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Ultra-Orthodox Bnei Brak Meets Unorthodox Aviv Gefen
By David E. Kaplan
After dedicating a song to Bnei Brak residents who had been attacked in the media over Corona, Israel’s iconic secularist singer, songwriter and composer was surprised to find his phone flooded with heartfelt messages from the ultra-religious. In a tearful interview on Israel’s Channel 12, Gefen unburdens himself revealing new insights about love, life and people.
Former Pink Floyd band member Roger Waters is today more ‘famous’ for his delirious dressing gown rants against Israel than his music. No wonder Pink Floyd are “socially distancing” themselves from its cofounder who is increasingly finding himself an outcast in the music industry.
Where BDS Activism Goes, Antisemitism Is Sure To Follow
By Rodney Mazinter
The writer unveils the falsehoods and hypocrisy of both the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) and its co-founder Omar Barghouti, warning governments and NGOs that beneath the veneer of human rights for Palestinians, lurks the ugly truth of violence against Jews and the State of Israel.
Ultra-Orthodox Bnei Brak Meets Unorthodox Aviv Geffen
By David E. Kaplan
Addressing the plight to the entertainment industry caused by Corona, Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher (“The Other Story,” “Past Life”) asserts:
“Culture is not a luxury, but a global strategic asset.”
How true it has been revealed during these months of Covid-19. People may have been physically ‘confined’ but not their minds – nor their senses. And this is partly thanks to our entertaining artists who have been finding ways to entertain us in our living rooms; as if we were sitting amongst a live audience in an auditorium, open air park or amphitheatre.
Aviv Geffen in an acoustic performance – Shuni Amphitheater – 07 April 2020
For some, it has also brought new understanding on issues of what is important in life and understanding the “other”!
In a touching and at times emotional interview with Dana Weiss on Israel’s Channel 12, Israeli rock musician, singer, songwriter, producer, keyboardist, guitarist and proudly secular, Aviv Geffen, laid himself bare before the Israeli public.
To the question as what lessons Corona taught him, the artist responded with new-found humility that “I was a pig! I always went for the label or brand, whether to buy the tomato from Spain or the Louis Vuitton bag; it was disgusting, and then came the Corona and said, “Friends here I am, good night and goodbye”.”
“So that’s it; you are ready to discard all that was so important to you?” asks a surprised Dana.
“Yes,” answers Aviv. “I have outside a luxury car that I stupidly bought; I’ll also sell it because it completely embarrasses me now”.
“What, suddenly everything was foolish, and your life is all about vanity?”
“The brands yes; I think the world has positively opened its eyes.”
For Geffen, yesterdays prized possessions are today irrelevant. This has been the first lesson of Corona. More were to be revealed.
Geffen then relates about performing ALONE at the old amphitheatre in Shuni near Binyamina. Yes, it was a LIVE performance but there was no audience, at least not in front of him. His audience were all at home watching on TV. They could see him; he could not see them!
“I had not prepared what I would say,” he told Weiss, and then the thought came to him about what was most dominating the news – the ultra-religious community in Israel; how they were suffering more than most with Corona. How they were experiencing the most cases diagnosed and the most deaths and then being blamed because of their beliefs. As if they deserved it!
The media was full of it; being battered by the disease and then by the media. The worse hit of the ultra-orthodox communities were the citizens of Bnei Brak who had been “fenced off” like in a “ghetto” with roadblocks at all entrance points.
Suffering And Stigmatised
These were the thoughts that percolated in the rock musician’s mind between performing his numbers when he appealed, to let them be; to leave them alone. Suffering enough, they did not need to be subjected to public ridicule and rebuke.
Explaining to interviewer Dana Weiss:
“I said, “leave Bnei Brak alone. They are not guilty; they believe in God; I believe in Google.”
Laying bare the cultural chasm, Geffen might have thought that was the end of the matter until he finished the show. Suddenly:
“I leave the stage and I see on my telephone, without exaggeration, 420 messages. I start opening them, scrolling, and learn that someone had given my number to all of Bnei Brak. And I cried. I could not leave the empty amphitheatre. The love, the division in the nation, suddenly everything came together. The love I received came from people I had denigrated since I was nineteen and now responded with love and tears. ‘Thank you so much Aviv for thinking of us,’ I read.” I was sitting on the stairs, the amphitheatre was empty, and I was reading the messages and crying. At four in the morning, the theatre staff got me up and told me: ‘Go home.'”
Relating this in the studio, Aviv again breaks into tears, soliciting from the interviewer:
“Wait a minute; you cried why? Because you feel guilty of what you once thought of this community or about the sudden love you discovered from them? Do you really know why you cried and why you are crying again?”
Aviv does not hide the fact that artists by nature are egoists. They feed off the audience; they need that reassurance, that affirmation. However, all this is denied by Corona because there is no real audience only a virtual one. “And then suddenly, I receive these hundreds of messages from Bnei Brak” that were genuinely moved by his words and the song Kotzim (‘Thorns’) that he had dedicated to the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel. (See the words in English at the end of the article).
Trying to make sense of it all to the bewildered interviewer, Geffen continues:
“I cried because of all those years we learned how to hate the other – the religious and the secular. ‘He’s religious, he’s secular.’ I, too, was a soldier in this game. Suddenly I saw the other. You ask: So how did the corona change me? Just like this: I learned to respect. A flame of love, simply amazing, was lit. I cannot even describe it in words, only in tears.”
Still not completely satisfied with this answer, Dana Weiss persists in her enquiry:
“So what! Are you thinking that your attitude back then about the ultra-Orthodox was a crime or a sin? Is this what brought on the tears?”
Geffen answers emphatically and an admission:
“No, not at all. It was because for the first time I saw them.”
Hope For The Future
Aviv Geffen’s next appearance would again be before a live audience but this time not in front of their TV’s but on Tel Aviv beachfront at the Charles Clore Park. The concert on the 21st May was the biggest gathering since the Corona virus struck Israel.
Most appropriate for Corona, Geffen broke into “The Hope Song” an iconic hit he wrote following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that is often compared as Israeli version of John Lennon’s “Imagine”.
Let’s go dream,
Without race and nationality.
Until it’s good,
Until it is.
We’ll bury the guns,
And not the children.
Until it’s good,
Until it is.
Let’s go dream,
Without race and nationality.
Until it’s good,
Until it is.
We’ll bury the guns,
And not the children.
Until it’s good,
Until it is.
We will conquer peace,
And not the territories.
Until it’s good,
Until it is.
To eternal freedom,
To my children.
Until it’s good,
Until it is …
Until it is …
(The Hope song- Aviv Geffen & Shahin Najafi – 06:30min)
Geffen’s peace hymn was all the more powerful and poignant; when partnering him on-stage before an audience of 6000 was exiled Iranian artist Shahin Najafi. What is more, they sang in Farsi – the language of Israel’s archenemy Iran – and in Hebrew.
The pair showed that despite the bitter enmity between their countries, ordinary people can find common ground.
From the ultra-Orthodox to Iran, Corona was providing a platform for revealing “common ground” and giving credence to Avi Nesher’s astute assertion that:
“Culture is not a luxury, but a global strategic asset”
I am a huge Pink Floyd fan. I join millions around the world in enjoying their profound if not psychedelic lyrics and splendid guitar riffs. Pink Floyd is the stuff of classic rock legend!
Over the last couple of years, the band has become less known for its music; and more for the bizarre and hate filled rantings of its former bass player, Roger Waters (76).
The rocker has found an obsession – he is poster erm….man for BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions), a global “movement” who state their goal as the destruction of the state of Israel, through boycotts and isolation. This is at the expense of other global conflicts where they stay mysteriously silent.
Waters waxes lyrical (pun intended because is quite partial to a good ol’song!) about how “Nazi-like” Israel is, how other artists should boycott the Jewish state, a plea that is met with stony silence – and more than a little eye rolling. He also rabbits on about what a pariah state Israel is and has used stereotypical antisemitic imagery such as the pig balloon he floats at his concerts with a Magen David (Star of David) on it with dollar signs. He conveniently has steered clear of criticizing the Syrian regime for the wholesale slaughter of civilians or Russia’s Putin for the country’s treatment of the Ukraine.
He has also parlayed his “talents” for film. In 2019, Israel hosted the annual musical cheese fest, Eurovision as a result of winning the competition the previous year. A pro-BDS group in Switzerland produced a petition calling for it to be boycotted. Water’s good friend and founder of BDS, Omar Barghouti, he who magnificently has managed to successfully boycott Israel while having studied at Tel Aviv University forwarded him the petition (probably while using Israeli technology). This naturally prompted the unhinged rocker to don his best fleece dressing gown and take to Twitter for a rant.
Scratching his face and staring at the camera, Waters declares that Barghouti’s email reminded him of “three choice ‘Fs,’” the first being “Film.” “There’s the film, and that film was the Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Eurovision reminds me of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers, because it seems it may have been taken over by, um, I believe it was aliens. I know, it’s giving aliens a bad name, but at the end of the movie, Donald Sutherland points at somebody like this” – Here, Waters points at the camera while making a silent scream face – “The body-snatchers are doing that now, but normally what they’re going is, ‘antisemite!’” Waters yells.
Waters’s “second F” is “Fable,” and he proceeds to parody The Emperor’s New Clothes. “Mommy, mommy, why is the emperor of Israel parading his Ethno-supremacist bullshit around naked?’ Enough with Netanyahu-hu-hu.”
The “third and final F” is “Faith.” As he taps his exposed chest, Waters declares Barghouti’s message restores “faith in my fellow human beings, faith in their capacity for love and empathy,” because “136,000 of our Swiss brothers and sisters have signed and delivered a petition demanding that the Eurovision pull out of the finals in Tel Aviv.”
Needless to say, the 2019 Eurovision in Tel Aviv was a massive success (barring a rather dodgy performance by Madonna) and introduced millions around the world to the vibrant, multicultural, robust democracy that is Israel – albeit with a side of disco cheese!
No wonder his former bandmates have decided to social distance themselves from him – permanently.
Imagine my glee when it was announced recently that the rockers had employed their own BDS campaign against former fellow bandmate and bassist, Roger Waters. The band declared him persona non grata on ALL social media. Lead guitarist and vocalist, David Gilmour, declared him “irrelevant” and declared that Waters’ solo endeavours must not be mentioned. Ouch!
Waters has proven himself to be comfortably dumb over the last decade or so with his absolute obsession with Israel. Perhaps his former bandmates are fatigued and their answer has been clear – wish you weren’t here…..
And so he isn’t.
Pursuing his new solo career as whiner par excellence, Waters latest musical offering about “from the river to the sea we will take back the land” is less lyrical anthem the likes of “Shine on you Crazy Diamond” or “Learning to Fly” but is sure to be a hit amongst the grossest anti-Semites and haters that lurk on the internet. He premiered his anthem for hate at a Naqba day event hosted online. With Coronavirus lockdowns putting the kibosh on marches and gatherings, these events have found oxygen online. Clearly, he has been spending his time in lockdown looking for more ways to spread hatred than to contribute something positive to a world currently in crisis.
The jig is up for Israel’s arch boycotter. Nobody is interested. There are more important things to be concerned about than an ageing rock star in a shabby dressing gown.
I remain a huge fan of Pink Floyd and delighted that Israel has and continues to welcome major acts like Jennifer Lopez, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and many, many others. Roger Waters will sadly go down in musical history as a disgraced bassist and just another pr*** in the wall of haters.
Where BDS Activism Goes, Antisemitism Is Sure To Follow
By Rodney Mazinter
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement aims to delegitimize the Jewish state whilst holding it to different standards from the rest of the world.
Whilst it presents itself as a non-violent movement to support Palestinian rights, for its founders and leaders, it is a tool to end the State of Israel. Each year during Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) – a week dedicated to anti-Israel activity on campuses around the world – BDS seeks out Israel’s destruction while trying to con the public into thinking they stand up for human rights. This year, students were spared this infliction by Covid-19, probably the only positive contribution of the pandemic.
What truly then does BDS “stand up” for? While you can view its list of demands on https://bdsmovement.net/call, in essence however, they state that they will maintain a boycott of Israel until it grants the “right of return” to all Palestinian refugees i.e. the end of Israel.
BDS cofounder, Omar Barghouti, explains the true implications of his organisation’s “right of return” demand:
“If the refugees were to return, you would NOT have a two-state solution. Like one Palestinian commentator said, ‘You would have a Palestine next to a Palestine, rather than a Palestine next to Israel’.”
To put it more plainly, if the Palestinian refugees and millions of their descendants were to return to the homes they left in 1948 — a right afforded to no other misplaced population including Jews from North Africa and the Middle East, and certainly not to their descendants — there would be no Israel, no Jewish state, no Jewish self-determination.
Mr. Barghouti – and the BDS leadership – do not believe in the right of the Jewish people to possess a sovereign state in any part of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
The global BDS movement — through both its aims and tactics — is directly opposed to a truly just and peaceful resolution. After every one of the five major wars, all started and then lost by the Arabs/Palestinians, Israel was prepared to negotiate peace and borders, but the Palestinians rejected all overtures. Whenever ceasefires were implemented, the Palestinians adhered to them merely as a pretext to rearm and prepare themselves for the next round of their never-ending conflict.
Every March, BDS launches its infamous IAW (Israel Apartheid Week) on university campuses around the world. “IAW” climaxes year-long activity on campuses during which BDS and their supporters promote an anti-Israel, antisemitic and anti-Zionist agenda that calls for a widespread boycott of Israel. Its antisemitic roots and rhetoric should worry all democratic communities .
BDS produces regular anti-Israel content, including published letters, articles, pamphlets and social media campaigns all flawed by inaccurate, unverified, and false reporting. Treating Israel worse than North Korea, Iran, and Syria, the anti-Israel lobby refrains from offering fair or balanced comment. Its pronouncements calling for Israel’s “compliance with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights” undermines its credibility because of its own lack of expectation of compliance from the above countries and others; whose human rights record is atrocious. The absolute bias of BDS against Israel is revealed by ignoring the world’s most pressing issues of human rights.
BDS is an organisation peopled by anti-Israel and anti-Jewish demagogues who can have no role in any solution to the Israel/Palestinian situation.
The concept of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel is not new. Prior to the establishment of BDS, Israel had to fight for its place in the global economy whilst being boycotted by the world’s Arab nations. Failing in its efforts to harm Israel’s robust export-orientated economy, BDS resorts to a despicable level of offensive and abusive invective.
For those who need reminding, Israel is founded on a slate of Jewish values:
Dignity of the human person
Sanctity of human life
Education as a human right
World peace as an ideal
Justice for all
On this basis, Israel has been able to establish a thriving economy, join leading intergovernmental economic organisations such as the OECD, and has become one of the world’s innovators in Hi-Tech, Bio-Tech, medical advances and Security.
Where BDS activism goes, antisemitism follows. There has been a disconcerting increase in antisemitic incidents on South African university campuses where BDS is most active. Reported incidents include harassment and antisemitic vandalism. Just a year ago, UCT(University of Cape Town) witnessed vandalism that saw a stolen Israeli flag being defaced during “Israel Apartheid Week”. These actions violate the South African Constitution’s laws against propagating hatred.
The emerging picture is worrying. Besides BDS’s antisemitic strategy to delegitimise the only Jewish state and to hold it to different standards to the rest of the world, the movement hides behind its argument that it is not antisemitic but “anti-Zionist”, all the while seeking to blur the distinction between the two concepts. It ignores the Jewish right to self-determination whilst promoting its distorted definition of Zionism as a “colonialist” policy that seeks to “take over control of land and resources and forcibly remove Palestinians and engages in ‘ethnic cleansing’.”
Even worse, it rewrites any manifestation of Jewish identity that does not fit its propaganda; and aligns Jews with the old colonialist powers and the former South African apartheid regime. I was personally exposed to this at a panel discussion I attended on Israel in 2016 at the University of Cape Town (UCT).
It was shocking, even worse it was frightening!
With anti-Israel activists in the panel like anti-war activist and author Terry Crawford-Browne and former Minister for Intelligence services Ronnie Kasrils, the discussion was not so much about Israel as against Israel. Typical falsehood fare from the panellists included:
– “Israel was established by colonialist Jews who destroyed the existing Palestinian state”
– “Innocent Palestinians were being murdered by the IDF”.
I raised my hand to speak but was ignored by the transparently prejudiced moderator and then when a young woman student in the audience – probably unknown – was recognised and manage to bravely rebut some of the outrageous allegations from the panelists, she was met with rousing audience hostility and scorn. It was intimidating. The climate of hatred and antisemitism disguised as anti-Zionism at the gathering was not something I had personally experienced before in South Africa. Sadly, this type of behaviour is commonplace on campuses around the world.
The hosting of such on-campus activities dangerously conveys the message that acting violently towards innocent people with a different perspective is justifiable and acceptable. In effect it compromises other students’ security. This manifestation of lies and distortions appears also in our daily media posing a danger to any student in South Africa; by inciting others to cause bodily harm or damage to property.
Since the 2005 call by Palestinian civil society for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei recently took it to a new level when he urged the Muslim World to boycott anything and everything that originates with the Jewish people.
Barghouti ignores the generally accepted truth that while criticism of any country in the world is legitimate, BDS criticism of Israel is foundationally and fundamentally antisemitic.
As the truth about the Middle East conflict filters through, and BDS’ carefully crafted façade is exposed, its true antisemitic character is revealed.
A case in point is that of Norman Finkelstein, one of BDS’s poster boys, whom the organisation brought to South Africa to bolster its campaign against Israel. In an interview at London’s Imperial College with Frank Barat in March 2012, Finkelstein, while still critical of Israel, was at least honest enough to reveal the true intentions of BDS behind its disingenuous crafted façade with this statement that totally took the BDS-supporting interviewer by surprise:
“BDS is nothing more than a cult….The problem with these solidarity movements is that they are a mirror image of the so-called Palestinian Authority, whose means will never achieve their goal, which is the destruction of Israel.…Step out of your little cult, your little ghetto, and you enter the real world. I’m not going to lie, you don’t want to enforce the law, you want to destroy Israel.That you focus on Israel’s minorities and not the plight of the 10-million other minorities throughout the Middle East and elsewhere is an indication of what hypocrites you are. Israel has a case and I am tired after so many years having to consider and answer these lies.”
Over time – by its own actions and words, the true colours of the BDS movement as a hate-filled organisation peddling in lies and distortions to further its ends is being revealed. That desired “end” is the end of Israel.
This might explain the growing number of once BDS supporters seeing through its subterfuge and disowning the organisation’s destructive message.
About the author
RODNEY MAZINTER. Rodney is a Cape Town based writer, poet and author, who is involved in media activism on behalf of Israel. Currently vice-chair of the SAZF Cape Council, he has held numerous leadership positions within a range of educational, sporting, secular and Jewish organisations. His novel By A Mighty Hand was favourably reviewed on Amazon.
How Israel’s fortunes can spin on a single call of nature
By David E. Kaplan
Watching on TV the ceremony in the Knesset of the new incoming government accompanied by the rousing heckling by the disgruntled, many were left with the question:
“Yes, maybe the leftovers of overripe produce at the shuk (market) but what was the alternative?”
In the midst of a global health and economic crisis, a fourth election was hardly desirable – simply a prelude to another wasteful two billion shekels boring pitstop on the track to then a 5th election.
And then what?
We needed to escape this seemingly endless electoral carousel. It reminded me of that song in my youth by The Kingston Trio called “The man who never returned” – about a man buying the wrong ticket and stuck forever on a Boston train – hence never to return.
Feeling imprisoned in a Corona lockdown, Israelis were worn-down waiting for a leadership to “RETURN” the country to some semblance of normalcy.
Budgets need to be passed and monies allocated to move the country forward.
People nevertheless will ask, what if neither Bibi nor Benny – the revolving PMs – had said NO!
“What If?” is always a fascinating question in wondering how differently things might pan out!
Thinking to past pivotal, some even apocalyptic, moments in Israel’s history, we can ask:
– What if Rommel’s African Corp had not lost the Battle of El Alamein in 1942, leaving the German Wehrmacht free to steamroll northwards to Palestine?
– What if Prime Minister David Ben Gurion had not demanded the unification of ideologically diverse Jewish armed forces during the War of Independence to forge a national army?
– What if Commander of the Irgun Zva-i Leumi (Etzel) Menachem Begin had not said the words, “Do not shoot back”, when the Irgun cargo ship, the Altelena came under attack off the coast of Tel Aviv?
– What if Israel had not taken out the Egyptian Air Force in the opening round of the Six Day War?
– What ifPrime Minister Menachem Begin had not embraced the peace process with Anwar Sadat of Egypt or authorized the surprise bombing of the nuclear facility in Iraq in 1982?
To this list we can add another “What If?” – an act so insignificant at the time of its commission but over time monumentally consequential!
It is generally agreed that the bedrock of Israel’s foreign policy to this day has been its unshakable relationship with the United States and its dependence on it supplying sophisticated weaponry to retain its qualitative edge. This was achieved at a meeting between Israel’s Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol and the US President, Lyndon Baines Johnson. The meeting was of existential importance, particularly so following France – Israel’s longtime backer – suddenly imposing an embargo on the very eve of the 1967 Six Day War.
I recall in my interview in Jerusalem with the late Yehuda Avner who had been the advisor to Levi Eshkol and accompanied him on his trip and meeting with “with the beefy, vigorous six-foot-three, President Lyndon B. Johnson”. The meeting took place at the President’s Texas ranch, where Johnson liked to entertain heads of governments in what he dubbed, “Barbeque Diplomacy” because it enabled him in a relaxed country atmosphere; to get a measure of people that could never happen in Washington.
“After an exchange of “Howdy’s”,” recalled Avner, the President said he wanted to show us around his ranch and so, taking over the driver’s seat of his station wagon from a brawny fellow in a ten-gallon Stetson, he told us to hop in.” The Prime Minister, “portly, mild-mannered, stooped, bespectacled and balding with a wise, family-friend countenance,” sat in front with LBJ. while Avner squeezed into the back with two others in the Israeli delegation.
“The president drove at high speed across white-fenced fields and gunned the vehicle down dirt tracks, causing all to bounce crazily about. As we approached a pasture, a cluster of cows bolted in alarm, leaving one cow that stubbornly refused to budge.
“That’s Daisy,” LBJ roared with laughter. “She’s as pigheaded as a Texan senator with colic.”
Holding firmly onto his homburg for fear it might fly off, Eshkol turned round to us in the back and with a bewildered expression asked in Yiddish: “Vus rett der goy?” – “What’s the goy talking about?”
The meeting that followed was tough, with the Americans taking the position that “by providing Israel with arms; this would only escalate an arms race during a time when America was embroiled in an unpopular war in Vietnam. After two days of talk, Eshkol finally won the day when President Johnson indicated that Israel would receive the aircraft, and a deeply relieved Prime Minister responded:
“Thank you, Mr. President. I thank you from the heart.”
Lyndon B. Johnson kept his word. Historically, a profound change in the relationship between Jerusalem and Washington was set in motion. America threw in its strategic lot with Israel, so that, henceforth, it would become Israel’s main source of sophisticated weaponry.
“This strategic alliance, for all its ups and downs,” said Yehuda, “endures as a bedrock of U.S. bipartisan support, for not only does it enable Israel to retain a qualitative edge in the face of extraordinary odds, it is the indispensable key to any process of peace in the future.”
Eshkol’s dogged determination showed he could stand tall alongside the defiant personality the likes of a cow named “Daisy!”
All this however would not have happened, had LBJ not decided at a precise moment in 1942 to relieve himself at an airbase toilet.
Already in the Naval Reserve since January 1940, Johnson had been a 33-year-old Representative from Texas when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour on Dec. 7, 1941. Then, on the 9th June 1942, Lieutenant Commander Johnson boarded a plane called the Wabash Cannonball for a mission in the South Pacific. While the Wabash Cannonball was on a bombing mission, Johnson’s participation was as an observer to inspect and report back to President Roosevelt; of Japanese troop movements over New Guinea. No sooner had he boarded the B-26, nature called. Toying with the decision to “hold it in” or go to the toilet and catch the next bomber, he chose the latter and alighted from the plane. After relieving himself, he then joined the crew of another bomber, the Heckling Hare, that was crippled in the middle of its mission by a failed electrical generator, and then had to struggle back to base under enemy fire.
LBJ was lucky. The Wabash Cannonball was hit by enemy fire and crashed with a total loss of life.
To the list of Israel’s “What Ifs?”, one can add:
Where would Israel’s relationship be today with regard to the US, had a young Lyndon B. Johnson not had the desperate need to take a pee!
* Title Picture: A bathroom in the White House and Lyndon B. Johnson. US National Archives/Mike Nudelman/Business Insider
A colossus against global evil – the Nazis – how would South Africa’s WWII leader have shone today against a global disease – Covid-19?
By Philip Weyers, great-grandson of General Jan Smuts.
A few days ago, “Lay of the Land” Editor, Dave Kaplan, posed to me what I thought to be an interesting question:
“How would a Jan Smuts’ government have dealt with the Corona crisis?”
Before being a Soldier-Statesman, my grandfather was a brilliant scholar. While one of his tutors, Professor Frederic William Maitland – regarded as the modern father of English legal history – said of Smuts “the most brilliant student” he had ever met, Lord Todd, the Master of Christ’s College, said that “in 500 years of the College’s history, of all its members, past and present, three had been truly outstanding – John Milton, Charles Darwin and Jan Smuts.”
While offered by his old Cambridge college, Christ’s College, a fellowship in Law, he declined, choosing instead to return to the Cape Colony, determined to make his future there. He sure did!
Apart from leading his country inspirationally through WWII, Smuts contributed substantially to the creation of both the League of Nationsand the United Nations – writing the preface to the U.N. Charter. Participating in so many milestone happenings of the 20th century, it should come as little surprise that the only person to have signed the charters of both the League of Nations and the United Nations was General Jan Christiaan Smuts. Sadly, Smuts’ United Party lost the election in 1948 to the Nationalist Party of D.F. Malan that introduced Apartheid – system of institutionalised racial segregation – that existed to the early 1990s.
Of course with Smuts gone for nearly 70 years any attempt to answer the question relating to Corona would be purely speculative and based on our understanding of his personality and how in the past he confronted monumental challenges.
I do however believe we have sufficient evidence to create at least some credible scenarios.
Covid-19 made its presence known with people dying in droves in Wuhan, China, subsequently high percentage of deaths followed in Italy, Spain, the UK and the USA where New York City has been the worst hit.
The South African Government did react relatively swiftly applying lockdown measures with individual movement restricted to medical reasons and the purchase of essential items. Socialising of any nature was forbidden. Initially there was understanding and compliance from the vast majority of the urban population, but in the informal settlements, life continued much as usual. It is important to note that the initial lockdown included prohibitions on the sale or purchase of inter alia cars, clothing, hardware, children’s toys, stationery including puzzles and of course the two “sin” items – alcohol and tobacco products.
It is reasonable to believe that Jan Smuts would have reacted in much the same manner initially; he would have been attempting by best means possible to combat what was for the entire world – a complete unknown. It is also fair to believe that Smuts would have permitted a larger component of the South African economy to remain active than was the case, under conditions to minimise the transmission of the disease.
After nearly five weeks of what was advised to be “Stage-5” of the lockdown, President Ramaphosa advised that their efforts had been successful in slowing down the spread of Covid-19 and that there was to be a move to “Stage-4” on 1 May. Perplexing the public – some amusingly others irritatingly – the sale of alcohol remained illegal, while tobacco products could again be purchased. Much joy and relief followed this announcement, not least of all the11 million South Africans who smoke!
Those who were missing a drink resorted either to the highly active and exorbitant black-market or started brewing their own mampoer – South Africa’s highly intoxicating “moonshine” derived mainly from pineapple. Within days of President Ramaphosa announcing a relaxation of the sale of tobacco products, it was announced by Nkosana Dhlamini-Zuma, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, that the matter had been re-assessed and the tobacco would remain embargoed, resulting in astonishment and much anger amongst the population.
It is at this point I believe that Jan Smuts’ path would have taken a significantly divergent course to that adopted by the South African Government, and in a number of ways.
The Great Communicator
Jan Smuts was an accomplished communicator, and believed in the value of accurate, comprehensive, and regular communications. He was a prodigious correspondent and a highly accomplished writer – in longhand – of his own speeches. It would be inconceivable that at a time of such perceived threat and uncertainty, he would not regularly appear on all media platforms, placating and reassuring the population, certainly he would not have been silent for weeks at a stretch.
We can see today from Smuts’ many speeches how his voice resonated with his audience and how he instilled confidence. This is precisely what is needed today and is surely lacking!
Furthermore, it would be inconceivable to believe that a Smuts Government would not have consulted every credible source of expertise covering such essential aspects as the economy, medical (in particular epidemiologists both locally and abroad), commerce and business and modelled the regulations imposed according to guidelines that he would have gleaned from such consultations. A balance between all critical elements would have been achieved as far as possible.
Smuts would have realised from the start that trying to legislate a population into compliance, would have produced at best short-term results. He would not have been autocratic, aggressive nor condescending when dealing with the people. He would have been well aware that compliance would result from cooperation rather than legislation, particularly when the regulations would seem – with some justification – to be nonsensical and of little tangible value.
To achieve public compliance would invariably have involved law-enforcement but certainly no heavy-handed and unnecessary force. Violent enforcement would not have been tolerated – particularly of petty contraventions.
There can be no doubt that following the initial lockdown and greater scientific data became available offering the wisest counsel to this “mystery disease”, Smuts would have moved swiftly to get the economy back on track. It would have been clear to Smuts that without revenue, a government is restricted in its ability to control or treat the virus.
Disrespect To Disregard
Essential to gaining the people’s support and compliance is to return their lives to as normal a situation as possible. Smuts would realise that a population will only adhere to regulations while they present at least some logic and make sense even at an unsophisticated level. Nonsensical and seemingly irrelevant restrictions would enjoy a short period of compliance before the public at large despaired and disregarded them. The extended restrictions on clothing, for one, were apparently devoid of logic and benefit.
One could buy a long-sleeved shirt, but not a short-sleeved one! Ladies could buy “winter” shoes but not shoes with open toes!
Smuts would not have countenanced such nonsensical regulations believing them rather to further aggravate an already incensed population.
One can of course hypothesize almost without end how the ‘soldier-statesman’ Smuts would have mounted a campaign to counter Corona. In truth, we could never really know. I sense that a Smuts Government would not have acted very differently to the Ramaphosa government in the initial four-week period, but beyond that period, there would have been a marked divergence.
Therefore I feel confident to surmise, that under a Smuts leadership, South Africans would be in far better position than that in which we currently find ourselves.
About The Writer
Philip Weyers is Past Executive Director of General Smuts Foundation. An “Amateur historian” on Jan Smuts, the South African Air Force and the Royal Air Force, Weyers is President Emeritus of the South African Air Force Association. He is currently a member of SAAFA NEC; SAAF/SAAFA Liaison, Foreign Relations. As a “Friend of Israel” and like the “Oubaas”, a confirmed Christian Zionist, he addresses audiences in Israel and England.
There is nothing like a major global crisis to test the mettle of even the strongest people. During this Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen global leaders either flying – or flailing. It has tested our own personal strength and endurance. Non-Profits and social welfare organisations have been called to step up stronger than they ever have. One organization has more than risen to the challenge and has proven yet again why it is the backbone of Israel as the country navigates its way through this corona crisis – WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation).
Celebrating its centennial in July, WIZO has for the last century been a bastion of support since its founding and today is no different! WIZO is working on several fronts to make sure that Israel’s citizens of all ages are well taken care of and protected – especially the most vulnerable. The Covid-19 is unprecedented in modern history and requires new, creative ways of doing things – while maintaining optimal safety and health guidelines.
WIZO has worked closely with the authorities to ensure the best possible solutions in the most efficient time.
Helping Combat Gender Based Violence (GBV):
As the global community battles the Covid-19 virus that has killed so many, ravaging economies as it continues its spread, so another silent and potentially deadly phenomenon grows – domestic violence.
There are many vulnerable women and children trapped at home in lockdown with someone who could be or is abusive. This is not a situation that is unique to Israel, but it is making headlines. Since the start of the pandemic, 5 women in Israel have been killed. These are just the statistics that we know of – many cases, physical or emotional, are not often reported.
“We aren’t prepared for the tsunami that’s going to happen; we’re talking about an extreme situation that we’ve never seen before,” says Rivka Neuman, Head of the Advancement for the Status of Women division at WIZO, which operates shelters and hotline. “We are seeing normative families reporting violence for the first time, and a worsening of the situation in families that have been in the cycle of violence.”
WIZO runs hotlines, including two for men with the hope of breaking the cycle of violence. The organisation recently opened a third shelter where women and their children can be removed from danger and protected while having to undergo the quarantine that is expected.
WIZO’s hotlines are operating at capacity and the men’s hotline is no different. Established six years ago, the hotline provides counseling for men who are in distress and allows them to have an initial, accessible dialogue about the difficult feelings they have. The line provides mediating facilities along with continuous professional care. Manned exclusively by male volunteers who have been trained by professionals, men are able to call while remaining anonymous.
“We are trying to change the public discourse in Israel and to implore men who are in the cycle of domestic violence, whether they are abusive or abused, not to remain alone with their pain and suffering, to call and receive assistance in order to escape the violence cycle, “says Avi Mor, Coordinator of the WIZO Men’s Hotline.
With news about rising domestic violence around the world making headlines almost daily, WIZO once again proves its mettle at the vanguard of fighting this growing scourge.
Taking Care Of Children Of Frontline Workers
Israel’s frontline workers are protecting lives around the clock – but who is looking after their children? WIZO is ensuring that our medical professionals and many others who are performing vital services have peace of mind while they work.
WIZO was the only organization that was given permission to keep day care centres open at four hospitals – Hadassah, Ichilov, Assaf HaRofeh and Barzilai. This is testament to the trust that the government and the citizens of Israel have in WIZO.
Children of healthcare workers who normally do not attend these particular day centres were able to attend and their parents were able to focus on the task at hands while knowing their children were in the best possible care.
Protecting Our Elderly
Making sure our savim (grandfathers) and savtot (grandmothers) are safe!
Looking after the most vulnerable in society is one the things that WIZO does best! When it was announced that extra measures would have to be taken to protect Saba and Savta (grandpa and grandma), WIZO immediately mobilized. The big concerns apart from potentially contracting the virus, was the emotional and psychological toll being separated from family, especially grandchildren.
In WIZO’s Parents Home in Tel Aviv, every precaution that ensured the most sensitive emotional support was deployed. One of the greatest concerns was how to hold the traditional Pesach seder. Many were dreading this holiday where families traditionally gather; but the staff found a solution which brought residents together while keeping with social distancing laws. Each resident had their own table and was able to happily participate. This was repeated for Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day), allowing for happy residents to participate in a sing a long and truly make the best of celebrating during lock down.
Residents were so happy with their care, that they awarded their caregivers with this beautiful award:
We, the residents of the WIZO Parents’ Home in Tel Aviv,
Hereby award a Medal of Honour
to all those involved in the management of this residence during the Corona crisis.
We declare the WIZO Parents’ Home in Tel Aviv to be a shining example to be followed for all facilities and organizations responsible for the care of seniors, both independent living and those requiring nursing care.
This Medal of Honour recognizes the dedicated and thorough care and treatment provided by the staff to the residents from the outbreak of the Corona crisis till now. The staff has taken excellent care of all the residents and does not compromise on the health and comfort of those in their care.
We are deeply appreciative of the endless devotion of the staff of the Parents Home, led by Chairperson Riki Cohen and Director Yair Efrati, and proud to have such a wonderful, professional and caring institution carry the WIZO name and tradition.
May you continue to care for Israel’s seniors for years to come in health and happiness.
WIZO is delighted to report that Covid-19 tests were carried out on all residents and staff and there are no infections. WIZO’s Parents Home is Corona free!
This is just a snapshot of the work that WIZO is doing. There is also legal aid, especially for women in the workplace and the protection of their rights, protecting our students in a variety of schools, many of whom come from difficult situations at home, counselling for parents and a host of other supportive services.
All around the world, WIZO’s venerable global army of volunteers; are working around the clock to make sure that all of this work is supported. Our Chaverot have been champions – holding events via Zoom (or “WIZOoming” as we call it) to make sure that not only do we stay in touch; but hold activities to support our cause. The Corona virus has challenged us to be as creative as we can and in this uncertain economic time, where non-profit organisations have been particularly hard hit, creativity is a necessity.
In the last 100 years, WIZO as a global organization has endured wars, fascism, communism, Apartheid and now a global pandemic. While we know that this too shall pass, the commitment and dedication of WIZO leadership, staff and volunteers, both in Israel and globally, is the secret to our resilience and is the reason why when it comes to a crisis – you will find WIZO on the frontline.