Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Agnes Schenkman - some fond Memories

Agnes Schenkman, a most wonderful woman, died last Friday at the age of 87 in NJ. She was a most significant person in various parts of my life and I'm sad at hearing of her death.

Agnes grew up in NYC, living in the back of a flat (I think) behind her parents medical office (both parents were doctors). She and her husband were strong advocates of social justice, leaving Baton Rouge in significant part because of their support of Civil Rights in 1961. She was the mother of 8 incredible children - 2 girls, then 2 boys, then 2 girls, then 2 boys all of whom I enjoyed as friends at various times.

Agnes lost her beloved husband Gene suddenly 32 or 33 years ago and as most of her kids were grown rebuilt a life for herself, which was very difficult for her.

I will never forget Epsilon Acres, the wonderful farmlet - that was their home for many years. One holiday weekend (I think Thanksgiving) one of their dogs had bitten the legs of one or more sheep, and this was going to result in an infection spreading to all the sheep killing them all. Andrew, their oldest son, and Dan, the second son (and perhaps 1-2 others - can't remember) went out in the cold evening to slaughter all the sheep.

I, of course, stayed in the house. I remember one of Gene's brothers - "went out to check on them" and was back in the house within seconds. No one said anything, however we all knew that he'd Not made it to the "killing area", though at least he made an effort to be supportive.

Agnes was a wonderful loving, caring person. Dinners and social events in general oft times had many people - like 15-20ish around their huge kitchen table. Agnes cooked for all and was most welcoming to all. The children were brought up to think for themselves and to be independent and strong, caring people.

Agnes lived a good life! She is and will be missed! Thanks!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Men's Project - my website/project

A Men’s Project, my new website of web links to resources reaching men on issues of male: violence, health care, child care and other gender issues went live at: Wednesday.

I'm happy to have finally reconnected with the world of men's anti-violence work in a meaningful way after 23 years of relative inactivity. My memories of Men Stopping Rape, Inc. which I helped co-found in Madison, Wisconsin, USA in 1983 are still alive.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Privilege -- Some Thoughts

Recently I've had various experiences which have helped me reflect upon privilege and what it means to me.

In the blogosphere I've recently read parts of various self-described "radical feminist" blogs which I found through responses to Hugo Schwyzer's blog and a blog I found through Hugo's reference to it. I responded to the latter blogger's writings on radical feminism and then had brief private correspondence with him. He largely dismissed my concerns and insights as being either totally inaccurate/wrong or irrelevant to his issues with radical feminism. (I wasn't amused, though not totally surprised.)

Of far more significance was the time I spent last Friday at a conference: "Paving a Road: Removing Barriers for Engaging Men" at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. Upon arrival I ran into and had a nice conversation with Michael Kimmel, a long-time leader in men's pro-feminist thought and activism, who I'd last seen circa 1985. As the day went on I met many other fascinating and significant people including the keynote speaker (I missed her speech unfortunately) Dr. Rachel Griffin of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, Ben Atherton-Zeman, and Robert Jensen (who was "interesting").

Male privilege was a predominant topic at the Conference. I have long thought of privilege in terms of intersections of various areas including:

a. Gender - Male vs. Female
b. Race - White People vs. People of Color
c. Economic Status - Wealthy and Upper-Middle Class People vs.considerably poorer people

and various other factors which may include: sexual orientation, age, disability status, religion, etc.

I am personally privileged in many ways, including being: Male, White, Upper-Middle-Class, middle-aged (barely still), and predominantly heterosexual.

I have been bothered recently hearing (of) others talking in related areas including:

1. Significant, often blatant, questioning of the privilege of White People commonly with attacks upon President Obama which imply that Blacks are at worst "equal" and perhaps wield more power than Whites now, and

2. Questions of male privilege in many areas from both men and women of various perspectives.

In the past I could dismiss similar questions indicating that others were ignoring the influence of important factors most commonly related to economic status. Example: White Men questioning their power might bring me to answer readily that obviously White Women with significantly more wealth might have much more visible privilege than one did as a "White Man".

I still believe that economic status is oft times ignored or minimized in The United States particularly confusing issues relating to privilege.

I also think that we commonly face paradoxes related to dealing with privilege in general that are most important.

When one faces the privilege of another over one, one has quite common reminders of the status differences. When one is a woman and faces issues of male privilege, attempting to ignore that privilege has reminders of it that are difficult to miss.

A woman who seemingly denies male privilege may, for example, feel unsafe walking in the dark fearing a gender based assault from a male stranger. Such a woman may also face various potential business related situations where for example an automobile salesman may presume that the man she is with is "in charge" and direct his conversation initially to him, rather than her. A younger woman may be conscious of her physical appearance and where she is walking being aware the catcalls, stares or similar may common from anonymous men she may pass.

It is correspondingly different where one is from the "dominant" or "privileged" class. I, as a White Person can commonly ignore race as an issue, except in isolated situations in my life. When in a room with no People of Color, I rarely have an issue with this. Where I feel that I have been treated unfairly by someone, generally I don't wonder if why they treated me that way because I am White. Where I am in situations with a small minority of People of Color, there generally is little pressure upon me related to race from anyone else in the room.

Where we, as the privileged class face issues related to our privilege, most commonly we can deal with them in the moment and then ignore them. When I confronted a gas station attendant for his "boob" comment that I felt totally inappropriate, I had done my "good deed" and then was "back to normal". While his statement bothered and surprised me, it didn't shock me.

Where we can't ignore our privilege issues or choose not to stay "normal", it generally relates to some significant tie to the issue we have which separates us from the privileged class as a whole. Feminism became increasingly important to me 30 years ago because I was isolated as "a man" feeling torn between my love of sports and other ways in which I felt very "un-male". Racism issues have an added significance to me beginning eight years ago when I began my relationship with my Black Partner.

As a privileged person we are often must choose whether to "be normal" and go along with the flow or to be in some ways a seeming "traitor to our class". To the degree that we take the seemingly simpler approach, we can try to be "liberal" but "not radical" in what we do. Such approaches may work well for most people, though some may have issues with their conscience to the degree that they feel that they aren't doing enough towards the cause.

When privileged people act as a seeming "traitor to their class" other issues can readily arise. As a White Man if I support feminist causes in more than a token way, I can reach a point where I am seen as both a "hero" and a "villain" depending upon who I am dealing with. Within a feminist world, it is easy for men to get sucked up into the "I'm a good guy" mode which sometimes may limit them doing the work as seriously as they might otherwise do it if the praise gets to them. One can also end up socially isolated and potentially lost in such worlds as an activist. When one no longer relates easily with most men, one may need to struggle to build male allies and friends. One doesn't fit in with feminist women when they want and need "female time".

To the degree one stays close to "normal", one may seemingly have respect and potential influence with others. At the same time it is difficult to help bring about serious change when one is nudging carefully in small increments.

When one becomes "the traitor" one may easily get publicity and be visible, however it can be much harder to get people to listen to the issues and work on them seriously.

Privilege seems to me to be a larger issue, that oft times is ignored by most people. To the degree that I may live in "White Worlds" I don't need to confront issues related to being White and racism issues in general.

Sometimes we need to confront privilege issues related to fairness and integrity in our lives. Usually in such areas we don't expect to reach a lot of other people with this issue, but want to be "a good person" in doing what we do.

At other times we want to confront privilege issues because they also hurt and affect us as well as how they hurt those who are hurt by our privilege. I believe that men hurt by being men. The boxes that we are put in, most commonly by other men, make it tough on us individually and collectively.

I hope that over time we men will realize that we don't have to be an "oppressed class" or "lacking privilege" to want and need to deal with our issues. Through dealing with our issues more of us may learn how feminism and its lessons may help us have happier lives.
Through such changes we can grow and prosper without scapegoating others including both "women" (as "the other") and men who we want to be our allies and friends. Thank You!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Marjorie Reade - A Wonderful Woman

I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan almost 60 years ago. My father was a mathematics instructor at the University of Michigan until his failures to publish significantly forced him to leave (for Purdue University).

Marjorie Reade first knew me as a young baby. I remember her only from my young adulthood until 1988 or 1989 when I last visited her with my (at that time) young son Ben. She always, kind, loving, insightful and very intelligent! While I can't claim to have known her well, I always enjoyed her company.

I just learned that she died in August at the age of 92. What follows is the obituary I found of her.
Reade, Marjorie Marjorie Reade, loving spouse and mother, pillar of her church, Ann Arbor historian, Democratic Party activist, avid gardener, community volunteer and celebrated hostess, died on August 17. She was 92. Born in North Dakota as Marjorie Tibert, she grew up on a remote farm before mechanization and long before electrification. As a child, Marjorie cried when a tornado destroyed her father's crops and her 4-H winning garden. She scraped mud out of the wheels of bogged down buggies and cars, saddled and rode horses or walked five miles to get the mail, cooked for teams of field hands, swept swarms of grasshoppers from the house even as the insects ate the broom, and survived the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and tuberculosis. Yet, Marjorie went on to have Albert Einstein at her first wedding reception, to stand next to John F. Kennedy as he announced his intent to form a Peace Corp at the Univer-sity of Michigan, and to accept an invitation to meet Hillary Clinton at the Clinton White House along with her husband Maxwell. Marjorie graduated from high school in her early teens. She later joined the wartime secretarial pool and was selected as the assistant to two admirals, helping each earn another star. Marjorie was asked to join the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency but she declined. Instead, she married Ann Arbor native Charles L. Dolph, who was a naval officer completing his doctorate at Princeton. Later the couple moved to Ann Arbor, where Marjorie's husband produced ground breaking work on radar and led the Project Mercury plasma flow studies for the Atlas rocket nose cone, which carried astronaut John Glenn to the first earth orbit. Following the tragic deaths of three of their four children, Marjorie and Charles were divorced, but not before the couple agreed to deed Dolph Park to the City of Ann Arbor as a wildlife refuge. In 1967, Marjorie married Maxwell O. Reade, a U-M professor of mathematics whose work had helped end the submarine threat to allied convoys in the North Atlantic during World War II and who later received the university's top teaching award. Together they traveled around the world, cultivating their language and cooking skills and laying the foundation for an expanding scholarship program for promising mathematicians. Avid Wolverines, they held season tickets for over four decades, never missing a home game. Marjorie was active in the First Universalist Unitarian Congregation of Ann Arbor, managing the church's financial affairs and serving as a beloved parishioner and organizer. Marjorie co-authored the book Historic Buildings, Ann Arbor, Michigan with Susan Wineberg and was named "Preservationist of the Year" in 1993 by the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission. Throughout her prolonged illness, her ninety-four-year-old husband Maxwell was at her side, cooking and cleaning, encouraging her to eat, reading The New York Times aloud, and working with the round-the-clock aides who also fought along side of Marjorie's children to prolong her life. Marjorie is survived by her husband Maxwell, her son, Lawrence Dolph and his wife Lynn Nybell who did so much for her during the final months; by Marjorie's granddaughter Christine Dolph and spouse Brian Wachutka, and grandson John Dolph; by Maxwell's children Michael, Tim and daughter-in-law Joy, and Allison Reade; and by Maxwell's grandchildren, Francis, Christopher and Wesley Reade. A memorial service will be held at 3pm Monday, August 23 at the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Ann Arbor. Donations may be made in Marjorie Reade's name to the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 4001 Ann Arbor-Saline Rd, Ann Arbor, MI 48103; or to the Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library, 343 South Fifth Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48104.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Central High School - Little Rock - Lessons for Today

Current issues including the:

1.) Scapegoating of Muslim Americans and other Muslims (e.g. Ground Zero Mosque),
2.) Racism directed at Barack Obama, other Blacks, and People of Color in general and
3.) The economic populism within the purported aims of the Tea Party Movement

all seem to resonate in the words of Karen Anderson's excellent book: "Little Rock: Race and Resistance at Central High School". Anderson moves from the mid-50's onwards and discusses the token integration that was fought so bitterly there amongst: the working class diehard segregationists, the "moderate" (male) business establishment, the "moderate" (White middle-class) women activists, the NAACP and other Blacks, the Federal Government and Governor Orville Faubus.

I've long loved Charles Mingus's classic: "Fables of Faubus" and known a little of the pathetic history of what took place in Little Rock, but this book illuminated much more for me.

Noted quotes near the end of the book include:

p.240 - "Segregationists and moderates alike went from claiming in the 1950s that laws were inadequate as a means to racial change because they could not change private feelings and actions to a fervent embrace of law as the only domain that had to change in order to create racial justice. The two positions ere not that far apart in their social vision, as the development of a new "race-neutral" law covertly incorporated most of the racial assumptions and discriminatory practices shared by the South's arch-segregationists and moderates. The legacies of 1950's moderate successes in fostering delay in desegregation while touting tokenism in school integration ultimately enabled the creation of white flight and of private schools that allowed white middle-class parents to isolate their children from working-class and minority children.

The marriage of the religious fundamentalism embraced by the arch segregationists and the capitalist fundamentalism embraced by male moderates ultimately paved the way for the formation of the New Right."

p.240-1: "Increasingly, any government action beyond the enactment of "race-neutral" laws, especially anything labeled affirmative action, came to be denounced as an un-American "reverse" discrimination. Indeed "race neutral" replaced racial justice in public discourse and as he normative standard for private institutions as well as public policies."

p.241: "Despite this, white Americans' sense of lost rights and opportunities has fueled the backlash against African Americans and those politicians perceived to be their advocates. This backlash has targeted successful blacks (who are denounced as undeserving beneficiaries of affirmation action) as well as unsuccessful blacks (who are viewed as parasitic dependents living off of welfare)."

p.241: "As Roy notes, 'Concepts of race are deeply imbedded in American culture, constituting a language that works somehow to explain the anomalies created by our classed classlessness.' Racism, indeed, allows whites to communicate a sense of oppression and powerlessness 'that somehow goes unexpressed in other forms.' "

Reading this history shows both common parallels and how we have evolved today in many ways. Maintaining tax cuts that are only for higher income individuals is an issue which fits into this tale. The "oppressions" that are felt by so many similarly fit in.

In the book the desires and needs of the Black residents of Little Rock were rarely heard or substantively dealt with. When Little Rock's high schools were entirely shut-down for school year 1958-9, no consideration was made for the most extreme hardships Black students and their families faced.

The "big" issues were how the closures might negatively impact the out-of-state future college attendance possibilities of middle-class, White children. As in the book's story we hear today of so many "bad things", but only rarely do we focus more than tokenly on the Real Problems of the Poor and others who are the real victims of our policies. While Davis Guggenheim talks about public schools related to poor, minority children, we rarely look seriously at their needs and how they are Not being met today.

I hope that someday more of us will read our history and try to learn from the mistakes and build more effectively towards a better future for all of us. Thanks!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Myths of the "Liberal Do Gooders"

Oft times in my life I have encountered others I'd label as:

"Liberal Do Gooders" though perhaps the term covers some that I'd not label this way.

Characteristics I'd note for them might include that they:

1. Clearly support one or more "liberal causes", and

2. Speak out in favor of their causes and against those opposed to such causes, and

3. Make clear by their actions and words that they are definitely not "radicals" and

4. Generally they have and oft times speak to a "balance" in their lives, except occasionally related to their "cause" if they have one single cause.

An example might (stereotypically) include:

The Democratic Obama supporter who:

1. Supports most Democratic Party and Obama positions at least relating to healthcare reform, the economy, ending "Don't Ask Don't Tell" in the U.S. military, and similar,
2. Speaks out in favor of Obama and his causes and against Tea Party and other Republican opposition,
3. Clearly indicates that they oppose various "radical causes" such as demilitarizing the U.S. or radically changing U.S. tax policy to "soak the rich",
4. Lives a "normal" life in an urban or suburban area with a balance between work, family, leisure time activities, etc.

I would distinguish the "liberal do gooder" from several other possible labels such as:

1. Liberal Activist
2. Radical Do Gooder
3. Radical Activist
4. Moderate Normal
5. Conservative Normal
6. Conservative Activist
7. Apathetic Whatever

In looking at how these (stereotyped) people are, I'd lump the liberal do gooder with the radical do gooder and separate them from the rest of groupings. These "do gooders" differ from activists of various persuasions because of their relative lack of "putting themselves on the line" for their cause or causes. Something seemingly holds them back from applying their insights (or purported insights) to sustained action. They talk their cause(s), but somehow find it impossible to really push their causes.

I have an admiration for some prominent Black, Male, Liberal Intellectuals such as Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Cornell West that I don't have for comparable (if there are any) White Male intellectuals in general. I see them taking racism as the critical issue in their lives, which is understandable. I also see them both seriously confronting their issue with their work as well as supporting other causes such as Gay/Lesbian/Transgender issues. They could defer judgment on such issues either by noting how visible homophobia is in some visible places within many visible public Black figures or by implying that their issue is "much more important" and should take precedence over the "lesser issue". They, however, recognize the inter-relatedness of such issues and the importance of coalition building between issues.

Far more commonly I see others who are defensive about their status and/or how others react to it. Many White people often feel threatened or simply not interested or focused upon the issues of People of Color, except when "the time is right". We White Men can feel threatened or attacked or just forced to face innumerable others poking at us be they: women, radical women, gays, differently abled people, people of other religions (no matter what our religious background), or others with their issues.

Oft times we may retreat into our shells for various reasons such as:

1.) I'm too busy,
2.) I'm already working on good causes and don't have the time for another cause,
3.) The other person is too _____ (young, old, threatening, radical, right-wing, etc.)
4.) I'm familiar with what you are saying and don't agree with you or
5.) Other such things.

It is very easy for many of us to resist pressures to open up and to take in things which may push our tranquility or apathy or sense that we are doing our best already. We seem to have both a sort of superiority complex about us (which keeps us from seeing and hearing others we may disagree with at times) and an inferiority complex (which similarly blinds us from being at peace and comfortable within ourselves).

It is painful for me to recognize so commonly that "the labor movement" is largely the efforts of generally poor People of Color doing serious organizing work and not the visible "labor leaders" we hear about publicly. It is sad that so many of the great people in so many causes are people that I, and many I know, may never hear about because their worlds do not focus upon reaching out to those who likely will do little to help their cause or even be polite and nice to.

Michael Moore is not my hero and is no working class hero (in my estimation).

I see relatively few people today comparable to some of the heroes of the 1940's-1960's and earlier eras. I would like to hope that we will build towards a better future and that we are on a path towards that. I fear that while we have wonderful people trying to save our world from militarism, ecological destruction, income/wealth inequality and simply hate that we are not doing enough. Thanks!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tales - of Idiots - Re: Big Business, etc.

Part I - "The Characters" - who were acted upon

A. In 2002 I separated from my first wife and we were divorced a year later in Oakland, CA, our county of residence when we separated. In 2004 I remarried and in 2005 the new "we" began our move to the Pacific Northwest.

B. My ex-wife moved from California to NYC several years ago

C. The son (my ex-wife and I had) graduated from college and began teaching high school science in Chicago in the Fall of 2009.

Part II - "The Characters who seem to lack a little"

My ex-wife and I had Merrill Lynch investment accounts for ourselves and our son. The accounts for our son got confused and initially were tied to my address. At our request they were switched to my ex-wife's address well over a year ago. At least three or four years ago I switched all my investment monies away from Merrill Lynch.

Merrill Lynch was "rescued" from disaster and purchased by Bank of America to avoid collapsing in the recent financial meltdown period.

Part III- "Action"

Today a voice mail message was left on my home phone from Merrill Lynch asking for "E" (my ex-wife) asking her to call concerning her investments.

I called the number left on my voice mail and expressed my displeasure with what had transpired. I was particularly perturbed because this was either the second or third time that this "mistake" had happened and it somehow hadn't been corrected when previously pointed out to the fine folks at Merrill Lynch.

Danny at Merrill Lynch initially indicated that they'd straighten it out and then came back on and said that they couldn't take my home phone number off their records for my ex-wife without talking with her.

I called my ex-wife and encouraged her to consider leaving Merrill Lynch - which she is seriously considering.

I then found a phone number for Bank of America - Corporate Headquarters - Public Relations or similar and the lady who answered the phone seemed sincere in trying to get ahold of the original caller and ensuring that my home phone number would be removed from their records (will it?).

Needless to say - I recommend to all: "STAY AWAY FROM MERRILL LYNCH!" They seem to be lacking in at least this one area.

Part IV - Epilogue: - A Parallel Similar and Dissimilar Tale from my recent past.

Several years ago we refinanced our first mortgage (which we've done again more recently). A traveling notary came to my wife's office where we signed the necessary closing documents and gave her a bank check from Wells Fargo Bank, where we have our checking and savings accounts.

The plot thickened about 4-5 days later involving:

1.) The mortgage broker in Georgia,
2.) The title company handling the closing which was in Texas,
3.) The branch manager of the Wells Fargo Branch where I'd gotten the bank check in Seattle - the true hero of this saga and
4.) Me

I was in Chicago with my wife who was just leaving a meeting (why we were in Chicago) when I got a phone call from the title company (2.). The woman asked me where the check was that was due. I told her that I'd given it to the notary.

After several phone calls it was clear that the Notary had lost the Bank Check! The Wells Fargo Branch Manager (3.) determined that she could stop payment on the check and re-issue the check with some paperwork.

was important that things get wrapped up quickly, so the closing wouldn't fall apart. I had to go to the nearest Fed Ex where the Title Company had I think sent an emailed (or similar) mailing label and instructions. The paperwork was Fed-Exed to Wells Fargo in Seattle and things were cleared up between them and the Title Company in Texas.

Subsequent and during this mess I got various apologetic calls from Texas and Georgia. Subsequently we received free complimentary tickets to a Seattle Mariners game from either Texas or Georgia and a Visa Gift Card from the other one together with more written apologies.

I had zero hard feelings related to anyone in this mess, except of course the Notary who I assume was let go from her work for the Title Company at least. I was impressed particularly with the Branch Manager at Wells Fargo who was an "innocent" to the entire mess who got caught in it and made things work out. Thanks!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Comments posted - on the Preceding Entry

Schwartzman September 17, 2010 at 11:25 pm


I’ve enjoyed your posts, I have found most of everything you have said totally in line with my thoughts and beliefs of the situation. I enjoy your honesty, many people who post/comment on Mondoweiss feel they are obligated to maintain a strictly anti-Israel biased, demonizing everything Israel and all Israelis. It was nice you were able to see that they are also humans, many of them with political thoughts very similar to mine and yours. The humanization of both sides is a huge step in finding a solution and allowing the reconciliation to begin.

I agree with you that the settlements and especially those in Hebron are ridiculous. I am not as pessimistic about some sort of solution as the Israelis and Palestinians you talked to. Of course it won’t be ultimate justice, but ultimate justice is a fantasy which only perpetuates the horrible situation the Palestinians are in and have been in for the last 60+ years.

2 lyn117 September 18, 2010 at 7:27 pm

“many people who post/comment on Mondoweiss feel they are obligated to maintain a strictly anti-Israel biased, demonizing everything Israel and all Israelis.”

Notice Schwartzman’s rather sly propaganda – equating “demonizing” Israel to “demonizing” Israelis. I’ve yet to notice anyone on this blog “demonizing” all Israelis. And the only things Israeli I’ve noticed them “demonizing” are its fundamentally racist nature, its ethnic cleansing, propaganda, lies, territorial expansion, its whitewashing of crimes and mass murders. I guess he’s working up to some new twist on the criticism of Israel is anti-semitism theme.

I would call Rachel’s experience “cult lite” or maybe drop the “lite” part. Standard cult techniques, sleep deprivation, social cohesion etc. I’m so glad she had at least some immunity, a pre-knowledge of the history that allowed her to resist. I don’t doubt the humanity of Israelis but when pro-Israel clackers start talking about humanizing people while finding excuses for Israel’s and it’s supporters’ dehumanization and denial of equal rights for persons who happen to be of the wrong creed or ethnic background, I just have to doubt their sincerity.

3 Shingo September 18, 2010 at 9:43 pm

“Notice Schwartzman’s rather sly propaganda – equating “demonizing” Israel to “demonizing” Israelis.”

It’s also sly propaganda, because it’s grossly dishonest and nonsensical. No one is forced to even read Mondoweiss, much less post comments, so to suggest that “feel they are obligated to maintain a strictly anti-Israel biased, demonizing everything Israel and all Israelis” implies that they are doing so against their will.

That tells us a great deal about the derranged mind of the Zionist.

4 Avi September 18, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Listen yonira,

You’re under the false impression that Israel’s problem is a Public Relations issue. You seem to think that better PR will somehow make criticism of Israel go away.

But, the truth that which you loath and continue to hide is that Israel and Israelis behave like barbaric criminals. And until that behavior changes, Israel’s image will remain in the gutter regardless of all the shills who seek to run interference for it, both in the US and in other countries.

So if you don’t like seeing Israel dehumanized, and Israelis dehumanized, then perhaps it’s time you started urging Israel to behave like a state of human beings, rather than a state of barbaric criminals.

I realize that you like Rachel’s ’sterile/clean’ article. Being in her salad days, she presents an image of Israel that meshes well with the image which you prefer to hear, the sterile, filtered, edited and cleaned-up version, the one that presents Israel the way CNN might. And that is essentially what scares you and bothers you.

You hate it that people know of Israel’s crimes, because for you, they are not crimes, but acts of defense or whatever euphemisms and lies you choose to tell others in hope that they will gloss over said crimes and move on.

Like I said before, it’s quite instructive that a sheltered, dishonest apologist like you pretends as though he/she knows more about Israel than someone who was born there, lived and worked there. What you do know, is a list of 10 or 20 talking points which you follow verbatim over and over, rehashing them time and again. After all, discrediting myself and others on this website has been your modus operandi all along. It’s your feeble attempt, yet again, to shield Israel from criticism by attacking those who bring English speakers the truth, the harsh reality, as is.

but ultimate justice is a fantasy which only perpetuates the horrible situation the Palestinians are in and have been in for the last 60+ years.

Don’t make me laugh. Your feigned sympathy for the Palestinians is touching, but you’re not fooling anyone. I yearn for the day when Zionist hacks come up with a new propaganda tactic, one that hasn’t been overused ad nauseum.

5 thankgodimatheist September 18, 2010 at 12:06 am

“I’m from Oak and 41st,”

I could laugh if it’s wasn’t tragic..Israel in a nutshell..A playground where the boyz can go, play and give the locals hard time….Nothing extraordinary, the land is theirs! Hah!

6 James September 18, 2010 at 12:40 am

“”It’s complicated.” Of course it is. But, it’s also about power… and political will… and justice. “”

it seems to be more about power then justice… justice seems to be very far down the list of priorities that israel is interested in pursuing…

7 CTuttle September 18, 2010 at 12:43 am

Even the World Bank states unequivocally that Israel needs to do something to alleviate the economic plight of the Palestinians…

I wrote about it today, and the recent UN’s WFP and OCHA report, entitled: Between The Fence and a Hard Place…

“We Need To Feed Our Families”

8 Avi September 18, 2010 at 4:42 am

It seems to me Rachel sees herself and that Zionist ex-Canadian as integral parts of the Israeli/Palestinian equation; all, simply by virtue of their religious affiliation.

Why is it that the settlers get a rebuke as “fanatics”, but the soldiers enjoy a hands-off treatment? Why is it that the non-Israeli Jews are left out of the “takeaways”?

Sure, the author mentions that Hebron settlers are mostly American and that they “have to go”. But, she also mentions the Canadian who stands at a checkpoint in Bethlehem — a Palestinian city, on Palestinian land — and the shmuck in uniform who just got off the airplane is bossing Palestinians around as if he owns the place, making their lives miserable in the process.

Why isn’t Rachel telling us what she thinks of such “Jews”? She tells us how she feels about Hebron, about the settlements, about the settlers, and about the Israelis she met. Yet, she doesn’t seem to find it absurd that some guy from her own neighborhood in Vancouver is granted a higher status (Thanks to being born into the right religion) than the Palestinians who have lived there for centuries if not millennia.

Still, I think she is to be commended for her courage and honesty as the average Israeli would refuse to travel on those Ay-rab buses or get on a bus full of Palestinians. Her heart is in the right place, but she needs to familiarize herself with the history, the occupation, the politics.

After all, it is important to get a first hand experience on the ground, but it is equally important to have a frame of reference — i.e. the colonial history, the events of the last 60 years.

Thus, next time she visits, she’ll know what to look for, how to put things in context. In other words, she’ll have a better understanding of what her eyes are seeing. She’ll certainly avoid situations in which she will find herself unknowingly sleeping in a settlement.

May I recommend a few books?

The Seventh Million and One Palestine Complete – by Tom Segev
The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine – by Ilan Pappe
The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem – by Benny Morris

These are must reads for anyone who is involved in this arena.

And I’m sure other commenters here will have a few good suggestions, as well.

9 annie September 18, 2010 at 9:49 am

interesting observations avi and i agree pappe’s Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine is a must read. i totally agree w/you about context and frame of reference. imho the ‘it’s complicated’ meme she heard a lot i heard a lot too and my guess is as time goes on she’ll realize that’s a cop out, it really isn’t complicated tho it seem confusing at times. especially the whole ‘which side of the line am i on’ because lots of planning has gone on to make that line disappear for jewish israelis.

i’m going to take a stab at analyzing from my take on rachel’s story.

I’m not Israeli and figure my Canadian-ness supersedes my Jewishness. He doesn’t seem to think so.

this statement is a pretty clear indication rachel doesn’t self identify first and foremost as a jew (global citizen, canadian, woman etc, all likely identifiers that supersede ) nor does she identify this soldier first and foremost as one either (unlike him). her connection to him is canadian-vancover-israeli and that’s why she doesn’t tell you what she thinks of such “jews” (your quotation). it’s also likely rachel didn’t feel particularly ‘courageous’ getting on an “ay-rab” bus because she’s not brainwashed (no inclination of racist indoctrination) and growing up in vancouver is accustomed to non racist transportation options. inconvenient, yes. but courageous? courageous is what i felt standing opposite the idf in bi’lin or participating in a spontaneous ‘action’ w/code pink in rabin square during a book fair. but people who aren’t indoctrinated towards racism don’t experience fear being around arabs or palestinians and therefore it doesn’t require courage to travel on one of their buses. (but i could be wrong, maybe for rachel it did require courage).

as an aside i was informed yesterday for the first time israel is ‘a concept’. confusing, yes. but complicated? not really.

10 Avi September 19, 2010 at 4:54 pm

it’s also likely rachel didn’t feel particularly ‘courageous’ getting on an “ay-rab” bus because she’s not brainwashed (no inclination of racist indoctrination) and growing up in vancouver is accustomed to non racist transportation options. inconvenient, yes. but courageous? courageous is what i felt standing opposite the idf in bi’lin or participating in a spontaneous ‘action’ w/code pink in rabin square during a book fair.

I agree, annie.

The indoctrination itself, in Israel, is what creates the mental barriers, the imaginary obstacles and proverbial cages. A person who comes from the outside tends to view things in a neutral way, free of all the self-imposed mental fear.

11 Citizen September 18, 2010 at 5:23 am

I’d like to see a pyscho-social profile of these settlers from the USA and Canada, to see the aggregate of factors that turn out such people when they were born and bred
in those two countries. Given the full array of civil rights simply by birth (and arguably even more special privilege), yet now they feel so entitled to
play lords of the jungle over the natives–at the point of a gun. They’d be
quick to claim discrimination in their birth countries, quick to take advantage of (at least) the full array of equal civil rights; now they don’t hesitate to push their supreme ethnocentric privilege and feel so righteous in doing so in the face of such obvious injustice. Perhaps Rachel has an opinion on this?

12 Susan Johnson September 18, 2010 at 6:16 am

“Over and over, I heard that Israelis are just tired of it all” “The Arabs should take more responsibility in the peace process”

Who are “the Arabs”? I think that’s the only time in the post you referred to Arabs.

If the Israelis are “tired of it all” What about the Palestinians? They’ve had their land stolen, their people imprisoned with out charges, their movement drastically curtailed, their business closed, their farms, orchards and greenhouses destroyed, their homes destroyed or taken over by Israelis…soldiers protect these Israelis as they carry on their illegal activities ….the list goes on and on.

And the Israelis? Why aren’t the settlers seen as Israelis? … Is it possible that Israel’s “separation” from settlers by the media and others, causes the public (US public) to forget settlers are Israelis. I believe this gives Israel an “out” when they want one, “this was done by the settlers” To me, one of the most disturbing aspects of the conflict is the constant invasion, actually permanent presence, of Israeli military and police in Palestinian land…defending their people. If settlers weren’t Israelis would this happen?
I believe they are ‘”legal” terrorists.

As I see it Palestinians are rarely separated from Hamas. Unfortunately and unfairlyPalestinians are too often thought of as terrorists, violent; when only a small number are party to violent actions. Many of my friends and family worried about my trip to Gaza because “Palestinians are violent” in Hamas, not militant members of Hamas or Palestinians who may be violent. One of my greatest concern is Israel’s terrorists in the form of their military.

I truly wonder if peace talks are peace talks when Israel has almost all the bargaining chips. Negotiations involve give and take…what does Palestine have to bargain with? How can they take “more responsibility in the peace process” under those circumstances? Even without the US as the trump in this card game; the scales weigh in Israel’s favor.

Rachel..I have found your posts interesting, looked forward to reading them….at times you seem to have held back on your thoughts and positions…specifically, if they changed how and why? If they remained the same…how and why. I’d like to more!

13 annie September 18, 2010 at 10:02 am

susan, i didn’t hear the term palestine or palestinians much in israel. w/the exception of the left they call palestinians ‘arabs’ there. rachel didn’t ‘refer to arabs’ she quoted israelis referring to arabs.

14 Mooser September 18, 2010 at 10:15 am

Swartzman’s comment says it all. A lot of common ground there.

15 eljay September 18, 2010 at 12:11 pm

>> I agree with you that the settlements and especially those in Hebron are ridiculous. I am not as pessimistic about some sort of solution as the Israelis and Palestinians you talked to. Of course it won’t be ultimate justice, but ultimate justice is a fantasy which only perpetuates the horrible situation the Palestinians are in and have been in for the last 60+ years.

“Ultimate justice” is not necessary; regular justice (not the “humanist” version of it) will do just fine, especially if it addresses and remedies – as best as it can – all wrongs past and present…and, most shamefully, on-going.

(Funny how hard-line pro-Israel types gloss over the fact that Israel continues to commit crimes despite having the power to cease immediately, completely and forever.)

16 Kathleen September 18, 2010 at 11:42 am

“The Jewish settlers, who number about 500, have built homes above both sides of the market street.” ILLEGAL JEWISH SETTLERS

“There is a rally planned for later in the afternoon to protest the closure of Shuhada Street, the main thoroughfare of Hebron, which is reserved for settlers.” ILLEGAL JEWISH SETTLERS. ILLEGAL

“In the settlers’ area, the movement of Palestinians is heavily restricted; the Jewish settlers have total freedom of movement and are protected by the IDF. And they’re really protected by the IDF. There are 2,000 soldiers in Hebron and 500 settlers — a ratio of 4:1. The settlers are primarily Orthodox (and many are American) and not obligated to serve in the military, something that seemed to bother many Israelis I talked with.”


“There are 2,000 soldiers in Hebron and 500 settlers — a ratio of 4:1. The settlers are primarily Orthodox (and many are American) and not obligated to serve in the military, something that seemed to bother many Israelis I talked with.”


I really enjoyed your overview of your experience. Have heard many accounts of what life is like in Hebron for Palestinians on land that is internationally recognized as theirs. Land that both the illegal settlers and Israeli soldiers are there completely illegally. No need to wonder why Palestinians continued to be irate and have turned to violence.

My dear friend Art Gish who died in a tragic tractor accident here in Athens Ohio this summer has been to Hebron many times over the last several decades and lived with the Palestinians . He has shared his direct accounts with thousands. He has witnessed so many horrific incidents perpetrated by the illegal settlers. Many of his accounts are in his book” Hebron Journal: Stories of Nonviolent Peace Making”

“The soldiers tried their best to ignore me, but I am sure they heard me. I ignored their commands for me to leave. One soldier spit at me, so I walked right up to him and invited him to spit on me. He declined the offer.

Three soldiers aimed their guns at and moved toward a group of Palestinian bystanders. It looked to me like they were going to shoot. I quickly jumped in front of the soldiers, raised my hands in the air and shouted, “Shoot me, shoot me, go ahead and shoot me.” The soldiers immediately left.

A tank came roaring toward me, its big gun barrel aimed at me. I raised my hands in the air in prayer, and shouted, “Shoot, shoot, Baruch hashem adonai.” The tank stopped within inches of me.”

He added: “The Israeli military had put all of Hebron under total curfew today, saying they were looking for terrorists. Now I wonder if there really were terrorists hidden among the apples and oranges. Or, are the Israeli soldiers committing acts of terrorism against the civilian population of Hebron?” (oops deleted some of the URL by mistake!)

17 Kathleen September 18, 2010 at 11:51 am

Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and E Jerusalem is ILLEGAL

Fence, Wall, Barrier illegal
In the ruling, the court said that Israel’s security needs did not merit the construction of the barrier, stating that it “cannot be justified by military exigencies or by the requirements of national security or public order.”

At the Palestinians’ request, the UN General Assembly asked the World Court last December for its opinion on the legality of the barrier.

In the ruling, the court said that the barrier could become tantamount to annexation of Palestinian land if it is completed and that it impeded the Palestinian’s right to self-rule.

“The Court considers that the construction of the wall and its associate regime creates a ‘fait accompli’ on the ground that could well become permanent, in which case, and notwithstanding the formal characterization by Israel, it would be tantamount to de facto annexation,” the court said.

UN Resolutions
Israel’s settlements in Palestine are Illegal.

Security Council Resolution 446, March 22, 1979

“Determines that the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

“On the basis that the Palestinian territories are occupied territory, Israeli settlements in these territories are in breach of Israel’s obligations as an occupying power and constitute a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and that the settlements constitute war crimes.[11][12]”
Mr. Bush, What about Israel’s defiance of UN Resolutions?
“During the period between 1967 and 2000, Iraq was the subject of 69 Security Council resolutions. By comparison, Israel, our closest “ally” in the Middle East, has been the subject of 138 resolutions. Not surprisingly, most of those resolutions call upon Israel to comply with basic principles of international law embodied by the UN Charter. Many of them condemn actions taken by Israel and call upon Israel on more than one occasion to comply with previous resolutions that Israel ignored and continues to ignore to this day.

On June, 14, 1967, through Resolution No. 237, the Security Council called upon Israel to “ensure the safety, welfare and security of the inhabitants, facilitate the return of those inhabitants who have fled the areas since the outbreak of the hostilities and recommends the scrupulous respect of the humanitarian principles contained in the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949.” In subsequent resolutions, the Security Council deplored Israel for the delay in its implementation of Resolution 237. Yet, Israel continued to defy the world community, including the United States. The Security Council, in the face of Israel’s defiance, passed no less than five subsequent resolutions demanding that Israel comply but to this day, thirty five years after June 14, 1967, the defiance continues.

On March 22, 1979, the Security Council adopted Resolution No. 446. Israel’s violation of Resolution 446 (sections quoted below) represents the most flagrant violation of Israel, not only of the UN but also the stated policy of our government under successive administrations:

(The Council) Determines that the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East; Calls once more upon Israel, as the occupying power, to abide scrupulously by the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, to rescind it’s previous measures and to desist from taking any action which would result in changing the legal status and geographical nature and materially affecting the demographic composition of the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, and in particular, not to transfer parts of its own civilian population into the occupied Arab territories.

18 Kathleen September 18, 2010 at 12:13 pm

” “It is a village,” he says.

And for him, it is. Or grew up there and describes it as a “settlement lite,” or a non-ideological settlement, as it was one of the earlier developments where “no one,” he claims, was displaced. For him, it’s normal. For me, I’m more than a little miffed to finally learn that I’d been staying in a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem without knowing it.

A “village” he says. How quaint. An ILLEGAL SETTLMENT being referred to by one of the ILLEGAL OCCUPIERS as a “village”

19 Kathleen September 18, 2010 at 12:19 pm

“The settlers — religious fanatics from my point of view — just need to leave. Period.”

That would be in alignment with international law. Hebron is part of the Palestinians land according to international agreements

20 Kathleen September 18, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Illegal Israeli settler attacks in Hebron

What the Israeli soldiers are up against

Palestinian Residents Say Peace Only Possible Without Jewish Settlers

Palestinian residents in the area around Hebron – the scene of frequent clashes between the two groups – want more than a construction freeze. They are calling for a total withdrawal of settlements.

21 bijou September 18, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Rachel wrote:

For me, it’s still about power. The IDF is one of the strongest militaries in the world. In 1967, Israel conquered a bunch of land that wasn’t its for the taking. People lived there. And those people are still coping with the occupation. Sure, anti-Semitism still exists, but, in terms of sheer power, the IDF could crush any country in the region….

Suggested edits (not sure if this will format correctly but I will try):

For me, it’s still about power. The IDF is one of the strongest militaries in the world. In 1967,1948,Israel conquered a bunch of land that wasn’t its for the taking. People lived there. And those people are still coping with the occupation utterly devastating consequences of dispossession and colonialism. Sure, anti-Semitism still exists, but, in terms of sheer power, the IDF could crush any country in the region….

22 Susan Johnson September 18, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Annie, thanks. good point. Do you think using the term “Arabs” distances Israelis from the fact they are, for the most part, on land that was or is Palestinian land? If they call them “Palestinians”…there must have been and is a Palestine, which is ignored.

23 Avi September 18, 2010 at 11:14 pm


Have you made it into Gaza yet?

To answer your question, “Arabs” is used by Israelis and Zionists like Swhartz/yonira for two purposes:

1. It serves to deny the existence of a Palestinian people, a Palestinian nation — and before 1948 — a Palestine.

2. It serves to assert the notion that all Arabs in the Middle East are the same; they are united and Israel is one small Jewish and defenseless state in a sea of anti-Semitism.

3. It serves to suggest that the Palestinians — being Arabs — should move to live in one of the 22 Arab states in the region. And unlike the Palestinians who have a place to go — so goes the propaganda — Jews need Israel as a shelter.

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24 annie September 18, 2010 at 1:25 pm

i’ve enjoyed your entire series too rachel and especially liked the one where you got bat mitzvah’d. i thought it was cool and affirming. i met a bunch of amazing people in israel myself and contrary to all the negative stuff we talk about day in and day out i do have optimism things will become normal in palestine/israel someday i just don’t know when or how.

thanks a lot .

25 wondering jew September 18, 2010 at 5:56 pm

Rachel- I enjoyed your series. I’m glad you got the opportunity to see much more of Israel and the occupied territories than most people have and I’m glad you shared your experience with this blog.

Besides the obvious, letting people get enough sleep, what other aspects of Birthright do you think need to be changed. Obviously they are trying to deepen the feeling of empathy and community and that is not necessarily the best way to keep one’s objectivity, so there is a type of peer pressure, be-one-of-us feeling that they are trying to induce. Objectivity is not their goal, but how precisely would you advise them to combine your point of view with what they are trying to accomplish? (Or is your ideal of objectivity and their ideal of community two opposites that cannot be combined?)

26 Richard Witty September 19, 2010 at 8:03 am

Thanks for your thoughtful posts.

More on Israel-Palestine

After Birthright: Hebron – 500 settlers, 2,000 soldiers and the tensest place I’ve ever been

by Rachel Marcuse on September 17, 2010 ·

In July, activist Rachel Marcuse spent 10 days in Israel as part of the Taglit-Birthright program -- a fully sponsored trip for young North American Jews to learn more about the country. She went to bear witness and ask questions about the Israeli state's treatment of Palestinians, and to learn about other complex issues in Israel today. After the program, she spent another 10 days elsewhere in Israel and the West Bank of Palestine talking to Israeli Jews, Palestinian citizens of Israel, international activists, and Palestinians in the occupied territories. This is the last post in the seven-part series on what she found. You can read the entire series here. This series first appeared in and this story can be found here.

After our visit to Ramallah, Hannah and I head to Hebron -- or, in Arabic, Al-Khalil -- to meet another member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). We take a small, hot, local bus through a mostly desert landscape, passing some desolate Bedouin camps along the way, the bus radio providing lilting Arab music as our soundscape.
"I look up at a net hanging above the souk. It’s full of garbage and other debris. The Jewish settlers, who number about 500, have built homes above the market street. I am told the net is to protect the Palestinians below." (Photo: Rachel Marcuse)

All of the highways in the West Bank are considered to be in Area C, which means that they are controlled entirely by Israel, or, more specifically, the military. Area A is controlled by the Palestinian Authority (Ramallah is one example) and Israelis are not allowed to enter. Area B, where many Palestinian farms are located, is under Palestinian civilian control, but Israel's military control. While I heard many stories of Palestinians being randomly searched along the Area C highways, when we pass some well-fortified checkpoints, our bus isn't stopped.

We arrive in Hebron in the bustling commercial area. It feels like a big place and it is -- Hebron is the biggest city in the West Bank with a population of 163,000; about half a million Palestinians live in the city and the surrounding area. We meet "Ali," who, like the other ISM members, has taken a code name. He takes us to the Old City.

As in Ramallah and Aida Camp, we are offered coffee or tea by many people, including the shopkeepers. Ali remarks that he can't make it through the souk -- the market -- without leaving over-caffeinated. I'm feeling that more caffeine would increase the dis-ease I am already feeling with the place; respectfully, I decline several offers.

My discomfort increases as I begin to more fully understand the situation, a situation which is almost literally on top of me. I look up at a net hanging above the souk. It's full of garbage and other debris. The Jewish settlers, who number about 500, have built homes above both sides of the market street. I am told that the net is to protect the Palestinians below from the garbage, urine, eggs and bleach routinely thrown at them by the settlers. I can see evidence of the refuse in the net right above me. One of the shopkeepers shows me egg stains on the scarves he is selling.

Hebron feels tense; in fact, it's the most tense place I have ever been. There is a lot of history here and a lot of contemporary conflict. Since it is the traditional burial site of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah, the fathers and mothers of the Jewish people, it is the second holiest place in Judaism, right after Jerusalem.
It is also holy for Muslims who worship at the Ibrahim Mosque at the Cave of the Patriarchs. It was here, on February 25, 1994, during the overlapping holidays of Purim and Ramadan, that an Israeli settler and member of the far-right Israeli Kach movement, opened fire with an automatic weapon. Twenty-nine worshippers were killed and 125 wounded that day. When Hannah and I enter the mosque, after a security screening and donning long brown robes, we can see the bullet holes in the wall.

As it's Friday, demonstration day in the West Bank, today might feel even more tense than usual. There is a rally planned for later in the afternoon to protest the closure of Shuhada Street, the main thoroughfare of Hebron, which is reserved for settlers. As a consequence, this closure shut down about 800 Palestinian stores.

In the settlers' area, the movement of Palestinians is heavily restricted; the Jewish settlers have total freedom of movement and are protected by the IDF. And they're really protected by the IDF. There are 2,000 soldiers in Hebron and 500 settlers -- a ratio of 4:1. The settlers are primarily Orthodox (and many are American) and not obligated to serve in the military, something that seemed to bother many Israelis I talked with.

As a result of the limitations on Palestinian movement, about half the shops in the Israel-controlled area have gone out of business since 1994, in spite of UN efforts to compensate shopkeepers in an effort to keep them in business. Palestinians cannot come close to where the settlers live without special permits from the IDF. Palestinian control of Hebron, despite it being one of the most populous cities in the West Bank, is limited to some 20 or 30 square kilometres.

We speak with Monir, a shopkeeper, whose business is adjacent to shut-down Shuhada Street. "I have the best of a bad situation," he says, noting that all of the other shops were just closed down. But, business is bad. "There's no tourism here anymore," he says, "everyone thinks it's a war zone." I think to myself that it feels like a war zone as I note a group of young male settlers saunter by. The demo is about to start; the town has quieted.

We wander by the demo. There are a couple of hundred people there, surrounded by IDF soldiers with snipers positioned strategically on rooftops. We have been warned that there is likely to be tear gas and arrests -- and this is later confirmed. As we have committed to being in Jerusalem that evening, we are unable to stay for long.

We walk out of the Old City and find a bus heading to Bethlehem. Hannah makes friends with a gorgeous girl of about 12 and takes her photo. About 45 minutes later, we get off on a busy street in the commercial area of Bethlehem. We wait with a group of families and then get on a large green and white Palestinian bus bound for Jerusalem. It's going to take us right to our friend's place in Jewish Jerusalem, just over the hill we can see in the distance.

The bus pulls up to a vehicle checkpoint and we all get off to have our documents inspected. One of the soldiers approaches us in Hebrew and then switches to English. "We're not letting Internationals through today," he tells us. "Oh," I respond weakly, "but we're just going to the other side of the hill." He's not interested. It's Friday, demo-day, and it's likely he thinks we've been at a protest. We have. He turns us around, instructing us to wait on the highway for a bus coming from the other direction. We're about an hour's walk out of Bethlehem and it's getting dark.

We immediately befriend another International who was also turned away. He's a six-foot-five African-American basketball player from New York City who has been doing basketball training with Palestinian kids. He is surprised to be turned away at the checkpoint. He's gotten through many times before, he says, but knows that the soldiers can be inconsistent. He remarks that if it's this hard for us, imagine how hard it is for Palestinians just trying to get to work.

Settlement lite

This Bethlehem checkpoint was very obviously a checkpoint. At other times on the trip, though, it wasn't clear to us whether we were inside or outside the Green Line.

For example, days later, we go back to the house of Or, one of the Israelis who traveled with us on the Taglit-Birthright tour. We'd stayed with him in his parents' house and left a bunch of our stuff there before heading to the West Bank.

He picks us up in Jerusalem and we start driving. "Are we driving East?" I ask. "Yes," he says. "Are we past the Green Line?" I ask. "Yes," he says again. "So, your parents kind of live in a settlement?" "They don't ‘kind of live' in a settlement, they live in a settlement," he tells me. "Ah..." I respond with dim realization. "You're been referring to it as a village for the last couple of weeks." "It is a village," he says.

And for him, it is. Or grew up there and describes it as a "settlement lite," or a non-ideological settlement, as it was one of the earlier developments where "no one," he claims, was displaced. For him, it's normal. For me, I'm more than a little miffed to finally learn that I'd been staying in a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem without knowing it.

It turns out that it's not the first time I'd stayed in a settlement during the Taglit trip. I later learn from one of the soldiers who accompanied us that one of the kibbutzim we had stayed at was across the 1967 border. Looking back, I remembered that for this portion of the trip, we'd had not just the one medic/guard, a young woman who would rock her look of skinny jeans, a blue tank top and a rifle, but a second one as well. The reason for the additional soldier wasn't explained to us at the time. I had assumed it was because we were near Jerusalem. We were actually on a settlement outside Jerusalem. The very slippery slope of land encroachment is clear.

Bethlehem and the Canucks

But, this time, leaving Bethlehem, we had definitely arrived at a "real," completely unambiguous checkpoint. Eventually, another bus does arrive and we make it back into Jerusalem by way of the same checkpoint through which we'd earlier entered the West Bank. Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, has arrived and there are no public buses to be had.

In English, I ask a soldier the best way is to get into town. He asks where I'm from. I tell him Canada. "Where?" he says. "Vancouver," I answer. "Where?" he asks again. "Umm, East Van," I respond. "Where?" I give him my intersection. "I'm from Oak and 41st," he says. "Are you Jewish?" he asks. I nod. "You're not really supposed to be in Bethlehem," he tells me. I know that while parts of Bethlehem are Area A, and forbidden to Israelis, I'm not Israeli and figure my Canadian-ness supersedes my Jewishness. He doesn't seem to think so.

The soldier takes off his yarmulke, the head covering required of observant Jews, and shows it to me. Embroidered on it is the logo of the Vancouver Canucks.

Another assumption dissipates.

Epilogue -- September 14, 2010

I've been back in Vancouver now for about six weeks and my trip to Israel and Palestine is still sinking in. People have asked what my biggest "take aways" are from the trip. Here are just a few:

- It's great to have one's assumptions blown to smithereens. This is especially true for someone like me who can be a bit, shall we say, judgmental? The participants on the Taglit-Birthright trip managed to challenge nearly all the first impressions I had of them. The same can be said for many of the Israelis I spoke with -- in particular, the soldiers. My only real contact with Israelis up until the trip was traveling in South America and coming across packs of post-army kids, constantly on the defensive. I found most Israelis to be more moderate than I had expected.

- Everyone wants to tell you their story. This was true for soldiers, who spoke of the immense social pressure to participate fully in army life, and of Palestinians dealing with incredible oppression. Art and storytelling has to be a fundamental way of dealing with conflict.

- The Jewish diaspora is a lot less progressive than much of the population of Israel. Diasporic Jews are pretty fast to call each other self-hating, while asking questions and engaging in dialogue is an integral part of Israeli culture.

- Taglit-Birthright is an incredibly smart program. By building social cohesion, as in my "birthright equation," participants create bonds with each other and with the physical -- and emotional -- place. The program, despite its rhetoric to the contrary, makes critical thought difficult.

- The West Bank is simultaneously tiny and gigantic. Despite being filled with some of the most friendly people I've ever met, there is a heaviness there. While certainly not hopeless, most didn't see an authentic peace process happening anytime soon.

- Many Israelis agree that Israel's policies have had the (unintended?) consequence of increasing anti-Semitism around the world, but there is nonetheless an overwhelming sense of social cohesion and national unity clearly tied to military service.

- Hebron is just totally and completely screwed up. The settlers -- religious fanatics from my point of view -- just need to leave. Period.

People have asked if my politics have changed from the experience. Despite the unequivocal nature of my last take-away -- some things are just wrong and I don't want to be too sucked into relativism -- they have. My politics are certainly more nuanced, as happens when you spend time with people from different backgrounds. I shifted my opinion on lots of specific policies and suspended my judgments about many people and how they live their lives. However, I wouldn't say that my politics have changed on a fundamental level.

For me, it's still about power. The IDF is one of the strongest militaries in the world. In 1967, Israel conquered a bunch of land that wasn't its for the taking. People lived there. And those people are still coping with the occupation. Sure, anti-Semitism still exists, but, in terms of sheer power, the IDF could crush any country in the region. The once-oppressed too easily becomes the oppressor and what Israel is doing to the Palestinian people simply breeds more hatred around the world.

"With great power comes great responsibility," as the old cliché goes, but I think it's true. Consistently, I heard people say that the Arabs needed to take more responsibility for a peace process. I don't necessarily disagree with that (or that Hamas isn't a problematic part of the equation), but I feel that it's Israel's responsibility -- and the responsibility of the Jewish diaspora as well -- to be sure that responsibility is taken for moving a truly equitable peace process forward.

So, what next? The Palestinians and Israelis I spoke with didn't think a resolution to the conflict was going to arrive soon, but there did seem to be a sense that the peace process and its ultimate terms would unfold more quickly this time. Over and over, I heard that Israelis are just tired of it all. Peace talks have begun since I returned to Canada, surely a positive sign. Netanyahu is going to have to prove that he can get his coalition together to continue the settlement expansion freeze. But the settler and conservative lobby in Israel is strong.

As Israelis repeated over and over again to me about the situation, "It's complicated." Of course it is. But, it's also about power... and political will... and justice. As the young woman from the International Solidarity Movement said to me, "It's the responsibility of all of us."

Rachel Marcuse is a Vancouver-based activist, facilitator and apparatchick. The executive director of the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE), a municipal political party, she also freelances, focussing on facilitation skills, youth-engagement and strategic planning. Her views do not necessarily represent the positions of any organization whatsoever.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Quote - re Americans - taxes/class

On NPR today I heard a British commentator talking related to taxing the wealthy in the U.S. about Americans (and why Americans don't support progressive taxation):

"19 percent of Americans think that their income is in the upper one percent and 30 percent think that they will shortly be in the upper one percent" - or something similar!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

On Sex within Primary (Het) Relationships

Recently I've read a fair amount related to Het relationships related to Sexism, inequalities because of it and "PIV Sex" (penis-in-vagina).

Some radical feminists believe that PIV Sex is dangerous to women for various reasons. They may believe that truly egalitarian relationships should at least have the option for women to choose Not to have PIV Sex related to issues such as:
1.) Pregnancy,
2.) Sexually transmitted diseases and
3.) Meanings related to PIV Sex that may relate to - domination of women by men, "scoring" for men and/or other such issues.

I am a 59 year old man who for the past several years has been totally unable to have PIV sex due to erectile dysfunction (ED) issues and who has dealt with related issues for close to 15 years.

I think that "sex" within primary Het relationships can be a number of things (or combinations of them) including:

1.) PIV Sex by itself - whether a "Qwickie" or some other act that is focused Primarily upon such sexual intercourse,
2.) PIV Sex as part of a set of actions - whether a set of routines leading up to or moving "around" such sexual intercourse or a varied set of behaviors which includes such sexual intercourse,
3.) Other clearly defined "sexual behaviors" such as:
a. Oral sex - "for the man" or "for the woman"
b. Anal sex
c. Digital/Masturbation - whether by the partner or while with the partner
d. Using sex toys such as vibrators, dildo's, cock rings, etc.
e. Various - bondage and discipline related things
f. Phone or Cyber - sex
4.) Including others in one's sex - including three-somes, swinging, and/or various forms of open relationships,
5.) Sexual and Sensual Touch - whether intended to lead to orgasm or not

Other issues can exist related to pornography, ties to the other gender outside of the primary relationship, etc.

What does it mean to have sex? For some this means having PIV Sex which may imply specific behaviors related to Who initiates it, How it is initiated and What transpires leading up to and after the "sex act".

Is "the sex" - the orgasm that one or both partners may have or wish to have, the "sex act itself, the feelings endendered in the moments and/or something else?

When I was physically easily able to have PIV Sex for me "good sex" was what I would call "being sexual" over an extended period of time (hours) which nearly always included PIV Sex. How "good" it was had little or nothing to do with how many orgasms either one of us had.

When I was new to sex as a young man "sex" was me kissing and sexually stimulating my partner so that she was "wet" and having PIV sex and then it was over.

I find the whole issue of debating having or not having PIV sex as a seeming: "political issue" related to sexism troubling, though understandable. To the degree that a relationship is not fully consensual and egalitarian, it is potentially important. Where there is open communication and mutuality. PIV sex would seem generally to be likely to occur because both partners would want it. How frequent it was and how it fit into the spectrum of mutual sexual behaviors would seem a more likely issue for most couples.

Where a relationship will last or Not last related to having or not having PIV Sex seems to me to relate to a tiny minority of couples which commonly would relate to particulars of that relationship. Besides physical issues I could imagine some women who had been vaginally raped with PIV sex might have flashbacks to their rape with PIV sex. In such a situation the male partner would need to be able to accept his partner as she was, else the relationship wouldn't have a future.

Otherwise to me the "political nature" of PIV Sex is part of a bigger area of coping in our society which also includes issues related to gender roles in general and related to Het marriage issues such as what name the woman (or man) has after the marriage, rings, and similar.

More important to me in general are the issues of emotional and physical closeness as they pertain to "sex" and the relationship in general.

I would hope that most individuals in Het relationships can talk through their differences with their partners and work out what best works for them both. Acceptance isn't always getting what one wants of course. Having a decent, balanced, loving relationship seems most important to me.

I could only dream that I will live to see the day when Sexism is "extinct", though I hope that things will get better over time. In my lifetime I've seen things get much better in some ways and much worse in others. Thanks!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Much Younger Women - Older Men - A Personal Perspective

Last Saturday I, age 59, was with my 48 year old (female) partner at a large local music and arts festival. At one point during the Festival we were sitting on the grass in front of two "attractive" 17 year old girls (looked like they could have been 15). They were quite enthusiastic and having a good time talking with various people sitting near them. When B went to a porta-potty, one of the young women moved onto our blanket (we were both standing)and began talking to me.

It was quite evident that she was high on something (B later guessed Ecstasy from my description). She kept saying that B and I were wonderful people. She tried to engage me in dancing (loosely) with her. She hugged me and seemingly wanted to hug me a second time.

She seemed to notice my reticence, but it didn't seemed to stop her that much. I told her that if "my wife" saw her with me, she might presume that I was hustling her and might be upset. After several such statements she reiterated how nice we were and went back to her area with her friend.

Her friend briefly talked with me telling me her name and to remember her name (she was purportedly an excellent singer) and asked our names. She was equally friendly and outgoing, but not as "attentive" or "connected".

The two of them then left (before B returned) with two 30-35 year old men that the second girl had invited to join them and sought attention from seemingly to get seats for the Bob Dylan - headliner show together - that was scheduled a little later at the main stage.

Both of these girls were dressed moderately "sexily", though totally appropriately. They were reasonably short, fairly thin, and definitely fit most stereotypes of being "attractive", "young", "cute" or whatever, while not being "stunning" or similar.

The feelings that I felt were a mixture of horror/fear - from the "thinking" side of me - "younger than my oldest child" - "disgusting" etc. and then from the "simple man" ("feeling") side of me - "am I really attractive", "wouldn't it be wonderful some day in the distant, distant future - to have someone much younger touch me and desire me to touch her" and the like.

The latter types of feelings came from the "fantasy" side of part of my maleness and my being.

I could Not imagine ever, ever being in a relationship with a woman younger than my partner - it's tough enough dealing with our age differences after years together. I couldn't imagine having a sexual escapade (presuming I was widowed or similar) with someone faintly (within 20-25 years) close to as young as this young woman at any time during the rest of my life.

I also thought and wondered at the time at the age difference between the men that these girls (and I wouldn't call them "women) went off with, however it seemed like it was none my business.

Experiencing what I did - as an "old man" or at least "older man" - I can only faintly imagine what goes through the heads of many other men - who may be 35 with a 20 year old or 45 with a 25 year old or whatever.

Whether drugs or alcohol are involved or whether it is simply hormones and "middle aged male syndrome" or whatever - it's not difficult for me to imagine many other men making moves or responding to moves (or perceived moves) of women much younger than they are.

I both don't want what I say to excuse - "bad" behavior, nor to be on some high horse related to what others may feel. We obviously choose How we respond to our feelings! Thanks!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Ikhlas Jebara - some context (amazingly crazy!!!):

(what follows is from A Jewish Voice for Peace's The Only Democracy blog. The source is stated at the end: "The family was automatically blacklisted by the Shin Bet after the father Sa’el was murdered by a settler in fall 2004.)

The cruelty of the Occupation regime is perhaps most directly illustrated via this story. The settler, a German convert with troubled history, was nonetheless given – like most settlers – an M16 automatic assault rifle by the military for his “self defense”. He then used it to murder an innocent civilian, who happened to be Ikhlas’ dad, in broad daylight. The lengthy legal proceedings end with his conviction of manslaughter. But the judge inexplicably allows the murderer a home leave before his sentence is set. He disappears without a trace, and to this day no one has found him (has anyone even looked for him?). If you find this hard to believe, here’s an account from the Israeli mainstream news site Ynet (note: see original source for this link).

Meanwhile, the victim’s family having lost its father and provider without recourse to justice, is automatically labeled as a “security threat” because now they have a reason to revenge! Therefore, they are placed under even tighter confinement than other Occupied Palestinians.

This year Villages Group activists petitioned the authorities, arguing that 6 years after the murder perhaps the victims should be allowed a reprieve from their punishment, due to their good behavior. The plea was rejected. Knowing how mindless and arbitrary the Occupation system is, the activists did not give up and submitted the exact same petition again. This time it was accepted. The Jebara family was treated to a day of fun, visiting the homes of their Villages Group friends for the first time ever, and seeing the Mediterranean Sea – second time for Ikhlas and Mohammed, first time ever for their siblings.

This fall, Ikhlas will begin her M.A. studies in English literature at the Nablus University."
Ikhlas ("Yasmin") Jebara's Significant Words - from Palestine
If you would like to respond to this wonderful Palestinian poet-song writer, please contact me and I will give you her email address.


I wonder whether to say or not to say
To be enthusiastic
to revolve
or to obey
For God or for people to pray
Or like a refugee without home to stay
Or like a child in the streets to play
Or to pass through a narrow or wide way
Or our hopes for future to delay
Or to sit under the red x-ray
Here we are my friend
with no decision
Whether to be or not to be
we do not know
Whether to say or not to say

In our calm narrow street
I followed the traces of his feet
I heard the echo of hope
when she said you should meet
you should meet
Darkness bitterness of days you should defeat
My tongue had also said no blame no blame
Forget the past and live for your dream
For hope in your eyes would gleam
No one but echo answered me
No he is not free
With him we can not be
Until the masters of the fates agree
In a dark cloudy atmosphere
Moon, sun, stars seem to be very clear
Safety… bravery… oh grasped fear
In the eyes of the sky there is no tear
Just the glimmer of hope that is so near
From them you can not flee
I bitterly answered ‘what do you claim?’
She laughed and said I will achieve my aim
Until the end of my game
I trust myself and I do not feel shame
Hope -she is so strong and stout
And she is able my fears to wipe out
She laughed with her echo-voice so loud
One day in the hands of you will be found

Here on that street my dad died
Death attacked him from an unknown side
What did his death for us hide ?
Grief and pain did for us decide
His death the hearts of our family did divide
Loss and departure were emphasized
While happiness at that moment seized
Here on that street my father drove
On the same street he was shot
By a settler who was provoked
From an innocent person his revenge he got
From an unknown origin he is derived
Responsible that in my family’s life
grief, pain and anger reside
But there are people of his religion who have tried
For us a new beginning to provide
They really appreciate the size of grief in our hearts
Monday in the afternoon was the opening of our wound
And it caused the broken hearts of our catastrophe to moan
At that moment the stagnant grief in our souls was grown
We lived in darkness with no fraction of dawn
A black tragedy for me was drawn
Like a nic in the neck… it is in the heart a wound

Have you ever felt like a person who will graduate
Who is standing on the edge of the university and life’s gate
People are coming to say ‘we congratulate’
They within me a glimmer of hope create
I am like a king who won the state
I am a person who is loved by fate
For this day I am willing to wait
All love from my heart is sent
To my parents my sisters my brothers my doctors and friends
For you I say ‘happy new year’
I wish we will the dress of happiness wear
No matter how the last days were
The principles of a new life in this modest party we declare
The black papers of our last tragedies in our lives we will tear
The bitterness of days we no longer bear
We in the eyes of future stare
Happiness and hope we can see there
But we also notice some sort of fear
I hope that peace is near
for those whom to me are so dear
You are to me my jewels
In the siege of my heart you fell
I rang my tongue’s bell
good words for you to tell
Let us together say grief farewell
grief farewell grief farewell

Believe me we can not dare
to say that occupation is something that we can not bear
But even if we said it
they will our bodies like pieces of cloth tear
Not by human butchers
rather it has become the machine butcher’s career
Be silent my friend
and do not say whether it is cruel or fair
Because if you said this
you will be thrown in fire

If you tried to turn your face
In a moment you will be in the hospital as a critical case
Occupation is willing to chase
Every person who is from the Arabic race
And the steps of history trace
Occupation has no conscience
when it the bodies of Gazan children dismember
in the last December
I am torn by pain when I remember
the bodies of children trampled under the feet
of an unworthy Israeli soldier member
Dying words on their tomb door
saying war is every where
On the heads of the poor
Palestinian life will become sore
You will live in pain more and more
Let it be forever let it be forever
When will facts chant?
When will Justice on her feet stand?
When will we together
in the face of cruelty stand?
When will we our rights defend?
When will we like a bomb explode?
When will we our rights defend ?
Or shall we wait for someone to rescue us?

Do you know what your life is like?
Your life is a play
if you wonder I will say
what role in this life I play
a good person I may be
as a fruitful tree
slave people I can free
if they appreciate they will agree
a source of evil I contribute to life
by carrying my sharp sword and knife
I can steal a husband from his wife
And deprive a person of his life
To me you can describe
What type you want your self to ascribe
No matter you are from this or that tribe
But what really matters is you are mature and ripe

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Metaphor in my Life - Blaming - Tea Party etc.

This morning I struggled with my first gentle yoga class, after having felt deeply humbled when I previously had tried a regular yoga class. I hope to continue the gentle yoga classes at least weekly.

Background: I have exercised regularly for a long time. Spin cycling is my love and I'm pretty good at it. I gave up long distance running in the 1980's because I constantly was pulling leg muscles, due to inflexibility and my difficulties in stretching. I enjoyed yoga several times years ago, though I wasn't real good at it. More recently I'm aware of how at age 59 my body is less flexible and more difficult to manipulate. I hope that yoga will help me avoid periodic back pain as well as making it less likely that if I live to a ripe old age that I will be hunched over as my 83 year old mother is now.

When I exercise and struggle as I do with yoga my feelings go in strange, not always pleasant ways. I see the women near me with much envy as they bend and stretch out far "better" than I do. It is very easy to go into a space of: "it's hopeless" either with some specific thing we are asked to do or with yoga in general.

When I reflect upon some of what I've gone through with my recent yoga classes I think of some of the much larger issues that many people face such as losing (or fearing the loss) of their jobs and/or their homes in the current "recession". Under pressures far greater than what I face, it is very easy for people to want to find reasons and blame for what is occurring.

It is no accident that making President Obama into a "Muslim" or worse and radical right wing efforts such as The Tea Party Movement have seeming strength now in these difficult times. It is more difficult to offer support and help so many people see the traps of these simplistic, narrow often bigoted answers to the tough issues we face today. Thanks!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

From Jewish Peace News

Gary Leupp: Chronology of a Bizarre Controversy - Hurt Feelings and the ground Zero Mosque
Saturday, August 21, 2010 8:31 AM
From: "Jewish Peace News"

This article describes the chronology of events surrounding the project aiming to build an islamic center in the vicinity of "Ground Zero".
I found it is especially interesting because it shows how a local, modest, and initially uncontroversial project could become a major tool for
pushing islamophobia once sufficiently unprincipled shakers and movers got hold of it. The scary part, of course, isn't that some
opportunistic nitwits would try to make hay of such a project, but the fact that they've been having such enormous success.

Racheli Gai.

Gary Leupp: Chronology of a Bizarre Controversy - Hurt Feelings and the Ground Zero Mosque

August 20, 2010

Here is the order of events producing this bizarre “controversy.”

2009: A Muslim organization having arranged to purchase an abandoned Burlington Coat factory on Park Place in Lower Manhattan plans to build a 13-story Islamic community center. It will feature a culinary school, conference hall, basketball court, swimming pool, and place of worship among other things and while principally servicing the Muslim community be open to all. It is to be called the Cordoba House, an apparent allusion to Muslim Spain in which Islam flourished alongside Christianity and Judaism from the eighth century up to the “Reconquest.”

In its mission statement the group says the center “will be dedicated to pluralism, service, arts and culture, education and empowerment, appreciation for our city and a deep respect for our planet. [It] will join New York to the world, offering a welcoming community center with multiple points of entry. With world-class facilities, a global scope and strong local roots, [the center] will offer a friendly and accessible platform for conversations across our identities.”

It will be four big city blocks away from where the World Trade Center once stood (“Ground Zero”). But since there are already about eight mosques in Manhattan, and a significant Muslim population in that highly diverse section of New York City, there is nothing remarkable about the group’s application to tear down the old factory building and construct the center.

The key organizer, Kuwait-born Feisal Abdul Rauf, is an imam of the Sufi school of Islam, generally described as “moderate” and mystical. He holds a degree in physics from Columbia University, had been hired by the FBI to conduct sensitivity training among their agents, and had worked with the U.S. State Department. He had met New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg, who strongly supports the plan for the center.

In December 2009 the New York Times runs an article on the project. It is generally positive, citing two Jewish leaders and the mother of a 9-11 victim in support. In the same month conservative commentator Laura Ingraham, guest-hosting FOX News’ “The O’Reilly Factor,” interviews Rauf’s wife, Daisy Khan. The interview is as Salon’s Justin Elliot later notes “remarkable for its cordiality.” “I can’t find many people who really have a problem with [the project], declares Ingraham. “I like what you're trying to do.”

On May 6, 2010, after a public hearing in which New Yorkers express strong feelings pro and con, the New York City community board committee unanimously votes to approve the project. Enter Pamela Geller, who maintains a blog called Atlas Shrugs. She has written a book about Barack Obama in which she alleges his real father was Malcolm X. She leads an apparently tiny wacko group called Stop the Islamization of America. Seeing the opportunity to have her moment in the sun (and she is soon interviewed by FOX News and CNN), she lashes out at Cordoba House. She declares on her blog, “this is not about religious liberty. No one has suggested abridging the First Amendment to stop the mosque, and to oppose the Ground Zero mosque is not to oppose the First Amendment. There are hundreds of mosques in New York, thousands in America. This is not a religious issue. This is an issue of national dignity and respect for those who were murdered at that site in the name of Islam.” She begins to
organize a protest at the Park Place site.

Soon New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser references Geller’s group, falsely describing it as a “human rights group.” This brings the movement against the “Ground Zero mosque” out of the blogosphere and into the mainstream press. She sensationalizes the issue, falsely reporting that the center is to open on Sept. 11, 2011. A “controversy” erupts.

On July 16 Sarah Palin weighs in. Addressing not Muslims specifically but “Peaceful New Yorkers,” Sarah Palin twittered: “ pls refudiate [sic] the Ground Zero mosque plan if you believe catastrophic pain caused @ Twin Towers site is too raw, too real.” She adds two days later (after ammending “refudiate” to “refute”), “Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. . .” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich expresses outrage in multiple statements over the next month: “There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.” “It’s not about religion,” he insists, “and is clearly an aggressive act that is offensive.” He says the center will be a symbol of Muslim “triumphalism,” and that building the mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks “would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum.”

He writes, “‘Cordoba House’ is a deliberately insulting term. It refers to Cordoba, Spain–the capital of Muslim conquerors, who symbolized their victory over the Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world’s third-largest mosque complex... every Islamist in the world recognizes Cordoba as a symbol of Islamic conquest.” In response to this absurb allegation the center organizers change the name to “Park51.”

(Gingrich who postures as an historian and scholar might have noted the Visigothic church was purchased by the conquering emir after 718 and that the Arabs during their rule in Spain pursued a policy of far greater religious tolerance than the Christians had before them. They allowed churches and synagogues to operate freely. When the Christians regained power, they expelled all Jews and Muslims, or forced them to convert, and conducted the Spanish Inquisition.)

Republican politicians smelling blood and opportunity continue to lash out. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty says, “I think it’s inappropriate... From a patriotic standpoint, it’s hallowed ground, it’s sacred ground, and we should respect that. We shouldn’t have images or activities that degrade or disrespect that in any way.” Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee asks on his FOX program August 4, “Even if the Muslims have the right to build it, don’t they do more to serve the public interest by exercising the responsible judgment to not build it?” “The fact that someone has the right to do something doesn’t necessarily make it the right thing to do,” echoed Ohio Rep. John Boehner.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s spokesman adds: “Governor Romney opposes the construction of the mosque at Ground Zero. The wishes of the families of the deceased and the potential for extremists to use the mosque for global recruiting and propaganda compel rejection of this site.”

On August 13 President Obama hosts representatives of the Muslim community at the White House. “As a citizen,” he tells them, “and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.”

A Republican running for Congress in Maryland, Andrew Harris, denounces the statement: “He is thinking like a lawyer and not an American, making declarations without America’s best interest in mind.” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., also responds immediately: “President Obama is wrong. It is insensitive and uncaring for the Muslim community to build a mosque in the shadow of ground zero.”

Bob Schieffer, CBS News’ chief Washington correspondent observes that Obama’s attention to the mosque issue “elevates it to a national issue. Clearly, Republicans are trying to take every advantage of this they can... every single Democratic candidate now running for office is going to be asked about it.”

Democratic Party leaders quickly distance themselves from the president’s remarks. . “The First Amendment protects freedom of religion,” says a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid adding that the senator “respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.”

Obama himself, startled by the response to his comments, has to elaborate almost immediately. “I was not commenting, and I will not comment,” he said, “on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about.”

A CNN poll published in August 11 shows 68% of Americans opposed to the center, and a FOX poll published August 13 shows that 61% of U.S. residents support the legal right to construct Park 51 but 64% don’t want the Muslim group to construct it. This becomes the mandatory position of all politicians: they’ve got a right to do it, but they shouldn’t. It would not be politically wise to suggest a general ban on mosques or Islamic community centers. But everyone has to say, this particular project is wrong because it shows insensitivity to the feelings of “Americans” particularly family members of the 9-11 victims. Justin Quinn, who maintains the “U.S. Conservative Politics Blog” for example, justifies his disapproval by suggesting the building will hurt “thousands of people who continue to mourn the loss of loved ones who were turned to dust in the attacks.”

But there is another issue as well. New York gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio, Gingrich, and Quinn all call for an investigation of the center’s funding, suggesting that some of it might come from “Islamic terrorists.” Lazio speaks ominously about the “the questionable backers of the Cordoba Mosque at Ground Zero” and calls for a public investigation. Quinn says, “let’s at least find out where the money is coming from to pay for this thing.” Soon House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is on board the program, although, alarmed at the backlash from Obama’s remarks, she suggests the “anti-mosque” movement should also be investigated.

By innuendo they assert that Rauf is linked to international terrorism. That seems unlikely since he’s been hired by the FBI since 2001 to offer sensitivity training to agents and has also just been asked by the State Department recently to tour the Middle East to “foster greater understanding” about the U.S. and its Muslims.

The charge seems based solely on the fact that in a June 2010 interview with Aaron Klein of New York’s WABC Radio, he declined to say whether he agreed with the listing of Hamas as a “terrorist organization.”

He declined to do, replying, “I’m not a politician. I try to avoid the issues. The issue of terrorism is a very complex question.... I’m a bridge builder. I define my work as a bridge builder. I do not want to be placed, nor do I accept to be placed in a position of being put in a position where I am the target of one side or another.”

(I see nothing damning here. Hamas, initially promoted by Israel as an alternative to secular Palestinian nationalism, has resisted Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. It maintained long-term ceasefires with Israel ended due to Israeli action. It won a fair election in 2006. The U.S. State Department has considered it a “terrorist organization” since at least 1994 but the European Union only added it to its blacklist in 2003 under U.S. pressure. Many people including former President Jimmy Carter have asked that it be removed from that list, which is highly political and arbitrary and under no meaningful Congressional oversight. A U.S. Appeals Court recently ruled that the State Department must review its decision to list the People’s Mujahadeen Organization of Iran as “terrorist.” These things are very political, and no one should demand that Rauf endorse the listing. Certainly not those opposed to “Big Government” and its expectations of passive obedience from

There are also wild accusations (aside from Gingrich’s cited above) that the center is designed to rub 9-11 in our noses. “The mosque at Ground Zero,” Quinn insists, “is being pursued to prove a simple political point -- that Islamic fundamentalists can knock our buildings down, murder our citizens and then use our own laws against us so they can laugh in our faces.”

There are also hateful, provocative comments. Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams blogs his followers: “The monument would consist of a Mosque for the worship of the terrorists’ monkey-god (repeat: ‘the terrorists’ monkey-god.” if you feel that fits a description of Allah then that is your own deep-seated emotional baggage not mine, talk to the terrorists who use Allah as their excuse and the Muslims who apologize for and rationalize them) and a ‘cultural center’ to propagandize for the extermination of all things not approved by their cult. It is a project of American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative, essentially the same group of apologists (but under 2 different names) for terrorists and the animals who use it as a terrorist ideology. They cloak their evil with new age gibberish that suggests Islam is just misunderstood.”

* * *

Thus by mid-August a modest project by a mainstream U.S. Muslim group backed by the New York City mayor and unanimously approved by the New York City community committee has been transformed into a general attack on Muslim rights in this country. The scary thing is that disapproval is so widespread, bipartisan, and driven by irrational fear if not hatred.

What does this tell us about this country? It tells us that nine years after 9-11 (and nice centuries after the First Crusade), Islamophobia is rampant and politically useful. Even though U.S. troops are supposedly fighting to help Muslims in two countries and both Bush and Obama have officially (for whatever reasons) emphasized that the U.S. is not against Islam, Islam is a religion of peace, we value our Muslim citizens, etc. the “us vs. them” mentality remains strong.

The prevalent argument against the center---that it may hurt people’s feelings---is an argument that people should be hurt by the mere existence of an Islamic site near “Ground Zero.” That they should feel hurt at the site of a Muslim establishment as they walk around Lower Manhattan, associating it with the 9-11 hijackers. That they should conflate Mohamed Atta and Rauf, or that at least if they do, their feelings should be respected. Of course Rauf’s hope is to counter precisely such feels by encouraging understanding and dialogue. (The fact in any case is that according to an August 10 Marist poll only 31% of Manhattan residents oppose the center!)

What about the feelings of U.S. Muslims, including those who had family members perish in the 9-11 bombing? They read about the plans of the “Dove World Outreach Center” in Gainesville, Florida---a “New Testament church, based on the Bible”---to promote an “International Burn a Quran Day” this September 11. They read about anti-mosque campaigns in Murfreesboro, Tennessee; Temecula, California; Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The Tea Party movement and mainstream politicians enthusiastically embrace the anti-mosque movement. I imagine there are some hurt feelings among people unfairly associated with terrorism just because a handful of Saudis attacked the U.S. nine years ago. To be told “this sacred ground---our American ground” so we don’t want your Muslim center here “degrading” and “disrespecting” it (Pawlenty’s terms) is to be told you’re not really a full citizen and your religion (as opposed to, say, Catholicism) isn’t an American one. It must be insulting

The notion that “they attacked us”---that the whole Muslim world attacked “us”---is so preposterous that only the simplest minds can believe it and the most devious exploit their ignorance for political gain. The U.S. has attacked Muslim countries, or intervened to impose regime change, repeatedly in the post-war period. Since 1967 it has provided nearly unconditional support to Israel, inevitably endorsing or accepting its grotesque mistreatment of the Palestinians. It cruelly maintained sanctions against Iraq throughout the 1990s, resulting in at least half a million children’s deaths. It provides massive aid to hated dictators like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. It has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians in its latest attack on Iraq. It maintains an increasingly unpopular occupation of Afghanistan and by its drone attacks on Pakistan has thoroughly alienated the Pakistani people. It is natural for Muslims globally to see themselves under U.S. attack. That a few have
responded with terrorist attacks is unsurprising; the CIA calls it “blowback.” It is also natural for most, like Rauf, to want to respond to all this with peaceful education and dialogue.

The problem isn’t limited to the U.S. Other western countries are also manifesting Islamophobia, placing Muslims on the defensive. In March 2005 the French parliament voted to ban Islamic head scarves in public schools. This has forced French Muslim schoolgirls to choose between following rules set down in the Qur’an and receiving public education. In 2005 the Danish right-wing newspaper Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten “invited members of the Danish editorial cartoonists union to draw Muhammad as they see him.” Since Muslim teaching forbids depiction of the prophet, and since it was assumed many cartoons would depict him a terrorist, this was a deliberate provocation. In December 2009 Swiss voters voted in a referendum to ban further construction of minarets in the country. There are only four.

There are a lot of hurt feelings about violent attacks, and Muslims in Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere frankly have more cause for them than the people of New York City. The loss of 2976 people on 9-11 was tragic. But more than that number of civilians were killed by U.S. bombing between October 2001 and March 2002, and the loss of life in Iraq due a war based on lies (including the Islamophobic conflation of al-Qaeda and Saddam) has been catastrophic. And there are lots of hurt feelings over discrimination, experienced throughout the western world.

The controversy over the Islamic center shows us that neither the politicians nor pundits nor people in general understand that, and so seem hell-bent on generating more Muslim resentment. Nothing good can come out of that.