Kristallnacht Comparisons

By Rolene Marks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some took to the airwaves and to Twitter to lament.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was Kristallnacht?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Has the New York Times Been Captured?

By Rolene Marks

The New York Times used to be one of the world’s most respected publications. Packed with thought provoking content that delved into the nuances and complexities behind some of the world’s biggest stories and issues, readers could look forward to diverse opinions and well researched articles.

But over the last few years, something has changed at this once venerated bastion of journalism and the NY Times has gone from admired – to derided. What has happened? Why are there many asking the question has the NY Times fallen victim to institutional capture and is now a vehicle for those wishing to push a very transparent agenda? Many believe this to be true – especially when it comes to issues that are either focused on Israel or American Jewry.

Israel and the conflict with our neighbours occupies many a column inch in the world’s leading newspapers (and some really unsavoury ones as well) which is almost understandable because of the religious and emotional connections that a lot of people have, but there is a line where the connection dangerously becomes the obsession. The New York Times is obsessed.

Over the last couple of years, any mention of the NY Times is guaranteed to raise the blood pressure – and ire of many who feel that the publication is pandering to a far-left agenda, with truth (and Israel) as a casualty.

Chaotic Caricatures

Political satire in the form of cartoons has always been a creative way for opinion makers to be highly controversial and circumvent certain parameters but in 2019, the paper featured a cartoon that led to many writing complaints – and cancelling of subscriptions. Never a fan of the Trump administration, the cartoonist drew a caricature that featured a blind President Trump being led by Israeli PM Netanyahu, portrayed as a “guide dog” with a big Star of David around his neck. The inference was plain to see – the most powerful man in the world, the President of the USA (and this is not an issue of whether one likes or dislikes him) was being led and heavily influenced by Israel. This trotted out the age old ugly stereotype that Jews control the governments of the world and in particular, the leading superpower.

Admitting Antisemitism. A caricature of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog guiding a skullcap-wearing ‘blind’ US President Donald Trump was published in The New York Times’ international edition on April 25, 2019, and which the paper later acknowledged “included anti-Semitic tropes.” (Courtesy)

Faced with an avalanche of complaints from Jewish individuals, institutions and supporters, the paper would eventually publish an “acknowledgement of an error of judgment” on their Twitter page and subsequently apologized saying:

Deadly Exchange?

It is not unusual these days for the NY Times to raise the odd eyebrow or two, a misleading headline here and omission of context there and often face the wrath of readers or media watch dogs.  It gets more worrisome when they dredge up old articles that may not be relevant and serves no purpose other than to fuel the flames of divisiveness.

The world was horrified when the images of George Floyd slowly asphyxiating to death while a cop placed his knee firmly on his windpipe.  This event ignited protests across the US and the world and while the social justice movement, Black Lives Matter would gain momentum in highlighting and fighting racism, there were elements who took advantage of the fervour whipped up against injustice.

Enter Deadly Exchange, a group dedicated to blaming Israeli law enforcement for the tactics employed by the police officer in question. They claim that Israel’s training exchanges which see officers receive  and give training to their colleagues from around the world, is what is allowing this tactic to be adopted by law enforcement officers in the US. While Israeli police have at times used what some might see as excessive force, these instances have been dealt with – and are not isolated to Israel and are definitely not training policy.

The NY Times would have you believe otherwise. Months after this issue has died down, journalists,  David Halbfinger and Adam Rasgon, wrote an article titled “An Autistic Man Is Killed, Exposing Israel’s Festering Police Brutality Problem,” the authors depict Israeli authorities as having “failed to rein in the use of excessive force, which has a long history.”

According to media watchdog HonestReporting, the article which is 2000 words long, “fails to acknowledge that Jerusalem is a city that has been plagued by terrorism and remains at the heart of a territorial conflict. Israeli police and military, as well as civilians, have over the years been victims of shooting, stabbing and car ramming attacks.”

The complexities and nuances of the conflict are presented in a way that is very vague and this is cause for concern that readers may miss any robust discussion – and recognition about the unique challenges in this volatile region.

Resignation

By far the most alarming was the shocking resignation of respected journalist, Bari Weiss.  Weiss who is largely centrist in her opinions and has written for the Wall Street Journal as well as other publications was initially hired to represent a different ideology or voice and enjoyed a very successful career. This was until her sometimes controversial opinions clashed with the “woke” folk at the paper. Isn’t the point of a free press to allow for a variety of opinions, even though you may disagree with them?

It would appear that instead of creating an environment where people could respectfully disagree and debate, the NY Times allowed for one where bullying and cancel culture became rampant. The environment became so hostile that Weiss was forced to resign.

Bullying Bari. Op-Ed staff editor and writer at the New York Times, Bari Weiss resigns citing “bullying by colleagues” and an “illiberal environment.”

Comments such as “Nazi” and “racist” and “you are writing about the Jews again” contributed to a workspace that was more” mean girl” than meaningful.  Weiss is not the first and will no doubt not be the last journalist to be driven out of the workplace for opinions that clash with the growing woke voice. Suzanne Moore and English journalist with The Guardian newspaper was also put in a position where she would rather resign than work in an environment growing ever more intolerant of her opinions.

This phenomenon is very dangerous in a profession that is supposed to be driven by fact and diversity and not personal agendas.

Bari Weiss resignation letter: https://www.bariweiss.com/resignation-letter

Weiss has been replaced by far-left writer Peter Beinart whose views are perhaps more palatable to the agenda of the paper.

Cancelling a Columnist. A columnist with The Guardian, Suzanne Moore resigned claiming she was effectively censored by editors and bullied out by colleagues.

Chanukah Cancelled?

The latest iteration is the Jewish festival of Chanukah.  Everybody has the right to observe (or not) religious festivals how they deem fit but does a personal choice really necessitate an op-ed in the NY Times? Many are asking this of an op-ed entitled “Saying goodbye to Chanukah” that was published as millions around the world prepared to celebrate a festival that allows for some light in an otherwise dark year. The writer makes a point of stating how her family will carry on Christmas and Easter traditions (as is their right) but one gets the feeling that she heaps scorn on Chanukah. It is almost derisive.

One has to ask the question, would an op-ed of this kind be written about the festivals of other religions?

(Ping Zhu)

Institutional capture is a new type of MacCarthyism. In the 1950’s, this movement was largely dedicated to weeding out those in the entertainment industry that were suspected of having Communist sympathies. In the case of the NY Times, it is weeding out and cancelling anyone that may seem to have an affinity to Israel or Jews that does not suit the agenda of the thought and opinion police. This is very dangerous territory. One would hope that this once highly respected journal, once the benchmark of journalistic integrity and excellence will break free of its one-sided captors. Free expression in a democracy depends on it.


Feature Picture credit: Doug Chayka


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)

Jokes Aside

Jewish Humour – an antidote for all seasons

By David E. Kaplan

With US president, Donald Trump looking to be dragged off the global stage – electorally and not on trumped-up charges has led some to lament:

What are we going to do for humour?

Whether you love or loathe Trump, he did provide endless comedic material to the nightly TV show hosts like Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel. His daily tweets were the stuff of ready-made-material. While intolerant to humour directed against himself- although he does crack a smile when it’s against others – reminded me of Jewish humour which in its DNA is self-deprecating.

Taking on Trump. Popular South African comedian and host of The Daily Show, the American satirical news program on Comedy Central.

Jews laugh and make fun of themselves.

When asked, “What makes a star?” the iconic epic actor Charlton Heston revealed the best advice came at a dinner party from the screen and stage legend Sir. Lawrence Olivier who said, “The ability to make fun of oneself.”

In order not to fall into the trap of believing in one’s own mythology, “Rather play on your vulnerabilities; you become more likable,” counseled Olivier.

By Olivier’s definition, Jews are “stars”. They never hesitate to poke fun of themselves, their religion and their culture. No matter how dire the situation, humour has served throughout the ages as the best prescription – alongside Torah (Hebrew Bible) – in coping with adversity.

Star Material

Groucho Marx’s wisecrack that “I wouldn’t join a club that would have me as a member,” says as much about Jewish humour as it does about himself. While Muslims around the world would go on a rampage over a few cartoons that appeared in an obscure newspaper in distant Denmark, Jews would have no qualms about ‘shtoching’ (taking a jab at) their deity. What would be blasphemy in one religion is acceptable humour to Jews.

Master of Quick Wit. The bushy-browed, cigar-smoking wise-cracker with the painted-on moustache and stooped walk, Grouche Marx considered one of America’s greatest comedians

Contrast the 2005 global protests to the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad with the cartoon in the ‘Big Book of Jewish Humour’ edited and annotated by William Novak and Moshe Waldocks, of a perplexed Moses standing on the top of Mount Sinai holding up the newly acquired tablets of the Ten Commandments and facing the awesome power of God ensconced behind clouds and forked lighting. Asks Moses:

They were wondering if this is the order of importance?

The cartoonist here is poking fun at nothing less then the Almighty’s ‘non-negotiables’, literally cast in stone! “We relish in satirizing religious personalities, as well rituals and dogma,” Waldocks – an American raconteur, humourist, rabbi and interfaith leader – told the writer some years ago when reviewing his book.

Got it Covered. The cover of Novak and Waldoks’ collection of Jewish and Jewish-inspired humor with contributions from Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce to the Talmud.

Food for Thought or Laughs

Woody Allen’s classic one-liner on Judaism: “They tried to kill us, they lost, now let’s eat” amounts to reducing the entire Bible as an excuse to binge out on food. For Allan, essing (eating) is at the core of Judaism, reminding us of Rashi’s one-liner: “all else is commentary.” [Rashi is the acronym forthe French medieval rabbi, Shlomo Yitzhaki]

The great American novelist and 1997 Pulitzer Prize winner, Philip Roth pokes poignant fun at the Kosher Laws in his celebrated book, ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’. In this satirical writing he describes the ‘goyim (non-Jews) in America sinking “their teeth into whatever lowly creature crawls and grunts across the face of the dirty earth. ….. they know how to go into the woods with a gun, these geniuses, and kill innocent wild deer; deer who themselves nosh quietly on berries and go their way bothering no one. Reeking of beer and empty of ammunition, home you head, a dead animal strapped to each fender, so all motorists along the way can see how manly and strong you are….

Thus saith the kosher laws to the child I was and who am I to argue that they were wrong.”

He ends his comical understanding of Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) with a clear admission of ambivalence, an astute insight on the Jewish predicament:

If Alex Portnoy thought the taste of pork is the taste of compassionateless, murderous, unthinking, un-Jewish immorality, that’s just fine with me. I think I’m ready to move on to even more heinous, violent, and disgusting crimes unbefitting my nature as a mensch – I want lobster!”

Witty Woody. American director, writer, actor, and comedian Woody Allen has made a career of poking fun of himself, neuroses and the demasculinized Jewish man. 

Nothing Sacrosanct

The religious establishment and rabbis have always been easy targets for ridicule.

One Yom Kippur, in a synagogue in New York, the rabbi stops in the middle of the service, prostrates himself beside the bima, and cries out, “O God. Before You, I am nothing!”
The chazen is so moved by this demonstration of piety that he immediately follows suit, throwing himself to the floor beside the rabbi and crying, ‘O God!  Before you, I am nothing!”
In the ensuing silence, a shuffling is heard in the back row. Saul Blumenthal jumps from his seat, prostrates himself in the isle and cries, “O God! Before You, I am nothing!”
Seeing this, the chazen nudges the rabbi and whispers, “So look who thinks he’s nothing?”

And another on self-importance:

A Hasid comes to the rabbi: “Rabbi, I have had a dream in which I am the leader of 300 Hasidim.”

The Rabbi replies: “Come back when 300 Hasidim have a dream that you are their leader.”

Sharing a Laugh. The great postwar world Jewish American novelist Philip Roth and then US president Barack Obama at the White House in March 2011. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

On Fundraising…

With many of the concerns in the Jewish world being addressed by the need to raise massive contributions, “it was understandable,” said Waldocks that in the 20th century, “jabs at fundraisers replaced stories of schnorrers. (A person who makes a living sponging off others)”

A rabbi in Golders Green answers his phone.
“Hello?”
“Hello, is this Rabbi Rabinovitz?”
“It is.”
“This is the Inland Revenue. Can you help us?”
“I’ll try.”
“Do you know Sam Cohen?”
“I do.”
“Is he a member of your congregation?”
“He is.”
“Did he donate £10,000 to the synagogue rebuilding fund last year?”
“He will!”

On Business and Cheating…

In his ‘Two Jews on a Train’, (Published by Dvir in Hebrew, 1995) the acclaimed Israeli animator and satirist Danni Kerman, brought to pictorial delight the humour of Alter Druyanov, who is chiefly remembered today for his three-volume anthology of Jewish humour. Druyanov, who immigrated to Palestine in 1921, captured 19th century Jewish life from the shtetl to the rich and culture in the cities of Europe.

On page 79:

Two wealthy investors in the Romanian bourse were walking along the river on Shabbat (Saturday). One of them noticed that a kid was trying to steal the handkerchief of the other one and warned him about it.

“It’s ok, let him do it, we also started small…”

And on page 27:

The local Christian constabulary raided a public place where it was forbidden to play cards. Coming across a Russian, a Pole and a Jew with cards about to be dealt on the table, all three denied guilt.

“Swear to me you were not about to play cards,” demanded the Chief constable, to which the Pole swore and was excused.

Similarly, the Russian swore, and he too was excused.

“What about you Jew?” demanded the constable.

“Why do I need to swear if the others have sworn? Do you honestly think I could play cards by myself?”

On Being Smart….

Having survived for thousands of years against all odds when mighty empires have crumbled, it has naturally been assumed that ‘Jews are smart.’ The writer a few years back interviewed an MBA student at Tel Aviv University – not Jewish –  and asked:

 “Why choose to study in Israel?”

He replied:

 “Jews are few in number and leaders in every field. I saw what was being achieved in business and hi-tech in this small country and wanted to find out how they do it?”

Here is how:

Three men – a Frenchman, an Italian and a Jew – were condemned to be executed. Their captors told them that they had the right to a final meal of their choice. The Frenchman asked for “French wine and French bread,” which they gave him and was executed. Next it was the Italian’s turn. “Give me a big plate of pasta,” he asked. So they brought it to him and was then executed. Now it was the Jews turn.

“I want a big bowl of strawberries.”

“Strawberries! It’s September. Strawberries aren’t in season for months!” exclaimed his captors.

“So…I’ll wait.”

On a similar theme, but more contemporary in the wake of the UN resolutions against Israel:

A Texan, a Frenchman and an Israeli are on a plane flying over the Pacific Ocean when the engines stop functioning. The plane crash lands on a Pacific Island and the three are immediately captured by a tribe of cannibals whose Chief tells them that before they are eaten, they will be granted one final wish.

After the Texan and the Frenchman have their wishes fulfilled by receiving their favorite cuisine, they are placed into the pot.

The Chief turns to the Israeli and asks, “And what is your wish?”
The Israeli looks the Chief squarely in the eyes and replies: “I want you to kick me in the behind as hard as you can.” 

The Chief is bewildered and asks the Israeli again, only to receive the same reply. “I want you to kick me in the behind as hard as you can.”  The Chief shrugs his shoulders, asks the Israeli to turn around, and kicks him as hard as he can.  With that the Israeli pulls out a gun and kills the Chief and all of the other cannibals.

The Texan and the Frenchman get out of the pot, look at the Israeli and say: “If you had that gun why didn’t you do anything sooner?”

“What? And risk being condemned by the UN, EU and the State Department for ‘overreacting’ to insufficient provocation?”

Old Jews Telling Jokes

Of Mice and Men

Of major concern today in the Diaspora is the issue of young Jews turning away from organised religion. The organisations and federations spend vast amounts of money to address this situation. This problem is encapsulated in this simple joke:

Three rabbis were talking.

“Oy! We have such a problem with mice at our shul,” said the first rabbi, “The shamos set some traps but no good.”

The second rabbi admitted the same problem. “We’ve spent all kinds of gelt on exterminators, but the problem still persists.”
The third rabbi looked at them and said: “Schlemiels! I baited our mice with cheese and while they were feasting, I Barmitzvaed all of them. They’ve never been back!”

Schisms in Judaism

The split in Israeli society between ultra-Orthodox and secular is widening – particularly during Corona. There is also the impact it is having on Israel’s relationship with America’s Jewish community. This joke captures the situation:

One day, the special golden phone on the desk of the Orthodox

Israeli Chief Rabbi rings for the first time. Amazed, the Chief Rabbi

picks up the phone and asks in a halting voice, “Who is there?”

 “This is God speaking. I have two very important messages to give

You. Would you like the good news or the bad news first?”

 The Rabbi, after a quick blessing, responds, “O Holy One, if it

pleases you, please give me the good news first.”

God continues, “The good news is that all Jews will finally agree on

One form of Judaism, and they will unite in peace, harmony, and

mutual goodwill for ever and ever.”

 The Rabbi answers, “Baruch Hashem (Blessed is God), this is the

Most wonderful news in Jewish History! What could possibly be the

Bad news?”

 God says, “I’m calling from Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation.”

Political Correctness

Living in an age of ‘political correctness’ and at the same time the heightened fear of global terrorism, this joke covers both:

In Philadelphia, the following sign was in the window of a business:  “We would rather do business with 1000 terrorists than with a single Jew.”  Ordinarily this might be cause to ignite the anti-hate groups but perhaps in these stressful times one might be tempted to let the proprietors, ‘Goldstein’s Funeral Home’, simply make their statement

Easy Access

I remember a time when the best Jewish humour was heard at men’s urinals at Brith Milahs, Bar Mitzvahs and weddings,” jokes Waldoks. “Today they are passed quickly from friend to friend over the Internet. This has become the major conduit of Jewish humour. Hardly a day goes by that people who are working on the computer are not accessing jokes. And the source of this humour? Who knows? They are rarely identifiable.”

But what we do know says Waldock, is that a sense of humour “helps one look over the unattractive, tolerate the unpleasant, cope with the unexpected and smile through the unbearable.”

In this respect has anything changed since one of the earliest jokes was recorded in the Bible. The Jews were following Moses out of Egypt only to find themselves pegged between the pursuing Egyptian army and the sea?

What’s the matter, Moshe, you schlepped us here for vot? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt?”

Against All Odds

In an age of ‘roadmaps’ that often lead nowhere, Jewish humour, is often the best guide to the future.

Enslaved by the Egyptians, slaughtered by the Philistines, exiled by the Babylonians, dispersed by the Romans, and butchered and chased from land to land in Europe and finally nearly entirely exterminated there, Jews have survived against all odds.

Upside Down. Bringing smiles on Tel Aviv’s beach is Israel’s first Prime Minister and one of its greatest leaders, David Ben Gurion in a tiny bathing costume doing a handstand.

And so to the question of “Who is a Jew?” – an issue that does not cease to confound – Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion said it best in jest:

Anyone meshugge (crazy) enough to call himself a Jew, is a Jew.”

Israel, unlike elsewhere in the world, does not erect statues of its great leaders and warriors. One of the few there is only there as a joke – it is of Ben Gurion doing a handstand in a bathing costume on Tel Aviv beach.

It articulates much about Israel, Jews and their humour as an instrument of survival.

With well over four thousand years of ‘survival’ under our belt,   “Who’s having the last laugh?”


“Funny Was a Way of Survival”: Understanding Jewish Comedy





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

Relief, Rage and Fear

By Emma Picken

First appeared in the “Jewish News”.

With the publication of the EHRC (Equality & Human Rights Commission) findings and the verdict ringing out loud and clear that the Labour Party has acted unlawfully in its treatment of Jews, I am filled with three conflicting emotions.

Relief, rage and fear.

Relief because any other verdict would have been an affront – the impact on my Jewish friends would have been devastating.

Having dragged the boulder of Labour antisemitism up the hill together for the last five years only to see it roll back down crushing my friends would have left nothing but despair in its path.

It also provides legal vindication, a historically accurate, irrefutable record and potentially a path forward.

There can be no return to the days that cultivated fertile soil for Corbynism. The rotten stench of antisemitism ignored so long within the left, that finally enveloped the party with its noxious gases, must now be addressed.

The internal Labour row over antisemitism has dragged on for several years.

Tearing out antisemitism at its roots requires more than just soundbites. The source goes back decades in the left – a fact I was personally oblivious to when I joined the party with enthusiasm, the day after Ed Milliband lost in 2015.

So relief yes, vindication, justification, and potential for change.

So why rage? This goes back to election night, 2019. The sheer hell of that election can never be forgotten.

In so many ways, no verdict from any human rights body can be as powerful a message as the one sent to the Jewish community on Dec 12th by the electorate.

The absolute demolition of Corbyn that evening changed everything. In one fell swoop the public rejected his party, and my Jewish friends who had been making plans to leave the country could breathe again.

The days of darkness leading up to that exit poll had lifted.

The fights with people who had other priorities were over.

The fear of an institutionally antisemitic party with an antisemite as its leader running the UK were gone.

It was over.

What I heard time and time again running into the election were the words ‘This country doesn’t feel like home anymore.’

Like every other non-Jewish person involved with Labour Against Antisemitism, I know how devastating that was. How hard it was to feel the pain, and how helpless I felt and the impossibility of saying anything of comfort.

The only comfort I could give was my fight, our fight.

Some of the attacks on our members and allies over this time were abhorrent. They have had lasting impact on their lives even now. Some wounds run deep: they will need more than soundbites to heal. It’s too late now, I don’t know if they ever will.

That is my rage.

Now to my fear.

A party doesn’t become institutionally antisemitic overnight nor does it eradicate this culture overnight.

What happened wasn’t something incidental – any study of antisemitism on the left could have predicted Corbyn and all that followed in his path. A political path that had been there long before he came on the scene.

The antisemitism row in the Labour Party was a constant backdrop to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership

Even now, Labour stands at a crossroads. Does it eradicate the source of the stench, or simply cover it up again in the hope it stays undetectable to those without a good sense of smell until the next election?

It has that choice, and I am afraid of the party. I became afraid of Labour over the last few years and my fears were proven correct.

Too many people who should have stood by our side on Dec 12th were missing. Many people were with us, but a huge number of people in the party were not.

I feel fear because I believe these people will advocate covering the stench rather than eradicating it. This would be dangerous for the future of Labour and its ability to keep the Jewish community safe, should it rise to power at some point in the future.

Former Labour MP Luciana Berger addresses the crowd during a demonstration against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. (JACK TAYLOR / GETTY IMAGES

There are already thousands of committed Labour activists radicalised against the Jewish community, and Labour created them. LABOUR not Corbyn.

The party did this, by the choice it made to save itself from Corbyn.

The fear I feel is that it doesn’t understand this and does not feel the need to properly address the issue. Too many people involved still feel the party is ‘too good’ and full of ‘good people’ to really rectify the roots of how it came to this.

I remained a member of the party throughout all of the last few years. I made no judgement over people staying, as I was one of them. I believed then as I believe now that only through brutally honest introspection over how abhorrent it all was – and still is – along with retributive action, can the party redeem itself from the swamp of antisemitism that engulfed it.

The party is at a crossroads, and so am I. How it deals with antisemitism and the activists that stood with the Jewish community on Dec 12th remains to be seen.

Will it take on the grip the PSC (Palestine Solidarity Campaign) has over the union movement? Will it understand that the antizionist antisemitism paraded around by thousands of its activists needs to be fully and robustly dealt with?

Whatever its leadership says, does the party still see me, standing up against what was happening, as the enemy?

Is our small group of committed activists still the enemy?

Do we still have to be afraid of the party?

Will the voice of the 94% of Jews that refused to vote Labour, whom I proudly advocated for on Dec 12th, be given the first and last hearing in how Labour deals with antisemitism?

British Jews protest outside parliament against Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn (Photo: GettyImages)
 

Will justice be done for the community that suffered so badly?

Is it still a party for those that said loud and clear, Enough is Enough?

The verdict is still out.


About the Writer:

Emma Picken is director and researcher for Labour Against Antisemitism.












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

From Meddling to Menace

A hungry Turkey itching to gobble all  before her

By David E. Kaplan

What’s cooking with Turkey these days? Like its namesake in the animal kingdom it has an insatiable appetite to gobble all in its sight!

President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seems set on sampling a new regional “dish” nearly every month creating each time an international crisis.

His latest flavour of the month  – Armenia.

Over the course of 2020, starting in February, the salivating President interfered in Syria’s Idlib and then in April and Mayit was Libya that attracted his fancy. Clearly unsatiated, the President bombed Iraq in June and then from August through to September, drooled westerly threatening Greece over drilling rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Then, from meddling in the Mediterranean,  the appetitive Erdoğan switched his tastes to the Caspian and Caucasus to support Azerbaijan in its current clashes with Armenia.

Syrian Arab and Kurdish civilians arrive in Hassakeh city after fleeing Turkish bombardment on Syria’s northeastern towns. [Delil Souleiman/AFP]

Recent reports by a Syrian source supported by photos and videos revealed Syrian mercenaries recruited by Turkey being transported by busses on September 23 towards Armenia. Photographs furnished by Majd Helobi confirming these allegations further suggest that the Syrians recruited by Ankara are the same that carried out earlier “crimes against humanity” in Turkish-occupied Afrin and Tel Abyad. These crimes that according to a September 2020 United Nations Human Rights Council biannual report include “rape, ethnic cleansing and looting” were directed against women and children, primarily targeting minorities such as Yazidis, Kurds and Christians.

Man with a Mission. Two-fisted threatening Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a typical tirade.  (Photo: EPA via STR)

Bullying Beast

Is there no stopping the insatiable Turkey?” ask Arab journalists throughout the region.

Jalal Aref, writing in the UAE’s Al-Bayan, laments the tragic plight of the Turkish people under its president:

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to wake up every morning to yet another report about the deterioration of the Turkish economy, the collapse of his country’s reputation around the world and the decline in his party’s influence at home. But the Turkish leader refuses to look reality in the eye and insists on maintaining his illusion of grandeur. The question is, where will these illusions take his bullying next?”

Syrians flee shelling by Turkish forces in Ras al-Ain, northeastern Syria [AP Photo]

The man who inherited a promising economy is now only promising misery as he leads Turkey to the brink of bankruptcy. In his grandiose quest to revive the “glory days” of the Ottoman Empire,  he “has brought blood and destruction not only on his own people, but also on hundreds of innocent civilians throughout the Arab world,” writes Aref.

Syrians throw stones toward Turkish military vehicles during a patrol along the Syria-Turkey border near the town of Darbasiyah, Syria, Nov. 11, 2019. (Photo by DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

How did it come about that a man who initially promised to promote democratic reforms in his country has instead allied himself with terrorist factions that undermine the sovereignty of nation-states throughout the Middle East causing havoc!

Also writing in Al-Bayan, “How Long Will We Keep Silent About Turkey?” asks Dr. Abdullah Al-Madani. The countries of the Gulf “can no longer afford to sit idly by as Turkey continues to threaten the security and stability of our entire region. Ankara, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party is clear about its aspiration to lead the entire Muslim world by restoring the Ottoman caliphate.”

Meddling in the Med. Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz escorted by a Turkish Navy frigate in the eastern Mediterranean Sea off Cyprus, last August. (Reuters)

Asserting that Erdogan’s Turkey is “no longer a friendly country with good intentions,” but rather, continues Dr. Al-Madani, “has become one of the most malicious nations in the world, deploying mercenaries all over the region and destabilizing the security and stability of distant countries in an effort to lock in political and financial gains.”

The height of hypocrisy  was when Erdoğan threatened to suspend diplomatic relations with the UAE following its September breakthrough deal between the Gulf state and Israel, without even suggesting that it might downgrade its own diplomatic relations with the Jewish state that it has maintained since 1949.

This position by Turkey was widely criticized as hypocrisy.

Today, Turkey competes with Iran in only one major respect – its hate and threats toward Israel!

What’s more disturbing, does the insatiable Turkey have its sights again set on “returning” to Israel restoring the Ottoman legacy that ruled Palestine for 400 years from 1517 to 1917.

In a speech this October to lawmakers during the opening of the new legislative session, President Erdoğan proclaimed “Jerusalem is ours”. The Turkish leader touted years of Ottoman rule over Jerusalem lamenting that “In this city that we had to leave in tears during the First World War, it is still possible to come across traces of the Ottoman resistance.”

Designs on Jerusalem.  President Erdogan greets legislators at the parliament in Ankara on Oct. 1, 2020 on the way to declare ‘Jerusalem is our city’.  (Turkish Presidency via AP. Pool)

Erdoğan should do well not to brag nor lament the past when it comes to Jerusalem.  We have enough archaeological reminders of those ‘visitors’ who approached with armies more likely to try crushing its walls than entering through its gates, hence the city’s long and tumultuous history. Since the city was first established by Kind David in 1004 BCE, Jews have suffered war, massacre, slavery and exile .

No Mr. Erdoğan – ENOUGH and the loudest voices telling you this are not from Israel but your fellow Muslims across the region.

Tensions over Gas. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan  announces on Aug. 10, 2020 that it will be conducting energy exploration in an area of the eastern Mediterranean that Greece says overlaps its continental shelf.(Turkish Presidency via AP, Pool)

Today Israel welcomes those that come with cameras not threats and as we see what is evolving around the Middle East – particularly in the Gulf –  this is a sentiment shared by new generations seeking a future of peace and prosperity not a past of bloodshed and bondage.






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

“In The Mood”

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

By David E. Kaplan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asks Scott:

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

Adhering to the facts on the ground, Scott continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Off the Mark to Off-line

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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




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

Fortune Favours the Bold

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

By  Rolene Marks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh dear! They do seem a bit put out!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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









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

Cancelling “Cancel Culture”

By Rolene Marks

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

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

Cancelling “Cancel Culture”2

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

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

Cancelling “Cancel Culture”4
Cancelling Columbus. A group of protesters pulled down a statue of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

 

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

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

image004 - 2020-06-23T170507.347
Tackling Truth. Maybe the world could follow the South African example following the fall of Apartheid when hearings were conducted between victims and perpetrators of the heinous racist system.

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

image002 (12)

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

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

image003 - 2020-06-23T171703.487
Storm on Social Media. Famed British author of the Harry Potter fantasy series has dared to challenge the cancel culture narrative.

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

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

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

image005 - 2020-06-23T170638.322
Antisemitism Neglected. A reminder of the unending hatred of Jews, a person pauses in front of Stars of David with the names of those killed in a deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, in Pittsburgh in October 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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

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

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

 Perhaps the time has come to cancel this cancel culture?

 

 

 

 

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

Storming Statues

Frenzied removals from their proverbial pedestals

By David E. Kaplan

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

image002 - 2020-06-21T172203.379
World’s protector needs protection. Statue of Winston Churchill boarded up ahead of Black Lives Matter protest in London.

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

image001 - 2020-06-21T170947.078
How the mighty have fallen. A statue of George Washington was pulled down from the lawn outside the German American Society in Northeast Portland on June 18, 2020. Rebecca Ellis/OPB

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

image003 - 2020-06-21T171228.320
Only time BG had his head in the sand. Statue of Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion doing one of his famous handstands on the Tel Aviv beach.

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

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

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

Of course not!

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

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

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

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

image006 (97)
Close to home of the ‘Black Live Matter’ movement is this bronze statue in Washington DC of Martin Luther who advocated setting fire to Jewish homes, synagogues and schools.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course not!

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

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

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

Of course not!

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

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

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

Of course not!

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

But this is what is required!

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

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

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

Monumental Milestones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It would be unthinkable!

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

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

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

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

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

In this, we may find a global consensus.

 

 

 

 

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

Streetwise

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

By David E. Kaplan

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

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

It is no careless omission but one of deliberate intent!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willian Eddy writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Fala’ was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s dog!

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

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

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

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