South Africa Hangs in the ‘Balance’

South Africa’s Chief Justice under fire for acting like a judge!

By David E. Kaplan

Should not a country’s Justices – even more notably its Chief Justice – be imbued with the qualities of “open-mindedness”; of willing to hear and consider the views of all sides of a case?

In other words, possessing a mindset that is  “balanced”.

 Law students, long before they ever enter a courtroom are only too familiar with the Latin phrase Audi alteram partem meaning “listen to the other side”, or “let the other side be heard as well”. It is the principle that no person should be judged without a fair hearing and in which each party is given the opportunity to respond to the evidence against them. It is a fundamental principle of legal systems the world over and most certainly in South Africa where I studied and practiced Criminal Law. I quoted it regularly, not so much in court where it was self-evident but in social situations whenever I was ‘accused’ of defending clients who “were obviously guilty”.

I would reply:

Audi alteram partem”.

Everyone deserves a fair hearing.

That same principle to people should apply no less to nations  – and in this case – the State of Israel. South Africa’s Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng understands; his ruling ANC government clearly does not.

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Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. (Picture: Puxley Makgatho)

The ANC viciously turned on its Chief Justice following Mogoeng’s recent participation in a webinar hosted by The Jerusalem Post where he lamented his government’s “lopsided attitude” toward the Israel-Palestine conflict, adding that “it would have greater influence if it displayed a more balanced approach.” Mogoeng took part in the webinar along with South Africa’s Chief Rabbi, Warren Goldstein.

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The Three Chiefs. (Press on the picture to watch the discussion) South Africa’s Chief Justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein with Jerusalem Post Editor-In-Chief Yaakov Katz moderating the discussion on Zoom. (Photo credit: screenshot)

The response was quick. The ANC’s National Spokesperson, Pule Mabe, said Mogoeng had entered the arena of “political commentary”, which could make him vulnerable to adjudicating on human rights matters in the future.

How so? By exhibiting understanding and exercising balance?

Is this not what one would expect from a judge, particularly from a Chief Justice?

The ANC spokesperson added:

 “It was rather unfortunate for the Chief Justice to state that the ‘South African government policy was binding upon himself and that he was not seeking to reject it’, but then clearly and openly opposes it as a citizen.”

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ANC spokesman Pule Mabe. (Photo by Gallo Images / City Press / Denvor de Wee)

The expectations of a judge relate to law, not to a political party’s policies not yet embodied in law. There is no law in South Africa – not yet at any rate –  that says a person, or a judge cannot express a viewpoint advocating open-mindedness and balance.

Yes, South Africa has “downgraded” its diplomatic relations with Israel, but it was an executive not a legislative “decision” to recall its ambassador. South Africa still runs an office in Tel Aviv that is staffed dealing with bilateral issues between the two countries. It is hoped that full diplomatic relations be resumed sooner rather than later.

Rather than criticize Mogoeng, the honourable Chief Justice should be praised for exercising the characteristics for which he was most likely first appointed.

South African citizens are cognisant that their country has uniquely three capitals – Pretoria the administrative capital, Cape Town the legislative and Bloemfontein the judicial. It is not so much the separation – geographically – of the three cities across the country that is significant but more the metaphor of the ‘separation of powers’ between the three branches of government. Chief Justice Mogoeng was not acting contrary to any law; he was questioning a prevailing controversial policy motivated by the BDS movement that is committed to Israel’s destruction, that he felt was not in his country’s best interests. The Chief Justice’s position is supported by South Africa’s own intent as seen over the years from the days when Nelson Mandela was president.

– How often has South Africa expressed that it would like to be a player in trying to resolve the intractable Israel-Palestine conflict?

– Have I not personally heard each South African ambassador to Israel remark every year on South Africa’s Freedom Day celebrations in Tel Aviv, how South Africa can, with its expertise in conflict resolution, help bring the parties together to try reconciling their differences?

– How often have I heard the response of Israeli politicians welcoming and thanking  South Africa’s offer with the words: “We have so much to learn from your experiences and expertise in conflict resolution.”

Well, you cannot be a player, or expect to be a player, if you are openly one-sided, only criticize one party to the conflict and display little or no understanding of the concerns of the other party to the dispute. This is something a judge would be keenly aware of and this is what Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng was expressing when he added at the webinar:

As a citizen of our great country, we are denying ourselves a wonderful opportunity of being a game-changer in the Israeli-Palestinian situation.”

South Africans should be proud of their Chief Justice for acting like a judge instead of him now being targeted by his government!

Following the webinar, the Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has had many an insult hurled at him. According to some, he should “shut up and focus on judgements”, that he “is a disgrace”, “ignorant”, and “should step down”.

On the contrary. Born to a father who was a miner and a mother who was a domestic worker, young Mogoeng became politically active at high school and was briefly suspended for organising a memorial to the victims of the Soweto uprising. Senior Mogoeng knows all about the struggle and the issues involved.

No; he should not “step down”. On the contrary, the people of South Africa should “step up” to support him.

 

 

 

 

 

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

Cancelling “Cancel Culture”

By Rolene Marks

Whatever happened to the art of conversation and polite debate? There used to be a time when we could engage in robust, often passionate discussion and if we had divergent opinions, we would politely agree to disagree and then move on. No friendships were ended. No ties were cut. Nobody was “cancelled”.

Cancel culture is an ugly new phenomenon and lately it seems to be gaining a stronger tailwind than ever before. One only has to visit the social media platforms of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to see how anyone with a different opinion from the “woke” norm, are summarily subjected to online abuse and then cast aside. Cancelled. Persona non grata. You will never work in this town again!

Cancelling “Cancel Culture”2

It would appear that the first casualty of this is nuance. Understanding the complexities of issues is important if we are to find middle ground – and tolerance. Somewhere and nobody is certain when we lost our ability to politely and respectfully debate, discuss and engage in discourse.  Having an opinion today can get you into serious trouble. As the momentum from Black Lives Matter protests grows around the world so to increasing extremism of some elements within the ranks that are pushing an agenda.  One of the issues of this agenda is erasing those parts of history that explain the injustices of the past because they don’t support a narrative that the movement would like to promote. Statues, movies such as the classic “Gone with the Wind”, product branding and even great literary works like “To kill a Mockingbird” seem to have no place in current society because there may be references to inequality and racism.

From New York to South Carolina, and from London to Liverpool, statues are being pulled down off their respective plinths. The war on history and culture has started. But will cancelling important historical narratives really bring about racial equality or justice?

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Cancelling Columbus. A group of protesters pulled down a statue of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

 

The only way to move forward, to teach tolerance and help to heal and understand the injustices and hurts of the past so that we can all do better is to have nuanced, robust and even painful conversations.

When Apartheid fell in South Africa, there were hearings conducted between victims and perpetrators of the racist system. The intention was to try and heal some of the terrible pain of the past and to help each side understand each other’s experience. Perhaps this is needed in other parts of the world so that the perpetrators can understand and learn, and we can all work towards a better, more just and tolerant society.

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Tackling Truth. Maybe the world could follow the South African example following the fall of Apartheid when hearings were conducted between victims and perpetrators of the heinous racist system.

It is not just around issues of race where cancel culture is flourishing. Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, created a storm that had muggles on social media channeling their inner Voldemort. All jokes (and bad references to the wizarding world) aside, Rowling’s attempts to explain her position regarding the transgender community. The row began after Rowling responded to a headline on an online article discussing “people who menstruate” by writing in a tweet: “I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

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Critics accused her of being transphobic, but Rowling said she stood by her comments, saying it “isn’t hate to speak the truth”. Rowling took umbrage to the definition of women as “people who menstruate” and in an impassioned essay warned of the erosion of the identity of women.

Rowling was summarily called a “TERF” – transgender exclusionary radical feminist and cancelled across social media. Even the stars of her movies, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, whose careers were effectively birthed by the series, criticized Rowling. Was this because they honestly took offence or because they themselves were fearful of being cancelled should they be seen NOT to take a stand?

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Storm on Social Media. Famed British author of the Harry Potter fantasy series has dared to challenge the cancel culture narrative.

Cancel culture which is favoured by the far left is the most illiberal form of liberalism. There is nothing progressive about killing debate – or careers.

There is also a difference between cancel culture and holding someone accountable for their actions. By removing debate and discussion, the ability to teach the importance of taking accountability and the relevant consequences falls by the wayside.

The one area where cancel culture seems to have disappeared is around antisemitism. This ancient hatred is allowed to go unchecked. It is quite unbelievable that while the world holds important and necessary discussions around race, the rising discrimination and hatred targeted at Jews is roundly ignored.  Those of us active in the fight against antisemitism are routinely told “don’t make it about you”. This is an appalling double standard. Jews are paying with their lives having been killed in synagogues, museums, grocery stores and in their homes from Pittsburgh to Paris. The time for silence is over.

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Antisemitism Neglected. A reminder of the unending hatred of Jews, a person pauses in front of Stars of David with the names of those killed in a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, in Pittsburgh in October 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The only way to fight racism is to deal with all forms of hatred and prejudice. Fighting racism effectively should not be done at the expense of promoting another form of prejudice, including antisemitism.

Cancel culture is dangerous.  At a time when the world has become more and more polarized, we can ill afford more divisions, let alone shutting down conversation and people entirely. The dangers of this kind of extremism supported by the far left are that eventually the pendulum will swing in the opposite direction and give a tailwind to the alt-right.

The only way forward is to seek middle ground and engage in discourse and education.

 Perhaps the time has come to cancel this cancel culture?

 

 

 

 

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

Heroes for life – Changing lives around the world!

By Rolene Marks

For many young Israelis, service to others is part of their DNA. In fact, Israel is renowned for its incredible spirit of volunteerism and you would be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t give of their time and energy in some form or another. Also part of the Israeli culture is compulsory service in the army and for many finishing their time in uniform, the question remains – what do you do when you finish serving your country? The solution is simple.  You take what you have experienced and learnt, and serve communities around the world.

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Return To Roots. A Heroes for Life volunteer Belihon Elbatzau connecting with youngsters in his place of  birth neighbourhood  in Gondar/Ethiopia  (Photo: Lior Sperandeo)

This is what many who have served their compulsory time in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) do once their service is over.  A year of travel and exploration is just what is needed after three years of compulsory service for males and two to three years for females. After stringent routines and following orders, losing yourself amongst the wonders of the world is a welcome respite.

Many escape to the serene hills and mountains of Nepal, or to the exotic jungles of South America and Ashrams of India to explore new territories and cultures and fall in love with the people they meet.

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True Colours. Heroes for Life volunteers painting in a village in Nepal. Photo: courtesy

Travelling to far off destinations where many of the inhabitants live below the poverty line or in areas where they are disadvantaged has an impact on the lives of these former soldiers who want to share their knowledge and expertise and uplift the people that they meet.

This is where Heroes for Life is making a significant difference.

Heroes for Life is an extraordinary organization that has a simple vision – to turn Israel into a superpower of helping developing countries, notably of running volunteer humanitarian projects in four different countries across the world. They want to help others through Tikkun Olam (fixing the world) and strengthen the image of Israel and the IDF around the world.

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Israel Cares. Heroes for Life volunteers Ofir Shalgy and Guy Arnon with children at a South African orphanage. (Photo: courtesy)

Heroes for Life, was founded in 2013 by three IDF officers who had served in the same elite unit. Like most soldiers, they travelled once they had completed their army service. After witnessing the gross poverty in some of the countries that they visited, they decided to start an organization founded on a very simple principle –  help make the world a better place.

And so far, they are exceeding expectations!

From Gondar in Ethiopia to Buenos Aires in Argentina, Israel’s finest sons and daughters are fulfilling a different kind of mission – Tikkun Olam. The aim was to initially start off with four countries but this has expanded rapidly and they are now improving lives in six. In September 2018, Heroes for Life began to work with blind and mute children in Mexico, helping to teach English, math and basic life skills, like personal hygiene. A similar project already exists in Kathmandu, Nepal.

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Making A Difference In Mexico. Heroes for Life volunteer teachers in a rural village in Mexico. Photo: courtesy

Mission In Life

Back in 2015, Heroes for Life inaugurated a project in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Every December, volunteers travel to the slums of San Fernando in Buenos Aires. Volunteering lasts for two weeks and is focused on educational activities with children from the slum. Volunteers engage in renovation and painting projects that are planned and executed by the delegation (for example the delegation of 2015, built a dining room for the children of the neighbourhood) and teaching children a variety of classes such as English, math, music, life values and principles and personal hygiene.  This is similar to what Heroes for Life have done in Mumbai, India. Volunteers also repaired a shelter-residence in 2018 in Guatemala City, Guatemala.

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Helping Hand. A Heroes for Life volunteer and a new young friend in Argentina. Photo: courtesy

These soldiers do not expect ‘thank-you’s’ and recognition – the work and happy faces is all the reward that they need but their projects have caught the interest of the global media. Heroes for Life has been featured in the media from Argentina to the Arab world proving that the ethos of the IDF which is to respect human life is a message that transcends borders.

For these everyday heroes, it looks like it is mission accomplished.

For more information about Heroes for Life visit: http://hfl.org.il/en/

 

 

 

 

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

Israel at a Crossroad

To Annex or not to Annex?

By David E. Kaplan

Annexation will mean Apartheid,” warns Benjamin Pogrund, a former South African living in Jerusalem since the 1990s and who was a great friend and ally of anti-Apartheid icon Nelson Mandela and a courageous crusader with the pen against Apartheid. Why is this voice sounding alarm today so important? Simply put,  a respected political analyst who has the proven moral stature earning his spurs in some of the darkest days in the struggle against Apartheid, Pogrund has consistently, persuasively, and publicly, resisted the comparison of past South African Apartheid with the present political landscape in Israel. Despite taking flak – in sometimes disrespectful language –  he persistently argues in books and articles and lectures in many countries that whatever inequalities or injustices transpires in the West Bank it is NOT Apartheid.

That is today; tomorrow has him worried!

It also has worried many of the Middle East countries that Israel has successfully improved relations with – a champion achievement. These moderate Arab countries are sounding alarm bells of the consequences of a unilateral annexation in large parts of the West Bank without offering Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians who live in these areas.

Joel C. Rosenberg writing in The Jerusalem Post writes, ( June 2) reveals that “Not a single one of my Arab contacts are telling me they will be fine with Israeli annexation. To the contrary, all of them are telling me this will seriously rupture relations with Israel. What’s more, they are baffled by the timing.”

Citing an Arab official in a Gulf state:

I can’t understand why Israel is doing this now. Arab relations with Israel are so good, better than ever. The prospect of historic breakthroughs with the Gulf states are improving every day. The last thing we need is new tensions with the Israelis. We have too much on our plates. The COVID crisis has been devastating. Our attention is totally focused on protecting the health of our people and re-opening our economies. Who benefits from creating a new crisis now?”

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Mutual Cooperation. Through crises of security to health, cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis continue as seen here with Palestinian health workers handling a Coronavirus test sample of Palestinian workers as they cross back from Israel at a checkpoint in Tarqumiya on March 25, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Also worried over the Israeli government’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank are some of the most prominent and respected names in British Jewry, saying such a move would be an existential threat to Israel. Among 40 signatories expressing “concern and alarm” in an unprecedented letter to Mark Regev, Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, are:

Sir Ben Helfgott, one of the best-known Holocaust survivors in Britain; the historians Sir Simon Schama and Simon Sebag Montefiore; the former Conservative foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind; the lawyer Anthony Julius; the philanthropist Dame Vivien Duffield; the scientist Lord Robert Winston; the former MP Luciana Berger; the Times columnist Daniel Finkelstein and the author Howard Jacobson.

The signatories assure that their concerns are “shared by large numbers of the British Jewish community, including many in its current leadership, even if they choose not to express them”.

Writing as “committed Zionists and passionately outspoken friends of Israel,” they fail  to see the annexation as “a constructive step.”

Rather, they view it instead, as  “a pyrrhic victory intensifying Israel’s political, diplomatic and economic challenges without yielding any tangible benefit.”

Noting the “grave consequences for the Palestinian people”, they warn that Israel’s international standing would suffer as the annexations would be  “incompatible with the notion of Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state.”

Why so? Primarily because annexing land and not its population has been tried before and we know where that ended up!

Apart from the damage to Israel’s international reputation – pointing out that the UK government will oppose the annexation plan and would bolster calls for boycotts and sanctions against Israel –  the signatories  further warn of “The impact on diaspora Jewry and its relationship with the state of Israel.”  They counsel that “The British Jewish community is an overwhelmingly Zionist community with a passionate commitment to Israel. We proudly advocate for Israel but have been helped in doing so by Israel’s status as a liberal democracy, defending itself as necessary but committed to maintaining both its Jewish and democratic status.”

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Seeking Solution. Is there a way forward for Palestinians and Israelis to forge a genuine peace?

This is a serious warning from serious people – Jews and Zionists committed to Israel’s destiny – physically, spiritually and ideologically.

Hard-hitting, the letter concludes  that this policy “not only lacks merit but would pose an existential threat to the traditions of Zionism in Britain, and to Israel as we know it.”

While it would come as little surprise for the EU to condemn such a move, individual European nations are making headline news in pressurising Israel to nix annexation, notably Germany, one of Israel’s staunchest friends and a supporter in the EU. The German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, FM is expected to visit Israel shortly to warn against annexation. There is little doubt that if Israel proceeds as the Prime Minister is so indicating, the pressure for sanctions will mount, and Israeli diplomacy will instantly shift from an advance position  – a success that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can deservedly take huge credit for –  to one of defence.

Is this what the Israeli public want and is prepared for?

Of course, there will be those supporters of annexation who would argue, like Brutus in Shakespeare’s’ Julius Caesar that:

 “There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune
.”

In other words, Israel has a window of opportunity with a supportive American administration, so best to act now than wait and lose the initiative.

As Brutus hammers home to point:

 “And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”

While these wise words may impress theatre audiences, for Brutus it would lead him to perish at the Battle of Philippi.

It proved “A march of folly”, typically where leaders pursue policies contrary to their own interests.

Are Israelis, who must endure the consequences, prepared to take the risk?

At least half of the country’s people think not as reflected in a recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank. While some in the media chose to headline, “Half of Israelis support annexing parts of the West Bank’, it no less meant that half do not or have serious doubts.

Houses in the Israeli settlement of settlement of Kedumim are seen in the Israeli-occupied West Bank
Close Encounters. Can Israeli settlements and neighbouring Arab villages find a way forward for a prosperous and secure future for all?

This was further evidenced by the thousands of Israelis Jews and Arabs who protested at Rabin Square last Saturday night against the proposed annexation.

And what of the financial implications?

As reported in The Jerusalem Post on the June 9, David Brodt, a former Finance Ministry director-general, warns that the cost to annex parts of the West Bank would cost the Israeli taxpayer NIS 67 billion per year. He bases his dire prediction using a small representative group of the Palestinian population that will potentially be included in the annexation focusing on the increases to the budget of the National Insurance Institute, the Education Ministry and the Welfare Ministry.

As with the costs of the Corona crisis that was not anticipated and hence unpredictable, what would be the added costs to security in the case of heightened tensions?

As Israel marches hastily into a future of unknown consequences, would it not be prudent that “We, the people…” collectively think through the plan so that if and when annexation may take place, it occurs not in haste but after thoughtful consideration?

Is that too much to ask for?

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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

 

No, Israel isn’t a country of privileged and powerful white Europeans

By Hen Mazzig

This article was originally published in the LA Times and is republished with kind permission.

 Along with resurgent identity politics in the United States and Europe, there is a growing inclination to frame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of race. According to this narrative, Israel was established as a refuge for oppressed white European Jews who in turn became oppressors of people of colour, the Palestinians.

As an Israeli, and the son of an Iraqi Jewish mother and North African Jewish father, it’s gut-wrenching to witness this shift.

I am Mizrahi, as are the majority of Jews in Israel today. We are of Middle Eastern and North African descent. Only about 30% of Israeli Jews are Ashkenazi or the descendants of European Jews. I am baffled as to why mainstream media and politicians around the world ignore or misrepresent these facts and the Mizrahi story. Perhaps it’s because our history shatters a stereotype about the identity of my country and my people.

Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, was not established for just one type of Jew but for all Jews, from every part of the world — the Middle East, North Africa, Ethiopia, Asia and, yes, Europe. No matter where Jews physically reside, they maintain a connection to the land of Israel, where our story started and where today we continue to craft it.

The likes of Women’s March activist Tamika Mallory, Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill and, more recently, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) falsify reality in their discussions of Palestinians’ “intersectional” struggle, their use of the term “Apartheid” to characterize Israeli policy, and their tendency to define Israelis as Ashkenazi Jews alone.

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I believe their misrepresentations are part of a strategic campaign to taint Israel as an extension of privileged and powerful white Europe, thereby justifying any and all attacks on it. This way of thinking signals a dangerous trend that positions Israel as a colonialist aggressor rather than a haven for those fleeing oppression. Worse, it all but erases the story of my family, which came to Israel from Iraq and Tunisia.

For most of history, the Mizrahim have been without sovereignty and equality in the Muslim world. In Iraq, despite being “equal citizens” on paper, my family experienced ongoing persecution. The first organized attack came in 1941, the brutal Farhud, a Nazi-incited riot that claimed the lives of hundreds of Jews and forced the survivors to live in fear. My great-grandfather was falsely accused of being a Zionist spy and executed in Baghdad in 1951. My mother’s family was permitted to emigrate that same year, but with only one suitcase.

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From Roots To Riots. Nazi influence in Baghdad fanned anti-Semitic sentiments inciting riots that claimed the lives of hundreds of Jews who had lived in Iraq since Babylonian times. The writer’s great-grandfather was falsely accused of being a Zionist spy and executed in Baghdad in 1951.

Any erasure of the Mizrahi experience negates the lives of 850,000 Jewish refugees just like them, who, even in the successor states to the Ottoman Empire of the early 20th century, were treated as “dhimmis,” an Arabic term for a protected minority whose members pay for that protection, which can be withdrawn at any time. Demographic ignorance also works to deny the existence of almost 200,000 descendants of Ethiopian Jews who were threatened by political destabilization in the early 1990s and airlifted to Israel in a daring rescue operation.

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Flight To Freedom. Jewish immigrants from Iraq arrive in Israel in 1951. (Photo: Government Press Office)

One of Judaism’s central themes is a story of national liberation in the face of imperial powers. Israel is a place where an indigenous people have reclaimed their land and revived their ancient language, despite being surrounded by hostile neighbours and hounded by radicalized Arab nationalists who cannot tolerate any political entity in the region other than their own. Jews that were expelled from nations across the Middle East, who sacrificed all they had, have been crucial in building and defending the Jewish state since its outset.

Without a doubt, the creation of Israel provided a haven for Jews who survived the Holocaust and extreme oppression in Europe. However, we cannot acknowledge that history at the expense of Mizrahi Jews, who with so many others, regardless of skin colour, shared the desire for a Jewish state long before the establishment of Israel.

 

 

About the writer:

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Hen Mazzig, an Israeli writer and activist of Iraqi and North African descent, is editor-at-large at the J’accuse Coalition for Justice. @HenMazzig

Seeing the Wood from the Trees

Recognising the dangers today averts disasters tomorrow

With Israel embattled and imperilled by venomous word and deed, 2020 “Yakir Ha’Ir Tel Aviv” Award recipient and prominent civil rights activist Jonathan Danilowitz, airs his views and his concerns

What makes us tick? What is it,  deep inside us that gives us the drive to fight on, to survive, to win and to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our families? Surely, it’s that inherent determination that Mother Nature, in her gift of the survival of the fittest, implanted in our being. It’s the ambition and motivation to survive that keeps us from falling and failing, even at the darkest hour before the dawn.

We, humans, are mostly rational, usually logical, reasonable and cogent. We also have feelings, emotions and the ability to reason. We are exposed to information all the time and most of us have the ability to judge, to evaluate and most importantly – to critique the “facts” to which we are exposed.

And yet, we sometimes fail, badly. We “shoot ourselves in the foot” by acting against our own best interests. That normally happens after an error of judgement, but sadly, too often, it happens to someone who “cuts off their nose” just to spite their face. In any event, in doing so, that person harms not only his or herself but very often also their family, friends and/or the surrounding community.

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Why do it?

Why would anyone pick up that knife to cut off their nose? Extending the analogy – why would anyone knowingly harm themselves and worse – their family? It could only be because, like shooting oneself in the foot, they have made a serious error of judgement. They have been misled and misinformed by accepting “fake news” as fact. This sometimes happens to serious, thinking people (people like you, dear reader), who really have good intentions and the desire to help others. The pertinent example is the ongoing Arab-Israel conflict; a conflict that has been ongoing from way, way before the State of Israel was re-established in 1948 within the borders of the historic Land of Israel.

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Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing. What is the difference between the murderers and the financers of the murders?

It isn’t within the scope of this essay to review the historical facts (real or imagined) concerning the conflict. For the sake of argument let us assume that each side has been wronged; let us assume that both sides are right in their demands. And let’s go even one step further: let us assume that the Arabs are always right, and that Israel is always wrong. (Yes, there are people who still believe that.)

Now imagine that you want to be fair and decent. Obviously, you’ll side with right against wrong. But imagine too, that by doing so, you are shooting yourself in the foot. Now try to envisage how ghastly and tragic that would be if you are even partially mistaken about who is right in the conflict!

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Sponsoring Murder. The Sbarro pizzeria following a suicide bombing that killed 15 civilians, including 7 children and a pregnant woman, and wounded 130. As of 2019, the “Sbarro terrorists’ have received $910,823 in “pay-for-slay” funding. Female terrorist Ahlam Tamimi, who planned the event, and today a free resident in Jordan, said she has “no regrets.”

Can you accept that the supposedly “right” party – in this case, the Palestinian Authority – actually pays murderers a monthly salary for having slaughtered innocent civilians? Those suicide bombers are considered to be martyrs and are canonized? Can any modern, educated, 21st-century civilized human being actually believe that such heinous government-level support of terrorism can be “right”?

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Blood Money. The Palestinian Authority increases terrorists’ stipends despite claiming it is on the verge of bankruptcy.

If we are to genuinely embark on the road to peace, basic norms of civilizations need to be adhered to. Otherwise, we are setting aside reason to take a leap of faith into a certain “Danger Zone”.

The signs along this journey are clear and visible for all to see.

We have been warned!

 

 

 

 

About the writer:

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Jonathan Danilowitz is a human, civil and animal rights activist who made Israeli caselaw history when he successfully sued Israel’s national airline, El Al, for failure to recognise his same-sex partner as his common-law spouse. The Supreme Court ruling is considered to be one of its most important decisions, and is featured in the Museum of the Court in Jerusalem. He is also the author of ‘Flying Colors’,  an intimate and revealing look of a flight attendant “thirty years at thirty thousand feet – from Apartheid to Israeli gay rights”.  He is a 2020 recipient of the City of Tel Aviv Yakir Award.

Presidential ‘Leak’

How Israel’s fortunes can spin on a single call of nature

By David E. Kaplan

Watching on TV the ceremony in the Knesset of the new incoming government accompanied by the rousing heckling by the disgruntled,  many were left with the question:

 “Yes, maybe the leftovers of overripe produce at the shuk (market) but what was the alternative?”

In the midst of a global health and economic crisis, a fourth election was hardly desirable – simply a prelude to another wasteful two billion shekels boring pitstop on the track to then a 5th election.

And then what?

We needed to escape this seemingly endless electoral carousel. It reminded me of that song in my youth by The Kingston Trio called “The man who never returned” – about a man buying the wrong ticket and stuck forever on a Boston train  – hence never to return.

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Feeling imprisoned in a Corona lockdown, Israelis were worn-down waiting for a leadership to “RETURN” the country to some semblance of normalcy.

Budgets need to be passed and monies allocated to move the country forward.

People nevertheless will ask, what if neither Bibi nor Benny  – the revolving PMs – had said NO!

“What If?” is always a fascinating question in wondering how differently things might pan out!

Thinking to past pivotal, some even apocalyptic, moments in Israel’s history, we can ask:

What if  Rommel’s African Corp had not lost the Battle of El Alamein in 1942, leaving the German Wehrmacht free to steamroll northwards to Palestine?

What if Prime Minister David Ben Gurion had not demanded the unification of ideologically diverse Jewish armed forces during the War of Independence to forge a national army?

What if Commander of the Irgun Zva-i Leumi (Etzel) Menachem Begin had not said the words, “Do not shoot back”, when the Irgun cargo ship,  the Altelena came under attack off the coast of Tel Aviv?

What if Israel had not taken out the Egyptian Air Force in the opening round of the Six Day War?

What if Prime Minister Menachem Begin had not embraced the peace process with Anwar Sadat of Egypt or authorized the surprise bombing of the nuclear facility in Iraq in 1982?

To this list we can add another “What If?” – an act so insignificant at the time of its commission but over time monumentally consequential!

“Barbeque Diplomacy”

It is generally agreed that the bedrock of Israel’s foreign policy to this day has been its unshakable relationship with the United States and its dependence on it supplying sophisticated weaponry to retain its qualitative edge. This was achieved at a meeting between Israel’s Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol and the US President, Lyndon Baines Johnson. The meeting was of existential importance, particularly so following France – Israel’s longtime backer – suddenly imposing an embargo on the very eve of the 1967 Six Day War.

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Forging Ties. Deep in intense discussion, Prime Minister Eshkol and President Johnson on the president’s Texas ranch.

I recall in my interview in Jerusalem with the late Yehuda Avner who had been the advisor to Levi Eshkol and accompanied him on his trip and meeting with “with the beefy, vigorous six-foot-three, President Lyndon B. Johnson”.  The meeting took place at the President’s Texas ranch, where Johnson liked to entertain heads of governments in what he dubbed, “Barbeque Diplomacy” because it enabled him in a relaxed country atmosphere; to get a measure of people that could never happen in Washington.

“After an exchange of “Howdy’s”,” recalled Avner, the President said he wanted to show us around his ranch and so, taking over the driver’s seat of his station wagon from a brawny fellow in a ten-gallon Stetson, he told us to hop in.” The Prime Minister, “portly, mild-mannered, stooped, bespectacled and balding with a wise, family-friend countenance,” sat in front with LBJ. while Avner squeezed into the back with two others in the Israeli delegation.

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Genesis Of Understanding. A relieved and thankful Levi Eshkol (left) following the critical meeting with President Lyndon Johnson at LBJ’s Texas ranch in January 1968.

“The president drove at high speed across white-fenced fields and gunned the vehicle down dirt tracks, causing all to bounce crazily about. As we approached a pasture, a cluster of cows bolted in alarm, leaving one cow that stubbornly refused to budge.

“That’s Daisy,” LBJ roared with laughter. “She’s as pigheaded as a Texan senator with colic.”

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Who Is Kow’towing. An amused LBJ trying to boss “Daisy.”

Holding firmly onto his homburg for fear it might fly off, Eshkol turned round to us in the back and with a bewildered expression asked in Yiddish: “Vus rett der goy?” –  “What’s the goy talking about?”

The meeting that followed was tough, with the Americans taking the position that “by providing Israel with arms; this would only escalate an arms race during a time when America was embroiled in an unpopular war in Vietnam. After two days of talk, Eshkol finally won the day when President Johnson indicated that Israel would receive the aircraft, and a deeply relieved Prime Minister responded:

 “Thank you, Mr. President. I thank you from the heart.”

Lyndon B. Johnson kept his word. Historically, a profound change in the relationship between Jerusalem and Washington was set in motion. America threw in its strategic lot with Israel, so that, henceforth, it would become Israel’s main source of sophisticated weaponry.

“This strategic alliance, for all its ups and downs,” said Yehuda, “endures as a bedrock of U.S. bipartisan support, for not only does it enable Israel to retain a qualitative edge in the face of extraordinary odds, it is the indispensable key to any process of peace in the future.”

Eshkol’s dogged determination showed he could stand tall alongside the defiant personality the likes of a cow named “Daisy!”

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Taking The Bull By The Horns. Tackling issues directly and with confidence, LBJ on his Texan ranch.

All this however would not have happened, had LBJ not decided at a precise moment in 1942 to relieve himself at an airbase toilet.

Already in the Naval Reserve since January 1940, Johnson had been a 33-year-old Representative from Texas when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour on Dec. 7, 1941.  Then, on the 9th June 1942, Lieutenant Commander Johnson boarded a plane called the Wabash Cannonball for a mission in the South Pacific. While the Wabash Cannonball was on a bombing mission, Johnson’s participation was as an observer to inspect and report back to President Roosevelt; of Japanese troop movements over New Guinea. No sooner had he boarded the B-26, nature called. Toying with the decision to “hold it in” or go to the toilet and catch the next bomber, he chose the latter and alighted from the plane. After relieving himself, he then joined the crew of another bomber, the Heckling Hare, that was crippled in the middle of its mission by a failed electrical generator, and then had to struggle back to base under enemy fire.

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Date With Destiny. A luckily timed bathroom break during WWII saved LBJ’s life and secured Israel’s security.

LBJ was lucky. The  Wabash Cannonball was hit by enemy fire and crashed with a total loss of life.

To the list of Israel’s “What Ifs?”, one can add:

Where would Israel’s relationship be today with regard to the US, had a young Lyndon B. Johnson not had the desperate need to take a pee!

 

 

* Title Picture: A bathroom in the White House and Lyndon B. Johnson. US National Archives/Mike Nudelman/Business Insider

Jan Smuts vs Corona

A colossus against global evil – the Nazis –  how would South Africa’s WWII leader have shone today against a global disease – Covid-19?

By Philip Weyers, great-grandson of General Jan Smuts.

A few days ago, “Lay of the Land” Editor, Dave Kaplan, posed to me what I thought to be an interesting question:

“How would a Jan Smuts’ government have dealt with the Corona crisis?”

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Professor Frederic William Maitland (© National Portrait Gallery, London)

Before being a Soldier-Statesman, my grandfather was a brilliant scholar. While one of his tutors,  Professor Frederic William Maitland – regarded as the modern father of English legal history – said of Smuts “the most brilliant student” he had ever met,  Lord Todd, the Master  of Christ’s College, said that “in 500 years of the College’s history, of all its members, past and present, three had been truly outstanding – John MiltonCharles Darwin and Jan Smuts.”

While offered by his old Cambridge college, Christ’s College, a fellowship in Law, he declined, choosing instead to return to the Cape Colony, determined to make his future there. He sure did!

Apart from leading his country inspirationally through WWII, Smuts contributed substantially to the creation of both the League of Nations and the United Nations – writing the preface to the U.N. Charter. Participating in so many milestone happenings of the 20th century, it should come as little surprise  that the only person to have signed the charters of both the League of Nations and the United Nations was General Jan Christiaan Smuts. Sadly, Smuts’ United Party lost the election in 1948 to the Nationalist Party of D.F. Malan that introduced Apartheid  – system of institutionalised racial segregation – that existed to the early 1990s.

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Mobilising People Support. Smuts won the South African vote to join the war against the Nazis.

Of course with Smuts gone for nearly 70 years any attempt to answer the question relating to Corona would be purely speculative and based on our understanding of his personality and how in the past he confronted monumental challenges.

I do however believe we have sufficient evidence to create at least some credible scenarios.

Covid-19 made its presence known with people dying in droves in Wuhan, China, subsequently high percentage of deaths followed in Italy, Spain, the UK and the USA where New York City has been the worst hit.

The South African Government did react relatively swiftly applying lockdown measures with individual movement restricted to medical reasons and the purchase of essential items. Socialising of any nature was forbidden. Initially there was understanding and compliance from the vast majority of the urban population, but in the informal settlements, life continued much as usual. It is important to note that the initial lockdown included prohibitions on the sale or purchase of inter alia cars, clothing, hardware, children’s toys, stationery including puzzles and of course the two “sin” items – alcohol and tobacco products.

 

It is reasonable to believe that Jan Smuts would have reacted in much the same manner initially; he would have been attempting by best means possible to combat what was for the entire world  – a complete unknown. It is also fair to believe that Smuts would have permitted a larger component of the South African economy to remain active than was the case, under conditions to minimise the transmission of the disease.

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Two Men And A Baby. In the gardens of the British Embassy in Cairo on the 23rd August, 1942, Winston Churchill (left) and Jan Smuts fuss over Victor Lampson, the baby son of the British Ambassador. (Photo: Birmingham Mail and Pos)

After nearly five weeks of what was advised to be “Stage-5” of the lockdown, President Ramaphosa advised that their efforts had been successful in slowing down the spread of Covid-19 and that there was to be a move to “Stage-4” on 1 May. Perplexing the public – some amusingly others irritatingly – the sale of alcohol remained illegal, while tobacco products could again be purchased. Much joy and relief followed this announcement, not least of all the11 million South Africans who smoke!

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Corona Crazy. A cartoon by Zapiro in the Daily Maverick that satirizes South Africa’s policies to Corona.

Those who were missing a drink resorted either to the highly active and exorbitant black-market or started brewing their own mampoer  – South Africa’s highly intoxicating “moonshine” derived mainly from pineapple. Within days of President Ramaphosa announcing a relaxation of the sale of tobacco products, it was announced by Nkosana Dhlamini-Zuma, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, that the matter had been re-assessed and the tobacco would remain embargoed, resulting in astonishment and much anger amongst the population.

It is at this point I believe that Jan Smuts’ path would have taken a significantly divergent course to that adopted by the South African Government, and in a number of ways.

The Great Communicator

Jan Smuts was an accomplished communicator, and believed in the value of accurate, comprehensive, and regular communications. He was a prodigious correspondent and a highly accomplished writer – in longhand – of his own speeches. It would be inconceivable that at a time of such perceived threat and uncertainty, he would not regularly appear on all media platforms, placating and reassuring the population, certainly he would not have been silent for weeks at a stretch.

We can see today from Smuts’ many speeches how his voice resonated with his audience and how he instilled confidence. This is precisely what is needed today and is surely lacking!

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General Jan Christiaan Smuts

Furthermore, it would be inconceivable to believe that a Smuts Government would not have consulted every credible source of expertise covering such essential aspects as the economy, medical (in particular epidemiologists both locally and abroad), commerce and business and modelled the regulations imposed according to guidelines that he would have gleaned from such consultations. A balance between all critical elements would have been achieved as far as possible.

Smuts would have realised from the start that trying to legislate a population into compliance, would have produced at best short-term results. He would not have been autocratic, aggressive nor condescending when dealing with the people. He would have been well aware that compliance would result from cooperation rather than legislation, particularly when the regulations would seem  – with some justification –  to be nonsensical and of little tangible value.

To achieve public compliance would invariably have involved law-enforcement but certainly no heavy-handed and unnecessary force. Violent enforcement would not have been tolerated – particularly of petty contraventions.

There can be no doubt that following the initial lockdown and greater scientific data became available offering the wisest counsel to this “mystery disease”, Smuts would have moved swiftly to get the economy back on track. It would have been clear to Smuts that without revenue, a government is restricted in its ability to control or treat the virus.

Disrespect To Disregard

Essential to gaining the people’s support and compliance is to return their lives to as normal a situation as possible. Smuts would realise that a population will only adhere to regulations while they present at least some logic and make sense even at an unsophisticated level. Nonsensical and seemingly irrelevant restrictions would enjoy a short period of compliance before the public at large despaired and disregarded them. The extended restrictions on clothing, for one, were apparently devoid of logic and benefit.

One could buy a long-sleeved shirt, but not a short-sleeved one! Ladies could buy “winter” shoes but not shoes with open toes!

Smuts would not have countenanced such nonsensical regulations believing them rather to further aggravate an already incensed population.

One can of course hypothesize almost without end how the ‘soldier-statesman’ Smuts would have mounted a campaign to counter Corona. In truth, we could never really know. I sense that a Smuts Government would not have acted very differently to the Ramaphosa government in the initial four-week period, but beyond that period, there would have been a marked divergence.

Therefore I feel confident to surmise, that under a Smuts leadership, South Africans would be in far better position than that in which we currently find ourselves.

 

 

About The Writer

PHILIP WEYERS1.jpgPhilip Weyers is Past Executive Director of General Smuts Foundation. An “Amateur historian” on Jan Smuts, the South African Air Force and the Royal Air Force, Weyers is President Emeritus of the South African Air Force Association. He is currently a member of SAAFA NEC; SAAF/SAAFA Liaison, Foreign Relations. As a “Friend of Israel” and like the “Oubaas”, a confirmed Christian Zionist, he addresses audiences in Israel and England.

 

 

 

Trying To Pull The ‘Wool’ Over Africa’s Eyes

BDS South Africa’s wraps Palestinian headscarf over African continent in new logo

By David.E. Kaplan

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In the midst of the global Coronavirus crisis, BDS South Africa in its online newsletter dated March 20, announced that following consultations with several of its partners “in South Africa and on the African continent,” that the organisation will henceforth function under the name:

Africa for Palestine (AFP)”

While Africa is focused on protecting its populations from a killer virus, BDS South Africa is promoting and facilitating another kind of killer virus –  antisemitism, but now not only in South Africa but across the African continent.

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Antisemitism Over The Air. In this meme shared in March 2020, the coronavirus is depicted as being Jewish men.

Such is the ambition of BDS South Africa – excuse, Africa for Palestine!!!

With the African continent joining the world in trying to protect and save lives, BDS SA is moving in the opposite diabolical direction. What’s more, it brazenly does not disguise its nefarious intent as emblazoned in its new LOGO, with the entire continent of Africa ENVELOPED by a  Palestinian keffiyeh.

Does Africa really want to be branded by the headdress popularized by the likes of the late Yasser Arafat and the airline hijacker, Leila Khaled, the female member of the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine?

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The Plane Truth. Hardly a role model for today in Africa, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacker Leila Khaled brandishing her firearm.

Of course not.

Who can forget the photographs of Khaled wearing the keffiyeh circulated in the Western newspapers after the hijacking of TWA Flight 840 and the Dawson’s Field hijackings.

In a continent committed to a better future of science, technology and innovation, branding with yesteryear’s  terrorism is not the way to go.

Does BDS South Africa really believe that Africa is gullible to this attempted “Hostile Takeover” as they graphically  articulate in its new spine-chilling logo?

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Under The Microscope. The message of this meme of a microbe is that “Zionism” not Coronavirus is the “deadliest virus on earth”.

The people of Africa will see through this façade of deception!

Coronavirus does not distinguish between nations and religions, between Jews and Arabs and yet BDS South Africa  is  diabolically and deceptively exploiting the virus to fan antisemitism and defame the Jewish state with fabrications.

 So while since March 19, 2020:

the Israeli government has sent hundreds of coronavirus testing kits to the Palestinian Authority and Gaza as well as 2,000 protective suits and twenty tons of disinfectants and 100 liters of sanitizing gel

Israeli doctors and specialists have been dispatched to the West Bank city of Jericho to train Palestinian medical teams to save lives in combating the coronavirus pandemic

Palestinian Authority officials Ahmed Deek and Hussein al Sheikh – responsible for cooperation between the PA and Israel – praised Israel’s assistance, particularly the Israeli government’s honoring of the PA’s request to provide accommodations in Israel for 45,000 Palestinian worker-commuters from the West Bank to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection

and:

The UN Security Council issuing a formal statement welcoming Israeli Palestinian cooperation against Corona stating that it “provided a blueprint for renewed peace talks” none of these Israeli measures had any impact on BDS South Africa’s leadership who proceeded to serve its regular platter of conspiratorial accusations against Israel, as part of its 2020 annual “Israel Apartheid Week”.

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Riveting Revelation. Israeli Arab, Yosef Haddad (left) vs BDS South Africa’s founder Mohammed Desai on national South African TV on the 19 March 2020.

On March 19, when Israel announced it was considering a complete lockdown over coronavirus, BDS South Africa’s founder Mohammed Desai, charged Israel with refusing to issue vital life-saving instructions in Arabic to Arabic speaking citizens and residents of the Jewish state. However, Desai’s accusation was immediately revealed as false on South African national television by the TV debate’s other guest, Israeli Arab, Yoseph Haddad, who called Desai a “liar”.

Said Hadad:

As an Arab Israeli, I got the instructions in Arabic; SO STOP LYING.”

He then proceeded to ask the founder of BDS South Africa, who advocates boycotts of Israel whether he would himself  boycott  Israel in the following scenario:

 “Israel today is working on a vaccine for Coronavirus. Should it discover a vaccine, would you use it?”

Mumbling and digressing in trying to dodge the question, Haddad persisted for an answer:

“Would you use it – Yes or No. The question is simple”

The BDS South Africa head refused to answer and then concluded with this disgusting yet revealing comment:

 “Israel’s expertise should not be used as an exercise of blackmail.”

He knew he had been exposed as the fraud he is, as is the organisation he founded and heads, and now seeks to re-brand or disguise!

There is also no “disguising” the true Mohammed Desai when one takes a closer at the print on the white T-shirt he wore for this debate on national TV’s prime time:

Beneath the large colorful Google logo, appears the Search Box with Israel typed in and then the question:

Did you mean Palestine?”

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True Colours Revealed. Mohammed Desai, founder of BDS South Africa wearing an offensive T-shirt negating the state of Israel in a debate on South African national television.

Clearly, the founder of BDS South Africa shares the same sentiments as the cofounder of the global BDS movement Omar Barghouti when he said:

The two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is finally dead. But someone has to issue an official death certificate before the rotting corpse is given a proper burial… Good riddance!”

For BDS South Africa’s founder – there is no partnership, no coexistence, no Jewish State; there is no Israel!  

All this finally begs the question:

Why  has BDS South Africa changed its name to the preposterous and presumptuous –  ‘Africa for Palestine’?

The answer lies not in any success but due to its failure.

BDS South Africa is rebranding because its hateful and hurtful message no longer resonates with most the of people of South Africa.

Rather than a  “rose”, the newly morphed BDS South Africa is  but:

“A Reptile By Another Name”

 

 

At 2:40 minutes into this short video clip, Israeli-Arab Yosef Haddad asks the head of BDS South Africa, Mohamed Desai whether he would use an Israeli-made coronavirus antidote.

“Shaken, Not Stirred”

Aliyah In The Age Of Covid-19

Israel must be the only country in the world that is today welcoming new immigrants

By David E. Kaplan

In a country where its friendly citizens typically love to kiss and warmly embrace, “social distancing” is now the name of the game. Schools, universities, kindergartens, movie theaters, restaurants, pubs, gyms, parks, libraries, museums and beaches are now off limits. “All social interactions,” says the Ministry of Health should be conducted on the phone or by other digital means. Pessimistically paraphrasing the  iconic line from the 1970 romantic movie ‘Love Story’, Israel’s Prime Minister appeals:

Love is keeping your distance

As the novel Coronavirus pandemic continues to proliferate, each day brings with it new challenges and restrictions for Israeli society. Where one day the restriction is not to meet anywhere where there are NOT more than ten people present, the next day it is not to meet at all – unless it’s a dire emergency.

Where one day an instruction is an appeal, the next it is a pre-emptory order.

“This is not a game. It’s a matter of life and death,” asserted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his update on Tuesday.

And yet, there is something quite unique about Israel. Despite  the dwindling few still entering the country going straight into a mandatory 14-day quarantine, new immigrants (olim) are still arriving at Ben Gurion Airport with Israel absorbing them like returning family.

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One ‘FLU’ Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Like something out of the movies, travelers wearing masks chat in the arrivals terminal after Israel said it will require anyone arriving from overseas to self-quarantine for 14 days as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus at Ben Gurion International airport near Tel Aviv, Israel. (photo credit: REUTERS/RONEN ZEVULUN)

In the first half of March 2020, 163 immigrants arrived in the country, according to the Jewish Agency’s statistics.

One of them is Craig Evans from Sasolburg in South Africa who came with his wife Meghan and their 9-year-old-son. An older 14-year-old daughter, Jade, was already in Israel, enrolled at the Mosenson School in Hod Hasharon. The first Craig and Meghan heard that they would have to go directly from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport into quarantine was when they were standing in the departure queue at the A1 gate at Oliver Tambo International Airport. “There we were, about to board our El Al flight and we received a phone call from the Israel Centre in Joburg informing us and that there would probably be no-one in Israel to officially welcome and process us through immigration. We must make our way alone as best we could and then head straight to our apartment and wait for someone to contact us!”

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The Evens Family. New immigrants to Israel, Meghen and Craig Evens and their children Kai and Jade from Sasolburg, South Africa.

Like the intrepid MI6 agent of “Shaken, but not stirred’ fame,  Craig told Lay Of The Land “Yes, obviously we were concerned but there was no turning back. Our minds and our destination were determined. We were going to Israel, and contrary to the warning, we received 5-star treatment. They literally welcomed us from the moment we got off the plane in Israel. We were met by the representative from Telfed and the Jewish Agency who stood there holding aloft a sign with our names on and who then guided us through the process of receiving all our necessary documentation – most importantly for Kupat Holim (health care provider). We were out of the airport in 30 minutes;  and then the rep organized a huge transport vehicle for all our masses of baggage and in less than one hour, we were  in our apartment in Netanya.”

So how did it feel for this on-line marketing man and dance teacher wife to be alone in quarantine in a new country?

“Who’s alone? We have an incredible circle of friends  all over the country as well as new friends. Within 40 minutes of arrival, there was a knock on the door from the local South African community to welcome us and bring food.  We have been inundated with people contacting us, even if only over the phone or through the narrow gap of the front door.” Seeing “a silver lining” in the situation, “if it was not for the quarantine, we would never have met so many new people. This would never happen anywhere else in the world.”

Immigration to Israel is a complex process and during a global health crisis even more so. “We are advising people to postpone their immigration, but it’s not so easy,” explains the South African immigrant organisation, Telfed’s CEO, Dorron Kline. “People have sold their homes and cars and even so, people want to come and are determined to brave these challenging times. Whatever they decide, Telfed will be there for them,” asserts Dorron. “Telfed was born in challenging times when it was established in 1948 during Israel’s War of Independence and we are at war now against an unseen enemy and we are all ready to meet this challenge.”

Such determination is evident with a young man immigrating next month  from South Africa who will be going straight into the IDF. “Not only is he still determined to enlist during these trying times,” says Dorron,  “but he wants to come earlier to Israel to enable him to complete his 14-day quarantine period before his call-up date.” Only the day before, “we had a 19-year-old, young woman from Australia who just made Aliyah, so yes, despite the situation, people are still coming.”

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Fear Of Coronavirus. Usually crowded with tourists, the empty square outside the Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Even with the enormous pressures on Telfed’s staff who are alternating between working from home and the head office in Ra’anana, “we are calling all immigrants who arrived in the last six months from South Africa and Australia  to  find out how they are coping and if their need any assistance. We have also created a special Coronavirus platform on our  Telfed website where people can on-line ask for any assistance and others in the community can volunteer to help them. We are connecting those in need with those who can help.”

An example of how successfully the project works, Dorron sites “a new South African immigrant who was in quarantine and who ran out of her medicine. She posted this on the Telfed website  and in a few minutes, someone responded and offered to go the pharmacy and bring her the medicine.”

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Welcome To Israel. An empty arrival hall at Ben-Gurion International Airport on March 11, 2020. Photo by Flash90.

Yael Katsman, Vice President of Public Relations and Communication at Nefesh B’Nefesh – which supports Aliyah from North America and the UK –  told The Jerusalem Post earlier in the week that in spite of the coronavirus crisis and despite the restrictive conditions, “Aliyah is continuing. We have a group of 24 olim arriving Thursday who are going to be remotely processed, which is a first.” The composition of the group are of diverse backgrounds and ages – families, retires and singles and that only a few of the elderly had decided to postpone. And as to the immediate future, Katsman says that in the period leading up to Passover in April, “We are expecting about 60 to 70 olim. At the moment, a very positive indicator is that people who had planned to come are still coming regardless of this new reality.”

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Happy To Be Home. American David Bassous, who made aliyah from Highland Park, N.J. Credit: Courtesy.

One recent arrival is David Bassous who made aliyah over a week ago from Highland Park, N.J. “I didn’t realize how hard quarantine would be,” he admits. “The hardest part being unable to go outside or see the kids and grandchildren.”

However, he  figured that Israel “is one of the safest places to be right now because of its proactive policy—one of the strictest in the world.” Nevertheless  “I was still shocked when I landed and witnessed Ben-Gurion Airport deserted.”

Still, says Bassous, he’s “so happy to be home after a 2,500-year exile.”

There are a lot of Jews around the world  – Coronavirus or not – who share his enthusiasm. They can live for a while being two meters apart from the next person, but not being apart from their ancestral homeland.

 

 

At this time of difficulty and danger, here is a  Healing Prayer from Jerusalem

 

 

 

*Feature Picture: New Immigrants to Israel Jump Right In to Coronavirus Quarantine – Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau, World Chairman of KKL-JNF Daniel Atar, and Co-Founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh Tony Gelbart with Olim moving to Israel’s periphery (photo credit: SHAHAR AZRAN COURTESY OF NEFESH B’NEFESH)