Archive for the ‘articles’ Category

Alan Levine: Is boycott a bad word?

July 30, 2015

http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/civil-rights/249670-is-boycott-a-bad-word

Hillary Clinton recently wrote a letter to Haim Saban, billionaire owner of Univision and uncompromising supporter of Israel, seeking his advice about the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions  (BDS) movement. The movement, she says, seeks to “isolate” and “punish” Israel, and we “need to make countering BDS a priority.” However, her letter does not say what it is that BDS supporters want or believe; not a word about Israel’s human rights violations, an unlawful occupation, collective punishment or any of the other conditions of oppression that prompted Palestinians to initiate the BDS movement for Palestinian freedom and equality.

The inference is that the reasons for BDS do not matter. Boycotts themselves, she implies, are not a legitimate tool in the struggle to achieve human rights. Clinton of course, knows better.

So, too, should the oversight and Government reform Committee’s Subcommittee on National Security. On July 28 the Subcommittee held a lopsided anti-BDS hearing on the “Impact of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement.” Explanatory material for the hearing said nothing about BDS being a movement striving for freedom and equal rights.  No Palestinian or Palestinian-American leaders of the movement were there to testify. It was, in fact, very much like holding a hearing on Jim Crow and excluding African-American leaders.Boycott movements have an important and honorable place in our country’s – and the world’s – history of peaceful protest. In my lifetime, three great boycott movements have exposed and successfully alleviated conditions of injustice and oppression.

In the mid-1950s, the requirement in Montgomery, Alabama that black bus passengers surrender their seats to whites led to a year-long boycott of the city’s public buses. Desegregation of the buses followed. When I went to the south as a civil rights lawyer some 10 years later, those I worked with understood, as have historians since, that the movement for equality and justice in which they were then engaged had begun with the Montgomery bus boycott.

In the mid-60s, farmworkers organized a strike to protest the appalling working conditions in California’s grape-growing fields. Strike leaders appealed for support of a nationwide boycott of California table grapes.  Those who enlisted in what was known as “la causa” spoke not only of conditions in the fields, but hunger and poverty, discrimination against Mexican-Americans and Latinos, and the failure of labor laws to protect our most exploited workers.

At about the same time, opponents of the South African system of black oppression called apartheid began a campaign to persuade their supporters around the world to stop doing business with South Africa. Over the next 20-plus years, anti-apartheid activists organized an economic, cultural, and sports boycott of South Africa that the world came to understand as one of the 20th century’s signature battles for democratic rights.

What unites these great boycott movements is that each spoke with moral clarity on fundamental issues of equality and justice, and each grew out of an understanding that recourse to the ordinary mechanisms of government was unavailable. In my view, BDS is properly understood as a successor to those boycott movements.

The moral clarity of the BDS movement is hardly contestable. The enormous economic, physical, and emotional toll on the Palestinians exacted by the occupation has been repeatedly documented by every international agency that speaks to the issue. Within Israel – that is within the Green Line – Israeli civil rights agencies themselves describe a dual system of government services and benefits that is uniformly inferior for Palestinians compared to Jewish Israelis. In neither respect is there any serious argument that Palestinians are not gravely mistreated.

Notably, Clinton makes no such argument in her letter to Saban, saying only that the comparison to South Africa is unfair. But she knows, among other things, that Palestinians are forcibly removed from land on which Israel says they may not live and that there are roads in occupied territory on which West Bank Palestinians may not drive. Many, including anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter, recognize it as apartheid.

She also says that the vindication of Palestinian rights, including the creation of a Palestinian state, should be left to direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. But if there ever was any doubt about the current Israeli government’s willingness to negotiate the terms of a Palestinian state, it was laid to rest by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pre-election vow never to accept a Palestinian state.

Clinton knows that. But in her run for the presidency, it does not seem to matter. Her letter boasts of her record in beating back reports and resolutions that criticize Israel’s human rights violations. Yet there may be a price to pay. Within the Democratic Party, a November 2014 poll shows that the idea of unconditional support for Israel is eroding, particularly among young and African-American and Latino voters. And in recent days, another poll, this one of the Democratic Party’s “opinion elite,” shows growing criticism of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.

Even if there is no hope for Clinton, the growing grassroots opposition to Israel’s policies reflected in these polls is an encouraging sign. As we have learned from the boycott movements that preceded BDS, it is grassroots support that ultimately drives the success of every movement for freedom and equal rights.

Levine is a New York City civil rights lawyer who has represented social justice activists throughout his career.

Alan Levine Letter to the Editor – NY Times – published May 8

May 8, 2015

To the Editor:

Pamela Geller is an Islamophobe whose public remarks about Muslims have rightly been condemned by the Southern Poverty Law Center as hate speech. But she has the last word in your article (“Organizer of Cartoon Contest Trumpets the Results,” news article, May 5), wrapping herself in the mantle of the First Amendment as if she had made a useful contribution to a public dialogue about Islam.

She has not. While hate speech is protected by the Constitution, the sole purpose of such speech is to inflame bigotry and to inflict injury. Your reference to the case of Debbie Almontaser is a case in point.

Ms. Almontaser, a respected educator and community leader, was selected by the New York City Department of Education to head the Khalil Gibran International Academy, the city’s first Arabic dual-language school. In the months after the announcement of the school’s creation, Ms. Geller and her allies unleashed a hate-filled barrage of false and Islamophobic accusations about Ms. Almontaser and the school.

Capitulating to the campaign, city officials forced her to resign. She then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In ruling that Ms. Almontaser had been the victim of anti-Muslim prejudice, the commission said that the Department of Education had “succumbed to the very bias that creation of the school was intended to dispel and a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on D.O.E. as an employer.”

Ms. Almontaser’s reputation and career survived Ms. Geller’s onslaught. However, her ordeal should be a reminder that those who propagate hate speech are not proponents of First Amendment rights, but destroyers of lives.

ALAN LEVINE

New York

The writer is a civil rights lawyer who represented Ms. Almontaser in her suit against the Department of Education.

From SJP to JVP to Open Hillel, the joint struggle is transforming the campus debate

April 16, 2015
PItzer_College_apartheid_wallPitzer College mock apartheid wall

by Donna Nevel on April 15, 2015

As someone who has participated in programs on a number of campuses and has a child in college, I have been inspired by the organizing taking place for justice in Palestine. My own organizing has been strengthened by what I have seen. Through Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Muslim Student Associations (MSA), and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), organizing for justice in Palestine on campuses across the US has been thoughtful, principled and bold. Further, the movement to open Hillels to those voices supporting justice in Palestine has also been a positive development.

Despite seemingly insurmountable challenges, the organizing has creatively highlighted and challenged Israel’s ongoing apartheid. It has opened up spaces for discussion and dialogue that college administrators and defenders of Israeli government policy have tried to shut down. Perhaps most importantly, student organizers have made important links and connections among different movements for justice. Just this past fall, SJP’s national conference, held at Tufts University, had as its theme, “Beyond Solidarity: Resisting Racism and Colonialism from the US to Palestine.”

I spoke at two Boston campuses recently on Islamophobia and Israel, co-sponsored by the SJP and the MSA at Suffolk University and Tufts University. Yasmeen Hamdoun, one of the organizers of the event at Suffolk, told me why she organized such an event: “I believe the Islamophobic narrative is so pervasive, and people often don’t reflect about who is benefiting from this narrative and its repercussions. As a Muslim in America, I face the consequences of the misrepresentation of Muslims in the media through discrimination on a daily basis, but the Muslims overseas, such as the Palestinians, face it even harder. The Islamophobic propaganda campaign driven by the imperialist powers, such as the U.S. and Israel, dehumanizes Muslims overseas and thereby justifies violence against them.”

I most appreciated the discussions that followed the presentation. Students asked questions and made comments that reflected not just a commitment to the issues but genuine depth and critical analysis, and for many of them who were engaging with others on their campuses, clear thinking about how the information and discussion could support their organizing and build critical connections.

Tufts SJP member Leila N. spoke about these connections: “Within the SJP movement and the Palestine movement more generally, we’re seeing an increasing focus on joint struggle— the notion that all forms of oppression are interconnected and interdependent and therefore our resistance and struggle against them must also be connected. Encompassed within this commitment to joint struggle is the urgency to understand and engage issues of Islamophobia. As a group we are interested in exposing the impacts of state violence on Arabs and Muslims in the US, the Palestine movement, and around the world, as well as addressing our own complicity in this violence.”

At Pitzer College in California, students recently erected a mock apartheid wall. Before it was erected, the dean of students told them that the wall could be considered “discriminatory” and directed SJP to seek approval from the Campus Aesthetics Committee, which turned them down. SJP students made their voices heard and demanded their rights. They worked with lawyers from Palestine Solidarity Legal Support (PSLS), who wrote a letter to the administration: “There was no basis for that advice, given that the Aesthetics Committee has no jurisdiction to consider the propriety of students exercising their right to political expression.”

After the administration informed them the wall would be in violation of campus policy, SJP, in a written statement, pointed out that the administration’s warnings went against the campus demonstration’s policy statement that Pitzer “respects the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly and supports their exercise.” In response to SJP being told a student had sent a complaint that the wall was anti-Semitic and would make Jewish students on campus uncomfortable, PSLS’s letter also made clear: “This is straightforward political speech focused on a critical examination of Israeli state policy. It is not criticism of Jews, Jewish students, or Israel as a “Jewish state,” but criticism of Israeli state policies towards Palestinians, which are the focus of international debate.”

The wall remained for four days without interference by the administration.

In addition to this organizing, the Open Hillel movement is gaining momentum across the country. As described by Naomi Dann, a staff member of JVP who participated in opening Hillel on her campus when she was a student at Vassar College, “Open Hillel is a campaign to pressure Hillel International to drop its ‘Standards of Partnership,’ which currently prohibit campus affiliates from partnering with or hosting individuals and groups who support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.”

Recently students at Guilford College in North Carolina began a process at their campus to become an Open Hillel. This will make them the fourth Open Hillel so far. Guilford students wrote in a public statement: “As an open Hillel, we believe that Jewish students should be supported in expressing their Jewish identity and values in the way that is most meaningful to them. … To be an open Hillel is to welcome all perspectives on Israel-Palestine.”

Guilford SJP student leader Walid Mosarsaa also pointed out that “Opening Guilford’s Hillel is necessary because there seemed to be a lot of conflation among Hillel members in specific, and on campus in general, that Jews have to support Israel and that Palestinians hate Jews, which we know is not the case. With an Open Hillel Palestinians and Jews who do not support Zionism will not feel discriminated against.”

While these student groups and activists are generating new ideas, they are also bringing in a host of older speakers who have been part of movements for justice in communities that have resisted oppression. Students are meeting with leaders and organizers from Palestine, indigenous leaders in the US, black civil rights activists, transnational feminists, and prison abolition activists, among others. In the Jewish community, Open Hillel has also highlighted and brought to their campuses Jewish civil rights workers from the ’60s who worked with SNCC and other groups in the South and are active on Palestine issues today. One of these activists, Dorothy Zellner, said that the Open Hillel movement is “a sign of things changing, and it’s because of these students. Students were at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement and these students are going to change [things] too.”

The power of the organizing among young people makes it no coincidence that campuses have been and are sites of repression. As they work to effect change, the students are fully aware the they are up against a typically well-funded opposition that focuses more on vitriol, name-calling and intimidation than on substantive debate. As a result of their activism on behalf of the Palestinian movement for justice and their efforts to hold Israel accountable to basic principles of human rights, many students are facing accusations of being anti-Semitic and creating “unsafe spaces” for Jewish students. This has also been true at a number of University of California campuses, where student organizing has resulted in successful efforts to pass resolutions that call upon their universities to divest from corporations profiting from the Israeli occupation.

As in the case of Pitzer and elsewhere, one of the challenges student activists face is to demand that college administrations do not capitulate to those seeking to silence criticism of Israel, but rather resist such pressure by citing their colleges’ commitment to open inquiry and critical thinking. Right-wing Zionists can apply pressure, but it is the job of the institutions not to give credence to those who try to prevent voices for justice from being heard. It is hard to imagine any more fundamental obligation of a college administration than to stand up for their students’ rights in this regard against those who would like nothing more than to intimidate, silence or punish them. Academics on college campuses face many of these same challenges as well as others, and both students and academics—together with legal and other activists—have joined forces in their organizing.

From cultural resistance, campaigns to pressure their campuses to oppose apartheid, sit-ins and community programs and actions rooted in intersecting struggles, students across the country have joined one another and the broader movement for justice and dignity in transformative ways. The challenges are formidable, but so is their determination.

– See more at: http://mondoweiss.net

The Jewish establishment has banned these four valiant Jews. Why?

April 1, 2015

 Philip Weiss on Mondoweiss March 31, 2015 

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This is the story of a tragedy inside the Jewish community.

The four American Jews above are on a national campus tour. All in their 70s, they are veterans of the civil rights movement; they went south 50 years ago to help free our country from Jim Crow, risking their lives for equal rights.

But they have been banned from speaking at Hillel, the Jewish campus organization, because they have come out in favor of Palestinian human rights.

Last Wednesday they were to speak at Swarthmore Hillel, but the gangster who runs Hillel, former congressman Eric Fingerhut, hinted at legal action if the students dared to let them speak– so the students had to start a new Jewish group called Kehilah just to hear them.

Eric Fingerhut, the head of Hillel International. (Photo: Shahar Azran for Hillel)

The next night they spoke to an overflow crowd at Muhlenberg College, introduced by former Hillel president Caroline Dorn. Dorn had to quit Hillel in order to host them—and she also had to meet with the college provost even to get permission for the four to come on campus because the college administration was afraid of alienating Jewish students. “It was devastating,” she says. And last night they spoke to more than 100 at the University of Michigan. Again: barred from Hillel.

So these four travelers are freedom riders twice. First in their 20s in the civil rights movement, now in their 70s, sponsored by the Open Hillel movement.

“Why are they so afraid about what a bunch of old folks are going to say to you?” Mark Levy asked at Swarthmore.

Why? Because when I saw them at Swarthmore, three of them started to weep as they told their stories, even 50 years later. Why? Because they witnessed an American social revolution in which many people suffered, and they are extending that experience to Palestine.

Levy is the man on the left. A retired teacher in New York, he went south because he thought the best way to fight anti-semitism was to fight discrimination against all people.

Next to him is Larry Rubin. Rubin went south “automatically” from the Sholom Aleichem Club in Philadelphia 50 years ago because “I wanted to make my country better.” But in Belzoni Mississippi, a sheriff said to him, “We haven’t hanged us a Hebe in a long time” and the white people said he was trying to “destroy” the country. The same charge was hurled at him when he went to Palestine and witnessed the apartheid conditions there.

Next in line, Dorothy Zellner. Like Rubin, she worked for SNCC, the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee. She went south because she believed Jews fought injustice in the garment industry, in the Spanish Civil war, in the Warsaw Ghetto, because the Talmud told them to:

“Who is honored? The one who honors all human beings.”

On Zellner’s left is the baby of the group, Ira Grupper. He grew up Orthodox in Brooklyn, and twice he broke down last week as he spoke. First when he said that he had named his daughter after his friend Vernon Dahmer, who was murdered in Mississippi for helping black people to vote. The second time when he told of his arrest with hundreds of other men at the Mississippi Fairgrounds, and every night as a form of humiliation and control the cops served the white prisoners their bologna sandwich and cup of milk first but every prisoner set the cup on the floor with the sandwich on top of it till the last black prisoner was served.

“Then all of us prisoners, black and white together, picked up our sandwiches as one, and that is what the civil rights movement means to me, and as a Jew I have to fight for the rights of all people and that includes Palestinians.”

You’d think that these four Jews would be hallowed by the Jewish community, that Grupper would be telling his stories at the 92d Street Y and the DC JCC and the Center for Jewish History in New York. No: they are pariahs, because they speak out for Palestine, and cross Hillel International’s red lines for accepted speech.

The night I saw them was tense. Joshua Wolfsun of Kehilah warned the crowd, you may disagree vehemently with what you are about to hear, but please try and listen resiliently and if you have to blow off steam, take a walk outside. A rabbi who sat near the back asked what was the difference between blind loyalty to Israel that the group was opposing and support for the Jewish people. An older man said equal rights and civil rights and peace are all great, but what do you owe the Jewish community?

Levy said the demand is something out of the Spanish Inquisition. “There’s a single definition of being Jewish: I have to be a Zionist, 110 percent uncritical of Israel, otherwise I can’t call myself a Jew. And I think there’s something wrong with that.”

Rubin said the thought control reminds him of Communist days, when friends said he should never criticize the Soviet Union because Russia was the savior of the working class, and criticism would hurt the movement.

“Now Israel is the savior of the Jewish community so don’t say anything. Israel is supposed to be a Jewish country–and they don’t want Jews to argue? This is not the way that Jews do business.”

Zellner said Israel is not a Jewish country, any more than the U.S. was a white country when 12 percent of the country was black. But she said the demands of Jewish nationalism have made Jews sick.

“What’s happening now in the Jewish community, the enforced loyalty to the state of Israel, has made us sick. We are a sick population, we are under such extreme tension. We have people storming out of seder meals, and we in Jews Say No, when we’re out on the street. I have seen normal people who you would not look at twice go from zero to 60 in a second and become raving maniacs. Calling us everything that you can possibly say. We are in a situation where people can’t ask the questions and they can’t talk. “

She said the young Jews in the room were the “prize” that the older Jews are fighting over, and the Fingerhuts will lose.

“You signal the end of the occupation. I am the oldest one here. I will tell you my age, I’m 77, and I am going to be live to the end of this occupation. You all have done the final blow. When hundred of J Street student went outside of Fingerhut’s office [to protest restrictions], this is the end, the ship is going down and it’s because of you guys..”

Others on this site are not as thrilled as I am by this movement. They say it’s fine for Jews to save the Jewish soul, but that’s not going to bring justice to Palestine. I say we need to change the Jewish community, because we hold the keys to changing U.S. policy. One thing we agree about, the Jewish community is reactionary when it comes to Palestinian rights; and these four Jews in their 70s are working with Jews in their teens and 20s to try and change that culture.

Dorothy Zellner said the Jewish establishment miscalculated, promising its loyalty to Israel, saying, “We are all in lockstep. But we’re not.” The young people are breaking those chains and the Fingerhuts and Foxmans are terrified of the change. And when the change happens American public opinion will break.

The young Jews issued a statement of their own yesterday. After the threats to Swarthmore and the resignation of Caroline Dorn, the Open Hillel movement issued a calm challenge to their elders:

Hillel is facing a choice – it can continue to spend valuable resources devoted to fighting its own students in an attempt to dictate what students can and cannot say about Israel/Palestine, or it can return to its mission of engaging Jewish students.

The vets will be at the University of Chicago on April 1st. We’ll announce additional stops on the midwest tour when we learn about them. And then they hit the South, April 15-18.

http://mondoweiss.net/2015/03/establishment-banned-valiant

Reflections on a National Gathering of Jewish Peace and Justice Activists

March 20, 2015
by Donna Nevel          Huffington Post March 20, 2015

One of the things that I kept hearing this past weekend at the Jewish Voice for Peace National Membership Meeting (JVP NMM) was how people felt pushed in their thinking. Guided by the weekend’s theme — We’re not waiting — more than 600 people from across the country gathered both to envision the future and think concretely about how to be as meaningfully engaged as possible with the movement for justice in Palestine.

The weekend was intergenerational, inspirational, challenging, and, most significantly for me, had us all struggling with issues — from Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and Assaults on Academic Freedom to Islamophobia and Challenging Militarization and Police Violence — in new ways and more intentionally recognizing and building upon the intersections among the various parts of our work and organizing.

Plenary sessions, which included JVP leaders along with deep thinkers and activists Sa’ed Adel Atshan, Reverend Dr. Heber M. Brown III, Amer Shurrab, Andrea Smith and others — helped lay the groundwork for the weekend. Amer Shurrab stated in the opening plenary, which was echoed by others throughout the weekend, that peace and justice required, quite simply and directly, equal rights for all. Reverend Brown, who had recently been to Palestine and Israel, spoke with tremendous passion about how to engage in our inter-connected work for justice: “It is important that struggles engage in deep listening and allow themselves to be transformed by each other.” Back and forth between theoretical analyses and concrete strategies for action, their words clearly resonated with an audience of energetic and committed people.

The Nakba and right of return were also centered throughout the weekend, with presentations by Basem Sbaih from Badil and Liat Rosenberg from Zochrot, which reflected a commitment to insuring that these foundational issues would not simply be an “add-on” to other discussions. Rosenberg stated with clarity: “The Nakba was not a one-time event in 1948; it is ongoing,” with further emphasis by Sbaih. “We have to be honest, this work is really hard. The displacement of Palestinians is ongoing today.”

People seemed anxious to learn more, to connect with others engaged in this work, and to deepen their own analysis that would help shape and inform their organizing.

I thought Andrea Smith’s thinking and analysis were transformative and helped lift us to a new level. She spoke of the struggles and challenges of Native peoples in this country — one that is ongoing — and about the importance of understanding colonization in all its manifestations. She also spoke about the importance of envisioning what is possible in new and expansive ways.

Well over 100 college students attended the meeting. I spent time with lovely, committed students from Guilford College and Pitzer College, all of whom are involved with SJP on their campuses. They are facing formidable challenges from those on their campuses who want to shut down their organizing and silence the position that supports justice for Palestine, but they will not be deterred. Responding to attacks from members of the local Jewish community and from Hillel that her college isn’t safe for Jewish students because they bring in pro-Palestine speakers like Steven Salaita, Guilford College student Sara Minsky recently wrote a letter explaining why she feels safe as a Jewish student at Guilford precisely because of its stated commitment to fostering critical, open discussion about Palestine/Israel.

JVP’s role in the broader movement was also interwoven into numbers of discussions. People spoke about how to be an effective and responsible and responsive partner in a Palestinian-led movement; to continue to grow and deepen its work in Jewish communities across the country; to be intentional and bold. At the final plenary, Angela Davis spoke about the importance of JVP’s leadership and the pivotal role of JVP in conjunction with movements against racism in the U.S., while also stressing the importance of leadership coming from communities of color.

The weekend was not without its tensions or differences. From quite different perspectives on the nature and reality of anti-Semitism today and whether it should be integrated into JVP’s work to those struggling with the specifics and actual meaning of the right of return and the articulated concept of dezionizing Israel, probing discussion and debate on these and other issues continued well after the sessions had ended.

The most powerful part of the meeting for me was what felt like a wide-spread recognition that all that was generated throughout the weekend would become part of the thinking, the strategizing, and the organizing after it ended. And that JVP is doing its work in concert with, and as part of a global movement for racial justice that truly spans from Ferguson to Palestine.

*I am a member of JVP’s board of directors.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/donna-nevel/reflections-on-a-national_1_b_6907006.html

(You Won’t Find This in the NY Times)

December 10, 2014

Israel, Ferguson and the Militarization of US Police

From TimesWarp – What The New York Times doesn’t tell you about Palestine and Israel

Ever since police killed an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., last August, it seems that every facet of the issue has come under scrutiny in The New York Times: police equipment, police militarization, grand juries, racial disparities, training, trust, local politics and profiling. But one element is missing from nearly all the column inches devoted to this topic—the Ferguson-Israel connection.

Others are talking about this, however, including protesters who took to the streets after the shooting and again when a grand jury refused to indict the officer who killed the teen. In Ferguson some taunted police saying, “You gonna shoot us? You gonna shoot us? Is this the Gaza Strip?” Protesters on the Manhattan Bridge chanted, “From Ferguson to Palestine, occupation has got to go,” and at least one of them held a sign that read “We are FERGUSON We are GAZA, because We are Human.”

The staunchly pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League has reported this development with alarm, listing nearly 20 separate U.S. groups that have emphasized the link between Israeli and American police abuse. Commentators in Israeli newspapers (here and here) have taken up the issue, as well as media outlets in the United States.

But the Times has avoided the topic, with one exception: Blogger Robert Mackey reported that Palestinians tweeted advice to protesters on how to deal with tear gas; he also published the taunts to police in Ferguson. However, his blog, “Open Source,” does not appear in print nor does it receive prominent play online, and his post failed to pursue another, deeper connection between Israeli security forces and U.S. law enforcement—“counter-terrorism” police training under Israeli instruction.

The newspaper has reported charges that U.S. police have become overly militarized andran at least one story (in 2005) about Israeli training of American police, but in the recent discussion about militarized police, it has made no mention of the pervasive Israeli influence on local departments.

Since 2004, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, has sent9,500 “law enforcement executives” to study with Israeli police, army and intelligence services. The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange also sponsor these trips. In addition, Israeli security officers come to the States to give training sessions, Israeli police maintain an office in New York City and the NYPD has an office in Tel Aviv.

The curriculum includes dealing with terrorist operations, transit security, intelligence sharing, surveillance and crowd control during protests. Suppressing protests is a large part of the training, and U.S. police tactics have become a “near replica” of their Israeli counterparts, according to community leader Shakeel Syed of Southern California.

“Whether it is in Ferguson or L.A., we see a similar response all the time in the form of a disproportionate number of combat-ready police with military gear who are ready to use tear gas at short notice,” he said. “Whenever you find 50 people at a demonstration, there is always a SWAT team in sight or right around the corner.”

An Amnesty International report, “Trigger Happy: Israel’s Excessive Use of Force in the West Bank,” has charged Israeli forces with lethal actions in the face of demonstrators who pose no threat to soldiers. The report cited “willful killings” of some protesters, which amount to war crimes, and “virtual impunity” for those responsible.

Nevertheless, American police speak with admiration of Israeli practices. A Maryland officer trained in Israel told former Israeli soldier Eran Efrati(now a dissident and outspoken critic of the army), “Oh, man, you guys are badasses. You guys are the best!” Former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer has said that “Israel is the Harvard of antiterrorism.”

A recent Center for Investigative Reporting story underscores the effect of this training on U.S. police. It states, “The most tangible evidence that the training is having an impact on American policing is that both countries are using identical equipment against demonstrators, according to a 2013 report by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem and photographs of such equipment taken at demonstrations in Ferguson and Oakland and Anaheim, California.”

During 2011 Occupy protests in Oakland, U.S. army veteran Scott Olsen was shot in the head with a bean bag round and left with a permanent brain injury. His experience echoes that of protesters in occupied Palestine who have been killed or injured after being hit by “non-lethal” tear gas canisters. Two victims permanently disabled by these projectiles are Americans—Tristan Anderson and Emily Henochowicz, both wounded in the West Bank.

Oakland has a strong connection with Israeli police and army methods.Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern trained in Israel and instituted the annual Urban Shield weekend, in which police forces compete in mock “terrorist attack” exercises. Israel joins local departments in this event and has often taken first place in the competition.

In 2011 journalist Max Blumenthal called the pervasive Israeli influence on U.S. police tactics the “Israelification of America’s security apparatus.” This year others are also making the connection in light of Ferguson.

Ali Winston of the Center for Investigative Reporting wrote about the effect of Israeli training in a piece titled “U.S. police get antiterror training in Israel on privately funded trips,” and journalist Rania Khalek of The Electronic Intifada took up the issue in “Israel-trained police ‘occupy’ Missouri after killing of black youth.” Kristian Davis Bailey published a story in Ebony titled “The Ferguson/Palestine Connection”and noted that “Israel has played a role in the militarization of American police.”

All this is worth mention in the Times, but it prefers to look elsewhere in the discussions of police brutality and militarization within the United States. Its 2005 story on Israeli training was apparently never repeated. Now that the effects of this training could be cause for scandal, it has opted for silence.

Barbara Erickson     

Support for Israel in the U.S. Jewish Community Continues to Erode

November 19, 2014

by Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark and Donna Nevel

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Since the inception of the Zionist movement at the end of the 19th century right on up to today, there have always been Jews who took issue with particular aspects of –or even the very idea of– a Jewish nation-state in historic Palestine. The recent Israeli bombardment of and incursion into Gaza – what Israel called “Operation Protective Edge” – saw a new surge in Jewish-American opposition to Israeli practices and policies. While this activism stands on a many-layered foundation of more than half-a-century of organizing in the US – especially from 1967 forward –it reveals some new and heartening trends.

These developments can be seen in stepped-up on-the-ground activism, the widening scope of the discourse around what is at issue, and even in the increasing cracks in the once-solid attitudes of liberal Zionists. All of these factors emerge, of course, within a wider U.S. (and indeed, international) movement and context.  Read more 

What Ella Baker Taught Us About Ferguson And Gaza by Dorothy Zellner

September 4, 2014

Tikkun August 26, 2014

 

Ella Baker

In late June I traveled to Jackson, Mississippi, for the fiftieth anniversary of the 1964 Freedom Summer, where some 1,000 of us met after decades and celebrated the heroism of young volunteers and local African Americans who struggled and died for the right to vote. We talked about the way forward to eradicate still-existing racism in the country and we called the names of all our dead, a list of men, women and children whom the nation has never mourned.

As a recruiter for Freedom Summer and staff member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) fifty years ago, I had the honor of being approached by several volunteers whom I had helped select and who told me that going to Mississippi that faraway summer had forever changed their lives.

What propelled me into the civil rights movement in the first place as a young woman was the exhortation I had received from my secular Jewish progressive parents: that it is unethical to stand idly by while people are oppressed and suffering. What SNCC taught me was that I needed to act in my own community. It took me some time to put all of this together but finally, eleven years ago, I went to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza for the first time. Based on what I saw with my own eyes and the anguish I felt in my own heart I became a Jewish activist against Israeli governmental policies of injustice and inequality.

It was only a few days after I got home from Mississippi this past June that a new assault on Gaza began, the third in seven years. I had already seen in my two visits to Gaza what the siege was like for Palestinians living in Gaza.

At the time of this writing, the death toll is horrifying: a staggering total of 2,114 Palestinians, of whom 506 are children, and 10,529 wounded. Four Israeli civilians and sixty-four soldiers have died. Can we even begin to imagine the horror all these families are experiencing? Despite several short ceasefires, “Operation Project Edge” continues and rockets continue to be fired.

And now in the midst of an already terrible summer, Ferguson happens. Another incident of violent racism in our country.

For me, the events in Ferguson and the events halfway around the world are linked. I am not saying they are the same. I am not even saying there are many parallels, but there are some similar lessons.

In 1969, Ella Baker, SNCC’s great mentor, pointed us in the direction of meaningful action when she said, “In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become a part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed.” This means that we are going to have to learn to think in radical terms. I use the term radical in its original meaning – getting down to and understanding the root cause. Baker continued, “It means facing a system that does not lend itself to your needs and devising means by which you change that system.”

This is the crux.

We have not yet managed to understand the “root cause” of deaths like Michael Brown’s in our country. This is the work still ahead of us. I understand Ferguson to be one more example of the basic inequality that still exists in the U.S., where communities of color are still unrepresented in their police departments or their city governments and live amidst poverty and neglect.

Yes, certain aspects have changed in the South; these days you don’t take your life in your hands if you travel in an automobile in an interracial group, and you are unlikely to be arrested if, as an African American, you try to eat in a restaurant, and you did, up until recently when voter ID laws and other impediments were invented, have the right to register to vote. But by all other measures, specifically education, housing, jobs, poverty, and an unequal criminal justice system that retains more than two million people, mostly Black and Brown, in prison, we are a racist society. South and North, East and West. We have not attacked the “root cause”: a basically flawed economic and social system that sanctions exploitation and needs racism and division to survive.

And what, in my opinion, is the “root cause” of all the death and destruction in the Middle East? It isn’t Hamas, it isn’t who sent the rockets first, who killed which teenager first, and it isn’t who broke which ceasefire first. The underlying cause flows from the injustice of one group controlling the lives and future of another group. As long as Israel occupies Palestine, and as long as Palestinians resist (which, according to International human rights law, they have the right to do), confrontations and death will result. The root cause is the occupation, which itself flows from the previous dispossession of Palestinians from the land they inhabited for generations.

Though the situations are thousands of miles away from each other in different languages and different cultures, somehow or other we will all have to follow Miss Baker’s teaching: to look deeply, beyond the horror of the moment and our particular loyalties.

Because once we understand that there are root causes, we will be able to make effective efforts to change them.

Dorothy Zellner is one of the founders of Jews Say No!, serves on the board of the Friends of the Jenin Freedom Theater and is a member and volunteer with Jewish Voice for Peace. She was a staff member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC staff) from 1962 to 1967.

 

“But Hamas…” Donna Nevel in Tikkun

September 4, 2014

“But Hamas…” by: Donna Nevel on August 14th, 2014 |

In conversations about Gaza, I have heard many thoughtful people in the Jewish community lament the loss of Palestinian lives in Gaza but then say, “But Hamas…,” as if that were the heart of the problem. I’d like to suggest that, when we have these conversations about Hamas and Israel’s current bombing campaign, we begin with the necessary context and historical perspective.

Re: The Nakba

1. To create the Jewish state, the Zionist movement destroyed more than 400 Palestinians villages and expelled 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and land. Palestinians who remained in what became Israel were relegated to second-class citizenship, had much of their property confiscated, and, to this day, have fewer rights than Jewish Israeli citizens.

Re: The 1967 Occupation

2. In 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem and still occupies them until this day.

Re: Settlement expansion; the apartheid wall; and the siege of Gaza

3. Over the past 47 years of occupation, Israel has illegally confiscated more and more Palestinian land; built an apartheid wall; systematically denied Palestinians basic human and civil rights and engaged in state-sponsored violence; and forced the Palestinians in Gaza to live in appalling conditions that make it increasingly impossible to survive. Israel’s latest bombing campaign, Operation Protective Edge, has killed over 1,900 Palestinians, at least 450 of whom are children, and has displaced hundreds of thousands more.

If those of us in the Jewish community who are committed to justice begin from these facts, I think it would become clearer – regardless of who the Palestinian leadership is – that the underlying problem really is the denial of freedom and basic human rights to millions of people, for decades. And, as a community, it should also become clearer where priorities need to be in order to have any integrity on this issue: addressing the Nakba of 1948 and the responsibility for the Nakba head-on – including the right of return for refugees; ending the occupation; ending the siege on Gaza; and recognizing the right to full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Donna Nevel, a community psychologist, educator, is a long-time organizer for peace and justice in Palestine/Israel. More recently, she is a founding member of Jews Say No!, on the board of Jewish Voice for Peace, and on the coordinating committee of the Nakba Education Project-US.

The Heart of the Problem With Israel: The Mass Expulsion of the Palestinian People

July 20, 2014

The Heart of the Problem With Israel: The Mass Expulsion of the Palestinian People

By Donna Nevel

July 18, 2014

As Israeli government violence against the Palestinians in Gaza intensifies (the latest news being an aggressive ground invasion), I saw a discussion on-line about whether Israel has become more brutal or the brutality has simply become more visible to the public.

I remembered listening to Benjamin Netanyahu when he was at MIT in the 1970’s. He called himself Bibi Nitai and said he was in self-exile until the Labor Party, which he despised, was out of power. He spoke contemptuously about Arabs, and predicted he would be the leader of Israel someday and would protect the Jewish state in the way it deserved. The immediate response many of us had was: “Heaven help us all if he ever gets into power in Israel.”

I also remember the many Israeli leaders I met in the 1970’s from Labor and Mapam and from smaller parties on the “Zionist left” who seemed kind and caring and markedly different from Benjamin Netanyahu—and in many ways they were, not just in their political rhetoric (they all said they were socialists) but as human beings, or so it seemed. But when I finally dug a little deeper and read my history, I learned how they, too, were participants—in fact, often leaders—in the plan to drive the Palestinians out of their homes and off their land. Nothing very kind or caring about that, to say the least.

The bottom line: Israel was created based on the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their land and from their homes (what Palestinians call the Nakba, the catastrophe). This is the heart of the problem.

man_see_school_nakba

In some circles, particularly among “progressive” Zionists, the terrible injustice done to the Palestinians is acknowledged, but as awful as the Nakba was, they say, it was what had to be done to create and ensure the security of the Jewish state. (The most recent proponent of this position is Israeli writer Avi Shavit.) It was a terrible price that had to be paid, he and others concede. To be clear, the price was paid by the Palestinians—that is, the killing and expulsion of Palestinians for the sake of Jewish safety. And quite simply, the only way you can think that – that you can excuse the Nakba– is to believe that Jewish lives matter more than Palestinian lives.

And isn’t that what we are seeing today? If Jewish lives matter more than Palestinian lives—if, as the argument goes, the Nakba had to happen so that Jews could be “safe”—doesn’t the brutal violence we see so casually inflicted on the people of Gaza by the Israeli government follow from, in fact, isn’t it embedded in, that history? (And it’s ironic to note that large numbers of the Palestinians in Gaza are from families that fled there during the Nakba in 1948 as refugees from cities and villages in what became Israel.)

That is why I believe those of us working in our own communities—in my case, the Jewish community—need to make sure everyone not only knows about the Nakba but understands that this is the heart of the issue. And that central to the achievement of the “Zionist dream” has been that Jewish lives matter more than Arab lives. That so much attention was paid in Israel to the three kidnapped Israeli boys, in contrast to the total contempt and disregard for the large numbers of Palestinian youth killed and languishing in Israeli prisons for the crime of being Palestinian, brings this point home.

Finally, our understanding of the Nakba cannot end there. We cannot use the acknowledgement of injustice to excuse ourselves from doing anything to end it. We have to take the next step—to think about solutions; to work to hold Israel accountable to basic principles of human rights and self-determination; to recognize the rights of those who have been expelled from their homes. Sometimes the problem is understood as beginning with “the occupation” of 1967, but the root cause goes back to the Nakba and the refusal to allow the return of the refugees in contradiction of UN general assembly resolution 194. In the Palestinian-led call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), which has reverberated across the globe, the principles are laid out clearly: 1. Ending the Israeli occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
 2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
 3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194. That is what is needed to address the problem at its core.

http://www.alternet.org/world/heart-problem-israel-mass-expulsion-palestinian-people


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