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Archive for the ‘Politics & Society’ Category



Israel sends shot across US bow, hinting it will resume assassinations of Iran’s nuclear scientists

Aug16

by: on August 16th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Veteran Israeli analyst, Nahum Barnea, has penned a piece entitled “On the edge of the abyss” which details how Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is desperate to do whatever must be done in order to kill passage of the Iran deal in Washington.

According to Barnea, this includes threatening the Obama administration, or more accurately, those members of Congress still weighing their decision on the Iran deal. The threat? That a passed nuclear agreement will result in one thing: a last-resort war launched by Israel to save itself. Here is Barnea:

Israel is willing to invest quite a lot in putting the military option back on the table. Defense Minister Ya’alon threatened last week in the media that Israel will resume targeted assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. It was strange, because in the past, Israel didn’t make its threats in the media – according to foreign reports, it conducted its assassinations in secret. Ya’alon’s comments were not for Tehran’s ears, however, but for Washington. There were other moves, more concrete ones. It’s important to Israel to create the impression in Washington that approving the agreement would lead to war.

On the matter of Iranian nuclear scientists, Barnea is referring to an interview last week Defense Minister Ya’alon granted Der Spiegel. In that interview, Ya’alon hinted that Israel was responsible for a series of targeted attacks which killed five Iranian nuclear scientists, and boldly implied such targeted assassinations may be resumed along with the bombing of Iranian facilities if the deal passes.

According to a CBS news report in 2014, the Obama administration pressured Netanyahu last year to order a cessation of such targeted killings by Mossad. Now, with the nuclear agreement being weighed by Congress, the Netanyahu-led government is making not-so-veiled threats to Washington that it will act if the deal passes.


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Solidarity between blacks and Jews in America being damaged by Israel

Aug15

by: on August 15th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

I’m an American Jew who is a conscious ally of the black community and happens to also be a supporter of President Obama’s Iran deal. Neither of these things make me unique. Indeed, most US Jews, politically liberal and socially progressive, are allies in the fight against bigotry – 64 percent of Jews think blacks still face and lot of discrimination – and support Obama’s diplomacy with Iran.

This is why it pains me to see racist attacks against President Obama emanating from Israel beginning to shake the foundational relationship between the Jewish and black communities in America. For despite attempts by Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to posture himself and Israel as representing “the entire Jewish people,” the reality is that Israeli and American Jews are very different. Indeed, Israel cannot be conflated with all Jews, and Jewish Israeli politicians in turn do not represent American Jews. This also extends to most institutional Jewish leaders in this country, who are out of step with the Jewish community.

However, for black Americans who see Jewish leaders in America supporting Israeli attacks against President Obama, it’s easy to understand how a conflation might take place. And yes, there is a reason many in the black community view recent attacks against President Obama’s Iran deal emanating from Israel to have racist undertones.

It’s because they do.

A scan of social media in Hebrew shows this to be painfully clear. Unfortunately, also clear are visible, public expressions in English from politicians and high-profile figures. Take for example, this Tweet sent out by Judy Mozes, the wife of Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom and a popular radio personality:


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Israel’s new UN ambassador rejects two states, wants to annex the West Bank “with the minimum number of Palestinians.”

Aug14

by: on August 14th, 2015 | 16 Comments »

Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has just appointed a man to represent Israel on the international stage who rejects Palestinian statehood and wants to annex most of the West Bank. The move simply confirms that Netanyahu’s true geo-political goal is for Israel to gain sovereignty over the West Bank and create a ‘Greater Israel.’

Yes, Netanyahu recently tried to backtrack from statements indicating that he wants to occupy the Palestinians indefinitely; however, this appointment shows Israel’s current leader has always rejected and will continue to reject any peace agreement which grants Palestinians a sovereign state.

Lest anyone question the extremist politics of Danny Danon, the man who will now diplomatically represent Israel, he has explicitly rejected the two-state solution, remarking when he was Deputy Defense Minister that he would go so far as to block Palestinian statehood if it were to come up for a vote. This is also a man who has expressed a desire for Israel to “gain sovereignty over the majority of the [West Bank] … “with the minimum number of Palestinians” as possible. As for the Palestinians themselves? Danon would rather Jordan figure out their ‘status’ rather than Israel burden itself alone with such matters.

Just to reiterate, Israel’s new U.N. ambassador, the country’s highest-ranking diplomat, is a one-stater who cares little about the rights of Palestinians, and certainly doesn’t think such rights should be Israel’s concern. Indeed, the only thing which differentiates Danon from those proponents of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement who seek a bi-national, democratic state, is that the latter seem to be the only ones who care about democracy.

[Sigh.]


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Help Wanted to Pressure US Embassy Official

Aug13

by: on August 13th, 2015 | 13 Comments »

A friend of mine, Eritrean-American journalist Michael Abraham, is without resources or means of subsistence in Nairobi because a white US Embassy official will not give him the proof of his US citizenship that he needs to work as foreign correspondent or obtain emergency assistance from media rights groups as a journalist in distress having lost everything in the bloody South Sudan war. He has been offered both employment and assistance, if he can show his passport.

He can’t, because his passport is being held by a hotel manager who will not give it back until he pays the money he owes the hotel. But without a job, he can’t repay the hotel.

The embassy is refusing to provide a temporary proof of citizenship which would enable him to get a job as journalist. Isn’t that illegal? What can Michael do from here? Is there anyone reading this with the legal knowledge to give him free advice?

Here’s the whole story, which appears to be yet another tale of a white official acting racist. I have written it up as a press article, but I haven’t yet found any publication interested. When there is another unarmed Black citizen shot every few days in the US, I guess no one is up for paying attention to a Black citizen being blackballed by our embassy thousands of miles away. But if you have any legal advice, please do email me. The story in full:

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A Letter of Apology

Aug13

by: on August 13th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Dear Friends of Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives,

I apologize for the drawing that accompanies my editorial “War With Iran: The Disastrous Aim of Israel and the Republicans” in which I critique Netanyahu and his allies in Israel and in the American Jewish community, who are opposing the nuclear deal with Iran. The drawing depicts U.S. and Iranian diplomats negotiating at a table. Under the platform on which the negotiators sit, a figure representing Congress is sawing away and will likely soon succeed in defeating the attempt to find a peaceful way to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. All fine and appropriate. But then in the hands of that figure representing Congress is a sack of money with a Jewish star on it. I can’t remember seeing that when I was shown a much smaller version of this drawing and approved it, but when I saw it next to my editorial I was shocked and deeply upset.

The implication of that drawing is that somehow it is Jewish money that is bribing the Congress to oppose the deal: a little figure on the side looking like a duck says, “The best Congress that money can buy,” which in the context of the money bag with a Jewish star seems to indicate that Jewish money is behind the whole problem. To me, this is reviving an ancient and distorted anti-Semitic trope that I detest: that Jews have all the money and that they use it for nefarious purposes.

In this very same issue ofTikkun, placed in one of the most highly visible places (inside the front cover), I wrote a statement saying, “Anti-Semitism is Always Wrong.” There, I explain why criticism of Israeli policies and policies of right-wing American Jews is appropriate, but it is inappropriate to blame the entire Jewish people for these ethical errors, and doing so is racist and unacceptable. So imagine my dismay when I saw this drawing – for me it evokes Nazi propaganda against Jews.


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Humanism Unshackled

Aug12

by: Ed Simon on August 12th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

There is welcome news in the July 27th announcement that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has reached a settlement in a lawsuit to recognize humanism as a religion. The result of the lawsuit, filed by the American Humanist Association on behalf of an Oregon prisoner, is that inmates at all federal prisons who subscribe to humanism as a religious belief are now entitled to the same rights as members of any other faith-group. These include the right to form study groups, recognize certain holidays (in their particular case “Darwin Day”), and have access to chaplains. The Defense Department has for over a year now acknowledged humanism as a religion, alongside atheism and other stances which it may seem confusing to some to label as religions.

Charles Darwin standing next to a tree.

Charles Darwin's birthday of February 12 is celebrated by humanists (among others) as Darwin Day, a holiday to promote science. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The immediate cause for celebration is that men and women in our federal prisons who adhere to humanist beliefs are now able to freely exercise their right to act as a participant in their religious community. But perhaps more importantly, the decision helps to complicate and enrich Americans’ understanding of what constitutes religion, something that benefits all of us, whatever religious position we hold or community we belong to. Rather than viewing humanism and atheism as simply the absence of faith and belief, this decision acknowledges that they are also metaphysical positions on ultimate reality, just like monotheism or polytheism. Indeed, the fact that some humanists choose to arrange themselves into communities that mark life with rituals demonstrates precisely that they are a religion and are deserving of the same federally recognized rights that other religions are accorded.


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My response to Jeffrey Goldberg’s claim that “Jewish supporters of the Obama administration are beginning to feel scapegoated.”

Aug11

by: on August 11th, 2015 | 29 Comments »

In The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg today questioned whether President Obama truly understands “Jewish anxiety” about the Iran deal. He did so despite Obama’s clear acknowledgement of the Iranian regime’s anti-Semitism and unequivocal validation of the fears some Jews have about the deal.

So what sparked Goldberg to question Obama’s “understanding” of such fears? He believes the Obama administration’s advocates are “empower[ing] actual anti-Semites” by singling out AIPAC and Israel-lobby hawks for their opposition to the deal, and that Obama doesn’t see how targeting “Jewish special interests” might lead to an increase of anti-Semitism in America.

As a result, Goldberg writes, “Jewish supporters of the Obama administration are beginning to feel scapegoated” – at least, according to some people showing up in his email inbox.

I’d like to tackle both of these notions Goldberg puts forward, and as a Jewish Obama supporter, hopefully put them to rest.


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White Supremacy & Devaluation of African [Heritage] Lives

Aug11

by: on August 11th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

The philosophy and practice of white supremacy devalues all African and African heritage lives whether human or non-human animal. White supremacy links slavery in the “Americas” with the ongoing police murders of unarmed black people and to the murder of animals on the continent of Africa.

Primarily wealthy white people invade Africa, and then track, entice, snare, capture, kill, sometimes skin, and behead majestic and noble animals, some of which appear on the endangered species list, as trophies for their own personal ego fulfillment. These so-called “hunters” kill not for food, but rather, for sport. In so doing, they demolish complete blood and succession lines, and interrupt entire ecosystems placing species in peril. Surrounding their actions come their sense of entitlement from amassing the discretionary income to satisfy their desires for power over other forms of life. The world exists for them simply for the taking. They view other forms of life as cheap that do not matter, except to fulfill their pleasures.

Credit: TrophyHuntAmerica

Similarly, the institution of slavery in the “Americas” was built on a foundation of white supremacy. Primarily white people, backed by wealthy whites, invaded Africa, and then tracked, enticed, snared, and captured the proud people on the continent, chained and packed them like sardines into crowded ships’ cargo holds, and transported them across vast oceans to foreign shores stripping those who survived of their dignity, languages, cultures, families, and humanity. The kidnappers as well as the residents of these lands viewed the “cargo” as cheap lives that did not matter, except to fulfill their needs for unpaid labor and to satisfy their sadistic ego and sexual gratification. If the enslaved had the audacity to misbehave or to escape the reserve called “the plantation,” whites tracked, enticed, snared, captured and either returned them to the reserve where their so-called “masters” tortured them as examples to inhibit others from attempting escape, or they killed them.


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Notes on the National Gathering of Black Scholars in Ferguson

Aug10

by: on August 10th, 2015 | No Comments »

The gathering began with a word: hush. It was the first word of a song, “Hush, hush, somebody’s calling my name.” Dr. Joanne Marie Terrell, associate professor of ethics, theology and the arts at Chicago Theological Seminary, lifted her powerful voice to sing: “sounds like Sandra, somebody’s calling my name.”

I know this song because I have heard it all my life in church. I thought: “Is here a Sandra in the Bible?” My mind started its own survey of the text. The song usually calls the roll of biblical characters. When enslaved Africans lost the names of African ancestors, they substituted the names of biblical characters to remember their stories of faith that could give enslaved people the spiritual strength to keep on keeping on in the face of structural violence. However, as Dr. Terrell continued to sing, she added the names Michael, Rekia, Eric, Oscar, John Crawford, and finally: “Sounds like Jesus. Somebody’s calling my name. Oh my Lord, oh my Lord what shall I do? What shall I do? ”

All of these people were killed by police who, when we give them a gun and a badge, become representatives of the state. The people police officers kill are victims of state authority. This song reminds us that they are calling our names, and the question we ask in response to their call is: what shall I do?

This gathering of black scholars was convened by womanist scholars, many of whom are also ordained clergy, to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teen shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown’s death and subsequent police involved shootings spawned what has been called the new civil rights movement. It is known by many names including Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Say Her Name.

Last year when protestors in Ferguson faced police equipped with military hardware who used tear gas on the crowd, womanist scholar/ preacher/teachers came by various routes to Ferguson. Reverend Dr. Valerie Bridgeman came at the invitation of Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor of Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri. Reverend Dr. Leslie Callahan, pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Philadelphia came when PICO National Network, a faith-based community organizing group, put out a call. These women and others came to offer the ministry of presence. They came to put their body, souls, and minds on the line for social justice.

About two months before this gathering, through conversations on Facebook and on the telephone, Bridgeman, along with Reverend Dr. Pamela R. Lightsey, associate dean of community life and lifelong learning at Boston university School of Theology, and others decided to gather black scholars and students from across the country along with local activists in Ferguson to think about what comes next for both scholars and activists in this challenging moment. With sponsorships from several theological schools, Chalice Press, and WomanPreach! Inc., the gathering convened at the Center for Social Empowerment and Justice August 7-8, 2015.

We came to answer the question: what shall I do?

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Hoovervilles for the Homeless? or Legalized Camping?: San Jose

Aug9

by: on August 9th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Hooverville 1932 credit Tony Fischer

Herbert Hoover, like many politicians in the Bay Area today, believed that the market and private philanthropy could solve all ills even while shantytowns (similar to San Jose’s Jungle) cropped up around every major city: the direct result of mass unemployment, mass eviction, and bankruptcy.

Then as now, people constructed homes of cardboard, lumber, tin, and canvas. They dug holes in the ground. And they situated themselves near waterways. One of the largest Depression-era “jungle” was located outside St. Louis by the Mississippi River, a settlement of 5,000 people with a “mayor” and four churches! Another major Hooverville sprang up in Seattle. Then as now, local governments tried to evict them only to have them return. In Seattle, they reached an agreement on co-existence and self-government that lasted through the bad times.

Recently, San Jose’s mayor Liccardo spoke at the Vatican about moving forward with motel conversions, micro housing, and finding jobs for the homeless. The mayor mentioned a site where 150 micro-houses will be installed, but no one in the housing activist community seems to know where that site is. Some say private philanthropy has been slow to materialize. Maybe San Jose’s wealthy need to have “thrift parties” as they did in the 1930′s where socialites paid a lot to wear old clothes and eat hot dogs, and the proceeds went to shantytowns.

It’s true that some formerly homeless, perhaps several hundred, are now housed. That’s important. Others have gone through rigorous austerity-education programs only to discover that, rationally, they cannot afford to live in San Jose at all.


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