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

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

“What Happens to a Dream Deferred?”

by James M. Wall014979_38

What happens to a dream deferred? 

The question comes from Langston Hughes’ poem, Harlem, which inspired Lorraine Hansberry to write her drama, A Raisin in the Sunthe first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway. 

Her play was made into a 1961 movie which featured Sidney Poitier (above), as Walter Lee, the angry and ambitious son of a mother trying to give her family a safe and secure home.

Hughes’ poem, Harlem, is short and prophetic:

What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes’ poem was an artistic cry of protest against racial injustice in the United States. He was addressing the increasing frustration and anger felt by African Americans whose dream of equality was continually being deferred.langston-hughes-1

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) (right) was known to possess a “strong sense of racial pride”. It was “through his poetry, novels, plays, essays, and children’s books, [that] he promoted equality, condemned racism and injustice, and celebrated African American culture, humor, and spirituality”.

Like all great art, Hughes’ poem transcends the context of immediacy. “A dream deferred”  applies wherever injustice exists.

Injustices, that is, such as Israel’s oppressive military occupation of the Palestinian people, an occupation that began either in 1948 or 1967, however one wishes to measure the history of stolen land and stolen lives.

Religious institutions have been notoriously slow in responding to that occupation, preferring instead to concentrate narrowly on their own institutional house keeping and growth.

In so doing, these institutions have followed the same plan of deferral practiced by an early generation that tolerated and encouraged racial segregation in U.S. life.

That deferral began to change when Palestinian Christians challenged these churches to denounce and attack Israel’s occupation with the non-violent campaign, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

BDS began with a call by Palestinian civil society to pursue the same sort of non violent action that earlier worked in the US civil rights movement, and in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. 

Some critics have objected (in good deferral style) to lumping BDS into a single assignment. Never mind about that, individuals, institutions and nations can all boycott and divest. Sanctions are the tactic of nations against nations (e.g. Russia and Iran).

The important thing to remember for those who want a way to fight back, non-violently, against an illegal, brutal occupation, is that each institution and each individual has a weapon of choice.

U.S. institutional church bodies have chosen the divestment route, debating proposals to remove church retirement and other fund investments from U.S. companies that continue to conduct business within illegally occupied Palestinian territories.

And yes, the impact of divestment on major businesses is less against the bottom line of the affected companies, and far, far more against the public image of the company and, in this instance, the state of Israel.

Is Israel worried about its public image? Is the Pope a Catholic? Just look at the desperate way in which Israel and its allies are spending big dollars to fight the BDS campaigns. Even Sheldon Adelson has gotten into the act.

Palestine’s dream of freedom has been deferred far too long. It is time now to “conquer” Israel, not on the battlefield, but in the war that hits Israel where it hurts, in the world of public opinion.

Conquer is the right word.

 In the rarely heard fourth verse of the Star Spangled Banner, Francis Scott Key wrote, “Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, and this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.'”

Key’s poem, which became our national anthem in 1931, was written after a British flotilla attempted to capture the port of Baltimore, a battle that culminated in the bombardment of Fort McHenry throughout the night of September 13, 1814.

In that context, “conquer we must” referred to “conquer” not as the act of an established nation at war with a neighbor, but as the challenges a new nation faced.

Or, on a more personal note, the word “conquer” to my mother, meant to “rise above” a barrier, in order to overcome it. How many times did she tell me, “you can conquer this”? I lost count at age 14. 

Art, like the poetry of Langston Hughes, can inform us that dreams too long deferred, will wither up like “a raisin in the sun”, or maybe simply “explode”.

Dreams are deferred by barriers, like those legal barriers established by American segregationists or by Israeli occupiers who employ periodic acts of “mowing the grass”, routine night raids into Palestinian homes, and armed checkpoints for a single purpose, to maintain the status quo for those in power.

It is time to fight against that oppression with whatever weapons we  have in hand. Later this month, three U.S. Christian denominations–United Church of Christ, Episcopalian, and  Mennonite–will decide whether or not to seize the BDS weapon to fight against injustice.

When Shakespeare’s English King Henry V rallied his forces to battle against the French, he called on their pride and their dedication to God, king and country.

In Act 4, Scene 3, Henry says:

And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

It is this same reminder that Christians in three U.S. denominations, and others who will follow, must hear: Fight against injustice or remain asleep in your beds.

Will these Christians fight injustice or will they continue to sip interfaith tea in an act that defers the dreams of Palestinian children in Gaza who have no beds in which to sleep because the Israelis have destroyed them?

Posted in Religious Faith | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Adelson’s Anti-BDS Event Links Money To Action

by James M. Wallsouth africa

Stanford University professor David Palumbo-Liu alerted his Salon readers to a “secret” meeting held last weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada: 

If you did not know that this weekend some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world will meet in the Las Vegas desert to plot a massive and well-financed campaign against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, it’s not your fault.  

Palumbo-Liu notes that in order to be aware of this event, “you would have to be a reader of news sources such as the Forward or Haaretz, or Mondoweiss“.

Four days after the Salon posting appeared, The New York Times buried two paragraphs about the Vegas meeting inside a longer story which featured the success Israel was enjoying in gaining anti-BDS support in state legislatures in South Carolina and Illinois.

This campaign against American supporters of Palestinian freedom, was prompted by the alarmed awareness among Israeli leaders, and their U.S. allies, that the BDS movement is rapidly gaining ground.

The “secret” Vegas weekend focused on planning for, and funding, a campaign to kill BDS in its academic cradle.

This campaign links Israel, a foreign nation, with its U.S. “fifth column”, a term Wikipedia defines as “any group of people who undermine a larger group—such as a nation or a besieged city—from within.”

Wikipedia adds that “the activities of a fifth column can be overt or clandestine. Forces gathered in secret can mobilize openly to assist an external attack.”

The Vegas event took place away from the U.S. mainstream spotlight because U.S. mainstream media chose to ignore it.

With U.S. billionaires both funding and setting up its top down strategy with Israeli-inspired organizations on American campuses, Israel’s successful invasion of U.S. institutions takes another major step toward “occupying” American institutions. 

The meeting was held, appropriately enough, in Sheldon Adelson’s luxurious Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada,  This gambling center has already become an important stop for Republican presidential aspirants in search of Adelson’s money and backing.

This anti-BDS weekend gathering followed the same call and response strategy as the 2012 and the upcoming 2016 Adelson primaries, to choose a Republican presidential nominee.

More than Adelson’s millions are involved. Adelson is not alone in feeling that, as Forward reported,  there are other major conservative billionaires who want in on the action and who want to dictate how their money is used. The Forward reported:

Leading Jewish mega-donors … summoned pro-Israel [anti-BDS] activists for a closed-door meeting in Las Vegas to establish, and fund, successful strategies for countering the wave of anti-Israel activity on college campuses”.

Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson (right) was the host of the gathering which featured Bloomberg China 2012financial luminaries such as “Hollywood entertainment mogul Haim Saban, Israeli-born real-estate developer Adam Milstein and Canadian businesswoman Heather Reisman.”

The meeting was not exclusively Republican. Haim Saban, a Los Angeles billionaire, is a major Democratic donor who enjoys what the Forward terms “close ties to the Clintons”.

Those ties include Saban funding for the Clinton Foundation as well as for Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the White House.

Variety, the show business publication, reported that Saban declared his strong support for Clinton in May with a major fund raiser for her in his home.

Saban apparently has no qualms crossing party lines to join forces with Adelson where Israel is concerned.  Saban was an early prime mover behind the weekend strategy sessions. Accordimg to Forward:

“[Saban] has been discussing the idea for more than a year, one source with firsthand information of the initiative said. Saban has spoken to Israeli officials, including the former ambassador to Washington Michael Oren and top officials in the Israeli foreign ministry, about setting up a special task force to deal with increased calls on campuses to adopt measures of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, measures commonly referred to as BDS.”

According to “an official in the Jewish community, it was another California philanthropist of Israeli background, [Adam] Milstein, who put together the initiative. He got mega-donor Adelson and [Heather] Reisman, who in recent years has been increasingly involved in initiatives to support Israel, on board.”

In his second analysis of the weekend’s goals, the Forward’s Nathan Gutman wrote that New Jersey Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who has close ties to New Jersey’s two Democratic senators, “will act as the new initiative’s point man”, a further indication that both U.S. political parties have their strong Zionist components. 

In contrast to the grassroots beginnings of the BDS movement, the Vegas anti-BDS program is structured from the top down. Participant groups were asked to prepare a 10-minute TED-style presentation to donors. In effect the anti-BDS groups will make their case to the donors, seeking funds for their programs, which will be blessed by the donors who approve of the direction the groups promise to go.

At the end of the conference, the donors were expected to “develop the conceptual framework for the anti-BDS action plan, assign roles and responsibilities to pro-Israel organizations, and create an appropriate command-and-control system to implement it,” again a top to bottom structure. 

The donors attending the conference were expected to make a prior commitment for an “average donation of $1M over the next two years”.

David Palumbo-Liu (right) one of the few media voices to report on the Vegas gathering, From DPL twitter accountdescribes it as a “collusion of conservatives and Clintonites, and U.S. and Israeli state operatives, to heavy-handedly interfere in campus discussions is pernicious and distasteful.”

In keeping with Israel’s practice of naming its numerous wars after biblical events, this new organization will be called “the Maccabees”, a name derived from the Jewish group of “patriots who freed Judea from Seleucid oppression (168-142 bc)”.

Palumbo-Liu traces the more recent history of the BDS movement which began with “the nearly 200 civil organizations in Palestine who put out the call for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions in 2005, and those in the U.S. and elsewhere who have answered that call.

The organizations which heard and acted  on the call began with the Association for Asian American Studies, followed by “the American Studies Association and several other academic organizations, progressive Jewish groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace, student organizations throughout the country that have passed divestment resolutions (including the student government body representing the entire University of California system), and now labor unions”.

National U.S. religious organizations are slowly cranking up their peace and justice agendas to focus on the human rights brutality of Israel’s occupation. Mondoweiss continues to be virtually the only media outlet, religious or secular, to report on progress, or lack of progress, toward justice in the American church organizations.

Mondoweiss reported, “last year, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) and United Methodist Church (UMC) divested from several U.S. companies involved in the occupation. Various Quaker bodies have done the same.”

This month, three more U.S. churches—the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ (UCC), and the Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA)—will join the growing list of those denominations responding to the Kairos Palestine call and voting to end financial support for Israel’s occupation.

The 78th General Convention of The Episcopal Church will meet from Thursday, June 25 to Friday, July 3 at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

On the Episcopal Convention agenda will be a proposal developed by a new group, the Episcopal Committee for Justice in Israel and Palestine

The UCC General Synod will meet June 26-30, in Cleveland, Ohio where it will consider a Resolution of Witness which will call for “divesting from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and for boycotting products produced in such territories by Israeli companies”.

The third national body considering specific action on the issue is the Mennonite Church USA Convention, which will meet June 30-July 5, in Kansas City, Missouri.

Anti-BDS forces, as usual, will arrive at the three assemblies with their Protestant religious allies (delegates who oppose BDS) to campaign against BDS among delegates. Some may even be granted time to speak to groups of delegates.

This may be the last chance for these three major U.S. denominations to fix themselves firmly on the side of justice alongside a growing number of other religious and secular groups who have finally faced the reality of the evil of occupation.

When delegates to the assemblies held by Episcopalians, the UCC, and the Mennonite church vote this summer on BDS resolutions, they will be choosing to endorse or “continue to discuss” the occupation of Palestinians. 

Before they vote, these delegates will want to reread Joshua 24:15, where it is recorded that “for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. 

The picture of David Palumbo-Liu is from his website. The picture of Sheldon Adelson is from Bloomberg. The BDS poster is from South Africa.

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Posted in Hillary Clinton, Israel, Media, Middle East, Palestinians | 8 Comments

Bibi Coalition Echoes Groucho’s “Duck Soup”

by James M. Wallgroucho_marx_in_duck_soup

The Times of Israel, Israel’s leading right wing newspaper, can usually be counted on to lead the cheers for any Benjamin Netanyahu Israeli government. Not this time.

After his recent narrow election victory Netanyahu turned to a right wing collection of politicians to construct his latest coalition. 

Haviv Rettig Gur, The Times’ political correspondent, wrote that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition-building has been “a disaster,” even “a farce.” He blames it on Netanyahu’s strange amalgam of cabinet ministers. 

 The list of seemingly incoherent appointments is a long one. The minister of justice has no background in law, the minister of science none in science, the minister of tourism is also in charge of the police and prisons.

There is a full minister in the Communications Ministry, but he’s not the communications minister; that title is reserved for the prime minister, who is also the minister of health (but promises not to act as such) and of foreign affairs, a portfolio effectively leaderless at a time of growing diplomatic tensions. The absorption minister is also the strategic affairs minister, while the transportation minister is also in charge of a newly christened “Intelligence Ministry.” And on and on.

In the 1933 movie comedy classic, Duck Soup, Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx, shown above) is building his own coalition to govern Freedonia.  

Netanyahu’s series of appointments to his 2015 Israeli cabinet reads like the draft for a movie sequel to Duck Soup, in which Freedonia’s next-door enemy Sylvania, sends two spies to infiltrate Groucho’s government, Chicolini (Chico Marx) and Pinky (Harpo Marx).

Chico marxGroucho sees Chicolini (left) on the street and promptly selects him as his Minister of War. Next thing you know, Groucho has insulted the Sylvania ambassador because he does not trust him as a partner for peace. 

The rich widow of the former Freedonia president, Gloria Teasdale (played by Margaret Dumont) plays politics with her late husband’s money. A female 1930s version of the Koch Brothers or Sheldon Adelson, Mrs. Teasdade offers to  keep Freedonia’s economy flourishing but only if Groucho becomes Freedonia’s leader.

In the clip below, the widow Teasdale tells Groucho she doesn’t want her money financing a war. 

Groucho ponders her request. After a brief internal debate with himself, he decides he cannot trust Sylvania. He insults the Sylvania ambassador and instantly, war threatens! 

“This means war.”

Ha’aretz,  more moderate than the Times, also predicts a dark future for Netanyahu’s 2015 coalition. In their May 18 editorial, Ha’aretz’s editors ask, “Who Will Save Israel from Bibi”? 

Simple logic strongly suggests that the new government formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not bring peace, certainly not on its own initiative. Netanyahu renounced the two-state solution during his election campaign, does not consider Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a partner, and sees the United States administration as the enemy.

All this is enough to suppress any hope for a diplomatic turnaround.

Will Netanyahu engage in his own internal Groucho debate in any future standoff? Or will he simply refuse to accept anyone as a partner for peace even as he claims more Palestinian land for Israel? 

In a follow-up profile of Ayelet Shaked, Netanyahu’s choice for Justice Minister, Ha’aretz offers this analysis:

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked by AFPThe Justice Ministry doesn’t usually garner much interest among Israelis. It is, after all, a mid-level prize, modest compared to more lucrative ministerial posts like Defense, Finance and Foreign Affairs. However the announcement last week that Ayelet Shaked (left) of Habayit Hayehudi would be Israel’s new justice minister seems to have struck a raw nerve. .  .  .

A rather obscure (but combative) right-wing activist up until a few years ago and the only secular woman in the otherwise religious Zionist party led by Naftali Bennett, Shaked has entered politics with the outspokenness and indignation of an activist.

Among other things, she is one of the originators of the so-called “nation-state bill” that aims to turn Israel’s democratic values into unwanted subordinates of its Jewish identity. One of the major pieces of legislation she intends to promote as minister is her own so-called “NGO bill,” which limits the donations received by human rights groups and other left-wing organizations.

In Mondoweiss, Allison Deger reported that: “In her inaugural speech to the foreign ministry last Thursday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely explained she is on a mission to convince the world that Israel inherited the occupied Palestinian territories from God.

Motti Kimchi:Ynet“This land is ours. All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologize for that,” said Hotovely in a meeting of the foreign ministry.

During the address she went on to quote from religious scholars explaining why Israel is not an occupier over the West Bank. Israel’s i24 translated:

“Rashi says the Torah opens with the story of the creation of the world so that if the nations of the world come and tell you that you are occupiers, you must respond that all of the land belonged to the creator of world and when he wanted to, he took from them and gave to us.”

Switching to English, Hotovely closed “by stating she will ‘demand’ world leaders ‘declare Israel as a Jewish national state,’ and back settlement growth in the occupied Palestinian territories”. Mondoweiss posted this short video from The Guardian, of Deputy Minister Hotovely’s closing words (to view the video click below):  

[https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/world/video/2015/may/22/israel-world-west-bank-deputy-foreign-minister-tzipi-hotovely-video]

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s picture is by AFP.  The video of the Hotovely’s closing speech is from The Guardian. The picture of Minister Hotovely is by Motti Kimchi of Ynet.

Posted in -Movies and politics, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Movies, Netanyahu, Palestinians | 4 Comments

Obama Panders in the D.C. Adas Israel Synagogue

by James M. Wallgaza5

All that is said or written about President Barack Obama during these final days before 2016, must be said or written within a darkness that reminds us that our current president will soon be replaced by either Hillary Clinton, or any one of a dozen right wing Republicans, any one of whom will, in comparison, make Obama look like St. Francis of Assisi.

Before his nation’s Memorial Day week-end, President Obama managed to make us even more aware that the Candidate of Hope is certainly no St. Francis.

Against a background of three successive Israeli death-dealing invasions of Gaza, President Obama delivered a speech in Washington’s Adas Israel Conservative Jewish synagogue Thursday.

With no reference to the Gaza invasions, President Obama bragged about being a member of the Jewish “tribe” the way a nerdy kid might try to convince leaders of a Chicago South Side gang that he is truly “with you fellows”.

American liberal Jewish writers gave the speech favorable reviews. My review is more negative.

The speech was a campaign effort to win votes in favor of Obama’s attempt to persuade Congress to support his Iran nuclear arms agreement. The President feels he needs American Jewish support.

It was a worthy cause, to be sure, but at what price did he solicit those votes?

I have read the speech in search of at least one sign that Barack Obama knows he is our last best American hope to release the world from its bondage imposed by the modern state of Israel.

There were no signs, not one. To me, it was a surrender speech coupled with the plea:  Let us keep our horses and our deal with Iran, and we will give you our love.

In this instance, “love” means protection in the United Nations, and all the military fire power Israel’s heart desires. 

Nathan Gutman gave the speech a favorable review in the Jewish Forward:

Obama chose a complex and subtle message for his Jewish American Heritage Month address at Adas Israel congregation, Washington’s prime Conservative synagogue, where many of the city’s Jewish government official, high profile politicos and journalists come to worship. He sought to explain, not to retract, his criticism of Israel and was met with a welcoming crowd.

“I have high expectations for Israel the same way I have high expectations for the United States of America,” Obama said, explaining this is the reason he feels “a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I think will lead to long-term security and to the preservation of a true democracy in the Jewish homeland.”

His audience applauded freely as Obama reminded them that in the White House he had surrounded himself  with Jewish advisors. 

He made his customary, grinning nod to Rahm Emanuel, who added his White House Chief of Staff job to his ability to raise money from Corporate America, to emerge as a U.S. Congressman and now as the mayor of Chicago.

Gutman quotes Obama:

And as an honorary member of the tribe, not to mention somebody who’s hosted seven White House Seders and been advised by two Jewish chiefs of staff, I can also proudly say that I’m getting a little bit of the hang of the lingo. But I will not use any of the Yiddish-isms that Rahm Emanuel taught me because I want to be invited back. Let’s just say he had some creative new synonyms for “Shalom.”

Obama repeated his “aw-shucks” appreciation of the honorary “Jewish president” title bestowed on him by Atlantic magazine’s Jeffrey Goldberg, the Jewish writer who served his tour of duty with the Israeli Defense Force by “making friends” with a Palestinian prisoner he was guarding.

In another rhetorical flourish, he praised the makers of Jewish history and Jewish values. Then sadly, he jumped over Israel’s invasion, destruction and subsequent occupation of Palestine, and landed squarely in the midst of the modern state of Israel, where Obama gave unqualified support for Israel’s absolute “right to exist”.

Does that “right” without question, include the right to create the prison of Gaza?

Obama ignored the Nakba. He quit being an historian of Jewish values and became a southside Chicago politician begging for votes in Tel Aviv. You want jobs? Your uncle need medical help? We are here for you. How about all the weapons your heart desires?

Donald Johnson is especially harsh on the speech under a headline, ‘The grotesque injustice of Obama’s speech at the Washington synagogue”.

He writes that President Obama was “pandering” to what Johnson correctly identifies as Israel’s “sense of entitlement”.

“Obama is pandering to alleged liberals at this synagogue, liberal Zionists, and he gets laughter for saying that Palestinians are not easy partners”. 

President Obama surrounded his mention of a future Palestine state with a heavy emphasis on Israel’s need for security, and a tasteless quip: He said:

Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people on their land, as well. (Applause.)

Now, I want to emphasize — that’s not easy. The Palestinians are not the easiest of partners. (Laughter.) The neighborhood is dangerous. And we cannot expect Israel to take existential risks with their security so that any deal that takes place has to take into account the genuine dangers of terrorism and hostility.

“‘Taint funny, McGee”, as Molly McGee would have said to her husband Fibber. It is not only not funny, but it underscores the pandering nature of the speech.

President Obama reminded his Jewish audience that he has visited the Jewish town of Sderot, which has suffered through rocket attacks from Gaza. By virtue of its proximity to Gaza, Sderot is the only community living in constant danger of the largely ineffective Gaza rockets.

That too is tasteless, comparing Sderot to the invasion destruction and on-going violence in Gaza. The President touches on Gaza suffering by couching it with “rights” language for Israel:

The rights I insist upon and now fight for, for all people here in the United States compels me then to stand up for Israel and look out for the rights of the Jewish people,” Obama said. “And the rights of the Jewish people then compel me to think about a Palestinian child in Ramallah that feels trapped without opportunity. That’s what Jewish values teach me. That’s what the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches me. These things are connected.”

Obama’s speech might have referenced a child in Gaza. No way.  Imagine the scene in the speech-writers office, as writers, eager to please a totally Jewish audience, argue:”Don’t use a city in Gaza, use Ramallah. Do not use a city which will remind the listeners of what happened in Gaza”.

The speech says: “And the rights of the Jewish people then compel me to think about a Palestinian child in Ramallah that feels trapped without opportunity.”

The “rights” of the Jewish people have emerged as Israel’s favorite right-wing trope.

Obama says the unnamed child in his speech “feels” trapped?  This unnamed child does not just “feel” trapped. He or she, unspecified as to gender in the speech, IS trapped inside a military occupation.

In public speeches , Obama likes to point to a member of his audience, young or old, and identify the member by name, age and circumstance. In this speech, he made no pretense of ever having spoken with a Palestinian child trapped in an occupation prison. 

Obama does know that Palestinian children are growing up under occupation. They don’t just feel trapped, they are in fact, trapped behind the occupation’s prison walls..

You know that to be true, Mr. President. You should say so and stop all this pandering.  You have two years left. Use those years to redeem the campaigner of Hope.

The picture at top is from Oxfam. It appeared in Mondoweiss and shows a “check point”, a closely-guarded entrance to a walkway from Gaza to Israel at the Erez crossing. The 1948 picture from the Nakba is was provided by the Israeli Goverment Press Office on May 4, 2008. It  shows two Palestinian women fleeing with just tthe possessions they are able to carry as they make their way toward Lebanon from villages in the Galilee during the early stages of the Nakba. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments