To find upbeat news, that is. No, it is not easy right now. But it is important for all of us to focus positively from time to time.
And so I will touch a couple of diverse bases.
A two-day international conference on the Middle East was hosted by the United States on Wednesday and Thursday (today). Co-hosted by Poland, it was held in Warsaw, and focused on Middle East peace and security.
While some seventy nations were invited to this summit, chaired Secretary of State Pompeo, Iran was not one of them. As Secretary Pompeo made clear at a press conference (emphasis added):
“You can’t achieve peace and stability in the Middle East without confronting Iran. It’s just not possible.
“They’re a malign influence in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, the three H’s – the Houthis, Hamas, Hezbollah – these are real threats. There are others as well, but you can’t get peace in the Middle East without pushing back against Iran.”
We here in Israel certainly know this, but how refreshing to hear the Americans standing up as well.
In his remarks at the press conference, Prime Minister Netanyahu emphasized the significance of a new-found cooperation between Middle East states in order to combat the Iranian threat (emphasis added):
“Yesterday was an historical turning point. In a room of some 60 foreign ministers and representatives of dozens of governments, an Israeli prime minister and the foreign ministers of leading Arab countries stood together and spoke with unusual force, clarity and unity, against the common threat of the Iranian regime.”
Note: Ministers of 10 Arab countries attended: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Tunisia.
On the sidelines of the conference, Netanyahu met with Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah. Our prime minister had visited Oman last October at the invitation of the sultan. And this is what he referred to on Wednesday:
“I have to tell you that the courageous decision of Sultan Qaboos to invite me to Oman is changing the world.”
Replied the Omani foreign minister, in English:
“This is an important and new vision for the future. People of the Middle East have suffered a lot because they are stuck to the past. This is a new era for the future and for prosperity for every nation.”
The New York Times, citing present and former administration officials who spoke off the record, reports that the US (with the encouragement of Pompeo) is accelerating a secret program to sabotage Iran’s missiles and rockets.
“Officials said it was impossible to measure precisely the success of the classified program, which has never (“never” until now) been publicly acknowledged. But in the past month alone, two Iranian attempts to launch satellites have failed within minutes…
“…in the past 11 years, 67 percent of Iranian orbital launches have failed, an astonishingly high number compared to a 5 percent failure rate worldwide for similar space launches.”
Please do not write to ask me why US government officials are speaking about a sabotage program that is secret, for I do not know. At any rate, I do not believe I will do any damage by carrying this story that has already been in the Times. And it is certainly good news.
“After completing his military service, Yam Derfler did what many newly released Israeli soldiers do: He went off to see the world. Only something went wrong in Mexico, when Derfler got sick and couldn’t find a doctor. He ended up in a hospital getting the wrong treatment.
“Back home after he finally recovered, Derfler found that others had suffered similar experiences abroad, unfamiliar with the local language and medical system. His research revealed doctor-locating apps in specific countries geared to residents, but nothing for tourists.
“So in 2015, he and three co-founders began building Air Doctor, a platform that lets travelers (or their loved ones) locate an appropriate physician and book an immediate or scheduled appointment. Doctors can be chosen based on location, medical specialty, language spoken and other clients’ reviews.
“The app went live last summer…”
“In a small, shallow area off the northern city of Hadera, 30 female dusky sharks and nine male sandbar sharks have been tagged over the past four winter seasons by marine biologists from the Morris Kahn Marine Research Station of the Charney School of Marine Sciences at the University of Haifa.
“’The sharks are so accessible to us and that is such a unique phenomenon,’ says PhD student Eyal Bigal, manager of the research station’s Top Predator Laboratory.
“The rare confluence of marine biologists, marine engineers and an aggregation of sharks in shallow water, all in one place, enables the lab to monitor these sea predators without resorting to the usual method of fishing them out.
“Not much is known about Mediterranean dusky sharks, and sandbar sharks are an endangered species.
“’Any information we can get is helpful in preserving them,’ Bigal says. ‘We know they are threatened and commercial fishing is only getting more intense, so this is quite important.’”
We call this Kiddush Hashem: honoring the name of the Almighty through proper or exemplary behavior.
Eurovision, the annual international music contest, runs under the supervision of the European Broadcasting Union which is headquartered in Switzerland and has member organizations from 56 countries. The competition this year is on May 18th. It is being held in Israel (Tel Aviv) because last year an Israeli, Netta Barzilai, won.
Here in Israel, there is a competition – on a program called The Rising Star – to select the person or group that will represent Israel in the Eurovision contest.
Doing exceedingly well in that multi-part competition was a seven-person musical group from the non-profit organization Shalva; Shalva is dedicated to embracing and providing care for persons with disabilities, while promoting their social inclusion.
Here you can see videos of a number of the band’s performances on The Rising Star.
Scroll down to the bottom to see their debut performance. It will give you a sense of who these performers are: each coping with a disability, and each a talented musician. Coming together they make great music. They are received objectively for their musical skills but loved and valued for their struggles.
Then I recommend “Hallelujah,” an excellent and deeply moving performance.
The Shalva Band might have achieved their goal and become the group representing Israel in the Eurovision contest, but apparently it was not meant to be.
The contest runs on the air on a Saturday night, but all contestants are required to be present for rehearsals during the day on Shabbat. This was a major problem for members of the band who are shomer Shabbat – observant of the Sabbath. They appealed to the European Broadcasting Union, which refused to allow them to rehearse before the beginning of Shabbat instead.
And so, out of respect for Shabbat observance, they opted to drop out of the competition.
I say Kol Hakavod to them. They are to be honored for their integrity, and for their ability to stand strong for their religious values. This makes them the biggest winners.
In the end, while they will not be contestants, they will be seen by the millions watching the Eurovision contest. Semi-finals are held on a Thursday night, which requires no Shabbat rehearsals. Between the performances done by the contestants, are intervals in which other artists are invited to perform. KAN Israeli broadcasting has invited the Shalva Band to participate.
The winner of The Rising Star competition was Kobi Marimi, who will now represent Israel in the Eurovision Contest.
He’s off to an excellent start, as he declared, after winning, “I’ll do everything I can to make Israel proud.”
Culture Minister Miri Regev said that he “moved the entire country with his unique voice” – which is said to incorporate pop and opera. I certainly found it very pleasing.
Hear for yourself:
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.