Obama to propose $200 million to battle Islamic State in Africa


President Barack Obama is proposing about $200 million in new military spending to confront Islamic State in north and west Africa, U.S. defense officials said ahead of Tuesday's budget rollouts for the next fiscal year.

U.S. officials declined to specify to which nations the funding would be directed. The disclosure comes as the United States and its allies discuss ways to halt the spread of the Sunni militant group in Libya and elsewhere in Africa from its self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

The proposed increase in U.S. defense spending for north and west Africa is a component of a larger $7.5 billion Pentagon request for fiscal year 2017 to counter Islamic State.

“The marginal increase is on the order of about $200 million associated with north Africa,” one U.S. defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to a small group of reporters.

Another U.S. defense official told Reuters the funds would also be directed to west Africa.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter last week announced his intention to ramp up spending to counter Islamic State as he unveiled the broad details of Obama's proposed $582.7 billion defense budget. Carter said he would seek further war funding later if needed. 

A key component of the $7.5 billion would go to munitions. Carter said the United States has used so many smart bombs and laser-guided rockets in Iraq and Syria that it is running low and needs to invest $1.8 billion for 45,000 more.

The Air Force budget includes about 4,500 small diameter bombs, doubling the previous year's purchase. It also calls for more than 30,000 Boeing Co. Joint Direct Attack Munition tail kits, which turn unguided bombs into all-weather smart munitions using GPS guidance systems, compared to about 22,000 the previous year. The Navy is slated to buy 100 Hellfire missiles built by Lockheed Martin Corp, with the Air Force planning to buy around 280.

The U.S. officials also said some of the $7.5 billion would go toward training and equipping Iraqi forces and fighters in Syria to counter Islamic State.

Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, warned on Monday of the group's expansion to Libya, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, Nigeria, Algeria and elsewhere. 

The United States has a limited permanent military presence in Africa, largely centered on a U.S. base in Djibouti. 

Islamic State forces have attacked Libya's oil infrastructure and taken control of the city of Sirte, exploiting a power vacuum in which two rival governments have been battling for supremacy.

The Pentagon has said that planning is underway to confront the group in Libya, although significant political hurdles could slow any new campaign by the U.S. and its allies there.

Carter will meet with allies in Brussels this week to discuss ways to accelerate the campaign against Islamic State.

Ebola fears should not blind us to compassion … or common sense


Along with Ebola in Africa, there’s been an outbreak of hysteria in Washington.

“The White House should immediately ban travel from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to contain the spread of Ebola,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said last week. “It’s time for Washington to take action to protect the American people.”

Supporting such a ban, Sen. Rand Paul (R- Ky.) said, “I think because of political correctness we’re not really making sound, rational, scientific decisions on this.”

In fact, it is the ability to make sound, rational and scientific decisions that has flown out the window — along with a sense of compassion.

The Jewish community should speak out forcefully against these calls. They are deeply flawed from a logical point of view, from a public policy point of view and from a moral point of view. The truth is that trying to seal U.S. borders, revoke visas, and ban flights to and from African nations will not protect the American people. In fact, such actions will endanger us further.

The vast and overwhelming majority of America’s leading public health professionals clearly that these isolationist measures would create a range of detrimental unintended consequences, sending the crisis into yet a deeper spiral. A flight ban on West African countries would not stop most people from coming to the United States. It would simply encourage travelers to use more circuitous routes and change planes in other countries, while hiding any contact that they have had with the disease. The challenging work of tracing the spread of Ebola — and preventing outbreaks in the U.S. — would become even more difficult for America’s public health professionals.

Further, a travel ban would make it nearly impossible for U.S. nongovernmental organizations to send aid workers into the stricken regions that are in grave need of assistance to treat the infected and to contain the spread of the disease. Broken health-care systems and a dire shortage of healthcare workers are a major driver of the rapid spread of Ebola. The disease has now claimed more than 4,500 lives; by many estimates, the number of infected people could d present conditions continue. The last thing we want to do is to withdraw from this global crisis.

The best way to safeguard our country — and our values, as Americans and Jews — is to act. As the president of Jewish World Watch (JWW) — an organization dedicated to fighting genocide and mass atrocities, with a major focus on conflicts in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — I often encounter people who say that we should let Africa solve its own problems. This notion is anything but Jewish. Indeed, it is fundamental in the Torah, and we have been taught through the ages, that Jews have a moral duty not only to protect our own but also to repair and steward the world. Through JWW’s work in Africa, I have witnessed directly how engagement and partnership in the world’s most violent, isolated and downtrodden areas, such as Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, can produce miraculous results — results that lift people out of the depths of despair and save thousands of lives.

Conversely, I have also witnessed how Western complacency and inaction allows small challenges to grow into great catastrophes. From Rwanda to Sudan to Congo, many millions have perished in African “conflicts” that could have been contained if the international community acted earlier and more effectively.

In some ways, this Ebola outbreak is a product of that tragic history. Two of the three countries now devastated by Ebola have been ravaged by war over the past two decades. These recent conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone have claimed the lives of an estimated 200,000 people — and inflicted a major toll on these countries’ ability to build health infrastructure and respond to emergencies.

In Liberia, the health-care system is now teetering on the brink of collapse, with hospitals closing and medical staff fleeing the country. This has left much of the population without access to basic health-care services. As a result, death rates are skyrocketing among patients who do not have Ebola — from pregnant women to people with HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

There is great fear that political instability will follow in the wake of the chaos created by Ebola if and when it spreads across the African continent. As the crisis escalates, I can’t help but think of how it would devastate the many vulnerable communities that I have come to know in Congo, where some progress has been made in working toward peace after decades of war that has claimed the lives of 6 million people. In many communities that JWW supports, the nearest medical care is at least a 10-hour walk away.

Putting our heads in the sand and effectively withdrawing our doctors and humanitarian aid workers would leave many millions even more vulnerable and enable Ebola to continue spreading across Africa, around the world and into the United States. Instead of pulling back, we need a massive investment of resources and an influx of experts into the region to contain the disease before the crisis becomes even more catastrophic. Fighting Ebola will be expensive. But it will be much less destabilizing and much less costly — both in lives and in resources — the sooner the U.S. intervenes on the ground in Africa with all of our might.

The fear that drives so many to isolationism is human. Yet, our planet is too small — our world is too interconnected — to build a wall that shields us from Ebola. As Americans, as Jews, as human beings, now is the time to breathe life into our values — before it is too late. 

Janice Kamenir-Reznik is the co-founder and president of Jewish World Watch, an organization committed to combatting genocide and mass atrocities through education, advocacy and direct aid to survivors.

As Nigeria is declared formally free of Ebola, Israel preps for domestic readiness


Israeli officials welcomed the World Health Organization announcement on Oct. 20 that Nigeria has been declared formally free of Ebola following six weeks with no new cases of the deadly virus.

“This is an important development for Nigeria and highlights their swift and effective response,” said Dr. Roee Singer, deputy director of the Division of Epidemiology at the Ministry of Health in Jerusalem. 

“It’s also a relief for us, because Nigeria is not only the biggest country in Africa, Nigerians comprise the largest group of tourists who visit Israel from the continent,” Singer said.

[Related: Jews at the helm of U.S. Ebola response]

Recent years have seen a marked deepening of ties between Jerusalem and Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, with Israelis advising Nigeria on security measures to combat the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram, as well as in development of water and agricultural resources and in the signing of a civil aviation agreement.

Singer added that the defeat of the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria will alleviate the need to put into effect the most stringent level of screening protocols for airline passengers, many of whom are Christians on pilgrimage journeys.

In Israel’s own effort to prevent the disease from entering the country, Ben Gurion Airport held an Ebola defense exercise on Oct. 17 with Immigration and Health ministry officials conducting a drill on how to locate passengers from high-risk countries, practicing isolation and preliminary medical treatment measures.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed Israel’s National Security Council to lead staff work on Israel’s domestic readiness to deal with the epidemic, even as the government dispatches three emergency clinics to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

“These fully equipped emergency clinics include personal protective gear for medical workers, and we are assisting the governments in operating them with help from Israeli civil society volunteers,” said Ambassador Gil Haskel, head of MASHAV — Israel’s Agency for International Development.

Other officials involved in the country’s Ebola response planning told the Jewish Journal that the prime minister is facing “tough choices” on the scope of Israel’s participation in the front line effort against the epidemic.

Israeli media reports claim Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had urged rejection of an American request for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to deploy army field hospitals to affected African countries similar to those sent to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

Ya’alon is in Washington this week, and his spokeswoman declined to answer an inquiry from the Journal about the decision not to bring the IDF in on the Ebola response effort. Ya’alon has recently expressed strong dissatisfaction with the 2015 defense budget and has complained that non-military-related items eat up to a quarter of his ministry’s available funds.

“The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] have defined the next six months as the emergency phase,” said Yotam Politzer, a disaster response director for IsraAID who headed back to Sierra Leone on Oct. 21.

IsraAID is the nongovernmental organization designated by officials to recruit and train the Israeli volunteers who will operate the medical and psychological response to Ebola in West Africa.

“We are bringing at least 30 mental health specialists from Israel to do psychosocial training for medical workers, and we hope that at any given moment we will have at least a team of five or six professionals from here on the ground,” Politzer said.

“There are many organizations and institutions involved in the medical field, but no one is really taking care of the mental health aspects of the disaster, which is crucial, we think, to stop this outbreak,” Politzer added.

Despite the good news from Nigeria, Sierra Leone is still battling the epidemic, and Politzer’s team from IsraAID is making its base in the capital city, Freetown, where between 40 and 60 new cases are being reported daily.

At the Kenema Hospital, about 185 miles east of Freetown, 35 doctors and nurses died from Ebola in August.

The remaining staff, Politzer said, “didn’t receive any kind of counseling or emotional support. Many of them just don’t want to go back to work because they are scared and traumatized, having lost their colleagues, so providing support for the medical teams is extremely important.” Politzer added that IsraAID teams have drawn up plans to reach remote towns and villages on a consistent basis.

Navonel Glick, a 27- year-old program director at IsraAID, said the organization’s specialization in providing programs and therapy to traumatized communities comes from the experience the Jewish state has had in regrouping after wars and terror attacks.

Glick will be in Sierra Leone by the end of the week, having just returned to Israel from Iraqi Kurdistan, where the organization runs a program for Christians and Yazidis who have fled from the penetration of ISIS into the region.

“I would not say that my parents are thrilled, [and] all these situations have their own risks, but they’ve come to terms with the life that I’m leading,” Glick said.

“We have quite a lot of social workers and therapists volunteering to do the trainings. Yes, there are some people who have come for other missions that aren’t participating in this one. But, on the other hand, there are quite a number of people who feel this is important, and they are joining us because they understand that Ebola is something that really has become a global threat.”

IsraAID founding director Shachar Zahavi believes his group has the credibility and connections to raise the funds required for the kind of response the world expects from Israel and the global Jewish community.

“I can tell you that our partnership with the Los Angeles Jewish Federation and the Southern California Jewish community at large is supportive. They are very open-minded, and they see the global picture,” Zahavi said. “They supported us in Haiti and Japan and the Philippines.”

“IsraAID has approached all its Federation partners, from the West Coast to the East Coast, asking them to open a disaster relief fund for this Ebola epidemic so we can show the world that Israel and the Jewish people are at the forefront of disaster relief and helping communities around the world.” (At present, according to an email sent on Oct. 21 by Mitch Hammerman, spokesman for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the L.A. Federation is “not doing anything related to Ebola.”)

Boko Haram leader says ruling Nigerian town by Islamic law


The leader of Nigeria's Islamist group Boko Haram said his fighters were now ruling the captured northeastern town of Gwoza “by Islamic law”, in the first video to state a territorial claim in more than five years of violent insurrection.

The Nigerian military denied Boko Haram had taken control of the town during fighting over the past week, although security sources and some witnesses said police and military there had been pushed out.

Abubakar Shekau's forces have killed thousands since launching an uprising in 2009, and are seen as the biggest security threat to the continent's leading energy producer.

The militant leader's often rambling videoed speeches have become a regular feature of his bid to project himself as public enemy number one in Africa's biggest economy.

In the latest video released late on Sunday, the militant who says he is fighting to create an Islamic state in religiously-mixed Nigeria, said his forces had taken control of the hilly border town of Gwoza, near the frontier with Cameroon.

“Allah has granted us success in Gwoza because we have risen to do Allah's work,” Shekau says, reading out a statement off a notebook, with two masked gunmen on each side of him and three four-wheel-drive vehicles behind him in thinly forested bush.

“Allah commands us to rule Gwoza by Islamic law. In fact, he commands us to rule the rest of the world, not only Nigeria, and now we have started.”

Nigerian authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Local newspaper ThisDay quoted Major-General Chris Olukolade as saying the claim Boko Haram controls Gwoza was “false and empty”.

“KILL WITHOUT PITY”

In an attack on Sunday in the remote northeastern town of Gamboru, the insurgents killed 15 people, survivors said on Monday. The gunmen came in armed pick up trucks, throwing explosives and spraying the town with bullets. May fled over the border into Cameroon, witnesses said.

“They were shouting 'Allah Akbar' (God is Greatest) and were shooting sporadically,” Alice Adejuwon, a businesswoman and resident of Gamboru, told Reuters by telephone.

“We saw corpses on the streets as we ran out of the town.”

The video includes footage of what appeared to be an attack on Gwoza, showing fighters, backed by armoured personal carriers, pick-up trucks with attached machine guns, and one tank-like vehicle with track wheels and a large gun.

They unload salvos of gunfire across the town from trucks and on foot. The fighters are all armed with AK-47s or rocket propelled grenades, some in military uniform, others in civilian clothes. Many of them walk casually as they take over the town.

They also fire into the hills at what appear to be fleeing security forces and civilians, and they help themselves to weapons and ammunition seized from security forces. It ends with scenes of executing captives in pre-dug mass graves, some of them beaten to death with spades.

Witnesses said Gwoza remained a battleground but that Nigerian forces had largely fled. A security source also confirmed that the insurgents were still laying siege to it.

Resident Hannatu John escaped the town during the attack, running into the hills as the rebels fired at them, fleeing eventually to the capital of Borno state, Maiduguri.

She has heard nothing of her father or sisters in the town since early last week, she told Reuters in Maiduguri.

“We are in the dark and full of despair,” she said. “Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow.”

Police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu said on Sunday that 35 policemen were missing after an attack on a mobile police training camp in Gwoza.

Shekau also taunts France, Israel and the United States in the video.

“Democracy is worse than homosexuality, worse than sleeping with your mother,” Shekau says. “You are all pagans and we will kill you, even if you do not attack us we will kill you … Allah commands us to kill without pity.”

Islamist groups across the world have become increasingly bold in making territorial claims in recent months. Sunni group Islamic State has declared a “caliphate” across large areas of Syria and neighbouring Iraq while an affiliate of al Qaeda said in July it aimed to set up an emirate in east Yemen, local media reported.

Shekau makes no mention of Islamic State in the video, although he does mention Iraq in the context of U.S. intervention there.

In separate violence, at least 13 people were killed in a communal clash between rival Fulani and Jikun ethnic groups in Wukari town, Adamawa state, also in the northeast, police spokesman Joseph Kwaji said by telephone.

Reporting by Isaac Abrak; Additional reporting by Lanre Ola and Bodunrin Kayode in Maiduguri, and Tim Cocks in Lagos; Writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Ralph Boulton

Congresswoman ‘disturbed,’ ‘saddened’ by Ugandan anti-gay bill


Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-37th district) has denounced the decision of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to sign into law a bill that criminalizes specific forms of homosexual activity.

“I am deeply disturbed and saddened that President Museveni decided to sign this ill-conceived and morally wrong piece of legislation,” the California representative said. “Americans have learned first-hand how poorly history judges writing discrimination into law, and generations will judge President Museveni and the Ugandan Parliament the same.”

A ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives’ subcommittee on Africa, global health, global human rights and international organizations, Bass said that the new law in Uganda is not indicative of how the leadership of neighboring countries treats lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“It is important to remember that Africa is a continent of 1 billion people in fifty-four nations, and this legislation is not a reflection of the entire continent,” Bass said, joining a chorus of Jewish-American opposition to the Ugandan legislation.

Under the new law, Ugandans convicted of “aggravated homosexuality” could face life sentences behind bars.

The law concerns sexual activity with a person who is disabled, or under 18-years-old, or instances in which the offender is HIV positive

The Ugandan president approved the law on Feb. 24. 

Yesterday, American Jewish World Service (AJWS), which has made LGBT rights its foremost issue, “condemned Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s decision to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law as a violation of the basic human rights of Uganda’s LGBT people.”

The Congresswoman, for her part, said she would not allow the Ugandan leader’s actions to deter her from her efforts of advocating on behalf of vulnerable communities worldwide.

“I will continue to use my position to advocate for equal and basic rights for people around the world. I stand with Secretary Kerry in stating that the United States will continue to stand against any efforts to marginalize, criminalize, and penalize vulnerable persons in any society,” Bass said.

Who’s afraid of the African asylum seekers of South Tel Aviv?


As a general rule in Tel Aviv, if your taxi driver is still gabbing about a national news event — more often than not, with a conservative slant — you can bet the topic is also trending citywide.

And of five taxi drivers this reporter has flagged down over the past week, four have complained about the ongoing nuisance that is the African migrant population of South Tel Aviv.

In a way, this enduring buzz is a sign of success for Israel’s 55,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers and the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that back them. The majority of the African asylum seekers are Christians and Muslims who fled to Israel by way of Egypt and the Sinai Desert over the last eight years, clustering mainly in South Tel Aviv. Their historic six-day strike, which lasted through Jan. 10 and allowed for daytime protests with turnouts over 20,000, may be finished for now, but the Africans’ fight to be recognized as refugees can still be felt throughout the city — most recently through a cultural appreciation event on Jan. 19.

On that Sunday, more than 50 restaurants and bars across Tel Aviv and neighboring Jaffa served traditional Eritrean and Sudanese dishes in place of their usual fare. Some also used the opportunity to throw a goodbye party for the African members of their kitchen staffs who have been summoned to the Holot detention facility in the Negev, Israel’s newest desert prison for illegal migrants.

At Ha’Tarnegol (“The Rooster”), an art cafe in Jaffa, well-known Darfuri chef Hassan Shakur — set to be imprisoned at Holot — whipped up platters of traditional porridge and sauces for a roomful of supporters.

The restaurant’s co-owner, Roee Avraham, said of Shakur: “For us, it’s a great honor to host him here, to learn from him and to help him as much as we can.”

Adil Adam, 28, another Sudanese volunteer lending a hand in the kitchen, said that, like Shakur, he must report to Holot by mid-February. Adam explained that he originally fled Darfur because he belonged to a group of activists at his university who opposed the government. Although some of his colleagues were murdered, Adam managed to escape. “What I expected to find in Israel was at least education,” he said. Instead, after three years working as a day laborer, he’s bracing himself for an indefinite term at Holot.

The night’s feel-good activities culminated at Levontin 7, a well-known hipster bar situated on the border of central and southern Tel Aviv. Three bands with members from various African countries took the stage — and the venue reached capacity within 15 minutes.

But the events seemed to attract a like-minded bunch. Members of local media outlets — the majority of which now openly side with the asylum seekers — squeezed into Ha’Tarnegol alongside NGO workers and other familiar faces from the protests. (“I think I will make a lot of friends tonight!” Adam said.) At one point, the kitchen was filled with more news cameras — from outlets like i24 News and the Jerusalem Post — than African cooks. 

International media coverage has, likewise, taken a cleanly pro-refugee approach. The New Yorker magazine, for instance, ran a lengthy piece after the Africans’ weeklong strike that argued strongly against Israeli policies.

These sympathies, though, are a world apart from the fear and resentment that still lingers in the more religious nooks of South Tel Aviv and in the hearts of conservatives across the city.

“The Israeli media will not mention this demonstration,” said Itai Sen, a resident of Tel Aviv’s tech suburb Ramat Gan, at a recent counter-protest to the African rallies. (And for the most part, he was correct.)

One handmade sign at the midcity protest read, in Hebrew: “Approximately every seven minutes, an Israeli is assaulted by an African!!!”

Although this demonstration was maybe one-fifth the size and intensity of the South Tel Aviv race riots of May 2012, it put a few hundred faces to anti-African sentiment that still smolders — mostly behind closed doors — and has largely driven government action.

“As a woman, I will tell you: I will never set foot in South Tel Aviv,” said Lizi Hameiri, a petite young brunette from North Tel Aviv who stopped by the protest. She said she had heard from a friend that “this week, [African migrants] raped a woman, and after they raped her, they smashed in her teeth.”

Another Israeli man who runs a fresh-juice bar along Menachem Begin Street — marking the upper border of South Tel Aviv — described an incident “about three or four months ago” in which he stabbed two African asylum seekers trying to rape a woman in an alley behind his house (located next to the juice bar). The man said he didn’t want his name published for fear that Tel Aviv cops would punish him for implying they weren’t doing their jobs. The tip of his thumb had apparently been sliced off — an injury he said he sustained in the stabbing.

A spokesman for the Israel Police said he had no “specific data” on African crime rates in the area. However, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants reported that police data from 2010 and 2011, presented at a government meeting, showed crime rates among Israelis to be more than double those of foreigners. 

Nevertheless, mistrust of the asylum seekers runs deep, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration has aligned itself with those advocating expulsion.

Rather than arrest individual African asylum seekers who have committed street crimes and try them in court, the government is sending them to Holot en masse for the crime of infiltrating Israel’s border fence. (At press time, the Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration had not responded to repeated requests for the number of migrants summoned to Holot. However, local NGOs are estimating that between 500 and 1,000 Africans have been summoned.)

In a Facebook statement on Jan. 5, Netanyahu made his end goal clear. “We completely stopped the infiltration into Israel,” he wrote of the country’s new fence with Egypt, “and now we are determined to send away the illegal migrant workers who [already] entered Israel.”

Danny, 46, an Indian-Israeli tile vendor who works a couple blocks from the Central Bus Station — and who did not wish to give his last name for fear of retribution — agreed with this approach. “The government has to worry about its own people first,” he said. 

Another Jewish woman working at a furniture store nearby, who would not give her first or last name, said that although she has never been robbed by an African in the neighborhood, “People are afraid to come to my business. And sometimes in the night, I am afraid, too.” She recommended that instead of sending African migrants to prison, the government should just “put them back in their own country.”

Israel has refrained from sending any Eritrean or Sudanese asylum seekers home against their will, in accordance with United Nations “non-refoulement” guidelines. But because Israeli officials have either denied or have yet to approve all requests for asylum filed by Eritrean and Sudanese nationals, the foreigners are stuck in limbo.

Mutasim Ali, 27, a Darfuri leader of the current refugee rights movement, said that his NGO, the African Refugee Development Center, has been distributing asylum request forms within the community — but that they’re not even sure where to turn them in.

Anyway, he said, “I’m not optimistic” that they’ll make any difference.

Due to the confusion surrounding the process, and its low success rate so far, the majority of Tel Aviv’s asylum seekers have not filled out the forms. Instead, they’re spending hours in long lines outside the Ministry of Interior, trying to renew their visas.

When they do finally reach the window, though, many are instead being handed mandatory invitations to report to Holot within 30 days.

One of the hundreds summoned to prison so far is Muhamad Musa, a 35-year-old asylum seeker from Darfur who came to Israel six years ago and now owns a watch and jewelry shop in the city’s half-abandoned Central Bus Station. On a recent Monday, Musa helped a steady stream of customers pick out pieces that suited them — including a young Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier in a kippah and an elderly Jewish woman, both of whom greeted him by name. 

“Everybody knows me here,” said Musa — including Tel Aviv police, who he said would know where to find him if he didn’t show up to Holot on Feb. 5.

A friend of Musa, who called himself only Khalifa, also stopped by the watch shop on Monday. Khalifa keeps his Holot letter inside a plastic sleeve tucked in his jacket pocket but pulled it out to show a visiting journalist. The form — printed in Hebrew, Arabic and the Eritrean language of Tigrinya — stated that Khalifa also had the option of accepting $3,500 to return to Darfur. 

But Musa and Khalifa both said they would rather do anything than return to Darfur, where they fear the worst.

Ali, head of the African Refugee Development Center, also has been summoned to Holot. “I’m not thinking about it yet, because I still have one long month,” Ali said over the phone, his normally calm voice on edge. “Right now, I’m thinking about those who go before me, in the next few days. We have a lot of work to do.”

As the countdown to Holot begins, Israeli authorities have shown no sign of slowing their plan to rid Tel Aviv of its African residents.

For some in the community, that’s a shame. “I live with them here, and I don’t think they’re dangerous,” Israeli real-estate agent Meir Landis said of the asylum seekers. After the strike, he said, “Now people understand — and the business owners know — how much we need them.”

A Jewish-Ethiopian liquor-store owner working across from the Central Bus Station, who has lived in Israel for almost 30 years — and who wished to remain anonymous, due to racial tension in the area — argued that racism is fueling government policies on Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers.

“There is crime here [in South Tel Aviv], but no different than the rest of Israel,” he said. “I think many people are scared of them just because they’re black. If they were French, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

Three hours in Africa’s largest slum


When fashioning their flying toilets, residents of the Nairobi neighborhood of Kibera prefer to use thick plastic bags. But to save money, area resident Wellington Nabwoba said, they’ll settle for a black garbage bag with a drawstring.

Kibera neighborhood lacks indoor plumbing and when night falls, gangs roam the area, making it unsafe to use the outhouses. With no other choice, Nabwoba said, Kiberans relieve themselves in plastic bags then throw them out the window the next morning: Flying toilets.

“We don’t have any protection here,” said Nabwoba, who runs a free school in Kibera. “Here the police can’t come. We have more criminals than they can handle.”

To walk through Kibera is to enter a world of almost surreal poverty. Reputedly Africa’s largest slum, it’s home to an estimated one million people, all of whom live in shanties whose corrugated roofs form a sea of metal sheets.

Basic municipal services many of us take for granted are nowhere to be found here: No roads, no electricity, no sidewalks, no signs. The only running water flows through a dirt gutter that snakes through almost every passageway before emptying into a ravine filled with trash, sewage and children playing.

Until I visited Kibera, I had only a sheltered foreigner’s view of Nairobi. On assignment to cover Israeli commercial and humanitarian efforts in Kenya, I stayed at a hotel for businessmen and traversed the city in taxis. Interviews took place at shiny malls, corporate compounds or at the lavish gated estates of rich businessmen whose security precautions would make Israelis blush.

The only security in Kibera, according to Nabwoba, comes from so-called “vigilant groups” armed with knives, machetes and the occasional gun. Each gang controls a district of the slum and reports to an “elder”who settles disputes and extracts tribute from the residents. If the residents can’t pay, the gangs are liable to steal their property.

On Tuesday, a group of elders sat chatting in a shanty next to a cooler filled with soft drinks. Stop by next time you visit, they said. Just don’t take our photo.

Outside the shanty is a wide dirt road lined with produce stands and small shops colored in bright graffiti advertising bread, a haircut or salvation from Jesus. Men pushing wheelbarrows or driving cheap motorbikes mix with unsupervised children whose parents can’t afford the roughly $1,200 annual fee for public school. A woman nurses her baby while selling fruit. On the side of the road, a man wielding an ax chops wood for kindling.

A few yards down, the road passes under a new highway. Goats and dogs climb up the side of the paved overpass intended to ease the unending traffic jam that is Nairobi.

In one shanty, bedsheets separate three tiny rooms that house six people — a relatively comfortable setup here. The owner is Vitalis Otieno, a pastor at a neighborhood church who lost his wife in childbirth more than a year ago. He has cared for his newborn twins with the help of a niece and with donations of formula from a wealthier Nairobian who supports humanitarian work in Kibera.

Smiling, Otieno says his own struggles help him empower his 60 congregants.

“If I say, ‘I’m never going to be a mother, so I can’t nurture these boys,’ who will do it?” he said. “I use my personal example.”

The new highway runs next to Otieno’s home. Leaving his shanty, we drove down the highway back toward the city center. Half an hour later, I was sitting in a cafe at an upscale mall, four miles and a world away from Kibera.

African asylum seekers battle fear in South Tel Aviv


Over the past two weeks, Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers have staged the largest uprising in their eight-year history in Israel.

On Jan. 5, the first day of the protests, police estimate that more than 20,000 African asylum seekers — of the approximately 55,000 who have crossed Israel’s southern border since 2006 — refused to report for work and congregated on the Levinsky Park green, their main hangout and meeting spot in South Tel Aviv. They intended to stage a labor strike that would last until Israel agreed either to review their requests for asylum or turn the task over to the United Nations.

A few of the community’s emerging leaders took to the megaphone and rallied the crowd. Although the protesters come from different African nations and circumstances, they have lived through common hardships — years of compulsory, indefinite military service in Eritrea, ethnic cleansing and genocide in Sudan, rocky travel and torture by Bedouin gangs in the Sinai desert. Now, all of them face poverty and uncertainty in Tel Aviv, or in Israel’s desert prison camp for “illegal infiltrators” down south.

Protesters were warned they would be under intense scrutiny in the coming days. “Nobody do violence,” one speaker said. “If you meet racist people … respect them. It is very important to get our rights in a peaceful way.”

Ignited by unprecedented unity and hope, the group marched 20 minutes to the more upscale north side of Tel Aviv, filling Rabin Square to its brim and forcing cafe-goers to witness their fight. “We have been treated as criminals,” Sumaya Nedey, the movement’s head female activist, told protesters at the square. But with the strike, she said, “We will show the people of Israel that we are a strong part of the economy and the community in Tel Aviv.”

Yet, by the third day of protests, as the crowd’s energy peaked outside the front gates of the Knesset building in Jerusalem — and as Israeli employers began to hurt from the workers’ absence in the country’s hotels and kitchens — government officials shut down the historic protests with the ease of flipping a switch.

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein denied eight leaders of the refugee movement the opportunity to speak with Israeli politicians. He did not allow them even to enter the building, citing “the backdrop of the tension and general public atmosphere, as well the fear that granting the infiltrators access will cause provocations in the parliament.”

Israel’s conservative Channel 7 painted the protests in a similar light, saying they raised “fears of violence, especially as the infiltrators have brought rampant crime to Israel and, in particular, to southern Tel Aviv.”

Mutasim Ali, a 26-year-old asylum seeker from Darfur whose strong, gentle speaking voice and excellent Hebrew have propelled him to the front of the movement, later wrote in an op-ed for left-wing daily Haaretz: “They want to portray us as violent and dangerous, but we explained to them and to the whole world that we’re non-violent people, that we respect law and order.”

Police confirmed that the week’s demonstrations had been extraordinarily low-key. “There were no injuries, no disturbances, no incidents whatsoever” over three days of mass protest, said Micky Rosenfeld, foreign press spokesman for the Israel Police. (At one point during the Jerusalem rally, this reporter witnessed one protester chide another for climbing into a tree.)

Many of the strikers had no choice but to return to work this week, no longer able to pay for their basic needs. And as a consequence of the strike, some have been turned away by their former employers.

Still, small yet undeniable shifts in the public consciousness may prove the efforts were not entirely in vain.

Over days of protest, Israelis in central and northern Tel Aviv who normally avoid the south part of the city like a toxic waste dump have now glimpsed Israel’s mysterious “infiltrators” up close, as something more than a shadow people waiting to mug them and dilute the Jewish state.

And while during the marches, some onlookers yelled, “Go home!” and “Back to Africa!” as asylum seekers flooded city streets and sidewalks, others, non-Africans, jeered back at the hecklers. Still others yelled or whistled in support of the protesters, or honked their car horns longer and louder than usual. 

On Jan. 10, after a roller-coaster week of protests, Channel 2 aired a topical skit set in South Tel Aviv.

In it, Dr. Yogev Shafir, a fictional host for the Israeli comedy show “Eretz Nehederet,” ventures into Tel Aviv’s low-income Levinsky Park neighborhood, dressed in dorky cargo khakis and a safari hat, to meet some real live Africans on the mean streets of South Tel Aviv.

Before helping serve lunch to asylum seekers at the Levinsky Soup Kitchen, Shafir takes care to tether his bike to a lamppost with a mess of chains, barbed wire and a “Beware of Tiger” sign. He then tries to spruce up the refugees’ diet by serving them some organic alfalfa salad.

And for the show’s awkward finale, Shafir visits three Sudanese men in their cramped Levinsky-area apartment, mosquito net in tow. After some small talk, he halts the meet-and-greet to point out that his iPhone is missing; one dramatic storm of accusations later, the audience sees the phone light up in his own cargo pocket.

So the joke is on him — this armchair liberal who politely pitied the asylum seekers from afar, but, in the end, knew nothing about them, stereotypes aside. 

The skit aired a very real prejudice and fear inside many Israelis who find themselves traveling (briskly) through South Tel Aviv at night: They cling more tightly to their purses, burrow their wallets deeper into their pockets and keep their heads down.

But the skit also indicated the mainstreaming of this self-awareness. “Eretz Nehederet“ was once labeled by CNN “the country‘s single most popular and influential television comedy,” and it is viewed by millions each season. If the funnymen of Channel 2 think Tel Aviv’s asylum seekers deserve a second chance, the Israeli public may not be far behind.

In the wake of the uprising, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, too, has changed his tone, seeking in an official statement to be more inclusive. Huldai, part of the center-left Labor Party, said: “The protests of the migrant workers that we have seen are just the beginning of a process. … The Israeli government must determine a governmental policy and a professional work plan while allocating budgets and resources to take care of the latitude of problems including immigration policy, education, welfare, personal security and employment.”

The South Tel Aviv neighborhood in which the asylum seekers live has earned a nationwide reputation as an African crime pot. Anecdotes about theft and assault in the area, while very real and unshakable for their victims, often become larger than life. Two rapes by African migrants in early 2012 — of thousands in the country each year — riled such fury within the Jewish community that fiery race riots broke out on the streets of South Tel Aviv that May. Dozens of Africans were reportedly injured by the rioters.

Just this month, Bat-El Asher, a young Israeli woman, described on her Facebook page being violently mugged by a Sudanese man. “Until yesterday, I was their No. 1 defense attorney,” she wrote of the migrants. “The romantic view I lived with until yesterday … [that] everyone deserves a chance for a stable and better life … even refugees … died yesterday at 20:30.”

Asher’s story was shared more than 500 times on Facebook. “A liberal is simply a conservative who has yet to be mugged,” one commenter wrote.

But asylum seekers have grown equally afraid of being attacked in Tel Aviv’s neglected south. Two days after Asher was mugged, an Israeli man stabbed an Eritrean baby in the head with a pair of scissors as the baby’s mother walked out of the Central Bus Station. The infant reportedly suffered brain damage from the attack; her 50-year-old assailant has since been arrested and hospitalized at Israel’s central mental institution. 

A MarketWatch poll from last summer found that 60 percent of Israelis believed the asylum seekers posed a danger to Israeli society.

Crime statistics from 2010, however — presented at a Knesset meeting and reported by the Hotline for Migrant Workers — showed that, overall, the crime rate among Israel’s general population was more than double the crime rate among foreigners. “The level of security, or the level of crime, in the southern part of Tel Aviv is not higher on a national level than other places in the country,” police spokesman Rosenfeld told the Journal.

Further turning the Israeli public against asylum seekers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other politicians on the right have declared the Africans — almost a quarter of whom are Muslim and speak Arabic — a major threat to the state’s Jewishness. 

To date, no Eritrean or Sudanese nationals have been granted asylum by the Israeli government. Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, in charge of approving asylum requests, recently told Israel Hayom: “As far as Jewish identity and the desire to blur it are concerned, whether or not that is the intention of those who support the foreigners, that will be the result. The state will change its character if it gives up and allows illegal entry into its territory. This is not a passing wave. If we allow those who are already here to stay and work, that will be a clear statement to anyone who is looking for a destination, and it will have immediate repercussions.”

A new, nearly $400 million border fence has cut off the influx of Africans almost entirely, yet the fear that more will come has pushed many locals into the “Go home!” camp — especially those who have never met any of their Eritrean or Sudanese neighbors.

“The government continues to lie to the public and tell them we are not refugees and we are making trouble,” Mulgeta Tumuzgi, an Eritrean who has lived in Israel for six years, said at a press conference at the height of the strike. “The Israeli government wants the people to fear us. If you are afraid of someone, you want them to get away. We want to say to the Israeli people: ‘Don’t be afraid of us. We are not coming here to harm you. We are not your enemy. We only ask that you can give us shelter until we can go back to our home.’ ”

For better or worse, Eritrean and Sudanese families today are an inextricable part of the city’s culture. The scent of their traditional stews and flatbreads mix with shawarma grease in the air; high-energy African songs and dialects stream from dozens of migrant-run businesses clustered around Tel Aviv’s hulking Central Bus Station; African children run to school in braids and backpacks to learn Hebrew alongside the locals. So, in addition to protests, local NGOs have been organizing events, such as African cooking workshops and concerts, to show Tel Aviv that — just like in the rest of the world’s great cities — diversity can be a blessing.

As Haaretz financial editor Sami Peretz recently wrote of his own personal, yet very universal dilemma: “We Israelis always love to see ourselves dealing with a disaster that has taken place in some distant land (for example, in Haiti or the Philippines). … 

“It is much harder,” he wrote, “to see ourselves as cruel racists when we deal with the African migrants who are filling Tel Aviv’s streets or are sent to prison in southern Israel, and who bring out all the poison and fears inside us.”

Thousands of African migrants protest outside Israeli parliament


More than 10,000 African migrants demonstrated outside Israel's parliament on Wednesday, extending protests into a fourth consecutive day in a quest for recognition as refugees and freedom to work legally without fear of incarceration.

Their presence in a Jewish state that took in survivors of the Nazi Holocaust of World War Two has stoked an emotional political debate over whether they should be allowed to stay as a humane gesture.

“I want to say to them that they should not fear us, we are human beings too,” a tall, slim 25-year-old man from Eritrea, who gave his name only as Mulugieta, told Reuters.

Some 60,000 migrants, largely from Eritrea and Sudan, have entered Israel without authorization across a once-porous border with Egypt since 2006. Many hope for asylum and say they cannot return home without risking their lives.

Israel says most are illegal job-seekers. It passed a law three weeks ago allowing for indefinite detention of migrants without valid visas while it pursues efforts to persuade them to leave or enlist other countries to take them in.

Mulugieta said he fled Eritrea six years ago, fearing that his criticism of its rulers had put him in danger.

“We asked for shelter, we do not deserve jail,” read one of many large banners in a park opposite the Israeli Knesset as the crowd demonstrated against Israel's refusal to grant them refugee status.

“Being black is not a crime,” another sign said.

Many of the migrants live in impoverished neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, Israel's commercial centre, and work as cleaners and dish-washers. They have gone on strike at restaurants as part of a protest campaign that included a large demonstration in the Mediterranean seaside city on Sunday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week he views the African influx – since stemmed by an Israeli fence along the Egyptian frontier – as a threat to Israel's Jewish social fabric.

Miri Regev, a member of Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, said it was time to send the migrants, whom she dubbed “infiltrators”, away.

“Stop being bleeding-hearts,” Regev said on Israel Radio, referring to Israeli activists seeking to help the Africans.

FOUR DAYS OF PROTESTS

It was the fourth straight day of protests by the migrants, who on Monday marched to foreign embassies in Tel Aviv to appeal for international intervention.

Protester Mulugieta said: “Everyone has come across the border, we escaped the war but they fear us (here) … we are not the enemy of the Israeli public.”

Dozens of migrants have been summoned for detention at a specially-built centre in Israel's Negev desert, where they are allowed to leave for brief periods during the day but must return at nightfall, activists said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has said Israel's detention policy towards the migrants caused “hardship and suffering” and was not in line with a 1951 world treaty on the treatment of refugees.

Outside parliament, several left-wing legislators addressed the crowd. Erel Margalit of the opposition Labour Party apologized to the protesters after Parliament Speaker Yuli Edelstein refused to allow a delegation in to meet lawmakers.

David Grossman, a writer identified with the Israeli left-wing, told the protesters that the Jewish state's treatment of the migrants was shameful.

“I look at you now … I feel embarrassed and ashamed,” Grossman said in English. “Israel has not created this problem, but there is a problem now (and) we have to struggle with it and to solve it in the most humane way.”

Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich

Nelson Mandela: The Moses of South Africa


Bill on Israel’s African migrants has their advocates crying foul


A long chain-link fence with barbed wire seems to rise up out of the desert at the new Sadot facility in Israel for African migrants.

Situated along Israel’s barren border with Egypt and across the street from the notorious Ketziot Prison, which houses thousands of Palestinian prisoners, Sadot is slated to begin operations this month as an “open residence facility” for some 3,300 African migrants.

In a large dirt field, long rows of railroad-style red-and-beige rooms sit under a long, white-pitched roof. Behind them, the rounded metallic tops of large hangars peek out. Like Ketziot, Sadot will be run by Israel’s Prison Service.

The residence is the centerpiece of proposed legislation meant to provide a framework for handling the African migrant population in Israel.

The bill, which passed an initial vote with a strong majority in the Knesset last week, is expected to become law in the coming weeks. Backers of the measure hope it will encourage migrants to return voluntarily to their home countries.

“We need to create a deterrent,” Interior Minister Gideon Saar, of the Likud party, said in a Knesset debate last week. “The location of Israel as the only Western state sharing a border with the African continent necessitates it. If we decide to be the exemplar of liberalism among Western states, we will bring about, with our own hands, the destruction of the only Jewish state.”

According to the Israeli government, some 60,000 African migrants crossed into Israel illegally from Egypt between 2006 and early this year, when Israel completed a border fence that virtually halted the cross-border influx.

Proponents of the bill say the African migrants — whom the bill and many Israelis refer to as “infiltrators” — pose a threat to the state’s social order and its Jewish majority.

Last year, tensions over the migrants prompted angry demonstrations, and polls taken at the time showed that 40 percent of Israelis supported their mass expulsion from the state. Last week, the government approved a plan to provide stipends of about $3,500 to migrants who choose to leave Israel.

But human rights groups in Israel say the Africans, most of whom hail from the dictatorships of Eritrea and Sudan, are refugees fleeing violence and forced military conscription, and they should be granted asylum. The advocates are condemning the proposed legislation as draconian.

“It’s meant as a tool to embitter their lives to the point where they’ll self-deport,” Marc Grey, a spokesman for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, told JTA. “This is not a solution. This allows the government to say, ‘Look, we’re not really releasing these people.’ ”

The proposed law aims to replace legislation passed last year allowing up to three years’ imprisonment without charge for anyone who crosses the border illegally. Israel’s Supreme Court unanimously struck down the law in September because it violates a guarantee of personal freedom enshrined in one of the Basic Laws — Israel’s equivalent to a constitution — even if a person is in Israel illegally.

Now the state must pass its replacement law by a court-ordered deadline of Dec. 15 or release the 1,500 migrants imprisoned in the Saharonim detention center near Sadot. The high court mandated that any new law significantly lighten the punishment for illegal immigration, which the government says the proposed law fulfills.

Under the bill, the migrants would be detained in prison for one year, not three, and then transferred indefinitely to the open facility, where they would receive food, shelter and health care. The bill’s sponsors hope the stick of Sadot plus the carrot of the financial grants will persuade migrants to find a way out of Israel.

“The law needs to remove economic incentives for them to come and send back people whose lives aren’t in danger,” said Yonatan Jakubowicz, director of public relations for the Israel Immigration Policy Center, which supports the bill. “The open facility takes away the ability to work but gives them respect and fulfills all their needs.”

While in theory migrants will be able to leave Sadot freely, several of the facility’s restrictions would restrict free movement. Residents would have to stand for roll call three times a day, a process that could take hours, and the facility’s gate would be locked between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

In addition, migrants would be prohibited from working outside the facility. Though jobs will be available inside the facility, the government would not be required to pay minimum wage.

“The government is mandating prison for a year, and then an open facility run by prison guards,” said Michal Rozin, a Knesset member from the Meretz party, which opposes the bill. “You can’t work. What are you supposed to do all day? It’s like a jail. It’s mocking the court’s decision.”

Instead, advocates propose that the government evaluate the migrants’ asylum requests and provide them with social services, such as health and job protection. While migrants are now entitled to free education and are not penalized for working, they do not hold work visas and are not entitled to public health care.

But with broad Knesset support for the proposed bill, including backing from inside the government coalition and outside it, such a scenario is unlikely.

The Western Wall in Israel

Muslims, stop blaming Israel


Whenever calamities befall Muslim-majority nations, there is always a country to blame: Israel. Is there a revolution against a tyrant? Zionists are responsible. Who else could be at fault if there is a clash between Sunni and Shia groups? The Jews. Did a bomb explode on the other side of the world, or is there a problem with the economy? No need look any further than Israel. And where else would the control center for destabilizing the Arab world be? In Tel Aviv, of course!

The late Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi blamed Israel for the violence and unrest in Africa. Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said that the turmoil in the Arab world is a pro-Zionist conspiracy. Saudi cleric Sheikh Ismae’il al-Hafoufi blamed Israel for the desecration of Islamic holy sites in Syria. Sheik Abd al-Jalil al-Karouri, a Sudanese cleric, pointed to Israel for the Boston and Texas bombings. And then there’s the belief that Zionists planned the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, to demonize Arabs and Muslims in the eyes of the world.

This madness of putting the blame on Zionists — and Israel in general — is a knee-jerk reaction with no basis in logic. The most surprising part is that so many people believe this without question and continue to disseminate such rumors far and wide.

Syria, Egypt, Iran and Lebanon all aggressively hold the “Zionist regime” responsible for their woes. While Bashar Assad accuses Israel of trying to destabilize Syria, the Syrian opposition blames Israel for assisting the Assad regime by giving them diplomatic cover. Both sides see Israel as responsible for all the bloodshed and unrest going on in Syria. Now with the possibility of an international intervention in Syria, Iranian legislators and commanders are issuing blunt warnings, saying any military strike from the United States on Syria would lead to a retaliatory attack on Israel. Israel’s staying out of the equation, it seems, is simply not possible. Even though Israeli politicians refrain from taking sides in the regional conflicts, all sides point toward Israel anyhow.

On the other hand, we have the Egyptian coup d’état, where we see both sides ascribe blame to Israel. Interestingly, the Egyptian grass-roots protest movement Tamarod blames Israel but urges the Egyptian government not to renege on the Camp David accords. If Israel condemns the violence committed against the anti-coup alliance, she is labeled as an enemy of Egypt and accused of collaborating to destroy the Egyptian army. Even the state-allied newspaper al-Ahram claimed that Israel is in an alliance to demolish the Egyptian army and to balkanize the country. Furthermore, in 2010, an Egyptian government official blamed Israel intelligence for a fatal shark attack off Egypt’s shores.

It must sound like a bizarre joke for some, but this tragicomic situation is quite serious for many in the Middle East. We are no longer surprised to hear Israel’s being the scapegoat for every single evil in the world, but Iran’s blaming the Zionist entity for the deadly earthquake in Iran was pushing the limits of credulity. This, despite the fact that Jews are a handful of people, a tiny population when compared to the overall population of the world.

Now let’s look at what is really going on in the Islamic-Arab world. There is a continuous and unending stream of hate — hate of the Shia, hate of the Wahabbi, hate of the Sunni, hate of the Alawi, hate of the Christians, hate of the Jews and so on. We also see slogans such as: “May God Destroy Israel,” “Down With the United States,” “Damn the West.” Hatred is deeply ingrained in their tradition, in their culture and in their own education. This fierce, venomous style is what is tearing the Islamic world apart; this is exactly what is happening in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan and others — Muslims killing Muslims.

This outcome is the result of intense efforts by some Muslim clerics who encourage hatred of the “other.” Muslims kill each other and then both sides blame the Jews. Wahabbi scholars say that all Sunnis are unbelievers and should be destroyed. Sunni scholars say Shias are unbelievers and their death is obligatory. Shias say that it is obligatory to kill Sunnis, as they are enemies. These are Muslim clerics who are promoting the most violent brand of sectarianism, preaching hatred and calling upon their followers to commit massacres. How do Jews make Muslims kill other Muslims?

When Muslim followers heed these clerical calls for violence, these same clerics turn around and promptly blame the Jews. What about calls for Muslims to not kill each other? What about Muslims unifying to solve their own problems without resorting to violence? What about the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, with its 57 member states, or the League of Arab States, with its 22 states, both which seem utterly helpless to bring about any solutions?

Some religious scholars have led many ignorant people astray with their false teachings, which plant seeds of hate. They implement a faith they have largely invented under the name of Islam — a faith that includes hatred, violence, darkness, which attaches no value to human life. They espouse bloodshed in the name of Islam, spreading hatred toward Christians, Jews and even other Muslims. These loveless, misguided people are most definitely not Muslims, but bigots and radicals.

As Muslims, let’s stop pointing the finger at others for our problems. It is time for the Muslim world to take responsibility and to ponder what has gone so horribly wrong with the Muslim world. Why is there so much bloodshed? Superstitions, innovations, localized traditions and bigotry have replaced the Quran in some Islamic countries, and their religiosity is a deeply artificial one. This hatred has to stop and Muslims must embrace the true spirit of the Quran, which is love, compassion and brotherhood for all.


Sinem Tezyapar is a political and religious commentator from Turkey, and an executive producer at a Turkish TV network.

Amid rising Islamism in Africa, Israel-Senegal ties still flourishing


Struggling to be heard over a flock of bleating sheep, Israel’s ambassador to Senegal invites a crowd of impoverished Muslims to help themselves to about 100 sacrificial animals that the embassy corralled at a dusty community center here.

The October distribution, held as French troops battled Islamists in neighboring Mali and one month after Muslim radicals killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, is held annually in honor of Tabaski, the local name of the Muslim Eid al-Adha feast. The distribution is broadcast on national television in a land that is 95 percent Muslim, providing Israel with a powerful platform to burnish its image among Senegalese.

“It registers very strongly with locals that Israelis give them sheep for a Muslim holiday while most Arab embassies do nothing,” said Eli Ben-Tura, the Israeli ambassador.

The animals are just part of the millions that Israel has spent over the years in Senegal, a French-speaking Western African nation of 12 million where the average monthly salary is $158. In return, Senegal has supported Israel’s erection of a barrier to protect itself from Palestinian terrorism and, in December, signed over oil prospecting rights in its territorial waters to an Israeli-owned mining company.

Over the past decade, Israel's trade with Senegal has more than tripled.

“Like Israel, Senegal is an island of stability in an unstable region,” Ben-Tura told JTA in an interview last week at the Israeli Embassy overlooking Independence Plaza in Dakar, the capital city.

The importance Israel places on its partnership with Senegal was evident in Ben-Tura's speech on April 30 at Israel’s 65th Independence Day celebration at the Grand Theatre National, a magnificent structure built with Chinese funding in 2011 near Dakar’s main port.

Speaking to an audience of 1,000, Ben-Tura listed Israel’s latest gifts to the country: training for hundreds of farmers; preparations to train thousands more by Israeli experts stationed in the country; and the establishment of a permanent depot for agricultural equipment and disease control.

Even intercultural activities have not been overlooked. After speeches by Ben-Tura and Mamadou Talla, Senegal's minister of professional training, Israel Ballet artistic director Ido Tadmor and 40 local artists performed a modern dance routine featuring tea cups. Dozens of onlookers avidly recorded their every move on smartphones.

“Cultural exchange with Africa has been neglected for too long,” Ben-Tura said.

Yet beneath this seemingly symbiotic partnership may be a deeper concern.

Mali, which used to be part of a federal entity with Senegal, last year witnessed an Islamic insurgency so powerful that French troops were called in to quell it. Some 475,000 people became refugees, many of them in Senegal. Some observers believe Senegal is wooing Israel and the West mainly for protection from the Islamic upheaval.

“The effects of the insurgency are not felt here for the time being,” said Oleg Sergeev, minister-counselor of the Russian Embassy in Dakar. “But the Senegalese authorities are turning westward out of concern over the possibility that the Mali insurgency may be trickling over.”

As an impoverished Muslim nation heavily dependent on foreign aid, Senegal must toe a careful line in its embrace of the Jewish state. Anti-Semitic books with titles such as “Hitler the Zionist Puppet” are sold here at bookstands and in 2009, several hundred people burned an Israeli flag at a rally to protest Israel's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

The Senegalese government, then chair of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, condemned the attack as “unjustified and unacceptable.” Still, the government’s condemnations never went beyond words.

“It was a very strong reaction, but it didn’t have an impact on diplomatic relations,” said Christian Clages, the German ambassador to Senegal.

Senegalese officials declined to address the reasons for their country's closeness with Israel. But observers attribute it variously to the country's moderate brand of Islam, its relative openness to the West and its past disillusionment with Arab regimes. In 1973, under pressure from Arab countries, Senegal severed its ties with Israel.

“The Arabs threatened sanctions and promised free oil but never delivered, to the bitter disappointment of the Senegalese,” said Zvi Mazel, a former Israeli Foreign Ministry official who negotiated the restoration of diplomatic relations in 1994.

Senegalese moderation was on display in 2012 when Jamra, one of the country's leading Islamic associations, protested the release of an anti-Muslim film, “The Innocence of Muslims.” The online video triggered violent protests around the world, but in Senegal, it led to the first meeting between Jamra and the Israeli Embassy.

Jamra’s executive president, Imam Massamba Diop, told JTA he learned in his November meeting with Ben-Tura that Israel had nothing to do with the film. And despite his organization's generally pro-Palestinian posture — it considers Israel’s blockade on Gaza illegal and organizes pro-Palestinian activities in Dakar — Diop supports his government's friendly relations with Israel.

“The Senegalese people deeply appreciate the event,” Diop said of the embassy's sheep distribution.

Another Senegalese Muslim leader, Sheikh Paye, arrived at the Israel Independence Day celebration in a shiny, traditional white-and-gold imam robe. A spiritual leader in one of Dakar’s 19 neighborhoods, Paye told JTA that his attachment to Israel stems neither from gratitude for its largesse nor considerations of realpolitik.

“My late father used to be a good friend of several Israeli ambassadors here,” Paye said. “He died three months ago, shortly before the Israeli Embassy’s invitation arrived. It’s an honor to represent him here to people from a country he loved but never visited.”

Celebrating Sukkot, remembering Africa


There’s a certain bittersweetness to the festival of Sukkot. On the one hand, it’s z’man simchateinu, the season of our rejoicing: In ancient Israel, it marked the end of the harvest season, the time when the storehouses were full of sustenance for the coming agricultural year, the time of thanksgiving. We celebrate that today with wonderful meals for friends and family in our own sukkahs — a time of warmth, conviviality, plenty.

On the other hand, the end of Sukkot is (in Israel as well as right here in Southern California) also the end of the dry season. For our ancestors, as they made their way back from the Temple in Jerusalem to their villages and farms, there must have been an undercurrent of anxiety as well, an anxiety no different from the one that haunts farmers today in the drought-stricken regions of this country. Would enough rain fall in the coming winter, so that there would be a harvest next year as well?

Thinking about the ambivalence as we approach the final days of Sukkot reminded me of a conversation I had in August.

I was one of 17 American rabbis from across the denominations to travel with an American Jewish World Service (AJWS) delegation to a very, very poor part of Ghana — Sankor, a village on the coast that was rife with child trafficking; for as little as $50, poverty-stricken parents have sold their children to work as slaves on fishing boats on Lake Volta.

But Sankor is also the site of Challenging Heights (CH). A long-term recipient of AJWS’ support, CH was created by a former child slave, James Kofi Annan, to save other children from his fate. The organization rescues trafficked children, rehabilitates them in a special center, counsels and works with the parents, and helps to set the family on their economic feet through microloans and support. Most of all, CH is focused on the children’s education, so that they, and other poor children from Sankor, will have the tools to overcome poverty in the future.

A week before I left on that AJWS Rabbis’ Delegation to Challenging Heights, this is what I packed in my duffel bag:

work clothes (required)

a wide-brimmed hat and wide-mouthed water bottle (required)

a long-sleeved blouse and long skirt (urged by AJWS for visits with traditional villagers)

a mosquito net (absolutely required!)

sunscreen (required)

and — at the last minute, just in case,  I — who have always regarded myself as super-healthy and quite hardy — stuffed in bottles/jars/tubes of ibuprofen, anti-itch cream, anti-diarrheal medication, acid controller, Beanaid, and — you never know — protein bars, fruit and nut bars, energy bars, and … hmm … a few of those newfangled bags of tuna — which in ordinary circumstances I’d never buy.

Even more than those ordinarily never-used over-the-counter medications I brought, it was my urge to pack extra food that betrayed the anxiety I felt about this Ghana trip. In such a poor country, in such a bare-bones place, would there be enough to eat?

So we rabbis arrived at Challenging Heights, both to build and, truly, to be “rebuilt”: to work on construction projects at CH in the mornings and to learn in the afternoons — about CH, as well as the connections among issues of poverty, hunger and human rights abuses around the world, issues inextricable from our own consumption habits as Americans and our country’s foreign aid and food policies. Who suffered when we Westerners did not buy only Fair Trade commodities? What was the human cost of our not holding multinational corporations accountable
for the labor conditions and wages paid to their workers in poor countries? How did our Farm Bill affect faraway small farms in Africa and Asia?

How much and what did we Americans —among the most affluent people on the planet — actually need?

One day, as we wrapped up our construction project and washed our hands in preparation for lunch, a young girl named Juliette asked one of the rabbis where he was going now.

“To eat lunch,” he said.

“May you have food tomorrow,” she responded softly.

Juliette’s words echoed in our ears throughout the rest of our stay. Perhaps it was the overwhelming gratitude we felt for our own sense of plenty; perhaps it was the humility we felt in the presence of these profoundly modest people who were dedicating all their energy to healing the terrible wounds of their society. Perhaps it was a new understanding of “need.”

I began to pay more and more attention to the beauty of the food made for us by Charles Quansah, the cook at Challenging Heights. Although he had a modest budget and a limited array of local ingredients, he succeeded in preparing the most delicious, expertly spiced, vegetarian versions of traditional Ghanaian meals. How foolish and fearful bringing all those bars and bags of tuna felt.

I asked Mr. Quansah for his recipes, determined to bring home the tastes of Challenging Heights.

Sukkot, a time of thanksgiving for our harvest and our full storehouses, a time when we share meals with friends and family in our fragile sukkahs, a time when we rejoice in plenty and yet remember the reality of scarcity, seems to me the perfect time to include the foods of a culture far away from us geographically but with so much to teach us spiritually.

May we savor these recipes I brought back from Challenging Heights and Ghana today, and may we, and all the peoples of the world, have food tomorrow as well.

African migrants remain trapped at border following hearing


A group of African migrants remain trapped at the border with Egypt after Israel's Supreme Court decided to hold another hearing next week on their situation.

The decision to hold a second hearing was made at a court hearing on Thursday. The hearings are in response to a petition filed by the We are Refugees, an Israeli NGO. The petition calls for Israel to provide food, water and medical care to the refugees.

Also Thursday, Israeli police and troops blocked a delegation from the Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights from visiting the trapped migrants.

The 20 African migrants have been trapped for a week between Israel's border fence with Egypt, and Israeli soldiers have been ordered not to let them in.The soldiers reportedly are providing water to the migrants, who include a pregnant woman and a teenage boy. The migrants have refused to be sent back to Egypt.

The Prime Minister's Office on Wednesday evening released a statement saying that Israel is not obligated under international law to allow the migrants to enter, since they do not face persecution in Egypt.

Also Wednesday, the envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Israel, William Tall, called on Israel to allow the refugees to enter Israel and apply for asylum.

Last month, a group of migrants stuck along the border was allowed to enter Israel after four days. They were sent to a holding facility for illegal migrants.

African migrants stuck at Egypt-Israel border


A group of some 20 African migrants is trapped between Israel's border fence with Egypt and Israeli soldiers who have been ordered not to let them in.

The soldiers reportedly are providing water to the migrants, who as of Tuesday had been there for five days. The migrants, who include a pregnant woman, have refused to be sent back to Egypt.

Last month, a group of migrants stuck along the border was allowed to enter Israel after four days. They were sent to a holding facility for illegal migrants. 

Humanitarian organizations have called on Israel to allow the migrants to enter and apply for asylum.

Plot to attack London Jewish neighborhoods is revealed


Documents detailing a plot to attack Jewish neighborhoods in London were found on the body of an African leader of al-Qaida.

The plans, which included plots for a kidnapping and attacks on Eton College and the Ritz and Dorchester hotels in London, were found on the body of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, 38, who was shot last year by Somali forces as he tried to crash through a government checkpoint, the Toronto Star reported Wednesday.

According to the plans, the terrorists would strike London’s Stamford Hill and Golders Green neighborhoods, which are populated with “tens of thousands of Jews crammed in a small area,” the Star reported.

“Our objectives are to strike London with low-cost operations that would cause a heavy blow amongst the hierarchy and Jewish communities,” it says in the document, titled “International Operations.”

“These attacks must be backed with a carefully planned media campaign to show why we chose our targets to refute hypocrites, clear doubts amongst Muslims and also inspire Muslim youth to copy.”

Fazul was indicted in the United States for the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya that left 224 dead.

A close ally of Osama bin Laden, Fazul was killed just six weeks after the al-Qaida founder.

Israel’s refugee crisis: How about a Jewish response?


What shall be done about the large number of non-citizens who dwell in Israel?  This question is no longer merely vexing; it is urgent, inflammatory, sometimes violent, often vulgar.

The ger has a long and detailed history in Jewish texts and thought.  Its conventional translation is “stranger” but you don’t have to search hard to find alternatives: sojourner, foreigner, alien. 

Who are today’s aliens? There are some 14,000 migrant workers who entered the country legally but whose visas have expired or otherwise become void.  There are a number of Palestinians and Jordanians who work in Israel, some illegally.  There are more from other population groups.  And there’s the heart of the current matter, nearly 60,000 irregular immigrants, defined by the Ministry of the Interior as “infiltrators.”  They have arrived in Israel from Eritrea (60%), Sudan (25%), the balance from the Democratic Republic of Congo and other African countries; they come via Sinai, where many experience brutality from Bedouin gangs who guide them to the Israeli border.  Once in Israel, if identified as Sudanese or Eritrean, they are detained for a few weeks and then given a document that is, in effect, a deferred deportation order that must be periodically renewed and that explicitly states that it is not a work permit, plus a one-way bus ticket to Tel Aviv, where they are dropped at a park near the Central Bus Station.  And it is typically in that same neighborhood that they find shelter, work, and some social and medical services provided by volunteers.

These days, they also find rampant hostility from others in the neighborhood, hostility that has lately been marked by violence and by unambiguously racist slogans, hostility that has been encouraged by a number of Israeli politicians, most notably Eli Yishai, Minister of the Interior.  It is Yishai’s ministry that has formal responsibility for handling immigration issues, and the currently operative policy includes a law that was passed last January, holding that a camp shall be built near Saharonim, in the Negev, for these “illegals” (including their children), with buildings to house 13,600 of them and tents for the others.  The law provides that they may be detained there for three years or more.

The plan bumps head-on into two bodies of law.  First, there is the clear and repeated Biblical statement: “You shall not oppress a stranger, because you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt [Exodus 23:9]”  More proactively, in Deuteronomy [10:19]: “You are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.”  And still more: “There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you [Exodus 12:49]”.  It is difficult, to say the least, to square current Israeli policy with these precepts.

Still, the practical utility of such precepts is arguable.  Less arguable are the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees, adopted in 1951 with Israel’s intense involvement and enthusiastic endorsement.  (Back then, the urgent problem was Europe’s displaced persons.) 

Who is a refugee?  The Convention, amended in a 1967 Protocol, defines the word: “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” 

No one reasonably argues that according to that language, the 60,000 irregular immigrants in Israel are not refugees.  But: Since 1948, Israel has awarded refugee status to exactly 166 people.  In recent years, Israel has categorically denied Eritreans and Sudanese access to refugee status determination, which leaves them in a legal limbo. And therein lies the outrage as also the plain violation of international law. 

The Convention also forbids the arbitrary detention of illegal immigrants – i.e., in this context, people who have entered Israel via Egypt.  Hence the plans for a massive detention center are also a violation of Israel’s legal obligations.

The Forward reports (June 17) growing recognition of these issues by Israel’s leadership.  Whereas Prime Minister Netanyahu said on May 29, in the immediate aftermath of the anti-immigrant rioting, “My policy on the matter of the illegal foreign workers is clear: First, stop their entry through the fence, while at the same time, expel all infiltrators from Israel,” by June 4 he admitted that Israel cannot consider deporting the vast majority of African immigrants, due to the poor political or humanitarian situation in their countries.  “It’s clear that we cannot return Sudanese and Eritreans to their countries,” Netanyahu said.

Presumably, that means that Israel now intends to finish the fence under construction along the Sinai border and to proceed with the development of the detention center near Saharonim. 

The truth is that any alternative policy is enormously complicated.  Making asylum a reality and enabling refugees to live in dignity raises endless problems.  But here’s another truth: We who were slaves – strangers, aliens – unto Pharaoh in Egypt, we who therefore know the heart of the stranger – ought we not insist that plausible claims for asylum be processed?  Or: If we expect others to acknowledge that Israel is a Jewish state, is it wrong to expect that it will behave as one?

Out of Israel, back to Africa


African migrants chosen for deportation from Israel were nervously awaiting a knock on the door or a tap on the shoulder on Tuesday as immigration officials rounded up hundreds for departure flights due to begin at the weekend.

“The people are very tense. It’s pretty traumatic,” said Jacob Berri, a spokesman for the South Sudanese community of migrants, the first to be repatriated under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s emergency plan.

“There are children here who only speak Hebrew. They won’t even know the language where they’re going,” Berri said.

Africans were being stopped on the street and issued deportation orders, he added. “About 100 more have been arrested this morning.”

Many of the migrants have been working in hotels and restaurants, while others have been holding down manual jobs or working as contracted day labor. All of them were technically working illegally.

Israeli opinion is divided over plans to eventually deport some 60,000 African migrants deemed a social irritant and a threat to the Jewish character of the state. A columnist in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth called it “hysteria”. Another in the same paper said the methods may be “needlessly brutal” but it was necessary.

The first deportation flight is expected to leave Israel on Sunday for Juba, the capital of South Sudan, as part of what Israel calls Operation Returning Home.

Detentions began on Sunday in the Red Sea resort of Eilat, where Israeli television filmed weeping African women and men in handcuffs. Those detained were sent to the Saharonim detention facility in the Negev Desert, close to where they first entered Israel over the porous Sinai Desert border with Egypt.

The South Sudanese, whose country was established in 2011 after they fled civil war in Sudan five or six years ago, will be the first to be repatriated, under an agreement between South Sudan and Israel. They number only some 1,500.

“The next stage is the removal from Israel of all the infiltrators from Eritrea and Sudan, whose number comes close to 50,000 people,” said Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

It is legally questionable whether Israel can actually remove all of the migrants and some critics have said the government’s tough rhetoric is far removed from reality.

“At the moment, we are permitted only to deport from Israel the citizens of South Sudan and the Ivory Coast,” the minister was quoted as saying.

“I hear those who say these infiltrators cannot be sent back, but this is an important mission …saying “No” is tantamount to shelving the declaration of independence, the end of the Zionist dream,” said Yishai, who heads a religious party.

CASH LEAVING GRANT

South Sudanese who agree to deportation within five days will receive a grant of 1,000 euros. Those who do not are interned until they can be forcibly repatriated.

“We have arrested about 140 infiltrators up until last night, a main portion of whom are South Sudanese,” senior immigration official Yossi Edelstein told Israel Radio.

“There is also an impressive movement in the South Sudanese community of people coming to us to leave on their own free will. About 100 people have come forward to register…”

Israel, a country of 7.8 million, has almost completed a high fence along the border to deter more would-be migrants who are brought to the frontier by Bedouin people-smugglers.

Newspaper reports said Netanyahu had asked officials to examine whether a fence should now also be built along the border with southern Jordan, in the event that migrants try to cross the narrow Gulf of Aqaba and enter Israel from the Arab kingdom.

An Eilat hotel director said the expulsions were “a terrible shame”. “Most of them are educated people who fled from a bloody war in their homeland. They speak a number of languages, most of them are Christian, and they did their job in the best way possible,” David Blum of Isrotel was quoted as saying.

Thousands of Palestinians used to come into Israel daily from the West Bank and Gaza to do mostly minimum-wage jobs. But tight security provisions to prevent attacks by Palestinian militants ended that mutually beneficial arrangement years ago.

Netanyahu says legislation to stop the illegal hiring of Africans would now be strictly enforced.

Despite claims of rampant crime in sections of south Tel Aviv where most Africans live, a senior police commander, David Gez, was quoted as saying the level of crime among the migrants was relatively low.

Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell; Edited by Andrew Osborn

Israel will solve African migrant problem, Netanyahu assures


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried violence against African migrants following a night of violent protest.

“There is no place for either the expressions or the actions that we witnessed last night,” Netanyahu said Thursday, a day after a demonstration in south Tel Aviv against illegal African migrants turned violent. “I say this to the public at large as well as to the residents of south Tel Aviv, whose pain I understand.”

Netanyahu said the problem of the infiltrators would be solved.

“We will complete construction of the fence within a few months and we will soon begin repatriating infiltrators back to their countries of origin,” he said.

Wednesday night’s violent protest in south Tel Aviv’s Hatikvah neighborhood, involving about 1,000 protesters, ended with 17 arrests.

Protesters attacked African migrants who passed the demonstration, and smashed the windshield of a car carrying three migrants as well as other car windows. They also set trash bins on fire and threw firecrackers at police, Ynet reported. The rioters also broke into and looted shops associated with the African migrant community.

Meanwhile, the head of Peace Now, Yariv Oppenheimer, called on Israel’s attorney general to investigate three Israeli lawmakers who he said incited violence and racism during their speeches at the protest.

The lawmakers who participated in the protest were Miri Regev and Danny Danon of the Likud Party and Michael Ben-Ari of the National Union Party. Regev, for example, called the Sudanese “a cancer.”

The Israeli daily Yediot Achronot reported Thursday that the Public Security Ministry is considering deploying Border Guard troops in south Tel Aviv to prevent problems between residents and African migrants, and to fight crime associated with the migrants.

Israel’s Justice Ministry announced Wednesday that migrant workers from South Sudan could be returned to their country after it is established that they are not eligible for political asylum.

More than 50,000 African migrants and asylum seekers are living in Tel Aviv alone, according to government reports. Most entered through the border with Sinai.

On Sunday, Netanyahu said that the surge of illegal African migrants into Israel “threatens national security and identity.” Last week, Interior Minister Eli Yishai told Army Radio that most African migrants in Israel are involved in criminal activity and should be imprisoned and deported to their countries of origin.

U.S. Jewish groups condemn anti-African violence in Tel Aviv


Jewish groups called on Israel to protect African migrants in Israel after riots in Tel Aviv.

“We hope and expect that the authorities will take effective measures to protect this population from further violence and that legitimate requests by refugees to remain in Israel based on fear of persecution in their home countries will be considered humanely and with due process taking into account internationally accepted norms,” Rabbi Steve Gutow, the president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the community’s public policy umbrella, said in a statement on Thursday.

Wednesday night’s violent riots in south Tel Aviv’s Hatikvah neighborhood ended with 17 arrests. The violence followed a rally against the presence of the migrants.

Africans who passed by the rally were attacked. Rioters smashed the windshield of a car carrying three migrants as well as other car windows. The rioters also set trash bins on fire and threw firecrackers at police, Ynet reported.

The rioters also broke into and looted shops associated with the African migrant community.

The Anti-Defamation League said it was “seriously concerned about the growing tensions in Israel over the issue of African migrants, and reports of lawlessness and violence committed by and directed against the migrants.”

“While we recognize the complexity involved in properly addressing this issue, and sympathize with Israeli citizens whose personal security has been compromised by the lawlessness and violence of some migrants, we are disturbed by inflammatory public statements made by certain Israeli officials, some of which has veered into racism,” the ADL statement said. “It is imperative that reasonable solutions be found to confront these challenges, one that humanly treats the migrants while ensuring the security concerns of Israeli citizens are properly addressed.”

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism condemned the violence.

“Such violence has no place in any civilized society, much less Israel, the nation state of the Jewish people who have throughout history known similar horrors rooted in ethnic and religious differences,” the RAC’s director, Rabbi David Saperstein, said in a statement. “It is shameful that yesterday’s rally instead devolved into chaos and brutality. It is also shameful that members of the Knesset made inflammatory statements that likely contributed to an atmosphere conducive to such violence.”

All three groups welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s condemnation of the violence.

Tel Aviv protest against African migrants turns violent


A demonstration in south Tel Aviv against illegal African migrants turned violent.

More than a thousand protesters gathered Wednesday in the Hatikvah neighborhood carrying signs reading “South Tel Aviv a refugee camp” and “Infiltrators, leave our home.”

Protesters attacked African migrants who passed the demonstration, and smashed the windshield of a car carrying three migrants. They also set trash bins on fire and threw firecrackers at police, Ynet reported.

At least nine protesters were arrested.

Protests also were held Wednesday in Bnei Brak, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Eilat.

Israel’s Justice Ministry announced Wednesday that migrant workers from South Sudan could be returned to their country after it is established that they are not eligible for political asylum.

More than 50,000 African migrants and asylum seekers are living in Tel Aviv alone, according to government reports. Most entered through the border with Sinai.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the surge of illegal African migrants into Israel “threatens national security and identity.” Last week, Interior Minister Eli Yishai told Army Radio that most African migrants in Israel are involved in criminal activity and should be imprisoned and deported to their countries of origin.

OPINION: Not in my name


Yesterday, someone shared a picture of an Israeli woman wearing a shirt that read “Death to the Sudanese” on my Facebook wall. The woman was a Tel Aviv resident taking part in a protest on Tuesday night to encourage the Israeli government to deport African asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea. Asylum seekers were violently attacked and their car and grocery store windows were shattered. According to Haaretz newspaper, the protest was organized by Knesset member Michael Ben Ari, and Miri Regev, another Knesset member, called the Sudanese “a cancer in our body.”The Jerusalem Post recently reported on the Molotov cocktails thrown into a Nigerian woman’s open day care and an Eritrean family’s private apartment in Tel Aviv’s Shapira neighborhood. Violence against the African asylum seekers in Israel has been exponentially rising. These incidents reminded me of all the violence and hatred ensuing in Israeli society toward African asylum seekers. This is not the first case of violence against African asylum seekers. There have been many hate crimes perpetrated against Eritrean, Sudanese and other asylum seekers of African descent for the past few years. Whether it’s the government, the media or Israeli society influencing or perpetrating these abominable acts, this racial violence and prejudice must be stopped.

Israel, let us recall, was one of the founding signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention, implemented by the United Nations in response to the abundance of refugees in Europe after the Holocaust. Israel, however, never ratified the convention, and Netanyahu’s government has made the daily life of asylum seekers today as challenging as possible in an effort to get people to leave without actually kicking them out.

Since 2005, asylum seekers from Africa have entered Israel’s borders through the Sinai desert in Egypt. Eritrea’s brutal dictatorship, the genocide in Darfur and the longest-running African civil war (South Sudan) have led to the flight of these people from their homelands. I am often asked why Israel is the destination country for most of these migrants. The answer is: It isn’t. There are millions of Sudanese and Eritrean refugees in other countries, most of them in other African countries or in Egypt, Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia. The 50,000 people who have made their way to Israel are a tiny minority of this entire population of refugees. Without anywhere to go, many asylum seekers started making their way to Israel, seeking out Bedouin-organized smugglers who know the vast Sinai terrain to help them.

While I do fault Egypt for allowing Bedouin criminal organizations to conduct systematic rape, torture and organ trafficking within its borders, I feel that it is also our responsibility, as Jews in Israel and abroad, to assist those who have suffered such abominations and now reside in our country — one that prides itself on existing in the Jewish name and on implementing Jewish values. We pride ourselves on being advocates against another Holocaust taking place, and we have been instrumental in the fight to end the genocide in Darfur, but when it has come to Israel’s treatment of African asylum seekers, we look the other way. It is true that Israel is a tiny country trying to maintain its Jewish majority, but no moral person could accept this rationale as an acceptable excuse for the ongoing strain of misbehavior toward Africans, especially not when the racial undertones to these policies are so obvious.

There have been numerous claims that the asylum seekers are raping and burglarizing the Israelis, but the statistics of the police department prove otherwise. The crime rates among the African asylum seekers are much lower than that of the general Israeli population. While I do not excuse or condone any crime whatsoever, I do believe that it is unacceptable to exaggerate and make erroneous claims about an entire population of people. 

Israel’s lack of policy on refugees is going to explode in our faces sooner than we think. The government provides no services whatsoever to the African asylum seekers and goes so far as to print visas denying permission to work. Netanyahu’s solution to the “problem” is to build a gigantic detention facility isolated in the Negev Desert, where 10,000 “infiltrators,” as the government calls the asylum seekers, will be housed. The facility is designed after the notorious Australian detention facilities, which have proven to lead to high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression, and suicide attempts in both adult and child occupants. Israel’s facility is currently under construction, and the Israel Prison Service will run it. Those detained will be kept in the facility for indefinite periods of time, as they are incapable of applying for refugee status in Israel. Even though it is illegal under international law to treat asylum seekers as criminals, the government’s recent passing of the Anti-Infiltration Law makes it apparent that this is exactly what is happening: “Infiltrators” may now be kept in detention (prison) for up to three years without trial and without due process.

I believe that we, the Jewish people, all of us refugees at some point in our histories, know better. I urge Israel to implement a transparent and just procedure for asylum seekers to gain refugee status and rights, as we requested in the Refugee Convention and as every other Western democratic country in this world has implemented, so that those who are suffering from today’s genocides, dictatorships and atrocities can live in dignity. As Rabbi Hillel stated so pointedly, “In a place where there is no person to make a difference, strive to be that person.”

As a New Israel Fund Social Justice Fellow working for ASSAF, Maya Paley published two reports on the livelihoods and communities of the Sudanese and Eritrean populations in Israel, pointing out the effects of Israel’s policies on their psychological and physical wellbeing.

Deport African migrant criminals, Israel’s Yishai says


Most African migrants in Israel are involved in criminal activity and should be imprisoned and deported, Israel’s interior minister said.

Only a small number of the Africans who have infiltrated into Israel are refugees and should be treated as such, Eli Yishai said Wednesday in a widely reported interview with Army Radio. Yishai suggested giving the migrants a repatriation grant before returning them to their countries of origin.

Yishai made his remarks following several violent crimes allegedly committed by African migrants.

On Tuesday, police arrested four migrants from Eritrea and Sudan for raping a woman in Tel Aviv. Another African migrant was arrested earlier this week for raping a high school student at a graduation party.

There are more than 50,000 African migrants and asylum seekers in Tel Aviv alone, according to government reports. Most entered through the border with Sinai.

Yishai on several occasions—as recently as Monday—called the refugees an existential threat to Israel, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Opinion: Fishing in Africa


To meet Ikal Angelei in a Wilshire Boulevard coffee shop, as I did this week, is to traverse oceans and travel through deserts. Angelei is an activist from Kenya specializing in the geopolitics of water, a 32-year-old powerhouse who just won a highly prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, said to be the “the largest award in the world for grassroots environmentalists.” The award, for which she was sponsored by the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) and which brings with it $150,000, was created by the late San Francisco-based philanthropic couple Richard N. and Rhoda H. Goldman, who in addition to their environmental advocacy were active supporters of the arts and Jewish culture.

It’s a long way from our world to Angelei’s, but hers is an important story for us all — raising issues of how our tax dollars are spent in faraway lands, how genocide can be prevented, how the effects of global warming have become very real to some people, and how one person can make a very big difference just by lending an ear and using her voice.

Angelei is fighting to save her land’s most important natural resource. East Africa’s Rift Valley and Lake Turkana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the source of some of the world’s oldest fossils, as well as for its crocodiles, hippos and other wildlife. The region is home to six tribes of indigenous peoples who are farmers, herders and fishermen, and who in recent years have begun to fight one another for resources for their crops and their cattle.

“These people don’t see borders,” Angelei told me. “They see the delta that once was in Ethiopia, and now it’s in Kenya. They don’t understand the difference.” Over the past 40 years, due to climate change, the lake has receded, decreasing water supply — and increasing the salinity of what is left — a problem both for animals and for people.

“Last year, we lost 124 people in one day of violence,” Angelei told me with a disarming equanimity. She said she was in the village of Todonyang, in the northeastern corner of the Turkana region, when the attack took place. “I work in that village, and I still sleep there. My family hates that I do.”

The intertribal violence will get worse and likely could turn into all-out genocide, Angelei predicts, if a dam called the Gibe 3 Dam is completed along the Omo River, the source of 90 percent of Lake Turkana’s water, the life source for a region whose indigenous population numbers about 500,000 people. The dam project, begun in 2006 in Ethiopia, is designed to provide hydroelectric power to both Ethiopia and Kenya, supported by both nations.

Normally, we might think that providing electricity is a good thing in a primitive region, right? The problem is the Gibe 3 Dam, often compared to China’s Three Gorges Dam, would, Angelei asserts, severely damage the lake and leave people without food or livelihood.

Think of the violence and destruction in the Sudan — of the advocacy work now being done to repair lives — and consider how that could be the future of this region of Kenya, an entirely preventable outcome if construction of the dam is reconsidered. Because when the plans for the Gibe 3 Dam were put in place, no independent environmental review was done. The fact is, the dam wasn’t being built just to bring electrical power to people, Angelei says; the project, funded in part by China and, initially, with money promised by the World Bank, was expected to encourage multinational corporations to get a foothold in the region.

For the moment, Angelei, this fearless young woman with an enormously bright smile, is attempting to bring a different kind of power — a voice — to her community. And she’s had some success. She is a community organizer, and she has told the story of the coming dam to tribal elders, chiefs and anyone who will listen. Before her, they knew nothing about it, despite its looming impact. Angelei described to me how she has sat for hours listening to elders tell their own stories, just so she could get a chance to share hers as well. And in the process, she’s brought together all six tribes with just one cause: halting the construction. In 2009, the locals created a “Lake Turkana’s People’s Declaration” allowing Angelei’s organization, Friends of Lake Turkana, to represent them.

Angelei and other tribal members took their mandate to Kenya’s leaders and convinced its parliament to endorse the first independent environmental review of the project. She also was instrumental in getting UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee to pass a resolution to halt construction of the dam until further review, and she convinced the World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the African Development Bank to withdraw consideration of financing of the dam. For the moment, her voice — the people’s voice — has been heard.

So what’s our part in all of this? Allison Lee, the L.A. regional director for AJWS, host for Angelei’s visit to Los Angeles, explained that U.S. tax dollars support aid to foreign lands through the U.S. Farm Bill, which is up for reconsideration right now in the U.S. Senate. What makes this related to Angelei’s cause is that our Farm Bill, as currently written, only supports food aid to foreign lands through delivery of food products from the United States. This does not allow for how our gift might affect food production there. U.S. food gets delivered to, say, Kenya, and as a result, local farmers can’t afford to price their own goods competitively. Add that challenge to drought, wars over rights to build a dam, and we’re all complicit in a potential collision of interests where the indigenous men, women and children on the ground get hurt.

What can we do? We can advocate for reform in the Farm Bill. We can support the Friends of Lake Turkana and their right to have a voice in determining what happens to their land. In doing so, we will help prevent genocide. These farmers and fishermen need our advocacy for their efforts, not our food. As Lee put it, “We need to recognize that Ikal [Angelei] and the people in Ikal’s village are best-suited to implement change.”

Maimonides taught us that the highest form of charity is to teach a man to support himself. Similarly, an ancient Chinese proverb instructs: “Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he can feed himself for life.” 

These people know how to fish. They want to care for themselves. What we have to do is figure out how to help people like Angelei to allow them to keep their resources and their ability to continue to do so.

Out of Africa


Rachel Sapire’s story begins in Africa: first in Egypt, where her maternal grandmother was forced to flee because of anti-Semitism and then, farther south, in Zimbabwe, where she forged a new life and gave birth to Sapire’s mother. Sapire’s father was born and raised in South Africa, so Sapire spent her formative years traveling to that exotic land, where AIDS and animals and enormous inflation colored her youth.

Now she’s off to Harvard.

“I really loved visiting there,” Sapire said of the long summer months she spent in the African heat. “But it’s hard to go back. There are a lot more problems; there’s a lot of crime, so we don’t really go anymore. We used to have so much family there, and now everyone has left.”

In a way, it’s her very own Jewish exile story, with the hard-edged lessons and the yearning to return that have irrevocably shaped her — even from the sun-soaked, breezy streets of Pacific Palisades, where she grew up. It was in Zimbabwe, for instance, that Sapire saw firsthand the social stigma that precluded those infected with HIV/AIDS from seeking treatment. “I knew someone working for my grandparents’ friends and she was HIV positive. But she never admitted it. She took care of this family’s baby, had been abandoned and disowned by her family, but never said anything, because she was scared,” Sapire said.

This story prompted Sapire to enroll in a summer course on global health at Brown University, where a teacher introduced her to the Partners in Health subsidiary, Face AIDS, a youth organization that provides socioeconomic support to infected communities in Africa. Sapire soon launched a local chapter at Milken Community High School, and from there became one of two high school students — out of seven mostly college students — to earn a seat on the group’s national board. At the moment, she’s in the throes of planning their next annual conference, set to take place next fall at Stanford University, where New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof will speak.

When she’s not trying to save the world, or locked in her room knee-deep in textbooks (yes, she has one of those GPAs), Sapire retreats to the quietude of creating art. She said she’s been painting and drawing her “whole life” and was part of a small group that designed and implemented a mosaic wall at Milken Middle School. Maybe more than the art itself, Sapire likes the artistic process, the break it provides from her highly programmed, fast-moving world. In an
Advanced Placement art class, she developed a concept project with a water theme, explaining that she is “inspired by many things that people often overlook.”

Maybe that’s why Sapire has devoted more than 300 hours of her high school career to volunteering. On Sundays, she and her mother visit the Valley-based organization Friends For Pets, where they walk dogs that spend all week locked in cages.

Her fluency in issues of global concern (and her proficiency in Hebrew and Chinese) suggest the seriousness of Sapire’s worldly ambitions — whether in fieldwork, public health or scientific research. “Something that requires a lot of traveling,” she said. And she is not the least bit overwhelmed by the magnitude of the world’s lack — she’ll do what she can, she said. After all, her motto is: “Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.”

With new investments, Israel again is looking to Africa


Soon after Israel itself was born, it began investing significant resources in development assistance in Africa.

Israel’s official development work there waned over the decades, but in recent years Africa again has become a target for Israeli development work by nonprofit organizations and corporations. Particularly in areas like water resource management, agriculture, renewable energy, infrastructure and telemedicine, experts say Israel has much to offer the developing continent.

“In the same way we are a high-tech power, we can become a development tech power, because our problems are their problems and our expertise fits their needs,” said Aliza Belman Inbal of Tel Aviv University’s Hartog School of Government and Policy.

New thinking is beginning to take root that it is in Israel’s interest both economically and as a tool to boost its international standing to again look toward Africa.

“So many things we do are so relevant for these countries,” she said. “We have the capacity to help Africa in ways other countries cannot and to help build a positive agenda to show Israel can offer good to the world.”

Early Israeli leaders such as Golda Meir had dispatched agricultural and other experts across Africa in a policy that mixed altruism with the hope that newly independent African states might become staunch allies.

The burgeoning interest of Israeli humanitarians, businesspeople and government officials in Africa can be seen in Israeli medical missions which have gone to the furthest reaches of war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo and business pouring resources into developing Africa’s booming cellular phone market, which is the fastest growing in the world. Small nongovernmental organizations are getting involved, like Jewish Heart for Africa, which introduced Israeli solar technologies to produce electricity in orphanages, schools and clinics in Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi.

“Israelis really do like to share their know-how, and we believe in helping build African communities,” said Shachar Zahavi, executive director of IsraAID, a consortium of Israeli and Jewish aid organizations that work in developing countries, including those like Japan and Haiti that require disaster assistance.

“We are seeing both a younger generation of Israelis who during their post-army travels want to do something meaningful with their time abroad seek out volunteering,” Zahavi said, “and at the same time we are seeing more and more companies looking to build and adapt their products for the developing world.”

On May 29, several hundred people gathered in Herzliya for an IsraAID-organized conference on Israeli involvement in Africa. Bob Geldof, the Irish rock singer who staged the 1985 Live Aid concert for famine relief in Africa and its 2005 counterpart advocating for debt relief, delivered the keynote address.

“It’s a great thing you are doing today because the world knows that this region is convulsed in its own problems,” Geldof said. In his speech, he urged Israel not to use the Israeli-Arab conflict as an excuse to refrain from engaging in the developing world.

“The Jewish people for centuries have used their intellect and culture to be open—that’s what you guys do,” said Geldof, who had a Jewish grandmother. “Do not be forced from turning away from the world.”

Israel’s development aid to Africa shrunk to its current low levels following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when most African states severed ties with Israel. That ended a period in which Israel sent some 5,000 experts in agriculture, water management and other fields throughout the developing world.

Mashav, the Israeli government agency responsible for aid programs, was one of the largest departments in the Foreign Ministry in the 1960s, but its budget has shrunk drastically. Today, Israel gives markedly less in overseas aid according to gross national income than most of its counterparts in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Israel currently has relatively little trade targeted toward Africa. In 2010, Israeli exports to Africa excluding diamonds reached $1.3 billion, as compared to $8.4 billion to Asia or $12.7 billion to the United States, according to Dan Catarivas, director of the foreign trade division of the Israeli Manufacturers Association.

But Africa’s potential as one of the world’s fastest growing economic areas is beginning to attract attention by Israeli and international firms.

A recent report by McKinsey, the international consulting firm, suggested that the future survival of global companies will depend on their ability to focus on what they term “innovation to win in low-cost, high-growth countries” like those found in Africa. According to McKinsey, in the next decade such emerging-market economies, now on the sidelines, will become central global economic players.

Signs of change are already here. There are many Israeli companies in Africa involved in building roads and hospitals and working in water management and medicine.

The Israeli irrigation company Netafim introduced low-pressure, low-cost drip irrigation systems for subsistence farmers, providing them with enough water to raise crops year round.

“We are a private company and our luck is that we are doing well by doing good by giving answers to problems like hunger,” said Naty Barak, head of sustainable development at Netafim.

In a Kenyan village called Kitui, Barak said that 200 poor, small-scale vegetable growers who adopted Netafim’s product saw a 140 percent increase of harvested yield and a 200 percent increase in income while saving about 60 percent of water resources. Previously, they had irrigated crops by hauling water from wells.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry also is becoming involved, inviting African business delegations to Israel to learn more about its industries and twinning economic attaches at Israeli embassies in Africa with Israeli companies to help scope out opportunities.

“We are sending the message that it is good to do business with Africa,” Rafael Harpaz, director of the ministry’s economic department that deals with the Americas and Africa, told JTA. “There is potential to grow, and we are looking for new markets to trade with. If the Israeli economy is going to grow, it needs these new markets.”

To that end, the Foreign Trade Administration, a department within the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, is seeking new policies that will help harness Israel’s competitive advantage in the developing world, including Africa.

Jewish Heart for Africa said that bringing Israeli know-how to Africa is particularly attractive to its donor base of young American Jews.

“Young donors like our projects,” said Sivan Borowich Ya’ari, the organization’s founder and president, “because we are not only helping Africa but helping Israel by helping the Israeli economy and Israel’s image.”

Yaroslavsky observes Nigeria’s democratic process


Zev Yaroslavsky’s latest nation-building assignment wasn’t easy.  Dispatched to Nigeria as part of an international corps of election observers, he checked on polling places during elections this month in a nation better known for ethnic violence and corruption than orderly changes in government.

I talked to the Los Angeles County supervisor on the phone last week as the United States was engaged in doubtful efforts to install some form of democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya and is hoping for democratic regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Syria.

Yaroslavsky has served as an international election observer for the past several years, an assignment given him by the Washington-based National Democratic Institute. He has learned something about trying to plant democratic institutions in unwilling nations. He previously served in Romania, Mexico and Ukraine.

From those experiences, he has a realistic view of the process of building democratic nations.

“A free and transparent election does not in itself mean you are living in a democracy,” he said. “The institutions that protect democracy, the rule of law, have a great trouble taking root when people are starving.

“It’s not enough to have a free and open election if the person you are electing is becoming part of a government that is corrupt and insensitive to the needs of the people. Once the election is over, the political and social institutions that protect [the results of] that vote are as critical as the election itself.”

That’s a major challenge in Nigeria. The nation is one of the world’s largest oil producers, but, a BBC analysis noted, “Few Nigerians, including those in oil-producing areas, have benefited from the oil wealth.” Nigeria is the United States’ fourth-largest source of imported oil, ranking below Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

Yaroslavsky observed Nigeria’s national assembly elections April 9 and then returned to Los Angeles. Later in the month, President Goodluck Jonathan was elected to a full term in a contest marked by a sharp division between the Muslim north and the Christian south. Supporters of the loser, Muhammadu Buhari, who is popular in the north, rioted afterward. The Web site allAfrica.com reported 121 people were killed and hundreds injured in post-election violence.

When Yaroslavsky and others on the observer team met before scattering throughout the country, they were wary of the outcome. And Election Day, he wrote in his blog, “started ominously.”

“The night before, a terrorist bomb exploded in the city of Suleja, 12 miles from the nation’s capital, Abuja. At least 13 people were killed. There were several other incidents Friday night that were obviously designed to disrupt the election.” He added, “It didn’t work.”

But although “the prospects of a successful democratic election are very slim … what happened in this election, if you judge by what Nigeria has had over the last 12 years, was a dramatic improvement.”

As for himself, Yaroslavsky found the work exhausting. He wrote in his blog, “It took hours in the a.m. for people to check in, and then several more hours in the p.m. for voters to cast their ballots. All voting was outdoors, and it was hot and humid. I was wiped out, and I had an air-conditioned car to which to escape. I can’t imagine what women with babies on their backs were going through, standing for hours at a time. These waits created some episodic tension.”

In the end, Yaroslavsky felt the effort was more than worthwhile: “On the whole, the consensus of opinion of all the observation groups was that the will of the Nigerian people was represented in this election.”

While watching the voting in sweltering heat, he was impressed by the voters. The complicated Nigerian election procedures require them to sign up, and then wait to vote. He said they stood “for five hours outdoors … in 95 degree heat and 97 degree humidity. … Here were these women, many with babies on their backs, standing for hours at a time just to cast their vote, and many stayed for the count.”

Next up for Yaroslavsky is the decision on whether he will run for mayor of Los Angeles in 2013. Even though the election is far away, politicians, their fundraisers and campaign managers are already at work.

The others interested in the race are City Controller Wendy Greuel, Councilwoman Jan Perry, Council President Eric Garcetti, former mayoral aide and businessman Austin Beutner, developer Rick Caruso and state Sen. Alex Padilla. Yaroslavsky is best known from his years as a member of the city council and the board of supervisors. He’s also part of the Westside-West Valley Jewish community, which should help with votes and fundraising.

“I’m looking at it very seriously,” Yaroslavsky said. “I’ll make a decision by this summer. I am doing my due diligence, talking to my supporters. It’s an important election. The city is at a crossroads.“

If he runs, it sounds as if Yaroslavsky will run against the city hall insiders. Years ago, he was once one of them but most — if not all — of his old colleagues are gone.

“City hall is like summer camp,” he said. “You go to camp and leave reality. It’s become surreal and unreal.”

A mayoral election would be more peaceful than the one he observed in Nigeria. But, in a much more mild way, the challenge is the same — campaigning among many ethnic and economic groups, all of them convinced they are right.

Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for The Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

Rabbi attacked by African killer bees in Zimbabwe


A rabbi handing out matzah and wine for Passover to Jews in Zimbabwe was attacked by a swarm of African killer bees.

Moshe Silberhaft, the spiritual leader and executive director of the African Jewish Congress known as “The Traveling Rabbi,” was making a pre-Passover visit to the 190 Jews left in the beleaguered capital of Harare when he was attacked by the bees while walking from the Ashkenazi synagogue to the Sephardi synagogue on the Shabbat of April 2.

The rabbi was being accompanied by the Ashkenazi synagogue’s Torah reader, Yosi Kably. 

“They suddenly swarmed on us from nowhere, buzzing around our heads and in our ears,” Silberhaft said of the bees from the hive located under a wooden pole. “We didn’t even hear them coming.”

After being stung repeatedly the two men ran into traffic, pounding on car windows, but no one would risk opening their windows for fear of letting in the bees. Passers-by attempted to help by spraying the bees with a poison and setting a tire alight to smoke them out.

Silberhaft and Kably called for help and were taken to a private doctor’s clinic, where they received adrenaline, oxygen, antihistamines, cortisone and painkillers. Some of the stingers were pulled out one by one by the doctor and assistants.

The rabbi returned to Johannesburg with stingers still on his head, nose and hands, as well as in his ears.

Silberhaft, a regular visitor to Zimbabwe and other sub-Saharan African countries, was visibly upset at missing the service and was saddened that the incident occurred on Shabbat.

“Africa is not for sissies,” he said.

African countries honor apartheid-fighting Jews with stamps


Three African countries issued a set of commemorative postal sheets remembering famous Jews who fought apartheid in South Africa.

Liberia, Sierra Leone and Gambia issued the three black-and-white postal stamp sheets at the beginning of March.

“This stamp issue acknowledges the extraordinary sacrifices made by Jews to the liberation of their African brethren, and these stamps recognize some of the most significant contributors to global humanity in the 20th Century,” reads the introduction to a website dedicated to the new stamps.

The stamps honor from Liberia, Helen Suzman, Eli Weinberg, Esther Barsel and Hymie Barsel; from Sierra Leone, Yetta Barenblatt, Ray Alexander Simons, Baruch Hirson and Norma Kitson; and from Gambia, Ruth First, Hilda Bernstein, Lionel “Rusty” Bernstein and Ronald Segal.