Israel’s Earth Shot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greening the Desert

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

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

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

Preserving Species

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

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

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

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

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

A Birder’s Paradise

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

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

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

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

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

Genetic Conservation of Plants

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

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

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

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

Saluting the Sun

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

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

Environmental Minister at the time, Yuval Steinitz said:

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

A Country of the Future

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

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

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

Zoom Says No to Terror

This is featured in Lay of the Land:https://layoftheland.online/2020/10/06/zoom-says-no-to-terror/

Virtual meeting giant puts the kibosh on webinar featuring terrorist

One of the few silver linings coming out of the Covid-19 global pandemic is that even though we are all responsibly social distancing (well most of us!), we have been able to connect with each other using technology platforms like Zoom. With the aid of Zoom, which is a meeting platform, we have been able to take virtual tours, listen to lectures from experts, attend weddings and sadly funerals and more.

Zoom happy hour. Everyone is using Zoom.

Unfortunately, this has also created a gathering place for the many that use social media as an opportunity to disseminate hate.  The various platforms have created communities intent on galvanising hatred. At a time when the world is seemingly distracted by the global pandemic and its effect on economies and societies, so these types of groups find opportunity to come together, to plan, to recruit and to potentially mobilise. The opportunity presented by social media to connect all of us, no matter where we are, is appreciated as borders are still mostly closed. Just as many of us “use our powers for good” so others see this as prime time to do the opposite.

Recently, San Francisco State University planned to host a webinar featuring Leila Khaled. Khaled is known far less for any speaking prowess than she is for being an arch terrorist.  A member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Khaled is more famous for her part in two plane hijackings in 1969 and 1970. She infamously threatened to blow up one of the planes with a grenade and today takes a perverse pleasure in still being allowed to fly. She is also a favoured poster child for the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), often trotted out for their fundraising events. Hardly Brené  Brown or Tony Robbins!

The panel would have featured a Who’s Who of the anti-Israel establishment, including former South African Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils, who is well known for supporting the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. He is famous for this quote, “BDS represents three words that will help bring about the defeat of Zionist Israel and victory for Palestine.” Decked in de rigeur keffiyehs, the accessory of choice for most self-respecting anti-Zionists, it did not take a genius to figure out that the event touted as a discussion on “gender, justice and resistance” would fast descend into what these kinds of forums often do – an excuse to spout some of the most vile antisemitic invective.

News of the impending webinar drew fire from advocacy groups such as the Lawfare Project, which argued that Zoom could face legal liability for hosting it because the US has labeled Khaled’s group, the PFLP, a terrorist organization. The Lawfare Project argued that the event violated Zoom’s terms of service for that very reason. Zoom took these arguments very seriously and effectively and informed the organisers that they could not use Zoom to host their event.

In light of the speaker’s reported affiliation or membership in a US designated foreign terrorist organization, and SFSU’s inability to confirm otherwise, we determined the meeting is in violation of Zoom’s Terms of Service and told SFSU they may not use Zoom for this particular event,”a Zoom spokesperson said in a statement, adding that the firm is“committed to supporting the open exchange of ideas and conversations.”

The organisers, more than a little ticked off, decided to then move the event to other platforms. Facebook denied them immediately and removed the listening for the event because it went against a company policy “prohibiting praise, support and representation for dangerous organizations”. YouTube removed the video of Khaled’s talk after 20 minutes, saying that it violated its terms of service. Most recently, YouTube has banned arch-antisemite Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam for hate speech.

Some have asked the question – where is the line between hate speech and the freedom of speech? Hate speech is often defined as that kind of rhetoric that leads to a violent action or harm against a person or a group of people and Leila Khaled firmly fits into that category.

Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Abraham Cooper said, “No matter how many layers of whitewash academics apply to Leila Khaled, she remains a terrorist who continues to promote hate, violence and terrorism.”

SFSU spokesperson Kent Bravo said in a statement to the Jewish Journal that just because Khaled is speaking at a university Zoom event doesn’t mean the university endorses her views.

Higher education and the college experience are an opportunity to hear divergent ideas, viewpoints and accounts of life experiences,” Bravo said. “An important outcome of the college experience is to learn to think critically and come to independent, personal conclusions about events of local and global importance. A university is a marketplace of ideas and San Francisco State University supports the rights of all individuals to express their viewpoints and other speech protected by law, even when those viewpoints may be controversial. We also strive to be a welcoming and nurturing campus for students from a variety of ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. We recognize that the exercise of free speech and academic freedom can result in discomfort or pain for others. We have systems in place to support our students, including our Division of Diversity and Community Inclusion.”

With antisemitism rising to alarming levels around the world and university campuses becoming battlegrounds of hatred against Jewish students, it has become incumbent on faculty to be more careful and much more aware of who they invite – and terrorists are surely not proponents of free speech and open debate.

After years of campaigns by many to warn social media platforms about the dangers of allowing hate speech, they are finally waking up and taking action and the answer to those wishing to share their hateful speech is “not on our platform!”

It is time for universities and other forums to pull up the welcome mat and say that while in the pursuit of mutually respectful discourse, divergent opinion is encouraged – hate speech and avowed terrorists are not.

The Right Kind of Notorious

This article currently features on Lay of the Land:

A tribute to the extraordinary Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg

It has been said that if someone passes away during the High Holy days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they must have been a righteous soul.  This past weekend, US Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, died at the age of 87 due to complications from pancreatic cancer. It was first day of Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year.

(Illustration Credit :Casey Wood ’23/The Hawk)

Ruth Bader Ginsberg or Kiki, as she was affectionately called; was one of the most loved and respected public figures in the United States. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, the promising young lawyer earned her Bachelor’s degree at Cornell University before studying law at the prestigious Harvard University. One of 9 women in her class of 500; she had married Martin D. Ginsberg and became a mother and balanced all of this with her studies. Theirs was a love story for the ages, and the jurist often referred to her falling for her husband because he valued her for her brain. Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law School, where she graduated joint first in her class. After law school, Ginsburg entered academia, becoming a professor at Rutgers Law School and Columbia Law School, teaching civil procedure as one of the few women in her field.

Apart from her stellar academic record, Bader Ginsburg  was a trailblazer for women’s rights, having spent much of her legal career as an advocate for gender equality and winning many arguments before the Supreme Court. She was famous for saying, “women belong in all places where decisions are made” and certainly made sure that women were represented – not merely token placements. Five of the most significant gender based laws that she  helped pass include employers cannot discriminate against workers based on reproductive choices, state-funded schools must include women, the right for women to have financial independence and equal benefits, men being entitled to the same caregiving and social security rights as women and juries to include women.

These were landmark cases and earned Bader Ginsberg the respect and support not only of her colleagues and peers but civil rights activists around the world. A feminist who supported not only gender equality, LGBTQ+ and civil rights, Bader Ginsburg was called a new nickname from the one she grew up with – Notorious RGB.  This was a reference to the late Brooklyn-born rapper The Notorious B.I.G., and she later embraced the moniker. RNG was the right kind of “Notorious”!

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court during the Clinton administration, becoming the second woman and first Jew to serve on this most esteemed body. Her Jewish heritage was something the jurist was extremely proud of and had a clear bearing on her career and decisions.

“I had the good fortune to be a Jew born and raised in the U.S.A. My father left Odessa bound for the New World in 1909, at age 13; my mother was first in her large family to be born here, in 1903, just a few months after her parents and older siblings landed in New York. What is the difference between a bookkeeper in New York’s garment district and a Supreme Court Justice? Just one generation, my mother’s life and mine bear witness. Where else but America could that happen?

My heritage as a Jew and my occupation as a judge fit together symmetrically. The demand for justice runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition. I take pride in and draw strength from my heritage, as signs in my chambers attest: a large silver mezuzah on my door post, [a] gift from the Shulamith School for Girls in Brooklyn; on three walls, in artists’ renditions of Hebrew letters, the command from Deuteronomy: “Zedek, zedek, tirdof” — “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” Those words are ever-present reminders of what judges must do that they “may thrive.”

More recently this famous self-confessed dissenter expressed her outrage that Jewish women who are Zionist were told that they could not be both Zionists and Feminists. “That is simply not true”, the indignant RBG told Zioness, a movement founded in response to this ridiculous accusation.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg will become the first woman to lie in state until her funeral. This is testament to her massive legacy and extraordinary reputation and level of respect she commanded.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s passing leaves a gaping hole in the continued global feminist movement.  She joins the great women of Jewish history who  left an indelible mark on the world. She was more than notorious, she was righteous.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG) with Israeli Chief Justice, Esther Hayut