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Archive for the ‘General News’ Category



John Legend, Anthony Bourdain & Shifting Use of the ‘P’ Word in America

May22

by: on May 22nd, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Growing up, I rarely heard the ‘P’ word uttered in my suburban Atlanta community, and not once did I hear it spoken in my Hebrew school at our family’s conservative synagogue, where teachers spoke of “them” in quick, hushed tones.

And whenever the ‘P’ word was mentioned, whether on CNN or ABC News, it was always accompanied by images of bloodied streets, of people who looked like me grieving, of extremists pointing guns toward the heavens. The message growing up in America, and in the American Jewish community, was clear: Palestinians were a people so evil as to not be named, unless appropriately malevolent images befitting such a people could be simultaneously conjured.

Palestinians were not human, their existence inhumane. This is what I was taught. And this is what I still believed when, in 2002, a Palestinian man planted a bomb at Hebrew University which injured my wife and killed the two American friends with whom she was sitting.

In 2002, in a post-9/11 America fomenting the early stages of a societal, systemic Islamophobia, this is what mainstream America believed as well. The ‘P’ word was used mostly to demonize, not to humanize.

But things have changed dramatically in American discourse in the last few years, mirroring a personal change which has happened within me over the last decade. It is a change which symbolically can be represented by two remarkable moments from this week, both of which happened on May 19.


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On Using ‘Anti-Semitism’ to Promote a Political Agenda in America

May17

by: on May 17th, 2014 | 11 Comments »

Fifteen years ago, on a dirt road in rural Missouri, I was followed by two men in a beat-up Ford pickup for three miles, their middle fingers raised and their faces strained, screaming words I could not hear – words I did not need to hear.

This was during my yarmulke-wearing days. I was a visible, lone Jew out in the country bird watching. A Jew who suddenly found himself being tracked by two men whose hate-fueled rage inspired them to try running me off the road. As sport.

Of course, anti-Semitism exists in America and remains a dangerous, global prejudice which reverberates strongly in the Holocaust’s wake. I’ve experienced it on several occasions in multiple countries, as have family and friends. Which is why it’s troubling to witness individuals and organizations in America make false ‘anti-Semitism’ claims not to point out this real prejudice, but in the service of propaganda intended to demonize Middle-Eastern Muslims in general, and Palestinians in particular.

This week was a big moment for this phenomenon, as much attention was focused on a shocking global survey on anti-Semitism conducted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The survey of over 50,000 respondents claims to reveal that over a billion people – 26 percent of the global population – harbor predominantly anti-Semitic views, with Muslims being the most anti-Semitic religious group and Palestinians the most anti-Semitic nationality. (According to the survey, 49 percent of Muslims worldwide are anti-Semitic, as are 75 percent of Middle-Eastern Muslims and 93 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.)

Those numbers certainly appear shocking.

However, the survey’s problematic metrics reveal this quantitative survey to be less about measuring actual anti-Semitism as defined by the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and more about an occasion to demonize Middle Eastern Muslims in general, and Palestinians in particular, in the service of ‘pro-Israel’ and anti-Palestinian efforts.


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Jews in America: Our Conflicted Heritage

May12

by: on May 12th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Two young girls wearing banners that read "Abolish child slavery" in English and Yiddish. Credit: Creative Commons

On the one hand, Jews are deeply grateful that America provided us with a safe haven when so many other Christianity-dominated cultures had represented us as demon Christ-killers and created the preconditions for the rise of both secular and religious anti-Semitism. American Jews rejoiced in the promise of freedom and equality before the law, and played a major role in organizing, shaping, and leading social movements that could extend that promise to all of America’s citizens. The role of the United States in defeating Nazism at the expense of so many American lives remains an enduring source of pride even for the grandchildren and great grandchildren of those who fought in World War II, and an enduring source of appreciation for this amazing country. And the generosity of the American people toward Jews has made it possible for us to thrive and feel the kind of safety we haven’t felt for two thousand years of exile and diaspora.

On the other hand, Jewish well-being in America came not because this society didn’t seek scapegoats, but rather because it already had a scapegoat long before most Jews arrived on these shores – African Americans, Native Americans, and other targets (most recently, feminists, homosexuals, and “illegal” immigrants). While other immigrant groups from Europe found their safety in part by identifying with the dominant culture and becoming “white” (a social construct for all light-skinned people who bought into the existing systems of privilege and power), a significant section of the Jewish people in the past 150 years of presence in the United States chose instead to identify with the oppressed – most significantly with African Americans, but also with the poor (of which we were a significant part in the years 1880-1940), the oppressed, the homeless, and the hungry.

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Human Life is More Precious Than Rocks

May12

by: on May 12th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Last month, as the world began the remembrance of the twentieth anniversary Rwandan genocide, in which 800,000 people were hacked to death over a 100 day period, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon plead with the international community to send more peacekeepers to another African nation on the brink of genocide: the Central African Republic. Speaking recently in that country, where some 640,000 people have fled their homes for fear of being slaughtered, the Secretary General said, “The international community failed the people of Rwanda 20 years ago…And we are at risk of not doing enough for the people of the C.A.R. today.”

Subsequently, the U.N. Security Council authorized more U.N. peacekeepers to the C.A.R., who are due to arrive by September. None of those peacekeepers are slated to be Americans.

The absence of any Americans on the U.N. peacekeeping force for the C.A.R. might be a good “gut check” moment for the nation, especially when weighed against the militaristic message that President Obama is sending to another part of the world: the Asia Pacific.

For example, on his recent visit to Japan the President said of the China-Japan territorial dispute over uninhabited rocky islands in the East China Sea – a dispute which may result in a China-Japan military confrontation – “What is a consistent part of the alliance (U.S. – Japan alliance) is that the treaty covers all territories administered by Japan.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who expressed relief that America will militarily defend those rocky islands, said of Obama’s military reassurance, “On this point, I fully trust President Obama.” Needless to say, not expressing relief over Obama’s promise to take America to war over those uninhabited, rocky islands was the Chinese government. Indeed, as mentioned today in a New York Times editorial, this week’s water cannon spat between the Chinese and Vietnamese navies over the deployment of a Chinese oil rig in the South China Sea may be a direct geopolitical consequence of President Obama’s assertive – and official – military posture of collective defense, his own editorializing about America’s war-weariness notwithstanding. According to the New York Times editorial board:

Some experts say the Chinese deployed the rig because oil and gas reserves were recently found nearby. But the move could also be pushback against President Obama and his increased focus on Asia. On a recent trip to Asia, Mr. Obama said America would defend disputed islands in the East China Sea under its security treaty with Japan and reinforced a treaty commitment to the Philippines.

So here we have the President of the United States – again, publicly telegraphing to the American people that he “feels their pain” about stupid wars – simultaneously telling China and Japan, explicitly, that he is prepared to take the United States of America to war over those uninhabited, rocky islands that are disputed by China and Japan, and those two respective nations responding accordingly: Prime Minister Abe of Japan with relief, and the Chinese military with an upping of their ante in other disputed waters of the region.

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“Sometimes I’m Afraid. Sometimes I Hit.”

May10

by: on May 10th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

When Jenna answers you, she furrows her brow slightly and looks beyond you, into the distance. It might seem as though she’s concentrating hard, but you’re not taxing her seven-year-old intellect. No, you’re making her think of things, you’re making her remember things, that no seven year old should have to remember.

Her voice is quiet, sweet. And as she talks about soldiers breaking into her house at 3:30 am, and the shooting of tear gas outside meant not for crowd control, but to awaken everyone in the village, you feel pain. But then she looks at you and smiles. Happy to be treated kindly, to be helpful, to be cute.

"I think if we just talk with them, then maybe they'll return our land" - Jenna, age 7, in "Sometimes I'm Afraid. Sometimes I Hit."


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Palestinian-American asks about BDS at my book event, and nobody gets hurt

May3

by: on May 3rd, 2014 | 9 Comments »

In a remarkable moment* Wednesday night at my book event in Washington, D.C., I was asked about my views on the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement by a Palestinian-American in attendance.

During both the question and answer – which comprised three minutes of an 80-minute event – not a single American Jew was hurt, nor was Israel harmed, by the conversation. This despite dire warnings from American Jewish leaders about the dangers of such “illegitimate” discourse and my inclusion in the Jewish communal tent.

Instead of causing communal damage, the moment elicited nods and applause from a packed house of mostly progressive Jews at the MLK Jr. Memorial Library, where around 200 people braved biblical rains in the District to gather for a book event sponsored by J Street and Americans for Peace Now.

It was a beautiful, moving event. It was also an event that never should have happened.


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Palestinian Unity Will Be A Big Step On Path To Peace

Apr29

by: on April 29th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

The New York Times devoted a few thousand words on Tuesday to telling us what we already know: the peace process is dead and Prime Minister Netanyahu killed it.

Of course, it hems and haws, apportioning blame to both sides but, it is clear that the Times knows that the sole reason there was no chance that Kerry’s fool’s errand would succeed is because the Israeli right has no intention of giving up the West Bank.

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Obama Must Fire Kerry for Saying Israel Could Become an “Apartheid State” Demands Kristol Group

Apr28

by: on April 28th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

During a closed door meeting on Friday with influential world leaders, U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, warned that Israel is in danger of becoming an “apartheid state” if the two-state solution is not achieved.

Talking with leaders at the Trilateral Commission on Friday, Kerry said:

“A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens – or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state…Once you put that frame in your mind, that reality, which is the bottom line, you understand how imperative it is to get to the two-state solution, which both leaders, even yesterday, said they remain deeply committed to.”

While President Obama rejected using the word to describe Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians, it’s notable that State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki did not condemn Kerry’s sentiments, explaining that the Secretary of State was simply expressing an opinion shared my many: that the two-state solution is the only way for Israel to exist as a Jewish state.

However, and perhaps predictably, Bill Kristol’s right-wing group, the Emergency Committee for Israel, has called for Kerry to be axed for using the term:

Secretary Kerry’s musings on the Jewish state’s dire future have become a regular feature of his public remarks. His latest prediction follows other statements in recent months that have in effect threatened Israel — never the Palestinians — with a list of disasters should his diplomatic efforts fail: violence, isolation, delegitimization, boycotts — and now “apartheid.”

It is no longer enough for the White House to clean up after the messes John Kerry has made. It is time for John Kerry to step down as Secretary of State, or for President Obama to fire him. And it would go a long way toward repairing the damage Kerry has done if his predecessor as Secretary of State, who is the likely Democratic Party nominee for president, explained why this kind of rhetoric had no place in her State Department and why it will have no place in her presidential campaign.


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WWJD? Reform Alabama’s horrible criminal sentencing laws

Apr25

by: Sue Bell Cobb on April 25th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Credit: Creative Commons

As the former Chief Justice of Alabama, I am proud to have devoted my career to the cause of justice in our state. But as a lifelong United Methodist, it shames me to know that if Jesus came to our state today, he would chastise me and every other Alabama Christian for our nearly complete silence on a terrible injustice taking place under our noses and in our names every day: ineffective, absurdly harsh sentencing laws that lead to overcrowded, dangerous prisons that breed more crime. What would Jesus do? Fix our criminal sentencing laws.

Our shame should be all the greater because we cannot pretend that we do not know the truth. In poll after poll, we say that we understand that there are cheaper and more effective ways to punish non-violent, drug-addicted offenders than by locking them up in prison. Virtually every Alabama newspaper has reported on our state’s horrendously overcrowded prisons.

It is undisputed that no state in the nation has prisons as over-crowded and underfunded as ours. Alabama prisons have almost twice the number of inmates they were designed to hold and far too few correctional officers guarding them. They are terrible, deadly violent places that truly decent people would not tolerate in our midst.

The Alabama Legislature recently completed another legislative session and did nothing to remedy this deplorable situation. Why did the legislature fail to act? A lack of leadership is an easy answer, but it is also a tremendous cop out. As Christians, do we need politicians to show us the way? No. In Alabama today and everywhere, except for Senator Cam Ward of Shelby County, politicians are followers, not leaders. It falls to us, as people who profess to be passionate about true, meaningful justice to be visible and vocal on this issue. We must lead our politicians onto the path of justice. Thus far, we have failed to do so. According to Pew Charitable Trust Public Safety & Performance Project, the U.S. has five percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s prison population. If we were the safest country, perhaps we could ignore this shocking statistic, but we are not. In the past 30 years, due to the public outcry to be “tough on crime,” our elected representatives consistently and dramatically increased prison sentences. Regrettably, Alabama legislators refused to increase the funding commensurate with those increased sentences.

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Ukraine and the Myths, Blessings, and Curses of Nationalism

Apr21

by: Howard Cooper on April 21st, 2014 | 4 Comments »

If you’ve been watching the TV news these last few weeks the scene will have become familiar: around a Soviet-era town hall you see a group of armed men in military fatigues and flak jackets, weapons in hand, cell-phones, walkie-talkies. Smiles for the cameras. And always ready to explain themselves to Western journalists.

A stone in Simferopol, Ukraine, memorializes the Jewish and Krymchak victims of the Simferopol massacre perpetrated by the Nazis in 1941. This year, before the Russian annexation of Crimea, troublemakers spray-painted

The situation in eastern Ukraine seems to change from day to day, and this last ten days has seen an accelerating drama unfold, almost by the hour; but what really caught my attention was a newspaper report from Luke Harding, a British journalist who approached the group surrounding the town hall in Slavyansk, and asked the men who they were. Here’s what Harding reported April 15 in The Guardian:

“We’re Cossacks”, one of the group explained. “It doesn’t matter where we are from.” ‘He declined to give his name’ – the article continues – ‘Instead, he offered a quick history lesson, stretching back a thousand years, to when Slavic tribes banded together to form Kievan Rus – the dynasty that eventually flourished into modern day Ukraine and its big neighbour Russia. “We don’t want Ukraine. Ukraine doesn’t exist for us. There are no people called Ukrainians”, he declared. “there are just Slav people who used to be in Kievan Rus, before Jews like Trotsky divided us. We should all be together again”.

“We should all be together again” presumably means ‘all of us, except the Jews’. Three hundred and fifty years ago, in the mid 17th century, a Cossack rebellion against Polish and Lithuanian rule in these lands, a rebellion led by the infamous Khmelnitsky, generated some of the worst pogroms against Jews since the medieval Crusades. It’s estimated that 100,000 Jews were massacred in 1648-9 alone, at the height of Khmelnitsky’s revolt.

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