Israel’s Apartheid Elephant Is Still in the Room

by James M. Wall

In a 1935 stage production of Billy Rose’s Jumbo, Jimmy Durante is leading an elephant down the street. A policeman stops him and asks, “What are you doing with that elephant?”

Durante responds, “What elephant”? That line became a 1935 nightly show-stopper. Durante repeated the same question in the 1962 film version of Jumbo (right).

Wikipedia speculates that this line may have contributed to the phrase, “the elephant in the room”, which refers to the denial of something as a reality, when that something is obviously in the room.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres last week became the latest official to deny the obvious presence of the apartheid elephant enforced by the state of Israel.

He joined the parade and said, “What elephant?”, when he instructed Rima Khalaf, Executive Director of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), to withdraw a report written for her agency.

The report concluded that Israel imposes an apartheid regime on Palestinians. She refused to withdraw the report. Then she resigned as ESCWA’s Executive Director.

The Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported that Dr. Khalaf told reporters in Beirut that the report was the “first of its kind” from a UN agency.

She also said the report sheds light on “the crimes that Israel continues to commit against the Palestinian people, which amount to war crimes against humanity.”

The ESCWA, which is comprised of 18 Arab states from western Asia, said in the report that Israel was guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” of imposing apartheid policies against Palestinians.

Richard Falk, who co-authored the original ESCWA report with fellow American academic, Virginia Tilley, has an important article in The Nation magazine, about the preparation and impact of the report. 

Falk explained the final careful steps of the report from draft to the finished document:

ESCWA, for its part, took steps to ensure that the report lived up to scholarly standards, submitting the draft text to three prominent international jurists, who anonymously submitted strong positive appraisals along with some suggestions for revision, which we gratefully incorporated before the final text was released. For government officials and others to dismiss our report as a biased polemic is irresponsible, with respect both to the authority of the UN and to international law.

Predictably, Israeli officials were quick to denounce the report, comparing it to Nazi propaganda and calling for Guterres to publicly reject it. Just as predictably, the U.S. quickly f0llowed with its Me-Two attack on the report.

The report is no longer on the ESCWA website, but it is posted elsewhere. It demands a close reading.

Falk closed his article for The Nation on a note of hope:

It remains our central hope, one shared by ESCWA, that the widespread availability of the report will lead to a clearer understanding of the Palestinian plight and encourage more effective responses by the UN, by governments, and by civil society. Beyond this, it is our continuing wish that people of good will throughout the world, especially within Israel, will work toward a political solution that will finally allow Jews and Palestinians to live together in peace, with justice.

The co-authors of the original draft of the report are Virginia Tilley, a professor of political science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and Falk, currently a professor emeritus of international law and practice at Princeton University. He was the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur in the Occupied Territories from 2008 until 2014. 

Guterres, the UN official who dissed the report, is new to his post. He was sworn in as the new United Nations secretary general on Monday, December 17, 2016. The 67-year-old former Portuguese prime minister most recently served as head of the UN’s refugee agency. 

Rima Khalaf served as Executive Director of ESCWA from 2010 to 2017. A citizen of Jordan, she holds a BA in Economics from the American University of Beirut and a Master’s in Economics and a PhD in System Science from Portland State University in the U.S. 

Earlier in her career, Khalaf served her own Jordanian government as

Minister of Industry and Trade (1993–1995); Minister of Planning (1995–1998); Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Planning (1999–2000).

Her resignation for conscience’s sake, came more than a decade after President Jimmy Carter published his 2006 book, PalestinePeace Not Apartheid, a study of his years of dealing with Israeli governments.

President Carter was attacked by forces which have frantically sought to hide behind a wall of unreality, a wall that protects Israel’s five-decade long dedication to its illegal oppressive occupation.

The attackers were afraid a book by President Carter with “apartheid” in the title would lead many in the public to wake up to the presence of the apartheid elephant running all over Palestine, locking up children and building more check points.

Israel relies heavily on “Fifth Column” U.S. citizens loyal to Israel, to defend a false narrative which “justifies” the establishment of Israel’s apartheid state for “security reasons”.  

That “security” rationale for apartheid is showing additional signs of crumbling, thanks in part to Israeli officials who have seen the apartheid elephant in the line of duty, up close and personal.

Among those officials is former Israeli Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, who has just warned Israelis that they clinging to an unreality.

At a conference at Israel’s Netanya Academic College, Pardo said that Israel’s occupation and its conflict with the Palestinians are “the only existential threat facing Israel”.

“Israel has chosen not to choose, hoping the conflict will resolve itself – perhaps the Arabs will disappear, maybe some cosmic miracle will happen,” Pardo told a conference at the Netanya Academic College.

“One day we will become a binational state because it will be impossible to untie the Gordian knot between the two peoples. That is not the way to decide.”

Pardo stated: “Israel has one existential threat. It is a ticking time bomb. We chose to stick our head in the sand, creating a variety of external threats”.

The American people are discovering the hard way, what it means for its president to live in a self-enclosed understanding of reality.

President Trump is a man who clings to what he thinks is true in spite of overwhelming evidence that it is not true. Like the current leaders of Israel, he surrounds himself with loyalists who support him in his views of reality.

It does seem clear, however, that when Israel and its U.S. loyalists, and Trump, and his Russian-loving pals, cling to their own narrow understanding of reality, we can hear them asking,”What elephant?”

Allison Weir, who has long seen the apartheid elephant, has debunked Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu’s flimsy new law to keep Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) supporters out of Israel by asking in good Joe McCarthy fashion, “Are you now or have you ever been in favor of BDS”?

Weir flattened Bibi by writing “a letter to the Israel government”, which she posted on  Dissident Voice.

In her letter she says: “I’m not trying to go to Israel. I want to go to Palestine.”

“I want to go to Bethlehem and Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron, Jenin and Tulkarem. I hope to return to Khan Yunis, Rafah, Gaza City, and numerous other towns and villages in the West Bank and Gaza.

In other words, I want to go to Palestine – a country recognized by 136 countries around the world. But your law, astoundingly, prevents me from visiting that country. You control entry and exit to the places I want to visit, even though they’re not part of your territory, or included in your exclusive democracy.”

Israel’s anti-BDS law is a confession that Israel’s apartheid elephant stands guard in both Palestine and Israel, protecting Israel from opinions.

Border monitors will not change the reality that Palestinians will not have freedom as long as the apartheid elephant exists.

“What elephant?” 

Posted in Middle East, United Nations, Israel, Jimmy Carter | Tagged , | 9 Comments

The Political History Behind Trump’s Curtain

by James M. Wall

Writing in the current issue of In These Times, American History scholar Theo Anderson follows the modern political conservative movement’s rise to power from the founding of the Heritage Foundation in 1973 through Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017.

It is a story of an ideological movement dedicated to the creation of “an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity and civil society flourish.” (Heritage Foundation mission statement)

In 1980, that movement rode initially to White House power on the coattails of an amiable movie actor, Ronald Reagan, while picking up crucial political allies among evangelical Christians. 

Evangelical Christians played a major role in elevating a non-religious Reagan to the White House, even as they help toss out one of their own, a born-again Southern Baptist, President Jimmy Carter.

Co-founders of the Heritage Foundation in 1973, Paul Weyrich (above) and Edwin Feulner (below), were funded lavishly by beer baron Joseph Coors.

Many Evangelical Christians frown on consumption of alcohol beverages, except, it appears, when profits from those beverages fund their political ambitions.

Weyrich and Feulner were shrewd political operatives who knew their targets: Americans who were rich, and Americans who believed they should be rich. Both targets believed in liberty for themselves, less so for “others”.

Anderson writes that “Weyrich’s dogged institution-building was driven by a burning vision: Organize evangelical Christians into a powerful voting bloc, reinvent the Republican Party and radically reconstruct the nation.”

He adds:

In the late 1970s, Weyrich used anger over encroachments on “religious liberty”—namely, the liberty to deny African Americans entrance to religious private schools—to mobilize the Christian Right. His efforts propelled Reagan to victory in 1980 via another organization Weyrich cofounded, the Moral Majority.

Weyrich, who belonged to a Catholic sect, spoke a language of personal responsibility that resonated with evangelicals. He believed that individualism was the heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition and its great nemesis was the growth of government.

Heritage had long been knee-deep in the religious liberty crusade of the Christian Right. It built a successful on-line publication, The Daily Signal, which claims to have more than 2 million readers

The Daily Signal looks for “what it considers outrageous government intrusions on Christians’ rights, especially their right to discriminate against LGBT people. These stories often involve the travails of fundamentalist bakers, florists and wedding planners”.

For libertarians and corporate conservatives, freedom means low taxes and little or no regulation. When the influential libertarian economist Milton Friedman died in 2006, Heritage posted a tribute to him on its website, claiming that “his powerful insights” had “saved millions or billions of people from decades of oppressive statism.”

In his essay, Anderson writes, since its initial start with Coors’ beer money, “Heritage has grown large enough to boast an annual budget of about $100 million and a staff of about 90 “experts” who hold such pseudo-academic titles as “research fellow’ and “policy analyst.”

With additional support from Coors, Weyrich also founded the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress (CSFC), “an organization that trained and mobilized conservative activists, recruited conservative candidates, and raised funds for conservative causes”.

Under Weyrich, the CSFC “was one of the first organizations to tap into evangelical Christian churches as places to recruit and cultivate activists and support for social conservative causes. In 1977, Weyrich co-founded Christian Voice with Robert Grant. Two years later, with Jerry Falwell, he founded the Moral Majority (1979–1989)”.

Over the next two decades, Weyrich founded, co-founded, or held prominent roles in a number of other notable conservative organizations. Among them, he was founder of the American Legislative Exchange Council, [ALEC] an organization of state legislators; a co-founder of the Council for National Policy, a strategy-formulating organization for social conservatives.

Heritage is not the only gun in the conservative movement’s arsenal, but its impact is obvious in the current Trump administration.

Anderson writes:

“We are different from previous generations of conservatives,” Weyrich said in the early 1980s. “We are radicals, working to overturn the present power structure of this country.”

As a recent Salon essay notes:  Trump is that movement’s best hope yet for achieving its great dream of “gutting government”. 

Trump’s proposed $1.15 trillion budget for 2018, appears to race forward in that gutting effort. Domestic agencies are trimmed significantly. Only the Pentagon budget moves higher, much higher. 

Salon wrote that “Donald Trump is relying on a blueprint budget from the conservative Heritage Foundation and the guidance of a former Rand Paul staffer, to deliver the most extremely right-wing restructuring of the federal government in decades.”

The Trump transition team has been at work for months with career staffers at the White House and throughout the federal bureaucracy to draft a plan to cut $10.5 trillion out of the federal government over 10 years, according to multiple reports.

The president-elect vowed to slash government spending on the campaign trail, promising to add those savings to the massive budget of the Department of Defense. New reporting now outlines just which parts of the federal government will be eliminated by the incoming Trump administration.. . . .

As Anderson writes: “Heritage isn’t an appendage of the Trump administration’s radicalism. It’s the heart of it. Trump is just a tool.”

To those voters who hope that maybe the gutting of so many progressive dreams will be side-tracked with an impeachment or resignation of President Trump, Anderson delivers the bad news.

Vice President Mike Pence . . .has deep ties to the Foundation.

In 2006, Weyrich, who considered himself a mentor of Pence’s, said of him, “Nobody is perfect, but he comes pretty close.”

After the election of the Trump-Pence team, in early December, 2016, Pence gave the keynote speech at a Heritage event, held, of course Trump’s D.C. hotel, to honor the foundation’s biggest donors. He promised that the Trump administration “is now and will continue to draw on the institution’s work”.

Weyrich died, at age 66, on December 18, 2008, a month after the election of Democratic President Barack Obama. 

Edwin Feulner, now 76, (right), Weyrich’s partner in establishing the Heritage Foundation, is still going strong. He began a career that included a long run as chief of staff for ultra-conservative Illinois Republican congressman Phil Crain.

Feulner served as Heritiage President from 1977 to 2013, when he was replaced by former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, who left a safe South Carolina seat to move to the real power center of the conservative movement. 

In an interview with The National Review, Feulner was asked to identify Heritage’s most important achievement. He responded, “I think we have made conservative ideas mainstream and equally credible”.

With Trump’s election in November, Heritage has become a key power broker in Washington. It has an administration willing to further its agenda.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference in late February, 2017, Trump advisor Steve Bannon said that the administration’s priority was the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”

The conservative movement’s rise to power began in the aftermath of what seemed like conservatism’s collapse through the 1950s and 1960s. 

Anderson concludes his In These Times essay: “Heritage’s use of an ideological cipher like Trump to carry out an agenda that seemed hopelessly stuck just four years ago is the latest example of the movement’s resilience.”

“If Trump is impeached and removed from office, they will be happy to have Pence”.

The picture of Paul Weyrich at top is from In These Times. It was taken in 1986 by Susan Biddle, for the Denver Post. It is a Getty photo. The picture of In These Times, is the cover of the April issue. The picture of Edwin Feulner is a publicity shot. 

Posted in Donald Trump, Politics and Elections, Stephen Brannon, US govermemt | 2 Comments

Bibi Blocks BDS Backers At Israel’s Borders

by James M. Wall

On Monday, March 6, the Israeli Knesset passed a travel ban which strongly resembles a U.S. travel ban scheduled to go into effect the middle of next week.

The U.S. ban is a second effort by the Trump White House to ban travelers entering the U.S. from six predominantly Muslim nations, a white nationalist action which strongly resembles Israel’s travel ban against supporters of boycotts against Israel, Israeli settlements or Israeli institutions.

As Palestinians and Palestine supporters who have traveled to Palestine can testify, the new law will codify what unofficially has been operational for decades.

This new Israeli ban blocks travelers identified as supporters of BDS.

Specifically, the law states: “No entry or residency permit of any kind will be given to a person who is not a citizen of Israel or a permanent resident, if the person, the organization or body that he is active on behalf of, has called for a boycott of Israel in any public media or who committed to participate in such a boycott.”

When President Trump ordered “that entry to the U.S. be suspended for residents from six Muslim-majority countries and blocked refugees from around the world Monday, retooling the executive order that stoked chaos at airports and drew international condemnation and a rebuke in the courts”.

Trump removed Iraqis from the list of travelers who were temporarily banned, clarified that holders of visas and green cards can come to the U.S. and took other steps aimed at ensuring the order holds up in court.

Trump and Netanyahu are now partners in crime through the linkage of their respective nationalisms. Israel sells itself as an increasingly isolationist nation, at the same time it continues, unabated, an illegal and brutal occupation which produces its isolation.

Trump’s white nationalism, which was a big factor in his 2016 presidential election, links him to Netanyahu through their nationalisms soaked in religious exceptionalism. 

The Forward reports that sponsors of Israel’s anti-boycott bill argue that calls to boycott Israel represent “a new front of war against Israel.” Knesset member Roy Folkman of the Kulanu party said, “we can defend the state of Israel’s name and dignity and it’s not an embarrassment.”

Michael Sfard, an Israeli human rights attorney, described the impact of the new law:

In theory, the law could target a huge swath of travelers – from outspoken activists who join West Bank protests, to foreign nationals including several European politicians like the British Jeremy Corbyn who have called for boycotting economic, academic and cultural institutions in Israel or the West Bank.

Cornel West is a long-time supporter of BDS. West said he would obviously be a target for this ban. In an interview with Ha’aretz, he said:

“BDS is not a homogenous movement. There are a lot of different voices, but it is the only non-violent response I can see to the very ugly occupation, and I would do exactly the same if there was a Palestinian occupation of Jews. It’s a moral issue, a spiritual issue”.

In his interview with Ha’aretz, West was asked if he would consider visiting Israel to speak about BDS and the occupation. In spite of his support for a boycott, West says he would have, before the ban. “I could not get in now. But I consider Israelis my brothers and sisters, whether they are Jewish or Arab, just as I consider Palestinians, who are wrestling with the Israeli occupation”.

Columnist Jonathan Cook writes from Nazareth:

Legislation passed by the Israeli parliament on Monday night will only intensify the exclusionary trend. The new law forbids entry to anyone who supports a boycott, even if it is only of the settlements. As one legislator pointed out, that means Israel may quickly find itself bound to refuse entry to all officials from the United Nations and Europe.

In a sign of the new direction, Israel denied a tourist visa last week to Human Rights Watch’s new director for Israel and Palestine, having earlier refused him a work permit. One of the most prominent human rights organisations in the world was dismissed as an outlet for “Palestinian propaganda”.

The growing spirit of resistance to Israel’s occupation, has gathered momentum. In June, 2015, almost two years ago, William Booth and Ruth Eglash wrote in the Washington Post:

Suddenly, again, Israel is seeing new threats everywhere. The latest come not from rockets, the Israelis say, but from students armed with petitions and Palestinians seeking sanctions against the Israeli soccer team.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters here and in the United States are warning that Israel is unfairly beset on all sides, by old foes and new. Most worrisome of all, they say, are not armed militants but a campaign of “delegitimization” against the Jewish state.

Yesterday’s threat may have been a Hamas militant digging an attack tunnel across the Gaza Strip border.

Today’s threat, according to the Israeli government, appears to be a college student in Britain with a petition who supports the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” (BDS) movement against Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, who are approaching their 50th year of living under Israeli military occupation.

The nationalism that led to the Brexit election victory in the United Kingdom has strong right-wing allies in Europe.

In the 2016 German elections, a new party leader emerged with enough right-wing appeal to evoke Newsweek’s headline: The Trump of Germany:

In the dawn of the Trump era, one political party formerly on the fringes of German society has been glowing: the anti-immigrant, anti-EU Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

Four days after Trump’s inauguration, I met AfD’s party leader, Frauke Petry (at left), who represents the district of Saxony, at her office in Leipzig, where she compared Trump’s victory to Britain’s vote to leave the EU. .  .

While other prominent right-wing leaders, like Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front and Geert Wilders of the Dutch Freedom Party, have received more attention for their fiery brand of politics, the AfD’s Petry may, in some ways, be the most consequential of all the nativist European politicians.

Across the English Channel, Nigel Farage, an important right-wing figure in England’s split with the EU, shares with Trump and Gemany’s Frauke Petry an anti-immigrant stance. 

Nigel Farage has his own ties to Stephen Bannon and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, two anti-immigrant players in the Trump Administration. 

In her superb New York Times Magazine essay on February 28, 2017, Emily Bazelon (right) describes the relationship of these two men and their connection to Nigel Farage.

She begins her narrative:

One night in September 2014, when he was chief executive of Breitbart News, Stephen Bannon hosted cocktails and dinner at the Washington townhouse where he lived, a mansion near the Supreme Court that he liked to call the Breitbart Embassy. Beneath elaborate chandeliers and flanked by gold drapes and stately oil paintings, Jeff Sessions, then a senator from Alabama, sat next to the guest of honor: Nigel Farage, the insurgent British politician, who first met Sessions two years earlier when Bannon introduced them.

Farage was building support for his right-wing party by complaining in the British press about “uncontrolled mass immigration.” Sessions, like other attendees, was celebrating the recent collapse in Congress of bipartisan immigration reform, which would have provided a path to citizenship for some undocumented people.

At the dinner, Sessions told a writer for Vice, Reid Cherlin, that Bannon’s site was instrumental in defeating the measure. Sessions read Breitbart almost every day, he explained, because it was “putting out cutting-edge information.”

For Bannon and Sessions, “immigration was a galvanizing issue, lying at the center of their apparent vision for reshaping the United States by tethering it to its European and Christian origins”.

That was October, 2014.

Stephen Bannon is now the influential policy adviser to Donald J. Trump. The President has installed Bannon in the inner circle of the National Security Council.

Jeff Sessions is the attorney general of the United States. The two of them, with their allies, have a “vision of the nation besieged”. That vision can advance the Bannon-Sessions justification for policies that will develop their “divisive nationalism”. 

For one sample of the Sessions approach to governance, just this week, the AG issued this statement:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Thursday that he would advise President Trump to send newly captured terrorism suspects to the wartime prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which he called ‘a very fine place,’ rather than to bring them to civilian court for prosecution by the Justice Department he now runs. ‘There’s plenty of space,’ Mr. Sessions said of the prison. 

For Bannon, Sessions and their allies, “immigration was a galvanizing issue, lying at the center of their apparent vision for reshaping the United States by tethering it to its European and Christian origins”.

How does the Trump new anti-immigration order sound to those who do not dwell inside the Trump bubble?

The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, described the new order as a “watered-down ban” that was still “meanspirited and un-American.” 

Margaret Huang, the executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in a statement that the new order would “cause extreme fear and uncertainty for thousands of families by, once again, putting anti-Muslim hatred into policy.”

Also this weekthe ties between the two governments now running Israel and the U.S., were strengthened even more when “the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on Thursday to approve the nomination of David Friedman (at left), a vocal supporter of Israeli settlements and a longtime associate of U.S. President Donald Trump, as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel. Eleven Republican senators voted for Friedman, joined by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) who broke ranks with fellow Democrats, all remaining nine of whom voted against the nomination”.

The vote of the full Senate on David Friedman is expected to reach the floor next week.

The picture of Netanyahu is from Mondoweiss; the picture of Petry is a Nurphoto/Getty photo by Emmanuele Contini; the picture of Friedman is an AFP photo by Win McNamee.

Posted in Donald Trump, Israel, Middle East, Netanyahu, Palestinians | 2 Comments

The NFL Star Who Refused to Shine For Israel

by James M. Wallseahawks-com

When I learned of the courageous decision made recently by Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, I remembered my 1973 trip to Israel.

Bennett (right) made headlines when he pulled out of an Israeli government-sponsored trip to Israel designed for NFL players.

He refused to be a part of Israel’s hasbara campaign.

Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now, interviewed Bennett after he had written an open letter in which he said:

One of my heroes has always been Muhammad Ali. I know that Ali always stood strongly with the Palestinian people, visiting refugee camps, going to rallies, and always willing to be a ‘voice for the voiceless.’ I want to be a ‘voice for the voiceless’ and I cannot do that by going on this kind of trip to Israel.”

I made a similar trip just after the 1973 war, a trip arranged, but not paid for, by the American Jewish Committee. It was a journey with a surprise ending. 

It was on that trip that I had the epiphany that opened me to the incredibly one-sided Israeli version of events that had led to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, and to the occupation of Palestinian territory since the 1967 war.

On that trip,  I was guided by an American Jewish Committee (AJC) staffer. One day on the trip, I had three experiences my AJC host did not want me to have.

Through these three experiences I had a consciousness-raising, life-changing epiphany.

First, I saw my first Israeli settlement planted illegally on Palestinian land. That settlement is now Ma’ale Adumim, which became a “Jewish City” in 1991. Its 2015 population was 37,525.

Second, I had a long discussion with a Palestinian farmer whose water supply had been stolen by Israeli industrial farms in the Jordan  Valley. He showed me his almost-empty well down the hill from a modern Israeli well.

Third, I met the Bir Zeit College President and his latest faculty member. More on them below.

I have written elsewhere of my epiphany, and the young Mennonite minister who took me on my journey along the Jericho Road and up the Jordan Valley, to the Golan Heights and down to the campus of Bir Zeit College.

That longer story is available on line at Link magazine, published by Americans for Middle East Understanding (AMEU).

My epiphany in 1973 was different from that of Bennett’s. It was a different time. Bennett had a mentor like Ali, who had identified with the occupied Palestinians. I had no mentors in the U.S. like Ali.

What we share, Bennett and I, is the desire to share a truth we have encountered. Bennett’s decision was to make a risky moral decision to stand with Palestine. He shared that truth with other NFL players who were invited on the same “ambassadorial” trip.

In the end, only five out of the original 13 players accepted Israel’s one-sided trip to Israel. Bennett’s witness had struck a chord with them.

Bennett was blessed with a mentor named Muhammad Ali. I had to travel to Palestine to find my mentor.

When I became editor and publisher of The Christian Century magazine in 1972, one of the first calls I received was from a staff member of the American Jewish Committee. I was soon invited to lunch with the Chicago Israeli Consul.

At that time, and still today, Israel has an active hasbara campaign which targets American pastors with tempting invitations to “come and walk where Jesus walked”. The pastors are told that if they bring members of their parish on their trip, the pastor’s expenses are covered.

The same good-will trips are offered and accepted by politicians, police chiefs, NFL players, preachers, public officials, journalists, and anyone else with influence on others who are susceptible to a one-sided journey to “the Holy Land”.

In 1973, I was not a pastor, but a clergyman editor of an ecumenical national publication. Israel’s strategy to recruit pastors and other public leaders was, by 1973, already a huge success. They had less success, though, with this religious journalist.

When I was being courted by the Israelis in my early months as editor, I was new to what western governments then called “the Palestinian problem”. My understanding of the issue, I am ashamed to admit, was largely shaped by the Leon Uris book, Exodus, and the movie that followed, featuring Paul Newman as Israeli military leader Ari Ben Canaan.

My experience and abject ignorance were shared by generations of seminary graduates who entered parish ministries. Seminaries were no help in introducing us to this immoral, highly significant criminal social justice issue.  What little we knew about “The Holy Land” was shaped by a pro-Israel secular media and our devotion to the scriptures, a devotion Israel has always been eager to exploit.

In that “Holy Land”, this criminal violation of the Palestinian people remains a daily occurrence.

A current news story in the Palestinian publication Ma’an, is but the latest example of the brutal, illegal occupation. It was circulated by the IMEMC (International Middle East Media Center) in Jerusalem:

Israeli soldiers abducted, Tuesday [February 28], five students of Birzeit University, including three females, in the Ramallah and al-Biereh District, while protesting near the Ofer Israeli prison, and violently assaulted them.

The students were participating in a massive nonviolent procession held in solidarity with Palestinian detainees holding hunger strikes in Israeli prisons, including the former head of the Students’ Council in the University, journalist Mohammad al-Qeeq, and Jamal Abu al-Leil.

The abducted students have been identified as Ahmad Khader, Hassan Daraghma, Miran Barghouthi, Zeinab Barghouthi and Bayan Safi.

In Israeli parlance, “abduct” is a euphemism for “arrested”. What the story does not add is that Palestinians who are arrested by soldiers of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), are not allowed to contact family members, nor lawyers.  

This is not the conduct of a democracy; it is the method of dictatorial control by a nation funded by U.S. tax-payers. 

In 1973, that dictatorial control was already in full military mode. I saw it then and have continued to see my American government cajole, suggest, tolerate and fund, successive Israeli governments who are free to arrest and imprison protesting students. 

Forty-four years ago, I had not the slightest awareness of the evil of occupation, which is why I eagerly accepted the American Jewish Committee’s invitation to visit Israel, a few weeks after the 1973 war.

It was a good and quiet time to be there. The war had frightened away tourists. The American Colony Hotel was eager to have me occupy one of their many empty guest rooms.

Early in my visit, while sitting with my AJC host in an almost-empty Jerusalem restaurant, the mayor of Jerusalem came by our table to welcome me to Israel. He was looking for American friends. 

I had made one stipulation for my trip. I would accept arrangement assistance for travel and hotel arrangements, but as a journalist, I insisted on paying for that travel and hotel.

That made it easier for me to escape the AJC schedule near the end of my trip and agree to visit Palestinian territory under the watchful eye of a Mennonite I met. I would not have had my epiphany with my AJC host.

When my Mennonite friend, Leroy Friesen, and I visited the Bir Zeit campus, we had a long discussion with the college president, Hanna Nasir, who would later bring Bir Zeit into university status (BZU). 

In retirement he serves as the chairman of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission, and is also the chair of the Board of Trustees of BZU.

Nasir introduced us to a new professor just back from graduate school in Virginia. She was a Palestinian, Hanan Ashrawi, who had earned her Ph.D. in Medieval and Comparative Literature from the University of Virginia.

Dr. Ashrawi became the first woman elected to the Palestinian National Council. Over the years she has been active in Palestinian government affairs. She became a familiar figure on western television news programs as spokesperson for President Yasir Arafat.

Michael Bennett drew national attention to the injustice suffered by Palestinians when he refused to take a hasbara trip to promote Israel. He then influenced eight of his fellow NFL players to withdraw from the trip with him.

Leroy Friesen was my personal Michael Bennett. He introduced me to the reality of the Palestinian Occupation.

I should say how Leroy and I met. It was at a clergy meeting at the Holy Land Institute, in Jerusalem, which I described in my Link article, as “an institution of a more evangelical persuasion than that of the Christian Century, which is known in church circles as a liberal magazine.”  

During a coffee break he quietly spoke to me and said, “you are not getting the full story on this trip”.

He offered to take me on a drive the next day through the occupied Palestinian West Bank. I cancelled my AJC schedule for the day. Early the next morning, we headed down the Jericho Road on a journey on which I was blessed with my epiphany.

In 1973, there were few Americans interested in hearing the Nakba story. There were few Americas who cared to understood the horror and brutality of a military occupation. Israel had successfully captured the hearts and minds of the American people through its intensive campaign to co-opt opinion-makers.

Today, 44 years later, a growing number of opinion-makers know and understand the ugly truth about Israel’s creation and its illegal occupation of Palestine.

One of those opinion-makers is a prominent professional athlete with a large personal following, Seattle Seahawks defensive end, Michael Bennett. At great personal risk to his career, Michael Bennett has taken a stand for Palestinian justice. 

Bennett needs others to stand with him.  He needs American politicians, police chiefs, NFL players, preachers, journalists, and anyone else offered a one-sided journey to “the Holy Land”, to follow his lead. Spread the word, Michael Bennett’s got your back.

Posted in Israel, Media, Palestinians | 16 Comments

Trump Delivers “A Deportation Force on Steroids”

by James M. Wallscreen-shot-2017-02-22-at-3-55-59-pm

In response to a question about Antisemitism, President Trump summarized his answer with one of his typical non sequitur closings: “you’re going to see a whole lotta love.”

What we are getting from Trump is not even remotely related to love. What we are receiving from the result of the disastrous 2016 election, is the huge package of hate Trump promised in his campaign, and now implements as president. 

Trump deports undocumented immigrants because he now has the job his White Nationalist supporters helped him win. 

The Congress, and Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, set up and oiled the  mechanism for deportation under the direction of the “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an American federal law enforcement agency under the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS).” (Wikipedia).

In a Democracy Now interview posted by Amy Goodman Wednesday the nation Trump rules, now has an ICE force that implements the hatred he generated in his campaign, a campaign that began, we must never forget, with Trump’s Big Lie about Barack Obama’s birth place.

The ICE is intended to carefully identify undocumented immigrants for depotation.

Under President Trump, the ICE is riding on a Trump-instigated wave of hatred to conduct “a deportation force on steroids”.

That superb summary statement came in the Goodman interview from Cesar Vargas, who is co-director of DREAM Action Coalition. He is New York state’s first openly undocumented attorney. Responding to Goodman, Vargas said:

We are seeing now a deportation force on steroids, because the fact is that the deportation force was created back, you know, with George Bush, but also strengthened with President Obama, who deported more people than any president in American history. So, Donald Trump has really taken the keys of this deportation machine, and refueling it and really aggressively pursuing and targeting every immigrant.

Congress and Presidents Bush and Obama, handed a loaded pistol of free-wheeling deportations to future presidents.

Vargas continued:

When he talks about ‘Not all. We’re just going to go after the bad ones, after the rapists, the criminals,’ well, he’s not targeting just those violent criminals, but he’s targeting potentially parents, hard-working children, students and veterans, and he claims to be a supporter of, champion of veterans.

He is now about to deport veterans and the families of these veterans. So we are seeing Donald Trump taking the keys of an aggressive deportation machine, that President Obama created, and taking it over 100 miles per hour.

Goodman also interviewed Margo Schlanger, professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School, who served in the Obama administration as head of civil rights and civil liberties at the Department of Homeland Security.

Amy Goodman asked Professor Schlanger, “talk about what you think are the critical guidelines here and what they mean for millions of immigrants in the United States?

She responded: “Well, the problem is, there really aren’t guidelines. What the president has done, and what DHS has now confirmed, is rendered basically every person who’s here out of status a prospect for deportation. And so, it’s everyone. If you read through what are supposed to be the priorities, they reach pretty much everybody.”

We had reason to be aware of the personality we elected in 2016.  He was already a public figure when the 2012 Academy Awards evoked a “from the desk of Trump” video outburst from him.

The Daily Beast shared the video of Trump’s outburst Wednesday (see below) in advance of this Sunday’s annual Academy Awards presentations.  The target in the 2012 video was Sacha Baron Cohen, who dumped ashes on red-carpet interviewer Ryan Seacrest.

The ashes event was a stunt, designed to showcase Cohen, playing the role of an Eastern European immigrant named “Ali G”. Trump did his insult-praise routine, attacking Cohen and describing Ryan Seacrest as a “great guy”.

It was disgraceful,” shouted Trump. “And the security guard that was standing to the right? He ought to be fired immediately. That guy had nothing. He is not capable. He allowed this guy to get away with so much. Believe me, if that ever happened to somebody with real security, Sacha Baron Cohen would not be in good shape right now. He’d be in a hospital. He would have been punched in the face so many times, he wouldn’t have known what happened.”

A bit of context: Trump was punked by Cohen on The Ali G Show back in 2003. He later claimed, via Twitter, “I never fall for scams. I am the only person who immediately walked out of my ‘Ali G’ interview.” Cohen later claimed Trump was full of it, saying “he was there for seven minutes” sitting in his chair while Ali G took [him down], which was “quite a long time” for a bit.

A Trump attack on the media, so prevalent now that he is President, wraps up his 2012 attack on Ali G, with a report on one of the parties surrounding that year’s Academy Awards.

Here is his video attacking Sacha Baron Cohen and Vanity Fair. This is from 2012. He was saying the same stuff then that he said as a candidate and now as a president. 

He made sure his viewers know that the “absolute worst party” of the night was thrown by Vanity Fair, “a  publication whose newsstand circulation is falling. It has lost its focus; it used to be a wonderful magazine. Right now it is boring, just like the party they had. Too bad, it was a great institution. It’s gone”.

After Citizen Trump’s attack on Vanity Fair in 2012, the magazine continued to give its annual Academy Awards party, hosted by Graydon Carter, the magazine’s editor. 

In its January 23 issue, Vanity Fair editor Carter had this to say about the nation’s new president:

Donald Trump, our 45th president, sold the electorate an America First bill of goods, when what he really had in mind was Me First. “I won,” he gloats, “therefore I can do this! I won, therefore I can do that!” In early January, our then president-elect was invited up to the offices of Condé Nast, the parent company of Vanity Fair, to meet with the editors of its magazines.

The get-together was off the record. (Not my wish. Nor was the meeting itself.) The standard practice is that, in such a context, nothing of what Trump said can be repeated. It doesn’t really matter, because I recall nothing being said that he hadn’t already said many times before.

Is there any American at this point who hasn’t heard Trump talk about pretty much everything? He always speaks lovingly about his favorite subject—himself. He spent an entire campaign talking about the size of his victories, the size of his rallies, the size of his Twitter following, the excellence of his golf game, and the greatness of his company.

The magazine’s circulation, by the way, has remained an obsession with Trump. 

On December 16, 2016, after his election as president, Vanity Fair ran a negative review of a Trump grill. The president-elect was not pleased. He was ready with a tweet. Fastcompany.com, a business-oriented outlet, reported:

Yesterday, Donald Trump tweeted that numbers for Vanity Fair magazine are “way down,” and that the Condé Nast-owned lifestyle publication is in “big trouble.” The tweet—apparently a response to VF’s skewering of Trump Grill on Wednesday—is part of a pattern for Trump, who has a history of taking to Twitter to attack media brands that write unflattering things about him.

According to Trump, Vanity Fair’s numbers are “really poor,” but what numbers is he talking about? Audience data for the magazine shows it had a pretty good year both in print and online. In fact, it’s having a pretty good decade. According to the Alliance for Audited Media, VF’s verified and paid circulation averaged 1.2 million for the first six months of 2016. That’s slightly above where it was five years ago and not too shabby for a print magazine these days.

The Daily Beast assumes the President will be glued to his television this coming Sunday night. He will most likely be sending out tweets to express his approval and disapproval. 

Meanwhile, President Trump’s ICE forces will be busy rounding up those undocumented “bad guys”, he promised his political base he would deport. 

The picture of ICE agents at top is a screen shot.

Posted in Donald Trump, Obama, Politics and Elections | 1 Comment

Trump to Bibi and Abbas: “I’m With You Fellers”

by James M. Wall

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump approached the waning days of his first month in office with what he hoped would be a significant foreign policy event, his first White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

At their joint press conference, the real estate tycoon now occupying this nation’s highest office, became Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson), from the 2005 Coen brothers movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou (see clip above).

In the film, Delmar and his pals, Everett (George Clooney), the dominant figure who evokes military occupier Bibi Netanyahu, and Pete (John Turturro), in the role of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, have escaped from a Mississippi chain gang.

Still linked together by the chains of Occupation, Everett and Pete argue heatedly over which of them should be the Decider of the future.

Ha’aretz writer Ilene Prusher analyzed Wednesday’s Trump-Netanyahu press conference, under this harsh headline: Trump Is Delusional and Ignorant About Israel. His Meeting With Netanyahu Proved It.

Prusher opened her analysis by pointing to what she calls a bizarro moment: “Trump departed from decades of U.S. policy of all administrations, Republican and Democratic, when he said that America was no longer determined to reach a two-state solution to end the conflict”.

Trump’s exact words were: “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.”

The answer drew laughs. Delmar could not have said it better. Here are clips from the press conference:

When we elected Trump, we did this nation a horrendous disservice.  We put an unqualified and unprepared man in the White House who is prone to making up stuff to suit the moment.

Veteran political journalist Elizabeth Drew, opened her critique of Trump for the New York Review of Books:

When the most unpopular and least prepared president-elect in modern history took the oath of office on January 20, most of Washington, like most of the country and the world, had little idea of the turbulence and disruption that he intended to bring to the job. Nonetheless those who’d watched him closely over the past year and a half were aware that he was manifestly unfit for a job that’s beyond the capacities of most people.

Examples of his turbulence and disruptions abound. Trump’s Delmar moment with the Israeli Prime Minister, is only one of many.

His cabinet choices have consistently been rejected by Democrats, unfortunately not enough Democrats, since Republicans hold a narrow lead in the Senate.

Trump has selected no Team of Rivals, as Doris Kearns Goodwin described Lincoln’s cabinet in her 2005 book of that name. Trump has no feel for how a divided government must serve a divided population.

His cabinet choices have been bizarre. He has catered exclusively to his base of voters, many of whom responded to his campaign of hate and fear, and to his friends in the one percent.

Betsy DeVos, his narrowly-approved Education Secretary, brings to her post a lifetime of support for private and religious schools and a disinterest in public education.

His Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, also narrowly approved, has a record of opposition to minority rights.

On Wednesday, Trump’s choice for Labor Secretary, Andrew Puzder, announced his withdrawal for consideration.

Puzder had been mired in a history of illegal business practices and open contempt for his employees. Puzder has been CEO of CKE Restaurants, Inc., the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. He was clearly hostile to the work of the agency he was appointed to lead.

Another blot on his record was a 30-year-old video tape of his wife describing abuse. The tape was recorded as the couple was embroiled in divorce proceedings. Puzder’s wife subsequently withdrew the allegations.

These stumbles in the cabinet approval process demonstrated a lack of experience and planning by the Trump administration. That same weakness was made even more apparent when Trump’s National Security adviser, General Michael Flynn, resigned before the Wednesday Trump-Netanyahu meeting.

What had been planned as a public boost for the two leaders, was radically transformed into a disaster on both sides of the Atlantic. Israeli media shifted its focus to the chaos in Washington.

Ha’aretz columnist Bradley Burston wrote:

Television broadcasts suggested that Trump’s primary hope for the meeting was to distract the U.S. public from what Yedioth Ahronoth called in a banner headline an ‘Administration in Crisis’.

“Donald Trump is becoming increasingly embroiled and bogged down in that scandal involving Russia,” reported Israel Channel Two correspondent Udi Segal, adding that Trump’s predicament “is also casting dark clouds over the Netanyahu visit, following the Michael Flynn resignation”. . . .

Off screen, you could hear hardline settlement activists breathing a welcome if tentative sigh of relief. This has been an arduous, anxious, humiliating and painful period for the settlement enterprise, punctuated by abrupt disappointment in Trump and what his presidency might mean for what had just recently seemed to be their sky’s-the-limit future.

In short, the hard-line settler movement in Israel now rejoices over Donald Trump’s role as Delmar, an American leader who demonstrated both ignorance and a dangerous naivety, in a central Middle East problem. 

President Trump appears to have no clear understanding of the impact his public statements (nor his tweets) have on foreign or domestic opinion. So this Delmar exchange he has just had in front of a world public, may just be today’s Trumpism.

Elsewhere, Palestinian and Israelis, accustomed to U.S. policy impacting their daily lives, are reading the tea leaves. What they see, to use a Jewish meme, “is good for the Jews” and bad for the Palestinians.

Palestinian media outlet Maan News reported:

Palestinian Ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour, released a statement following the press conference saying that peace would not be achieved “without determining the basis of the peace process,” and highlighted the fact that the majority of the international community continued to support a two-state solution despite Trump and Netanyahu’s comments.

Fatah official Rafaat Elayyan also released a statement condemning the meeting, saying that Netanyahu and Trump had “publicly killed the dream of establishing a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

He also stated that Trump had disregarded international law and all previous agreements between the Palestinians and Israelis to achieve peace in the region.

“We are facing today an occupation that refuses to establish an independent state and aims to annex the West Bank and Jerusalem to Israel by expanding settlements supported by the US administration,” Elayyan said. He went on to urge the Palestinian leadership to “adopt a new strategy” based on unification that can end national conflict within Palestine.

Maan also reported that in Israel:

Right-wing ministers across the board indicated their view that Israel was entering a ‘new era’ not restricted by the two-state solution or longstanding peace standards established by the international community.

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev, also from the Likud party, reportedly said that “the era of the freeze has ended. It’s the end of the [construction] freeze in Judea and Samaria,” an Israeli term for the West Bank, adding that “a new diplomatic era began in Washington today.”

Other right-wing ministers expressed their relief that the Israeli government no longer had to maintain an image of supporting the two-state solution which international peace efforts have focused on for decades as a route out of the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.

It is that “scandal involving Russia”, alluded to earlier, that is now Trump’s major burden. The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof asks, What did Trump Know and When Did he Know It?”

During the Watergate scandal, until now the most outrageous political scandal in American history, the crucial question was drawled by Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

Today the question is the same.

This is not about Mike Flynn. It is about the president who appointed him, who earlier considered Flynn for vice president. The latest revelation of frequent contacts between the Trump team and Russian intelligence should be a wake-up call to Republicans as well as Democrats.

When Vice President Mike Pence was asked by Chris Wallace of Fox News on Jan. 15 if there had been any contacts between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, he answered: “Of course not. Why would there be any contacts?”

Great question, Mr. Vice President.

Kristof concludes his column with an appeal for a bipartisan investigation, “ideally an independent panel modeled on the 9/11 Commission. It must address what is now the central question: ‘What did the president know, and when did he know it?'”

Meanwhile, a final nod to that press conference where President Trump told Prime Minister Netanyahu what he should do is resolve the issues of peace and settlements.

Daily Show host Trevor Noah revealed Trump’s negotiation strategy which closely resembles what that beer-guzzling man pounding on the bar would do if he could speak to Netanyahu.

And so it comes to pass, another day and another set of self-induced problems for President Trump. 

As the issue of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election awaits investigation, the world watches to see how deep any contacts with Russia go in the Trump White House.

Be prepared for anything. This is a presidency unlike anything we have ever seen. Will Trump succeed in bringing peace between Israel and Palestine? We now must wait and see.

For the Noah link, click below:

http://www.cc.com/video-clips/oe0grh/the-daily-show-with-trevor-noah-u-s–diplomacy-with-israel–donald-trump-style

It loads slowly, but believe me, it is worth the effort.

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

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in us”

by James M. Wall

The Merriam-Webster dictionary has just announced that more than one thousand new words have been added to its latest edition.bill-olearythe-washington-post

One of those new words–snollygoster–arrives just in time to apply to Republican members of Congress, who shut down Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) as she was reading a letter from Coretta Scott King on the Senate floor.

According to Merriam-Webster, a snollygoster is “a shrewd, unprincipled person”. The word has a history in American English as far back as 1846.

The dictionary cites one use by former President Harry Truman who “lamented that Dwight Eisenhower had given in to congressional ‘snollygosters’—unprincipled politicians”.

One of the darker moments in this one-sided cabinet battle in a Republican-controlled Senate, came when Senator Warren was not allowed to participate further in the Senate debate over Senator Jeff Sessions, to become Attorney General.

Following a second straight all-night session, Warren’s Democratic colleagues came to her support. Several male senators took to the floor to read the letter. They were not shut down for “breaking Rule 19”.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in a floor speech Wednesday, “I think Leader McConnell owes Senator Warren an apology”. He joined other Democrats who “were particularly chagrined that a Senate rule could be invoked to prevent a member from criticizing someone who is up for confirmation before the body”.

National Public Radio covered the story Wednesday:

A day after Senate Republicans invoked a conduct rule to end Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s speech against the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general, a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King urging the Senate to reject Sessions’ nomination as a federal judge is gaining new prominence.

coretta-scott-king-mark-wilson-gettyWarren was reading aloud from the letter by King, the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., when she was interrupted by the presiding chair of the Senate, who warned her of breaking Rule 19, which forbids members from imputing to a colleague “any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”

The warning mentioned Warren’s earlier quote of Sen. Edward Kennedy, who had called Sessions, then a U.S. attorney, a disgrace. But it was King’s letter that — more than 10 minutes after Warren finished reading it aloud Tuesday night — prompted Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to call her out of order. That resulted in Warren being silenced on the Senate floor.

King’s letter was posted online by The Washington Post.

When Senator Sessions was confirmed Wednesday night 53-47, in a party-line vote, his confirmation was the second narrow confirmation. The only Democrat who supported him was Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a state that voted 67.9% for Trump and 26.2% for Hillary Clinton. 

Betsy DeVos, an anti-public school, billionaire fund-raiser, from Michigan, who has never attended a public school nor sent her children to a public school, became Secretary of Education by an unprecedented single vote (for a cabinet member) cast by Vice President Mike Pence.

DeVos comes from a deeply-conservative religious family. Her husband, Dick DeVos, was a CEO of the beauty and nutrition giant Amway, and her brother is Erik Prince, the founder of the controversial private security company Blackwater.

Much to their credit, two Republican senators voted against the clearly unqualified Betsy DeVos for that job, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska. One additional Republican senator could have sent her back to her religious private-school advocacy. 

Fox News reported:

By this time in 2001, then-President George W. Bush had his entire Cabinet confirmed. Then-President Barack Obama was just three short of a full Cabinet on Feb. 8, 2009.

Senate Republican leaders asserted this week that — based on numbers provided by the Partnership for Public Service, Plum Book, and Congress.gov — Trump has the fewest Cabinet secretaries confirmed at this point in the presidency of any incoming president since George Washington. 

These cabinet confirmation votes lead to a stark reality. This nation is sharply divided along rigid ideological lines. This division was clear during the campaign. It is certain to continue this way through the remaining votes on cabinet members, all of whom are expected to be confirmed, largely along party lines.

How did this happen? As Cassius says in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves. . . “

It is “ourselves” who are so easily distracted by the “blood and circuses” of our modern culture, that as a nation we remain almost oblivious to the deeper implications of politics and governing.

One such display of an empire’s “blood and circuses”, described this way in the Roman Empire’s declining decades, is the marriage of violence and commerce in the game of football. 

To understand how violent this game is, see Will Smith in his 2015 movie, Concussion.

This year’s professional football season closed with the 51st Super Bowl, played between the Atlanta Falcons and the Boston Patriots. Over one hundred million spectators watched that game on television, a contest which ended in a 34-28 Patriots victory.

Commercial advertisers have made this annual event a money-maker for television, team owners, corporate advertisers, and the players.

It is also a diversion for Americans who revel in the spectacle of the game. To fully grasp the significance of the Super Bowl and its deep involvement in sanctioned violence and commercial exploitation, consider the Super Bowl ads that aired during the game.

The New Yorker reminded its readers that the commercials that run during the game are controlled by Fox, which airs the game, and the National Football League, who together hold veto power over “ads that they decide make controversial or overt political statements”.

One little-known advertiser, 84 Lumber, a Pittsburgh-based building-supply company, almost slipped through the tight net Fox and the NFL wrapped around what was shown on the air.

An ad for 84 Lumber, The New Yorker reported, originally showed a mother and daughter “traveling through Mexico only to be met by a border wall”, in a narrative which was censored by either Fox or the NFL, or both.

What finally ran as viewers sipped their beverages and poked into their cheese and onion dips, was a shortened, softer ad ending before the mother and daughter reached that awful wall which Donald Trump has pledged to create across the entire U.S.-Mexico border.

The full ad, available below, was released on 84 Lumber’s web site.

A much safer immigrant story, in the wisdom of the NFL and Fox, showed a largely fictional version of a German immigrant who made it to St. Louis where he unexpectedly found a partner.

Thus it was, in this advertising fairy tale, that Anheuser and Busch merged their passions for making beer.

Immigrants are safe topics for the NFL and Fox, so long as they come from Europe in an earlier century. 

We conclude this Brutus and Cassius visit with this stern reminder from Benjamin Franklin:

The deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were held in strict secrecy. Consequently, anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall when the proceedings ended in order to learn what had been produced behind closed doors. The answer was provided immediately. A Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” 

Posted in Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Politics and Elections | Tagged , | 5 Comments

White House Islamophobia Dictates Trump Policy

 

pete-marovichpool-photo-via-european-pressphoto-agency

by James M. Wall

When President Donald Trump spoke by phone Saturday, January 28, with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, he was speaking (above) from the White House, before an audience of two aides, National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn and his top strategist, Stephen K. Bannon.

Trump’s conversation with the leader of a major U.S. ally, was supposed to last an hour. Instead, Trump hung up after 25 minutes. 

The Washington Post reported: “It should have been one of the most congenial calls for the new commander in chief — a conversation with the leader of Australia, one of America’s staunchest allies, at the end of a triumphant week”.

Instead, President Trump “blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refu­gee agreement and boasted about the magnitude of his electoral college win”. The details of the call were leaked from “senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange”. 

Trump’s diplomatic style is, to say the least, different. “At one point, Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day — including Russian President Vladi­mir Putin — and that ‘this was the worst call by far’.

Someone in the White House wanted this exchange made public. Bannon and Flynn were there to hear it live. It should be safe to assume they made it public. Trump’s bellicosity is what they want the American public, and the world, to hear.

Trump also wants the world to know, through Twitter, how he feels about “refugees”. His explosive conversation with the Australian Prime Minister involved what Trump, in a tweet called, a “dumb” Obama-era “deal”.

The Washington Post provides a different reading on the “deal”:

Last night, President Trump went off on Australia, criticizing a “dumb” Obama-era “deal” that would, in Trump’s words, force the United States to take “thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia.”

Except  that’s not really what the deal says. Not at all.

Trump is referring to a deal signed in November. According to the agreement, which took months of negotiation, America would accept about 1,200 refugees (not, as Trump called them, “illegal immigrants”) from Australia. 

The United States would prioritize families and children, and all candidates would be subjected to a thorough vetting process. America’s Department of Homeland Security would conduct two rounds of interviews with each candidate. 

The President is following an Islamophobic script, a theme of hatred and fear shared with his aides, Stephen K. Bannon and Michael T. Flynn, that contributed mightily to Trump’s election victory. Australian Prime Minister Trumbull knows this. In a public statement he said he would not comment on the “domestic issues” of other nations.

In a January 30 editorial, entitled,”President Bannon?“, the New York Times laments:

[W]e’ve never witnessed a political aide move as brazenly to consolidate power as Stephen Bannon — nor have we seen one do quite so much damage so quickly to his putative boss’s popular standing or pretenses of competence.

Huffington Post had this to say about Bannon when Trump made him his chief strategist:

Trump has tapped Breitbart News chairman Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist. Thankfully, a firestorm erupted this week as countless media outlets noted that the ultra-conservative website Breitbart, under Bannon’s leadership, has become a platform for the ”alt right” and as such it, “embraces and promotes white nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny.”

Talking Points Memo wrote about Flynn when he was announced as National Security Adviser:

The outspoken retired intelligence officer, who served as a close adviser to Trump throughout the 2016 election, believes that Islamic extremism poses an existential threat to the United States. He has called Islam a “malignant cancer” and a “sick” ideology, while his active Twitter feed is full of posts assuring his followers that fearing Muslims is “rational.”

Islamophobia is alive and well in the White House. We must assume this will continue to be a driving force throughout Trump’s administration.

Gallup has monitored the growth of Islamophobia through its expert polling.  For future reference as we follow the Trump White House in action, here is the definition of Islamophobia that Gallup offers:

A phobia, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is an exaggerated, usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation. It may be hard for the afflicted to sufficiently determine or communicate the source of this fear, but it exists.

In recent years, a specific phobia has gripped Western societies – Islamophobia.

Researchers and policy groups define Islamophobia in differing detail, but the term’s essence is essentially the same, no matter the source:

An exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life.

In the past, and now in the White House, Trump aides Bannon and Flynn have displayed full-fledged Islamophobia. Trump himself, on the other hand, appears to have adopted Islamophobia as yet another tool in his personal self-aggrandizing tool box.

He uses it when he needs to whip up crowds so that he might bask in their anger and their approbation for a fellow hater. Now, safely in the White House, he uses it to demonstrate his strongman image.

The Obama-negotiated deal with Australia, did not involve Muslims, but they were still, to Trump, “refugees”, and right now he is playing the strongman on “refugees”. He knows the boys in the bars must be pounding their fists with this latest Trump outburst, confirming that their hatred is, in fact, the Gospel Truth.

Trump was on a roll this past weekend. Saturday night he was on the phone with the Australian Prime Minister.

On Friday night, January 27, President Trump issued an executive order banning travel by Muslims from seven largely Muslim nations. His acting Attorney General, Sally Quinlan Yates, refused to allow the Justice Department to defend the order.

President Trump fired his acting attorney general on Monday night, removing her as the nation’s top law enforcement officer after she defiantly refused to defend his executive order closing the nation’s borders to refugees and people from predominantly Muslim countries.

In an escalating crisis for his 10-day-old administration, the president declared in a statement that Sally Q. Yates who had served as deputy attorney general under President Barack Obama, had betrayed the administration by announcing that Justice Department lawyers would not defend Mr. Trump’s order against legal challenges.

Trump fired Yates with the angry zeal his fans loved when he fired contestants on his television reality shows.

Contrary to his repeated campaign rhetoric, Trump’s executive order did not cover all Muslims.

The travel ban targets only those Muslims in nations where there are no Trump towers, casinos, office complexes, or golf courses, specifically, as the Independent reported:

The executive order Mr Trump signed blocks entry for the next 90 days to travellers from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.

Excluded from the list are several wealthier Muslim majority countries where the Trump Organization has business interest, including Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Turkey, the UAE, Egypt and Indonesia.

Those two lists reveal just how little forethought, experience or planning, went into the executive order. 

The marches and protests around airports and elsewhere that sprang up in the nation following the Islamophobic executive order, did evoke some White House scrambling and more lies.

Trump claimed he had linked his ban to the list President Obama employed in a 2011 executive order. Foreign Policy nailed him on this bogus claim:

There are so many reasons to detest the Donald Trump administration’s executive order on “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry to the United States” that it’s hard to know where to start.

Others have already argued eloquently about its cruelty in singling out the most vulnerable in society; its strategic folly in insulting countries and individuals the United States needs to help it fight terrorism (the ostensible purpose of the order in the first place); its cynical incoherence in using the 9/11 attacks as a rationale and then exempting the attackers’ countries of origin; its ham-handed implementation and ever-shifting explanations for how, and to whom, it applies; and, thankfully, its legal vulnerability on a slew of soon-to-be-litigated grounds, including that it may violate the establishment and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

In light of all that, and particularly in light of the new White House’s acknowledged aversion to facts, it may seem like a minor point that President Trump and his advisors, in seeking to justify and normalize the executive order, have made a series of false or misleading claims about steps taken more than five years earlier by the Barack Obama administration. In case you missed it, a statement from the president published Sunday afternoon read:

“My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months. The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror.”

Foreign Policy states that Trumps’ claim that he is following an earlier Obama executive order, “obscures” at least “five enormous differences between the executive order the White House issued Friday and what the Obama administration did”.

The five differences Foreign Policy lists, in considerable detail, involved:

The Obama administration’s 2011 review was narrow. It covered the vetting procedures applied to citizens of a single country (Iraq). It applied only to refugees and applicants for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), created by Congress to help Iraqis (and later Afghans) who supported the United States in those conflicts.

Obama’s 2011 order was not a ban. It “did not ban visas for refugees”. Refugees do not travel on visas.

The Obama administration’s 2011 review “came in response to specific threat information, including the arrest in Kentucky of two Iraqi refugees, still the only terrorism-related arrests out of about 130,000 Iraqi refugees and SIV holders admitted to the United States”.

The 2011 Obama review involved a dozen deputies and principals committee meetings, including cabinet and deputy cabinet-level officials from all of the relevant departments and agencies — including State, Homeland Security, and Justice — and the intelligence community.

In contrast to this involvement of pertinent government agencies, the Trump executive order “was reportedly drafted by White House political officials and then presented to the implementing agencies a fait accompli.”

Not only is this, Foreign Policy concludes, “bad policymaking practice; it led directly to the confusion, bordering on chaos, that has attended implementation of the order by agencies that could only start asking questions (such as: ‘Does this apply to green card holders?’) once the train had left the station.”

That bad policy making and confusion bordering on chaos comes from a White House now led by purveyors of Islamophobia. 

This is Day Fourteen of the Trump presidency.  We have 1446 days left until the next inauguration, January 20, 2021.

In those 1446 days, do not despair. Instead, cling to, and work from, the reminder often quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Picture at top is a ©Pete Marovich/Pool photo via European Pressphoto Agency

Posted in Donald Trump, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Stephen Brannon | 2 Comments

Obama Gives PA $221 Million in Final Hours

getty-image-the-hillby James M. Wall

In his final hours as President, Barack Obama ordered authorized funds for the Palestine Authority to be sent to Ramallah.

The funds had been “delayed” by two Republican members of the House, Ed Royce of California, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Kay Granger of Texas, a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Those two GOP House members had placed “holds” on the funds, which has been authorized by Congress in budget years, 2015 and 2016.

Royce and Granger said their reason for holding the funds were “moves the Palestinian Authority had taken to seek membership in international organizations”.

News of Obama’s decision to release the authorized funds were reported by the Associated Press, and reported in several publications, including The Times of Israel.

The Times explained that “Congressional holds are generally respected by the executive branch, but are not legally binding after funds have been allocated”.

Congress members Royce and Granger had their reasons for delaying the funds. Among those reasons could be the influence of the Israel Lobby which shapes American politics toward what it perceives to be in Israel’s best-interests.

The website Jerusalem Online, reported:

A senior level US Department of State official and several congressional aides said that the outgoing Obama administration “formally notified Congress” that the money would be transferred to Ramallah just hours before Donald Trump was sworn in.

The funds for the Palestinian Authority were part of more than $227 million in foreign affairs funding that was released simultaneously during Obama’s last day in the White House.

In addition to the funds that went to the Palestinian Authority, $4 million went to climate change initiatives and $1.25 million to UN organizations.

A conservative site was less than charitable over the release of funds, starting with a question shaped by the Lobby/Fox News world view.

Here is the site, Hot air, in which you may also find a short clip from Fox News:

Is this legal? Congress had held up foreign-aid funds allocated to the Palestinian Authority after Mahmoud Abbas tried an end-run around direct and unconditional peace talks with Israel for a two-state solution, by having international organizations recognize them as a state.

In a last-minute act of defiance, John Kerry sent the money anyway, only informing Congress of the transfer just hours before Donald Trump’s inauguration…. To answer the question in the lead, it does, in fact. appear to be legal. Congress allocated the funds to the State Department, but later put a “hold” on its disbursement . . . . The executive branch normally honors those holds, but is not legally obligated to do so, having already attained the funds in an appropriation.

The last-minute decision to release the funds still smells pretty badly, and reflects on the character of Kerry and Barack Obama.

How it smells, of course, is in the nose of the smeller. As for reflecting on the character of Kerry and Obama, there is a different conclusion to be reached than the one Hot air wants to convey.

It should be apparent to anyone who smells beyond the bubble of the noses of the Israel Lobby and Fox News, that government leaders who want to act for justice, carry the burden of operating in a democracy where Congress has yielded its moral compass to its Tel Aviv masters.

But it must be noted that Bibi Netanyahu is having his own palpitations over Donald Trump.

A large number of those U.S. Neo-Conservatives, who would ordinarily have been major players in the Trump foreign policy circle, are currently being ignored by Trump. 

These Neo-Con warriors were faithful soldiers for George W. Bush’s Middle East team, many of whom started with his ill-fated invasion of Iraq. If Trump wants to follow Israel’s wishes, as Bush consistently did, why not call on the Neo-Cons?

The answer, as the Washington Post’s David Nakamura outlined in a January 16 article, are to be found in “Never Trump” letters they signed. Nakamura wrote:

They are some of the biggest names in the Republican national security firmament, veterans of past GOP administrations who say, if called upon by President-elect Donald Trump, they stand ready to serve their country again.

But their phones aren’t ringing. Their entreaties to Trump Tower in New York have mostly gone unanswered. In Trump world, these establishment all-stars say they are “PNG” — personae non gratae.

Their transgression was signing one or both of two public “Never Trump” letters during the campaign, declaring they would not vote for Trump and calling his candidacy a danger to the nation.

One letter, with 122 names, was published by War on the Rocks, a website devoted to national security commentary, during the primary season in March.

The other, with 50 names, including some repeat signatories, was published by the New York Times during the general-election campaign in August. 

As Trump Energy Secretary appointee Rick Perry, might put it, Oops.

Meanwhile, Trump has a pro-Israel loyalist ready to make deals that hold and, hopefully, will not require the Neo-Con “shock and awe” solution to every problem.

That would be his son-in-law Jared Kushner. The Jewish News writes that Trump sees Kushner as a deal-maker:

Donald Trump has said he will put his 35-year old Jewish son-in-law in charge of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. . . In the president-elect’s first major interviews with European media, with The Times and German newspaper Bild, he said that Jared Kushner – the husband of his daughter Ivanka – would “secure an Israel deal”.

Last week Kushner was appointed senior adviser to Trump, but despite critics accusing the incoming commander-in-chief of nepotism, the new U.S. president has stuck to earlier suggestions that his son-in-law would play a key role in securing a Middle East peace deal.

Trump said: “You know what? Jared is such a good lad. He will secure an Israel deal which no one else has managed to get. You know, he’s a natural talent, he is the top. He is a natural talent. You know what I’m talking about – a natural talent. He has an innate ability to make deals. Everyone likes him.”

Even though those gushing words of praise sound a bit naive, they do reveal Trump’s understanding of how foreign policy works: Make deals. 

Watching from outside, in the cold, is a whole passel of Neo-Con veterans aching to get back into the game. And they probably would be at the table, except that Donald Trump has a list, two lists to be precise, with names that said “Never Trump”. 

We will have to wait and see how President Trump and the Prime Minister of Israel get along in their early February meeting.  Rest assured, that “natural talent” son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will be close at hand. 

Finally, if like many listeners of National Public Radio, you have missed the Saturday afternoon Prairie Home Companion programs hosted by Garrison Keillor, our amiable Minnesota companion, has not entirely left us. 

He is no longer with NPR, alas. But he is still with us through his syndicated column for the Washington Post. 

Here are samples from the latest Keillor column on Trump and the marches that followed the inauguration:

The man is clueless, tightly locked inside his own small bubble. A sizable minority of Americans, longing for greatness or wanting to smack down an ambitious woman and to show those people in the hellhole coastal cities what the real America is all about, has elected him. To him, this minority is a mass movement such as the world has never seen. God have mercy. . . .

It is up to Republicans to save the country from this man. They elected him, and it is their duty to tie a rope around his ankle. They formed a solid bloc against President Obama and held their ranks, and now, for revenge, they will go after health insurance subsidies for people of limited means, which is one of the cruelest things they can possibly do. . . .

The only good things to come out of that inauguration were the marches all over the country the day after, millions of people taking to the streets of their own free will, most of them women, packed in tight, lots of pink hats, lots of signage, earnest, vulgar, witty, a few brilliant (“Take your broken heart and make it art”), and all of it rather civil and good-humored. That’s the great America I grew up in. It’s still here.

Yes, that America is still here. And our hopes for a better future lies in knowing that citizens who marched and citizens who believe in this nation’s high ideals, will continue to watch this man with their “withering gaze“.

They will watch, and they will act each day in response to how this man handles the high position we have given him. 

The picture of former President Obama is a Getty Image from The Hill.

Posted in Donald Trump, Media, Middle East, Netanyahu, Obama, Palestinians | 5 Comments

Trump’s Attack on Congressman John Lewis

by James M. Wallmarch-cover

President-elect Donald Trump posted several insensitive and ill-informed tweets against Congressman John L. Lewis on the Saturday before Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. 

The tweets displayed an ignorance of the facts about both Lewis’s history of public service, and of the 5th congressional Georgia district Lewis has served since 1987. 

They also displayed an indifference to a time when the nation pauses to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Instead, our next president acted with a naughty child’s petulance over a congressman’s questioning of his election victory.

If Trump’s staff and family allow him to keep his personal Twitter account, we can only assume our next president will display that same unfettered ignorance and insensitivity, for four years, through January 20, 2021.

What led to Trump’s attacks on Lewis? Marlee Kokotovic reports on the site Nation of Change that in a television interview, Congressman Lewis said, “I think there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians and others to help him get elected. That’s not right. That’s not fair. That’s not the open democratic process.”

Lewis added that he would not attend the Friday inauguration.

In an UPDATED list released Tuesday morning (January 17), Politico Huddle identified  
 40 House Democrats who have announced they won’t attend the inauguration Friday, many “in protest of Trump’s weekend Twitter attacks against Rep. John Lewis”.

The Democrats who have announced they will boycott the inauguration are: Reps. Karen Bass, Don Beyer, Earl Blumenauer, Brendan Boyle, Anthony Brown, Judy Chu, Katherine Clark, Yvette Clarke, Lacy Clay, Steve Cohen, John Conyers, Mark DeSaulnier, Keith Ellison, Adriano Espaillat, Dwight Evans, Marcia Fudge, Al Green, Raúl Grijalva, Luis Gutiérrez, Jared Huffman, Pramila Jayapal, Barbara Lee, Zoe Lofgren, Ted Lieu, Jerrold Nadler, Chellie Pingree, Marc Pocan, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Raul Ruiz, José Serrano, Kurt Schrader, Carol Shea-Porter, Darren Soto, Mark Takano, Nydia Velazquez, Maxine Waters, Bonnie Watson Coleman and John Yarmuth. 

Donald Trump might have avoided some of these no-shows had he avoided attacking Lewis, and then pointed out that his election is legitimate because the Electoral College counted the votes of each state and declared it to be so. 

Instead, Trump displayed both his immaturity and his inability to grasp just how inappropriate his attacks on Lewis were, by attacking Lewis on the weekend prior to King’s birthday.

I know from personal experience how a temporary lack of maturity can expose anyone. As a young pastor in Georgia, I joined friends and family of a parishioner gathered in a living room. I engaged in a few words of banal social chit chat with the lady of the house. 

Another church member finally turned to me and said, “You know why we are here, Reverend, her husband has just died”. Of course I knew it. 

I mumbled a few words of condolence and sneaked away, permanently scarred with the dark memory of a moment when I failed to be present to others. 

Donald Trump, in a far more significant moment, was not present for the nation he will soon lead. He attacked a civil rights icon on this King weekend.

We have seen no sign that he is even aware of the immaturity of those tweets. The only sign is a negative one; he canceled a Monday appearance at an African-American museum.

It was early Saturday morning when Trump attacked Lewis for not “taking care of his crime infested” district, a false statement which reveals a racist bias. In his petulant anger, Trump did not bother to find out that crime in Georgia’s 5th district has fallen by 30 percent in recent years.

The New York Times reported the language of Trump’s tweets:

“Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results.” 

A second tweet added, “All talk, talk, talk — no action or results,” he added. “Sad!”

For the record, Georgia’s 5th Congressional District includes parts of wealthy Atlanta areas like Buckhead; the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

johnlewisAnother web news site, Newsmax, shared more on Lewis, writing:

Lewis is among the most revered leaders of the civil rights movement and devoted his life to promoting equal rights for African-Americans. He suffered a fractured skull while leading the march in Selma, Alabama more than a half century ago.

“The tweet is unnecessary, it’s unfortunate,” former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, who is African-American, said on MSNBC. He added:

“John Lewis has a walk that very few people in this country — least of all Donald Trump — have ever walked. So you have to respect that and pay attention to that.” 

Of course, the degree to which Russia interfered in Trump’s election will need to be examined by appropriate agencies and individuals. The Congress should act according to our established laws to respond to that alleged interference.

That, Mr. President-to-be, is known as civility in the way this nation is governed by its laws.

Trump has demonstrated no ability to curb his self-absorbed Twitter impulses. His family and staff have shown no indication they will remove his tweets from his daily schedule.

If Donald Trump really wants to lead this nation, he could spend his Twitter time in a more important task, reading about its history.

He could start with three volumes of a graphic novel entitled March. Civil rights leader John Lewis is one of its award-winning authors.

In a New York Times (November 17, 2016) book review of March, Julian Lucas traced John Lewis’s literary contribution to a history in which he played such an important role. 

There are few people better qualified to remind us of what democracy really looks like than John Lewis, the Georgia congressman, civil rights icon and, most recently, the author, with the writer Andrew Aydin and the artist Nate Powell, of a three-part graphic memoir called March.

A galvanizing account of his coming-of-age in the movement, it’s a capsule lesson in courage of conscience, a story that inspires without moralizing or simplifying in hindsight. 

The trilogy’s title is season, setting and imperative: March begins and draws to a close with scenes from the march Lewis led in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 1965, forever known as “Bloody Sunday” after state troopers and the local police attacked the nonviolent  protesters. 

The opening panels depict the marchers gathered at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, then move from their tense, prayerful faces to the phalanx of billy clubs and white helmets on the opposite bank. Lewis, then only 25, was beaten that day; five months later, Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

The three volumes of March (the second won an Eisner Award at Comic-Con, and the third won this year’s National Book Award for young people’s literature) aren’t just a record of Lewis’s activism but one of its brilliant examples, designed to help new generations of readers visualize the possibilities of political engagement.

If an unfettered, emotional indifference to facts by our next president is to be our fate through January, 2021, then each false, damaging Trump tweet must be exposed for what it is, an outburst directed at anyone whose opinion or action fails to pour praise into his  self-esteem bucket.

It is that bucket that could plague us for the next four years. Unfortunatelyas the folk song puts it, “There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza. There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.”

The picture of Congressman Lewis is from the site, Nation of Change.

Posted in Donald Trump, Folk Music, Politics and Elections | 4 Comments