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Israeli wheelchair players at SA Open

Wheelchair tennis has become a very popular sport around the world, especially since both the Australian Open and the US Open have included it as part of the competition.






Like able-bodied tennis, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has set up an international tour and last week the Acsa SA Open was staged at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.

Israel has built up quite a decent squad of players and a group of them came to South Africa to contest first the Gauteng Open a week earlier in Benoni on the East Rand and then the SA Open which comprised many of the top players in the world, including world No 1 David Wagner of the US, world No 2 Andy Lapthorne of the UK and World No 3, South Africa’s Lucas Sithole.

The SA Open tournament is a Super Series event on the wheelchair tennis tour and is for men and women combined. The tour also has different divisions depending on the level of disability of the player.

The Israeli team comprised only men and was coached by Nimord Bischler. The players were Amir Levi (men’s division), Asi Stokol (men’s division) and Itay Erenlib (quad division).

The best performer was Erenlib, who made the quarterfinals of the singles before being bounced out by Sithole.

The Israeli won the opening set 6-4 but then lost the next two 4-6 1-6. Sithole went on to win the tournament, beating Wagner in the final 3-6 6-3 6-3.

Erenlib also managed to reach the semifinals of the quads doubles where he teamed up with Ymanitu Silva of Brazil. However, they lost to second seeds Anthony Cotterill and Andy Lapthorne of Great Britain in a tight match, 5-7 6-4 6-4.

Levi and Stokol both lost in the opening round of the men’s division draw and that put them into the consolation draw.

Levi lost in the semifinals to top seed Rody de Bie of The Netherlands 1-6 5-7, but Stokol actually made the final when his opponent, second seed Ricky Molier of The Netherlands, had to withdraw.

However, the Israeli also found De Bie too good and went down 1-6 4-6.

Nevertheless, the Israeli team did not go home without a trophy as Stokol teamed up with Charlotte Famin of France to capture the mixed doubles. In the final they beat Spaniard Daniel Caverzachi and Emmanuelle Morch of France 6-2 6-3.

During the first week, as it was Pesach, the Israeli team received a visit from Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa Arthur Lenk.

The ambassador brought the Israeli players some Israeli foods and gifts, watched them play and enjoyed lunch with them.



Hebrew tattoo has everyone guessing




A top soccer player had fans scratching their heads during a championship game last Tuesday between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid in the Spanish capital, after he inadvertently revealed a Hebrew tattoo on his back.

The problem was nobody understood what it meant.

The revelation came after the Croatian-born Mario Mandzukic, who plays for Atletico Madrid, was elbowed in the face as he went for the ball during the Uefa Champions League match.

Mandžukić crashed to the ground, where he writhed in agony. As television cameras zoomed in on him, viewers got a peek at a tattoo in what appeared to be Hebrew script, just visible along his lower back.

Puzzled fans took to social media in an effort to decipher the ink. It was quickly identified as Hebrew but the translation remained elusive, until sharp-eyed readers pointed out that the text was written from left to right instead of from right to left.

In addition, the letters themselves were facing the wrong way, giving the slogan the appearance of being in mirror writing, and suggesting that the tattoo artist was either an aspiring Leonardo da Vinci, who wrote mainly in mirror-image cursive, or hopelessly incompetent.

Once the bizarre lettering had been sorted out, it emerged that the tattoo aimed to proclaim “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”, although spelling errors rendered the actual translation closer to the grammatically awkward “Which doesn’t to kill me, makes me stronger”.

Like ink sporting Chinese characters, Hebrew tattoos have gained a reputation for being prone to going awry, and there is even a website, BadHebrew, dedicated to highlighting some of the worst examples.

As for Mandzukic, when he eventually got to his feet he had a bloodied nose and a bruised reputation. The game ended with a goalless draw, probably making his hapless tattoo the most interesting thing about it.



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Israel travel ban leaves SA olim high and dry



On Monday, Israel implemented a ban on its citizens travelling to South Africa, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Brazil, India, Mexico, and Turkey amidst fears of COVID-19 variants. But the ruling has left many South African olim angry and frustrated, with one saying she felt like she was being “held hostage”.

“This affects all of us. We all miss our families desperately,” says Sarah Spiro.

“I was supposed to fly on Saturday night to spend time with my very ill father,” says Robbie Singer. “I asked his physician to give me a motivating letter to present to the special committee but he said he couldn’t do that because he’s very ill, but not dying. He has been very ill for the past six years. He needs surgery in the next few weeks. I’m anxious and frustrated.”

Another South African in Israel, speaking on condition of anonymity, says, “My son and daughter were due to fly on 5 May. My father is terminally ill and, by the looks of things, doesn’t have much time left. My kids are extremely close to their grandfather, and it was important for them to see him. In addition, their dad lives in South Africa, and they haven’t seen him in 18 months or more. This was all explained in a letter submitted to the panel that decides on exceptional cases, but they were told theirs doesn’t qualify. I know it’s for the best – truly I do – but it’s devastating.”

Another South African who didn’t want to be named says, “Both of my parents are sick with COVID-19, and my application to travel to South Africa to be with them was denied. They said it didn’t meet urgent humanitarian needs.”

“My son, 18, is finishing his final year of school in Israel. I haven’t seen him since August last year when he returned to Israel after the initial lockdown,” says a South African mother who didn’t want to be named. “We’re missing so many milestones. He will more than likely be moving into a lone soldiers’ apartment while he waits to hear when he will enlist in the army. We were planning for him to visit us in July. We can’t travel there as we’re not vaccinated at this point. I’m devastated to be honest.”

For many South African olim, this is just one of many travel bans that have had an impact on their lives, families, and businesses over the past year. “My husband travels regularly back and forth to South Africa for work. The travel bans have had a serious impact on our financials,” says one woman who wants to remain anonymous. “My mother had a ticket booked to come and visit us and see her four grandchildren in August 2020, but due to corona[virus] it wasn’t possible. These travel bans are keeping us from earning an income and denying us our families.”

“My business is in South Africa, and I can’t travel due to the restrictions,” says Steve Zeff. “We have had to restructure roles within the company in order to continue. It’s frustrating because my business is based on trust and reputation. It’s a legal and technical minefield. But I can’t physically get in front of clients, and Zoom and Google Teams isn’t always ideal.”

“The draconian Israeli travel restriction was received with a great deal of dismay and, in some families, profound distress,” says local expert Professor Barry Schoub, the chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 vaccines. “Why, with Israel’s world-beating vaccination programme is the country closing down instead of opening up? Why South Africa, where COVID-19 numbers are relatively low?

“To understand these severe measures, one has to appreciate why South Africa could threaten Israel’s hard-won achievement. It’s unfortunate that South Africa is the global epicentre of one of the most serious coronavirus variants of concern – the variant B.1.351 – possibly the most resistant of all the variants to vaccine-induced immunity,” Schoub says. “It’s true that the Pfizer vaccine used throughout Israel is effective against the variant. It’s also true that the travel screening precautions and quarantine regulations would greatly reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of B.1.351 being imported into the country.

“However, B.1.351 currently comprises only a tiny and insignificant percentage of virus strains in Israel. The country’s economy is opening up, and life is returning to normal. Israel’s public health authorities could now ill-afford for these hard-won gains to be imperilled by the circulation of the most problematic of the viral variants imported from travel from South Africa. They have therefore deemed that only under the most extreme of humanitarian circumstances may any exceptions be made.”

Says Liat Amar Arran of the Israel Centre: “It’s not political … it’s an epidemiological decision.” She explains that the skies are still open to Israelis and olim travelling from these countries who will be required to isolate for 10 to 14 days on their return, depending on their COVID-19 test results. The rule applies to those who have been vaccinated and those who haven’t. The decision is being re-assessed on a daily basis. The government has said it will announce new information on 16 May.

“It definitely hasn’t been easy on the South African Jewish community,” she says. “There has been so much pressure on people needing to travel, and a lot of requests for help. We and other communal organisations are fighting to help the community, as we know its members are the ones who suffer the most from this decision. We are talking to COVID-19 headquarters in Israel, building a relationship, and sharing data with them. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes. There are many who want to travel for simchas, or people who are desperate to see their families. One can request a visit on humanitarian grounds, but only in extreme situations.”

Deputy Israeli Ambassador to South Africa Hila Rose Fridman echoes these sentiments, saying the embassy has even consulted local experts to engage with Israel’s COVID-19 committee. “But South African experts can’t argue otherwise. They don’t think there is a basis to change Israel’s decision.”

Fridman says Israel takes into account many factors when considering exceptions to the travel ban. She knows people are struggling with the ban, “which is why the embassy has decided to host a webinar answering consular questions this upcoming Sunday, 9 May, at 20:00. More information can be found on the embassy’s website and Facebook page, ‘Israel in South Africa’.”

A glimmer of light in the situation is that aliyah flights are still allowed. “We have a flight of 27 South African olim going on 8 May after Shabbat,” says Amar Arran. “It was meant to go at 21:30, but we requested that it be moved an hour later so that those who are shomrei Shabbos have a little more time. This will be the first and last El Al flight for now. Another 30 olim were supposed to go on 22 May, but El Al cancelled that flight, so we will try to arrange it with another airline. Olim include youth, the elderly, couples, and families.”

Roz Bukris, El Al general manager of southern and eastern Africa, says, “We want our passengers to understand that we do care for them in spite of the challenges we are facing. We wanted to avoid disappointment as we have been trying to get flights here since January, but circumstances beyond our control have forced us to cancel.

“Unfortunately, one doesn’t know what the next day will bring. We hope to resume on 3 June from Tel Aviv and 5 June from Johannesburg. However this all depends on the Israeli government’s decisions regarding the South African variant.”

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HRW report accusing Israel of apartheid widely condemned



There has been widespread local and international condemnation over a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report accusing Israel of apartheid and persecution.

The United States-based HRW published a 213-page report this week accusing Israel of pursuing policies of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians and against the country’s own Arab minority that amount to crimes against humanity. The report claims the Israeli government enforces an overarching policy to “maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians”.

HRW said that after decades of warnings that an entrenched hold over Palestinian life could lead to apartheid, it had found that the “threshold” had been crossed.

The report titled “A threshold crossed: Israeli authorities and the crimes of apartheid and persecution” was authored by Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine country director at HRW. Shakir was deported from Israel in 2019 for his alleged support of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

“HRW’s credibility as a human-rights watchdog has been hopelessly compromised by its obsessive anti-Israel bias, so much so that its founder has distanced himself from it,” says David Saks of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. “Its latest report is just another rehashing of this politically-driven, factually distorted vendetta against the Jewish state.”

Israel’s foreign ministry rejected the claims as “preposterous and false”, and accused HRW of harbouring an “anti-Israeli agenda”, saying the group had sought “for years to promote boycotts against Israel”.

Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Michael Biton said the purpose of the report was “in no way related to human rights, but to an ongoing attempt by HRW to undermine the state of Israel’s right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people”.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the report.

The HRW said its report wasn’t aimed at comparing Israel with apartheid-era South Africa, but rather at assessing “whether specific acts and policies” constitute apartheid as defined under international law. The report said Israel met the legal definition for crimes of apartheid as set out by the Rome Statute.

This is the first time in HRW’s 43-year history that it has accused Israel of apartheid. It has called on the United Nations (UN) to verify the claims, and apply an arms embargo against Israel until steps are taken to end such “crimes”.

The report said Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, both within and outside sovereign Israel, met the definition of the crimes of apartheid.

The report provides an example of discrimination, citing Israel’s Law of Return which grants citizenship to Jews who want to emigrate to Israel. It says Palestinian refugees and their descendants who had lived on territory now under Israeli sovereignty didn’t have that same right of return.

NGO Monitor said that for close to 20 years, HRW had backed various BDS campaigns against Israel and companies that do business in Israel. “Recently, HRW was active in [failed] BDS attacks targeting Airbnb and FIFA, as well as in lobbying intensively for the UN BDS Blacklist.”

In its extensive analysis of the HRW report, the nongovernmental organisation accuses the HRW “of deviously erasing the context” of the Law of Return.

“The Law of Return was enacted in the shadow of the Holocaust to provide a safe haven for Jews who for centuries suffered persecution around the world. The sharp rise in physical violence and other forms of antisemitism around the world in recent years only highlights the need for Israel as a safe refuge from persecution.”

The report addressed Israeli policies against Palestinians in the West Bank, including settlement activity, the demolition of Palestinian homes, and lack of freedom of movement for Palestinians.

The report also highlights problems with the 2018 Nation State Law.

NGO Monitor condemned the apartheid accusation, saying it was part of a larger global campaign to discredit Israel and undermine its identity as a Jewish state.

Shaun Sacks of NGO Monitor told the SA Jewish Report that over the past 18 months, NGOs had intensified their campaign to highlight the term “apartheid” in discourse about Israel.

In January, Israeli organisation B’Tselem made exactly the same case, also accusing Israel of apartheid for the first time.

“This campaign reinforces the actions of the ICC [International Criminal Court] prosecutor, who after 10 years, agreed to launch an investigation against Israel.

“Our analysis of this report shows this isn’t merely a critique of Israeli policy in the West Bank, but an attack on the very foundations of Israel and a rejection of the legitimacy of a Jewish state, regardless of borders. It’s the culmination of decades of obsessive attacks against Israel.”

Sacks said Shakir had “devoted many years to delegitimising Israel, and in 2019, his Israeli work visa wasn’t renewed because of his involvement in BDS campaigns in violation of Israeli law.”

The president of NGO Monitor, Professor Gerald Steinberg, said in a statement, “The demonisation of Israel through comparisons to the heinous legacy of the South African apartheid regime has deep roots, going back to the Soviet and Arab campaigns and the infamous Durban NGO Forum. HRW’s latest contribution consists of the standard mix of shrill propaganda, false allegations, and legal fictions. Exploiting the ‘apartheid’ image for propaganda is a cynical appropriation of the suffering of the victims of the actual apartheid regime.”

Rowan Polovin, the national chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation, said the HRW was biased against Israel.

“It’s not surprising that HRW has produced yet another anti-Israel report based on distortion, misinformation, and the political agendas of the writers. Even HRW’s original founder, Robert Bernstein, has distanced himself from the organisation over its obsessive and ongoing anti-Israel focus. HRW has admitted in the report that it doesn’t base its claims on the repeatedly debunked notion that Israel is similar to apartheid South Africa. This is yet another attempt to dilute the meaning of actual apartheid practices in South Africa and the victims who suffered under it.”

Polovin said the facts on the ground “simply don’t comport with the fantasy being portrayed in the report”.

“Whilst this report is being promulgated, multiple Arab nations are signing peace treaties with Israel and scaling up their involvement with the Jewish state. Democratically elected political parties with constituents from Arab-Israeli communities are engaging in the Israeli Knesset with their counterparts, and Israel is faced with rocket attacks not just from Gaza but from Syria as well. This reality isn’t portrayed in the report, and strongly contradicts the allegations it makes.”

Said Saks, “As for the impact of this report, it depends in part on how effectively the message gets out that HRW cannot be trusted, especially on this issue.”

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Strike on Natanz nuclear facility strategic or short-sighted?



A story broke in The Jerusalem Post on 11 April that Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility had once again been attacked. According to the paper, the site’s electric grid and its backup system were destroyed along with a large number of centrifuges. It estimated that the latest attack had added nine months to Iran’s breakout time.

This isn’t the first time this facility has been attacked. In 2010, it was struck by a mysterious Stuxnet computer worm believed to have been a joint effort between the Israel Defense Force’s (IDF’s) 8200 Unit and the National Security Agency of the United States (US). In July 2020, it suffered a major explosion, where, again, according to The Jerusalem Post, it was estimated that three-quarters of the above-ground centrifuge assembly facility was destroyed.

It’s therefore no surprise that this particular facility was targeted once again. The only question is, why now, and why was Israel less secretive about this operation? This time around, there were leaks to the local press and barely concealed satisfaction from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi (chief of general staff of the IDF). Previously, they refused to comment.

The answer, of course, is the resumption this past week of talks in Vienna between Iran and various other countries (Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia, and indirectly the US) in an attempt to resuscitate the 2015 nuclear deal.

The close link between the two events is unlikely to be coincidental. By attacking the nuclear facility now and almost leaving a calling card this time, Israel no doubt attempted to reap some strategic benefits.

First, a clear warning was sent to the US. The US’s negotiating officials have stated that they want any return to the 2015 deal to be accompanied by amendments to the deal to make it “longer and stronger”. However, Israel and its new Gulf allies fear that any changes to a newly signed deal will be cosmetic and not address their fears.

While it’s unlikely that Israel is against a nuclear deal per se, Israel has three key clauses that it insists must be included in any upgraded deal. If these aren’t included, Israel fears its security will be severely compromised.

The most important amendment to the 2015 deal is no “sunset clause”. The current nuclear deal which placed limitations on Iran’s nuclear programme would expire in 2030, and this is unacceptable to Israel.

It requires a much longer limitation on Iran’s nuclear programme. The second key problem, according to Israel, is the lacuna that the 2015 deal didn’t address Iran’s ballistic missile programme, which Israel finds unacceptable.

Israel’s third problem with the 2015 deal is that it didn’t address Iran’s malign activities in the Middle East, and its destabilisation of various neighbouring countries.

Israel believes it cannot live with a new agreement that doesn’t address these three key issues, and this strike is a statement of intent to the US. It says, “Sign a deal that doesn’t address our concerns, and we won’t be bound by it.” Or, even more directly, “If you ignore our concerns, expect a lot more attacks and instability.”

What’s increasing Israel’s anxiety and no doubt caused it to strike now is Western efforts to achieve a breakthrough in negotiations before the 18 June Iranian presidential election. Israel fears a more hardline leader could emerge and scupper talks.

This rush to reach a settlement, Israel fears, could lead to the US signing a new deal prematurely, before all the issues are adequately addressed.

Many commentators believe the Obama negotiators were outmanoeuvred last time by the Iranians, and Israel no doubt wants to raise the temperature now as a warning not to rush into a situation of being similarly outplayed.

The second reason that now would be a good time to strike the facility from the Israeli point of view is that Israel knows Iran doesn’t want any major escalation at this stage. It would put any new agreement at risk.

Israel could feel safe in therefore taking another shot to “change facts on the ground” without fearing any major retaliation. That has proven true. While Iran has threatened to retaliate, it hasn’t done so. Also, its move last Tuesday, 13 April, to announce it would be enriching uranium to 60% purity might have worked against it.

The US and European parties to the deal called the move “provocative”, and warned it was contrary to efforts to revive the deal abandoned by Washington three years ago.

On the other hand, some commentators are speculating that the Israeli strike could backfire. With Iran enriching uranium to 60%, in spite of the strike and the damage it caused, it could make the US and Europeans more anxious and lead to them pressurising their negotiators to reach a deal quickly. That could therefore achieve the exact opposite of what Israel intended, and lead to a hurried deal being signed, with Israel’s key concerns not adequately addressed.

It’s well known that in international geopolitics “timing is everything”, and this doubtless caused Israel to strike when it did. It remains to be seen, however, whether this more aggressive attempt by Israel to influence the nuclear talks will bear fruit, and whether the strike achieved its tactical and strategic aims.

This will become clearer in the next few weeks as the game of diplomatic and military poker plays out.

  • Harry Joffe is a Johannesburg tax and trust attorney.

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