No NY Times, Israelis Are Not Miserable!

This currently appears in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/12/01/no-ny-times-israelis-are-not-miserable/

A recent New York Times op-ed concludes that Israelis are “miserable”, “divided” and other negative adjectives. Quite the contrary, we are happy, because we know what that costs!

The New York Times is veribbled (Yiddish for angry) with Israel. Somewhere along the line, a decision has been taken to criticise and deride the Jewish state at every given opportunity. Now, there is nothing wrong with criticism when it is legitimate; but the NYT takes this to an obsessive level.

Several weeks ago, New York Times journalist, Patrick Kingsley wrote an article about his trip to Israel. Far from musings about religious sites or vibrant night life, Kingsley’s article “Whose Promised Land?” came to the conclusions that we Israelis are miserable. Sad. Verkrimpt. (uptight) I believe he also used the word “divided” and described our cities and towns as “garish”.

Mind Made Up. The New York Times correspondent Patrick Kingsley  describes Israel in his front-page article subheads as a “”Nation divided” and a  “nation founded on contradictions”.

It was apparent that Kingsley was very selective about who he published in his article, preferring instead to push a decidedly negative narrative. Israelis responded on social media platform, Twitter, by sharing pictures of themselves and their families enjoying life in Israel with the hashtag, #sadsadIsrael. Kingsley got schooled in Israeli chutzpah, pride – and perhaps the people and sites he neglected to include in his article!

Taking aim at Israeli towns and cities, Kingsley called them “garish”. While Israel may lack stately architecture by American or European standards, our desert paradise boasts cities like Jerusalem that date back to King David and whose beauty is in its history and ancient stones or modern day Tel Aviv with its distinct Bauhaus buildings which are World Heritage Sites. The simple, unpretentious beauty of Israel is part of its charm.

Israel may have many problems, just like any other country, but Israelis are happy. The Annual Happiness Index consistently ranks Israel within the top 15 countries with the happiest populations.

Off Track. Rather than revealing to its readers a balanced presentation of Israel today, the Patrick Kingsley NY Times’ front-page article takes devious detours that reflect the paper’s bias and cynicism towards the Jewish state.

Perhaps this happiness stems from the ability of Israelis to enjoy robust debate – and arguments. Opinions are welcome here and the trend of “cancel culture” so prevalent around the world is virtually non-existent here. We all have strong political opinions – and are not afraid to voice them!

It reminds me of the joke. For lack of exact memory, I will paraphrase – The President of the USA is speaking to the Prime Minister of Israel and discussing their respective countrymen and the Israeli PM says, “you may be the President of 100 million Americans but I am the Prime Minister of 6 million prime ministers!”

It may be decade’s old but still rings true today. Everyone is an expert on anything and perfectly content to share our unsolicited advice.

Smorgasbord of Styles. Escaping the NY Times attention, Tel Aviv is an exciting amalgam of  early twenty century styles of architecture juxtaposed with the ultra-modern, reflecting the character of its residents that cherishes the past while embracing the future.

Israelis will engage in fiery arguments, complete with passionate gesticulation; and even if we vehemently disagree, we will still find time to sit down for hummus and a beer together. Life is too precious and sacred to carry a grudge over a differing opinion.

We have an ability to laugh and poke fun at ourselves that is refreshing. What Kingsley sees as divisive, we see as passionate expression.

A few days later, another article taking aim at the centrality of Zionism to Jewish worship was published. The modern day Zionist movement may be political in nature but the references to Zion are ancient and imbued in our religious text. The article crowed that the next generation Jewish clergy were looking at ways to NOT include references to Zion in their services. It is almost as if the NY Times is not content with just insulting the modern state of Israel, they are steadily eroding our ancient ties to the land.

True ‘Face’ of Israel. Despite the NY Times painting a bleak picture of Israel,  the 2021 World Happiness Report found Israelis to be among the happiest in the world and ranked Israel as the 12th happiest out of 149 countries over the past three years.

As I write this, happily ensconced in my home in Modiin, a city central to the story of Chanukah which we are currently observing, I am reminded of the brave Maccabees who fought yet another people, hell bent on the destruction of the Jews. Chanukah is a very Zionist holiday! Kingsley would probably find Modiin, with its Jerusalem stone buildings and careful planning, “garish” and unexciting, but to its residents, the city serves as a daily reminder that we walk in the footsteps of our ancient Jewish heroes who are central to a holiday that celebrates light and joy.

Modern Modiin. Hardly “garish” as the NY Times correspondent describes Israel’s young cities, Modiin, where this writer lives, is modern  with fascinating links to Jewish history dating back to the Maccabees and Bar Kochba. Modi’in is the birthplace of the Chanukah story.

There are many reasons why Israelis are happy – great weather, robust and vibrant democracy and respect for personal freedoms are just some.

As a country that has endured war, terror and continued calls for our destruction, we understand only too well, the importance of happiness and the value of life. We are too familiar with sorrow. Our happiness has been forged through enduring sorrow and pain and far too many of us have lost people we know and love to the ravages of war and terror.

Israelis live life in defiant happiness. This might grate on the nerves of the New York Times and their correspondents who are looking for any excuse to deride Israel. Perhaps if Kingsley dropped the agenda and engaged Israelis, he would have written a different article – one that celebrated diversity, differences, ancient ties to sacred land and yes, simple and uncomplicated cities, each with its own personality.

Israel is not perfect – no country is – but to blatantly disregard the character traits and ties that make this tiny state so special, well, that is just sad.

Israel Unmasked. A world leader in vaccinations, following the lifting of its outdoor mask mandate, Israelis take to the streets in Tel Aviv showing its people in all their colourful diversity, a characteristic that escaped the attention of the New York Times’ correspondent. (photo Amir Cohen/Reuters)

South African Government Boycotts Miss South Africa

This article appears in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/11/16/south-african-government-boycotts-miss-south-africa/

The South African Ministry of Culture boycott the country’s representative to Miss Universe pageant because host country is Israel

The stage is set, the sequins extra shiny, the sashes ironed and the tiara polished – Eilat is getting ready to host the Miss Universe 2021 pageant to be held on the December 12 and are looking forward to welcoming representatives from around the world to compete for the coveted title. For the first time, there will be representatives from the United Arab Emirates and Morocco. This is historic and fitting with the flourishing peace afforded by the signing of the Abraham Accords normalization and peace treaties. The symbolism of the two beauty queens competing for the first time on the international stage in Israel is highly symbolic of the seeds of peace bearing real fruits.

The Way Forward. Israel’s premier coastal resort, Eilat on the Red Sea, which will host the 2021 Miss Universe pageant is sandwiched between Egypt and Jordan, both countries which the Jewish state is at peace  with – a shining example to South Africa of the way forward.

While talking about beauty pageants is not my normal beat (having failed to place anywhere in Junior Miss Pears at the age of four, much to my mother’s chagrin), I find myself for the second time in a matter of weeks commenting on the Miss Universe pageant. Several weeks ago, Lay of the Land published an article explaining how Chief Mandla Mandela was calling for not just Miss South Africa; but other countries to boycott the Miss Universe pageant because it is being held in Israel.

Beauties and the Boycott: https://layoftheland.online/2021/10/31/beauties-and-the-boycott/

With peacemaking clearly skipping Mandla in the Mandela gene pool, the former poster child for scandal, now turned BDS front man is going full throttle on his campaign and has roped in his cohorts-in-hate from the BDS movement to pressurize the new Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane to pull out. The beautiful and accomplished Miss South Africa, graduated with a degree in law and deserves every opportunity to not only achieve her dream but also the chance to proudly represent South Africa on the world stage, make lifelong friends and draw focus on the humanitarian causes that she champions.

With the pressure from hate groups like BDS mounting, the Miss South Africa on behalf of Lalela, released a statement that stated not only would she compete but Mswane has spoken out openly about being bullied as a child and she will not be bullied as an adult against fulfilling her ambition.

Dashed Hopes. The crowning of an excited Miss SA 2021 Lalela Mswane whose dreams of competing at the 70th Miss Universe pageant in Israel were subsequently crushed by the misguided bullying of her own government.

Miss SA CEO, Stephanie Weil said a “very, very small, but extremely vocal, group” had attempted, and failed, to derail Mswane’s chances at the prestigious international pageant.

Bullying is what BDS do best and artists like Sir Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney and many others can attest to that – including having the lives of themselves and their bands threatened by BDS activists.

Joining the BDS is the African National Congress (ANC) and this is an excerpt from their statement they released:

“Following unsuccessful consultations initiated by the Ministry of Sport, Arts and Culture, it has proven difficult to persuade the Miss SA pageant organisers to reconsider their decision to partake in the Miss Universe event scheduled to be held in Israel during the month of December 2021. What during initial consultations appeared like engaging, constructive and progressive discussions, was later met with an unpleasant demeanour that is intransigent and lacking appreciation of the potential negative impact of such a decision on the reputation and future of a young black woman.

 The atrocities committed by Israel against Palestinians are well documented, and Government, as the legitimate representative of the people of South Africa, cannot in good conscience associate itself with such. In an attempt to demonstrate what partaking in Miss Universe means for South Africans and many others across the world, the Miss SA pageant organisers were referred to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s views following his visit to the area. Indicating that Israel was guilty of the apartheid treatment of Palestinians, he said, “Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government.”

The South African Zionist Federation  (SAZF) as well as the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) have taken a strong position in support of Mswana.

The SAJBD said in a statement:

 “It is quite clear that Minister Mthethwa’s view is a minority one.  A poll conducted by Newzroom Afrika on Thursday night as to whether Miss SA should withdraw from the Miss Universe event in Israel showed a plurality of nearly 2:1 in favour of her competing. The PSA protest attracted a bare handful of activists.  This is despite the barrage of intimidation by groups such as Africa4Palestine and SA BDS in the media have resulted in comments calling for them to stop bullying Lalela and for her to participate in the event.

South Africa has diplomatic ties and extensive commercial trade relations with Israel.  It engages in events such as this one, such as hosting the Israeli Davis Cup team in 2018. The way we influence situations is to engage, not to withdraw.  The SAJBD believes that closing doors merely isolates us from contributing and any contribution we can make to finding peace in this country.  What better opportunity for a South African to be part of an event where she can connect with 70 countries around the world, including many Arab countries, in sharing our story of dialogue and peace-building?”

The SAZF added to that saying:

 “The SAZF is appalled that the South African government is self-sabotaging our country’s hopes and chances of participating and shining in an international event just because it happens to take place in Israel. Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa may think that South Africa is making a grand moral statement because the ruling party has been misled by a perversion of facts about Israel, the Middle East’s only democracy, but in fact, our country is simply signalling its isolationism and irrelevance on the world stage. The government has been silent on actual and serious human rights abuses occurring in many other countries where we participate in sports and contests, but self-righteously reserves its opprobrium for the world’s only Jewish State.”

Perhaps South Africa is doing this to draw focus away from the myriad of problems plaguing the country. Extremely high levels of unemployment, government corruption, rolling electricity blackouts and many more issues are confronted by South Africans on a daily basis. Surely this is more important than sash-and-tiara wielding beauty queens? The ANC and BDS would have you believe that it is all about human rights but they remain resolutely silent on the genocide of the Uyghurs in China, the hanging of members of the LGBTQ community in Iran or the decimation of women’s rights in Afghanistan. Nothing like cosying up to some tin pot dictators to bring out the hypocrite in some folk!

It is interesting that another man has weighed on the Miss Universe pageant and the opportunity it brings to showcase young empowered, humanitarian driven women. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a strong advocate for BDS last visited Israel in 1989 and at Yad Vashem called on Jews around the world to “forgive the Nazis”.

I wonder if “The Arch” would pull this same stunt if the pageant was to be held in Venezuela, Cuba, China or any other country responsible for gross human rights violations? Probably not but this just exposes the hypocrisy and yes, antisemitism of BDS and its supporters.

It is a pity that the Miss Universe pageant which is non-political in nature but serves as a chance for women from different cultures and countries to build bridges has become the cause that  the ANC who fought so hard for equal rights for all, now chooses to boycott its country’s women.

Blue & White….and Green!

This article appears in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/11/09/blue-white-and-green/

How the Innovation Nation pivots to focus on the fight against Climate Change

Scotland is a country of exquisite beauty, fascinating history and is home to one of my favourite things, good whisky. Over the last few weeks, Scotland has played host to a slew of world leaders, climate activists, Royals, NGO’s, media and innovators as they descended on the picturesque city of Glasgow for the United Nations COP26 conference to discuss ways to tackle the threat of climate change. Israel took a 140 strong delegation with a massive press presence. Unlike some folk who flew in by private jet (sigh), an El Al commercial plane was chartered. Kosher haggis anyone?

Leading the Israeli delegation was Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett. This would not only be an opportunity for the PM to strut our green innovation credentials on the world stage; but also would provide an opportunity for us to see if he could step up to Statesmanship, a challenge issued by Her Majesty, the Queen, in her televised address to world leaders.

And Bennett did exactly that.

Rubbing shoulders with world leaders, Royalty and captains of industry, the message delivered from the Israeli leaders was that the start-up nation didn’t come to play – we came to slay!

This was also an opportunity for PM Bennett to tell the world all about the groundbreaking technology and chutzpah that has earned Israel the reputation of the start-up or innovation nation.

Marrying both his career as a politician and tech company owner, raising capital and awareness seems to be a natural fit. The Prime Minister addressed the plenary to speak about how Israel is poised to become a major player in the fights against climate change using our brain power and boundless energy:

Change of Climate. PM Naftali Bennett addresses the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow with Israel’s message to the world: Don’t panic – we made the desert bloom.

While Israel is relatively late to the climate fight in some ways, in other ways we have been leading for decades. As countries signed the pledge to increase deforestation at COP26, it must be noted that Israel has been planting trees since the inception of the modern state, turning our deserts into flourishing forests. It is roughly estimated that 250 000 000 trees have been planted in this tiny country!

This may even result in a rare sighting of the lesser spotted HAPPY Greta Thunberg! Yes, the scowling-leader-berating teenage climate activist may even crack a smile at this news!

Act Now. Named the “People’s Advocate” of the UN Climate Change Conference or COP26, Sir Richard Attenborough has been using every opportunity to speak out about the climate crisis and implore world leaders to listen to citizens’ calls to act.

International treasure, Sir David Attenborough, he of the dulcet tones and astounding knowledge about the world’s fauna and flora, has called for solutions to many of the challenges facing us today. The nonagenarian has spoken about water as the most valuable resource for sustaining life on earth. It was extremely gratifying to hear Prime Minister Bennett tell the world that Israel is the leading country when it comes to waste water recycling. Living in a desert climate where water is our most valuable commodity, we have learnt to parlay our concerns – and chutzpah – into finding workable solutions.

Meeting Royalty. Prime Minister Bennett chats to HRH, The Duchess of Cambridge about engaging the youth on climate change. (Image GPO)

Workable solutions is what Israel does best! During his COP26 speech, Bennett spoke about Israel’s creation of a “Green Sandbox”, a plan that will attract investment into green technology. The government has also allocated NIS15.5billion towards combatting climate change and President Herzog has set up a fund under his patronage with over 130 innovators, thinkers and NGO’s committed to this as well.

Even Bill Gates sat up and took notice! The Microsoft-founder and philanthropist, acknowledged Israel’s reputation as a leader in innovation and announced his foundation would be working with the Jewish state to find solutions to the challenges we face.

Meeting of Minds. “We can solve climate change if we accelerate innovation,” says Bill Gates (left) meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on the sidelines of the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland on November 2, 2021. (Haim Tzach / GPOBill )

This is not just about dealing with change to the climate, but also how this impacts on our regional security. It is believed that the Middle East is one of those areas greatly impacted by the climate crisis. As if we didn’t have enough to worry about!

But it is not all doom and gloom – in fact Israel stands poised to lead in finding sustainable solutions. To date, there are 637 start-ups and growth companies developing climate technologies, and the five challenge areas are:

Climate Smart Agriculture, Clean Energy Systems, Sustainable Mobility & Transport, Eco-Efficient Water Infrastructure, and Alternative Proteins. Most of these innovative companies are young, up to seven years old, with roughly 10 employees.

The Greening of Israel. The Jewish state is one of the only nations in the world that entered the 21st century with more trees than it had 100 years ago. Since its inception, Israel has been devoted to sustainable forest management and afforestation, planting trees mostly in areas with arid and semi-arid climates.

More than 560 private investment entities have invested in Israeli climate companies, mostly venture capital funds, out of which two-thirds are foreign investment entities – and this number is expected to grow.

The next UN Climate Conference, COP27 will be held in Egypt in 2022. This is right on our doorstep! With ties between our two countries starting to significantly warm up, you can bet that Israel will have a significant presence there.

Israel on Board. Ahead of the COP26 Climate Conference bringing over 75 countries to pledge to Paris Agreement goals, Israel announced that it will seek to reduce its carbon emissions by 2050 in order to combat the global climate crisis.

Israel is ready to plant her flag firmly in the fight to meet the challenges posed by climate change

Our flag is there waving in the wind-turbined air – proudly blue, white ……..and green!

Beauties and the Boycott

This article features in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2021/10/31/beauties-and-the-boycott/

Chief Mandla Mandela calls for Israel to be boycotted for hosting the Miss Universe pageant

Ask any beauty queen worth her sash and tiara what she wants for her reign and the answer is always delivered in firmly and resolutely, with a beatific smile, “I want world peace”. 

Now I know that there are many reading this who are contemplating whether or not we actually need beauty pageants in this day and age; and perhaps find the swimsuit section more than a little antiquated and demeaning. The truth is, these pageants provide a global stage for contestants to represent their countries, express their hopes and carry out important humanitarian work.

This year, Israel will play host to the annual pageant and we are delighted that the city of Eilat will be visited by beauties from around the world. Hosting international spectaculars is not new to Israel. It was only two years ago the Jewish state played host to the great bastion of cheesy tunes – the Eurovision song contest. We brought the world glam, we brought the world glitz, we brought the world Madonna!

Israel has also hosted the major international cycling event, Giro D’Italia and if all goes according to plan, will be putting in a joint bid with regional partners to host the 2030 Soccer/Football World Cup. FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, recently visited Israel and citing the signing of the Abraham Accords, stated that he thought Israel along with possible partners like the UAE and Bahrain would make excellent hosts for the much loved global tournament. Talk about scoring a goal for peace!

Men on the Move. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with FIFA President Gianni Infantino, in Jerusalem, on October 12, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Not feeling the love and urge to sing a glowing rendition of kumbaya as the rest of us peace loving folk, Chief Mandla Mandela, grandson of the iconic Nelson Mandela, is calling for a boycott of Israel’s hosting of the global pageant. He is urging each contestant not to participate because in his words, Israel is an Apartheid state.

View our interaction on African television channel, eNCA here:

Mandla Mandela has his own dubious history and it is quite ironic that he is choosing the Miss Universe pageant as his hill to die on. What is interesting, is that this poster man for the BDS movement is doing this as a solo efforts and without the boycott-screeching mob.

He has been the subject of much derision from his family for his moving his late grandfather’s remains from their peaceful resting place without consulting the family. The family laid criminal charges of tampering with a grave and South African High Court Judge, Judge Lusindiso Phakade, ruled in favour of the complainants and ordered Mandela to exhume and rebury the body.

Mandla caught lying! In the above youtube interaction, Mandla Mandela says that Malaysia is boycotting the Miss Universe pageant but it is clearly not the truth.

Criminal allegations were again levelled at the younger Mandela when he was charged with pointing a firearm and assaulting, a man. He was found guilty of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm. Mandela’s private life could also rival a soap opera. Tales of annulment and affairs, blazing arguments and paternity suits abound and after converting to Islam, Mandela married his fourth wife.

Perhaps he is the LAST person who should be commenting on activities that involve young women. His iconic grandfather, who stood as a beacon of reconciliation and was an advocate for speaking to both parties in a conflict and contrary to popular opinion was a friend and supporter of the State of Israel, must be spinning in his grave.

Mandela wants each beauty queen to pull out of the pageant. Who does he think he is?

This is gross misogyny to deny these young women an international platform to do the humanitarian work that they choose to do?

Calling for boycotts is not the desirable path to peace. In fact, all that boycotts serve to do is to break down discourse and cooperation. The Miss Universe pageant does provide a unique opportunity for young women around the world to interact with each other and learn about each other’s cultures. While these beauties may not be brokering peace from a luxury resort in Eilat, they will have a chance to build friendships.

One such example is the friendship that developed several years ago between Miss Israel and Miss Iraq.  This broke long-held barriers and has done more for the cause of peace than the posturing of politicians.

Blessed are the peacemakers – for they are often beauty queens.

It is this former Miss Iraq whose name is Sarah Idan, having seen the situation for herself, who has become quite a vocal supporter of Israel and the pursuit of peace in the region.

Chief vs Beauty. In a war of words, Miss Iraq Sarah Idan (right) counter-punches Mandla Mandela (left) over the Miss Universe pageant in Israel. (Image via Instagram)

In a brutal ironic twist, this Iraqi Muslim woman has been the subject of a nasty social media pile on over the last week. Idan took to social media in a video message and criticised Mandela’s call for boycotts:

All I can say is: how dare you? How dare you as a man try to tell an organisation for women in women empowerment what to do? This is an opportunity that millions of women dream of, having to go on a world stage and represent their people, their nation, their culture. Not governments, not politics and definitely not your political agenda,” said Idan in her video.

Please allow Miss South Africa to go and experience Israel up close on the ground, and let her be the judge for herself. I’m positive, just like me, she will be shocked to see that the Israeli government consists of Muslims, Jews, Christians, and those people not only get to vote on policies to shape their future, but they also are part of the people who have political parties, and some of them are even Israeli ambassadors to the world,” said Idan in her video.

The responses were staggering in their venom and vitriol. Here is one such example:

In a region where many women, including Palestinians, would not have the opportunities to compete in pageants because their leaders would not allow for this, wouldn’t the efforts of people like Mandela be best served lobbying for women’s rights and NOT breaking down cooperation and dialogue?

I am sure if it were Russia or China or Venezuela (who have turned beauty pageants into a veritable Olympic sport) that was hosting, Mandla Mandela would be there quicker than a queen could change into her evening wear.

As Israel gears up to welcome the Miss Universe contestants to our vibrant and diverse country, it is my hope that they will realise their dreams of being one step closer to “world peace”. If the brave, beautiful and regal Sarah Idan is any indication, then a well-shod step for one, is a giant leap for the region.  Mandela would be wise to take heed of women waging peace and kindly shut up.

Meddling Mandla. Lalela Mswane, the winner of Miss South Africa 2021, is being urged by Mandla Mandela to boycott the event  in Eilat, Israel.(Screengrab/Instagram)