A Modern Day Scramble for Africa?

The African continent is becoming the latest battlefield in the existential war between Iran and Israel. It would appear that both countries are engaged in a modern day scramble for a piece of Africa. This has nothing to do with the colonial aspirations of times past but rather it is a battle for the hearts and minds of the people and in the case of Iran, gaining a foothold on the African continent. The methodologies adopted by the two countries are somewhat different.

After the Yom Kippur War in 1973, relations between Israel and most African countries soured, and it was only in the 1980′s and 1990′s that Israel returned to Africa. There are strategic interests – countries situated in the horn of Africa have geographical significance not just for airspace but for their close proximity to Arab countries. Israel understands that Africa is a new frontier ripe for cooperation and has embarked on targeted diplomatic missions and has made great strides through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ MASHAV programme which has brought much needed agricultural and medical assistance to impoverished communities and countries across the continent. Examples of this include water purification projects, assisting in circumcision rituals in countries such as Swaziland which has significantly reduced HIV infection rates, as well as numerous agricultural projects. It was part of Zionism’s founding father, Theodore Herzl’s dream to help the oppressed in Africa.

Read the complete blog as it appears in The Algemeiner:

http://www.algemeiner.com/2013/01/22/a-modern-day-scramble-for-africa/

Apartheid Week – A Global Hate Fest

Far be it for me to “rant” more than twice a week, so as to not clog up already bulging mail boxes but this is a topic that not only deserves a rant but the proverbial horse needs to be flogged again and again until the truth rears its head.  February 20th marks the starts of Apartheid Week, a delirious festival of anti-Israel hatred dressed up as a human right’s concern that plays out on a very troubling stage, University campuses around the world. From Canada to South Africa,  the wolves in sheep’s clothing will rant (okay, so I don’t have the monopoly on that!) and point fingers, ignoring real human rights travesties such as mass murder in Syria or Iranian nuclear programmes  and their dubious intent to focus on the favoured target, Israel. According to  the Apartheid Week official website, Apartheid Week will be marked as follows:

Europe: February 20 – March 10

Palestine: March 12-19
United States: February 26 – March 3
Canada: March 5-9
Arab World: March 5-11
South Africa: March 5-11

 

On many occasions I have lamented the tragic hijacking of the word “Apartheid” which in essence meant the legislated and enforced laws of racial segregation that classed the black citizens of South Africa as disenfranchised and second class.  Instead, this definition has become a sexy way to package, market and sell anti-Israel hatred. The word Apartheid is provocative, emotive and evocative and inspires a variety of strong emotions. In their haste to demonize Israel, detractors have forgotten to define what Apartheid was! The black people of South Africa suffered tremendously under the Apartheid regime and by comparing Israel, an imperfect but thriving democracy, to the former South Africa makes light of their suffering. It is an odious comparison to say the least.

 

This campaign of hatred is nothing more than a scurrilous attempt to delegitimize the State of Israel. One must note that even in the darkest days of Apartheid, NOBODY questioned South Africa’s right to exist as a country, no matter how much the world objected to its racist policies. Calling into question Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State or the rights of Jews to organize themselves along political lines and call it Zionism IS racism. By painting Israel as a pariah state that has little right to exist and ignoring true racist states says more about those pointing fingers than our plucky little country. I grew up in South Africa and bore witness to the horrors of Apartheid and I live in Israel and while it is not perfect and yes, racism exists, comparing the two countries makes my flame red hair stand on end and inspires me to jump on my well used and battered soapbox.  South Africa is perhaps one of the most important centres for this campaign of delegitimisation because it is the country that not only holds the benchmark for defeating Apartheid but exports anti-Apartheid activists to the above mentioned centres to promote their Boycott Divestment and Sanction (BDS) campaign against Israel and spew forth their vitriol. Naturally disguised as concern for human rights abuse while ignoring those perpetrated by some of the most appalling leaders including those of Hamas, Iran and Syria, to name but a few.

 

Those advocating BDS assume that by “punishing” Israel with cultural, economic, sporting and other sanctions it will bring us to our knees, and we will abandon the idea of a Two State Solution. They assume that by isolating Israel  it will result in Palestinians and Israelis living  happily ever after in a giant rainbow nation like South Africa and everything will be sunshine, lollipops and roses. Except for one small detail. Palestinians want to live with Palestinians and we would like to retain our identity as a Jewish State that treats its minority communities with respect and equality.  Oh yes, and we would like to do this in peace please.

 

By advocating a One State Solution, BDS advocates not only patronize Palestinian national aspirations but Jewish as well. They are well aware that demographically Israel would not survive as the only Jewish state in the world.

 

Even notorious anti-Israel protagonist, Norman Finkelstein, has come out and publicly called the BDS movement a “Cult”. While I don’t think he will be pledging allegiance to the Israeli flag or singing Hatikvah anytime soon, it certainly quite a coup to have someone like Finkelstein speak out against BDS and expose it for what it really is. This has ruffled some feathers in the anti-Israel camp!

 

It has become trendy to join the anti-Israel frenzy on campus.  It saddens me that in order to become pro-Palestinian the trend is to become as anti-Israel as one can possibly be. Academic institutions are supposed to be hotbeds of free thinking so I am going to send this message to students: start a new trend – buck the system by becoming pro peace and  being informed of the realities in this part of the Middle East. Rebel by choosing not to harass Israeli speakers, diplomats and IDF who visit your campus. Come on students, this is YOUR time to challenge authority….

 

Perhaps it would behoove the organizers of Apartheid week to dedicate this time more productively. If you want to have a week that commemorates Apartheid, think of those in South Africa who were victims or use the time more positively to think of peaceful solutions to the conflict. Remember, some of the most famous cults no longer exist….

Just do…….something

 

The Gals and I volunteering ....

Wends, Gina, Sue and I get into the spirit of volunteering....

 

As Olim Chadashim (new immigrants) we are faced with many challenges on a daily basis. One of the greatest, is how we try to integrate into a society that is extremely diverse, fast paced and at times, intimidating! We try to master the language and if you are anything like me, you are prone to many mistakes, have days when you can speak and others when brain and mouth just will not engage! Attempting to utter a coherent sentence in Hebrew, often results in an indulgent but perplexed facial expression from the people you are speaking to. I am still convinced I will be extradited back to South Africa for “crimes against the language”. Just navigating the various systems here feels like it may be easier to broker peace in the Middle East than understand how things work! When you are new to a country, sometimes just surviving the day is an achievement. And here, subtitles and United Nations culture handbooks are not included.

 

One of the greatest tips that I can give Olim, especially those that are not of the age when they can serve in the Army, is get involved with some kind of volunteer organisation. Those of us who do not serve for whatever reason, really miss out on an important facet of Israeli life. It is not just about serving the country but also about getting to understand the culture. I strongly advocate joining a volunteer organisation. You will be wonderfully surprised at how quickly this becomes an unexpected support system and helps with the integration process. You also get to make new friends which in a new country can be quite difficult.  For me, the organisation of choice is WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation). I was a member in South Africa and have been afforded many opportunities through the organisation and have proudly continued this in Israel. From this, I am privileged to include some superb women as my friends, role models and I have at least three Israeli mommy’s or “shalosh ima’ot Israeli’ot, clucking around me like mother hens, dispensing with much needed hugs, concerned phone calls and advice. Being Jewish, naturally there is no shortage of food! Mama Jay, Tova and Tricia this one is for you!

 

So where am I going with all of this? The point I am trying to make is that when you are new (or relatively new like me) you look for ways to integrate and hopefully give back to the country.  Immigration to Israel does have its perks and the country is unique in that it was established to welcome and absorb Jewish immigrants from all over the world. The systems are in place to make your landing a little softer. For me, it is important that I give back to the country that has given me so much, not just as an Olah, but also as a person. A wise person once said that you make a living by what you earn but you make a life by what you give. There are so many opportunities in Israel to get involved in helping and giving back. Whether you want to help new Olim , or like me, volunteer for WIZO whose credo is working for an improved Israeli society and women’s rights. Do something special for the men and women in defense of the country or Holocaust survivors. If going green turns you on, or you want to work with animals, go on, just do something!! There is no shortage of way to get involved and doing. You will be amazed at not how much pleasure you get from giving but your growth as a person and realizing things about yourself that you never knew is astounding.

 

Come on, just do…….something!

 

Crying for the beloved Country

You have the right to know! Many will wonder why on earth is someone who chose to leave South Africa and start a new life in Israel is doing jumping on her soap box and giving her opinion about  the protection of State Information Bill that will be passed in South Africa on November 22nd.  (although it still needs to go to provincial level, then back to the president before being gazetted)

 The sign of a healthy democracy is a free and open press. The role of the media is to shine a light on the dark corners of government corruption and expose any form of bad governance. The rule is simple. The government is answerable to the citizens of the country it governs. Hey, they put you there – and they can remove you! In a democracy, the citizens have a right to know if their rulers are dodgy and/or if they are doing things with valuable tax money that raises an eyebrow. South Africans fought long and hard for true democratic rule and can boast one of the most progressive Constitutions in the world. The passing of a law that disallows the criticism of the government and its institutions and muzzles the press not only makes a mockery of the tenets to which many hold dear but is tragic for a country that can boast the Freedom Charter as a yardstick for measuring human rights. Yesterday the ruling ANC cocked a giant snoot at the South African Constitution, her citizens – and the fight of many to end Apartheid. There is no great difference between the censoring of the press in the Apartheid era and now!

 

I feel compelled to add my voice to the growing outcry against this bill. November 22nd 2011 will go down in South African history as one of its darkest days. Even though I live in Israel I showed my solidarity – as did many of my South African, American, Israeli and other colleagues – for “Black Tuesday” by wearing something black. The concept of a free press is something to hold sacred. A free press tells us that we live in countries that allow us the freedom of expression. As someone who makes a living as a wordsmith, the idea of being silenced would be like losing one of my senses. Although many would agree that the idea of Rolene Marks finally shutting up may be a good thing! Two weeks ago I was the subject of a hate blog – it seems someone took exception to my contrary opinion to theirs. I say bring it on!!! I will protect YOUR right to disagree with me.

 

I have spent most of my life doing some kind of advocacy work for Israel. More often than not I have heard many people grumbling about the Israeli press. It is too left, too right, criticises the government too much, does not criticise enough. Today I am grateful for our media. I am often asked why the world media is so hostile against Israel. Although it is painful to see my country unfairly singled out for opprobrium, I am glad that we allow it – and that we can hold our own against the accusations that come. Criticising the government is the national sport of Israel and the old adage “two Jews, four opinions” is very true. Long may we enjoy this right!

 

South Africa, your people fought bravely to end Apartheid and institute freedom for all. Continue the fight to include the media in the category “ALL”! In the immortal words of a protestor in Cape Town yesterday (and my apologies to non-South Africans who may not get the joke)….JOU MA SE SECRECY BILL!

Bearing Witness

Forgive me for diverting from my usual pieces about Aliyah but I feel it has become incumbent on me as an ex-South African and now citizen of Israel to write the following piece.
 
As many of you know, the State of Israel has been put on trial for the last three days in Cape Town, South Africa by the “judicial” (and I use that term loosely) farce known as the Russell Tribunal for crimes of Apartheid perpetrated against the Palestinian people. Given that the Tribunal has no official judicial status it can only be described as a kangaroo court. The Russell Tribunal forms part of the Betrand Russell Peace Foundation which was originally formed to investigate violations of international law and human rights.
 
For the past three days the sounds of kangaroos hopping their way to the courthouse has drowned out all sounds of reason. And the jury selection for this has been full of kangaroos (apologies for the comparison, cute marsupials from Australia!).From former Special Rapporteur for the UN on Palestine, John Dugard, who is almost as heinous as his successor to Red Ronnie Kasrils himself! And not to forget the Arch Tutu, Zackie Achmat and Winnie Mandela. Winnie “withdrew” from the panel. Perhaps her own scurrilous human rights record should face its own tribunal! Lest I forget star witness, Leila Khaled, she of first female airplane hijacker fame! And these are the people who judge Israel for human rights abuse? Laughable if it weren’t for the fact that the Tribunal is taking place in South Africa, former Apartheid state, the jurists are famed anti-Apartheid activists and the venue for this theatre of the ridiculous is the District Six Museum. Very symbolic. This is enough to have any anti-Israelist turning cartwheels and thinking all their birthdays have arrived at once.
 
So why have I decided to write this piece? As someone who grew up during the emergency state years in South Africa, I bore witness to the crime that was Apartheid. As an Israeli, I live the reality of what Israel is like every single day. Is there racism in this country? Yes, just as there is in any other. No, Israel is not utopia but neither is any other country – including South Africa. We tend to forget what the word Apartheid really means. Apartheid is defined as “the Afrikaans word meaning ‘separation’, Apartheid was the racial, social policy introduced by the National Party government of South Africa in 1948.” Today it is used to describe Israel. It is a very sexy catchword, after all it is emotive, evocative and provocative. Perfect if you want to package and market hatred. The very use of it to describe Israel is not only odious but makes a mockery and cheapens the tremendous suffering endured by South Africa’s black citizens.
 
Growing up in Apartheid South Africa, I bore witness on a daily basis to the inhumane suffering of my fellow citizens. Only they were not regarded as such. Denied the right to vote or have political representation they had no voice in government. Unlike MK Zoabi, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset and another “star” tribunal witness. South Africans who were not perfect white specimens were denied the right to a decent education, receiving a “bantu education”, which was inferior to that I received. The Apartheid laws in South Africa denied black citizens the freedom of movement. I remember witnessing the humiliation of black men who were out past their curfew as police checked their pass books and in some circumstances whipped them with a sjambok (whip). Just because they could. As a child I once asked my mother why it was that nannies (domestic workers) always sat on the grass in the park. Was it that they did not like the chairs?Imagine my mother’s discomfort explaining to me that nannies were not allowed to sit on benches because they were for “whites only”. An idea that was unimaginable to my naïve childish mind. I also wondered where the black children were because they did not attend my school or my ballet class or swim in the same swimming pool as I did. If my father gave our “nanny” a lift anywhere, she has to sit in the back of the car for fear of breaking any racial laws. We as Jews come from a history where we understand too well the implications of racial laws. I could go on and on about the injustices suffered by black South Africans and it is extremely painful to write this piece as I also acknowledge how I as a white child benefitted.
 
I now focus on Israel. I am proud to be an Israeli citizen, it  is the realisation of a lifelong dream. Yes, this country is defined along ethnic lines – as was legally voted in by the United Nations and is no different from the countries, and there are many, who define themselves according to their Islamic identity. I live the day to day reality and it pains me to hear my country so erroneously compared to South Africa. Visit any Israeli hospital where Arab doctors treat Jewish patients and vice versa. Take the public transport and revel in the fact that there are no seats marked “Jews only”. Attend any of our Universities which are fully integrated. Visit the beach. Enjoy your lunch or coffee in any of our restaurants and coffee shops. Find your way around our country in Hebrew or Arabic (and yes sometimes even English) as they are our official languages. Vote for the Arab parties if you so wish. Have your case heard before Arab Supreme Court judge, Justice Joubron. Serve in our army or foreign service. Rest assured these are not positions reserved for Jews only. I am proud of our imperfect yet pluralistic democracy.
 
I am proud to call myself a Zionist Israeli. I challenge the jury of buffoons who dare sit in judgement to truly look at Israel with open eyes. I fear that they do not. The Russell Tribunal would not have been out of place in Salem circa the witch trials because it is exactly what it is.
 
Jurists of the tribunal, under the laws of balanced, democratic jurisprudence, I find you guilty of racism.

Welcome Home Gilad Schalit!

Welcome Home Gilad Schalit!

They were the words we have all been waiting to say for over 5 years. WELCOME HOME GILAD SCHALIT! Baruch haba, it is good to have you home!

Gilad was captured by Hamas terrorists on the 26th of June 2006 and returned to his country and his family on the 18th of October 2011.

And what a momentous day it was! To say we ran the gamut of emotions as all of Israel gathered around TV sets and computers and radios (in my office – all at the same time!)is an understatement.  Even the roads were extremely quiet – unusual for this time of year. Suffice to say it was an unproductive day for most Israeli businesses!

Many wondered why Tuesday was not declared a public holiday but in a country that is used to getting back coffins in prisoner swaps, we were a bit more circumspect. We also with heavy hearts, remember and acknowledge the many victims of terror and their families as some of the perpetrators and accomplices were released. It is an extremely high price to pay  and as much as the day was a great celebration it was also a day when we reflected on the victims of terror. Ordinary civilians killed simply for the crime of being Jewish. We hold their memories forever in our hearts.

We are a nation that values life above all. We take pride in the fact that our army (IDF) and government have vowed to never leave a man behind. We hold fast to the Talmudic tenet that he who saves a life, it is as if he has saved the world entire. So yes, the stakes are extremely high but the value of Schalits life to us is the world entire.

Many felt that until we saw Gilad with our own eyes, we would hold off on the celebrations.So you can only imagine the loud whoop of joy that resounded when we saw the first footage of him, albeit very thin and gaunt and in the hands of his captors. We now had proof that Gilad was alive. Tears rolled down the faces of my colleagues and I and then reality set in. he was not on Israeli soil yet. Okay, so lets calm down and wait until he is FINALLY free.

To see him have to endure the repugnant interrogation that passed as an interview on Egyptian TV brought out anger and dismay. of course nobody was really surprised that Gilad’s hebrew answers were being translated into something completely different in Arabic. I walked away in utter disgust.

When we finally received word that Gilad was finally on Israeli soil and free, the celebrations began in earnest. Footage of Gilad, dressed in his IDF uniform,  saluting Prime Minister Netanyahu and hugging IDF Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz were really touching but it was the reuniting of father and son that really opened the tear ducts!!! This was the moment we were all waiting for!

Gilad has returned home. To his family and friends who never gave up the fight to bring him home. And to a jubilant country and ecstatic people.

Gilad, we all love you and our collective wish is that you move forward in good health and healing. We have carried you and your family in our hearts and our prayers all these years. From South Africa to France and everywhere in between we have shouted our demands for your release. May your life be filled with joy. May you experience love. May you never know a day of darkness ever again. Gilad Schalit Chai. Am Yisrael Chai. 

A response to my blog post….

Aliya bloggers on same page

Sun, 08/28/2011 – 16:00

choni blogpic.png

MyShtetl’s two Aliya bloggers are Choni Davidowitz and newish (immigrant) emigrant Rolene Marks. After the latest post by RoRo, Choni has posted a lengthy supportive post which he asked us to carry on the home page as well.

READ ROLENE’S BLOG


Firstly Rolene, A big Yasher Koach on fulfilling the great mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael.

The greatest Mitzvot are the most difficult to fulfill. May the rewards of your Aliyah also be great while your idea of an “information offensive” is highly commendable, I would suggest an entirely different approach. Israel does not need the approval of the world.

You yourself allude to the fact that nothing Israel does will satisfy the world (except giving the Arabs another state) Israel needs only for the Jews in exile to return Home.

For that to happen information about Israel should be concentrated on the complete Jewishness of living in Israel, and the futility of strengthening the exile.

You have now been living in Eretz Yisrael for a few months, and I’m sure you have been blown away (as I was) by its immeasurable holiness and value to the Jewish nation. Wherever one goes, be it museums, archeological sites, settlements, the tomb of our forefathers, Yad Vashem, or walking the streets of Jerusalem, the experience is 1000% Jewish.

Everything is Jewish here; the mountains, the stones of the buildings, the trees, the sky, the towns, the shopping centers, the police and F16 fighter pilots, the very air you breathe permeates everything with such profound holiness that even the things that you would not think of being holy or Jewish, like Madison Ave.-style billboards or Arab neighborhoods, are dwarfed in the transcendental Jewishness of the Land, and in no way blemish the towering holiness of Eretz Yisrael.

In contrast when speaking of life in exile, one can only experience the terrible feeling of gentileness. Their everything is the opposite of Jewishness. The streets are gentile, the faces are gentile, the mountains are gentile, the language is gentile, the signs are gentile, the culture is gentile, and the air is anything but holy. “Small” pockets of Judaism are dwarfed by the overpowering gentileness of a foreign land.

Rolene, having lived in exile for many years and now having made Aliyah, I would unabashedly ask your fellow brothers and sisters who choose to remain in exile: How can you live there?

Someone who is assimilated and estranged from his roots, I can understand that he doesn’t feel the emptiness and strangeness of living in an unholy foreign land.

But for a Jew who cares about being a Jew in his own land as part of a unified nation, I cannot understand how he can live in a foreign land. If he was born there, and doesn’t know anything else, then that is what he is used to – he thinks that is all there is.

But for a Jew who knows that Israel is the (only) Land for the Jewish people, I don’t know how he can tolerate living anywhere else. Why would anyone want to live in a gentile land amongst the gentiles when he or she can live in the Jewish Land?

Even for people who complain that much of Israeli society is secular, it is still the Holy Land. The holiness pervades everything, making it a million times holier and more Jewish than anywhere else in the world.

HOW CAN AN ORTHODOX JEW LIVE IN A FOREIGN LAND OF HIS OWN WILL AND CHOICE? I don’t understand.

The truth is that not enough Jews feel things so deeply. Even in the days of the exodus, four-fifths of the Jews didn’t want to leave Egypt and died in the plague of darkness. And in the wilderness, the spies cooled the hearts of the people, and dissuaded them from journeying to the Land, a national disaster that haunts us until today.

So Rolene, may I humbly suggest that you assemble your many friends who have made Aliyah and promote Eretz Yisrael in the way that matters most to Hashem. COME HOME EXILE JEWS!!!!

Choni Davidowitz. babchon@telkomsa.net