The Arab World Fighting Antisemitism

How Arab countries have become the new leaders in the fight against growing antisemitism.

By Rolene Marks

There is a pervasive sense of optimism winding its way through the Middle East since the signing of the Abraham Accords. Hardly a day goes by without a major announcement of new Memorandums of Understanding signaling co-operation in some or other field; friendships between Bahrainis, Moroccans, Emiratis and Israelis are blossoming on social media and Israel even managed to pull off a sporting miracle – beating the Emirati team 33-0 in a friendly rugby match.

It is proof of what happens when peace takes flight!

Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion once said that in order to live in Israel, one had to be a realist and believe in miracles. And where better than in a land where decades of strife and disorder and now being turned into normalization, recognition and mutual co-operation?

Perhaps the greatest miracle of all is the one that is poised to undo generations of suspicion, incitement and even hatred. The Arab world is fast becoming a great example of how to lead in the fights against antisemitism.

For decades and at least since the beginning of the 20th century, antisemitism has spread throughout the Arab world as a result of a number of reasons. The fall of the Ottoman Empire, the spread of Western Imperialism, the relations between Nazi leaders and the Arab world are some reasons why anti-Jewish propaganda found eager recipients in many parts and bred resentment against Jews and Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.

Jews had experienced a relatively protected existence against persecution in Arab countries. Long seen as “People of the Book”, Jews were granted dhimmi status. This meant that they were not treated equally and were subject to specific laws, restrictions and taxes (called jizya) but protected against being killed. We could scoff indignantly (and should!) at this but in other countries where Jews were a minority, they endured far worse.

From Khartoum With Hate. A summit of the heads of Arab League countries, held in Khartoum, Sudan following the Arab defeat in the Six Day War in June 1967, the leaders in a press release expressed: “no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel.”

In the 20th century as Pan-Arabism and Islamism spread, an estimated 850 000 Jews were expelled from Arab lands following the establishment of the modern State of Israel.  The communities that thrived in Libya and Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Morocco and so many others, dwindled down to few or ceased to exist.

Decades later, anti-Jewish sentiment would spread through these countries and also manifest itself as hatred against Israel, the Jewish state. Who can forget the infamous 3 No’s of Khartoum? No recognition, no negotiation, no peace.

But something remarkable has happened with the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel, the USA, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates as well as Morocco and the Sudan.

The signing of these Accords is more than just recognition or normalization. While hardly a day goes by without news of yet another investment or area of cooperation, perhaps one of the most important clauses is tolerance and promotion of education against antisemitism. Tolerance education has been policy in Bahrain and the UAE since before the Accords were officially signed and it is so evident in the exchanges between Emiratis, Bahrainis and Israelis online. But this connection is deeper than 120 characters on Twitter. It is also evident in the interfaith events that have almost become the order of the day. A sukkah (temporary decorative shelter) nonchalantly perched outside the Burj Khalifa in Dubai during the Jewish festival of Sukkot spoke volumes, just as the minyan (quorum of 10 men required for prayers) at the synagogue in Manama, Bahrain. These are just glimpses into the relationships that are being built on a daily basis.

Constructive Engagement. Amongst Dubai’s towering skyscrapers, a tine structure surprisingly rose in  October 2020 – a Sukkah at the base of the world’s tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa. The sukkah – a temporary shelter where Jews gather to celebrate the weeklong harvest festival of Sukkot  – was set up following the US-brokered deal to normalize relations between the UAE and Israel.(AP)

But there is something more “tachlis” that is happening on the ground. Arab countries that have normalized ties with Israel are starting to institute policies that take major steps that help fix decades of mistrust, incitement and hatred.

The signing of the Abraham Accords itself stands as historical. The recognition of Israel in the Arab world says this Jewish state exists, it is a part of our region, we will no longer ignore or deny its sovereignty and we will build strong and lasting ties. This is profoundly significant at a time when daily attacks on Israeli sovereignty come from quarters in the far right and far left and when peace in the Middle East was thought to be contingent on an agreement between Israel and her Palestinian neighbours. Former US Secretary of State, John Kerry must feel a fool because this was a theory he espoused many times. The three No’s have become the three yesses. Yes to recognition, yes to negotiation and yes to peace.

Bahrain Bounces Back . At the end of a synagogue service occurring on the sidelines of the US administration’s economic peace workshop held in Bahraini capital Manama in 2019 the men, clad in prayer shawls, broke out in song, walking around the bimah and singing “Am Yisrael Chai” – the people of Israel live.

Bahrain signed another important agreement. The Gulf state signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the US department of State where they adopted the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism, becoming the first Arab country to do so. Under the agreement, both sides vowed to promote and share the best procedures for tackling antisemitism and anti-Zionism, including efforts to delegitimize Israel. This is a far cry from many countries around the world, including in Europe where antisemitism is rising to astronomical levels.

Another Arab world first is the decision by Morocco to include Jewish history and culture as part of the school curriculum. Islam is the official state religion and according to Education Minister Said Amzazi and the heads of two Moroccan associations who signed a partnership agreement this will pave the way “for the promotion of values of tolerance, diversity and coexistence in schools and universities.”

Morocco’s King Mohammed V1, is also “Commander of the Faithful,” has pushed for a tolerant Islam that ensures freedom of worship for Jews and foreign Christians.

These Arab countries are paving the way through practical, important and sincere examples of how to lead in the fight against antisemitism.  They are not relying on platitudes but are putting words into actions, something that many other countries should be cognizant of.

Winds of Change. With Morocco to become first Arab nation to teach Jewish history, culture in schools, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI visits the Bayt Dakira Museum in Essaouira.  King Mohammed VI’s declaration that he will normalize ties with Israel has had “the impact of a tsunami,” says head of the Council of Jewish Communities of Morocco. (Photo: AFP via the Moroccan Royal Palace)

It is hoped that more Arab countries will join the ever growing circle of peace. This will go a long way to winning increasing battles in the fight against antisemitism, however it may manifest itself. The proof is in the interaction that is growing not just between governments but ordinary citizens who value tolerance and co-existence.  This is an example that the rest of the world could and should be following.

This celebrates three new yeses. Yes to tolerance. Yes to education. Yes to peaceful co-existence.

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

A Walk In The Park A Return To The Dark?

Avoid this one in Istanbul, it honours an antisemitic Nazi supporter

By David E. Kaplan

What is it about Turkey these days that from being one of the most popular tourist destinations for Israelis, where hoteliers and restaurateurs in its tourist hotspots spoke Hebrew to welcome Israeli visitors in their multitudes, has turned not only anti-Israel but antisemitic?

The latest disturbing action – mostly ignored by the international media – was in November 2020, when the Istanbul metropolitan municipality named a park after a notorious antisemite – Hüseyin Nihal Atsız (1905–1975). The park – following a request made by members of İyi Parti (the Good Party) – is located in Istanbul’s Köyiçi region of Maltepe district, where Atsız spent most of his life.

Troubling Times. The name of Turkist Hüseyin Nihal Atsız was given to a park in Istanbul Maltepe. IYI Party thanked Istanbul mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu.

What is “good” about this decision?

As much of the pre-Corona Western world made headlines of crowds storming statues and ripping them off their proverbial pedestals for their racist pasts, the Turks are fine with naming a park after someone who wrote in 1934:

 “As the mud will not be iron even if it is put into an oven, the Jew cannot be Turkish no matter how hard he tries.”

While the world media dissected the controversial pasts of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and even Abraham Lincoln, they ignore the Turkish nationalist writer, novelist, poet, historian and philosopher who also wrote that:

 “Turkishness is a privilege; it is not granted to everyone, especially to those like Jews…If we get angry, we will not only exterminate Jews like the Germans did, we will go further…”

How much “further” could they “go”? To name a park in Istanbul after a man who wants to compete with the Nazis as to how to treat or deal with Jews?

Apparently we should not be surprised according to Dr. Nikos Michailidis,Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Mediterranean Studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and an expert on Turkey, who earlier this month told The Jerusalem Post that:

It’s not shocking for those who know Turkey well that Ekrem Imamoglu, the supposedly ‘social democrat’ Mayor of Istanbul, supported and approved a bill to name a park in the city after a prominent ultra-nationalist writer and Nazi sympathizer. Turkish ultra-nationalist and supremacist ideology is not a marginal phenomenon, but rather the mainstream.”

Writing on the Wall.  Ekrem İmamoğlu is the mayor of İstanbul, the largest city in Turkey with 15 million inhabitants, nearly 20% of the entire country’s population. If as President Erdoğan said in an AKP meeting  2017, “Who wins Istanbul wins Turkey” and today this belief dominates Turkish politics, approving a park in Istanbul honouring those advocate exterminating Jews is a major concern.

He goes on to say that “With the exception of the pro-Kurdish HDP, and some liberal as well as a few social democrat politicians, all the other parties in the Turkish parliament are inspired – to different degrees – by openly racist ideologies.”

Madness – Marginal to Mainstream

If for years Atsiz’s haircut resembled Hitler’s, his rhetoric mirrored the Nazi leader’s genocidal antisemitism.

Unabashed Racist. An early militaristic photograph of Hüseyin Nihal Atsız (1905–1975) – an anti-Semite and Turkey’s most prominent Nazi sympathizer.

Some of the other tirades documented from Hüseyin Nihal Atsiz include:

  • The Jew here is like the Jew we see everywhere. Insidious, insolent, malevolent, cowardly, but opportunistic Jew; the Jewish neighborhood is the center of clamor, noise and filth here as [the Jewish neighborhoods] everywhere else… We do not want to see this treacherous and bastard nation of history as citizens among us anymore.”
  •  “The creature called the Jew in the world is not loved by anyone but the Jew and the ignoble ones… Phrases in our language such as ‘like a Jew’, ‘do not act like a Jew’, ‘Jewish bazaar’, ‘to look like a synagogue’… shows the value given by our race to this vile nation.””

So Jews are a “vile nation” to a man Turkey sees fit to name a park after!

This not only happened in the 1930s; this happened in 2020!

Appearances Aside. Despite the resemblances Atsız (left) had with Adolf Hitler (right), he denied these claims as he started to publish his ideas even before Hitler was well-known in Turkey.

According to the late Prof. Jacob M. Landau of the Hebrew University’s Department of Political Science, “Atsiz was a great admirer of the race theories of Nazi Germany, expressing some of them repeatedly in his works during the 1930s and 1940s.”

Bad enough as Atsiz was as a product of his time, far more worrying is that he has no shortage of fans today in modern-day Turkey. Evidence of this is the annual commemorative ceremonies held in his honour attracting members from a number of political parties and now – a park in Istanbul!

Dr. Efrat Aviv, a senior lecturer in the Dept. of Middle Eastern Studies at Bar-Ilan University and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies reveals:

 Atsız wrote several articles accusing Jews of unrestrained greed and national disloyalty, and of being communist and cosmopolitan at the same time. Atsız labeled Jews and communists Turkey’s two main rivals, and claimed in an issue of Orhun published in November 1933 that “Germany has become the first country to solve the Jewish problem.” In 1944, he wrote that Jews are the secret enemy of all nations.”

The danger of Atsiz’s poison pen moved beyond imaginings  to the real, reminiscent of the insightful quote of Heinrich Heine that:

Wherever they burn books, in the end will also burn human beings.”

Cause for Concern. Nihâl Atsız in the 1930s again popular in the 2020s.

Motivated by the writings of Atsız and other antisemitic authors,continues Aviv, “Turks targeted the Jews of eastern Thrace in pogroms from June 21 through July 4, 1934, collectively known as the “Thrace Incidents”. The pogroms began with a boycott of Jewish businesses and descended to physical attacks on Jewish-owned buildings, which were first looted, then set on fire. Jewish men were beaten and some Jewish women reportedly raped. Terrorized by this turn of events, many Jews fled the region.”

When asked by the Post what can be done about Turkey’s glorification of Atsız and its disturbing direction, Dr. Nikos Michailidis suggested:

primarily through extensive sanctions  and with the use of other innovative diplomatic, economic, educational and cultural tools, the EU and the US can design and implement policies for the ‘de-Nazification’ of the Turkish political system and its irredentist, nationalist ideology.”

Grass no longer Greener! Young people enjoy Istanbul park before its renaming of a racist, antisemite and Nazi supporter.

However, how likely is this to happen when as Michailidis notes that while the EU and the US rightly criticize and oppose the rise of Nazi ideologies in European countries, “they fail to raise the same criticism when it comes to Turkey, a NATO member-state and once an aspiring candidate for EU membership.”

They are also not helped by a global press that is rather reticent on Turkey’s disturbing direction.

If the message that Turkey sends to Jews is to honour those today that pride on killing Jews of yesterday, then maybe the message Jews can send to Turkey is – AVOID IT!

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

Weep, the Beloved Country

By Stephen Schulman

Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.”

Winston Churchill

Laws alone cannot secure freedom of expression; in order that every man present his views without penalty there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.”

Albert Einstein

More than half a century has passed since leaving my native land of South Africa. I left a country dominated by an oppressive racist regime where free speech was nonexistent, all criticism was suppressed and its opponents subject to severe punitive measures. Thankfully, those bad days are long gone. In 1994, the country passed into majority rule, apartheid was abolished and through free elections a representative government was elected.

However, sadly to say, after more than a quarter century has passed, bigotry, intolerance and stifling of views that disagree with those of the powers-that-be, still persist. An eloquent testimony to this fact is the ongoing saga of Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.

Bravery on the Bench. Ordered to apologise and retract comments he made about SA’s relationship with Israel and even supplied with a scripted version of what he should say, Chief Justice Mogoeng has defiantly doubled down at a public prayer meeting, saying he had nothing to apologise for.

In July last year, the Chief Justice together with the Chief Rabbi of South Africa Warren Goldstein appeared on a webinar organized by The Jerusalem Post and moderated by its Editor- in-Chief Yaakov Katz. The Chief Justice, a devout Christian, used this platform to express his personal beliefs and views regarding the Middle East conflict. He prefaced his remarks by stating that as a citizen of his country he was bound by the laws and policies adopted by it. Nevertheless, as a citizen, he also had the inalienable right to criticize the very same policies and laws and suggest changes.

Ordered to Rethink! Jerusalem Post Editor-In-Chief Yaakov Katz (top right) moderates a discussion between Chief Rabbi of South Africa Warren Goldstein (bottom) and South Africa’s Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng (top left) whose comments upset the country’s ruling ANC party leading to an order for him to apologise and retract his comments about SA’s relationship with Israel. (photo credit: screenshot)

As a believer in the Bible and as a tenet of his faith he declared his love and prayers for Israel and the Palestinians as well. Neither a moral judgment was passed nor a condoning of Israel’s policies. He felt that South Africa, with its anti-Israel bias, was depriving itself of “a wonderful opportunity of being a game changer in the Israeli-Palestinian situation.” Moreover, he accused the critics of Israel of blatant hypocrisy and self-serving for maintaining relations with both former colonial powers and countries that exploit the continent today.

The expected public reaction was not long in coming!

The pro-Palestinian groups and activists, including Africa 4 Palestine, South Africa BDS Coalition and the Women’s Cultural Group, were outraged. In the eyes of the ruling ANC and the faithful, he had committed the heinous, unforgivable sin of deviating from the official line and criticizing the wisdom of their policies. Cancel Culture – the phenomenon of silencing, shaming and ostracizing people whose views or ideologies are considered problematic or offensive – came into full swing; the floodgates of official opprobrium were swiftly opened and Justice Mogoeng was deluged with protests, condemnations and questioning of his authority and moral integrity. He was insulted, besmirched and even subject to a vile, scurrilous caricature by the cartoonist Zapiro. Chief Justice Mogoeng stood his ground and refused to buckle under by renouncing his principles and beliefs.

Jokes Aside. For freely expressing an opinion outside court, the “Chief Justice” is ridiculed as being “Chief Zionist” by South Africa’s best known cartoonist, “Zapiro”.

I stand by my refusal to retract or apologize for any part of what I said during the webinar. Even if 50 million people were to march every day for 10 years for me to do so, I would not apologize. If I perish, I perish.”

The next chapter of the saga unfolded when a complaint of him becoming “involved in political controversy or activity” was lodged by the above mentioned groups with the Judicial Conduct Committee of the country’s Judicial Service Commission that then concurred with the complainants. It ordered him to apologize for his comments about the Middle East, apologize and retract his statements concerning his refusal to back down and to sign a prewritten document drafted by the Commission to that effect. This document would not only make him eat humble pie but cause him to refute his deeply held beliefs and relinquish his dearly held principles in order to fall in line with the government’s official policy. It was a harsh judgment reminiscent of the recanting and public humiliations of the Stalinist era and the techniques of Mao Tse Tung!

Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has vigorously refuted the charges against him and denied being involved in extrajudicial activities incompatible with the impartiality of a judge. He unequivocally stressed that he had nothing to apologize for; his conscience was clear that he would appeal the court’s decision and that he refused to sign the document. He reiterated his position that in exercising his citizen’s right of free speech, he was in no way attacking and undermining his government’s policy.

“…..judges are citizens and have constitutional rights of freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of thought and freedom of opinion. It is not correct to say as soon as you assume office, you automatically let go of your constitutional rights.”

The Chief Justice also rebuked the presiding judge of the Judicial Service Commission who accused him of appearing on The Jerusalem Post webinar in order to promote his own interests, those of the publication and those of the Israeli government.

Because it means every time a judge or a magistrate accepts an invitation by the SABC or eNCA or Newzroom Afrika they are advancing their own interests or the interests of the station so that it can have a large viewership and the judges must be punished for it.”

He stressed that this salient point could be extended to all the media.

At this point of time, the saga is still unfolding as the Judicial Service Commission’s decision regarding his refusal has not been forthcoming!

Most illuminating and possibly reflecting public opinion was an article, conspicuously devoid of any moral stance, that appeared in the Daily Maverick concerning the case of Mogoeng Mogoeng. The writer acknowledged that the ANC is virulently anti-Israel which it accuses of being (in the well-worn, inaccurate and misleading phrase) an “apartheid” state. In scouring for further justification of their attitude, he dredges up the unsubstantiated claim that Israel supplied the apartheid regime with the knowledge to build an atomic bomb. Desperately and rather pathetically, dredging even deeper, he states that: “Culturally, White South Africans sometimes saw themselves as having similarities with Israelis, an example of which can be found in at least one popular novel by Wilbur Smith at that time.” With all due respect to Mr. Smith, a talented and prolific author with over 30 novels of historical fiction to his credit and to the writer of this article, I modestly beg to differ. I was born, grew up in South Africa, attended a public school and served in the SA Defence Forces where I encountered and knew people from all backgrounds. Never once did I hear this belief expressed. Even at university where I studied South African history, did I find evidence of it! If it exists at all, it is confined to a miniscule lunatic fringe. The writer can also rest assured that Israelis would find no affinity with adherents to this credo.

The Daily Maverick contributor comforts himself by concluding that the committee’s findings and actions regarding Mogoeng Mogoeng will have a positive effect for here at last, the judiciary has actually functioned by acting in unison to prove “that judges can be, and are being, regulated and this might actually generate more trust in the judiciary among the general public.” This is a sad testament to a judiciary whose reputation is in tatters as when it quashed the case of misconduct and impropriety against a former Western Cape Judge President, and  former South African President Jacob Zuma now thumbs his nose at the commission investigating his multifarious misdemeanors by refusing to appear  before them.

Cold comfort indeed!

Most unfortunately, South Africa under its present government is on the road to becoming a failed state. Kleptocracy has become institutionalized. The ruling ANC party is dominated by nepotism and cronyism, appointing many incompetent people whose sole qualification for a post is family and/or political connections and who see it as an opportunity to fill their pockets. Crime is endemic with an ineffectual police force characterized by corruption up to the highest level. Statistics show South Africa to be the global murder and rape capital with citizens fearing for the safety of their persons and their property. Unemployment is rife with many citizens living in abject poverty. The infrastructure is crumbling with regular power outages and public transport is unreliable and unsafe: travelling on the vandalized trains involves risking life and limb. In some instances, local authorities do not fulfill their roles and in a few towns the residents have taken it upon themselves to collect garbage and supply municipal services. Has the judiciary spoken out on these burning issues?

The government ignores the injustices outside its borders. It turns a blind eye to the plight of the citizens of Zimbabwe suffering under a corrupt regime and remains conspicuously silent regarding the travesties committed on the continent. It retains close links with China – a notoriously violator of human rights and is not averse to maintaining diplomatic relations with other oppressive regimes. Nevertheless, it remains obsessively hypocritically, focused on Israel, the one democracy in the Middle East.

The saga of Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng whose sole crime was a suggestion that his government take a more even handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict caused him to be treated like a pariah is a sad testament to the state of affairs and bodes ill for the future of independence of thought and free speech in a healthy democracy.

I fervently hope that my prediction will be proved wrong.

About the writer:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Stephen-Schulman1.png

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. He 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.

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

Time To Tackle Antisemitism – Seriously!

UN steps up to the plate at special virtual Conference

By Yair Chelouche

At Monday’s United Nations Alliance of Organisations (UNAOC) virtual conference on “Exploring Holistic Approaches to Combating Antisemitism”, Lay of the Land’s Rolene Marks addressed the impressive gathering, which UN leading official Miguel Moratinos, called for “greater international recognition of antisemitism and more focus on the role of social media in the spread of online hate.”

Rising to the Challenge.  “Antisemitism is a global problem,” says UN High-Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations Miguel Moratinos in Virtual Conference on Fighting Anti-Jewish Hatred (Photo: Screenshot)

Other speakers included Malcolm Hoenlein, Vice Chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Katharina Von Schnurbein, Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life at the European Commission; Lord Eric Pickles, the UK’s Special Envoy for Post Holocaust Issues; Irwin Cotler, Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism Nihal Saad, Chief of Cabinet and Spokesperson for the High Representative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and UNAOC goodwill ambassador Rabbi Arthur Schneier.

Talking Heads. Participants at the UN virtual conference on anti-Semitism with Lay Of The Land’s Rolene Marks 6th from the left at the bottom of the screen.

Moratinos, who was appointed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in February 2020, to serve as the UN focal point for monitoring antisemitism and improving a system-wide response, said that although the majority of anti-Semitic attacks have taken place in Europe or the US, “our outreach efforts should extend beyond those regions to Africa, Asia and Latin America.”

He also stressed that “it is equally important that any criticism directed towards the government of Israel is not used as an incitement towards Jews or sacred Jewish sites.”

Stressing the urgency, Dr. Robert Williams, Deputy Director of International Affairs at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum said “Antisemitism is worse now than at any point since 1948. So the time to act is now before it is too late and we must do it together.”

Lay of the Land’s co-founder Rolene Marks addresses at the United Nations Alliance of Organisations (UNAOC) virtual conference on “Exploring Holistic Approaches to Combating Antisemitism

Representing the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO), hereunder follows Lay Of the Land Rolene Mark’s address to the UN conference:

Your Excellency’s, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great honour to speak here today on behalf of WIZO, the Women’s International Zionist Organisation.

During our century’s worth of work in civil society, WIZO has demonstrated the ability to recognize antisemitism in our Federations around the world and adapt and respond accordingly as well as work closely with the UN on the various bodies and cities where we are represented. Throughout history, antisemitism – the oldest hatred – has always manifested itself in different ways and often adapts to fit the unique political situation of a country.  In our organisation’s 100 year history, our global family has endured fascism, communism, Apartheid, the rise of the BDS movement that aims to challenge Israel’s sovereignty, and conflict in Israel and with that, the usual scapegoating of Jewish communities – many times resulting in violence and even death. We have lost federations to the Holocaust but never the values and the will to ensure that we are in the forefront of fighting hatred.

Today, against the backdrop of the global Covid pandemic and the role of social media in creating communities of hate and propagating conspiracy theories, misinformation and sometimes sanctioning violence, civil society organisations like ours that have always responded to the needs of society, especially the most vulnerable, including minority communities, are committed to including education, resource sharing and the empowerment of our members to be able to confront the issues threatening both their communities and assaults on the legitimacy of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. We need to recognize the threats that come from the far left, who are often the leading voices on the assault on the legitimacy of Israel as much as the far right who are seen as the purveyors of a more sinister form of antisemitism.

People around the world are having important and necessary and long overdue conversations about racism and the imperative of tolerance. Antisemitism has to be a part of that conversation. WIZO has identified the need to expand the scope of our work to ensure that our federations have the tools and resources that are specific to the to the threats and challenges in their countries and  knowhow to confront them as well as increase our outreach to other minority communities with similar concerns.

We have ensured that we are very much a presence wherever the opportunity to confront antisemitism and anti-Zionism presents itself. More often than not, having the word Zionism in our name makes us a target for antisemitism. Education about Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people could also be explored when putting together educational curriculum.

One of the areas needing greater focus is social media. If users are mandated  by law to join using their full and proper names, as well personal images, it makes it that much more difficult to hide behind avatars and fake identities and easier to trace if they are hate speech super spreaders. Our young people, vulnerable to the rhetoric on social media are in the frontline of this battle – and many of them are too fearful to identify as Jewish, lest they are targeted. University campuses are hotbeds of hatred – especially during this month when the BDS led, Israel Apartheid Week that exploits the suffering of the victims of apartheid to push a hate filled agenda of delegitimisation winds its way across the world. 

The adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism and the inclusion of Holocaust education in schools and universities around the world is vital in helping to combat this spreading virus of hatred. It is also recommended that traditional and social media platforms adopt IHRA so that they can better understand antisemitism, which is the forbearer of other hatred, while still providing a platform for free speech – just not hate speech.

We need to engage with and mobilise civil society organisations, work with educators and policy makers and leaders, business owners and social media influencers. It is particularly alarming to learn how many young people have little or no knowledge of the Holocaust. The next generation understands the language and message of social justice – we need to ensure that the dangers of antisemitism are part of that understanding by continuing to engage with them in the language that they speak. Human rights icon, Natan Sharansky spoke of the 3 D’s of antisemitism – demonization, delegitimatision and double standards. We need to engage the next generation in another D – defeating it.

We said never again. Never again is now!

Thank you.

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)

Israel Sends Vaccines to Palestinians

By Rolene Marks

Israel is currently the world leader in rolling out the vaccine and it is predicted that nearly all adults will be vaccinated by next month. Along with this great achievement, has come a certain level of criticism focusing on whether or not Israel is responsible for vaccinating the neighbouring Palestinian populations in Gaza and the West Bank. It is extremely important to understand what the situation on the ground is before making accusations like the one in the article “Israel violates international law by blocking vaccines to Gaza”.

Since the start of the global pandemic, Israel has been cooperating with  our Palestinians neighbours, 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.

People waiting in line to get vaccinated against the coronavirus in Jerusalem. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)

In an official statement dated November 26, 2020, issued to the residents of the Gaza Strip by Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, IDF Maj. Gen. Abu Rukun stated:

   “We find it important to emphasize clearly that neither I, nor the organization that I head, nor any other representative of Israel, has obstructed any request or requirement for the entry of medical aid of any kind. We welcome all assistance from all the various sources. In light of the situation, COGAT is allowing assistance from the international community to the health system of the Gaza Strip.

IDF Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun chief Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT)

So far, many dozens of ventilator machines have arrived, as well as many PCR machines, which have increased the pace of testing from 200 to 2,500 tests a day.    Dozens of oxygen generators have arrived, and hundreds of inhalers for hospital use and home use. Hundreds of hospital beds have been added, and with our coordination, approximately 600 tons of essential medications and medical equipment have been allowed entry, including tens of thousands of coronavirus testing kits.

    All that assistance can help the health system to provide care and save lives. COVID-19 pandemic is a global challenge, and it behooves all parties to strive for a solution to that challenge.”

The Gaza Strip is governed by Hamas who is recognized internationally as a terrorist organization.

Distributing Covid aid and vaccines 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 rationale for refusal according to a Palestinian government source was that “Palestinians refuse to be a bridge [for Arab countries] seeking to have normalised ties with Israel.”

In May 2020, Palestinian Authority rejected UAE aid sent via Israeli airport giving its reason  that it would be seen as a ‘cover for normalisation’ of ties with Israel”.

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.

Is Israel legally responsible for vaccinating Palestinians?

Israelis and the Palestinian Authority 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.

In article 17 of the Third (Civilian) annex to the Oslo 2 accord, the Palestinian side assumed full powers and responsibilities in the field of health care. They undertook in paragraph 2 of article 17:

 “…to continue to apply the present standards of vaccination of Palestinians and shall improve them according to internationally accepted standards in the field, taking into account WHO recommendations.”

In paragraphs 6 and 7, they agreed that:

   “Israel and the Palestinian side shall exchange information regarding epidemics and contagious diseases, shall cooperate in combating them and shall develop methods for exchange of medical files and documents.”


    “The health systems of Israel and of the Palestinian side will maintain good working relations in all matters, including mutual assistance in providing first aid in cases of emergency, medical instruction, professional training and exchange of information.”

This is a clear case of Israel is damned if it does – and damned if it doesn’t. The Palestinian Authority  have received Russian Sputnik vaccines as part of the international  Covax scheme. Israel began vaccinating over 120,000 Palestinian workers who enter the country daily with legal permits as well as sent vaccines to the Palestinian Authority to vaccinate healthcare workers. By admission from PA officials, some of these vaccines did not go to healthcare workers as intended but rather to the Palestinian soccer team and government officials. Perhaps corruption and cronyism is more to blame than the convenient finger pointing at Israel.

A Palestinian health worker is vaccinated against COVID-19 after the delivery of doses from Israel in West Bank city of Bethlehem. (REUTERS – MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA)

Israel has sent vaccines into the Gaza strip and while there is a  legal maritime blockade in place that is recognized by the United Nations, it has not prohibited Israel in ensuring aid and vaccines continues to enter the strip. Israel, the West bank and the Gaza strip share the same epidemiological footprint and so Israel has ensured that vaccines continue to be distributed to our neighbours. Epidemiological and moral responsibility require both Israel and the Palestinians to act responsibly and to cooperate with a view to reducing the risk of COVID-19 spreading between their respective territories and as such regardless of not being legally bound, Israel continues to send vaccines. Accusations of such as the one made in the above mentioned article 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.

A health worker prepares to vaccinate former Palestinian health minister Jawad Tibi against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine in Gaza City February 22, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

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)

Erasive Antisemitism — Naming a Subcategory of Antisemitism

By Ben M. Freeman

I would like to propose a new sub-categorisation of antisemitism:

Erasive Antisemitism“.

It is connected to other categorisations of antisemitism, such as conspiracy fantasy which is why I offer it as a sub-categorisation as opposed to a distinct categorisation of its own.

It can take two forms:

1. The erasure of Jewish identity.

2. The erasure of Jews as victims of prejudice.

The Erasure of Jewish Identity

On the 18th of September 2020, the first night of Rosh Hashanah, Ruth Bader Ginsburg died.

RBG — as she is commonly and affectionately known — was the first Jewish woman to serve on the US Supreme Court. Importantly, her Jewishness is not a footnote in her story. It was one of her defining identities. It shaped her life, her work and her values. She herself stated:

    “I am a judge, born, raised and proud of being a Jew. The demand for justice, for peace and for enlightenment runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition.”

Yet, much of the non-Jewish outpouring of love and commiseration omitted her Jewishness other than to occasionally recognise that she died on Rosh Hashanah. This omission was not an accident, it is part of the wider trend of Erasive Antisemitism that aims to strip (or redefine) the Jewishness of individuals.

If RBG herself identified as a Jew and saw her Jewishness as a major source of her determination to serve as a Judge, who is it for a non-Jew to erase that fact? It was a defining feature of her life and identity and must be recognised and addressed to accurately and authentically represent her.

This specific form of Erasive Antisemitism seeks to diminish and erase the Jewish people, strip us of our achievements and the major contributions we have made to the wider world. Surely, when commenting on someone’s life, it would be impossible to ignore someone’s Jewishness, particularly when they themselves have spoken publicly about their pride in it?

Another form of Erasive Antisemitism is the erasure of authentic Jewish identity. This is specifically, when people, either non-Jews or Jews, seek to identify Jews as a solely religious group. It is well established that Jewish people are an ethnoreligious group. We are a People. However, due to the complicated history of assimilation that I explore in my upcoming book, Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People, Jews began to define themselves as a religion.

The non-Jewish world coerced us to adopt a purely religious identity (while diminishing the nation aspect of Jewishness) with the promise of acceptance that never truly materialised. To align Jews with their concept of loyal citizens, the non-Jewish world identified Jews as a solely religious group, stripping us of 4000 years+ of history and in the process, our authentic identity. This resulted in many Jews and the vast majority of non-Jews seeing Jewishness solely through the lens of religion. Despite this, the majority of antisemitism today discriminates against an “inherent Jewish character”, not Judaism as a theology. This causes a multitude of issues in terms of perceptions of both Jewish identity and antisemitism.

In 2020 the House has approved a bill, sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., to recommit the Equity and Inclusion Enforcement Act to include antisemitism. However, 164 Congress people voted against this bill, many of whom went on to issue gushing memorials for RBG whose life they inadvertently endangered by refusing to support this bill. Rep. Bobby Scott, Congressman for 3rd District of Virginia justified his vote by stating that it:

    “Wrongly added a form of religious discrimination to a bill intended to address racial and ethnic discrimination.”

Let me be clear, the inclusion of Jews in this Act is crucial. It would have made a statement recognising that the vast majority of antisemitism — even that which is aimed at religiously presenting Jews — is not rooted in the concept of Jews as a religious group. In the 21st Century, Jews are rarely attacked for our beliefs. We are attacked because of non-Jewish perceptions of what it means to be a Jew and what that Jewishness represents to the non-Jewish world, not what a Jew believes. Orthodox Jews are not attacked because their attackers disagree with their ideology. No they are attacked because of judgements made against their characters as a result of their Jewishness.

The inability of the non-Jewish world to properly identify Jews — or indeed allow us to define ourselves — is rooted in an arrogance that diminishes the agency of Jews to define ourselves and it is inherently antisemitic. It assigns Jews a passive role in our own destiny. It also actively misunderstands antisemitism, misidentifies Jews and as a result harms us and leaves Jews vulnerable to violence and prejudice.

The Erasure of Jews as Victims of Prejudice

The second main type of Erasive Antisemitism can take several forms such as Holocaust denial or the progressive labelling of light-skinned Jews as purely white (without the crucial nuance of “white-passing”) and therefore not victims of legitimate forms of prejudice. Though wildly different on the surface, both serve the same purpose.

Through its various forms, it seeks to diminish or erase antisemitism and frame Jews as powerful and privileged in an attempt to demonise Jewish people and explain world events.

Minute variations in Jewish ritual are now the object of national scrutiny. (Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty)

In reference to modern expressions of Holocaust denial, the 2020 Claims Conference U.S. Millennial Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey, the first-ever 50-state survey on Holocaust knowledge among Millennials and Gen Z found that a sizeable minority (11%) of young people believe the Jews caused the Holocaust. Holocaust denial — as a form of antisemitism — is well known, but understanding it through the wider lens of Erasive Antisemitism is helpful. While it seeks to distort a specific Jewish experience, namely the Shoah, it is part of a wider non-Jewish trend to erase the lived experience of Jewish people. Through their distortion and framing of Jews as responsible for the Shoah, the 11% erase the true experience of millions of Ashkenazi, Beta-Yisraeli, Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews targeted and murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. Therefore, to the 11%, antisemitism is not real, and what’s more, Jews are a powerful conspiring cabal.

Holocaust-denial graffiti was spray-painted on one of Seattle’s largest synagogues, Temple De Hirsch Sinai.(Rabbi Daniel Weiner)

Linda Sarsour, American activist and former co-chair of the Women’s March, exemplified another version of the concept when stating:

    “I want to make the distinction that while anti-Semitism is something that impacts Jewish Americans, it’s different than anti-black racism or Islamophobia because it’s not systemic.”

This purposefully and deliberately diminishes and erases the systemic and institutional antisemitism faced by Jewish people, often through an incorrect, inaccurate and idiotic comparison with other forms of prejudice. This is often expressed as part of Antisemitic Economic Libel and Conspiracy Fantasy which frames Jewish people as super-powerful, greedy, not to be trusted, perverse and sneaky and therefore not victims of “real” prejudice. This rewriting of history and current affairs attempts to position Jews as the source of all power and the enemy of the people and ultimately diminishes the concept of “non-Jewish guilt” for their crimes of the Jewish people.

While it is a sub-categorisation as opposed to a full categorisation of antisemitism, it is crucial to identify this specific aspect of anti-Jewish racism. Erasure is used in a nefarious and sinister way to diminish both the historical and current Jewish experience. It impacts individual Jews and gaslights them into believing and internalising antisemitism tropes about Jewish power and ‘privilege’. It seeks to purposefully reframe the Jewish experience, erasing the millennia-long horror show that Jews have been forced to endure by the non-Jewish world.

This specific form of antisemitism has been harming and targeting Jews for many years and I don’t intend to suggest it as a ‘modern phenomenon’, it is clearly not. Saying that however, it seems to have become much more commonplace and more importantly, mainstream in recent years and in light of the results of the Claims Conference poll and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, it is crucial we name this specific problem so we can understand it, guard against it and ultimately combat it.

About the writer:

Ben M. Freeman is a Jewish leader, a Jewish thinker and a Jewish educator.  Born in Scotland, Ben is a gay Jewish author and internationally renowned educator focussing on Jewish identity, combatting antisemitism and raising awareness of the Holocaust. His first book, Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People, was released in 2021 to great international acclaim. Currently based in Hong Kong, Ben now heads up the Humanities Team at an American International School and lectures on antisemitism at Hong Kong universities. Through his work, he aims to educate, inspire and empower both Jewish and non-Jewish people from all over the world. Follow his work across all social media accounts through @BenMFreeman. 

Ben Freeman’s new book, Jewish Pride: Rebuilding a People, is available for preorder now! 

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)

Middle Eastern Winds Blow into Africa

A response to a recent opinion piece by Soraya Dadoo on IOL titled: ’Time to call out AU members on Palestine’.

By Rolene Marks

The winds of change are blowing through the Middle East and the trajectory is heading down into the African continent. More and more, African leaders are establishing bilateral ties with the State of Israel, realizing that cooperation is beneficial for the people of their countries. They are realizing that this can be achieved without having to be partisan; and make a choice between supporting either Israel or the Palestinians. Leaders of African states who sincerely would like a peaceful solution to the conflict and perhaps contribute to negotiations, are making overtures to the Jewish state, by normalizing ties like Sudan and Morocco or moving their embassies to the capital, Jerusalem, like Malawi and Equatorial Guinea. Trade and cooperation between the continent and Israel is growing and during this difficult global pandemic, Israel has confirmed it will give vaccines to African countries that include Ethiopia, Chad, Kenya, Uganda, Guinea  and more, in addition to those they are , but not legally obliged, to give to Palestinians.

A map of Africa shown to US-Jewish leaders by PM Netanyahu at a conference in Jerusalem, February 18, 2019. Since then Morocco and Sudan have joined those countries that have relationships with Israel. Mali and Niger are in the process. (TOI staff)

It seems almost natural that African countries would seek to build bridges with Israel. Many of these countries have a historical and political trajectory that mirrors that of the Jewish State and Israel is perfectly poised to help on many levels. Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism wrote about what he saw as two peoples whose mutual histories of slavery and colonisation mirrored each other.

“There is still one other question arising out of the disaster of nations which remains unsolved to this day, and whose profound tragedy, only a Jew can comprehend. This is the African question. Just call to mind all those terrible episodes of the slave trade, of human beings who, merely because they were black, were stolen like cattle, taken prisoner, captured and sold. Their children grew up in strange lands, the objects of contempt and hostility because their complexions were different. I am not ashamed to say, though I may expose myself to ridicule for saying so, that once I have witnessed the redemption of the Jews, my people, I wish also to assist in the redemption of the Africans.”

Today his wishes are coming true as many African countries call on Israel for help with security, economic, medical, agricultural and social challenges. Prime Minister Netanyahu has visited the continent more than previous Israeli leaders, at the invitation of African leaders and speaks of warm relations between countries.

Sadly, there are still those, such as some African Union states, who remain fixated on division, having an almost pathological hatred of Israel that any positive steps that could help create frameworks for positive ties are anathema.  They would rather focus on a few resolutions adopted by the African Union that are not unanimous and have no bearing on the reality on the ground than engage in discourse and discussions about how to assist both Israelis and Palestinians in brokering peace.

One such example is a recent resolution adopted by the AU which refers to the Hamas-initiated “March of Return” which took place on a weekly basis for over a year, following the moving of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The resolution manages to ignore the incendiary rhetoric of Hamas and focuses on the “killing of 62 protesters”. This refers to the infamous March of Return campaign initiated by Hamas who using their civilians as cannon fodder, launched weekly protests on Israel’s border with Gaza, with the aim of averting attention from an internal crisis but also the more nefarious infiltration into Israeli communities with the intention of either kidnapping or killing civilians. Of the 62 “protesters” that were killed, the vast majority were Hamas and other terror group operatives.

These weekly protests stopped, having failed to achieve their intended goals – and also because the world has grown increasingly weary of this approach by those who choose to gamble with the lives of their civilians and pursue violence at every opportunity.

For the African Union as an institution or South Africa, one of their most vociferous member states, to play a meaningful in helping to broker or negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinians, perhaps more cooperation and listening is needed and less recrimination, politics of blame and feckless accusations by those who push a blatant agenda.

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)

And Then They Came for Us

Big Tech censorship is hurting the freedom of speech.

By Rolene Marks

One of the great barometers of any democracy is the right to free speech. The freedom of speech is ingrained and protected by law or constitutions in any self-respecting democracy. Many of us are familiar with the tenet made famous by Voltaire, “I disapprove with what you say but I will defend to death your right to say it”. The ability to engage in polite albeit robust discourse, where we may disagree with each other is one of life’s great intellectual pursuits.

Today, many of these opportunities to engage in discourse have moved on to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and the like. Social media provides an excellent opportunity for us not just to engage; but to educate as well and that is something that Lay of the Land is committed to. We are not only focused on bringing you excellent, original content and news headlines from Israel but we want to introduce the world to those stories. We, like many, rely on these platforms to help our writers and content receive the exposure they deserve.

In the last few months, an ominous trend has surfaced. “Big Tech” companies (this includes the giants like Facebook, Twitter and others) have started to restrict the online exposure of any pages, groups and individuals who may post “political” content. Of course another reason could be to try and hold off for more advertising, although the former is more likely the reason that people are being censored. Big Tech company owners certainly do not need to be making more money!

As the US election race between Trump and Biden heated up, so did the engagement on social media platforms. This was one of the most polarizing elections in many, many years. Debate on social media veered quickly from differences in opinion to all out abuse from both sides.

Social media giants Facebook, Twitter and others (also referred to as “Big Tech”) took the decision to censor or de-platform many who they believed flouted the laws on common decency. Many of these people were far rightists and it took moments for them to find alternative platforms like Parler to congregate. They were quickly de-platformed by platform hosts like Apple, Amazon and others.

Freedom of speech is sacrosanct in a democracy and one hopes that people are able to make up their minds about issues, no matter how loathsome they might find the other side.

There is a fundamental difference between hate speech and free speech. Any speech that endorses violence or hatred against opposing viewpoints or minority communities needs to be dealt with in the strongest terms and within the law.

In the age of extremely short and competitive news cycles, the importance of balanced reporting has never been more critical. Social media has become another arm for news networks and journalists to share information and a good barometer of measuring where public opinion is holding. Sometimes the barometer shows high temperatures!

The problem is that Big Tech companies are not too crazy about networks or journalists that do not meet their increasingly more “woke” agendas. They have embarked on a policy of restricting groups, individuals or business that they think may be overtly political and have descriptions that raise an alert in their algorithms. Oh how I miss the days we dealt with people rationally and did not have to fight an algorithm!

One prime example of this is Facebook. In the last few weeks, the social media giant has clamped down on groups, pages and businesses. This has become personal.

Many of us, including Lay of the Land rely on social media platforms to grow exposure – and also to educate. Our exposure and reach has been significantly impacted and restricted – as have many fundraising organisations who have felt the pinch because certain wording in their description may not fit in with Facebook’s monitoring algorithms.

Silhouettes are seen in front of the logo of US social media Facebook in Brussels, February 14, 2020. (Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

The words Zionism may not be immune.

In a leaked email dated 10 November 2020 and written by a Facebook employee; hinted that they may review their policy on allowing the term “Zionist.” Pro-Palestinian groups argue that such a move would endanger free speech on Israel issues.

In the email dated Nov. 10, the unidentified employee wrote to an unidentified source: “We are looking at the question of how we should interpret attacks on ‘Zionists’ to determine whether the term is used as a proxy for attacking Jewish or Israeli people. The term brings with it much history and various meanings, and we are looking to increase our understanding of how it is used by people on our platform”. Only this policy significantly impacts the ability to explain and educate about Zionism as well. It is ironic that the social media platform that is now acting as the thought police; also received a “D” rating for banning Holocaust denial.

Facing Off. In response to the Australian government introducing a law that will make tech giants pay for news content, Facebook responded by banning all Australian news content from its platform taken the ‘battle’ to a whole new level.

And then there is Australia. Last week Australians searching Facebook for their news updates were instead shown notifications saying ‘no posts’ were available. Attempting to share news links brought up a message saying, ‘this post can’t be shared’.

This was Facebook’s petulant response to a policy initiated by the Australian government to charge the social media giant for news content on their site, an agreement that has been reached with Google.

But the shock move also stopped some government messages from being shared, including from emergency services providing essential information on the Covid-19 pandemic, fires, and help for victims of domestic violence. It also impacted on various charities; foodbanks and at least one missing person’s page were also caught up in the ban.

Other countries weighed in, showing their support for Australia. US President Biden has also commented on the “arrogance” of Big Tech. The United Kingdom and European Union states are also debating instituting the same legislation in their countries. Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, accused Facebook of committing an “act of war on a sovereign state”.

Facebook v Australia. This isn’t cricket. Front pages of Australian newspapers featuring stories about Facebook in Sydney, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. In a surprise retaliatory, Facebook blocked Australians from sharing news stories, escalating a fight with the government over whether powerful tech companies should have to pay news organizations for content. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

It is extremely dangerous when Big Tech becomes powerful enough to wage an information war on sovereign states. We as news consumers and free thinking human beings deserve the right and access to information which gives us the ability to make informed decisions.  Big Tech companies, worth billions, certainly can afford to pay the tariffs!

Perhaps Facebook could spend their energy in monitoring hate speech more effectively than dictating what information people should be allowed to access.

This time it has become personal. Draconian, unchecked censorship by Big Tech who are flexing their muscles; is hurting businesses and steadily eroding free speech.

First they came for the politicians, then they came for those that they disagree with, then they came for the sovereign states. And then they came for us.

The question is when will this end?

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

Casualties of Conflict

The frightening phenomenon of Palestinian Child Soldiers

By Rolene Marks

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) 

Video clip revealing kids receiving military training at a Hamas summer camp.

Children are usually the first casualties of conflict. The world is currently commemorating Child Soldiers Week – however it is more a “blink and you miss it” occasion as this frightening phenomenon doesn’t seem to feature high on the list of global priorities and has a fancy coloured ribbon or trendy hashtag attached.  In the Middle East, this is not restricted to victims of conflict but also another phenomenon which is more often than not ignored. Palestinian children, often robbed of their rights to live normal childhoods and dreams and aspirations of future careers, are forced to become child soldiers by terror groups like Hamas, Palestinian Jihad, Fatah and others who force them into the frontlines. This is a flagrant abuse of their personal and human rights, not to mention their safety.

Taught in TerrorA horrifying spotlight on Palestinian Child Soldier Week 2020.

As  defined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states, a “child soldier” is:

 “…any person below 18 years of age who is or who has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes”.

The definition is not limited to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in hostilities.

Palestinian baby in the colours of Hamas perched for the cameras on top of tires about to be burnt in a protest at the Gaza border with Israel.

Palestinian children in particular, are extremely vulnerable to being exploited.  Palestinian children grow up on a steady diet of incitement and hatred; indoctrinated into their impressionable young minds from an early age. The Palestinian children learn from an early age, the phrase ” اذبح اليهود”  (“Slaughter the Jews”) in Arabic.  This refers specifically to “Jews” which includes Israelis.  That wording is very deliberate – and also refers to Jews outside of Israel.

The chilling images of cartoonish Mickey Mouse type characters like Farfur the mouse or Nahul the bee on children’s television shows have shown us that abuse of this kind starts young. This indoctrination carries on into the formative school years.

God Willing. Assud, the ‘holy war’ rabbit promoting death to Jews under the protection of Allah.

Summer holidays bring with them, an opportunity to go to camp. This is not an opportunity for Palestinian children to learn arts and crafts and sing songs around the campfire. Instead, approximately 10 000 children will be schooled as auxiliaries and militia members and attend grueling basic training boot camps. There, children will learn to march, engage in combat maneuvers, weapon operation, and terrorist tactics, with the intention of carrying out attacks by who they are trained to see as the “enemy”. Their enemy is Israel, Jews and those who identify as Zionists. Their aim is to “wipe out the Zionist entity”. Children are then recruited to the frontline, alongside terror group leaders.

Summer Camp. An inside look at a summer camp in Gaza where the kids are dressed in military fatigues with plastic firearms.

Children from as young as 9 and up to the age of 17 have been pushed into combat, to fight and die alongside the adults. This is not restricted just to engaging in combat – children, as well as the elderly and women are used as human shields and it is not uncommon to hear Hamas and their ilk boasting about the use of their civilians as cannon fodder. While in some cases the youngest of these casualties has been covered up with older, fake ages on casualty lists, Hamas and PIJ have been proud of the teenagers that have been “martyred” in battle. To be “martyred” often means being awarded rock star status with their images on posters around the neighbourhood and streets and other buildings named in their honour.  

Stolen Childhood. A tweeted photo of children playing with toy guns who, it claimed, were attending a Hamas-run pre-school. 

Exploiting their innocence, terror groups have recruited children to become suicide bombers, stabbers or rock throwers. These children often do not fully understand the consequences of this; and believe that they are fulfilling a noble cause.

​Children used as “suicide stabbers” are a tactic often employed by Fatah. Encouraged by an economy of hate; where terrorists and their families are paid monthly stipends and a steady diet of incitement, there has been a significant increase in children being recruited for this. This has been referred to as “pay for slay” and for the Palestinians to show that they are sincere about peace, this practice needs to end. 

Hamas launches a festival in Nablus with symbolic rockets aimed at Israel. (Photo: Atef Safadi)

In order to stab and viciously murder men, women and children at the age of 17, one has to have been brainwashed for years prior to that.

Terror leaders often encourage children to engage in violent riots.  They are taught by radical organizations to throw stones at passing cars and people. This is not an innocuous act; several Israelis have been killed or severely maimed by this kind of action. The “romantic” image of the rock wielding Palestinian against the perceived Israeli Goliath also has very real consequences. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of stone-throwing incidents occur every year at the behest of Palestinian organizations. Children are systematically used as riot fodder. Seen as great occasions of resistance, schools are closed and children are bused to the front lines to be used as a modern day shield-wall.  This was a regular occurrence during the “March of Return” where thousands of Palestinians would riot at the border fence between Israel and Gaza. The disabled were also bused to the frontline and on several occasions, rioters set donkeys alight. Quite often, children are bribed to rush security fences and try to sabotage them. What did this achieve? Absolutely nothing.

Stolen Childhood. A tweeted photo of children playing with toy guns who, it claimed, were attending a Hamas-run pre-school. 

The parents are fully aware and know that their teenage children are in a danger zone and may be severely harmed; but still encourage them; knowing that they may not return home safely.

Children are also used as terror labourers. Terror organisations like Hamas within the Gaza strip have built an underground network of tunnels for the purposes of smuggling weapons and launching attacks on Israeli civilians. These tunnels are usually built with a child labour force, operating in lethal sweatshop conditions. By 2012, over 9 children had been buried alive and killed while digging tunnels and there has been no indication that this practice has stopped.

“Our Children Love Martyrdom”. This Hamas photo glorifies ‘Child Soldier Deaths’ as the highest calling.

Using children as combatants in conflict is one of the grossest forms of child abuse and there needs to be more of an international outcry – and action to put an immediate stop to this practice. Children deserve to enjoy their childhood and their youth without become human weapons of terror. Any sincere path to peace depends on this.

Hamas indoctrination of Kids: Bombs more precious than children

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)

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.

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