Dan Diker.

With Israel’s situation with Gaza on a knife’s edge – within hours following the debate, a home in Beersheba was destroyed when it suffered a direct hit from a Palestinian rocket attack from Gaza – the opening question set the tone as it was timely.

Why in any military conflict either with Hamas in Gaza or Hezbollah in Lebanon, it is always a case of Israel having to wrap up the war quickly before losing traction with a world audience? In other words, why are Israel’s strategic aims held hostage to the power of the media to demonize Israel in order mobilize global opposition to Israel rightfully defending itself?

“The motto in the industry,” answered Paula, “is a sign on the wall of the TV network I first started working in and applies in any studio everywhere today: “If It Bleeds, It Leads”.  In other words, where the blood is, the cameras roll; and to Israel’s credit, its defenses are so effective that Palestinians bleed more than Israelis so where do you think the cameras are facing; and what do you think the audiences around the world are watching? Israel’s success in war translates in its failure to win the narrative.” It’s a conundrum!

To the question of whether Israel – far accustomed to quick physical wars – has the psychological stamina for a ‘War of Words that is open-ended, Gilad Kabido, who with StandWithUs is daily engaged on multiple fronts in the cerebral trenches particularly on university campuses around the world, gave an account of his organisation’s impressive successes in taking on Israel’s enemies.

And so, the debate raged on for nearly two hours covering such issues whether anti-Zionism = anti-Semitism; whether the difficulty of reaching a ‘Two State Solution” complicates Israel efforts in getting its narrative across; and the use of the word ‘Apartheid’ by BDS in stigmatizing Israel as South Africa once was. While Kabido declines to use the word Apartheid or even BDS as “it provides oxygen”, Diker, who has written a book “Unmasking BDS”, launched into an animated attack that the very use of the word Apartheid in describing Israel “is an INSULT” to the multi-millions who suffered under South Africa’s racist tyranny. “As an 11-year-old, I was exposed to the ugly South Africa when I visited that country as part of a junior tennis delegation from the USA.  I was in Africa and I asked, “Where are the Blacks my age?” “Why are they not playing with us?” Even for someone as young as me at the time, I was struck by the brutality of Apartheid and to even suggest that Israel is associated with the A-word, is an OUTRAGE. The purveyors of this modern-day libel seek to demonise and delegitimise the only Jewish state in the world.”

Rolene Marks, who was the evenings emcee, presented TbT’s Maurice Ostroff Award to Gilad Kabido representing StandWithUs.  Ostroff, who passed away in 2015, was a founding member of TbT that has as its standard: From truth denied to truth be told

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Fighting Back. Rolene Marks presenting the TbT Maurice Ostroff Award to Gilad Kabilo on behalf of StandWithUs.

Monumental Maurice

If in 1948, this South Africa Machal volunteer commandeered a strategically important mobile radar unit near the Weizmann Institute during Israel’s War of Independence, six decades later until his parting breath, Maurice Ostroff still had his antennae out. Operating from “my ops room” on the fifth floor of Beth Protea – the Southern African Retirement Home in Herzliya – he tracked the movements of Israel’s enemies with his overworked computer challenging the lies and distortions of journalists, jurists, academicians and politicians around the world. “Morrie” was unafraid to take on the mighty and prick their puffed-up libelous bubbles. Always respectful, never personal, but always hitting his target with pin-point verbal accuracy, this exceptional commentator on current affairs had the knack to marshal the English language and send it forth into battle on behalf of the Jewish State.

Maurice would be so proud as I hand you this award,” said Marks presenting it to the 2018 recepient.

Mighty Maurice. A warrior who died with his boots on, Maurice Ostroff manning a radar station during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.

What’s Cooking in South Africa?

Following the presentation of the award, Marks welcomed to the podium from South Africa, Melissa Goldberg (New Relationship and development Director of the United Communal Fund) who was vising Israel with Bev Schneider representing the IUA (Israel United Appeal).

While the situation in South Africa for the Jewish community, was “unpredictable” citing the concern of the ANC government possibly downgrading its diplomatic relations with Israel, “Not all is doom and gloom,” said Goldberg. “We are resilient and fighting hard for the rights and protection of our community and our love of Israel.” She cited two case where the communal leadership had taken two high profile political leaders to the Constitution Court for antisemitism and won both cases. “It took us years, but we tenaciously persevered and it payed off.  The message is clear – if antisemitic leaders offend the Jewish community, we will respond.”

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The Future Is Not Ours To See. Director of the UCF, Melissa Goldberg addresses the audience of over 220 on the situation of the Jewish community in an unpredictable South Africa.

Music To Our Ears

Let’s get things in perspective!

The same week as the TbT debate, Israel’s financial daily, Globes  posted the headline:

BDS has zero impact on Israeli businesses”.

A study of the impact of BDS on the Israeli economy estimated the damage at a paltry 0.004%, while some companies in fact benefited from the boycott. How so?

CEO of retailers in Europe with Israeli products on their shelves reported that consumers were buying out of support for Israel and registering their opposition to BDS.

This is music to our ears as was the music prior to the debate by the Etz Chaim Choir with cantor Barry Braun, a new South African immigrant and formally the cantor at the Milnerton synagogue near Cape Town.

A colourful addition to the event was the IDC Herzliya information booth. Manning it was an animated Storme Eberlin, a second-year economics student from Cape Town. Fascinated by the debate, she felt “more of our young South African students need to hear these issues. I found it riveting.”

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Tomorrow’s Leaders. Cape Town economics IDC Herzliya student Storme Eberlin manning the university’s booth at ‘The Great Debate’.

Adding to our armoury against BDS, Dan Diker announced the launch of the Israel South Africa Policy Forum (SAIP) with himself, Rolene Marks and the writer as founding members and invited members of the audience to support the Forum in pursuit of its mission.

The SAIPF will research and analyze key issues of mutual concern and work towards improving an overall understanding of the historical record and current trends in South Africa and Israel,” said Diker adding that “With greater understanding, context, perspectives and truth, we can work for greater cooperation to the mutual benefit of both countries.”

Before the singing of Hatikva (Israel’s national anthem) led by the Etz Chaim Choir, the writer concluded that while the evening has been all about WORDS, “It was not words but sounds that most resonated for me as the most Zionistic message of 2018 and in Israel’s 70th year. It was the first cries I heard outside the delivery rooms of the maternity wards at Meir Hospital in December and then Tel Hashomer Hospital in May as my first two grandchildren, Ariel and Yali, came into the world.  Their cries were their grandparent’s joy and echoed the words of Israel’s illustrious Foreign Minister –Israel’s future will be longer than its past.”

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Food for Thought. Engaging in the post-debate party on the patio (l-r), Paul Hirschon, recently returned Israeli Ambassador to Senegal, Rolene Marks, Melissa Goldberg, Paula Slier, Bev Schneider and Wendi Kark

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