Friday, November 30, 2012

Poem: anarch y


tilted his pipe

writing after

Nechaev’s eyes

led no struggle

Lenin’s brilliance
Stalin burned Nazis

outcompeted assassin


had no follower

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Stevie Wonder responds to what is right

Both Bob Harris whose letter to Black Politics on the Web is below and Vincent Harding discussed with all of us on the delegation to Palestine that they had not inquired enough about the ferocity of Israel's oppressiveness (I, too, had not known of the calculatedness, down to the last detail of the apartheid, and will be working through, for a long time, all that it means).

Ignorance about what is really going on affects many others, and Stevie Wonder, who stood against South African apartheid and for Martin Luther King, was among them. He had agreed to perform at a concert in Los Angeles December 6 to raise money for the IDF (the Israel "Defence" Forces).

The young men in the Israeli army we saw firing tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and live ammunition at nonviolent demonstrators in Nabi Salah one Friday afternoon; the army murdered Mustafa and Rushdi Tamimi - see here and here. There is one side in the Territories with an army or an airport, armed to the teeth...

But Bob's powerful letter also suggests that Holocaust survivors are ignorant of Israeli apartheid in the Territories, and should have no truck with it.

Members of our delegations all signed statements - and other petitions - and made plans to contact Stevie Wonder yesterday.


But by evening, Stevie Wonder had, wonderfully, already dissociated himself from the IDF and this fund-raising event in LA. Below is the very enthusiastic letter from Rabbi Brian Walt to our group, celebrating what is really a sea-change as soon as people begin to take in the situation of the Palestinians, a relatively straightforward report on Wonder's decision from the Jewish Daily Forward; and the letter from Bob Harris. If one understands the facts of the Occupation and settlements, even cursorily, support for Israel practicing European racism - once exercised on the Jews - on Palestinians evaporates.


I have emphasized that it is very important to secure a solution which recognizes the humanity and basic rights of Palestinians and Israelis. See here. Our delegation aimed to further nonviolence and it is a core insight of Gandhi and King to honor the souls and - potential - integrity of everyone. But it is equally important to stop current crimes through noncooperation.

Israel needs to change dramatically for everyone's rights to be secured. Currently, the people of Israel are about to reelect Netanyahu (this was an important aim of his slaughters in Gaza, wagging the dog - see here; these slaughters also reveal the increasing isolation of Israeli brutality in the Middle East from Turkey and Egypt), and a large number either self-consciously affirm apartheid or are content with the government's policies which enforce apartheid. See here and here.


But the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement helps to change this. Major companies like Caterpillar or G4S (the "security" firm which helps Israel keep track at checkpoints and of its Palestinian prisoners and also organizes, with ferocious abuse, the privatization of prisons in the United States - see here) or Hewlett Packard (which computerizes prison records in Israel and provides IDs - see Who Profits from the Occupation here) or Veolia can be targeted as leaders of the Israeli Occupation.

These corporations are embarrassed at the truth coming out and the Israeli state can sense, with fear, that ordinary people are increasingly watching and taking action against what it does.


The cultural figures who cooperate with the army and the settlements are just as important. The boycott of Israel in which many artists joined after the last massacre in Gaza ("Operation Cast Lead") following Obama's first election, brought home Israel's isolation to Israeli audiences who often live in denial about the abjection of the Palestinians. Resisted by artists and other cultural figures they admire, Israelis are forced to face the consequences of what they are doing/acquiesce in.

Stevie Wonder learned quickly about this dehumanization and took action. He deserves our gratitude. The swiftness of this change highlights the fading of Israeli "justifications." The 500 illegal settlements and the Occupation must go...


Rabbi Brian Walt sent out the following message:

"I must say I never thought this would happen.

Hooray for grassroots organizing and hooray for Stevie Wonder! This is a very significant event in the rapidly changing discourse in our country about justice in Israel/Palestine. Thanks to everyone who signed petitions, to Bob for his article and for all our brothers and sisters speaking out for justice and peace. We should all thank Stevie Wonder for his decision."


Stevie Wonder Pulls Out of IDF Fundraiser
Petition Called on R&B Star To Shun Israel Army Event

Jewish Daily Forward, Published November 28, 2012.

Stevie Wonder is set to pull out of a performance at a fundraiser for the Israel Defense Forces, a source told JTA.

Wonder’s representatives will claim that he did not know the nature of the group, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, and that he believes such a performance would be incongruent with his status as a U.N. “Messenger of Peace,” according to a source who has read email exchanges between Wonder’s representatives and organizers of the event.

Wonder was scheduled to headline the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces annual gala in Los Angeles on Dec. 6. The event raises millions of dollars annually to support the Israeli military.

An official of Friends of the IDF, reached at its Los Angeles office, had no comment. Wonder’s agent at Creative Artists Agency did not return a request for comment.

The spokesman for the U.N. Secretary General also had no comment on the matter. The United Nations does not usually impose restrictions on its goodwill representatives.

Wonder most recently performed at a U.N. concert commemorating its 67th anniversary.

Wonder had come under intense social media pressure to pull out of the event. An online petition calling on him to cancel his performance had garnered more than 3,600 signatures.

The petition was launched more than a day ago on the website.

“You were arrested in 1985 protesting South African Apartheid, now we ask you: please remember that apartheid is apartheid, whether it comes from White Afrikaaner settlers of South Africa or from Jewish Israelis in Israel,” the petition reads. “Desmond Tutu has recognized that Israel’s Apartheid is worse than South Africa’s – will you stand with us against apartheid and cancel your performance at the IDF fundraiser?”

A second petition, launched by the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, calls on Wonder to “(p)lease continue your legacy of speaking out for the oppressed. Please be a ‘full-time lover’ of justice by standing on the right side of history and canceling your performance for the Israeli army.”

Wonder performed at a 1998 gala honoring Israel’s 50th anniversary.


Black Politics on the Web

Is Stevie Wonder No Longer a Supporter of Freedom and Justice?
By admin3 on November 28, 2012

Robert L. Harris, Jr., Professor of African American History, Africana Studies Research Center at Cornell University

- Stevie Wonder, the staunch advocate of freedom and justice in the United States and South Africa, is scheduled to headline a benefit concert in Los Angeles, December 6th, for the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The organization was formed some thirty-one years ago by Holocaust survivors. I question whether they are aware of the role that the IDF plays in the occupation and suppression of Palestinians and whether Stevie Wonder knows about it.

Just about a month ago, I visited Israel/Palestine with a group of African American and Jewish leaders through the Interfaith Peace Builders and the Dorothy Cotton Institute. I was taken especially by the testimony of Palestinians who described the violation of their human rights as confirmed in statements by former Israeli soldiers. With impunity, Israeli soldiers invade Palestinian homes on the West Bank, seize and blindfold residents, even children, and take them to police stations for interrogation. The children are snatched from their homes and questioned for as many as three days without the presence of their parents. Former Israeli soldiers told us about the intimidation of Palestinians and the use of what I can only describe as “psychological warfare” to terrorize them.

There are Israelis and Palestinians engaged in dialogue through the principles of non-violence to end the conflict and to establish a comprehensive and enduring peace. I would think that Stevie Wonder, an admirer and supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, would seek to advance the work of those individuals and groups seeking to end the conflict rather than the forces that perpetuate it. Many Palestinians are refugees in their own land, which was forcibly taken from them and is now occupied by Israelis. The Israeli occupation intrudes into almost every area of Palestinian life.

Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank cannot reunite with their families. They face onerous restrictions and roadblocks to travel within their own territory. Israeli settlers, many from the United States, seize Palestinian land and uproot their olive trees, a symbol of their heritage, tradition, and family. We saw olive trees estimated to be hundreds of years old that Israeli settlers uproot and often burn as an insult to Palestinians on their own land. Hopefully, Stevie Wonder and his sponsors will become aware of the Israeli descent into apartheid with a separation wall, electrified barbed wire, and guard towers perpetuated by the IDF.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Eric Foner’s striking letter on “Lincoln” in this morning’s New York Times

Eric Foner, one of the great writers on the Civil War, punctures David Brooks’ empty celebration of elite arm-twisting.(h/t David Crocker) More importantly, in brief compass, he adds important facts to my account of actions of rank-and-file blacks and whites in pushing for this amendment and questions, more than I did, whether the dilemma shown in the film, that the Lincoln had to stall the peace in order to pass the 13th amendment and make the Constitution no longer a slaveowners document, is as deep as “Lincoln” suggests. See "Lincoln and Founding Myths" here.


Foner makes the central point that blacks escaped to the Northern side at the outset of the Civil War. Their arrival sparked Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation when the Union's military effort flagged.

To add some more background, the radical abolitionist movement and John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, accompanied by rallies in the North and Canada featuring the eloquent words of Henry David Thoreau, had helped spark the rise of the Republican party and the Civil War. For the South seceded.

Blacks therefore knew to come to Northern side, as they had known to come to Governor Dunmore who had threatened from 1772 on to free blacks and indentured servants who would come to the Royal side, to raze the mansions of the rebellions slaveowners to the ground and sow destruction wherever he could reach. The point Foner makes is a precise parallel to what I describe in Black Patriots and Loyalists nearly 85 years earlier.


Black people in Foner's account, as in mine of the Revolution, are agents. They shape the events. They are not a mere backdrop to the greatness of "Lincoln." For they are downplayed even in this, its best moment, the Presidential stories which are repeatedly retold in the corporate press, notably in the Times' book reviews and by many best-selling historians. See here.


Foner also makes the important point that the Emancipation Proclamation freed three million of the four million blacks, and other states took action voluntarily. So the former slave-owners would have had a hard fight to block such an amendment. W.E.B. Dubois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 (1935), a book, though published outside academic historical circles, without rival until Foner's, and Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution (1989) have both written eloquently on the attempt to create a decent South and the only democratic governments, uniting blacks and whites and fighting for education for all – democratic education - which flourished after the Civil War.


The 15th Amendment guaranteeing blacks the right to vote - regardless of "previous condition of servitude" - was passed in 1869 and ratified by the states in 1870. That was the zenith of Reconstruction.

But the turning point was the American reaction to the Paris Commune, the working class uprising which established a radical government in France against Prussian conquest and French bourgeois capitulation/defection (that leadership decamped to Versailles). The Commune was then brutally suppressed by the French elite under the aegis of Prussian guns - murdering some 20,000 workers in Pere Lachaise cemetery in 1871.

The American elite and American newspapers were hostile to and frightened by the Commune as they were by the new democracy in the South, and that fear, combined with the pressure of former slave-owners and their allies in the North, set national politics on a course to reverse the achievements of the Civil War.

Reconstruction, the noblest experiment in democracy in America, has long been stigmatized - in the grim "Birth of a Nation" and "Gone with the Wind" cinematic, academic (celebrated by Woodrow Wilson) and journalistic culture - as “Northern carpetbaggers” and “scallywags,” and linked to the racism of lynching (which also swept away some poor and anti-racist whites).

For those who can hear, Dubois and Foner have done much to correct this.


Foner also underlines the startling role of the "Women’s National Loyal League, an organization of abolitionist feminists headed by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton."

The fight against slavery was always linked to the movement for the liberation of women (Seneca Falls, 1848). In doing research in the National Archive, I found early 19th century petitions with many thousands of signatures against slavery circulated by black and white women in the North which are not widely known (I did not write about this in Black Patriots and Loyalists, except for the earlier linkage of the two emancipations among Quakers.

But that the petition for the 13th Amendment which made the Constitution clean, i.e. not a slave-owners' document with clauses about blacks counting as 3/5ths of a man to advance the Presidencies and Congressional power of their owners or outlawing Harriet Tubman, John Brown and others who led blacks to freedom, came from women underlines a dialectic of liberty. See my "How slavery shapes the Constitution" here.

For Foner's reflections on the Constitution and Constitutionalism, see here.*


Freedom for one is freedom for all. When those who are most oppressed lift themselves, everyone else - the democracy - moves up with them.


And the reverse, as Pastor Niemoller’s poem about Nazism illustrates, is also true.

“First they came for the Communists and the union leaders and I did nothing,

And then they came for the Jews and I did nothing…

And finally they came for me

And there was no one left to protest.”


Foner’s letter also underlines not just Sherman’s March to the Sea but the rising of blacks to burn the foul mansions to the ground – a really central and buried part of the story which would have made bondage hard to restore. (That Foner is a famed historian of the Civil War who won a Pulitzer and a Bancroft Prize may have helped this letter slip by the Times' antennae for censorship. In addition, perhaps the outlying version of the form, Foner's book is also a biography of Lincoln, tracing his growth about slavery...)

Nonetheless, Jim Crow was reestablished through Klan violence and Supreme “Court” decision (in 1876 and through Plessy v. Ferguson, inter alia). So the concern of Lincoln in the film to pass the 13th amendment is justified. But perhaps Eric is right that, in the circumstances, it would have passed anyway, only to be defeated by counterrevolution and Jim Crow later.


Yet the victory itself is extraordinarily important. That it might have occurred anyway for a time – a point about historic forces set in motion by Civil War, black recruitment and black escape and uprising – is an important possibility or counterfactual which should not override the actual accomplishment.


As I write in Black Patriots and Loyalists, the logic of the American Revolution – if all men are free, then blacks are free as well as whites – the military competition between the Patriots and the Crown to recruit and free slaves, and the inspiring slave revolts in Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean in the 1750s surging into London and Boston in 1760 and 1764 (James Otis’s pamphlet which asserted the natural rights of every man, black as well as white), discussed in every working class tavern and influencing every revolutionary crowd all shaped gradual emancipation in the North.

New York, which voted such a gradual emancipation bill in 1799 (actually freeing the last slaves only in the 1840s), was as big a slave owning state as South Carolina or Virginia. The modes of production in the latter, tobacco and rice-farming, created more centralized plantations and forms of political control; Manhattan was the center of the British war and of black escape to freedom, eroding bondage; all the surrounding states emancipated the slaves. But even such important differences do not explain why gradual emancipation failed in the South.

Everywhere else in the Hemisphere, in the revolutions of black and brown people, emancipation and independence were linked. Slave uprising made Haiti. When Bolivar was losing to Spain, he retreated to republican Haiti which aided him in exchange for proclaiming gradual emancipation. Only in North America was there a subsequent Civil War over slavery.


But Black Patriots and Loyalists presses the central question or counterfactual of why the Revolution did not conquer bondage in the South.

For the same forces that pressed emancipation in the Northern states also existed, to a large extent, in Southern ones. In 1779, the Continental Congress passed the Laurens proposal – to free and recruit 3,000 blacks in South Carolina and 2,000 blacks in Georgia, and there was a considerable movement to inspire South Carolina to fight the British rather than betray the Patriots (the South Carolina leadership, which had seceded from the Crown to preserve bondage, knelt disgustingly to the Redcoats rather than mobilize and free blacks to fight).


Yet South Carolina could have had more forces like John Laurens. The radical crowds in Charlestown (today: Charleston), South Carolina could have given rise to a more rebellious leadership (as in the Paris Commune against the treacherous French rulers who acquiesced to Prussian conquest sooner than mobilize the workers). The British could have fought on after Yorktown, requiring through competition for military recruitment of blacks, more Patriot enlistment and freeing of former slaves in the South.

But they did not.


There is a danger in thinking that historical possibilities are inevitabilities
For instance, the elite could have stolen the recent election for Romney as in 2004 and moved the country, far and perhaps fatally, towards an imperial police state; the shifting electorate and the prevention of voter suppression/voting machine fraud (the latter blocked by a suit by the Green Party and Jill Stein and perhaps by Anonymous** – see here and here means that, despite the increasingly bipartisan police state character even of the Obama administration (total information awareness, the doctrine of state secrets and the like), this possibility may have been averted or at least attenuated by the reelection of Obama.


So Lincoln's fighting for and achieving the passage of the 13th Amendment in January, 1865 in Congress is very important.


So, too, is the fact that bombing Iran has been temporarily headed off by the defeat of Romney, but it will take a further movement to defeat this possibility.

Cuts in social security are apparently off the table (see the front page of this morning’s Times) but it may take more movement from below to fight for minimal medical care for ordinary people and certainly, to fight for decent medical care for everyone.


Eric Foner has written an unusual letter to the Times which invites such reflections.


Lincoln’s Use of Politics for Noble Ends
Published: November 26, 2012

To the Editor:

Re “Why We Love Politics” (Op-Ed, Nov. 23):

David Brooks praises the new movie “Lincoln” for illuminating “the nobility of politics” and, he hopes, inspiring Americans to reconsider their low regard for politicians. The film depicts Abraham Lincoln’s arm-twisting and political maneuvering in January 1865 to secure approval of the 13th Amendment, which, when ratified by three-quarters of the states, abolished slavery throughout the nation.

This was indeed an important moment in political history. But Mr. Brooks, and the film, offer a severely truncated view. Emancipation — like all far-reaching political change — resulted from events at all levels of society, including the efforts of social movements to change public sentiment and of slaves themselves to acquire freedom.

The 13th Amendment originated not with Lincoln but with a petition campaign early in 1864 organized by the Women’s National Loyal League, an organization of abolitionist feminists headed by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Moreover, from the beginning of the Civil War, by escaping to Union lines, blacks forced the fate of slavery onto the national political agenda.

The film grossly exaggerates the possibility that by January 1865 the war might have ended with slavery still intact. The Emancipation Proclamation had already declared more than three million of the four million slaves free, and Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee and West Virginia, exempted in whole or part from the proclamation, had decreed abolition on their own.

Even as the House debated, Sherman’s army was marching into South Carolina, and slaves were sacking plantation homes and seizing land. Slavery died on the ground, not just in the White House and the House of Representatives. That would be a dramatic story for Hollywood.

New York, Nov. 23, 2012

The writer, a history professor at Columbia University, won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for history for “The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.”


Passed by Congress January 31, 1865. Ratified December 6, 1865.

Note: A portion of Article IV, section 2, of the Constitution was superseded by the 13th amendment.

Section 1.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Passed by Congress June 13, 1866. Ratified July 9, 1868.

Note: Article I, section 2, of the Constitution was modified by section 2 of the 14th amendment.

Section 1.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2.
Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age,* and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Section 3.
No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4.
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5.
The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

*Changed by section 1 of the 26th amendment.

Passed by Congress February 26, 1869. Ratified February 3, 1870.

Section 1.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude--

Section 2.
The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

**An "Anonymous" video claimed to block Secretary of State Husted's effort to shift votes on computerized voting machines with no paper trail parallel to 2004 (they had read King Rove which describes that theft). Note that Rove lost it in the Fox Studio, and commanded Megan Kelly to go back and talk with the technicians for 20 minutes after Fox had declared, with other networks, that Obama had won Ohio. Romney had prepared no speech for a defeat. That could be because they are deluded fatheads - a comforting hypothesis - but perhaps not.

Also Orca - Romney's bragged about central election machine on which 30,000 volunteers in Ohio relied - malfunctioned and was shut down, as under attack, by Comcast (the volunteers were given wrong passwords...) and gave the volunteers no help.

That could be because Mitt was incompetent (a good guess), but it could also have been helped along from outside.

As long as voting machines leave no paper trail and Secretaries of State conspire to deny the right to vote - for which every one of them should be put on trial for a crime against democracy and against the office they are "pledged" to uphold - elections will be in jeopardy here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

US military aid and the Occupied Territories: Protestant leaders and Rabbi Brian Walt speak out

Recently, Christian leaders called on Congress to make American military aid to Israel contingent on ceasing human rights violations in the Occupied territories. The now 45 year Occupation is itself a massive human rights violation; it is perhaps unsurprising that there are many accompanying murders and other violations. See the murder of Rushdi Tamimi and the jailing of Bassem Tamimi for a nonviolent demonstration in a settlement supermarket at Nabi Saleh on the West Bank here.

A piece by Rabbi Yoffie denouncing those leaders appeared in Haaretz, October 24, 2012 - see here - for not reassuring Jews [the state of Israel} of their support. But this is a misrepresentation for the letter speaks to the fears of Israelis – amplified by persecutions and genocide in Europe:

“Through this direct experience we have witnessed the pain and suffering of Israelis as a result of Palestinian actions and of Palestinians as a result of Israeli actions. In addition to the horror and loss of life from rocket attacks from Gaza and past suicide bombings, we have witnessed the broad impact that a sense of insecurity and fear has had on Israeli society. We have also witnessed widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinians, including killing of civilians, home demolitions and forced displacement, and restrictions on Palestinian movement, among others. We recognize that each party—Israeli and Palestinian—bears responsibilities for its actions and we therefore continue to stand against all violence regardless of its source. Our stand against violence is complemented by our commitment to the rights of all Israelis, as well as all Palestinians, to live in peace and security.”

The letter stands for nonviolence and upholding the rights of each person, Israeli and Palestinian.


The Occupation treats Palestinians as non-persons, without dignity, even aside from the ghastly blockade and starvation in Gaza. It is reminiscent for me of the conduct of Europeans toward the Jews...


Rabbi Brian Walt, a leader of the Dorothy Cotton Institute delegation to Palestine of which I was a part responded to Rabbi Yoffie in Haaretz. He points out that Yoffie does not speak once to the human rights violations of the Occupation which are the Christians' concern. Brian’s response is below along with the statement.


A Response to Rabbi Yoffie

In his October 24 Ha’aretz op-ed, “Heading toward an irreparable rift between U.S. Jews and Protestants,” my colleague, Rabbi Yoffie, sharply criticized the recent letter to Congress by leaders of Protestant churches that called for US military aid to Israel to be contingent on Israeli compliance with American law. Nowhere in his article, however, did Yoffie mention the central concern of Christian leaders’ letter: the overwhelming evidence of systematic human rights violations by the Israeli military against Palestinians.

Over the past two weeks, I had the privilege of leading an interfaith delegation including several leaders of the civil rights movement, Christian clergy and academics, two rabbis and several Jews on a two-week trip to the West Bank. We were all shocked by the widespread human rights violations that we saw with our own eyes and that we heard about from both Palestinians and Israelis. Several Black members of our group, including those who participated actively in the civil rights movement, remarked that what they saw on the West Bank was "frighteningly familiar" to their own experience, a systemic pattern of discrimination that privileged one group (in this case, Jews) and denigrated another (Palestinians).

Together we walked down Shuhadah Street in Hebron, a street restricted to Jews and foreigners where Hebron’s Palestinians are mostly not allowed to walk, even those Palestinians who own houses or stores on the street. This street was once the center of a bustling Palestinian city. Now the area is a ghost town with all the Palestinian stores shut down by the Israeli military.

We visited several villages on the West Bank whose land has been expropriated by the Israeli government and where their nonviolent protests against this injustice are met with rubber bullets and tear gas (we saw with our own eyes many empty canisters of tear gas made in the US.). We witnessed a demonstration in Nabi Saleh, watching soldiers in armored cars launch tear gas and shoot rubber bullets against children who were throwing stones. In this village, soldiers routinely enter homes in the middle of the night to arrest children, who are handcuffed and blindfolded, taken to a military base where they may spend several days subject to brutal interrogation without the right to the presence of a lawyer or even a parent. The shocking abuse of children that we heard about from several sources, including Israeli lawyers, was particularly disturbing.

Our delegation also saw the rubble of Palestinian houses demolished by the Israeli authorities and waited in long lines at check points as Jewish motorists were waved through or passed unimpeded through special settler checkpoints.

We met with a young Palestinian man who played the part of Martin Luther King Jr. in a play about Dr. King’s life written by one of the people on our trip. This young man (like over 140,000 other West Bank Palestinians) has lost his residency rights as he went to Europe to study acting. Despite the fact that his family has lived in Jerusalem for generations, he is now unable to live in the city in which he was born. Yet I, or any other Jew, could become a citizen of Israel overnight and live in
Jerusalem while enjoying many privileges available only to Jews.

Every day we were on the West Bank, we saw this pattern of discrimination: a systemic privileging of one ethnic group over another. Every day we heard about egregious human rights violations: administrative detainees held in prison for years without any right to due process (a Palestinian due to talk to our group about prisoners was arrested two days before the presentation and is still in prison), massive land confiscation, separate roads and grave restrictions on movement.

As the Christian leaders’ letter indicated, all the violations we witnessed are made possible by unconditional American aid, in violation of American law. Rabbi Yoffie predicted that this statement may cause “an irreparable rift between U.S. Jews and Protestants.” It may be more accurate to say it may cause a rift between the American Jewish establishment and the Christian leaders who have until now been cowed with the warning that the price for “interfaith dialogue” is silence on Israel’s human rights violations.

But after these past several weeks, as I read the courageous Christian leaders’ letter and stood side my side with my interfaith colleagues on this remarkable delegation, I sense a new form of interfaith cooperation – one based in our mutual sacred imperative to “seek peace and pursue it.”

Rabbi Brian Walt is the Palestinian/Israeli Nonviolence Project Fellow of the Dorothy Cotton Institute.


We write to you as Christian leaders representing U.S. churches and religious organizations committed to seeking a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians. Our organizations have been deeply involved in this pursuit for decades, inspired by the call and promise of Jesus Christ who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

In response to our Christian call to be peacemakers, we have worked for decades to support both Israelis and Palestinians in their desire to live in peace and well-being. We have worked alongside our Palestinian Christian sisters and brothers to help build a peaceful and resilient Palestinian civil society by supporting hospitals, schools, clinics, and social service agencies. These ministries include cooperative efforts with Israelis and Palestinians as well as with Jews, Muslims, and other neighbors here in the United States. Through our presence in the region, and regular visits to our partners there, we see first-hand the impacts of the conflict on both Palestinians and Israelis and hear from them directly about the reality of their lives.

Through this direct experience we have witnessed the pain and suffering of Israelis as a result of Palestinian actions and of Palestinians as a result of Israeli actions. In addition to the horror and loss of life from rocket attacks from Gaza and past suicide bombings, we have witnessed the broad impact that a sense of insecurity and fear has had on Israeli society. We have also witnessed widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinians, including killing of civilians, home demolitions and forced displacement, and restrictions on Palestinian movement, among others. We recognize that each party—Israeli and Palestinian—bears responsibilities for its actions and we therefore continue to stand against all violence regardless of its source. Our stand against violence is complemented by our commitment to the rights of all Israelis, as well as all Palestinians, to live in peace and security.

It is this experience and these commitments that lead us to write to you today to express our grave concern about the deteriorating conditions in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories which threaten to lead the region further away from the realization of a just peace.

Unfortunately, unconditional U.S. military assistance to Israel has contributed to this deterioration, sustaining the conflict and undermining the long-term security interests of both Israelis and Palestinians. This is made clear in the most recent 2011 State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices covering Israel and the Occupied Territories1, which details widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons.

Accordingly, we urge an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act which respectively prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limit the use of U.S. weapons2 to “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense.”3 More broadly, we urge Congress to undertake careful scrutiny to ensure that our aid is not supporting actions by the government of Israel that undermine prospects for peace. We urge Congress to hold hearings to examine Israel’s compliance, and we request regular reporting on compliance and the withholding of military aid for non-compliance.

Weapons in this instance include “crowd control” items such as tear gas. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012 (P.L. 112-74) which is included in the US Foreign Military Financing regulations stipulates that “not later than 90 days after enactment of this act and 6 months thereafter, the Secretary of State shall submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations detailing any crowd control items, including tear gas, made available with appropriated funds or through export licenses to foreign security forces that the Secretary of State has credible information have repeatedly used excessive force to repress peaceful, lawful, and organized dissent.”
3 While this letter focuses on US-Israel relations and the Israel-Palestine conflict, these are laws that we believe should be enforced in all instances regardless of location. All allegations regarding the misuse of US supplied arms should be investigated.

Examples of specific, systematic human rights violations related to U.S. military support are included as an annex to this letter.

In addition to specific rights violations, we see a troubling and consistent pattern of disregard by the government of Israel for U.S. policies that support a just and lasting peace. Specifically, repeated demands by the U.S. government that Israel halt all settlement activity have been ignored. Since 1967, every U.S. administration has decried Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories as obstacles to peace. Despite this stance, Israel continues to expand its settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, claiming territory that under international law and U.S. policy should belong to a future Palestinian state. The Oslo peace process, which began in 1993, was publicly promoted as leading Israelis and Palestinians to a just peace based on a two-state solution. Instead, since 1993, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, has more than doubled. Rights violations resulting from Israeli settlement activity include separate and unequal legal systems for Palestinians and settlers, confiscation of Palestinian land and natural resources for the benefit of settlers, and violence by settlers against Palestinians.

According to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there has been a dramatic rise in settler attacks against Palestinians this year4. They report that these attacks are often intended to drive Palestinians from areas the settlers wish to take over, and that Israeli authorities have failed to take significant action to stop the violence or hold the perpetrators accountable. We believe that these actions directly undermine peace efforts and threaten, rather than support, Israel’s long-term security interests.

We want to be clear that we recognize that Israel faces real security threats and that it has both a right and a duty to protect both the state and its citizens. However, the measures that it uses to protect itself and its citizens, as in the case with any other nation, must conform to international humanitarian and human rights law.

As Christian leaders in the United States, it is our moral responsibility to question the continuation of unconditional U.S. financial assistance to the government of Israel. Realizing a just and lasting peace will require this accountability, as continued U.S. military assistance to Israel -- offered without conditions or accountability -- will only serve to sustain the status quo and Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories.

We request, therefore, that Congress hold Israel accountable to these standards by making the disbursement of U.S. military assistance to Israel contingent on the Israeli government’s compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies. As Israel is the single largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid since World War II, it is especially critical for Israel to comply with the specific U.S. laws that regulate the use of U.S.-supplied weapons. We also encourage Congress to support inclusive, comprehensive, and robust regional diplomacy to secure a just and lasting peace that will benefit Israelis, Palestinians, and all the peoples of the region, and the world.

With respect and gratitude, we offer you our prayers.


Rev. Gradye Parsons
 Stated Clerk of the General Assembly Presbyterian Church (USA)

Mark S. Hanson 
Presiding Bishop 
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Bishop Rosemarie Wenner President, Council of Bishops United Methodist Church

Peg Birk 
Transitional General Secretary National Council of Churches USA

Shan Cretin
 General Secretary
 American Friends Service Committee

J Ron Byler 
Executive Director 
Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

Alexander Patico
 North American Secretary Orthodox Peace Fellowship

Diane Randall
 Executive Secretary 
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Dr. A. Roy Medley
 General Secretary
American Baptist Churches, U.S.A.

Rev. Geoffrey A. Black General Minister and President United Church of Christ

Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins 
General Minister and President Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Rev. Julia Brown Karimu 
President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Division of Overseas Ministries
Co-Executive, Global Ministries (UCC and Disciples)

Rev. Dr. James A. Moos 
Executive Minister, United Church of Christ, Wider Church Ministries
Co-Executive, Global Ministries (UCC and Disciples)

Kathy McKneely
Acting Director
 Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Eli S. McCarthy, PhD
Justice and Peace Director
Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM)

Examples of specific, systematic human rights violations related to U.S. military support

• Killings of civilians - At least 2,969 Palestinian civilians uninvolved in hostilities were killed by the Israeli military between December 29, 2000 and December 31, 2009. This includes at least 1,128 children under the age of 18.5 Many of these deaths are connected to weaponry the U.S. underwrites.

• Suppression of legitimate political expression and protest – U.S.-supplied tear gas has been used by Israel to systematically suppress political protests and dissent in the occupied Palestinian territories. This has led to the deaths of at least 5 Palestinians and the grave injury of many others, including two U.S. citizens.

• Home demolitions and forced displacement – According to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, approximately 24,813 Palestinian homes in the occupied Palestinian territories have been destroyed since 1967. House demolitions in the West Bank in 2011 forcibly displaced nearly 1,100 Palestinians (over half of them children) from their homes, over 80% more than in 2010, according to the United Nations (UN) Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs6.

• Use of prohibited weaponry in densely populated civilian areas – Israel has used both white phosphorus and flechette shells in Gaza and Lebanon in violation of international humanitarian law. During operation cast lead white phosphorus shells were fired against civilian targets including a UN compound, two hospitals, and private residences causing civilian deaths and injuries. Flechette shells have also been used repeatedly in Gaza since 2001, causing significant civilian deaths and casualties.7

• Restricting Palestinian movement - Israeli-only roads and more than 500 roadblocks and checkpoints carve up the West Bank, making travel for Palestinians arduously slow or impossible8. The Wall constructed by Israel in the West Bank deviates considerably from the 1967 lines, confiscating occupied Palestinian territory and water in the process, and severely restricting Palestinian movement. Since 2007 Israel has also maintained a comprehensive blockade on Gaza, restricting not only the movement of Palestinians into and out of Gaza, but also restricting the import and export of goods. The UN and International Committee of the Red Cross have both concluded that this blockade amounts to collective punishment9, in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention.


4 For more information see also:

5 Details available at and through original date from B’Tselem at




Saturday, November 24, 2012

"Lincoln" and Founding Myths

The myth of the founding fathers – that they were broadly defenders of freedom and that American history is centered in their biographies - dominates the New York Times and much of its commentary. There was an officially weighty and stunningly foolish review of such biographies on the front page of the Sunday Book Review two weeks ago by Jill Abramson, the Times executive editor. Purportedly reviewing Jon Meacham’s new book on Jefferson, The Art of Power, it actually suggested which books consumers might want on their coffee tables, perhaps to read, because they invoke Presidencies on behalf of currently salient political problems.


Meacham’s book stresses that Jefferson dealt with political conflict in Congress and surmounted impasses (or as Janet Maslin says, in yet another Times review, a bit more acidly on Wednesday that he was not just a generic “philosopher” but a politician). And that is taken by Abramson to be relevant to – and hopeful for - gridlock in Congress today which “voters” putatively worry about. This is a misguided way of putting it since Romney wanted to “defeat gridlock” after his party sabotaged any agreement with Obama by destroying what is decent here.

Most people are worried about substance...


And some of us worry about the Republican party being the party of authoritarian and imperial racism – sneering at the electorate that wonderfully reelected Obama in Mitt Romney’s airheaded and bullying last statement to his donors about how public decency is really “gifts” and “freedom” represents imposing the maximum suffering on and stealing every last dime from poor folks. Romney is the guy who has his minions rifle the pockets of a homeless man…

And even under Obama and the new electorate and determined effort which elected him against the odds – a drumbeat of corporate media publicity from the .0001% (we even know names of some of these shadowy fortunes like Sheldon Adelson and David and Charles Koch), the Democrats often collapses to the Right. They will raise taxes slightly on the rich but now Harry Reid announces that stealing some social security from old people – when social security is not in trouble – might just be a “compromise” (we had better get together, democratically, and press the Obama coalition from below).

Would the “electorate” or even Jill Abramson then cheer?...


During the election, Obama, to his great credit, did not budge on bombing (or allowing Israel to bomb) Iran. But Obama still operates in what I have named the right-wing two step of American politics, that the Republicans can always attack from the right, funded and publicized by a trillion dollar war complex, and the Democrats, similarly though to a lesser extent funded by the rich, often acquiesce. Obama’s statement on Gaza and the predation of Israel - that Israel “defended itself” against Hamas missiles – Israel occupied the territories and initiated the most recent episode by murdering a teenager - is obscene.

In addition, Obama fires drones regularly into Pakistan in his worst act of criminality as an American President. Do Pakistanis then have the right to defend themselves against the United States? (Of course, the occupied Gazans, imprisoned by Israel, are in a stronger position morally to fight back even than the Pakistanis, though the missiles, mainly ineffective but murdering five innocent Israelis, are counterproductive and unwise).


Hillary Clinton did, however, help broker a cease-fire through Prime Minister Mohammed Morsi in Egypt on Wednesday.


America also desperately needs to deal with climate change. Here the ravaging of New York and New Jersey by Hurricane Sandy demonstrated the increasing reality of global warming. Obama and Christie working efficiently on aid helped reelect Obama since it underlined governmental sanity and decency. It is for what purposes one overcomes "gridlock" that is important.

Mayor Bloomberg then rightly named global warming – the best outside intervention in this election, comparable to Colin Powell’s memorable comment mourning the Afghan-American who at 20 gave his life fighting in Afghanistan and the importance of inclusiveness in 2008 – but the kept media did not, even in the face of this Hurricane, otherwise mention it.


Obama looks to be able in a second term to grant freedom and recognition to some eleven million immigrants on whom America has preyed (cf. the defeat of Romney on “self-deportation” and the sudden “Republican” hope to neutralize intense resistance among many Latino voters).


The greatness distant from and required of America – to stop the obscene torture of the Palestinians, to free blacks and chicanos and poor whites in the prison system (see Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow) and retreat from being the largest police state - 25% of all prisoners - in the world (the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington gives Obama here a chance to strike a blow at the prison system if he has the courage to take it) and global warming – as a species, we really are not going to be here for more than a century unless protest from below forces the corporate press and American politicians to shift on this - are all difficult but possible.


Perhaps nature will continue to wage a war - with help from British Petroleum and Fukushima and drought in the West and Hurricane Sandy...Perhaps Obama could take Lincolnesque leadership on this…


Meacham is a creature of the establishment, a former editor of Newsweek and unintentionally hilariously, according to Abramson, "a supporter of the social status quo." (Abramson edits the "reporting" pages of the Times which have been often ridiculously pro-"Republican"...).

Meacham offers no original thoughts about Jefferson - she praises him for being "up to date" on scholarship. The idea that a new 700 page book would satisfy academic expectations by repeating what is already known from others is foolish. But he does, she tells us, have some fresh anecdotes...

Abramson apparently thinks such remarks a recommendation, though tucked in this uncomfortable ballad to unoriginality and the status quo is the thought that it is all "not conceptually bold"*:

"Books in this mode [the "Flawed Giant" cliche to which she dutifully does obeisance] usually present their subjects as figures of heroic grandeur despite all-too-human shortcomings — and so, again, speak directly to the current moment, with its diminished faith in government and in the nation’s elected leaders."

"Few are better suited to this uplifting task than Meacham. A former editor of Newsweek, he has spent his career in the bosom of the Washington political and New York media establishments. His highly readable biographies are well researched, drawing on new anecdotal material and up-to-date historiographical interpretations (thereby satisfying both journalistic and scholarly expectation). At the same time his rendering of people and events reflects and reifies Establishment values and ideals. His new book lacks the conceptual boldness of those by Ellis and Gordon-Reed but lies close to his own preoccupations — as gleaned from the many glittering names in his acknowledgments, from Robert Caro to Mika Brzezinski, that exhibit an impressively well-tuned appreciation for the social status quo." (Jill Abramson, "Grand Bargainer ‘Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power,’ by Jon Meacham," New York Times Sunday Book Review, November 2, 2012, p. 1 here)

What his book may ornament is some cocktail party conversation about gridlock.


In an interview with Salon, Meacham insists that he has not let Jefferson “off the hook” about slavery.

"[interviewer]: I really want to talk about the way Jefferson dealt with slavery. You write that “he knew slavery was a moral wrong and believed it would ultimately be abolished. He could not, however, bring himself to work for emancipation.” You make a point of saying in the book that he needs to be judged in the context of his times. But there were politicians of that era who did work for emancipation. And you’ve just praised his ability to compromise, to settle for half a loaf. But isn’t this a moral issue where he should not be let off the hook so easily?"

"{Jon Meacham] Totally. The greatest failing of his life, and he is very much on the hook for this, is that he did not apply his essentially optimistic nature informed by a pragmatic skill set to slavery. And do you know why he didn’t do it? There are two reasons. One is: He tried as a young man and he lost. He tried as a lawyer, he tried a couple of bills in the House of Burgesses, he tried anti-slavery sections in the Declaration of Independence [sic - he blamed King George for stirring "domestic insurrections," that is slave revolts which the colonists sought to crush - the Declaration is, in fact, the opposite of an abolitionist document - and in draft sentences removed in the final document, blamed the British for the slave trade], and he prohibited — in 1784, this is very important, in 1784 he wrote a draft of the ordinance for new territories that would have prohibited slavery and it lost by a single vote. It’s a very important thing."

"It failed by a single vote, and he has this marvelous line about — I think a representative from New Jersey wasn’t there, it’s always about New Jersey — and he wrote in his autobiography, `For the want of a single vote, God was silent in that awful moment.'"

"So, here’s what happened: I think he decided to give up because he didn’t want to be defeated decisively and in public. The damnable thing about this is that if anybody was clever enough, as you just said, or skilled enough to have tried at least to have pressed ahead with more progressive legislation, it was him. And the fact that he didn’t is a thing for which he will be ever condemned by history, I think. And rightfully so."

Now Jefferson, as politician, expanded the territory of slaveholding with the Louisiana Purchase and the Missouri Compromise, even though he knew, early on, that slavery is evil. Jefferson knew the evil he was committing even though as Meacham says in a single good line "he could not envision a biracial society while creating it [with Sally Hemmings]."


In yet another review in the Times (November 21, 2012) here, Janet Maslin names what is silly about the book up-front:

"The word “self-evident” has different relevance to Jon Meacham’s new biography, “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power.” “The Art of Power” takes less note of how self-evidently Jefferson’s personal life as a slaveholder violated his principled talk of liberty. But that is another recurring theme in this temperate, only modestly ambitious biography."

And she adds acidly:

"When it comes to the force that he wielded as a slaveholder, Mr. Meacham finds ways to suggest that thoughts of abolition would have been premature; that it was not uncommon for white heads of households to be waited on by slaves who bore family resemblances to their masters; and that since Jefferson treated slavery as a blind spot, the book can too."

But as my Black Patriots and Loyalists (May 2012) shows, the issue of emancipation was central, on both sides, in the American Revolution and thus, hardly "premature" or "anachronistic." Those phrases are the dodge of conventional and in this respect dramatically misleading biographers like Meacham, some well-known historians like Gordon Wood, and the just-opened Museum of the American Revolution. See here. It takes effort not to look at slaves and poor whites as agents, to maintain the myth


As reviewer and editor, Jill Abramson celebrates the remaking of Presidents for current use, to take color from and give color to immediate settings. Meacham’s book serves as a pretext and is not, in the long review, much explored.

Perhaps Abramson really did not like the book more than Maslin but decided to cast it up favorably among the general recountings of the Myth of the Founding Fathers and the Presidents, and the Times (and reviewers') unwillingness very much to come to grips with rank and file protest, black and white, and the racism which has profoundly damaged American history. See here.


The movie "Lincoln" is thus a much more advanced example of this genre, and one which deals with perhaps the most significant moral passage in the history of American Presidencies: the 13th Amendment. This Amendment, a result of Civil War, of carnage sweeping away some 600,000 dead and of huge mass movements from below like those led by John Brown which at Harper's Ferry, triggered the War, outlaws slavery and indentured servitude in America at home and abroad (foreseeing perhaps some colonies).


Difficult to pass, hanging by a thread in the House, probably doomed if the surrender occurred before its passage, the Amendment contains the miserable clause “except for those duly convicted of crimes.” The Ku Klux Klan-“Democratic” Party South, which won a bloody victory through lynchings of decent people in 1876, used this clause to make a crime of being black and send large numbers of people to work and die as slaves for big corporations like US Steel, as Douglas Blackmon retells in his fine Slavery by Another Name. Blackmon worked as the Atlanta Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal, and his book, revealing an important passage in social history, has broken through to some mainstream publicity – see the good review in 2008 by Janet Maslin, "What Emancipation Didn’t Stop After All" here.

My colleague Arthur Gilbert teaches Black Patriots and Loyalists, Slavery by Another Name and Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow to underline the depths of American racism, still explosive today (racism about Obama was at the heart of much of the "birther" "Republican" Presidential campaign from Trump to Romney; the prison-industrial complex; the murder of Trayvon Martin...).


But the 13th Amendment grandly removes the blot of slavery in the American constitution. See here and Staughton Lynd’s edited collection on Class Conflict, Slavery and the US Constitution (Bobbs-Merrill, 1968, reprinted Cambridge, 2009).


"Our" founding “fathers” were often slave-owners. That is, from the standpoint of human freedom, at least as important a fact about them as that they led the first new nation to independence.

For 52 of the first 72 years of the Republic(from 1788 to 1860, the election of Lincoln), the Presidents owned slaves. The only ones elected twice whipped and sold and raped - or their male relatives raped - human beings...

Thus, their conception of democratic freedom, equal basic liberties, was often peculiar at best – restricted to white men. What they created, John Laurens, now not much discussed as a central figure until Black Patriots and Loyalists, Tom Paine, and Benjamin Franklin, among others, excepted, was not a free regime and one which has paid an unspeakable price in blood and corruption for the racism of its founding.


In addition, pace Abramson, Lincoln was no tepid creature of the establishment, frequently a sign, since it is celebrated merely for its social significance, of personal dullness, but rather a self-taught lawyer from Illinois and the first successful Presidential candidate of a new party. And of course, the American Revolution was also a revolution, bringing to power those often not before prominent in colonial circles.

Correspondingly, outsider aspirations and writing might cast up some novel insights into American politics beyond the recycling of biographies of the Founding Fathers...


But despite its real merits, “Lincoln” is not quite accurate even about Lincoln. In the course of the Civil war, Lincoln did issue the Emancipation Proclamation. He did so late, two years in. There is a history to how he came to lead so strikingly for justice, shown in the film in his relation to Thaddeus Stevens, an at last abolitionist politician to an abolitionist truth-teller (Tommie Lee Jones as Stevens is as startling as Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln).

For Lincoln would, for a long time, have kept the Union with slavery rather than fought a war against the Secessionist South to abolish it.


Lincoln's greatness was driven by black soldiers who fight in the beginning of the film against white Confederates and kill them (as the Confederates murdered black soldiers) and are there in the scene of the surrender. Black people, including perhaps a silent and unnamed but outside the movie, marvelously eloquent Frederick Douglas, appear upstairs in Congress at the final vote.


But they are mainly glimpsed in the surroundings, as are the black men and women who attend to Lincoln and Stevens (Stevens’ housekeeper turns out charmingly to be his love). There are conversations at the beginning, the black soldier speaking with Lincoln of being paid $3 less an hour, and the poignant words of Lincoln and a black woman whose son has died fighting for American liberty and emancipation. She speaks as his proud mother and though a servant, as an avatar of the spirit of democratic liberty.


To put it in broader perspective, 184,000 black soldiers - as Frederick Douglas said, you respected our freedom only when we died for the Union - won the Civil War for the North and were, centrally, the real patriots.

The film only implies this. But as the first scene suggests, the experience of what emancipation meant in life inspired Lincoln's determination to write these words forever into the Constitution...


But this movie is also primarily about Lincoln as a President, a white man surrounded by white men and women (notably Mary Todd Lincoln), black soldiers and servants as background, determined to fight for freedom.


Steven Spielburg once gave us "Amistad," where the uprising of blacks on the slave ship is the central issue along with American and to some extent British justice.

Even there, former President John Quincy Adams (played by Anthony Hopkins), the dedicated and eloquent fighter for freedom, was a central figure, along with Djamon Huntsou as Amistad.

"Amistad" is a different film, one also connected to the surprising decency of a former President, though focused in a trial - a secure, judicial setting - and yet this time with the revolt at sea as its name.


But blacks and poor white abolitionists fought from below (not just in Congress as Thaddeus Stevens does in the movie) and discussed and shaped politics - John Brown who initiated the Civil War or Harriet Tubman** or Douglass. To reveal them would shift away from the "establishment" stories of the great men, the Presidents or Kings and Queens and actually get to democracy. See my Black Patriots and Loyalists, out this past May, for a pointed contrast during the American Revolution here.


What is the significance of "Lincoln" in the genre? Unlike the standard air-headedness about Presidents which is ingredient to the American celebration and the Times as a Fourth of July reviewer/perpetuator/keeper of the flame, and unlike accounts of past Presidents imprisoned by current issues even when important (“All the news that’s fit to print") trimmed to the present-day and thus not dealing deeply with problems and the movements which gave them life, this film makes Lincoln's determination to defeat slavery vivid.

Bondage is the American issue, what has made America the monstrosity as well as the engine of freedom and democracy, which it is (genocide toward native americans and the seizure of a large part of Mexico and exploitation of chicanos also figure centrally).

The reelection of Obama, again a determined multiracial effort, is another important blow - still very limited in relation to the mass imprisonment and unemployment of young people - to make at last "a more perfect union."


But don’t hold your breath in this era of non-Keynsianism - the denial of the central scientific insight in modern economics, that in a depression, the government needs to hire the poor to engage in public works or cut their taxes and thus, put new demand into the economy, even in "economics" departments and more importantly, public policy accompanied by the stealing money from the poor and the old – for a film about FDR and the fight of the Unemployed Councils and unions in the 1930s for unemployment insurance, social security and the right to unionize.

All of these would barely be mentioned in a Hollywood or New York Times biography version of Roosevelt, the negotiations for the Wagner Act in Congress, in a hypothetical or fantasy parallel, would be all important.

Oh yes, FDR and Eleanor and the English King and Queen - War against the Nazis - does make the big screen...


Don’t hold your breath for the scenes of anti-racist organizing from below or the tale of the Scottsboro boys or Angelo Herndon on trial for his life…


But “Lincoln” commendably shows the President’s determination to use the war to consolidate emancipation. It underlines the political difficulties of it, the fragility of the sudden triumph. It shows why Thaddeus Stevens, like Frederick Douglass, was abruptly and with difficulty swept along because Lincoln fought for and gave his life for making the American democracy a serious and lasting experiment in freedom, despite Civil War, and in spite of all.

Lincoln's words, signed by the blood of his death, are the deepest and most human moment in the American story.


I, too, shed tears as he descended the White House stairs that last time.


The movie shows Lincoln backhandedly purchasing votes of Democrats for the Amendment. It shows Lincoln going himself to speak to some of the waverers.

It shows some of them voting against the Amendment, but one suddenly realizing what freedom is, and shouting "Aye."


The movie shows the House, a petty and preening instituton of American politics (the Senate is even worse), a people’s body to a limited extent (pretty much, all lawyers and wealthy now), actually doing something – almost despite itself - of moral grandeur.

It shows why Thaddeus Stevens (who had paid a heavy price, who had been beaten and crippled seated at his desk on the floor of the House by one of the fanatic racist Southern politiicians – Tommie Lee Jones walks with a cane but the film does not share why) - supported Lincoln: Daniel Day Lewis speaks wonderful lines about how they are both true north, but there are obstacles, which must be surmounted, on the path to getting there.


Douglass was furious for a long time about Lincoln’s wretched efforts to secure the Union and keep slavery. But as Lincoln acted, Douglass saw and rose to and honored what Lincoln was doing.


Lincoln was not simply for what was right. But he fought for what was right across the most formidable obstacles and brought the democracy to what is genuinely a new birth of freedom, one greater than the gradual emancipation in the Northern states during and following the American Revolution (see again Black Patriots and Loyalists).


The 13th Amendment I had known was in 1865. But Tony Kushner’s script reveals how Lincoln fought to make the Emancipation Proclamation not an instrument of war – to be abolished when Jim Crow was restored – the principled law of the United States. Despite a future century of awful setbacks, the 13th amendment made the constitution a document of freedom.

Before that, it was but the Bill of Rights for white men and a license for bondage.

Today, even the “Republicans” who want to overturn Brown v. Board – the Supreme “Court,” echoing the infamous voter suppression by “Tea Party” secretaries of state may soon reverse the protections of the 1965 voting act - are unable to overturn the 13th Amendment and often refer - unintentionally ironically - to the moral greatness of Martin Luther King…


This film reveals to each of us the moral grandeur of Lincoln and the sacrifice of so many from below, so many soldiers, to write decency with their blood into the Constitution.


The movie casts up Lincoln’s use of executive power to save the union, in “Lincoln”’s words here, not just as a way of stripping habeas corpus from traitors – those who advocated for the confederacy in the North, as C. Herman Pritchett, a teacher of constitutional law at Chicago with Leo Strauss, emphasizes in his once well-known textbooks. Pritchett's courses are where Herbert Storing and all the neocon teachers of “prerogrative” or “executive power” to Cheney – Robert Goldwin in particular as well as Michael Malbin – found their “precedent”…See here.e

Instead, the movie shows more deeply that the Emancipation Proclamation which freed Southern “property” in humans for military reasons, could easily have been reversed by the foul Dred Scott court (that decision echoed Article 4 section 2 clause 3 of the then Constitution which sought to prevent blacks against from escaping to the Crown to fight for freedom and against the bizarre and sometimes aware of freedom, often deeply averse to it slave-owners who proclaimed freedom to the world while…enslaving human beings. See here.


Executive order alone, as Lincoln saw, could not make American democracy free. The post-Civil War Courts could easily have reversed it. Only the 13th Amendment could consolidate it. It was that far-sighted transformation for freedom, making the Constitution a clean and not a slave-owner’s document and ultimately realizing (to the extent it has been realized) the promise of democracy in America which Lincoln, who was himself a lawyer, saw and politicked for.


Having just been on a civil rights delegation with the Dorothy Cotton institute in Palestine, having lived long with the sense of my childhood friend Andy Goodman going down for freedom and equality from Walden School in New York (a progressive school, named for Theoreau and Walden Pond) to be murdered, along with James Cheney and Michael Schwerner by the sheriff and a mob in Philadelphia Mississippi in Freedom Summer, 1964, a century after the time depicted in the movie, I am keenly aware of how frail freedom is here, and the price, particularly by ordinary black, latin, indigenous, asian, arab, jewish and other white people, that has been given for it.


This experience of fighting from below, particularly by black soldiers, gave Lincoln the determination to fight through in the House, the drama of the film, for the 13th Amendment against a premature peace which would have reconsolidated racist wretchedness in America. Lincoln saw that executive power was not enough, that there must be leadership for equal freedom, but that the people – institutionalized in the Congress – must stand up for it.

That is, surely, a great and important idea caught in this movie even though the movement from below that led to it is neglected or elided. It is not the only causal story in the Civil War but it is, for once, an important one about Presidential leadership.


Lincoln’s greatness – his commitment to freedom and democracy – his eloquence, his humor, his family life, and his assassination are all caught in this movie with great power.

Lincoln is also merciful, pardoning a young man who could have been shot as a deserter (perhaps he sees his son, Robert), speaking at the end of the film of respecting others: “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” He and Obama (who has learned from Lincoln and Gandhi and King) are two figures in American politics who stand for defeating but not destroying opponents, for looking to the good of democracy, for trying to secure a decent peace.

But Lincoln was great, and his politicking is great because, amidst the Civil War and corruption, he fought to extend freedom (his policies toward native americans are another matter, however).


But does this capture what ordinary people did for emancipation? Do the blacks who drove America at immense price – they produced the America of the South, the foul mansions, and they drove victory in the Civil War – are they really and fully here?


Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War of Independece, published after 4 years review and 16 years work by the University of Chicago Press, tells the story of fighting for freedom/emancipation from below before and during the American Revolution. See here. It makes clear that our revolution for independence was part of a great international revolt against slavery staring in twenty uprisings in the Caribbean which sailors, black and white, carried to London and Boston in the 1860s, and which was taken up in the working class taverns and revolutionary crowds, not high places.

Black Patriots and Loyalists shows how blacks came to fight on both sides for emancipation, how the Royal cause initially overshadowed the American in this regard, but how many Americans from below and in high places like the forgotten John Laurens carried through the fight for freedom. Laurens was a founding father who wanted to free slaves and lead them into battle and pressed a Congressional Resolution for this - the Laurens proposal - which triumphed in 1779, freeing and recruiting 3,000 blacks in South Carolina and 2,000 in Georgia, the zenith of serious freedom in the American Revolution. (Note: gradual emancipation in 1780 in Pennsylvania and the 1782 emancipation by the high court in Massachussetts, among others, were also great acts of freedom). The American story - a democratic story - is hardly just a tale of Presidents and Founders.


This story the New York Times, though it often reviews Chicago books in history, has not yet covered. The Abramson review, giving the stamp of the editorial page to often empty Presidential biography writing, is a low point in recycling the myth of the Presidents and how it gets on coffee-tables.

But as the movie “Lincoln” shows, even within this limited genre, one may reach for greatness. That movie is not incidentally related to the reelection of Barack Obama, the new coalition which pushed for it, the fight from below to keep America a democracy and moving slowly toward freedom and decency against great odds…

*For a conceptual equivalent, check out David Brooks's vaporous column in the Times Friday which touts Lincoln's handling of the 13th Amendment as an emblem of all mainstream politics.

**Gwendolyn Briley-Strand does brilliant performances as "Harriet Tubman: the Chosen One" and there are films of these. I saw her perform at ASALH, the Association for the Study of Afrcan-American Life and History, and if you want the grandeur of the Americans who risked everything for freedom, her work is startling.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The murder of Rushdi Tamimi and beating and jailing of Bassem Tamimi

Two days ago, Rushdi Tamimi was murdered for nonviolent protest against the Occupation of Gaza in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. He was shot by armed young men sicced by the government of Israel, which also occupies the West Bank, on nonviolent protestors. The villagers protest against the Wall, dividing and stealing their land, and the settlers who seize or burn the olive trees on which these farmers depend.

Here is a youtube video of the killing, filmed by Boshra Tamimi. Do not watch it unless you are prepared to take in horror.

I was watching from a rooftop a nonviolent demonstration at this place in Nabi Saleh four weeks ago.


After the initial tear gas canisters, after the rubber coated bullets hard as rocks, after their demonstration was attacked, teenagers throw rocks far away from the tanks, David against Goliath.

And the soldiers come with their guns and shoot live ammunition. Rushdi was shot once, was surrounded by soldiers shot again and kicked in the head. The film shows his relatives in Nabi Saleh surrounding him, pleading with the soldiers to let them take him to a hospital in Ramallah.

He survives to the hospital, his parents kiss him, he kisses them before being taken to the operating room.


Everyone should see this video - suppressed in the America "news" media.(h/t Itziar). Though such videos are easily available, they are beyond the Wall of silence of the American corporate media for whom Israeli lives are valuable, Palestinian lives are not.


Rushdi was murdered by crazed young men - "soldiers" - who are part of an illegal occupation and "transfer" (ethnic cleansing), part of creating Greater Israel.


Who does such things and can show his or her face to the world?


This is part of an increasing cycle of violence and murder.

See my discussion of the Israeli aggression in Gaza here.


Mercifully, there is a cease-fire just now. But none of this affects the ongoing story of murders in the West Bank, just part of the ordinary operating procedure of the army of occupation.


Last week, Donnie Betts interviewed Vincent Harding, Brian Walt and Carolyn McKinstry from our civil rights delegation to Palestine. Listen here. Vincent emphasizes his friendship - they became cousins - with Bassem Tamimi who has led nonviolent resistance to the Wall - already and often at great cost, font instance, the murder by a tear gas canister of Mustafa Tamimi here and here. Two weeks ago, Bassem took part in a nonviolent protest for freedom at a supermarket in one of the illegal settlements. He had been in jail for 16 months and was just seized and beaten by Israeli soldiers as he left the super market. He was then sentenced in a military "court" to prison for 4 months.

Nonviolent protest is met by aggressive and paranoid violence - that is what Israel is.


The words that proclaim Israel's Declaration of Independence uphold the rights of every citizen, regardless of ethnicity. That is a still a hope for the people of Israel who are forfeiting through murderousness, day by day, the chance of establishing a decent footing in the Middle East.

For in the Occupied Territories, people are systematically thrown away. A settler's son throws feces on the old market in Hebron. The IDF does not arrest him because it is in Hebron only to protect the illegal settlements.

The IDF and every member of it who does not resist - we met Natan, an heroic member of Breaking the Silence who showed us around the violently and illegally established "Jews-only" settlement in the center of Hebron - is an agent of apartheid.


A Palestinian teenager who perhaps has thrown a rock at a tank or who, in any case, is breathing while Palestinian, is arrested at 2AM by the IDF. He is taken to a prison, often tortured, eventually subject to a military "court". He has habeas corpus - a day in court - in 8 days. He is often held for months and tortured.

The settler's son, were he to be arrested, would be brought before a judge in a civilian court within 24 hours...


The crime of apartheid is defined by the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as inhumane acts of a character similar to other crimes against humanity "committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime."

The apartheid policies extend into Israel. Palestinians often do not have power to buy a house or are restricted as to where they can be, what they can do. But a Jew from America can settle anywhere or be funded in the settlements, say as David Wilder, the New Jersey Jew with his vision of Judea and Samaria, his Glock at his side along with tzitzis (prayer strings), living in violence and fear...See here.


As Rabbi Walt points out, it is Israel's occupation of which Wilder's violence is an aspect which makes his being in Hebron illegal and illegitimate. Every person has a right - should have a right - to settle peacefully anywhere, Jews as well as Arabs. But no occupier and no representative has a right to force other people off their land, destroy a bustling market, enforce racist discrimination (apartheid) in order to impose, by force, external rule. And one power, the state of Israel, alone does this to the people who lived on the land in 1948 and again, after 1967.


The facts on the ground are those of calculating racism, reinforced by the current slaughters in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel allows Palestinians to be alive but without dignity, subject to constant violence and abuse. That is why an Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Metan Vilnai calls for a shoah against Palestinians on army radio - here.


Vilnai's word shoah - the Hebrew name for the Holocaust - needs to be taken in. The murders and jailings of the Tamimis are part of something which has this basic character, strains toward massacre. The Army Minister reveals the current "European" fantasies of Israel - as the tsars and Hitler toward Jews, so the state of Israel toward Palestinians - to the world...


As Vincent emphasizes, Jews have long fought for the rights of others in the American civil rights movement and elsewhere. Stemming from Amos and Isaiah, Jews have a long tradition of standing up to murderous and corrupt powers. We should join with the Palestinians - as Anarchists against the Wall do - and others in fighting this.

But time not spent fighting this, time spent just living in Israel or America, sadly cooperates in racist oppression, just as much as living in the segregated South or in apartheid South Africa cooperated in it.

The state of Israel is powerful; ordinary people are not. Those who want change cannot hope to obtain it quickly. But it is necessary to act.


There is a dance of oppression in Israel and in America which provides the weapons that arm the IDF. There is an American imprint on the soldiers in the video showing the murder of Rushdi Tamami, in the guns they carry, the tear gas canisters made in Pennsylvania...

The state of Israel has also notably corrupted America, the ideas of the Bush-Cheney regime being little more than the warmed-over racism toward "Arabs" and Palestinians and a consequent "license" to "preempt" - commit aggression - and torture characteristic of Israel.


The drones of the Obama administration in Pakistan belie Netanyahu's and Obama's rhetoric that "no country would tolerate missiles." Why then is the Obama administration - as the aggressor in Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia - firing missiles into each and murdering civilians?


The truth is: the Pakistanis, under international law and ordinary moral standards of decency, have every right to resist the missiles being fired by America into their territory. Even more do the occupied Palestinians though the Hamas firing of missiles, a response to Israel's murder of a teenager last week, is still counterproductive and also murders innocents.

Nonviolence is the way against the oppressor's violence, but with a Wall of silence in the American media and even the BBC surrounding the Palestinians even more than the physical Wall through the Occupied Territories, this will take time to breach.


Both Jews and Palestinians need places to live in dignity. A two state settlement or a democracy with equal rights could achieve this. But continuing occupation and ever-new red "settlements," like fancy American suburbs up on a hill, will not.


Each of us must act against the occupation which underlies the current "elections war" in Gaza.

We must pray for those murdered, for those who feel the heart-break and rage - myself among us - and need to find the spiritual balance and power to act against these atrocities nonviolently.

If Bassem Tamimi can find that strength, so can we in solidarity.

None of us can be silent.


First West Bank Martyr in Demonstrations Against the Assault on Gaza

Rushdi Tamimi (31) was injured by a live ammunition bullet shot at his back, two days ago in Nabi Saleh. He passed away today in Ramallah Hospital

On Saturday, November 17th, clashes erupted in the village of Nabi Saleh north west of Ramallah, after Israeli soldiers entered the village following a protest residents held a demonstration in against the assault on Gaza. During the clashes soldiers used extensive live ammunition bullets, rubber coated steel bullets, and tear gas.

According to eyewitnesses, Rushdi Tamimi (31) was shot first with a rubber coated steel bullet that hit him in the back, he fell on the ground. Afterward soldiers shot him again, this time with a live ammunition bullet which entered through his hip and into his gut.

When soldiers came closer to Rushdi, they gave him a blow to the head with the butt of one of their rifles, even though he told them he was injured, and then shot him with another rubber coated steel bullet in the stomach. Soldiers then attempted to drag him through the rocky terrain instead of providing him with medical treatment.

They continued to shoot live ammunition towards residents and prevented them, including Rushdi’s sister, from approaching him and bringing him to an ambulance meanwhile while saying, “I don’t care” and “it’s not my problem.” See here.

Rushdi was finally transferred to Ramallah Hospital where he underwent surgery. He suffered from ruptured intestines and two arteries. Today, Monday, he passed away in the hospital.

Rushdi Tamimi is the first martyr of the West Bank demonstrations which have erupted as a protest again the war on Gaza. He is also the second martyr from the village of Nabi Saleh in the past three years since the village began holding weekly Friday popular struggle demonstrations.

His funeral will begin tomorrow, Tuesday, at the Ramallah Hospital and will be brought to burial in Nabi Saleh at 2pm.

Over the past few days the Israeli army has used live ammunition in multiple locations against Palestinian unarmed demonstrations against the war on Gaza. In addition to Rushdi Tamimi, at least five more people have been injured from live ammunition today, two during clashes in Attara, one in Takua near Bethlehem, and two in Hebron.


By +972blog |Published November 6, 2012
Bassem Tamimi sentenced to 4 months in Israeli military jail
In a plea bargain, Bassem Tamimi was sentenced to four months in prison, ordered to pay a fine of NIS 5,000, and given an additional three-year suspended sentence. Just recently having completed a 13-month prison stint, he was arrested last month while taking part in a protest at a settlement supermarket.

By Alon Aviram

[the program would not reproduce the photograph]
Bassem Tamimi arrested at the Rami Levy supermarket protest (credit: ActiveStils)

Ofer Military Prison — A series of military courts operate inside a row of cramped and dilapidated cabins. An Israeli flag hung from the ceiling overlooking a line of seated and shackled defendants. Courtroom staff and defendants looked equally bored, both by the tedious bureaucratic processes at hand, and with 99.74 percent of all trials in Israeli military courts ending with a conviction, they were probably aware of the outcome. People wandered in and out, disrupting any fleeting sense of an orderly courtroom environment. The translator slouched on an office chair, every so often forgetting to translate the judge and lawyers from Hebrew in to Arabic for the defendants. Bassem Tamimi, 45, father of four, a school teacher and a grassroots protest organizer from the village of Nabi Saleh, was ordered to stand before the military clad judge.

Arrested on October 24 during a protest action at a branch of Rami Levy, a Jewish-owned supermarket chain, Tamimi stood accused of illegal assembly, interfering with police work and breaching a suspended sentence. Rather than risk being remanded during what would likely become a lengthy trial, Tamimi’s defense lawyer, Neri Ramati, reached a plea bargain on his behalf with the prosecution. The judge approved the agreement, and sentenced Tamimi to a total of four months in prison, ordered him to pay a fine of NIS 5,000, and imposed on him an additional three year suspended sentence. Despite the verdict, Tamimi occasionally turned to smile at activists who attended the hearing, and when it ended, he raised his hand in a V sign for victory.

Bassem Tamimi has been detained by Israeli authorities 13 times, at one point spending more than three years in administrative detention without trial. In 1993, as a result of an interrogation by the Israeli Shin Bet, Tamimi was left unconscious for eight days and required surgery for a brain injury. Following a demonstration on March 24, 2011, against the expropriation of land belonging to his village of Nabi Saleh by a neighboring Jewish settlement, he spent 13 months in prison.

Tamimi is recognized internationally for his work in organizing peaceful protests against the encroachment onto Palestinian lands by Israeli settlers. The European Union has described him as a “human rights defender,” and Amnesty International has demanded his release as a “prisoner of conscience.”