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Archive for the ‘War & Peace’ Category



Fear Not Pentagon Head Games About Love For Your Country

Mar3

by: on March 3rd, 2014 | 4 Comments »

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey. Credit: Creative Commons

As Russia invades Crimea and once again throws international norms into the garbage disposal as it has done with its backing of Bashar al-Assad, a crash course in the origins of this early 21st century Russian aggression is offered by Uri Friedman of The Atlantic. The article is worth consulting if you want to understand how the foreign policy chest-thumpers in the U.S. – now predictably thumping anew in the Ukraine crisis – helped pave the way for the geopolitical conditions that have so emboldened Putin. Friedman cites a report from Russia specialist Nicu Popescu who attributes Russia’s assertiveness to four key factors, including “The retreat of the West from the world stage after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which creates an opening for Russia.”

Knowing that America overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan, and knowing that our body politic – including the formerly jingoistic freedom fry types – is swinging our foreign policy pendulum in the opposite direction, the gay-bashing blonde thug of Moscow has smelled conquest and control opportunities galore. To boot, Putin has to know that a nation that would sacrifice nearly 5,000 soldiers and hundreds of billions of dollars from its treasury to transform what was an effective no-fly zone over Saddam Hussein’s Iraq into an air bridge of weaponry from Iran to Assad’s Syria not only has A) no clue whatsoever about its own geopolitical interests, but B) has no clue because it has ceded most of its entire military to people who are motivated by their own pecuniary interests, not national ones, from the top of the ranks to newest 18 and 19-year-old for-pay soldiers.

Will anything change? Will the American people wake up and smell the coffee of the war profiteers, high and low, who are devouring the U.S. treasury and serving as de facto bricklayers for Vladimir Putin’s yellow brick road to multi-theater dominance, from Crimea to Syria?

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Rabbis Defend Colleagues Against AIPAC

Mar1

by: on March 1st, 2014 | 3 Comments »

One of the first acts taken by New York’s Mayor Bill De Blasio was to convene a secret meeting with AIPAC to tell the lobby that he will always do whatever it wants. This is, of course, typical behavior for New York politicians but rather surprising coming from a progressive like De Blasio rather than the likes of Ed Koch, Al D’Amato or Chuck Schumer. The only indication that De Blasio knew that what he was doing was wrong was his insistence that the meeting be kept secret. This is also an indication of how toxic AIPAC has become for liberals. (Read the full story of the secret AIPAC meeting here)

Shortly after the meeting, the senior rabbis at Congregation Bnai Jeshurun In Manhattan, Rolando Matalon and Felicia Sol, signed a letter to De Blasio which stated that AIPAC does not speak for them. Within hours, a few of the congregational big shots (big money, AIPAC members) condemned the two rabbis and began organizing the congregation against them. This is, of course, what AIPAC types do. Prohibit free thinking on Israel. (They, of course, are all for free speech on all matters relating to the United States.)

The point of the AIPAC efforts is to make the rabbis fear for their jobs. (More than most, I know how that works.) And if the rabbis don’t back down, their jobs could indeed be in jeopardy, in theory at least.

But here’s the thing. Bnai Jeshurun is perfectly suited to its community and so are its rabbis. Located in the heart of Bella Abzug/Ted Weiss country, the congregation is known nationally as one of the safest places to be ethical, spiritual and Jewish especially for young people. I say safe because young people avoid synagogues in general because you never know when the rabbi will start ranting about Iran or reading from AIPAC talking points. That won’t happen at Bnai Jeshurun, which is why, unlike pretty much any other synagogue in America, it is actually a cool place to be on Friday nights. (My younger son lives right nearby so I’ve see the crowds of kids filling the place.)

In short, the rabbis not only did the moral thing in speaking out against AIPAC, it did the right thing for their business: keeping Bnai Jeshurun viable and appealing to Jews (especially the young) who simply cannot stand AIPAC or Netanyahu, if they think about them at all. In other words, the Jews of their community.

Nonetheless, AIPAC now has it in for the rabbis. But, happily, hundreds of other rabbis and Jewish lay leaders are pushing back. Read the letter below. Look at those names. (Hey, where are Rabbis David Saperstein and Eric Yoffie? Oh yeah, they are at the AIPAC conference.) And be hopeful about the future of Jews, at least at Bnai Jeshurun where Judaism trumps politics. Hang in there, rabbis. Judaism’s future depends on people like you. And Israel’s too.

Do not miss the best line in the letter which sums up how the organized “mainstream” Jewish community operates:

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The “Fat Lady” Sings For AIPAC

Mar1

by: on March 1st, 2014 | No Comments »

AIPAC’s annual conference that begins Sunday night promises to be less interesting than any in recent memory.

That is because the main event took place months ago.

Think about it.

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Liberal Values and the BDS Movement

Feb28

by: Rebecca Vilkomerson on February 28th, 2014 | 14 Comments »

The inherent contradictions between American liberalism and support for Israeli policies are on a sudden, public, collision course. Until very recently, it was easy to identify as someone who cares for human rights and equality, while in practice avoiding forms of activism that impose any consequences for its actions on Israel. Those days may be drawing to a close.

Omar Barghouti’s recent op-ed in the Sunday New York Times, the ultimate prize in opinion piece placement, made a cogent, thorough, and, most importantly, principled argument for BDS based on the values of equality and fighting against oppression. Also taking a clear stance against anti-Semitism, his piece was a clarion call for support to the prototypical liberal readers of the New York Times. And, in fact the letters to the editor printed in response to his piece were overwhelmingly positive.

During the same period, two BDS-related campaigns were making headlines around the world. When Scarlett Johansson became the spokesperson for SodaStream, a company with its main factory in an Israeli settlement, the worldwide pressure resulted in her being forced to choose between being a spokesperson for Oxfam, a human rights organization, and her SodaStream gig. It seems that no one, not even A-list celebrities, can be considered humanitarians or human rights advocates any longer if they have anything at all to do with the settlements, which, of course, are illegal under international law.

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Why I Don’t Support The BDS Movement

Feb21

by: on February 21st, 2014 | 18 Comments »

This will be a short one as I only choose to make one point. I make it as someone who absolutely supports the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS) as applied to the West Bank. Even if I deeply desired a seltzer machine, I would not buy the one manufactured in occupied territory.

However, I do not support boycotting Israel itself because, although I have no problem at all about applying collective economic punishment on settlers and the loathsome settlement enterprise, I do not feel that way about Israelis in general. I am not anti-Zionist. I am, for lack of a better term, a liberal Zionist. I want the Jewish state to survive and prosper which is impossible so long as it maintains its colonial and oppressive regime in the West Bank and its blockade of Gaza.

But all that is beside the one point I need to make today.

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Is Haiti our Next Iraq? American Exceptionalism and Botched Reconstructions

Feb20

by: on February 20th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

A U.S. soldier oversees Haitian workers unloading relief supplies in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2009. Photo/Wikimedia Commons

Following the earthquake in Haiti and the invasion of Iraq, U.S. policymakers turned to America’s traditional sources of strength to reconstruct these countries. They deployed the private sector, the military and huge amounts of money. In both cases, relying on these strengths simply hasn’t worked.

The failures of U.S. efforts to reconstruct Iraq have been well documented, and the recent upsurge in violence speaks for itself. Despite areas of progress in Haiti since the earthquake, the U.S. recovery effort there has in many ways been a similar fiasco.

Last month, on the fourth anniversary of the devastating Haitian earthquake, roughly one out of every six people in Port-au-Prince still slept in a tent camp. The country remains poor; its place on the UN development index has fallen by 16 countries since the earthquake. Despite Bill Clinton’s call to “build Haiti back better,” both Haiti and Iraq show the limits of what the United States can accomplish with its customary methods.

The most overreaching application of American power in these two countries has been the unrestrained use of the U.S. private sector. In Haiti, 48 percent of USAID funds following the earthquake went to contracts for U.S. for-profit companies. Granted, many Haitians institutions were literally flattened by the quake, but a 2013 USAID study showed that Haitian NGOs had received less than 1 percent of aid.

As with the reconstruction in Iraq, the billions designated for recovery in Haiti haven’t been spent transparently. In December, the House of Representatives passed a bill authored by Congresswoman Barbara Lee that would require a comprehensive report on spending in Haiti. Barbara Lee’s role may sound familiar: she also fought to uncover murky spending in Iraq.

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“To remain in prison for the rest of my life would be the greatest gift you could give me.”

Feb19

by: on February 19th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

While speaking at a church about Afghanistan and the the lead-up to the Iraq war, one attendee asked us if we thought there was anything anyone could do to stop the war. I replied “I think that train has already left the station.” Later, when thinking about that answer, it struck me that we could have done a lot more than street protests, letters to the editor, phone calls to Congress, and faxes to the president. More of us could have, and should have, laid our bodies down on that track.

Sister Megan Rice, 84, was sentenced on February 18th to 35 months in prison for breaking into a nuclear facility, in her nonviolent act of civil disobedience, putting her body on the tracks, to bring an end to nuclear weapons.

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Museum of Jewish Heritage Bans Discussion Of Truman & Israel: Too Controversial!

Feb19

by: on February 19th, 2014 | No Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

It is almost laughable. The organized Jewish community, which claims to be worried about young Jews defecting in droves, just cannot help itself from doing things that drive Jews (not just young ones) away. Between supporting Netanyahu, advocating for war with Iran and maintaining the occupation, and keeping silent as Israel evolves into a theocracy, it also is in the business of preventing debate on all these things and more.

The latest is this. Phil Weiss reports that the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York has banned an appearance by New Republic journalist, John Judis, who has written a book challenging the conventional wisdom about why President Truman recognized Israel. The book argues that Truman recognized Israel in 1948 not because he was a fervent Zionist but because it was May of an election year, he was trailing in the polls and he was heavily lobbied by Zionists to do so. Shocking, right. Who would think that politics would enter into a decision like that?

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The Way of Peace is the Way of Truth: Interfaith Resources for Reconciliation in Israel/Palestine

Feb14

by: Mary Grey on February 14th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

Like readers of Tikkun I am passionate about peace in Israel-Palestine as well as in the wider Middle East. Being a theologian/writer with a background in Jewish-Christian dialogue, I have mainly sought to speak  to peaceseeking Christians—and others—who are willing to look beyond the polarity of being either pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli towards envisioning a solution for both communities and building on the prophetic traditions of each other.

I believe—like Gandhi—that you have to look truth in the face, and take the courage to tell it.

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The Feminine Divine in “The Monuments Men”

Feb12

by: on February 12th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

When we think of the casualties of war, we think of the physical death of human beings. We think of the physical, psychological and moral injury warriors suffer. We think of the collateral damage of non-combatants killed, thus making the idea of a just war an impossibility. We may sometimes stretch our imaginations to include an injured earth, a wounded natural world where animals die. In the movie “The Monuments Men”, directed by and starring George Clooney, we see other casualties of war – fine art. We see a dedicated quest for a particular piece of art, the Bruges Madonna and Child, a representation of the feminine divine.

The movie is based on the real-life Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Task Force, a group of trained art historians, architects and designers whose purpose was to protect important monuments, buildings, and fine art if possible. They were to also locate and seek to return art stolen by the Nazis. The central question of the movie is whether or not a piece of art is worth a human life. Commanders in the field are loathe to risk the lives of their men over a work of art. If the decision comes down to bombing an important building considered a monument worth protecting and winning the battle, the battle takes priority.

The Allied forces destroyed many monuments during bombing campaigns, even when they were told of their artistic value. This story along with the story of the real-life Monuments Men are told in an excellent documentary “The Rape of Europa.” We see the astonishing number of works of art, religious objects, and everyday household furnishings that were stolen by the Nazis. However, one object becomes supremely important in “The Monuments Men” – The Bruges Madonna and Child.

This work of art depicting the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus was the only sculpture by Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime. Toward the beginning of the movie, we hear Clooney’s character – George Stout – tell his men not to risk their lives for a piece of art. However, as the movie unfolds, we see the Monuments Men willing to put their lives at risk for the sake of art.

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