Why? Because there are no Jews in Pakistan…

Israel gets an unexpected visitor from Pakistan who aims to enlighten his people about the Jewish state.Sometimes, just sometimes, Israeli bureaucracy gets it right.

Earlier this month, a veteran Pakistani television journalist, Khalid Ansari, was filming in the United States for a rare and ambitious project – a major documentary on the Jewish people – to be screened later this year on his country’s widely watched GEO TV network.

If you’re doing a serious program on the Jews, Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center reasonably suggested to him, you really ought to go to the Jewish state for some of your footage and interviews.

And lo, it came to pass: Ansari promptly applied for a visa. And within a couple of days, Israel’s New York consulate contacted him to tell him that it had been granted.

Ansari this week thus became probably the first Pakistani journalist to report extensively from Israel for his highly significant home country – the world’s sixth most populous, the second largest Muslim nation (after Indonesia), bordered by India, China, Afghanistan and Iran, and with a nuclear arsenal estimated at anything from 40 to 100-plus warheads.

He interviewed various political leaders, officials and other notables, visited the Knesset, filmed in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and absorbed a unique first-hand impression of our country for the benefit of his.

His brief stay here follows a limited, quiet warming of unofficial contacts in recent years under former president Pervez Musharraf, who three years ago shook hands with prime minister Ariel Sharon at a UN reception, organized a meeting in Turkey between his foreign minister and ours, and addressed a landmark dinner of the American Jewish Congress in the presence of Israel’s UN ambassador Dan Gillerman.

A remarkable individual

But Ansari’s Israeli sojourn is remarkable, nonetheless, and he seems to be quite a remarkable individual; Musharraf was prepared to converse only very briefly with this Israeli journalist at the AJCongress dinner in Manhattan, and his answer to my question about when Pakistan might formally establish contacts with Israel was firmly noncommittal. Reporter Ansari – dapper, immaculate, at once formal and amiable, and bristling with businesslike purpose – is positively blazing the trail.

The original idea for the Jewish people documentary, he told me in a kind of “mutual interview” – he filmed me for his TV show; I asked him questions for this column – was his, a necessary response to a gaping lacuna: “The Jews are almost unknown in Pakistan,” he said simply, “because there are no Jews in Pakistan.”

And the decision to take up Cooper’s suggestion and add Israel to the filming itinerary was also his and his alone. “I actually came here without the budget,” he said lightly.

But of course his board had approved the Israel segment now? Well, he confessed with a little shrug, he hadn’t really discussed it with them yet.

Ansari asked me open-minded questions – some apparently well informed, some more naïve, all earnest. The proof, of course, will be in the program.

He wanted to know about the freedom of the press in this country, and our capacity to criticize the government. Were all Israelis Zionists, he wondered? All right, leaving aside the non-Jewish minority, were all Jewish Israelis Zionists? Was it true that some ultra-Orthodox Jews believe the pre-messianic Jewish state to be a blasphemous entity? And yet they live here anyway, even as some of them publicly denounce you to your enemies, he marveled!

Tell my viewers

He asked me about Israeli achievement – the absorption of immigrants, the revival of Hebrew, scientific excellence, high-tech innovation. Tell my viewers, he urged.

He wondered whether I was optimistic about the peace process, and told me I should be when I answered that I was not. He listened carefully when I argued that Israel, for all its military strength, feels both demographically and territorially threatened and is unlikely to sanction significant territorial compromise in the absence of a compelling sense that the Palestinians have genuinely internalized our right to sovereignty in this region as a Jewish state. He asked several questions about the “right of return” and gave me as much time as I sought to try to explain why, in much the same way as Israel has built a thriving state by absorbing its refugees, the Palestinians would have to do the same, because Israel would not commit national suicide by taking them in.

I don’t think he was burning with strong objections to what I was saying, but if he was, he kept them to himself. Apparently, he had similar conversations with Deputy Foreign Minister Majallie Whbee and Knesset member Menahem Ben-Sasson (both of Kadima), listening more than he talked. He also met, among others, with law professor Amnon Rubinstein at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, and veteran Diaspora leader and Jerusalem Post columnist Isi Leibler (which is how he got to me).

He was not, Ansari told me with single-minded focus, meeting with Palestinians on this trip. Perhaps next time. This was a documentary about the Jews.

His working title is The Children of Abraham. His intended message? “That peace and harmony must prevail.”

When his camera was off and my notebook was out, he offered a robust defense of Islam, which he insisted is not an extreme religion. You kill, under Islam, only those who are trying to kill you, he said.

Through the centuries, Muslims and Jews had never slaughtered each other, he offered (with unfortunate inaccuracy as regards the former). The way he saw it, the trouble had really only started when Israel was established. And that was why he felt the reporter’s obligation to take the opportunity to come here, and try to understand us.

When I told him about Israel’s concerns over Iran’s nuclear program, and our concerns, too, of what might become of neighboring Pakistan’s nukes if instability deepened in his country, he assured me gravely that Pakistan had never conceived of Israel as a nuclear target and told me a little hesitantly of reports back home that Israel might seek to strike at Pakistan’s nuclear facilities. He looked relieved when I waved away the notion.

But he waved away Israel’s anxieties, too, about extremism in his country and the prospect of those nukes falling into irresponsible hands. Asif Zardari, Pakistan’s new president, has a reputation both for corruption and psychiatric problems. Pakistan has already produced the world’s leading rogue nuclear sales entrepreneur in A.Q. Khan. Meanwhile, al-Qaida in Pakistan is reportedly making notable gains in its battle against the government.

But Ansari insisted that “you don’t need to worry. Believe me, I have sometimes been very critical of the army in Pakistan if it intervenes in politics.” But, he said, he had no such criticism when it came to the army’s control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. “They’re in the safest hands.”

And with that, the Jewish state’s unexpected journalistic visitor was on his way – heading home to a country born a few short months before ours was revived; home to the very city, Karachi, where journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded six and half years ago for the sin of being Jewish; home to tell our people’s story to his people… because there are no Jews in Pakistan.

The views reflected in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of ISRAEL21c.

Printed by courtesy of The Jerusalem Post.

The metamorphosis of a metropolis

Over the years, Haifa has blossomed into an enchanting metropolis, home to a multitude of faiths and nationalities.Haifa has always had a special place in my heart. It was there, decades ago as a teenage immigrant that I found my first job, in the PR department of the now defunct Israel Maritime Fruit Carriers, after completing a kibbutz ulpan.

In the early morning haze, I would board the bus at the top of the Carmel in Naveh Sha’anan, where I shared an apartment with other post-ulpan girlfriends, and marvel at the beauty of the view as we wound our way through the various neighborhoods on our way to the port area below. No one, I wrote my parents in an ardent letter back home, gets a view like that on their way to work in London.

But if I removed my rose-colored glasses, all was not perfect in Haifa of the 1970s. The view from high above was beautiful, but up close the port area was dingy, the shops of the lower Hadar were not much brighter, and it was only when you traveled up to the Ahuza neighborhood with its posh residential area with parks, offices, shops and hotels for the well heeled that you saw the real beauty of Haifa.

But over the years, Haifa has blossomed into an enchanting metropolis, home to a multitude of faiths and nationalities. The once dismal port area has now become an attractive industrial area with a growing high-tech center. Upscale office buildings nudge magnificent museums, and highways and overpasses modulate the commuter and tourist traffic.

As a port, it’s only natural that many of Haifa’s sites and museums are connected to Israel’s maritime past. For example, the Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum is built around the renovated remains of the illegal immigrant ship the Af Al Pi Chen (“Despite Everything”). The museum tells the riveting story of the intrepid captains, crew and refugees from blood-soaked Europe who risked their lives to run the British naval blockade and try to land on the shores of Palestine.

One of the films at the museum tells the story of life in the camps in Cyprus. From there you move on to the naval history part of the museum. The large outdoor expanse has sections from landmark sea vessels, including Israel’s first missile launcher, and the deck of a boat captured from the Egyptians. Israel has never glossed over its tragedies and failures, and it is fitting that both the entrance and farthest point of the display are devoted to Israel’s submarine history.

As you approach the museum, a section of the towering bridge of the ill-fated Dakar submarine rises before you. This is the only part of the vessel that was retrieved 30 years after disappearing on its maiden voyage in 1968.

At the farthest point of the museum is an intact submarine the INS (Israel Naval Ship) Gal, which was placed in the museum less than a year ago. As I ducked my head and walked through the narrow aisle, I realized what space economy means. Every nook and cranny has a purpose.

Down the road, we delved deeper into the past at the National Maritime Museum, which houses marine archeological finds. One of the most exciting discoveries was a 2,000-year-old battering ram from a Greek warship that had been found off the shore of Atlit in the 1980s. There are also Egyptian burial barges and many statues of Poseidon, the god of the sea. The icons were thrown overboard when there was a storm in an attempt to appease the gods and calm the sea.

Just across the road, you enter the biblical era. The prophet Elijah is sacred to all the local religions, and each one claims to house the cave where he stopped to pray on his way to challenge and ultimately kill the false prophets of Baal. The Stella Maris Carmelite convent higher up the hill has its cave just beneath the altar. Lower down there is a cave where Jews often gather to recite the afternoon Minha prayer.

Another spot associated with Elijah is the Muhraka (fire) high up in the Carmel Forest, said to be the spot where Elijah challenged the priests of Baal.

A visit to a port is not complete without enjoying a sail around the harbor. The Carmelit takes visitors for a short ride around the port, just enough time to enjoy a packed lunch or the light refreshments served on board.

Later on, the children in our group had great fun at the National Museum of Science and Technology, housed in the magnificent old Technion building. In the various interactive rooms, they learned about mirrors and reflections, the eclipse of the sun, ancient and modern computers, as well as many other scientific oddities that I wished had been explained to me so clearly when I was at school.

The Railway Museum, in the port area, is another specialty museum. One of the things that makes this museum so special is that it is built around the old Haifa East railway station. There are several brightly painted old locomotives on display, including the last steam engine that operated in Israel. And you can look inside the VIP carriages that transported important visitors from their boat inland, which look more like a hotel on rails.

Another “trip” in itself is the Castra Mall, at the southern entrance to Haifa. Never before had anyone thought to combine supermarket shopping and lunch with museums and culture. Built on the site of the ancient city of Castra, the mall has an Archeology Museum with finds from the on-site digs, as well as Magda Watt’s Doll Museum, depicting scenes from the Bible and modern Israeli history.

What’s more, we watched in fascination as a talented glass blower formed animals and flowers through the heat of melted glass, while in another corner of the mall a woman was making papier-mâché dolls. One of the main indoor highlights is the Castra Art Gallery with regularly changing exhibitions. If you visit the mall, be sure to step outside onto the wrap-around terrace and look at the 24 biblical scenes painted on ceramic tiles which cover the domed roof. Definitely a mall with a difference.

Reprinted by courtesy of The Jerusalem Post.

Red Cross adopts Israeli cholera prevention program

The student team who devised the cholera prevention program. L to R: Gulnoza Usmanova, Solomon Nzioka, Ana-Mari Barragan, Philip Blumenfeld, Solomon Beza, Kingsley Odiete and Ajay Phatak.A highly successful cholera prevention program developed by students at an Israeli university has been adopted by the Red Cross in Kenya for widespread use.

The program, created by students from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was first employed in displaced persons camps by the Red Cross, the world’s largest humanitarian organization, during the recent political crisis in Kenya. It was found to be highly effective in prevention and management of the disease.

As a result, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (IFRC), have decided to implement the program beyond the camps.

Cholera, an acute diarrheal illness caused by a bacterial infection in the intestine, is a preventable disease. Though rare in the west, the disease remains common in the developing world. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there were about 180,000 cholera cases in 2007, and that it accounts for 65 percent of deaths in cases of diarrheal diseases in children under five years old in developing countries.

Annual cholera outbreaks

In Kenya, there are cholera outbreaks every year, mostly as a result of torrential rains with accompanying floods that contaminate already inadequate water supplies. This, coupled with poor sanitation in many areas, heightens the risk of the disease.

The students who designed the cholera prevention program are medical and public health practitioners from Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Colombia, Uzbekistan, India and the US, who came to study in Israel on an intensive one-year masters degree in public health at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine.

They discovered that the disease could be prevented and fatalities avoided if prevention efforts were integrated into routine health care, and outbreaks reported quickly in accordance with WHO requirements.

In Kenya, however, according to Kenyan student team leader, Solomon Nzioka, officials often deny initial cholera outbreaks and underestimate the number of cases in an attempt to prevent damage to the tourist industry.

“When people continue to die and the outbreak continues to spread, then officials undertake late ‘fire-fighting’ measures to combat the outbreak,” says Nzioka. “Afterwards, the officials forget what occurred and eventually wait for the next report of cholera. Due to the lack of a comprehensive control program, such a pattern repeats itself time after time.”

Part of the problem is that the Kenyan government relies heavily on international NGOs to provide health treatment, water and sanitation facilities. Since the late 1990s many of these NGOs have begun to focus solely on the problems of HIV, leaving diseases like cholera neglected.

Safe sources of drinking water

The students devised a program to increase safe drinking water sources; promote awareness in the community about cholera prevention; improve surveillance and reporting of cholera cases; build a centralized network for monitoring and immediate appropriate action; mobilize rapid response teams to areas with suspected cholera cases; improve management of patients; prevent the spread of the disease; and and conduct post-epidemic investigation and education.

A control program was first used in Kenya’s Bungoma district, and it is currently being considered by the Kenyan Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation pending funding.

If funding is secured, the students expect that in three years’ time, the program will increase access to safe drinking water from 47 to 80 percent, enhance preparedness for cholera epidemics, upgrade early-response systems, and prevent spread of cholera in the district through the strengthening of partnerships between community and government levels.

The students hope that their program, which was developed within the framework of the control of communicable diseases course, will also be adopted in other countries, such as Nigeria and Ethiopia, where cholera is rife.

Project supervisor, Prof. Mark Spigelman says the team is planning to submit their proposal to the WHO to be considered for implementation worldwide.

Lending a hand to Brand Israel

A new Israeli foreign ministry promotion to rebrand Israel now launched in Toronto, could be the start of a larger worldwide campaign. Creating buzz is vital.After 60 years of Diaspora Jews complaining that Israel’s hasbara efforts fall flat, there is finally reason for Jews worldwide to believe that the Foreign Ministry is beginning to get it. September marks the beginning of an ambitious new pilot program, being run by the consul-general in Toronto, Amir Gissin, to “rebrand” Israel.

Starting with print ads that will be featured prominently in bus shelters and billboards across the city, and continuing with radio and editorial content, Torontonians can expect to see Israel being portrayed as an innovative leader in technology that brings real benefits to their own lives. One ad, for example, depicts an Indian mother and daughter smiling under the words “Coronary stent. Lifesaver.” At the bottom is a new iconic logo, “Innovation Israel,” and the tag line “Touching lives.” The message to the growing Indian community in Toronto couldn’t be clearer.

Notably, one type of message that will be conspicuous by its absence is any type of explanation or defense of Israel’s actions in regard to its politics. “Explaining why we are right is not enough,” says Gissin. “Our goal is to make Israel relevant and attractive to Canadians and to refocus attention away from the conflict.”

In this Gissin is entirely correct. There is plenty of attention given to the Israeli-Arab conflict in the media already, and plenty of opportunities for pundits and diplomats to debate Israeli policies in front of audiences who listen. The conflict, after all, is not going away soon. The real challenge lies with the growing population of the Diaspora for whom Israel is not relevant and who tune out much of the news regarding the conflict as being hopelessly confusing and morally muddled.

These are people whose very indifference or inattentiveness make them susceptible to being swayed by charged anti-Israel labels that are thrown around by our adversaries, such as the word “apartheid.” With campuses around the world hosting “Israel Apartheid Week” on an annual basis and ex-presidents of the United States using the word in a book title, the need to have an ongoing campaign that will implant positive emotional associations to Israel has become crucial.

But will the Israeli pilot program in Toronto work? And will it be relevant to the rest of the Diaspora? Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, with more than 200 languages spoken and with almost half the population belonging to a minority. There are, for example, 470,000 Chinese living there, many of them having little or no preconceptions about Israel. There are, as well, more than half a million Italians. That makes Toronto a very attractive laboratory to experiment in.

And it will be a real experiment, with a local company measuring the effects of the campaign with ongoing surveys to measure any progress. (These surveys will be carefully constructed so that respondents are unaware of who has sponsored them and will strenuously avoid politics.) Ads and editorials that are deemed successful by the consulate will, in later years, find their way to other cities around the globe.

There are good reasons for optimism. Gissin and the other people and companies involved in running the campaign are well versed in the local nuances and are aware of the difficulties involved in running a branding campaign that is short on budget. (Most of the advertising budget for the pilot program is being provided by local Jewish philanthropists). The ads are professional and appealing.

But the overwhelming consensus of marketing professionals is that no rebranding campaign can work without grass-roots involvement. Without buzz being generated by word of mouth, without the target audience discussing Israel among themselves, the campaign is likely to fail and the experiment will then not be repeated globally.

It is far too early to tell if the Foreign Ministry’s campaign will generate such buzz on its own. But one lesson from the pilot program can already be taken by all supporters of Israel in the Diaspora and that is that even when the ministry does everything right, it can’t really do it without local support. Diaspora Zionists must get involved. We must help create the buzz that others will perpetuate.

Even without a formal “rebranding Israel” program, we all have a role to play to help Israel’s image. It can be as simple as e-mailing a news story about a recent Israeli invention to a colleague, hanging a picture of beautiful Israeli art on our walls or helping our cities and towns twin with an Israeli town. The government is, belatedly, doing its part. We must lend it a hand.

Reprinted by courtesy of The Jerusalem Post.

ISRAEL 15 Vision: Competiveness in a Global World

If we put our minds to it, Israel could become one of the greatest exporters of quality educational programs instead of highly educated people.We face the greatest gap between our potential, based on exposure to technology and education, and our achievements. The quality of our life is at the bottom of the developed world, and we don’t have to be there. Israel is ranked 38th in the world according to the Economists’ Quality of Life Index; and 23rd according to the 2008 U.N. Human Development Index.

For some countries that might be enough; it’s not enough for us.

We face the greatest gap between our potential, based on exposure to technology and education, and our achievements. The quality of our life is at the bottom of the developed world, and we don’t have to be there.

The idea of leapfrogging Israel’s Quality of Life isn’t just a nice thing to do. It’s crucial for our survival – otherwise, we just won’t be competitive.

Competiveness is critical for a country like Israel because the world is going global. And in this world, there’s fierce competition over important resources – technology, people and investments.

These resources are mobile and they can easily move from place to place. So to succeed, a country has to be attractive, and attractiveness is measured competitively.

Since you have so many choices, you have to have a reason to want to live somewhere. There is nothing stopping someone from getting up, packing their bags and moving to Palo Alto.

In fact, right now Israel is one of the biggest exporters of highly educated people in the world.

I believe that in the future, we could become one of the greatest exporters of quality educational programs, if we put our mind to it.

Reut isn’t saying that Israel has to adopt a specific model; to become like Ireland or Singapore. However, in order to leapfrog into one of the leading 15 countries in the world, we need to initiate a bottom up process.

This includes mobilizing the key sectors of society including Arabs, Ultra Orthodox, people from the development towns and periphery, from the big cities, philanthropists, the Jewish world and government ministries to create a shared vision that can motivate us all to achieve this country’s potential.

This was one of the aims of the recent ISRAEL 15 Vision Conference organized by the Reut Institute and is the organizing logic that will guide our work in the future.

Gidi Grinstein is founder and president of the Reut Institute. The views expressed in this blog are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Reut Institute.

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ISRAEL 15 Vision Conference