Dear Golda – The Sequel: A Shining Star

This article appears in Lay of the Land:

If Golda Meir was alive today, would this be the conversation we have?

Dearest Golda, we haven’t had a chat for a while and the last time we spoke, we certainly had a lot to talk about. This time it is no different. Golda, you continue to inspire so many around the world, not just because you blazed a trail in many arenas, including becoming Israel’s first female Prime Minister; but because in times of strife and hardship, we still continue to seek your wise council. It is your words of wisdom that are as relevant today as they were when you led our country through war, insurmountable tragedy and also great triumph.

I write this, wondering what you would say to the world or offer as we watch with horror and broken hearts as yet another war ravages lives.

Dear Golda, I cannot imagine what you must be thinking as you watch on from high. You were born in Kyiv, Ukraine, during a dark time in our people’s history. You have often recalled that your early memories were of your father having to board up the front door because of an imminent pogrom. Even though you would move from Ukraine to the USA and finally come home to what was then British Mandate Palestine in 1921, you never forgot your roots. You were imbued with the fire of Zionism and longed to see our hope of 2000 years realised.

Israeli medical personnel off to Ukraine where they will help man the “Kochav Meir” field Hospital in the western Ukrainian town of Mostyska to provide medical care and humanitarian aid to war refugees. (Marc Sallem, Jerusalem Post)

As the years progressed, you would see many pioneers arrive from the Pale of Settlement and then you would watch with sorrow and frustration as our people endured the darkest time in our history. The soil at Babyn Yar on the outskirts of Kyiv still cries with the voice of our ancestors.

Our memories of Ukraine are painful but over the decades something extraordinary happened. The once decimated Jewish communities started to grow again. Jewish life was once more present in Kyiv and in Kharkiv, in Dnipro, Odessa, Lviv and more. The image of Tevye leaving Anatevka, bowed, broken and with his fellow villagers was replaced with the Chabad synagogue giving spiritual strength and shelter to many. To top it all, a Jewish President had been elected, who is proud of his roots and family history – and who is very much the man of the moment for his outstanding leadership. Volodymyr Zelensky’s unshaven face in his combat green, leading from amongst his people is in stark contrast to the anemic, bloated looking Putin, dressed in a suit and seated at a bizarrely long table.

Equipment for the Israeli field hospital being loaded onto a plane at Ben Gurion Airport, March 17, 2022. (Sivan Shahar/Anaba/GPO

As I write this, Ukraine enters the fourth week of a brutal war with Russia, who invaded under many pretenses, one of which was intention to “denazify” the country. Most countries have appalling elements within society; but the accusation of “denazification” is particularly painful given the dark past and resurgence of Jewish life in Ukraine.

Dear Golda, millions have fled, becoming refugees – but many have stayed to fight. Dearest Golda, it is your example that many cite as their inspiration. They quote you by comparing the will of the Ukrainian people to live to a famous saying about the enemy laying down its weapons and brave soldiers like Aleksander Gorgan, who made sure you are with him when he went into battle by taking a copy of your autobiography in his combat backpack.

A Ukrainian officer shows off a biography of Golda Meir that he carries into battle with him. The Kyiv-born Israel premier has become a symbol of hope for Ukrainians.
(Screen capture: Twitter)

None of us can watch what is happening in Ukraine without feeling a profound sense of sorrow. We all want to help as much as we can.

Dear Golda, you were one of the founders of the modern state of Israel, your signature is on our founding documents; and you had a clear vision of how our tiny country could live up to the tenet of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). We have always said NEVER AGAIN after the Holocaust and try wherever we can to help and Ukraine is no different.

As you know, Israel’s position is very precarious. We face an ever growing threat from Iran and the presence of Russian troops on our borders who control the airspace over Syria means that we are able to strike when our security is threatened. We have to carefully coordinate this with Russia. We have good bilateral ties with both countries and are now faced with the role of mediator, however delicate it may be. President Zelenesky thinks Jerusalem, our capital could be a venue for mediation but we have endured many wars and realise how cautious we have to proceed with negotiations but it is our moral duty to do what we can for the sake of saving lives.

While some have derided Israel for not sending military aid (other countries could also do more but singling out Israel is preposterous!) and Iron Domes (which are not effective against the kind of Russian military strikes being used), it must be understood that we have to protect our citizens against opportunistic attacks that could come from Iran and proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas.

It is not just in mediation where Israel is playing a vital role. We have endured several wars throughout our existence and this has given us an ability to mobilise help quickly. As I am writing, the Israel Population and Immigration Authority report that 13,500 Ukrainian refugees have entered Israel with 5,000 making Aliyah under the country’s Law of Return.

Israeli national emergency response service Magen David Adom send four armored ambulances to war-torn Ukraine to help treat the wounded and evacuate them from the field.

Dear Golda, today those same Olim who come from what was the Pale of Settlement come into Israel as refugees with one major difference – they are home. As soon as the Russian tanks rolled in, we mobilised our diplomats from Ukraine, Romania, Poland and Slovakia along the border to evacuate Israelis.

Tasked with providing initial aid, assessing needs, and building a comprehensive long-term treatment plan, seen here is the first group (jump team) of United Hatzalah’s humanitarian aid mission from Israel to Ukraine comprising 12 EMTs, paramedics, doctors, a dentist, and members of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit.

Israelis aren’t the only ones they are helping – they have evacuated civilians from Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Gaza and the Palestinian Authority who were stranded by their leadership. I cannot keep up with all the aid Israel and Jewish organisations are sending but a basic account  says four armoured ambulances from Magen David Adom, United Hatzolah and IsraAid medical care in Moldova and Romania, including safe spaces for moms and babies; Ukrainian and Russian speaking police from Israel’s Police Force to help refugees find out where to go; Jewish Agency emissaries along 14 points on the border; 100 tons of humanitarian aid from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs; aid packages from Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer club in partnership with organisations; ZAKA rescue; 6 large generators for hospitals in Lviv and countless others.

The real shining star is the field hospital, organised by Israel’s Ministry of Health and Sheba Medical Centre. Operation “Shining Star” has commenced with over 17 tons of medical aid and over 50 medical personnel. So far, it is the only field hospital on the Ukrainian side of the border. It will have wards and state-of- the-art equipment and provide sanctuary and medical care for civilians and soldier.

Trucks carrying equipment for Israeli field hospital in Ukraine. (photo credit: Construction team for Kohav Meir hospital)

Dear Golda, the hospital is named “Kochav Meir”. Yes, Golda, it is named in your honour.

Dearest Golda, all these decades later, through tragedy and triumph, war and peace, the building and rebuilding of countries and communities, you continue to inspire and empower. I hope the next time we chat, it will be a conversation about peace in both the country you were born in and the one that you helped build.

Erecting the Israeli “Kohav Meir” (Shining Star) field hospital in Mostyska, Ukraine.
(photo credit: Construction team for Kohav Meir hospital)

Read the Room!

This is featured in Lay of the Land:

Ukrainian suffering and the Palestinians cannot be compared

For nearly two weeks, the world has watched with horror as Putin’s troops have invaded Ukraine, decimating and laying siege to cities and creating a grave humanitarian crisis. The United Nations estimate that the number of Ukrainian refugees is roughly 1.45 million; and growing by the day.

The world has also been inspired by the incredible courage of the Ukrainian people, men and women taking up arms against the invading Russians, led from the front by their President Volodymir Zelensky (who is Jewish and has compared his country’s fight against Russia to Israel saying “we should become like the Israelis defending our territory”) and have taken to the streets, social media platforms and philanthropy to show their support. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter et al is awash with the blue and white colours of the Ukrainian flags and passionate cries of “Slava Ukraini” (for the Glory of Ukraine). In a world that has become so polarized along so many different lines, solidarity behind the Ukraine and her people has been unifying.

The Power of One. Inspiring his nation and the world, Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, addresses his people by video from an undisclosed location in what has become his customary morning address.

With attention rightly squared on the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, the anti-Israel folk have ramped up their efforts in chastising the media and the west, to lament that the focus of the world is on Ukraine and not the Palestinians and that the situation for both peoples is the same.

The lack of concern about the plight of Ukrainian refugees and Russia’s merciless bombing of civilians, including humanitarian corridors is staggering. The “whataboutism” is astounding – and more than a little obscene.  There can be no comparison between the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a sovereign state and the situation for Palestinians, whose leadership have refused every offer of a state and have engaged in steady incitement for decades.

Anti-Israel activist, Iqbal Jasset, tweets on response to Rolene Marks.

Unlike the Palestinians, egged on by decades of incitement of hate against Israel and the Jewish people, the Ukrainian people have not fired thousands of rockets into Russia, have not dug tunnels to kidnap Russian civilians, thrown Molotov cocktails into fields and cars, stoned Russian drivers or shot and stabbed civilians in malls and on streets. President Zelensky, like a modern day Maccabee, is leading his people from the front. Nobody can forget his famous refusal of President Biden’s offer to airlift him to safety when he responded with “I need ammunition, not a ride”. This is unlike the leadership of Hamas who enjoys 5-star hotel and private jet hospitality in Qatar or Hezbollah’s Nasrallah who is hunkered down in his bunker, while doling out his threats against Israel.

Perverted Competition. In twisted form of obscene jealously, pro-Palestinian supporters are upset with images such as this horrendous damage to residential building at Koshytsa Street in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on February 25, 2022 as it diverts focus from their story. (GENYA SAVILOV / AFP)

More than 1 million children have fled Ukraine in the less than two weeks since Russia first invaded the country, says UNICEF spokesperson James Elder, calling it “a dark historical first.”

This means that children represent around half of the more than 2 million people that have fled the war, an exodus that the UN refugee agency has called the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

Comparing the situation in Ukraine is astoundingly disingenuous and shows a spectacular lack of self-awareness. Not content to appropriate the South African narrative and suffering during the Apartheid years, the grave, lived experience of the Ukrainian people and the many civilians from other countries who are trying to flee the military onslaught is up for grabs. Heaven forbid they get any news coverage!

They put the blame squarely on the west and render the media complicit. Palestinians have dominated the headlines for several decades and there is a disproportionate focus on the nearly 80-year-conflict between Israel and her neighbours. A conflict that the world is growing weary of. In the last two years, several Arab countries have normalized ties with Israel with others poised to do the same. The Kuwaiti editor-in-Chief of the Arab Times Ahmed al-Jarallah stated in a recent op-ed that “When [the Palestinians] are happy, they curse the Gulf leaders and people. When they are angry, they use all of the defamatory and abusive words in their dictionary against us.” The editor-in-chief continued:

We, the Gulf nationals, overlook all that by sending them aid.”

In an editorial, titled “Normalize, let insulters fend for themselves,” al-Jarallah pointed to the Palestinians support for Saddam Hussein, Jamal Abdul Nasser, former Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi and IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, saying that this was “just the tip of the iceberg.”

Strong words indeed.

The world is focused on assisting Ukraine while isolating Russia through aggressive sanctions and other means. Failure to do so could lead to a war that threatens to engulf Europe and there is no doubt that China and Iran are watching with bated breath, looking to see how the West reacts and if they can flex their military muscles on China and Israel respectively.

Striving for Peace.Tying to mediate  an end to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett arrives for a cabinet meeting at the PM’s Office in Jerusalem on Sunday, on the heels of his talks in Moscow and Berlin.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

At the time of this writing, Israel’s Prime Minister has embarked on a shuttle diplomatic mission to Moscow and has spoken several times to Putin in an attempt mediate, at the behest of President Zelensky. This serves to emphasise the increasing role Israel is playing on the world stage and the regard that the Jewish state is afforded. Israel has also sent an extraordinary amount of humanitarian aid, including 100 tonnes and three plane loads of medicines, supplies, tents, blankets and more. In addition, Israel’s Ministry of Health is building a field hospital that will be manned by 50 medical personnel from Sheba Medical Centre on the Ukrainian side of the border, while United Hatzalah and IsraAid are already manning field hospitals in neighbouring Moldova.

Israel Field Hospital for Embattled Ukraine. The emergency room tent that is part of the field hospital going to Ukraine. (Photo courtesy of Sheba Medical Center)

Diplomats from Romania, Poland and Slovakia are stationed on the border helping to evacuate not just Israeli citizens but have helped many from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Gaza and others. Israel’s Interior Ministry announced that in addition to absorbing 100,000 Jewish Ukrainians as citizens, Israel will host 25,000 other Ukrainians until the danger subsides in their country.

Israel Responds.  From trying to mediate an end to the hostility to sending aid to Ukraine, Israel is in the vanguard of support.

Israel will likely be the country offering safe refuge to the most amount of people from Ukraine from a non-bordering country. Jewish organisations like Chabad whose Rabbi’s will never abandon the communities they are sent to serve, are also giving shelter and help to many, including this Palestinian doctor and his family:

It is a pity that the anti-Israel contingent aim their focus, much like the Soviet era propaganda that gave impetus to the narrative they peddle, in scuppering peace and not building bridges. It is astounding that they are disgruntled that they are not dominating the headlines like they are used to doing. This is what separates the true social justice warriors from the imposters.

This is a great pity – but not as staggeringly disingenuous as trying to appropriate the suffering of Ukrainians. As the kids would say, READ THE ROOM.

A team from United Hatzalah, Arabs and Jews welcome 120 Ukrainian refugees to Israel

Future’s Fuel

This currently appears in Lay of the Land:

Israel in pole position leading a competitive pack in hydrogen innovation

Rolene Marks

Countries around the world are looking for alternative solutions to fossil fuels. One of the alternatives is hydrogen. Israel is a leader in many fields and innovation around hydrogen is no different. View Lay of the land Co-Founder, Rolene Marks insert on CNA (Channel News Asia) by clicking on the link below:

Efforts to develop alternative energy solutions in Israel amid climate change | Video

Peace IS Progressive!

This article currently appears in Lay of the Land:

Every Friday, the social media platform Twitter is transformed into a flurry of excitement. Emiratis, Bahrainis, Moroccans and Israelis eagerly exchange wishes of Shabbat Shalom and Jumaa Mubarak as people of both the Jewish and Muslim faiths begin to prepare for our respective Sabbaths. We exchange well wishes, images of our respective countries and take delight in the blessings in Hebrew, Arabic and English that are shared between many of us who although we may not have met (yet!) in person, are forging friendships.

Open Minds. Young leaders from the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt meet with their Israeli counterparts during a visit organized by the Israel-Is organization (Photo Itamar Eyal)

If you had told me two years ago that this would be happening, I would have thought you are meshuggah (mad). But here we are, nearly two years after the signing of the historic Abraham Accords and the effects are tangible. Peace is no longer a pipe dream – it is happening.

Agreements are signed between leaders but peace is built by the people. While cynics among us may think that these Accords exist primarily to stave off Iranian hegemony in the region and that may be a factor; but the cooperation has extended to business, tourism, innovation, security and other industries.

They say fortune favours the brave and this is evident daily in the extraordinary amount of deals being signed, knowledge exchanges, tourism and more. The peace train has started its journey around the Middle East and while it may be only a few carriages long, there is hope that it will grow in size and stature. Israel’s leaders have made historic trips to both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and delegations like the interfaith Sharaka, have visited Israel, travel permitting. There has been an exchange of ambassadors and embassies have been opened. Peace is flourishing.

Hands OnYoung influencers from the Abraham Accord countries find common ground with Israelis on a personal level during a visit to Israel. (Photo Itamar Eyal)

You would think that with this historic level of goodwill, many of Israel’s detractors would find some redeeming qualities about the Jewish state they are so intent on demonizing but sadly, they can’t. Several weeks ago, self-proclaimed “progressive” organisations, If Not Now (famous for saying Kaddish, the prayer for the dead for Hamas terrorists who have been eliminated), Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) and various others, put together a petition objecting to the Abraham Accords. “While masquerading as ‘peace’ and ‘diplomacy’, the Abraham Accords and this legislation are in fact an endorsement of arms sales and political favors between the US and authoritarian regimes – including weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates and the recognition of Morocco’s illegal annexation of Western Sahara – in exchange for the sidelining of Palestinian rights,” read their statement.

Several weeks ago, US Congressman, Jamaal Bowman, who is considered a progressive amongst the Democratic Party, joined a JStreet delegation to Israel, meeting a variety of leaders both in Israel and from the Palestinian Authority. Last week, Bowman, a signatory to a treaty endorsing the Abraham Accords, withdrew his support citing that it ignores Palestinian rights.

Finding Common Ground. During the first delegation to the Jewish state of Bahrainis organized by the NGO Sharaka, young Bahraini influencers had their preconceptions challenged on a country-wide tour  of Israel.

Nothing says “we are so progressive” like protesting peace accords!!

It is no great secret that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is one of the most complicated in the world; but at what stage do these organisations and leaders stop infantising the Palestinians? If these “progressives” were sincere about peace, they would not only encourage the Abraham Accords, they would stop the obsessive and unhelpful demonization of Israel and ignoring of Palestinian intransigence that still encourages incitement, pay-for-slay and other obstacles to peace.

Nobody is saying that Israel is faultless but the obsession of the progressives to paint Israel as the sole obstacle to peace is dangerous and counterproductive.

They are not the only ones who are like dogs with a juicy bone when it comes to the Israel- Palestinian conflict.

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHEC) also have an obsession with the Jewish state, having passed more resolutions and sent more inquiries concerning the Jewish state than other conflicts and human rights abusers. As the world stands on the precipice of a potential war between Russia and the Ukraine, the UNHRC turns its focus to……….Israel.

The UNHRC has set up an inquiry into the flare up between Israel and Hamas during May of 2021. Heading up this inquiry will be Navi Pillay, a South African jurist who served as the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008 to 2014. 

Mockery of Justice. Appointed to chair the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) inquiry into alleged abuses of Palestinians,  retired South African judge and former UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay from South Africa – who has backed sanctions against Israel in the past  – is justly accused of anti-Israel bias and is facing demands to step down.

Pillay, who is mandated to be impartial, has a long history of anti-Israel rhetoric and this has prompted watchdog, UN Watch, to submit a 30-page complaint to the UNHRC alerting them to the fact that she had not disclosed her previous prejudicial statements.

Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of UN Watch says:

 “It is astonishing that the United Nations appointed an individual as the supposedly impartial chair of an inquiry immediately after she declared one of the parties guilty in the very controversies that are at issue in the investigation .By heading this inquiry, despite having repeatedly declared Israel guilty of precisely the crimes that she is supposed to investigate, Navi Pillay embodies the injustice of the UN and its human rights council when it comes to the selective treatment of the Jewish state.”

Demonstrable Bias. Accusing the chair of the UN commission of inquiry into the May 2021 conflict between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas, international lawyer Hillel C. Neuer, the Executive Director of UN Watch (above), has called for Navi Pillay to resign for violating UN rules of impartiality, notably her frequent prejudice against the Jewish state.

While the inquiry is mandated to examine “systematic discrimination” on the basis of race, ethnicity or national origin, in June 2020 Navi Pillay signed a petition, organized by the South African Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (SA BDS) coalition, entitled: “Sanction Apartheid Israel!”

In a May 2021 lecture, Pillay described Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as “inhuman”. She compared Israel to Apartheid South Africa, and defended the systematic singling-out of Israel under a targeted agenda item at the UN Human Rights Council.

Apartheid is now being declared a crime against humanity in the Rome Statute, and it means the enforced segregation of people on racial lines, and that is what is happening in Israel,” said Pillay in November 2017.

Neuer continues:

 “Never throughout her UN tenure did Pillay use such dismissive language regarding any other country—not even against serial abusers such as China, Russia, Iran, Syria or North Korea. From her statements, it is clear that in Pillay’s eyes, Israel is a cruel and oppressive colonizer, and a racist regime. Her narrative of who is the villain is set in stone. Ms. Pillay has long ago made up her mind. Asking Navi Pillay to head an inquiry examining Israel is like asking a vegetarian to review a steakhouse. When it comes to Israel, as our legal brief demonstrates, Pillay is the complete opposite of impartial. The legal test is the appearance of bias, and there’s no doubt that Pillay fails the test. We are therefore calling on her to do the right thing, and to resign immediately.”

The UNHRC have to date, stood by their appointment of Pillay.

The examples shown above clearly demonstrate that Israel’s detractors, while seeking to appear concerned about social justice and human rights, have a greater agenda in place – the continued labelling of Israel as a pariah state, to be excluded from the family of nations.

As the Muslim world continues to open up to rapprochement and normalization with the Jewish state and the social justice warriors continue with their efforts to scupper peace, it is increasingly evident who the true progressives are.

Young Israelis and Emiratis meet online after peace deal – BBC News

Education and the thought police

This article is feature in Lay of the Land:

The Thought Police are eroding history bringing us to a cultural tipping point

By Rolene Marks

There is a song that contains the following lyrics, “we don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control, no dark sarcasm in the classroom, hey teachers, leave them kids alone! All in all we’re just another brick in the wall.” Yes, you know the one.

The thought control police are everywhere these days. Hardly a day goes by when news hasn’t broken about some or other cultural icon being cancelled because it is “offensive”. Cartoon skunk, Pepe le Pew is a misogynist (reminder, he is a CARTOON SKUNK), M&M’s are not diverse enough (yes, I know you also think about diversity when scoffing a candy treat), Mr. Potato Head and a whole host of others, both fictional and real have been given their marching orders.

It seems that the fictional works or George Orwell in the classic book 1984 are coming to pass.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the massive whoopsie that Whoopi Goldberg made on her TV show, “The View”.  Her comments about the Holocaust not being about race but rather “two groups of white people fighting each other” exposed not just a fault line of how critical race theory is permeating news and media but also the glaring lack of education about the Shoah.

Lost Opportunity. When ABC simply suspended Whoopi Goldberg rather than engage in serious conversation about the Holocaust anchored on why her comments were false and offensive, the news network missed an opportunity to educate.

What started the brouhaha was a discussion centred on the McMinn County school board in Tennessee wanting to remove the iconic Holocaust-based book, Maus, from the eighth-grade curriculum. There were concerns about sexual content and language but also that the “US was not painted in a positive light”.

A Zoom meeting was held between the author of the book, Art Speigelman, members of the board and concerned parents. One board member commented:

What we need is a book that shows the patriotism we can proudly feel for having liberated the Jews from the camps.” Spiegelman pointed out that the US was reluctant to join the war and put a stop to the persecution of Jews, and that it was the Russians who liberated Auschwitz, where his father had been held.

Scared of a Mouse. The iconic Holocaust based book and the only graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize, Art Spiegelman’s Mausfell foul of a school board in Tennessee, USA that wanted it removed from the school syllabus concerned that the “US was not painted in a positive light”. 

Even if they say they’re willing to teach the Holocaust, they want a fuzzier, warmer, gentler Holocaust that shows how great the Americans were,” Speigelman said.

This is a dangerous world. It’s getting more dangerous. Are you going to try to confront it in a way that’s useful, or hide your head in myths and stories that are heartwarming?” he said.

There is no “easy” way to teach the Holocaust.  This most brutal genocide of the Jews of Europe needs to be taught in all its brutality.

I am not a fan of cancel culture. I believe it destroys important opportunities to educate people by cutting off discourse. It also effectively cancels a channel for the person who has erred to learn from their mistakes and do right by those they have offended.

Brutal Revelations. From a page in Maus, which represents Jews as mice, Germans as cats, Poles as pigs, Americans as dogs, the British as fish, the French as frogs, and the Swedish as deer.

ABC, by suspending Whoopi and not engaging in any further conversation about the Holocaust and why her comments were so offensive, missed the opportunity to educate. They effectively swept the issue under carpet and sent her to the naughty corner.

Goldberg is back at The View, promising to have those “uncomfortable discussions”. No comment whether or not she had engaged in any Holocaust based education during her suspension. What a waste of two weeks that could have involved speaking to survivors, educators and perhaps Speigelman himself.

The revision and reframing of history to push agendas is extremely worrying. Statues have been toppled in cities around the world unless the subjects have unimpeachable records. The mob have come for Thomas Jefferson, cancelled Abraham Lincoln and are gunning for Winston Churchill amongst others. No leader is absolutely perfect but now would be a good time to remind the thought police that if it weren’t for Churchill who led the defeat of the Nazis, the alternative would have been devastating.

Age of Outrage. Joe Rogan, Sharon Osbourne, Whoopi Goldberg and Ellen DeGeneres are just some of the celebrity talk show hosts to land in hot water in recent months. (Getty/Joe Rogan Experience/Spotify/CBS)

We only have to look at the whole discussion around Spotify podcaster Joe Rogan and those trying to deplatform him to see how divergent voices are shut down. Whether or not we agree or disagree with his views on Coved-19 or any other topic, don’t we have a right to decide for ourselves?

I recall some of my own experiences while doing my degree in International Relations when I lived in South Africa. I had to hand in an assignment in my International Law class that was a study of the Second Lebanon war. The case study in question left out pertinent points about Hezbollah firing Katyusha rockets at Israeli civilians. Basically the case study stated that Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and the response from the IDF was to flatten parts of Lebanon. When I confronted my professor, I was told “this is a South African university and we are only interested in a South African perspective”. So much for evidentiary support for my argument! Certainly explains a few things about South African foreign policy vis a vis Israel!

These are not the sole examples I can think of. Every day brings new examples of lack of education and thought control. Some days it is gender issues, other days it is the Middle East (you should hear the experts on THAT!) or the pandemic and so on.

We are at a critical juncture in education when agendas trump history and dissenting voices on certain topics are being shut down in favour of a herd think mentality.

It brings me back to the song I referenced at the beginning. We do need an education, it is not thought control, it is simply understanding and learning about the past in all its painful context so that we can reflect and move towards the future, hopefully as better, more tolerant human beings.

Roro on CNA (Channel News Asia) Israeli Efforts to Develop Alternative Energy Solutions

Israel is looking for alternatives to fossil fuels and hydrogen looks like a great alternative. Watch some of the groundbreaking developments here:

The Eternal Scapegoats

This article is featured in Lay of the Land:

Recent alarming statistics report that 2021 was the most antisemitic year in over a decade and with sham reports such as the one issued by Amnesty International this week, it’s about to get worse.

There are some things that we can be absolutely certain of -death, taxes and if there is any kind of international upheaval, Jews will be blamed. It is not a new phenomenon; it has been a fact throughout the ages. Jews have been blamed for the plague, financial crashes, stealing the blood or organs of non-Jews, running the world, poisoning the wells and so many more ugly catastrophes throughout history.

If we were running the world, we are doing a pretty shoddy job of it – especially in the media department.

It comes as no surprise that a recent report conducted by the World Zionist Organisation (WZO) as well as the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) have found that 2021 was the most antisemitic year in over a decade.

Rolene Marks, Co-Founder of Lay of the Land discusses rise in antisemitism on i24 News

There is hardly a day that goes by without reports of the latest antisemitic assault – verbal or physical. In the report published by the WZO and JAFI it was noted that at least 10 incidents happen per day. These are incidents that we know about – what about those that aren’t reported or fail to make the headlines?

It has come as no surprise that Jews are routinely scapegoated. In the last two years as the global pandemic raged around the world, this latest iteration of antisemitism has seen Jews blamed for the invention of Covid-19 in order to create the vaccines and ultimately profit from them. The internet is filled with conspiracy theories involving Jews and flyers espousing these very tropes have surfaced in Florida, Illinois, California and other states. Routine comparisons between green passports, vaccine mandates and lockdowns to the Holocaust are an everyday occurrence and have even surfaced in the upper echelons of various governments. Germany has instituted a crack-down on any protests that involve wearing yellow stars that resemble those that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust so that they could be identified. No, the requirement to Netflix and chill is NOT comparable to Anne Frank’s experience of having to hide in a cramped attic away from the Gestapo! Lifesaving vaccines are NOT the equivalent to Mengele’s experiments and a green pass is not the equivalent to having to wear a yellow star! Let’s all say this as one – the Holocaust is only comparable to the Holocaust and nothing else!

In May 2021, Israel engaged in Operation Guardians of the Wall, an 11-day defensive military campaign to protect citizens against an onslaught of rockets and projectiles fired from terror entities in the Gaza Strip. Every time there is a flare up between Israel and Hamas-led terror entities, the conflict is imported around the world and Diaspora communities become targets. This is not the first time this has happened but the language was much more extreme. There were more recorded violent attacks and threats of violence including calls to “Fuck the Jews, rape their women” in London and hardly a community was left unscathed.

 Hitler made his views about Jews as a race well known in this quote on the front page of the book, Maus.

The tsunami of hatred has not abated – it has only become more mainstream.

Israel’s decades long and complex conflict with her Palestinian neighbours is increasingly seen through the lens of race-driven identity politics. The dangerously myopic lens where Israelis are seen as white Jews versus Palestinians, who are people of colour, and on the spectrum of so called white privilege, Jews are seen to be at the pinnacle.

Identity politics can be extremely dangerous and this past week we have seen this manifest in two destructive incidents.

Amnesty International, the once venerated human rights organization demonstrated yet again their obsessive hatred of Israel by releasing a report that condemns Israel since its inception as practicing apartheid both internally by “successive administrations” and in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They go as far as to reinvent the definition of apartheid and abdicate Hamas and the Palestinian Authority of any and all responsibility in the conflict. By their definition, Israel as the nation state of the Jews should be dismantled and by their call for a ban on arms sales, left (almost) unable to defend ourselves. The US Department of State and Jewish organisations across the spectrum including JStreet, the ADL and others roundly reject this dangerous report.

This obsession with painting Israel as a pariah state is not new for Amnesty International. In fact, it was one of the main protagonists at the UN Durban Conference against Racism in 2001, which saw the NGO advocate for the campaign to paint Israel as a pariah state, guilty of the crimes of Apartheid and to be excluded from the family of nations.

It is not just in the NGO forum but in the mainstream media as well.

Remember when actress Whoopi Goldberg (she of the culturally appropriated last name) was famous for her iconic roles in the movies Ghost, Sister Act and others? No? Neither do I. Instead this once beloved thespian is now more famous for being one of the panel of highly opinionated women on the ABC network show, The View. The show is famous for its format of co-hosts screaming at each other about the topic of the day but it was the show on Monday that really took the cake.

A big Whoopsie! Whoopi Goldberg’s comments about the Holocaust and race discussed here.

During their “Hot Topics” sessions the ladies decided to discuss the famous Holocaust-based graphic novel, Maus, been removed from the school curriculum in Tennessee for “sexual content and strong language”. A discussion about the Holocaust ensued. “Let’s be truthful about it,” she said. “The Holocaust isn’t about race… It’s about man’s inhumanity to man, that’s what it’s about.” When another panelist suggested that it was “about white supremacy”, Goldberg – who is not Jewish, and whose birthname is Johnson – forcefully responded: “These are two white groups of people… Let’s talk about it for what it is. It’s how people treat each other. It’s a problem.”

Part of a bigger campaign? Dr Einat Wilf connects the dots on these events in this tweet.

Oof! Goldberg apologized after a conversation with Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL and to date ABC has suspended her and Yad Vashem has invited her to visit for educational purposes.

But the lingering damage is dangerous. In today’s world where identity politics is rife and Jewish identity diluted because of perceptions about privilege and race, the combination of this and the propensity to scapegoat Jews and their nation state for the ills of the world, is a damning indictment on society with very, very worrying consequences.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Ire

This is featured in Lay of the Land:

Harry Potter star and Gringotts Goblins create an uproar to rival the Dementors

I think we can all agree that over the last two years, the world has gone slightly mad. We are scarcely into the first month of 2022 and I fear it has gone full tilt off its jolly rocker!

I never thought Harry Potter movie stars or Goblins would ever make their way into my writing repertoire; but here we are. Far from it being the stuff of fantasy, a series of extraordinary events have occurred in the last few weeks that beggars closer inspection and debate. We need to don our own metaphorical sorting hats to sift through what is genuine antisemitism – and what are desperate for attention social justice posts driven by naiveté and agendas rather than knowledge.

The year had barely got off to a start when news broke that Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies shared a post in solidarity with the Palestinians on her Instagram page to her 64 million followers. This immediately resulted in an uproar on social media and a pile on between supporters on both sides. The verbal smack downs could put a Womping Willow to shame!

From Screen to Scream. An uproar on social media followed Emma Watson’s shift from the labyrinths of  Hogwarts into the quagmire of the Middle East with an Instagram posting to her 64 million followers.

Now let me be very clear – there is nothing wrong with showing solidarity with the Palestinians. Most Israelis want our neighbours to have better leadership and living conditions and nowhere in the post was there any anti-Israel sentiment expressed. It must also be made clear that Watson “sold” her Instagram feed to an unnamed “feminist collective”. Watson is a vocal supporter of feminist issues; but the reasons for the uproar are pretty simple – but can have quite destructive consequences.

The post in question contained the strapline “Solidarity is a Verb” – (well, actually it is a noun) but grammatical error aside, the meaning behind it was very clear. Don’t just talk about solidarity – demonstrate it by being activists.

You don’t need to be a wizard to figure out why famous celebrity muggles are jumping on to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict bandwagon.

Being seen to be “activists” on social media drives up their credibility as “social justice warriors” and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is well known enough to offer them high returns on very little investment. In other words, no in-depth knowledge about the facts and complexities of this decades old conflict need be known to raise the ire of their followers, who themselves have little, if any knowledge.

Get Real.  The Israel-Palestine debate is confusing enough without the social media rants of  ‘graduates’ from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

If genuine concern was a factor, we would be exhausted with images of virtually all conflicts in the world.

Celebrities with massive followings have a responsibility to those followers. Unless they are well versed in the nuances and complexities of the conflict, they would be better served to not engage in this kind of activity. They could use their incredible platforms to talk about solutions or engage in constructive and productive dialogue but instead, the kind of activity seen by the likes of Watson, Susan Sarandon, Mark Ruffalo and others; only sows more division and hate that sometimes results in dire consequences. Over this past weekend, a dangerous hostage situation at a synagogue in Texas was just one more example of the consequences of the spreading of hate and misinformation. I did notice that the usual protagonists like Mark Ruffalo, Susan Sarandon and other Hollywood experts on the Middle East had nothing to say about the Texas synagogue hostage situation. Reeks of hypocrisy.

If we thought that we had enough of Harry Potter shenanigans, we were wrong.

The year started with a drubbing for Harry Potter author and creator, JK Rowling.

Former late night talk show host turned podcaster, Jon Stewart, who is Jewish made the following comments on a recent podcast talking about the Harry Potter movies:

“It was one of those things where I saw it on the screen and I was expecting the crowd to be like, ‘Holy s**t, she did not, in a wizarding world, just throw Jews in there to run the f*****g underground bank.”

Stewart also implied the story deliberately stereotyped Jews, saying:

JK Rowling was like, ‘can we get these guys to run our bank? It’s a wizarding world, we can ride dragons, you can have a pet owl, but who should run the bank? Jews.’

The comments referred to the portrayal of the Goblins who run Gringott’s Bank for Wizards. It is important to note that JK Rowling neither directed nor designed the production of her movies; or described what Gringott’s Goblins specifically look like in her books. Now I know that for many, the Goblins look like horrific, antisemitic stereotypes straight out of the pages of Der Sturmer circa 1933; and we are still portrayed like this today; but it certainly was not Rowling’s intentions at all.

This has many asking the question if the portrayal of the Goblins was intentionally focused to look like Jews- or is there so much internalized antisemitism that people view Jews as Goblins.

One example of a tweet supporting the UK Jewish community from JK Rowling

In fact, JK Rowling has been a vocal advocate against antisemitism, when few, if any high profile figures have been. JK Rowling was extremely supportive to British Jewry during the horrific period when the UK Labour party openly engaged in antisemitism. The author took to social media platform Twitter to express her outrage at Labour party members supporting then-leader, Jeremy Corbyn; and showed her solidarity with a community that felt an increasing sense of fear.

To allege that Rowling would do anything antisemitic is preposterous so what could be the reason behind this latest attempt to “cancel” this hugely successful author?

Rowling has expressed very strong views about her belief in biological gender. It is important to note that she has also advocated for the rights of the transgender community but it hasn’t stopped many, including Harry Potter movie stars, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint  publicly distancing themselves from Rowling and accusing her of being a “TERF” (trans-exclusionary radical feminist). Talk about casting an invisibility spell! One does wonder what kind of careers they would have had without the massive movie franchise…..

Rowling wrote a lengthy explanation in this essay:

This latest attempt to cancel Rowling by the Wokerati is not just worrying because it has created false accusations of antisemitism; but also because it seems if one charge is not enough, the purveyors of cancel culture will just keep reaching for others until something sticks and the target is rendered canceled. What is particularly interesting is that the UK left-leaning publication, The Guardian, published a poll asking readers to vote who they thought the most influential person of 2021 was. The answer was overwhelmingly JK Rowling. The Guardian responded by removing the poll quicker than the flick of a wand and the chant of “Evanesco”!*

It is dangerous when opposing activists use Jews and the accusation of antisemitism as the proverbial political football to try and cancel the other, in this particular case, JK Rowling for her views on biological gender.

The Write Stuff. The year started with a drubbing on social media for Harry Potter author JK Rowling who has been a vocal advocate against antisemitism in the UK.  (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Emma Watson and JK Rowling scenarios are interesting studies in how we perceive and react to antisemitism. No doubt there will be many reading this article who will vehemently disagree with me and that is absolutely welcome.

It is my opinion that we have to be careful not to use the label of antisemitism so liberally for then everything is antisemitic and the veracity of true hate crimes goes unnoticed or unchallenged.

Sometimes goblins are just goblins. When it comes to antisemitism, it is better to examine closely than to sip irresponsibly from the goblet of ire.

*In preparation for this article, the author spent far too much time reading about Harry Potter spells.

No NY Times, Israelis Are Not Miserable!

This currently appears in Lay of the Land:

A recent New York Times op-ed concludes that Israelis are “miserable”, “divided” and other negative adjectives. Quite the contrary, we are happy, because we know what that costs!

The New York Times is veribbled (Yiddish for angry) with Israel. Somewhere along the line, a decision has been taken to criticise and deride the Jewish state at every given opportunity. Now, there is nothing wrong with criticism when it is legitimate; but the NYT takes this to an obsessive level.

Several weeks ago, New York Times journalist, Patrick Kingsley wrote an article about his trip to Israel. Far from musings about religious sites or vibrant night life, Kingsley’s article “Whose Promised Land?” came to the conclusions that we Israelis are miserable. Sad. Verkrimpt. (uptight) I believe he also used the word “divided” and described our cities and towns as “garish”.

Mind Made Up. The New York Times correspondent Patrick Kingsley  describes Israel in his front-page article subheads as a “”Nation divided” and a  “nation founded on contradictions”.

It was apparent that Kingsley was very selective about who he published in his article, preferring instead to push a decidedly negative narrative. Israelis responded on social media platform, Twitter, by sharing pictures of themselves and their families enjoying life in Israel with the hashtag, #sadsadIsrael. Kingsley got schooled in Israeli chutzpah, pride – and perhaps the people and sites he neglected to include in his article!

Taking aim at Israeli towns and cities, Kingsley called them “garish”. While Israel may lack stately architecture by American or European standards, our desert paradise boasts cities like Jerusalem that date back to King David and whose beauty is in its history and ancient stones or modern day Tel Aviv with its distinct Bauhaus buildings which are World Heritage Sites. The simple, unpretentious beauty of Israel is part of its charm.

Israel may have many problems, just like any other country, but Israelis are happy. The Annual Happiness Index consistently ranks Israel within the top 15 countries with the happiest populations.

Off Track. Rather than revealing to its readers a balanced presentation of Israel today, the Patrick Kingsley NY Times’ front-page article takes devious detours that reflect the paper’s bias and cynicism towards the Jewish state.

Perhaps this happiness stems from the ability of Israelis to enjoy robust debate – and arguments. Opinions are welcome here and the trend of “cancel culture” so prevalent around the world is virtually non-existent here. We all have strong political opinions – and are not afraid to voice them!

It reminds me of the joke. For lack of exact memory, I will paraphrase – The President of the USA is speaking to the Prime Minister of Israel and discussing their respective countrymen and the Israeli PM says, “you may be the President of 100 million Americans but I am the Prime Minister of 6 million prime ministers!”

It may be decade’s old but still rings true today. Everyone is an expert on anything and perfectly content to share our unsolicited advice.

Smorgasbord of Styles. Escaping the NY Times attention, Tel Aviv is an exciting amalgam of  early twenty century styles of architecture juxtaposed with the ultra-modern, reflecting the character of its residents that cherishes the past while embracing the future.

Israelis will engage in fiery arguments, complete with passionate gesticulation; and even if we vehemently disagree, we will still find time to sit down for hummus and a beer together. Life is too precious and sacred to carry a grudge over a differing opinion.

We have an ability to laugh and poke fun at ourselves that is refreshing. What Kingsley sees as divisive, we see as passionate expression.

A few days later, another article taking aim at the centrality of Zionism to Jewish worship was published. The modern day Zionist movement may be political in nature but the references to Zion are ancient and imbued in our religious text. The article crowed that the next generation Jewish clergy were looking at ways to NOT include references to Zion in their services. It is almost as if the NY Times is not content with just insulting the modern state of Israel, they are steadily eroding our ancient ties to the land.

True ‘Face’ of Israel. Despite the NY Times painting a bleak picture of Israel,  the 2021 World Happiness Report found Israelis to be among the happiest in the world and ranked Israel as the 12th happiest out of 149 countries over the past three years.

As I write this, happily ensconced in my home in Modiin, a city central to the story of Chanukah which we are currently observing, I am reminded of the brave Maccabees who fought yet another people, hell bent on the destruction of the Jews. Chanukah is a very Zionist holiday! Kingsley would probably find Modiin, with its Jerusalem stone buildings and careful planning, “garish” and unexciting, but to its residents, the city serves as a daily reminder that we walk in the footsteps of our ancient Jewish heroes who are central to a holiday that celebrates light and joy.

Modern Modiin. Hardly “garish” as the NY Times correspondent describes Israel’s young cities, Modiin, where this writer lives, is modern  with fascinating links to Jewish history dating back to the Maccabees and Bar Kochba. Modi’in is the birthplace of the Chanukah story.

There are many reasons why Israelis are happy – great weather, robust and vibrant democracy and respect for personal freedoms are just some.

As a country that has endured war, terror and continued calls for our destruction, we understand only too well, the importance of happiness and the value of life. We are too familiar with sorrow. Our happiness has been forged through enduring sorrow and pain and far too many of us have lost people we know and love to the ravages of war and terror.

Israelis live life in defiant happiness. This might grate on the nerves of the New York Times and their correspondents who are looking for any excuse to deride Israel. Perhaps if Kingsley dropped the agenda and engaged Israelis, he would have written a different article – one that celebrated diversity, differences, ancient ties to sacred land and yes, simple and uncomplicated cities, each with its own personality.

Israel is not perfect – no country is – but to blatantly disregard the character traits and ties that make this tiny state so special, well, that is just sad.

Israel Unmasked. A world leader in vaccinations, following the lifting of its outdoor mask mandate, Israelis take to the streets in Tel Aviv showing its people in all their colourful diversity, a characteristic that escaped the attention of the New York Times’ correspondent. (photo Amir Cohen/Reuters)