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Archive for the ‘Politics & Society’ Category



Clearing the Land of a Million Bombs

Mar28

by: Leah Zani on March 28th, 2015 | No Comments »

The wall of a building pockmarked with bullet holes in Sepon, Laos

In the Land of a Million Bombs, citizens of Laos are reclaiming sacred sites such as this temple in Old Sepon. Credit: Author.

In the Land of a Million Bombs, a friend told me a strange war story: Two American helicopter pilots were flying low over the jungles of Laos, scouting for villages during the Vietnam War. Skimming the treetops, one pilot saw, in the midst of war and desolation, an idyllic village: whole houses, green gardens, healthy people carrying baskets full of fruit. The pilot signaled a landing but the village disappeared before his eyes as they descended into the clearing.

My Lao friend explained: The pilot had glimpsed a Buddhist paradise, a kind of parallel world untouched by war. “There are worlds around us that we can’t see, full of people who are right and honest. They never kill anything.” The war had made the boundaries between these parallel worlds fragile; and so, paradoxically, one American soldier had glimpsed a Lao paradise free of violence or death.

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“Let the Palestinian people go”: What younger Jews will be asking of Israel at Passover Seder this year

Mar27

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

What makes this year’s Passover Seders unlike any others is that a majority of American Jews have been forced to face the fact that Palestinians today are asking Jews what Moses asked Pharaoh: “Let my people go.” The Israeli elections, and subsequent support for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s open racism and obstinate refusal to help create a Palestinian state, is not playing well with many younger Jews, and they will be challenging their elders to rethink their blind support for Israeli policies.

Increasingly, young Jews are on the Moses side, and see Netanyahu as the contemporary Pharaoh. So at the Seder more and more Jews will be asking Israel to “let the Palestinian people go.”

The easiest way ​for Israel ​to ​allow Palestinians their freedomis to create a politically and economically viable Palestinian state living in peace with Israel and based on the 1967 borders of Israel with slight border changes to allow Israel to incorporate the settlements in Gush Etzion and Jewish parts of Jerusalem that were built on conquered Arab land in 1967. The terms for that agreement were well worked out by “The Geneva Accord” developed by former Yitzhak Rabin aide (and Ehud Barak’s Minister of Justice) Yossi Beilin, and would include Jerusalem serving as the capital of both states, massive reparations to the Palestinian people to help fund such a state (paid in part by the international community), and joint police and military cooperation, supplemented by international help, to deal with the inevitable acts of terror from both Israeli and Palestinian terrorists who would want to block any such agreement.

Though Prime Minister Netanyahu has now sought to back away from his unequivocal election commitment in mid-March that he would never allow Palestinians to have a separate state, it is clear to most American Jews that he was telling the truth to his own community when he made that commitment. Only a fully unambiguous embrace of a detailed plan for ending the Occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza, and major unilateral acts on Israel’s part to begin to implement the creation of a Palestinian state, would be believed by any Palestinians at this point. And who can blame them?

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Netanyahu Removes the Mask: The Two-State Solution is Dead

Mar27

by: David Glick on March 27th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Protesters in London holding 'Free Palestine' signs.

Israel is the home of Jewish and non-Jewish followers of three great religions. Liberal Zionism is nothing but a fiction. Above, activists from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign march in London. Credit: CreativeCommons / James_London

Prime Minister Netanyahu has finally removed the mask. “If I am elected there will be no Palestinian state,” he said in the clearest possible terms. Netanyahu, of course, was merely publicly aligning his words with what have long been his actions. Throughout his entire political career he has done everything possible to thwart the emergence of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. Furthermore, Netanyahu’s barely coded racist remarks about Palestinians “coming out in droves to the polls” demonstrates there is no place for Palestinians in the Israeli Zionist polity.

The two state solution is officially dead and it is time to give it its proper burial. The truth is that under both Likud and Labor governments, negotiations with the Palestinians have long been nothing but a theatrical production as Israel continued to seize more Palestinian land and build more settlements even as it proceeded with the negotiations. Netanyahu is simply acknowledging what has been true of all of Israel’s leaders, whether of the right, left, or center. For the past 22 years all have been misleading the world, pretending to seek peace with the Palestinians while pursuing policies to ensure there will never be peace and never be a Palestinian state. Had the Zionist Union prevailed, it would have simply tried to restart the same moribund negotiations that have served as a cover for Israel to talk peace while destroying its prospects by building more colonies.

It is time for American Jews to face the fact that liberal Zionism is nothing but a fiction. It is time to sit shiva to mourn its passing. It is time to confront the fact that a Jewish state that maintains a brutal and illegal 48 year occupation over millions of Palestinians and privileges the rights of its own Jewish citizens above those of its Palestinian citizens is incompatible with any reasonable understanding of liberalism. This latest election was essentially a referendum on the peace process and the two state solution and the outcome was clear. Israelis have rejected both. For American Jews the choice is clear: Israel can either continue to embrace its Zionist underpinning in which case it will remain a Jewish state but not democratic state or it can abandon its Zionist underpinning and become a democratic state but no longer a Jewish state.

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How a California Gurdwara From a Century Ago Can be a Model for Interfaith Harmony

Mar26

by: Murali Balaji on March 26th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

The popular narrative in media and textbooks on the South Asian American population is that they’ve only existed in the United States for a few decades.

But such a narrative misrepresents and obscures a much longer history, especially at the turn of the century, when several thousand Indians settled in regions like Northern California. It’s the largely untold story of the migration of Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims from pre-partition India from the late 19th century up until the passage of the Asian Exclusion Act (which was passed to limit Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Indian migration).

Even before the act was passed, migrants from India faced many obstacles, including systemic discrimination and outright violence. The 1907 “anti-Hindoo” riots in Bellingham, Washington, for example, targeted mostly Sikh laborers whom whites had accused of stealing lumber jobs. Bellingham is only about an hour north of Bothell, Washington, where a Hindu temple was recently vandalized.

Still, in their small conclaves, the immigrants of different faiths began to find ways to develop a community identity, in part because they were largely shunned by whites. At the time, about two-thirds of Indian immigrants in California at the turn of the century were Sikh, and as a result, the Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society — a gurdwara — opened in Stockton in 1911.

Because Hindus and Muslims in the region were still small in number, and unable to get the approvals to build any sites of worship, the Stockton gurdwara served as a place of worship for all three religions. While Hindu-Sikh co-worship was common in northern India for centuries, a place for all three groups in the United States was created by circumstance and sustained through interfaith bonds.

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The Militarists and Haters Win in Israel

Mar25

by: on March 25th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Winners:  Netanyahu, AIPAC, the U.S. Republican Party, Sheldon Adelson (the American Jewish billionaire funder of the right), Hamas, the Islamic State, and the right-wing Mullahs in Iran.

Losers: Israelis, World Jewry, the Palestinian people, the forces for peace and nonviolence everywhere, the Palestinian Authority, the people of Iran, and the people of the United States.

According to Israeli newspapers reporting on the outcome of the Israeli election on Tuesday, Likud increased its lead in the next Knesset of 120 members. It will now hold thirty Knesset seats, compared to the Zionist Union (former Labor Party) with twenty-four seats. As the frontrunner, Netanyahu will be asked to create the government coalition.

The Joint List of Palestinian Israelis, the third-largest party, gets 14 seats, followed by Yesh Atid with 11, Kulanu with 10, Habayit Hayehudi (ultra right) with eight, Shas with seven, United Torah Judaism with six, Yisrael Beiteinu (fascist right) with six, and Meretz (once the peace party) with four.

Though the Israeli president has said he will ask for a government of national unity, it will be unity around the policies that Netanyahu put out clearly in the last days of the election: no Palestinian state, no deal that would allow Iran to develop nuclear energy, no willingness to count Arab Israelis as “real Israelis” (Netanyahu went so far as to warn the Israeli public that they were in danger because Arab Israelis had formed a Joint List and might become a real force in the Knesset unless the Jewish Israelis rallied around Netanyahu’s Likud party).

How can the right wing grow to so much power in an Israel filled with mostly decent human beings, some of whom have even been influenced by Judaism’s teachings of love for the neighbor and love for “the other,” though of course most Israelis are secular?

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Then You Win: What Swarthmore Means For Open Hillel

Mar25

by: Evan Goldstein on March 25th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Jewish students holding signs protesting against Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Jewish Voice for Peace is one of the many voices being silenced by Hillel International's policy of dictating what is and is not acceptable dialogue within the Jewish community. Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

Popular sayings are often more useful as pithy evasions of analysis than as actual descriptors, but in this case it seems Hillel International is determined to enact Gandhi’s dictum. Recall October 2014, when Eric Fingerhut dismissed the Open Hillel movement as a “small group of activists.” In December 2014, Fingerhut likened us to the Biblical rebel Korach (cf. Numbers 16), and suggested our cause would not endure.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you.

By March 2015, Hillel International apparently has no choice but to fight: Formerly known as Swarthmore Hillel, Swarthmore Kehilah was forced to drop the Hillel name, following legal threats from Hillel International. Swarthmore’s sin was to plan an event entitled, “Social Justice Then and Now: Lessons From the Civil Rights Movement,” which will feature three Jewish veterans of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Since these particular activists support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, their very presence threatens Hillel’s “name and reputation,” and therefore, apparently necessitates legal threats.

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Questions of Masculinity in Force Majeure

Mar24

by: Ethan J. Leib on March 24th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

A traffic sign suggesting for men to hold women's hands as they cross the street.

The film Force Majeure forces us to examine exactly what masculine stereotypes we are trying to abolish, and why. Credit: CreativeCommons / Keoni Cabral.

As a legal scholar, I can tell you that the legal term “force majeure” usually refers to acts of God – earthquakes, hurricanes, and avalanches – that serve to relieve parties’ performance obligations in a contract. In a cleverly-titled film that should have been an Oscar contender this year – Force Majeure by Ruben Ӧstlund, now available for streaming on Netflix – the avalanche never really occurs and the performance obligations of masculinity are never really relieved. The film depicts a man who fails to live up to conventional expectations of manliness in the face of a threatened “act of God” but shows us something potentially more embarrassing still: that the command to be a man may itself be a literal force majeure; a superior force, emerging from the force of desire. Modern feminism has been slow to recognize that an unreconstructed female libido that reinforces male performances of masculinity threatens to stand in the way of a full and robust sexual equality.

Force Majeure presents us with the discomfiting challenge that the quest for sex equality – the commitment to unwind patterns of patriarchy and have a society that values men and women equally – may require much more than futzing at the margins of our laws. Instead, it may require rewiring libidinal urges. This isn’t quite like trying to undo a natural law but it may be a clawing away at the foundations of life in marriage and monogamy. The movie helps us see that marriage as an institution and women themselves are invested in performances of masculinity. This doesn’t mean we can remain resigned to material inequality caused by patterns of male domination. But it may mean that we need to have more uncomfortable conversations about the deep ways the desire for masculinity – by women, in particular – continues to structure male performances of masculinity. This structure of desire keeps us living in a gender conformist world that prescribes scripts feminists say they are eager to cast aside.


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White House Chief of Staff: Israel’s 50-year occupation must end

Mar23

by: on March 23rd, 2015 | 8 Comments »

Speaking before J Street conference attendees in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough amplified President Obama’s policy rift with Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

Responding to Netanyahu’s pre-election rejection of Palestinian statehood and subsequent attempts to walk back said rejection, McDonough had this to say:

“We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made,” McDonough told the J Street conference in Washington, whose left-leaning audience received his remarks enthusiastically.

“Israel cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely,” he said. “An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end.”


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I am now a ‘Pro-Pressure’ Jew

Mar21

by: on March 21st, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has obliterated what it means to be ‘pro-Israel,’ setting Israel on a course towards national suicide which mainstream American Jewish organizations seem intent on enabling.

However, I and many others refuse to stand idly by as Israel self-destructs, understanding that to truly be ‘pro-Israel’ now means to be ‘pro-pressure’ – to champion nonviolent measures capable of forcing Israel to change from without, including those initiated by the Obama administration.

The phrase ‘pro-Israel’ over the years has come to signify supporting Israel as a Jewish, democratic state. In other words, it has been synonymous with support for the two-state resolution for Israel/Palestine and opposition to a single-state outcome. It has been synonymous with championing self-determination for both Palestinians and Israeli Jews.

However, in a 24-hour period leading up to and during Israel’s latest elections, Netanyahu concretized with his words what his actions already established: an Israel committed to perpetual occupation and discrimination. An Israel committed to a right-wing version of single statehood. An Israel committed to national destruction.

He did so by formally rejecting Palestinian statehood, embracing perpetual occupation and settlement expansion, and employing racists rants about Palestinian citizens “coming out in droves to the polls.” By doing so, he was rewarded with a striking victory and mandate which will likely lead to the most right-wing Israeli government in its history. It’s an outcome many in Israel’s own security establishment feared as more dangerous than any enemy, an outcome some think will inevitably lead to full, national apartheid.

Many Americans and diaspora Jews are, for the first time, realizing this, thanks to Netanyahu’s racist rhetoric and rejection of two states. Which is why ‘pro-Israel’ can no longer mean supporting Israel’s government. Indeed, for many it now means strongly opposing it, with being ‘pro-Israel’ meaning to be ‘pro-pressure,’ to back measures which will force Israel to change from without before it destroys itself from within.

As an American Jew invested in Israel and Palestine’s future, I now formally consider myself to be a ‘pro-pressure’ Jew. Allow me to explain:


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Florida Proposes “Stand Outside My Loo” Law

Mar20

by: on March 20th, 2015 | No Comments »

A sign for a unisex bathroom.

Florida is proposing a law that would impose criminal penalties on those who knowingly enter restrooms of a sex not designated on their birth certificates, implicitly discriminating against transgender citizens. Credit: CreativeCommons / Matthew Rutledge.

Florida, one of the states known for its infamous so-called “stand your ground” law (“justifiable use of force” law), has now proposed standing its patriarchal ground once again, this time in its “Single Sex Facilities” (what I am calling its “Stand Out of My Loo”) law. If passed by the state legislature, CS/HB 583 would impose criminal penalties on persons who knowingly enter restrooms of a sex not designated on their birth certificates.

Sponsors of this clearly discriminatory bill designed it specifically to ban trans* people from using restrooms that most closely align with their gender identities. Legislators see the writing on the bathroom walls signaling the establishment of gender inclusive restroom facilities throughout the nation, which have existed in a number of nations around the world for decades.

Some may refer to these spaces as “gender neutral,” though “gender inclusive” has become the preferred terminology to describe a space – most notably restrooms and floors in college and university dormitories and in many businesses – denoting a cite of inclusion welcoming individuals of all genders and gender identities and expressions. The terminology “gender neutral” overlooks the actual hierarchal power dynamics among genders, and the implications on the lived experiences of virtually everyone in our society.

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