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Archive for the ‘Politics & Society’ Category



For Hindu Americans, Long-Term Hopes for Pluralism About More Than Just Days Off

Feb10

by: Murali Balaji on February 10th, 2016 | No Comments »

Creative Commons/AFGE

At a time when our struggle for civil and human rights seems daunting given the vitriolic political climate, one of the most striking lessons from history is that movements for social change never go smoothly.

In fact, one of the lessons many of us fail to appreciate from the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s is how many internal struggles there was among the various groups and leaders that were calling for change. Ava DuVernay’s masterful Selma captured some of these struggles from the perspective of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., but there were many ideological, geographical, cultural, and religious fault-lines that hindered attempts to articulate a unified message for full equality and suffrage.

After the passage of the Civil Rights Act, some of those tensions remained, even as groups such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and NAACP continued to try to impact long-lasting change.

Today, new battlefronts in the call for civil rights have emerged, most notably for recognizing the rights of religious minorities in a rapidly diversifying country. Religious pluralism is no longer just an ideal, but a reality that cities and communities across America are coming to grips with.

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The First Jewish President

Feb7

by: on February 7th, 2016 | Comments Off

In 2011, New York magazine called Barack Obama “the first Jewish president” for his tough-love support of Israel. It was not only a ridiculous statement at the time, bombast intended to counter the exaggerated attacks coming from right-wing hawks, but it was an offensive statement for many American Jews who understand that backing Israel does not make one Jewish.

That was five years ago. Today, for the first time in American history – just seventy years after U.S. forces liberated Buchenwald – we have the opportunity to intone those words in actuality: “the first Jewish president.” In Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Party has a viable, Jewish candidate inspiring young Americans across every divide imaginable, using the language of morality just as much as that of populism. Given this, it’s worth exploring just what being ‘Jewish’ means for Bernie Sanders, and why his Jewishness is meaningful.

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I recognize Sanders, see much of my family and myself in him, as do millions of eligible voters.

Like most American Jews, Sanders is not religiously observant, if to be observant means faithfully practicing Jewish rituals, engaging with organized Jewish institutions, and adhering to Jewish law. He does none of this. And yet, his cultural identity and his ethical compass are deeply Jewish, coming from a long tradition of American Jews who have eschewed theism and organized religion while culturally and politically embracing the core tenets of justice echoed within Jewish texts.


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A Second Scientific Revolution Reveals the Mortality of the Modern World

Feb5

by: David W. Noble on February 5th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

In this essay I explain how I moved from a critique of a metaphor of two worlds, America and Europe, to a critique of a metaphor of two worlds, modern and traditional. I also now see America and the modern as symbolic representations of a limitless frontier. I see Europe and the traditional as symbolic representations of a limited home. Once I saw Europeans leaving home to come to an American frontier; now I see modern people leaving traditional homes to come to a universal frontier/marketplace. And I see this powerful modern prophecy of an exodus from a limited old world to a limitless new world as the major cause of our dangerous environmental crisis. We do not nurture our earthly home because we believe we are going to a frontier of unlimited resources.

During the summer of 1944 I became self-conscious of the fact that irony is a significant aspect of human experience. I had graduated from high school into the army in June 1943. Throughout my childhood and youth I was told that my German grandparents had left a European old world of economic scarcity and war and came to an American new world of plenty and peace. But now in an army hospital I began to question this metaphor of two worlds and the concept of a redemptive exodus to a new world. Before being injured in an accidental explosion I had experienced severe poverty from 1940, when our farm was foreclosed, to 1943, when I entered the army. Our home for my father, mother, and me during those years was a small barn that had electricity and running water. We could not afford morphine to ease my father’s pain as he was dying from stomach cancer.

My sense of irony was compounded, therefore, by my financial ability as a disabled veteran to enroll at Princeton University in 1945. Working with my older brother in the 1930s to deliver milk in Princeton, I had learned that Princeton University was a school for the sons of rich men. I was not grateful, however, that I could now sit in classes with young men who came from wealthy backgrounds. But I was grateful that I could begin to prepare for a career in teaching. I wanted to inform my fellow citizens that the metaphor of two worlds and an exodus narrative were not true. They were not an accurate description of human experience.


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I’ve Had It With Cynical Faux-Realists Attacking Bernie Sanders Idealists

Feb5

by: on February 5th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Editor’s NoteWe at Tikkun do not endorse any candidate or political party, and we know that there are people in our community who are members of the Green Party, and that some of our members in the Democratic Party are supporters of Hillary and some of Bernie. This article is not meant to take sides on how to vote. Rather, it is an expression of exasperation at one of the arguments made against voting for Bernie–namely that doing so is “unrealistic.” As those of you who follow Tikkun know, one of our major concerns is to help people move away from the notion that our political choices should be defined by what the media and political leaders tell us is or is not realistic. It is in that regard that we are sending you the article that appeared on Salon.com - written by Cat Zavis.–Rabbi Michael Lerner

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley (AP Photo/)(Credit: AP/Nati Harnik)

I can appreciate the concern and fear underlying the words of John Avignone (“I have had it with naïve Bernie Sanders idealists”) and Paul Krugman (who wrote a piece in the NYT saying Sanders was not realistic and we can only hope for the incremental change proposed by Hilary Clinton) and others who are choosing to support Clinton, even though they want our country to move further to the ideals and values put forth by Bernie than those expressed by Hillary.

They articulate a fear that I have heard spoken by many – Bernie is not electable and if Bernie is the Democratic nomination, a Republican (i.e., Trump) will win and we will be in a very dangerous situation. Their solution is to support Hillary rather than rally behind a candidate who — yes, has shortcomings, as do all the candidates — is trying to build a movement that would be there to support his reform efforts. He recognizes that he cannot create the meaningful and systemic change he seeks for the betterment of our country and the world on his own.

There has been throughout history, and will continue to be, a battle between two competing approaches to social change and underlying that, two worldviews. On the one hand, we have the view of Clinton and her supporters – the realists. The realists (and many involved in social change work fall into this camp) argue that we have to fight for what is achievable because otherwise we will be way worse off. In this case that means cast your vote for Hillary because she is more “realistic,” and thus more likely to win. This is essentially casting a vote for the lesser evil. This approach to social and political change is steeped in fear. Those in this camp believe that the only way we can arrive where we want to get is through incremental (i.e., realistic) change. But what they fail to understand is that those with power and money define their definition of realistic. When we narrow our vision of what is possible to what those in power tell us is possible, we actually bolster their power.

But there’s a reason people limit their vision. Putting forth a vision for radical transformation is a vulnerable and scary leap of faith. Millions of people rallied behind Obama’s call for hope. He professed that we are one country, not a nation of blacks and whites, but all one. He promised to work across the political divide to find solutions to the pressing issues before him and our nation. Within months of being in office, after the collapse of the economic system, Obama chose to bail out Wall Street rather than help Main Street, even though it was Main Street that put him in the White House.

As his tenure in office continued, he implemented policies and approaches that were in direct conflict with his election message (failing to close Guantánamo or end the war in Afghanistan, to name a few). People who were inspired by his message and whose hopes were raised that they finally had a progressive president who would fight for their interests rather than the interests of the elite became disillusioned and disenchanted. Many withdrew from politics and/or became supporters of local efforts to work for “realistic” change believing that transformative, systemic change is “unrealistic.”

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BDS and NWSA: A Re-Awakening for Jewish Feminists

Feb4

by: Sharon Leder on February 4th, 2016 | No Comments »

Many of us who are Jewish feminists returned from the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in Milwaukee (November 2015) with inboxes full of email from colleagues who were stunned by the association’s passage of a BDS resolution boycotting Israel. The NWSA-BDS resolution is an endorsement of “the 2005 call by Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of economic, military and cultural entities and projects sponsored by the state of Israel,” that is a general BDS of all Israeli institutions, including “Israeli institutions of higher learning” that “have not challenged, but instead legitimized, Israel’s oppressive policies and violations” (www.nwsa.org/content.asp?contentid=105). The resolution was circulated at the 2015 conference along with a list of Frequently Asked Questions. The answers to questions about boycotting Israeli institutions of higher learning gave conditions for permissible and non-permissible communications between Israeli and U.S. academics that were contradictory and did not identify the “complicit” institutions of higher learning.

For many, this resolution stung as hugely insensitive to the diversity of opinion within the Jewish membership of NWSA. In a pro BDS plenary at the 2015 NWSA Conference on violence against Native women, Latino women, and Palestinian women, for example, not a word was uttered about the genocidal violence committed against Jewish women, men and children in the 20th century, let alone previous centuries. It felt like a throwback to the 1980s, when Women’s Studies was a fledgling interdisciplinary field that that was blind to Jewish women and anti-Semitism. Introductory Women’s Studies courses covered the discriminatory experiences of women of color, lesbians, working and middle-class Western women, and later women, gender and sexuality from a global perspective, but omitted Jewish women and anti-Semitism from the canon. The persistent absence of anti-Semitism and diverse Jewish women’s realities from the Women’s Studies canon has allowed a one-sided platform to dominate NWSA dialogue about BDS and about conflicts in Israel.

When Jewish feminists attempted in the 1980s to include anti-Semitism in NWSA’s mission as an intersectional oppression, the statement wouldn’t pass unless Arabs and Jews were both included as victims of anti-Semitism. While this may be understandable on some levels, it becomes much less so when it is followed years later by an anti-Israel BDS resolution and plenary sessions that neglect to differentiate between a right wing government in Israel that has re-defined Zionism on its own religious, militaristic terms and the many Israelis on the left, Zionists for a democratic Israel, who are desperately calling out for coalitions with American Jews to end the Occupation, as demonstrated by the recent Ha’aretz Conference held in New York City (December 2015). In 2014, the NWSA plenary session in Puerto Rico, out of which support for BDS began, was devoted to settler colonialism. But the plenary completely excluded the varied positions within the Jewish left on the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, inviting only Jewish speakers whose positions reflected one left group, Jewish Voice for Peace. This group is committed to social and economic justice for Palestinians but, like BDS, has not clearly articulated whether “peace” means returning to the borders of 1948 or those of 1967. Following the plenary, the NWSA leadership called for a “straw vote” asking those in the audience of approximately 2,500 who supported BDS to stand up. An ad hoc group was then formed, Feminists for Justice in/for Palestine, the group that then proposed the NWSA-BDS resolution in 2015. The Jewish Caucus in the NWSA, which reflects a diversity of Jewish left perspectives on both settler colonialism and BDS, was not once consulted at any point in this conversation. No one represents the NWSA Jewish Caucus in this ad hoc group. This omission of the NWSA’s own caucus bespeaks a fear of Jewish opinion. While the Caucus has been struggling to survive within NWSA since the 1980s, many members recently resigned due to NWSA’s pro-BDS stance, causing further erosion.

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Get Involved When It’s None Of Your Business

Feb3

by: Laura Grace Weldon on February 3rd, 2016 | 1 Comment »

peace through non-violence, take a stand on violence, intervene in conflict, conflict resolution,

Working in a retail job, you think you’ve become accustomed to bad behavior on the part of children as well as parents. But you are appalled to see a mother use an umbrella to spank a small boy. Will intervening threaten the child or endanger your job?

Walking through a grocery store parking lot, you notice a crying toddler in the grocery cart and a woman screaming at the child as she loads packages in her car. She slaps the child’s face and arms as you walk pastIf you say anything will you make it worse?

Looking out your apartment window you see a young man standing next to a motorcycle, pushing and yelling at a teenaged girl from the building who seems to be his girlfriend. Would the police consider this abuse if you called?

Leaving work later than usual on a wintry evening you have the feeling you’re being followed. As you turn a corner you see an ill-dressed youth close behind you. He holds out a gun and asks for money. Are there any options that don’t leave a victim?

Driving past a cluster of youths on a city street, you realize that they are clubbing a boy with a piece of wood. It’s safer for you to continue in traffic, but you want to defend this teen from his aggressors. Can your heart and head agree on a course of action?

Violence is familiar. It’s highlighted in news, movies and video games. It erupts in our homes or homes nearby, even if few people admit it. It’s insidious and damaging. Violence at all levels, from the personal to the global, is highly ineffective in creating lasting positive change.

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How Change Happens

Feb1

by: on February 1st, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Note:As you know, we at Tikkun do not endorse candidates or political parties. But we do respond to bad arguments and crooked thinking being done during the elections, and use the elections as an opportunity to discuss public issues. In this case, we address one of the more distorted arguments used against Bernie Sanders–that he is too visionary and that a president must be more “realistic.”

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Bernie Sanders

Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders (Source Flickr, Gage Skidmore)

The assaults on Bernie Sanders’ presidential candidacy reached new lows in the past week. Unable to effectively challenge the value of his policies, the denizens of the status quo have now focused on his alleged utopianism and his supposedly flawed vision of how change happens. In a later column I’ll explain why I believe that if Bernie doesn’t become our next President it will not be for these reasons, but because he is not utopian enough, stuck as he is in an economistic worldview that doesn’t address fully the way that global capitalism invades and distorts our minds, our relationships, our families, even at times our souls. If he tied this together with his attempts to revive the New Deal, he’d break through the resistance that many people have to his style and elements of his politics that seem stuck in the past. But for the moment, lets focus on these current attacks.

Leading the charge was Paul Krugman’s “How Change Happens” in the New York Times January 22, 2016. Krugman, who I believe has been one of the most significant voices of reason when addressing the horrific environmental and social consequences of the unfettered marketplace, suddenly turns chicken about the changes that are really needed to save the planet from environmental catastrophe and U.S. society from further disintegration. Using the massive credibility he has built up as the best known liberal voice in the establishment media, Krugman makes the argument that when looking at history it turns out that the compromisers have delivered real change while the idealists and utopians have failed. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is certainly true that we will always need the legislators and technocrats to work out the details of new legislation and budget proposals that embody the ideals of a just and sustainable society. But getting to that society takes a very different kind of leadership–one that can project and mobilize people around a vision that they believe to be worth struggling to attain.

Yet such leaders are only possible if they emerge from and are supported by larger visionary movements to whom they are accountable.

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Time to Talk: Israeli and American Progressives Need to Communicate

Feb1

by: Jeremy Sher on February 1st, 2016 | 3 Comments »

In the cold light of January, Israeli and American progressives have awoken to a harsh new reality, in which right-wing interests have gained power and are preparing for permanent war. How did we get here? Like a couple who have been stressed by circumstances and who suddenly realize the sheets are cold, Israeli and American Jewish progressives linger awake in bed, talking past each other. But at least we’ve finally started talking.

Israeli pundit Chemi Shalev of Haaretz first broke the silence. Feeling cornered by the right and unsupported by the left, Shalev articulates “the cries of anguish emanating from Israel’s peace camp.” He takes his frustration out on American progressive Jews themselves: “By staying silent, by refraining from the kind of forceful, game-changing protest that the current situation warrants, American Jews are not only abandoning like-minded Israelis, they are betraying Israel itself.”

And just like that, we’re finally talking. But to show how little communication we American and Israeli progressives have ever had in our cold romance, Shalev seems totally unfamiliar with the barriers American Jews have faced for decades. Shalev’s words suggest that he thinks American Jews have been “staying silent,” not protesting the ascendancy of the right. To be sure, this accusation is quite false. As an activist with nearly 20 years’ experience in American Jewish progressive advocacy on Israel, starting here at Tikkun when I co-founded a Politics of Meaning chapter in Boston, I think most of my grassroots colleagues would agree that we’ve been tiring ourselves out to make modest tactical gains every so often, like the Iran deal. American Jewish progressives have stared down opprobrium and ostracism in our own communities, unsure exactly how to help but unwilling to let the right wing get away with its claim to represent us. Our efforts have not yet succeeded in turning the tide, so Shalev’s frustration is understandable, but his accusation is misinformed.

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Some Reflections on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Jan27

by: on January 27th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Today is the day that the international community determined would commemorate one of the biggest stains of our recent history: the Holocaust. Some three quarters of a century later the wounds of the Holocaust are still everywhere, from the museums that educate to the survivors who lament. The rallying cry is ever-loud and powerful, as well it should be: NEVER AGAIN!

Yet today, as I look around, the cry seems a formality only. So much is happening in the world right now that is scary, worrying, and even downright wrong. Sometimes I wonder whether the people who lived in the mid and late 1930s could tell what was about to happen. I wonder how we would even know if those situations were rising again. To me, never again is a comforting slogan, but not much else.

I ask myself, what has the world actually learned as a result of WWII? When we say never again, what and who is encompassed in that promise? Have we done things differently in the last several decades? Has anyone learned anything at all? I’m not sure.

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Conversations About Resistance

Jan27

by: Maurice Cotter on January 27th, 2016 | No Comments »

At first, the scene appears tense. Twenty-one Israeli soldiers in full combat gear are arrayed in a neat line across the main road of the small village of Al Ma’sara, just south of Bethlehem in the West Bank. Several of the soldiers wear partial balaclavas which obscure their features, leaving their faces visible only from the eyes up. They stand expectantly, some with their hands resting casually on the butts of their rifles.

Credit: Maurice Cotter, EAPPI

Confronting them are twenty Palestinians, eight of them children. The protesters carry flags and placards. They march forward until they’re face to face with their occupiers. The leader of the protest is Hassan, a veteran of the local non-violent resistance movement. Hassan and his family have paid a high personal cost for his activism: he has been imprisoned on numerous occasions and his family home has been the subject of repeated night raids. His enthusiasm remains undimmed. Right now, he’s delivering an impassioned monologue to the soldiers, who maintain a stony silence throughout.

“I see your weakness in the mask on your face!” he declares. His voice ascends in pitch as well as volume as he speaks, producing an unusual, almost ululating effect. “Force masks weakness! Physical power means weakness! I may be physically occupied but you”, he says, jabbing his index finger at the nearest soldier, “are mentally weak.”

I’m here in my capacity as a human rights monitor with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). EAPPI offers “protective accompaniment” at non-violent demonstrations, working off the principle that the presence of international observers can defuse or de-escalate situations which could potentially lead to violence or other human rights violations. I approach the demonstration, my first, with some trepidation.

The reality is more prosaic than my expectations. Hassan’s interventions are the most remarkable feature of the protest, which is otherwise uneventful and soon peters out. It is, it transpires, a weekly event. The soldiers are present to marshal the protesters and the protesters demonstrate against the soldiers’ presence. No-one mentions the circular logic. I wonder why the soldiers don’t simply refrain from turning up one day given that the protest depends entirely on their presence for its political efficacy, but conclude that this would represent an unacceptable victory for the demonstrators.

As we drive away, I can’t help but feel that the whole scenario resembles a piece of absurdist theatre. The military spectacle appears wildly disproportionate in the face of a crowd filled with child protesters and there’s undoubtedly a performative element to Hassan’s exhortations (delivered in English, at least partially for the benefit of international onlookers). The soldiers even allow road traffic to pass through their line, blocking only the protesters from passing. There is little of the sense of charged possibility that I – perhaps naively – associated with popular resistance.

I monitor a number of other demonstrations during my time in Bethlehem. Not all are like Al Ma’sara; at one protest in particular, between the villages of Al Jaba and Surif, I’m struck by the resolve and the sheer anger of the demonstrators in the face of the casual use by Israeli soldiers of sound grenades and tear gas. By and large, though, there are relatively few protests and those I witness are low-key events. As time passes I’m increasingly occupied with an overriding question: why is non-violent resistance here so seemingly desiccated? 

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