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Archive for June, 2011

The Dutch parliament has voted to ban shechita (kosher slaughtering). The Chief Rabbi of the Netherlands and other Jewish leaders have pointed out that the same move was made early in the reign of the Nazis. ‘Old people are scared and young people who are just married are calling me to ask if they should stay here,’ said the Chief Rabbi.

Geert Wilders, that master of divisiveness, fakery and hypocrisy, was one of the key supporters of the ban. His mask slips further.

I just got off the phone from a ‘New Media’ briefing regarding the flotilla, from Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit. There were a few interesting themes regarding the nature of the organisations involved and also how Israel will manage press coverage of any confrontation, which I’ll blog about in further detail soon.

When it came to questions, I raised the aspect of this issue that bothers me most. I asked what assurances she could give that enough steps are being taken to prevent Israeli soldiers being harmed at sea.

She replied: ‘We have learned lessons from last year’s flotilla. We have developed different “soft power” tactics, because while our goal is to prevent the ships breaching the maritime blockade, we also want to bring our soldiers back home safely.

‘We don’t want to reach a situation where we have to have any physical contact with the passengers. We are planning to do whatever we can, in whatever way there is, before having to engage physically with the passengers. We don’t want that. But we cannot allow a breaching of the maritime security blockade.

‘By the way, I hear an idea from time to time about inspecting the cargo at sea. There is no possibility to inspect cargo at sea. If they really want to bring the cargo [to Gaza], they should do it through our shore.’ She also cited the Miles For Smile cargo, which quietly transferred cargo to Gaza via Egypt last week, explaining: ‘There is a legal way to do this thing.’

She added that, just in recent weeks, among the many goods that have entered Gaza are hot tubs, Mercedes cars, jeeps and gold jewellery. ‘The situation in Gaza is that they have everything going in that they need,’ she said.

My Justin Bieber biography has recently been bought by a publisher in Estonia, the 15th country to snap-up the rights to it. It has been in the bestseller charts of most of those countries. Proud times, though the proudest moment remains this video, of Israeli girls buying the Hebrew edition of my book.

I’ve been nice and busy over the last 12 months, so here’s to the prospect of more bestsellers in the near future.

This is a guest post from Israelinurse

Something very special is about to take place in Athens. No, it has nothing to do with the naval-gazing flotilla flotsam; this is something which really is about making a difference to the lives of the people involved.

For the first time ever, a tennis team made up of of two Jews and two Arabs will represent Israel at the Special Olympics which opened in Athens on June 25th.

Tamir Segal (34) from Kiryat Shmona, Elad Gevandschnaider (22) from Be’er Sheva, Muhammad Kunbar (20) and Jafar Tawil (20), both from Beit Safafa, will be representing their country and hope to bring medals home from Athens.

Elad, who is a volunteer in the IDF, previously won a silver medal at the European Championships earlier in the year and Tamir won a bronze medal at the 2007 Special Olympics.  Muhammad and Jafar will be taking part in the competition for the first time, but they will also be making history as the first Arabs to represent Israel at the Special Olympics.

Before leaving for Athens Jafar said:

‘I have a great relationship with Elad and Tamir. I love playing tennis, and I hope to be a good player and to be among the world’s best. I’m excited about the Olympics, and I will give my all to win.’

Jafar, Muhammad, Elad and Tamir are, of course, already winners – and not just on the tennis court. Their team work is a shining example of what can be achieved through co-existence and co-operation. Any medals they may bring home are an added extra.

Here’s wishing them all the very best of luck!

In a speech today, Benjamin Netanyahu announced a change of policy in response to Gilad Shalit’s continued incarceration. ‘I have decided to change Israel’s policy toward terrorists sitting in Israeli jails,’ he said. This change of policy will include the withdrawal of the right to enrolment in academic studies for terrorist prisoners. ‘There will be no more masters for murder, or doctors of terror,’ he said. ‘That party is over.’

Explaining the move, he said: ‘I believe that if we all place public, political and public diplomacy pressure on Hamas, we will advance Gilad’s release.’

I am curious about the effectiveness of this thinking, because it seems to assume that Hamas cares about the conditions Palestinian prisoners are held in. Given that Hamas uses Palestinian kids as human shields, I’m not sure how much sleep it will lose over some prisoners not being able to take classes in Israeli jails.

Or, is the thinking that taking away this privilege (and possibly further privileges further down the line) will increase pressure on Hamas from ordinary Palestinians to do a deal that is more favourable to Israel?

I fear that the real intention behind this move is Bibi trying to placate the growing pressure on him in Israel to do get on with closing a swap deal for Gilad.

Meanwhile, this Saturday is the five-year anniversary of Gilad’s kidnap by Hamas, another milestone that the Shalit family should not have had to face. There are further developments in the campaign:

* The Red Cross urged Hamas to prove Gilad is alive, adding that the Shalit family has a right under international humanitarian law to be in contact with him. Hamas quickly rejected these calls.

* Gal Sitty’s initiative to raise funds for a Gilad Shalit campaign billboard near the UN building in Manhattan was a success. The billboard went up this week.

* Remember the Gilad Shalit London taxi I blogged about? You can donate funds for another such campaign here here. You can also read about the Board of Deputies’ Faces for Gilad campaign here.

* In every poll I’ve read the majority of Israelis say they are in favour of a prisoner swap deal for Gilad’s freedom. The latest poll asked Israelis if they support a deal that includes the release of prisoners with blood on their hands. 63 percent said they do. (I gave my thoughts on the prisoner swap issue in the second half of this post.)

I send my love, best wishes and support to the Shalit family ahead of this weekend’s upsetting anniversary.


First came the bragging. Ever since the flotilla incident last summer, Israel-haters have boasted that next time they were going to really show the world what they are made of. With their chests even more puffed-out than usual, they vowed that this summer they were going to send an even bigger flotilla to Gaza. It would be at least 30-ships strong, led by the Mavi Marmara, and it would arrive on the exact anniversary of last May’s confrontation.

Then, it all started to unravel. Amid rumours they were having trouble getting sufficient sign-ups, the organisers postponed the sail until June, ‘because of the Turkish election’. Then a French ship pulled-out of the flotilla. A few days after that, the Mavi Marmara also withdrew. Yup, they’re showing us what they’re made of, all right.

Despite this, there do still seem to be plans for a flotilla of sorts to set sail towards Gaza in the coming weeks. The IDF ran a drill a few days ago in preparation. While I’m glad the IDF is preparing to intercept these vessels of fools, it really saddens me that it has to. The navy should not be forced to waste its time and dignity on combating such a dishonest and self-indulgent exercise as the flotilla.

News of the drill reminded me of the symbolism of the flotilla issue and that of similar ventures, such as the recent border protests: the bigoted children of the world provocatively forcing Israel to be the sole moral adult. It also brought back memories of the reaction to last year’s flotilla, when Israel-haters rushed to judgement before a single fact was known. Even once we were shown harrowing footage of mobs of thugs descending on the IDF and attacking them with iron bars and knives, the verdicts of many did not change. It was the Jews who were guilty, they should have just lain still and allowed themselves to be clubbed to death by the peaceful humanitarians.

That they defended their lives was internationally-condemned. But since when was self-defence a war crime? Since May 1948, when the modern state of Israel was founded, it seems.

I pray that all Israeli naval commandoes return home safe and unharmed from any confrontation that might arise in the coming weeks. This blog is actually sometimes read by one of the guys who got hurt last year. He sent a very kind message to me via a mutual friend. Once again, I send him and the other commandoes my deepest admiration and best wishes.

What a vacuous project the flotilla is. Heaven forbid these ‘human rights’ folk ever pay a moment’s attention to any other country on the planet. To the slaughtered and terrorised of Darfur, the oppressed of China, the suffering Tamils and Chechens, the starving Africans, the oppressed women of the world, the gays being executed in the Middle East and Caribbean, the Arabs being slaughtered on the street by their own governments.

All of these issues are overlooked, mostly because they allow no scope for Jew-bashing. Over and over these bigots ignore the cries of people who are really suffering, in preference of focusing obsessively on the cause of the Palestinians, who they patronisingly use as a tool with which to bash Israel. It is quite true that some who campaign for the Palestinians do so sincerely, with the most noble of motivations. However, their voices are drowned out by the haters and the hateful who forever wish to harm and destroy the Jewish state.

And yet, how impotent their efforts are. This year, Israel celebrated her 63rd birthday and the 44th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. Jewish life is thriving there, including in Judaea and Samaria, where around a quarter of a million residents now live. The month of May saw yet another record set in the number of tourists visiting Israel – a 33 percent increase on the same month in 2009. What a ball visitors have there, it’s a beautiful place. Israeli inventions and innovations are being snapped-up around the world, prompting an economic climate in Israel that is much more healthy than most of the rest of the world’s.

I still think it is vital to defend Israel from the hate and lies the world throws at her, and to take absolutely seriously the many threats she faces. The coming weeks and months could be busy that way, with the flotilla, the declaration plans and other challenges. But I also allow myself a chuckle that, while there are plenty of people who get-up each day determined to harm Israel, they go to bed every night knowing they are failing. I expect it is an emotion they are rather familiar with in their lives.

In 1976, terrorists hijacked an Air France flight and diverted the plane to Entebbe, in Uganda. There, Israel performed a heroic and much-celebrated rescue. What is less known is that prior to the rescue plan being put together, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was about to negotiate with the hijackers, who were demanding the release of terrorists in Israeli prisons.

Rabin’s intention to negotiate was supported by opposition leader Menachem Begin, who said:

‘Who knows better than me what it means to take a stand on a matter of principle? 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 from execution. Therefore, I propose we inform the Prime Minister that we of the Likud opposition share in the public responsibility for the decision to open negotiations with terrorists.’

Can you name a figure in Israeli political history who better understood the threats the country faced, or one who was more steadfast in the face of those threats, than Menachem Begin? I know of none. Yet Begin supported negotiation with terrorists in that circumstance.

Whether Mr Begin would support a prisoner swap for Gilad Shalit we can never know. But this story does illustrate that to paint those who support such a swap as naive or weak is unfair. I support a swap, as do the majority of Israelis in every survey on the matter I have read.

I’m pretty sure that those of us who support a swap do so in the same way: with a heavy heart and revulsion, yet a feeling that, on balance, this is the right thing to do. I went into more detail on my feelings in the second-half of this post.

Do I understand those who strongly disagree with me? Of course, 100 percent. Last summer, after I met Gilad’s father Noam at the protest tent in Jerusalem, I also spoke with members of a counter-vigil, run by Israelis bereaved from terrorism. Who could not understand the counter-argument, especially when made by those mourning relatives.

That junction in Jerusalem does not only hold Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s private residence, the Shalit protest tent and occasional counter-vigils. It is also overlooked by a cafe that has been rebuilt after twice being blown-up by suicide bombers. Everywhere you look, such heavy personification and symbolism of the issues Israel faces.

There is no prospect of an Entebbe-style rescue being an option for Gilad. Nor are Hamas likely to release him out of the goodness of their hearts, of which there is none. So he dies in a Hamas dungeon, or Bibi pays the price and brings him home.

In recent years, the cities of Paris, Rome, Miami and New Orleans have awarded Gilad Shalit honorary citizenship as gestures of solidarity with him and his family. Now, British blogger Philip A Gardner is pushing Mayor of London Boris Johnson to make the same gesture. You can read more about Philip’s superb initiative here.

In other Shalit campaign news:

* Protestors heckled coalition MKs during their trip to Safed. ‘It makes us mad that they go on vacation and forget that there’s a soldier who can’t see the light of day,’ said one.

* Gilad’s father Noam has filed suit in a Paris court, asking the French justice system to investigate and take action against Hamas, which is illegally holding his son.

* Gilad’s grandfather Zvi – who I spoke alongside at the FZY event recently – has given a passionate interview to the Jewish Chronicle.

* A flurry of recent stories suggesting progress in negotiations for Gilad’s freedom have been denied by Israel and Hamas, but there are suggestions there is no smoke without fire.

For a past post on why I support a deal for Gilad’s freedom, click here. June 25th will be his fifth anniversary in captivity.

Having listed my top five Israeli/Jewish books, I would like to add that my favourite book overall is the charming and hilarious Three Men In A Boat, by Jerome K Jerome. I explained why on Normblog last summer.

Coming Together, Coming Apart (A Memoir of Heartbreak and Promise in Israel)

Daniel Gordis is a majestic writer. His reflections about Israeli society and politics are thoughtful, eloquent and wonderfully human. Few can educate, entertain, reassure and challenge with such understated power as he. I’ve read and loved three books of his about Israel, and any of them could have been included in this top five.

I chose his collection of personal essays Coming Together, Coming Apart because it is set against a period of Israeli history I find particularly fascinating: the build-up to the 2005 Gaza disengagement. Gordis takes the reader to the heart of the issues surrounding the disengagement and its effect on mainstream Israel, as observed by he and his family in Jerusalem.

He also documents and reflects on other daily goings-on in the Jewish state. The observations of his children are particularly poignant. For instance, on the day that Jerusalem receives an uncharacteristically heavy snowfall, and the locals walk around the city in wonder, Daniel’s daughter Tali takes his hand and says: “This is so great. Look how happy everyone is. I wonder if this is what peace is like.”

This is not a book that grabs hold of you and drags you to where it wants you to be. Rather, it gives you space to decide where you want to be and what you want to think. Such tomes are a rarity on the Middle East shelves. It’s predecessor, Home To Stay, is also superb, as is his more recent, less personal tome Saving Israel. But Coming Together remains my favourite Gordis book, my favourite book about Israel and one of my favourite books – period. It’s just magnificent.

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