The UNHRC’s obsession with Israel fuels conflict

This article currently appears in iol.co.za https://www.iol.co.za/opinion/letters/the-unhrcs-obsession-with-israel-fuels-conflict-81c441c9-6ac8-4d1d-acf5-4399c15b2e2e

OPINION – There is an inordinate amount of conflict and upheaval in the world. Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine razes cities to the ground and leaves a devastating trail of human rights violations, Christian communities in Nigeria are persecuted, Uighur Muslims in China are rounded up into concentration camps and have been ethnically cleansed and so many, others.

The United Nations Human Rights Council whose mandate it is to “protect human rights for all’ yet currently has Venezuela, Sudan, Libya and Mauritania amongst its council members and who have their own dubious human rights records, approved a “Commission of Inquiry” to investigate Israel and the Palestinian territories after last year’s 11 day flare up between Israel and Hamas, the internationally recognized terror entity that controls the Gaza strip.

The Commission of Inquiry was headed by Navi Pillay, a known anti-Israel agitator who has in the past endorsed the BDS movement which calls for the end of the State of Israel, applauded Iran for signing the 2001 anti-Israel UN declaration and has been proven to have personal ties with members of the PFLP, which is on the international terror list. It is no wonder Israel refused to cooperate with such an inquiry.

Add to that the preposterous op-ed written by Humairaa Mayet, titled “‘Israel has no intention of ending its occupation of Palestine’.

Mayet has forgotten a few facts including the origins of last year’s Operation Guardians of the Wall which saw Hamas fire the first shot by firing rockets towards Jerusalem. This was followed by over 4 300 rockets and projectiles, fired from civilian enclaves in Gaza towards sovereign Israeli territory – which also includes citizens. Israel has the right, as does every country, to defend her citizens. A vast percentage of those rockets fired fell short in the Gaza strip, killing and injuring many civilians.

The Commission of Inquiry managed to gives as little reference to the incitement of hate and acts of terror perpetrated by Hamas and other Iranian sponsored terror entities in the Gaza strip as possible.

Mayet, cites the international communities response to the inquiry but forgets that now 23 countries, spearheaded by the United States and includes countries as diverse as Israel, Austria, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Hungary, Eswatini, Brazil, Cameroon, Micronesia, Canada, United Kingdom, Togo, Colombia, Guatemala, Croatia, Liberia, Marshall Island, Nauru, North Macedonia and Palau denounced the Commission of Inquiry.

They were joined the next day by Australia who slammed the UNHRC’s “disproportionate focus on Israel and the Commission of Inquiry that does not serve the cause of peace”. There was an encouraging presence of African countries who also grow weary of having to take side when they could benefit from what Israel has to offer and play a concrete role as African Union members towards brokering a resolution to the conflict – a role which sadly South Africa who also harbours an unproductive obsession with the Jewish state, has forfeited.

The Commission of Inquiry was endorsed by North Korea though – and the Palestinian representative who called for the USA to be kicked off the UNHRC. It would be comical if it wasn’t so serious because some people still believe in the veracity of such an organization.

Mayet cites the Amnesty International report, another document that has been routinely dismissed by democracies concerned not only with its biased and unsubstantiated content; but that it could further fuel rising antisemitism.

French President, Emmanuel Macron, stated it was preposterous to call Israel, a country with Arab lawmakers and ministers serving in its parliament (something that would not have occurred in South Africa) an apartheid state. This past week, a UK based independent inquiry found Amnesty International UK, where the report originated from as guilty of “institutionalized racism and colonialist”. Hardly a ringing endorsement for this once venerated organization.

Human Rights Watch has been similarly discredited by its late founder, Robert Bernstein, who in an impassioned op-ed in the New York Times in 2009 raised the alarm that the organization was not upholding its mandate but rather headed into dangerous waters:

“As the founder of Human Rights Watch, its active chairman for 20 years and now founding chairman emeritus, I must do something that I never anticipated: I must publicly join the group’s critics. Human Rights Watch had as its original mission to pry open closed societies, advocate basic freedoms and support dissenters. But recently it has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state,” wrote Bernstein.

Omar Shakir, the former director of HRW Israel-Palestine, was booted out of the country in 2019 for BDS activities that contravened Israel’s laws. He has now dedicated his energy and time to publishing reports accusing the Jewish State of war crimes during the May conflagration and a separate one accusing the country of practices of Apartheid – while scarcely a mention about any transgressions from Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. Shakir even went so far as to totally redefine the term Apartheid to push his agenda.

Other accusations made by Mayet in the above mentioned op-ed are too ludicrous to even countenance.

In the interest of fairness and peace, it is not just Israel that should be found guilty of perpetuating an “occupation” or failing to ensure that there is a solution to the decade’s long and very complicated conflict; but also the Palestinians, the UNHRC, its commission and people like Mayet who perpetuate divisions and dangerous agenda with their farcical accusations.

Rolene Marks is the South African Zionist Federation Spokesperson

Israel – Kaleidoscope of Cultures

This article appears in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2022/05/03/israel-kaleidoscope-of-cultures/

Ahead of Israel’s Independence Day, we look at the country’s incredible diversity

Israel is a land of many paradoxes. In this glorious juxtaposition of the ancient and modern, you can walk in the footsteps of the prophets but also be amazed by some of the world’s leading cutting edge technology, you can hear the church bells toll at the same time you hear the muezzin call the faithful to the mosque to pray; all while hearing the steady prayers in Hebrew at the Western wall. Israel’s cities have their unique personalities that serve to reinforce the country’s history, position in the region and story.

As Israel celebrates 74 years of Independence, we cannot help but marvel at all the achievements, extraordinary history and enduring legacy.

But it is Israel’s people who are the country’s true treasure. Israel is a kaleidoscope of cultures and much like a kaleidoscope, if you seek to look at a different, vibrant picture, all you have to do is adjust your focus.

Flight to Freedom. Over a million citizens of the former Soviet Union (FSU) immigrated to Israel since the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989 and now make up 15% of the Israeli population, transforming Israeli society.  

While Jews have had a presence in the land of Israel for millennia, we have been joined over the centuries by other nations, some have stayed but most have left and following the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948, the country has served as home not just for the many Jews who have been here through the generations; but to those who responded to the invitation from Prime Minister Ben Gurion, to participate in the ingathering of the exiles.

From all four corners of the world they have come. Diaspora communities from every conceivable country, some voluntarily – but many because the threat of persecution meant they needed to leave – and leave quickly.

Israel’s modern history is a tale of daring and chutzpah, in the attempt to rescue Jewish communities under threat. No sooner than the State of Israel had been declared, then 850 000 Jews from Arab countries were forced to flee. Many made Israel their home and today the majority of Israel’s population trace their roots back to Morocco, Iraq, Yemen and other Arab countries. One of the great advantages of the recently signed Abraham Accords is that many Israelis of Morocco descent now have the opportunity to revisit and trace their roots.

True Magic. In 1949,Israeli transport planes flew “home” 250,000 Jews from Yemen in Operation Magic Carpet. The operation was secret and was released to the media only several months after its completion.

Following the devastation of the Holocaust which saw the genocide of two thirds of Europe’s Jews, many of the survivors who had lost their families and loved ones and saw no future for themselves on a continent that felt hostile, made their way to what was then British Mandate Palestine, joining the ranks of those pioneers that would help defend and build the fledgling country in the years after Israel was declared a state. Slowly, the exiled were returning home.

Hearty Hug: A cross-cultural embrace of a rabbi and Palestinian greeting each other as they meet at the Gush Etzion junction to hold prayers together in the summer of 2014. (photo: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

In the decades to come, Israel would send rescue missions to Yemen and Ethiopia to bring distressed communities home.  The result today is an Israel that has absorbed Jews from all corners of the world – from India and South Africa, Australia and America, Ethiopia and Russia – 82 countries, with many different languages and cultures all calling Israel home. Israel is once again helping the distressed come home. Over the last two months, thousands of Ukrainian Jews, including many Holocaust survivors, have found sanctuary away from a brutal war that is ravaging Ukraine in Israel.

Out of Africa. New Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia exit an airplane during a welcoming ceremony after arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv, Israel, Aug. 28, 2013. (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Image)

Jews are not Israel’s only citizens. At least 20% of the Israeli population are Israeli Arabs. Israeli Arabs are fully franchised members of Israeli society and have contributed enormously to the country. While there are still many areas that need improvement, Israeli Arabs are represented in the Knesset, holding ministerial positions, lead civil society, serve in the military and are amongst the IDF’s most decorated officers, serve in the judicial system as judges, head multi-billion dollar corporations and more.  Arab Israelis follow either the Muslim or Christian religions. Arab Israelis are exempt from compulsory military service but recent statistics released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) see a steady yearly increase in the amount of volunteers from the community signing up to perform national service.

Seeking Sanctuary. Fleeing the war in Ukraine, passengers disembark from an airplane carrying Jewish immigrants upon arrival in Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on March 6, 2022. – (MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)

“A covenant of blood”. The relationship between Israel’s Jewish and Druze population is so sacred that it is referred to as bond forged by blood. Israel’s Druze population makes up about 2% of the population and are fiercely loyal to the country. There are other significant Druze communities in Lebanon and Syria and Israel’s community live mostly in the Golan region in the north. Not much is known about the Druze religion but recent Pew research revealed that nearly all Druze (99%) believe in God, including 84% who say they are absolutely certain in their belief. But there are no set holy days, regular liturgy or obligations for pilgrimage, as Druze are meant to be connected with God at all times. Druze are active in public life and subject to the military draft. In fact, for more than four decades, the Israeli military had a primarily Druze infantry unit called the “Herev”, (sword battalion).

Coulourful Culture. Druze soldiers in the Israeli Army behind the Druze flag which combines 5 colors representing the 5 prophets of the Druze secret religion.

Israel is the one country in the Middle East where the Christian community is growing. Christians face persecution in many parts of the Middle East and constitute at least 2% of Israel’s population and this number is expected to grow. Christians make up 7% of Israel’s Arab population, and 76.7% of Christians in Israel are Arab. The largest Arab Christian population centers in Israel are Nazareth (21,400), Haifa (16,500) and Jerusalem (12,900). Arab Christian women have some of the highest education rates in the country.

Israel is often maligned in the media and definitely misunderstood but on closer inspection, this tiny, vibrant country is not only fascinating because of all its many paradoxes packed into a small patch of land but because of its people, the greatest national treasure.

This Yom Ha’atzmaut we drink L’Chaim to this plucky, innovative, passionate and diverse country and her people. The future looks bright for Israel – no matter what view you choose to see this vibrant Middle Eastern jewel from.

Teach Your Children Well

This article appears in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2022/04/27/teach-your-children-well/

This year, it seems more important than ever to pass the torch of education and remembrance to the next generations

The responsibility to bear witness, remember and educate is so important for the next generations to continue”.

We say this this every year as we approach Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel. Unlike the UN-designated International Holocaust Remembrance Day which takes place on the 27th of January to coincide with the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp and commemorates all victims of the Holocaust, Yom Hashoah focuses specifically on the Jewish victims and coincides with the Hebrew anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

This year, these words seem to have greater urgency.

Illuminating the Dark. Holocaust survivors light six torches representing the six million victims of the Nazi genocide during the opening ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, as Israel marks the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. Seen here lighting one of the torches at the ceremony in 2018, is survivor Miriam Lapid.(Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The importance of Holocaust education is not a mere understatement, it is critical. As time marches on, we lose our remaining eyewitnesses and survivors of mankind’s most horrific genocide. As time marches on, so it becomes ever more urgent for us to bear witness to the first-hand accounts of the horrors of the Holocaust.

This year, the commitment has to be on us to ensure that we pass the baton on to the next generations, so that they can bear witness, using the mediums they know best, in the language that is the most appealing to their peers.

A 2020 survey carried out in the United States by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany found that among adults under 40, roughly 1 in 10 respondents did not recall ever having heard the word “Holocaust” before. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed did not know 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. Over half of those thought the toll was under 2 million. These are staggering statistics and have exposed a glaring lack of Holocaust education in the USA.

Over 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos were established across Europe during World War II, but nearly half of the respondents could not name a single one.

The most important lesson is that we can’t lose any more time,” said Greg Schneider, Executive Vice President of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany. “If we let these trends continue for another generation, the crucial lessons from this terrible part of history could be lost.”

Europe is no different.

A European based survey, shortly before the one in the US, found that antisemitic stereotypes are widespread; with more than a quarter of Europeans saying Jews have “too much influence in business and finance”. According to the CNN/ComRes survey into European attitudes towards Jews, 34 percent of those surveyed said they knew just a little or had never heard of the Holocaust, while 20 percent of French people between the ages of 18 and 34 said they had never heard of the Holocaust. You would think that on the continent that remains a graveyard for once thriving Jewish communities and where there are reminders in every major city, they would be a little more educated and aware; but alas, they are not.

A third of Europeans surveyed said Jewish people use the Holocaust to advance their own positions or goals.

Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the UK based Holocaust Educational Trust, told CNNthe poll confirmed “a worrying increase in the number of people who believe traditional antisemitic tropes or hold antisemitic views, as well as a disappointing lack of knowledge about the Holocaust.”

These are not the only surveys and studies producing worrying results. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, named after the famed Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter, have raised the alarm over the increase in the amount of Holocaust denial, distortion and revisionism on social media. It is no great secret that social media platforms, especially Twitter, are a cesspit of hate. While Facebook has managed to clamp down on Holocaust denial, Twitter remains a veritable free- for-all. I have lost track of all of the times I have complained to Twitter about vile antisemitic content only to receive the message that the post in question does not violate their ”standards”.

Fading Faces. Images like these Hungarian Jews on the selection ramp at Auschwitz determining  those deemed “fit for work” or sent to the gas chambers are amongst millennials of ever-decreasing interest. (Photo: Yad Vashem, from the Auschwitz Album)

The role of social media platforms is critical. It is here where the younger generations interact and sadly, form their opinions on global events. On the one hand, these platforms create the opportunity for people to express themselves – and on the other, allows for predatory antisemites, Holocaust deniers and distorters to find a captive audience and create communities.

We do not need surveys to tell us how critical Holocaust education is. We are seeing a rise in antisemitism that is rivalling that of pre-World War II. Subsequent genocides and human rights violations have shown us that the lessons of history have not been learnt. Holocaust education is vital not just to help combat antisemitism; but to reinforce the lessons of history. NEVER AGAIN has to mean something, right?

We cannot rely solely on educational institutions and the media to educate – we have to take the responsibility on board ourselves as individuals, organisations and communities.

Has the like of this happened in your days or in the days of your fathers? Tell your children about it, and let your children tell theirs, and their children, the next generation!” (1 Joel 2-3).

These words are inscribed at the entrance to Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust Memorial and Museum. As we lose our last eyewitness survivors of the horrors of the Holocaust to the passage of time, so it becomes more of an imperative that our generation must bear witness, remember and teach the ones to come.

Living Testimony. French Holocaust survivor Victor Perahia, interned as a child in the Drancy camp outside Paris and then deported to Bergen-Belsen, speaks to students during a January 2020 workshop dedicated to Holocaust remembrance at Drancy. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

This Yom Hashoah as we remember our 6 million and honour the individuals and the communities targeted for extermination simply because they were Jewish, we need to not only renew our vow of NEVER AGAIN, we need to commit to the 6 million martyred, that we will continue to bear witness, to testify on their behalf and to educate.

Seeing is Believing. A photo taken April 12, 1945, shows just some of the bodies found by U.S. troops when they arrived at Nordhausen concentration camp in Germany. (Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library)

Their voices cry out to us; they implore us, they remind us of the urgency of their plea. It is a plea we will hear. It is a vow we will honour.

May the memories of our 6 million be forever blessed.

Education is the Key. Young people at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem looking above at the dome displaying photos of the victims of the Holocaust and then below at the water, reflecting those NEVER to be forgotten faces.

Mazel Tov, Your Majesty

This article appears in the South African Jewish Report: https://www.sajr.co.za/mazeltov-your-majesty/

This weekend, the answer to a question that has baffled many for 70 years was finally revealed with the help of a very famous bear – what does the Queen carry in her ever present Launer handbag?

Her Majesty taking tea with Paddington Bear, complete with marmalade – or is that Ma’amalade? – sandwiches, as the lovable bear thanked the monarch for her extraordinary 70 years of unparalleled service during this past weekend’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, brought two great British icons together.

Though we may know that Her Maj carries around a marmalade sandwich, probably lipstick, and some device that signals courtiers to remove her from a trio of erstwhile family members, not many know about the relationship between the royal family and Jews.

The Queen has faced intense criticism over the years for never visiting Israel. What many don’t realise is that foreign trips are made at the behest of the British Foreign Office wanting to deploy the soft diplomacy and convening power that royalty has.

Respected historian Andrew Roberts once said that the British government had a de facto ban in place on state visits by Queen Elizabeth II to Israel. “The true reason of course, is that the FO [Foreign Office] has a ban on official royal visits to Israel, which is even more powerful for its being unwritten and unacknowledged. As an act of delegitimisation of Israel, this effective boycott is quite as serious as other similar acts, such as the academic boycott, and is the direct fault of the FO Arabists. It’s therefore no coincidence that although the Queen has made more than 250 official overseas visits to 129 different countries during her reign, she has ever been to Israel on an official visit,” Roberts told attendees at a gala dinner in London.

Another little-known fact is that the Queen hired an Orthodox Jewish mohel to circumcise her son, Prince Charles. The tradition of British monarchs hiring mohels goes back centuries.

Even though the Queen has never visited Israel, she has had strong ties with the Jewish community and has met Holocaust survivors on many occasions.

One such meeting was at an event marking 60 years of liberation of Bergen Belsen. The late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks who was present, later recounted, “When the time came for her to leave, she stayed. And stayed. One of her attendants said that he had never known her to linger so long after her scheduled departure. She gave each survivor – it was a large group – her focused, unhurried attention. She stood with each until they had finished telling their personal story.”

Though the Foreign Office forbade royal visits to Israel, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh visited in a private capacity several times for a very honourable reason. His mother, Princess Alice, who is buried in Jerusalem, has been honoured by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Amongst the Nations for saving the lives of a Jewish family during the Holocaust.

But it’s the two future kings and their wives that have really built strong ties with Israel.

Prince Charles, once ridiculed for his propensity to prefer conversing with plants than politicians and famously intellectual, has said that he prefers to regard himself as the defender of faiths rather than of “the faith”, that being the Church of England, which the monarch heads. To this end, he works hard to promote coexistence. The Prince of Wales counted Lord Sacks as a close friend, and lamented his passing.

Prince Charles is patron of World Jewish Relief as well as the Holocaust Memorial Trust, a patronage that once belonged to the Queen. He’s also patron of the Jewish Museum, JLGB for Jewish youth across Great Britain, and numerous others. To coincide with International Holocaust Memorial Day, the Prince commissioned portraits to be painted of several Holocaust survivors accompanied by a documentary on the BBC. The Prince has made several official visits to Israel, including for the funeral of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. He gave a notable private donation to The Peres Centre for Peace. His wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, visited Auschwitz, representing the Queen.

Camilla is also known to enjoy a hora or two. During her visit to Jewish Care’s Brenner Centre in East London to celebrate the organisation’s 80th anniversary, the duchess danced with delighted residents.

Prince William was the next king in waiting to visit Israel. The Prince struck all the right notes visiting the Kotel, Yad Vashem, the grave of his late great-grandmother, met young innovators, took a stroll with Eurovision sensation Neta, and even played volleyball on the beach and football with young Israelis and Arabs – all without breaking a princely sweat. The Prince also proved that he could navigate some tough political terrain, shuttling between Israeli and Palestinians leaders without going “there”. Royals are above politics.

On a state visit to Poland, Prince William and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, visited Stutthof Concentration Camp. It would be a life changing experience for the duchess.

Since this seminal meeting, the duchess has dedicated herself to Holocaust education and has taken photographs of survivors for the Imperial War Museum’s exhibition, included them in her book Hold Still, engaged with survivors and young educators via Zoom, met with Windermere child survivors, attended Holocaust Memorial Day events, and more.

Though the history of the royal family, Jews, and Israel may have had its awkward moments in recent history, it looks like the future is extremely positive. Just in time to lift a glass of the best kosher champagne and toast to Her Majesty, the Queen, on the remarkable achievement of 70 years on the throne. Mazeltov, Ma’am, ad 120!

**A fascinator may have been worn for the writing of this article!