Selling Genocide

This article also appears on Lay of the Land:

Selling Genocide

Genocide seems to have become a hot commodity these days. For those with discerning but appalling taste, images of Auschwitz can decorate your closet or your home. Fancy an “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work will set you free, the sign at the entrance to Auschwitz Death Camp) scatter cushion or even more disgusting, a gas chamber print shower curtain? You can purchase on a variety of e-commerce sites.

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FOR SALE ONLINE. A beach towel

For some reason, companies like Pixel.com, Amazon and Red Bubble, all of whom have featured Auschwitz-themed products, think it is okay to commercialise and commoditize the world’s most notorious death camp which saw amongst others, the wholesale extermination of the Jewish people, including the elderly and children. Over a million people were slaughtered, tortured, had medical experiments inflicted on them and endured hell on earth at this place. Jews were the only group targeted for mass murder.

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Outrageous. Birkenau Death Camp Greeting Cards and Beach Towels

Auschwitz is a monument to the darkest, most traumatic time in our history – not a desirable print for your fall fashion line or the perfect way to accessorise your couch.  Fashion website, Red Bubble thought a pencil skirt or scatter cushions was a fetching way to make a buck. They faced a barrage of outrage and were eventually forced to take it down.

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Where’s The Shame And Sensitivity? Red Bubble faced a barrage of complaints for selling Nazi death camp skirts and cushions online

In the last week, e-commerce giant Amazon was taken to task for selling Christmas ornaments with images of Auschwitz on them. Because nothing says festive season and peace and goodwill to all men like genocide?  You could also order the matching bottle opener.

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FOR SALE ONLINE. A mini-skirt has an image of the chimneys from the Auschwitz Death camp (Picture: AP)

The Auschwitz Memorial in Poland weighed in on the sale of Christmas ornaments and bottle openers calling it disturbing, inappropriate and disrespectful and eventually, Amazon took the offensive products off their site.

With the avalanche of complaints from Jews and people of common sense around the world, one would think that other merchants would have learnt. Is it an act of deliberate provocation, ignorance or just plain bad taste?

When did it become okay to treat the worst genocide in history as a saleable commodity, to be exploited on clothing and home accessories?

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FOR SALE ONLINE. The train lines to death feature on a cushion. (Picture: Twitter)

This week, Pixels.com, a site that facilities the selling of artist’s prints and photographs also jumped in on the profiting off mass murder bandwagon when they advertised the opportunity to but beach towels, phone cases, yoga mats, duvet covers, tote bags, t-shirts, mugs, portable battery chargers and other items on their site.  There was even an image of the gas chambers on a shower curtain. There are barely enough words to express how hurtful and offensive this is.

There is nothing remotely “beachie” about a towel with a death camp on it. There is nothing zen about prisoner barracks on a yoga mat. Only an avalanche of outraged complaints seemed to wake up these pornographers of death.  Inundated with complaints, they eventually removed the offensive articles from their website; but this has not been the first time this site has published these products. It probably won’t be the last.

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FOR SALE ONLINE. A bag features the words ‘Risk of Death’ on it (Picture: Twitter)

A recent study in the USA found that two thirds of millennials can’t identify Auschwitz. It is an absolute imperative that we educate our youth – and these sites. Education first –  before the grossest genocide in human history becomes nothing but an item for sale. Sadly, some experts say that as these e-commerce sites become more automated, this horrible trend may only grow.

We cannot be complacent. I can only imagine the pain of Holocaust survivors when they see that their grief, their pain, their torture is for sale and we need to speak up for them. We need to act for those who perished who have no voice. Our message has to be clear.

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Contrary To Christmas. For sale on Amazon was this Christmas ornament featuring Auschwitz. A list of Christmas ornaments, including bottle openers, were later removed following complaints.(Amazon/via JTA)

Our pain, our loss is not for sale. Our trauma, our lost loved ones are not for your profit margins.

Genocide is not a profitable commodity – no matter how you accessorise it.

 

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Selling Shame. Auschwitz museum shames fashion website selling Nazi death camp skirts

The new Normal?

This article is currently feature on Lay of the Land:

Lay of the Land

There is barely a day that goes by without some iteration of antisemitism rearing its ugly head, somewhere around the world. In every guise you can image – the desecration of graves in Jewish cemeteries, shootings in synagogues, the alt-right, the ultra-left, campus activism, venomous slurs directed at children, rabbis beaten in the street, the new phenomenon of political antisemitism – you name it, this hatred has manifested.

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Antisemitism is at a record high and it seems that no corner of the globe is immune. The message seems to be clear – it is open season on attacking Jews – verbally and sometimes physically.

Antisemitism is often referred to as the “oldest hatred” and it metastasizes quickly and in various forms. This ancient hatred has the uncanny ability to adapt to changing times and political climates. It seems that in this age of global uncertainty; where identity politics is becoming more and more prevalent; if you have a divergent opinion you could be “cancelled”, Jews once again, are the proverbial canaries in the coalmine.

In parts of the world where it was taken for granted that the vile tentacles of antisemitism would not reach, this is no longer the reality. It used to be taken for granted that countries like the United States or Australia were immune to this hatred or that Germany and Poland had learnt from their history less than a century ago but sadly, this isn’t the case.

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Synagogue Again On The Hit List. Rescued congregants of the Jewish community and police forces near the scene of a shooting in Halle, Germany, in October 2019.(Jens Schlueter/Getty Images)

According to recent surveys conducted by organisations like the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) and the AJC (American Joint Committee) who conducted their research on growing antisemitism recently, they both reported an alarming rise in statistics.

The ADL findings reported that these countries had the highest percentages of antisemitism: Poland, South Africa (although the SA Jewish Board of Deputies disputes these findings), Ukraine, Hungary, Russia, Argentina, Spain, Brazil, Belgium and Austria.

Australia reported a 30% increase in anti-Semitic incidents over the last year that included verbal abuse, harassment, and intimidation. This is according to the country’s annual Report on Antisemitism in Australia.

The new Normal3.JPGThe United States has seen antisemitism spread like a plague across university campuses, Orthodox Jews harassed and beaten up in New York City, and violence has escalated to the point where the community has endured two deadly synagogue shootings and the site of members of the alt-right marching with their tiki torches chanting “Jews will not replace us”. Like Britain with controversy surrounding antisemitism in the Labour party and the reluctance or stubborn refusal of its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to tackle this scourge which leaves many of England’s Jews feeling politically stateless, the United States has seen the same phenomenon rears its ugly head in US politics. 2019 has been the year of the “Squad” – rookie congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and to a lesser account, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who has used their newly minted status and platforms like Twitter to excoriate the Jewish state. This has filtered out into the ultra-left and is evident on university campuses and in movements like Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March.

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Targeting Jews. Mourners visit the memorial outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 31, 2018. Eleven people were killed in a mass shooting just days earlier. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

The irony is that the two seemingly divergent left and right meet in the middle when it comes to opinions on Jews and the nation state of the Jewish people – Israel.

It is social media that is perhaps becoming the most alarming platform for hate. Mediums like Facebook and Twitter have created a space where like-minded haters can band together to create community. In this instance, these communities empower each other to prey upon their targets.

As an outspoken supporter of Israel, I have received my fair share of nasty messages and have summarily reported them to Twitter and Facebook. Apparently wishing me dead does not violate their “community standards”.  Pop superstar, Lady Gaga, once commented that social media was “the toilet of the internet” and she could not have been more right.

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“Enough”. Thousands of people have joined protests across France against a spate of anti-Semitic attacks.

Actor and comedian, Sasha Baron Cohen, famous for playing some of the most controversial and sometimes tasteless characters in his movies (albeit to prove a point) recently took Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg to task for among many things, not effectively regulating his platform. Cohen rightly stated that should platforms like Twitter and Facebook been around during Hitler’s time, the dictator and his murderous henchman would have used it to full effect to propagate hate. Cohen called these platforms “the greatest propaganda machines in history. “

He went on to take shots at Zuckerberg for allowing Holocaust deniers to go unregulated because of the “freedom of speech”.

“Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach,” Cohen asserted. “I think we could all agree that we should not be giving bigots and pedophiles a free platform to amplify their views and target their victims.”

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Sign Of The Times. A Holocaust denier holds a sign on the campus quad of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, September 10, 2019. (Courtesy AMCHA)

Social media is not the only battlefield for rising antisemitism. The battlefield has moved to the streets, the schools, the corridors of power, the graveyards, university campus, and the holy sanctuaries. It has become pervasive.

The only way to fight this scourge is to speak up. Stand Up – it is important to remember that we have a voice. Social media platforms used for propagating hate can also be used to educate against it. It is important that intolerance is not allowed an environment to flourish. Antisemitism gives a tailwind to those who wish to discriminate against any minority.  Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor in his famous poem first they came said the following,

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—     because I was not a socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—   because I was not a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—         because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Speak up. Do not let hatred go unchecked. Don’t let this become the new “normal”.

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Labour Of Hate. Demonstrators stage a protest against anti-Semitism in Britain’s Labour Party in April.

Understanding Zionism

This article is currently featured on Lay of the land:

Understanding Zionism

Maligned, misunderstood, and derided, provocative, emotive and polarizing. Often condemned, just the mention of the word Zionism is enough to raise the blood pressure of many. This often results in both pro and anti-Israel activists engaging in a battle of words. Frighteningly, this battlefield has expanded way beyond the Social Network to university campuses and other congregating venues where Jews identifying as Zionist are at physical risk.

So, what is Zionism exactly and why is it such a hot-button issue?

Simply put, Zionism is the National Liberation Movement of the Jewish people. It is a guarantee of the rights of the Jewish people to organize themselves politically and assign it a name that hearkens back to ancient roots and love for Zion.

Zion is synonymous with city of God; the place that God loves – Jerusalem. ‘Mount Zion’ – on the southeast side of the Old City – is the high hill on which King David built a citadel. The word Zion occurs over 150 times in the Bible and essentially means “fortification” and has the idea of being “raised” as a “monument”.

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The Written word. The word Zion from which Zionism takes its name appears 150 times in the Bible.

Zion is described both as the City of David and the City of God.

The word Zion is embedded into Jewish religion and culture as it is embedded into the rock and masonry of Israel’s capital – Jerusalem.

Complex Relationships

The great American civil rights leader, Rev Dr Martin Luther King is rumoured to have described Zionism as “nothing more that the yearning of the Jewish people to return to their ancient homeland”.

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After thousands of years of being made aware that we are unwelcome in many countries, Jews have returned en masse to our ancient and ancestral homeland.  The word Zion refers to those biblical ties since time immemorial. It is proof that Jews have “indigenous people’s rights to the land” and in case anybody has doubt, there is antiquity being discovered every day that supports this.

Israel’s detractors are quick to point out that Nelson Mandela, the father of democratic South Africa and the icon of the anti-Apartheid struggle’s support of Palestinians. What they neglect to conveniently mention is Madiba’s support for the Jewish people’s right to self-determination – Zionism.

Mandela has been quoted as saying

“As a movement, we recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognize the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism,” he said in 1993. “We insist on the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders, but with equal vigor support the Palestinian right to national self-determination.”

There has been much debate, discussion and social media brouhaha over who is or what defines a Zionist. Zionism is not restricted to Jews, but many Christians, Druze and yes, even Muslims consider themselves Zionists. Supporting Jewish rights to self-determination in no way makes one anti-Palestinian. Sadly, so much misunderstanding about what constitutes Zionism has resulted in alienating people who have an emotional attachment to Israel.  Too many would prefer that Zionism be relegated onto the pile of other unwanted “isms”.

Open-Ended Hatred

Many thought that with the realisation of the modern state of Israel, anti-Semitism would disappear but instead it has reared its head in a new form – anti-Zionism.

The world has emerged a hostile place for Zionists.

Ask the students on campus who are bullied and sometimes physically threatened for their political beliefs. Or the store owners in Europe who find their shops ransacked for carrying Israeli products. Or the travelers turned away from accommodation for being Israeli. The rise of the alt-right in the USA with their Nazi salutes and propensity for spray painting swastikas or the neo Nazis, the UK Labor party with its ongoing accusations of institutionalized antisemitism and BDS supporters in Europe, South America and South Africa has many Jews feeling afraid and isolated.

The argument “I am not an anti-Semite, I just don’t like Zionists” is spurious.

Even the French President, Emmanuel Macron says anti-Zionism is “a new type of antiSemitism.” He told the Israeli Prime Minister when speaking in Paris at an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Vel D’Hiv round-up, in which 13,152 French Jews were deported to Nazi concentration camps that France will “not surrender” to anti-Israel rhetoric.

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French President’s Promise to Crack Down on Anti-Semitism Could Threaten Critics of Israel (https://twitter.com/i/status/1098321796737236993)

There are an estimated 50 Muslim countries in the world, and an estimated 30 countries that define themselves as Christian. There is only one Jewish state and yet, so many have an issue with its very existence?

Saying that the Jews have no right to organize themselves politically and call it Zionism is in fact, racism.

Is it politically correct to criticize Israel?

For sure!

Criticising the government and its policies is the national sport of Israel.

Is Israel perfect? No. And it is perfectly okay and healthy to say so. However, saying that Jews have no right to national self-determination or that Israel has no right to exist is racist and anti-Semitic.

I believe part of being a Zionist is being able to criticize and improve. I believe that Zionism means that you want to see an exemplary Israel – a light unto the nations. An Israel that is tolerant and welcoming and grateful for all who support her. This is dignified, this is keeping with the tenets of our founders who envisioned this. There is room in the Zionist tent for everyone – Jew, Christian, Muslim, as well as from left to right across the political spectrum.

These values are enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence:

“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

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Return To Zion. Returning after nearly 3000 years, Ethiopian Jews aboard an Israeli air force plane flying from Addis Ababa to Tel Aviv in 1991.

I invite anyone who is somewhat skeptical or perhaps undecided about their views on Zionism to ask themselves how different it is to their national aspirations. Perhaps this will lead to a lot more understanding, a lot less maligning and hopefully an end to the rising violence that so many supporters of Israel are currently enduring.

 

 

A Woman’s Right

This article is also featured on Lay of the Land:

A Woman’s Right

Israa Ghrayeb was 21 years old.  Like most millennials, Israa was social media “obsessed” (to use the vernacular) but little did she know that the platforms so many of us take for granted every day to share the titbits of our lives that are envy inducing to our online communities, would lead to her death.

Israa’s only crime was that she dared meet a young Arab man in a restaurant and document it by sharing it to social media platform, Instagram.  Millions of people do this every day and while this meeting was innocent enough, it inspired the rage of the male members of her family to severely beat her. Israa did not meet a stranger that she did not know, she met the man she was intending to marry.

When the family found out, Ghrayeb’s brother, Ihab, allegedly beat and tortured her in their family home.

Trying to escape the violent blows inflicted on her, Israa then fell from the second-floor balcony of her parents’ home and was reported to have broken her spine.

Her brother, who is a Canadian resident, was apparently incensed by the video – saying it “dishonoured” the family by presenting herself with her husband-to-be ahead of the actual wedding, according to local media.  Her father had allegedly ordered her brother to beat her after family members witnessed the footage online.

After being admitted to hospital following the initial attack, Ghrayeb said she would not be able to work for the next two months as she waited for a spinal cord operation in a post on her Instagram account.

“I’m strong and I have the will to live – if I didn’t have this willpower, I would have died yesterday,” she said. “Don’t send me messages telling me to be strong, I am strong. May God be the judge of those who oppressed me and hurt me.”

After posting this message, her brother, along with other male relatives, reportedly brutally beat her in the hospital. Footage surfaced on social media of her screaming and begging for her life during the attack.

Israa succumbed to her wounds and passed away. Israa Ghrayeb became the latest horrific statistic in an “honour killing”.

Palestinians took to the street to protest Israa’s death and an end to honour killings.

Israa’s death is not isolated.

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#WeAreIsraa. Outrage follows 21-year-old Palestinian woman Israa Ghrayeb murdered by family members in suspected ‘Honour Killing’.

Honour killings are not a new phenomenon.  In fact, this heinous occurrence has been practiced from as early as Roman times and is prevalent today in North Africa and the Middle East but don’t think that western countries are exempt – incidents of honour killings have been reported in the UK, USA, Canada and others.

The term “honour killing” sounds like a really ridiculous paradox, after all there is absolutely no honour in killing anyone – how could there be? But the issue here isn’t really about honour but more about control over reproductive power. This being said it is not always sexual in nature or about controlling sexual behaviour but rather about fertility.

Say what?

Now I am scratching my head in confusion as much as you are but these horrendous events occur because in some communities that are patrilineal in nature, a woman’s right to govern her own reproductive freedom. In these societies, women are seen as reproductive factories not seductive sirens.

This makes this barbaric act a lot more complex than originally thought, but in most cases, honour killings occur because women in communities that adhere to strict religious doctrine are expected to toe the line and behave in accordance. In Pakistan for example, women’s right to life are conditional on their “obeying certain norms and traditions.”

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No More Violence. More women in Pakistan are demanding an end to gender-related violence.

Nighat Taufeeq of the Women’s Resource Center Shirkatgah in Lahore, Pakistan says: “It is an unholy alliance that works against women: the killers take pride in what they have done, the tribal leaders condone the act and protect the killers and the police connive the cover-up.”

Honour killings are seen as less serious than murder. Sounds like a contradiction but women are being killed for “infractions” ranging from dressing more western to adulterous affairs. This is becoming more and more common, especially in societies that adopt Islamic sharia law even though in centuries past, they have occurred in ancient Rome or medieval times. In some communities, where women are gaining economic power and adopting more customs, there are men that feel that they have to act out in some way, usually violent, to regain some control.

Women who have been raped are also seen as bringing “disgrace” to their families and it is shattering that they become victimized twice over. Should pregnancy result from this, the consequences are catastrophic.

Homosexuality is also seen as legitimate grounds for killing. The United Nations and other NGO’s are alarmed by this phenomenon and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees state that “claims made by LGBT persons often reveal exposure to physical and sexual violence, extended periods of detention, medical abuse, threat of execution and honour killing.”

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Horror Not Honour. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that perhaps as many as 5,000 women and girls a year are killed by members of their own families. Many women’s groups in the Middle East and Southwest Asia suspect the victims are at least four times more.

So surely divorce or a court injunction against possible perpetrators would be the solution?

Sadly, this is usually a trigger for violence against women and for many; the feeling is that hope is lost.

What can be done, if anything, to stop honour killings or as they are called in some countries “crime of passion”?

The first step would be to be to really understand the “honour code” and learn from the lessons in history. For some cultures this practice is repugnant but in others it is acceptable “code”. One solution that has been discussed is “naming and shaming”. Another possibility is in communities where honour killings are seen as part of religious doctrine, to prove that this is not the correct interpretation of the Quran.

The battle to end honour killings is a long and arduous one but necessary. Perhaps the starting point is learning to respect life – not end it. That is the true shame and dishonor. The right to live in dignity and safety is a woman’s right.

 

 

 

First do no harm

This article is currently featured on Lay of the Land:

First do no harm

A couple of weeks ago, I had the distinct privilege of attending a rehearsal by a fantastic organization called Ukuleles for Peace. The brainchild of Briton, Paul Moore, who realized that something positive had to come out of the chaos of the second Intifada,  this outfit endeavours to bring together Jewish and Muslim youth in Israel to find common ground by creating beautiful music together. The instrument of choice? Ukuleles.

Now one would think that the idea of 12 youth from various backgrounds creating harmony while strumming their ukuleles would melt the most cynical of hearts. It did for some – but not others. The 12 unsuspecting students and their stringed accoutrement unwittingly unleashed chaos on social media.

Screenshot_2019-08-22-07-48-33-546_com.twitter.android.pngThere were a few who took great exception to this story and unleashed a tirade of accusations – accusing those of supporting this project of being “naïve” and of “not taking into account the threats posed by Iran or Hamas” and that we needed “to go back to lalaland with our ukuleles”.

This was quite a strong reaction and it made me wonder what triggered this kind of negative response. Was it the idea of youth from two different communities coming together? Was it that someone not Israeli had identified an opportunity and come up with a solution how to transcend the chaos and conflict and create something positive? Was it the ukuleles?

Whatever it was, it triggered a very aggressive reaction – and an all-out social media war.  Many who support this initiative felt compelled to jump in and defend the other position and it got me thinking, we are all working on the same side so why is there such mutual aggression?

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have become the mediums of choice for anyone wishing to share an opinion.

These social media platforms, while being very positive and useful mediums for sharing your message also has a dark side. These platforms have also provided a space for many who think that they are “experts” or at the very least keyboard generals.  In the war against racism, discrimination and antisemitism, social media is fast becoming the biggest battlefield.

As the mega-superstar, Lady Gaga, once said social media is the toilet of the internet.

Nothing is off limits – body shaming, parenting shaming, political viewpoint shaming is all the rage and if anyone can find something about you to insult, you bet your bottom dollar that they will.

And if you are a Zionist –whoo boy, it is open season for attack!!!

It is important to engage and be engaged BUT the how we do it is so important. At a time when antisemitism is rising around the world and many of us feel vulnerable; afraid and attacked (especially by trolls who hide behind the anonymity of a keyboard) is the right response to be as aggressive and abusive?

I am of the opinion that it is not. It is one thing to stand strong and unwavering in your identity – it is another to abuse someone else for a divergent opinion. Make a point emphatically but don’t personally attack people. In other words, play the ball not the player – that way you don’t come across as aggressive – and keep your credibility.

The way that we make our arguments in a public sphere has tremendous impact on our community – and Israel. We forget that the words we say have power. Aggression only serves to harm an empathy and open-mindedness that many have for hearing our point of view.

Have we lost our ability to have intelligent, nuanced conversation?

The whole point of social media is to create community and it is a great medium for connecting Israel to our diverse diaspora communities and is a great opportunity to engage on issues which can be very emotive. This can be done without baying for blood or verbally abusing someone with a different opinion. It only harms us.

Sometimes it is hard to keep a level head – the world seems so polarized, divided between left and right, pro and anti and often nuance and context are the first casualties. Antisemitism is rising; it makes us angry and rightly so.

I believe we need to show up. Show up for the conversation, no matter how difficult it may be. I sincerely believe that very time we engage, like or share on social media, send an email, we stand on the shoulders of the generations that came before us who had no voice and we speak for them.  It is a moral imperative to talk, to engage with others, to take advantage of the uncomfortable questions not just as an opportunity to present Israel’s side of the argument but to truly listen to the concerns of others. Instead of shutting down, let’s learn how to answer effectively, factually and with maturity.

We can go on the offensive and fight fact with fact but it is not about who screams the loudest. It is about fighting the injustice of hatred and also making sure that Israel’s narrative is presented in a way that does not bring harm to the image of the country her civilians and our diaspora communities. It is a hideous side effect that every time there is a conflagration or issue in Israel, those who hate take their tempers out on our diaspora communities.

We also need to celebrate the small victories. In a region where terrorism and incitement are all too often the norm, small occasions that bring together people from different backgrounds are cause for celebration – not condemnation.

Perhaps we should take the oath that doctors take before we react emotionally on social media. Our words have consequences. Perhaps it is time to take the oath first do no harm.

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“Shitty Jew”

This is currently featured in Lay of the Land:

Shitty Jew

This is a personal account of a grossly antisemitic incident and the events that followed. It is important to share these stories, especially at a time when levels of antisemitism are rising to alarming levels around the world. We can no longer be silent in the face of hatred

Yes, you read the title correctly. This is not an easy story to share with you but at a time when hatred and vile invective against Jews is rising alarmingly across the globe, I feel the need to rise above my own personal humiliation and hurt and allow myself the vulnerability of sharing this very personal story with you.

Today, it is more important than ever to expose racism and bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head and send a message that antisemitism will no longer go unchecked. It is no longer okay to gaslight the concerns of Jews and we will no longer suffer in silence.

This story takes place in race sensitive South Africa and exposes a diabolical double standard that exists on issues pertaining to racism. The democratic rainbow nation that enjoys what is arguably the most progressive Constitution in the world, sets the bar when comes to calling out the bigots and haters but when it comes to the oldest hatred in the world, is oddly silent. Has the current political climate with the ruling ANC’s almost rabid disdain for the State of Israel filtered down and is clouding human decency?

South Africans are all too familiar with cases like Penny Sparrow, Adam Catzavelos and others who have made repugnant racist comments and are paying the price but there seems to be no punishment for antisemitism – only avoidance.

I guess when it comes to equal opportunity hatred, the South African media are not as “woke” as they purport to be. Cry the beloved country.

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It all started with a letter.

In my capacity as co-founder of the South Africa-Israel Policy Forum, I responded to both a letter written by Gunvant Govinjee and an article written by Alexander O’Riordan that featured in the Business Day and The Daily Maverick respectively. Regrettably, my opening line that stated unequivocally that my letter was in response to both the letter AND the article, was omitted in both publications.

O’Riordan erroneously interpreted some of my comments as a direct attack on him, and proceeded to call me a liar both in a letter of response in the Business Day as well as on my Facebook page. The latter followed an invitation into my personal space after a well-meaning acquaintance suggested that if we spoke to each other, we might find middle ground.

It was not to be!

O’Riordan unleashed venomous invective, calling me a liar multiple times, alleging that I called him a racist (there is a BIG difference between calling someone a racist and saying comments are such) and demanding an apology. Although acknowledging that ‘perhaps’ he had reacted wrongly, he STILL persisted in calling me a liar. I had all the facts so wasn’t as bothered by those accusations as I was by what followed.

When I replied to him by saying that I was a proud Jew, his only response is to resort to personal attack and things took a profound turn for the worse.

O’Riordan responded by calling me a “shitty Jew” no less than four times and his final punch was comparing me to Harvey Weinstein and Bernie Madoff. Now, while I cannot testify to Madoff or Weinstein’s levels of religious observance, I can ask why is religion a factor on what kind of a person they are? We don’t judge other criminals by their religion n’est-ce pas?

O’Riordan then went on to clarify who he deems “decidedly unshitty”. Those Jews that are “good” i.e. anti-Zionist or anti-Israel like Ronnie Kasrils or Joe Slovo. Good Jews vs Bad Jews – a distinction which antisemites are weaponising in order to sow division and try rationalise their hate-driven behaviour.

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O’Riordan claims that Ronnie Kasrils, a former Minister of Intelligence is a “good Jew” but please allow me to remind readers that this is a man who in an Op-ed for the Daily Maverick on the 20th of April this year, made the following comments referring to the development of business ties with Israel as “crony capitalists within the ANC” who were more than ready to have “their palms greased like Judas with silver coins“.

Today, the word ‘Israel’ or ‘Zionist’ has replaced ‘Jew’, and Kasrils, despite his Jewish roots, is trafficking in nasty antisemitic tropes. While O’Riordan – a self-proclaimed atheist – further states that there are “shitty people” of other religions, it is the focus on Jews and his propensity to make divisions that is decidedly dangerous and must be called out.

Good Jew vs Shitty Jew – this is not criticism of Israeli policy, which is legitimate and which Israelis have elevated to a national sport. This is where the line has been crossed and a further line drawn in the sand.

We, the Jewish people will decide what is offensive to us and making these despicable distinctions offends us to the core. Must we be punished and isolated for having and supporting a state of our own? Those like O’Riordan who make these distinctions believe so.

Following this, I sent an official letter of complaint to both editors, thinking that they do would share my disgust and act. To date I have had no response – not even an acknowledgement  of receipt  – from either of the editors.

Radio silence!

At first, I was angry and then I thought, perhaps there is something more to this. Were the editors afraid of taking a stand or drawing attention to this issue? I really don’t believe it is anything personal or anti-Israel on behalf of the editors; on the contrary, I think the political climate in South Africa is such that it could invite a lot of hate-filled invective.image005 (5).png

Has the climate become such that when it comes to rising antisemitism in South Africa, people are too scared to take a stand? The recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the ruling ANC and terror organization, Hamas as well as the renaming of Sandton Drive after arch terrorist, Leila Khaled, has firmly cemented where South Africa’s alliances fall. The trafficking in antisemitic tropes by ANC and other party leaders such as the EFF who made this statement “We also call on the international community to remember the people of Palestine, the birth and death place of Jesus Christ. They represent the suffering, the permanently crucified, disfigured and humiliated body of Christ hanging on the summit for all shame. The Palestinians suffer racial discrimination, colonization and apartheid in the hands of the apartheid state of Israel” or former Foreign Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu who wished the “Israeli Embassy was in the Dead Sea” only adds fuel to the fire.

O’Riordan’s comments I find racist and offensive and the subsequent editorial silence of the respected Business Day and Daily Maverick, I find worrying, especially in today’s climate. My concern is compounded by these publications offering a platform to a professional propagandist who when unable to establish facts, resorts to racism, when referring to me as a “shitty Jew”!shitty Jew4.JPG

If he had made these comments about another race or religion, it would be equally intolerable and someone like this who trafficks in racism should be publicly shunned and exposed. O’Riordan should be held to the same standards as any racist.

If it is not going to happen in a country like South Africa that purports to be a liberal democracy to take a stand of racism in any of its ugly forms then it is up to us as individuals. Failure to do so allows for hatred to flourish.

I won’t be silent or silenced. Not on my watch.

In a democracy there should not be any place for intolerance and racism in a civilized society.shitty Jew5.JPG

23 741

This is currently featured on Lay of the Land:

23 741

There are 23 741 reasons to bow our heads this Yom Hazikaron. There are 23 741 reasons to express our profound eternal gratitude. There are 23 741 reasons for our hearts to ache. There are 23 741 reasons to be proud. 23 741 reason for the tears to fall from our eyes. There are 23 741 to remember. There are 23 741 names ingrained in our hearts forever. There are 23 741 reasons for the siren to wail its mournful cry.

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War & Remembrance. Young Israeli soldier lays national flags at a military cemetery before a ceremony on Yom Hazikaron. Ceremonies are held throughout the country at the exact same time commencing with a siren sounding at 11.00am throughout the country.

23 741 soldiers, security forces and police have fallen in defense of Israel since its birth as a modern state in 1948.

We will never forget them.

The stories of unparalleled bravery and selfless sacrifice like Roi Klein, who saved the life of his unit by absorbing the blast of grenade. Risking it all to leave the comforts of home in the US, to serve as a paratrooper like Michael Levine. The iconic warrior like Yoni Netanyahu who fell in Israel’s daring Entebbe operation in 1976 that rescued 102 Jewish hostages from a hijacked Air France passenger aircraft in Uganda’s capital.

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Jonathan (“Yoni”) Netanyahu, brother of Israel’s Prime Minister, commanded the elite commando unit Sayeret Matkal during Operation Entebbe to rescue hostages held at Entebbe Airport in Uganda in 1976. The mission was successful, with 102 of the 106 hostages rescued, but Netanyahu was killed in action — the only IDF fatality during the operation.

The names of the wars and operations are etched in memory – the War of Independence, the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the wars with Lebanon, Operation Cast Lead and so on.

Their names are seared in our hearts.

And there are those whose names we will never know but whose valiant acts of bravery are the reasons that we enjoy the freedoms that we do.

At 20h00 a mournful siren will announce the start of Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen warriors and victims of terror.

Yom Hazikaron inspires in us a sense of awe and creates an incredible sense of solidarity amongst Jews around the world, but it is here in Israel where the emotions are seriously heightened. Our soldiers are not uniformed strangers who serve but our children, spouses, colleagues, parents, friends and lovers.

They are the people we love.

Yom Hazikaron is not only a day of remembrance, but also one of gratitude. Few words can express how grateful we are for all who protect us on land, sea and air. Our brave warriors, these lions of Zion are our guardians and protectors. We are proud of them; we embrace them, and we love them.

Israelis respect life. We revere life and we revel in it. And it is on this solemn and heartbreaking day that we are reminded of its fragility.

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Mesmerising Message. Staff Sgt. Michael Levin soon after he was drafted in 2005. He was killed a year later in the Second Lebanon War. ‘If anything happens to me, I just want to say that I love you and miss you and wish you all the best,’ Levin said in a voicemail, shortly before he was killed. (Tami Gross)

This year is particularly poignant. I write this just days after 700 rockets were fired by terror groups in the Gaza strip into Israel, killing 4 civilians (may their memories be for a blessing) and injuring and traumatizing countless others. We were reminded again that the guardians of Israel neither slumber nor sleep as they worked 24/7 to protect us.  We thankfully lost no soldiers but days like this are bitter reminders of the threats we face as a nation and how achingly close we come to situations where  this is a possibility.

In recent years, Yom Hazikaron has also included honouring victims of terror attacks.

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Druze Hero. Over 3,000 people from all over Israel attended a memorial rally for Druze policeman Zidan Saif in his home town of Yanuh-Jat in the Galilee in 2014, killed while trying to stop a terrorist attack at a synagogue in Jerusalem.

Victims targeted simply for being Israeli. We remember brave men like Ari Fuld who gave chase to his murderer before succumbing to his wounds. Zidan Saif, a Druze policeman who had come off his shift when he heard of an attack on a synagogue and rushed to assist and paid with his life. We remember teenagers Gilad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Naphtali Frenkel  – whose names live on in heartbreaking infamy. We remember the mothers and father, brothers and sisters, grandparents and babies – gone soon, far too soon. This year the number of victims of terror is 3 146.

There are 3 146 reason to remember, to wipe the tears from our eyes, to light a candle.

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Israel Stunned. Mourning candles in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, following the June 12, 2014 the brutal murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

In an emotional paradox, the sun will set on mourning and Israel will don her best blue and white to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut.

This year we have 23 741 more reasons to. We celebrate in their names.

They will forever be the watchers on our walls, the guardians of our gates. Their memories will be forever blessed.

“…And so they stand, the light on their faces, and the Lord,

alone passes among them, with tears in His eyes He kisses

their wounds, and He says in a trembling voice to the white

angels: “These are my sons, these are my sons.”

 The Parade of the Fallen / Hayim Hefer