Two Faiths, One Direction

By Sarah Ansbacher

I saw him from across the road, his eyes darting towards the entrance to the Aden Jewish heritage museum in Tel-Aviv . I could tell he was thinking about coming in for a visit even before he stubbed out the cigarette he was smoking; and crossed the street.

From his unhurried gait he didn’t appear like a tourist, but neither did he look like a local. He greeted me in accented English – Australian, as it turned out to be.  He told me that he is posted here for a year, working for an international organization. But I could tell his origins weren’t from Australia, as he confirmed, while I answered his questions about the history of the Jewish community in the region of Aden and Yemen; and he told me his family was from around that region.

“From Yemen?”,  I asked.

“Nearby. My father is from Sudan and my mother from Egypt.”, he replied.

He grew up in Australia. One foot in the west, the other in the east – retaining something of the heritage and Islamic faith of his family, and speaking both English and Arabic. But he also surprised me with a few sentences in Hebrew which he’d learnt at university in Melbourne.

I took him around the museum, telling him about the exhibits. And I pointed out a couple of pictures that I thought would be of particular interest.

“That was the synagogue in Port Said, Egypt. There was once a large community there, many of whom came originally from Aden.”

‘What happened to them, did they eventually integrate into the rest of the population?’ he asked.

‘No,’ I whispered. ‘They were all forced to leave in 1956 – along with most of the Jews living in Egypt.’

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The “Ohel Moshe” synagogue inaugurated in 1911 in Port Said Egypt (Photo courtesy: Dr. Rudolf Agstner, Vienna – Beth Hatefutsoth Photo Archive)

The shock was evident on his face. And so he came to learn something of the history of the vanished communities all around the Middle East.

As we continued, he asked if he, as a Muslim, was allowed to visit a shul (synagogue). In all his time in Israel, he hasn’t yet done so. I told him of course he could and took him up to visit ours. He donned a kippa, and he gazed around in wonder, admiring everything. I explained the  various features to him. For example, that the person who leads the services faces the same direction as the community.

‘Just like in a mosque,’ he replied.

The reason why you won’t find any depictions of our prophets or pictures of Rabbis there.

‘Just like in a mosque,’ he said.

We talked about how the problem isn’t all the different religions, but those who come and turn it to their advantage – and as something to use against others. There was no dispute, just agreement.

I pointed out the Aron Kodesh (the ark in a synagogue that contains the Torah scrolls) and explained to him, ‘Every synagogue around the whole world faces in the direction of Jerusalem. Just like every mosque faces Mecca.’

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Aron Kodesh – the ark in a synagogue that contains the Torah scrolls facing toward Jerusalem

‘I never knew that,’ he replied.

He gazed up at the stained glass windows and to my surprise he then said a Hebrew phrase about God. Contemplating, we stood in silence for a few moments. Two people from different worlds, backgrounds, religions but who pray to the same God.

We stood there, facing Jerusalem.

 

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Sarah Ansbacher is a writer and storyteller. She also works at the Aden Jewish Heritage Museum in Tel Aviv.
*Feature picture: Two faiths, one prayer: Muslims and Jews come together to pray. (Photo:Jewish Journal)

Salivating On The Sidewalk

A ‘Melting Pot’ of where east meets west, discover Tel -Aviv’s ‘Top 10’ ranked Street Food Scene

By David E. Kaplan

With a reputation as “the  city that never sleeps” Tel Aviv provides a plethora of time to eat!

In a recent survey conducted by CEOWORLD – a business magazine and news site for CEOs, CFOs, senior executives, and business leaders – Tel Aviv nabbed seventh slot in a list of The World’s 50 Best Cities For Street Food-Obsessed Travelers.

Looking at the best cities for travelers who love street food, the data for its Street Food Index 2019 drew from a survey conducted over three months – mid-July to mid-September  – of 92,000 business travelers and 1,400 corporate travel agents in 86 countries.

Preceding Tel Aviv’s 7th’s lot was Singapore which took the top spot, followed by Bangkok, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Mumbai and Rome.

The familiar proverb “When in Rome…” apples as much to Tel Aviv, so when in the coastal town ranked by Time Out as the N0. 1 city in the Middle East with “a notorious reputation as a wild non-stop city with a great nightlife and music scene”, tuck into its unique street cuisine.

 Despite the availability today in Tel Aviv-Jaffa of cuisine from all over the world, what remains most popular is its signature ‘street food” that is definitively local and an ‘appetizing’ introduction into Israeli culture.

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Letting Loose In Levinsky. Like these young folk, the Levinsky Market is the perfect place to refuel your body and soul.

After exploring antiquities to art galleries and still have an ‘appetite’ for more, where better to sink your teeth deeper into Israeli culture, then trying its cuisine, and where better to take your first bite than on Tel Aviv’s bustling, pulsating streets.

Blaming the weather for all manner of things is fashionable the world over. Less so in Israel!

It may be that our tasty, popular street food is indebted to Israel’s perennial sunny and warm weather. The fact that one can walk outside and eat outdoors, has created an easy laidback cuisine that gels with the Israel temperament – open, candid and ‘catering’ for loud and boisterous conversation.

Most countries have some indigenous street food, so what’s Israel’s most popular and where best to look?

 Some Like It Hot!

The one indisputable street food that has developed into a national dish is falafel. These are balls made of hummus and spices and fried in deep oil.

It is usually served in a fresh pita (round pocket bread) with a variety of salads, tahina (paste made from ground, hulled sesame seeds) and pickles, and if you enjoy fiery hot sauce then you must add skhug (a hot green or red Yemenite chili sauce). Folk with more sensitive palates might dismiss this relish more suitable for gas tanks than gullets, but for most seasoned falafel eaters, it’s a vital component.

“You don’t eat a hot dog without mustard. Same as falafel – you add skhug,” says Avi from Ramat Gan, who the writer met tucking into his falafel in pita at Dr. Shakshuka in Jaffa. “This is one of my favorite places for falafel and Shawarma,” says Avi. His wife Ruti was tucking into a shawarma, but without the skhug. “Not for me,” she says, with Avi adding, “she’s hot enough already!”

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Passport To Pleasure. Young visitors from the USA on the Taglit Birthright programme get a literal taste of Israel enjoying falafel in pita. (Photo by Justin Dinowitz)

If in the typically Israeli family of street-food, falafel is the favourite son, then its favourite daughter is shawarma. It comprises cuts of meat (usually turkey, but originally shawarma was made of mutton) which is packed into a pita or laffa (a large Iraqi pitta, which one fills and rolls like a huge taco), with salads and French fries. And if you are wondering why the French  fries, it’s a case of mid-east meets west.

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Street Aroma. GPS in Israel – follow your nose. (Photo by Jonathan Kramer)

One of the most popular ethnic eateries in Jaffa, Dr. Shakshuka takes its name from the dish Shakshuka, which is a pan-fried casserole of poached eggs and spicy tomato sauce, the restaurant’s most popular dish.  Dr. Shakshuka’s many versions of this dish emanate from Libya and have solidly cemented a reputation in Jaffa over three family generations in the business.

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Tasty & Tangy. Shakshuka meaning “mixture” in Berber languages, is a North African dish of eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce with vegetables.

Believing they are “specialists” in this cuisine, explains the “Dr” in the restaurant’s name. But there’s much more here to enjoy: Tripoli-style couscous with mafrum (potato stuffed with ground meat, served with stewed beef and vegetable soup); stuffed vegetables; kishke (North African-style intestine stuffed with meat and rice); grilled lamb patties; and fresh grilled or fried fish. Main courses come with a spread of fresh pita and eight Middle Eastern salads.

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Inside Story. Off the sidewalk in Jaffa you enter the alluring world of the famed Dr. Shakshuka.

Best Kept Secret

While hummus, falafel, and even shawarma, are well-known outside the Middle East, sabich – described by one food critic as “the ultimate Israeli street food” – remains one of the country’s best-kept secrets.

Sabich is a pita stuffed with fried eggplant, hard-boiled eggs, hummus, tahina, and vegetable salad, while some versions contain boiled-potatoes as well. Pickled cucumbers, chopped parsley, and onions seasoned with purple sumac are usually added, as well as the sauces skhug or amba.

While making sabich may seem simple enough, true lovers of it say that preparing it “just right” is an art form that few truly master. One, who according to Tel Aviv folklore has earned this title of ‘master’, is Oved Daniel, referred to as the “Diego Maradona of Sabich”. Like the revered Argentinean who dominated football in his day, Oved, has been dominating Israel’s sabich scene from his little corner on Sirkin Street in Givatayim, adjacent to Tel Aviv, for nearly three decades. Customers are reputed to flock there from all over the country. Tel Avivians now no longer have to make the trek as Oved subsequently opened a branch in Tel Aviv on Karlebach Street.

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Sabich ‘Say No More’. While falafel enjoys all the street food fame, its lesser known cousin – sabich – is not far behind. It is a glorious synergy between pita bread, egg, eggplant, vegetable salad, with humus tahini and amba.

Oved reveals that “People eat here from all over the world, and many ask about opening branches in the States. I tell ’em, “Forget it, it can’t be done!” They won’t be able to find the right ingredients and importing them will impair the quality.”

Oved offers a sound solution to their problem – Visit Israel often

While some might assert that hummus and falafel are essentially Arab dishes ‘adopted’ by Israelis, sabich is unarguably a local Israeli concoction. The core ingredients can be found in the traditional Shabbat-breakfast of Iraqi Jews, but the idea of putting them into a pita and eating them as a sandwich is purely Israeli. Apparently, the credit for this culinary achievement rests with one Sabich Halabi, an Iraqi immigrant who opened what is believed to be the first sabich stand in Ramat Gan in 1961.

One central quality sabich eatery is on the corner of Dizengoff Street and Frieshman Street simply called – Sabich Frishman. It is reputed to be the first place that locals recommend, and as one food critic wrote:

 “If lines and smell give any hint of quality, it’s hardly a surprise why.”

While many of these street food eateries are referred as “hole-in-the wall” establishments, one must not be put off – this is part of their charm, and often the less attractive on the outside, might be a cover-up for the best food in town. This is typical of Tel Aviv cuisine deception.

Another top Sabich establishment that comes highly recommended is Sabich Tchernichovsky whose food one food critic described, “rivals my grandmother’s.”

Could you ask for a better endorsement?

He continues:

“From the moment you walk in, you know you’re in good hands. Despite the ever-existent line, the employees take their time constructing each and every sabich.  Each ingredient is layered artfully in the perfect pita, providing the ideal combination of flavours in every bite.  The delicious eggplant is thin and crispy, packing a flavourful kick with its unique and unidentifiable seasoning.  It combines well with the soft creaminess of the boiled egg and pickled flavor of the amba.”  There is also the option of ordering your sabich with a cheese that “is both gentle and tart, balancing the smoky eggplant and flavourful egg yolk.”

Yemen On The Yarkon

Included in the long list of tantalizing Israeli delights, dishes necessitating salivating overseas visitors to board a plane is Jachnun, described as “heavenly Yemen pastry.”

While Jachnun is available at eateries across Tel Aviv, you may want to enjoy it in an absolutely authentic setting – its Yemenite Quarter.

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Yemenite Jachnun

A charming, twisting enclave of cobblestone streets, low-slung buildings and some of the best home cooking, Tel Aviv’s Yemenite Quarter   – also known as  “Kerem HaTeimanim” or as locals call it “The Kerem” –  is one of the world’s last thriving communities of Yemenite Jews.

Described poignantly; as well as poetically by Debra Kamin in Fodor’sTravel as “a community with a stopped clock…. where stout grandmothers stir rich, cartilage-thick soups and gossiping neighbors gather in courtyards under the hush of flowering pink mulberry trees,” where better that to savor Yemenite cuisine and in particular Jachnun.

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Take A Jaunt For Jachnun. For authentic Yemenite street food cuisine venture to the colourful neighbourhood of Tel Aviv’s Yemenite Quarter.

Left in a slow oven overnight, Jachnun  is prepared from dough  which is rolled out thinly, brushed with shortening (traditionally, clarified butter or samneh), and rolled up, similar to puff pastry.  turns a dark amber colour and has a slightly sweet taste. It is traditionally served with a crushed/grated tomato dip, hard boiled eggs, and the traditional hot sauce Zhug. The dough used for Jachnun is the same as that used for the Yemini flatbread – malawach.

Another delight, malawach resembles a thick pancake  consisting of thin layers of puff pastry brushed with oil and cooked flat in a frying pan.  It is traditionally served with hard-boiled eggs, Zhug – of course – and a crushed or grated tomato dip. For those who prefer a sweet taste, it is frequently served with honey.

A staple of  Yemenite Jews in Israel, it has become a favourite “Street Food” for all Israelis irrespective of background or ethnic origin.

 Best GPS – Your Nose!

No serious ‘explorer’ of Israeli street food can avoid a visit to Abulafia in Jaffa. It’s almost ‘universal’ popularity is best expressed by an overseas patron sounding more like a frequent ‘pilgrim’:

Here are your directions. (1) Board plane for Tel Aviv, (2) Clear immigration and customs, (3) Ask taxi driver to take you to Abulafia. You could tell him that it is in Jaffa, but he already knows.”

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Pastries For Peace. One blogger wrote that the iconic bakery ‘Abulafia’ in Jaffa “owned by an Israeli-Arab family and staffed by Jews, Christians, and Moslems, is a place where people of all religions both literally and metaphorically break bread together every day.”

Open 24-hours a day, this street-side bakery has been located at the same corner in Jaffa just south of the Jaffa clock tower since 1879, and there are always crowds ordering at the counter. It’s hard to walk past without stopping to order, the smells draw you in, and “once hooked, you’re an addict,” said one customer from Holon who was buying to take home a huge supply of fresh and flavored pitot, bagels, sambusak (stuffed pastry with mushrooms, egg and different cheeses), and a variety of sweet confectionary. “Was it for a party?” I curiously inquire.

“Nope, I have a big family with healthy appetites.”

And while in Jaffa, one must try the local bourekas, a puffed pastry introduced mainly by Jewish Bulgarian immigrants. Its filling is either white cheese, potato or mushrooms. While it’s as easy to find bourekas in Israel as it is to track down falafel, however, just like snowflakes, no two are alike. And like the quest for the best falafel, shwarma or sabich, bourekas-makers have their “to-die-for” customers.

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On The Ball. Known as the “Diego Maradona of Sabich”, Oved Daniel serves his world famous sabich.

Bourikas Leon’ on Oleh Zion Street is the oldest Bulgarian bakery in Jaffa. The owner Avi Cohen is a third-generation Bulgarian in Israel and the bakery, named after his father, was started by his ‘Grandma Julie’ who arrived in 1948 “and was the first to make the phyllo pastry that people would come from all over Israel to buy. This was even before she went into the bourekas business.”

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Tastes Divine. Heavenly little parcels of dough crisped with hot oil or melted butter and stuffed with any number of delicious savory ingredients, Bourekas are nothing short of edible perfection. Like Italy’s calzone, Spain’s empanada and India’s samosa, these nutritious and filling pastries are the perfect portable snack while browsing through Tel Aviv’s shuks (markets).

Is bourekas still such a popular food today?

“Absolutely,” answers Avi. “Each year we have more and more new customers while still keeping our local, loyal customer base. It’s funny,” he says, “many of the young people who come today for a bourekas are the children of my father’s customers and the grandchildren of customers ‘Grandma Julie’ served.”

Street Wise

While street food is generally labeled ‘fast food’, and assumed unhealthy, this is not necessarily the case in Israel, where Israelis tend to eat more turkey than red meat, and always accompanied by mounds of fresh salad. It’s practically unheard of to have a meal in Israel – whether at a restaurant or a sidewalk eatery – without lots of salad.

This is why cities like Tel Aviv are vegetarian and vegan friendly.

Most people might not know but Tel Aviv is considered to be the world’s VEGAN capital! There are over 400 vegan-friendly places in Tel Aviv and new ones popping up every week or so  that “vegan-friendly” means at least 25% of menu items are plant-based.

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Hot Off The Pan. Offering fresh Bourik at Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market.

While the Tel Aviv’s ‘Street Food’ scene, cannot escape the big-name international chains such as the hamburger behemoths, they however, do not dominate the market. They may allure their customers by illuminating their presence with big, bright colorful lights; still, they are no match still for the small, unassuming sidewalk eateries attracting their loyal customers by offering quality, wholesome Israeli street cuisine.

People in Tel Aviv certainly love their side-walk food.

Join ’em!

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Shuk’ing Time. Enjoying food on the walk in Tel Aviv’s Shuk HaCarmel or Carmel Market. (Photo by Matthew Scott)

Israel – A land beyond conflict

By Rolene Marks

Israel is a tiny sliver of land in the Middle East, barely the size of the Kruger National Park in South Africa or New Jersey in the USA yet seems to enjoy a disproportionate amount of coverage in the media – often focused on the conflict with the country’s Palestinian neighbours.

A disproportionate amount of airtime and column inches are dedicated to coverage (and I use that term loosely because often fact and context are the first victim of headlines) and more often than not Israel is portrayed as the aggressive Goliath to the more passive Palestinian David. In the court of public opinion it could appear that Israel is nothing but a country perpetually mired in conflict.

There is so much more to Israel; a country which may be bantam in size but punches like a heavy weight.

Israel is a leader in so many fields. Let’s look at some of this tiny country’s greatest achievements:

A helping hand – Humanitarian assistance:

Wherever disaster strikes, be it natural or man-made, Israeli is one of the first to respond – even to countries with who there are no formal bilateral ties.

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Israeli commandos rescuing wounded men from Syrian warzone

Even though hostile relations exist between Syria and Israel, and between Israel and the Gaza strip, Israeli humanitarian aid continues to be dispensed. The IDF ( Israel Defense Force), at great risk to the soldiers, embarked on Operation Good neighbour during the height of the Syrian civil war and brought thousands of wounded Syrian adults and children into Israeli hospitals for medical treatment.

Every day, under the supervision of the IDF body called COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories) thousands of tons of aid are sent into the Gaza strip from Israel.

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IDF sends tons of aid to Gaza daily

Recently, Israel sent assisstance to the hurricane struck Bahamas by sending portable water purifiers along with the other aid including Post Trauma counselling.

Israeli aid NGO, IsraAid, is ever ready to be deployed, along with the IDF to parts of the world where humanitarian assistance is most urgent.

Today, while Turkish forces engage in conflict with the Kurds,  Israel has not only dispatched humanitarian aid to displaced Kurdish refugees but has also provided medical care for Kurd refugee children in our hospitals.

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IsraAid, brings humanitarian assistance to victims of an earthquake in Italy. (Credit times of Israel)

Army of the people

Israel’s army  is so much more than a sophisticated defense machine. It is a citizen army, and is as widely inclusive as possible. While conscription is compulsory for Israel’s Jewish citizens who are able to serve, many Arab, Druze and Bedouin citizens in fact volunteer for service. In the last few years, these numbers have increased.  The army tries to be sensitive to the cultural boundaries of these communities.

But minority communities are not the only sectors of society that the IDF include.

The IDF has introduced a programme called Special in Uniform in conjunction with JNF-USA and Lend-a-Hand to a Special Child, which helps to integrate people with mental and physical disabilities into the army to enable them to make meaningful contributions to the country. Special in Uniform includes a three-month course on occupational skills to teach disabled young adults to function independently and contribute to society in a positive way.

Soldiers who have participated in these programmes have gone on to have bright and better futures. We salute them!

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The IDF: Most Humane Army in the World

 

Where the prophets walked

Home to the three Abrahamic religions, Israel is the place where Judaism, Christianity and Islam meet.

Where else but in Jerusalem can you hear the Imam calling the Muslim faithful to prayer while church bells peal and the melodic Hebrew incantations at the Kotel (Wailing Wall) sound out?

Even though Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, freedom of religion is enshrined in the Israeli Declaration of Independence. While it is sometimes a complex issue, the right to worship as you choose is protected. Israel is also home to the Bahá’í World Centre – the name given to the spiritual and administrative centre of the Bahá’í Faith. The World Centre consists of the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh near Acre, Israel, the Shrine of the Báb and its gardens on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, and various other buildings in the area including the Arc buildings.

Whether it is intoning ancient prayers or meditating in downward dog, all faiths are welcome. Perhaps this is why Israel is the Holy Land?

Innovation nation

Living in a neighbourhood where there is perpetual threat can turn one into the master of necessity.  As a result, Israelis have had to be fairly innovative. As Israel’s first Prime Minister, David ben Gurion once said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”

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Israel’s first Prime Minister was a believer in miracles – today Israeli innovators are bringing them to fruition.

Israeli innovators do not only believe in miracles – they create them! Israeli innovation has become so attractive that it is attracting billions of dollars of investment and acquisition. From life-saving diagnostic tools, to the Re-Walk exoskeleton that helps paraplegics walk again, to hi-tech inventions like firewalls and communications technology and many,  many more including WAZE, low drip irrigation, Mobileye,  Israeli know how is changing and improving the world on a daily basis.

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Giving new hope to paraplegics. The Re walk Exoskeleton is making mobility possible (credit CNNMoney).

Make it Rain – Environmental leaders

Climate change is having very serious repercussions on global weather patterns. Many countries that in the past enjoyed high levels of rainfall are now severely drought-stricken. Today, water has become the most sought after commodity and wars have been started over access to sources.

Israel, being a desert country knows only too well the challenges that come with having no water.

Israeli start-up, WaterGen has developed a machine that can literally create water out of thin air! It has been so successful that it has been deployed to desperate communities around the world and even played a role in humanitarian efforts. In 2018, WaterGen machines were sent to northern California to provide clean drinking water for US police and firefighters battling major fires.

Water is not the only area in which Israel is helping to preserve the environment. The country is a leader in breeding programmes for endangered species such as rhinoceros, re-forestation, recycling of plastics, pursuit of natural gas,  high percentage of vegans and so much more.

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Israeli start-up WaterGen, creates water out of air and is helping to bring much needed relief to drought stricken areas across the globe.

Golda would kvell – Women’s rights leaders

Famous for her razor sharp wit, Israel’s first female Prime Minister, the formidable Golda Meir would be quite proud of Israel’s current record on the status of women – and that we continue to work for this to be improved.

In a neighbourhood where women’s rights are often eroded, Israel stands out. Apart from being one of the first countries in the world to have a female head of state, women in Israel are not only active in society but are leaders in their fields that include politics, philanthropy, entrepreneurship, minority communities, social welfare, education, the military, arts and culture, science, medicine and technology and so much more.

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A female combat soldier is put through her paces – Israel’s women are part of the fabric of society and are leaders in their fields, including the military. (Credit Public Radio International)

 

We can vote, drive, and own property and business. We can make decisions that govern our bodies and our communities and if we want to, raise a little hell.

The same cannot be said for many of the other women in our neighbourhood. Women in other parts of the Middle East are not as free as their Israeli sisters. In this part of the world, girls are often married off before they reach puberty or are killed because they have ‘dishonoured” their families. In this part of the world, women do not have the right to own property, vote, and receive and education or even drive. Gender Apartheid is rife.

Israeli women lobby and work hard to continue to elevate the status of women not just in our country; but in the region. Golda would kvell – I think she would raise her glass and toast L’Chaim to Israel’s women.

LGBTQ rights

In June the streets of Tel Aviv are decked with rainbow flags in celebration of Pride Week.  The city comes out in support of the civil rights of our fellow citizens and many across the country flock to Tel Aviv to march in solidarity.

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Israel is a haven for the Gay community in comparison to its neighbours.

While Israel may be a trailblazer in terms of tolerance for the LGBTQ community and is certainly the most accepting and progressive in the Middle East, there are still improvements to be made. Same-sex marriage is not performed in the country; however, Israel does accept and recognize common-law partnerships of same-sex couples that live together. There is always progress to be made, but Israel is certainly a leader of gay rights in the region.The IDF is LGBTQ supportive. The city of Tel Aviv is known to be one of the friendliest and most tolerant in the world and  Pride marches are also held across the country including in the capital, Jerusalem.

Israel is also a safe haven for many Palestinians escaping persecution for their sexual orientation.

Watch us on TV

I am not talking about the news – that is enough to raise anyone’s blood pressure.

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Israel’s hottest TV export, Fauda will have you hooked to its exciting, fast paced plot points. You can “Netflix and chill” while experiencing a taste of reality in the region.(Credit IMDB)

Did you know that some of your favourite TV shows are based on shows created in Israel? The award winning “Homeland” and “In Treatment” are just two of Israel’s stellar small screen offerings and have been followed by international hits like “Fauda”, “Shtisel”, “The Spy” and so many more.

Even our gal, Gal Gadot, has become a box office sensation! We always knew she was Wonder Woman; but now the world does as well.

 

People of the book

Israel has more books published per capita than any other country. And while we may be the people of the book, we are also the people of the book week. Israelis love reading – whether it is for pleasure or knowledge. Israel can boast one Nobel Laureate for Literature, Shmuel Yosef Agnon and award winning authors Amos Oz and David Grossman are just some of our writers who enjoy international support.

 

We are also now the people of the Facebook. Social media giant, Facebook has acquired several Israeli start-ups to increase their service and technology offering to users.

To the Moon – and beyond!

Israelis dream big. There is no such saying as the sky is the limit – we believe in pushing beyond that and reaching for the stars. And we did! In April 2019, Israeli NGO, SpaceIL, sent an unmanned spacecraft called the “Bereshit” (Hebrew for Genesis) to the moon.  On the 22nd of February, the Bereshit began its long anticipated journey and in April, entered lunar orbit and prepared for landing. If successful, Israel would be the 7th country, joining major powers like Russia, USA, Japan, China, India and the European Space Agency to have a presence on the moon.

 

The landing did not go as planned and while the Bereshit  crashed instead of descending gently, we still made it to the moon and this was a great achievement.   Morris Kahn, one of the sponsors behind the project, congratulated the team and spoke of a future second mission. Just days later, SpaceIL announced that they would not be attempting a second time but would rather set their target higher. We don’t know what they are planning; but we will definitely be along for the ride!

Israelis epitomize the tenet; if at first you don’t succeed, try to outdo what you did the first time. The universe, not the sky is our limit!

This is just a mere glimpse into the achievements that Israel has and continues to pursue. When the father of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl, envisioned a Jewish State that would live up to the tenet of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and would be in a position to help others.  Looking at what this 71 year old State has achieved, I think he would be proud!

 

The Israel Brief- 23-24 October 2019

 

The Israel Brief – 23 October 2019 – Gantz to start gov negotiations. Iran banned from International Judo Federation. US Congressmen shocked Twitter allows platform for Hamas and Hizbollah.

 

 

The Israel Brief – 24 October 2019 – Gantz officially accepts mandate to form gov. Welcome Virgin Atlantic and Sir Richard Branson. Israel helps Kurdish children.

Dance Under Fire

The rhythms of life on the Israeli side of Gaza border

By David E. Kaplan

A planned dance performance on the Gazan border  reminds me of the Gulf War of 1991 when Iraq were raining Scud missiles down on Israel and maestro Zubin Mehta  raced back from New York to conduct concerts. “I had many obligations in New York that should have prevented me from coming, but I couldn’t imagine not being here,” he said at the time, while he was director of the New York Philharmonic.  He conducted full-house concerts keeping his gas mask nearly as close to him as his baton, “just in case!”

“Can you imagine,” he told this writer in an exclusive interview on the occasion of his 80th birthday in 2016 in Tel Aviv, “Scuds where dropping out of the sky, possibly with chemicals but this did not deter Israelis from wanting to hear classical music.”

It sent a powerful and poignant message not to the likes of Saddam Hussein – a waste of time – but to the people of Israel who were asserting, despite the dire situation, their grit and love of culture.

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In ‘Love Is Strong As Death’, the troupe also uses marching music evocative of the military to express national pride, the importance of serving in the army and how it ties with human desire for personal space. (Photo: Gal Dor)

Fast forward to the present and again that characteristic is being expressed by Liat Dror‘s Sderot-based dance company which is staging a performance on the Gazan border to express “our humanity” in the face of living under constant attack. “It’s my responsibility to put on a show even under rocket fire,” says a proud and defiant Liat, artistic director at the Sderot Adama Dance Company.

So, what is daily life like, living “Under Fire”?

Senior social work supervisor at Ben Gurion University in the Negev (BGU), Yehudit Spanglet is a  post-trauma specialist who established the Connections and Links Trauma Center, a mobile unit that frequently brings her to Sderot – a city under fire.

“Without question there are hundreds of people in Sderot and southern Israel who live in a state of continuous trauma. Not only from the rockets which fall, but also from the booms of the Iron Dome defense system; which thankfully intercepts most of the incoming rockets. The blasts which resound in the sky can continue to echo in a person’s ears long after the attack. Many victims of trauma live in fear, even during extended periods of ceasefire. Every time the siren wails and people have to run for cover, the trauma damage from previous attacks is reinforced.”

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Living On The Edge. A rocket fired from Gaza directly hit a factory in the industrial zone of the southern Israeli city of Sderot, causing it to catch on fire. The fire led to further explosions inside the factory. (Photo credit: Edit Israel/Flash90)

She cites a visit to Sderot when the city came under attack, and outside on a street, “a woman stood paralyzed, staring up at the sky. Her neck had frozen in fright when the warning siren sounded. Before she could reach a bomb shelter, the missiles of the Iron Dome exploded, seemingly over her head. Her husband didn’t want to take her to the hospital in Ashkelon, so we slowly walked her home with her head still gazing up toward heaven. When she was back in her house, after speaking with her for half an hour, her neck muscles loosened and finally her body relaxed.”

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From Sderot To Paris. Liat Dror and Nir Ben Gal are the co-founders and directors of Sderot ADAMA Dance Center and the creative choreographers and managers of ADAMA Dance Company. They began dancing together at the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company workshop in Kibbutz Ga’aton. Their first original piece, “Two-Room Apartment,” won first place at the international “Biennale” choreography competition in Paris. They describe their choreographic style as a unique Israeli combination of movement, theater and contemporary dance.

Caught In Crossfire

In defiance of this situation of unrelenting danger for Israelis living near the Gaza border, a dance troupe from the Sderot Adama Dance Company will be staging a performance to emphasize what it is like to be caught in the crossfire – not only of aerial missiles but of “duty, humanity and the importance of the self.”

Liat and her partner Nir Ben Gal, say their new show titled “Love Is Strong as Death” will convey what it means to dance under rocket fire and create art under the thunderous sounds of air-raid sirens and the pounding booms of the missiles.

“Life near the Gaza Strip.” says Liat, “is constantly presenting us with difficult questions regarding the value of art when it’s not exhibited in a museum or safely appreciated in an air-conditioned theater hall.”

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Spicy Sderot. Adama dance company, under artistic directors Liat Dror & Nir Ben Gal launches “All’arrabbiata – a silent heart in a noisy world”. All’arrabbiata means ‘angry salsa’ in Italian. Says Liat, “Hot & spicy tomato with tangy onion salsa….The spiciness doesn’t dominate the overall flavor, but certainly makes itself felt.”

The dance company’s latest work  balances the situation of national pride and the need to personally defend one’s people – hence the inclusion of martial music in the musical score –  but also the human desire for personal space.

“This meeting between the two is very real in my everyday life in the studio,” reveals Liat. It began with her experiences serving in the IDF (Israel Defense Force) “and continued with the very difficult experience of being a parent to soldiers.”

She says the show tackles the real-life questions “of choosing love over war, of dealing with a complex reality and of accepting others – be it a spouse, a neighbour, or someone with opposing political views.”

She asserts that life in Sderot always highlights these questions and “keeps me on constant alert.”

While dance instructors anywhere else in the world might be concerned over issues of students facing personal problems or being ill, Dror is anxious:

Will we be able to rehearse? Will we get to finish that rehearsal or will the rocket sirens go off? After all, it’s my responsibility to put on a show even under rocket fire.”

She says the troupe uses recordings of “live music from past performances,” including “laughter from the audience, the creaking of the chairs and the sounds of breathing by those present.” To Liat, “it’s a form of correspondence, both with our past, and with its relevance to what’s going on right now in Israel, Sderot, or any place where the gaps are greater than the chance for peace.”

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Good Vibes. Zubin Mehta conducts a concert in 1977 at the opening ceremony of the “Good Fence” on the Israeli-Lebanese border. (photo by David Rubinger)

Music To Our Ears

When Israel was at war in Southern Lebanon in 1982, Zubin Mehta brought the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra a few kilometers across the border into a Lebanese tobacco field. “We erected a stage under a tent and played for a group of local Lebanese citizens.” After the concert, said Mehta, “the concertgoers rushed the stage to hug the musicians.”

Reflecting years later, “How I would love to see that sight again today,” said the Maestro, “of Arabs and Jews hugging each other. I’m a positive thinker. I know that day will come.”

 

 

* Featured Image: From ‘Love is strong as death’ (Photo: Gal Dor)

The Israel Brief- 16-17 October 2019

 

The Israel Brief – 16 October 2019 – PM appeals to Putin for release of Naama Issachar. Will Jordan renew 25 year lease? The Squad endorse Bernie Sanders as Democratic candidate.

 

 

 

The Israel Brief – 17 October 2019 – Netanyahu issues proposal to Gantz. US Ambassador reveals key point in peace plan. IDF shoots down drone from Gaza.

The Arab Voice

NO INTEREST IN ISLAMIST RULE!

The Arab people do not wish to be governed by Islamist parties

By Suleiman Gouda

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, October 1

When the first round of presidential elections in Tunisia took place in the middle of this month, Abdelfattah Mourou, the vice president of the Islamic Renaissance Movement, ran on a list of 24 candidates. When the result was announced, Mourou was not among the two candidates that advanced to the final run-off. The Ennahda candidate, which is usually described as the Tunisian version of the Muslim Brotherhood, received 13% of the total vote in the first round, coming in third after businessman and media mogul Nabil Karoui, and renowned Tunisian law professor Qais Said, who came in first.

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Fingers On The Pulse. “It’s our right and our obligation to vote,” said Nourhene Ben Chalbi (left) with Mariam M’hamdi and Sabri Mohamed showing their inked finger after voting. Simon Speakman-Cordall for The National

Interestingly, when the losing candidates came forward to challenge the results, Mourou was not among them. This can only mean one thing: Mourou understood what had happened and realized that his movement is simply unpopular among the people. The small share of votes given to Ennahda was commensurate with its shrinking popularity. This in and of itself was a kind of sensibility that we can only wish to see enacted by our own Brotherhood branch, here in Egypt. The Egyptian Brotherhood is still far from a point where it can reckon with its defeat. Its members still vehemently refuse to recognize their political insignificance and failure to rule the country.
After the first elections were held in Libya in the post-Gaddafi era, the Muslim Brotherhood contested the results. Their share of votes was barely enough to pass the threshold. This meant that nothing on the ground gave them the right to rule Libya.
However, they did not stop protesting, and until today target the army with all sorts of baseless accusations. If elections were held in Yemen today, the Houthi group would gain a similar share of votes to those won by the Ennahda movement in Tunisia and the Brotherhood in Libya. The meaning of this would, again, be the same:

The Arab people do not wish to be governed by Islamist parties! Not in Yemen, and certainly not in Libya, Tunisia, or Egypt.

Suleiman Gouda

 

 

 

ROUHANI AT THE UNITED NATIONS

By Radwan Al-Sayeed

Al-Etihad, UAE, October 2

Iran, caught in yet another misfortune caused by its reckless behavior, seems to always speak in two voices: One talks about global peace and security, and one creates problem and spews hatred in the region.

At the United Nations last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani looked like a peace dove. But don’t be mistaken: this peace dove has teeth. He wants peace in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz through a security system linked to charters and contracts. He wants negotiations, not war.
He said that the Iranians had treated the European initiative positively, but the Europeans could not deliver on what they had promised. Just as Iran accepts negotiations in every way, it has commendable efforts to cooperate in solving problems. From Syria to Lebanon, Palestine to Yemen, it is ready to help achieve peace!
Rouhani began his speech with prayers for the martyrs of the revolution. I tried to understand which “revolution” he was referring to. He spoke about the martyrs in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine and Afghanistan. But he neglected to mention that in all of these places, Iran has committed massacres either directly or indirectly, through its proxy militias. In Syria and Iraq, Iran participated in the killing of hundreds of thousands and the displacement of millions of others.
Just a few days ago, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah called on the inhabitants of the Syrian town of Qusayr (which housed more than thirty thousand citizens) to return to their homes, from which Iranian and Syrian militias had kicked them out. The very same martyrs Rouhani was talking about in Syria and Iraq are those murdered by ISIS, the Popular Mobilization, the Revolutionary Guards Corps, and Hezbollah – all of which are supported by Iran. And who carried out the coup in Yemen, which killed and displaced thousands? They are the Houthis trained and armed by Iran. But Rouhani, for some reason, wants to be a negotiator who solves these problems.
Needless to say, this makes absolutely no sense. Iran is the problem.

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Mixed Messages. In the Iranian president’s address to the 47th session of the United Nations General Assembly on the 25th September 2019, Hassan Rouhani – contrary to Iran’s aggressive behavior in the Middle East – spoke about a “Coalition for Hope” and called for “Let’s return to justice, to peace, to law, commitment and promise and finally to the negotiating table.” (Richard Drew – AP)

It is Iran that is influencing the militias to reject any diplomatic solution, even the Hodeida agreement, which Rouhani praises and extols. He would have been “proud” if the Houthis had cooperated in its implementation, but they – unbeknownst to him, of course – did not. In Afghanistan, Iran is involved in working with the Taliban against the legitimate government. In Palestine, where Israel is maintaining its brutal occupation of the Palestinian people, there have been several wars Iran needed in its bargaining with the United States.
Rouhani came to the United Nations after Iran targeted Saudi oil installations with guided missiles. The Europeans condemned the strike, but French President Emanuel Macron remained determined to get Rouhani and Trump in the same room. Rouhani refused until Trump promised to ease the sanctions on Tehran. Eventually, it was Teheran who came out with the upper hand. Wouldn’t it have been wiser for the Europeans to come to terms with Iran’s true identity, instead of rushing to embrace Rouhani at the UN? Iran needs to be spoken to in the language it best understands: that of threats and force.

Radwan Al-Sayeed

 

 

No To Blackmail

400 MILLION POUNDS FOR A BRITISH FEMALE PRISONER

By Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, October 2

Did you think that ISIS and other terrorist groups are the only ones to kidnap innocent people and ask for money in return for their release? Well, think again. You might be surprised to hear that Iran adopted the same modus operandi. The British government recently revealed that Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif asked Britain for 400 million pounds in return for the release of a British woman of Iranian origin who has been jailed for extortion charges in Tehran.
We have never, and will never, accept any suggestion that the UK government should pay Iran to release its nationals who have been arbitrarily detained in the country,” the British government, which exposed the negotiations, said in a statement. They must be released unconditionally. The UK will not be blackmailed, and the comments of the Iranian foreign minister will only further discredit the Iranian government.”
Indeed, Minister Zarif, with his usual double tongue, to which his listeners are accustomed, said his request for money in exchange for the release of the British detainee was meant to convince the Iranian court that the release of the prisoner is an exchange of British money owed to Iran, and that these funds accumulated and accrued interest! But we all understand that this is plain old ransom.

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Bring Nazanin Home. Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of imprisoned Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe outside the Iranian embassy in London with Vicky Foxtrot, MP for Lewisham Deptford & Shadow Minister for Civil Society. In April 2016, Nazanin and her two year old daughter Gabriella were arrested at Tehran airport after visiting family in Iran. Iran does not recognise dual citizens, and Nazanin has been illegally imprisoned ever since on false espionage charges. (Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA)

This is Iran’s old-fashioned approach. Indeed, its first “diplomacy” was the detention of 52 employees of the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979 for 444 days. Subsequently, it carried out several kidnappings, mostly through its proxy Hezbollah, which targeted Western civilians in Lebanon in the early 1980s and bargained against them.
This behavior continued during the war in Syria. The notorious Evin Prison in Tehran hosts dozens of detainees of British, Australian and other Western nationalities, most of whom were arrested for the purpose of bargaining. In this ongoing series of bullying as a state policy, we should not rule out the possibility that Iran, through its organizations in Iraq and Lebanon, abduct Americans with the sole hope that this would embarrass US President Donald Trump and push him to make more concessions vis-a-vis Tehran. This is Iran’s ideology, and without the world sending it a strong message of deterrence, it will continue to practice this diplomatic terrorism.
Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed

SA Anglican Church Joins BDS Against Israel

Strange how the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Africa- described at times as “genocide”- elicits no such  Southern African Anglican Church angst!

By David E. Kaplan

The highest and most prominent decision-making body of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA) voted this past September to join and support the international BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel.

Representing the Anglican Christian communities in southern African countries including South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique and Angola, the church passed the resolution in Johannesburg during its Provincial Synod, which takes place every three years.

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Partnering with BDS. Delegates from the Southern African Anglican Church which met in Johannesburg for the Provincial Synod, supported the BDS movement in its resolve against Israel.

The wording in the motion passed included “the situation in the Holy Land demands the attention of the Christian Church precisely because that is the place where Jesus Christ was born, nurtured, crucified and raised.”

Really?

The Holy Land where Jesus was “born, nurtured, crucified and raised” lies located mostly in the Muslim  Middle East – the precise region where the Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Rev. Justin Welby expressed in 2018, “Christians Face Imminent Extinction” and not by the hands of Israelis.

Writing at the time in the Telegraph, the Pope revealed that “Christians face daily the threat of violence, murder, intimidation, prejudice and poverty. …..Many have left. Hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes. Many have been killed, enslaved and persecuted or forcibly converted. Even those who remain ask the question, ‘Why stay?’”

He concluded with “Across the region, Christian communities that were the foundation of the universal Church now face the threat of imminent extinction.”

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Winds Of Change. A gust of wind blows Pope Francis’ cape as he delivers his speech fearing Christians will disappear from the Middle East. (Photo: AFP)

Why did the SA Anglican Church focus its “demands” on Israel?

The bias and antisemitism was all too evident with the Anglican church outlining “the differences between the Biblical Israel and the modern State of Israel,” and warning its members “not to conflate the two entities, as well as the ideology of Zionism and Judaism.”

It also described the situation in Israel and Palestine as “… worse than apartheid.”

This proved music to the ears of Hamas – which strives for the destruction of the State of Israel and directs rockets at Israel’s civilian population whenever it sees fit – whose spokesman  Basem Naim responded with glee to the Anglican decision as it “encourages us to continue our struggle against the occupation.”

Excepting, Gaza is not occupied other than “occupied” by Hamas who have turned the lives of its residents there into a living nightmare.

Ask the former Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Rami Hamdallah, who narrowly survived a suspected Hamas assassination attempt in 2018 while visiting the Gaza Strip from the West Bank. He hurriedly retreated from the “occupation”, never returned and then resigned as Prime Minister in January 2019.

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Copts Struggling To Cope. The Copts of Egypt are one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East.

Report Of ‘Revelations’

As much as Palestinians attempt to hide the reality of persecution of Christians – or blame Israel –  it’s difficult to refute the truth and the math.

A sure barometer of dwindling Christians in the region is ‘revealed’ in the very birthplace of Jesus – Bethlehem. Once a predominantly Christian city where Christians formed an 86% majority, today that figure stands at fewer than 10% and dropping.

The situation is even worse in Gaza, where among the thousands of Christians who used to live there, only a few hundred remain under the constant threat of persecution, with serious limitations on Christian ceremonies and holidays, and effectively without human rights.

While the future of Christians living under the  PA and in fact the entire Middle East is uncertain – even the Pope fears “Christians will disappear from the Middle East lamenting “a Middle East without Christians would not be the Middle East” – the situation is different in Israel which not only allows but protects the safe life for all religious minorities.

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Stop The Slaughter. Appeals in Egypt.

Nightmare In Nigeria

What’s more, as the Southern Africa  Anglican Church set its sights northerly at the Holy Land, they could have looked far less north to see what was happening to their fellow Christians in Nigeria.

 Note the following outcries in quotes:

  • It’s tough to tell Nigerian Christians this isn’t a religious conflict since what they see are Fulani fighters clad entirely in black, chanting ‘Allahu Akbar!’ and screaming ‘Death to Christians”,” reported Sister Monica Chikwe to John. L. Allen Jr., Crux, August 4, 2019.
  • Hundreds of indigenous Numan Christians in Adamawa state were attacked and killed by jihadist Fulani herdsmen. When they tried to defend themselves, the Buhari government sent in the Airforce to bomb hundreds of them and protect the Fulani aggressors. Is this fair?!” asks Femi Fani-Kayode, former Minister of Aviation in the Daily Post (Nigeria), December 6, 2017.
  • Buhari is openly pursuing an anti-Christian agenda that has resulted in countless murders of Christians all over the nation and destruction of vulnerable Christian communities,” said Bosun Emmanuel, the secretary of the National Christian Elders Forum, 2018.

Between 2011 and 2015, the jihadi group Boko Haram committed ISIS-type of atrocities even before ISIS came into being, terrorized and slaughtered thousands of Christians, mostly those living in the Muslim-majority north. When in 2015, Nigeria’s Muslims finally got what they wanted – a Muslim president in the person of Muhammadu Buhari, taking over from Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, the violence did not subside but got worse. Muslim Fulani herdsmen – the ethnic tribe from which Buhari hails  – joined and even surpassed Boko Haram in their slaughter of Christians.

Reports reveal that between June 2017 and June 2018 alone, Muslim Fulani slaughtered approximately 9,000 Christians and destroyed at least a thousand churches. (It took three times longer for the Fulani to kill a fraction [1,484] of Christians under Jonathan’s presidency.) In just the first six months of this year, 52 lethal terror attacks targeting Christian villages occurred. “Nearly every single day, I wake up with text messages from partners in Nigeria, such as this morning: ‘Herdsmen stab 49-year-old farmer to death in Ogan,” human rights lawyer Ann Buwalda said in July.

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Christians, Cries, Coffins. Christian mourners carry coffins following an attack earlier in Nigeria in 2018 Thousands of men, women and children have been killed in Nigeria in what the country’s Christian community are condemning as “ethnic cleansing”.(Image: GETTY)

License To Kill

In short, it appears that its hunting season in Nigeria with Christians as the prey.  And by all accounts, it appears the hunters have a “license”!

Continuing, says former Minister of Aviation Femi Fani-Kayode, “The Muslim president Buhari has only awarded the murderers with impunity rather than justice and has staffed his government with Islamic officials, while doing essentially nothing to give the nation’s Christians, who make up half the population, due representation.”

While Christians were once the majority of Nigeria’s population, “the ongoing genocide against them” has caused their population to drop  to a level that Christianity in Nigeria is, according to the National Christian Elders Forum, “on the brink of extinction”.

How come the pious delegates in Johannesburg for the Anglican Church’s Provincial Synod in September spewed their wrath at Israel but failed to show concern closer to home for their fellow Christians in Nigeria?

Then again look what transpired in South Africa during September, the same month the Anglican Synod met and deliberated.  In a spate of xenophobic attacks, mobs attacked foreign-owned businesses in cities across the country. Although no Nigerians were killed in the violence, Nigerian-owned shops and businesses were targeted resulting in Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari travelling to South Africa, to resolve the issue of the welfare of his citizens. Nigeria repatriated around 600 of its citizens living in South Africa.

Of all the issues on the Anglican Churches agenda, the only one that it made “demands” of and will be well remembered as it made international news was its resolution in support of BDS to boycott Israel.

Bravo Bishops!

 

 

The Israel Brief- 02-10 October 2019

 

The Israel Brief – 02 October 2019 – Netanyahu’s pre-indictment hearing. Talks stall in forming new gov. Austria to vote BDS anti-Semitic.

 

 

 

The Israel Brief – 03 October 2019 – Dolev terror suspect caught. Developments towards forming government. AntiSemitism in Melbourne.

 

 

 

The Israel Brief – 07 October 2019 – Omar Barghouti gets his citizenship revoked. Israel sings historic non aggression pact with Gulf States. Violence in Arab community.

 

 

 

The Israel Brief – 10 October 2019 – Update on Yom Kippur shooting. Liberman presents his plan for unity gov. Saudi cleric condemns Australian anti-Semitic bullying of student.

 

 

Should South Africa Break Relations With Israel?

By Kenneth Mokgatlhe

South Africa has been an active participant in the Israel-Palestine conflict debate where its activists and academics suggest solutions. There are constantly calls led by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to boycott or sanction Israel. South Africa’s government took a difficult decision early in 2019 to downgrade its embassy to a liaison department in Israel to appease the Palestinians.

As South Africans, we acknowledge that all is not well in that region, but we want our government to be an active player in trying to break the impasse between the Israelis and Palestinians. South Africa has always respected the sovereignty of other nations and therefore should resist taking sides but set its sights on striving for meaningful peace for both paries.

Too quick to label Israel with apartheid, that South African abomination and the current Israel-Palestine situation differ significantly. They differ in their divergent histories, people, the time period, collective traumas, international and domestic narratives and security. Rather than being patently partisan, South Africa – if it is to contribute –  should suggest fair, just  and workable solutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and a prominent anti-Israel activist,  was recently in South Africa and was interviewed (see article below or link to the article) in which he made several comments accusing Israel of practicing Apartheid and several other untruths.

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Voice For Sanctions. Speaking in Lenasia, south of Johannesburg in September 2019, Mustafa Barghouti called on the South African government to downgrade its embassy in Tel Aviv.

https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/cape-times/20190920/281840055380901

Mustafa Barghouti’s understanding about the history of Apartheid is wrong. Apartheid was unique to South Africa. A political and social system introduced by the white Afrikaner Nationalist government, Apartheid enforced racial discrimination – the word apartheid means “separateness” in the Afrikaans language.

And yet, after 25 years of democracy, blacks only own 4% of private land, and only 8 percent of farmland has been transferred to black hands, well short of a target of 30% that was meant to have been reached in 2014.

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Sow The Seeds. Israel farms out its agricultural knowhow to small-scale farmers and producers in Africa helping break the cycle of hunger and poverty. Seen here is Israeli NGO Fair Planet founder Shoshan Haran introducing Israel’s cutting-edge seed technology. (Photo by /Fair Planet)

Barghouti should know that South Africans were given an inferior education system which only fulfilled the economic interests of the “master” (oppressor), and that this education tragedy still haunts us today, 25 years after democracy. Our people were not only dispossessed of their land, but they were also exploited by the multinational conglomerates which are still taking advantage of us today.

In 1960, South African police massacred 69 peaceful protesters in Sharpeville – mostly shot in the back while fleeing – and this system of state barbarity persisted towards the twilight years of Apartheid. A brutal and pivotal milestone occurred on the June 16, 1976, when police massacred over 100 proteststing schoolchildren who were resisting a new law that forced them to learn Afrikaans in schools. While not undermining the plight of the victims of the Israel-Palestine conflict, we cannot afford to erroneously compare the two tragedies.

Who are we helping and who are we hurting?

Can South Africa really afford to boycott Israel? What is the cost of this position? We have an economy which is dramatically declining and that may result in many companies closing down and ultimately people being retrenched. We always hear economists suggesting that we desperately need abundant foreign investment. Why then, should we obstruct Israeli companies from investing here that will benefit South African workers?

Our foreign policy should be determined by the interests of our own citizens. People want be part of the economy and that can be better achieved when foreign companies invest their expertise and capital in South Africa. This will benefit all our people – empowering them whether as employees or partners. South Africa is a peace-oriented nation  – and should not take sides in complex foreign disputes that could rebound negatively on the welfare of South Africa’s citizens.

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Big And Firm. Israeli NGO Fair Planet is helping Ethiopian tomato farmers improve their crops. “Their tomatoes used to be small and soft. Now they are bigger and firmer with a longer shelf life, and can be marketed to higher-end markets in a wider window of time. This is a life-changing opportunity, a tool to exit the cycle of poverty,” says Fair Planet founder Shoshan Haran. (Photo: courtesy)

Afterall, look at our behaviour with our northern neighbour – Zimbabwe. There, despite the former president, Robert Mugabe killing the very freedoms he originally fought for, South Africa chose not to interfere. It was silent in the face of patent abuse of its people. While the West (UK and USA) imposed economic sanctions against Zimbabwe, South Africa maintained being its most important trade partner. There was no talk of boycotts and sanctions!

When the opposition in Zimbabwe, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) – recently called on Pretoria to intervene in a political impasse, we were reluctant as our politicians made the case that it not in our nature to do so unless both parties wanted us to perform the role of mediator.

We fail to show such sensitivities when it comes to Israel!

Downgrading relations with Israel as advocated by Mr. Mustafa Barghouti will never resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict which dates back over a century. It is misguided for South Africa to believe it has the insights and expertise to play a role by being exclusively partisan.

This is not diplomacy but arrogance.

South Africa is a still a developing country – not powerful as Africa’s former colonial masters  – Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Portugal –  and therefore should be cautious as how it chooses to interfere in global conflicts.

However, no harm done in advocating for peace between people –  – but we should do so fairly.

Debate Not Downgrade

One positive point that Barghouti made in his article is that there should be national debate. However, “debate” is not South Africa dictating to others because it believes it knows best.

We are not a “colonial master” and should not believe we can dictate to others. Our brief should be to see peace triumph.

It is unwise to obstruct relations with a country like Israel that could contribute so much to our people. Engaging Israel will benefit our economy and introduce technological innovations from hi-tech to water management and agriculture. These are all areas that we could benefit from Israel’s cutting-edge expertise.

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Hot Off The Terrain. A local farmer harvests hot peppers on a Tikkun Olam Ventures pilot site in Butajira, southern Ethiopia, in June 2018. An American Joint Distribution Committee initiative, over 5,000 Ethiopian farmers participate in a $14 million agricultural loan and education program utilising Israeli agriculture technology and improved seeds. (Courtesy JDC)

We must  prioritize our people before anyone or anything else.

There are many countries across the globe that interfere in the affairs of other countries from the USA in Venezuela to Russia’s military  occupation of Crimea in the Ukraine.

Does South Africa take a position in these disputes? No.

One of our biggest trade partners is India, predominantly Hindu, that administers – some would argue treats as a colony –  Kashmir, and which has a longstanding dispute with Muslim Pakistan. Has South Africa taken a position over this conflict that has persisted since 1948 – the same year Israel became independent?

No again.

I am not dismissing Mustafa Barghouti’s struggle but  his appeal for South Africa imposing sanctions against Israel. Why? Because it penalises the citizens of the country doing the imposing. Following Mr. Barghouti will be denying South Africa’s population access to opportunities. We are living in a global village; we are more connected than ever, and politics should not divide people but rather unite them.

 

 

image006 (8).pngKenneth Mokgatlhe holds BA Honours (political science) from the University of Limpopo. He was a spokesperson of the Pan Africanist Congress from 2015 to 2018.  Mokgatlhe has written for Political Analysis South Africa, and is a frequent columnist for South African papers, notably – The Star, Sunday Independent, Sowetan and Cape Times.