Pogromchik

I’m reading Saul S. Friedman’s Pogromchik: The Assassination of Simon Petlura (Hart Publishing Co., New York, 1976). It’s a non-fiction account whose central drama is an act of public assassination carried out in Paris in 1926 by a Ukrainian Jew, Sholom

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Schwartzbard. Schwartzbard shot and killed Simon Petlura, a former head of the Ukrainian nationalist movement and supreme commander of Ukrainian nationalist forces during the civil war in that country that took place in the aftermath of World War I and the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 in Russia.

Friedman was an historian who wrote extensively about Antisemitism, the Holocaust, and the Middle East. He died in 2013, and from what I can glean on the interwebs he is, much to my dismay, a favorite go-to source for the Jewish and American right wing – particularly of those who passionately believe that Christianity & Judaism are in a global war against Islam, and that naive and ignorant liberals (like yours truly) keep ignoring the depths of the hatred found against Jews within Islam. Given my politics, I could dismiss anything Friedman has written out of hand, but that’s not how I roll. My primary interest in Pogromchik is as a portal into the horrific world of the pogroms that took place from the late 1800s well into the 20th century in the Ukraine, Russia, and other parts of eastern Europe. I could, of course, have just read a bunch of articles about those pogroms, but I guess I’m a sucker for a good story, and this is one.

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Sholom Schwartzbard, 1926

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#DACA = Time for New Approach to #Resistance

Count me among the millions of Americans – apparently 3/4 of the population according to one poll – who don’t want to see Dreamers deported. Trump’s DACA decision is all the varieties of awful that a gazillion writers and activists and politicians have already described online, in the papers, in interviews, and in the streets ever since Jeff Sessions took the podium and threw 800,000 people who deserve better under the bus.

I know that, starting today even, there will be hundreds of demonstrations – marches, vigils, probably some civil disobedience too. And already millions of people are flooding Congressional voicemail boxes and email boxes with protest messages and demands that Congress pass a straight-up Dream Act bill pronto and test DT’s claim to be ready to sign such a bill into law.

And all of that energy and activism will make a difference, which I guess I believe it always does especially if it’s done in a non-violent and intentionally ethical way.

But here’s the thing.

The DACA announcement is just the latest in a series of actions by the Trump Administration that is designed to disrupt, endanger, demoralize, and weaken a part of the American community. Its reverberations go well beyond the Dreamers and their immediate families. Sudden shifts in DACA policy create waves of fear throughout the entire undocumented population, and throughout much of the Latino-American community, American citizens included. (And yes, other immigrant communities too, but given Trump’s long campaign of hating on Mexicans in particular, it’s important to be clear that Latinos are being targeted with a particular set of toxic and bigoted memes.)

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Trump’s efforts to repeal the ACA and, in the aftermath of Congress’s failure to pass a bill, his deliberate attempt to sabotage its proper functioning, also bring uncertainty, anxiety, and ultimately political exhaustion to those who rely on the ACA (like my family). Not just the people who use the exchanges – everyone who depends on different parts of the law, like Medicaid recipients, including families w/severely disabled children, is thrown off balance. Even if in the end the ACA stays in place and Trump loses interest in trying to sabotage it, think about the massive amount of contingency planning for worst case scenarios that’s going on in millions of households in this country, and the time, money, and volunteer hours that progressives are putting into trying to keep the law alive. That’s all energy and resources that could otherwise have been used to advance a progressive agenda, redirected down a path that will probably end in at least a partial loss of the hard-fought gains the ACA represented. Continue reading

Rights = Responsibilities

fdr listAnother way of putting this, for those who get their knickers in a twist over the language of “rights” vs “responsibilities,” looks like this: All Americans share the responsibility to maintain a society in which all of their fellow citizens have 1) a job, 2) an adequate wage and decent living, 3) a decent home, 4) medical care, 5) economic protection during sickness, accident, old age or unemployment, 6) a good education. These are basic responsibilities to one another. We have a duty to each other to use all effective and appropriate means, including and sometimes especially, government, to carry out our shared responsibilities to one another. This is what love your neighbor looks like as a social contract in a modern wealthy post-industrial nation.

Extreme individualism is not a Jewish value. We are our brother’s / sister’s / neighbor’s keeper.

Israel / Palestine Bogus Argument #1: “Settlements aren’t really an obstacle to peace”

This is a new series of posts I’m going to work on, in which I debunk BA’s (bogus arguments) that are often made, on one side or the other, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (or the wider Arab-Israeli conflict, etc.).

Today’s Bogus Argument: “Settlements aren’t really an obstacle to peace,” often claimed by AIPAC supporters and other apologists for the Netanyahu gov’t. Actually, even though the argument often gets stated the way I just phrased it, what those making the argument usually mean when they say this is that Israeli announcements of plans to build new housing units within the large settlement blocs abutting Jerusalem are not really an obstacle to peace.

Let’s consider this argument.

Usually it is supported by two claims: one, that Palestinian complaints are disingenuous because both sides already know that a final status agreement would preserve the major Jerusalem settlement blocs within Israel and there would be compensatory land swaps to the Palestinian state; and two, that the Palestinians had previously engaged in negotiations w/o too much fuss despite periodic new Israeli building in the blocs.

Therefore, the argument goes, these Palestinian complaints (and those made by groups like Peace Now, J Street, and various Knesset members in the opposition) are disingenuous. The Palestinians, according to this theory, only complain over this for strategic and negotiating purposes, not because they are actually upset about new Jewish housing being built in neighborhoods that everyone knows will eventually be part of Israel. No, they press these complaints fully knowing them to be without merit, because they are actually not interested in going back to negotiations with Israel, and because they are not serious about accepting Israel’s right to exist as part of a two-state final status agreement. By insisting that Israel cease and desist from new construction in all the settlements, the Palestinians are, supposedly, making an unreasonable demand they know Israel won’t accept, and by doing so they are deliberately sabotaging peace talks and building up global animosity towards Israel as part of a long-term plan to one day get back all of what was British-ruled Palestine.

This line of reasoning, and its dismissal of Palestinian objections to new settlement construction, is, in my humble opinion, completely bogus. It’s wrong.

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Aretha Franklin will save America

So last year sometime, this happened – this tribute to Carole King with Aretha Franklin performing “Natural Woman” and knocking everyone’s socks off.

I’m so frightened of January 20th, this upcoming transition to Trump and all that he represents. Maybe our republic is finished. But America also produced Aretha Franklin.

Aretha Franklin can’t be erased from the story of America.

Neither can Carole King.

James Baldwin, John Lewis, and Harvey Milk can’t be erased from America’s story.cropped-from-previous-computer-1-197.jpg

Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug, and Emma Lazarus can’t be erased from the story of America.

Cesar Chavez cannot be erased. Neither can Jackie Robinson.

Bob Dylan, Rosa Parks, and Eleanor Roosevelt can’t be erased from the American story.

Lincoln, FDR, and Obama are part of the permanent furniture.

Dr. King can’t be erased, and neither can Bayard Rustin.
Same goes for Mark Twain.

chavez03The Abolitionists can’t be erased.

Harriet Tubman can’t be either.

Jane Addams and Eugene Debs, Margaret Sanger and Saul Alinsky: American to the core.

A. Philip Randolph and Rachel Carson, Thurgood Marshall and Ella Baker,

Dolores Huerta and Abraham Joshua Heschel: red, white and blue forever.

Townes Van Zandt, Woody Guthrie, R.E.M., and Bruce Springsteen are part of this nation.

Harper Lee and Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Warren, Sister Helen Prejean, and Sojourner Truth – from sea to shining sea

***

I just gotta remember this in the days ahead… help me, Higher Power, help me to remember this.

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Coming Soon: Israstine

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From today’s headlines…

With news of a brand new settler outpost emerging in the Nablus area, we start 2017, the likely year that will be remembered as the year the State of Israestine was born.

With the blessings of the increasingly vocal Israeli and American-Jewish right wing, and the upcoming carte blanche support of the Trump Administration, Israel and Palestine are now rapidly heading towards one state. A few more outposts, a few more announcements of plans for new neighborhoods, a few more openly public statements by top ministers in this Israeli gov’t saying they don’t want two states ever and they want to annex parts of the WB starting now. Not sure when the last straw will come, but when push comes to shove and the two-state option is completely and utterly gone, regardless of whether it was more because of aggressive settlement policies or more because of PA incitement and rejectionism, many lifelong Zionists will feel morally compelled to advocate for the single state between the Jordan river and the sea to be a democracy, with one person, one vote, complete freedom of movement, and new elections for a Knesset that reflects the wishes and identities of the 10 to 12 million people who live there. We’re witnessing the birthpangs of Israstine. Bibi is one of the founding fathers. Abbas too. Trump may just help deliver the baby.

If this is the will of most Israelis and Palestinians, then I wish them well and wish them success, and hope that the birth of the signle state is not a violent one. I think a two-state agreement along the lines Kerry outlined is a better option, a political resolution to an intractable conflict that is more likely to succeed, and more likely to meet some of the security needs and national/cultural expression needs of Jews and Arabs in this part of the world. But if Israstine is where the leaders of Israel and the PA want to head, and if their respective constituents are unwilling to demand otherwise, then it is what it is.

What I don’t think I can do, in the years ahead, is support de facto indefinite Israeli rule, direct and indirect, over millions of Palestinians because “it’s a temporary situation” or because “it’s mainly their fault.” I know my own heart, I know what I can and can’t support. I don’t want to be left with only the option of a democratic bi-national Israstine to support, but I also don’t know that I’ll feel able to support any other program. I have no control over what Israelis or Palestinians want or choose to do with their political and security calculations, and I’m not judging anybody. But by the same token, nobody has the right to judge me when I’m asked, as an American citizen, what do I support and what do I want our country to support with its resources? I know the answer to that. I can only see myself supporting a US policy that supports two democracies or one democracy – two states or one – but democracies as a bottom line, not this frozen endless status quo that denies the essence of the values of Israel’s own Declaration of Independence, the values of liberal Judaism (and I would argue of the essence of Judaism), and the best values of the United States.

The new kapos (i.e. Jews like me)

In the aftermath of Trump’s decision to nominate David Friedman to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Israel, we’ve learned that Friedman has had some choice words for Jews like me, who support J Street, and other progressive Jews. Specifically, he’s said that we’re worse than kapos, who, if that term isn’t familiar, were the Jews the Nazis assigned to supervise other Jews in concentration camps and in forced labor.

Image result for kapo ww2When one Jew calls another a kapo it means “ultimate traitor.” To have Friedman calling other Jews kapos, when he’s about to go to work for a man who has retweeted anti-Semitic Twitter accounts, and who has won the high praise of American neo-Nazis, is so ironic that … well, it’s just really ironic, that’s all.

Anyway, one of my FB friends – someone who has critiqued left wingers many times for their blindness to anti-Semitism in progressive circles – just posted today, with alarm, that he is receiving messages calling him a kapo for opposing the Friedman nomination.

I believe this is probably the shape of things for American-Jewish politics for the next few years, possibly more. I also suspect that it is connected to Steve Bannon’s strategic thinking about how to best deal with the American Jewish community. Do things that widen the acrimony and divide. Tie up the energies of the progressive political American Jewish community, and its often quite effective political organizing and influence, with having to fight the right wing of the American Jewish community. Meanwhile, take the American Jewish right off the table as a potential obstructive political force by emphasizing how RW / anti-Muslim / pro-(greater)-Israel Trump is. This makes it easier for some of Bannon’s anti-Semitic and truly fascist circle to be able to take their places in Trump’s inner circle.

Friedman is a great example. He has no experience as an Ambassador, and he’s a loudmouth. He can’t make policy – he’ll have to take orders from Trump – but he’s perfect for a divide & conquer approach to minimizing the political power of different parts of the American Jewish community.

My guess is that Bannon sees himself as a major player in Trump’s inner circle, but that he sees himself as in competition, to some degree, with others who have different agendas. Bannon may not care that much about Jews himself, but what we know from his previous work is that he’s interested in bringing to the table people who are quite serious about their anti-Semitism. (That’s a generous reading of Bannon, BTW.)

Anyway, I just think we’re likely to see Trump work some kind of strategy like this vis-a-vis the Jewish community. I think Trump’s promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is perfect as their first gambit of this nature. In terms of really changing the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or the ultimate shape that a viable agreement to end the conflict might take, moving the embassy to (West) Jerusalem is not really that substantive a thing to do. In an ideal world, with a permanent peace agreement establishing two states, Israel and Palestine, each with a capital in different sections of Jerusalem, the American embassies to both states would proudly take their places in their respective parts of Jerusalem. But for all kinds of practical reasons that make good political sense, U.S. policy under Republicans and Democrats for decades has been to hold off on moving the embassy to Jerusalem until a final status agreement is reached.

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But the decision to move the U.S. embassy is a great wedge issue for the American Jewish community and it will suit Trump’s team perfectly. It’s highly symbolic and highly emotional. The tweets and one-line talking points to be offered in a tone of moral superiority and “can you believe these politically correct idiots?” contempt easily write themselves.

Trump announcing the embassy move will send the various Jewish political organizations into their various corners, firing away at each other. AIPAC, ZOA, RCA, the Conference of Presidents, and possibly JCPA and even maybe Reform & Conservative organizations will support the move. J Street, APN, Ameinu, maybe the Reconstructionist movement will dissent or offer qualified dissent. In the Islamic world, the announcement will probably ignite extremists’ passions and increase the likelihood of terror attacks, either in the US, Israel, or elsewhere. It’ll also lead to a big UN showdown. And then, while we in the American-Jewish community are all consumed with this unnecessary shit storm, all of our energies and resources are tied up and largely unavailable to be a useful force against any/all other Trump agendas.

It’s so smart I’m surprised Putin didn’t think of it himself…