Archive for February, 2011

Two sporting stories have made me chuckle today. First comes news that Mohammad Aliabadi, head of the National Olympic Committee in the Islamic Republic of Iran, has complained that the logo for the London 2012 Olympics is part of a Zionist plot. “The use of the word Zion by the designer of Olympics logo in the emblem of the Olympics Games 2012 is a very revolting act,” he said.

Here is the logo:

No sooner had I picked myself up off the floor from reading that report, than I read one of the funniest ever openings to a BBC Sport story: “Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti denied there is a disciplinary problem at the club after Ashley Cole accidentally shot a work placement student.”

It’s a funny old game…

This is a guest post from Israelinurse

About a month ago I wrote a post for Oy Va Goy about Tu B’Shvat, but the almond trees traditionally connected to that festival were not in bloom at that time. Since then we have had much more rain, though still nowhere near the average annual rainfall, let alone enough to take us out of the deficit induced by seven consecutive drought years.

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It was inspiring to be on the vigil for Gilad Shalit outside the Red Cross last night. I will write a full report of last night’s event in London (and a similar event in Manchester) in a few days. For now, I wanted to give my thoughts on some of the objections that people on our side have expressed about events like last night’s.

The first one is that nothing good comes from such vigils.

Well, obviously, nobody going to these vigils believes for a moment that Hamas will suddenly release Gilad because they hear of a demonstration in London.  However, these initiatives serve as an excellent way of introducing the public to Gilad’s case and therefore some wider truths about Israel.

Last summer, I spent several days on a vigil for Gilad organised by the FZY in London. We leafleted and engaged with passers-by, and I was pleasantly surprised at how supportive and sympathetic most were. Several of those I spoke with went through palpable paradigm shifts in their perception of Israel as a result of learning about Gilad. It was the same last night. I spent a little time leafleting and collecting petition signatures from passers-by. I was inspired by how keen people were to learn more about Gilad and Israel.

We all complain about the unfair perceptions many in Britain have of Israel. It’s good to get out there and do a bit to address this.

That is not the only benefit of such vigils. When I met Gilad’s father Noam in Israel last summer, he was cheered by the photographs of the London vigil I showed him, and the stories I told him about the interest and support we had generated. It was a privilege to be able to share something positive with him.

It is also said that vigils like last night’s play into Hamas’s hands. It is claimed that every demonstration for Gilad Shalit causes Hamas to raise its price for his release. In fact, on the 1st of July 2006, a week after Gilad’s kidnap, Hamas demanded the release of 1,000 prisoners in return for his freedom. The last time I checked, the number was the same.

It is possible that the identities of the 1,000 might have changed, I’m not privy to such details. In any case, we should never conduct our lives out of speculative fear of what Hamas might or might not want us to do. Instead we should do what we believe is right and moral, regardless of Hamas. To stand with the Shalits is right and moral. I won’t let Hamas get in the way of that.

I believe Golda Meir was right when she said Israel will have peace when its enemies ‘love their children more than they hate us’. I am guided by a similar equation when it comes to Gilad. However much we deplore Israel’s enemies we should love Israel more. However much we hate those who hold Gilad, we should love Gilad and his family more. Otherwise we’ve lost something important.

On a wider note (and this has nothing to do with last night’s vigil which took no position on this issue) it would easy for me to dodge the question of whether I believe Israel should negotiate for Gilad’s freedom. After all, either option sucks. To leave Gilad in Hamas’s hands? Unthinkable. To negotiate with Hamas and release murderers? Unthinkable too.

On balance, and with a heavy heart, I support a negotiated release of Gilad. A few different considerations sway my decision. One is that Gilad’s incarceration is a certainty. None of us know for sure what bad things might or might not happen if Israel releases terrorists in return for Gilad. But we do know what will happen if Israel does not – Gilad will die in a Hamas dungeon. Therefore, I believe Israel should act on the known threat to Jewish life, not the speculative one.

To those who say such a deal would encourage Hamas to take more hostages, I ask this: do you think Hamas has any sense of restraint? Do you think a group whose charter calls for the death of all Jews could get any worse?

I was finally swayed to support a negotiated release when I learned of an interesting fact about my favourite Israeli, Menachem Begin. When Palestinian hijackers were holding Jewish hostages in Entebbe in 1976, Begin was the leader of the opposition in the Israeli Knesset.  There have been few more steadfast politicians in Israel’s history than Begin, yet before the dramatic rescue mission was proposed, he decided to support a government plan to release terrorists in return for the Entebbe captives.

“Who knows better than me what it means to take a stand on a matter of principle,” he said. “One of my principles is not to negotiate with terrorists. But when Jewish lives are at stake every principle must go by the board. We must rescue our brethren.” He added: “We…share in the public responsibility for the decision to open negotiations with the terrorists.”

What Israel does or doesn’t do on the issue of Gilad is not my business. It is the business of the Israeli government and people. I’m just offering my feelings. As I said, last night’s vigil (and similar initiatives) took no position on the negotiations question. We were raising awareness of Gilad’s plight, and encouraging the Red Cross to re-double its efforts to secure basic humanitarian rights for Gilad.

The photograph below was taken last night. (Left to right, Jonathan Sacerdoti; Gili Brenner of StandWithUs Uk; me; His Excellency, Israel’s Ambassdor Ron Prosor.)

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Gilad Shalit, a 24-year-old Israeli, has been languishing in captivity for over four years, held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza. Contrary to international law, Gilad has been denied all visits, including from organisations such as the Red Cross.

There is a solidarity vigil for Gilad this week. It will be held on Thursday, 24th February between 18:00-19:30hrs outside the Red Cross offices in Moorgate (44 Moorfields, London EC2Y 9AL).

I’d like to share an extra perspective (beyond the obvious) on why initiatives like the above are important. Last summer I spent several days on a vigil for Gilad held opposite Downing Street. I was pleasantly surprised at how supportive and sympathetic passers-by were as we informed them of Gilad’s plight. Several of those we spoke with went through palpable positive paradigm shifts in their perception of Israel as a result of learning about Gilad.

That would have been enough, as they say. But the benefits didn’t stop there.

When I met Gilad’s father Noam in Israel the following month, he was cheered by the photographs of the London vigil I showed him, and the stories I told him about the support we generated. It was a privilege to be able to share something positive with him. Then, when I lobbied my local MP about Gilad’s plight, because I could draw on real-life experiences from the vigil, and from meeting Noam, I put my case all the more effectively. My MP has become a supporter of Gilad’s plight.

Following Saturday’s post about the buoyancy of the Israeli economy and the continuing surge in the number of tourists visiting Israel, here is further bad news for the boycotting movement:

‘Israel’s fresh agricultural exports rose 10.5% in 2010 compared to 2009, totaling $1.359 billion, freshplaza.com reports. Citrus exports were up 24.7% to $173 million; animal product exports were up 16.8%; and exports of non-citrus fruits were up by 13.4% at a total value of $222 million.

‘Exports of cotton and other field crops totaled $88 million, an increase of 29.9%. Vegetable, potato, and melon exports saw a more modest increase of 6.4% compared to 2009 for a total of $537 million. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Orit Noked said that the agricultural export figures were proof of the “strength and stability of Israeli agriculture,” despite the problems of drought and rising water costs.’

Love it. Keep going with the BUYcott, everyone. And remember that March 30 is Buy Israeli Goods (BIG) day.

After this post proved so popular, here comes further evidence that the IDF is the most creative army in the world, as well as the most moral. Good fun!

Thanks to Elan Miller for sending the video.

As I wrote here, I am quite interested in the stories of the Baal Shem Tov (Besht) and other parts of the Hasidic and Jewish mystical traditions. I also enjoy the stories of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the great grandson of the Besht.

I am sure most of my Israeli readers and most of those who have visited Israel will be familiar with the ‘Na Nachs’, the lively, off-shoot of Nachman Hasidism. Wearing their memorable woven white kippot, they drive around in colourful vans on missions of haftza. They dance to techno and trance music, upon which has been recorded their slogan: “Na Nach Nachma Nachman Me’uman”.

You can read detailed information on the origins and thoughts of the ‘Na Nachs’ here and here, or a more everyday account from Ha’aretz here.

I first encountered the Na Nachs in person during my Once In A Lifetime trip to Israel last summer. I was having a strangely magical afternoon already. While waiting to meet for my friend Elan Miller on Ben Yehuda Street, I popped into a bookstore. I bought myself a book about the IDF volunteer scheme called Sar-El. I sat down outside to read it and a woman sitting next to me on a bench introduced herself and told me she was a Sar-El regular featured in the book.

Elan and I enjoyed a glorious shawarma and he then popped into a nearby synagogue to pray. While I waited outside (he had invited me in but I felt it appropriate to wait until he had finished praying) the Na Nachs pulled up. Straightaway they put a huge smile on my face and it is no exaggeration to say that they changed my life forever.

I’ve never witnessed such joy and love emanating from a group of people. They danced out of their van, set up a stall and danced around it as their trance music pumped out. They smiled at all who passed by, and offered the most beautiful of hugs to anyone who wanted one. It was lovely to watch them and to watch the effect they had on passers-by. Some gleefully joined them for a dance and a hug, others moved from a frown, to a reluctant smile, to an un-reluctant smile and moved upwards from there.

I had a lovely chat with the Na Nachs. I still read the books they gave me and listen to the music they gave me to this day. The books are particularly great, but every time I think of the Na Nachs I feel happier.

I understand that a lot of people disapprove of them. I am not Jewish so I make no claim on how representative they are or should be of any aspect of the faith. I know their habit of stopping their van in traffic to dance around on the road can be infuriating and dangerous. Jerusalem traffic is hardly a joy at the best of times.

But joy and light is what they gave to me when I met them. As I read their writings, follow their fascinating, uplifting website and so on they continue to do so. The video below is one of my favourites. This is when they took their haftza all the way to the north of Israel during the 2006 defensive war against Hezbollah. Watching them giving such love and fun to the IDF soldiers and the besieged northern communities warms my heart.

I do love them. Long may they dance.

Every winter and every summer, the University of Maryland Hillel takes buses of students on Taglit-Birthright Israel trip. This winter, the University staff asked the students to each submit a picture representing Israel through their eyes. This gallery is a collection of what Maryland students think of when they think of Israel. Enjoy.

(Thanks to Danny Ayalon who shared the above link.)

Gilad Shalit, a 24-year-old Israeli, has been languishing in captivity for over four years, held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza. Contrary to international law, Gilad has been denied all visits, including from organisations such as the Red Cross.

Today, a national, two-week Gilad Shalit Awareness Campaign was launched by the Israeli Embassy, alongside StandWithUs UK and other community organisations.

Events will take place across the UK including in London, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham. At the campaign centre will be two ‘ad-vans’ driving around London and Manchester, telling the story of Gilad.

StandWithUs UK is organising two leafleting sessions in Leicester Square as part of the Campaign, on Wednesday16 February at 6.30pm and Sunday 20th February at 12pm

I spent several days on a vigil for Gilad in London last summer. I was pleasantly stunned by how receptive and supportive the public is when they learn about his plight. I also remember how cheered Gilad’s father Noam was when I showed him photographs of the vigil. So please come along if you can. If you want to find out more about the campaign, click here.

1 – When Palestinian terrorists hijacked an aeroplane approaching Israel in 1972, he was among the commando team that successfully carried out the rescue mission, during which he was shot in the arm. (His brother Yoni, famously, gave his life during a similar mission in Entebbe four years later.)

2- As Saddam Hussein attacked Israel with scud missiles in 1991, Netanyahu was being interviewed in a CNN studio. He placed a gas mask over his face and carried on with the interview.

3 – In September 1996, during his first term as Prime Minister, he met Yasser Arafat at the Erez checkpoint in Gaza to begin peace negotiations.

4 – He later negotiated with Arafat in Washington, shaking hands on the White House lawn as Yitzhak Rabin had done.

5 – In January 1997, he handed most of Hebron to the Palestinians.

6 – In October 1998, he and Arafat signed the Wye River peace memorandum.

7 – When Israel voluntarily and unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Netanyahu correctly warned it would lead to increased aggression from Hamas.

8 – As Prime Minister again in 2009 he made clear he is ready to negotiate with any Arab leader and that he endorses a Palestinian state alongside Israel. (Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described the speech as “bad news”.)

9 – In the same month he removed many West Bank checkpoints, directly leading to a dramatic upturn in the Palestinian economy.

10 – In September 2009 he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, the first of several negotiations with the Palestinians.

© Copyright Chas Newkey-Burden. All Rights Reserved. Thanks to Chris Morris.