Both are captives – but so are we

By David E. Kaplan

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

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

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

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

Sound familiar?

Israelis can similarly ask:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No wonder Yesh Atid party leader MK Yair Lapid says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A cautionary  tale from the South African experience

By former acting Judge, Lawrence Nowosenetz

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

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

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

Democracy is far more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the writer:

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

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


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

By David E. Kaplan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

By Jonathan Feldstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the writer:

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

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

From the ‘United Kingdom’ to the ‘Divided City’

Openly gay UK visitor finds city of Hebron full of surprises 

Written by Lay of the Land UK correspondent

For the purposes of this article, I have kept some of the names of Jewish and Palestinian leaders that work for co-existence in Hebron private. I have done so for their safety, fearing threats of violence and/or imprisonment from the Palestinian Authority (PA) with possible extra-judicial killings from local extremist religious groups.

I had not planned to visit Hebron. Hardly surprising as it’s a city that I, living in the UK, never paid much attention to, considering it far removed both geographically and cerebrally. Even when I did think of Hebron, what came to mind were images of a remote turbulent city with troubled communities – Palestinians beset by internal violence and Jews governed by strict religious laws.  

While I have been in contact with Israeli-Jews and Palestinians from Hebron on social media and personally found the city of very little personal interest, it was by a twist of fate that I would visit it. I had been contacted by an Israeli ‘social media friend’, who lived close to Hebron and works in the city insisting that I visit.

Illuminating Visit. It is important to hear both sides as both local Jews and Arabs have their own stories to tell.

After months of ‘pestering’, I finally agreed while on a holiday on Israel. Although I was anxious about visiting a strictly religious Jewish community as an openly gay man, I was surprised to find the community very accepting of LGBT+ people.

My ‘social media friend’ and contact, Shlomo, picked me up from Tel Aviv. Abandoning my customary caution, I hopped into a car with essentially a stranger and began my visit to a city once described as one of the most dangerous and conflict-ridden cities in the world. The two-hour drive felt like an eternity.  We passed through two easy security points, which where nothing more than a single guard with a toll style security. Checkpoints are often derided and dismissed by anti-Israel protagonists but are critical in providing security.


The city of Hebron is one of the most historically and religiously important cities to Jews and one of the most important cities, politically, for the PA. It is also a frequent flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The first thing that struck me about Shlomo as he gave me a private tour, was that he and his community just wanted to be heard. Giving me a private tour starting at the Cave of the Patriarchs and then moving on to the other local historical sites, I got to ask him as many question as I wanted.

Hebron’s Holly of Hollies. The Cave of the Patriarchs or Tomb of the Patriarchs, known to Jews as the Cave of Machpelah and to Muslims as the Sanctuary of Abraham, is a series of caves in the heart of the Old City of Hebron.

We visited the gravesite of Baruch Goldstein, the infamous Israeli terrorist and mass-murder, where he immediately warned me that the local Israeli authorities closely monitor the site and any public support for Goldstein would be met by an arrest.

I had no desire to stay and while Shlomo reassured me there were no security concerns,  he cautioned me to avoid drawing any attention to myself.

Touring Jewish Hebron, I was able to get a close-up of Palestinian Hebron. An old broken-down chicken wire fence – replete with wide gaps – was the only significant separation between the Palestinian and Jewish Hebron – a rather tenuous ‘barrier’ I thought, considering the tensions I was under the impression, fractured the city.

As I walked through the old quarter of Jewish Hebron, memorials for Jews murdered were common at every corner. They represented a sad reminder of the steep price in lives to choose to live in the second holiest site for Jews after Jerusalem. As I walked around, I saw bullet holes in old walls and doors with l potholes in the ground which I suspected were once caused by explosives.

Writing on the Wall. Hebron graffiti articulates peoples thoughts and dreams.

Shlomo introduced me to a local Jewish community leader and elder called Y, who with the kindness of his wife, invited me to stay at their house for regular vegan meals. Y and his wife were a jolly and inspiring couple with enthralling stories. 

They shared their past in the former Soviet Union being members of the underground and engaging in resistance activities to support persecuted Jews. Other stories from Y, included secretly hosting in Hebron leading LGBT+ Iranian dissidents as well as welcoming Hollywood celebrities.


With Y as our guide, we handed out sweets to the IDF and were joined by two young, religious women. As we walked through the city’s broken pathways, handing out the sweets to the IDF soldiers, I saw many soldiers speaking and some playing football with Palestinian children. I quickly discovered that Y, was well-liked and known around to hand out sweets to the Palestinian children.

Y was extremely proud to show me Palestinian businesses popular with the city’s Jewish residents, notable dentists, pet shops, clothing stores and auto repair shops.

We came upon a cluster of small, very ordinary Palestinian stalls, one of which was owned by a friend of Y – his close contact within Palestinian Hebron.

His friend broke into a wide warm smile when he saw Y but it quickly disappeared when he spotted me. Feeling uncomfortable or suspicious by my appearance, I left the two of them alone to speak as I explored the stalls. I found beautiful, handcrafted items and was fascinated by  the daily co-existence so contrary to the image I had imagined  from the international media.  

Business is Brisk. Despite the tensions, life goes on in Hebron.

Creating their own security network, Y revealed that he and  his friend would secretly pass information to each other about which Jewish or Palestinian children were committing violence against each other in their communities, bypassing the local authorities. They believe that these local Jewish and Palestinian children are best served by being punished by local community leaders rather than subject them to Israeli or Palestinian justice. In this way, it is a far better way to maintain social calm between the two communities.

Y would later tell me on our tour that he believed that 60% of Hebron was supportive of Hamas because of their alleged anti-corruption agenda.  Many are frustrated with the corruption and lack of services from the Palestinian Authority.

The further we travelled around in the areas we were legally allowed to, we passed Palestinian housing estates that were burnt-out – not from clashes with Israelis – but the result of clan-based violence between the Al-Jabari and Awiwi Clans.


Y openly regaled me with stories of battles that exploded across Hebron on street corners involving sniper, tank, and gun fire – where he was occasionally caught in the middle. Walking around Hebron, I was surrounded by Jewish and Palestinian children going about their daily lives, born after the horrors of the Second Intifada.

It is clear that neither Jews nor Palestinians will be leaving one of the most previously divided and war-torn cities of the conflict. I can only hope that the children that I saw will be able to grow up without the horrors of the past.

It was so reassuring to see children happily playing around, appearing unscarred by street battles that once raged across the city.

I shall carry with me forever the moment I saw a group of young Jewish children skating and rollerblading down a long street, which had once been the site of a fierce firefight.  Where once war characterised this street, the vista that embraced me was of Palestinian children playing football and chatting with IDF soldiers.

Engaging for a better Tomorrow. Jewish visitor from Israel meeting with a young Palestinian girl in Hebron.

What next for Hebron?

It is hard to say what its future will be. I once thought of Hebron of as a remote, impoverished, dull and deary and overly religious city – but I was wrong.

I felt honoured to be so warmly welcomed by everyone I met  and to have been so unexpectedly accepted by the religious Jewish community as gay, was for me, a pleasant surprise!

Having thoroughly enjoyed my visit, I hope to one day revisit and again connect with Hebron’s Jews and Palestinians that are making history and forging a destiny together.

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).

Respect for Freedoms

Israel scores high on Freedom House Global Score

By Bev Goldman

“Freedom House works to defend human rights and promote democratic change, with a focus on political rights and civil liberties. We act as a catalyst for freedom through a combination of analysis, advocacy, and action. Our analysis, focused on 13 central issues, is underpinned by our international program work.”

Freedom House is a non-profit NGO that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights in countries across the globe. Founded in October 1941, its first honorary chairpersons were Wendell Willkie, the 1940 Republican nominee for President of the USA, and Eleanor Roosevelt, former and longest-serving first lady of the USA; and it is founded on the core conviction that freedom flourishes in democratic nations where governments are accountable to their people.

A Force for Freedom. A central figure among Freedom House’s early leaders was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt seen here holding up the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in November 1949. Eleanor Roosevelt was a strong supporter of Israel from that nation’s founding in 1948 until her death in 1962.

In analysing the countries, Freedom House speaks out against the main threats to democracy while encouraging citizens to exercise their fundamental rights through a unique combination of analysis, advocacy, and offering direct support to frontline defenders of freedom, especially those working in closed authoritarian societies. 

As an independent watchdog organization, its research and analysis focus on the progress and decline of freedom across the globe by empowering human rights defenders and civic activists to advance democratic change.

The 2020 Freedom House Annual Report on Israel is impartial, objective and candid, acknowledging the government’s faults but giving credit wherever it is due, and presenting a picture which to Israel’s enemies would be anathema, but to those who recognise her strengths, it is factual and accurate.

The report begins with an introduction, followed by rigorous analysis of the issues on which they focus: 

“Israel is a multiparty democracy with strong and independent institutes that guarantee political rights and civil liberties for most of the population. Although the judiciary is comparatively active in protecting minority rights, the political leadership and many in society have discriminated against Arab and other ethnic or religious minority populations, resulting in systemic disparities in areas including political representation, criminal justice, education, and economic opportunity.”

The coverage then focuses on the topic of free and fair elections. The report notes that the Central Elections Committee (CEC), which is composed of delegations representing the various political groups in the Knesset and chaired by a Supreme Court judge, guarantees the fairness and integrity of elections, and acknowledges that they are generally peaceful and orderly with results accepted by all parties.

Regarding political pluralism and participation, the reports delineates Israel’s multiparty system as “diverse” and “competitive” but adds that parties or candidates that deny Israel’s Jewish character, oppose democracy, or incite racism are prohibited.  It then includes comments by critics of the 2016 law – which allows the removal of any members who incite racism or support armed struggle against the state of Israel with a three-quarters majority vote – alleging that it is aimed at silencing Arab representatives.

Vibrant Voting. Israel’s “diverse” and “competitive” national elections always attract high turnouts. Seen here are people casting their ballot at a voting station in Jerusalem on March 2, 2020 in an election that at the end of voting, the committee put turnout at 71%. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The report illustrates the fact that while women generally enjoy full political rights in law and in practice, they are somewhat underrepresented in leadership positions and can encounter additional obstacles in parties and communities – both Jewish and Arab – that are associated with religious or cultural conservatism.

It discusses further that Arab residents of East Jerusalem have the option of obtaining Israeli citizenship in order to be allowed to vote, though most decline for political reasons. While these non-citizens are entitled to vote in municipal as well as Palestinian Authority (PA) elections, most of them have traditionally boycotted Israeli municipal balloting.

The report observes that Israel’s basic laws are considered equivalent to a constitution (which the country does not have). It adds that in 2018, the Knesset adopted a new “basic law” – the Nation-State Law – which granted only to Jewish people the right to exercise self-determination in the State of Israel. Those opposing it, according to further research done, claimed that it created a framework for the erosion of non-Jewish citizens’ political and civil rights.

This report was released before the election of the current coalition and stated that no Arab party had ever been formally included in a governing coalition, nor did Arabs generally serve in senior positions in government. But the current government under Naftali Bennett is the first to include an independent Arab Israeli party as an official member of the governing coalition. How things change!

History in the Making. An Arab dentist, Mansour Abbas, leader of the Islamist party  Ra’am, emerged as the “Kingmaker” in the 2020 Israel election and made history by ensuring for the first time an Arab party joined a governing coalition.

Israel’s laws, political practices, civil society groups and independent media are recognised as generally ensuring a significant level of governmental transparency, though corruption cases are not infrequent and high-level corruption investigations are regularly held. Israel’s judiciary is especially lauded in the report for its independence and its regular rulings against the government. As an addendum to this, the Supreme Court is verified as having played a crucial role in protecting minority groups and overturning decisions by the government and the parliament when they threaten human rights; and court rulings are almost always adhered to by the State, involving both Israeli citizens and Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Moving forward, the report commends Israel’s media as being among the most vibrant and free of any country. But while criticism of government policy is uninhibited, vociferous, candid, and forthright, the rules differ for print articles on security matters which are routinely subject to a military censor. Security considerations are behind the action of the Government Press Office which withholds press cards from journalists to restrict them from entering Israel. While a law passed in 2017 allows police and prosecutors to obtain court orders to block websites publishing criminal or offensive content, the report acknowledges that freedom of expression advocates are concerned that the same law could suppress legitimate speech if applied indiscriminately.

The report applauds Israel’s commendable respect for total freedom of religion, notwithstanding the fact that the country defines itself as a Jewish state. In matters of marriage, divorce and burial, Christian, Muslim, and Baha’i communities have jurisdiction over their own members, but it mentions that while the Orthodox govern personal status matters among Jews, this power they wield is often objected to by many non-Orthodox and secular Jews. It is also revealed that while the law further protects the religious sites of non-Jewish groups, the latter face discrimination in the allocation of state resources.

Mention is made of the ever-present security concerns in Israel which forced Israeli authorities to set varying limits on access to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif in East Jerusalem in recent years, affecting worshippers across the broader area. However, in 2018 the government lifted restrictions on Jewish lawmakers visiting the site, restrictions that had been in place for nearly three years, a move much approved of by the citizens.

Jitters in Jerusalem. Freedom of worship is guaranteed in Israel but becomes problematic when praying at places held sacred to both religions as seen with Israeli security forces standing guard, as a group of Jews visit the Temple Mount (Al-Aqsa) compound in Jerusalem, on July 18, 2021. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

With reference to education, all primary and secondary education is national but is divided into multiple public-school systems (state, state-religious, Haredi, and Arabic). A law passed in 2018 bans groups that favour legal action abroad against Israeli soldiers, or that otherwise undermine state educational goals by criticizing the military, from entering Israeli schools or interacting with students.

Israel’s universities are celebrated as being open to all students and have long been vocal centres for argument, protest, and discord; but again, security concerns have resulted in restricted movement and limited access for West Bank and Gaza residents/students. 

Campus Freedom. A clear show of tolerance and freedom, it is no problem for hundreds of Israeli Arab students to demonstrate against Israel on “Nakba Day” at Tel Aviv University.  Arab students registered at Tel Aviv University comprise about 14.5% of the total number of registered students. (Photo: Al Ittihad).

The report refers to the persistent threat of small-scale terrorist attacks in Israel which usually involve stabbings or vehicle onslaughts; and this is combined with ongoing rocket and artillery fire from Syria and the Gaza Strip. While Israeli soldiers are always on alert, trying to obtain the truth from the terrorists, the report adds that while the Supreme Court banned torture in a 1999 ruling, it said that “physical coercion might be permissible during interrogations in cases involving an imminent threat. Human rights organizations accuse the authorities of continuing to use psychological threats and pressure, painful binding, and humiliation.”

Freedom of assembly in Israel permits protests and demonstrations which are typically peaceful. However, some protest activities – such as desecration of the flag of Israel or a friendly country – are seen as criminal acts and draw serious criminal penalties.

Education for All. The number of Arab students in Israeli universities grows 78% in 7 years. Seen here are Arab Israeli students at the campus of Givat Ram at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Regarding NGOs, particularly those engaged in human rights – and governance-related work, the report observes that a 2016 law states that NGOs that receive more than half of their funding from foreign governments must disclose this fact publicly. The measure mainly affects groups associated with the political left that oppose Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. But foreign funding for right-leaning groups that support Jewish settlements in the West Bank, for example, more often comes from private sources.

The report deals with additional issues including freedom for labour organisations; due process in criminal and civil cases; freedom of movement; personal and social freedoms; equal treatment of all sectors of society; and equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation among others. However, they were not covered because of space constraints.

True Colours. A clear image of freedom and liberalism is Israel’s annual Pride Parades that attract hundreds of thousands of people from across the world. The parades are the largest in Asia and the Middle East. (photo:Guy Yechiely)

The final summation awarded Israel 73 out of a possible 100 points on the Freedom House Global Score, acknowledging it to be a free state, one of 77 out of 196. Included in those not free, with very low results (some in brackets), are Algeria, China (9), Egypt, Gaza Strip (11), Iran (16), Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Liberia, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia (7), South Sudan (2), Sudan, Syria (1), Turkey, UAE, West Bank and Yemen. All Israel’s enemies.

The results speak for themselves.

About the writer:

Bev Goldman national president of the Union of  Jewish Women South Africa (UJW), worked for many years in education and journalism, and she holds a master’s degree in Feminist Literature. Prior to joining the SA Zionist Federation where she dealt with media and education for 12 years, she was the editor of the ‘Who’s Who’ of Southern Africa; a member of WordWize which taught English language skills to Russian and Polish immigrants in South Africa; an occasional lecturer in English at RAU (now the University of Johannesburg); and Director of Educational Programmes at Allenby In-Home Studies.  Currently, she runs the Media Team Israel for the SA Zionist Federation; she sits on the Board of Governors of the Rabbi Cyril Harris Community Centre (RCHCC); she is an executive member of the International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW); and she edits and proofs Masters and PhD dissertations.

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

Of Men and Mensches

By Craig Snoyman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the writer:

Craig Snoyman is a practising advocate in South Africa.

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

Talk about Change!

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

By David E. Kaplan

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

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

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

Nu, what does this mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How right this UN representative was!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bolt from the Blue and Bennett Bolts


By David E. Kaplan

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

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

It was ‘not at all’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It worked with the support of the international media.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abbas on the other hand said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decked out in Blue and White

By Rolene Marks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their names are seared in our hearts.

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

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

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

They are the people we love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am Yisrael Chai!

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