A Tale of two countries

This post currently appears in The Times of Israel:

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

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

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

Rev. Meshoe explains why Israel is not an Apartheid State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wearing our blue and white

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

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

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

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My balcony – dressed and ready!

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

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

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

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

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

Yom Hazikaron ceremony

We will remember them.

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

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

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

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

Am Yisrael Chai!

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The buildings of the Knesset lit up for Independence Day

An UNecessary membership?

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

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

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

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

Watch this clip by Stand With Us featuring Ambassador Danon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Salute: Israel’s sisters are doing it for themselves!

This blog is currently featured in the SA Jewish Report:

http://www.sajr.co.za/news-and-articles/2016/03/08/israel-s-sisters-are-doing-it-for-themselves

It is a glorious irony that International Women’s Day falls smack bang in the middle of Israel Apartheid Week which a pathetic excuse for anti-Israel activists to gather on university campuses around the world during different  weeks in March every year and engage in some horrific Israel bashing.

Naturally, women’s rights are a favourite target for those wishing to paint Israel as a discriminatory, pariah state.

Israeli women have enjoyed equal rights since the birth of the state in 1948. Women’s rights are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence which states ““The State of Israel will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”12524120_480487425480525_3667246504756580585_n

Women are very much part of the fabric of Israeli society and have been involved in many sectors including politics, the military, social welfare, education and many others. Who can forget trailblazers like former Prime Minister, Golda Meir, or Alice Miller, a civilian pilot and aeronautical engineer who successfully petitioned the High Court of Justice to take the Israeli Air Force pilot training exams, after being rejected on the basis of gender.  She was originally from South Africa…

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Israeli women have never been shy to use our voices. Although things are pretty good, there is still a lot of room for improvement. Gaps in income still exist, even though according to research published just before Women’s Day; Israeli women are more educated than their male counterparts. While women are well represented in government and hold extremely high portfolios, there is still a lot of work to do but because Israel is the thriving albeit flawed democracy it is, we have the right to express our discontent and lobby and campaign for improvements. I am proud to be a member of WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation) that works tirelessly to improve the status of women among our many, many other projects. We do this through a variety of programmes that include empowerment courses and leadership skills training, through activism and even have a permanent lobbyist in the Knesset.

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Israeli women are pioneers, having built a country with very little natural resources. We are trailblazers in business, politics, volunteer organisations, the arts and sciences and so much more.  We are religious and secular and everything in between. We are warriors and defenders of our country on land, sea, air and airwaves and we are homemakers, entrepreneurs and creative genii. We are Jewish, Arab, Christian and Druze. We are changing the political landscape and we represent over 80 different ethnicities. We can vote, drive, and own property and businesses. We can make decisions that govern our bodies and our communities and if we want to, raise a little hell.

We are free to be who we are, free to choose and free to fight for our rights. In communities where religious doctrines are sometimes prohibitive towards gender rights for women, we are slowly making changes.

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We can even be Wonder Woman!

So how is this relevant to Israel Apartheid Week?

During the Apartheid years in South Africa, women did not enjoy the rights and protection they have in this new democratic era.  Under Apartheid, non-white women suffered both gender and racial discrimination.  Jobs were often hard to find and many women worked as agricultural or domestic workers. Wages were extremely low, if existent. Children suffered from diseases caused by malnutrition and sanitation problems, and mortality rates were high. The controlled movement of non-white workers within the country through the Natives Urban Areas Act of 1923 and the pass laws separated family members from one another, because men usually worked in urban centres while women were forced to stay in rural areas. Marriage law and births were also controlled by the government and the pro-apartheid Dutch Reformed Church, which tried to restrict non-white birth rates.

Women became the major source of resistance to the Apartheid machine. The remarkable Helen Suzman was the lone voice of opposition in parliament. Did I mention she was Jewish and a strong Zionist?

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Women in other parts of the Middle East are subject to gross discrimination. In this part of the world, girls are married off before they reach puberty or are killed because they have ‘dishonoured” their families. In this part of the world, women do not have the right to own property, vote and receive an education or even drive. Gender Apartheid is rife and the unprecedented rise of Daesh (ISIS) with their deathly brand of medieval barbarism is sending women’s rights back to the stone-age.

Now shouldn’t BDS and all who claim to be concerned about the rights of Palestinians be more interested in campaigning for gender equality in the territories?

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So on this International Women’s Day I salute women everywhere  and to my  Israeli sisters, from all sectors of society,  who are pioneers and mothers, entrepreneurs and trailblazers, leaders and lobbyists, students and homemaker, survivors and thrivers, soldiers, bereaved and volunteer activists. To the leaders and the volunteers and the women who are fighting against the odds I salute you as well as the Olim, and the ambassadors, the young and those that survived the unthinkable. Israel is not perfect but I defy anyone to call us an Apartheid state. That diminishes the hurt and suffering of those who really endure persecution and discrimination.

We deserve a salute – and a fabulous pair of shoes!

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  • Reference: Wikipedia

Left, right and the safe spaces between them

This blog is currently featured in The Algemeiner:

http://www.algemeiner.com/2016/02/16/on-israel-no-tolerance-at-college-campuses/

I have never been a great fan of labels. Well, shoes notwithstanding….

The propensity to label people according to what their perceived political persuasions or affinities are and pigeon-hole those into boxes labelled “leftist” or “right winger” is slowly killing off constructive discourse. With smug assuredness, those who propagate ideas of liberalism and pluralism boast about inclusion and “safe spaces” for those of diverse opinions.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than on university campuses around the world. Once bastions of free thought and expression, university campuses have now become hotbeds of incitement and exclusion. Certain groups have become virtual pariahs and have found themselves increasingly excluded from representation and discourse.

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BDS Event Poster

Yup, I am talking about Jewish students.

Anyone who is seen to be supportive of Israel is automatically labeled as right wing and this comes with the ubiquitous dangerous connotations of being “intolerant” “prejudice” and in the case of Israelis, accused of being “war criminals”. On some campuses, Jewish student organizations are not even invited to participate in debates on certain subject because the cause du jour is to oppose Zionism and everything related.

Kings College in London erupted into riots against an Israeli speaker – view BBC report here

Universities are very fond of flinging out statements that they have created “safe spaces” for students to engage and debate issues. Except if you are Zionist. The tent does not expand that far. Often what is seen as leftist or the Palestinian narrative is deemed important and truthful information but if you work in Israel advocacy or are a staunch Zionist, you are perceived as spreading propaganda or “hasbarah”. Anti- Israelists love to throw the word Hasbara around with self-righteous indignation. While I congratulate them on knowing a Hebrew word, they are completely ignorant about Zionism. Having relegated it to the unwanted pile of “isms” (read fascism, Nazism, Communism); these self-proclaimed know-it-alls don’t have the faintest idea about Zionism, how it has evolved over the years, how it is manifested in Israel, the very country they level their vitriol towards and how broad the tent is. Zionism has grown from just the simplified version of being the right of the Jewish people to have a country in their national and historical homeland to a broad and wide encompassing ideology that celebrates gay rights, promotes the rights of woman, is the very definition of human rights and of course, is identified with the technically savvy start up nation. This is just the tip of the iceberg of definitions. In truth, Zionism is very, very sexy.

Instead, Zionism has been vilified not only by student groups but also by professors seeking to promote their own agendas. This has allowed for a climate of fear and intimidation to spread through a lack of respect for the dignity of the individual and for the rights of others to hold and express different intellectual positions.

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Professors touting their own agenda

Israel Apartheid Week is the epitome of this. This festival of Israel bashing and flagrant anti-Semitism makes its annual world tour in March every year, starting in South Africa, the ground-zero of the BDS movement and then onto the USA, Europe and South America. Masquerading as the defenders of Palestinian rights, the BDS movement is nothing but an anti-Semitic wolf in human rights clothing. My apologies to wolves everywhere but you get the point.

A friend of mine when discussing the situation at the University of Cape Town told me that when she asked supporters of Israel Apartheid Week about the conflict she was told, “I had people telling me that “When they get Palestine back, the Jews must go. “When I asked where to, they answered “back to where they came from”.8 million people? And when I asked if the countries some of them came from such as Europe, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt etc. didn’t want them back then where must they go? People replied…”they can be killed “Or “I don’t care what happens to them”. This is not just unique to South Africa. Some of the universities in the USA and UK are known for speech that easily matches or surpasses in venom.

Former Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, harassed on campus

Chants of “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea” which in essence means the destruction of a country as well as the death of 8 million women, children and men, is commonplace and Jewish students are often terrified to be identified. Some prefer not to attend classes and other remove their Kippot (yarmulkes) or any Jewish insignia. . This is hate speech, not a freedom movement that incites anger, leads to hate and culminates in violence as is evident in the rise of anti-Semitic attacks worldwide.

During the Apartheid years in South Africa, any voices of criticism and dissent were silenced. Today anyone who vouches their support for Israel on campus is effectively silenced. This is reverse apartheid.  Bully-boy tactics used by these nouveau fascists who proudly proclaim themselves liberals mean that any attempts to share Israel’s records with regards to human rights often means accusations of “pink-washing” or “war criminals “as well as “they are settlers and deserved it” follow suit.

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Poster advertisng gay rights event defaced

These are not fair-minded, liberal and/or pluralistic people, by any stretch of the imagination.

Gone are the liberal tenets that include freedom of speech, dignity for all human beings regardless of color, religion, creed and ethnicity, respect for others perspectives and the right for everyone to live in security and safety. Israeli speakers should be able to speak on campus without near riots erupting. Supporters of Israel should be able to debate the facts and give their opinions without being physically threatened or intimidated.

BDS supporters disrupt Col. Richard Kemp – University of Sydney

This is no longer student activism but rather a free-for-all to vent any latent anti-Semitic prejudice. Major donors to some universities have pulled funding from projects that have been exploited to push a one sided agenda. Perhaps more of this needs to happen or students need to do something quite radical – visit Israel and get the facts on the ground.

It may be the smartest class they ever take.

Weapons of words

This blog post is currently featured in the SA Jewish Report:

http://www.sajr.co.za/bloggers/rolene-marks/rolene-marks/2016/01/27/weapons-of-words

Today is International Holocaust Memorial day. On this solemn day, we mark the tragedy of all human tragedies, the Holocaust. We remember the 6 million Jews marked for death and destroyed. We remember the millions of Homosexuals, Gypsies, political dissidents and others who were deemed “undesirable” by the Nazi killing machine.

The 27th of January is the date that coincides with the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by the Soviet Red Army and it is the day that the United Nations has designated in memorium.

Hatikvah “The Hope” sung at Bergen Belsen

As the world became aware of the immense atrocities of the Holocaust, it must be noted that the shattering of glass on Kristallnacht that accompanied the destruction of holy synagogues and the looting of stores and homes started with words. The gas chambers of Auschwitz and other death camps and the crematoria were built on incitement.

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Whole communities, brilliant scientists, educators, artists, musicians and potential future finders of cures to disease and contributors to the world were wiped out because of an idea, fueled by words and perpetrated by an educated mass that were whipped into a frenzy of hatred.

Today, 71 years later, I fear that the world has not learned anything from the past. A wise man once said that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Sadly, we are seeing alarming levels of anti-Semitism rise all over the world, often resulting in violence and death.  For the past four months Israel is enduring a wave of terror, perpetrated by terrorists between the ages of 17-25 and some as young as 13.

Motivated by the daily diet of incitement and anti-Semitic vitriol and spurred on by their political and religious leaders, these young terrorists, armed with their knives and their venom, seek to kill as many Jews as possible.

In the last two weeks we have buried two young women and prayed for the speedy recovery of another pregnant mother to be, stabbed because she is Jewish. These women are a small snapshot of the now over 30 murdered and countless injured.

Our women are being attacked – in their homes in front of their children, shopping in supermarkets and walking in the streets. Today, Daphna Meir (38) z”l a mother of six and Shlomit Krigman (23) z”l, a young student, lie buried side by side on a peaceful Jerusalem hilltop.

We are burying our mothers, our daughters, our most promising students. We are burying our sons and our fathers. But we are not burying our hope.  The father of the 16 year old boy who killed Daphna Meir said that he was “proud of his boy” who admitted that it was after watching Palestinian television that he was motivated to kill.

In a twist of bitter irony, Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki Moons stated “it is human nature to react to occupation”. This would be offensive on any night but on the eve of International Holocaust Memorial day it is purely repugnant. This is not a society that is deprived. Palestinians receive more aid than any other people in the world. The question we need to ask is where is the aid going to? The financing of hate education and incitement is more depraved than deprived and global NGO’s, especially those in Europe who donate money under the guise of human rights projects needs to be questioned and examined more closely.

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No matter what your personal views on settlements or the disputed territories are, there is no justification ever to kill. Are the lives of our women less valuable because their address where they live is deemed undesirable? Is it not a policy of Apartheid instigated by the Palestinian Authority to say that Jews cannot live on any inch of a potential Palestinian state?

If you want to speak out on behalf of Palestinian human rights, it is incumbent on NGO’s, world leaders, human rights organization, the media and individuals to condemn the incitement of hatred that pervades this society and is tantamount to child abuse.

Today, as we reflect on the Holocaust and honour the memory of those we have lost and who have survived, as we watch the footage and listen to solemn, heartbreaking testimony and vow NEVER AGAIN, we need to ensure that this does not become an empty platitude. The theme of this year’s Holocaust Day is “bystanders”. We have a duty to those we lost and future generations to ensure that we do not become bystanders to hate. We have a duty to ensure that we do not repeat history.

Never again means never, ever again. Am Yisrael Chai.

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Dear Golda

This post appears in the WIZO Lapid magazine “Women taking the lead”. The magazine is not available online.

This blog is also featured on the Telfed website: http://www.telfed.org.il/rolene_dear_golda

I have often wondered what I would say to you if I ever was to meet you. What would a relatively new Olah say to one of the greatest leaders of all time? You were Israel’s fourth Prime Minister and remain an inspiration to this day. You give the impression that even though you were a formidable leader, you were still savta Golda, with your trademark bun and cigarette, an approachable bubbe who we could count on for advice.

It is 2016 and the tiny little country that you helped birth is a thriving, cosmopolitan and beautifully flawed democracy. Women’s rights have grown in leaps and bounds since you paved the way for us to realise we can become so much more than we ever thought we could. We are pioneers and trailblazers, entrepreneurs and home makers, politicians and doctors, ballerinas, soldiers and teachers. We are nation builders. In a neighbourhood where women are silenced, persecuted, raped and denied basic human rights, Israel’s women are the backbone of our great state.

A lot of this we owe to you.

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You mentioned in your memoir of how emotional it was to sign the declaration of Independence next to another great woman, Rachel Kagan. She was a WIZO woman and today, we have over 800 projects across the country where we work very hard for an improved Israeli society. Daycare centres and battered women shelters, leadership programmes and schools, Golda, what naches you would feel!

Dear Golda, Israel has always been the birthplace of ideas. You were so proud of this fact and always encouraged education and now we are world leaders in science, medicine, agriculture and technology. We have been renamed “The Start Up nation”. You would be amazed at the incredible creativity bursting from our young, innovative citizens. We never lose hope that our neighbours will choose to educate their children to become members of the start-up generation instead of educating them with hate filled rhetoric.

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One of your most memorable quotes was that there would be peace when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us. Golda, it breaks my heart to tell you that this has not changed. You wrote in your memoir “My Life” that you worried about preparing the next generation of 9 and 10 year old for the army. As I write this, we are enduring a horrendous wave of terror. Sadly, the same incitement and terror that you worried and opined about has not stopped and we have had to fight several more wars and endure two “Intifadas” as a result of such hostility. But you know we are a stubborn people and we sanctify life and will never lose our hope for peace.

We have mourned together and suffered loss as a nation. Our heads have been bowed but our spirits have never been broken.  Our defiant love for life sustains and motivates us to carry on. At a time when stones are weapons of war, we use ours to build homes. When barbaric terrorists behead their victims, we use ours to look for groundbreaking solutions and at a time where women are maligned and mistreated in our neighbourhood, we endeavor to follow in your trailblazing footprints.

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Dear Golda, you raised the ire of some but I reckon if people applaud every single thing you do, you probably aren’t doing your job effectively enough. You sometimes made decisions that were not always popular but as a true leader, always had Israel’s best interests at heart.

Africa held a special place in your heart and you believed that many of the countries shared a similar history and yearning for statehood that we did. You would be delighted to see the contribution Israel is making on the continent in helping with sustainability and growth. We pride ourselves in living up to the tenet of tikkun olam and wherever there is a crisis or natural disaster, you will find Israel leading the way. Our enemy Syria has been engaged in a civil war for four years and despite this, Israel has saved over 2000 lives.

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You would be amused that some of your most awe-inspiring quotes are used by us, generations later, to effectively communicate how much we love our country and how we share the same frustrations you did. You had a way with words and in today’s technologically driven world I cannot help but wonder what you would have thought about social media and its importance in telling Israel’s story? You even created some controversy lately when a media watchdog site posted a picture of you with one of your legendary quotes.  Today we will not be silent in the face of adversity and anti-Semitism and even though you are no longer with us, your words continue to inspire us and give us fortitude.

Dear Golda, we may not share the same taste in shoes but I would so love to join you in a celebratory glass of your favourite Israeli wine and toast to Israel, to her pioneering women and to you, a venerable leader who burst through the ceilings, raised the standards and blazed a glowing trail. L’Chaim!

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I recently discovered that my copy of “My Life”, written by Golda Meir was signed by the great lady herself!