Israeli protest is not about right or left

This article featured in the SA Jewish Report:

Since 7 January this year, Israelis have been taking to the streets every Saturday night to protest against the proposed judicial overhauls. Armed with Israeli flags, which have become the symbol of the protests, and chanting “democratia” and “shame”, Saturday night protests have become a fixture in the weekly calendar.

From Eilat in the south to Haifa in the north, Israelis are exercising their democratic right to protest. It doesn’t matter if you support or object to the judicial overhaul, watching this display of democracy in action is extraordinary.

This is a pivotal moment in Israel’s history. Though there have been small pockets of scuffles between protesters and police, the protests have been peaceful.

Israel’s protest movement has inspired similar action in cities across the world including Rome, London, Paris, New York, Washington, and others. One could even say that the call to save Israel’s democracy is a bold reclaiming of Zionism, as these protests galvanise many who may disagree on a variety of issues, but have clearly united for this.

Most are of the opinion that this isn’t just a battle to save Israel’s democratic values but essentially, to save her soul.

There’s no doubt that the chasm between those who support the reforms and those who are protesting against them is growing wider. The most common misconceptions is that these protests are a rebellion against election results, or that it’s a “right versus left” battle or even a religious versus secular showdown. Some detractors have labelled protesters as “anarchists”, in an attempt to downplay the veracity of their claims.

In reality, the protesters represent a microcosm of Israeli society. They are young and old, religious and secular, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi, from the left to the centre, and even traditional Likud supporters and national religious citizens who live in Judea and Samaria.

Tel Aviv may be the epicentre of the protests, but on Saturday night, hundreds gathered peacefully in Gush Etzion and Givat Shmuel in Judea and Samaria, bearing the blue and white and singing “gesher tzar meod”. “All the world is a very narrow bridge, and the main thing to recall is to have no fear at all,” say the lyrics. This isn’t the image of the anarchistic, anti-government group many perceive the protesters to be.

Moreover, these protests aren’t a rebellion against election results. There are many who say that this is an expression of the majority who voted in the coalition government, but the parties who form the coalition received only small percentages of the vote – with the exception of Likud. There isn’t consensus in the Likud party either on the issue of judicial reform.

Likud stalwart and former speaker of Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, cautioned against the reforms, appealing to the government “to but the brakes on and compromise”. He emphasised that this was a concern of several Likud MKs. Edelstein wasn’t present for the first readings of the controversial override bill earlier this week, and has been sanctioned as a result.

The voices of dissent and caution are turning up the volume. One of Israel’s staunchest supporters, philanthropist Miriam Adelson, called the proposed reforms “hasty and irresponsible”. Israel’s allies are also expressing their concern. The United Arab Emirates has warned that it won’t purchase Israeli defence systems unless Prime Minister Netanyahu “reins in his government”.

One of the most vocal groups have been reservists from a host of different units in the army, navy, and air force. Israel’s military and security sector could be the most severely impacted by judicial reforms that could remove the Supreme Court’s ability to overrule any activity that could result in soldiers facing charges in the International Court of Justice. Israel’s military welcomes the necessary checks and balances.

The Netanyahu name is synonymous with the heroic actions of Yoni Netanyahu during the Entebbe operation in 1976. The soldiers who participated in the legendary operation wrote an open letter to Netanyahu and summed up the diversity of the protesters, saying, “We did the impossible together with brothers in arms, soldiers from Golani, paratroopers, intelligence, medicine, and media and Mossad agents. And again now, we’re all together in the protests while you do all in your ability to crumble the Israeli people.”

The hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are taking to the streets love their country. They are Zionists and patriots who want to see the state of Israel not only flourish, but continue to be the beacon of democracy it has been since its birth as a modern state 75 years ago. They are cautioning against reforms that would erode the civil rights of many and be to our economic detriment. Israelis are speaking up and increasing the volume. If only the ruling coalition would listen.

  • Rolene Marks is a Middle East commentator often heard on radio and TV, and is the co-founder of Lay of the Land and the SA-Israel Policy Forum.

Tempers flare in Israel amidst rising extremism

This article was featured in the SA Jewish Report:

Hillel and Yagel Yaniv were two brothers from Har Bracha. On Sunday afternoon, they were in their car going somewhere, when they were ambushed by a terrorist from nearby Huwara, who shot and killed them. Yagel would have turned 20 in two weeks.

Yaakov (6) and Menachem (8) stood with their father, patiently waiting for a bus in the suburb of Ramot, Jerusalem, when a terrorist rammed his car into the busy bus stop.

Two sets of brothers mercilessly killed. Two families with massive, gaping holes that can never be repaired. Two families that will go through the rituals of funerals, then shivot, where politicians will promise all kinds of things.

They will then get up and try to pick up the pieces of their ravaged lives. They will join other Israeli families, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian, who have all had family members killed over the past year. Meanwhile, after the death of their loved ones, across Gaza and the West Bank, cries of jubilation could be heard as sweets and delicacies were handed out in celebration.

Following this, in horrific scenes that sent shock waves through Israel, settlers took justice into their own hands and embarked on riots, burning Palestinian property and cars.

Border Police, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers, Fire and Rescue Services, and Israel Police arrived at the scene to try to restore order, evacuating as many Palestinians as they could. Reporters on the scene said a Jewish gunman dressed in black clothes and a military vest and helmet fired and threw stun grenades at them as they were covering the violence in Huwara.

I’m a reporter. My job is to try and report the news in as neutral and impassive a manner as I can. However, I’m angry. I’m angry that I’m reporting on an ever-growing list of victims of terror. I’m angry that the cycle of violence is getting worse, and that extremists on both sides are emboldened by the rising temperature and growing chasms in Israeli society.

Speaking to Galei Tzahal radio, Zvika Fogel, Otzma Yehudit member of the Knesset (MK) and the chairperson of the Knesset’s national security committee said, “Yesterday, a terrorist came from Huwara – Huwara is closed and burnt. That’s what I want to see. Only thus can we obtain deterrence. The act that the residents of Judea and Samaria carried out yesterday is the strongest deterrent that the state of Israel has had since Operation Defensive Shield. After a murder like yesterday, villages should burn when the IDF doesn’t act.”

Responding to what can only be seen as inciteful comments, Yesh Atid Chairperson Yair Lapid the leader of the opposition, tweeted, “This isn’t a fully right-wing government, it’s a fully anarchist government. MK Fogel should go to jail for incitement of terror.” Israeli leaders, including Otzma Yehudit chairperson and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, called for citizens not to take action into their own hands.

Israeli society is growing ever more fractured. The voices of protest against the government’s planned judicial overhaul are growing louder and the crowds are growing larger. There’s growing concern that we’re headed towards a dangerous collision, a sentiment voiced by President Isaac Herzog in his address to the nation just weeks ago.

Tempers are flaring in our region, and many are concerned that the genie is out of the bottle and will be difficult to contain. It’s alarming to see a significant increase in incitement from both sides.

We take every murder caused by terror attacks personally in Israel. It wrenches at our combined heart, and there’s a seemingly never-ending stream of tears and sorrow. But we cannot become vigilantes and take the law into our own hands no matter how angry and frustrated we are. We have the IDF and police to maintain law and order.

Israel is fighting battles on many fronts, not just on the security front, but also for the country’s soul. We need cool, calm heads to prevail. We cannot allow for extremism, which has already taken root, to flourish. Israel deserves better than that.

  • Rolene Marks is a Middle East commentator often heard on radio and TV, and is the co-founder of Lay of the Land and the SA-Israel Policy Forum.


This article is featured in Lay of the Land:

Are our favourite, iconic stories being rewritten for our over-sensitive times?

Are we too sensitive? I ask this question because in the last couple of years it seems that everything seems to be offensive to some people all of the time. In my opinion if you engage in offence fracking, there is a good chance you will find something offensive. Right now, the fun police seem to be working overtime on some of our favourite iconic fictional characters and their creators.

One of the latest victims of the fun succubus is author, Roald Dahl. Now I am no great fan of Dahl, he being a raging antisemite; but vile comments aside, the man could write a helluva children’s book. Who does not love a visit to WillyWonka’s Chocolate Factory or shuddered at the thought of The Witches? His books have delighted children for decades.

My Word! Hmnn, now which Roald Dahl classics require tinkering to make palatable for today’s sensitive readers?

I do get some kind of perverse satisfaction in knowing how many Jews read his books just as much as I get a kick out of listening to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” because I know it probably irritates the comfortably dumb, Roger Waters.

There is now a profession called “sensitive reading” i.e. people who comb through beloved written works looking for “offensive” language. By “offensive language”, I am not referring to f-bombs and reasonable facsimiles; but rather language that could be seen as racist, fat shaming and more. In the revised “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, for instance, published by Puffin, the gluttonous Augustus Gloop is not “enormously fat” but merely “enormous”. In “The Witches”, a sorceress no longer hides among humankind posing as “a cashier in a supermarket or typing letters for a businessman”. Instead, she is “working as a top scientist or running a business”. Many, many corrections are more “sensitive”. If I roll my eyes any more, I may detach my corneas!! Dahl books censored: ‘You should be ASHAMED’ – David Starkey clashes with Rebecca Reid

British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak “we shouldn’t gobblefunk around with words“. Gobblefunk. What a fantastic word. Queen Consort Camilla also waded into the controversy. Speaking at a reception to mark the second anniversary of her popular online book club, The Queen’s Reading Room, Camilla told assembled writers:

Please remain true to your calling, unimpeded by those who may wish to curb the freedom of your expression or impose limits on your imagination.”

Weighs in over Words. “Don’t gobblefunk around with words,” says British PM Rishi Sunak attacking ‘airbrushing’ of Roald Dahl classics.

She looked up with a mischievous smile as she added: “Enough said.” Indeed.

Dahl is dead and therefore cannot defend his work. He is not the only casualty of the sensitivity police. James Bond seems to have caused offense as well. The martini drinking, womanizing, tuxedo wearing super spy is being edited – and not in a way that would bring a devilish smile to his face. As 007 approaches his 70th anniversary, significant changes have been made.

As reported by The Telegraph, it reads:

This book was written at a time when terms and attitudes which might be considered offensive by modern readers were commonplace. A number of updates have been made in this edition, while keeping as close as possible to the original text and the period in which it is set.”

Some contentious phrases include “sweet tang of rape” and the idea that “blithering women” cannot do a “man’s work.” Originally published in 1954, the original version of Live and Let Die, author Ian Fleming describes black people at a nightclub in New York as “panting and grunting like pigs.”

The amended passage now reads: “Bond could sense the electric tension in the room.” A racist word has been replaced with “black person” and “black man.” In the same novel, the secret agent comments on would-be African criminal in the gold and diamond trades, saying they are “pretty law-abiding chaps I should have thought, except when they’ve drunk too much.”

Now, it simply reads: “pretty law-abiding chaps I should have thought”. Ian Fleming Publications have said that the changes to Live and Let Die were authorised by Ian Fleming himself, who died in 1964.

The publisher said: “Following Ian’s approach, we looked at the instances of several racial terms across the books and removed a number of individual words or else swapped them for terms that are more accepted today but in keeping with the period in which the books were written. We encourage people to read the books for themselves when the new paperbacks are published in April.” Akua reacts to James Bond novels rewritten to remove a number of racial references

These writers were products of their times. Maybe some of their terminology does not fit in with today’s standards; but it is censorship and interfering with the works of authors no longer here to speak for themselves. It is also extremely patronizing to the readers to infer that they cannot form opinions for themselves.

It leaves me shaken and stirred and is enough for me to give the goldfinger!

J.K. Rowling has come under fire for comments some see as transphobic. On June 6, 2020, Rowling retweeted an op-ed piece that discussed “people who menstruate,” apparently taking issue with the fact that the story did not use the word women. “‘People who menstruate.’ I am sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” she wrote. Many are hell bent on trying to cancel the fiery Rowling who created the Harry Potter phenomenon but she is standing firm in her position as a woman’s rights activist. Some of the messages that Rowling has received would make the most discerning Death Eater cringe.

Verbal Minefield. J.K. Rowling has come under fire for comments some see as transphobic.

Paddington Bear (yes, the beloved marmalade sandwich-eating bear who famously took tea with Her Majesty, the Queen and shared what she kept in her handbag) is offensive to some hypersensitive offence frackers. The fictional bear, created by Michael Bond and largely seen as a symbol of children, who fled to Britain as refugees during World War II, many of them who were Jewish has faced opprobrium for “representing white ideals of assimilationist migrant behaviour, evident in his prior knowledge of English and obsession with respectability. He even abandons his original name because it is too hard for Britons to pronounce”. It does not matter that he delights everyone from wide-eyed children of all races to the late, nonagenarian Monarch.

Talk is Dangerous. Bond has to think twice today before he opens his mouth.

Dr. Seuss, Enid Blyton, John Steinbeck’s  classic “Of Mice and Men” , George Orwell’s “1984” (oh the irony!) and so many classics many of us grew up with have all felt the wrath of the permanently offended. The Diary of Anne Frank and Maus, both seminal works that help educate about the Holocaust were also pulled from school libraries in Fort Worth, Texas but were reinstated following a widespread outcry.

If anyone needs me, I will be banging my head against a wall. How long is this going to go on?

The beauty about books is that they open up our creative minds and transport us to different worlds where our imaginations paint vivid pictures of the words on the pages. If we took offence at every author’s personal background or the contents of every book, well, we would be left with nothing to read. That would be the greatest shame.


This article appears in Lay of the Land:

A look at Operation Olive Branch – Israel’s Search and Rescue Efforts in the aftermath of the Turkey-Syria Earthquake

The Talmud says that “he who saves a life, it is as if he saves the entire world”.

Over a week ago, a devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria, with shock waves and tremors felt all the way in Israel shattered neighbourhoods and families, killing an estimated 35 000.  The United Nations estimated that the final death toll could be as high as 55 000. This is an unfathomable tragedy.

Global Response. Note the impressive size of the Israeli delegation to Turkey.

As soon as news of the devastation broke, Israel offered help. When the call goes out – and even sometimes when it does not – Israel is the first to respond. This even extends to countries who Israel has no formal diplomatic ties with, because humanity and helping your fellow man in a time of crisis trumps politics every time.

Israel to the Rescue. IDF search and rescue teams pose for a photo in Kahramanmaraş, Turkey, February 12, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel has a long history of sending humanitarian aid. This value is woven into the fabric of our society. Just ten years after the founding of the modern State of Israel in 1948, the country adopted an official humanitarian aid agenda, providing vital relief to more than 140 countries.

Israel’s ability to mobilise and deploy quickly along with our methodology and practices is one of the reasons the country has been acknowledged by the UN as being the best in the world when it comes to search and rescue missions. This is further bolstered by our abilities to set up field hospitals to treat the wounded, which we have done in Haiti, Ukraine and many other places in the world. It is no coincidence that from Nepal to Haiti, there is always a newborn baby who has been named “Israel”!

Saving Lives in the Field. IDF medical officers treat wounded Turkish civilians at a field hospital near Kahramanmaraş, February 10, 2023. (IDF)

Bilateral relations between Israel and Turkey have been strained for the better part of a decade and it is only in the last year that this has started to thaw. As soon as news of the earthquake broke, Israel’s Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, expressed the country’s condolences and plans were made to deploy the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Home Front Command teams — which also included some Magen David Adom paramedics and fire and rescue service personnel. A delegation of 150 left for Turkey. They were soon joined by 250 IDF medics and troops as well as medical personnel from Sheba Hospital, Hadassah Hospital, United Hatzalah and search and rescue from Harel, an insurance company and ICL who conduct rescues around the Dead Sea area, joined along with ZAKA, Israeli members of Rescuers without Borders, NGO’s IsraAid and many more. Israel’s delegation swelled to over 450 and became the second largest on the ground to neighbouring Azerbaijan’s rescuers. Operation Olive Branch was underway. This was the 30th mission in 41 years.

Ready to Rescue. The United Hatzalah rescue delegation that was dispatched to Turkey after the country’s devastating earthquakes pose for a photograph on February 12, 2023. (United Hatzalah)

Heading up the delegation, was Col. Golan Vach, Commander of Israel’s National Rescue Unit. I had the immense privilege of meeting Col. Golan Vach when he addressed our WIZO Meeting of Representatives last month. This warm and modest soldier represents the best of Israel; and had his audience emotionally captivated as he walked us through various rescue missions, including the recent disaster in Surfside, Miami.

Col. Golan Vach, Commander of Israel’s National Rescue Unit to Turkey is seen here with the writer last month when he addressed a WIZO conference in Tel Aviv.

Israel also offered humanitarian aid to Syria (albeit through third parties). Syria does not recognize Israel and the two countries remain in a state of war. Syria’s complicated internal political issues hampered rescue efforts. Aid organisations expressed their anger and frustration that the Assad regime were not allowing much needed humanitarian aid to get to those who needed it the most.  A frustrated Syrian blogger was filmed asking Israel for help. Syrians in Shock from Israel’s willingness to aid them during earthquake

One of the first on the ground, Israel’s team saved 19 civilians who were found still alive. They also recovered countless souls, killed by the earthquake. It is impossible to imagine what they witnessed – and what people endured, such is the magnitude of this tragedy.

In the Thick of It. Israeli and local rescue teams working at the site of a building collapse in Marash, Turkey, February 8, 2023. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

A personal account from Dvir Dimri, volunteering with a contingent of Israelis with Rescuers without Borders recalls, “Even with what I went through in the army, and treating victims in all the terror attacks in Israel, I never experienced anything like this.”

A Turkish doctor who worked closely with the Israeli team wrote to Dimri, in a message he shared with the website

“I want to thank you on behalf of the Turkish nation. You didn’t leave us alone. From now on, I will remember you when Israel is mentioned. I love the country of Israel and the Israelis more because of you. The Turkish nation will never forget this noble act you showed. You have a very big heart, my brother.”

Operation Olive Branch brought together volunteers from many Israeli and Jewish organisations including ZAKA, an NGO rescue and recovery organization. “ZAKA volunteers from Israel and South Africa worked together, shoulder to shoulder along with IDF search and rescue soldiers,” said mission head Haim Otmazgin. “The expedition rescued 19 survivors, and after more time passed, and the chance of finding more survivors among the living became very small, the expedition achieved its goals and returned to Israel.”

From Turkey with Love. Sakir Ozkan Torunlar, Turkey’s ambassador to Israel, presents Col. (res.) Golan Vach, the head of a search and rescue delegation to the country, with a bouquet of flowers, at a ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport, February 13, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF Home Front Command team have returned to Israel. Israel’s field hospital is still operational, treating hundreds in Turkey, including Syrian refugees. Immense gratitude has been expressed from President Erdogan, from the Turkish Ambassador in Israel,  Sakir Ozkan Torunlar, and from Syrian refugees and Turkish citizens.

Search and Rescue. Israel Defense Force (IDF) teams begin operating in a bid to find survivors after the earthquake in Turkey on February 7, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

In a ceremony to welcome home the delegation, Prime Minister Netanyahu said:

“The entire people of Israel followed your rescue operation with great emotion. You went on behalf of the country and you brought great honor to the State of Israel. We saw you in action in the cold, in difficult conditions around the clock in the most sacred work a person can do — saving the lives of others.”

Continuing, Netanyahu stressed:

“You did something else. You showed the entire world the true and beautiful face of the State of Israel: a small country with a huge soul, a country that rushes to help others around the world and in the harshest conditions, out of humanity and the highest morality. This is the true face of Israel. It is precisely at this time that your mission receives extra significance. In these stormy times, you remind all of us that we are one people, with one fate, and with one future. All of Israel is proud of you. I am proud of you. I salute you. Welcome home,”

Not all heroes wear capes – sometimes they wear the olive green of the IDF or reflective yellow and orange vests. They have saved many lives; and in turn many worlds. They do not do this for gratitude or media coverage; but to save lives. This is humanity in its purest form. We are so profoundly proud of them.

We are with You. As a symbol of solidarity with the Republic of Turkey, the municipality of Tel Aviv light its building with the Turkish flag.

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A TALE OF TWO NARRATIVES article appears in Lay of the Land:

In their eagerness to quickly claim a narrative win, these two examples show how powerful a tool propaganda is.

May I please have your permission to indulge me for a few minutes? As someone who works in the media (and has a fair interest in pop culture) I have been closely following the trajectory of two major stories, from divergent worlds, but have the ugly fingerprints of propaganda hit pieces scrawled all over them. Yes, I am going to venture THERE and talk about the two most discussed and probably ridiculed people on the planet at the moment – as well as a story that created a social media storm for Israel. 

I am going to spare (see what I did there?) commenting about THAT book and focus instead on the intentions of the Netflix documentary and how it plays into organized propaganda. I will be sparing you the details of a frostbitten Little Harry and dalliances of dog bowls and stallions and focusing elsewhere – the six-part Netflix shlockumentary.

If you were in need of serious lucre but had very little to offer in terms of talent, what would you sell that would be guaranteed to see you rolling in the type of dough the family you left has in order to venture out on your own?  You need to keep yourselves in the lifestyle to which you have become accustomed to – after all, the private jets are not going to hire themselves! The answer is obvious – slag off your family as much as possible for filthy lucre, oh, and control the narrative. That part of the plan is most important. Control the narrative they have – in TV interviews, in articles and now in a six-part docudrama on Netflix. Did I mention the paycheck was an estimated $100million?

In six hours of hagiography, where there is not a single acknowledgement of their own behaviour; but rather a trilling of the virtues of the two protagonists, punch after punch is aimed at the British media and the Royal Family. The documentary is long on accusation but short on proof; and a lot of what has been fed to viewers through pretty visuals and droning muzak has routinely been debunked; but facts are not important here. A canny agenda, oozing with wokeisms is. 

Descent into Despair.  Making big bucks by thrashing their family.

We all remember Harry walking behind his mother’s coffin and it would take a heart of stone not to feel for the Prince who is so clearly distraught and still suffering over her death.

Blaming the media, Harry sees himself as a messiah on a one-man crusade to change the way it operates. In other words, curb free speech by cracking down on criticism of himself and his wife. This same man called the US first amendment that protects free speech “bonkers”; but still uses the media as a tool to carefully control his narrative.

On scrutiny, the accusations do not hold up and the documentary is a definitively one-sided view. That is the point. You have to accept THEIR truth and not THE truth – failure to do so will result in people called racists and other nasty names.

One area that come is for particular opprobrium is the issue of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is a voluntary group of 54 countries, working together for the common good. Not all are part of the Realms of nations and not all are former colonies. In 2022, Togo and Gabon joined. It is no secret that Britannia once ruled across the world. What was once the Empire has evolved into the Commonwealth – a body so esteemed that one of Nelson Mandela’s first agenda items when he became President, was to rejoin South Africa which had previously been expelled because of the racist Apartheid regime. Calling for it to be called Empire 2.0 is not only profoundly insulting to Her Majesty’s legacy, but also disingenuous and a downright lie. The damage has been done. Many with little knowledge will resort to the common woke tactics and resort to language like “colonisers” and “racists”.

No Escape from Royal Revelations. Meghan and Harry are in every living room.

Perhaps Harry and Meghan – once President and Vice-President of the Commonwealth Trust – need to have a look at The Commonwealth Charter.

Result – the world has an image of two people, hunted by the media their privacy invaded while expose every private moment of their lives including their children and text messages as they conveniently come in from siblings and celebrities while the cameras are there with perfect lighting. You can’t make this up!

Missing was any modicum of contrition or accountability from their side. But victimhood sells in today’s times. Reeks of solipsism.  The end result? The image of the British media and United Kingdom damaged and a NY Times op-ed calling for Monarchy to be dismantled.

On the opposite end of the scale but no less reeking of careful media narrative capture, is the tragic killing of Al Jazeera journalist, Shirin abu Akleh. Now in this example, we are dealing with the high priests of narrative twisting who know how to use the media better than anyone – the Palestinians. The same people who brought you the Pallywood productions of Mohammed al Dura, dead man on stretcher who suddenly springs to life; and countless others, we now have the case of the war correspondent who the Palestinians say, “was targeted by the IDF for assassination”. Israel is a democracy and as such respects a free press. There never has been a case of journalists deliberately targeted and killed and to say so is a blatant lie. Victimhood sells.

Shirin Abu Akleh’s death was a tragedy. A woman lost her life. Shirin Abu Akleh was also a war correspondent who understood the risks she took covering conflict.

Caught in the Crossfire. Targeted by propaganda, Israel was accused of “targeted assignation” of Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh who was dangerously covering a gun battle between Israeli soldiers pursuing suspected Arab terrorists.

At the outset, this incident was politicised – before proper forensic investigations were conducted. The facts were dismissed in favour of a well-coordinated media campaign. CNN trotted out their “expert”, Chris Cobb-Smith, a known anti-Israel agitator who based his implicit ballistics findings based on bullet striations on a tree. He never examined the fatal bullet. Successive examinations by the Palestinian coroner, the US forensic team and the IDF are still inconclusive exactly WHO fired the fatal shot. The damage in the media against the IDF was successful.

The Palestinians have their own crusade. To weaponise the media; and in turn galvanise public opinion into turning Israel into a pariah state. At no stage in their attempt to control the narrative around this, did Palestinians acknowledge their own role in provoking a heavy response. No mention is made of incitement and terror attacks carried out against Israeli civilians, which resulted in counter-terror units having to respond with an incursion into hot spot Jenin.

What was the end goal here? To find out who fired the fatal bullet – or to shore up enough outrage to warrant a sham lawsuit at the International Criminal Court and engage in political lawfare? To paint Israel as a country that deliberately targets and kills journalists as claimed by Al Jazeera, the Palestinians and the anti-Israel establishment are part of a much, much bigger agenda to isolate and end the Jewish state. Propaganda is the key weapon in the arsenal.

These are two completely different examples of how careful narrative control influences people and how important it is for us, as media consumers, to question and demand FACTUAL coverage regardless of how it is packaged – or even sold to Netflix.

In an age where people take news at face value, the lessons here are important. Nothing sells quite like a narrative about victimhood. It is the hot commodity of the moment. The danger is that in haste to dominate headlines, facts are sacrificed first in the battle of the narrative.  The consequences extremely dangerous because they create more divisions and more suspicions. We deserve better than this.

Israelis Rally to Retain Democracy

This article is featured in the South African Jewish Report:

Israel doesn’t have a Constitution. Israel’s democratic values are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, which clearly states, “The state of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the ingathering of the exiles. It will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants. It will be based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel. It will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex. It will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education, and culture. It will safeguard the holy places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the charter of the United Nations.”

These rights are protected by the Supreme Court, which acts as an important system of checks and balances to ensure that these values remain sacrosanct. Israel’s Supreme Court remains one of the most respected in the world; but this venerated institution is under threat.

Israel’s minister of justice, Yariv Levin, has unveiled his plan to reform the Supreme Court, a move supported by the coalition government, but it’s creating deep chasms in Israeli society.

Warning bells have been sounded from many, including members of the opposition and many concerned citizens. More than 1 000 former airforce officers wrote to Supreme Court President Esther Hayut asking that jurists stop the new government from razing democracy.

An unprecedented letter from former attorney generals and states attorneys, who have served since 1975, read, “We, who served as attorneys general or state attorneys from 1975 until recently, were shocked to hear Levin’s plan for changes to the judicial system. We’re convinced that this plan doesn’t herald the improvement of the system, but threatens to destroy it.

“The plan proposes change to the method for appointing judges, thus turning the Supreme Court from an independent institution that rules without fear and bias into a quasi-political body that will be suspected of using the law in a biased manner in favour of government. It significantly limits the authority of the court to exercise effective criticism of the government so that it doesn’t abuse its power. It allows a coalition majority to legalise any act of government, no matter how wrong and harmful it may be, by means of an override clause. It may impede the function of the ministries’ legal advisers as gatekeepers whose job it is to warn against illegal decisions,” the letter charged.

“The achievements of the Supreme Court, which advanced society and benefited every person, are now in serious peril,” the letter concluded. “That’s why we call on the government to withdraw from the published plan and prevent serious damage to the judicial system and the rule of law in order to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in accordance with the values expressed in the Declaration of Independence.”

Addressing the Israeli Association of Public Law on 13 January, Hayut said, “This is a plan to crush the justice system. It’s designed to deal a fatal blow to the independence of the judiciary and silence it. If it’s implemented, the 75th anniversary of Israel’s independence will be remembered as the year in which the country’s democratic identity was dealt a fatal blow.”

Two people are likely to gain from proposed reforms that could protect or give immunity to elected politicians who have incurred or are facing legal issues, namely the new vice-prime minister and minister of health, Aryeh Deri, a convicted fraudster; and/or the newly re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing criminal prosecution.

On Saturday night, an estimated 100 000 Israelis rallied peacefully in Tel Aviv, braving the inclement weather. It wasn’t about election results, but rather a cross-section of Israeli society, including many from the centre right, expressing concern about what they see as a battle for Israel’s democracy.

This is a concern expressed by many diaspora communities as well. There’s genuine concern that the reforms could lead to a chasm between the diaspora and Israel. However, it must be noted that support for Israel shouldn’t be contingent on the government in power. That shouldn’t be the litmus test for support.

Does the Supreme Court need reforming? There are many who believe that it does and that any attempts to discuss proposed reforms should include members of the opposition party to reach a broad-based consensus.

Sweeping reforms that ignore the concerns of half the Israeli population are dangerous and irresponsible and don’t bode well for our democracy. Former Defence Minister Benny Gantz as well as other opposition leaders have warned the government that an across-the-board overhaul could potentially lead to civil war.

Israel is at a critical moment in its history. The following weeks will prove crucial for its diverse and robust democracy. We have to have a necessary conversation with ourselves as a country and a people about what kind of democracy we hope to have. A democratic dictatorship isn’t the answer.

  • Rolene Marks is a Middle East commentator often heard on radio and TV, and is the co-founder of Lay of the Land and the SA-Israel Policy Forum.