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Archive for the ‘Politics & Society’ Category



Sukkot and the Transience of Life: A Meditation on Three Films

Oct9

by: Howard Cooper on October 9th, 2014 | No Comments »

sukkah

Inside of a sukkah, a temporary hut constructed during the festival of Sukkot. Credit: Creative Commons/Carly Lesser & Art Drauglis

Just as the lulav that we shake on Sukkot, the festival of rest amidst the desert wanderings, is made up of three different trees — palm, myrtle and willow — I want to share with you another group of three that I’m going to bind together and wave in your direction. And we’ll see if we can add in that exotic etrog element along the way.

Over the last few months I happen to have seen three films, each as different from the other as are the species that make up the lulav. Taken together, they add up to more than the sum of their parts.

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It’s Israel’s Behavior That Produces the “New Anti-Semitism”

Oct9

by: on October 9th, 2014 | 35 Comments »

netanyahu wolf blitzer

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu sits down for an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. Credit: Creative Commons/IsraelinUSA

It has now become a full fledged campaign: stifling criticism of Israel by warning of a new wave of anti-Semitism that is seizing the planet. The latest entry comes from French philosopher, and life-long Israel defender, Bernard-Henry Levy in (naturally) the New Republic who screams that anti-semitism in 2014 is a “ticking time bomb” that, if not countered, will inevitably lead to Binyamin Netanyahu’s vision: the return of 1942.

Like all opinion pieces of this genre, Levy’s case is built on the idea that there is no causal relation between Israel’s actions and the outbursts against Jews that he describes.

In its essence, the argument goes like this: Anti-Semitism is not caused by anything. It is innate, a poison that lives in the hearts and minds of evil people, needing only a pretext for it to explode. Israel’s actions can’t cause anti-Semitism. They can only be a pretext for it.

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Ferguson for the weekend, anyone?

Oct8

by: on October 8th, 2014 | No Comments »

Originally published in The Huffington Post

ferguson protest hands up

Ferguson protestors raise hands in solidarity in Washington D.C. Credit: Creative Commons/ep_jhu

If you are one of tens of thousands of people who can’t stand to hear another story about another black man being shot by another policeman, you may want to go to Ferguson, Missouri this October 10-13. Your showing up may not stop the shooting(s), but at least it will let people know that you see. You hear. You notice.

If you can’t go to Ferguson or get to Ferguson, there’s nothing wrong with raising your hands in worship next weekend. Yup. Hands up. Hands over the head. Hands that know they know and know that others know and know that we know what we know. Congregations all over the country will wear a kind of hoodie this weekend. We will say that we know. We see.

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Endless War, Not Just War: The Problem with U.S. Strikes on ISIL

Oct7

by: Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite on October 7th, 2014 | 7 Comments »

Obama ISIL speech

President Obama addresses the nation on his ISIL strategy. Credit: Creative Commons/CreoFire

This time it will be different. That’s what President Obama said as he assured the American people that an American effort to “degrade and destroy” ISIL, the vicious terrorist group, “will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

No, Mr. President, it won’t. Not in any meaningful sense. This is just more war, and it is certainly not a Just War according to many of the tradition’s principles.

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Ferguson’s Global Meaning

Oct7

by: on October 7th, 2014 | No Comments »

Ferguson

Police use tear gas on protestors as the unrest in Ferguson continued into its sixth day in August. Credit: Creative Commos/Wikipedia

Saturday before last I attended religious training. At the close, the leader gave a brief and moving sermon. He spoke of the unspeakable pain that he, as a white man in America, could never feel. He spoke of the shooting down in Ferguson, Missouri of a young black man, Michael Brown. The following day, I attended my church, where a visiting white cleric also pointedly touched on Ferguson. The avuncular preacher spoke of how much we still needed to do in Obama’s America. Racism is alive and well.

Almost every black man of my acquaintance has his testimony; these range from my Hong Kong-educated Senegalese financial planner to my twenty-something nephew. I have my own story. Thirty years ago, while running down a freezing street on Chicago’s North Side, I was stopped by police with guns drawn. I froze and raised my hands. I was given no answers to my questions about what was going on. Instead I was led through an alley to a brownstone. A woman, who looked shaken up, was in the doorway. “Is this him,?” the cops asked her. “No,” she replied. “He’s too old.” I was then a thirty-something junior professor at Northwestern University. Had I not stopped running initially, I am sure my career would have ended then and there. No black man can be sure he is proof against the crime of running or driving while black.

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The Ghost in the GMO Machine

Oct7

by: Paul Koberstein on October 7th, 2014 | No Comments »

Kaua'i Waimea chlorpyrifos

Dust swirls around the GMO test fields on the Hawaiian island of Kaua`i near the town of Waimea. Data reported by the state of Hawaii shows that heavy amounts of the insecticide chlorpyrifos are being applied to these fields. Photo by Klayton Kubo

The bodies and minds of children living on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i are being threatened by exposure to chlorpyrifos, a synthetic insecticide that is heavily sprayed on fields located near their homes and schools.

For decades, researchers have been publishing reports about children who died or were maimed after exposure to chlorpyrifos, either in the womb or after birth. While chlorpyrifos can no longer legally be used around the house or in the garden, it is still legal to use on the farm. But researchers are finding that children aren’t safe when the insecticide is applied to nearby fields.

Like a ghost drifting through a child’s bedroom window, the airborne insecticide can settle on children’s skin, clothes, toys, rugs, and furnishings.

In fact, it’s likely that the only people who needn’t worry about exposure to chlorpyrifos are adults living far from the fields in which it is sprayed. That includes civil servants who work for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates the stuff, and executives with Dow Chemical, the company that manufactures it.

In a regulatory process known as re-registration, the EPA will decide in 2015 whether it still agrees that chlorpyrifos is safe for farming, or whether it will order a complete ban, as Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Pesticide Action Network have demanded in lawsuits filed in 2007 and in 2014.

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No One Wanted it to End: Cornel West at Santa Clara University

Oct6

by: on October 6th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Cornel West

Credit: Creative Commons/Wikipedia

Public rhetoric is thousands of years old, yet even in an era of high-res video and magnificent audio, to hear a great talk in person is special. That was absolutely the case on Friday night, October 3rd, at Santa Clara University when Dr. Cornel West, public intellectual and democratic leader, spoke extemporaneously and movingly for an hour and forty minutes and received two standing ovations.

Why was it so inspiring? West was not a pulpit speaker in the style of the Reverends Martin Luther King Jr. or Jesse Jackson, but was warm, charming, and often funny. He opened his speech with a point about rhetoric: paideia, frank speech, the kind that got Socrates killed. I was reminded again that truth heals. We need desperately to talk about the emperor’s new clothes or the elephant in the room, especially when the talk is critical, but not hateful, love but “tough love,” as West said with a smile.

There, in that packed room of mostly privileged, mostly white people, who, before the talk began, had been speaking about their horses and far-flung vacations, West made a connection. That was very important too.

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Gaza War Proved That US Remains Netanyahu Territory

Oct6

by: on October 6th, 2014 | 8 Comments »

For those of us who have spent years, if not decades, trying to make Americans understand the horrors of the Israeli occupation, this should be a time for some serious re-thinking. There is no evidence whatsoever that Americans (led by Jewish Americans) reacted to the Gaza war any differently than to any previous war involving Israel.

The media (with a few notable exceptions like Chris Hayes on MSNBC) propagated the Israeli line while mostly ignoring what the IDF was inflicting on the civilian population of Gaza. The President had nothing to say about the innocent Palestinian dead except in the vaguest and most balanced tones. If he felt any outrage about the dead children in Gaza, he kept it to himself. As for Congress, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, came together as one to reduce the leveling of Gaza to the simple issue of Israel’s “right to defend itself.” As for the organized Jewish community, it backed the war as stridently as ever, with even J Street intimidated into support for it. A notable exception to all this was Tikkun which, consistent with its principles, vocally opposed the killing.

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White American Men and the Liberalwashing of Islamophobic Racism

Oct5

by: on October 5th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

Bill Maher

Credit: Creative Commons/Steve Anderson

On Friday evening, Bill Maher and Sam Harris did what white men in America have been doing for the last twenty-five years: they shielded their racism and anti-Muslim bigotry under the umbrella of liberal values.

Maher demonstrated this in full view when, after ticking off all of the liberal values he holds dear, from marriage equality to equality for minorities, he cast the world’s Muslims as violent and repressive people. What’s more, he did so explicitly under the guise of standing up for liberal values, calling upon his audience to do the same.

He may be the latest incarnation of the white, American ‘liberal’ man to promote his racism under the banner of liberalism, but he’s obviously not the first. Maher has had some good mentors to choose from over the years, none ‘better’ than Alan Dershowitz.

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Netanyahu tells Obama to “study the facts” before critiquing Israel’s Settlements

Oct2

by: on October 2nd, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Obama Netanyahu

President Obama sits with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Oval Office. Credit: Creative Commons/Wikipedia

Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, told President Obama during a face-to-face meeting on Wednesday that he needed to “study the facts” the next time he, or his administration, planned on critiquing Israel’s settlement expansions. Netanyahu then, with incredible chutzpah, tried to imply that anti-Semitism was behind such critiques by Obama.

Netanyahu’s thorny words came after Washington blasted a new settlement expansion plan, characterized by the White House as poisonous, which was announced by Israel just before Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama. This plan calls for 2,160 new housing units to be built in the neighborhood of Givat Hamatos, an area which stands beyond the Green Line and is integral to those who want to make dividing Jerusalem impossible in any future two-state resolution. The White House also criticized the occupation of twenty-five Palestinian apartments in East Jerusalem purchased by settlers, who — backed by riot police — expelled families in the middle of the night with little warning.

In response to these critiques, Netanyahu told Obama that he and his administration needed to “study the facts and details before making statements” about Israel’s new construction plan, claiming among other things that it was not new, that the timing of its announcement was innocent, and that the construction would be for both Israeli Jews and Palestinians. However, it appears that Obama and the White House indeed did their due diligence, for Netanyahu’s claims have been shown to be false, and the Obama administration’s critiques on point.

Perhaps worse than calling Obama ignorant, however, was his forced attempt to depict his criticism as having anti-Semitic echoes. Here is what Netanyahu said after his meeting with Obama:

I have no intention of telling Jews they can’t buy apartments in East Jerusalem. This is private property and an individual right. There cannot be discrimination — not against Jews and not against Arabs.


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