“Unfortunately French Muslims are seen as being anti-Semitic,” Hassan Shaljoumi, who heads a mosque in the Paris suburb of Drancy, told Maariv daily.
“While it is true that there are imams who spread anti-Semitism in the name of Allah, they are a minority.”
Shaljoumi is a member of a 12-strong delegation of French imams, who arrived in Israel for talks with Israeli officials to show that Muslims are not anti-Semitic.
The delegation will meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during the visit.
The imams will also hold talks with Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious leaders as well as intellectuals and youth.
“We plan to present a different facet, that of Muslims who want to live in peace with Jews and wish to advance that peace,” said Shaljoumi.
The visit is expected to spark controversy in the Muslim world as most Muslims insist on ending Israel’s occupation of Arab lands captured in the 1967 Middle East war before having normal relations with the Jewish country.
The visit, funded by the French foreign ministry, follows accusations to the Muslim community of harboring hatred against Jews.
Four Jews and three Muslim soldiers were killed by a self-proclaimed Qaeda gunman in March in the southern city of Toulouse.
Both Muslims and Jews have complained that hostile acts and attitudes have spread in the wake of the Toulouse killings.
Muslim community leaders have registered a 15 percent rise in anti-Muslim acts in the first half of this year compared to the same period in 2011.
Jewish observers say anti-Semitic attacks and acts of intimidation have risen 37 percent over the same period.
Shaljoumi, who visited Israel three times before, argues that the visit aims to show the true image of French Muslims.
“Our image in the world has been sullied and we must remedy it in the name of tolerance,” the imams said in a statement.
“We are the true face of French Muslims.”
French authorities have expelled several Muslim imams from the country following the Toulouse killings.
Last month, the French interior ministry expelled Tunisian imam Muhammad Hammami on accusations of spreading anti-Semitic views.
In March, France banned four Muslim scholars, including Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi from entering the country.
Among those barred were also Saudi scholars Ayed Bin Abdallah al-Qarni and Abdallah Basfar, Egyptian preacher Safwat al-Hijazi and the former mufti of Jerusalem Akrama Sabri.
France is home to a Muslim minority of six million, Europe’s largest.
Now she is bridging a vast cultural gap, evoking her own Iranian roots and singing in Farsi.
Her latest album, “All My Joys,” a compilation of classic Persian ballads, has topped the Israeli charts and made her a cultural ambassador between two sworn enemies.
Rita was born in Tehran in 1962 and moved to Israel with her family at the age of eight. She settled in a Tel Aviv suburb and rose to stardom in 1998 singing in Hebrew.
She was invited to sing the Israeli national anthem at the country’s jubilee celebrations in 2010, and performed at a lunch hosted by President Peres for then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the same year.
“I felt something very special to (have been) a foreigner when you were a child and suddenly you were chosen from all of those amazing singers and artists of Israel to sing the anthem,” Rita told CNN in an interview. “It was a big moment.”
Last year, Rita decided to revisit the soundtrack of her childhood with the album “All My Joys.”
“I was in the middle of making another Israeli Hebrew record, suddenly I felt like something is not matching, something in my stomach that started to burn,” she said. “I felt that I want to make a record that is the music of childhood, my family.”
Of her early childhood in Tehran, Rita said: “I remember the colors, the taste, the smell, the people, and especially, I think, I remember my mother singing all through my childhood, from the lullabies, singing for me those lullabies while she was cleaning the rice.
“The music was a very big part of my life.”
Students from the pluralistic Leo Baeck Education Center in Haifa and students from the Arab village of Ein Mahal in the Lower Galilee will perform together in an original musical production inspired by the Friends Forever Program, Yedioth Ahronoth reported this week.
The Arab-Jewish musical “Step By Step Sauwa Sauwa,” which is based on he Broadway show A Chorus Line, is performed in Hebrew, English and Arabic and takes place in an “ideal Israel,” where Jews and Arabs live together in peace.
Dany Fesler, chief executive of the Leo Baeck Center, told the Jewish Chronicle that the students had originally gone on a trip to the US through the Friends Forever Program scheme, which pairs up teens from conflict zones.
“They went to New Hampshire, lived in the same house, cooked together, went hiking, volunteering and gave talks about their experiences. They came back totally different. They wanted to keep their friendships going, and do a project together,” he said.
Now, he says, “they are creating something onstage to describe the conflict, to show the differences and how we are bridging them. It’s changing their lives. They influence their families, their peers and everyone is asking about it. It’s wonderful to see.”
Fesler told the Jewish Chronicle that the students’ own concerns and prejudices could be heard in the dialogue: “We hear their own fears coming out in what they have written, fears about terrorism, bombings, fears about the IDF, and being a minority.”
Lee Azulay, 18, a student at Leo Baeck, said “the most important thing about the project is the message it sends – if we can coexist on the same stage, we can coexist in the same country.”
Muhammad Abulil, 17, who attends the high school in Ein Mahal, said the musical “tells the entire world
that people can coexist without fighting.”
The musical was even brought to stages in London and Switzerland and, according to Fesler, was “received very warmly.”
Music-loving Iranians craving nostalgic Persian songs of a bygone era, or the upbeat dance music that is banned in their Islamic state, have new darling: Rita, the Israeli singing sensation.
Rita Jahanforuz, 50 years old, is Israel’s most famous female singer—and suddenly she’s big in Iran. Iranian-born and fluent in Persian, Rita, as she is universally known, moved to Israel as a child and has lived there ever since. Her latest album, “All My Joys,” revives old-time Persian hits, giving them an upbeat Mediterranean flavor that caters to the Israeli ear.
The album went gold in Israel in just three weeks, despite being sung entirely in Persian. It also propelled Rita onto the music scene in Iran, where she was all but unknown outside of Iran’s small Jewish population.
Now, from nightclubs in Tel Aviv to secret underground parties in Tehran, Israelis and Iranians alike go wild when the DJ plays her hit “Beegharar,” or “Restless.”
Rita’s fans within Iran, where the government heavily filters the Internet, use tricky software to furtively download her songs online. Bootleg CD sellers in the back alley of Tehran’s old bazaar wrap her albums in unmarked packages and hush any inquiries when asked if they sell her music.
“Shhh…don’t mention Israel. Just say music by ‘Rita Khanum,’ ” which means “Ms. Rita,” said a young man named Reza selling bootleg music CDs and DVDs of Hollywood movies.
The governments of Iran and Israel are each other’s sworn enemies, and within Iran it is considered a taboo to publicly endorse anything that has to do with Israel. Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has said Israel should be wiped off the map. Israel has said it would consider pre-emptively bombing Iran to prevent it from building a nuclear weapon.
Rita, however, with her striking beauty and bubbly demeanor, has emerged as an unexpected bond between ordinary Iranians and Israelis—part cultural ambassador, part antiwar spokeswoman. A picture of Rita with the banner, “Iranians we will never bomb your country,” is posted on her Facebook page.
“These days, people only know the language of war and violence and hatred,” said Rita, referring to Israelis’ view of the Persian language, during a recent interview in Tel Aviv. After she started receiving emails from Iranian fans, she realized music can “puncture the wall” of tension.
Rita’s family immigrated to Israel in 1970. She grew up in a suburb near Tel Aviv listening to her mother sing melodies from their homeland as she cooked in the kitchen.
Her singing career kicked off when Rita joined a band in the Israeli army in the 1980s. She rose to stardom quickly, singing solo and mostly in Hebrew or English, packing concert halls and performing for Israeli officials and foreign delegates.
A year ago, she decided to revisit what she tells audiences is the “soundtrack of my childhood” by adapting Persian classics that most Iranians know by heart. Her 2011 single “Shaneh” is based on a traditional song that Iranian grandmothers are known to whisper to their grandchildren as they comb their hair. An homage to a lover, it includes lines such as, “Oh, love, don’t comb your hair because my heart rests in its waves.” Rita reworked the song, staying true to the lyrics but giving it a more modern sound, somewhere between pop and Jewish gypsy music.
Iranian fans responded overwhelmingly, bombarding her with emails and messages online. “Rita, I want one of these concerts in Iran. You have an amazing voice and you are another pride for Iran,” wrote an Iranian fan on one of her videos on YouTube.
In September, when Rita visited Radio Ran, a Persian-language Internet radio station based in a Tel Aviv suburb, the studio was flooded with calls from Iranians around the world.
In an Israeli television interview, speaking of her Iranian fans, she joked that if she ever traveled to Iran, she would like to sing a duet with Mr. Ahmadinejad, “Maybe I can soften him with my feminine charm,” she said.
Iran’s government has taken notice. Fars News Agency, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards Corps, wrote last July that Rita is Israel’s “latest plot in a soft war” to gain access to the hearts and minds of Iranians.
Iranian hard-line websites and blogs expressed particular displeasure at Rita for sending a message to Iranians this past March for the Norouz New Year, via a video posted on the Persian website of Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Norouz messages are considered highly political and usually a tactic used by politicians like President Barack Obama and Iran’s opposition leaders.
“I hope that we all live alongside each other by dancing and singing because this is what will last,” Rita said in her Norouz message.
In May, Rita performed a sold-out concert in the city of Ashkelon, on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, singing mostly Persian songs. Fans crowded the stage and danced the aisles.
After the show, concert goers said they were swept away. “Listen, I’m not Persian,” said Meir Kanto, a 72-year-old farmer. “But the culture is so colorful and so beautiful, from my perspective, let them conquer us. It wouldn’t hurt.”
In Tehran, guests at a recent engagement party jumped to their feet shimmying their hips and shoulders when Rita’s voice echoed from the speakers, mixing the rhythms of an old and uniquely southern Iranian song to techno dance beats. Even middle-age couples joined in.
“She is singing from her heart. So what if she is from Israel?” said Manijeh, a 43-year-old relative of the bride who asked that her surname not be published. “We love her.”
Source: Wall street Journal
Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators have rarely spoken to each other during the last three years, but that didn’t stop a group of Jewish and Arab teenagers from trying to settle the decades-old conflict.
More than 500 students gathered last month in Even Yehuda, a Tel Aviv suburb, for the Israel-Middle East Model United Nations. The conference capped six months of meetings by the group’s “conflict resolution committee” to analyze the dispute that has shaped their lives.
They didn’t resolve it, but many said they understand the other side better now.
“I always dreamed of changing. I never liked the situation we’re in,” said Lisa Rahamim-Flam, a teenager from central Israel.
While high school students around the world participate in model United Nations conferences, many attending the Israeli version had first-hand experience with conflict.
Rahamim-Flam comes from a small village that lost three teenagers in a 1996 Palestinian suicide bombing. Outside the grounds of the conference’s meeting place at American International School, the signs pointing to nearby bomb shelters provided a clear reminder that this is the volatile Middle East.
The mock conference included a Security Council and several committees, including disarmament, human rights and territorial disputes.
Most of the participants were Israeli Jews and Arab citizens of Israel, who make up about one-fifth of the country’s population. They complain of discrimination by the Jewish majority and tend to identify with their Palestinian brethren in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Beyond the political debates, students said they found that personal contact with “the other side” brought down walls that typify relations between Arabs and Jews.
Shrouk Badir, 18, from the West Bank village of Battir was the only Palestinian on the committee. Badir went to great lengths to win a scholarship to the American school in Israel and gain personal exposure to Israeli society and culture.
“There is hope,” she said. “There’s got to be some sort of solution.”
Badir said she wanted to break down Israeli stereotypes about Palestinians. “There are people who are open-minded from the other side,” she said. “They’re not all terrorists.”
After months of debating, the last committee session ended in hugs and tears.
In one emotional moment, American student Jessica Fordon turned to a teary-eyed Badir. “Palestinians, I feel, they get kind of a bad rap, but from now on I will have a very, very open mind when I meet Palestinians,” she said.
Badir and Rahamir-Flam became close, as did Shaya Schloss, and Orthodox Jew from the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh, and Reem Shaheen, a Muslim girl from Nazareth in northern Israel.
Many participants acknowledged their core beliefs haven’t changed. But they said they are more open-minded and will use the skills they’ve learned to create bridges between Jews and Arabs.
In a reflection of the real world, a decision was made not to come up with a final peace resolution. Instead,
the students created a YouTube video called “iWish Conflict Resolution 2012″ and pledged keep working together through youth groups and volunteer work.
Last week, Tel Aviv held its very first Hackathon, where over 70 Israeli entrepreneurs came together to brainstorm ideas, and left at the end of the day with several ideas up and running.
The event was organized by Innovation Israel, a 3000-strong community of Israel’s entrepreneurs, investors, venture capitalists and more. The Tel Aviv Hackathon had a very clear goal set in place before the event started – “make Israel go viral.”
With the aim to create viral web and mobile applications, social campaigns, and more, speakers at the Hackathon also gave the participants a little bit of insight into how to get a product noticed by the media.
The Next Web caught up with Ben Lang, one of Innovation Israel’s co-founders and a co-organizer of the event, to find out a little bit more about how it went.
One of the main projects that emerged from the Hackathon aims to forge a connection between people living in countries of conflict. Peace Connector, which was coded by Daniel Sternlicht and Yoni Tsafir, uses Facebook interests and profiles as a means of bringing people together online, in ways which their countries cannot.
Speaking about how the idea emerged, Ben said, “The co-organizers of the event, Nir Kouris, Michael Shurp, Kfir Bendet and I, were brainstorming for ideas that people could work on at the hackathon. We put our brains together and thought of something that could connect us, all Israelis, to people in our neighbouring countries. We wanted to keep it simple but make it effective, which is how we came up with the idea.”
So how exactly does Peace Connector work? Once you’ve granted the app access to your Facebook profile, your location and interests are stored.
Explaining what happens next, Ben said, ”Once someone else signs up from a country of conflict with a shared interest you will both receive an email telling you to connect. Essentially we define countries in conflict (i.e. Israel and many countries in the Middle East, US and Afghanistan, North Korea and South Korea etc.) and try to find matches through that.”
Ben gives us an example, “If someone from Iran likes to play tennis and I sign up and also like to play tennis since we are from countries of conflict we’ll receive an email in this form below. You’ll only be matched once.”
This of course, begs the question, how can a service like this help overcome years of conflict? Ben is optimistic, “We want to connect as many people as possible. Dialogue between these countries of conflict is crucial and if politicians can’t do it, why not let the people do it. Every conversation with a stranger starts with a common interest or fact, whether its about an app, year of birth or favourite sport…”
Other projects that were built at the Hackathon include Hummus Day, an attempt to turn May 15 into a day to celebrate and eat the Middle Eastern dip, Hummus.
Gefilte is an interesting app, which is yet to launch, whose sole purpose in life is to let your mother know that you’re ok. So what exactly does the app do? “The Gefilte app sends your mother a daily email letting her know her precious son or daughter is alive and well. A simple set up ensures her (and therefore your) peace of mind.”
Gefilte is connected to Twitter, and as long as you post an update, your mum will get the email – but she won’t see your tweets. Unless she happens to already follow you on Twitter. While the name of the app does lend itself to an Israeli user-base, the idea of a worried mother is certainly universal, and in the midst of protests, unrest, the occupy movement and more, this could be one way to let your mum know everything is ok on a daily basis.
To get a glimpse into the Hackathon itself, check out the video below in which Ben presents Peace Connector: