Jan 25, 2014 03:27 pm | Richard Congress
I think Phil’s comment on DeBlasio’s abject groveling before AIPAC lets the mayor off the hook. It seems to say: “Well kissing Israel’s ass is par for the course in American politics, so this no surprise.”
For otherwise liberal New York City Democrats to support Israel’s policies and avoid the wrath of the lobby has been the norm. But de Blasio should be slammed hard (and picketed) for his remarks.
As a supposed liberal, he went way overboard talking like a right wing Likudnik idiot, lavishing praise on everything about wonderful, poor little besieged Israel. Why didn’t he at least take a more critical J Street sort of line, supporting two states and level some criticism about the occupation hurting Israel? Maybe he actually believes the right-wing load of crap he said to AIPAC?
When he said he would defend Israel in Washington, is he signing on with the “lets bomb Iran and/or have Netanyahu tell us when to go to war for Israel’s interests?” gang. Has he turned against Obama, who is resisting the lobby’s bill to torpedo any agreement between the US and Iran?
There are new openings for so-called liberal Democrats to quit living in fear of AIPAC and start to stand up for everyone’s (even Palestinians?) human rights. Why doesn’t Mr. pro-Sandinista revolution have the guts to take even a small progressive step?
Do the voters who put him in office agree with his Israel Uber Alles rant?
It’s time to put these “liberals’” feet to the fire. Support for Israeli arrogance and atrocities is declining.
A last thing: PEP (progressive except for Palestine) is, in fact, a slippery slope. The anti-Palestinian, pro-Settler State positions of these Progressives leads them to become NOT progressive on other issues. Sticking with Israel leads them into supporting other “pro-Israel” policies: demonizing Iran, an unlimited supply of US taxpayer’s money to Israel’s military (including under the table funds for illegal settlements), supporting the fraudulent war on terror–meaning NSA spying, drone attacks, and other aspects of U.S. Imperialism and a permanent warfare state…to name a few.
[This post from mondoweiss was submitted by me to the comments section to an article by Phil Weiss on DeBlasio's vomitorious ravings at a supposedly secret talk he gave to an AIPAC (aka "the lobby," or the House and Senate's puppetmaster) meeting. So it begins without describing the contents of DeBlasio's talk.
Not that there was much content to Mayor Bill's remarks. He fawned over AIPAC and Israel pledging to do everything and anything to help America's greatest ally. Especially egregious was his declaration that the job description of Mayor of New York City was to love, coddle, swoon over and support Israel uncritically. I guess this precludes clearing the streets of ice and snow.
When I was in Jerusalem in December there was a freak snowstorm that paralyzed the city and other parts of Occupied Palestine. Maybe DeBlasio thought that this was a godly event that linked the NYC and Israel.
While bloviating about the many shared experiences and policies of Israel and New York City, he left out a few apt similarities. Israel has troops maintaining checkpoints who harass, intimidate, arrest and sometimes kill Palestinians, both citizens and West Bankers (who live under martial law), he forgot to praise the NYPD for its very Israeli activities of Stop and Frisk, random arrests, and occasional murder of unarmed black youth. From his AIPAC remarks you'd think he'd what to keep Ray Kelly as police chief. The New York City tradition of aiding real estate speculators and landlords drive low-income people out of their homes in select neighborhoods is in the grand tradition of Israeli housing demolitions and ethnic cleansing--just that the ethnics who get cleansed in our fair city are usually black and latin, rather than Palestinians.]
This article by Riham Barghouti was published in the New York TimesUnion
It took Palestinians 56 years living under brutal Israeli military repression to reach the point of calling for a boycott of Israel. However, it took practically nothing, just an endorsement of the academic boycott against Israel — a non-violent measure supported by a non-binding resolution — for some U.S. elites to call for a boycott of the American Studies Association.
In 2004 and 2005, Palestinian civil society issued calls for the international community to stand in solidarity with its struggle by boycotting Israeli academic, cultural, and economic institutions until they end their complicity with Israel's violations of international law.
Academic boycott is arguably the most contentious component of the boycott call, touching on institutions that many believe are the bedrock of society. Universities are seen as places where debate flourishes, where young minds are sculpted, and where students learn the value system of their society.
The reality, however, is that Israeli academic institutions, which are predominantly state-owned, provide the technology, research, and ethical rationale for Israel's 65-year-old colonization. These institutions are complicit in Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights, including the widespread denial of Palestinians' academic freedom, which I witnessed working at Birzeit University in the West Bank.
Decades of being subjected to land confiscation, settlement building, the construction of a land-grabbing wall, home demolition, the killing, injuring and imprisonment of thousands, led Palestinians, inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, to call on the international community to hold Israel accountable through boycott, divestment and sanctions.
Many faith-based and community organizations, unions, and student groups — from Europe, to Africa, to Asia — have since launched boycott and divestment initiatives against Israeli institutions, and against multinational companies profiting from Israel's occupation. It was inevitable that this would reach U.S. academia.
After a yearlong discussion on the question of academic boycott, the ASA, at its 2013 conference, held panels, a town hall and an open membership meeting to discuss the proposed boycott resolution. The resolution passed only after the general membership voted overwhelmingly in favor. The resolution noted Israel's denial of Palestinian academic freedom, the need to respond to a call for solidarity from Palestinians, and highlighted the U.S. government's role in enabling Israel's rights violations by providing aid and political cover.
Rather than addressing this rationale, U.S. academic and political elites began attacking the ASA. Responses from university presidents, union leaders and lawmakers ranged from condemnation to calling for a boycott of the ASA and threatening to cut off funding to universities, departments or individuals affiliated with the association. Paradoxically, the rationale advanced for a boycott of the association is that academic boycott curtails academic freedom.
The vitriolic attacks on the ASA show that these academic and political elites are not concerned with the academic freedom of all. They have never demanded the academic freedom of Palestinians; nor are they interested in protecting the academic freedom of those who stand in solidarity with Palestinians.
Statements made by these individuals represent no one but themselves. None of the institutions they head debated the boycott and divestment movement against Israel, a sharp contrast with the ASA's democratic, participatory decision-making process. As a teacher, I was disconcerted to learn that the American Federation of Teachers "strongly disagrees with the decision" of the ASA, knowing that no vote took place within the federation. In addition, Indiana University, Purdue and Trinity College faculty members criticized their respective presidents for condemning the ASA resolution without consulting their university communities.
If this political and academic elite were concerned with upholding the academic freedom, democracy and transparency they profess to value, it would behoove them to invite discussions within their institutions to see where their constituents stand before attacking an organization for taking a position that reflects the values of its members.
Thankfully, the movement, like other social justice movements, does not depend on the elite. Rather, its strength is derived from the ever-increasing number of morally conscientious individuals and grass-roots organizations that refuse to remain silent in the face of the denial of Palestinian human rights.
Riham Barghouti is a New York City teacher, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and a co-founder of Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel.
Book Review: Hardhats, Hippies, and Hawks: The Vietnam Antiwar Movement as Myth and Memory. Author Penny Lewis demolishes the mythology, and shows that working-class people were at least as opposed to the war as the middle and upper classes and that they played an indispensable role in the movement to end it, and that the black and Chicano movements were among the most militant antiwar voices.
The U.S. movement against the Vietnam War was composed of grungy white college kids from privileged backgrounds who looked down on working-class people and spat on soldiers; the latter groups, in turn, despised the movement and staunchly supported the war. So goes the familiar historical narrative, pervasive in mainstream depictions and common even among observers sympathetic to the movement. In Hardhats, Hippies, and Hawks: The Vietnam Antiwar Movement as Myth and Memory, Penny Lewis demolishes this mythology, showing that working-class people were at least as opposed to the war as the middle and upper classes and that they played an indispensable role in the movement to end it.
After surveying opinion polls from the era, Lewis concludes that "working-class people were never more likely than their middle-class counterparts to support the war, and in many instances, they were more likely to oppose it." The "middle-class culture" of many student and pacifist groups, and their lack of outreach to workers, did initially deter the latter from joining organized antiwar efforts. But things changed by the late 1960s. Narratives that frame 1968 as the movement's peak are misleading, for after that year "the movement formed deeper roots among people of color, religious communities, labor unions, the armed forces, veterans and students" from working-class backgrounds. Moreover, although many formal organizations declined after 1969, the total number of participants in the movement continued to grow.
The black and Chicano movements were among the most militant antiwar voices. Most of the participants in these movements were of course working-class, even if class identity was not their primary basis for mobilization. These movements were the most effective at articulating the connections between U.S. imperialism in Vietnam and racism and poverty in the United States. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the last year of his life was the most visible such critic, condemning "the triple evils" of racism, militarism, and economic exploitation. Black and Chicano critiques of the war, like most working-class critiques, were rooted "in both morality and pragmatism": their opposition derived from a sense that the war was evil but also from the negative effects it had on their own lives. Lewis implies that antiwar movements should combine moral condemnation with appeals to the self-interest of exploited groups in the imperial center. King did so very effectively, identifying with the Vietnamese while also denouncing the victimization of soldiers, workers and the oppressed in the United States.
The most consequential resistance on the U.S. side was in the military, which was overwhelmingly composed of working-class soldiers. Defiance took many forms, including draft resistance, desertion, collective evasion of combat, attacks on officers and declining enlistment rates. While draft resistance was largely a middle-class phenomenon, "deserters were significantly more likely to be from working- or lower-class backgrounds," and from rural areas. Soldier resistance was tremendously important in compelling the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. In 1971 Fortune magazine warned that "dangerous shortages of men prevail in every branch of service, seriously impairing combat capability." The year before, such shortages led the Joint Chiefs of Staff to request an acceleration of the U.S. withdrawal. This resistance usually occurred outside the auspices of formal organizations. By going beyond an "organization-centered approach" to social movements, Lewis's account captures the diverse forms of resistance that helped end the war.
Soldiers and veterans also organized, though. The most impressive example was Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which by 1973 had 30,000 members. Although the affluent John Kerry is remembered as the iconic veteran dissenter, the group had - in the early 1970s - a mostly working-class membership. It also confronted domestic racism, unemployment, and other problems of concern to its constituency, in addition to its antiwar work. Lewis argues that the group "provides a template for what to do right if you want an active working-class base for a social movement organization."
Lewis also explains why the dual imagery of hawkish "hardhats" and privileged hippies has nonetheless dominated our collective memory. She details the consolidation of this myth in TV shows, movies, press reports, history textbooks, political speeches and even academic studies. The myth took hold in large part because it served pro-war voices in their efforts to discredit antiwar protesters.
Yet political usefulness is not the only reason for the imagery's persistence. Like all effective propaganda, the stereotypes were partly based in reality. The failures of the middle-class left were real. In the movement's early years, formal antiwar organizations were dominated by middle-class voices who "did not, by and large, speak to working-class concerns." Intellectuals like C. Wright Mills and Paul Goodman, who had great influence on the New Left, often dismissed U.S. workers as ignorant or reactionary. Conversely, the image of the hawkish worker was not entirely without basis. Many labor leaders shamefully supported the war, but racism and jingoism also had substantial roots in the rank-and-file.
The political relevance of this book is far-reaching, and not limited to issues of war and peace. Lewis is right that "memories about the U.S. war in Vietnam" have been central to "conflict about what `we,' in this country, are all about." She challenges the notion that white workers' enthusiasm for the Democrats has waned because of the party's identification with civil rights or gay marriage. Rather, the failure of the Democratic Party and most labor unions to pursue a strong pro-worker agenda has understandably caused many workers to question those institutions. Yet Lewis' account also suggests the potential for a progressive, anti-imperialist, multiracial movement of working people. That potential still exists, and the need is more urgent than ever.
[Kevin Young recently completed his Ph.D. in history at Stony Brook University. He has worked as a political organizer in a variety of contexts, including the labor and antiwar movements.]
Now available for purchase:
Personal use - $24.95 Educational, Institutional and License to Screen to an Audience - 249.95
For information and to purchase: http://choicesvideo.net/prdct_pgs/whereshouldthebirdsfly.html
Where Should the Birds Fly? When Israel launched its “Operation Cast Lead” assault on Gaza in December 2008-January 2009, killing 1300 civilians (including over 300 children) videographer Fida Qishta ran out among the exploding rockets and bombs to record what was happening. She was the only one filming the attack; there were no news organizations on the ground.
The footage of the carnage and chaos and her focus on the story of 10 year old Mona Al Samoudi who survived a rocket attack on her home that killed 23 members of her family has been worked into a shocking and moving story that gives background and insights into the everyday life of Gazans coping with Israel’s strangling blockade and violent attacks.
This is the 5th anniversary of the deadly “Cast Lead” attack on Gaza, help keep the true, human story of that event alive.
Where Should The Birds Fly
Producers: Brian Drolet, Felice Gelman, Barbara Grill
Editors: Gladys Joujou
Locale: : Gaza, Palestine
Subject: Middle East Studies, Israel, Palestine
Catalogue Number: 03520
Submitted by Ali Abunimah on Thu, 01/23/2014 - 13:48
The international development charity Oxfam has publicly admonished Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson over her new and highly controversial role as spokesperson for the Israeli occupation profiteering firm SodaStream.
“We are proud of our relationship with Scarlett Johansson who has worked with Oxfam since 2005 to support Oxfam’s mission to end poverty and injustice,” the charity says in a statement.
“As an Oxfam Global Ambassador, she has travelled to India, Sri Lanka and Kenya to highlight the impact of traumatic disasters and chronic poverty, and she has helped to raise critical funds for life-saving and poverty-fighting work around the world. We deeply value her support.”
But, the statement, adds, “Oxfam believes that businesses that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support. Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.”
“We have made our concerns known to Ms Johansson and we are now engaged in a dialogue on these important issues.”
In the UK, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign is urging people to contact Oxfam to call for Johansson “to immediately end her contract with Sodastream or to cut ties with her following her signing up with Sodastream.”
The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation has issued a similar action alert aimed at Oxfam America.
It is still unclear whether Oxfam will eventually drop Johansson – following a 2009 precedent with Hollywood actress Kristin Davis – or whether the charity will convince Johansson to drop her lucrative contract with SodaStream.
Clearly it would be preferable if Johansson would learn the lesson and walk away from SodaStream. Either way, it is now apparent that no matter how much money you get, doing business with firms that exploit Palestinian workers and profit from Israeli crimes carries, at least, a mounting reputational cost.
Just two weeks ago it appeared that the government of Israel had broken all records for megalomania and chutzpah. But now, several days after Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Jan. 14 called the secretary of state of the strongest world power “messianic and obsessive,” and suggested that John Kerry “leave us alone,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke the record.
On Jan. 17, Liberman urgently summoned the ambassadors of the four largest states in the European Union — Britain, France, Italy and Spain — to read them the riot act and preach ethics. It was a retaliatory act for the summoning of Israel’s ambassadors in London, Paris, Rome and Madrid for reprimands at the local foreign ministries. The four governments had dared to complain about new tenders issued for the construction of 1,400 housing units in West Bank settlements and in East Jerusalem.
“Their perpetual one-sided stance against Israel and in favor of the Palestinians … creates the impression they are only seeking ways to blame Israel," the minister’s spokesman said in a written statement. In addition, the minister explained to the senior diplomats, not only was their governments’ stance ''biased, unbalanced and ignoring the reality on the ground,” but it also “significantly harms the possibility of reaching some sort of agreement between the sides.”
A day earlier, Netanyahu was asked about the European protest. In a talk with foreign correspondents he also chose to respond with an attack. “When did the EU call in the Palestinian ambassadors to complain about the incitement that calls for Israel’s destruction?” the prime minister said angrily. “When did the Palestinian get called in to hear complaints about the fact that security officers in the Palestinian Security Forces are participating in terrorist attacks against innocent Israelis?” he said accusingly. “I think this imbalance and this bias against Israel doesn’t advance peace. I think it pushes peace further away. Because it tells the Palestinians: ‘You can basically do anything you want, say anything you want, incite any way you want and you won’t be held accountable.’ And Israel, which makes tremendous efforts to preserve the peace and fight terrorism for the benefit of both Israelis and Palestinians, is always denounced.”
It’s not hard to guess what the European diplomats thought of Liberman’s rebuke and what went through the minds of the foreign correspondents stationed in Israel. They know that when government representatives are hard-pressed to resolve the contradiction between support for a two-state solution and the wave of construction in the territories, they pull out the “incitement” weapon. When the Israelis lose the real war — in international institutions — they turn to propaganda. This propaganda, or “public diplomacy,” as it’s euphemistically called in Israel, is the weapon of the occupier who wishes to convince the public that he, not the oppressed, is the real victim.
If the reality wasn’t so sad, one could have almost giggled at hearing Netanyahu’s complaint that Israel “makes tremendous efforts to preserve the peace and fight terrorism for the benefit of both Israelis and Palestinians.” Every year, the left-wing human rights organization Yesh Din documents hundreds incidents of shooting, violent assault, stone throwing, arson, damage to livestock, theft of produce and land — all by Jewish terrorists, known euphemistically and forgivingly as “hilltop youths.”
According to the organization's data throughout a period of eight years (from 2005 until 2013), the “tremendous efforts to preserve the peace” of which Netanyahu boasted, have led to the indictments of Israeli suspects in only 8.5% of the investigations into Palestinian complaints. Some 84% of the complaints were shelved because the police investigations failed. The websites of human rights groups occasionally present documentation showing IDF soldiers looking on from the sidelines at the Israeli vandals.
The “price tag” being exacted by the Jewish terrorists from the Palestinians, following the evacuation of an illegal outpost or a terror attack, is the vandalizing of olive trees (the olive industry provides income and employment for some 100,000 families in the West Bank). Charges were only brought in four of 211 police files against those suspected of vandalizing olive groves. Indeed, a tremendous effort.
A search for the words “price tag” and “olive trees” and “uprooting” on the web site of the prime minister’s office comes up empty. To this day, not a single cabinet meeting has been dedicated to this serious and dangerous phenomenon. On the other hand, the word “incitement” shows up no fewer than 455 times in the period since January 2011. Two whole hours of the weekly cabinet meeting on Jan. 5 were devoted to the subject. Once again, experts were called in to present the “Palestinian incitement index.”
One of those involved in preparing the “index” is Itamar Marcus, a settler from Efrat, who heads the “Palestinian Media Watch,” one of the well-funded, right-wing research institutes. Marcus was a member of the Israeli team of the joint committee for the prevention of incitement, formed in 1998 in response to a demand made by Netanyahu at the 1998 Wye Plantation conference. In recent years, Netanyahu has rejected under various pretexts suggestions by the Palestinian side to renew its activity.
A ruling handed down in August 2013 by the Tel Aviv District Court cast doubt, to say the least, on Marcus’ reliability. Relatives of settlers who had been murdered by Palestinians sued for compensation from the Palestinian Authority, claiming it incites Palestinians to murder Jews. The plaintiffs based their lawsuit on an opinion prepared for them by Marcus’ institute. Judge Dalia Ganot wrote, “Although 76 articles and television items presented by Marcus were blunt and difficult, they do not constitute statistical proof of incitement by the Authority.”
The judge adopted the other side’s opinion, prepared by Yizhar Be’er, the director general of Keshev, an NGO that tracks the coverage of the Israeli media, for attorney Yossi Arnon, who represented the Palestinian Authority. The judge determined that Marcus failed to differentiate between news content and opinion, and that his opinion “lacks valid and accepted research methodology that could serve as the basis for any kind of treatise.”
The ruling collapsed the foundation on which Netanyahu and his Cabinet colleagues based their claim that the institutionalized Palestinian media incited against Israel. This claim has never been examined with any valid research tool. Research conducted by the Knesset Research and Information Center in June 2010 determined that no unequivocal evidence has been found proving that the authority’s textbooks contain direct and sweeping incitement to violence. True, the Palestinian teachers and journalists do not educate their children and readers to love their masters in the spirit of Uncle Tom. Unfortunately for Netanyahu and Liberman, Europe in 2014 does not regard this as “incitement.”
Jan 20, 2014 01:51 pm | Philip Weiss
The circle is closing on Netanyahu. And the pressure is coming from the business establishment, which fears boycott.
Haaretz: “Settlements prompt European investors to review ties with Israeli banks”:
Three major European pension funds are reviewing their holdings in Israeli banks due to concerns they finance West Bank settlements, the Financial Times reported Sunday.
According to the report, ABP, a Dutch pension fund considered the world’s third largest, Nordea Investment Management, a Scandinavian firm, and DNB Asset Management, a Norwegian company, want more information about the Israeli banks’ involvement in Israeli settlements.
Ynet says boycott is biting in the Israeli establishment:
A hundred of Israel’s leading businessmen and businesswomen will fly to Davos next week, armed with a poignant message for the prime minister: Maintaining a growing and stable economy requires Israel to make peace with Palestinians, the sooner the better.
Leaders and businesspeople ranging from Strauss Group Chairwoman Ofra Strauss to Google Israel CEO Meir Bren and former UN ambassador Dan Gillerman will descend on the Davos Economic Forum to urge Israelis and Palestinians leaders to reach a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
An a-political group of Palestinians and Israelis, which includes names such as Palestinian energy mogul Munib Masri, tech mogul Yossi Vardi, Amdocs founder Maurice Kahan, Bezeq CEO Avi Gabai, industrialist Gad Propper, Israeli low-cost supermarket magnate Rami Levy and former ambassador to the US Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, have signed on an initiative called Breaking the Impasse (BTI)….
According to daily Calcalist, a week ago, some members of the group met Netanyahu in his office in preparation of the Davos meet. During the meeting, they warned him of the looming threat posed by boycotts.
Smadar Barber Tsadik, CEO of the First International Bank of Israel, said at the meeting that “the largest investment fund in Holland has already announced that it will not invest in Israel anymore because of its treatment of the Palestinians – and that’s a problem.”
Barack Obama’s speech Friday on surveillance was his worst performance, not as a matter of theatrical skill, though he clearly did not embrace his lines, but in its stark betrayal of his oft proclaimed respect for constitutional safeguards and civil liberty.
His unbridled defense of the surveillance state opened the door to the new McCarthyism of Mike Rogers and Dianne Feinstein, the leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees, who on Sunday talk shows were branding Edward Snowden as a possible Russian spy.
Instead of crediting Snowden for forcing what the president concedes is a much-needed debate, Obama bizarrely cited the example of Paul Revere and the other early American rebels in the Sons of Liberty to denounce their modern equivalent. But the “secret surveillance committee” Obama referenced that Revere and his fellow underground conspirators established was intended to subvert rather than celebrate the crimes of the British controlled government in power.
Somewhere in law school, Obama must have learned that the whole point of our Bill of Rights, inspired by American revolutionaries like Sam Adams, a Sons of Liberty co-conspirator, was to curtail government power as the main threat to freedom. Thus was Adams’ insistence on the Bill of Rights, including the Fourth Amendment, banning the warrantless searches that Obama now seeks to justify.
Obama had certainly acted as if he understood that when as a senator he railed against the surveillance power of the government. But now that he occupies the imperial presidency, dissenters like Snowden are the enemy to be hounded.
While modern town crier Snowden is judged guilty of a crime without trial, the folks in the NSA who have been spying on us are all depicted as honorable people to be presumed innocent, no matter evidence to the contrary. That includes James Clapper, the president’s appointed director of national intelligence who blatantly perjured himself in testimony to Congress.
When asked in March by Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon, who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, whether the NSA collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans,” Clapper lied and said, “No sir.” Then he added, “Not wittingly.”
Wyden, like Feinstein and others on the committee, knew instantly that Clapper had perjured himself, that the spying was quite witting, but he felt duty bound not to let the public in on it. Wyden has the grace to thank the Snowden revelations for initiating a public debate while Feinstein has from the beginning condemned the whistle-blower as a traitor.
It is a debate that Feinstein wants us to have in the dark, and she was critical of the very limited reforms that the president offered, sounding the national security alarm: “New bombs are being devised, new terrorists are emerging, new groups. Actually a new level of viciousness. And I think we need to be prepared. I think we need to do it in a way that respects people’s privacy rights.”
Well, she got that last part correct but privacy rights were never a concern of hers until Snowden came along, and even now she resists the president’s very limited moves in the direction of increased transparency.
Some will read my criticism of Obama and Feinstein and say trust these good liberal Democrats, who would never condone misusing government power to undermine individual freedom. It is a rationalization difficult to accept on a day when we celebrate the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., a man blackmailed with information collected by the FBI and the NSA when Democrat Lyndon Johnson was president.
“In the 1960s, the government spied on civil rights leaders and the critics of the Vietnam War,” Obama noted in his speech, before quickly abandoning that caution and falling back on the lame “trust us” refrain of every overreaching government.
The FBI’s intrusive surveillance of MLK, constantly bugging his hotel rooms, was designed to smear him as a Communist and a philanderer to end his career as a civil rights leader, and, as is quite clear from the blackmail letters planted by the FBI, even drive him to suicide. But it wasn’t until last year that we learned that the NSA’s “Minaret” program under the direction of President Johnson had spied on the communications of King, fellow civil rights leader Whitney Young, boxer Muhammad Ali, and journalists Tom Wicker of The New York Times and Art Buchwald of The Washington Post.
The NSA even spied on Idaho Democratic Sen. Frank Church, who in 1975 had led the Senate investigation into the government’s illegal counterintelligence program, and his Republican counterpart from Tennessee, Howard Baker, who could never figure out how he got caught in the NSA’s dragnet. Someday Obama and Feinstein might be asking themselves that question.
Back in 1975, Church warned: “The [National Security Agency’s] capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. [If a dictator ever took over, the NSA] could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.”
That was before the Internet and supercomputers, biometrics and all the devilish means of data mining that can convert even one’s turned-off cellphone into an instrument of surveillance. We continue to ignore Church’s warning at our peril.
Every year, in January and April, we commemorate the extraordinary career of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. But there is probably no figure in recent American history whose memory is more distorted, whose message more bowdlerized, whose powerful words are more drained of content than King.
A few years ago, in preparation for a public lecture on 1968, I re-read the most important book on King and his politics to come out in the last decade: Thomas F. Jackson’s From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Struggle for Economic Justice. Jackson, a former researcher with the King Papers project at Stanford, has read King’s every last sermon, speech, book, article, and letter. What Jackson finds is that from the beginning of his ministry, King was far more radical, especially on matters of labor, poverty, and economic justice than we remember. In media accounts, King was quickly labeled the “Apostle of Non-Violence,” and, by the mid-1960s, portrayed as the antithesis to Malcolm X. While King adhered to nonviolence for his entire career, the single-minded focus of the media on the horse race between Malcolm and Martin led reporters to ignore King’s more radical pronouncements. They simply didn’t fit into the developing story line.
Black power advocates also distorted King, focusing on his ministerial style and arrogance (members of SNCC called him “de Lawd”). They branded King as hopelessly bourgeois, a detriment rather than a positive force in the black freedom struggle. White liberals, fearful of black unrest, embraced King as a voice of moderation, hoping that he could stem the rising tide of black discontent that exploded in the long hot summers of the mid- sixties. The representation of King as mainstream left observers unable to make sense out of King’s opposition to the Vietnam War, his call for an interracial Poor People’s Movement, and his increasingly vocal denunciations of class inequality in America.
King, they contended, had been radicalized or, perhaps, was more calculating in his leftward move, changing his rhetoric to remain a legitimate leader in the eyes of younger, angrier blacks. But as Jackson shows, King was anything but a milquetoast racial liberal or a radical-come-lately. Through a close reading of King’s work, Jackson finds deep currents of anti-imperialism running through King’s thought, going all the way back to his days as a student. He finds a consistent thread of anti-capitalism in King’s speeches. And he finds that King was building alliances with the left-wing of the labor movement and allying himself with activists who called for structural change in the economy. King, in other words, was a radical well before he offered his prophetic denunciation of the Vietnam War in 1967 or joined the Memphis sanitation workers on strike in 1968.
King’s radicalism is lost to the obfuscating fog of memory. In American culture today, we have several Martin Luther King, Jrs: the Commemorative King, the Therapeutic King, the Conservative King, and the Commodified King. Each of these Kings competes for our attention, but each of them represents a vision of King that he himself would not have recognized.
First is the commemorative King. Only fifteen years after his death, King won an extraordinary recognition — he became the only individual (unless you count Presidents Washington and Lincoln, whose birthdays have been unceremoniously consolidated into President’s Day) with his own national holiday. That a man who was berated as un-American, hounded by the FBI, arrested and jailed numerous times, was recognized by a national holiday is nothing short of amazing. To be sure, the King holiday met with significant opposition, particularly from southerners like Jesse Helms, who contended that King was a tool of the Communist Party, and from John McCain, Evan Mecham, and other conservative Arizonans. But the King Holiday legislation was signed into law after overwhelming congressional approval by none other than President Ronald Reagan, who began his political career as an opponent of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and who repeated his act by launching his 1980 election campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, a tiny place whose only claim to fame was that three young civil rights activists had been murdered there twenty years earlier.
But if there was anything at all subversive in King’s life, it is lost in the feel good celebrations of King Day, which has become a day for picking up litter and painting school classrooms. Not that community service is a bad thing, but it’s a long, long way from King’s vision for social change.
The therapeutic King: In American iconography, King is the great healer, the man who called America to be true to its “creed” of equality and opportunity. King’s message, bereft of its hard-hitting political content, is so anodyne that we can all support it, Republican and Democrat alike. The feel good, inspirational message of King’s life has moved front and center in our memories of King. A popular school curriculum intended to build student self-esteem, for example, calls for children to express their dreams. King’s message is to hold hands and join our voices together, ebony and ivory, in perfect harmony.
The conservative King: Devoid of the political content that drove his message, King has also become an icon of racial conservatism. Today’s most unlikely King acolytes are critics of civil rights policies such as affirmative action. King is the prophet of meritocratic individualism. The most articulate proponent of this version of King (and there are many) is Ward Connerly, the leader of nationwide anti-affirmative action campaign who drew from King’s own words to call for a dismantling of race-sensitive admissions. Only one King speech — King’s address to the 1963 March on Washington, matters to Connerly-type conservatives. And only one line in that speech matters: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
King speeches should be judged by their content. And there’s a lot in the “I Have a Dream” speech that would make McCain and Connerly squirm. King celebrated the “the marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community.” And, speaking of the “fierce urgency of Now,” he encouraged the 250,000 strong gathered on the Mall to take more aggressive action. “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” At a moment when conservatives (and many liberals) were denouncing the movement for going “too far, too fast,” King sent a clear message. Go further, faster. King went on to support aggressive enforcement of civil rights laws including affirmative action itself. And more than that, he demanded the fundamental reordering of the American economy.
Finally, in perhaps the most American of twists, we have the commodified King — efforts in the last decade, largely spearheaded by the King family itself — to market the words and image of the Reverend King. In classic American fashion, Martin Luther King, Jr. has become a consumer good. King’s family has engaged in an aggressive effort to market the image of the Reverend King, including a multi-million dollar deal with Time Warner for the rights to King’s speeches, writings, and recordings. The King family sued to prevent companies from using King’s image on refrigerator magnets, switchblades, and on “I have a Dream” ice cream cones. But they quickly turned to their own business in King kitsch. In the mid-90s, the Reverend King’s son Dexter King, who administered the King estate, took a pilgrimage to visit the shrine of another King, “THE KING,” Elvis at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee to pick up some marketing lessons. Since the mid-1990s, King’s estate has authorized, among other things, commemorative pins for the Atlanta Summer Olympics with the likeness of Martin Luther King Jr., porcelain statuettes of King, and, my favorite, checkbooks bearing King’s likeness.
Whether commodity or conservative icon, suffice it to say that each of these visions of King is flawed. The commemorative King, celebrates heroism and courage, but risks the creation of a one-dimensional character that glosses over King’s subversive, challenging, and upsetting messages. The therapeutic King stands in sharp contrast to a political strategy that demanded the overthrow of American apartheid and demanded great sacrifices from blacks and whites alike. The conservative King is based on a very selective appropriation of King’s words — largely from a single speech — in service of a cause that King found abhorrent. And the commodified King creates comforting images that are wholly drained of their ability to provoke and challenge — and, moreover, stand in sharp juxtaposition to King’s penetrating critique of American capitalism and his deep-rooted anti-materialism.
Above all, King’s contribution was to unsettle power, to challenge the status quo, something that a porcelain statuette or an Olympic pin or an anti-affirmative action law will never do.
[Editor's note: At a ceremonial swearing-in on Monday, Kshama Sawant became Seattle's first socialist city council member in almost a century. The full text of her inauguration speech is below.]
My brothers and sisters,
Thank you for your presence here today.
This city has made glittering fortunes for the super wealthy and for the major corporations that dominate Seattle's landscape. At the same time, the lives of working people, the unemployed and the poor grow more difficult by the day. The cost of housing skyrockets, and education and healthcare become inaccessible.
This is not unique to Seattle. Shamefully, in this, the richest country in human history, fifty million of our people - one in six - live in poverty. Around the world, billions do not have access to clean water and basic sanitation and children die every day from malnutrition.
This is the reality of international capitalism. This is the product of the gigantic casino of speculation created by the highway robbers on Wall Street. In this system the market is God, and everything is sacrificed on the altar of profit. Capitalism has failed the 99%.
Despite recent talk of economic growth, it has only been a recovery for the richest 1%, while the rest of us are falling ever farther behind.
In our country, Democratic and Republican politicians alike primarily serve the interests of big business. A completely dysfunctional Congress DOES manage to agree on one thing - regular increases in their already bloated salaries - yet at the same time allows the federal minimum wage to stagnate and fall farther and farther behind inflation. We have the obscene spectacle of the average corporate CEO getting seven thousand dollars an hour, while the lowest-paid workers are called presumptuous in their demand for just fifteen.
To begin to change all of this, we need organized mass movements of workers and young people, relying on their own independent strength. That is how we won unions, civil rights and LGBTQ rights.
Again, throughout the length and breadth of this land, working people are mobilizing for a decent and dignified life for themselves and their children. Look at the fast food workers movement, the campaigns of Walmart workers, and the heroic activism to stop the Keystone XL pipeline!
Right here in SeaTac, we have just witnessed the tremendous and victorious campaign for fifteen dollars an hour. At the same time, in Lorain County, Ohio, twenty-four candidates ran, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as `Independent Labor' and were elected to their City Councils.
I will do my utmost to represent the disenfranchised and the excluded, the poor and the oppressed - by fighting for a $15/hour minimum wage, affordable housing, and taxing the super-rich for a massive expansion of public transit and education. But my voice will be heard by those in power only if workers themselves shout their demands from the rooftops and organize en masse.
My colleagues and I in Socialist Alternative will stand shoulder to shoulder with all those who want to fight for a better world. But working people need a new political party, a mass organization of the working class, run by - and accountable to - themselves. A party that will struggle and campaign in their interest, and that will boldly advocate for alternatives to this crisis-ridden system.
Here in Seattle, political pundits are asking about me: will she compromise? Can she work with others? Of course, I will meet and discuss with representatives of the establishment. But when I do, I will bring the needs and aspirations of working-class people to every table I sit at, no matter who is seated across from me. And let me make one thing absolutely clear: There will be no backroom deals with corporations or their political servants. There will be no rotten sell-out of the people I represent.
I wear the badge of socialist with honor. To the nearly hundred thousand who voted for me, and to the hundreds of you who worked tirelessly on our campaign, I thank you. Let us continue.
The election of a socialist to the Council of a major city in the heartland of global capitalism has made waves around the world. We know because we have received messages of support from Europe, Latin America, Africa and from Asia. Those struggling for change have told us they have been inspired by our victory.
To all those prepared to resist the agenda of big business - in Seattle and nationwide - I appeal to you: get organized. Join with us in building a mass movement for economic and social justice, for democratic socialist change, whereby the resources of society can be harnessed, not for the greed of a small minority, but for the benefit of all people. Solidarity.
African refugees teach Israeli society lesson in civics
On Dec. 17, when a dazzling blanket of snow still covered the open space adjacent to the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, they got off the bus and walked silently in two lines. Some of them held cardboard signs bearing slogans in English such as “Freedom” and “No More Prison.” That setting only added to the surreal spectacle: Rows of dark-skinned men, some with tears streaming down their faces, marched past chanting, “We are human beings!”
Summary⎙ Print After years of ignoring the fate of African asylum seekers, the human dilemma has risen to the top of Israel's public discourse, forcing the authorities to confront it.
Author Akiva Eldar Posted January 8, 2014
Most Israelis and the media still refer to them as “infiltrators.” Those with a more lenient attitude prefer to call them “illegal residents.” Human rights organizations consider them to be asylum seekers and demand they are recognized as refugees — as people whose homeland has become a desolate wilderness. In many cases, it more resembles a killing field.
Two days had passed since they left Holot, an “open detention center” that the government set up in the southern Negev region after the Supreme Court invalidated a law, which would have allowed it to keep the asylum seekers in prison for up to three years. The facility's guests are expected to appear before the authorities to be counted three times a day. At night, they are shut in behind locked gates. It was from there, deep in the desert, that these asylum seekers began their protest march to Jerusalem, a city that the vast majority of them had never even seen. They hoped that once they were there, standing face to face with the government's institutions, they would be able to ask that the gate to freedom be opened for them.
After spending many long hours marching in an exceptional orderly fashion to the gates of the Knesset, and after standing for an extended time in frigid temperatures, the immigration authorities determined that the 48 hours in which they could not be arrested were up. In a swift action, using excessive force, the 307 Africans were forced onto buses and police vans. Some of them spent the night in Holot, while others were moved to Saharonim Prison.
The violent conclusion of what was called the “Freedom March” was just the first in an unprecedented series of protests that took place throughout the country. After the protesters were imprisoned, and following a series of raids by the immigration authorities in south Tel Aviv, which led to the arrest of about 150 more people, the weakest community in Israel launched a series of demonstrations. Hundreds of demonstrators soon turned into thousands, and then into tens of thousands. Marches in south and central Tel Aviv led to a huge strike, which was impeccably organized.
According to police estimates, the number of demonstrators at the second rally held in Rabin Square — a symbolic site of demonstrations for Israelis — exceeded 20,000. Thousands of workers left their restaurant sinks to experience and offer a lesson in civil action. A community accused of being little more than immigrants seeking work — of having snuck across the border just to earn a living — chose to risk any modest economic security that they had acquired and demand to be recognized as refugees.
The images were broadcast and described to people around the world. Millions of Europeans watched desperate asylum seekers being persecuted by Israeli police. Senior politicians flooded Knesset debates and the media with venomous statements about the asylum seekers. And all this was done under the title of protecting the Jewish majority in the State of Israel.
Was the situation really so dire? Ever since the border fence with Egypt was completed, the number of people who have managed to cross it and enter Israel from the Sinai Peninsula are very few. According to figures released by the Population and Immigration Authority, there were 53,636 asylum seekers (“infiltrators”) in Israel last October. If that group was allowed to run in the election and if its members voted unanimously for their own party, it still would not pass the voter threshold. At the same time, however, there are some 93,000 “tourists without valid visas” in Israel, about half of them from the former Soviet Union. Needless to say, the government is not building special detainment centers for them. The number of people requesting asylum is also significantly lower than the number of legal guest workers in Israel (approximately 70,000), much to the relief of those companies that arrange to bring them to the country and employ them.
To anyone who objects, the government is quick to point out that Israel is the only Western country that shares a land border with Africa. This obligates the government to be especially cautious about maintaining the ratio between asylum seekers and the country’s citizens, more so, for instance, than European nations. It sounds reasonable, but the Knesset’s Center for Research and Information site reports that there are 10 countries in Europe in which the ratio is “worse” than it is in Israel. While in Israel there are 6.9 asylum seekers for every 1,000 residents, the ratio in Latvia is 151 for every 1,000 residents; in Estonia, 94.3; in Malta, 21.4; in Sweden, 12.6; in Norway, 10.8; in Switzerland, 9; in Austria, 8.8; in Germany, 8.3; in Luxembourg, 8.1; and in Cyprus, 7.3.
Some 26,000 Eritreans submitted requests for asylum to various countries around the world in 2012 alone. About 20,000 obtained refugee status, and another 1,500 received complementary protection. At the same time, by August of last year, a committee created by the Israel Immigration Authorities discussed just 80 out of 11,000 requests for political asylum submitted by African refugees. Every last one of them was rejected.
This does not mean that Israel has disregarded its commitment to the UN’s Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, at least not since Israel decided to freeze the ''immediate coordinate return procedure'' of the infiltrators back to Egypt. As of that decision, not one of the asylum seekers was forcibly expelled back to his country of origin. But a source who is intimately familiar with the issue told Al-Monitor that instead the government is causing the Africans to leave of their own accord. He recalled how former Interior Minister Eli Yishai promised to make the lives of the asylum seekers so miserable that they get fed up with life in Israel. This was done by denying them work permits, forbidding them to open bank accounts and a whole series of similar decrees. As a result, some 2,600 people to date signed papers stating that they were “leaving of their own volition.”
Both the prime minister and the interior minister have shown how determined they are to expel all the "infiltrators," much to the satisfaction of the people living in south Tel Aviv. After all, they saw these asylum seekers cast at their doorsteps so unjustly, with utter indifference. At the same time, however, islands of solidarity with the asylum seekers have been popping up throughout Israeli society. Restaurant and cafe owners in Tel Aviv have been serving their food on paper plates in a show of solidarity with the demonstrating and striking workers. Some establishments have even closed their doors and put up signs announcing that their staff has gone to demonstrate alongside their African co-workers. At night, immigration inspectors continue to arrest these asylum seekers and ship them off to containment centers in the desert. In the day, the police may watch the marches taking place along the main streets of the city, but they do so with utter apathy.
For many years, Israeli society has ignored the black-skinned men and women who clean their stairwells and wash their dishes. The rousing demonstration by local civilians, standing shoulder to shoulder with people who were invisible until now, evokes a sense of pride and hope.
Akiva Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel and has been translated into English, French, German and Arabic.
Original Al-Monitor Translations
I was in Jerusalem and points west during most of Dec. 2013.
Being there during the Christmas season was, for me anyway, an eye-opener. Jerusalem was flooded with Christian pilgrims from all over the globe--marching in processions, caroling, dragging crosses around (does this sound too sarcastic? sorry, my atheism is showing).
We stayed at a Catholic hospice (Austrian) and noticed the numerous other various Christian hostels and churches in the old city and in Bethlehem, Nablus and Ramallah. This is not a genius observation, but I hadn't thought much about the importance of Jerusalem and other places for Christians world wide. It's just another reason that Jerusalem, at least, should be an open international city. Which is what the Jewish state is working to eradicate. Signs of Judeaization are everywhere. "Price Tag" settler-vandals are damaging not just mosques but Christian holy sites as well. The latest propaganda campaign of Israel's is to claim that Palestinian Muslims are enemies of Palestinian Christians and that they should ally with Israeli Jews. This is easily proven to be false.
In the old city Israeli flags mark buildings where settlers have invaded Palestinian property and declared it Judiaized (see photo). The government's reaction to these thefts is to give the thieves bodyguards to confirm their illegal actions (and to laugh at the victims and tell them to go to the courts).
The construction site photo is on the grounds of the Mamillia Islamic cemetery in Jerusalem, where graves are desecrated to make way for shopping centers. The original plans to build a Simon Weisenthal Center for "Tolerance" have apparently stalled.
In the center of Jericho is a big key, symbolizing the keys to the Palestinian homes that were stolen by Israel in 1948 and 1967.
In Bethlehem there is a "Stars & Bucks" coffee shop. Since Starbucks won't open stores in a Palestinian city, locals have taken it upon themselves to stick it to the racist company.
AlQuds (Arabic for Jerusalem) University, about 45 minutes from Jerusalem is one of the few opportunities for Palestinians to get a higher education. The group photo is of the director of the Museum of Palestinian Prisoners (on the grounds of the University) and some guests (including myself).
The finger to people who don't support the right of return is an extreme close up of a Banksy drawing on a black sweatshirt.
Two photos from Hebron: the netting over Shahouda Street to prevent settlers who siezed second floor apartments in the middle of the city from throwing objects on the Palestinian passersby. Hebron is a traditional Palestinian city where a few hundred nut-case Zionist settlers invaded the town center and are now, supported by the Jewish state, terririzing the rest of the population.
The space with the carpeted floor is the mosque in Hebron where a Jewish settler gunned down 27 unarmed people. There is a statue of this hero that was erected by Hebron settlers.
There is a photo of African Christians in a procession through the streets of the old city.
The main reason for entering electoral or even government terrain and waging struggle there is not so much to `show' the power of our organizations. Rather it is mainly the matter of an earlier step: to build these organizations in the first place, or to take the miniscule ones we have now, and through these struggles, grow and multiply them.
Since Khsama Sawant's victory in Seattle, there is renewed discussion on the left about elections. Some are still rather wary of the idea, and come up with a range of objections.
One point made in a recent post on the North Star blog was that these victories helped to show our power. While not wrong, it passes over a more important point
The main reason for entering electoral or even government terrain and waging struggle there is not so much to `show' the power of our organizations. Rather it is mainly the matter of an earlier step: to build these organizations in the first place, or to take the miniscule ones we have now, and through these struggles, grow and multiply them.
Does anyone doubt, for example, that Socialist Alternative in Seattle, is now likely several times larger than it was before this race? Or that it has vastly expanded its reach nationwide? Or that it will continue to do so precisely because Sawant's council seat provides her with a wider platform to speak as a `tribune of the people,' at least as she has done thus far in the current Boeing strike?
It's true there is a danger of being transformed in a bad way by such victories. I think it was Lenin (at least repeated by Mao) who referred to parliaments as `yellow dyeing vats', ie, your delegates went in red and came out yellow. Yet the Bolsheviks still made good use of their platform in the Duma, and while Debs never won, his campaigns, and many more at lower levels who did win, helped the growth and scope of the Socialist Party considerably.
Any socialist elected to office has two tasks. One is to be the voice of a prophetic and militant minority, from his or her seat, doing the work of radical agitation and education. The other is to help assemble and lead a progressive majority, a coalition necessarily with those to his or her right, to define and pass legislation meeting the immediate demands or launching the projects of the workers and their allies, or at least blocking against the measures of the most reactionary elements in those bodies. Bernie Sanders is an example of one who does both. He rarely wins everything, but his voice is one the left would do well to make better use of.
Finally, one can be corrupted or co-opted in many ways, not just by electoral or trade union posts. People can be corrupted or co-opted via well-funded NGO groups that have little to do with unions or elections. They can also be corrupted by dire poverty and the lack of resources, as we saw in a number of former revolutionaries (Huey Newton comes to mind) corrupted by the `underground economy.' There is no vaccine or guarantee against this in any arena, save for the political and moral training, solidarity, supervision and discipline one can find in revolutionary organization. Class warfare sees its casualties, but that is no reason not to wage it. It is a reason, however, to be less amateurish and more professional in the process.
Saying Israel is a Jewish state in the sense of observant believers would be like asserting that the United States is a Christian state even though about 22% of the population does not identify as Christian (roughly the same proportion as non-Jews in Israel). The point of the US first amendment is to forbid the state to to “establish” a religion.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is adding a fifth demand to his negotiations with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas: That the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.”
For Netanyahu’s demand to make any sense, he first has to define “Jewish.” “Jewish” has a number of possible meanings. It can mean “those recognized by Talmudic law as members of the Jewish ‘race’ via maternal descent.” The latter is the legal definition of Jewishness in Israeli law itself, and for this reason we must presume that it is what Netanyahu has in mind. It can also mean “adherents of the Judaic religion,” and we can explore those implications, as well.
Of the some 6 million self-identified Jews in Israel, about 300,000 are not recognized as “Jewish” by the Chief Rabbi and there is no prospect of them being recognized as Jewish any time soon. They were allowed to immigrate to Israel because they had at least one Jewish grandparent, but if their mother was not Jewish neither are they.
So if Israel is a “Jewish” state, is it a state for these (largely Russian and Ukrainian) “non-Jewish” Jews? Many of them are Jewish by religion, but not all are. None of them are Jewish by the Talmud.
It is worse. Genetic testing of European Jews (Ashkenazim) shows that most women in that community are descended from European Christians who converted to Judaism when they married into the Jewish merchant community, which was likely established at Rome and then points east from about 800 CE (A.D.) If the Grand Rabbi took haplotypes seriously, most Ashkenazi Jews would have to be declared “not Jewish” by the Talmudic criterion, since their mothers do not have the distinctive patterns in their mitochondrial DNA showing descent from the inhabitants of the ancient Levant.
So is Israel as a “Jewish state” actually only for Eastern Jews or Mizrahim, with Ashkenazis second-class citizens?
Then, if instead “Jewish” means “observant adherent of Judaism” then that definition would exclude a lot of Israeli Jews. Only 66% or so of Israelis in polling assert that that “I know God exists and have no doubt about it.” While only 6% are outright atheists, another 28% appear to be agnostics. Since Palestinian-Israeli Muslims are mostly believers, it is likely that the percentage of Jewish agnostics and atheists is even higher than the nationwide estimate suggests. There is no legal requirement that Israeli Jews be observant believers. Would recognizing Israel as a “Jewish” state impose such a requirement?
So either way Netanyahu defines Jewishness, it disenfranchises substantial numbers of self-identifying Israeli Jews. If it is a matter of maternal descent, it leaves 300,000 or so out in the cold. If it is a matter of belief and observance, it leaves nearly 2 million Israeli Jews out of the club.
In addition, of course, 1.7 million Israelis, about a fifth of the population, are Palestinian-Israelis, mostly Muslim but some Christians. They are, in other words, a somewhat greater proportion of the Israeli citizen population than Latinos are of the US population (Latinos are about 17% of Americans). If current demographic trends continue, Palestinian-Israelis could be as much as 1/3 of the population by 2030.
Saying Israel is a “Jewish” state in the sense of race would be analogous to insisting that the US is a “white” state and defining Latinos as “brown.”
And saying Israel is a Jewish state in the sense of observant believers would be like asserting that the United States is a Christian state even though about 22% of the population does not identify as Christian (roughly the same proportion as non-Jews in Israel). The point of the US first amendment is to forbid the state to to “establish” a religion, i.e. to recognize it as a state religion with privileges (the colonists had had bad experiences with Anglicanism in this regard). While we can’t stop other countries from establishing state religions, we Americans don’t approve of it and won’t give our blessing to it, as Netanyahu seems to want. In fact our annual State Department human rights report downgrades countries that don’t separate religion and state.
While some countries have a state or official religion, that is different from what Netanyahu is demanding. Argentina’s constitution says Roman Catholicism is the state religion. But Argentina is not a “Catholic state” either in the sense of being mainly for people of Catholic religious faith (only 20% of Argentines are observant) or for being for persons descended from traditionally Catholic populations. Indeed, Argentina has about half a million Muslims, who are not discriminated against in Argentine law the way Palestinian-Israelis are discriminated against (their villages not ‘recognized’) in Israel. Anyway, as I said, in the U.S. we don’t approve of that part of the Argentine constitution. If all Netanyahu wanted was that Judaism be the ‘state religion’ of Israel, that could surely be achieved by a simple vote of the Knesset. He wants something much more, something that requires that outsiders assent to it.
Netanyahu’s demand is either racist or fundamentalist and is objectionable from an American point of view on human rights grounds either way (and I’m not just talking about the human rights of Palestinian-Israelis).
More ominously, the demand has to be seen in the context of his partnership with extreme nationalist Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman wants to strip Palestinian-Israelis of their citizenship and make them stateless. Making people stateless was a policy of the vicious states of Europe in the 1930s, a policy from which Jews suffered mightily along with some other populations, and it is shameful for Jews to make or keep human beings stateless. You have a sinking feeling that the real reason Netanyahu wants Palestinians to assent to the Jewishness of the Israeli state (whatever that might mean) is that he has malicious plans for the 20% of the population that is not Jewish.
In any case, Sec. Kerry should simply slap Netanyahu down over this new demand, which is illogical and unreasonable and above all sinister. if Netanyahu won’t accept a two-state solution, then he or his children or grandchildren will likely have to accept a one-state solution. Kerry is trying to do him a favor, and if someone doesn’t want your favor, you don’t humiliate yourself to deliver it.
OpEdNews Op Eds 1/2/2014 at 19:04:57
An Interview with Max Blumenthal -- Inside Israel's Apartheid State
By Joshua Frank
Journalist Max Blumenthal's latest book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel has been one of the most controversial and enlightening books of 2013. It's a fearless, no-holds-barred take on life in Israel and the brutal occupation of Palestine. Needless the say, not all have been happy with Blumenthal's take on Israeli culture and politics. I recently caught up with Max to discuss his new book and the backlash he's received from the pro-Israel coterie. -JF
Joshua Frank: Max, seems your latest book Goliath has really caused a stir among right-wing Zionists and other liberal defenders of Israel, like your Nation colleague Eric Alterman. What's all the fuss about?
Max Blumenthal: Goliath is the first on-the-ground, journalistic portrait of the real Israel that has been whitewashed and covered up by the mainstream American media. The book reveals a society overrun with extremism, with open racism emitting from the highest levels of government, inspiring anti-Arab and anti-African riots from the West Bank to Tel Aviv while the siege of Gaza deepens. Many of the pivotal events I detailed at length through background research and first-hand reporting were buried or ignored by the New York Times and have scarcely been examined even in progressive American media.
The atmosphere I captured in the pages of Goliath is the one that veteran Israelis from Uri Avnery to former Maariv editor Amnon Danker to former Haaretz editor-in-chief David Landau have described in no uncertain terms as fascistic. Through the experience of almost a year on the ground in Israel-Palestine, I was able to capture the feeling of the atmosphere they described and to bring it to life on the pages of my book. Obviously, pro-Israel zealots were not terribly happy about this.
There was also the fact that I did not write Goliath with concern for Israel's anguished "soul," or with any abiding belief in the absolute necessity of a Jewish state; that I did not advance the fantastical notion that the Israel that exists behind the 1949 Armistice Lines is a vibrant democracy. And I refused to pay lip service to the idea that the Palestinians were partially at fault for their own dispossession -- that "both sides" were responsible for the crisis. This is what you are expected to do if you wish to cater to Jewish-American opinion from a liberal perspective. I refused to take this approach not only because I reject the Zionist narrative but because it is deeply dishonest and actually requires intellectual contortions about the present and the willfull distortion of the past. That my book managed to gain traction despite my rejection of the established liberal Zionist narrative framework was another reason so many viewed it as threatening.
I presented Israel without sentimentalism or nostalgia, painting a portrait of a state that controls all people between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea under a regime of ethnic separation with no national borders. Some of those who have grown accustomed to the hackeneyed liberal Zionist narrative found my factual portrayal of Israeli society deeply discomfiting. And neocon types were absolutely infuriated that I was able to generate publicity and attention. But of all those who have attempted to destroy my book, none have been able to challenge it on its merits or disprove any substantial facts in it. None.
JF: What is it about criticism of Israel that creates such a fervor?
MB: If Zionism had succeeded in building a democratic state that enjoyed normal relations with its neighbors, the international hasbara apparatus that exists to crush criticism of Israel and propagandize on behalf the Jewish state would be superfluous. Unfortunately, this was never the point of the Zionist movement. Israel is the product of a settler-colonial project that requires perpetual campaign of violent demographic engineering against the wishes of the indigenous Palestinian population. The project continues before our very eyes in the Negev Desert, the South Hebron Hills, and along the electrified walls of the Gaza ghetto. Unless you are some kind of bellicose nationalist, there is not much about it to be proud of.
In the post-Oslo Israel that I bring to life on the pages of Goliath, Jewish Israeli society has doubled down on its anachronistic settler-colonial project, entering what could be described as the "neo-Zionist" era. With no hope of achieving international legitimacy and little desire to do so, Israel must call on its partisans across the globe to crush political opposition by all means necessary.
The looming terminal stage of Zionism will be marked by crusades to crush the free speech rights of citizens inside Israel and across the West -- to restrict their very ability to organize for the rights of Palestinians. Former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren reflected the increasingly anti-democratic undercurrent of pro-Israel advocacy when he took to Politico to call on Congress to pass laws illegalizing Palestine solidarity activism and punishing Americans for protesting Israeli officials in public forums. 11 students at UC-Irvine have already faced a criminal prosecution for protesting Oren for literally two minuntes during a public event. So the campaign to block me from discussing my book at venues across the United States was of a part with the McCarthyite tactics that form the heart of today's pro-Israel playbook.
JF: The Obama administration, and in particular Secretary of State John Kerry, are set to present a "framework agreement" to jumpstart new Israel/Palestine peace negotiations. What can we expect to come from this?
MB: We can't expect much, at least in the sense that Kerry has made the Palestinian Authority an offer it can't accept. The details of Kerry's plan are slowly leaking out, and they amount to transforming the already ghettoized West Bank into another Gaza Strip. Kerry is advancing Netanyahu's main demands, including the erection of a gigantic wall along the Jordanian border that would imprison Palestinians from the east while the Israeli separation wall confines them from the west. Israeli Army Radio has reported that "the Palestinians will be imprisoned between the two fences" -- that is the actual language the network used. Additionally, the US will authorize Israel to patrol the West Bank's airspace with drones on a 24/7 basis as it already does with the Gaza Strip. Israeli troops will be allowed to maintain a presence on the Palestinian border with Jordan for an indefinite period, but even this is not enough for the Israelis. Israel's Minister of Defense Moshe Ya'alon is leading a chorus of outrage from cabinet level officials who demand that Israel receive near-permanent control of the Jordan Valley -- that's where much of the West Bank's arable land is. And the younger, up-and-coming legislators from Netanyahu's party -- the future of Likud -- may soon introduce proposals in the Knesset to annex the Jordan Valley.
General John Allen, the retired former commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has helped devise the arrangements that will consolidate Israel's control over the West Bank. It is safe to assume that the plan will be a major boon to US and Israeli private security contractors, who will supply the "early warning" systems that will spy on the Palestinians permanently confined to this dystopic, Gazafied Panopticon. Unsurprisingly, Kerry has not faced a single tough question about his plan from the American media. Instead, he was recently hailed by Jeffrey Goldberg for his "uncomplicated affection for the promise of Zionism."
JF: In Goliath you write a lot about realities on the ground in Israel. What were some of the more surprising ones you discovered?
MB: There was no particular incident or event that I was not prepared for when I began the fieldwork for the book. What shocked me was the degree to which Israel was able to fuse Western-style neo-liberalism so seamlessly with settler-colonial apartheid. In Goliath, I described drinking at a bar in a hip neighborhood in Tel Aviv, staring at the nearby luxury "ghost tower" inhabited by wealthy American Jews like Marty Peretz, and listening to fusion jazz emanate from an adjacent club with my t-shirt still saturated in the residue of teargas from the demonstration against the separation wall I attended earlier in the day. That is when it became clear to me how much the Tel Aviv bubble required the Iron Wall.
I am filled with memories like this. In one instance, I was sitting in a macrobiotic/vegan restaurant in central Jerusalem with a French tourist who was staying at my flat during the summer of 2010. The tourist grabbed a French-Israeli magazine on a nearby table, flipped to a random page, and began translating an article to me about the dangers Jewish women could face if they dated Arab men -- how the Arab male would charm you before he took you captive in his village and beat you into submission. The feeling of having a Jim Crow-style tract read to me in a French accent while I noshed on a quinoa, tempeh and kale platter in a restaurant packed with vegan settlers summed up the whole experience of Israel for me. I was living life in a tech-savvy, gay-friendly apartheid state where oiled up soldier girls in skimpy bikinis tanned themselves to an orange hue on balmy beaches a few kilometers up the coast from a besieged ghetto filled with food insecure refugees. Each day I spent in Israel, I was staring straight at the West's most vulgar image of itself.
JF: Norman Finkelstein has written about Israel's vulgar image and the exploitation of the Holocaust, which you expand on in Goliath. Can you talk a little about what this means, exactly?
MB: The state of Israel demands the near-total participation of its Jewish citizenry in the project of controlling and dominating Palestinians. This is not a particularly appealing endeavor, especially for the youth who are forced to conscript in the military at age 18. So the military must find ways to help young people overcome their natural skepticism about army life, while the main institutions of the Jewish state work to cultivate unanimous reverence for the military. Thus an occupying, neocolonial, nuclearized army has been re-branded as the last line of defense against Jewish extermination, with soldier boys and girls just out of high school marched into the West Bank to dominate the angry Arabs cast as the spiritual heirs of Nazi Germany. Without intense indoctrination, an Israeli soldier might fall into a personal crisis the moment he has to rip a Palestinian adolescent from his bed and drags him to a dank cell in the middle of the night. Of course, many do, and wind up offering harrowing testimonies to groups like Breaking the Silence. But the truly frightening thing is that so many do not. They return to daily life without any impulse towards critical reflection.
The cradle-to-grave process of indoctrination has helped provide Israelis with more than the motivation to participate in army life. It has allowed them the psychological space they need to accept and justify the vast desert internment camps the state has constructed for African asylum seekers deemed a demographic threat and identified by numbers, not names; the concrete separation wall erected to prevent what Netanyahu called "demographic spillover," and, of course, the existence of the Gaza ghetto. The depressing impact of Holocaust exploitation in Israeli life was reflected in a recent poll in which 57.2 percent of Israeli Jews declared support for the idea that "the main lesson of the Holocaust is that we can only rely on ourselves and must not to hesitate to use force without taking the opinion of other nations into consideration."
JF: How is this perpetuated in the Israeli school system?
MB: The Israeli school system is intimately linked to the military, and in an unprecedented way since Netanyahu's election in 2009. In Goliath, I documented how Jewish Israeli children have been indoctrinated into the culture of militarism and fear as early as age four, describing how pre-schoolers in the city of Holon were lined up before a chalkboard and forced to ponder the following question: "Who wants to kill us?" I detailed a high school field trip in which teens were taken to an army base to shoot at simulated targets wearing Palestinian kuffiyehs. And I explained the role of the Holocaust in all of this, writing about the trips that 25% of Israeli high schoolers have taken to Auschwitz a year before they enter the military.
These Holocaust tours, called "The March of the Living," are explicitly designed by the Israeli Ministry of Education to produce more nationalistic attitudes among Jewish youth and a more favorable impression of the army. In his devastating documentary about the exploitation of anti-Semitism, Defamation, the Israeli filmmaker Yoav Shamir accompanied a group of Israeli students to Auschwitz. He showed how after a week of unrelenting indoctrination, the students were reduced to tears of rage, with some declaring that they wanted to go out and find some Nazis to kill. Of course, the Nazis are all dead, or maybe a few of them had their brains frozen in cryogenics labs somewhere in the jungles of Paraguay. So all that is left to do is lash out at those explicitly designated by Netanyahu and other societal leaders as the Nazis' heirs: the Palestinians.
JF: Let's go back to Eric Alterman for a minute. In a recent Salon.com interview you say you knew he'd freak out about the book. How'd you know?
MB: I knew that the initial impulse of pro-Israel writers would be to willfully ignore my book if they could not poke any significant holes in the facts I introduced, and they have proven that they couldn't. Having spent time around The Nation, I was aware of Eric Alterman's reputation as a kind of pro-Israel enforcer, and also someone who was full of shpilkes, almost to a comical degree. He seemed like the perfect candidate to break the boycott on Goliath. So when I learned that Alterman was getting exercised about Goliath's publication, I made sure he got a note from my publisher informing him that I was eager for his opinion. And I told my publishers to send copies to pro-Israel writers like Liel Liebowitz of Tablet, to Commentary, and to Sohrab Ahmari, a neocon book reviewer for the Wall Street Journal. I was operating on the assumption that these characters would revert to type with just a little prompting.
Like clockwork, Alterman returned with a vitriolic, error laden attack on my book in The Nation that was immediately torn to shreds by everyone from Ali Gharib to Chip Manekin to Corey Robin to Phan Nguyen. Alterman must be a serious glutton for punishment, because he followed up with eight more blundering attacks on me, each more embarrassing than the next. He also participated in a smear campaign against me outside The Nation that relied on warmongering neocons to promote his attacks. As for the others, Ahmari publicly boasted that he threw the review copies of my books in the trash rather than review them, while Liebowitz called my book "a work of fiction" after confirming its most devastating sections as accurate -- "generally factually accurate," as Alterman said of the book. If I ever meet Alterman, I hope I have a box of chocolates on me. It is the least I can do to thank him for his role in getting my book to a second printing.
JF: What other backlash has ensued as a result of Goliath?
MB: I was informed that a local chapter of AIPAC demanded that the Dallas Council on World Affairs cancel the talk they were hosting for me. A far-right Islamophobic, anti-gay group called the Florida Family Association attempted to shut down a Council on American Islamic Relations banquet I was keynoting. Alan Dershowitz denounced me as "anti-American" and basically condemned my parents for conceiving me. The Free Beacon attacked my parents for hosting a book party at their home for me, trying to pressure the Clintons cut all ties with my father, who had worked in the Clinton White House. Buzzfeed's Ben Smith commissioned a comprehensively false smear piece about my book and my father's relationship to the Clintons. John Podhoretz (who has accused me of "sucking the cocks of Jew killers") and red diaper neocon Ron Radosh attempted to pressure the New America Foundation into canceling my talk at their offices in DC. The pro-Israel group StandWithUs attempted to force a community center to cancel an American Muslims for Palestine event I participated in, labeling me and other speakers "extremists" in their letter to the center. Finally, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, just named me the 9th biggest anti-Semite of 2013. Like so many other Jews, I strive to be at the top of my field, so I was really disappointed to find myself so low on this Islamophobic outfit's blacklist. Next year, I promise to try harder and aim for number one.
JF: Were these the type of reactions you expected would happen for reporting on Israel as you saw it?
MB: Once the Zionist freakout began, the sub-mental smears were predictable. As I said, if they could make a positive case for the Jewish state, they would do so. But they can't. And so they are left with nothing but risible propaganda and McCarthyite tactics. I suppose it was an honor that John Podhoretz, the son of the man who smeared Hannah Arendt for writing Eichmann in Jerusalem, wound up labeling Goliath, "the year's most disgusting book."
Though mainstream media has yet to acknowledge the existence of Goliath, the book has received extremely favorable reviews from unexpected quarters. Most notably, James Fallows, the Atlantic Magazine's editor-in-chief, returned with a vigorous defense of my work after attending my talk at the New America Foundation and actually reading Goliath. Fallows dared to take an objective look at my journalism and this is the conclusion he came to:
"Blumenthal has made a sobering prima facie case that there are extreme forces to be aware of, and reckoned with more fully that American discourse usually does. And, very importantly, his doing so is no more 'anti-Israel,' let alone anti-Semitic, than The Shame of the Cities and The Jungle and The Grapes of Wrath were anti-American for pointing out extremes and abuses in American society."
Finally, the response to my book across the country has been nothing short of incredible. With absolutely no mainstream coverage, sizable, extremely energized crowds in cities across America have appeared almost spontaneously to hear me discuss my work. The audiences are diverse, with people of all ages, including hardcore activists and new faces who are generally curious about the issue, but they are all united in their disgust at the repression both inside Israel-Palestine and in the US. Something is happening out there and I truly believe a tipping point is approaching. At the very least, we can conclude that the gatekeepers are rapidly weakening.
As long as the status quo in Israel-Palestine persists, all of the trends detailed in Goliath will intensify. And since 1967, the US has been the primary guarantor of the status quo. So when I speak to audiences around the country, I encourage them to give up all hope on their elected representatives and societal elites doing anything decent or courageous to challenge Israeli apartheid. After all, these are the same people who have enabled apartheid to retrench itself across this country, either by actively driving inequality or through cynical negotiations with the corporate forces behind it.
If Americans want to see genuine change in the Holy Land, they can participate in grassroots, Palestinian-led campaigns like the BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction) movement. This movement is growing rapidly and sending shockwaves through the pro-Israel establishment. And that's a very good thing considering that Palestinians may have few effective tactics left to resist a project aimed at their absolute dispossession.
Theses on Zionism
The Electronic Intifada
9 December 2013
In the spirit of Marx’s celebrated Theses on Feuerbach:
European Christians oppress European Jews. They then demand that the Palestinians must allow European Jews to oppress them in turn and that the Palestinians must ignore if not celebrate their own oppression, while condemning European Christian oppression of European Jews.
European Jewish Zionists also demand that Palestinians celebrate the oppression inflicted on them by European Jews (and non-European Jews mobilized by Zionism) and marvel as to why the Palestinians resist the understanding that European Jews have the exceptional right to oppress them because as Jews, they were oppressed by European Christians.
European Jewish Zionists are horrified that anyone would suggest that they should celebrate the oppression inflicted on them by European Christians. They are equally horrified that anyone should suggest that the Palestinians should not celebrate the oppression inflicted on them by European (and non-European) Jews.
European and Euro-American Christian Zionists and European Jewish Zionists insist on the exceptionalism of Europeans. European Jewish Zionists recognize that European and Euro-American Christians should have the right to oppress anyone they choose except for Jews, while European and Euro-American Christian Zionists recognize that European (and other) Jews have the right to oppress only the Palestinians, and a motley array of other Arabs and Muslims.
European and Euro-American Zionists, Christians and Jews alike, do not consider it controversial when modern Egyptians claim descent from the ancient Egyptians and the Pharaohs, nor do they consider it controversial when modern Iraqis claim descent from the Babylonians; or when the Lebanese claim descent from the Phoenicians, or when the Jordanians claim descent from the Nabateans. The only controversy is over the Palestinians’ claim that they are descendants of the ancient Hebrews.
At the same time, it remains utterly uncontroversial that modern European Jews, who are descendants of European converts to Judaism who were and are foreign to Palestine’s geography, claim instead that they, not the native Palestinians, are the real descendants of the ancient Hebrews.
When some Zionists admit their war crimes against the Palestinians, the expulsion, the massacres, the destruction of Palestinian cities and towns, the theft of land and property, they claim that they had little choice, as they were persecuted in Europe and needed a refuge, even if at the expense of the Palestinians. When Palestinians insist on resisting these Zionist crimes and claims, the same Zionists accuse the Palestinians of lack of sympathy with their oppressors and of anti-Semitism.
Zionism bases itself on three claims: (1) that the ancient Hebrews possessed ancient Palestine and nobody else lived there; (2) that modern descendants of European converts to Judaism are the direct descendants of the Hebrews; and (3) that, based on these two claims, modern European Jews have the right to take Palestine from the Palestinians.
While the first two claims lack any historical validity as attested to by mounds of historical evidence, even were we to assume that they were valid, they do not lead to the acceptance of the third proposition. Otherwise all European white Aryans would be claiming northern India as their home (as they claim to have originated there) and would seek to displace all Indians (dark Aryans) living there today and take their land away from them.
Religious and secular Zionists use the Jewish scriptures to assert that God promised the ancient Hebrews the land of Palestine and that the Hebrews went there and killed the native Canaanites and took their country. They add that this gives modern European Jews the right to repeat that very same crime today by killing the native Palestinians and by taking away their country.
Israel claims to be of Asian Hebrew origins, yet it insists that it is part of Europe and the West.
Zionism claims to be an answer to the loss of Jewish cultures (on account of Jewish assimilation in the diaspora) and to the threat of anti-Semitism, which threatens Jewish lives in the diaspora.
Yet it is Israel which has played a major role in destroying all diaspora Jewish languages (including Yiddish, Ladino and Arabic) and cultures and substituted for Jews instead an assimilated European gentile Hebrew-speaking culture. As for safeguarding Jewish lives, today and for the last six and a half decades, Israel, rather than being the safest place for Jews, has been the most dangerous place for them.
Anti-Zionists have interpreted the Zionist project; the point however is to undo it.
Resist Zionism: Boycott — Divestment — Sanctions!
Joseph Massad is Associate Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University.