Grapevine July 12, 2020: An open field for antisemitism

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

A MAN WALKS past graves desecrated with swastikas at the Jewish cemetery in Westhoffen, near Strasbourg, France, in December 2019. (photo credit: ARND WIEGMANN / REUTERS)
A MAN WALKS past graves desecrated with swastikas at the Jewish cemetery in Westhoffen, near Strasbourg, France, in December 2019.
(photo credit: ARND WIEGMANN / REUTERS)
Unfortunately, the most unifying factor for Jews – even more than the Torah and the observance of Shabbat – is antisemitism. The need to fight for and protect each other overrides political, religious, social and gender differences.
The internet provides several platforms for both insidious and outright antisemitism, which are difficult to counter.
In places of recurring violence against Jews, groups of residents – both Jewish and non-Jewish – form community security patrols. Most of the participants are trained in unarmed combat and some are also ex-army with licenses to carry weapons.
But it’s much harder to fight the antisemitism that is erupting on social media.
Among the most recent victims was United Hatzalah. One would think that an organization with multi-national, multi-racial and multi-faith membership of volunteers and supporters all dedicated to the saving of human life – regardless of whose life – would be free from any form of assault. But no. On Wednesday of last week, a Zoom program on rising antisemitism in the US, which was hosted by the Los Angeles branch of the Friends of United Hatzalah, was “Zoom-bombed,” resulting in the 75 people who had registered for the program being subjected to profanities, hate speech and pornographic images.
The intrusion by the antisemitic hacker(s) came some 15 minutes into the dialogue between journalist Lisa Daftari and The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles editor-in-chief David Suissa.
FUHLA Executive Director Carolyn Kangavari said that she had been unable to mute the shouting or to simply kick the intruders out of the Zoom connection.
The only solution was to stop the program and reschedule it for a later date.   Organizers might do well to bring in a couple of Jewish cyber mavens to hit back at the hackers, and maybe find a way to emulate the Balak-Balaam incident that was the essence of last week’s Torah reading; the man who was asked to curse the children of Israel, did the opposite and blessed them.
■ IT MAY be remembered that two months ago, Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski was scheduled to give a Web talk on the Polish roots of Zionism on a Zoom program hosted by the World Jewish Congress (WJC). At the time, most of the people who had registered from different countries around the world, were unable to gain access. The explanation given was a technical hitch, but the program had been so widely and frequently publicized that it could just as easily have been hacked. Only those involved know what actually happened. The program was rescheduled, and if all goes well, will be broadcast on July 14.  Magierowski will be engaged in discussion with Yariv Normberg of the WJC’s Jewish Diplomatic Corps.
The discussion can be accessed directly on the WJC Facebook fan page. Anyone interested in participating should click at 17:00 in Poland/18:00 in Israel/11:00 Eastern Time Zone. The discussion will be held in English.
■ APROPOS OF JULY 14, Bastille Day, residents of Jaffa who live in close proximity to the residence of the French ambassador, will not have to worry about strangers taking their parking spots, for the first time in years.
Ambassador Eric Danon, who presented his credentials last September, had presumably been looking forward to hosting his first Bastille Day reception in Israel, but in past years, the French guest list was so long that they usually had two events on the same night – a formal event that started in the late afternoon or early evening and was attended by diplomats, ministers, members of Knesset as well as Israel’s great Francophile, Shimon Peres, regardless of what position he may have held at the time. He loved the French and they loved him.
There were two essential drawbacks to being invited to a Bastille Day reception at the French residence. One, was the long line of invitees stretching half-way down the street; guests waited to be processed first by being checked on the guest list and later by security while contending with the July heat and  humidity. The other was trying to find a cool spot in the crowded garden of the residence.
There were always a couple of fans rotating in the garden plus an air-conditioned room that led from the garden staircase onto a large balcony. But, nowhere in the public areas of the residence could one escape the multitudes. One year, the effects of the heat and humidity were exacerbated by a buffet selection of smelly French cheeses, which all but melted, exuding a mix of aromas that were not exactly tantalizing. All that will be absent this year, but that is not a reason to forget the constantly repeated watchwords of Bastille Day – Liberty, Equality and Fraternity – perhaps more significant during a pandemic than at almost any other time.
■ THE FORCES of destruction are always at work, often believing themselves to represent the moral right. The destruction of a statue of a good or evil person, does not change the history of the person whose image was destroyed. It just makes people less aware, which in a sense defeats the purpose, because both current and future generations should have access to the warts-and-all history of the leaders of their nations. The statues are not only monuments, but reminders to arouse our curiosity.
This preamble comes in response to an item in Yediot Aharonot last Thursday, in which requests to remove the bust of former president Moshe Katsav from the display in the presidential compound have resurfaced. Such requests were made to Shimon Peres who may have privately agreed with them, but publicly refused to remove the statue, saying that one can’t change history. That isn’t quite true, because history – like everything else – is in the eye of the viewer.
For instance, Josephus is quoted endlessly, because there were not too many other historians in his time who committed the events of the day to writing, and thus, there are insufficient contradictions to whatever he chose to document. Closer in time, are the Holocaust deniers who attempt to rewrite history. Fears that they may actually succeed when Holocaust survivors have died out are groundless because the Nazis – with the German characteristic for recording almost everything – left more than enough proof of cruel murderous intent and execution.
To get back to removing or destroying the bust of Moshe Katsav, all that such an operation would achieve is that visitors inspecting the row of busts of former presidents on display, would want to know why there was a gap between the busts of Ezer Wezman, who was the seventh president of Israel and Shimon Peres who was the ninth president.
So far, President Reuven Rivlin has resisted all attempts to remove Moshe Katsav from the presidential row. But if he does eventually accede – and the decision cannot be his alone – the bust of Ezer Weizman who was persuaded to step down rather than face prosecution for failing to declare large sums of money that had been given to him, should also be removed, even though he never made it to the stage of getting his day in court.  Other than the nature of their crimes, the big difference between Weizman and Katsav was that Weizman was a military hero, and Israel is always reluctant to put its heroes on trial. There’s plenty of evidence on that score.
■ MANY PEOPLE, particularly those with political savvy both in Israel and abroad, are fearful that preventive health measures related to COVID-19, may be harmful to democracy.
Former British prime minister Tony Blair and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas Friedman recently discussed the subject at an inaugural webinar on the Future of Democracy that was held by the Israel Democracy Institute and the Hebrew University in memory of noted political scientist Prof. Yaron Ezrahi who died a year and a half ago.
The conference was videotaped and is available on the IDI website. Keeping material of this kind on websites or Facebook pages is a good idea because interested parties can access it in their own time, and it ensures  that the messages that the host organizations and institutions want to convey can be disseminated on a broader scale if permanently available.
■ THERE HAS been a lot of debate in the media as to whether Tzipi Hotovely is the right person to send to England as Israel’s ambassador. It’s amazing how changes of title and status may affect people’s personality. An example is Gilad Erdan, who is taking over from Danny Danon as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, and later in the year from Ron Dermer as Israel’s ambassador to the US. As a politician, Erdan was very bombastic.
Interviewed on radio since confirmation of his new status, he is much more softly spoken, his words are measured and logical.
It stands to reason that during her ambassadorial tenure, Hotovely will put personal politics aside in favor of the cloak of diplomacy. She has the added advantage of having three young daughters, the youngest of which is barely at the crawling stage. That little trio will win over a lot of people for Mummy.