Sunday, 26 February 2017
KISSUFIM CROSSING, Israel — The Star of David is the best-known symbol of Jewish identity and of patriotism for the state of Israel.
So it may come as a surprise that a six-pointed star hangs around the neck of Sgt. Yossef Saluta, a Muslim Arab.
The 20-year-old poses proudly wearing the necklace and his Israeli army uniform, a rifle slung over his shoulder. He is among a tiny but growing number of Arab Israelis to defy tradition — and often their communities — to serve in the Israeli military.
"There is more openness among Arab Muslims that are not Bedouins to volunteer and join the army," according to Col. Wagdi Sarhan, the head of the minorities unit in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). "We're talking about recruitment of dozens of Arab Muslim youth and we are hopeful that the numbers will grow."
Four years ago, the number of Arab Israelis who volunteered for military service was under 10. Today it stands in the dozens, according to Sarhan.
National service is compulsory in Israel, with some exemptions — three years for men and two years for women. This rule also applies to the country's non-Jewish Druze and Circassian communities.
Muslim Bedouins, who tend to identify more as Israeli than other Arabs, and Christian Arabs can voluntarily sign up and each minority is represented by a couple of hundred members of the armed forces.
However, Muslim Arab Israelis have traditionally seen the military as a tool to oppress fellow Arab Palestinians in the West Bank — which Israel captured in 1967 and still occupies — and often avoid military service.
But Saluta does not see it this way — and neither does his family.
"This is my country and it's my duty to protect its borders," he said. "When I told my family I want to serve, they backed me up."
He admits that his friends gave him "a strange look" when he first made the decision. "But after I told them about my experiences in the army they were convinced to also join."
Saluta's view is not widely shared among Arab Israelis, who make up around one-fifth of Israel's population.
Parliamentarian Yousef Jabareen believes that fellow Arabs should not serve in Israel's military.
"We in the political leadership of the Arab community and the public itself strongly oppose the recruitment of Arab citizens because we cannot be part of an oppressive regime against our people," he told NBC News.
The Israeli army not only imposes Israel's occupation of Palestinian land in the West Bank, it is a way to indoctrinate young people, according to Jabareen.
"The army is also a framework for instilling Zionist Jewish narrative on the recruits, a narrative underlying the denial of the equal status and rights of the Palestinian collective," he added.
But new troops are not necessarily making decisions based on politics. Most believe the army opens doors in Israel according to Sarhan. They believe that being a soldier makes them more Israeli, which in turn garners respect, he said.
Serving is a step toward building a career, said Sgt. Saleh Halil.
"I want to finish my three-year army duty and hope to become a policeman," said the 20-year-old from the Arab village of Judeida Makr in the north of the country.
According to Sarhan, recruitment is growing because of widespread despondency among Arabs. Serving will help them find a purpose and boost confidence, he said.
"The army is a great platform to strengthen the bond between the Arab population to Israeli society," Sarhan added. "We understand that by serving in the army they will become more connected and more positive towards the state."
Saluta and Halil took their oath to the state while holding the Quran, rather than the Bible as Jewish soldiers do.
But serving in the armed forces doesn't come without hardship and the first few months in are not always easy for the new recruits.
"Suddenly they meet different Israelis who don't always treat everyone equally, so sometimes they feel like they are looked upon differently," Sarhan said.
The other major difficulty these soldiers face comes from how their own communities treat them. It is not easy for these youngsters to be seen wearing a soldier's uniform.
"After basic training I served in Jenin and worked closely with Palestinians," said Halil, referring to a Palestinian city in the West Bank. "You can imagine how surprised they were when I spoke Arabic with them."
But this experience did not dampen his enthusiasm for being a soldier. On a recent evening on a base only a mile away from the Hamas-held enclave of Gaza, Halil took a break from his duties patrolling the border to speak to NBC News.
"It doesn't matter if you are Muslim, Jewish or Christian," he said. "We're all the same with one helping the other."
Thursday, 23 February 2017
Dr. Elaine Cawley Weintraub is a cultural historian who has published extensively in the US and Ireland.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.
In the small country town of Castlebar, Ireland, you’ll find a road named after a German Jewish refugee and Nobel Prize winner, Bothar Sior Ernst Chain. Chain was awarded the Nobel for his work in developing penicillin. Sir Ernst Chain Road is a major road in the center of the small town. Visitors and local people often wonder: what was the connection between Chain and County Mayo?
Ernst Chain, born in Berlin, fled Germany for England in 1933 as the Nazis took power in Germany. He worked at Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College London. Together with fellow chemist Howard Florey, he worked to make penicillin usable as a medicine. Chain, Florey and Fleming were all awarded the Nobel prize in 1945 in recognition of their discovery of a lifesaving drug. In 1969, Ernst Chain was knighted and bought a home in the remote village of Mullranny in County Mayo about 24 miles from Castlebar. He and his family had vacationed in the village for many years. He lived there for nine years until he died in Castlebar Hospital.
Chain’s old house is still owned by his family. He is still remembered in Mullranny, where resident and pub owner John Daly recalls that Chain drove a large Bentley and that such a vehicle had never been seen in the remote village. It’s hard to imagine what a sophisticated Berliner found in this remote western part of post-colonial Ireland, then probably the poorest country in Europe, but it is evident that he enjoyed his time in Mulranny. Certainly, he must have found beauty and solitude and may have seen for himself the remarkable transformation wrought in rural Ireland by the development and use of penicillin. Before its discovery, children died of diphtheria, pneumonia and infected tonsils. Farmers died from infections caused from injuries and women died from post childbirth infections. Official recognition of Chain’s work in England was not given until 2012. He was not honored in the same way as Alexander Fleming and Howard Florey, a fact he attributed to the rampant anti-Semitism he encountered at Oxford and Cambridge Universities where he did the pivotal work.
Ernst Chain is not Castlebar’s only link to Jewish history. There is another story that links two desperate communities: the impoverished people of Castlebar in newly independent Ireland and European Jews seeking to escape from Nazi dominated Europe. In 1938, the then minister of trade in Ireland, Sean Lemass, visited Europe seeking businesses that might relocate to the west of Ireland and provide business expertise and work opportunities for what was then a desolate part of the world racked by the scourges of unemployment and emigration. He attracted three Jewish owned businesses from France, Austria and what was then Czechoslovakia. A Polish Jewish businessman, Marcus Witzthun, who lived in Ireland accompanied Lemass and Irish Senator, John McEllin, and helped make contacts. Together they succeeded in bringing one complete business from Austria. Hirsch Ribbons relocated from Austria to Longford in County Roscommon. Hirsch brought everything with him from Austria and needed only factory premises. The military barracks, a remnant from Ireland’s colonial past, was leased to Mr. Hirsch for thirty years and official permission to work in Ireland granted. A French factory “Les Modes Modern” was relocated from Paris to County Galway. Nazi aggression had reached a point where those businesses would not be able to survive in countries that would shortly be overrun.
In 1940, the Castlebar hat factory “Western Hats” opened under the direction of Franz Schmolka, a Slovakian man. It was ceremonially opened by Sean Lemass (later the Irish Taioseach) and formally blessed by the Bishop of Galway. The factory operated totally on steam provided by turf, water and daylight. In the words of Ernie Sweeney, recollecting the days of the hat factory: “it would have delighted the green party of today since everything ran on steam that we created ourselves.” The factory was a local landmark with a chimney 100 feet tall. Over the years, it employed 270 people many of whom spent their entire working lives there. Relations were cordial. In 1946, when Franz Schmolka left Castlebar for Dublin the Connaught Telegraph published a piece stating how his many friends would regret his departure and praising his technical skills and his direction of the factory. In 1952, when Mr. Schmolka died in Dublin, t an extensive obituary detailing his military service in WW1 . In 1940, thirty Jewish families moved to Castlebar and most of them worked in the hat factory. They were from Czechoslovakia and formed a community in the Blackfort area of Castlebar known locally as “Little Jerusalem.”
Local Irish historian Ernie Sweeney comments: “It was not easy for them to move to the West of Ireland. We have learned from history that almost everything was for sale. Irish passports were also “for sale” in the 1930’s. The Czechoslovakian Jews were not made welcome just because they were nice people or because we were nice people or that that they were victims of an evil man called Hitler. They were made welcome and “assessed” on what they had to offer. but the end result was that a number of families moved into Castlebar. Neighbors and employees spoke of the Jewish people with regard.” Another perspective comes from Ivor Hamrock, research librarian at Mayo County Library who grew up near the hat factory and who provided a great deal of information for this study. He recalls two particular families, the Porges and the Polesies. Karl Polesi was a native of Lubenz in Czechoslovakia and the manager of the technical staff at the Castlebar Hat Factory.
He died in 1942 at the age of 44 and an extensive and respectful obituary was published describing his funeral. It seems that every local leader and politician attended and a genuine attempt was made to be culturally respectful. “On Tuesday, as a mark of respect to the memory of the deceased, a two-minute silence was observed at noon in the hat factory. The desk formerly occupied by the deceased was draped in black and bouquets of flowers were placed on it in observance of an old custom common on the Continent.” In 1946, Irish citizenship was given to Walter Porges and to Franz Dielenz. Mr. Dielenz and his wife returned to Germany in 1960 and published a letter in the Connaught Telegraph thanking the people of Castlebar for their “hospitality and excellent good humor” and for “always being so eager to help us through out little difficulties.” These families were able to escape the tragedy of the Holocaust and find sanctuary in Castlebar, and the Western Hat factory provided years of employment helping to relieve the overwhelming poverty in post-colonial Ireland during that era. Two communities in great need of help were able to give each other opportunity, sanctuary and, ultimately, survival.
Antonio Tajani, the new President of the European Parliament, has made a bold opening statement of intent: "No Jew should be forced to leave Europe." While this is an admirable position to hold, it sadly could not be farther from the truth. The poison of anti-Semitism festers in Europe once again.
Europe is seeing yet again another rise in the number of Jews leaving the continent. Jonathan Boyd, Executive Director of the Institute of Jewish Policy Research (IJPR), notes that the number of Jews leaving France is "unprecedented"
The results of the study show that 4% of the French and Belgian Jewish populations had emigrated those countries to reside in Israel.
The IJPR attributes this demographic transformation to the inflow of migrants from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. Is this really surprising? Sadly, when individuals come from nations that have culturally a high dislike of Jews, many of these immigrants might hold anti-Semitic views that eventually get spread.
In France, anti-Semitic incidents more than doubled between 2014 and 2015, from 423 reported incidents to 851. From January to July, anti-Semitic incidents in the UK increased by 11% according to the UK's Common Security Trust. And this prejudice is increasing.
With such spikes in Jew-hatred, is it surprising that Jews are leaving Europe? Equally concerning is Europe's blindness to this anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitic graffiti [Illustrative]. (Image source: Beny Shlevich/Flickr)
Recently, a German court decided that the firebombing of a synagogue in Wuppertal was only the expression of "anti-Israeli sentiment."
Really? Why, then, was not the Israeli embassy attacked rather than a synagogue whose worshippers presumably were not Israeli? They worshippers were German. What happened in the German court was pure Nazi-think: the most undisguised anti-Semitism: that Jews supposedly are not Germans.
The old wine of pure anti-Semitism is now dressed up in new "politically correct" bottles of criticism of Israel. At heart, however, it is your grandmother's same old Jew-hate, much of it still based on racist tropes. The Jews in that firebombed synagogue were German nationals and may have had absolutely no links to Israel. They do however, have a connection to Judaism.
The German court actually ruled that that attacking a place where Jews worship is somehow different from attacking Jews. Your pet slug would not believe that.
Meanwhile, another German Court again rejected an action against your friendly neighborhood "sharia police."
In Germany, it seems, burning down synagogues is merely "anti-Israeli" even if there are no Israelis there, but "police" who use Islamic sharia law -- without legal authority and within a system of law that persecutes women, Christians, Jews and others -- are acceptable and legal.
And people cannot understand why Jews are leaving Europe?
Even though German authorities evidently struggle to identify anti-Semitism, the Israeli government claims there has been an 50% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Germany just since 2015.
Jew-hatred in Europe is spreading to the workplace and the hubs of supposedly enlightened discourse: universities. At Goldsmith's University, students scrawled on a public feedback board that they wanted "No more David Hirsch, no more Zionism -- a bitter Jew."
The message and tone here is clear: Jews are not welcome. The suggestion that academics would also not be welcome because of their religion is deeply worrying and should be unacceptable.
Goldsmith's have since condemned the action, but it is telling that someone felt he could comfortably post such anti-Jewish abuse. The anti-Semitism facing Jews at UK universities led the Baroness Deech to declare British University campuses "no-go zones" for Jews.
Students at Exeter University wear T-shirts glorifying the Holocaust; the Labour Party Chair at Oxford University commendably resigned over members calling Auschwitz a "cash cow" and mocking the mourners of the Paris terrorist attacks; SOAS University is under investigation for lectures likening Zionism to Nazism and delusionally arguing that it was Zionists who were conspiring to increase anti-Semitism to encourage Jews to leave the UK and go to Israel.
The Israeli government also believes there was an increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Britain by 62%.
While it is praiseworthy that UK Prime Minister Theresa May has backed and adopted a new definition of anti-Semitism to attempt to deal with the rising hate crime, simply defining and identifying anti-Semitism is only the start. It is also necessary to start tackling the anti-Semitic attitudes of Islamic communities across Europe and the attitudes of immigrants coming to our nations. What needs to be made clear is that you are welcome here as long as you respect Jews, Christians and all others, as well.
Robbie Travers, a political commentator and consultant, is Executive Director of Agora, former media manager at the Human Security Centre, and a law student at the University of Edinburgh.