Sunday, October 16, 2011

Getting Gilad Home...painful and neccessary

I feel compelled to write this. In another two or three days, a five-year saga will come to an end. Gilad Shalit, a young Israeli soldier abducted during his national service, will come home to his family and a joyful nation, after five years in captivity by Hamas.
But not everyone in the nation of Israel is joyful about the deal that was forged to secure his release. The deal calls for the pardon and release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners - many of them with blood on their hands - enough blood that would "...the multitudinous seas incarnadine" (to invoke the Bard). 
Those against the deal feel that the price is too high; that releasing so many terrorist prisoners will just set the stage for the next round of terror attacks, abductions, murders and general mayhem. This is a compelling argument. As I write, there is a petition to Israel's Supreme Court to halt the deal because it is basically illegal in Israeli law.
The petitioners are families of terror victims, families whose loved ones have died at the hands of many of these soon-to be-released prisoners.
One additional petition is particularly heart-rending: it is filed by Arnold and Frimet Roth of Jerusalem against one prisoner only: the women who drove the suicide bomber to the Sbarro Pizza parlor in King George Street, Jerusalem, in 2001, where their daughter Malki was killed with 14 others - eight of them is difficult not to sign and support this petition: but regretfully, Arnold and Frimet,  I'm not going to. And this is despite the fact that my wife lost her mother and sister in the Purim suicide bombing at Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Center in March of 1996 together with 11 other victims, five of them children under 16. Now let me explain why.
It's not because I have any love for the prisoners; the woman prisoner against whom the Roth's are petitioning is a particularly loathsome individual. She spews hatred and venom and is the more dangerous because of her undoubted charisma and eloquence. It's certainly not because I'm a raving leftist loony who believes that all the world's problems can be solved by "love, love, love..." and it's not because I blindly support the current government in all its decisions...I don't.
It's quite simply because we, as a family, believe that it's time for Israel to be able to celebrate something worthwhile for a change. It's time for this son to be restored to his family and his nation. It's time for us to show the world that one Israeli soldier - one Jewish life - is worth multitudes of our enemies; it's time to show the world that we value life over death. And I for one do not believe that keeping any prisoners in our jails will halt the next bomber or murderer if they really set their minds to it. 
Count the incidents and deaths we have experienced over the past five years - when there was no deal. Look at the incitement and the rocket attacks and the anti-Israel propaganda. I don't believe that this deal - or no deal - will change that one tiny iota. In any case, the terms of the deal are somewhat more favorable towards Israel: the security agreements (yes, I know, agreements with Hamas are not worth the paper they are written on...) are stringent. Each one of the released prisoners may as well have a target strapped to his or her back - one step out of line and another one bites the dust.
But too much time and too many proposals have been tabled to go backwards now. Too much effort has been invested by "honest brokers" - Germany and Egypt - for us to give in to the albeit justified feelings of many victim's families - and my G-d it's difficult to say that. It's easy to say that we must just trust the powers-that-be, the security forces and prison service personnel who had to vet the names - but in this case, we have little choice.
Above all, I put myself in the Shalit family's shoes and say, "What if - God forbid - it was my son?" I would give anything in the world - and expect my country to give anything in the world - to get him back safe and sound. No matter if those that planed the Dizengoff bombing were among the released - good riddance to them. Let them go and rot in Gaza or in some foreign country. I no longer want my tax shekels to be spent on keeping them safe and warm in one of our prisons from where they can plot anything they wish anyway.
Let Gilad come home: let his family rejoice and let Israel rejoice. Yes, the price is high. But let us show the world the value we place on one Israel soldier, as a cartoon in the weekend edition of the International Herald Tribune, showing two prisoners leaving an Israel jail, so succinctly observed: One says to the other "I just did the math - I'm worth 70 grams of an Israeli soldier:" Yes indeed.. .even that's much more than any of them are really worth. Think about it. Let the world remember it. We value life above all else. Bring Gilad home. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Let's Stop Apologizing for our Existence:

I find that our in our constant efforts and eagerness to be loved by the rest of the world, we fall into a huge trap: we are constantly apologizing for our existence:

“Look at how good we are, look at how nice we are, see how clever we are, look how cute we are, see how good looking our young men and women are, we don’t really go out of our way to hurt other people, we’re sorry, look at how we've suffered, we apologize for making you feel bad, we’re sorry you don’t want us here, we’re unhappy that you’re unhappy, we feel bad about that...”


It’s time to grow up: we don’t need to apologize for anything we’ve done right...we just need to state it, clear and bold and confidently.

Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t shout about our successes, or tell the world how bloody marvelous we are – because we ARE – but we need a complete change of mind-set. What am I talking about? Here’s the thing: we do all of the above in a very reactive way. Something goes wrong – and many things DO go wrong – and we react: “Ah yes, but look at how wonderful we really are...doesn’t that negate the one bad thing that happened? We’re sorry...we’re really nice guys once you get to know us...”

Instead, and here I’m quoting from PR 101: Get PROACTIVE. Tell people about yourself, before they start asking...tell the world about your successes and your plans, and your motivations and your good and great points, BEFORE there are problems to have to counteract.

A recent example: We knew that Judge Goldstone was heading a commission which we strongly and correctly suspected would be terribly biased against Israel. We knew this months before the commission published its findings. But what did we do about it? Nothing! Nothing until the report was published and we came under massive PR fire once again...

Sure, there are those who will claim that we constantly put out information about the attacks from Hamas over the years, about rocket fire against our population, and scores of other incidents and threats. That may be so. But did we address the core issue: that there was a suspect commission at work whose members were already prejudiced against Israel, whose findings were likely to suck credibility and which would cause us great harm in the court of public opinion? I don’t believe we did. Instead we had the three main branches of government which were directly affected by the report: The Prime Minster’s Office, the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry (and the IDF) working on their own agendas, with little or no coordination, no central message, no direct thematic approach; spokesmen with poor command of English, fumbling over their words, making statements which had us totally on the defensive. And so we came out, in the PR battle once again, looking like rank amateurs and earning the condemnation of the world.

In the way that Israel’s PR is handled, I can’t help but be reminded of the attitudes I encountered in my community in South Africa. Although I was much younger, I had already imbibed the essence of good PR from some of the masters of the game, from my copious reading on the subject and from my years of experience as a Sunday newspaper journalist. My ethos was: “Go get ‘em...make your statement first – grab the headline...because anything that follows is relegated to page two, and any apology for inaccuracy – and there will likely always be an apology – is consigned to page 24 at the bottom of the ninth column...” "

The community was reluctant to go proactive on most things. When it did, it was with trepidation. And I'm not just talking about political issues...many of the wonderfully good and interesting things the community did went unheralded and unnoticed because of two attitudes held by our communal elders, with all respect to them:

1. "Keep our head down" and
2. "Who cares what the Goyim think anyway?"

When I was an even younger journalist working on a Sunday newspaper, I wrote an article entitled “Don’t Rock the Boat” urging the South African Jewish community to set aside its complacency and come out strongly and publicly against the evils of apartheid. I urged them to condemn, as a community, what was being done in our then beloved country.

This was in the 1970’s and true, there were Jews very much in the forefront of the anti-apartheid movement; prominent Jews, but they spoke as individuals motivated by their individual consciences. I wanted to see the Jewish community, speaking for all Jews and Jewish ethics and tradition and belief, condemning the evil regime. I got condemnation all right, but it was personal and directed at me for daring to raise this issue at all.

There were some things I wrote, that with the immense value of hindsight and understanding my naivety at the time, could have been phrased more tactfully. There were some things I wrote which were probably unfair to the community as a whole. But I make no apology for the sentiment of that article. I was saying: “Stop being complacent, stop turning a blind eye, stand up for your faith, your tradition, your beliefs and in recognition of the persecution of our people for two thousand years, tell the world that AS JEWS, that we condemn these vile policies...”

Sadly, there was no national consensus of how Jews as a community should behave under apartheid. And I believe that to a certain degree – and I know I am walking a tightrope here – that has enabled some enmity towards South African Jews to creep into the rank-and-file attitudes in the new South Africa. While, in their defense, they can laud the examples of prominent South African Jews who were in the forefront of the struggle – Helen Suzman, Joe Slovo, Arthur Goldreich, Harold Wolpe among many others – they cannot say: “We as a COMMUNITY condemned apartheid.”

Would it have been different if the community had come out en mass condemning apartheid at that time? I can’t say for sure. Is the situation of South African Jews today that bad anyway? I really cannot answer with any degree of certainty because I no longer live there. But I DO know for sure that there is a major anti-Israel body of opinion, which inevitably rebounds on the community. Had things been different, hey might well have been able to state with certainty that on such and such a date the community spoke with one voice saying: "We Condemn Apartheid."

So now I am saying, loudly and clearly, it’s time for us in Israel to stop being complacent and letting world opinion determine how we respond to things. Stop allowing world opinion to drive the agenda. Let us not leave the task to the hundreds of individuals in Israel who tirelessly write opinion pieces, who with dedication and passion, write blogs and newsletters and send out information stating Israel’s case. Let’s recruit these people into a national task force; use their talents and their energy and passion, and coordinate this effort under one umbrella so that our messages are consistent, coordinated, sustained and heard. What should that main message be IMHO?

"We don't apologize for our existence. We are strong, we are moral, we are entitled to our place in the sun like any other nation, but most of all, we’re HERE. Get used to it."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A New Israel – A Manifesto

I see the tent protests spreading across this country, from Rothschild Boulevard to Jerusalem, from Haifa to Kfar Saba, and all towns and cities in between. I see young people and older people moving into these tents in protest; I see a movement of discontent being made tangible and I realize that it is about more, so much more, than just housing and rent levels.

It is about a New Israel. It is about young people raising their voices as never before, about the difficulty of living in this country where prices of nearly everything – with few exceptions – are way beyond those of other countries in Europe or the US – and where wages and salaries are far below those of most other Western countries.

It is about young people demanding the right to make a decent living, and not having to live on overdraft; it is about young people saying “...we’ve had enough!” and it is about young people saying “...let’s change this, NOW!”

I see a new Israel emerging from the tent cities. I see a thousand tents along Rothschild Boulevard – and hardly a scrap of paper on the ground. I see people debating and discussing issues and hardly a voice raised in anger. I see spirited protest, but no violence. I see hope and the future being born before our eyes – and I hope we all realize it and grasp it and nurture it, because it is precious...and ephemeral.

I see a New Israel: an Israel which embodies the heritage of our founding fathers; the pioneering spirit which drove us to convert mosquito-infested swamps and arid wasteland into a garden of delight. I see the commitment and the love of this country manifesting itself in the raw fear of the failure of our enterprise and a determination not to let that happen. To recognize when things are wrong and stand up and say “NO!”

I see a New Israel; an Israel in which people of all shades of opinion are able to state their views without being shouted down. An Israel in which gays and straights, knitted kippot, ultra-religious and ultra secular are able to freely discuss and practice what they truly believe.

I see the birth of a New Israel where the rhetoric and manipulation of cynical and corrupt politicians is greeted with condemnation and not apathy; a new Israel in which respect for other points of view, right, left and center is paramount. I see an Israel which is vibrant with creativity, where music and dance, art and literature are nurtured even more than they are today; with well-provisioned museums and libraries, courses and workshops alive and well in every city, town and village.

I see an Israel where its citizens are still safe to walk its streets and country paths at all times of the day and night – this unique benefit of Israeli life which very few other countries enjoy – but which is being slowly eroded as crime and deprivation creep into the back alleys threatening to destroy this aspect of our lives.

I see an Israel with an efficient, professional, well-paid police force which considers the welfare of citizens its number one priority and one which citizens respect because it has earned that respect by rooting out corruption and serving the people; and a criminal justice system where wrongdoers are brought swiftly and fairly to justice, where the rule of law is supreme.

I see Israeli children excelling at their studies, with enlightened educational policies which challenge and reward excellence; I see this happening in well-funded schools, with small classes and dedicated, professional teachers and with every possible technological and cultural facility available.

I see the result of this being a continual surge of the entrepreneurial spirit...bursting with the energy of innovation and creative thought, developing products and systems which will maintain this country’s position at the forefront of technology and medical science. And I see this being achieved through meaningful tax breaks and incentives for entrepreneurs and enterprises, which will attract foreign investment and enable companies to pay their hard-working, dedicated and talented people salaries which don’t disappear by the fifth of the month into exorbitantly priced goods and services, taxes and overdrafts.

My vision includes those who should be the biggest earners in our society – teachers, police and doctors: those people who have chosen difficult professions which have a deep and lasting impact on our daily lives and well-being.

I see an Israel extending the hand of peace, tolerance, understanding and cooperation to our Palestinian neighbors...and seeing our Palestinian neighbors reciprocating by extending the hand of peace, tolerance, understanding and cooperation to their Jewish neighbors...with this spirit eventually spreading throughout our region.

Our armed forces will remain vigilant, strong, moral and technologically advanced, with the concept of “purity of arms” being paramount; where restraint and professionalism rule, where serving in the armed forces is considered a privilege and not a hardship to be avoided.

I see an Israel where drivers respect each other and each other’s property – their vehicles, cars, motorcycles and bicycles – and where our streets and highways enable the swift and safe movement of people and goods to their destinations; and cease being highways of death.

I see Israel as a model of sustainability – with clean skies, rivers, beaches and forests. Where used goods are recycled instead of becoming pollutants...where health, welfare and longevity are the norm.

I see an Israel leading the world with a high quality of government, with spirited debate and creative, enlightened policies. I see an end to coercion, religious or political, and end to corruption, and an end to the wheeling and dealing of coalition politics.

I see an Israel with tourists thronging to its shores – not in the sparse millions we grab at like crumbs each year, but in the tens of millions. I see immigrants from the West clamoring to set up home here because of the opportunities and the high quality of life. And I see refugees being treated with respect and empathy, and given shelter and the dignity they deserve, because we were refugees once.

Above all, I see clarity of thought and a generosity of spirit, more caring, less public animosity, less demands of self-entitlement – our boorish “m’giah li – I deserve it!” attitude. I see this all arising from the spark of the tent city protests, with the promise of a very bright future for my grandchildren being born.

This is one of my visions of the New Israel. The other is too horrible to contemplate...