“In The Mood”

British Trade Union inclined to ignore Covid-19 while promoting anti-Israel sentiment

By David E. Kaplan

What’s with the United Kingdom’s second largest trade union with 1.2 million members? What does it say about Unite that its obsession against the collective state of the Jews – Israel – is far more important than the health and wellbeing of its million-plus members or its fellow workers abroad?

Mood in the Street. British trade unions vote ‘overwhelmingly’ in 2019 to pass motion boycotting Israel.

Unite has been angrily accused of ignoring the global crisis for workers caused by the Coronavirus pandemic after submitting a motion condemning Israel for its proposed annexation of parts of the West Bank to be discussed at this week’s 152nd annual Trade Union Congress (TUC) conference starting this Monday.

While the once proposed “annexation” is off Israel’s political agenda and news media, clearly with the British trade union Unite, it remains a ‘present and clear danger’ warranting a resolution. No matter that the landscape has shifted and there prevails a new  spirit of rapprochement towards the pursuit of peace and prosperity.

Unite’s antiquated understanding is hardly surprising when its boss, Len McCluskey, a former stalwart Corbyn supporter, once described allegations of antisemitism within Labour as “mood music”.

Red Alert. In battle mode, ‘Unite’ union boss Len McCluskey once called allegations of antisemitism within Labour “mood music”. (Photo: Getty Images)

What will likely set the misguided “mood” at this week’s trade union conference is the proposed anti-Israel Unite – Motion 66 – condemning Israel over an issue that is no longer relevant.

What raises the spectre of anti-Semitism is that this will be the ONLY international motion to be debated at the conference.  No other country in the world with the most horrendous human rights violations attracts the attention of Unite which is fixated on Israel.

It is little surprise that the proposed motion of condemnation by Len McCluskey’s union is being greeted with anger by some in the union movement.

Steve Scott of the Britain Israel Trade Union Dialogue (BITUD) told the London-based Jewish weekly, the Jewish Chronicle that

It’s strange that in a time of unprecedented struggle for workers worldwide, including massive job losses and health consequences of Covid, that the only international motion at the TUC doesn’t offer solidarity and support to workers across the globe.”

While ignored by Unite, Scott draws attention to the “considerable cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians during the Covid-19 crisis to get people back to work, noting that the “Histadrut (Israeli TUC) at the moment have issued notice of a General Strike to defend all public sector workers who face pay cuts.”

Asks Scott:

 “Isn’t this something we should be sending solidarity  messages for rather than condemnation?”

Adhering to the facts on the ground, Scott continues:

Considering that the annexation proposals have been rescinded since the recent recognition agreement between Israel and the UAE, this motion also seems to be out of date. Why aren’t we now calling for a return to talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships in light of the peace moves in the Middle East.”

By the time, the issue is raised for discussion at the Conference, Bahrain too will have joined the UAE in normalising relations with Israel. Yes, there will be challenges, but the trend and trajectory towards peace is set.

However, facts on the ground are not what interests Unite. One only has to look back at its past public positions over the past decade when during Israel’s conflicts with Hamas, the union consistently sided against Israel adopting the most inflammatory and one-sided language.

True Colours. Delegates to the annual Trades Union Congress conference in Manchester on 12 September 2019 waving Palestinian flags supporting resolutions denouncing Israel.

In 2012 during Operation Pillar of Defense, a statement issued under McCluskey’s name “unreservedly condemned outrageous Israeli aggression,” accusing the Jewish State of “terrorizing an entire population.” The statement made no mention of the thousands of terrorist rockets fired on the civilian populations of Israel!

Under some pressure at the time, McCluskey budged only slightly, conceding that Unite was “wary” of Hamas – only in part – because “the terror group had expelled the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions.”

Eighteen months later, during Operation Protective Edge, Unite’s statement only briefly noted the murder of three Israelis youths before railing against “Israeli-state racism and apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing”, “colonisation”, accusing Israel of committing “war crimes with complete impunity,” and suggested:

This isn’t about rockets from Gaza. It’s about Israel fighting to maintain its control over Palestinian lives and Palestinian land.”

Clearly on McCluskey’s watch, the Unite union has shown an unremitting hostility towards Israel and Zionism.

Off the Mark to Off-line

Interestingly and no less intriguing is that Unite’s anti-Israel motion to be discussed this Monday and Tuesday afternoon will NOT be aired to members of the public or other trade union members who register to watch online coverage of the event.

Why?

Is it feared that certain ugly truths will be revealed to the public or might embarrass the new Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer who is set to address the conference? After all, his first act as party’s new leader, when he replaced Jeremy Corbyn in early 2020  was vowing “to tear out the poison” of antisemitism within his party “by its roots”.

Off the Air. While thousands of Trades Union Congress (TUC) members are expected to tune in online to the discussions and panels hosted at Congress 2020, including the keynote speech from leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer (above), the discussion on an anti-Israel resolution proposed by ‘Unite’ will not be broadcasted.

With positive signs of a Middle East transforming towards rapprochement, would it not be better for this conference to read the signs of shifting sands and instead of one-sided attack resolutions against Israel to rather adhere to the words of  Steve Scott:

 calling for a return to talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships in light of the peace moves in the Middle East.”

With Flying Colours. Proud to be on the path to peace, Tel Aviv City Hall  is lit up with the flag of the United Arab Emirates after Persian Gulf state announces peace deal with Israel on August 13. (Photo: AP/Oded Baliti)




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 New Dawn in Dubai

Once a gulf apart, now Israeli emissaries set to serve Jewish community in the Gulf

By  Michael Jankelowitz

Following the signing of the historic Abraham Accords in August, no less historic will be the sending of long-term emissaries to the Jewish community in Dubai by the World Zionist Organization (WZO). Why this is monumentally moving is that this will be a first time Israeli emissaries are sent to serve a Jewish community in an Arab country!

The resounding message is that far more than a ‘practical peace’ – something Israelis are accustomed to  –  but a portent of a ‘warm peace’ – what we all aspire to and embodied in the spirit of the Abraham Accords.

Picture Perfect. An idyllic vista of Dubai that will be seeing an influx of Israeli visitors. 

After all, the name of ‘Abraham’ in the accords holds special meaning to Jews, Christians and Muslims as the common patriarch of the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

By so naming the deal, Israel and the UAE hope to publicly display their ancient ties and a commitment to a future of peace and prosperity.

It is to this warming milieu in the Gulf that the WZO is sending its emissaries – a young married couple Yaacov and Zolty Eisenstein.

The Eisensteins will work with a South African expatriate in Dubai, Ross Kriel, who is President of the Jewish Council of the Emirates (JCE), an umbrella group established by Jews living in the country.

Destination Dubai.  World Zionist organization emissaries  to the UAE, Yaacov and Zolty Eisenstein (photo credit: Courtesy)

The small Jewish community of the United Arab Emirates has welcomed the historic agreement between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi to formalize relations, praising the Arab Gulf state for its pluralism and religious tolerance.

I am so moved by the many messages of hope that I have received from Emirati friends of our community on hearing this news,” says Kriel. “Our community members look forward to direct flights to Israel and welcoming Israeli friends and visitors to the UAE.”

Winds of Change. Fluttering in the wind, a United Arab Emirates (UAE) flag waves alongside an Israeli flag. (photo credit: REUTERS/CHRISTOPHER PIKE

Food for Thought

A Jewish community has been operating in Dubai for about a decade with estimates as to the size of the community in the UAE ranging from the low hundreds to 1,500. There are three functioning congregations – two Orthodox and one egalitarian – and one kosher eatery called “Elli’s Kosher Kitchen”. Clearly it has established a reputation as it has caught the eye – or more the palette – of UAE Culture Minister Noura al-Kaabi who gastronomically observed that it has added “a new chapter in Gulf food history”.

Looking Ahead. The Minister of Culture and Youth, Noura Al Kaabi looks ahead to cultural exchanges between the UAE and Israel. (Chris Whiteoak / The National)

Also a former South African, Elli is the wife of Ross Kriel. She reveals that after receiving repeated requests for kosher food over the years while living in Dubai, she started Elli’s Kosher Kitchen “to provide fresh, wholesome, homemade kosher meals to travellers.” 

Man on a Mission. President of the Jewish Council of the Emirates, former South African, Ross Kriel in Dubai.

Describing the newly formed Jewish Community of the Emirates, Elli says it “grew organically out of the homes of a few expat families living in Dubai. These families used to get together occasionally for Shabbat. After we moved to Dubai in 2013, my husband did not want to pray alone and was determined to create a functioning Jewish community. Striving for a minyan, he started weekly Shabbat services in our living room using a wardrobe as the Aharon Kodesh. Chagim were also initially observed in our home. The development of the community continued in my home for two years until more space was required. Our community, albeit small, is vibrant, warm and embracing, diverse, inclusive and eclectic in its makeup.”

Kosher Cuisine. Opening her business in response to growing demand, Elli Kriel preparing Shabbat bread in the kitchen of her Dubai villa. (Pawan Singh / The National)

It is to this “vibrant, warm and embracing” community that emissaries Yaacov and Zolty Eisenstein will soon be arriving to serve on behalf of the World Zionist Organisation.

Clearly, this is “history in the making” avers Chairman of the WZO, Avraham Duvdevani, asserting: “This is an important milestone in the existence of the World Zionist Organisation.”

In a process started a few months before the announcement of the Abraham Accords, the WZO, which has a framework of hundreds of emissaries worldwide – including in small, dispersed communities – has been in touch with the Jewish community in Dubai. This followed a request from the Orthodox Union of Jewish Congregations of America to send emissaries for the first time to Dubai’s Jewish community and now with the historic decision to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, what could be more “normal” than sending such ideally suited emissaries.

Changing Perspectives. A man sporting a Jewish ‘tallit’ looks out over the Dubai skyline in the United Arab Emirates. (video screenshot)

The Eisensteins will establish and run a Jewish kindergarten, teach about the heritage of the Jewish People and Israel, will establish an Ulpan for learning of the Hebrew Language and will organize community events around the Jewish festivals. Highly motivated, they have already begun working in time for the upcoming Jewish Festivals.

The emissaries are part of the “Ben Ami” programme of the Center for Religious Affairs in the Diaspora of the WZO, which has 36 emissaries operating in 23 countries. Most of these Jewish communities are small and dispersed, however, these are the first emissaries that are being sent to a Jewish community in an Arab country.

Says WZO Chairman, Avraham Duvdevani:

This is an important milestone in the history of the Zionist Movement through all its years of existence. We will continue to operate in every way to strengthen the connection between the State of Israel and Jewish communities in the diaspora and to strengthen the Jewish identity of our people throughout the world, including tiny dispersed communities.”

Monumental Milestone. Upbeat over the sending of emissaries to the UAE, Chairman of the World Zionist Organization Avraham Duvdevani  aims to strengthen the connection between the State of Israel and Jewish communities throughout the world.

This news has been received with great enthusiasm by communities around the world and what has been truly moving, has been to see the reaction from the Emiratis, who are looking forward to welcoming their new Israeli friends.

With Israel working on a direct airline route from Israel to Dubai that will fly through Saudi air space, Elli’s Kosher Kitchen will definitely have many more mouths to feed!




About the writer:

Michael Jankelowitz, has worked for the World Zionist Organisation and Jewish Agency  for Israel in various capacities since leaving the National Union of Israeli Students in 1978. He has worked in the WZO’s Student Division in New York and Jerusalem and was the Jewish Agency’s representative to the Jewish organization, Hillel in Washington DC and advisor on World Jewry to the JAFO treasury. He has also worked as spokesperson for JAFI.

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 Corona Cry for Help

The JNF in South Africa responds

By Beverley Price

Domestic Fundraiser.   A familiar sight in most Jewish homes around the world, the KKL-JNF Blue Box served as a cherished and popular means to realize the Zionist vision of establishing a state for the Jewish people.

Jews over a certain age will remember the iconic little blue Jewish National Fund (JNF) collection boxes they had in their homes where any spare coins were deposited in the slit that went towards planting trees in Israel. Whether they were dimes in the USA, pennies in the UK or pennies and later cents in South Africa they added up and over time helped transform Israel’s landscape from desert brown to fertile green. They contributed to changing the landscape of  a Palestine from what  Mark Twain derisively described in his 1867 visit as “repulsive and dreary…..hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere” to being the only country in the world to have a net gain of trees in the last 100 years!

However, there would be further changes following the changing fortunes of South Africa and Israel.

If in the post-1948 Israel independence years, South Africa JNF was in the vanguard in supporting state-building projects in Israel, in more recent years, a new paradigm developed with JNF supporting projects in South Africa. Israeli expertise in overcoming harsh environmental challenges could and is benefitting South Africa.

One such project is  the community in Mamelodi,  a semi-rural town located 90 kilometres from Johannesburg.  In the  early 1990’s, the JNF initiated a long-term sustainable development project there on behalf of the Jewish community in South Africa by opening the Walter Sisulu Environmental Centre. They did so in the presence of another icon, the President of South Africa – Nelson Mandela, who had earlier suggested the area to the JNF, close to the Mandela Park Peace Garden that  teaches pensioners to grow and sell their own food.

Conservation Champions. The Jewish National Fund (JNF), Walter Sisulu Environmental Centre in Mamelodi, Gauteng Province, South Africa is an environmental discovery centre that aims to develop community “conservation champions” for the environment.
 

The JNF Walter Sisulu Environmental Centre is an environmental education and resource centre encompassing 72 Mamelodi Schools, the 186 schools in the Southern Tshwane Educational District and the surrounding community to learn about the environment and to create “champions for a sustainable future.”

And the reason it is named after Walter Sisulu is that he visited Israel as part of his “five Nation Tour” in the early 1960s so there was the connection between his name, Israel, the Jewish community of South Africa and the Mamelodi region.

Honing in on Heritage. Schools book their visits well in advance for the JNF-Walter Sisulu Environmental Centre where students are inspired and motivated to preserve and utilise the wealth of South Africa’s natural heritage.

Based on Israeli expertise, the Centre imparts knowledge about recycling, water conservation, cultivation of crops and waste. Every year, over 12,000 students from the region enroll at the centre to receive education in sustainable development from trained instructors.

Going Green. A major focus of the JNF supported centre is to work in the schools themselves, where it helps support “Green Clubs” that also participate in a regional quiz and a school greening competition. The center has won numerous awards including the Mail and Guardian’s “Greening the Future Award” in the education category.

However, when the Covid-19 pandemic began, alarm bells sounded leading National Chairman of SA JNF, Isla Feldman, to exclaim in alarm:

 “People are going to be hungry. We have to raise money and help our people in Mamelodi.”

And so began a fundraising drive by JNF-SA  to purchase much-needed food parcels, each of which contained 6.5 kg of food that Boxer Superstores supplied. The management of the JNF-WSEC, Frans Mamogobo and Miko Khalo found volunteers to assist with the distribution. After much operational planning, the delivery site was set next to the local police station in order to provide safety and security.

Back to the Roots. Students learning the techniques of planting flowers, fruits and vegetables.

To bring the good news to the people in the region, notices went out in both Sepedi and in English. Volunteers from the organisation, Cadena – a member of the global Jewish network delivering hand-in-hand assistance around the world – helped with the distribution on the day. Thabisile Vilakazi of the Tshwane Municipality and Shaun Wilkinson were also part of the team.

Project in Progress. Mendy Graumann of Cadena South Africa (left) checking names of prospective recipients for food parcels with Frans Mamabolo.

The initiative was not without drama.

The day before the scheduled delivery, there was civil unrest in Mamelodi, and in order to ensure the safety of all the volunteers, the deliveries had to be shortly delayed until the area was deemed sufficiently safe.

Stand and Deliver. The Jewish National Fund of South Africa distributed 500 food parcels to the Mamelodi community in Tshwane on 11 August with the assistance of volunteers from the Jewish philanthropic organisation Cadena.

That day was Tuesday the 11th of August and in the midst of a deadly pandemic, the food parcels, with the help of many kind volunteers and many generous donors, the JNF food parcels were distributed to the needy Mamelodi community.

People-to-People Project. Food parcels from the JNF wait to be dispersed  to a hungry community.
 

The Jewish National Fund has come a long way since it was founded with the sound of Theodor Herzl’s banging down his gavel at the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel in December 1901. It was a momentous moment with the message resonating beyond the Conference walls in Basel that Zionism actually set foot in Erez Israel – not by mere words and declarations, debates and resolutions, but by land reclamation through a national fund of and on behalf of the Jewish people.

Helping Hand. Frans Mamogobo, Manager of JNF WSEC (right) with recipient.

So too when it comes to the JNF in South Africa, it is less about words and more about deeds as it looks to support the people of Mamelodi.

The Walter Sisulu Environmental Centre, Mamelodi. A JNF South Africa initiative



__________________________

Progressive Partnerships. JNF South Africa is currently seeking expat South Africans abroad to partner with its new “bridge-across-the-pond” project with JNF of America and with Israel. You can contact the writer at  bevp@beyachad.co.za.


About the writer:

Beverley Price. Educated at King David School, Lindfield and graduate of the University of Witwatersrand (Speech Therapy), Beverley Price is Education Officer at the Jewish National JNF South Africa in Johannesburg.







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

Remembering Munich

Survivors recall the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

By Rolene Marks and Yair Chelouche

“They’re all gone”.

They were the words that reverberated around the world. Television viewers across the globe were glued to Jim McKay, who anchored ABC’s coverage of the unfolding terrorist attack in Munich during the 1972 Olympics. The words are seared into our conscience. We can never forget that moment when we heard that 11 members of the Israeli Olympic Team had been murdered by Black September terrorists. Germany, once emblematic of painful memories for the Jewish people, had become a place where Jews were targeted for murder yet again.

Proud Presence. The Israeli delegation at the opening ceremony in Munich. (Credit: Agence France-Presse-Getty Images)

On the 5th of September, we will remember how these terrorists first killed two members of the Israeli delegation and held another 9 hostage, until they too, were slaughtered.  Israelis are far too familiar with terrorism, having endured attacks from terror groups since the birth of the modern state; but for it to happen like this on foreign soil, at the Olympic Games, the very essence and symbol of brotherhood and the human spirit, made the pain that much more acute.

Several weeks ago, history was made when the Israeli Airforce entered German airspace for the first time to train with the country’s Luftwaffe.  Apart from practicing complex maneuvers, the premise of the joint exercise was to strengthen ties – and pay tribute to the past. Sharing the commitment to fight antisemitism and declaring “Never Again” the two allied forces flew over the Dachau Concentration Camp in tribute to victims and survivors of the Holocaust as well as those who were murdered on that tragic day in September, 1972.

Yehuda Weinstain has often been called the “Flying Fencer”.  Weinstain was just 17 when he participated in the Olympics as a Fencer.  He recalls the excitement of being in the Olympic Village, sharing the camaraderie with his team, being a bit star struck at seeing the famous athletes and practicing with intense focus. It was the Olympics after all! The Olympics symbolise the best of the sporting world and the very spirit of international goodwill, devoid of the partisan politics that plague global discourse. This was shattered with the attack on the Israeli team.

“Flying Fencer”. Future Israeli pilot, Yehuda Weinstain  was just 17 when he participated in the 1972 Munich Olympics as a Fencer. 

Yehuda Weinstain recalls how it was a twist of fate that saved his life. Having visited the city to acclimate so that when it came to choosing his accommodation, he chose the same room that was in between that of the coaches and other team members. This decision would prove lifesaving.

The sportsmen were assigned a room in a complex with three bedrooms, with two in each room.

Touché. Israeli fencer Yehuda Weinstain (right) scores a hit in a fencing bout in the 1972 Munich Olympics before the massacre.

When the terrorists started their deadly attack, they went to the rooms on either side of Weinstain and roommate, Dan Alon; but not theirs. They heard the shots that killed wrestling coach, Moshe Weinberg. They knew that something horrific had occurred. Weinstain remembers seeing a blood puddle at the place where Weinberg’s body lay as he peered through the window.

“It could’ve been me,” he says, “Because the terrorists, passed by my window twice and didn’t come in. Later on we believed that the terrorists’ omission on our door was a deliberate act by Moshe Weinberg who wanted that the people who will face the terrorists are those, he thought, could resist stronger. So it was my luck”.

Desperate Situation. Held hostage, fencing coach Andre Spitzer (right) and marksmanship coach Kehat Shorr (left) negotiating with the German police.

He recalls making the decision to run to safety. “I ran about seven metres around the corner. It felt longer. I had the feeling that someone could shoot me in the small of my back”, he says. It was Alon’s turn, then some of the others to make the run for safety and he, Weinstain and the remaining survivors were taken to safety by German police and isolated before being sent home to their worried families in Israel.

40 years later (2012) – “The 11th Day” – Munich ’72 massacre survivors.

Yehuda Weinstain, Olympic athlete for Fencing enlisted in the army as is required of Israeli citizens and became Lt Col Weinstain, a combat pilot in the IAF, flying many important missions for the Jewish state.

 His latest mission was addressing the delegation from the IAF that participated in the training exercise in Germany – a poignant and important moment.

As Young fencerAvishay Jakobovich at the Munich Olympic village
Dr Avishay Jakobovich

Dr Avishay Jakobovich was also at those fateful games – albeit in a different role. Host country Germany, wanted to show the world that it had moved forward from its Nazi past and invited all participating countries to send separate delegations  of youth under 21 that would serve as cultural and social Ambassadors. In retrospect, many would criticize the lack of police presence and security. Jakobovich, delighted to be part of the Israeli delegation, remembers the incredible happy and inclusive vibe, with dancing and singing amongst the different global representatives and enjoying the games as a spectator.

Israel’s Young Ambassadors. Avishay Jakobovich (left) as a member of the Israeli youth social ambassador’s delegation to the Munich Olympics.

This was until the massacre of the Israeli coaches and athletes. “We were quickly removed from where we were staying and isolated. I called my parents to let them know I was okay. The hardest parts were when we represented the State of Israel at the main memorial held by the Olympic committee the day after the massacre and accompanying the coffins of the victims and the flight was difficult and emotional, knowing the bodies of those murdered were underneath us, in the belly of the plane. I sat next to Ankie Spitzer, now the widow of Andre Spitzer the Fencing coach. Very hard,” he recalls.

Dr Jakobovich served as Chief Gynaecologist for the IDF and is a leader in his field today.

This and every September, we remember them – the 11 coaches and athletes, slaughtered in their prime in one of the most nefarious and infamous terror attacks in recent history. The recent IAF-Luftwaffe flyover may have been history in the making and a great tribute to remember and heal wounds but it is the message of that auspicious occasion that we take heed of – NEVER AGAIN!

Munich Olympics Opening Ceremony. Israeli Delegation enters the Olympic stadium onr the 26/08/1972 (left). The ceremony (centre). Ending the opening ceremony by freeing pigeons of peace (right).

Murdered in Munich. The 11 Israeli sportsmen killed at the Munich Olympics on the 05/09/1972

Right handed fencer. Co-writer Rolene Marks (L) with the “Flying Fencer” Yehuda Weinstain (R), Sept. 2020


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

“Under Construction” – from Buildings to Human Relations

Israel’s Top Trade Union Provides Safety Training During the COVID Crisis for Every Palestinian Construction Worker

By David E. Kaplan

Something “constructive” has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic in Israel – an innovative programme to save Palestinian lives; not from disease but from preventable accidents in Israel’s bustling construction industry.

In Israel’s entire workforce, construction workers are in the greatest danger, and for decades have suffered the highest rates of fatal workplace accidents – 6.6 times more than that of the average worker in Israel.

Like in most societies, the victims of these fatal workplace accidents are disproportionately the most vulnerable members of society and in Israel it is Israeli Arabs, Palestinians  and other foreign workers consistently over-represented in the number of construction-site fatalities and injuries.

Caught in the Act. Captured on camera, repeated safety offenses at a construction site in the center of the country. (Photo: First thing)
 

A breakdown shows that the highest incidence of fatal workplace accidents from 2017 to 2019 were caused by falls from heights, followed in descending order of falling objects, vehicular accidents, collapsing walls and scaffolding, electrocution, explosions and other.

Yes, society demands expansion and rapid development, but humanity no less morally requires that there is a limit at what price and every effort should be made to safeguard work environments.

To this end, over the past few months, a construction site in the Beit Zafafa neighbourhood in Jerusalem was rented by Israel’s largest trade union – the Histadrut – and converted into a “hands-on classroom” for the safety training of Palestinians in the construction industry. Already more than 500 Palestinian construction workers have participated in the training course at the “Safety Headquarters” with the primary aim “to prevent the next casualty.”

“Stayin’ Alive”. Safety training for Palestinian workers in Israel as the  Beit Zafafa construction site in Jerusalem. (Photo: Nizzan Zvi Cohen)

The Histadrut or the General Organization of Workers in Israel was established in 1920 in Mandatory Palestine and soon emerged as one of the most powerful institutions in the Yishuv (the body of Jewish residents in the region prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948).

In extending their services to the wellbeing of non-Israeli workers in Israel, the Histadrut proudly subscribes to the motto:

Unionised labour recognizes no borders

The one-day training sessions were planned and implemented by the Histadrut in partnership with the Israel Builders Association, who utilised the prolonged stay of Palestinian workers in Israel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to carry out the safety workshops. The morning of the training, workers were transported from their places of accommodation across Israel to the on-site “classroom”. Upon arrival,  they would register at the reception station, where after the workers were divided into small groups that underwent the training, each one separately, in accordance with the guidelines of the Ministry of Health and the restrictions of the Corona virus.

Certificates of Safety. Proudly displaying their certificates are Palestinian safety training graduates with Avital Shapira on the right. (Photo: Avital Shapira)

Work like a Dream

Eyal Ben Reuven, Chairman of the Safety Headquarters, explained that “The training is both theoretical and practical and is based on scenarios of real accidents in the industry.” The training sessions, said Reuven, “dealt with scaffolding, ladders, dangerous mechanical tools, electricity and preventing objects from falling.”

With the thousands of Palestinians working in Israel’s construction industry, the programme has a long way to go, but it’s a start – “a constructive start.”

My dream is that only workers who graduate safety training will be able to work on construction sites,” says Ben Reuven. “But for that to happen, the government needs to help us.”

According to Reuven, the course costs approximately NIS 450 per worker with current funding being provided by the Fund for the Encouragement of the Construction Industry. With the government showing little interest in supporting the initiative at present, “we are trying to fund-raise to continue the course,” says Reuven.

Striving for Safer Working Environments. Meeting with the Palestinian delegation in the office of Histadrut Chairman Arnon Bar-David (4th from the left). (Photo: Histadrut spokeswoman)

The success of the programme depends on the support of the constructive industry, which according to the Deputy Director General of the Israel Builders Association, Itzik Gurvich, has come to the table with construction companies “agreeing to pay their workers a full days wages to participate in the training.” The result has been that “Both employers and the workers have been satisfied with the course, and we’re hoping to expand the pilot.”

Ahmed Ghanaim, who heads Al Ola College, a vocational training  college in the Western Galilee; and whose instructors are responsible for the training itself, explains that even veteran Palestinian workers “who have been working in Israel for decades and are experienced in their field, don’t know Israeli labour and safety laws. This information doesn’t really exist in the Palestinian Authority and also the employers don’t always give workers all necessary knowledge. Once workers have this knowledge, they’ll know what to ask for from management in order to return home safe and sound.”

Constructing a Safer Tomorrow. The construction site hired by the Histadrut in Jerusalem offered a perfect “classroom” training ground. (Photo: Nitzan Zvi Cohen)
 

After a most instructive hands-on session about scaffolding and ladders, the workers gathered in a circle to discuss the regulations as it applies in practice. One concerned worker remarks to the instructor:

But out there on the site, it doesn’t actually happen like that!”

The instructor replies:

Listen, at the end of the day there’s a hierarchy of responsibility. You have to speak to your foreman, and he needs to report to the contractor.”

And what if the employer tells me to break those rules?” asks the employee.

Contact the Histadrut,” the instructor replies. “Remember that we’re talking about your life, don’t agree to work in dangerous conditions.”

Avital Shapira, Director of International Relations of the Histadrut, addressed the Palestinian workers in fluent Arabic. Shapira’s fluency in Arabic  stems from her stay in Egypt where she was the first Israeli student to study at the American University of Cairo, back in 1994.

This is a great opportunity to show that the Histadrut is the home for all workers, regardless of origin, religion or gender,” Shapira told Davar, the Histadrut’s online news outlet.

This is also an opportunity to use this platform to convey to Palestinian workers the message that the Histadrut sees them as a bridge to peace. I think the presence of so many Palestinian workers in the Israeli labour market is a platform for cooperation and coexistence.” The presence of these Palestinian workers, according to Shapira, also strengthens the relationship with the Building and Wood Workers’ International organization (BW).

Safe and Sound. Histadrut’s Director of International Relations, Avital Shapira, addresses the Palestinian workers in Arabic  at a safety training workshop at Beit Zafafa in Jerusalem. (Photo: Nitzan Zvi Cohen)

It is important to understand that in the construction industry there is no difference between a Palestinian, Israeli, or migrant worker,” adds Tal Burshtein, Vice Chairman of the Construction, Related Industries and Wood Workers’ Union. “Everyone is covered by the same collective bargaining agreement and is entitled to the same rights.”

Most of the Palestinians who came to the safety training chose to become members of the Histadrut, a process that began in recent years.

And for good reason!

Think of the abhorrent conditions foreign workers are treated in countries where they have found employment, notably in the Middle East and Africa. Too frequently they are exploited, with few legal rights to protect themselves.

In Israel, on the other hand, the Histadrut, will aid Palestinian foreign workers who have been fired, help them receive their vacation and sick days, and even represents them against the National Insurance Institution in events of workplace accidents. “First and foremost, the Histadrut is a sympathetic ear – we want to help.” During the COVID-19 crisis, the Histadrut distributed tens of thousands of masks and gloves and more than 2,000 liters of hand sanitizer to Palestinian workers.

Meeting with them has shown us that they lack a lot of knowledge about their rights,” said Burshtein. “Since we’ve been distributing pamphlets on workers’ rights and signing them up to the Histadrut, we’ve been getting many more inquiries from Palestinian workers to our information service center, asking for help with problems at work. The workers who’ve gotten the pamphlets in Arabic also serve as ambassadors who disseminate this knowledge to additional workers.”

Building Bridges

Peter Lerner, Director General of the Histadrut’s International Relations Division, is totally upbeat about the joint venture safety training programme for Palestinian workers. “The pilot was an initiative,” he told Lay of the Land,  “that we hope will become the new standard for saving the lives of workers in the construction sector. I believe that it is a joint obligation to combine efforts and produce a safer working environment for the workers, empowering them and sharing knowledge about safety in the workplace and workers’ rights.” 

Thumbs Up. An inspired Director General of the Histadrut’s International Relations Division, Peter Lerner.
 

Lerner asserts that this project is part of the Histadrut’s “expanded activities with Palestinian workers” adding that while “designed to ensure the health and welfare of Palestinian workers, they also promote co-existence.”

In Israel’s ever-expanding ‘urban landscape’, the building of new inspiring edifices is welcome. No less welcome in the country’s frenetic ‘social landscape’ is the building of improved relations between people!

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

From Peace with the Gulf – to a Gulf with his People

Reflections on leadership from a past interview with former security chief, Carmi Gillon

By David. E. Kaplan

While overtures of peace were reverberating around the Middle East last week with the announcement of the Israel-UAE normalisation deal, closer to home – literally the Prime Minister’s home – it was quite the opposite. Contrast the positive sentiments expressed in the statements of the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, who at a press conference in Berlin said “Any efforts that promote peace in the region and that result in the holding back the threat of annexation could be viewed as positive”; and that of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-SisiI appreciate the efforts of the architects of this agreement for the prosperity and stability of our region,” to the anger of Israelis congregating in their thousands, outside the PM’s residence in Jerusalem. Rather than upbeat by the Israel-UAE deal they were beating down on the Prime Minister to resign over corruption charges and his government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout.

No wonder the Prime Minister’s neighbours too are protesting! They want his residence moved to another area in Jerusalem – ASAP! They are demanding peace not in the region but in their street!

A far cry from the visual spectacle of the Hollywood Oscars, Balfour Street, Jerusalem is nevertheless proving entertaining to see the list of esteemed folk pitching up on the ‘proverbial red carpet’ to protest. Last Thursday’s celebrities included MK Yorai Lahav from the Yesh Atid party, and MK Moshe Ya’alon, a former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces and Defense Minister under Netanyahu who said:

The protests on Balfour and across the country are just, legal and democratic. No one will prevent the protests from taking place. On the contrary – they will only get bigger.

The name that most caught my attention  was Carmi Gillon  – a man whose job once included protecting the Prime Minister. Gilon was Director of Israel’s Security Agency, the Shin Bet also known as the Shabak at the time of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

Gilon’s participation in the protest was not without highly-publicized drama with the former security chief handcuffed and reportedly injured by police when he was dragged away from the protest tent. 

On seeing his photograph on the weekend edition of The Jerusalem Post defiantly holding his handcuffed arms above his head, my thoughts went back to my interviewing Carmi in his office in 2004 following his election as Mayor of Mevaseret Zion, a town on a mountain ridge 750 metres above sea level, 10 kilometres  from Jerusalem.

Calm Carmi. Police remove Carmi Gillon, a former head of the Shin Bet security service from a protest encampment outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on August 20, 2020. Gillon’s hands and arms were scratched and bloodied in the confrontation. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Why the interview back in 2004 was as interesting yesterday as it was now in 2020 because here was a principled man taking a stand on issues he believed of critical importance to the security and soul of the country. My further interest was his South African pedigree, a country I emigrated from in 1986.

Carmi’s  father, Colin Gluckman, immigrated  to Palestine in 1936, armed with little more than a degree in law an imbued with Zionist ideology. He was one of the founders of the youth movement  – my youth movement too – Habonim in South Africa. After his service in Europe during WWII, Colin was sent back to Europe by the Jewish Agency to track down displaced Jews and bring them to Israel. As a major in a British uniform, he could travel freely throughout British controlled Italy. In this way, Colin found many Jewish refugees sheltered in monasteries throughout Italy.

Family Achievers. Father of Carmi, Colin Gillon (Gluckman) who became Israel’s first governor of Abu Gosh and Israel’s third State Attorney. His brother, Philip Gillon, an esteemed Jerusalem Post columnist for many years was the author of the Telfed publication “Seventy Years of Southern African Aliyah – A Story of Achievement”.

In 1946, he returned to Palestine and joined the Haganah, serving as an officer. He was appointed the first Governor of the Israeli-Arab town of Abu Ghosh ( أبو غوش‎) Abu Ghosh. “In my book, says son Carmi, “I have a photograph of him as governor taken together with the Muslim Mukhtar as well as a monk from the local monastery. The picture was printed by the Israeli government in 1949 as a Christmas card and showed how the three religions can live together.” Colin became Israel’s third State Attorney and at Ben Gurion’s insistence, changed his surname from Gluckman to Gillon.

In 2017, Abu Gosh was described as a “model of coexistence.”

Abu Ghosh in the 1940s.

Earthquakes and Aftershocks

Recently elected Mayor in 2004, I interviewed Gillon in his modest municipal office on the foothills of the Kastel, where a decisive battle took place during the 1948 War of Independence that determined the fate of Jerusalem. Fifty-six years later, it was no less the fate of his nation that brought back Gillon again into the public eye with his stand in 2003 joining three former colleagues – all past directors of Israel’s security service – Yaacov Perry, Ami Ayalon and Avraham Shalom – in a stinging attack of government policy. In an interview at the time with the Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronot, they forewarned Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that “he was leading the country to a catastrophe by failing to pursue peace with the Palestinians.” Such outspokenness by Israel’s former security chiefs was totally unprecedented and was covered by all major international TV news networks. Gillon expressed his concern that “the government was dealing solely with the question of how to prevent the next terrorist attack, ignoring the more fundamental issue of how to extricate the country from the mess it was in.”

It was like an earthquake at the time,” he said.

Political aftershocks inevitably followed.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Front page  of Israel’s leading daily newspaper, Yehiot Achronot  of the four Israeli Ex-Security Chiefs denouncing government’s policy in its approach for reaching a deal with the Palestinians.  (l-r)Yaacov Perry, Avraham Shalom Ami Ayalon and Carmi Gillon

While criticism of their action was not unexpected, Carmi was proud of his public stand and felt vindicated by the events that had subsequently unfolded . “We were locked into a stalemate where there was no positive movement on any front.”

Capitalising on their high-profile status with respected security credentials, “We realized our ideas could not be ignored.”  This was born out when “our action was soon followed by other extra-parliamentary initiatives such as the highly publicized and no less controversial, Geneva Accord. The government was put in a position to come up with their own initiative or appear to be left behind.

Cloak & Dagger

For most of his professional life prior to becoming Mayor of Mevaseret Zion in 2004, Carmi operated in the furtive world of espionage and security starting from the time of the Munich Massacre in 1972. He ran through a chronology  of terrorist activity that gripped the world of the seventies – skyjackings, an assault on an Israeli embassy in Bangkok, the attack on Israeli passengers at Paris’ Orly Airport, the murder of a Mossad agent in Paris and other attacks in Brussels and Rome.

Those days were full of action. Very different to today where Israel’s vulnerability is internal.” He concluded that chapter in his life through the heady days of Oslo, “where I used to frequently make trips after midnight to meet Arafat in Gaza.”

Pressed to comment on the character of Arafat, Gillon replied:

Wonderful host, but an incorrigible liar!”

As to predicting back in 2004 on a future political landscape, Gillon said:

 “Over the years, I have dealt with many of the top people in the Palestinian political echelon and there are many moderate and pragmatic people under Arafat whose turn will come in the post-Arafat era.”

This has not happened – yet!

Instead, following the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of the Palestinian Authority  and has clung on to power despite telling the Palestinian media after his first year in power, that he would NOT seek reelection at the end of his four year term:

I will just complete my remaining three years in office; I will not run again. That is absolute.”

Absolute?  If ever a misnomer!

It seems that in the words of Carmi Gillon, Arafat’s successor is also “an incorrigible liar.”

As today in 2020 – with Israelis protesting over their economic situation as a result of the Corona pandemic – Gillon in 2004, newly ensconced as Mayor, lamented that a third of his city residents of of 23,000 were over the age of fifty living in economically unfavourble circumstances. “We have far too much unemployment and not having our own industrial area, exacerbates the problem. Sixty percent of our workforce  communities to Tel Aviv, the balance to Jerusalem.”

Tempestuous Times. The writer, David E. Kaplan with Carmi Gillon (right) in his mayoral office, Mevaseret Zion, in 2004.

Reflecting back to that interview all these years later, it was his next line that was so ironic.

 “If you hang around a little longer after the interview, there will be a demonstration taking place outside my office!”

And today, it is Carmi Gillon who is protesting outside the Prime Minister’s residence, also over mostly economic issues.

I recall when concluding the interview noticing that surprisingly there was only one photograph in his office. It was of himself taken with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

 “He was not only my boss; he was my friend.”

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

Fortune Favours the Bold

The historical peace agreement between Israel and the UAE ushers in new era

By  Rolene Marks

Blessed are the peacemakers. Mabruk and Mazal Tov”. Many can agree with this sentiment expressed by US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo that describes a truly momentous occasion – the signing of a peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

The Deal Makers. Israel, UAE reach historic peace deal (left-right): Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, US President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: REUTERS)

The Abraham Accords, which is what this historical agreement is called, is a game changer for the region. This is not just a bringing together of the descendants of Abraham but is a signal to other regional countries and the world that the time has come to transcend the divisions and ancient hatred and work together towards a better future for the Middle East.

Any country that is willing to hold its hand out in peace to Israel will find a willing partner. The Abraham Accord is not necessarily a peace agreement because the two countries have not regarded each other as enemy entities, but rather a recognition of normalisation. This word is very important at a time when various entities that include the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) movement’s rally call against normalisation.

Read All About It! A man reads a copy of the United Arab Emirates-based The National newspaper near the Burj Khalifa in the Gulf emirate of Dubai on Aug 14, 2020. (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images.)

The Middle East is a region facing not just the impact that the Corona Virus pandemic has caused on our economies; but we face a collective threat in the form of hegemonic regime, Iran and their proxies, Hezbollah, Hamas and other terror groups. This agreement sends a clear message that the people of the region grow weary of terror sponsors and tyranny – we want change in the form of recognition, economic cooperation and a better future for us and the generations to come.

Sign of the Times. Tel Aviv City Hall is lit up with the flag of the United Arab Emirates on Aug. 13, 2020, as the UAE and Israel announced they would be establishing full diplomatic ties. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)

The gains for both countries will be tremendous. Apart from diplomatic, economic, innovative and other forms of cooperation, the Abraham Accords paves the way for other Arab states to follow. In another historical first, Israel’s Foreign Minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, spoke to his Omani counterpart who reiterated support for peace with the Palestinians and also hailed the agreement with the UAE. US officials have said that Oman, Bahrain and likely Morocco and even Saudi Arabia could normalize relations with the Jewish state. The real surprise was Lebanese President, Michel Aou, who  in an interview with French BFM TV news, claimed he didn’t rule out the possibility of peace with Israel. When asked if Lebanon would consider peace with Israel, Aoun stated, “That depends. We have problems with Israel, and we have to resolve them first.”

Streetwise. Israeli and United Arab Emirates flags line a road in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya after the two countries agreed to normalise ties. ( JACK GUEZ AFP)

There are those who are naysayers. Iran as expected has expressed its predictable rage, claiming that the UAE will be “consumed by the fires of Zionism”.

Oh dear! They do seem a bit put out!

Kuwait has claimed to be the last to normalize and sadly the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The Palestinian Authority immediately withdrew their ambassador and recently announced that they will be boycotting the Global World Expo that will be held in Dubai in 2021. Hamas have expressed their fury and umbrage. Obstinacy and belligerence has doing nothing to further the Palestinian cause in the last 70 years. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, infamous for his propensity to engage in sabre rattling rhetoric against Israel, has threatened to suspend ties with the UAE. This is what millennials would call an epic face palm moment as Turkey and Israel have bilateral relations.

There are those among the Israeli right who are disappointed that any plans of application of sovereignty or annexation as some prefer to call it, are suspended. Was normalisation the carrot dangled by the UAE the reason for this? One thing is for sure, well over 80% of Israelis are thrilled with the result, happily embracing the opportunities on offer.

In the past, normalisation with Arab states was contingent on peace with the Palestinians. Today, Arab states grow increasingly frustrated with their lack of willingness to come to the party and negotiate. The ever looming threat of Iran means that alliances have to be found elsewhere and a strong partner has been found in Israel.

Predictable Paranoia. Palestinians burn cutouts depicting US President Donald Trump, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a protest against the United Arab Emirates’ deal with Israel to normalise relations, in Nablus in the West Bank August 14, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/RANEEN SAWAFTA)

If the Palestinians are sincere about peace, they would see the positives of normalisation and the role that Arab countries can play in helping to negotiate. In a region where the rules of engagement, culture and honour are different to Western countries, perhaps the opportunity for regional powers to play more of a diplomatic role in helping to bring about peace and a state for the Palestinians may be more successful.

Flying High. Post Corona, Israelis will be flocking to the UAE as Israel look forward to welcome tourists from the Gulf.

A famous Latin proverb once intoned that “fortune favours the bold”. The winds of change are blowing in the Middle East, sweeping away historic divisions and barriers and bringing with it a bright future, filled with opportunity. The bold will find favour and fortune, the naysayers and rejectionists will flounder on the garbage pile of bitterness and hatred.









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

The Crisis of Zionism

By Alex Ryvchin

When the French playwright Edmond Fleg attended Theodore Herzl’s Third Zionist Congress in Basel he marvelled at the scene. “I looked about me. What Jewish contrasts! A pale-faced Pole with high cheekbones, a German in spectacles, a Russian looking like an angel, a bearded Persian, a clean-shaven American, an Egyptian in a fez, and over there, that black phantom, towering up in his immense caftan, with his fur cap and pale curls falling from his temples.” Fleg saw the sum of Jewish exile in that room. Jews of east and west, religious and secular, wealthy and poor, radical and conservative. A people dispersed to every corner of the globe, just melting a little into their surrounds, adopting local language, custom, dress, before being rudely plucked out and sent onward by Kings and Empresses, warlords and clerics, to new lands and new privations.

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Time to Act. First Zionist Congress, held in Basel, Switzerland in 1897. Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

The staging of a Zionist assembly in Europe, which unified Jews under the banner of a single idea, had been achieved through a combination of grandeur and old-fashioned community organising. At the First Zionist Congress, also held in Basel, in 1897, Herzl entered the Stadtcasino in black trousers, tails and a white tie, more befitting a matinee of La Traviata than a Jewish communal event. But in the days before, Herzl sat up with students addressing envelopes long into the night.

At that First Congress, the aim of Zionism was expressed as to establish a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel secured under public law. Within this simple declaration stood an almighty mission. The Jews had not had a national home for two millennia. The Land of Israel had since 135 CE been known by another name, had seen multiple empires befall it, and had a meagre Jewish population of 25,000. Moreover, the mass physical return of a scattered and acculturated people to long vanquished lands was something that had never been achieved in human history.

It was this dreamy idealism that gave Zionism a magnetic quality. It animated Jewish youths to throw themselves into community activism and intellectual rumbles out of which organised Zionism grew. It led to the founding of grass-roots Zionist groups like Bilu (House of Jacob, come ye and let us go), whose members travelled from Russia to Palestine and established agricultural settlements. It compelled the likes of Chaim Weizmann to spend his student days in Germany as a member of another Zionist group, the Verein, throwing his humble stipend into sausages and beer while raucously debating Zionism, socialism, nationalism and internationalism in cafes until the wee hours.

And it prompted the writer Israel Zangwill to lambast the Jewish establishment for holding back the progress of Zionism to the detriment of the suffering Jewish masses. Zangwill thundered to the Jewish poor in London’s East End, “we are supposed to pray three times a day for the return of Jerusalem, but, as soon as we say we want to go back, we are accused of blasphemy!”

When this generation of Jewish activists encountered the pamphlets of thinkers like Leon Pinsker and Herzl their minds were instantly seared and permanently changed. How could a vigorous young Jew coming of age in a time of unsparing brutality towards Jews, be unmoved by Pinsker’s illustration of their stateless people wandering the earth as “a ghost-like apparition of a living corpse … living everywhere but nowhere in the correct place?” Or Herzl’s functional oratory that promised, “the Jews who wish for a state will have it. We shall live at last as free people on our own soil and die peacefully in our own homes.”

Not only was Zionism exciting and radical, world events conspired to make it a matter of life and death. Jews were looted, raped and slaughtered across Russia in 1881 and 1905, in Fez in 1912 and in Shiraz in 1910. This turned Zionism from a rising ideal into an urgent humanitarian mission.

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Poetic Warnings. Although Hayim Nachman Bialik’s later writings became more universal in outlook, it was his “In the City of Slaughter” written in response to the Kishinev pogrom that proved such a powerful statement of anguish at the situation of the Jews of Europe.

The Kishinev pogrom of 1903, while comparatively less bloody than some of the others of the time, was chronicled so graphically it caused deep shame in the Jewish world. The poet Hayim Nachman Bialik wrote:

in the dark corners of Kishinev, crouching husbands, bridegrooms and brothers peering through the cracks of their shelters, watching their wives, sisters, daughters writhing beneath their bestial defilers, suffocating in their own blood, their flesh portioned out as booty.”

The New York Times reported:

 “the scenes of horror were beyond description … the streets were piled with corpses and wounded.”

After Kishinev, an editorial of The American Hebrew noted that “American Zionism had come of age,” while a Christian speaker at a Zionist meeting at Cooper Union declared, “all efforts must be made to establish a Jewish commonwealth.” Zionism offered Jews an escape from Kishinev, both physically and psychologically.

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Hunting Season. Jews were the prey as seen in this photograph taken following the Kishinev pogrom in 1903, when 49 Jews were murdered following a ‘blood libel’ against the Jewish community. Here, the victims are laid out wrapped in prayer shawls prior to burial (public domain)

Any doubt about the necessity of Zionism dissipated as the Holocaust descended onto Europe. As David Ben-Gurion noted, “what Zionist propaganda could not do,” being to fully reveal Jewish self-delusion and vulnerability, “disaster has done overnight.”  The surviving Jews, absurdly warehoused in displaced persons camps in Europe several years after the defeat of Nazism, yearned to locate the ruins of their families and rebuild lives away from European antisemitism. “Palestine is definitely and pre-eminently the first choice” for resettlement, Earl Harrison, President Truman’s envoy for refugees, reported.

The creation of Israel in May 1948 did nothing to dim Jewish interest in Zionism. The establishment of the state may have been the practical fulfilment of the Basel vision, but much work remained. There was the immediate defence of the state against invasion, rescue missions for imperilled Jews, the upbuilding of a society, and the pursuit of peace with Arab neighbours once war subsided. In a sense, Zionism became more important as the Jewish world unified behind creating a society worthy of the two millennia intermission.

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Rebirth of a Nation. David Ben-Gurion declaring on the 14 May 1948 the state of Israel with the portrait of Hertzl above.

For diaspora communities, there were governments to be lobbied to achieve recognition of Israel, public opinion to shape, humanitarian aid to raise. Zionist organisations like the Jewish National Fund and Women’s International Zionist Organization and a kaleidoscope of others weren’t simply folded into the Jewish State in 1948, they redoubled their efforts.

There were trees to plant to cultivate the land, university faculties to endow, lone soldiers to support, victims of terror to assist, millions of Soviet, African and Middle Eastern Jews to rescue and absorb. All of this deepened the investment of diaspora Jews in the Zionist project. No one wanted to miss out on history in the making and if Aliyah was impracticable, membership of Zionist organisations, political activism and fundraising enabled diaspora Jews to be active players in the extraordinary story of Jewish rehabilitation and national rebirth.

For Jews who had either lapsed in their religious observance or, like the vast majority of Soviet emigres, were never religious to begin with, Zionism offered the Jewish communal pride, feelings of belonging, and opportunities for learning and debate, previously only to be found in religion.

A senior Israeli diplomat once told me that Zionism was his religion. It is the sort of comment that would instantly be misconstrued as amounting to worship of settlements or prayers at the altar of Bibi. But I immediately understood what he meant. He was immersed in the story of Zionism, believed with perfect conviction in its justness and necessity, was inspired by it, and compelled to act civically and humanely by its teachings. He wished to convey the wondrous stories of Zionism to his children – Weizmann’s experiments with acetone, Herzl’s awakening at the Dreyfus Trial, the magical moment on 29 November 1947 when Jews worldwide realised they would get their state. This diplomat wanted his children to imbibe these stories as he had, so that they too would grow up connected to their Jewishness, know who they are, remain strong in the face of aggressors, and proud in the knowledge that they belong to a people of vision and fortitude.

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French Injustice. The Dreyfus trial in 1894 known in France as “L’Affaire”, come to symbolise modern injustice and remains a prime example of a conspired miscarriage of justice and antisemitism.

Yet the price of Israel’s incredible success is that the very imperatives that drew Jews to Zionism – state-building, rescue of Jewish communities, urgent defence, are now seemingly gone, meaning there is much less to connect a young Jew of Johannesburg, Sydney or Toronto to a national project playing out on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, currently lacking towering figures and spellbinding moments.

The solution is a deeper understanding of what Zionism means and what it truly represents. Zionism, at its core, has always been about rights. Yes, Zionism sought a national home for the Jewish people. But why? To protect the most fundamental right of all, the right to live. Zionism remains, through its support for a strong Jewish state and its ethos of Jewish self-help, the greatest bulwark against antisemitism. And it was Zionism that attained recognition that the Jews are a people and thus possess the right to self-determination. As Churchill observed, “the Jewish people should know they are in Palestine as of right and not of sufferance.”

History shows that the most basic rights extended to other peoples have to be hard won and vigilantly defended when it comes to the Jews. Zionism represents that bundle of rights that the Jews have secured and will never relinquish. The right to a place of refuge from murderous hatred. The right to a national centre for the preservation and enlargement of Jewish cultural, scholarly and scientific contributions. The right for Jews, like all other nations, to freely determine their own political status.

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The Knesset. After 2000 years of exile and persecution, the Jewish parliament stands proudly in Jerusalem as a functional symbol of Jewish nationhood.

When expressed as the embodiment of Jewish rights, Zionism soars above party politics and the acrimony of policymaking in modern Israel, and it correctly presents anti-Zionism as a campaign to strip Jews of their rights. But if Zionism loses a clear purpose, it will be swept away by more emotionally gratifying offerings, which have the capacity to deliver absolute ruin.

 

 

 

About the writer:

Alex-Ryvchin.jpgAlexander (Alex) Ryvchin is an Australian writer, advocate, commentator, and lawyer. A former spokesman for the Zionist Federation UK, Ryvchin’s writings on the Arab-Israeli conflict and Jewish history have been published in numerous international newspapers including The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian, The National Post and The Jerusalem Post. Ryvchin is a regular columnist for The Spectator.

 

 

 

 

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

 

Unbreakable Bonds

The Relationship between the USA and Israel

By Lay of the Land USA correspondent

Away from the feuding in American politics – a matter for Americans themselves to determine and decide as they will in November’s upcoming election  – President Trump’s steadfast support for Israel has been reassuring and much appreciated. At a time when Israel faces existential threats and is not short of enemies committed to its destruction, it is reassuring to Israelis as well as Jewish communities around the world that the Jewish state enjoys the solid support and friendship of the United States not only in word but indeed.

There is only ONE Israel and we all know what befell the Jews when there was NO Israel!

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Unshakable Ties. During the meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo Pompeo said that he is sure that “you know that Israel has no better friend than the United States.”

Appreciation of this enduring support and friendship, was warmly evident in a recent address by leading businessman and philanthropist, Simon Falic at a gathering of Christian Zionists to honor the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. The indefatigable Secretary of State has been in the forefront of  championing President Trump’s vision for peace in order to “achieve enduring security, freedom and prosperity for both sides.”

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Simon Falic stressing the unbreakable bond between the US and Israel.

“Judeo Christian values are ingrained in the United States of America,” began Falic. “For many of us, one of the most significant events in the last century was the establishment of the State of Israel and the return of the Jewish people to our ancestral homeland.  I believe, as so many of you, that this historical event was decreed by the heavens. The destinies of the United States and Israel are intertwined.”

Unbreakable Bonds3.png

 

Stressing the familial nature of the relationship, Falic said that  “while our common enemies refer to the United States as the ‘big Satan’ and Israel as the ‘little Satan’, I think it is more like we are the big brother and Israel the little brother.” Evidence of this was  “President Truman’s recognition in 1948 of the establishment of the State of Israel, to 1973 during the Yom Kippur war, when President Nixon sent desperately needed weapons to allow Israel to defend herself and survive the Arab onslaught and then from the billions of dollars in aid over the years to President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the eternal and united capital of Israel  and the recognition of Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights.”

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Strong Ties. Simon Falic, Chairman of Duty Free Americas at the ceremony presenting Israeli President Shimon Peres the Congressional Gold Medal in 2014. The medal, designed and struck by the United States Mint, recognizes and honored the late President Peres for maintaining strong bilateral relations between Israel and the United States and was the first Congressional Gold Medal to be awarded to a sitting President of Israel. (Photo: Shmuel Lenchevsky/Dov Lenchevsky)

Through this all, “big brother has always been there for little brother.”

Stressing the Biblical ties to the land, Falic said, “The Jewish people returning to live in Israel after 2000 years in exile is based on something far more meaningful than any partition plan, any arbitrary division of land, or any political decision that granted Jewish survivors of World War II a place of refuge. It is essentially tied to the Bible. Without this perspective, people inevitably miss the entire story that leads to mistakes politically.

“Time and again, leaders from across the globe adopt definitive positions about what is best for Israel and how to move the peace process forward. Yet, these ideas never worked. They insisted on imposing a solution without seriously considering and ignoring the fact that Israel is surrounded by enemies who vow to destroy this sliver of Holy Land that could fit into Lake Michigan.  Israel and her people alone will have to face and deal with the consequences, as the Oslo accords have taught us.  The mindset of the Arab world is that they can lose 99 wars with Israel – but all they have to do is win the 100th.”

Warning against failure to take advantage when destiny provides a window of opportunity, Falic recounted of the telegram, President Truman’s Chief of Staff, General George Marshall wired on May 13th, 1948, to David Ben Gurion “stating that if he declared an independent state of Israel, five Arab armies would attack and within 48 hours and not one Jew in the land would be left alive.  The rest is history.”

This same warning of fearing the worst and hence counselling inaction, occurred before President Trump announced the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. “He was also warned by his Generals that there will most likely be a violent reaction around the world to US interests.”

And once again “The rest is history”.

This pattern of warning and suggested caution was to again repeat itself with President Trump’s “recognition of Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights.  We can only imagine what would be the situation today if Israel had not conquered the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and held in the Yom Kippur War of 1973.  Today, ISIS, the Syrian and Iranian regimes and the Russians would be overlooking the Sea of Galilee.”

Looking to Pompeo, and with a warm smile, Falic exclaimed:

“You are now being part of Israel’s History.”

Exposing European hypocrisy of singling out Israel for selective opprobrium, Falic drew attention to last year’s European Union Court of Justice, when “all 15 judges unanimously ruled, that all products made by Jews in Judea and Samaria, or what they refer to as occupied territory, must be labeled as products made in “occupied territory”.  There are close to 100 conflicts and disputes around the world regarding borders and territories, including Cyprus that is occupied by Turkey, but only Israeli products made by Jews, were singled out. Europe destroyed and eliminated century’s old Jewish communities and today they pursue Israel and the Jews in their courts and in diplomatic circles. The primary product that was part of this European’s court decision, was a wine called Psagot. Psagot is the “poster boy” of the BDS movement.

 

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Taste Of Ancient Israel. The Psagot winery is located in the northern region of the Jerusalem mountains, an area ripe with remnants of biblical-era vineyards and wineries. 

 

My family and I are partners in this winery.  We invested in Psagot over 10 years ago – against the advice of other investors and wine experts. We were told that while the wine is excellent, it is in a disputed area that one day might be part of a negotiated agreement and Jewish life and business there will be eliminated.

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Psagot winery. During the vineyard’s construction, a coin dating back to the Great Revolt of (66–73 CE) was discovered where its front face is stamped with the words “For Freedom of Zion” and adorned with a vine leaf, while the back face reads “Year Two” (a reference to the Revolt) alongside an image of an amphora – an ancient container used for storing wine. This coin appears on the label of each bottle of Psagot wine.

Ironically, these naysayers encouraged and emboldened us, even more, to invest to help establish Jewish life and business after 2,000 years.  Next to the vineyards is a cave and press where wine was produced and stored during the time of the Second Temple. An ancient coin of Judea was found in the cave, and today a replica of that coin appears on many of our bottles.  Psagot was a small unknown boutique winery producing 40,000 bottles per year. Today, after winning many prestigious wine awards in France and London, we produce 400,000 bottles per year.

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Shared Values, Common Destinies. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo waves as he speaks at the 2019 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference, at Washington Convention Center, in Washington, Monday, March 25, 2019 (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

“Secretary of State Pompeo, only one week after the despicable decision of the European court, you publicly announced the State Department’s determination that the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not categorically inconsistent with International law. Your official announcement is widely referred to in Israel as the “Pompeo Doctrine”.  I don’t think you really know how loved and respected you are in Israel.”

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Simon Falic (right) with Pastor John Hagee, founder and chairman of the Christian United for Israel (CUFI) organization.

Reminding his Christian Zionist audience of the strong connection the Jewish people have with the land of Israel “where Abraham, Isaac, Sara, Leah, Rivka, and Rachel, walked, lived and are buried,” Falic concluded with  “Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and to all our Christian Zionist friends, “May G-d bless you and protect you. May G-d make his face shine upon you and treat you with grace. May G-d lift his face toward you and grant you peace.”

In a world currently plagued not only of a virus but one of uncertainty, it is reassuring that we have certainty on this critical issue – the unbreakable bond between the USA and Israel.

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Simon Falic flanked by his wife, the Honorary Life President, WIZO USA Jana Falic (left) and Nili Falic, Chairman Emeritus, Friends of the IDF (FIDF).

 

 

 

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

 

Christianity is Intertwined with Zionism

By Bafana Modise

The recent political uproar in South Africa triggered by its Chief Justice’s position on Israel has left many with unanswered questions, especially those less informed regarding the creation and existence of the state of Israel. While issues of law and religion are vying for prominence in this complex debate, I stand firmly in the camp that accepts the premise that modern-day Israel was born out of the Zionist dream of Jews returning to their biblical or ancestral homeland. I am proud – not embarrassed by this position

While scholars, politicians and jurists will persist in their arguments of separating religious and political Zionism in their attempts to try and undermine the legal basis of the Jewish state’s existence, the one fact that is irrefutable – irrespective of one’s politics or religion – is that Israel is a reality recognised as such within the community of nations. That Israel’s existence is further supported by Christian belief does not undermine or discredit our Christian position on the issue or reflect negatively on Israel.

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Rebirth of a Nation. The international community says YES to the establishment of the State of Israel with the UN proclamation of the independence of the State of Israel in New York, 1947. (Copyright: GPO)

So why the unfair crazed assault on our esteemed and proudly Christian Chief Justice?

Many of us Christians in South Africa proudly join with Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in his opinion that Israel is the realisation of biblical prophecy. Our Christian position is in no way contrary to Israel’s existence. On the contrary – it reinforces it; hence the title of my article – ‘Christianity is intertwined with Zionism’.

For those less informed on Israel’s founding, let us remember that the former Soviet Union was the first country to recognise Israel on the 17 May 1948. This was followed by Poland, CzechoslovakiaYugoslavia, Ireland and YES – South Africa! The United States extended de jure recognition after Israel’s first election on 31 January 1949.

The biblical texts envisaged the return of the exiles back to Israel in the end of times through prophets like Isaiah, Joel, Zachariah and Ezekiel who warned that nations shall rise against Israel.  Do we want South Africa to be amongst those nations foretold in the Bible that “shall rise against Israel”?

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Christian Concern. During the Israel-Gaza War in 2014, over 12,000 South Africans, mostly Christians from all across the country, gathered in Johannesburg calling on Hamas to stop firing its rockets at Israel and strive for peace and security for both the people of Israel and of Gaza.

If we deny Israel as Christians then we are denying the ‘Will of the Father’ and the truth of the very scriptures we believe in.

Recently, the church has been pushed into political correctness on their position on Israel due to increasing global rejection of the state of Israel accusing it of being “a colonial settler state”.

Does Israel have outstanding issues to resolve? Yes, it does. Does South Africa have enormous existential issues that demand resolution? Yes, it does.

But this should not undermine our respective countries existence or warrant our destruction!

What the enemies of Israel want, and those attacking the Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng is that Israel should be characterised like the discredited statues in the US and UK in the hope that it too will topple, tumble, disappear or fall into the sea!

It will not happen.

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Beliefs Under Attack. The South African Branch of The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem organised a petition against the statements by ANC spokesperson, Pule Mabe and other organisations attacking Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.

It suits those attacking Christian support for Israel by resorting to such  statements that “the bible is a fallacy or a book of fairytale stories.” When they can devise a position in Christian scriptures to attack Israel, then the Bible is not “a fallacy or a book of fairytale stories.”

Sadly, what past wars between the Arab world and Israel achieved; was to divide the world into two camps.

It is unfair and malicious to attack Christians for their love for Israel. Would fellow Muslims, unhappy with certain policies in Saudi Arabia, try undermining that county’s existence and advocate for boycotts? Would they dare suggest to BOYCOTT the Hajj – the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca?  Of course not and should not.

Our love of Israel has nothing to do with its government or its military but rather a spiritual obligation to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Christian criticism of Israel is vital to improve and develop the only democracy in the Middle East to become the beckon of social justice for the preservation and advancement of Judeo-Christian values.

Recent attacks and condemnations against Israel are deeply rooted in antisemitism irrespective of human rights accusations based on the fact that Israel is the only country in the world with more than 200 condemnations at the United Nations, compared to such countries with grievous human rights abusers like China, Burma, Libya, North Korea, South Sudan, Iran, Syria, Turkey and many others. Most of them are notable for their antipathy to Israel and rush to condemn Israel at global forums.

If we are selective in our activism for ‘Human Rights’ then our activism becomes corrupted to satisfy particular political agendas.

We should continue to push and help constructively in the mediation between Israel and the Palestinians to try achieving a lasting peaceful resolution for all the people in this region.

To this end, however, Christians should never be blackmailed to support narratives which are in contradiction of their biblical scriptures.

Zionism was born out of the desire of exiles to return to their homeland which coincides with biblical prophecies as reflected in Mathew (5:9):

Blessed are the Peacemakers, For They Will be Called Children of God.”

Hence, I am firmly of the belief that Zionism is intertwined with Christianity.

Following this reasoning, it is not possible for any Christian to deny the existence of Israel and not support its development as a nation commissioned by God and ultimately to serve as a banner for the Almighty’s faithfulness and love of all nations. Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng was bold in taking the stance for his belief against political correctness hence we fully support and echo his sentiments which are universal and in accordance with biblical truth.

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An Appeal to Heal. Christians across South Africa are coming out in support of their country’s Chief Justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng’s balanced position to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

 

 

About the writer:

image004 (8).pngBafana Modise, is  Radio Personality, Public Speaker, Leadership Coach, Christian Activist and Voice-Over Artist who serves as Education Coordinator at South African Friends of Israel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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