I Must Write As Long As Israeli Settlers Burn Palestinian Schools

by James M. Wall

A regular reader wrote recently and asked why I write so often about Palestine and Israel.

It was a good question and after some time for reflection I have an answer for him, inspired by a 1971 Johnny Cash song, “The Man in Black”.

Cash had been asked why he always wore black. He explains that he did so because he identifies with the poor and the hungry, the prisoners, the lonely and the old, and those who are dying in a war in a distant land, at that time, the Vietnam War.

A few years later, after “The Man In Black” became a best-selling album, Cash said:

“With the Vietnam War as painful in my mind as it was in most other Americans’, I wore it ‘in mournin’ for the lives that could have been.’ … Apart from the Vietnam War being over, I don’t see much reason to change my position … The old are still neglected, the poor are still poor, the young are still dying before their time, and we’re not making many moves to make things right. There’s still plenty of darkness to carry off.”

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and our American wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, are today providing “plenty of darkness”. Together, these wars are today’s Vietnam.

I am aware that I cannot sing, or write simple, powerful poetry as Cash has done. But I must write about the darkness that covers our nation as it continues its pursuit of empirical conquest at a tremendous cost at home, under the guise of “fighting terror”. Indeed, “terrorism” is today’s version of the Communism that Nixon and Kissinger used as their excuse for “defending” South Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s.

Johnny Cash originally recorded “The Man in Black”  before a college audience in May, 1971, one year after the Kent State Massacre when, during a student protest against the invasion of Cambodia, Ohio national guardsmen fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.

In May, 1971, Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, were still conducting a secret war, the details of which were only fully revealed on June 30, 1971, when the US Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not prevent the publication of the Pentagon Papers in the New York Times.

The story of how those Papers were finally published in the Times is vividly presented in the 2010 documentary, The Most Dangerous Man in America. The title refers to Daniel Ellsberg, the Harvard professor who courageously risked his freedom to deliver the Pentagon Papers to the Times.

Henry Kissinger, who once taught with Ellsburg at Harvard, bitterly described his former academic colleague as “the most dangerous man in America.”

Ellsberg writes of his experiences in his 2002 book, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.

Along with the vast majority of the American public, Johnny Cash was unaware of the Vietnam war narrative which Nixon and Kissinger tried to keep secret, when he wrote the lyrics for  “The Man in Black”. What he did know was that young Americans and many Vietnamese were dying needlessly.

The lyrics are at the end of this post.

Today, with wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the West Bank Bank and Gaza our military forces, and our surrogate Israeli military forces, are involved in an overall war against what a previous American president misnamed as “the global war on terror”.

This 2010 midterm election have essentially ignored the thousands and hundreds of thousands who are dying in distant lands because of our wars. Instead,  public attention is riveted on the craziness of the Tea Party candidates, some of whom may very well end up in the Congress.

The American public does not know about the Israeli settlers who set fire to a Palestinian girls’ school building near Nablus this past week. Juan Cole, whose Informed Comment blog is a flashing light of warning to the American public, tells the story of the attack on the school:

The phrase “ethnic cleansing” conjures up a swift, comprehensive act of expulsion. But in reality, moving a large population off its land is the death of a thousand cuts, a slow, inexorable process of stealing property, harassment, forcing people into a condition of malnutrition.

The Native Americans in the Americas, the Aborigines in Australia, and the Palestinians in Israel/Palestine were only sometimes forced off their land suddenly and en masse. The gradual processes told, in the long run.

The amazing thing about what is being done to the Palestinians in the Palestinian West Bank by Israeli illegal aliens is that it is happening in full view of the world, reported on by wire services, and yet remains invisible to Western publics.

The world reacts in horror when the Taliban in Afghanistan torch girls’ schools. But Israeli squatters just set fire to the store room of a Palestinian girls’ school, and the whole school would have gone up in flames if that warehouse had not been near a water main. The Israeli illegals left behind graffiti saying ‘regards from the hills.’

Cole also reports that earlier in October,

Israeli squatters set fire to a Palestinian mosque in Bethlehem.

[Also this autumn] there is the seasonal vandalism against olive trees in Palestinian orchards, which reached a fever pitch this year. The Israeli authorities prosecute few of these offenses and almost never hand down a punishment to an Israeli squatter.

The 10 million olive trees in the West Bank and Gaza, occupying some 45 percent of the farmland, are the matrix of Palestinian existence. An attack on olive trees is a form of economic warfare of the first water.

The American public knows far more about the fumbling responses of the Republican candidate for Joe Biden’s old Delaware senate seat, than it does about the needless death of a 2-year-old Gaza child who was prevented by the Israeli army from traveling the short distance outside Gaza for specialized treatment. The Palestinian organization, Physicians for Human Rights, has that story on its website:

Nasma Abu Lasheen died on Saturday, October 16, 2010 in Gaza. Israel failed to issue her an urgent entry permit for life-saving medical treatment at Ha-Emek Medical Center in Afula, Israel. She was two years old.

Abu Lasheen, a young resident of Gaza diagnosed with Leukemia, was referred for emergency treatment in Israel on October 6, 2010. When requests to the Israeli Army for an entry permit went unanswered for several days, by way of B’tselem, the family contacted Physicians for Human Rights- Israel (PHR-Israel) for additional help.

That very same day, on October 13, 2010, PHR-Israel contacted the Gaza District Coordination Office (DCO) demanding a permit be issued immediately to the baby and her father to enable their entry into Israel. A military approval was finally granted the next afternoon, October 14, 2010.

Abu Lasheen’s medical condition had been deteriorating rapidly and by the time the permit was received, the treating doctor in Gaza, Dr. Mohammad Abu Sha’aban, said she was too sick to travel. Nasma died in the early morning hours of October 16, 2010.

Ziad Abbas works for the Middle East Children’s Alliance on a project to bring clean water to the children of Palestine. He grew up in Palestine. He writes in Counter Punch, that his work is especially personal to him because of  his own childhood experiences of growing up deprived of water.

Israel controls and uses 89% of the water resources in the West Bank, leaving 11% for the 2.5 million Palestinians. The Israeli Occupation continues to limit Palestinian access to clean water as form of collective punishment by controlling the water resources and distribution and by destroying the water that we are able to get.

During Israeli military incursions, and especially during curfews, when we could not leave our homes, Israeli soldiers would shoot the water storage tanks on our roofs. Our water would pour down the sides of our buildings unused.

During the recent attack on Gaza, Israel targeted the entire water infrastructure including the largest water purification system in Gaza. They also targeted electrical generators that supported water purification and sewage treatment.

I write about these things because American churches are still hung up on not offending their Jewish neighbors, thus choosing interfaith harmony over justice.

I write about these things because major denominational meetings, like this past summer’s General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, USA, dickered and delayed and finally decided to study further how they might best deal with the “problems” in the Middle East.

Since that Presbyterian GA meeting, two-year-old Abu Lasheen died waiting for permission to travel to an Israeli hospital. Since that meeting, Israeli settlers set fire to a Palestinian girls school, leaving behind graffiti on the wall that said, “regards from the hills”. Something about the insensitive arrogance of that graffiti implies there was not enough room on the wall to add, in Clint Eastwoodian fashion, “we’ll be back.”

I write about the American media’s blindness to the narrative of the suffering in Palestine because Tom Friedman continues to fool his liberal readers by pretending to criticize Israel when his criticism always includes the AIPAC approved list of what he insists are “facts”, but which are either outright lies or distortions of reality.

The most recent example was Friedman’s October 20 column which calls on Israel to help President Obama line up world opposition to Iran by reaching a friendly agreement with Palestinian negotiators.

Friedman opens his column with a set of “stubborn facts” which are really just a repeat of the acceptable Israeli narrative which, of course, he assures his readers are “stubborn facts”.  Only, they are not.

Here is the start of Thomas Friedman’s latest  column, followed by corrections:

Say what you want about Israel’s obstinacy at times, it remains the only country in the United Nations that another U.N. member, Iran, has openly expressed the hope that it be wiped off the map. And that same country, Iran, is trying to build a nuclear weapon.

Israel is the only country I know of in the Middle East that has unilaterally withdrawn from territory conquered in war — in Lebanon and Gaza — only to be greeted with unprovoked rocket attacks in return.

Indeed, if you want to talk about spoiled children, there is no group more spoiled by Iran and Syria than Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia.

Hezbollah started a war against Israel in 2006 that brought death, injury and destruction to thousands of Lebanese — and Hezbollah’s punishment was to be rewarded with thousands more missiles and millions more dollars to do it again. These are stubborn facts.

Friedman’s “stubborn facts” are stubborn, alright. They are falsehoods or distortions he clings to “stubbornly”.

Iran’s President Ahmedinejad never used the phrase, “wipe Israel off the map”. That was an initial mistranslation into English which the media loved and never let go. The media has refused, as Friedman does here, to go back and obtain the original statement by Ahmedinejad in a speech he gave to a Persian audience.

The Iranian president was quoting an ancient statement by Iran’s first Islamist leader, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, when he said that “this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time” just as the Shah’s regime in Iran had vanished.

He was not making a military threat. He was calling for an end to the occupation of Jerusalem at some point in the future. The “page of time” phrase suggests he did not expect it to happen soon. There was no implication that either Khomeini, when he first made the statement, or Ahmadinejad, in repeating it, felt it was imminent, or that Iran would be involved in bringing it about.

Another error: It is true that Israel took its military forces out of Lebanon and Gaza, but it did so because the cost in Israeli lives had become too expensive to maintain the garrisons in those two areas.

The invasions had proved to be a major loss for the vastly superior Israeli forces, a fact Friedman ignores as he praises Israel for its “unilateral withdrawal” from the two countries it had invaded and failed to control.

Friedman writes that “Hezbollah started a war against Israel in 2006 that brought death, injury and destruction to thousands of Lebanese.”

Israel did launch a massive invasion of Lebanon in 2006, but who fired the first shot has been debated. Israeli sources have confirmed that Israel’s invasion plans were already on the drawing board when a border skirmish erupted, giving Israel the excuse it wanted to launch a war that, indeed, “brought death, injury and destruction to thousands of Lebanese.”

Who brought those deaths, injuries and destruction to the Lebanese? Israel, of course.

Careful research would quickly demonstrate to Friedman and every other pro-Israel pundit and politician that Friedman’s “stubborn facts” are either false or distorted.

I will continue to write on Israel and Palestine as long as pundits like Thomas Friedman have access to the pages of the New York Times, and the American public remains ignorant of the actual facts on the ground in Israel and Palestine.

The Man in Black, lyrics by Johnny Cash

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black, Why you never see bright colors on my back,  And why does my appearance always have a somber tone. Well, there’s a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down, Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town, And I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, But still is there because he’s a victim of the times.

I wear the black for those who never read, Or listened to the words that Jesus said, About the road to happiness through love and charity, Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.

Well, we’re doin’ mighty fine, I do suppose, In our streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes, But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back, Up front there ought ‘a be a Man In Black.

I wear it for the sick and lonely old, For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold, I wear the black in mornin’ for the lives that could have been, Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died, Believen’ that the Lord was on their side, And I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died, Believen’ that we all were on their side.

Well, there’s things that never will be right I know, And things need changin’ everywhere you go, But ’til we start to make a move to make a few things right, You’ll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day, To tell the world that everything’s OK, But mabe I can carry off a little darkness on my back,

‘Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black.

The photo at the top of the page is of two Bedouin girls, in school uniform, returning to their houses after a school day in Abu Farda near the West Bank city of Qalqilia on October 6, 2010. MaanImages/Khaleel Reash.

The Youtube above, and the lyrics by Johnny Cash may be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLkmC2VuXA8.

Posted in Media, Middle East Politics | 16 Comments

More Democratic Senators Support Iran Deal

by James M. Wall220px-SenatorGillibrandpic

Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York and leader of the pro-Israel forces in the Senate, announced on August 6, that he would oppose President Obama’s effort to gain Congressional support for the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran.

At the time, Schumer’s move was seen as a major setback for Obama. It did not work out this way. Three weeks later, Schumer has been joined by only one other Democratic senator, Robert Menendez, of New Jersey.

Instead of a rush to join the pro-Israel lobby forces in standing with Israel’s opposition to the deal, the number of Democratic senators who favor the deal is growing.

Kirsten Gillibrand (above), the junior Democratic Senator from New York, came out in favor of the agreement on the same day as Schumer’s announced opposition.

As an indication of how the mood in the Democratic Senate caucus is shifting toward favoring the agreement, Senator Gillibrand was an early supporter of the bill which might be described as the kill the Iranian nuclear pact legislation.

That bill, introduced in January, 2014, was co-authored by Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk and New Jersey’s Senator Menendez.

Senator Gillibrand is now an announced supporter of the Iran nuclear agreement.

This past weekend, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) joined Gillibrand, by promising not only to vote in favor of the agreement, but pledging to do “everything in my power to ensure that it stands.”

He has been joined by Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, Red State Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, of Missouri, and Tuesday, Senator Patty Murray of Washington State, announced her support of the deal.

If Reid and Minority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) can hold their Democratic caucus to fewer than six defections, Republicans will lack the votes to get the disapproval resolution the 60 votes it needs to clear the Senate. That would spare Obama from having to veto it.

In a Wall Writings posting on July 23, 2015, I wrote:

“In an analysis for Forward, Nathan Guttman, wrote: ‘Thirteen U.S. Senators is all President Obama needs to ensure that the nuclear deal with Iran does not get derailed by Congress’.”

wydenThe pro-Israel forces were targeting a specific 13 Democratic Senators as recently as July 24. The targeted 13 included Senator Schumer, now on the record as opposing, Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly, who has since announced his support of the agreement, and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden (left), whose Jewish parents fled Nazi Germany. 

Senator Wyden remains undecided, but Portland House member Earl Blumenauer, a Wyden ally, has announced he would support the Iran deal. Oregon is a liberal state which also may weigh heavily on Wyden.

Gary Peters, junior Democratic Senator from Michigan, also remains undecided. Some reports indicate he is influenced by his Chief of Staff, Eric Feldman, a strong backer of Israel, who came to work for Peters after working for former White House Chief of Staff and Congressman Rahm Emanuel, also a strong pro-Israel politician. 

Emanuel, however, has indicated his support for the Iran accord. He says he would have supported it were he still in Congress. Emanuel is now Mayor of Chicago.

A New York Times analysis suggested Senator Peters could be guided to support the deal, by “Michigan Representative Sander Levin of Michigan, the longest-serving Jewish House member [who has] endorsed the agreement”.

Another Jewish House member, Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler, of New York, has endorsed the deal. As a result, he has received strong “personal attacks on his loyalty to Israel, from the Orthodox community in Borough Park”. 

The Democratic caucus in the House is not strong enough to avoid a negative vote on the deal, but a veteran colleague like Nadler, with his strong Jewish credentials, could encourage freshman Michigan Senator Peters to move from undecided to support the agreement.

Congressman Nadler represents a large segment of New York City. His district includes “the largely liberal Upper West Side through conservative Brooklyn neighborhoods of Midwood and Borough Park [and is] said to be the most Jewish congressional district in the country”.

Nadler is the first Democrat from the New York area to support the agreement.

So far, the Republican Senate caucus remains solidly in opposition to the deal. Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake had been targeted for support of  the agreement, but he has announced he will vote with his Republican caucus against the deal.

Meanwhile, outside the halls of Congress, public support for the agreement is growing.

A full-page ad in the New York Times ran on Thursday, August 20, signed by former Jewish leaders who support the Iran deal. “Out of concern for Israel”, these leaders say, they are supporting the deal.

Mondoweiss described signees of the ad as “Big Jews”, former powerful heads of numerous Jewish Federations, a former head of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, and three former chairs of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The ad begins with a quote from “former Israeli Navy commander and Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon, who said that ‘when it comes to Iran’s nuclear capability, this [deal] is the best option among those actually available to the international community’.”

The Times ad was organized and published by a non-profit organization, No Nukes for Iran Project, a group assumed to be working with a White House team. 

A group of 51 religious leaders issued a statement of support this week. Their statement is signed with their names and religious organizations.  They give their reason for support:

“After decades of hostility, the international community has crafted a nuclear accord to limit Iran’s nuclear program and prevent the United States from moving closer toward another devastating war in the Middle East.”

The religious leaders also assert that the agreement “will dramatically shrink and impose unprecedented constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. In exchange, the international community will begin to lift sanctions on Iran. It also establishes the most robust monitoring and inspection regime ever negotiated to verify Iran’s compliance with the restrictions on its nuclear program.”

Politicians who endorse the agreement do so with statements hedged with everlasting love and praise for Israel.

So far, however, it appears that U.S. public’s repulsion from the bullying tactics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his open participation in our political process, may end up as a part of a growth process in which Americans learn more about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

The deadline for a final vote on the agreement has been set in Congress for September 17. It could be close.  The New York Times suggests:

“The last, most important voice might be that of Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee and a religious Jew with his eye on Israeli opinion.

But Mr. Cardin also tends toward optimism on diplomacy, and many Democrats believe he will come out in favor of the nuclear accord — possibly at the last moment.”

This means the final vote may be so close that the outcome could come down to Senator Cardin, “a religious Jew with his eye on Israeli opinion”. Reinhold Niebuhr, who wrote so eloquently of The Irony of American History, must be enjoying this current chapter.

Posted in Iran, Israel, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Obama | 6 Comments

Two States Never an Option for Netanyahu

by James M. Wall414lpSuTxJL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

Juan Cole reports that President Jimmy Carter was “brutally frank” in a recent interview with England‘s Prospect magazine.

Carter was on a tour for his new book, A Full Life: Reflections at 90, when he told journalist Bronwen Maddox, “all hope for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict has ended. At this moment, there is zero chance of the two-state solution.

Cole wrote in Truthdigthat while most analysts have agreed that the two-state solution is no long viable, Carter went further with an assertion that the solution died when:

“The Netanyahu government decided early on to adopt a one-state solution … but without giving them [the Palestinians] equal rights.”

Cole adds that Carter “accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of having pursued, upon his election in 2009, a deliberate policy of relentlessly annexing and colonizing the Palestinian West Bank, ensuring that it will end up as part of Israel.”

Since 2009, Carter said:

“Netanyahu conspired to ensure that the 4.2 million Palestinians under Israeli occupation remain stateless and without rights.

As Cole sees it, “Carter is simply stating the obvious”. 

The obvious, however, is not the prevailing narrative in “the world of international diplomacy”.

Carter’s “brutally frank” interview violates the conventions of the standard “two sides” political discourse. Carter blames Israel, “the occupying authority, for its illegal actions, rather than [blaming the Palestinians] the helpless, occupied population.”

Far too many secular and religious U.S. leaders have embraced the “two sides” subterfuge by while turning their backs on the harsh occupation reality and ignoring  the truth-telling of moral leaders like Carter.

Fortunately there are exceptions. A growing number of religious leaders have abandoned the conventional “two sides” nonsense and joined the BDS movement launched by Palestinian religious and civic leaders.

One notable religious breakthrough came this summer when the United Methodist Kairos Response, co-chaired by Susanne Hoder and the Rev. Michael Yoshi, sent an open letter to United Methodist laywoman Hillary Rodham Clinton, currently the leading candidate for the presidential nomination of her Democratic Party.

The letter begins:

“As a United Methodist, you know that our church has had a long history of defending oppressed people, both at home and abroad. As our founder, John Wesley, famously said, ‘The World is my parish’, and we consider that to be true today.”

In this letter, the UMKR asks Clinton to “acknowledge the moral nature of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS] movement to end the human rights abuses taking place against the Palestinian people by the government of Israel”.

This is not “tea and cookies”, or “can’t we all just get along” talk. Rather, these United Methodists call on Hillary Rodham Clinton to reverse her earlier anti-BDS position expressed in her letter to Haim Saban, the Israeli-American entertainment mogul who has been a longtime major Clinton donor.

Clinton’s letter says BDS “seeks to punish Israel and dictate how the Israelis and Palestinians should resolve the core issues of their conflict. This is not the path to peace.”

“I know you agree that we need to make countering BDS a priority,” Clinton wrote. Then she adds,  “I am seeking your advice on how we can work together – across party lines and with a diverse array of voices – to reverse this trend with information and advocacy, and fight back against further attempts to isolate and delegitimize Israel.

Art of occupied PalestineThe mind boggles to think of the mean ole BDS “punishing” poor little nuclear-armed Israel with a non-violent tactic that was effective against apartheid South Africa. 

Clinton has been around this track before. She knows better than to write that BDS is “punishing” Israel. BDS does not punish; it shames. 

Palestinians also use shame against the occupation with art as a major weapon. The example above is one of many available on the Facebook page, The Art of Occupied Palestine.

Clinton’s fawning letter to Saban closes with her hand-written note — “look forward to working with you on this.”

Think about it, the woman who could be this nation’s next president, has promised to work with Israeli-American Haim Saban to further subdue an occupied population.

Enough with the fawning. Clinton must listen to her fellow American United Methodists who have “implored” her to reconsider her opposition to BDS.

As a senator, Clinton was wrong when she supported the 2003 Bush invasion of Iraq. She is wrong again on BDS.

Posted in Hillary Clinton, Israel, Jimmy Carter, Netanyahu, Palestinians, United Methodist Church | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Jimmy Carter Has Cancer

LAT Sara Saundersby James M. Wall

The news came from NPR: A loved one has cancer.

Former President Jimmy Carter made the announcement from the Carter Center in Atlanta.

He did not mince words. He has cancer and it has spread.

His announcement was candid and truthful.

The cancer, which was first identified in his liver, has “spread to other parts of his body”. He expects to hang around for a while; his travel schedule is only cut back, not canceled. How long will a “while” last? We will just have to wait and see.

In Georgia where I grew up, a “loved one” is a family member, or someone who has joined the family circle.

Jimmy Carter, this nation’s 39th  president, is an adopted “loved one” in our family. He is also a fellow Georgian.

It was my great blessing and privilege to work for him through his two campaigns for the White House. Since he and Rosalynn left the White House, we have stayed “in touch”.

After learning of the cancer, I wrote immediately to inform him it is too early for him to leave the battlefield. And, God willing, he won’t leave anytime soon.

I have been reading stories of his cancer announcement. I have also perused the reviews and interviews from his most recent book tour.  

One interview in the Los Angeles Times, was especially well done. Written by the Times‘ Carolyn Kellogg, it was on target, with this headline: “In ‘A Full Life,’ Jimmy Carter at 90 remains a wise truth teller”.

Carter’s book demonstrates his consistent “truth telling”.  It is entitled, A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety.  

Kellogg’s interview lifts up the truth-telling characteristic of Carter’s that is at the center of his life as a man and as a world leader. She writes:

“One challenge of Carter’s presidency was that he spoke the truth, even though during his years in the White House (1976-80), the truth was often bad news. He faced an energy crisis, a capsizing economy, opposition from Congress, and the revolution in Iran than led to American hostages being held captive 444 days.”

Kellogg concludes her interview:

 “In A Full Life, Carter puts the long arc of his story together the way he sees it. The book includes his accomplishments as a negotiator and peacemaker in the humblest way — as a man who was at work on a larger project, something he continues to be. A primer for the generations who don’t know his work and a personal retelling for those who do,  A Full Life may herald the reappraisal he deserves.”

In the months and years ahead, as the nation and the world reflect on Carter’s life, “the reappraisal he deserves” should dominate the reflection.

When you travel with a candidate, as I did with Jimmy Carter through two campaigns in Illinois, where I served as his state chair, you come to know him. How well you know him will depend on his openness, his candor and his patience.

From my experience, I can testify that he has an abundance of all three. 

Thinking back on our first Illinois campaign together in 1976, one incident stands out. It is not an important incident. But it taught me all I needed to know about this nation’s next president.

Carter was a former governor of Georgia when he launched his 1976 Illinois campaign. I had arranged a campaign stop in the south side of Chicago where the Reverend Jesse Jackson was a dominant political figure. 

I had made the very major political mistake of taking Carter to an African-American church without clearing the location with Jackson. A leading political figure in Jackson’s circle, a strong woman with a forceful manner, called me several days before the stop. 

She was adamant.  “You cannot go to that church without my approval” was the gist of her message to me. I told her it was too late to make a travel change. I remember her words vividly, and they taught me a political lesson: “You can’t come into our house without first coming through the kitchen”.

I apologized for my ineptness. She remained adamant.  

I spoke to Governor Carter. “Call Andy”, was his response, referring to African-American civil activist and political leader, the Rev. Andrew Young, in Atlanta, Carter’s home base.

Carter already knew Chicago politics better than his state chairman.  Young was later a Carter appointee to the United Nations, a congressman and a future mayor of Atlanta.

Andy mollified the strong personalities involved. We stuck to our original plan. 

The night Carter spoke at the church, one of our staff members talked to the crowd as it assembled, a crowd not as large as Jesse Jackson would have produced, but adequate.

I was holding Governor Carter “backstage” until he was introduced. Chicago Sun Times political writer Basil Talbott cornered Carter with a question about our choice of that particular church.

Basil also had another political question about the Illinois campaign, which was just in its early stages.

Carter said nothing. He merely nodded to me to handle the mess I had gotten him into. I said not a word about the “kitchen” I had failed to enter earlier.  I mumbled a few words about campaign plans unfolding.

Carter smiled, and then went out and wowed the crowd.

Incidents like that one either destroy a relationship or solidify it.  I remain thankful to this day for Jesse Jackson, and for his lady advocate. I also remain thankful for Andy Young, Basil Talbott, and above all, for Jimmy Carter, for helping me survive a major stumble.

We survived because Carter knew when to ride behind error-prone associates, and when to stand alone, if needed, to speak the truth when the truth was largely hidden.

Carter’s courageous truthfulness is interwoven with his stubbornness and his determination to see a larger picture as it unfolds. When he sees the truth, he follows it, regardless of the consequences.

We all saw that later in his achievements against heavy opposition during his White House years, and throughout the remarkable career he has had as a truth-teller and problem-solver in troubled regions of the world.

51+RXdWiHNL._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_It was Carter’s truth-telling in his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, which forced the Israel-Palestine issue into the light of the world’s attention.

Without that book, which cost him dearly in the circles of power in the nation he led for four years, the truth of Palestinian occupation might still be struggling to gain a hearing in the court of world opinion.  

I am grateful for the opportunity I had to play a small part in getting Carter safely through the Illinois political shoals. So many others took him the rest of the way to the White House. 

Carter’s struggle is not over, which it is why it is far too early for Jimmy Carter to leave this earthly battlefield. The pending freedom of both Israelis and Palestinians from the bondage of conflict, owes a great deal to this man. 

There is work yet to be done, sir.

The picture of Carter is from the Los Angeles Times. It is by Sara Saunders.

Posted in Cancer, Jimmy Carter | 9 Comments

House Members In Israel for Obama-Bashing

by James M. Walldefense-large

On Wednesday, August 5, President Obama spoke for an hour at American University, the  site of the 1963 speech by President John Kennedy, when Kennedy outlined his vision for peace with the Soviet Union during the early age of nuclear threats. 

While President Barack Obama was speaking about the people’s business, and his Kennedy-like preference for diplomacy over war, freshman members of the U.S. House of Representatives were either 5,000 plus miles away in Israel, or preparing to go there to be feted and educated by a foreign power which opposes the nuclear agreement the U.S. has reached with Iran and major European powers.

A U.S. delegation of Democratic freshman Congress members had been in Israel for two days when Obama spoke.  Their freshman Republican colleagues will join them in Israel August 8.

In his American University speech, President Obama was blunt and insistent. This is how Obama’s speech was reported by ABC News:

“President Barack Obama assailed critics of his Iran nuclear deal Wednesday as “selling a fantasy” to the American people, warning Congress that blocking the accord would damage the nation’s credibility and increase the likelihood of more war in the Middle East.

Besides challenging opponents at home, Obama cast Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an isolated international opponent of the historic accord, saying, “I do not doubt his sincerity, but I believe he is wrong.”

The President explained what was in the agreement:

“The agreement would require Iran to dismantle most of its nuclear program for at least a decade in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions. But Netanyahu and some critics in the U.S. argue that it would not stop Iran from building a bomb.

The president’s blunt remarks, in an hour-long address at American University, were part of an intense lobbying campaign by the White House ahead of Congress’ vote next month to either approve or disapprove the international agreement. . . .

The stakes are high, Obama said, contending that it isn’t just Iran’s ability to build a bomb that is on the line but also “America’s credibility as the anchor of the international system’.”

Those Democratic freshman Congress members who may or may not have heard the Obama speech, are traveling in Israel (all expenses paid) courtesy of an educational nonprofit “affiliated with” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the American Israel Education Foundation, AIPAC’s charitable arm.

What “affiliated with” means is that AIPAC runs the trip while its “education foundation” pays the bills.

The two congressional trips — this year with 22 Democrats, and 36 Republicans — are a fixture in Washington, an AIPAC travel-educational reward for recently elected House members every two years.

imrs.phpThe Washington Post reports that shepherding the new members on this trip are House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), right, whose Democratic trip began August 3, and  Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) left, who will shepherd his party’s members on their trip, which begins August 8.

“Hoyer and McCarthy’s offices declined to share the names of the lawmakers traveling on the trip, as did AIPAC. 

But PowerPost confirmed the trip includes a number of House Democrats that many lobbyists consider critical votes on the deal, including Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Mark Takai (D-Hawaii), Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), Gwen Graham (D-Fla.), and Hoyer himself.” 

These Democrats should be watched as the September 17 deadline approaches

This year’s trip comes during the 60-day study period when new members will be confirmed in their decision on whether to support their President on a crucial foreign policy issue, or else support a foreign leader, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Republican House members are expected to say no to the agreement. After President Obama’s expected veto of the House bill, the GOP will have to deliver sufficient votes to override that veto.

The Hill reports that Israel is especially eager to meet (solidify relations?) with three freshman members, Reps. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) and Mimi Walters (R-Calif.).

McSally, a retired Air Force colonel and the first U.S. female combat pilot, told The Hill, “I’ve had six deployments to the Middle East and Afghanistan in my time in uniform, and I’ve been over to Israel as a tourist.”

She added that this is a critical time to be going “to hear from our close ally.” McSally is on record as opposing the deal. So why does she need to “hear from our close ally” if her mind is already made up?

We can only hope that the retired colonel found time to hear her Commander-in-Chief’s speech Wednesday as she prepared to head for Tel Aviv to hear from “our close ally”.

The New Yorker’s Robin Wright writes that Obama “framed the deal as the latest step in a half century of American policy to avert nuclear confrontation, invoking Kennedy’s diplomacy during the Cuban missile crisis and the arms negotiations with the Soviet Union launched by Ronald Reagan.”

“Under both Democratic and Republican Presidents, he said, the historic Non-Proliferation Treaty and the SALT and START treaties introduced arms control. . . .

Obama mentioned that he had been forced to make a lot of tough calls as President. “But whether or not this deal is good for American security is not one of those calls,” he said. “It’s not even close.”

The Republican-introduced resolution of disapproval of the agreement with Iran will be voted on no later than September 17th.

Obama called this congressional vote “the most important since its vote on the 2003 invasion of Iraq”.

Without naming George W. Bush, the President contrasted his own use of diplomacy with Bush’s rush to war, noting that the Iraq adventure cost nearly a trillion dollars, took thousands of American lives, and left Iraq ripped apart by sectarian violence.

Obama condemned the “knee-jerk partisanship” in Washington, which “renders every decision made to be a disaster, a surrender. ‘You’re aiding terrorists! You’re damaging freedom!’ ” He also went after lobbyists and pundits who had suddenly become “arm-chair nuclear scientists.”

California Republican Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, introduced language for the resolution of disapproval Tuesday.

“The agreement gives Iran permanent sanctions relief, but in exchange only temporarily restrains Iran’s nuclear program,” Royce said. “If this agreement goes through, Iran gets a cash bonanza, a boost to its international standing, and a lighted path toward nuclear weapons.” The United States will be less able to challenge Iran “across the board,” he said. “As Iran grows stronger, we will be weaker to respond.”

Among American Jews, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is lobbying hard against the agreement. The more liberal JStreet has supported it.

Democratic Jewish members of the House are especially important to the White House as it works to obtain a needed vote total to sustain an Obama veto.

Robin Wright reports on a setback for the White House, in which , “three Jewish Democrats—Representatives Nita Lowey and Steve Israel, of New York, and Ted Deutch, of Florida—announced Tuesday that they will vote against the deal.

“Lowey is the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. Deutch is the senior Democrat on the House Middle East subcommittee.”

The only international opposition to the agreement is, of course, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, usually touted as “America’s closest ally in the Middle East”.

In a Webcast address to American Jewish organizations (and anyone else who turned in), on Tuesday, Netanyahu made his case that the deal “would give Iran two paths to a bomb: either by keeping to the terms of the deal over its limited time period—after which it will be a “threshold nuclear-weapons power”—or by violating it outright.”

Playing his usual fear card, Netanyahu told his American Webcast audience, as he will no doubt tell his two congressional delegations who are, or will be, in Israel for their educational tour:

“As a result of this deal, there will be more terrorism, there will be more attacks, and more people will die,” Netanyahu warned.

To counter this fear campaign by Netanyahu, Robin Wright adds that in his speech:

“Obama ticked through the main arguments against the deal. To cheat, Iran would have to build a massive covert operation and many covert facilities. “No nation in history has been able to pull off such subterfuge when subjected to such rigorous inspections,” he said.

The prohibition against making a bomb is permanent—not limited to any of the ten-to-twenty-five-year time frames for various aspects of a program. U.N. inspectors will be allowed daily access to nuclear sites, as well as the right to look at suspicious undeclared sites. “This access can be with as little as twenty-four hours’ notice,” Obama said. “And while the process for resolving a dispute about access can take up to twenty-four days, once we’ve identified a site that raises suspicion, we will be watching it continuously until inspectors get in.”

He argued that proposals to walk away from the deal and either maintain sanctions or try to get better terms were ‘selling a fantasy’.”

Obama again “invoked Kennedy” when he appealed to Americans to contact their representatives in Congress during the final weeks of debate. Also in his speech, Obama said:

The world avoided nuclear catastrophe, and we created the time and the space to win the Cold War without firing a shot at the Soviets,” he said. The deal with Iran, reached after twenty months of negotiations, “builds on this tradition of strong, principled policy diplomacy.”

Should Congress prevail in undermining “this strong, principled policy diplomacy”, we would have reached a shameful moment in U.S. foreign policy.

Looking back on these days prior to the final September 17 vote in Congress, we will have to remember two traveling congressional delegations who by their trips to Israel, will have contributed mightily  to that shame.

Leaders of the two congressional delegations did not release the names of the members on the trip. The web site Mondoweiss, however, posted this picture of 20 of the traveling Democrats.

Dems

The Washington Post concluded that “Democrats are expected to be the swing votes in the pact because most Republicans already oppose the agreement.”

“Congress can vote to reject the nuclear agreement, but it would take a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to override a presidential veto of any attempt to derail the deal.” 

Whatever the outcome of the final vote on the Iran nuclear agreement, history will record that three freshman Democrats chose not to travel with the delegation to listen to Obama-bashing on foreign soil.

They chose diplomacy over “a fantasy”, as President Obama put it this week.

Their names: Representatives Don Beyer (D-Virginia), Debbie Dingel (D-Michigan) and Norma Torres (D-California). Remember them well. 

The picture of Congressional leaders House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), was by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images). The picture of President Obama is from Defense One.

Posted in Iran, Israel, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Obama, Palestinians | 7 Comments

Iran Political Fulmination Versus Diplomatic Deal

by James M. Wall1809923496

Blessings upon New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof for pointing out that “fulmination” is the right word to describe opposition to the diplomatic deal President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have just reached with Iran and the P5+1 major world powers. 

Fulmination is exactly the term to describe the political and pundit “arguments” now being used against the agreement.

That’s right, fulmination, as in “to issue a thunderous verbal attack or denunciation”.

Or, if your thinking runs more to the ecclesiastical, fulmination is the best way to describe “a sermon that was one long fulmination”.

In an internet introduction to his Times column on his support for the deal, Kristof testified with the quiet dignity of a man who comes to the altar after sitting through “one long fulmination” which he finds totally unconvincing.

“I’ve covered Iran and North Korea for years, and have been to each country a number of times. One of the things I’ve seen is that American politicians want to practice fulmination rather than diplomacy, but fulmination doesn’t block a nuclear program.”

In his column, on line and in print, Thursday, July 30, Kristof wrote:

“The U.S. didn’t get all it wanted (and neither did Iran) in an imperfect compromise. True, we didn’t achieve anywhere, anytime inspections, yet the required inspections program is still among the most intrusive ever.

Remember too that this deal isn’t just about centrifuges but also about the possibility that Iran will come out of the cold and emerge from its failed 36-year experiment with extremism”.

The cool, rational language with which Kristof explains “why I think the deal makes us safer”, contrasts with the bombastic, irresponsible language employed by politicians and pundits who prefer to fulminate to the voting masses, in language eagerly broadcast by media outlets.

Fulmination is mindless language shouted against the mindful expressions of a thoughtful analyst like Nicholas Kristof.

During the 60 day period Congress has to consider the deal, polls offering to describe public opinion on the deal John Kerry reached with representatives of Iran and the P5+1 major nations should be read with several tons of salt.

The P5+1 offers a strong array of international powers. The term P5+1 refers to the UN Security Council’s five permanent members (the P5); namely China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States; plus Germany.

One conservative poll operation fed the fulmination fervor with a misleading question that skewed its findings against the deal.

“A poll by Secure America Now in coordination with Caddell Associates and McLaughlin & Associates suggests that 54 percent of voters agree with opponents of the Iran nuclear deal, based on a misleading question that falsely likens the deal to ‘the one North Korea violated to build nuclear weapons'”.

Yes, that is the same Pat Caddell who was George McGovern’s pollster in McGovern’s 1972 failed try for the presidency. Sad to say, from one who worked with Caddell on that campaign, the Pat Caddell of today appears to me to be as politically far right as he was politically far left in that 1972 campaign.

Viewers and readers should question polls, whether reported by CNN or Fox or MSNBC with the same vigor the old Chicago News Bureau once counseled, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out”.

Public displays of support or opposition to the Iran deal are more reliable.

Witness, for example the picture above from Thursday’s New York Times, capturing the moment when Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who has served Illinois’ 9th district since 1999, hugs a young Code Pink demonstrator in Chicago, in an expression of common agreement supporting the the deal.

Schakowsky is Jewish;  her district has a heavy Jewish constituency. She is recognized as one of Israel’s strongest supporters in the Congress. She did, however, signal her caution in giving Israel the doubt in every issue, when she chose not to attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s anti-Iran deal speech to Congress in March.

In a press release this week, Schakowsky points to a poll from Public Policy Polling which reaches a different conclusion from the Caddell poll.  

The PPP poll finds that “there’s strong support nationally for the Iran deal, that voters want their members of Congress to let it move forward, and that there’s no potential political backlash for members who do support the deal”.

Schakowsky stands with her Democratic Minority House leader, Nancy Pelosi, who has represented California’s 12th congressional district for 27 years.

 The Hill reported Thursday:The Hill Getty

House Democrats will provide the necessary support to finalize President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) predicted Thursday.

Asked if the Democrats could sustain a promised veto of the Republicans’ expected disapproval measure, Pelosi didn’t hesitate.

“Yes,” she replied.

Pressed about the reason she’s so confident, she said: “Because of the nature of the agreement.”

She added that the agreement is a “diplomatic masterpiece”.

Prominent figures in the world of entertainment and world politics have joined the battle between fulmination and diplomacy. In a video released by Global Zero, they make the case that diplomacy is the only answer to the present crisis.

Included in the video are Jack Black, Morgan Freeman, Natasha Lyonne, Farshad Farahat, Valerie Plame, Queen Noor of Jordan, and former U.S. Amb. Thomas Pickering.

For those who do not respond well to fulmination, the testimonies above, beginning with the New York Times‘ Nicholas Kristof, make a strong case for diplomacy.  

The picture at top is from the New York Times. It is by Reuters.. The picture of Nancy Pelosi is from The Hill.  It is a Getty photo.

Posted in Iran, Israel, John Kerry, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu | 4 Comments

Thirteen Senators Who Could Make History

by James M. Wallimages

Most U.S. media attention is focused this summer on Donald Trump and the latest outbreak of domestic violence in movie theaters. But look carefully at the internet and you will find Roland Nikles reporting for Mondoweiss on a story of far-ranging significance.

He finds Peter Beinart in Ha’aretz explaining the pending congressional vote on the Obama-Kerry negotiated Iranian nuclear deal:

“Israel and the United States (and the other members of the P5+1) have conflicting interests at stake when it comes to the Iran deal. Meanwhile, many in Congress are behaving like they represent Benjamin Netanyahu instead of the American people.

The P5+1 have negotiated with Iran in order to take an Iranian nuclear bomb off the table indefinitely, and to prevent a nuclear arms race in the region.

Israel and the Saudis have a different interest. For Israel and the Saudis, the primary goal has been to keep sanctions in place indefinitely in order to cripple Iran as a regional competitor.”

In an analysis for Forward, Nathan Guttman, writes: “Thirteen U.S. Senators is all President Obama needs to ensure that the nuclear deal with Iran does not get derailed by Congress”.

Do the math:

There are currently 54 Republican senators, all of whom are expected to oppose the deal.  The Republicans will need only 13 Democrats to cross party lines and vote against the deal to reach the 67 votes required for an override.

To prevent that veto override, President Obama needs 34 Democratic senators to support him; otherwise the  deal collapses. 

Among the 34 undecided Democratic senators (including two Independents) Obama needs to sustain the deal, the Republican majority needs to pick off thirteen Democrats to vote against the diplomatic option.  If they successfully add thirteen more Democrats to their side, the deal is dead.

Nathan Guttman gives the details:

With Republicans controlling both the House and the Senate, Congress is likely to reject the Iran deal. Not one Republican has expressed support for the deal. But that is only the first round. Obama has already made clear his intention to veto any legislation rejecting the Iran deal.

If that happens, Republican leaders will have to come up with a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override Obama’s veto. Most analysts focus on the Senate, where Republicans are expected to have a tougher time getting this super-majority.

There are currently 54 GOP senators, so Republicans will need 13 Democrats to cross party lines and vote against the deal to reach the 67 votes required for an override.

Political analysts have identified between 14 and 28 Democratic senators in the undecided column.

These include security hawks such as Virginia’s Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, or Michigan’s Gary Peters, as well as others who have been skeptical about Iran’s intentions from the get-go, and several senators with significant Jewish constituencies, including Florida’s Ben Nelson, Cory Booker of New Jersey and New York’s Chuck Schumer (pictured above), who is currently viewed as the biggest prize on the Senate floor.”

Guttman acknowledges that the security hawks in the Democratic caucus, all of whom have strong emotional ties to Israel, are dead set against the deal, falling in line behind Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Hill’s “whip list” identifies five yes votes for diplomacy (including Independent Senator Bernie Sanders); 13 leaning yes votes (including Senator Elizabeth Warren); and 28 Democrats who say they are undecided. 

The Republicans need 13 of those 28 undecided Democrats to cross over and vote against the deal. 

“Advocates believe that Schumer’s decision, thanks to his senior position in the Democratic Party (he is slated to take over as majority leader next year) and to his standing in the Jewish community, could play a significant role in influencing other undecided Democrats.”

Undecided senators, including Schumer, will be watched carefully in the weeks leading to the final vote on the deal. Among the undecided Democratic senators, 13 could scuttle the Iran deal by crossing party lines.

Below are the thirteen U.S. Democratic senators identified by Forward as undecided on how they will vote on the Iran diplomatic deal. Some of the thirteen have not commented on the deal, others are studying it. 

The Democratic undecided senators below are identified by state. The Forward offers their current position on the vote. All are needed to sustain Obama. Voters in their states still have time to communicate to Senate offices locally or in Washington. 

The graphic of the thirteen senators is from the Forward http://forward.com/news/national/317812/iran-deals-undecideds/

Posted in Iran, Israel, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Obama, Palestinians | 6 Comments

Isaiah 21:6: “Go Set a Watchman”

by James M. Wallbook cover

Harper “Nelle” Lee, now 89, has published a second book. Her first, To Kill a Mockingbird, is considered a classic of American literature.

Her second, Go Set a Watchman, arrives this week as a timely gift. It reaches readers as our first African American president continues in the final two years of his presidency.

The new book draws its title from Isaiah 21:6, the King James version, of course, for this is a writer from southern Alabama who grew up in a Methodist church, where King James is sacred.

“For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” 

In the early weeks of his presidency, Barack Obama tried to heed Isaiah’s biblically-rendered counsel. 

President Obama appointed Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr., to an important office. A veteran diplomat, fluent in Arabic, and deeply sensitive to the politics of the Middle East, Freeman was ready to report to this new president “what he seeth”.

So powerful is the Zionist grip on the Congress, and so all encompassing is the octopus-like tentacles grip the Jewish lobby maintains on American cultural elites, Freeman was doomed from the outset. He withdrew his name as a possible appointee.chas_freeman4

Freeman (right) ran into the third rail of American politics. He had accumulated enemies in governing circles, enemies who were in place to keep a new president close to the Zionist line and ever protective of the modern state of Israel.

Freeman had his supporters, of course.

Jim Lobe described the news of Freeman’s pending appointment as “stunning”. He explained why on his blog at the time:

There are very few former senior diplomats as experienced and geographically well-rounded, knowledgeable, entertaining (in a mordant sort of way), accessible (until now at least), and verbally artful as Freeman.

He can speak with equal authority about the politics of the royal family in Saudi Arabia (where he was ambassador), the Chinese Communist Party — he served as Nixon’s primary interpreter during the ground-breaking 1972 visit and later deputy chief of mission of the Beijing embassy, and the prospects for and geo-strategic implications of fossil-fuel production and consumption over the next decade or so.

Freeman is still needed at the White House. Meanwhile, he continues to lecture and publish essays that reach a wider audience than that of the lecture hall. He continues to function as the watchman. He tells the nation what he “seeth”.

He most recently spoke in Sarasota, Florida. His lecture has been posted online.

The lecture begins as a watchman’s report should begin:

I want to speak with you today about the Middle East. This is the region where Africa, Asia, and Europe come together. It is also the part of the world where we have been most compellingly reminded that some struggles cannot be won, but there are no struggles that cannot be lost.

It is often said that human beings learn little useful from success but can learn a great deal from defeat. If so, the Middle East now offers a remarkably rich menu of foreign-policy failures for Americans to study.

Further along, Freeman delivers this powerful description of Israel’s current role in the Middle East:

Israel has come to enjoy military supremacy but it remains excluded from most participation in its region’s political, economic, and cultural life.

In the 67 years since the Jewish state was proclaimed, Israel has not made a single friend in the Middle East, where it continues to be regarded as an illegitimate legacy of Western imperialism engaged in racist removal of the indigenous population.

International support for Israel is down to the United States and a few of the former colonial powers that originally imposed the Zionist project on the Arabs under Sykes-Picot and the related Balfour Declaration. The two-state solution has expired as a physical or political possibility. There is no longer any peace process to distract global attention from Israel’s maltreatment of its captive Arab populations.

There is more, much more, from this watchman. For the complete lecture click here.

Israel, Freeman reminds us, is “an illegitimate legacy of Western imperialism engaged in racist removal of the indigenous population”.

Harper Lee’s Watchman is the work of an author who knows she is struggling with the agony of racism in the hometown she loves, Monroeville, Alabama, which she calls Maycomb in her novels. 

Reading chapter one, conveniently available on line, there is no doubt that this new book is in the familiar voice of Harper Lee, a writer deeply rooted in, and increasingly critical of, the cultural patterns of her native Monroeville, Alabama.

Mockingbird‘s continued popularity since its arrival in 1960, has been driven by English Peck and Harperliterature teachers and the immediate success of the 1962 film of the same name, featuring Gregory Peck as Scout’s father, Atticus Finch, a self-educated attorney very much a man of his time.

Atticus is no bigot; he was a segregationist. A bigot is someone whose life is devoted to hatred of another race. That is not Atticus.

As the Guardian notes in writing about critical reviewers::

Presumably these reviewers are relying on their memories of the film of Mockingbird instead of the actual book, given that Scout and Jem frequently use the N-word in the novel – as poor white children in Alabama in the 1930s, when the book was set, most certainly would have done.

Both Watchman and Mockingbird were written in the 1950s. Judging the racial attitudes in these books by today’s standards is as ridiculous as expecting a character, let alone an author, to behave exactly as you would like.

As the grown-up Scout had come to realize, however, by the time she wrote Mockingbird, her beloved home town, driven by public ignorance and deeply-embedded prejudice, was strongly resisting the closing of the racial divide.

Small town lawyers like Atticus Finch were unable to adjust to change. The times that were ‘achanging, had passed him by.

The time in which the original To Kill a Mockingbird is set, the early 1930s, was a time when the dominant white community members treated blacks with a conflicted, and inevitable unsustainable, mixture of condescending kindness and corrosive cruelty.

It was a mixture derived from a smug position of ignorant white supremacy. It is also, a mixture once again revived in the politics of the 21st century with new players, Tea Party extremists and  Zionist Christians, employing ugly racism to shape American politics.

It is into this mixture, that Lee has delivered her valuable gift.

The editor who worked with Lee persuaded the first-time author to lift an important segment from her longer work and tell the shorter story of incidents from Scout’s earlier childhood.

The editor was right, of course, To Kill a Mockingbird, is too delicate to insert into a larger portrait of the fictionalized life of Harper Lee. It would gain a wider reception by standing  on its own.

Harper Lee’s first novel possessed a wisdom and a sensitivity that captivated readers. If critical tradition prevails, her “second” novel will draw superficial, patronizing reviews from writers who fail to follow Atticus Finch’s advice to understand others by walking in their shoes.

Chapter one, conveniently available on line, begins with this opening line: 

“Since Atlanta, she had looked out the dining-car window with a delight almost physical.”

From this beginning, the reader knows Harper Lee is back, traveling by train from Atlanta to Monroeville.

Paired with Ambassador Chas W. Freeman’s Sarasota, Florida, lecture, Harper Lee’s second novel offers a strong reminder that racism is alive and well in the American political soul.

This pairing also reminds us that watchmen like Freeman and writers, like Harper Lee, continue to tell those willing to listen, that racism is a danger to us all. 

The picture of a younger Harper Lee with Gregory Peck is from The Guardian

Posted in Israel, Media, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Movies | 3 Comments

Bishops: Divestment Not in our “Best Interests”

by James M. Wall36-Gaza-Child-Shareef-SarhanCAFOD-v2

The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops on Thursday condemned the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) strategy. 

The bishops spoke the language of the market place. They made no effort to theologically justify their condemnation.

Instead, they were pragmatic, not prophetic. Why? Because they have invested in institutions.

Matthew Davies, reporting for the Episcopal News Service (ENS), issued the official word from the Bishops in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the Episcopal Convention is currently in session.

Davies reported that the bishops sent “a strong and clear message that divestment from companies and corporations engaged in certain business related to the State of Israel is not in the best interests of The Episcopal Church, its partners in the Holy Land, interreligious relations, and the lives of Palestinians on the ground.”

That chilling passage is painful in its honesty. To the bishops, property and institutional structures, and the ability to operate Christian services within those structures, determine “the best interests of the Episcopal Church”.

Notice their pragmatic shopping list: Partners in the Holy Land, interreligious relations back home, and the lives of Palestinians “on the ground”. 

The Episcopal Church has invested itself in an area in which it provides religious care, both spiritual and physical, to the local residents. Experience has shown church leaders throughout history that it is not in their “best interests” to go against the controlling power. 

Some religious leaders have refused to accept that compliance. Others have compromised to keep their institutions as effective as possible.

Those in power know how to manipulate the powerless.

You want to enlarge or at least maintain your services, both spiritual and physical? You will need the permission of the ruling occupying power, in this case, an occupying military power, that governs your every institutional need.

The Episcopal lay and clerical delegates meeting in Salt Lake City this week, know this all too well.

In another corner of the Christian institutional world, the third denomination meeting this week voted to punt.

The New York Times reported Friday morning:

Delegates to the Mennonite Church U.S.A.’s convention in Kansas City, Mo., decided to postpone a vote on a similar resolution until its next convention in 2017.

Sponsors of the resolution said it had become clear during a debate on Wednesday that a number of delegates had questions about the resolution’s scope and intent.

“I think people were speaking out of a variety of fears,” Tom Harder, a pastor from Wichita, Kan., who had helped draft the resolution, said in a telephone interview.

“I think there are folks in the denominations who continue to believe that we need to support Israel at all costs, and so a resolution that is advocating for the Palestinian people specifically and the injustices they are facing — that is a vote against Israel and against the Jewish people,” Mr. Harder said.

He said supporters of the resolution would work over the next two years to amend it in ways “that address some of the concerns that we heard.”

The “concerns that we heard”?

The 95,000 member Mennonite Church has a long history of involvement in the region. Their leaders need to “study the situation” more?  

They will study for two years and meet again in 2017.

Those Palestinian mothers, fathers and children. who do not die from Israel’s constant military assaults, or who fail to survive the occupation’s economic stranglehold, will be two years older in 2017.

It is this reality the BDS strategy seeks to expose in order to end the evil of an occupation which Mennonite and Episcopal leaders still need to study.

The fact remains: Israel occupies Palestine. In this half-century established evil act, the occupiers have converted and/or bought allies who endorse their rationale for evil because it is to their pragmatic interests to do so.

These allies are in the halls of Congress, in the local pews and governing structures of religious institutions.

These allies include Jewish-American financial tycoons like Sheldon Adelson (below), who purchase Israel supporters in the Congress and the White House with dollars and media pressure.Bloomberg China 2012

These allies are currently in the majority of the Episcopal House of Bishops and in the leadership structure of the Mennonite Church.

Rarely has such a pragmatic rationale been so openly acknowledged as it was this week when the Episcopal House of Bishops essentially acknowledged that their prophetic voices are silenced by their investment in institutions they require to service the needs of their people.

This admission followed by two days an entirely different response from delegates to the United Church of Christ General Synod, meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, who accepted divestment from businesses profiting from occupation, as a peaceful, but clearly effective, strategy, to use against the repressive conduct of the state of Israel.

For their prophetic stand, the United Church of Christ has been condemned by Jewish organizations in the U.S., whose path to interfaith cooperation demands capitulation to the Israeli narrative.

How did the Episcopalian ruling body bring their church to this sad moment in the life of their particular home of U.S. Christians. They did it with legislative maneuvers and defensive language clothed in religious piety.

The official Episcopal News Service announcement explained:

“The bishops rejected Substitute Resolution D016, which would have called on the Executive Council’s Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to develop a list of U.S. and foreign corporations that provide goods and services that support the infrastructure of Israel’s Occupation “to monitor its investments and apply its CSR policy to any possible future investments” in such companies”

That D016 Substitute Resolution was the legislative compromise the Episcopal convention had developed in an effort to get sufficient votes to pass the best prophetic stand it could find. 

This obviously watered-down compromise was a last minute effort to support “divestment” without naming it. No one seeking the sanction of the Israeli government wa buying it.

The ENS reported further:

“Although the resolution didn’t use the word “divestment,” some bishops expressed concern that it was heading in that direction”.

Outsiders, with no responsibility on the ground where institutions are forced to work under a military dictatorship, are asked to understand what locals must endure.

For Episcopalians, Archbishop Suheil Dawani is their leader in the line of fire.

“Others reminded the house that Archbishop Suheil Dawani of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem has urged the Episcopal Church not to adopt a policy that would make it more difficult for him to manage his congregations and the more than 30 social service institutions throughout Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Territories. Those institutions include schools, hospitals, clinics and centers for people with disabilities and serve people of all faiths.

“Any hint of divestment will hamper the ministry of Archbishop Suheil Dawani and his priests and congregations in the Middle East,” said Bishop Jay Magness, bishop suffragan for Federal Ministries who served on the Legislative Committee on Social Justice and International Policy that considered the resolutions.”

“We were assured by the treasurer that we don’t have any direct investments in the usually named companies,” such as Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, G4S, and Motorola Solutions. Bishop Prince Singh of Rochester, chair of the committee, also confirmed that The Episcopal Church currently has no investments in corporations that negatively impact Palestinians on the ground.

Bishop Ed Little of Northern Indiana said the text of the resolution “clearly and unmistakably advocates boycott and divestment, and we must reject it.”

Then the Bishops’ official news release fell back on the Israeli narrative they have accepted, the accepted “truth”  that insists that “what we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Communication between unequals is always in one direction, where soldiers terrorize Palestinian children, (right) because they have the power to do so.al watan Jerusalem

The Bishops, in their stumbling effort to justify their pragmatic relationship with evil, fell back on religious language they have already demeaned with their pragmatism.

“As Anglicans, we have the gift and ability to reach out to people on both sides in the conflict. That is what The Episcopal Church is doing in the Middle East. Our current leadership under the presiding bishop is allowing us to be peacemakers.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in January led an interfaith pilgrimage to the Holy Land as recommended by Resolution B019 from the 2012 General Convention that called for positive investment “as a necessary means to create a sound economy and a sustainable infrastructure” in the Palestinian Territories.”

To the homeless in Gaza, to the Palestinians in Israeli prisons for no reason other than their failure t0 adhere to the powers that control the occupation, the best way to “create a sound economy and a sustainable infrastructure”, is to be released from incarceration.

Did the interfaith pilgrimage led by the presiding bishop know that while they were on their pilgrimage, the number of Palestinians forced into Israeli prisons had increased by 26% since 2011.Eyal Warshawski

To the mothers who fear that at any moment their children will be shot for walking in the wrong direction, “a sound economy and a sustainable infrastructure” are words utterly without meaning.

Sound economy and a sustainable infrastructure in the Palestinian Territories?  

Leaders of the Episcopalian institutions in Palestine must be aware of the words from Corinthians, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”?

The Bishops’ final statement was far more honest, albeit pragmatic, though entirely without any sign they engaged in serious theological reflection to reach that honesty.

The Bishops have said, in effect, to their fellow Christians who favor divestment, “if you had invested in ministry and service inside this prison, you would have some understanding of how we must live under this dictatorship.”

They dare not say it that way, else their prison keepers would cut off their water supply, or keep their new medical equipment blocked at the border, or simply go hunting for more Palestinian children to shoot.

This is what happens when the prophetic voice confronts the reality of prison life. 

The progressive wing of the Episcopal Convention has labored for years to reach a point where prophetic voices could be heard over the religious establishment’s pragmatic investments.

They did their best in Salt Lake City. And they will not stop now, as the conciliatory words of one leader indicated after the House of Bishops vote.

Donna Hicks, convener of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Palestine Israel Network, said after the Bishops voted to condemn divestment:

“We’re encouraged by the fact that bishops and deputies understand that this is a pressing issue, and that the discussion at this convention focused not on whether to take action, but rather what action would be most effective … We’re optimistic that today’s vote is just another step in our own process to ensure that we are not profiting from the occupation, and that divestment will pass at a General Convention in the near future.”

The Episcopalian progressives will be back. The arc of justice demands it.

The picture at top is of a Gaza child one year after the 2014 Israeli military assault on Gaza. The picture is from The Independent. It was taken by Shareef Sarhan. The  picture of the Palestinian man in prison is from Ha’aretz. It was taken by Eyal Warshawski.

Posted in Episcopal Church, Palestinians, Religious Faith | 29 Comments

UCC Says No to Occupation, Votes 80% to Divest

by James M. WallUCCvote

The United Church of Christ (UCC) General Synod has voted overwhelmingly in favor of resolutions that require UCC church funds to be divested from companies with business in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

The UCC General Synod vote was 508 in favor of divestment, 124 against, with 38 abstentions.

In this strong action in favor of divestment, the UCC placed additional pressure not only on the state of Israel’s fear of losing favor in world opinion, but also on delegates of the Episcopal Church General Convention, who are expected to vote Wednesday on resolutions similar to those endorsed by the UCC national body.

The divestment action covers businesses in illegally-occupied territories, not, contrary to Israeli propaganda, businesses within the state of Israel.

Since the 2005 start of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) non-violent campaign to  pressure Israel to give up its illegal occupation, U.S. church national bodies have steadily moved from implied support for the occupation, to a series of actions that refuse to allow church funds  to invest in the occupation.

The secular media is taking notice.

Associated Press religion writer Rachel Zoll, reports:

Last year, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to sell stock in a few companies whose products are used by Israel in the territories.

The United Church of Christ resolution was broader. Delegates are calling on the denomination’s financial arms to sell off stock in any company profiting from what the church called human rights violations arising from the occupation. The church also voted to boycott Israeli products made in the territories.

Peter Makari, Area Executive for Middle East/Europe in the UCC’s Global Ministries agency, said after the vote that the resolutions “reflect our urgent concern for the worsening effects of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian people and lives, including the disparity in rights and power.”

Responding to the resolutions,  Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emanuel Nahshon expressed his government’s displeasure over the resolutions.

Nahshon said the UCC’s policies have “reflected the most radical politics for more than a decade and in no way reflect a moral stance or reality-based position.”

The UCC has struggled, as a national body, on how to respond to this consistent barrage of attacks against any group or individual not endorsing Israel’s action in the occupied territories.

In 2005, the UCC passed a resolution seeking reconciliation, calling for “economic leverage” to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ten years later, after three devastating invasions of a civilian Gaza population, after further Israeli settlement growth on Palestinian land, and after increased occupation procedures of routine military attacks on Palestinians, the UCC General Synod has finally said enough is enough.

To which, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Nahshon offered this pious response:

“People of faith ought to be acting to help Israel and the Palestinians to renew efforts to achieve peace, rather than endlessly demonizing one party in the conflict — in our view, the aggrieved party.”

Prominent theologian and Palestinian clergyman, the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, Pastor of Bethlehem’s Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church, was a guest preacher at the UCC Synod, which is being held in Cleveland, Ohio. 

Responding to the vote, Dr. Raheb said that “in approving this resolution, the UCC has demonstrated its commitment to justice and equality”.

Pastor Raheb further emphasized the reality of occupation and the validity of the UCC action:

For Palestinians living under occupation or facing systematic discrimination as citizens of Israel, enduring the destruction of their homes and businesses, the theft of their land for settlements, and living under blockade and siege in Gaza, this action sends a strong signal that they are not alone, and that there are churches who still dare to speak truth to power and stand with the oppressed.

The strong vote for divestment came at the culmination of a process that began in 2005, to end the Church’s complicity in Israel’s nearly half-century-old occupation and other abuses of Palestinian human rights.

The 2005 Palestinian civil community’s initial call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, was endorsed by Palestinian Christian leaders who embodied the call in the Kairos Palestine document which seeks Palestinian freedom and rights through peaceful means.

BDS leaders make it clear that the movement was inspired by the US Civil Rights and South African anti-Apartheid movements.

The 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church is currently in session in meetings that began June 26. Voting on similar resolutions to the one passed by the UCC General Synod, is expected to come on Wednesday, July 1 at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Episcopal Convention proposals were developed by a new group, the Episcopal Committee for Justice in Israel and Palestine.

The third national body considering specific action on the issue is the Mennonite Church USA Convention, which is currently in session from June 30 through July 5, in Kansas City, Missouri.

One pro-Palestinian Episcopal delegate was asked if the UCC vote Tuesday would have any  influence on how the Episcopal Convention might vote. The answer was cautious.  Maybe.

Posted in Episcopal Church, Middle East, Netanyahu, Presbyterian Church USA | 9 Comments

Emanuel Church Confronts Racial Violence

by James M. WallReuters:Randall Hill

When Barack Obama began his first term as the 44th president of the United States, he delivered a stirring inaugural address that called on  this nation to join with him in addressing the problems facing the nation.

It was an address of realism and challenges, as he noted:

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily nor in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.

Racism was one of the major challenges our first African-American president had in mind. 

Racism, in all its violent hatred, exploded in Charleston, South Carolina during a Wednesday night Bible Study in the basement of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, June 17.

The picture above shows a gathering of men outside the church, shortly after the killings, praying together in their shock and grief. 

David Zirin describes the church which experienced that massacre and which evokes prayer as a response:

The more you read about Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, otherwise known as “Mother Emanuel,” the more awe you feel for its historic resilience amidst white-supremacist terror.

This church is now known as the scene of a massacre, which is being investigated as a “hate crime.”  Nine are dead, but this institution will not fall. We know this because it has stood tall amidst the specter of racist violence for 200 years.

What happened in Charleston after the killing of eight parishioners and the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was a miracle of grace. There was no rioting in the streets, no cries for revenge.

What happened in the aftermath of a senseless slaughter, was that “Mother Emanuel” church once again stood tall and looked upward with forgiveness out of the depths of a dark and tragic event.

The church congregation, the bereaved families of the church’s pastor and Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson, all, as though in unison, set an example of how challenges are met.

They must be met through grace, as President Barack Obama so eloquently put it in the moving eulogy he delivered at the funeral for Pastor Clementa Pinckney at an overflowing auditorium of the  College of Charleston’s campus on Friday afternoon, June 26. The full text of his eulogy is here.

As he stressed the significance of grace as the means by which the believer is called to address such dark events, the President paused for a few seconds and then began singing Amazing Grace, words written by John Newton, a clergyman who had once been captain of a slave ship.

The President was joined by the congregation as he sang: 

The “historic resilience amidst white-supremacist terror” that David Zirin examines in his Nation report, is an indication of how “Mother Emanuel” has confronted the evil of slavery and racism. Zirin writes:

It was 1816 when the Rev. Morris Brown formed “Mother Emanuel” under the umbrella of the Free African Society of the AME Church. They were one of three area churches known as the Bethel Circuit. This means that a free church in the heart of the confederacy was formed and thrived 50 years before the start of the Civil War.

It had a congregation of almost 2,000, roughly 15 percent of black people in what was, including the enslaved, the majority-black city of Charleston. Because the church opened its doors to the enslaved and free alike, services were often raided by police and private militias for violating laws about the hours when slaves could be out among “the public.” They were also raided for breaking laws that prohibited teaching slaves to read at Bible study sessions.

In his Nation article, Zirin reminds his readers that “it was at one of these Bible study sessions that the shooter opened fire Wednesday night, after sitting among the people for over an hour.”

The response of what President Obama correctly calls “the miracle of grace”, is in the tradition of Mother Emanuel AME Church.

The church and its members did not lash out in fury against racist hatred, which led to the deaths of nine African Americans sitting quietly in a Bible study group. It did what had been its style for the 200 years of its existence.  

It came together in prayer and a resolve to go forward, surrounded by, and filled with, the miracle of grace. There is a power in that grace, an unexplained mystery. 

When words feel inadequate, there is always the poetry of music, as President Obama demonstrated in leading his Charleston congregation with Amazing Grace

Music has been with President Obama since he took office.

Following President Obama’s first inaugural address in 2009, Dr. Joseph Lowery, delivered the benediction. Dr. Lowery, a civil rights leader with Martin Luther King, Jr., began his prayer with words from another notable African American song.

Lowery’s prayer began with the third verse of James Weldon Johnson’s Lift Every Voice and Sing, which, since its composition in 1920, has become known as the “national anthem” of the African American community.

An Emory University event honoring Alice Walker, another icon in the African American struggle against racism, ended with the singing of Johnson’s Lift Every Voice and Sing. Leading the singing is Emory graduate Garrett M. Turner

In the days following the Mother Emanuel massacre, two hymns seem appropriate for religious or secular groups wishing to honor the memory of the nine who died in that historic church. A good opening hymn would be Lift Every Voice and Sing.  

A concluding hymn? Try all the verses of Amazing Grace.

The picture at top was taken outside the Emanuel African American Methodist Church in Charleston, SC. It is a Reuters photo by Randall Hill, from The Nation website.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments