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Linda Sarsour, the Women’s March, & Anti-Semitism

Nov21

by: Rabbi Arthur Waskow on November 21st, 2018 | 4 Comments »

Image of Linda Sarsour courtesy of Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr.

In recent days there have been some calls from some people in the Jewish community to boycott the planned Women’s March on January 19. This call has been explained on the ground that some of the March leaders have been unwilling to specifically denounce Minister Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam for his many blatantly anti-Semitic views and speeches.

One of the March leaders cited in this call has been Linda Sarsour, an important leader of the Women’s March movement that became powerful the day after Mr. Trump’s inauguration as President, and onward from then.  Ms. Sarsour has not only spoken words but also taken action strongly condemning anti-Semitism.  She has, for example, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help repair desecrated Jewish cemeteries and to assist the survivors of the “Tree of Life” synagogue mass murders in Pittsburgh.

Ms. Sarsour privately circulated a letter explaining her views on these matters.  I was and am deeply moved by it, and asked her permission to share it with the Jewish public.  She wrote back, “Please share as you see fit. Hope it brings some healing to broken hearts.  – Linda”

Here is her letter, followed by some comments of my own about ways in which she and I disagree, and other ways in which we agree.

I am requesting for all who read my email to approach it with an open mind and an open heart with the understanding that you may not agree with what I will put forth and that is okay with me. This is not an email to persuade or to convince, it is an email with my voice and my experience and my truth – one that may not be comfortable for some.

I know and recognize that our Jewish family is experiencing real pain, hurt and trauma. I know this stems from generational trauma and history of genocide and that these past few weeks have triggered insecurity, fear and anxiety. This is a difficult time and it requires us to be clear-eyed and also recognize the real threats so we can protect each other. We are all we got and this movement is all we got.

Background

The Farrakhan controversy began 8 months ago when Jake Tapper and Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL “exposed/ promoted” a video of the Minister Farrakhan at an annual gathering for the Nation of Islam called Saviour’s Day where Tamika D. Mallory was present along with 15,000 other people including many Black celebrities, business people, dignitaries and pastors. She was not a speaker.

Tamika has already discussed in length her longstanding relationship with the NOI after the brutal murder of her son’s father 17 years ago and the positive role NOI played in this Black single teen mother’s life. I won’t rehash this but note it here for context. We heard painful and yet loving critiques from our Jewish friends, we had conference calls, meetings, we put out a statement that came out a few days late BECAUSE we have Jewish women on our staff who were impacted personally and working through a statement that was going to speak to all the concerns was not something that could happen overnight. Since then conversations continued and our important work continued.

Then the horrific Tree of Life shooting happened that took the life of 11 innocent Jewish Americans and all of a sudden Women’s March was being asked to condemn the Minister Farrakhan. There was nothing new that happened between Women’s March and the Minister. Folks decided to rehash 8 months ago. A white supremacist walked into a synagogue and killed 11 innocent people and the focus became the Minister Farrakhan and the NOI.

A few days before that a white supremacist sent dozens of pipe bombs to notable figures and a day before that a white supremacist killed two Black people at Kroger’s (my Muslim American community also raised funds for these two innocent souls as well) after he could not get in to a locked Black church but here we were three women of color who are leading a powerful effective movement with millions of members being demanded to denounce Minister Farrakhan who had no relation to these white supremacists or these acts of violence.

Instead of coming together as a country to call out white supremacy and the violence being inspired by this Administration — the deflection went to a Black man who has no institutional power. —  This is a feature of white supremacy. 

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“Tell The Truth and Shame The Devil”

Oct29

by: on October 29th, 2018 | Comments Off

Alexandra Schwartz’s short, informative essay in the New Yorker—well, the title almost says it all: “The Tree of Life Shooting and the Return of Anti-Semitism to American Life.” Almost, but not quite. Please read it.

Why? To glimpse the seemingly evergreen historical uses of antisemitism if you didn’t grow up like me, constantly reminded by the absence of ancestors and the words of those around you that we are always in jeopardy, that we live here on sufferance, on a provisional tolerance that can always be withdrawn. Read it to glimpse the experience of so many in my generation: the perpetual anticipation of the other boot dropping—on our necks, this time.

Reading this short, informative essay could help some people begin to understand that genocide happened to us in living memory, but not for the first time, not by a longshot. Even now, nearly 75 years after the end of World War II, there are fewer than half the Jews on the planet than had the Holocaust not happened. There are approximately 14 million Jews today; in 1939 there were about 16 million—so we haven’t even recouped the loss. Authoritative estimates say that with normal birth rates and no Holocaust, there would be upwards of 32 million today. Glimpsing history might help readers understand that for those in my generation, when Nazis march in Charlottesville chanting, “Jews will not replace us,” when an assassin opens fire in a synagogue yelling “All Jews must die,” we are reminded that exterminating more than one out of every three of us isn’t enough, not by a longshot. And in a nation that has more guns than people, our fear grows realer every day.

The ordinary antisemitism I grew up with: being chased every year when the Catholic kids got around to the chapter in catechism class that inspired them to punish us for killing Jesus; going to the principal’s office while the entire public school population sang Christmas carols in the auditorium; knowing all the words to all the carols and all the Christian holidays anyway, and never once being asked to show-and-tell something about our own heritage. Learning all the names for Jews my classmates imbibed with their mothers’ milk. Hearing that my father had been beaten for the crime of being Jewish by a man who worked down the street where he and his fellow housepainters kept their brushes and cans and ladders; and that someone had summoned the police, and the policeman made my father shake hands with his assailant. Microaggressions is the wrong word. Try macro.

No one burned a cross in front of our house. We were never carted away on trains. But the message of disbelonging came through clearly, and it could jump out to surprise me in any dark corner of conversation or any headline or any overheard slur. And even though it was more subtle, it rhymed so closely with the stories of our collective past and the element of surprise they all contained, we knew we had to stay awake.

I’m first generation in this country. I was taught by my immigrant forebears—who had trouble distinguishing homegrown uniformed men with guns from the ones who killed my great-grandfather in Vitebsk—to fear the police. I have never called the police in my life, and I doubt I ever will.

I have been a person of the left all my life, believing that neither justice nor mercy can come from special pleading for one’s own. They must be fundamental, universal human rights. Yet my commitment has been tried by the times my experience and history are trivialized by fellow progressives who decide on the basis of the white skin privilege many (but by no means all) of us have—the fact that I will not be stopped for driving or walking while Jewish—that to be a Jew in the USA is more or less the same as being a white Protestant and I ought to get over it, drop my paranoia, focus on real oppression. By the times that stereotypical views of Jews are casually accepted while speaking in similar ways about other identities gets called out, and not necessarily by those whose identities are being disparaged. By the times calling attention to what is actually happening in this country (as I did in this essay in June) has brought charges of exaggeration, of alarmism. By the expectation that I will accept the assurances of those who bloodlines don’t carry the same sensors for impending fascism, that I should relax and trust them to care about what happens to me and my ilk.

Jewish history confers no special virtue or status. Neither does any other. In every group, certain people have amassed the economic power or kissed up to the king hard enough to be crowned exceptions and do the oppressors’ work: for every Clarence Thomas or Ben Carson there is a Sheldon Adelson or Jared Kushner. Persecution is just as equal-opportunity: the appalling frequency with which Christians and Muslims have been threatened or attacked in their houses of worship tells the same story of leaders who peddle death, who use terrible words and actions to draft broken men into their scapegoating strike force, then disclaim the blood that is spilled in their names.

No livable future can emerge from a hierarchy of oppressions. Having compassion for my fear and understanding the very real danger that triggers it in no way limits the compassion I or anyone else can have for your very real history and present-day jeopardy. There is enough empathy to go around. If we make it a competition, we serve those who feast on our division.

May the memories of all those who have died of hatred stoked in high places be a blessing to all who love freedom. And may the fear felt by survivors carrying history in our bones be answered with compassion.

And that is the silver lining. Compassion is one good thing to come out of this: that so many non-Jews are finally speaking up when we are targeted. I don’t have words to say how different this feels from the ordinary run of my experience, and how much I welcome and appreciate it. Let me close with another short piece, this one written by Phyllis Bennis and Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II for the Nation. The title almost says it all: “In Response to Pittsburgh, We Must Come Together as One.” Almost, but not quite. Please read it too.

The title of this essay comes from “The Devil Finds Work,” a song by Rev. Sekou, who I just discovered—why did it take me so long? Be sure to listen to “Resist” too, a song for now.

Israel, Diaspora Jews and the anti-Semites

Feb5

by: Giorgio Gomel on February 5th, 2018 | Comments Off

White Army propaganda poster from the Russian Civil War era (1919), depicting a caricature Leon Trotsky

There is a separation, a parting of ways in the Jewish world between Israel as the nation-state of the Israelis and the American and European Diasporas where Jews live in societies, which despite fractures and throwbacks, are becoming increasingly multicultural. Israeli Jews enjoy their national existence under a “Jewish” government endowed with the classical instruments of a sovereign state – an army, police and judiciary. A government which pursues its geopolitical interests dictated by the requirements of realpolitik in a complicated world and in a region, the Middle East, beset by deep, at times catastrophic convulsions.

Diaspora Jews are citizens of the states where they live, to whose laws they abide and in whose civil and political life they participate. Sociological research indeed points to a growing chasm between Diaspora Jewry, concerned with issues of human rights, equality and pluralism – less so in Europe than in the US – and Israelis leaning towards parochial nationalism. In the US in particular where Jews have been actively involved both individually and with their collective organizations in civil and social issues (the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, the opposition to the Vietnam war, and non-discriminatory treatment of refugees and migrants) many Jews find it difficult to reconcile this tradition with the chauvinism prevailing in today’s Israel especially with the right-wing, religious coalition ruling the country.[1]

The Israeli government often claims to represent world Jewry in its entirety and seeks to protect it from discrimination and antisemitism. Often, it pretends to act in the name and for the sake of the whole Jewish people, as happened after the hideous anti-Jewish killings at the Jewish school in Toulouse, the Jewish “Hypermarché” in Paris and the Jewish Museum in Brussels, or in the Israeli government’s opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran.

A number of episodes though appear to contradict this axiom: the racist, white supremacist marches in Virginia, the anti-Jewish rhetoric unleashed in Hungary against George Soros and the rise of the extreme right in Germany and, most recently, Austria. These instances occurred against the backdrop of serious concerns voiced by Jewish organizations with regard to public expressions of anti-Jewish racism. Yet, in all three instances, the Israeli government kept silent.

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Discrimination Against Black Workers

Oct25

by: Los Angeles Black Worker Center on October 25th, 2017 | Comments Off

Los Angeles Black Worker Center
October 5, 2017

Discrimination has created a crisis in the Black community. Although the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act forbids racial discrimination in the workplace, black workers continue to face higher rates of discrimination in the workforce than white workers do. ‘Whether working full-time or part-time, Black workers earn only three-quarters of what white workers earn,’ as stated in the introduction of the brief.

Dear Friends and Allies: The Los Angeles Black Worker Center (LABWC) and National Employment Law Project (NELP) demonstrates the need for California to explore expanded anti-employment discrimination to better protect workers in the era of Trump.

You can read the white paper here.

Los Angeles, California, October 5, 2017 – The National Employment Law Project and the Los Angeles Black Worker Center released a white paper today that offers analysis on why anti-discrimination laws must be strengthened to protect communities of color in the workforce as national civil rights enforcement agencies are threatened with cuts and elimination.  The report is published as a broad coalition of unemployed, underemployed and union workers call on Governor Brown to sign Senate Bill SB 491- The California Anti-Employment Discrimination Action of 2017- a bill that would begin the process of expanding anti-discrimination enforcement authority to local governments to fill the enforcement gap.

Titled, “Ensuring Equality for All Californians in the Workplace: The Case for Local Enforcement of Anti-Discrimination Laws,” this white paper points out the decline in federal investments into civil rights protections comes at a time of by increased civil rights complaints, making imperative that local governments join federal and state agencies in helping to enforce anti-discrimination legislation.. It explores the complexity of 21st century workplace discrimination and how and why local enforcement in California could provide greater opportunity to address  civil rights  violations faced by Black workers and other groups in the workplace.

“The moral and economic crisis of racism affects our entire State,” said Lola Smallwood Cuevas, co-founder of the LA Black Worker Center. “It has caused a crisis in the Black community.  We know Governor Brown recognizes that CA must commit to resist the attack on Californians by national forces. Expanding anti-employment discrimination enforcement is needed now more more than ever. We need to build infrastructure to effectively protect workers where the discrimination happens.”

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More Charlottesville’s To Come – UNLESS!

Sep6

by: Rich Cohen on September 6th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Condemning white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia or anywhere else is how we honor ourselves as human beings. We condemn it by naming it, speaking, mobilizing, demonstrating, legislating, educating against it, and by prosecuting hate crimes wherever they occur. However, unless we want to wake up at age 90 witnessing more of the same we must take a new and deeper look at this endless tension, anger, and hatred by too many whites toward too many non-white people.

 

I believe that material depravation and low self-esteem occurs before racism is triggered. To reverse racism we must understand that original distress. To ignore it is asking for more pain.

 

“Racism follows a feeling of unworthiness, of being socially, economically, and politically ‘victimized’… and of being a failure. Someone has to pay for such low feelings and self-perception. This means a need for scapegoats in order to feel superior and to exercise personal power over others. Racist people tend to feel insignificant, isolated, wronged and unloved and they remedy that feeling of exclusion by blaming (and hurting) someone else for it” This is meant to be more than empathetic! It is to understand the roots of racism in order to end it.

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Martin Luther King + 50: Toward a Year of Truth and Transformation

Mar30

by: Rabbi Arthur Waskow on March 30th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Fifty years ago, on April 4, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King spoke his most profound and most prophetic sermon. At Riverside Church in New York City, with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel at his side, he addressed a group called Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam with a speech he entitled, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence.”

The public face of his speech was a strong denunciation of the U. S. government’s war in Vietnam. More than half the speech took up, case by case, aspects of the war that King argued were immoral U.S. actions – lethal to the Vietnamese and to American soldiers, destructive to the War on Poverty that had been President Johnson’s domestic program, and a violation of the best American values.


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Humor From Tikkun

Mar9

by: By David Tell, Tikkun Managing Editor and Chief Satirist on March 9th, 2017 | Comments Off

(Pre-)Deconstructing Trump’s Wall – Literally

 

In a phenomenon perversely inversely reminiscent of the collecting of pieces of the breached and demolished Berlin Wall in 1991, residents along both sides of the southern border of the U.S. have been making off with material slated for the construction of Trump’s much-touted barrier against Mexican migrants.

In this case, they’re making off with pieces of the the astronomically costly wall before it’s even built.

The activity has so frustrated construction workers and border agents that they have even used some of the same materials to throw brickbats at the thieves – “some of them good people,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement regional director Budd Tugly said he assumed.


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Words

Jan12

by: Sara Yamasaki on January 12th, 2017 | 4 Comments »

“My dad killed people like you,” Bobby Jones yelled.

My five-year-old body twisted into a tight knot. Heat in my stomach travel up my chest and settled in my throat. I kept my head down, blinked hard, and watched the ground—one saddle shoe, then the other, moving me in measured slow motion to kindergarten.

I didn’t know what it meant to be killed. Didn’t know anyone who had died, hadn’t seen death on television, and hadn’t even lost a goldfish. But every day, Bobby waited at the bottom of the hill to taunt and follow me to school. As much as I wanted to run, I knew I’d get caught. Bobby was bigger and older than I was. So I listened to the calming sound of gravel underfoot and said nothing, my throat burning, my pace quickening.


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Pedagogies of Freedom

Dec31

by: on December 31st, 2016 | 1 Comment »

On New Year’s Day, at home and abroad, Haitians and Haitiphiles are all about soup joumou. A squash based consommé laboriously made with chunks of beef, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, some kind of pasta, seasoned with epis-that concoction of Haitian spices, which was hopefully brought to perfection by an expert who uses enough scotch bonnet pepper without overshadowing the fragrant aroma. This soup is traditionally consumed to commemorate Jean-Jacques Dessalines’ proclamation of Haitian independence from France on January 1, 1804. Thirteen years after the only successful slave revolution started that abolished colonialism and slavery, Haiti became the first Black Republic in the world, second only to the United States.

For many of us, the soup is as much about its gastronomic delight as it is about redressing history. Under French rule, the enslaved population was specifically forbidden to eat this delicacy. As the story goes, that fateful day, Dessalines’ main squeeze Marie-Claire Heureuse Felicité Bonheur, outdid Marie-Antoinette and declared, Let them eat soup! Indeed, “the antidote to dehumanization has to be rehumanization,” culinary or otherwise, as Zingermans’ Ari Weinzweig has said.

As a child, I enjoyed avoiding those sprigs of parsley and rosemary to gobble up this annual staple. Here we were on Christmas talking soup plans, George Michael was dead, none of the family members could relate to my state of gloom. “Who?” “Wham! Don’t you remember ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-go?’” I sang to no avail. A couple bars of “Everything She Wants” — no response. “Careless Whisper” got me some I-feel-sorry-for-you hums while other lyrics did not resonate at all.

Minutes before, the speakers had been blaring our beloved Kompa rhythms. Not quite my thing, which is enough to get one’s Haitian authenticity card revoked by diehards. Blame it all on migration, as if we have never been plural. Depending on where you lived, resources, and what you had to spend, there were variations of the soup. In keeping with our diasporic tendency to rename things, according to Miami-based reporter Nadege Green, it has been dubbed “liberty soup” or “freedom soup” by younger Haitian-Americans. Dudley Alexis has a documentary in the works about it. Perhaps the greatest honor of all is the brand new Afro-beat mixed-genre soup joumou anthem by Alize Music featuring Paul Papi.

Lately, I have been meditating on notions of freedom and our not so common principles as presidential elections in my birth and adopted countries collided my worlds. Having grown up under a dictatorship, ironically, I feel primed to soon be living under an authoritarian regime. “All we have to do now/is take these lies and make them true somehow.” Yes, I know George was talking about his battles. I had my own. A Black woman who refused to be docile, I was struggling to complete my dissertation in an historically white institution, “Freedom 90″ was my personal anthem. “All we have to see/is that I don’t belong to you and you don’t belong to me.” In the aftermath of migration, it was music that guided my path to individuation. That’s why I lamented his passing. Decades later, the song still resonates. And in these times, it matters now more than ever. “Freedom/You’ve gotta give for what you take.” Someone in the kitchen knew the words. I wasn’t singing alone.

These days, you can find vegetarian and gluten-free soup joumou recipes online. I have been flirting with the idea of a pescatarian version as I imagine my aunt, a caterer, vigorously shaking her head at this sacrilege. Would it still be soup joumou? That depends, has nationalism ever really recognized its inherent differences? Haiti’s L’Union Fait la Force and the United States’ E Pluribus Unum are mottos built on contradictions from brutal colonial histories that have steeped the past in the present, yet remain unknown. Unity, under such conditions, is improbable without complicity in white supremacy, as well as our silence and absolute negation. For belonging is fundamentally based on a hierarchical system of ownership. The chains of slavery were broken long ago, but there remains unfinished business.

Happy 213thBirthday Haiti Cherie. Now, off to go get some salmon!

Photo: Andy Vernon-Jones

 

 

 

 

 

Minorityphobia: A Letter to American Minorities

Oct10

by: Nazir Harb Michel and Murali Balaji on October 10th, 2016 | Comments Off

Dear Fellow Minorities,

We are not writing this piece as individuals. We are not even writing this as Brown people in America or members of the Islamic or Hindu faiths. We’re not writing this as academics or researchers or activists.

Rather, we’re writing this as minorities to all our fellow minorities in America. But we also hope that those of you in the majority are paying attention because this concerns us all.

We Have To Stop The Circular Firing Squad of Inter-Minority Prejudice and Violence Right Now

As we are living through this nasty spike in anti-Muslim rhetoric and attacks, we need to keep in mind that the incidents are increasing, not decreasing, as we near the November elections. So far in 2016, there’s been an attack against Muslims in the U.S. every 13 hours. And it’s important that we realize as minorities that these attacks, which seem to target Muslim immigrants, aren’t shouldered by the American Muslim or Middle Eastern communities alone. They’re affecting other minorities too.


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