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

Mixed Messages From HRH

By LA, California correspondent Regina Raphael

Charles, The Prince of Wales, addressed world leaders on the 75thanniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Israel on January 23rd 2019. I was most moved by the words of HRH that we must be fearless in confronting falsehoods and resolute in resisting words and acts of violence.”

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PRINCE VISITS ISRAEL AND THIS TIME IT’S “OFFICIAL. HRH Prince Charles speaks during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on Jan. 23, 2020. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Given this strong and powerful message, I was surprised and disappointed with his words spoken and message conveyed during visit with Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, the very next day in Bethlehem.

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Improving Ties. Prince Charles (L) shakes hands with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin at the presidential residence in Jerusalem, ahead of a meeting of the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020. (AFP)

The “falsehoods” that he called out the day prior are the ones that emanate from the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Abbas is currently in the 15th year of a 4-year elected term. He serves unchecked as a dictator without any accountability. He terrorizes his own people with limited freedom of speech and arrests those that associate with Jews or sells property to them.

Under his leadership, Christians now make up less than 2 percent of the population in Bethlehem once a dominant Christian community. The Christians are subjected to discrimination and suffer great difficulty living in Bethlehem.

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Prince And The PA President. The Prince of Wales meets President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem. (Photo: Julian Simmonds/The Daily Telegraph/PA Wire)

Mr. Abbas has operated unfettered with mismanagement of monies provided. Billions of dollars in aid from the US, EU and several other donor countries has flowed to Mr. Abbas. A lack of accountability and transparency from the Palestinian Authority has deprived Palestinians of a significant part of the funds.

Only after a public outcry of money wasted has the recently built  $13mn Presidential Palace – that included helipads, guest quarters and administrative offices  4,700 square metres (50590.38 sq./feet) – been decided to be used “a national library” instead, according to the Palestinian Minister of Culture,  Ihab Bseiso.

A $13mn library with helipads?

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The House That Abbas Built. Following criticism of the newly constructed opulent $13 million President Mahmoud Abbas’ presidential palace near Ramallah, it was declared in August 2017 it would house a national library. This decision was understood in light of mounting public anger on the Palestinian street in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip following revelations of corruption and substantial salary increases of public officials to buy loyalty. (Ameen Rammal/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Beyond corruption, Mr. Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have used these funds to encourage violence. It is estimated in 2019 that $149.7 MM went for annual payments to security prisoners, terrorist “martyrs” and their families, encouraging people to kill Jews.

Instead of visiting with Mr. Abbas, I wished he had visited the sights of those killed by Mr. Abbas’ pay for slay program. I was in the region while he was there and made my commitment to bear witness where Ari Fuld (father of four), Dvir Sorek (an 18-year-old Yeshiva student) and teenagers Naftali Frenkel, Gilad  Shaar and Eyal Yifrach were kidnapped at a bus stop and then brutally murdered. I saw young lives taken away simply because they were Jews. Those who murdered them, solely because they were Jews, were paid approximately three times the amount they would have made working a regular job. The ramifications of this ‘Pay to Slay’ program are monumental. I can only imagine what his HRH might do if this program were to take hold in Britain.

When he visited Bethlehem, he spoke there that “It breaks my heart… that we should continue to see so much suffering and division. No one arriving in Bethlehem today could miss the signs of continued hardship and the situation you face.” The suffering is due to the choices made by the Palestinian Authority but does not accurately describe the vibrancy that does exist in many areas.

I also saw those who have made great success in their lives.  I visited towns with Muslims that had thriving industry, large homes and luxury cars.  I saw people that have chosen to focus on success not terror.

I had the honor to hear from Daniel Birnbaum whose company, SodaStream, embodies cooperation across Arabs, Jews & Bedouins to great success. While driven out of this area by those who choose to Boycott, Divest & Sanction Israel, SodaSteam relocated to Rahat and provides a model of coexistence between Jews, Arabs & Bedouins. This is only one example of co-existence.

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SodaStream’s Assembly Line In The Bedouin City Of  Rahat. Forced to close down by the Palestinian Authority that was providing jobs to Palestinians on the West Bank, the $1.5 billion maker of home carbonation devices moved the bulk of its manufacturing to Israel’s largest Bedouin city – Rahat. (RACHEL PAPO FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK)

At a time when anti-Semitic activity is at an all-time high, HRH’s failure to call out Mr. Abbas on his dishonesty and incitement of violence, ignites the flame that encourages hatred. His words do not bring peace but dehumanize and minimize the lives of those brutally murdered.

At every opportunity, including the most recent by President Trump, Mr. Abbas has turned down plans to aid his people and create his own “Start Up Nation.” Mr. Abbas does not seek peace; he acts as a despot and seeks the destruction of the State of Israel.

We praise the Royal family and your Princess Alice’s commitment to Jewish people at a most difficult time. However, at this juncture we must stand strong against hatred and stand firm on values of inherent democracy and decency.

 

 

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The author & Mr. Goldstein in Hebron.

Regina Raphael is a business owner in Los Angeles, CA and committed Zionist. Ms. Raphael works closely with Ben Goldstein, a reserve IDF officer and advocate for the State of Israel. The article shares moments from their visit together in late January 2020. Mr. Goldstein lives in the Region.

 

South Africa Fails To See The Light

Why does the ANC Government Support the most dangerous regime In the world – IRAN?

By David E. Kaplan

An ever-increasing menace on the international stage by facilitating global terrorism, cunningly creeping towards military nuclearization, violently suppressing its civilian population, shooting down a Ukrainian civilian aircraft with 176 passengers on board  then trying to cover up its crime  – quite literally – with ‘bulldozers’, is it not time for Iran’s regime of the Mullahs to exit that stage?

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Hands Are Tied. With the image of hands shaking across the continents, senior military officials of Iran and South Africa vowed in March 2019 to increase military and defense cooperation between the two countries to achieve a long-term and strategic engagement.

Its own people are demanding so!

Coming onto the street in mass protests across the country, is this the proverbial “beginning of the end” as expressed by the former Crown Prince of Iran Reza Pahlavi this January at the Hudson Institute in Washington?

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Reza Pahlavi, the last heir apparent to the defunct throne of the Imperial State of Iran and the current head of the exiled House of Pahlavi speaks during an interview with Reuters in Washington, U.S., January 3, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/JOSHUA ROBERTS)

Pahlavi argued that the recent protests in Iran are different than previous demonstrations in that “People smell the opportunity for the first time in 40 years.” Drawing a distinction  to the earlier protests of 1997 and 2009, “The people have had it,” says Pahlavi. “Today’s generation of young Iranians cannot take it anymore. They want to have an opportunity for a better future. They want to be on the path of modernity and freedom. The only thing that stands between them and the free world is this regime.”

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The ‘Plane’ Truth. Iranian students gather for a demonstration over the downing of a Ukrainian airliner at Teheran University on January 14, 2020. (ATTA KENARE / AFP) Attachments area

However, what also “stands between them and the free world” are countries still supporting the menace of the Mullahs like South Africa.

Criticized by its own people for literally  “not seeing the light” with its endless power outages now referred to in local parlance as “load shedding”, South Africa’s ANC government fails to  see or chooses not to see that Iran’s present leadership is evil and a danger to world peace.

Writing in ForeignAffairs.com in November 2019, Kitaneh Fitzpatrick reveals that amongst hundreds of Iranian intelligence reports recently leaked  shedding light on Teheran’s success in bolstering its influence throughout the region – notably Syria, Iraq, the Lebanon and Yemen – the Islamic Republic’s reptilian reach extends far beyond the Middle East. Facing crippling sanctions as well as increasing diplomatic isolation, Iran has developed a close partnership with South Africa.

Fitzpatrick writes that “South Africa has long been a cornerstone of Iran’s South-South strategy, which aims to strengthen ties with African and South American states.”

Being one of the first countries to resume trade with South Africa following the end of Apartheid, the Islamic Republic has enjoyed strong relations ever since. “Trade has been an integral element of this relationship, with Iranian officials estimating the value of Iranian Foreign Direct Investment in South Africa in 2018 at roughly $135 billion.”

South Africa has well reciprocated proving a strong ally and friend to the murderous and mendacious regime. It did not hesitate in  calling the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear deal “regrettable”; advocating for Iranian interests at the UN; siding with Iran on critical issues at the UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency; and more recently with President Cyril Ramaphosa calling Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to convey his condolences on the US dispatching of Iranian arch-terrorist Qasem Soleimani.

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Presidential Parlance. The official Iranian government website said SA President Cyril Ramaphosa had called the US’s assassination of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani “a cowardly act”. (Image: Masi Los)

According to the official Iranian government website,  Ramaphosa called the assassination of Soleimani “a cowardly act” and expressed that he was “very shocked by the news of Lt-Gen Soleimani’s martyrdom who was very popular among people.”

So popular that people are risking their lives in protests.

Videos and reporting convey Iranian popular anger:

– At Teheran’s Sharif University of Technology, protesters shouted: “We do not want coward directors.”

– At the Isfahan University of Technology, students chanted: “Cannon, tank, explosives, no longer useful; mullahs should go.”

– At the University of Kurdistan in Sanandaj, protesters defied authorities: “We are so sick of crime, why should we be afraid?

Iranians are proving less afraid to make a stand.

Take for example Kimia Alizadeh, the lithe, six-foot-tall athlete with raven hair who won the bronze medal for Iran in Taekwondo at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The only Iranian female to ever win an Olympic medal, the 21 year-old athlete – this January 2020 – defected from Iran announcing on social media that she did so because she didn’t want to be part of “hypocrisy, lies, injustice and flattery”. She described herself as “one of the millions of oppressed women in Iran”.

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Time To Defect. Kimia Alizadeh who won a landmark bronze medal in taekwondo in the 2016 Rio Olympics for Iran has defected.

In a message on Instagram, she wrote, “How do I start? With a hello, a goodbye or to offer my condolences? Hello to the oppressed people of Iran, goodbye to the noble people of Iran, and my condolences to the perpetually mourning people of Iran.”

She recounted being “a pawn” of a regime that told her how to dress, dictated what she said, and paraded her and her medals around for political gain. “To the kind and oppressed people of Iran: I did not want to climb to a pedestal whose steps are paved with lies and deceit,” she wrote. “I am willing to bear the difficulty of living in exile because I could no longer stay at a table where dishonesty, con-artistry and injustice were being served. Making this decision was more difficult than earning the Olympic medal.”

No more “a pawn”, Alizadeh is a today  “a Queen” for her public defiance against evil.

While this movement may  lack leaders or a clearly defined goal, it does convey a palpable sense of disgust and anger and a willingness to defy the authorities. Even Iranian journalists have joined in the struggle.

While reporters for Iran’s state media routinely toe the government line, in the chaotic aftermath of Iran’s admission that it shot down a Ukrainian airliner, that admission appears to have pushed several journalists to resign.

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Burying The Truth. Bulldozers had been operating at the crash site before Ukrainian investigators even arrived – sparking fears of an Iranian cover-up.

It would seem professional red lines were crossed when Iranians in media were being coerced to blatantly lie by initially reporting of the deaths of 80 U.S. soldiers in Iranian strikes against bases in Iraq in response to the U.S. killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani and   repeated claims that technical problems had caused the crash of a Ukraine-bound passenger jet shortly after its takeoff from Teheran.

Several journalists revealed on social media that they had quit with  one state TV anchor, Gelare Jabbari, apologizing for “having lied to you on Iranian TV for 13 years.”

While a world grows wary of wayward Iran, South Africa has remained committed to maintaining diplomatic ties happily engaging in joint business-tech forumsscientific cooperation, and expanding tourism.

The South African media is replete with photographs of Iranian and South African foreign ministers frequently meeting to discuss enhancing cooperation.

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Friends In Deed. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif holding talks with Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation in  Teheran on ways to expand relations, Teheran, Iran, October 16, 2019. (IRNA/Nazanin Kazemi Nava)

Despite Iran’s menacing foreign policy across the Middle East, South Africa has emerged as an important defense partner. Writes Kitaneh Fitzpatrick:

 “Teheran has sought to leverage its longstanding relationship with South Africa to support Iranian naval expansion outside of the Middle East, and has conducted limited out-of-area naval operations in South Africa, according to a recent U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report. Iran and South Africa have also signed basic military cooperation agreements. …..South Africa is part of Teheran’s effort to offset the cost of U.S. sanctions and increasing diplomatic isolation from the West.”

Unlike South Africa, other countries are “seeing the light”.

There is increasing acceptance by western European nations that  Iran’s  desire to achieve nuclear proliferation was not curbed by the 2015 nuclear deal known as the JCPOA ( Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). January 2020 saw Britain, France and Germany formally accusing Teheran of violating the terms of the agreement with Britain’s new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson telling the BBC, If we’re going to get rid of it then we need a replacement.”

At the same time, an assessment by Israeli intelligence reveals that Iran has enough enriched uranium to produce a nuclear bomb by the end of 2020 and a missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload within two years.

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Dealing With the Devil. A four-day forum in December 2018 on business and technology cooperation between Iran and South Africa held in Johannesburg in a bid to boost Iranian goods exports.

An Iran under pressure – internationally and internally – is unpredictable and dangerous.

Rather than the misguided South African path of cozying up to the Mullah regime,  better to heed the advice of Pahlavi who has called for Ayatollah Khamenei to step down to allow a peaceful transition with a minimal number of casualties.

To the Iranian forces that are employing repression as a tool, Pahlavi says “there are not enough people they can kill to maintain this regime in power. They better stand down and join with their brethren.”

He concluded his message at the Hudson Institute with “This regime cannot be reformed and must be removed,” emphasizing that there is no point to try and negotiate with the Islamic Republic.

And the message to South Africa’s political leadership – considering its own history-  be a friend of the Iranian people not its murderous regime!

Dear Golda

A letter to Israel’s iconic first female prime Minister

By Rolene Marks

I have often wondered what I would say to you if I ever was to meet you. What would an immigrant to the beautiful country that you helped establish, say to one of the greatest leaders of all time? You were Israel’s fourth Prime Minister and very first female leader at a time in the world when this was virtually unheard of; and remain an inspiration to this day. You gave the impression that even though you were a formidable leader, you were still “savta” (grandmother: Hebrew) Golda, with your trademark bun and cigarette, an approachable “bubbe” (grandmother: Yiddish) who we could count on for advice.

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It is 2020; and the tiny little country that you helped birth is a thriving, cosmopolitan and beautifully flawed democracy. Women’s rights have grown in leaps and bounds since you paved the way for us to realise we can become so much more than we ever thought we could. We are pioneers and trailblazers, entrepreneurs and home makers, politicians and doctors, ballerinas, soldiers and teachers. We are nation builders. In a neighbourhood where many women are silenced, persecuted, raped and denied basic human rights, Israel’s women are the backbone of our great state.

A lot of this we owe to you.

You mentioned in your memoir of how emotional it was to sign the Declaration of Independence. I wish you could see us now!

Dear Golda, Israel has always been the birthplace of ideas. You were so proud of this fact and always encouraged education and now we are world leaders in science, medicine, agriculture and technology. We have been renamed “The Start-Up Nation”. You would be amazed at the incredible creativity bursting from our young, innovative citizens.  We even sent an unmanned vehicle to the moon and arrived with a bang! It wasn’t the landing we were hoping for; but we did it regardless and now we have our sites set even higher. The sky is not our limit – we seek to explore the universe!

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One of your most memorable quotes was that there would be peace “when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us”. Golda, it breaks my heart to tell you that this has not changed. You wrote in your memoir “My Life” that you worried about preparing the next generation of 9 and 10-year-olds for the army. Sadly, the same incitement and terror that you worried and opined about has not stopped and we have had to fight several more wars and endure two “Intifadas” as a result of such hostility. But you know we are a stubborn people and we sanctify life and will never lose our hope for peace. We never lose hope that our neighbours will choose to educate their children to become members of the start-up generation instead of educating them with hate filled rhetoric. We face a brutal enemy in the form of Iran and its proxies, but our hope lies with the Iranian people who seek to overthrow this brutal regime. While this is happening, many Arab countries are starting to see the benefits of warming ties with us. Who would have thought that this could happen!image003 - 2020-01-15T100736.187

Dear Golda, we have mourned together and suffered loss as a nation. Our heads have been bowed but our spirits have never been broken.  Our defiant love for life sustains and motivates us to carry on. At a time when stones are weapons of war, we use ours to build homes. When barbaric terrorists behead their victims, we use ours to look for groundbreaking solutions and at a time where women are maligned and mistreated in our neighbourhood, we endeavor to follow in your trailblazing footprints.

Dear Golda, you raised the ire of some, but I reckon if people applaud every single thing you do, you probably aren’t doing your job effectively enough. You sometimes made decisions that were not always popular but as a true leader, always had Israel’s best interests at heart.

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A Golda Moment. Golda Meir with children of Kibbutz Shfayim.

Africa held a special place in your heart, and you believed that many of the countries shared a similar history and yearning for statehood that we did. You would be delighted to see the contribution Israel is making on the continent in helping with sustainability and growth. We pride ourselves in living up to the tenet of Tikkun Olam and wherever there is a crisis or natural disaster, you will find Israel leading the way. Our enemy Syria has been engaged in a civil war for many years and despite this, Israel has saved over 2000 lives. Wherever there is a call in distress, we answer immediately and send our finest to help.

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Golda Meir dancing with Margaret Kenyatta (daughter of Kenya’s leader Jomo Kenyatta), Kenya, 1960

You would be amused that some of your most awe-inspiring quotes are used by us, generations later, to effectively communicate how much we love our country and how we share the same frustrations you did. You had a way with words and in today’s technologically driven world I cannot help but wonder what you would have thought about social media and its importance in telling Israel’s story?  Today we will not be silent in the face of adversity and rising antisemitism and even though you are no longer with us, your words continue to inspire us and give us fortitude.

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Golda shoes (from the Rona Doron collection).

Dear Golda, we may not share the same taste in shoes but I would so love to join you in a celebratory glass of your favourite Israeli wine and toast to Israel, to her pioneering people and to you, a venerable leader who burst through the ceilings, raised the standards and blazed a glowing trail.

L’Chaim!

 

 

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The author was pleasantly surprised to find that her copy of “My Life” was signed by Golda Meir.

Winds of Change

Warming ties between the Arab world and Israel

By Rolene Marks

If someone has said to me a few years ago that the Arab world would start opening up to the State of Israel, I would have thought that they are losing their minds. But an amazing new phenomenon is taking shape in the Middle East. The frosty relations between Israel and Arab countries are starting to thaw and warm up significantly over the last couple of years and this has been demonstrated by a series of overtures from Arab countries towards Israel.

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The Israeli and Bahraini flags (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

 

It is no secret that one of the key issues that has influenced the warming of ties between Israel and Arab states is the threat to the region posed by Iran. The hegemonic regime poses a massive threat to Gulf States who have aligned themselves more with the USA and has created a corridor via Syria and proxies in the north with Hezbollah, and South with Hamas to further encroach on Israeli territory.

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Change Of Climate. Foreign Minister Israel Katz at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, during a UN climate conference in the city, in late June, 2019. (Courtesy Katz’s office)

One positive side effect of the Iranian threat is the realization that the tiny state of Israel is more of a potential friend or at least ally, than enemy. There is growing concern that relations between Israel and various Arab states have been somewhat covert but there have been rumours circulating that the Jewish State may be close to signing non-aggression pacts with several of these countries.

Israel has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan but formal bilateral relations with other Arab countries would contribute greatly to stability and economic growth in the region. In fact, Israel will be exporting natural gas from the lucrative Leviathan gas field to Egypt within the next few weeks. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz calls the permit a “historic landmark” for Israel. He says it’s the most significant economic cooperation project between the countries since they signed a peace deal in 1979.

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“Time Are A’Changin”. The same Arab world that once laid on Israel an energy siege is now buying gas from the Jewish state with Egypt and Jordan the first customers from the Leviathan gas rig off the coast of Israel.

In 2019, the Trump Administration revealed part of its much anticipated peace plan with the “Peace to prosperity” proposal that shared how the administration, with the backing of Arab states, intends to build Palestinian civilian and cultural infrastructure that would lead to job creation and lead to the foundations of a future state. This plan was presented in Manama, the capital of Bahrain and while Israel did not send an official delegation, representatives from the business sector were present – and warmly welcomed! Palestinian businessmen, who despite the invitation to participate in the conference being spurned by the leadership, attended and were promptly arrested by the Palestinian Authority for daring to engage the US administration and Israel on possible commercial solutions. Also significant, was the invitation to six Israeli media outlets to cover the event.

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Friendly Exchange. Posted on Twitter, Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz and his Bahraini counterpart Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa (R) pose for a photograph at the State Department in Washington on July 17, 2019 during a groundbreaking public meeting.

Since the Manama confab, the Foreign Minister of Bahrain, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, and his Israeli counterpart, Israel Katz, met in the United States and in October 2019, an Israeli official, Dana Benvenisti-Gabay, attended the “Working Group on Maritime and Aviation Security” in Manama. In December 2019, Jerusalem chief rabbi, Shlomo Amar, visited Bahrain for an interfaith event. There is hope that this has helped create the climate for future official ties.

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Open Door Policy. Jared Kushner concludes the 2019 Manama Conference in Bahrain assuring that the doors remain open to the 50 billion dollar plan to revive the stagnant economy of the Palestinian people.

Bahrain is not the only state that is welcoming Israeli visitors. The United Arab Emirates is preparing for Expo 2020, where countries will showcase the best of their offerings for six months and Israel will be included.

UAE Tourism Minister announced that not only would Israeli passport holders be welcome at the event, a phenomenon that was previously unheard of, but that he hoped citizens from the Jewish state would continue to visit long after its conclusion. The real Chanukah miracle was a tweet from the UAE Embassy in London sending warm wishes to Jewish friends celebrating Chanukah.

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And if Twitter is the platform where friendships are revealed, then this one between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Emirati Foreign Minister sure says a lot:

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It is not just the Emiratis or Bahrainis that are showing Israel some love. Recently, 7 bloggers from Saudi Arabia visited Israel and the results have been quite extraordinary. The bloggists have taken to their social media platforms to speak quite openly of their newfound fondness for the Jewish state.

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Meeting Of Minds. “The people of the Middle East want peace with Israel and for the leadership to promote it,” says Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Rabbi Shlomo Amar (bottom, center) at the interfaith conference in Manama, Bahrain, on Monday, December 9, 2019.

There is no problem with Israel. It is important because of Jerusalem that is holy to Jews and Christians, while Islam’s holy places are Mecca and Medina,” Sultan said via the social media platform.

Is this the yearning of the younger generation to have normalization of ties or is there some indirect influence from Saudi officials? Saudi Crown Prince, Mohamed bin Salman is trying to change the image of his country and perhaps the best way to do this is modernizing attitudes towards countries like Israel and recognizing that there is more to be gained bilaterally and regionally through warmer ties.

It may still be a while until formal ties are recognized but the winds of change are blowing in the Middle East and this time, they are rich with promise.

 

Bravo Boris

The HANDS of British voters eased the MINDS of global Jewry

By David E. Kaplan

Friday the 13th is considered an unlucky day in Western suspicion, evident by the endless number of spooky horror  movies  set on this day.

Not so Friday 13th 2019!

Jews the world over awoke on this worrying day, breathing a collective sigh of relief that Jeremy Corbyn would not only be the next Prime Minister of Great Britain but received such a thumping that will send him packing.

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Grave Concern. The man who would be PM, Jeremy Corbyn (second from left) holding a wreath in October 2014 at a gravesite in Tunisia near a plaque dedicated to members of the Black September terrorist group. (Facebook page of the Palestinian embassy in Tunisia)

For Jews in the UK, the election was less about Brexit, which was the main issue, and more about antiSemitism. If we would go by conversations in Jewish households prior to the election, it might have ended up as “Jewexit” instead of “Brexit”!

If there was any doubt about that before the election note the British Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, entering the political fray in an unprecedent step by describing Corbyn as “not fit for high office” in a November 25 op-ed in The Times.

The Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth was imploring people not who to vote for, but who NOT to vote for.

The future of the UK Jewish community lay in the balance – in the hands of the British voter.

And If there was any doubt about this apocalyptic fear by Jewish voters, it was affirmed in the immediate post-election assurances  by the former Tory leadership candidate, Michael Gove addressing a victory rally in Surrey Heath:

You have had to live in fear for months concerned you may have a prime minister who trafficked in anti-Jewish rhetoric and embraced anti-Jewish terrorists. You should never have to live in fear again.”

Just think about it; this is what it has come down to! That the Jewish community in the United Kingdom has to be assured “You should never have to live in fear again.”

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Reassuring Message. Michael Gove savages Corbyn’s extremism and says Jewish people “should NEVER live in fear”. (Image: BBC)

Summer Recess

By contrast the man who is going to occupy number 10 Downing Street for the next five years is not only well known in Israel but the Jewish state is well known to Mr. Boris Johnson.

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PHEW! Clearly most Britons were happy with this sight and none more so than the Jewish community that breathed a sigh of relief.

Boris’ connection to Israel ‘journeys’ back many years  to the days in which no one was on the tarmac to welcome him at Ben-Gurion International Airport and no red carpets were in sight.

In 1984, two young Brits arrived in Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi as volunteers; they were the future Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his sister the future British journalist and television presenter, Rachel Johnson.

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When In Acre. While in Acre in 2013, the future British PM’s sister, Rachel Johnson dined at the famed Uri Buri, seen here with Chef Uri “Buri” Jeremias (right) whom she described as looking “… like Father Christmas and was the most interesting man. I ate the best thing ever — ‘Ben-Gurion rice’.

It was the summer of 1984, and the Johnson siblings undertook a six-week experience in Israel. In those days, it was “the thing to do”.

Rachel was on a gap year before heading to Oxford University, while Boris, 14 months her elder and already a student at the same university, had just finished his first year at Balliol College, where he was a classics scholar. “Our father thought this was a good way to get rid of us for the summer,” recalls Rachel.

In 2013 Rachel wrote on MailOnline of those experiences of nearly three decades earlier at Kibbutz HaNasi started by  group of British Jewish immigrants, members of the Habonim youth movement.

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Back In Jerusalem. A trip down memory lane, journalist and TV presenter, Rachel Johnson revisits Jerusalem in 2013

I was a pale-skinned, fair-haired teenage girl visiting Israel for the first time with her even paler-skinned and fairer-haired older brother.

We’d come to work as volunteers at a kibbutz north of the Sea of Galilee, on the green banks of the Jordan river, just below the volcanic pointy hills of the Golan Heights and a few miles from Syria.

We arrived at the kibbutz in the blasting heat of July. ‘Warm breeze,’ I wrote in my diary at the time. ‘Smell of blossom … and latrines.’ Soon after arrival, we were assigned our work sections. I had the Augean task of ‘male sanitation’.

Boris was bundled into the communal kitchen, which catered and cleared up after kibbutz Kfar Hanassi’s 600 members and volunteers who dined together three times a day on yogurt, houmous, eggs, houmous, yogurt and tomatoes (that’s all I remember eating at every meal, anyway).”

While comically depicting the scene with “There could not have been worse gigs for pampered, pale-faced public-school spawn,”  Rachel reveals much about her brother, the future Prime Minister who would cause Labour its worst defeat since 1935.

While Rachel “moved to picking fruit, and then, after striking up a friendship with an attractive shepherd called David” and promoted “to being a shepherdess,” Boris, “doughtily remained at his post, his skin peeling from the heat and steam, and stayed sane by reading Homer and Virgil in the library in the evening.”

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Seeing The Sights. Boris Johnson in Jerusalem on his first trip to Israel in the summer of 1984. (courtesy Rachel Johnson)

Boris Takes The Cake

In the land of destiny,  the young man was destined for leadership.

Alec Collins, who hosted the future PM in his home at Kfar Hanassi  in 1984 revealed in a recent interview “Even back then, he used to say, ‘I will be a leader one day”.

“He is a great guy to be around with and chat with,” continued Collins. “Boris can strike up a conversation with just about anyone, on the spot. He has a great sense of humor, and this will be of great benefit to the UK.”

This has proved so.

To quote Boris:

My position on cake is clear: I’m pro-having it and pro-eating it. And once you have your cake and eat it, too, you’ve effectively laid claim to two cakes.”

Equipped with his unique twist of logic and inimitable wit will leave his adversaries baffled as he scales the proverbial ramparts.

Taking on Brexit, the most monumental issue since WWII, Boris can take inspiration from his political hero and wartime victor, Winston Churchill who too was tasked to lead armed with a mastery of rhetoric.

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On top Of The World. Looking down at the Dead Sea – the lowest spot on earth – Boris’ sister Rachel at the top of Masada in 1984.

The Jewish Connection

Like Sir Winston Churchill  – a great greatest supporter of the Zionist movement  and of the 1917 Balfour Declaration – Boris too refers to himself as “A passionate Zionist”

In an article to commemorate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration in 2017, Boris wrote:

 “I served a stint at a kibbutz in my youth, and… saw enough to understand the miracle of Israel: the bonds of hard work, self-reliance and an audacious and relentless energy that hold together a remarkable country.”

And on his visit to the country when  he was the mayor of London, he lashed out at BDS – the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement – and pronounced Israel the only “pluralist, open society” in the region.

This is a far cry from the man too who aspired to be the resident of 10 Downing Street – Jeremy Corbyn.

While Boris has Jewish ancestry traced back through his mother to the revered 19th century Lithuanian Rabbi Elijah Ragoler, his feelings about Israel may stem just as strongly from Jenny Sieff, who became his stepmother when he was seventeen.

From a prominent Anglo-Jewish family, Jenny’s stepfather, Teddy Sieff, served as chairman of Marks and Spencer and was vice-president of the British Zionist Federation. In 1973, Sieff survived an assassination attempt by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine when he was shot by the assassin Ilich Ramírez Sánchez more familiarly known as Carlos the Jackal. Carlos fired one bullet at Sieff from his Tokarev 7.62mm pistol, which bounced off Sieff just between his nose and upper lip and knocked him unconscious; the gun then jammed and Carlos fled.

It was Jenny’s family in Israel, the distinguished South African-born Israeli diplomat, Michael Comay, who had been Israeli ambassador to Canada, the UN and the UK and his wife Joan, who would  help arrange for Boris and his sister Rachel to volunteer at Kibbutz Kfar HaNassi.

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Aspiring To New Heights. Boris Johnson as a 20-year-old in Israel in 1984 climbing to the top of the Jewish fortress of Masada following his 6-week of volunteerism with his sister Rachel at Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi.

According to Rachel, her brother showed great mettle volunteering on the kibbutz. While she admits how she  finagled her way out of cleaning the men’s bathrooms  and got herself reassigned to picking apples with “an attractive kibbutznik,” Boris dutifully stuck to his appointed job in the communal kitchen. There – as Rachel describes in her diary – “he showed inner steel scrubbing pots and pans and sweating it out in the heat of the kitchen, meal after meal.”

Clear early signs of the  makings of a leader if one adheres to the wise words of President Truman: “if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen”.

With Brexit the first order of business, the political ‘MasterChef’ is ready to make history. Clearly Israel has a friend at 10 Downing Street and can look forward  to welcoming on the red carpet at Ben Gurion Airport  that unmistakable blonde mop who first came to Israel on the way to kibbutz Kfar HaNasi 35 years ago.

 

Feature Picture: Boris Johnson on the campaign trail CREDIT: ANDREW PARSONS/ I-IMAGES

When Sports Wins

By Rolene Marks

This week I have been thinking a lot especially about sports. It could be because I am still feeling the high many of us, including ex-pat South Africans are feeling after watching the Springboks (South Africa’s national rugby team) serve England’s team a thumping to win the Rugby World Cup.

It wasn’t just rugby that won that day, it was a nation. The Springboks proved that it is possible to rise above your circumstances, your race, religion and past prejudices and that, coupled with tenacity and a will to win, delivered one of the greatest moments in sports. It was more than the speeches from coach, Erasmus and team captain, Siya Kolisi – the guys in green and gold played for unity. They played for hope. And they delivered.

We know that South Africa is fraught with problems and that winning a global sports championship will not provide an instant fix, but they proved what could be accomplished when you pull together and focus on the greater good. Growing up during the Apartheid years in South Africa, where rugby was emblematic of the regime, it was inconceivable that the Springboks would be a team of players from all races, with a black captain. I don’t think there was a dry eye across South Africa (well, save for a few spoil sports – pun intended – who see unity as anathema) or for many who knew we were witnessing history. The late human rights icon, Nelson Mandela, recognized the role that sports could play in healing and reconciliation. The Springbok win took many back to the day in 1995 when Madiba weaved his magic and mistrust and old hatreds seemed forgotten.

The Springbok win got me thinking a lot about the power of sports in healing conflict in other parts of the world.

Sport plays an important role in trying to heal rifts in the Middle East as well. While sometimes respect and sportsman – like behavior is a casualty and some pay a heavy price for their efforts to be conciliatory, there is no doubt that whether it is facing off on the soccer pitch or wrestling on the mat, people are brought together for the common goal – winning.

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The power of sports to bring people together has also been recognized by entities like BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanction) who will try every trick in the book to try and scupper any attempts for normalization between Israelis – and anyone else. Their belief that boycotts, be they culture or sports, will force Israel to change policies they see as racist.

Their latest pet project of hate is trying to encourage a boycott of the sports apparel company, Puma, who sponsor the Israeli soccer/football team.

This has backfired spectacularly.  The Team is a microcosm of Israeli society, including Bedouin, Circassian, Muslim and Jewish players and nobody is interested in BDS’s divisive tactics. Needless to say, the boycott failed miserably.

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At the same time BDS were whining about boycotts, Brazil and Israel were planning a match to be played in Haifa. The Shalom game, a friendly match between Brazil and Israel was played on the 29th of October, 2019. This was billed as a celebration of “Football, Peace and Fraternity” and featured legends Ronaldinho, Kaka, Rivaldo, Batu, and other major Brazilian team players who have won the World Cup and visited the Jewish State to promote the message of peace and brotherhood. Ronaldinho took to his social media to speak about how happy he was to be in Israel and faced a barrage of hatred. It didn’t bother him at all – the message of brotherhood and peace is greater than hate.

Some have not fared as well.

This lesson was learnt the hard way by Iranian Judoka, Saeid Mollaei who was instructed not only to lose his match with Israeli counterpart, Sagi Muki, but said that even his family were threatened should he face off against his rival. Mollaei was afraid to return home after exposing and criticizing his government’s pressure on him to deliberately lose and avoid a potential bout against an Israeli opponent.

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Moallei fled to Berlin after the championships, where he had been hoping to secure a place at the 2020 Olympic Games. He was recently granted asylum.

International Judo Federation has suspended Iran indefinitely for the regimes’ discriminatory treatment of Israel.

Sport has the unique ability to unite and inspire and improve the prospects of tolerance and brotherhood.

It doesn’t matter what kind of sport it is or what level, when unity and tolerance trumps conflict, this is the ultimate championship. Just ask Siya Kolisi.

StagNATION

Why a Unity Government Would Be Much Worse Than Useless

By Gidon Ben Zvi

Ever since Israel’s snap election drew to a close on September 17, the country’s chattering class has ginned up its campaign to convince Israelis that what they really want is a national unity government. To drive home their point, pundits, commentators and other members of the country’s intelligentsia have drawn parallels between Israel circa 1984 and today.

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Is Coalition Really The Answer? President Reuven Rivlin meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on September 23, 2019. (Haim Zach/GPO )

This is a false equivalence. When Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir and Labor’s Shimon Peres agreed to share power, the Israeli economy was teetering on the verge of collapse, with inflation running rampant. Israel was also a country at war in 1984 – the first Lebanon War.

Fast forward to the here and now. Israel’s economy and security are relatively stable and have been that way for some time. Despite regular skirmishes with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Israel Defense Forces aren’t waging a ground war on enemy territory.

Yet Israeli’s cultural, media and educational elites are bum-rushing citizens like a pesky used car salesman trying to unload a wreck. Why? Because in a country increasingly divided along political, religious and economic lines, even seasoned observers are intoxicated by the appeal of national unity. But their enthusiastic embrace of a grand coalition is worse than naïve, it’s dangerous to the wellbeing of Israeli society.

A national unity government would be a clunker for most Israelis because of the exploding cost of living here. Sure, the country’s macroeconomic performance is impressive, especially compared to 1984. But a report released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is setting off alarm bells that most citizens have been hearing for years.

Daily life in Israel is expensive. Food here is 19% higher than the OECD average. Meanwhile, apartment renters in Israel spend 25% of their gross adjusted disposable income on rent while homeowners paying mortgages spend 15%, a discrepancy that’s among the highest in the OECD. Since 2009, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, housing prices have shot up by over 90%.

If you’re raising children in Israel, good luck. Elementary school education and academic studies are 17% more expensive than a decade ago, while the average cost of preschools has risen by 14%. And Israel’s floundering public healthcare system is forcing many Israelis to supplement their mandatory universal medical insurance with out-of-pocket private policies. According to the OECD, only 8% of Israelis rely solely on public healthcare.

Here’s one more stat to consider: Israel ranked a lowly 38th on the economic freedom scale, dropping one place from 2018, according to the Economic Freedom of the World: 2019 Annual Report. In general, the higher a country’s level of economic freedom is the better off its citizens are.

What you won’t hear advocates for a national unity government say is that history shows that such grand coalitions hit the pause button on the implementation of seriously needed policy changes. Neither Shamir nor Peres were able to advance any major issues during their national unity government because each of them was immediately scuttled by the other.

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Hysteria To Historic. Joint List cross the Rubicon to endorse Gantz when meeting with President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, September 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s next government will be tasked with an awesome responsibility: to develop and carry out policies that remove the disproportionately large financial burden being carried by Israel’s working men and women. For millions of Israelis today a government of national paralysis is not a viable option.

The cost of prolonged stagnation is simply too high.

 

 

Gidon Ben-Zvi is an accomplished writer whose  work has appeared in The Jerusalem Gidon Ben Zvi.jpegPost, The Times of Israel, the Algemeiner, American Thinker, the Jewish Journal, Israel Hayom, and United with Israel. Ben-Zvi blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind (jsmstateofmind.com).

A former Californian, the writer lives with his wife and four children in Israel.

 

Understanding Zionism

By Rolene Marks

Maligned, misunderstood, and derided, provocative, emotive and polarizing. Often condemned, just the mention of the word Zionism is enough to raise the blood pressure of many. This often results in both pro and anti-Israel activists engaging in a battle of words. Frighteningly, this battlefield has expanded way beyond the Social Network to university campuses and other congregating venues where Jews identifying as Zionist are at physical risk.

So, what is Zionism exactly and why is it such a hot-button issue?

Simply put, Zionism is the National Liberation Movement of the Jewish people. It is a guarantee of the rights of the Jewish people to organize themselves politically and assign it a name that hearkens back to ancient roots and love for Zion.

Zion is synonymous with city of God; the place that God loves – Jerusalem. ‘Mount Zion’ – on the southeast side of the Old City – is the high hill on which King David built a citadel. The word Zion occurs over 150 times in the Bible and essentially means “fortification” and has the idea of being “raised” as a “monument”.

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The Written word. The word Zion from which Zionism takes its name appears 150 times in the Bible.

Zion is described both as the City of David and the City of God.

The word Zion is embedded into Jewish religion and culture as it is embedded into the rock and masonry of Israel’s capital – Jerusalem.

Complex Relationships

The great American civil rights leader, Rev Dr Martin Luther King is rumoured to have described Zionism as “nothing more that the yearning of the Jewish people to return to their ancient homeland”.

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After thousands of years of being made aware that we are unwelcome in many countries, Jews have returned en masse to our ancient and ancestral homeland.  The word Zion refers to those biblical ties since time immemorial. It is proof that Jews have “indigenous people’s rights to the land” and in case anybody has doubt, there is antiquity being discovered every day that supports this.

Israel’s detractors are quick to point out that Nelson Mandela, the father of democratic South Africa and the icon of the anti-Apartheid struggle’s support of Palestinians. What they neglect to conveniently mention is Madiba’s support for the Jewish people’s right to self-determination – Zionism.

Mandela has been quoted as saying

“As a movement, we recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognize the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism,” he said in 1993. “We insist on the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders, but with equal vigor support the Palestinian right to national self-determination.”

There has been much debate, discussion and social media brouhaha over who is or what defines a Zionist. Zionism is not restricted to Jews, but many Christians, Druze and yes, even Muslims consider themselves Zionists. Supporting Jewish rights to self-determination in no way makes one anti-Palestinian. Sadly, so much misunderstanding about what constitutes Zionism has resulted in alienating people who have an emotional attachment to Israel.  Too many would prefer that Zionism be relegated onto the pile of other unwanted “isms”.

Open-Ended Hatred

Many thought that with the realisation of the modern state of Israel, anti-Semitism would disappear but instead it has reared its head in a new form – anti-Zionism.

The world has emerged a hostile place for Zionists.

Ask the students on campus who are bullied and sometimes physically threatened for their political beliefs. Or the store owners in Europe who find their shops ransacked for carrying Israeli products. Or the travelers turned away from accommodation for being Israeli. The rise of the alt-right in the USA with their Nazi salutes and propensity for spray painting swastikas or the neo Nazis, the UK Labor party with its ongoing accusations of institutionalized antisemitism and BDS supporters in Europe, South America and South Africa has many Jews feeling afraid and isolated.

The argument “I am not an anti-Semite, I just don’t like Zionists” is spurious.

Even the French President, Emmanuel Macron says anti-Zionism is “a new type of antiSemitism.” He told the Israeli Prime Minister when speaking in Paris at an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Vel D’Hiv round-up, in which 13,152 French Jews were deported to Nazi concentration camps that France will “not surrender” to anti-Israel rhetoric.

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French President’s Promise to Crack Down on Anti-Semitism Could Threaten Critics of Israel (https://twitter.com/i/status/1098321796737236993)

There are an estimated 50 Muslim countries in the world, and an estimated 30 countries that define themselves as Christian. There is only one Jewish state and yet, so many have an issue with its very existence?

Saying that the Jews have no right to organize themselves politically and call it Zionism is in fact, racism.

Is it politically correct to criticize Israel?

For sure!

Criticising the government and its policies is the national sport of Israel.

Is Israel perfect? No. And it is perfectly okay and healthy to say so. However, saying that Jews have no right to national self-determination or that Israel has no right to exist is racist and anti-Semitic.

I believe part of being a Zionist is being able to criticize and improve. I believe that Zionism means that you want to see an exemplary Israel – a light unto the nations. An Israel that is tolerant and welcoming and grateful for all who support her. This is dignified, this is keeping with the tenets of our founders who envisioned this. There is room in the Zionist tent for everyone – Jew, Christian, Muslim, as well as from left to right across the political spectrum.

These values are enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence:

“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

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Return To Zion. Returning after nearly 3000 years, Ethiopian Jews aboard an Israeli air force plane flying from Addis Ababa to Tel Aviv in 1991.

I invite anyone who is somewhat skeptical or perhaps undecided about their views on Zionism to ask themselves how different it is to their national aspirations. Perhaps this will lead to a lot more understanding, a lot less maligning and hopefully an end to the rising violence that so many supporters of Israel are currently enduring.

 

 

(*Title picture: courtesy)

The Curious Case of Israel’s Invisible Election

By Gidon Ben-Zvi

With the great election redo of 2019 less than two weeks away, Israelis across the political spectrum are meeting up in living rooms, pubs and coffee shops around the country to discuss the great issues of the day…not.

The political fatigue is palpable right about now: Picture an old basset hound passed out on the front porch, trying to escape the summer heat. Sure, the major media outlets continue to breathlessly report on corruption allegations and the latest attempted mergers and acquisitions of splinter parties, whose potential votes could prove to be the difference between a center-left or right-wing government. But Israelis by and large have tuned out of the incessant focus on labyrinthine negotiations, political jockeying and mudslinging.

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Walk On By. Who’s who at the political zoo.

Their concerns are more immediate. Parents are busy getting their kids back into the school year swing, young men and women are gearing up for their university studies and those who’ve recently returned from vacation are just now trying to figure out how on earth to pay off that 7-day luxury trip to Greece. Israelis, once the most politically engaged citizens of any democracy on the planet, have settled into a low-grade stupor just days before a national election.

What’s this epidemic of ennui all about? Some of it can be traced to that point in Israel’s history when personalities began to trump platforms. Local journalists have only fueled this Gossip Girl approach to covering politics. As a result, there are no great issues, only rumors, allegations, spin and endless innuendo. It’s not surprising that people would rather spend their well-earned Saturday afternoons at the beautiful Beit Yanai Beach not discussing politics with their family and friends.

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Swing Voters. Israeli beaches are expected to be packed this coming election.

The problem is that such apathy is anathema to the long-term wellbeing of any democracy. What truly legitimizes any form of representative government isn’t its regulations, laws, Constitution or Declaration of Independence. These are but procedural mechanisms that will blow away like dust in the wind if people stop cherishing and fighting for the values that undergird free nations everywhere.

Democracies can’t long function on auto pilot. The very legitimacy of a representative government depends on a proactive public holding its leaders’ feet close to the fire. To paraphrase Robert Kennedy, a passionate and engaged citizenry, “…dreams of things that never were, and asks why not.” But detached, disinterested citizens accept the smallness of its countries’ leaders and settle for small victories: holding on to a job, making the monthly rent, getting through an entire summer without a call from the bank.

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Ballot Box To Beach. Having cast their votes, Israelis enjoy themselves at the beach during Israel’s parliamentary election day, in Tel Aviv, Israel April 9, 2019. (REUTERS/Corinna Kern, TEL AVIV)

 

When the national discussion isn’t about Israel’s security, economy or place among the family of nations, playing matkot or backgammon is surely a more productive way to spend one’s time. But viable democracies demand much of their citizens. Escaping these responsibilities will only prolong and deepen Israelis’ crisis of confidence in the country they so love.

 

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image007 (33).jpgGidon Ben-Zvi is an accomplished writer whose  work has appeared in The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, the Algemeiner, American Thinker, the Jewish Journal, Israel Hayom, and United with Israel. Ben-Zvi blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind (jsmstateofmind.com).

A former Californian, the writer lives with his wife and four children in Israel.