Victims donating to victims

January 23, 2009 - 10:26 AM by · 3 Comments
Filed under: A New Reality, coexistence, Israeliness, Life, Politics, War 

Hadas BalasThroughout the recent Gaza war and its ongoing aftermath, Israelis and Palestinians have been trying to paint themselves as “the real victims” and the other side as “the real perpetrators.” But if we’re all victims, then how can we possibly take responsibility for war spearheaded by our leaders? And if we’re all perpetrators, then why would we care?

The fact is, Operation Cast Lead has meant horrible levels of destruction for the infrastructure and people of the Gaza Strip, destruction which could have been avoided if Hamas hadn’t hidden behind the human shield of one of the most densely populated areas in the world. And as we’ve seen on ISRAELITY before, just because Israelis support our government’s recent war against a terrorist regime that’s been shooting rockets at us for years doesn’t mean that we’re numb to the damage done.

Two grassroots activists are trying to organize Israeli sympathy into material support for Gazan families whose lives and homes were recently under severe fire by the region’s military superpower. 27-year-old peacenik Lee Ziv and Sapir Academic College 25-year-old student Hadas Balas (pictured, doubling as a not-so-shabby singer-songwriter) decided to collect clothing, bedding, nourishment and other essentials from donors to bring them in to Gaza.

Ziv spoke with the Jerusalem Post this week:

“There is no connection to politics,” said Ziv. “We don’t represent a side, we just see an immediate need for blankets for people who have nothing to cover them at night and milk for infants who have nothing to eat.”

Since a short radio interview on Sunday morning, Ziv said her phone had been ringing off the hook. “Within two minutes of the interview, I had 40 voice messages. The response has been overwhelming. Schools have called asking how they can help. A father called who had three sons serving in the IDF in Gaza. A woman called who had a mortar fall on her house.”

The duo thought they’d be bringing one or two truckloads of supplies in today, but thanks to the viral snowball of their email campaign, media interest like the radio interview last week, and the bandwagoning on their efforts by some key human rights organizations, the donations have been so numerous that they’re spearheading a fleet of 10 full trucks.

According to coverage in Haaretz, the duo has accomplished this feat thanks to key help from organizations like Hashomer Hatzair in Jerusalem, Beit Hachesed in Haifa and Kibbutz Kfar Aza, the Qassam-battered community which has offered up its warehouses as a depot for the donations.

More information on donating to the operation can be found here.

Obama’s inauguration enraptures Israelis

January 21, 2009 - 6:08 PM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: A New Reality, General, History and Culture, Immigrant Moments, Israeliness, Politics, War 

Obama-themed celebrationsWith the Gaza ceasefire apparently taking hold, Israelis have been happy to have something new upon which to fixate our attentions in the news. Something hopeful. US President Barack Obama’s inauguration yesterday and the festivities surrounding it this whole week have kept Israelis enraptured.

The one exception to this trend might be American immigrants to Israel, who tend to be a Republican-leaning crowd, often because of the popular perception that the American Right is more friendly to Israel than the Left. This perception might or might not be true, but Americans living in Israel are certainly wary of Obama’s alleged lack of Zionism.

So despite citing nightlife-themed parties surrounding the inauguration which took place in Tel Aviv as well as Jerusalem, a Haaretz piece from earlier this week points out that mainstream American organizations were shying away from the event:

Neither the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel nor the American Israeli Action Coalition – two non-partisan groups – have planned any special activities to mark the swearing-in of the new president. A spokesman for Israelis for Obama, a small group that was formed before the elections and operated mainly online, told Haaretz the group had dissolved after completing it’s only goal of seeing Obama elected.

But even though George Bush is considered by the people here to have been a great friend to the country, most Israelis are optimistic about new blood inhabiting the White House. The Associated Press even hints at some more literal connections between the Israeli appetite for inauguration news coverage and the Gaza ceasefire:

Obama’s inauguration became the lead story in Israeli media, which had been dominated by coverage of the Gaza offensive that began with a massive air bombardment on Dec. 27.

The front page of Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s biggest daily newspaper, featured the smiling Obama and his wife over an English headline: “Good luck.”

Seemingly timing its withdrawal to Tuesday’s inauguration, Israel had already pulled most of its troops out of the ravaged Gaza Strip after a deadly three-week offensive aimed at halting years of militant rocket fire. But the crisis is not over, with reports of shooting along the Israel-Gaza border, and with Israeli soldiers poised to resume the assault if Gaza militants break a fragile cease-fire.

Maybe it’s simply a matter of the incoming president’s rock star-like status, but Obama buzz is not relegated to Democrats – even when it comes to Americans living here. Summing up the feelings at last night’s parties, today Haaretz quotes a young reveler named Guy Simen:

“Even people who did not support Obama are excited, because they know the whole world is watching this event – and they feel close to home. They know that now we’ve elected a man who is supposed to change the world and many people are proud to be Americans.”

Image courtesy lostintransitzine from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

The Radiohead – Israel connection

January 20, 2009 - 2:46 PM by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Music, Pop Culture 

Radiohead is known for being one of the most innovative bands on the planet. Dudu Tessa is not. However, Tessa is a well known genre-jumping Israeli singer-songwriter. Tess grew up in the Hatikvah neighborhood of Tel Aviv and put his out first album when he was just thirteen years old and has released four more albums. So what does Tessa have to do with Radiohead you ask? His first single, “Ezei Yom” (What a Day), features Jonny Greenwood, mostly known for his work as Radiohead’s guitarist and keyboard player. According to Ynet (Hebrew link), Greenwood visits Israel quite often, which makes sense since his wife is Israeli and he met Tessa through family friends.

You can listen to the resulting song in the YouTube video I embedded below.

Radiohead’s relationship with Israel actually has quite an interesting back story. In 1993, several months after the band released their first single with minimal success, the song “Creep” made quite a splash on the charts in Israel due to well respected DJ Yoav Kutner’s incessant playing of the single (which was introduced to him by a local representative of EMI). And the rest is history. Radiohead was rushed to Israel to keep the buzz going and actually ended up playing their first gig outside of the UK in Tel Aviv. Weeks later they garnished some buzz on a few midmarket California stations and then career making radio station KROQ played it and they’ve snowballed into one of the world’s most popular, innovative and influential bands.

Good story, eh?

IFCJ’s TV ad campaign

January 19, 2009 - 6:33 PM by · 19 Comments
Filed under: General 

Rabbi Yechiel EcksteinThe Zionist community might be a little queasy about its relationship with The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. After all, can supporters of Jerry Falwell and the Gush Katif crowd really share a bed comfortably? But the fact is, Chicago and Jerusalem native Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s organization has done amazing work when it comes to fostering support for Israel.

Last month, Eckstein was interviewed on the decidedly Jewish-flavored Shalom TV, where he defended his work with characteristic eloquence, speaking about how terror groups’ publicity campaigns in South America, for example, must be offset by his own.

Eckstein is no stranger to TV. His very own Journey To Zion program, which has been airing for about a year and a half on Christian television networks in the US, provides a pulpit for Eckstein’s introductory Jewish teachings.

And for the past several months, the IFCJ has been running TV ads on Fox News – something which no other pro-Israel informational organization has had the nerve or means to do. The spots (example here) may be sensationalistic, and they may stray from the latest trends of pushing an image of Israel as a nation of high-tech and supermodels, but they’re poignant, and they have yielded results.

This past March, back in the early days of the ad campaign, the IFCJ reported having raised enough funds to make a difference:

IFCJ funded the renovation of 32 public bomb shelters in Sderot at a cost of $1.5 million. In addition, the organization has recently pledged to upgrade 400 bomb shelters in privately-owned residences in Ashkelon at an expected cost of $2 million.

Even Haaretz is taking note, running a story last week on the campaign under the headline “Jewish charity brings U.S. viewers Israel’s version of the war in Gaza.”

IBA’s Close Up feeds news jones

January 16, 2009 - 1:13 PM by · 4 Comments
Filed under: A New Reality, Politics, Pop Culture, War 

Steve Leibowitz and Leah ZinderEarlier this week, the relatively new free daily nationalist tabloid Yisrael Hayom (Hebrew-only informational website viewable here) reported that mainstream Israeli news websites have been experiencing around a 30% spike in traffic since the start of the current Gaza conflict – hardly a surprise, and hardly a trend relegated to the video-heavy, Hebrew-language outlets cited in their stats.

With the thirst for Zionist-friendly war-related information peaking even among English speakers, the Israel Broadcasting Authority has been wise to initiate the launch of a new English news program called Close Up. Airing Wednesdays at 5:25 PM on the IBA’s Channel 33, the live in-depth weekly analysis magazine Close Up premiered this week with a half hour’s worth of content headed by IBA talking heads Steve Leibowitz and Leah Zinder.

The program joins the growing stable of English-language IBA news reports, which includes the ten-minute weekday News Bulletin and the 20-minute daily IBA News, all of which streams over the web on-demand at the IBA’s video mini-site (like most Israeli websites, works best in the Explorer browser).

For the inaugural episode, Zinder and Leibowitz were joined at the news desk by panelists Effi Eitam, a controversial MK from the hawkish religious National Union, and left-of-center David Horovitz, the editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post. Eitam remarked on the high levels of motivation among IDF, proclaiming that “The spirit of confidence will prevail amongst the soldiers, and, I might add, amongst the citizens.” Horovitz commented on pragmatic goals for ceasefire arrangements.

In other segments, Hebrew University’s Dr. Robbie Sabel, a former legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry, spoke about the ethical issues of the war, reporter Leah Stern gave over a timeline for how diplomacy breakdown led to the current battles, and a visit to opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s office yielded a predictably “I told you so”-style statement.

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