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.


This article appears in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2022/11/11/occupier-barbie-and-the-importance-of-ihra/

Antisemitism needs to be defined in order to effectively combat this irrational hatred

I was promoted recently. Not content to just call me “Zio racist”, “beneficiary of Apartheid in South Africa because you are white and beneficiary of Apartheid in Israel because you are Jewish”, social media keyboard haters, the Media Review Network (MRN) conferred a promotion on my Zionist self. According to them, I am now “Chief Hasbara Agent”. It is a great pity that my new title doesn’t come with a salary commensurate with such an illustrious promotion but c’est la vie.

You may be asking yourself while reading this, what I am trying to say.

It is no great secret that antisemitism is at alarming levels and that social media platforms are fomenting this ugly, ancient hatred. Social media has given keyboard warriors ample opportunity to spew their venom. As it has in generations before, antisemitism has taken on a new iteration – this time in the guise of anti-Zionism.

Let’s be frank – deciding that out of all the nations in the world, only the Jewish people have no right to a national liberation movement called Zionism that speaks of our return to our ancient and ancestral homeland, IS racist. As demonstrated in the tweet above, denying Jews the centrality of Zion and Israel to our Jewish identity is also antisemitic.

Flaming Hatred. Anti-Israel animus transitions into antisemitism that includes drawing analogies to the Nazis, declaring Israel a racist – and thus illegitimate – endeavor, holding it to standards expected of no other democratic state, and holding Jews collectively responsible for its actions. 

I was once called “Occupier Barbie” as an attempt to diminish my gender and my Zionist identity. While I do have to recognise the originality in coming up with nickname like this, it also speaks to the kind of abuse and insult doled out to Jews on a daily basis. And this is just the tip of the iceberg – and not nearly as vile as some of the more bilious comments we receive. In recent weeks, it appears as if a tsunami of hatred has been unleashed on Jews around the world in every possible iteration.

Why Did Nobody Tell Me That Barbie Is Jewish?!

We thought that we had raised the alarm effectively enough in previous decades to warrant a definition of antisemitism. It was soon recognized that in order to effectively combat this ancient and irrational hatred, it would have to be defined within clear parameters.

The result was – The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. This is the accepted, international gold standard by which antisemitism is defined and has been adopted by nearly 40 countries and countless cities, civil society organisations, NGO’s, universities, institutions, business and more – including English Premier League Football/soccer.

IHRA makes it clear exactly what is – and isn’t antisemitic.

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
  • Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
  • Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

The above definition does not state that criticism of Israeli policy is antisemitic. Criticising policy is democratic – it is also the national sport of Israelis – but it does clearly define anti-Zionism as antisemitism.

It would appear that there are many who are triggered by IHRA. In recent days, Hollywood actor, Mark Ruffalo and others including the UN Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories, Francesca Albanese, have railed against the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Is it because it holds a mirror to their anti-Zionism and their attempts to sneak in their antisemitism in through more nefarious ways?

Would they have the temerity to try to redefine any other form of racism or discrimination or is this honour reserved only for Jews?

No Laughing Matter. Hollywood actor Mark Ruffalo who previously declared that Israel was an apartheid state guilty of genocide, urged the UN in a tweet not to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

For those triggered by the internationally accepted gold standard definition of antisemitism – IHRA – there is the alternative “Jerusalem Declaration” which very clearly states what some believe antisemitism is while greenlighting their anti-Zionism.

Below are excerpts taken verbatim from the Jerusalem Declaration:

Criticizing or opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism, or arguing for a variety of constitutional arrangements for Jews and Palestinians in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. It is not antisemitic to support arrangements that accord full equality to all inhabitants “between the river and the sea,” whether in two states, a binational state, unitary democratic state, federal state, or in whatever form.

Evidence-based criticism of Israel as a state. This includes its institutions and founding principles. It also includes its policies and practices, domestic and abroad, such as the conduct of Israel in the West Bank and Gaza, the role Israel plays in the region, or any other way in which, as a state, it influences events in the world. It is not antisemitic to point out systematic racial discrimination. In general, the same norms of debate that apply to other states and to other conflicts over national self-determination apply in the case of Israel and Palestine. Thus, even if contentious, it is not antisemitic, in and of itself, to compare Israel with other historical cases, including settler-colonialism or apartheid.

Boycott, divestment and sanctions are commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest against states. In the Israeli case they are not, in and of themselves, antisemitic.

Political speech does not have to be measured, proportional, tempered, or reasonable to be protected under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and other human rights instruments. Criticism that some may see as excessive or contentious, or as reflecting a “double standard,” is not, in and of itself, antisemitic. In general, the line between antisemitic and non-antisemitic speech is different from the line between unreasonable and reasonable speech.

No attempts to rewrite our history and call into question our ancient ties to our homeland which is now our thriving nation state is going to dilute their antisemitism.

I only need refer to the opening tweet in this article and the slur, “Occupier Barbie”.  They say sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me. In this case it is the twisting of words and definitions that do cause irreparable harm. We see it every single day, on multiple platforms and across cities around the world.

Antisemitism in America. Seen here at this anti-Israel rally in Washington, DC, March 2010, the common practice of substituting a swastika for a blood-stained Star of David on the Israeli flag.

If there are going to be attempts to deny us peoplehood and a state wrapped up in clever language to try and bypass accepted, working definitions of antisemitism, then Occupier Barbie is a name I will wear like armour.

Oy vey, Ye!

This article is featured in Lay of the Land:

Rapper Kanye West creates a social media storm with antisemitic outbursts

Kanye West or rather “Ye” as he prefers to be called nowadays is one of those rappers/fashion designers/celebrities/wannabe politicians/former Kardashian paramours that is best known for generating headlines in the tabloids. If you are hooked on pop culture like I am, you are familiar with West’s eccentric exploits. Nobody could have predicted Ye targeting Jews around the world with some of the most vile (and badly phrased) threats and antisemitism seen in the public domain like he did over the past two weeks.

It has been a steady build-up of comments that would not have been out of place in Germany circa 1938. 

West’s tweet:

West’s rantings cannot and must not be dismissed as the rantings of a narcissistic celebrity desperate for relevance, or someone on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  His comments also cannot be dismissed as the musings of a misunderstood genius. West/Ye/Whatever he calls himself, has a newly discovered history of antisemitic comments.

Let’s make one thing abundantly clear – bipolar disorder or any other mental health issue does not cause racism or antisemitism. West’s antisemitism also should not be excused because he is a celebrity.

West poses an added danger – his Twitter following is a staggering 31.4 million. That is more than double the amount of Jews in the world – and excludes his other social media platforms.

This is not the first offence from West. Podcaster Van Lathan, an ex-TMZ (entertainment news site) worker, has recently claimed that the rapper confessed his love for Adolf Hitler during an interview with him in 2018. Lathan made the shocking revelation about the rapper during the recent episode of his ‘Higher Learning’ podcast, where he revealed that he made controversial comments during an interview for TMZ, but it was edited out and was not back then made public.

Lathan told his co-host, Rachel Lindsay:

I’ve already heard him say that stuff before. I mean, I was taken aback because that type of antisemitic talk is disgusting. But as far as him, I knew that that was in him because when he came to TMZ, he said that stuff and they took it out of the interview, ” he alleged, as per Page Six.

Lathan continues, “If you look at what I said at TMZ, it goes from me saying, ‘Hey Kanye, there’s real-life, real-world implications to everything that you just said there.’ “What I say after that — if I can remember, it’s been a long time — was, ’12 million people actually died because of Nazism and Hitler and all of that stuff,’ and then I move on to talk about what he said about slavery,” Lathan alleged.

The reason they took it out is because it wouldn’t have made sense unless they kept in Kanye saying he loved Hitler and the Nazis, which he said when he was at TMZ. He said something like, “I love Hitler, and I love Nazis.” Something to that effect. “

Rapper’s Revelation. A resurfaced 2018 Kanye West interview reveals the rapper’s adoration for Adolf Hitler.

Some of West’s other bizarre antisemitic comments from the recent controversial Tucker Carlson Fox News interview also made their way to the cutting room floor but included doozies like this:

I’d prefer my kids knew Chanukah than Kwanzaa, at least it would come with some financial engineering,” said West. Clearly while many of us are scratching our heads wondering if we missed something when it comes to the way we celebrate Chanukah, an ugly comment like this hearkens back to those revolting antisemitic tropes that Jews control the world’s financial systems.

West also appeared on the Drink Champs podcast to last week adding:

Jewish people have owned the black voice, whether it’s through us wearing a Ralph Lauren shirt, or as all of us being assigned to a record label, or having a Jewish manager or being assigned to a Jewish basketball team, or doing a movie on a Jewish platform like Disney, and we understand this.”

I want Jewish children to look at their daddy and say, ‘why is Ye mad at us?’” he ranted.

He also blamed “Zionist Jews” for prompting his ex-wife Kim Kardashian‘s confession that she had sex in front of a fireplace with former lover, Pete Davidson. Okay, then. Apparently we “Zionist Jews” are SO powerful we can influence people’s sexual activity! No, I am not making this up!

Oy vey Ye, maybe you should just shut up?

Many have roundly condemned West’s vile behaviour including political leaders, black personalities and leaders; and entertainment celebrities like Friends star, David Schwimmer:

Sadly, others like late night talk show host, Trevor Noah (who also has a dubious history of antisemitic comments) managed to turn it into comedy shtick for his TV show, making light of the meaning and pronunciation of “Deathcon 3”. Trevor should sit this one out. The internet keeps receipts of people’s activities and Noah should take a long, hard accounting of his:

Adding fuel to the fire is Candace Owens, a conservative commentator. Owens tweeted out that West was dumped by JP Morgan, the private bank because of his antisemitic rants. The truth is West and JP Morgan bank cut ties several weeks ago.

West has supported Owen’s documentary “BLM: The greatest lie ever sold” about the Black Lives Matter movement that has fomented racial divisions and taken in an extraordinary amount of money to fill their coffers.

In a strange twist of events, West announced he is buying Parler, the conservative social media platform. The CEO is Candace Owens’s husband. Is it just me, or do you also smell a stinking publicity rat?

West has doubled down on his vile comments saying that he is glad that he crossed the line and that his comments did “not come out of nowhere”.

Jews have been sounding the alarm over rising antisemitism, especially on social media platforms for years now. While platforms like Twitter and Instagram may deplatform some for their comments (the Ayatollah al Khameini is still able to post egregious antisemitic comments in less than 280 characters) it is clearly not enough. Don’t even get me started on the comments from people in the spaces under articles or online in response to coverage of West/ye/Whatever’s antisemitism. It is a clear indication of the groundswell of danger out there.

The Holocaust started with words. Some of you reading this may think that I am overreacting or being too dramatic. I am don’t think that I am. We have witnessed throughout our history what the consequences of unchecked hate speech are.

We cannot dismiss the damage caused as the ravings of a man with mental health issues or downplay it because comments like this bring clicks and likes to big tech and effectively more money for them. This kind of hate speech poses a clear and present danger.

Where to from here? I am a firm believer that the only way to fight this is with a sense of pride and identity. This involves calling it out wherever you see it – and using the apparatus that is available to us. Our own social media, legal channels if necessary, reporting structures and most important, educating and empowering the next generation so that they too are equipped to better deal with what they face every day on their social media.

Throughout our history there have been attempts to silence Jewish and Zionist voices. The time has come to make them heard as loud and as proud as possible. It is the only way to drown out the noise of hate speech.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/YTCJHxv4jMA?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparentKanye West exclusive: Rapper tells Tucker Carlson story behind White Lives Matter shirt

The Greatest Briton (2)

This article is featured in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2022/09/15/the-greatest-briton/

A tribute to ‘The Queen’ of our times

Grief is the price we pay for love”. These were the words spoken by Her Majesty, The Queen on September 11th, 2001. The Queen passed away peacefully at the age of 96, at her beloved Balmoral residence in the Scottish highlands last week. The world’s collective grief is the price we are paying for the love she never commanded but most certainly inspired. 

The Queen seemed immortal. A constant, reassuring presence whose historical 70 year reign spanned some of the most iconic moments of the last century, her loss is being keenly felt by millions around the world. To put it into perspective, David Ben Gurion was Israel’s Prime Minister when Her Majesty ascended the throne.

Pure Majesty: The young Queen pictured here at her Coronation, 2 June 1953.

The late Queen who celebrated her platinum jubilee just several months ago, was universally loved and respected – not just because she could jump out of a helicopter with James Bond, or take tea with Paddington Bear; but because her life was dedicated to duty and service and was a constant reassuring presence in our lives when the world became ever more turbulent. At the height of the pandemic when the Monarch invoked the blitz spirit of her youth; and the words of Vera Lynne to tell us “we will meet again”, we believed her. Because we did. We did meet again. There she was, that steady, guiding hand that not just her people, realms and Commonwealth adored, but the world. Her trusty hairstyle never changed, neither did her beaming smile or twinkling eyes and for many, that continuity provided strength and succor. World leaders, often filled with their own sense of self-importance, jostled each other out of the way and their knees shook when meeting a tiny, old lady whose wisdom they sought and whose leadership they greatly admired – but could never emulate.

A heartbroken Paddington Bear: “Thank you Ma’am, for everything”.

The Queen was also a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother and over the last two years, we have all wanted to hug her as she cut a solitary, dignified figure at her “strength and stay”, Prince Philips funeral at the height of the pandemic, smiled at her delight as she chatted to her exuberant great grandson, Prince Louis, during her jubilee celebrations and felt sorrow at the sight of daughter, Princess Anne, dipped in a deep curtsy out of respect to her mother’s coffin.

The unprecedented number of people who have lined the streets of Scotland, from Balmoral to Edinburgh; and are prepared to line up for an estimated 30 hours in London as the Monarch lies in state or the mountains of floral tributes at royal residences are just a small glimpse of the out pouring of love and grief. When the Queen made the journey home to Buckingham Palace, London’s streets were crowded with tens of thousands of people, waiting for that opportunity to just say, “Thank you”. Her funeral is estimated to be the most viewed event in history.

 Her beloved Balmoral: The Queen in her Order of the Thistle robes at Balmoral.

Israel’s President Herzog, who will represent the Jewish State at her funeral released this statement:

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was known far and wide simply as The Queen. Her passing is the end of an era. Together with the Israeli people, I grieve her loss and extend my deepest sympathies to the British people and all nations of the Commonwealth, who have lost their matriarch.

“Queen Elizabeth was a historic figure: she lived history, she made history, and with her passing she leaves a magnificent, inspirational legacy.

As the eleventh President of the State of Israel during Her Majesty’s long reign, and on behalf of the whole State and people of Israel, I express my condolences to the Royal Family, to the King and the Queen Consort, to the people of the United Kingdom, and to all nations of the Commonwealth.

“Throughout her long and momentous reign, the world changed dramatically, while the Queen remained an icon of stable, responsible leadership, and a beacon of morality, humanity and patriotism. In her life and in her service to her people, the Queen embodied a spirit of integrity, duty and ancient tradition.

“My late mother and father had several audiences with the Queen over the years. Her fond welcome and warm hospitality left a profound impression down the generations.”

Queen of the World

Over the last week, the world has witnessed the centuries old traditions that give the 1000 year old monarchy its magic. For the people of the United Kingdom, their monarch is the connection to their history, the living, breathing embodiment of their constitution and even though there may be many reading this who do not understand it, we should respect it.

During her annual Christmas speech in 1957, The Queen said:

“I cannot lead you into battle. I do not give you laws or administer justice. But I can do something else. I can give you my heart and my devotion to these old islands and to all the peoples of our brotherhood of nations.”

And devoted she was – working right up until two days before her death when she accepted the resignation of Boris Johnson and swore in her 15th Prime Minister, Liz Truss. In the now famous “when Liz met Liz” photograph, we could see how frail the 96- year-old monarch was but could not imagine that just two days later, she would pass away.

The Last Photo: The Queen pictured two days before her passing. (Photo: Jane Barlow)

The Queen dedicated her entire life to her duty and her people.

Her promise made in 1947 as a 21 one year old Princess, in Cape Town, South Africa was a promise kept until she drew her last breath.

I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great Imperial family to which we all belong.”

While the Imperial family evolved into a Commonwealth of Nations as the British Empire devolved, that commitment as her grandson, the Prince of Wales said in his emotional tribute, was absolute.

The Queen’s motto of “never complain, never explain” was welcome relief from the performative emoting from many celebrities who push “their truth” as opposed to THE truth. Perhaps that is the enduring appeal of royalty. Royalty is not celebrity. The values that The Queen held dear of duty, service, modesty and selflessness may be just what this world needs to tilt it back on its axis.

As the world prepares to bid farewell to the greatest of the greatest generation, there are calls in the media to assign her the moniker, ‘Elizabeth the Great’.

 It is most fitting for she was, indeed, the Greatest Briton.

You Tube commentator, HG Tudor narrates this beautiful tribute to Queen Elizabeth, the Great.

The Greatest Briton (1)

This article appears in the South African Jewish Report: https://www.sajr.co.za/the-greatest-briton/

“I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great Imperial family, to which we all belong.”Princess Elizabeth, South Africa, 1947

Though the Imperial family evolved into a Commonwealth of Nations as the British Empire devolved, the 21-year-old princess, who became Britain’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth, truly dedicated her life to her people. That commitment, as her grandson, the Prince of Wales, said in his emotional tribute, was absolute.

The late Queen, who celebrated her platinum jubilee just several months ago, was universally loved and respected, not just because she could jump out a helicopter with James Bond or take tea with Paddington Bear. She was dedicated to service and duty, and was a constant reassuring presence in our lives when the world became ever more turbulent.

At the height of the pandemic, when the monarch invoked the blitz spirit of her youth and the words of Vera Lynn to say, “We will meet again,” we believed her. Because we did meet again. There she was, that steady, guiding hand that not just her people, realms, and Commonwealth looked to, but the world.

Her trusty hairstyle never changed, neither did her beaming smile or twinkling eyes, and for many, that continuity provided strength and succour.

World leaders, often filled with their own sense of self-importance, jostled each other out of the way and their knees shook when meeting a tiny, old lady whose wisdom they sought and whose leadership they greatly admired, but could never emulate.

The Queen wasn’t just sovereign to the United Kingdom, realms and territories, or head of the Commonwealth, which she held so dear, but Queen, essentially, of the world. Such was the love and admiration she inspired.

What was Her Majesty’s relationship to Jews and Israel?

Many have criticised the Queen for never visiting Israel. What they don’t realise is that foreign trips are made at the request of the British Foreign Office, wanting to deploy the soft diplomacy and convening power that royalty has.

The 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, neither has ever been to Israel on an official visit,” said Roberts, addressing attendees at a gala dinner in London.

The Queen received many Israeli dignitaries including former President Shimon Peres, who was awarded an honorary knighthood in 2008. Peres was knighted with the Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George.

For 30 minutes, Peres spoke to the Queen about Israel’s history and situation, and gave the Queen two gifts: a letter written by her father, George VI, upon the official recognition by Britain of the state of Israel, and two silver candlesticks in the shape of pomegranates.

The former president described their meeting as, “friendly and informal”.

“The Queen asked me a lot of questions about Israel. I was moved to be the representative who received this honour for the state of Israel. The whole ceremony was not for me as an individual but a mark of respect for the country. I felt I was a shaliach mitzvah (emissary dispatched to do a mitzvah).”

Israel’s current president, Isaac Herzog, who will represent Israel at her state funeral, stated when news of her death broke, “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was known far and wide simply as ‘The Queen’. Her passing is the end of an era. Together with the Israeli people, I grieve her loss and extend my deepest sympathies to the British people and all nations of the Commonwealth, who have lost their matriarch. Queen Elizabeth was a historic figure: she lived history, she made history, and with her passing, she leaves a magnificent, inspirational legacy.

“My late mother and father had several audiences with the Queen over the years. Her fond welcome and warm hospitality left a profound impression down the generations.”

The Queen had strong ties with the Jewish community (even hiring a Jewish mohel to perform a royal circumcision), and 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.”

Often referred to as the “mensch who will be king”, then Prince Charles has had an enduring and close relationship with British Jewry. He’s 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 then Prince commissioned portraits to be painted of several Holocaust survivors accompanied by a documentary on the BBC. He gave a very moving speech on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz hosted by Yad Vashem, and met survivors privately, away from the prying eyes of the media. He also gave a notable private donation to The Peres Centre for Peace. His wife, then the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla, visited Auschwitz, representing the Queen to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

As he bears the enormous responsibility of monarch, I cannot help think that it’s the wise counsel of his great friend, the late Rabbi Sacks, that he will sorely miss.

As the world prepares to bid farewell to the greatest of the greatest generation, there are calls in the media to assign her the moniker, Elizabeth the Great. It’s most fitting, for she was, indeed, the greatest Briton.


This article appears in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2022/09/08/in-the-footsteps-of-herzl/

Musings and thoughts from the 125th anniversary of the World Zionist Organisation and Congress recently held in Basel, Switzerland

It doesn’t matter where I am in the world or what I am doing, if I hear the opening strains of Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, my heart swells and my eyes tear up. The feeling of pervasive pride is visceral. It is not just that I am a proud Israel, it is the knowledge that the words have sustained Jews in our darkest times – and also our greatest triumphs. Whether it be the scenes of Jews singing in Bergen-Belsen after liberation or Linoy Ashram standing proudly on the podium as she receives Olympic gold, I get the feels.

So you can imagine what I felt last week in Basel, Switzerland as I joined my WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation) delegation and over a thousand others as we stood in the Stadtcasino, 125 years after the first Zionist Congress and sang the anthem of the country that had been but a dream a century and a quarter before.

Members of WIZO delegation

Over a hundred years ago, when a young journalist called Theodore Herzl, recognising the growing threat of antisemitism and motivated by the sham trial of French Jew, Alfred Dreyfus, wrote an article and then two books called The Jewish State and Altneuland, where he presented his vision of what that would be. Herzl recognised that this state could only manifest in the ancestral and historical homeland of the Jewish people – Eretz Yisrael, then called Palestine. The Romans, seeking to wipe out any reference to Jewish history and culture had named it thus. 

“The Jews who will it shall achieve their State. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and in our own homes peacefully die. The world will be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind,” Herzl said.

Herzl also famously said, “If you will it, it is no dream”. And so they gathered in Basel, laying the foundations of willing a Jewish state. From these seeds would spring forth the World Zionist Organisation, the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency for Israel. Just a couple of years later, the Women’s International Zionist Organisation would be founded. All of these organisations, would help prepare the land and the ingathering of the exiles for what would be the fulfillment of the Zionist dream – a Jewish state.

“Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word- which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly- it would be this: “At Basel, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. If not in five years, certainly in fifty, everyone will know it,” mused Theodor Herzl.

Dr. Theodor Herzl.

Herzl, like Moses millennia before him, would lead his people to the Promised Land – but never enter it himself. Herzl died on the 3 July 1904, in Edlach, a village inside Reichenau an der Rax, Lower Austria, having been diagnosed with a heart issue earlier in the year, of cardiac sclerosis. A day before his death, he told the Reverend William H. Hechler: “Greet Palestine for me. I gave my heart’s blood for my people.” He certainly did.

Herzl’s vision would come to life with the birth of the modern state of Israel in our ancient, ancestral homeland. The Jewish people had come home.

In Basel some 125 years later we would gather to celebrate this vision and pay homage to the man who inspired hope in so many. And gather we did from the four corners of the world, 1 400 Zionists, representing different communities and ages and holding many different opinions. We were all there – the organisations, the social media personalities, familiar faces, those whose opinions veered to the right, those firmly in the centre and those to the left. In the city that birthed the modern Zionist movement, we debated, argued, agreed and discussed.

A stand out moment for me was the honouring of Druze Sheikh, Mowafaq Tarif and the presence of Emirati Sheikh Ahmed Ubeid Al Mansur.

 WIZO delegates with Sheikh al Mansur

Yaakov Hagoel, the chairperson of the World Zionist Organization, said of Al Mansur, “Herzl never dreamed that the day would come that a brave Arab leader would participate in a Zionist Conference together with thousands of Jews from all over the world whose goal is to strengthen and develop the independent and sovereign state of Israel.”

This gathering in Basel was not just a prime opportunity to pay tribute to Herzl or to discuss the challenges facing the Jewish world like rising antisemitism, the Iranian threat or how we will contribute to the fight against climate change; but also allowed us a moment to stop and take stock and marvel at the miracle that is the embodiment of our dream – the state of Israel.

In the presence of our President, Isaac Herzog, whose own family story is a reflection of Jewish history and First lady, Michal, we took a moment to look back – and forward to the future – of what Israel has achieved in a matter of a few decades. When Herzl envisioned a state that would see “the world be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness and whatever we attempt there for our own benefit would redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind”, I don’t think even his wildest imagination could see what we have achieved.

In that hallowed halls, in the presence of the President and in the company of those who from generation to generation take up that promise to keep building, singing Hatikvah has never sounded so sweet.

 In the footsteps of Herzl on the balcony of Les Trois Rois Hotel

Standing on the balcony of “Les Trois Rois”, where the iconic visionary once stood I contemplated what he must be thinking as he watched on from high in the heavens.

How proud he must be. His will is no longer a dream. It is a reality. And it is ours.

Herzl and I reflect

Israel targeted Iranian nuke programme, says former Mossad chief

This article appears in the South African Jewish Report: https://www.sajr.co.za/israel-targeted-iranian-nuke-programme-says-former-mossad-chief/

The Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency created along with the modern state of Israel, has an enduring mystique.

When we think of the Mossad, images are conjured up of daring operations like the kidnapping of Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann or Wrath of G-d (in retaliation for the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the 50th anniversary of which was commemorated this week).

People around the world are intrigued by Israel’s external covert force and its ability to reach far beyond Israel’s borders as it endeavours to protect the Jewish state against any threats.

The Mossad’s ability to neutralise threats in far-flung places was confirmed last week by Yossi Cohen, the organisation’s former director, who addressed participants at the gathering in Basel, Switzerland, celebrating 125 years of Zionism.

It was only fitting that when discussing the challenges facing Israel and the Jewish people, the number-one global threat, the possibility of a nuclear Iran, was high on the agenda.

Speaking to a packed audience in English, Cohen dedicated the bulk of his address to Mossad’s covert operations.

“During my term as Mossad director, countless operations were conducted against Iran’s nuclear programme,” he said. “Without going into too many details, I can tell you the Mossad had many successes. We operated around the world and on Iranian soil itself, in the very heartland of the ayatollahs.”

Many are familiar with what was probably the most daring – and dangerous – operation, infiltrating Iranian territory and bringing the country’s nuclear files back to Israel. Cohen said this was proof that Iran, which steadfastly claimed that its nuclear programme was for energy purposes only, had lied.

He also addressed the ongoing nuclear talks, saying that Israel “will continue to do whatever needs to be done” to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms if a deal is signed. “We can never allow a regime that calls for our destruction to get its finger on the nuclear trigger,” Cohen said.

Israeli officials including Defence Minister Benny Gantz, current Mossad Chief David Barnea, Prime Minister Yair Lapid and others in the security establishment have all embarked on a campaign to drive home this very point.

Cohen also alluded to Iran’s proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah, which are situated on Israel’s borders in the south and north respectively.

“Iran seeks to encircle Israel, from Gaza in the south to Lebanon and Syria in the north. It funds, trains, and arms terrorist groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, enabling them to shoot thousands of rockets at Israel’s civilian population,” he said. “This fanatical regime must never obtain the ability to accelerate its weapon of mass destruction that would be used against the Jewish state.”

In the past week, Syria is reported to have told Iran not to launch attacks on Israel from Syrian territory as it doesn’t want to be embroiled in a war between the two countries. Israel regularly strikes Iranian targets which use Syria as a base to launch attacks on the Jewish state.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom. Cohen touched on the vital role Mossad has played not only in operations to protect the state, but those that benefit the region as a whole. He spoke about the role it played in helping to secure the Abraham Accords, the agreements that have brought normalisation between Israel and Morocco, Sudan, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates.

“The work of Mossad isn’t just intelligence gathering but also the promotion of peace. We saw these results in the signing of the Abraham Accords. I pray that more nations from our region will join the peace trend,” Cohen said.

The audience responded to Cohen’s address with a standing ovation.

Israel is the fruition on the Zionist dream, whose seeds were planted at the first gathering in Basel 125 years ago, and whose future is ensured by organisations like the Mossad whose covert and overt operations guarantee that its borders and civilians are kept safe, all while diligently pursuing peace.


This article appears in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2022/08/10/unhealthy-obsession/

The United Nations seems to be unable to loosen its grip on anti-Israel obsession

The mere mention of two words is guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of Jews around the world. United Nations.

The United Nations was founded in1945 after the Second World War by 51 countries committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights.

In recent years, the once venerated institution has become a mockery of its original mandate. The United Nations, created to honour and protect the sanctity of human rights has become a political football, kicked around by various blocs seeking to promote their political agendas.

In the theatre of the absurd, some of the world’s worst protagonists and human rights offenders, chair commissions and committees on women’s rights, human rights and more. China, who has imprisoned over a million Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps and Cuba, currently sit on the UN Human Rights Council, where Afghanistan will be admitted to various bodies and an obscene amount of resolutions are passed against Israel – at the expense of real human rights violators like Iran, Venezuela or Syria.

One could say that the United Nation has become rife with institutionalized antisemitism.

Year after year, successive Israeli envoys to the UN, supported by allies such as Australia, the USA, the United Kingdom and others have voiced their concern and discontent at the disproportionate to the point of obsessive focus that the UN and its various agencies, namely the Security Council, UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), UNRWA, UNESCO and others have had with the Jewish state.

Concerns have ranged from UNESCO’s denial of Jewish connections to holy sites like the Temple Mount through to UNRWA’s perpetual incitement in textbooks in Palestinian schools through to the UNHRC’s forming of a “Commission of Inquiry” to investigate the May 2021 conflagration between Israel and terror groups in the Gaza strip. Have we seen the formation of similar commissions to investigate conflicts in other parts of the world? Don’t hold your breath!

It is this Commission of Inquiry (CoI) that has become cause for great concern over recent weeks.

Sitting on the three person panel are investigators Miloon Kothari, Cristopher Sidoti and Navi Pillay. Pillay had come up for particular scrutiny because she has a history of anti-Israel activity including signing petitions supported by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) accusing Israel of being an Apartheid state, supporting terrorist Leila Khaled infamous for hijacking an aircraft, and more recently, supporting her co-panelists obscene antisemitic comments.

Prejudiced Panel. All three panelists, Navanethem Pillay (center right), chair of the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel, Miloon Kothari (right), and Chris Sidoti  (centre left) are not only openly anti-Israel but have consistently expressed antisemitic sentiments.  (UN Photo/Jean Marc Ferré)

Christopher Sidoti has accused Jews of “flinging the accusation of antisemitism like rice at a wedding”. Hmmmm.

But it is Kothari who has come in for the most global opprobrium. Speaking on a podcast recently that was hosted by Mondoweiss (a vehemently anti-Israel platform), Kothari made inflammatory, antisemitic comments that included “the Jewish lobby” controls social media and that “a lot of money is being thrown in to try to discredit us.” He also questioned “why Israel is even a member of the United Nations”.

Unashamedly Antisemitic. UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Israel member, Miloon Kothari, sparked outrage after he was quoted alluding to a “Jewish lobby” as well as questioning whether Israel deserved its UN membership. (UN Photo/Jean Marc Ferré)

Pillay defended her co-panelist saying his comments were “taken out of context”. There was absolutely no mistaking the context.

The backlash was immediate. Israel’s Prime Minister, Yair Lapid wrote to the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, calling on the comments to be condemned and the CoI to be dissolved.

It was clear that these three panelist cannot fulfill the requirements of neutrality that is needed to conduct such investigations.

Closed Mind, Open Hostility. How does South African Navi Pillay who is on record calling Israel an “apartheid state,” has campaigned to boycott and sanction Israel, and signs statements lobbying governments to punish the Jewish statequalify to chair the U​.​N.’s Israel Inquiry?

Global condemnation followed with over 20 countries condemning the comments as antisemitic and UN officials including the President of UNHRC, High Representative of the UN Alliance of Civilizations, Miguel Moratinos, former Special Rapporteur, Ahmed Shaheed, Secretary General Guterres and the Special Envoys for Antisemitism from the USA and Canada.

Kothari (most likely as a result of international disgust and not a sudden surge of good consciousness) wrote this non-apology of an apology:

Last Friday, the IDF launched Operation Breaking Dawn, preemptively striking, with pinpoint precision, Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza strip. Following the arrest of PIJ leader, Bassam al Saadi during counter-terror operations in Jenin in the West Bank, military and security officials had received intelligence that the terror group was planning on launching attacks on Israeli civilians. The IDF moved quickly – shutting down access roads to the Gaza border, locking down communities and shutting off train services between the city of Ashkelon and Sderot – the most bunkered town in the world.

Israelis waited for the storm that would inevitably follow the tense calm.

The storm started with barrage after barrage of rockets fired at Israel’s southern communities. Over 1,500,000 of us who live within an 80 kilometre radius were advised by the IDF Home Front Command about the dangers of incoming rockets. City after city opened their public shelters and families prepared their personal shelters for any inevitability.

Antisemitism UNaddressed. Reporting his findings on the growth of antisemitism to the UN General Assembly, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed cautioned that it is “toxic to democracy” and poses “a threat to all societies if left unaddressed”. (UN Photo/Manuel Elías)

Israel was under fire from a terror entity that has effectively been proscribed as such by the EU, USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada and others.

Most countries (with the vocal exceptions of Russia, Iran and South Africa) supported Israel’s right to defend her citizens but somehow the UN Security Council managed to convene quicker than one could say “out-of-office, on vacation”.

Guterres called for restraint on both sides.

Siding with the terrorists, UN Special Rapporteur for the Palestinians, Francesca Albanese tweeted “Palestinians’ right to resist is inherent to their right to exist as a people,” she tweeted. “An unlawful act of resistance does not make the resistance unlawful. An unlawful act of an unlawful occupation makes the occupation more unlawful (and the list on the desk of the [International Criminal Court] Prosecutor longer).”

This has largely been seen as not only whitewashing terror but actually supporting deadly rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. Albanese conveniently forgot that at least a third of Palestinian civilian casualties, namely 16 out of 27, were as a result of PIJ rockets that misfired or landed short.

UN bodies have stated over the last couple of weeks that they are dedicated to fighting antisemitism wherever it occurs and that there is NO place for it in the work of the institution. Perhaps they better start cleaning house – the sooner, the better.


The Story of Ethiopian Jewry

This story features in Lay of the Land: https://layoftheland.online/2022/07/25/a-dream-of-zion/

The dream of Jerusalem sustained them through the centuries. The hope of one day returning home to Jerusalem has been the song in the heart of Ethiopian Jews and home they came.

The story of Israel’s Ethiopian community is extraordinary. It is a story of hardship, tragedy and loss – but it is also a story of incredible hope, survival and fortitude.

Jewish Journey. Berchko Adela as a young girl in Ethiopia, before Operation Moses is today 68, a married mother of five and lives in Ashdod, Israel. (Doron Bacher/via JTA)

Ethiopia’s Jewish community (Beta Israel – House of Israel) had existed in that country for centuries. The origins of Jews in Ethiopia are unclear; though most believe that they are the descendants of King Solomon and Queen Sheba. There are many theories though, some believing they are the lost tribe of Dan, while others believe they are the descendants of Christians who converted to Judaism. The Jews of Ethiopia maintained their independence for over 1000 years in spite of continuous massacres, religious persecution, enslavement, and forced conversions.

In 1616, using modern Portuguese weapons, the Amhara finally conquered the Jews, enslaving, converting or killing many of them. They were referred to as “Falashas” – a derogatory name meaning “stranger” or “exile” – Ethiopian Jews could no longer own land or be educated.

But the dreams of Zion sustained them.

Promised Land. New immigrants from Ethiopia shortly after disembarking from the plane as part of Operation Solomon, 25 May 1991. (Photo: Gadi Cavallo/ Dan Hadani Archive,)

In 1974, civil unrest broke out and a pro-communist military junta, known as the “Derg” (“committee”), seized power after ousting the emperor Haile Selassie I. The Derg installed a government which was socialist in name but military in rule. Lieutenant Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam assumed power as the head of state and Derg chairman. Mengistu’s years in office were marked by a totalitarian-style government and Ethiopia became extremely militarized with heavy financing from the former Soviet Union and the former Eastern Bloc countries as well as Cuba. Ethiopia was effectively a communist state in the 1970’s and 80’s. With this, Ethiopia took on the communist mantles of being both anti-religion and anti-Israel.  

The Jews of Ethiopia bore the brunt of this.

Ethiopia in the 1980’s endured a series of famines and hundreds of thousands lost their lives. The images of starving children with distended bellies are seared into our global consciousness.

Out of Africa. A still from the documentary ‘With No Land.’ (Courtesy of the Other Israel Film Festival)

The situation for Beta Israel became untenable and many started to leave Ethiopia. Ethiopian Jews started the long, arduous journey on foot through neighbouring Sudan to reach the Promised Land. The journey was fraught with danger and many died along the way.

In late 1984, over six weeks, about seven thousand Beta Israel were covertly flown from Sudan to Israel in Operation Moses. Due to pressure from Arab states, Sudan ceased allowing the emigration in January 1985, leaving many Ethiopian Jews stranded.

Months later, the United States evacuated five hundred Jews from Sudan to Israel in Operation Joshua. However, after this operation, Israeli leaders struggled to convince Mengistu to allow the remaining Beta Israel to leave. Finally, in 1990, Israel and Ethiopia reached an agreement that allowed Jewish emigration.

Home Free. Ethiopian Jews arrive in Israel waving Israeli flags in this still from the documentary ‘With No Land.’ (Courtesy of the Other Israel Film Festival)

The situation became increasingly more desperate and in 1991, rebel forces seized control of Addis Ababa, the capital, threatening the country with political collapse. Israeli officials embarked on an emergency mission to evacuate as many Jews as possible, dispatching thirty-four planes. Many of these planes had their seats removed to increase their passenger capacity; one set the record for passengers carried aboard a Boeing 747 at 1,087 people. Over thirty-six hours, starting on May 24, 1991, more than fourteen thousand Beta Israel were flown to Israel in the remarkable Operation Solomon. Several babies were born aboard the flights, and numerous doctors were mobilised to assist the sick and the new born babies and moms upon arrival in Israel.

Israel’s rescue was the only time in history that a Westernised country brought out Africans to liberate rather than to enslave.

Desert to Knesset. Tamano-Shata came to Israel as part of Operation Moses, the first wave of mass immigration from Ethiopia and is today Israel’s Minster of Aliyah and Integration.

Today there are an estimate 170 000 + Jews of Ethiopian origin in Israel and many have gone on to achieve extraordinary things in a variety of areas including the Rabbinate, politics, military, fashion, journalism, the arts and many more.

Despite economic and social challenges, including incidents of racism, the community has largely integrated into Israeli society. Efforts continue to bring the remaining Ethiopians with Jewish origins, whose total number is disputed, to Israel.

Welcome to Israel. Then Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog before becoming Israel’s President (2nd right) and Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata (centre) greet Ethiopian immigrants arriving at Ben Gurion Airport on March 11, 2021. (The Jewish Agency

Israel’s vibrant Ethiopian community, who have fulfilled the dream of returning home to Jerusalem, Zion form a strong part of the fabric of society that makes Israel so very special.