A Call to Arms

This post currently appears in WIZO Lapid:

http://www.joomag.com/magazine/lapid-volume-111-may-2014/0691239001401369255#.U4iLOFcH8fI.facebook

What does it mean to be Jewish? How do we identify as Zionists in a world where to wear this identity loud and proud often means we are vulnerable to attacks? At a time when levels of anti-Semitism are rising around the world and to be anti-Zionist means you support the current cause du jour, do we dare stand out as supporters of Israel.

The answer is a resounding YES!!! A marketing guru once said that the best time to advertise and promote your business is during a recession. The same rule applies for Israel advocacy. Standing up for Israel is imperative when the noise from her detractors gets louder.

Nearly 80 years ago, the Jews of Europe had no voice. They were powerless against the Nazi propaganda juggernaut. Today, all the tools are in place to give us a platform and a voice.

For me, advocating for Israel is just as much a part of my Jewish, Zionist identity as lighting my Shabbat candles and the Israeli flag. It is a part of who I am and I believe that as Jews not only are we responsible for each other but also for the Jewish state. Not everyone is a speaker or a writer – but we are all senders of email, posters on Facebook and disseminators of information.

On occasions when I have been asked to address audiences, the most common question I am asked is “why is Israel’s public relations so bad”. True, there is definitely room for improvement but I am also of the opinion that at a time when levels of anti-Semitism are alarmingly high and budgets to counter this are low, it has become incumbent on us as de facto representatives to be “Ambassadors of Truth”.

proisrael

This means a call to arms. Arming yourself with the facts to counter the lies and hate filled invective is a great way to not only make the case for Israel but to bring you closer to your identity.  We serve as examples to the next generation, the youth, and they are in the front line of defense.

But we also have to listen to our youth.  In today’s social media driven world where they are bombarded with information and are much more savvy than we are, it is important to engage with them and hear their concerns. University campuses are hotbeds of anti-Israel activity and many, once exposed to the opposing arguments, especially when they are made with such conviction, start questioning their own.

We cannot deny that there is another point of view or shield them from our own transgression but hopefully through knowledge and conviction they can make informed decisions.

This is why it is important to be armed with facts.  We cannot abdicate responsibility anymore by saying it is the work of the government or politicians. We are all responsible for each other.

As WIZO women we have the privilege of leading the charge. Not only are we grooming future leaders but we are educating our global community. Wearing our identity proudly and unapologetically in our name, we wonder women continue to live up to our tenet we care, we share and we dare.

Let us heed the call to arms. Let facts, truth and pride be our weapons of choice.

proIsrael2

What more will it take?

This post currently appears in TLV Faces:

http://www.tlvfaces.com/belgium-museum-attack-will-take/

A recent global study on anti-Semitism has indicated that when all the numbers and percentages are added up, there are over a billion anti-Semites in the world. One billion people filled with hatred and venom towards the Jewish people and their country, Israel. That number is unfathomable, significantly larger than world Jewry who constitute less than 0.2% of the global population. While this is evident around the world with the worst percentages in North Africa and the Middle East, our microscope is fixed on Europe.

Levels of anti-Semitism are as high as they were pre-World War 2. This is not surprising given that Europe is home to extremely large Muslim communities and election results in a variety of European countries are showing an alarming shift towards the right. This shift in European real politik has once again brought Europe’s Jews front and centre as the ubiquitous scapegoat for all the frustration that people may be feeling.

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The incidents are frightening. Thousands of protesters in Paris screaming “Jews, France is not for you”, individual attacks against France’s Jewish citizens that included the beating up of a teacher and the carving of a swastika on his chest and various others, such as the murders at a Jewish day school in Toulouse that left four dead, have spurred the Israeli government to think seriously about encouraging French Aliya.

But France is not the only country seeing flagrant acts of anti-Semitism.  According to the survey, Greece is the most anti-Semitic country in Europe. Hardly surprising given the rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in that country. Hungary boasts the far right Jobbik party, voted in by one in five Hungarians.

Newly minted European basketballs champions, Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv, had their victory greeted with anti-Semitic tweets from disappointed Real Madrid fans that included a post that read “they should all be killed in an oven”. While the Euroleague expressed its “shock and disappointment” and have promised to investigate, this kind of invective is nothing new in sports. Just ask all those footballs clubs from Amsterdam to London whose supporters have chanted “Jews to the gas” or salute with the inverted Nazi salute known as the quenelle.

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Cut to yesterday’s brutal slaying of four people, including two Israeli tourists, who were gunned down in cold blood in the Jewish Museum in Brussels, Belgium.  Belgians go to the polls today in a federal election. Dubbed  “the mother of all elections” it will be an extremely tight race.  It is also the final day in elections for the European Parliament elections. Twenty one EU member countries will go to the polls and 751 MEP’s will be elected to serve for five years.

Platitudes and indignant statements just aren’t enough.  What more is it going to take until something substantial is done? How many bodies need to lie in school yards and museums before Europe realizes that it is fast becoming the graveyard it once was yet again?

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The jig is up. Disguised as anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism has a new face. It is evil, it is vengeful and it is violent. One hopes that today’s EU parliamentary elections that take place just a day after the Brussels massacre will be a wake- up call for Europe’s leaders.

 Since the end of the Holocaust which decimated two thirds of European Jewry we have chanted NEVER AGAIN. This is our rallying call to rise, fight against anti-Semitic invective and teach future generations. Sadly, NEVER AGAIN is becoming AGAIN and AGAIN. What more will it take?

 

 

We Remember Them

This post currently appears in the South African Jewish Report:

http://www.sajr.co.za/news-and-articles/2014/04/30/rolene’s-powerful-piece-we-remember-them-

Tonight we begin to commemorate  Yom Hashoa, Holocaust – Martyrs and Heroes Memorial Day. Every year I feel the weight of this day on my soul. I welcome it, I am appreciative of it and it serves as a reminder that I have taken that most solemn vow – NEVER AGAIN.

This year, the weight seems to be heavier. I don’t know if it is because we are running out of precious time to gather as many stories from survivors as we can or if the younger generation just isn’t as connected as we are. I do know that this year it weighs heavier on my heart because I see the tides of anti-Semitism rising. Europe is especially worrisome.  Acts of violence against Jewish individuals and the shift in realpolitik to the right is extremely alarming.  I write this in gratitude that I am safe and protected in our beloved State of Israel.

We set aside one day a year to read the names of the martyred, to participate in ceremonies around the world, to stop for the siren that screams its mournful cry all over our beautiful land.

Let us not wait for one day in the year to remember them. While Yom Hashoa is a sacred day, I urge everyone to take up the mantle of remembrance every day. Today’s social media platforms make it possible for us all to continue educating, disseminating the truth and educating future generations who speak a new language – hashtag.   It is vital that we remember them

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In the hateful quenelle salute – we remember them.

In the calls to boycott, divest and sanction Israel – we remember them.

On the train where “next stop Aushwitz” traumatized travelers on their daily commute – we remember them.

In the rallies where screams of “Jews do not belong here” – we remember them.

In the defacing of graves and holy places – we remember them.

In the unmarked graves that are all over Europe – we remember them.

In the firebombing of the synagogues – we remember them.

In the calls to register our property or risk being expelled – we remember them.

In the biased, vitriolic media broadcasts – we remember them.

In the attacks on individuals – we remember them.

In the shootings in community centres –  we remember them.

In the flagrant denial of our lost 6 million – we remember them.

In the loss of lives to terror attacks – we remember them.

In the lighting of memorial candles – we remember them.

In the lowering of our flag – we remember them.

In the mournful cry of the siren – we remember them.

WE REMEMBER THEM.

In the birth of new generations – we remember them.

In the celebration of our homecoming from exile – we remember them.

In the singing of Hatikvah – we remember them.

In the greening and building of our start up nation – we remember them.

In our defense of our country – we remember them.

In the teaching of the next generation – we remember them.

In our unabashed, joyful, defiant celebration of life – we remember them.

In our cries of Am Yisrael Chai! (The people of Israel live) – we remember them.

In our vow NEVER AGAIN – We remember them.

WE WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER THEM.

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The Rise and Rise of African Zionism

This post currently appears in The Algemeiner:

http://www.algemeiner.com/2014/04/17/the-steady-rise-of-african-zionism/

There is something quite remarkable happening on the African continent. A groundswell of love and support from African Christians for the State of Israel, forged in biblical ties and a mutual love of the land.

 It is a relationship that has endured and survived political hardships and at a time when Israel is feeling increasingly isolated, is very welcome. Voices calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against the Jewish State grow louder around the world but the ties binding us to Africa grow stronger.

 It seems almost natural that African countries would seek to build bridges with Israel. Many countries have a historical and political trajectory that mirrors that of the Jewish State.

They share the same tragic pasts, having endured multiple wars and have struggled for independence against foreign powers who ruled their historical homelands.

 Over the years, Israel has quietly gone about the business of tikkun olam – contributing to the economic growth and wellbeing of communities all over the continent. It is no secret that when it comes to groundbreaking technology, Israel is a world leader. From water purification and drip irrigation, to life saving medical devices and hi-tech know-how that is empowering a variety of countries to become economic players in the family of developing nations, Israel is contributing and sharing much needed skill sets. When the father of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl, envisioned a Jewish state, perhaps this is what he had in mind.

 Agricultural co-operation

 On the southern tip of the continent, in South Africa, where despite a cooling of relations between Pretoria and Jerusalem, relationships are being built. South Africa and Israel share a similar history – both have emerged democratic and victorious after painful pasts. Both share similar agricultural and water challenges. Water shortages and the management of yields and farming output are areas where Israel has implemented many successful projects in Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa.

 Israel is helping farmers in rural areas realise their potential and you can view the successes in this You Tube clip: (in Sotho and English).

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aD_MfT0iHPg&feature=youtu.be

 The invaluable help that Israel has given these rural farmers not just in technical know how but also in marketing and business skills, will help sustain these communities for time to come.

 South African Friends of Israel

 These relationships are not only built on agricultural or business cooperation. Founded in 2010, “South African Friends of Israel”, is described as a movement that “promotes inter-faith dialogue between the South African Jewish community and the broader community in the pursuit of ensuring a balanced view and a better appreciation of Israel by all South Africans.” South Africa is of great strategic importance – not only is the country the economic powerhouse of Africa but also holds positions of power and decision making on several international bodies such as the Non-Aligned movement and African Union among others.

 South Africa is also the country where Apartheid was both conceived and defeated. This is of extreme importance as the odious accusation that Israel is an Apartheid state and should be afforded the same treatment as South Africa, is growing across the world. In civil society organisations, on university campuses and with the week long festival of hate known as Apartheid Week which occurs every March around the world, this lie is gaining momentum.

Members and supporters of SAFI play a vital role in disseminating the truth and dispelling the lies. In fact, they are amongst the most vocal and strong supporters of Israel and having experienced Apartheid, are the foremost authorities.

 Members of SAFI and their supporters have come out in droved to march with and support Israel and recently an advocacy day was held in Johannesburg and was supported by many including the African Christian Democratic Party, Africa for Israel and many others.

 Hear South African Christians speak out for Israel and destroy the Apartheid analogy:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gj3tiuapsRw

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Trees for Africa

 South Africa is not the only country where relationships are being built. Situated on the west coast of Africa, the Ivory Coast enjoys strong bilateral relations with the Jewish State. Former President, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, was one of the first leaders of an African country to establish ties with the fledgling state and then to re-establish relations after an Organisation of African Unity (OAU) boycott in solidarity with its Arab members in 1986.

 It is not just government and industry that is investing in Africa. The Jewish National Fund (JNF/KKL), one of Israel’s foremost non-profit organisations has been responsible for the planting of over 240 million trees in the country since its inception, making the JNF a world leader in afforestation. In addition to this, the JNF has built much needed dams and reservoirs and more than 1000 parks. The JNF is perfectly positioned to help communities in

Africa who face some of the environmental and water challenges that Israel does. The JNF is involved in a variety of projects on the continent.

 In November 2013, representatives from JNF-KKL Belgium visited the West African state and were greeted by crowds of supporters, waving Israeli flags and showing their solidarity with the Jewish state. “It was so inspiring to see the amount of people who came to show their love for the State of Israel, to hear them singing so passionately and to feel their appreciation,” says JNF/KKL Belgian Emissary, Olivier Rafowicz. “Supporters understand and support Zionism and this was evident in their commitment to the JNF and Israel.”

 Jacob Benzino, President of JNF/KKL Belgium was also present and gave a blessing in Hebrew during the event.

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The Ivory Coast is proof that in one of the least expected places in the world, support for Israel is strong.

 Africa for Israel

 Africa for Israel endeavours to unite Christians all over the continent “to provide a

continental association through which every pro-Israel church, ministry, association or individual in Africa can unite, speak and act with one voice in support of Israel based on our common Judeo-Christian foundations”. Africa for Israel has been successful in Nigeria and in Muslim-led Tanzania in galvanising support for the Jewish State. “Many African leaders are realising that transcending politics and looking for ways to improve the situation of the people in their countries is far more productive. Israel asks for nothing but is prepared to share technology and empower African citizens so that we do not lose vital skill sets.” says Luba Mayekiso, founder and pro-Israel lobbyist. “Politicians listen to numbers and many Christians feel that their silence on Israel has been misinterpreted. We have established relationships in Nigeria, Congo, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania who are “very eager for us to stand together and have requested our assistance in providing them with the correct modern narrative about Israel.”

 Africa for Israel’s Luba Mayekiso, explains why Africa will stand with Israel:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w28unk6Pq68

The rise of pan-African Zionism is extremely heartening. The continent is fertile ground for building and investing in relationships. Shared ideology and the disseminating of skills contributes so much more to this proud continent than traditional politics. Theodore Herzl would be proud.

Woman of Valour

This post appears in the WIZO Lapid Newsletter.

Today is International Women’s Day, a day dedicated to highlighting the status of women around the world. It was my privilege to interview Orit Zuaretz, former Member of Knesset (MK – Kadima) and a graduate of WIZO Aviv and our prestigious political leadership course.

Zuaretz was head of the Knesset committee on the Advancement of the Status of Women and Human Trafficking and took some time to patiently answer my questions.

Orit Zuaretz is a modern day Boudica. A warrior for the improvement of the status of women in Israel and a trailblazer in the fight against human trafficking, her success has been so great that she was recently given the Presidential award for her “Special Contribution in the fight against Human Trafficking”. Every year, three awards are given out to individuals from NGO’s, government or industry for excellence in the fight against human trafficking.

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For Zuaretz, the choice to join the committee on the Status of Woman was natural. “It was a very clear choice because I came from a woman’s organisation and I had a very focused goal. It was a portfolio that nobody really wanted but I did and I took the next step which was to recruit a team that would be as equally committed. MK’s Shlomo Moolla and Nachman Shai, who are champions for women’s rights, joined a sub-committee to fight human trafficking.”

 It is a little known fact that Israel is a top tier country in the fight against human trafficking. It was not always this way. In the past, Israel was an attractive destination for traffickers wanting to move women from either the former Soviet Union or Africa. Criminals targeted Israel because the laws in place at the time were slack. This changed in 2006 when human trafficking became a global issue. So what alerted Zuaretz to the plight of trafficked women?

 “When we formed our committee, I met with a government worker who worked with the trafficked  women. It was a step by step process and we started out by going to speak to the women who had been rescued from the Sinai or Egypt and were in shelters or in a prison facility. Their stories were heartbreaking – many, including children and young boys have been sold into slavery and prostitution.  Rape is common occurrence for these victims. We took the media into these facilities and this really contributed in highlighting and bringing attention to their awful situation. The first law that was legislated was the creation of “no mans land”. Pressure was put on the government, judges and the police and today Israel is a country that leads  the global fight against human trafficking,” says Zuaretz.

 In a few short years and thanks to the efforts of Zuaretz and her team, Israel has succeeded in bringing debate over human trafficking into the global consciousness as well making sure that women who are pimped or trafficked from Africa receive treatment as good as their counterparts from the former Soviet Union. This has led to the opening of several shelters rather than prison as an option for those rescued from the Sinai.

 Perhaps the most notable achievement is that Israel is the only country in the world to sponsor a year of rehabilitation for victims that have been trafficked and this is paid for by the government. A comprehensive training programme that includes personnel from the police services, hospitals and health workers who take care of victims has been successfully implemented. Government and NGO’s (non-governmental organisations) work in partnership and this has helped Israel become a first tier country. Israel has instituted a policy of “safe return” which entails skills training as well as physical and emotional therapy for victims. If a person is unable to return to their country of origin for whatever reason, Israel will grant asylum.

 There is still so much to be done in the global fight against human trafficking and WIZO as an International Women’s movement is proud to play a role in helping to shine a light on this issue. Zuaretz is a prime example of how WIZO women have impact in government. An incredible achievement like this which is not just an example of tikkun olam on the part of Israel but is sadly a growing phenomenon in many parts of the world where women barely have any status deserves attention. Thanks to this true woman of valour, the battle lines have been drawn.

Has history taught us anything?

This blog is featured in the Times of Israel:

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/has-history-taught-us-anything/

Irish political philosopher, Edmund Burke, once commented that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

Today is International Holocaust Memorial day. On January 27, 1945, Soviet forces liberated the Aushwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. Nearly 80 years later, despite having a day designated to the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust, the rising tide of global anti-Semitism is reaching alarming levels and it seems that the lessons of the past are all but forgotton.

It is not enough that in today’s social media savvy world where there is little censorship and people have access to some of the most abominable hate speech and anti-Semitic invective we have seen since 1938, new and creative ways for expressing hatred has become an alarming trend.

The quenelle, the reverse Nazi salute, invented by French satirist-turned-anti-Semitic posterboy, Diuodonne Mbala Mbala, is sweeping Europe like a modern day plague. Football star, Nicolas Anelka, was pictured saluting the Quenelle after scoring a goal at a recent
match. A friend of Diudonne, Anelka gave an apology that seemed more damp squib than sincere. NBA basketball star, Tony Parker, was also photographed doing the quenelle and also offered some half-baked apology. These “role models” have shown no real remorse, giving mealie mouthed excuses that “they did not know what it meant”. Seriously?
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The quenelle has almost become the secret handshake or salute of the modern day anti-Semite. It has made its illustrious appearance outside Auschwitz, the Jewish Day School in Toulouse where 3 children and their teacher were murdered and to racist chants at football matches. Is it any coincidence that this “up yours” gesture is popping up where Jews have been murdered? Diuodonne himself said that “he wanted to put a quenelle into Zionism’s butt”.

Hmmmm classy.

The damage caused by Nazi type salutes of any kind is just as traumatic as any kind of verbal assault. Especially when it comes from the youth. A day like today is a reminder of the importance of educating the next generation so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. So imagine my surprise and outrage when pictures showing students who had attended a workshop at the Durban Holocaust Centre were pictured posing with their teacher giving the Nazi salute. A communal leader chalked it up to “youthful insensitivity”. Excuse me? But apart from the obvious, what is wrong with this picture? The Holocaust Centre expressed its disappointment and the principal is “not available for comment”.
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The final installment in the hat trick of lunacy is the behaviour of British Tory MP, Aidan Burley. Burley was forced to resign as aministerial aide after admitting “Clearly inappropriate behaviour’ at a party in a French ski resort, where guests, one in a Nazi
uniform, chanted pro-Hitler slogans. Last week a Conservative Party investigation accepted his testimony that he had not been present at a bar where revellers were chanting ‘Hitler!’ and ‘Himmler!’Burley admitted to being at the Nazi themed stag party at Val Thorens but had “left after a guest proposed a toast to the Third Reich”. Nazi themed stag party. What? Was 80’s night theme taken? Toasts to the Third Reich? Insanity.

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The Holocaust did not start with gas chambers but with words and actions. And the inaction of many who stood by and did nothing in the face of mass genocide. Today and all days, we can ill afford to stand by and do nothing. It is alarming that history has not taught us anything, it is open season on Jews. Anti-Semitism is no longer politically incorrect and the intentions of haters is ill disguised.

NEVER AGAIN means NEVER AGAIN!