Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
A while back I wrote about the Israeli Apartheid week taking place in colleges and universities around the States. I talked about the importance of having a strong, honest connection between Israelis and the American-Jewish community in order to fight back against that fundamentally wrong, negative campaign against Israel. I recently found out about an amazing initiative which takes place in University of California in Santa Cruz. Each year for the past four years, the pro-Israel student organization on campus, otherwise known as Santa Cruz Israel Action Committee, organizes a week highlighting Israel’s cultural traditions and political achievements otherwise known as Israel Peace Week. This year’s Israel Peace Week took place from April 23rd to April 27th. Lauren Kasner, who is Vice President of Programming and former president of the Israel Action Committee, managed to find some time to answer my questions:
Who came up with the idea and how?
“We first began doing this when the Committee for Justice in Palestine, otherwise known CJP started planning and executing “Israel Apartheid Week” every year, but sometimes called it “Palestinian Awareness Week”. During this week, the CJP aims to demonize and delegitimize the actions of the Israeli government and military. We first started putting on Israel Peace Week as a response to this, emphasizing Israel’s efforts towards peace, as well as its vibrant culture, which is often overlooked.”
Why is it so important to you to provide an answer to the Israeli apartheid week?
“As a student of one of the most liberal and apathetic campuses in America, it’s crucial to have Israel Peace Week every year. If we were unresponsive, students would have no counter ideas, and take everything that was said by CJP as it is. Students at such a liberal campus tend to love the idea of becoming a social activist, and often blindly follow causes without a sturdy amount of information.”
Who is your target audience?
“Our target audience is students who generally haven’t made up their mind, and know little about the country or the conflict. We know we’re not going to change the minds of those who already have their minds made up, and we’re not trying to purposely build aggression or angst. We want to be a resource not only for anyone who is Jewish or has some connection to Israel, but on a larger scale, for anyone who has any interest in the country or the region.”
What is the itinerary for the Israel Peace Week?
“Typically during Israel peace week we bring one political speaker who will talk about Israel’s efforts towards peace, or give some overview on the conflict. We have a large-scale Yom Ha’atzmaut (the Israeli independence day) party as we always plan IPW to be around Israeli Independence Day, we have some sort of Philanthropy, such as Save a Child’s Heart, and we have a Shabbat Dinner, usually cosponsored by Chabad on campus.”
What are the reactions you receive? Do people decide to support Israel? Are people protesting against you?
“We definitely have a mix. A lot of people react in a relatively positive way, and really resonate with the culture and even the politics of the region. Often, however, we come across students who stand for the absolute opposite of us, and despise what we do whole-heartedly. He receive a lot of negative reactions, and have to deal with them in the best way we see fit. When we bring political speakers, we generally get students who are a part of the CJP to come and ask rhetorical questions just to get their voices heard and prove a point. Luckily are speakers are well trained in answering these questions.”
Are you being asked tough questions? What is the hardest question you were asked? Do you always have answers?
“We definitely get the tough questions, and don’t always have answer. Some questions I have gotten over the years include:
- How can you support Israel’s illegal and unjust occupation of Israel?
- How can you say Israel is not an apartheid state—it is purely racist.
- Why can’t Israel divide Jerusalem so Palestinians can also have their capital there?
- Why should the US give so much foreign aid money to Israel?
- Aren’t Israeli Jews just European colonists?”
I can now only hope there are more groups like that, who really take the Israeli- American cooperation one step ahead. I thank those of you who help us clear our image, and give a decent fight back to those who are using half-truths in order to get some sympathy. These groups of Jewish students, and all Americans who help strengthening Israel’s image, are doing so much for us, that I can’t find enough words to express my gratitude. And to those who take part in such pro-Israelis activities, all that’s left for me to do is to salute you, IDF style…
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May 13, 2012 | 11:05 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
• The Irish bands Dervish and Full Set were scheduled to perform in Israel next month. Unfortunately for them, but mostly for their Israeli fans, the bands’ members caved in to pressure, and decided to join the unreasonable cultural boycott on Israel.
Dervish’s Facebook page filled with posts by fans, who threatened to boycott the band itself, unless they cancelled their visit here. Here is what the band members published (spelling mistakes included): “Dervish wish to announce they will not be taking part in the Irish music concert series in Israel this June. Our original decision to participate in the concerts was, like all our tours and appearances, completely non-political. The organiser of the shows is a musician and friend of the band for many years. He has worked to bridge divides between people through music for much of his life. These concerts were organised in this same spirit. At the time we agreed to these performances we were unaware there was a cultural boycott in place. We now feel that we do not wish to break this boycott. Our decision to withdraw from the concerts reflects our wish to neither endorse nor criticise anyone’s political views in this situation. Dervish are a grouping of like musical minds, we are not a political party .Our motivation as a band has always been and will continue to be our love of music”.
More on the outcome of their cancellation: here.
• On a more optimistic note, a group of Hollywood stars are about to arrive for a tour in Israel next month. Their visit was scheduled as a part of an Israeli program aimed to improve its worldwide image. The future tourists, like Omar Epps and Paul Johansson, will visit several places in Israel, showing its various faces. They will visit Jerusalem, meet our Prime-Minister, tour the Galilee, visit absorption centers (Merkaz-Klita: a place for recent Olim), and will have a taste of Tel-Aviv’s nightlife.
• On 6.2, the International students-films festival will open in Tel-Aviv, with a very special guest appearance by Sacha Baron- Cohen. The film that will open the festival will be Cohen’s recent feature: The Dictator. Other than participating in the festival, Cohen is planning to visit his Israeli relatives.
• A group of six 13-year-olds will fly next month to the final round of an international contest for young inventors, organized by “First” - an American organization which promotes young inventors. The Israeli team will present their “cool” invention - “Freeze Stick.” It is a stick which while being fractured in the middle, can generate cold for 8 to 12 hours, which can be used for preserving food.
• A new medication based on carrot cells, which was developed by the Israeli company Protalix, recently received the FDA approval for treating Gaucher’s disease.
• Another group of students, who go to Savionim Junior High in Yahud, came in first place in an international robotics contest, which took place in Orlando, Fl, on Sunday. The Israeli junior team, “Pink Eagles,” beat 64 other teams from all over the world by presenting a robot which provides an optimal solution to food quality issues. This is not the team’s first win in the “First Lego League” contest. Last year they came in second place.
• A new study ranking states as of the world as the best places to raise children, placed Israel 54th. First place went to Norway.
May 9, 2012 | 9:06 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
In Israel, everyone and anyone can start their own political party, with its own agenda, and run in the elections. This makes every Knesset varied and colorful, as it is combined out of several parties. The current Knesset, for example, has delegations of 13 parties, no less.
On one hand, having many groups within the Israeli population being represented where big decisions are being made is very healthy for the people. But on the other hand, having so many parties representing so many agendas is making the Knesset very fragile, which is very unhealthy for the country. It is hard for me to remember a Knesset which stuck together for the whole four years of candidacy. It usually takes between a year and a half to three years before ministers come to the realization that they don’t get what they want, the prime minister can’t please all parties, the coalition falls apart and we go back to elections. This time we were this close to completing a full round of candidacy. Only nine more months. That is why I was thrilled to hear that the two biggest parties represented in the Knesset, Likud and Kadima, have decided to stop and think before calling it quits and made a deal to form a unity government. This announcement came as a surprise, I admit, but it wasn’t like it happened a week before the elections, after other parties spent a lot of money on publicity and advertising, etc. This decision wasn’t made on time, but definitely before it was too late. This was a last attempt to save the current Knesset, and for once, make the coalition stable and strong. A coalition this big is supposed to help decisions pass, and the country become stronger and more vital.
To me, the real problem here is Shaul Mofaz, who really showed his true, sad self. Unlike his former, Tzipi Livny, who refused to give up any of her principles, Mofaz proved he had none. Livny might have been too strict in her unwillingness to bend a little, which is what prevented her from being the current prime minister. But Mofaz didn’t even set one essential term in his deal with Bibi. A chair for him in the Cabinet and that’s that. He did absolutely nothing for the party he represents and the electors who believed in their agenda. No conditions, no nothing. This is a complete surprise, and simply very very strange. Conditions are what motivates decision making and laws passing in our colorful Knesset. “If you want me to vote pro this suggestion, give our party this and that.” This Mofaz-Bibi deal (not even Kadima- Bibi deal…), is even weirder after reading Mofaz’s statements from the day before, claiming he will never ever join Bibi and stick with his principles, yada yada yada.
So this deal seems out of place and truly killed Mofaz’s public image, but I look at the bottom line, which is that our Knesset will live to see another day. A unity government is all I could ask for: a strong, solid coalition that may actually do something for Israel, and not be based on heads of parties fearing for their seat. I hope this large coalition will be a powerful one, the kind that truly represents the electors, and work unanimously with our friends and foes from outside, and for us on the inside, as well. Even if Bibi and Mofaz thought of themselves and didn’t have the public in mind when making this deal, I want to believe the outcome will be a “win- win” scenario. I may be naive, I probably am, but I see this change as a good one in the long term. For the first time in many years, I really hope to see a government stick to the end, proving Israel can unite for its people.
May 8, 2012 | 9:51 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
The Irish band Dervish was scheduled to perform in Israel next month. As the concert’s day approached, Dervish’s Facebook page filled with posts by fans, who threatened to boycott the band itself, if they won’t cancel their visit here. Unfortunately for them, but mostly for their Israeli fans, the band members caved in to fans’ pressure, and decided to join the unreasonable cultural boycott of Israel.
Here is what the band members published (spelling mistakes included): “Dervish wish to announce they will not be taking part in the Irish music concert series in Israel this June.
Our original decision to participate in the concerts was, like all our tours and appearances, completely non-political. The organiser of the shows is a musician and friend of the band for many years. He has worked to bridge divides between people through music for much of his life. These concerts were organised in this same spirit. At the time we agreed to these performances we were unaware there was a cultural boycott in place. We now feel that we do not wish to break this boycott. Our decision to withdraw from the concerts reflects our wish to neither endorse nor criticise anyone’s political views in this situation. Dervish are a grouping of like musical minds, we are not a political party .Our motivation as a band has always been and will continue to be our love of music”.
This is a letter I sent them:
Good for you, Dervish, for not breaking the boycott, God forbid. It is very important to not take sides politically, by boycotting a state just because people with a clear political agenda have decided to do so. It is very important to focus strictly on doing music, which is why you made the right choice by not sharing it with your Israeli fans, who, the last time I checked, were humans just like the rest of your fans.
Take Elton John, for instance. He decided to perform here, even while being fully aware of the boycott. People threatened him, saying that if he will not boycott Israel, they will boycott him. It has been two years now, since he performed here, and last time I checked, he was still pretty popular. Same goes for Lady Gaga, Madonna, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and many more.
Dear Dervish band members, whose names I don’t bother to learn, this is not a game. This is not first graders who decide not to play with the foreign kid because of a dumb rumor they didn’t bother checking. This is the real world, and you are messing with people’s lives here. We, Israelis are real people, not fairytale characters who live in a faraway land. We are flesh and blood, and last time I checked, your Israeli fans did nothing wrong to our neighbors. Your Israeli fans are not decision makers, and certainly not murderers. They are people who try to live a normal life, while others think it’s funny to mess it up. Your so-called politically correct announcement is hurtful, and so are some of the comments written by your fans. For every Youtube video you see condemning Israel’s “apartheid” system and humiliating treatment toward Palestinians, I can show you a Youtube video showing the exact opposite.
Never judge a book by its cover. Ever heard that sentence? What if I will send a letter to Coldplay, saying Ireland is a terrible place, where they treat brown-eyed people like they are second-rate humans? I’ll attach a well-edited video with proof, and ask all of my Israeli friends to join me in that struggle. It is impossible to even think of Ireland, while this massacre is going on. Sounds absolutely ridiculous, right? But think to yourself: what if it actually worked, and you have nothing to do to make it stop? What if there is in fact a problem, but it is much more complicated than you can imagine, and you are being punished just because people are too narrow-minded and don’t bother digging a little bit deeper?
This is not high-school, this is international relations. Moreover, these are people. Just like you. You are not sure what’s really going on in Israel, and you will never be sure until you will come here. But the one thing that is sure is that hurtful cancellation. That happened for sure. It is sad that a band like you forgot what music is all about - which is bringing people together. Music is the one international language which should never be infected with politics. Congratulations, you helped that infection spread. You are now poison.
May 6, 2012 | 12:14 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
My grandfather passed away surprisingly about two months ago. Recently, we received a letter from an elementary school in Florida, informing us that a donation of Chai has been made by our American family friends to this school, in commemoration of him. I remember seeing this type of donations before, when I was working at a summer camp in Georgia last summer: American Jews make donations in multiplies of 18, to all sorts of facilities and institutions, and get their loved ones’ names, or even their own names, engraved on the walls of place receiving the donation.
This type of donation is not common here in Israel, while in the U.S it appears to be a grand part of the Jewish culture. Reading this letter, knowing my grandfather has been commemorated in return of a modest yet very kind donation, put a smile on my face and filled my heart with completion. This is truly an admirable thing that should be adapted by Jewish communities all over the world. It is simply beautiful and beautifully simple, to make a donation according to your abilities, which is appreciated, no matter how high it is.
This shows pure kindness and acceptance of all, which are two of the qualities which describe the Jewish culture in general, and the American-Jewish culture specifically.
It is not difficult to show appreciation for all donations, but sometimes we tend to forget to do so. It is easy to get lost in pride, and sniff at modest donations, while respecting grand amounts of money. This is the reason letters like the one we received are so heartwarming.
I am very grateful for your never forgetting the true values of Judaism and of humanity. This everlasting commemoration of my grandfather in a school far away from here put true, genuine smiles on my family’s faces, for the first time in weeks. Thank you.
May 3, 2012 | 11:26 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
My vote for Tzipi livny was my first vote ever. I was 19 when the elections to the Knesset were at their prime. Since it was my first election ever, and the first time I showed any interest in politics, you can be sure I’ve done deep research before going behind the curtain.
Being a young, fresh voter, I decided to go through all the statements of all the different parties (and there are a lot in here) which I felt were relevant for my general beliefs. I didn’t care about previous rumors of corruption or fresh gossip or any type of dirt rival parties presented. I only cared about the issues the party leader tended to take care of, and the party’s general agenda. Kadima, the party which was led by Livny, was still fresh. After rising in 2005 as a pure center party, it felt like the perfect party for me. I don’t have a distinct political point of view. I’m neither right wing or left wing, and I was looking forward to see our country being led by a party which deals with various issues with a clear mind, one issue at a time. As for Livny, she was a woman, and a charismatic one. Her portrait on billboards made me believe in her and in everything she wants to do. She was a true epiphany. A strong, confident woman, who fits perfectly for the 21st century Israel.
Kadima won the election, but Livny failed to get a proper coalition together. Lacking agreements with several parties, the second leading party, the Likud, took the stand. I really looked up to her by holding on to her beliefs and not caving into small politics. I was convinced that as the head of the opposition, she will correct the Israeli politics for good.
Now, almost four years later, there’s no doubt- Tzipi has disappointed me, and the majority of Israeli voters. The woman we’ve all put our faith in, the former minister of foreign affairs, a politician who always focused on doing her job more than on the publicity, has failed. In three and a half years she did absolutely nothing. The strong woman, who promised everything I could hope for, was probably the quietest head of opposition in a while. Her quitting the government and leaving her job before the next election was the final straw for me. After losing the inner elections in her party to Shaul Mofaz, she was probably so embarrassed she forgot why she is here to begin with. She forgot that making a difference can be done even while not being on top. That one doesn’t necessarily have to be the first on a list to have great impact.
From being at the top, she single-handedly brought herself down. Her leaving the Knesset proves she also believes she has failed us. She knows she has nothing to give, because otherwise she would stay and fight her battles until the last day of duty. With all that being said, I still hope she decides one day to return to the rough world of politics. Surveys show people still have faith in her and hope she will be back, stronger than ever and proving everyone wrong. I hope she does, because all of her political failures, disappointing as they are, are also her strongest point. Throughout the way, she never gave up her integrity, which is hard to find nowadays. I hope she will rise again and correct the wrongs of the past. Tzipi, please take four years, no more, and reunite with the 2009 values. This I hope, and we will be waiting.
May 1, 2012 | 2:33 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Yesterday, I received a text message from my father who said: “there was an attempt to kidnap a little Israeli girl in Disney World.”
The first thing that popped into my head at that moment was an infamous urban legend with the same title. The story of that urban legend tells of a young girl/boy who was kidnapped right underneath his/hers parents’ sight while vacationing at Disney World/Disneyland. According to the story, the child suddenly vanished, taken away in what is supposed to be the safest place in the world. When the parents find out their child is gone, they call security, which blocks the gates of the park, so that no one can enter or leave. All of a sudden, after long searches, the parents recognized their child. Her/ his head is shaved or colored, the clothes are different, but this kidnapper forgot to change the child’s shoes , and only by recognizing them, the parents are able to save him/her from leaving the park with the kidnapper. After the child is reunited with his parents, he is usually found to be doped up with blurry vision, and doesn’t remember a thing. The parents, obviously, refuse to be exposed while telling their story to the press, and sometimes threatened to sue Disney.
After browsing online, reading articles on almost every major Israeli news website, I came to realize this is one big hoax. The story was identical to the urban legend. Just in case, I Googled “child kidnap Disney” and came up with nothing. The only link which was relevant was one of a similar story, only this one ended with the exposure of the parents’ hoax by the press. By this time, I and most of the people who wrote comments to the online article figured out that this story was not true. Unfortunately, my father still refused to believe a story which appeared on the morning news, and on most news websites, was not verified properly. “But it was the news,” he said to me on the phone. A couple of hours later, it was out in the open: the story turned out to be fiction, and the reporter who was the first to publish the story was suspended until more details on the case will be revealed.
My guess was that she didn’t have enough stories for the morning broadcast, and there was a lot of pressure on her to find a story appropriate for the headlines. While missing a story, she came upon those parents who reported on the false case, following the urban legend’s smallest details. She probably didn’t have the time to verify the facts, and published the juicy story as is. I don’t think she will lose her job or be banished from all media forms. She was tricked and she fell into a trap, tempted by a sensational story. But with that, I can say it took me about five minutes to figure out the truth, by simply clicking “search”. There is no question on the matter: she really messed up, and gave us journalists a bad name. People recently started questioning our integrity and hard work, and I guess their claims may slowly form into something actual. This story is either sad or amusing. Not quite sure.
April 30, 2012 | 1:44 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Roger Waters, Carlos Santana, the Pixies are just a few of a long list of artists who gave in to political pressure and cancelled their scheduled performances in Israel in the past few years. After receiving threats of an artistic boycott by anti-Israeli groups, they were publicly called to avoid coming to this “horrible” place. Those artists joined the cultural boycott of Israel, which was organized by our haters, and that its outcomes are worse than any hostile news report. Those artists helped to put Israel in cultural solitude, simply because they were too afraid of criticism, and managed to bring politics to the universal language: music.
While some caved into the pressure, there are several reasonable, confident, true musicians, who don’t care what people think: they are here to make music. Here, in Israel, we don’t listen to Israeli music only, but rather enjoy international music, mostly American and British. I, myself, am a huge Elton John fan, and when he announced his arrival to Israel, I was almost hospitalized. Shortly after the announcement, the pressure reared its ugly head. Up until the day of the performance, I, along with 40 thousand ticket purchasers, had no idea if we will be able to have the night of our life, or receive a refund. The wait was nerve-wracking. Every week in the four months from the announcement to the performance, new conflicted reports were published. I was certain he would cave, for the fans are the most important thing for my good friend, Elton. But he didn’t disappoint, and played for us like never before.
June 17th, 2010. I’ve been waiting for this night my entire life, and this is why even four months after purchasing my ticket, I still couldn’t believe where I was. Ramat Gan stadium, at night, just me and my 40 thousand best friends. At 8:45 pm, almost too early in Israeli time, the lights went off, and as the late comers were still trying to find their seats, the band members took their places on stage. The youngest amongst them is a 50 year old pretty-boy keyboard player. The eldest, wearing a flannel shirt showing a wrinkled, hairy chest, was obviously not self-conscious. Two minutes of instrumental intro reached its climax when King John took his place by the piano. He was short, fat, and looked more like my grandfather than a rock legend, but when his fingers touched the keys, the world ceased from spinning. It seemed like everything negative or wrong in the world simply faded away. There were no wars, no global warming, no politics. The world became the notes that came out of John’s piano. At that moment, before even performing the first song, I found myself tearing up. I was overwhelmed both by the existence of this concer, and by the amazing force of each note. The gentle vibration in his rusty voice, along with unbelievable improvisations, cast a spell on me.
His voice is not the same, no doubt, and the high tones are hard to accomplish, but sir Elton Hercules John knows he can trust his audience. Almost as if it was prepared in advance, 40 thousand people sang “Roooooaaaadddd aaaaahhhhh” in perfect pitch. He knows how to get the recognition he deserves. At the end of each song, he leaves his comfort zone by the piano, reaches the center of the stage, and bows to the roaring audience, while mumbling “thank you. I love you”. Other than that, he doesn’t talk much, and let the songs speak on his behalf. Unlike most performing artists, he doesn’t tell the stories behind the songs, nor personal stories of any kind. He doesn’t need to. It is a shame to waste music-time. Nevertheless, there was one monologue on which he didn’t skip. Prior to his arrival, just like before any musician’s arrival to Israel, there was a lot of pressure on him to cancel his performance. Anti-Israeli groups called on him to join a cultural boycott on Israel. This type of pressure took down many musicians who were supposed to come here, but not John. To the sound of 80 thousand hands clapping and 40 thousand mouths whistling, he announced that no one can stop him from coming to Israel, and that it is the purpose of music to bring people together. Just like that, he managed to top the pure beauty of the music he makes.
Despite being a huge Elton fan, there were some songs I didn’t recognize. It didn’t matter. I was caught up by each note, as my heart pounded like crazy. The energy trough the audience was un-Israeli and somewhat mellow, but when he started playing “Benny and the Jets”, some sparks of energy started to go through the seats. When he started playing “I’m Still Standing”, there was no warm seat left. Everyone was on their feet, jumping and singing the lyrics which best describes John. Two and a half hours felt like ten minutes to me. Two and a half hours of musical combinations which made both my body and soul shake with thrills, sewed like a golden thread by John and his band.
He returns for the encore to a continent-crossing cheers. For solid five minutes he stops everything and reaches the front rows, shaking hands, signing, and collecting flowers and love. Then, he blows a kiss in the air, and sits by the piano. He starts playing the legendary “Circle of Life”, while images from The Lion King are shown on the screen. The show is sealed with my favorite song of all time: “Your Song”, as a fireworks spectacular shoots in the air. As he leaves the stage, the lights turn on, both in the stadium and in my life. I will never forget that night, the night when the ground shook.