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The New Anti-Semitism: Islamophobia

May16

by: Ron Hirschbein on May 16th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

It is acceptable to advance anti-Semitism in film – provided the Semites are Arabs. I call this habit of racial and cultural generalization “The New Anti-Semitism.” I call it “new” not because stereotypical screen Arabs are new (they aren’t) or because anti-Semitism against Jews is dead (it isn’t). I use the word “new” because many of the anti-Semitic films directed against Arabs were released . . . at a time when Hollywood was steadily and increasingly eliminating stereotypical portraits of other groups.

- Jack Shaheen, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People

The new anti-Semitism extends far beyond darkened movie theatres to the spotlight shining on Donald J. Trump, the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party. What if Trump had substituted “Jew” in his diatribe against Muslims? What if he told enraptured followers that: Jews should be banned from entering the country until we can figure out what’s going on. And imagine: He’d require Jewish-Americans to register with a government database, and mandate special identification cards. Warrantless surveillance of American Jews and their places of worship would become the new normal.

It’s possible that such blatant anti-Semitism might have derailed his candidacy – but who could say for sure in these peculiar times? In any case, I suspect that degrading Jews would evoke more outrage than the calumny visited upon Muslims. Indeed, Trump’s followers celebrate Islamophobia, but is this anti-Semitism?

Jews and Arabs are both Semites. To cite a headline from the Israeli paper Haaretz: “Jews and Palestinian Arabs share genetic roots”; they’re “blood brothers” – much to the chagrin of the Semitic-deniers. Jews and Arabs also share a history, theology, and language. Linguists readily uncover the Semitic roots of Hebrew and Arabic. No wonder our prayers for peace bear a family resemblance – shalom and as salaam. But there is no peace. And there will be no peace until Jew and Arab stop mirroring hateful stereotypes of one another.

To be sure, in theory, Islamophobia cannot be reduced to prejudice against Arabs – only about 15% of Muslims are Arabs. In practice, however, Islamophobes keep it simple. The pervasive, Islamophobia mobilized and exploited by Trump and too many others is not the product of a nuanced analysis of the demographics of the diverse Islamic world. It is not tempered by the lessons of history found in works that should be required reading in these times, studies such as Hofstadter’s Paranoia in American Politics. The Arab is the Islamophobe’s idee fixe.

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Nazi Policy and Black Victims—Before, During, and After the Holocaust—from Africa to Berlin to North Carolina

May16

by: Edwin Black on May 16th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

In recent years, too many in the African American community have expressed a disconnect to Holocaust topics, seeing the genocide of Jews as someone else’s nightmare. After all, African Americans are still struggling to achieve general recognition of the barbarity of the Middle Passage, the inhumanity of slavery, the oppression of Jim Crow, and the battle for modern civil rights. For many in that community, the murder of six million Jews and millions of other Europeans happened to other minorities in a faraway place where they had no involvement.

Surviving Herero after their escape through the arid desert of Omaheke in German Southwest Africa (modern day Namibia) circa 1907 (Ullstein Bilderdienst, Berlin)

However, a deeper look shows that proto-Nazi ideology before the Third Reich, the wide net of Nazi-era policy, and Hitler’s post-war legacy deeply impacted Africans, Afro-Germans, and African Americans throughout the twentieth century. America’s Black community has a mighty stake in this topic. Understanding the German Reich and the Holocaust is important for Blacks just as it is for other communities, including Roma, eastern Europeans, people with disabilities, the gay community, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many other groups in addition to Jews. The dots are well known to many scholars – but rarely connected to form a distinct historical nexus for either the Holocaust or the African American communities. This is understandable. The saga behind these connections started decades before the Third Reich came into existence, in a savage episode on another continent that targeted a completely different racial and ethnic group for death and destruction.

But the horrors visited on another defenseless group endured and became a template for the Final Solution. Students of the Holocaust are accustomed to looking backward long before the Third Reich and long after the demise of the Nazi war machine. African Americans should do the same.

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Why anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism – but criticising Israel isn’t

May12

by: Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah on May 12th, 2016 | 28 Comments »

The Labour Party has become embroiled in a row about anti-Semitism. Why the row? After all, the Labour Party is committed to challenging racism and anti-Semitism – which is a particular form of racism. It’s a row because the anti-Semitism in question concerns anti-Zionism – and not everybody in the Labour Party agrees that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. At the heart of the current row, a tweet re-tweeted by Labour MP Naz Shah, which suggested that Israel be relocated to the United States. For those who shared the tweet, it seemed fair comment, given the support of the United States for Israel – and the fact that the second largest Jewish population in the world resides in the United States. Of the 14.2 million Jews living in the world today, six million live in Israel and over five million live in the US.

The tweet was anti-Semitic for at least two reasons. Within living memory, the Jewish communities of Europe were made Judenfrei, ‘Jew-free’, or Judenrein, ‘clean of Jews’, as the Jews who lived in them were systematically deported to ghettos, concentration camps and death camps in Eastern Europe. The ghettos themselves, where hundreds of thousands were penned into walled areas of cities, were simply holding places, from which the Jews were sent on to the death camps. After the defeat of Hitler, those who survived became displaced persons, the majority of whom were collected into camps – most notably on Cyprus – with nowhere to go. To suggest that Israel, which became the principal place of refuge for the Jews who survived the Sho’ah, should be relocated elsewhere suggests either an inane forgetfulness or a shocking indifference to the annihilation of six million Jews – at the time, one third of the world Jewish population – which took place in the space of just six years from the onset of the violent persecution of the Jews of Europe on Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938.

The tweet was also anti-Semitic in the context of the way in which, again and again, regardless of the oppression of peoples across the world by numberless nations, Israel is singled out for special condemnation because of its on-going oppression of the Palestinians. Where is the protest against the murder of the Tamils by the Sri Lankan regime? Where is the protest against China’s occupation of Tibet? Why is it that these nations and others like them have not been subject to boycott and disinvestment campaigns? Of course, the anti-Palestinian policies of the Israeli government must be challenged, and support must be given to the Palestinian people, in their struggle for self-determination, and the establishment of an independent state of Palestine. Equally, the regimes of China and Sri Lanka should also be challenged, and the Tibetans and Tamils should be supported in their struggles for self-determination.

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Professor Johanna Fernández talks with Tikkun about Mumia, Bernie Sanders, Love, and the Power of Radical Empathy

May11

by: Grace Mungovan on May 11th, 2016 | 3 Comments »

"Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal" by Mumia Abu-Jamal, edited by Johanna Fernandez (City Lights Publishers, 2015).

In honor of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s recent birthday, we here at Tikkun Daily thought we would mark the day by publishing an interview with Johanna Fernández, a professor of History at Baruch College (CUNY) who edited Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal that was published last year.

We caught up with Fernández in February after she, activist Angela Davis, and KPFA host Walter Turner held a public discussion about the book in Oakland. The talk was anchored by discussions of Abu-Jamal and his writing but also expanded on the themes of mass incarceration, systemic racism, class warfare, and the promise of modern social uprisings, through the lens of what they referred to as black radicalism and the black prophetic tradition.

Fernández and Davis describe Abu-Jamal’s work in Writing on the Wall as being measured and reasonable as well as honest, strong, and transparent. They read passages from the book that shared the voice of someone calling upon readers to engage with American history as a history of brutality – an America Abu-Jamal sees as accurately reflected by practices like the torture at Abu Ghraib.

“When will these dismal days of our mind-rending pain, our oppression, our accustomed place on the bottom rung of the human family, end? When will our tomorrows brighten? It will come from ourselves, not from this system. Our tomorrows will become brighter when we scrub the graffiti of lies from our minds, when we open our eyes to the truths that this very system is built not on ‘freedom, justice and brotherhood’ but on slavery, oppression and genocide,” Davis read from the book.

Davis, Fernández, and Abu-Jamal each assert that until the public grapples with this history, the history of oppression and violence that they see as at the core of all systems of power, there will be no meaningful change, and the dignity of all human beings will not be reflected by the governing powers.

Despite Abu-Jamal’s assertion that the only way to live in a just society is through “scrubbing the lies” of a dishonest history from the collective mind and grappling honestly with the violence and conquest at the heart of Western history, Davis and Fernández were clear that this was a man rooted in a deep and abiding sense of love, hope, and what Fernández dubbed “radical empathy.”

This “radical empathy” is Abu-Jamal’s community based counter to what he sees as neoliberal individualism. It is a call for radical global community that acknowledges the intersectionality of oppressions and the common struggle against elites.

Here is our interview with Professor Fernández:

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Building a Progressive Spiritual Movement

May10

by: Cat J. Zavis on May 10th, 2016 | Comments Off

This piece was originally published in the Summer 2016 issue of Kosmos magazine. It may be found on the Kosmos website here.

 

Let’s Unite Our Efforts and Build a Truly Progressive Spiritual Movement

Thousands of activist groups work to save the environment, address the needs of the homeless and hungry, ensure we have a safe and adequate supply of food and water, and fight racism and economic injustice. Many are making valiant efforts. Yet we continue to see the devastation and destruction of our environment, an increasing divide between the haves and the have-nots, and deepening racial tensions.

I want to explore with you what is missing from the approach of all these wonderful social change efforts and how they can collaborate more cohesively to build a comprehensive movement for social change that could achieve long-term systemic change. But before I jump into this, I need to set forth the problem as I see it.


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Trump: The 2016 Election and the Rise of American Fascism

May5

by: Frederic C. Tubach on May 5th, 2016 | 6 Comments »

Editor’s Note: Tikkun does not and cannot endorse or oppose candidates or political parties. We are actively seeking articles in support of any candidate for the US presidency and from any political party.

“Willst Du nicht mein Bruder sein, so schlag’ ich Dir den Schädel ein (If you don’t want to be my brother, I’ll smash your skull in)”

This Brownshirt slogan reflected the mindset of fanatic Nazi supporters, the street thugs who played an important role in helping Hitler destroy democracy in Germany and replace it with absolute power over a disoriented population. This extraordinary transformation took place within a four-month period between November 1932 and March 5,1933, the date of he last free election in Germany. Anyone who has studied this fateful moment in German history cannot fail to notice the similarities with what is currently happening in the United States.

Presidental candidate Donald Trump. Source: Flickr (Gage Skidmore).

In November 1932 the Nazis did well in the elections, but the traditional democratic parties on the right and left believed Hitler’s effectiveness would be short. After all, they reckoned, people would soon unmask the slogans for what they were – empty phrase-mongering. However, and tragically, the insecurity of the populace increased dramatically after the parliament building was burned down on February 28, 1933. A week later the March 5th election swept the Nazis into power thus ending democracy in Germany. The Germans clamored for a strong man with simple ideas who would empower them and free them from the victimhood that would be forced upon them by Soviet communism from the outside and from ineffective party babble on the inside.

American fascism is on the rise under the Trump banner. At first glance this claim may seem exaggerated, because there are no visible swastikas and no head-bashing armed storm troopers, and Trump uses none of Hitler’s hyperventilating antics. But what Trump and Hitler have in common is their approach to politics, which is/was radically new and geared to contemporary problems and uncertainties. The newness in both cases gave these two fascist movements added power at the onset.

The similarity between the two movements is striking when it comes to dealing with those who do not agree with them: dissenters are not just wrong, they are unpatriotic. This kind of fascist patriotism is most effective when expressed through collective action. Three examples will illustrate what I mean.

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Monotheism as a Moral Issue, Part Four: Borrowing Reason from Hellenism

May2

by: George P. Fletcher on May 2nd, 2016 | 3 Comments »

Genesis 1:26.

AND GOD SAID, LET US MAKE ADAM IN OUR IMAGE, AFTER OUR LIKENESS.

Part IV: Borrowing Reason from Hellenism.

There is a romantic story implicit in the way the words s’vara and its related grammatical forms came to be adopted in modern Hebrew.  The tale highlights another ray of influence of God’s Image in contemporary thought.  It is well known that ‘reason’ is a Hellenistic idea – generally absent from Hebrew thought.  This was evident in the drafting of the first criminal code ordinance in Israel/Palestine under the British mandate.  The drafts took a code developed by the nineteenth century scholar Fitzjames Stephen for all the British colonies. When it was translated into Hebrew, the drafters had particular difficulty the word omnipresent in English legal discourse – reasonableness.

The drafter opted for a different idiom in very context.  One of my favorites was: mitkabel al ha-daat – “It presents itself to the mind.”  When I presented a paper at the Hebrew University in the early 1970′s, I focused on this problem of translation.  I was aware that it was difficult to translate Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason into Hebrew, largely because of the same divide between Hellenism and Hebraism.  The translators choose the word tvunah which was apparently too sophisticated for use in drafting statutes.

After I presented the paper, my old friend and colleague Shalev Ginossar took me aside and told me of a meeting in the ministry of justice in which they discussed the problem of translation.  They decided at that time to take a word from the Talmud s’vara and introduce it into modern Hebrew.  The word does not exactly mean ‘reason’ but it is as close as you can get.  This is the word that subsequent drafters invoked to capture the English conception of reasonableness.

There was an implication for my own future work.  Fifteen years later, in cooperation between Columbia and the Hartman

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Death in the Woods

May2

by: Heidi Hutner on May 2nd, 2016 | 5 Comments »

An abandoned white Honda Civic was found in the parking lot of Caumsett State Historic State Preserve, in Lloyd Harbor, New York, on Saturday, January 9, 2016. The car belonged to the 22-year old Stella Y. Lee, of Great Neck, New York, who had been missing since she left her home on Thursday, January 7, at 3:27 a.m. The preserve was closed as investigators searched for the young woman.

I first learned of Stella Y. Lee’s story through a Facebook post by a female psychotherapist acquaintance and Long Island resident on Friday, January 8. Immediately after the post went up about Stella, Long Island women began responding furiously with questions: “Was it a rape?” “Was she abducted?” “Was it a serial killer, the one who killed the Gilgo beach girls and was never found, the serial killer they thought was a cop?”

The news of Stella’s disappearance terrified me. I live only fifteen minutes from the park–so I locked my doors and hoped the killer was not lurking in my neighborhood. I imagined danger all around me.

Should I be concerned about walking my dog alone on my solo rambles in local parks, beaches or my neighborhood, I wondered?

I called my ex-husband and told him the story. He told me to “Relax, you’ll be fine,” Then, he added, “Don’t be so hysterical.” Me, the feminist professor: calling my ex-husband, a man, for reassurance. The ex-husband: calling me ‘hysterical.” How ironic.

My ex and I originally bought a house in the town where I now live to be near Caumsett Preserve. We wanted to be close to a park and the woods in this very busy, industrialized and polluted Long Island. Caumsett has always been my haven, the place where I go to enjoy trees, quiet, and nature. It’s where I took my daughter when she was a baby, where I taught her to ride a bike, where we swam, picnicked, and played imaginary games in the forest. It’s where we walked after Superstorm Sandy, took photographs, and mourned the damaged and felled trees.

Years ago, the park used to house rescued and injured wild birds that lived in cages-an eagle with only one wing, a Barn owl, a Screech owl, and a few blackbirds. We spent hours visiting them and observing their behavior. It was in Caumsett that I sighted my first osprey nest, high up in a tree overlooking Long Island Sound.


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Passover, Parenting and Pardons

May2

by: Kathryn Frey-Balter on May 2nd, 2016 | 1 Comment »

This year, I have exhausted Passover’s eight days writing love letters to President Obama.  My letters all close with the same refrain:  “Let my clients GO!”   Is it a prophecy that Passover’s final day – April 30 – coincides with our clemency deadline?

In 2014 the Justice Department announced an Obama initiative to invite inmates with no significant criminal history, a record of good prison conduct, no history of violence before or during the term of incarceration, who have served over ten years on a federal sentence for a non-violent offense to apply for clemency.

Obama’s clemency project seeks to right the wrong.  Some days it feels more like he’s hiding than seeking.

The more the clemency love is withheld, the more singularly determined we become to part the Red Sea of the Pardon Committee.  It started innocently enough – laws in the 1990s aimed at ending the war on drugs.   The inevitable result however, was the mass incarceration of a generation of young people, mostly of color, and not too many degrees of separation from Egypt’s enslaved Jews.  True, Israelites hadn’t profited from kilo quantities of cocaine, but they also hadn’t been born into slavery: the slavery of being in utero addicted to crack, the slavery of poverty, the slavery of, well, a history of slavery and oppression. 

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Let Them Talk: The Piano Prince

May2

by: on May 2nd, 2016 | Comments Off

If I asked you to name a prodigiously talented, extravagantly flamboyant, African American, sexually fluid musician with a body like an exclamation point and a taste for the rococo whose premature death left the world a little grayer, of course you’d say “Prince,”and you’d be right. Or half-right.

Every since Prince’s April 21st death was reported – ever since a tidal wave of mourning began to gather force, leaving testimonies and tributes and tall tales in its wake – I’ve been thinking surfing the Zeitgeist, thinking about James Booker.

If you don’t know Booker’s music or his story, start with the 2013 film Bayou Maharajah (it streams from all the usual sources), which traces the pianist-singer’s life from its 1939 start, his coming up in the home of Baptist-minister parents in Bay St. Louis, Louisiana, to its sad, sorry end in an emergency room waiting-area in New Orleans’ Charity Hospital, where he was born. His story is full of twisted luck and uncanny moments: the film’s sequence where a dozen friends relate contradictory stories of how Booker lost his eye. The sequence where Harry Connick, Jr., demonstrates Booker’s baroquely syncopated piano technique, which Connick as a child studied firsthand (Connick, Sr. was a New Orleans District Attorney who traded Booker a get-out-of-jail-free card for his son’s piano lessons). The sequence where a young guitarist struggling to keep up with Booker onstage describes how the musician maintained his almost unfollowable pace – more notes than any ten fingers could possible play – all the while trying on a succession of glitter-studded eyepatches, hoping to find the one that most appeal to a man in the audience he hoped to attract.

After his 1954 debut as “Little Booker,” he played with just about everybody from Fats Domino to Freddy King, Aretha Franklin, even Ringo Starr and the Doobie Brothers before issuing an amazing string of live and studio albums, many solo. Booker taught Dr. John to play the organ. He studied classical piano as a child. He played a version of “The Minute Waltz” (dubbing it “The Black Minute Waltz”), a ton of standards (I love his “Angel Eyes,” for instance) adaptations of pop songs (Doc Pomus’ “Lonely Avenue”), classic blues like “St. James Infirmary,” and original songs like the mysteriously allusive “Papa Was a Rascal,” opened and closed by these lines:

There was a sweet white woman down in Savanna GA
She made love to my daddy in front of the KKK.

You know we all got to watch out for the CIA.

Booker’s addiction to opiates started in childhood, in the aftermath of a terrible and traumatic auto accident. In 1970, he spent time in Angola for drug possession. The rest of his life he rode a surreal roller-coaster: successful gigs in the U.S. and Europe; throwing it away by ditching recording sessions to get high as soon as he got paid; worshipped by astounded fellow musicians; treated like dirt by every racist, homophobic institution that crossed his path. Knowing how good he was made it all worse. By Booker’s last years, he was seeing the CIA around every corner, tapping into not only his deeds but his thoughts. You can call it paranoia, and it would be hard to argue with that, except to say that the thicket of everyday hostility a black, gay, one-eyed, drug-addicted musician would be expected to hack his way through in mid-twentieth century America could make it very hard to see the world as a welcoming place.

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