You could probably forgive the proprietors of Nikuv for feeling slightly giddy after the final results of Zimbabwe’s election were announced this weekend.
The Israeli company’s client, President Robert G. Mugabe, romped home with 60% of the vote and his ruling ZANU-PF party grabbed more than two-thirds of the seats in the troubled southern African nation’s parliament.
Mugabe, 89, turned back a challenge from longtime rival Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change party, beating the former trade union leader by about 1 million votes, according to official results.
Even better, there was none of the violence or blatant intimidation that marked past elections, like the 2008 vote that Tsvanigirai won and also led to widespread chaos and international condemnation.
So how did Nikuv, a shadowy company headquartered the Israeli town of Herzliya, play such a central role in the vote in a farflung African land?
Why did Nikuv CEO Emmanuel Antebi, and top aide Ammon Peer reportedly jet into the capital of Harare for 90 minutes of valuable face time with Mugabe on Tuesday, just hours before the polls opened?
The opposition and independent watchdogs say it’s because Nikuv was a vital cog in Mugabe’s strategy to massively rig the watershed election and maintain his grip on power.
The strategy apparently succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, with Mugabe and ZANU-PF running up never before seen vote totals in some areas. In some urban constituencies, ZANU-PF increased its vote 10 and 20-fold. In rural areas, some districts recorded more votes than the adult population.
Peace talks are due to properly restart today, but what lies at the end of the road if negotiators are successful?
There has been much discussion of the Israeli cabinet’s decision on Sunday to advance legislation to ensure that any peace deal is subject to a referendum. If the legislation passes Knesset, a plebiscite won’t just be required by law — it will be enshrined in a “basic law,” which is the closest thing that Israel has to a constitution.
To some this is a triumph for democratic decision-making; to others it is a further obstacle to peace, unnecessary in a representative parliamentary democracy.
The Palestinian leadership is also promising a referendum is a peace deal is reached. This has generated less discussion, but actually raises a more basic question — can it actually run a referendum?
The Palestinians are deeply divided, with the Western-backed Palestinian Authority ruling in the West Bank while the hard-line Hamas is in power in the Gaza Strip. The West Bank leadership is conducting the talks, but when it talks of a referendum, it means a vote in both the West Bank and Gaza.
But will Hamas allow a vote on a peace process that it rejects on its turf? Given that it has so-far blocked even far less controversial polling, such as last year’s local elections from taking place in Gaza, there is strong reason to suspect that it won’t.
The division between the PA and Hamas has paralyzed Palestinian voting. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was elected for a four-year term in January 2005 — but due to the frictions new presidential elections have never been held.
One cannot help but fear a scenario where a draft peace deal is reached, and its signing is held hostage by the inability of the Palestinians to hold the promised referendum.
But one never knows — Hamas has given some indication in the past that it would not want to incur the international wrath that it would face from blocking a referendum, and would allow it to take place. If this happened, it would represent the tacit acceptance by Hamas of the peace process, which though difficult to envisage at this early stage, could come about.
Zimbabwe’s strongman Robert Mugabe has succeeded in staying in office for 33 years with a potent mix of populism and violence — and he may have an Israeli company to thank if he extends his rule one more time.
The 89-year-old leader faces his sternest test yet next week when he squares off in a presidential election rematch against longtime rival Morgan Tsvangirai.
Few doubt that Mugabe, a former liberation war hero, would be trounced in anything close to a free or fair election — he has presided over the collapse of a once promising economy and engineered the billion-percent bout of hyperinflation that killed the Zimbabwe dollar.
That’s where a company called Nikuv comes in. It is working with the Zimbabwe government’s Registrar General, which among other things maintains the country’s famously corrupt electoral roll.
Investigative journalists and opposition leaders believe Nikuv’s real role is to help Mugabe’s loyalists rig the July 31 poll.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change party said it was “concerned about electoral fraud [by Nikuv] through manipulation of the voters’ roll, and the issuing of multiple national identity cards to individuals that would then allow them to vote twice.”
In past elections, turnout was suspiciously high in ZANU-PF’s rural strongholds. Widespread problems with the roll led to lower turnout in cities and towns, where the ruling party is wildly unpopular.
Two British members of parliament from the centrist Liberal Democratic Party seemed to be doing their utmost to dissuade Jews, friends of Israel, and generally right-minded peoples from sticking with their already-damaged party through to the next election.
First, during a debate on changes to the national curriculum, Sir Bob Russell thought it would be an opportune moment to ask the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, “On the assumption that the 20th century will include the Holocaust, will he give me an assurance that the life of Palestinians since 1948 will be given equal attention?”
Russell’s unlettered and questionably-motivated equivocation was swiftly condemned by the Jewish Leadership Council, whose chief executive Jeremy Newmark who labelled them “a shocking piece of Holocaust denigration. There is simply no comparison between the two situations.”
Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, added that “to try to equate the events of the Holocaust with the conflict in the Middle East is simply inaccurate as well as inappropriate.”
Then on Saturday, David Ward, another Lib-Dem MP, Tweeted: “Am I wrong or are am I right? At long last the Zionists are losing the battle — how long can the apartheid State of #Israel last?”
His tenor bears a noticeable resemblance not only to the discourse of anti-Semites who use ‘Zionists’ in place of ‘Jews’ to mask their latent prejudices, but also the former Lib Dem peer Baroness Tonge. In 2012, Tonge was finally resigned the whip after saying that Israel would “not last forever” and would “reap what they have sown.”
UPDATE: David Ward has been suspended from the Liberal Democrats until September 13 in reaction to his comments about the “apartheid state of Israel.”
In a letter to Ward, the party’s chief whip Alistair Carmichael explained that his comments “questioning the continued existence of the State of Israel fails the test of language that is “proportionate and precise.’” This, in combination with remarks back in January which accused ‘the Jews’ of failing to learn the lessons of the Holocaust brought “the party into disrepute” and harmed “the interests of the party”, Carmichael said.
Ward’s suspension from the Liberal Democrats coincides with Parliament’s summer recess – although he will be suspended for almost two months, this period only accounts for a few days of parliamentary business. Jewish community organisations, therefore, while welcoming the punishment were disappointed with its toothlessness.
In a statement, Jeremy Newmark, Chief Executive of the Jewish Leadership Council said: “There are serious questions as to whether this move came swiftly enough and whether it goes far enough.”
Israel’s rabbinical establishment has responded to a worrying survey pointing to the widespread extortion by husbands whose wives want divorces. And instead of moving to stop the phenomenon, it has simply attacked the survey — conducted by one of Israel’s largest polling firms commissioned by a major university.
For Israel’s Jewish population, all marriage-related matters run through the rabbinate. This means that if a couple wants to get divorced, they must obtain a religious divorce certificate, which the husband is able to withhold leaving the wife virtually powerless to secure a divorce. The husband’s refusal can turn the wife in to an agunah, often translated as a chained woman.
One in three women in the process of getting a divorce experiences financial extortion by their husbands, according to a survey by the Geocartography research institute for the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women at Bar-Ilan University.
While this figure is hard-hitting, its full significance may not be instantly clear. This isn’t one in three divorce cases initiated by women where men try to extort, but one in three of all divorce cases.
It’s unknown exactly what proportion of divorces are initiated by women and what proportion by men. However, once you factor in that a significant number are initiated by men, you are looking at a situation where extortion is the norm, or on the verges of being the norm. In short, the power to generate the get is widely viewed as a financial asset by husbands whose wife wants a divorce.
The Rabbinical Courts Management has now responded to the survey, dismissing it as based on “the subjective feelings of the sample group’s participants in regards to the rightness of the divorce’s legal proceedings.” But the survey wasn’t about how divorcee women feel but rather about what they were expected to pay — a pretty objective indicator.
To the courts’ spokesperson the survey was a “cynical attempt to create a propaganda machine against the rabbinical courts.” Yet one wonders why the courts must feel so threatened by a survey on the behavior of the male public. These statistics only reflect badly on the rabbinical courts if they want them to. If the rabbis joined forces with female activists to halt the problem, in a couple of years time when the survey is repeated and finds a sharp decline in extortion, they would be the heroes.
Can the American man leading Israel’s solar power revolution work his magic on the country’s ailing electric car company?
Better Place launched with big, international plans, but went bankrupt earlier this year. Now, Yosef Abramowitz, an idealistic American businessman who first became acquainted with Israel on a Young Judea gap-year program and has had a growing connection with the Jewish state ever since, is in the hot-seat to resuscitate the company.
Abramowitz’s Sunrise Ltd, together with the Association for the Promotion of the Electric Car in Israel took control of all of the company’s assets in Israel, as well as its intellectual property in Switzerland subject to the Swiss seller. The deals for the two countries are worth 18 million shekels ($5 million) and 25 million shekels ($7 million) respectively — and possibly more by the time all monies are paid.
Abramowitz is a charismatic and talented operator, who has iron determination. The Forward interviewed him when he was just about to assemble his first solar power field for his Arava Power, the first company to sell electricity to Israel’s national grid. He recalled when we spoke to him how the idea for solar in Israel came to him in a flash of inspiration when he was visiting and found the early-morning sun so hot and thought to himself that the region should exploit it to its full potential. But it’s not his inspiration that has made him succeed — it’s his determination.
Abramowitz isn’t the first person to think of feeding solar energy in to Israel’s national grid, but he’s the only person who had the staying power to spend years bashing his head against what looked like the brick wall of state bureaucracy, and then continuing the crusade through endless paperwork to get his project off the ground.
Better Place’s big mistake is that it over-expanded. It didn’t get its model working well on a small scale before thinking, and spending, big. If Abramowitz reins in the operation, and runs it cautiously and with that quality which is at a premium in Israeli business — patience — he may just realize Better Place’s original vision of making electric cars mainstream.
The following is an open letter to Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States
We are deeply concerned that Israel is about to return Eritrean asylum seekers before allowing for an appropriate refugee status determination process to take place.
According to those detained in the Saharonim internment camp for asylum seekers, on July 14, about 15 Eritreans who spent the last year in Saharonim prison were returned to Asmara, Eritrea where they will face probable arrest, torture, and danger to life. We are aware that there are around 200 Eritreans in total who have been designated to return to Eritrea.
If these people are returned, their lives will undoubtedly be in danger as a result. We are concerned that Israeli authorities are not acknowledging the imminent and serious danger to the asylum seekers’ lives nor are they processing their asylum claims responsibly, transparently, or fairly. We believe that such treatment of those who have fled from an oppressive and tyrannical regime is unconscionable.
As Jews, we know that such treatment of the stranger is forbidden by our Torah. As American Jews, we feel that such treatment of a disenfranchised minority challenges our legacy of fighting alongside other minorities for civil rights.
As members of the world community, we call on Israel to uphold its legal obligations. We call upon the Israeli authorities to desist from the attempt to return refugees to dangerous situations without allowing them to have their legal claim for asylum heard and evaluated.
Two years after the Tel Aviv social protest movement was born out of anger at high property prices, Israelis have been told that they’ve misunderstood the problem all along. It is, the new Housing Minister insists, that there’s too little settlement activity.
“The key to immediately stopping the rise in home prices is massive building in Jerusalem and in the settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria,” Uri Ariel, who represents the religious-Zionist Jewish Home party, claimed in a meeting of the Knesset Finance Committee yesterday.
In his view, measures that are underway to ease the housing crisis will yield results in one to two years, “whereas in Judea and Samaria, we can immediately market tens of thousands of housing units.”
There’s a pie-in-the-sky optimism in his suggestion that current measures will yield results within a couple of years — even if they are far weaker than anything that the protest movement had in mind. But more importantly, his mixing up of Israel’s deep social problems with jingoistic policy statements relating to the West Bank raises important questions about the direction of the Housing Ministry.
Firstly, there’s the matter of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Having a Housing Minister with such zeal to build the West Bank obviously increases tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as between Israel and her international allies. If he manages to realize his plans the reaction would be strong — but even if he doesn’t the statements reverberate around the Arab and international media.
But secondly there are the less obvious internal ramifications for Israel. With Ariel so set on a West Bank agenda, the main and most challenging task of the Housing Minister, namely easing the housing crisis within Israel’s 1967 borders, where the vast majority of the population lives, could play second fiddle, and suffer as a result.
In the long term, if Ariel succeeds in settling settlement building as a solution to the housing crisis, it could prove an expensive exercise. After all, if the homes are one day evacuated in a peace deal, it’ll be the state that foots the bill.
Ramadan has just started, and an estimated 1 million Muslims from the West Bank will enter Israel to spend part of the holiday with relations here. The defense establishment has become more confident about giving access to Israel for Arab holidays — and for the main part things have been smooth.
The opening of the checkpoints for mass travel underscores one of the interesting contrasts in the Israeli-Palestinian situation at the moment. While diplomatic channel between Jerusalem and Ramallah is sluggish and while there’s much friction and little movement on the peace process, on some day-to-day issues Israel is making significant efforts.
Of course, Jerusalem’s ability to do so reflects another fact of Israeli-Palestinian relations — political connections may be poor, but security cooperation is still strong.
Yet despite the upbeat attitude of security forces and the good level of cooperation, Ramadan this year poses a unique challenge. Not only does it fall at the height of summer (unlike Jewish festivals Ramadan isn’t fixed in a particular season).
There is also an unfortunate coincidence between Ramadan and the Fast of Av in the Jewish calendar.
Why unfortunate? Because during Ramadan Muslims converge on Temple Mount, and given that the Fast of Av is the holiday when Jews commemorate the destruction of the ancient Jerusalem Temples, a larger-than-normal contingency of Jews will head to Temple Mount.
Of course, if the observance of different religious holidays can happen in parallel and peacefully, it would be a boon to coexistence. Yet there is a real danger that the groups could clash.
The religious-Zionist right is becoming increasingly focused on the idea of asserting itself on Temple Mount, and the Fast of Av gives particularly strong expression to this desire. And Palestinians are especially sensitive at the moment to any violations of what they see as their rightful control of the Mount.
Add in the significance of the time-of-year consideration — people from both religions depriving themselves of food and water for an extremely long day in the sweltering sun and you get a potentially explosive situation.
A calm Tuesday could well point to a calm summer in Jerusalem, but if conflict is on the cards for this summer, Tuesday could well be the day that it beaks out.
After years of debate, pressure and protest, on Sunday Israel’s cabinet approved legislation to draft ultra-Orthodox men for national service. The lobby that agitated for legislation has been quick to label it a sellout, counter-productive, and a passing of the buck.
Pro-draft activists say that they wanted a law that makes service for Haredim compulsory immediately, while the actual legislation defers compulsion to serve until 2017. And as they point out, this means leaving the big task of implementing the draft until after the next elections.
They are right to be disappointed, as the government did promise to deliver the draft, and all it looks set to do is deliver the blueprint for one which may or may not end up being implemented after the next national poll. But in their pessimistic forecast they overlook an important fact.
They successfully pushed the issue of the draft to center stage in the last election, and made it a key campaigning issue. They created the unexpected scenario where the distribution of power meant that a coalition could be built that excluded Haredi parties, and legislation proposing a Haredi draft could actually pass the cabinet. This is further than any government has got on the issue in 65 years.
The government’s dragging out of the issue doesn’t mean it will get lost — but that it will probably dominate another election.
The parties in this government can’t go to the public ahead of the next election with just a general pro-draft position. Implementation time for the draft plan will be approaching, and the public will want guarantees that they will see through implementation. The draft issue is too electorally lucrative for them to abandon it — and to allow the parties to benefit from it the public will want a promise of further progress.
It is, indeed, rather cynical that the government is putting off implementing the draft until the next elections, but this doesn’t mean it is shelving the plan — but rather that its parties want to squeeze the electoral benefit out of it for a second election. If the pro-draft lobby keeps the pressure on, then the next election could all be about the implementation of the Haredi draft. True it will have taken two elections not one, but they may well yet succeed in forcing a government to take the challenge of implementation seriously.
What is bringing down the birth rates of Israel’s Ethiopian immigrants — culture or chemicals?
A new study by the nonpartisan Knesset Research and Information Center found that while Ethiopian Jews traditionally have large families, by 2010 those who arrived in the preceding decade were actually having fewer kids than other Israelis. They were having 1.78, which is 38 percent below the average for Israeli-born women, 2.88.
This study follows a television report last year that alleged that Ethiopian immigrant women were coerced into taking contraceptive shots in transit camps in Ethiopia when waiting to move to Israel, and that they continued to receive the shots in Israel. The Health Ministry wrote to HMOs inferring that there are some Ethiopian women who receive the shots in Israel without fully understanding what they contain — and urged gynecologists “not to renew prescriptions for Depo-Provera for women of Ethiopian origin if for any reason there is concern that they might not understand the ramifications of the treatment.”
Gal Gabbay, the documentary-maker who made produced the television report on the contraceptive shots, says that following the new Knesset report she feels vindicated. “The numbers speak for themselves,” she told Forward Thinking, saying that she is “sure” that the contraceptive shots are behind the drop in birth rates.
But the authors of the study found themselves unable to substantiate the claims of her report, and left the matter of the contraceptive shots as something of an open question. Of course, there are many who say that a reduction in birth rates is expected among an immigrant population encountering completely new, Western cultural norms — especially when it’s one of the poorest segments of society.
This reading of the figures isn’t only coming from outside the Ethiopian community. Shai Sium, a 34-year-old resident of the Southern Israel town of Kiryat Malachi and an Ethiopian-born activist for Ethiopian rights, says that young parents like him “don’t want to have a lot of children in Israel and can’t afford a lot of children.”
He holds himself up as an example. “I have two kids and I decided to have three kids because I want to raise them well.”
There was an unusual moment at Yad Vashem today. As virtually all foreign dignitaries do, the head of the Anglican church went to Yad Vashem during his visit to Jerusalem. And there, he encountered his own Jewish heritage in a stark and poignant way.
As Archbishop of Canterbury, enthroned in March, Justin Welby leads the Church of England and the Anglican Communion worldwide. He also happens to be half-Jewish — his father was born Jewish.
The staff of Yad Vashem had dug out a Page of Testimony and archival information regarding a young Holocaust victim who was most one of his distant relatives. When he entered the Hall of Names, where the Pages of Testimony of Jewish victims of the Holocaust are housed, they gave it to him.
The Archbishop was visibly moved — he had tears in his eyes, and asked to be alone for a few moments before continuing his tour. The fact that he was there with his wife Caroline and son Peter added to the personal weight of the moment.
On a lighter side, Welby’s Jewish heritage makes him eligible to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return. It’s clear that he has a soft spot for Jerusalem — he revealed today that he was here on honeymoon 33 years ago. So perhaps he could stick around. Quick Nefesh B’Nefesh — catch him before he leaves.
They’re back! And just in time for Toronto’s Gay Pride parade on Sunday, June 30.
Who’s back? None other than Canada’s most high profile anti-Zionist gay organization — Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA).
Formed by Toronto LGBT activists on the platform that Israel exists as an apartheid state and oppresses Palestinians — including LGBT Palestinians — QuAIA has fomented controversy every year since 2008 when it first announced its intent to participate in Toronto’s Gay Pride Parade. Despite pleas from the Jewish community to stop QuAIA from marching, and despite efforts by some city councillors to withhold grant money to Pride Toronto organizers unless they keep the agitators out, QuAIA has managed to participate in the city’s Pride Parade four out of the last five years. Pending any extraordinary and highly unlikely intervention from Toronto City Hall, they’ll be marching again on June 30.
Ongoing efforts by QuAIA opponents to halt the group’s inclusion on the basis that the term “Israeli apartheid” violates Toronto’s human rights policy and Ontario’s Human Rights Code, have been unsuccessful.
And a recent statement by Toronto’s chief lawyer which acknowledges that the words “Israeli Apartheid” violate neither the city’s human rights policy, nor appear to violate the province’s human rights policy, all but guarantees that QuAIA will again be part of the festivities.
Opponents of QuAIA, like myself, are not pleased. Its supporters, however, certainly are. Tony Souza, a member of QuAIA, was quoted in the May 27 Toronto Star saying, “Every single report that comes out says we don’t violate any hate laws…. we certainly don’t ‘hate’ anybody. We just want justice in Palestine.”
Tony Blair set the stage for the schmaltzy, over-the-top, joyful and endearing tribute Tuesday night to Israeli President Shimon Peres on his 90th birthday. “We in Britain have our Queen,” the former British prime minister said, “and you have your Shimon.”
Indeed, it felt like a coronation of sorts, an odd mixture of loving familiarity and the sort of fancy production that would have made the founding generation of the state of Israel cringe. The thousands of invited guests — mostly Israelis, lots of Americans, and a sprinkling of others — were dressed to impress, reflecting the newly acquired wealth in the start-up nation. One of the only men I saw without a suit was an American rabbi. The days of kibbutz-style gatherings are clearly over.
The program was nationally televised, featuring popular singers like Eyal Golan and Shlomo Artzi, lots and lots of adorable children, videos from near and far, recorded birthday messages from the leaders of France, Germany, Spain, Russia, the United Nations, and more. Barack Obama sent his regards. So did Bono.
And it was all about Peres. The length of his extraordinary career has allowed him to reinvent himself again and again — much to his critics’ dismay — and on this occasion it was Peres the peacemaker who was celebrated. A rousing chorus of “Give Peace a Chance” sung by hundreds of young Israelis made that point, even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an otherwise touching tribute, made sure to emphasize the need for a strong defense.
The following items appeared in the Israeli media this month: Superland, an amusement park outside Tel Aviv, makes a policy of reserving separate days for Israeli Arab high school classes and separate ones for Israeli Jewish classes. A Jewish community pool in the Negev refused to admit a group of Bedouin children with cancer because, in the words of the manager, the patrons have a problem with that “sector.” In a hidden-camera investigation by Channel 10 news, branches of Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank, refused to allow three out of five Israeli Arab customers to transfer their accounts to a branch in a predominantly Jewish area, while routinely allowing all the Jewish customers to do so.
I have to admit, I am surprised. I didn’t think it was this bad.
I didn’t think the racist practices against Arabs in Israel — not Palestinians in the West Bank, but people who live in “Israel proper” as citizens — were so deeply entrenched. Unless I’m extremely mistaken, this sort of thing doesn’t, couldn’t, go on in the United States, or Canada, or other Western countries that Israel likes to think of as its peers in the democratic world.
No doubt a lot of Jews would say: Israelis have a long history of terror and hatred from Arabs, what do you expect? In return I would say: Arabs have a long history of violent subjugation and hatred from Jews, what do you expect?
But let’s put that duel aside and keep in mind who we’re talking about: Bedouin kids with cancer. Arab youngsters wishing to go to an amusement park. Random Arab adults trying to switch their bank accounts.
The tables were well and truly turned at the Western Wall this morning, as the Israeli Police, which until this spring detained women holding communal prayers, executed a mass operation to protect them and facilitate their worship.
Until April 25, the police treated the monthly gatherings by the feminist alliance Women of the Wall as illegal, and as a result detained its members. However, on that date a Jerusalem district court ruled that this interpretation of the law wasn’t correct.
As a result, at their service a month ago, they were allowed to hold their communal prayers. However, the scene was chaotic, with large numbers of Haredi protestors doing much to disturb the prayers, and some of them throwing projectiles at the women.
At today’s service, however, the scene was very different. Haredi leaders, keen to for their community to avoid the bad press it received a month ago, and instructed youngsters to keep away, in a bid to keep hotheads at bay. But the biggest difference was the punctilious organization by police, who took their obligation to protect the women exceedingly seriously.
While just a couple of months ago it was the objectors to Women of the Wall who had the upper hand at the Wall, today, they were kept away from much of the women’s section as WOW gathered. Police escorted women in to the prayer area from their buses. If you hadn’t arrived on a bus, officers asked where you were going, and only if you were participating with WOW were you allowed near their gathering. The officers covered a special walkway with tarpaulin, so that WOW participants couldn’t be seen by Haredi demonstrators — and in a worst-case scenario of object being throw wouldn’t be harmed.
Like many urban legends, the myth — and now mess — of the Jewish National Fund’s supposed agreement to pay former President Bill Clinton $500,000 in charitable funds to speak for 45 minutes to an exclusive group of Israeli dinner guests began with an incorrect press report — which then got repeated until it was “fact.”
On May 31, Yossi Sarid, a former Israeli Minister of Education, published an opinion piece on-line in Haaretz in which he informed his readers that Clinton would be the keynote speaker at a gala dinner to be held in honor of Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Peres Academic Center on June 17. The dinner, a celebration of Peres’s 90th birthday, was to be an exclusive event for a select list of invitees, Sarid wrote. And each guest would be required to donate $828 to the Peres Academic Center’s scholarship program.
Infuriated by the high cost, Sarid, who was himself an invitee, made some phone calls, and learned that Clinton’s 45-minute speech would cost a half a million dollars, to be paid to Clinton’s charitable foundation. He also heard from his sources that the Jewish National Fund, a co-sponsor of the exclusive gala event, would be paying Clinton’s fee.
Now Sarid was even more angry. Why was the JNF, an organization created to collect money from Jewish donors to build and improve the state of Israel, using its funds to enrich Clinton’s philanthropy, with its quite separate charitable agenda? Effie Shtenzler, chairman of JNF-Israel, had no clear answers for Sarid when the latter called asking about this. So Sarid published his op-ed, and the story exploded.
Over the next few days, other media outlets, including the Times of Israel and Yedioth Ahranot, crucified the JNF for supposedly betraying its mission and misleading donors.
It was only later that follow-up reporting by the Forward and others clarified what really occurred.
When the Forward contacted JNF’s New York office, which collects donations from American Jews and transfers them to JNF-Israel, the New York office explained, a bit beseechingly, that it was a separately incorporated U.S. affiliate and was not responsible for any decisions made by JNF-Israel.
But when we contacted JNF-Israel officials they, too, passed the buck, so to speak. The officials admitted that JNF-Israel had, indeed, signed on as a co-sponsor of the gala event at the Peres Academic Center. But they insisted, “The Peres Academic Center… invited [Clinton], came to financial terms with him and paid him, a long time before [JNF-Israel] were part of it.”
And that turned out to be the case. Officials with the Peres Academic Center, a small, relatively little known social science school in Rehovot, confirmed to the Forward that, yes, they were the ones who had engaged Clinton and were putting up the cash.
But the saga was far from over. When Peres learned through the press reports that what was supposed to be an evening to honor him was doubling as a fundraiser, he announced he would not attend since Israeli regulations prohibit him from participating in money raising events. The Peres Academic Center (which is named after Peres but is not related to him in any way) realized its blunder. You could not very well have an evening in honor of President Peres without President Peres. So the school retreated from the idea of the event doubling as fundraiser, and announced all invitees would now enter for free.
In other words, the school is now eating its costs for bringing in Clinton, leaving its donors, perhaps, as the ones who should be asking tough questions.
But thanks to the original erroneous press reports, that was not enough to get JNF off the hook. As the criticism went global and reached potential donors worldwide, JNF announced this afternoon that it was backing out of any participation in the gala event. It would therefore take back from the Peres Academic Center any funds that it had already provided for the event.
Bottom line: The Peres Academic Center, with JNF as a co-sponsor, tried to dance at two weddings simultaneously — honor President Peres and raise funds for its own purposes. Media found out and lambasted JNF, while basically ignoring the Peres Academic Center. JNF backed out and left the school with a reported bill of half a million dollars. And Yossi Sarid will be able to hear President Clinton’s speech for free.
A rare joint rally sponsored by both of the dueling factions within the Satmar Hasidic movement could bring upwards of 20,000 protesters to downtown Manhattan this Sunday, according to Satmar insiders.
The Satmar factions, led by two warring brothers who each claim the title of rebbe, rarely cooperate. Yet activist supporters of both sides are said to be in the final stages of negotiating a deal to both endorse the same massive protest against Israeli efforts to draft ultra-Orthodox men into the Israeli military.
A committee within the Israeli Knesset agreed on draft legislation early this week that sets quotas for the number of ultra-Orthodox men expected to join the military, and raises the possibility of criminal penalties for draft dodgers.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews in the United States and in Israel oppose the draft. While Ultra-Orthodox Jews in the United States are not Israeli citizens, and would not be subject to the draft, many have close family and communal ties in Israel. Young ultra-Orthodox men from the United States often study at yeshivas in Israel, institutions that they worry would be shuttered if their Israeli counterparts are drafted.
Followers of Aron Teitelbaum, the Kiryas Joel-based Satmar rebbe, first called the protest, which is permitted to begin at 3 p.m. on Sunday in Manhattan’s Foley Square. Followers of Zalman Teitelbaum, his Brooklyn-based brother, then offered to lend their support. Negotiations are reportedly ongoing.
Assuming the deal between the Satmar factions is finalized, and assuming other ultra-Orthodox groups join in as expected, attendance could surpass 20,000 people, according to one activist follower of Aron Teitelbaum. Without Zalman’s support, the follower estimated an attendance of 10,000 people.
Last May, the support of ultra-Orthodox rabbis, including Zalman Teitelbaum but not Aron Teitelbaum, drew 40,000 Orthodox Jews to an anti-Internet rally at CitiField in Queens.
When Israeli female soldiers get saucy, some Israelis can’t help but applaud. Columnist Halleli Jabotinsky published newly surfaced photographs on her blog, and declared that they actually performed an “important service” by humanizing the Israeli military and also looked “cute.”
In the photographs, which went viral in social media, new recruits exposed their thongs under their uniform, and in a separate image posed in helmets and a tiny amount of combat equipment.
The military has disciplined them, but over at Haaretz Allison Kaplan Sommer has some sympathy for them as young women “who don’t necessarily have any desire or natural aptitude life in the military, but are doing their duty, and decided to relieve the boredom in a silly way.” She wrote: “If these girls were living the life their American peers, they’d be just another bunch of airheaded sorority sisters pushing the limits of good taste on Facebook. Sure, their campus might be buzzing about them, but the Washington Post and New York Times wouldn’t be into their business.”
But army bases aren’t the same as university campuses, and anybody who cuts these girls slack for their very feminine prank should check that there isn’t some patronizing gender-politick at work.
Jabotinsky’s views, which are common, are underpinned by a chauvinistic attitude towards female soldiers. She would have us believe that they should be applauded for looking good, and that they did well by illustrating to the world that girls, even in the IDF, will be girls. The subtext is: What do you expect from women; leave the real soldier-work — the serious stuff — to the men. But in the army rules are rules, uniforms aren’t to be sexualized for public consumption on social media, and nobody should praise soldiers for doing so — even if they think, as Jabotinsky does, that it ultimately gives the IDF a good image.
I appreciate Hillel Halkin’s passionate response to a cartoon that supports the boycott of Israel, promotes anti-Semitism, and advocates a viewpoint that he insists must not be permitted in a Jewish newspaper.
Unfortunately, that is not the cartoon I drew.
My cartoon pilloried the absurdity and intellectual vacuity of hasbara, the public relations effort by Israel and its supporters to disseminate the Israeli point of view. It was a satire of chauvinistic Jewish discourse on the issue of Israel in light of the recent uproar against Stephen Hawking, and it made no comment either for or against what Halkin calls “the Israel boycott movement.”
To be sure, Halkin alludes to the actual content of my cartoon in order to summarily dismiss it, insisting that the most jingoistic critiques of Hawking — particularly of the “He Should Discard His Israeli-Made Intel Voice Chip” variety — were fringe and marginal. Hillel Halkin’s claim is not supported by fact. But having made this claim, he goes on to insist that my cartoon can only be read as a championing of boycotts. “It is a pro-boycott cartoon,” Halkin concludes about a satire of contemporary Jewish debate.
If Halkin would prefer to discuss the boycott movement rather than a cartoon about hasbara, he might be surprised to learn that I am not an advocate of boycotting Israel for the same reason that I am not an advocate of censoring items from Jewish newspapers based on ideological filters. I have faith in open discourse, I have confidence in the capacity of people to reason and grapple with opinions they might not agree with, and I feel that when we start outlawing the free exchange of ideas, we sacrifice much more than a single cultural exchange or cartoon.