Why a Unity Government Would Be Much Worse Than Useless
By Gidon Ben Zvi
Ever since Israel’s snap election drew to a close on September 17, the country’s chattering class has ginned up its campaign to convince Israelis that what they really want is a national unity government. To drive home their point, pundits, commentators and other members of the country’s intelligentsia have drawn parallels between Israel circa 1984 and today.
This is a false equivalence. When Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir and Labor’s Shimon Peres agreed to share power, the Israeli economy was teetering on the verge of collapse, with inflation running rampant. Israel was also a country at war in 1984 – the first Lebanon War.
Fast forward to the here and now. Israel’s economy and security are relatively stable and have been that way for some time. Despite regular skirmishes with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Israel Defense Forces aren’t waging a ground war on enemy territory.
Yet Israeli’s cultural, media and educational elites are bum-rushing citizens like a pesky used car salesman trying to unload a wreck. Why? Because in a country increasingly divided along political, religious and economic lines, even seasoned observers are intoxicated by the appeal of national unity. But their enthusiastic embrace of a grand coalition is worse than naïve, it’s dangerous to the wellbeing of Israeli society.
A national unity government would be a clunker for most Israelis because of the exploding cost of living here. Sure, the country’s macroeconomic performance is impressive, especially compared to 1984. But a report released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is setting off alarm bells that most citizens have been hearing for years.
Daily life in Israel is expensive. Food here is 19% higher than the OECD average. Meanwhile, apartment renters in Israel spend 25% of their gross adjusted disposable income on rent while homeowners paying mortgages spend 15%, a discrepancy that’s among the highest in the OECD. Since 2009, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, housing prices have shot up by over 90%.
If you’re raising children in Israel, good luck. Elementary school education and academic studies are 17% more expensive than a decade ago, while the average cost of preschools has risen by 14%. And Israel’s floundering public healthcare system is forcing many Israelis to supplement their mandatory universal medical insurance with out-of-pocket private policies. According to the OECD, only 8% of Israelis rely solely on public healthcare.
Here’s one more stat to consider: Israel ranked a lowly 38th on the economic freedom scale, dropping one place from 2018, according to the Economic Freedom of the World: 2019 Annual Report. In general, the higher a country’s level of economic freedom is the better off its citizens are.
What you won’t hear advocates for a national unity government say is that history shows that such grand coalitions hit the pause button on the implementation of seriously needed policy changes. Neither Shamir nor Peres were able to advance any major issues during their national unity government because each of them was immediately scuttled by the other.
Israel’s next government will be tasked with an awesome responsibility: to develop and carry out policies that remove the disproportionately large financial burden being carried by Israel’s working men and women. For millions of Israelis today a government of national paralysis is not a viable option.
The cost of prolonged stagnation is simply too high.
Gidon Ben-Zvi is an accomplished writer whose work has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, the Algemeiner, American Thinker, the Jewish Journal, Israel Hayom, and United with Israel. Ben-Zvi blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind (jsmstateofmind.com).
A former Californian, the writer lives with his wife and four children in Israel.
Israel may be a tiny country but its humanitarian outreach knows no bounds
By David E. Kaplan
Yes, we are all familiar with the line at the end of emails “Trees have feelings too, please don’t print this!”
It’s a reminder that “Paper doesn’t grow on trees” and we can all do our bit to help save our planet.
Some Israelis have opted to do more – a lot more and going to the heart of one the problem areas – the Amazon rainforest.
While the name ‘Amazon’ conjures up the immediate image as one the world’s most valuable companies, the threat to its namesake –hardly raises an eyebrow and yet, the ‘rainforest’ in South America is a crucial part of our life-support system, creating up to 20% of our oxygen.
Here’s why we need the world’s largest rainforest:
It’s also one of our best tools for keeping heat-trapping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
All this resonated with the Israeli startup VeganNation that recently announced that it leased some 15,000 acres (60.7 square kilometers or 23.4 square miles) in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest for a ten-year period to protect the land from deforestation and wildlife poaching.
VeganNation is based in Ramat Gan, just outside Tel Aviv, with an office in London. Thomas says the startup employs approximately 20 people and works with 30 “ambassadors” across the world in places like Argentina, Brazil, India, and beyond, to spread its message.
“The Amazon rainforest might be located in Brazil, but its destruction affects us all, as climate change is a direct result of human activity and it’s in our hands to fight it,” said Isaac Thomas, the CEO and co-founder of VeganNation.
The startup also announced that it was partnering with four local soccer teams from cities near the entrance to the rainforest to raise environmental awareness. Thomas told the Israeli innovation news network, NoCamels, that “VeganNation is already a main sponsor of the teams – three men’s teams and one women’s team – and revealed that an additional four top-tier national teams are set to sign on to the initiative.”
Kicking For Eco-Goals
VeganNation’s initiative comes amid the devastating fires that have continued to burn in the rainforest since early August, releasing dangerous air pollutants into the atmosphere, severely damaging flora and fauna ecosystems, and endangering indigenous communities that live under the forest canopy. The fires are so intense that they can be observed from space.
“When we measure the destruction of the rainforest, we talk about football (soccer) fields as a unit, so we thought what if we use that same measure to save parts of it,” explained Thomas. To illustrate the point, the land leased by VeganNation covers over 5,500 soccer fields if we’re using the measure of large regulation-sized soccer fields of approximately 2.69 acres per field.
“VeganNation understands that promoting veganism is an important step towards fighting the global warming crisis and raising awareness through local environmental projects among the Brazilian community is key. Partnering with four Brazilian soccer teams further enables us toward our mission of working together to create a better world,” he says.
Thomas reveals that the initiative came about through his close connection with a family in the city of Manaus in Brazil that owns land in the rainforest and used to lease it to a US gas company . When the lease was up, Thomas proposed to the family to lease the land to VeganNation explaining that “it’s a win-win situation for everyone as we’re not polluting the environment.”
The Israeli startup raised capital through private investors and added celebrity vegan activists Jerome Flynn, of Game of Thrones, and actor and dancer Jenna Dewan, to its advisory board.
Thomas says VeganNation’s work in the sports world is of key importance and the startup is set to bring in “one of the top three football players in the world as an ambassador for sustainability.”
Environmental groups and researchers say the fires were started by humans at an accelerated rate probably by cattle ranchers and loggers looking to clear the land. The area of devastation in this year’s forest fires marks a 47% increase compared to 2018 according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.
While deforestation had declined by 75% from 2005 to 2014 and Brazil was moving impressively toward a zero-deforestation policy, it started reverting back massively from 2015 onwards and now in 2019, it seems to have reached literally – a “devastating” peak.
Late last month, under heavy international pressure, and amid several public spats with world leaders rejecting aid offers, Bolsonaro finally issued an order to send over 40,000 troops to help fight the fires. Included in the global support are an eleven-member team of firefighters and rescuers from Israel to assist local authorities with search-and-rescue operations.
President Jair Bolsonaro who has good relations with the Israeli Prime Minister, accepted the aid from the Jewish state, which is understood to include 100 tons of fire-fighting material.
So, while Israeli firefighters will do what they can in the immediate term, the Israeli startup VeganNation is looking long-term – focusing on preserving Brazil’s home to 2.5 million animal species. Rainforest deforestation – which often takes place to raise and feed cattle for the meat industry – is one of the most important issues to tackle in the fight against climate change.
What also needs to ‘change’ are peoples understanding of the threat and this is where Israel’s VeganNation is looking to make a difference.
Its also about changing lifestyles.
Breath Of Fresh Air
Thomas exalts Tel Aviv as “number one in the world for vegan food,” having earned its title as the “vegan capital of the world.” Tel Aviv recently held the world’s largest vegan festival at the Sarona complex in June, attracting over 50,000 attendees. The city is home to some 400 vegan and vegan-friendly kitchens.
The Mediterranean diet, Thomas explains, “is naturally based on plants; there are salad bars everywhere in Israel. The basic Med diet is very complimentary to a plant-based lifestyle.”
Thomas met his co-founder Yossi Rayby while in Yeshiva (Jewish seminary) in Jerusalem some years ago. Rayby brought in Nati Giat and Shneor Shapira who all have a religious background, and some have maintained an Orthodox lifestyle.
“Judaism has a strong message that drives me toward making the world a better place, where we live in peace and harmony,” says Thomas.
Yes, its one thing putting out fires, but the real battle is to see that deliberate fires are not started in the first place.
Acknowledging that the Amazon rainforest creates up to 20% of the world’s oxygen – the Israeli startup VeganNation and the work it is doing is like ‘a breath of fresh air’.
Israel went to the polls on Tuesday the 17th September. It was the second election in 2019 and when Israelis woke the next morning, they were uncertain what they woke up to and if they were sure, it was distasteful.
Far more palatable than the news was the breakfast, frequently voted one of the healthiest in the world.
By David E. Kaplan
“Oh, your Israeli breakfasts are the best!”
How often do we hear this praise from visitors abroad? It’s often the first notion that comes to mind when they think of Israeli cuisine. In a world today conscious of “what we eat”, the Israeli breakfast has earned the reputation of meeting the concerns of health and diet far more than its counterparts abroad, with its emphasis on seasonal fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, and dairy products renowned for its tasty variety as well as low fat content.
Most top hotel chefs in Israel will tell you: “A traditional Israeli breakfast is fresh, healthy and wholesome; this is why it’s so popular with our overseas visitors who are not only looking for a substantial meal to begin the day but a healthy one.”
So before feasting your eyes on the sights, set your sights on a wholesome Israeli breakfast
Fresh from the Fields
The origin of the traditional Israeli breakfast is imbedded in this young nation’s recent past and tied to its rural landscape. To avoid much of the hot day’s sun, Israel’s pioneer farmers on the kibbutzim (collective agricultural settlements) would go out into the fields way before the crack of dawn, and then after a good few hours of toiling, return to the chadar ochel (communal dining hall) for a hearty breakfast. What awaited these hard-working laborers with raving appetites were usually fluffy omelets or boiled eggs, fresh salads made with cucumbers and sweet tomatoes, hummus, eggplant, salad, pita and other breads and homemade jams. Little did they realise at the time that with each mouthful, they were forging a nation’s cuisine!
A recent publication went so far as to refer “the Jewish state’s contribution to world cuisine” was none other than the “Israeli breakfast”.
Rich in history, the Israeli breakfast was born in poorer times. In the pre-and early days of the State, the kibbutz breakfast meant a hard roll and a scoop of leben — a liquidy and sour Mideast yogurt. But kibbutz agricultural laborers needed a heartier start to their day, so the communal village’s kitchens began putting out a spread with whatever they had on hand, such as fresh vegetables, fresh juice, eggs, bread, milk and other dairy products.
It was a simple meal but compared to what most folks living in the cities and towns ate at that time, it was a meal ‘fit for a king’.
Feeding a young nation was an arduous task.
The years between 1948 – the year of independence – and 1951, witnessed the largest immigration ever to reach the shores of modern Israel. Some 688,000 immigrants came to Israel during the country’s first three and a half years at an average of close to 200,000 a year. As approximately 650,000 Jews lived in Israel at the time of the establishment of the state, this meant in effect a doubling of the Jewish population. It also meant a lot of mouths to feed in a state saddled with security concerns and a struggling economy. The availability of produce was limited, and food was rationed. These were the days of the Tzena (Hebrew for “austerity”) and citizens received coupons for food.
Life under austerity was not easy. The Ministry of Rationing and Supply created a “basket” of basic products, such as sugar, oil, bread and margarine, which could be purchased only in authorized stores.
Coupon books allocated the type and amount of food to be consumed and people stood in line for hours to obtain with no guarantee that the produce was available.
A child of an immigrant recalls that when his parents immigrated to Israel from Poland after World War II, the family was allotted one egg a week. Half-jokingly he records that “I was a little upset when my baby brother was born, because I was no longer given that precious egg!” There was literally, a ‘new kid on the block’ and “my brother needed the egg more than me.”
And he was not egg’aggerating!
The situation was so dire that when someone from the city was invited to the kibbutz for a visit, it was considered a vacation – not only because it was a chance to escape ‘the madding crowd’ of the city, but because the offering was better and bountiful.
From ‘King’ to Kibbutznik
However, by the mid-1950s, “what was once a typical kibbutz breakfast had emerged into a traditional Israel breakfast served in hotels the length and breadth of the country,” explained former South African Arnie Freedman, a veteran member of Kibbutz Yizreel in central Israel near Afula. As Israel’s hotel industry developed, it turned to the kibbutz for inspiration for breakfast. There was good reason – If the reference to kibbutz food had once been “fit for a king”, the phrase had morphed into “fit for a kibbutznik” and the image of the kibbutz had impacted upon Israeli culture beyond its socialist ideology into the realm of cuisine.
While many kibbutzim today no longer have a communal dining room, this is not the case with Kibbutz Yizreel which remains traditional in every respect, “including our sumptuous daily breakfast,” says Arnie.
Before returning to work, the members were streaming in, taking trays and helping themselves from the buffet. There was a variety of cereals, yogurts, scrambled and boiled eggs, breads rolls, fish, a variety of cheeses, hummus, tehina and all different kinds of salads and fresh fruit, all picked from the kibbutz. An hour later, well satiated, they were well ready to return to getting back on their tractor, climbing a ladder to pick oranges or sitting at their computers at Maytronics, the kibbutz’s highly-successful manufacturer of robotic swimming-pool cleaning equipment.
Where’s the beef?
Any seasoned traveler to Israel is familiar with the major difference between an Israeli breakfast and those elsewhere in the world – No meat.
In accordance with the Jewish laws of Kashrut (keeping kosher), meat and dairy ingredients are never served together in a meal. The Israeli breakfast is thus a dairy meal, and a variety of cheeses are offered. Fish is considered pareveand so is permitted, and herring is frequently served.
Other smoked or pickled fish dishes are also common, including tuna and salmon.
Egg dishes are almost universal, which may be pre-cooked or cooked to order. The Middle Eastern egg dish shakshouka, a spicy North African concoction of eggs poached in a tomato-pepper-onion sauce is a common choice. However, Jewish food writer and historian Gil Marks told ISRAEL21c that this iconic dish “is actually a latecomer to the already laden Israeli breakfast table.” The classic must-haves, he says, “are scrambled or hardboiled eggs, a variety of chopped vegetable salads, porridge, cheeses, fresh breads, plain and flavored yogurts, fruit and granola, washed down with fresh juice and/or coffee or tea.”
Other Middle Eastern dishes may include Israeli salad, hummus, tehina, baba ghanoush and the strained yogurt called labaneh.
While Hummus – the much loved, humble chickpea dip – is a vital part of the cuisine throughout the Middle East, in Israel, it may be served at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack times – it’s iconic.
No less iconic are the fresh vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, radishes, onions, shredded carrots and a variety of olives – both black and green.
Enjoying an Israeli breakfast is one of the pleasures of a visit to Israel. Apart from the hotels, restaurants and small cafés will all offer one version or another of this famous feast.
Some places serve it throughout the day, so you can even have one for lunch or even diner.
Like Israeli salad, this breakfast is not locally called an “Israeli breakfast”. In restaurants and cafés it’s sometimes named after the establishment, or it is just called “breakfast”. But if you see a breakfast on the menu offering eggs, coffee/tea, salad, cheeses and juice – rest assured, it’s an Israeli breakfast!
Mouthful of Myths
The most popular day to eat an Israeli breakfast at a restaurant is on a Friday morning but as one American tourist once quipped: “Finding a table is like trying to catch the last flight out of Saigon!”
It is common counsel that if you eat an “Israeli breakfast” you might not need to eat lunch. However, this is one bit of counsel this writer is unlikely to chew on! Breakfast is breakfast and lunch is lunch and too many active hours separate the two.
If it is one o’clock then it is time for an Israeli lunch – it is different to an Israeli breakfast but that is another story!
Traveling with my husband on a plane from New York to Los Angeles on a summer Sunday morning twenty-two years ago, we read a New York Times article by chance that would change our lives. The article shared a story about an observant Jewish family that adopted a daughter from China. We read the article and literally on that flight knew how our family would come to life.
Following three adoptions, a dear friend told me that the souls of my children were with me at Mt. Sinai and we had needed to take this route to come together as a family. I initially told this story to my children as a comforting story and perhaps not believing the reality of it. As time has passed though, I have come to believe this with all my heart as the message that shaped our legacy. While my children are not “of me” they are truly “of me” in every way possible.
It just took a different route to bring us together.
Adopting from China had its challenges with the Jewish Community as we evolved as a family. Initially, an orthodox synagogue and others didn’t want to assist us as we weren’t religious enough. As we became more observant, we were isolated from reform congregations who thought we were too religious. Wounding comments followed over the years, but through love and commitment, we raised three amazing “Zionistas” and focused our efforts on creating Jewish home and making sure the Jewish homeland was always a paramount in our family. We have made a strong commitment to Israel and the Jewish community at home and have been blessed with support by so many.
As we approach Rosh Hashanah – the New Year – I hope that we will work harder to ensure the doors of Judaism welcome everyone, especially Jews who have chosen to convert.
“Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, we are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel.”
For the year ahead, my heart is also with the remaining Jewish community in China that has flourished for over a millennium before assimilation and intermarriage brought its collective demise in the 19th Century.
Thank you, Michael Freund, founder of Shavei Israel (shavei.org), whose dedication for bringing home Jews from China and lost Tribes from across the globe is so inspirational. His commitment to ensure Israel is a homeland to all Jews is overwhelming. This year I dedicate to support the work of Shavei Israel in bringing those Chinese Jews home to Israel.
I am overwhelmed by my love for my Dani, Sydney and Mia for the gifts they are to me, and the world. With the new year upon us, we can all work to make difference in the world with love and compassion. Shana Tova Umetukah
About the writer
Gina Raphael is as an entrepreneur and business owner in Beverly Hills, CA. A graduate of Wellesley College and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business Gina is Chair of WIZO Los Angeles (Women’s International Zionist Organization), and Chair Israel Bonds Western Region. She is the mother of three daughters – Danielle Gross (21), Sydney Gross (19) and Mia Gross (10).
Lebanon is a small country whose economy depends almost entirely on two factors. The first is tourism, the second is the investment of foreign capital. Unfortunately, Lebanon is suffering from a $90-billion debt squeeze in addition to underdeveloped services in various sectors. The question that must be asked in this context is the following: Is Hizbollah general-secretary Hassan Nasrallah aware of this?
When Nasrallah openly threatened Israel with war, was he aware of the implications for the Lebanese economy? Did he consider the implications of turning Lebanon, at the expense of the Lebanese people and their livelihoods, into a protective shield for the Iranian mullahs? In my opinion, Lebanon’s current situation is unprecedented. Never in the course of history has it reached such a level of humiliation in which its citizens and politicians are subjected to the whims and dictates of a foreign power. Nasrallah has become the true ruler of Lebanon, taking orders from Tehran while the rest of Lebanon’s politicians are mere puppets. In any case, the real conflict is not between Lebanon and Israel but between Iran and Israel. Iran has made the wiping of Israel off the map its ultimate goal. Iran now knows that it will not be able to remain besieged forever and that it will be forced to come to the negotiating table with the United States. Thus, what Tehran is doing with the help of Nasrallah is being done in order to improve its negotiating power vis-a-vis the United States, especially if Trump wins a second term in the next US presidential election. In other words, Hizbollah’s decisions are actually made by Qasem Soleimani, not Hassan Nasrallah. It is simply unfathomable that in an effort to improve its ability to negotiate, Iran is sending the entire region into war. If the American plan to tame Iran succeeds, Hezbollah will follow Tehran’s footsteps and become nothing more than a lame duck floating in a pool of bilge water. This will be the ultimate vindication for the people of Lebanon.
The Fall of the Tehran-Beirut Corridor
Al-Arab, London, August 30
The glamorous photos coming out of Biarritz, in France, where the G7 nations convened last week, should not deflect our attention from the most interesting thing happening behind the scenes: the language used by the international community in response to the Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. US Vice President Mike Pence reached out to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, expressing his country’s full support for Israel’s right to security. This was also done by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who conveyed a warning message to Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri against any Lebanese response to the Israeli action. While the American stance represents an antiquated classical behavior in support of Israel, the silence of the major nations, especially those whose leaders met in France, about the Israeli strikes that spanned from Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea, demonstrates the complete complicity of the international community in Israel’s actions. Under the auspices of the international community, Israel is shaking the strategic corridor that Iran has sought to build in recent years from Tehran to Beirut. The impetus of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to maximize the French efforts led by President Emmanuel Macron to launch a diplomatic backchannel during the G7 meeting is the Israeli message, which was heard loud and clear in Tehran. Any military response against Israel would bring broader and fiercer fire, with the backing of every nation in the world.
In the last few days, Tehran seems to have realized that the key to the survival of its regime is tied to Washington’s position alone, and that the stance of European leaders on the nuclear deal, as well as those of Beijing and Moscow, are nothing but irrelevant promises that hide complete alignment with the US position against Iran. It is clear that Iran is groaning under painful and devastating economic sanctions that it is trying to hide. It also seems to be losing the battle of the Strait of Hormuz. It is clear that the reluctance to resolve the Washington crisis with Tehran allows Israel to buy time and expand its military operations aimed at destroying what Iran has been building for decades. Meanwhile, Trump does not seem to be in a rush. To agree to attend a meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, or to postpone it until “the right conditions” are ripe, is a luxury Tehran does not have. Israel’s military campaign may be driven by Israeli national interests, but it also seems to be serving the interests of other international players.
Israel After the Election: What Might Change?
Waheed Abd al-Majid
Al-Etihad, UAE, September 5
The upcoming Knesset election, which will be held on September 17, raises many questions about Israel’s future, chief among them the likelihood of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu being reelected. It is expected that these elections will be the most complex in the history of Israel after Netanyahu won a plurality of votes with his Likud party in April but failed to form a government. Things will certainly not be easier this time around. This prediction is based on indications that there is little difference in the balance of power from the last campaign…. Opinion polls show that the Zionist right-wing camp, which has been in power for nearly two decades, continues to outperform the liberal camp. Interestingly, one of the most intriguing figures in these elections is Avigdor Liberman, leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party. Although Liberman supported Netanyahu following the latter’s victory in April, the dispute between the two intensified during coalition negotiations, culminating in Liberman’s refusal to join a Netanyahu government.
This discord has grown even stronger during the new election campaign, which focuses on Liberman’s preference for excluding the two main religious parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas, from the next government – against Netanyahu’s will. If the results of the polls are true, it is not unlikely that there will be a change in the Israeli political map. According to the prevailing trend in polls, it is expected that Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc as a whole will get the same number of seats it won in the April elections (65) or even slightly more. This number is enough to form a government and secure the confidence of the Knesset. But things might change at the last minute. Surveys show that Yisrael Beiteinu will increase its power and could reach nine or 10 seats, most likely at the expense of other right-wing parties. In this case, three possibilities can be envisaged, two of which involve a significant change in the political map. The first is the Likud’s transition to the opposition for the first time since 2001, with the formation of a government through an understanding between the new center-right Blue and White list, Yisrael Beiteinu and other parties. A coalition led by Benny Gantz, the head of Blue and White, could then be opened to rotation with Liberman. The second possibility is the formation of a unity government, which Lieberman has spoken about more than once. The viability of this option is unclear given the difficulty of even imagining the participation of the Zionist left-wing parties. It’s also hard to imagine the Likud joining the coalition if Liberman sticks to his refusal to accept Netanyahu as prime minister. The complexity of the situation leads us to a third possibility that will maintain the current balance of power: Likud leaders turn against Netanyahu and agree with Liberman to name one of them to form the next government. Although Netanyahu is aware of this possibility, a coup against him is not totally unlikely since Likud figureheads are quietly beginning to admit that their party’s role is more important than Netanyahu’s political survival. In any case, Israel appears to be at a pivotal moment that might lead to a major change in its political map and the composition of its next government. As always, the Palestinian people as well as the Arab world will have to deal with whatever happens as observers from the sidelines.
Waheed Abd al-Majid
Reframing Our Religious Rhetoric
Al Jazeera, Qatar, August 29
Marxism, one of the strongest doctrines of the European Left, revolved around a deep enmity and hatred of religion as an obstacle to human emancipation. European and non-European leftists often evoked Marx’s famous paraphrased statement, “Religion is the opium of the people.” But more recently, things have almost become the extreme opposite. Leftists have grown to become the biggest supporters of fundamentalist Islamic movements, accusing opponents of hatred of religion or, more specifically, Islamophobia. The alliance between the Islamists and leftists is not limited to Europe but shared by leftists all around the world. They insist that the spread of terrorism is the result of savage capitalism, which led to the disintegration of the great leftist camp (the Soviet Union). What is the secret of this alliance, and what are the motives for this phenomenon? In the beginning, it should be noted that there are two phenomena sweeping the West in the last decade: the phenomenon of Islamophobia and the phenomenon of right-wing extremism.
These phenomena feed each other. Like the leftists, political Islamists were bitter about their ideological defeat and the failure of their political experiments. They sought to compensate for their ideological loss through non-democratic means. We must remember that this utilitarian alliance is a temporary one, which will soon come to an end. It is also true that it is unjust to judge Islam by the standards of a very few extremists. But we must admit that this phenomenon cannot be ignored, especially given the events of September 11 and the spread in global terrorism. The violent events that swept most of the world, carried out by Muslim fundamentalists, shook the minds of people and caused a deep fear of Islam. I am a frequent advocate of religious tolerance and respectful discourse. But I fear that the term “Islamophobia” will be used as an excuse to silence us and prevent us from reforming our religious discourse in a way that makes it more peaceful and welcoming of all peoples. This is what the revolutionary Islamic movements refuse to do, because a non-violent Islam inherently means the elimination of all movements of political Islam. Reforming religious discourse means stripping them of their most important weapons, through which they seek to fulfill the ambitions of their leaders and masters.
Maligned, misunderstood, and derided, provocative, emotive and polarizing. Often condemned, just the mention of the word Zionism is enough to raise the blood pressure of many. This often results in both pro and anti-Israel activists engaging in a battle of words. Frighteningly, this battlefield has expanded way beyond the Social Network to university campuses and other congregating venues where Jews identifying as Zionist are at physical risk.
So, what is Zionism exactly and why is it such a hot-button issue?
Simply put, Zionism is the National Liberation Movement of the Jewish people. It is a guarantee of the rights of the Jewish people to organize themselves politically and assign it a name that hearkens back to ancient roots and love for Zion.
Zion is synonymous with city of God; the place that God loves – Jerusalem. ‘Mount Zion’ – on the southeast side of the Old City – is the high hill on which King David built a citadel. The word Zion occurs over 150 times in the Bible and essentially means “fortification” and has the idea of being “raised” as a “monument”.
Zion is described both as the City of David and the City of God.
The word Zion is embedded into Jewish religion and culture as it is embedded into the rock and masonry of Israel’s capital – Jerusalem.
The great American civil rights leader, Rev Dr Martin Luther King is rumoured to have described Zionism as “nothing more that the yearning of the Jewish people to return to their ancient homeland”.
After thousands of years of being made aware that we are unwelcome in many countries, Jews have returned en masse to our ancient and ancestral homeland. The word Zion refers to those biblical ties since time immemorial. It is proof that Jews have “indigenous people’s rights to the land” and in case anybody has doubt, there is antiquity being discovered every day that supports this.
Israel’s detractors are quick to point out that Nelson Mandela, the father of democratic South Africa and the icon of the anti-Apartheid struggle’s support of Palestinians. What they neglect to conveniently mention is Madiba’s support for the Jewish people’s right to self-determination – Zionism.
Mandela has been quoted as saying
“As a movement, we recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognize the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism,” he said in 1993. “We insist on the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders, but with equal vigor support the Palestinian right to national self-determination.”
There has been much debate, discussion and social media brouhaha over who is or what defines a Zionist. Zionism is not restricted to Jews, but many Christians, Druze and yes, even Muslims consider themselves Zionists. Supporting Jewish rights to self-determination in no way makes one anti-Palestinian. Sadly, so much misunderstanding about what constitutes Zionism has resulted in alienating people who have an emotional attachment to Israel. Too many would prefer that Zionism be relegated onto the pile of other unwanted “isms”.
Many thought that with the realisation of the modern state of Israel, anti-Semitism would disappear but instead it has reared its head in a new form – anti-Zionism.
The world has emerged a hostile place for Zionists.
Ask the students on campus who are bullied and sometimes physically threatened for their political beliefs. Or the store owners in Europe who find their shops ransacked for carrying Israeli products. Or the travelers turned away from accommodation for being Israeli. The rise of the alt-right in the USA with their Nazi salutes and propensity for spray painting swastikas or the neo Nazis, the UK Labor party with its ongoing accusations of institutionalized antisemitism and BDS supporters in Europe, South America and South Africa has many Jews feeling afraid and isolated.
The argument “I am not an anti-Semite, I just don’t like Zionists” is spurious.
Even the French President, Emmanuel Macron says anti-Zionism is “a new type of antiSemitism.” He told the Israeli Prime Minister when speaking in Paris at an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Vel D’Hiv round-up, in which 13,152 French Jews were deported to Nazi concentration camps that France will “not surrender” to anti-Israel rhetoric.
There are an estimated 50 Muslim countries in the world, and an estimated 30 countries that define themselves as Christian. There is only one Jewish state and yet, so many have an issue with its very existence?
Saying that the Jews have no right to organize themselves politically and call it Zionism is in fact, racism.
Is it politically correct to criticize Israel?
Criticising the government and its policies is the national sport of Israel.
Is Israel perfect? No. And it is perfectly okay and healthy to say so. However, saying that Jews have no right to national self-determination or that Israel has no right to exist is racist and anti-Semitic.
I believe part of being a Zionist is being able to criticize and improve. I believe that Zionism means that you want to see an exemplary Israel – a light unto the nations. An Israel that is tolerant and welcoming and grateful for all who support her. This is dignified, this is keeping with the tenets of our founders who envisioned this. There is room in the Zionist tent for everyone – Jew, Christian, Muslim, as well as from left to right across the political spectrum.
These values are enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence:
“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
I invite anyone who is somewhat skeptical or perhaps undecided about their views on Zionism to ask themselves how different it is to their national aspirations. Perhaps this will lead to a lot more understanding, a lot less maligning and hopefully an end to the rising violence that so many supporters of Israel are currently enduring.
While for this writer, the Israeli coastline may not conjure the majestic swells found off his native South Africa, an increasing sight in Tel-Aviv’s ever-increasing traffic are surf-boards on the side of a moped as its rider nips through the city traffic to the beach.
By David E. Kaplan
January 2019 kicked off with a swell time off the coast of Netanya in Israel when surfers from 26 countries came to compete in the 2019 Seat Pro Netanya, a QS 3000 event on Kontiki Beach. Following five exciting days of action, Eithan Osborne of California claimed victory in the final bout against Tristan Guilbaud of France.
Should he get the call up to the 2020 Olympics, the Californian from Ventura may well be competing for Israel.
Why the switch, Osborne told the Huntington Beach online magazine, Surfline, “Well, the Olympics was one motivation, but I wouldn’t say it was the primary motivation. I have family who live in Israel and being Jewish, I have a special connection. Under the Law of Return, which gives every Jewish person the right to make what we call ‘Aliyah’, I am moving to Israel and becoming a citizen. I am super happy about making that decision. It connects me to my roots and my heritage even more.”
Besides he says “Surfers in Israel are just the same as anywhere. They’re enthusiastic and so stoked on surfing. It’s crazy, and the surf scene is on the rise for sure. They have festivals, movie showings, and bunch of surfs schools.”
So, while the beaches might not have the high waves of South Africa’s famous Cape St. Francis of Jeffries Bay beaches, when the wind is right and the swell up, the allure of the crested curve off Tel Aviv and Herzliya’s beaches invites surfers of all ages. I am one of them.
How did it all begin?
What’s Up, Doc?
It all started in 1954 when a young Jewish doctor from California named Dorian Paskowitz, nicknamed ‘Doc’ arrived in Israel bringing with him six balsa-wood longboards, all adorned with the Magen David (Star of David). His mission was to introduce surfing to young Israelis. At Frishman Beach in Tel Aviv, he ran into a local lifeguard, Shamai ‘Topsy’ Kanzapolski, who would eventually establish Israel’s first surf club. “Before bumping into my dad, Doc cruised up and down the coast hoping to find someone who would take responsibility for the project,” Nir Almog, Topsy’s eldest son, told me.
“In my dad, he found that person, who, like himself, was passionate about the beach. Abba (dad) was interested at one time in law and even studied it, but for him, the beach and surfing was his life.” It was the same with ‘Doc’, who gave up the practice of medicine to focus on surfing.
Topsy, who passed away some twenty years ago, passed his passion onto his sons. Nir, who has his own business in Jaffa manufacturing surfboards, continues: “At the time Dorian met my dad, lifeguards only caught waves with the ‘Hasake’ – a flat, wide board that had been designed for close-to-shore fishing by Arabs and later adopted as swift lifesaving equipment for lifeguards. Then Dorian came along with these narrow boards and interest perked. He started giving surfing lessons on his boards and soon the locals who hung out by the lifeguard station started to surf.”
Nir, who was a youngster at the time, recalls the waves were different in the early days. “They were high by today’s standards and used to break right on the beach. The reason for this,” explains Nir “was that the beaches were open shores with no piers and the golden sand that came drifting from the Nile helped shape the sea floor. The waves broke in sections, the first being right on the beach, the second some 500m away. To surf in those days, you were considered crazy.”
A Chip off the old board
“My father decided that I, his first born, should learn to surf,” continues Nir, “and so he put me on the board’s nose with him, while the surf was up. He told me to stand up…I did, and that was the moment I caught the bug.”
Wanting to spend most of his time at the beach, the younger Kanzapolski, who would later change his surname to Almog, began to partner Shaul, the lifeguard who worked with his father at the same beach tower. “Shaul emerged as the best surfer at the time and used to take me out to the second break. The huge waves looked so huge, maybe,” concedes Nir, “because I was so tiny. We used to rip the waves all the way to the beach.”
The techniques in vogue on the longboard were “to Hang 5 or Hang 10, depending on whether you had five or ten toes hanging over the front of the board.”
After a few years “the local gang gained experience but no team yet had been established to represent Israel overseas. Excited for the sport to grow, ‘Doc” Paskowitz returned to Israel bringing more boards that were distributed to local surfers.”
Making boards and history
During the 1960s, says Nir, “A giant storm brought terrible flooding and all the surfboards in Dad’s storehouse on Frishman Beach were badly damaged. In trying to fix one, he cut it down to 1.80m and so the first short board in Israel was born. I was the first to use it.”
With the surfing scene throughout the sixties confined to a small devoted group, “It was not until 1970,” says Nir “that we were joined by surfers from all over the country, many of them with colourful surfboards bought overseas.” The surf scene was about to change, and it was not only the arrival of new, innovated boards that upped the pace of popularity of the sport but also the influence of music from such bands as The Beach Boys who brought out albums under titles like ‘Surfin USA’.
“Catch a wave and you’re sitting on top of the world
Don’t be afraid to try the greatest sport around…..”
began to resonate with the new generation of Israelis in the seventies. The new era was all too evident when local surfers Eilam Bale and Ofer Zaramaty were the first Israelis mentioned in ‘Surfer Magazine’.
In the early 70’s, a young IDF paratrooper and officer called Yair, told Topsy that the army was using a plastic foam called polioritan, produced in Haifa, that was like the material used for making surfboards. Topsy contacted the company and ordered the material “and I went into business with my dad manufacturing boards. It was difficult at first with a lot going to waste. Eventually,” says Nir, “we succeeded in shaping designs that looked like surfboards.”
And so, began a small industry of surfboard production. Most of the boards were used for hire and a new generation of surfers entered the local Israeli surfing scene. Topsy ran the small factory at his new storehouse at the Hilton Beach and between renting ‘Hasakes’, he shaped surfboards for the local youngsters.
Meanwhile, back in the USA, Dorian ‘Doc’ Paskowitz, who had brought the first boards to Israel in 1954, was trailblazing the sport in his home country. The Paskowitz Surf Camp, founded in 1972, became a major feature in southern California. One of the most famous names in surfing history, 86-year-old Paskowitz surfed six to eight-foot waves in Waimea Bay, Hawaii – “albeit on my knees because of an injury – virtually until he died five years ago. Most of ‘Docs’ nine children are steeped in Judaism and spent time in Israel, especially Jonathan, David, Joshua and Abraham, who helped form the Israeli Surfing Association.
“David Paskowitz,” says Offer Zaramati “gave us a few valuable tips. Up until then our style was simple – catching the wave in a straight line – from the peak to the shore, like we did with the ‘Hasake’. David taught us some new tricks which today are the basics of every surfer – “off the lip” and “cutback”.
‘Doc’s son Issy went on to become one of the best longboard surfers in the 1980s, winning his first contest in 1983. Today he runs the Paskowitz Surf Camp as well as Surfers Healing, a non-profit camp that teaches autistic children how to surf. “Israel is such a magic place to me,” expressed Issy in a recent interview. “My father took us there many times and I lived there for a year before I married Danielle,” who is the executive administrator of the Surf Camp. “We have many Israeli surfers that visit us here in San Diego,” says Issy, who also plans to conduct surf camps for autistic children in Israel.
Topsy’s younger son, Orian Kancepolsky runs a surfing camp and surfing center at Atarim Square opposite the Tel Aviv marina. Not surprisingly he calls it ‘Topsea’ – a play on words, named after his father ‘Topsy’.
“My father was such an influence on my life. I started surfing the same time I started walking and while it’s always been my sport, today it’s also my business,” he says.
While the Tel Aviv coast boasts several choice spots, Orian says he surfs mainly at Hilton Beach, “Undoubtedly the best surf in Israel, ask any of the pros.”
Why is that?
“Because it has a natural reef. It’s probably the only beach in Israel where the waves break on the reef and not the sand. This creates a wave that’s hollow, allowing the surfer to ride what we call ‘the tube’.”
Are the waves bigger?
“No, the size is average but it’s the quality of the wave. Also, it caters for all types of surfers. It’s a long wave where the center is excellent for the professionals while either ends, because of the jetties, impedes the pace of the wave and so is ideal for beginners.”
A regular at Hilton Beach is former lifesaver Amir, the son of the late legendary Israeli songwriter and singer Arik Einstein. “I grew up in the area and have been surfing here since the age of twelve”.
In his opinion “it’s the finest surfing beach along the entire coastline of Israel.” He offers the same explanation as Orian that “the reef creates the best swell and hence the best rides.”
“Did your father surf?”
“Nope, but then I don’t sing and play guitar.”
Same Wave’length In Gaza
“At Basle,” Theodore Herzl wrote in 1897, “I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. If not in 5 years, certainly in 50, everyone will know it.” Well, some 50 years later there would not only be a Jewish state, but young Israelis would start surfing off Tel Aviv beach with the Star of David on Dorian ‘Doc’ Paskowitz’s surfboards. Zionism was quite literally riding the crest of a wave.
A little over another half century later, Doc would again find the need to bring surfboards to this neck of the coast. Except this time not for Israelis but for Palestinians!
In August 2007, he delivered twelve surfboards to Gaza after watching a television program in the United States which showed Gazans using broken surf boards because they were unable to buy new ones.
Paskowitz launched the “Surfing for Peace” project together with the “One Voice” organization which aimed to help Israelis and Palestinians promote peace. “Surfers are ambassadors of health and well-being and they are also men of peace,” Paskowitz said.
Palestinian surfer Ahmad Abu Hussaili and others managed to meet Paskowitz, his son David, and other delegation members inside the Erez Crossing terminal building, where they had a chance to thank them for the boards. The Paskowitzes emerged from the meeting at the main civilian crossing point between the two territories bare-chested, after also presenting their T-shirts to the Gazan surfers. One Voice’s Gaza representative, Moffak Alami, said surfing was “a way to build bridges between people who speak the same language.”
After all, however dire the situation, in the words of The Beach Boys,
“Catch a wave and you’re sitting on top of the world”