What I Saw Last Friday in Hebron

Palestinians asked American Jews to join them in a ‘Freedom Summer.’ The result was extraordinary.

Peace activists clean around Palestinian houses as Israeli army soldiers stand guard in Tal Rumaida, Hebron, West Bank, July 15, 2016. Credit: Mussa Qawasma, Reuters
Peace activists clean around Palestinian houses as Israeli army soldiers stand guard in Tal Rumaida, Hebron, West Bank, July 15, 2016. Credit: Mussa Qawasma, Reuters

By Peter Beinart

Jawad Abu Aisha owns a cluttered yard in H2, the sector of Hebron that falls under direct Israeli control. He’d like to turn it into a cinema. Many local Palestinians — lacking recreational opportunities — would like to help him. But Abu Aisha says that Jewish settlers, and the Israeli military, prevent him from developing the space. In a democracy, if your neighbors impede construction on your property, you can appeal to local authorities. But for Palestinians in Hebron, Israel is not a democracy. They can’t vote for its government. They live under military law. So when settlers disrupt Palestinian construction on privately owned Palestinian land — as part of their effort to make Palestinian life in H2 so unbearable that Palestinians leave — the army and police do their bidding. The army and police, after all, are accountable to Israeli citizens. And in Hebron, as throughout the West Bank, Jewish settlers are citizens. Palestinians are subjects.

I saw this firsthand last Friday when I left a family vacation in Israel to join 52 Jewish activists, mostly from the Diaspora, on a trip to Hebron organized by the Center for Jewish Nonviolence and the anti-occupation collective, All That’s Left. We came at the request of a group called Youth Against Settlements. It’s burly, charismatic leader, a student of Gandhi and Martin Luther King named Issa Amro, asked Diaspora Jews to come and help clear Abu Aisha’s yard. He didn’t need American Jewish muscle. He needed American Jewish privilege, the privilege that gives American Jews protection from the Israeli state. Issa hoped that privilege would buy his group a few hours of uninterrupted yard work. He also hoped it would bring them publicity.

Think of Issa as a Palestinian Robert Moses. By 1964, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee had been working for years to register African Americans in Mississippi to vote. But local whites brutalized them, often aided by the police. So Moses recruited northern white kids to come south for “Freedom Summer.” He hoped the media would follow, and that once white Americans saw segregation’s true face, they’d push their politicians to support civil rights. Among the more than 1,000 activists who heeded Moses’ call were Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, college students from New York whose murder, alongside African American James Chaney, has become American Jewish legend.

I’ll never know what it felt like to be in Mississippi in 1964. But last Friday, watching dozens of twenty-something American Jewish kids (and a few older activists) haul junk in Abu Aisha’s yard in Hebron, I felt an unusual sensation: hope.

I felt hope because American Jewish Millennials are different. My generation, which came of age in the 1990s, didn’t build a single organization that challenged the American Jewish establishment on Israel. That’s partly because, during the Oslo era, we thought American, Israeli and Palestinian leaders would create a two-state solution on their own. But it’s also because the 1990s were a lost decade for the American activist left, an “ice age,” in Cornel West’s words.

Haaretz

Poor People Need a Higher Wage, Not a Lesson in Morality

David Brooks’ rendition of poverty is as “representative” of people with low-incomes as corrupt corporate titans are of small entrepreneurs.

By Greg Kaufmann in The Nation

Baltimore, Maryland (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Baltimore, Maryland (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“The idea that poverty is a problem of persons—that it results from personal moral, cultural, or biological inadequacies—has dominated discussions of poverty for well over two hundred years and given us the enduring idea of the underserving poor.”

—Michael Katz, The Undeserving Poor

In a recent op-ed, New York Times columnist David Brooks called for a “moral revival,” one which requires “holding people responsible” so that we have “social repair.”

To illustrate the need for said revival—which he frames as a reassertion of social norms—Brooks offers what he describes as three “representative figures” of “high school-educated America”: a man whose mother was absent, Dad is in prison, attended seven elementary schools, and “ended up under house arrest”; a girl who was “one of five half-siblings from three relationships,” whose mom lost custody of the kids to an abuser, and whose dad left a woman because another guy had fathered their child; and, finally, a kid who “burned down a lady’s house when he was 13” and says, “I just love beating up somebody and making they nose bleed…and beating them to the ground.”

So goes the latest iteration of the “undeserving poor,” an age-old concept brilliantly excavated by the late historian Michael Katz in his book of the same title. Like the long lineage it stems from, Brooks’ rendition is as “representative” of people with low-incomes as corrupt corporate titans are of small entrepreneurs. Anecdotally, in my years working for Boys and Girls Clubs, reporting as a poverty correspondent for The Nation, and now editing TalkPoverty.org which regularly features posts from people living in poverty—Brooks’ “representative figures” remind me of exactly zero people I have met during this time. I’m not saying that these individuals don’t exist, but they have little to do with the policies or the morality we need to dramatically reduce poverty in America.

Read more at The Nation

The Laws That Killed Eric Garner

From Ferguson to Staten Island, America’s Failure of Justice

No Justice, No Peace: Demonstrators protest a grand jury’s decision not to indict a New York police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.
No Justice, No Peace: Demonstrators protest a grand jury’s decision not to indict a New York police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

By Jay Michaelson in The Jewish Daily Forward

My hands are quaking with rage right now, but I will choose to write rationally. I can’t believe this has happened again, and happened here, in my own backyard.

“This” being a grand jury failing even to indict a white police officer for killing an unarmed black man. Not even a trial. Not even a public hearing of the evidence.

And this time with a video of the entire incident, which is your moral responsibility to watch.

But I fear that my own city is soon to be engulfed in violence, and the violent people are right. So for that reason, I will try, if I can, to take refuge in reason, and in law.

It’s true that the forces that killed Eric Garner include white supremacy, racism, anger, violence, fear, a broken criminal justice system, a broken healthcare system, and ignorance. And yet another overreacting white police officer.

But I want to focus on law, because it’s something we can do something about. Right after the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, after all, the Bible famously goes into a thousand tiny details of mishpatim, laws. By detailing everything from rules of evidence to the damages for a stolen lamb, the book of Exodus makes a strong claim: that the lofty moral imperatives of Sinai only have meaning if they are translated into just laws. The God is in the details.

American law, however, helped kill Eric Garner – and it will kill more black men like him in the future. Specifically, there is a lethal nexus between judicial deference to police officers on the one hand, and the expansion of police power on the other. Each alone is problematic, but together, they make justice nearly impossible.

Read more at The Jewish Daily Forward

Righteous Indignation in Ferguson

By Simon Waxman in the Boston Review

brown-banner

I am not against using violence in self-defense. I don’t even call it violence when it’s self-defense, I call it intelligence. —Malcolm X

The grand jury’s decision to forgo indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown compels us yet again to recognize that there is more to violence than its dictionary definition.

In clinical terms, violence is physical force intended to cause injury. But when officer Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown this past August, he did not engage in violence. He engaged in self-defense. He was justified.

After the jury’s decision was announced, black Americans and their supporters, who see in the non-indictment a form of impunity, took to the streets of Ferguson and St. Louis. Their righteous indignation amounted to a “night of violence,” according to The Guardian and USA Today. KSDK, a St. Louis NBC affiliate, used a common volcanic metaphor: “Violence erupts in Ferguson: Fire, looting, arrests.” Look at any of the major news outlets—shattered store windows and overturned police cruisers. That is violence, and there need be no inquiry into its justification.

Violence is a moral category, not an act. Where aggression is presumptively unjustified, it is violent. Where it is deemed acceptable by the norms of the community in which it occurs, it is not violence.

It is perilous to extrapolate too greatly from a single case, but that peril is not at issue in Ferguson, where Brown’s shooting reflects a widespread and historically endless pattern of white lawmen, and white men acting under cover of law, injuring and killing black men without engaging in what the society calls violence. Here again, the court asked what the victim did to warrant his fate. But the political problem, which courts can’t consider, is who has access to justification.

Read more at the Boston Review

Simon Waxman is the managing editor of the Boston Review.

Also by Simon Waxman: Zimmerman: The Criminal Trial Is a Privilege of Whiteness

U.S. Religious Leaders Embrace Cause of Immigrant Children

Father Jack Barker of St. Martha’s Catholic Church in Murrieta, Calif., spoke at a vigil.
Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

By Michael Paulson in The New York Times

After protesters shouting “Go home” turned back busloads of immigrant mothers and children in Murrieta, Calif., a furious Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, sat down at his notepad and drafted a blog post detailing his shame at the episode, writing, “It was un-American; it was unbiblical; it was inhumane.”

When the governor of Iowa, Terry E. Branstad, said he did not want the migrants in his state, declaring, “We can’t accept every child in the world who has problems,” clergy members in Des Moines held a prayer vigil at a United Methodist Church to demonstrate their desire to make room for the refugees.

The United States’ response to the arrival of tens of thousands of migrant children, many of them fleeing violence and exploitation in Central America, has been symbolized by an angry pushback from citizens and local officials who have channeled their outrage over illegal immigration into opposition to proposed shelter sites. But around the nation, an array of religious leaders are trying to mobilize support for the children, saying the nation can and should welcome them.

Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist Convention leader, recently took other officials to visit children at Texas detention centers. Credit Jennifer Whitney for The New York Times

“We’re talking about whether we’re going to stand at the border and tell children who are fleeing a burning building to go back inside,” said Rabbi Asher Knight of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, who said leaders of more than 100 faith organizations in his city had met last week to discuss how to help. He said that in his own congregation, some were comparing the flow of immigrant children to the Kindertransport, a rescue mission in the late 1930s that sent Jewish children from Nazi Germany to Britain for safekeeping.

“The question for us is: How do we want to be remembered, as yelling and screaming to go back, or as using the teachings of our traditions to have compassion and love and grace for the lives of God’s children?” Rabbi Knight said.

The backlash to the backlash is broad, from Unitarian Universalists and Quakers to evangelical Protestants. Among the most agitated are Catholic bishops, who have long allied with Republican politicians against abortion and same-sex marriage, and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, whose adherents tend to lean right.

“This is a crisis, and not simply a political crisis, but a moral one,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. On Tuesday, Mr. Moore led a delegation of Southern Baptist officials to visit refugee children at detention centers in San Antonio and McAllen, Tex. In an interview after the visit, Mr. Moore said that “the anger directed toward vulnerable children is deplorable and disgusting” and added: “The first thing is to make sure we understand these are not issues, these are persons. These children are made in the image of God, and we ought to respond to them with compassion, not with fear.”

Read more at The New York Times

There’s no humane way to carry out the death penalty

By Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post

No one who supports the death penalty should have the slightest problem with the way Clayton Lockett died.

Lockett, a convicted murderer, spent 43 minutes in apparent agony Tuesday night as the state of Oklahoma tried to execute him by injecting an untested cocktail of drugs. Instead of quickly losing consciousness, he writhed in obvious distress and attempted to speak. Witnesses described what they saw as horrific.

Prison authorities halted the procedure — they were going to revive Lockett so they could kill him at a later date, presumably in a more aesthetically pleasing manner — but the condemned man suffered a heart attack and died.

The state postponed a second execution that had been scheduled for the same night, but I wonder why. We fool ourselves if we think there is a “humane” way to … kill someone. Sure, the second inmate, Charles Warner, probably would have suffered an equally agonizing death. But isn’t this the whole point?

When I read about the crimes Lockett committed, I wish I could support capital punishment. When I read about what Warner did, I want to strangle him with my own hands. But revenge is not the same thing as justice, and karmic retribution is not a power I trust government to exercise. The death penalty has no place in a civilized society.

Lockett raped, brutalized and murdered an 19-year-old woman who had graduated from high school just two weeks earlier, shooting her and then burying her alive. Lockett and his accomplices also beat and robbed a 23-year-old man and raped an 18-year-old woman. The crimes took place in 1999; Lockett has been awaiting execution since 2000.

Warner, the other man who was to die in the Oklahoma execution chamber Tuesday, was convicted in 1999 of raping and murdering an 11-month-old child who was the daughter of his live-in girlfriend. The baby suffered unspeakable abuse.

The question is not whether Lockett and Warner deserve to die; clearly they do, as far as I’m concerned. The question is whether our society, acting through the instrument of government, should kill them. I believe there is no way to impose capital punishment without betraying the moral standards that our justice system is theoretically designed to uphold. Put simply, when we murder we become murderers.

Perhaps the most powerful argument against the death penalty is that it is irreversible. Sometimes, judges and juries make honest mistakes and innocent people may be condemned to death. Some studies have shown an apparent racial bias in the way capital punishment is meted out, with blacks who kill whites more likely than other defendants to end up on death row.

Read more at The Washington Post

Catholic activists want Pope Francis to match words with actions

Sister Teresa Forcades and other left-leaning religious leaders welcome new papal rhetoric but wonder about substance

From her small convent in the mountains near Barcelona, Harvard-educated Sister Teresa Forcades has emerged as a leading advocate of Spain’s “Indignant” protest movement. Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

Spanish revolutionary, Harvard-educated public health specialist, abortion rights advocate and Roman Catholic nun.

These four labels seldom apply to the same person, but Sister Teresa Forcades, a 48-year-old woman from Barcelona, straddles many worlds.

In Europe she is the star of televised debates on feminism and religion, a leader of the Occupy movement in Spain who has taken on big corporate interests and a fierce critic of modern capitalism.

She pulls no punches with her views. “I don’t think it is possible to have democracy and capitalism. They go against each other because the way we live capitalism is that we allow some corporations to have such power that they are able to influence government. And that’s the problem,” she told Al Jazeera in an interview.

Until recently, these controversial opinions might have led to her being reprimanded by the Vatican. But now, with a new leader in power apparently committed to fundamentally changing the church’s approach on social justice issues, she believes she’s merely taking some of Pope Francis’ ideas and running with them.

The new pope has invigorated the previously isolated social justice wing of the church, a change that many leading activists have welcomed. But at the same time, others are warning that his papacy has so far been more about a shift in tone than about substantive change on key issues such as abortion, women’s ordination and gay rights.

In a much-publicized manifesto for his papacy, Francis lamented the misguided priorities of a world obsessed with money. “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?” he asked.

Francis drives an old Renault, refuses to live in luxurious papal suites, invites homeless people over for dinner and expelled a German bishop for his exorbitant lifestyle. His focus on social justice represents a stark departure from his predecessors’ focus on doctrine and propelled grassroots activism back into the spotlight.

Forcades said his words hinted at a possible revival of liberation theology, a branch of religious philosophy that “has been where the poor have been” and looks at the imperative “to lose fear to be like Jesus was, entangled in political matters.”

In the 1980s, liberation theologists in Latin America worked with local activists against poverty as part of a political movement for the rights of the oppressed. Accused of professing Marxism under the guise of social justice theories, many priests were driven out of countries such as Nicaragua and Mexico, where they assisted local activists in combating poverty and authoritarian governments.

Read more at Al Jazeera

Libertarianism is Very Strange

John Locke 1631-1704 (Image from the Library of Congress – public domain) Wikimedia Commons.

Libertarianism is on the rise, thanks in good measure to many newly politicized techies who have married their live-and-let-live views about lifestyle to leave-me-alone views about taxes and government.I viscerally understand the libertarian mystique, but, outside the fantasy novels of Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein, libertarianism does not make much anthropological or historical sense. As a philosophy, it may; one can build a coherent moral system from almost any starting point, be it God’s breath upon the waters; the first self-replicating, “selfish” gene; or autonomous individuals signing a social contract. And versions of libertarianism have a fierce logical consistency. Robert Nozick’s starting point is the “fact of our separate existences”; “there is no social entity . . . . there are only individual people.” Charles Murray proclaims, “Freedom is first of all our birthright.” America’s founding revolutionists, inhaling the earliest wafts of libertarianism in the 1700s, declared that we are created with “unalienable rights”; that is, people cannot sell themselves into slavery even if they want to, so fundamental is the independence of the individual.

Great ideas, to be sure, but historically odd ones. Clifford Geertz pointed out that “the Western conception of the person as a bounded, unique . . . center of awareness, emotion, judgment, and action . . . is, however incorrigible it may seem to us, a rather peculiar idea within the context of the world’s cultures.” For most of history, including Philadelphia, 1776, more humans were effectively property than free. Children, youth, women, slaves, and servants belonged to patriarchs; many patriarchs were themselves serfs to chiefs and lords. And selling oneself into slavery was routine for the poor in many societies. Most world cultures have treated the individual as a limb of the household, lineage, or tribe. We moderns abhor the idea of punishing the brother or child of a wrongdoer, but in many cultures collective punishment makes perfect sense, for each person is just part of the whole.

What difference does this history and anthropology make to libertarian arguments about the good life? Plenty. If libertarians would move real-world policy in their direction, then their premises about humans and human society should be at least remotely plausible; we are not playing SimCity here. Instead, libertarian premises arise from a worldview that was strange at its origin and is strange now, after the global triumph of liberalism.

Read more at the Boston Review

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