Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by David Swanson

Editor's Note:Tikkun seeks to present a range of views that you wouldn't hear in the mainstream media, without necessarily endorsing those perspectives. Please remember thatTikkun's own position is articulated only in our editorials.

In my view, the important article by David Swanson that I'm sharing below may be underestimating the venality and murderous nature of the ISIS coalition that he describes. Unlike Hamas and unlike the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, ISIS appears to have genocidal intent toward Christians and Shia Muslims (and possibly also toward Sunnis who don't share their perspective and almost certainly toward Jews).

On the other hand, I know that I don't know who they really are or even what they are really doing. I've read enough lies about previous run-up to wars in the Western media to know not to believe anything I read, but only to consider that the media's account is one possible way of viewing the reality.

I also know that the gruesome accounts of murders committed by ISIS are shocking to a U.S. audience in part because the far greater number of people killed by the U.S. interventions in the Middle East, South East Asia, Central and South America have never been presented in an honest way to the American people. Most of us have not heard the gruesome details or stories of the families that have lost loved ones as a result of U.S. military and CIA actions.

Accounts of how ISIS members used waterboarding on their captives have been told in a way that dramatizes the inhumanity of a tactic that was used on many, many of those held by the United States in Guantanamo and in more secret detention and torture facilities run by or contacted by the United States around the world.

Yet U.S. feelings of rage about waterboarding were never directed at those who perpetrated and those who approved that torture, so people like George W. Bush and former vice president Cheney and the many under them in the chain of command who carried out these outrageous acts have never been brought to trial.

When it's ISIS that commits these abuses, we are encouraged to think of their actions as reasons for war; when it's our U.S. leaders who commit the same abuses, we don't even think it sufficient reason to put them in prison!

On the other hand, my outrage at acts that we in the U.S. have committed does not diminish my outrage at what ISIS is doing, if the media accounts are even partially correct, and my desire to want to stop them before more people are murdered. But how? Not in a way that will have even worse consequences, in the way that the U.S. ouster of Saddam Hussein's (who should have spent the rest of his life in prison) led to the growth of ISIS.

Our inclination always atTikkunis to ask the following question of any group espousing hateful ideas (including haters among Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist fundamentalist movements; followers of secular right-wing or fascist groups; and those who adhere to the ultra-nationalistic, ultra-militaristic tendencies within American and Israeli nationalism, as well as any other kind of nationalism):What are the underlying needs that these movements are speaking to that might be legitimate needs of the people who respond to them? And how do we then develop strategies to separate those legitimate needs from the fascistic, racist, or irrational ways that people seek to meet those needs through these hateful and sometimes violent movements?

These are the questions that I've answered in some detail in my booksThe Politics of Meaning,Spirit Matters, andThe Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right. The goal is not to excuse outrageous and murderous acts, but to figure out how to disempower the murderers, whether they be American, Iraqi, Chinese, Russian, Israeli, or from Hamas. The goal is to ensure that their followers don't move on to some other equally terrible movement or murderous sect or religion or nationalism once these particular murderers are gone.

If you read those books you'll see why I'm inclined to think that Swanson is moving in a good direction but lacks some of the psychological and spiritual tools necessary to make his strategy successful. One of those tools is a Global Marshall Plan (please download it attikkun.org/GMPand read the full 32-page brochure). The problem with mentioning the GMP is that people immediately think it's primarily about giving money. But it's not. It is predicated on a strategy of showing respect and genuine caring for the well-being of all people on the planet. This caring would be conveyed partly through money, but more importantly through a fundamental transformation brought about by the Western world in adopting the New Bottom Line laid out in detail attikkun.org/covenant.

Without that approach, the United States will have no tools for dealing with ISIS, and so inevitably the people of this country will fall back onto violence and war making.

"Fine," you may say, "but what are we supposed to do NOW? Don't you realize that these people are a real menace?" That may be true, but the reason it's true is because people always go to that formulation - the one that led us into a war to overthrow Saddam Hussein in the first place without having any idea of what could replace him. Without that alternative, Swanson's point is that we created the preconditions for the rise of ISIS.

So, truth is, I don't know what we should do with ISIS in the short run, except to follow some of the steps that Swanson proposes, other steps that are defined in the Global Marshall Plan and in the Network of Spiritual Progressives' Spiritual Covenant atspiritualprogressives.org, and yet others that I'll propose in a subsequent article within the next few weeks.

While these steps may not be sufficient, I know for sure that taking any other path that doesn'talsoinclude these steps is bound to simply recreate the set of circumstances that have led us into the current mess. The one thing I'm sure about: if some kind of intervention is justified, and I think it may be, it should be genuinely led by the United Nations andnotby the United States. And it should not occur solely at the initiative of the United States.

If the people of the world are ready to take some action, let us follow their leadership rather than intervene alone - U.S. hands are, as they say in law, "dirty hands" and hence not able to provide ethically credible leadership. So please do read Swanson's insightful article. And then please also read David Sylvester'spost on Tikkun Dailywith its call for the Abrahamic religions to lead an international summit of religious forces to develop a response to the increasingly murderous realities we face.

Meanwhile, have a joyous Labor Day 2014! Wouldn't it be great if this year working people used this day off to figure out how to take back control of our country from the super-rich and powerful so that we too could participate in the discussions that the elite have about which wars to drag us into? Maybe next year?

- Rabbi Michael Lerner

(RabbiLerner.tikkun@gmail.com)--- What to Do About ISISby David Swanson

 

Originally published onwarisacrime.org

Start by recognizing where ISIS came from. The U.S. and its junior partners destroyed Iraq, left a sectarian division, poverty, desperation, and an illegitimate government in Baghdad that did not represent Sunnis or other groups. Then the U.S. armed and trained ISIS and allied groups in Syria, while continuing to prop up the Baghdad government, providing Hellfire missiles with which to attack Iraqis in Fallujah and elsewhere.

ISIS has religious adherents but also opportunistic supporters who see it as the force resisting an unwanted rule from Baghdad and who increasingly see it as resisting the United States. It is in possession of U.S. weaponry provided directly to it in Syria and seized from the Iraqi government. At last count by the U.S. government, 79 percent of weapons transferred to Middle Eastern governments come from the United States, not counting transfers to groups like ISIS, and not counting weapons in the possession of the United States.

So, the first thing to do differently going forward: stop bombing nations into ruins, and stop shipping weapons into the area you've left in chaos. Libya is of course another example of the disasters that U.S. wars leave behind them - a war, by the way, with U.S. weapons used on both sides, and a war launched on the pretext of a claim well documented to have been false that Gaddafi was threatening to massacre civilians.

So, here's the next thing to do: be very skeptical of humanitarian claims. The U.S. bombing around Erbil to protect Kurdish and U.S. oil interests was initially justified as bombing to protect people on a mountain. But most of those people on the mountain were in no need of rescue, and that justification has now been set aside, just as Benghazi was. Recall also that Obama was forced to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq when he couldn't get the Iraqi government to give them immunity for crimes they commit. He has now obtained that immunity and back in they go, the crimes preceding them in the form of 500-pound bombs.

While trying to rescue hostages and discovering an empty house, and racing to a mountain to save 30,000 people but finding 3,000 and most of those not wanting to leave, the U.S. claims to know exactly whom the 500-pound bombs are killing. But whomever they are killing, they are generating more enemies, and they are building support for ISIS, not diminishing it. So, now the U.S. finds itself on the opposite side of the war in Syria, so what does it do? Flip sides! Now the great moral imperative is not to bomb Assad but to bomb in defense of Assad, the only consistent point being that "something must be done" and the only conceivable something is to pick some party and bomb it.

But why is that the only conceivable thing to be done? I can think of some others:

1. Apologize for brutalizing the leader of ISIS in Abu Ghraib and to every other prisoner victimized under U.S. occupation.

2. Apologize for destroying the nation of Iraq and to every family there.

3. Begin making restitution by delivering aid (not "military aid" but actual aid, food, medicine) to the entire nation of Iraq.

4. Apologize for role in war in Syria.

5. Begin making restitution by delivering actual aid to Syria.

6. Announce a commitment not to provide weapons to Iraq or Syria or Israel or Jordan or Egypt or Bahrain or any other nation anywhere on earth and to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from foreign territories and seas, including Afghanistan. (The U.S. Coast Guard in the Persian Gulf has clearly forgotten where the coast of the U.S. is!)

7. Announce a commitment to invest heavily in solar, wind, and other green energy and to provide the same to democratic representative governments.

8. Begin providing Iran with free wind and solar technologies -- at much lower cost of course than what it is costing the U.S. and Israel to threaten Iran over a nonexistent nuclear weapons program.

9. End economic sanctions.

10. Send diplomats to Baghdad and Damascus to negotiate aid and to encourage serious reforms.

11. Send journalists, aid workers, peace workers, human shields, and negotiators into crisis zones, understanding that this means risking lives, but fewer lives than further militarization risks.

12. Empower people with agricultural assistance, education, cameras, and internet access.

13. Launch a communications campaign in the United States to replace military recruitment campaigns, focused on building sympathy and desire to serve as critical aid workers, persuading doctors and engineers to volunteer their time to travel to and visit these areas of crisis.

14. Work through the United Nations on all of this.

15. Sign the United States on to the International Criminal Court and voluntarily propose the prosecution of top U.S. officials of this and the preceding regimes for their crimes.

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Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Valerie Elverton-Dixon

Michael Brown, the African-American young man killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, has been laid to rest. His homegoing celebration was at once a period to his earthly life and the blank space before the next chapter of activism that his family and a variety of communities promise to write.

After peaceful protests, marching in the street, chants of "hands up, don't shoot" and "no justice no peace", after fires, looting, a militarized police force aiming weapons of war on its own citizenry, smoke, tear gas, and national and international news coverage, the question now is: what is next? Some commentators have suggested that President Obama come to Ferguson and give another speech on race. Others have suggested that we as a nation engage in another conversation on race, this time with different contours.

I say, what this country does not need is yet another presidential speech on race. Is there anything new to say? And I am too tired of the conversation on race. I have been having this conversation my entire life, and I am weary of it. I remember watching Martin Luther King, Jr. give his "I Have a Dream" speech at the first March on Washington. I was a little girl watching with my parents. Twenty years later, I was in Washington DC for the anniversary march. In the 1990s, I taught race and racism at Temple University. In the first decade of the 21st century I taught courses on the civil rights movement and on "The Letter from Birmingham Jail." Since the election of President Obama, I have written about race within the context of birther madness, and after the George Zimmerman verdict, I wrote about the myth of the super-physical black man that explains why so many people see the African-American male body as at once less than human and more than human that requires extraordinary force to subdue.

I have made my contribution to that conversation, and I am done with it.

Let us talk instead about cop psychology. What kind of psychological screening must one pass before we hand him or her a badge and a gun and give them the power to administer lethal force in the name of the state? What is the level of education required of police officers? How are they trained? Does this training include diversity and racial sensitivity training? Do they learn to subdue a suspect without illegal choke holds or gun fire? What goes through the mind of an officer when he is beating an unarmed woman by the side of the road, or when he is choking an unarmed man to death while the man says over and over and over again that he cannot breathe? What goes through the minds of the other officers on the scene who are pressing the man's head into the pavement as if the man were not human? What is an officer thinking when he shoots six shots into an unarmed young black man and kills him? What police procedures allow for a body to lie in the streets for hours?

Let us have the conversation about radical humanism. This is the humanism that Malcolm X articulated when he said, "We declare our right on this earth to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary." Let this conversation include what it means to be human and how we lose a portion of it when we fail to respect the human dignity of other human beings. How does the Golden Rule that says, "In everything do unto others as we would have them do unto us" inform and shape our humanity?

Let us talk about class. Let us talk about how a suggestion of white privilege that a global political-economy gives conceals white poverty. When we talk about race, for the most part, we side with our own in-group. It becomes an us against them conversation. We are good. They are evil. The system is neutral. We are blind to the yin and yang of the thing, that there is a little evil in the good in us, and there is a little good in the evil in them. And our social, cultural, political, and economic system is not neutral. It is organized for the benefit of the richest one percent.

White people are still the majority of Americans and are the majority of poor people in this country. The poorest people with the worst education and health care live in red states in the former confederacy. St. Louis County where Ferguson is located is not the poorest county in the state. With some of the poorest counties in the nation, Missouri legislators refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. People who could have health care under the ACA do not. Let us talk about why so many of these poor people vote against their economic interests.

Let us have the conversation about power. Power is everywhere. We all have power. The question is: what kind of power do we have? We have the power of presence, and we have the power of how we move through the world. There is power in our own dignity and self- respect. We have the power of our own artistic presentation to the world, how we dress and decorate our bodies. We have the power of speech and organization and citizenship. This includes voting in local elections - city council, mayor, school board, and judges. We have economic power, how we spend and invest our money. Power is not only top down, but it is also bottom up. This is why President Obama need not fly into Ferguson. The good people of Ferguson will have to summon the "do for self" spirit that has been an important element of African-American culture since the first African set foot on American soil. They will have to implement strategies and tactics for their own liberation that will last long after the celebrities and the cameras have gone onto the next crisis with exciting pictures.

We can end police brutality. We can end the national psychosis that wants to see the Other as less than human and robs us of our own humanity. We can end poverty for all of our citizens. We can exercise our power in organized and concentrated ways. Let us have this conversation.

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

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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"

 

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)

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.

 

 

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)

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.

                                                                  –§–

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.

                                                                      –§–

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.