Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
In the past couple of weeks, Israeli newspapers’ headlines read “violence.” From murders to stabbings, rapes and even violence toward animals, the summer has brought a storm of violence upon Israel. The papers told the many stories from beginning to end, not leaving a single detail behind, including the criminals’ ethnicity and nationality. Some of the crimes were committed by Israeli Jews, some by Israeli Arabs, some by African refugees.
Indeed, Israel has become the home of hundreds of refugees who have found shelter here. According to the International Refugee Law, if a person requests shelter in a certain state because there is an actual risk for his/her life at their homeland, the state must not deport him/her. The problem is it is hard to tell which refugees have their lives at risk, and which decided Israel is a fine place to live. The latter are illegal immigrants. Because it is impossible to simply kick all immigrants out, for the fear of dismissing legitimate refugees, there have been several governmental campaigns calling citizens of Israel to report on any illegal immigrant who works here that they might know. There have been some arrests, but even still, there are many illegal immigrants still living here. This is a very complex situation, mainly because of the difficulty of making an assessment on the amount of danger one is facing in his homeland. According to the assessments, as of 2005, tens of thousands of refugees came to Israel, most of them entered through the border of Sinai. Only hundreds of them are defined as such by law, as they face a true danger in returning to their homelands.
In 2009, the then new internal affairs minister, Eli Yishai, began working on dismissing all illegal residents from Israel. Starting with “small portions,” hundreds of families were deported from Israel, to mixed reviews from the press and people. After being the top news topic for months, the refugees issue remained on a low flame, until last week. Due to the involvement of African refugees in a few of the violent cases recently, Yishai, who seems to believe Israel needs a new scandal, said that he “would place all of them, with no exceptions, in prison or a closed facility, and from there, provide them with funds and send them back to their countries” (free translation from Hebrew). He also mentioned that the very few defined-by-law refugees will be allowed to stay here. This comment was related to his opinion on the violence roaming the streets. And yes, this was a very racist comment made by an official who was chosen as a representation of the public. He unwisely claimed that most African migrants in Israel are involved in criminal activity, in a statement that couldn’t sound more random to me. True, according to the Israeli Police, 40% of the severe violent cases reported in Tel-Aviv involved African immigrants. But from that to an overall departure of an entire population, the gap is enormous.
Yishai’s remark goes not only beyond any humanitarian conception, but also beyond what is expected from a Jewish person. The land of the Jews was founded 64 years ago, but until then, for thousands of years the Jews wandered around the world, with no place to call “home.” Rootless, we were constantly deported from places and faced many false accusations and racist remarks. The inclusion of all Jews under the same umbrella soon became a valid perception, which peaked at the beginning of the 20th century. One sad day, when the world was low and people were looking for someone to blame for their troubles, one man decided that everyone who is different from what he defined as “standard” was that “someone.” Throughout the early decades of the 1900’s, when living in Europe became dangerous for Jews, most countries refused to accept Jewish refugees and provide them a shelter. Many years have gone by, and we founded that place where all Jews are safe from empty judgments. As Jews, we know best about being different, and the risk of turning our back to a person in distress. The Jews living in Europe at that dark time, were fat thieves with big noses, and had the blame for WW1 and all that followed. Back then, Europe was a place where human kind was ranked by races. There were no private people with different personalities, just labeled origins.
It is unreasonable that a person whose roots are deep in the Jewish history will make a racist remark, not to mention one of that kind. Deport all African immigrants because they are the reason for the violence level in Israel? To me, other than failing as a Jew, Yishai failed as a human being. A violent person is one who has a troubled personality or a troubles socio-economical status, not one who has a “troubled” ethnicity.
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May 21, 2012 | 11:05 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
• Tel-Aviv is known to be one of the Gay friendliest places on earth. The Gay pride week, which will take place in the first week of June, has a tourist arrival estimation of 20 thousand people, and the preparations are at their prime. As rainbow colored flags will decorate the porches, the municipality decided to make the streets a bit more colorful as well. Last week, several crosswalks in Tel-Aviv were colored in rainbow colors. This marks the opening of the Gay Pride Month events, which began on May 17th and will last until the grand parade on June 8th.
• The award-winning series, Homeland, which is based on an Israeli series, is currently filming parts of the second season here, in Israel. We all know that art imitates life, but this sentence turned out to be a fact for the cast and crew as former Israeli Prisoner of war, Gilad Shalit came to visit the set. Since his return, Shalit has been turned into a mini-celebrity, as the press informs us of his whereabouts. As reported, Shalit, who already caught up and watched the entire first season of Homeland, was very excited to meet the leading man and woman of the show: Clare Danes and Mandy Patinkin, and even exchanged experiences with the cast and crew.
• As the cultural boycott on Israel gains strength, and more and more artists are cancelling their scheduled performances, there are many who still believe that music is the assent of all. Lenny Kravitz announced his upcoming performance here on October 6th and it will probably take place at the Yarkon Park. Kravitz was scheduled to perform here in 2007, but cancelled due to political pressure. Turns out he couldn’t stay away…
• Disney released the trailer for their new feature The Odd Life of Timothy Green. In the movie, starring Jennifer Garner, you can also spot a new rising star in the Hollywood sky: the Israeli 15 year-old actress, Odaya Rush. Rush moved to the States with her family when she was nine, and since then participated in various commercials, movies, and television shows.
You can see her in the recently released trailer:
May 18, 2012 | 10:01 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
In this post, I would like to talk to you about an experience I’m sure most of you know well- Jewish summer camp. But since you know it so well- I would like to tell you about this experience from an Israeli delegate side. Last summer I had the honor to be a part of an Israeli delegation sent by the Jewish agency to Camp Coleman in Cleveland, GA. It took six months from the day I sent my application forms to the day I boarded the plane. In those six months there were eight hours of examination on my work within a group and by myself; an interview in English with the camp director; a five day preparation seminar; an endless line to get my visa; three days of packing, and more. Being so busy preparing really got my mind off the excitement. It was only when the camp driver, Jon, picked us up from the airport in Atlanta, when the butterflies snuck into my stomach. The very detailed preparation was so we will know exactly what to expect. Luckily, my summer was full of good surprises.
When we, Israelis, go abroad, we take great effort in hiding both our Israeli and Jewish identities. In fear of having an unfortunate incident with an anti-Semitic violent group, or Israel haters, we avoid speaking in Hebrew out loud, and don’t wear any clothes that have Hebrew letters on them. When we are outside of our Israel safe-zone, we have to hide who we are. I don’t like doing it, but it is necessary and I already got used to it.
Camp was the very first time I was proud of being an Israeli outside of Israel. My friends and I felt like we were heroes. Instead of protesting against the IDF, both the campers and the counselors saw us, Israelis, as brave warriors, even if we sat behind a desk for our service time. I could wear my Hebrew T-shirts proudly, and by the time camp ended, I gave two of them to my best American camp friends, who still hold on to them proudly. At nighttime, before my eight year old campers went to sleep, I would tell them stories about the beautiful Israel and answer questions. I was lucky to work as a Journalism specialist, and during some of the classes, I had the campers write about what Israel is to them, and what they think Israel looks like. During days off, when we toured Georgia and came back to the real world, we had to hide our identity again, anxiously waiting for the next day when we go back to camp. For two months, the Camp Coleman Israeli delegation felt like the kings and queens of the world. I was in Heaven, surrounded by Jews who are proud of being Jews, and look up to me, simply because I am an Israeli.
Camp was the best time of my life, and a unique experience. We don’t have summer camps in Israel in that same format as you have, so it was defiantly an original experience for me. It was two months of pure fun (or: “Kef”, in Hebrew) and an everlasting smile. But it wasn’t just the living- in- a- happy- bubble- forgetting-all-my-worries experience that I will forever carry with me; Camp was also the time where I realized I have no reason to be ashamed of being a Jew and an Israeli. More than learning that lesson myself, I got to see children learning that very same lesson. I spoke with children who sometimes go through bad times, when being picked on for being Jews, or when reading the international news version of the Israeli behavior towards Palestinians. They may not be aware of it while being at camp, because they are busy having fun, but from where I was standing, I could see them bloom as Jews and as individuals. Those children were my everything and I am still in touch with some of my campers. Each and every one of them really influenced me in his/her unique way, and I hope I did the same for them. Camp teaches them, every summer, to carry their Judaism with pride, and to always remember where they came from. The Jewish Camp may seem like two months of nothing but fun, but it carries a great responsibility in making the campers love being who they are, as individuals and as a part of the Jewish community.
I’ve been to one camp, which I objectively believe is the best of them all, but I am sure all the hundreds more do the same amazing job in making the Jewish community stronger, and in tightening the Israel- US relationship. Seeing only smiles for two months, and being a part of that amazing creation which is Camp Coleman, was certainly a life changing experience for me.
May 15, 2012 | 10:20 am
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…
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.