Dear friends of Israel
Fredi Winkler: A Biographical Sketch
During the last years the demand for group tours has continued to rise. For instance, in 2009 Beth Shalom organized as many as 15 tours through
From 1974 through 1990 Fredi and Beate Winkler were blessed with nine children. With the exception of the two youngest ones all of them have started their own families. Fredi and Beate Winkler already have 16 grandchildren.
Dear Friends of Israel
Nearly a half-million people throughout Israel took part in the last protest rally for social justice at the end of the summer. Beset by the massive protests, the government had no choice but to take steps toward that end. Therefore Emanuel Trajtenberg, a distinguished professor in the field of economics, was appointed to develop solutions for a more just social policy. When his proposals were presented to the government and the matter came to a vote, there was no consensus on how the government should proceed. A government crisis is now imminent. The primary issue is the dispute over the construction of public housing.
One minister proposed that state-owned land should be distributed free of charge for housing construction, so that the homes would be cheaper. In the past year, the Government has taken in over $8 billion in land sales, but unless there are guarantees that the homes will be cheaper, he will not agree to the "cosmetic" improvement proposals that have been presented so far.
Dear Friends of Israel,
The Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has demanded an apology from Israel in regard to the events surrounding the ship Mavi Marmara. As expected, Israel decided not to apologize. Turkey reacted by recalling its ambassador from Israel. To emphasize their displeasure, they expelled the Israeli ambassador from their country too.
Although some Israelis also called for an apology to Turkey (such as Defense Minister Ehud Barak), the government in Jerusalem decided not to apologize, because a careful analysis of the ongoing developments in the region showed clearly that an apology would only bring a short-term easing in the mutual relations between the former allies. Furthermore, an apology would only bolster the position of Erdogan and his party in the eyes of the Islamic fundamentalists, which is important to him politically. Ankara is preparing itself for the time that will follow the “Arab Spring,” when the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, as well as Egypt will likely increase its power tremendously. With all the turmoil in the Arabic world, Erdogan sees a chance for Turkey to become a regional power, even to the detriment of Iran.
Domestically, Erdogan has already been able to neutralize the once influential Turkish Army. He forced practically the entire military leadership to resign and had dozens of other high ranking officers arrested on flimsy accusations. At the same time, he is working to change the nation’s constitution in order to introduce a presidential system of government. That does not mesh well with the previous, secular form of government, but it would give him more strength while helping him solidify his position. These developments in Turkey led Jerusalem to recognize that an apology would only be counter-productive.
Dear Friends of Israel
Just as in the spring, when large masses in several Arabian countries staged surprising protests against their rulers and their unrealistic styles of ruling, an unexpected “summer” of protests has broken out in Israel against social injustice. The protesters, composed mainly of students and other young people, demand social justice. As in Egypt, they have gathered at central squares in various cities and pitched permanent "protest camps" of tents.
In recent years, statistics show that the gap is growing in Israel between the wealthy and those who have nothing. When Israel joined the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) in the not-too-distant past, the tables published by the OECD showed clearly that Israel has a low standard in the social field - even though the economy is doing well in general and unemployment is low. There is a fairly large number of those who earn very little however, ... and it keeps getting larger.
The protesters accuse the government, in particular Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, of pursuing policies that serve only the rich. Netanyahu is in fact proud of his considerable contributions to a free market economy in Israel. This includes the privatization of many public services. The protesters rightly complain that this policy only helps the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer. Privatization isn’t a panacea for the problems, it simply shirks the responsibility.
The greatest of their demands is the construction of public social housing, to make it possible for the socially disadvantaged to buy an apartment at an affordable price. Thus one of the larger protest rallies took place in front of the office building of "Amidar," the National Association for Residential Construction.
The protesters accuse this government institution of behaving like a profit-driven company, rather than fulfilling the mission for which it was founded: Creating living space for the needy and socially disadvantaged.
Dear Friends of Israel
Even for us who believe in the truth and reliability of the Bible, it is not always easy to understand the true significance or classification of biblical teachings and prophecies. Therefore it is important to always keep the complete testimony of all Scripture in mind. Apparently Paul addressed this issue when he wrote to Timothy, his faithful follower, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (II Timothy 2:15).
This issue is of particular importance when it comes to interpreting current events in involving Israel. Consider this question for example: Are the Jewish settlements on the so-called West Bank a fulfillment of biblical prophecy? The people of the Gush Emunim movement (a religiously faithful group) certainly saw it that way at the time of the first settlements, for they appealed to Biblical references, such as Jeremiah 31:5, “Thou shalt yet plant vines upon the mountains of Samaria: the planters shall plant, and shall eat them as common things.”
When the first settlements were developed, Gush Emunim emerged as a political party of both religious and nonreligious Jews. They were united in their conviction that the west bank must be populated by Jews. That alliance didn’t last very long however, because such an ideology couldn’t stand up to the resistance that the settlement movement encountered without firm religious conviction. Today it is predominantly religious Jews who lead the settlement movement. The amazing inner strength that they demonstrate by the construction of more and more new settlements, must certainly be drawn from their religious convictions.
Dear Friends of Israel
During the state visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the U.S. in May, things apparently didn’t go quite the way that he wished. The discord between him and U.S. President Obama could not be overlooked. This was due to Obama's alleged call for Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders. In fact, that wasn’t actually what President Obama called for Israel to do, but he was very clear that the 1967 border should be the basis for a peace agreement with the Palestinians. The future boundary should be determined by a jointly negotiated exchange of land. Netanyahu tried to prevent that, because it would mean Israel would have to give up territories it has possessed since 1948. Furthermore this would actually mean that only the major settlement blocks, which follow the 1967 border, would remain within the future borders of Israel. All the outlying settlements would come under Palestinian rule. This is unacceptable for many in Netanyahu's Likud-Party, and most of their coalition partners.
Although Netanyahu did not hear what he wanted to hear from Obama, he promised to cooperate with the American president. He gave reassurances that he was ready to make painful sacrifices of land to achieve real peace. Thus it can be clearly seen that the government of Netanyahu cannot withstand the challenges ahead much longer. Calls for a national unity government with the opposition are already being heard. The opposition Kadima-Party saw this development far in advance. Therefore it was not ready to join a government that refused to see the inevitable, real consequences of a negotiated peace with the Palestinians.
Dear Friends of Israel
Now that Osama bin Laden has finally been found and brought to justice, ten years after the attack on the World Trade Center, most of the world breathed a sigh of relief and satisfaction. The Arab and Muslim world has held back in this respect. The only ones to condemn the U.S. action immediately were representatives of Hamas in Gaza. Their Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, praised bin Laden as an Islamic warrior and condemned the U.S. policy of killing and repression. Another Hamas spokesman denounced the killing of bin Laden as a crime and state-sponsored terrorism.
When the two Hamas men made those declarations, they probably didn't consider that their statements wouldn't exactly be seen positively throughout the world - especially not in the USA. However, they did show their true colors once again.
In contrast, a spokesman of Salim Fayyad, the prime minister of the Fatah, said that the death of Bin Laden benefits the cause of peace worldwide.
Despite these contrasting positions, the two rival Palestinian factions, Hamas in Gaza and the Fatah in the West Bank, hope to reconcile their differences and reach an agreement on forming a unified government. Attempts have been made to convince the world that Hamas has changed, but their recent comments about bin Laden show that the opposite is true, and are cause for grave concern.
Perhaps this attempt by the Palestinians to reconcile with Hamas, will (once again) spare Israel from the international recognition of a Palestinian state by the UN General Assembly in September. Moreover, any future Palestinian government that is prepared to accept Al-Qaeda ideology should not expect too much sympathy from the United Nations, especially not from the USA , which has veto power in the UN.
Dear Friends of Israel
In his report last year, Richard Goldstone accused Israel of firing deliberately at the civilian population in the war against Hamas in Gaza. He has now acknowledged that report was a misrepresentation, because at the time, he did not know everything that he knows today about the true events. Nevertheless, the fear in Israel is that this acknowledgement will do little to change the change the attitude of the UN General Assembly, whose majority is anti-Israeli anyway. Israel is further concerned that the recognition of a Palestinian state will be brought to a vote at the United Nations annual meeting this coming September. Such recognition requires a two-thirds majority. The situation appears nearly hopeless for Israel, since 118 of the 192 member states already recognize a Palestinian state.
The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is therefore trying to convince the U.S. and its President, Barak Obama that an interim solution would be best; that is, a provisional state with provisional borders. However, the British Foreign Minister, William Hague spoke clearly against this during a recent visit by Israeli President Shimon Peres in London. On one hand, Hague made a strong case for the establishment of guidelines to resolve the Palestinian conflict by a Quartet consisting of the USA, the EU, Russia and the UN. On the other hand, he spoke clearly of Israel's right to exist within secure borders. There cannot be any debate, or even any compromises over this right of Israel. "The current changes in the Arab world make it more imperative to move the diplomatic process forward," Hague stated, and added, "One of the most important lessons from the 'Arab Spring' is that legitimate aspirations cannot be ignored and must be addressed." Implying that movement on the peace process will help bolster moderates who will be vying for power in the post-revolution Arab world, Hague said, "It cannot be in anyone's interests if the new order of the region is determined at a time of minimum hope in the peace process. This creates a risk that in each country, the politics set with maximum hostility to Israel, rather than giving the new leaders of these countries strong grounds to support the pursuit of peace." It is therefore necessary to act now.
Dear Friends of Israel
It is not yet clear, what the unrest and the radical changes in the Arabic world will bring. One thing appears to be unmistakable however, and that is the fact that the Arab masses are no longer willing to let themselves be manipulated and exploited by the wealthy elite, while they themselves live in poverty. For most people, especially for those in power, the rebellion came as a surprise and seemingly without reason.
“The true source” of the unrest was exposed rather quickly. When hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Yemen poured into the streets, demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, he accused his opponents of secretly plotting with the enemy – which can only be Israel in the Arabic mind-set. When Saleh spoke to students and academics at the University of Sana, he swore that the troublemakers were receiving their orders from Israel. He repeatedly declared, "I will reveal a secret to you. There is a command center in Israel, from which the destabilization of the Arab world is being directed. The headquarters are located in Tel-Aviv and it is run from the White House.”
Another accusation leveled against Israel is that the same nerve center in Tel-Aviv, which allegedly instigated the massive demonstrations in the Arab world, has now conspired in a deceitful manner against the insurgents. Therefore, the Arabic news channel Al-Jazeera promised to reveal the identity of the conspirators who enabled the Libyan despot Muammar Gaddafi to use African mercenaries against his own people.
Some samples of the "revelations" by Al-Jazeera that were eagerly re-distributed by the Iranian press and television went as follows: “It has been revealed that Israel has supplied the Libyan ruler Gaddafi with African mercenaries through the arms trading company Global CST, with the authorization of the government in Tel-Aviv, so that he can use them against the rebels who want to overthrow him. According to Egyptian sources, the Israeli company has already supplied the Libyan despot with 50,000 African mercenaries, so that with their help, he can proceed to take action against the protesters who demonstrated against his regime.”
The question as to why Israel would ever support a sworn enemy like Gaddafi was very wisely not touched upon.
Against this backdrop, there is more cause for concern than optimistic hope for the apparent democratization of the Arab world, because the masses allow themselves to be easily manipulated through hatred and distrust of Israel.
Dear Friends of Israel
The uprising and mass demonstrations in Arabic Tunisia took the world completely by surprise. When the crowd there succeeded in banishing the corrupt president into exile, the fascination with the events unfolding in Tunisia reached a climax among the masses in other Arabic countries. The Tunisian example fell on particularly fertile ground in Egypt. Many Egyptians have long grown weary of the 83-year-old President Mubarak and his regime, although his regime is not as thoroughly corrupt as the fallen one in Tunisia. In fact, the true reasons for the uprising against Mubarak are found elsewhere. It is certainly true that people in Egypt have meager incomes, and that many of the 83 million residents, in particular the young people, see no prospects for the future. A young woman in religious garments however, expressed the deeper reason for the dissatisfaction most clearly as she stated, "We hate Mubarak; we hate him, because he stands behind Israel." Others accuse him of being a mere puppet of America and the West. Like his predecessor, Sadat, President Mubarak has suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood and their political activities. Their party was even prohibited by law at times, on the well-justified grounds that they would not play by the democratic rules of the game.
It is interesting what Syria's President Assad said in an interview about the events in Egypt. In his opinion, such a thing would not happen in Syria. Although Syria is in more difficult circumstances than most Arabic countries, Syria is stable. Why? Assad explained, one has to stay closely linked to the people and their beliefs. If this sense of unity is not present, it will lead to unrest. The essential factor is the ideology – what one believes and the motive behind that belief. Therein lies the difference. There is either a common motive or a vacuum. Syria is insulated from the current unrest, because it understands the importance of sharing a common goal with its people: Enmity with Israel. Nasser, the former president of Egypt, understood and pursued this strategy perfectly. That made him popular, and an idol of the entire Arabic world.
Dear Friends of Israel,
On December 30th, after an investigation lasting more than 4 years, Moshe Katsav, the 8th president of Israel, was found guilty of rape, sexual harassment, and obscene behavior with the use of violence. It was a day of disgrace and embarrassment for Israel, as it made headlines all over the world, particularly in the Arabic world hostile toward Israel.
The chief prosecutor, Ronit Amiel, contradicted that perspective when she explained that Katsav’s conviction is also a reason for Israel to be proud, because it shows that the justice system and democracy work in Israel. In the eyes of the law everyone is equal, and when the need arises, even heads of state must stand trial like any other citizen. She also praised the primary victim and most important witness, who, in spite of anonymous, threatening letters, stood firm throughout the entire process.
Likewise, during a press conference, State’s Attorney Moshe Lador also stated that it was a difficult day in the history of Israel. Nevertheless, the day also cast a positive light on democracy in Israel. Only a select, few nations and democracies can put their presidents on trial for rape and punish them with the full force of the law.
Dear friends of Israel:
As a new year begins, it is typical on one hand to look back and recall the events of the past year. On the other hand, one may look forward to the New Year and consider what might lie ahead. For Israel, as a nation, a number of important events took place in the past year, while other things that were anticipated did not occur. The top concern was the potential bombing of the Iranian nuclear reactor for the manufacture of atomic weapons. Some people were virtually certain that this was going to take place. Many people also expected that another war with Hezbollah in Lebanon was going to break out. An event that very few expected, however, did come to pass: Turkey, the previously close ally of Israel, became its opponent. In this regard, looking ahead to the New Year raises the question as to how relations with Turkey will proceed. This question will certainly preoccupy many Israelis, particularly the politicians.
Dear friends of Israel:
It is not surprising that the peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis have come to a halt. On the one hand the Israeli government is not ready to prolong the ten-month building freeze, and on the other the Palestinians refuse to continue with the negotiations if the construction of settlements is to be resumed. However, both parties have declared their willingness to continue with the talks. Obviously Israelis and Palestinians alike have recognized that time is no longer on their side and that it is in their own interest to come to a solution, although it might not be completely satisfactory for both sides. If the stalled negotiations will not be resumed, Israel might be threatened with a governmental crisis which might even lead to new elections. For the Palestinian side its objective of establishing a state might recede further into the distance if the peace talks are discontinued. This is why both parties are under pressure to resume the talks. Moreover, the EU has also intervened to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
Israelis have always felt that only direct talks can yield tangible results, although history has shown that this is not always true. The peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan were only signed because the US government acted as a mediator. Of course many other factors were also conductive to a success of those negotiations. When he paid a visit to the Sinai, Menachem Begin declared: "The Sinai will for ever belong to the territory of Israel." Three years later, however, he was ready to return the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. What had happened in the meantime? The circumstances had changed, and therefore Begin was forced to accept an offer that the Americans had made. Only with the help of the US government was Israel able to cope with its disastrous economic situation in the aftermath of the Jom Kippur war. Without the support of the Americans the country would not have been able to afford the badly needed acquisition of modern weapons. However, the American precondition was a peace agreement with Egypt.