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My Last Day of Sunday School


by: Rachel Ida Buff on July 29th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

It was the last day of my career teaching religious school at Congregation Eretz Yisrael, but I didn’t know it yet.

Jewish schoolchildren with signs in Hebrew around their necks.

Credit: Creative Commons / surlygirl.

When I arrived at my classroom that morning, two Israeli teenagers, a young man and woman, were standing outside my room, looking uncertain. I recognized them as the shin-shinim: Israeli students who come to the United States after high school, delaying their entry into the Israel Defense Forces for a year. Under the aegis of the Jewish Agency for Israel, these young people act as cultural ambassadors, linking American Jewish communities to Israel.

I took a deep breath and forced a smile. “Are you coming to my class?” I asked.

The young man, strongly built with close cropped hair, nodded affirmatively. The young woman smiled hesitantly, flicking a hank of long, curly hair behind her. The shin-shinim come in pairs, invariably a young man and woman. I wondered for a second why this is, whether they are supposed to represent the possible procreation of the nation of Israel, before suppressing a sigh and inviting them in. I imagined my careful lesson plan flying out the window of our basement classroom.

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Fracking Goes on Trial


by: Tribunal on Fracking on July 28th, 2015 | No Comments »

A coalition of human rights lawyers and academics has been granted an opportunity to put fracking on trial at hearings to be held in the UK and the UnitedStates.1

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) will hold a session on hydraulic fracturing and other unconventional fossil fuel extraction processes after a submission was made by three groups: the Global Network for the Study of Human Rights and the Environment (GNHRE), the Environment and Human Rights Advisory (EHRA) and the Human Rights Consortium (HRC).

Between five and seven jurists of high standing in international human rights law will hear testimony before deciding whether sufficient evidence exists to indict certain nation states on charges of “failing to adequately uphold universal human rights as a result of allowing unconventional oil and gas extraction in their jurisdictions.”
An internationally recognised public opinion tribunal, the Permanent People’s Tribunal, is a descendant of the 1967 Vietnam War Crimes Tribunal. The PPT hears cases in which prima facie evidence suggests a breach of the basic rights of ordinary citizens. It acts independently of state authorities and applies internationally recognised human rights law to the cases brought before it. A PPT that examined the Bhopal chemical disaster of 1992 led to the adoption of the Charter on Industrial Hazards and Human Rights.

 protesters holding anti-fracking signs

Credit: Flickr / greensefa

Dr. Damien Short, Director of the HRC at the University of London, said:

This PPT is hugely significant because it will make important decisions on a key international issue: the uncontrolled spread of unconventional resource extraction. Fracking has taken place around the world in spite of serious public opposition and with large numbers of people alleging that those who supposedly represent them have ignored their human rights. This PPT aims to consider those allegations in an even handed and judicial way.

Submitted evidence for these hearings will include personal witness statements; expert testimony on the practices and impacts of fracking; findings from preliminary hearings in other countries; peer reviewed research; reports from preparatory academic round tables; Human Rights Impact Assessments and other forms of evidence.

Dr. Tom Kerns, Director of the EHRA in Oregon USA, said:

The Tribunal will consider the human rights dimensions of a range of potential impacts: human and animal health, environmental, climatic, seismic, hydrologic and economic impacts, as well as those on local physical and social infrastructures. The PPT will be inviting witness testimony from citizens all over the world who may wish to hold preliminary mini-tribunals in their own countries. Evidence and findings from those early tribunals can then be submitted to the later plenary hearings in the US and UK.

Prof. Anna Grear, Director of GNHRE in London, said:

The PPT will play a unique and vitally important role in presenting and rehearsing testimony, arguments, and law to lay down an informal but highly expert precedent, with potential for future use in national and international courts of law. The PPT will also educate a wide range of parties and the general public about the human rights dimensions of fracking. This really is a People’s tribunal. It belongs to communities and individuals from all over the world and it aims to produce a highly influential, legally literate and serious judgment of the issues by some of the world’s finest legal minds as a trail blazing example for future legal actions, when and where appropriate.

Hearings are scheduled for March of 2017 in the United States and in the United Kingdom.

1 Anyone wanting more information should go to www.tribunalonfracking.org, where there are details of how to submit testimony, organise smaller national pre-PPT initiatives and help with the crowd funding of costs.

For more information, contact

Dr Tom Kerns


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What a Nice Jewish Boy Taught Me About ISIS


by: Ron Hirschbein on July 28th, 2015 | No Comments »

Hitler being saluted.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Recuerdos de Pandora.

Polite, studious, just a bit mischievous, Henry was every mother’s vision of a nice Jewish boy. His well-assimilated family had lived in Germany as long as anyone could remember. But Henry had a problem: It was 1935. He and his classmates were in for a special treat: classes canceled to see a new movie—Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of The Will.

Now Nazis rarely held women in high regard, let alone those stepping out of the kitchen or nursery. And yet, Riefenstahl produced Triumph of the Will by order of the führer. Hitler praised her portrayal of his 1934 Nuremberg rally as an “incomparable glorification of the power and beauty of our Movement.” Many regard Riefenstahl’s work as the incomparable propaganda film.

Form trumps content. Forgettable, guttural harangues sound like scenes from Chaplin’s parody The Great Dictator. Image is everything. Unforgettable pageantry puts any NFL halftime to shame. Lamentations about German humiliation dissolve as Hitler’s aircraft appears out of the clouds: the savior of all true Germans deigns to touch the earth—salvation for his suffering people. Torchlight parades conjure up Nordic mysticism, and rallies are orchestrated with the precision of Leica cameras. In an iconic scene, Hitler, accompanied by two henchmen, appears at the back of a stadium. They solemnly stride to the high altar before 160,000 adoring countrymen, seated in perfect symmetry and screaming “Sieg Heil”—a collective Tourette syndrome.

I showed the film to a long-ago class and invited Henry to comment. He felt terrible after he first saw the film. Of course! He’s Jewish.  But I didn’t get it. He felt awful because his Jewish ancestry excluded him from a glorious movement, a movement that atoned for national humiliation. A great wave was sweeping the nation, cleansing Germany of Weimar decadence. Finally, Germans had something to believe in with all their hearts and souls. He couldn’t be part of it. Jews just weren’t worthy of a “life of obedience, order, and destiny.” The future belonged to Aryans.

Henry made quite an impression; perhaps that’s why I saved class notes filed under “Nazism’s Fatal Attraction.” Suspecting parallels, I googled “Fatal Attraction of ISIS”—déjà vu. Of course, facile historical analogies deceive. Nevertheless, striking parallels are undeniable.

Relying upon media mastery, both movements promise much. For the adventurous there’s escape from the dull monotony of everyday life. And for the troubled there’s what Fromm called “an escape from freedom”—an end to the anxiety of personal responsibility through immersion in a higher cause.

Nazis and ISIS fanatics promise a new millennium, a religious order ushering in honor, power, and glory for the elect. In a taste of the paradise to come, these movements celebrate the expression of what Freud regarded as the most intense pleasure: acting out long-repressed vile fantasies.

In the Manichean world of the fanatic there is but one obstacle to a glorious destiny: the evil ones, be they non-Aryans or infidels. (In both cases, Jews become the chosen people.) Borders, of course, mean nothing in the planetary struggle for life space for the elect and the fulfillment of their ultimate destiny. Perpetual war awaits. No compromise with intractable evil; ethnic cleansing means extermination.

A paraphrase of dialogue from Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo offers a gloss on the fatal attraction of Nazis and ISIS fanatics: Woe to the land that has no heroes. No! Woe to the land that needs heroes!

Ron Hirschbein holds a Social Science Ph.D. from Syracuse. After devising curriculum in war & peace studies, he founded the California State University, Chico’s Peace Institute. He writes for various philosophy & popular culture series, and authored five academic studies taking creative, humanistic approaches to international relations. He also served as President of Concerned Philosophers for Peace – the largest national organization of philosophers concerned with the reasons for war and prospects for peace.

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Netanyahu compared Obama to those who appeased Hitler pre-Holocaust in Yad Vashem speech


by: on July 27th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Near-universal rage has been directed at presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who yesterday said Obama would “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven” with the Iran deal.

As one with countless family members who were murdered in the Holocaust, I too joined those enraged by Huckabee’s vile exploitation of Jewish victims:

However, the unfortunate truth is that Huckabee’s comments stand out because of the disgusting imagery he used, not because the utilization of Holocaust comparisons is unique with regard to Iran-deal critiques.

Indeed, Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has made statements similar to those for which Huckabee has rightly been scorned. This includes a speech he delivered recently at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, where he compared Iran to Nazi Germany and those negotiating with Iran – President Obama included – as Nazi appeasers:

“The Nazis sought to crush civilization and have a master race rule the Earth while destroying the Jewish people. In that same way, Iran seeks to dominate the region and to spread outward from there, with the declared intention of destroying the Jewish state.”


Appeasing tyrannical regimes will only increase their aggression and is an approach that is liable to drag the world into larger wars. The bad deal with Iran signals that the lessons of the Holocaust have not been learned.”

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60th Anniversary Of Russell-Einstein Manifesto Now Reinforced By Climate Change and Teilhard’s Warning


by: on July 27th, 2015 | No Comments »

"Notice to the World...renounce war or perish!...world peace or universal death". Sixty years after Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell issued their manifesto about the growing threat of world war, the globe continues to face the prospect of nuclear annihilation coupled with the looming threat of climate change as well as Teilhard’s ominous warning: Love one another or you will perish: Allen L Roland, PhD.

“We have reached a decisive point in human evolution, at which the only way forward is in the direction of a common passion- Either we must doubt the value of everything around us, or we must utterly believe in the possibility, and I would add, in the inevitable consequences of universal love.” Teilhard de Chardin, Human Energy.


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The Noncontroversial Essence, Part 2: Unpacking and Transcending Worldviews


by: on July 27th, 2015 | No Comments »

My new teacher desk

"My New Teacher Desk

Carla (not her real name) works in an organization that brings violence prevention programs to schools. She described her challenge in bringing the program to a particular school where she sees a clash of worldviews. This is an alternative school with values of inclusion, equality, and such, and yet many in the faculty tend towards a more authority-based worldview. She was wondering how it might be possible to get differing worldviews to move in the same direction together. Would a needs-based approach be sufficient?

In thinking about Carla’s school, I told her I would not be focusing on worldviews, because to do so separates and polarizes. I would, instead, be looking for what’s really important to all, regardless of what paradigm they live in. I call this the “noncontroversial essence.” In my last post I wrote about how I facilitated opponents to reach a solution to a decade-long acrimonious legislative dispute by first establishing what they held to be the noncontroversial principles on which they could agree.

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“Jewish Jew baiter Jew baits.” – Bloomberg’s Eli Lake Smears Glenn Greenwald, Represents the Hatred Which Pervades American Jewish Discourse on Israel


by: on July 25th, 2015 | 8 Comments »

Eli Lake, formerly a senior national security correspondent for Newsweek and current columnist for Bloomberg, decided today to represent in a single Tweet all that is toxic within the American Jewish community when it comes to discussing Israel.

Lake, himself Jewish, responded to fellow Jewish journalist Glenn Greenwald’s critique of congressional Iran-deal supporters with the following, vile description:

What caused Lake, who is no fan of the Iran deal, to parrot anti-Semitic language and direct it toward a fellow Jew? He took exception to Greenwald’s suggesting that some Republican members of Congress are prioritizing Israel’s interests over those of the United States in opposing the Iran deal.

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Donald Trump Has Been Located!


by: on July 24th, 2015 | No Comments »

Donald Trump.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Gage Skidmore.

“[Mexico] are sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems to us. They are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and they’re rapists.”

Donald Trump, June 16, 2015, Trump Tower, NYC,during announcement for presidential run

Trump later went on to declare that “I will win the Hispanic vote.” He has currently surged to the leader of the pack of 15 Republican hopefuls in national polls.

As a hot topic of discussion in political pundit circles, José Díaz-Balart, host of MSNBC’s The Rundown with José Díaz-Balart, brought up Trump’s claims and ever-increasing poll numbers on his show, Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Talking with his guest, Victoria DeFrancesco Soto — of the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas — about a number of Trump’s claims regarding the Mexican government and Mexican people, Díaz-Balart asked, “When [Trump] says the U.S. is getting the short end of the stick, what’s he talking about?”

DeFrancesco Soto answered the question with a question many pundits have been pondering even prior to Trump’s entry into the race: “What planet is Donald on?”

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Uri Avnery and Jeffrey Sachs on the Iranian Nuclear Deal


by: on July 23rd, 2015 | 9 Comments »

Editor’s note:

Avnery is sage in his analysis, but too much into big-power-politics thinking for comfort. As a result he underplays the role of ideology, and understates the evil deeds of the Iranian mullahs against their own people. Some people respond to the balance of power argument, then, by saying that Iran is more serious about ideology and hence might be willing to do a first strike on Israel even if that did lead to their own destruction. But here we agree more with Avnery–it is precisely because of their ideology that makes them want to remain the society that brings Islam to the world. To be the advocate for a growing Islam, rather than its grave-digger, a Muslim Iran has to avoid being wiped out by a second retaliatory strike by Israel should the Iranians use the nuclear weapons they will likely eventually acquire in ten or twenty years. It is only as a second retaliatory strike that the Iranians would need an atom bomb to use against Israel or the U.S., GOD FORBID, and that is not an unreasonable desire on their part, though we hope they never get such a weapon and we hope that neither Israel nor the U.S. ever engage in a first nuclear strike against Iran or any other country.

Best scenario is for a worldwide disarmament of all nuclear weapons with the same kind of strict guidelines this deal imposes on Iran (including disarming the US, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Israel, etc.). Short of achieving global nuclear disarmament, the most likely outcome in the next few decades is Mutual Assured Destruction, the strategy that kept the crazies who ran the U.S. and Communist Russia from using nuclear war against each other. In postponing the development of a nuclear weapon, the treaty now going before Congress deserves our support, because it might postpone an American/Israeli attack on Iran that would be even more disastrous than the Iraq war proved to be hopefully it will be the prelude to a new era in which the people of Iran can non-violently replace the mullahs with a more human-rights respecting regime that might even make peace with Israel once Israel ends its occupation of the West Bank and acts in a spirit of generosity toward the Palestinian people. But since Israel is unlikely in the coming years to do that, the best we can hope for is a balance of power, and this agreement is a hopeful move toward that end.

That will mean, sometime in the next twenty to thirty years, Iran will have a nuclear weapon that will keep Israel or the US from attacking it–a sad prospect, but probably the likely outcome whether or not there was a nuclear deal with Iran unless the US was really ready to invade Iran and fight a ground war that would be far less easy to win than the war with Iraq, and far more likely to spur global wars and domestic terrorism far more dangerous than the balance of power between Iran and Israel that Iran’s eventual nuclearization would produce. What a MAD world–yet this is what will likely happen unless the West really takes a whole new path toward generosity, peace, and nuclear disarmament.

- Rabbi Michael Lerner

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American Jews overwhelmingly SUPPORT Iran deal, despite all-out assault by Netanyahu & AIPAC


by: on July 23rd, 2015 | 5 Comments »

When an historic nuclear agreement with Iran was announced on July 14, Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, immediately lambasted it as a “historic mistake.” He then warned that Israel would not be bound by it, and pledged to lobby Congress to oppose it. And he did so after claiming that this opposition was on behalf of “the entire Jewish people.”

Soon after, a host of American Jewish organizations, including those pluralistic institutions which are supposed to represent the broader American Jewish community, took up Netanyahu’s mantle, pledging to oppose the Iran deal on account of the (claimed) danger it poses to Israel. Unsurprisingly, so too did AIPAC, which so far has raised $30 million for its massive lobbying effort to kill the agreement, including television spots in 40 states.

When J Street expressed support for the deal, Jeffrey Goldberg – who has long predicted Israel would bomb Iran and opposes the deal – wondered aloud if those Jews who support it could be considered ‘pro-Israel,’ given the Israeli government’s opposition.

From Netanyahu to AIPAC to Goldberg, the unspoken assumption was that the American Jewish community – and certainly those Jews who care about Israel – overwhelmingly opposed the deal. And those who supported it? Well, they were anything from not sufficiently ‘pro-Israel’ to self-hating Jews who want to see Israel destroyed.

But guess what? A poll just released, overseen by the country’s preeminent sociologist and pollster who focuses on the Jewish community, Steven M. Cohen, shows that the overwhelming majority of U.S. Jews support the Iran deal.

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