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Please Take Action to Save the Bedouins


by: Rabbi Arik Ascherman on January 26th, 2016 | 4 Comments »

Editor’s Note: Rabbi Arik Ascherman is one of our great contemporary heroes. His work to save the Israeli Bedouins from being obliterated by the Israeli government deserves your full support. Please read his call to you below! Standing up for the humanity of everyone on the planet is part of the goal of Tikkun magazine and our interfaith and secular humanist welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives.
- Rabbi Michael Lerner


As you read this, JNF bulldozers are preparing the first stage of building the Jewish community of “Hiran” on the rubble of the Israeli Negev Bedouin community of “Umm Al-Hiran.” The government plans to expand the Yatir forest to overrun Atir. A week ago, the Israeli High Court removed the last legal hurdle preventing the immediate expulsion of over 1,000 men, women and children from their homes. The mayor of the artificial Bedouin township of Hura, where the Israeli government wishes to move them, says he has that Hura’s inadequate zoning plan leaves no place to put them.

You can act, and also read more background regarding Umm Al-Hiran and Atir, at www.dontdemolish.com. Here is some more general background about the Negev Bedouin.

While the world focuses on the Occupied Territories, the plight of Israel’s Bedouin citizens goes unnoticed, or is deemed an “internal matter.” For people of conscience, there can be no “internal matter,” and these approximately 250,000 Israeli citizens are also created in God’s Image.

Until 1948 the Negev served as home to 65,000-100,000 Bedouin who inhabited, worked and claimed ownership to somewhere between 2 and 3 million dunams of land (four dunam to an acre), as documented by the pre-State Zionist movement in 1920 In almost every case, the proofs of ownership cited were traditional Bedouin documents based on their internal system of land ownership. Although the Ottomans, British, pre-State Zionist movement and the early State recognized these claims, today the State does not. Israeli courts do not accept Bedouin documents as proof of ownership. Whether one chooses to view this dispute as a boldfaced attempt to take over Bedouin lands, and/or as cultural imperialism unwilling to recognize the land ownership system of a traditional culture, the end result has been massive dispossession.

When I am in the Negev, I often reflect upon the Biblical story of Abraham and his nephew Lot recounted in Genesis 13: 5-12. A conflict arises between Abraham’s shepherds and Lot’s shepherds because they were living together and there wasn’t enough pasture. Abraham is the senior, and can clearly lay down the law. He doesn’t. Rather, he bends over backwards to avoid conflict within the family. “Let there be no strife between you and me, between my shepherds and ours, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let us separate if you go north, I will go south, and if you go south, I will go north.” We, the descendents of Abraham struggle mightily to claim the land he bequeathed us. Were we to exert a fraction of the efforts we invest in fighting over that physical inheritance in living up to the moral example Abraham bequeathed us, Israel/Palestine would look much different than it does today.


Tell Your Story Now!


by: on January 26th, 2016 | No Comments »

It’s simple! Open a blank email, write a story from your experience that illuminates the state of our union, add your name and location, and email it to psotu2016@ctznapp.com.Read on to learn why.

The People’s State of the Union has another week to go, and we already have some amazing stories to share. All of the quotes below are excerpts from stories that have already been uploaded to the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture’s #PSOTU2016 Story Portal.

For this nine-day National Action, people around the country are forming Story Circles in their homes, schools, workplaces, places of worship, and community groups. They are telling their own stories their own ways, either in response to the #PSOTU2016 questions or questions they choose themselves:

  • Share a story you think the next President absolutely needs to hear.
  • Share a story about something you have experienced that gave you an insight into the state of our union.
  • Share a story about a time you felt a sense of belonging – or the opposite – to this nation.

Even if there’s no Story Circle planned for your own community, you can share any story that helps shine a light on the state of our union. Just type your story into a blank email, add an image if you like, and send it to psotu2016@ctznapp.com. It will automatically become part of the feed that goes to the #PSOTU2016 Story Portal.

If you add your name, location, and email, anyone who is moved by your story or wants to connect with you will be able to find you.

This woman asked me to explain to her how it was possible that Islam justifies killing so many people in the name of religion. She said all she knew of Muslims was what she saw in the media, and she wanted to know more. And I realized I had a huge opportunity to give this woman some insight, to help shift her thinking and to show at least one person some of the beauty in a religion whose capacity for beauty is so rarely discussed in this country, during this short time we had together.

And I thought: what can I do in my life to make these opportunities come up more often? It’s so rare to be able get to a safe space in the conversation where people feel they won’t be judged, where they’ll be able to engage in a way that they might otherwise be afraid to, and ask questions that allow for the possibility of growth and understanding instead of unexamined fear. (Mia Bertelli, Santa Fe, NM)

It’s not too late to host your own Story Circle either. You can sign up here to download a free Toolkit and find other resources to host a Story Circle before #PSOTU2016 ends on January 31.A Story Circle event can be a few friends around a kitchen table or a hundred people dividing into circles of folding chairs in a high-school gym. It’s an amazing experience of democratic dialogue where everyone’s story counts and every story deserves attention and respect.

It wasn’t until 1995 that I got involved in Labor organizing in Chinatown. There was a case with a restaurant paying their workers 75 cents an hour. This was 1995. I was 16 years old and thought I’d see a bunch of hippies in Birkenstocks protesting. I had no idea I was going to see people who looked just like me – Chinese immigrants, working class families. I felt, for the first time, a sense of belonging. My family got involved. The workers won that case, winning back $1.1 million for nearly 60 workers in 1997. (Betty Yu, Brooklyn, NY)

Most of us are full of opinions (myself included). When you ask about the state of our union, we quickly tell you it’s solid or in need of repair, who’s helping and who’s not. Of course, our assessments don’t always agree. Sometimes the disagreement is so profound that discussion turns into argument and friends into foes. But when we share actual stories instead of opinions – specific moments we’ve seen or experienced – several things change.


A challenge to JNF on Tu B’shvat Planting Trees in Israel


by: Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb on January 25th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

JNF trees in the Negev Desert. Man-made dunes (here a liman) help keep in rainwater, creating an oasis. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Jewish National Fund (JNF) is offering a special deal for Tu B’Shevat on its website:  “Help celebrate TuBishvat by planting a tree in Israel…and you will be automatically entered to win a trip! Prizes include roundtrip airfare and two nights at the Carlton Hotel Tel Aviv for two.”

Meanwhile, since 1967, over 800,000 Palestinian olive trees have been destroyed by the state of Israel. In addition, tens of thousands of fruit trees, fields, wells and gardens have also been destroyed to make room for Jewish settlement. Having just received this year’s report from Palestinian farmer Daoud Nasser who’s family  suffered the Israeli Defense Force’s destruction of 1500 fruit bearing trees last year, I feel deeply disconnected to JNF’s rendering of its mission and its version of history.

The narrative on the JNF website resembles the United States’ narrative related to the historic site known as Colonial Williamsburg: an example of national distortions and lies that hide brutal histories.  Williamsburg was literally segregated throughout much of its history.  And, neither the genocidal histories of the massacre of Indigenous peoples, nor enslavement of Africans or their contributions to Colonial societies were anywhere evident.  Just as African American and Indigenous presence and contributions are erased in white America’s Disneyland like portrayals of the past at so-called historic sites, so, too are Palestinians completely erased from Israel’s historic narrative, as are Bedouins, and Mizrachi and African Jews.

The terrible dislocations, massacres and massive destruction of Palestinian and pre-1948 material culture and land has been swallowed up and regurgitated in ways that completely distort what actually happened, and is still happening. Jews on free trips to Israel, whether with birthright, or rabbinic school, or the JNF, will feel good about planting the obligatory tree, while pretending that Israel was a barren land before Jews got there and made the desert bloom.

They will be given to recite the biblical verse, “It is against Jewish halachic law to uproot fruit bearing trees”, give feel good talks about green Judaism, while completely ignoring a reality that contradicts these claims:  the ongoing destruction of Palestinian land, trees, fields, houses, wells, vineyards, and cultural institutions accompanied by Israeli killing fields in Gaza, the West Bank and other areas of Israel.  That is the reality which the JNF wants to bury in the ground.


Failed States and States of Failure: “We Destroyed the Cities to Save Them” and Other Future Headlines


by: Tom Engelhardt on January 25th, 2016 | No Comments »

One of the charms of the future is its powerful element of unpredictability, its ability to ambush us in lovely ways or bite us unexpectedly in the ass. Most of the futures I imagined as a boy have, for instance, come up deeply short, or else I would now be flying my individual jet pack through the spired cityscape of New York and vacationing on the moon. And who, honestly, could have imagined the Internet, no less social media and cyberspace (unless, of course, you had read William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer 30 years ago)? Who could have dreamed that a single country’s intelligence outfits would be able to listen in onor otherwise intercept and review not just the conversations and messages of its own citizens — imagine the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century — but those of just about anyone on the planet, from peasants in the backlands of Pakistan to at least 35 leaders of major and minor countries around the world?  This is, of course, our dystopian present, based on technological breakthroughs that even sci-fi writers somehow didn’t imagine.
And who thought that the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street were coming down the pike or, for that matter, a terror caliphate in the heart of the former Middle East or a Donald Trump presidential run that would go from success to success amid free media coverage the likes of which we’ve seldom seen? (Small career tip: don’t become a seer. It’s hell on Earth.)

All of this might be considered the bad but also the good news about the future.  On an increasingly grim globe that seems to have failure stamped all over it, the surprises embedded in the years to come, the unexpected course changes, inventions, rebellions, and interventions offer, at least until they arrive, grounds for hope.  On the other hand, in that same grim world, there’s an aspect of the future that couldn’t be more depressing: the repetitiveness of so much that you might think no one would want to repeat.  I’m talking about the range of tomorrow’s headlines that could be written today and stand a painfully reasonable chance of coming true.

I’m sure you could produce your own version of such future headlines in a variety of areas, but here are mine when it comes to Washington’s remarkably unwinnable wars, interventions, and conflicts in the Greater Middle East and increasingly Africa.


Reagan and Trump: Tragedy and Farce


by: on January 24th, 2016 | 5 Comments »

“History repeats itself,” wrote Karl Marx in 1852, “first as tragedy, second as farce.”He was referring to Napoleon I and his nephew Louis Napoleon. One hundred and sixty-four years later, my subject is Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump.

People talk about “the Sixties” as a heyday of activism in the U.S., and they’re not wrong. I feel so grateful to have come up in a time when social imagination was encouraged, when social experimentation was rampant, when the desire to expand human liberty and human rights pervaded so many communities.

But the Sixties lasted more than a decade.Well into the Seventies, social action for justice and equity was going strong. It took a long time for the movement against the Vietnam War to succeed in stopping the war – or at least in exhausting the American people’s belief in the wisdom of our war leaders – but finally, the draft effectively ended in 1973 in response to massive protest and civil disobedience, and when Saigon fell in 1975, the war effectively ended too. There was a sizable People’s Bicentennial to counter the triumphalist official celebrations in 1976. Through the late Seventies, quite a bit of public money was still being invested in community development, including public service jobs that supported artists working in community to the tune of $200 million a year. It was by no means heaven on earth, but the enormous civil and human rights protests of the Sixties and early Seventies had made an indelible impression, creating the fervent hope and tentative expectation that justice would grow.

Back then, I lived in a world of the like-minded: San Francisco in the Seventies had not yet succumbed to the extreme gentrification brought on by high-tech corporate occupiers, and there were legions of organizers working from the micro – block-by-block politics – to the macropolitics of incipient globalization (a term that only began to take hold in the Seventies).

Here are two of the things that were widely believed in my circles at the time:

Social progress, in the form of the expansion of human rights and increasing equity, would continue. The force of history was unstoppable.

It didn’t make much difference who was elected President; we didn’t feel represented by either major party, and neither acted at all accountable to our values.

To say this was naive is drastic understatement.Within a startlingly short time following his election, Reagan had enacted a program that had been carefully planned in collaboration with the far-Right Heritage Foundation, abolishing public service employment and most community development funding, and going on to break unions, cut budgets for every type of social good, and reward his friends and supporters with tax-breaks and sweetheart deals.


Flint’s Water Crisis: A Story of Racial Injustice


by: Rev. Brooks Brendt on January 22nd, 2016 | 1 Comment »

In Psalm 94:20, the Psalmist speaks against rulers “who make injustice legal.” Before these makers of the law, the good suffer and the innocent die. At first glance, it might seem that in today’s world these ancient words would most closely relate to the dictatorships of other countries but not the United States. According to the celebrated ideals of our nation’s democracy, everyone possesses the right to vote on who will craft our laws, and thus the general welfare of the people are to be reflected in society’s governance. Yet ideals are not always reality. Thus, when I made a phone call to a community leader in Flint, Michigan named Claire McClinton to better understand the city’s lead poisoning crisis, she framed the situation as a battle of democracy versus dictatorship. Until recently, the people of Flint lacked the right to govern themselves. In 2011, Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law allowed the governor to appoint an unelected manager to any city deemed to be in financial disrepair, and Flint was one of those cities.

The history of the law embodies paternalism and racism. Despite a voter referendum that repealed the law in 2012, the legislature and governor put it back into place. As Louise Seamster and Jessica Welburn have noted in their article “How a Racist System Has Poisoned the Water in Flint, Mich.,” the governor has mainly appointed managers to cities with majority black populations. While over half of the black population in Michigan has experienced an emergency manager, only 2 percent of whites have. Flint has a population that is 52% black, and the protection of the population’s health fell by the wayside in an effort to save money. In 2014, Flint’s emergency manager decided it was financially prudent to switch the city’s water supply from Detroit to the heavily polluted Flint River. Ultimately, this is just one chapter in a longer story of Flint’s collective disenfranchisement and endangerment. As the Rev. Deborah Conrad of Woodside United Church of Christ in Flint notes, an earlier chapter pertains to deindustrialization: as the auto industry with all its tax revenue abandoned Flint so did the state government.


Mother & Child Are Linked At The Cellular Level


by: Laura Grace Weldon on January 22nd, 2016 | 6 Comments »

Today is my youngest child’s birthday. As my mother used to tell me, we always carry our children in our hearts. I know this is true emotionally. Apparently it’s also true on the physical level.

Fetal cells remain to heal a mother throughout her life. shortgreenpigg.deviantart.com

Sometimes science is filled with transcendent meaning more beautiful than any poem. To me, this new research shows the poetry packed in the people all around us.

It’s now known that cells from a developing fetus cross the placenta, allowing the baby’s DNA to become part of the mother’s body. These fetal cells persist in a woman’s body into her old age. (If she has been pregnant with a male child it’s likely she’ll have some Y-chromosomes drifting around for a few decades too).This is true even if the baby she carried didn’t live to be born. The cells of that child stay with her, resonating in ways that mothers have known intuitively throughout time.

Fetal cells you contributed to your own mother may be found in her blood, bone marrow, skin, kidney, and liver. These fetal cells appear to “treat” her when she is ill or injured. Researchers have noticed the presence of these cells in women diagnosed with illnesses such as thyroid disease and hepatitis C. In one case, a woman stopped treatment against medical advice. A liver biopsy showed “thousands of male cells” determined to be from a pregnancy terminated nearly 20 years earlier. These cells helped her body recover just as fetal cells you gave your mother rush to help repair her from within when she’s unwell.

Fetal cells may influence a woman’s autoimmunity, although it’s not yet known if they are always beneficial. According to fascinating accounts in Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?: The Surprising Science of Pregnancy, the more fetal cells there are in a woman’s body, the less likely she is to have conditions such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. That’s not always the case. It’s thought that sometimes a mother’s body may instead battle those cells, thus provoking autoimmune disorders. (Apparently family dynamics are complicated even at the cellular level.) 


“Europe” – Gone With the Wind


by: Michael Brenner on January 22nd, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Whither is fled the visionary gleam
Where is it now -
The glory and the dream

The European Union is suffering from a malaise. A mood of disquiet pervades the continent’s political elites. Its symptoms are flagging confidence and free-floating anxiety. The populace of its member states is disaffected from Brussels institutions, skeptical of their national leaders and feel vulnerable to forces beyond their control – or even comprehension. These states of mind stem from disarray on several fronts: economic stagnation produced by finance friendly “austerity” policies; the influx of migrants from ‘alien” societies; fears of a mounting terrorist threat; and the demotion of democracy in Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, and Russia whose analogous tendencies across the continent frighten many and lure some.

Clearly, the European project is adrift. For those attached to the idea of an ever-closer union, the outlook is glum. For those who want the Union to get on with doing well its stipulated tasks, the picture is not much brighter. For Euro-skeptics of every stripe, it is a field day. The prospects of Great Britain leaving the EU altogether – a real possibility – will put paid to the vision of European with political structures institutionalizing a continent whole, free and prosperous. At the end of the day, other EU members admittedly are likely to offer enough concessions to allow Cameron to make the case for staying in the Union. He doesn’t have the leverage that Erdogan does, but European leaders are too fearful of the Union’s unravelling not to be pliant. London has highlighted its symbolic value to the European project by providing support to Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydlo who was called on the carpet by the European Parliament to explain her government’s assault on the country’s democratic institutions. The East European nationalists always feel more comfortable with the British around. Then there is the omnipresent American connection: anything that irks Washington is to be approached gingerly – especially at this moment of a fragile European psyche.

The more compelling issue is regression rather than progression. Schengen Europe that permitted free movement across national borders unhindered by passport and customs controls is a dead letter – for all practical intents and purposes. With a couple of million footloose refugees wandering the continent, that liberty is no longer tolerable – especially so in an atmosphere made fraught by the hyping of dread about jihadists bearing weapons and ill intent.

Doubts are deepened by the stark perception of leaders who are not up to the task of dealing with problems at their roots, but rather are prone to parochial bickering. For the public generally, there is only dim recognition that those features of current national leaders owe much to pressures generated by publics themselves. That said, by any reasonable objective standard, harsh judgments are validated by performance. Governments’ record in handling a series of crises is discouraging. That of the Commission and the European Central Bank is, if anything, even more disheartening. In the absence of either competence or intellectual honesty, there is nothing to instill confidence.


The End of the Two-State Solution and Upcoming Less-Discussed Disasters


by: Carol Ascher on January 22nd, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Padraig O’Malley, The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine – A Tale of Two Narratives. New York: Viking, 2015. 493pp.

RAND, The Costs-of-Conflict Study Team, The Costs of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Santa Monica, CA: 2015. 224pp.

Those of us attached to Israel/Palestine are painfully accustomed to the intractable problems that have doomed peace negotiations for more than twenty-five years – how to honor Palestinian refugees’ right of return, whether Israel should be defined by its 1967 borders, the removal of Israeli settlers from the West Bank, and the division of Jerusalem into functioning capitals of both Israel and Palestine, to name the most obvious.

Two new books by outsiders, one drawn largely from articles and interviews related to the peace processes, and the other an analysis of economic data, offer an overlapping view of the unequal daily lives of Israelis and Palestinians, and provide context for the violence and hostilities we too often read about or see in the news. Both authors view Yitzak Rabin as the last leader with the capacity and will to bring the two peoples to a two-state solution; and both conclude with dark assessments of any peaceable resolution in the near future. Both also suggest that the current instability in the Middle East, as well as the time-bombs of population growth, climate change and water scarcity will one-day force a solution, though neither Israelis nor Palestinians may have as much to say about its contours as they might hope.

The Two-State Delusion: Israel and Palestine – a Tale of Two Narratives investigates what Pradraig O’Malley describes as both Israelis’ and Palestinians’ attachment to “narcissistic victimization” – for Israelis, two thousand years of wandering and the unimaginable disaster of the Shoah prior to a return to their ancestral homeland and the founding of Israel; for Palestinians, their dispossession and humiliation during the Great Catastrophe of the Nakba in 1948, when they were driven from their homeland during the creation of the Jewish state. Instead of finding a common bond in their parallel narratives, O’Malley argues that preoccupation with their own suffering has made both sides demonize and fear the other, see their own society as morally justified, and take little responsibility for the destruction and suffering they cause.

Having helped resolve and studied conflicts in Ireland, South Africa and Iraq, O’Malley is skilled at investigating both sides of politically-charged conflicts. The Two-State Delusion presents the history behind the two narratives of victimization, details the twenty-two peace processes – Madrid (1991), Oslo I (1993), Oslo II (1995), Clinton’s Camp David and Annapolis (2000), and the seventeen other meetings since then, and analyzes the well-known conundrums that were not always even broached and have remained unresolved. In O’Malley’s view, the multiple peace negotiations have led to an “addiction to process” without, for example, making Israelis more prepared to accept a divided Jerusalem, or Palestinians more ready to acknowledge that most of the 1.4 million Palestinians living elsewhere will not be able to return to the farms and orchards of their forefathers.


Immigration as Official “Racial” Policy: A Tutorial for Nikki Haley


by: on January 19th, 2016 | 4 Comments »

South Carolina Republican Governor Nikki Haley criticized Donald Trump’s contentious immigration policies of restricting Mexicans and Muslims from entering the United States. In front of a group of reporters, however, Haley showed her extreme ignorance of U.S. history:

“When you’ve got immigrants who are coming here legally, we’ve never in the history of this country passed any laws or done anything based on race or religion. Let’s not start that now.”

As the governor of a large Southern state, and a possible Vice Presidential pick by a number of current Republican candidates for the presidency, I have very serious doubts regarding her academic background to lead. Unfortunately, Trump’s perverse proposals fit “right” in with the racist immigration history of the United States. So in the service of education, I offer Nikki Haley the following tutorial focusing on issues of “race” in our immigration and naturalization policies.



Looking back on the historical emergence of the concept of “race,” critical race theorists remind us that this concept arose concurrently with the advent of European exploration as a justification for conquest and domination of the globe beginning in the 15th century of the Common Era (CE) and reaching its apex in the early 20th century CE.

Geneticists tell us that there is often more variability within a given so-called “race” than between “races,” and that there are no essential genetic markers linked specifically to “race.” They assert, therefore, that “race” is an historical, “scientific,” biological myth, an idea, and that any socially-conceived physical “racial” markers are fictional and are not concordant with what is beyond or below the surface of the body.

Though biologists and social scientists have proven unequivocally that the concept of “race” is socially constructed (produced, manufactured), however, this does not negate the very real consequences people face living in societies that maintain racist policies and practices on the individual, interpersonal, institutional, and larger societal levels.