|Israel Resource Review
||10th May, 2007
Russian Jews rally to bring Sderot youth to area camps
Local collegian initiates fundraising effort during semester in Israel
Rachel L. Axelbank , Correspondent, The Jewish Advocate
[This piece ran in the May 10th, 2007 issue of the Jewish Advocate in Boston, Mass.]
Two local summer camps have each pledged to provide 10 spots for children from the embattled Israeli city of Sderot, prompting a massive fundraising campaign from within Boston's Russian-Jewish community.
In response to an appeal earlier this year from Cornell University junior Masha Rifkin of Newton, Jews throughout the Greater Boston area have rallied around the effort to fund the children's voyage, surpassing organizers' expectations and heightening their hopes.
While studying abroad this semester at Tel Aviv University, Masha, 20, was
horrified to learn that the citizens of Sderot have been living for years under the constant threat of "Kassams" – free-flight artillery rockets – and that the city's children are growing up in a culture of fear.
"It's heartbreaking there," said Rifkin, speaking to the Advocate from Israel. "People are walking around like they've just given up."
Masha, who immigrated with her family to the U.S. from the Former Soviet Union when she was only a year old, felt a particular connection to the 40 percent of Sderot citizens who are of Russian Jewish descent.
When she called home with her concerns, her mother, Inessa, quickly offered the 10 remaining spots at Camp Sunapee in New Hampshire, the summertime affiliate of the Russian School of Mathematics in Newton, of which Inessa is co-founder.
"We felt it was a wonderful opportunity to return some of the blessings we've been given since coming here from the Soviet Union," said Inessa, a Newton resident. As word spread within the local Russian-Jewish community, Rabbi Dan Rodkin of Shaloh House in Brighton was quick to follow suit, donating 10 places at Summer Camp Gan Israel.
"I really believe that we are one nation," said Rodkin, who closely follows reports from Sderot. "The least we can do is give those kids one month of worry-free time when they can enjoy summer, and maybe our kids can learn from them how to love Israel."
Meanwhile, Masha had created a plan for the trip with Noam Bedein, founder of the Sderot Media Center, an organization dedicated to raising awareness of the situation in Sderot.
The primary purpose of the trip will be to provide the children with a respite from the daily life of Sderot, she said. Beyond that, 10 religiously observant children will attend Summer Camp Gan Israel, a day camp, and will spend time together with counselors in a dormitory setting overnight. Ten Russian-speaking children will attend Camp Sunapee, where they will rehearse and perform in Russian – with English subtitles – a play that Masha and Bedein have co-written based on the children's experiences in Sderot.
"Nothing is as powerful as hearing about it from a child who grew up with it," said Masha.
With the camp tuition waived, the trip is expected to cost approximately $1,800 – $300 in legal paperwork and $1,500 for airfare – per child, bringing the target total to $36,000, according to Inessa.
Between a public service announcement placed in the Jewish Russian Telegraph and a common interest group on Facebook.com, news of the need for funds spread rapidly.
"The reaction was overwhelming," said Inessa. "I received checks for $10 and checks for $5,000."
Dr. Mila Magitsky, treasurer for the Russian Jewish Community Foundation, which is playing a key role in the fundraising effort, reported that the past week has seen $7-8,000 in donations, bringing the grand total to just shy of their goal. "I want tell Inessa that we're doing well, but I don't want people to feel that just because they already gave that it's enough," she said. Another $12,000 has been pledged, she added, and she expects to see the checks soon.
Bedein said, "The way this was brought together is just unbelievable. This is my first time working with a Russian-Jewish community, and it's an incredible project."
Russian Jews are particularly passionate about Israel because of their experiences in the former Soviet Union, according to Magitsky. She added: "We never felt at home in Russia. Israel looked to us like a homeland."
The prospect of surplus funds is now allowing the organizers to think more broadly: Masha and Bedein may be able to implement their plan to take the children's play on tour to New York and Los Angeles.
Of the $12,000 recently promised, $5,000 has been pledged by Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Magitsky reported on Tuesday. She added that the potential donation "is wonderful because CJP is an American organization."
Regarding the donation's pending status, CJP Senior Planning Associate Irene Belozersky said, "We need to look at the available funds, but we would love to be able to make this donation. We think it's a valuable grassroots initiative from the Russian community, and CJP is always looking for ways to nurture and support Israel-related action within the community."
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I would like to focus on a recent Post column by Evelyn Gordon, entitled, "Benchmarks for a bloodbath," because I consider it so important. Gordon says:
"US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is not purposely trying to destroy all of Israel's hard-won security gains of the last five years. But if she were, she could hardly have improved on her new benchmark proposal. The proposal comprises two parallel sets of "benchmarks": steps (mainly Israeli) to increase Palestinian freedom of movement, and steps (mainly Palestinian) to combat Palestinian terror. However, it does not make either track conditional on the other. Thus should Israel accept the proposal, it would be pledging to fulfill its own side of the bargain regardless of whether the Palestinians honored theirs. And since increased freedom of movement for Palestinians includes increased freedom of movement for terrorists, that essentially means an Israeli pledge to facilitate terrorist operations even if the Palestinian Authority makes no compensatory effort to thwart such operations.
"Indeed, the document explicitly requires Israel to dismantle many security precautions prior to the relevant PA security actions. For instance, it requires full deployment of a revamped PA security service in Gaza only by the end of 2007; yet Israel would have to start allowing regular convoys between Gaza and the West Bank on July 1. Thus six months before PA forces are even in position to combat Gazan terror, Israel would be required to facilitate the export of this terror to the West Bank.
"AND SOMETIMES there is no parallel demand of the PA at all. For instance, the document requires Israel to remove various West Bank checkpoints on June 1 and June 15. Yet it mandates no Palestinian counterterrorism efforts in the West Bank; such efforts are required only in Gaza. Israel would thus be facilitating terrorist movement in the West Bank without any recompense in the form of improved Palestinian counterterrorism.
"This lack of reciprocity would not matter if the benchmarks were all as innocuous as creating a Web site to provide information on the operating hours of border crossings (No. 6) or establishing express lanes for trucks carrying fresh produce at the Karni checkpoint (No. 11). However, several of them strike at the heart of the security mechanisms that have dramatically reduced Israeli casualties over the last five years.
"One of these is the removal of army checkpoints, including around terrorist hotbeds such as Nablus. This has already been tried countless times - and each time terrorists exploited their new freedom of movement to launch a successful attack from the area in question. Put bluntly, absent dramatic Palestinian action against terrorism, removing checkpoints is a proven recipe for producing dead Israelis.
"FAR WORSE, however, is the proposal for regular passenger and cargo convoys between Gaza and the West Bank. The document does not discuss security arrangements for these convoys, but every previous incarnation of this proposal has assumed that Israel would either not conduct security checks at all, or would at most conduct superficial checks that would cause minimal delays; the PA would bear primary responsibility for ensuring that no terrorists or weapons were smuggled from Gaza to the West Bank.
'Indeed, this is essential both to the proposal's practical goal (freedom of movement between Gaza and the West Bank, meaning without lengthy delays caused by exhaustive Israeli security checks) and its ideological goal: demonstrating that Gaza and the West Bank are a unified entity under Palestinian sovereignty."
The stuff of nightmares, from our "friends." Gordon suggests that Rice is willing to sacrifice Israeli lives to give the impression to "moderate" Arabs and Europeans -- whose support is being sought re: Iraq -- that progress is being made on this front.
US Deputy National Security Adviser Elliot Abrams concurs with Gordon. At a closed door meeting with Jewish Republicans he confided that the Bush administration was active now in the Middle East, in order to pursue "process for the sake of process" and that this was being done to "assuage the Arabs and the Europeans, who haven't been happy with the United States [and are] happy to see that there's at least an attempt or energy being put into the peace process."
Abrams pledged to guard against the State Department taking over American Middle East policy, and I'd love to know how he intends to do this. (The unspoken implication is that White House and State Department policy are not the same. This is hardly new.)
When meeting participants expressed concern about Europe and the Arabs squeezing Israel into a corner, they were offered assurances about the US putting the brakes on. And after how much damage has already been done?.
Oh joy. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is doing her diplomatic thing. She was in Cairo today, meeting with President Mubarak about the Arab League "peace initiative." They agreed that an Arab League delegation -- including the Jordanian and Egyptian foreign ministers -- would come to Israel within weeks to discuss this.
Remember that the Arab League proposal, which insists upon return of "refugees" and our pullback to pre-'67 lines, was offered to us "take it or leave it." Jordan and Egypt, the only Arab states with full diplomatic ties, were assigned the task of convincing us.
Syrian President Assad who alternately is said to be on the verge of war or on the verge of peace negotiations, made a statement to a newly formed Syrian parliament: "The Golan Heights region is not open to negotiation . . . "We are working toward a just and comprehensive peace, but Israel is incapable of conducting comprehensive and just negotiations because its government is too weak to take the necessary steps . . . Syria has not presented any preconditions for the peace process, but we do have demands. The land is a basic principle for us, and we will never relinquish it."
Got all that?
Security sources say that 15 tunnels between Gaza and Egypt in the Rafah area are currently active -- being used for smuggling of weapons, persons and drugs. Another 10 tunnels in the area are at the moment inactive.
see my website www.ArlenefromIsrael.info
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When PR firms replace Israel's democratic process
Since the genesis of the Oslo process in 1993, successive governments of Israel, under a binding legal and moral obligation to demand a cessation of virulent anti-Semitic incitement as the condition for negotiation and barter of land with the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, have consistently shirked that responsibility and, instead, hired slick PR firms to cover themselves in the public domain
Under the guise of "supporting the democratically elected Israeli government in power" the Israeli government has engaged the services of PR firms** to market this policy to the media and to foreign governments, ignoring the democratic process in Israel.
Instead, the Israeli government downplayed the fact that PLO leaders - Arafat and Abbas - who personally signed the Declaration of Principles against incitement on the White House lawn - made sure that the PLO and the Palestinian Authority never ratified those agreements.
Therefore, PLO incitement never ceased and the government of Israel has never made this a matter of policy, as it was legally obligated to do by the lawmakers of Israel's Knesset Parliament.
Instead of confronting the Israeli electorate with that reality, the Israeli government hired PR firms to make it look as if Arafat and Abbas were reliable peace partners, and that only the "Hamas and the settlers" were interfering with the process.
Indeed, with the encouragement of the government of Israel, the umbrella organization of US Jewry was set to provide the Isaiah Award for Peace to Yassir Arafat in October 1999, until Israel Resource News Agency got wind of that plan and the award was "postponed".
With the outbreak of the second Intifada in the Fall of 2000, most Israel support groups began to smell a rat, especially when mainstream organizations of the PLO and the PA joined forces with the Hamas to incite total rebellion against the state and people of Israel.
It became harder for the Israeli government to once again ask that the mainstream Jewish groups promote the fraud of a peace process.
That is why new PR firms were engaged instead of dealing with the real issue.
The Israeli government fostered a new PR operation with the purpose of influencing the media and policy makers abroad to "pull everyone in line", to market the policies of the government of Israel, whether these policies have integrity or not, whether they were approved by the Knesset or not, and whether or not they violate Israeli law. This began . with the task of "selling the Disengagement Policy".
For example, the first clause of the Disengagement Plan declared that the withdrawals and expulsions were carried out because there was "No Peace Partner".
However, that policy definition did not fit the bill of how this new PR firm planned to sell Israel's disengagement policy, to couch it as a "step towards peace." So the PR firm worked with the Israel Foreign Ministry to distribute a brochure that simply DELETED the first clause, so that the PR firm could say that this policy of expulsions and unilateral handover of privately owned Jewish property to terrorists represented a "step towards peace".
And how would the PR firm work with the Israeli government to sell the expulsion of a law abiding community of Israeli citizens?
In late August 2005, two Israeli government officials, the Israeli Prime Minister's top advisor, Dov Weisglass, along with Minister of Housing Yitzhak Herzog, provided official briefings for the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations in the USA, in which they assured Israel support groups that every deported family left with $400,000 in their pockets and a permanent home waiting for them. Nothing was further from the truth,
PR firms working with the PM office marketed that false data - making it nearly impossible for disengagement evictees to raise funds, since every Jewish federation had the word from these PR firms that every family was fully compensated and relocated to a new homes.
And when delegations of concerned Israel support groups met with the Israeli Prime Minister to offer private humanitarian assistance to the evictees, the Israeli PM told them that this was not necessary.
Jewish groups' philanthropic groups from abroad have direct access to Israel's Prime Minister, Defense Minister and Foreign Minister.
Not so with the Israeli public, where no one can enter within the Knesset without an appointment, at a time when most Israeli public officials avoid public appearances.
It was the job of the new PR firms retained by the Israeli government to indeed convince these foreign organizations that the Israeli government had fulfilled all of its humanitarian obligations to thriving communities that it had just decimated.
After all, the Deputy Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres had announced on July 7th, 2005 that the American government had allocated $2 billion to cover the costs of disengagement.
That assurance was quoted by the mainstream Israeli media for months to come. However, on July 12th, 2005, the spokesman forf the US treasury department told Israel's leading business newspaper, GLOBES, that the US was not giving one penny for the Disengagement Policy. That denial of US funds was hardly reported elsewhere.
Perhaps it had never occurred to Israel support groups abroad that they would be asked to support a policy of an Israeli regime that would fly in the face of the Israeli law.
A case in point: Clause seven of the Disengagement Law forbade Israel from handing over assets to terror organizations, at a time when terror groups were assured that they were taking over the settlements and that they would use them as terror bases.
Yet the democratically elected government of Israel violated that aspect of its own Disengagement Law.
Almost two years after the Disengagement process, at a time when the Israeli government has reached at an all time low in public opinion polls, PR spin masters once again are selling the notion that incitement is not important, that Abbas advocates for peace, and that decimating Jewish communities remains the price to pay for peace.
In cooperation with the government of Israel, these PR firms play down the suffering of the residents of the Western Negev now under daily mortar fire from Gaza, they downplay the incitement of the PLO and the PA, they downplay the coordination of the PLO and the Hamas, and they down play the suffering of the Disengagement evictees .
The idea is to promote Abbas as a new harbinger of peace - the same man who continues to promote his Ph.D that equates Nazism and Zionism, the same man who oversees the official media and school system of the Palestinian Authority that are rife with incitement against the state and people of Israel.
Indeed, the Israeli government now seeks new ways to engage PR firms to sell the policy of creating a nation state based on Jew hatred, at a time when the Palestinian Authority works state in tandem with Hamas and with the most anti-Semitic regime in the world - Saudi Arabia, where no Jew may reside and where Judaism cannot be practiced.
The question remains as to whether those who support Israel should continue to follow spin masters who support this new form of "Israeli Athenian democracy", that sustains opinions closest to the government and crushes dissonant voices in the public domain.
Otherwise, PR firms, some that are not even based in Israel, will replace the cardinal principles of Israeli democracy.
**Israel Resource News Agency asked if funds allocated by the government of Israel to hire PR firms was authorized by any branch of the government of Israel. The answer received was negative. Sources in the Prime Minister's office confirmed that Prime Minister Sharon was arranging for payment from "other sources".
The watchdog agencies that monitor Israeli government dysfunctional behavior agree that this procedure represented a felonious violation of the Israeli law, yet have not done anything to stop to it or to object to it. These same watchdog agencies support the Israel's land surrender policies. The end justifies the means in their view, but in this case, the final ending my occur.
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