To my Breslov and Balfour Brothers and Sisters

….And to all brethren who prioritize acting upon their beliefs and desires at the risk of spreading COVID-19 by flouting the regulations

(Courtesy of the Times of Israel blog)

By Richard Shavei-Tzion

I feel your pain!

Having to desist from the sacred acts which you have been performing zealously for decades and which define your lives, seems intolerable.

Passion is a potent component of the human experience. Without it, there would be no oomph to life. It is the catalyst for great love and joy, spirituality and depth, but it can drive hatred and war, destruction and death. None of us have the monopoly on fervour. We do not share Muslim and Christian beliefs, but we can agree that their adherents are as ardent as us in their devotion. Yet this year St. Paul’s Square, the Catholic Holy of Holies, stood empty through Easter as the Pope conducted virtual video services. The Hajj in Mecca was performed by 1,000 symbolic pilgrims rather than the regular two million worshipers.

My Breslov brothers, we have something in common. For many years, we have met at the airport as I too set out annually to far off lands for the High Holidays, to sing the melodies and invoke the magnificent liturgy which has become wrapped around my soul. I will sorely miss this pilgrimage of sorts, made all the more painful by our local rabbi’s judicious decision to strip our services of much of its sublime poetry. While I cannot comprehend the spiritual value of the Rabbi Nachman experience, ordinarily I would defend your right to participate in this ritual as long as it did not impinge on the freedom and safety of others.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men pray close to the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in the Ukrainian city of Uman. (File photo: Reuters/Konstantin Chernichkin)

As for my brothers and sisters who gather en mass every Saturday night outside the Prime Minister’s house in Jerusalem’s Balfour Street, I admire your commitment. While I am not a great proponent of taking to the streets, I do support your fundamental democratic right to protest and commend your efforts in pursuit of your political principles.

However there are times when we are faced with the competing right to personal freedom and the societal need for order and control. We must all sacrifice one for the other to a degree. Without balances, we can have no liberty to pursue our dreams, mutual and personal.  There are times when matters of life and death, tilt the scales, when sacrosanct individual privilege is outweighed by the right to personal safety, to the protection of life itself. It is our communal misfortune to be living in such times, when the gathering of multitudes has become the seed of suffering and death.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, June 27, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While there are those who claimed at the beginning of the pandemic that they had the “Ear of God” who said that “He would protect the pious”, it turns out that God’s word got lost in the translation. Finally, now that many of the pious of all religions have been stricken by the plague, we must accept what Paul Simon has known for decades. “God only knows, God makes his plan. The information’s unavailable to the mortal man.” (Slip Slidin’ Away.)

As for our Balfourites, you will agree that actualizing your license to protest thereby exposing thousands of heavy breathers to contact with one another has not managed to tilt the balance of power an iota. In addition, perhaps gathering outdoors reduces risk but it does not eliminate it.

So many people have sacrificed so much in compliance with the harsh decrees imposed upon us. If there is great disappointment in being deprived of a seminal once-a-week or annual event, consider the anguish young couples have experienced as their once-in-a-lifetime wedding dreams have been shattered. (That is of course unless you are related to the Belz Rebbe or an insider in the celeb scene in Tel Aviv or family of an important hamula.) Think of the heartache of parents, siblings and offspring who this year on Remembrance Day, with great, silent forbearance, forfeited their holy right to visit the graves of their loved ones who have fallen in the defense of our nation, in order to protect us all.

For the first time since Israel’s founding, military cemeteries on Israel’s 2020 Memorial Day to the country’s war dead were blocked off due to Covid-19 with people asked to pay their respects in private. Seen here  was the normally busy market in Jerusalem during the sound of the siren.

Representatives of both your camps point fingers at each other, reminding us of the other side’s transgressions. Please understand, not only do two wrongs not make a right, they also make fertile ground for disease and hardship.  This is not the time to assert one’s claims to freedom of individual expression based on the other’s wrongdoing. This is the moment for cooperation and compromise in a cause that unites us all.

“One Voice” A Gift to Israel. A first-of-its-kind video 15 Choirs from around the world sing “Oseh Shalom” in honor of the State of Israel’s 70th Anniversary. Music: Roman Grinberg. Concept and production: Richard Shavei-Tzion

Imagine the impact you Breslovers would make by declaring that you were ceding your holy experience, just this once, in favor of the safety of the House of Israel. Consider the Kiddush HashemPikuach Nefesh and Or Lagoyim, three of the loftiest Jewish principles achieved by one act of Loving Kindness.

I believe Rabbi Nachman would agree.  

Think of the material support you would accrue for your heartfelt cause if you Balfourites announced that henceforth your protests would be implemented through social media rather than on the streets, in order to ensure the wellbeing of the thousands of attendees and by extension, every citizen in the country.

What a great paradigm of leadership and unity you would all display. How many healthy souls and hearts could you win over to your great causes?

Gratitude in the Corona Age. 60 People share their gratitude for special moments and to special people

Our decrepit leaders have raised the “Divide and Rule” maxim to a new level. Defy them.

Think bigger than the confines of your communes to our greater commonality and we will all be blessed.

[The author has been traveling for many years to serve communities in the Diaspora over the High Holidays]


You’ll Never Walk Alone. The Ramatayim Men’s Choir, Jerusalem sends a blessing in this time of Carona



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Richard Shavei-Tzion is a widely published poet and is the author of “Poetry in the Parasha” and the Prayer for the Preservation of the Environment. His occasional articles on human and Jewish topics have been published around the Jewish world and his photographic images have been displayed in solo and group exhibitions Richard is the director of the Ramatayim Men’s Choir. He manages commercial property and a medical center in Jerusalem.


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

“In The Mood”

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

By David E. Kaplan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asks Scott:

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

Adhering to the facts on the ground, Scott continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Off the Mark to Off-line

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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




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

A New Dawn in Dubai

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

By  Michael Jankelowitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food for Thought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Says WZO Chairman, Avraham Duvdevani:

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

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

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

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




About the writer:

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

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

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

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

By David. E. Kaplan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abu Ghosh in the 1940s.

Earthquakes and Aftershocks

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

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

Political aftershocks inevitably followed.

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

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

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

Cloak & Dagger

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

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

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

Wonderful host, but an incorrigible liar!”

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

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

This has not happened – yet!

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

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

Absolute?  If ever a misnomer!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fortune Favours the Bold

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

By  Rolene Marks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh dear! They do seem a bit put out!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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









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

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

Storming Statues

Frenzied removals from their proverbial pedestals

By David E. Kaplan

Well, there should be some comfort in that it is less harmful to fell an enemy made out of stone or metal than human flesh but where and when will it end?

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World’s protector needs protection. Statue of Winston Churchill boarded up ahead of Black Lives Matter protest in London.

What heroes of history that inspired at the time a statue, can structurally stand the test of time? If the pulling down of General George Washington’s statue, as occurred last Thursday in Portland, Oregon and that a statue of Sir Winston Churchill in London’s Parliament Square had to be boarded up, then few kings or queens, generals or their soldiers, philosophers, writers or poets, adventurers and explorers or even religious leaders are safe!

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How the mighty have fallen. A statue of George Washington was pulled down from the lawn outside the German American Society in Northeast Portland on June 18, 2020. Rebecca Ellis/OPB

Maybe Israel is thankfully free from attack here! Apart from a bust of David Ben Gurion at Israel’s international airport and a comical statue of the first Prime Minister on a beach in Tel Aviv doing a handstand in a bathing costume, there are no official statues of its leaders or anyone else for that matter.

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Only time BG had his head in the sand. Statue of Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion doing one of his famous handstands on the Tel Aviv beach.

Of course, statues are not just material but are the embodiment of ideas and beneath the veneer in the current climate, lies the heinous legacy of slavery. However, to Israelis and Jews, coupled with the systemic racism embedded in American society is the concern of the spike in global antisemitism. It is hardly surprising why there is increasing immigration of Jews to Israel from those regions where it is most felt.

From a parochial perspective one can ask if there is a global calling for the pulling down of statues, why mostly focus on the 19th century; why not start say in the ancient land of the Pharaohs? There are the statues of Ramesses II, considered the principal villain of the Exodus story. Unlike the pha­raoh “who knew Joseph”, the pharaoh of Moses was cruel and vindictive and when Moses asks him to release the Israelites, Pharaoh makes the slaves work even harder. (Exodus 5:7-8). So evil was this Pharaoh, it took no less – according to the Bible –  God’s intervention to free the Jews from bondage, annually celebrated on Passover each year.

Should we expect today’s Egyptians to tear down statues associated with ancient slavery?

Of course not!

There are no shortages of statues in England to “the hammer of the Scots”, King Edward I who in 1290 ordered the expulsion of the entire Jewish community from England. The edict was only overturned during the Protectorate more than 350 years later, when Oliver Cromwell permitted Jews to return to England in 1657.

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“Hammer of Scots” To ‘Expeller of Jews’. Statue of Edward I “Longshanks” near Burgh by Sands who expelled the Jews from England in 1290.

Do the lives of Jews matter enough that there should be a demand for the removal of the statues of King Edward I and some of his royal predecessors who had little problem persecuting the vulnerable Jewish community of their realm?

In Germany there is no shortage of statues to the influential and esteemed religious thinker Martin Luther – the seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation but who would clearly qualify today as a racist.

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Close to home of the ‘Black Live Matter’ movement is this bronze statue in Washington DC of Martin Luther who advocated setting fire to Jewish homes, synagogues and schools.

In a paragraph from his “On the Jews and Their Lies” , Luther deplores Christendom’s failure to expel the Jews. Moreover, he proposed “What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews”:

First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools … “

Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed.”

Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them

Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb …”

Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside …”

Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them …”

Seventh, I recommend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow …”

Considered a powerful influence this 14th century thinker on the 20th century Nazis, should not the statues of Luther who advocated the felling of Jewish life, so too be felled?

Of course not!

While for a time, the French crown was happy to have Jews in its lands paying taxes, however, that all changed in 1394 when Charles VI suddenly demanded they leave the country once again. Permitting a brief period to sell their possessions, the Jews of France were given the royal boot and there was hardly a Jewish presence in the land again until the 1700s, when Jews fleeing violence and discrimination further East arrived in Alsace and Lorraine. By the eve of the French Revolution, there were roughly 40,000 Jews in France.

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Royal Boot. Statue at the Palais de Justice in Poitiers of King Charles VI who expelled the Jews of France in 1394.

Should the many statues of Charles VI inspire a storming today for the people of France that over two centuries ago lead to the ‘Storming of the Bastille’?

Of course not!

What of the statues of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon who sponsored the exploration of the Americas but also spearheaded in 1492 the expulsion of the Jews of Spain with the edict known in Spanish as Decreto de la Alhambra, Edicto de Granada? Only in December 1968, was this vile edict formally and symbolically revoked!

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End of an Era. Statue in Madrid of Isabella of Castile who together with her husband, Ferdinand of Aragon ordered the expulsion of Jews from Spain.

Should their statues not go the way of today’s discredited racists?

Of course not!

Systemic racism as with antisemitism should be addressed seriously not cosmetically. It is easy to ‘attack’ statues, but to assail deep-rooted hatred is far more complex.

But this is what is required!

The images in the media of the storming of statues reminded me of that famed dystopian novel by the American writer Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 that so intrigued me as a teenager. First published in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 presents a future American society where books are outlawed, and “firemen” burn any that are found. Irrespective of its content, all history and knowledge recorded in books are to be destroyed. Could ‘suspect’ statues face a similar fate?

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Hot Stuff. As resonant today as it was when it was first published in 1953.

Personally, as a lover of history – I enjoy being exposed to the statues of historical characters as I do exploring castles and cathedrals, fortresses and forts as well as the battlefields of Waterloo, Crecy, Agincourt, Towton, Yorktown, Gettysburg and closer to home – Megiddo and the Old City of Jerusalem. There will always be reason to find fault with the relics of the cataclysmic encounters of the past, but should we expunge their presence?

Monumental Milestones

It was illuminating however, to discover gestures of monumental understanding by Israel following its wars with Jordan and Egypt with whom it now enjoys peace agreements. Soon after the 1967 Six-Day War ended, East Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents wanted to erect a monument to the Jordanian soldiers who had died in the battle for the city.

Faced with this request was Meron Benvenisti, the new Israeli administrator over Jerusalem’s eastern sector and later a Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem. He understood that there was formidable opposition to the idea among the Jewish residents of the recently unified city. As he later explained, “it was as if relatives of World War II German Luftwaffe pilots killed in bombing raids over England were demanding a memorial in Trafalgar Square.”

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Honouring Jordan’s Fallen. The monument for the Jordanian soldiers who died during the 1967 Six-Day War near the Muslim Cemetery along the Eastern Wall of the Old City near Lion’s Gate in East Jerusalem Israel.

Navigating delicately through a labyrinth of emotion and sensitivities, Benvenisti approved the erection of a simple marble obelisk commemorating the Jordanian soldiers who died defending what had been the Jordanian-held sector of the city. Benvenisti hoped that it would help reduce intercommunal hatred and consolidate coexistence and while that may not yet have materialized, the monument still stands at the northeast corner of the Old City.

No less remarkable is that not far from the “Ad Halom” Bridge in Ashdod, stands a memorial to the Egyptian soldiers who died invading Israel in 1948. It was constructed as part of the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, where  Egypt agreed not to dismantle and to protect two existing memorials in the Sinai to fallen Israeli soldiers.

As was pointed out in a 2012 Times of Israel article:

  “Imagine a memorial in Paris to the German soldiers who died invading France in May of 1940 or a statue honoring the 65 Japanese airmen who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor.”

It would be unthinkable!

Nevertheless, an obelisk of red Egyptian granite with an inscription honoring the Egyptian war dead, in four languages – English, Hebrew, Arabic and Hieroglyphics – stands for all to see and honour.

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Pursuance of Peace. The obelisk memorial to the fallen Egyptian soldiers from 1948 in Ashdod, Israel is an inspiring monument to creative diplomacy and reinforcing the quest for peace.

Despite the hatred and threatening nature imbedded in the rhetoric of Israel’s once neighbouring enemies, Israel is proud to honour with these monuments, the dead of those Jordanian and Egyptian soldiers it once fought against.

There will be no dismantling in Israel of these monuments. Rather, they serve as structural reminders on our landscape to preferably pursue peace rather than war.

Maybe the only contribution I can safely add to this complex debate is to suggest that statues or monuments in the near future should be to our heroes in the medical profession who during the current Corona pandemic are risking their lives and of their families. These are men and women who soldier on not to HURT but to HEAL.

In this, we may find a global consensus.

 

 

 

 

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

 

Streetwise

Street signs are telling lessons in Israel’s history, revealing friend from foe

By David E. Kaplan

There is good reason why there are streets in Israel named after the 33rd president of the United States, President Truman – even a moshav ‘Kfar Truman’ three kilometres east of Ben Gurion International Airport –  and not his predecessor the 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR).

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True Supporter. Initially called Bnei Harel (Sons of Harel), in 1950, this moshav in central Israel was changed to Kfar Truman, in honor of U.S. president Harry S. Truman who had supported the establishment of the State of Israel.

It is no careless omission but one of deliberate intent!

No less a statesman than Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion said of Harry Truman, “as a foreigner I could not judge what would be his place in American history; but his helpfulness to us, his constant sympathy with our aims in Israel, his courageous decision to recognize our state so quickly and his steadfast support since then has given him an immortal place in Jewish history.”

No such words could ever have been said about his predecessor.

FDR’s antipathy towards Jews both in word and deed is well documented. However, most revealing is Rafael Medoff April 5 article in The Jerusalem PostThe Saudis, the Jews and FDR’s dog” where one is left in little doubt that FDR – unlike his successor – would not only have NOT supported the creation of the Jewish state of Israel – he would have opposed it!

And this is with full knowledge of the enormity of the Holocaust!

Medoff’s article reports on FDR’s grandson, Hall Delano Roosevelt,  working for an Iowa-based public relations firm – the LS Group – on a Saudi-financed public relations campaign to celebrate his late grandfather’s pro-Saudi policies. The campaign anchors on the 75th anniversary of FDR’s meeting with King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud that took place on February 14, 1945 on the deck of the USS Quincy.

It was not the optics of the meeting between the US president and the first monarch and founder of Saudi Arabia who ruled from 23 September 1932 to 9 November 1953 that was alarming; but the substance of the conversation between the two leaders as it pertained to Jews.

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Forging Friendships. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud aboard the USS Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake north of the city of Suez, Egypt on Feb. 14, 1945 discussing Saudi-US relations and obstructing the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. (AP file photo)

Taking notes at that fateful meeting was William Eddy, the US ambassador to Riyadh. He wrote down the remarks of the two leaders in the form of a “Memorandum of Conversation”, which both the President and the King signed. One of the major topics of discussion was:

Whether or not the Arab world could accept the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine

Roosevelt asked the Saudi King for his view of “the problem of Jewish refugees driven from their homes in Europe.”

Ibn Saud responded that he opposed “continued Jewish immigration and the purchase of land [in Palestine] by the Jews.” In supporting his position, the King noted that “the Arabs and the Jews could never cooperate, neither in Palestine, nor in any other country.”

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Reenacting The Relationship. Celebrating in February 2020 the 75th anniversary of the meeting between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Abdul Aziz on board the USS Quincy in 1945, Hall Delano Roosevelt, grandson of FDR (right), participates in the meeting’s reenactment on the USS Farragut. (photo by Huda Bashatah)

The US President  seemed to share this assessment as he “replied that he wished to assure his majesty that he would do nothing to assist the Jews against the Arabs and would make no move hostile to the Arab people.”

Hardly nuanced, this meant  – no future Jewish state in Palestine.

The King suggested that the Jews should be “given living space in the Axis countries which oppressed them,” rather than Palestine.

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The Notetaker. US Marine Corps Col. William A. Eddy seen here kneeling left of King Abdul Aziz and President Franklin D. Roosevelt aboard the USS Quincy in Great Bitter Lake, Egypt. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)

Horrifying by its insensitivity was FDR’s response to Ibn Saud:

Willian Eddy writes:

The President remarked that Poland might be considered a case in point. The Germans appear to have killed three million Polish Jews, by which count there should be space in Poland for the resettlement of many homeless Jews.”

Roosevelt colludes with the Saudi monarch of  “resettling” Jews on the burial site of murdered European Jewry!

Several weeks after the meeting, on March 10, Ibn Saud wrote to Roosevelt, requesting the President oppose any support of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

FDR replied on the 4th April by recalling “the memorable conversation which we had not so long ago” and reaffirmed that “no decision [will] be taken with respect to the basic situation in that country without full consultation with both Arabs and Jews” but further asserting that he “would take no action, in my capacity as Chief of the Executive Branch of this Government, which might prove hostile to the Arab people.”

In other words – no support for a sovereign Jewish homeland.

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Retired US Marine Corps Col. William A. Eddy. (Getty Images)

Roosevelt, who was quick to recognize the “INFAMY” of Japan when it attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941 killing 2,403 Americans, failed to see the “INFAMY” of the Nazis and their European collaborators in the murder of six million Jews when he addressed a joint session of Congress on March 1, 1945 and said:

I learned more about the whole problem, the Muslim problem, the Jewish problem, by talking with Ibn Saud for five minutes than I could have learned in the exchange of two or three dozen letters.”

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The Jewish Problem. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (at desk) addresses a joint session of Congress on March 1, 1945 when he astonishingly said: “I learned more about the whole problem, the Muslim problem, the Jewish problem, by talking with Ibn Saud for five minutes than I could have learned in the exchange of two or three dozen letters.”

Even members of his own party were astounded on his reliance of a sworn enemy of the Jews as his expert advisor. Colorado Democrat Sen. Edwin Johnson sardonically commented:

 “I imagine that even Fala would be more of an expert.”

‘Fala’ was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s dog!

The following month, FDR suddenly died in office and President Truman was sworn in as the 33rd president of the USA. Three years later, on May 14, 1948, just after 6.pm, Charlie Ross, President Truman’s press secretary read aloud the following:

 “Statement by the President. This government has been informed that a Jewish state has been proclaimed in Palestine….The United States recognizes the provisional government as the de facto author­ity of the new State of Israel.”

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Seeing The Light. President Harry Truman receiving on 5 May 1951 in the Oval Office, a Menorah as a gift from the Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion (center) during his visit to the US with Israel’s Ambassador  to the US Abba Eban looking on.

This is why as Israel pursues its journey on the ‘road’ ahead, there will always be streets in the Jewish state called Truman and never one named Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

 

Shifting Sands

Saudi Writers To Palestinians: Accept Trump’s Peace Plan Or “You’ll Regret It Later”

By David E. Kaplan

While British Prime Minister Boris Johnson lavished praise on Donald Trump’s vision for Middle East peace during the PM’s question time in the House of Commons, far more telling was the ‘Shifting Sands’ responses from Saudi Arabian intellectuals and journalists.

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In 1960, a British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan spoke of a ‘Wind  of Change’ blowing across the continent of Africa. Could it be that in 2020, another such transformative shift  could be blowing across the Middle East, emanating from the Arabian Peninsula –the birthplace of the Islamic prophet Mohammed?

While and to be expected, there is no change of the solid Saudi support of the Palestinian people and their quest for statehood, nevertheless, the official Saudi position on U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” was one of support, albeit qualified.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry reaction was clearly revealed in the Riyadh-based, pro-government Saudi daily newspaper, Al-Riyadh  in the January 29, 2020 edition:

the Kingdom appreciates the efforts made by President Trump’s administration to develop a comprehensive Palestinian-Israeli peace plan, and it encourages the start of direct peace negotiations between the sides under U.S. sponsorship, in which any dispute regarding details of the plan will be settled. This, in order to advance the peace process and arrive at an agreement that will actualize the brother Palestinian people’s legitimate rights.”

This is a marked shift in attitudes from the past and a clear indication to move the process forward.

To  encourage the Palestinians and offer reassurance that they were not being abandoned by the kingdom’s “qualified” support for the plan, the Saudi press reported in Al-Watan that King Salman spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas by phone, assuring him of “the Kingdom’s steadfast position vis-à-vis the Palestinian cause and the rights of the Palestinian people.”

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Over and above the royal position, most illuminating is the support the peace initiative has received from the Saudi media, as well as telling tweets by intellectuals and journalists.

Noting the famous line by famed Israeli diplomat, Abba Eban that “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”, a number have been calling on the Palestinians not to miss “this opportunity” and to approach the plan with a positive mindset.

The articles and tweets recall that every plan offered to the Palestinians has been worse than the one preceding it and that if they reject the ‘Deal of the Century’ now, they may well long for it in the future.

Hereunder are extracts from articles and tweets:

Ibrahim Al-Nahas in the Saudi daily Okaz

Hasten not to reject and examine the plan carefully is the advice to the Palestinians from Political Science lecturer at King Saud University and Saudi Shura Council Member, Ibrahim Al-Nahas.

In an interview with the Saudi daily Okaz, Al-Nahas expressed that “Trump’s Peace Plan,’ or, as media call it, the ‘Deal of the Century,’ is an important stage in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process in particular, and in the peace process in the Middle East in general.” While this “does not mean that it should be accepted without discussion of its goals and objectives,” he added that “all the Palestinian elements must examine the plan carefully, and especially while keeping in mind past experience [with previous proposals]. ……”

He advised that Palestinian decision-making should not be linked “to regional elements [such as Iran, Qatar, or Turkey], as some Palestinian factions and movements do,” and “cease the accusations of treason voiced by some of the Palestinians and Arabs against Arab countries that maintain advanced ties with the U.S.”

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Ahmad Adnan in Okaz

Saudi journalist Ahmad Adnan wrote in his column in the Saudi daily Okaz located in Jeddah.

The PA has made negative statements against the deal. I maintain that at this stage it needs a friend to be honest with it, telling it and advising it: Sign the deal and then curse it as much as you want, day and night. The Palestinians have in decades past specialized in missing golden opportunities because of [their] mistaken assessment of their capabilities and of the crisis.”

After listing a number of examples of these ‘missed opportunities”,

Adnan writes that “In actuality, the Palestinian cause is no longer the Arabs’ main cause – not because the Arabs have given up on Palestine, but because this matter [i.e., the Palestinian plight] is mirrored in all Arab states, as we have seen in Syria, for example. The Palestinians will hear the merchants of the Palestinian cause creating a great uproar and will discover too late that this uproar is aimed at exploiting them in order to take over and destroy the region.”

Perhaps the merchants of the [Palestinian] cause will manage to torpedo the Deal of the Century, and, as we today bemoan the [missed opportunity of the] Arab peace initiative, we will tomorrow bemoan the Deal of the Century – while the Palestinians, unfortunately, descend towards the fate of the [American] Indians…”

 Khaled Al-Suleiman in Okaz

Concerned that if the Palestinians reject the deal that they will be compelled to relinquish even more, Khaled Al-Suleiman wrote in his column in ‘Okaz:

The history of the Palestinian cause has proven that reality is the greatest enemy of the Palestinians. The price of Palestinian and Arab rejection of every peace plan was [only] more concessions, beginning with the partition plan through the Clinton plan to the Trump plan.

It should be noted that the Palestinian decision-making has always been subject to pressure and control by  Arab regimes that harmed the Palestinians as much as Israel did, if not more.

Today, the Palestinians again find themselves facing a peace plan that gnaws away more of their rights and sets them against options even more bitter than those in the past. But rejecting [the plan] this time does not mean that the [next] will carry a lower price-tag. International reality is now presenting the Palestinian cause  with the worst possible scenario, since it is weak, isolated, and ignored. Therefore, the Palestinians’ options today are more limited, and cannot tolerate unrealistic positions.

“The Palestinians must calmly examine the reality of their struggle with Israel and of their relations with the Arab [regimes], so as to draw up a position that will serve their interests, not the slogans of others. All the Arab regimes that have in the past traded in their cause, and that continue to do so, live within their own independent borders, far from any state of war with Israel. Their support for the Palestinians consists of nothing but hollow slogans and incitement, for which the Palestinians pay with their spirit, blood and money.”

Muhammad Al-Osaimi in the Saudi daily Al-Yawm 

Noting that  the Palestinians have missed many opportunities over the years, columnist Muhammad Al-Osaimi in the pro government Arabic daily newspaper Saudi Al-Yawm daily, argues that had they grasped them, they would have been better off today. He therefore counsels they should not be quick to reject the ‘Deal of the Century’:

Who knows how many opportunities [for peace] the Palestinians have had in the past 30 years? Had these opportunities been realized, they could have been today in a better situation as a people and as a country …… Now they face another opportunity that they are rejecting, and that they may  long for in another five or 10 years.”

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Al-Yawm daily

 

Truth On Twitter

“The Day Will Come When The Palestinians Yearn For It” is the message from Saudi intellectuals on Twitter.

Saudi intellectual Turki Al-Hamad tweets:

The Palestinians are making a big mistake by not agreeing to the American peace plan. I mean, what’s the alternative? The Palestinians have missed numerous opportunities because of slogans that led [them] astray and strategies of ‘all-or-nothing.’ The end result was nil: continued occupation, loss of Jerusalem, erosion of large parts of the West Bank, and an internal Palestinian struggle harsher than the conflict with Israel.”

He followed with this further tweet:

Previous opportunities were better than this one, but their answer was always no. This was when the Palestinian issue headed the global agenda. Today, the Palestinian issue has been cast into oblivion, and the Palestinians have no other alternative – unless the chaos of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad or the powerlessness of the PLO can be considered options.”

And in a subsequent tweet::

Politics is the art of the possible, and what is possible today is the proposed American plan. Should the deal be rejected, the alternative will be the continued erosion of the West Bank territories. Then the Palestinians will say ‘If only we had agreed’ – just like with the previous plans.

It’s time for the Palestinians to change their behavior so that it serves the interests of their people…”

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Saudi Intellectual Turki Al-Hamad who earlier criticised the Palestinians for forfeiting an important opportunity by boycotting the Bahrain Economic Workshop in 2019. (Watanserb.com, March 10, 2019)

A former columnist for Okaz and the Al-Arabiya website , Saleh Al-Fahid, tweeted:

The Palestinians’ rejection of the Deal of the Century reminds me of their rejection of the 1947 Partition Plan and of all peace plans proposed to them since then. Each time they were offered less, and they pointlessly yearned for the previous plan. I am worried that if they reject the Deal of the Century, the day will come when they yearn for it …”

Another Okaz columnist, Abd Al-Rahman Al-Lahim tweeted criticism of the Palestinian organisations opposing the deal:

Imagine you had a hen that laid golden eggs. Would you relinquish her? Never. You would make an uproar so as to fill your pockets. This is the situation of the Palestinians who trade in the Palestinian cause and reject peace…”

Changing Landscapes

Away from Saudi Arabia, no less illuminating of changing perceptions on Israel was Al-Jazeera presenter Faisal al-Qasim tweeting that “Zionism was the most successful project in the twentieth century.” Despite risking the wrath of his 5.5 million followers for “his kind of praise for the Zionists”, al-Qasim was not deterred.

He tweeted:

Who are the most advanced, developed, democratic and successful … Israel or the Arab regimes?

…..The majority of Arabs, if they want to insult you, they describe you as ‘Zionist,’ knowing that the most successful project in the past century and the present is the Zionist project, while all projects of the Arabs, especially Arab nationalism, have failed. Before you use the word Zionist as an insult you must first reach the shining sole of Zionism.”

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Al-Jazeera presenter Faisal al-Qasim.

A Far Cry

These words reveal changing mindsets.

They represent a far cry from the crazed anti-Israel rhetoric of the 1960s fueling Egyptian strongman, Gamal Abdel Nasser to unite the fractious Arab states behind him leading to the Six Day War. Now, in 2020, that anti-Israel fanaticism has begun to dissipate, and a new somewhat more positive attitude toward the Jewish state has begun to emerge not only among rulers eager for allies in confronting Iran, but also among segments of the Arab populace across the Middle East eager for peace and prosperity.

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Fueling mass hysteria against Israel in the sixties, President Gamal Abdul Nasser is seen here delivering a speech in Aleppo on February 17, 1960