December 12, 2018

Election Collection: Fresh and Familiar

Once again, it’s time to talk about Israel’s next elections.

Earlier this week, two events made early elections — possibly in May — much more likely. Event one: The police recommended to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on bribery charges. Event two: Israel’s Supreme Court gave the government until mid-January to pass a military draft law, for which there is not majority support among current coalition members. To prepare for this event, read the next eight comments (it’s Hanukkah, so eight is the only number we considered appropriate). And note that events on Israel’s northern border can thwart all previous calculations. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched an operation in the north on the morning of Dec. 3 to expose and destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels. The operation was limited in scope, but one never knows where it might lead (I’ll update developments concerning this operation on the website).

1. Regarding Israel’s elections: It’s early. It’s not known who is running or how. Former IDF Chief of Staff Benni Gantz faces possibly the most important decision. Polls show that he can get more than 15 in the Knesset as a head of a stand-alone party, or close to 25 as the head of the Zionist Camp. With more seats, he might conceive of becoming the next prime minister. With an independent party, he has more flexibility in joining various possible coalitions and securing a significant portfolio. So going it alone makes more sense, as long as Netanyahu seems likely to have the majority to remain as prime minister. 

2. If you believe the polls (I do, based on experience), if Gantz runs alone, the Zionist Camp is in huge trouble. It is likely to become insignificant even as an opposition party. 

3. The polls also show that Netanyahu can have a small yet coherent coalition without Gantz or Yair Lapid. Or he can invite one of these two into his coalition and have a very large coalition. Or he can invite both and have a gigantic coalition (possibly more than 80 seats). The question, of course, is whether it can also be functional. 

Netanyahu did well this term with a small and coherent coalition.

4. It’s important to remember that parties with four to five projected seats might not pass the electoral threshold. If, for example, Shas (an ultra-Orthodox party) fails to get four seats (as some polls predict), coalition calculations become more complicated. 

5. Polls predict that about 20 seats will go to new, unknown, barely established and untested parties (the “social” party of Knesset member Orly Levy-Abekasis, and the new Gantz Party). Clearly, Israelis are looking for something that doesn’t currently exist in their political universe. Or possibly they’re looking for a way to beat Netanyahu.

“It’s important to remember that parties with four to five projected seats might not pass the electoral threshold.”

6. Most polls we look at were taken before the police made its recommendation to indict Netanyahu. On Dec. 2, after this development, the prime minister gave a powerful speech to his supporters, defending himself and denouncing what he interprets as a double standard in the way he is investigated. Don’t be surprised if the police make Netanyahu less popular among his rivals and more so among his supporters. Especially so, if right-wing voters feel that their camp might lose its grip on the reins of government as a result of Netanyahu’s troubles. 

7. Opting for new elections over the draft bill can be tricky for the government. Because the Charedi deferment of military service is highly unpopular among Israelis (for good reason), the opposition will surely try to convince the voters that the draft bill is the most important item on the agenda. This will not be easy, as Netanyahu’s investigation is likely to dominate the news.

8. The next election won’t necessarily be a race for prime minister. Unless something dramatic changes (early indictment, health issues, voters’ sudden change of heart), Netanyahu will be remain prime minister. 

So you might want to think about the next election as a race on who is going to be defense minister. Avigdor Lieberman wants the position back — and will get it back only if he has enough seats and bargaining power. Naftali Bennett wants it badly. He will need even more bargaining power because Netanyahu dislikes him. There is also Gantz. If he gets many votes, Netanyahu can use him either to tame Lieberman’s/Bennett’s ambitions — or as defense minister in a coalition that begins with 45 to 50 seats (the combined projected number for Likud and Gantz).

In other words: There’s a good chance that the race for defense minister will be much fiercer, crueler, bloodier and more interesting than the race for prime minister.

Northern Shield Explainer: Israel’s Operation on the Lebanese Border

Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah speaks via a screen during a protest in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Aziz Taher

On Tuesday morning, Israel woke up to a new reality. The IDF announced that it started an operation on the northern border. The following 5 comments will tell you briefly everything you need to understand about it.

  1. What

Explaining the operation and its goals is simple. Israel identified underground tunnels dug by Hezbollah that penetrate into Israeli territory. Such tunnels could allow Hezbollah to move men and ammunition to launch an attack within Israel. The IDF aims to destroy these tunnels. For years, it gathered intelligence about them, for months, it prepared an operation to damage them. The time has come. Note that (“for now”, IDF spokesman words) the operation is taking place within Israel’s territory.

  1. When

Yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu informed Secretary of State Pompeo about the coming operation when they met in Brussels. But the timing is more about meeting certain essential technical objectives before an operation could be launched. Remember that the IDF proved in Gaza, not long ago, that its ability to identify, locate and destroy tunnels is much improved. The developing technology and knowhow enabled the northern operation.

  1. Why

There’s no great mystery with the why. Israel cannot allow attack tunnels to penetrate its territory.

  1. World

There is regional context to the operation. There are changes in Syria, including a Russian attempt to stabilize the state by limiting the action of both Iran and Israel. For Iran, this means less focus on Syria and more on Lebanon. In recent weeks there was a growing wave of Israeli warnings to Lebanon – reminding the government in Beirut of its responsibility to prevent hostile action against Israel from Lebanese territory. Even before these warnings, Prime Minister Netanyahu exposed new sites for building rockets in Lebanon in his speech to the UN Assembly.

Exposing the tunnels will make Israel’s claims (that the Lebanese government does not control its own territory) even more credible. In other words: Israel is losing patience and is signaling to the world (the US, France, Arab countries) that the quiet in Lebanon is misleading.

  1. War

Is this a prelude to war?

The operation is on the Israeli side. This means that Israel does not aim to initiate a war.

Will Hezbollah initiate a war? Will Iran?

For Hezbollah it makes little sense, as war could present Israel with an opportunity to deal with some of the other concerns it has about Lebanon – namely, to deal with Hezbollah projects and assets. For Iran, the calculation is more complicated. The Iranian regime is under pressure and might look for ways to stir the waters, and possibly turn itself from being seen as a problem (Iran destabilizes the region) to being seen as a possible solution (talking to Iran is the only way to stop a war).

Then again, Iran is under pressure and might not want to give its rivals a pretext to strike.

Missile Strikes Expose Limited Options in Gaza

Photo by Suhaib Salem/Reuters

It’s Nov. 13 and all of Israel is focused on the Gaza Strip.

This morning, after a barrage of Hamas missile attacks, it appeared Israel had no choice but to up the ante. Its deterrence of Hamas wasn’t working. Its reluctance to go to war was being perceived as weakness. Its measured counterattacks following the massive bombings of Israeli cities looked like acts of hesitation.

The morning air felt heavy with the looming specter of death — mostly, but not only, from the impending deaths of Gazans. Would the “dead men walking” in Gaza’s streets be counted by the dozens, the hundreds or maybe the thousands? We braced ourselves for the next round of violence to erupt.

Now, this evening, a cease fire is suddenly on the horizon. Will it hold? (By the time you read this in the Journal, you’ll know. At this moment I write, I don’t.)

Israeli leaders, goes the cliché, have only two options in Gaza. They can conduct small wars and arrange for short-term ceasefires; or they can send the Israel Defense Forces to reoccupy Gaza and uproot the government of Hamas. But reoccupation of Gaza is not an option — it is madness. Luckily, Israel’s leaders, while not perfect, are not mad. 

What are the real options in Gaza? One is to fight Hamas until it accepts certain terms that result in peace and quiet for a while. The other one — an option heralded by some opposition leaders — is to help the Palestinian Authority take over Gaza. That is, to cooperate with Mahmoud Abbas against Hamas. 

Leaders who support the latter option suspect that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not pursue it because he is averse to strengthening the Palestinian Authority’s leadership. Netanyahu, they argue, prefers to deal with two weakened Palestinian factions so he can claim to have no partner for a comprehensive peace deal that includes all Palestinians. Maybe. But there is an alternative explanation to such a strategy — which is no less sensible. Netanyahu does not believe that Abbas and his allies can control Gaza effectively. He does not want to waste Israeli resources — or lives — on a lost cause. 

Netanyahu has been very clear, possibly too clear, in expressing his reluctance to go to war in Gaza.

“Whatever one thinks about Israel’s long-term strategy toward Gaza, its short-term goal has been to avoid war, to even accept some humiliation in an effort to restore the peace.”

“I am doing everything I can to avoid an unnecessary war,” he declared in Paris before rushing back to Israel as a rain of rockets threatened to escalate into war. In the past couple of months, Netanyahu has negotiated (indirectly) with Hamas, has allowed Qatar to transfer money to Hamas, and has accepted the embarrassment of being criticized from right and left. Hamas has tested him time and again, sending hordes of demonstrators to harass the IDF near the Gaza fence, firing the occasional rocket, and burning fields on the Israeli side of the border. 

If or when war begins, Netanyahu will be portrayed by some international media as a bloodthirsty warmonger. But a sober assessment of his actions — including in this past week when many others were ready for heightened violence — would conclude that he might have been too hesitant, too accommodating, too eager for compromise. He was the one restraining the cabinet, reining in his gung-ho colleagues. Whatever one thinks about Israel’s long-term strategy toward Gaza, its short-term goal has been to avoid war, to even accept some humiliation in an effort to restore the peace.

The eruption of violence began when an Israeli elite unit was discovered and attacked in the Gaza Strip. The unit’s mission in Gaza has remained secret, but military professionals insist it was essential. When Hamas retaliated, Israel responded calmly, understanding the need of Hamas to blow off steam. Then Israel learned that Hamas’ definition of blowing steam was greater than expected. A bus was attacked by an antitank missile, and a soldier was badly wounded. Rockets were fired on Israeli cities and citizens. In Ashkelon, a man was killed. Ironically, he was a Palestinian worker — the only man Hamas was able to kill as of this morning. (The Middle East is filled with such unfortunate ironies.) 

Netanyahu still wanted to limit the scope of Israel’s response, to explore the possibility of a ceasefire. His logic was solid: A war will not change the basic realities that make Gaza a thorny problem for Israel.

Lewis Carroll wrote in “Alice Through the Looking Glass” that sometimes “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” Today, Netanyahu insisted that sitting is better than running, if all one wants is to keep in the same place.  

True, seeing a country sitting on its hands does not instill much awe or inspiration. But in Gaza, Israel doesn’t wish to inspire. It wishes to avoid disruption and violence. No more, no less.

Movers & Shakers: FIDF Sets Record, Politics Disrupt Film Fest

From left: Jason Blum, Israel Film Festival Founder Meir Fenigstein, Lin Shaye, Avi Nesher and David Gersh attend the opening night of the Israel Film Festival. Photo by Todd Williamson for January Images

Political polarization entered into the awards ceremony of the 32nd  annual Israel Film Festival (IFF) on Nov. 6, midterm election day, when some members of the audience booed filmmaker Jason Blum’s remarks critical of President Donald Trump and one person from the crowd attempted to rush the speaker’s podium.

Blum, producer of “Halloween” and “Get Out,” was at the microphone at the Steve Tisch Cinema Center at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills to accept the IFF Achievement in Film and Television Award. 

Video posted online shows audience members whistling, shouting and walking out of the venue as Blum attempted to deliver remarks that blamed the president for his antagonistic relationship with the media and for the spike in anti-Semitism. 

According to IFF founder and Director Meir Fenigstein, an audience member among the crowd of about 1,200 people “charged the podium” as Blum was speaking. To protect him, “festival security ushered Blum off the stage,” Fenigstein said.

After the incident, Blum tweeted about what had happened and news websites posted the text of his speech in its entirety. His speech included the following: “We have a President who calls the Press the enemy of the people. Nationalism is surging. Dog whistle politics are rampant and anti-Semitism is on the rise in ways my generation never thought imaginable.”

In a Nov. 7 statement, Fenigstein said the incident was regrettable.

“Over the past three decades, we have never shied away from allowing a filmmaker or actor to express themselves either personally or through their work,” Fenigstein said. “We have often highlighted films that some may deem not to their liking or are controversial. We in no way condone violence but do wholeheartedly support dialogue that allows people to share ideas and viewpoints in a respectful way. Sadly, some audience members at last night’s opening greatly lacked that respect and turned an evening of celebration and recognition into something else.

“This is the first time we have ever experienced anything like this,” he continued. “I am in total shock, but I realize that yesterday was a very tense day in America with the elections.”

Blum was one of several filmmakers honored during the festival’s opening night. The evening also honored Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher. 

After the incident, the festival has continued as planned, with more than 40 films showcasing Israel’s thriving film and television industry screening at the Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills and the Laemmle Town Center 5 Theatre in Encino through Nov. 20. 

The festival, a program of the IsraFest Foundation, aims to “enrich the American experience of Israel’s social and cultural diversity,” according to its website. 


Matt Weintraub, executive director of Valley Beth Shalom. Courtesy of Valley Beth Shalom

Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino has named Matt Weintraub its new executive director, effective Nov. 12.

Weintraub succeeds Bart Pachino, who will remain involved at VBS as the part-time director of new building projects and major gifts.

VBS conducted a nationwide search before hiring Weintraub for the position. 

Weintraub previously served as the associate executive director at the IKAR congregation in Los Angeles and as communications director at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business, marketing and communications management from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University and is scheduled to receive his master’s degree in nonprofit management from American Jewish University in December. 

Pachino will continue full-time through the end of the year to transition Weintraub into the new role. 

“We are grateful to Bart for his seven years of outstanding leadership, guidance and vision as Valley Beth Shalom’s executive director,” VBS President David Spiegel and Norman Levine, chair of the Conservative congregation’s search committee, said in a joint statement.  “Under his leadership, construction of the new Levine Community Center has become a reality, and VBS continues to grow as a model congregation in the American Jewish community.”


Rabbi Lisa Edwards, Rabbi Ilana Grinblat, Lia Mandelbaum, Arya Marvazy and Yoni Kollin participate in a panel about the lives of Jewish LGBTQ+ people and their community. Courtesy of JQ International

Members of the LGBTQ Jewish community discussed how they have navigated today’s difficult times and maintained a balance between joy and fear, celebration and grieving during an Oct. 27 panel discussion, “Life Lessons from the LGBTQ and Jewish Community,” at Temple Beth Am.

Speaking on the panel were Beth Chayim Chadashim Rabbi Lisa Edwards, Temple Beth Am Program Director Lia Mandelbaum, JQ Managing Director Arya Marvazy, Yoni Kollin, a member of the Teen Jewish Queer Straight Alliance (JQSA), and Nate Looney, a transgender farmer in Los Angeles.

Rabbi Ilana Grinblat of the Southern California Board of Rabbis moderated. 

The speakers discussed role models for people who identify as LGBTQ, and how, when Edwards founded the first gay and lesbian congregation in Los Angeles, there were far fewer resources for the community. Today, despite the many organizations serving people in the LGBTQ community, gay, lesbian and transgender people continue to face hateful rhetoric, the speakers said.

Taking place on the day of the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, the event began with a brief prayer for the 11 people killed in the attack. 

About 50 people attended, including parents of children who identify as LGBTQ.


From left: Andy Garcia, Fran Drescher, Miriam Adelson, Gerard Butler, Sheldon Adelson, Haim and Cheryl Saban, Katharine McPhee, David Foster with IDF soldiers at the FIDF western region gala. Photo by Shahar Azran

Business, philanthropic, political and entertainment leaders showed their love for the men and women of the Israel Defense Forces during the Nov. 1 Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) gala.

The evening at the Beverly Hilton, chaired by Haim and Cheryl Saban, raised a record-breaking $60 million for the FIDF and drew 1,200 attendees, including stars Ashton Kutcher; Gerard Butler; Andy Garcia, Fran Drescher, Ziggy Marley and David Foster and his fiancée Katharine McPhee, among others.

“We are thrilled that so many members of our community, including major Hollywood figures, are coming together to help us support the brave men and women of the IDF,” Haim Saban said. “Cheryl and I are extremely proud to chair this event for the 12th year, and to be part of this incredible organization that inspires more and more supporters and contributors every year.” 

Also attending were philanthropists Miriam and Sheldon Adelson; Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg; Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, with his wife Joelle; GUESS founders Maurice and Paul Marciano; FIDF National Chairman Rabbi Peter Weintraub; FIDF National President Robert Cohen; FIDF Regional President Tony Rubin and his wife, Linda; National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir; and Regional Executive Director Jenna Griffin.

Providing the top donations at the event were the Adelsons, with $10 million; the Sabans, with $10 million; and Eckstein, who donated $5 million and expressed being “deeply grateful to FIDF for the commendable support they provide the real heroes of Israel.” 

Singer Pharrell Williams, known for the hit song “Happy,” provided the musical entertainment.

The event was emceed by IDF Staff Sgt. (Res.) Izzy Ezagui, an American who moved to Israel, became a decorated squad commander in the IDF and returned to the battlefield after losing an arm in combat.

The FIDF supports the families of fallen IDF soldiers as well as Lone Soldiers who are serving in the IDF without having family in Israel. The organization also provides academic scholarships to combat veterans of Israel’s military, financial assistance for soldiers in need and aid to wounded veterans.

“The evening presented a rare and exclusive opportunity to pay tribute to the state of Israel and its brave men and women in uniform,” the FIDF said in a statement.

Meet the Israelis Who Expose Our Country’s True Face

Courtesy of StandWithUs

This is the 11th year of one of my personal favorite projects to battle bigotry and modern-day anti-Semitism – the “Israeli Soldiers Tour. ”This project is one of the most significant counter-attacks of the notorious “Israeli Apartheid Week,” where false information about Israel is being spread by haters across North America college campuses.

In this tour, organized by the pro-Israeli nonprofit organization, StandWithUs, 14 reserve duty Israeli soldier-students travel the United States and speak on campuses, high schools, synagogues, churches, etc. They recount their personal experiences of serving in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) upholding its strict moral code while fighting an enemy that hides behind its civilians.

They also present their backgrounds, life in Israel and answer questions. “Israeli Soldiers Tour,” puts a human face to the IDF uniform, and by doing so, trying to combat the demonization of Israel and Israelis led by anti-Israeli movements, such as the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions.)  Their in-front-of-the-lines-and-behind-the-headlines stories, which have never been heard before, try to depict the more accurate, more balanced, reality in Israel.

Two of the participants of this year’s tour, Chen and Omri, agreed to let us in this emotional, exciting, life-changing experience, and answer some questions:

Chen, 24, was born and raised in Jerusalem to a family of longtime Jerusalemites.  Her family fled anti-Semitism, one side in the 15th century during the Spanish Inquisition, and the other from Yemen.

After high school, Chen participated in a pre-military program where she volunteered with at-risk youth in Sderot, a city along the Gaza border. During Operation Pillar of Defense, Chen decided to stay under the threat of rocket fire to help the youth both mentally and physically.  She served as a Navigation Instructor in the IDF, responsible for teaching soldiers to read maps and navigate in the field. Today, Chen studies Political Science and Israel Studies at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

Omri is 28 years old. His mother is of Eastern European descent and his father’s family is from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Omri grew up in central Israel in the town of Rishon LeZion. He now lives in Beer Sheva and studies Computer Engineering at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

At 18, Omri began a 6-year stint in the Israeli Air Force as a pilot cadet, and he later transferred to “Yahalom” a special combat engineering unit, as a bomb technician. While in the IDF he participated and commanded missions in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and on the northern border, defusing missiles, explosive belts, and booby traps.

Following his military service he enrolled at the Ein-Prat Beit Midrash, an intensive Jewish learning programs for secular and religious Israelis in their twenties. After completing his studies Omri traveled around Central and South America.

Q:  What is Israel to you, and how do you pass this message to students abroad?

Chen: Despite of all its inner conflicts, at the end of the day, it’s the most united place for me.  Israel is the only place in the world that I can truly call home.

I grew up in a house with Israel deeply embedded in our roots because my family lived here for many generations before the country was even established.

It was important to me that audiences understand that deep connection, and the relations among the people and what brings us all together as a nation.

Omri: Israel is the most normal-crazy place on earth.

On the one hand, we live our daily lives just like the American people: studying, working and focusing on having fun.   On the other, we put our life on hold for 3 years after high school in order to protect our borders by enlisting in the army.

I think I’m passing this message by just being me. I’m trying to show that Israel is not just a headline you see in the media.  It’s a real place with real people and real stories. When students see that I dress like them, watch Netflix like them, but I served in the army and dealt with bombs and some dangerous stuff. they get the message.

Q:  Walk us through the Israeli Soldiers Tour – how do you prepare? What does the tour look like?

Omri: The SWU (StandWithUs) Israel crew helped us develop our speeches, explained how to respond to friendly and hostile questions and how to properly approach Americans – they’re a bit different from Israelis, you know.

Our daily routine was 2-3 events a day in different locations. We told our stories about Israel and IDF to whoever wants to listen – Jews, Christians, Muslims, high schools, colleges, universities, local communities, synagogues and churches.  In our spare time we get acquainted with American culture. We travel the cities, eat American junk food and watch football.

I was very excited about the tour. The opportunity to meet a lot of new people and influence them seemed magical to me.

Courtesy of StandWithUs

I was happy to visit USA for the first time and explore a lot of new cities and culture that till now I’ve only saw at the movies.

My expectations from the tour partly matched the tour itself. In the good scenario, I thought we are going to talk to people who never heard about Israel and in the bad case, heard  lies about it.

I was surprised to see that we have a lot of events with only a Jewish crowd. After several conversations, I understood the relevance of those events. Jews who aren’t living in Israel experience life way differently than we do – it’s much harder to keep your Jewish identity abroad.

When we tell them about Israel, they sometime envy us and really start thinking about “Aliya” – it always comes up.

Israelis tend to take things for granted. The support of the Jewish people around the world, and the USA in particular, must not take for granted. The support we get from American Jews is vital for Israel thriving, from all aspects. There are also a lot of amazing programs in Israel that are being funded by our friends abroad.

To sum up, I understood the importance of that connection and I was glad that I could make it stronger.

Q: Share one of the most memorable moments from your recent tour.

Chen: We were protested at Oregon State University (OSU) by members of the BDS campaign. They entered the classroom with signs saying things such as, ‘End the Occupation’ and ‘Israel is committing genocide.’  They stood in front of the screen, blocking our PowerPoint presentations.

Courtesy of StandWithUs

At first, we tried to talk to them, but they refused to move; eventually we decided to continue anyway.  They heard our stories, and at the end, asked us all their questions. We really created a dialogue. The amazing thing was that it felt like they were actually listening, and although they objected to some of our answers, there were some things they were truly surprised to hear.

We could tell that they began to realize that there may be more to this than they believe and some things they didn’t know.  It was really a memorable moment because it felt like we really made a difference, that we tried and succeeded in creating a dialogue and breaking many of the misconceptions they held.

Also, the rest of the audience thanked us for that dialogue and said they learned a lot.  Jewish students relayed that after hearing us, they feel better equipped on how to deal with these campus groups.

Stanford University’s Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) protesters weren’t there to listen.  They completely disrespected us and were only there to call us liars and murderers. They laughed at us and kept interfering when we tried to answer their questions.

I think that everyone has the right to have their own opinion, but these people don’t know the first thing about the Israeli reality. As someone who grew up around Jerusalem and the West Bank, and lived next to the Gaza border for a year under threat of rockets, it’s absurd when JVP members try to tell me what my reality is.

They have no idea what Israel sometimes has to deal with, and the terrible terror that sometimes affects our life…and, they don’t even care.  They see only one side and completely disregard the other, and that’s wrong.

 

Omri: Shabbat dinner. Friday night. Beit Chabad. Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Maya and I just told our experience in the army in a very intimate event – about 10 Jewish students from the local university.

We share about the Israeli-Palestine conflict from a personal point of view. We end by wishing for peace between the two people.

Right after we conclude, the Rabbi started singing…quietly…alone..

עוד יבוא שלום עלינו, עוד יבוא  שלום עלינו, עוד יבוא שלום עלינו ועל כולם…

(One day, peace will come to us and to everyone)

Then, he raised his voice a bit, and the whole group joined in while banging on the table.

סאלאם, עלינו ועל כל העולם, סאלאם, סאלאם..

(Salam (peace in Arabic) upon us and for all of the world.)

The rhythm of that classic song shook my soul, it felt more relevant now than ever. Our message for peace was successfully delivered.

Q: Who are you aiming for? Who is the target audience you want to reach?

Omri: As I mentioned, I am aiming for anyone who wants to listen.  I am aiming for people who want to challenge their thoughts – those who aren’t rigid in their ideas and want to hear a different opinions and different point of views.

Chen: It’s about reaching anyone who will listen.  It doesn’t matter if they are Jews or not, if they are pro-or-anti-Israel, in between or just didn’t care that much.

It is important that they know that the media doesn’t necessarily provide all the information, or sometimes not even the truth, and that there is so much more to Israel than they may know.

Courtesy of StandWithUs

Q:  What are people still missing when looking at Israel from the outside?

Chen: One of the most important things is that Israel is more than just what they see or read regarding the conflict.  It has such great culture, people, views, economy and so much more.  Sometimes, people forget to look at it as any other modern country such as their own.  Sadly, sometimes Israel must deal with a difficult reality – but that’s only part of what it is.

At the end of the day, I think that most people don’t necessarily know Israel’s reality in the conflict – they look at it from only one angle without realizing that there are always two sides to a story.  Also, people tend to regard things as “black or white,” and the Israeli story has so many different layers.  It’s much more complex than people sometimes think – one story or one fact can never really encapsulate everything.

Omri: They’re probably missing the whole picture.

It’s easy to choose a side and stick to it, especially when the press reporting from the borders twists the reality and fake news fill the social media like a swirling, out-of-control hurricane.

An outsider viewing Israel likely thinks that it is a war zone.  But, they’re missing the fun parts – our beautiful beaches, amazing ancient cities and history, delicious food and incredible people!

Q: How can we contribute to the battle against modern antisemitism and Israel’s delegitimization?

Chen: We can battle against delegitimization through education.  Once individuals have more knowledge, society will be better.  Knowledge is power.  Once people explore different sources of information than just what they see in the news, they will begin to see the other side and the complexity of the issues.

Omri: The first thing that you already did is to read this blog! Half way to go!

The most important thing is to be actively involved. Stand up and defend Israel, don’t let issues pass right you by.

Personally, I believe in education. Spread the truth about Israel, show the good and bad – we’re not perfect, but nor is anyone else. Deliver our realty as it is without any propaganda.  When people know more and are less misinformed, they will fight antisemitism and delegitimization of Israel on their own.

And, you can always ask the StandWithUs team for programs and activities in the USA, Israel, Canada, the UK and Latin America. There’s a lot of good people there that deal with these issues on a daily base.

Q: How can you tell a tour was successful? What are your indicators?

Chen: Having so many people from different places and different ages – teens, collage students or community members – asking questions and being involved and interested in Israel. At the conclusions part of our talks, hearing their reactions and their thoughts about Israel, made me feel as if we really managed to reach them and that our stories touched them.

Omri: My main indicator is the people. After each event, we’re being approached by many people who want to thank us and ask us many personal questions. You can really feel the you’ve affected someone and that’s a wonderful feeling.

Q: This is now the 11th tour. Looking at the past 10 years, do you think the attempts to delegitimize Israel and the wave of modern-day antisemitism is decreasing? 

Omri: This is my first tour, and my first encounter with the American people in America. So it’s hard for me to feel the difference.

That being said, I can feel the wind of change after each and every talk. I can feel the young students, that might never have spoken to an Israeli or even a Jewish person, enlightened  by our meeting.

In my opinion, the roots of modern-day antisemitism is ignorance. There is no place for that in the 21th century.  It’s a process, it might take time, but in the end, knowledge will overcome it.


Michael Dickson, Executive Director StandWithUs- Israel:

“There is no silver bullet for Antisemitism – we expect it to continue. What is important is that we are constantly aware of how the threat metamorphoses. The attempts to delegitimize the world’s only Jewish country remain and they morph into anti-Semitism. 

The ‘Israeli Soldiers Tour’ was created years ago by students in our Fellowship program incensed by the lies being told about the IDF and asked us to confront it.  It continues to grow and the impact the multitude of speaking engagements and interactions these Israeli young adults have – in addition to their online following – is at its peak.  One of the best antidotes to BDS is for people to interact with Israelis – in many cases it is the first time they ever met one – and realize they are just like them.”

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: New-State or Pre-State Solution?

When it comes to the complicated Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there’s one simple fact that pretty much everyone agrees with: The attempts at a “two-state solution” have been a stunning failure.

It’s certainly not for lack of trying. Since the famous handshake in 1993 that launched the Oslo Accords, it’s safe to say that no global conflict has taken up more political and diplomatic energy.

It’s astonishing that after the investment of so much energy, the parties are even further apart today than they were 25 years ago.

For many Israelis, this status quo is unacceptable. Last week, I met two activist groups with distinct initiatives for breaking the logjam.

My friend Dan Adler introduced me to the first initiative, called The New State Solution (NSS). I had heard and read about them, and knew that their idea was starting to gain some traction.

The basic premise of the New State Solution is to focus on what’s possible. Since making any kind of deal in the West Bank has proved virtually impossible, why not focus on Gaza first?

“The basic premise of the New State Solution is to focus on what’s possible. Since making any kind of deal in the West Bank has proved virtually impossible, why not focus on Gaza first?”

Their idea is to take advantage of the renewed cooperation between Israel and Egypt to create an expanded Palestinian state in Gaza, using parts of the Sinai that now are controlled by Egypt. Their plan calls for implementing a massive humanitarian and economic build-up in Gaza that would shift the center of gravity of the conflict and create a “win” for all parties.

The co-founders of the initiative, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) veterans Benjamin Anthony and Brigadier General (Ret) Amir Avivi, believe that what the conflict needs, more than anything, is a “paradigm shift.” They know their idea is not perfect and faces challenges (among them: Will Egypt agree to give up land?), but they believe it is the most realistic of many bad options. You can see all the details on their website (newstatesolution.org).

The second group I met is the Israel Policy Forum (IPF), which was founded in 1993 and “works to shape the discourse and mobilize support among American Jewish leaders and U.S. policymakers for the realization of a viable two-state solution consistent with Israel’s security.”

Like most American and Israeli Jews, the IPF has not given up on the two-state solution, for the oft-stated reason that staying in the West Bank threatens the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. In recent years, the IPF has teamed up with Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS), a nonpartisan movement of retired IDF generals and security experts that works to “extricate Israel from the current impasse” as a first step toward an eventual agreement. 

The IPF approach is the reverse of the NSS approach. Instead of avoiding the incredibly difficult problem of extricating Israel from the West Bank, it is doubling down. It believes its comprehensive “security first” approach will manage the security risk and offer an acceptable trade-off.

What has added urgency is talk of “annexation” among current government coalition members. In a recent study, CIS concluded that “as a determined political annexationist minority accelerates moves toward annexation — both creeping and legislated — the ensuing shockwaves threaten to undermine Israel’s security, its Jewish-democratic character, its relations with its neighbors, its relationship with the Diaspora, and the attitude of the international community toward the country.”

All of this reminds me of the most honest and concise description I’ve ever heard of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, from my friend Yossi Klein Halevi: “Staying in the West Bank is an existential threat to Israel; leaving the West Bank is an existential threat to Israel.”

Notwithstanding the complexities, these two groups are charging ahead to try to break the status quo. Whether by focusing on Gaza or doubling down on the West Bank, they realize that a dark clock is ticking louder and louder. 

“In the absence of negotiations, is there anything that Israel can do on its own immediately to help preserve its future?”

The fundamental problem in recent years has been an inability to get the parties to the negotiating table and a general sense that any potential deal would be dead on arrival.

Maybe this is why the IPF has been promoting “interim steps” that Israel can take to safeguard the viability of a two-state solution, such as limiting settlement construction in the main settlement blocks and improving the economic and humanitarian situation on the ground.

When I met the representatives from IPF, I glibly suggested that their interim plan would be like a “pre-state solution.” I have no idea whether they will use that term, but the point I was making was this: Many of us are simply exhausted with waiting for the parties to get together and negotiate. As the years go by, the price of waiting keeps getting higher. We can’t wait forever.

So, the question becomes: In the absence of negotiations, is there anything that Israel can do on its own immediately to help preserve its future?

I heard two distinct answers last week. Whether it’s the New-State Solution or the Pre-State Solution, they both said the same thing: We’re tired of waiting.

At Least Three Palestinians Dead in Latest Gaza Riots

Screenshot from Twitter.

Hamas-led riots at the Israel-Gaza border on Friday resulted in at least three Palestinians dead and 124 injured, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

However, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced in a tweet that “10 armed terrorists” breached the border fence, but the IDF stopped them and then launched retaliatory strikes against Hamas:

According to the Times of Israel, one of the Palestinians that breached the fence threw a grenade, but no Israeli soldiers were injured in the riots.

Additionally, Ynet News reported that there were at least seven fires that were ignited from the incendiary balloons that were launched, but they all appear to have been doused out.

Twenty-thousand Palestinians participated in the riot.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tweeted a warning to Hamas, who are believed to have been escalating the riots as talks of a long-term ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas have deteriorated.

“We got through the High Holy Days just as we had planned, without a war erupting and while exacting a heavy price from the rioters on the Gaza border,” Lieberman wrote. “But the holidays are now behind us, and I tell the heads of Hamas: ‘Take that into account.'”

Hamas responded by saying, “These are empty words against the Palestinian will to break the blockade on Gaza. The March of Return will intensify. Our people pay no attention to this broken record of the Zionist leadership”

Putting Krav Maga on the Map in L.A.

There are many martial arts, but somehow Krav Maga, the self-defense and fighting discipline created by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), has emerged as a huge hit worldwide. 

Amir Perets, a 44-year-old self-defense and defensive-tactics expert who holds a fourth-degree black belt in Krav Maga, is the man who has been instrumental in popularizing the discipline in Los Angeles. 

Perets, who has lived here for the last 22 years, told the Journal that despite Krav Maga literally meaning “contact combat,” the description is misleading.

“[It’s] a self-defense system that lives by a very simple, basic rule: Don’t get hurt,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether you are a civilian, a law enforcement officer or a soldier. [Krav Maga] doesn’t promote violence; it’s just the opposite. It’s so one can walk in peace.”

According to Perets, 80 percent of Krav Maga is preventative measures, while 20 percent comes down to tactics should you come under attack. In order to protect yourself without ever going into combat mode, Perets said it’s important to be situationally aware. “A little bit of awareness can be the difference between life and death,” he said.

“Krav Maga is a self-defense system that lives by a very simple, basic rule: Don’t get hurt.” 

— Amir Perets

That awareness can include simple things like not looking at your phone when you’re walking to your car. When you do, “you’re distracted and oblivious, and that makes you an easy target for an attacker,” Perets said. “If instead you come out, eyes up, you are better able to recognize potential threats.” Also, he said, the attacker is more likely to realize you’re not an easy target and move on.  

Perets said he became interested in how people protect themselves at an early age.  “I didn’t like the whole concept of being in a position of disadvantage,” he said. “It spiked my curiosity about the concept of well-being. It started with interest in [general] life-enhancing methods and then it went through life-saving methods.”

In 1992, at the age of 18, Perets became Israel’s full-contact heavyweight martial arts champion and received awards of distinction for physical education. That same year, he began his compulsory IDF training, where he excelled in Krav Maga and combat fitness. He then went on to instruct infantry and special forces, honing and reshaping the Krav Maga training that we see today in local studios.  

After completing his military service, Perets spent a few months in Thailand, where he learned Thai boxing. When he moved to the United States in 1996, Perets began teaching Krav Maga and gradually started to build a name for himself. 

“Always in my mind was, ‘What are the best answers to the threats of today? How can someone keep himself safer?’” he said. That, he added, was coupled with the bigger picture of well-being: “How do you overcome emotional and physical hurdles? How can you grow and form a better version of you?”

Today, Perets is called on to train those in the military, federal agencies and law enforcement. 

“[Krav Maga] boils down to balancing the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual concepts that constitute the person,” he said. “I call this the philosophy of four horses. Imagine you are tied to four horses and each horse is running in its own direction, so it pretty much tears you apart. But if you are disciplined and they are all running in the same direction, then you can run full force and do your tasks in a more efficient way.”  

Israel Defense Minister Calls on Gazans to Overthrow Hamas

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman is using the recent calm between Israel and Hamas to urge Gazans to overthrow the terror group, arguing that the “peace and quiet” is preferable to Hamas’ constant state of warfare.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Lieberman announced that the Kerem Shalom crossing and a fishing area near the Gaza coast were going to be re-opened, saying that it shows Gazans that “peace and quiet are worth it.”

“The residents of Gaza have much to gain when the citizens of Israel enjoy peace and security, and much to lose when quiet is disturbed,” Lieberman wrote.

Lieberman added that he hopes Gazans realize “that Israel is not the problem, but rather the solution.”

“The problem is the Hamas leadership, which uses civilians as live ammunition and as human shields,” Lieberman wrote.  “We hope for you, the residents of Gaza, that all of the budgets of Hamas and the international community will be channeled towards your welfare and to the development of the Gaza Strip, instead of to terrorism.”

After a recent escalation between Israel and Hamas, there has been relative calm on the border of Israel and Gaza Strip, although a long-term ceasefire agreement has yet to be reached.

The Times of Israel reports that the re-opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing and the fishing was part of a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas negotiated by Egypt and the United Nations.

However, Israel maintains that no long-term ceasefire agreement can be reached until Hamas agrees to releasing the four Israeli soldiers they have held captive since 2014, two of whom are dead.

Two Palestinians Dead in Gaza Riots

Screenshot from Twitter.

August 10 marks the 20th week of the weekly Hamas-led riots at the Israel-Gaza border, prompting a riot that has so far resulted in two Palestinians dead and more than 300 are injured, according to Palestinian media.

According to the Israel Defense Force (IDF), there were 9,000 Palestinians rioting and hurling projectiles at IDF soldiers, as well as attempting to breach the Israel-Gaza fence:

Per usual, the riots featured Palestinians launching fiery kites into Israel, according to the Times of Israel (TOI).

The Jerusalem Post reports that the rioter who attempted to breach the fence “immediately backtracked into the Gaza Strip. According to TOI, Hamas’ Gaza Health Ministry is claiming that one of the dead Palestinians was a 25-year-old journalist.

The riots began in March and was dubbed by Hamas as a “March of Return” to protest Israel and to bring attention to the Palestinian cause. But Hamas’ intentions seem to be more sinister than that.

“The march has two distinct strategies,” the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) website states. “The first, through the outwardly peaceful, civilian elements of the demonstration, is to raise international awareness of the plight of Gazans and Palestinians. The second, through the militants who are attempting to approach and attack the border line, is to use the demonstrators as human shields for the group’s terrorist ambitions, as well as to provoke a strong Israeli response that will garner headlines and support for their efforts.”

Iran, a Hamas ally, is also reportedly funding the riots.

Hamas has vowed to continue to incite such riots, even as they are claiming there is a ceasefire between them and Israel.

Israel Shoots Down Syrian Plane

REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Israel shot down a Syrian jet fighter on July 24 after the plane entered Israel’s airspace.

According to the Times of Israel, the jet fighter was speeding toward the Golan Heights, prompting Israel to launch two Patriot missiles at the plane, causing it to crash in southern Syrian Golan Heights. One of the plane’s pilots, Col. Amran Mara’e, was killed by the strike. The condition of the other man in the plane is unknown.

“Our air defense systems identified a Syrian air force plane taking off from the Syrian T-4 airbase and penetrating into Israeli airspace,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “This was a blatant violation of the 1974 separation agreement between us and the Syrians. We will not accept any such penetration of, or spillover into, our territory, neither on the ground nor in the air.”

Israel Defense Force (IDF) spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Concricus told reporters, “We issued numerous warnings through numerous channels and in various languages to make sure that no one on the other side violates Israeli airspace or threatens Israeli civilians or sovereignty.”

According to Hadashot television news, the Syrian jet fighter flew into Israeli airspace by mistake. The Syrian government is claiming that they were weeding out ISIS terrorists from the area.

Hamas Shoots At IDF Soldiers, Israel Responds With Airstrikes

REUTERS/Ahmed Zakot

The Israel-Hamas conflict continues to escalate. On July 20, Hamas shot at Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldiers, prompting Israel to respond with airstrikes against the terror group.

The shooting took place at the Israel-Gaza border, where Palestinians began shooting at IDF soldiers during a Hamas-led riot at the border. Israel retaliated by striking eight Hamas posts throughout the Gaza strip, killing at least three Hamas terrorists.

The IDF tweeted the following about the situation:

The day prior, Israel launched airstrikes against Hamas in response to the terror group’s repeated use of incendiary kites and balloons against Israelis, which killed one Hamas terrorist. Hamas then launched rockets and mortars toward Israel; no injuries or damage were reported.

Israel has warned that it will invade Gaza if Hamas doesn’t cease its use of incendiary balloons and kites against Israelis.

“Hamas leaders are forcibly leading us into a situation where we will have no choice, a situation in which we will have to embark on a painful, wide-scale military operation,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said in Sderot on July 20. He added that such an operation could result in a longer, more painful war than the 2014 conflict.

Palestinians’ Latest Method of Terror: Burning Condoms!

Screenshot from Twitter.

The Hamas-led riots at the Israel-Gaza border that have occurred at least once a week since March have featured Palestinians launching fiery kites and balloons laced with explosives as a means to terrorize southern Israel. Now they have found a new weapon: condoms.

Yes, you read that correctly. No, it is not a joke.

On June 21, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) shared part a Palestinian video on Twitter that a provided a how-to guide on how to create an explosive condom balloon:

Even though it’s incredibly juvenile, it’s no laughing matter.

According to a June 20 Times of Israel (TOI) report, the use of kites, balloons and condoms as weapons are “dead simple and dirt cheap methods” to cause terror, citing one instance where an explosive balloon emblazoned “I <3 YOU” landed on Israeli highway, forcing that section of the highway to be shut down until the police were able to conduct a controlled detonation of the balloon.

Another instance involved a group of balloons that had an explosive on them landing onto a trampoline in an Eshkol backyard.

Meirav Vidal, who lives in the home where this occurred, told TOI, “Balloons on a trampoline in the backyard — that’s a decorative play area and beckons the most innocent ones, and yet our children have lost their innocence because of this phenomenon.”

In the case of the kites, Israeli farmers have been particularly burdened by them since their fields have been wiped out by the fiery kites.

Israel has responded to these actions of terrors by firing warning shots at the encampments launching them as well as launching strikes against Hamas.

Hamas Paid Family to Lie About Baby’s Cause of Death At Border Riots

Screenshot from Twitter.

Remember when critics of Israel’s handling of the Gaza riots pointed to the news of an 8-month-old baby dying at the border to substantiate their argument? It is now being reported that Hamas paid the baby’s family to lie about the cause of death.

According to the Times of Israel, a cousin of the baby, Mahmoud Omar, admitted to Israeli interrogators that the baby, Layla Ghandour, had died of a pre-existing blood disease. Her brother had died from the same disease a year earlier.

And yet, her death was initially reported as being due to tear gas inhalation from Israeli soldiers. Layla’s mother had declared to the media, “The Israelis killed her!” Layla’s death soon became a cause célèbre among anti-Israel activists, although a subsequent report from AFP quoted a Gaza doctor who said that Layla had died from a medical condition.

The reason for the discrepancy: Hamas.

“Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar paid Layla’s parents, Miriam and Anwar Ghandour, NIS 8,000 ($2,206) to tell the media that the infant had died due to tear gas inhalation at the Gaza protests,” the Times of Israel reports.

Such instances of Hamas manipulation are not new. For instance, a video was taken at the border in May of a Palestinian using crutches that somehow found the ability to start running:

Additionally, journalist Matt Friedman revealed in a May New York Times op-ed that Hamas had threatened him into reporting a trumped-up casualty figure in the 2008 Israel-Hamas war.

“Early in that war, I complied with Hamas censorship in the form of a threat to one of our Gaza reporters and cut a key detail from an article: that Hamas fighters were disguised as civilians and were being counted as civilians in the death toll,” Friedman wrote. “The bureau chief later wrote that printing the truth after the threat to the reporter would have meant ‘jeopardizing his life.’ Nonetheless, we used that same casualty toll throughout the conflict and never mentioned the manipulation.”

Friedman added that Hamas was emboldened into this kind of action by a Western media that was hungry for an anti-Israel narrative.

“Hamas understood that Western news outlets wanted a simple story about villains and victims and would stick to that script, whether because of ideological sympathy, coercion or ignorance,” Friedman wrote. “The press could be trusted to present dead human beings not as victims of the terrorist group that controls their lives, or of a tragic confluence of events, but of an unwarranted Israeli slaughter. The willingness of reporters to cooperate with that script gave Hamas the incentive to keep using it.”

IDF Warns That They Could Strike Back Against Hamas for Use of Fiery Kites

REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) warned on June 5 that they may have to launch retaliatory strikes against Hamas for their use of fiery kites against Israel.

According to Haaretz, IDF Brig. Gen. Yossi Bachar gave senior United States military official to opportunity to survey the damage from the kites at the Gaza border, suggesting that the military is preparing for action.

Ever since the riots at the Israel-Gaza border started, protesters used kites that were either lit on fire or had attached explosives on them and flew them into Israeli territory. The result has been 9,000 dunams (approximately 2200 acres) of land destroyed in Israel, according to Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Firefighters have had to deal with at least nine fires raging in Israel on June 5 from the kites, most of which were in the Eshkol region.

Consequently, Israeli military officials think they can’t show any more “restraint,” per Haaretz.

“We will settle accounts with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the rest of the terrorists acting against us from the Gaza Strip,” Lieberman said in a speech in the Knesset.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on June 3 that funds allocated to the Palestinian Authority would instead be diverted to Israeli farmers whose fields were destroyed by the fires.

Farmers have seen their wheat and irrigation lines destroyed by the fires and there has been some serious damage to forests and parks, prompting the Jewish National Fund to sue Hamas for “environment terrorism” under international law.

“It’s not easy, but we have strength and it won’t break us,” Daniel Rahamim, who supervises irrigation at Kibbutz Nahal Oz, told the Jerusalem Post. “We know we are here because this is our mission – to raise children here and live our lives. It is our home and we won’t give up.”

Jerusalem Celebrates, Gaza Burns

FILE PHOTO: A worker on a crane hangs a U.S. flag next to an Israeli flag, next to the entrance to the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

On the night of May 14, the leading headline of The Washington Post said, “More than 50 killed in Gaza protests as U.S. opens its new embassy in Jerusalem.” Headlines of other newspapers were not much different.

There is no doubt the headlines were factually accurate. But so would a headline saying, “More than 50 killed in Gaza as the moon was a waning crescent,” or “More than 50 killed in Gaza as Arambulo named co-anchor of NBC4’s ‘Today in LA.’ ” Were they unbiased? Not quite. They suggested a causation: The U.S. opens an embassy and hence people get killed. But the causation is faulty: Gazans were killed last week, when the United States had not yet opened its embassy. Gazans were killed for a simple reason: Ignoring warnings, thousands of them decided to get too close to the Israeli border.

There are arguments one could make against President Donald Trump’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. People in Gaza getting killed is not one of them. A country such as the United States, a country such as Israel, cannot curb strategic decisions because of inconveniences such as demonstrations. Small things can be postponed to prevent anger. Small decisions can be altered to avoid violent incidents. But not important, historic moves.

At the end of this week, no matter the final tally of Gazans getting hurt, only one event will be counted as “historic.” The opening of a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem is a historic decision of great symbolic significance. Lives lost for no good reason in Gaza — as saddening as it is — is routine. Eleven years ago, on  May 16, 2007, I wrote this about Gaza: “The Gaza Strip is burning, drifting into chaos, turning into hell — and nobody seems to have a way out of this mess. Dozens of people were killed in Gaza in the last couple of weeks, the victims of lawlessness and power struggles between clans and families, gangsters and militias.” Sounds familiar? I assume it does. This is what routine looks like. This is what disregard for human life feels like. And that was 11 years to the week before a U.S. embassy was moved to Jerusalem.

A legitimate country is allowed to defend its border. A legitimate country is allowed to choose its capital.

Why were so many lives lost in Gaza? To give a straight answer, one must begin with the obvious: The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has no interest in having more Gazans killed, yet its mission is not to save Gazans’ lives. Its mission — remember, the IDF is a military serving a country — is to defeat an enemy. And in the case of Gaza this past week, the meaning of this was preventing unauthorized, possibly dangerous people from crossing the fence separating Israel from the Gaza Strip.

As this column was written, the afternoon of May 15, the IDF had achieved its objective: No one was able to cross the border into Israel. The price was high. It was high for the Palestinians. Israel will get its unfair share of criticism from people who have nothing to offer but words of condemnation. This was also to be expected. And also to be ignored. Again, not because criticism means nothing, but rather because there are things of higher importance to worry about. Such as not letting unauthorized hostile people cross into Israel.

Of course, any bloodshed is regretful. Yet to achieve its objectives, the IDF had to use lethal force. Circumstances on the ground dictate using such measures. The winds made tear gas ineffective. The proximity of the border made it essential to stop Gazan demonstrators from getting too close, lest thousands of them flood the fence, thus forcing the IDF to use even more lethal means. Leaflets warned them not to go near the fence. Media outlets were used to clarify that consequences could be dire. Hence, an unbiased, sincere newspaper headline should have said, “More than 50 killed in Gaza while Hamas leaders ignored warnings.”

So, yes, Jerusalem celebrated while Gaza burned. Not because Gaza burned. And, yes, the U.S. moved its embassy while Gaza burned. But this is not what made Gaza burn.

It all comes down to legitimacy. Having embassies move to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, is about legitimacy. Letting Israel keep the integrity of its borders is about legitimacy. President Donald Trump gained the respect and appreciation of Israelis because of his no-nonsense acceptance of a reality, and because of his no-nonsense rejection of delegitimization masqueraded as policy differences. A legitimate country is allowed to defend its border. A legitimate country is allowed to choose its capital.

Latest Gaza Riots: One Dead, 170 Injured As Rioters Set Fire to Gas Lines

Screenshot from Twitter.

The latest round of Hamas-led riots at the Israel-Gaza border resulted in one Palestinian dead and 170 injured as rioters set gas lines ablaze.

The May 11 riots had the usual features of violence from the prior riots: rocks, burning tires, and pipe bombs were hurled at Israel Defense Force (IDF) members. Kites that were ablaze in flames were flown toward the Israeli side of the fence, causing fires.

Additionally, for the second week in a row, rioters set gas lines on fire at Kerem Shalom, where humanitarian goods are transferred from Israel to Gaza, meaning that the rioters have been engaging in actions that harm the people of Gaza.

The IDF issued a statement saying they were using “riot dispersal” measures that are “in accordance with the rules of engagement.”

“The IDF will not allow any harm to the security infrastructure or security fence and will continue standing by its mission to defend and ensure the security of the citizens of Israel and Israeli sovereignty, as necessary,” the IDF said.

Here are some scenes from the riots:

Around 15,000 Palestinians took part in the May 11 riots.

These latest riots are the last of Hamas’s weekly riots protesting the displaced Arabs from the 1948 War of Independence. However, this was just the opening act to the riots expected to occur on May 14 and 15, when the United States unveils its new embassy in Jerusalem.

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar declared on May 10 that he hopes that Palestinians are able to penetrate the Israel-Gaza fence during the upcoming riots, which is essentially an admission that this has been Hamas’s goal all along.

“What’s the problem with hundreds of thousands breaking through a fence that is not a border?” Sinwar said.

Third Generation of The Holocaust, a former soldier in the IDF

I am a third generation of the Holocaust, and a former soldier in the IDF.

I was born in a small town in the center of a well-developed country. My most vivid memories from my childhood are music, laughter and quality family-time. My worst experience as a child was when I crashed my bike at the age of five, getting scratches on my knees. My parents gave me everything I wanted and needed, and my night’s sleep was tight and calm.

Since a very early age, my fellow classmates and I were taught that all of this was made possible thanks to our grandparents. At first by our parents, then by our Kindergarten teachers, our teachers, our commanders in the army and now – our professors at the University. When my grandparents were my age, they did not have a comfortable life or a calm night’s sleep. They woke up every day to the scenery of sand, mud and swamps and often to the sound of gunfire. They fought hard, every day, with the dream in their heart that their children and children’s children would have a normal life and safe happy, safe childhood.

My mother’s parents were native Israelis, because their families were smart enough to escape to the swampy state-to-be from Poland, before it was too late. Not all of their relatives were that alert, and were brutally murdered by the Nazi killing machine.

My father’s parents came from Iraq in the 1950’s, and lived in a transit camp until there was a place for them to live in at the newly established State of Israel. Many of my friends’ grandparents are Holocaust survivors, some of them are still unable to talk about those dark times. Together, natives, survivors and patriots from east and west, joined forces for us, their descendants.

Now, as they become older, it is our time to step to center-stage and do our part, as the third generation of the Holocaust. We are the last generation to hear about “those days,” where the country was built after the nightmares of the Holocaust, from first hand. We are the last generation to speak to the heroes who built this country and the heroes who survived the worst, and our life- mission of commemorating and educating will soon begin.  If I heard a testimony from a Holocaust survivor every year from first to 12th grade, and could ask my grandparents questions every day, my children would not have that privilege. They will have to rely on the stories, documentaries, and recorded testimonies. 

It is our mission to keep the memory alive, and in this time of the year it becomes clearer than ever. This special week of the year reminds us all the story of Israel, which is often being described here with the sentence: From Holocaust to Revival (free translation from Hebrew- משואה לתקומה).

With the memory of the Holocaust, we carry constant personal and public grief of the people we lost while fighting to keep our home in Israel – soldiers and civilians, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, who died protecting our country, or during a normal day that ended in a tragic terror attack.

This story of Israel, which is still being written, is told every year, during one week in April or May (The Hebrew months Nissan and Iyar). On the 27th of Nissan, we mention the national Holocaust Day; on the 4th of Iyar we mention the national Memorial Day; on the 5th of Iyar we mention our Independence Day. Those three dates tell the story of Israel, in order: we survived the Holocaust to build the state of Israel. From having nothing, we got to have everything, but sadly, this “everything” had its toll, when we lost many in our never-ending battle for our home.

During these days of remembrance, schools change their itinerary and people are allowed to skip work. Ceremonies are held in every public facility, and a grand nation – wide ceremony takes place in Jerusalem and is aired on national television. During these three days, stores are closed, and the entire nation is committed to the essence of the special day. During these days, for a brief moment, everyone stops everything and bow their heads down in grief as a siren is heard throughout the country. During those three days, the television and radio broadcasts are altered, and are dedicated to tell the story, for everyone to know.

With time, the reasons to fully commit to those days could become vaguer and it would be our responsibility to remember and cherish them, making sure our children would not forget them either. In times of Holocaust denial, growing anti-Semitism, growing indifference and threats from our neighboring countries, those reasons must burn in our guts and be our guiding light.

I am a third generation of the Holocaust and a former IDF soldier. Israel was given to me on a silver platter, with the promise to remember those who handed it to me, 70 years ago, and every single day since.

I promise to always remember and never forget. I promise to remember and remind my past, so that my children would be able to create the future.

For more updates about the day-to-day life in Israel, you can follow Israelife on Facebook here.

One Dead, Hundreds Injured in Latest Hamas-Led Gaza Riots

Palestinian demonstrators take part in a protest demanding the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border, in the southern Gaza Strip, April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

As expected, the weekly Hamas-led Gaza riots continued on April 13, with one Palestinian rioter dead and hundreds of others injured.

The Times of Israel is reporting that a 28-year-old Palestinian man was killed by Israeli gunfire, and over 122 others were injured, per Hamas’ Gaza Health Ministry. Two of the injured Palestinians were reportedly journalists.

The April 13 riots featured protesters burning tires – which they had done the week prior – in addition to Israeli and American flags. The rioters also threw explosives and rocks toward the Israeli side of the border and attempted to fly a kite over to the Israeli side that had a firebomb attached to it.

Additionally, an explosive that the rioters were planning to use against the Israelis accidentally went off, resulting in potentially numerous Palestinians being injured.

Here are some of the scenes from the riots:

The IDF cracked down on the violent riots with riot control methods and firing snipers at the ankles of violent rioters.

“The IDF will not permit damage to the security fence or infrastructure that protects Israeli citizens and will act against the violent rioters and terrorists involved,” the IDF said, per The Times of Israel.

There were around 10,000-15,000 rioters at the April 13 riots, a marked decline from the 20,000 the week before. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman hailed the decline in rioters as a victory for Israel.

“Each week there are fewer rioters on our border with Gaza,” Liberman tweeted. “Our determination is well understood on the other side.”

Report: IDF Fears Hamas Is Training Terrorists to Kidnap IDF Soldiers During Border Riots

An undated image released on March 21, 2018 by the Israeli military relates to an Israeli air strike on a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor site near Deir al-Zor on Sept 6, 2007. IDF/Handout via Reuters

A new report from an Israeli news outlets states that the Israel Defense Force (IDF) is deeply concerned that Hamas is training its members to kidnap IDF soldiers during the border riots.

The Israeli news outlet, Walla, is reporting that the IDF has feared ever since the riots started that the protesters would be used as human shields by Hamas to breach the Israel-Gaza border fence and launch terror attacks against Israel. They are concerned that Hamas will use Molotov cocktails to cause fires on the Israeli border, which would presumably help lead them toward their goal of penetrating the fence and then start kidnapping IDF soldiers.

The IDF is preparing to keep the April 13 rioters as far away from the border fence to ensure that the Israeli border isn’t struck by Molotov cocktails.

Hamas certainly has a track record of kidnapping IDF soldiers, most notably the kidnapping of three IDF soldiers in the summer of 2014 that ignited an armed conflict between Hamas and Israel. There has been at least one Hamas plan to kidnap an IDF soldier foiled by Israel.

The Hamas-led Gaza riots started on March 30 to protest the displaced Arabs from the 1948 War for Independence and are expected to continue and escalate until May 15, the day after Israel celebrates its independence. Multiple people have died in violent clashes in these riots, most of which have been confirmed to be terrorists.

H/T: Algemeiner

Israeli Defense Minister Claims Gaza Journalist Killed By IDF Was Part of Hamas

Mortally wounded Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja, 31, is evacuated during clashes with Israeli troops at the Israel-Gaza border, in the southern Gaza Strip April 6, 2018. Picture taken April 6, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman claimed on April 10 that Gaza journalist Yasser Murtaja, who was killed by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) during the Hamas-led Gaza riots on April 6, was a member of Hamas.

Lieberman told reporters that Murtaja was “a member of the military arm of Hamas who holds a rank parallel to that of captain, who was active in Hamas for many years.” David Keyes, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, tweeted, “Turns out the “photographer” killed in Gaza was an officer in Hamas, a terrorist org that seeks Israel’s destruction. On Hamas’ payroll since 2011. Used his drone to collect intel on Israeli positions. Countless reporters called him a ‘journalist.’ Will they correct the record?”

Lieberman made it clear that Murtaga had put “himself in danger” by using a drone at the border.

“We’ve seen dozens of cases where Hamas terrorists used ambulances, dressed up as Red Crescent personnel and disguised themselves as journalists,” Lieberman said. “We won’t take any chances.”

Anonymous Israeli defense officials had told the Israeli news site Walla! on April 10 that Murtaja “was active in the [Hamas] security apparatus’s work on a daily basis and did much to help them.” The IDF has said that they are still investigating the matter.

Mutasem Murtaja, Mutaja’s brother, told the Associated Press that Lieberman was spreading “lies” about Murtaja.

“Yasser was filming the protests with simple cameras to show they are peaceful,” Mutasem said.

Per the Times of Israel, “family members, eyewitnesses, and fellow journalists repeatedly denied that” Murtaja was using a drone that day.

Murtaja co-founded a TV production company called Ain Media, which had received a $11,700 grant from the State Department shortly before Murtaja’s death. Murtaja had also been working for a Norwegian Refugee Council.

Back in 2015, Polish journalist Wojciech Cegielski wrote in a column for Haaretz that Hamas used journalists as human shields during the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict. Cegielski cited an instance when a rocket was fired from between two Gaza hotels that housed “foreign press and some NGOs.”

“It was obvious that we journalists became a target,” Cegielski wrote. “If the IDF would strike back, we all would be dead. What would Hamas do? It would not be surprising to hear about the ‘cruel Zionist regime killing innocent and free press.'”

IDF Kills Palestinian Terrorist Who Breached Gaza Border Fence

A Palestinian holds a fire during clashes with Israeli troops at Israel-Gaza border, in the southern Gaza Strip April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

The Israel Defense Force (IDF) killed a Palestinian who breached the Gaza border fence on April 3 during protests along the border.

The Gaza Health Ministry, which is run by Hamas, announced that the Palestinian, 25-year-old Ahmad Arafa was shot in the stomach. The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) claimed that Arafa was a part of their organization.

According to the Times of Israel, surveillance shows two of the men using the hole to enter the Israeli side of the fence, only to go back to Gaza as the IDF fired warning shots. The footage then ends, but according to the Jerusalem Post, Palestinian media is suggesting that the shooting of Arafa was related to that breach.

The IDF told the Times of Israel that they did fire shots at protesters who broke through the fence.

“The IDF will not allow security infrastructure and the fence, which protects Israeli citizens to be damaged, and we will take action against terrorists who are involved,” the IDF said in a statement. “We again warn against approaching the fence.”

The border riots have been ongoing since Friday, as part of Hamas’ six-week “March of Return” campaign to protest the Arabs that were displaced in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. At least 16 Palestinians have died in the protests, 11 of whom have been identified by the IDF as terrorists.

Palestinian Terrorist Murders Two IDF Soldiers, Injures Two Others in Vehicular Attack

Screenshot from Twitter.

A Palestinian terrorist used a vehicle to murder two Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldiers and injure two other soldiers on Mar. 16, which was designated as another “Day of Rage” for Palestinians.

The terrorist, identified as 26-year-old Allah Kabhha, drove his vehicle into the four IDF soldiers stationed at an observation post just outside of the Mevo Dotan settlement in Judea and Samaria. Kabhha attempted to flee but was caught by the IDF shortly thereafter. He was injured from his attack but it’s not believed to be serious.

One of the two IDF soldier deaths occurred at the scene, while the second death occurring not much later. The two other IDF soldiers are being treated at Petah Tikva’s Medical Center for “moderate to serious” injuries.

Kabhha, who is from the Baarta town, had previously been imprisoned for “terror-related activities” and was on the IDF’s radar.

Palestinian terror groups responded with glee to the attack. Hamas spokesperson Hazam Kasam declared, “This attack makes it clear that the intifada is continuing for the Palestinian people.” Islamic Jihad called for more attacks like Kabhha’s.

Multiple Palestinian groups encouraged Palestinians “to confront IDF soldiers and settlers” on Mar. 16, a “day of rage” to commemorate the 100th day since President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The riots that have occurred since are becoming increasingly “violent,” per the IDF.

Palestinian Bitten By Dog While Throwing Stones At IDF Soldiers to Sue Dutch Dog Breeder

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A Palestinian who was bitten by a dog after throwing stones at Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldiers is now suing the Dutch dog breeder who supplied the dog to the IDF.

According to Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), 19-year-old Hamze Abu Hashem was bitten by an IDF dog in 2014 as he was throwing stones at IDF soldiers. Abu Hashem is suing the Dutch dog breeding company Four Winds K9 for $13,500 in emotional damage he sustained from being bitten.

“My client bears serious scars that will remain with him for the rest of his life,” Liesbeth Zegveld, Abu Hashem’s Netherlands attorney, told a Dutch newspaper. “He is also deeply traumatized by the attack. He shakes when he hears dogs barking, he is too afraid to sleep and suffers from sleepwalking.”

Zegveld is also hoping for a Dutch court to prevent dogs from being sold to the IDF. Four Winds K9 defended itself by claiming that they’re not liable for what their dogs do once they’re given to the IDF.

The 2014 riot where the bite occurred stemmed from “a pre-approved ambush to catch firebomb throwers,” according to Haaretz. The IDF investigated the incident and concluded “that while the use of dogs in confrontations could be justified, in the case in question, the youth could have been arrested using other means.” Abu Hashem was jailed for three months following the incident for his stone-throwing.

Abu Hashem is not the first Palestinian to be bitten by an Israeli dog; in 2012 during a riot in which Palestinians threw stones at IDF soldiers a German shepherd bit Ahmad Satwi in the hand. The IDF eventually decided to only use dogs for ambushes.

The Israeli Way

There is something different about making energy and water policy when 100,000 rockets are pointed at your family.

I went to Israel last month to exchange strategies on water and clean energy. I came home with an entirely new perspective on lawmaking.

In 2014, California and Israel signed a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate on energy and water innovation. The mission of our California delegation to Israel was to put muscle behind the memo with funding and technical expertise.

Just as we were getting started in our clean energy lab at the Milken Innovation Center at the Jerusalem Institute, in a room packed with some of the top energy minds in Israel, a news alert sounded on my phone: “BREAKING: HAMAS TERROR TUNNEL EGYPT-ISRAEL DESTROYED.”

Israel Defense Forces had struck a tunnel only a short distance away by California standards. The news shook me silent. My mind went blank. I looked around the room for guidance.

This is what Israel does, day after day. No paralysis. It  just moves forward.

The Israelis at the conference didn’t skip a beat. People looked down at their phones for a moment. Nodded. And dived right back into the work at hand.

Every conversation in Israel is under the Iron Dome. In the fierce urgency that necessarily, although quietly, weaves itself into the texture of daily life, of relationships, of governing, one cannot help but be humbled by Israel’s fortitude.

Where did this strength come from? I would submit that its origins are ancient. And that it lives in all Jews. As the Midrash relates, when the Jews made the Exodus from Egypt, their faith was shaken at the shores of the Red Sea, where they were trapped like sitting ducks, bracing for the oncoming Egyptian army, with no water and a range of bad options.

As some Jews attempted to micromanage Moses, one group suggested they turn and fight. Another thought to simply surrender and return to slavery. A third argued that ending it all would be more just, and they should just hurl themselves into the sea and die. And a fourth disagreed with all the others; the answer to their quandary was to pray for salvation from God.

Moses rose above his stutter, as he did in these moments, to deliver to the Jews a message from God: Let’s just go through the sea, faithful, unafraid, eyes on Mount Sinai. Rather than anticipate, plan or resist the seemingly impossible challenge ahead, the Jews just went through it.

This is what Israel does, day after day, no matter how many tunnels are discovered or rockets are stockpiled. No paralysis. It just moves forward.

And move forward we must. Energy and water are not just critical environmental challenges. They impact the security of Israel and California, and our respective states’ abilities to compete economically on a global stage, where self-reliance and sustainability are rewarded. Israel’s energy strategy currently relies heavily on fossil fuels — only 2 percent of its grid is renewable.

California, on the other hand, has a cleaner grid but a sea to cross when it comes to water. Israelis capture and recycle about 85 percent of the water they use. California wastes about 85 percent of all stormwater, failing, unlike Israel, to capture this valuable resource before it dumps into our coastal waters.

Israel is a nation at constant risk. Yet, Israel’s leaders find a way to diligently proceed with the work to modernize their nation.

Our joint efforts to secure a cleaner, more sustainable energy and water future for Israel and California must proceed, with California imagination and market power, and that deep fortitude that is ancient in origin, and alive and well in Israel today.


State Sen. Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park) is an environmental attorney and educator. He represents the 27th District, which includes parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Palestinian Wearing Fake Explosive Belt Stabs IDF Soldier

Israeli border policemen stand away after shooting a Palestinian man with a knife and what looks like an explosive belt near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. December 15, 2017. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/File photo

A Palestinian man wearing a belt that appeared to be laced with fake explosives stabbed an Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldier on the shoulder and was shot as a result.

The man, identified as 29-year-old Mohammed Aqal, was reportedly at a riot in Ramallah that became violent to the point of IDF intervention. Aqal allegedly stabbed an IDF soldier twice in the shoulder. Law enforcement officials responded by shooting Aqual and then shooting him again when they noticed the apparent explosives on his belt.

Aqal died from his gunshot wounds. The Hadashot newspaper later reported that the belt didn’t contain actual explosives. The IDF soldier who was stabbed is currently in stable condition.

Aqal was one of four Palestinians who died in riots in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem on Friday in response to President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Another 250 were injured and a total of 2,500 Palestinians took part in the riots, a decline of “thousands” from the week prior. According to the Times of Israel, “Demonstrators burned tires and threw rocks at Israeli troops, who fired back at them with tear gas and rubber bullets.”

A 30-year-old Israeli who has yet to be identified was wounded when some Palestinians chucked rocks at his vehicle. His injuries are not believed to be serious.

Video from the riots can be seen here.

The flare-up in riots come as Vice President Mike Pence is set to visit the Middle East at the beginning of next week. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is refusing to meet with the vice president due to Trump’s Jerusalem move.

Israeli Soldier Murdered by Palestinians in Likely Terror Attack

Screenshot from Twitter.

An Israeli soldier has been murdered by Palestinians in what is believed to be a terror attack.

The 20-year-old soldier, who has yet to be identified, was fatally stabbed in his upper torso at a bus stop outside a mall in the city of Arad at approximately 9:30 pm on Thursday. The soldier proceeded to try and get help by stepping in front of a car, where he began vomiting blood.

“He was conscious and tried to say something but couldn’t,” the driver of the car told Ynet News. “We tried to help him, he fell to the ground. We called Magen David Adom and put a towel on him.”

By the time paramedics arrived, the solider was no longer breathing and didn’t have a pulse.

“We provided life-saving medical care and performed advanced resuscitation techniques, but we were ultimately forced to declare him dead at the scene,” said MDA paramedic Ziv Shapira.

Video footage of the scene of the attack can be seem below:

There are two Palestinian suspects connected to the murder and they are still at large. The police, Shin Bet and Israel Defense Forces are all working together in trying to find them, even going as far as setting up roadblocks and sending out a helicopter.

The preliminary investigation suggests that the attack was “nationalistically motivated.” Arad Mayor Nissan Ben-Homo said, “The working assumption is that this was a terror attack.”

You need to listen to what these 2 IDF soldiers have to say

What would you do if you were given the chance to change one of the world’s most disturbing misconceptions and deceptions?

StandWithUs’ (SWU) tenth “Israeli Soldiers Tour” (IST) recently came to conclusion, when six teams of two reservist IDF soldiers returned home, after touring throughout the United States from October 22 – November 5.  These twelve reservists spoke at more than 170 campuses, high schools, synagogues, churches and community centers, reaching tens of thousands with their stories and millions through conventional and social media.

Israeli Soldiers Tour” puts a “human face” on the IDF uniform. The main purpose of this tour is to give people a perspective about the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the reality of living in Israel by relating their personal experiences during Israel’s Operations against Hamas in Gaza, interactions with Palestinians in the West Bank and serving on checkpoints and on the Gaza border, protecting Israel’s southern cities from rocket attacks.

They also share their backgrounds, struggles, successes, describe life in Israel and answer questions, the tougher the better.  Their stories have never been heard before and their last names are withheld for security purposes.

 

Because Israel has to constantly defend itself, military service is mandatory here, and young 18 year olds must enlist once graduating high school; men serve for 3 years and women for 2.

“Israelife” caught up with Itamar, who toured the South and Shir who toured the Midwest after the tour to gain their insights about speaking in the U.S.

Itamar, 25, is from Pardess Hana-Karkur, a small town in Northern Israel. Now living in Kibbutz Magal, he studies Education and Political Science at Oranim College. For the last 4 years, Itamar has worked in informal education on a Kibbutz, and has served as Head of the At-Risk Youth department in the Menashe Municipality.

Itamar served in the intelligence forces of the IDF in a classified unit. During his military service, Itamar consistently dealt with the complicated encounters between soldiers and Palestinian civilians

Together with Ilan Lopez, director StandWithUs Latin America, Itamar met with the Jewish community in Mexico prior to touring the South. Ilan joined the southwest team.

Shir, 26, grew up in Gush-Katif settlement in Gaza until the disengagement in 2005. Today she lives in the southern Israeli village of Beer-Ganim, and studies Law at the College of Management Law School.

Shir served in the Israel Defense Forces as a First Lieutenant in the ground forces as a “war room” operator on the northern border with Gaza, where she continues to serve as a reservist.  Shir took part in two operations against Hamas in Gaza as an officer – “Pillar of Defense” in 2012 and “Protective Edge” in 2014.

Shir volunteered in Africa with children, as a part of the Colman Student Union delegation.  She works as an Administrative-Legal Director at “Tmura center – The Legal Center for the promotion of equality” – representing victims of discrimination and various biases.

Why do you think it’s important to tell your stories as IDF soldier on campus?

Shir: It’s important to let people hear information that is different from the information they’re used to receiving. People should be able to choose what they think about certain issues, and in order to do so they need to have different opinions. In addition, students on campus struggle in a difficult arena in which they hear about Israel in negative contexts – we are there to show a different, more positive side.

Itamar: I believe that telling our stories in campuses can create a dialogue, especially when sometimes people are given only one side and not the full picture. Things are more complicated than the media sometimes portrays.  I think that the opportunity of sharing our own personal experience, will encourage students to explore and ask more questions. It will help them realize that although the reality in our region is complex and despite everything Israelis have been through, we believe in education which is the key that can make a difference for the future.

 

What is Israel to you, and how do you pass this message to students abroad?

Itamar:  Israel to me and to my family is a safe haven. My family arrived here from Europe and from Morocco and Yemen after suffering from persecution. I always knew, that in the state of Israel we’ll be safe.

My country is a place where each population can feel safe, no matter where they are from or what religion they practice.  Israel to me is a place where I can express my opinions, and where I feel that if I need anything, everybody will help me.

Shir: My heart and the craziest and yet sanest place I know.

 

Share one of the most memorable moments from your recent tour.

Itamar: One of the most exciting events that we had, was in Houston, Texas.  We met Pastor Becky (Keenan) of Gulf Meadows Church and spoke to a combined Spanish and English Israel class she conducts weekly.  We then joined congregants and volunteers and helped people who are still recovering from Hurricane Harvey. It was an amazing experience; we met a community that loves Israel, supports the Jewish community there and prays for Israel.  I wish we had more time to stay with them.

Here is Kayla and I:

 

Shir:  When we spoke with law students at one of the universities. In the last row sat four anti-Israel students with laptops who attacked us with masses of twisted and misinformation about the conflict, and the way that Israel behaves.  My tour partner Carlos and I calmly, fluently and professionally answered all the accusations – until they had no words left. I felt that we didn’t need to hide behind a computer and masses of information – I have the truth by my side, and that’s all I need.

What is your advice for people reading this interview, who also want to join the battle against the Israel delegitimization campaign currently taking over social media? 

Shir: Know the facts, research the subject you are talking about, know the twisted narrative of the other side – and always be critical towards any information you receive. If you are not an expert in a particular field or unsure of the facts – just say so. Correcting a wrong and false statement is more difficult than holding back.

Itamar:  My advice is to share as much as you can.

Unfortunately the social media campaign is huge, but on the other hand, it’s up to us to share and educate for the truth. Some people just see the headline or a short video without seeing the bigger picture. I think it’s our responsibility to have the answers and explain what it really means to boycott Israel – the technology that everyone uses, factories that hire Palestinians, and more important, our values as a democracy.

 

Seeing the growing wave of anti-Semitism, do you believe history can repeat itself? 

Itamar: I believe that if something happened once, it can always happen again. But I know that the only way that it won’t, is if we keep remembering and never forgetting what happened to the Jewish people throughout history. We need to educate the next generation that keeping our country safe, and learning about history is the key for saving our people.  It will also help us be responsive to people around the world who need our help because we’ll be able to identify with them.

Shir: Depends on what aspect. Could the Jews be threatened at this level again? Probably. Will we reach a situation similar to the Holocaust?  Never, because we have a country and a strong moral army. Such a situation could never be repeated.

 

How do you believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved?

Itamar: I believe in dialogue. We don’t have a partner for peace because they don’t educate for hope or for co-existence. When I watch how the summer camps in Gaza teach children to fight Israel, it’s hard to believe it. But we have to. I want to believe that the Palestinian leadership we’ll decide to stop this, and will prepare its people for similar values of peace and hope. I know that I will keep educating the kids I work with for hope. We should not give up. I believe that the next generation will find a solution, and it’s our job and their job to educate in a way that will allow a true dialogue.

Shir: Through education. By bringing the two peoples closer together, by stopping being afraid of the other side. Through more programs that bring the two peoples together, and that enable a dialogue with the other side, rather than distance and separation.

 

 

Letters to the Editor: Harvey Weinstein, IDF Destroys Hamas Tunnel, Pickles

Harvey Weinstein: Disgrace to Judaism

I picked up a recent copy of the Journal, which I always look forward to reading. However, when I saw the photo of Harvey Weinstein on the cover, I was stunned. His picture, if in the Journal at all, should be small and on the last page of the paper, declaring that he shamed himself, his family, and that he is a disgrace to everything Jewish. The cover of the Journal should have someone we respect and emulate, who lives an exemplary life and makes this world a better place. I am sure you can choose more wisely the next time you prepare the paper.

Marion Lienhard, Thousand Oaks


A New Look, New Direction for the Journal

Congratulations on the new format, type, layout and the change in focus.

The new parsha commentaries show the variety of possibilities in interpretation.

The political differences are best shown when focused side by side on a single topic. The expansion of writers gives voice to many other topics of interest.

Mazel tov!

Enriqué Gascon, Los Angeles

When I lived in Baltimore I told people I read their Jewish News and they responded by saying, “Honey, no one reads it, we just look through it.”

One cannot say that about our Jewish Journal.  Its content is rich, diverse, readable and good enough to be savored.  All of that in addition to learning new things, human interest stories, and opinions that do not require you to want to tear your hair out.  OK maybe a little hair-tearing.

Don’t you just love change?

Sherri W. Morr via email

The Journal’s profound new tone and writers continue to amaze. In “A Deeper Feminism (Oct. 27),” Karen Lehrman Bloch’s assertion that freedom requires “thoughtfulness, a need to recognize reality and human nature” is a breath of fresh air. Although Bloch considers herself politically neutral, the media are so predominantly leftist that she seems to speak for the right. Her observation that “Women are equal to men but … different,” and “We should take pleasure in the differences,” is a mature, common-sense response to the growing, misguided progressive dogma that there’s no difference between the sexes or that it’s all cultural indoctrination. She’s a real delight!

I’ve even started reading Marty Kaplan’s column again. For a while, he was just trashing President Donald Trump every week, but his fascinating Oct. 27 rumination, “When Bad People Happen to Good Art,” explores the age-old enigma of profound art created by immoral, self-indulgent people. I wonder if it struck Kaplan that all the abusive artists he cited are likely Trump-haters, and that every Weinstein associate and political crony is a Democrat. Is the contempt some leftists have for Christianity and traditional Judaism eroding their consciences? I’m not suggesting Republicans aren’t sinners, but unlike secularists they don’t just rationalize bad behavior away. I’d love to hear Kaplan’s thoughts on this.

Rueben Gordon via email

What a great editor’s note: “Can Jewish Journalism Aim to Please?” (Oct. 27)! Note, that reveals a great journalist’s mind! Mr. Suissa, you have found that “sweet spot” already. By asking questions, you provoke thought, and by remaining true to yourself, you avoid triggering anger. The three insights you write about are excellent ways to reach out to as many readers as possible.

I am not a Jew, but I really enjoy the Journal, now more than before, finding those insights applied on all the pages. In my opinion, it is impossible to please each and every reader, but it is fully possible and necessary for journalists to be true to themselves when reporting the facts. Then let the readers be the judge! That’s how we, the readers, will be challenged to open our minds to new ideas and to “look beyond our own customs and traditions.”

Svetlozar Garmidolov, Los Angeles


Put the Brakes on Those GPS Satellites

Your interview with Barry Barish (“Barry Barish on His Nobel Prize — and Why He Never Wrote That Novel,” Oct. 27) contains an egregious error. He is quoted as saying that the GPS satellites travel at 1/4th of the speed of light. They actually travel at 14,000 kilometers per hour (kph) relative to Earth, which is 0.001 percent of the speed of light. The relativistic offset of the space-borne clocks is 38 microseconds/day relative to a stationary clock on Earth, which would cause an Earth-bound user to make a 14-centimeter position error.

As a mere PhD in engineering I hesitate to correct a Nobel Prize winner. I suspect the interviewer misunderstood him.

Myron Kayton via email


Israel’s Destruction of Hamas Tunnel

I would like to thank Aaron Bandler for the story he wrote on the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) destroying a tunnel built by Hamas (“IDF Destroys Hamas Tunnel,” Oct. 30). I 100 percent agree with what Bandler wrote about what the IDF did. Not only did I agree with it but I also completely [endorse what] the IDF is doing. In this story, I discovered that the IDF destroyed a tunnel made by Hamas. The tunnel spanned from Khan Younis in Gaza toward Kibbutz Kissufim in Israel. The reason I agree with this is because Israel warned that Hamas digs over six miles of tunnel a month toward Israel and that members of Hamas can travel through the entirety of the Gaza Strip underground through their network of tunnels. So if Israel lets this continue to happen, then many will probably die.

Nathan Tabibi via email


Israel and the Politics of Pickles

In the column “We, the Pickles,” Shmuel Rosner discusses many things. For the most part, I agree with his statements, although he wrote that Israeli President Reuven Rivlin meant that we all no longer care about the country or the people, but rather maintaining the government. But isn’t that what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is doing? No matter what Netanyahu does, the critics grumble. He does well and he gets no credit, but as soon as something bad happens, he is to blame. As I see it, if Netanyahu is just thinking about the government, he is doing the right thing to please the critics and the country.

Avner Shamtoub via email


The Cause and Cure for Terrorism

When terrorists attack, they tell us very clearly why they are killing (“8 Dead, 12 Injured in Manhattan Attack,” Nov. 3). They yell, “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is the greatest) — a jihadi battle cry. Yet we ignore it. We wring our hands and lament. We send teddy bears to the victims. That will not stop the next attack.

What will stop Islamic terror is simple but not easy. Imams, Muslims — all who practice Islam — must begin citing the many specific passages of the Quran, the Hadiths of Muhammad and sharia law that tell their flock that jihad, killing infidels and Jews are holy acts, and then denounce these passages as wrong, despite their appearance in holy texts. Unless and until this happens, we will continue to have more deaths. This is not bias. This is common sense.

Not all who practice Islam will commit jihad but some are doing so. We see their bloody work on an almost weekly basis.

Islamic and all religious leaders should stand together and denounce these passages.

Some examples: A command in the Quran: “Fight against those to whom the Scriptures were given [i.e. Jews and Christians] … until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued.”

Ginette Weiner, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Israel to Hamas: Give Us Back Our Soldiers’ Remains, and You’ll Get the Tunnel Victims’ Bodies

Screenshot from Twitter

Israel has issued an ultimatum to Hamas: if you want the bodies of the terrorists that died in the tunnel blast, you’ll have to give us the bodies of our soldiers.

On Monday, Israel blew up a partially built Hamas tunnel, resulting in the death of seven terrorists, two of which were senior commanders of Islamic Jihad. Hamas requested that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Israel retrieve the bodies of five terrorists believed to be buried underneath the tunnel.

Israel has signaled that they will not accept Hamas’ request unless they return the bodies of Israeli soldiers Shaul Oron and Hadar Goldin they kidnapped and killed in 2014 Hamas-Israel conflict. Hamas is also believed to have kidnapped three Israeli civilians.

“Israel will not allow search operations in the area of the security barrier in the Gaza Strip without progress on the issue of Israelis kidnapped and MIAs,” Israel Major General Yoav Mordechai reportedly told the ICRC in Gaza.

The families of the missing soldiers agreed.

The family of Shaul Oron told the Times of Israel, “We hope that the Israeli government will not dare to comply with Hamas’s request as long as they do not return Oron. Oron was kidnapped through a tunnel that Hamas dug, and for more than three years has been held by them in Gaza, and yet they do not allow the Red Cross to check on his condition.”

Goldin’s family echoed Oron’s family, stating: “Any Israeli humanitarian gesture toward Hamas must be contingent on bringing our boys home. If Israel responds [positively] to Hamas, it would be a moral injustice and a sign of political weakness.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is also on the side of the Goldin and Oron families.

“Hamas has violated the basic norms of humanity by holding hostage the remains of two Israeli soldiers,” Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a press release sent to the Journal. “We learned first-hand of the anguish of the family of Hadar Goldin, who visited the Simon Wiesenthal Center a few months ago.

“The International Red Cross should immediately launch an effort to release all the remains to their families, without delay.”

Israel has been working to retrieve their kidnapped citizens and bodies of their soldiers, to no avail. In September, Egypt ceased its mediation between Israel Hamas on the matter, making the prospects of an agreement between the two even more remote.

“We are not giving up on this mission – including over the last few days – until we successfully carry it out,” Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in July.