Monday, February 28, 2011

The New Jim Crow

Michelle Alexander came to Denver and spoke at the DU law school where I heard her, at Iliff School Theology, at United Methodist Church in Park Hill, and at Manual High School, joined by Vincent Harding. Her subject was her own difficult journey, reframing her experience as a teenager and a civil rights lawyer, of the so-called war on drugs and the immensity of the American prison system. She spoke movingly of how, with the best intentions, she was no better than the racist police. She has now written a great book called The New Jim Crow: mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. I was discussing the talk afterwards with my friend and colleague Louis Esparza – both of us knowledgeable about the prison system's horrors, and he said: she made him see the issue in a new way. “The New Jim Crow” renames the prison-industrial complex for me as well.

In teaching, at Metropolitan State College, I have often asked if students know how many are in the prison system: 2 and 1/2 million (some do), and then, what percentage of the total prisoners in the world this is. A few weeks ago, someone suggested 20%. The actual percentage is twice as high: 40%. This is more than all the prisoners in Mubarak’s Egypt and throughout the Middle East including Iran and Israel (which holds a large number of Palestinians), China, Burma and so forth combined. It is probably more than the prisoners in all the existing dictatorships as well as Russia combined. As a percentage, it is exceeded only by the percentage of new weapons produced by the United States and expenditures on the military: roughly two/thirds of the world’s total, or as Chalmers Johnson tells us in Blowback, as much as the military budgets of the next 22 nations combined. The US is a militarist state externally and a prison-state, a police state for the victims of the new Jim Crow and many others, internally.

Because she has worked as a civil rights lawyer, Michelle Alexander adds many powerful additional figures to this. There are more blacks in prison in 20 states than there are blacks who are free. And this is not counting all the young black men who are awaiting trial, on probation, on parole – one-third (33%) of all such young men. What Alexander tells us especially is that once one is involved in this sytem, one can never leave. That is Jim Crow. One can’t get a job, one can’t rent a house, one can’t qualify for scholarships. Black felons can’t vote (a racist secret of continuing Republican domination, as important as “hanging chads” or computerized voting machines which leave no paper trail…).

One can’t, as the young man who finally revolutionized her thinking after too long says, “be a man” or a woman in this society (he couldn’t buy her flowers to make an apology, had to grab a dying potted plant from his grandmother’s porch, see below).

And what affects black young men (and women), also affects Chicanoes, Asian-Americans, native americans, and poor whites. According to Department of Justice statistics, a white infant boy born in 2001 has a 1 in 17 chance of going to jail; a Chicano a 1 in 6 chance, a black a 1 in 3 chance. Most are jailed for drug offenses. Whites probably commit as many drug crimes - more whites and perhaps a greater percentage of whites smoke weed - as Chicanoes or blacks, but are not often arrested. Nonetheless, more poor whites are arrested and treated worse by the "justice" system - for instance, through automatic, severe sentencing - because of the more extreme racism toward blacks. Put differently, that many of all races end up in the vast American prison system is a result of racism. We all have an interest in fighting racism (though, of course, some powerful people, including those who run private prisons, profit from racism - see Michael Reich, Racial Inequality: a Political-Economic Analysis, Princeton, 1984).

Once one falls into this system, it is years to get out, to get one's head above water again, to walk in the sunlight, if ever, and for most, permanent confinement, through racism, to an underclass. The walking unnoticed, arrested, imprisoned, denied, despised…

Alexander tells the secret of this. In the early 1970s, there was just ordinary, apartheid-scale “justice” in the United States. For crossing a street against the light, I was once arrested as an SDS organizer in downtown Los Angeles in the midst of a demonstration of fifty people supporting striking Latina garment workers. I went to the downtown LA courthouse, and was the only white there. The rest of the people were about 50% black and 49% Chicano (driving the freeways around Los Angeles, one could watch the police pull over people, usually black and Chicano, in the stopped cars…).

Los Angeles then had the second biggest courthouse in the world. I would afterwards ask my students: where is the biggest? It would take a few guesses: Johannesburg, then the capital of apartheid South Africa...

Now through the heroism of the South African people and the wisdom of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu (see No Future without Forgiveness, a centerpiece of my nonviolence classes), South Africa has no need of such a court house (I don’t think they have torn it down though). But as Michelle Alexander explains, Los Angeles now needs a far bigger one, a far more grotesque police apparatus. When the segregationists moved from the Democratic to the Republican Party (misrepresenting a part of the white American South), they wanted to restore segregation under other names or code words. They found a way to do it through legislating mandatory sentencing, particularly for victimless, i.e. drug crimes.

H.R. Haldeman, Nixon's consigliere, whom she quotes was a leader in this: "the blacks are the problem and must be resegregated by another name." But in the absence of a protest movement from below, party competition in America shifts the Democrats steadily to the Right. Thus, President Clinton denied "drug offenders" access to public housing or education. It was the new Democrats and "our first black President" as Toni Morrison once - perhaps too glowngly - called him who consolidated this system to "compete for votes" in an atmosphere where the truth could not be said.

In contrast, Michelle Alexander names the prison system. She invites, at last, the truth to set us free...

In the early 1970s, there were but 300,000 prisoners total when the US just rivaled apartheid South Africa. But today there are 2 and 1/2 million - 8 times as many. Now America's prisons dwarf all the tyrannies in the world. Over half the "convictions" are drug-related. If you are caught with or framed for marijuana or crack, you have no life. You are subjected to a system which steals your future, treats you as a nonexistent, a pariah, makes jail – increasingly privatized prisons – the only place you might survive in (they will probably even cut off the bad food in jail now as the Koch brothers and other predatory capitalists rampage). And you cannot vote. You have no voice.

In speaking, Michelle Alexander told the story of a few community radicals who put up fliers calling for a meeting about the New Jim Crow. She looked at the fliers, but didn’t believe them. She was then the leading civil rights attorney in northern California for the ACLU, a lawyer who knew how bad the treatment of individuals was, but could not see the whole picture. John Roberts really couldn’t be a stone racist and fascist. The Supreme Court couldn’t be the instrumentality for preserving a New Jim Crow…

Many very good people who fight against the drug laws also don’t see the anchor of these laws in racism. Glenn Greenwald did a wonderful report last year on how Portugal decriminalized marijuana and how both the use of marijuana and imprisonment in Portugal declined afterward. It would be smart here as he underlines. But Glenn did not see (and I did not see reading his report) the centrality of racism.

Andrew Sullivan, the adept gay Tory blogger, fights intelligently against the drug war and the criminalization of marijuana. And yet his one really retrograde view is a surviving belief in the fraud of Charles Murray and pseudoscientific racism about IQ. Andrew doesn't see how racism is the root of the vast American prison-industrial complex to which the drug laws are a feeder. He doesn't understand that exposing racism - tearing down the "mental chains," as William Blake once said - is vital to understanding the American police state, the new Jim Crow (Solzhenitsyn did not just describe Soviet gulags: Russia is now America, a prison system that dwarfs all others).

Some Democratic governors like former Governor Ritter of Colorado try to cut down the immense prison system around the edges to balance the budget. These are acts of desperation for such people, but underline a public possibility. Some of American militarism - one month of expenditures on the occupation of Afghanistan could pay the deficits of every state where Koch Brothers-financed "governors" seek to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights. Similarly, some of the money spent on jailing - warehousing - two and one-half million prisoners, many innocent of any significant crime and stigmatized for life, could go into paying such debts or putting people to work. But of course, Ritter, "tough on crime," a former Attorney-General, did not see this possibility. He could not "let my people go." He sought only to cut some costs, not to think about freedom, democracy and the misuse of "law." But in the current context, there is space to raise this issue forcefully from below.

My friend Rachel Harding sent me the interview below with Michelle Alexander. In it, she tells a story, beautiful and painful, of how she came to be who she is:

“You know, even though I was a civil rights lawyer, and I felt like I was working for racial justice and all that, I believed many of the myths of the drug war and our criminal justice system. There was one incident that kind of woke me up.”

”I was interviewing a bunch of young black men as potential plaintiffs in a racial profiling suit [the ACLU was] planning to file against the Oakland Police Department. This one kid came in — he was probably 18 or 19 — and he had this stack of papers with him and had documented his series of stops and searches over a nine-month period in his neighborhood. He had names, dates, witnesses, names of officers, badge numbers: just an incredible amount of detail and documentation. The kid was bright, well-spoken, charismatic. And I just thought, `He is our dream plaintiff.' He was talking to me and he said something that made me think, ‘Wait. Are you a drug felon?’”

Our staff — I was directing the ACLU’s Racial Justice project at the time — we were screening people for drug penalties, because we felt we couldn’t have a main plaintiff who had a criminal history. And I said, ‘Did you say you had a drug felony?’ And he just gets quiet and he’s, like, ‘Yeah, I have a drug felony, but I was framed. The police planted drugs on me and beat up my friends.’ He starts telling me this whole, long story about how he was set up by the police and all this. And I was, ‘I am so sorry, we cannot represent you if you have a drug felony. The media will be all over you.’”

“And he just keeps telling me about how he was framed and telling me this story about the officer and I just keep apologizing and trying to shut him down and really just move him along. And he becomes enraged, just enraged. And he starts yelling at me, ‘You are no better than the police. The minute I tell you I’m a felon, you just stop listening. You can’t even hear what I have to say.’ He goes, ‘What am I supposed to do? I can’t get a job now, I can’t get housing, I’m living in my grandmother’s basement, I can’t even get food stamps, I can’t take care of myself as a man. What’s to become of me? What’s to become of me?’ And he is yelling at me and he snatches all those papers out of my hand and he starts ripping them up, throwing them around the room, turns around, takes off.”

“Months later, I’m doing this public access television show in his neighborhood, trying to organize thousands of people to go to the state capitol to protest the governor’s racial profiling legislation. As soon as the show is over, he comes bursting in, carrying this dirty potted plant, thrusting it in my arm, all emotional. He says, ‘I’m here to apologize for treating you that way. I would have bought you some flowers, but I’m still living in my grandmother’s house. I snatched this plant off her front porch. I just want to give you something to say I’m sorry.’ I’m, like, ‘It’s okay.’ He turns around, I’m chasing after him, he takes off in this broke down car.”

“Several months after that, I’m in my office, open up the newspaper. What’s on the front page? Gang of officers, otherwise known as a drug task force, planting drugs on people, beating suspects. And who’s identified as the ring leader? The officer he had identified to me as having planted drugs on him and beat his friend up. And the light bulb went on: ‘Wow, he’s right about me. I’m no better than the police.’ I just started questioning myself: ‘How am I as a civil rights lawyer, just replicating all the same forms of discrimination I say I’m out here fighting against?’”

“That’s when I really started asking myself some questions about my own biases and assumptions. That was the beginning of my journey of listening more carefully, doing a ton of research, trying to get to the bottom of what was really going on and what I learned just really blew my mind. The more I dug and the more I listened, the more that I just came to see that those folks who are claiming mass incarceration is the new slavery, the new Jim Crow, they weren’t crazy. There was something going on here that people like me had been willing to just dismiss.”

Rosette Royale, the interviewer. rightly responds: “Wow.”

Alexander does not say whether she caught up to this young man (since she knew his neighborhood and his name, perhaps she did). But to how many could even she not catch up?

She recognized that he was right, that she as an ACLU civil rights lawyer was as rotten to him as the police. Yet he came and apologized to her as she spoke against racial profiling. Her book, The New Jim Crow, is her apology to him and all those others, and a call to action to anyone who would like be a citizen of a democracy, live in a decent place. She is the voice of a new movement, making it clear that black and brown and white and Asian and native american, we are all connected. We must tear down those prisons, tear down the mental walls that separate us, to fight for a free society. There will be no democracy with these segregationist drug laws and superprisons.

In addition, at Abu Ghraib, Corporal Charles Graner came from the Ameican South and brought some of the tortures he had learned in American prisons working on blacks – forcing the men to wear women’s panties on their heads, for example – to his work for Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rice predators on Arabs. The racism here in America is the secret of the racism Bush and Cheney oversaw there. Anti-Arab racism licenses crazed and self-defeating American aggressions – and the fascists (neocons), from Project for a New American Century– now rebranded like Blackwater/Xe as the "Foreign Policy Initiative" – are urging Obama to invade Libya. See here. The policies have become so destructive – even Pentagon Secretary Robert Gates warned against any invasion like Afghanistan or Inaq in future when he spoke this weekend at West Point here - that the neocons have trouble gathering elite support. To enact such self-destructive polices would take “electing” one of the Republican fools, most likely General Petraeus, or Hilary Clinton in 2012 or 2016. Unless there is a big movement from below to change things – think Wisconsin, the possibility crystallizing before our eyes – such wars would finish off America (it would become Pottersville in ”It’s a Wonderful Life” or something more desolate).

Alexander shows us that the root of the American madness is the renewed prevalence of Jim Crow in American life. She is a brilliant speaker, one whose force grows on you as she talks and then answers questions. Prison has always been moved far away from workers as a place of divide and rule (see Michel Foucault Discipline and Punish of which his chapter on these divisions and the Fourierists trying to break them down in France in the 1830s and 1840s is the most striking Marxian account).

I had to go pick up my son before the question period ended. Standing at the back, wanting to hear more, I listened as Alexander explained how it was very important to hear people’s stories. This is, of course, a great emphasis of Vincent Harding who has an exceptionally deep understanding of democracy. But it was only when I reread this interview that the story of this brave, smart and decent young man who “cannot be a man,” support himself and a family through work, whose charisma came across to Michelle Alexander but who is nameless in the story –illustrated for me what she meant.

This will be a difficult fight. The stigmization of young urban black men is the centerpiece of American racism. Attack that, and the oligarchy will crumble. White and Chicano and Asian and Native American prisoners – no one wants to hear from or hear about them either. If it was hard for Michelle Alexander to hear this young man, how hard would it be for any of the rest of us? Who gives former prisoners, black, Chicano, Asian, native American and white, a chance? Who hears their stories, is willing to listen, realizes that there but for the grace of god, go I? To paraphrase Martin Niemoller’s stories about Nazi muderousness, first I would not hear the stories of the Communists and the union leaders and the Jews...and finally they came for me and there was no one left to hear mine. If democracy and the rule of law hang by a thread in America, the prison system, the draconian, sentence specifying drug laws and the New Jim Crow are the reason.

Last Thursday, Alexander spoke with Harding at Manual High. Vincent told me later that he had asked questions and listened. She had invited the thoughts of the students there and when they talked about their own experiences and the pressures – the harassment and disregard - of the police and the law, she had told them of growing up poor. There were 10 times, she said, when she had brushes with the law, could have gotten into trouble, could have fallen into the system, and never became the civil rights attorney for the ACLU. Vincent also said to me that people had spoken of her as the Ida B. Wells of the new Jim Crow. That Vincent said this was of course enough for me. See here, here, and here.

Ida B. Wells took care of her young siblings by becoming a teacher when her parents were swept away by small pox. Prefiguring Rosa Parks 80 years before, she refused to move to the back of a segregated train when asked, bit the conductor's hand (he had to get several to remove her) and fought a court case about it. She became a fiery newspaper reporter in Memphis. Three of her friends owned the People’s Grocery which had become a competitor with white grocery stores. They were lynched. Blacks were not allowed to buy guns in Memphis to defend themselves. In the newspaper Free Speech and Headlight, Wells wrote:

"The city of Memphis has demonstrated that neither character nor standing avails the Negro if he dares to protect himself against the white man or become his rival. There is nothing we can do about the lynching now, as we are out-numbered and without arms. The white mob could help itself to ammunition without pay, but the order is rigidly enforced against the selling of guns to Negroes. There is therefore only one thing left to do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons."

Wells founded the NAACP along with W.E.B. Dubois. She is a fiery voice in fighting the degradation of America. Vincent, I and Aljosie Knight discussed how you can fight these things and not burn up (he suggested that a certain kind of spirituality, Christianity in his and Martin Luther King’s – and perhaps the whole Southern civil rights movement’s - case helps; this makes sense to me). But the fire keeps one going, too. Wells said: if I could steal all the people away from this terror, I would. We now, after long struggle, have a possibility of an egalitarian and integrated society. We will have such a society where everyone has equal rights, everyone is human, mutual recognition exists or America will destroy itself.

If you read one book in the next few months, read Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, and do something about it. The campaign to bring this awareness widely to the American people – something that can be done swiftly in the midst of Wisconsin and similar protests (I was at a protest of 3,000 in Denver at the Capitol Saturday) – is of cardinal importance. Michelle has named this system and issued a call to fight back. Invite her to your city or go and hear her when she comes. She is a voice of this new movement. I for one am glad enough for any opportunity to join in.

Real Change Newsletter
February 9, 2011, Vol: 18 No: 06

One nation, under lock and key
by: Rosette Royale, Assistant Editor

With millions of black males incarcerated, lawyer and author Michelle Alexander says only a social movement will change the criminal justice system

Imagine you could arrest every single person in Houston, Texas, and toss them behind bars. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But maybe, in some sense, something similar has already happened. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 2.3 million people exist in prisons and jails.
That’s how many people live in Houston, the country’s fourth-largest city.

Nearly 60 percent of those locked up were nabbed for drug related crimes. Of the more than two million who are incarcerated, 38 percent are black; in 20 states, the number of black people behind bars far exceeds the number who aren’t. And these figures don’t include people on probation or parole. What, you might be inclined to ask, is going on here?

Michelle Alexander, a lawyer who directed the ACLU’s Racial Justice Project of Northern California, set out to get some answers to this question. What she found distressed her. Our country’s mass incarceration has come as a direct result of polices that target poor people of color, policies that have national precedent. The evidence to support her claims fills the pages of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” (The New Press, $27.95), a sobering look at how we’ve become the nation with more people incarcerated than any other.

In town to give a number of talks sponsored by the Bush School’s Diversity Speaker Series, Alexander, currently an Associate Law Professor at Ohio State University, sat down at Mount Zion Baptist Church to discuss what she’s learned. She spoke not only of how and why these inequities arose, but how, in an unexpected twist, her early belief in the criminal justice system may have contributed to the problem.

So you wrote a book called “The New Jim Crow.” First, let’s start with the old Jim Crow. What’s that?

Well, the old Jim Crow is a system of rules, laws, policies and customs that served to lock a group of people defined by race into a permanent second-class status. Jim Crow laws authorized discrimination in virtually every aspect of social, political and economic life. Most people think of Jim Crow as separate schools for black children and white, but of course Jim Crow laws also authorized discrimination in access to employment, housing, education, all sorts of public benefits, all sorts of public accommodations. It created a race-based regime of social control.

And the name Jim Crow. Where does that even come from?

Actually, it came from a song-and-dance routine and the character was named Jim Crow. It was a minstrel show that was mocking of African-Americans and celebrated the worst racial stereotypes that justified discrimination during that era. So Jim Crow was a pejorative term that came to be associated with all those forms of race discrimination.

So that was the old. And now, it seems we’re in the new. How do you define the new Jim Crow?

The new Jim Crow is a system of mass incarceration that serves to sweep millions of poor people, primarily poor people of color, into a permanent second-class status by law. It operates primarily through the war on drugs, which targets people overwhelmingly on the basis of race for drug crimes that are committed with equal frequency by people of all colors, sweeps them into the criminal justice system by the police who conduct stop-and-frisk operations in poor communities of color, brands them criminals and felons and then releases them into a parallel social universe in which they’re stripped of many of the basic rights won in the Civil Rights Movement, like the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, the right to be free from discrimination in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits. So many of the old forms of discrimination that characterized the old Jim Crow are suddenly legal again once you’ve been branded a criminal or a felon.

So I refer to the system of mass incarceration as the new Jim Crow, because I believe it is the moral equivalent of Jim Crow, but also because so many of the laws, policies and practices that were alive and well in the Jim Crow era are back.

Now with the old Jim Crow: How did it happen? Did people come together and decide, “We’re not going to allow them to vote, we’re not going to allow them to come to this restaurant.” Did people come up with a plan or [were there] incremental things that created the system?

Well, interestingly, the old Jim Crow arose at a time when poor people of all colors were beginning to unite in a movement for economic justice.

And when was this?

This was during the Populist era. There was an agrarian depression in the late 1800s and there was also an enormous amount of abuse of people working for railroads and other corporations. These circumstances created an economic and political environment for poor whites to join together with former slaves and their descendents for the first time in a meaningful movement for economic justice. Plantation owners and the corporate elite felt incredibly threatened by this interracial alliance of poor people and proposed Jim Crow laws to decimate this alliance. They started out by proposing disenfranchisement laws that were aimed, initially, at black folks, but the implicit threat was that white folks too might be disenfranchised if they didn’t get on board.

So when these laws were first proposed, Populist leaders resisted them on the grounds that this was an effort to drive a wedge between poor people of all colors. But soon, poor whites were persuaded to abandon their African-American allies and politicians began competing with each other to propose ever harsher and, in many cases, absurd forms of discrimination against African Americans. It set off a chain of events, which led to a complete collapse of political resistance to the emergence of Jim Crow in the South.

Interestingly, a very similar political dynamic gave rise to the war on drugs and the “Get Tough” movement. After formal, political civil rights had been won, Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders were beginning to turn their focus to economic rights and economic justice and were developing the Poor People’s Campaign, seeking to unite poor people of all colors. Pollsters and political strategists found that by using “Get Tough” rhetoric on issues of crime and welfare, they could appeal to poor and working class whites who were feeling threatened by and anxious about the gains of African Americans and persuade them to defect from the Democratic New Deal coalition and join the Republican party in droves. It was part of what was known as the “Southern strategy,” attempting to flip the South from blue to red. In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon’s former chief of staff, ‘The whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.’ It’s a direct quote from him about what they were up to and the plan worked like a charm.

So when President Reagan declared the “War on Drugs” in 1982, he did so at a time when drug crime was actually on the decline. It was a couple of years before crack became a big issue in the media and was sweeping inner cities. He declared the drug war in an attempt to make good on campaign promises and they got lucky though, because crack hit the streets. A few years later the Reagan administration seized on the development by hiring staff to feed stories to the media about crack babies that helped to fuel public hysteria, and that wave of punitiveness then swept the United States. Soon Democrats were starting to compete to win back those white swing voters — those Reagan Democrats — who had defected from the Democratic Party in droves. Bill Clinton escalated the drug war far beyond what Reagan had done, and championed laws banning offenders from food stamps, from public housing, from federal financial aid for education: All those forms of discrimination formed the basic architecture of this new caste system. Within a few short decades, this vast, new under-caste emerged that swept millions of folks for primarily non-violent and drug-related offenses, the same types of crimes that occur with roughly equal frequency in middle class communities, on college campuses and universities that get ignored. Millions of folks.

You’re breaking my heart. So when did you realize this? Was there something that you recognized?

You know, even though I was a civil rights lawyer, and I felt like I was working for racial justice and all that, I believed many of the myths of the drug war and our criminal justice system. There was one incident that kind of woke me up.

I was interviewing a bunch of young black men as potential plaintiffs in a racial profiling suit [the ACLU was] planning to file against the Oakland Police Department. This one kid came in — he was probably 18 or 19 — and he had this stack of papers with him and had documented his series of stops and searches over a nine-month period in his neighborhood. He had names, dates, witnesses, names of officers, badge numbers: just an incredible amount of detail and documentation. The kid was bright, well-spoken, charismatic. And I just thought, “He is our dream plaintiff.” He was talking to me and he said something that made me think, “Wait. Are you a drug felon?”

Our staff — I was directing the ACLU’s Racial Justice project at the time — we were screening people for drug penalties, because we felt we couldn’t have a main plaintiff who had a criminal history. And I said, “Did you say you had a drug felony?” And he just gets quiet and he’s, like, “Yeah, I have a drug felony, but I was framed. The police planted drugs on me and beat up my friends.” He starts telling me this whole, long story about how he was set up by the police and all this. And I was, “I am so sorry, we cannot represent you if you have a drug felony. The media will be all over you.”

And he just keeps telling me about how he was framed and telling me this story about the officer and I just keep apologizing and trying to shut him down and really just move him along. And he becomes enraged, just enraged. And he starts yelling at me, “You are no better than the police. The minute I tell you I’m a felon, you just stop listening. You can’t even hear what I have to say.” He goes, “What am I supposed to do? I can’t get a job now, I can’t get housing, I’m living in my grandmother’s basement, I can’t even get food stamps, I can’t take care of myself as a man. What’s to become of me? What’s to become of me?” And he is yelling at me and he snatches all those papers out of my hand and he starts ripping them up, throwing them around the room, turns around, takes off.

Months later, I’m doing this public access television show in his neighborhood, trying to organize thousands of people to go to the state capitol to protest the governor’s racial profiling legislation. As soon as the show is over, he comes bursting in, carrying this dirty potted plant, thrusting it in my arm, all emotional. He says, “I’m here to apologize for treating you that way. I would have bought you some flowers, but I’m still living in my grandmother’s house. I snatched this plant off her front porch. I just want to give you something to say I’m sorry.” I’m, like, “It’s okay.” He turns around, I’m chasing after him, he takes off in this broke down car.

Several months after that, I’m in my office, open up the newspaper. What’s on the front page? Gang of officers, otherwise known as a drug task force, planting drugs on people, beating suspects. And who’s identified as the ring leader? The officer he had identified to me as having planted drugs on him and beat his friend up. And the light bulb went on: “Wow, he’s right about me. I’m no better than the police.” I just started questioning myself: “How am I as a civil rights lawyer, just replicating all the same forms of discrimination I say I’m out here fighting against?”

That’s when I really started asking myself some questions about my own biases and assumptions. That was the beginning of my journey of listening more carefully, doing a ton of research, trying to get to the bottom of what was really going on and what I learned just really blew my mind. The more I dug and the more I listened, the more that I just came to see that those folks who are claiming mass incarceration is the new slavery, the new Jim Crow, they weren’t crazy. There was something going on here that people like me had been willing to just dismiss.

Wow. How have people responded to your book?

There’s been a wide range of responses, for sure. But I have to say I’ve been really pleasantly surprised. A lot of people who were my mentors told me don’t write it, people aren’t going to want to hear it, you’re going to ruin your career. You know: Don’t go there. I just felt like this is what I had to say. So I didn’t really know what to expect. But there’s been just a tremendous amount of support. People are more ready to hear this message today than they have been in the past.

That’s not to say everybody’s been happy with it [laughs]. And interestingly, while there have been lots of churches that have invited me to come speak, some of my most difficult moments have come from some black church leaders, who have argued real strenuously that these black men are just failing our communities, they’ve got to get their act together, you can’t be making excuses for them. Some black ministers, sometimes in poor communities, say, `We brought this all on ourselves.” It’s just not the case. So we have our work cut out for us.’

So what do we do? It’s heartbreaking to hear that we had this coalition of poor people of all races that was broken not once, but twice.

I think therein lies the answer. We have got to get serious about building a movement that bridges the gaps between poor people of all colors. There’s just no way around it. Even if mass incarceration fades away or recedes, something new will come along. Forty years ago, nobody — I mean nobody — was predicting mass incarceration. Most criminologists thought prisons, as a system of control, were going to fade away. The overwhelming evidence was that prisons created more crime then they prevented or solved. So I think even if mass incarceration begins to fade away, nobody can predict what new systems might emerge if we fail to deal with these racial divisions that give rise to these systems of control. So nothing short of a major social movement has any hope.

If we were to just go back to the rates of incarceration we had in the 1970s, before the “Get Tough” movement, we’d have to release four out of five people who are in prison. Four out of five. A million people employed by the criminal justice system would lose their jobs. Prisons across America would have to close down. Private prison companies would have to watch their earnings vanish. I mean, this system isn’t just going to go away without a major fight. And so all of these policy reform groups and civil rights organizations that are tinkering around, arguing about whether sentences should be 10 years or 25: We are going to have to do more than tinker. It’s going to take a major shift in our public consciousness, an upheaval, even to get back to those rates of incarceration that we had in the 1970s that people then were complaining about being too high.

So that’s the thing: I want this book to be a wake-up call to folks. I had my awakening. I want other people to wake up and say, “This enormous system, which is rooted in our racial divisions and anxieties, is not going away. It’s not going away unless we get organized and develop a real critical, political consciousness in the communities most affected.”

And there you have it.

And there it is.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Samizdat - American style

Ray McGovern was long at the top of the intelligence apparatus, giving the Presidential daily briefing for the CIA for 27 years. Now a follower of the Berrigans – see here and here - he went to a speech of Hilary Clinton at George Washington University. He stood and applauded politely when Hilary came in to speak (he had intended to ask her a question at the end) but the Russian phrase for “stormy applause” in authoritarian documents came to his mind; he thought better of it; and stood there – his back turned to Hilary. The latter, the one time young law student who supported the Panthers on trial in New Haven, the former Wellesley valedictorian who had said beautifully that we were a more intense generation, seeking a new world, against the Vietnam War and racism, now has become lost. As Gail Collins wrote amusingly during the 2008 primaries, the young Hilary would have voted for Obama – for instance, the Obama who at last supported democracy in Egypt against Hilary who had called for Mubarak to remain in power. Not even sure Kafka who Ray McGovern invokes could shoot quite low enough to satirize Hillary.

For the police came and roughed up Ray McGovern. Silently turning your back – even as a former CIA leader – is apparently a crime in these United States. McGovern was beaten, and was shown, bruised in pictures circulated on Common Dreams just after this happened. But he explains here, long far on the inside, how attempts to tell Hilary Clinton the truth about Iraq were rebuffed. My dean Chris Hill, has also told me stories of Hilary fighting with him (when he was ambassador to Iraq) to get Blackwater operatives recommended by General Petraeus to replace competent and experienced State Department people. He refused. Hilary is always angling for position – a once and future Presidential aspirant - as a hawk, obsequious to Petraeus even as the policies pursued are a long road to continuing defeat and with no prospect or imagining even of what “military victory” might look like. Beating the drums for the war complex, torturing some in American custody – the UN is investigating the Obama administration for their isolation and torture of Bradley Manning, so far not charged by the United States’ government with any crime – today the long arm of the US is visible in corrupting a “court” in England to extradite Julian Assange back to Sweden. This "court" treats Assange more harshly than the one actual child molester arrested under this international agreement (these are the only two cases brought in Britain so far; the latter was easily freed on bail). Revealing the truth as Wikileaks did about Amerian diplomacy, its subservience to militarism and war crimes – is something that a US government, even led by Obama, must hunt down, stamp out, beat into the ground…And so, Mcgovern was grabbed and roughed up while Hilary, watching the scene, uttered phrases about opposing authoritarian police states like Iran.

Fortunately, our oligarchic police state is still a little less final that that. The piece below by McGovern was published on Common Dreams. He refers to FCM – the Fawning Corporate Media in his idiom (a rare, unartful bit of quasi-radicalism). But they are. The corporate media are part of the war complex as I have underlined here. When has there been an article of this insight, however, revealing just who America’s political elite is (I think he is slightly harsh on Obama, but, after all, Hilary is Obama’s Secretary of State…) in the Times?

The Times rightly celebrates today Obama’s action, on his own initiative, to undo bigotry toward gays and lesbians. The administration no longer defends the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. That is a great thing. The Times includes a very good piece by Nicholas Kristof on Libya (his work has been very striking lately) and often publishes excellent pieces by Paul Krugman and David Leonhardt on the economy. MSNBC also covered the phone call between a blogger pretending to be David Koch and Koch’s yo-yo, the governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker. The Times will probably have something about it – since what Walker says is criminal and there is an independent board of judges in Wisconsin to look into political malfeasance - though not perhaps with deep insight. That said, nothing of this intelligence could appear in the Times or the mainstream press. Why did Ray McGovern stand, his back to Hilary, to be beaten by American police and hauled off to jail? Here is an answer.

American militarism is self-destructive and its arming of tyrants, as in Egypt, will no longer do. Right now, in an undeclared aggression against Pakistan, Obama is firing drones from Creech Air Force base in Nevada and killing many innocents for every Pakistani Taliban – 5 to 1 by neocon think tank “statistics, 10 to 1" according to John Mearsheimer - and unleashing special ops to maraud across the country, killing people, is approaching a breaking point. Obama’s false defense of the CIA/former Blackwater operative Raymond Davis – “just a diplomat” – who murdered two Pakistani civilians, shooting one five times to bring him down dead at a distance of 30 yards, shooting the other twice in the head, is horrifying. Of course, unlike those who send the deadly drones from Creech Air Force base half way around the world, Pakistani police could arrest this murderer….Yet the kept corporate press, at the behest of the administration, lied about it to the Ameican people. The Guardian, an actual newspaper, in Britain broke the story...Further, what I call the reactionary two-step of party competition, always pulling the Democrats when they are in power to the Right, means a competition to laud more war, promoting more slaughters (often of innocents) and deaths of American soldiers, prolonging occupation indefinitely, making ordinary Americans more insecure in the name of "security."

In addition, militarism is not affordable. In American mainstream politics, only Ron Paul is right (crazy as he is on the economy). Militarism does lead to a police state, as the Jay, Hamilton and Madison also emphasized (see my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?). Perhaps Dennis Kucinich, John Lewis and Barbara Lee also see some of this.

Fortunately, there are democratic patriots in the political/civil servant elite – not the people of the tin flags on their lapel, but Ray McGovern for example, who stand up against this. McGovern, like Scott Ritter and the CIA generally, tends to blame Israel’s interests for the crazy aggression in Iraq (he does note, however that the interests of ordinary Israelis were harmed by the aggression). In the second piece below, John Pilger, the great independent British journalist and maker of documentaries (see “Paying the Price” a BBC film on the Iraq boycott not shown in the US) is much closer to the truth about this matter. Pilger's piece is based on correspondance with McGovern. Democracy from below in America, suddenly surging through the Midwest (I, too, attended a demonstration of over a thousand people at the State Capitol in Colorado Tuesday) may have something soon to say in favor of McGovern’s anti-militarism, too.

One might dwell on the difference between McGovern’s words and Clinton’s. Who tells the truth, spreads the word, about American foreign policy?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 by CommonDreams.org
The Push of Conscience & Secretary Clinton
by Ray McGovern

It was not until Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walked to the George Washington University podium last week to enthusiastic applause that I decided I had to dissociate myself from the obsequious adulation of a person responsible for so much death, suffering and destruction.

I was reminded of a spring day in Atlanta almost five years earlier when then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld strutted onto a similar stage to loud acclaim from another enraptured audience.
Introducing Rumsfeld on May 4, 2006, the president of the Southern Center for International Policy in Atlanta highlighted his “honesty.” I had just reviewed my notes for an address I was scheduled to give that evening in Atlanta and, alas, the notes demonstrated his dishonesty.

I thought to myself, if there’s an opportunity for Q & A after his speech I might try to stand and ask a question, which is what happened. I engaged in a four-minute impromptu debate with Rumsfeld on Iraq War lies, an exchange that was carried on live TV.

That experience leaped to mind on Feb. 15, as Secretary Clinton strode onstage amid similar adulation.

The fulsome praise for Clinton from GWU’s president and the loud, sustained applause also brought to mind a phrase that – as a former Soviet analyst at CIA – I often read in Pravda. When reprinting the text of speeches by high Soviet officials, the Communist Party newspaper would regularly insert, in italicized parentheses: “Burniye applaudismenti; vce stoyat” — Stormy applause; all rise.

With the others at Clinton’s talk, I stood. I even clapped politely. But as the applause dragged on, I began to feel like a real phony. So, when the others finally sat down, I remained standing silently, motionless, with my eyes fixed narrowly on the rear of the auditorium and my back to the Secretary.
I did not expect what followed: a violent assault in full view of Secretary Clinton by what in Soviet parlance were called the “organs of state security.” The rest is history, as they say. A short account of the incident can be found here.

Callous Aplomb

As the video of the event shows, Secretary Clinton did not miss a beat in her speech as she called for authoritarian governments to show respect for dissent and to refrain from violence. She spoke with what seemed to be an especially chilly sang froid, as she ignored my silent witness and the violent assault that took place right in front of her.

The experience gave me personal confirmation of the impression that I had reluctantly drawn from watching her behavior and its consequences over the past decade. The incident was a kind of metaphor of the much worse violence that Secretary Clinton has coolly countenanced against others.

Again and again, Hillary Clinton – both as a U.S. senator and as Secretary of State – has demonstrated a nonchalant readiness to unleash the vast destructiveness of American military power. The charitable explanation, I suppose, is that she knows nothing of war from direct personal experience.

And that is also true of her husband, her colleague Robert Gates at the Defense Department, President Barack Obama, and most of the White House functionaries blithely making decisions to squander the lives and limbs of young soldiers in foreign adventures — conflicts that even the top brass admit cannot be won with weapons.

The analogy to Vietnam is inescapable. As White House tapes from the 1960s show, President Lyndon Johnson knew that the Vietnam War could not be “won” in any meaningful way. Nonetheless, he kept throwing hundreds of thousands into the battle lest someone accuse him of being soft on communism.

I had an inside seat watching Johnson do that. And I did nothing.

Now, with an even more jittery president, a hawkish Secretary of State, General David they-injure-their-own-children-to-make-us-look-bad Petraeus, and various Republican presidential hopefuls – all jockeying for political position as the 2012 election draws near – the country is in even deeper trouble today.

No one on this political merry-go-round can afford to appear weak on terrorism. So, they all have covered their bets. And we all know who pays the price for these political calculations.
This time, I would NOT do nothing.

My colleagues in Veterans for Peace and I have known far too many comrades-in-arms and families whose lives have been shattered or ended as a result of such crass political maneuvering. Many of us know far more than we wish to know about war and killing. But — try as we may with letters and other appeals — we cannot get through to President Obama. And Secretary Clinton turns her own deaf ear to our entreaties and those of others who oppose unnecessary warfare. It is a pattern that she also followed in her days as a U.S. senator from New York.

See No Evil

In the summer of 2002, as the Senate was preparing to conduct hearings about alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq and the possibility of war, former Chief Weapons Inspector in Iraq and U.S. Marine Major, Scott Ritter, came down to Washington from his home in upstate New York to share his first-hand knowledge with as many senators as possible.

To those that let him in the door, he showed that the “intelligence” adduced to support U.S. claims that Iraq still had WMD was fatally flawed. This was the same “intelligence” that Senate Intelligence Committee chair Jay Rockefeller later branded “unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

Sen. Hillary Clinton would not let Ritter in her door. Despite his unique insights as a U.N. inspector and his status as a constituent, Sen. Clinton gave him the royal run-around. Her message was clear: “Don’t bother me with the facts.” She had already made up her mind. I had a direct line into her inner circle at the time, and was assured that several of my op-eds and other commentaries skeptical of George W. Bush’s planned invasion were given personally to Clinton, but no matter.
Sen. Clinton reportedly was not among the handful of legislators who took the trouble to read the National Intelligence Estimate on WMD in Iraq that was issued on Oct. 1, 2002, just ten days before the she voted to authorize war.

In short, she chose not to perform the due diligence required prior to making a decision having life-or-death consequences for thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. She knew whom she needed to cater to, and what she felt she had to do.

But, bright as she is, Hillary Clinton is prone to willful mistakes — political, as well as strategic. In dissing those of us who were trying to warn her that an attack on Iraq would have catastrophic consequences, she simply willed us to be wrong. Clearly, her calculation was that she had to appear super-strong on defense in order to win the Democratic nomination and then the presidency in 2008.

Just as clearly, courting Israel and the Likud Lobby was also important to her political ambitions.

Tony Blair Admits Israeli Role

Any lingering doubt that Israel played a major role in the U.S.- U.K. decision to attack Iraq was dispelled a year ago when former Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke publicly about the Israeli input into the all-important Bush-Blair deliberations on Iraq in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002.
Inexplicably, Blair forgot his usual discretion when it comes to disclosing important facts to the public and blurted out some truth at the Chilcot hearings in London regarding the origins of the Iraq War:

“As I recall that [April 2002] discussion, it was less to do with specifics about what we were going to do on Iraq or, indeed, the Middle East, because the Israel issue was a big, big issue at the time. I think, in fact, I remember, actually, there may have been conversations that we had even with Israelis, the two of us [Bush and Blair], whilst we were there. So that was a major part of all this.”

According to Philip Zelikow – a former member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, and later counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice – the "real threat" from Iraq was not to the United States.

Zelikow told an audience at the University of Virginia in September 2002, the "unstated threat" from Iraq was the "threat against Israel.” He added, "The American government doesn't want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell."

But it wasn’t as though leading Israelis were disguising their hopes or an attack on Iraq. The current Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu published a pre-invasion piece titled “The case for Toppling Saddam” in the Wall Street Journal, in which he wrote:

"Today nothing less than dismantling his regime will do … I believe I speak for the overwhelming majority of Israelis in supporting a pre-emptive strike against Saddam's regime."

The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported in February 2003, "the military and political leadership yearns for war in Iraq.” And, as a retired Israeli general later put it, "Israeli intelligence was a full partner to the picture presented by American and British intelligence regarding Iraq's non-conventional [WMD] capabilities." In the United States, neoconservatives also pushed for war thinking that taking out Saddam Hussein would make Israel more secure.

Those Israeli leaders and their neocon allies got their wish on March 19, 2003, with the U.S.-U.K. invasion.

Of course, pressure from Israel and its Lobby was not the only factor behind the invasion of Iraq — think also oil, military bases, various political ambitions, revenge, etc. — but the Israeli factor was a central one.

A Calculating Senator

I’m afraid, though, that these calculations aimed at enhancing Israeli security may ultimately have the opposite effect. The Iraq War and the anti-Americanism that it has engendered across the Middle East seem sure to make Israel’s position in the region even more precarious.
If the Iraq War does end up making the region more dangerous for Israel, the fault will lie primarily with Israel’s hard-line leaders, as well as with those American officials (and media pundits) who so eagerly clambered onboard for the attack on Iraq.

One of those U.S. officials was the calculating senator from New York.

In a kind of poetic justice, Clinton’s politically motivated warmongering became a key factor in her losing the Democratic presidential nomination to Barack Obama, who as a young state senator in Illinois spoke out against the war.

Although she bet wrong in 2002-03, Clinton keeps doubling down in her apparent belief that her greater political vulnerability comes from being perceived as “weak” against U.S. adversaries. So, she’s emerged as one of the Obama administration’s leading hawks on Afghanistan and Iran.
I suspect she still has her eye on what she considers the crucial centers of financial, media and other power that could support a possible future run for president, whether in 2012 if the Obama administration unravels or in 2016.

Another explanation, I suppose, could be that the Secretary of State genuinely believes that the United States should fight wars favored by right-wing Israelis and their influential supporters in the U.S.

Whichever interpretation you prefer, there’s no doubt that she has put herself in the forefront of American leaders threatening Iran over its alleged “nuclear weapons” program, a “weapons” program that Iran denies exists and for which the U.S. intelligence community has found little or no evidence.

Bête Noire Iran

As a former CIA analyst myself, it strikes me as odd that Clinton’s speeches never reflect the consistent, unanimous judgment of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, issued formally (and with “high confidence”) in November 2007 that Iran stopped working on a nuclear weapon in the fall of 2003 and had not yet decided whether to resume that work.

Less than two weeks ago (on Feb. 10), in a formal appearance before the House Intelligence Committee, National Intelligence Director James Clapper testified:

“We continue to assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons….

“We continue to judge Iran’s nuclear decisionmaking is guided by a cost-benefit approach, which offers the international community opportunities to influence Tehran.”

Who’s in Charge Here?

Yet, in her determination to come across as hard-line, Clinton has undercut promising initiatives that might have constrained Iran from having enough low-enriched uranium to be even tempted to build a nuclear arsenal.

Last year, when – at the urging of President Obama – the leaders of Turkey and Brazil worked out an agreement with Iran, under which Iran agreed to ship about half of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) out of country, Clinton immediately rejected it in favor of more severe economic sanctions.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva were left wondering who exactly was in charge in Washington — Hillary Clinton and her pro-Israel friends, or Obama.

Brazil released a three-page letter that Obama had sent to Lula da Silva a month earlier in which Obama said the proposed uranium transfer “would build confidence and reduce regional tensions by substantially reducing Iran’s” stockpile of low-enriched uranium.

The contrast between Obama’s support for the initiative and the opposition from various hardliners (including Clinton) caused “some puzzlement,” one senior Brazilian official told the New York Times. After all, this official said, the supportive “letter came from the highest authority and was very clear.”

It was a particularly telling episode. Clinton basked in the applause of Israeli leaders and neocon pundits for blocking the uranium transfer and securing more restrictive UN sanctions on Iran – and since then Iran appears to have dug in its heals on additional negotiations over its nuclear program.
Secretary Clinton is almost as assiduous as Netanyahu in never missing a chance to paint the Iranians in the darkest colors – even if that ends up painting the entire region into a more dangerous corner.

More Hypocrisy

On Feb. 15, Clinton continued giving hypocrisy a bad name, with her GWU speech regarding the importance of governments respecting peaceful dissent.

Five short paragraphs after she watched me snatched out of the audience Blackwater-style, she said, “Iran is awful because it is a government that routinely violates the rights of its people.” It was like something straight out of Franz Kafka.

Today, given the growing instability in the Middle East – and Netanyahu’s strident talk about Iran’s dangerous influence – it may take yet another Herculean effort by Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen to disabuse Netanyahu of the notion that Israel can somehow provoke the kind of confrontation with Iran that would automatically suck the U.S. into the conflict on Israel’s side.
At each such turning point, Secretary Clinton predictably sides with the hard-line Israeli position and shows remarkably little sympathy for the Palestinians or any other group that finds itself in Israel’s way.

It is now clear, not only from the WikiLeaks documents, but even more so from the “Palestine Papers” disclosed by Al Jazeera, that Washington has long been playing a thoroughly dishonest “honest-broker” role between Israel and the Palestinians.

But those documents don’t stand alone. Clinton also rejected the Goldstone Report’s criticism of Israel’s bloody attack on Gaza in 2008-09; she waffled on Israel’s fatal commando raid on a Turkish relief flotilla on its way to Gaza in 2010; and she rallied to the defense of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak this month when Israeli leaders raised alarms about what kind of regime might follow him.

Just last week, Clinton oversaw the casting of the U.S. veto to kill a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on Israel to stop colonizing territories it occupied in 1967. That vote was 14 to 1, marking the first such veto by the Obama administration. Netanyahu was quick to state that he “deeply appreciated” the U.S. stance.

Silent Witness

In the face of such callous disregard for what the Founders called “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind,” words failed me — literally — on Feb. 15.

The op-eds, the speeches, and the interviews that others and I have done about needless war and feckless politicians may have done some good but, surely, they have not done enough. And America’s Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) is the embodiment of a Fourth Estate that is dead in the water.

I counted about 20 TV cameras at the Clinton speech and reporters galore. Not one thought to come outside to watch what was happening to me, and zero reporting on the incident has found its way into the FCM, save a couple of brief and misleading accounts.

A Fox News story claimed that “a heckler interrupted” Clinton’s speech and then “was escorted from the room.” Fox News added that I "was, perhaps, trying to hold up a sign." CNN posted a brief clip with a similar insistence that I had “interrupted” Clinton’s speech, though the video shows me saying nothing until after I’m dragged away (or “escorted”) when I say, “So this is America.” There also was no sign.

Disappointing, but not surprising. But I guess I really do believe that the good is worth doing because it is good. It shouldn’t matter that there is little or no guarantee of success — or even of a truthful recounting of what happened.

Jail

One of my friends, in a good-natured attempt to make light of my arrest and brief imprisonment, commented that I must be used to it by now.

I thought of how anti-war activist Dan Berrigan responded to that kind of observation in his testimony at the Plowshares Eight trial 31 years ago. I feel blessed by his witness and fully identify with what he said about “the push of conscience”:

“With every cowardly bone in my body, I wished I hadn’t had to do it. That has been true every time I have been arrested. My stomach turns over. I feel sick. I feel afraid. I hate jail. I don’t do well there physically.

“But I have read that we must not kill. I have read that children, above all, are threatened by this. I have read that Christ our Lord underwent death rather than inflict it. And I’m supposed to be a disciple.

“The push of conscience is a terrible thing.”

As Fr. Berrigan clearly understood, the suffering of the victims of war is so much worse than the shock and discomfort of arrest.

For her part, Sen. and/or Secretary Clinton seems never to have encountered a war that she didn’t immediately embrace on behalf of some geopolitical justification, apparently following Henry Kissinger’s dictum that soldiers are “just dumb stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy.”

For us Veterans for Peace, we’ve been there, done that. And so, enough already!

Moreover, beyond the human suffering of those caught up in war, there’s what’s in store for the rest of us. As recent rhetoric and disclosures of leaked documents have made clear, what lies ahead is a permanent warfare state, including occupation of foreign lands and new military bases around the globe -- unless we have the courage to stand up this time.

Already well under way is creeping curtailment of our rights at home. “A state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny,” wrote Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn — one who knew.

I think we need to bear in mind that we are part of a long line of those who have taken a stand on these issues. As for those of us who have served abroad to safeguard the rights of U.S. citizens — well, maybe we have a particular mandate now to keep doing what we can to keep protecting them.
An earlier version of this article appeared on Consortiumnews.com.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President's Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

Behind the Arab Revolt Is a Word We Dare Not Speak
Thursday 24 February 2011
by: John Pilger, t r u t h o u t

Shortly after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, I interviewed Ray McGovern, one of an elite group of CIA officers who prepared then-president George W. Bush's daily intelligence brief. At that time, McGovern was at the apex of the "national security" monolith that is American power and had retired with presidential plaudits. On the eve of the invasion, he and 45 other senior officers of the CIA and other intelligence agencies wrote to Bush that the "drumbeat for war" was based not on intelligence, but lies.

"It was 95 percent charade," McGovern told me.

"How did they get away with it?" I asked.

"The press allowed the crazies to get away with it."

"Who are the crazies?"

"The people running the [Bush] administration have a set of beliefs a lot like those expressed in
'Mein Kampf,'" said McGovern. "These are the same people who were referred to, in the circles in which I moved at the top, as 'the crazies.'"

I said: "Norman Mailer has written that he believes America has entered a pre-fascist state. What's your view of that?"

"Well ... I hope he's right, because there are others saying we are already in a fascist mode."
On January 22, 2011, McGovern emailed me to express his disgust at the Obama administration's barbaric treatment of the alleged whistleblower Bradley Manning and its pursuit of WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.

"Way back when George and Tony decided it might be fun to attack Iraq," he wrote, "I said something to the effect that fascism had already begun here. I have to admit I did not think it would get this bad this quickly."

On February 16, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech at George Washington University in which she condemned governments that arrested protestors and crushed free expression. She lauded the liberating power of the Internet, while failing to mention that her government was planning to close down those parts of the Internet that encouraged dissent and truth-telling. It was a speech of spectacular hypocrisy, and McGovern was in the audience. Outraged, he rose from his chair and silently turned his back on Clinton. He was immediately seized by police and a security goon and beaten to the floor, dragged out and thrown into jail, bleeding. He has sent me photographs of his injuries. He is 71. During the assault, which was clearly visible to Clinton, she did not pause in her remarks.

Fascism is a difficult word, because it comes with an iconography that touches the Nazi nerve and is abused as propaganda against America's official enemies and to promote the West's foreign adventures with a moral vocabulary written in the struggle against Hitler. And yet, fascism and imperialism are twins. In the aftermath of World War II, those in the imperial states who had made respectable the racial and cultural superiority of "western civilization" found that Hitler and fascism had claimed the same, employing strikingly similar methods. Thereafter, the very notion of American imperialism was swept from the textbooks and popular culture of an imperial nation forged on the genocidal conquest of its native people, and a war on social justice and democracy became "US foreign policy."

As the Washington historian William Blum has documented, since 1945, the US has destroyed or subverted more than 50 governments, many of them democracies, and used mass murderers like Suharto, Mobutu and Pinochet to dominate by proxy. In the Middle East, every dictatorship and pseudo-monarchy has been sustained by America. In "Operation Cyclone," the CIA and MI6 secretly fostered and bankrolled Islamic extremism. The object was to smash or deter nationalism and democracy. The victims of this western state terrorism have been mostly Muslims. The courageous people gunned down last week in Bahrain and Libya, the latter a "priority UK market," according to Britain's official arms "procurers," join those children blown to bits in Gaza by the latest American F-16 aircraft.

The revolt in the Arab world is not merely against a resident dictator, but against a worldwide economic tyranny designed by the US Treasury and imposed by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which have ensured that rich countries like Egypt are reduced to vast sweatshops, with half the population earning less than $2 a day. The people's triumph in Cairo was the first blow against what Benito Mussolini called corporatism, a word that appears in his definition of fascism.

How did such extremism take hold in the liberal West? "It is necessary to destroy hope, idealism, solidarity, and concern for the poor and oppressed," observed Noam Chomsky a generation ago, and "to replace these dangerous feelings with self-centered egoism, a pervasive cynicism that holds that ... the state capitalist order with its inherent inequities and oppression is the best that can be achieved. In fact, a great international propaganda campaign is underway to convince people - particularly young people - that this not only is what they should feel but that it's what they do feel."

Like the European revolutions of 1848 and the uprising against Stalinism in 1989, the Arab revolt has rejected fear. An insurrection of suppressed ideas, hope and solidarity has begun. In the United States, where 45 percent of young African-Americans have no jobs and the top hedge fund managers are paid, on average, $1 billion a year, mass protests against cuts in services and jobs have spread to heartland states like Wisconsin. In Britain, the fastest-growing modern protest movement, UK Uncut, is about to take direct action against tax avoiders and rapacious banks. Something has changed that cannot be unchanged. The enemy has a name now.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Debate with Daniel Goldhagen, Wednesday, noon, cybercafe at the Korbel School of International Studies

For those in and around Denver, on Wednesday at noon in the coffee shop at the Korbel School of International Studies, I will be on a panel with Daniel Goldhagen along with Arthur Gilbert, Lisa Conant and Adam Rovner (the moderator). Goldhagen’s 1996 book Hitler’s Willing Executioners created a marketing sensation in America and Germany. It shows graphically that many ordinary Germans participated in PolizeiBattalion 101’s murders of Jews, including children. The inhumanity of Nazism is unspeakable; and the Nazis needed to be put out of business conclusively (they were mainly by the Soviet Union and then, to an extent, by the Nuremburg trials). The emphasis on the widespread participation by ordinary Germans in the genocide is a positive feature of Goldhagen's book, as Jurgen Habermas emphasized, and Goldhagen became an international celebrity. This is, however, often an unfortunate status which can go to one’s head. He was also criticized by every scholar who has probed the work (see Finkelstein and Birn, A Nation on Trial, Geoff Eley, ed, The Goldhagen Effect, Fritz Stern, and Christopher Browning, inter alia). Goldhagen has recently written Worse than War against genocide, though he peculiarly identifies the threat of genocide with “Political Islam” in a way which distorts some otherwise useful suggestions.

The point of my questions below, as a fellow jew and anti-fascist, is to suggest that his argument against Germans is an “hallucinatory anti-Germanism,” one which insults the many Jewish Germans and others who fought against and were butchered by Hitler. Further, it unintentionally enables the perpetrators of genocide by endorsing their claims to speak for a people. It denies the victims, say blacks in the American South, any possibility of allying with whites against the Klan (no Klan organizer could come to a United Mine Workers-organized coal field; they came to murder union organizers and prey on some of the workers; if they came, the miners - mainly white - would beat them up and chase them out). So this line of argument, as I show in the prefatory material to my questions, is new in the literature and of great political and moral importance.

Now, it is very difficult to fight and defeat genocide, as the repeated practice of it over several centuries (despite the Civil War and Reconstruction) in the American South shows. But Goldhagen’s denial of any resistance within the “privileged” nationality of a state conducting genocide leads directly to his desperate hope in some state to save people (he doesn’t notice the Soviet Union - “Uncle Joe” as Time magazine called Stalin, naming him “Man of the Year” in 1944 – in World War II). But salvation by a powerful state – and even multilateral salvation - is very unlikely, in fact, even more unlikely than movements from below (the two of course might be combined). Many of Goldhagen’s other suggestions for publicizing genocides and holding people to account for them are however good and important.

Of Goldhagen's new book, Worse than War, a documentary was already made by PBS– it, too, was not the ordinary academic book (if one asks the reasons why the documentary was made, they are not - for example, in the attack on Political Islam - all admirable). In WW, Goldhagen recommends a new international law. Disdaining laws against aggression such as those that make the Bush-Blair war in Iraq a crime, and failing to mention even enforcing existing international laws against torture (Prime Minister David Cameron at least is making some serious gesture in this direction in Britain), Goldhagen seeks to enable the US government to intervene by war against genocide.

Now, there is a broad moral understanding that humanitarian intervention against a genocidal state is a good thing. But as Michael Walzer who argues this in Just and Unjust Wars points out, almost the only case historically is India stopping Pakistani genocide in Bangla Desh (there, by the way, the motivation was racism toward the Bengalis – it was Moslem against Moslem genocide. Goldhagen refers to the Sudanese Arab tyranny as “political Islam,” but there, too, the genocide is Sudanese state against black Africans, Moslem killing Moslem. Factual inaccuracies like this render some of his argument, despite the importance of the subject, unserious).

Goldhagen contends that an unspecified “Political Islam” – potentially infecting 1.2 billion people - is a danger like Nazism. Even for Ahmenidinijad, his main target, this is doubtful a) because ordinary people have risen up in the Green Revolution, prefiguring the Egyptian democracy – any genocide would be restricted to an elite movement with some popular support, and more importantly, b) because Iranian jews have not been harassed or attacked, let alone murdered. In this respect, Goldhagen’s book, sadly, contributes to anti-Islamic racism.

I am also a graduate of social studies at Harvard. This is a program, as I have emphasized in the controvery about Marty Peretz’s similar anti-Islamic, anti-Arab racism last fall, which tends to inspire broad, interdiciplinary scholarship and interesting social theory. See here, here, here, here and here. In Goldhagen’s case, it helped generate a certain intellectual boldness. But none of the social theory of Barrington Moore or Alexander Gerschenkron (surprisingly, both Social Studies professors) who argued that a Junker(feudal lord)-capitalist alliance defeated democratic revolution in Germany in 1848 and led to Nazism makes an appearance in Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners (hereafter HWE), even though he emphasizes the special non-Western course of Germany, the Sonderweg. The Gerschenkron-Moore thesis is a serious intellectual argument about this. Goldhagen’s depiction of medieval anti-semitism – actually, there were far more burnings of Jews starting in the 13 th century, in Spain, see here, than in medieval Gerrmany – avoids any attempt to study the real history.

Goldhagen also exhibits no interest in Marxian arguments, for instance R. Palme Dutt’s intelligent Fascism and Social Revolution (showing that the Russian Revolution, the agricultural workers and other strikes in Italy, the Asturian miners strike, and the movement to the left among German workers – that is, intensified class struggle - were all vital to the capitalist elite choosing fascism to suppress them. One would not know from reading Goldhagen that Heidegger (and Leo Strauss) most hated “Jewish Bolshevism” – see here, here, here, here and here - and that this was a central theme of the Nazis. Goldhagen conjures a Nazism without class war, Nazis as workers, too, Nazis as all “Germans,” an historically erroneous and morally and politically misleading theme.

Finally, he ignores the now considerable literature since the 1970s on the role of eugenic ideology in the Holocaust (see the notes below). This emphasis may be adapted to considering the failure of some of this social theory literature to explore the genocide. In that respect, Goldhagen’s HWE is an important corrective. But the difference of this liteature with Goldhagen is that it sees the American or international contribution, given the segregated South and recruitment of an immigrant work force, through IQ testing to eugenics. American eugenics was to stigmatize immigrants (80% of Jews, 77% of Italians, 75% of Hungarians were all "feeble-minded" according to IQ tests administered at Ellis Island) and blacks in the segregated South.

Eugenic practices thus emerged in a complex interplay of German and American psychologists with heavy capitalist funding (Krupp, the arms manufacturer, financed a contest in eugenics which resulted in the publication of 10 volumes of essays, before World War I). When I came to the University of Denver, one of Penrose libraries extensive collections in German and English was of eugenic literature, including Nazis before and after Hitler's seizure of power in 1933. I would bring some 20 of these books, starting with C.B. Davenport's turn of the 20th century work, funded by Edward Henry Hariman (the railway magnate), throw them on the seminar table, and ask students to open them randomly: Portuguese are genetically suited to be berry pickers in New Bedford, Massachusetts, native americans to work at great heights on buildings (and die there quite often)...

As Nazi authors like Fritz Lenz and others used to say, before the Nazis came to power: the Americans, with their 1924 immigration law referring to preserving the “pure Nordic stock” of the United States and laws against miscegenation (interracial marriage) and to sterilize low IQ mothers laws in 30 states, was "the most advanced in the world." California, for example, sterilized 100,000 immigrant women. The Nazis would surpass this...

The murder of German mental patients – the disposal of Unworthy of Life Lives (or Lives Devoid of Value) – emerged centrally in the German medical community and was carried out by doctors starting in the late 1930s. This follows from eugenics and was central to the emergence of the genocide.

Marty Peretz has published Goldhagen repeatedly in the New Republic. A strain of social studies, which Peretz among others has sponsored, emphasizes Israel as the sole democracy and civilized force in the Middle East. Goldhagen is on the board of the Yale Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism. This is a corrupt institute without debate (Haaretz would be scorned in this pseudo-academia). At their initial conference, they had a panel which included solely a paper on the Mavi Marmara tragedy by a retired Israeli army Colonel Fighel. Here is announcement of the panel:

"Auditorium Plenary: Radical Islam and Genocidal Antisemitism
CHAIR: Professor Charles Hill, Yale University
Professor Menahem Milson, Hebrew University and Middle East Media
Research Institute (MEMRI): “Arab and Islamic Antisemitism Today”
Rifat Bali, Research Associate, Alberto Benveniste Center for Sephardic
Studies and Culture, Paris: “Conspiracy Theories, Antisemitism and
Jews in Turkey Today”
Col. (Ret.) Jonathan Fighel, The International Institute for Counter
Terrorism (ICT), Herzliya: “The Jihad Flotilla to Gaza: Provocative –
Antisemitic – Not Humanitarian”

Professor Jeffrey Herf, University of Maryland: 'Nazi Propaganda to the
Arab World and Its After-Effects In Postwar Militant Islam.'"

Given the Israeli/Egyptian cordoning of Gaza, medicines and food were needed. An international group of voyagers resolved on bringing them. Passengers included a 96 year old holocaust survivor from Brooklyn and a few brave souls from many countries. See here. “'Jihad' flotilla"? In international waters, the Israeli “Defense” Forces parachuted onto the ship and murdered 8 Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American. This event horrified the world and did much rightly to discredit the reactionary Israeli government. I wonder at the competence of Yale University and a University group which had as its sole paper on this matter, this fantasy. To put it in Goldhagen’s idiom about German anti-semitism, Col. Fighel – and the organization and Yale which sponsors it - display hallucinatory anti-Arabism.

Goldhagan chaired a panel on "political Islam." He sees rightly that Ahmedinijad is a reactionary, including holocaust denial, and oppressive figure. But the motivation of my questions for the Wednesday panel below traces the weaknesses of his view.

As Egyptian democracy shows, a new wind is blowing in the Middle East. Neither the US, arming dictatorships against their people, nor Israel can go on as before. Now more than ever, factual and many-sided discussions of these issues are needed. Now more than ever, a withdrawal of settlements and a resolution to the Israeli oppression of Palestinians is needed.

Here are my questions for Goldhagen and their motivation:

I, too, am a graduate of the Social Studies program and the Government Department at Harvard and appreciate Goldhagen’s boldness in taking up an important moral issue. I am also an anti-fascist, one who has written on the causal role of eugenics in the Nazi genocide, as well as ties between the Nazis Carl Schmitt, Heidegger and the curious case of Leo Strauss, a Jew who was oddly a Nazi sympathizer – and who is the guru of the neo-cons. I commend Goldhagen’s passionate opposition to genocide, and his hope to make, as he puts it in Worse than War (WW), a world without war.

Part 1: on Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners (HWE)

1. In HWE, Goldhagen starts out with a point that I strongly agree with: Hitler could not have committed genocide against Jews (and Roma, homosexuals, mental patients, and Slavs) unless some very large number of ordinary Germans agreed with and were willing to participate in it. Call this Goldhagen thesis 1. His evidence supports this conclusion.

But he then argues for a different and almost the opposite point – that all Germans held “hallucinatory anti-semitism,” that it something in the nature of all Germans from the Middle Ages to the defeat of Hitler. Call this Goldhagen thesis 2. This argument is not plausible, is challenged at its root by every historian who has looked into this matter, and is, arguably, hallucinatory anti-Germanism. His method for doing this is to a) produce a few, odious quotes from John Chrysostom (actually, not a German) about jews as Christ-killers (HWE, p. 50) and then to debunk every voice against Hitler, particularly socialists and communists in Germany, who were imprisoned, tortured and shot by the Nazis. Of the socialists, Goldhagen grudgingly says:

“The only significant, identifiable groups in Germany which formally abjured and were relatively protected against the prevailing anti-Semitic views were the core of the socialist movement, its intellectuals, and leaders, and the politically ineffectual left-liberal elite. These small groups were moved by a counterideology that denied the premises underlying antisemitism.” (HWE, p. 74; 98, 101)

Now Hitler was “elected”/appointed by Hindenburg with 37.3% of the vote. A very large number of workers – in fact, the entire working class - was socialist or communist. See, for example, Richard Hamilton, Who Voted for Hitler? Goldhagen’s belittling rhetoric about only a “core of the socialist movement” or “politically ineffectual,” “small groups” is empty…

And by the time of his later controversy with Browning and Birn, among others, he forgets his first thesis that he had sought to and does actually (sadly, it isn’t difficult) establish.

Now his inverted or exaggerated thesis 2 is weak intellectually and unscholarly. It is a “keyhole view” or “tunnel vision” distortion of German history(Browning, Birn), one that neither mentions the democratic revolutions of 1848 nor the November Revolution of 1917 that created the Weimar republic. Goldhagen ignores the Thaelmann brigade - some 1,500-2,000 Germans, perhaps a quarter Jewish, who fought and died side by side in Spain against Hitler and Franco – as well as the 100,000 communists in the underground (many killed) or the extent of terror against opponents from the moment Hitler took power in 1933. Goldhagen does not mention that in the last election, Hitler received the vote of only 37.3% of the German population – and almost no working class votes. So this blaming of the people, including many of the victims (the Nazis murdered communists, union leaders, intellectuals; they exterminated mental patients, the Roma and homosexuals – every one a German as German Jews, too, were Germans) for a state-carried out genocide is, in his own terms, a huge mistake politically and from a policy point of view, undermines any ability to combat genocide.

Goldhagen imagines whole peoples infected by exterminationist ideology. He sees no potential allies. “They” are all against decency – inhuman and sadistic - and must be smashed from the outside. But though the Soviet Union smashed the Nazis, he doesn’t even acknowledge this. Instead, he places all his hopes in the United States producing more and larger aggressions like Iraq (he apparently still supports the last aggression and occupation even in 2009 - pp. 540-44, 556). Goldhagen has hopes only in “democratic” states which are often, as he sometimes acknowledges, guilty of or supporters of genocide, and he ignores the potential in such wars for former “democracies” becoming police states (even under Obama, America still has not restored the rule of law). Yet Goldhagen insists that the United States be licensed by a new international “law” – he is dangerously scornful of laws against aggression – to produce more failed butcheries and occupations like Iraq, presumably in Iran. Note that many other measures to expose and sanction genocide which he suggests are good ideas, notably decent political leadership as in the case of Nelson Mandela in South Africa and serious press coverage (WW, 295-96, 516-21). I would also praise his confronting the mass murderer Rios-Montt, currently a leader of the senate in Guatemala (WW, pp. 582-85). But his despairing approach to ending eliminationism is to enable one of the main anti-democratic forces in the world (the US has overthrown some 15 nonwhite democracies during and after the Cold War) and one that has often fostered the very genocides Goldhagen seeks to prevent. He rightly wants a more radical enforcement of international law (WW 546-556), but says not a word about the failure to enforce existing laws against torture against high American officials and their secret prisons.

Though a political scientist, Goldhagen eschews comparative argument. In contrast, for example, let us consider the American South. One could say mobs instigated by the sheriffs and supported by politicians lynched some 5,000 blacks during Jim Crow (a conservative estimate – the real number of murders in the South post-Civil War would be much higher). And racism in America was very fierce. One might speak, in analogy with Goldhagen’s thesis 2 of American genocide (all white Protestants and Catholics). Yet there were huge movements of blacks and whites against it: the Southern Tenants alliance, the early Populist movement, Southern lumber workers organized by the IWW, the CIO share-croppers union, the white women of Montgomery who supported the bus boycott which gave Martin Luther King his start. Poor whites in Tennessee and Kentucky even fought for the Union in the Civil War.

Politically, one might seek to build a movement of the most victimized with those of the oppressed population (usually not the rich or powerful) who might come – having been silent about many horrors, having had racist ideas – to participate in or support it. A similar case could be made about the huge anti-Vietnam war movement against genocide in Vietnam (the US government slaughtered some three million Vietnamese…)

For more obvious forms of fascism, the resistance movement in Italy was dormant up to the mid-1930s, Goldhagen’s thesis 2 might speak of Italian genocide, for instance, in Ethiopia. Sparked by Italian radicals fighting in Spain, it then became a mass movement in the North and in 1943, hung Mussolini. But Goldhagen does no comparative politics or social history; rather, he metaphysically blames all Germans, all whites (for slavery or Jim Crow), all Americans for Vietnam, all Italians for fascism…

Question 1: You successfully show that many ordinary Germans participated in the genocide. But you then argue for a different, almost opposite thesis – that all Germans were and must, given German history, have been Hitler’s willing executioners. Why do you need to talk down all those other Germans – the socialists and communists, for example, many of whom, at the outset at least, where they were not hiding from terror and executions, opposed this and some 2000 of whom fought and died against Franco and Hitler in the Spanish Civil War?

Question 2: Goldhagen bases much of his work on an ideal type of Christian/German medieval anti-semitism. He ignores a substantial body of scholarship starting in the 1970s on the contribution of eugenics, centered on IQ testing and pioneered in the United States, which motivated students and later the intellectuals/professionals who became the killers of the mental patients (“lives devoid of value”). Similarly, the Nazi movement copied its sterilization of inferiors and anti-miscegenation laws from those of the states of Indiana and Virginia (Chorover, pp. 98-102, Proctor, ch. 4) This line of argument makes what some German professionals did in the international mainstream. Why do you not consider and argue about rather than ignoring this alternate explanation?

Part 2 on Goldhagen, Worse than War:

Goldhagen commendably starts from Harry Truman’s dropping the atom bomb on civilians, a crime of mass murder (pp. 3-8). One might add to it: the American firebombing of wooden cities in Japan (this slaughtered perhaps 5 million innocent people). Goldhagen exemplifies an important moral principle here: one should take on especially the crimes – or potential crimes - of one’s own state or one’s own people. One should not be a “Good German,” or in his words, a willing executioner.

But Goldhagen is anxious to identify an unspecified “Political Islam” as a genocidal force. He does so at p. 504-506, 551, 506, 251, inter alia. “Political Islam,” Goldhagen suggests, floats not just among all Germans but randomly among the world’s 1.2 billion Moslems. Like his fragments from John Chrysostom, Goldhagen analogizes “Political Islam” to Nazism about the Jews through a few quotes from Ahmenidinijad and Bin Laden (506-08). 1.2 billion people are thereby placed in a framework of potential Nazism – he does not speak even of, say, Iranian Islam or allow the Green Revolution, viciously repressed by Iran, as a counterexample. He does not even show that Iranian Jews are made unwelcome, harassed or killed (they haven’t been).

Speaking as a jew and an anti-fascist, let me pursue a countercase to Goldhagen about Israel whose refusal to work for a two state solution and efforts to pursue a “greater Israel” are now more and more obvious to the world. In Gaza, the state of Israel has imprisoned some 1.5 million Palestinians in a “large open air concentration camp” as a collective punishment – something illegal and immoral - for electing Hamas as their leaders. These are the words of my former dean and colleague Tom Farer (also a Jew). Two years ago, the Israeli army aggressed in Gaza and murdered some 1,400 Palestinians, including 300 children. At the same time, Hamas rockets murdered 13 Israelis, including a 7 year old child. Every child is of infinite value. What might the prophet Amos say today to Israel? The army murdering at a ratio of 300 to 1 is a massacre. Ordinary Israeli soldiers in Breaking the Silence detailed the war criminality of the IDF and of government leaders.

In urging this slaughter, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, who advises Brigadier General Avichai Rontski, said: “it is just to kill gentile babies” (the army paper, Barnahane, reprinted in Haaretz, 11/17/2009. This is also a typical sentiment among settler “rabbis.” (I contrast such people with Abraham Heschel and many other Jewish anti-racists). This bigotry is further extended by 50 chief municipal rabbis who want to ostracize Jews who rent to Arab-Israeli students in Safed. It is amplified by the Lieberman-fostered loyalty oath for Arab-Israelis passed by the Knesset, and ”investigatioon” of the funding of human rights organizations to allege subversion. If I noticed only such rabbis and cited them at the expense of everything else that happens in Israel, for instance, demonstrations of Jews and Arabs in Tel Aviv for peace, couldn’t I make a Goldhagen-style case that Jews are nationally genocidal, “willing executioners”? Given the complex reality of Lieberman and a quasi-fascist, expansionary government, couldn’t a fair-minded person – as 100 moderate Israeli intellectuals protested at the hall where Independence was declared in Tel Aviv in 1947 – plausibly make a more complex case about the fascism of the Israeli government? Is there not a danger both in the United States and Israel of a democracy, like Weimar, becoming an authoritarian regime?

Question 1 – If one uses the same fragmentary method you use to highlight Ahmenidinijad or John Chrysostom to warn of modern eliminationist polices, could not one then speak, easily but foolishly, invoking Rabbi Shapira, of Israeli or Jewish genocidal polices in Gaza? Aren’t such policies, in fact, genocidal (imposing conditions designed to destroy a people “in whole or in part”)?

Question 2 - Should we not stand with the some 600 officers who refuse to participate in the occupied territories – Yesh Gvul - or the soldiers of Breaking the Silence who oppose the occupation and its brutal, anti-democratic impact within Israel? Should we not oppose “Lieberman’s willing executioners” for a “greater Israel,” a fascist or apartheid state?

Question 3: What evidence is there that the US will make war against genocide? The US tolerated Germany in the 1930s did nothing to protect Jews during World War II (did not bomb the tracks on the way to the camps). It tolerated, even covertly supported apartheid South Africa. Yes, one should agitate against genocide and call for the boycott and ostracism of all regimes that do it. But why not mainly support Egyptian-style democratic revolution, seek to build movements among the oppressed and look for allies internationally and among ordinary people within genocidal powers?

1. “Where Christ-killers gather, the cross is ridiculed, God blasphemed, the father unacknowledged, the son insulted, the grace of the Spirit rejected…If the Jewish rites are holy and venerable, our way of life must be false. But if our way is true, as indeed it is, theirs is fraudulent. I am not speaking of their Scriptures. Far from it! For they lead one to Christ. I am speaking of their present impiety and madness.” (HWE, p. 50).
2. Christopher R. Browning, “Daniel Goldhagen’s Willing Executioners,” pp. 28-29. Ruth Bettina Birn, “Revising the Holocaust, ” p. 135.
3. V.O. Key, Southern Politics, p. 5. Alan Gilbert, Democratic Individuality, ch. 10. Michael Schwartz, Radical Protest and Social Structure.
4. N.J. Block and Gerald Dworkin, “IQ, Heritability and Inequality,” 1974, Stephen Chorover, From Genesis to Genocide, Gilbert, Democratic Individuality, ch. 10 (1990, 1984), Robert N. Proctor, Racial Hygiene, Robert Jay Lifton, The Nazi Doctors, inter alia.
5. Ury Avnery, “The Darkness to Expel,” www.shovrimshtika.org/post_e.asp?id=32
6. www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2009/07/16/breaking-the-silence-gaza-war-soldiers-testimonies-part-2/
7 . For further discussions of the rabbis, see Alan Gilbert, democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2009/12/rabbi-licenses-murder-of-babies.html and democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2010/12/fascist-israeli-rabbis-ostracize-jews.html