About rolenemarks

Rolene Marks is a member of the Media Team Israel, a body of volunteers that monitors bias in the media. A passionate advocate for Israel, Rolene has appeared on radio, tv and in the print Media. Rolene lives in Israel.

Breaking the Veil of Silence – with Lindy Hoffman

This article is currently featured in Lay of the Land:

Breaking the veil of Silence

Recollections, Revelations and Remorse from the Descendants of the Perpetrators of the Holocaust

The United Nations designated January 27 – the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau – as a day for member states to honor the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and millions of other victims of Nazism.

With the alarming rise today in Holocaust denial and antisemitism – even in the very lands where the Holocaust happened – LOTL explores the hatred of the Shoah (Holocaust) by interviewing Pastor Jobst Bittner, who heads the movement of the descendants of Nazi perpetrators to openly confront the hatred of the past that it will foster  a genuine healing, and hopefully – “Never Again”.

Author’s note:

This was a profoundly emotional and moving experience. It takes an enormous amount of courage to delve into the past, especially that of your family and navigate a painful past. To explore this can also bring about great healing.  After Apartheid in South Africa came to an end in 1994, there were many attempts through the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ to try bring healing and understanding between victims and perpetrators but too few sat down with each other on a one-to-one basis and shared the experience of the other. Perhaps March of Life sets an example that the traumas of the past, when spoken about and addressed openly, fosters great healing.

Jobst Bittner greets you with a warm smile and twinkling blue eyes. He immediately puts you at ease when he shakes your hand and his presence is reassuring. Bittner, apart from being a Pastor, is the Founder and President of March of Life – a movement of the descendants of the German Wehrmacht, the SS and the police forces of the Third Reich, and who organise memorial and reconciliation marches at sites across Europe where atrocities were committed.

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Tübingen Today. A colourful façade hides a dark past.

How did it all begin?

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Turbulence in Tübingen. A march by of the Sturmabteilung (SA) in Tübingen.

 

The German city of Tübingen was a hotbed of training for the Nazi party. A university town, many of the intellectual elite of the Nazi party would gather in Tubingen where they later created an institute known as the Institute for Racial Hygiene. This “institute” would in time decide who was an “Aryan” and who was an “untermensch” (subhuman); who was a “superior” and who was an “inferior”; and was responsible for the ‘selection process’, which saw millions of Jews and other “undesirables” sent to their deaths.

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Enveloping Evil. With uniform and swastika flags, the square in front of the New Aula in Langemarckplatz in Tübingen was renamed in May 1938 to be followed in November with the burning of the Tübingen Synagogue during Kristallnacht.

The March of Life was born is 2007 when Pastor Jobst Bittner and his wife Charlotte decided that something had to be done about the history of the city. Growing up in the post-war generation, Bittner and his wife realised that their parents and grandparents never spoke about the war or their experiences.  The past was related by sticking to just the historical facts; never a mention of the experiences of those persecuted by the Nazi regime.

My parents”, says Bittner, “never spoke of the deaths of six million Jews and this was the same for all of Germany. People pushed aside or repressed their guilt or played it down.”

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Pastor Jobst Bittner and wife, Charlotte

 

“But once we realised we needed to take responsibility, at least in our own city, we had to engage with our own family histories – to make it personal.  We started training members of our church to take a careful look at their own family history which in Germany is simple because Germans are so thorough and everything was recorded. So we started training our members to ask their families “What happened?” and “What did you do?” I found a term for it – ‘Breaking the Veil of Silence’. It is now a recognized term in Germany because the two decades after the war are known as the decades of silence,” says Bittner. “Most families don’t talk about what really happened, preferring instead to say that “nobody was involved”.  But this was not the case. The perpetrators of the Nazi genocide against the Jews were still able to resume normal lives and careers after the war. Many returned to their careers, resumed positions as judges, in government, in the civil service and academia – they simply returned to their normal lives and professions in society.”

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From Erudition To Evil. A town that housed the famous University of Tübingen
associated with eleven Nobel laureates notably in the fields of medicine and chemistry, also housed the infamous Institute for Racial Hygiene responsible for the ‘selection process’, which saw millions of Jews and other “undesirables” sent to their deaths.

The members of Bittner’s church started to research their family backgrounds and each one of them discovered terrible details about the involvement of their own families. One member discovered that his father had been in the Wehrmacht in Poland and active in genocide there. Others were involved in the Ukraine, and in general, it was expressed that “Nazis were somebody else”. The Bittners believe that in some way, every single German was involved. Nobody could say: “I was not involved.”

Someone learned that their grandfather had been a guard at Dachau – but the family made the excuse that he was “just a book keeper” or “just sitting around”. On closer investigation, it was discovered that the system at Dachau ensured that all duties rotated and everyone had the chance to do each “duty”.

Face to Face

Pastor Bittner feels an incredible sense of duty and responsibility to face the pain of the past so that the trauma that affects both descendants and victims of the perpetrators can be healed.

“Traditionally, Germans have played down the magnitude of of the atrocities. We teach them to speak the truth and own up to the past. Yes, my father was involved in the genocide. My parents remained silent and were just as guilty. The vast majority remained silent. It takes something to say my parents were silent as our Jewish neighbours were taken away, dispossessed, sent to concentration camps and killed. They were as much an accessory to the Holocaust as pulling the trigger on a gun. And so a movement was birthed. I wrote a book on the veil of silence. The same silence we saw from perpetrators, we saw from the descendants of the victims. The tragedy is passed down through the generations. The silence of the fathers became the silence of the sons,” says Bittner. “We can understand the silence of the generations of victims; the pain would be too much and the silence was passed down as pain. We realized that as long as the pain was still there through the generations, we have a responsibility to the victims to do something about it. In our experience, when we speak to survivors, we needed to find ways to ask the forgiveness our fathers and grandfathers would not ask. Only then can we start to heal the pain.”

As one could well understand, the eventual meetings between survivors and descendants were extremely emotional. Both parties were extremely touched and opened up their hearts to each other. This created the space for healing.

During the war, “Tübingen had been surrounded by concentration camps,” says Bittner.  “Not large but terrifying; and towards the end of the war they were razed to the ground and the surviving prisoners forced on death marches. Over 250 000 people perished in plain sight on the streets of Germany. They were either shot or died from sheer exhaustion. Nobody could say, “I didn’t know”. So what we started to do was to trace the route of one of those death marches from Tubingen to Dachau. This is why we called it ‘March of Life’ – to reaffirm life that the death marches could become a march to sanctify life.”

 

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Breaking The Silence. A public ‘March of Life’ event in Tübingen in 2016, confronts people with their country’s dark past.

March of Life is connected to the annual educational programme called March of the Living “which invited me to address 25 000 participants in Budapest. While March of the Living is connected to the survivors, what we say is that we are so closely connected to them because we are the descendants of the perpetrators. “

Before participating in their first march, “we had not met with any survivors and during that march, we received a call from a survivor who asked to walk with us. Rose was a survivor of six concentration camps and liberated from Dachau at the age of sixteen. We considered it an honour, and then Rose asked to bring thirteen more survivors. For some it was their first trip to Germany and many were fearful to hear German, the language of the persecutor. We were at a loss what to do. We knelt and we washed the feet of survivors and at first they did not know how to react but after a while were so deeply moved at the healing taking place at the moment. We started to embrace each other. We thought this is what we can do to bring healing.”

A Movement Is Born

This was one of the most pivotal moments of Bittner’s life and from these deep, emotional roots, a movement was born. Healing for descendants who carry guilt and shame as their heritage is just as important as that of the survivors. As we lose more and more survivors, so the responsibility to teach the next generations becomes ours. While there are many who say we must move on, the importance of memory and bearing witness is so important, especially as antisemitism rises around the world.

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March of Life advocates that we cannot be silent in the face of antisemitism and hatred. Delving into the past is painful. But the results are evident. The media started to pick up on this extraordinary story in The Jerusalem Post, and The New York Times and the message started to spread.  It grew organically, gaining momentum.

“We were invited to Poland and the Ukraine. By telling our story it encouraged others to do the same. In Poland and Lithuania where they had previously denied involvement, they began to talk. Our message as Germans was if we could face this, so can you. Now we educate – we are in a university town. So historians are considering how the culture of commemorating is done. Memorial events or historic remembering of facts is important but antisemitism is exploding. It has become disproportionate in the last five years. History can only come alive if we make it personal. If not us, then who? In the recent issue of Der Spiegel, we were the main cover story with personal stories but there is so much more to do with people still reluctant to talk about it,” laments Bittner.

Many people are resistant to the descendants telling their personal stories, feeling it dishonours the memory of their parents. Nevertheless, the descendants took a conscious decision to press on and the grandparents started to talk. “They found it easier to talk to their grandchildren than their children,” says Bittner.

Silence Is Not Golden

One could call March of Life a truly pioneering movement. While the government of Germany feels that working through the past is a high priority and share a sense of responsibility for the state of Israel, many ministers resist revealing their family history. March of Life has exhibited true courage to go where many dread – the past; and work closely with Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial museum and education centre. And this has found a welcome response from Germany’s Jewish community, and in 2017, the Jewish Community of Halle in Germany, awarded the March of Life with the Emil L. Fackenheim Prize for Tolerance.

Marches take place all over the world from Germany to Switzerland, Poland, South America and Jerusalem.

The impact is massive, reaching to millions of people.

Pastor Bittner says that despite the fact that they march proudly with Israeli flags and in cities like Paris where security is vital, they have faced no aggression, something “ We don’t take it for granted.” In Austria, they marched at the Mauthausen Death camp and taught seminars. “People revealed symbolic Nazi paraphernalia that had been in their family’s possession for years and some were shocked to discover what they meant. We even had reformed neo-Nazis in our congregation. Bittner believes that “antisemitism will cease to exist once it leaves the church.”  They are also present in schools teaching about the Holocaust. “I take some experts from Israel to schools and we are invited on a regular basis and we take survivors. Hearing from a survivor has a profound impact. We have seen this with Muslim students who have never been exposed to this. One story from a survivor is more important than fifty lessons.”

March of Life is a living memorial to history and a testament to the power of dialogue, no matter how painful it is. Silence and indifference propagate hatred. After the Holocaust, Jews took the vow “NEVER AGAIN”. Never again would we allow hatred to rise to the levels that it results in genocide. Never Again would we be silent. Never Again would we allow the wholesale slaughter of our people.

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Illuminating Darkness. At Israel’s March of Life office in Caesarea are (left to right), Pastor Jobst Bittner, the article’s co-writers Rolene Marks & Lindy Hoffman, the director of March of Life in Israel, Yigal Even-Ziv and clinical psychologist, Carolin Hohnecke, who is a 3rd generation descendent of a perpetrator.

Our gratitude to Pastor Bittner and March of Life – they have given wings to our vow and a tailwind to our voices.

They have broken the Veil of Silence.

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A Donkey named Hope

This article currently appears on Lay of the Land:

A Donkey named Hope

Jester loves to greet people.  If donkeys had a public relations spokesman, Jester would be it. A nuzzle of the nose is all the payment he requires.  Gali is the beauty queen with her grey coat and elegant black markings. She is also a bit of a maternal figure. Sooty has the longest ears and wiggles them proudly and Chicco has a long memory for kindness. Yalon steals your heart with his large foal eyes and gangly legs and Hope is a movie star with a penchant for a little something sweet. She is also in for a surprise because on Christmas day she will turn 1 year old and there is a party planned in her honour.

These are just some of the 250 cast of characters that call Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land their home.

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Gali and her baby Yalon

Nestled in the serene moshav of Gan Yoshiya close to the seaside city of Netanya in Israel, Safe haven for Donkey’s in the Holy Land is more than just a sanctuary for these rescued animals – it is a real community of caregivers and their equine charges and the healing that they receive.

The gentle and noble donkey is an iconic image that had been associated with the Holy Land. From biblical times to today, donkeys are symbolic of peace, conciliation and humility. Donkeys are seared into the imagery of all three of the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Kings David and Solomon revered donkeys, Kind David kept a royal she-mule and King Solomon chose to be anointed on one instead of a grander animal like a thoroughbred horse or elephant. Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey as a symbol of peace. In Islam it is believed that a donkey who  had the  power of speech told Muhammad that it was the last in a line of donkeys ridden by prophets and was a descendant of the donkey ridden by Jesus in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which was also called Ya`fūr.

Sadly today, in a region that is often volatile and mired in conflict and conflagration, these humble, gentle creatures are often a casualty.

Donkeys have often been referred to as workhorse, not because of their shared equine features but because of their ability and patience to bear heavy loads. This ability is sometimes exploited by some who use these sweet creatures as construction workers, over burdening them with weight and materials.

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Dinner time

In this region that can sometimes be a tinderbox waiting to explode, donkeys have been brutally abused by terrorists who have exploited them to make a political point. During the second intifada (Palestinian uprising) it was not uncommon for terror entities to pack these sweet creatures with explosives and direct them towards soldiers at checkpoints. In the last few months, as Hamas encourages rioters along the border between Israel and Gaza, so too have donkeys been used as weapons.  One of the first weeks of protest saw donkeys draped in Israeli flags and set on fire. This outrageous act of animal cruelty and depravity has barely registered in the media. Donkeys are just not “sexy” enough a story.

Thankfully, there is an organization that is dedicated to the well-being and up keep of these humble and noble beasts.

Founded in 2000, Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land is a not-for-profit organization that helps thousands of working donkeys in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

The sanctuary provides life-long care to over 200 unwanted and abused donkeys of all ages but the work does not stop at the sanctuary gates. Safe Haven for Donkeys operates a mobile clinic that treats around 500 working donkeys, mules and horses across the Palestinian Territories as well as a permanent clinic in the city of Nablus.  The mobile vet treats injuries such as those from poor harnessing, overgrown hooves and bad teeth are easily treatable and this goes a long way in helping to improve the lives of the animals who work so hard for so little.

Safe Haven for Donkeys has realized that education is just as important and help teach children and adults how to treat these animals with humanity and kindness and through the work with the owners of these animals, the team has made many friends and is treated with trust and respect.

Jester

Jester loves to greet visitors

“Our vets circulate and go to a different village every day to ensure that as many are treated as possible” says Abed, a caregiver whose dedication and love for his charges is evident.

The work done by this organization is evident in the happy, braying donkeys who despite all that they have endured,  are friendly to the visitors who come to either volunteer or check out the sanctuary. The donkeys just love a cuddle and a scratch – and maybe a good old roll in the sand. After enduring so much abuse, Safe Haven’s over 200 personalities who proudly carry their names on their harnesses, get to live out their lives in peace and serenity in the gorgeous heart of Israel.

For a donkey called Hope and all the cast of characters, Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land is more than just a sanctuary, it is home. It is a veritable heaven for donkeys – and that is worth braying about.

For more information about the sanctuary and to contribute, visit their website:

Safe Haven for Donkeys

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I just couldn’t resist a kiss…

At what price, war?

This is currently featured on Lay of the Land:

At what price, war?

Heavy is the head that wears the crown – or in this case makes the unenviable decision on behalf of a nation to go to war.

I don’t envy any leader or general who has to make this decision.

Over a period of two days, nearly 500 rockets and mortars were fired by terror factions from the Gaza strip into Southern Israel, sending hundreds of thousands of civilians scrambling for safety in their bomb shelters.

One person (a Palestinian from Hebron) was killed when a rocket hit his apartment in Ashkelon, a 19 year old soldier is fighting for his life, a beloved family pet was killed and 68 people have been treated for injuries as well as the horrific destruction of property.

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Bus burns after sustaining direct hit from rocket fired from Gaza, 19 year old soldier was critically injured

At the moment there is an Egyptian-brokered a ceasefire in place and many have opined that we should “obliterate Gaza” “flatten it totally”. I am very perturbed and offended by this kind of rhetoric.

Please allow me a moment to rant. I share the frustration of many that we need to put an end to the terrorist actions of Iranian-backed Hamas and various other terror factions in the strip for once and for all. These terror groups hold both their own and the civilian population of Israel hostage with their thirst for bloodshed. Many have called for an all-out war with our Gazan neighbours and it is easy to be an armchair general from the safety of our homes, far away for the proverbial battlefield.  I am not a military expert and I cannot fathom, like many of you, the difficult decisions Israel’s government, security cabinet and Generals have to make. But I am a human being and holding on to my moral compass, my humanity is sacrosanct.

The decision to go to war or “boots on the ground” is profoundly difficult. War is not glamorous or an easy decision to make. For Israelis, this situation is profoundly painful and as much as we would like to deal a death blow to the likes of Hamas, we are well aware of the consequences.

War is fought on the backs of our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, lovers, friends and colleagues. Some of them don’t return. War is more violence inflicted on our civilian populations. War is experiencing PTSD (which by the way many of us, including me experience at the sound of sirens). War is going to funerals for those fallen and gone too soon. War is sleepless nights because we worry our loved ones in the battlefield have not contacted us. War is our heart stopping every time our phones ring or whatsapp beeps.

And war is suffering inflicted on the Palestinian civilian population who do not deserve to be punished because of the actions of their leaders. War is women, children, the disabled and vulnerable being used by Hamas as human shields. War is our diaspora communities under threat and more anti-Semitism because Jewish communities outside of Israel are seen as the de facto representatives of the state.

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 Fallen.

I am proud and grateful for our armed forces and security establishment who abide by the strictest code of ethics and conduct. These brave men and women protect us 24/7 while retaining their humanity in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Who are we to behave in a way that is disrespectful to them and fellow innocents by baying for blood? I am proud of a country that takes our duty to be humanitarians even to civilians belonging to an enemy entity very seriously. This is why we continue to ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered to the beleaguered strip unabated.

I hope this offers an explanation. Some of you may disagree, and that is your right. All I am asking is that in a time of conflagration we do not lose our perspective – or humanity.

My gratitude to our brave men and women of the  IDF, IAF, and security services, police, first responders and firefighters for exemplifying the best of us and keeping us safe.

Am Yisrael Chai.

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Cashing in on terror

This article is currently featured in Lay of the Land:

Cashing in on terror

A perverted ‘Pay for Slay’ scheme sponsored from countries abroad environment for terror 

 It takes a lot to fell a lion. Several weeks ago, a 17 year old terrorist felled one of Israel and the Jewish world’s most recognized activists, the Lion of Zion, Ari Fuld.  Ari Fuld, was 45 years old, a father of four, slain while he shopped in a nearby supermarket. Mortally wounded from the stab wound in his back that hit a major artery, Fuld managed to chase and shoot his murderer before succumbing to his wounds.

The Lion of Zion, who roared his support for Israel across social media and inspired legions of activists was no more.

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Lion of Zion. Ari Fuld at the Western Wall, Photo, FB

Teenage Terrorists

Teenage terrorists are sadly, not a new or unusual phenomenon. Over the last two years this has been a common occurrence. Motivated by a growing hatred that is indoctrinated into them from baby-hood, these killers have claimed many innocent lives.

It is not just the steady diet of hatred that is consumed but a whole industry has grown around terrorism. It even has a fancy name that rhymes – pay for slay. In a nutshell, there is a scale “of benefits” that determine how much of a monthly stipend the family of a terrorist receive.

If you kill a Jew AND get killed then  – jackpot – you get the most cash. If you stab a Jew and kill him/her but are merely wounded then second prize, a lot less money.

It is money for jam for aspiring terrorists – and this comes with an instructional “how to stab for maximum casualties” videos.

The pay for Slay industry is growing so much that the Palestinian Authority even hasa name for the millions of dollars in supposed aid that they have re-budgeted to pay their young terrorists – The Martyr’s Fund.

Death Dollars

Foreign aid that countries earnestly donate to the Palestinians with the hope that it will go towards improving the lives of Palestinians is re-routed to the Martyr’s Fund to support this “pay for Slay” economy. This is a rough breakdown of how the economy of terror funds are allocated according to an expose published in the Washington Post:

The Washington Post’s analysis showed that in 2017, $160 million was paid to 13,000 beneficiaries of “prisoner payments” ($12,307 per person) and $183 million was paid to 33,700 families in about in “martyr payments” ($5,430 per family), of which:

  • $36 million is estimated to be paid to prisoners serving sentences of >20 years
  • $10 million is paid to former members of the security forces
  • $1 million is estimated to be paid to families of the 200 suicide bombers
  • $10 million is paid to the families of the Palestinians with life terms, lengthy sentences and in the security forces

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Pay to Slay. The PA paid almost $300,000 to Muslim terrorists behind the Sbarro restaurant massacre in Jerusalem with the family of Izz al-Din Al-Masri receiving $50,124 as a reward for his suicide bombing. The dead Israelis included seven children

Economy of Death

Stipends are paid to families of both prisoners and Palestinians killed in political demonstrations that turn violent where protesters are killed by non-lethal riot control methods (such as being hit by a tear gas canister) and to individuals imprisoned for “common crimes”. The fund also pays $106 a month in “canteen money” to all imprisoned Palestinians, including those imprisoned for non-political crimes such as car theft and drug dealing, for prisoners to spend in the prison canteen. This must be where Marwan Barghouti got his money for his chocolate he was eating during his hunger strike…

Families of individuals killed by Israeli security forces are paid stipends of about $800 to $1,000 per month. The families of convicted Palestinians serving time in Israeli prisons receive $3,000 or higher per month.

Yossi Kuperwasser, an analyst with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, estimated that in 2017 half of the $693 million that the Palestinian Authority receives as foreign aid, $345 million, was paid out as stipends to convicted terrorists and their families

How many schools, hospitals and other infrastructure that would be beneficial could be built with this money? Asking for a friend….

Instead, this money continues to fuel terror. Incitement to hate and kill Jews is manifesting itself in these ongoing spates of stabbings and shootings perpetrated by teenage terrorists.

Hamas animations encourages stabbings, shootings and car rammings

Winds of Change

Incitement of hatred that motivates children to become stealthy killers and not nation builders falls under the remit of child abuse and the international community is starting to take notice.  The United States has started to cut funding dramatically. On 23 March 2018, U.S. President, Donald Trump, signed the Taylor Force Act (named for victim of terror, Taylor Force) into law, which will cut about a third of US foreign aid payments to the Palestinian Authority. This is on the provision that the PA ceases making payment of stipends to terrorists and their surviving families and Australia has followed suit. In July 2018, Australia stopped the A$10M (US$7.5M) in funding that had been sent to the PA via the World Bank, and have decided to send it instead to the UN Humanitarian Fund for the Palestinian Territories. The reason given was that Australia did not want the PA to use the funds to assist Palestinians convicted of politically motivated violence. Other governments are starting to review their funding as well.

The Lion of Zion may have been silenced but in his memory and for those who have been slain our voices will not be. We say loud and clear the jig is up – perpetuating a cycle of violence and terror is no longer going to be profitable.

An open letter to Animal Rights activists

This article currently appears in the Times of Israel:

An open letter to Animal Rights Activists

Dear Animal Rights activists

As a fellow animal lover I am a great supporter of the work that you do. I too would rather go naked than wear fur. I believe tusks belong on an elephant and the only horny fifty shades of gray I am a fan of are rhinos with their horns intact.

I am a firm believer that we humans need to be the voice of those who cannot speak for themselves. Our furry, scaly, feathered, four legged, eight legged, carnivore, herbivore, amphibious, flying, nocturnal, diurnal, horned, spotted, striped, maned and all round exquisite animal friends.

We can all wonder at the majestic falcon as it flies and swoops so elegantly as it hunts its prey.

Sadly, these noble feathered predators have now become the prey.

Not content with sending kites, balloons, condoms (yes, you read right) with incendiary devices attached to them, arson terrorists in the Gaza strip have now attached these to falcons with the aim of destroying thousands of acres of Israeli agricultural land and nature reserves.

The south has been burning for several weeks, killing wildlife and destroying farmlands. Now many of you think that this is all in the name of “resistance” or “peaceful protests”.

Those who love the land, don’t burn it.

At first “protestors” set fires to rubber tires, creating an environmental hazard. Turkeys choked to death on the fumes. Nobody said a word.

At one “peaceful protest” a donkey was set on fire. The poor, tortured creature was still alive.  Nobody said a word.

And now these incredible raptors have been turned into Molotov cocktails. Will you continue to be silent?

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Sheer repugnant depravity

We Israelis have become quite cynical when it comes to the silence of the world. We are well aware of the double standards of human rights activists who have excluded us from the family of nations. This past weekend nearly 200 rockets and mortars rained down on our terrified citizens who scrambled for their shelters. The world was silent. Did you know that these weapons are stored and fired from within civilian infrastructure including the zoo?

Continued silence sanctions this behaviour. This is not about being desperate or resistance, this is depraved torture.

You may not like our politics and prefer to stay out of conflicts that involve humans, but I appeal to you, the environmentalists, eco-warriors, animal activists and even my fellow bunny huggers, for the love of G-d, say something, stand up to this abject cruelty against those who cannot speak for themselves -our animals.

Warm regards

Rolene Marks (fellow bunny hugger)

Witch trials in South Africa?

I watched Shashi Naidoo’s “mea culpa” (or rather bullied into submission apology) with a great deal of sadness and anger. Referring to her impending and I am sure well-choreographed, visit to “Palestine” for “re-education”, I had awful images of a Siberian gulag circa Stalin’s regime. Naidoo spoke movingly of promoting peace but the irony of saying this surrounded by an organization like BDS (boycott Divestment and Sanctions) who are anti-peace and normalization between Israel and her Palestinian neighbours, favouring that bridges be bombed rather than built, made me feel that perhaps Naidoo is a symptom of something extremely worrying that is brewing in South Africa – the steady erosion of the freedom of speech.

Shashi Naidoo holds joint press conference with BDS

Naidoo was subject to bullying, threats to her life and threats of rape for posting comments on Facebook that were favourable to Israel. If anyone still believes that BDS is a human rights organization, think again. The jig is up. All you have to do is spend a little time on social media to see how BDS and their supporters are trying to intimidate or threaten anyone who has a different opinion to them on Israel and some have used threatening language that even calls for physical harm to Jews or threatened the community with punishment “worse than the Holocaust”.

Shashi symptomatic of something far greater than the bullyboy tactics of BDS and their supporters and their abilities to coerce an uncomfortable apology- she is a symbol of the steady erosion of free speech in South Africa.

This is not unique to her. She joins an illustrious group of international celebrities who have been threatened because of their support for Israel like Sir Paul MacCartney, Alicia keys and even the Argentinian football team who cancelled a friendly warm-up match pre the World Cup with the Jewish State. Argentina’s foreign minister spoke about these threats calling them “worse than ISIS”. Some have stood their ground against hatemongering and some like Shashi are too terrified not to.

Shashi deserves our compassion, as do the many who have to face the juggernaut of hatemongers.

Tweet

 

The Media Review Network’s Iqbal Jasset shows me some “love” on Twitter

It is more than just the Israel-Palestine issue or the importing of a far-away conflict into South Africa, it is about the intimidation and witch trial by media. South Africa’s mainstream media has been largely silent. I cannot help wonder if it is fear – or indifference.

The media still fails to draw a correlation between indifference and biased reporting and the rise of anti-Semitism. The constant coverage of only one side is fodder for hatred – and sometimes violence.

The levels of hatred and threats that go unchallenged and allowed to infest social media have spelled the death knell of the freedom of speech in South Africa. Threats are not relegated to an incident here and a post there but rather a growing epidemic that has found a tailwind on social media. It is very easy to hide behind an avatar….

Trade Unionist, Zwelinzima Vavi threatens “racist Zionists”

South Africans fought hard and many paid with their lives to end the racist Apartheid regime and birth a democratic country with equality for all and one of the most progressive constitutions in the world.

All it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing. Anti-Semitism is not just a problem for the Jewish community. It is everybody’s problem. Anyone who cares about democracy, equality and is concerned about racism and discrimination in the Rainbow Nation needs to take a stand. Don’t be a bystander and let the hatred flourish.

South Africa in the Israeli media – a case of fascination or Um-shmum?

This article is currently featured on Dafca.com

South Africa in the Israeli media

WHEN Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, was asked his opinion about the United Nations’ propensity to castigate his country, he shrugged and answered, “Um, Shmum” (signifying dismissal or contempt).

This term is an apt description of how Israelis currently feel about South Africa. Once a country that fascinated the Israeli media and public, South Africa is still widely covered in the Israeli media – but for the wrong reasons.

South Africa and Israel have a tumultuous relationship. The historical parallels and shared challenges are often eclipsed by strained political relations between Jerusalem and Pretoria. Both countries share difficult pasts. Both countries have experienced persecution, fought British colonialism and are, relatively-peaking, young democracies. Both countries face similar challenges with regards to water shortages and the agriculture sector. Both countries are multicultural and need to find ways to ensure that racism and intolerance are not propagated. However, over the last decade or so, the relationship between the two states has deteriorated dramatically. This is abundantly clear in both the South African and Israeli media.

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South Africa’s ruling party and the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Movement, now the Palestinian Authority) enjoy a historical relationship that dates back to the apartheid years when the PLO offered sanctuary to exiled ANC members, as well as ideological and military support. This is a relationship that has continued into post-apartheid South Africa. The public gulf between Pretoria and Jerusalem has been further widened by the support of boycotts and travels bans by the ANC. Statements such as the one below, co-signed by National Chairperson of the ANC, Gwede Mantashe, are but one of many such comments that emanate from ANC leadership:

As the Alliance we are now heightening our campaign aimed at boycotting and isolating Israel as a state founded on the basis of apartheid, which according to international law and several UN conventions is a crime against humanity.

​The war of words and ideas between the two countries has found fertile ground in both the South African and Israeli media. In a democracy there is a common perception that the role of the media is to expose areas where democracy is failing. However the South African media might view its responsibility towards reporting on Israel, there is a clear line between legitimate criticism of a country’s foreign policy and a biased and myopic approach to bilateral relations between Israel and South Africa.

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​There are many who have argued that the South African media exhibits an inherent bias when it comes to reporting the situation in the Middle East and Israel in particular. For the last two decades, I have worked in media — including radio, TV and print — following how Israel and the Middle East are covered in the South African media. I have observed an increased bias against Israel. While it is not expected that the South African media will break out into Hatikvah anytime soon, would it not be more prudent for journalists to be more balanced? This trend could also be a result of media ownership or the dictates of the consumer. Some would argue that South African media is simply pandering to a popular narrative. Journalism has arguably changed from a noble profession that aims for truth and balance to a means of propagating sensationalism in order to generate headlines.

“There is nothing wrong with legitimate criticism of a country’s policies  … but all too often, as is the case with the South African media, legitimate criticism quickly segues into exaggerated bias.”​

This imbalance needs to be understood in the context of the ANC and the PLO’s historical relationship: the sympathy of the South African government very much lies with the Palestinians. This position has inevitably filtered down to the media, prompting many an angry and frustrated response from the Jewish community and supporters of Israel who feel that this bias is influencing South African public opinion and is, at times, fanning the flames of anti-Israel sentiment.

There is nothing wrong with legitimate criticism of a country’s policies — it is often joked that this is the national sport in Israel — but all too often, as is the case with the South African media, legitimate criticism quickly segues into exaggerated bias. Recognising such bias against Israel, in 2001, following the UN Conference against Racism that was held in Durban, the SAZF (South African Zionist Federation) and SAJBD (South African Jewish Board of Deputies) founded Media Team Israel. The conference brought to the surface an inherent anti-Israel bias in South African media and exposed the growing chasm between the two countries. Indeed, the establishment of Media Team Israel was an attempt to ensure balanced coverage of Israel in the South African media.

“As is commonly reflected in Israeli media, South Africa’s apartheid past, its transition to democracy and the intricacies of the South African political landscape are not always fully understood.”

Whilst there has been much written on how Israel is covered in South African media there is very little on how relations between the two states is covered in the Israeli media.

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The Israeli media enjoys a reputation for being free and democratic. The media landscape is extremely robust, offering space for divergent opinions from the far-left to the ultra-right. In fact, many an Israeli is known to complain that perhaps the media is a little TOO democratic! Israeli society is very complex and this is reflected in the media. As such, the media has to be representative of all sectors of Israeli society – Israelis almost demand this. The left-leaning daily Ha’aretz will cover issues completely differently to The Times of Israel or the Jerusalem Post. One such example is the coverage of NGO’s like Breaking the Silence. Ha’aretz will publish an angle that is far more supportive of this controversial organisation and be highly critical of the government and the various security agencies, while the other two publications would castigate Breaking the Silence and support a much harsher stance against them.

As is commonly reflected in Israeli media, South Africa’s apartheid past, its transition to democracy and the intricacies of the South African political landscape are not always fully understood. This has allowed for the word apartheid to enter the lexicon of Israelis. In part, this is because they do not fully understand what apartheid was, and that it is unique to the South African experience. We have seen this manifest in the discourse of Israeli politicians and journalists, who commonly use the term to describe incidents of racism in Israel. While racism is abhorrent, the distinction between it and apartheid must be made clear. On the whole Israelis are perturbed and angered by the comparison of Israel to apartheid South Africa by, for example, controversial Israeli commentators such as Ha’aretz journalist, Gideon Levy.  Very often, when there is coverage of South Africa’s BDS movement’s attempts to isolate Israel from the international community and call into question her existence as a state, it results in a barrage of comments and letters from angry Israelis, predominantly Anglos (immigrants from English speaking countries).​

Coverage of South Africa in the English media has increased, largely because of the rise of BDS in South Africa. BDS activities in South Africa receive much coverage in the Israeli media, in particular the English press. The South African BDS movement and its actions are of great interest to English speaking ex-pats because very often they impact on their communities of origin. Ex-pat South Africans, in particular, are very concerned that the actions of BDS may cause a rise in antisemitism or even violence against the South African Jewish community.

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There are four main online English publications – the Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Yedioth Aharonot (Ynet) and Ha’aretz. What is of interest is that the news reported in Hebrew differs to that offered in English. The English media covers a lot more international news than the Hebrew speaking press. Ha’aretz will more often than not give a voice to the far-left and organisations seen as anti-Israel, whereas the Hebrew media tends to castigate South Africa.

Many Israelis have become increasingly alarmed at the scurrilous comparison of Israel to apartheid South Africa, the BDS movement and its activities in the country, and the hostility shown to the Jewish state by the ANC and the EFF (Economic Freedom Front). Recent statements by Lindiwe Sisulu, Chairperson of the ANC International Relations committee, recommending that Israel withdraw from Gaza after we had done so 12 years ago drew comments of amusement on social media platforms, such as the following tweet by Avi Mayer, spokesperson to the International Media for The Jewish Agency for Israel:

​Dear South Africa: thank you for your helpful advice, which we heeded TWELVE YEARS before you offered it. Any suggestions as to what we might do about the thousands of rockets that have poured onto our citizens’ homes ever since?

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The water crisis in Cape Town and controversy around the rejection of proposed solutions from Israel has garnered its fair share of headlines. Events on campus during Israel Apartheid Week also makes headlines. Israelis view the manifestation of antisemitism in South Africa to be very different to the trends in the USA or Europe. In Europe or the USA, antisemitism is seen as manifesting itself in ‘traditional ways’ – in other words, the spraying of swastika’s, the desecration of gravestones, marches and activity by the alt-right and far left. In South Africa, it is evident that it manifests in attacks on Israel and how Jews identify themselves as Zionists. The message seems to be “we love Jews! Mazel Tov! Gefilte Fish! We just hate Zionists”.

The Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel include a section for blogs that allows space not just for divergent opinions but ensures that a range of voices, including many South African, have a space to share their voices, perspectives and experiences. South African bloggers are very popular because there is much interest from the English speaking community, including many ex-pat South Africans, about the South African Jewish community and events in the country. The Jerusalem Post even has a dedicated journalist who covers South Africa as part of her beat, with stories published almost on a weekly basis.

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When it does cover global events, the Hebrew-speaking media, by contrast, focuses mainly on the United States, Europe and our own volatile region, the Middle East. Unless something controversial has happened or threatens bilateral relations between the two countries, South Africa receives very little coverage in the Hebrew-speaking media. Is it because South Africa is not THAT newsworthy in the eyes of the non-Anglo public in Israel?

The attention given to South Africa in Israeli papers, and to Israel in South African papers, does matter. The media is a very powerful tool not only for disseminating information and news but, I would argue, for building – or breaking – bilateral relations between countries. South Africa continues to be subjects of fascination for the Israeli media and as concern rises about the situation for Jews in South Africa, interest in South Africa will continue to grow in Israel and the Israeli media.