A Sequel: The Best Film Ever Made About Politics

By James M. Wall

The 2020 presidential election is rapidly approaching. With the national day of mourning for George Herbert Walker Bush on Wednesday, closure arrives for our 41st President.

At the same time, candidates are lining up for the presidential election of 2020.

Ten years ago, as the 2008 party conventions loomed, I wrote a Wall Writings posting that identified outstanding political films, ending with my choice as to the best film ever made about politics.

This feels like the right time to revisit the Wall Writings archives to see if my 2008 analysis still stands. After a close look, I find that the films have not changed, but what has changed is the national culture within which the films are evaluated.

What follows is a revised version of that 2008 posting, a sequel written ten years later. Of course, “best” is a personal choice. Readers will have their own list, and will conclude for themselves what is “best”. What follows is one critic’s opinions.

Looking at the options for the best film about politics, Citizen Kane is often viewed as the best film of any genre, a legitimate claim. It is, indeed, about the political rise and fall of an ambitious man who moves from journalism to politics, assumed to be based on William Randolph Hearst.  

Orson Welles directed, wrote and starred in a story about lust for power.  I don’t view it as a political film because politics is the stage on which Charles Foster Kane’s career rises and falls. The dynamics of politics itself, is not the film’s focus.

The best ever political film list has to include the 1949 film, All the King’s Men, a fictionalized version of Louisiana’s Governor Huey Long. In the original novel by Robert Penn Warren and in the film, Long is Willy Stark. He is played by Broderick Crawford in Crawford’s finest performance over a long film and television career.  

Crawford serves as a (uncredited) narrator in another good, though not great, 1972 political satire, The Candidate, which starred a boyish-looking Senate candidate, Robert Redford.

Closer to the top of my list is John Ford’s 1958 film, The Last Hurrah, the story of big city Irish American mayor Frank Skeffington (Spencer Tracy) who seems to float above the ugliness of his final campaign for his reelection. It is clear that Ford sees him as the quintessential political boss, part rogue, part tough guy, and always pragmatically oriented to every important wake in the city.

The film is based on Edwin O’Connor’s 1956 novel “The Last Hurrah”, a fictionalized version of former Boston Mayor M. Curley.

Tracy invites a nephew who is also a journalist, to travel with him through the campaign, and we are meant to see the campaign through the nephew’s eyes.

The close runner up as the best film ever made on politics is The Best Man (1964), written by Gore Vidal from his own original stage play. Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, the film centers on backstage dramas that unfold during one party’s nominating convention. 

The leading candidates hold smear cards against the other, ready to be played. The cards are familiar to us today: homosexuality (rarely mentioned this overtly in films in the early 60s), a pending divorce, and mental episodes from the past.  Will they be used and who will use them?

Vidal’s writing is sharp and perceptive. In a key scene, Henry Fonda, as William Russell, a former Secretary of State, confronts Cliff Robertson as Joe Cantwell, a sitting U.S. senator. Both want to be their party’s nominee for president.

Cliff Robertson: “I don’t understand you”. 

Henry Fonda: “I know you don’t. Because you have no sense of responsibility toward anybody or anything. And that is a tragedy in a man, and it is a disaster in a president.”

This exchange captures a division in American political dynamics which has become greatly solidified in the decade from 2008 and 2018.

The New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow, offers his analysis as to what has helped lead this nation to its current solidification of right versus left, a division far more severe than it was when the film appeared in 1964.

Comparing the Nixon and Trump eras as evidence mounted against each, in his Monday column, Charles M. Blow writes:

When the evidence of wrongdoing was clear and incontrovertible [against Nixon], people began to peel away, tails tucked and full of shame.

But that was a different time, one in which media wasn’t so fractured and partisan, before the advent of social media and our current dissociable mentalities.

Nixon had no propaganda arm. Trump has one. It’s called Fox News. There is little daylight between the network’s programming and the White House’s priorities. If Trump goes down, so too does Fox, in some measure.

So the network has a vested interest in defending Trump until the bitter end, and that narrative-crafting could impede an otherwise natural and normal disaffection with Trump.

Movies are created to relate to viewers. Film-makers reflect the culture they wish to reach. Audiences are shaped by their culture. Currently, our culture is divided between right and left to such a degree that each side protects its turf to a degree rarely seen in our history.

Major news outlets and social media have divided us and enhanced that turf loyalty.

This current harsh reality only enhances my 2008 choice for what is for me the best film about American politics ever made, John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

A word about the plot and the film’s setting, told briefly:

The two stars of that 1962 release are John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. At the center of the film is the conflict between the traditional story of the early American west, where the white invaders often confronted one another in gun fights in places like the OK Corral.

 Liberty Valance (in an over-the-top performance by Lee Marvin) is the embodiment of absolute evil, a killer who uses fear as an instrument of control.  

The film is told in a flashback: A US senator named Ransom Stoddard (Stewart) returns to the town of Shinbone to attend a funeral of an old friend, Tom Doniphon (Wayne). The local newspaper reporter and his editor insist that the senator explain why this funeral is so important to him.

He does so frankly, which goes so much against the prevailing cultural narrative that the journalists refuse to report Stoddard’s version, giving rise to the famous quote from the film: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

This is a rich film, an old fashioned western, a love story and a story of a lost love, a favorite Ford theme. But it is also a story of politics and how sometimes goodness finds its ambiguous way into the future, there to find creative ways to address the truth.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance demands that viewers remember it as a work of political art.  

It remains for me the best film ever made about the realities this democracy has to confront, especially in a culture locked in conflicting realities. 

The Shinbone editor was wrong in Ford’s 1964 film, and he would be wrong today when he asserts, When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”.


Posted in -Movies and politics, Movies | 2 Comments

Thanksgiving Good News from Palestine

by James M. Wall

I have it on good authority that almost the only Thanksgiving celebrations in Palestine this week are those enjoyed by U.S. expats, that is, those who “leave one’s native country to live elsewhere”.

That does not deter this American blogger from sharing one good news story at Thanksgiving which involves the Palestinian people.

Yes, in spite of having to live under an Israeli military occupation run by an authoritarian politician named Netanyahu, there is positive news for the civilized world to include when joining our American rite of giving thanks this season.

Those who do not gather about an American-style Thanksgiving table may still utter words of gratitude for the results emanating from the sumud practiced by the Palestinian people.

And since I have already seen fit to define “expats” above, pause with me for a moment to define the Arabic word, sumud, as it appears in the very-American Wikipedia.:

Sumud (Arabic: صمود‎) meaning “steadfastness” or “steadfast perseverance” is an ideological theme and political strategy that first emerged among the Palestinian people through the experience of the dialectic of oppression and resistance in the wake of the 1967 Six-Day War.

Or, as a reader in Comments below, notes, “as a bilingual whose mother tongue is Arabic, I would translate ‘sumud’ as ‘endurance’!” 

For the good news about which we should be thankful, journey with me to a Gaza news report about “coding” from Al Jazeera’s Fedaa al-Qedra, which explains the good news found in the life experience of one young Palestinian woman’s sumud when she discovered coding.

Fedaa al-Qedra’s Al Jazeera report begins:

When Yasmin Helles (picture above) was an English literature student at a Gaza college, she would spend most of her time online looking for information that could help her in academic life.

She always wondered who designed these websites, making all this information available.

She wanted to become that person.

Six months ago, the 24-year-old saw an advertisement by Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG), a rapidly growing business and tech incubator, calling for young graduates to enroll in the first coding school in the beleaguered Palestinian territory, which only recently saw yet another round of deadly Israeli air raids.

Helles took the unexpected step of quitting her job as an English teacher to spend more time pursuing her dream.  Now, she has joined the coding academy.

“I said to myself ‘Yes, that was what I wanted,'” Helles told Al Jazeera in GSG’s main room, a computer lab, taking a respite from typing lines of code.

“I’m proud that I can now build a mobile app to serve a large slice of people who need it”. 

Gaza is home to roughly 2 million people and experiences one of the highest unemployment rates in the world – more than 50 percent are without work.

The unemployment is a product of its isolation. Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade, assisted by Egypt under the governments of former President Hosni Mubarak and current leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, since 2007.

But Gazans are finding opportunities beyond the besieged strip. There is a rise in entrepreneurial start-ups and tech accelerators, providing residents of the strip with outside opportunities previously unavailable.

GSG’s coding school was established in 2017 with funding from Google and London-based coding boot camp Founders & Coders [and others]. It aims to empower students to be full-stack developers, which means they will be able to handle software building for mobile, computer and web.

Graduates learn to deploy production-grade software online and secure high-quality jobs with companies or work as freelance developers.

During this Thanksgiving week, no matter where you are, when you turn on your computer, give thanks to young Palestinians like Yasmin Helles, who has risen above an oppressive military occupation to find her future serving others through work she enjoys.

And, don’t forget to be thankful for Fedaa al-Qedra, who told us this good news story.

The picture above of Yasmin Helles is by Fedaa al-Qedra in Al Jazeera.

Posted in Gaza, Palestinians, Thanksgiving | 8 Comments

“Hate Is on the Ballot Next Week”

By James M. Wall

If you are an American voter and your ballot is not cast by closing time on Tuesday, November 6, you will have missed participating in the most momentous political event of modern times.

Don’t just take my word for it. Take the word of President Donald Trump, who has campaigned in rallies across the nation—to highly partisan crowds—with the cry that a vote for Republican candidates is a vote for Donald Trump.

It is also a vote for hatred, which Trump has promoted in a steady venomous stream of lies that demonize those in the world who are not White and Christian.

He says of himself, “I am a Nationalist”. His devoted followers insert the White because they know how to read and hear, “dog whistles”.

This is a man who lies about marchers still a thousand miles away, who seek asylum within the United States. He tells his rallies these marchers are an invading army seeking to destroy us.

His personal house organ, also known as Fox News, joins him by reporting the marchers will bring diseases, some of which have long been eradicated. That was such a provable lie, that even Fox had to quietly acknowledge that leprosy and smallpox no longer exist.

Those who largely ignore politics, do not hear the denials. They hear and feel the fear and hatred their leader wants them to fear.

The mid-term election November 6, is momentous because if both the House of Representatives and the Senate, remain in Republican control, this nation will be led by Trump and a distressingly compliant Republican Congress for two more years.

And if you are still not convinced of the momentousness of this election, turn your attention to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman whose warning reached us through his Sunday column with the headline,

“Hate Is on the Ballot Next Week: Don’t let the whataboutists and bothsiders tell you it isn’t.”

Who? You read that right, “the whataboutists and bothsiders”, two words we must examine and think about in this momentous election.

 Krugman gets right to it:

In America 2018, whataboutism is the last refuge of scoundrels, and bothsidesism is the last refuge of cowards.

In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re in the midst of a wave of hate crimes. Just in the past few days, bombs were mailed to a number of prominent Democrats, plus CNN. Then, a gunman massacred 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Meanwhile, another gunman killed two African-Americans at a Louisville supermarket, after first trying unsuccessfully to break into a black church — if he had gotten there an hour earlier, we would probably have had another mass murder.

All of these hate crimes seem clearly linked to the climate of paranoia and racism deliberately fostered by Donald Trump and his allies in Congress and the media.

It cannot be put more directly. This is not a partisan statement. It is a connecting of hate crimes to their immediate source, killers already sick and warped enough to hate and kill others, currently stimulated by the hateful lies espoused daily by President Trump.

The alleged killer of 11 Pittsburgh Jewish worshippers believed he was attacking those who belonged to the religious and ethnic community who organized the marchers  headed for our southern border.

That is a lie put forth by Trump and his allies. The man who lied about the size of his inauguration audience, now tells dangerous lies for votes. He cares not for the evil those lies evoke.

Krugman expands:

The man arrested at the Tree of Life synagogue has been critical of Trump, who he apparently believes isn’t anti-Semitic enough. But his rage seems to have been fueled by a conspiracy theory being systematically spread by Trump supporters — the claim that Jewish financiers are bringing brown people into America to displace whites.

This conspiracy theory is, it turns out, a staple of neo-Nazis in Europe. It’s what our own neo-Nazis — whom Trump calls “very fine people” — were talking about in Charlottesville last year, when they chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”…

False equivalence, portraying the parties as symmetric even when they clearly aren’t, has long been the norm among self-proclaimed centrists and some influential media figures. It’s a stance that has hugely benefited the GOP, as it has increasingly become the party of right-wing extremists.

You might have thought that the horrifying events of recent days would finally break through that norm. But you would have been wrong. Bothsidesism is, it turns out, a fanatical cult impervious to evidence. . . .

This needs to stop, and those who keep practicing bothsidesism need to be shamed. At this point, pretending that both sides are equally to blame, or attributing political violence to spreading hatred without identifying who’s responsible for that spread, is a form of deep cowardice.

This is no time to waste on whataboutists and bothsiders.

The evil of this moment, before the November 6 election, and the compounded evil that awaits if President Trump and his Congressional allies remain in power, demands a change in national leadership.

There is evil rampart in the world, which is what the “whataboutists” say to deflect your disagreement with our homeland evil. And those “fair-minded” among us will whine “there are two sides to every issue”.

Not this time, is the right answer to the “bothsiders”. The man we elected President in 2016, is unfit for the office,

If you were born and bred to be a Republican, and you know your grandfather expects you to remember your promise to never leave the party, tell him, “this Trump-compliant party, is not your Republican party, Granpop”.

Paul Krugman ends his column:

The fact is that one side of the political spectrum is peddling hatred, while the other isn’t. And refusing to point that out for fear of sounding partisan is, in effect, lending aid and comfort to the people poisoning our politics. Yes, hate is on the ballot next week.

 And never fail to vote and get others to vote. A non-vote in this election is a vote for hate.

The picture of President Trump at a rally is by Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty

Posted in Donald Trump, Politics and Elections | 2 Comments

Israel’s Uri Avnery Dies Too Soon at 94

by James M. Wall

Uri Avnery died at age 94 on August 20, 2018, two weeks after a stroke sent him to a Tel Aviv hospital. 

He died too soon. Israel, Palestine, and the world, still need his passionate voice and stern guidance. We also need his Jewish presence at events like the one shown above. 

In this 2003 picture, Avnery is fourth from left, standing next to Palestine President Yasir Arafat, greeting a crowd from a window in Arafat’s Ramallah, Palestine, compound.

Uri Avnery wrote his final column for publication on August 4, 2018.

He told Sharon: “I am first of all an Israeli. After that I am a Jew.” To which Sharon responded heatedly: “I am first of all a Jew, and only after that an Israeli!”

That introductory anecdote took Avnery into his favorite territory, informing his Jewish readers, who read him in Hebrew in Ha’aretz,  and his non-Jewish outliers who followed him religiously through his English language blog, Gush Shalom.

He was a firebrand activist who embraced his Jewishness and his national identity, even as he embraced just as vigorously, his continued struggle against Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, rooted deeply in the illegal, immoral, occupation.

In his final column, Avnery focused on a crisis in Israel arising from, he wrote, “the law that was adopted in great haste last week [July 19] by the rightist Knesset majority”, entitled, Basic Law: Israel the Nation State of the Jewish People'”.

Avnery was a youthful member of the Irgun, Israel’s underground force against its British occupiers. He served his tour in the original Israeli Defense Force. He was later elected as a member of Israel’s Knesset, the country’s legislative body.  

Over the 20 years of his Gush Shalom column, he drew from his personal relationships in both Israel and Palestine in what was for him a career that focused on politics and journalism, and on securing justice for Palestine.

He wrote in an open and sprightly style, about his encounters with Israeli politicians.

In one column, “That Woman”, he wrote

Ben-Gurion said about her: “The only thing Golda knows how to do is to hate!”

Golda Meir did not hate me. That would be an understatement. She detested me.

The way I speak, the way I dress, the way I look. Everything.

Once, in the middle of a speech in the Knesset (I believe it was about allowing the Beatles to appear in Israel) I interrupted myself and said: “Now I want to answer MK Golda Meir…”

“But MK Meir has not said anything!” the chairman objected.

“I am not answering an interjection,” I explained. “I am answering her grimaces!”

And indeed, Golda was grimacing, every muscle of her face proclaiming her detestation. . . .

Later in this column, Avnery wrote:

The basic fact is that Golda had from the beginning an abysmal contempt for Arabs. Like all her predecessors (except Moshe Sharett, as I have already noted) she never had any real contact with Arabs, was totally ignorant of Arab culture and despised them from the bottom of her heart.

The ease with which the Israeli army had beaten three Arab armies in 1967 amplified this contempt. Golda did not dream of giving back the Sinai peninsula to Egypt, which was a contemptible Arab state.

Returning to the recent a “state for Jews” law, as Avnery constantly noted, Israel does not have a constitution. It is ruled by its original declaration under which the Knesset passes “binding laws”. With the government in the hands of his Likud party, Benjamin Netanyahu  pushed through his “state for Jews” law by a vote of 62-55, with two abstentions.

Increasingly distressed over the rightward move of Israel’s Likud party and the settlement movement, Avnery never wavered. He made clear that Israel could not survive as “a state for Jews” that renders its Arab citizens as second-class citizens.

It can also not survive as a democracy that slaughters its non-Jewish citizens, as it does consistently, and as it has done during the Gaza Friday Palestinian protests.

On April 14, Avnery wrote,  “Eyeless in Gaza”, which began:

WRITE DOWN: I, Uri Avnery, soldier number 44410 of the Israel army, hereby dissociate myself from the army sharpshooters who murder unarmed demonstrators along the Gaza Strip, and from their commanders, who give them the orders, up to the commander in chief.

We don’t belong to the same army, or to the same state. We hardly belong to the same human race. .  .  .

During the first two Fridays, 29 unarmed people were shot dead and more than a thousand wounded by sharpshooters.

For me this is not a judicial question. It is a crime, not only against the unarmed protesters. It is also a crime against the State of Israel, against the people of Israel and against the Israeli army.

Since I was a member of that army on the day of its foundation, I think that it is also a crime against my comrades and me.

In his final column, which he entitled, Who the Hell Are We?”, Avnery asks,

So what is new about the new law which at a first glance looks like a copy of the declaration? It contains two important omissions: the declaration spoke of a “Jewish and Democratic” state, and promised full equality between all its citizens, without regard to religion, ethnicity or sex.

All this has disappeared. No democracy. No equality. A state of the Jews, for the Jews, by the Jews.

Just imagine the impossible: Avi’s column, which ran on a regular basis in Israel, appearing just as often in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

It did not happen. How could it? Our Congress is a right wing “Israeli-occupied territory”, and our mainstream media dances to the tune of its conservative pro-Israel owners.

The picture at top is by Jamal Aruri/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.

Posted in Israel, Media, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Palestinians, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Ramzy Baroud: “My people will never accept this.”

by James M. Wall

The Israelis want the Palestinians to give up their right of return in order to get “peace”. The joint Israeli-American “vision” for the Palestinians basically means the imposition of apartheid. My people will never accept this.

This statement from Ramzy Baroud comes from his essay, “Diary of an UNRWA Kid”, which appeared in Al Jazeera, and is now circulating on the international internet.

Ramzy Baroud is currently the editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is also the author of My Father was a Freedom Fighter. 

He is pictured above during his second-grade trip to Cairo, Egypt.

Below is more from the Kid, who grew up in a Gaza refugee camp. He writes in the voice of a veteran Palestinian journalist. It is a voice of determined certitude. It is never shrill, just a calm statement of what he knows lies ahead for the Palestinian people.

He writes of Israeli soldiers who use their occupation power against children.

The Israelis also terrorized us with their constant raids on UNRWA schools. Thousands of children and youth were killed and wounded that way, most notably during the First Palestinian Intifada of 1987. Our protests often started at UNRWA schools and it was in these same schools we also met to console one another over the wounding and martyrdom of fellow classmates.

If you are new to this discussion, welcome, and be aware that UNRWA is short for United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, the UN body which has provided food, medical care, education and international recognition for Palestinians since 1948.

Susan Akram provides clarity to the history behind “Palestinian refugees”. She writes in Mondoweiss:

It is important to note that the legal definition of Palestinian refugee relates to the status of Palestinians as former nationals of Palestine, a nationality which was recognized in 1924-25 as a matter of the Treaty of Lausanne that terminated World War I and dismantled the Ottoman Empire. The British passed Palestine citizenship legislation that conformed to the Treaty during the British mandate.

All Palestinians who had Palestinian nationality/citizenship under treaty and mandate law, and their descendants through today, are defined as Palestinian refugees if they were forced to flee during the conflicts of 1947 onwards, and remain as such until their rights embodied in Res. 194 are realized.

In this way, Palestinian refugees’ rights have an even more robust basis than other refugees because their rights are recognized both in general international law as well as in the body of law confirmed in decades of UN resolutions specifically passed for their protection. Today, Palestinians who would be defined by this Palestinian nationality law number approximately 11 million persons.

Ramzy Baroud continues his personal analysis as one of those refugees:

No, the Israeli war didn’t target UNRWA as a UN body, but as an organisation that allowed us to maintain our identity as refugees with inalienable rights, demanding justice and repatriation to our homes. UNRWA fed in us the hope that one day we will shed what was meant to be a temporary identity in favour of our true identity, going back to being us again, a Palestinian people, an ancient nation that predates Israel by centuries.

It is largely because of these experiences that UNRWA is an essential part of my identity as a Palestinian refugee. This intrinsic relationship is not predicated on the services that UNRWA provides or fails to provide, but rather on the political and legal principles its existence is based on.

His statement defines what UNRWA means to the Palestinian people. 

The Trump-run U.S., acting under orders handed it by Israel, has targeted UNRWA because it is UNRWA, a United Nations body, which, Baroud writes, is the “organization that allowed us to maintain our identity as refugees with inalienable rights, demanding justice and repatriation to our homes.”

The U. S. also does its heavy-handed bit by cutting off its share of UNRWA funding ($360 million, a major share of UNRWA’s annual budget) and transferring its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

As I wrote earlier:

Closing the Washington PLO office was petty, mean-spirited and pointless. It is also just the latest evil step by the Trump administration to join with Israel to destroy the Palestinian peoples’ essential humanity. It won’t work.

It won’t work, because journalist Ramzy Baroud, who grew up under Israeli occupation in a Gaza refugee camp, will not let it work.

Nor will it work because activists like James Zogby bring to our attention books like Preventing Palestine. In a review on LobeLog, Zogby wrote:

Seth Anziska’s  Preventing Palestine: A Political History From Camp David to Oslo is a deeply insightful and profoundly disturbing book that traces the tortuous path of Middle East peace-making during the past four decades. It was quite painful to read.

Having been a close observer and sometimes participant in many of the developments that have unfolded since the end of the 1973 War, Anziska opened old wounds while shedding new light on the painful events and acts of betrayal that have shaped recent Palestinian history.

Through all of the twists and turns of this period, the brutal wars and the diplomatic initiatives, the one constant that emerges is the Israeli determined refusal to recognize the Palestinian right to self-determination and statehood and the self-serving acquiescence to their intransigence by successive American administrations and key Arab leaders.

Zogby cites one of “the twists and turns of this period”:

[President] Carter, for example, began his term [1977] with a pledge to realize a “homeland” for the Palestinians. In line with his administration’s commitment to human rights, Carter was moved to end their suffering in exile and under occupation.

The vehicle he envisioned to initiate the path toward this goal was an international all-party conference to end the Arab-Israeli conflict. Carter’s efforts were ultimately upended by a combination of: Israel’s refusal to participate in any forum that would question their claim of sovereignty over the Palestinian territories; Sadat’s resolve to achieve a separate Israeli-Egyptian peace without the Palestinians, despite his public pronouncements to the contrary; and the pressure from the American Jewish community. . . .

Of course, we must continue to obsess on what the Trump-Israeli-controlled U.S. Congress and White House are doing to the Palestinian people.

But there are rays of light in that darkness. We find them when we read Ramzy Baroud, Jim Zogby, and Seth Anziska.

Determined Palestinians will not give in to the collective idiocies of the current leaders of the U.S., and Israeli governments. 

The picture above of second-grade student Ramzy Baroud appeared in Al Jazeera though the courtesy of the Baroud family.

Posted in Gaza, Israel, Jimmy Carter, Palestinians, Trump, United Nations | 6 Comments

Trump and the Repackaged Oslo Accord

by James M. Wall

We live in a world saturated by the manifestation of evil. Genesis tells the origin story. The story starts with Adam succumbing to the temptation of desire for the forbidden. The Creator surely knew the decision to allow freedom of will would produce evil. Every succeeding generation has had to live with the consequences of that decision.

Within each generation Adam and Eve’s descendants have succumbed to the grip of evil.  Wise men and women have warned us to beware of the destructiveness of choosing that path. Still, humankind bites that apple.

The Catholic News Service’s Courtney Grogan reported the latest bite:

The U.S. State Department announced Monday it will close the Palestinian Liberation Organization office in Washington because it says Palestine has failed to take “steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel”.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization, or PLO, is recognized by the United Nations as “the representative of the Palestinian people” and has diplomatic relationship with over 100 states, including the Holy See.

Closing the Washington PLO office was petty, mean-spirited and pointless. It is also just the latest evil step by the Trump administration to join with Israel to destroy the Palestinian peoples’ essential humanity. It won’t work.

Tyrants and nations have the ability to destroy an immediate target but they cannot eradicate the will of a people to survive as a people.

The Jewish people know this. They lost six million Jews in Europe. In time, their oppressors lost a war, and now the Jews have their own nation. It is a nation built on a desire for a homeland.  

That is an understandable desire, but when it is built on land that belongs to others, it arrives saturated with evil. 

There is no other way to describe the results of that journey from the Garden to Palestine. It was a power grab of land which parallels a much earlier power grab of land of what became America, when ships brought white colonialists, dreaming of freedom, to a land already inhabited by others.

Descendants of those white colonialists compounded that evil by using other boats to kidnap Africans, remove them from their homelands, and degrade them into slavery.

Fast forward to the presidency of Donald Trump in which the farce called the “peace process” enters a new phase. Under Trump there is no pretense that process is neutral after he named three radical Zionists to manage the U.S. role in continuing the “peace process”.

The three Orthodox American Jews are David Friedman, Jason Greenblatt, and Jared Kushner.

Friedman is the U.S. Ambassador to Israel. Greenblatt was the executive vice president and chief legal officer to Trump and the Trump organization and his advisor on Israel. He is  an Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations.

Kushner is Trump’s son-in-law.

This trio’s most recent attack was the aforementioned closure of the PLO office in Washington. This petty action was more symbolic than damaging. Washington is filled with foreign embassies willing to offer a computer and a desk to the PLO.

This latest action comes after a series of far more damaging attacks affecting Palestine: Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, defunding UNRWA, the UN agency for the care of Palestinian refugees, and defunding hospitals in East Jerusalem of $25 million.

This peace process began 25 years ago this week, Thursday, September 13, 1993.

Avi Shlaim, emeritus professor of international relations at Oxford University, wrote in the Guardian this week:

Twenty five years ago today [9/13/93], the Oslo accord was signed by Israel’s prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat in the Rose Garden of the White House, with Bill Clinton acting as an enthusiastic master of ceremonies .

The PLO saw the Oslo accord as a vehicle to national self-determination in the territories occupied by Israel in the June 1967 war. But it was not to be. Israel used the accord not to end but to repackage the occupation.

The repackage at Oslo was always designed to fool the world into hopeful optimism, when from  the outset, it was a shrewd act of evil that allowed Israel to move into the 21st century as a righteous partner for peace.

Schlaim asks: why did the Oslo peace process fail?

There are two radically different explanations. Netanyahu maintains that the Oslo accord was doomed to failure from the start because it was incompatible with Israeli security and with the historic right of the Jewish people to the whole land of Israel, which includes Judea and Samaria, the biblical names of the West Bank. My view is that the Oslo accord was a modest step in the right direction, but it was killed when the rightwing Likud party returned to power under Netanyahu.

As leader of the opposition, Netanyahu spearheaded the attack on the Oslo accord when it was first presented for a vote in the Knesset. He accused Rabin of being a worse leader than Neville Chamberlain, because Chamberlain put another nation in danger, whereas Rabin did it to his own nation.

Another major landmark on the road to peace was the Oslo II accord of September 1995. Netanyahu denounced it as a surrender to terrorists and a national humiliation, and he vowed to bring down the government. He gave an inflammatory speech from the grandstand of a mass rally in Jerusalem in which demonstrators displayed an effigy of Rabin in SS uniform. And he continued to play an active part in a campaign of incitement against the Labour government.Rabin was assassinated in November 1995.

One incident had a parallel in the recent U.S. funeral of Senator John McCain in Washington. After her husband was assassinated in 1995, Leah, Rabin’s widow, refused to shake Netanyahu’s hand when he came to console her at her husband’s funeral.

Hand-shaking was not an issue at McCain’s 2018 funeral. A welcome was not extended. McCain had left word that President Trump was not to be invited to his service.

I was fortunate in those pre-Oslo days to have made friends with two of the Norwegians involved in the Oslo Accord peace team, Marianne Heiberg and Johan Jørgen Holst, a husband and wife diplomatic team.  My wife and I had met them at a conference in Aspen, Colorado.

I realized something was developing when I encountered Marianne Heiberg at breakfast at the American Colony in Jerusalem.  She was tight-lipped, of course.

After the Oslo Accord was signed and her husband died at an early age, Marianne moved to Jerusalem with her young son, where she worked as a United Nations representative. We met for dinner on several occasions and recalled again how she and her late husband had been cautiously hopeful that the Oslo Accord would work.

It did not work to Palestine’s best interests, because one party to the Accord, Israel, had a different goal from the outset.  

Nor could anyone have predicted that the U.S. President who would learn of a repackaged Oslo Peace Accord 25 years later, would be Donald Trump. Which is precisely why it cannot be said too often: Elections have consequences.

In the picture at top, Palestinian schoolgirls wait for buses in the shadow of the Israeli wall, inside the East Jerusalem Shua’fat refugee camp. Photograph: Jim Hollander/EPA

Posted in Donald Trump, Israel, Middle East, Palestinians | 4 Comments

Aretha Franklin Sings of God and Freedom

by James M. Wall

In the retirement community where we live, I work with a committee to select, promote, and show feature films each Sunday night. We draw from new releases, classics, and films evoking memories of the past, old and recent. 

The Blues Brothers was initially scheduled for our community film showing the week of December 3, placed there to celebrate the 200th birthday of the state of Illinois, our home state.  It was named the top film made in and/or set in Illinois, by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum; the State Journal-Register newspaper, and the Illinois Bicentennial Commission.

When news arrived that Aretha Franklin died Thursday, August 16, we changed the booking and brought The Blues Brothers forward to open our fall season on September 2. We wanted to honor the life of Aretha Franklin, and to celebrate the Land of Lincoln’s 200th birthday.

It is an appropriate pairing, the Land of Lincoln, named for the President who freed the slaves, and Aretha Franklin, who was a major leader in the freedom movement for women of all races.

Aretha Franklin’s musical genius graces The Blues Brothers in a four-minute segment early in the film. Her appearance is one of a series of musical segments assembled by Director John Landis for The Blues Brothers. It is Aretha Franklin’s film debut. After she appeared in a sequel to this film, she made no other films. 

“Aretha Franklin deservedly will be remembered in an array of tributes reflecting the immense legacy of her life and music. Her voice is ingrained in the canon of American music, and she’s had a number of staggering accomplishments,” Adam Gustafson, Instructor in Music, Pennsylvania State University, wrote on the site, The Conversation.

For Gustafson, one period of Franklin’s life “stands out as the most significant: the years after she left the world of gospel music. Her jump to mainstream music meant a move into a segment of the industry that was dominated by men who had very specific assumptions about how a woman should sing – and what she should sing about”.

His conclusion: “Franklin’s ability to assert control over her career was a watershed moment for female artists seeking to find and maintain their own artistic voice.”

“Think” fits perfectly into her role as the wife of a musician who declares he is going to leave home to join Jake and Elwood, the Blues Brothers. He will go on the road with “the band” which Jake and Elwood are “putting back together”.

Her response to his declaration is to grab him by his shirt, as she sings in her unique strong, vigorous and aggressive style. It was that style she developed over the years in a career that began from her start as an 8-year-old gospel singer in her father’s Detroit church.

Among the lyrics are these lines which she belts out while dancing:

It don’t take too much high IQ’s, To see what you’re doing to me. You better think (think) Think about what you’re trying to do to me. Yeah, think (think, think). Let your mind go, let yourself be free. Oh, freedom (freedom), freedom (freedom). Oh, freedom, yeah, freedom. Freedom (freedom), freedom (freedom). Freedom, oh freedom.

Jon Pareles, chief popular music critic for The New York Times, wrote, ” she freed other singers to let their voices fly”. Freedom manifests itself in many ways. It was the central theme in the life of Aretha Franklin, “universally acclaimed as the ‘Queen of Soul’ and one of America’s greatest singers in any style”.

In her indelible late-1960s hits, Ms. Franklin brought the righteous fervor of gospel music to secular songs that were about much more than romance. Hits like “Do Right Woman — Do Right Man,” “Think,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “Chain of Fools” defined a modern female archetype: sensual and strong, long-suffering but ultimately indomitable, loving but not to be taken for granted.

When Ms. Franklin sang “Respect,” the Otis Redding song that became her signature, it was never just about how a woman wanted to be greeted by a spouse coming home from work. It was a demand for equality and freedom and a harbinger of feminism, carried by a voice that would accept nothing less.

Franklin was a leading figure in the civil rights movement. She first met many key figures in that movement in her father’s various parsonages.

She began her singing in churches. After she made the move to secular music, she  retained her church style and frequently returned to gospel music. The Times‘ Pareles again:

Ms. Franklin’s airborne, constantly improvisatory vocals had their roots in gospel. It was the music she grew up on in the Baptist churches where her father, the Rev. Clarence LaVaughn Franklin, known as C. L., preached. She began singing in the choir of her father’s New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, and soon became a star soloist.

Gospel shaped her quivering swoops, her pointed rasps, her galvanizing buildups and her percussive exhortations; it also shaped her piano playing and the call-and-response vocal arrangements she shared with her backup singers. Through her career in pop, soul and R&B, Ms. Franklin periodically recharged herself with gospel albums: “Amazing Grace” in 1972 and “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism,” recorded at the New Bethel church, in 1987.

Her involvement in presidential events began in 1977, when she sang “God Bless America” at Jimmy Carter’s Inaugural Gala. She performed at the pre-inaugural events for President Bill Clinton in both 1993 and 1997. The Washington Post recalls that Franklin sang at President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009:

She brought the usually stoic Obama to tears in 2015, when she performed at the Kennedy Center Honors in a tribute to Carole King. Her fur-throwing, bring-the-house-down version of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” had the president on his feet — and dabbing at his eyes.

On the morning of her death, President Obama wrote on his Twitter feed:

Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade—our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace.

To which we may all wish to say, Amen.

In the picture at top, Aretha Franklin sings “My Country ’Tis of Thee” at President Barack Obama’s 2008 inauguration. The picture is by Damon Winter/The New York Times. The picture of Franklin with Jake and Elwood is on the set, not the movie.


Posted in Aretha Franklln, Human Rights, Movies | 6 Comments

Ahed Tamimi Completes High School in Prison

by James M. Wall

Ahed Tamimi (right) and her mother Nariman were released from an Israel prison Sunday. They had served dual eight-months sentences. Ahed, a 17-year-old teenager, left her cell and found a wild reception from friends, family and townspeople of her Nabi Saleh community.

Before her day of release ended, Ahed had held a press conference for the world’s media, was welcomed home by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and laid a wreath at the grave of Palestine’s first president, Yasir Arafat.

In her quiet, polished manner, Ahed also gave Israel what it dreaded, a heavy blow to its already-staggered public image of what is now a self-named Jewish state. She has become a symbol of both Israel’s 70-year Occupation, and Palestine’s future, by quietly serving her eight-month sentence for slapping an Israel soldier.

Palestinian media outlet Maan greeted Ahed by quoting leading Palestinian official, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi:

Maan wrote: “Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee Member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi welcomed the release of the 17-year-old Palestinian Ahed al-Tamimi and her mother, Nariman, who were held in Israeli prisons for the last eight months.

Ashrawi said in a statement that “Ahed and Nariman, both prominent Palestinian activists, were wrongfully and unjustly imprisoned by Israeli occupation forces in December. The motive for their vindictive arrest was political- Ahed, who is underage and turned seventeen behind prison bars, slapped an Israeli soldier who showed up with dozens of others to invade her family’s home in Nabi Saleh, and Nariman filmed the incident.

“Ahed and her humanity captured the imagination of many people around the world because of her spirit and refusal not to be intimidated by Israeli soldiers.” Ashrawi said that Ahed’s story, and the stories of her courageous relatives, expose not just the “immorality” but also the “cowardly nature” of Israeli forces.

Mondoweiss describes Ahed’s release from jail as an “incomplete freedom”. She moves from one prison back to another, occupation. The slap that sent her to eight months in an Israel prison, was filmed. It went viral. Her mother “was imprisoned for live-streaming the incident on Facebook”.

The Israeli response was hysterical. Education Minister Naftali Bennett suggested that Ahed spend the rest of her life in prison, and ‘centrist’, ‘liberal’ journalist Ben Caspit suggested that “we should exact a price at some other opportunity, in the dark, without witnesses and cameras”. Lawmaker Oren Hazan (Likud) said that if it were him, he would “put Ahed in hospital” by kicking her in the face, and author of the IDF ‘ethics-code’ Asa Kasher backed her continued imprisonment because she could, God forbid, slap again.

American academic and prolific writer, Juan Cole, delivered the news in his precise and colorful manner.

Cole wrote on his blog that Ahed and her mother, Nariman, served their “petty and mean-spirited sentences of 8 months [given them] by a colonial Israeli military judge presiding over stateless, occupied people who are intensively patrolled by the Israeli jackboot while their land, water, and well-being are gradually stolen from them by the judge’s cousins.”

Tamimi, as a 17-year-old girl, slapped a couple of Israel Occupation personnel attempting to barge into her home. She and others had participated in a demonstration against Israelis squatting nearby on Palestinian land and encroaching on her home town, during which there was some stone throwing at the Israeli troops who came to stop people from protesting. Those troops shot her cousin in the head with a rubber bullet. That was when Ahed went out and slapped them.

Tamimi’s press conference was covered by Kuwait’s KUNA news service, which said in its report that “Tamimi used the experience of being jailed, as many colonial subjects in imperial detention cells have–including Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi–to her advantage.” 

 Specifically, KUNA reported, “Tamimi finished high school in jail! She organized a study group of other young women, and she succeeded in completing the high school examination while imprisoned. She turned her dreary sentence, intended to deprive her of nearly a year of her youth, into an educational opportunity.”

Completing high school in jail did not come without a struggle.

In her press conference Ahed said, “I was afraid I would miss the school year, so I managed with a group of prisoners to study. We challenged the occupation, which tried to ban us from study.”

Tamimi said she plans to go to law school and that she hopes to specialize in human rights law so that she can defend Palestinian activists and prisoners on the international stage. 

On her arrival in her home town of Nabi Saleh, Sunday, KUNA reports that she said, “I am a witness that the Resistance will continue until the end of the Occupation.”

TRT World, a Turkish news channel, shared this clip on Ahed Tamimi’s release from prison, her past and her future”

Juan Cole concluded his report with a strong suggestion that international supporters of a free Palestine, as well as believers in justice, should find a way to start a law school fund for Ahed Tamimi. 

Israel lurks in the shadows waiting for its chance to return this brave teenager to prison. Ahed will need all the help she can find to smash those barriers Israel will place in her way.

Juan Cole writes that he is ready to contribute to Ahed’s law school fund. Do I see hands raised to join him?   

The clip above is from TRT World, a Turkish international news channel broadcast 24-hours per day in the English-language. The news channel is based in Istanbul, Turkey.

Posted in Israel, Middle East, Palestinians | 12 Comments

When Trump and Bibi Depart, “Pray For the Fish”

by James M. Wall

Bibi Netanyahu has long begged for others to recognize that “Israel is a Jewish state”. No one has agreed to do so. So, Bibi and his Likud right-wing party did it for themselves. 

Netanyahu is the Donald Trump of the Mediterranean. Both men are driven by a desperate need for political and economic power for its own sake, coupled with an equally strong need to be loved. Donald wants the love for himself and, by extension, his family. Bibi seeks love for himself and his tribe.

They arrived on the world political stage at just the moment to sustain each other.

In its sham negotiations with the Palestinian people, recognizing Israel as the Jewish state was always Israel’s basic demand. Bibi does not care that it is impossible to have a state that is a democracy of exclusively Jewish people. To identify Israel as a Jewish democracy is to label the nation with an oxymoron.

Both Trump and Bibi embrace non-democratic tyrants. Donald and Vladimir Putin are currently cementing their affair in public. Most recent example: The “would/wouldn’t” game Trump played against his own intelligence agencies.

Seattle-based Jewish blogger Richard Silverstein, writes that like Trump, “Bibi Netanyahu, desperate to find a few paltry allies somewhere, anywhere, has cultivated a bromance with Hungary’s Viktor Orban. Orban isn’t such a metzieh (Yiddish for ‘a find’). He is the far-right, anti-immigrant, Islamophobic anti-Semitic premier of Hungary. Netanyahu is the far right, Islamophobic, racist, anti-refugee-PM of Israel”.

Donald Trump’s embrace of strongmen tyrants will not be his downfall, even though he embraces Russian President Vlad Putin, who has intervened in our 2016 presidential election and assumed to be working to do the same in our 2018 mid-term election.

American establishment types are outraged over Trump’s blatant and undisguised racism. But Republicans nominated him while Democrats failed to defeat him. Those who voted for him, and those who did not oppose him with vigor, gave him a big electric train to keep him amused. The train is called, “the most powerful job in the world”.

Nor will Trump’s cringe-inducing sexual conduct and mindset bring him down. His sexual and financial conduct look to those who swear by him, as just good old Trump doing his thing. And even among voters not enamored of him, at least he is neither Hillary nor Barack.

Will the Mueller investigations deliver hope? Is impeachment a way to take back that electric train? Probably not. Impeachment would simply give Vice President Mike Pence the White House, where he would be a slicker, more rational Trump.

Unless Pence is dragged down with Trump by either Mueller or impeachment, he is next in line.

A conservative radio and TV talk show host in the 1990s, Pence successfully ran for Congress in 2000 where he became the House Republican conference chairman, before being elected governor of Indiana in 2012. The Republican party made him Trump’s running mate.

Trump’s soulmate Netanyahu is confronting legal findings in Israel, which could lead to his ouster. But just as Trump could be replaced by Pence, Bibi is the leader of the right-wing Likud which would replace him with an equally hard-right leader.

The two nations, partners in oppression, are now radically right in political outlook. Opposition parties in Israel and the U.S. show few signs of being able to change that outlook anytime soon.

These depressing times we are currently in puts me in mind of the Randy Travis (picture above) song, “Pray for the fish”, a country music favorite of many, including me. The song has to do with the fellow who was about as evil as any fellow in town had ever been.

One day this fellow, whose name was Eddie Lee Vaughn, recognized himself as saved. The preacher was ready to baptize him in the river on the edge of town. A big crowd had gathered. Randy Travis tells the story of what happens to the fish when Eddie Lee Vaughn was washed of his sins. Click  below for the song performed by Randy Travis.

Click here for words of the song

Voters and high-rollers with money gave us Trump and Pence, Netanyahu and Likud. What will they leave behind? And what happens to the fish still swimming in the river? Pray for them.

Posted in Donald Trump, Netanyahu | 8 Comments

Judge Kavanaugh Was Certified by Leonard Leo

by James M. Wall

When the name of Judge Brett Kavanaugh was presented to the nation as President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court Monday night, Trump was in a role he honed during his reality television years.

He was the master of ceremonies making an important announcement.

But don’t kid yourself, the choice of Kavanaugh (right) was not made by Trump. It was made by Leonard Leo, one of the most important inside players in the conservative legal movement and the man to see for those who aspire to sit on the nation’s highest courts.

After Kavanaugh’s nomination, David Savage wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

In choosing Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, President Trump went with a well-credentialed Washington insider who compiled a long record as a reliable conservative and won the respect of White House lawyers and the outside groups that advise them.

They are confident that, if confirmed by the Senate, he will move the high court to the right on abortion, gun rights, affirmative action, religious liberty and environmental protection, among other issues.

Last week, Savage alerted his readers to the fact that the second Trump Supreme Court selection will have reached this legal mountain-top through “Leonard Leo, a vice president of the conservative Federalist Society, [who] will soon have his own grateful bloc of ideological allies on the Supreme Court.

Since the 1990s Leo has been one of the most important inside players in the conservative legal movement and the man to see for those who aspire to sit on the nation’s highest courts.

Leo has been a longtime friend and champion of Justice Clarence Thomas, and he played a crucial role in promoting the two most recent Republican appointees to the high court: Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, 53, was a law clerk for Kennedy the same year as Gorsuch, has served on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals since 2006, and his more than 300 opinions have been reliably conservative.

Another top contender, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, has only a brief record on the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. She is 46 and has been a judge since November, but she has won support from conservative and religious groups across the country.

At least one television talking head speculated that President Trump may be saving Justice Barrett as a replacement if a female court member departs.

If he is confirmed, Judge Kavanaugh would be the fourth member of the current court certified as pure conservative by Leonard Leo. And he will be narrowly confirmed by the U.S Senate, unless Democrats, with some help from their friends across the aisle, develop a collective backbone, and block his nomination.

Justice Kavanaugh would join three earlier judges, who were successfully escorted to the court by the Federalist Society: Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Associate Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr., both announced by President George Bush, and Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, named by Trump

What drives Leonard Leo, the justice-maker who remains in the shadows, until there arises a conservative president who needs him.

Leonard was a visionary,” said Tom Carter, who served as Leo’s media relations director when he was chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

In an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast. Carter said, “He figured out twenty years ago that conservatives had lost the culture war. Abortion, gay rights, contraception—conservatives didn’t have a chance if public opinion prevailed. So they needed to stack the courts.”

Amazingly, said Carter, Leo has succeeded in this mission with few people taking notice.

The nation will take notice when, or if,  overturning Roe v. Wade comes before the Supreme Court.

The picture of Judge Kavanaugh was made by Dennis Cook of the Associated Press.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment