Look Who’s Talking in Cape Town

Israeli Debating Teams score big in South Africa

While in November 2018, a Hamas delegation from Gaza visited Cape Town and called for Jihad against Israel, in January 2019,  it was visiting Israelis doing the talking – but with a different message.

Debating teams from Israeli universities won top honours at UCT (University of Cape Town) against the best universities in the world.

 

By David E. Kaplan

Israel is full of surprises. Situated in one of the most dry regions on the planet, Israel has far less of a water problem than Cape Town, which for Israel has an enviable supply. The answer to this anomaly might explain how a Hebrew-speaking country bested in debate, teams from the best universities in the world – notably Oxford and Cambridge.

The World University Debating Championships – the largest student-run event globally – was hosted by the University of Cape Town from the 27 December 2018 to the 4 January 2019 and included students from Malaysia, Germany, Mexico, Nigeria and the United States who descended on the city in hopes of becoming world champions.

That honour went to Israel.

It was Israel’s prestigious Hebrew University of Jerusalem debate team that won the World Universities Debate Championship in South Africa’s ‘Mother City’, in the English Second-Language category, in other words, not in their ‘mother’ tongue.

Roy Shulmann and Elaye Karstadt competed against thousands of students from 20 countries winning the judges over “on stances on a multitude of current events.”

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Cheers! Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJ) debaters Roy Shulmann (left) and Elaye Karstadt celebrating their win in Cape Town. (Photo via Facebook)

In addition to Shulmann and Karstadt’s defeat of the Russian, Malaysian and Japanese teams in the final round of the championships, the Tel Aviv University (TAU) team, made up of Israeli Debating League chairman Amichai Even-Chen and Ido Kotler, made it to the final rounds of the general Open competition, which included native English speakers from around the globe. They competed against some of the top universities in the world, including Oxford and Harvard.

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Beyond Words. Roy Shulmann makes a speech at the World Universities Debate Championship, 2019 at UCT, Cape Town. Today, Israel is a force to be reckoned with in the world of competitive debating. (photo credit: DANA GREEN)

“Debate is not only a sport, but rather a unique tool for the development of logical and rhetorical capabilities,” said Shulmann. “It exposes students to a wide range of opinions, challenges their positions, and gets them to truly listen to the other side and answer the heart of the issue instead of the heart of the person.”

Shulmann said he hoped to “encourage a different ‘discussion culture’, one that allows us as a society to hold a real dialogue regarding disputes.”

This was a far cry from the Hamas spokespeople who in November proudly signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at Cape Town’s parliament that stated South Africa “will work towards the full boycott of ALL Israeli products and the support of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) against Israel; and will ensure that ANC leaders and government officials do not visit Israel.” And this MOU was signed only weeks after 500 missiles were fired in under 24 hours into Israel from Hamas-ruled Gaza  – one of which struck a bus.

While Hamas in Cape Town championed support for murder, Israelis in Cape Town spoke about holding  “a real dialogue regarding disputes.”

And who won?

Hebrew University debate team chairman, Naama Weiss, said that the Israeli teams are “used to meeting students at the competitions from countries hostile towards Israel.”

They have to be.

Competing against the team from Malaysia in the finals, the Israeli debaters could not have put entirely out of their minds that the antisemitic Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, has banned entry to Israeli paraplegic swimmers to compete in his country that will be hosting the World Para Swimming Championships in July.

Mahathir has faced accusations of antisemitism for decades, frequently describing Jews as “hook nosed” and said that “Jews rule the world by proxy.”

Despite this, there were only “good vibes” between the participants of the competing countries at UCT.

“We never felt different,” said Weiss. “We actually become friends with them. It is important that we hold discussions with those that disagree with us, as well.”

Pity the Hamas delegation didn’t visit Cape Town a month later and hear these messages!

Mark My Word

Israeli debate teams achieved multiple successes throughout 2018. The same team of Even-Chen and Kotler, won last August the European Universities Debating Championship in Serbia in the English Second Language category. In that same competition, Noam Dahan and Tom Manor, also of Tel Aviv University, won the Open competition.

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We Are The Champions. Tel Aviv University’s victorious debate team at the 2018 European Universities Debating Championship in Serbia. (Photo via Facebook)

However, the international competition in Novi Sad, Serbia was not all fun and ‘debates’. The Qatar representatives repeatedly refused to participate in debates in which they were competing against Israel, stating on multiple occasions that they refuse to debate alongside an “apartheid state.” This is the same Qatar that is spending billions to build hotels, subways, shopping centers and stadiums ahead of the World Cup in 2022 but those working on the projects are mostly foreigners who are poorly paid and poorly housed, hidden from the rest of Qatari society, like outcasts. These wretched and abused workers live on the edge of the dream that they help build but are precluded from experiencing.

If ever there is apartheid, it is in Qatar!

Nevertheless, despite Qatari hypocrisy and attempts to politicise a major debate tournament by refusing to engage with students from Israel, the two Israeli teams topped the European Universities Debating Championship in Serbia.

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Qatar Boycott of Israel Backfires. Despite Qatar’s attempts to politicize a major debate tournament and its refusal to engage with students from Israel, two Israeli teams topped the European Universities Debating Championship in Serbia

If there were a prize for epic boycott failure, Qatar won it!

Its efforts to boycott debating Israel, ended up by getting BDS banned from European debates.

School Of Thought

Israeli university debating teams doing so well internationally may partly be explained because Israeli schools too are doing so well.

Afterall, one feeds the other.

Debaters are given topics – sometimes with just an hour or two to prepare – and told which side they represent. They often find themselves arguing the opposite of their personal beliefs. “That’s the idea,” said Maya Levi, 18, of Ohel Shem school in Ramat Gan. “In debate, beyond learning rhetoric, you learn how to think and see an issue from both sides. The challenge is stepping into someone else’s shoes when it’s not your point of view.”

The Israeli national high school debate team won the EurOpen debate competition in Stuttgart, Germany in November 2018, raising eyebrows for going undefeated for all 12 rounds of the competition.

The team beat 37 of the best debate teams in the world, including those of Germany, China and the USA.

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The Last Word. The Israeli high school debate team that came first the 2018 European championships. (photo credit: Nicole Chan/Learning Leaders)

Unbeaten throughout all twelve rounds was a rare achievement in debate, particularly for a team comprised of non-native English speakers.

Two of the members on the team, Maya Carmon and Omer Zilberberg, are students at the Atid High School for Arts and Sciences in Lod. The other students on the team, Tamir West and Tomer Zucker, study at the Israel Arts and Science Academy in Jerusalem and at Oleh Shem High School in Ramat Hasharon, respectively.
It was a privilege to witness the team making history,” said Elijah Kochin, the team’s coach who accompanied them to Stuttgart.

“This generation of debaters is very talented,” said Miriam Kalman, a coach assisting the team leading up to the world championships in Sri Lanka. “We are looking forward to more success at the World Schools Debating Championships in 2019.”

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Far Out In Far East. Team Israel and friends find a quiet spot to display the national flag at the 2017 World Schools Debating Championships in Bali, Indonesia

Retired senior examiner for the English matriculation in Israel and who co-authored two English school textbooks, Stephen Schulman, expressed “hats off to our debaters” on hearing the results of the debating teams from Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University at his alma mater – UCT. Shulmann felt a particular pride that Israel debaters made their mark in Cape Town where he grew up and was a member of his school’s debating society. “A true debater needs to be imbued with powers of eloquence, be a good listener, be sensitive to his or her audience and have a quick and ready wit to win over others. Our university teams showed that they possessed all these qualities to an outstanding degree and I feel a great pride by their showing South Africa and the world the fine intellectual standards of our students.”

This all augurs well for Israel spokespeople for the future.

 

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Israeli Debaters In Action. Debaters from Tel Aviv University competing in the 2018 European Universities Debating Championship in Serbia. (Photo via Facebook)

Celebrating Co-existence in Haifa

By Rolene Marks 
The northern Israeli city of Haifa is a model of integration and tolerance. Every year, thousands of revelers descend on the city to celebrate the highly anticipated, Festival of Festivals. This 25-year old festivals takes place every December and is a celebration of the country’s three main religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Haifa is festooned with twinkling Christmas lights, chanukiot for Chanukah and Islamic symbols. It is a rare opportunity to be exposed to and enjoy the timeless traditions of these three religions. Rolene Marks filed this report for Channel News Asia:
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https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/israel-s-haifa-festival-a-model-city-of-integration-and-11064894

 

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South African ‘Flower’ Flourishes in Israel

By David E. Kaplan

As Beth Protea Retirement Home Celebrates 26 years it’s a story not about bricks and mortar but about people.

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For the Young at Heart. The outdoor patio of Beth Protea

What are you guys planning to serve for lunch?”

“Can you believe it? That was the first question asked by a bunch of South Africans at our first fundraising campaign in Haifa in 1985. We had no land to build on; we hadn’t raised a dime, and people wanted to know what we would serve for lunch,” relates Walter Robinson the founding chairman of Beth Protea, a retirement home in Herzliya primarily for the Southern African community in Israel. Dublin-born Robinson was quick off the mark.

Well, if you don’t start donating, there will be no dining room in which to serve lunch!”  replied the masterful fundraiser.

Nearly three decades later, and today himself a resident at Beth Protea, it is now Walter who asks:

What’s for lunch?”

In October 2018, Beth Protea celebrates its 26th year.

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Dynamic Duo. Joel Katz (left) and Walter Robinson

South Africans in Israel have every reason to be proud. For a community that was the first to establish an immigrant organization (Telfed); pioneered the concepts of Absorption Centers and acquiring property to rent to their new Southern African immigrants at below market rentals, as well as initiating and promoting housing projects from the city of Ashkelon in the 1950s to the town of Kochav Yair and the community village (Moshav) of Manof in the 1980s, it was only natural, that at the dawn of the 1980s, serious thought was given to leaders in the community for the wellbeing of their seniors.

At that time there was a group who were “toying with the idea” – mainly to cater for parents who were left behind in South Africa. The concept found little traction until Robinson made Aliyah (immigrated) from Cape Town in 1981. Well known and respected for his communal work back in his adopted South Africa, the ad hoc group roped him in and within a few months of his arrival in Israel, he was chairman of a steering committee. “They allowed me to unpack my suitcases first,” he bellows with a boisterous Dublin guffaw.

 Right Man For The Job

Walter once nearly ended up in jail and was rightly proud of it!

The year was 1944 and Walter and his Zionist chums at the university in Dublin started a newspaper called the Dublin Jewish Youth Magazine. One day, Walter opens the evening paper, and “I see this MP, Oliver Flanagan, questioning whether the directors of the DJYM have a license to publish and whether our articles had been submitted for censorship as required by wartime regulations. Both were serious offences, carrying prison sentences. Of course the answer to both was – NO,” says Walter, delighting in his mischievous past. Flanagan was a notorious anti-Semite who in his maiden speech in the Irish Lower House the previous year, had urged the government “to rout the Jews out of the country.”

Well Flanagan was not about to “rout” Robinson. “The owner of the paper’s printers was a great friend of Prime Minister Eamon de Valera and so if the printer could not go to prison, neither could we.” Walter’s Zionism continued to soar, culminating nearly fifty years later in his finest communal achievement – the opening of Beth Protea in 1992.

“We quickly changed the focus – not a retirement home for prospective immigrants but for the community in Israel. People, who had quite literally rolled up their sleeves and helped build this country.”

Now it was time to build a home for them. However not just a home,  “but one that’s DNA was South African,’ said Robinson, “a home that felt like home.”

Benchmark of Excellence

Robinson quickly roped in a younger feller “who had a knack of asking the most intelligent questions.” And so began the partnership between Walter Robinson and Joel Katz that would steer the Beth Protea project in its formative years.

Bricks and motor ‘sprouted’, and like the ‘protea’, started to grow. The architect was another South African, Gert Gutman and while still  under construction, South Africa’s State President, F.W. de Klerk visited where he was wined and dined in a ‘dining room’ on a floor of cardboard over sand and mud and between mounds of rubble.

While in the throws himself in transforming South Africa, de Klerk predicted amongst the rubble “this South African community is transforming the landscape of Israel.”

How right he was.

Beth Protea in Herzliya became the benchmark  of excellence in caring for seniors, and in a few years the name ‘protea’ resonated across the land as its ‘seeds’ sprouted with other retirement complexes carrying the brand name –  such as Protea Village further north and Protea Hills near Jerusalem.

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Entertainment nearly every night, residents enjoy an outside concert on the patio.

 The Magnificent Many

Joel Katz would become the first chairman of the Management Board and at the official opening in 1992, the guest of honor was the President of Israel, Chaim Herzog who expressed:

One is never surprised at the admirable level of volunteering and performance on the part of South Africans in Israel. You have done it again by establishing Beth Protea, a golden retirement home for those in their golden years.”  Paying tribute to the volunteers over the years, Katz spoke of the “lonely few” that grew to become “the magnificent many.” This 1992 observation holds even more so today as “volunteers from all walks of life continue to give freely of their time, energy, expertise and of course, their generosity, to upholding Beth Protea as a glowing example of retirement living and private initiative,” says current chairman Michael Silver.

Sensitive to the initial apprehension that the project would become elitist and only available to the wealthy – a feature of most new retirements homes in Israel today –  the founders were determined that Beth Protea would be a non-profit association and  established a  fund, Keren Beth Protea to assist those in financial need. This is what distinguishes a community project such as Beth Protea from commercial, profit-motivated senior citizen facilities. The total financial assistance given by Keren Beth Protea over the last 26 years, is in itself a revelation of beauty.

Out of Africa

Wanting to learn firsthand about Israel’s specialized health care of its seniors, Dr. Harriet Chapasuka, a doctor from a clinic in South Africa’s northernmost province Limpopo, visited Beth Protea. Her husband Pastor Reuben Chapasuka, is President of the Cape to Cairo Israel Mission with churches across Africa that welcomes the Blue & White flag of Israeli innovation and ingenuity flying in the African breeze. “When I visit Israel,” says Pastor Reuben, “I always return to South Africa not with Israel’s ‘holy water’ but Israel’s ‘holy ingenuity’.”

Harriet, who shares her husband’s desire of tapping into Israel’s expertise “for our people”, visited Israel to explore its best practices of health care that could be replicated in rural South Africa.

With so many of the residents and staff at Beth Protea being former South Africans, Dr. Chapasuka felt, “quite at home.” Taken on a tour by the Director Lynn Lochoff, she visited the three sections: independent, the assisted living, and frail care unit. She met doctors and nurses and learnt about Israel’s unique health system where everyone is covered.

She visited the art studio and was amazed to see many of the paintings and sculpture reflecting the memories of the artist’s South Africa. “We remain so connected,’ she remarked and hoped the connection will be strengthened, particularly in the field of medical health.”

And the best answer to the first question asked way back in 1985, Dr. Harriette Chapasuka answered it after a desert, “the lunch – WOW! I loved it.”

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The South African Connection. Dr. Harriet Chapasuka who runs a family clinic in Limpopo South Africa engages in some ‘rigorous’ exercise in Beth Protea’s gym with Director Lynn Lockoff (right) before enjoying a sumptuous lunch in the dining room.

Living History

For this writer, it’s the residents that makes Beth Protea special. Having interviewed many of them over the years, they all represent a microcosm of the history of modern Israel. There was the late Julie Slonimnée Levinson) who arrived in 1946 from Johannesburg and recalls the day Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, declared Israel’s independence in Tel Aviv. Newly married to a lawyer, “we joined in the festive mood that had gripped the city and on Allenby Street’s Moghrabi Square, masses of people were dancing and shouting. Later we went to the fashionable Café Pilz overlooking the sea where we danced on the tables and our partners lifted us into the air.”

Reality set in on the drive back home to Haifa “where we were shot at by Arab snipers. Luckily we escaped harm. The coastal road between Tel Aviv and Haifa was no longer safe, and motorists were suddenly running the gauntlet. There we were earlier dancing with joy and now we were now officially at war.”

When Beth Protea opened its doors in 1992, one of its first residents was Rona Baram née Moss-Morris), a law student and trained nurse, who arrived in Palestine from South Africa in the mid-forties. A member of the Habonim youth movement, she joined Kibbutz Kfar Blum in the northern Galilee. During 1948, settlements in “our area were like fortresses, surrounded by trenches and barbed wire,” says Baram. “The Arabs ran a water canal across the only approach road to our kibbutz cutting us off entirely from the outside world. Post, food and medicine were dropped from a single engine plane that flew in low. Aside from having to deliver babies and care for the sick and wounded, it was a cold winter and we didn’t have enough food or fuel.” Baram recalls the letter from her parents in Durban, with the memorable line “We hope you’ve dug yourself in Rona and have enough ammo to last out the siege.”  Baram would go on to establish Tipat Chalav, the first child-care clinic in Kiryat Shmona.

On the 6th June 1948, the late Maurice Ostroff, and fellow ‘Machalniks’ from South Africa, all volunteers responding to the call to fight in Israel’s War of Independence, were flying into Israel in a P.A.A.C. Dakota. Not sure of his position, the pilot radioed in that he was coming in on an emergency landing. Of all the places to land, he brought the plane down at the last remaining British-controlled enclave of Haifa.  “The British officer on duty was baffled by the arrival of these “tourists” and asked Ostroff:

“Whatever makes you want to come to Palestine at this time. Are you crazy!”

“Just passing through,” replied Ostroff.

“We are pulling out of here,” the officer shouted, “but it won’t be more than two weeks before the bloody Jews will be yelling at us to come back.”  While the British officer soon left never to return, Ostroff would serve out the war as a signaler, commanding a radio station near the Weizmann Institute. Nearly six decades later, Ostroff still had his antennae out and still locking horns with Israel’s enemies. From his fifth floor apartment in Beth Protea he daily monitored the world media on its coverage on Israel, responding to unfair bias by writing to newspapers, TV networks and political leaders around the world.

The late Sam Solomon was another first resident to Beth Protea. He had little interest in  Zionism, but “I did have an interest in girls.”  In the late 1930’s he was a young man living in Bloemfontein in South Africa. “I asked a pretty girl out on a date, but she told me she would only go out with me if I picked her up after  a meeting at the Zionist Hall where an important leader from Palestine was talking. I was not keen to attend thinking it would be boring, but I arrived early and so with nothing to do, I sat in and was so taken up with what I heard about the Halutzchik (pioneering) way of life that three weeks later I was on a plane to Palestine.”

“Whatever happened to the girl?” I asked.

“Who knows”” replied Solomon. “After that night, I never saw her again and my first job in arriving in Palestine was building the road from Tel Aviv to Haifa.”

At a special Beth Protea event some years ago, the late Herman Musikanth, a “financial whiz” who worked very closely with Walter to get Beth Protea literally “off the ground”, quoted the words of Albert Price written in the early 1800s:

What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and this world is – and remains – immortal.”

He concluded with, “I believe that Beth Protea is probably as immortal as one can get.”

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Beth Protea. Pride of the Southern African community of Israel.
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The writer, David Kaplan (left) conversing with President F.W. de Klerk on his visit to Beth Protea still under construction in 1991.

Understanding Evangelism Towards Israel

By Bev Goldman

Evangelical Christians make up the biggest pro-Israel bloc in the US; and support for Israel is stronger among American evangelicals than it is even among American Jews.

Nevertheless, maמy Jews, following millennia of persecution, inevitably view the present through the lens of the traumatic past.

Evangelism refers to “the preaching of the Gospel. It comes from the same Greek word for gospel (euangelion) and means, literally, ‘gospeling’ or spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”  It is also referred to as “a spiritual journey of formation and transformation”; “telling the good news, being the good news, and doing the good news”; and “sharing Christian hope and hospitality.”

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Christians United for Israel supporters march in Jerusalem in 2008

Today the global evangelical population numbers somewhere around 300 million people scattered across every continent. While many live in developing countries, the United States remains the movement’s traditional centre where it is particularly strong and powerful and has been responsible over the years for policy changes and new directions implemented and taken by the various governments.  Numerous polls conducted, including one by the very influential Pew Research Centre, confirm that 82% of white evangelicals, as opposed to the less than half as many Jewish or Catholic Americans holding the same view, think God gave Israel to the Jewish people. Evangelical Christians make up the biggest pro-Israel bloc in the US; and support for Israel is stronger among American evangelicals than it is even among American Jews.

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Thousands of Evangelical Christians are participating in an annual pilgrimage to support Israel during a parade for the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem in 2006 (photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Professor David Gushee, lecturer in Christian ethics at Atlanta’s Mercer University, has commented frequently on how remarkably pro-Israel evangelicals have been, both theologically and in terms of the modern State of Israel.  He has also pointed out the commitment to Israel among evangelicals, which he said is evident in the growing number of evangelical leaders who lead trips to Israel, as well as by the attention being given to Jewish history in evangelical circles.

Solid Support

Pastor John Hagee, founder and national chairman of Christians United for Israel, heads the massive Cornerstone Church in San Antonio and founded Christians United for Israel a decade ago. It steadily became one of the strongest pro-Israel evangelical groups in the country, and the most recent census showed that it had more than three million members and 14 regional directors to help steer its operations across the USA.

Much of the basis of the evangelical perspective is theological, rooted in the belief that “God makes good on His promises … It looks back to the idea that God has made certain commitments to His people — to the people through whom the gospel originally came — and He’s not abandoning them, ultimately. And so there’s a hope that drives this belief that Israel deserves to be supported.”

A Pew study carried out in 2013 found that 29% of Christians, 46% of white evangelicals, and 19% of black Protestants thought that America was not supportive enough of Israel; while 41% of Christians, 31% of white evangelicals, and 48% of black Protestants felt the level of support was just right.  Two years later, in 2015, another Pew poll was carried out with quite different results.  They showed that while 6 percent of white American evangelicals thought the US was too supportive of Israel, 55 percent decried what they called the inadequate level of support given to Israel by their country as against the 36 percent who felt it was sufficient.  At the same time, more than 80 percent of evangelical pastors overwhelmingly agree that Christians should support Israel.

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We love Israel (Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

“Jesus Was Jewish”

The World Council of Independent Christian Churches, one of the larger evangelical movements in the USA, with 15 direct and 8 indirect ministries situated around the world, has produced a series of television programs called Focus on Israel, dedicated to “educating Christians about their Biblical responsibility to the Jewish people.” Laurie Cardoza-Moore, a deacon in the WCICC, emphasises how important a special bond with Jews is for theological and even scriptural reasons. “God had a plan for mankind, and Israel was to be that example of how to live,” she says. “And that’s why the Torah was given to them. And unfortunately, Christianity has moved away from that Hebraic understanding, that Hebraic teaching …The Jewish people are our brethren in the faith. And Jesus, of course, was Jewish.”

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Special Mission. America’s most prominent evangelical leaders (representing 150 million people worldwide) met Israel’s top leaders in Jerusalem in February 2018. The special mission was organised by Dr. Mike Evans founder of the friends of Zion Heritage seen here (left) with Prime Minister Netanyahu

Ron Csillag, writing on the Canadian Jewish News (CJN) website, asked in his article if evangelical support for Israel had a dark side.  He wrote, “Christians who love Israel: is it good for the Jews? While many Jews whole-heartedly embrace Christian Zionism – after all, Israel needs friends – others suspect that behind it lurks a theology that loves Jews but hates Judaism.  Millions of evangelical Christians – often referred to as “born again” and who believe the Bible is inerrant – have reasons for supporting Israel, whether because it’s biblically mandated or because they, like Israel’s current leadership, are conservative and feel a political kinship. Or, because they see it as a way of atoning for past mistreatment of Jews. Perhaps it’s for all of those reasons.”

While Christian Zionism, he added, has helped to shape the strong support for Israel emanating from the USA, he ascribed to other Christian Zionists what might be called a darker agenda: their belief that universal redemption and the return of the Christian messiah can happen only when all the Jews have been gathered in their homeland, “where they will finally give up their obsolete and erroneous beliefs and accept Jesus Christ as their saviour.”

This apart, there is a whole host of reasons, far too many to detail here, for why Christians support Israel. Politics is one of them. Evangelicals “tend to be conservative politically,” says Rabbi Michael Skobac, director of education and counselling for Jews for Judaism Canada, observed. “They see Israel as [being] at the front lines of fighting terrorism.”  For other Christians, support for Israel “is an expression of remorse for past anti-Semitism and what they see as the failure of churches to stand up for Jews during the Holocaust.”  And for almost 73% of world evangelical leaders, the real basis for most Christian Zionism, put simply, is the belief in the truth of God’s eternal covenant with the nation of Israel.

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Christian demonstrators, members of “Christians United for Israel” organization, carry flags during a march to show solidarity with Israel, in Jerusalem April 7, 2008. Credit: Eliana Aponte/Reuters.

The Grand Plan?

But not all evangelicals do, in fact, support Israel. Robert Nicholson, himself a staunch Christian but with strong ties to various Jewish communities, writes, “A growing minority inside the evangelical world views the Jewish state as at best tolerable and at worst positively immoral, a country that, instead of being supported on biblical grounds, should be opposed on those same grounds.”

Discussing the many different evangelical ‘sects’ and their pro- or anti-Israel stances, Nicholson notes that evangelicals believe God chose the biblical people of Israel “as His vehicle for world redemption, an earthly agent through whom He would accomplish his grand plan for history. Why did God choose Israel? Not because of any innate virtue or genius they may have possessed, but because He had made a covenant with their patriarch, Abraham, based on the latter’s demonstrated faith and devotion.”

Most evangelicals, he continued, “also believe that the ingathering of the Jews is the first stage in the second coming: the moment when Jesus will return to earth not as a humble servant but as a conquering king to establish his righteous rule in Jerusalem and restore the nation of Israel to its favoured place for a millennium.”

The growth and spread of evangelism, even considering their donation of millions of much-appreciated dollars to worthy causes in Israel, has given rise to numerous questions about its authenticity vis-à-vis the Jewish people.  Questions asked include, “Can evangelicals be trusted? Are they not on a mission to convert Jews to Christianity?  Is their professed love for and dedication to Israel not merely a cover for their ultimate goal, that of turning Jews into disciples of Jesus Christ?”

The suspicion about evangelical motives for loving Israel has many of its roots in the fact that people bearing the name of Christ had spent centuries demonizing the Jewish people and shedding Jewish blood.  Memories of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the innumerable pogroms and persecutions have not dimmed in the Jewish world; and thousands still view the present through the lens of the traumatic past.  Jewish concerns also focus on evangelical proselytizing or adherence to the belief that the Christian faith should replace Judaism; and there are those who see evangelicals as fundamentalist and right-wing.  According to Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, founder of the group Jews for Judaism, the ‘hidden agenda’ of the Christian Zionists is proselytising. In one of his articles, he wrote, “There is irrefutable evidence that many evangelicals who support Israel have implemented and new ‘soft-sell’ approach to proselytising Jews for conversion.”

Yet Rabbi Pini Dunner, senior rabbi at Yeshiva High School for Boys in Beverly Hills, California, sees it differently. Accompanying a delegation of 30 young pastors to Israel on their first visit, he said, “The overwhelming miracle of Christian-Jewish brotherhood in the wake of the creation of the state of Israel is something that is under-recognized and under-appreciated, particularly of evangelicals, whose love for Israel is breath-taking and illuminating.”

So, there we have it – a conundrum, a dilemma on whose horns sit the various Jewish groups, those in and outside of Israel, the orthodox and the secular, the young and the older, who see the evangelicals from different perspectives. Their remarkable generosity to Israel is well documented, and those I am privileged to know personally here in South Africa are wonderful and genuine people who love Israel unconditionally. Perhaps that’s the attitude everyone should adopt – after all, Israel needs all the friends she can get, and who else gives so much with no expectation of reward?

 

Bev Goldman
Bev Goldman

BEV GOLDMAN

Bev worked for many years in education and journalism, and she holds a master’s degree in Feminist Literature. Prior to joining the SA Zionist Federation where she dealt with media and education for 12 years, she was the editor of the ‘Who’s Who’ of Southern Africa; a member of WordWize which taught English language skills to Russian and Polish immigrants in South Africa; an occasional lecturer in English at RAU (now the University of Johannesburg); and Director of Educational Programmes at Allenby In-Home Studies.  Currently she runs the Media Team Israel for the SA Zionist Federation; she sits on the Board of Governors of the Rabbi Cyril Harris Community Centre (RCHCC); she is the National Vice-President of the Union of Jewish Women South Africa; she is an executive member of the International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW); and she edits and proofs Masters and PhD dissertations.

 

 

Feature picture credit: Moti Milrod

“It is time the world – and Jews themselves – identify the ‘People of the Book’ as indigenous people”

By Rolene Marks

These are the words of indigenous rights activist Ryan Bellerose, a native north American from Alberta, Canada in an exclusive interview with LOTL 

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Ryan Bellerose (courtecy of IsraelIndigenousRights)

Bellerose is a Métis from Northern Alberta, a Native People recognised by the Canadian government as Aboriginal. While his father, Mervin Bellerose, co-authored the Métis Settlements Act of 1989, which the Alberta legislature passed in 1990 affirming Native land rights, Ryan founded a Native rights advocacy group ‘Canadians For Accountability’, and is an activist for “Idle No More”, a movement supporting indigenous sovereignty and land and water stewardship.

So, it was instructive to learn what a respected activist well versed with the issues of ‘indigenous rights’, thinks about Israelis that are constantly accused as being colonialists – a foreign import at the expense of the “indigenous” Arabs.

By “indigenous people”, Bellerose explains, “I am talking about ethnoreligious tribal peoples who have demonstrated ties to specific ancestral lands and sacred places.” He cites the “five pillars” of indigenous Identity as:

“Land, Language, Culture, Blood and Spirituality.”

All these characteristics are “what defines an indigenous people and cements its identity.”

To graphically demonstrate, he holds out a hand and says, “imagine my thumb and four fingers representing the five pillars; you can have a functional identity even if you are missing one of those fingers but the more you lose, the less functional it becomes, resulting in identity erosion.”

So how does this champion for the rights of indigenous people, emerge as an outspoken supporter of Israel?

“What many forget or conveniently dismiss,” he says, “Jews have had a constant presence in the land of Israel since time immemorial and this has continued despite exile, persecution, and war. Jews have managed to maintain a corpus presence in the Land of Israel for over 3000 years while maintaining their core identity and so when the chance came to return home, they took it. And when they got home…I mean that’s pretty amazing. They came back and built a nation.”

Bellerose has made a study of Israel following his fascination with the country from his childhood. Brought up as a Roman Catholic like many Métis who were forcefully converted, “I was captivated as a kid reading the stories in the Old Testament. As I got older and studied the history more, I realised that there was a disparity between what I was told – Israel is an entity of colonialists – and the truth that Jews are in fact indigenous and have deeper ties to the land than the people I was being told were indigenous. I simply applied the same standards and logic that I applied with every other indigenous people in the world and it wasn’t hard to see something was way off.”

All in the Family

Asked what motivated him to become an activist, Bellerose replies “I am following a family tradition. Activism courses through our veins. While my dad worked all over the world in the oilfields, in forestry and basically did all kinds of jobs, he always spoke up for his fellow workers; he was intensely involved in the struggle for Métis Rights. Although he loathed politics, he nevertheless became the Chairman of the Board for our settlement and worked afterwards as the Resource Director where he was the first to ever manage the settlement at a profit rather than at a loss like his predecessors. Growing up around Dad, his values rubbed off on me and helped me understand how important it was to make my voice heard when I saw inequalities.”

Hailing from the Paddle Prairie Métis settlement in the far north of Alberta Canada, “we are at the edge of the arboreal forest, which means right where the taiga (pine trees and the last non-coniferous trees) meets the muskeg (swamp). I grew up without running water or electricity during my early childhood and we hunted, fished, and cultivated crops. We lived an hour-and-a-half away by car from the nearest town.  My family traces our roots back to the first families and we have always been active in the struggle for indigenous rights.”

What counsel did this esteemed activist have for young Jewish students on campus around the world that have become such hostile environments for supporters of Israel?

Firstly, says Bellerose, “be proud of who you are; your people have an amazing story; have contributed a disproportionate amount to the world, in the fields of science, literature, and many other fields, but the most important thing is that you managed to do a few things that are the goal of every indigenous people – you managed to achieve self -determination on your ancestral lands. Think of it, against all odds, you resurrected your indigenous ancient language. What has been achieved in Israel is an example to many other indigenous people.”

Contrary to the accusation of Jews in Israel being “colonisers”, Bellerose asserts “you are a Middle Eastern people who endured a long and painfully diaspora and returned home after two millennia years of forced exile.  I frequently speak at youth conferences in Northern California, because it is critical to reach out to young people with the facts BEFORE they get onto campus. We don’t want their first experience on campus to be getting yelled at about Israel and being unprepared.”

Today, Bellerose does work with the California-based organisation  Club Z and often does speaking engagements on behalf of Stand With Us.

Insurmountable Issue

Bellerose avers that “identity is at the centre of everything and while Israelis have a strong identity, they sometimes come across as weak because they do not understand how the other side views the world.”

What does this ingenious rights activist mean by this statement?

“For instance, you can tell me something is important to you and I will believe you but if you fail to follow up your words with action, your words will not find traction and you weaken your own case. People will believe your actions over your words.”

He cites the case of the Temple Mount that “is supposed to be the most sacred place for Jews in the entire world, yet many Jews act like it is not important. To an outsider this means that you don’t really care and if we just push you hard enough you will give it up. Now you and I both know that Jews are stubborn and patient. Afterall, you did manage to return to your ancestral home after being sent into exile by the Romans 2000 years ago but to an outsider it appears like you don’t care about the Temple Mount – that it is not critical to your ancestral rights. If you believe, you need to set red lines and Europe and the Arab world would take you far more seriously regarding Jerusalem and your inherent rights to it. In other words, the stronger your Jewish identity, the more they will respect you, the weaker it is, the more they will attempt to undermine your rights. I know from our own experience.”

To those that criticize Bellerose for so publicly and proudly supporting Israel he responds that “the Jews are the indigenous people of Israel; the facts tell us that beyond doubt. Arabs are indigenous but not to Israel. Arabs invaded Israel in the 7th century CE and this is a historical fact.” To those who accuse him of betraying his indigenous pedigree he has a strong message:

I am going to ask you nicely – stop lying to Indians and stop trying to steal the Jewish people’s story, because people like me will call you out, every damn time.”

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Ryan Bellerose is a Métis from Northern Alberta. His father, Mervin Bellerose, co-authored the Métis Settlements Act of 1989, which was passed by the Alberta legislature in 1990 and cemented his land rights. Ryan founded Canadians For Accountability, a Native rights advocacy group, and was an Idle No More (INM)* movement organizer. He is also a founding member in the Calgary United with Israel (CUWI) organization.

 

 

Feature picture credit: Times of Israel