BDS South Africa’s wraps Palestinian headscarf over African continent in new logo
By David.E. Kaplan
In the midst of the global Coronavirus crisis, BDS South Africa in its online newsletter dated March 20, announced that following consultations with several of its partners “in South Africa and on the African continent,” that the organisation will henceforth function under the name:
“Africa for Palestine (AFP)”
While Africa is focused on protecting its populations from a killer virus, BDS South Africa is promoting and facilitating another kind of killer virus – antisemitism, but now not only in South Africa but across the African continent.
Such is the ambition of BDS South Africa – excuse, Africa for Palestine!!!
With the African continent joining the world in trying to protect and save lives, BDS SA is moving in the opposite diabolical direction. What’s more, it brazenly does not disguise its nefarious intent as emblazoned in its new LOGO, with the entire continent of Africa ENVELOPED by a Palestinian keffiyeh.
In a continent committed to a better future of science, technology and innovation, branding with yesteryear’s terrorism is not the way to go.
Does BDS South Africa really believe that Africa is gullible to this attempted “Hostile Takeover” as they graphically articulate in its new spine-chilling logo?
The people of Africa will see through this façade of deception!
Coronavirus does not distinguish between nations and religions, between Jews and Arabs and yet BDS South Africa is diabolically and deceptively exploiting the virus to fan antisemitism and defame the Jewish state with fabrications.
So while since March 19, 2020:
– the Israeli government has sent hundreds of coronavirus testing kits to the Palestinian Authority and Gaza as well as 2,000 protective suits and twenty tons of disinfectants and 100 liters of sanitizing gel
– Israeli doctors and specialists have been dispatched to the West Bank city of Jericho to train Palestinian medical teams to save lives in combating the coronavirus pandemic
– Palestinian Authority officials Ahmed Deek and Hussein al Sheikh – responsible for cooperation between the PA and Israel – praised Israel’s assistance, particularly the Israeli government’s honoring of the PA’s request to provide accommodations in Israel for 45,000 Palestinian worker-commuters from the West Bank to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection
– The UN Security Council issuing a formal statement welcoming Israeli Palestinian cooperation against Corona stating that it “provided a blueprint for renewed peace talks” none of these Israeli measures had any impact on BDS South Africa’s leadership who proceeded to serve its regular platter of conspiratorial accusations against Israel, as part of its 2020 annual “Israel Apartheid Week”.
On March 19, when Israel announced it was considering a complete lockdown over coronavirus, BDS South Africa’s founder Mohammed Desai, charged Israel with refusing to issue vital life-saving instructions in Arabic to Arabic speaking citizens and residents of the Jewish state. However, Desai’s accusation was immediately revealed as false on South African national television by the TV debate’s other guest, Israeli Arab, Yoseph Haddad, who called Desai a “liar”.
“As an Arab Israeli, I got the instructions in Arabic; SO STOP LYING.”
He then proceeded to ask the founder of BDS South Africa, who advocates boycotts of Israel whether he would himself boycott Israel in the following scenario:
“Israel today is working on a vaccine for Coronavirus. Should it discover a vaccine, would you use it?”
Mumbling and digressing in trying to dodge the question, Haddad persisted for an answer:
“Would you use it – Yes or No. The question is simple”
The BDS South Africa head refused to answer and then concluded with this disgusting yet revealing comment:
“Israel’s expertise should not be used as an exercise of blackmail.”
He knew he had been exposed as the fraud he is, as is the organisation he founded and heads, and now seeks to re-brand or disguise!
There is also no “disguising” the true Mohammed Desai when one takes a closer at the print on the white T-shirt he wore for this debate on national TV’s prime time:
Beneath the large colorful Google logo, appears the Search Box with Israel typed in and then the question:
“Did you mean Palestine?”
Clearly, the founder of BDS South Africa shares the same sentiments as the cofounder of the global BDS movement Omar Barghouti when he said:
“The two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is finally dead. But someone has to issue an official death certificate before the rotting corpse is given a proper burial… Good riddance!”
For BDS South Africa’s founder – there is no partnership, no coexistence,no Jewish State; there is no Israel!
All this finally begs the question:
Why has BDS South Africa changed its name to the preposterous and presumptuous – ‘Africa for Palestine’?
The answer lies not in any success but due to its failure.
BDS South Africa is rebranding because its hateful and hurtful message no longer resonates with most the of people of South Africa.
Rather than a “rose”, the newly morphed BDS South Africa is but:
“A Reptile By Another Name”
At 2:40 minutes into this short video clip, Israeli-Arab Yosef Haddad asks the head of BDS South Africa, Mohamed Desai whether he would use an Israeli-made coronavirus antidote.
Nazis in sequins, Hassidim with the bodies of insects, crematoria on floats – it sounds like a debauched nightmare. It is. It is also a horrible new trend that seems to be occurring in carnivals that are taking place in Europe.
Offensive medieval stereotypes and imagery from our darkest time in history, the Holocaust, seem fair game for decorating floats and inspiring dance routines. To say that this is hurtful and offensive is an understatement. Just 75 years after the end of World War II and the liberation of death camps like Auschwitz, Majdanek and others and the decimation of Europe’s Jews, this repugnant imagery accompanied by rhetoric that is just as vile, has reared its head once again in towns and cities across the continent.
In the Belgian town of Aalst, just a few kilometres from the capital, Brussels, an annual parade has captured headlines around the world. Once celebrated and endorsed by UNESCO for its nod to cultural heritage, the parade has been condemned and delisted – the first in the history of the UN agency. The reason for this is because of overt antisemitism and racism. For several years, Jews have been the punchline in the joke that is the Aalst parade. Nobody is laughing. The caricatures of Jews that feature ugly, medieval stereotypes are dangerous and profoundly hurtful. The imagery and accusations hearken back to the darkest time in Jewish history and it is puzzling that Belgium, who saw tens of thousands of Jews deported to death camps has allowed for this to resurface. In 2019, the floats featured exaggerated images of Orthodox Jews, with enlarged hooked noses, bags of money and surrounded by rats. This year, the same theme of vermin took centre stage. This year’s float featured men wearing Hassidic hats with the bodies of insects, fake hooknoses and silver face paint. The float also featured a large parchment sign proclaiming six “regulations” handed down by the made-up “Jewish festival committee.” They include “No Jews in the procession; no mocking Jews; don’t ever tell the truth about the Jew; what the Jew wants will happen; all drugs and black money is ours.” Every ugly stereotypic anti-Semitic trope was trotted out for the world to see and it sparked outrage –except it seems for the people of Aalst. The town’s far right leaning mayor declared that it would be “unavoidable” that Jews would be mocked again. The citizens of the town were defiant.
“This is just a joke, and we can joke about whatever we want here,” said a man, who claimed he was 26 years old and works in computers. Global Jewry is not laughing. At a time when levels of antisemitism are at alarming levels, events like this are profoundly unnerving and dangerous.
The parade might have had its roots in the Middle Ages, and it seems that it has hardly progressed since then.
What has seemingly started in the Belgian town of Aalst, seems to be finding a home in Spain as well.
In the last month, Spain has been home to two of these carnival parades.
In the town of Campo de Criptana, a parade was held as part of the annual Castilla La Mancha festival. As part of their parade, they featured women in costumes depicting concentration camp victims carrying Israeli flags and men wearing replicas of the uniforms of SS officers from the German army. They paraded and danced to loud dance music emitted from a float that carried two towers that resembled smokestacks. They twirled, they danced, they wore sequins.
The Auschwitz museum condemned it for trivializing the Holocaust and Spain’s minister of foreign affairs, Arancha González Laya, also said on Twitter that she was “horrified by the performance.” After contacting the organizers, she said they have apologized to the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain. They apparently thought that they were “paying tribute”. Some tribute!
The same day, the town of Badajos, situated west of Madrid, had their own carnival parade which featured participants wearing uniforms that were part SS and part concentration camp prisoner while holding up signs reading “the same”. There is no tribute here, only an ode to bad taste.
I took to social media to see what people were saying. Perhaps I should not have – the results were disturbing.
Words like “spectacular” and “wonderfully artistic” were used and when I responded to one post asking whether genocide was spectacular, I was roundly told off – and called ignorant. The irony is staggering – but it is evident that now more than ever, Holocaust education is necessary.
This type of antisemitic posturing is not new. Last April, Polish villagers at an Easter procession beat and burned an effigy of a Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox Jew, particularly painful given the old accusation of deicide and Poland’s tragic Jewish past.
Historians familiar with the antisemitic record of Europe’s carnivals; the emergence of this theme in modern-day parades is an organic continuation of a centuries-old tradition. This type of antisemitism is often seen at the religious Carnival that celebrates Lent, the 40-day period that precedes Easter.
It is going to take a lot more than a costume change to fix the hurt and offence caused by these carnivals of the grotesque. It is going to take education and a deep search into Europe’s soul to ask the question:
“Has anything been learnt from the Continent’s painful and tragic record of Jewish persecution?”
I have a message for the EU, a little bit of Israeli history that I believe is quite appropriate right now after their action to boycott all Israeli businesses, products and services that are located in Yehudah and Shomron.
You know, the history of boycotting the Jewish people isn’t new, but I will not dwell on the distant past, I will take you to April 1, 1933. On that day, the Nazi Party (NSDAP) that had seized control of the German nation, decided to launch a mass boycott of all Jewish businesses, professionals like doctors and dentists, and educated men and women who taught at Germany’s universities and colleges. This was the primary and first governmental anti-Semitic act of the new government-and what did it achieve?
Well, firstly it brought Albert Einstein to the United States and it laid the groundwork for the most massive pre-statehood immigration of Jews into the homeland. In 1935, 61,834 Jews from Germany and Central Europe, fleeing for their lives, made the trek to the former British Mandate and what did they bring with them other than the meager belongings that they were permitted to carry on their persons. Let’s see, they brought the talent that would create the now, Israel Philharmonic, the boycott brought dozens of doctors, dentists, lawyers, and university lecturers to what had been, for the most part, a tiny agrarian, socialist economy that had not been able to attract this caliber of person, and it laid the foundations for a burgeoning middle class that would build hundreds of factories, create the groundwork for huge industrial enterprises and give renewal and revival to dozens of established and soon to be established, vibrant communal settlements all over the country.
But why stop there? In 1936, the Arab Higher Committee (the organization of anti-Jewish terrorists of its day) called a general strike all over the mandate that closed shops and factories and ports and impoverished the local Arab community by threatening to murder any Arab that dared to go to work or open his shop or harvest and sell his produce. So, what was the Jewish answer to this boycott? Well, we brought thousands of Greek Jews from Thessaloniki (Salonica) and other Greek ports where the Jews were the dockworkers, the stevedores, the longshoremen, and WE answered the Arab strike with the creation of the port of Tel Aviv, which had no port previously. We built a Jewish owned shipping industry and built what is today the Israel Shipyards – one of the largest shipbuilding and repair facilities in the eastern Mediterranean. We expanded and built new Jewish owned and operated businesses and our farms grew to take up the slack and maintain the market that the Arab boycott had shuttered.
With the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the Arab League opened the Office for the Boycott of Israel in Damascus, where it is still located today. The member states of the Arab League threatened to seize any business and boycott any individual that dared to do invest or build in the Jewish state. They also refrained from opening their markets to Israeli goods and refused our ships docking privileges in their ports. So, what did we do? WE created an Israeli shipping line, the ZIM line, to carry our goods all over the world. WE built the port of Eilat to bypass the Suez Canal and deal with the new nations of Africa and Asia. WE improvised, adapted and overcame by building an economy whose products and services would be demanded by the civilized world and this brought us investment, venture capital and billions in outright donations that has created an economic powerhouse in a nation so small, so lacking in natural resources, that today, Israel’s shekel is among the strongest currencies traded anywhere in the world. International corporations that have brought their major R&D centers here, like Intel, Microsoft and Cisco Systems, where entrepreneurs from all over the world have invested billions of dollars in Israeli companies, as has Warren Buffet, who made his first ever, international investment to the tune of $4 BILLION in an Israeli company in the Western Galilee that makes, among other items, the blades for jet engines and razors. Israel has more businesses listed on NASDAQ than Western Europe, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea combined, and more startups than America’s Silicon Valley which is represented in EVERY Israeli city. Personally, I don’t believe that Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe or the Disney Corporation were really upset that their films could not be shown in Beirut, Damascus, Ammann or Cairo. Even, “Cleopatra,” could not be shown in the Arab world because its star Elizabeth Taylor was a Jew.
But, let’s get to the present, shall we? Over 25,000 “Palestinian” Arabs work in Yehudah and Shomron, all of them receive the same pay as their Israeli equivalents in the same industry, they all get National Insurance benefits, health care and, most importantly, they get paid regularly. I know this for a fact as I see the Arabs who work for my town, line up at the local branch of Bank Le’umi and collect their wages on the 5th of every month. These workers support their families and the EU is threatening the livelihoods of the very folks it wants to grant independence too? How can they ever be independent if by your boycott you force the places where they work to re-locate within the “Green Line”?
Will your anti-Semitic boycott make us leave our land? Will this act of pernicious Jew hatred weaken our resolve? History teaches us otherwise. More Jews will come to Yehudah and Shomron, build new factories and new farms and new communities. Israeli exports are ever increasing, if not to the creeping decrepitude that is so obvious in a dying, Islamicized Europe, devoid of courage and full of cowardice and prejudice, but to the growing economic powerhouses of India, China, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea-Israel’s economic future and success is in the East, in the Pacific Rim and all over a sleeping giant continent called Africa.
Your boycotts have strengthened us, your hatred has united us and your utter contempt for truth and your obeisance to hypocrisy and cowardice has made you contemptible and beyond rescue.
And, to top it all off (to use a gas station phrase) maybe Moses made the correct turn after all, for we have found natural gas deposits that are in the trillions of cubic meters, and, dare I say the word, OIL! Sure, it’s shale, but with all your technological universities and research centers being urged to cut their ties with us, I guess we’ll just have to put our Jewish heads together and solve the problem ourselves, in typical Israeli fashion-after all, you have always forced us too. Thanks again.
Irwin Blank was born in NYC in 1952 and has a BA in Political Science from Colombia University NY. He was part of the Speakers’ Bureau American Zionist Youth Foundation and editor of the Zionost Organization of America. He made Aliyah in July 2008 and lives in Maaleh Adumim.
The relationship between Israel and Belgium once enriching is now troubling and turbulent
By David E. Kaplan
Present relations between Israel and Belgium are worrying. This past February, we saw at the annual carnival in the Belgian town of Aalst, a procession featuring Nazi uniforms, costumes of Jews as vermin despite the fact that the Nazis deported about 25,000 Jews from occupied Belgium to the Auschwitz death camp, where most were murdered. This followed a float in the previous year’s parade depicting puppets of hook-nosed orthodox Jews with rats sitting on money bags that led to UNESCO withdrawing it from its “intangible cultural heritage” list.
This February also saw Israel angry at Belgium for what Jerusalem said was a systematic campaign to demonize the Jewish state at the United Nations by using its privilege of holding the rotating presidency of the council in February by inviting speakers who hold anti-Israel bias.
However, despite recent hiccups, Israel and Belgium have enjoyed an enriching relationship revealing some fascinating history.
When famed Israeli football coach Guy Luzon – currently managing of Maccabi Petah Tikva – was appointed the coach of the Belgium football club Standard Liège in 2013, it reflected a long and enriching relationship between the Benelux country and the State of Israel.
While few in Belgium had ever heard of Luzon before he took Standard Liège close to winning the national title, few in Israel, knew too much about Belgium, beyond its chocolates, waffles and beer and for the more politically attuned that Brussels is the capital of the EU.
Food for Thought
While there are many restaurants in Israel offering European, Asian and American cuisine, has anyone ever seen a Belgium restaurant?
Curious as to what food is typically Belgium, this writer put the question to Sophie Katz from Tel Aviv who grew up in Antwerp, which is Belgium’s second largest city and has a Jewish community numbering some 18,000 people.
“French fries,” she replied. Hardly what this writer would have guessed as typically Belgium!
Contrary to conventional wisdom, ‘fries’ – that is, deep-fried chipped potatoes – are thought to have originated in Belgium. This revelation is substantiated by a book entitled Curiosités de la table dans les Pays-Bas-Belgiques written in 1781, which described how inhabitants of Namur, Dinant and Andenne around the Meuse River had eaten fried potatoes since around 1680.
Though made popular across the globe by the United States as “French Fries”, it is believed – without casting aspersions on American’s understanding of world geography – that Yank soldiers during the First World War erroneously thought they were being served the dish in France. In their defense, the way that trench war shifted, borders were somewhat blurred!
War has a way of shifting lives.
In the spring of 1943, the Jewish Defense Committee in Belgium conceived a bold plan to halt a deportation train to Auschwitz. Having learned the exact date and time of an impending deportation from the Mechelen transit camp, the resistance planned for action. On the night of April 19, 1943, as the train began its journey to Auschwitz, three members of a resistance unit sprang into action. Under the command of a young Jewish physician, Georges Livchitz, the group forced the train to stop by signaling it with a red lantern. Livchitz held the engineer at bay with a small caliber revolver, while his comrades forced open the doors of several cars. Under a hail of gunfire from the German guards, some prisoners escaped, some of whose descendants made their way to Israel.
Belgium stood with Israel at its moment of rebirth in 1947, when it voted in favor of UN resolution 181 calling for the partition of British-ruled Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. Following this, on January 15, 1950, Belgium recognized the State of Israel and ever since, the relations between Israel and Belgium have been friendly, as evidenced by the numerous reciprocal high-profile visits and tokens of friendship.
Most notable was the 1959 visit of Queen Elizabeth of Belgium, the grandmother of the present king, who helped save Jews during World War II and was granted the title of “Righteous among the Nations” by Yad Vashem. In welcoming her, Israel’s president Yitzhak Ben Zvi referred to her as “our great and faithful friend”.
Literally ‘cementing’ this relationship, a plaque in memory of her husband King Albert I, was unveiled in February 2010 at the Albert Square in Tel Aviv in the presence of the mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Ron Huldai, and Ambassador Bénédicte Frankinet.
There was good reason to honor the King. On a visit to Palestine in 1933, he stood beside Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff, and expressed his deep support for the renewal of Jewish life in its ancestral homeland.
In the ensuing years, particularly following the late King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola’s meeting Israeli president Zalman Shazar when they came on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1964, there has been a steady flow of Belgian ministers visiting Israel on official business and Israeli counterparts welcomed in Belgium.
Many cultural, scientific and economic bilateral agreements have been signed over the years between the two countries. Several Belgium-Israel friendship associations organize activities in both countries to promote and strengthen bilateral relations.
Each year, a number of scholarships are granted to Israeli students to study in Belgian universities and Belgian students also come to study in Israel each year thanks to scholarships offered by Israel. The faculty club and guesthouse of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, known as Beit Belgia, was built with the financial aid of the Belgian Friends of the Hebrew University. Sylvain Brachfeld, a Holocaust survivor, is a well-known journalist for the Belgian and Israeli press and is an expert on Belgian Jewry. He immigrated to Israel in 1974 and writes extensively on Belgian Jewish history. In his most recent book ‘200 Years of the Jewish Community of Antwerp’, he writes about the contribution of Belgian Jews to the State of Israel, both philanthropically and “how immigrants from Belgium have excelled in Israel in varied fields.”
Belgium is one of Israel’s most important commercial partners (largely due to the diamond industry) and a great number of Israeli companies have their European headquarters there as well.
Following impressive bilateral trade between the two countries, in March 2010, Israel and Belgium signed a new tax treaty agreement to improve the competitiveness of Israeli companies operating in Belgium and to encourage Belgian investment in Israel.
A ‘sporting’ example of this relationship was the 2013 ‘export’ to Belgium of Guy Luzon as coach of the Belgium football club Standard Liège.
A Gem of a City
Since the fifteenth century, when Antwerp Jewish diamond cutter, Lodewyk van Berken, invented the scaif, diamond cutting has been a major traditional Jewish craft both in Israel and in Belgium. “As I recall,” says Sophie Katz, “most of the fathers of my friends were one way or another connected to the diamond history in Antwerp.” This corroborates with records showing that in the second half of the 20th century, the diamond industry was emerging as the main occupation for the Jews of Antwerp. Today, most of them remain either high skilled artisans who specialize in executing the most professional stages in the process of turning raw diamonds into high quality precious stones or merchants who are connected to the global network of diamond trade. “The diamond bourses of Antwerp are located inside the Jewish districts of the city and are closed on Friday afternoons before the onset of Shabbat (the Sabbath) and are deserted during Jewish holidays.”
In recent years, changes in the world diamond industry have brought about a decline in the importance of Antwerp with resulting in a diminishing influence of Jewish-owned companies on the market.
“Many of my friends have moved to Brussels while others have or are considering immigrating to Israel,” says Sophie.
Winds of Change
In recent years there has been a spurt of younger Jews from Belgium immigrating to Israel. This phenomenon has come about in part because of an increase in anti-Semitism across Europe, “which was never the case in Antwerp when I was growing up,” says Sophie. “While the Jewish community there was divided between the ultra-Orthodox, traditional and secular, and my family fell in the secular group, the entire community was very insular; we all went to Jewish Day Schools and belonged to Jewish youth movements. Come school holidays, we were off to either summer or winter youth movement camps. It was a wonderful, secure life and the Jewish community prospered.”
It is hardly surprising that with its relatively large concentration of orthodox and ultra-orthodox Jews that Antwerp has been nicknamed the last ‘shtetl’ in Western Europe. This honorific is more evident when walking around the district of Pelikanstraat near the diamond district and Jootsewijk, home to 12,000 orthodox Jews. Here men dress in the Hassidic garb of black mantles and fur hats and speak Yiddish.
Contributing to Antwerp’s ‘shetl’ image, each community has their own synagogues – about thirty in all – batei-midrash (houses of Jewish learning), kosher butcheries and restaurants. Jewish education is provided by four main Jewish schools with more than eighty-five percent of the Jewish children in Antwerp attending Jewish schools, one of the highest rates anywhere in the Diaspora. Student and youth organizations include Agudath Israel, Bnei Akiva, Hashomer Hatzair, and Hanoar Hazioni, of which, Sophie and all of her friends had been members.
Jewish communal life is rife with a number of welfare Jewish organizations, two senior citizen homes and even a hospital.
The Romi Goldmuntz Center serves as the stage for many cultural events of the community, the Royal Maccabi Sports Club is the main Jewish sport center in Antwerp and its Belgisch Israelitisch Weekblad (“Belgian Jewish Weekly”) is the largest Jewish newspaper in Belgium.
However ‘the good life’ has begun to lose some of that ‘sparkle’ as Jews again are experiencing sporadic outbreaks of anti-Semitism.
In August 2019, Dimitri Verhulst claimed in an op-ed in the newspaper De Morgen that “being Jewish is not a religion, no God would give creatures such an ugly nose.” He also accused Jews of harbouring a superiority complex due to the notion of Jews as the chosen people and said “talking to the Chosen is difficult” because they unjustly accuse critics of antisemitism.
Belgian-Jewish journalist Cnann Lipshitz has written that what is most troubling about the current state of antisemitism in Belgium is the fact that officials and opinion-shapers have often defended the perpetrators of antisemitic incidents on the grounds of “free speech” or that no offense was supposedly intended. According to Lipshitz, “classic antisemitism” of a type he had thought “impossible in an established Western democracy in the heart of Europe,” is now “mainstream” in Belgium.
Mark Geleyn, a former Belgian ambassador to Israel, recently condemned his country’s policy towards Israel as “not the attitude of a friend.”
Speaking at a conference on diversity in Brussels in late 2019, Gelwyn said Belgium was an anti-Israel country that, unlike most others in Western Europe, has not opposed the ‘Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS)’ movement.
Geleyn is honorary president of Belgian Friends of Israel and former Belgian ambassador to Israel and Germany.
He said, “After the creation of the State of Israel, the first Jews of Belgium, survivors of the Great Persecution, left our country to become citizens of the new state. By obtaining Israeli nationality, they would lose their Belgian nationality. But the survival of the new state, and its citizens, was very uncertain. Then the Belgian government at the time, rue de Loi (prime minister) and rue Quatre Bras (foreign affairs), decided that the Jews who were making aliyah and becoming Israeli citizens could, in fact, retain their Belgian nationality. No-one knew if they would ever come back. Thus the possession of dual nationality, so common now, originated in Belgian law. Belgium, and its government, was a friend of Israel.”
He went on. “In the seventies, many Soviet Jews wanted to leave the Soviet Union. Two or three international conferences were organized to help them claim their right of emigration. One of these conferences, under the slogan LET MY PEOPLE GO, was held in Brussels, in the very room where you are now. It required a certain diplomatic courage on the part of the Belgian government vis-à-vis the powerful Soviet Union to host this conference in Belgium. Belgium, and its government, was a friend of Israel.”
But times have changed. He notes that when those in authority today visit Israel, they hesitate to accept an invitation to plant a tree, because they want to avoid the Zionist symbolism that planting a tree might imply. This is exactly the opposite of the attitude of which the former generation was proud. It is far from being the attitude of a friend.
And with the ugly parades in Aalst in 2019 and 2020, it appears Belgium is not embarrassed to “parade” its antisemitism.
US President Trump released his concept for a proposed peace between Israel and their Palestinian neighbours. While many countries, including several Arab states firmly endorse the plan, the Palestinian camp has roundly rejected it. Israeli citizen, Martine Alperstein shares her frustrations.
I am tired. So very tired. I am disappointed, disillusioned and exasperated.
And I am not the only one.
I am not the only one who is struggling to see the light at the end of this very long, very painful and very uneven, disjointed, dangerous tunnel. How many more lives need to be lost? How many more tears need to be shed?
My tears, your tears, their tears, our tears.
Yet another proposed peace plan that is never going to be put on the table because only one party is sitting at the table. Yet another ridiculous notion from the UN who can’t be bothered to take a close look at who they are actually hurting. Another day of rage. Another fleet of treacherous balloons.
Another retaliation by the IDF.
All I want is quiet.
Peace. Quiet. Calm. Safe.
I just want to feel safe. I want to know my children are safe. I want to know my parents are safe. I want to know that my siblings, my family, my friends, my colleagues, my acquaintances, my neighbours, my fellow humans are safe – and blessed with peace, quiet, calm.
I want. You want. They want. We want.
If you ask the average person on the street, on both sides of the line, on both sides of the border, what they want…. the answer will be the same. The Israeli Jew, the Israeli Arab, the Palestinian Arab will all tell you the same thing. They just want to live their lives peacefully, provide for their families, be happy and be good people.
I am crying. You are crying. They are crying. We are crying.
What is the solution? What is the next step? What is the way forward? How can we remedy this for once and for all? What can we do to ensure my children and grandchildren, and your children and grandchildren, their children and grandchildren, our children and grandchildren, have a different experience in this part of the world?
I am an ardent Zionist. I am Israeli by choice. Not by birth, not by circumstance, not because it is an easier or a more comfortable life. I am Israeli because I fully, wholeheartedly and passionately believe in the right of the Land of Israel and the Jewish State. I gave up a very comfortable and affluent life. I gave up being surrounded by my family who I miss and adore. I gave up being at so many family celebrations. I gave up a huge amount because I believe that this is my true place and that this is my true country. Every step I take is an echo of my forefathers and mothers. Everywhere I look is the view of my ancestors. Every mark that has been made was the touch of G-d.
And yet, I would be willing to share and be willing to give up a part of my beautiful country with so much history, so much heritage, so much meaning……. for peace. For guaranteed peace.
But Gush Katif answered that question for me. Brutally. After the withdrawal from Gaza, Israel has faced barrage after barrage of rockets and mortars, killing any chance for peace. We are still paying the price. Every. Single. Day.
So, what is next?
Where to from here?
What will make the difference?
How can we bring about change?
And the voice & words of Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder running through my head, on repeat…
‘Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don’t we?
We all know that people are the same wherever you go
There is good and bad in ev’ryone
We learn to live, when we learn to give
Each other what we need to survive, together alive’
We need to find a solution for me, for you, for us and for them. We need to learn from the words from Paul and Stevie.
“Path to Peace” mosaic creation border wall:
Visitors are invited to take an active part in the creation of the peace wall by writing a personal wish on the back of a colorful mosaic piece and gluing it onto the security wall. The mosaic pieces are made by hand-work in the Path to Peace workshop. Among the colorful and optimistic pieces are different designs such as flower and butterflies and mosaic pieces with the word Peace in different languages.
I was asked recently if it would be possible to appear on an international news channel and be a “neutral” commentator on the announcement by the United Nations Human Rights Council of a blacklist of 112 companies doing business “related to settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” which for the UN includes the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem. This is an issue that defies neutrality for so many reasons. As Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin said, it recalled one of the darkest periods of our history, a time just before the outbreak of World War II, when Jews were forced to wear yellow stars, denoting us as different – and Jewish owned business boycotted, looted or destroyed.
It defies all rationale when countries like Sudan, Venezuela, Algeria, Bahrain, Bolivia, Chad, Cuba, Djibouti, Ecuador, Egypt, Libya and others form part of the bloc that sponsored the March 2016 resolution that led to the publishing of the blacklist. After all, these are not countries that enjoy good records on human rights.
There must be many victims of conflict wondering why their cries fall on deaf ears. The United Nations prove time and again that when it comes to Israel, they have a focus that has become an obsession. Resolution after resolution time and again, single Israel out for opprobrium but gross human rights violations like those in Iran, Venezuela, Syria and many other places barely elicit a response.
The publishing of this blacklist also plays right into the hands of the BDS (Boycott Divestment and sanctions) movement whose desired end goal is for Israel to not exist, a desire expressed clearly on their website and in their rhetoric. BDS is anti-normalisation – they are against any discourse and interaction between Israelis and Palestinians. For many who believe that peace will be built from the interaction between ordinary people and the provision of jobs and opportunities, a campaign like this deals a decisive blow to any efforts towards sustainable peace.
According to NGO Monitor, an organisation that monitors the often murky activities of non-governmental organisations, many of whom are associated with the BDS movement, not only was this list made in conjunction with pro-BDS and PFLP-linked NGOs, but these companies have done nothing wrong and many are involved in providing goods and services to Palestinians pursuant to the Oslo Accords.
These companies help create employment and opportunity for many Palestinians, who stand to lose the most. The decision to create a blacklist of companies not only threatens Palestinian employment opportunities but blocks access to the much needed humanitarian aid and infrastructure that these companies provide. The blacklist also hearkens back to times when Jews were singled out and put on exclusionary lists and today, the growing practice of labelling products manufactured in the West Bank is tantamount to wearing a modern day yellow star. Why is Israel singled out for this treatment but other countries with conflict situations are not?
A few weeks ago, I attended a conference where the CEO of SodaStream, Daniel Birenbaum, was a featured speaker. SodaStream is a well-known Israeli brand, sold to PepsiCo for a whopping $3.2billion, faces threats by BDS because their factory was situated in the West Bank. Birenbaum addressed the discriminatory practice of labelling goods produced in the West Bank by saying “if they want labels, we will give them labels” and promptly displayed the label found on all on SodaStream products.
Perhaps it would behoove the UN to learn from examples of co-existence and not pander to campaigns that are anti-Semitic and fall into the trap of questioning Israel’s legitimacy as a sovereign state. Blacklists, boycotts and labelling campaigns are harmful to sincere peace building efforts.
The timing of this could not be more bizarre. The release of the blacklist comes against the background of the release of the Trump Peace Plan. Although the Palestinians have roundly refused to even look at the plan, it has been endorsed by countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt and other Arab countries.
The Arab world is slowly opening up to the realization that recognition of Israel and the potential mutual business potential only bode well for the people of the region – and helps stave off the massive threat posed by Iran, a country not exactly lauded for its record on human rights.
This move by the United Nations Human Rights Council is a dark day for the institution, for Israel and the Palestinians and gives a tailwind to anti-Semites. It is a failure of the power of an agency charged with the mandate of protecting global human rights.
For the United Nations that is fast losing credibility and the regard the institution once held, the publishing of this blacklist, coupled with the obsessive focus on Israel at the expense of other conflicts and human rights issues around the world prove that or this once venerable body, antisemitism is just business as usual.
A Time To Discuss And Negotiate Rather Than Reject
By Allan Wolman
Claiming that the world rejects the Trump peace plan is indeed misleading but in line with the type of biased journalism of those determined to contribute to the vilification of the Jewish State; lying seems to come naturally to some journo’s and commentators given what they claim about the support or rather lack thereof for this latest peace plan.
Apart from Israel, the following countries have so far demonstrated support for the US Administration’s plan are Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, I.K., India, Oman, Italy, Brazil, Poland, Australia, Austria, Egypt, Columbia, Morocco, Denmark, Japan and Czech Republic.
Publicly playing support were the ambassadors from Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates who attended the unveiling of the President’s plan frequently referred to as the “Deal of the Century.” Their attendance was seen as a warming of ties between the Arab world and Israel.
However, no surprise that Palestine, Turkey, Venezuela and Iran are openly against it.
Whilst I am no supporter of the US president and in fact thought that the press conference at the unveiling of the peace initiative was contrived and somewhat embarrassing – not withstanding my personal view – this “deal” is certainly a refreshing beginning to negotiations that could result in a real and lasting peace settlement. Of course, that would depend on the Palestinian leadership agreeing to sit down to discuss and negotiate, as many of her brethren across the Middle East have urged.
As US envoy Jared Kushner told the Egyptian MBC Masr network in an interview, “If the Palestinians don’t like where the line is drawn, they should come and tell us where they want to draw it.” Further expressing to the Egyptian anchor Amr Adib, Kushner continued that “If the leaders of the Palestinians want to do what is best for their people, I think they will read the plan. They should come to the table, sit with the Israelis and say: ‘Look, We appreciate the gesture you have made. There are some major compromises [in the plan] you have never made before. These are the four or five or six things that we would like you to consider changing. And if you do this, you have a deal.’ That is how people who are ready to have a state make deals,” Kushner said.
However, in line with Palestinian intractability, the plan was rejected even before unveiled!
The knee jerk reaction from that leadership optimizes the stubborn and corrupt leadership of the Palestinians where the masses have certainly not reacted as violently as expected and in fact the ‘silent majority’ have indeed shown a certain willingness to see where the proposals could lead to. Of course organizations like the BDS, Media Review Network, UNHRC and the Arab League vented their rejection without considering the people most affected by this plan, especially the future wellbeing of the Palestinian people, who too frequently are a political tool of the political agendas of others.
All their efforts are channeled at the destruction of Israel and the Palestinians are simply a convenient platform to achieve this aim. In an ideal world, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have been resolved, peace secured and the Jew haters – disguised as anti-Zionists – would have had to dig even more deep to come up with other initiatives to further their cause.
American law professor and civil libertarian, Alan Dershowitz, recently asked an audience to consider where were the concerned liberals during the Cambodian, Rwandan, Darfur and Congolese genocides and where are they today with the unfolding genocides in Myanmar, Yemeni and Syria in full view of the world? The simple answer: These liberal folks including the UNHCR, ICC, BDS and others are all too busy castigating Israel than being bothered with the genocide of millions of people. Indeed, many millions of people mercilessly slaughtered and not one single country or human rights bodies not only did / do nothing about such vile acts but hardly voiced any objections in world forums to such carnage. No, the most important item on their agendas was malicious defamation of the only democracy in the Middle East.
Isn’t that more important than a few million people including women and children being slaughtered?
This must raise questions as to the morality of such people who would level their focus at denigrating a country whose human rights record, democratic institution’s, an independent judiciary, a free press and gender equality is not only without equal in the region but can stand head and shoulders with any free country in world. Yet all these attributes fade into oblivion in the face of rubbishing Israel at every and any opportunity.
Where is the ANC so quick to downgrade diplomatic relations with Israel but at the same time have visions of being a peacemaker? Rich indeed given the ongoing hostility that they perpetuate against Israel and digest the fake news and lies being bandied about by those driven by hate. Not surprising given the ANC degeneration into racial ideology having abandoned the vision of racial equality and unity of Nelson Mandela.
The real tragedy is the timing of the “peace deal” debate coming hard on the heels of the two international gatherings one in Jerusalem on World Holocaust Remembrance Day and the other at the site of the infamous Auschwitz death camp commemorating the liberation of that camp. At both events the rise of anti-Semitism took centre stage with world leaders together with Holocaust survivors highlighting this scourge and warning just how today’s hatred could so easily become a repetition of past genocides.
Will world leaders sit up and listen and more importantly will they do anything to counteract this plague?
Events in Belgium last year where caricatures of Jews formed part of a carnival float procession through the main streets elicited hardly any censure form officialdom in that country, with some mielie-mouthed explanation of freedom of speech and expression.
Is that the way countries are going to combat ant-Semitic expression?
About the author:
Allan Wolman is a recent immigrant to Israel from South Africa. Matriculating from Parktown Boys high School in Johannesburg, in 1967, he joined 1200 young South Africans to volunteer to work on agricultural settlements in Israel during the Six Day War. After spending year in Israel, he returned to South Africa where he met and married Jocelyn Lipschitz. The couple have three sons. Allan ran one of the oldest travel agencies in Johannesburg – Rosebank Travel which he still runs together with his son in Johannesburg.
*Feature Picture: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images
Charles, The Prince of Wales, addressed world leaders on the 75thanniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Israel on January 23rd 2019. I was most moved by the words of HRH that “we must be fearless in confronting falsehoods and resolute in resisting words and acts of violence.”
Given this strong and powerful message, I was surprised and disappointed with his words spoken and message conveyed during visit with Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, the very next day in Bethlehem.
The “falsehoods” that he called out the day prior are the ones that emanate from the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Abbas is currently in the 15th year of a 4-year elected term. He serves unchecked as a dictator without any accountability. He terrorizes his own people with limited freedom of speech and arrests those that associate with Jews or sells property to them.
Under his leadership, Christians now make up less than 2 percent of the population in Bethlehem once a dominant Christian community. The Christians are subjected to discrimination and suffer great difficulty living in Bethlehem.
Mr. Abbas has operated unfettered with mismanagement of monies provided. Billions of dollars in aid from the US, EU and several other donor countries has flowed to Mr. Abbas. A lack of accountability and transparency from the Palestinian Authority has deprived Palestinians of a significant part of the funds.
Only after a public outcry of money wasted has the recently built $13mn Presidential Palace – that included helipads, guest quarters and administrative offices 4,700 square metres (50590.38 sq./feet) – been decided to be used “a national library” instead, according to the Palestinian Minister of Culture, Ihab Bseiso.
A $13mn library with helipads?
Beyond corruption, Mr. Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have used these funds to encourage violence. It is estimated in 2019 that $149.7 MM went for annual payments to security prisoners, terrorist “martyrs” and their families, encouraging people to kill Jews.
Instead of visiting with Mr. Abbas, I wished he had visited the sights of those killed by Mr. Abbas’ pay for slay program. I was in the region while he was there and made my commitment to bear witness where Ari Fuld (father of four), Dvir Sorek (an 18-year-old Yeshiva student) and teenagers NaftaliFrenkel, GiladShaar and Eyal Yifrach were kidnapped at a bus stop and then brutally murdered. I saw young lives taken away simply because they were Jews. Those who murdered them, solely because they were Jews, were paid approximately three times the amount they would have made working a regular job. The ramifications of this ‘Pay to Slay’ program are monumental. I can only imagine what his HRH might do if this program were to take hold in Britain.
When he visited Bethlehem, he spoke there that “It breaks my heart… that we should continue to see so much suffering and division. No one arriving in Bethlehem today could miss the signs of continued hardship and the situation you face.” The suffering is due to the choices made by the Palestinian Authority but does not accurately describe the vibrancy that does exist in many areas.
I also saw those who have made great success in their lives. I visited towns with Muslims that had thriving industry, large homes and luxury cars. I saw people that have chosen to focus on success not terror.
I had the honor to hear from Daniel Birnbaum whose company, SodaStream, embodies cooperation across Arabs, Jews & Bedouins to great success. While driven out of this area by those who choose to Boycott, Divest & Sanction Israel, SodaSteam relocated to Rahat and provides a model of coexistence between Jews, Arabs & Bedouins. This is only one example of co-existence.
At a time when anti-Semitic activity is at an all-time high, HRH’s failure to call out Mr. Abbas on his dishonesty and incitement of violence, ignites the flame that encourages hatred. His words do not bring peace but dehumanize and minimize the lives of those brutally murdered.
At every opportunity, including the most recent by President Trump, Mr. Abbas has turned down plans to aid his people and create his own “Start Up Nation.” Mr. Abbas does not seek peace; he acts as a despot and seeks the destruction of the State of Israel.
We praise the Royal family and your Princess Alice’s commitment to Jewish people at a most difficult time. However, at this juncture we must stand strong against hatred and stand firm on values of inherent democracy and decency.
Regina Raphael is a business owner in Los Angeles, CA and committed Zionist. Ms. Raphael works closely with Ben Goldstein, a reserve IDF officer and advocate for the State of Israel. The article shares moments from their visit together in late January 2020. Mr. Goldstein lives in the Region.
“Every sensible person should be horrified at the racist, ethno-nationalist developments over citizenship around the world, notably in the US, Europe, Brazil, India and Israel. We need to ask ourselves – do we really want to join the growing list of nasty little countries that have defined themselves recently according to who they can exclude, repress and marginalise?”
Lay Of The Land publishes hereunder an Open Letter response to the Op-Ed by a former South African – Stephen Schulman (M.A. in Education), who is today a citizen of Israel.
You don’t know me, and actually there is no reason why you should or would want to, since I am living in Israel that in your opinion is one of those “nasty little countries” that “defined themselves recently according to who they can exclude, repress and marginalize”.
Now, dear Jane, while I am not as learned as you (being a professor and all that!), I would, with your kind permission, like to draw your attention to a few pertinent facts.
My “nasty little country” is a true functioning democracy according civil rights to all its citizens irrespective of race or religion. In fact, it is acknowledged as the only one of its kind in the Middle East.
My “nasty little country” has a parliament (called the Knesset) that has representation that even includes parties calling for its very dissolution.
My “nasty little country” has an independent functioning judiciary.
My “nasty little country” allows and guarantees freedom of worship. Jews, Moslems and Christians have their safeguarded places of worship and holy sites. The Baha’i faith, long persecuted in Iran, has a splendid home here. Druze and Circasians as well.
In my “nasty little country” the LGBT community openly lives and functions – as opposed to the rest of the Middle East.
In my “nasty little country” – unlike in yours – you can walk around at all hours without fear of robbery, assault, murder or rape.
In my “nasty little country“, children do walk around freely on the streets – we do not have your reported twice daily kidnappings for ransom, slavery or muti.
In my “nasty little country“, there is freedom of the press and toleration of differing points of view. You are free to express your opinions without looking over your shoulder.
In my “nasty little country” it is possible to take public transport without fear of assault, robbery and hijacking.
In my “nasty little country“, the trains run on time. There is no arson, wholesale burning of coaches, stealing of cables and equipment. The busses run on time as well. You do not fear for your life. On our intercity lines there is no need to worry about being held up by assault rifle armed bandits.
In my “nasty little country“, the electricity supply is stable. The electricity company is not riddled with nepotism, cronyism and corruption, resulting in bankruptcy and inefficiency. We do not have the euphemistically labeled daily “load shedding” that you every day enjoy.
My “nasty little country“, as many others, has its own political/economic refugee problems. However, it does not have the asylum seekers in terror for their own lives from the local population huddling and clustering around church doors for sanctuary.
My “nasty little country” while having its own imperfections – as all counties do – is not ruled by an institutionalized kleptocracy intent on plundering the state coffers with such impunity that a large percentage of the GNP goes into personal pockets at the expense of the impoverished general public.
Dear Jane, there are some nasty little minds with attendant nasty little vision problems clouded with bias, bigotry that find it politically correct to exclude certain countries from their field of view. Consequently, I humbly take it upon myself to enlighten you, a self proclaimed “public intellectual” about some of those that you have chosen to exempt.
China has a horrific human rights record dating from its invasion of and massive resettling of Tibet. It has hounded the Falon Gong sect, incarcerating, torturing, murdering and harvesting the organs of its members. It is currently also incarcerating and relocating Uighur Moslems causing them great suffering. Why is it absent from your list? Is it because that country has huge investments in South Africa, and you do not want to bite the hand that holds the chopsticks that feed you?
Turkey under Erdogan has an abysmal record of suppression of the press, persecution of journalists, trampling of freedom of expression and human rights. It has arbitrarily dismissed tens of thousands of teachers and civil servants. You, a proclaimed crusader for freedom of the media, have failed to include it on your list.
Iran is a theocracy, intolerant of dissent that has lately had its peaceful protesters murdered by live fire from its law enforcers. Many of its citizens are imprisoned and have been tortured. This country along with Saudi Arabia holds the world record for the highest number of executions. It exports world terrorism, denies the Holocaust and preaches genocide against Israel – a member of the community of nations.
The Palestinian Authority and Hamas in Gaza blatantly flaunt human rights and religious freedom. Christians live in fear in Gaza. The once Christian majority in Bethlehem has shrunk to ten percent as many have fled overseas. Journalists are terrorized into toeing the official line.
And lest we forget: Saudi Arabia is a member of the same club – a medieval kingdom that with an iron hand suppresses dissent, human rights, religious freedom and practices public floggings and limb amputations. It has chosen to exclude all Moslem refugees, not admitting a single one.
Why your silence on these countries?
Is it because you do not wish your Moslem fellow citizens howling at your door that you are a white racist?
Dear Jane, amongst others, you further failed to include North Korea, Pakistan and Russia. I note that your myopia exempts them too. I find it ironic that you condemn Europe that has taken in millions of refugees, paying a high price in the increase of crime and the burden of social welfare whilst you blithely ignore their brethren in the Gulf States who have closed their doors to them.
In conclusion, I find your words deeply disturbing. Your silence regarding a host of countries that practice “racism and ethno-nationalism” that “exclude, suppress and marginalize” is ominous. Your ethical double standards reek of a flawed morality dictated by a possibly self-serving current political correctness. For an academic, the “public intellectual”, your bigotry and bias is both blatant and shameful.
About the writer:
Stephen Schulman, is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist Youth Movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. Stephen, who has a master’s degree in Education, was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.
Unto every person there is a name. If you think about it, our names are the only possessions that we retain throughout our lives and many of us worry if they will be remembered long after we pass. In Jewish tradition, names are symbolic of divine energy.
Memory can be also regarded as the lifeblood of Jewish tradition. We remember our dead every year with special dates in the Hebrew calendar that mark the anniversary of their death and by lighting a yahrtzheit (memorial) candle. But what of the millions who perished in the Holocaust? Whole families and communities who were murdered? How do we remember them?
One poignant way is through a project called Stolpersteine(stumbling stones).
If you walk through the streets of Prague or Berlin or any number of European cities, you will come across brass plates, no bigger than 10cm x 10cm, dotted all over the cities. These are Stolpersteine.
Stolpersteine or “stumbling stones’ was founded by artist, Gunter Demnig. The project was started as a way to commemorate the victims of the Nazis. These plates are painstakingly and respectfully placed into the pavement in front of the last voluntarily chosen places of residence of the victims of the Nazis. Their names and fate are engraved into a brass plate on the top of each Stolpersteine.
These modest memorials keep memory alive; they bear testament to the tenet that here too, lived a person. This person had a life, a family and a future. The person that lived at this address ceased to exist because of hatred and intolerance.
It is not just Jews that are honoured by the Stolpersteine project. Famed Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, once commented that not all the victims were Jewish, but all the Jews were victims. The Nazis with their racist ideology, also deemed the Sinti and Roma, people from the political or religious resistance, people who had physical or mental disability and were “euthanized”, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and anyone who they felt was “sub-human” and not a perfect Aryan.
For some families, participating in the Stolpersteine project, it is not just a way to eternally memorialise their lost loved ones, but a way to learn family history. It is also important for the descendants of those who perished, to have the opportunity to restore dignity to the victims that were so cruelly robbed and to give their loved ones the funerals they never had.
Yair Chelouche has a Stolpersteine dedicated to his family members in Berlin and Halle, Germany shared some thoughts:
“When I visited Berlin a couple of years ago and participated in a guided tour, I became curious where these Stolpersteine came from. I wrote to the project founders; and was told that my application was referred to the relevant region where my family came from and that it could take a few years to process. One day, I was contacted by one of the volunteers who dealt with the Stolpersteine in Pankow, where my family lived. Finding information on my grandmother was easy because all the documentation was there, where she lived and where she died later in Theresienstadt. My grandfather was more of an enigma; but after a lot of intense research, we found out that he was a PhD from Heidelberg University and one of the founders of one of the first Jewish student fraternities of that university. He was a great Zionist who knew Herzl, Bodenheimer and others who were giants of the Jewish world,” continues Yair, a great-grandchild who searched for his family roots and history.
“Finally, we were able to tie up all the loose ends and close the painful chapters of our family history that we did not know. Through learning about our family during this process, we were able to give them their name, their dignity, make sense of the places they lived in. We were able to follow in their footsteps until the cruel end of their lives”, he says.
Stolpersteine exist in many countries across Europe but not everyone embraced the memorials. The German city council of Munich rejected the Stolpersteine following objections from Munich’s Jewish community (and particularly its chairwoman, Charlotte Knobloch, then also President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and herself a former victim of Nazi persecution). Knobloch objected to the idea that the names of murdered Jews be inserted in the pavement, where people might accidentally step on them. It would be seen as “walking on the graves of dead Jews”.
Founder of the Stolpersteine project, Demnig, participated in the discussions, stating that “he intends to create a memorial at the very place where the deportation started: at the homes where people had lived last”. A compromise was reached where plaques were put up on the walls of homes of individuals and not the pavement.
In other cities, permission for the project was preceded by long, sometimes emotional discussions. In Krefeld, the vice-chairman of the Jewish community, Michael Gilad, said that Demnig’s memorials reminded him of how the Nazis had used Jewish gravestones as slabs for sidewalks. A compromise was reached that a stolpersteine could be installed if a prospective site was approved by both the house’s owner and (if applicable) the victim’s relatives. Since 2009, 23 Stolpersteine for the Belgian city of Antwerp have been produced but have not be placed due to local resistance against the project. They have been stored in Brussels where they are regularly exhibited.
Most cities across Europe welcome this initiative. They recognize that as time passes and the numbers of survivors dwindle, projects like Stolpersteine play an important part in saying, I too existed. I too lived and loved.
I too had a name.
*Feature picture: A view of some “stolpersteine” in Berlin, August 2012. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images via JTA)