Antisemitism is rising to alarming levels globally and 2021 was one of the worst years. It was my honour and privilege to speak about it on i24 News International yesterday. You can view the interview here:
Antisemitism is rising to alarming levels globally and 2021 was one of the worst years. It was my honour and privilege to speak about it on i24 News International yesterday. You can view the interview here:
This article appears in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/11/16/south-african-government-boycotts-miss-south-africa/
The South African Ministry of Culture boycott the country’s representative to Miss Universe pageant because host country is Israel
The stage is set, the sequins extra shiny, the sashes ironed and the tiara polished – Eilat is getting ready to host the Miss Universe 2021 pageant to be held on the December 12 and are looking forward to welcoming representatives from around the world to compete for the coveted title. For the first time, there will be representatives from the United Arab Emirates and Morocco. This is historic and fitting with the flourishing peace afforded by the signing of the Abraham Accords normalization and peace treaties. The symbolism of the two beauty queens competing for the first time on the international stage in Israel is highly symbolic of the seeds of peace bearing real fruits.
While talking about beauty pageants is not my normal beat (having failed to place anywhere in Junior Miss Pears at the age of four, much to my mother’s chagrin), I find myself for the second time in a matter of weeks commenting on the Miss Universe pageant. Several weeks ago, Lay of the Land published an article explaining how Chief Mandla Mandela was calling for not just Miss South Africa; but other countries to boycott the Miss Universe pageant because it is being held in Israel.
With peacemaking clearly skipping Mandla in the Mandela gene pool, the former poster child for scandal, now turned BDS front man is going full throttle on his campaign and has roped in his cohorts-in-hate from the BDS movement to pressurize the new Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane to pull out. The beautiful and accomplished Miss South Africa, graduated with a degree in law and deserves every opportunity to not only achieve her dream but also the chance to proudly represent South Africa on the world stage, make lifelong friends and draw focus on the humanitarian causes that she champions.
With the pressure from hate groups like BDS mounting, the Miss South Africa on behalf of Lalela, released a statement that stated not only would she compete but Mswane has spoken out openly about being bullied as a child and she will not be bullied as an adult against fulfilling her ambition.
Miss SA CEO, Stephanie Weil said a “very, very small, but extremely vocal, group” had attempted, and failed, to derail Mswane’s chances at the prestigious international pageant.
Bullying is what BDS do best and artists like Sir Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney and many others can attest to that – including having the lives of themselves and their bands threatened by BDS activists.
Joining the BDS is the African National Congress (ANC) and this is an excerpt from their statement they released:
“Following unsuccessful consultations initiated by the Ministry of Sport, Arts and Culture, it has proven difficult to persuade the Miss SA pageant organisers to reconsider their decision to partake in the Miss Universe event scheduled to be held in Israel during the month of December 2021. What during initial consultations appeared like engaging, constructive and progressive discussions, was later met with an unpleasant demeanour that is intransigent and lacking appreciation of the potential negative impact of such a decision on the reputation and future of a young black woman.
The atrocities committed by Israel against Palestinians are well documented, and Government, as the legitimate representative of the people of South Africa, cannot in good conscience associate itself with such. In an attempt to demonstrate what partaking in Miss Universe means for South Africans and many others across the world, the Miss SA pageant organisers were referred to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s views following his visit to the area. Indicating that Israel was guilty of the apartheid treatment of Palestinians, he said, “Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government.”
The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) as well as the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) have taken a strong position in support of Mswana.
The SAJBD said in a statement:
“It is quite clear that Minister Mthethwa’s view is a minority one. A poll conducted by Newzroom Afrika on Thursday night as to whether Miss SA should withdraw from the Miss Universe event in Israel showed a plurality of nearly 2:1 in favour of her competing. The PSA protest attracted a bare handful of activists. This is despite the barrage of intimidation by groups such as Africa4Palestine and SA BDS in the media have resulted in comments calling for them to stop bullying Lalela and for her to participate in the event.
South Africa has diplomatic ties and extensive commercial trade relations with Israel. It engages in events such as this one, such as hosting the Israeli Davis Cup team in 2018. The way we influence situations is to engage, not to withdraw. The SAJBD believes that closing doors merely isolates us from contributing and any contribution we can make to finding peace in this country. What better opportunity for a South African to be part of an event where she can connect with 70 countries around the world, including many Arab countries, in sharing our story of dialogue and peace-building?”
The SAZF added to that saying:
“The SAZF is appalled that the South African government is self-sabotaging our country’s hopes and chances of participating and shining in an international event just because it happens to take place in Israel. Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa may think that South Africa is making a grand moral statement because the ruling party has been misled by a perversion of facts about Israel, the Middle East’s only democracy, but in fact, our country is simply signalling its isolationism and irrelevance on the world stage. The government has been silent on actual and serious human rights abuses occurring in many other countries where we participate in sports and contests, but self-righteously reserves its opprobrium for the world’s only Jewish State.”
Perhaps South Africa is doing this to draw focus away from the myriad of problems plaguing the country. Extremely high levels of unemployment, government corruption, rolling electricity blackouts and many more issues are confronted by South Africans on a daily basis. Surely this is more important than sash-and-tiara wielding beauty queens? The ANC and BDS would have you believe that it is all about human rights but they remain resolutely silent on the genocide of the Uyghurs in China, the hanging of members of the LGBTQ community in Iran or the decimation of women’s rights in Afghanistan. Nothing like cosying up to some tin pot dictators to bring out the hypocrite in some folk!
It is interesting that another man has weighed on the Miss Universe pageant and the opportunity it brings to showcase young empowered, humanitarian driven women. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a strong advocate for BDS last visited Israel in 1989 and at Yad Vashem called on Jews around the world to “forgive the Nazis”.
I wonder if “The Arch” would pull this same stunt if the pageant was to be held in Venezuela, Cuba, China or any other country responsible for gross human rights violations? Probably not but this just exposes the hypocrisy and yes, antisemitism of BDS and its supporters.
It is a pity that the Miss Universe pageant which is non-political in nature but serves as a chance for women from different cultures and countries to build bridges has become the cause that the ANC who fought so hard for equal rights for all, now chooses to boycott its country’s women.
This article appears in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/11/09/blue-white-and-green/
How the Innovation Nation pivots to focus on the fight against Climate Change
Scotland is a country of exquisite beauty, fascinating history and is home to one of my favourite things, good whisky. Over the last few weeks, Scotland has played host to a slew of world leaders, climate activists, Royals, NGO’s, media and innovators as they descended on the picturesque city of Glasgow for the United Nations COP26 conference to discuss ways to tackle the threat of climate change. Israel took a 140 strong delegation with a massive press presence. Unlike some folk who flew in by private jet (sigh), an El Al commercial plane was chartered. Kosher haggis anyone?
Leading the Israeli delegation was Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett. This would not only be an opportunity for the PM to strut our green innovation credentials on the world stage; but also would provide an opportunity for us to see if he could step up to Statesmanship, a challenge issued by Her Majesty, the Queen, in her televised address to world leaders.
And Bennett did exactly that.
Rubbing shoulders with world leaders, Royalty and captains of industry, the message delivered from the Israeli leaders was that the start-up nation didn’t come to play – we came to slay!
This was also an opportunity for PM Bennett to tell the world all about the groundbreaking technology and chutzpah that has earned Israel the reputation of the start-up or innovation nation.
Marrying both his career as a politician and tech company owner, raising capital and awareness seems to be a natural fit. The Prime Minister addressed the plenary to speak about how Israel is poised to become a major player in the fights against climate change using our brain power and boundless energy:
Change of Climate. PM Naftali Bennett addresses the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow with Israel’s message to the world: Don’t panic – we made the desert bloom.
While Israel is relatively late to the climate fight in some ways, in other ways we have been leading for decades. As countries signed the pledge to increase deforestation at COP26, it must be noted that Israel has been planting trees since the inception of the modern state, turning our deserts into flourishing forests. It is roughly estimated that 250 000 000 trees have been planted in this tiny country!
This may even result in a rare sighting of the lesser spotted HAPPY Greta Thunberg! Yes, the scowling-leader-berating teenage climate activist may even crack a smile at this news!
International treasure, Sir David Attenborough, he of the dulcet tones and astounding knowledge about the world’s fauna and flora, has called for solutions to many of the challenges facing us today. The nonagenarian has spoken about water as the most valuable resource for sustaining life on earth. It was extremely gratifying to hear Prime Minister Bennett tell the world that Israel is the leading country when it comes to waste water recycling. Living in a desert climate where water is our most valuable commodity, we have learnt to parlay our concerns – and chutzpah – into finding workable solutions.
Workable solutions is what Israel does best! During his COP26 speech, Bennett spoke about Israel’s creation of a “Green Sandbox”, a plan that will attract investment into green technology. The government has also allocated NIS15.5billion towards combatting climate change and President Herzog has set up a fund under his patronage with over 130 innovators, thinkers and NGO’s committed to this as well.
Even Bill Gates sat up and took notice! The Microsoft-founder and philanthropist, acknowledged Israel’s reputation as a leader in innovation and announced his foundation would be working with the Jewish state to find solutions to the challenges we face.
This is not just about dealing with change to the climate, but also how this impacts on our regional security. It is believed that the Middle East is one of those areas greatly impacted by the climate crisis. As if we didn’t have enough to worry about!
But it is not all doom and gloom – in fact Israel stands poised to lead in finding sustainable solutions. To date, there are 637 start-ups and growth companies developing climate technologies, and the five challenge areas are:
Climate Smart Agriculture, Clean Energy Systems, Sustainable Mobility & Transport, Eco-Efficient Water Infrastructure, and Alternative Proteins. Most of these innovative companies are young, up to seven years old, with roughly 10 employees.
More than 560 private investment entities have invested in Israeli climate companies, mostly venture capital funds, out of which two-thirds are foreign investment entities – and this number is expected to grow.
The next UN Climate Conference, COP27 will be held in Egypt in 2022. This is right on our doorstep! With ties between our two countries starting to significantly warm up, you can bet that Israel will have a significant presence there.
Israel is ready to plant her flag firmly in the fight to meet the challenges posed by climate change
Our flag is there waving in the wind-turbined air – proudly blue, white ……..and green!
This article features in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/10/31/beauties-and-the-boycott/
Chief Mandla Mandela calls for Israel to be boycotted for hosting the Miss Universe pageant
Ask any beauty queen worth her sash and tiara what she wants for her reign and the answer is always delivered in firmly and resolutely, with a beatific smile, “I want world peace”.
Now I know that there are many reading this who are contemplating whether or not we actually need beauty pageants in this day and age; and perhaps find the swimsuit section more than a little antiquated and demeaning. The truth is, these pageants provide a global stage for contestants to represent their countries, express their hopes and carry out important humanitarian work.
This year, Israel will play host to the annual pageant and we are delighted that the city of Eilat will be visited by beauties from around the world. Hosting international spectaculars is not new to Israel. It was only two years ago the Jewish state played host to the great bastion of cheesy tunes – the Eurovision song contest. We brought the world glam, we brought the world glitz, we brought the world Madonna!
Israel has also hosted the major international cycling event, Giro D’Italia and if all goes according to plan, will be putting in a joint bid with regional partners to host the 2030 Soccer/Football World Cup. FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, recently visited Israel and citing the signing of the Abraham Accords, stated that he thought Israel along with possible partners like the UAE and Bahrain would make excellent hosts for the much loved global tournament. Talk about scoring a goal for peace!
Not feeling the love and urge to sing a glowing rendition of kumbaya as the rest of us peace loving folk, Chief Mandla Mandela, grandson of the iconic Nelson Mandela, is calling for a boycott of Israel’s hosting of the global pageant. He is urging each contestant not to participate because in his words, Israel is an Apartheid state.
View our interaction on African television channel, eNCA here:
Mandla Mandela has his own dubious history and it is quite ironic that he is choosing the Miss Universe pageant as his hill to die on. What is interesting, is that this poster man for the BDS movement is doing this as a solo efforts and without the boycott-screeching mob.
He has been the subject of much derision from his family for his moving his late grandfather’s remains from their peaceful resting place without consulting the family. The family laid criminal charges of tampering with a grave and South African High Court Judge, Judge Lusindiso Phakade, ruled in favour of the complainants and ordered Mandela to exhume and rebury the body.
Criminal allegations were again levelled at the younger Mandela when he was charged with pointing a firearm and assaulting, a man. He was found guilty of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm. Mandela’s private life could also rival a soap opera. Tales of annulment and affairs, blazing arguments and paternity suits abound and after converting to Islam, Mandela married his fourth wife.
Perhaps he is the LAST person who should be commenting on activities that involve young women. His iconic grandfather, who stood as a beacon of reconciliation and was an advocate for speaking to both parties in a conflict and contrary to popular opinion was a friend and supporter of the State of Israel, must be spinning in his grave.
Mandela wants each beauty queen to pull out of the pageant. Who does he think he is?
This is gross misogyny to deny these young women an international platform to do the humanitarian work that they choose to do?
Calling for boycotts is not the desirable path to peace. In fact, all that boycotts serve to do is to break down discourse and cooperation. The Miss Universe pageant does provide a unique opportunity for young women around the world to interact with each other and learn about each other’s cultures. While these beauties may not be brokering peace from a luxury resort in Eilat, they will have a chance to build friendships.
One such example is the friendship that developed several years ago between Miss Israel and Miss Iraq. This broke long-held barriers and has done more for the cause of peace than the posturing of politicians.
Blessed are the peacemakers – for they are often beauty queens.
It is this former Miss Iraq whose name is Sarah Idan, having seen the situation for herself, who has become quite a vocal supporter of Israel and the pursuit of peace in the region.
In a brutal ironic twist, this Iraqi Muslim woman has been the subject of a nasty social media pile on over the last week. Idan took to social media in a video message and criticised Mandela’s call for boycotts:
“All I can say is: how dare you? How dare you as a man try to tell an organisation for women in women empowerment what to do? This is an opportunity that millions of women dream of, having to go on a world stage and represent their people, their nation, their culture. Not governments, not politics and definitely not your political agenda,” said Idan in her video.
“Please allow Miss South Africa to go and experience Israel up close on the ground, and let her be the judge for herself. I’m positive, just like me, she will be shocked to see that the Israeli government consists of Muslims, Jews, Christians, and those people not only get to vote on policies to shape their future, but they also are part of the people who have political parties, and some of them are even Israeli ambassadors to the world,” said Idan in her video.
The responses were staggering in their venom and vitriol. Here is one such example:
In a region where many women, including Palestinians, would not have the opportunities to compete in pageants because their leaders would not allow for this, wouldn’t the efforts of people like Mandela be best served lobbying for women’s rights and NOT breaking down cooperation and dialogue?
I am sure if it were Russia or China or Venezuela (who have turned beauty pageants into a veritable Olympic sport) that was hosting, Mandla Mandela would be there quicker than a queen could change into her evening wear.
As Israel gears up to welcome the Miss Universe contestants to our vibrant and diverse country, it is my hope that they will realise their dreams of being one step closer to “world peace”. If the brave, beautiful and regal Sarah Idan is any indication, then a well-shod step for one, is a giant leap for the region. Mandela would be wise to take heed of women waging peace and kindly shut up.
This article appears in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/10/24/normal-people-dont-boycott-israel/
Best-selling Irish author, Sally Rooney, exposes her prejudice – and gross hypocrisy by supporting boycotts against Israel.
Normal people don’t boycott Israel. At least, any normal person who would like to see a genuine, lasting peace between Israel and her Palestinian neighbours. The latest brouhaha over what is now seen as leftie, cause-du-jour, is best-selling Irish author, Sally Rooney’s decision to “not allow her books to be published in Hebrew”. After a global outcry, Rooney has decided she will allow her books to be published in Hebrew in Israel – as long as the publisher is BDS-endorsed Israel. Who wants to tell Sally Rooney that is the shortest list? Ever!
Sally Rooney is the author of the best-selling missive, Normal People, which was adapted into a highly successful TV show of the same name and various other novels which appeal to millennials. Over the years, Rooney has made no secret of her support for the Palestinian cause. In her books, characters have attended pro-Palestinian rallies and activities.
The latest storm revolves around her refusal to publish her latest novel in Hebrew which is not only one of Israel’s national languages alongside Arabic; but is sacred to the Jewish people.
Rooney tried to rationalize her decision by accusing Israel of practicing Apartheid and trotting out justification for her decision by quoting BDS (whose stated end goal is the destruction of the State of Israel; Human Rights Watch (whose founder wrote an article for the New York Times citing his concerns that the once venerated organization has a decidedly antisemitic agenda) and Israeli NGO, B’tselem (who have been exposed as receiving funding based on as many anti-Israel stories they can drum up – true or not).
What Rooney fails to understand is that Israel is a robust democracy, where a variety of opinions and views about our ongoing conflict with the Palestinians exist. We are also a country with a healthy respect for the arts. Art is supposed to bring people together, it is supposed to inspire conversation. It is supposed to provoke. By excluding one group of people or one nationality from enjoying (or not!) her art, she could do more to bring people together rather than drive bigger chasms which is of course, what BDS and their supporters want.
They do not want conversation, discourse and cooperation – they want Israel, the national representation of the Jewish people branded a pariah and excluded and use the charge of “human rights violations” as the proverbial stick to beat the horse.
Israel is not an Apartheid state. We are not without our many problems but we are certainly not an Apartheid state. The BDS movement are well aware that the word Apartheid is provocative and emotive and that people invariably understand little about what it means. All BDS does is exploits the suffering of the true victims of Apartheid to push their own racist, exclusionary and antisemitic agenda.
What I find glaringly hypocritical is that Rooney is more than happy to be published in China, Russia, Iran and other human rights violation hotspots around the world. Could it be that it is easier to advocate boycotting the tiny, Hebrew speaking market because it won’t have that much of an impact on potential profits from sales of the books? Jews are very much the people of the book – but I guess not any of Sally Rooney’s!
We cannot pretend that this does not pose a problem. Decisions of this kind only serve to give a tailwind to those who want to propagate more anti-Israel division. This week, posters were put up on bus stops in London with the words “Normal people boycott Israel”. This was a play on Rooney’s successful novel – and endorsing her decision. London transport authorities denounced this as vandalism but the message was out there for everyone to see – without the benefit of history, context and nuance.
The conflict between Israel and her Palestinian neighbours is complex and won’t be solved through boycotts and demonization but rather through negotiation and compromise.
Several days ago, the former US Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell passed away. He had this to say about the conflict, “The quest for peace, however difficult, must not be abandoned. Israel needs to live in peace and security. The Palestinians need the same, as does the region.”
Peace, he added, “can only be attained by the parties themselves. The pursuit is not helped by international actions and resolutions singling out Israel for economic attacks, or human rights allegations while ignoring despotic nations far more deserving of condemnation. That is not justice and that is not acceptable.”
Rooney and her ilk should heed his wise words.
To borrow from the title of Rooney’s best-seller, Normal People, I would leave her with a few kernels of truth. Normal people want peace. Normal people pursue dialogue and inclusion. Normal people don’t discriminate. Normal people do not sow division and hate. Normal people look for solutions instead of propagating conflict.
This gross kind of antisemitism, practiced by people like Rooney should never be something that normal people do. I hope it is not too late.
This article appears in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/10/05/remembering-shimon-peres/
It has been 5 years since the passing of one of Israel’s most beloved leaders – former President, Shimon Peres
He was a pioneer, and a founding father. He was both hawk and dove, warrior and peacemaker. He was an innovator and mediator. He was a Nobel laureate and visionary. He was a leader whose personal and political history was deeply woven with the story of Israel and the Jewish people.
It has been 5 years since the passing of one of Israel’s finest sons – and greatest leaders. We bow our heads in remembrance for our beloved Shimon Peres z”l, who passed away at 93. He was the last of our original founding fathers and a true icon.
Shimon Peres, was the eternal optimist, a rare quality in this world. He had transcended a decades long career in politics where he held many of the top portfolios in government including the office of Prime Minister twice. His relationship at times with the Israeli public was very complicated. He had suffered many political losses and at times was deeply unpopular, more so after the signing of the Oslo Accords. He endured a lot of criticism for his role in the signing of these Accords. Many had held him and Prime Minister Rabin z”l, responsible for the terror that followed in its wake.
Peres remained ever hopeful that peace is possible in our very volatile region. I cannot help but wonder what he would have thought about the historic signing of the Abraham Accords. Somewhere from on high, he is looking down with immense pride – and satisfaction at the manifestation of the once unbelievable.
But Peres transcended politics and in 1996, founded the Peres Centre for Peace with the intention of furthering his vision of people in the Middle East working together to build peace through socio-economic cooperation and development and people-to-people interaction.
He was a great unifier and amongst his many accolades, received both a Knighthood from her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and honorary title of Sheikh by Bedouin dignitaries in the Negev for his work on behalf of the people of the Middle East.
A true Statesman, he shook the hands of Presidents and Popes, Kings, Queens and movie stars. Every celebrity who visited, wanted an audience with our ebullient, eloquent and warm elder Statesman. His love for technology was legendary and I sheepishly admit that he was probably more proficient than I am. Who can forget his final message to the world on Facebook– “Buy more Blue and White” or his infamous job hunting clip on YouTube?
I was immensely privileged to meet President Peres when I participated in the Ministry of Foreign Affair’s Young Jewish Diplomats course in 2007. Hearing that young leaders had come to hear him speak, he came over to meet us. He took his time greeting all of us and shaking our hands. When it was my turn he asked in his deeply accented English that had never lost its Polish inflection, “Where are you from?” This was at a time when South African President Mbeki had made such sweeping statements like HIV does not cause AIDS and expressed support for Iran. I responded (trying not to giggle like a teenager at a BTS concert) “South Africa, Mr. President”. After a very short exchange he was on to the next person but left a lasting impression with me who was extremely star struck.
Israel’s government is once again paying their tributes as Peres continues to unite the most unlikely folk. There will be many, many more for a man truly deserving of tribute and honour.
There will be only one Shimon Peres – and from a grateful nation who bows its head in recognition and remembrance, we say:
“Thank you Mr. President, for all you gave us, in the good times and bad, in times of strife and peace. May you look down on us one day as we achieve your dream – of a lasting peace.”
May your memory be forever blessed.
This article is featured in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/09/27/education-is-eternal-netzach-yisrael/
Improving the education system for Israel’s Haredi community will help to improve their economic situation – and the country’s
Rabbi Menachem Bombach is a man with a mission. The charismatic Rabbi, raised in the ultra-religious neighbourhood of Jerusalem known as Mea Shearim and who did not speak Hebrew until the age of 20, has a plan to bring about significant change to the Haredi approach to education.
The statistics speak for themselves.
According to the Israeli central Bureau of Statistics, the Haredi community makes up about 12% of the population, with an estimated size of roughly 1 million people – and is amongst the most poor, with 50% living below the poverty line. The Haredi community is also the fastest growing community.
The employment rate of Haredi men is at 51% compared to secular men at 87%. The rate for Haredi women in the workplace is 76% but many are forced to take low paying jobs as a result of their lack of skills.
Even though there is a larger percentage of Haredi women who are employed in the work force, it does not necessarily ensure an improvement in living conditions and the economic situation for the community.
It is clear that this cannot continue – if it does, the effects will be catastrophic.
Enter Rabbi Bombach.
Rabbi Bombach has identified a crucial element to ensuring that this alarming trend is corrected. The Rabbi believes that the key to fixing this growing problem which perpetuates the cycle of poverty, is reforming the Haredi education system. The more members of the community who are educated and receive a matriculation certificate, with skills in significant subjects like maths, English and even Hebrew, the more they will be able to enter into the workplace – and get better jobs. He believes that the current economic situation would not continue if members of the Haredi community were more integrated and productive in society.
Inspired by this, Rabbi Bombach started “Netzach Yisrael”. Established in 2017, Netzach is an ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) network of educational institutions (elementary through to post-high school) whose mission it is to provide its students with an outstanding education and in parallel, work towards a bagrut (matriculation) certificate, which is a prerequisite for higher education in Israel. These studies include mathematics, English, the sciences and civics for both elementary and high school students.
Rabbi Bombach has always been drawn to education. When he was just 12-years-old, he would often lead his peers in Shabbat afternoon prayers. He knew that education would be part of his future.
The Rabbi would go on to study after he finished his schooling and met other students from different communities and societies, including Arabs, secular Jews and others. It was eye-opening. Integrating with other people went a long way to breaking down pre-conceived stereotypes and prejudices and opened his eyes to the ability to stay Haredi – while meeting other people.
Bombach believes in the philosophy that “Jews need to radiate light to each other”.
And so Netzach Yisrael was started. At first, many in the community were skeptical and did not want to send their children to school, but slowly it started to grow and now there are over 1000 students at 11 different educational facilities, with at least 3 700 students attending virtually.
There have been several notable success stories. One young student is excelling as an activist talking about climate change, a topic that one would not expect members of the Haredi community to be vocal about. At least 95% of the students who have come through the Netzach Yisrael programme are fully integrated and have gone on to university. This aligns with the focus of having modern, pragmatic Haredim and will improve the economic situation of the community.
Netzach Yisrael’s vision is that the academic programme empowers graduates to create a strong, financially viable future for themselves, their future families, and the Israeli economy, while remaining strongly connected to their core values of Torah observance.
The ethos and values of the Netzach Yisrael programme are very clear – Torah and the worship of G-d by instilling the foundations of faith, worshiping G-d, and the study of Torah as a way of life, Education furthering Derech Eretz, truth, virtue and love of Israel, imparting knowledge, life, social and learning skills and striving for excellence and cultivating personal and social responsibility that is reflected in working for the common good and involvement in the community.
“Over seventy years ago, when the State of Israel was formed, the only choice for Haredim was to study Torah,” says Rabbi Bombach. “This was not good for the majority. We can combine religious and secular studies, while maintaining the connection with the community,” he says.
Today, the proof of success is in the growing statistics of students who have thrived in the Netzach Yisrael programme and continue to excel in tertiary education and beyond. The once skeptical parents are writing glowing testimonials and there is no doubt that Israel will benefit. This truly is proof that a great education, combined with dedications and knowledge of your roots and community – is eternal.
For more information visit: https://netzach.org.il/en/home/
This article appears in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/09/02/the-best-of-humanity/
The Paralympics showcases the best of the human spirit, resilience, triumph and sporting excellence
I am completely devoid of sporting ability. The only thing I have been able to run for successfully is a shoe sale; I can swim in a pool of emotions and if it requires a bat, stick, racket, hoop and a ball, count me out. It is for this and so many reasons that I love watching the Olympic Games. I marvel at the magnificent sporting prowess of the athletes, celebrating and competing at the pinnacle of their careers. The spirit of sportsmanship evident in the competition transcending politics. I have a healthy appreciation for the sheer tenacity, talent and sportsmanship.
I love the Paralympics even more.
The Paralympics are the embodiment of the triumph of the human spirit and the best of humanity, a sentiment echoed by Andrew Parsons, the President of the International Paralympic Committee when he opened the latest games in Tokyo, Japan.
The Paralympics brings together the best international athletes with disabilities and takes place after both the summer and winter games.
This year, the games are taking place against the backdrop of the omnipresent Corona virus pandemic which means that these amazing sportsmen and women have competed with virtually no spectators but this has not diminished their spirit.
Israel had the best Olympics in its history. Known more for being more of a start-up than sporting nation, we surpassed our expectations with a 4 medal haul – two gold and two bronze. Our Paralympians have even surpassed that! At the time of writing this, our medal tally stands at 4 gold 2 silver and a bronze.
The story behind how the Paralympics started is quite extraordinary.
The games were the brainchild (quite literally!) of Sir Ludwig Guttman CBE FRS, a German-British neurologist. Born on the 3rd of July 1899 in the town of Tost, Upper Silesia, Guttmann always had an affinity with medicine. In 1917, while volunteering at an accident hospital in Königshütte, he encountered his first paraplegic patient, a coal miner with a spinal fracture who later died of sepsis. That same year, Guttmann passed his Abitur at the humanistic grammar school in Königshütte before being called up for military service. Guttmann started studying medicine in April 1918 at the University of Breslau. He transferred to the University of Freiburg in 1919 and received his Doctor of Medicine (MD) in 1924 and by 1933, Guttmann was working in Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland) as a neurosurgeon and lecturing at the university.
The world would soon dramatically change with the Nazi rise to power and so to for the Guttmann family.
The Nazis assumed power in 1933 and immediately began to target Germany’s Jews. The antisemitic Nuremberg Laws were introduced and as part of these discriminatory measures, Jews were banned from practicing medicine professionally. Guttmann was assigned to work at the Breslau Jewish Hospital, where he became Medical Director in 1937. After Kristallnacht on 9 November 1938 when synagogues, Jewish property and individuals were violently attacked, Guttmann ordered his staff to admit any patients without question. The following day, he justified his decision on a case-by-case basis with the Gestapo. Out of 64 admissions, 60 patients were saved from arrest and deportation to concentration camps.
In early 1939, Guttmann and his family left Germany, fleeing Nazi persecution of the Jews. An opportunity for escape had come when the Nazis provided him with a visa; and ordered him to travel to Portugal to treat a friend of the Portuguese dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar. Guttmann was scheduled to return to Germany via London when the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) arranged for him to remain in the United Kingdom. He arrived in Oxford, England, on 14 March 1939 with his wife, Else Samuel Guttmann, and their two children: a son, Dennis, and a daughter, Eva, aged six. CARA negotiated with the British Home Office on their behalf, and gave Guttmann and his family £250 (equivalent to £16,000 in 2019) to help them settle in Oxford.
Guttmann continued his spinal injury research at the Nuffield Department of Neurosurgery in the Radcliffe Infirmary. The family became members of the Oxford Jewish community, and Eva remembers becoming friendly with Miriam Margolyes, an actress famous for her role in Harry Potter as Professor Pomona Sprout. The Jewish community in Oxford grew rapidly as a result of the influx of displaced academic Jews from Europe.
Guttmann’s skill and reputation in the medical field began to grow.
In September 1943, the British government approached Guttmann with an idea to establish the National Spinal Injuries Centre at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire. The initiative came from the Royal Air Force to make sure that the treatment and rehabilitation of pilots with spinal injuries, “who often crashed on approach with their bombers damaged”. The centre opened on 1 February 1944, and was the United Kingdom’s first specialist unit for treating spinal injuries. Guttmann was appointed its director, a position he held until 1966. He believed that sport was an important method of therapy for the rehabilitation of injured military personnel, helping them build up physical strength and self-respect.
History of the Paralympic Games
Guttmann became a naturalised British citizen in 1945 and organised the first Stoke Mandeville Games for disabled war veterans, which was held at the hospital on 29 July 1948, the same day as the opening of the London Olympics. All participants had spinal cord injuries and competed in wheelchairs. In an effort to encourage his patients to take part in national events, Guttmann used the term Paraplegic Games. These came to be known as the “Paralympic Games“, which later became the “Parallel Games” and grew to include other disabilities.
Guttmann was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1950 King’s Birthday Honours, as “Neurological Surgeon in charge of the Spinal Injuries Centre at the Ministry of Pensions Hospital, Stoke Mandeville”. His other investiture honours include being made an Associate Officer of the Venerable Order of Saint John on 28 June 1957, promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1960, and knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1966, becoming Sir Ludwig Guttmann!
In 1961, Guttmann founded the International Medical Society of Paraplegia, now the International Spinal Cord Society (ISCoS) and was the inaugural president, a position that he held until 1970. He also became the first editor of the journal, Paraplegia (now named Spinal Cord) and retired from clinical work in 1966; but continued his involvement with sport, seeing the incredible healing effect it had on participants.
Sir Ludwig Guttmann suffered a heart attack in October 1979, and died on 18 March 1980 at the age of 80.
His lasting legacy is the Paralympic Games.
The Paralympic games now include sports as diverse as fencing, basketball, swimming, table-tennis, football, cycling, equestrian events and so many, many more and have inspired other such events such as the hugely popular Invictus Games, founded by Prince Harry for disabled war veterans from different armies from around the world.
Today’s Paralympic athletes are a reflection of their great founder, Sir Ludwig Guttmann. The athletes that compete are the embodiment of the human spirit, of tenacity, endurance, courage, perseverance and fortitude. I cannot help but think that Sir Ludwig Guttmann (MD) would be so proud of how the games have grown and the joy they inspire.
This is the human spirit at its best!
This article appears in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/08/18/a-cry-for-the-women-of-afghanistan/
The swift pullout of allied troops leaves a human catastrophe in its wake as the Taliban take over Afghanistan.
For a brief moment in time, the people of Afghanistan had hope. The presence of allied troops in their beleaguered country, sworn to fight the war on terror and topple the oppressive, fundamentalist Taliban meant that the Afghan people could envision a future for themselves, they could have agency again and the most important, women and young girls could feel more safe, they could have access to education again and they could be treated as human beings.
This all came to a crushing halt as over a matter of days, the Taliban swept through the country, taking territory after territory until the capital, Kabul fell into their control. The former President, Gharni, fled and the images of the Americans hastily evacuating their embassy will now live on as a new day of infamy. The speed and haste of retreat was staggering and many compared it to images of the USA retreating from Saigon during the Vietnam War.
The enduring image for me is the footage of human beings falling to certain death as they lose their grip on the landing gear of the airplanes they cling to as the plane climbs in altitude. This shows me the desperation and lengths that people will go, to escape what we all know will be a brutal future – if they are not caught first. It reminded me of those awful images from 9/11, when people jumped to their death out of the burning towers to avoid being incinerated. The irony is that the war on terror started with those images and came to an end in Afghanistan with eerie similarities.
In the wake of the fall of Kabul, the situation for women has deteriorated rapidly and is getting worse by the day. Prominent women have had their homes or business daubed with paint by the Taliban so that they are easily identified, female journalists have been taken off air and axed, rape squads roam the streets and there have been reports of Taliban men going from house to house, rounding up young girls to become sex slaves or wives for their “fighters”. It is a human rights catastrophe.
Homira Rezai, who grew up in the war-torn country until she was 13 and now lives in Dudley, described how the militants were already drawing up lists of women to target for future punishments.
She told BBC Women’s Hour:
“Just an hour ago, I received an update from Kabul where they are going house to house searching for women who were activists, women who were bloggers, Youtubers, any women who had a role in the development of civil society in Afghanistan.
“They are going door to door targeting those women and marking the doors with bright pink or bright-coloured paint to ensure ‘this is the house we need to come back to and do something about them‘.”
Afghan women, girls fear return to ‘dark days’ as Taliban enter Kabul
I am watching Afghanistan with a broken heart. I am a woman, who enjoys all the freedoms and privileges that we women in western culture often take for granted. I live in Israel, a tiny spot of hope in a neighbourhood where many of our sisters in Gaza, Syria, Iran and other places don’t enjoy the freedoms that I do. I have the right to vote, enjoy the freedom of movement, own property, make decisions that govern my body, pursue education and a career and so much more. I can use my voice, as loud and as often as I want – and I think of the Afghan women who are now voiceless and who have been silenced.
I am watching Afghanistan like so many of you are, with a broken heart. I cannot help but think of the young girls forced to marry against their will, some as young as 12-years-old. They have barely begun to understand the changes in their bodies, how will they cope with the advances of men who will treat them as their property? I think of the brave, brilliant females now robbed of the right to an education. I think of Afghanistan’s first female Mayor, Zarifa Ghafari who said she is now waiting for militants to come and kill her.
Ghafari, told media on Sunday:
“I’m sitting here waiting for them to come. There is no one to help me or my family. I’m just sitting with them and my husband. And they will come for people like me and kill me. I can’t leave my family.”
I also have tremendous sorrow for the brave men and women of the armed forces who served so valiantly. Many paid the ultimate sacrifice and many have been wounded, carrying the wounds of war on their bodies and deep in their souls. Was their sacrifice, their fight in vain? I think of the thousands of workers translators, embassy staff and others who helped allied powers in the region and are now left to their own devices and certain harm from Taliban militia.
https://www.youtube.com/embed/g6c-xAxQ_yY?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparent Afghanistan’s last Jew Zebulon Simentov decides to stay on amid humanitarian crisis. Kabul Crisis
I have watched as our neighbours and sworn enemy, Hamas, congratulated the Taliban who declared the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” with gleeful celebration of their “victory over America”. I am reminded of how grateful I am that despite global indignation, Israel can defend itself; our country against a regime that aligns itself with the Taliban.
The withdrawal of the USA and other allied troops empowers other terror groups like Al Qaeda, Al Shabab, Hamas and many others.
The response of the social media activists, the Squad, talk show hosts and many others who were very vocal during Israel’s defensive operation against Hamas in May, has been staggering silence. World leaders and institutions like the United Nations and New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern appealed to the Taliban to respect human rights. The Taliban claim to have “changed” and want international recognition but their actions of the last few days speak louder than placating tones for media consumption.
There will be reams of analysis written about what went wrong. We will debate over who is to blame politically for years to come. We will discuss this decision which will leave a human catastrophe in its wake.
As we approach the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we will count the toll of the human cost of the last two decades and wonder if history will repeat itself.
I watch Afghanistan with a broken heart and I feel powerless watching the unfolding human tragedy. We cannot be silent for who will tell their story if not we?
This was published on Lay of the Land https://layoftheland.online/2021/08/10/re-claiming-the-narratives/ and in The Times of Israel https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/it-is-time-to-engage-the-south-africans-in-israel/
South African Israelis must lead the Fight against the Apartheid Libel
A recent poll published by the Times of Israel and various other publications) revealed some startling statistics. The article discussed how some 25% of American Jewry believes that Israel is an Apartheid state. This is an extremely worrying statistic and just recently, Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs, Nachman Shai, warned how we could lose the support of US Jewry if this continues. Over the past few years we have seen the chasm between Israel and American Jewry grow wider and the aggressive accusations of Apartheid by the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement and others grow louder.
The BDS movement exploded into the global consciousness after the UN Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa in 2001. The launch of BDS in South Africa was not coincidental as the country was both the birthplace of Apartheid and its defeat. In the narrative against Israel, optics are important and what could be more symbolic than this? At the very centre of the BDS delegitimisation, is the accusation, in fact the charge that Israel is guilty of practicing Apartheid. The rationale is that if Israel is labelled as a pariah, as was South Africa, then the Jewish state can no longer be part of the family of nations, until it changes its abhorrent policies. And more than this, BDS is also unwavering about their end goal – the end of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. This has been stated by the founder of the movement, Omar Barghouti and stated on their website. The difference in the South African context however, is that during the heinous Apartheid regime, the global community wanted the racist policies of South Africa changed but never called for the country to cease to exist.
The Oxford dictionary defines Apartheid as “a policy of racial segregation of other groups from the white inhabitants. Adopted by the successful Afrikaner National Party as a slogan in the 1948 election, apartheid extended and institutionalized existing racial segregation. The word is recorded from the 1940s, and comes from Afrikaans, meaning literally ‘separateness’.”
These Apartheid laws governed every aspect of a black person’s life – from freedom of movement, the right to equal education, who they could marry all the way to separate amenities for colour groups.
While other countries have often implemented racist laws at some time in their history, Apartheid was unique to South Africa and the narrative to her people, because it was the only country in which these laws were legislated. South Africa is the “ground zero” of the BDS movement, and it is important that if anyone wants to counter BDS and their narrative, that they examine the South African paradigm very closely and understand it.
It is a narrative that is being appropriated by a sophisticated anti-Israel element to push an exclusionary, antisemitic agenda.
Israel is by no means perfect. Like every other country, we have our many challenges, including the scourge of racism, but it is not state policy as it was in South Africa.
I grew up in South Africa at the height of Apartheid and the years of States of Emergency. I bore witness to the daily humiliation, discrimination and appalling treatment of my black and coloured (a term used for people who were of mixed race) countrymen. Many of you reading this are probably wondering why a white woman is writing about the Apartheid experience.
My answer? As a young, proudly Zionist Jew, I learned through belonging to a youth movement that Apartheid was not compatible with my Jewish and Zionist values. It was in this Zionist youth movement that many of us were taught to question the system and subsequently become young activists, often at great risk to our safety. I remember when I was14 years old, that I marched for equal rights and was filmed and questioned by the police. But we were proud because this to us was tikkun olam (Hebrew for ‘repairing the world’). We were speaking up for our fellow citizens who had no voice and no agency under a racist regime.
I am not the only Israeli South African with a story to tell. There are many of my countrymen in Israel and if you want to educate people against the Apartheid Israel canard, you need to talk to us. It is our lived experience, it is the narrative of the country in which we grew up.
Many of us here have “struggle credentials”. There are those who were forced to flee, those who were arrested and even tortured, those who witnessed unbelievable cruelty, there are those who challenged the government or the legal system. And there are those who chose to leave because they could not live under a regime that persecuted another; because we understood all too clearly what this meant.
And yes, ex-pat South Africans have a duty to stand up to this abhorrent canard. We cannot be apathetic or complacent. We must remember that as olim, Israel has given us so much and now it is time for us to take the lead in the fight against the exploitation of the narratives of both South Africa and Israel.
The BDS movement and anti-Israel detractors are engaging misinformed South Africans, with little or no understanding of the complexities of the conflict, to give impetus to their agenda. Why aren’t you speaking to those of us who understand and have lived experience in both countries?
The contribution made by South African Jews to the fight against Apartheid were extraordinary and disproportionate to the size of the community. We have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share in the fight against the narrative that claims Israel as an Apartheid state. To be reticent about engaging and involving ourselves would be both a missed opportunity – and detrimental to the education of our diaspora communities.
We owe South Africa so much – we were formed there and given the freedom to speak out and protest against injustice and human rights abuses. It is therefore our duty never to demean Apartheid and the real devastating consequences it created. To call Israel an Apartheid state is an abomination.
There is only one answer to this odious comparison is by condemning unreservedly the central charge of Apartheid through engaging its victims as well as those who fought to destroy it.
As the Jewish world gears up for the 20th anniversary of the UN Conference against Racism, you can absolutely place your bets that this charge of Apartheid is only going to gain more momentum. Remember the stated endgame.
The time to engage with us is now – before it is too late.