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!

Honouring an Icon

This post currently appears in The Times of Israel:

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/honouring-an-icon/

 

Nelson Rolihlala Mandela – father of a nation, ambassador of reconciliation, titan of a leader.

 One doesn’t forget meeting an icon. It has been my privilege to have met Nelson Mandela twice in my lifetime. The first time was at a synagogue just after his release from prison on Robben Island and the second time was random, while browsing in a bookstore in Johannesburg. I remember both occasions clearly. Nelson Mandela loved the youth. After addressing a curious Jewish community in September 1990, he skipped the shmoozing with the communal movers and shakers to come and talk to us, standing quietly in a line, proudly wearing the sweatshirts of our youth movement. Shaking his hand and mumbling a few incoherent words, I was aware that I was in the presence of someone important. In the years to follow, it would become more apparent. The second time, post his role as President and chief reconciler, Mandela quietly walked into a bookstore on a Sunday afternoon. A hush fell over the store and shoppers were stunned when we realised that Tata was in our midst. Apparently iconic grandfathers also like to buy their grandchildren books! After shoppers quietly and respectfully gathered, he nodded his acknowledgement of us individually, looking at each person in the small crowd and greeting each person. He moved from the star struck adults and made a beeline for a woman holding a child. Cooing over the infant, his eyes lit up as he chatted to the mother. The child slept through it all.

 

And as effortlessly he appeared, he left, a smiling Graca (and a security detail) beside him leaving us all completely awestruck.

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I know that many are questioning why I am writing this considering that some of Mandela’s statements regarding the status of Palestinians and his unequivocal support for their rights have raised the ire of many. And while Mandela always supported the rights of the Palestinians to have a state he also supported Israel’s right to exist. No doubt Israel’s detractors will be trotting out any statement he would have made critical to Israel and quoting from a letter allegedly (it wasn’t!) written by him castigating Israel and Zionism.

 

In his memoir, The Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela spoke of his admiration for the Palmach and Menachem Begin. He learnt guerrilla warfare from Arthur Goldreich, a fellow anti-Apartheid activist who had fought with the Palmach during the 1948 War of Independence and he wanted to model the Umkhonto We Siswe (armed wing of the ANC) on this example. Even though he supported Palestinian national aspirations he was emphatic that Israel has a right to exist famously saying, “I cannot conceive of Israel’s withdrawing if Arab states do not recognise Israel within secure borders.”

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Nelson Mandela had a special love for the Jewish community of South Africa. He maintained that because of our history, Jews have sensitivity to racism and discrimination. Throughout his life, Jews have played an instrumental role having fought beside him against Apartheid. It was Jewish lawyers who offered the young attorney an opportunity to do his articles, unheard of at that time. During the last few months when Madiba’s health took a turn for the worse, his daughter, Dr Makaziwe Mandela,  took the time to convey a special message of thanks through Chief Rabbi Goldstein, “Makaziwe specifically said that I should convey to the Jewish community that her father cherishes the special and warm relationship he has had with South African Jews throughout his life. She said that her father deeply appreciates that throughout his life he has enjoyed the warmth, kindness and support of our community.” Mandela was patron of the charity Ma’ Afrika Tikkun, that plays a vital role in helping to build and uplift disadvantaged communities.

 

Madiba, from a grateful nation, ngiyabonga. Thank you for your life’s work, fighting for freedom and democracy for all South Africans. Thank you for shepherding us through potentially troubled times and thank you for wielding your magic and showing us through example, the importance of reconciliation and forgiveness. Who can forget the visuals of you having tea with Mrs Verwoerd, widow of one of Apartheid’s chief architects, Hendrik Verwoerd. And who can forget you in your Number 6 rugby Jersey, proudly holding up the World Cup.

 

In the last few days, endless tributes have poured in. Former South African President, FW de Klerk has spoken of your willingness to understand the Afrikaans people and their concerns in the build up to the first democratic elections. My wish is that your legacy will impact on this troubled region and that the importance of negotiation and mutual understanding will help shepherd us towards peace. The best way to honour you is to follow your enormous legacy.

 

Hamba Kahle Madiba. May you rest in peace.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGS7SpI7obY

Hypocritical Oafs

This blog post is currently featured in The Times of Israel”

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/hypocritical-oafs/

Is it just me or does it seem like we are living in an Orwellian universe? Reading the news headlines lately makes me feel that we are living in suspended animation or on a distant planet.

 When news broke of the deal brokered between Iran and the P5 +1 countries that include the US, Britain, France, China and Germany, I immediately experienced a sense of deja moo. A feeling like we had heard this bull before. I think most Israelis had the vision of Chamberlain returning from talks with Hitler exclaiming that he had achieved “peace in our time”. Hitler laughed and carried on with his plans for the 1000 year Reich and you can be sure that the Ayatollah’s in Qom are pointing and laughing at the gullible westerners who fell hook, line and sinker for Rouhani’s charm offensive.

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It has been said that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. So we have to ask has the world learnt nothing? Obviously not. This deal which has been described by Finance Minister, Yair Lapid as a choice between “plague and cholera” still allows for the Iranians to continue to enrich uranium, albeit to a maximum of 5%.. Iran’s President Rouhani says that the deal is proof that “Iran’s rights to enrich uranium have been recognised.” And while the deal prohibits refuelling the Arak reactor or replacing and installing new centrifuges, it doesn’t call for the current to be dismantled . It just shows how much regard Iran has for the Geneva deal.  It also does not prohibit this uranium being enriched to weapons grade levels.  US Secretary of State, John Kerry actually said that this deal will only make Israel and other US allies safer. ‘Scuse me? Something is being enriched and clearly it smells.

 This is not a case of paranoia. We Jews have learnt that we can never dismiss genocidal rhetoric as the rantings of mad men. More so when they parade their arsenals of missiles in the streets of their capitals and shout their intentions at every opportunity. Just last week Ayatollah Khameini called the Jewish State “rabid dogs”. The US did not rush to condemn this comment but France did, claiming Khameini’s words were “unacceptable and would only complicate talks.” Vive le France.

 Is France becoming the most influential power in the region? It would appear so. The Obama administration’s recent track record in the Middle East is proof that the power of the US in the region is waning. Obama has shown he incapable of being a decisive Commander in Chief by deferring to Congress during the Syrian crisis and has created a deeper partisan chasm with the Iranian deal. 

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For Israel the way forward seems nebulous. We have said before that we may have to go it alone and are prepared. But for the powers who have sworn over the last 70 years that a Holocaust would never happen again, selling out to Iran shows a lack of decisive and strong leadership. Hypocritical oafs.