Tag Archives: Israel

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.

Days of Celebration and Commemoration

Yom Ha-atzmaut – Israel’s day of independence, the countries 4th of July, is always a cause for celebration.  In the course of 61 years, the Jewish state has created an exemplary, thriving democracy and has become a world leader in medicine, biotechnology and in fact the entire realm of technology.  In addition the universities are combustion engines of innovation, discovery, controversy and provocative thought.  Fields of study like desert reclaiming (the Negev is the only desert in the world that is shrinking in size) and advanced agricultural methods have attracted students world-wide while schools of art, dance and music add to the excitement of the land’s vibrant culture.  Even in athletics Israel has become competitive like Davis Cup tennis and world cup soccer.  Every Jew wherever they may live can take enormous pride in what Israel has accomplished and what it will continue to accomplish.

All this of course in what has been a perpetual state of war for the country since those founding moments in May 1948.  Nothing brings this to mind more so than yesterday’s Yom Hazikaron – the day of remembrance for the young men and women who gave up their lives in defense of Israel.  The entire country comes to a standstill on this day for a moment’s silence as the people pay tribute to its fallen.  Yesterday at a memorial service in the Federation building, a video was shown of Michael Levin, a young Philadelphian who made Aliyah upon completing high school.  His dream was to live in Israel but first to become a member of its armed forces.  Michael was a sparkling personality who had so much to offer.  He was killed in battle and his loss epitomizes the losses suffered by so many families to enable the country to survive.  But survive it has and flourish it has and let us rejoice in that regard on this special day.


Mervyn K. Danker

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.




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.

January 16, 2009

Two media items caught my attention today.

One was a clever cartoon in the San Francisco Examiner. It depicted a crowd at an anti Israel rally. The signs carried were vicious, “Israel butchers” and “Death to Israel”. One such individual quite obviously Osama bin Laden was saying to two astonished non Arabs carrying these signs,” Glad you could make it to the rally!”

I often wonder if those far to the left Jews who attend these anti Israel rallies understand they are aligning themselves with anti Israel and anti U.S. groups like the so called “International Solidarity Movement” and “Answer” whose mission statements (either obliquely or directly) call for the destruction of the State of Israel. But maybe they are no more than self hating Jews and a world without Israel would suit them just fine. In the bay area there are probably more of them than in other parts of the U.S. and most of them hide out in Berkeley. Well they are going to be disappointed. Israel is going nowhere and will continue to be a Jewish homeland for a long, long time.

The other media item was a report on one of the N.P.R. news bulletins and it referred to the more than 10,000 people (yes, ten thousand) who have been killed in Sri Lanka over the last few decades. Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) is an island nation off the south east coast of India. Sri Lanka was best known for its fine tea and accomplished cricketers but now add in the Tamil Tigers a terrorist group responsible for most of that body count. However all the mayhem in Sri Lanka receives the slightest of media attention (not to mention hardly a peep at the U.N.) but Israel responding to a barrage of missiles and mortars fired by Hamas terrorists over a period of many years becomes the leading front page news item world- wide, receives condemnation for its act of self defense from again all corners of the globe and gives Arabs and non Arabs cause to stage demonstrations and rallies in cities as far flung as Paris, Sydney and Istanbul.

The demonstrations have often contained distinct elements of virulent anti Semitism (include the bay area in that) and for the Jews of these far flung places it has been a most uncomfortable sight. The scathing attacks on Israel by the Prime Minister of Turkey (a country with whom Israel has had military ties) have unsettled the Turkish Jewish population and there have been rumors of a boycott of Jewish owned stores. So again why is there this insatiable obsession with Israel and an almost total indifference to Sri Lanka and bastions of freedom and democracy like Zimbabwe, Belarus, and Libya –there is a lengthy list. Well my teacher once told me” Jews are news” and I would like to add that the world cannot stomach tough, resilient militarily successful Jews. But they love dead Jews. Ever notice how much sympathetic attention the holocaust receives?

The success of Israel as a nation in so many respects, a nation that embodies the very best of human values, a nation that is finding medical cures, that is innovative in fields like agriculture, technology, science, music and the arts is galling to so many. But for them I have one of my favorite expressions,” Am Yisrael Chai-The people of Israel lives!”