Maurice’s e-mail tête à tête with Haaretz’ editor
Maurice Ostroff has been having a tête à tête with Haaretz editor Ehud Ein-gil all week. Ostroff, an expat SA Zionist and prolific writer, lives in Herzliya & is a keen follower of SAJR Online’s editor Ant Katz. He thought the SA Jewish community would enjoy following this (ongoing?) web war. We agreed – SA Jewry will find some elements of each man’s arguments compelling – and Maurice’s tenaciousness fun too.
The complete e-mail argy-bargy publoished below speaks for itself and requires no further comment from us.
Haaretz violates rules of good journalism again
Sent by: Maurice Ostroff, Herzliya, Israel on Monday 9 December 2013 @ 12h13
To: Ehud Ein-gil, senior editor, Haaretz, cc: Israel Press Council
Subject: Haaretz violates the rules of good journalism again
Recently Haaretz and Gideon Levy were reprimanded by the Israel Press Council for violating the ethics code that mandates fact-checking, objectivity and loyalty to the truth and that bars any mention of a person’s country of origin, ethnicity or social class if it isn’t relevant to the subject under discussion. It also said Haaretz’s editors had not made sure the facts were checked and that they were not careful enough about what the paper published
Your December 8 article under the sub-title “Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu have no right to eulogize Nelson Mandela” similarly contravenes the basics of good journalism. For example while you correctly quote Nelson Mandela as having said “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians” you omitted his very important qualification acknowledging Israel’s legitimate security concerns: “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israel within secure borders.”
Careless with facts, Levy erroneously slams Shimon Peres for allegedly having hosted South Africa’s prime ministers and says this disqualifies him from admiring Mandela. As far I can recall only two apartheid prime ministers visited Israel and Peres hosted neither. Ben Gurion was PM when D.F. Malan visited in 1953 and Rabin was PM when B.J. Vorster visited in 1976. Malan also visited Britain, Switzerland, Belgium and Netherlands and Vorster was welcomed in Portugal, Spain, France, W. Germany Paraguay, Uruguay and Switzerland. P.W. Botha was welcomed in Britain as late as 1984. Between 1980 and 1988 he visited most European countries including the Vatican.
Singling out Israel is not only malevolent, it is absurd. Levy’s argument implies that none of the leaders of countries that hosted South African prime ministers in the days of apartheid are entitled to admire Mandela.
Levy FALSELY alleges that Israel was “virtually the only country that collaborated with that evil regime.” It is disgraceful that he recklessly propagates this damaging canard in violation of clause 5 of the Israel Press rules that states unambiguously “Prior to the publication of any item, the newspaper and the journalist shall check the accuracy thereof with the most reliable source and with the caution appropriate to the circumstances of the case.”
The fact is that dozens of countries traded and collaborated with the apartheid regime. In 1986, while apartheid was suffering worldwide opprobrium, South Africa’s main trading partners were, USA $3.4 billion, Japan $2.9 billion, Germany $2.8 billion, and UK $2.6 billion. By comparison, Israel’s puny $0.2 billion total trade with South Africa amounted to less than 1% of South Africa’s total trade. In addition the apartheid regime was propped up by Arab oil and financing by major European banks
Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan opposed sanctions against South Africa in the 1980’s. Thatcher visited SA and was hosted by Botha who said he was highly impressed by her. The US considered the ANC a terrorist group and Mandela’s name remained on the U.S. terrorism watch list until 2008.
In the circumstances and in view of the harmful political implications, it is highly irresponsible to propagate the canard (i.e. the false deliberately misleading story) that Israel was the only country that collaborated with South Africa and a retraction is called for.
You’re not bound by ethics code, fact-checking
Sent by: Ehud Ein-Gil, senior editor, Haaretz
To: Maurice Ostroff on Monday 9 December 2013 @ 18h51
Dear Mr Maurice Ostroff,
Thank you your detailed letter. Unfortunately, you have misfired.
Shimon Peres was Minister of Defence when the South African premier visited, and actively participated in hosting him. Please see the attached photograph from Haaretz front page of April 10, 1976. It shows PM Rabin and Peres with the South African PM.
So what if other countries entertained Mr Vorster, who had been detained during WWII for his pro-German sympathies and anti-Allies activity, and remained a racist and one of the architects of apartheid.
Israel did have special relations and cooperation with the apartheid regime, an alliance that was not based on trade but on military, strategic and political (and according to foreign sources, including South African ones, also nuclear) mutual interests.
I see that you did not wait more than three hours for our reply before publishing your unfounded criticism and accusations, but sure, you are not a journalist and therefore are not bound by the ethics code that mandates fact-checking before publishing.
I stand by the facts I stated, I respectfully disagree
Sent by: Maurice Ostroff, 10 December 19h17
To: Ehud Ein-Gil
Thank you for your prompt and considered response. I appreciate it.
If by “misfired” you mean that the facts I stated are incorrect, I respectfully disagree.
You can’t be serious in using the logical fallacy of guilt by association, inferring that a photo of Peres with Rabin and Vorster justifies Levy’s declaration that Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu have no right to eulogize Nelson Mandela.
Yes, Peres was Minister of Defence when Rabin hosted Vorster, but how do you connect the dots in reaching the conclusion that because Peres met with Vorster and Rabin he has no right to express admiration of Mandela? Does this conclusion apply only to Peres or also to Rabin and all who accompanied him when he was with Vorster? And more interestingly does it apply to the Christian mayor of Bethlehem, Elia Freij who welcomed Vorster and showed him the manger in which infant Jesus lay?
If you apply the reasoning that Peres is tainted by indirectly hosting Vorster, then Levy would be more directly tainted by his association with Arafat. In an April 28, 2009 Haaretz article Gideon Levy tells how he dined with Arafat who is regarded by many as the father of modern terrorism, involving Black September with its hijackings and violence in Jordan, hundreds of terror acts including the 1972 murder of Israeli athletes in Munich, the 1985 hijacking of the Achilles Lauro and throwing overboard of wheelchair-bound Klinghoffer as well as Arafat’s siphoning of hundreds of millions of dollars from the Palestinian people.
You ask “so what if other countries entertained Mr Vorster?” Do I really need to explain that if a balanced standard were applied, then by Levy’s reasoning none of the leaders of the many democracies that hosted Malan, Vorster and Botha would have a right to eulogize Mandela; a classic example of reduction ad absurdum? It is this recurring, propaganda-like insinuation of a sinister meaning only to events in Israel that are considered unremarkable when occurring in other countries that is objectionable.
You say Israel did have special relations and cooperation with the apartheid regime.Yes Israel, like other democracies had relations with apartheid South Africa but I gave you figures showing clearly that Levy’s statement that Israel was virtually THE ONLY country that collaborated with the apartheid regime is patently false and I challenge you to prove otherwise.
By the way, I did not publish my letter to you in the media as I have been awaiting your response so that it could be published together with mine. I did however send copies to my mailing list and it appears that someone passed it on to an online publication which published it without my knowledge.
“We’re not in the business of censoring opinions”
Sent by: Ehud Ein-Gil, senior editor, Haaretz
To: Maurice Ostroff on Wednesday 11 December 2013 @ 10h07
Thank you for your response.
I have refuted your claims that Levy’s article contained factual errors.
Now your claims concentrate on opinions. These are Levy’s opinions, and he has the right to express them.
We are not in the business of censoring opinions.
By the way, there was a period when Israel was the only country that refused to respect the UN sanctions on South Africa, as even a defender of Israel’s policy confirms SEE HERE.
As for Israel’s special cooperation with South Africa, and its economic importance for Israel, SEE HERE.
Sending a text to a mailing list is nowadays the equivalent of publishing it, as you should have known, and if you did not – now you certainly do.
“I repeat my challenge to you…”
Sent by: Maurice Ostroff, 11 December
To: Ehud Ein-Gil
Thank you for your email. Unfortunately it doesn’t address the gist of my email to you. For example, it ignores my request for an explanation of how Peres’ accompanying Rabin and Vorster justifies Levy’s declaration; “Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu have no right to eulogize Nelson Mandela” and my question whether you apply the same reasoning to the others who hosted Vorster that I named.
The article by Avi Shilon to which you refer supports my argument. He wrote that describing Israel as a friend of the apartheid regime is flawed and simplistic.
Shilon does not support Levy’s claim that Israel is virtually THE ONLY country that collaborated with the apartheid regime. He says it was the only WESTERN country that in 1986 did not take part in sanctions and even this is incorrect. Factually, when economic sanctions were imposed in 1986 Germany and Britain merely made recommendations and imposed no binding sanctions. Switzerland rejected sanctions and Margaret Thatcher actively opposed sanctions as did Ronald Reagan.
The non-profit Khulumani Support Group filed claims against dozens of major international companies in 2002 for having aided and abetted Apartheid. They include Barclays, Citibank and Deutsche Bank and oil companies Total, BP, Engen and Shell, among others who violated the embargoes (none from Israel). Also car manufacturers such as Daimler, who supplied armoured vehicles, knowing they would be used in repressive activities in the townships and arms manufacturers. Apartheid’s four main credit lenders were the US, Germany, Switzerland and the UK. German net capital export to South Africa between 1985 and 1993 amounted to $2.13 billion. SIPRI reports that the largest suppliers of arms to South Africa were France, UK, USA, West Germany.
Allow me to emphasize that I advocate honest criticism of Israel. I am proud of Israel’s free press and I believe that criticism of government is not only healthy but essential for democracy. However, while I don’t expect objectivity, press freedom must always be subject to accuracy, fairness and accountability. The disproportionate singling out of Israel and insinuation of sinister meanings to events in Israel that are considered unremarkable when occurring in other countries, violates the basics of ethical reporting.
In view of the above I REPEAT MY CHALLENGE to you to prove that Levy’s statement that Israel was virtually the only country that collaborated with the apartheid regime is accurate. I am not, as you suggest, concerned with Levy’s opinions. He clearly stated this as a fact, not an opinion. He wrote “Why was Israel virtually the only country that collaborated with that evil regime.”
Virtually is defined by Merriam-Webster as almost entirely or for all practical purposes.
Your replies will be published together with my emails.
Stay tuned, users, we’re sure Maurice will update us if the action continues…
Helen Mirren to play Golda Meir in upcoming film
(JTA) Academy Award winner Helen Mirren will portray Golda Meir, Israel’s only female prime minister, in an upcoming biopic set during the Yom Kippur War.
Production Golda will begin later this year, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The news follows the announcement last month of another star-powered production on Meir, a series titled Lioness led by Israeli actress Shira Haas of Unorthodox fame.
While Lioness will follow Meir from “her birth in Kiev to her American upbringing in Milwaukee, her role in the formation of Israel, and her rise to become the new nation’s first and only female prime minister”, according to a report in Deadline, Golda will focus on the turbulent Yom Kippur War period.
Along with the rest of Israel, Meir and her all-male cabinet were taken by surprise by the attack on the eve of the holiday in 1973 by Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian forces. The ensuing bloody conflict – chronicled in the recent acclaimed Israeli production Valley of Tears on HBO Max – shattered the nation’s growing sense of confidence at the time in an embattled region.
Golda will be directed by Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv, who won the 2018 Academy Award for best short for Skin, a film involving neo-Nazis that he later made into a feature.
“As someone who was born during the Yom Kippur War, I’m honoured to tell this fascinating story about the first and only woman to ever lead Israel,” Nattiv said. “Nicholas Martin’s brilliant script dives into Golda’s final chapter as the country faces a deadly surprise attack during the holiest day of the year, a core of delusional generals undermining Golda’s judgement.
“I couldn’t be more excited to work with the legendary Miss Mirren to bring this epic, emotional, and complex story to life.”
Bibi or not Bibi – is there even a question?
“Citizens of Israel – thank you!” wrote Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Hebrew on Twitter shortly after Israeli polls closed on Tuesday night, 23 March.
A few hours later, a delighted crowd welcomed him at his Likud party headquarters in Jerusalem. “Bibi, Bibi!” they shouted, filling a large hall with balloons, banners, and Likud COVID-19 masks.
But the excitement might be misplaced and premature at best.
As the hours ticked into Wednesday morning, the exit polls started changing their initial predictions. Only on Friday afternoon will the final tally be known.
What won’t alter is the fact that the prime minister’s Likud party won the most parliament seats by a large margin. President Reuven Rivlin will therefore task him first with forming a government. But then it gets tricky.
At the time of writing (at midday on Wednesday) exit polls predicted Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc fell short of the 61 seats it needed to secure a majority coalition. The kingmaker could well be the prime minister’s former ally and defence minister, Naftali Bennett. His Yamina (Rightwards) party won at least seven seats, and although Bennett avoided explicitly declaring who he would support, it’s widely expected he’ll join Netanyahu. In return, he’ll exact a high price in terms of ministerial positions and other powerful appointments.
This would bring Netanyahu closer than ever to a narrow government that would include the most extreme elements of Israeli society. Exit polls showed the Religious Zionist Party, that includes far-right and homophobic elements with roots in the overtly racist Kahanist party, receiving enough votes to enter parliament.
Yohanan Plesner, the president of the Israel Democracy Institute, warned that such a coalition could back Netanyahu’s attempts to find a political solution to his legal troubles. “In this case, it will be imperative that elected leaders from across the political spectrum, civil society organisations, and all those who advocate on behalf of a vibrant Israeli democracy, make it emphatically clear that the results of this election don’t constitute a license to promote radical proposals aimed at eroding the legal system and curtailing the rule of law. The health and vitality of Israel’s democratic system could hang in the balance,” he said.
Meanwhile opposition leader Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid (There Is a Future), said he, too, would try to build a coalition to “create a sane government for Israel”.
Speaking early on Wednesday morning, he declared, “At the moment, Netanyahu doesn’t have 61 seats but the change bloc does. We’ll wait for the final results but as it stands, there won’t be a government based on the votes of the racists and homophobes.”
The anti-Netanyahu bloc is far from a homogenous group, consisting of left, right, and centrist factions. They have fewer options in forming a coalition than Netanyahu. Should neither side succeed, it will be back to the polls for Israelis – the fifth election in two years.
Which in part explains why Tuesday’s turnout was the lowest since 2013. Voter fatigue and apathy are starting to sour even the most ardent supporters of Israeli democracy.
The lack of enthusiasm was most noticeable in the Arab community. Many residents confessed they had lost confidence in their representatives and the two main Arab blocs – the Joint List and the breakaway United Arab List (Ra’am), headed by Mansour Abbas – warned of a “disaster” due to the low turnout.
In the 2015 election, the Joint List became the third-largest party in parliament after it won 13 seats. In the 2020 election, it increased to 15, remaining the third-largest party until Yesh Atid split off from Blue and White to lead the opposition.
Earlier this year, Abbas quit the Joint List, indicating his willingness to join a coalition headed by Netanyahu. And the prime minister welcomed him. Whereas in the past Netanyahu “incited” against the Arabs, this time around, he changed his strategy and appealed to Arab-Israelis to vote for him.
He paid rare visits earlier this year to Arab cities in the north of the country purportedly to encourage citizens to get coronavirus vaccinations, but many were suspicious that he was taking advantage of the rift within the alliance of Arab parties.
Netanyahu appeals to some Arab voters because they believe he can make things happen. He’s also promised to focus on the growing violence and crime in the Arab community, economic issues, and the recent normalisation of Israel’s relations with several Arab countries.
As in the previous three rounds, this election was largely seen as a referendum on the tenure of Netanyahu. Personality politics has so overtaken the race that there has been almost no mention of the Palestinians after years of frozen peace talks.
The day before the vote, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh described the election as an “internal” matter for Israelis, but decried the effect on Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
Netanyahu used these elections to once again portray himself as a global statesman uniquely qualified to lead Israel through its many security and diplomatic challenges.
But unlike the previous election held last March, he didn’t have the support of former American President Donald Trump smiling alongside him in campaign posters. Instead, Netanyahu made Israel’s coronavirus-vaccination campaign the centrepiece of his re-election bid, repeatedly stressing that he was personally responsible for Israel’s impressively fast rollout.
Only a few short months ago, it seemed that COVID-19 would kill his chances of winning another election, and his critics still accuse him of bungling the management of the pandemic for most of the past year. But most Israelis appreciate his efforts.
This was the first election held in the throes of the pandemic, and five thousand additional polling stations were set up to deal with the situation. Workers in hazmat suits collected ballots in hospital wards while buses were parked outside some polling stations to serve as remote ballot drops for coronavirus-positive or quarantined voters.
As things stand now, it’s unclear if four rounds of elections have resolved the longest political crisis in Israel’s history. The country remains as divided as it has been over the past two years.
Israelis assists Eswatini with vaccine rollout
The success of Israel’s COVID-19 vaccine programme may seem like a far-away reality, but it’s actually much closer to home – over the border in fact. An Israel-based non-governmental organisation is working feverishly to assist Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) to build its COVID-19 response, including vaccine rollout, logistics, and public education.
The tiny landlocked nation has been hit hard by the pandemic, symbolised for many in the demise of Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini four weeks after he contracted the virus. Now IsraAID, the largest humanitarian aid organisation in Israel, is helping it to pick up the pieces and turn its story around.
From earthquakes and hurricanes to epidemics and forced displacement, IsraAID has been at the forefront of responding to major humanitarian crises worldwide since 2001. It has worked in more than 50 countries and at any one time, has about 300 staff members worldwide.
A seven-member team from IsraAID landed in Eswatini on 8 March 2021 for a two-week visit. They were invited by the government, which has vaccines in the pipeline, and wants help with logistics and public education ahead of the rollout. The mission is being funded by South Africa-based Nathan “Natie” Kirsh, a citizen of Eswatini.
The global chief executive of the Kirsh Foundation, Carly Maisel, told the SA Jewish Report that Eswatini’s COVID-19 case load and death count probably exceeded reported numbers. “The country has the highest COVID-19 death rate in Africa, and the highest HIV prevalence in the world. With just more than one million people, nearly 60% of whom live under the national poverty line, it would be easy for Eswatini to be left behind in the global vaccination race.”
Speaking from Eswatini, Molly Bernstein, IsraAID’s development and communications manager, says, “We made it here on one of the first flights following Ben Gurion Airport’s reopening last Sunday. We arrived with experts who can give insight into the main aspects needed to implement a vaccination campaign of this kind: an operations expert; a psychosocial support expert; our medical sector lead and public health nurse; an epidemiologist and physician who specialises in vaccines; our head of global programmes; and a communications and public-outreach lead.
“Since the start of the pandemic, IsraAID has been working non-stop,” she says. “We have responded to COVID-19 in 17 countries worldwide. We aim to use the models we develop in Eswatini to inform further vaccination campaigns around the world, specifically in the global south, through a new Global Vaccine Access initiative. IsraAID has longstanding expertise in public health, emergency medical care, and mental health capacity building. We will utilise the know-how developed during Israel’s successful vaccination rollout to inform its planning in Eswatini, from here moving to other potential locations.
“This visit is an assessment mission to understand the capacity, assets, and needs on the ground, and identify how we can best support these aspects moving forward,” says Bernstein. “We’re working with the government to put together a plan.”
Because the country has been hit so hard, Bernstein says that a crucial component of its work will be to focus on mental health and resilience, particularly in regard to the country’s frontline health workers.
“In order to build an effective public health response, we have to think holistically and prioritise the needs of local communities. We are meeting many inspiring people here on the ground who want to work hard to help Eswatini push forward with vaccinations to decrease the day-to-day impact of the pandemic,” she says.
“The people of Eswatini, including community leaders, government officials, and everyone we’ve met, have been extremely warm and welcoming. They are excited about learning about the vaccination experience in Israel and working together as the rollout launches here in Eswatini.”
Maisel says that the Kirsh Foundation wanted to play a role because it believes that “successfully overcoming the pandemic will be possible only once there is equitable access and widespread adoption of vaccines across all nations”. The Kirsh family has responded to COVID-19 around the globe, particularly in Southern Africa, through food relief, unemployment support, medical equipment, and bridge-loan funding.
In addition, “Mr Kirsh’s roots are firmly in Eswatini, the place he calls home, and his legacy of philanthropy there is extensive,” Maisel says. “Eswatini is the country where he founded his entry into business and where he raised his family. It will forever be an integral part of his identity. Watching the country ravaged by COVID-19 has been heartbreaking for him and the Kirsh family.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Kirsh Foundation has responded to short-term needs such as PPE [personal protective equipment] and food relief [in Eswatini],” says Maisel. “Additionally, the foundation has been examining how it can support the country over the long term, such as by sponsoring local oxygen capabilities.
“Now, we have partnered with IsraAID to help the nation and frontline health workers prepare for vaccine distribution and a potential third wave of the virus. Mr Kirsh speaks to the IsraAID team via video calls, and he has told them that they will have a universal effect on the country.”
IsraAID Chief Executive Yotam Polizer told the SA Jewish Report, “It’s ground breaking because there are few initiatives to support the global south during COVID-19, specifically with vaccination campaigns. It’s also ground breaking because it’s the first time that an Israeli organisation is using the expertise developed in Israel as part of its vaccination campaign, and is bringing this know-how to some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.”
The Kirsh Foundation has been a longstanding supporter of IsraAID’s world-renowned global initiatives. “Bringing together the two countries central to Mr Kirsh’s philanthropic vision was a ‘no brainer’ in this case,” says Maisel.
“IsraAID has become synonymous with rapid response to humanitarian crises around the world. We know that it’s up to the daunting task of preparing for a national vaccine rollout, not just because of its proven ability to deliver on its mission, but because of the unique insights it will bring from the unparalleled success of Israel’s vaccination campaign.
“We hope IsraAID will be able to leverage its experience in Eswatini to roll out its global vaccine initiative throughout the rest of Africa, where many countries are in need of its logistical and medical insight,” she says.
Asked if the organisation would carry out a similar mission in South Africa, Polizer says, “Our goal at IsraAID is to support the most vulnerable, regardless of politics. We’ve worked in countries that didn’t even have diplomatic relations with Israel, and we would be happy to support communities affected in South Africa in the future. We believe that through long-term humanitarian work, we can build bridges between people and countries. We would also love to discuss opportunities to partner with individuals and institutions in the South African Jewish community in the future. COVID-19 won’t be over for us, here [in Israel], until it is over for everyone, everywhere.”
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