The Year of “Awokening”

By Rolene Marks

At the beginning of 2020, the world was filled with glorious positivity for the dawn of a new decade. There were even the memes and joke exchanges to prove it! Then a little understood virus that seemed to be confined to the Wuhan province in China, eventually would become a global pandemic that brought the world to its knees. Millions have contracted this terrifying virus or have died as a result and the global economy is in crisis.

At the outset; and as country after country went into lock down, many took a philosophical or spiritual approach and saw this as an opportunity to “reset”. A chance to re-evaluate what is important in our lives, go back to times that seemed simpler, to learn a lesson in gratitude and to emerge from the crisis with a new perspective and willingness to help each other. We have been in this together and would surely emerge stronger. Wouldn’t we?

When a crisis happens, it often defines those that are in positions of leadership or in the public eye.

This is a year where many have had the perfect chance to step up and lead – but have failed miserably – safely afloat on a raft made out of self-indulgent virtue signaling woke twaddle. This is the year that apart from dealing with the overwhelming effects of the virus on our collective mental, emotional and physical health; we now have to deal with this rapidly growing phenomenon – the growing “woke” movement.

The term “Woke “is a political term that originated in the United States; and refers to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice. It derives from the African-American vernacular English expression “stay woke”, whose grammatical aspect refers to a continuing awareness of these issues. Today, it has become very fashionable to be “woke” – and woe betide you if you aren’t.

This movement seems to be permeating every aspect of society and has been given a tailwind by the growth of celebrity culture and social media. At the beginning of the spread of the pandemic, the voices of celebrities were diminished and the everyday heroism of frontline workers took centre stage. And then something changed. The world seems to have tipped on its axis. When did we lose the ability to engage in polite, tolerant debate – even if we have divergent opinions?

Freedom of speech is an imperative in a democratic society and we have the right to disagree with each other but lately identity politics has become an overriding factor and the first casualty seems to be tolerance. Anyone not agreeing with the prescribed “woke” doctrine is effectively cancelled. And the offences seem to be everywhere. If you look hard enough you will find something to be offended by.

Can It. An exasperated reaction to Wokeism.

In 2020, the bar seems to be low. Perhaps it is the frustration of lock downs and statistics and political unrest that has many of us at times, taking complete leave of our senses. 2020 has been a tumultuous year politically as well. The Black Lives Matter movement that spread like wildfire across the world became more than just being aware of racial injustices. Elements within and external to the movement saw it as an opportunity to push their various agendas including anti-Semitic rhetoric and a new phenomenon – taking the knee. Anyone seen to not do this is immediately ostracized or branded a racist. Choosing whether or not to kneel is a personal choice, but when diners enjoying a little al fresco dining are routinely harassed for not kneeling with immediate, we have a problem.

Self Service! When demonstrators entered the outdoor dining space in Pittsburgh, USA, one person took a couples’ drink and drank it before leaving. 

Woke culture is not restricted to racism. Search engine juggernaut, Google, almost as famous for its graphics as it is for its search capabilities had to remove the egg from its salad graphics for “not wanting to offend vegans”. In a time where nearly everything is about identity politics and you are nobody unless you are an activist, everyone from social conscious millennials to big corporations are jumping on the woke wagon.

In fact, when it comes to big corporations, a new issue is starting to take form known as “woke washing”. Woke washing can be described as the appropriation of ethical and progressive values as a form of advertising just to make more profit while hiding the dark side of conventional capitalistic business management.

An example of recently woke washing is Tumblr. Two months after banning adult-content, the social media still let Nazis thrive on its platform.  White supremacist propaganda that contravenes its  guidelines is now co-existing with Tumblr’s promotion of Black Excellency for Black History Month.

Razor maker, Gillette also helped to set the tone of 2019 by “woke washing” with the January debut of “The Best Men Can Be,” a campaign fighting toxic masculinity by referencing #MeToo, the movement fighting sexual harassment that was growing at the time. Some critics decried the initial short film as painting all men as poorly behaved or even predatory. Others wondered why a razor maker, and not necessarily a brand with a ton of baggage, was getting so righteous.

 Or take former/maybe not somuch/aretheyoraren’t they royals, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan. Famous for their support of whatever issue seems hot at the time, the two woke royals have lectured on topics as diverse as the environment, unconscious bias, racism and not to forget universal kindness. All this while traversing the world in private jets and zooming from a $16million dollar mansion. They are not the only woke schlebs on the virtue signaling bandwagon. They are joined by many in Hollywood extolling the virtues of defunding police (while being able to afford private security), lecturing on saving the planet (while zipping around the world on private jets) and talking about inclusiveness (while cancelling those who may have divergent political opinions).

A Battle Royal.  Mega voices on a range of  popular issues, Harry and Meghan constantly dodging controversy with the Royal family and a fickle public in this Woke milieu.

It would appear nobody is safe from the “woke” offensive. The BBC’s radio station R4 was taken to task for referring to fishermen as “fisherpeople”.  Critics said that seeing that women only made up 2.7% of staff on a fishing trawler, the BBC with their right on woke politics was unnecessary.

Billionaire creator of Harry Potter, JK Rowling, has also been cancelled for allegedly being “transphobic”. Rowlings reference to people who menstruate as women was seen as discriminatory to the trans community.

Twitter users accused her of being exclusionary to transgender men and women but also to cisgender women who no longer menstruate. The result has been an aggressive campaign against her, including vocal criticism by Harry Potter stars, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson whose careers were started by the successful franchise. Rowling responded by saying ““I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them,” Rowling replied. “I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so.”

The list of transgressions according to the “awokened” is endless. As mentioned before, if one is looking for offences, they can be found everywhere. The danger lies in the pursuit of a kind of liberalism that becomes so intolerant of a different opinion that it borders on fascism.

A Touchdown. Woke-washing is when companies cynically prey on customers’ social awareness. A decision by Nike to feature athlete-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick in its 2018 ad paid off, with the ad going on to receive an Emmy nomination.

For a society to function, people must be able to feel free to express themselves and debate, discuss and disagree respectfully. While there are lines like hate speech and incitement that should never be crossed, in order to understand each other better and build a more tolerant and respectful society, we need to listen to each other.

Failure to do so just contributes to an epidemic of intolerance.




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

The Arab Voice – October 2020

Arab writers from the Middle East opine on Sudan’s deal with Israel and on the danger to the region of Erdogan remaining president of Turkey.



Sudan’s Deal with Israel: A Courageous Act

By Muhammad Al-Sheich

Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, October 31

Sudan is the Arab country that suffered the most from the disasters of political Islam, particularly from the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood ruled the country for nearly 30 years and applied all of its perverted theories in it, turning Sudan into a weak, divided, and failed state in every sense of the word – in addition to one boycotted by most of the Western world. The ousted al-Bashir regime embarked on grandiose ventures that proved to be utterly foolish. This put Sudan on a bleak path, which got bleaker and bleaker with each passing day, until the Sudanese people finally took to the streets and replaced their regime.

Tide was Turning. A Sudanese woman with her face painted with “Just fall, that’s all” in Arabic flashes the victory gesture during an anti-government demonstration in Khartoum on April 9, 2019. (AFP / Getty)

I visited Sudan many times; I know it well and have many friends who still live there. I know firsthand that Sudan boasts incredible human resources: people who want to do good in the world, who seek to build a better future for themselves and others, who wish to put their country on the right track. The problem of Sudan is that it is a museum of ideologies: Every Sudanese you find sympathizes with a different party or a group and the common factor between all these groups is their animosity toward each other. The last revolution was a genuine revolution, carried out by the young men and women of Sudan, but it fell short of its objectives. It failed to generate a real leadership capable of lifting Sudan out of its mess. The biggest problem of the defunct regime, along with its Brotherhood supporters, is that it insists on reinventing the wheel instead of drawing on past experiences, theories, and applications. This results in a never-ending state of failure. The Brotherhood, in all of its formations, has been Sudan’s Achilles’ heel. It brought destruction to Sudan time and again. Thankfully, there are early signs suggesting that the people of Sudan have finally learned this lesson. Instead of promoting more regional conflict and ideological clashes, they took the right path by prioritizing their collective national interest over the interest of various power groups. More specifically, I’m referring to their decision to normalize their ties with Israel. It goes without saying that Israel is one of the most innovative and technologically advanced nations in the field of agriculture.

Path to Peace and Prosperity.  A buoyant  Minister of Sudan, Abdalla Hamdok, whose country has taken the decision to  normalize relations with Israel.

Partnering with Israel could bring great breakthroughs for the Sudanese economy. The two countries share similar soil and climate conditions. Rejecting the Israeli experience to boost Sudan’s well-being would thus be foolish. In addition, by normalizing ties with Israel, Sudan will finally be able to remove itself from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. This, in turn, will pave the way toward much-needed international loans and aid that would flow into the countries. In short, Sudan can reap incredible benefits from a deal of this kind. Therefore, I saw this with confidence: Sudan’s decision to normalize its ties with Israel is one of the most courageous decisions in the nation’s history – one that may very well change its fate and put it on the right path for decades to come.

Muhammad Al-Sheikh



Boycotting Turkey – Security and Economic Necessity

By Muhammad Al-Sheikh

Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, October 24

A popular campaign has been spreading across our country like wildfire: the boycott of Turkish products, goods, and services. My hope is that popular campaigns of this sort, in Saudi Arabia and beyond, will finally be able to influence Turkey and serve as the last nail in Erdogan’s coffin, forcing him to step down.

Erdogan is facing problems from almost every direction. On top of his growing opposition at home, he is encountering tremendous pressure abroad, where Turkish troops and mercenaries are deployed to carry out their czar’s grandiose ambition of reviving the Ottoman Empire.

Visions of Grandeur. Erdogan’s ambitions of reviving the Ottoman Empire may undermine Turkey stability.

Erdogan is deeply committed to this vision of Ottoman greatness. It is this idea that guides almost every one of his decisions. It is also this idea that pitted Turkey against nearly every other country in the world, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt. Indeed, Turkey under Erdogan’s rule has become an imminent threat to all Arab countries. This makes the downfall of Erdogan an urgent priority for the Arab world. There is no way to achieve this goal except to apply immense pressure on the Turkish economy and force its leadership to change its ways. The entire free world, not just the Arab Gulf, would benefit from Erdogan’s departure. Turkey is one of the world’s largest and most important sponsors of terrorism. Take, for example, ISIS, which is still fighting in Syria and Iraq thanks to ongoing Turkish support.

All of this is happening right before the eyes of Europe and America, yet not a single country has lifted a finger to intervene in this situation. Add to all of this, cheap Turkish products are flooding international markets and undermining local industries. Morocco, for instance, was forced to impose tariffs on Turkish cotton in order to protect its own cotton industry. Jordan is planning on taking similar action, as is Algeria. These new tariffs, together with the boycott movement taking shape in the Gulf, will ultimately constitute a large and powerful financial force against Turkey. Erdogan has already asked his cronies in Qatar to assist him in curbing this new campaign. In response, Qatar bribed Saudi expatriates living in London and Canada to speak up against the boycott campaign waged by their compatriots. Similar efforts have been carried out to convince the people of Iraq to stand by Turkey. But this attempt, too, is doomed to fail. Let’s not forget that it was Turkey that made its bases available to the Americans when they chose to invade Iraq. Saudi Arabia, in contrast, refused to be complicit in the war that destroyed Iraq.

Making Mischief in the Med. Turkish drilling ship Yavuz seen last year being escorted by a Turkish naval vessel to the Cyprus coast.

The important thing, dear readers, is to continue this campaign no matter what. I have no doubt that the boycott will grow larger and larger, forcing the Turkish people to rid themselves of this ghoul who is sending their country backward.

– Muhammad Al-Sheikh



*Translations by Asaf Zilberfarb



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

Lay of the Land Weekly Newsletter- 15 November 2020

Unveiling the contours and contrasts of an ever-changing Middle East landscape
Reliable reportage and insightful commentary on the Middle East by seasoned journalists from the region and beyond

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Articles

(1)

Jokes Aside

Jewish Humour – an antidote for all seasons

By David E. Kaplan

Ben on the Beach. Israel’s sole stature of an esteemed leader, Ben Gurion, is not to honor but to solicit laughs.

In an age where public discourse can be so vindictive, vicious and venomous, humour provides – if not a vaccine – a comfort. Rather than capitulate in despair, people find amusement. Jews have managed this over 4000 years with humour – alongside Torah – as instruments of survival.

Jokes Aside
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(2)

Remembering Rabbi Sacks – Giant of the Jewish World

Global Jewry mourns one of its greatest.

By Rolene Marks

The Great Communicator. Towering intellectual giant and endearing personality, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
 

In this polarizing age, humanity has lost one of its most eloquent spokesman in the passing of Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who touched so many souls. Constantly striving to heal a fractured world, the writer joins with people of all faiths and backgrounds, in paying tribute to this towering intellect and titan of the Jewish world.  

Remembering Rabbi Sacks – Giant of the Jewish World

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(3)

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose is a Rose…

By Stephen Schulman

How does yesterday’s terrorists intent on causing death and destruction morph into today’s guest speakers at the world’s prestigious universities? While a word’s spelling may remain constant not always its meaning. The writer exposes the phenomenon in linguistics of how Zionists today are publicly abused, while their violent opponents enjoy the fragrance of innocence.  

 A Rose is a Rose is a Rose is a Rose…

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(4)

We Are Just Like You

By Diana Petrank Peledd

“Just the Two of Us”. An Israeli marriage in the age of Corona, without guests and a one-man-band.

Enduring long days of insolation and social distancing imposed by Corona lockdowns, the writer counsels “to take stock of our lives”. With a wealth of “time”, she rediscovers the fresh joys from cooking to reading and if we can’t visit friends, we can revisit “long filed away memories” that return “stored away items… back to life.”

We Are Just Like You

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LOTL Cofounders David E. Kaplan (Editor), Rolene Marks and Yair Chelouche

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

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

The Israel Brief- 09-12 November 2020

The Israel Brief – 09 November 2020 – US Election results and Abbas makes demands. Is Pfizer closer to a vaccine? Remembering Kristallnacht. Tribute to Rabbi Sacks z”l.



The Israel Brief -10 November 2020 – Saeb Erekat dies. Israel Covid update. Normalisation updates.



The Israel Brief -11 November 2020 – Update on the F35 deal. Is Israel opening up more restrictions? Will Israel head to elections again?






The Israel Brief -12 November 2020 – What can we expect from the last 70 days of the Trump administration? Israel working to acquire Pfizer vaccine. Cooperation between Israel and Sudan.

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

Remembering Rabbi Sacks – Giant of the Jewish World

Global Jewry mourns one of its greatest.

By Rolene Marks

Acts of kindness never die. They linger in the memory, giving life to other acts in return.” – Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

The Great Communicator. Towering intellectual giant and warm endearing personality, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

This past weekend, on Shabbat, the Jewish world lost one of its greatest. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l, passed away at the age of 72 after a battle with cancer. As tributes pour in from around the world, from people of all faiths and backgrounds, we too, add ours to the growing international chorus wishing to show our deep appreciation for a true gentleman whose work impacted many and transcended boundaries.

A titan of the Jewish world, with a towering intellect, whose voice could at once stir and soothe, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was more than just the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth; he was seen by many as the Jewish people’s Ambassador to the world.

Ambassador for Faith and Morality. Former prime minister Tony Blair (right) presents Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (left) with a Lifetime Achievement award at the Jewish News’ Night of Heroes (photo credit: BLAKE EZRA PHOTOGRAPHY)
 

Known in equal parts for his majestic intellect, unwavering faith as well as his commitment to interfaith dialogue, Rabbi Sacks was a noted bridge builder and humanitarian whose wisdom and dulcet toned voice appealed to the religious and the secular, Jewish and non-Jew alike.

For many, regardless of faith, his gentle wisdom delivered in his unique soothing timbre would make any challenge seem surmountable, any conflict, resolvable.

Hope and Courage. Facing the future, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s TED Talk #174 was on “Navigate the corona pandemic with hope and courage”.

Renowned for his exceptional intellect, Rabbi Sacks penned many articles, books and other notable writings and would parlay this into a successful career as a speaker and media personality.  He was a sought after speaker on issues such as war and peace, religious fundamentalism, ethics, and the relationship between science and religion, among other topics. Sacks wrote more than 20 books and was lauded by many for making Judaism accessible to all.

Rabbi Sacks served as Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013 and was knighted by her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II in 2005; he was awarded a life peerage four years later in the House of Lords.

Rabbi Sacks made no secret of his great love for the State of Israel – or his concern for growing antisemitism and the threat it posed to world Jewry. He was a fierce advocate for the Jewish State and often her most vocal supporters in times of strife.  Rabbi Sacks was passionate about engagement with the youth, encouraging them to feel proud to be both Jewish and Zionist. He raised the alarm on rising antisemitism in a recent address to the UK parliament, warning that there were no longer any countries in Europe where Jews feels safe. He also courageously took a stand against former UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn who was emblematic of rising antisemitism in the UK.

The Prince and the Rabbi. Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks in conversation with Prince Charles (left) at the Chief Rabbi Sacks royal tribute dinner.

Rabbi Sacks was the consummate English gentleman. Perhaps it is HRH Prince Charles who said it best in his moving tribute when he said that Rabbi Sacks would be missed more than words can say.

We may never see the likes of this great scholar and humanitarian again. His passing poignantly reminds us of what we so sorely miss – and need.  Our deepest condolences to his family.

May his memory be eternally blessed.





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

We are just like you

By Diana Petrank Peledd

Like most of you here in Israel, we are trying our best to live with Corona (sounds nicer than Covid-19). But it is tough.  

Since its outbreak and the mandatory lockdowns and health regulations, we have all had to adapt to a new reality. If there is anything positive about the Corona pandemic and there really isn’t much, the long days in lockdown insolation and the imposed social distancing provided us with ample time to take stock of our lives – to re-evaluate what really matters.

So many of us began seeing things differently, leading us back to the basics. Suddenly, we had time to revisit long filed away memories; nostalgia; stored away items came back to life, filling us with so many deep hidden feelings; the values we were brought up upon – things we usually take for granted. i.e.  family, friends, compassion, kindness. We rediscovered the joy of cooking, baking, knitting, reading a book and when possible walking around the block – simply taking in what nature has to offer.

Private Lives. Residents stand on their balcony as they watch Israeli soldiers assisting civilians observing government stay-at-home orders to help fight the spread of the coronavirus disease in Tel Aviv, Israel April 7, 2020.(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

Corona affects all aspects of our life. No one is exempt.  It not only affects our health, but is detrimental to our finances, our social life and our mental and emotional frames of mind. For some, it is easier than for others, as this brief encounter will reveal.

While at the supermarket, as always, I stopped to chat with the chief cashier. She tried hard to hide it, but she wasn’t her usual chirpy self.  This is what she told me.

I am worried about my children and grandchildren. They are on furlough. Even worse, they  don’ t know if they will have a job to go back to or if they will have to make a total change in occupation. The uncertainty is terrible. I try and help as much as I can. I am especially worried about my eldest daughter. She is at home with her kids and lately she is showing signs of depression.  She is worried about the kids, the cut in income, expenses, the future. I do my best to raise her spirits and help, but it doesn’t. I am really worried“.

I told her to speak to her GP who could probably provide her with hot-lines or a list of relevant councillors. She said she planned to and thanked me for listening.

Market is Down. A message of hope decorates the empty Carmel Market in Tel Aviv. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

I am sure her story sounds familiar.

There are currently many people all over the world, experiencing various levels of depression or Coranatitis (ok – so I just made it up), due to the Corona fallout. The elderly, self-employed and small businesses are the most vulnerable

Here in Israel, there is never a dull moment, the events (the good, the bad, the amazing, the miraculous), the pace of life here, is sometimes mindboggling. Now, while we can’t all be politicians, diplomats, scientists, researchers, doctors etc.. and reach great achievements, we can all be a BA – Ben Adam – a human being.

“Just the Two of Us”. An Israeli couple gets married without guests due to coronavirus restrictions (Photo: Reuters)

At the end of the day, we are like everyone else in the global village, pursuing happiness, a decent livelihood, comfort, and a good future for our kids. Simple, mundane, uncomplicated.

Play Nice. Intel donates game sets to families coming to drive-through coronavirus testing centers in Israel. (Photo Magen David Adom)

Nonetheless, we still need human interaction – a smile; a kind word; a simple act of kindness.  Moreover, granting someone else a simple gesture can make our day that much brighter, and us better people and that leads to a healthier society – and that even Corona cannot contaminate.  Helping an elderly person reach a shelf in the supermarket or use the ATM; listening to someone in despair, smiling at someone who may be lonely, does more for their state-of-mind that you can imagine – it costs nothing, just a little compassion, a small act of kindness and guess what, we profit as well : “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.” Booker T. Washington

So next time you read about Israel, remember also, that its citizens are just like you – no more, no less.

Yarden Saxophone Rooftop Quarantine Performance



About the writer:

Diana Petrank Peledd  is an Executive Bilingual Secretary and Translator. Over the years, professional and creative correspondence and writing has been a major part of her work. Born in England, Diana is an Anglo-Israeli (10th generation Israeli on her paternal side) and has spent most of her life in Israel.








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

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose is a Rose…….

By Stephen Schulman

The ancient Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times!” is certainly applicable to these troubled and turbulent times. Ill winds are blowing, and I fear, they do not bode well for the belief in tolerance, open discourse, pluralism and liberty of thought, faith and speech.

These winds are gusting thick and fast through many Western academias and like the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass, most of us are running to stay in the same place, endeavoring to keep up with, comprehend and interpret the ideology du jour.

In the USA, in the wake of BLM (Black Lives Matter) and Antifa, the growing movement of “Wokeism,” a so called “anti-racism”, advocates the belief that the political system is basically flawed and structurally prejudiced; one of oppression of minorities i.e. black, and since those in power are white and have been disabusing their mandate, it is a racist one.

Intertwined with Wokeism is the creed of Determinism that categorizes you according to your skin colour, your class origin and your gender. Consequently, all white people are privileged racists and even if they deny this, their inherent innate “unconscious bias,” is proof that they indeed are – a twist of logic that Stalin and Beria would be proud of! Merely by accident of birth, having been born white, you are automatically a bigot – a novel racist political slant to the concept of Original Sin!

Jews are white – no matter that there are Jews of colour and irrespective of their history that is replete with millennia of persecution and discrimination – and are therefore classified as an integral part of the privileged and oppressors.

Intersectionality – that sees all perceived injustices as interlinked regardless of their distance in time and space – is another heady ingredient added to this intellectual stew which allows BLM activists to identify with the Palestinians whom they see as victims of Jewish white colonialist settlers who have appropriated their lands. Consequently, it came as no surprise when in the protests and rioting, Jewish businesses were disproportionately singled out for destroying and looting and synagogues vandalized and defaced.  As history was written and culture created by white people, they are both fundamentally biased, need revision and amending. Accordingly, the Holocaust is seen as no more than a “white on white” phenomenon and should not be given more historical weight than other genocides.

The bearers of this ideology are so passionately convinced of the righteousness of their cause that anyone who dissents or objects is obviously errant and needs to be made to see the light and recant the error of their ways. A “cancel culture” has been created that demands political correctness, conformity, unanimity and stifles diverging points of view. Unfortunately, those advocating it often adopt the repressive methods of totalitarian regimes. Within academic institutions, the media and corporations, there have been instances of hounding and persecution of those that are seen as not toeing the line. People have lost their livelihoods, been ostracized and victimized on social media.

Evenhandedness Evicted. South Africa’s Chief Justice  Mogoeng Mogoeng came under fire for taking a balanced position on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

South Africa is not exempt either. The Chief Justice, a person of the highest integrity with an impeccable past, was attacked, slandered and made the object of a scurrilous cartoon for daring to voice his opinion that a more evenhanded approach should be made for the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. The University of Cape Town disinvited Flemming Rose, the editor of a Danish publication that published a caricature of Mohammed, who was due to give the annual prestigious lecture on academic freedom. Citing his lack of academic value, in his place, the university invited an American lecturer, a discredited third rate academic known for his virulent anti-Semitism and support for BDS. On the same campus, black students have accused lecturers of failing them on account of their color and demanded that white students should not attend certain lectures or be allowed to voice their opinions as they have been endowed with a “white settler mentality”

Rose Pruned. In  2016, the University of Cape Town withdrew its invitation to Flemming Rose, the culture editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten to give its annual TB Davie Academic Freedom Lecture for fear of “provoking conflict and further polarization on campus”.

Equally frightening is the effort to suppress history and erase memory that uses the distortion of and rewriting of facts plus the cynical manipulation of words to fit the current politically correct ideology. The case of the invitation of Leila Khaled by the San Francisco State University bears eloquent testimony.

Violator of Academic Freedom. San Francisco State University’s Prof. Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi has declared that Zionists are not welcome on campus and has come under fire for posting anti-Zionist messages to the school’s official site.  

This last September, Khaled was scheduled to lead a discussion entitled “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice and Resistance:  A Conversation with Leila Khaled” at the online event “Teaching Palestine” organized by the university’s Department of Arab and Muslim Ethnicities Diasporas Studies. One of the organizing professors was Rabab Ibrahim Abulhadi who described Khaled as “a revolutionary Palestinian militant and feminist icon.” As a result of protests, Zoom, Facebook and YouTube cancelled the broadcasting and the discussion did not take place.

To view this event in its proper perspective, it is necessary to examine the hard facts. Who were the organizers, who was the invitee and what was the terminology employed?

Poster Girl. Plane hijacker of the 1960s to poster girl of Palestinian militancy, Leila Khaled remains a celebrity at university campuses.

Enforcing a Narrative

Rabab Ibrahim Abulhadi is a notorious anti–Semite who declared that Zionists were not welcome on campus, that the presence of students who identified as Zionists constituted “a declaration of war” against Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians” – a clear violation of academic freedom and incitement to violence against Jewish students. She is a founding member of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (BDS) and vigorously defended another academic Hatem Bazian who tweeted antiSemitic messages. Abulhadi idolizes Khaled and in her online panegyric admired her “steadfastness, resilience and resistance.” Abulhadi states: “I wanted to grow up and become another Leila Khaled.”

Crossing the Line. UC Berkeley officials have condemned university lecturer Hatem Bazian, a professor in Islamic Law, for repeated tweeting of cartoons the school determined had “crossed the line” into anti-Semitism.

Leila Khaled is a member of the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) – designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada and the European Union. Since its founding in 1967, this organization has been responsible for many international terrorist attacks involving suicide bombings, assassinations, hijacking, knifing and shootings that have killed, wounded and maimed a large number of innocent civilians – men, women and children. Amongst its many atrocities, in 1972, a gang tortured and murdered the Israeli sports team in the Munich Olympics. In 2014, a member entered a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood and with a gun, axes and meat cleaver slaughtered six men at prayer.  In 2019, 17 year-old Rina Shnerb became the latest victim.

Khaled herself was part of a gang that in 1969 hijacked TWA Flight 840 to Damascus. In September 1970, together with Patrick Arguello, she attempted to hijack El Al Flight 219 from Amsterdam to

Terror in the SkiesPatrick Arguello was fatally shot in 1969 when he partnered with Leila Khaled to seize an El Al airliner on a flight from Amsterdam to New York as part of a coordinated Palestinian guerrilla operation that led to the seizure and destruction of four airliners the previous week.

New York. Arguello gravely wounded a flight attendant and put his gun to the head of another before the quick witted pilot threw the plane into a dive enabling the air marshals to shoot him and help overpower Khaled, but not before she had pulled the pin out of one the two grenades she was carrying. Luckily, it did not explode, otherwise the aircraft with all its passengers would have been at the bottom of the ocean. With mind boggling mendacity and a brazen insult to the intelligence of any sane individual, Khaled later stated that she had been given very strict instructions not to threaten passengers on the civilian flight and said in a 2014 interview with the Palestine Chronicle: “We did not harm anyone!” That ‘nobody was harmed’ on that attempted hijacking wasn’t for want of her lack of trying! She has continually repeated these logic defying falsifications and the obliging fawning media has uncritically published them.

In the same year of the TWA hijacking, Rasmea Odeh, another PFLP member planted a bomb containing 5 kg of dynamite in a Jerusalem supermarket that detonated and killed two young students Eddie Joffe and Leon Kanner whose only crime like many other victims was being Jewish and living in Israel. This murderess too had the gall to declare that she had not intended to hurt a soul!

Cozying up to Killers. Supporters of Rasmea Odea who contend that she “is criminalized because of her commitment to justice and human rights”,  pave over her 1969 role in a supermarket bombing in Jerusalem that killed two university students, Leon Kanner and Eddie Joffe.

Khaled is a long time active leader in the PFLP – as of 2016 still being a member of their Political Bureau – as well as serving on the Palestinian   National Council (PNC) of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) that euphemistically calls its terrorist acts: “armed struggle”. An active supporter of BDS, she calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. She is accused by the Shin Bet (Israeli Security Service) of helping in 2011 to coordinate “between a PFLP command center in Syria and other operatives in Jerusalem planning lethal attacks against Israelis.”

The word “resistance” has definite political and military connotations. In Europe in the Second World War, members of the resistance movements fought against the German occupation of their lands by targeting their soldiers, personnel, military installations plus individual collaborators. Non combatants never came into the equation. Abulhadi’s lauding of Khaled’s “resistance” – the attacking of innocent civilians: men, women and children – inspiring her, is an abuse of that word, a gross injustice and an affront to the memory of all those principled and brave people who had risked torture and death for the sake of freedom.

Sounds of Silence

The dictionary defines the term “feminist” as a person who actively works for women’s rights, their advancement and emancipation. A woman’s status in the Arab and Muslim world is inferior to the man’s and her plight is not altogether a happy one. Abhorrent female genital mutilation is still practiced, honour killings take place often with impunity for the perpetrators, widespread condoned polygamy exists and forced marriages of underage young girls is a part of life legally practiced in some Moslem countries..

Surely a “feminist” and an “icon” would use her venerated and elevated status help her fellow sisters by raising her voice to redress all these injustices visited upon them? Would she not be active in their cause? Khaled’s silence is deafening.

A female terrorist she is. A feminist she is not!

Abulhadi’s apologia for an unrepentant terrorist still active in planning acts of violence, her obfuscation of facts and distortion of words to fit her political agenda is an assault on the intellectual integrity of an institute of higher learning. Her bigotry and her attempt to mute academic freedom, diversity of opinion and freedom of thought is an attack on the very foundations upon which a university stands.

Selective Morality. Explaining her reasoning for permitting an online event with Leila Khaled, San Francisco State University President, Lynn Mahoney said “I cherish a diversity of opinions”.

Even more worrying is the complicity of Lynn Mahoney, SFSU’s president who authorized the online event with Kahled participating and never deviated from her support. In a letter prior to the broadcast, she condemned “the glorification and use of terrorism and violence, particularly against unarmed civilians” but on the other hand had to “say equally emphatically that we support the right of our faculty to academic freedom and to conducting their teaching and scholarship without censorship.” After the cancellation of the event, omitting Khaled’s background and actions, she wrote that it was “deeply wounding” to some, who would “feel” their “dissent silenced,” even as Khaled’s appearance would be “deeply wounding” to “others in the community.” As a university president, Mahoney’s words and actions are deeply troubling. To elevate the status of an unrepentant and active terrorist complicit in acts of murder and in the name of academic freedom giving her a platform to disseminate her views raises definite questions. Should there not be moral responsibility? The commandment: “Thou shall not kill”, is one the cornerstones of Western Judeo-Christian civilization of which universities are part. The right of faculty to academic freedom and to conduct their teaching and scholarship without censorship is a sine qua non. Objectivity, disinterest and lack of bias are essential to this process. Dispensing with them together with morality and ethics in order to conform to a current political correctness leads down the road to perdition. San Francisco State University under the presidency of Lynn Mahoney is a tragic example. 




Stephen Schulman is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist youth movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. He was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.



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

Lay of the Land Weekly Newsletter- 08 November 2020

Unveiling the contours and contrasts of an ever-changing Middle East landscape
Reliable reportage and insightful commentary on the Middle East by seasoned journalists from the region and beyond

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The Israel Brief

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Lay of the land mourns the loss of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Kindom and the Commonwealth. A towering intellect and beacon of morality, toleranceand bridge building. Global Jewry have lost a titan, a “mensch” of the highest order. May his memory be blessed.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Articles

(1)

Rabin Remembered

From the personal to the political – 25 years on from the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin

By David E. Kaplan

Stateman and Soldier. Yitzhak Rabin, a warrior who fell in the pursuit for peace.

On the occasion of the 25 anniversary of the assassination of Israel’s iconic Prime Minister at a peace rally in 1995, the writer revisits his meeting with the Prime Minister, as well as interviews with his daughter Dalia Rabin and his friend and advisor Eitan Haber for personal insights into the character of a man whose presence still looms over the future of this country.

Rabin Remembered

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(2)

Vienna Violated

Reflections of a resident the day after terror attack

By Caroline Shklarek Zelman

Fleeing in Fear. Women flee near the State Opera in Vienna following shootings across the center of the city.

The people of Vienna were out enjoying the final few hours of “freedom” at bars, restaurants and “a night at the opera” before a second  corona lockdown, when a terrorist went on a city spree of murder and mayhem. While adjusting to the pandemic, are Austrians  now to also ‘adjust’ to terrorism, questions the writer, a fearful resident of Vienna.

Vienna Violated

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(3)

Relief, Rage and Fear

Reflecting on official findings of antisemitism within Britain’s Labour Party

By Emma Picken

Love’s Labour Lost. Row within Labour over antisemitism has dragged on for years.

While Labour member is relieved that  the EHRC investigation into antisemitism within the Labour Party has revealed suppressed truths by exposing “unlawful acts of discrimination and harassment”, the writer shares her concerns about the future and asks: “Will justice be done for the community that suffered so badly?”

Relief, Rage and Fear

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LOTL Cofounders David E. Kaplan (Editor), Rolene Marks and Yair Chelouche

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

Vienna Violated

Reflections of a resident the day after the 2 November bloody terror attack

By Caroline Shklarek Zelman

Austria is a small and peaceful country. The sounds from our city of Vienna are typically from musical instruments not the instruments of war. Murder and mayhem never occurs where we live, only on television – elsewhere. Our Vienna is an “island of the blessed” as we residents are apt to fondly say.

Until last night!

Map of Murder and Mayhem

We are currently living in a global Corona pandemic. When the virus surprised Austria in March, the country reacted quickly with a lockdown. It was a shock to the people; we were confronted with something that we had never experienced before. Compared to other countries, our case numbers were very low. We shuddered as we looked first to our neighbour Italy and then France seeing their frightening experiences through a very painful crisis. Then came the summer and with it the good feeling akin to a newly won freedom. Unfortunately, that feeling was short-lived as we were reminded – the virus was still amongst us and hitting back with a vengeance!

COVID-19 pandemic development in Austria (Feb. – Nov.)

The result was the announcement of the much-dreaded return to a lockdown this time with stricter curfews from 8‘oclock in the evening to 6 in the morning. This had never happened before. Or had it? A populist politician from the opposition used the deeply affected emotions of the population to compare the new curfew with what followed when skirmishes erupted between the Fascists and the Socialists in February 1934.

A very painful comparison, since this date marked the beginning of a civil war in Austria, the beginning of the abolition of parliamentary democracy, which paved the way to the darkest period of Austrian history – Nazi tyranny!

Today, our Corona case numbers are over 6000, so it was back to no cinema, no concerts, no restaurants and no coffee houses – this hits the Austrian soul.

However,  something far more disturbing was to suddenly darken our Austrian soul.

Vienna in Turmoil

So, what happened yesterday, November 2nd in Vienna?

It began with the feeling as our last day of freedom before the looming midnight curfew. It was a wonderful mild evening, 22 degrees Celsius, and our city center and its terraces were full of people who were out drinking and eating enjoying the warm embrace of Vienna which they all thought they had until midnight.

Police on the Prowl. Police move through central Vienna on Monday night as there were reports of multiple gunmen.

It was not to be!

At 8 pm. in the Jewish quarter in the middle of the city center, shots were suddenly fired in the street that is home to the Austrian capital’s main synagogue.  Shots followed elsewhere and tranqual Vienna was in turmoil. All broadcasts were stopped, sirens and helicopters could be be heard until the early hours of the morning. Everyone was afraid. We all knew of friends and acquaintances who had wanted to enjoy a nice evening in the city with their loved ones. Instead, horrifying videos began to circulate, first on WhatsApp, then on other platforms on social media. The police asked the people not to leave their homes while at the same time, called on those who were in the city centre and who might have filmed with their cellphones the unfolding horror, to send their videos to the police for evaluation.  They needed to have as much intimate information they could get to identify and assess the killer or killers. The magnitude of the panic was  evident with over 20,000 videos received by the police from the public. This helped in providing important  clues to catch the perpetrator.

We heard of people who were thankfully safe but also of those terrifyingly stuck in pubs, concert halls and the opera houses. They were afraid and did not know what to expect or what to do. In a show of solidarity across the city centre, local residents opened their homes offering protection to people in the streets as did a central hotel  which offered their rooms at no expense to people on the run.

Face the Music. The State Opera where one can expect to hear from a tenor not a terrorist, armed policemen stand guard in front of the main entrance of the State Opera in the centre of Vienna following the shootings.

Jasmin Kapp, a member of our Austrian WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) was caught up in the chaos with her husband, Daniel. Barricaded in their office, they ventured out to bring to safety a young woman and her friends who were in danger at a restaurant and brought them to safety.

Fleeing in Fear. Women run away near the State Opera in central Vienna as shots ring out following several attacks in the city.

It took many hours before people could emerge from hiding – sound familiar – and safely return home.

In many of the cultural venues people had to wait crowded together for several hours. During these tragic hours, the pandemic receded into the background although its impact from coinciding with the terrorist attack and forcibly forcing people to dispense with social distancing, may be a topic for the day after tomorrow.

Violence in Vienna. Graphic images blood spattered across the front of a cafe and chairs and tables hurled over among broken glass and plates.

What remains are traumatized eyewitnesses and a shocked country and city that had never experienced anything like this before.

Counting the Cost

Today our mood shifted from fear to sadness as we heard the news that four people were killed – may their souls rest in peace – and 22 others wounded, seven with life-threatening injuries.

A Nation MournsAustria’s political leaders honoured the victims in Vienna as the nation mourned

We also learned about the young man who terrorised our city. Armed with an assault rifle, a pistol and a machete, 20-year-old Kujtim Fejzulai had previously been jailed for attempting to join Islamic State in Syria. Before his early release in December, he had taken part in a deradicalisation course but who, according to our Interior Minister Karl Nehammer, “deceived” his handlers about his true intentions.

Ready to Kill. Isis shared this photo of Kujtim Fejzulai, who had pledged allegiance to Isis in an Instagram post hours before the rampage in central Vienna. It shows him posing with the automatic rifle, handgun and machete he was armed with during the attack.

That deceprtion resulted in a bloodbath on the streets of Vienna!

While searching his apartment, the officers came across a large arsenal of weapons. An inquiry will need to delve into this issue  as we also learned that Slovakia’s intelligence service had previously warned Austria that Kujtim had tried to buy ammunition. Apparently, this information was lost in a communications breakdown!

What remains in the wake of the devastation and loss of lives on our once peaceful streets of Vienna are many unanswered questions.

Aftermath. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz gestures to President of the Vienna Jewish Community Oskar Deutsch (left) as they participate in a wreath laying ceremony in the city centre the day after the deadly shooting spree.  

We praise  our services in the way they rapidly responded  to this heinous act of terrorism and to all the people and WIZO Chaverot (friends/members) around the world  for their outpouring of sympathy and support. We need to be ‘one family’ when it comes to dealing with terrorism whether its on the streets of Paris, Pittsburgh, Jerusalem, London or Vienna.

Austrians have much time now to reflect. We are now in Lockdown II.

VIENNA – From the scene after gunman attacked from six locations in central Vienna on Monday starting outside the main synagogue, killing four people and injuring at least 14 in what Austria called a “repulsive terror attack”.



About the Writer:

Caroline Shklarek Zelman is a resident of Vienna and a member of WIZO Austria.








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