False Alarm

NGO sensationalizes false narrative of Israeli ‘Apartheid’ to keep donor taps running

By Shaun Sacks

Last Wednesday, January 21, 2021, Eyewitness News  – a South African multi-platform news publisher (EWN) – ran an AFP story that again amplified the “Apartheid” smear campaign against Israel.

The latest installment to the “Israeli Apartheid” canard was credited to the “Israeli rights group” B’Tselem, whose analysis the AFP refers to as “hard-hitting.” However, neither the newswire service nor EWN saw fit to include any opposing point of view in their report.

From its initial headline, EWN misleads its readers by ignoring or knowingly disregarding facts that do not suit its preconceived narrative of Israel.  By referring to B’Tselem simply as “Israeli”, AP and EWN conceal the fact that almost two-thirds of B’Tselem’s budget comes from foreign [i.e., non-Israeli] governmental bodies. 

B’Tselem and many other NGOs annually take in millions in government contracts for “human rights” work. These NGOs then report back to their donors about the continued deterioration of human rights in Israel and the Palestinian territories, consequently asking donor governments for additional funds. This circular funding system ensures that B’Tselem and many NGOs like it remain well-financed and disproportionately vocal, despite their marginal role within Israeli society. Based on financial information submitted to the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits, B’Tselem’s income from foreign governments between 2016 and 2020 was over 14.5 million US dollars. This is in excess of R200 million, a staggering amount of money for a “rights organization.”

Inflaming Passions. An assault on Israel’s internationally respected Supreme Court depicting it as an instrument of suppression in this B’Tselem publication.

Even more troubling is that this exorbitant amount of money has, by B’Tselem’s own admission, been spent on objectives that were not achieved.  Despite receiving millions of dollars in government contracts to improve human rights, B’Tselem can now claim that they will need millions more because, in their words, “A [human rights] threshold has been crossed.”

In any other field, one may ask why programs that by their own admission do not achieve results should continue to receive funding. In the case of the Arab-Israeli conflict, however, human rights NGOs like B’Tselem are immune to criticism and will perpetually receive government funds as long they continue to fail.

B’Tselem publications are geared to foreign audiences, whether in South Africa or the United States, or Europe which supplies the majority of its budget. Its latest announcement, timed to coincide with the inauguration of President Biden, appears designed to latch on to trends in American politics. In declaring Israeli Apartheid, B’Tselem appear to be appealing to the more liberal policies of the new administration, but it also employs antisemitic language of “Jewish supremacy,” recalling the title of former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke’s 2002 book “Jewish Supremacism: My Awakening on the Jewish Question.”

As with its latest publication, B’Tselem has a habit of first finding Israel guilty, and only then defining the crime and preparing information to suit its predetermined conclusion. 

For example, in order to justify its Apartheid label, B’Tselem chooses to reclassify Israelis citizens into various categories. It then claims that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are disenfranchised – not because the PA has refused to hold elections since 2006 – but rather because Israel has not ceded sufficient responsibilities to the PA.  It is difficult to understand how the delineation of responsibilities and rights, mutually negotiated and agreed to by the internationally recognized Oslo agreements, is proof of “Apartheid.”  Moreover, it ignores the fact that the governing body in Area A of the West Bank is the PA and Hamas in Gaza.

Fingering Falsehood. A typically contrived B’Tselem poster portraying Israel as an Apartheid and injudicious Middle East superpower.

Media outlets enjoy amplifying sensational stories, and for reasons that are never fully explained, reports of Israeli wrongdoings, regardless of their factual veracity, are always sensational. NGOs like B’Tselem, which cannot appeal to their achievements for funding, now rely instead on sensationalism to keep their funding cycle going.


About the writer: 

Shaun Sacks immigrated to Israel from South Africa in 1998. He received his BA from Bar Ilan University. Before joining NGO Monitor as a Senior Researcher, Shaun was the Senior Project Manager for NETSOURCE, an Israeli firm that specializes in providing technology employment opportunities to Ultra-Orthodox communities, and emerging market manager for McAfee Inc.









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)

The Jews who fought back during the Holocaust

By Gabriel  Groisman, Mayor of Bal Harbour, Florida.

Our communal sense of history and peoplehood, and our ties to our religion and traditions, will continue to give us the strength to continue being a light unto the nations while our enemies fall by the wayside.

Last week, leaders from around the world commemorated those who perished at the hands of the Nazis during International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year, like most, there were statements recognizing and remembering those who were taken from us by people all over the globe. The recognition is critical and something appreciated by all from the Jewish community worldwide.

Much has been written about what needs to be done during the remaining days of the year to properly commemorate and educate the world about the horrors of the Holocaust, and what “never again” really means. A recent Pew Research poll proves that Americans’ Holocaust education is sorely lacking. For example, only 45 percent of Americans interviewed even knew that 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. Even fewer knew that Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany by a democratic political process.

Surely, what is far less known is how many Jews fought valiantly against the Nazis.

A group of female Jewish partisans. (Source: USHMM.)

But fight they did!

Jews fought back alongside resistance groups around Europe, organized uprisings in the ghettos, created partisan units and even fought back in the concentration camps, attempting to bomb a crematorium in Auschwitz. To properly commemorate the Holocaust, these stories must be told as well.

Group of Jewish partisan fighters in Soviet territories (Wiener Holocaust Library Collections)

To that end, I commemorate and honor the story of the following Jews who courageously fought back during World War II and the Holocaust. Their stories represent the thousands who fought to the end.

Mordechai Anielewitz

Mordechai Anielewitz

In April 1943, this leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising led 750 Jewish fighters armed with a handful of pistols, 17 rifles and Molotov cocktails  – all smuggled into the ghetto – in a clash with more than 2,000 heavily armed and well-trained German troops. They held off the Germans for 27 days.

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Leader. Mordechai Anielewicz (top right) amongst with members of Hashoer Hatzair wanted to show the world that Jews could counter the German oppressors in open battle. He died along with his brave comrades, defending a basement in Mila Street on May 8, 1943.

Boris Lekach

Boris Lekach

This one is personal. My wife’s maternal grandfather, Lekach fought for the Russians against the Nazis. He enlisted at age 16 with doctored papers just so he could fight. He was also well-known to many in the Jewish community in Russia for helping Jews escape during and after the war.





The Bielski Brothers

Made famous in a number of books and in the 2008 movie “Defiance,” the Bielski brothers – Tuvia, Asael and Zus – fled their city in Belarus after their parents and two other siblings were murdered. The brothers found shelter in the forest, where they created one of the largest and most effective partisan groups during the war, focusing on guerrilla attacks against the Nazis and their collaborators, as well as on preserving Jewish life even in their hideout. In a little more than two years, the Bielski group grew to about 1,200 people.

The Bielski Partisans. Named after a family of Polish Jews who organized and led the organization,  ‘The Bielski Partisans’ rescued Jews from extermination and fought the German occupiers and their collaborators around Nowogródek and Lida in German-occupied Poland.

Tosia Altman

Tosia Altman. A courier and smuggler to Warsaw Gehtto. Tosia Altman was captured suffering severe burn wounds and handed over to the Gestapo where she died.

A young woman who used fake papers to smuggle weapons and information in and out of Poland’s ghettos. She was an active member of the social Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, active in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising alongside Anielewitz and the other brave fighters.








Eta Wrobel 

Eta Wrobel.  Eta’s exclusively Jewish partisan unit of close to eighty people, set mines to hinder German movement and to cut off supply routes.

A young woman in her 20s, Wrobel helped form an all-Jewish partisan unit in the Polish woods. Her unit attacked German troops as they traveled through the area and is credited for saving the lives of hundreds of Jews.




Rudolph Masaryk

Rudolph Masaryk. A prominent member of the Treblinka prisoner uprising, Czech prisoner Masarek was killed on 2 August 1943.

On Aug. 2, 1943, at the Treblinka extermination camp, Masaryk and other Jewish prisoners stole 20 grenades, 20 rifles and a few handguns. Together, they attacked the SS guards, while another doused a large part of the camp with gasoline and lit it on fire. Approximately 300 prisoners escaped and 40 Nazi guards were killed during the Treblinka uprising.



May their memories be a blessing.

While it’s critical for the world to remember on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and on every other day that the Nazis rose to destroy the Jewish people, it is equally important for all to remember that the Jewish people fought back, and ultimately, as a people, we survived.

Today, the Jewish people not only survive but thrive. Our communal sense of history and peoplehood, as well as our ties to our religion and traditions, will continue to give us the strength to continue being a light unto the nations while our enemies fall by the wayside, as did Hitler and all enemies before him.






*This article first appeared in the JNS.

About the writer:

Gabriel Groisman is the mayor of Bal Harbour, Fla., and an attorney at Meland Russin & Budwick, P.A., in Miami. He has been a leader in combating anti-Semitism and the BDS movement, having written and passed the first municipal anti-BDS ordinance, as well as the first codification of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. He is a co-founder of the Global Coalition of Mayors Against Hate and Discrimination.








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)

Surviving the Shoah

Every year on the 27th of January, the world commemorates International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Of the six million Jews murdered in the Shoah (Holocaust) – one and a half million were children!

By David E. Kaplan

Entering  the Children’s Memorial at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem  – World Holocaust Remembrance Center – one is engulfed by darkness until one turns a corner and then suddenly overwhelmed by tiny flames from candles – a Jewish tradition to remember the dead –  that appear to reach out into eternity. Apparently, it might be one candle and through skillful mirror positioning, a single flame becomes many emerging endless. This is the point of the Memorial – that if the murder of ONE child is unbearable to bear then the innumerable flames help try apply the mind to the UNTHINKABLEone and a half million children snuffed out in cold blood!

Lives Lost. Each flame signifying a young Jewish child murdered in the Shoah at the Children’s Memorial at Yad Vashem  in Jerusalem.

The names of murdered children, their ages and countries of origin can be solemnly heard in the background – a roll call of the dead.

Visitors are left speechless; their only response – tears running down cheeks!

One child that survived that horror – though not her parents  –  was Roni Wolf from the city of Ra’anana in Israel. Her story of survival was revealed this month in an emotionally-charged global Zoom meeting together with her fellow survivors who had found themselves at an orphanage outside Brussels in Belgium during World War II. They had not seen each other since they were all young children together – in that  fateful orphanage where death stalked them!

The Zoom reunion on January 17, 2021, came about because of the research of a Jewish Dutch 24-year-old law student, Reinier Heinsman. While studying, Heinsman opted to volunteer at the Kazerne Dossin – a Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on Holocaust and Human Rights established within the former Mechelen transit camp from which in German-occupied Belgium, arrested Jews and Roma and sent them to concentration camps.

There, Heinsman became fascinated with the amazing rescue of some 60 orphaned Jewish children having been captured by the Nazis to be transported to Auschwitz on October 30th,1942. From photographs of the children he found at the Museum, he set about in tracing any surviving orphans. Over a period of eight months starting his research in May 2020, the intrepid investigator  reveals “I located five children in the photo who are still alive. The other six who participated in the Zoom reunion were from this orphanage but do not appear in the photo.”

All had been snatched at the eleventh hour from certain death.

The last ‘child’ he found was Reizel Warman, today Roni Wolf from Ra’anana, the only one living in Israel.

Dinner Time. Roni is bowing her head on the left during meal time at the orphanage.

On Sunday night, the 17th of January, the young law student welcomed the eleven Holocaust survivors on Zoom who last saw each other over seven decades earlier. Most of them today are living in the USA. Each of the former ‘children’ re-introduced themselves as ‘adults’ and told their life’s story. Each were truly indebted to Reinier who reveals he is unsure what drove him to tackle with such passion such a deep study of this magnitude that will soon appear in his soon to be published book, Jewish Orphans from Belgium in the Holocaust-Testimonies. Born to a Jewish mother and Christian father, Heinsman has never even visited Israel.

When Roni’s parents were herded onto the train for Auschwitz, they departed not from Antwerp but Brussels, where they had been  in hiding on Rue des Fleuristes. They had shortly before moved to the Belgium capital, “because it had a smaller Jewish population and they thought they could blend in and escape attention,” explains Roni. This proved to be true only temporary. Soon the roundups began in Brussels, and only days before the German’s came, Roni’s parents  Zalman and Malka, took their two baby daughters to their non-Jewish neighbours. Roni would later learn that her mother was murdered on the first day she arrived in Auschwitz; her father would succumb later from illness. “We only spent a few days with this family, who were terrified of the danger we placed them in. They then took us to Wezembeek, an orphanage for abandoned children outside Brussels.”

For a while, the children were safe.  

Wezembeek Children. Roni is in the front row second from the left with the white hood.

Explains Roni:

The orphanage was protected property as part of an understanding reached when Belgium capitulated in 1940, that the Nation’s children would not be harmed. This was insisted upon by the Queen. The Nazis adhered to this policy until one day in 1942, the trains bound for Auschwitz fell short of their quota. Precise by nature, the Germans would not countenance empty coaches. And if they could not meet their quota with adults, they knew where to find last minute substitutes the children at Wezembeek.”

Roni, who was 2-years-old at the time and her older sister Regina were amongst those herded onto the trucks and driven to the station. Luckily, the orphanage was run by a cool head in Madame Marie Blum!

The Wezembeek Orphanage where Roni and her older sister Regina Warman spent four years following their parents deportation to Auschwitz.

Marie had been assigned the post of manager of the Wezembeek Home when she was only 26 years old. On Friday afternoon the 30th of October 1942  – less than two months after Roni and Regina arrived at the home – the SS raided Wezembeek. As related by Marie later, the SS headed by a Dr. Holm, burst in with their firearms in their hands screaming and shouting orders. “Their aim was to frighten all into immediate obedience.” The men rushed into Madame Marie office and started ripping up the wires to the phone, breaking all telephonic contact with the outside world. Two staff members, Julia and Livine Kumps, were washing the corridor at the time.

The Wezembeek staff and boarders.

Dr Holm barked at Marie, “Are these two women Jewish?”

No,” replied Madame Marie, “they are outsiders employed on an hourly basis.”

Pay and get rid of them,” ordered an impatient Holm.

The Germans wanted little interference with what they were doing. After all, they were reneging on the deal with the Belgian royalty not to harm the country’s children!

All this was going through the mind of Dame Marie, who while drawing the money from a drawer in her desk, also managed to write something down on the two pieces of paper in which she wrapped the wages. The clock was ticking, and all she had time to quickly scribble was one word “PREVENT” and a phone number.  She hoped at least one of the messages would find its way to the Queen of Belgium and be understood.

It was not only a long shot  but the only shot!

For the plan to have any chance of success, Dame Marie also needed to buy time – to cause as much delay as she could.

This would prove tricky and dangerous.

She guided  Holm to the infirmary room where she said there were two boys with “contagious diphtheria” germs. Unfortunately when 13-year old Michel Goldberg and 7-year-old Jacob Gebotzreiber were asked by Holm if they were indeed ill, they truthfully answered:

No, we are not sick.”

An irritated, impatient and much angered Holm then proceeded to move all of the children out towards the large canvas covered truck. Holm was meticulous in going through the entire home so as to be certain that everyone was accounted for.

Seven of the staff members were forced to board the truck together with the children. At that moment, a staff member – a Mrs. Gold – fainted which gave Marie time to run back for water, clothing and medical supplies for the journey.

Valuable time was bought.

Marie sat in front with the driver and Roni on her lap. She struck a conversation with the driver who looked at Roni and said:

 “I have a daughter of the same age.”

Tedious conversation passed the time away and helped eased the tension.

The truck arrived in the Mechelen town centre where the children were offloaded into a large courtyard in front of the Dossin military barracks where many other deportees were gathered awaiting deportation to Auschwitz.

Again, Marie needed to play for more time and pulled the same stunt she had failed earlier with Holm. She convince the Commander of the Barracks, an officer Steckman, that there were two children that were taken from an infirmary having contagious diseases. Steckman ordered the boys to be separated from the rest of the children and began phoning awaiting further instructions.

Finally after all the delays, Steckman was ordered by his superiors to release the children, which he did  that included Dame Marie and the orphanage staff.

The drive back to the orphanage was harrowing, afraid that they would be stopped at any moment and sent back to the deportations.

They returned safely back to the orphanage and survived the Shoah!

Marie would later discover that Julia Dehaes, the cleaner, had taken her scribbled note and had run to the hardware store in the village, where a telephone was available and called the number that Marie had written on her paper. One thing led to another and a message got through quickly to Queen Elizabeth of Belgium who contacted the military governor of Belgium, General Alexander Von Falkenhausen. He complied with her pleading and ordered the return of the children to Wezembeek. That order came through while the children were disembarking from the trucks and being marched towards the train.

A short while later the train left for Auschwitz with a few empty carriages, while the truck returned to the orphanage full –  with the children!

Close Encounter. Roni (Reizel Warman) soon after her narrow escape of being deported on a transportation to Auschwitz.

In 1992 Madame Marie Blum was honoured by the US Senate for being “a true heroine”.

When the war ended, only Roni and Regina of the Warman family in Belgium had survived but so had her aunt Rachel, who was living in London.

When Rachel was given the names in 1945 of all the deportees in Belgium she noticed that her brother’s children Regina and Rosa (Roni) were not listed. “It meant they had survived,” thought Rachel. She had lost in the Shoah her parents, two brothers, a sister, a sister-in-law, aunts, uncles and cousins, “but I had two nieces and we were going to find them.”

The Marvelous Madame Marie. Roni with the ‘children’s saviour’ Madame Marie Blum (left) at Wezembeek orphanage.

After months of investigation, we learnt that one was living with a devout Catholic family and the other in a Jewish children’s home.” Rachel travelled to Brussels, brought them back to England where she and her husband Jack adopted them.

Surviving to Thriving. A jovial Roni (left)  and her friend Pearl during basic training in the Israeli Defence Force.

At the age of eighteen, Roni left for Israel on a year’s educational programme. Instead of returning to the UK after the year, she joined the army where she met her future husband, South African Ivor Wolf.

Young Country, Young Lovers. From surviving the Holocaust and brought up in London, Roni meets Ivor Wolf from South Africa to forge a life together in the young State of Israel.

Epilogue

On Yom Hashoah in 2009, Yediot Achronot ran an article on the Holocaust with an appeal from a woman working at Yad Vashem to identify any of the children in the six photographs she had randomly selected from some 130,000.  The caption read:

Lost Youth

Shortly before midnight, one young reader of the Hebrew paper was about to retire to bed when she glanced at one of the photos. The next thing she did was call her parents in Ra’anana and said:

 “Don’t go to bed, I’m coming over right now.”

Roni and Teddy. A picture of innocence removed from the horror gripping all of Europe.

A short while later, Yaella arrived, finding her parents, Ivor and Roni Wolf anxiously drinking coffee. She dropped the newspaper on the kitchen table and pointed to a photo of a little girl clutching her teddy bear.

 “Mommy, it’s you, it’s you,” she tearfully repeated.

The following day Roni contacted Yad Vashem. The photo was taken when Roni had been staying at Wezembeek, the orphanage outside Brussels.

Horrors from the Holocaust. A 2009 article in Yediot Achranot of Roni Wolf pointing to herself in the paper’s earlier article with a photograph of herself holding a teddy bear taken at Wezembeek Orphanage.

Now twelve years later, Roni has again reunited with the past, meeting on Zoom all those fellow children who narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Nazis.

“Living in our Jewish state with my husband, children, grandchildren and great grandchild instills in me hope for a brighter future” says Roni.




Survivors Reunite. The young Dutch law student Reinier Heinsman who tracked down Jewish Holocaust survivors from a Belgium orphanage and brought them together for a Zoom reunion.





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)

Vaccination Controversy

Answering Palestinian Accusations of Racism

Israel is leading the world in the country’s efforts to vaccinate its population. This has not been without criticism from many in the media who believe Israel should assume responsibility for vaccinating the neighbouring Palestinians. The Palestinian Foreign Minister accused Israel of racism for not vaccinating his citizens. The Daily Mail online, which enjoys one of the largest readerships in the world, published an article featuring the FM’s false narrative.

Founded in 1896, the Daily Mail is the United Kingdom’s highest-circulated daily newspaper. 
 

Lay of the Land Co-Founder, Rolene Marks replies in an open letter:

To the Editor

Your article about Palestinians accusing Israel of being racist with regards to the vaccination roll out refers.

Israel is currently the world leader and has to date vaccinated 27% of our population. Along with this great achievement, has come a certain level of criticism focusing on whether or not Israel is responsible for vaccinating the neighbouring Palestinians. It is extremely important to understand the situation on the ground.

Since the start of the global pandemic, Israel has been cooperating with the Palestinians, ensuring that they receive much needed testing kits, PPE, training and other medical necessities through the relevant authorities, NGO’s and COGAT, the IDF unit responsible. This effort was lauded by UN Special Envoy to the region, Nikolay Mladenov. This has not been without its challenges. Two plane loads of Covid aid from the United Arab Emirates was summarily rejected by the Palestinian Authority “because it was coordinated with Israel and landed at Ben Gurion airport”. This aid was subsequently distributed with the help of the World Health Organisation and UN.

The Israeli government moved decisively and quickly to procure vaccinations as soon as they were able, in order to inoculate our citizens. The roll out has been an exceptional achievement, applauded by many around the world. At the end of December 2020, a Palestinian Health Ministry official stated “we do not need or require help from Israel to procure vaccines. We have our own health ministry and are not an extension of the defense ministry (of Israel).” Israel is on record as stating that while vaccinating our citizens remains the priority, we will help the Palestinians as needed.

Israelis and Palestinians are both signatories to the 1995 Oslo Peace Accords, which awards Palestinians autonomy with their healthcare, including responsibility for vaccines. For Israel to take responsibility for vaccinating the Palestinian population, it would be a violation of this autonomy. This is a clear case of Israel is damned if it does – and damned if it doesn’t. The Palestinians will be receiving Russian Sputnik vaccines in the coming days with the help of the WHO. There should be enough budget in the coffers of the Palestinian Authority for more, seeing that millions of dollars are spent annually ensuring that the salaries and stipends for convicted terrorists and their families are paid.

UAE Covid aid for Palestine lands at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport but is refused  on the grounds according to a Palestinian government source that “Palestinians refuse to be a bridge [for Arab countries] seeking to have normalised ties with Israel.”
 

In the Gaza strip, the situation is more complicated. Gaza is governed by Hamas, who are recognised internationally as terrorist organisation; and an enemy entity of Israel. Aid and training including doctors, specifically not Jewish, has still been sent into the Gaza strip in coordination with the above mentioned NGO’s and COGAT. Hamas, in protest of what they see as insufficient aid, forbade their citizens to seek medical help at a field hospital run by a Christian non-profit last week. This did not make any headlines. Neither did the two rockets, fired from the northern part of the strip towards the Israeli port city of Ashdod. A flagrant waste of good budget that could be used for much needed vaccines. Thank goodness these rockets landed in the sea and not in an apartment or kindergarten as they have in the past.

Accusations of racism, which coincidentally are made AFTER mainstream media criticises Israel are extremely unproductive, unhelpful and devoid of fact. In the interest of a global triumph over a pandemic that has already destroyed so much, please do not let it further erode the integrity of responsible reporting.

Kind regards

Rolene Marks


The article:

Israel is accused of ‘racism’ by Palestinian PM after excluding 4million people in the West Bank and Gaza from its Covid-19 vaccine program





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)

Time to Tell the Truth

Lithuania is adept as passing over its nefarious past

By David E. Kaplan

There was a certain irony here!

Last year being the 300th anniversary of the Vilna Gaon’s birth, the Lithuanian Parliament dedicated 2020 the year to commemorate this world famous commentator of Torah and Talmud and the country’s 700-year-old Jewish history. Yet was it not Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, commonly known as the Vilna Gaon, who said, “The goal of the redemption is the redemption of TRUTH.”

Sketchy Holocaust Past. Charcoal sketch of the Vilna Gaon who was recently honoured by the Lithuanian government designating 2020 the Year of the Vilna Gaon and the History of the Jews of Lithuania.

Where is that “redemption” for Lithuania if it does not honestly confront the TRUTH  and reveal the role it played as perpetrators  in the Holocaust?

In an article in The Jerusalem PostThe Elephant in the roomThe false narrative of the Holocaust promoted by the Lithuanian government” (published January 15, 2021), chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, takes issue with those celebrating the “contemporary relations between Israel and Lithuania” when the task should really be to unmask Lithuania’s murder of its Jews during the Holocaust.

Zuroff writes:

The horrific fate of Lithuanian Jewry during the Holocaust is no secret. Nor is the highly significant role played in the murders by local collaborators from all strata of Lithuanian society. Of the approximately 220,000 Jews living under the Nazi occupation, 212,000 were murdered.” That translates into 96.4%, representing the highest percentage of victims among the large European Jewish communities.

And this is what is most astonishing, revelatory, sobering and horrifying!

Some 90% of them,” reveals Zuroff, “were shot near their homes in Lithuania, in many cases by their neighbors.”

Shot in the ‘Dark’. A group of Jews before being executed in the forests Siauliai, Lithuania, 26-29.06.1941.

Hidden Holocaust

Zuroff has done extensive research and in 2020 published with Rūta Vanagaité, a descendent of Lithuanian perpetrators an expose of Lithuanian complicity in “Our PeopleDiscovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust”. The book is a journey of a descendent of the victims of the Holocaust and a descendent of its perpetrators who team up to unravel the truth of who murdered the Jews of Lithuania.

Guardians of Death. Members of the Lithuanian Militia in civilian clothing, leading Jews to the Seventh Fort in Kovno, Lithuania, June 25, 1941.

Their research reveals as Zuroff writes:

If we add the more than 5,000 German, Austrian and French Jews murdered in Lithuania, and the approximately 20,000 Jews murdered in 1941-1942 by the 12th Lithuanian Auxiliary Police Battalion sent to Belarus in October 1941, the figure of victims is staggering for such a small country. What is virtually unknown, however, is that there were less than 1,000 Germans stationed in Lithuania during the Nazi occupation. Given the fact that all of these victims had to be murdered individually by shooting, and buried in some 250 mass graves, primarily in Lithuania (234 mass graves), but also in Belarus, one begins to grasp the incredibly critical role played by Lithuanian collaborators.”

Digging before Death. Jews digging a trench in which they were later buried after being shot in Ponary outside Vilna in Lithuania.

Zuroff feels that Lithuania does not yet deserve Israel’s “friendship and cooperation” because “instead of boldly and honestly confronting the tragedy of its Jewish population, Lithuania became a leader of the post-Communist Eastern European initiatives to distort the narrative of the Holocaust”.

Zuroff sets out the four ways Lithuania did so:

– “It grossly minimized the crimes of local collaborators (none of whom have ever been punished in Lithuanian courts)”.

– “It inflated the small number of Lithuanian Righteous

– “It has brazenly promoted the canard of equivalency between Nazi and Communist crimes, and vigorously lobbied for the observance of memorial day for all the victims of totalitarian  crimes, which would make International Holocaust Memorial Day superfluous

– “It has glorified anti-Soviet fighters, even if they committed Holocaust crimes which, in theory, should have disqualified from being turned into national heroes.”

Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff, (right) and Lithuanian journalist Ruta Vanagaite in Jerusalem who teamed up to investigate Holocaust crimes perpetrated by Lithuanians. (Courtesy)
 

Rather than confront the past, Lithuania prefers to suppress it. Following the publication of Zuroff’s and Rūta Vanagaité book,the father of Lithuanian independence, Vytautas Landsbergis wrote an op-ed in the country’s most influential and popular website,  basically telling Rūta, a celebrated writer in Lithuania, that now that she has “betrayed her country”, she “should commit suicide.”  That was sufficient to convince her  at the time to leave Lithuania  and seek refuge in Israel. Adding insult to injury, her publisher severed relations with her, removed all her books  from bookstores, and taunted her that they “were going to turn her books into toilet paper.”

So much for honouring the legacy of the Jews of Lithuania!

Suppressing Truth. President of Lithuania from 1990 to 1992 and Chairman of the Lithuanian Parliament from 1992 to 1996 Vytautas Landsbergis.

How further ironic, that the Vilna Gaon, whose 300th anniversary was so honoured in 2020, would not only have been murdered had he lived in Vilna during the Holocaust, but more than likely  – as the statistics show:

He would have been shot not by a German Nazi but by a Lithuanian civilian!



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)

Kristallnacht Comparisons

By Rolene Marks

There is a startling new trend emerging in the media. Commentators wishing to make a point or push a political agenda are resorting to Holocaust comparisons, in particular Kristallnacht. It is abhorrent and trivializes the experience of the victims of the Holocaust and survivors.

During Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, a synagogue burns in Siegen, Germany. November 10, 1938. (courtesy of Shamash: The Jewish Internet Consortium.)

Several months ago it was CNN anchorwoman, Christiane Amanpour, who drew the comparison between Kristallnacht and the Trump administration.

“This week 82 years ago, Kristallnacht happened,” Amanpour said in the monologue. “It was the Nazis’ warning shot across the bow of our human civilization that led to genocide against a whole identity, and in that tower of burning books, it led to an attack on fact, knowledge, history and truth. After four years of a modern-day assault on those same values by Donald Trump, the Biden-Harris team pledges a return to norms, including the truth.”

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour says she regrets equating President Donald Trump’s tenure to Kristallnacht, an attack on Jews in Nazi Germany seen historically as the Holocaust’s launch.

This resulted in an out pouring of condemnation from Jewish organisations and individuals who were understandably appalled. Amanpour apologized for “juxtaposing the Trump administration with Nazi crimes’ but the gauntlet had been lowered, paving the way for others to do the same.

“I observed the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, as I often do. It is the event that began the horrors of the Holocaust. I also noted President Trump’s attacks on history, facts, knowledge, and truth. I should not have juxtaposed the two thoughts. Hitler and his evils stand alone, of course, in history,” she continued. “I regret any pain my statement may have caused. My point was to say how democracy can potentially slip away, and how we must always zealously guard our democratic values,” Amanpour added.

But there it was. Once the comparison was out and despite the apology, it gave the greenlight to others to follow suit.

Following the violence that took place in Washington DC when a violent mob stormed the Capitol Building, social media platforms have cracked down and removed far-right individuals and groups like QAnon and The Proud Boys from their platforms. They have also cracked down on US President Donald Trump, shutting down his Twitter profile, Facebook and YouTube pages and others. What is strange is that the genocidal Ayatollah Al Khameini from Iran who routinely denies the Holocaust and calls for the eradication of “cancerous” Israel is still allowed a platform. Tech giants Apple, Google and Cloud technology, AWS have also removed platforms like Parler, long seen as a stage for far right rhetoric. The cyber world is purging what they see as far right hate speech. Pity they aren’t purging some anti-Semites….

Some took to the airwaves and to Twitter to lament.

Former Republican Congressman for Iowa, Steve King (known for making racist comments in the past) and Fox News host, Jeanine Pirro, both compared the de-platforming of alt-right voices from social media to Kristallnacht.

“I have lost 8,000 followers on this Twitter account in one day. Apple, Google, Facebook, & others have cancelled many conservatives. Last night was cyber god’s Kristallnacht!” King wrote on Twitter. Um, no.

Jeanine Pirro remarked on air, “They gave us a taste of this pre-election when they suppressed the Hunter Biden story, and now that they’ve won, what we’re seeing is the kind of censorship that is akin to a Kristallnacht,” she said. Sigh.

Pirro tried to qualify her statement. “Although book burning started earlier, Kristallnacht included the destruction of Jewish stores, homes & synagogues containing rare Jewish books & Torahs. My reference was in context of books. The Holocaust was the greatest hate crime the world ever tolerated. I abhor all violence,” she wrote.

Fox News host former New York State judge Jeanine Pirro calls Parler backlash “akin to a Kristallnacht” days after the deadly attempted coup on Capitol Hill.

Fox commentator, Glenn Beck has likened it to a “digital ghetto”. I have no words.

You would think they would know better. Former Governor of California and Terminator icon, Arnold Shwarzenegger, in a recent speech made the comparison of events in Washington DC to Kristallnacht. While he was careful to acknowledge Kristallnacht and explain it in historical context, his speech made me very uncomfortable with the reference. Both the Capitol attack and Kristallnacht, he argued, were the actions of violent groups motivated by lies from their leader. The mob that approached the Capitol, urged on by President Donald Trump earlier that day,  chanted that the election was stolen from him, while Kristallnacht was the work of a group Schwarzenegger called “the Nazi equivalent of the Proud Boys” (a far right, antisemitic group) who responded to the antisemitic libels put forward by Adolf Hitler and his ministers. While the former Governor made some very poignant and powerful points about democracy, invoking Kristallnacht was in the worst possible taste.

In a video posted to Twitter, Arnold Schwarzenegger compared the riot at the Capitol last week to Kristallnacht saying  “My father and our neighbors were misled also with lies, and I know where such lies lead.”
 

What was Kristallnacht?

Kristallnacht also known as the Night of Broken Glass, was a pogrom against Jews carried out by SA (Stormabteilung) paramilitary forces and civilians including Hitler Youth throughout Nazi Germany on 9–10 November 1938. The German authorities looked on without intervening, in fact they encouraged it. The name Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night”) comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings and synagogues were smashed, looted and burnt to the ground. The pretext for the attacks was the assassination of the German Diplomat, Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old German-born Polish Jew living in Paris. Jews were forced to pay for the damage incurred to their property.

Jewish homes, hospitals and schools were ransacked as attackers demolished buildings with sledgehammers. Rioters destroyed 267 synagogues throughout Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland. Over 7,000 Jewish businesses were damaged or destroyed and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. British historian Martin Gilbert wrote that no event in the history of German Jews between 1933 and 1945 was so widely reported as it was happening, and the accounts from foreign journalists working in Germany sent shockwaves around the world.

Citizens of Austria, where Arnold Schwarzenegger grew up, watch in Graz as the Jewish cemetery’s ceremonial hall burns. (US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Dokumentationsarchiv des Oesterreichischen Widerstandes)

Kristallnacht stands alone as a historical event, steeped in hatred that was the precursor to the destruction of two thirds of European Jewry in the Holocaust. The Jews of Europe were hunted down and marked for murder, regardless of age, gender or social strata but simply because they were Jewish. To be Jewish meant you were sentenced to death. There is absolutely no comparison of this to having your social media profile shut down because of your political leanings.

What these comments expose is a glaring ignorance and trivializing of not just the Holocaust and the historic experience of Jews, but the current climate where antisemitism is rising and where Jews are often the targets of not just the far right but the left as well and this is prevalent on social media.

One thing remains clear, the need for Holocaust education has never been more important.

Vaccination Nation

*Feature Picture: Israeli medical staff state “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies”!

Leading  the world in vaccinating her  citizens – Is Israel responsible for the Palestinians as well?

By Rolene Marks

Israel, the land of milk and honey is also the place of miracles. From biblical times we have marveled at events that can only be described as miraculous and this continues today. We have survived wars, countless attacks on our sovereignty and Israeli drivers but in the last few weeks, despite still rising Covid-19 numbers, Israel is rolling out and leading the world in our mission to vaccinate our citizens.

This is a true, modern day miracle. You could say that Israel has gone from Start-Up to Vaccination Nation!

Maybe it is our ability to adapt quickly, or our universal healthcare system or maybe it is our sense of responsibility for each other and impatience to get back to normal life that have contributed to the success of this but Israelis are very proud of our newest record of being on track to be the first country to have vaccinated all of our citizens. Initially, about a third of Israelis polled said they would be concerned about receiving the vaccine but as the roll out has progressed, so confidence has grown.  Anti-vaxxers remain a very small number.

Israel Rolls Up Its Sleeve. Israel’s State President Reuven Rivlin receives his COVID-19 vaccine dose. (Photo: Mark Neyman/GPO)

It is important to note that Israel is responsible for the vaccination of our own citizens. To date, Israel has vaccinated at least 14% of the population, soaring well past 1 million. Over  the last few days,  media outlets like The Guardian in the UK, Washington Post, MSNBC and others have accused Israel of almost purposefully neglecting to vaccinate the Palestinian populations. It is almost sadly predictable that as soon as Israel is lauded for an achievement in a certain area, the naysayers in the global media have to find some kind of stick to beat the Jewish state with.

Million Shot Man. Israel’s million Corona vaccination recipient is Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab Jabarin from the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm who is seen here on January 1, 2021 with Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu (centre) (Haim Zach/GPO)
 

Far be it for them to do some research and find out the facts. Throughout this pandemic, Israel through NGO’s like Project Rozana has helped with ventilators and medical staff training and ensured that much needed equipment is received. The Palestinian Authority has made their position quite clear at times when it comes to accepting help.

Beating Heart, Helping Hand. An initiative supported by the Israeli government, the Australian-based charity Project Rozana has delivered coronavirus equipment to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Who can forget Palestinian obstinate rejection of thousands of tons of Covid aid from the United Arab Emirates because the plane had “landed at Ben Gurion Airport and had been organised in coordination with Israel”?

But now that Israel is enjoying positive coverage for the most part, agenda-driven media outlets cannot let this continue. It is nothing new. If Israel sets up the first mobile hospital after a disaster, we are accused of harvesting organs; if Israel celebrates the advancement of the status of women we are accused of deliberately crushing the rights of Palestinians; if a hit TV show like Fauda enjoys international acclaim, the show content must be violating international humanitarian law.

The Palestinian Authority has been quite clear on the issue of vaccines. A senior official from the Palestinian Health Ministry said that Palestinians do not expect Israel to sell them or purchase vaccines on their behalf. They are working with the World Health Organisation to purchase Russian-made vaccines as well as others that should arrive within the coming weeks. The Official, speaking to The Jerusalem Post said that “We are not a department in the Israeli Defense Ministry. We have our own government and Ministry of health and they are making huge efforts to get the vaccine.”

Jerusalem confirmed that Israel had not been asked for help from the Palestinians – nor would they refuse help if needed.

Israel is also not legally responsible for vaccinating the Palestinian population.

According to the Oslo Accords signed in 1995 the Agreement on Preparatory Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities Annex II Protocol Concerning Preparatory Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities in the Sphere of Health states:

The powers and responsibilities of the military government and its Civil Administration in the sphere of health will be transferred to and will be assumed by the Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinian Authority shall apply the present standards of vaccination of Palestinians and shall improve them according to internationally-accepted standards in the field.

The inference by media outlets like The Guardian that Israel is deliberately vaccinating “settlers” as the expense of Palestinians has led some in the Israeli press to call it a modern day blood libel.

These kinds of accusations are not trivial mistakes with facts. Comments like “medical Apartheid” and “deliberately excluding Palestinians” are dangerous because these are the receipts used by the anti-Israel establishment and organisations like BDS to spread libel and push their hate-filled, antisemitic agenda.

In the past, responsible journalists and publications were driven by truth and facts – and not clickbait and blatant agenda pushing. This is not a case of “lazyitis” but perhaps another nefarious virus that sadly, there is no vaccine for.

The only cure for this is facts.

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)

Disproportionate Stupidity?

The International Committee of the Red Cross Ignores Murder and Rockets to Focus on “Fauda

By Rolene Marks

One of the questions I ask myself when going into my Twitter account is what fresh stupid I will encounter that day. And it never disappoints!

If it is not those whose grasp on the facts is loose to say the least, then it is the never ending parade of conspiracy theories, blame politics and drivel interspersed with some really cool cat memes. Lady Gaga said it perfectly when she referred to social media as “the toilet of the internet”. Yesterday Twitter did not disappoint. The ludicrous tweet came courtesy of the International Red Cross representatives in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Esther Holgen (z”l), mother of 6, brutally killed in a terror attack, 20/12/2020 (Photo: Courtesy of the family).

Completely giving the previous day’s rocket attacks a wide berth and failing to condemn the terror-motivated murder of 52 year old year old mother of six, Esther Holgen, the Red Cross focused instead on singling out the fictional TV show “Fauda” for its “violations of International Human Rights law”.

Did you also just hear the screeching of brakes? I thought so.

“Fauda” is an Israeli television masterpiece that enjoys massive international interest and viewership, including in the Arab world and even by Hamas, the same terrorist thugs portrayed in the hit show who are quite partial to how realistic they are portrayed. “Fauda” (I am still trying to get over the last season – my heart rate has not settled yet!) unites Jews and Arabs in their enjoyment of the show and how it gives a human face to both sides and tells the story of all protagonists in Hebrew and Arabic. It is pure TV entertainment and even though art may sometimes imitate life, it is F.I.C.T.I.O.N!

Who is next? A Game of Thrones for the flagrant use of dragons and sell swords that violate the laws of proportionality and hiring mercenaries? Will it be Outlander for the planning of uprisings against the British Crown? Maybe The Crown for glaring inaccuracies? The list goes on but if I were James Bond or Olivia Pope from Scandal (who can forget the voting scandal!) I would be shaking in my fictitious shoes.

Before pointing a finger at the fictional, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) should examine their own shortcomings with regards to human rights.

A World at War. Founded 50 years earlier in 1864, 1200 Red Cross volunteers in front of the Rath Museum, Geneva during the First World War.

The ICRC was established in 1864 in Geneva, Switzerland. This neutral body received a mandate to protect victims of international and internal armed conflicts. Such victims include war wounded, prisoners, refugees, civilians, and other non-combatants. For 50 years, Israel, with our own national emergency medical, disaster, ambulance and blood bank service called Magen David Adom (Red Shield of David) was refused entry into the international body even though it met all other criteria for membership, on the grounds that it does not use one of the approved symbols which were the red crescent or the red cross.

Early Days. A month after the establishment of the Jewish state, a Magen David Adom ambulance in June 1948, Israel.

The Israeli society has used a red six pointed Star of David, the Magen David, since the 1930s – and before the state was established. It was only after immense pressure was put on the ICRC from the American and Australian societies that Magen David Adom was admitted in 2006. Israel’s Magen David Adom would then be able to become an ICRC member if it framed its traditional red Shield of David symbol in the red diamond.

Red Alert. A Magen David Adom Ambulance in Israel today.

In keeping with the mandate of the ICRC, may we suggest less “Fauda” and more focus on what is important. Here are a few suggestions:

The ICRC could focus more on freeing the two civilian captives, Avera Mengistu (6 years) and Hisham Al-Sayed (5 years) held by Hamas without any communication or help with efforts to return the remains of two Israeli soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who fell during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 for a dignified burial. Their families have been in excruciating agony and worry. It must be noted that Gilad Shalit, a former captive who was held by Hamas for 5 years also received no visit from the Red Cross.

Focus on Fact not Fiction. Instead of tweeting about an Israeli  drama TV series, the ICRC could focus on the welfare of  two Israelis with serious mental health conditions Avera Mengistu and Hisham Al-Sayed (bottom) being held by Hamas in Gaza for over five years, and the return of the remains of  Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul (top) killed in 2014. Courtesy of family/Facebook. 

Prisoners who are terror or security threats held in Israeli prisons receive visits from the Red Cross because Israel is a signatory to two conventions including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. The Red Cross does not visit prisoners held for crimes but it would be really nice if they would pop in on our civilians held captive by a terror entity who regard themselves as the legitimate government of the Gaza strip.

The ICRC could also ensure that their affiliate, the Red Crescent, do not use their ambulances to transport civilians including the disabled and elderly to riots like the March of Return where they formed the front line of defense in the never ending war for optics perpetuated by Hamas who leverage their populations as human shields so that they can get the most sympathy from the world media. Ambulances have been used as transport services for suicide bombers in the past as well. This could also ensure that hospitals are used for their intended purposes and not weapons storage facilities or armouries.

Instead of focusing on the fictional, the ICRC could also have used their social media to condemn the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel’s civilian population or condemning arson terror and they could have condemned the nationalistic motivated murder of Esther Holgen, who went for a run and never returned home. She was found with her head bludgeoned by a rock. Esther Holgen was a mother – and also a non-combatant!

Focusing on the Future. In 2019, the ICRC and Magen David Adom signed a multi-year partnership agreement reflecting the close relations and long-term partnership between the two organizations.

Many may wonder why it is worth getting uptight about a silly tweet but in a region and conflict where the first casualty is often truth and fact coupled with rising anti-Semitism online, this adds fuel to an already flaming fire. It may have been disproportionate stupidity on behalf of whoever is in charge of the social media account or maybe it was a REALLY slow news day. In that case may we suggest watching “Fauda” and less focus on tweeting……



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 endeavors 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)

Has the New York Times Been Captured?

By Rolene Marks

The New York Times used to be one of the world’s most respected publications. Packed with thought provoking content that delved into the nuances and complexities behind some of the world’s biggest stories and issues, readers could look forward to diverse opinions and well researched articles.

But over the last few years, something has changed at this once venerated bastion of journalism and the NY Times has gone from admired – to derided. What has happened? Why are there many asking the question has the NY Times fallen victim to institutional capture and is now a vehicle for those wishing to push a very transparent agenda? Many believe this to be true – especially when it comes to issues that are either focused on Israel or American Jewry.

Israel and the conflict with our neighbours occupies many a column inch in the world’s leading newspapers (and some really unsavoury ones as well) which is almost understandable because of the religious and emotional connections that a lot of people have, but there is a line where the connection dangerously becomes the obsession. The New York Times is obsessed.

Over the last couple of years, any mention of the NY Times is guaranteed to raise the blood pressure – and ire of many who feel that the publication is pandering to a far-left agenda, with truth (and Israel) as a casualty.

Chaotic Caricatures

Political satire in the form of cartoons has always been a creative way for opinion makers to be highly controversial and circumvent certain parameters but in 2019, the paper featured a cartoon that led to many writing complaints – and cancelling of subscriptions. Never a fan of the Trump administration, the cartoonist drew a caricature that featured a blind President Trump being led by Israeli PM Netanyahu, portrayed as a “guide dog” with a big Star of David around his neck. The inference was plain to see – the most powerful man in the world, the President of the USA (and this is not an issue of whether one likes or dislikes him) was being led and heavily influenced by Israel. This trotted out the age old ugly stereotype that Jews control the governments of the world and in particular, the leading superpower.

Admitting Antisemitism. A caricature of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog guiding a skullcap-wearing ‘blind’ US President Donald Trump was published in The New York Times’ international edition on April 25, 2019, and which the paper later acknowledged “included anti-Semitic tropes.” (Courtesy)

Faced with an avalanche of complaints from Jewish individuals, institutions and supporters, the paper would eventually publish an “acknowledgement of an error of judgment” on their Twitter page and subsequently apologized saying:

Deadly Exchange?

It is not unusual these days for the NY Times to raise the odd eyebrow or two, a misleading headline here and omission of context there and often face the wrath of readers or media watch dogs.  It gets more worrisome when they dredge up old articles that may not be relevant and serves no purpose other than to fuel the flames of divisiveness.

The world was horrified when the images of George Floyd slowly asphyxiating to death while a cop placed his knee firmly on his windpipe.  This event ignited protests across the US and the world and while the social justice movement, Black Lives Matter would gain momentum in highlighting and fighting racism, there were elements who took advantage of the fervour whipped up against injustice.

Enter Deadly Exchange, a group dedicated to blaming Israeli law enforcement for the tactics employed by the police officer in question. They claim that Israel’s training exchanges which see officers receive  and give training to their colleagues from around the world, is what is allowing this tactic to be adopted by law enforcement officers in the US. While Israeli police have at times used what some might see as excessive force, these instances have been dealt with – and are not isolated to Israel and are definitely not training policy.

The NY Times would have you believe otherwise. Months after this issue has died down, journalists,  David Halbfinger and Adam Rasgon, wrote an article titled “An Autistic Man Is Killed, Exposing Israel’s Festering Police Brutality Problem,” the authors depict Israeli authorities as having “failed to rein in the use of excessive force, which has a long history.”

According to media watchdog HonestReporting, the article which is 2000 words long, “fails to acknowledge that Jerusalem is a city that has been plagued by terrorism and remains at the heart of a territorial conflict. Israeli police and military, as well as civilians, have over the years been victims of shooting, stabbing and car ramming attacks.”

The complexities and nuances of the conflict are presented in a way that is very vague and this is cause for concern that readers may miss any robust discussion – and recognition about the unique challenges in this volatile region.

Resignation

By far the most alarming was the shocking resignation of respected journalist, Bari Weiss.  Weiss who is largely centrist in her opinions and has written for the Wall Street Journal as well as other publications was initially hired to represent a different ideology or voice and enjoyed a very successful career. This was until her sometimes controversial opinions clashed with the “woke” folk at the paper. Isn’t the point of a free press to allow for a variety of opinions, even though you may disagree with them?

It would appear that instead of creating an environment where people could respectfully disagree and debate, the NY Times allowed for one where bullying and cancel culture became rampant. The environment became so hostile that Weiss was forced to resign.

Bullying Bari. Op-Ed staff editor and writer at the New York Times, Bari Weiss resigns citing “bullying by colleagues” and an “illiberal environment.”

Comments such as “Nazi” and “racist” and “you are writing about the Jews again” contributed to a workspace that was more” mean girl” than meaningful.  Weiss is not the first and will no doubt not be the last journalist to be driven out of the workplace for opinions that clash with the growing woke voice. Suzanne Moore and English journalist with The Guardian newspaper was also put in a position where she would rather resign than work in an environment growing ever more intolerant of her opinions.

This phenomenon is very dangerous in a profession that is supposed to be driven by fact and diversity and not personal agendas.

Bari Weiss resignation letter: https://www.bariweiss.com/resignation-letter

Weiss has been replaced by far-left writer Peter Beinart whose views are perhaps more palatable to the agenda of the paper.

Cancelling a Columnist. A columnist with The Guardian, Suzanne Moore resigned claiming she was effectively censored by editors and bullied out by colleagues.

Chanukah Cancelled?

The latest iteration is the Jewish festival of Chanukah.  Everybody has the right to observe (or not) religious festivals how they deem fit but does a personal choice really necessitate an op-ed in the NY Times? Many are asking this of an op-ed entitled “Saying goodbye to Chanukah” that was published as millions around the world prepared to celebrate a festival that allows for some light in an otherwise dark year. The writer makes a point of stating how her family will carry on Christmas and Easter traditions (as is their right) but one gets the feeling that she heaps scorn on Chanukah. It is almost derisive.

One has to ask the question, would an op-ed of this kind be written about the festivals of other religions?

(Ping Zhu)

Institutional capture is a new type of MacCarthyism. In the 1950’s, this movement was largely dedicated to weeding out those in the entertainment industry that were suspected of having Communist sympathies. In the case of the NY Times, it is weeding out and cancelling anyone that may seem to have an affinity to Israel or Jews that does not suit the agenda of the thought and opinion police. This is very dangerous territory. One would hope that this once highly respected journal, once the benchmark of journalistic integrity and excellence will break free of its one-sided captors. Free expression in a democracy depends on it.


Feature Picture credit: Doug Chayka


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)

The Story Seldom Told

By  Rolene Marks

This week, two momentous dates in history were remembered. Not with much fanfare but with the odd tweet or posting on social media platforms; but these were dates and events that altered the course of history and the profound effects are felt to this day. The first was the partition vote at the United Nations in 1947 that would pave the way for the creation of the Jewish State, the other was the commemoration of the expulsion of Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries.

On the 29th of November 1947, the United Nations voted to divide what was then British Mandate Palestine into two – land for the Jews and for the Arabs. The Jews accepted, and the modern state of Israel was on its way to being born. The Arabs refused and would soon declare war on the fledgling Jewish State. The State of Israel would be formally declared by David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister, on the 14th of May 1948. The Arab response would take place on the night of 14-15 May, when the forces of Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon invaded. The Egyptian Foreign Minister informed the United Nations Security Council that “Egyptian armed forces have started to enter Palestine to establish law and order” (his cable to the Security Council, S/743, 15 May 1948). Arab leaders at the time encouraged their citizens to leave until they had “driven the Jews into the sea”.  Israel would mobilise as many of its able citizens as possible and the Haganah and Palmach (part of Haganah) forces would combine to form the Israel Defense Forces. By the end of the war, Israel was victorious and had made significant territorial gains. Many of the Arab citizens declined to return, despite the invitation by Ben Gurion in the Declaration of Independence to be equal citizens and help build the new state.

2014

What is a seldom discussed story (at least until recent years) has been the experience of Jews living in MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) countries during this time. For centuries and even millennia in some, Jews thrived in these countries. At the time of the Muslim conquests of the 7th century, ancient Jewish communities had existed in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Jews under Islamic rule were given the status of dhimmi (second-class citizenship), often subjected to a special dhimmi tax, along with certain other pre-Islamic religious groups. These groups were accorded certain rights as “People of the Book”. In medieval times, many Jews found refuge in Muslim lands; but there were other times when Jews fled persecution in Muslim lands and found refuge in Christian lands. Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula were invited to settle in various parts of the Ottoman Empire, where they would often form a prosperous model minority of merchants acting as intermediaries for their Muslim rulers.

Jews would live there for centuries, speaking the same language and observing many of the same customs and integrating well with their fellow citizens. This would change dramatically in 1948.

By 1948 Jewish communities in MENA countries, were flourishing in their numbers. In Morocco the community numbered 265 000, Iran 100 000, Algeria 140 000, Egypt 75 000 and in substantial numbers in other countries.

With the birth of the State of Israel, the reaction from the Arab world was hostile. Some Jews started to leave these countries but were forced to leave their belongings behind; for the majority, their fate was more terrifying.  Here are some accounts of what happened to these communities:

Iraq:

In Iraq, where a large community of Jews lived for 2,600 years, violent riots known as the Farhud erupted in June 1941. These riots targeted the Jewish population, mainly in Baghdad.  Soldiers who attempted a failed coup took advantage of the power vacuum left by a lack of leadership; and swarmed into Jewish communities together with a bloodthirsty mob, killing 179 innocent people, injuring more than 2,100, and leaving 242 children orphans. This act of violence was celebrated across the Arab world and in Nazi Germany.

Death to Jews. On 1 June 1941, a Nazi-inspired pogrom erupted in Baghdad, bringing to an end more than two millennia of peaceful existence for the city’s Jewish minority.

In 1948, as a response to UNGA Resolution 181 (“the Partition Plan”) and Israel’s independence, laws were passed making Zionism a criminal and even a capital offense, allowing the police to raid and search thousands of Jewish homes for any evidence of Zionism. Between May 1950 and August 1951, the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government succeeded in airlifting approximately 110,000 Jews to Israel in Operations Ezra and Nehemiah. At the same time, 20,000 Jews were smuggled out of Iraq through Iran. A year later, the property of Jews who emigrated from Iraq was frozen, and economic restrictions were placed on Jews who remained in the country.

Morocco

Prior to World War II, the Jewish population of Morocco was approximately 265,000, and though they were not deported by the Nazis, they still suffered great humiliation under the Vichy French government. Following the war, the situation deteriorated.

In June 1948, bloody riots in Oujda and Djerada killed 44 Jews and wounded many more. That same year, an unofficial economic boycott was instigated and by 1959, Zionist activities were declared illegal. In 1963, at least 100,000 Moroccan Jews were forced out from their homes and approximately  150,000 Jews sought refuge in Israel, France and the Americas.

Last Man Standing. Most the Jews in Morocco today are dead and buried. In this 2018 photograph, Joseph Sebag is the last Jewish man in the seaside Moroccan town of Essaouira.

In 1965, Moroccan writer Said Ghallab described the attitude of Moroccan Muslims toward their Jewish neighbours:

The worst insult that a Moroccan could possibly offer was to treat someone as a Jew. The massacres of the Jews by Hitler are exalted ecstatically. It is even credited that Hitler is not dead, but alive and well, and his arrival is awaited to deliver the Arabs from Israel.”

Egypt

In the 1940s, hostility against the Egyptian Jewish community, which numbered around 80,000, increased. Laws were passed limiting the employment of Egyptians of Jewish descent, as well as requiring majority shareholders of companies to be Egyptian nationals. Since Jews were denied citizenship as a rule, many Jews lost their jobs and businesses.

During the 1948 War of Independence, thousands of Egyptian Jews were put into internment camps, forced out of their jobs, and arrested for supposed collaboration with an enemy state. Synagogues, homes, and businesses were bombed, and many Jews were killed and wounded. More than 14,000 Jews immigrated to Israel during this time seeking safety. Between 1948 and 1958, more than 35,000 Jews fled Egypt. 

End of an Era. Jews forced to leave, a former Jewish school, Abbasyia, Cairo.

Between 1956 and 1968 another 38,000 Jews fled Egypt, many to Israel, to escape systematic persecution such as government expropriation of their homes and businesses and arbitrary arrests.

Yemen

The Yemeni Jews endured some of the worst persecution. At the end of November 1947, the Arab population of Aden held a 3-day strike in protest against UNGA Resolution 181 (the Partition Plan). The protest quickly turned violent. Over 80 Yemeni Jews were slaughtered, more than 100 Jewish-owned businesses were looted, and homes, schools, and synagogues were burnt to the ground. This was one of the most violent attacks on any Jewish population in the Arab world.

Fleeing for their Lives. A Yemenite family walking through the desert to a reception rescue camp near Aden.

The Israeli government embarked on a unique plan to save the persecuted Yemeni Jews. From 1949 to 1950, “Operation Magic Carpet” (known in Hebrew as “On the Wings of Eagles”) went into effect. US and British aircraft were used, flying o Aden and airlifting the Jews from Yemen and bringing them to Israel. By the end of the operation, over 47,000 Yemeni Jews were rescued.

 Libya

 Jews lived and thrived in Libya for more than 2,300 years, with a population of over 37,000. During World War II, the Libyan government implemented their own Nazi-inspired policies; and more than  2,000 Jews were transported to desert concentration camps where hundreds died. In post-war Libya, Arab nationalism grew in popularity, resulting in violent attacks against the Jewish community.

Thriving Jewish Life. City Jews of Tripoli, Libya, 1925. (Photo by G. Casserly/Royal Geographical Society via Getty Images)

In 1945, in the city of Tripoli, more than 140 Jews were killed in a violent antisemitic riot, and a few years later in 1948, violent attacks resulted in 12 dead and the destruction of over 280 Jewish homes. In the three years between 1948 and 1951, 30,972 Jews fled to Israel due to hostile government policies.

Inside Story. Interior of a former Jewish Home in Libya. Jews had lived in Libya for over two millennia.

Syria

By 1943, the Jewish community of Syria numbered approximately 30,000.  After Syrian independence from France, the new Arab government prohibited Jewish immigration to Palestine, severely restricted the teaching of Hebrew in Jewish schools and called for boycotts against Jewish businesses. Attacks against Jews escalated with no intervention. In 1945, in an attempt to thwart international efforts to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the Syrian government fully restricted Jewish emigration, burned, looted and confiscated Jewish property, and froze Jewish bank accounts.

When the UN partition was declared in 1947, Arab mobs in Aleppo devastated the 2,500-year-old Jewish community and left it in ruins. Many Jews were killed, and more than 200 homes, shops and synagogues were destroyed. Thousands of Jews illegally fled as refugees, 10,000 going to the United States and 5,000 to Israel. Their remaining property was taken by the local Muslims.

Road from Damascus. A Jewish family in Aleppo, Syria, circa 1910.(Library of Congress)

Syrian Jews that remained were in effect hostages of a hostile regime as the government intensified its persecution. Jews were stripped of their citizenship and experienced employment discrimination. Assets were frozen and property confiscated. The community lived under constant surveillance by the secret police and the freedom of movement was also severely restricted. Any Jew who attempted to flee faced either the death penalty or imprisonment at hard labour camps. Jews could not acquire telephones or driver’s licenses and were barred from buying property.  The road to the airport was constructed over the Jewish cemetery in Damascus and schools were closed and handed over to Muslims.

The story of the Jews from MENA countries is a very important part of modern history that has gained traction in recent years. Concerted efforts have been made by the government to remember and commemorate this and the 30th of November has been declared an official day of commemoration of Jewish Refugees.

Today, the majority of Israelis are descendants from those who had to flee MENA countries with an estimated 1 million who can trace their roots back to Morocco.  It is incumbent on us to bear witness and tell their stories.

Theirs cannot be the story seldom told.




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