News Highlights April 2012

The Second 100 years

The year 2010 was the hundredth anniversary of the establishment of Kibbutz Degania, which was the first kibbutz to be established in Israel.
The Kibbutz population now numbers approximately 141,000 persons, which is an increase of more than 22% over the past 10 years. 85% of the kibbutzim absorb new members.
Over 70% of the kibbutzim are in the north and south of the country. The average population is 500 persons per kibbutz.
The total annual gross income of the kibbutzim is NIS 30 billion with Gross profit around NIS 10 billion and operating profit around 6 billion. The breakdown of revenue shows that industry is the main contributor with 20 billion shekels of gross revenue from 250 manufacturing establishments (72% in the periphery) and employs 30,000 workers. The share of industrial output of the kibbutzim amounts to about 7% with approximately 9% of total export turnover.
 At present there are 200 privatized kibbutzim, 60 collective kibbutzim and 14 partly privatized kibbutzim.

96% of the kibbutzim pay pensioners the pension basis or more. 80 communities pay more than 3 400 shekels a month, representing 40% of the average wage. Seven communities do not meet the pension base of 3,401 shekels a month.

The kibbutzim formed the backbone of the country before Israel gained independence in 1948 and during the first few years after independence. There was an established infrastructure in place because of the kibbutzim and many notable persons from kibbutzim took part in the political and defense organizations as the new state came into being. The kibbutzim were also the bread basket of Israel providing a large percentage of the country's food needs. Kibbutz enterprises diversified over the years and now cover almost every type of business.

The Agriculture Ministry announced that after five years in the making, an Israeli dairy farm has been set up in Ho Chi Minh City, in South Vietnam.


The Agriculture Ministry noted that while the average Israeli drinks approximately 900 glasses of milk a year, his Vietnamese counterpart drinks only 70.The dairy farm aims to assist in advancing the Vietnamese dairy industry, which has been experiencing a local boom. The Israeli Agricultural Ministry noted that milk has become a main ingredient in Vietnamese' diet only in the past few years.


The Ho Chi Minh facility, which includes Israeli-made equipment and technology, will serve as a demonstration center, by which Israeli experts will train Vietnamese on various industry technologies.


The training will include, apart from machinery specifics, advanced safety standards, veterinary guidelines and management practices.



Muslim, Zionist and proud

To grow up around the constant barrage of hatred directed at Israel has a massive effect on an individual’s own opinions.


In the words of Kasim Hafeez, a British Muslim and former Islamist: 


I experienced the high levels of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activity taking place on British university campuses, because I was the anti-Semitic, anti-Israel activist.


Growing up in the Muslim community in the UK I was exposed to materials and opinions at best condemning Israel, painting Jews as murderers, and calling for the wholesale destruction of the "Zionist Entity" and all Jews.


By the time I had reached 18 I was completely indoctrinated to the fold of radical Islamism. My hate for Israel and for the Jews was fuelled by images of death and destruction. 


So what changed? How could I go from all this hatred to the great love for and affinity with Israel and the Jewish people? I found myself in the Israel and Palestine section of a local bookstore and picked up a copy of Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel. 

I decided to buy it, content that I would shortly be deconstructing this propaganda piece, showing that Israel had no case and claiming my findings as a personal victory for the Palestinian cause.


As I read the author's arguments and deconstruction of many lies I saw as unquestionable truths, I searched despairingly for counter arguments, but found more hollow rhetoric that I’d believed for many years. I felt a real crisis of conscience, and thus began a period of unbiased research. Up until that point I had not been exposed to anything remotely positive about Israel.


Now, I didn't know what to believe. I'd blindly followed others for so long, yet here I was questioning whether I had been wrong. I reached a point where I felt I had no other choice but to see Israel for myself; only that way I’d really know the truth. It was a life-changing visit.


I did not encounter an apartheid racist state, but rather, quite the opposite. I was confronted by synagogues, mosques and churches, by Jews and Arabs living together, by minorities playing huge parts in all areas of Israeli life, from the military to the judiciary. It was shocking and eye-opening. This wasn't the evil Zionist Israel that I had been told about.


After much soul searching, I knew what I had once believed was wrong. I had been confronted with the truth and had to accept it. But I had a bigger question to confront, what now? I’d for years campaigned against Israel, but now I knew the truth.


The choice was obvious: I had to stand with Israel, with this tiny nation, free, democratic, making huge strides in medicine, research and development, yet the victim of the same lies and hatred that nearly consumed me.


Doing this is not easy and that’s something that has become very obvious. I have faced hostility from my own community and even some within the Jewish community in the UK, but that’s the reality of standing up for Israel in Europe today. It is not easy, and that’s what makes it so necessary.


When it comes to Israel, the truth is not being heard, the ranks of those filed with blind hatred continue to swell, yet many have not been exposed to the reality, away from the empty rhetoric and politically charged slogans they are so fond of.



We can change this situation but we need to be strong and united. Israel is not just a Jewish issue - it’s about freedom, human rights and democracy, all the values that Western nations cherish. It’s also about trying to be a light among nations.


Kasim Hafeez is a British Muslim and former Islamist who is now a proud Zionist and stands with Israel.

He runs and has a blog on this site. He is also on the advisory board of StandWithUs in the UK.


The Prophet

Since it was published in 1923, The Prophet by Lebanese writer Kahlil Gibran has never been out of print. The classic has been translated into more than 50 languages and is regularly on international bestseller lists.

Although practically ignored by the literary establishment in the West, lines from the book have inspired song lyrics and political speeches.

The Beatles, John F Kennedy and Indira Gandhi are among those who have been influenced by its words.

"This book has a way of speaking to people at different stages in their lives. It has this magical quality, the more you read it the more you come to understand the words," says an interfaith minister in New York."It is not filled with any kind of dogma, it is available to anyone whether they are Jewish or Christian or Muslim."

The book is made up of poems, delivered as sermons by a wise man called Al Mustapha. He is about to set sail for his homeland after 12 years in exile on a fictional island when the people of the island ask him to share his wisdom on the big questions of life: love, family, work and death.

Gibran was a painter as well as a writer. He mixed with the intellectual elite of his time, including figures such as WB Yeats, Carl Jung and August Rodin, all of whom he met and painted.

He painted more than 700 pictures, watercolors and drawings but because most of his paintings were shipped back to Lebanon after his death, they have been overlooked in the West.

In Lebanon, where he was born, he is still celebrated as a literary hero.

His style, which broke away from the classical school, pioneered a new Romantic movement in Arabic literature of poetic prose.

"We are talking about a renaissance in modern Arabic literature and this renaissance had at its foundation Gibran's writings," says Professor Suheil Bushrui, who holds the Kahlil Gibran Chair for Values and Peace at the University of Maryland.

In the Arab world, Gibran is regarded as a rebel, both in a literary and political sense. In his writing, he raged against the oppression of women and the tyranny of the Church and called for freedom from Ottoman rule.

Vidal Sassoon 

Vidal Sassoon was a craftsman who changed the world with a pair of scissors.

Due to poverty his mother placed Sassoon and his younger brother in a Jewish orphanage, where they stayed for seven years.

Sassoon was an ardent Zionist and was very involved with projects for Israel. He also constantly fought against those who advanced anti-Semitism.

At the age of 17 he became a member of a British Jewish underground organization. It broke up what it considered Fascist meetings in London. Newspapers referred to him as an "anti-fascist warrior-hairdresser" whose aim was to prevent extreme right wing movements from spreading "messages of hatred" in the period following World War II.

In 1948, at the age of 20, he joined the  Israeli Defense Forces and fought in the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. During an interview, he described the time he spent with the Israelis as "the best time of my life," and recalled how he felt:

When you think of 2,000 years of being put down and suddenly you are a nation rising, it was a wonderful feeling. There were only 600,000 people defending the country against five armies, so everyone had something to do.

Vidal Sassoon, hair stylist and fashion world pioneer created a natural look in the 1960s and built a multimillion-dollar business. Sassoon began marketing his name, styles and cutting techniques in a worldwide line of beauty salons, hair-cutting schools and later, related lines of hair products.

"If you get hold of a head of hair on somebody you've never seen before, cut beautiful shapes, cut beautiful architectural angles and she walks out looking so different - I think that's masterful," he said.

In 1950 he won his first hairdressing competition, and four years later at age 26, opened his first shop in fashionable Bond Street in London's West End.

His short style was a vast contrast to the teased, brutal styles of the 1950s, and by 1963, he had created a short, angular cut on a horizontal plane.

Apart from hairdressing interests, he set up the Vidal Sassoon Foundation to help the needy in educational pursuits both in Israel and abroad.

Jazz Festival

Israelis grabbed the limelight at Jazzahead in Bremen, Germany. The annual international jazz trade fair in the north German city has run since 2006 and, judging by the artistic offerings, and the masses of patrons and exhibitors, there is great demand for improvisational music across Europe.


Drummer Ziv Ravitz kept the energy flowing fast and furious at the concert by German pianist Florian Weber’s Minsarah Electric trio, and he appeared as a guest in Germany based Israeli pianist Omer Klein’s solo show.


Other gigs of particular note included a highly entertaining show by the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra from Norway, and a performance by the quintet of British pianist Kit Downes, who recently played at the Levontin 7 club in Tel Aviv.


Meanwhile, the Lighthouse trio, of British-based Israeli drummer Asaf Sirkis, pianist Gwilym Simcock and saxophonist- clarinetist Tim Garland, performed material from their latest release for the German ACT record label, and the mostly Dutch-based Levantasy quartet, with Israeli oboist-shofar player Yoram Lachish, also drew an enthusiastic response from the audience.


In the evening too there was frontline Israeli interest, with American-based reedman Oran Etkin leading a quartet of players from France, Mali and Guinea, mixing West African-based output with jazz, blues and klezmer.


The most exciting development, of local interest, is that Israel will be the partner country of Jazzahead 2013, which means the first evening of the event will be devoted to the artists from Israel.


“Israel is a melting pot of many different cultures of the world which has created one of the most interesting music scenes, not only in Europe and the Near East, but in the world,” said Jazzahead artistic director Ulrich Beckerhoff.


“This fact will, in 2013, be presented to the world by Jazzahead, the most important jazz event in Europe.”


An Arab-Jewish ice hockey team has become an unlikely icebreaker in this remote corner of northern Israel, overcoming barriers of language, culture and conflict.


Regional Cooperation

A few years ago, a mixed team in these parts was unthinkable. In the arid Middle East, ice hockey is virtually unheard of, and relations between Arabs and Jews in this combustible area, next to the tense borders of Lebanon and Syria, are generally chilly.


The two Arab girls and three boys on the team said they had never met Jews their age before playing ice hockey. Jews said the same about Arabs.


The coach, parents and sponsors all acknowledge the project is only a small step toward real peace in the region. And while many players said they were not necessarily close friends, they said the meetings have changed the way they view each other.


Ice hockey in Israel, a country of nearly 8 million people, is modest: There are about 6,000 players in Israel in three different age leagues. Metulla is Israel’s hockey capital.


Their patron is hoping to improve the team's level of play and love of the sport by flying them to Canada for a ten day ice hockey tour.



Gaza will begin teaching Hebrew in schools


Gaza Education Ministry official says students should be introduced to as many languages as possible.   A senior Hamas official in Gaza said the territory’s rulers intend to begin teaching Hebrew in high schools beginning next year. An Education Ministry under-secretary said the government is trying to find and train teachers.


Hebrew is now only offered as a university course. The spokesperson said that the Gaza government still needs to approve the decision, but it is likely to go ahead.


Many Palestinians see Hebrew as the language of the enemy. However, Hebrew used to be widely spoken in Gaza, particularly by those who worked in Israel before laborers were barred from entry because of terrorist acts..


The proposal drew criticism from the Palestinian Education Ministry in Ramallah. A Deputy Minister said that the Palestinian Authority has never considered teaching Hebrew in its curriculum.


"It is unacceptable that the disagreement (between Hamas and Fatah) reaches the educational curricula," he said, urging the Ministry of Education in Gaza to consult with the PA's ministry in order to implement a standardized curriculum in the West Bank and Gaza.

Jerusalem Writers Festival

Foreign and Israeli writers, some of them household names will partake in a variety of different programs that range from one-on-one interviews to panel discussions and readings, to screenings of film versions of some books, as well as a handful of musical programs. There will be programs for children in late afternoon and early evenings, and books by most of the participating authors will be available for sale.

Most writers, particularly those invited from abroad, will be participating in two or three different programs.

One of them, titled “Europe and the Middle East,” will include an additional panelist from the Arab world, whose identity will remain a secret even during and after the session itself. The purpose of such anonymity is to protect the writer back home, where participation in an event in Israel will not be looked upon kindly.

In contrast, Algerian novelist Sansal seems already to be reconciled to life as “an exile in his own country,” as he was described several years ago at a writer's festival in Germany. Both ideologies, he claimed, embrace “the concept of conquering − the conquering of souls, but also of territories” and “the idea of extermination, the extermination of all those who do not submit to the ideology of Islamism.” Sansal’s work is translated into Hebrew but not Arabic.

Tracy Chevalier’s novels, most famously “The Girl with the Pearl Earring,” as well as the more recent “Burning Bright” and “Remarkable Creatures,” always include a heavy injection of history and romance. Chevalier will read from her work at a session.

Solveig Eggerz's novel, “Seal Woman,” is based on the real-life decision by German women to respond to an ad looking for people to come to Iceland and work on farms in the economically difficult years after the end of World War II. Charlotte, who lost her Jewish husband and child during the Holocaust, tries to start a new life in Iceland, but finds herself haunted by memories and longings for home, all while she contends with the physical and emotional challenges of living in a country whose language she does not know and whose people have little interest in her history.

Amos Oz and David Grossman will speak in separate sessions and authors will participate in a one-on-one meetings with their Israeli peers.

Universal Military Service

Despite a general impression that the majority of Israeli citizens are conscripted, only about 50% of potential conscripts actually serve in the military. Others do not serve for a variety of reasons, including religious study, minority community exemptions etc.

The IDF does not conscript most Arab citizens of Israel, and only a very few of them choose to volunteer for military service. However many Bedouins enlist on a voluntary basis. For Druze and Circassian men, enlistment is mandatory.

Yeshiva students who declare that "Torah study is their artistry" can delay their conscription as long as they continue their studies, under the so-called Tal Law. In practice many of them end up never serving.

Female draftees who state that they maintain a religious way of life are exempt from military service, and many of them choose to volunteer for an alternative national service called Sherut Leumi.

Male members of the Religious Zionist sector often serve within a separate system which combines advanced Talmudic studies with military service in the Israel Defense Forces. They normally serve for a year and four months instead of three years.

Draftees who state that they are pacifists are required to appear before a committee tasked with examining the credibility of their claim. Exemption from service is granted if the committee is persuaded that their pacifism is sincere and meets the agreed criteria. Only a few individuals each year are granted an exemption on grounds of pacifism; all other self-declared pacifists are required to enlist.

Immigrants who immigrate to Israel at the age of recruitment get various concessions in their military service.

Leading active athletes might in many cases be granted an "Outstanding athlete" status which allows them to get a more convenient and shorter service, so they can continue to develop their career and represent Israel abroad in international competitions. The "Outstanding athlete" status is given only to athletes competing in Olympic sports. In addition, the military also grants the similar "Outstanding dancer" status and a "Outstanding musician" status. They may also be granted a more convenient service so that they can continue to improve their abilities and career during military service.

Former IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi signed a petition calling for a legislation that would require all Israeli citizens to serve in the army. The fact that a section of the public does not enlist in the IDF "is an indicator of a twisted reality, not only from a security standpoint, but from a social one," he said. "I think that everyone should serve the State of Israel."


He added that anyone who cannot join the military, must do his part through civilian service. Ashkenazi made the comments at the launch of a protest campaign organized by several groups aiming to promote mandatory military service for all. 



The campaign urges Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the heads of the Zionist factions to take advantage of the High Court's ruling to pass a legislation that would require all citizens to enlist in the IDF upon reaching service age.


The Israeli Forum for Equal Service, one of the organizations behind the protest, has drafted a series of clauses that should be included in the legislation, including the demand to cap the number of yeshiva students who would be allowed "to study the Torah to maintain the Israeli people's moral strength."

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