Friday, July 15, 2016

‘Palestinians ought to be free’ — Cornel West’s historic moment

US Politics Carlos Latuff on July 14,

Cornel West, by Carlos Latuff Cornel West, by Carlos Latuff

Last weekend the Democratic Party platform committee rejected two changes to the draft platform that would have mentioned the occupation and settlements as obstacles to peace and called for the rebuilding of Gaza because of the degree of human suffering there. During the debate of the amendments, Cornel West, a Bernie Sanders proxy, spoke eloquently for the Palestinian question, describing it as the issue of our time. To no avail.

If there was a Palestinian occupation of Jewish brothers and sisters, we ought to be morally outraged. If there is an Israeli occupation of Palestinian brothers and sisters we ought to be morally outraged. This is a moral issue. It’s an issue of our time, and it has spiritual and moral implications. It’s not just about politics. Not just about the next election. And for the younger generation it is becoming more and more what Vietnam was to the 60s or what South Africa was for the 80s. [Rousing cheers]

Democratic Party, you’ve been in denial too long, Palestinians ought to be free….

[In Gaza in 2014] over 2000 were killed and over 500 babies killed and not a word from our political elite.

What is going on in this country What is going on among our elite, are we so paralyzed? Are we so debilitated by either the money flowing or indifference in our hearts, I would hope not. That’s what the legacy of Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day and so many others was all about….

If we are not able to deal with that then we’re in the same condition this party was in 80 years ago when it didn’t want to deal with Jim Crow, didn’t want to deal with lynching, locked in a state of denial and saying, Somehow these Negroes are going to make it through with this misery. We refuse. I refuse to reach that conclusion.


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Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Near Certainty of Anti-Police Violence

By ignoring illegitimate policing, America has also failed to address the danger this illegitimacy poses to those who must do the policing.

Subscribe to The Atlantic’s Politics & Policy Daily, a roundup of ideas and events in American politics.
Last month, the Obama administration accused Donald Trump of undercutting American legitimacy in the eyes of the world. Trump’s call to ban Muslims wasn’t just morally wrong, according to Vice President Joe Biden, it called “into question America’s status as the greatest democracy in the history of the world.” President Obama followed Biden by asserting that Trump’s rhetoric “doesn’t reflect our democratic ideals,” saying “it will make us less safe, fueling ISIL’s notion that the West hates Muslims.” His point was simple—wanton discrimination in policy and rhetoric undercuts American legitimacy and fuels political extremism. This lesson is not limited to Donald Trump, and it applies as well abroad as it does at home.

Last week, 25-year-old Micah Xavier Johnson murdered five police officers in Dallas. This abhorrent act of political extremism cannot be divorced from American history—recent or old. In black communities, the police departments have only enjoyed a kind of quasi-legitimacy. That is because wanton discrimination is definitional to the black experience, and very often it is law enforcement which implements that discrimination with violence. A community consistently subjected to violent discrimination under the law will lose respect for it, and act beyond it. When such actions stretch to mass murder it is horrific. But it is also predictable.

To understand the lack of police legitimacy in black communities, consider the contempt in which most white Americans hold O.J. Simpson. Consider their feelings toward the judge and jury in the case. And then consider that this is approximately how black people have felt every few months for generations. It’s not just that the belief that Officer Timothy Loehmann got away with murdering a 12-year-old Tamir Rice, it is the reality that police officers have been getting away with murdering black people since the advent of American policing. The injustice compounds, congeals until there is an almost tangible sense of dread and grievance that compels a community to understand the police as objects of fear, not respect.

What does it mean, for instance, that black children are ritually told that any stray movement in the face of the police might result in their own legal killing? When Eric Holder spoke about getting “The Talk” from his father, and then giving it to his own son, many of us nodded our heads. But many more of us were terrified. When the nation’s top cop must warn his children to be skeptical of his own troops, how legitimate can the police actually be?

And it is not as if Holder is imagining things. When the law shoots down 12-year-old children, or beats down old women on traffic islands, or chokes people to death over cigarettes; when the law shoots people over compact discs, traffic stops, drivers’ licenses, loud conversation, or car trouble; when the law auctions off its monopoly on lethal violence to bemused civilians, when these civilians then kill, and when their victims are mocked in their death throes; when people stand up to defend police as officers of the state, and when these defenders are killed by these very same officers; when much of this is recorded, uploaded, live-streamed, tweeted, and broadcast; and when government seems powerless, or unwilling, to stop any of it, then it ceases, in the eyes of citizens, to be any sort of respectable law at all. It simply becomes “force.”

In the black community, it’s the force they deploy, and not any higher American ideal, that gives police their power. This is obviously dangerous for those who are policed. Less appreciated is the danger illegitimacy ultimately poses to those who must do the policing. For if the law represents nothing but the greatest force, then it really is indistinguishable from any other street gang. And if the law is nothing but a gang, then it is certain that someone will resort to the kind of justice typically meted out to all other powers in the street.

The Talk is testament to something that went very wrong, long ago, with law enforcement, something that we are scared to see straight. That something has very little to do with the officer on the beat and everything to do with ourselves. There’s a sense that the police departments of America have somehow gone rogue. In fact, the police are one of the most trusted institutions in the country. This is not a paradox. The policies which the police carry out are not the edicts of a dictatorship but the work, as Biden put it, of “the greatest democracy in the history of the world.” Avoiding this fact is central to the current conversation around “police reform” which focuses solely on the actions of police officers and omits everything that precedes these actions. But analyzing the present crisis in law enforcement solely from the contested street, is like analyzing the Iraq War solely from the perspective of Abu Ghraib. And much like the Iraq War, there is a strong temptation to focus on the problems of “implementation,” as opposed to building the kind of equitable society in which police force is used as sparingly as possible.

There is no shortcut out. Sanctimonious cries of nonviolence will not help. “Retraining” can only do so much. Until we move to the broader question of policy, we can expect to see Walter Scotts and Freddie Grays with some regularity. And the extent to which we are tolerant of the possibility of more Walter Scotts and Freddie Grays is the extent to which we are tolerant of the possibility of more Micah Xavier Johnsons.

Pharrell Williams cancels Israel gig

from the electric intifada

Ali Abunimah Activism and BDS Beat 13 July 2016

Pharrell Williams, a ten-time Grammy Award winner, has canceled his 21 July performance in Tel Aviv amid conflicting explanations.

Over the last year, the “Happy” pop star has faced sustained pressure from the Palestine solidarity movement. Last year, amid rumors that he would be scheduling a Tel Aviv performance, campaigners urged him not to go.

In an open letter, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel said that by performing in Tel Aviv, Williams would show himself “indifferent to the suffering of Palestinian children.”

The cancellation also comes as other big names, including Carlos Santana, are being urged by fans not to “entertain apartheid” by performing at Israeli venues.

Israeli media have provided conflicting explanations for Pharrell’s Tel Aviv no-show.

The newspaper Haaretz cited lackluster ticket sales, while The Jerusalem Post reported “scheduling conflicts.”

BDS South Africa has made Williams a focus of its campaigning over his endorsement of the retail chain Woolworths, because of its sales of Israeli goods.

Last September, an effort to limit the size of a Palestine solidarity protest outside the Cape Town venue where Williams was perfoming was thrown out by a South African judge.

“Sportswashing” Azerbaijan
Williams has been publicly unresponsive to appeals for him to use his platform to support – or at least not be complicit in the violation of – Palestinian human rights.

But recently he made a modest gesture in response to a call for solidarity with activists, bloggers and journalists jailed and abused in a crackdown by Azerbaijan’s dictatorial regime.

Williams was one of several international stars who performed as part of the Formula 1 racing event in the capital Baku last month.

Formula 1 has been accused of “sportswashing” and “masking” abusive regimes including Azerbaijan’s and Bahrain’s.

Azerbaijan is a close military and intelligence ally of Israel. According to The Jerusalem Post, Azerbaijan buys billions in weapons from Israel, making it the second biggest market in Asia, after India, for Israeli arms.

Sports for Rights, a coalition of international human rights groups, did not call on Formula 1 or international artists to boycott Azerbaijan, but asked for public condemnations of abuses and pressure for them to stop.

“Chris Brown and Enrique Iglesias completely ignored our calls,” Rebecca Vincent, coordinator of Sports for Rights, told the publication Eurasianet of two other singers who performed in Baku during the Formula 1 event.

“We received no response from their managers or publicists, and they have performed without uttering a single word about the situation in the country – [a] real shame, as they have become part of the Azerbaijani regime’s propaganda machine,” Vincent added.

But Pharrell received credit for speaking out – however obliquely – in apparent response to the campaign’s call.

“Make some noise for the youth of Azerbaijan!” he said at his performance. “Those beautiful children: they are the future! When they grow up they will change things not only here, but around the world and no one can stop them.”

He then dedicated his song “Freedom” to them.

While Williams has yet to make even such a timid public gesture in support of the rights of Palestinians, campaigners will be pleased that his performance in Tel Aviv is off – no matter the publicly stated reasons.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

EXCLUSIVE: How AIPAC is using black leaders to erase Palestinian suffering from the DNC platform

Daily Kos

Originally published in Tikkun — by David Harris-Gershon

This is the story of how a powerful lobbying organization enlists black Americans – victims of oppression and state violence for centuries – to mask the suffering of another oppressed people. It is the story of how the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) strategically recruits and educates black leaders to defend Israel from critique. And it is the story of how Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation suffer in ways that reverberate upon America’s streets — where black bodies are bruised, bloodied and destroyed under the weight of police violence, mass incarceration, and disenfranchisement.

It is a story which begins – for our purposes – on June 9 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC, where a public hearing on the Democratic Platform convened for two days of discussion and debate in advance of the Drafting Committee’s work in St. Louis at the end of June.

At this hearing, the DNC’s 15-member Platform Drafting Committee heard public testimony on and debated many aspects of the platform, working through domestic policy and foreign policy and finally arriving at Israel. When they did, Robert Wexler, President of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, sat before the committee and presented Hillary Clinton’s version of what the DNC platform should look like, making sure to list Israel’s legitimate security concerns while neglecting to articulate the suffering Palestinians endure. Needless to say, absent from Wexler’s testimony were the words “occupation” and “settlements.” Though he did make sure to condemn Palestinian civil society’s nonviolent Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, noting that Democrats must oppose outside forces pressuring Israel.

Sitting opposite Wexler was Cornel West, a prominent author, academic and BDS supporter, who resides on the Drafting Committee as one of five members appointed by Bernie Sanders. (Six were appointed by Clinton.) When Wexler finished his testimony, West had this to say:

"I think both of us can agree that a precious Palestinian baby in the West Bank has exactly the same value as a precious Jewish baby in Tel Aviv … A commitment to security for precious Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel can never be predicated on an occupation of precious Palestinians. If we're concerned about security, it seems to me we’re going to have to talk seriously about occupation. I don't know if you would allow the use of that word … but occupation is real. It's concrete.”


“For too long, the Democratic Party has been beholden to an AIPAC that didn't take seriously the humanity of Palestinian brothers and sisters. We're at a turning point now, though of course it's going to be a slow one in the Democratic Party ... So my first question would be: one, would you argue for the use of the word occupation in the platform? And two, how would you respond to those who say for so long the United States has been so biased toward Israeli security and has not accented the humanity of Palestinians, such that to talk about evenhandedness is always a version of anti-Semitism as opposed to a struggle for justice?"

Wexler responded, saying “what you refer to as occupation” should be absent from the DNC platform. Why? To include mention of occupation and settlements would be to litigate sensitive issues which must be negotiated by Israelis and Palestinians themselves, not the Democratic Party. An absurd answer made even more so given Wexler, on Clinton’s behalf, advocated minutes before for Jerusalem to be recognized by Democrats as Israel’s capital, one such ‘sensitive’ issue.

When the public hearing had concluded, the Clinton camp’s position was known: it opposed West’s proposal to acknowledge Palestinian suffering in the Democratic Party Platform, as well as the nonviolent movement he champions. What wasn’t known was just who would prevail on this issue. What also wasn’t known at the time was that in a matter of days, AIPAC would quietly aid Clinton by enlisting black politicians and church leaders to counter West’s efforts on the Drafting Committee, as though the only natural way to counter a black intellectual is with other black intellectuals.

Bakari Sellers and the DNC Letter

Three weeks later, on June 25 in St. Louis, the 15-member Drafting Committee met to hammer out the Democratic Party’s platform, finalizing a number of issues before arriving at Israel. It was time to consider West’s proposal, to consider whether the security concerns of both Israelis and Palestinians would finally be articulated by the Democratic Party, whether the humanity of both peoples would be acknowledged.

The debate revolved around a motion proposed by West and James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute and another Sanders appointee. It sought to have included in the platform a call for “an end to occupation and illegal settlements so that [Palestinians] may live in independence, sovereignty and dignity” as well as an acknowledgement that Palestinians “deserve security, recognition and a normal life free from violence, terror and incitement.”

Debate on the motion was emotional, with West and Zogby, pleading for the Democratic Party to simply acknowledge Palestinian suffering. Here’s Zogby:

The term occupation shouldn’t be controversial. George Bush said there is an occupation, Ariel Sharon said there was an occupation, Barack Obama has said there is an occupation. There is an occupation. It denies people freedom … It’s an occupation that humiliates people, that breeds contempt, that breeds anger and despair and a hopelessness that leads to violence.

We have to be able to call it what it is. Reality has moved way beyond just recognizing Palestinians [exist]. It’s hearing their voices, understanding their pain.

West and Zogby, who pushed for the motion in committee late into the night, were fighting an uphill battle, in large part because AIPAC had already been invisibly working to ensure the motion would fail.

Days before the vote, a letter addressed to Platform Committee co-chairs Governor Dannel Malloy and Shirley Franklin made its way to members of the Drafting Committee. Written by Bakari Sellers and signed by over 60 black leaders, the letter closely mirrored Wexler’s language from his June 9 testimony. Indeed, Sellers’ letter implored members not to stray from past language on Israel, with the exception of adding a condemnation of the BDS movement. It was a thinly veiled and direct response to West; a clear effort to undermine his efforts by demonizing Palestinian nonviolence and opposing mention of the state violence done unto them.

In the letter, Sellers wrote:

“I believe that the Mideast planks of the previous platform … have served us well as a party and a country. As Democrats and proud supporters of our presumptive nominee, we would be well served to stick closely to our previous platform language.”

When news of Sellers’ letter leaked, questions were immediately raised: Who was Sellers? Who were these black leaders opposing West by echoing Wexler, a man AIPAC recently described as “one of the stalwart leaders of the American-Israel alliance”? Why were they invested in keeping Palestinian suffering out of the DNC’s platform? And how exactly had the previous platform on Israel served these black leaders well?

In pursuit of answers, I would end up receiving a call from Sellers as I started digging, climbing down a rabbit hole at the end of which stood AIPAC and years of deeply-funded recruitment efforts in historically black colleges, universities and churches across America. Recruitment efforts about which others before me have warned, recruitment efforts now paying dividends via a Clinton-AIPAC alliance working to stem a progressive shift on Israel within the Democratic Party. An alliance now using black leaders to help erase Palestinian suffering from the party’s articulated vision of justice in the Middle East.

From Morehouse College to AIPAC

Bakari Sellers is the son of Cleveland Sellers, a famed civil rights activist widely known for his leadership role in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of the most impactful civil rights organizations in the 1960s.

He grew up around Denmark, South Carolina, where he resides today. It’s also where his father now lives after many years serving as Director of African American Studies at the University of South Carolina. Sellers considers his father his “number one inspiration” for the elder’s long-standing pursuit of social justice and equality, and stands committed to “creating change that benefits all persons – no matter race, color, or creed,” in large part due to his father’s influence.

If this sounds like an unlikely biography for one now deeply involved with AIPAC – an organization which denies Palestinians their humanity as a political strategy – that’s likely the point.

So how did Sellers connect with AIPAC? In 2004, after he’d been elected to the SGA presidency at Morehouse College, Sellers got a cold call from two strangers inviting him to a policy conference. These strangers, AIPAC staffers Jonathan Kessler and Michael Glassman, were reaching out to student political leaders at historically black colleges and universities across the country and inviting them to Washington, DC as part of a larger recruitment effort. (More on that later.) Sellers, who didn’t know anything about AIPAC, but loved the idea of rubbing shoulders with US lawmakers, jumped at the chance.

“The voice on the other end sounded kind of nurturing and understanding, and I said I don’t have anything to lose,” Sellers recalled thinking after the call. And so he went to DC on AIPAC’s dime. And as with many young students recruited by AIPAC, he ended up being overwhelmed by the access and experiences he gained:

There might have been ten black people at the whole [AIPAC] conference of 7,500 [in 2004], and I remember one moment that they had the roll call, but I was just so enthralled that we went to this huge dinner that they have and every member of Congress, or at least 75 percent of them, were there and I got to see Steny Hoyer again who has the best hair in Congress and, you know, I got a chance to see Condoleezza Rice and see George Bush. And the unique thing is they had this huge role call where they notified and they let the crowd know who was there and they let them know the SGA presidents they had there, but they left out the only two HBCU presidents they had.

I didn’t even recognize it, but afterwards, the staff, the executive direction of this huge organization, came and apologized and said, “We’ll make it up to you.” And I was like, “You know, don’t worry about, I don’t care.” So the next morning we’re sitting in a huge forum waiting on the president, at that time, George Bush, to speak, and after they introduced the president, they had a pause and they said, “We would also like to recognize” — as President Bush stands and waits — “We would like to recognize the SGA presidents from Morehouse College and Spelman College, Bakari Sellers and Adeola Adejobi. May they please stand.” So that attention to detail and that we made President Bush wait even just for that moment. It meant a great deal.

Sellers’ connection to AIPAC would end up meaning a great deal more. Two years later, he would become one of the youngest congressmen ever elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives, where he served the 90th district from 2006-2014. And if it weren’t for AIPAC’s fundraising and networking support, his political career may never have gotten off the ground.

“The way I’m able to communicate, the exposure, the people that I’ve met – a lot of people I’ve met at the AIPAC policy conference became a huge part of my fund-raising base,” Sellers admitted in 2009.

Now, in 2016, he sits on AIPAC’s National Council. The son of civil rights icon Cleveland Sellers, penning letters to keep the Democratic Party from recognizing that Palestinians’ rights are violated by Israel.

Or perhaps Sellers didn’t even pen the letter, but rather signed his name after an ask from AIPAC. Shaun King, a writer at the New York Daily News, emailed me that an acquaintance of his, an AIPAC staff member, had texted to say the letter had been his brainchild, and that every signatory had been recruited by AIPAC via its educational wing, the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF).

Though I was unable to confirm this with King’s source, my research certainly indicates the latter to be accurate, for nearly every individual who signed Sellers’ letter, from school superintendents to state senators, have deep AIPAC roots. And as I reached out to Sellers and dozens of these signatories, asking about their connections to AIPAC and reasons for signing, I came to learn just how deep the lobbying outfit’s reach into the black community extends.

The Optics of Black Leaders Defending Israel

For over 10 years, AIEF has been recruiting students like Sellers at historically black colleges and universities through its Campus Allies Mission program, funded by Adam Milstein, an Israeli real estate investor who was convicted for felony tax evasion in 2009, and who sits on AIPAC’s National Council alongside Sellers. Milstein, it should be noted, not only has a history of rather ugly Islamophobia. He also has a history of promoting attacks against President Obama which some feel have racist undertones, and opposes solidarity between Black Lives Matter and Palestinian movements. As for the missions Milstein funds, they send black students to AIPAC policy conferences and on Israel trips, where students are given crash courses on Israeli politics and history which, impressive as they may seem to the uninitiated, are rife with right-wing propaganda. These missions also wine, dine and provide students with the type of access to US lawmakers and world leaders about which most people dare dream.

These students, some of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds, are often swept off their feet. Sellers certainly was. So too was Vincent Evans, who as a politically-active freshman at Florida A&M University was recruited by AIPAC, and ended up traveling to DC over 10 times with the lobbying outfit during his college career. Just listen to him talk about the experience with Colorlines reporter Seth Freed Wessler:

"You're talking about a lot of students who grew up in a socio-economic place that does not give them these opportunities," said Evans. "We met amazing people. I met Netanyahu. In 2007 or 2008 I met all the Democratic candidates for president. My dad cried when I met Obama. [AIPAC] opens your eyes to things you've never seen."

Another group which works closely with AIPAC is the Atlanta-based Vanguard Leadership Group, which has effectively connected Morehouse College students with AIEF, funneling them to conferences and into Israel advocacy roles.

So why has AIPAC strategically chosen to focus heavily on recruiting black students and leaders to be Israel advocates and defenders? Part of the answer might be simple: AIPAC is incredibly thorough. However, that cannot be the entire story, for of all the potential communities from which to draw, its non-Jewish student recruitment and engagement only has three foci: African-American, Hispanic, and Christian colleges. And AIPAC views its African-American Outreach program as a particularly important tool.

Which leads many to wonder if the lobbying organization has intentionally developed a community of black leaders to visibly shield Israel from charges of racism and aparthied. At a time in which Israel is being targeted with South-African styled boycotts, a time in which young activists see parallels between the extra-judicial killings and indefinite detentions Palestinians face and the police shootings and mass incarcerations black Americans face, are AIPAC’s determined outreach efforts a mere matter of public relations? Is AIPAC most interested in developing political connections in the black community, or in defending Israel from charges of unequal treatment through the optics of black leaders standing upon a stage?

Or writing and signing letters?

The Motion Fails

Late into the night on June 25, after debate had finally ended, the Drafting Committee defeated West and Zogby’s motion by an 8-5 vote. The platform’s initial draft would not mention occupation, nor settlements, nor any acknowledgement of or concern for the violation of Palestinian rights. What would make it into the draft, however, were calls to fight BDS and for Jerusalem to be the “undivided” capital of Israel:

A strong and secure Israel is vital to the United States because we share overarching strategic interests and the common values of democracy, equality, tolerance, and pluralism. That is why we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself, including by retaining its qualitative military edge, and oppose any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.

We will continue to work toward a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiated directly by the parties that guarantees Israel’s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state with recognized borders and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity. While Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations, it should remain the capital of Israel, an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths. Israelis deserve security, recognition, and a normal life free from terror and incitement. Palestinians should be free to govern themselves in their own viable state, in peace and dignity.

While AIPAC, with an assist from Sellers and over 60 black leaders, had repelled progressive efforts for a more balanced platform plank, some progressive inroads were made, despite the BDS language. For the first time, Palestinian “dignity” and “sovereignty” were articulated, as well as their deserving “peace.”

Baby steps, to be sure. Though AIPAC hadn’t won quite yet. The full, 187-member Platform Committee still needed to vote on – or amend – what the 15-member Drafting Committee had created. This would happen on July 9 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Orlando, where the fight for a more balanced, more just platform plank, one demonstrating equal concern for Israeli and Palestinian security, would continue.

Bakari Sellers Calls

While reaching out to several black leaders who signed the DNC letter, Sellers called unexpectedly on July 5 – a day after emailing him and just four days before final deliberations by the Platform Committee.

And so I asked Sellers why he had written the letter, a letter he insisted was his idea.

“I felt that more perspectives were needed on Israel,” he said, likely referring to West. “I wanted to lend mine as somebody concerned about the security and safety of Israel and who also has compassion for Palestinian brothers and sisters?”

“If you care about Palestinians, why not support acknowledging their suffering and the occupation in the DNC Platform alongside Israeli security concerns and traumas?”

“I do think that when you talk about terms like occupation – they’re loaded,” he said. “They debunk some of the history; there are 1.8 million Arabs living in Israel—“

“Debunk history?” I asked. “Do you not think there is an occupation in the West Bank?”

His answer was both troubling and telling. For while Sellers had preceded my questions by noting his studying the relevant issues for over10 years, his answer revealed the influence of AIPAC’s education and a tenuous handle on the nature of occupation.

“That's a loaded question about the occupation,” he replied. “How do I want to phrase this since you are writing? There are ways to get to a two-state solution, and one is a serious discussion about settlements. Now, I don't have all the answers. There are definitely settlements, and we have to have that discussion. For example, will Israel have to pull back? There is a military presence, yes. But there are also – how many? – some thousands of missiles being fired—“

“That’s Gaza,” I said. “We’re talking about the West Bank.”

“Oh, right. That’s Gaza,” Sellers offered, continuing to talk about Israel’s security needs without mentioning a single Palestinian concern.

I then moved to the AIPAC’s recruitment of black leaders. “What are your thoughts on the idea AIPAC may be using black leaders to shield Israel from racism charges?”

“That’s not fair, I’m not a puppet,” Sellers responded before suggesting that he does challenge AIPAC when things come up, such as police brutality against Ethiopian Jews. Though as I made clear, my contention was never to suggest that Sellers, or black leaders involved with AIPAC, are mere puppets. For not only are there obvious political and financial benefits to being involved with the organization, everyone develops their own political stances. I asked about AIPAC’s principle goal in recruiting black leaders.

But Sellers, who was busy, needed to run, and I thanked him for deciding to reach out.

The next day, video emerged of Baton Rouge police literally executing Alton Sterling, a black man merely selling CDs in a parking lot. When sellers Tweeted video of the incident, as disturbing as it is essential, a follower requested that he put trigger warnings on such difficult material.

“No. This country needs to see it,” he wrote, a sentiment with which I agreed.

Though his response prompted my asking Sellers, “Why do you feel Americans should witness state violence committed against black Americans, but feel the DNC should not even acknowledge the word “occupation,” much less the incredible suffering endured by Palestinians? Do these two positions not seem incongruous to you?”

I never received a response.

Signatories Silenced by AIPAC Questions?

Over the course of a week, I sent interview requests to 30 of those who signed Sellers’ letter, nearly all of whom have associations with AIPAC. Of those, approximately a dozen replied (or in one case, staff replied) indicating they would be happy to answer written questions. And so I submitted them:

Why did you decide to sign Bakari's letter? (Or, why do you think excluding language about settlements and the occupation from the DNC platform would advance peace for both sides?)
How long have you been associated with AIPAC, did you first connect with AIPAC via AIEF, and has AIPAC funded either your campaign or any legislative trips you've taken to Israel?
Why do you think AIPAC strategically recruits black leaders via its African-American Outreach and Campus Allies Mission programs?
When you received Bakari's letter to sign, who was the first person to present it to you for signature?
Even with follow-up, seeking to confirm that the questions submitted were acceptable, not a single leader chose to answer them. Including Tennessee State Senator Lee Harris, who promotes his AIPAC affiliation, Louisiana State Representative Ted James, who has traveled to Israel with AIEF, and Augusta (GA) Mayor Hardie Davis, who has gone on legislative junkets to Israel, most likely via AIPAC.

What was it about these questions which moved so many leaders to silence? I cannot say, particularly given the AIPAC affiliations of many are matters of public record and, sometimes, proudly promoted by the leaders in question. Were they taken aback by inquires about AIPAC? Inquiries about who actually asked them to sign Sellers’ letter? Inquiries about turning their backs on another oppressed people?

I wish I knew.

A Final Chance as Platform Committee Votes

As evening descended upon the full Democratic Platform Committee in Orlando on July 9, debate finally centered on foreign policy. It was time for the full committee to wrestle with whether or not the party’s platform would formally acknowledge Palestinian suffering.

Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute, rose to offer an amendment which mirrored language the Drafting Committee had already rejected.

Palestinians deserve "an end to occupation and illegal settlements so that they may live in independence, sovereignty and dignity."

She spoke on the fact that this was not a contentious issue – recognizing occupation – before quoting Hilary Clinton extensively, both in 2010 and in her 2014 book, in which she explicitly acknowledged occupation, named its violations, and recognized its need to end for both Israelis and Palestinians to realize peace and security.

West then rose and, with signature passion, noted that young Americans are beginning to view this issue as the South Africa of our time. He also noted that if the Democratic Party could not demonstrate balance by valuing equally the lives and aspirations of both peoples, it would be mirroring what happened some 80 years ago, a reference to its moral failures in the lead-up to and during the civil rights movement.

After West finished, Stephen Benjamin – Mayor of Columbia, South Carolina – rose in opposition as a representative of Clinton. Benjamin, a black leader from Sellers’ home state, has long been associated with AIPAC. Which is why his opposition was predictable: he stated supporting mention of occupation would undermine efforts for a negotiated peace, and would also reverse the hard work of the drafting committee, though that’s precisely the point of an amendment.

While he said little, his association as a Clinton delegate said too much. The amendment failed, 95-73, toppled with the help of a black leader educated and supported by AIPAC.

After the amendment’s defeat, Berry offered yet another amendment, this time focusing on Gaza and adding language calling for action to help those in distress:

“We call for an international effort to rebuild Gaza, which the UN warns could be uninhabitable by 2020, where poverty and hopelessness undermine peace and security for both Palestinians and Israelis.”

After again being passionately supported by Berry and West, another Clinton delegate, Mark Stanley, rose to oppose it, offering one of the more callous and obtuse reasons, arguing that were Democrats to open up Gaza for debate, what else would they then have to open up for debate?

It failed, 95-72.

Shouting and protests broke out. Screams and cries. It was the only time before discussion of any amendments the Chairman, Governor Malloy, had warned people things would be contentious.

After the vote, rather than contention, there was anguish.

Marc Lamont Hill

I knew what I had witnessed, and what I had been learning about, was wrong. Though as a Jewish, ‘white’ American, I also felt some guilt, legitimate or not, about implicating black leaders in this immoral, political game. After all, the Black-Jewish alliance is strong, and goes back not just to the Civil Rights movement, but to our connection as two peoples upon whom hatred are continuously heaped.

And so I decided to speak with Marc Lamont Hill – Distinguished Professor of African American Studies at Morehouse College, author and television personality – about all of this. About AIPAC, Palestinian suffering and leaders like Bakari Sellers doing the work of a lobbying organization I believe is not just harming Palestinians, but Israel as well. Below is part of our exchange, and just some of his profound insights:


“Should African-Americans, given our country’s history of oppression, have any particular responsibility for recognizing the suffering of Palestinians?”


Yes! The short answer is yes. Black people like all people have a responsibility to fight for justice and struggle against injustice, wherever it is. I think that the historic connection between blacks and Jewish Americans during the civil rights struggle has created a cultural connection that has, combined with the hasbara (propaganda) approach to representing the conflict, obscured the conflict for African-Americans and made them view it in a certain way. So if you already have a natural connection to Jewish brothers and sisters, and then the conflict is misrepresented, it makes it easy for black people to unreflectively attach themselves to Israel. Now, I’m not advocating that black people switch teams. We should still be interested in fighting anti-Semitism and be on the side of justice when it comes to Jewish people, because they matter. But at the same time we have to open our eyes and recognize that the kind of historical struggle that black people often liken themselves to – dislocation, marginalization, state violence – is the struggle of Palestinians. We’re much closer to where Palestinians are right now than where Israelis are. But again, that doesn’t mean that we dismiss Jewish suffering or Israeli suffering. What it does mean is that we don’t have to conflate Jewishness with Israeli state practices, and we don’t have to choose between fighting anti-Semitism and for Palestinian rights. We can do both.


“Speaking of misrepresentation, this brings me to AIPAC’s role in all of this. I’m sure you’re aware that Bakari and everyone who signed the letter are affiliated with AIPAC, most through AIEF. How do you personally feel about AIPAC enlisting black leaders to thwart attempt to have Palestinian oppression recognized by the DNC?”


“There’s a twisted irony here that black people, who have always been the vanguard of social justice struggles in America, who have been a moral compass in terms of political action, are now being used to underwrite social injustice. It’s a dark irony which brings a great sadness. AIPAC has modeled what it means to have an organized, deeply rooted, systematic commitment to a particular worldview. It’s breathtaking how efficient and powerful AIPAC is and how affective they are. I think the key for those of us on a different side of this issue is to be equally organized and to let the truth and facts speak for themselves in full public view. Right now, I’m watching so many young students, so many black ministers, so many black politicians have their intellectual and physical labor be used in service of a project I believe is anti-democratic and counter to social justice ideals.”


“Do you think Bakari and other black lawmakers are being used by AIPAC rather than valued and if so, given these are intelligent people, why do you think they’re allowing themselves to be used in this way?”


“First, I think there’s a willful ignorance. Saying you want to be a friend of Israel is like kissing a baby, politically. Everyone does it, everyone believes it, and there are no stakes attached. Some of it is opportunism, and a lot of it is our failure to represent the conflict in a way that is balanced and nuanced. I don’t think most black American politicians are corrupt or engaged in some kind of venal act, I think they believe the narratives they’ve been told. I do think there’s ample evidence to contradict those narratives, though when you’re being well funded, and when your election or re-election status hinges on it, it’s easy to not look for counter evidence. I just think they’re wrong, and when being wrong is lucrative, it’s easy to not try to be right.”


“There are some who claim AIPAC has targeted traditional black colleges and universities and churches to try and recruit black leaders not because of any power associated with these leaders but because having black faces on stage at AIPAC conferences hides the racism and oppression of Palestinians. People can point to a state representative on stage and say, ‘Look, black Americans love Israel. Israel’s not racist.’ Do you buy into that critique?”


“I think that’s exactly right. Some of it is the optics of it, showing a multi-racial coalition of people fighting for a Zionist project because then it nullifies to some extent the racial issue, particularly when part of Israel’s narrative is it’s the one state in the Middle East where you can be gay, where you can be shielded from racism, where you can be protected from anti-democratic practices. So if you can model this mini-democratic experiment on stage at an AIPAC conference then it makes it harder to point out racism. People will say, ‘What are you talking about?’ … There is an important desire to have a civil rights tradition in America confirming the Zionist project. How many times have you heard, ‘Well Dr. King supported Zionism.” So the patron saint of civil rights in America supported it, so of course we want Cleveland Sellers and his son, Bakari Sellers, to support it.”


“Hypothetically speaking, given your perspective, what would you say to Bakari or to the DNC Platform Committee which you didn’t get to say, because you weren’t there, on the topic of why mentioning occupation and settlements in the DNC Platform would advance peace?”


“We can’t have justice unless all sides are recognized and respected. In the same way that we want the PA and Hamas to recognize the State of Israel and its legitimacy, which is exactly what should happen, and the reason for that is because if we can’t recognize that Israel has a right to exist, then we’re not starting from a place of fairness or justice, or a recognition of their humanity. Similarly, if we begin our platform by not acknowledging the plight of Palestinian people, and the very real political circumstances they live under, we can’t redress it. How can we talk about reparations for Jewish brothers and sisters if we don’t talk about the Holocaust? It’s a real and human tragedy, and we need to always remember it and address it. If we don’t do that, then we can’t fix the problem. We can’t fix the problem of occupation if we pretend it’s not an occupation but a dispute, which is the language many people use. We can’t stop Israel from building and expanding settlements and further displacing people if we pretend settlement expansion isn’t happening. It’s no different than when Democrats get pissed off at the right for denying climate change. Democrats are denying the problem exists, which then undermines our ability to fix the problem. Except the difference is this isn’t an abstract, scientific argument or a historical event we’re trying to come to terms with, this is an active project … If I were on the platform, I’d tell Democratic leaders that we’re compromising our moral authority as a party.”

Why it Matters

If this were just about moving the United States closer to being about to end the occupation and Palestinian suffering, it would be enough. If this were just about moving a future Clinton administration closer to helping Palestinians suffering in Gaza, it would be enough.

But this is about, for me and for many others, not just Palestinian suffering and survival, but the suffering and survival of Israeli Jews as well.

I have long held that the only world arbiter powerful enough to compel Israel to end its occupation, dismantle settlement blocks, and reach an accord with Palestinian leaders, it’s the United States. I have also long held that if the US were to wield its unbelievable influence – $3 billion in military and foreign aid annually – things could change rapidly.

That organizations like AIPAC continue to support the right-wing policies of Israeli leaders like Binyamin Netanyahu, policies which are destroying both Palestinians and Israelis, angers me to no end. As Israel slides farther to the right, wisps of fascism taking root, leaders rejecting two-states while also rejecting occupation, it’s not difficult to see where we’re headed. And that’s worse than where we are, for both sides.

Like Marc Lamont Hill, I’m outraged that AIPAC has chosen to enlist black leaders to defend the status quo and help ensure things only get worse. And I’m disappointed with such leaders, not as a member of the black community, but as one invested both in Israel and in the realization of full rights, dignity and sovereignty for Palestinians.

As Hill stated, all we can do is educate ourselves and organize to combat AIPAC’s efforts and realize justice for all involved. After all, the Democratic Party must vote on this platform at the convention in Philadelphia soon.

I welcome that call, and stand with anyone who wants to stand with me.


David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published by Oneworld Publications (London).

Follow on Twitter @David_ehg

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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Jill Stein, Green Party presidential candidate

Jill Stein’s Green New Deal Deserves to Be Heard by Widest Audience Possible

Posted on Jul 6, 2016

By Bill Boyarsky/
from Truthdig

Jill Stein is running for president of the United States for the second time. She was the Green Party nominee in 2012 and finished with less than 1 percent of the vote, the most successful run of any female presidential candidate in U.S. history. (Joel Peissig)

This is a crucial time for Dr. Jill Stein. It’s a test of whether she can move her presidential campaign from the fringes into the mainstream of an election that she says “has tossed out the rule book.”

“We are here to keep the revolution going,” Stein, the prospective Green Party presidential candidate, told me in a telephone interview Tuesday. “Bernie [Sanders] supporters are grieving over the loss of the campaign, of their hard work, their vision, but they are remobilizing. Our events are absolutely mobbed with Bernie supporters.”

We spoke in the morning, before FBI Director James Comey threw yet another twist into the presidential race by announcing that while the bureau would not recommend criminal charges in the Hillary Clinton email affair, she had been “extremely careless” with her use of a personal email address and a private server for sensitive communications

Comey’s recommendation against criminal charges is good news for Clinton. But his comment about carelessness is not. It is one more factor injecting volatility into her contest with Donald Trump, the presumed Republican presidential nominee. With Sanders’ presidential campaign falling short in the primaries and Clinton battling for her good name, I thought I’d call Stein, the progressive alternative, a pediatrician-turned-presidential candidate.

She and the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, are far behind. According to a CNN/ORC poll in June, Clinton had 42 percent of the vote, Trump had 38 percent, Johnson had 9 percent and Stein had 7 percent. When Sanders was put in the poll against Clinton, 43 percent said they backed him.

The Johnson and Stein programs are very different from one another. Johnson, while favoring a laissez-faire approach on personal and social issues, embraces a balanced budget limiting federal action, opposes tax increases and favors a consumption (or sales) tax, which hurts the poor. All of this has a Paul Ryan sound to it and is far removed from Stein’s progressivism.

I asked Stein how her administration would create jobs for working people who have seen manufacturing plants and other businesses close because of foreign competition, automation and corporate financial machinations.

She likes the idea of a Green New Deal, a combination of ideas that basically revolve around the notion that the government would help to finance the conversion of old industry into new industry—solar energy devices and wind farm materials instead of internal combustion engines and oil drilling equipment. Doing this would require a considerable government investment—certainly not a Gary Johnson idea—plus investment from a banking industry converted from giant banks to smaller state and community banks.

There’s much more to the Green New Deal. Eliminating carbon-based fuels would improve health and reduce—if not eliminate—global warming, saving big amounts of money for health care. It includes Medicare for all.

I wondered about the practicalities of converting the old auto plant into something else. Who would decide on the new products? Stein said the unemployed workers or members of the community would pick a product. I reminded her of something I had seen when you try to get community consensus. “You know,” I said, “it’s hard to get people to agree on the location of a stop sign or what should go in a community garden.”

Stein has a more optimistic view of human nature than I do. She believes that ordinary people can get together to make decisions on financing, manufacturing, marketing and all the other facets of a big, complex business. Now, Stein said, businesses, big and small, make decision-making by communities or local governments impossible because of their narrow interests and campaign contributions.

“The Green New Deal operates in a far different process, not subject to money and backroom deals,” she said. “People can get together, make compromises. You can’t make compromises when there are predators. This is a society poisoned by distrust.”

Another big issue for her is student loans, which she wants canceled.

“This has to be the most mobilizing issue,” Stein said. “It started happening in Carbondale, Ill. Suddenly, our events were mobbed. This became the norm, and we did an event in San Francisco before the primary. We thought it would be a quiet visit to California. We had to turn hundreds of people away.

“There is a rebellion, and it is being led by millennials. There are 43 million young people locked into predatory debt. They just have to know they can cancel their debt by voting Green. Just by organizing on social media, young people can take over this election. We have full houses at millennial events. Debt is the sleeper issue in the campaign. It is the elephant in the room.”

Stein said this kind of support is why she has moved up in the polls without “any major-league coverage” by the television networks and the cable news channels.

But both she and Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, face a big obstacle. The Commission on Presidential Debates requires that candidates get at least 15 percent on five national polls before they are admitted to the debate club. Formed by Republican and Democratic Party officials several years ago, the commission looks as though it’s another establishment ploy to exclude outsiders.

Stein has got good, progressive ideas and deserves to be heard by a wide audience. This is especially true since the election is coming down to a contest between Clinton and Donald Trump, who are battling each other for first place in the unpopularity category. In that kind of election, nothing is impossible.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

It Is Important to Have Perspective on Elie Wiesel's Legacy

Officially remembered as a moral giant, Wiesel provided cover to the invasions and occupations that have devastated the Middle East.
By Max Blumenthal / AlterNet July 5, 2016

The news of Elie Wiesel’s death in the early morning of July 2 ushered in veneration and reflections from figures across the political spectrum, from Bill Clinton and Donald Trump to Benjamin Netanyahu and George W. Bush. The outpouring of high-level praise aimed at consolidating Wiesel as the eternal voice of the Holocaust and the central preceptor of its lessons. Those who criticized his legacy or pointed out his moral contradictions, meanwhile, were ferociously attacked by the forces he helped inspire.

Back when I was in junior high school, the rabbi of my family’s synagogue urged me to read Wiesel’s book Night as part of my Bar Mitzvah preparations. The story offered a look at the existence of Jews deported to Auschwitz and Buchenwald that was as harrowing as it was accessible. Reading Night while studying a Torah portion that chronicled Israelite captivity in ancient Egypt helped cement the Holocaust as a central component of my Jewish identity. Countless other Jews my age experienced Wiesel’s work in a similar fashion and many came to idolize him. Like me, few of them knew much about the man beyond the tribulation he endured in Hitler’s death camps.

Though my experience was particular to American Jewish life, the general public has been familiarized with Wiesel over the course of several generations through educational curricula and an expansive commercial apparatus. In 2006, after Oprah Winfrey’s embarrassing promotion of James Frey’s memoir, A Million Little Pieces, which turned out to be a fabrication, her book club made Night its monthly selection. The public relations maneuver drove the book onto the national bestseller list and centered its author in the celebrity limelight. Soon after, Oprah joined Wiesel on a tour of Auschwitz, where he spoke before a camera crew in mystical terms about the souls of those were exterminated and how he communed with them as he stepped across the hallowed ground.

Through Oprah, Wiesel secured his brand as the high priest of Holocaust theology, the quasi-religion he introduced some 30 years earlier in a New York Times op-ed: “The Holocaust [is] the ultimate event,” he insisted, “the ultimate mystery, never to be comprehended or transmitted. Only those who were there know what it was; the others will never know.”

Reflecting on the impact of Wiesel’s work, Brooklyn College political science professor Corey Robin wrote that he had “turn[ed] the Holocaust into an industry of middlebrow morality and manipulative sentimentality” while sacralizing “the ovens [as] our burning bush.” For the masses of Jewish Americans who subscribed to Wiesel’s secular theology, he was a post-war Moses who interceded between the Western world and a catastrophe that substituted for a merciful God.

While Wiesel leveraged his literary talents to win sympathy for Jewish victims of genocide, he sought to limit the narratives of other groups subjected to industrial-level extermination. As a member of the advisory council of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1992, he lobbied against recognizing LGBTQ and Roma victims of the Holocaust. A decade earlier, when the Israeli Foreign Ministry demanded Wiesel exclude Armenian scholars from a conference on genocide, fearing damage to the country’s relations with Turkey, he resigned from his position as chair rather than defend the scholars. (It was not until 2008 that Wiesel called the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces a genocide.)

Wiesel seemed to view these other victimized groups as competitors in an oppression Olympics, fretting that widespread recognition of the atrocities they suffered would sap his own moral power. The universalist’s credo—"Never again to anyone"—was a threat to his saintly status, his celebrity and his bottom line.

Defending Israel, crimes and all

By popularizing an understanding of the Holocaust as a unique event that existed outside of history, Wiesel helped cast Jews as history's ultimate victims. In turn, he fueled support for the walled-in Spartan state that was supposed to represent their deliverance, and defended everything it said it had to do for their security. “My loyalty to my people, to our people, and to Israel comes first and prevents me from saying anything critical of Israel outside Israel,” Wiesel wrote.

In the face of increasingly unspeakable crimes against Palestinians, Wiesel counseled silence. “I must identify with whatever Israel does—even with her errors,” he declared.

Wiesel’s unwavering commitment to Israel undoubtedly influenced his vocal support for President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. “We have a moral obligation to intervene where evil is in control. Today, that place is Iraq,” he proclaimed in a 2003 op-ed. He went on to demand American-orchestrated regime change in Syria, Libya and Iran. “To be Jewish in this world is to always be concerned,” he told an audience on Capitol Hill, endorsing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s push for a U.S. attack on Iran. Wiesel’s support for successive assaults on Middle Eastern countries—always on the grounds of defeating “evil”—made him a key asset of neoconservatives and liberal interventionists alike.

Since 9/11, Wiesel’s figure has helped keep America’s imperial designs safely shrouded in the ghosts of Buchenwald and Babi Yar. As the literary critic Adam Shatz wrote, “the author of Night has gone from being a great victim of war crimes to being an apologist for those who commit them—all while invoking his moral authority as a survivor.” Even after the invasions Wiesel advocated for spurred the deaths of some 100,000 Iraqi civilians and the rise of ISIS, his aura remained intact, keeping him insulated from accountability.

Embracing hustlers and demonizing Palestinians

When federal authorities busted Bernard Madoff’s ponzi scheme in 2008, Wiesel lost the millions he had amassed through his career as writer and lecturer on the Holocaust. To recoup his losses, he turned to the furthest shores of the American right-wing, forging mutually beneficial relationships with a coterie of pro-Israel hate preachers and hustlers.

Just months after losing his investments with Madoff, Wiesel accepted $500,000 from Pastor John Hagee for a single speech. Addressing Hagee’s congregation in San Antonio, Texas, Wiesel heaped praise on the Christian Zionist preacher who once described Hitler as a “half-breed Jew,” then called him his "dear pastor" in a subsequent interview. Hagee’s rants against gays and the indisputably antisemitic passages that prompted John McCain to rescind the preacher’s endorsement during his 2008 presidential campaign were of little relevance to Wiesel as he scrambled to regain his fortune.

Around this time, Wiesel fell in with Shmuley Boteach, a self-styled celebrity rabbi who functioned as a liaison for Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. (Adelson began funding Wiesel’s foundation in 2007 with a donation of $1 million). Boteach operated as Wiesel’s de facto agent, arranging high-profile—and likely high-paying—speaking gigs with figures ranging from Baywatch star Pamela Anderson to Senator Ted Cruz. In return, the ethically tainted Boteach was able to bask in the presence of a man regarded with near-universal veneration.

I met Wiesel for a brief moment at New York University’s Bronfman Center for Jewish Life in February 2014. He had just shared a stage with Boteach, Adelson and Paul Kagame, the Rwandan strongman whose M23 proxy militia helped fuel the Congolese genocide. During the event, which was as surreal as it was outrageous, Kagame’s security team brutally ejected a lone audience member who took Wiesel’s call to challenge injustice as a cue to rise from his seat in protest against the Rwandan dictator. Afterward, I approached Wiesel and asked him about his vehement support for Jewish settlers ejecting Palestinians from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem. He told me to contact his office and shuffled away.

That July, Israel embarked on its most lethal operation to date against residents of the besieged Gaza Strip, destroying or damaging some 100,000 homes and killing over 2,200 people, including 551 children. At the height of the assault, a shockingly Islamophobic full-page ad appeared in the New York Times under the banner of Boteach’s World Values Network non-profit, which has received substantial funding from Adelson.

“Jews rejected child sacrifice 3,500 years ago. Now it’s Hamas’s turn,” the ad declared. Hammering on the common pro-Israel myth that Palestinians do not value their children’s lives as much as Israelis do, the ad denigrated the besieged residents of Gaza as “worshippers of death cults indistinguishable from that of the Molochites.” The text concluded with the signature of its author, Elie Wiesel, the man who would be eulogized by fellow Nobel Prize-winner Barack Obama as “one of the great moral voices of our time.”

With Wiesel’s death, the elites who relied on him for moral cover leapt at the opportunity to claim his legacy. Meanwhile, the teachings and testimonies of Holocaust survivors who insisted on applying the lessons of the genocide universally—including to Palestinians—remained confined to the margins.

Destroying the dissidents

Among the Jewish dissidents to emerge from the nightmare of World War Two Europe was Marek Edelman, a member of the Warsaw ghetto resistance who published an open letter to Palestinian resistance fighters during the Second Intifada, addressing them respectfully as “Palestinian Partisans” while beseeching them not to attack civilians. There was also Hajo Meyer, who spent months in Auschwitz, where he lost his parents, and spent his later years writing slashing critiques of the Zionist movement’s base exploitation of the Holocaust. Like Meyer, Hedy Epstein invoked her experience surviving genocide (she escaped on the kindertransport) to emphasize the urgency of her activism for Palestinian rights. In her final years, she embarked on an aid flotilla to the besieged Gaza Strip and participated in countless demonstrations for human rights, even getting arrested protesting police brutality in St. Louis, Missouri.

Many Israeli Jews who had fled Europe during the 1930's banded together in radical organizations like the Socialist Bund, Matzpen and the communist party known as Maki to challenge the military occupation of Palestinians that began inside Israeli territory in 1949. One of the earliest leaders of the Israeli Communist Party, Meir Vilner, used his position in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) to expose the massacre by Israeli soldiers of 47 innocent Palestinian farmers in 1956 in the town of Kfar Kassem, where Prime Minister David Ben Gurion had ordered a media blackout.

“What we wanted to escape in Vilna [Lithuania] we found here [in Israel],” Vilner said after uncovering the atrocities Israel’s military had committed. “There, hatred was directed against Jews; here against Arabs.”

When these dissidents could not be ignored, they have been denigrated by pro-Israel forces as self-haters, race traitors and even frauds. This year, when the Austrian parliament invited Hedy Epstein to participate in an event on women survivors of the Holocaust, she was smeared by Efraim Zuroff, a self-styled “Nazi hunter” who headed the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office. “She is not a survivor in the classical sense,” Zuroff claimed, suggesting that Epstein’s support for Palestinian rights nullified her experience of escaping genocide. The Jerusalem Post’s Benjamin Weinthal piled on, painting Epstein as a “pro-Hamas, anti-Israel Jew” and attempting to link her to Iranian Holocaust deniers. As a result of the pressure, the parliamentary event was canceled. Epstein died three months later at age 91.

On the day of Wiesel’s death, those who took a critical view of his legacy were subjected to the same wrath as the survivors who challenged the segregationist principle he represented. Condemning his anti-Palestinian tirades was painted by right-wing and pro-Israel outlets as tantamount to Holocaust denial, and invited a torrent of incitement and death threats transmitted through social media. (A quick browse through my Twitter interactions will show an almost endless stream of disturbing imprecations).

With Elie Wiesel gone, his most zealous defenders have set out to destroy those who embraced the message he espoused in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, but which he ultimately failed to uphold: “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.”

Max Blumenthal is a senior editor of the Grayzone Project at AlterNet, and the award-winning author of Goliath and Republican Gomorrah. His most recent book is The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza. Follow him on Twitter at @MaxBlumenthal.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Need To Recognize Reality, James Zgby

James Zogby President, Arab American Institute; author, ‘Arab Voices’

[At last week’s Democratic Party platform drafting meeting, I introduced Bernie Sanders’ amendment to the Israel/Palestine section calling for an end to the occupation and settlements. What follows are my comments, speaking for the amendment:]

During her opening comments, DNC Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz, spoke about “putting ourselves in others’ shoes.” That’s what we’ve tried to do with our amendment. We do not often see the Arab Israeli conflict through Palestinian eyes. As Senator Sanders has made clear, there are two peoples in this conflict—who need to be understood and whose pain needs to be recognized.

(While the platform calls for a “two state solution”) just using language about two states doesn’t acknowledge the reality that the Palestinians are living under occupation. Palestinian land is being taken by settlements. Palestinians are enduring check points that daily brings horrific humiliation—denying them freedom of movement, employment, and the opportunity to give their children free space in which to live. That’s the situation in West Bank and Jerusalem.

Gaza is another story entirely with 60% unemployment and even higher youth unemployment. You must understand that in Gaza, if you’re a young man under 30, you most likely have never had a job, have no prospect of a job, and therefore no opportunity to have a family or build a decent future. And so death becomes a more desirable option for some. Suicide rates are up, mental illness is up, drug addiction is up. The situation is unsustainable and it must change.

If you review our party’s past platforms, they have lagged way behind reality. I remember being in this same debate in 1988, when we called for our party’s platform to include “mutual recognition, territorial compromise, and self-determination for both peoples.” Back then, people reacted as if the sky were going to fall. It didn’t, we survived. We did not recognize a Palestinian state in our platform until 2004 after George W. Bush said it.

Now we have an opportunity to send a message to the world, to the Arabs, the Israelis, the Palestinians, and to all Americans that we hear the cries of both sides. That America wants to move toward a real peace because it understands that there’s suffering here. Suffering that is unsustainable.

The term occupation shouldn’t be controversial. George W. Bush said that there was an occupation. Ariel Sharon said that there was an occupation. Barack Obama has said there was an occupation. There is an occupation. It denies people freedom. Our President has said that. We have to be able to say in our politics what we say in our policy. We can’t think with two brains. If our policy says it’s an occupation and settlements are wrong and they inhibit peace, why can’t our politics say it? It doesn’t make sense.

The next administration will behave just as the last one, but our politics won’t change. And so I urge you to consider passing this amendment because of the message it will send forcefully and clearly. A message of hope to Palestinians, a message of hope to peace forces in Israel, and a message to the American people—that this time we’re going to make a difference. And we are actually going to help the parties move toward peace.

[The Clinton campaign spokespersons presented their rebuttal. Attempting to make the point that Israel was a tolerant democracy, one Clintonite said that she was proud as a Jewish, lesbian woman that Israel was the only country in the ME where she could walk down the streets of Tel Aviv holding hands with her wife. In my closing argument, I responded:]

Now you can walk down the street in Tel Aviv holding the hand of your wife, but I can’t get into the airport in Israel without hours of harassment because I’m of Arab descent. And I’m not even Palestinian, but because my father was born in Lebanon, I get stopped. When I was working with vice-president Gore, I almost missed a dinner at the Knesset to which he had invited me because I sat in the airport for hours being grilled by people about why I was there and what I was doing.

That was bad enough. But the treatment meted out to the people who live there is so much worse. They suffer horrific discrimination. We have to be able to call it what it is. It is an occupation that humiliates people; that breeds contempt; that breeds anger, and despair and hopelessness that leads to violence.

All that we are asking you to do is accept the reality of the situation. There’s an Israel; the US accepts it, supports it, wants to do everything for it. But there’s also a Palestinian people living under occupation, being drowned by settlements. And recognize what is happening to the people in Gaza.

There is a dynamic going that we must understand. The Israelis may be insecure about the Palestinians but they are very secure about America. Palestinians are not secure vis-à-vis Israel, and they are not secure vis-à-vis America either. We have never treated them fairly. In 1988 when we tried to call for mutual recognition; we could not get that done. We couldn’t even get the word Palestinians in the platform.

Reality has moved way beyond just recognizing Palestinians are there. We need to hear their voices, understand their pain, and say that our Democratic Party understands that this is conflict that must be resolved by respecting the rights of both peoples.

[When the vote was taken, our amendment lost—8 to 5. The debate will continue when the full platform committee meets in July.]

Friday, July 1, 2016

Video: All hell breaks loose in Knesset as Zoabi demands apology following Israel-Turkey agreement

Israel/Palestine Allison Deger on June 30, 2016

Israel’s parliament sank into bedlam yesterday as the Joint List’s Hanin Zoabi addressed the recent rapprochement between Israel and Turkey over the flotilla raid and demanded an apology for a 2010 session in Knesset where Zoabi was shouted down as a “terrorist” for her comments on the deadly attack. This time, members of government once again jumped out of their seats, with more than a dozen rushing towards Zoabi, yelling “terrorist”– to which she responded, “hit me!”

An official in the Zoabi’s faction described the scene as the most volatile inside of the Knesset halls in recent memory.

“Everyone who works there was really shook up, they really thought there would be a riot,” said the official, adding “the chaos in the end involved everyone.”

A video of the hearing shows security intervening, yet unable to control the room. Several members of Knesset are recorded approaching Zoabi, shouting “filth” and “terrorist.”

Zoabi was on stage during the bulk of the upheaval. She was giving an address in a plenary hearing on the recent agreement between Israel and Turkey. The deal ended tense relations, which began in 2010 after Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish citizens aboard an aid convoy headed to Gaza, in an operation to commandeer the ships (Israel controls maritime entry into the Strip, and stated at the time the boats were attempting illegal entry).

“Israel did not disengage from Gaza. Israel cut off Gaza from the world and life,” said Zoabi today, according to a copy of her speech released by her party. Zoabi then honed in on her peers, demanding they apologize for a 2010 cantankerous session in Knesset where Zoabi was shouted down as a “terrorist” for her comments on the deadly raid.

Zoabi was one of the passengers aboard the aid vessels.

While Zoabi’s speech began with a calm audience, until Oren Hazan, a parliamentarian from the Prime Minister’s Likud party, interrupted.

“You’re the nation’s [biggest] inciter,” Hazan said--as quoted by Arutz Sheva–continuing “you’re the most dangerous. You support terror, you hypocrite. Go to Gaza”

“I want an apology, and I want compensation, and I will contribute it to the children of Gaza, and the next flotillas,” Zoabi said.

“Your friends are murderers; you’re complicit in terrorism. You’ve got some nerve. Time’s up. You don’t use that podium to speak against IDF soldiers,” Hazan added, to which Zoabi replied, “You committed murder! Murderers! Shut up!” reported Israel’s Ynet News.

Rapidly other politicians joined, some to Zoabi’s defense.

Zoabi and Aliza Lavie from the Yesh Atid faction exchanged words over a cacophony of insults, with Zoabi baiting, “Come and hit me, Aliza; come and hit me,” reported Ynet News.

At least four members of Knesset were escorted out of the room.

Following the outbursts, several current and former members of government not present for the disarray weighed in over social media. Former head of Israel’s intelligence service Avi Dichter said of Zoabi over social media, “She’s not even worthy of being a lion’s food in a circus”:

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