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This is my latest column for the Jewish Chronicle.

It’s a familiar cycle. A politician makes an incendiary allegation against Israel. Pro-Israel advocates rush to issue defensive rebuttals. An almighty scrap develops, few give any ground, but the original allegation is repeated by both sides as the controversy drags on.

At least we stood up to them and challenged the haters, right? We showed we won’t be pushed around! Well, I used to think that way. I have done a bit of rebutting myself. But I’m no longer sure it’s always the wisest response. In fact, I wonder if mindless, knee-jerk rebuttal of every accusation Israel faces could be doing our cause more damage than good.

For boorish activists, careerist climbers and others obsessively involved on either side of this cultic debate, it is easy to forget that most people in Britain are not interested in Israel and the Palestinians. Why would they be? They are too busy making ends meet, fixing up their homes and looking after their kids to worry about a conflict thousands of miles away.

So when Israel-bashers shriek about “war crimes”, “apartheid”, and “organ harvesting”, their audience is usually marginal. They are more or less shrieking into a vacuum, save for a handful of committed cranks.

Then we get involved. When we challenge their lies, the first thing we do is repeat them to a wider audience. We shouldn’t flatter ourselves: the minutiae of our case for the defence is less memorable than the fact that we, too, have placed the name “Israel” in the same sentence as “war crimes”, “apartheid”, and “organ harvesting”. The “not” gets forgotten, but the allegation lingers in the collective memory of those who overhear the bickering.

Before he started ranting about Israel, Liberal Democrat David Ward was an obscure Bradford MP in a crumbling political party. Now, he knows which button to press to get in the headlines. He cannot believe his luck. The same goes for Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. He was just a wrinkled rocker, remembered only by air-guitar-toting men of a certain age, before he started obsessively playing the anti-Israel card.

It’s not just the anti-Israel card that Waters and his ilk play – it’s us, too. They know their statements will provoke howls of outrage and rebuttal from Israel supporters. Another anti-Israel argument gets aired, and the name of its proponent gets plastered far and wide.

We are their unpaid foot soldiers. They do not win despite our defence – they win because of our defence. We’re so quick to put them and their bigotry centre-stage. That’s why Israel-bashing has become so fashionable. More than any other cause, it’s a no-brainer for the publicity-hungry, and we have helped make it so.

For robotic rebutters, madcap monitors and profiteers of doom, the race to respond is a sacred cow. Rebuttal fills their otherwise empty days with the electric glow of self-righteousness. Do the rest of us want to follow the path of the defensive activist, who responds to everything without thought, or the shrewd politician, who knows that some lies you challenge, some you let wither?

It is a tricky one to call. But before we rush to challenge – and therefore repeat – a particular anti-Israel slander, we should ask ourselves whether we are helping Israel, or whether we are actually becoming unwitting puppets for her bitterest enemies.

I am a big fan of Martin Amis. He is my favourite living author, and my second favourite author of all time (behind Jerome K Jerome).

Quite a while back I noticed that in interviews and speeches he often describes things as ‘sort of everything and nothing’. He seems to love describing things that way.

Well, I interviewed him once. It was agreed as a brisk, 15-minute interview about nuclear war in literature. I really hoped that he would use the phrase. The opening sentence of his first answer was: ‘Nuclear weapons – they’re sort of everything and nothing.’ 

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Last summer, on my 40th birthday, two significant things happened. I started studying Zohar, and I found out I’d been nominated for an award. I didn’t realise at the time how connected these things were.

The news about the award came out of the blue. I got an email from the charity Wizo, telling me I had been nominated for an award called Commitment to Israel, and that I had been shortlisted as one of three finalists.

A month later Wizo told me I had won. They presented me with the award at a posh gala dinner in London and told me I’d be getting a free trip to Israel as part of the prize.

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I was excited at the prospect of another Israel trip, and I felt so happy and proud to win the award. Then, my ego got to work. I had won an award. I was an award winner. How thrillingly important I must be!

When they took me to Israel, all that came crashing down. In a really good way.

We visited Wizo projects, starting with the Rainbow House in Haifa. For over 40 years the House has helped women from less privileged backgrounds to help themselves launch careers as beauticians.

Two women in particular, an Ethiopian called Goodei Abar and a Holocaust survivor called Ruth Galiliee, blew me away with their stories. Not just the stories. Their smiles made me cry.

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Then we went to the WIZO Ahuzat Yeladim School, which is a therapeutic haven for children who suffer from behavioral or emotional problems. This magnificent institution saves and enhances the lives of vulnerable kids.

We met the project’s manager, Yossi Saragossi, a magnificent man with the wisdom of an elder, the spring (and hair) of a youth, and the love of an angel. He’s a dude, and he’s fifth from the left in this photo.

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And so to Jerusalem, to Wizo’s flagship project, the Rebecca Sief Center for the Family. This phenomenal institution serves thousands of people in a variety of ways including day care for hundreds of toddlers and children, skills training for teenagers, and support for victims of domestic violence.

As we were shown around the building, a group of children smiled at us as they sang and danced to a Purim tune.

The volunteers and staff who run these projects are the ones who show commitment to Israel. I was humbled in the presence of the shiny, smiley faces of these beautiful beacons. They kept repeating the same message: to give is to receive.

Here is the connection. Two of the messages I keep taking from my Zohar study are how vital it is to deflate your ego, and that to give is to receive. How fitting that on the same day I had begun studying Zohar, I received an email about an award that would ultimately whisk me to Israel where my ego would be battered and where I would see, over and over, that to give is to receive. That was the real prize.

And then, having visited these projects, where the Zohar lessons were brought to life, I went to Tzfat, the home of Kabbalah, for the first time. And I felt reborn that day.

So life didn’t so much begin at 40 for me – it restarted. Thank you Wizo. Thank you Israel. Hugs and admiration to you all.

You can find out more about Wizo UK here. The World Wizo website is here.

Some invitations are an easy ‘yes’. This was one.

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I was front row and centre of the public gallery as the Knesset descended into very entertaining chaos in front of David Cameron.

Some United Torah Judaism MKs walked out, other MKs heckled Bibi and each other. One was led away. Bibi visibly fumed, Cameron tried to keep a straight face, and I sat watching with a broad grin on mine. Two of the things I enjoy about Israel are the informality and the love of vigorous debate. I was having a lovely little time. Former Israeli PM Ehud Barak was sitting near us in the gallery. Natasha Kaplinsky was there, n’all.

I went to visit the resting place of my favourite Israeli leader, Menachem Begin. He rests on the Mount of Olives. I left two stones on his grave, one from me and one from OvG reader Simone, who asked in a recent comment for me to do that. Here’s to ya, MB.

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We dined at the lovely Eucalyptus Restaurant. This oasis of charm and quirk is just a stroll away from the Jaffa Gate. Its biblical menu includes such wonders as ‘Jacob & Esau’s
 biblical red lentil stew’ and ‘Hubeza
warm salad prepared in the style of the siege on Jerusalem’.

The restaurant’s finest asset is its head chef, Moshe Basson. He is prepared in the style of knockout charisma. I had a lovely chat with him about Kabbalah, and he even set us an inter-course task involving food and Gematria.

He asked me to join him in the centre of the restaurant to pray over the main dish.

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And to present it to the restaurant.

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What a day and night it had been in Jerusalem. Then we went back to Herzliya. I sat on the coach dreaming of the following day, when I would visit the holy city, Tzfat.

This is a guest post from Laurie Rappeport

Chas’s recent visit to Safed, my hometown, prompted me to write and share a little bit about my town. I’ve lived in Safed for almost 30 years and worked as the coordinator of the Tourist Information Center here for 13 years. Sharing information about Safed is a passion of mine and I’m pleased to be able to expand on Chas’s article (and great photos).

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I’d no idea how gorgeous you are, Haifa. You took my breath away.

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I’ve wanted to visit Tzfat for many years. Since I started reading Zohar in full nine months ago, I’ve grown keener on the idea. Tzfat has been the city of my dreams.

Yesterday, I went there. We drove through heavy rain towards Tzfat and as we drew near, the mystical city was shrouded in mist. It was mistical, too.

Then the mist lifted and, as we pulled up into the car park, the rain suddenly stopped. Finally, I was there.

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I was enchanted by the magical, winding lanes of the city.

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I had a fascinating chat with local artist David Friedman about his art, his life and also Zohar study and meditation techniques.

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I also visited the Kabbalah Centre where I met Eyal Riess – a wonderful and friendly guy. He found the name of my blog very amusing, which is as it should be.

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Then we got back into the car. The moment we did, it started to rain again. We drove to Peki’in, to visit the famous cave of Bar Yochai. According to legend, this cave is where Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai hid from the Romans for 13 years. While he was there, it is said, he composed The Zohar. When we arrived, the rain stopped. Visiting the cave seemed magical to me – I felt reborn as I emerged.

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Tzfat is mystical, magical and artistic. It’s so friendly, too. The mountain air is plentiful and refreshing. I recommend a visit. When I look back on mine, it seems like it was a beautiful dream. Have a happy weekend, everyone.

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Today in Haifa I met three inspiring women at Wizo’s Rainbow centre.

On right is Goodei Abar. Growing up in Ethiopia, she was expected to marry as a child. Instead, she travelled to Israel at 12 years old. When she arrived, she held a pen for the first time. ‘Finally I could be a child,’ she said with a huge smile.

On the left is Amar Awad, a Christian Arab woman whose life was turned around by the Centre. It helped her start a business in the beauty industry. ‘This centre is like a family,’ she said.

In the middle with me is Ruth Galiliee. She survived the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen camps. She has volunteered in Israel for 34 years. We had a hug and she told me: ‘I don’t feel poor because I’ve got a big family, including 11 great-grandchildren. I hope to volunteer for many years to come.’

Beautiful people, beautiful Israel. The desert is blooming.

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I’m on my way to Israel. The trip was arranged by Wizo, as part of the prize for my Commitment to Israel award.

We’re going to see charity projects in Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Haifa and Jerusalem. We’ll also hang out at a cable television station, go behind the scenes at El Al and tour the Knesset (the Israeli parliament).

I will visit Menachem Begin’s resting place and also spend time in the mystical city of Tzfat, the home of Kabbalah. I’ve often dreamt of visiting Tzfat. I’m so excited to actually go there. I’ll take my Zohar.

I’m going to eat at Dr Shakshuka, and I expect I’ll have an Aroma ice coffee at some point. Probably some Popping Candy Bamba, too. I’ll be staying in Herzliya.

I’ll update this blog when I can during the trip. I’ll be tweeting when I’m over there too. You can follow me at @AllThatChas.

This is my fifth visit to Israel, but it’s been three-and-a-half years since I was last there. Ayin letziyon tzofiyah.

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Before The X Factor and even before Pop Idol, Simon Cowell made three fleeting appearances on our TV screens.

Here, we see him in super-confident and opinionated mood on Right To Reply in 1987. The highlights are his comment about ‘left-wing lunatics’, the way he really warms to his theme at 1:16, and, of course, his ‘t-shirt’.

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