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Twelve of the Eighteen Former Military Arrested in Guatemala are SOA Graduates


by: on January 15th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Editor’s Note:  We at Tikkun have been involved for the last decade in supporting the important work of the SOA, the religious progressive organization that challenges the U.S. government to shut down its school (formerly known as the U.S. Army’s  School of the Americas, and operating out of Fort Benning in Georgia) that trains torturers and murderers who go back to Central and South America and uses the latest techniques and equipment that they’ve learned at the School of the Americas to intimidate, torture or murder those whom they consider a threat to the oligarchs whose oppressive rule they are asked to protect. The SOA organization brings thousands of people to Ft. Benning the weekend before Thanksgiving each year to protest and demand that this horrific school be closed by the US Army.  The demonstration also mourns the thousands of people killed by the actions of the graduates of this horrific institution.–Rabbi Michael Lerner

Last week, eighteen former military officials were arrested on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in one of the largest mass arrests of military officers Latin America has ever seen. Twelve of them were trained at the SOAThe arrests happened one week before the January 14th inauguration of newly elected President Jimmy Morales, of the National Convergence Front (FCN).

Morales, whose party has close ties to the military, faces pressure in the face of the current developments. Morales’ right hand man, Edgar Justino Ovalle Maldonado, who is also the FCN party co-founder, newly elected congressman, and retired colonel, is also facing similar charges, though he was not arrested because of his immunity as a congressman. Guatemala’s Attorney General, however, has requested the Supreme Court look at the case to strip him of his immunity. Ovalle Maldonado, who is also an SOA graduate, is linked to massacres and disappearances during the 1980′s.


Tikkun Magazine Applauds the United Methodist Church Boycott of Israeli Banks which are Funding the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank


by: on January 13th, 2016 | 11 Comments »

Here is the account from the NY Times:
The pension board of the United Methodist Church — one of the largest Protestant denominations in the United States, with more than seven million members — has placed five Israeli banks on a list of companies that it will not invest in for human rights reasons, the board said in a statement on Tuesday. It appeared to be the first time that a pension fund of a large American church had taken such a step regarding the Israeli banks, which help finance settlement construction in what most of the world considers illegally occupied Palestinian territories.

The five banks – Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank and Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot – are each involved in financing settlement construction in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, the largest circulation voice of liberal and progressive Jews (and the winner of the Best Magazine of the Year Award from the Religion Newswriters Association in both 2014 and 2015) issued the following statement January 13, 2016:

“Although we at Tikkun do NOT support a general boycott of Israel, and wish to see Israel remain strong and its security intact, we welcome the action of the United Methodist Church Pension Fund. The action of the UMC Pension Fund is narrowly focused on boycotting and divesting from Israeli and other firms that help perpetuate Israel’s Occupation of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the construction of “Jewish-only” settlements . The Occupation of the West Bank with its attendant oppression of the Palestinian people is not only a violation of the highest values of the Jewish people, it is also the Israeli activity that most threatens to turn Israel into a pariah state and thereby weaken its ability to protect its citizens from the real threats it may face from surrounding hostile powers and forces. For that reason, we support all efforts to boycott the products produced on the West Bank in Israeli “Jewish only” settlements and to disinvest from Israeli and global corporations and institutions that help make the Occupation possible. The Jewish people in centuries to come will thank those friends of Israel, like the United Methodists, Presbyterians USA, and the United Church of Christ, who are doing all they can to reverse Israel’s self-destructive policies in the West Bank while distancing from the BDS movement that aims not only at the Occupation of the West Bank but at the totality of Israel and the Israeli people.”

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun is author of two national best sellers, both published by Harpers: Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation and The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right. He is also the author of The Politics of Meaning, Spirit Matters, The Socialism of Fools—Anti-Semitism on the Left, and with Cornel West Jews and Blacks: A Dialogue on Race, Religion and Culture in America. His latest book is Embracing Israel and Palestine: A Strategy for Middle East Peace.


Unarmed Truth and Unconditional Love


by: on January 13th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

In his final State of the Union address, President Obama spoke of unarmed truth and unconditional love. I was happy to hear him utter in public the four-letter L word. We hear politicians speak about love of country, but we rarely hear them speak about unconditional love. Too often love of country translates into love of people in the country who are like ourselves. Too often it means disrespect, distrust, paranoia, and even hatred of the Other.

Unconditional love, like radical love, is a way to adjudicate the contestation of ideas that leads to consensus on public policy. In his use of these terms, President Obama not only echoed the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., but he also demonstrated the same faith in the power of unarmed truth and unconditional love. It was one Nobel Laureate expanding the reach of another laureate. In his Nobel lecture, King said in part:

“I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”

I have supported President Obama since he announced his candidacy in 2007 because he did not have is fingerprints on the Iraq war, and because as president, he is, for the most part, a just peace president, a just peace pragmatist to be exact. He spoke about just peace principles and practices in his Nobel lecture, and while he has rarely used the term since, his actions are just peace actions.


Radical Kindness and Generosity


by: Ana Levy-Lyons on January 12th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

When a shooting of twenty children at Sandy Hook Elementary School isn’t enough, when a shooting of fourteen non-profit workers in San Bernardino isn’t enough, when a mass shooting somewhere an average of every single day in this country isn’t enough to change our approach to the problem of gun violence, there’s clearly something that we’re collectively just not getting. And this goes for all of us on all sides of the debate.

The pro-gun side keeps insisting that having more guns will make us all safer. We now have the laxest gun laws in the developed world and the highest rate of gun violence. There’s something that they are clearly just not getting. At the same time, when gun-control advocates point to the most recent mass shooting as the last straw, the crossing of a red line, the atrocity so horrible that now, finally everyone will have to admit that it’s time for gun control, and then are freshly shocked and appalled when conservatives re-up their call for more guns, there’s something that they are clearly just not getting. We are completely missing each other in this debate, talking past one another, as if speaking two different, untranslatable languages.

Back in the 90′s, Michael Lerner, a psychologist and rabbi (and now the editor of Tikkun magazine), set out with a research team from the Institute for Labor and Mental Health, to try to understand how people’s life experiences and especially their work lives related to their politics. What made people feel as they did about how society should address issues of poverty and violence? What made people support political parties even when that meant voting against their own economic interest? They interviewed working people of all backgrounds and classes and ethnicities; people in all kinds of jobs; people who would not have participated in this conversation if they were told it were “therapy.” What they found through these conversations was stunning in its consistency.


Human Sacrifice and the Idolatry of the Gun


by: on January 11th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

“God turned into an idol requires the shedding of blood.” —Gustavo Gutierrez

When we survey human history and the various societies that practiced human sacrifice, ritual murder, for the sake of the propitiation of some god, we ask: what god required such? Then, we congratulate ourselves that human moral evolution has brought us to a moment when we no longer purposely kill one or thousands to please some divinity. I say: not so fast. In the United States, we commit what amounts to human sacrifice at the rate of almost 90 men, women, and children a day to the god of the gun.

When we put our faith and trust in a created object to keep us safe, when that inanimate object becomes the source of our confidence, power, and even our self- respect, we have turned it into a fetish, an idol god. The problem with an idol is that its power is illusion and delusion. Holding a gun, we suffer the delusion that we are powerful, that we have some control, that we have evaded, for a moment, one important fact of the human condition: we are weak and vulnerable creatures.

Moreover, in the United States, people who worship the gun have lifted the second amendment of the Constitution to the level of holy writ. They use it to proof text the position that every American has a right to own a gun with few restrictions. They will not entertain the notion that the second amendment could be or ought to be repealed.

The problem with the idol god of the gun is that it is a dead object; it is an instrument of death. When we worship the gun we participate in the worship of death that derives its power from a constellation of lies, magical misdirection, smoke and mirrors that hide the deep injustice of a political-economy where one percent enjoys extraordinary wealth and everyone else lives on the edge of survival.

Make no mistake about it, gun violence, resistance to gun regulations, toxic them versus us politics, and income inequality are related. A political-economy that erodes the middle-class cannot tolerate unity among the various groups in society who, if they worked together, and voted their economic interests, would overturn that death-dealing system. Rather than working and voting in solidarity, various groups acquire weapons in the name of self-defense from stranger danger, self- defense from the dangerous Other. We are told that our lives and livelihoods are in jeopardy because the dangerous Other, the evil Other, wants to come and take our possessions and harm our families. In this political season we are told that we need to keep our guns to defend ourselves against mass shooters, terrorists, and even from a tyrannical government.


Notes from Kabul


by: Carolyn Coe on January 10th, 2016 | No Comments »

They have descended from homes built on the mountainside. Women sit together in the cemetery not to mourn but to wait for the duvet distribution to begin. When I approach them, each woman extends a hand in greeting. Some have the needed small stamped pieces of paper to receive two duvets but most don’t. One of the women tells me about the pain in her chest, her legs. She talks about the war. I listen to all the manifestations of her suffering. I understand only a handful of words but as she clasps my hand, I know she wants my help in receiving a pair of duvets, too. I tell her I don’t make any decisions here. It is the elder representative of the neighborhood who determines who receives the quilted bed covers. Standing with the women, I say I’m sorry I’m sorry. All other words fail me.

Someone calls me over to the truck as the distribution will soon begin. In the Afghan gesture of greeting and leave-taking, I place my right hand over my heart and say goodbye.

A balloon seller approaches. A boy wheels a cart of apples nearby. Where a crowd gathers, there’s a potential sale, but no one buys. So the sellers observe the scene as I do. Colorful duvets, like clouds enveloping the bearers, seem to float by. I take a photo of a pair of girls. They become my shadow, following me and requesting more pictures.

The truck piled high with duvets is in a narrow gated car park. Perhaps two times as many people arrive as have the needed pieces of paper. The crowd presses towards the open gate, hoping. I observe one of the volunteers at work. Abdulhai has just finished 12th grade and is one of the founding members of the Afghan Peace Volunteers with a gift for crowd control. Instead of pushing the crowd back with outward facing palms, he smiles and snaps his fingers so the children laugh. He speaks kindly and softly. Both children and adults stop trying to edge forward, at least while he’s there. Their shoulders visibly relax. Some return smiles.

It isn’t that they want to be there, Abdulhai says a couple nights later about those who show up without a ticket. The people are desperate. Understanding without judgment seems the key to Abdulhai’s gentle effectiveness.


Obama Doing What He Can, Congress Must Run with Baton


by: on January 6th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

I want to thank President Obama for his commitment and his passion in his long-standing attempts to reduce firearms violence and death in the United States. After lobbying Congress throughout his presidency to pass common sense gun regulations, and finding consistent confrontation, inaction, and intransigence on the part of legislators, Mr. Obama announced that he will issue Executive Orders to expand background checks for certain buyers of firearms.

Obama Announcing New Gun Control MeasuresThe Orders mandate individuals “in the business of selling firearms” to register as licensed gun dealers. This will close the so-called “gun show loophole” that has previously exempted gun hobbyists and collectors from maintaining official sales records. In addition, the Orders will increase funding for enforcement by hiring 200 new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agents and investigators, and $4 million to track illegal online firearms trafficking.

The President is, however, realistic that the initiatives will not by themselves solve the epidemic plaguing our nation. Speaking at a press conference on January 5, 2016, he conceded:

“We know we can’t stop every act of violence, every act of evil in the world. But maybe we could try to stop one act of evil, one act of violence.”

For this reason, he continued to challenge national legislators: “But we also can’t wait,” Obama added. “Until we have the Congress that’s in line with the majority of Americans, there are actions within my legal authority that we can take to help reduce gun violence and save more lives.”

The reaction from Republican leaders was swift and predictable. House Speaker Paul Ryan expected that the president’s Executive Order “will no doubt be challenged in the courts” and “can be overturned by a Republican President.”


Who Gets a Pass?


by: Ron Hirschbein on January 5th, 2016 | 3 Comments »

The Black Justice League, a Princeton University student organization, demands that the university remove images of Woodrow Wilson and rename the university’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs. The former president’s support of segregation and other racist doctrines and policies incense the students. In a recent Huffington Post piece University of Chicago law professor, Geoffrey Stone, defends Wilson; he gives him a pass while raising nettlesome questions. He gets a pass primarily because he was a “product of his time.” I’ll call it the Historical Defense.

Woodrow WilsonStone readily acknowledges Wilson’s racism – white supremacy and segregation. Nevertheless, all is forgiven because Stone figures that Wilson did more good than evil. He promoted curriculum reform while president of Princeton and hired the first Jew and Catholic. And, as president of the United States, he promoted progressive legislation while appointing the first Jew, Justice Brandeis, to the Supreme Court.

However, Wilson gets a pass primarily because: “Like all of us, he [Wilson] was a man of his own time, and he should be judged accordingly.” Today’s moral standards don’t apply. Surely this law professor doesn’t promote the Historical Defense carte blanche – I doubt he’s inclined to give everyone a pass regardless. No problem playing “gotcha”; substitute “Hitler” for “Wilson” in Stone’s apologia: Like all of us, he [Hitler] was a man of his own time, and he should be judged accordingly.” Today’s moral standards don’t apply. An unqualified Historical Defense turns law and morality into a charade – no one’s accountable.

So who gets a pass? There are no bright lines, no agreed upon metric, no authoritative tribunal to adjudicate disputes to everyone’s satisfaction. We’re stuck with ourselves.

What will the Princeton administration reveal about itself? Evidently, it doesn’t buy the Historical Defense. Responding to the demands of the Black Justice League and its allies, President Christopher Eisgruber authorized the Board of Trustees to investigate Wilson’s background and to make appropriate recommendations. (If nothing else, the League directs attention to the shadow side of Wilson and other historical figures.) What the trustees – or the rest of us, for that matter – deem salient is self-confessional. Here’s what I consider relevant:

I don’t give Wilson a pass because he was a product of his time – he wasn’t. Had Stone done his homework he would have recognized that the Virginia native was a product of another time – the antebellum South. Wilson rescinded the gains enjoyed by African-Americans in the Federal Civil Service. Managers and other successful officials were demoted, humiliated, and reassigned (if they were employed at all) to menial jobs. Adding insult to proverbial injury, Wilson lauded the Klan and screened racist films in the White House.


Trumbo, Bernie, and Communist Dictators


by: on January 4th, 2016 | 5 Comments »

Heads of State gathered at BRICS Summit 2014

Heads of State gathered at BRICS Summit 2014

Especially since Hugo Chavez was elected President of Venezuela in 1998, many countries in Latin America have been moving beyond progressive politics toward socialism. The list includes, to varying degrees, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and Venezuela. These governments have shown themselves to be more stable than when Latin America was much more solidly the backyard of the United States. Socialist-leaning presidents have been elected and reelected again and again.

Even in the United States there is a shift in the wind that is breaking up the TINA lie articulated by Margaret Thatcher, “there is no alternative.” Americans are now acknowledging that there really are alternatives to the system of capitalism that has been showing its weaknesses more intensely in recent years.

“Trumbo” is one example of this shift. The film came out just in time for the Academy Awards nominations which it will undoubtedly receive. This is significant, because the film is a sympathetic treatment of Dalton Trumbo, a communist screenwriter who was jailed and blacklisted for his political beliefs during the red-baiting period of McCarthyism.

Bernie Sanders is another example of the shift. Bernie started bringing the phrase “democratic socialism” into his presidential campaign, and he’s backing up his words by taking no corporate money.

But last September Bernie red-baited Hugo Chavez. A fundraising email contained this paragraph, “Yesterday, one of Hillary Clinton’s most prominent Super PACs attacked our campaign pretty viciously. They suggested I’d be friendly with Middle East terrorist organizations, and even tried to link me to a dead communist dictator.”

Many people, especially my dear friends and fellow participants in political delegations to Latin America, wanted to believe that Bernie didn’t mean Hugo Chavez, or that Bernie didn’t say it at all, it was just a low-level staffer. Unfortunately, Sanders spokesperson Michael Briggs eliminated those excuses when he said, “It is disappointing that Secretary Clinton’s super PAC is spreading disinformation about Bernie. This is exactly the kind of politics that Bernie is trying to change. To equate bringing home heating oil to low-income Vermonters with support for the Chavez government is dishonest.”

Bernie Sanders has not retracted nor softened the blow since.


Everyone Counts, Every Action Makes a Difference


by: Rabbi Natan Margalit on January 4th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

What can we learn from ancient Jewish texts about the current distressing and frightful geo-political situation so filled with war, refugees, mass shootings and terrorist attacks?

I think a lot, and it is often surprising where insight can be found. For example, I was recently reminded that Maimonides, the great medieval rabbi and philosopher, stated the principle that all the verses of the Torah are holy, no exceptions. (1)

Timna (2001) oil on canvas/wood (59 X 50) by Janet Shafner (http://janetshafner.com)

Maimonides chooses Genesis 36:12 as one of his examples of a lowly, ignored line of the Torah. It says, “Timna was a concubine of Esau’s son Elifaz…” Now, Maimonides was a very smart guy and even though it’s buried in a long, boring, list of “so and so begat so and so, who begat so and so, etc, etc.,” this verse is actually pretty interesting; so interesting that the Talmud, several centuries after the Torah, asked who this Timna was — and then they told a story about her.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 99b) says that Timna was actually a princess (they astutely note that there is another reference to Timna in a nearby list of princes and princesses). Well, then, they ask, how did this princess wind up being a lowly concubine?!

Timna, the rabbis said, was indeed a princess, but she decided that she wanted to join with the people of Abraham. Perhaps she was impressed with the new idea of One God. We don’t know. But, for some reason, the family of Abraham rejected her. Having given up her royal life she looked around for someone, anyone, related to Abraham’s family who would take her in. Esau’s son was as close as she got and then only as a concubine, not even a regular wife.

We can imagine the pain and shame and anger that she might have had about this whole situation. Then we read the second half of the verse: “Timna was a concubine of Esau’s son Elifaz, and she gave birth to Amalek.” In Jewish lore Amalek becomes a notorious tribe, the archetypical enemy, a symbol of pure evil and senseless hatred. Amalek is known to attack the children of Israel at their most vulnerable and weakest points. Amalek simply wants to destroy, ruin and cause pain. Amalek likely knew the story of his mother’s real identity and yet he found himself with the terrible, lowly position as the son of a concubine, the bottom of the heap. He must have felt even greater shame, frustration and anger. We can imagine his feelings slowly metastasizing within him and turning into a violent and cruel hatred.

The Talmud concludes its story by saying that the family of Abraham shouldn’t have rejected Timna.