The Days the Cameras Forgot

Palestinians have been protesting against the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority in Ramallah but the global media has been silent. Why?

By Rolene Marks

There is something that happening in the streets of Ramallah that is of huge significance – but has largely been ignored. The mainstream media have virtually turned a blind eye to it and it is not receiving the attention on social media from the armchair generals, social justice warriors and human rights aficionados that is should. What is this significant event I am talking about?

 For several weeks, hundreds of Palestinians have taken to the streets of Ramallah in protest against President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority over frustration and anger following years of corruption and intransigence.  Calls for Abbas to “get out” have resonated throughout the city and surrounding areas on a daily basis and have been met with brutal and often violent crackdowns by PA security forces. Images of protestors, including 5 female journalists, have been shared by brave activists, many of whom have received warnings for daring to expose this.

Not Budging. Despite pressure to resign since the death of Nizar Banat in custody that followed the President’s cancellation of the election that was to have been held in May, 2021, Mahmoud Abbas is standing firm.

Abbas, who is currently in his 17th year of his 4 year term, shows no signs of stepping down anytime soon and cancelled elections that were due to have taken place in May. This led to internationally recognised terror group, Hamas, using the opportunity to push for unrest and shore up their supporters in the West Bank and also conveniently, launching another conflagration with Israel. What ensued was 11 days of intense fighting between Israel and Hamas. Hamas fired over 4 300 rockets and projectiles into the Jewish state and Israel responded with a military offensive known as “Operation Guardians of the Wall”. We cannot dismiss that one of the objectives from Hamas was to grow its support base in the West Bank and also, to push for unrest inside of Israel. They succeeded. For several successive days, extremists from both the Jewish and Arab communities rioted and committed acts of violence against each other. Such unrest hadn’t been seen since the 1940’s. While this thankfully, has stopped, there is still a sense of deep mistrust.

Naturally, this captured the attention of a permanently salivating global media.

Sending Strong Message. Following Palestinian demonstrations over the death of Nizar Banat in Palestinian police custody, protestors in Ramallah are seen chanting for the departure of President Abbas and demanded an end to his rule. (Flash90)

What has precipitated these latest protests in Ramallah? Several weeks ago, Palestinian activist, Nizar Banat, died under mysterious circumstances while being taken into custody by Palestinians Authority security forces. Banat was a well-known critic of Abbas. His family have alleged that he was badly beaten during the raid. Hebron Governor Jamil al-Bakri said the public prosecution had issued a summons for Mr. Banat and that “during the arrest his health deteriorated“.

He was immediately transferred to the Hebron Government Hospital. After he was examined by doctors, he was pronounced dead,” he added, without commenting on the family’s allegations.

Voice Silenced. West Bank Palestinian and resident of Hebron Nizar Banat,  a prominent Abbas critic dies in PA custody after ‘vicious beating’ by officers. (Screenshot: Facebook)

But Nizar Banat’s cousin Ammar told the Middle East Eye that about 25 PA security personnel raided his house at about 03:30am. He alleged that officers stormed into the room where he was sleeping, sprayed him with pepper spray and then began beating him with iron bars and wooden batons. They later dragged him from the room, stripped him of his clothes and took him away in a vehicle, he added. Another cousin, Hussein, told Reuters news agency:

They kept beating him continuously for eight minutes. If you came to arrest him, take him. Why the brutality? And why the violence?”

Seeking Justice. Demonstrators on July 2, 2021, hold up images of the late Palestinian activist Nizar Banat, who died in late June during a violent arrest by Palestinian Authority security forces. (MOSAB SHAWER/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)

Ammar said that about an hour and a half after the raid, the family learned through WhatsApp groups that Nizar Banat had died. He added that they had not been able to see his body at the hospital. “The announcement of his death at the hospital was a ruse,” he alleged.

Grieving Family. Nizar Banat’s family have alleged that he was badly beaten by Palestinian security forces. (Reuters)

That afternoon, hundreds took to the streets in protests that are still ongoing. The PA security brutality did not end with Banat – nor did crackdowns on anti-Abbas voices.

Israeli journalist, Khaled Abu Toameh, tweeted last week that the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation has suspended 10 employees over their social media comments regarding the circumstances around the death of Nizar Banat. Another 36 employees received warnings from the PA security forces for the same reason.

Why would they do that if there was nothing to hide?

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet and the United States  have appealed to the PA to allow the protestors to carry on in peace, a request that seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

Ramallah Resistance. The appeal of UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet to the PA to allow the protestors to carry on in peace has fallen on deaf ears.

The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees condemned what they called the ‘organized assaults’ by the security forces on Palestinian women. Three women were beaten by Palestinian security officers in Ramallah during a protest against the Palestinian crackdown on activists.

Riotous in Ramallah. In full protective gear, Palestinian security forces prevent protesters from reaching the PA’s headquarters in Ramallah.

Very soon, the U.N. Human Rights Council will hold its perennial meeting on Palestinian rights but it is unlikely that this will be discussed:

Is it because Israel cannot be blamed?

What does the future hold? It is unlikely that Abbas will step down – or call another election. Hamas is gaining more and more popularity and this not only threatens Abbas rule but also Israel’s security. But the people have spoken. The corruption and brutality is untenable. What is really sad is that not only are they being ignored by their leadership but the mainstream media, usually quick on the draw when it comes to Israel’s conflict  with the Palestinians, have been silent. It would appear that they have their lenses pointed elsewhere and when it comes to the plight of the people, the cameras have been switched off.









While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Of Men and Mensches

By Craig Snoyman

South African social media has been scorching hot this week.  The former President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, was sentenced to 15 months direct imprisonment for contempt of a court order. The order was handed down by the highest court in the land, the Constitutional Court. It also ordered his imprisonment. Virtually the whole of South Africa was sure that he would do something to prevent his arrest, after all his so- called “Stalingrad Defence” has managed to stall criminal corruption charges against him for at least ten years . Cell phones were literally burning as discussion, speculation, conspiracy theories and humour jammed the internet.

One of the pictures widely disseminated was a photo-shopped pictures was of President Zuma disguising himself as an Arab, with him thinking of going to Dubai.  It is widely rumoured that many of his illicit millions are there. What we do know, is that his son owns a very expensive apartment there.  The Gupta brothers, who are alleged to have looted billions of rand from the South African fiscus in cahoots with Zuma, are also hiding out there.

Former South African President, Jacob Zuma has started his prison term

Normally it is completely politically inappropriate even refer to “black-face” or in this case “brown-face”, let alone circulate such a picture but these are very strange times in South Africa. President Zuma, once referred to “Msholozi” (number one) and now in whispered references as “Jailkop Zuma”, is likely to spend some of his immediate future behind bars. At the same time as he sets out on a new path, so does Israel’s former President, Reuven Rilvin.  Two pictures tell the difference between the two Presidents.

On his last day as President, photographs of President Rivlin in disguise, were released to the press. In the picture that appears in the Israeli press, President Rivlin is heavily disguised with a dark-haired wig, a bushy beard and spectacles (and possibly an altered nose and shoulder padding) and a long black overcoat. He certainly did not look like an 81 year old man.  His security detail said that he spend several hours walking around, disguised and incognito, amongst his fellow citizens. 

Deep Undercover. The President in his disguise, happily mingled amongst unsuspecting Israeli citizens.

From our perspective at the bottom of Africa, it never looked like President Rivlin put a foot wrong. He was the image of the perfect statesman, (almost perfect because he looked a little too cuddly) representing the State of Israel in an extremely dignified manner. And then these pictures were released! Not furtively onto a site on the internet, but publicly released to all the national newspapers.  Clearly an affectionate gesture by his secret-service protection, with his full consent.

All of a sudden, President Rivlin is seen in a different light! No longer the upright, ceremonial state representative.  In one fell swoop, he is seen as an avuncular scamp – a man with a sense of humour, your favourite uncle playing a trick on you! He is transformed and now, he’s just an ordinary person, one of us.  Sometimes we forget that the politicians are human to.  For me, this is probably going to be my lasting image of President Rivlin, all his other accomplishments will slip into the recesses of my memory. Farewell President Rivlin, may your future journeys be filled with joy and wonder and much good health and happiness… and lots more impish humour. I doff my kippa to you, President Rivlin, a People’s President.



About the writer:

Craig Snoyman is a practising advocate in South Africa.





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

JUNETEENTH – What’s in a name?

Could the Americans have learned from the Jewish heritage?

(Author’s personal observation)

By Craig Snoyman

While South Africans were celebrating the heart-warming hoax of decuplets, the so-called “Tembisa 10”, the United States of America was midwifing its own birth.  With little advance notice, and starting labour on Tuesday 15 June, pushing through the birthing canals of the House and the Senate at great speed, the new-born was announced to the world on 17 June 2021.  President Biden, who confirmed the signs of life, signed it into law and held the birth-certificate up high for everybody to see. Although officially, its date of birth was declared as 19 June it was officially named “Juneteenth National Independence Day” and proudly touted to the nation. Joining a group of ten other siblings, it became America’s eleventh annual federal holiday. Named in honour of an event which happened on June 19, 1865 – or “Juneteenth” –  it recalls an incident where General Gordon Granger entered Galveston, Texas and announced that President Lincoln had freed the slaves almost three years earlier.

Usually, the creation of a national holiday is no easy task. Only four federal holidays had been added to the American calendar in the last one hundred years before this one. There had previously been several attempts to introduce a “Native American Day”, all of them unsuccessful. As a kind of substitute, a cultural “Native American Week” was introduced. Proposals for the introduction of new holidays is all about politics – the politics of identity, the politics of voting, the politics of affiliation, the politics of ethnicity, the politics of patriotism, even the politics of sport.  Yet somewhere amongst all of this congested political melee, Juneteenth National Independence Day – the fastest tracked Federal holiday ever- became law. If you were outside the USA, you might have missed it. While it was happening, it didn’t gather too much attention in the States either.

Juneteenth was initially only a specifically Texan celebration. There were other Emancipation Day celebrations commemorating the freedom from slavery. African Americans in South Carolina and Georgia had also been holding their own Emancipation Day programs but chose the date of January 1. Both groups memorialised the struggles of their people and sought to inspire upliftment in honouring those emancipated slaves. Why did the Carolinians and Georgians celebrate on 1 January? Simple, they followed historical fact. It was on 1 January 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that all persons held as slaves were immediately free.  The Texans were only apparently officially informed of the Emancipation when Granger finally reached Texas on 19 June 1865. Ironically, notwithstanding the announcement, most of the slaves were only freed after the cotton harvest was completed, some months later.    The event of the announcement was thereafter commemorated annually mostly by the former slave, who combined the words “June 19th” into “Juneteenth”. As the Civil War became more distant, Juneteenth and Emancipation Day celebrations became less prominent, almost fading into obscurity until there was a cultural revival of Juneteenth, starting in Texas, in the 1970’s.

Jews also have also created their own holidays or “chags”.   When looking at the origins of these festivals, one can see the historic events which gave rise to the festivals. Each one of these Jewish holidays has a unified meaning for its followers. The aim of each holiday is to commemorate and remember the national, religious and world view identity of the Jews. The ideological connection between the Jewish holidays and with their national and cultural values is apparent. Jewish holidays, while established thousands of years ago, and grounded in the Torah, have not lost their relevance today. While the holidays may have been modified, they still continue to be celebrated with the same joy, unity, and cohesion as in ancient times.

It is not difficult to see how these Jewish holidays were created. It is, however, difficult to imagine that the crossing of the Red Sea could  have been celebrated  on the day when Jethro announced to Moses that  he and his kinsmen has  heard about the event and not on the date that the Children of Israel actually walked through the water on dry land. Similarly, that the “international day of independence” could fall on the day that Moses brought down the second set of tablets, rather than when Mount Sinai smoked and thundered and a Divine covenant was created, would seem absurd. Equally preposterous would have been for all the Children of Israel to be ordered to observe a second Pesach simply because some of them were impure for the first celebration and they could not participate.

Exodus from Egypt

But this is what has happened with Juneteenth!

It celebrates an announcement made to the slaves of Texas, telling them that they should have been freed about three years before they heard the announcement. However, the real problem is not the timing or to whom it was said, it’s that the nature of Juneteenth doesn’t support the ideals expected of a holiday.  It doesn’t support unity or nationalism or patriotism. There is also an existing division amongst the ethnic groups celebrating the liberation of the slaves about the date as to when emancipation should be commemorated. It is a very sectarian holiday. On the face of it, it should be a cultural event celebrated by Texans and enjoyed by anyone who wants to participate, much like Native American Week. Both the name and its significance had lost their relevance until its re-introduction about one hundred years after it had faded into virtual insignificance. Even then, it was re-introduced as a cultural event and not a political event! Historically, American slaves were emancipated when Lincoln’s Proclamation was issued, not when the slaves heard about it, or even when they were physically liberated. Emancipation took place on 1 January 1863, in the midst of a civil war. It was Winston Churchill who said that a nation that forgets its history has no future.  Can the rewriting of a nation’s past lead to different future?

President Joe Biden signs the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)AP

Maybe this is all hair-splitting. After all, 48 states recognised Juneteenth as a state holiday before it became a federal holiday. But they recognised “Juneteenth”; they did not recognise  “Juneteenth National Independence Day”. This federal holiday embodies neither Nation nor Independence.  A re-announcement of emancipation that has already been throughout the rest of the country to a territorial group of people who believed that they are slaves when they are not really slaves, is not  a national event. By legislating that Juneteenth is an Independence Day when it was not and when there is already a nationally celebrated Independence Day on 4 July is divisive and confusing. When an event commemorates an occasion affecting a small ethnic group is made a national occasion it is can only serve to  encourage  fragmentation  and factionalism instead of nationalism and patriotism. This application of a mixed ideological agenda at this time in America’s history does not advance its national aims. In the politically dismembering climate that exists today one must ask whether this was not just a short-term advancement of the non-inclusive political agenda of “Black Lives Matter”.

Another  Federal holiday, Christopher Columbus Day, may be the harbinger of the trouble that Juneteenth National Independence Day may bring. Christopher Columbus Day was recognised by 45 states  before it became a federal holiday in 1968. Congress said  that the nation was honouring the courage and determination which enabled generations of immigrants from many nations to find freedom and opportunity in America.  South Dakota then objected to this view. It has called that holiday  “Native American Day” since 1990.  In 2014 , the Seattle City Council followed South Dakota’s lead and unanimously voted to rename Columbus Day “Indigenous People’s Day”.

Will the issues about  Juneteenth National Independence Day be more pervasive and more damaging? There are already certain groups  which have stated that they will not recognise it. Other militant groups will no doubt ensure the holiday receives its due recognition (or notoriety). Recognising the holiday as a National Independence Day brings with it the underlying inference of  the currently trending “existing systemic racism” and all the baggage attached to it. Is it unrealistic  to expect the “colonial Independence” of 4 July comes under further attack, bearing in mind the inroads into education of the 1619 project?  Will one see  the Juneteenth flag  waving, contests pride of place with  the Stars and Stripes? It also becomes quite feasible that other  existing federal holidays will now be subjected to attack due to their historical, but colonial origins. There is already a struggle to claim the foundations of American democracy, this holiday is only going to add to that struggle.  And by calling it a National Independence Day, it opens the door for  claims of  for  reparations for slavery.   With the stoke of a pen, has the nation unwittingly placed itself  back  into a civil-war, even if this is not yet visible?

Perhaps, in the same way that there is precedent as to how the Sanhedrin interpreted Zechariah’s word to eliminate certain fast days, the US government will not feel constricted to re-examine certain Federal holidays and their names. While one must always remember  and celebrate the abolition of slavery (were we not once  slaves as well?), one wonders if a holiday called Juneteenth National Independence Day  is the appropriate step in advancing an agenda of  national patriotism and common identity.

So while some South Africans celebrated hoax-babies on Saturday 19 June 2021, and some Americans celebrated Saturday 19 June 2021 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, some of us  also celebrated Saturday 19 June 2021 as ….. Shabbat.



About the writer:

Craig Snoyman is a practising advocate in South Africa.





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Talk about Change!

As Israel’s 11th President, Isaac Herzog is tailor-made for transformation

By David E. Kaplan

A new President, a new Prime Minister and for the first time in Israel’s history, something extraordinary – a NEW religious Arab Muslim party (Ra’am) in Israel’s ruling coalition government. People can disagree on multiple issues of what is evolving, what they cannot disagree is where it is heading –  CHANGE.

Exactly what that change will be, nobody is too sure.

As Israel awoke the morning after ‘chaos in the Knesset’ to a new political reality, I received emails from friends and family abroad, all variation of a theme:

Nu, what does this mean?”

For the most part I replied it was a case of ditching deadlock.

The country is moving on, first a new president now a new Prime Mister and we will have to wait how this political theatre plays out. True, most of the cast remains the same actors; but there is a touch of Shakespearean irony here with Herzog’s ascendancy to the Presidency recalling the Bard’s – “The play’s the thing that will catch the conscience of the king…”. In 2015, Herzog vied to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; and as chance would have it, he was elected President a few years later on the day that a coalition united in a bid to remove the veteran Prime Minister from power!

Further irony for this writer, “Enter Isaac Herzog” was the title of my interview with Isaac Herzog back in 2007 when he was then Minister of Diaspora, Society and the Fight Against Antisemitism. The article was for Haaretz magazine and it was concerning Jewish youth around the world focusing on “nurturing tomorrow’s leadership”.

Face to the Future. Former Jewish Agency head, Labour chief and son of the 6th President, Israel’s 11th President, Isaac Herzog –  seen outside the Knesset  – says that he’ll work to ‘build bridges’ within Israeli society and with Diaspora.

All these years later, “enter” the former Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Labour Party as Israel’s 11th President!

From the stable he comes he has inherited the family mettle. The son revealed in the 2007 interview an illuminating story about his father, Chaim Herzog, Israel’s 6th president, and the birth of a nation.

On the 11 March 1946, a car bomb exploded beneath the Keren Hayesod wing of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem. The bomber, an Arab in the employ of the American Consul was a trusted person at the Agency. “He said he had stuff to deliver and needed to park as close to the building as possible.” Why should they have doubted him? Only two weeks previously, he had supplied weapons to the Hagana (pre-curser to the Israeli Defence Force). What they did not know was that he was a double agent, and that ignorance resulted in eleven fatalities, including the Director of Keren Hayesod, Leib Jaffe.

Emerging from the Rubble. March 11 1946, Arab terrorists bombed the headquarters building of the Jewish Agency for Palestine in Jerusalem killing eleven and wounding eighty-six. Among the injured was Isaac Herzog’s mother, Aura who was rescued under the rubble by his father, the future 6th President of the State of Israel.

My father had been the Chief Security officer of the Jewish Agency at the time of the bombing. Luckily, he was in the toilet when the bomb exploded,” says Isaac. Not so fortunate was his mother, Aura, who was buried under the rubble.

My dad had to dig her out. She was unconscious and remained in hospital for six months. After riding in the ambulance with her to the hospital, he then had to rush afterwards to an important meeting with a representative from the United Nations. He had no time to change, so his clothes were covered in my mother’s blood. The UN man took one look at my Dad and said:

 “If this is the way you come dressed to a meeting, no one will deter you from winning this war”.”

How right this UN representative was!

Ever since, the UN has been mostly wrong about Israel and it was Herzog senior who in 1975 gave his memorable firebrand speech to the UN General Assembly  rejecting the resolution equating Zionism with racism. It was described by prizewinning historian Simon Sebag Montefiore as “one of the great speeches of the 20th century.”

Herzog stated that the resolution’s supporters were motivated by the “two great evils” of “hatred and ignorance”, something that has not changed to this day. So poetically and poignantly he ended his speech with:

For us, the Jewish people, this is no more than a piece of paper, and we shall treat it as such,” before tearing the draft resolution in two.

The wife he earlier saved three decades earlier in the rubble in Jerusalem, Aura Herzog became a social activist and in 1968, she founded The Council for a Beautiful Israel – a public non-profit organization focused on improving the quality of life in Israel – and remains at 96, its international president. This family name has a presidential ring about it!

The Israel Connection. An old generation cellphone, Isaac Herzog being interviewed in 2007 by the writer, on ‘connecting’ with Jewish youth around the world. (photo D.E.Kaplan)

No less enlightening, his Egyptian-born mother is the one who gave Israel’s new President his popular nickname “Bougie” by mixing the French word for doll “poupee” with its Hebrew equivalent “buba”.

In his acceptance speech as Israel’s 11th President, Bougie said:

I intend to be the President of all Israelis, to lend an attentive ear to every position and respect every person. To join the connecting lines and build bridges of consensus, in order to bring in even the most distant amongst us, as well as our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora.”

These words resonated with the writer recalling what he had expressed back in the 2007 interview. Sitting in a restaurant in his hometown of Tzahala, a neighbourhood in north Tel Aviv, he said, referring to the Internet and the World Wide Web:

Press ‘enter’ today and you are connected to the world; that’s the good news. The bad news,” he continued, “is that in the new age of instant connectivity, too many Jews in the Diaspora have become disconnected – from their religion and their community.”

While the majority of Jews today live in democracies enjoying unprecedented freedom, “it has not come without a price. Too many have become alienated, a challenge to Jewish leadership the world over.”

This remains a challenge that as Israel’s 11th President, Isaac “Bougie” Herzog can pursue with the full weight of his office.

From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A youthful relaxed then Minister of Diaspora, Society and the Fight Against antisemitism, Isaac Herzog being interviewed by the writer at a restaurant in north Tel Aviv in 2007. (photo D.E. Kaplan)






While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Bolt from the Blue and Bennett Bolts

Opinion

By David E. Kaplan

What we don’t get done fast, won’t get done at all,” was the talk of the coalition builders – Messrs. Bennett, Lapid & Co.  That was early May when Israelis were dropping into restaurants before they were dashing to bomb shelters.

Lapid and Bennett knew they must form a coalition government quickly – or not at all.

It was ‘not at all’.

They weren’t fast enough against what most lawyers are familiar from the Latin – novus actus interveniens (“new act intervening”) that disrupts a chain of causation.

That new act came literally ‘out of the blue’ descending from  Israel’s cloudless blue summer sky when rockets from Gaza landed in the country’s capital – Jerusalem. The coalition efforts of Messrs. Bennett, Lapid & Co. were as much a target of the rockets from Gaza  than any physical location as was quickly revealed when far more disruptive than the rubble in the capital was the political fallout – the disintegration of what would have been ISRAEL’S FIRST EVER ARAB JEWISH COALITION AGREEMENT, only several days away from signing. Whatever one’s political allegiance, this would have been monumental. It went up in a puff of proverbial smoke. A direct hit.

Facing the Future. (l-r) Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid , Yamina chief Naftali Bennett and Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas  (Photo: Yoav Dudkevitch, Elad Gutman, Yaron Brenner)

From Hamas and Iran’s vantage – the war  – in terms of  important ‘targets’ – was won on Day 1.

In the wake of a changing Middle East with Israel’s increasing regional acceptance and a country “to do business with” following the game-changing 2020 Abrahams Accords, Iran and Hamas were on the back foot. These developments were anathema to Gaza and Iran and the last thing they wanted would be to seal this deal of Israel’s increasing integration in the region was a political rapprochement between Jewish Zionist and Arab parties joining together in a coalition to form the next government of the Jewish state. This would have been an affirmation of gale force winds moving in a direction that horrified Hamas and Iran and had to be stopped at any cost!

An affirmation amounting to an abomination, Iran ordered and Hamas pulled the trigger.

So, in answer to those always quick to blame Israel:

Whose fingers were on the trigger initiating this 11-day war?  

And when one examines the consequences, the Director of UNRWA, usually no friend of Israel admitted  – to the outrage of Gazan citizens  – that the IDF strikes were “precise”:

So yes, they didn’t hit – with some exceptions – civilian targets.”

Exceptions not the rule unlike the Hamas rockets that were AIMED at Israel’s civilian population.

So, again, irrespective of one’s politics, can anyone argue that had an Arab party been part of a future Israeli government it would not have endeavoured to pursue the interests and needs of the Arab community in Israel as well as offering counsel on all issues pertaining to their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank and Gaza?

Far more afraid of this than Israel’s intransient right wing was Hamas and Iran – hence the rockets. The pending evictions in Sheikh Jarrah over a  property dispute between title owners and occupants of a few homes  – although galvanizing passions in opposition – was a matter resting with the courts and not the causa belli. In legal matters, parties seek redress in the court, not commission hitmen!

In truth – it was the cover – to passionately inflame and justify the war.

It worked with the support of the international media.

Times can create surprising bedfellows. After it was reported Mansour Abbas (left) and Naftali Bennett (right) met for the first time, the reactions on Twitter from the right and the left were not long in coming. 

And although Bennett would soon bolt, Abbas displayed grit and resilience. On the very day the rockets began – 10May – it was reported in the morning local media that despite the unrest in Jerusalem, the Islamist Ra’am party of Mansour Abbas was still expected to actively back a unity government led by Yamina chief Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, providing the key backing that the pair needed to build a coalition. In return, the emerging government would honor a list of Ra’am demands that would meet the needs as listed by Abbas of the Arab and Bedouin communities in Israel.  By day’s end, the rockets and the ensuing unrest in Arab town and villages across Israel derailed the coalition as Bennett pulled out announcing that he was no longer willing to be part of a “change government” to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Poised to become Israel’s next prime minister in a “rotation” arrangement with current opposition leader Yair Lapid – Bennett nevertheless bolted!

The deal was always contingent on bringing an Israeli Arab party – Ra’am, led by Knesset Member Mansour Abbas – into the coalition and only days before, both Bennett and Abbas seemed ready to sign on the dotted line.

Looking for ways forward together. Mansour Abbas of Ra’am (left) meets with Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, April 19, 2021 (Courtesy)

Then came the rocket war with Gaza and the brutal and bloody street fighting throughout Israel between Jewish and Arab extremists and Bennett telling reporters:

 “I am removing the ‘change government’ from the agenda.”

Destination Israel. Amidst a civilian area, rockets are launched from Gaza Strip towards Israel on May 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Abbas on the other hand said:

 “I am not giving up on future cooperation. It could be that these incidents emphasize the need for true partnership with understanding, initiating together.”

One positive note, President Biden said that contingent of US support for the rehabilitation of Gaza, any reconstruction aid would be provided in partnership with the Palestinian Authority and not with Hamas, which the United States labels a terrorist organization.

This is a powerful message to the international community and sound global leadership.

So who knows, maybe there will be more bolts out of the blue and not in the shape of rockets?

True Colours. The Gulf-Israel Women’s Forum brings children draped in the flags of Bahrain, Israel and the UAE to Jerusalem’s Old City, precisely the optics that Hamas and Iran want to prevent – with ROCKETS!  (photo credit: ISRAEL HADARI)






While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)

China’s One Tweet Too Many!

The tweet of the ‘Grim Reaper’ is a for Jews a Grim Reminder

By David E. Kaplan

China and the USA are in major strategic competition and constantly maneuvering for one-upmanship. Fair enough, but why bring Israel and the Jews into  this quarrel? After all, Chinese investment in Israel has grown significantly in recent years, especially in the fields of software, IT services, and electronics. According to 2018 data from the World Bank, Israel imports the most goods from China ($10.4 billion), with the U.S. a close second ($10.2 billion), and China is the second biggest destination – following the U.S. – for Israeli exports ($4.8 billion).  And despite sound concern and strong opposition from the USA, has Israel not agreed for a Chinese company  –  Shanghai International Port Group –  to run the new Haifa port for the next 25 years?

So while China ranks relatively low on the Anti-Defamation League’s rankings of anti-Semitic countries, it thus came as a surprise that the Chinese Embassy in Japan tweeted  – albeit later deleted – an anti-US meme with strong antisemitic and anti-Israel imagery.

Grim and Grotesque.  The offensive cartoon tweeted from the Chinese Embassy in Japan depicting the partnership of the US and Israel in bringing death and destruction to Muslim counties – beware!

The tweet featured a cartoon image of a Grim Reaper draped around in an American flag and inflicting death with his scythe emblazoned with the Israeli flag of the Star of David.  For those less acquainted, the Grim Reaper is a common enduring image over many centuries of a skeletal figure, usually shrouded in a dark, hooded robe and carrying a scythe to “reap” human souls. It’s eerie, disturbing and frightening!

In the offending tweet, the reaper appears knocking on a door labeled ‘Egypt’  having left a trail of Muslim blood behind after having ‘visited’ through the other doors in the image – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Libya, and Syria. Now if China is so heavily invested in the Middle East including Israel, why sow discord?

While China – through its embassy tweet –  may feel it is justifiably retaliating against the U.S. in its competition for world leadership by warning of the dangers of American democracy, but why bring Jews and Israel into this ‘picture’ by emblazoning on the reaper’s scythe the Jewish Star of David?

It only gets worse. The tip of the scythe is dripping in Muslim blood and the caption in Japanese reads:

If the United States brought ‘democracy,’ it would be like this.”

In other words,  it’s a warning from the Chinese embassy:

Beware of the allure the USA because beneath the veneer, you Muslim countries will receive death and destruction at the murderous hand of  Israel.

This was reminiscent of a Nazi German cartoon circa 1938 depicting the Jews as an octopus encircling the globe.

As reported in the New York based Jewish newspaper, The Algemeiner, the cartoon was featured on several extremist websites and proved popular with white supremacists and Holocaust deniers. The damage was done!

Role Model for China. Nazi propaganda which often portrayed Jews as engaged in a conspiracy to provoke war, depicts here a stereotyped Jew conspiring behind the scenes to control the Allied powers, represented by the British, American, and Soviet flags. The caption reads, “Behind the enemy powers: the Jew”. (Circa 1942. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Helmut Eschwege)

When Israel’s Ambassador to Japan, Yaffa Ben-Ari called her Chinese counterpart, Cheng Yonghua, last Friday saying that “the cartoon demonized Israel”, Yonghua responded that he had not noticed that Israel was part of the image. It is true, the Star of David appears small in relation to the size of the US flag but  the horrific and bloody image draws the viewer closer, and while the U.S. is depicted as the agent of death, Israel and Jews by appearing on the scythe are seen as the instrument of death. Together, “Big Satan” and “Little Satan” are graphically portrayed as cunning, conniving mass murderers of the innocent and vulnerable.

Sounding the Alarm. Israel’s ambassador to Japan, Yaffa Ben-Ari, Ambassador who called her Chinese counterpart in Japan about its Embassy’s antisemitic tweet.

This is something Israelis have become accustomed to seeing in official Iranian social media and on banners at pro-regime mass rallies in Teheran – not from China!

Despite Cheng Yonghua’s ‘failure to notice’ the detail  of the Israel-Jewish connection to the cartoon from his embassy’s website, an hour after the call, the tweet was deleted. It may also have resulted

From Israel’s Foreign Ministry Deputy Director-General for Asia and the Pacific Gilad Cohen contacting the Chinese Embassy in Israel to inform it about the tweet.

However, despite having deleted the grotesquely offending tweet, the Chinese embassy did not tweet an apology!

The incident comes at a time of high diplomatic frictions between China and both Japan and the United States over a broad range of issues, including China’s regional territorial ambitions.

Hence many Japanese Twitter users responded angrily to the tweet, some including the famous June 5, 1989 photo of a man standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square. What they failed to respond to  – whether they did not seem to notice or take issue  – was the antisemitic element!

Is This What China wants to be Associated With? German antisemitic cartoon from 1938, using Octopus symbolism of Jewish tentacles  stretching over the entire globe.

Jews need little reminder of the existential danger of cartoons as part of Nazi propaganda to win the support of millions of Germans in a democracy and later in a dictatorship to facilitate persecution and ultimately genocide.

We need to be vigilant and respond.  Its not acceptable to say “We did not notice” like the Chinese ambassador, because to do nothing is to wait until it’s too late!







While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)

Decked out in Blue and White

By Rolene Marks

I love this time of the year in Israel. The country is transformed into a blue and white celebration as the roads are lined and national buildings festooned with Israeli flags. There is a festive atmosphere as many decorate their balconies and cars with flags and of course, barbeques are sold out – all in preparation for the national holidays, Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day).

This year as the country starts to recover from the global pandemic we are acutely aware of all that has been lost.  The feeling of celebration is a lot more subdued and pensive this year, many still fearful to gather in large groups but also immense gratitude that we are coming out of this difficult year – and for our world leading vaccination rollout.

This year our beloved country turns 73. Israel is several thousand years old but the modern state was founded in 1948. She wears the lines of her history with grace and integrity and a cheeky sense of humour. At times this is punctuated with a deep sadness and if you look a little closer, sometimes you can see a tear in her eyes.

It is no coincidence that the national holidays fall very closely to each other.  It was intended that way so we are aware of the price that we have paid to have this country. We are reminded of the pain of our past and the sacrifices of the many that ensure that we continue to live in our vibrant but flawed democracy. There is nothing Israelis value more than life and this is demonstrated with such heart around these holidays.

This week we commemorate Yom Hazikaron – Memorial Day for soldiers and victims of terror followed the next day by Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day. Last year, Israelis like many around the world were in lock down and this placed a heavy burden on bereaved families who were unable to visit the graves of the loved ones. Thank goodness this year, we have the go ahead to visit cemeteries and to have gatherings to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut. We can return to our favourite national pastime (besides engaging in robust argument!) – the barbeque.

 This Yom Hazikaron we will mourn 23 928 who have fallen in defense of the state and hundreds of victims of terror. Every year, we immerse ourselves in remembering the lives that we have lost but also gratitude for their service. Their names; and the names of the wars and operations are etched in memory – the War of Independence, the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the wars with Lebanon, Operation Cast Lead and the many others.

Their names are seared in our hearts.

And there are those whose names we will never know but whose valiant acts of bravery are the reasons that we enjoy the freedoms that we do.

At 20h00 a mournful siren will announce the start of Yom Hazikaron, followed by a ceremony at The Kotel (Wailing Wall) in Jerusalem. The time for remembrance and reflection begins.

Yom Hazikaron inspires in us a sense of awe and creates an incredible sense of solidarity amongst Jews around the world, but it is here in Israel where the emotions are seriously heightened. Our soldiers are not uniformed strangers who serve, but our children, spouses, colleagues, parents, friends and lovers.

They are the people we love.

Yom Hazikaron is also a day of gratitude. Few words can express how grateful we are for all who protect us on land, sea and air. Our brave warriors, these lions of Zion are our guardians and protectors. We are proud of them; we embrace them, and we love them.

There is nothing more important to Israelis than life. We revere it and we revel in it. And it is on this solemn and heartbreaking day that we are reminded of its fragility.

And then the whole mood of the country changes from one of somber memorial to that of celebration!

From the north to the south and everywhere in between, Israelis begin to celebrate!

One of the most special moments is the annual fly over of the IAF featuring planes throughout our history. This is a highly anticipated annual event and this year will be viewed with a lot more excitement and sentimentality because it couldn’t happen last year.

On this 73rd year of Israel’s Independence we have much to celebrate. Extraordinary achievements, historical peace deals, triumph over adversity and the temerity to face our ongoing challenges with the strength and gusto that has come to characterize the Israeli spirit.

We will continue to wear our blue and white with pride!

Am Yisrael Chai!







While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)

And Then They Came for Us

Big Tech censorship is hurting the freedom of speech.

By Rolene Marks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The words Zionism may not be immune.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The question is when will this end?





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

Hot Air to Hot Stuff

Back to the Polls in Israel as Voters Wade through the Waffle

By David E. Kaplan

During an election campaign the air is full of speeches and vice versa,” said the American historian Henry Adams. A descendant from two former US presidents – John Adams and John Quincy Adams –  he should know!

This March, Israelis will be voting in another general election!

That will be FOUR in TWO years, that is more than the number of times I have been to movies over the same period!

Rather than an “all-star cast”, we have the “usual suspects”to determine our future. And as to the final ‘scene’, it will again be reminiscent of American tag wrestling where men clamber into the ring mouthing menacing threats before pulvarising anyone in their way and we call this ‘delightful’ process –  “coalition building”!

If it were a movie, how would one describe it : tragedy, drama or comedy?

Whatever; we are now subjected to our 4th season in this tragic, dramatic or comedic charade and hope – or pray – that we don’t have a 5th season soon. 

As for the rhetoric we can expect from our candidates seeking our ‘precious’ votes, I am reminded  of the words from Macbeth “ full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Walk On By. People walk by election campaign billboards showing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left), alongside the Blue and White former party leaders, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on April 3, 2019.
(AP / Oded Balilty 2019 ©FILE)

 

Ins and Outs

With always additions to the ‘plot’ in the shape of new parties and personalities, voters always hope that ‘new kids on the block’ will survive into electoral adulthood. Last time serious aspirant for PM, Benny Gantz and his Blue and White party are now blue and black – not expected to make it into the next Knesset.

Adding his hat into the “ring” this time round is Tel Aviv mayor, Ron Huldai heading a new centre-left party called The Israelis and who may just spice up the race with a proven record of ‘getting the job done’.

Huldai promises to present a “clear alternative” to the ideologically disenfranchised Israelis who feel they have no home in the current political set up.

We will lift their chins and bring back their hope…. it is high time to present a clear alternative,” he said.

He has the talent, drive and is fueled by that increasingly rare attribute –  “values”.

Exasperated. The leader of Israel’s Blue and White party, Benny Gantz, saying he cannot form a coalition government, making a third election in a year more likely. Now were heading for a fourth!

Meeting the Mayor

I recall my interview with Huldai back in 2009 after he was elected for a consecutive third term of Mayor of Tel Aviv, the same year that marked 100 years since the establishment of Israel’s first, modern Hebrew-speaking city. He had reason to be proud.

Ten years ago,” he told me, “the city was on the verge of bankruptcy. We made a real turnaround. Apart from balancing our budget within six years, we trebled our spending on public works.”

It showed back then in 2009  as the image of “the city that never sleeps” was evident from shoreline to skyline.

He went on. If businesses and banks were once leaving the City, “These days they are tripping over each other as they scout for premises.

A decade later, Forbes in 2019, ranked Tel Aviv the 2nd best city in the world and in 2020 – for the third year in a row – Tel Aviv took in more new immigrants than any other Israeli city. Huldai had more than a hand in steering his city to its attractive status.

Shifting his Sights. Aspiring to national politics, Mayor Ron Huldai standing at Dizengoff Square in central Tel Aviv.

I recall that on the far wall opposite the Mayor’s desk in his office – overlooking Rabin Square – hung a large painting of a group of people standing on a desolate beach. The distance between the painting to Huldai’s desk was only five metres.  The distance in time between the subject of the panting and the mayor sitting in his chair was one hundred years. Noting my interest and pointing to the painting he said, “There – they are our first residents; our city founders, 60 families. They called their new town Ahuzat Bayit (“Housing Project”) and after a year renamed it Tel Aviv (“Spring Hill”).”

After a long ‘winter of discontent’ with Israeli politics, can we realistically hope for a Spring?

Change of Seasons

One could be excused for thinking that the “Big City” is in the Mayor’s blood.

It’s not!

Huldai was born and bred on kibbutz Hulda from which he takes his surname – Huldai. A former combat pilot, he was decorated for his exploits during the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Prior to retiring after 26 years in the Israel Air Force with the rank of Brigadier General, he had been the commander of two of Israel’s largest Air Force bases. Tellingly, Huldai points out that “at only 51 square kilometres, in size, Tel Aviv is smaller than my old base and yet look what is packed into it. With over 1700 bars and pubs, thousands of restaurants, a new Waterfront at the old port, the nightlife is unbelievable. This place never shuts down. It’s a city on a treadmill.”

The metaphor may well apply to the Mayor, who now in 2021 aspires to entering national politics.  

Mayors on the Right Track. Then London mayor, Boris Johnson ( right) and Tel Aviv Ron Huldai (left) cycle down Rothschild Boulevard in downtown Tel Aviv. (Photo via Facebook)

Back to School

I recalled it illuminating Huldai relating about visiting a school that morning, before our interview, “to meet its new principal.” Schools are places where Huldai naturally feels at home. Following in the footsteps of his parents who were both educators, Huldai, after his military service, served as principal of Tel Aviv’s prestigious Gymnasia Herzliya, the first Hebrew speaking school in Israel. He continued, “After my meeting with the principal, I walked through the playground and joined a bunch of kids playing matkot (beach bats). I asked if I could join in?” and the next minute was showing them his lesser known talents. This is what Huldai clearly enjoys doing, connecting with his city’s citizens of all ages.

Time for Change. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai (left) and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn at the announcement on Huldai’s new party, December 29, 2020.

Hanging Out

Intrigued as to where in Tel Aviv the Mayor likes to enjoy ‘time out’, he mentions  – apart from the beach – a well-known coffee bar.

“Any reason for this one?” I asked.

“Sure, its popular with the locals,” he replies.It’s like the Knesset. People are drinking coffee, eating pastry and discussing politics.  And not quietly either! Very noisy, just like the Knesset. It’s wonderful. It reminds me of Golda Meir’s observation, when she quipped – “I am the Prime Minister of a country of three million Prime Ministers.” Everyone in Israel is well informed and knows better how to run the place. It’s an opportunity for me to connect with people and tap into their thinking.”  

Of course, whenever he enters the place, he says, “the talk usually changes from national affairs to local issues and they have questions I’m expected to have the answers.

Hardly surprising.

Having “answers” to the concerns of people should be on the minds of all who seek office. Listing the values that his party will champion, Huldai includes:  

safeguarding democracy and the justice system, create socially-minded reforms, care for small businesses, promote women’s and minorities’ rights, and oppose religious coercion and rampant violence in the Arab community”.

Illuminating City. Tel Aviv municipality lit up for gay pride. Under Huldai’s mayorship, Tel Aviv has become one of the most popular holiday destinations for LGBTQ travelers, with the city home to a plethora of LGBTQ bars, gyms, beaches and hotels, as well the largest Pride parade in the Middle East and Asia.

Urging Israelis to vote for his party as a “home of values,” he  points to the values he said he has brought to Tel Aviv-Jaffa, a city now the envy of the world, where Jews and Arabs, Orthodox and secular, straights and LGBTQ live together “without hatred and fear.”

He has described Tel Aviv as “a lighthouse city – spreading the values of freedom, tolerance and democracy to the world.”

I for one wish him luck. I like the job he has done in Tel Aviv; may he now have an impact on the future of the nation. And for sure, Huldai can expect the patrons at his favourite coffee bar to have a lot more questions!




While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)

Kristallnacht Comparisons

By Rolene Marks

There is a startling new trend emerging in the media. Commentators wishing to make a point or push a political agenda are resorting to Holocaust comparisons, in particular Kristallnacht. It is abhorrent and trivializes the experience of the victims of the Holocaust and survivors.

During Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, a synagogue burns in Siegen, Germany. November 10, 1938. (courtesy of Shamash: The Jewish Internet Consortium.)

Several months ago it was CNN anchorwoman, Christiane Amanpour, who drew the comparison between Kristallnacht and the Trump administration.

“This week 82 years ago, Kristallnacht happened,” Amanpour said in the monologue. “It was the Nazis’ warning shot across the bow of our human civilization that led to genocide against a whole identity, and in that tower of burning books, it led to an attack on fact, knowledge, history and truth. After four years of a modern-day assault on those same values by Donald Trump, the Biden-Harris team pledges a return to norms, including the truth.”

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour says she regrets equating President Donald Trump’s tenure to Kristallnacht, an attack on Jews in Nazi Germany seen historically as the Holocaust’s launch.

This resulted in an out pouring of condemnation from Jewish organisations and individuals who were understandably appalled. Amanpour apologized for “juxtaposing the Trump administration with Nazi crimes’ but the gauntlet had been lowered, paving the way for others to do the same.

“I observed the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, as I often do. It is the event that began the horrors of the Holocaust. I also noted President Trump’s attacks on history, facts, knowledge, and truth. I should not have juxtaposed the two thoughts. Hitler and his evils stand alone, of course, in history,” she continued. “I regret any pain my statement may have caused. My point was to say how democracy can potentially slip away, and how we must always zealously guard our democratic values,” Amanpour added.

But there it was. Once the comparison was out and despite the apology, it gave the greenlight to others to follow suit.

Following the violence that took place in Washington DC when a violent mob stormed the Capitol Building, social media platforms have cracked down and removed far-right individuals and groups like QAnon and The Proud Boys from their platforms. They have also cracked down on US President Donald Trump, shutting down his Twitter profile, Facebook and YouTube pages and others. What is strange is that the genocidal Ayatollah Al Khameini from Iran who routinely denies the Holocaust and calls for the eradication of “cancerous” Israel is still allowed a platform. Tech giants Apple, Google and Cloud technology, AWS have also removed platforms like Parler, long seen as a stage for far right rhetoric. The cyber world is purging what they see as far right hate speech. Pity they aren’t purging some anti-Semites….

Some took to the airwaves and to Twitter to lament.

Former Republican Congressman for Iowa, Steve King (known for making racist comments in the past) and Fox News host, Jeanine Pirro, both compared the de-platforming of alt-right voices from social media to Kristallnacht.

“I have lost 8,000 followers on this Twitter account in one day. Apple, Google, Facebook, & others have cancelled many conservatives. Last night was cyber god’s Kristallnacht!” King wrote on Twitter. Um, no.

Jeanine Pirro remarked on air, “They gave us a taste of this pre-election when they suppressed the Hunter Biden story, and now that they’ve won, what we’re seeing is the kind of censorship that is akin to a Kristallnacht,” she said. Sigh.

Pirro tried to qualify her statement. “Although book burning started earlier, Kristallnacht included the destruction of Jewish stores, homes & synagogues containing rare Jewish books & Torahs. My reference was in context of books. The Holocaust was the greatest hate crime the world ever tolerated. I abhor all violence,” she wrote.

Fox News host former New York State judge Jeanine Pirro calls Parler backlash “akin to a Kristallnacht” days after the deadly attempted coup on Capitol Hill.

Fox commentator, Glenn Beck has likened it to a “digital ghetto”. I have no words.

You would think they would know better. Former Governor of California and Terminator icon, Arnold Shwarzenegger, in a recent speech made the comparison of events in Washington DC to Kristallnacht. While he was careful to acknowledge Kristallnacht and explain it in historical context, his speech made me very uncomfortable with the reference. Both the Capitol attack and Kristallnacht, he argued, were the actions of violent groups motivated by lies from their leader. The mob that approached the Capitol, urged on by President Donald Trump earlier that day,  chanted that the election was stolen from him, while Kristallnacht was the work of a group Schwarzenegger called “the Nazi equivalent of the Proud Boys” (a far right, antisemitic group) who responded to the antisemitic libels put forward by Adolf Hitler and his ministers. While the former Governor made some very poignant and powerful points about democracy, invoking Kristallnacht was in the worst possible taste.

In a video posted to Twitter, Arnold Schwarzenegger compared the riot at the Capitol last week to Kristallnacht saying  “My father and our neighbors were misled also with lies, and I know where such lies lead.”
 

What was Kristallnacht?

Kristallnacht also known as the Night of Broken Glass, was a pogrom against Jews carried out by SA (Stormabteilung) paramilitary forces and civilians including Hitler Youth throughout Nazi Germany on 9–10 November 1938. The German authorities looked on without intervening, in fact they encouraged it. The name Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night”) comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings and synagogues were smashed, looted and burnt to the ground. The pretext for the attacks was the assassination of the German Diplomat, Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old German-born Polish Jew living in Paris. Jews were forced to pay for the damage incurred to their property.

Jewish homes, hospitals and schools were ransacked as attackers demolished buildings with sledgehammers. Rioters destroyed 267 synagogues throughout Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland. Over 7,000 Jewish businesses were damaged or destroyed and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. British historian Martin Gilbert wrote that no event in the history of German Jews between 1933 and 1945 was so widely reported as it was happening, and the accounts from foreign journalists working in Germany sent shockwaves around the world.

Citizens of Austria, where Arnold Schwarzenegger grew up, watch in Graz as the Jewish cemetery’s ceremonial hall burns. (US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Dokumentationsarchiv des Oesterreichischen Widerstandes)

Kristallnacht stands alone as a historical event, steeped in hatred that was the precursor to the destruction of two thirds of European Jewry in the Holocaust. The Jews of Europe were hunted down and marked for murder, regardless of age, gender or social strata but simply because they were Jewish. To be Jewish meant you were sentenced to death. There is absolutely no comparison of this to having your social media profile shut down because of your political leanings.

What these comments expose is a glaring ignorance and trivializing of not just the Holocaust and the historic experience of Jews, but the current climate where antisemitism is rising and where Jews are often the targets of not just the far right but the left as well and this is prevalent on social media.

One thing remains clear, the need for Holocaust education has never been more important.