Cross-posted from TikkunDaily

By Saadia Faruqi

Last week, the famed 9/11 memorial museum opened with a host of items salvaged from that fateful day in American history. About the same time, Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative burst onto our collective consciousness by once again using the image of the burning twin towers on Washington, D.C. buses to malign an entire religion. It seems that almost thirteen years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we still have an antagonistic, feral response to this defining moment in modern history.

Both events have spurred protests, but thankfully not just by Muslims. Although the 9/11 memorial museum itself has remained out of controversy’s way, the accompanying seven-minute film called “The Rise of Al-Qaeda” is fast becoming a cause for concern for many New Yorkers regardless of religion. Rather than Muslims screaming themselves hoarse about Islamophobia to no avail, the film is being protested by an interfaith group as one that used specifically Islamic terminology in a way that many viewers may associate Islam with terrorism. While no-one is disputing the religion of the terrorists involved in 9/11, many feel that more should be done to differentiate between Islam as an ideology and the extremist interpretations of some Muslim groups. While it doesn’t seem that that the authorities are listening, at least we’re thinking and talking about it as a society, and deciding that demonizing an entire religion due to the actions of a few thousands, even millions, is just not fair.

Another important demonizing attempt is Pamela Geller’s new bus ad in the D.C. area. I say important because it again has led to objections, not just by Muslims but by other faiths as well, and many different groups and individuals have acknowledged their distaste. The Anti-Defamation League protested the use of Hitler’s picture for the sake of sensationalism, going as far as to condemn anti-Muslim bigotry in terms of Israel and Zionism:

Pro-Israel doesn’t mean anti-Muslim, and support for Israel cannot be built on bigoted anti-Muslim and anti-Arab stereotypes.

-David C. Friedman, the ADL’s Washington, D.C. regional director.

Strong and unusual words for the ADL, whose defense of Islam in recent years has been lukewarm at best. But it underscores the point that when a religion is painted with a heavy brush, all people of all faiths should sit up and take notice because that same brush could be taken to their religion next. It is satisfying to see Jews and Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, even atheists, coming together to protect Muslims, and I hope the same occurs if Judaism or any other religion is maligned.

So what is the best way to respond to people and films that incite hatred? Qasim Rashid in Time Magazine debunks some common myths about the “Islamic Jew hatred” Geller talks about, but it seems as if such discussions fall on deaf ears. On the other hand, Mira Sucharov at the Jewish Daily Forward claims that these ads, by a group acknowledged as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, could actually do some good. By bringing people of different faiths together to discuss issues that divide them, the ads could actually result in better understanding and even a healing of sorts. I agree with her rather radical idea as one that could just work:

The discussion would start as a conversation about scripture, values and religion – with lots of talk about how terms like “infidels” and “jihad” are used and heard; what the legacy of phrases like “People of the Book” are now that Jewish communities have mostly left Muslim countries; and how different belief systems understand concepts like war, peace, force and negotiation. It would then likely meander over to the areas of politics and foreign policy. These issues would include U.S. diplomatic and military actions in the Muslim world, the legacy of 9/11, and Israeli and Palestinian policies towards one another.

So is there a right way to commemorate the tragedy of 9/11 and the resulting Islamophobia we have seen in the United States as well as abroad? I think that as long as we are respectful, and can work together to humanize the “other”, there is hope for our nation, our world. We will see many other instances of bigotry, sometimes against Muslims, at other times against Jews or other groups, but at the end of the day we must stand up for each other, and always remember that those who promote hate and intolerance are faith-less terrorists, whether they belong to the Al-Qaeda or the Geller camp.

 

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

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 TikkunDaily

By Saadia Faruqi

Last week, the famed 9/11 memorial museum opened with a host of items salvaged from that fateful day in American history. About the same time, Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative burst onto our collective consciousness by once again using the image of the burning twin towers on Washington, D.C. buses to malign an entire religion. It seems that almost thirteen years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we still have an antagonistic, feral response to this defining moment in modern history.

Both events have spurred protests, but thankfully not just by Muslims. Although the 9/11 memorial museum itself has remained out of controversy’s way, the accompanying seven-minute film called “The Rise of Al-Qaeda” is fast becoming a cause for concern for many New Yorkers regardless of religion. Rather than Muslims screaming themselves hoarse about Islamophobia to no avail, the film is being protested by an interfaith group as one that used specifically Islamic terminology in a way that many viewers may associate Islam with terrorism. While no-one is disputing the religion of the terrorists involved in 9/11, many feel that more should be done to differentiate between Islam as an ideology and the extremist interpretations of some Muslim groups. While it doesn’t seem that that the authorities are listening, at least we’re thinking and talking about it as a society, and deciding that demonizing an entire religion due to the actions of a few thousands, even millions, is just not fair.

Another important demonizing attempt is Pamela Geller’s new bus ad in the D.C. area. I say important because it again has led to objections, not just by Muslims but by other faiths as well, and many different groups and individuals have acknowledged their distaste. The Anti-Defamation League protested the use of Hitler’s picture for the sake of sensationalism, going as far as to condemn anti-Muslim bigotry in terms of Israel and Zionism:

Pro-Israel doesn’t mean anti-Muslim, and support for Israel cannot be built on bigoted anti-Muslim and anti-Arab stereotypes.

-David C. Friedman, the ADL’s Washington, D.C. regional director.

Strong and unusual words for the ADL, whose defense of Islam in recent years has been lukewarm at best. But it underscores the point that when a religion is painted with a heavy brush, all people of all faiths should sit up and take notice because that same brush could be taken to their religion next. It is satisfying to see Jews and Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, even atheists, coming together to protect Muslims, and I hope the same occurs if Judaism or any other religion is maligned.

So what is the best way to respond to people and films that incite hatred? Qasim Rashid in Time Magazine debunks some common myths about the “Islamic Jew hatred” Geller talks about, but it seems as if such discussions fall on deaf ears. On the other hand, Mira Sucharov at the Jewish Daily Forward claims that these ads, by a group acknowledged as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, could actually do some good. By bringing people of different faiths together to discuss issues that divide them, the ads could actually result in better understanding and even a healing of sorts. I agree with her rather radical idea as one that could just work:

The discussion would start as a conversation about scripture, values and religion – with lots of talk about how terms like “infidels” and “jihad” are used and heard; what the legacy of phrases like “People of the Book” are now that Jewish communities have mostly left Muslim countries; and how different belief systems understand concepts like war, peace, force and negotiation. It would then likely meander over to the areas of politics and foreign policy. These issues would include U.S. diplomatic and military actions in the Muslim world, the legacy of 9/11, and Israeli and Palestinian policies towards one another.

So is there a right way to commemorate the tragedy of 9/11 and the resulting Islamophobia we have seen in the United States as well as abroad? I think that as long as we are respectful, and can work together to humanize the “other”, there is hope for our nation, our world. We will see many other instances of bigotry, sometimes against Muslims, at other times against Jews or other groups, but at the end of the day we must stand up for each other, and always remember that those who promote hate and intolerance are faith-less terrorists, whether they belong to the Al-Qaeda or the Geller camp.

 

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

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 TikkunDaily

By Dylan Kaufman-Obstler

Last week the Anti-Defamation League came out with a report on anti-semitism conducted in 100 different countries, calling it “The largest survey ever of anti-semitic attitudes.” In the survey, participants were given 11 statements of Jewish stereotypes and were then asked whether they were “probably true” or “probably false.” Participants who answered “probably true” to 6 or more of the stereotypes were categorized as harboring anti-semitic attitudes. Of the 11 statements, the study found that the one most widely believed is that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the countries in which they live.

This finding raises an interesting question: why does the ADL treat the belief that Jews are more loyal to Israel as an anti-semitic stereotype when the ADL has worked so hard to promote pro-Israel sentiment in Jews living outside Israel?

The mission of the ADL prioritizes Israel advocacy as its weapon of choice in the fight against anti-semitism. The ADL monitors what it calls the “anti-Israel movement” and “anti-Israel groups,” essentially using criticism of Israel as the litmus test to determine whether an organization or individual is anti-semitic. This is especially apparent when it comes to Jewish organizations that disapprove of Israeli policies. In the page on the ADL’s website devoted to Jewish Voice for Peace – an organization that calls for the boycott of, divestment from, and sanctioning of Israel (BDS) – the ADL states, “JVP, like other prominent Jewish anti-Zionist individuals and groups, uses its Jewish identity to shield the anti-Israel movement from allegations of anti-Semitism and provide it with a greater degree of legitimacy and credibility.”A central aspect of the ADL’s work is to equate anti-zionism with anti-semitism and discredit any Jewish organizing that criticizes the state of Israel, naming their Jewish identity as a “shield” rather than a legitimate basis for their criticisms.

The ADL survey’s findings are not surprising given that impressing feelings of loyalty towards Israel is a primary interest for many Jewish organizations and institutions. One example of this is the high proportion of funds in American Jewish philanthropy directed towards Israel-focused initiatives. According to the 2012 annual report from the Jewish Federation and United Jewish Endowment Fund, of its over $24 million granted to Jewish agencies and programs, 34% was spent on “Israel and Overseas.” This does not account for the 56% spent on its “Local” or “National” funding, which includes programs such as “Israel at 65,” “Israel Engagement,” “Israel Quest,” “Masa Israel Journey,” and “Birthright Israel.” Positioning loyalty towards Israel as an essential aspect of Jewish identity has been a well-funded and unrelenting campaign within Jewish institutional life.

This issue of “loyalty” – and anti-semitic attitudes that question Jewish loyalty to their nations of residence–has particular relevance to the history of the Zionist movement and its presentation of a Jewish nation-state as the solution to anti-semitism. A foundational ethos behind the making of a Jewish state was the belief that Jews will never be fully accepted as citizens in their own countries, and therefore must place Jewish political and national loyalty in a Jewish state. Once the State of Israel was established, Jewish institutions around the world mobilized to make the State of Israel a primary concern for Jewish communities. Today we are able to see the affects of political Zionism’s logic in both the results of the ADL’s survey as well as the way the ADL puts Israel at the center of its work against anti-semitism.

The long history of contentious debate on whether Zionism would be an effective or appropriate solution for anti-semitism in Europe has seemingly been forgotten as contemporary Jewish communities become evermore fixated on anti-semitism as a way of legitimizing and necessitating the existence of a Jewish state. This view is unsustainable and harmful to Jewish communities. The ADL is not incorrect in naming the assumption of Jewish loyalty towards Israel is an anti-semitic attitude. The Jewish community’s Israel obsession, and its role shaping Jewish institutional life, is indeed a product of anti-semitism.

What this finding in the ADL survey tells us, however, is that the work of Jewish liberation from anti-semitism is larger than Israel. Jewish liberation cannot be found in the nation-state, nor can anti-semitism be solved or mitigated through a Jewish nation-state. We must rather move towards a vision of a post-national Jewish Liberation: the idea that Jewish liberation is tied in with the struggles of all those whom are oppressed, and that true liberation is found in the work we do on both personal and collective levels.

While the ADL claims its mission is to “combat hate,” it has used its survey to further propagate stereotypes. When ADL’s National Director, Abraham Foxman, spoke at a press conference upon the survey’s release, he stated that “Muslims overall have more highly anti-semitic attitudes than other religions.” The ADL’s survey in its naming of other groups as the agents of anti-semitism, focuses on anti-semitism as an external issue. While the ADL survey was certainly the most extensive of its kind, it does not address the most pressing effect of anti-semitism today: the anti-semitism Jews have internalized and how it is affecting Jewish communities. We see this most strikingly in the way Jewish institutions and organizations, such as the ADL, censor discussion about Zionism and the State of Israel. The effects of anti-semitism – the manifestation of paranoia and sense of isolation, have perpetuated McCarthyist attitudes towards Israel criticism and created toxic dynamics within our own institutions.

While naming anti-semitism is important, the work of healing our communities compels us to look towards a different framework that does not further entrench suspicious and bigoted attitudes. Anti-semitism is an internal issue as much as an external one, and it will not transform or fade by proving any kind of national loyalty. “Combating hate” does not look like conducting a survey and naming other religious and ethnic groups as the problem; it is thinking more deeply about the impacts of oppression on the health of our communities. The misuse of anti-semitism by Jewish nationalist interests is itself a propagator of anti-semitism and is the greatest stumbling block for Jewish liberation.

 

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Cross-posted from TikkunDaily
By Warren J. Blumenfeld

American politicians have prayed before public gatherings since the Founding Fathers crowded into a stuffy Philadelphia room to crank out the Constitution. The inaugural and emphatically Christian prayer at the First Continental Congress was delivered by an Anglican minister, who overcame objections from the assembled Quakers, Anabaptists and Presbyterians. The prayer united the mostly Christian Founding Fathers, and the rest is history.

Indeed, as U. S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy write in the 5-4 majority opinion in The Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway , “…the rest is history.”

While a strict separation of synagogue and state, mosque and state, Hindu and Buddhist temple and state, and separation of atheists and state and virtually all the other approximately 5000 religions and state has been enacted, on the other hand, church – predominantly Protestant denominations, but also Catholic – and state, have connected virtually seamlessly to the affairs and policies of what we call the United States of America, from the first invasion of Europeans in the 15th century on the Christian Julian to the Christian Gregorian Calendars up to 2014 Anno Domini (short for Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi – “In the year of our Lord Jesus Christ”).

In the court case, two local women from Greece, New York filed suit against city officials for approving invocations with primarily overtly Christian content at monthly public sessions held on government property. However, according to Kennedy, "The town of Greece does not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition, and does not coerce participation by nonadherents."  

Going even further, Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia wrote that even any "subtle pressure" that local citizens might feel would not be enough to ban such prayers. This ruling follows the precedent-setting case thirty years ago in Marsh v. Chambers, upholding Nebraska legislature's funding of a chaplain who delivered daily prayers.

The court’s majority (Scalia) Law further codifies de facto practices into de jure policies.

Justice Elena Kagan, writing the minority opinion, asserted: "When the citizens of this country approach their government, they do so only as Americans, not as members of one faith or another. And that means that even in a partly legislative body, they should not confront government-sponsored worship that divides them along religious lines." She argued assertively that: “No one can fairly read the prayers from Greece's town meetings as anything other than explicitly Christian – constantly and exclusively so. The prayers betray no understanding that the American community is today, as it long has been, a rich mosaic of religious faiths."

By expressing the majority view asserting tradition as justification, Kennedy steps in the grease tracking and smearing it across the legislative landscape. The high court’s decision is less about protecting religious freedom as it is about maintaining and expanding Christian supremacy and the furtherance of Christian privilege. In reality, the First Amendment’s “non-establishment” of religion clause applies to all faiths except Christian denominations, even though Kennedy asserted that these (Christian) prayers were “meant to lend gravity to the occasion and reflect values long part of the nation’s heritage, that are long-established by Congress and state legislatures.

Though I am disappointed, I am not surprised by the court’s (re)inscription of a Christian religious imposition and imperative in the public square by maintaining a long-standing tradition.

I often hear criticism against nations founded upon an “official” religion, denomination, or sect like England, Ireland, Poland, Italy, Ukraine, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Pakistan, India, and many others across the globe, and how these countries restrict religious freedom to those who fall outside the mainstream religiously. I argue, nonetheless, that we must include the United States on this list.

Alexis de Tocqueville, French political scientist and diplomat, traveled across the United States for nine months between 1831-1832 conducting research for his epic work, Democracy in America. He was astounded to find a certain paradox: on one hand, he observed that the United States promoted itself around the world as a country separating “church and state,” where religious freedom and tolerance were among its defining tenets, but on the other hand, he witnessed that: “There is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America.”

He answered this apparent contradiction by proposing that in this country with no officially sanctioned governmental religion, denominations were compelled to compete with one another and promote themselves in order to attract and keep parishioners, thereby making religion even stronger. While the government was not technically supporting Christian denominations and churches, per se, religion to Tocqueville should be considered as the first of their political institutions since he observed the enormous influence churches had on the political process.

Though he favored U.S. style democracy, he found its major limitation to be in its stifling of independent thought and independent beliefs. In a country that promoted the notion that the majority rules, this effectively silenced minorities by what Tocqueville termed the “tyranny of the majority.” This is a crucial point because in a democracy, without specific guarantees of minority rights — in this case minority religious rights — there is a danger of religious domination or tyranny over religious minorities and non-believers. The majority, in religious matters, have historically been adherents to mainline Protestant Christian denominations who often imposed their values and standards upon those who believed otherwise.

We witness this in the phrases “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance or “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency and Annuit Coeptis (He [God] (or Providence) has favored our undertakings) on the Great Seal of the United States and printed on the back of the one-dollar bill. These constitute examples of Christian cultural imperialism and Christian hegemony.

Just moments before the opinion in The Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway was announced from the Supreme Court bench, the court began its public session as it has for decades with the marshal citing a traditional statement ending, "God save the United States and this honorable court."

The First Congress voted to appoint and pay official chaplains shortly after approving language for the First Amendment, and both Houses have maintained the office virtually uninterrupted since then.

"Religious freedom does not mean freedom from religion," Governor Rick Perry declared at the Texas State Capitol building in Austin before signing HB 308 in 2013, which allows public schools to display scenes and symbols of "traditional winter holidays."

I take issues with Perry. As residents of this country, we must ensure both freedom of as well as freedom from religion in the public square. While having the guaranteed right to worship in our private lives and spaces, we must ensure that religion stay out of our public spaces, which I believe is characteristically coercive.

The Jewish immigrant and sociologist of Polish and Latvian heritage, Horace Kallen coined and proposed the concept of “cultural pluralism” to challenge the image of the so-called “melting pot,” which he considered inherently undemocratic. Kallen envisioned a United States in the image of a great symphony orchestra, not sounding in unison (the “melting pot” enforced by dominant group hegemony), but rather one in which all the disparate cultures play in harmony and retain their unique and distinctive tones and timbres. He imagined an inclusive model, one that ensures individuals’ and groups’ freedom of as well as freedom from religion as a national goal: freedom to live and practice religion in the private sphere, and freedom from religion in the public realm.

A student enrolled in my Multicultural Foundation in Schools and Society class, however, wrote on his final paper for the course:

“[A]s a Christian I am called to not be tolerant. I am not called to be violent, but am called to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28). When I look through all of the information I have been given in my life…I come to the conclusion that America was founded as a Christian nation…Separation of church and state was created to keep the state out of changing the church, not to keep the church out of the state.”

This student’s response represents the majority of U.S.-Americans who believe that the United States was created as a Christian nation, with 51% agreeing with this view and only 25% disagreeing. The Supreme Court apparently validated this tyrannical perspective this week.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

Permission to forward, print, or publish: warrenblumenfeld@gmail.com

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Crossposted from TikkunDaily

By Jen Marlowe

It was September 21, 2011. I stood on the grounds of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison, holding Troy Davis’s younger sister on one side and his teen-aged nephew on the other, with other supporters wrapping us all in a tight circle of prayer, as we waited in agonizing tension to learn whether Troy Anthony Davis would be killed by the state of Georgia that night.

He was.

Troy Davis, an African American man, had been convicted and sentenced to death for the 1989 murder of white off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail in Savannah, GA. His conviction was based almost entirely on testimonies from eyewitnesses and jailhouse informants, the vast majority of whom later recanted or changed their testimony, many stating that police had coerced them to initially implicate Troy. Others stepped forward to identify another perpetrator. Yet, despite a growing mountain of evidence pointing to Troy’s innocence, and nearly a million people worldwide calling for clemency, Troy Davis was executed with a three-drug lethal injection cocktail. The time of death was 11:08pm.

Troy’s execution and the by-turns-heart-breaking, by-turns-inspiring journey that led to it are documented in my new book, I Am Troy Davis. I Am Troy Davis is Troy’s story, and that of the Davis family, primarily Troy’s older sister Martina Davis-Correia, who was Troy’s fiercest advocate and with whom I co-authored the book. From Troy’s childhood in racially charged Savannah; to the night of Officer MacPhail’s murder; to the man-hunt for Troy which ended when he turned himself in, believing if he told the truth that everything would be alright; to the subsequent two-decade fight waged by Martina to prove his innocence, who was simultaneously fighting to survive an aggressive form of breast cancer; I Am Troy Davis takes us inside a broken criminal justice system where life and death hang in the balance, and where finality is too often prioritized over fairness.

While on book tour with Troy’s family, I have been asked how I came to be involved in Troy’s and the Davis’s story. Though the specifics of my answer include learning about Troy’s case after he survived his first execution date in 2007, and a subsequent correspondence that led to a close friendship, the deeper response is rooted in the years I was immersed in the Reform Jewish youth movement. For as far back as I can remember myself, I was drawn to Judaism’s focus on social action. My understanding of injustice was interpreted through the lens of Tikkun Olam, a commitment to repair the world. Among my strongest memories from my teenaged years are marching with fellow youth group members against apartheid in South Africa, and boycotting Nestle over the company’s unethical marketing of baby formula in impoverished nations. Simply put: I equated Judaism with taking action for social justice. My youth group’s social action projects were the training ground which led me in adulthood to Israeli/Palestinian peace work, then to human rights documentation and activism in Israel/Palestine, Sudan, Bahrain, and beyond; it is also what propelled me to stand with the Davis family during their struggle for Troy. The commitment to human rights that was nurtured in Jewish youth group now compels me to work to abolish the death penalty.

I believe that capital punishment is one of the critical social justice issues in our country today, and is, in many ways, the sharp edge of a broken criminal justice system. With 144 convicted death row inmates exonerated to date, an increasing awareness of how race, poverty and geography determine who is sent to death row, and a growing number of states repealing death penalty laws or imposing execution moratoriums, it has become clear that people are fundamentally questioning the draconian punishment and its biased and arbitrary application.

Through the intimate telling of one family’s story, I Am Troy Davis is intended to widen and deepen the conversation about capital punishment, and provoke discussion about the impact that these state-sanctioned killings leave on scores of human lives. The concentric circles of those personally affected who have expressed opposition to the death penalty may be surprising to some. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know many members of organizations such as Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation and Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, who expressed how the death penalty process, rather than providing the elusive closure so sought-after, only served to prolong their anguish. Those who have been tasked with carrying out executions have also spoken out against the practice. Frank Thompson, a retired Superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary, spoke powerfully at our recent I Am Troy Davis event in Portland, describing how executing prisoners emotionally harmed him and his staff, leading him to now ardently oppose the death penalty and describing it as failed public policy. The night of Troy’s execution, in fact, six former wardens of death row institutions appealed for clemency for Troy, partially on the basis of the trauma that those participating in the execution might experience. And, as evidenced by the recent horrific botched execution in Oklahoma, that trauma can extend to media and other witnesses as well.

And, of course, there is the suffering caused to the condemned prisoner and those who love him/her – for even in the cases where the guilt of the prisoner is not in question, his/her family is innocent. As Bill Babbitt (whose brother Manny was executed) said, “The death penalty compounds the tragedy of murder by harming another set of families.”

Standing with Troy’s family the night their brother and uncle was killed, I witnessed that harm first hand. Though we did not see Troy being strapped onto the gurney or the needles being injected into his veins, nor did we hear Troy speak his final words, or draw his final breath, the violence of what took place in the execution chamber was done not only to Troy, but to the entire Davis family, and was experienced at some level by all of us who stood with them in protest and in prayer.

My deepest hope is that I Am Troy Davis will reveal the extent to which our justice system is broken and will prompt readers to reflect on the human cost of Troy’s execution, and all executions.

May the legacy of Troy Davis inspire all who are committed to Tikkun Olam (in all its manifestations, faith-based or otherwise) to commit themselves to ensuring that no more lives be taken in the name of justice.

For more information about how to participate in the I Am Troy Davis Community Book Club, marking the 3rd year anniversary of Troy’s execution, click here.

Jen Marlowe is an award-winning author, documentary filmmaker and human rights activist. Her books include I Am Troy Davis, The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey From Prisoner to Peacemaker and Darfur Diaries: Stories of Survival. Her films include One Family in Gaza, Rebuilding Hope: Sudan’s Lost Boys Return Home, and Darfur Diaries: Message from Home. She is the founder of donkeysaddle projects. You can follower her on Twitter at @donkeysaddleorg, or via her blog, View from the donkey’s saddle.

 

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Crossposted on Tikkun Daily

By David Harris-Gershon (@David_EHG)

One of Israel’s most influential journalists, Nahum Barnea, has written a groundbreaking interview in which U.S. officials blame the Israeli government for the recent, and expected, collapse of peace talks led by Secretary of State John Kerry.

Larry Derfner at +972 Magazine, who translated portions of Barnea’s interview, encapsulated it in this way:

This interview is a comprehensive indictment by the Obama administration of Israel’s handling of the peace talks, and an exoneration of the Palestinians’ conduct. The Americans won’t act on it, of course, but they have set the record straight, they’ve injected a megadose of truth into the story of Israel’s domination over the Palestinians, and thus strengthened the fight to end it.

Indeed, the interview is historic. For unnamed U.S. officials have articulated, in ways never previously before seen, how Israel’s actions and geo-political policies are primary impediments to achieving peace in the region. It is also historic because U.S. officials transparently deflect the blame they know America must own, saying, If only we would have known, we would have done things differently.

This is a really big deal. Witness what U.S. officials say about America dropping its demand that Israel freeze settlement construction:

“We didn’t understand that Netanyahu uses these announcements of settlement construction plans to ensure the survival of his government. We didn’t understand that the continuation of settlement construction allows his cabinet ministers to very effectively sabotage the negotiations. There are a lot of other reasons for the failure of the effort, but people in Israel must not avoid seeing the bitter truth – the biggest land mine was the settlements. The Palestinians don’t believe that Israel genuinely intends to let them create a state when it is building settlements on the land earmarked for that state.”

During the Kerry-led peace talks, Israel doubled the pace of its settlement construction, and Kerry himself stated in early April that this effectively sank the peace talks. However, what Kerry didn’t say is that the Netanyahu government used such construction to intentionally sabotage the peace negotiations.

Now, U.S. officials’ supposed naivete should not be believed, nor taken at face value here. Of course those close to the talks understood the reasons for, and the effects of, continued settlement construction. What they really mean to say is this: there’s nothing we could have done, because our political hands were tied by an Obama administration unwilling to force a settlement freeze.

This is code by those who were close to, and invested in, the peace talks: an admittance that the U.S. royally screwed up by “not understanding” that the settlements would sabotage the talks.

This is a big deal.

Barnea’s piece also has American officials being quite blunt about how Israel’s domination of, and disregard for, Palestinians continues to be an impediment to peace:

“In the 20 years since Oslo, a number of facts and rules of the game have become deeply entrenched. This reality is very difficult for the Palestinians and very comfortable for Israel. … One of the Palestinians in the talks said to one of the Israelis: ‘You don’t see us. We’re invisible, we’re hollow.’ There was something to that. After the second intifada ended and the separation barrier was completed, the Palestinians became ghosts as far as Israelis are concerned – they don’t see them anymore.”

Barnea’s interview goes on to cover a number of areas, from Palestinian concessions and frustrations to Israeli intransigence. But one takeaway is this: U.S. officials have publicly noted that Israel’s culpability is real, and that this culpability must be confronted by the Israeli public and the U.S. community.

Another takeaway: U.S. officials also blamed American naivete, meaning American policy, meaning America.

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 from TikkunDaily

By Ayana Nir

On the eve of Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) Israel’s streets experience a virtual shutdown. Restaurants, bars, and cafes lock their doors and the streets grow eerily quiet as inhabitants venture home to pay their respects; Israeli TV and radio channels limit their programming to Holocaust documentaries and related talk shows, while viewers, in turn, flip to international networks for comedic escape from the steady stream of grisly footage and repetitive slogans their TVs emit annually; schools hold large ceremonies to further instill in students the collective memory of a now distant trauma they have never really known, and at 10AM on the 27th of Nisan the country is frozen still for two minutes while a siren disrupts the monotony of everyday life and commuters stop in their tracks to hang their heads in a gesture of silent collective sorrow.

The memorialization of the Holocaust has been the topic of debate since Israel’s founding, and changing trends in its representation shape its significance within the context of national identity and politics. It is easy to overlook the political power presented in the production of educational texts, but the influence of educational curricula is indisputable in shaping public perspective for political gain.

That is why Israeli Minister of Education Shai Piron’s plan to introduce Holocaust education to Israeli public schools starting as early as the first grade has been so controversial. Alongside the concern voiced by many parents about traumatizing young children with gruesome details of systematic ethnic cleansing, many begin to question how the continued rehashing of communal wounds shape the development of national identity and what political interests the perpetuation of historical trauma might serve.

An Early Indoctrination Into Trauma

Growing up in a suburb outside of Tel Aviv, I can’t recall the earliest moment I learned about the Holocaust. It was a constant presence in my upbringing and early education. The sound of the tzfira on Yom Hashoah was hard to ignore, and the lengthy memorial ceremonies each year instilled in me a highly politicized understanding of this historical event. The overwhelming message was that the presence of a strong Israeli state was the one and only deterrent preventing this tragedy from occurring again, and the focus on the lengthy history of European anti-Semitism, with common references to its contemporary manifestations, led my peers and me to develop worldviews shaped by a fear of persistent victimization outside the sheltering boundaries of our isolated Jewish state.

In my attempt to conjure up my earliest memories of Holocaust education, I contacted a friend-of-a-friend, Roni Tal, an education student born and raised in Israel. Like me, he struggled when asked to pin down the earliest time he was formally taught about the Holocaust. As a student in training to become a teacher, he said he is well aware that discussion of the Holocaust already begins as early as kindergarten, even without formal legislative intervention in the manner.

Tal also talked about how, like most young Israelis, he attended an organized school trip as a teenager to visit the death camps in Poland. According to Tal, each day on the trip was concluded with an in-depth discussion among the students and educators about their experiences that day. He and his friends would often point out thoughts and conclusions that varied from the predominant Zionist narrative put forth by the educators and guides overseeing the trip. Tal and his friends wanted to talk instead about racism and ethno-nationalism, sentiments that gave ideological justification to genocide. He said discussion of these topics was discouraged, and educators persistently shifted dialogue and focus back to nationalist discourse and Zionist imperatives.

According to Yarden Skop’s article in Haaretz, “What I learned in kindergarten today about the Holocaust,” Israel’s education ministry insists that the new Holocaust education curriculum it drew up this year for younger children will not focus on deaths and atrocities, instead discussing the personal stories of young survivors. Still, the children will learn about the yellow star, and other historical concepts deemed significant by the ministry, textbook writers, and Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies.

Though the new proposed Holocaust curriculum, which has not yet been released for public review, is described in disarming terms that present it as a kid-friendly children’s book about genocide, it’s important to understand that this legislation mandates the early indoctrination of children into a narrative of historical trauma that will, at the very least later on in their education, be presented in highly politicized contexts that encourage ultra-nationalist identification.

Historical Transformations in Israeli Holocaust Education

Israel’s education ministry publishes a new national curriculum periodically, dictating the objectives and content of education for all of Israel’s public schools. As a result, textbook representations of the Holocaust and the role it has played in the Israeli educational system have changed dramatically throughout the years.

Education scholar Dan Porat, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has documented these shifts in detail in his Journal of Contemporary History article, “From the Scandal to the Holocaust in Israeli Education.” Israel of the 1950s, Porat explains, seemed to carefully avoid nearly any mention of the Holocaust in its educational texts. At a time when Israelis sought to define their national identity with power and confidence, the Holocaust was seen as a representation of former surrender. Textbooks focused their attention on Jewish revolt rather than killing methods and casualties. At this time the personal stories of survivors were kept private and the communal trauma of the young state swept under the rug in a futile attempt to ignore its festering wounds. Porat shows how it was the decision by prosecutors of the Eichmann trial to focus on personal stories rather than documented evidence that exposed many Israelis to formally highly private narratives of trauma now widely disseminated in radio broadcastings of court proceedings.

In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, when threat of annihilation reared its head once more, the ministry of education published new curricula. According to Porat, the new textbooks published at that moment represented the Holocaust as an event divorced from the context of World War II and reflected an empathetic emphasis on the individuality of the victims. Still, throughout the 1970s the Holocaust was an elective topic in public schools. It wasn’t until 1982 that a law was passed making Holocaust education mandatory. This new legislation aimed at educating students on the “consciousness of the memory of the Holocaust,” not just the documented details of the historical event itself, and added the subject of the Holocaust to the Matriculation Exams, meaning students were to be tested on it as a prerequisite to receiving their diplomas.

Zevulun Hammer, Minister of Education under Menachem Begin, commissioned and approved a single Holocaust textbook for all Israeli public high schools. This text was aptly named “The Holocaust and its Significance” and presented the extermination of the Jewish people as a self-contained event, covering the events of World War II in a meager 2.5 percent of the text. According to Porat’s research, that textbook included an entire chapter devoted to Holocaust deniers and those who minimize the enormity of the genocide and its unique historical nature. And, in order to ensure that Israel’s increasingly heterogenous population had some way of establishing roots in its painful defining past, a great deal of text focused on Jewish casualties in North Africa, which were considerably lower than certain regions of Eastern Europe that textbook writers virtually ignored. According to “Bearing Witness Ever More; Remembering the Holocaust” (an August 2013 article from the Economist), coverage of the Holocaust in Israel’s general history textbooks increased from 20 pages in the 1960s to 450 pages in the 1990s.

The Effects of Trauma-Oriented Education

Most young Israelis today have strong emotional ties to the Holocaust and it’s no wonder – their educational system has emphasized its study and skewed its significance toward a deep personal identification that hinders its potential in teaching universal values. This trend doesn’t seem to be changing either. A study by Bar-Ilan University featured last year in Haaretz found that 78 percent of principals and 67 percent of teachers feel that Holocaust education should emphasize Zionist values, compared to 57 percent of principals and 60 percent of teachers who think it should emphasize universal values.

Visits to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, have been an educational standard for years and, more recently, organized school trips to visit the death camps have become widespread routine. A recent study by the education ministry has determined that these trips, which take place in high school’s final years, result in a more positive opinion of the IDF. And so Israel’s high school students might return from their visit to the death camps with a heightened sense of their historical victimization to find their first draft notice arrived in the mail. Recent IDF draftees are also often taken to Yad Vashem before beginning their military training. The timeliness of these visits is undoubtedly propitious to Israel’s ruling right wing, and its politicians, particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, readily exploit the collective trauma of Israeli citizens for political gain.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s use of Holocaust terminology to describe the conflict with Iran has come under fire both in Israel and internationally. The strategic references to Jewish extinction made by the Israeli Prime Minister are transparent exploitations and their efficacy can be confirmed both by a historical examination of Israeli public opinion when compared to trends in Holocaust memorialization and by a series of experiments conducted by Michael Wohl and Nyla Branscombe in 2008. Branscombe and Wohl’s study “Remembering Historical Victimization: Collective Guilt for Current Ingroup Transgressions,” found that Jewish Canadians who were reminded of the Holocaust accepted less collective guilt for the oppression of Palestinians in comparison with those who were not reminded of past victimization. Further, Jewish Canadians who were reminded of the Holocaust experienced less collective guilt for current transgressions than those who were reminded of genocide committed against other ethnic groups.

Now, imagine a lifetime of references to historical victimization, a childhood that is permeated with the mandated memorialization of trauma, and an early education that perpetuates this trauma as a vital component of one’s national identity. The effects of Israel’s increasingly nationalistic educational system, with the Holocaust presented as a foundational element of Israeli identity, are already felt today: public polls indicate an increasingly separatist and militaristic younger generation.

A recent survey found that 46 percent of Jewish Israelis aged 15-18 feel Arabs should not be represented in the Knesset and 50 percent would be opposed to Arabs living in their neighborhood. Shai Piron’s legislation, mandating Holocaust education starting in first grade, requires teachers to school Israeli children in their historical trauma before these children can learn basic math. A set curriculum by this right-wing ministry will constrain discourse and set historical and political identification early on for an entire generation of children. Israel’s educational system could be the biggest obstacle standing in the way of Middle Eastern peace today, and with public opinion growing increasingly extreme alongside an educational system that is progressively politicized, what hope is there for future resolution?

 

Ayana Nir is a freelance writer and web editorial intern at Tikkun.

Crossposted on Tikkun Daily

By David Harris-Gershon (@David_EHG)

On February 6, my inbox was inundated with messages from people I did not know. I’m so disgusted, they read; You’re going to hear from us again, they read; We’re going to fight this, they read.

As someone who has grown accustomed to sporadic bits of hate mail for my progressive views on Israel, I was prepared for the worst.

However, these emails, largely from residents of the D.C. metro area, were messages of support, messages of defiance. They were messages from those who had just learned that the D.C. Jewish Community Center, already under pressure from right-wing organizations and influences on a number of fronts, had quietly cancelled my high-profile book event, at which I was to speak about the themes of reconciliation and dialogue contained in my memior, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?

The story of how my event came to be cancelled is a story being played out repeatedly in America today, a story representing all that is wrong with American political discourse on Israel. It is also the story of how the D.C. community rallied to my side, rallied to create a new book event on April 30 at the MLK Jr. Memorial Library – not for me, but for the sake of dialogue, for the sake of combating efforts to tamp down discussion on issues we must confront in the Jewish community, issues we must confront as a nation.

–§–

William Daroff is one of America’s most powerful Jewish institutional leaders. As Senior Vice President for Public Policy & Director of the Washington, D.C. office of The Jewish Federations of North America, a multi-billion dollar organization, his words and influence matter.

When it comes to Israel, Daroff’s views lean right-wing, much different than my own. Despite our differences, though, we have both committed our professional lives to the Jewish community. As a Jewish day school teacher myself and a progressive Zionist who champions the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I suspect we share common ground on some issues.

Which is why I was surprised when, on January 28, Daroff wrote that Jewish institutions in America should ban me from speaking, and that my views on Israel placed me outside the Jewish communal tent.

What views are those? My belief that Palestinians have a legitimate right to use economic sanctions against Israel – Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) – as a nonviolent form of opposition. My view that such nonviolent opposition is exactly the type of peaceful resistance Americans have been clamoring for Palestinians to use.

In response to this view, Daroff wrote:

“I just do not support giving communal hecsher to those who are outside the bounds of legitimate discourse … Your refusal to state your categorical opposition to the BDS movement place you outside our communal tent.”

He also suggested that I send my calendar of book events to Noah Pollak at the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) so that he could take care of things. For those who don’t know, ECI is a Bill Kristol creation, claims to be the most ‘pro-Israel’ group around, and spends untold amounts of money to smear and combat anyone who might critique Israel.

Two days later, on January 30, I received an email from Carole Zawatsky, CEO of the DCJCC, that my book event had been cancelled. She cited my political views as reason for axing a book event which was supposed to be about the importance of dialogue amongst those who have different frames of reference.

–§–

A week after this decision, communal frustration in the District reached a cacophonous pitch when a local D.C. journalist, Sharon Jacobs, sharply critiqued the DCJCC in a Washington Post op-ed.

As her op-ed spread virally in D.C. and in the American Jewish community, and as my voicemail and inbox filled, I got a message from J Street, offering to create an alternate event. Soon, the MLK Jr. Memorial Library joined them in supporting the creation of a new book event. As did Peace Now. As did Politics & Prose, one of the most important political bookstores in the country.

In a matter of days, the progressive D.C. community had rallied together to create an alternate event that will take place on April 30.

I don’t believe that this effort, which spanned multiple progressive communities in D.C., was made for me personally. Nor do I believe I had anything to do with the communal movement which swiftly gathered momentum to combat those right-wing, ‘pro-Israel’ influences which certainly led to the cancellation of my event.

I believe that American Jews, and particularly American Jews in the District, are growing tired of conservative influences trying to dictate what can, and cannot, be discussed in relation to Israel. They are tired of such influences which do not represent the greater American Jewish community. They are tired of seeing right-wing smear campaigns force theater programs to constrict, speaking gigs by respected academics to be cancelled, musical performances to be axed.

They are tired of institutional leaders who want Americans to put their collective heads in the sand and be blind to, much less discuss, precisely those issues we must confront if we have any chance of helping to solve them: Israel’s settlements, the occupation, the denial of Palestinian human rights, the growing Palestinian and international responses to these geo-political issues.

Those of us who are tired, or some of us, at least, will gather together on April 30 in D.C. Yes, I’ll have the microphone for some of the time, but I won’t be the most important person in the room. The most important people will be those who worked to make this event happen, those who are fighting to make dialogue on Israel in America more open, more honest.

Despite canceling the DCJCC event, I invited Zawatsky to join us on April 30. She declined, citing prior obligations. I invited Daroff to join us, but never heard back. I invited ECI’s Pollak, which he took as sarcasm.

While they likely won’t show up, I have surprisingly heard from representatives who will be in attendance from organizations which disagree with my politics. They won’t be there to picket or protest, but to respectfully engage and see what I have to say.

Progress may be slow, but it’s happening. One cancelled event at a time.

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.

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.

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.

Why?

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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