Talking Tachlis Episode 2: Yigal Palmor – Director of Communications, Jewish Agency for Israel

Last week, I was delighted to chat with Yigal Palmor,  former Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman and Director of Communications for the Jewish Agency for Israel, about growing anti-Semitism and what you can do in your country to be a pro-activist for Israel. To all my French and Spanish speaking friends, Yigal recorded special messages for you as well.

Yigal Palmor English

Yigal Palmor French

Yigal Palmor Spanish

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Talking Tachlis Episode 1: Interview with HonestReporting

How can you best respond to biased media against Israel?
For the first ‘Talking Tachlis’ interview, Rolene Marks, World WIZO Public Diplomacy & Hasbara Chair, sat down with HonestReporting‘s managing editor, Simon Plosker, to get tips and tools.
HonestReporting has launched a Brazilian affiliate and has one in Spanish as well.
For more information visit: www.honestreporting.comtwitter.com/honestreporting
Your comments and feedback is always welcome: rolenemarks@yahoo.com

TalkingTachlis with HonestReporting

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A voice for our children

This blog post is currently featured in Israel Forever:

http://israelforever.org/interact/blog/a_voice_for_our_children/

The summer school holidays in Israel should be a time of lazy morning lie-ins, fun with friends and driving parents crazy trying to find activities for their children to do.

For sweet Hallel Yaffa Ariel, asleep in her bed, this was not the case.  Last week her safe sanctuary, the one place that was sacred, was brutally invaded when a 17 year old terrorist broke into her room and stabbed her multiple times. She passed away from her wounds. Hallel was just 13 years old.

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Hallel Yaffa Ariel, z”l

Raised on a steady diet of hate, from breast to school, her murderer was glorified as a martyr by his mother who celebrated his act of terror. “My son is a hero. He made me proud. My son died as a Martyr defending Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. …Allah willing, all of them will follow this path, all the youth of Palestine. Allah be praised.” What kind of society is this that a mother encourages her son to die, preferably killing a Jew in the process? This is not symptomatic of being deprived, it is depraved!

Another family decimated, plunged into mourning for a child gone too soon. A little girl who will never become a woman, bear children of her own, manifest her joy by dancing. Hallel had performed in a dance recital the night before she was killed.

When will it end? When will there be a time when Israeli parents don’t eulogize and say kaddish over the graves of their children?

Israel’s most vulnerable, her children are a target. There is no sanctity amongst terrorists for young lives. What can you expect from those who hide weapons in schools and use their own children as human shields?

This weekend, terrorists fired rockets from Gaza, hitting a family therapeutic centre in Sderot. This is particularly personal as it hit one of our beautiful WIZO facilities, a place where children feel safe and secure. Thank G-d for the miracle that the centre was closed and nobody was hurt. Buildings can be repaired but lives can never be replaced.

Damage to our WIZO Margaret Thatcher Therapeutic Centre from rockets

Sderot is the most bunkered town in the world with bomb shelters every couple of metres for the safety of its citizens. As you read this, please try to imagine what life has been like for the citizens of Sderot who do not know what it is like to live without the firing of rockets onto their town.  The warning “Tzeva Adom” (code red) is as part of their lives as going to school or work.  Imagine what it is like to have 15 seconds to find shelter, to live your life in increments of 15 seconds.

WIZO works tirelessly to help Israel’s citizens and was the first to build a completely rocket proof daycare centre in Sderot. The wellbeing of children in all of our facilities is of paramount importance and we work very hard to ensure their emotional and physical safety.  For children to be fired upon so indiscriminately because they are Jewish (by the way we have children from all sectors of Israeli society in our facilities!) is unconscionable.  This centre,  provided much appreciated therapy and coping skills for parents and children in Sderot who live with the constant trauma of rockets and mortars.

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While Hamas uses its people as human shields, IDF soldiers protect a little boy during rocket fire on Sderot in southern Israel

What chance is there for peace when Palestinian children are raised on hate and martyrdom from the incitement of their leaders, teachers and even their parents? This is flagrant child abuse and I am bewildered at the silence of the world that is indifferent. If there is to be peace, children should have the benefit of being taught that they can be doctors, lawyers, teachers, dancers and nation builders!

Stabbing sleeping children asleep in their beds or firing on day care centres is NOT an act of resistance – it is barbarity, pure and simple.

I write this on the day where the Jewish world and indeed humanity, has lost one of our most beloved sons.  Elie Wiesel z”l, a gentle, humble and wise soul, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate, who passed away at 87. He was a voice for the voiceless 6 million. His legacy was to bring light to a world of darkness, to bear witness and give a voice to those who are suffering around the world. As he is welcomed back into the bosom of his family who perished during the Holocaust, let us learn from one of his most famous quotes “the opposite of love is not hate – it is indifference”.

My appeal to everyone who reads this blog is to please speak up for our children. Help us tell the world what the media will not – tell the stories of Hallel, of Gilad, Eyal and Naftali and of the children who are in the sights of rockets fired on their schools. If we do not give our children a voice, who will? Let us not be indifferent.

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Occupier Barbie and the Jewish Jezebel

I am a firm believer of the tome, “promote what you love, do not bash what you hate”. It is with this philosophy in mind that I approach Israel advocacy and my social media activity. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea or approach but I honestly prefer wherever possible, to take a more positive angle.

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Social media is fabulous. Most of us are active on Facebook or Twitter or whatever medium you like to connect with your friends and family or share copious amounts of cat videos. I have found Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to be excellent tools not just to educate people about Israel or show a side to the country that many are not aware of but also to create community. My tribe, if you will.

Most of us who are active in this field have a following who enjoy what we post or engage in robust debate with each other. This is why social media is effective, it creates engagement and is an excellent barometer to gauge what people are thinking.

I have a simple rule for managing debate on my page – you are entitled to an opinion or to disagree with me and each other but play the ball and not the player. In other words, back up your opinions based on facts (even if I disagree) but please do not personally attack each other. Or me. No matter how fruitcake you think the person you are disagreeing with is!

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But social media also has a very, very dark side and bigots, racists and nasties of all kinds use it to spread their vile form of hate. There is very little censorship (have you seen some of the posts in the run up to the US elections? Wow!!) and everybody is an armchair General. Personally I have never experienced this more than during Operation Protective Edge when some really nasty bigots crawled out of the woodwork. It always amazes me how many of them hide behind pseudonyms or mask their true identities

Some of my greatest “hits” include:

“Hitler should have gassed you”

“You are an evil Zionist witch”

“You are nothing but a vacuous bimbo who should change her name to Occupier Barbie”  – my favourite for sheer creativity.

“Jewish Jezebel”

“You have the intelligence of a garden potato”.

“You are a purveyor of pornography” – this in response to an article I wrote about a woman’s right to choose whether or not she wants to watch a seemingly erotic movie. Another woman also told me she hoped I do not have children.  This was particularly personal and painful for me but as someone who is “out there” comments like this are sometimes just par for the course. Haters gonna hate right?

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Thank you foxy Gina Jacobson for this 

There were other comments too disgusting to even mention in polite company and were duly reported and many of my colleagues have received far worse.

Some erected (pun very much intended!) to send me pictures of their nether regions. They were not that impressive and were reported and blocked for violating pornography and my standards.

This brings me to the reason for this rant. One the eve of Ramadan, I wished my Muslim friends, of which I have many and some of whom outwardly support Israel, at great risk to their safety, Ramadan Mubarak. I was not alone in this as many from the IDF to the Tel Aviv municipality as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, wished our Muslim citizens the same.

I received the following response:

“I will delete you. You are a radical Muslim with a fake name and picture”.

This has raised my fiery ire because Israelis have just come through a 7 month long wave of terror where social media has been the weapon of choice to indoctrinate young Palestinians and Arab Israelis to become teenorists (thanks Colonel!). It almost gave every latent anti-Semite license to go crazy and post whatever they liked on social media. This is not a game. People have lost their lives and others have been severely wounded, emotionally and physically and in nearly incident, the perpetrators have admitted that they were motivated by posts on social media.

It has been an uphill battle to get social media platforms to better police hate speech as the de fact excuse often give is that “comments or pictures do not violate community standards”. View this sobering experiment conducted by Shurat Hadin, the Israel Law Centre who currently have in excess of 20 000 who have filed suit against Facebook for allowing anti-Semitic hate speech:

Shurat Hadin – Facebook Experiment You Tube

There is a lot of lobbying happening to try and improve the policing of hate speech  as Shurat Ha Din have demonstrated in the You Tube clip above and organizations like Spotlighting who monitor social media and expose racists as demonstrated in the picture below.

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Spotlighting – exposing anti-Semites, one hater at a time

Racist comments from either side once again import racism and conflict into social media. Israel is making major gains in the effort to combat online anti-Semitism. Do not open up another front! It is like the saying goes – if you have not got something good to say, do not say anything at all. There is a huge difference between activism and educating for the truth and personal attacks.

There are some things I just do NOT want to see – beheaded victims of ISIS, tortured or starving animals, abused children, personal attacks on individuals that take nasty to a whole new level. Cat videos and shoe memes are always welcome.

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A Tale of two countries

This post currently appears in The Times of Israel:

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/a-tale-of-two-countries/

“It was the best of times it was the worst of times”. This missive from the author Charles Dickens got me thinking about growing up in South Africa during the Apartheid years and now living in Israel, a country that is often so unfairly and incorrectly compared to the African state and how important I think it is to speak up on behalf of both. The narratives of both countries have been hijacked by Israel’s detractors who have little or no understanding of either and more sinister goals – that of creating an environment where the legitimacy of Israel to exist as a sovereign state is questioned to such a degree, demands for the destruction of the Jewish state increase.  This is the latest cause du jour by hatemongers across the world and they wrap it up in sexy packaging and label it BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Both are countries with a lot of nuance and complexities and their narratives , while they share surprising similarities, are certainly not those that Israel’s detractors would have you expect. And like all things that are complicated and highly nuanced, you cannot lump the solution that works for one upon the other.

Rev. Meshoe explains why Israel is not an Apartheid State

I have pondered for a while whether or not to write this post.  Would it be received in the spirit that it is intended? It is most certainly not an indictment against South Africa in any way. At the end of the day, it is my truth, my observations that I am sharing.

My relationship with South Africa is complicated and bittersweet.  It is the country I grew up in, that shaped me and educated and is a breathtakingly beautiful country filled with incredible paradox.  There is extreme wealth and dire poverty, 11 fascinating official languages, every kind of terrain you could imagine from the tropical to the desert, the mountains to the savannah.  This is just a small glimpse.  I grew up during the Apartheid years and was aware from a very young age that something was not right. The physical magnificence of the country was at odds with its political reality.

That political reality was one of discrimination, persecution and pain. The minority white community ruled over the majority black population with a set of laws that debased and dehumanized them.  These were the Apartheid laws – from the Afrikaans meaning “to separate”. The word Apartheid for anti-Israelists has become catchy and sexy because it conjures up images that are emotive and provocative and guaranteed to raise the ire of those who hear it. For the true victims of Apartheid, the word is reminiscent of a time of great pain, of being marginalized and discriminated against and deep, deep suffering.  Apartheid  was unique to South Africa and cannot be used to describe any other situation in the world, and is not to be trotted out as a cavalier description to suit evil agendas. Doing so diminishes the tremendous crime that Apartheid was and belittles the suffering of her victims.

This brings me to Israel, my home and the target of those who wish question her right to exist, label an Apartheid state. It must be reiterated that NOT once during its existence under the heinous racist regime was the right of South Africa to exist as a state questioned. This dubious honour is reserved exclusively for the Jewish state.

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Is there racism in Israel? Yes. Unfortunately, Israel although judged by a different standards compared to other countries, does suffer this same scourge as does every other country in the world. Utopia simply does not exist. As Zionists who deeply love our country, our job is to not simply accept this blindly but to question how this horrible element creeps in and do our utmost to root it out.

Why am I a Zionist? Why did I make the choice to return to Zion and build my home here? It is more than just a deep love of the Jewish people and belief in returning to and building our ancient homeland. It also about growth. As humans we try to work on our flaws. As Israelis and Zionists it is our hope that when there are grave misdeeds we do not accept them blindly, we turn inward, we engage in robust discussion and we try to improve. This is the Israel of our sages, our ancestors, Theodore Herzl and it must be so for us. In South Africa, it was a little known fact that Zionist youth were educated about the injustices of Apartheid and encouraged to fight against it, despite the incredible dangers we faced. I was a member of Netzer Maginim and if there was any enduring lesson I took from my years of involvement it was to not turn a blind eye to injustice.

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Growing up in South Africa taught me to bear witness to injustice and that I cannot stay silent in the face of it.

I cannot stay silent when the victims of Apartheid are losing their narrative to those who propagate the same kind of discrimination against the Jewish state and fail to see it is Anti-Semitism. I cannot stay silent when the human rights of Palestinians are trod upon, not by Israel, but by those exploiting their suffering under Hamas to push their genocidal charter which calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. I cannot stay silent while Jewish students on campus are vilified, harassed and terrified to come to school because safe spaces are not available to them – only to others. I cannot stay silent while organizations like UNESCO deny us our ancient ties to Jerusalem but turn a blind eye to ISIS destroying sacred antiquity all over the Middle East.

I cannot and will not be silent during Israel Apartheid Week because to do so allows the lies to grow and spread around the world. I cannot stay silent when the UN castigates Israel for its record on women’s rights, which are the most progressive in our neighbourhood but does nothing for our sisters who suffer the most appalling gender discrimination. I cannot stay silent in the face of institutionalized Anti-Semitism by world- wide organizations that single Israel out for opprobrium at the expense of other conflicts around the world.

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To be a silent bystander is to be complicit in the hijacking of narratives of both people and the dissemination of lies.

I grew up witnessing the unjust and untrue. I live in a country that fights every day for its very existence and inclusion in the family of nations. The lesson I learn from my tale of two countries is the importance of speaking up and I implore all my fellow South Africans who live in Israel and elsewhere, it is time to take back our narratives – both as Israelis and South Africans. We cannot be silent anymore.

Wearing our blue and white

This post is currently featured on the South African Zionist Federation’s website:

http://www.sazionfed.co.za/media/blog/wearing-our-blue-and-white/

I love this time of the year in Israel. The country is transformed into a blue and white celebration as the roads are lined and national buildings festooned with Israeli flags. There is a festive atmosphere as many decorate their balconies with flags and of course, barbeques are sold out. This is all in preparation for the National Holidays.

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My balcony – dressed and ready!

Israel is several thousand years old but the modern state was founded in 1948. She wears the lines of her history with grace and integrity and a certain sense of humour. At times this is punctuated with a deep sadness and if you look a little closer, sometimes you can see a tear in her eyes.

It is no coincidence that the national holidays fall very closely to each other. We are reminded of the pain of our past and the sacrifices of the many that ensure that we continue to live in our vibrant but flawed democracy. I love her flaws – like anyone who focuses on growth, Israelis engage in deep contemplation so that we can improve. There is nothing Israelis value more than life and this is demonstrated with such heart around these holidays.

This year, they are particularly poignant. Rising antisemitism around the world less than a century after the Holocaust which has resulted in violence and sometimes death is a stark reminder about the perils of not learning from history. On Yom Hashoa, Holocaust martyrs and heroes memorial day, Israelis will pause for a minute as the memorial sirens pierces our consciousness. Cars will come to a complete stop and we will bow our heads in silent memoriam. The tears flow freely and our hearts collectively break. But then the siren stops and we open our eyes and look at the country we have built. Built on miracles. Built on innovation. Built on blood, sweat and tears.

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Israel’s citizens stop their cars and bow their heads.

And we will repeat this again the following week for Yom Hazikaron – Memorial Day for soldiers and victims of terror. This year, Israelis will feel this day a lot more acutely. We have endured a wave of terror for the last six months that has cost 34 people (including soldiers, 2 US nationals and a Palestinian) their lives and wounded countless others. Our army and security forces have been working around the clock to keep us all safe. We still feel vulnerable and here in Israel each civilian is family. Sure, we fight and argue amongst ourselves but when we lose one of our own the pain is unbearable! We never take for granted the sacrifices that our soldiers have made so that we can live in peace. On Yom Hazikaron we also remember victims of terror and there is hardly an Israeli family that hasn’t been touched by terrorism in some way. We all know or are related to someone who has been hurt and killed. The sirens will wail and we will remember.

Yom Hazikaron ceremony

We will remember them.

And then the whole mood of the country changes from one of somber memorial to the biggest celebration!

From the north to the south and everywhere in between, Israelis begin to celebrate! Israel erupts into a giant street party with fireworks, celebration, song and of course…..food!

The country wakes up the next day (some nursing hangovers) to the pervasive smell of al ha aish(braai) and many head to the beach and the forests to engage in a favourite pastime – eating! One of the most special moments is the annual fly over of the IAF featuring planes throughout our history.

Israel’s modern day history is entwined with the Jewish tenets of remembering the past, honouring the lost but never forgetting that which the most sacred of all …….LIFE!

Am Yisrael Chai!

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The buildings of the Knesset lit up for Independence Day

An UNecessary membership?

United Nations – just the mention of these two words is enough to send the blood pressure of Israelis soaring. Israel has a love-hate relationship with the UN – they love to hate us!

This past week, this once noble institute disqualified about a quarter of an exhibition about Israel that opened at their main headquarters on Monday. It seems that they took umbrage about the display on Zionism that was defined as the “national liberation movement of the Jewish people” and two others about Jerusalem as the capital and Israel’s Arab population.

The exhibition was put together by Stand With Us – one of the premier organisations (and one of my favourites) that work very hard to educate and inform the public about Israel while fighting anti-Semitism and extremism. Visit: www.standwithus.com

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, appealed to Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon saying, “by disqualifying an exhibition about Zionism the UN is undermining the very existence of the State of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people,”. The decision about the panel on Zionism has since been reversed but this incident once again highlights how Israel is singled out at the UN.

Watch this clip by Stand With Us featuring Ambassador Danon.

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The United Nations was founded shortly after World War 2, with the intention of regulating conflict between nations.  In 1948 former US First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt,  was a driving force in creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and was appointed to the UN to champion this cause. The UN was supposed to be the guardian of international human rights and the General Assembly passed a resolution in 2006 creating the UNHRC or Human Rights Council.

My how things have changed! Founded with the most noble of intentions, this international institution has steadily skated downhill to become the theatre of the absurd for hatemongers and dictators.

It is no secret that the UN and in particular the UNHRC are obsessed with Israel.  This unhealthy obsession has resulted in the UN singling out Israel for opprobrium at the expense of many conflicts around the world and leaves many Israelis angry at the appalling double standards. Victims of war, genocide and human rights transgressions in other regions are shaking their heads with hurt and dismay. Don’t their issues and pain count?

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This is institutionalized anti-Semitism at its worst. The flagrant targeting of Israel has left many of us wondering if it is really THAT important to be a member state of the UN and has this international body not passed its sell-by date?

A wise man who was the former Israeli Ambassador to the UN once said that if the haters and dictators continue to point fingers at the tiny state of Israel, we must be doing something right!

Some have opined if it would not be more worth it for Israel to leave the UN and does a country really need to be a member?

“Membership in the United Nations is open to all other peace-loving states which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able and willing to carry out these obligations.

The admission of any such state to membership in the United Nations will be effected by a decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.”

(Article 4, Chapter 2, United Nations Charter).

Being a member state of the UN allows a country a certain sense of legitimacy. International law does not dictate who becomes a member but the UN Charter does.  Some countries clearly did not receive the memo about being peace loving….

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Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, dismissed the UN’s bias saying Um Shmumm (the Hebrew name for the UN is Ha’Um) and many have followed suit. But the UN still holds a lot of sway in the court of international opinion although even Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has admitted to the institutions flagrant bias against Israel.

The UN has been silent about Iran’s human rights abuse. They have been silent about rising anti-Semitism that has resulted in violence and death in some countries. The UN fails to condemn those that use their podium to call for the annihilation of the Jewish State. They have been silent about Palestinian incitement which has resulted in a 6 month wave of terror that cost 34 people their lives. But on Israel, they are like salivating, rabid beasts that smell blood. Sadly this unhealthy obsession distracts from any good humanitarian work the UN engages in.

Stand With Us – Kay Wilson shares her story about surviving a terror attack outside the UN in Geneva, March 2016

Many have asked me over the years if Israel does not fight a losing battle with so many odds stacked against her. My answer is the best way to deal with bullies is simply to show up.

We show up. And we fight for our rights to be heard despite the odds because here is the thing – Jews are entitled to human rights as well. We should be unapologetic about this! We are just as much a part of the family of nations as any other. We also have the inalienable right to organize ourselves politically and call it Zionism, in reference to our ancient homeland. We also have the right to a state and to live in it in peace and security. We also have the right to defend ourselves be it against physical attack or institutionalized anti-Semitism. We have the right to use our voices to speak up.

We have shown up. We will continue to be a presence wherever anti-Semitism and bias rear their ugly heads in institutions that are UNethical, UNtrustworthy and their behavior, UNbelievable.

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Israel supporters show their solidarity and support outside the UN in Geneva, March 2016