Mandela, Barghouti and the theft of a narrative

This article is currently featured in Israelink – read it here:

Barghouti is NO Mandela

One of the questions I am often asked in lectures or interviews is where is the Palestinian and Israeli De Klerk and Mandela when it comes to ending the nearly 70 year conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Where is the Middle Eastern equivalent of brave leaders willing to make uncomfortable sacrifices, to the detriment of support from their constituencies in order to forge peace?

More often than not, this opens up debate about what could be done and what kinds of concessions need to be made in order to achieve peace. While the South African experience is not a “one size fits all” solution, it is clear that in order to achieve peace, both sides will have to commit to negotiations and make painful sacrifices.

South Africa seems to hold a special place of both fascination and significance when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, from both a positive and negative perspective and very often the South African narrative is used by Israel’s detractors to suit their more nefarious agendas. The theft of the South African narratives and many of its symbols and icons is a ploy used by the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) movement to treat Israel like a pariah and call into question her legitimacy as a sovereign state. The latest is the hijacking of the status of iconic human rights activist and anti- Apartheid leader, Nelson Mandela by arch-terrorist and Palestinian prisoner, Marwan Barghouti.

Nelson Mandela once famously declared that “if you want to make peace with your enemy you have to work. Then your enemy becomes your partner”.

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Marwan Barghouti is hoping to position himself as the “Palestinian Mandela” and a possible successor to President Mahmoud Abbas.

Who exactly is Marwan Barghouti?

Marwan Barghouti is a former leader of Tanzim, the armed wing of Fatah, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, both terror organisations responsible for the murder of many Israeli civilians. Barghouti is serving time for the planning and directing of the murders of 5 Israelis.

Some have opined that in the early days of the struggle, Mandela advocated terrorism but the fundamental difference was that the ANC adopted a policy of sabotage, while Barghouti is on record as saying, “the time when only we sacrifice victims is past. We must take revenge. We must kill Israelis. Yes. We have bullets. We have rifles, and they will be aimed at the occupation.”

Mandela, who is a symbol of reconciliation, would never have countenanced such appalling actions.

Barghouti, who is entitled to a salary and could earn up to 12,000 NIS a month (about R45,000) because murder is not above his pay grade, has initiated a hunger strike.

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Now many would wonder, why would Palestinian prisoners participate in such a strike because they do receive regular visits from family as well as the Red Cross, access to medical care, education, religious rights and meetingswith attorneys as well as a multitude of other comforts. They can even watch TV although I am sure they would not be supporting Israel at the great superbowl of singing contests, Eurovision.

One would think that there is some great inalienable right that they are striking for. A strike that is garnering similar solidarity initiatives, such as the one supported by a whole bunch of South African politicians, celebrities and ne’er do gooders.  No ladies and gentlemen, the prisoners are striking for…..“Access to satellite channels tailored to the needs of prisoners.”*

No wonder Barghouti was so stressed he felt compelled to sneak into the lavatory of his cell for a chocolate and tortilla break on two occasions!

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With all the controversy and hullaballoo surrounding the strikes one would think that the voices of the truly downtrodden in our region would be heard.

If Barghouti was a fraction of the man he seeks to position himself as he would strike. He would starve for the rights of women in the Middle East, and bring attention to the scourge of honour killings, genital mutilation and second class citizen status of our sisters. He would strike for attention to be brought to the persecution of Christians and Gays, the lack of freedom of expression and the right of a free press. He would draw attention to the treatment of political opposition. If Barghouti gave a damn he would follow in the footsteps of Madiba who was a passionate advocate for education and use his voice to end the flagrant child abuse that passes for schooling in the territories.

He would be a wise leader, not a jailhouse fool.

In the quest for the Palestinian Mandela, one thing is for sure, it sure ain’t Marwan Barghouti!

*Reference NGO Monitor

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Talking Tachlis: Yom Hashoa edition: Interview with Rabbi Lau

World WIZO commemorates Yom Hashoa with a special edition of Talking Tachlis. In this episode, we have a conversation with World WIZO Chairperson, Prof. Rivka Lazovsky and our special guest, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi and child survivor of Buchenwald Concentration camp.

This was a profoundly emotional interview for me (we had to stop filming so I could dry my tears and pull myself together)  and such an honour to meet Rabbi Lau, a real treasure.

During this emotional and moving interview, you will the laughter of Israeli children and we could not help but be moved by the triumphant sounds of happy children, free to play and laugh in their schoolyard after hearing about the darkest chapter in our history.

The interview is in Hebrew with English subtitles.

May the memories of all who perished be blessed.

Rabbi Lau interview

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Redi and Roro: The Return Match

This article is currently published on IsraeLink:

IsraeLink

Journalists have an ethical imperative to report the news based on facts. The following exchange was motivated by a radio broadcast by well- known 702 host, Redi Tlhabi’s excoriating the leader of the opposition,  the Democratic Alliance’s, Mmusi Maimane. Listen here:

https://omny.fm/shows/afternoon-drive-702/mmusi-maimane-s-trip-to-israel

Rolene Marks letter to Redi Tlhabi:

http://www.news24.com/Columnists/GuestColumn/a-letter-to-redi-tlhabi-on-israel-20170119-2

Redi Tlhabi’s response:

http://m.news24.com/news24/Columnists/GuestColumn/redi-tlhabi-on-israel-maimane-and-unfair-criticism-20170123

Tlhabi’s response contained many factual errors which cannot be left unchallenged. To do so would be to allow dangerous misinformation to flourish at a time when comparisons between Israel and Apartheid South Africa often lead to intimidation and sometimes violence against Jews.

Dear Redi

Thank you for replying to me. While I would love to sit down face to face to chat, I am happy that we have opened up a dialogue on a very contentious issue, one that is highly emotionally charged for many South Africans.

I am also glad that you raised the issue of bullying. We in the media occupy a bully pulpit, it is often very hard for disempowered members of the public to argue and disagree with us, when they do, we should welcome this, this is a fundamental principal of democracy. You have always asked your listeners and readers to engage with you and you must, in turn, be willing to accept the criticism as much as you give it, without feeling bullied. To disagree with you is not to bully you, unless a double standard is applied.

The anti-Israel propogandists often send abusive mails and threats to me. I have been called everything from “Occupier Barbie” to being told “Hitler should have finished me off” and that there was “a gas chamber waiting for you”. Luckily, I am able to shrug it off. My people have been subject to abuse, racism and oppression for so long, this is not new to us. The fact that your letters implies that Jews are not the indigenous population of the land of Israel raises deep concerns for me and clearly alarm bells over your understanding of the past 3 000 years of history.

The fact that I live in a free, democratic and non-racist society where all citizens of Israel vote freely and equally in a democratic state appears not to fit into your narrative. Your assumptions about Israel, its ideology and practice are so far from the reality, that I invite you to come see for yourself rather than adopt the jaundiced views of the most well-funded propaganda machine in the world. As journalists, we have a moral responsibility to report the news based on facts rather than the alternative facts that appear to have permeated our society of late.

I want to explain to you, why to many, your views represent a double standard, that opens you to the criticism you have received.

The thrust of your argument appears to be that Israel traded and cooperated with the old Apartheid regime and must therefore be subject to special scrutiny and criticism for its “current actions”.

While Israel’s cooperation with the Apartheid regime is a cause of much embarrassment to me as both a South African and an Israeli, Israel’s role in not standing up to Apartheid is insignificant in comparison to those countries with whom you appear to have no problem. Israel’s total amount of trade with the then Apartheid government was a mere $200m dollars per annum compared to U.S.A. – $3.4 billion, Japan – $2.9 billion, Germany- $2.8 billion, U.K. – $2.6 billion etc.

It was the oil tankers from Iran and Saudi Arabia which kept the wheels of apartheid oiled. Arab oil exports to South Africa totaled more than $3 billion per year and, if that supply had been cut off, would have ended apartheid in the 1960’s. The Saudi and Iranian human rights records are abysmal and constitute some of the worst human rights violators in the world today. Nonetheless South African government officials often visit both of these countries, yet you have failed to ever raise any issues of concern about them. So the question to be raised is whether a double standard is applied by yourself?

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Image courtesy of Spotlighting

France supplied Apartheid South Africa with weapons, nuclear material and financial aid, Switzerland the USA and Britain funded the Apartheid regime, Germany supported the racist regime in extensive trade. I include a few of the thousands of examples that can be sited:

  • Royal Dutch/Shell’s subsidiary, Shell South Africa, was involved in extensive operations in the petroleum, mining and chemical industries of South Africa and Namibia, with an estimated turnover of more than US$2 billion in South Africa in 1989.
  • In 1962 Britain’s ICI and South Africa’s De Beers each put £5 million into AECI (African Explosives and Chemicals Industries) to set up three new plants producing tear gas, ammunition for small arms, anti-tank and aircraft rockets.
  • British Leyland’s South African subsidiary supplied Land Rovers that were used by the South African police against students in the 1976 Soweto uprising.

The human rights records of all of these nations in Iraq, Libya, Syria have resulted in many hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths. Once again, South African government officials often visit, yet you remain silent and raise no issues of concern? One has to ask if a special standard is applied to the Jewish State and why?

It appears that your perspective has little to do with a historical relationship between Israel and South Africa. It also looks as if not to be based on human rights. When our leaders visit Russia, perpetrator of some of the greatest crimes against humanity in modern times in places like Syria and Chechnya and which has recently occupied parts of the Ukraine, you have never raised any issue of concern.

When the ANC hosted internationally criticized Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in South Africa, a man responsible for attempted genocide against the Jewish people – you failed to raise your voice.

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President Jacob Zuma and Hamas’ Khaled Meshaal

And therein lies the rub of why you have opened yourself up to so much criticism from such a broad range of South African society. If your views on human rights were consistent, you would have no criticism. But when a special standard is applied to Jews and the Jewish state, you lead people to ask some very troubling questions.

I would love to welcome you here in Israel to see for yourself and understand the remarkable, vibrant, troubled, free, complex and conflictual society in which I live. You and all people are always welcome.

A noble intersection – where Zionism and Feminism meet.

This article currently appears on Israelink:

Noble Intersection – Israelink

Linda Sarsour would appear to be a rising star of feminist causes. She organizes rallies, cleans up cemeteries and protests at every conceivable opportunity. She is a veritable pin up for girl power.

In the last few days, Sarsour has made sweeping comments that Zionism and feminism simply do not go together.

“It just doesn’t make any sense for someone to say, ‘Is there room for people who support the state of Israel and do not criticize it in the movement?’ There can’t be in feminism. You either stand up for the rights of all women, including Palestinians, or none. There’s just no way around it,” Sarsour said.

Comments like this are fast alienating Jewish, Zionist women from participating in the growing feminist movement in the USA.

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Feminism is very much a part of the fabric of Zionism and the story of the modern state of Israel and as a Zionist, feminist woman I am free to pretty much say what I want – unlike my Palestinian sisters.

Feminism predates the modern state of Israel and weaves through Jewish history with feminist heroines like Yael and Devorah and they have continued the tradition of strong, outspoken women in modern times. Zionists wrote the book on feminism. Literally! Have you read the bible? Some pretty strong women in there!

Zionist women are the ultimate feminist rebels, pioneers and trailblazers.  Before the formal establishment of Israel, women were establishing the systems and institutions that would improve life for her citizens.  While the men jaw jawed and talked politics, women were busy on the ground.

I am a proud volunteer member of WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation), holding the position of Executive member in charge of Public Diplomacy. WIZO was founded in 1920 and a little known fact is that the organization was at the forefront of the suffragette movement that took place in Europe at the time.  The struggle for political suffrage for women is regarded as first wave of feminism.

Our history is proud and noble and our women have worked hard for the improvement of the status of women both in Israel and globally. We have representatives on various UN bodies that lobby for the rights of women and children and amongst our many achievements have been programmes that help women in minority communities, some who have even run for office. WIZO formed a party and ran for Knesset in Israel’s first elections in 1949, receiving 1.2% of the vote and winning one seat and was represented by Rachel Cohen-Kagan, chairwoman of WIZO at the time and a signatory to our Declaration of Independence.

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WIZO’s Rachel Kagan signs the Declaration of Independence

Women’s rights in Israel are amongst the most progressive in the world and it would be remiss of me to not mention the iconic Golda Meir, one of the first female Prime Ministers in the world.  A powerful leader and orator, Meir was one of the first to recognize how Israel can help impoverished countries in Africa and this was very much in line with the father of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl’s, vision that he wrote in his manifesto.

Zionist women are free to criticize any policy that we may disagree with because an Israel that stands up to the tenets of Zionism is what we strive for.

Israel is a vibrant and flawed democracy just like any other country and women are very much a part of the fabric that has and continues to build the country every day. We are pioneers in many fields. 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 changing the political landscape and we represent over 80 different ethnicities. We can vote, drive, and own property and business. We can make decisions that govern our bodies and our communities and and lobby vociferously for continued improvement.

It is not just in Israel where Zionist women are trailblazers. It was a Zionist, feminist woman, Helen Suzman, who sat in parliament as the lone voice fighting against the Apartheid government in South Africa.

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Helen Suzman and Nelson Mandela

Well Linda, if you are really concerned about the rights of Palestinian women you would be holding the leadership accountable at every possible turn. You would be demonstrating your outrage about domestic  violence and honour killings, gender Apartheid which prohibits women from owning property or businesses,  driving, voting and pursuing careers of their choice. You would march against underage brides forced to marry men before they reach puberty. You would be outraged about genital mutilation, genocide of Christians and the unspeakable torture women are enduring in the Middle East under ISIS.

Thank you Linda Sarsour for exposing what we know for sure – BDS is becoming more and more irrelevant as governments and institutions continue to pass legislation to block or ban them so they have to hijack other cause to remain relevant. This is known as “intersectionality”. You are supporter of this movement that operates under the false pretens of “human rights” but is continuously exposed for the rabid anti-Semitism they extol.

Well Ms Sarsour, we Zionist women are happy to meet you at any intersection. Standing up for the rights of women regardless of religion or political leanings is what feminism is all about.

Stop pointing your finger at Israel and Zionists and use your considerable platform to give a voice to our suffering sisters.  Help those women who you accuse us of discriminating against. They are far more deserving of your attention than we are.

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They call me Occupier Barbie

They call me Occupier Barbie. This is not because of any political opinions or leanings but because I am Jewish. I am viewed as a de facto “occupier” not because I live in any disputed area but because I live in Israel, the Jewish State, which some see as being illegally occupied as they venomously chant  “from the river to the sea”. Historical facts seem to play no role.

Occupier Barbie is not the only derogatory name I have been called. It is just the most creative. Some of the others are so repugnant, that I don’t want to repeat them in polite company. So why am I bringing this up again? The answer is simple – because as long as this ugly hatred rears its head I will show up to use my voice against it. It is critical that we start to use our voices as often and as loud as possible.

Anti-Semitism, long referred to as the oldest hatred, is spreading like a cancer throughout the world. We have seen it resurface in Europe just decades after the darkest moment in human history, the Holocaust. We must remember that the gas chambers of Auschwitz was built on words, they did not simply appear in a vacuum.

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Now this disease has spread to the USA where to date there have been multiple waves of threats against various Jewish Community Centres , graves have been desecrated in cemeteries and property defaced with swastikas and other horrific graffiti.  It seems that even the Jewish dead are not allowed peace.  Anti-Semitism has been roundly condemned by the US government but it has yet to reach the level of consciousness in the media or popular culture that other issues such as the immigration ban or infamous “Pussy Marches” have had. Yes I said the “P”word but how you interpret it is up to where your mind is at. Weren’t you thinking of a hat…..?

While many of my feminist sisters marched for equal rights and equality, notably missing was a sign that said “Jewish rights are human rights”. The march was even organized by arch anti-Zionist, Linda Sarsour, who demanded to “free Palestine”.  She also used an image of Anne Frank to make this point and appropriating a picture of a victim of the Holocaust and using it to support an organization like BDS whose endgame is the destruction of the State of Israel is a new kind of low.

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Linda Sarsour hijacks the Women’s March in the most appalling way.

Sarsour attempted a mea culpa by raising money to repair damaged gravestones that had been desecrated by flagrant anti-Semites. Occupier Barbie is not convinced – I detect a lack of authenticity. It felt a lot like well-planned media grandstanding.  What I do appreciate is the effort from Muslim veteran who offered to stand guard at Jewish cemeteries and synagogues. I tweeted each one my sincere gratitude. Every single one of them responded positively.

I have to say I am more than perturbed by the silence of the most high profile voices – celebrities. We cannot undervalue the power of their reach through social media and other outlets and we know that they LOVE a good cause and lately every opportunity to speak out at any given moment. Award season has been filled with righteous political speeches but when it comes to anti-Semitism, there is not a sound from the pulpits. Nada. Crickets.

While we know that the ACLU ribbon fabulously accessorizes the right frock and Louboutins, it means nothing if you don’t speak truth to power.

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More than a fashion statement?

I would love for them to put their money where the ribbon is and visit a campus and speak to the Jewish students, especially during the course of this month when the dreaded festival of hate, Israel Apartheid Week makes its annual appearance.

Last week it surfaced on the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) campus in Johannesburg. In the face of horrendous hatred and anti-Semitism Pro-Israel students gave us all a masterclass in dignity, class and courage under fire. They refused to be bullied or intimidated and stood up at every turn. They held us up on their mighty shoulders and inspired this blog. They showed us what the collective can accomplish, especially in the face of global silence.

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Iron like lions in Zion! Pro-Israel students on Wits Campus don’t take the “die in” lying down…..

They call me Occupier Barbie.  I refused to be embarrassed or cowered, instead  I am going to own it because I know who I am and what I stand for and invite you to stand with me, name calling and all!

They call me a Zionist apologist and make no mistake, I do not apologise for being a proud Zionist.

I am not naive or stupid. I am well aware of the serious threats and consequences of hate. I live with it every day and have cried countless tears over all those we have lost as a result of incitement and terrorism. I am well aware of loss. Those that seek to destroy us first do so by making us doubt who we are, by instilling fear and dread.

When we stand firm in our conviction, when we show up strong in our identity, they cannot shake our foundations, they cannot sow seeds of doubt. They cannot defeat us.

I am Occupier Barbie and I make no apologies for standing strong, for standing tall, for standing for what is true. Am Yisrael Chai!

Are we doing it wrong?

No not THAT! But I did get your attention…….

I am speaking about the way we advocate not just for Israel but engage on any political topic. In the post Clinton-Trump election campaign era where anything goes and people feel free to say whatever they want; many a dormant racist and Anti-Semite have found a new lease on life. Social media platforms have become extremely unpleasant and 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!!!

Some of you may be familiar with the recent exchange with popular radio broadcaster and journalist, Redi Tlhabi. Tlhabi has a show on 702 talk radio in Johannesburg and used her platform to excoriate the leader of the opposition in SA, Mmusi Maimane about his recent trip to Israel.

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Redi Tlhabi

Listen here:

Redi on the Maimane visit

Although the official government position of South Africa is support of a two state solution, President Jacob Zuma, recently called on South Africans to not go to Israel. This is an extremely myopic viewpoint for a country often lauded for its ability to broker reconciliation following the collapse of Apartheid in that country.

As someone who grew up in South Africa but is a proud Israeli citizen, I felt a duty to speak out against such flagrant media bias. Israel, like any country is not perfect. We make our fair share of mistakes but like any healthy democracy, criticism is welcome and so is the impetus to improve. When Israel is criticized in a vacuum at the expense of other conflict zones or factual untruths allowed to go unchallenged…well…that is where the line is crossed and we move into a dangerous area.

Make no mistake, criticism is healthy. It serves Israel no purpose to be above reproach. Criticizing the government is the favourite national pastime in Israel. Nobody does it better than us.

I was with this in mind that I wrote my open letter to Redi Thlabi. My intention was not to engage in the politics of blame but rather to try and open a dialogue. Often times, advocacy work becomes a dance of either going on the offensive or defensive and nobody wins. I thought maybe it was time for a different approach. I hoped that by sitting down, woman to woman and broadcaster to broadcaster, we could connect on a different level. Blatant aggression from supporters does not serve the case of either side. To those who have no dog in the race, we look like a bunch of over emotional nut-jobs. My intention was to approach this from a mature angle a “let’s talk tachlis” (okay, a small bit of promotion here!) – maybe if we start a responsible conversation, others would follow.

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Rolene Marks

You can read our exchange here:

My letter to Redi Tlhabi:

http://www.news24.com/Columnists/GuestColumn/a-letter-to-redi-tlhabi-on-israel-20170119-2

Redi’s rebuttal:

http://m.news24.com/news24/Columnists/GuestColumn/redi-tlhabi-on-israel-maimane-and-unfair-criticism-20170123

It wasn’t quite the response that I was hoping for and I was dismayed that Tlhabi seemed closed to discourse.  Never the less, the attempt was made and I am not discouraged in the least. In fact I will continue to knock on the doors.

I am glad that Redi raised the issue of bullying. I have been called everything from “Occupier Barbie” to “closeted Muslim” and sms boards and the twitterverse go nuts if I say something that deviates a millimeter off sycophantic drivel while giving my analysis on my daily radio slot. This has to stop. It only serves to alienate those who have not been polarized by the conflict and are open to engagement.

I love my country. Passionately. I love her people, her beautiful flaws and like any great love, am prepared to sometimes get into a little argument with her. I am no different to my fellow citizens who feel and do the same. I believe that part of being Zionist means always striving for a strong and great Israel.

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.

Opening doors is how peace is forged. We cannot be responsible for the actions of the other side and we are certainly don’t need to be punching bags but we do need to ensure that when speaking about Israel, we put our best foot forward – not in our mouths.

Talking Tachlis: A conversation with Natan Sharansky and Prof.Rivka Lazovsky

I am delighted to introduce the latest episode of Talking Tachlis which features a conversation between two great organisations. World WIZO Executive Member: Public Diplomacy & Hasbara, Rolene Marks and I sat down with Chairman of the Executive for the Jewish Agency for Israel and human rights icon, Natan Sharansky for a conversation about our organizations, defining anti-Semitism through “the 3-d lens”, special friendships with Nelson Mandela and a whole lot more.

This was a real highlight for me and very humbling to sit down with a modern Zionist hero.

Video clip is in English and available with English, French and Spanish subtitles:

English subtitles

Spanish subtitles

French Subtitles

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