Like every other lover of democracy in the world I have been thrilled and at times moved to tears by the courage and success of the Tunisian and Egyptian democracy movements. And like many others I have wondered: where did this extraordinary commitment to nonviolence and creative organizing come from? One commentator wrote that they thought the most critical moment followed Mubarak’s speech on February 10, when he was expected to resign and didn’t, and the Tahrir Square protesters restrained themselves from reacting with violence. If you look at this map of Tahrir Square, above, on the BBC site where it is interactive, you get an idea of how that degree of self control was possible: these people were organized!
But this piece, “A Tunisian-Egyptian Link That Shook Arab History”, from yesterday’s New York Times has done more to explain the movement to me than anything else I have read. The article explains the deliberate way leading organizers like Ahmed Maher, a 30-year-old civil engineer, went about schooling themselves in nonviolent organizing. They were particularly taken with the example of Otpor, the Serbian youth movement that helped overthrow Milosevic, and they were greatly assisted by an organization in Qatar (where it’s worth recalling that Al Jazeera was also founded) called the Academy of Change. Both Otpor and the Academy of Change draw deeply on the work of American political theorist Gene Sharp. According to Wikipedia:
Gene Sharp (born 21 January 1928) is known for his extensive writings on nonviolent struggle: he has been called both the “Machiavelli of nonviolence” and the “Clausewitz of nonviolent warfare.”
Harriet Fraad forwarded us this beautiful email from someone she knows in New York this week:
I experimented yesterday with a Steve Colbert-like agitprop stunt, the purpose of which was to mock the absurdity of Bloomberg’s and Cuomo’s refusal to tax the rich and their preference for budget cuts that penalize working people and ordinary citizens in the city and the state. I wrote up a text, which I attach, which I then performed three times in subway cars. The results were quite encouraging. People laughed, and my girlfriend, who was with me at the time, was impressed by people’s receptiveness, their attention, and the fact that they accepted and carefully read the text of the speech, which I distributed after I was done. The text is a bit long, so my performance usually omitted the middle paragraphs. In any case, it can be changed in the future and I will probably make some further changes myself. In any case, it occurred to me that if fifty or a hundred activists were to do this on the same day throughout the subway system, it might receive some attention and cause a bit of a stir. What do people think?
Good morning my friends. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna ask you for money. I do, for the time being, have a job and an income. I do, however, want to give you a message from our mayor and our governor. You see, our city and state are in crisis. The reason for this is that you, I and all other working people in this great city and state of ours are too rich and greedy. The rich, on the other hand, are suffering the poor things. This is why all of us, working people, have to sacrifice for our suffering brothers and sisters in Wall Street. This is why our governor and mayor, bless their soul, want to cut wasteful spending on education, on health care and other social services. These cuts are inevitable. The only alternative would be to tax the bonuses of our suffering brethren in Wall Street. We can’t do that to them. They deserve their bonuses 100% and that’s why our mayor and governor rightly refuse to raise their taxes. Besides, our brethren in Wall Street are such honest and good people, we can’t possibly deny them their hard earned millions. After all, they are the reason we have such a strong economy. I ask you, where would we be without them?
An article by Daniel Ming and Aaron Glantz in yesterday’s (San Francisco) Bay Citizen, also in the New York Times Bay Area edition:
A Jewish Group Makes Waves, Locally and Abroad
Some Bay Area activists hope a new Egyptian government will lead to an end of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories
Hundreds of people, mostly Arab-Americans, are expected to gather Saturday in downtown San Francisco to support anti-government protests in Egypt, and a large contingent of Jews representing a Bay Area peace-advocacy group will join them, one of its leaders says.
“We are deeply inspired by their push for democracy and freedom,” said Cecilie Surasky, deputy director of Jewish Voice for Peace, based in Oakland….
The unrest in Egypt is merely the latest issue to pit a number of Bay Area activists against prominent Jewish organizations, as well as against some Israelis who have come to see the Bay Area as a locus for Jewish opposition to Israel’s government….
The divisions have heightened tensions among Bay Area Jews. During one altercation last year, a pro-Israel activist attacked two representatives of Jewish Voice for Peace with pepper spray. Last March, Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun, a bimonthly Jewish magazine based in Berkeley, received death threats, and his home was plastered with signs accusing him of “Islamo-Fascism,” after he announced that he planned to give an award to a United Nations official who led an investigation into Israel’s 2008 invasion of Gaza.
And if you are in the Bay Area come to our 25th Anniversary celebration when we will give six people including that official, Judge Richard Goldstone, the Tikkun Award! We’re happy that they picked up on this as well:
Jim Wallis at Davos last year
Jim Wallis, at Sojourners, walks a tightrope that gains him many critics. He is probably the best known “left” evangelical Christian in America, and yet he eschews the term “left.” He prefers to use the word “moral” and wants to see a moral politics, a moral federal budget, moral business, etc. And when he says “moral” he means primarily following the Bible’s injunctions to help the poor, the prisoner, the sick. What’s not to like about that? Progressive critics say he pulls his punches: e.g., on the healthcare debate he joined those who said we need healthcare for all but stopped short of arguing for any particular program that would actually make it happen. As I wrote at the time, the result was less than prophetic.
Wallis clearly makes a great effort not to lose his evangelical base. He can’t bring along the hardcore haters and punishers, but there is a vast middle ground of evangelicals whom he and other leaders like Richard Cizik are leading towards empathy for the poor and oppressed, and towards environmental sanity. I assume he goes at the pace he feels enough of them can keep. He talks against abortion but argues that it should be legal and safe. He doesn’t rock the evangelical boat by reneging on key doctrines (particularly the “substitutionary atonement“) even if many other Christians don’t think they are key doctrines. Though I understand the frustrations with him that have been expressed to me, I am happy that he is doing his thing. As Theo Hobson wrote in the piece I linked to yesterday, one of the chief points of hope in America today is the gradual shift of younger evangelicals towards a politics of caring.
On this blog you may have noticed a persistent tension between those who argue primarily for empathy and nonviolence, and for whom conflict is often a bad word, and those who are much more oppositional and want to put the conflict back into nonviolent conflict. This is a major unresolved tension in the spiritual progressive world. Most people seem to agree that Gandhi and King successfully combined the two, but following their example seems hard. Jim Wallis specializes in being in conversation with people who are much more middle of the road than he is. I guess you would say he veers to the empathy side. That’s all by way of introducing his latest blog post from Davos, where he is trying to turn the real rulers of our world on to moral values. Tell us what you make of it. Some quotes from his post, which can be read in full here:
Here’s an excellent analysis from across the Atlantic. British theologian Theo Hobson understands a great deal more about why Obama won the election and why there is no continuing populist movement on the left than anyone I have read in the pages of the Nation, Mother Jones or the Progressive, let alone the Atlantic, New Yorker etc. (not that I read them exhaustively at all). You’d most likely have to read Tikkun or possibly the Christian Century to get a piece as good as this. It’s a pleasure to see it from a different country’s perspective. Some key quotes:
During his campaign in 2008, Barack Obama seemed to be doing more than getting himself elected president. He seemed to be launching a revival of liberal idealism, shifting the United States’s political landscape in the process. This impression hardly lasted beyond his inauguration as president on 20 January, 2009. Never has a national mood of progressive optimism evaporated so fast.
That much we know. But what was unique about Obama’s campaign?
Barack Obama’s vision of hope had religious echoes. He boldly presented himself as the heir of the civil-rights movement, which, thanks to Martin Luther King and others, was an expression of liberal Christianity as well as progressive politics. King himself was inspired by the “social gospel” movement that influenced Roosevelt’s New Deal….
Obama knowingly drew on this tradition, with his impassioned talk of hope. This went much further than the “hope” rhetoric of other politicians; it often referred to the biblical concept of faith – implicitly, of course….
by: Dave Belden on January 26th, 2011 | Comments Off
Our guest post Where Are The Jewish Greens? by Devorah Brous has been widely read in Israel as well as the US. The organization she is with, Bedouin-Jewish Justice, has just sent us this update on the campaign that Tikkun and the NSP have joined. Please sign the petitions to Netanyahu and the Jewish National Fund below.
18 Israeli and American Jewish groups:
- Strongly oppose Beer Sheva District Court’s failure to grant a permanent injunction preventing Israeli Government and Jewish National Fund (JNF) bulldozers from resuming work to plant a JNF forest over Negev Bedouin village of Al-Arakib
- Welcome the court’s recommendation that the Israel Land Administration (ILA) and JNF refrain from planting trees in Al-Arakib and irreversibly altering the status of the land
- Strongly object to Israeli Government and JNF for 9th & 10th Demolitions of Al-Arakib and to ILA announcement yesterday of their intent to ignore Israeli court recommendations in their rush to eliminate the village of Al-Arakib forever
- Call on all who care about Israel to join the over 7,500 who have already signed our two petitions of protest to Prime Minister Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Lieberman, Leaders of the Israel Land Administration and JNF Leaders in Israel and the US
January 25, 2011 – The Beer Sheva District Court, which issued a temporary injunction a week ago stopping all further work by the Israel Land Administration (ILA) and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in the Negev Bedouin village of Al-Arakib, decided on Sunday, Jan. 23, not to extend the injunction, permitting the village to be permanently destroyed and replaced by a JNF forest. Judge Nechama Netzer “recommended” to the JNF not to “rush” the afforestation of Al-Arakib, but failed to order the Israeli Government, the ILA and the JNF to stop their efforts to wipe out the village.
At one time in my life I taught sociology to both young undergrads and older social work students. I had a great time with the older students, some of whom had been working for many years already and really wanted to understand and change the world. But the younger, middle class students, many of them from Catholic high schools and homes where obedience had been taught more than curiosity and argument, needed a showman, an entertainer, to wake them up, and someone brilliant with ideas to give them something deep to think about once awake. That person did exist in our department: Bruce Luske. He was way to the left of most others at the college, but was able to put radical ideas across in highly popular classes. When I was contemplating crossing the continent to work at Tikkun he gave me good advice and encouragement, because he had studied with Michael Lerner years before. It’s a great pleasure that he has emailed me with his recent piece on OpEd News, drawing on Michael’s ideas:
A Note on Politics and Spirituality
by Bruce Luske
My remarks here as we engage a new year are inspired by pieces debating spirituality in the military and by the work of Rabbi Michael Lerner and others; and are meant to broaden the discussion to society as a whole. I begin with the premise that we humans are born with an innate need for positive recognition and connection to our fellow humans every bit as fundamental to human life as the need for food and water. In fact, as psychologists who study early childhood teach us, we will not become fully human unless this need is met. We are born needing to care and be cared for. I further believe, with all the major world religions as well as aboriginal spiritual traditions, that this innate need for recognition and connection to others has an intrinsic spiritual wellspring to which we must return.
We haven’t done guest-written book reviews on Tikkun Daily before but here’s a nice one to start with:
Review by Lisa Pearl Rosenbaum
It has been over fifty years since the end of the McCarthy era, but the impact of the blacklist has not gone away. Julie Gilgoff’s compelling memoir (at right, published by Allbook Books, 2010) about her grandfather Max Gilgoff, a Brooklyn, New York high school teacher, gives us a highly personal, insider’s view of that “Scoundrel Time” and its aftermath.
Max Gilgoff wasn’t famous, like the Hollywood Ten. But in his community, he was a revered French teacher, a poet, an intellectual, and a man who fought for the powerless. When Henry Fields, a local, young black father of four was shot to death by a policeman for a minor traffic infraction, Gilgoff helped organize a peaceful protest that channeled his community’s anger. The Board of Education then began to investigate Max’s political activity and threatened him with job dismissal. Max’s untimely death at thirty-eight was widely attributed to the stress of his recurring interrogations. His death sent his traumatized family into such terrible poverty and paranoia that he was rarely spoken of by his own children.
Growing up in New York, Julie Gilgoff could not understand her father’s silence about her grandfather. He claimed that he didn’t remember anything about Max, so she set out across the country to interview people from his past. As she would learn, Max came from a world of secular Jews who shared a deep faith in the Jewish values of Tikkun Ha Olam – healing the world, even at significant cost to their families.
One of the people Julie interviewed was my father, Terry Rosenbaum.
We had an email last week from an American physician and writer who is volunteering in rural Borneo. She wrote asking for an online subscription to Tikkun because Michael Lerner’s book “Jewish Renewal is one of the few precious books I carried here in my suitcase, and it is truly invigorating to me, a passionate religious liberal who is hungry for Yiddishkeit yet disappointed by much of the thinking that goes on in modern synagogues.” I asked her if she might be interested in writing some of her experiences for this blog and she sent this wise post about the problems of giving without an adequate understanding of what is needed. She blogs regularly at lowresourcemedicine.blogspot, where, to minimize potential problems for both herself and her NGO, she goes by Dr. Jenny.
The road to hell and the privilege of volunteering
By Dr. Jenny
An odd little encounter in our rural Indonesian nonprofit clinic yesterday made me think more about the consequences of volunteering.
We are always interested in ideas and links our readers send us, though we editors don’t always have time to check them out. For weeks we have been deep in deadlines to get 118 pieces for Tikkun’s 25th Anniversary issue into the print magazine (in bookstores now! buy one here!) or onto the web (where the web exclusives will all be up by week’s end, we trust), plus we just launched a new and beautiful newsletter which you can see here, and sign up for here (along with other Tikkun emails) and we are designing an even more wonderful new magazine website. That’s the Tikkun office headlines.
Luckily we did manage to read this email from one of our readers, Scott Rosenblum, which we are very happy to post. Incidentally, Letty Cottin Pogrebin is one the authors in the current print issue of Tikkun.
For Tikkun Daily, I thought you might be interested in an op-ed from the newest edition of the Forward, written by Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a leading figure in American Jewish feminism and the founding editor or Ms. magazine. In her editorial and with the two year anniversary in mind for Operation Cast Lead, she gives her take on the Jewish response to Richard Goldstone and the Goldstone Report, namely that many of Israel’s defenders have acted contrary to Jewish values in their attacks on him and his report on the Gaza War. She argues that the criticism against Goldstone should be condemned on specifically Jewish grounds because:
“the observant and educated of Goldstone’s attackers surely knew that speaking ill of another human being (“hate speech” in current parlance) violates one of Judaism’s most sacrosanct laws, the prohibition against lashon hara (the Evil Tongue – i.e., gossip), which Maimonides deﬁned as any utterance (true or not!) that might cause a person physical or monetary damage, or shame, humiliation, anguish or fear.”
Here is the full article. We have been saying very similar things in Tikkun for a long time now: see this piece by Brian Walt and Michael Lerner’s 2009 interview with Goldstone.