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How Jews Brought America to the Tipping Point on Marriage Equality: Lessons for the Next Social Justice Issues

Mar27

by: Amy Dean on March 27th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

In a few short years, same-sex marriage went from being an untouchable political hot potato to a broadly accepted civil right in eighteen states and the District of Columbia. Jews, and their social justice organizations, helped make that happen. In fact, this magazine was a prophetic voice of marriage equality, supporting same-sex unions in the early 1990s and helping to lay the groundwork for the current wave of victories.

Bend The Arc members participate in the SF Gay Pride Parade. Credit: Bend The Arc.

The story of Jews’ contributions has continuing political relevance. The campaign for marriage equality offers valuable lessons for how to break through public resistance on other issues that Jewish groups are now addressing, including economic justice initiatives like paid sick leave, rights for domestic workers, and raising the minimum wage.

A forward-thinking strategy, combined with local and regional organizing, could be key to helping Jewish activists win victories on other issues that may seem unwinnable today, either because of intransigence in Congress or because they don’t yet have popular support. For example, Congress is nowhere near passing the $15 minimum wage that has become the clarion call of several campaigns for workers’ rights. It may seem equally farfetched to imagine that all workers could earn and receive paid sick time, or paid family leave, or that domestic workers such as nannies and housekeepers could enjoy the same rights to livable wages and safe workplaces that workers in other industries receive.

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The Official Goal Of BDS Is Ending Israel, Not Just The ’67 Occupation

Mar26

by: on March 26th, 2014 | 39 Comments »

Early Wednesday morning the University of Michigan’s student government voted down a resolution that would have begun the process of divesting from companies doing business with Israel. It was the latest defeat for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which is dedicated to fighting Israel by isolating it, particularly in the cultural and economic sectors.

Other than Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to devote a full 25% of his recent speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to condemning the BDS movement, it hasn’t got very much to show for its efforts. And I don’t expect it ever will.

The reason why BDS keeps failing despite the almost universal recognition that the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the blockade of Gaza, are illegal and immoral is that the BDS movement is not targeting the occupation per se. Its goal is the end of the State of Israel itself.

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Another Way of Seeing The Ukraine

Mar26

by: on March 26th, 2014 | 6 Comments »

We all long for mutual recognition, to see one another with full presence as I and Thou. This longing is in the heart of every living being in Russia, in the Crimea, and in the Ukraine. But we are also conditioned within long histories of relationships suffused with fear of the other. And one form of these conditioned identities is identification with ethnicity, sometimes also expressed through identification with nation-states. In the introduction to my book Another Way of Seeing and in several essays in my earlier book The Bank Teller, I refer to these “national” identities as “imaginary” in the sense that people develop a hyper-identification with national identity in proportion to the absence of an ability to experience the there-ness of the person right next to them, in proportion to their fear of the actual other.

Police create a barricade against anti-governmental protesters in Kiev, Ukraine. Credit: Creative Commons/Sasha Maksymenko.

At the same time, these very ethnic and national identifications are carriers of what connection there is–the forms of sensual and connotative (through language) bonding that manifest the really existing forms of recognition and realization of our social being. Thus the rituals of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Russia are simultaneously bonding expressions of spiritual community, and also patriarchal, authoritarian manifestations of fear and alienation of each from the other.

It is this double-character of ethnic and national identifications that are being played out in a symbolically complex way in the Ukraine.

However, the particular manifestations of this complex intersubjective history in the present areas of Western Ukraine, Eastern Ukraine, the Crimea, and Russia–and the “cathexis” with the other and fear of the other that are being enacted by each person within each group and subgroup, are supposed to be “contained” by the act of democratic voting…that is, on specific formalized occasions (election days) a vote is cast that declares for the next period of time how the totality of these intersubjective flows in conflict are to be consensually and democratically held in place or balanced.

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An Alternative to the Neocon Response to Putin: Modernize and Democratize NATO, Send Love to Russian People

Mar26

by: on March 26th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Here’s my definition of a neoconservative: an impassioned intellectual who rightly recognizes that tyrannical regimes are actual biological entities – either in a state of growth or death – but who fails to grasp that dissolving tyranny cannot come by killing off the good cells of democracy, in particular the good cells that already exist in one’s own country. Truly, neoconservative ideology is a bit like chemotherapy: it aims to kill the cancer cells of tyranny as it simultaneously kills off the good cells of democracy and the democratic spirit.

2004 Image of Iraqi prisoner in U.S. Army-operated Abu Ghraib prison. Credit: Creative Commons.

According to the garden variety neocon, for example, we should be outraged that Chelsea Manning (formerly known as Bradley Manning) exposed just how tyrannical the United States military is, as opposed to welcoming and celebrating those whistleblowing actions so that We the People have some clue as to what men with guns, using our nation’s name, are doing to the innocent men, women and children in countries our government has invaded.

In other words, the evil Saddam Hussein is gone from the world stage Great. And so are thousands of innocent people, and so is America’ standing and influence on the world stage, owing to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Not great. In fact, awful.

That’s the upshot of neocon geopolitical chemotherapy. It stinks for democracy and human development, and it would behoove all Americans to avoid seeking geopolitical treatment from neocons for the disease of tyranny, wherever it manifests anywhere in the world, including, and most urgently, in the person of Vladmir Putin.

As concerns the high stakes Ukraine crisis, given the potential for misstep here or there on either side of the NATO-Russia divide – a misstep that could embroil the world in World War III in the blink of an eye – it might also behoove us to ask this question: Are all of us, as Americans by default, not a little bit neocon, or at least neocon-ish, or at minimum, neocon-esque?

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A Hundred Years Later

Mar21

by: Uri Avnery on March 21st, 2014 | 1 Comment »

There is an old Chinese curse that says: “May you live in historic times!” (If there isn’t, there should be.)This week was a historic time. The Crimea seceded from Ukraine. Russia annexed it. A dangerous situation. No one knows how it will develop.

After my last article about the Ukrainian crisis, I was flooded with passionate e-mail messages. Some were outraged by one or two sentences that could be construed as justifying Russian actions. How could I excuse the former KGB apparatchik, the new Hitler, the leader who was building a new Soviet empire by destroying and subjugating neighboring countries?

Others were outraged, with the same passion, by my supposed support for the fascist gangs which have come to power in Kiev, the anti-Semites in Nazi uniforms, and the American imperialists who use them for their own sinister purposes.

I am a bit bewildered by the strength of feeling on both sides. The Cold War, it seems, is not over. It just took a nap. Yesterday’s warriors are again rallying to their flags, ready to do battle.

Sorry, I can’t get passionate about this side or that. Both, it seems to me, have some justice on their side. Many of the battle cries are bogus.

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The Language of Love

Mar19

by: Allen B. Saxe on March 19th, 2014 | 16 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons/ abon

American culture needs to develop a new language to describe relationships of love and commitment. Husband and wife are too narrow. Partner too broad. Boyfriend and girlfriend focus on young unmarried people.

For gays and lesbians they have had to rely on the use of “partners” or if gay, “husband,” or if lesbian, “wife.” I feel these are temporary terms as we struggle to find more fitting terms.

This is not just an issue for same sex couples. It is also an issue for heterosexual couples in committed relationships that are not traditional marriages.

My sister-in-law Jacquie and Srulik are in a committed relationship. However they have not married in a religious ceremony or civil ceremony.

When my sister-in-law once referred to Srulik as her partner, she saw either puzzlement or astonishment in the reactions of others. Was Jacquie now a lesbian? To use husband and wife might confuse people who might respond, “So when was the wedding?” or “So why were we not invited to the wedding?” We need to do better.

“Partner” has never reflected the love and commitment that these relationships deserve.

I suggest that we turn to the Jewish tradition of Song of Songs.

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A Literary Meditation on Guatemalan Politics

Mar19

by: Kathleen Alcalá on March 19th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

La Negra y Blanca
by Deena Metzger
Hand to Hand Publishing, 2011

La Negra y Blanca is a book with several designations on the cover – it’s described as a fugue, a commentary, and a novel.

I had to look up fugue to see what it meant in a literary context, only to find that it is a dissociative state caused by severe mental stress, or a musical composition in several voices, in which the themes are played by all the instruments, sometimes in counterpoint.

La Negra y Blanca is certainly not a novel in the traditional sense of the word, with a protagonist who overcomes obstacles and transforms into a better version of him or herself along the way. The book recently won the PEN/Oakland-Josephine Miles Awards created to honor writers of exceptional works often not acknowledged by the mainstream literary community.

It is certainly out of the mainstream. Perhaps this is a commentary, but then we would have to decide on what. The politics of Guatemala? The state of literature in Latin America? The life of the author, Deena Metzger?

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What If They Gave a War and Nobody Paid?

Mar19

by: David Hartsough on March 19th, 2014 | No Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

As April 15 approaches, make no mistake: The tax money that many of us will be sending to the U.S. government pays for drones that are killing innocent civilians, for “better” nuclear weapons that could put an end of human life on our planet, for building and operating more than 760 military bases in over 130 countries all over the world. We are asked by our government to give moral and financial support to cutting federal spending for our children’s schools, Head Start programs, job training, environmental protection and cleanup, programs for the elderly, and medical care for all so that this same government can spend 50 percent of all our tax dollars on wars and other military expenditures.

My wife Jan and I have been war tax resisters since the war in Vietnam. We cannot in good conscience pay for killing people in other parts of the world.

Does it make sense to work every day for peace and justice and then contribute one day’s pay each week for war and war-making? In order to wage wars, governments need young men and women willing to fight and kill, and they need the rest of us to pay our taxes to cover the cost of soldiers, bombs, guns, ammunition, planes and aircraft carriers. The cost of just the wars being fought now is in the trillions of dollars.

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Moving Ahead on Mideast Peace with Land Purchases for Israel and Palestine

Mar19

by: on March 19th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

In one of his “Early Addresses” titled “Judaism and Mankind,” Martin Buber said:

Every man whose soul attains unity, who decides, within his own self, for the pure and against the impure, for the free and against the unfree, for the creative and against the uncreative, every man who drives the moneylenders out of his temple, participates in the great process of Judaism.

Though I’m Catholic, these words resonate with me and, like much of Martin Buber’s accessible discourse, serves as a reminder of the sheer idiocy of any form of supersessionism: the belief that Christian faith yields a holier heart and mind than what is contained in Judaism. Indeed, Martin Buber delivered those words over a hundred years ago, between 1909 and 1911; just this week, a glaring headline in the National Catholic Reporter read “Vatican office calls religious sisters, priests to live poorly, reject capitalism.”

Perhaps many of the holy rollers of my church, the Roman Catholic Church – the very ones whose high on the hog living is now the subject of Pope Francis’s reforms – would have done well to read some Martin Buber before making bank off the name of a poor first-century Jew who was killed at 33-years-old by Pontius Pilate. But isn’t a slow learning curve better than none at all?

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Ukraine + Flight 370 = Bad News for Neocons

Mar17

by: on March 17th, 2014 | No Comments »

In America the news is big business. That’s not news. Everyone realizes that the corporate mass media make their money by delivering readers, viewers, and listeners to advertisers. The bigger the audience delivered, the bigger the profit. So corporate news editors have to know what good entertainers know: what the audience wants and how to give it to them.

In late winter, 2014, it seemed that American news audiences wanted one thing above all else: a U.S. – Russia showdown over Ukraine. Why? Plenty of theories might be offered.

But reading the headlines themselves, one explanation seemed most obvious: Americans understood that their nation’s global prestige was on the line. Russian president Vladimir Putin was using Ukraine to test the will and resolve of the Obama administration. So Americans turned to the news each day to see whether their government would demonstrate enough strength to go on leading the international community.

At least that was the story.

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