Friday 15 August 2014

Sunday Times Shame

We, as South African Jews, are appalled and devastated by
Israel's assault on Gaza.

This was the headline to a half page advert taken out in the Sunday Times in South Africa on 10 August 2014.  The advert is signed by "500 Jewish South Africans for peace, democracy and human rights in Israel and Palestine", some of whom asked to remain anonymous out of concern that they or their families have faced or may face intimidation or marginalisation by members of our Jewish community.

I read the text of the advertisement carefully a few times.  There are certainly more than a few points that I could take issue with.  The text is worded in such a way to lead the reader to believe that the Israeli actions that are criticised by the signatories, were the first actions taken while the Palestinian actions were retaliatory.  The Palestinian casualties of Operation Protective Edge are mentioned as the headline, followed by Israeli casualties.  There is no context offered that demonstrates that reality of the Israeli attacks coming in retaliation to constant, indiscriminate rocket-fire towards Israeli civilians over a number of years.  Whose statistics show that 70% of the Palestinian casualties were civilians?  This needs to be questioned and verified before it can be used as a statistic to justify a petition of this nature.  Who could be foolish enough to suggest that Israel's actions are "disproportionate"?  Not only does Israel have the right to defend her civilians against the constant barrage of rockets that they have been forced to endure, Israel has the obligation to do so.  Even when discounting the more than 3,000 rockets fired towards Israel during Operation Protective Edge, there are statistics to show that the last 5 years have seen 4,500 missiles fired from Gaza towards Israel.  I wonder what "proportionate" response another sovereign government would deem appropriate under these circumstances.  It seems disproportionate to use this term against Israel, when it is clear that the same threat against another country would be taken care of in a much stronger manner in order to end the threat without a further consideration.

My main objection to this advert is not what is written in the text, or the fact that many of the signatories are not even Jewish despite holding themselves out to be.  My objection is the aggressive way in which it has been drafted, and the fact that it was found appropriate for these supposedly proud Jews to air their grievances against Israel in this public and critical manner.  I respect the fact that people have empathy for innocent civilians, and for suffering brought upon them through no fault of their own.  I even respect the rights of each Jew to have critical views of Israel, and for them to have the right to freely air their views.  My problem is that this advert goes a lot further than these rights to hold independent views, and to freedom of speech.

The signatories to this advert found the necessity to show non-Jewish South Africa that there is a split within the Jewish community, and to demonstrate the extent to which Jews in South Africa oppose Israel.  If they were trying to show their objections to their Jewish colleagues, there are surely different and less damaging ways of achieving this.  By taking out a large advert in a national newspaper read predominantly by non-Jews, I understand that their message of objection to Israel was directed towards a wider audience than simply the Jewish community.  Why is this?  Are they hoping that their business customers and colleagues will see that they are on the anti-Israel list, and therefore continue to give them business support?  Is it because they hope that they may not be shunned by their non-Jewish friends who may otherwise isolate them for supporting Israel?  Are they afraid that the politicians and influencers in the country may assume that they are Israel supporters, and that they may lose their influence and access as a result?  I fail to understand the need to go out and have your name attached to a public statement of this nature.

Anti-Semitism around the world has been fanned by Operation Protective Edge.  Countries around Europe are all reporting substantially increased levels of anti-Jewish (not necessarily anti-Israel) behaviour, and threats to the local Jewish communities are much greater than before.  Chants of "Hitler was right", are being heard and tolerated on streets and squares around the world, including in South Africa.  Jews in the diaspora are clearly under attack.  I don't believe that Operation Protective Edge has suddenly created new anti-Semites who, previously, loved Jews.  Instead, I believe that the environment of vitriol and hatred towards Israel fanned by the latest Gaza operation has made it more acceptable for people to show their anti-Jewish sentiments in public.  Whereas swastikas were reviled and considered to be an attack on humanity over the course of many years following the Shoah, we see them openly advertised and tolerated in public as never before.

The public advertisement in the Sunday Times is a clear demonstration to our enemies of a split within the ranks of the Jewish community.  There may only be 500 signatories to the advert, and many of them may not even be Jewish.  It sends a message, however, of disunity and weakness within our community at a time that we need to be united against the evils of anti-Semitism.  And while this does not require us all to agree with each other on points of substance, and even not on points relating to the way in which Israel chooses to defend herself and her citizens, it does require us to stand together against those who would wish to see the end to all Jews.  And it also requires an appreciation and recognition that Israel, with all her strengths and weaknesses, is the ultimate power in protecting Jews against the forces of anti-Semitism.  There are many anti-Semites who hide their true colours behind anti-Zionism when being anti-Israel is regarded as acceptable, even by "some of my friends who are Jews".

On a visit that I made to the Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam a few years ago, I was flabbergasted to learn how the smart  Nazi machinery was able to manipulate some members of the Jewish community to promote a message within their communities that assisted the Nazis in their cause.  Reading the Sunday Times advert took me back to that moment in Amsterdam when this penny dropped in my mind.  I had the feeling that this advert by Jews in our community was working in a way to assist our enemies to promote their anti-Semitic rhetoric.  I am sure that they cannot believe how this has fallen into their laps.

Former Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski acknowledged Israel's bad points, and summed up the situation for Jews around the world perfectly in a statement that he once made by saying, "If there was another Jewish state, I would advise you to go there.  Israel is the only Jewish state and, therefore, that is where I recommend you should be".  We know that Israel has made many mistakes over the years, and has questions that require answers.  Israel is, however, unrelenting in the way that she fights for her survival, fights for the safety and security of her citizens and fights to protect the rights of Jews around the world.  It would be fitting for Jews around the world to show an element of loyalty to this cause by being selective in the way in which they air their grievances about Israel.  It is acceptable to be critical of Israel's actions, as long as you are sure that you have all your facts right.  It is acceptable to hold discussions and debates (apparently we have some of the country's best debaters on our team) within our community to make their complaints known, and to invite those who disagree to respond.  In my view, it is unacceptable to take out anti-Israel adverts in national newspapers, in a way that weakens the fabric and the security of the Jewish community.  For me, this crosses the line.

Saturday 9 August 2014

Open Letter to Josh Broomberg

The attached picture of Jewish South African high school students has outraged me and many others.   One student, Josh Broomberg, has issued a statement in defense of his actions.  Below is his statement, which is followed by my open letter to him in response to these events:

For those of you reading this, my name is Josh Broomberg. I am the currently the Deputy Head Boy of King David Victory Park and the Captain of the SA National Debating Team.

What follows is my statement regarding the recent controversy over my stand against the human rights abuses currently being perpetrated against the citizens of Gaza.

Firstly, I would like to apologise. It was not intended to create the uproar it has, it was not designed to offend or upset. Because this has occurred, I apologise. But what I will say is this:

I am proud to be a South African Jew, and I am proud to attend a Jewish Day School. I am also a Zionist. I believe in Israel’s right to exist, and her right to defend herself from the threat presented by those seeking to hurt her citizens. All citizens of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza have the absolute right to live in peace and security.

It was with this in mind that I, and my team, chose to take the stand we did. It was not about politics, or about states. It was about humanity. We stand with the thousands of civilians who have lost their lives in the conflict. We stand with a people who do not yet have a state to protect themselves. We stand with the innocents. We stand for two states. We do not stand against Israel. All of this applies to me personally as well.

While I apologise for the hurt we seem to have caused, I do not apologise for standing with Palestine on this issue. This is not because I do not believe in Israel or its people. I do believe in Israel, and I take this stand because I can love and suppoprt the state of Israel but still reject and criticize some of its actions. In fact, I consider it my duty to contribute to the growing worldwide discussion surrounding the desperate need for a quick end and lasting solution to this pernicious conflict.

In my eyes, this criticism is not a betrayal, but actually the only honest and true way to show my patriotism and commitment to Israel, as well as my belief in human rights and the entitlement of all citizens of all countries to those right. To improve, we must criticise.

I will note, explicitly, that our support and sympathy also lies with the innocent Israelis exposed to threat at the hands of terrorists. The conflict is a tragedy for all, and once again, all innocent life is equally valuable.

We took a stand for the thousands and for those without a voice but we do not for a second condone any violence what so ever. We stand for peace.

Most importantly, the issues are complex but we can never let go of the ability to talk and engage with the other side. if we lose this ability we lose our claim to be an enlightened community. We lose what it means to be human.

I am proud to bear the responsibility of continuing the discussion.

Josh Broomberg

Open letter to Josh Broomberg from Anthony Reich

Dear Josh,

I have been following the unfortunate events surrounding your appearance in public with a Palestinian scarf around your neck.  I have also read your statement following these events.  In my view, your statement serves to confuse your position rather than clarify it.  You have managed to get yourself into a very unfortunate set of circumstances.

How can you honestly state that you did not intend to create an uproar or to offend or upset?  How can you say that “it was not about politics, or about states”?  Your apology, based as it is on this absurd statement, is extremely difficult to accept.  What did you think could be interpreted from a boy posing as a representative of KDVP, with a Palestinian scarf draped around his neck?  If you are sincere about standing with humanity, you have numerous other ways to do so.  By choosing this particular “humanitarian” gesture, you are clearly making a statement which is highly charged and highly political.  Perhaps it would be more honest for you to acknowledge that taking a political stand of this nature was a big mistake on your part.

As a former South African living in Israel for the past 16 years, I believe that there are a few important points that you may wish to consider about the conflict between Israel and the Arabs who now call themselves Palestinians.   It may surprise you to learn that most Israelis have a great deal of sympathy for the innocent Palestinian civilians, who are probably the greatest victims of this conflict.  Despite this fact, you will not find them parading with Palestinian scarves around their necks.  Doing so demonstrates support for the political cause and for the Palestinian leadership, rather than for the humanitarian difficulties experienced by innocent civilians.  Support for the politicians and their cause is the position that you are clearly taking by your actions.  We pity the Palestinians because of the way in which their own leadership treats them.  Whereas the Israeli civilians under fire have a government and an army that make every effort to protect them wherever possible, the Palestinians do not.  Not only does their leadership not take any action to protect them at all,  their leadership actually uses them against Israel.  This is because they know that Israelis care more about the Palestinian children than they do.  They know that Israeli pilots will rather not release a bomb from their plane if they know that it risks injuring innocent people.  The fact that this decision could cost Israeli lives in the future due to the rocket launch site being used again to launch further missiles, does not enter into their immediate consideration.  Where is your protest against the lack of humanity shown by the Palestinian leaders against their own people?  Where is your acknowledgement of the IDF field hospital that has been set up on the Gaza border to treat Palestinians injured in the conflict?  Where is your protest against the fact that their leaders are preventing them from taking advantage of this treatment, but also not offering alternative methods of treatment?

Although we have infinite sympathy for the innocent civilians, we do not feel the same for their leadership.  These are individuals who feel no qualms about allowing their own children to be strapped with explosives in the name of being martyred.  If this is how they treat their own children, how can we expect them to respond to ours?  Whereas they rejoice in the fact that their children have been martyred for the cause, we grieve for each and every Jewish life lost.  Whereas they spend all their foreign aid on building an infrastructure to attack and destroy Israel, even if this means that their children go hungry, we spend our money on building bomb shelters and developing the Iron Dome so that our children will be safe and sound.  Whereas we think twice and three times before taking action that could hurt their innocent civilians, they throw their children in the path of our bombs to gain world sympathy and PR advantage.  And they fire their missiles aimlessly into the centres of Israel’s most densely populated civilian areas.  These are facts that have been proven on more than one occasion.  Whereas we are prepared to take a risk in order to allow them the opportunity to prove that they are sincere about the “two states for two peoples” concept, they use every opportunity to destroy us so that they can have all the land, Jew-free, for themselves.

Please do not be fooled into believing that this is about the “occupation”.  This is about the future existence of a Jewish homeland.  The words in the charter of the PLO and in the Hamas charter, stating that their objective is to completely destroy the State of Israel seem blatant enough.  If they are not, the events in Gaza over the past 9 years should be clear enough for those who are interested to listen.  We all know that the Palestinians only arose and claimed the West Bank and Gaza as a Palestinian homeland after Israel captured these territories in the Six Day War of 1967.  Until Israel had possession of this land, there was never a reason for them to lay claim to it.  When the Israeli government turned Gaza over to them on a silver platter in 2005, we all hoped that times had changed and that they would use the opportunity to build on the two states for two peoples.  Instead of grabbing the chance to really build a state and a future for their people, they have spent millions of dollars and 9 years to build an infrastructure that is designed to attack and destroy Israel.

In wars and conflicts, you cannot support both sides.  You cannot bat for both teams.  At best, you can be a disinterested, objective bystander that takes neither one side nor the other.  More likely, you will take the side of one of the parties in the conflict.  When taking a stand, you are by definition in opposition to the second party to the conflict.  Despite your nice words about believing in Israel’s right to exist and her right to defend herself, you chose to don a Palestinian scarf at a time of war in Gaza.  You cannot sympathise with Israel, and appear with a Palestinian scarf around your neck at the same time.  Your actions speak much louder than your words.  When it came to making a public statement, you chose the Palestinians at the expense of Israel.  Why do you feel that it is acceptable to say that your “sympathy also lies with innocent Israelis exposed to threat at the hands of terrorists”?  Why does your sympathy not lie primarily with innocent Israelis, who have taken the risk time after time to search for the elusive path to peace in our land?  After all, these are your people.  These are the people who will look after you in the event that you may, G-d forbid, find yourself in serious trouble.  When you turn up at Ben-Gurion airport with your parents’ ketuba in your hand asking for citizenship of the Jewish homeland, they will not remember that you appeared in public with a Palestinian scarf.  You will be welcomed home to your ancestral homeland like all other Jews.  The Palestinians, for whom you stood up so brazenly in public, will also conveniently forget your scarf when they are searching for Jews to annihilate in the search for their version of the “final solution”.  Remember that, like you, the vast majority of Israelis seek peace and not war.  Unfortunately, this is a war that we are forced to fight, rather than doing so by choice.  Even when forced into something against our will, our new type of Jew does not shy away from this challenge.  We are brave and willing to do all that is needed to protect ourselves.  We are determined to succeed.  Your actions insult thousands of young men and women of the IDF (including my own sons) who go out of their way to fight a war in the most humane and humanitarian way possible, and whose actions give you the freedom to be a Jew representing your country in debating competitions in safety around the world.

You are most fortunate to have been born into a world that has a Jewish homeland.  I feel sure that your grandparents and great-grandparents would have wished to do all that they can to make you understand what it was like to live in world without one.  This privilege that you have, is also the one that allows you to live in relative safety and security as a Jew in your bubble in Victory Park.  It allows you to have a comfortable life in the knowledge that you have somewhere to fall back to in the event of any emergency.  Beware of taking this for granted.  Anti-Semitism is ever prevalent around the world.  The only force that prevents anti-Semites from destroying the Jews as they tried to do during the Shoah, is the State of Israel.  My recommendation to you is to appreciate, value and protect this huge asset.  Be grateful to those who are prepared to risk and to give their lives in the interests of ensuring that our Jewish homeland continues to exist, and continues to strengthen.  Do not be misled and misguided by those in the international press who confuse you into protecting our enemies at the expense of our Jewish state.  Her actions are not always perfect, and there is a great deal that you can criticise.  But nobody is perfect and no country is perfect.  If you search for faults, you will surely find them.  But be grateful and proud for the wonderful things that have been achieved, and for the way in which Israel gives all Jews around the world the backing to live as proud Jews wherever they are.  Israel will always protect you, and will give you much to be proud about.

Try to envisage for a moment what would happen if Israel unilaterally laid down its arms today, and refused to fire another bullet or missile.  Now try to envisage what would happen if the Palestinians did the same thing.  Which situation do you think is most likely to lead to peaceful coexistence between the parties?

I cannot hide the shame and anger that I felt in seeing you grab your five minutes of fame with that scarf around your neck.  You have shamed yourself, your family, your school and your community in my eyes, and in the eyes of many others.  You have misused your position in an unforgivable way.  I hope that, one day, you will have the huge honour to experience life as Jew in Israel, and will be able to understand the error of your ways.  Only when living here can you really understand the significance of what you have done.  I never wish you to lose your sympathy and support for the weak.  This is a characteristic that Jews have, and should be proud of.  But this should not be confused with the insult that you have dished out to Israel and her people by your actions at this time.  Shame on you.

Anthony Reich

Sunday 3 August 2014

Tunnels of Terror

Operation Protective Edge is already into its 27th day of operations, and the ground operation has continued for more than two weeks.  Israel has lost more than 60 if its soldiers in battles with Hamas, and three civilians as a result of rocket fire into towns and cities.  The Palestinians are reporting that more than 1,500 of their citizens have been killed, including many Hamas operatives and terrorists.

In an operation that has held its fair share of surprises and some really positive reactions from Israeli society, there have been two stand-out features for which the operation is likely to be remembered.  The first feature is the unbelievable protection that has been offered to the Israeli home front by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.  Not only have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives been saved by this miraculous Israeli invention, it has offered the Israeli military commanders and political leaders the luxury of time to make rational and clear-headed decisions in the knowledge that much of Israel continues to go about its daily life in the meantime.  Let us not be lulled into a false understanding that Israeli life has continued without any interruption over the course of this operation.  Despite this fact, Iron Dome has allowed much of the economy to continue to function, and has allowed people to live their daily lives in relative safety.  This has been a true blessing, and the public recognition that has been in evidence for the Iron Dome units and the work that they are doing, is fully justified.

The second stand-out feature of this operation is the tunnels that have been discovered running beneath the Gazan towns, cities and fields, stretching into Israeli territory beneath the border fence.  While we have heard about Gazan tunnels extensively before today, the references to the tunnels have mostly been in connection with smuggling tunnels under the Egyptian border.  These tunnels, we are told, are the lifeline to the Gaza terror organisation and have allowed Hamas to be armed to the teeth in anticipation of an operation like this one.  We also understand that these tunnels have been the source for the incessant rocket fire that Israeli civilians have had to tolerate over many years.  The tunnels from Egypty have provided large quantities of arms and ammunition to Gaza.  Operation Protective Edge has revealed a new type of tunnel.  This is a tunnel that reaches from Gaza into the back gardens of kindergartens, and this is a tunnel that allows those who are intent on attacking civilians to reach their target undetected and in the most frightening and direct way.  Citizens of the south of Israel, hardened after many years of constant rocket fire from Gaza, now have a new fear to confront in the form of tunnel shafts that have been discovered a few hundred metres from the kibbutz where they live.  The reason for this fear is obvious.  These are tunnels that have no possible positive angle to them, and they are designed solely for the purpose attacking innocent men, women and children who simply wish to go about their daily lives.  These are tunnels of terror.

When Israel unilaterally disengaged from Gaza in 2006, there was some hope that this would signal the moment that the Palestinians living there could take control of their lives in the way that they had been claiming to desire for so long.  The terror campaign that had been waged until that moment was justified by the desire for Gaza to be independent of Israeli control and influence, to allow the Gazan population to be masters of their own destiny.  The decision made by then-prime minister Arik Sharon to give the residents of Gaza the opportunity to fulfil this desire, came at a very high price to citizens of Israel, and came against warnings by many of those who believed that Israel was taking the wrong action.  Although I personally still believe that the action of withdrawing from Gaza was the correct one, it is clear that those who warned that this would simply begin a new war in which the citizens of Gaza would advance to lay claim to the rest of the State of Israel, were correct.  The claims that Palestinians wished only for an independent Gaza were proven to be wholly incorrect.  The moment that they had full control over Gaza, they turned their attention to their next target to try to gain control of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the rest of Israel.

The terror tunnels represent a microcosm of the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.  While Israel is spending huge resources on developing systems that will defend its citizens,  that will allow them to go about their daily chores even when missiles are raining down, Hamas is spending its resources on building infrastructure for the purpose of attacking and terrorising Israeli civilians.  While Israelis are spending their time, effort and money building a country and an economy that will give a good future for their children and grandchildren, Hamas is forcing its children to protect missiles that are to be used for attacking Israel and Israelis.  It seems inconceivable that a national government is abusing its population in order to pursue a policy of hatred and negativity.  The attacks that it carries out on Israelis will not advance its people in any way.  Gaza may well be a small and densely populated area, but it still represents a piece of land which the Palestinians can use to prove to the world that they have the intention and the ability to build a positive future for its people.  Israel had a similar challenge in 1948 when the UN agreed the partition plan for Palestine.  The land granted to the Jews was small and almost indefensible.  Despite this fact, the Jews have turned Israel into one of the most dynamic countries in the world, and have succeeded in developing an economy and an army that is admired by many around the world.  It provides a vision and a future for the next generation of Israelis, a vision and future that Palestinians do not have.

Hamas claims that the reason for carrying out terror attacks, is because of the "occupation".  They claim that Israel's actions are the reason for their aggression against Israel, and for the lack of hope and future for its younger generation.  Israelis will disagree with this.  There is nothing that Israelis want more, than to live in peace and security with its neighbours.  They would like to give respect to those who live around us, in return for respect being given in return.  Israel took the first step in granting the Palestinians their desire to rule over Gaza.  In return, they have fired thousands of missiles onto Israeli populated areas, and have dug tunnels to be used for the purpose of attacking innocent civilians.  Despite this situation, Israel continues to invest in building a future for its next generation.  Hamas uses its future generations to promote its murderous attacks, and to defend its terror infrastructure.  Turning children into a "shahid' (hero) that is so revered by Hamas and its Muslim extremist colleagues, is contrary to any concept of building a future.

The tunnels are being destroyed, whereafter Israeli troops will probably depart the scene to give Hamas another chance to show its humanity, and build a future for its children.  We live under no illusions that they will seize this opportunity, where they have failed to do so before.  Instead of building tunnels, it is our hope that Hamas will build homes, hospitals, schools and promote economic growth to create a vision and future for its children.  And we hope that this will promote a love and respect for their children, that will exceed the hate that they feel for Israel.