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It was an eventful evening last Tuesday as the entire lower bowl of the Centennial Concert Hall was filled to capacity for this year’s Negev Gala.

Proceeds raised will go toward refurbishing a women’s shelter in Rishon Le Zion, one of three shelters run by an Israeli organization called “NO to Violence Against Women”.
Gala honouree Peter Leipsic chose this particular project as part of his “commitment to protect others both as a professional and as a philanthropist”, the gala program noted.
Entertainment at the gala was provided by well-known singer Matisyahu, whose style combines elements of Reggae and Hip Hop.

The following is my "Short Takes" column in the June 8 issue:

I suppose that the lasting impression which will be left in the minds of the vast majority of those who attended the Negev Gala on Tuesday, May 31st, will be how incredibly loud the music was. It would be a shame  though, if the other aspects of the evening were relegated to the recesses of individuals’ minds.
Up until the time the evening’s featured performer, Matisyahu, took to the stage, everything had been going flawlessly. The speeches  given by dignitaries were short and to the point; the video presentations – highlighting the achievements of the JNF and Peter Leipsic’s own long career of service to the community were very professionally done; and the remarks given by Peter’s son Jonathon, along with Peter’s own speech, were poignant and delivered with meaning.

Then, within a few minutes of Matisyahu and his band’s pumping up the volume to incredible levels in something akin to the roar of a jet engine enveloping the concert hall, here and there you could see individuals getting up from their seats. But surely, most of those of us who remained in our seats thought to ourselves: “He’s not going to continue at this incredibly obnoxious noise level. Doesn’t he realize that he’s playing to a mostly older audience?” (although there was a significant number of youthful attendees as well, we had been reminded earlier by Karla Berbrayer, outgoing president of the JNF Manitoba-Saskatchewan Division).
But, Matisyahu didn’t turn it down and so, it wasn’t long before a sizeable proportion of those in attendance had made their way to the foyer where, luckily enough, the desserts that had been prepared by Desserts Plus were already laid out. (What would a Jewish affair be like if there weren’t fabulous desserts available?) I remarked to the several individuals who asked me what I was going to write about the evening that I was going to have some fun describing what happened.  I jokingly said that my headline would be: “Turn up the volume” and that I could compare the exodus of patrons leaving their seats early due to Matisyahu’s ear-splitting performance to the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt.

Frivolity aside, however, in addition to the serious and well considered remarks given prior to the entertainment portion of the evening, especially the explanation given by JNF Manitoba-Saskatchewan executive director Ariel Karabelnicoff as to why Peter Leipsic had specifically chosen a shelter for female victims of domestic violence as the project which he wanted to see funded by proceeds from this year’s gala – in addition to Peter’s own speech in which he expounded upon those reasons, there was one another element to the evening that had been introduced by JNF National CEO Josh Cooper.
In a reference to the protesters who had been gathered outside the Concert Hall prior to the gala, Cooper proceeded to advance a well-reasoned defense of the JNF’s record over the years – in direct contradiction of the protesters’ claims that the JNF has a spotty record of sometimes illegally confiscating Arab lands. It’s not the first time protesters had assembled prior to a JNF gala here and, as in past years, I had spoken to some of those protesters to try and get a sense of what it was that was motivating them.

This year, as I approached the protesters, a young woman with blue hair approached me rather aggressively and asked me who I was, as if to say that I was not welcome among them. I gave her my name and told her that I was the owner of the Jewish newspaper in Winnipeg. Immediately she lightened up and said to me, much to my surprise: “Oh, you know I went on Birthright.”
“You did?” I thought to myself. “Well, I’m  not sure that Birthright had the desired effect in your case,” I also thought to myself.  She went on to note that, after Birthright, she stayed in Ramallah for a time. “Well, how do you like that?” I wondered. Did she go to Israel with pre-conceived notions about Israel and the Palestinians or did something happen to her while she was there, I also wondered. In any event, I didn’t have time to engage her in lengthy conversation at the moment, but I did invite her to send me something in writing, if she so desired.
“I’ve got 100 pages written already,” she answered.
“A hundred pages?” I said. “Can you send me just an excerpt?”
“Well, you could print it in parts,” she answered. Now, that’s something that I’m sure would absolutely rivet our readers’ attention. Still, if that young woman happens to be told of this column, I’d like her to realize that I was serious about running something by her. I’d be curious to know what made someone from Winnipeg who did go on Birthright develop such a negative view of Israel that she’d come out to protest the JNF – or was she simply taking advantage of a free trip to Israel, with a pre-conceived notion of Israel before she even went on the trip?

Returning to Josh Cooper’s remarks about the protesters which, by the way, seemed to have been delivered off the cuff, and which formulated as reasoned a defense of the JNF’s track record as you are likely to hear anywhere, it occurred to me that, of late, Israel’s defenders have been scoring some major victories, especially when it comes to countering the BDS movement.
Matisyahu himself, we were told, has just arrived in Winnipeg by private jet that day because he had been playing a central role earlier in the day during a conference held to counter the BDS movement at the U.N. in New York City. As well, there have been other recent developments, including a letter signed by 155 McGill University professors condemning the BDS movement, along with a decision by McGill’s student board also to halt any moves that might be brought forward in the future calling upon McGill to support the BDS movement.

But perhaps the most salutary finding insofar as the BDS movement is concerned came in the form of articles that I read on The Algemeiner and The Times of Israel websites. The Algemeiner reported a story about the CEO of the Israeli company Sodastream, which had been specifically targeted by proponents of the BDS movement, as saying that sales of his company’s products had jumped from $90 million a year to over $400 million a year since the boycott was introduced. “I encourage any company that wants to grow its sales to be attacked by the BDS movement,” said Sodastream CEO Daniel Birnbaum.
The Times of Israel ran a headline saying: “Despite BDS, Israeli firms enjoy a foreign investment boom”. The subhead noted: “With pro-boycott arguments failing to make an impact, Bloomberg report finds, fertile conditions are driving record capital flow”.

It would seem, therefore, that, rather than having the intended effect, the BDS movement has not had a negative impact upon the Israeli economy at all. Of course, there is still the nasty business of Israeli academics being prevented from appearing in certain institutions of higher learning around the world, or of academics refusing to attend conferences in Israel, but even at that, we have the recent phenomenon of a huge number of Italian academics specifically choosing to go to Israel in solidarity with their Israeli colleagues.
So, as much as protests at events such as the JNF Gala here in Winnipeg have become traditional, they don’t really have much effect, other than to galvanize support for the JNF from within those in attendance at the galas. It would appear, as well that, at least within the business world – and among ordinary consumers of Israeli-made products, the BDS movement has had exactly the opposite effect that was intended by its creators.

In a similar vein, reports from the Israel Tourist Authority would seem to indicate that tourism levels have not been much affected by the knifing and car ramming attacks that began last September, but now appear to have largely dissipated. Thus, the Israeli economy is humming along on all cylinders – much to our relief.

One final note: If you were as much of a fan of Bartley Kives’s writing in the Free Press as I was, you’ll be sad to know that Bart is no longer employed by that paper. While he has made the move to the CBC (which seems to be the ultimate final destination for  many high profile media types in this town), I can’t say that I’ll go looking for Bart’s  columns on the CBC website the same way I used to when they were in the Free Press.

In the same way that getting my news on the Internet just isn’t as satisfying an experience for me (and for many of our readers as well, I’ve been told over the years), having to look for Bartley Kives’s writing on a website isn’t quite the same as having it on a printed page. But, like many of you, I’m wondering just how bad things must be at the Free Press for that paper to have lost one of its star columnists?

Negev Gala pics

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