Middle Eastern Winds Blow into Africa

This article is featured in Lay of the Landhttps://layoftheland.online/2021/03/02/middle-eastern-winds-blow-into-africa/

A response to a recent opinion piece by Soraya Dadoo on IOL titled: ’Time to call out AU members on Palestine’.

The winds of change are blowing through the Middle East and the trajectory is heading down into the African continent. More and more, African leaders are establishing bilateral ties with the State of Israel, realizing that cooperation is beneficial for the people of their countries. They are realizing that this can be achieved without having to be partisan; and make a choice between supporting either Israel or the Palestinians. Leaders of African states who sincerely would like a peaceful solution to the conflict and perhaps contribute to negotiations, are making overtures to the Jewish state, by normalizing ties like Sudan and Morocco or moving their embassies to the capital, Jerusalem, like Malawi and Equatorial Guinea. Trade and cooperation between the continent and Israel is growing and during this difficult global pandemic, Israel has confirmed it will give vaccines to African countries that include Ethiopia, Chad, Kenya, Uganda, Guinea  and more, in addition to those they are , but not legally obliged, to give to Palestinians.

A map of Africa shown to US-Jewish leaders by PM Netanyahu at a conference in Jerusalem, February 18, 2019. Since then Morocco and Sudan have joined those countries that have relationships with Israel. Mali and Niger are in the process. (TOI staff)

It seems almost natural that African countries would seek to build bridges with Israel. Many of these countries have a historical and political trajectory that mirrors that of the Jewish State and Israel is perfectly poised to help on many levels. Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism wrote about what he saw as two peoples whose mutual histories of slavery and colonisation mirrored each other.

“There is still one other question arising out of the disaster of nations which remains unsolved to this day, and whose profound tragedy, only a Jew can comprehend. This is the African question. Just call to mind all those terrible episodes of the slave trade, of human beings who, merely because they were black, were stolen like cattle, taken prisoner, captured and sold. Their children grew up in strange lands, the objects of contempt and hostility because their complexions were different. I am not ashamed to say, though I may expose myself to ridicule for saying so, that once I have witnessed the redemption of the Jews, my people, I wish also to assist in the redemption of the Africans.”

Today his wishes are coming true as many African countries call on Israel for help with security, economic, medical, agricultural and social challenges. Prime Minister Netanyahu has visited the continent more than previous Israeli leaders, at the invitation of African leaders and speaks of warm relations between countries. https://www.youtube.com/embed/6q6Vdjejeak?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparent

Sadly, there are still those, such as some African Union states, who remain fixated on division, having an almost pathological hatred of Israel that any positive steps that could help create frameworks for positive ties are anathema.  They would rather focus on a few resolutions adopted by the African Union that are not unanimous and have no bearing on the reality on the ground than engage in discourse and discussions about how to assist both Israelis and Palestinians in brokering peace. https://www.youtube.com/embed/92tAFS792Us?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparent

One such example is a recent resolution adopted by the AU which refers to the Hamas-initiated “March of Return” which took place on a weekly basis for over a year, following the moving of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The resolution manages to ignore the incendiary rhetoric of Hamas and focuses on the “killing of 62 protesters”. This refers to the infamous March of Return campaign initiated by Hamas who using their civilians as cannon fodder, launched weekly protests on Israel’s border with Gaza, with the aim of averting attention from an internal crisis but also the more nefarious infiltration into Israeli communities with the intention of either kidnapping or killing civilians. Of the 62 “protesters” that were killed, the vast majority were Hamas and other terror group operatives. https://www.youtube.com/embed/_j2MHs6m4X4?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparent

These weekly protests stopped, having failed to achieve their intended goals – and also because the world has grown increasingly weary of this approach by those who choose to gamble with the lives of their civilians and pursue violence at every opportunity.

For the African Union as an institution or South Africa, one of their most vociferous member states, to play a meaningful in helping to broker or negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinians, perhaps more cooperation and listening is needed and less recrimination, politics of blame and feckless accusations by those who push a blatant agenda.

And Then They Came for Us

This is currently featured in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/02/23/and-then-they-came-for-us/

Big Tech censorship is hurting the freedom of speech.

One of the great barometers of any democracy is the right to free speech. The freedom of speech is ingrained and protected by law or constitutions in any self-respecting democracy. Many of us are familiar with the tenet made famous by Voltaire, “I disapprove with what you say but I will defend to death your right to say it”. The ability to engage in polite albeit robust discourse, where we may disagree with each other is one of life’s great intellectual pursuits.

Today, many of these opportunities to engage in discourse have moved on to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and the like. Social media provides an excellent opportunity for us not just to engage; but to educate as well and that is something that Lay of the Land is committed to. We are not only focused on bringing you excellent, original content and news headlines from Israel but we want to introduce the world to those stories. We, like many, rely on these platforms to help our writers and content receive the exposure they deserve.

In the last few months, an ominous trend has surfaced. “Big Tech” companies (this includes the giants like Facebook, Twitter and others) have started to restrict the online exposure of any pages, groups and individuals who may post “political” content. Of course another reason could be to try and hold off for more advertising, although the former is more likely the reason that people are being censored. Big Tech company owners certainly do not need to be making more money!

As the US election race between Trump and Biden heated up, so did the engagement on social media platforms. This was one of the most polarizing elections in many, many years. Debate on social media veered quickly from differences in opinion to all out abuse from both sides.

Social media giants Facebook, Twitter and others (also referred to as “Big Tech”) took the decision to censor or de-platform many who they believed flouted the laws on common decency. Many of these people were far rightists and it took moments for them to find alternative platforms like Parler to congregate. They were quickly de-platformed by platform hosts like Apple, Amazon and others.

Freedom of speech is sacrosanct in a democracy and one hopes that people are able to make up their minds about issues, no matter how loathsome they might find the other side.

There is a fundamental difference between hate speech and free speech. Any speech that endorses violence or hatred against opposing viewpoints or minority communities needs to be dealt with in the strongest terms and within the law.

In the age of extremely short and competitive news cycles, the importance of balanced reporting has never been more critical. Social media has become another arm for news networks and journalists to share information and a good barometer of measuring where public opinion is holding. Sometimes the barometer shows high temperatures!

The problem is that Big Tech companies are not too crazy about networks or journalists that do not meet their increasingly more “woke” agendas. They have embarked on a policy of restricting groups, individuals or business that they think may be overtly political and have descriptions that raise an alert in their algorithms. Oh how I miss the days we dealt with people rationally and did not have to fight an algorithm!

One prime example of this is Facebook. In the last few weeks, the social media giant has clamped down on groups, pages and businesses. This has become personal.

Many of us, including Lay of the Land rely on social media platforms to grow exposure – and also to educate. Our exposure and reach has been significantly impacted and restricted – as have many fundraising organisations who have felt the pinch because certain wording in their description may not fit in with Facebook’s monitoring algorithms.

Silhouettes are seen in front of the logo of US social media Facebook in Brussels, February 14, 2020. (Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

The words Zionism may not be immune.

In a leaked email dated 10 November 2020 and written by a Facebook employee; hinted that they may review their policy on allowing the term “Zionist.” Pro-Palestinian groups argue that such a move would endanger free speech on Israel issues.

In the email dated Nov. 10, the unidentified employee wrote to an unidentified source: “We are looking at the question of how we should interpret attacks on ‘Zionists’ to determine whether the term is used as a proxy for attacking Jewish or Israeli people. The term brings with it much history and various meanings, and we are looking to increase our understanding of how it is used by people on our platform”. Only this policy significantly impacts the ability to explain and educate about Zionism as well. It is ironic that the social media platform that is now acting as the thought police; also received a “D” rating for banning Holocaust denial.

Facing Off. In response to the Australian government introducing a law that will make tech giants pay for news content, Facebook responded by banning all Australian news content from its platform taken the ‘battle’ to a whole new level.
 

And then there is Australia. Last week Australians searching Facebook for their news updates were instead shown notifications saying ‘no posts’ were available. Attempting to share news links brought up a message saying, ‘this post can’t be shared’.

This was Facebook’s petulant response to a policy initiated by the Australian government to charge the social media giant for news content on their site, an agreement that has been reached with Google.

But the shock move also stopped some government messages from being shared, including from emergency services providing essential information on the Covid-19 pandemic, fires, and help for victims of domestic violence. It also impacted on various charities; foodbanks and at least one missing person’s page were also caught up in the ban.

Other countries weighed in, showing their support for Australia. US President Biden has also commented on the “arrogance” of Big Tech. The United Kingdom and European Union states are also debating instituting the same legislation in their countries. Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, accused Facebook of committing an “act of war on a sovereign state”.

Facebook v Australia. This isn’t cricket. Front pages of Australian newspapers featuring stories about Facebook in Sydney, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. In a surprise retaliatory, Facebook blocked Australians from sharing news stories, escalating a fight with the government over whether powerful tech companies should have to pay news organizations for content. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

It is extremely dangerous when Big Tech becomes powerful enough to wage an information war on sovereign states. We as news consumers and free thinking human beings deserve the right and access to information which gives us the ability to make informed decisions.  Big Tech companies, worth billions, certainly can afford to pay the tariffs!

Perhaps Facebook could spend their energy in monitoring hate speech more effectively than dictating what information people should be allowed to access.

This time it has become personal. Draconian, unchecked censorship by Big Tech who are flexing their muscles; is hurting businesses and steadily eroding free speech.

First they came for the politicians, then they came for those that they disagree with, then they came for the sovereign states. And then they came for us.

The question is when will this end?

Casualties of Conflict

This article is currently featured in Lay of the Land:

The frightening phenomenon of Palestinian Child Soldiers

he United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)  https://www.youtube.com/embed/wNbWoIO5Vv4?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparent Video clip revealing kids receiving military training at a Hamas summer camp.

Children are usually the first casualties of conflict. The world is currently commemorating Child Soldiers Week – however it is more a “blink and you miss it” occasion as this frightening phenomenon doesn’t seem to feature high on the list of global priorities and has a fancy coloured ribbon or trendy hashtag attached.  In the Middle East, this is not restricted to victims of conflict but also another phenomenon which is more often than not ignored. Palestinian children, often robbed of their rights to live normal childhoods and dreams and aspirations of future careers, are forced to become child soldiers by terror groups like Hamas, Palestinian Jihad, Fatah and others who force them into the frontlines. This is a flagrant abuse of their personal and human rights, not to mention their safety. https://www.youtube.com/embed/aC9skvsAHYY?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparent Taught in TerrorA horrifying spotlight on Palestinian Child Soldier Week 2020.

As  defined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states, a “child soldier” is:

 “…any person below 18 years of age who is or who has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys and girls, used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes”.

The definition is not limited to a child who is taking or has taken a direct part in hostilities.

Palestinian baby in the colours of Hamas perched for the cameras on top of tires about to be burnt in a protest at the Gaza border with Israel.

Palestinian children in particular, are extremely vulnerable to being exploited.  Palestinian children grow up on a steady diet of incitement and hatred; indoctrinated into their impressionable young minds from an early age. The Palestinian children learn from an early age, the phrase ” اذبح اليهود”  (“Slaughter the Jews”) in Arabic.  This refers specifically to “Jews” which includes Israelis.  That wording is very deliberate – and also refers to Jews outside of Israel.

The chilling images of cartoonish Mickey Mouse type characters like Farfur the mouse or Nahul the bee on children’s television shows have shown us that abuse of this kind starts young. This indoctrination carries on into the formative school years.

God Willing. Assud, the ‘holy war’ rabbit promoting death to Jews under the protection of Allah.

Summer holidays bring with them, an opportunity to go to camp. This is not an opportunity for Palestinian children to learn arts and crafts and sing songs around the campfire. Instead, approximately 10 000 children will be schooled as auxiliaries and militia members and attend grueling basic training boot camps. There, children will learn to march, engage in combat maneuvers, weapon operation, and terrorist tactics, with the intention of carrying out attacks by who they are trained to see as the “enemy”. Their enemy is Israel, Jews and those who identify as Zionists. Their aim is to “wipe out the Zionist entity”. Children are then recruited to the frontline, alongside terror group leaders.

Summer Camp. An inside look at a summer camp in Gaza where the kids are dressed in military fatigues with plastic firearms.

Children from as young as 9 and up to the age of 17 have been pushed into combat, to fight and die alongside the adults. This is not restricted just to engaging in combat – children, as well as the elderly and women are used as human shields and it is not uncommon to hear Hamas and their ilk boasting about the use of their civilians as cannon fodder. While in some cases the youngest of these casualties has been covered up with older, fake ages on casualty lists, Hamas and PIJ have been proud of the teenagers that have been “martyred” in battle. To be “martyred” often means being awarded rock star status with their images on posters around the neighbourhood and streets and other buildings named in their honour.  

Stolen Childhood. A tweeted photo of children playing with toy guns who, it claimed, were attending a Hamas-run pre-school. 

Exploiting their innocence, terror groups have recruited children to become suicide bombers, stabbers or rock throwers. These children often do not fully understand the consequences of this; and believe that they are fulfilling a noble cause.

​Children used as “suicide stabbers” are a tactic often employed by Fatah. Encouraged by an economy of hate; where terrorists and their families are paid monthly stipends and a steady diet of incitement, there has been a significant increase in children being recruited for this. This has been referred to as “pay for slay” and for the Palestinians to show that they are sincere about peace, this practice needs to end. 

Hamas launches a festival in Nablus with symbolic rockets aimed at Israel. (Photo: Atef Safadi)

In order to stab and viciously murder men, women and children at the age of 17, one has to have been brainwashed for years prior to that.

Terror leaders often encourage children to engage in violent riots.  They are taught by radical organizations to throw stones at passing cars and people. This is not an innocuous act; several Israelis have been killed or severely maimed by this kind of action. The “romantic” image of the rock wielding Palestinian against the perceived Israeli Goliath also has very real consequences. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of stone-throwing incidents occur every year at the behest of Palestinian organizations. Children are systematically used as riot fodder. Seen as great occasions of resistance, schools are closed and children are bused to the front lines to be used as a modern day shield-wall.  This was a regular occurrence during the “March of Return” where thousands of Palestinians would riot at the border fence between Israel and Gaza. The disabled were also bused to the frontline and on several occasions, rioters set donkeys alight. Quite often, children are bribed to rush security fences and try to sabotage them. What did this achieve? Absolutely nothing.

Stolen Childhood. A tweeted photo of children playing with toy guns who, it claimed, were attending a Hamas-run pre-school. 

The parents are fully aware and know that their teenage children are in a danger zone and may be severely harmed; but still encourage them; knowing that they may not return home safely.

Children are also used as terror labourers. Terror organisations like Hamas within the Gaza strip have built an underground network of tunnels for the purposes of smuggling weapons and launching attacks on Israeli civilians. These tunnels are usually built with a child labour force, operating in lethal sweatshop conditions. By 2012, over 9 children had been buried alive and killed while digging tunnels and there has been no indication that this practice has stopped.

“Our Children Love Martyrdom”. This Hamas photo glorifies ‘Child Soldier Deaths’ as the highest calling.

Using children as combatants in conflict is one of the grossest forms of child abuse and there needs to be more of an international outcry – and action to put an immediate stop to this practice. Children deserve to enjoy their childhood and their youth without become human weapons of terror. Any sincere path to peace depends on this.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/YIBNRVgq59Y?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparent Hamas indoctrination of Kids: Bombs more precious than children

Vaccination Controversy

This is featured on Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/01/20/vaccination-controversy/

Answering Palestinian Accusations of Racism

Israel is leading the world in the country’s efforts to vaccinate its population. This has not been without criticism from many in the media who believe Israel should assume responsibility for vaccinating the neighbouring Palestinians. The Palestinian Foreign Minister accused Israel of racism for not vaccinating his citizens. TheDaily Mail online, which enjoys one of the largest readerships in the world, published an article featuring the FM’s false narrative.

Founded in 1896, the Daily Mail is the United Kingdom’s highest-circulated daily newspaper. 
 

Lay of the Land Co-Founder, Rolene Marks replies in an open letter:

To the Editor

Your article about Palestinians accusing Israel of being racist with regards to the vaccination roll out refers.

Israel is currently the world leader and has to date vaccinated 27% of our population. Along with this great achievement, has come a certain level of criticism focusing on whether or not Israel is responsible for vaccinating the neighbouring Palestinians. It is extremely important to understand the situation on the ground.

Since the start of the global pandemic, Israel has been cooperating with the Palestinians, ensuring that they receive much needed testing kits, PPE, training and other medical necessities through the relevant authorities, NGO’s and COGAT, the IDF unit responsible. This effort was lauded by UN Special Envoy to the region, Nikolay Mladenov. This has not been without its challenges. Two plane loads of Covid aid from the United Arab Emirates was summarily rejected by the Palestinian Authority “because it was coordinated with Israel and landed at Ben Gurion airport”. This aid was subsequently distributed with the help of the World Health Organisation and UN.

The Israeli government moved decisively and quickly to procure vaccinations as soon as they were able, in order to inoculate our citizens. The roll out has been an exceptional achievement, applauded by many around the world. At the end of December 2020, a Palestinian Health Ministry official stated “we do not need or require help from Israel to procure vaccines. We have our own health ministry and are not an extension of the defense ministry (of Israel).” Israel is on record as stating that while vaccinating our citizens remains the priority, we will help the Palestinians as needed.

Israelis and Palestinians are both signatories to the 1995 Oslo Peace Accords, which awards Palestinians autonomy with their healthcare, including responsibility for vaccines. For Israel to take responsibility for vaccinating the Palestinian population, it would be a violation of this autonomy. This is a clear case of Israel is damned if it does – and damned if it doesn’t. The Palestinians will be receiving Russian Sputnik vaccines in the coming days with the help of the WHO. There should be enough budget in the coffers of the Palestinian Authority for more, seeing that millions of dollars are spent annually ensuring that the salaries and stipends for convicted terrorists and their families are paid.

UAE Covid aid for Palestine lands at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport but is refused  on the grounds according to a Palestinian government source that “Palestinians refuse to be a bridge [for Arab countries] seeking to have normalised ties with Israel.”
 

In the Gaza strip, the situation is more complicated. Gaza is governed by Hamas, who are recognised internationally as terrorist organisation; and an enemy entity of Israel. Aid and training including doctors, specifically not Jewish, has still been sent into the Gaza strip in coordination with the above mentioned NGO’s and COGAT. Hamas, in protest of what they see as insufficient aid, forbade their citizens to seek medical help at a field hospital run by a Christian non-profit last week. This did not make any headlines. Neither did the two rockets, fired from the northern part of the strip towards the Israeli port city of Ashdod. A flagrant waste of good budget that could be used for much needed vaccines. Thank goodness these rockets landed in the sea and not in an apartment or kindergarten as they have in the past.

Accusations of racism, which coincidentally are made AFTER mainstream media criticises Israel are extremely unproductive, unhelpful and devoid of fact. In the interest of a global triumph over a pandemic that has already destroyed so much, please do not let it further erode the integrity of responsible reporting.

Kind regards

Rolene Marks


The article:

Israel is accused of ‘racism’ by Palestinian PM after excluding 4million people in the West Bank and Gaza from its Covid-19 vaccine program

Kristallnacht Comparisons

This article is featured in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/01/13/kristallnacht-comparisons/

There is a startling new trend emerging in the media. Commentators wishing to make a point or push a political agenda are resorting to Holocaust comparisons, in particular Kristallnacht. It is abhorrent and trivializes the experience of the victims of the Holocaust and survivors.

During Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, a synagogue burns in Siegen, Germany. November 10, 1938. (courtesy of Shamash: The Jewish Internet Consortium.)

Several months ago it was CNN anchorwoman, Christiane Amanpour, who drew the comparison between Kristallnacht and the Trump administration.

“This week 82 years ago, Kristallnacht happened,” Amanpour said in the monologue. “It was the Nazis’ warning shot across the bow of our human civilization that led to genocide against a whole identity, and in that tower of burning books, it led to an attack on fact, knowledge, history and truth. After four years of a modern-day assault on those same values by Donald Trump, the Biden-Harris team pledges a return to norms, including the truth.”

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour says she regrets equating President Donald Trump’s tenure to Kristallnacht, an attack on Jews in Nazi Germany seen historically as the Holocaust’s launch.

This resulted in an out pouring of condemnation from Jewish organisations and individuals who were understandably appalled. Amanpour apologized for “juxtaposing the Trump administration with Nazi crimes’ but the gauntlet had been lowered, paving the way for others to do the same.

“I observed the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, as I often do. It is the event that began the horrors of the Holocaust. I also noted President Trump’s attacks on history, facts, knowledge, and truth. I should not have juxtaposed the two thoughts. Hitler and his evils stand alone, of course, in history,” she continued. “I regret any pain my statement may have caused. My point was to say how democracy can potentially slip away, and how we must always zealously guard our democratic values,” Amanpour added.

But there it was. Once the comparison was out and despite the apology, it gave the greenlight to others to follow suit.

Following the violence that took place in Washington DC when a violent mob stormed the Capitol Building, social media platforms have cracked down and removed far-right individuals and groups like QAnon and The Proud Boys from their platforms. They have also cracked down on US President Donald Trump, shutting down his Twitter profile, Facebook and YouTube pages and others. What is strange is that the genocidal Ayatollah Al Khameini from Iran who routinely denies the Holocaust and calls for the eradication of “cancerous” Israel is still allowed a platform. Tech giants Apple, Google and Cloud technology, AWS have also removed platforms like Parler, long seen as a stage for far right rhetoric. The cyber world is purging what they see as far right hate speech. Pity they aren’t purging some anti-Semites….

Some took to the airwaves and to Twitter to lament.

Former Republican Congressman for Iowa, Steve King (known for making racist comments in the past) and Fox News host, Jeanine Pirro, both compared the de-platforming of alt-right voices from social media to Kristallnacht.

“I have lost 8,000 followers on this Twitter account in one day. Apple, Google, Facebook, & others have cancelled many conservatives. Last night was cyber god’s Kristallnacht!” King wrote on Twitter. Um, no.

Jeanine Pirro remarked on air, “They gave us a taste of this pre-election when they suppressed the Hunter Biden story, and now that they’ve won, what we’re seeing is the kind of censorship that is akin to a Kristallnacht,” she said. Sigh.

Pirro tried to qualify her statement. “Although book burning started earlier, Kristallnacht included the destruction of Jewish stores, homes & synagogues containing rare Jewish books & Torahs. My reference was in context of books. The Holocaust was the greatest hate crime the world ever tolerated. I abhor all violence,” she wrote.

Fox News host former New York State judge Jeanine Pirro calls Parler backlash “akin to a Kristallnacht” days after the deadly attempted coup on Capitol Hill.

Fox commentator, Glenn Beck has likened it to a “digital ghetto”. I have no words.

You would think they would know better. Former Governor of California and Terminator icon, Arnold Shwarzenegger, in a recent speech made the comparison of events in Washington DC to Kristallnacht. While he was careful to acknowledge Kristallnacht and explain it in historical context, his speech made me very uncomfortable with the reference. Both the Capitol attack and Kristallnacht, he argued, were the actions of violent groups motivated by lies from their leader. The mob that approached the Capitol, urged on by President Donald Trump earlier that day,  chanted that the election was stolen from him, while Kristallnacht was the work of a group Schwarzenegger called “the Nazi equivalent of the Proud Boys” (a far right, antisemitic group) who responded to the antisemitic libels put forward by Adolf Hitler and his ministers. While the former Governor made some very poignant and powerful points about democracy, invoking Kristallnacht was in the worst possible taste.

In a video posted to Twitter, Arnold Schwarzenegger compared the riot at the Capitol last week to Kristallnacht saying  “My father and our neighbors were misled also with lies, and I know where such lies lead.”
 

What was Kristallnacht?

Kristallnacht also known as the Night of Broken Glass, was a pogrom against Jews carried out by SA (Stormabteilung) paramilitary forces and civilians including Hitler Youth throughout Nazi Germany on 9–10 November 1938. The German authorities looked on without intervening, in fact they encouraged it. The name Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night”) comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings and synagogues were smashed, looted and burnt to the ground. The pretext for the attacks was the assassination of the German Diplomat, Ernst vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old German-born Polish Jew living in Paris. Jews were forced to pay for the damage incurred to their property.

Jewish homes, hospitals and schools were ransacked as attackers demolished buildings with sledgehammers. Rioters destroyed 267 synagogues throughout Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland. Over 7,000 Jewish businesses were damaged or destroyed and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. British historian Martin Gilbert wrote that no event in the history of German Jews between 1933 and 1945 was so widely reported as it was happening, and the accounts from foreign journalists working in Germany sent shock waves around the world.

Citizens of Austria, where Arnold Schwarzenegger grew up, watch in Graz as the Jewish cemetery’s ceremonial hall burns. (US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Dokumentationsarchiv des Oesterreichischen Widerstandes)

Kristallnacht stands alone as a historical event, steeped in hatred that was the precursor to the destruction of two thirds of European Jewry in the Holocaust. The Jews of Europe were hunted down and marked for murder, regardless of age, gender or social strata but simply because they were Jewish. To be Jewish meant you were sentenced to death. There is absolutely no comparison of this to having your social media profile shut down because of your political leanings.

What these comments expose is a glaring ignorance and trivializing of not just the Holocaust and the historic experience of Jews, but the current climate where antisemitism is rising and where Jews are often the targets of not just the far right but the left as well and this is prevalent on social media.

One thing remains clear, the need for Holocaust education has never been more important.

Disproportionate Stupidity?

This article is currently featured in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2020/12/29/disproportionate-stupidity/

The International Committee of the Red Cross Ignores Murder and Rockets to Focus on “Fauda

One of the questions I ask myself when going into my Twitter account is what fresh stupid I will encounter that day. And it never disappoints!

If it is not those whose grasp on the facts is loose to say the least, then it is the never ending parade of conspiracy theories, blame politics and drivel interspersed with some really cool cat memes. Lady Gaga said it perfectly when she referred to social media as “the toilet of the internet”. Yesterday Twitter did not disappoint. The ludicrous tweet came courtesy of the International Red Cross representatives in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Esther Holgen (z”l), mother of 6, brutally killed in a terror attack, 20/12/2020 (Photo: Courtesy of the family).

Completely giving the previous day’s rocket attacks a wide berth and failing to condemn the terror-motivated murder of 52 year old year old mother of six, Esther Holgen, the Red Cross focused instead on singling out the fictional TV show “Fauda” for its “violations of International Human Rights law”.

Did you also just hear the screeching of brakes? I thought so.

“Fauda” is an Israeli television masterpiece that enjoys massive international interest and viewership, including in the Arab world and even by Hamas, the same terrorist thugs portrayed in the hit show who are quite partial to how realistic they are portrayed. “Fauda” (I am still trying to get over the last season – my heart rate has not settled yet!) unites Jews and Arabs in their enjoyment of the show and how it gives a human face to both sides and tells the story of all protagonists in Hebrew and Arabic. It is pure TV entertainment and even though art may sometimes imitate life, it is F.I.C.T.I.O.N!

Who is next? A Game of Thrones for the flagrant use of dragons and sell swords that violate the laws of proportionality and hiring mercenaries? Will it be Outlander for the planning of uprisings against the British Crown? Maybe The Crown for glaring inaccuracies? The list goes on but if I were James Bond or Olivia Pope from Scandal (who can forget the voting scandal!) I would be shaking in my fictitious shoes.

Before pointing a finger at the fictional, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) should examine their own shortcomings with regards to human rights.

A World at War. Founded 50 years earlier in 1864, 1200 Red Cross volunteers in front of the Rath Museum, Geneva during the First World War.

The ICRC was established in 1864 in Geneva, Switzerland. This neutral body received a mandate to protect victims of international and internal armed conflicts. Such victims include war wounded, prisoners, refugees, civilians, and other non-combatants. For 50 years, Israel, with our own national emergency medical, disaster, ambulance and blood bank service called Magen David Adom (Red Shield of David) was refused entry into the international body even though it met all other criteria for membership, on the grounds that it does not use one of the approved symbols which were the red crescent or the red cross.

Early Days. A month after the establishment of the Jewish state, a Magen David Adom ambulance in June 1948, Israel.

The Israeli society has used a red six pointed Star of David, the Magen David, since the 1930s – and before the state was established. It was only after immense pressure was put on the ICRC from the American and Australian societies that Magen David Adom was admitted in 2006. Israel’s Magen David Adom would then be able to become an ICRC member if it framed its traditional red Shield of David symbol in the red diamond.

Red Alert. A Magen David Adom Ambulance in Israel today.

In keeping with the mandate of the ICRC, may we suggest less “Fauda” and more focus on what is important. Here are a few suggestions:

The ICRC could focus more on freeing the two civilian captives, Avera Mengistu (6 years) and Hisham Al-Sayed (5 years) held by Hamas without any communication or help with efforts to return the remains of two Israeli soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who fell during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 for a dignified burial. Their families have been in excruciating agony and worry. It must be noted that Gilad Shalit, a former captive who was held by Hamas for 5 years also received no visit from the Red Cross.

Focus on Fact not Fiction. Instead of tweeting about an Israeli  drama TV series, the ICRC could focus on the welfare of  two Israelis with serious mental health conditions Avera Mengistu and Hisham Al-Sayed (bottom) being held by Hamas in Gaza for over five years, and the return of the remains of  Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul (top) killed in 2014. Courtesy of family/Facebook. 

Prisoners who are terror or security threats held in Israeli prisons receive visits from the Red Cross because Israel is a signatory to two conventions including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. The Red Cross does not visit prisoners held for crimes but it would be really nice if they would pop in on our civilians held captive by a terror entity who regard themselves as the legitimate government of the Gaza strip.

The ICRC could also ensure that their affiliate, the Red Crescent, do not use their ambulances to transport civilians including the disabled and elderly to riots like the March of Return where they formed the front line of defense in the never ending war for optics perpetuated by Hamas who leverage their populations as human shields so that they can get the most sympathy from the world media. Ambulances have been used as transport services for suicide bombers in the past as well. This could also ensure that hospitals are used for their intended purposes and not weapons storage facilities or armouries.

Instead of focusing on the fictional, the ICRC could also have used their social media to condemn the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel’s civilian population or condemning arson terror and they could have condemned the nationalistic motivated murder of Esther Holgen, who went for a run and never returned home. She was found with her head bludgeoned by a rock. Esther Holgen was a mother – and also a non-combatant!

Focusing on the Future. In 2019, the ICRC and Magen David Adom signed a multi-year partnership agreement reflecting the close relations and long-term partnership between the two organizations.

Many may wonder why it is worth getting uptight about a silly tweet but in a region and conflict where the first casualty is often truth and fact coupled with rising anti-Semitism online, this adds fuel to an already flaming fire. It may have been disproportionate stupidity on behalf of whoever is in charge of the social media account or maybe it was a REALLY slow news day. In that case may we suggest watching “Fauda” and less focus on tweeting……

Has the New York Times Been Captured?

This article currently appears on Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2020/12/18/has-the-new-york-times-been-captured/

The New York Times used to be one of the world’s most respected publications. Packed with thought provoking content that delved into the nuances and complexities behind some of the world’s biggest stories and issues, readers could look forward to diverse opinions and well researched articles.

But over the last few years, something has changed at this once venerated bastion of journalism and the NY Times has gone from admired – to derided. What has happened? Why are there many asking the question has the NY Times fallen victim to institutional capture and is now a vehicle for those wishing to push a very transparent agenda? Many believe this to be true – especially when it comes to issues that are either focused on Israel or American Jewry.

Israel and the conflict with our neighbours occupies many a column inch in the world’s leading newspapers (and some really unsavoury ones as well) which is almost understandable because of the religious and emotional connections that a lot of people have, but there is a line where the connection dangerously becomes the obsession. The New York Times is obsessed.

Over the last couple of years, any mention of the NY Times is guaranteed to raise the blood pressure – and ire of many who feel that the publication is pandering to a far-left agenda, with truth (and Israel) as a casualty.

Chaotic Caricatures

Political satire in the form of cartoons has always been a creative way for opinion makers to be highly controversial and circumvent certain parameters but in 2019, the paper featured a cartoon that led to many writing complaints – and cancelling of subscriptions. Never a fan of the Trump administration, the cartoonist drew a caricature that featured a blind President Trump being led by Israeli PM Netanyahu, portrayed as a “guide dog” with a big Star of David around his neck. The inference was plain to see – the most powerful man in the world, the President of the USA (and this is not an issue of whether one likes or dislikes him) was being led and heavily influenced by Israel. This trotted out the age old ugly stereotype that Jews control the governments of the world and in particular, the leading superpower.

Admitting Antisemitism. A caricature of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog guiding a skullcap-wearing ‘blind’ US President Donald Trump was published in The New York Times’ international edition on April 25, 2019, and which the paper later acknowledged “included anti-Semitic tropes.” (Courtesy)

Faced with an avalanche of complaints from Jewish individuals, institutions and supporters, the paper would eventually publish an “acknowledgement of an error of judgment” on their Twitter page and subsequently apologized saying:

Deadly Exchange?

It is not unusual these days for the NY Times to raise the odd eyebrow or two, a misleading headline here and omission of context there and often face the wrath of readers or media watch dogs.  It gets more worrisome when they dredge up old articles that may not be relevant and serves no purpose other than to fuel the flames of divisiveness.

The world was horrified when the images of George Floyd slowly asphyxiating to death while a cop placed his knee firmly on his windpipe.  This event ignited protests across the US and the world and while the social justice movement, Black Lives Matter would gain momentum in highlighting and fighting racism, there were elements who took advantage of the fervour whipped up against injustice.

Enter Deadly Exchange, a group dedicated to blaming Israeli law enforcement for the tactics employed by the police officer in question. They claim that Israel’s training exchanges which see officers receive  and give training to their colleagues from around the world, is what is allowing this tactic to be adopted by law enforcement officers in the US. While Israeli police have at times used what some might see as excessive force, these instances have been dealt with – and are not isolated to Israel and are definitely not training policy.

The NY Times would have you believe otherwise. Months after this issue has died down, journalists,  David Halbfinger and Adam Rasgon, wrote an article titled “An Autistic Man Is Killed, Exposing Israel’s Festering Police Brutality Problem,” the authors depict Israeli authorities as having “failed to rein in the use of excessive force, which has a long history.”

According to media watchdog HonestReporting, the article which is 2000 words long, “fails to acknowledge that Jerusalem is a city that has been plagued by terrorism and remains at the heart of a territorial conflict. Israeli police and military, as well as civilians, have over the years been victims of shooting, stabbing and car ramming attacks.”

The complexities and nuances of the conflict are presented in a way that is very vague and this is cause for concern that readers may miss any robust discussion – and recognition about the unique challenges in this volatile region.

Resignation

By far the most alarming was the shocking resignation of respected journalist, Bari Weiss.  Weiss who is largely centrist in her opinions and has written for the Wall Street Journal as well as other publications was initially hired to represent a different ideology or voice and enjoyed a very successful career. This was until her sometimes controversial opinions clashed with the “woke” folk at the paper. Isn’t the point of a free press to allow for a variety of opinions, even though you may disagree with them?

It would appear that instead of creating an environment where people could respectfully disagree and debate, the NY Times allowed for one where bullying and cancel culture became rampant. The environment became so hostile that Weiss was forced to resign.

Bullying Bari. Op-Ed staff editor and writer at the New York Times, Bari Weiss resigns citing “bullying by colleagues” and an “illiberal environment.”

Comments such as “Nazi” and “racist” and “you are writing about the Jews again” contributed to a workspace that was more” mean girl” than meaningful.  Weiss is not the first and will no doubt not be the last journalist to be driven out of the workplace for opinions that clash with the growing woke voice. Suzanne Moore and English journalist with The Guardian newspaper was also put in a position where she would rather resign than work in an environment growing ever more intolerant of her opinions.

This phenomenon is very dangerous in a profession that is supposed to be driven by fact and diversity and not personal agendas.

Bari Weiss resignation letter: https://www.bariweiss.com/resignation-letter

Weiss has been replaced by far-left writer Peter Beinart whose views are perhaps more palatable to the agenda of the paper.

Cancelling a Columnist. A columnist with The Guardian, Suzanne Moore resigned claiming she was effectively censored by editors and bullied out by colleagues.

Chanukah Cancelled?

The latest iteration is the Jewish festival of Chanukah.  Everybody has the right to observe (or not) religious festivals how they deem fit but does a personal choice really necessitate an op-ed in the NY Times? Many are asking this of an op-ed entitled “Saying goodbye to Chanukah” that was published as millions around the world prepared to celebrate a festival that allows for some light in an otherwise dark year. The writer makes a point of stating how her family will carry on Christmas and Easter traditions (as is their right) but one gets the feeling that she heaps scorn on Chanukah. It is almost derisive.

One has to ask the question, would an op-ed of this kind be written about the festivals of other religions?

(Ping Zhu)

Institutional capture is a new type of MacCarthyism. In the 1950’s, this movement was largely dedicated to weeding out those in the entertainment industry that were suspected of having Communist sympathies. In the case of the NY Times, it is weeding out and cancelling anyone that may seem to have an affinity to Israel or Jews that does not suit the agenda of the thought and opinion police. This is very dangerous territory. One would hope that this once highly respected journal, once the benchmark of journalistic integrity and excellence will break free of its one-sided captors. Free expression in a democracy depends on it.

Feature Picture credit: Doug Chayka

The Story Seldom Told

This article is currently featured on Lay of the Land:

This week, two momentous dates in history were remembered. Not with much fanfare but with the odd tweet or posting on social media platforms; but these were dates and events that altered the course of history and the profound effects are felt to this day. The first was the partition vote at the United Nations in 1947 that would pave the way for the creation of the Jewish State, the other was the commemoration of the expulsion of Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries.

On the 29th of November 1947, the United Nations voted to divide what was then British Mandate Palestine into two – land for the Jews and for the Arabs. The Jews accepted, and the modern state of Israel was on its way to being born. The Arabs refused and would soon declare war on the fledgling Jewish State. The State of Israel would be formally declared by David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister, on the 14th of May 1948. The Arab response would take place on the night of 14-15 May, when the forces of Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon invaded. The Egyptian Foreign Minister informed the United Nations Security Council that “Egyptian armed forces have started to enter Palestine to establish law and order” (his cable to the Security Council, S/743, 15 May 1948). Arab leaders at the time encouraged their citizens to leave until they had “driven the Jews into the sea”.  Israel would mobilise as many of its able citizens as possible and the Haganah and Palmach (part of Haganah) forces would combine to form the Israel Defense Forces. By the end of the war, Israel was victorious and had made significant territorial gains. Many of the Arab citizens declined to return, despite the invitation by Ben Gurion in the Declaration of Independence to be equal citizens and help build the new state.

2014

What is a seldom discussed story (at least until recent years) has been the experience of Jews living in MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) countries during this time. For centuries and even millennia in some, Jews thrived in these countries. At the time of the Muslim conquests of the 7th century, ancient Jewish communities had existed in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Jews under Islamic rule were given the status of dhimmi (second-class citizenship), often subjected to a special dhimmi tax, along with certain other pre-Islamic religious groups. These groups were accorded certain rights as “People of the Book”. In medieval times, many Jews found refuge in Muslim lands; but there were other times when Jews fled persecution in Muslim lands and found refuge in Christian lands. Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula were invited to settle in various parts of the Ottoman Empire, where they would often form a prosperous model minority of merchants acting as intermediaries for their Muslim rulers.

Jews would live there for centuries, speaking the same language and observing many of the same customs and integrating well with their fellow citizens. This would change dramatically in 1948.

By 1948 Jewish communities in MENA countries, were flourishing in their numbers. In Morocco the community numbered 265 000, Iran 100 000, Algeria 140 000, Egypt 75 000 and in substantial numbers in other countries. https://www.youtube.com/embed/35eEljsSQfc?enablejsapi=1&autoplay=0&cc_load_policy=0&cc_lang_pref=&iv_load_policy=1&loop=0&modestbranding=1&rel=1&fs=1&playsinline=0&autohide=2&theme=dark&color=red&controls=1&

With the birth of the State of Israel, the reaction from the Arab world was hostile. Some Jews started to leave these countries but were forced to leave their belongings behind; for the majority, their fate was more terrifying.  Here are some accounts of what happened to these communities:

Iraq:

In Iraq, where a large community of Jews lived for 2,600 years, violent riots known as the Farhud erupted in June 1941. These riots targeted the Jewish population, mainly in Baghdad.  Soldiers who attempted a failed coup took advantage of the power vacuum left by a lack of leadership; and swarmed into Jewish communities together with a bloodthirsty mob, killing 179 innocent people, injuring more than 2,100, and leaving 242 children orphans. This act of violence was celebrated across the Arab world and in Nazi Germany.

Death to Jews. On 1 June 1941, a Nazi-inspired pogrom erupted in Baghdad, bringing to an end more than two millennia of peaceful existence for the city’s Jewish minority.

In 1948, as a response to UNGA Resolution 181 (“the Partition Plan”) and Israel’s independence, laws were passed making Zionism a criminal and even a capital offense, allowing the police to raid and search thousands of Jewish homes for any evidence of Zionism. Between May 1950 and August 1951, the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government succeeded in airlifting approximately 110,000 Jews to Israel in Operations Ezra and Nehemiah. At the same time, 20,000 Jews were smuggled out of Iraq through Iran. A year later, the property of Jews who emigrated from Iraq was frozen, and economic restrictions were placed on Jews who remained in the country.

Morocco

Prior to World War II, the Jewish population of Morocco was approximately 265,000, and though they were not deported by the Nazis, they still suffered great humiliation under the Vichy French government. Following the war, the situation deteriorated.

In June 1948, bloody riots in Oujda and Djerada killed 44 Jews and wounded many more. That same year, an unofficial economic boycott was instigated and by 1959, Zionist activities were declared illegal. In 1963, at least 100,000 Moroccan Jews were forced out from their homes and approximately  150,000 Jews sought refuge in Israel, France and the Americas.

Last Man Standing. Most the Jews in Morocco today are dead and buried. In this 2018 photograph, Joseph Sebag is the last Jewish man in the seaside Moroccan town of Essaouira.

In 1965, Moroccan writer Said Ghallab described the attitude of Moroccan Muslims toward their Jewish neighbours:

The worst insult that a Moroccan could possibly offer was to treat someone as a Jew. The massacres of the Jews by Hitler are exalted ecstatically. It is even credited that Hitler is not dead, but alive and well, and his arrival is awaited to deliver the Arabs from Israel.”

Egypt

In the 1940s, hostility against the Egyptian Jewish community, which numbered around 80,000, increased. Laws were passed limiting the employment of Egyptians of Jewish descent, as well as requiring majority shareholders of companies to be Egyptian nationals. Since Jews were denied citizenship as a rule, many Jews lost their jobs and businesses.

During the 1948 War of Independence, thousands of Egyptian Jews were put into internment camps, forced out of their jobs, and arrested for supposed collaboration with an enemy state. Synagogues, homes, and businesses were bombed, and many Jews were killed and wounded. More than 14,000 Jews immigrated to Israel during this time seeking safety. Between 1948 and 1958, more than 35,000 Jews fled Egypt. 

End of an Era. Jews forced to leave, a former Jewish school, Abbasyia, Cairo.

Between 1956 and 1968 another 38,000 Jews fled Egypt, many to Israel, to escape systematic persecution such as government expropriation of their homes and businesses and arbitrary arrests.

Yemen

The Yemeni Jews endured some of the worst persecution. At the end of November 1947, the Arab population of Aden held a 3-day strike in protest against UNGA Resolution 181 (the Partition Plan). The protest quickly turned violent. Over 80 Yemeni Jews were slaughtered, more than 100 Jewish-owned businesses were looted, and homes, schools, and synagogues were burnt to the ground. This was one of the most violent attacks on any Jewish population in the Arab world.

Fleeing for their Lives. A Yemenite family walking through the desert to a reception rescue camp near Aden.

The Israeli government embarked on a unique plan to save the persecuted Yemeni Jews. From 1949 to 1950, “Operation Magic Carpet” (known in Hebrew as “On the Wings of Eagles”) went into effect. US and British aircraft were used, flying o Aden and airlifting the Jews from Yemen and bringing them to Israel. By the end of the operation, over 47,000 Yemeni Jews were rescued.

 Libya

 Jews lived and thrived in Libya for more than 2,300 years, with a population of over 37,000. During World War II, the Libyan government implemented their own Nazi-inspired policies; and more than  2,000 Jews were transported to desert concentration camps where hundreds died. In post-war Libya, Arab nationalism grew in popularity, resulting in violent attacks against the Jewish community.

Thriving Jewish Life. City Jews of Tripoli, Libya, 1925. (Photo by G. Casserly/Royal Geographical Society via Getty Images)

In 1945, in the city of Tripoli, more than 140 Jews were killed in a violent antisemitic riot, and a few years later in 1948, violent attacks resulted in 12 dead and the destruction of over 280 Jewish homes. In the three years between 1948 and 1951, 30,972 Jews fled to Israel due to hostile government policies.

Inside Story. Interior of a former Jewish Home in Libya. Jews had lived in Libya for over two millennia.

Syria

By 1943, the Jewish community of Syria numbered approximately 30,000.  After Syrian independence from France, the new Arab government prohibited Jewish immigration to Palestine, severely restricted the teaching of Hebrew in Jewish schools and called for boycotts against Jewish businesses. Attacks against Jews escalated with no intervention. In 1945, in an attempt to thwart international efforts to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the Syrian government fully restricted Jewish emigration, burned, looted and confiscated Jewish property, and froze Jewish bank accounts.

When the UN partition was declared in 1947, Arab mobs in Aleppo devastated the 2,500-year-old Jewish community and left it in ruins. Many Jews were killed, and more than 200 homes, shops and synagogues were destroyed. Thousands of Jews illegally fled as refugees, 10,000 going to the United States and 5,000 to Israel. Their remaining property was taken by the local Muslims.

Road from Damascus. A Jewish family in Aleppo, Syria, circa 1910.(Library of Congress)

Syrian Jews that remained were in effect hostages of a hostile regime as the government intensified its persecution. Jews were stripped of their citizenship and experienced employment discrimination. Assets were frozen and property confiscated. The community lived under constant surveillance by the secret police and the freedom of movement was also severely restricted. Any Jew who attempted to flee faced either the death penalty or imprisonment at hard labour camps. Jews could not acquire telephones or driver’s licenses and were barred from buying property.  The road to the airport was constructed over the Jewish cemetery in Damascus and schools were closed and handed over to Muslims.

The story of the Jews from MENA countries is a very important part of modern history that has gained traction in recent years. Concerted efforts have been made by the government to remember and commemorate this and the 30th of November has been declared an official day of commemoration of Jewish Refugees.

Today, the majority of Israelis are descendants from those who had to flee MENA countries with an estimated 1 million who can trace their roots back to Morocco.  It is incumbent on us to bear witness and tell their stories.

Theirs cannot be the story seldom told.

The Year of “Awokening”

This article is featured on Lay of the Land:https://layoftheland.online/2020/11/18/the-year-of-awokening/

At the beginning of 2020, the world was filled with glorious positivity for the dawn of a new decade. There were even the memes and joke exchanges to prove it! Then a little understood virus that seemed to be confined to the Wuhan province in China, eventually would become a global pandemic that brought the world to its knees. Millions have contracted this terrifying virus or have died as a result and the global economy is in crisis.

At the outset; and as country after country went into lock down, many took a philosophical or spiritual approach and saw this as an opportunity to “reset”. A chance to re-evaluate what is important in our lives, go back to times that seemed simpler, to learn a lesson in gratitude and to emerge from the crisis with a new perspective and willingness to help each other. We have been in this together and would surely emerge stronger. Wouldn’t we?

When a crisis happens, it often defines those that are in positions of leadership or in the public eye.

This is a year where many have had the perfect chance to step up and lead – but have failed miserably – safely afloat on a raft made out of self-indulgent virtue signaling woke twaddle. This is the year that apart from dealing with the overwhelming effects of the virus on our collective mental, emotional and physical health; we now have to deal with this rapidly growing phenomenon – the growing “woke” movement.

The term “Woke “is a political term that originated in the United States; and refers to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice. It derives from the African-American vernacular English expression “stay woke”, whose grammatical aspect refers to a continuing awareness of these issues. Today, it has become very fashionable to be “woke” – and woe betide you if you aren’t.

This movement seems to be permeating every aspect of society and has been given a tailwind by the growth of celebrity culture and social media. At the beginning of the spread of the pandemic, the voices of celebrities were diminished and the everyday heroism of frontline workers took centre stage. And then something changed. The world seems to have tipped on its axis. When did we lose the ability to engage in polite, tolerant debate – even if we have divergent opinions?

Freedom of speech is an imperative in a democratic society and we have the right to disagree with each other but lately identity politics has become an overriding factor and the first casualty seems to be tolerance. Anyone not agreeing with the prescribed “woke” doctrine is effectively cancelled. And the offences seem to be everywhere. If you look hard enough you will find something to be offended by.

Can It. An exasperated reaction to Wokeism.

In 2020, the bar seems to be low. Perhaps it is the frustration of lock downs and statistics and political unrest that has many of us at times, taking complete leave of our senses. 2020 has been a tumultuous year politically as well. The Black Lives Matter movement that spread like wildfire across the world became more than just being aware of racial injustices. Elements within and external to the movement saw it as an opportunity to push their various agendas including anti-Semitic rhetoric and a new phenomenon – taking the knee. Anyone seen to not do this is immediately ostracized or branded a racist. Choosing whether or not to kneel is a personal choice, but when diners enjoying a little al fresco dining are routinely harassed for not kneeling with immediate, we have a problem.

Self Service! When demonstrators entered the outdoor dining space in Pittsburgh, USA, one person took a couples’ drink and drank it before leaving. 

Woke culture is not restricted to racism. Search engine juggernaut, Google, almost as famous for its graphics as it is for its search capabilities had to remove the egg from its salad graphics for “not wanting to offend vegans”. In a time where nearly everything is about identity politics and you are nobody unless you are an activist, everyone from social conscious millennials to big corporations are jumping on the woke wagon.

In fact, when it comes to big corporations, a new issue is starting to take form known as “woke washing”. Woke washing can be described as the appropriation of ethical and progressive values as a form of advertising just to make more profit while hiding the dark side of conventional capitalistic business management.

An example of recently woke washing is Tumblr. Two months after banning adult-content, the social media still let Nazis thrive on its platform.  White supremacist propaganda that contravenes its  guidelines is now co-existing with Tumblr’s promotion of Black Excellency for Black History Month.

Razor maker, Gillette also helped to set the tone of 2019 by “woke washing” with the January debut of “The Best Men Can Be,” a campaign fighting toxic masculinity by referencing #MeToo, the movement fighting sexual harassment that was growing at the time. Some critics decried the initial short film as painting all men as poorly behaved or even predatory. Others wondered why a razor maker, and not necessarily a brand with a ton of baggage, was getting so righteous.

 Or take former/maybe not somuch/aretheyoraren’t they royals, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan. Famous for their support of whatever issue seems hot at the time, the two woke royals have lectured on topics as diverse as the environment, unconscious bias, racism and not to forget universal kindness. All this while traversing the world in private jets and zooming from a $16million dollar mansion. They are not the only woke schlebs on the virtue signaling bandwagon. They are joined by many in Hollywood extolling the virtues of defunding police (while being able to afford private security), lecturing on saving the planet (while zipping around the world on private jets) and talking about inclusiveness (while cancelling those who may have divergent political opinions).

A Battle Royal.  Mega voices on a range of  popular issues, Harry and Meghan constantly dodging controversy with the Royal family and a fickle public in this Woke milieu.

It would appear nobody is safe from the “woke” offensive. The BBC’s radio station R4 was taken to task for referring to fishermen as “fisherpeople”.  Critics said that seeing that women only made up 2.7% of staff on a fishing trawler, the BBC with their right on woke politics was unnecessary.

Billionaire creator of Harry Potter, JK Rowling, has also been cancelled for allegedly being “transphobic”. Rowlings reference to people who menstruate as women was seen as discriminatory to the trans community.

Twitter users accused her of being exclusionary to transgender men and women but also to cisgender women who no longer menstruate. The result has been an aggressive campaign against her, including vocal criticism by Harry Potter stars, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson whose careers were started by the successful franchise. Rowling responded by saying ““I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them,” Rowling replied. “I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so.”

The list of transgressions according to the “awokened” is endless. As mentioned before, if one is looking for offences, they can be found everywhere. The danger lies in the pursuit of a kind of liberalism that becomes so intolerant of a different opinion that it borders on fascism.

A Touchdown. Woke-washing is when companies cynically prey on customers’ social awareness. A decision by Nike to feature athlete-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick in its 2018 ad paid off, with the ad going on to receive an Emmy nomination.

For a society to function, people must be able to feel free to express themselves and debate, discuss and disagree respectfully. While there are lines like hate speech and incitement that should never be crossed, in order to understand each other better and build a more tolerant and respectful society, we need to listen to each other.

Failure to do so just contributes to an epidemic of intolerance.

Israel’s Earth Shot

This article currently features in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2020/10/15/israels-earth-shot/

Tiny in size – giant in efforts to protect the environment, Israel is leading by example

Israel is this extraordinary geographical dichotomy of sprawling desert beauty and snow-capped mountains, with forests and coastline and so much more packed into a tiny piece of land barely the size of New Jersey. Whether you are looking to snorkel or ski, the Israeli landscape has everything you want.

Israelis are imbued with a great love of the land and a sense of responsibility for it.

Fertile Future. Under the stewardship of the JNF (Jewish National Fund), Israel’s landscape had been transformed from parched earth to carpets of green forests.

Saving the planet and what we all can contribute to this effort has been the subject of a lot of discussion and coverage over the last few weeks. Global treasure, Sir David Attenborough, he of the dulcet narrative tones and exceptional commitment to conservation, released his documentary “A Life on this Planet” which is currently on streaming giant, Netflix. Described as his witness testament to the state of our planet, Attenborough not only shares the alarming truth of the destruction wreaked on our natural world but offers practical solutions to what can be done to fix the problems.  HRH, Prince William, released his documentary, “A Planet for Us All” which echoes the call for everyone to be involved in helping to heal Mother Earth and followed this up with his Earthshot Prize. The Earthshot Prize, aims to find solutions from around the world to help – and comes with hefty financial prizes for those who find solutions in the stated categories. The categories are:

protect and restore nature, clean our air, revive our oceans, build a waste free world and fix our climate. https://www.youtube.com/embed/mFbwTRMwBAc?enablejsapi=1&autoplay=0&cc_load_policy=0&iv_load_policy=1&loop=0&modestbranding=1&rel=1&fs=1&playsinline=0&autohide=2&theme=dark&color=red&controls=1&

Modelled on JFK’s Moonshot which aimed (and achieved!) putting a man on the moon, this necessary and ambitious endeavor, aims to inspire the same dedication and ingenuity

What is seldom discussed is how Israel is a leader in the fields of conservation and environment protection. With signature start-up prowess coupled with understanding of our limited resources and a deep love for our environment, Israel has made extraordinary strides in these fields.  Below are a few small snapshots of some Israel’s projects and achievements. https://www.youtube.com/embed/bymiMNa6QJk?enablejsapi=1&autoplay=0&cc_load_policy=0&iv_load_policy=1&loop=0&modestbranding=1&rel=1&fs=1&playsinline=0&autohide=2&theme=dark&color=red&controls=1&

Greening the Desert

Did you know that today Israel has the rare honour of being one of the only countries (if not the only one) that has more trees today than when the country was founded in 1948? By the early 20th century, Israel’s indigenous forests had been almost totally destroyed by centuries of continuous grazing and cutting of trees. When Israel was established in 1948, there were fewer than 5 million trees in the entire area. Today, over 200 million trees have been planted in an active reforestation programme spearheaded by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). Many of us remember putting money in the ubiquitous “Blue Box” that helped raise the funds to plant these forests.

 Field of Dreams. While farming is not an easy task, Israel offers creative techniques to make the task easier and the desert bloom.

Evergreens have been planted in the hillier parts of the country and eucalyptus in the south.  Today there is more species diversification and forests feature a wide variety of species: oaks and carobs, terebinths and cypresses, eucalyptus, Judas trees, acacias, olive, almond, and many more. Many of these species harken back to biblical references.

Preserving Species

Rhinoceros are not a species that you would associate with Israel. More suited to the vast savannahs of Africa, these almost prehistoric looking beasts are finding a new lease on life in the Holy Land. Rhinos are on the list of endangered species because they are being mercilessly poached for their horns. Israel is successfully breeding rhinos in captivity. The Ramat Gan Safari Park just outside Tel Aviv, started their rhino conservation programme in 1974 and to date, an estimated 31 calves have been born in captivity. The first baby rhino, born in September 1978 was a girl named “Shalom”. The birth of this little calf coincided with the signing of the Camp David Accords – the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

Africa in the Heart of Israel. Rhinos basking “safe and secure” under the Israeli sun at the Ramat Gan Safari Park outside of Tel Aviv.

In recent years, the park has celebrated the birth of baby Terkel, Tupak, Tashi and Timor, all rare white rhinos born to their South African immigrant mother, Tanda.  Calves have also been born to Keren Peles, another rhino who was named after Israel’s singer-songwriter.

Celebrations have also been conducted for babies Rami, Kipenzi and many more!

This rhino breeding programme is part of a global conservation effort to increase rhino populations and world renowned South African conservationist, Braam Malherbe, lauded the efforts being made by the Park and believes it is a model that should be implemented globally. In the quite sanctity of the Ramat Gan Safari Park, they are assured that the only place a horn belongs – is on a rhino!

A Birder’s Paradise

Israel is a birder’s paradise. Every year, thousands of tourists “flock” (pun intended) to Israel’s north to watch the millions of birds migrating. Like a magnificent feathered, sky born ballet, it a feast for the eyes for anyone who wants to observe the different species and flight patterns. As much as Israel is engaged in protecting animals or the endangered species list, this also extends to birds, and specifically raptors. Although fully protected by the law, Israel’s raptor population has severely declined in the last 50 years, because of poaching, continued use of pesticides, and extensive loss of habitat. 

Israel for the Birds. Tens of Thousands of cranes seen in the Hula Valley, northern Israel on February 28, 2014, Tens of thousands of cranes stay in the reserve on their way to Northern Europe. photo by Edi Israel/Flash90.

There is a concerted effort by conservationists to protect Israel’s birds of prey and this entails preserving nesting and foraging habitats, increasing wild populations of endangered raptors by breeding and releasing, establishing supplementary feeding stations for scavenger species like vultures where food is more scarce and increasing awareness and education with the citizens of the country.

Israel has successfully managed to increase the populations of Griffon Vultures, Lesser Kestrels and is making great strides with the Spotted Eagle, the Imperial Eagle and the Black Vulture.

On the ground and in the sky, Israel is answering the call of the wild.

Genetic Conservation of Plants

Feed the world! It is not just Israel’s animal and bird species that are being preserved but agricultural plants as well.

Israel’s location in the Mideast heartland of genetic diversity for many major agricultural crops and its geographical and climatic diversity has created a particularly rich ensemble of habitats and plant species. Tiny but mighty, Israel includes one of the largest and most accessible collections of wild wheat, barley, oat, and legumes in the world, as well as a smorgasbord of wild fruits and other important crops.

The importance of preserving Israel’s exceptionally rich plant genetic resources for the improvement of growth, yield, nutrition and disease, pest, drought and salt tolerance of major crop varieties has long been recognized. As early as 1909, Aaron Aaronson of the Jewish Agricultural Experiment Station in Haifa, who discovered wild emmer wheat in the Galilee, began collaborating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on research for plants, particularly wheat varieties that could be introduced into the United States. Israel’s landmark studies on conservation in wild wheat populations have continued to draw considerable international attention.

The collected plant species that are indigenous to Israel are largely concentrated in the Israeli Gene Bank for Agricultural Crops which was set up in 1979. Scientists from government, academia and Israel’s seed industry have joined forces in the gene bank to ensure that Israel’s native varieties – its genetic heritage – are not lost to future generations. Could this be a possible solution to challenges posed by lack of food security?

Saluting the Sun

Israel’s sunny climate is not just great for beach sports and being outdoors but our greatest natural resource, the sun, is proving invaluable in helping the country to become more reliant on solar energy thus reducing costs and promoting renewable energy. Some experts estimate that by 2030, Israel could be fully reliant on renewable energy. In 2019, the largest solar powered energy field was inaugurated in the Negev Desert.

Israel is a Powerhouse. The Tower of Power energy project in Ashalim in Israel’s Negev Desert.. (courtesy of BrightSource Energy)

Environmental Minister at the time, Yuval Steinitz said:

Since I assumed office, I have used every possible means to increase the scope of renewable energy production, and by doing so, I expect to meet the government goal of 10% by the end of 2020. I believe that alongside natural gas, renewable energy is of paramount importance in reducing air pollution for the benefit of the health of all of us, and this policy is reflected in the “Plan 2030” that we are leading in order to stop the dependence of Israel on polluting fuels. The breakthrough in this field enables us, in addition to stopping the use of coal, to significantly promote the renewability goal for 2030.”

A Country of the Future

There is hardly a day that goes by without newspaper articles sharing the latest innovations from Israeli super brains. Whether it is meat grown in a lab that tastes exactly like the most mouth-watering steak which helps in the decrease of cattle consumption or piloting rechargeable roads to reduce carbon emissions, saving wildlife, reducing dependency on fossil fuels, reforestation, de-salination and recycling sewage for clean water, creating water from air and a myriad of other daily inventions, Israel is a country firmly focused on the future.

The examples above are just a fraction of the work that Israelis are doing in various fields. As the global conversation centres more and more on what we can be doing to help repair the planet, Israel is in the vanguard to ensure that future generations inherit a healthier environment. The opportunity presented by the Earthshot Prize for the global community to share their ingenuity is audacious and remarkable. This is like catnip to Israeli innovators! Challenges are what drive Israelis to achieve.  This, coupled with the most noble mission, to repair our planet is where we thrive.

I think that Sir David Attenborough and Prince William will approve. https://www.youtube.com/embed/64R2MYUt394?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet | Official Trailer | Netflix In this unique feature documentary, titled David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet, the celebrated naturalist reflects upon both the defining moments of his lifetime and the devastating changes he has seen.