Crossposted from TikkunDaily

By Uri Avnery

Poor John Kerry. This week he emitted a sound that was more expressive than pages of diplomatic babble.

In his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations committee he explained how the actions of the Israeli government had torpedoed the “peace process”. They broke their obligation to release Palestinian prisoners, and at the same time announced the enlargement of more settlements in East Jerusalem. The peace efforts went “poof”.

“Poof” is the sound of air escaping a balloon. It is a good expression, because the “peace process” was from the very beginning nothing more than a balloon full of hot air. An exercise in make-believe.

John Kerry cannot be blamed. He took the whole thing seriously. He is an earnest politician, who tried very very hard to make peace between Israel and Palestine. We should be grateful for his efforts.

The trouble is that Kerry had not the slightest idea of what he was getting himself into.

The entire “peace process” revolves around a basic misconception. Some would say: a basic lie.

Namely: that we have here two equal sides of a conflict. A serious conflict. An old conflict. But a conflict that can be solved when reasonable people of the two sides sit down together and thrash it out, guided by a benevolent and impartial referee.

Not one detail of these assumptions was real. The referee was not impartial. The leaders were not sensible. And most importantly: the sides were not equal.

The balance of power between the two sides is not 1:1, not even 1:2 or1:10. In every material respect – military, diplomatic, economic – it is more like one to a thousand.

There is no equality between occupier and occupied, oppressor and oppressed. A jailer and a prisoner cannot negotiate on equal terms. When one side has total command of the other, controls his every move, settles on his land, controls his money flow, arrests people at will, blocks his access to the UN and the International courts, equality is out of the question.

If the two sides to negotiations are so extremely unequal, the situation can only be remedied by the mediator supporting the weaker side. What is happening is the very opposite: the American support for Israel is massive and unstinting.

Throughout the “negotiations” the US did nothing to check the settlement activity that created more Israeli facts on the ground – the very ground whose future the negotiations were all about.

A prerequisite for successful negotiations is that all sides have at least a basic understanding not only of each other’s interests and demands, but even more of each other’s mental world, emotional setup and self-image. Without that, all moves are inexplicable and look irrational.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, one of the most intelligent people I have met in my life, once told me: “You have in Israel the most intelligent experts on the Arab world. They have read all the books, all the articles, every single word written about it. They know everything, and understand nothing. Because they have never lived one day in an Arab country.”

The same is true for the American experts, only much more so. In Washington DC one feels the rarefied air of a Himalayan peak. Seen from the grandiose palaces of the administration, where the fate of the world is decided, foreign people look small, primitive and largely irrelevant. Here and there some real experts are tucked away, but nobody really consults them.

The average American statesman has not the slightest idea of Arab history, world-view, religions, myths or the traumas that shape Arab attitudes, not to mention the Palestinian struggle. He has no patience for this primitive nonsense.

Seemingly, the American understanding of Israel is much better. But not really.

Average American politicians and diplomats know a lot about Jews. Many of them are Jews. Kerry himself seems to be partly Jewish. His peace team includes many Jews, even Zionists, including the actual manager of the negotiations, Martin Indyk, who worked in the past for AIPAC. His very name is Yiddish (and means a Turkey).

The assumption is that Israelis are not very different from American Jews. But that is entirely false. Israel may claim to be the “Nation-State of the Jewish People”, but that is only an instrument for exploiting the Jewish Diaspora and creating obstacles for the “peace process”. In reality there is very little similarity between Israelis and the Jewish Diaspora, not much more than between a German and a Japanese.

Martin Indyk may feel an affinity with Tzipi Livni, the daughter of an Irgun fighter (or “terrorist” in British parlance), but that is an illusion. The myths and traumas that shaped Tzipi are very different from those that shaped Martin, who was educated in Australia.

If Barack Obama and Kerry knew more, they would have realized from the beginning that the present Israeli political setup makes any Israeli evacuation of the settlements, withdrawal from the West Bank and compromise about Jerusalem quite impossible.

All this is true for the Palestinian side, too.

Palestinians are convinced that they understand Israel. After all, they have been under Israeli occupation for decades. Many of them have spent years in Israeli prisons and speak perfect Hebrew. But they have made many mistakes in their dealings with Israelis.

The latest one was the belief that Israel would release the fourth batch of prisoners. This was almost impossible. All Israeli media, including the moderate ones, speak about releasing “Palestinian murderers”, not Palestinian activists or fighters. Right-wing parties compete with each other, and with rightist “terror-victims”, in denouncing this outrage.

Israelis do not understand the deep emotions evoked by the non-release of prisoners – the national heroes of the Palestinian people, though Israel itself has in the past exchanged a thousand Arab prisoners for one single Israeli, citing the Jewish religious command of “redemption of prisoners”.

It has been said that Israel always sells a “concession” three times: once when promising it, once when signing an official agreement about it and thirdly when actually fulfilling the undertaking. This happened when the time came to implement the third withdrawal from the West Bank under the Oslo agreements, which never happened.

Palestinians know nothing about Jewish history as taught in Israeli schools, very little about the holocaust, even less about the roots of Zionism.

Recent negotiations started as “peace talks”, continued about a “framework” for further negotiations, and now the talks have degenerated to talks about the talks about the talks.

Nobody wants to break off the farce, because all three sides are afraid of the alternative.

The American side is afraid of a general onslaught of the Zionist-evangelical-Republican-Adelson bulldozer on the Obama administration in the next elections. Already the State Department is frantically trying to retreat from the Kerry “poof”. He did not mean that only Israel is to blame, they assert, the fault lies with both sides. The jailer and the prisoner are equally to blame.

As usual, the Israeli government has many fears. It fears the outbreak of a third intifada, coupled with a world-wide campaign of de-legitimization and boycott of Israel, especially in Europe.

It also fears that the UN, which at present recognizes Palestine only as a non-member state, will go on and promote it more and more.

The Palestinian leadership, too, is afraid of a third intifada, which may lead to a bloody uprising. Though all Palestinians speak about a “non-violent intifada”, few really believe in it. They remember that the last intifada also started non-violently, but the Israeli army responded by deploying snipers to kill the leaders of the demonstrations, and more suicide bombing became inevitable.

President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has responded to the non-release of the prisoners, which amounted to a personal humiliation, by signing the documents necessary for the Palestinian State to join 15 international conventions. The Israeli government exploded in anger. How dare they?

In practice, the act means little. One signature means that Palestine joins the Geneva Convention. Another concerns the protection of children. Shouldn’t we welcome this? But the Israeli government fears that this is one step nearer to the acceptance of Palestine as a member of the International Criminal Court, and perhaps the indictment of Israelis for war crimes.

Abbas is also planning steps for a reconciliation with Hamas and the holding of Palestinian elections, in order to strengthen his home front.

IF YOU were poor John Kerry, what would you say to all this?

“Poof!” seems the very minimum.

Note from Rabbi Michael Lerner: Uri Avnery is chair of the Israeli Peace movement Gush Shalom and was a soldier in the IDF (Israeli army) in the 1948 War of Independence. His analysis helps cut through the cloud of lies and distortions in the American, Israeli, and Palestinian media so we can understand and face reality.

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Crossposted from TikkunDaily

By Peter Gabel

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.

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.

In the case of the Ukraine, the most striking unbalancing fact in the whole recent crisis has been that Viktor Yanukovich was democratically elected in just this way. No one has alleged the election was the result of fraud or duress – in fact, Western monitors stated they were “free and fair.” According to the democratic norms in play to contain the ethnic and national flows that I’ve outlined above, those opposing Yanukovich should have awaited the next election (as agreed upon in the February 21 pact between Yanukovich and the opposition forces)…but the opposition instead abandoned this agreement, seized the state buildings in Kiev, and forced Yanukovich to flee the country.

The U.S. response to this should have been to participate with Russia to reinstate Yanukovich and use the UN to oversee fair elections within the year, the agreed-upon time in the Feb 21 agreement. But the United States didn’t do this; Putin legitimately felt the flow-calibration norms were no longer in place and that this fact threatened his ethnic identification group on or near his border; and Putin moved to protect “his” group, or sub-group.

Leaving aside the question of why Putin then “went too far” and annexed Crimea via an illegal process (the flawed referendum), the key point I want to note is the fact that the United States “forgot” about Yanukovich’s having been elected in a democratic process and has been sliding toward a dangerous, and my view mentally unbalanced and totally unnecessary re-starting of the Cold War.


Here I think we must recall that the internalization of the fear of the other characteristic of national identity (“We Americans”) leads to an ontological insecurity, an insecurity at the heart of our being, a sense of constantly being under threat from the person next to us. The defense against this Basic Fear (we might call it) is to seek opportunities to inflate the hyperidentification with our imaginary connection as “Americans”. We have a tendency, influenced by our internalized fear, the fear in each of us engendered by our culture of alienation, to inflate our hallucinatory national imago of “togetherness” and to intensify our demonization of the threatening other–to project that threat that is actually caused by our own prevalent and internalized fear onto the Bad Other and to symbolically or actually go to war with it. We seek to protect the false outer group-self (“America,” “our interests,” “the West” “the NATO countries”) against its own unmasking and the consequent risk of fundamental humiliation of the longings of the fragile true-self within. So we project out and split to protect what is actually our defensive false identity or collective image: Once again it’s the good United States (the idealized false group to be protected) vs, the bad Russia (the demonized false group to be warded off).

This dynamic is what is being elicited by the Ukrainian situation, and it explains why the United States has “forgotten” the critical fact of the legitimacy of Yanukovich’s election, has forgotten the terms of the February 21st compromise that included Yanukovich, the Opposition, and Europe as represented by the foreign ministers of Germany, Poland, and France, which established the framework for presidential elections. From the standpoint of the anxiety of the isolated self afraid of the fragility of its social existence, of whether its longing for authentic mutual recognition could possibly be recognized, the “bad” resonance of the Russian Bear was too tempting not to create the safety maneuvers of the false self, the inflation of the Good West against the Bad East. It’s an expression of the motivation of our fear of the other to express itself, like an awakened shadow, when an opportunity in the world, in actual world events, presents itself

What should happen?

The answer to that is that diplomatic steps should be implemented with the help of the UN to calm the entire situation down (which the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has every day of the last two weeks been trying to do), to decrease the level of fear in the flows in social space, and to gradually work our way together, including all actors in the situation and their leader-representatives, out of the crisis through reliance upon the underlying longing in all actors for mutual recognition. This means simultaneously working as one international community to appeal to one another at a universal level for authentic contact–through “surrounding” our hysteria and then “thawing” it (please see the essay in Another Way of Seeing called “Spiritualizing Foreign Policy”)–and also to address the need for safety within the historical particularity of the region, including balancing all of the prevalent ethnic and national identifications of Western pro-European Ukraine, pro-Russian southeastern Ukraine, and Russian concern about NATO expansion and EU presence on their borders. Obviously it is not possible to just call for universal love and instant social transformation of all past fear and all past particularist identifications, with their histories of bonds of ethnicity, language and the like, and also with their histories of the patterning and stabilization of their internalized fear of the other based upon how far (and no farther) the complex inter-cultural situation has actually developed to in real historical time. We can’t instantly transform everything and bring into being the future society based on love and mutual recognition of our common humanity. But it is nevertheless possible through a spiritually attuned foreign policy to connect the universal longing for mutual recognition with the stabilization and positive movement forward of the particular historical identifications of all involved, in including our own American community.

In other words, everybody calm down. Try to see each other.


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Crossposted from TikkunDaily

By Saadia Faruqi

Last week the world of American Muslim social media (if there is such a thing) was rocked by an unexpected victory. A proposed ABCFamily show provocatively entitled Alice in Arabia was cancelled after a protest by American Muslims. The reason: this tale of an American girl kidnapped by Saudi relatives and held, veiled against her will in Saudi Arabia was all too familiar as stereotypical orientalism. The question then becomes, with films and television shows preceding it rife with the racist prejudices of our American consciousness, why was Alice in Arabia different?

In fact the case brings several questions to mind. First off, what exactly was wrong with the show? As the show’s writer herself claimed, and as many experts agree, one of the ways to call out injustices like Saudi Arabia’s horrific treatment of women, is to call them out, to tell it like it is, to expose the truth no matter how ugly. While true to an extent, this strategy also backfires in that it paints an entire culture with the same brush. We don’t have to look very far to know this is fact: an extensive research of Hollywood films document how these Arab stereotypical images and concepts are perpetuated over generations under the guise of entertainment.

In the case of Alice in Arabia, the stereotypes of Muslim/Arab male dominance and female oppression especially in the context of the hijab would have been cemented even further in the minds of the American public. That the show was to be presented on ABCFamily as a teen drama, an entire new audience, children and youth among them, would then be exposed to harmful stereotypes and us-versus-them mentality.

As if that wasn’t enough, perhaps the most important negative aspect of Alice in Arabia was the absence of any actual Arabs and/or Muslims in the production or writing team, or in the cast. The writer, a white ex-military person, claimed the show to give Arabs and Muslims a voice on American television, yet the protests against it prove that it was not the voice they wanted to see. Imagine if a film about African Americans or Hispanics included no-one from that ethnic group as consultants, actors, actresses or even team members. Nobody would consider the film in any way realistic, representative or even believable.

So how did the show get cancelled even before its pilot appeared on television? Social media can take the credit for that. Within days of the script being leaked on BuzzFeed, individuals, activists and organizations led a surprisingly vocal and effective effort to block the show from seeing the light of day. Twitter saw the majority of the activism through the hashtag #AliceinArabia and both the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee sent written letters of protest to ABC. And wonder of wonders, the show was promptly cancelled, leading Islamophobes to concur that the “angry Muslim mob” had won by using threats of violence once again.

Is the show’s cancellation a testament to the growing political and economic power of the American Muslim community? I doubt it. What it does signify is that the American media is beginning to view Muslims as a vocal group with sufficient bargaining power and access to more avenues of protest thanks to the infiltration of Twitter and Facebook. However, most American Muslims agree that ABC’s decision to cancel the show without any conversation was not a step in the right direction. Instead of re-working the script, bringing in Muslim consultants, or hiring Arab actors, ABC decided to cancel the show. If we really want to reduce and even perhaps eradicate orientalism and racism from Hollywood and other media, surely a conversation is in order? True representation of Muslims in Hollywood are certainly needed, and that can only happen if both parties work together with that goal in mind. Perhaps Alice in Arabia can be a starting point instead of a dead end.

Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith activist, editor of Interfaith Houston and trainer of American Muslim issues. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi.

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Crossposted on TikkunDaily

By MJ Rosenberg

I wonder what would have happened back in the 1960′s if fat cat donors to U.S. universities demanded that school administrators ban anti-Vietnam war action on campus or else lose donations. Judging by the way some universities are caving to donors on the Israel-Palestine issue, it is just possible that the donors would have succeeded in crushing antiwar activity, cutting the legs out from the movement that ultimately forced the end of the Vietnam war. Fortunately the donors of the 60′s didn’t care as much about Vietnam as many of them do now about Israel so they did not threaten to tear up their donations. Today it is something else Donors across the country, organized by AIPAC and other components of the Netanyahu lobby, are threatening to cut university funding and administrators are caving.

This is the same tactic that the lobby has used against the media for years, with special emphasis on National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System which rely on donor contributions to stay on the air. Both now make sure that their coverage of Israel does not offend the donors while their commercial counterparts edit their coverage to avoid offending fat cat advertisers and stockholders, for whom any and all criticism of Israel is taboo.

The latest battlefield in the war to shut down Israel critics is Northeastern University. This is from the Boston Globe: Northeastern University has suspended a student group that advocates for Palestinian human rights, and is weighing disciplinary action against two students, after members of the group conducted a controversial leafleting campaign.

Students for Justice in Palestine was suspended March 7, nearly two weeks after it slid 600 “mock eviction” notices under dorm room doors to draw attention to forced evictions of Palestinians by the Israeli government. The group says the college’s actions infringe on students’ free speech rights. Amazing, isn’t it. The university is suspending a student group and threatening to toss out its activists for issuing faux eviction notices to replicate the eviction of Palestinians by Israel. Needless to say Northeastern and virtually every other major college and university saw infinitely more aggressive actions against our own government’s policies in Vietnam. Student activists didn’t just leaflet (leaflet!!!); they shut universities down.

But, hey, no one was as zealous about guarding the academy from opposition to America’s war as these donors are about opposition to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. That is because Israel zealots don’t much care about anything that happens in the United States so long as it doesn’t impact Israel.

It is not as if I don’t understand why these donors are so upset. With attachment to Israel virtually disappearing among the so-called millennial generation (young people who came of age around 2000) and falling even further year by year, the fat cats must believe that young Jews need to be protected from knowing just how loathsome the settlement enterprise is.

But they shouldn’t bother. Most Jewish kids are as indifferent to the settlements as they are to Israel itself. Yes, they can be bribed with free trips to Israel (or AIPAC conventions, or anywhere for that matter) but Israel is their parents’ cause, if it is that.

The amazing thing is that these donors and other right wing Jewish activists actually believe that identifying Israel with crushing free speech on campus advances Israel’s cause. I know Jewish kids, I had a few, and I once was one, and if there is one thing young Jews hate it is attempts to suppress free speech and thought. That is planted a lot deeper in our genetic makeup than Israel is.

Check out this directory by Jewish Voice For Peace about the various efforts to suppress free speech about Israel across the country.JVP is the leading organization fighting these attacks.

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Crossposted from TikkunDaily

By Donna Nevel

Many American Jewish organizations claim to be staunch supporters of civil and human rights as well as academic freedom. But when it comes to Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, they make an exception. In their relentless opposition to BDS, they leave even core principles behind.

The Palestinian-led call for BDS, which began in 2005 in response to ongoing Israeli government violations of basic principles of international law and human rights of the Palestinian people, is a call of conscience. It has strengthened markedly over the last few years among artists, students, unions, church groups, dockworkers, and others. Media coverage of endorsers of the boycott has gone mainstream and viral. Recent examples include Stephen Hawking’s refusal to go to Jerusalem for the Presidential Conference, the successful campaign surrounding Scarlett Johansson’s support for Soda Stream and its settlement operation, and the American Studies Association (ASA) resolution that endorsed boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

Alongside BDS’s increasing strength have come increasingly virulent attacks on, and campaigns against it. These attacks tend to employ similar language and tactics – as if the groups are all cribbing from the same talking points – including tarring BDS supporters as “anti-Semitic” and “delegitimizers.”

These attacks simply don’t address or grapple with the core aspirations or realities of BDS. As described by Hanan Ashrawi, executive committee member of the PLO, in a recent letter in the New York Times, BDS “does not target Jews, individually or collectively, and rejects all forms of bigotry and discrimination, including anti-Semitism.” She goes on to explain that “B.D.S. is, in fact, a legal, moral and inclusive movement struggling against the discriminatory policies of a country that defines itself in religiously exclusive terms, and that seeks to deny Palestinians the most basic rights simply because we are not Jewish.”

The use of name-calling like “anti-Semites” and “delegtimizers” is problematic for a number of reasons, not only because its claims are untrue, but also because it takes the focus off the real issue at hand – whether and how Israel is, in fact, violating international law and basic human rights principles – and, instead, recklessly impugns the characters of those advocating for Israel to be held accountable.

Criticisms, even extremely harsh ones, of the Israeli state or calls to make a state democratic and adhere to equal rights for all its citizens are not anti-Semitic. Rather, anti-Semitism is about hatred of, and discrimination against the Jewish people, which is not anywhere to be found in the call for BDS, and these kinds of accusations also serve to trivialize the long and ugly history of anti-Semitism.

Most recently, the anti-BDS effort has moved to the legislative front. A bill, introduced in the New York State Assembly last month, would have trampled academic freedom and the right to support BDS in its quest to punish the ASA and deter any who might dare to emulate its endorsement of the academic boycott. Those supporting the bill were opposed by a broad coalition of education, civil rights, legal, academic, and Palestine solidarity organizations, as well as Jewish social justice groups. The bill was withdrawn, but a revised version has been introduced that is designed, like the original, to punish colleges that use public funds for activities related to groups that support boycotts of Israel, including mere attendance at their meetings.

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) worked closely with the sponsors of the New York bill.

Like the JCRC, rather than engaging in substantive debate about the issues raised in relation to BDS, the Israeli government and many Jewish communal organizations choose, instead, to try to discredit and derail the efforts of those supporting BDS.

For example, as recently reported by Ha’aretz, the Israeli Knesset is debating how to continue to counter BDS efforts across the globe, that is, “whether to launch an aggressive public campaign or operate through quieter, diplomatic channels.” It is also considering what the role of AIPAC might be in introducing anti-boycott legislation and how to best bolster military surveillance–which has significant funding behind it–against supporters of BDS.

American Jewish communal organizations have also expended massive resources and energy in their campaigns to demonize endorsers of BDS. The Israel Action Network (IAN)–which describes itself as “a strategic initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America, in partnership with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), created to counter assaults made on Israel’s legitimacy”–has funded the anti-BDS effort to the tune of at least six million dollars over a three-year period.

The IAN website characterizes supporters of BDS as “delegitimizers”and says that, in order to gain support from “vulnerable targets,” which include “college campuses, churches, labor unions, and human rights organizations,” delegitimizers utilize Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) tactics, “the same tools used to isolate and vilify apartheid South Africa, Iran, or Nazi Germany. BDS activists, IAN continues, “present distortions, fabrications and misrepresentations of international law in an attempt to paint Israel with the same brush.”

In another example of name-calling without any substance, the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL’s) July 2013 report attacked Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), featuring ad hominem accusations (JVP “intentionally exploits Jewish culture”), rather than discussing JVP’s actual positions. (A JVP report on the ADL points out that the ADL not only targets JVP but is well-known for its long history of spying on Arabs and supporters of the Palestinian movement.)

On the charge of anti-Semitism, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in its call to fight the BDS movement, urges it supporters to “learn the facts behind this hypocritical and anti-Semitic campaign,” and the ADL’s Abe Foxman echoed those same sentiments: “The BDS movement at its very core is anti-Semitic.” And most recently, in his speech to AIPAC, Prime Minister Netanyahu, after shamelessly drawing upon classic anti-Semitic imagery of Jews to speak of supporters of BDS, says: “So you see, attempts to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, the most threatened democracy on earth, are simply the latest chapter in the long and dark history of anti- Semitism.”

The demonization of BDS is not only the domain of the Israeli government and the mainstream Jewish community. The self-declared liberal J-Street, in its seemingly relentless quest to stay under the Jewish “tent,” has also jumped on the anti-BDS bandwagon, sometimes in partnership with the IAN, which (precisely because J Street is positioned as a peace group) proudly documents its relationship with J Street in fighting BDS. Discussing how J Street is gaining acceptance in the mainstream Jewish community, JCPA’s CEO Rabbi Steve Gutow points to “its role in pushing back against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement…”

Further, the refusal of both liberal land mainstream Jewish groups to discuss substantive issues around Israel’s actions or BDS also reveals itself in language that admonishes BDS as being “beyond the pale.” Recently, for example, as reported by the director of JVP in an op-ed in the Forward, the director of the JCRC of Greater Boston, who has a history of involvement in liberal organizations, explained that “any organization that supports BDS…doesn’t belong at the communal table. In fact, he was referring specifically to Jewish Voice for Peace. He even argued that opening the public conversation to BDS is roughly akin to welcoming the Ku Klux Klan.”

This attempted silencing of those simply discussing BDS plays out even in seemingly minor local skirmishes. For example, last year, the liberal rabbi of a large New York City synagogue cancelled the synagogue’s facilities-usage contract with a group of Jews who, he feared, might, on his premises, discuss BDS. That, he said, would be “beyond the pale.”

These attacks against BDS appear to be an almost desperate reaction to the increasing successes of BDS, not only in the world at large, but also within the broader Jewish community itself. Respected members of the liberal Jewish community as well as a few liberal Zionist groups that were vehemently anti-BDS are now calling for boycotts against products made in the settlements and are engaging with the issue publicly. Further, the mission and vision of groups like Jews Say No and Jewish Voice for Peace – “a diverse and democratic community of activists inspired by Jewish tradition to work together for peace, social justice, and human rights” – are resonating with increasing numbers of Jews who support BDS as a natural outgrowth of their commitments. And that movement is growing in partnership with the broader Palestinian-led movement for justice.

How should the rest of the Jewish community respond? Ad hominem attacks on BDS just will not do. It is time for BDS opponents to take a deep breath. Consider this: BDS is a principled response to Israel’s actions and behavior as an occupier. It is a profound call by Palestinians – and supporters world-wide–for justice. It is not BDS that should be opposed, but, rather, the very policies and practices that have made BDS necessary.


Donna Nevel, a community psychologist and educator, is a long-time organizer for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine. She was a co-coordinator of the 1989 landmark Road to Peace Conference that brought PLO officials and Knesset members together to the US for the first time. More recently, she was a founding member of Jews Say No!, is a member of the board of Jewish Voice for Peace, and is on the coordinating committee of the Nakba Education Project, U.S.



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Crossposted from TikkunDaily

By Craig Wiesner


“If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted.” These are words that the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) will be pleased to have heard from Senator Dianne Feinstein. People of faith across the country (including the Rev. Dr. Diana Gibson and I) have been calling on her to pressure President Obama and the CIA to finish their review of the Senate’s comprehensive report on the CIA’s treatment of detainees since September 11th so that the report could be declassified and made public. Today, Senator Feinstein took to the floor of the Senate to reveal details about the CIA potentially having spied on the Senate AND the CIA seeking criminal charges against intelligence committee staffers.

Are we about to see Congress finally stand up and assert its power? Let’s hope so. A quick history is in order. After September 11th 2001, rules concerning the capture, detention, and interrogation of people, rules based on laws, executive orders, and treaties, were deemed by the powers that be to no longer apply in the new “war on terror.” The White House, CIA, FBI, and other agencies created their own new rules with little or no oversight by Congress or the courts.

As stories surfaced over the last decade or so of illegal searches and seizures, warantless wire-tapping, kidnapping (extraordinary rendition), torture, and drone-killings (extrajudicial execution), some Americans demanded investigations, including members of Congress, some cases were brought to courts, and some details about some pretty terrible stuff found its way out to the world.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, looking into detention and interrogation practices by the CIA, was given millions of pages of documents by the CIA in what Senator Feinstein now calls a “document dump” (a way of complying with an investigative request from Congress by dumping tons of documents through which staffers have to pour for months or years to separate wheat from chaff). The staffers took all of that paper and sifted through it and eventually put together a 6,000 page report which the committee accepted and sent to the White House and CIA for review in December 2012.

In an agreement between the committee and the CIA, much of those documents were made available electronically, on a computer system at the CIA, reserved for use by committee staffers. That system, though housed at the CIA, was supposed to be firewalled off, considered a congressional asset. Congressional staff would only have access to files on that system which the CIA made available to them. Apparently, among the millions of documents, was a damning report of the CIA’s own investigation into its interrogation practices, a report which became part of the committee’s report. That is until…..someone at the CIA searched that computer for that file and then disappeared it.

I’ll allow the professional reporters to take over at this point. The Washington Post has a good summary on what may have happened and why it matters (click here).

Senator Feinstein now says she has “grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principle embodied in the United States Constitution.”

My hope is that those grave concerns help to focus us all back on what the investigation was looking into in the first place. What did the CIA and others working on behalf of our government do to prisoners since September 11th 2001. Who authorized their actions? Who knew what and when? The Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,000 plus page report can begin to answer those questions and Americans should demand that the report be declassified and released within the next 60 days. Senator Feinstein, to any reasonable observer, gave the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration a lot of support over the last many years and the CIA may now have pushed her a little too hard resulting in her pushing back in her speech today. Here’s how she ended that speech:

I also want to reiterate to my colleagues my desire to have all updates to the committee report completed this month and approved for declassification. We’re not going to stop. I intend to move to have the findings, conclusions and the executive summary of the report sent to the president for declassification as release to the American people. The White House has indicated publicly and to me personally that it supports declassification and release.

If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted. But, Mr. President, the recent actions that I have just laid out make this a defining moment for the oversight of our Intelligence Committee. How Congress and how this will be resolved will show whether the Intelligence Committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.

I believe it is critical that the committee and the Senate reaffirm our oversight role and our independence under the Constitution of the United States.

Good. Let’s keep the pressure on the Senate and the White House to release that report. As Dr. Gibson and I wrote in our op-ed nearly a year ago: “Only sunlight can overcome the darkness and remove the stain of torture from our nation’s future. This is why we must encourage members of the Senate Intelligence Committee — particularly Feinstein, who chairs it — to release the results of its report. Doing so will help ensure that our government does not engage in torture again.

Crossposted on Tikkun Daily

By David Harris-Gershon (@David_EHG)

In a far-reaching interview with Jeffrey Goldberg on Sunday, President Obama made clear, perhaps for the first time in his presidency, that his administration will primarily fault Israel if the current U.S.-brokered peace negotiations fail, as expected.

Listen to Obama speak about Israel's approach to peace-making and the conflict - to words which are more direct and pointed than anything to come out of an American president's mouth in some time:

I have not yet heard ... a persuasive vision of how Israel survives as a democracy and a Jewish state at peace with its neighbors in the absence of a peace deal with the Palestinians and a two-state solution. Nobody has presented me a credible scenario.

The only thing that I've heard is, "We'll just keep on doing what we're doing, and deal with problems as they arise. And we'll build settlements where we can. And where there are problems in the West Bank, we will deal with them forcefully. We'll cooperate or co-opt the Palestinian Authority." And yet, at no point do you ever see an actual resolution to the problem.

It's maintenance of a chronic situation. And my assessment, which is shared by a number of Israeli observers, I think, is there comes a point where you can't manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices. Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank? Is that the character of Israel as a state for a long period of time? Do you perpetuate, over the course of a decade or two decades, more and more restrictive policies in terms of Palestinian movement? Do you place restrictions on Arab-Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel's traditions?

Perhaps even more striking are Obama's blunt words with regard to his view of Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and his administration's record settlement expansions:

When I have a conversation with Bibi, that's the essence of my conversation: If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who? How does this get resolved?


[For if we see] no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction - and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we've seen in a very long time - if Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.

The condemnation of the international community can translate into a lack of cooperation when it comes to key security interests. It means reduced influence for us, the United States, in issues that are of interest to Israel. It's survivable, but it is not preferable.

These words are more than just warning shots, they are a prediction. If the Kerry-led peace talks fail, Obama is reiterating what Kerry has already said: that the international movement to boycott and isolate Israel will simply intensify.

When Kerry said it, a few Israeli politicians lined up to accuse Kerry of being a mouthpiece for anti-Semites, and even Netanyahu critiqued Kerry for legitimizing Palestinian nonviolence by mentioning its existence.

And how did Netanyahu react to Obama's words? In his AIPAC speech, Netanyahu strangely echoed leftist talking points, expressing the fruits that peace could bring to Israel.

Whether Obama's strong stance will move Netanyahu to seriously pursue peace with President Abbas, who Obama described as someone "committed to nonviolence and diplomatic efforts," remains to be seen.

However, what is clear is this: the pressure for Israel to end the settlement enterprise and seek peace is mounting. And the U.S. will neither have the power nor the desire to stop it should peace talks fail.

David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, now out from Oneworld Publications. Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

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Crossposted on TikkunDaily

By Andrew Hanauer

Last Tuesday, Argentina appealed to the US Supreme Court in its landmark case against predatory hedge funds seeking to collect more than $1 billion in old debts. With phrases like “bondholder” and “sovereign debt restructuring” peppered throughout the news coverage of the filing, following this case may not be as easy as following some of the other high profile proceedings before the court. And that’s a shame. Because for millions of people living in extreme poverty, the implications of this case are enormous.

In 2001, Argentina defaulted on its obligations and reached agreement with around 92% of its creditors to restructure the country’s debts. Some creditors held out, however, including a number of hedge funds that had bought Argentine debt for pennies-on-the-dollar before the default, hoping to cash in later on. These funds were participating in a calculated global strategy of speculative profit seeking that threatens the ability of poor countries to emerge from the burden of high levels of debt – behavior that has earned them their colorful nickname: “vulture funds.”

So-called vulture funds operate by buying up the old debts of poor countries cheaply from creditors, and then waiting until the debtor country has been granted debt relief before swooping in and suing for the amount of the original loan, plus interest, plus fees, often seeking upwards of a 1200% profit in the process. They target debt relief funds that otherwise are generally earmarked to fund social services like health care, education, and AIDS prevention.

In Zambia, for instance, hedge funds purchased $15 million worth of debt for $3.3 million, then sued the Zambian government for $55 million at a time when the country was saving about $40 million a year because of debt relief and using much of that money to fight poverty. Debt relief, for instance, allowed Zambia to get rid of health fees at rural clinics, benefiting some of its poorest citizens in the process. A court awarded the funds $15.4 million, a 467% profit for speculative predatory behavior at the expense of some of the poorest people in the world. In many cases, of course, the people tasked with paying back these debts had little say in contracting them in the first place, further exacerbating the injustice of having debt relief monies snatched by hedge funds.

International lending is contracted through a handful of jurisdictions, most of which have cracked down on these predatory hedge funds in some form. New York, however, has not, and the funds won two court cases against Argentina in New York State, arguing that if Argentina is paying back the 92% of its creditors who negotiated, it needs to pay back the holdouts as well, even if they are seeking preferential treatment. What is feared by anti-poverty groups is that if these funds win in court, it will set a global precedent that will imperil hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people, leaving them vulnerable to continued indebtedness as creditors balk at restructuring. After all, what incentive would a lender have to restructure if profit-seeking hedge funds can simply demand payment in full? And why grant debt relief if the funds are going to end up being grabbed by hedge funds?

What is remarkable about the Argentina case is that it has made clear that on this issue, there is global consensus: the actions of these funds are wrong. The US government has expressed support for Argentina’s arguments, as has France. German courts have ruled against the hedge funds, and British lawmakers have passed laws regulating them. The IMF and World Bank have spoken out forcefully against these funds, noting that their actions imperil the debt relief process. These funds have hired lobbyists and PR firms to paint themselves as legitimate investors dragging deadbeat countries to account in court, but in reality they are extreme actors profiting in the global financial equivalent of the Wild West.

And therein lies the real problem. Whether or not these funds win at the Supreme Court, the real issue is that heavily indebted poor countries do not have access to a fair and transparent bankruptcy system where they can have their debts restructured or even audited for legitimacy. Such a system could include the participation of civil society, thus giving voice to the very people most directly impacted by the decisions being made. It could include a mechanism for determining the legitimacy of past debts, a concept furthered by Norway’s unilateral audit of its own loans last year. And it could establish rules that would preclude predatory behavior and ensure that all legitimate creditors are treated equally.

In the meantime, such countries are left to the mercy of powerful creditors, and vulnerable to predatory behavior. In the meantime, their last line of defense is likely the US Supreme Court. Wonky economic lingo might detract from the curb appeal of this case, but it is difficult to overstate its importance.


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Crossposted from TikkunDaily

By George Altschuler

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.

The United States relied on another hallmark of its strength, the military, in Iraq. Surprisingly, it also did in Haiti. In its immediate response to the quake, the United States diverted about a third of funds meant for earthquake relief to pay for the temporary U.S. military presence. The troops soon left Haiti, but the United States has continued to help finance U.N. peacekeeping troops in the country.

In both countries the United States also leaned on a more sinister source of strength: it has put pressure on governments that have dubious legitimacy. Since 2011 the United States has partnered with a government in Haiti that depends on U.S. financial support and that only 16.7 percent of the population voted to elect. In Iraq, the United States literally wrote the country’s constitution following the invasion.

During the Cold War, the theologian and public intellectual Reinhold Niebuhr cautioned that the United States was hubristically ignoring its fundamental limitations. He warned that America wasn’t as innocent as it wanted to believe, and that it had overstepped what it could accomplish with its power.

As humanitarian aid leaves Haiti despite continued need, it seems we’re seeing a twenty-first century iteration of Niebuhr’s fears. These reconstructions have exposed the limits of U.S. power, and the United States has by no means been innocent saviors for these two countries. In addition to the military occupations of Iraq and Haiti, the United States has enacted embargoes, overseen transitions of power and transformed the economies of both countries with massive amounts of humanitarian aid. U.S. agricultural subsidies have also had huge and detrimental effects on Haiti.

A form of American exceptionalism contributes to the pattern of rushing from crisis to crisis while brandishing power. This conception of the United States includes a willfulness to ignore uncomfortable questions about how U.S. history and policies fit into these crises. Instead, this American exceptionalism clings to a resolute belief that what this country is doing is right and a confidence in this country’s strengths.

As Niebuhr suggested, history has made it so that the United States has an obligation to help other countries. But Niebuhr, an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War, also called for humility. He cautioned, “We cannot simply have our way, not even when we believe our way to have the ‘happiness of mankind’ as its promise.”

If the United States thinks of itself only as a benevolent rescuer with an exceptional private sector and military, the pattern of Iraqs and Haitis will continue. The question of how the United States responds to its obligation to address humanitarian crises is bound up in how the United States sees itself.


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Crossposted on TikkunDaily

By Tara Kipnees

The many angles of the Dylan Farrow/Woody Allen sexual assault saga have been dissected relentlessly over the past two weeks. For all the information unearthed, it is increasingly apparent that we will never know what happened between Woody Allen and his adoptive daughter nearly 22 years ago. One thing we do know for certain, though, is that in 1992 the Connecticut state prosecutor Frank Maco found “probable cause” to prosecute Woody Allen, but he did not move forward with filing charges due to “the fragility of the child victim.”

In a November 2013 Vanity Fair article, Farrow told author Maureen Orth “”I have never been asked to testify. If I could talk to the seven-year-old Dylan, I would tell her to be brave, to testify.” Maco, for his part, told the author that he found Farrow too uncooperative to testify. Either way, someone made a decision that it would be too much for Farrow to testify in court against her alleged assailant, and Farrow today wishes a different decision had been made.

The ordeal shines a spotlight on the multi-layered predicament facing many rape victims. A victim may be told that she must testify, or she never will have the opportunity to testify because charges are dropped. And if a victim is given the choice, does she expose herself, her story, and her credibility to that kind of scrutiny, or does she avoid testifying and risk spending the rest of her life wishing she had spoken up?

It was about this time a year ago that I heard I would not be testifying for a second time against my rapist, fashion designer Anand Jon, this time in his New York trial. While there was a large part of me that wanted to expose Jon’s crimes to their fullest extent and see that he is punished adequately (which seems unlikely; in his plea deal 48 charges – including rape, drugging women, and issuing death threats – were dropped), I primarily was relieved that I would not have to undergo a cross-examination and confront my attacker in court for the second time. Frankly, I wish that I could claim to be more indignant about not being able to point Jon out to the jury and proclaim “He is the one who raped me,” but after being notified of the plea deal, I felt, above all, liberated.

When I first testified in Jon’s 2007 Los Angeles trial, the actuality of sharing a room with my rapist consumed me in the same terror I felt the night of the incident. My apprehension was compounded by the cross-examination, during which a graying man in a well-tailored suit spent over three hours trying to cast me as a liar. He strived to wear me down and elicit some hidden truth he demanded I was withholding. But as soon as I stepped down from the witness stand, I was electrified with a sense of empowerment at having revealed something that felt so shameful for so long to those who could bring my rapist to justice. When the judge handed down a 59-years-to-life sentence, I knew that I had played a part in bringing that about, though I can’t deny the memory of the questioning (which entailed, for example, describing to strangers in what hole Jon inserted himself in me) is still rattling nearly seven years later.

In a statement evoking Maco’s, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office explained that they offered Jon the plea “to spare the victims from having to testify at multiple proceedings” (and also because the California Supreme Court declined to overturn Jon’s 59-year-to-life sentence). But not all prosecutors and judges are as inclined to consider the effect of a trial on victims. Victims of rapes and violent crimes frequently have no choice in the matter of testifying. In 2011, a Kansas mother of three was held in contempt of court after refusing to testify against her stepfather, who was charged with having sexually assaulted her when she was seven. The Nebraska judge presiding over the case presented the victim, who refused to testify for fear of the toll it might take on her family, with a no-win proposition: either take the stand or face 90 days in jail. She chose the latter, and true to his word, the judge had her imprisoned. The Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the ruling, explaining that a state law permitting witnesses decline to testify when they would be shamed or publicly disgraced does not apply to criminal cases.

A nearly identical scenario played out in 2012when a Sacramento judge ordered that a 17-year-old alleged rape victim, who early on in the case failed to show for two appearances, be jailed to ensure she would take the stand against her rapist. The judge cited his fear that the girl, who had a history of running away, would flee rather than testify. Only following a public uproar was the victim finally released.

In the Nebraska and Sacramento cases, the judicial system made little attempt to strike a balance between the interests of the victims and the constitutional right of the accused to face his accuser. The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment, however, makes no requirement that the confrontation must be in person. Several states have already enacted laws allowing child rape victims to testify via videoconference technology, but states rarely embrace this as a systemic option for adult victims. And in the few circumstances in which it is employed, it is only done on a sparing, ad hoc basis (e.g., largely when the victim is physically incapacitated or too far away). As the United States Supreme Court held in the 1990 opinionMaryland v. Craig, indirect confrontation such as video testimony is permitted “only where denial of such confrontation is necessary to further an important public policy and only where the reliability of the testimony is otherwise assured.” That standard, however, sets a very high bar, making it easy for courts to deny the option of video testimony in all but the most exceptional circumstances. In practice, courts are extremely wary of condoning live video testimony. As one federal appellate court found in a 2006 opinion, “[t]he Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of the right to confront one’s accuser is most certainly compromised when the confrontation occurs through an electronic medium. Indeed, no court that has considered the question has found otherwise.”

But if the electronic medium used during testimony presents a live feed, allowing a jury to watch a victim being cross-examined by a defendant’s lawyer, why are courts so adamant that the integrity of the Confrontation Clause would be jeopardized? Indeed, several empirical studies conducted by William and Mary professor and court technology expert Fredric Lederer have concluded that presenting testimony via remote video does not have a statistically significant impact on jury verdicts.

It is understandable that prosecutors and judges want to do everything in their power to bring rapists to justice, but a rape victim’s suffering during testimony should not be tolerated as collateral damage. Efforts to accommodate victims’ varying degrees of psychological distress may also encourage victims who remain silent about their rapes to come forward. In 2010, a U.S Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey found that 50% of rapes go unreported. Reasons cited for that reluctance include self-blame, shame, fear of being accused of lying, and lack of faith in the criminal justice system. Having experienced this gamut of emotions myself, I can attest that the deterrent effect of these factors is exceptionally powerful.

For rape victims to feel more supported in coming forward, the justice system’s attitude towards rape victims needs to change, and video testimony should be a more broadly endorsed practice not only for victims who are too young, but for victims who are too shaken to sit mere feet away from their alleged assailant. There is nothing that can be done to erase the psychological wounds inflicted by rape, but the justice system should take pains not to exacerbate them. There are great benefits that come from aiding in the conviction of one’s abuser, but those benefits should not have to come at the cost of the victim, especially when a near and effective substitute for in-person testimony is so readily at hand.

Tara Kipnees is a writer living in New Jersey with her husband and two-year-old daughter. She received a B.A. in English from Tufts University in 2007, and worked for Sotheby’s and the Worldwide Orphans Foundation before becoming founding editor of the online literary forum Voices in Space.

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