The Arab Voice

November – December  2021

Arab writers opining on the political landscape of the Middle East question the efficacy of the British government’s action against Hamas; prognosticating on the thinking of  Iran’s new leaders and the lessons to be learned from Israel’s successful state-building methodology.

Designating Hamas a Terror Organization Isn’t Enough

By Meshary Al-Dhaidy 

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, December 3

Last week, the United Kingdom’s parliament approved the designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization, effectively outlawing the Palestinian group that rules the Gaza Strip. This is a misleading and perhaps even contradictory decision given the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood – the organization from which Hamas drew inspiration – still operates freely out of the heart of London. In fact, roughly 30% of the Brotherhood’s proceeds are generated and collected in Britain. The same is true of Hamas. Through 13 organizations and associations based in the UK, Hamas has been funneling money into its own hands, behind the authorities’ backs. Most of this has been done with the help of the Brotherhood and its robust presence throughout the UK. Indeed, Heshmat Khalifa, the head of the UK’s largest Muslim charity, used his Facebook page to describe Hamas as “the purest resistance movement in modern history.”

Targeting Terror. Home Secretary Priti Patel  – seen here with PM Boris Johnson – described Hamas as “fundamentally and rabidly antisemitic” and said there’s no difference between its military and political wings.

He further suggested that classifying Hamas’ military wing as a terror organization is a “disgrace to all Muslims.” Keep in mind that this is the very same person who managed a fund totaling over 7 million British pounds targeted at various Muslim charities and causes. It has also been revealed that Brotherhood leaders helped funnel money to Hamas by wiring donations collected in the UK into several Egyptian companies which, in turn, transferred the money into the Gaza Strip. Therefore, it’s clear that the British decision against Hamas is devoid of any practicality and efficacy. The only way to truly cut off Hamas’ funding is to cut off funding for the international Muslim Brotherhood organization. The Brotherhood is a vital organ without which Hamas cannot exist. If we want to kill the snake, we mustn’t aim at the tail, but at the head.

 Meshary Al-Dhaidy 

New Faces and New Fears in Tehran

By Amir Tahe

Asharq al-Awsat, London, November 3

What do you do when you feel an urge to do something but, at the same time, you’re embarrassed about doing it? This is the exact question that Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei faced this week, as he contemplated how to deal with one of his annual rituals celebrating the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran and the taking of US diplomats hostage on November 4, 1979.

During the eight-year tenure of President Hassan Rouhani, the celebration of this occasion mellowed and turned into a small, symbolic gathering at the site of the old embassy, consisting of a few camera shots taken for State TV.

In the past two years, in particular, many of the prominent elements that have always been associated with such a celebration have disappeared.

Quo Vadis? Where does Iran go with its new hardline President Ebrahim Raisi, known as “the butcher of Tehran”?

For example, the annual “A World Without America” symposium, which for decades has been attended by anti-American professionals from all over the world (including from the United States itself), was completely removed from the program. The likes of Louis Farrakhan, Oliver Stone, Sean Penn and other self-hating Americans weren’t invited to make their annual pilgrimage to Tehran.

Similarly, Iranian readers were spared another translation of Noam Chomsky’s latest hate speech against the United States.

Among the other missing events was “The End of Israel” symposium that brought together Holocaust deniers from all over the world, and the accompanying international antisemitic cartoon exhibition.

However, with the rise to power of President Ebrahim Raisi, there was widespread expectation that some of these vitriolic rituals would be revived.

Surprisingly, however, this did not happen. Even stranger, it seems as if the new Iranian leadership chose to reduce the annual celebration even more.

Officials tried to do this in several ways. Among them was an attempt to attach other slogans to the “November 4 events” that were supposed to celebrate “the humiliation of the American Great Satan.” Among the new names given to the events were: “the anniversary of Imam Khomeini’s Exile” in 1964 (even though this happened on the fifth of November, not the fourth). Another title was the “day of the massacre perpetrated by the shah against primary and secondary school students and children” in 1976, although nothing like that happened at all.

It is clear that Raisi is almost as determined as his predecessor to tone down his government’s anti-American rhetoric.

The question is why? After all, a large part of the current regime’s discourse revolves around the claim that the previous government abandoned its jihad against the “Great Satan” in exchange for empty promises from former president Barack Obama.

One explanation is that the new regime believes that the “Great Satan” has already been significantly weakened, as was clearly evident in its recent evacuation from Afghanistan. According to Ayatollah Tayeb, the political-religious commissar of the Revolutionary Guards, the United States today is like “the carcass of a dead donkey that doesn’t even need to be skinned.”

Pursuing Old Hatreds. Demonstrators chant slogans on 4 November 2021 during a rally in front of the former US embassy commemorating the anniversary of its 1979 seizure in Tehran, Iran (Vahid Salemi/AP Photo)

However, such arrogant and ostentatious remarks often compensate for real fear.

In this context, the first fear is that the Biden administration may not be keen to repeal the policy of “maximum pressure” pursued by former president Donald Trump, which pushed the Islamic Republic to the brink of bankruptcy.

Another fear is that Biden, even if he wanted to, might not be able to lift enough sanctions on Iran, especially since lifting most sanctions requires the approval of the US Congress, which Biden cannot take for granted.

Another concern is that Biden may have given Israel the green light to carry out “limited, but decisive action” against Iran’s nuclear sites. Such a move would force the regime to cross the redline it has adhered to for four decades by providing a real response to military action against it.

Accordingly, Biden’s next step will be decisive. If the president gives in too easily, he may breathe new life into the demons of “old Tehran.” If he chooses to blow out empty statements, he may miss an opportunity to lend a helping hand to those seeking real regime change in Tehran. 

Amir Tahe

The Unhidden Jewish Secret

By Ahmad Al-Sarra

Al-Qabas, Kuwait, November 4

There is a huge gap between the Jews and their enemies or, more precisely, between Jews and the Arab world. This gap is not only represented by Israel’s military superiority over its neighbors, but also in its more progressive culture and conscience.

On the map, Israel looks as if it could easily be swallowed by its neighbors in a matter of seconds. However, it’s clear that it isn’t going anywhere. Although Arabs have lived in this region for thousands of years, what separated them has always been greater than what united them. In contrast, in Israel – where the overwhelming majority of the population immigrated from countless ethnic and cultural backgrounds – a unifying culture has been formed. Israelis were able, with limited resources and under the harshest conditions, to build up a national identity that is nothing short of a miracle.

So, what is Israel’s secret?

The Muslim Brotherhood is considered by many to be the only ideological and political organization capable of uniting people across the Middle East under one joint identity, similar to what the Zionist movement sought to do in the first Zionist Congress held in Basel in 1897. In only half a century, the Zionist movement succeeded in realizing its dream and established a modern state capable of imposing itself on the whole world. As for the Brotherhood, it has been trying for more than 90 years to do the same, but has failed time and again.

The success of the Zionist movement and the failure of the Brotherhood movement are due to several factors.

First, the Zionists succeeded in recruiting the best scientific and political minds to serve and lead their cause, regardless of these individuals’ adherence to traditional Jewish thought. This is what the Brotherhood failed in, as its choices were miserable from the get-go. The very nature of the Brotherhood precludes anyone who doesn’t adhere to the group’s view of Islam to actively take part in its activity.

Nation Building. Arabs in the region recognize how Jewish pioneers placed education as a top priority long before Israel’s independence as seen here with the construction in 1912 of the  Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.

Second, whereas the Zionist movement was open about its goals, the Brotherhood always suffered from a lack of transparency about its ideology. No one truly knows the group’s plan for governance or its ultimate plans. We saw this clearly during its rule in Egypt, Tunisia and Sudan.

Third, and most important, the historical interest of the Jews in science and their known passion for reading and academic inquiry allowed them to establish a state with strong educational and cultural institutions from day one. As for the Brotherhood, it has proven its inability and failure scientifically, politically and culturally for nearly a century.

Finally, allow me to end with the following parting thought: A study conducted by the well-known American Pew Research Center in 2016 showed that the average Jew has 13.4 years of education, followed by Christians, with 9.3 years.

I’ll spare you the embarrassment of knowing what the same rate stands at in our countries. 

– Ahmad Al-Sarra

*All articles translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Lay of the Land Weekly Newsletter- 12 December 2021

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

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


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Beautiful People Beautiful Country

For the first time in history, Israel hosts the Miss Universe pageant, taking place TODAY – 12 December – in Eilat on the Red Sea. Lay of the Land trusts the contestants will return to their countries inspired by the achievements and beauty of the Holy Land  and the warm hospitality of its people.



A South African Lunch at Israel’s Reichman University

It left much to chew on!

By David E. Kaplan

Bon Appétit! South African students at Israel’s prestigious Reichman University enjoy a Hanukkah ‘boerewors’ barbecue.

Built on an IDEA of one man – its inspirational founder Uriel Reichman – Reichman University is about promoting new IDEAS for a rapidly changing world. A lunch gathering serving good SA cuisine – “boerewors” – proved another good IDEA for the ever-increasing number of South African students at Reichman University.    

A South African Lunch at Israel’s Reichman University

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Tefillin against Terror

Jews around the world honour the memory of Eli Kay by doing good deeds in his name

By Michael Kransdorff

Eli’s Legacy. As was his practice and joy, Eli Kay (z’l) guides an Israeli soldier to put on Tefillin.

When 25-year-old Eli Kay – an immigrant from South Africa – was gunned down by a Hamas-affiliated terrorist in Jerusalem on his way to pray at the Western Wall with his Tefillin in his hand, it was that “Tefillin” that was retrieved from the murder scene that set in motion a way to honour Eli and share his legacy.

Tefillin against Terror

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Respect for Freedoms

Israel scores high on Freedom House Global Score

By Bev Goldman

Israel Illuminates. An Islamist party led by  Mansour Abbas, makes history by joining an all-Jewish governing coalition.

As authoritarian actors grow bolder and democracies around the world are undermined from within, most illuminating is the 2020 report on Israel by the independent Washington DC based organization, Freedom House  that tracks global trends of political rights and civil liberties. Analyzing the core components of Israeli society, the Jewish State scores high, a shining example to ALL its enemies, NONE of whom are ranked as “free countries”.

Respect for Freedoms

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LOTL Co-founders David E. Kaplan (Editor), Rolene Marks and Yair Chelouche

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While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).