2016 U.S. Politics Envisioned by Groucho Marx

by James M. WallDuck Soup

British critic Patrick McCray has described the Marx Brothers’ 1933 film, Duck Soup, as “an absurdist essay on politics and warfare. . . which can stand alongside (or even above) the works of Beckett and Ionesco.”

Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) is Groucho Marx’ perennial comedy sparring partner. In Duck Soup, she is the wealthy benefactor of Freedonia, a 1933 female equivalent of the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson, or Haim Saban.

In relating to Mrs. Teasdale, Groucho is as insulting to her gender as Donald Trump is to any woman who crosses him. In his attitude toward diplomacy, Groucho sounds as clumsy and adolescent as Ted Cruz when he calls for carpet-bombing.

The narrative of Duck Soup’s Freedonia envisions U.S. politics between Monday’s Iowa caucuses. the New Hampshire primary, Tuesday, February 9, and the presidential election November 8.

Freedonia is bankrupt. Mrs. Teasdale appoints Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) as the country’s new president. Sensing a weakness in the new leader, the bordering nation of Sylvania sends in two spies, Pinky (Harpo Marx) and Chicolini (Chico Marx) to set the stage for a revolution. 

The Sylvania ambassador comes to see President Firefly (Groucho). The two-minute clip below, captures that encounter:

The Democratic and Republican selection process that will nominate two candidates to run for the White House in November, began in Iowa.

The prevailing data says that two winners, Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz, emerged. A deeper examination suggests the Iowa winners were actually Sanders and Rubio.  First place does not always a winner make. Both candidates exceeded expectations.

In Iowa, evangelical Christians boosted Texas Senator Ted Cruz into a four percentage-point victory over Donald Trump.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio ran third in Iowa. He was, however, closer to the leaders than polls had projected. Rubio looks to New Hampshire to vault ahead of both Cruz and Trump.

If Rubio does emerge as the establishment’s candidate, what might we expect from a President Rubio?

Sina Toossi, who monitors the efforts of militarists to influence U.S. foreign policy, wrote on the LobeLog Foreign Policy site that:

“Rubio has established himself as the most adept of the Republican candidates at regurgitating the militaristic talking points of the party’s neoconservative wing. His competency in this regard has earned him the favor of influential hawkish donors like Sheldon Adelson, as well as an array of neoconservative political operatives.

“Rubio is in fact a dark horse candidate who, more explicitly than any of his competitors, would usher back into power the Bush-Cheney school of foreign policy.”

After the Democratic Iowa caucus which she only barely won, the former Secretary of State may have to follow her husband’s 1992 spin playbook. In that year, Bill Clinton was second in the New Hampshire primary after a dismal fourth place Iowa finish with only 2% of the vote.

Running second in New Hampshire to Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas, then- Governor Clinton proclaimed himself “the comeback kid”, a designation the media liked, and used. 

In Iowa’s 2016 caucus, Hillary Clinton barely edged ahead of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, whose second place was generated largely by his support on college campuses.

This week will be filled with media and polling predictions for New Hampshire, but 16 Iowa must still be examined.  Trump’s second-place Iowa finish prompted this observation from William Rivers Pitt, posted on the website TruthOut:

“There are enough story lines from last night to fill a Robert Caro biography series, but you can bet an Iowa cornfield the ‘news’ media’s favorite hot take will be the abrupt humbling of Donald Trump. I confess to being profoundly unsurprised by his defeat at the hands of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

“The word out of Iowa is that Trump representatives failed to show up at a number of caucus sites, which is the equivalent of trying to drive down the street without a steering wheel. Trump is not in it to win it. This is just another reality TV show for him. Self-promotion, after all, is his stock in trade.

“Trump’s campaign, to me, has always seemed like a grease fire in a deli kitchen: A flash, a sizzle and then nothing but smoke. Last night proved that out. He enjoys a solid lead in New Hampshire right now, but that may well change after a week of media speculation about his viability as a candidate. .  .  . [Trump] may have slashed his own campaign tires simply by failing to do his Iowa homework. You send your people to the caucuses to speak for you, Donny. That’s how it works.”

In hindsight, Trump’s slippage should have been anticipated. Iowa is a ground game, as Pitt notes.

A friend of mine told me about her experience as an Obama Iowa precinct leader in 2008: 

“We walked the precinct, got the names and numbers of supporters, then made them promise to show up well before the meeting site doors were slammed shut. We were calling late-comers 10 minutes before 7. We won every delegate except one in that precinct.”

Aviva Shen and Kira Lerner examined Ted Cruz’ previous conduct and found specifics that will disturb progressive-minded voters. Here is one of them:

“Cruz is staunchly anti-abortion and has worked in Texas to make it harder for women to receive abortions. As solicitor general of the state, he defended a federal law that bans partial birth abortion. He has helped lead the Senate crusade to defund Planned Parenthood and he has also said that one of the first things he will do in office is launch a federal investigation into the women’s health organization.”

In the Democratic race, it is especially disconcerting to find this unsettling report regarding Clinton, in a December, 2015 posting, by The Intercept’s Leo Fang:

“Consultants affiliated with a small Washington, D.C. firm called Beacon Global Strategies hold the unique privilege of providing high-profile foreign policy guidance to Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, among others.

“The bipartisan firm was founded in 2013 by former senior officials from the State Department, Department of Defense, and Central Intelligence Agency, and quickly had more than a dozen clients, primarily defense contractors, according to Defense News.

After Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, the next voting challenges await in South Carolina (separate party events on February 20 and 27), and in Nevada (February 20 and February 23).

The rush toward judgment will increase on Super Tuesday, March 1, when a primary or a caucus will be held in 15 states.

The attention just lavished on Iowa February 1, is relatively new. Iowa as a political phenomenon did not burst into the nation’s consciousness until 1975 when a former Georgia governor arrived in the state with a wide smile and a friendly greeting, “Hi, my name is Jimmy Carter”. 

The Atlantic Magazine examines the Carter story:

Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter waves to a crowd gather in Atlanta on Thursday, Dec. 12, 1974 where he announced officially that is a Democratic candidate for the presidency. Carter promised to “restore integrity, confidence and businesslike management to the federal government.” He said in Washington earlier that he plans to run in several state primaries. (AP Photo/BJ)

“How did the Iowa caucus . .  become such a major political touchstone? With a mere 52 delegates, Iowa has nevertheless become a force in presidential campaigns over the last four decades.

“The caucus, which started in the 1840s, had traditionally fallen in the middle of campaign season. But in 1972, state reforms modernized the process and moved the date from May 20 to January 24, making it the first contest in the election. That’s when a campaign worker [actually, his campaign manager] named Gary Hart convinced Democrat George McGovern to take the state seriously.

“But where McGovern took Iowa seriously, it was Jimmy Carter who revolutionized the role that the Hawkeye State would play in presidential politics. Carter turned the Iowa caucus into a major event in 1976 and thereby demonstrated how an upstart campaign could turn a victory in this small state into a stepping-stone for gaining national prominence.

.  .  .  “Richard Reeves, the editor of New York magazine, told the New York Times that the reporters all needed something to write about and, in January, ‘it’s Carter.’

“Almost 150 reporters converged on each voting precinct, and the three TV networks had reporters stationed in Iowa to cover the events, all despite the low delegate count.

“On January 19, Carter defeated Birch Bayh by a two-to-one margin. Morris Udall, Scoop Jackson, Fred Harris, and Sargent Shriver didn’t come anywhere close. Though the largest number of votes were uncommitted, Carter came in second. . .

“Understanding that even the victory needed to be carefully choreographed, Carter flew to New York the night of the caucus so that he could stop by the networks the following day. The next morning, he appeared on NBC, CBS, and ABC to discuss his victory in person.

“The media acted exactly as he had expected, giving him airtime and treating him as a major candidate. The rest was history. Carter went on to win in New Hampshire and eventually took the nomination.”

Walter Mondale, Carter’s Vice President, summed up the Carter-Mondale four years in the White House, in words now etched at the Carter Presidential Library: “We told the truth, we obeyed the law, we kept the peace.”  

On November 8, the nation’s voters will choose a leader who could embody the Carter-Mondale mantra, or voters could select a leader eager to declaim, in the spirit of Rufus T. Firefly, “This means war!”

In the end, it won’t be the media, the politicians, nor the financial pooh-bahs who will choose. It will be the voters, starting in Iowa, who will make the final decision.

The picture of Carter is from the Associated Press.

Posted in -Movies and politics, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Obama, Politics and Elections | 7 Comments

Discerning “Signs of the Times” in Iowa and Israel

by James M. Wall1708287919

Jesus told his disciples they must learn to “discern the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3).

In the Iowa caucuses, Monday, February 1, voters will offer their secular versions of political signs for the future when they select two potential presidential candidates.

Democrats will choose between an establishment leader who seeks to become the nation’s first female president, and a declared Socialist Senator from Vermont, who could become the nation’s first Jewish president.

Republicans have many choices for a future president, led by a raging bully named Trump, a “non-politician” who has so far outrun all the politicians lined up against him.

Which 2016 political signs are there for discernment? For voters concerned about guns, ISIS, God, wages, and health care, signs abound. But don’t look for signs to discern the end of Israel’s continued military control over the people of Palestine.

There are none. Unless, that is, the total absence of signs, is a sign in itself.

Don’t look to the Iowa caucus results for any grasp of reality on the Palestine-Israel issue.  Look instead to corners of Israel’s media. Begin with Israel’s major moderate daily, Ha’aretz.  Its editor-publisher, Amos Shocken, began an editorial in his own publication with these clear and cogent words:

“There are many differences between conditions in South Africa during the apartheid era and those current in the land from the Jordan River to the sea, especially in the territories that Israel controls beyond its internationally recognized borders. However, there is one important feature they share: two peoples living on one piece of land.

“One people has all the rights and protections, while the other is deprived of numerous rights and lives under the former’s control. Israel determines the fate and day-to-day life of millions of people who have no influence over its decisions.

“The government of Israel is the party that will debate whether or not to accept the Israel Defense Forces’ recommendation to ease policies toward the Palestinian Authority and its people.

“In South Africa, there were similar discussions about easing apartheid for blacks. 

“Israel as an apartheid state is not a viable situation, not only because of the corruption of values but also because this predicament is liable to lead Israel, like South Africa in its time, to banishment from the family of nations.”

51kGfZMtQbL._SL300_This is from a highly respected Israeli publication. Remember how the American media and the Democratic party leaders denounced President Jimmy Carter for even his use of the term “apartheid” in the title of his 2007 book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid ?

This is a sign to be discerned. 

Almost a decade later, Jimmy Carter is still speaking the language of political realism and faith, which remains foreign to the current leaders of this nation. 

The headline and subheadline that greeted Ha’aretz readers over Schocken’s editorial are also signs to be discerned: “Only International Pressure Will End Israeli Apartheid”:

“The growing delegitimization of Israel is this country’s own handiwork. Should Israel decide to end apartheid, it will return to being legitimate in every respect.”

Later in his editorial, Schocken wrote a critique rarely found in U.S. media or any mainstream political utterance, of what Israel’s current government policies have done to the concept of Zionism:

“The nearly 50 years of Israeli apartheid are not based on security considerations. Zionism, which was always prepared to divide the land of Israel with its Arab inhabitants, was replaced by the godly promise of the Land of Israel for the Jewish people.

“This promise is being fulfilled by constant, methodical settlement in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) along with the pushing of Palestinians into defined enclaves and small, crowded population areas.

“This is the reason for the abuse of Palestinians, for the expulsion, exclusion, construction bans, lack of freedom of movement and prevention of development in Area C, which makes up roughly 60% of the West Bank.”

In speaking to his disciples, as recorded in Matthew, Jesus contrasts their ability to read the signs in the sky to guide them in their fishing plans. He said to them, in effect, you know when rain is predicted, or when clear skies lie ahead. 

But, he admonishes them, you do not read the signs that reveal the results of your conduct, nor do you read the signs that signal your failure to grasp reality.

Political candidates in Iowa refused to touch the issue for which Ha’aretz Editor Amos Schocken gave them the road map to peace.

Their silence is a sign of political impotence when seeking money and votes. 

The current US president was also silent on this issue in his two campaigns for the office. But now that he is in final year of office, he provides a sign of what a U.S. politician free of the burden of Israel’s control is able to say.

Barack Obama’s current appointed ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro (below), spoke at an Israeli conference January 18, using language that as Ha’aretz reported, was “nearly unprecedented”:3074171107

“United States Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, voiced nearly unprecedented criticism against Israel’s settlements in the West Bank on Monday. Shapiro praised progress made in the investigation into the arson-murder in the Palestinian village of Duma, but emphasized the inadequate response by Israeli authorities to settler violence against Palestinians.

“Speaking at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) conference in Tel Aviv, Shapiro said, “Too much Israeli vigilantism in the West Bank goes on unchecked,” adding that “there is a lack of thorough investigations… at times it seems Israel has two standards of adherence to rule of law in the West Bank – one for Israelis and one for Palestinians.”

Shapiro’s speech was a clear sign of a political figure willing to speak honestly for the good of the oppressed.  God forbid, we will have to wait another eight years to see such signs and hear such honesty. 

The picture at top was taken at a Jerusalem check point when a mother and her children stood and waited while two Israeli soldiers examine their papers before they were allowed to take the road home. It is an AP photo from Ha’aretz. The picture of Shapiro is also from Ha’aretz.

Posted in Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Israel, Middle East | 6 Comments

Time To “Keep Singing” to UMC Church Leaders

by James M. Wallgc2016-logo-color-hi-res-690x370-1

On October 10, 2010, I gave a talk to a small group  at a United Methodist Church in Naperville, IL, a city in the western suburbs of Chicago.

In the talk I referenced the film, Grapes of Wrath. Recently, while searching the internet for information on the film, the talk popped up. Along with other references to the film was the line, “Draft: Talk on 10/10/10″.

The United Methodist Church (UMC) will gather in its General Conference, a quadrennial legislative assembly, in Portland, Oregon, May 10-20.

UMC leaders have asked its delegates, and the church members they represent, to prepare spiritually for that upcoming gathering of its largest legislative body.

One way to prepare spiritually for this Conference, is to look back at one moment when U.S. church leaders were slowly beginning to confront what was euphemistically referred to as the “Palestinian issue”.

The talk that I gave on October 10, 2010, was given at a specific point in recent history. It is, therefore, tied to that moment, five years and four months ago.

Below are segments of that talk which I trust will resonate with many others who have made, or will in the future, make the same spiritual journey I began in December, 1973.

John Wesley would expect no less. 

I share this speech as a background resource for the United Methodist delegates who will meet in Portland, Oregon, May 10-20. 

I share it also for readers who are watching as the United Methodists become the latest national church body to consider one of the most pressing and important issues of social justice facing the Church in the 21st century.

(I tell this story in much greater detail in my article published in The Link, a publication of the Americans for Middle East Understanding)

******* From 10/10/10: A talk in Naperville, Illinois

“My first trip to Israel/Palestine, initially planned for October, 1973, was postponed until after the Yom Kippur war. . . .

“After a two month delay, I flew to Tel Aviv in early December, of 1973. I brought with me a bible, an Israeli travel guide, the novel O, Jerusalem, and a collection of essays by Martin Buber, the noted Jewish philosopher.

“All I knew about Palestinians were that they were called Arabs; oh yes, and they were Muslims. At the time, I regret to have to confess that I was unaware that at least 15% of the Palestinian population were Christians.

“My education on this subject, like the vast majority of Americans, was limited to what I had read in the American media. . . 

51Ri61FZsEL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_“I flew into Tel Aviv with absolutely no awareness that the airport was built on ground that was once was an Arab town, Lydda. The destruction of Lydda was part of a program of ‘ethnic cleansing’, well documented by Jewish scholar Ilan Pappe in his book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.

“This operation that was developed as early as the 1920s, led to what the Palestinians call the Nakba, Arabic for ‘the catastrophe’.

“In the Nakba, more than 60 percent of the Palestinian population was killed or expelled, and more than 530 Palestinian villages were depopulated and completely destroyed.

“The surviving Palestinians who were expelled now [in 2010] live in other parts of Israel (1.7 million), the Occupied Territories called the West Bank and Gaza, and other surrounding Arab states, primarily Lebanon and Jordan.

“BADIL, a Palestinian non-governmental organization, estimated at the beginning of 2005 there were more than 7.2 million Palestinian refugees and displaced persons in the region. [Survey of Palestinian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons 2004-2005].

“Israelis have not been bashful about describing the Nakba.

“Moshe Dayan, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces and Minister of Defense during the 1967 war, said:

“‘Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist, not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either…There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab Population.’ (Ha’aretz, April 4, 1969)

“[Today] ‘We shoot at those from among the 200,000 hungry Arabs who cross the line [to graze their flocks]… to collect the grain that they left in the abandoned villages and we set mines for them and they go back without an arm or a leg. [It may be that this] cannot pass review, but I know no other method of guarding the borders.” (from Righteous Victims, p. 275)

“At the funeral of an Israeli farmer killed by a Palestinian in April 1956, Dayan said:

“’Let us not today fling accusation at the murderers. What cause have we to complain about their fierce hatred to us? For eight years now, they sit in their refugee camps in Gaza, and before their eyes we turn into our homestead the land and villages in which they and their forefathers have lived…

“‘We should demand his blood not from the Arabs of Gaza but from ourselves…Let us make our reckoning today. We are a generation of settlers, and without the steel helmet and gun barrel, we shall not be able to plant a tree or build a house.’ (Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall, p. 101)

“When I made my first trip to Israel in 1973, I was the new editor of the major American ecumenical religious publication, The Christian Century, I knew nothing of the true situation there.

“All I knew was that the American Jewish Committee has offered to arrange a trip for this brand new editor to visit Israel, standard operating procedure for new editors and politicians.

“Eager to travel I accepted the offer, with one important caveat: I would pay my own way, air fare, hotel, the lot. I may have been dumb about Israel and the Palestinians, but I was a journalist who knew not to take any money from a source.

“I was also not dumb about the civil rights struggle in the U.S, about which I had written a great detail for the [United Methodist] Christian Advocate and would continue to do so for The Christian Century.

“Growing up in a segregated American South I could recognize prejudice and the mistreatment of a minority people, when I saw it.

“What I did not know was that I was going to the bible land of my earliest Sunday School teaching where I would soon discover racial segregation in a form so vicious and all pervasive that by the year 2010 it would have to be enforced by prison walls and armed guards, more akin to South Africa than to my American South.

“It did not take me long on my first trip to realize that what I was to experience in Israel was the American South Redux, in which religious people would justify a conduct that completely violated the biblical demands of their religion, conservative Protestantism in my native South, and the Jewish Faith of the Hebrew tradition in Israel.

“In the American South, with a few courageous exceptions, church-going Christians believed they could combine their Christian faith with a defense of segregation, or as they put it, to keep ‘our way of life’. That was the prevailing political and cultural mindset that controlled Southern laws, morals, and all of our religious institutions.

“People who live a lie that so completely contradicts their religious tradition will not voluntarily give up that lie. It was true in South Africa; it was true in my native South and it is most certainly true in Israel today. . . .

“I brought these civil rights experiences with me when I landed in Tel Aviv in 1973. I just did not know at the time how much they had prepared me for what was to come.

“I was scheduled to be in Israel ten days on that trip. My itinerary did not include travel in either the West Bank or Gaza. This same Israeli tourist and media control continues to this day. We all know pastors and lay people who travel to Israel with groups that still organize the same sort of trip arranged for me in 1973. . . .

“Two nights before I was to fly back home, my AJC host had arranged a meeting for me at the Holy Land Institute, an institution of a more evangelical persuasion than that of The Christian Century, which was known in church circles as a ‘liberal magazine’.

“I was the guest of honor for the evening, but I was really there to be on the hot seat. The Century’s reputation was that of decades of hostility to Zionism prior to Israel’s becoming a state in 1948, a position shared by most Protestant missionaries in the Middle East and by most Jewish leaders in the United States.

“I recall sitting in a circle at the Holy Land Institute, surrounded by evangelical Christians who shared a perspective of an intense loyalty to Israel, based, they said, on God’s promise to give this land to the Israelites.

“Today, Christians with that perspective are known as Christian Zionists. Everyone there that night pounded away at me for the Century’s failure to champion Israel’s cause.

“When we broke for coffee, [a young man] slipped quietly up to me. His name was LeRoy Friesen, an American Mennonite pastor serving a three-year tour in Jerusalem. He asked if he could come by my hotel later that night for a chat.

“I was about chatted out, but his intense and concerned manner persuaded me I should see him. The Mennonites were, after all, one of the traditional peace churches in the United States who send young workers like Friesen to labor for justice and peace.

“As we talked later in my hotel, LeRoy told me I was hearing only one perspective of the situation in Israel and Palestine. He asked if I would travel with him the next day into the West Bank, first to Jericho, and then up to the Golan Heights.

“He explained that we would drive along the highway along the Jordan Valley, an excursion the AJC had not included on my itinerary. Since I was paying my own way (thankfully), my AJC host had no grounds to object to my breaking away from my next day’s meetings to go off on my own. . . .

“Driving northward from Jericho, [LeRoy and I] stopped along the highway to look at the fertile fields of Israeli crops that lay between us and the river. LeRoy had a banana farmer he wanted me to meet.

“We left the highway and drove on a dirt road up a hill to the home of a Palestinian farmer, who was sitting in front of his house. I remember him as rather elderly. I was struck by the resigned sadness in his manner.

“He pointed up the hill to the well that provided water to his modest-sized field. I was reminded of a Georgia sharecropper’s well. This farmer’s well was connected to a pump that provided water for his field.

“Quite a distance farther up the hill was an Israeli well, surrounded by barbed wire and enclosed in a concrete casing. That well was much deeper, LeRoy explained. Pipes carried its water down the hill where we could see it spraying onto the Israeli fields in the Jordan Valley.

“I knew enough about aquifers to know that the deeper, more sophisticated Israeli well (its pipes buried beneath the soil) would soon leave the farmer’s shallower well, with its open, above-ground pipes without water.

“That was my epiphany on the Jericho road.

“What I experienced that morning has shaped all of my subsequent understanding of the region. This was the strong dominating the weak: this was control in the hands of an occupying military force, backed by an American ally where a congress, a media and all mainline Christian religious communities sided totally with the military occupier.

“Something was seriously wrong with that picture. The existential reality of injustice witnessed first-hand, as LeRoy knew when he invited me to travel up the Jericho road, is a far more powerful teaching tool than injustice heard or read about. . . .

“That initial visit was in 1973. Thirty-seven years later [in 2010], Israel continues to control the aquifers which it still rations to Palestinian villages, cities and farms in amounts far below the standards set by the World Health Organization. . . .

“I continued to learn a lot from Israelis. I remember one early visit with an official in the Israeli Foreign Ministry who told me in what appeared to be the strictest confidence: ‘You should talk to the leaders of this new group called Hamas. They are doing good work with social services for the Palestinians’.

“That was in the early 1980s, when Israel still viewed the PLO, led from Lebanon by Yasir Arafat, as its major enemy. The strategy called for Israel to build up Hamas, a strategy that included supplying funds to Hamas, as an alternative to the PLO.

“That was then; today Israel makes it very difficult for journalists to get into Gaza where Hamas is the ruling political party. . . .”


What impact did this one 2010 talk from one moment in history, have on the small group in Naperville, Illinois? I have no idea. None of us knows what impact we have in support of a passion we wish to share.

We have no choice but, in the words from the old hymn, we are under a moral demand because we have no other choice. So I ask myself and I ask others: “How can I keep from singing?”     

In less than three months the United Methodist General Conference will discuss and vote on resolutions calling on the denomination to strengthen its identification with the oppressed in Palestine and Israel.

In recent weeks, the UMC Pension and Health Benefits Fund took a strong stance in that direction when it voted to “divest”, remove its funds from two Israeli banks, because of the involvement of those banks in the military occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people.

United Methodists now have the opportunity to support that action by writing members of that Board Fund to thank them for taking this important step to divest from those two Israeli banks.

If you know any members personally, give them a call.

After that, keep a close watch on the proceedings in Oregon in May. If you are a delegate, when you cast your votes, remember the call to the General Conference, from Jesus’ Great Commission (Matthew 28), “obey everything I have commanded you”.

Posted in Israel, Middle East, Palestinians, Religious Faith | 6 Comments

United Methodists Target Guilty Banks, Not Israel

by James M. Walljohn-wesley-preaching-outdoors

The $20.9-billion Pension and Health Benefits Fund of the United Methodist Church has placed Israel’s five largest banks off limits for investment, placing them on what The New York Times terms the church’s “black list”.

The denomination’s Pension Board does not use the term, “black list”, a deliberately-chosen pejorative term designed to evoke memories of an ugly anti-communist era.

The United Methodist Pension Board’s actions carefully distinguish between Israel’s overall economy and its specific illegal occupation expenditures. This action relegates the banks to what in hockey is known as “the penalty box”. 

But hey, look on the bright side, the Times did report the Pension Board’s body blow to Israel’s on-going and increasingly desperate struggle to preserve its positive image.

The “people called Methodists” came by that name in the days of John Wesley, the church’s founder, because they were methodical in their preaching and in their procedures.

Standing on tombstones, or on the city corners, wherever they could find an audience, these methodists were never vague about the Good News, they were specific. (See illustration above.)

Specifically, in 2016, the latest Good News is that the United Methodist Pension Fund has withdrawn its funds (divested) from two Israeli banks it had previously held in its portfolios, Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi, both of which it determined, after careful study, had aided and abetted Israel’s illegal occupation.

How careful? The Times described the long process. Here is part of what it found:

M. Colette Nies, a spokeswoman for the Pension Board, based in Glenview, Ill., said that [its] guideline, approved by the board in 2014 and carried out last year, applied to 14 different regions around the world, including the Middle East. . . 

Ms. Nies said in the statement that the pension fund remained invested in “approximately 18 Israeli companies that meet our investment criteria.”

This is believed to be the first time a major American church pension fund has made such a strong moral financial judgment against Israeli banks for the specific reason that they “sustain Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land”.

The five Israeli banks placed on the United Methodist Church’s Pension Fund’s “do not invest” list, are First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank, Mizrahi Tefahot Bank, and the aforementioned Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi, for their deep involvement “in financing illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories”.

The information has been posted on the Pension Fund’s website as companies “that pose excessive human rights risks”.

Wespath, the Pension Fund’s manager, also divested from Shikun & Binui, an Israeli company involved with construction in the illegal settlements beyond Israel’s recognized borders.

The United Methodist Kairos Response, an activist UMC organization, praised the action of the Pension Fund.

Israel has not yet responded to the new and quite specific UMC Pension Fund actions, but rest assured, when Israel does respond, it will claim the action is against the entire state of Israel.

Put that allegation down to the plea of a guilty man who has killed his parents and now begs for mercy because he is an orphan.

No matter what Benjamin Netanyahu tells you, the UMC action is not directed at the modern state of Israel. What the UMC Pension Fund has done is follow its methodically developed plan which specifically targets Israeli corporations the church deems guilty of the “human rights violations” of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and citizens.

The Pension Fund has added Israel not to any New York Times “black list”, but to its penalty box of nations where human rights violations occur. 

The Pension Fund divestment action was announced in the week that President Obama delivered his final State of the Union Address to the Congress and the nation. (for a video of the speech, click here. For the full text click here.)

160112213514-06-sotu-2016-large-169The inspiring and encouraging words from the President resonate with the Pension Fund action because together they sing a chorus of how we must live together as a nation and as citizens of the world.

For an example of how the speech reached different audiences, here is the Arab American website’s appreciative response on Obama’s reference to Muslims:

“President Obama in his State of the Union Speech last night rejected ‘any politics that targets people because of race or religion.’ he went on to say, ‘This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith’.

“His comments were in direct contrast to presidential candidate and billionaire businessman Donald Trump who has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States and the construction of a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico to stop the flow of illegal immigrants.

“Obama quoted His Holiness, Pope Francis in his address to Congress, ‘to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place’.

“He then addressed the ongoing political rhetoric denigrating Muslims and creating a litany of vandalism and bullying against them saying, ‘that doesn’t make us safer, that’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country’.”

Pay close attention to the President’s words. Judging by the hate and fear of the current presidential race, it may be some time before we hear them again.

The picture from the State of the Union address is a CNN screen shot.

Posted in Human Rights, Israel, Palestinians, United Methodist Church | 6 Comments

Duma Murders Expose Israel’s “Mindless Violence”


By James M. Wall

Duma is a Palestinian town 25 kilometers southeast of Nablus in Northern Palestine.

It is an old town, surrounded by olive trees (above). Pottery sherds from the Hellenistic and Roman eras have been found. Southwest of the village is a spring called Ayn Duma, where water has been collected in ancient small pools, some hollowed out of rock.

Along with the rest of Palestine, Duma (also known as Douma) was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in 1517. In the 2006 census, it had a population of 2,220 inhabitants.

Duma has been under Israel’s illegal occupation since 1967, an occupation which is constantly criticized, though never seriously deterred by the outside world.

Today there are more than 500,000 illegal settlers living in 100 illegal settlements which surround villages like Duma.

Palestinians are subject to terrorist random attacks from those settlers who are rarely punished by Israeli authorities. Hiding behind international inter-faith pretensions of neutrality, the world allows this brutal occupation to expand without hindrance.dawabshe.03

Five months have passed since July 31, 2015, when 18-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsheh, his father Sa’ad, his mother Reham, and his 4-year-old brother Ahmed, were sleeping in their beds when their Duma house was fire-bombed.

Ali died in the attack. His father Sa’ad, 32, and his mother Reham, died later from severe burns. Ahmed clings to life in Israel’s Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer. (Ali and his parents are shown above.)

Ha’aretz reported the attack:

“According to witnesses, at roughly 4 A.M. Friday morning [July 31], two masked men arrived at two homes in the village of Duma, not far from the settlement of Migdalim.

“They sprayed painted graffiti reading ‘revenge’ and ‘long live the Messiah’ in Hebrew, breaking the windows of the homes and throwing two firebombs inside.”

Five months after those three murders, Israeli settler Amiram Ben-Uliel and a minor the police call A, were arrested in connection with the deaths of the three members of the Dawabsheh family.

Ha’aretz reported:

“Ben-Uliel (below) was charged Sunday with three counts of murder in connection with last July’s arson attack in Duma. He was a familiar figure in the West Bank. Until now, though, he had never been arrested on suspicion of involvement in serious violent activities.

Amiram Ben-Ulief Har“Born in July 1994, he is originally from Karmei Zur, a settlement north of Hebron. He is the eldest son of Rabbi Reuven Ben-Uliel, who is identified with mainstream religious Zionism and also serves as the rabbi for Mechina Nokdim, a preparatory program for religious youths entering the army.”

Young men like Ben-Uliel fit a pattern of radical terrorists throughout the world.. Ha’aretz notes:

“The story of Amiram Ben-Uliel is similar to that of other young Jewish extremists in the West Bank (known in Israel as “hilltop youth”). Despite coming from a stable, functional family, he left school following academic difficulties and gravitated toward extremism.

“After experiencing a few minor scrapes with the law, his views became ever more radical and his connection with his family became more distant.”

Sound familiar? This is precisely the description given to radical Islamists like the young people drawn to ISIS. 

The alleged murderers of the Dawabsheh parents and 18-month old Ali, are radical terrorists. For more on the Dawabsheh murders, see Richard Silverstein’s investigative reporting bypassing Israel’s gag orders. 

Fewer and fewer voices in Israel are willing to acknowledge their government’s role in allowing Israel’s disintegration as a moral society.

One such voice came forward in a recent essay published in the Washington Post. Assaf Gavron, an Israeli novelist and a veteran of Israel’s IDF occupation forces, is distressed over the direction Israel has taken.

“The internal discussion in Israel is more militant, threatening and intolerant than it has ever been. Talk has trended toward fundamentalism ever since the Israeli operation in Gaza in late 2008, but it has recently gone from bad to worse. There seems to be only one acceptable voice, orchestrated by the government and its spokespeople, and beamed to all corners of the country by a clan of loyal media outlets drowning out all the others.

“Those few dissenters who attempt to contradict it — to ask questions, to protest, to represent a different color from this artificial consensus — are ridiculed and patronized at best, threatened, vilified and physically attacked at worst. Israelis not ‘supporting our troops’ are seen as traitors, and newspapers asking questions about the government’s policies and actions are seen as demoralizing.”

Gavron ends with his call to action for Israel and its ardent supporters:

“The cumulative effect of this recent mindless violence is hugely disturbing. We seem to be in a fast and alarming downward swirl into a savage, unrepairable society.

“There is only one way to respond to what’s happening in Israel today:

“We must stop the occupation. Not for peace with the Palestinians or for their sake (though they have surely suffered at our hands for too long). Not for some vision of an idyllic Middle East — those arguments will never end, because neither side will ever budge, or ever be proved wrong by anything.

“No, we must stop the occupation for ourselves. So that we can look ourselves in the eyes. So that we can legitimately ask for, and receive, support from the world. So that we can return to being human.”

The way ahead is clear. Israel’s supporters in the U.S. bear as much responsible for Israel’s “mindless violence” as those who practice that violence.

We are the enablers.

The picture of Duma is from Wikipedia. The picture of Ali and his parents is from YNet.  The picture of Ben- Uliel is from Ha’aretz.


Posted in Israel, Jewish faith and tradition, Judiasm, Middle East | 6 Comments

“Know Nothings” Could Deliver Clinton Vs. Trump

by James M. WallDonald Trump Campaigns In Grand Rapids

As the nation enters 2016 in search of a new president, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton seems certain to derail Bernie Sanders while anti-immigrant Republican candidate Donald Trump is expected to recover quickly even if he loses the Iowa Republican caucus, February 1 and the New Hampshire Republican primary, February 9.

The South Carolina Republican primary is next on February 20.  After that, the nation will experience a series of primaries, caucuses, and endorsements, that will beg for our attention even though the Trump versus Clinton outcome, at this point in time, appears a foregone conclusion.

It is precisely at a this point where the enthusiasts for good government. as it should be practiced, must not lose hope. Bernie Sanders may catch enough momentum with a New Hampshire victory to pose a threat to Clinton.

Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush may break through to stop TrumpDon’t lose hope until the summer conventions. Or as we say in my business, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

The Republican Convention will be held at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, July 18-21. The Democrats will gather July 25-28 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Not a promising sign for good government as it should be practiced. The names of the two convention sites celebrate the true religion of the nation and its political structures: Big Money.

Quicken Loans and Wells Fargo embody what the U.S. Supreme Court codified in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, granting corporate contributions unfettered access to political candidates.

Unless the voters rebel and determine a different path, Big Money will dictate which two candidates are named.

The national media, meanwhile, has to keep advertising dollars flowing through their coverage of the dual national horse races that will continue week after week after week.

It will get ugly. Trump has promised, for example, that Bill Clinton’s conduct that led to his impeachment proceedings, will be fair game. The Clintons will fight back with whatever mud they are currently planning to toss.

Trump’s possible losses in Iowa and New Hampshire will make the remaining dual national horse races good media fodder.

His possible losses will not slow his bullying brand of media manipulation. Trump’s solid core of supporters thrives on hating the national media for its treatment of their leader.

This dismal scenario is how 2016 looks to this observer of U.S. politics, and I find it enormously depressing. I fervently hope I am wrong.

I first tipped a tentative toe into the treacherous active political waters in the 1972 campaign, 44 years ago in two races, first, as a George McGovern-pledged candidate for convention delegate from Illinois, and second, as a Democratic congressional candidate in Illinois’ 14th district.

I won the delegate race and became McGovern’s Illinois delegation chairman. I lost, big time, the race for Congress. After those campaigns, I returned to the quieter life of writer and editor for religious publications, where politics cried out for some degree of ethical comment. 

The practice of politics and its importance to the life of all God’s children, from Monroe, Georgia, to Ramallah, Palestine, became a passion which has kept me inordinately tuned into these quadrennial presidential electoral events, and to the impact they have on the moral issues of our time.

Could Clinton lose to Donald Trump November 8? Anything is possible in politics, which is why Trump must be examined very carefully, much deeper, and far beyond the daily media reports we are fed on snippets of his vulgarity and verbal excesses.

Trump 101 must get us ready for what, at this moment, looks like a Clinton versus Trump general election race. With a month to go before Iowa voters gather in homes and other meeting sites to raise their hands for their preferred candidate February 1, Trumps brags that he is leading in the polls in Iowa.

His focus on polls suggests he is not thinking of the usual “get out the vote” effort in Iowa or, for that matter, in New Hampshire on primary day February 9. This may be why he could lose both races. 

Emotion must be corralled and organized, especially in a caucus.

Writing in the New Yorker, John Cassidy asks if Trump is a fascist.  

Cassidy points to many analysts who see Trump as a 21st-century fascist, evoking negative images of Hitler and Mussolini. Cassidy rejects that charge, insisting that Trump is not a Fascist. So what is he?

For Cassidy, Donald Trump is at the center of “a media-savvy Know-Nothing” 21st- century movement.

130615-004-957C4B10-1In the 1840s, that movement “originated as secret societies of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants angered by an influx of immigrants, particularly Irish Roman Catholics who were crossing the Atlantic to flee poverty and find work in the rapidly industrializing U.S. economy”.

Cassidy elaborates:

“The Know-Nothings got their name because, when asked about their clandestine activities, they often said, ‘I know nothing.’ Fearful of popery, liquor, and big-city political machines that harvested the votes of new arrivals, they called for restrictions on immigration, the closure of saloons, and a ban on foreign-born people holding public office. ‘Americans must rule America,’ they said”.

Listening to Trump as he stirs up hatred against Mexican immigrants in his campaign, it is obvious that he is not worried about what the national media thinks about his bigoted nativist insistence that “native born” US citizens are superior to immigrants. He is relying on the strand of nativism that is deeply embedded in the American psyche.

He uses the media to preach his nativism. Cassidy concludes his essay that makes the case that Trump is a modern-day Know Nothing, writing:

“Of course, the genuine Fascists were pretty effective at using the media, too: that was one of the things that made them so dangerous. Trump, for reasons that historians have rightly emphasized, shouldn’t be compared to a Goebbels or a Mussolini on this front. But, in the six months since he launched his campaign, he has revived the Know-Nothing movement, plumbed new depths of divisive rhetoric, and established himself as a shameless demagogue.”

This much we do know: Trump may not be a fascist, but the Know Nothing movement is alive and well in our 2016 political life.

It hardly seems possible that an anti-Catholic nativist movement could be gaining so much modern ground as Trump’s poll numbers suggest is the case.

We will get our first clue on the strength of the Know Nothings among us after Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Meanwhile, fasten your seat belts, 2016 is certain to be a bumpy ride.

The picture above of Donald Trump by Scott Olson, was taken in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It appeared in the New Yorker and is a Getty Photo. The portrait further down is that of a young man representing the nativist ideal of the Know-Nothing Party. The portrait is from the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Posted in -Movies and politics, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush | 5 Comments

Rob Malley Links ISIS Crisis to Palestine Issue

art by www.banksy.co.uk.

by James M. Wall

Bethlehem, Palestine, was once a small village where Jesus was born. Today, it is a city surrounded by what is essentially a 30-foot high concrete prison wall.

In less than two weeks, Christians around the world will once again celebrate only half of the scene in the painting above. They will sing, clap and enjoy seeing their children dressed like the shepherds shown above in the work by British graffiti artist Banksy.

This Christmas, few churches and few clergy leaders, will focus on the wall in Banksy’s prophetic vision because it shouts into Bethlehem’s quiet night what President Obama’s newly-appointed ISIS czar, Rob Malley, said in a different, but highly relevant context, this week in a New York conference:

“‘resolving the Israel Palestine conflict is necessary to defeating Islamist extremists’ because [ISIS] ‘extremists refer constantly to the situation of Palestinians'”.

Malley, now the senior advisor to Obama “for the Counter-ISIL Campaign in Iraq and Syria” and White House Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, told the conference, co-sponsored by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and the New Israel Fund:

“ISIS would lose a recruiting tool if the matter were resolved. And the failure to resolve the conflict makes it ‘very difficult’ to get ‘the kind of open cooperation that we really need to get changes on the ground'”.

Who is this man who states the truth with such clarity?

As a start, it helps to know that he is a man intensely disliked by the government of Israel and Israel’s minions in the U.S.

NBC News reported his latest appointment as “controversial”, the media code word for “that with which Israel is not pleased”.

Under the headline on her December 1 report that described Malley as “Obama’s New ISIS Czar Trusted Controversial Pick”NBC’s Elizabeth Chuck reported:

“President Obama has a new weapon in the fight against terror: a longtime security adviser he has promoted to be his new ISIS czar.  National Security Adviser Susan Rice refers to Rob Malley as one of her ‘most trusted advisers’ and ‘one of our country’s most respected experts on the Middle East’.”

Chuck traces Malley’s career in the White House which “started under the Clinton administration, first as executive assistant to the national security adviser in 1996 and then as Special Assistant to the President for Arab-Israeli Affairs”.

After his Clinton assignment, Malley moved to the respected non-profit International Crisis Group to serve as Middle East and North Africa program director, a role he kept until 2014 when he came to the Obama White House.

Alarmed over Malley’s friendship with Obama since Harvard days, the U.S.Israeli minions went into action. NBC’s Chuck recalls, in a paragraph inevitable in any mainline Malley story:

“He ran into his first firestorm in 2001 when he co-wrote an article about a Camp David summit on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which had ended in failure the year prior. In the article, Malley said it was unfair to blame only Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat — who most observers argued was the reason the talks fell apart — and pushed for ‘a more nuanced and realistic’ analysis showing Israeli leader Ehud Barak was partially responsible, too.”

Chuck continues with the obligatory “right-wing critics” meme by saying these “critics” (hard-line Israeli backers) “pounced on him”, claiming that an anti-Israeli, pro-Palestinian bias was evident in much of his writing. Some even went so far as to write he was “influenced by his father, Simon Malley, a well-known journalist born in Egypt who had ties to the Egyptian government.”

Obama was fully aware that to further involve Malley in his Middle East policies would set off the “critics”. Nevertheless, he went forward with the appointment, knowing that the link between ISIS and the brutal military occupation of Palestinian would emerge.

Earlier this year, the “critics” screamed loudly when in March, Obama elevated Malley to be his new Middle East National Security chief.  

That appointment came three days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress. I began a posting for Wall Writings at the time:robert-malley-youtube-620x3721

“President Barack Obama delivered a stinging response to the latest in a series of Netanyahu diplomatic insults. The President chose Robert Malley (right) as Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region.

Special Assistant Malley will begin his new assignment April 6. The news of the Malley promotion raised hardly a ripple in U.S. mainstream and cable news media, currently obsessing over Hillary Clinton’s email servers. 

Pro-Israel media outlets, however, rushed to sound the alarm. The word went out to Israel’s staunch U.S. backers, ‘Obama has struck back with the dangerous Malley’.”

Earlier, in a posting February 2, 2014, one of the most avid U.S. Israel media backers, Pamela Gellerwarned her right-wing blog followers (note the false adjectival “Hamas adviser”):

“President Obama has named Hamas adviser Robert O. Malley the senior director at the National Security Council (NSC). You may recall that Malley was foreign policy adviser to then-presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2007, and was fired from his campaign team in 2008 because of his notorious ties to Hamas, the PLO and other jihadist, anti-Israel groups. 

“Atlas readers are long familiar with this subversive jihad operative. As early as 2007 and  2008 (and repeatedly throughout the campaign and in my book), I warned Atlas readers of the troubling relationship between Robert O. Malley and Barack Hussein Obama. Robert Malley told the NY Times that he had regularly been in contact with Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organisation by the State Department.”

Malley was a journalist at the time, interviewing any source he could find to understand the internal dynamics of Hamas.

That is what journalists do, as it appears our mainline media is “forbidden” to do on this issue by its current ideological masters.

Republican candidates are currently dominating the space and bandwidth of those media while they seek to outdo one another in bragging about how vicious they would be in dealing with ISIS. 

Rob Malley’s linkage of the growing power of ISIS to Israel’s unrestrained occupation and brutality to Palestinians, would be a much wiser course for the candidates to consider. 

It is not what our next president will do to treat the cancer that is ISIS; It is what she or he plans to do to identify and eradicate the cause and steady growth of that cancer.

By appointing Rob Malley to the ISIS job, President Obama has at least hinted that he knows what needs to be done.

The question looms in today’s increasingly dark political climate, can Obama make any progress in his final months in office?

In the closing scene of John Osborne’s 1961 play, Lutherwith Albert Finney in the title role, the Protestant reformer asks a similar question to his new-born son. 

Luther answers himself in a response that fits our current moment:

“Let’s hope so, let’s just hope so”.

Posted in Israel, Media, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Obama, Religious Faith, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Will Clinton Enter White House With Israel in Tow?

by James M. Wall

05-SOS.focus-none.width-500Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party’s 2016 presumptive nominee for President. You knew that already.

What you may not yet know is that she is so confident in her nomination and subsequent victory over whichever Republican candidate arises from the shambles of the GOP nomination process, that she looks the other way from Israel’s 67-year-old illegal and immoral, oppressive and unrelenting occupation of Palestine.

The latest example of Clinton looking away from the occupation and embracing Israel, was starkly presented in a speech she delivered to the pro-Israel Saban Forum in Washington.

Philip Weiss was there and described his outrage:

“Yesterday (December 6) Hillary Clinton gave a speech in Washington at the Saban Forum of Brookings that included more pandering to Israel than any speech I’ve heard from any American politician. It was endless. Israel is a brave democracy, a light unto the nations, a miracle, its ‘prowess in war’ is ‘inspiring,’ and we must take the US-Israel relationship to the ‘next level.’

Our presumptive next president wants the US-Israel relationship to go to the “next level”? 

In spite of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s absolute refusal to entertain serious “peace talks”. In spite of Israel’s increased police and army attacks on a captive population. In spite of increased road blocks, home demolitions, terrorizing and imprisoning children, Hillary Clinton wants to snuggle even closer with Israel. 

Has she not seen? Has she not heard? 

Weiss continued his outrage:

“Introduced by her good friend the Israeli-American megadonor, Haim Saban, Clinton bragged that she and Israel were born a few months apart, gave a shoutout to Israel’s former lawyer in the White House, Dennis Ross, and assured Ari Shavit the rightwing Israeli columnist that the military option was still on the table with Iran.

“In fact, she repeatedly slammed Iran as a bad actor and did all she could to distance herself from the Iran deal and from secretary of state John Kerry, who gave a more realistic speech the day before.

“She never mentioned the occupation, vaguely touched on settlements as a problem, and praised the late Clintonite Sandy Berger as a ‘steadfast friend to Israel’.

Just as the Republican candidates had attacked Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) at the Republican Jewish Coalition last week, ‘Clinton said that BDS was hurting the U.S.’s ability to fight terrorism. This is language straight out of Benjamin Netanyahu’s office’. (BF emphasis added).”

Of course, she is not alone in looking the other way in her Jericho Road stance. She is joined by PEPs (Progressive Except for Palestine), those among us who are progressive on traditional liberal issues except when confronted with the Palestinian Occupation.

After a speech like that, it is past time to look at the Good Samaritan parable Jesus told.

Think of Palestinian individuals under occupation who have repeatedly “fell among robbers, who stripped them and beat them, and departed, leaving them half dead”.

As Luke tells it, a priest and a Levite saw a man treated this way and they each “passed by on the other side”. 

“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? How do you read?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have answered right; do this, and you will live.’

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’

Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead’.

Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” (Luke 10:25-37 RSV)

Who is my neighbor?

The Good Samaritan parable does not weasel word it: Jesus wants us to pay particular attention to those who are beaten, stripped and left half-dead.

It is a matter of perspective. But can we not see that Hillary Clinton wants to snuggle even closer to a nation which has an occupying force guilty of robbing, beating, stripping and leaving its victims half dead (and often fully dead) by the side of Jericho roads throughout the occupied territories.

Hillary Clinton appears to be the best viable Democrat for the nomination.

She may stumble a bit in the first Iowa caucus, February 1, and even run behind Bernie Sanders in the New Hampshire primary, February 9, but Clinton is campaigning like a candidate already wondering how to write her first federal budget.

Give her this; she is one smart politician.  She reads more than the polls.  She reads the mood of the voting public. At this moment, she appears to be an almost certain nominee and final winner in the race for the White House.

But will she not read her conscience a bit closer? Can she not see that in that “snuggle close to Israel” speech she gave at the Saban Forum, she was on the side of the priest and the Levite, not the Samaritan?  

The most powerful political office in the world is within her grasp. She will not halt wars and heal the dying by taking her relationship to the next level with an Israeli government eager to continue a 67-year-old military occupation because it has the military strength to do so.

Or, is it possible that our almost inevitable next world leader believes she can turn her “next level” Israeli relationship into a Good Samaritan force for good?

We can only hope and pray that the Samaritan route is her long-range intent. We do not have long to wait to find out. 

The photo above is from hillaryclinton.com

Posted in Archives, Hillary Clinton, Israel, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Obama | 10 Comments

“Have You Got Any News of the Iceberg?”

DFM Hotovely with Consul General to the Pacific Northwest Region, Andy David

DFM Hotovely with Consul General to the Pacific Northwest Region, Andy David

by James M. Wall

On May 24, 2000, I wrote a column for The Christian Century magazine reflecting on yet another “peace agreement” between Palestine and Israel.  I wrote that to the U.S. government, then led by President Bill Clinton, the impending agreement “will appear fair and just, at long last bringing security to Israel and a truncated state to the Palestinians”.

I began the May 24, 2000, column this way:

“Family members gather in a Liverpool hotel ballroom to learn the fate of loved ones who were traveling on the Titanic. Everyone is frantically seeking information on survivors. Suddenly an old polar bear walks into the room. He looks sad, and there is a tear in his eye as he asks, ‘Have you got any news of the iceberg? My family were on it, you see. Have you got any news of the iceberg? They mean the whole world to me.’

It hadn’t occurred to the grieving relatives that a polar bear’s family might have been on the iceberg that collided with the Titanic. It is, you see, a matter of perspective.

The story about that polar bear, which comes from an old British comedy record I own, came back to me as I brooded over the imminent peace agreement between Israel and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat.”

In these waning days of the final month of  2015, I returned to this column because 15 years later, it is depressingly clear that a “fair and just” agreement is even further away from reality than it was in 2000.

Simply put, Israel has no interest in a “peace agreement”. Why should it? The United States government is content with this corner of its world-wide permanent war.

The “polar bear’s perspective” remains largely unknown to the citizens of the United States. A recent report from Israel’s Foreign Ministry explains why. The report has to do with Yahoo and You Tube.

The current Israeli government, ever alert to the slightest hint that its “security” might be endangered, is currently whining that its occupying army and Israeli citizens confront Palestinian children enraged by videos they see on social media.

These videos depict the Israeli army shooting Palestinian civilians. The Israeli Foreign Ministry wants them banned from social media. Does the FM really believe that children growing up as virtual prisoners under occupation by a foreign army, need videos to enrage them?

They already know the daily and nightly dangers they personally encounter.  They don’t need videos.

They already know that when clashes began in November, 2014, over a perceived threat to destroy Jerusalem’s Haram Al Sharif followed by the rebuilding of The Temple Mount, it was clear to anyone who knew the history that such a “threat” was as remote as a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine.

Ruins of the Temple Mount may or may not lie buried layers of history below the Haram Al Sharif, the Muslim holy site, described this way on a Muslim site:

“At the heart of Jerusalem is the Noble Sanctuary, Al-Haram al-Sharif, enclosing over 35 acres of fountains, gardens, buildings and domes. At its southernmost end is Al-Aqsa Mosque and at its center the celebrated Dome of the Rock.  The entire area is regarded as a mosque and comprises nearly one sixth of the walled city of Jerusalem.”

Does Israel want to take over and rebuild that area? You bet it does. Can it do so? Not anytime soon. Meanwhile it is a good issue with which to launch the quelling of another “uprising”.

Which is why Israel’s government rushed to fan the flames of conflict, a “false flag” move. As Israel had hoped, clashes broke out between Israel’s fully armed police and military occupation forces, and frustrated occupied Palestinian civilians.

Enter the latest chapter of this false flag move: blaming social media for stirring the emotions of Palestine’s children.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely traveled to Silicon Valley, California, to meet with Israeli Consul General to the Pacific Northwest Region, Andy David (pictured above).

Following this meeting, Hotovely’s media advisor issued this announcement:

“As part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ campaign against online incitement, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely met with YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and with Juniper [cq] Downes, Director of Public Policy at Google at the company’s Silicon Valley offices.

Deputy Minister Hotovely was briefed on the companies’ system for identifying video clips which incite to violence.

In the meetings, Hotovely raised the problem of incitement which goads small children to go out and stab innocents: “The daily stabbings in Israel are a result of young boys and girls who are indoctrinated from an early age in the Palestinian education system and through social media. We are engaged daily in confronting incitement to violence, a task which can benefit greatly from the cooperation of those companies that are involved in social media.”

Richard Silverstein had this skeptical reaction to this amazing announcement:

“Bibi Netanyahu has been blaming U.S. internet companies like Facebook for the current Palestinian uprising.  I’ve taken to calling it the “Facebook Intifada.”  Now there’s a new Silicon Valley target.

Today, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, who’s devoutly wished to see Israel rebuild the Holy Temple (thereby destroying the Haram al Sharif), announced (in Hebrew), (English here) that she’d met with YouTube’s CEO and Google’s director of public policy at its Silicon Valley campus.

During this meeting, according to a Maariv article, Hotovely schooled the executives about the ways in which pro-Palestine propaganda infects the internet and incites impressionable young Palestinian children to knife innocent victims.

What struck me about the article was the conclusion, in which Hotovely says that Google agreed to create a formal mechanism enabling formal coöperation between the foreign ministry and the company regarding the issue of incitement as played out in YouTube’s video content.  In other words, she implied that Google would collaborate with Israel on identifying and removing videos that “incited” violence against Israel.”

Alternet added an editor’s correction to its story on the Israeli government release:

Google released a statement in response to the Government of Israel’s claim of a censorship agreement:

“Following media reports about a meeting last week between Google / YouTube executives and the Israeli Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, we wanted to clarify that this meeting was one of many that we have with policymakers from different countries to explain our policies on controversial content, flagging and removals. The Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs has corrected its original announcement which, in error, suggested there had been an agreement with Google to establish ‘a mechanism to monitor online materials.’”

Silverstein analyzes the version of the story which first broke in an Israeli publication, Maariv. He reports:

“At the end of the meeting, it was agreed that Google would strengthen bilateral relations with the Foreign Ministry and build a collaborative work apparatus [in which both parties would] partner to prevent the distribution of this inciting material on the internet.” . . .

“Comparing the official account to the one Maariv published shows the reporter was a faithful stenographer, regurgitating information as she was trained to do.  While her entire report recapitulates the press release almost word for word, the last sentence in the Maariv story isn’t in the release at all.  Arutz 7 an Israeli outlet, also includes this italicized sentence [“it was agreed that Google would strengthen bilateral relations with the Foreign Ministry and build a collaborative work apparatus [in which both parties would] partner to prevent the distribution of this inciting material on the internet.”] as did Algemeiner (a U.S. media outlet), which tells me one thing.

“The MFA [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] tried to pull a fast one: for the English-speaking audience they released a sanitized version which was probably closer to what actually happened in the meeting.  But for the Israeli, Hebrew-speaking audience they released a statement saying that YouTube essentially capitulated to Israeli pressure and would commence censoring videos viewed as unflattering to Israel.”

Silverstein concludes:

“We must not permit this Israeli government to blame anyone but itself for the hatred and violence which it spawns among Palestinians.  Google doesn’t cause murder. Israel does.”

Silverstein writes with full awareness of both the Israeli and Palestinian narratives. As an American Jewish blogger who understands Hebrew, he has the advantage of reading both versions, English and Hebrew., of releases from Israeli sources.

He speaks for those of us who must continue to demand an answer to the polar bear’s question:

“Have you got any news from the iceberg?”

Photo above courtesy Israel Foreign Ministry

Posted in Israel, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Bigoted U.S. Governors Display Ignorance

Atlanta mosque

by James M. Wall

It did not take long for a group of opportunistic U.S. Governors to respond to the horrors of the Paris bombings.

They did so with racist, religiously bigoted responses against Muslims.

Their responses were degrading to their collective state offices, and hateful to a major world religion. They also display a collective naked ignorance of the fact that governors have absolutely nothing to do with U.S. immigration policy.

Time reports the reactions of these governors:

“In the wake of the attacks on Paris, a slew of American governors have expressed opposition to President Obama’s plan to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees to come to the U.S. Some states (like Alabama and Texas) say they would not allow these immigrants into their states; some (like Massachusetts and Nevada) have requested more information from the federal government before they make a decision; and others (like Idaho and North Carolina) land in the middle, saying they oppose the idea but stopping short of refusing to receive refugees. On the other end of the spectrum, a handful of governors have pledged to accept Syrian migrants.”

 Think Progress delivers the ignorance memo to the governors:

“There is no lawful means that permits a state government to dictate immigration policy to the president in this way. As the Supreme Court explained in Hines v. Davidowitz, ‘the supremacy of the national power in the general field of foreign affairs, including power over immigration, naturalization and deportation, is made clear by the Constitution.” States do not get to overrule the federal government on matters such as this one.”

Did the governors miss examining Hines v. Davidowitz in their collective rush to join the anti-Muslim lynch mobs?

Faced with a crucial test of leadership, many of the nation’s governors failed. Take note of their names and determine if this is leadership, or flashbacks to the years of the Ku Klux Klan.

<> on November 14, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.

Among the names is Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has just withdrawn as a Republican presidential candidate. (Pictured)

Governor Jindal issued an executive order on Monday authorizing his government “to utilize all lawful means” to block Syrian refugees from resettling in the state. He also instructed and authorized state police “to utilize all lawful means to monitor and avert threats within the State of Louisiana” if notified of Syrian refugees already living in the state.

Responses from leaders of states in “the land of the free and the home of the brave” were echoed in this summary from Huffington Post:

Huffington Post reports

“More than half of the nation’s governors have called on the U.S. to stop admitting Syrian refugees, most of them promising to do everything in their power to prevent them from entering their states.

“The governors represent Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. All are Republicans except for Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, a Democrat.

“While most pledged to block Syrian refugees from entering their states, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he doesn’t think he has the authority to keep the federal government from resettling them. Hassan called for the U.S. to stop admitting Syrian refugees entirely, but her spokesman said she could not block their resettlement in New Hampshire. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin similarly said there should be a moratorium on admitting Syrian refugees but stopped short of saying her state would try to reject them.”

“Instead of leading their citizens during an ugly time of suffering and death, these governors chose to take political advantage of a tragic series of events by displaying their own ignorance, bigotry to deceive, knowingly or not, those they were chosen to lead.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t anything new. Only this time the governors have moved to the front of the lynch mobs.

“Muslim-blaming is a now expected reaction to any terrorism attack in the U.S. or abroad. Even though less than 2 percent of all terrorist attacks over the past five years have been “religiously motivated,” and only 6 percent of all terrorism attacks in the U.S. between 1980 and 2005 were committed by Muslims, a few events — 9/11, in particular — have spread a healthy dose of Islamophobia across the country over the past few decades.

“At the same time, the population of Muslims in the U.S. has grown to more than 2.6 million. Many of them arrived in North America hoping to escape the discrimination and hate already brewing in their home country, only to be met with rampant discrimination.”

Islamophobia greets them in their new homeland, whether they have been here for generations, or for a few years.

“Researchers are just beginning to explore the kind of toll that Islamophobia can take on the mental and physical health of Muslim-Americans — and it’s unsurprisingly harsh.

“Studies have shown that many Muslims not only experience religious discrimination in their daily lives, but are fully aware of their devalued position in society,” writes a group of Norwegian psychology professors in a 2012 study. Their own study found that perceived Islamophobia has a “distinct effect on Muslim minorities’ health and identification.”

“Of the few studies on Muslim health that exist, most identified that daily, repetitive harassment as the biggest factor contributing to long-term mental health issues in Muslim populations.”

The governors have allowed the murderous conduct of an organized terror organization to serve as an excuse to condemn all Muslims as a danger.

Bigotry is far reaching into the entrails of a land that has always harbored the disease of racial and religious bigotry.  It is now officially out in the open in the sickening images of governors fighting to join the mob.

Western Muslim communities are fast becoming the target of violent and racist threats.

“The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating several threats against mosques as potential hate crimes, according to the advocacy group the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

“CAIR’s Florida chapter reported two separate calls to mosques in the state over the past several days that threaten to bomb or shoot up the places of worship. For instance, just hours after the attacks in France on Friday night, a mosque in St. Petersburg, Florida received a voicemail from a man who said he planned to shoot Muslims, including children.. . .

“In Orange County, Florida, a Muslim family found three bullet holes on the side of their home this weekend. According to the incident report, they told the police they suspect people are retaliating against them in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. Mahmoud Elmasri and his family were not home at the time because they were “out painting pictures of peace for the victims of the attacks in France,” the Orlando Sentinel reports.

“In Michigan, police have been investigating an individual who posted a threatening message to Muslims on Twitter after news broke that ISIS had claimed responsibility for the violence in France. “Dearborn, MI has the highest Muslim population in the United States. Let’s [expletive] that place up and send a message to ISIS. We’re coming,” the individual tweeted on Saturday night. Cops in Dearborn say the person is ‘no longer a threat’.

“CAIR says these threats ‘fit a pattern of increased hate-motivated crimes and bias incidents nationwide targeting persons and property associated, or perceived to be associated, with Islam and the American Muslim community’.

The Obama administration plans to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year, all of whom will undergo security screenings that typically take 18 to 24 months. 

President Obama has sharply criticized governors and citizens alike for this response to Syrians seeking safety in the U.S., saying it is ‘shameful’ to reject Muslim refugees and noting that Americans “don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”

In the picture above, Imam Suleimaan Hamed, the leader of the Atlanta Masjid of Al Islam mosque, walks through the mosque, in Atlanta. It is an AP photo by Branden Camp. The picture of Governor Jindal is a Getty photo by Joe Raedle. 


Posted in Middle East Politics, Obama, Religious Faith | 6 Comments