Seven Fascinating Things I Learned in Israel

Surprising facts about the Jewish State that your tour guide won't tell you.

I recently returned home from an unforgettable, two-week trip to Israel with the Young Jewish Conservatives. While there we spoke to members of the Israeli Knesset and Foreign Ministry, and traveled to parts of Israel—such as Hebron and Sderot—that most American groups never get to see because they are either politically incorrect or dangerous.

Here are 7 fascinating things I learned there that are worth sharing:

1.) I had the opportunity to visit the headquarters of “Save a Child’s Heart,” an Israeli medical charity that performs pediatric heart surgery for non-Jewish children in desperate need of help, free of charge. Since its inception in 1995, the organization has literally saved the lives of 3,000 non-Jewish children, 50% of whom came from Gaza, the West Bank and Iraq.

When I heard these statistics I could not believe it. I asked a worker there if this amazing organization helps the image of Israel in the Palestinian territories, as “Save a Child’s Heart” certainly assists many families who despise the Jewish State. She responded: “We hope so.”

2.) There are two UN refugee agencies in the world: First is the United Nations Relief and Works Administrations (UNRWA) for 5 million Palestinian refugees (which includes the descendants of the original 500,000 Palestinian refugees from the Israeli War of Independence) which employs 30,000 workers. The UNRWA has resettled no Palestinians.

The second refugee agency is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which assists every other refugee in the world--including 100 million displaced people during the last 50 years--and employs 7,000 people. The UNHCR has resettled tens of millions of refugees.

Looking at these numbers, one would think that the cause of the Palestinians is some how morally superior to that of all other war refugees. After all, why have so many more workers been assisting a dramatically smaller group of people? But if the Palestinians are unique it is only because of their moral inferiority, as they are the only group of refugees that regularly commit acts of terrorism against innocent civilians.

Another obvious question: why hasn’t the UNRWA resettled any of the Palestinian refugees? The answer, of course, is that the surrounding Arab states would rather have these refugees remain a thorn in Israel’s side, than help them start a new life. The UNRWA is happy to oblige.

3.) A couple interesting facts about the political right in Israel:

There are many on the Israeli political right who do not value the American-Israel relationship, and think it causes more harm than good (they are not big fans of AIPAC). And they are not just talking about the Obama era. Many of them, including Moshe Feiglin (Netanyahu’s political rival in Likud), think that America attaches too many strings to its support; they think that America routinely coerces Israel into making one-sided concessions; and they think that Israel needs to become independent of America, and more self-reliant in the international arena. In fact, Mr. Feiglin told us that he does not care if Romney or Obama wins the election, as Israel can take care of itself. Many of us in the YJC challenged his opinion, but to no avail.

Another interesting dynamic in Israeli politics was relayed to us by Gil Hoffman, the Chief Political Correspondent of the Jerusalem post. He told us that there are also many on the right in Israel who actually want President Obama to be re-elected because he has proven himself to be a failure with regard to the peace process, and they are therefore confident Israel will not relinquish any land as long as he is president. Conversely, they fear that Netanyahu would trust a President Romney, which could accelerate the peace process, eventually leading to Israeli concessions. Mr. Hoffman told us, “There is no peace process because of the President of the United States.” For this reason, many on the Israeli left are worried Obama will win re-election.

4.) Many Arabs in the “occupied” territories actually work in construction for Israeli settlers. That's right -- many Arabs have jobs because they build those evil settlements that President Obama has furiously sought to halt. According to Rabbi Ben Packer, when settlement construction slows down, Arab employment decreases accordingly.

5.) Many Israelis I spoke to are very bitter about the continued detention of Jonathan Pollard—the Israeli spy who has been imprisoned in America for 27 years.  There were many in the Israeli government who wanted Shimon Peres to refuse to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama, unless Pollard was set free. Of course, that did not happen. Moshe Feiglin told us he did not feel like celebrating American independence on July 4th while his “brother” Jonathan Pollard was still imprisoned.

6.) There is a member of Likud in the Israeli Knesset, Ayoob Kara, who makes Bibi Netanyahu look like Jeremy Ben Ami. Mr. Kara is extremely hawkish on matters of Israeli security, and does not believe in a two state solution because “it would cause war.” He believes that Israel “must be strong and must remain Jewish,” and spearheaded the movement to pass the Israeli allegiance law, that so many on the left railed against. He conveyed his loyalty to Israel, saying, “I would give up all my uncles and brothers for Israel.” He told us that the problem with the Middle East is Islamic Fundamentalism, and that this region of the world is not ready for democracy—a critique of the so-called “Arab Spring.”

Now, you may be wondering why Mr. Kara’s right-wing views are significant--well, because he is a non-Jewish Arab, and a member of the unique Druze religion. The Druze, who number about 100,000 in Israel, serve in the Israeli military and are generally very loyal to the Jewish State. Ayoob Kara and his fellow Druze illustrate, by their very existence, that Israel is hardly the apartheid country that Jimmy Carter and other leftists so often claim.

7.) Lastly, here is one more important fact for those who think Israel is a racist country that oppresses its minorities: Out of the 120-member Israeli Knesset (Israel’s legislature), a record 16 are currently not Jewish, including Haneen Zoabi, who was on the Gaza Flotilla. Despite participating in an act of war against her country, she still remains in office. It seems as though Israel bends over backwards to protect its minorities, even those who support its enemies.

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