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
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.
Dear friends of Israel:
In Washington, D.C. the opening of the direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians proceeded like a well-staged theatre performance. For many observers the event seemed to be just a repetition of a familiar play. A closer look, however, revealed that certain things have changed. Benjamin Netanyahu has come a long way. When the so-called "Oslo Process" started 17 years ago, he was the leader of the opposition. He then accused Yitzhak Rabin that he was worse than Chamberlain. At least the British Premier had put the freedom of another nation at stake, whereas Rabin jeopardized the freedom of his own people. However, things are different now. Before he travelled to Washington, Netanyahu compared himself to Menachem Begin, uttering the hope that Mahmud Abbas could be a courageous partner for a lasting peace in the same way as the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was a partner for Begin. After his arrival in the United States, Netanyahu called Abbas his "peace partner". What in the world has happened to Benjamin Netanyahu?
During a discussion he mentioned that he is often told about the need to think about "creative solutions" for the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, but in his opinion a completely different approach is the only way. But first of all he would have to convince Abbas and the Arab world and then the Israelis that things ought to be done differently because previous attempts did not work. In his speech he said: "We left Lebanon, we got terror. We left Gaza, we got terror. We want to ensure that territory we concede will not be turned into a third Iranian-sponsored terror enclave aimed at the heart of Israel, and also aimed at everyone sitting here."
Dear friends of Israel:
"One-state or two-state: If Israel doesn't decide, the UN will". This is the title of an article that appeared in the Israeli daily Jerusalem Post. The author writes that since August 2009 the process leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state has rapidly advanced and that this development has gone mostly unnoticed by the public. Last year the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Autonomy, Salam Fayyad, presented a two-year timeframe for his plan. This period will end soon. Referring to an upcoming solution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians a prominent Palestinian said: "Palestinians can go either way, but the two-state solution is better for Israel." However, the fact that even Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi has supported a one-state solution should be proof positive that such an approach must be bad for Israel. On the Israeli right there are still quite a few proponents of a "bi-national Jewish-Palestinian state", although they are diametrically opposed to those who argue that the one-state solution spells death by demography (i.e. the expected majority of Arabs) for the democratic Jewish state.
The rapid and target-oriented progress in developing an infrastructure of a future Palestinian state on the one hand and the impending enforcement of a "one-state solution" by the United Nations on the other serve as catalysts for the Israeli government. This is one of the reasons why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made efforts to improve his initially clouded relationship with US President Obama. After all, a mutual understanding between the United States and Israel is of the utmost importance for the upcoming negotiations with the Palestinians.
Dear friends of Israel:
Recently the Haredim (ultra-orthodox Jews) have further damaged their reputation among the Israeli population, mostly because of their mass rallies against the evacuation of ancient graves that often emerge on construction sites or against a court decision which prohibits the ethnic segregation of school classes (e.g. separate classes for Ashkenazi and Sephardi children). This loss of prestige affects both ultra-orthodox Jews and religious Judaism in general. In an article for an Israeli daily a commentator makes the following observation: “I see a movement that has lost its way, its mission and … is leading us astray. Is it really surprising if secular Jews do not want to have anything to do with religion? … While many may look at the state of Judaism here (in Israel) … in very positive terms … I am afraid they are viewing matters through rose-colored glasses. Simply reading the daily newspapers or listening in the news on the broadcast media leaves one to wonder – whatever happened to Jewish religious/ethical principles?”
The author of the article also mentions the warnings that Israel’s ancient teachers uttered when it comes to striving for a position of authority, as those in power necessarily trade off their privileges against religious principles. And as secular Jews observe their orthodox counterparts acquiring financial gain and privileges as coalition partners in the government, how many are drawn towards religion and how many are driven away?
Dear friends of Israel:
The flotilla that was allegedly chartered by "peace activists" and loaded with relief goods for the "needy" in Gaza was in fact a clever scheme with the objective to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza and to ostracize Israel in full view of the entire world. Many of the partly naïve activists were obviously convinced that they were on a crusade for a just cause. However, first of all there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and secondly the allegedly vital relief goods would have reached Gaza anyway. Therefore there was no need to break the Israeli sea blockade. It is also true that Israel cannot afford to allow ships into the harbour of Gaza without previous inspections, as it is still in a state of war with the Hamas regime. In spite of the sea and land blockade a dangerous amount of weapons is being smuggled through the tunnels near Rafiah. This is why the blockade is vital for the protection of the Israeli population. Without this measure Iran would misuse Gaza as a toehold against Israel and bring in all imaginable kinds of weapons.
Who is really behind the attempt to break the Israeli blockade? At a first glance there does not seem to be an easy answer to this, but it becomes more and more apparent that Turkey and/or the Turkish government is responsible for these activities. Unfortunately the Turkish government seems to be ready for a shift into the Islamic camp. The political change in this country is also becoming evident by its seeking closer ties to Iran. After the "bloody massacre" at sea, as the storming of the flotilla by IDF troops was called by the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, he declared in a speech to the parliament: "Today we have arrived at a turning point in history. Things will no longer be the same as they were before."
Dear friends of Israel:
After a long period of dilly-dallying the Israeli government and the Palestinians are ready to resume proximity talks. Israel is even willing to discuss core issues such as the status of Jerusalem and the refugee problem. Moreover, Israel has given in to the Palestinian demand for a freeze of the construction activities in the so-called «occupied territories». Obviously these developments are the first results of President Obama's new approach in the Middle East policy. However, Jewish circles in Israel and the United States are concerned about the recent situation. Many are having qualms about the American government's true position regarding Israel and the Middle East. When the Israeli Defense Minister went on a trip to the United States in late April, he dispelled such doubts. In a speech to a mostly Jewish audience he said: "I feel very strongly that these differences, these slight disputes are behind us." He also put the minds of the participants at ease by explaining that the relationship between the Israeli and the American defense establishments "is extremely good ... and the bonds are intimate and unbreakable." Barak also expressed urgency on reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians, citing the demographic threat. He warned that without a two-state solution the options would be a bi-national state or a non-democratic state. Although most of the governing coalition is right-wing – his own Labor Party being the sole exception – he stressed that Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is ready to work toward peace, albeit the steps to be taken in that direction are not easy.
Dear friends of Israel:
When the American Vice-President Joe Biden visited Israel, the Israeli Minister of the Interior, Eli Ishai, declared that the government has approved further construction in Ramat Shlomo, one of the Jerusalem suburbs beyond the so-called “Green Line”. This move has caused lasting tensions in the relationship between Israel and the United States.
Afterwards the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to America because he was invited as a speaker to the conference of American Jewish organizations (AIPAC). During his visit he also met President Obama. Netanyahu was obviously told that Israel could no longer look to the United States for unlimited support in all areas of Israeli policy. In her speech to the attendants of AIPAC Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented the new position of the Obama administration. She said that Israel could be put under pressure if necessary, but that the security interests of the Jewish state should always be taken into account. Mrs. Clinton also explained that the status quo of the last decade has not lead to permanent security – neither for Israel nor for the Palestinians, and therefore this situation would have to be changed. Unlike its predecessors the current US administration sees the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a part of the complex power structure in the Middle East and as an important factor for the strategic interests of the United States. It is surprising that the representatives of the Jewish organizations hailed Mrs. Clinton’s speech with standing ovations.
Dear friends of Israel:
A few years ago Israel started a program for young Jews from all over the world, enabling them to pay at least one visit to the Holy Land. This initiative, subsidized by the State of Israel and Jewish sponsors, is destined as an incentive for at least a part of the young people to immigrate to Israel later in life. Moreover, the creators of the program hope that the relationship between the Jewish Diaspora and Israel will be strengthened and also the growing threat of assimilation will be counteracted. Especially the current Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu attaches great importance to strengthening the ties to the Jews living abroad. One of its objectives is to bring one million new immigrants to Israel. The accelerating process of modernization in Israel is intended to make the land more desirable for Jews from the Diaspora. It should be kept in mind, however, that in the past about one million people left the land because they had very few opportunities to make a decent living.
Developments such as a growing secularization and the deterioration of Jewish values can also be observed in Israel. The government wants to face these problems by bringing more Jewish values and history into the classrooms again, with putting the emphasis on the ancient and modern history of Israel. This is one of the reasons why the government allocated NIS 400 million to rehabilitate 150 Jewish sites, both ancient and modern, including two sites that are located in Palestinian territory. These locations have been declared national heritage sites. One of them is Rachel's tomb near Bethlehem and the other the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. Strangely enough the latter is also a holy site for Muslims. After the Israeli included these two sites into the list of national heritage sites, fierce protests erupted among the Palestinians and in the Islamic world. There has also been intense criticism from other countries. Among others the U.S. President Obama has voiced his concern.