A defender of Israel

Maurice Ostroff: combating anti-Israel media each day.

Maurice Ostroff helped build the first radar here. (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Maurice Ostroff helped build the first radar here.
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
If the name Maurice Ostroff sounds familiar, it’s because the 86-year-old South African is an inveterate writer of letters to the papers and strongly active in trying to counter anti-Israel bias in the media.
His website www.2nd-thoughts.org – dedicated to countering misinformation mainly about the Arab- Israeli conflict – is a mine of information. He is also a founder member of CoHaV, the acronym for Council of Hasbara Volunteers, a worldwide umbrella organization of volunteers combating anti-Israel media and in promoting the country’s positive side. He is a past chairman of the Israel-South Africa Chamber of Commerce and an honorary member of the executive committee.
But perhaps his best-known claim to fame is as the man who carried on an e-mail correspondence with Judge Richard Goldstone of the infamous Goldstone Report – and may even have had some positive influence.
It all started when Ostroff was part of a delegation of four that tried to persuade the Foreign Ministry that the country had to be represented and not judged in absentia by the UN fact-finding mission chaired by Goldstone. They failed, and Ostroff believes a great opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and present facts to the mission and to the world was lost, since all the hearings were televised live and are still available on the Web.
He decided to send memoranda to the Goldstone mission, including two videos that he felt supported the Israeli version of events.
“Although I attacked his methods and content strongly, he always replied courteously,” says Ostroff. “After a while, he addressed me as Maurice and asked me to call him Richard.”
But being on a first-name basis with Goldstone did not stop Ostroff from analyzing and severely criticizing flaws he found in the report after it was published, and he continuously presented new data that contradicted details in the report.
“Goldstone is a Zionist and a man of integrity, and I know that he was pleased when new information became available that enabled him to reconsider his earlier conclusions as publicized in his much discussed op-ed in The Washington Post,” he says.
Although Ostroff made aliya in 1980, it was not the first time he had decided to come to Israel. That happened in 1948, when he joined Mahal and came to fight in the War of Independence.
“I was a second-year student at Witwatersrand University studying electrical engineering, and I heard all the stories about the survivors of the camps being turned away by the British. Then, when the state was declared, we heard that they needed people with World War II experience. I had been in a radar unit in the South African army and spent a short time in North Africa, and apparently Israel was in desperate need of people with radar experience.”
As he later learned, during the British Mandate period, no Jews had been allowed to serve in radar units for reasons of secrecy. As a result, in the newly declared state that was now fighting for survival, no one knew anything about radar.
“I became one of a small team which built the very first radar in Israel – out of scrap,” he recalls. “They brought us bits and pieces of blown-up equipment that the British left behind, and we used these to construct the radar.”
With incredible improvisation and inventiveness, they were able to bring radar to the nascent state – even if they were obliged to use bicycle pedals, sprockets and a chain to help rotate the antenna. Later, after they received a complete radar unit purchased and sent from the US, they used a lawnmower motor to activate it.
Ostroff went back to South Africa and resumed his studies. He married his wife Marcia in Rhodesia in 1956, and they had three children. In 1980, the family decided to make aliya.
He came with his family to the absorption center in Ra’anana, an experience he says he thoroughly enjoyed. Before long, he found a satisfying job as a managing director of Orbit Medicenters Ltd., the company that initiated and built the Herzliya Medical Center.
The project faced many setbacks, particularly from the people living in the neighborhood who felt a private medical facility might lower the tone. However, it succeeded and became a fixture of the local scene. Ostroff continued in business as an industrial engineering consultant, something he does to this day.
In 1998, after his wife died, he moved to the Beit Protea retirement home, which was originally built by and for South Africans. He had been a founding member of the project some 15 years earlier.
His main activity today is trying to counter the pervasive misinformation in what he says is the highly organized, well-funded and professionally managed anti-Israel information war. An indefatigable letter writer – to The Jerusalem Post and elsewhere – he also contributes articles to publications such as American Thinker and the Intellectual Conservative website.
Just as he came to defend Israel physically when he was a young man, he now does everything in his power to defend it intellectually.
“My hope is to learn to speak fluent Hebrew – it’s never too late to learn – and I take lessons with that aim in mind,” he says.
He tries to spend time with his grandchildren, at least the ones who are here; the others he talks to on Skype.
“I used to write computer programs as a hobby,” he says by way of explanation.