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Abundance, Inequality, Needs, and Privilege

Mar5

by: on March 5th, 2015 | No Comments »

consumption-520085_640I am deeply involved in experiments in gift economy, both my own and those I hear about and engage with from the sidelines. The entire thrust of my work with organizations is about supporting a massive shift from adversarial relationships and systems to a collaborative overhaul of all our human affairs. I have just published a book in which I describe my vision of a possible future that is fully collaborative and based on gifting and a revival of the commons.

Given the unmitigated joy I experience at the prospect of giving away my work and being supported by the flow of generosity of those who believe in what I do rather than by people paying for services, I am continually and immensely curious to understand the obstacles to having this experience be the norm rather than the exception. soilsoul3rdIn this post, I am writing about one piece of this huge puzzle that fell into place for me: why the idea of “deserving” might have come into existence, and how it’s related to the difficulties in establishing gifting and collaboration.

Recently, Alastair McIntosh sent me a gift copy of his book Soil and Soul, in response to a review of mine that was published in Tikkun about David Bollier’s book Think like a Commoner. Gifts and shared resources were in the air as I started reading the book and was instantly transported into the semi-pre-modern milieu that was Alastair’s upbringing in Scotland, on an island fifty miles off its coast. I have most of the book still ahead of me to enjoy, and already it supported me in pushing my thinking forward.

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Jon Stewart on Netanyahu: “I speak for ALL Jews, including the ones who don’t want me to!”

Mar5

by: on March 5th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

On Tuesday, Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, used the U.S. Congress to stage a most elaborate campaign commercial in the run-up to Israel’s elections in two weeks. He did so at the behest of GOP leaders, and damaged every conceivable metric he claims to be invested in save one: his own suddenly-rising poll numbers back home.

With his speech, Netanyahu damaged U.S.-Israel relations by turning Israel into a political football. He caused the collapse of Democratic support for the Iran bill in Congress he claimed to support. And he was abandoned as ‘dangerous’ by his own security establishment.

Additionally, by claiming to represent “the entire Jewish people” before Congress, Netanyahu fed into a dangerous anti-Semitic trope, conflating Israel and all Jews. It’s a conflation many American Jews rejected, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, who had this to say:

“He doesn’t speak for me on this. I think it’s a rather arrogant statement. I think the Jewish community is like any other community. There are different points of view. I think that arrogance does not befit Israel, candidly.”

Jon Stewart added his voice to the growing number of American Jews upset by Netanyahu’s proclamation by mocking the Prime Minister’s conflation:

Stewart

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The King and the Ring: On Purim and Violence

Mar4

by: Aryeh Cohen on March 4th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

The question, twenty years after Baruch Goldstein slaughtered 29 Palestinians at prayer, wounding tens more, is this: How can we celebrate Purim? Goldstein, heard the reading of the Megillah on Purim night, heard (for the fortieth time?) that the Jews took vengeance on their enemies, slaughtered thousands of men, women, and children. Twice. Goldstein, a medical doctor, then rose early in the morning, went to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and shot his M16 until he was overpowered and killed, having killed or wounded tens of praying innocents. How do we read this tale of revenge when we know that that revenge, the Purim revenge, the revenge of “the Jews got their enemies in their power” (Esther 9:1) has been wreaked?

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Responding to Anti-Semitism

Mar4

by: Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah on March 4th, 2015 | No Comments »

Graphic of a girl covering her mouth with her hand, with the British flag behind her.

Survey data is easily manipulated to 'prove' a certain view or opinion. What matters more is how we confront anti-Semitism in the context of historical Jewish persecution. Credit: CreativeCommons / SA HonestReporting.com

Anti-Semitism is in the news again. First: the deadly assault on the kosher supermarket in Paris on January 9(2015), which claimed four lives, two days after the murderous attack against Charlie Hebdo magazine. Then, on Shabbat, February 14: the killing of a Jewish man on security duty and the wounding of a police officer outside a synagogue in Copenhagen – after an attack against a cafe holding a meeting about free speech, where another person was killed. All these attacks perpetrated by Islamist extremists, and in each case, anger against Western press freedom that has allowed the publication of material that is disrespectful of the Prophet Muhammad, followed by the targeting of Jews.

So, has anti-Semitism got worse? Those who set up the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism UK (CAA) that was launched in August 2014 believe that it has. A YouGov poll commissioned by the CAA that was publicised following the Paris attacks, said that 45% of Britons assented to at least one of four anti-Semitic statements put to them.[1] The CAA also conducted their own survey of over 2,200 British Jews, which showed that more than half felt that they had witnessed more anti-Semitism in the past two years, and that 54% feared that Jews have no future in the UK.[2] Alongside the results of these surveys, the Community Security Trust recorded a 36% rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the first six months of 2014, while during the Israeli operation in Gaza in July 2014 hate crime in London soared, with 90% of attacks being aimed at Jews.[3]

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Netanyahu’s Speeches a Travesty

Mar4

by: on March 4th, 2015 | No Comments »

I took the opportunity of watching both of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s U.S. speeches this week – in front of over 16,000 attendees at AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee) and at a joint session of the Congress – and I followed the process and developing controversy from the time Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, first announced that he had extended and the Prime Minister had accepted his invitation to present.

During both speaking venues, with all his praise at the beginning of his speeches for President Obama and his support for the state of Israel and the safety and prosperity of the Israeli people, the clear subtext was to plant distrust of the President’s negotiating abilities with Iran specifically, and to call into serious question his foreign policy initiatives more generally.

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What Rev. Vincent Harding Might Have Said About Benjamin Netanyahu’s Visit to Congress

Mar4

by: Gilbert H. Caldwell on March 4th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Gil Caldwell, a wonderful, eloquent minister and civil rights activist partly from Park Hill in Denver, thinks below, with Vincent Harding, our friend, about what Netanyahu’s corrupt visit means. Vincent’s words are with us…

  • He calls to mind the great Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who marched with Gil in Selma, and said “When I marched in Selma, I felt my legs were praying.
  • He recalls traveling on a ship to a work camp in Denmark and being snubbed by Jewish “Whites.”
  • And of Netanyahu’s violation of protocol towards the President, he recalls: “if you are black, stay back…”

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Open Letter to Rudy Giuliani on the Characterization of Obama

Mar4

by: on March 4th, 2015 | No Comments »

A cartoon of Rudy Giuliani with bats flying out of his mouth.

Rudy Giuliani's continuing criticism of President Obama is neither informed nor constructive. What, exactly, is he saying, asks Dr. Blumenfeld. Credit: CreativeCommons / DonkeyHotey

Dear Rudy,

I realize that you don’t know me, but I hope you won’t mind if I refer to you as “Rudy.” Anyway, I am writing to you because, frankly, you said some things about President Obama that confused me. I hope you can clarify some things.

During a private dinner held in New York City for possible GOP 2016 presidential contender, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, you said:

“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

“I do not believe that the president loves America.”

So, Rudy, let’s break down your statement. When you say that “I do not believe that the president loves America,” what indication do you have or what criteria are you using? I really want to know,

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Kids and Gun Violence: Can We Change?

Mar4

by: Frank Strier on March 4th, 2015 | No Comments »

A child holding a toy gun.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Frank Boston.

Sometimes the most important sound is the one you don’t hear. The sound that is conspicuous by its absence? A full-throated outrage over the rampant gun violence that plagues U.S. children. Consider:

A traditional indicator of a country’s tolerance for gun violence is its firearm fatality rate, which includes suicides and accidents. Ours is breathtaking. Among industrialized countries, the U.S. rate is more than twice that of the next highest country, and eight times higher than the average. Looking solely at gun homicides, an American is 20 times as likely to be killed by a gun than is someone from another developed country.

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Benjamin Netanyahu’s Fantasy World

Mar3

by: on March 3rd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Netanyahu’s speech to Congress was brilliantly deceitful because it played to the fantasies that Israeli propaganda and right wing militarists in the United States have been popularizing for the past thirty years.

Netanyahu

"If you take out Saddam, Saddam's regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region," said Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in 2002, urging the US to invade Iraq. Credit: Creative Commons.

The biggest fantasy: that we can coerce others through power over them to do what we consider in the best interests of the U.S. or Israel. This is what I call “The Strategy of Domination.” A more effective path is “The Strategy of Generosity” – showing others that we care about them and recognize their needs as being equally legitimate as our own. This second approach is the view that made trade between tribes, and eventually between nations possible in the past, and it remains the view that makes it possible for most countries of the world to live in peace with their neighbors. They hate to do business with those who think that they can get their way through power trips, manipulation, and threats.

This struggle between two world views is the core of the debate today in the U.S., and the reason that the militarists have the upper hand is because the Obama administration, fearing that it might be ridiculed as believing in “kumbaya politics,” used its first six years to pursue policies that better fit the Strategy of Domination than the Strategy of Generosity. Predictably, now the administration finds itself without a popular base for turning toward a more rational path in regard to Iran, having to frame policies in terms toughness rather than in terms of their humanity and reflection of higher ethical values.

I know so many people who shake their heads in despair at the growth of the right-wing consciousness in the U.S. in every sphere except identity politics, but really what other discourse are they ever exposed to? Obama should embrace the Biblical call for “love the stranger/the other” and challenge Americans to take that call seriously. Instead, he tries to measure up against the criteria set by the militarists. Guess what? In that coercion-oriented arena, liberals and progressives will always fail because you have to be unscrupulous to win there.

Netanyahu is a master of manipulating the fantasies that the right-wing discourse advances. For example: the view of the world that sees “our side” (whether that ‘our’ be the U.S. or Israel) as always innocent and good, and “the other” as intrinsically evil.

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Esther Was Vegan Too: On Purim, Let’s Renew Our Struggle to End Factory Farming

Mar3

by: Katie Cantrell on March 3rd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

On March 4, there will be much drinking, dancing, and revelry to commemorate Queen Esther’s heroic action that saved the Jews of Ancient Persia from extermination at the hands of the villainous Haman. Esther is celebrated primarily for her bravery, while another intriguing trait is often overlooked: her veganism.

hamantaschen

In honor of Esther's veganism, why not prepare vegan hamantaschen this Purim? Credit: theppk.com/IsaChandra.

According to legend, Esther maintained a vegan diet, while living in the palace of the King of Persia, to avoid violating the laws of Kashrut without revealing her Jewish identity. She dined primarily on a diet of seeds, nuts, and legumes and abstained from all animal products. Thus Esther could be regarded as the first Jewish vegan.

While she may have been the first, Esther was certainly not the last. The community of Jewish vegetarians and vegans is growing, both in the United States and around the world. Much like Esther, many Jews are choosing to subsist on a plant-based diet in order to observe their moral principles.

The history of Judaism and moral vegetarianism is a long one; in the 1400s, philosopher Rabbi Yosef Albo began a debate about whether G-d’s instructions to Adam implied that vegetarianism is a moral ideal:

Behold, I have given you every seed-bearing herb which is upon the surface of the entire earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; it will be yours for food (Genesis 1:29).

The debate continues to this day, but increasingly Jews around the world are making dietary choices based more on modern reality than on biblical philosophy. The reality in the United States is that 99 percent of all animal products come from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), often referred to as factory farms.

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