Author Archives: mervyndanker

Richard Goldstone

It was a strange experience for me watching the recent debate at Brandeis University between Ambassador Dore Gold and Richard Goldstone.  Strange in that I was listening to what I would have expected someone like Jimmy Carter to be saying about Israel but saying it with a South African accent.  It has been a most upsetting almost shattering experience for the South African Jewish community to have one of their own primarily responsible for a report that accuses Israel of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

The South African Jewish community is today about 80,000 strong, down from a peak of 120,000 in the early 1970s.  It is however a community almost universally committed to the Jewish State and one that has a sizable expatriate community living in Israel.  South African Jews have been prominent in organizations like the Jewish Agency and the World Jewish Congress.  They are often seen as a model community for their organizational structure and strong Zionist commitment.

Up to the time the report came out many hoped that it would be balanced, fair and objective.  It was too much to ask for.  It was, after all, a report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council which has focused on Israel to the almost total exclusion of the worst perpetrators of human rights abuses world wide.  In South Africa, Goldstone had been regarded as a favorite son by the Jewish community.  He was a widely respected and able jurist who had been appointed to the country’s highest court.  He involved himself in the Jewish community, held leadership positions in Jewish organizations including the presidency of Ort International and was a trustee of the Hebrew University.  Those who knew him well would swear to his Zionist credentials.  Now both he and his name would be linked forever to the most Israel-damning document since the 1975 UN resolution equating Zionism with Racism.

The reasons Richard Goldstone agreed to chair the commission and issue such a report one can only speculate. Maybe he is an opportunist with his eye on the position of Secretary General of the United Nations. Maybe, maybe not.

Ascendens ad Astra

During a recent lunch break, my colleagues, Jono Dove, Linda Twain and Linda’s son Matthew walked over to Coit Tower on a glorious San Francisco day.  To reach Coit Tower one has to ascend 350 plus steep stairs.  There are other more comfortable ways of getting there but hardly as exhilarating or exhausting!!  Jono and I took four minutes to reach the top and then decided once was not enough and descended for another up climb.  Linda and Matthew waited patiently at the top for us.  It would bring the total number of steps climbed to 700 and with it sore quads and calfs!!  On the way up the second time we were passed by a U.S. Marine (at least he looked like a Marine). We asked him,” Is this your second?”

“No third, sir,” he replied.  The “sir” convinced us he was a Marine.

After we completed our second, he joined us at the top.” Did you complete four?” we asked.

“I walked at the half way point of the fourth, sir”

“Well you can call it three and a half,” we encouraged.

“No sir, only three.”

This was a true Marine.  Tough, fit, honest and extremely polite. We need more Marines and Marine-like people in this country.

Anyone for Twitter?

We live in an age of rapid communication and the forms of that are multifold.

Although cell phones, email and facebook may be the most common, new forms of inter-person contact are emerging.  Twitter(a microblogging tool using one’s cell phone) is the most recent and allows for near continuous access to people’s lives. It may be overkill but 200,000 people follow every movement of the rapper,50-Cent.  Events are advertised using these multitude of communicative devices and organizations (including AJC) are taking note that to get the message out awareness of what is available and what works is vital..

 AJC is holding a unique event on March 31. It will feature pioneers in Internet innovation,Craig Newmark of Craigslist fame and Matt Muhllenweg,whose blogging innovations are already legendary.They will discuss their almost revolutionary work on opposite ends of the the Internet time line. It should make for fascinating listening and there will be time for audience participation.

The venue is the Delancey Street complex at 600 The Embarcadero in San Francisco. The entrance is on the Embarcadero 100 yards south of the Delancey Street Restaurant.  There is a charge of $20 to cover expenses.

The event starts at 6:00pm and should wrap up around 7:30pm.

RSVP by email – or by phone @ (415) 777-3820

Download an event flier here

A Muslim in Israel’s Foreign Service

Ishmael Khaldi is unique for a diplomat. He is charming and friendly but so are many in his field. He is boyishly handsome (others can claim the same), he is young to be a consul (but there are many in his age bracket – the Venezuelan Consul General in San Francisco is 24!)

What makes Ish, as many call him, unique is that he is Israeli, Muslim and a Bedouin. His story is truly remarkable. Yes, we have an Israeli diplomat representing the Jewish state (and very proud of it), who is Muslim (and very proud of it), who grew up as a Bedouin shepherd (and very proud of it), who served in the Israeli Defense Forces and who later graduated with a masters’ degree in political science. And he is constantly in the trenches explaining Israel’s position, defending the country and challenging its opponents.

Ish became far better known to the wider community after his editorial was published in the San Francisco Chronicle of March 4, 2009. It must surely have been a jolt to the outspoken critics of Israel to discover the extraordinary diversity and background of the #2 diplomat in the San Francisco consulate.

The editorial was written during the time of “Israel Apartheid Week” and Ish’s pointed address to the organizers of the week is particularly telling. I have provided a link to the article. Needless to say it is extremely well worth reading.




WTA’s Double Fault in Dubai

The World Tennis Association had a great opportunity to take a stand on the issue of bigotry and discrimination against one of their own. The Israeli tennis professional Shahar Peer was denied a visa to enter Dubai to play in a WTA tennis tournament. Shahar is currently ranked at number 45 in the world (she was once in the top 20) and had earned the right to play in the event.

This was the moment for the WTA to stand up and be counted. The Wall Street Journal Europe, a sponsor of the tournament withdrew its sponsorship, the Tennis Channel decided not to broadcast the event. Both commendable and praiseworthy.

The response of Larry Scott of WTA was less so. The opportunity to take a stand was lost as Scott told the Dubai organizers they should not do it again or they will face losing the right to host the tournament. A fine was imposed against the organizers and the games went on. Regrettably the Williams sisters who could have made a powerful statement against the Dubai action by leading a boycott did not. Venus made a statement condemning the action but played in the tournament as did her sister. Sony Ericcson did not withdraw their sponsorship nor did Barclays.

To quote one commentator on the subject,” An opportunity to make a strong statement against bigotry was met with meaningless words rather than assertive action.” Let the WTA hang its head in shame!

Israeli Political Gridlock

Many phrases were used to describe the outcome of the recent Israeli elections: ”gridlock”, “deadlock”,”a semi right turn” “stalemate.” And indeed it was each of the former.

The result of the election where one party (Kadima) leads its closest rival(Likud) by one seat has led to a scramble by both parties to find allies and support in order to reach the magic number of 61 Knesset seats .This will give them a majority in the 120 seat Knesset and enable them to govern. The system of proportional representation allows the political parties (and there are many of them) who contested the election and received 2% of the votes cast to be eligible for a Knesset seat. And as such they are being courted by the leading parties in a desperate search for those 61 seats. Ministerial positions, funding for pet projects, support for controversial issues are offered to gain the necessary support.

This is the Achilles heel of Israeli politics and has been since the very first Knesset elections some 60 years ago. Too many parties invariably lead to the outcome we have seen time and again.

The system has caused precious few administrations to serve a full four year term. It is a system that leads to the gridlock referred to earlier. It is time for Israel to cut the Gordian knot and change a failing system.

Fatima Shocker

There has been a rash of anti Semitic incidents in the aftermath of the Gaza conflict over the past week. In each case the AJC has responded with alacrity and forcefully to the events.

The Turkish Prime Minister has continued his vindictive rhetoric against the State of Israel resulting in an outbreak of anti Semitic incidents in Istanbul (the sign in one store window reads, “Dogs are welcome, Jews are not”). In Venezuela the Israeli ambassador was expelled, diplomatic ties were severed and the President, Hugo Chavez described the Israeli government as “genocidal”. No doubt encouraged by these statements, vandals desecrated the Tiferes Israel synagogue in Caracas destroying a Torah scroll and spray painting graffiti on the walls. Chavez believe it or not placed the blame on the Jewish community themselves! (AJC is organizing a solidarity visit to Venezuela in support of the country’s 15,000 Jews)

However nothing has pained me personally more than the spate of anti Semitism emanating from government and non government sectors in my native land of South Africa. The most notorious of these incidents was the statement made by the deputy foreign minister, Fatima Hajaig at an anti- Israel rally during the last days of the Gaza conflict. The rally was held to retain momentum in instituting a diplomatic, cultural and economic boycott of Israel. Hajaig told a delirious cheering crowd that there has not been a single day since the creation of Israel that a Palestinian has not been killed. She went on, “They (the Jews) in fact control America. No matter which government comes in to power, the control of America like the control of most western countries is in the hands of Jewish money and if Jewish money controls their country you cannot expect anything else.” Wow, how is that for diplomacy and what does it say about the caliber of the South African foreign ministry?

The South African Jewish community has responded by reporting the deputy foreign minister to the country’s Human Rights Commission citing her comments as ”undiluted and vicious hate speech promoting or propagating hatred against the Jewish people.” Let’s see what happens. In addition a letter from AJC’s national president and national executive director was sent to the President of South Africa in response to the comments made by Hajaig.

In another nefarious incident an email was sent out, ostensibly by one of the country’s leading banks depicting photographs from the Nazi era alongside photographs from the Gaza conflict with the unmistakable message that the Israelis behavior is no different than that of the Nazis. The bank issued a statement that an employee and certainly not the bank had sent the email and repudiated its contents. And there is more. A group of Muslims compiled a list of Jewish owned businesses and called on all South Africans to boycott them. Fortunately a different group of Muslims, many prominent, strongly criticized the boycott call.