Crazy coalition adds to PM Netanyahu’s woes – and ours!

By David E. Kaplan

When out-of-control wild fires are extinguished by the same crowd that started them, does beg the question:

 “What is going on here?”

It’s crazy, but that is exactly what the Prime Minister of Israel has had to do in his first month of office – put out fires started by his own coalition partners!  

With major threats and issues facing the country – from existential to economic –  look what the PM has had to waste time on:

  • There was first the Religious Zionist Party (RZP) proposed law – championed by the party’s National Missions Minister Orit Strock – to enable businesses and service providers to REFUSE to provide services on the basis of “religious belief” such as a doctor declining to give treatment to a LGBT person. Denounced as discriminatory by politicians from the opposition and members of the medical profession, it was left to the PM to administer the coup de grâce by releasing a written statement and video recording assuring that all persons – irrespective of sexual orientation – would be treated equally.

Doctor No. Contrary to the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath, Religious Zionism lawmaker Orit Strock, proposes bill permitting doctors to refuse treatment to patients on religious grounds. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Next, and literally ‘off the rails’, was United Torah Judaism party chairman, Yitzhak Goldknopf demanding that Transportation Minister, Miri Regev order a halt to construction and maintenance work of Israel’s railways on Saturdays. He claimed that the work is a violation of Shabbat (the Sabbath). Never mind the people who need or want to travel on Saturdays or the vital urgency to complete the national rail electrification project for the betterment of the nation’s economy. In the meantime – although unclear on details – the PM stepped in and an interim compromise was reached that construction was ‘back on track’.
Political Trainwreck. Despite the warning of service delays if maintenance is pushed to weekdays, Haredi Housing and Construction Minister, Yitzhak Goldknopf nevertheless demanded end to Shabbat train work. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
  • Then, stepping onto the proverbial pitch was Micky Zohar, the new Culture and Sport Minister who declared  that his ministry would cease funding the previous government’s “Israeli Sabbath” initiative to provide free entrance to a large number of cultural institutions on Saturdays. The only free day in the week for many, it was left again for the Prime Minister to intervene and referee his sport’s minister and assure the public  that “the project would continue.”
Culture Minister gets Bad Review. The decision of Israel’s new culture minister Miki Zohar to cuts funding for events on Shabbat that included free entry to historic sites and subsidies for theatre performances was met with instant opposition. (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
  • Next for the PM to face off was with his ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) coalition partner who sought to introduce a bill to separate men and women bathing at springs located in the country’s national parks. Drawing outrage from opposition lawmakers, calling the move a further step towards establishing “a religious state”, the natural spring issue was anything but ‘natural’, and the PM felt compelled to ‘spring’ into action assuring the country that there would be no change in policy.
Coalition to Collision. Antagonising opposition lawmakers was a coalition partner’s bill to gender-segregate natural springs like Ein Lavan Spring in the Jerusalem Mountains. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

With the PM having to neutralize the crazy urges of his coalition partners – assuring the nation as well as those observing anxiously from abroad that “I am the pilot; not the co-pilot” which is hardly an edorcement for democracy – is it hardly surprising that people across the country have taken to the streets in protest. These are not disgruntled voters who have not accepted the results of the past election. They accepted the election results because they accept DEMOCRACY. What they have NOT accepted is that the results would lead to a process that dismantles democracy.

Mischief Makers. Religious Zionism party member, Simcha Rothman (l), who has been a key supporter of Justice Minister Yariv Levin (r) to significantly restrict the power of the High Court of Justice, has his sights now set to prevent the Histadrut  – the country’s largest trade union – from joining protests against judicial overhaul. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

One wakes up each day and wonder where or what cherished value or institution is this government going to attack next! Not satisfied with a full-on assault on the Supreme Court – the sole institution that provides an ultimate check and balance on a one-tier legislature (the Knesset) and the prime reason for the protests, next up in the crosshairs is a bill to restrict the striking rights of labour unions. Submitted by far-right Religious Zionism party member, Simcha Rothman, who has been a key player leading the government’s efforts to significantly restrict the power of the High Court of Justice, this bill would prevent the Histadrut  – the country’s largest trade union – from joining protests against judicial overhaul. Super serpentine is Rothman. Because the bill is so designed to strip protections from a labor union that strikes in solidarity with a cause that does not directly impact their line of work, this would prevent the national Histadrut labor federation from joining the nationwide protests against the government’s judicial overhaul plan.

Accepting none of this is Histadrut chairman Arnon Bar-David who issued a statement asserting that the bill would not pass.

Exercising the right to strike is one of the main tools to protect economically vulnerable populations, and I will not allow any party to harm union workers.” Also blasting Rothman’s bill is his immediate predecessor in the Constitution Law and Justice Committee, Labour MK Gilad Kariv, who claimed it is “only phase one of a long-term plan” to place the conservative, right-wing Kohelet Forum think tank in control of the country, “where every man is for himself.”

Quo Vadis. The country braces for “what’s next”  from the Prime Minister (center) and his extreme right-wing coalition partners set on eroding the country’s democratic ethos. (Amir Cohen/Pool via AP)

Every man for himself” is contrary to the ethos of the idea of Israel. As each Saturday night mass protests attests, with the soul of the country at stake, people are relying on the soles of their feet to make their message heard.

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).


Both are captives – but so are we

By David E. Kaplan

Americans may well ask just how many deals did House speaker Kevin McCarthy strike with the extreme far-right to finally grab with glee; the prized gavel?

What more could he offer beyond his last pair of socks. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) places his hand over his mouth as he stands inside the House Chamber during the voting for a new Speaker of the 118th Congress. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

The sorry outcome was that while at the same time the USA marked the second anniversary to the January 6 insurrection, on the House floor, Republican lawmakers – who either supported the rioters or helped breathe life into former President Donald Trump’s “big lie” about the 2020 election – were on their nefarious path of not for “We the People” but “We for ourselves”.

Uproar in the House. The voting for the House speaker was tense as right and extreme right of the Repulican Pary battle for supremacy. In the end, ‘deals’ to the extreme faction assured Kevin McCarthy’s ascension to the ‘Hollow Crown”.

Sound familiar?

Israelis can similarly ask:

How many deals did its Prime Minister have to make to hold onto perpetual power?

It is only too evident when we ‘expose’ ourselves to the news, becoming a daily diet of political depravity. Today’s tarnished gem was reading the headline news in The Jerusalem Post that was nothing less than a threat:

Israel will have ‘no government’ if Deri can’t be minister, Shas MK warns

The report goes on to say that Shas MK Ya’acov Margi said he would recommend Shas’s Council of Torah Sages dismantle Israel’s government if Aryeh Deri can’t be a minister.

Deciding Deri’s Fate as Minister. Shas party members sitting in court to hear petitions demanding the annulment of the appointment of Shas leader Arye Deri as a government minister due to his recent conviction on tax offenses at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on January 05, 2023. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

“Dismantle” the Government? For Aryeh Deri? The same Aryeh Deri who in 1999, was convicted of bribery, fraud and breach of trust; and given a three-year jail sentence. In January 2023, Israel’s Supreme Court  ruled that Deri was not allowed to hold a position as a cabinet minister due to his conviction for tax offences, hence the proposed Deri Law which would amount to nothing less than what judiciously-minded MKs are saying is “state-sanctioned corruption”.

While Aryeh Deri as a convicted felon, a fraudster, who should have no right to hold public office or be anywhere within striking range of public funds, now has his salivating pack of supporting party hacks attack the High Court in media interviews, in what appears to be a coordinated threat that the Knesset would respond to a ruling against Deri by curbing the High Court’s powers.

Deri, who is currently serving as Vice Prime Minister, Minister of Health and Minister of the Interior and Periphery, says:

 “I will not resign, no matter what the High Court rules.”

Future Uncertain. Currently serving as the Vice Prime Minister, Minister of Health and Interior, Aryeh Deri has been disqualified from holding office by the High Court that will have implications for the future of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and the judiciary itself. (Reuters/File Photo)

Are these the characters we should get accustomed to representing us in parliament, never mind holding top positions in government that effect the destiny of the Jewish state and hence the Jewish people?

Is it any wonder that our steadfast guardian – the Supreme Court – is under threat with the proposed legislation conjured by a legal sorcerer by the name of Yariv Levin, who goes by the misnomer of  ‘Minister of Justice’?

As I wrote last week in my article ISRAEL UNDER THREAT FROM  ITSELF, we need to protect and not undermine the Supreme Court because unlike other democracies such as the US and UK that have two tiers of government offering checks and balances, Israel has only one house – the Knesset; and so the Supreme Court is all “We the People” have against an a reckless and unchecked legislature.

We cannot afford its weakening hence the mounting protests with last Saturday nights protest in Tel Aviv attraction over 80,000 people and many more protests to follow. Busses are being arranged from all over the country to bring people to these protests.

And who else is Bibi beholden to? It is all very well our wordsmith PM trying to reassure a sceptic citizenry with  “I did not go to them; they came to me,” when we see what he assembled to form his contrived coalition.

Another of his “came to me” coalition partners is Religious Zionism Party leader MK Bezalel Smotrich, who in a recent recorded conversation is revealed saying to a businessman that he would actively take measures against the LGBTQ+ community and that it would not hurt him politically. Smotrich can be heard saying, “Sephardic, traditional people, you think they care about gay people? Nobody cares. They say that they don’t have a problem with them, ‘you think I care if you [Smotrich] are against them?”

Is this who Bibi has to be in bed with to survive politically? The question is rhetoric – we know the answer – it is emphatically “yes”.

No wonder Yesh Atid party leader MK Yair Lapid says:

 “The Smotrich tapes remind us time and time again how weak Netanyahu is and how dangerous it is that he is held captive by racist extremists.”

The sad truth is that if Netanyahu is a “captive”, so are we to this insane trajectory in our politics. This is not Zionism but the antithesis of Zionism.

Until recently, journalist, commentators and academicians were quick to voice their view that there is no ‘left’ in Israel anymore.  Well, who are the protesters congregating in their thousands to protest against this extreme Likud right-wing government?

Come Hell or High Water. It was both as over 80.000 people braved the intense rain to protest in Tel Aviv against judicial overhaul, viewed as undermining Israel’s democracy.

Actually, they may not be ‘left’ in a political sense, but all that is “left” of a sensible citizenry who see the present regime as a ‘clear and present danger’ to our future.

As I write, I read that the High Court on Wednesday 18 January 2023 has ruled 10-1 in a “Bombshell” decision that Deri cannot be a minister. He cannot retain his positions as Interior and Health minister! With all the threats, how now will Deri and the Prime Minister respond? Members of Deri’s Shas party have warned they may quit Netanyahu government if he is forced out. Clearly, this is not the last round but one of many more to follow.

There is now a war between competing visions for this country. Whose vision will prevail?

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).


A cautionary  tale from the South African experience

By former acting Judge, Lawrence Nowosenetz

Is it such a big deal that Knesset can overrule the Israel Supreme Court? That is the plan, it seems, of the new Likud government. The motives are cloaked under the mantle of judicial reform, but this may be a thinly veiled pretext for bringing to heel a judiciary which is an obstacle to the political machinations of the government of the day to protect or give immunity to elected politicians who actually have already crossed the line of the criminal law such as the new Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Health Aryeh  Deri a convicted fraudster  or newly elected Prime Minister Netanyahu who is  currently facing criminal  prosecution.  It remains to be seen whether by the time this is published, the unthinkable  has already have been done.

Courting’ Disaster. Architects of the proposed judicial overall, Justice Minister Yariv Levin (l) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

While some on the Israeli street may think this is not a big deal – indignantly claiming on social media that the legislature reflects the will of the voters and why should unelected judges undermine Knesset  laws – the answer lies of course elsewhere –  in the doctrine of democracy that is not simply based on rule by an elected majority. It is far more complex than simply crass majoritarianism!

Democracy is far more.

It has evolved into a system of checks and balances. This is the idea  which forms the separation of powers of a Government consisting of three elements – the legislature, executive and judiciary. Each has limits and no single part is all powerful or sovereign. This is the model of modern constitutional democracy. Parliament may not exceed its authority. It is bound by the founding laws and values of the State and universal human rights (natural law) . These norms are found in the constitution of the state but are not necessarily written. The US, and many Western states have written constitutions which empower the courts to pronounce on the validity of legislation. A notable exception is England which has an unwritten constitution developed over centuries. Although its parliament is sovereign, it was historically set on course  by the Magna Carta of 1215, which acknowledged the now firmly embedded concept that no man – not even the king – is above the law.

Sending Clear Message. Over 80,000 Israelis protest in Tel Aviv against judicial overhaul. (Jack Guez/AFP)

This evolved over time into the idea of the  rule of law.  England presents a unique example of a constitutional democracy with parliamentary sovereignty which is not abused. Israel has no formal constitution but its founding document – the Declaration of Independence – and the body of basic laws are its constitutional values and norms. This is a grey area which is  in danger of being misused. There is no Bill of Rights which gives courts testing powers over legislative excesses or human rights abuses. The courts should be the guardians of the rule of law and should be independent  of political interference. 

The depravity of parliamentary sovereignty is illustrated by the constitutional crisis which occurred during  the 1950’s in what was then the Union of South Africa. In 1910 the Union of South Africa was formed by the fusion of four provinces, the Cape and Natal being former English colonies with the Orange Free State and the Transvaal being former Boer republics. The Cape Colony was the only province in which a group of non-White people of mixed ancestry called  Coloured  had the franchise. The South Africa Act of 1910, being the constitution, contained a clause guaranteeing  the Coloured right to vote in parliament. This provision was called an entrenched clause. It could only be changed by a 2/3 vote of both houses of Parliament  (a bicameral body consisting of the House of Assembly and the Senate) sitting in a joint session. The National Party, the Apartheid government of the day, viewed the Coloured vote as an obstacle to White rule and pushed through legislation called the Separate Representation of Voters Act which sought to remove Coloured voters in the Cape from the common voter’s role and provide a separate mechanism for the election of four representatives on a separate voters roll. The new law  did not however command a 2/3 majority in a joint sitting of  both houses.  Mr  Harris and a group of aggrieved Coloured voters in the Cape  challenged the validity of this law in court as Parliament had violated its own procedures. The Appellate Division, then the highest court, struck down the overriding legislation as illegal, being not in compliance with the constitution. The government  was most dissatisfied with this decision and then passed the High Court of Parliament  Act to constitute Parliament as a court and with the power to override the courts of law and of course the adverse judicial decision in the Harris case. However, Harris again approached the courts to remedy the  High Court of Parliament law. The Appellate Division again struck out the legislation as a sham as Parliament is not at all a court of law and has no judicial powers. A constitutional deadlock was reached. 

Abuse of Power. Defying rulings of South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal (Appellate Division), a predatory parliament in the 1950s pushed through legislation to remove “Coloureds” (mixed race) from the voter’s role.

This stalemate was  overcome by the National Party government  enlarging the Senate with government supporters and also enlarging the Appellate Division with the appointment too, of government supporting judges. The whole sorry saga resulted in the Coloured people being disenfranchised until 1994 when South Africa enacted its democratic interim constitution. The franchise was restored to all South Africans.   

This constitutional gerrymandering  shows the moral depravity of a government armed with untrammelled parliamentary sovereignty, determined to use its powers to maintain power and trample on civil liberties. This approach was already implanted in South Africa by Paul Kruger, prior to the era of union when he  was president of the Boer Republic of the Transvaal. He took a dim view of judicial review, considering it the  work of the Devil introduced to challenge God’s law.  Such an absolutist view harks back to the divine right of kings. This worldview had already been discredited during the Age of Enlightenment in Europe centuries earlier.  

Sign of the Times. Guaranteeing English political liberties, King John signs – under pressure from his rebellious barons – the Magna Carta (“Great Charter”) at Runnymede, a meadow by the River Thames on June 15, 1215.

Democracy has been called a fragile flower. It is easily crushed, particularly by those whose intentions are less than honourable. There has always been a tension between the executive and the judiciary. A delicate balance needs to be maintained. Laws are of general application in most cases whereas a court decision is specific to the parties before it. When legislation is used to favour  an individual, such as a politician, it ceases to be legitimate and is an abuse of power.  In the Harris case, the parliamentary process was used to overturn an unfavourable court judgment. This is a red line which should be guarded against.

Israel is at the tipping point between a constitutional democracy and an unconstitutional pseudo democracy.

About the writer:

Lawrence Nowosenetz is a retired South African advocate at the Johannesburg Bar specialising in labour law; a former senior Commissioner of the CCMA (Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration) and  served as an Acting High Court Judge in Gauteng. He has served as Chairman of the Pretoria SA Jewish Board of Deputies and in 2019, he immigrated to Israel where he lives with his wife in Tel Aviv. He retains an interest in international law.

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).


A ‘changing of the guard’ is set on changing laws  – a fear for the future

By David E. Kaplan

Israel does not have a Constitution. Nor does it have a two-tier system of government like in the US (a House of Representatives and Senate) that protects “We the People” by providing structural checks and balances.

Israel has just one house – the Knesset – but what it also has – and cherishes – is an internationally respected and sometimes envied Supreme Court that boldly protects ALL its citizens equally.  The Israeli Supreme Court is not merely a magnificent building, it also provides a magnificent service. It is ‘designed’ not only to attract each year multitudes of tourists but to safeguard for all time –  the rule of law.

Under Threat. With Israel’s Supreme Court under attack from the Netanyahu’s hard-right government, will the country’s democratic credentials suffer?

Now however there are ominous forces in play that want not only metaphorically but to literally ‘change the rules’ that will undermine our esteemed Supreme Court posing a threat to civil liberties and minority rights. They are plotting nothing less than an overhaul or more accurately, an overrule by the legislature of the Supreme Court.

Where will the checks be against a – hardly an impossibility these days – reckless legislature without the constraints of the country’s judicial watchdog – a robust Supreme Court?

Yes, Bibi and his new coalition cohorts are on the warpath against the Supreme Court and let us not be fooled by their pretentions of “protecting” democracy. If Israeli democracy needs protecting, it needs protecting from THEM – the Prime Minister and his Justice Minister – Yariv Levin! Under the facile façade of “judicial reform”, the new ultra-right Likud government want the freedom to pursue what could be reckless agendas without any judicial obstacles and to provide as well, protection and immunity to wayward politicians – starting at the top with the Prime Minister himself facing serious criminal charges and then moving down his list of ‘the usual suspects’ in his cabinet. This cabinet includes the Vice Prime Minister serving as well as the Minister of Health and Minister of the Interior and Periphery, Aryeh Deri. Deri has also served time for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, convicted in 1999. Are ‘we the Israeli people’ expected to place our trust and our futures with convicted fraudsters?

Is it any wonder the protests have begun against Prime Minister Netanyahu and Justice Minister, Yariv Levin.

These protests are not a case of the “left having lost an election that they can’t come to terms with it” as rightwing journalists daily jibe but of Israelis who love and respect democracy but now fear losing it.

Wide Awakening. Thousands turn out on a cold wintry Saturday night to protest at Habima Square in Tel Aviv against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s new government, after Justice Minister Yariv Levin unveiled plans earlier in the week to overhaul Israel’s judicial system. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The protests on Saturday night the 7 January 2023,  which drew more that 10,000 people to Habima Square in Tel Aviv – “is just one example,” writes the editor of The Jerusalem Report  in his November 9 editorial “of how a large segment of the Israeli public finds these reforms scary and dangerous. People are afraid of the loss of basic civil rights.” The editorial continues, stressing that “Combined with extreme remarks made by some members of the new government about the LGBT community for example, their concerns are not “, as the Prime Minister refutes, “baseless.”

It’s all very well that our smooth-talking Prime Minster is trying to reassure an anxious half of the Israeli population that the claims of his proposed judicial reforms will lead to “the end of democracy” are “baseless”. But are they? After all, he too was once in opposition to the very reforms he now champions.

Demonstrating for Democracy. “We will continue to fight for our democracy,” Merav Michaeli, leader of the Israeli Labour Party, tweeted from the protest in Tel Aviv attended by thousands.  (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Does Netanyahu – who boasts frequently of how “smart” Israelis are – really believe that Israelis will be duped by the self-interest assertions of a Prime Minister facing criminal charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in bed with cabinet ministers who some themselves are convicted felons or hold extreme positions? Noting the caliber of the characters Netanyahu has assembled in his governing coalition, are we really to expect that these reforms will be carried out as he asserts “responsibly” and in a “level-headed manner”?

Who is the Prime Mister kidding? Not any people I know.

And who is Netanyahu listening to? It appears only to himself, while at least one person who he should be listening to is his greatest supporter abroad, emeritus Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.

If I were in Israel I would be joining the protests,” Dershowitz told Israel’s Army Radio, referring to the protest attended by thousands in Tel Aviv on Saturday.

Asserting that “It would be a tragedy to see the Supreme Court weakened,” he cautioned that “It will make it much more difficult for people like me who try to defend Israel in the international court of public opinion to defend it effectively [in the future].”

Courting Disaster. Prepared to join the protests, staunch defender of Israel in the court of public opinion, American jurist Alan Dershowitz is troubled by the Prime Minister’s proposed Israel court reforms. (REUTERS/Amir Cohen)

It was a surprise awakening to hear Dershowitz – who has written bestselling books supporting Israeli policies and is close to Netanyahu – to so forcefully oppose the proposed judicial reforms. Dershowitz added he had informed Netanyahu of his “very strong” opposition to the reforms, warning they would also expose Israel to legal challenges by global bodies such as the International Criminal Court.

Even Israel’s president, a position largely ceremonial, has joined in the public outcry to Netanyahu’s judicial reforms. Breaking his silence on Tuesday, President Isaac Herzog  vowed to defend the country’s founding values expressing concern that the proposed reforms by Justice Minister Levin could violate the “moral compass of the country.”

Changes to Israel’s Supreme Court will be ‘supreme’ folly. At the moment the Prime Minister is not listening. It will be up to an awakening public to shout louder.

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 endeavors 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) .


Questioning the claims by the King of Jordan to Protect Christians in the Middle East

By Jonathan Feldstein

I was disappointed to read of Jordanian King Abdullah II warning Israel not to cross “red lines” on Jerusalem during a Christmastime interview on CNN.  Curious as to the nature of King Abdullah’s warning, I decided to watch the interview rather than just comment based on the politicized reports, where the headlines look for click-bait.

By way of full disclosure, I have nothing against King Abdullah.  I think he’s quite a rational, stable, and important leader, for Jordan and for Israel. A close alliance between our countries is important.

Interestingly, Abdullah II’s great grandfather, Abdullah I, moved to the region 100 years ago after he was appointed Emir of Trans-Jordan. He and his brother were rewarded with the territory of what’s today Jordan and Iraq for their loyalty to Britain. As Hashemites, they were moved from their native Mecca where the Saudi dynasty took control of the Arabian peninsula, to these new made-up entities. It was not considered an upgrade at the time, but they took what they could get. This was around the same time my grandparents came home to Israel ending, their and their descendants (my family’s) diaspora.

Twisted Tongue. Jordanian King Abdullah II in an interview with CNN claims to protect Christians in the Middle East. “But does he?” questions the writer. (Photo: Screenshot)

Regarding family, I have a lovely photo of the King’s late father, King Hussein bin Talal, and my father in the early 1990s, just before Israel and Jordan formalized a peace agreement.  My father was overjoyed to meet the King, but also because peace was coming to our counties.  I can see the skyline of Amman from my home, underscoring the geographical proximity and all the historical and modern security issues that go along with that, and I would very much like to meet King Abdullah as my father met his father. However, I must take exception with what he said.

Pursuing Peace. The writer’s father (right) on a UJA mission to Jordan, shakes hands with King Hussein at a reception hosted by the King shortly before the signing of the peace agreement between Jordan and Israel.

Indeed, King Abdullah did issue warnings. He cautioned against Jerusalem being “used by extremists on all sides,” an important comment placing himself in the middle. His criticism of Israel initially took a rare tone when he expressed, “If we continue to use Jerusalem as a soapbox for politics, things can get out of control.” Jerusalem, he continued, is a “tinderbox that if it flashes, we won’t be able to walk away from (in the near future).”

King Abdullah underscored how he wants to be perceived as a centrist, engendering sympathy by “living between Iraq and a hard place.” Yet, he warned from his own soapbox that:

 “if people want to get into a conflict with us, we are quite prepared. I like to…look at the glass half full, but we have red lines.”  

While he was not threatening a third intifada, he did toss that in as a possible consequence of crossing the “red lines”.

The “people” he was referring to were Israelis, and the red lines are related to Israel’s presence in and control of parts of Jerusalem, specifically those in which he sees himself as the ‘custodian’. The Jordan River that separates our counties is often brown and murky. So too, King Abdullah’s words were murky.  He repeated a baseless claim he has made before, that as the Moslem Hashemite leader, he’s custodian of Christian and Moslem holy sites.  In fact, he is not.  Jordan’s custodianship only applies to Islamic sites.

King Abdullah spoke of the shrinking number of Christians in the region, noting that the number of Christians is dropping under “pressure.”  He didn’t say it outright, but the pressure to which he was referring is supposedly from Israel.  That too is false.

While indeed the situation of Christians in the region is dire, around the same time as King Abdullah’s CNN interview, Israel released demographics showing a 2% increase in the Christian population in Israel.  Israel is the only area in the region where the number of Christians is actually growing. In fact, the actual pressure on Christians comes from the wider Islamic society in which they live.

But if the King is concerned about the well-being of Christians in the region, he should start in Jordan itself. Why, when I met a Christian woman visiting Jerusalem recently, she would not be photographed with me, or even in Jerusalem, for fear of herself and her ministry in Jordan being threatened. The same happened with a Christian Palestinian Arab from Bethlehem with whom I had the opportunity to do business recently.  When I suggested taking a picture, he stiffened, and he told me that could be dangerous for him in the Palestinian Authority.

Birthplace of Jesus. Will ‘Silent Night’ one day take on a more literal and ominous meaning of the state of the Christian community in Bethlehem, which has dropped from 86% to 12% in the past 60 years, following a trend across the Middle East, except in Israel, where the Christian population is increasing.

One of the most remarkable comments King Abdullah made was in reference to Islam’s reverence of Jesus as messiah. It might be surprising if the King did not have to walk that back for fear of the charge of heresy. That could prove very dangerous for him and his kingdom where he constantly has to underscore his legitimacy as a Hashemite leader of a country that is predominantly Palestinian Arab. Fortunately for the security cooperation between Israel and Jordan where Israel’s intelligence helps keep the Hashemites on the throne.

Sitting on the east bank of the Jordan River, the King said that it was the third holiest site in Christianity being the location where Jesus was baptized. I asked many Christian friends if this was true, and if so, what the first and second most holy Christian sites were. Without exception, all said that a ranking of such sites is disingenuous, and if it were legitimate, there are other sites that would be in contention for third place, fourth, fifth, and even sixth, ahead of the King’s claimed third place.  Then again, with Islam’s third holiest site being in Jerusalem but never once mentioned in the Koran, perhaps his use of the term is deliberately vague.

Others suggested that he was just pandering, trying to be perceived as the savior (pun intended), of Christians in the Middle East, placing a wedge between Jews and Christians and our shared Biblical understanding of the significance of the Land and people of Israel. His saccharine-sweet words “we are committed to defending the rights, the precious heritage, and historic identity of Christians of our region,” hardly stands up to the reality of the plight and persecution of Christians by Muslims in the Middle East.

The King’s warning about protecting the “status quo” in Jerusalem, undermines the rights of Jews and Christians who, by law, are denied the right to pray on the Temple Mount where Jordan has custodianship. Denying the Jewish right to pray at what’s arguably the most holy place in Jerusalem to Jews must be one of his red lines, and about which he sees no problem enforcing, while “defending the rights” of Christians.

Despite the Jordanian King’s claims to protect Christians and Christian sites, I was left feeling uneasy that his comments were more likely to exacerbate than ease tensions and create divisions between Israel’s Jewish and Christian communities, where there are none.

Disputing King Abdullah’s observations, a spokesperson for Christians United for Israel (CUFI) had it right when he said, “Jerusalem never knew true peace or prosperity until its liberation by Israel.”

About the writer:

Jonathan Feldstein ­­­­- President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.

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).


Watching the US Beat Iran from Jerusalem

By Jonathan Feldstein

I’m not a big soccer fan which has been a challenge living and raising my children in Israel where soccer is so central.  My father was born here, and he loved soccer, but it seems to have skipped a generation.  Nevertheless, I was enthralled watching the US soccer team competing against the Iranian soccer team at the World Cup in Qatar this week. It was symbolic if nothing else, but increased my appreciation for the sport and the players.

Given the history the US has in and with Iran going back to Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979, followed by the hostage crisis in November that year when the US embassy was stormed and 52 Americans were taken hostage for 444 days, I tend to side against Iran from the get-go.  Since then, Iran dubbed the US the “Great Satan” and Israel the “Little Satan”, and has made no secret of its intent to destroy Israel with a nuclear weapon.  Years of inept US-led negotiations with Iran to try to prevent their drive for a nuclear weapon have not only not been successful, but have left me feeling more jaded about the murderous intent of Iran’s Islamist regime.

How could I not watch the match, pitting the Great Satan vs. the little Evil Empire, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror? It was not going to settle the Iranian nuclear drive; or the evil brand of Islam behind it, but it was compelling. Sitting in the Judean mountains, the original Bible Belt, I had a number of observations as the US beat Iran 1-0.

Before tuning in, I was impressed and inspired by the Iranian team standing silently during the playing of their national anthem before a previous match.  How bold it was on the world stage, for them to join the protests engulfing Iran these past months.  How dangerous for them too. Clearly it was not spontaneous, and clearly the Iranian regime would not tolerate it again.  Word is that the Islamist regime threatened the teams’ family members back at home.  There’s nothing like the threat of imprisonment and torture to ‘motivate’ an athlete, much less a team like theirs, to play hard for their country.

Unfortunately, the Iranian regime’s threats worked, and the team sang its anthem before subsequent matches, including the one against the USA. 

Watching the Israeli broadcast, I was impressed with how much the announcers knew about the Iranian team and its players.  It struck me that as professional as they were in announcing the politically charged match, had it been an Israeli team playing, the game would not have been allowed to be televised in Iran.  Had there been an Israeli team competing against an Iranian team, the Iranians would likely not have allowed their team to compete against Israel – the Little Satan – as they have required of athletes in other sports.

I was entertained by the Israeli announcers’ use of Hebrew phrases as they highlighted the action.  After one missed goal, I thought it funny to hear the announcer say:

 “Oy, oy, oy.” 

One of the announcers was a woman. This struck me as telling as Iran would never allow that. Speaking of women, I sat intrigued watching the cameras span the Iranian fans replete with their faces painted with the Iranian flag, some of them women, and some with their hair uncovered.  It was Iran’s Morality Police – a scary component of Iran’s Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) – that arrested and murdered a young woman whose hair was showing that ignited the current protests engulfing Iran. It is somewhat ironic how female Iranian fans were cheering on their team with their hair uncovered, something that at home would have them arrested, assaulted, and even possibly murdered.

Having a Field Day. Barred from stadiums at home, Iran women support their national team at the World Cup in Qatar with hair uncovered and faces painted.

Then again, that there were women present at all was significant. If I understand correctly, women in Iran are not allowed to attend sporting events. Period. Who’d ever have thought that they’d find relative freedom in “liberal” Qatar that does not allow alcohol to be served, or freedom of religion for non-Muslims.

I reflected that the match took place on November 29, the 75th anniversary of the UN resolution to restore Jewish sovereignty to the Land of Israel. While there were good relations between Iran and Israel before the Islamic revolution of 1978, in 1947 Iran voted against the creation of a Jewish state.

I don’t imagine that it was more than a coincidence but I enjoyed the irony of the American team decked out in blue and the Iranians in white, projecting the blue and white of the Israeli flag. Would some Iranian fanatics have construed this as a Zionist plot?

Blue and White. The writer was amused at the colors of the USA and Iran teams reflecting the colors of the Israeli flag.

Before the match, US team captain Tyler Adams was chided at a press conference by Iranian journalists for mispronouncing Iran, for which he had the class and humility to apologize. Then, he was questioned about how he felt (as a black man) representing a country “that has so much discrimination against black people.”  Regarding American racism, his response was honest that “the US (is) continuing to make progress every single day.” That was classy, a great way to represent the greatness, albeit imperfectness of the United States.

Not ‘On the Ball’. Tense moments for USA’s midfielder and captain Tyler Adams (r) and coach Gregg Berhalter at a press conference as Iranian reporters diverted from usual soccer-related questions and hammered on controversial political issues that have severed the relations between the two countries.

Watching the match, the insincerity of the reporter’s question was highlighted as the multi-ethnic American team took to the field.  There were black men and white men, men with dark, blond and even red hair. Their names depicted that some were immigrants and others possibly the descendants of slaves. While not representing the full gamut of American society, they were diverse. As the match went on, it was clear that they played together as a team, as Americans mostly do despite differences.  The Iranian team was far from diverse – all Persian men with dark hair. I don’t know how many were Sunni as compared to the Shiite majority, but I doubt any represented the Azeri, Kurdish, or other minorities. It’s not the first time an Iranian (journalist or otherwise) was insincere, but it was exposed on the field.

As the match drew to a close and it was clear Iran was going to lose – which meant being eliminated from the World Cup – a few thoughts came to mind: 

-Did the team or any of its members not play their best for the symbolism of Iran losing to the US?

– What would happen with the team now? 

– Would they go home and risk arrest, or be shot for not singing their national anthem? 

– Or might they even, while in Doha, race to the US Embassy – note the irony – and seek asylum? 

Singing for Survival. Following Iranian players declining to sing their national anthem before the match against England on November 21, 2022, there were reports of the families of the team being threatened if the players fail to “behave”  – meaning singing the national anthem – ahead of the match against the USA (Photo by FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images).

It was a good, well played match.  I’m glad I watched.  It was filled with symbolism that mirrors much of what’s going on with Iran in the rest of the world. Perhaps by the next World Cup, the Iranians will have successfully dispensed with their tyrannical terrorist leadership, and bring a team to the USA where they can participate freely, and be proud of their country as they have every right to be.

About the writer:

Jonathan Feldstein ­­­­- President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.

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).


The hijab and the nuanced position of Iranian women

By Hügo Krüger

On 16 September 2022 the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in a hospital in Tehran following her arrest by Iran’s Guidance Patrol. Although the details surrounding her death has been disputed, given that she suffered from previous brain injuries (later acknowledged by her family’s lawyer), the event sparked protests and spoke to an underlying anger within Iranian Society.

Death in Custody. Protests following the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini arrested by the ‘Modesty Police” over the  Islamic Republic’s strict dress code. (Photo credit: OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)

Iranian women started protesting with the Slogan, “Zan, Zendegi, Azadi” – “Women Live, Freedom” and they were joined by the Iranian diaspora in cities like San Francisco, Toronto, Brussels, Berlin, Paris and New York. Much like the Black Lives Matter protests that swept through the United States in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd – the nuanced details of Mahsa Amini’s death no longer mattered, as the movement spoke to systemic issues within the society.

To the protestors, the Hijab symbolizes the status of women in general as Iran still upholds laws and practices like the following that are outright discriminatory.

  • Laws that forbid married women from leaving Iran without their husband’s consent.
  • Legislation that makes it difficult for women to file for a divorce as they risk losing the custody of their children to the father once the children are older than seven.
  • Laws and practices that prevent women from getting married without their father’s permissions.
  • All girls over 7 years old are required to wear a headscarf when going to school, with the practice being mandatory in public from the age of 9
Road to Revolution. Thousands of mourners shouting “Woman, life, freedom” and “Death to the dictator” walked along a road, through a field and across a river to bypass roadblocks and reach the graveyard where Amini was buried.

There are however signs of reform within Iranian society as since 2019 Iran abolished a law that prevented Iranian women who marry foreigners to pass citizenship onto their children. A 2018 survey published by Iran’s Parliamentary Research Center (PRC) showed that between 60 to 70% of Iranian women do not follow ” the Islamic dress code” strictly in public”. The report  also noted that positive attitudes to the dress code has been steady falling since 1992 and proposed the repealing of Iran’s hijab as the measure was clearly counterproductive.

The PRC also proposed repealing Iran’s hijab law as one of five approaches the state could adopt to counter waning support of the hijab, arguing that the state’s aim of getting people to embrace it could be achieved in more subtle ways.”

The debate in Iran opened up in recent times with calls for reform that included a former Iranian President, a former Mayor of Tehran, the Grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, a former brigadier general of the Revolutionary Guard Corps and a senior Islamic Cleric.

Future down the Road. The uncertainty for women in Iran is reflected in this photo of a child covering her face and a young woman riding on a bus in Tehran. (photo © Reuters)

When it comes to women, Iran is a country of contradictions, the above mentioned laws stand in stark contrast against the remarkable achievement that over 70% of Iran’s mathematics and science graduates are women, a higher proportion than in most liberal western democracies. Iranian Mathematician, Maryam Mirzakhani, was the first and only women to date to have won a Field’s Medal in Mathematics and in 2016 Dorsa Derakhshani became Iran’s first female Chess Grandmaster. She obtained the title after the Iranian Federation banned her for refusing to wear a Hijab, and her brother was punished for playing a match against an Israeli Opponent . When it comes to Sports, Iranian Female Athletes compete at an International Level and have won a series of Gold Medals at the Olympic Games. Iran’s fertility rate (usually the best proxy that economists use to measure the advancement of women) has fallen to levels below China’s thanks to rapid urbanization rate that occurred in the period following the collapse of the last Shah’s Rule.

Playing by her own Rules. A defiant 19 -year-old Dorsa Derakhshani was banned in 2017 from Iran’s national chess team for playing without wearing a headscarf during a competition in Gibraltar and accordingly switched allegiances to the US.

So why the contradiction with the hijab and other outdated practices?

Under strict Islamic Rule, the purpose of Hijab is to encourage modesty, both physically and spiritually as stated in [Qur’an 24:31].

“And tell the believing women to reduce of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which appears thereof and to wrap their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, fathers, sons, husband’s sons, brothers, brother’s son, sister’s sons…”

Despite being mandated religiously, the practice of wearing face veils varies throughout the Muslim World. Media reports often don’t distinguish between the different types of veils like the Hijab, Niqab, Burka, Chador and Dupatta. The adherence to the particular type is often a function of cultural and conservative attitudes that in certain countries, like Iran predate the arrival of Islamic Rule.

Surveys report that the practice of wearing a face veil in one form or another ranges significantly in among Muslim Women Worldwide, from a 90% acceptance rate in Egypt, to less than half in Lebanon. Even in countries with sizable Muslim minorities and strong rights for women, many women actively chose to wear the veil out of their own free will with acceptance ranging from 65% in the United States, 64% in India and more than 50% among South Africa’s university educated Muslim Women. Today only two countries, Afghanistan and Iran mandate the wearing of head scarves in public as since 2018 it is no longer compulsory in Saudi Arabia – although it is still practiced by the majority of the population.

Adherence to the practice changed throughout the last century in Iranian society. From 1936, the Shah Reza Pahlavi implemented a series of “modernisation reforms” like the Kashf-e-Hijab, that gave the police the right to rip the hijab from a women’s face. His aim was to modernise Iran and remove the influence of the Muslim Clerics in the society, but the practice ultimately backfired and emboldened the revolutionary movement.

Despite attempts to celebrate it, the Pahlavi Dynasty was cruel. The Shah ruled Iran with an Iron fist and notably with the SAVAK – a Gestapo like security force that routinely tortured dissidents of the state. In the years prior to the 1979 revolution, Iranians found escape in the Madrassas and Mosques that offered a form of congregation and solitude from the brutality of the Monarchy. The role of the Mosques became a political instrument that was used to mobilise dissident voices against the regime. Women started wearing their head scarves as a symbol of rebellion against the Monarchy.

But in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution the Hijab moved again from the positive to a negative. After adopting the constitution known as the Velayat-e faqih, the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini dictated that face covering become mandatory for women in public life to conceal their “nakedness”. His decision sparked the 1979 Women’s Day Protests, the first rebellion against the introduction of the veil. The protest had an initial moderate success, but it only delayed the Hijab’s systemic implementation. In 1980, unveiled women were refused entry into public life and by 1983, women could face corporate punishment for not wearing a headscarf. Then during the Iran Iraq War, the status of the Hijab briefly changed again as Iranian Women wore the headscarf as a symbol to get behind the war effort. It’s also worth recalling that it was ultimately thanks to Israeli Weapons and Military support that Iran could repel Saddam Hussein’s Army as at the time Israeli Intelligence regarded Iraq as a bigger threat to National Security.

Today under Iranian Law, women over the age of 9 are required to wear a veil in public and since 2005, they could be fined by Iran’s Guidance Patrol, known as the ‘Morality Police’ in the West, for not adhering to the country’s dress code. The right to enforce the dress code rule is also exerted by more than one institution that includes the infamous paramilitary Basij – an institution that is less accountable to the public. As soon as the hardliner President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad instituted the Guidance Patrol, tales of police brutality and abuse of power became evident. Powerless and humiliated citizens, who couldn’t take their anger out at the police decided in turn to chastise and attack religious women who wore the veil out of conviction.

Close Inspections Of A ‘Moral’ Kind. Morality police patrols are tasked with ensuring that women are not wearing “bad hijab”.

The behavior of the Guidance Patrols in some cases was so violent and harsh that it led to a popular backlash. But since they were connected with the police force, the ordinary people did not dare respond to them. Rather, they attack religious people who would verbally chastise them for the way they were dressed. On June 13, 2012, it was reported that a 30-year-old woman was abused in Punak, Tehran. After having chastised a woman who, according to her, was improperly wearing the veil, she was attacked by the improperly attired woman who pulled off her veil. The next day, a woman who was accompanied by her 3-year-old child was beaten by two other improperly veiled women in Khaniabad, Tehran. A few days later, a young man was beaten and wounded after chastising another man who, according to witnesses, was dressed very inappropriately.”

My experience in traveling through Iran with my wife has been that the hijab’s enforcement clearly differs from city to city and within family to family. In Iran’s religious capital Qom, it is rare to find a woman without a full chador, yet just South in Isfahan, particularly younger women preferred to wear only a headscarf. In the northern more liberal areas around Rasht and in Tehran, it’s not too uncommon to see women barely respecting the rule in public and often in restaurants or on the Caspian Sea’s beach, they simply don’t care about the Hijab.

As confirmed to me by a former journalist; Fereshteh Sadeghi; the protests in the aftermath of Masha Amini is not as widespread as reported in the western media, they came overwhelmingly from the upper classes and university students. Her observation ties in with a 2018 poll that found that many Iranians agree with the statement that “Women should wear the hijab even if they don’t believe in it”. The poll notes that the attitude and opinion is a function of geography, and therefore clearly even abolishing the law will not entirely remove the practice or eliminate the cultural pressures that exist within Iranian Society.

A Cover Up. On 8 March 1979, more than 100,000 women gathered on the streets of the Iranian capital to protest against the new Islamic government’s compulsory hijab ruling, which meant that women would henceforth be required to wear a headscarf when away from home.

Nuance should be added here as educated Muslim women throughout the world wear a veil out of their own free will. The Iranian government as advised by its own parliament has no reason to fear that the practice will go away, even if the laws that mandate them are removed.

The modernisation of Iran should be encouraged if Iranians and others around the world wish to see constructive constitutional change within the Islamic Republic and its relations to other Middle Eastern countries and notably the hostile relationship with Israel. But I also caution against those who preach the language of revolution. The nature of the Iranian regime is that the security forces act as a shadow of power. They have shown their willingness to squash any attempt that challenges their rule. In the unlikely event that that the government is toppled, the IRCG will quickly exert control over Iran and potentially bring a more devasting order to power as was the case in Egypt in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. The Iranian military is still one of the most respected institutions in the country and despite western media coverage, the majority of Iranians do actually support their government.

Flaming Passions. How long will the flame of revolution burn amongst a rising populace as seen by these demonstrators in Tehran? (Photo: Obtained by AFP via Getty Images)

The upliftment of women in Iran, much like elsewhere in the world often has little to do with the morality and debate taking places within the intellectual silos, but is rather driven by the technology and urbanisation that breaks down traditional and religious authority. The advancement of women is comparable to the abolition of slavery that was only defeated after the widespread use of the steam engine and not due to the moral debates that took place since the time of Aristotle. Telling women what they should and should not wear simple cannot be justified in the modern era and as Iran’s own government admitted in 2018, the society has long past moved the point where the law is enforceable.

About the writer:

Hügo Krüger is a South African born Structural/Nuclear Engineer, writer and YouTube podcaster, commentating on topics relating to Energy and Geopolitical Matters, Hügo is married to an Iranian born Mathematician and Artist; the couple resides in Paris.


From Russia to Iran – will the rumble of their people lead to a tumble of their leadership?

By Neville Berman

The French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917 have one thing in common. They both resulted in the overthrowing of the ruling class by their own subjects.

Fighting for Freedom. The participants in the French Revolution were ready to do anything to end the monarchy, a sentiment clear in Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, 1830

Fast forward to the post Second World War period, and we see history repeating itself again and again. There is ample evidence of citizens ruled by kings or dictators removing their leaders once a certain tipping point is reached. All the leaders mentioned below were totally in control of their countries when they were suddenly either forced to resign or were killed. Here are six examples in chronological order of their overthrow.

King Farouk reigned over Egypt from 1936-1952. Upon his removal from the throne, he remarked that one day there will only be five kings left, the king of England and the kings of spades, diamonds, clubs, and hearts. King Farouk died in exile in Rome in 1965.   

Mohammed Reza was the last Shah of the Imperial State of Iran. He was crowned in September 1941. He had the largest standing army in the middle east. The army swore allegiance to him personally yet failed to support him when the people rose up against his rule. He was forced into exile in 1979 in the Iranian Revolution.   

People Fired Up. Iranian demonstrators setting light to a rubbish bin in Tehran during a protest in Iran on September 21, 2022 for Mahsa Amini, days after she died in police custody. – | Afp | Getty Images

Ferdinand Marcos ruled the Philippines for 20 years from 1966 – 1986. His authoritarian rule unraveled as a result of public criticism of his corrupt lifestyle. He was removed from office and died in exile.

Nicolae Ceausescu ruled Romania with dictatorial powers for 24 years from 1965 to 1989. When he was overthrown, an elite army unit was requested to provide 10 volunteers to be part of the firing squad. All the members of the unit volunteered. Ceausescu died with 10 bullets in his chest. 

Erich Honecker led East Germany for 18 years from 1971 to shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989. When Gorbachev refused to intervene to protect him, Honecker was forced to resign. He died in exile in Chile.

Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya for 42 years. After declaring that “all his people loved him” he was forced to flee. When he was found in his hometown of Sirte, he was immediately executed. The date was October 20, 2011. Clearly not all his people loved him.

Message in Moscow. Demonstrators march with a banner that reads “Ukraine—Peace, Russia—Freedom,” in Moscow on February 24, 2022, after Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

It seems plausible that both President Putin and the Iranian regime are both approaching the tipping point from which there is no return. Much in the hands of their people, an anxious global community watches and waits.

The world will be a much safer and better place should their rule end.

About the Author:

Accountant Neville Berman had an illustrious sporting career in South Africa, being twice awarded the South African State Presidents Award for Sport and was a three times winner of the South African Maccabi Sportsman of the Year Award.  In 1978 he immigrated to the USA  to coach the United States men’s field hockey team, whereafter, in 1981 he immigrated to Israel where he practiced as an accountant and then for 20 years was the Admin Manager at the American International School in Even Yehuda, Israel.  He is married with two children and one granddaughter.

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).


Ditching imperious ambitions to dodge military conscription – a message from the masses

By David E. Kaplan

It’s a war about nothing,” said the Russian father supporting his young son on his shoulders to CNN on the Georgian side of the border with Russia.  He was one among the throng of refugees escaping their “Mother Russia” to avoid conscription. As one gleans in interviews with one fleeing eligible Russian soldier after another, they “hate” this war but feel powerless to stop it.

Protests against President Vladimir Putin’s partial mobilization order are spreading across Russia, including to the far east, as many young men are fleeing the country. CNN correspondent Nick Robertson reports. #CNN #News

Evgeny, a 28-year-old photographer from Moscow, who walked the last 20 kilometres to the Georgia-Russia border crossing at Verkhny Lars to avoid the huge traffic jam of vehicles trying to cross, told CBC News that:

 “People are fleeing under very dire circumstances; many are saving their lives. They do not want to fight in this imperialistic, pointless war.”

Russians on the Run. People walk next to their cars queuing to cross the border into Kazakhstan at the Mariinsky border crossing, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of Chelyabinsk, Russia, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Officials say about 98,000 Russians crossed into Kazakhstan in the week since President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization of reservists to fight in Ukraine. (AP Photo)

For George Vatsadze, who crossed with his brother and his dog carrying only a bag with a few clothes, it was personal. It does not get more personal than family. With a Ukrainian grandmother and cousins living in Ukraine, this marketing professional had “no choice,” he said. “I can’t go there to fight.” 

Aware he was placing himself at risk by speaking to CNN, he nevertheless continued:

I think maybe about half of our population think the war is wrong, but they can’t stand up against it because it’s dangerous.”

As the CNN camara left George crossing into Georgia focusing on his disappearing back  – the ever-diminishing image left the viewer of a man leaving his home for good – never to return!

Putin causes Panic. Cars, walkers and cyclists at a border crossing between Russia’s North Ossetia region and Georgia after Moscow announced a partial military mobilization. (AP Photo)

These tragic unfolding human dramas playing out at Russia’s border crossings with Georgia, Finland and other areas, bear testimony to the hundreds of thousands of men  desperately trying to bolt before being dragged into fighting Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

This reminded me of the story of my grandfather Menachem Mendel Kaplan from Shadova (Šeduva ) in Lithuania then part of Tzarist Russia who was conscripted into the Russian army in 1904 and sent off on a troop train across Siberia to Vladivostok to fight in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). As a Jew from a small shtetl, Menachem Mendel – later to be known as Max – was hardly interested in risking his life to further Russia’s rival ambitions with the Empire of Japan over Manchuria. So, before the train stopped at Vladivostok, he waited for it to slow, jumped off, ditched his rifle and uniform, walked to the port of Vladivostok and stowed away on an English steamer bound for Southampton. Had he been caught he would have been shot for desertion. For freedom, he was prepared to take the risk. He never reached England. Disembarking instead in Cape Town where he knew he had family, with his first steps in a land foreign in culture and language, began half the story of my family’s journey in South Africa and later in Israel.

Off the Beaten Track. A Trans-Siberian Railway train delivering supplies to Russian troops during the Russo-Japanese war. It would have been such a train that Menachem Mendel (Max) Kaplan jumped from when he deserted the Russian Imperial Army in 1904. (Ullstein Bild/Getty Images)

The Barb was right about ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. If ‘something’ is not done to stop Putin’s war of “nothing”, how many more men will ditch imperious ambitions to dodge conscription?


For the young father with the child on his shoulder, his thinking – not unlike my grandfather 120 years earlier “This is not my war”. It was Putin’s “pointless war”. With a total area of 17,098,242 Km² (6,601,665 mi²) and a land mass of 16,376,870 Km² (6,323,142 mi²), equivalent to 11% of the total world’s landmass of 148,940,000 Km² (57,510,000 square miles), Russia is the largest country in the world. It does not need Ukraine; rather Putin wants Ukraine, and is prepared that people die en mass in pursuit  of his imperial obsession.

Interestingly, one of Russia’s closest friends today is Iran as evidenced by Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to Tehran. It was the Russian leader’s first trip outside the former area of the former Soviet Union since his military invaded Ukraine. The Russian president’s first-choice visit reflects the importance he places on improving ties with the Islamic Republic, that itself today is facing civil unrest.

Irate Iranians. Despite Iran’s leadership curbing the internet, protests over the death of Mahsa Amini continued for a fifth day on Wednesday, including in the capital, Tehran.

As Russians protest and flee so too, are there protests taking place across Iran that while triggered by a young woman’s death in custody amid anger over religious rules, reflects as much a rejection of a state’s fossilized leadership that is dragging the country down.

No light at the end of the Tunnel. South Africans protest in November 2017 Eskom’s decision to cut electricity during the day by blocking the N6 highway between Aliwal North and Jamestown, Eastern Cape. 2022 the situation is WORSE!

It is little wonder that my former country South Africa supports Iran unequivocally as well as Putin’s aggression against Ukraine. South Africa too is going through its “Dark Ages”– quite literally as it even struggles  to provide daily electricity to its people.

Battling with the Basics. South Africa’s ANC government is unable to provide its citizens basic services.

What Russia, Iran and South Africa now overwhelmingly share in common is the increasing dissatisfaction of its people. Their leaderships are foremost a menace to their own people.

It’s time for regime change in all three failing states.

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).


By Jonathan Feldstein

On a clear day I can see from my Judean mountain balcony the skyline of Amman.  It’s the only place in the world from where one can see the capital of two countries: Jordan and Israel. I look across the border and am reminded that more than 3500 years ago, the Jewish people stood there waiting to cross into the Land, and two and a half tribes settled on the east bank of the Jordan River: Reuben and Gad, and half of the tribe of Manassah. I think about relations with our modern neighbors often.

King Abdullah I of Jordan

In July 1951, Jordan’s first king, Abdullah I, was assassinated while visiting the Al Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount.  He was accompanied by his teenage grandson, Hussein, who would become King of Jordan about a year later, and reign until his death in 1999. Hussein is the father of the current King Abdullah II

King Abdullah Assassinated (1951)

I was speaking about Jordan and the Hashemite monarchy with a friend this week, saying that it’s in both Israel’s and Jordan’s interests to have close, peaceful relations, and that Israel should want to be supportive of the Hashemite monarchy which, more or less, has provided stability in the region. 

King Abdullah I was known for his efforts to reach some form of peace or coexistence with Israel, before Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948 and following, although he was assassinated four decades before the formal 1994 peace treaty was finally reached. Unfortunately, while there have been high points of relations between Israeli and Jordanian leaders, the idea of peace with Israel is still not popular on the Jordanian street. There’s often hostility, even among its elected leaders who often make antagonistic, threatening anti-Israel statements.

This is a mistake of the Jordanian (and before that, Egyptian) peace agreements, where there’s been no significant cultural shift or interaction between people. This could be due to lack of vision, or more likely as an outlet to provide a way for the people to vent, against Israel rather than the monarchy.  Consequently, despite the mutual interests to have peace, one rooted in the legacy of King Abdullah I, the relationship even between governments has often been tense, particularly in recent years. 

Abdullah was assassinated by Mustafa Shukri Ashshu, who was associated with the rabidly extremist and antisemitic former Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. Husseini was known for sparking riots against Jews in British controlled Mandatory Palestine, and was closely allied (and infamously photographed) with Adolf Hitler during World War II. Husseini inspired his followers to oppose the Hashemite kingdom in general, and King Abdullah in particular, largely because Husseini supported the creation of an independent Arab state, which Abdullah’s annexing and occupying the potential territory thereof (the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria) following the 1948-49 War of Independence would prevent.

17.11.1947- Golda Meir meets King Abdullah I of Jordan, in Jordan, a few months before the declaration of independence of the State of Israel

Both preceding and following the 1948 war, King Abdullah met with Reuven Shiloah, the first director of Israel’s Mossad, and Golda Meir (who would become Prime Minister). There are famous stories of Golda dressing in traditional Arab attire to travel to meet the King so as not to be recognized.

King Abdullah I of Jordan (left) with his younger son, Nayef.

It was reported after his death that Abdullah was scheduled to meet with Shiloah and diplomat Moshe Sasson in Jerusalem the day after he was assassinated.  Avi Shalim, an Israeli-British historian, wrote a biography of King Hussein in which he quoted King Abdullah as telling Sasson:

 “I want to make peace with Israel not because I have become a Zionist or care for Israel’s welfare but because it is in the interest of my people. I am convinced that if we do not make peace with you, there will be another war, and another war, and another war, and another war, and we shall lose all these wars. Hence it is the supreme interest of the Arab nation to make peace with you.”

According to Shalim’s biography, Elias Sasson, Moshe’s father, wrote shortly after Abdullah’s assassination:

King Abdullah was the only Arab statesman who showed an understanding for our national renewal, a sincere desire to come to a settlement with us, and a realistic attitude to most of our demands and arguments… We, as well as some of the Arabs and foreigners are going to feel for a long time to come his absence, and to regret more than a little his removal from our midst.”

The state of Arab Israel relations has changed radically since Abdullah’s assassination. Not only were Egypt and Jordan the first two Arab states to make peace with Israel, recognizing that it was in their interests to do so, but four more followed as part of the 2020 Abraham Accords. In three of them, it appears that some of the mistakes of the cold peace of the first two have not been repeated. There’s not just high-level government-to-government contact between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco, but there’s a unique level of interaction between people, and business ties that are all mutually beneficial.

King Abdullah I and his son crown prince Talal

It’s also noteworthy that references to Abdullah’s assassination have had a modern historical whitewash. Immediately following Abdullah’s death, a British publication reported:

The assassin is reported to have been identified as Mustafa Shukri Ashshu, a 21-year-old tailor in the Old City. During the Arab-Jewish war he was a member of the “dynamite squad” attached to the Arab irregular forces which were associated with the ex-Mufti of Jerusalem and became bitter enemies of Abdullah.” 

King Abdullah I of Jordan with Glubb Pasha, the day before he was assassinated by Mustafa Shukri Ashshu, a21-year-old tailor in the Old City. (Photo credit: GLUBB PASHA/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Neither in this segment, nor the whole article, is there a reference to the assassin being a “Palestinian”. It was not a term used in 1951 to describe Arabs. Today however, historical revisionism retroactively brands Mustafa Shukri Ashshu as a “Palestinian”.

History Revealed or Revised? What is revealing about this contemporaneous newspaper report of the assassination of King Abdullahi was the identification of the assassin – as an “Arab” and not as a Palestinian as he is so described today.  

The same Arab/Islamic extremism that was preached by Haj Amin al-Husseini, and which “inspired” King Abdullah’s assassin, is a common enemy of and threat to Israel, Jordan, and the entire Arab Middle East, spilling over around the world. On this anniversary of the assassination of King Abdullah who might have made peace if he had lived, it’s important to revisit his words, that not only is peace important, but where we share common threats, so too it’s important that we unite against these.  

I pray that King Abdullah II will remember and take to heart these words and be guided by the wisdom of his great-grandfather for whom he is named.

The present king of Jordan, Abdullah II, named after his great-grandfather.

About the writer:

Jonathan Feldstein ­­­­- President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.

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).