Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Michael N. Nagler

Some time back in the early fifties the U.S. Navy conducted an "exercise" to test bacterial warfare...in San Francisco! They sprayed bacterial agents into the fog over the Bay to "see what would happen." Sure enough, some people got sick, and one elderly gentleman died. When Norman Cousins, editor of the Saturday Review, discovered this through the Freedom of Information Act he wrote a stinging essay in the magazine.He said, "We are outraged, and we should be; but we have to realize that these are the wages of violence. You cannot authorize a group to go out and defend you with military force and expect that that force will never come home to roost."

This is the lesson we again seem to not to be learning from the violence - all of it, on both sides - unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri. Yes, what Officer Wilson apparently did on the night of August 9th was outrageous, inexcusable. I say "apparently'" because at this time controversy and contradictory reports are still swirling and it may be a while before we know - if we ever do - the truth. But even when we do, and no matter what it is, there is a deeper truth to which the mainstream media will never direct us to, and will, in fact, obscure by their attention to details and particulars of this event as though it occurred in a vacuum. What I'm thinking of here goes even beyond the racial tensions underlying the scenario of the white officer and black victim.

The deeper, uncomfortable truth is, we will never see the end of these confrontations and this violence and this anguish (if you have seen the interviews of Michael Brown's mother you know what I mean) until and unless we realize that we are creating a violent culture and set our faces against it. The militarization of our police force is but one inevitable step in a long process that involves the promotion of violence for "entertainment," violence as the only escape from the unfulfilling, if not hopeless lives that many lead in a materialistic culture, and violence as the means to stem the tide of that violence which is thus created. Once you let the genii of violence out of the jar you cannot order it to attack only this or that person, within this or that guideline.

The only real escape from the wrenching destruction of the social fabric of Ferguson, of the lives of Michael Brown's parents and so many like them, is to turn away from unleashing the influence of violence in the first place. And the only way that I know of to do that, realistically, is to create its alternatives on every level: media that celebrate the spiritual potential of the human being, the wonders of creation, and the innate longing for and capacity for peace in every one of us.

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Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Warren Blumenfeld

Officials in 17th-century Puritan Boston coerced Hester Prynne into permanently affixing the stigma of the scarlet letter onto her garments to forever socially castigate her for her so-called "crime" of conceiving a daughter in an adulterous affair. Stigmata include symbols, piercings, or brands used throughout recorded history to mark an outsider, offender, outcast, one who is enslaved, and others.

Though Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter is a work of fiction, members of several minority communities continue to suffer the sting of metaphoric stigmata through their skin color, hair texture, facial features, sex assigned at birth, sexual and gender identities and expressions, religious beliefs and affiliations, countries of origin, linguistic backgrounds, disabilities, ages, and so on.

1999, Amadou Diallo, 23; 2000, Patrick Dorismond, 26; 2003, Ousmane Zongo, 24; 2004, Tim Stansbury, 19; 2006, Sean Bill, 23; 2009, Oscar Grant, 23; 2012, Stephon Watts, 15; 2014, Eric Garner, 43; 2014, Michael Brown, 18.

This list stands as a black or Latino parent's worst fear. It includes the names of innocent, unarmed black people, primarily boys and men, killed at the hands of police officers for virtually no other reason than the color of their skin.

Many white parents often dread engaging with their children in "the talk," you know, the one about the so-called "birds and bees." The trepidation they feel compels them sometimes to put it off as long as possible or never to bring it up at all. While this version of "the talk" may also engender anxiety in black and Latino parents, they must not only broach, but delve deeply into another form of "the talk" with their children, and in particular with their sons, that most white parents never have to consider.

Since the time white people first forcibly kidnapped, enslaved, and transported Africans across the vast oceans to the Americas, some law enforcement officers as well as civilian white residents of the United States routinely profiled and targeted black and Latino boys and men for harassment, arrest, violence, and murder simply for walking down the street or later driving in cars while being black or Latino.

Black and Latino parents from all walks of life throughout the country engage with their sons in what they refer to as "the talk" once their sons reach the age of 13 or 14 instructing them how to respond calmly if ever confronted by police officers. Parents warn youth that if ever approached by police, walk toward them and never run away, keep hands out of your pockets in plain view, don't raise your voice, always act in a polite manner, and never show anger or use derogatory language. Parents of these young men know full well the stigmata embedded into their sons by a racist society, branding them as criminals and forever signing them onto the endangered species list.

Stigmatized and marginalized groups live with the constant fear of random and unprovoked systematic violence directed against them simply on account of their social identities. The intent of this xenophobic (fear and hatred of anyone of anything seeming "foreign") violence is to harm, humiliate, and destroy the "Other" for the purpose of maintaining hierarchical power dynamics and accompanying privileges of the dominant group over minority groups.

On February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch leader in Sanford, Florida, shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Martin was walking on the sidewalk talking on a cell phone to his girlfriend and carrying a can of ice tea and a small bag of Skittles when Zimmerman confronted and shot him, and then he claimed self-defense. By most reports, Martin's "crime" was walking while being black in a predominantly white gated community visiting family and friends. His stigmata included his black skin in tandem with his youth while wearing a "hoody."

In the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin, 32-year-old Iraqi American Shaima Alawadi appears to have been the victim of a brutal hate-inspired murder in her San Diego home. On March 24, 2012, Alawadi's oldest daughter, Fatima al-Himidi, found Aalwadi "drowning in her own blood," beaten with a tire iron. A note near Alawadi bloodied body read, "Go back to your country, you terrorist."

We witnessed the brutal attacks on Rodney King in Los Angeles, the barbarous slaying of James Byrd, Jr. in Jasper, Texas, the fierce rape and murder of Cherise Iverson, a 7-year-old girl in a Las Vegas casino bathroom, the police chokehold death of 43-year-old Eric Garner, and the recent multiple-bullet police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. And these are simply just a few of the most visible examples of this form of stigmatized violence.

We must not and cannot dismiss these incidents as simply the actions of a few individuals or "bad cops," for oppression exists on multiple levels in multiple forms. The killers live in a society that subtly and not-so-subtly promotes intolerance, imposes stigmata, and perpetuates violence. These incidents must be seen as symptoms of larger systemic national problems.

We are living in an environment in which property rights hold precedence over human rights. Metaphorically, oppression operates like a wheel with many spokes. If we work to dismantle only one or a few specific spokes, the wheel will continue to roll over people. Let us, then, also work on dismantling all the many spokes in conquering all the many forms of stigmatized oppression in all their many forms.

In the final analysis, whenever anyone of us is diminished, we are all demeaned, when anyone or any group remains institutionally and socially stigmatized, marginalized, excluded, or disenfranchised, when violence comes down upon any of us, the possibility for authentic community cannot be realized unless and until we become involved, to challenge, to question, and to act in truly transformational ways.

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Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Donna Nevel

In conversations about Gaza, I have heard many thoughtful people in the Jewish community lament the loss of Palestinian lives in Gaza but then say, "But Hamas...," as if that were the heart of the problem. I'd like to suggest that, when we have these conversations about Hamas and Israel's current bombing campaign, we begin with the necessary context and historical perspective.

Re: The Nakba

1. To create the Jewish state, the Zionist movement destroyed more than 400 Palestinians villages and expelled 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and land. Palestinians who remained in what became Israel were relegated to second-class citizenship, had much of their property confiscated, and, to this day, have fewer rights than Jewish Israeli citizens.

Re: The 1967 Occupation

2. In 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem and still occupies them until this day.

Re: Settlement expansion; the apartheid wall; and the siege of Gaza

3. Over the past 47 years of occupation, Israel has illegally confiscated more and more Palestinian land; built an apartheid wall; systematically denied Palestinians basic human and civil rights and engaged in state-sponsored violence; and forced the Palestinians in Gaza to live in appalling conditions that make it increasingly impossible to survive. Israel's latest bombing campaign, Operation Protective Edge, has killed over 1,900 Palestinians, at least 450 of whom are children, and has displaced hundreds of thousands more.

If those of us in the Jewish community who are committed to justice begin from these facts, I think it would become clearer - regardless of who the Palestinian leadership is - that the underlying problem really is the denial of freedom and basic human rights to millions of people, for decades. And, as a community, it should also become clearer where priorities need to be in order to have any integrity on this issue: addressing the Nakba of 1948 and the responsibility for the Nakba head-on - including the right of return for refugees; ending the occupation; ending the siege on Gaza; and recognizing the right to full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Donna Nevel, a community psychologist and educator, is a long-time organizer for peace and justice in Palestine/Israel. More recently, she is a founding member of Jews Say No!, on the board of Jewish Voice for Peace, and on the coordinating committee of the Nakba Education Project-US.

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Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Warren Blumenfeld

"The Lord bless you and keep you: The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace."

Numbers 6:24-26

Biblical scholar Matthew Henry interprets this biblical passage as one in which, "The priests were solemnly to bless the people in the name of the Lord...while he mercifully forgives our sins, supplies our wants, consoles the heart, and prepares us by his grace for eternal glory...."

Pastor T. W. Jenkins welcomes guests with these comforting words from Numbers 6:24-26 when contacting his website for the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church of Tampa, Florida. Jenkins explains his Church as "Christ-centered and biblically-based...[and] offers over 30 ministries, all of which are open to visitors searching for a spirit-filled place to call home." Well, this may hold true, except if your family wishes to assemble a funeral service when the deceased man happens to have been married in life to another man. In that case, this biblical command no longer applies, and the pastor declares it null and void.

During the wake of Julion Evans who had succumbed to amyloidosis (a rare disease of a certain protein building up in bodily organs), his mother, Julie Atwood, and his husband and life partner for over 17 years, Kendall Capers, found no hope after receiving word from Jenkins that he had cancelled Evans's funeral after reading a newspaper obituary that Evans was married to another man, that Capers was the "surviving husband." Jenkins told Atwood that conducting the funeral at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church would be "blasphemous."

Explaining his decision, Jenkins asserted: "I try not to condemn anyone's lifestyle, but at the same time, I am a man of God and have to stand upon my principles."

Well, Jenkins, in your refusal to conduct the funeral service, you have, indeed, condemned Evans's so-called "lifestyle." Actually, I never really understood why it is that heterosexual people and couples live their lives, while those of us who love and partner with someone of the same sex lead sorted "lifestyles." Be that as it may, Jenkins has the absolute right "to stand upon [his] principles" as he defines them, though he would do well to take note of an action taken by another branch of Baptists.

The Southern Baptist Convention, in their presumption believing that they and only they know ultimate truth, unfortunately, has a long history of justifying oppression through its interpretation of scripture.

The issue of slavery became a lightning rod in the1840s among members of the Baptist General Convention, and in May 1845, 310 delegates from the Southern states convened in Augusta, Georgia to organize a separate Southern Baptist Convention on a pro-slavery plank. Delegates asserted as one of their religious "values" that God had condoned the institution of slavery. Therefore, as a good Christian, one must support slavery and not endorse abolition. They cited scripture to justify their position, for example:

"Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart." (Ephesians 6:5-6).

"Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved." (1 Timothy 6:1-2).

In fact, many slave ships had on board a Christian minister to help oversee and bless the passage. Slave ship names included "Jesus," "Grace of God," "Angel," "Liberty," and "Justice."

Well, either by divine "inspiration" or due to political pressure, 150 years later in June 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention reversed its position and officially apologized to African Americans for its support and collusion with the institution of slavery (regarding it now as "original sin"), and also apologizing for its support of "Jim Crow" laws and its rejection of civil rights initiatives during the1950s and 1960s.

Later, in 2010, the Southern Baptist Convention passed its "Resolution on Homosexuality and the United States Military," which stated in part: "RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention...affirm the Bible's declaration that homosexual behavior is intrinsically disordered and sinful, and we also affirm the Bible's promise of forgiveness, change, and eternal life to all sinners (including those engaged in homosexual sin) who repent of sin and trust in the saving power of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)."

Fortunately, however, there exists no monolithic conceptualization, for other faith communities' "values" are progressively welcoming toward LGBT people, our sexuality, and our gender expression, and these communities are working tirelessly to abolish the yoke of oppression directed against us. After the Southern Baptist Convention passed its 2010 resolution, a coalition of progressive organizations, including the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, Believe OutLoud, Faith in America, GetEQUAL, Soulforce, and Truth Wins Out sponsored a petition drive calling on the Southern Baptist Convention to apologize for the harm its teachings have caused the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

Similarly, not all members of the clergy interpret scripture as does Jenkins. Pastor Otis Cooper of New Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa held Evans's funeral service at the funeral home that conducted his wake.

Human diversity is a true gift as evidenced by the fact that "families" come in a great variety of packages, with differing shapes and sizes, colors, and wrappings. If, however, we still need to cling to a common definition of "family," I would remind us of one offered by singers/songwriters, Ron Romanovsky and Paul Phillips, who tell us that "The definition's plain for anyone to see. Love is all it takes to make a family."

I hope one day Pastor Jenkins apologizes to Julion Evans's family and friends for inflicting even more grief upon the grieving.

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(Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Valerie Elverton Dixon)

President Obama has ordered airstrikes against the non-state actor the Islamic State (IS) a.k.a. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) a.k.a. the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He has also ordered an airlift of food, water and medicine to Iraqi religious minorities who have fled their homes and who are now living on Mt. Sinjar. IS, a ruthless militant organization, has fought its way through Iraq with surprising speed and, as I write this, is only a few miles outside of Erbil, a major city in the Kurdish region of Iraq and where a US consulate is.

In his weekly address, President Obama said that the broad strategic goals of the US military operations in Iraq are to protect US citizens in Erbil, address the humanitarian crisis, prevent Iraq from becoming a safe haven for terrorists, and to urge Iraqis to reconcile, unify, and defend their country. While the president insists that this military operation will be limited, that the United States will not slide into another protracted military engagement, that there will be no commitment of US troops on the ground, we hear complaints that limited airstrikes will not be enough to stop IS.

This is a fighting force that is well armed with US weapons abandoned by some members of Iraq's military. The group robbed a bank full of money provided by US taxpayers. The group also receives funding from wealthy people in the region who are sympathetic to their cause. They attract fighters from Europe and the United States who have a misguided view of the meaning of the concept of jihad in Islam.

This is a ruthless, determined, well-funded, well-armed organization. There is no question about this. The nonsense rolls in like an early morning fog when some journalists and analysts tell us that IS owes its strength to President Obama's unwillingness to become more militarily involved in Syria at the beginning of its civil war. IS, they say, filled a vacuum.

Enough of this nonsense. Enough. President Obama did not intervene in Syria and did not do more to arm the Syrian rebels for good reasons. The Syrian opposition lacked unity then and now and it included groups such as IS. There was no reason to believe the weapons given to "moderates" would not end up in the hands of IS. Besides that, all of the various military options would have come with a high price tag and uncertain outcomes.

In a July 19, 2013 letter to Senate Armed Services Committee chair Sen. Carl Levin, General Martin Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff outlined an unclassified assessment of military options in Syria. At the time of the letter, the US military role was limited to humanitarian assistance to the thousands of Syrian refugees, security help to Syria's neighbors who were dealing with a tremendous influx of Syrians and "nonlethal assistance to the opposition."

Dempsey outlined five options: train, advise, and assist the opposition; conduct limited stand-off strikes; establish a no fly zone; establish buffer zones; control chemical weapons.

On the first option - train, advise, and assist the opposition - Dempsey said: "The scale could range from several hundred to several thousand troops with the costs varying accordingly, but estimated at $500 million per year INITIALLY (emphasis mine) About the risks he says:

"Risks include extremists gaining access to additional capabilities, retaliatory cross-border attacks, and insider attacks or inadvertent association with war crimes due to vetting difficulties."

On the second option - conduct limited stand-off strikes - would require "hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines, and other enablers. Depending on duration, the costs would be in the billions." There was also a probability of civilian casualties with this option.

The third option - establish a no-fly zone - would require "hundreds of ground and sea-based aircraft, intelligence and electronic warfare support, and enablers for refueling. Estimated costs are $500 million dollars initially, averaging as much as a BILLION DOLLARS PER MONTH over the course of a year. . . (emphasis mine) Risks include the loss of U.S. aircraft, which would require us to insert personnel recovery forces." Dempsey also says that this may not reduce the violence because "the regime relies overwhelmingly on surface fires - mortars, artillery, and missiles."

About the fourth option - establish buffer zones - Dempsey says: "Thousands of U.S. ground forces would be needed, even if positioned outside Syria, to support those physically defending the zones. A limited no-fly zone coupled with U.S. ground forces would push the costs over one billion dollars per month." One risk: "The zones could also become operational bases for extremists."

Finally - control chemical weapons. I will quote the paragraph in its entirety.

"This option uses lethal force to prevent the use or proliferation of chemical weapons. We do this by destroying portions of Syria's massive stockpile, interdicting its movements and delivery, or by seizing and securing program components. At a minimum, this option would call for a no-fly zone as well as air and missile strikes involving hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines, and other enablers. Thousands of special operations forces and other ground forces would be needed to assault and secure critical sites. Costs could also average well over one billion dollars per month. The impact would be the control of some, but not all chemical weapons. It would also help prevent their further proliferation into the hands of extremist groups. OUR INABILITY TO FULLY CONTROL SYRIA'S STORAGE AND DELIVERY SYSTEMS COULD ALLOW EXTREMISTS TO GAIN BETTER ACCESS.
(emphasis mine) Risks are similar to the no-fly zone with the added risk of U.S. boots on the ground."

I have quoted this paragraph in full because it is imperative that we cut through the nonsense that says President Obama showed himself weak when he did not attack Syria after its use of chemical weapons. He drew a red-line and did not follow through. The mistake was a rhetorical one. He ought not to have drawn a red-line in the first instance. However, not bombing Syria was intelligent, not weak.

Let us recall the sequence of events. After it became clear that Bashar al Assad had used chemical weapons against his own citizens, the president was prepared to act. He started to gather an international coalition. France said yes, but the British Parliament refused Prime Minister David Cameron's request. The president decided to ask for a congressional vote because the people of the United States was against US involvement in another war. Pope Francis called for a day-long fast. Russia brokered a deal whereby Assad would give up his stockpiles of chemical weapons. There was no longer a need to strike Syria. The strategic objective had been met. And, it was more than "control" of the weapons, but it was "destruction" of the weapons done without all the costs and risks outlined in Dempsey's letter.

It would not have been intelligent for President Obama to strike Syria for the sake of striking Syria. People who say that this is a sign of weakness, that our allies in the Middle East cannot trust the president's word are working out a hidden agenda that is not in the interest of the people of the United States. Journalists who report that their "sources" tell them that the United States cannot be trusted because President Obama was intellectually and tactically nimble enough to achieve a strategic goal without firing a shot are being bamboozled.

There were not then and are not now any good options in Syria or Iraq. And, if the president must err, I hope he errs on the side on not inserting more lethal weapons into Syria. At the same time, I think it is wise to arm the Kurds so they have a fighting chance against the Islamic State. It is the Kurds and the Iraqi army who will have to provide a safe corridor for the people on the mountain to find better shelter. Humanitarian assistance is always in order.

However, the leaders in Iraq and around the world must wake to a new international reality. We are at a tipping point in world affairs. We the People of the United States are tired of perpetual war. We are no longer willing to spend billions, trillions, of dollars playing the part of the world's police force. Iraqi military forces cannot lay their weapons down before IS and think the United States military is coming to fight their battles. Other governments in the region also ought to disabuse themselves of this notion.

In his remarks on Saturday, August 09, President Obama said: "So we're going to be pushing very hard to encourage Iraqis to get their government together. Until they do that, it is going to be hard to get the unity of effort that allows us to not just play defense, but also engage in offense." I say: "what do you mean us?"

Unless the governments in the region want IS to achieve its goal of an Islamic caliphate on their soil, they will have to step up with funding and their own military personnel to fight the battle and President Obama ought to make this clear to all of them.

As President Eisenhower warned, we pay for each jet fighter, each warship, each tank with roads and schools and food security and health care for our own citizens. No more. This is not weakness, this is intelligent. And our own analysts and journalists ought to stop buying nonsense and then selling it to us. Enough is enough.

 

Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of "Just Peace Theory Book One; Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation"

 

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(Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon)

Much has been written about the silencing of anti-war dissent in Israel by a populace almost universally supportive of military action in Gaza. Such support - inspired by feelings of vulnerability amidst rocket fire and informed by the country's rightward shift - has made speaking out against the violence not just uncomfortable, but dangerous. Not a single anti-war demonstration in the past month has concluded without participants being attacked and beaten by nationalistic counter-protesters.

And yet, while the silencing of anti-war dissent has been a troubling manifestation of Israelis' support for war, even more troubling has been the societal numbness, the societal disregard for Palestinian suffering which has been manifested in unsettling, and sometimes shocking, ways.

It's not bombastic to say that empathy is dead in Israel right now from a societal standpoint, a metaphorical casualty of the current violence. Evidence of this isn't just being seen in statistical polls, but in a seemingly endless stream of incidents. Consider the following three, representative of a real phenomenon few in Israel deny:

These scenes are just three representing countless such episodes happening online and in everyday life. Of course, they're not scenes taking place within a vacuum. A conflict is ongoing. Israelis have had to run to bomb shelters with each rocket attack. People are being traumatized by the constant threat of war.

However, within this context, many leaders are doing their part to incite the populace and ensure that the unspeakable suffering of Palestinians, not to mention their humanity, remain invisible. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been responsible for this, repeating the refrain that Palestinians in Gaza don't care about life, and reminding everyone that the thousands of dead are not so much victims as desired public relations weapons in Hamas' fight against Israel.

Netanyahu's words have been tame when compared to those of the Knesset's Deputy Speaker, who proposed placing Palestinians in tent encampments in Gaza before shipping them off to other countries. This call was preceded by a prominent chief rabbi who (falsely) declared that genocide with regard to Gaza was permitted by Jewish law to protect Israel.

Some might argue that all of this should be placed within the context of the growing issue of racism in Israel, which 95 percent of Israelis in March agreed is a national problem. However, such racism in many ways is just one more symptom, along with the disappearing empathy for the 'other,' of a decades-old conflict which is tearing at the soul of a country I love.

Decades of occupation and conflict have led to this societal moment in which, after killing nearly 2,000 Palestinians and obliterating parts of Gaza, Israeli society is unwilling to acknowledge what it has done to the other side. As though admitting such would be tantamount to losing in a zero-sum game where only one side can be right, can be just.

Such an environment prompted Gregg Carlstrom to write an article entitled "The Death of Sympathy," which he opens with the following panoramic paragraph:

Pro-war demonstrators stand behind a police barricade in Tel Aviv, chanting, "Gaza is a graveyard." An elderly woman pushes a cart of groceries down the street in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon and asks a reporter, "Jewish or Arab? Because I won't talk to Arabs." A man in Sderot, a town that lies less than a mile from Gaza, looks up as an Israeli plane, en route to the Hamas-ruled territory, drops a blizzard of leaflets over the town. "I hope that's not all we're dropping," he says.

Yes, there are lone voices calling for the recognition of both Palestinian and Israeli suffering. Voices calling for Israelis to acknowledge what it has done to the other side. What it is doing to itself. Unfortunately, such lone voices are being silenced, and sometimes physically attacked.

Just as I mourn for the dead in Israel and Palestine, for the young soldiers killed and innocent civilians lost, I mourn for a society that seems to be slipping into numbness, and what that numbness portends.

-§-


David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

 

 

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(Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon)

I can’t keep up with my inbox.

This is an entirely new and foreign experience – over 100 messages have been streaming in each day for the past week, and there is little sign of this pace slowing. All of these messages are being sent by strangers, the vast majority of them are coming from American Jews, and most contain a singular message:

“I feel like you are my voice right now.” – 27-year-old from Philadelphia

As a writer and author, I’ve been humbled by occasional notes from strangers, from people both praising me or cursing me for my words, opinions and political positions. However, what’s happening right now is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It is a stunning anecdotal phenomenon which reveals the way American Jews in particular, and Americans in general, are being affected by the incredible suffering in Gaza.

This all began when the actor Mark Ruffalo shared an article I recently wrote:

The article started circulating widely, and from that article, a meme was created by someone I don’t know which has apparently circulated even more widely.

Since then, I have received a steady stream of messages which have been both overwhelming and humbling. They have also been sustaining me during a very difficult time – unbeknownst to most who are sending them. As one who works in the Jewish community as an educator, and one who has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s Gaza operations as a two-state Jew, I have had pushback from certain voices in my community. It has been a tense time, to say the least.

Despite this, I have been speaking out on the page. Because, as a writer, that’s what I do. From the messages I’m receiving, it’s clear some of that writing on Gaza and Israel is reverberating strongly, particularly amongst some who don’t feel comfortable having their voices heard:

“This makes me feel so much less alone.” – a woman in Massachusetts

Thank you for speaking out … this is everything I feel I want to say but just can’t. But maybe I’m going to start.” – anonymous

I also love Israel and I also want speak out against what is happening. I think you’re my support group I don’t have…it’s why I’m writing.” – a “young” Jew in Miami

A few days ago, I had dinner with several friends with whom I had not spoken since all of this madness began in July. It was a dinner I was admittedly scared to attend, unable to discern whether I would be ostracized for my views, unsure whether these friends would express anger at my not taking a zero-sum stance to the conflict.

Like me, they are all Jews. Like me, they are all invested in the Jewish community and Israel. Like me, they have young children. To my surprise, like me, they all felt similar.

At one point, one of them looked toward me and said, “I know you probably don’t want to talk politics, but I just want to say that I feel like you are representing me right now. And I just wanted to thank you for being out there and writing what you are writing. You might not know, but it’s helping and inspiring a lot of people.”

Everyone gathered began nodding. Then began talking of forming a support group of sorts, a safe space where those like us could gather and reveal our conflicted feelings.

From the messages I’m receiving, I wonder whether such a group wouldn’t represent a majority of young, American Jews. I wonder whether the institutional voices alienating so many with their monolithic messages of support for Israel’s military actions, without any nuance or publicly-stated compassion for the intense suffering in Gaza, don’t represent a loud and powerful minority.

While the recent Pew study on the American Jewish community might offer hints as to what the answers to such questions might be, it certainly doesn’t answer them. Nor do the messages I’m receiving.

However, I know one thing: Gaza is transforming how Jews in America, who support Israel, view the importance and legitimacy of critiquing Israel. It’s compelling people to internalize the notion that criticism and true support, rather than being mutually exclusive, may actually be congruent.

                                                                            -§-

David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG

(Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon)

On the ground in Gaza, Israel’s war against Hamas has been devastating. Online and in the public sphere, a different sort of war has been taking place – a broad initiative to delegitimize those who raise questions about and critique Israel’s actions.

This initiative is being carried out both by so-called ‘pro-Israel’ individuals as well as student volunteers enlisted by Israel’s government in its ‘social media war.’ The result: those who merely express empathy for the suffering in Gaza, where over 1,100 people have been killed and 6,000 injured, are tainted as anti-Semitic or pro-Hamas, and those who offer dissenting opinions are labelled as enemies who seek Israel’s destruction.

The goal is to shut down dialogue and debate, something Jon Stewart nailed in a recent bit in which he attempts to discuss Israel, only to be shouted down as a self-hating Jew. It is not a new phenomenon or initiative, though it has become much more intense and widespread as emotions run high over the ongoing violence in Gaza and continued rocket attacks in Israel.

It seems to be affecting everyone who publicly offers critical opinions about Israel’s Gaza offensive, whether celebrities, journalists or anonymous individuals.

The horrible irony is that, as propagandists try to defame dissenters by slandering them as anti-Semitic, thus diluting its meaning, real anti-Semitism is rearing its head in Europe. Anti-semitism is still a real danger, and that danger is being made graver by those who are participating in this online initiative to falsely tar concerned voices as enemies of Israel.

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In the past three weeks, I have been targeted countless times with such accusations, both on Twitter and in comments to my articles. Yesterday, it reached such heights, with my views being distorted beyond recognition, that I was compelled to write an essay entitled, "Empathizing with Gaza does not make me anti-Semitic, nor pro-Hamas or anti-Israel. It makes me human." Responses to that artcle have been overwhelming.

The response has been so strong, in part, because of the vast numbers of people who have been on the receiving end of similar attacks. And that’s outside of Israel. Within it, as Etgar Keret writes in The New Yorker, efforts to silence and delegitimize dissenting voices on Gaza are intense in a society which overwhelmingly supports the military operation.

In the end, such attacks are not personal. In fact, they usually don’t even have much to do with the person being targeted. Instead, such incidents are really just efforts to dehumanize Palestinians and undermine their status as victims in a zero sum game.

I’m just the vehicle. We all are. But like many, I refuse to play this zero-sum game, in which one can be on only one side. Indeed, there is a ‘third way.’ A way to be invested in and care about both sides, viewing the conflict as one in which both sides can win.

Or lose.

My hope is that, in the end, it will be the former. And that’s why I write.

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David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

 

 

(Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily by Warren Blumenfeld

In scenes reminiscent of the PBS series "Upstairs, Downstairs," and "Downton Abbey," a luxury condominium complex in New York City's Upper West Side, according to an agreement reached between the developers and City government, when completed, will contain a door for use by wealthy residents only, and a separate door for lower-income tenants. In exchange for permission to build a bigger and taller building, the developers have agreed to include 55 affordable rent-regulated units.

Residents living in these more "affordable" apartments within high-end complexes throughout the City are usually restricted from availing themselves of amenities granted to wealthy occupants, including swimming pools, gyms, and tennis and basketball courts. Since traditionally in New York City the majority of renters and buyers paying market rates for housing are white and the majority of tenants living in rent-regulated units are people of color, these sorts of "agreements" promote legalized segregation based on skin color and the color of money.

No matter how utterly offensive we may consider this arrangement, it does not even begin to represent the enormous economic gap and segregation of communities in the United States today. While economic disparities plague all nations across the planet, nowhere are these disparities more extreme than in the United States. No other problem affects the security and the very survival of our nation and other nations across our ever-shrinking planet more than the income and resource gap between the rich and the poor.

From the time of our birth and throughout our lives, we are told and continually retold the tale of meritocracy. The story goes something like this: For those of us living in the United States, it matters not from which station of life we came. We each have been born into a system that guarantees us equal and equitable access of opportunity. Success is ours through hard work, study, and ambition, and by deferring gratification for later in life. Those who do not achieve success must accept personal responsibility. Maybe they did not try hard enough. Maybe they failed to scale any barriers that could have been placed in their way because they did not have the will, the fortitude, the intelligence, the character, or because they simply made bad choices.

Though this narrative stands as the foundation on which this country was constructed, many of us see it for the lie and the fabrication that it is. This ruling class tool, this form of hegemony serves the purpose of mitigating challenges to the inherent and inevitable inequities in "free market" Capitalism, and, therefore, not only perpetuates, but expands the ever-increasing gulf within the socioeconomic class structure.

In the United States, the top one percent of the population has accumulated an estimated 34.6 percent of the wealth, the next 9 percent an estimated 38.5 percent, and the remaining 90 percent of the nation a combined accumulation of only 26.9 percent.

In 2012, 46.5 million people (15.0 percent) in the United States lived below the poverty line, with 16.1 million (21.8 percent) children under the age of 18. Approximately 49.0 million lived in food insecure households (available food depleted before the end of the month), including 33.1 million adults and 15.9 million children.

The compensation of corporate CEOs has risen an astounding 725% between 1978 and 2011 while the average workers' salaries have increased a mere 5.7% over the same period. Today's official national minimum wage of $7.25 per hour equals $3.00lessaccounting for inflation compared to the minimum wage in 1968.

The top financial rewards went to only 400 people increasing their income between 1992 and 2007 by 392% while their average tax ratefellby 37%. These same 400 people accumulated more wealth than the lower 50% of the U.S. population combined.

A few individual families own 20, or 30, or 40, or more fast food franchises while paying their workers less than a living wage, as 26% of fast food employees are parents raising children, and 68% are the major wage earners for their families, and many of our people go hungry as Congress fights to eliminate the food stamp and school lunch safety nets. In reality, a McDonald's employee must work the equivalent of 930 years to match the salary that the CEO makes in a single year.

Some families have the privilege of purchasing two, or three, or four, or five, or even six homes that they occasionally visit depending on their current mood like the rest of us choose which pair of underwear to don for the day, and many of our people, including youth, go homeless.

Ultimately, no one really wins when millions of people have been shut out of the economy. No one wins when people don't have the money to spend on the goods and services in the stores owned and managed by the rich. No one wins when the upper 10 percent own approximately 73 percent of the nation's wealth, and only 85 of the wealthiest individuals own the equivalent of the lowest 3.5 billion (with a "B") people in the world. If this continues unabated, nationwide and worldwide economic disaster and political upheaval will inevitably ensue.

Returning to the example of the two-tiered (multi-tiered) New York City condominium structure, what we are witnessing is a postmodern version of the high-walled city center of Medieval times protecting the nobility from peasants and marauding bands, and the 20th-century gated communities meant to keep out thieves and bandits. These hermetically-sealed containers, nonetheless, eventually imprison us all.

(To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily’s free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.)

(Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon

As a Jew, I admit to being uniquely invested in what's occurring in Israel and Gaza - an investment sometimes cited to paint political discourse on Israel as niche. However, as an American citizen and a self-avowed progressive, I not only reject such notions, but hold that Israel is a core progressive issue which demands our broad attention.

There are many arguments made amongst progressives which seek to deflect discourse on Israel, and which echo arguments made across the political spectrum. Two of these arguments I'd like to counter below in an effort to show why Israel indeed stands as a principle progressive issue.

1) Why Single Out Israel?

One of the most consistent arguments I encounter for why Israel need not be discussed prominently is one I would categorize as a red herring. Here is how the argument goes: yes, horrible things are happening to the Palestinians, but there's a lot of bad in the world. Try focusing on Syria or Russia or Sudan for once.

This sort of logic simply doesn't hold any weight. Would I be unjustified in writing about water shutoffs in Detroit (as I've done) when land grabs in Africa are intensifying water scarcity crises for local communities? Of course I would.

It is impossible for me, or anyone else, to tackle an issue of importance without being presented with a myriad of other issues worthy of focus. But that's the nature of taking any moral stand or championing any cause: it is done knowing selectivity is inherent, natural and unavoidable.

Mehdi Hasan, political director for The Huffington Post (UK), put it most articulately when he wrote regarding his publication's current focus on Israel, Palestine and the intense suffering in Gaza:

On what grounds did we "single out" apartheid South Africa in the 1980s for condemnation and boycott? Weren't there other, more dictatorial regimes in Africa at the time, those run by black Africans such as Mengistu in Ethiopia or Mobutu in Zaire? Did we dare excuse the crimes of white Afrikaners on this basis?

Taking a moral stand inevitably requires us to be selective, specific and, yes, even inconsistent.

So, why Israel? Why should what's happening in Israel/Palestine be a progressive political issue in America? The answer is simple: America is inextricably linked with what's going on in the region in ways that are incomparable anywhere else in the world.

The U.S. gives Israel $3 billion annually in funding, more than it gives any other nation, and much of that funding supports Israel's military apparatus. The U.S. has even expanded that funding through 2018 despite the fact that Israel, against U.S. policy, has continued to expand its illegal settlements, making a U.S.-supported two-state solution impossible. America has also continuing this funding during Israel's decades-old military occupation in the West Bank, which denies Palestinians basic human rights while subjecting them to military law, including indefinite detentions, home demolitions, restrictions on movement and violent, sometimes deadly suppression of political protest.

And now, during a tragic war of choice in Gaza many international observers view as violating international law, the White House has backed Israel's efforts as hundreds of innocent civilians are being killed, often when their homes are targeted (an issue Jake Tapper raised pointedly with Israel's ambassador).

As citizens, our tax dollars are funding what is occurring.

Now, to be clear: I don't want funding cut to Israel. For example, as Hamas fires crude rockets (it cannot control) into Israel, the U.S.-provided Iron Dome is protecting civilians, my friends among them, and I'm grateful for that. However, I have many concerns about the way Israel is using its disproportionate military force - a force heavily-funded by America. Should we be invested in voicing concerns about how our tax dollars are being spent? As progressives? As Americans?

Absolutely.

2) Let Them Kill Each Other - Regional Hate Is None of My Concern

This is an insidious, dehumanizing and wholly simplistic tact that some people take with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though in their defense, it's a view most media in America perpetuate. I have no intention of engaging in a comprehensive, historical review in this space to counter it, though doing so would certainly be appropriate.

Rather, I'll simply respond to this line of reasoning as follows: this "conflict" is not so much a prolonged war as it is a decades-long, asymmetrical oppression of one people (sadly, my people) over another.

Yes, religious hatred amongst minority groups on both sides exist. Yes, racism and anti-Semitism amongst minority groups on both sides exist. And yes, the continued conflict has worked over decades to imbue each society with mistrust for the other that is difficult to overcome.

However, this is a situation - just like every other geopolitical crisis - which has geopolitical solutions. Here is the kicker, though: no solutions will be advanced, nor will peace be attained, unless outside pressure is brought to bear upon both parties, for neither seem capable of extricating themselves from counterproductive policies on their own.

All the more reason for us to be involved and invested, as progressive Americans, in what is happening.

Yes, as a Jew, I am invested in Israel's future in unique ways. I want it to thrive and survive, to achieve its democratic promise, however difficult that may be. And this investment is, in part, what motivates me to critique Israel: the damage it's doing to the Palestinians is also destroying itself.

However, as a progressive American whose liberal Jewish values align with my U.S.-borne political ones, I find it imperative that we address Palestinian suffering, the denial of their human rights, and the suppression of their right to self-determination.

As Americans partially responsible for and heavily intertwined in the conflict, we have no other choice.

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David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

 

 

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