Charlie et Les Juifs

It’s been a week since the Paris shootings and we’ve all had some time to think about what happened. Here are some things that have been bouncing around in my head:

Freedom of the Press is a sacred right in France, but we shouldn’t confuse that with free speech. In France, hate speech is prohibited. Holocaust denial is prohibited. Political candidates are not allowed to make disparaging remarks about other candidates. In fact, Charlie Hebdo has had several run-ins with the law over the years. A free press is a key to preventing totalitarian government, but it should respect that freedom and use it for its intended purpose. Mocking religious and political authority is a fair use of that freedom.

We also have a free press here in the U.S., but our news is “self-censored”. Organizations like the New York Times say they don’t print material when the author’s primary goal is offending others. They say that’s not news. It would be nice to think that such self-censorship is founded on lofty goals, but here in the U.S. we must always remember that reporting news is a business. Newspapers print what is good for business and censor what is bad for business. When they say they don’t want to offend, they mean their advertisers and subscribers. This is why you see Fox News offending just about everyone except their white audience— it’s good business for them. Newspapers and TV outlets tell people what they want to hear. That’s good for business, but not our democracy.

JeSuisCharlieMany people, myself included, jumped on the “Je Suis Charlie” campaign to express fraternity with the staff at Charlie Hebdo. Additionally, many jumped on the “Je Suis Ahmed” campaign to express empathy with Muslims like Ahmed Merabet, the police officer who was murdered outside the Charlie offices. There was still a third campaign “Je Suis Juif” to express empathy for the French Jews after four Jews were murdered in a kosher supermarket on Friday. That last one got very little traction. While people are quick to associate themselves with murdered writers, cartoonists, and assimilated Muslims, not many will associate themselves with Jews. When Jews are murdered there is always an underlying assumption that they somehow deserved it— that they brought this on themselves. Pick your raison du jour, but this has been going on for 2,000 years. Perpetrators always feel their reason is authentic and unique, and thus there’s no reason to believe this ever will stop.

Some people have since rejected the “Je Suis Charlie” mantra, instead saying that they support free press but that Charlie has abused its privilege. Others say that citizens have no right not to be offended. If you don’t like what someone is saying, turn it off, don’t buy it, walk away. I find a certain amount of hypocrisy with Americans who say “je suis Charlie”, and yet are offended by just about everything. My FB and Twitter feeds seem like an endless stream of people and publications saying, “can you believe he said that?!!” Americans may be the most easily offended people on the planet, and so we invented political correctness. Everyday someone feels a need to apologize for something. Yesterday it was congressman who used the names Hitler and Obama in the same tweet. Don’t dare say you hate Brussels sprouts!

I find an interesting paradox with labeling of terrorism in America. If murders are committed by Muslims, they are terrorists. If a white man murders people at a Jewish community center, he committed a hate crime. If a white man detonates a pipe bomb at an NAACP office, he committed a hate crime. And if tea partiers murder cops in Las Vegas… well, we just pretend that never happened. The use of the different language is meant to say that Muslims all work together to terrorize Americans. Whereas, white racists who commit acts of terror are lone wolves who have mental illness of some kind. Was there ever any doubt that the goal of the KKK was to terrorize blacks, Jews, and Catholics? They still exist, and yet, our news organizations will not call them terrorists. Neither will our police and political leaders call them terrorists. At the Bundy Ranch in Nevada, tea partiers aimed automatic weapons at federal agents who were planning to evict them. No one called them terrorists. More self censoring and political correctness so that they don’t offend (whites).

Israeli PM Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu elbowed his way into the Paris march on Sunday. His motives are solely political. There is an upcoming election and it’s not clear how he will fare. So he was quick to associate himself with murdered Jews. Aside from using the massacre for campaign purposes, I was dismayed by his statements to French Jews that Israel is their home and they should leave France. Yes, of course, Jews all over the world know that they can flee to Israel when they are in danger. But the clear implication in his statement is that French Jews aren’t really French. This plays right into the hands of neo-fascist groups like Front National (FN) who claim that Muslims, Jews, and Roma aren’t really French. This Euro-tribalism is ominously spreading throughout Europe. It is even present in relatively progressive states like Sweden, where the Sweden Democrats party has about 14% of the parliament. By encouraging support for the FN, Bibi’s speech makes life more difficult for Jews who stay in France, but that is the least of his concerns.

The shootings in Paris won’t stop Charlie. They are already back in business. But it could further an exodus of Europe’s largest Jewish community. While Zionists call for all Jews to return to Israel, many Jews like life outside the walled city. And they are serving a purpose. Diaspora Jews have been labeled as the “canary in the coal mine”. That old phrase described miners using canaries to detect poisonous gas. The death of the canary signaled imminent danger to the miners. A mass exodus of French Jews could signal danger for all of France.

Where have all the social dems gone?

Yesterday I saw a tweet from Ed Miliband, leader of the British Labour Party, urging Scots to vote “no” on the independence referendum. Most Britons (or should I say Englanders?), left and right, have been hoping that the Scots will stay. Is Miliband’s plea coming from a sincere belief that the “Better Together” campaign represents true social democracy? Or is it coming from a fear of the diminished status of a smaller UK? Or is he simply a mouthpiece for the bankers who are now running pretty much everything in the West? Specifically, here’s his retweet of the Labour Party post:

Miliband Labour scaremongering

Miliband Labour scaremongering

So, Miliband is saying that Scotland would lose the commercial banks that have wrecked the economy of the West through their irresponsible and criminal behavior, caused massive unemployment, and shifted incredible amounts of wealth from average citizens to the 1%. Is that something that Scots should be fearing— that the cancer would up and walk away from Scotland? I’m quite sure Mr. Miliband, that if there’s money to be made in Scotland, the banksters will be on the spot with a smile. The entire “No independence” campaign has been embarrassing.  The primary tactic is to make Scots afraid of a future without London. The same scare tactic has been used in every country that broke from the crown, including the U.S. “Is it worth the risk”? is the question they’re asking.  Let’s rephrase that. “Is having the right to control your future really that important? Isn’t it better to just let London tell you what to do?” Signs for the Better Together campaign politely read, “No, thanks”, as if to say, “thanks for asking me if I want freedom, but no thanks, I don’t want to think for myself”. Even the TV spot that they ran last week has everyone shaking their heads as the woman in the video says, “My Paul wants to know if I’ve made a decision on how I’ll vote. But I’m busy and there’s only so many hours in a day”. That’s right, she has to cook oatmeal for the children. She really doesn’t have time to think about the future of her country; that’s mens’ business. Take a look #PatronisingBTLady for a funny, but sad, look at the Better Together argument.nothanks

Another facet of the BT campaign has been to accuse the Yes voters of being right wing xenophobes like the National Front in France or Jobbik in Hungary. But of course, the driving motivation of those parties is a hatred of Muslims, Romas, and Jews. There is no comparison between the extreme Right and the Yes voters in Scotland. The Scots just want their autonomy. Because the BT campaign has no substantial arguments against Scottish independence, they’ve cooked up these bizarre accusations. What the BT campaign should be saying is, “If you want your independence, that’s fine. We respect that. If you vote “yes” on Thursday, we hope that you will join us in coalition for our mutual defense and any other projects that we can do better together.” Isn’t that what Better Together should mean?

yes-scotland

One has to wonder what has happened to Labour. Whatever virus they have contracted, it appears that the French Parti Socialiste has contracted it as well. Yesterday, French parliament gave a thumbs-up to the Socialist government to go forward with a plan to cut corporate taxes by €50B and pay for it by cutting social services by the same amount. The business-friendly socialist finance minister (now that’s an interesting creature) Manuel Valls believes it will spur jobs growth. Perhaps he should take a look at how repeated corporate tax reductions in America have created NO jobs, but have made Wall Street incredibly wealthy. The wealth disparity in the U.S. is now comparable to what it was in the 1800’s during the era of the robber barons. There are two things that creates jobs. One, increased government spending on things like highways, schools, health care. Two, put more money into the pockets of consumers by increasing wages. Discounts to billionaires is not one of those things. Social democratic parties do themselves no favors by courting the rich. As the voters realize what you’re doing, they will abandon you. French newspapers report that as many as 30 Socialist MPs abstained from yesterday’s confidence vote rather than support their own party in such scandalous behavior. What is the message that the PS is sending to the people? If you are concerned with your health, education, pension, and the future of your nation, you should switch to the Communist Party.  This is the wrong message!

Social democracy has a great and true tradition of working for the welfare of all citizens, not just 1% of the citizens. Social democratic parties such as Labour, PS, and SPD, must look at their roots and basic guiding principles and come back to the left. The same is true for the U.S. Democratic Party. Let us not be afraid of the New Deal. Let us not be afraid of “of the people, by the people, and for the people”. Let us not be afraid, period.

 

 

Sending Weapons to Syria Is a Tried and True Mistake

On November 29, 1981, an ordinary day in the bustling Damascus neighborhood of Azbakiyah, droves of Syrian pedestrians on Baghdad Street moved in and out of their apartments and offices.   Some were children visiting their friends.  Many were high-ranking intelligence functionaries working to foil subversive plots against the state.

It was a tense time. The Muslim Brotherhood was at war with the Syrian government and had been detonating car bombs all over Damascus.  In August, Brotherhood agents leveled an attack near the Prime Minister’s office and, in September, leveled another one near a government agency. Indoctrinated in Islamist dogma and trained at camps in the region, these terrorist bandits were slick, ruthless, and determined to wreak havoc.   At the time, their jihad was against the non-believers of Hafez Al-Assad’s Ba’ath Party and its military cronies spread throughout the country.

Suddenly, all at once, the city shook, and a bomb left Baghdad Street in bloody shambles. With this attack, Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood murdered and injured hundreds of civilians, causing more casualties than ever before.  If there was any reason left for the world to ignore this appalling threat to civilized society, it was now gone.

But the United States remained unconcerned.  Hardly any of us knew where the Muslim Brothers were, let alone who they were serving and who was financing their jihad.  American news outlets provided scant coverage of the attacks, and our national security apparatus said little about it in public.

American indifference to Islamist terror, even if not justifiable, would have been more understandable had it not been for the fact that, in very important ways, our government bolstered Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood in the 1970s and 1980s.  Although it is not clear whether the US government directly funded Syrian terrorists, it certainly handed off weapons and billions of dollars to Jordan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia to pursue their agendas through various  proxies, including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood.  At the end of the Cold War, as one CIA analyst put it, we were “playing with fire,” and our blasé government knew it, even if our people did not.

Today, as we again consider sending weapons to “vetted” Syrian rebels in the current civil war, our costly recent involvements in the Mideast should remind us that it is risky to cast our lot with foreign factions intent on using our aid for murder and warfare.  Because our patron states in the region have themselves thrown around funds willy-nilly for a long time, it will be necessary not only to withhold aid from violent insurgencies but also to take a more critical look at the aid that we so readily wire into other states’ bank accounts.

Although the tale of Islamism is over a hundred years old, this chapter began when Muslim Brotherhood agents fled to Syria in the 1950s after Egypt’s Nasser amped up his attacks on the Brotherhood.  As the largely secular Syrian Ba’ath assumed power the following decade, the Brothers were forced to fight for the heart of their new home, declaring outright war against the Syrian government during the Arabs’ 1967 war with Israel.

Meanwhile, in Jordan, the Muslim Brothers were fending off similar threats from anti-Islamist nationalists and Palestinians.  Though it seemed that Syria would intervene on the Palestinians’ behalf during their 1970 uprising against the Jordanian monarchy, Assad backed down when Israel “threatened action if the Syrian army moved to help the PLO.”  Still, Jordan and Israel were concerned about Syrian-endorsed nationalism and socialism and thus supported the Muslim Brotherhood’s reinvigorated jihad against Assad in the mid-1970s.

To complicate matters even further, the Lebanese Civil War erupted in 1975 and eventually provoked the involvement of both Israel and Syria.  Still pitted against the PLO, Israel funded the predominantly Christian Free Lebanon Forces and Lebanese Front, both of which supported the Muslim Brotherhood.  In fact, one of Israel’s main allies in the Free Lebanon Forces, Sa’d Haddad, operated multiple Muslim Brotherhood training camps, including some in northern Jordan with the go-ahead of King Hussein.

Pause for a moment.  Suppose that, after a long day’s work in the 1970s or 1980s, you returned home to find King Hussein pulled up in a limousine to ask you to support his latest onslaught against the Syrian government and the PLO.  Before you were able to respond, Israel’s Menachem Begin popped in asking for a big donation as well.  The two leaders’ countries were technically enemies, yes, but they both needed your help in training a group of useful Islamist rebels.  Right as you tried to answer again, King Khalid of Saudi Arabia came by and asked to buy weapons from you for the same purpose.  They all admitted that they would kill innocent people with your aid but that it was ultimately “for a good cause.”  What would you have said?

Sadly, it doesn’t even matter.  In real life, you effectively said yes to all of them.  Islamist “terrorist acts” at the time were widespread, “centered around urban centers such as Damascus, Hamah, Homs, and the coastal cities of Latakia and Tartus.”  The US was implicated in this violence by its financial support for JordanSaudi ArabiaIsrael, and, by extension, the Free Lebanon Forces and the Lebanese Front.

Recently, we have again been asked to fund a bunch of fighters amidst Syrian mayhem—this time, by taking money directly from our pockets and putting it into theirs.  As crucial as it is for the international community to support humanitarian aid to Syria’s civilians being slaughtered by the brutal Assad on one side and Islamists on the other, it is risky for us to throw any more weaponry and military support into the volatile madness unfolding in the country.

The lesson from next door in Iraq– where ISIS is on a murderous rampage with stolen weapons that the US originally gave to Iraq’s Shi’ite government– is that our arms transfers can come back to haunt us and may be redirected by almost anybody to pursue a nefarious agenda.   Boasting a recent history of such counterproductive results, the “more weapons” strategy deserves much greater scrutiny and, in the case of Syria, should probably be discarded entirely.

 

Futbol, War, & Jean Jaurès

LBJ signing Civil Rights ActThere are many interesting and important anniversaries occurring this summer. Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by Lyndon Johnson— a momentous step towards ending discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, sex, or national origin. Two weeks ago we remembered the 50th anniversary of the murder of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney— three young men who were registering blacks to vote in Mississippi. Those events were part of what we know as Freedom Summer.

This summer we also remember the 100th anniversary of the beginning of WWI.  It was on June 28, 1914 that Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria-Hungary, and his wife Sophie were murdered by a Bosnian nationalist. This led Austria-Hungary to declare war against Serbia, and this in turn grew into The Great War, which enveloped all of Europe and eventually engaged the United States and Japan as well.  One of the deadliest wars in history, more than 70 million military personnel were mobilized, of which about 9 million died on the battlefield.

On July 31 we will remember the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Jean Jaurès. Most Americans are not familiar with him, but his role in reshaping European politics was extremely significant. I have made no secret that Jaurès has been influential for me in my own political development. Who was he? Jaurès was a French parliamentarian; leader of the French social democrats (at that time called the French Socialist Party). He was a prolific writer, and editor of the French socialist journal L’Humanité. During his time, the socialist parties of Europe were dominated by classical Marxists who believed that capitalism would collapse due to its own natural excessive behavior. However some leaders in the parties concluded that it wasn’t going to happen and pushed for changes in strategy that included participation in electoral politics. In Germany, Bernstein led the way, but the government structure there didn’t allow for parliamentary elections. The story was different in France, and it was Jaurès who led the charge. His proposal was that Socialists should enter parliament and work in coalition with other parties representing other constituencies to achieve the socialist goals.  It was through his leadership that various socialist factions joined together to form the Left Bloc and push through legislation separating church and state.  His use of parliament to constrain the destructive behavior of capitalism while at the same time allowing a limited free market has been copied around the world. It is unfortunate that the impact was not immediately felt, but eventually it would lead to an enduring stability in western Europe when social democrats took charge at the end of WWII.

Jean_Jaurès_(1)In was at this time 100 years ago that France was getting ready to engage in a catastrophic war prompted by the murder of Franz Ferdinand. Jaurès was very vocal against the war. In fact, he was planning to attend a conference of the Socialist International in August where he would speak out against it. Unfortunately, a French nationalist would shoot him dead at a cafe in Paris on July 31. So ended the life of this great man. But his legacy lives on. Tomorrow, the French and Germans meet each other on the battlefield once again. This time it will be in the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament. It is a wondrous development of civilization that replaces war with sports. While Tea Partier Ann Coulter may prefer that Americans express their nationalism by killing foreigners instead of playing soccer, I’m sure the members of the American Mens National Team are happy to live to play another day.

In Holocaust Education, Re-Emphasize Allied Apathy

When teaching children about racism and genocide, educators often focus on individual biases as the source of systematic racism and anti-Semitism.  For example, at my synagogue, teachers often ask their students to put themselves in the shoes of Christian German civilians during the Holocaust and consider whether they, as non-Jews, would have simply shrugged off anti-Semitic slurs and the sight of innocent people in yarmulkes being attacked by policemen.  Questions like this spark a discussion of bullying and anti-bullying in American schools today.  In the process, “racism” becomes a dysfunctional interpersonal phenomenon, and the Holocaust, as a result, becomes a simple amalgamation of millions of acts by individual racists who allowed their prejudices to get out of hand.  By the end of a course on the subject, many students assume that the only way to save Hitler’s victims would have been to speak out against incidental anti-Semitism before it escalated into genocide.  As the Anti-Defamation League notes, “challenging belittling jokes” and not “accepting stereotypes” are good ways to prevent a society from escalating into acts of prejudice, discrimination, violence, and then genocide.

Combatting individual prejudices certainly can help stop mass atrocities, but, in an educational context, this truism is incomplete because it ignores the systematic mobilization of hatred and violence by governmental authority.  Even though many German schoolchildren were too reticent in the face of schoolyard anti-Semitism and could have spoken up, we must not overstate the practical impact that several more German dissidents could have had once the genocide was actually underway, nor should we pretend that the world was helpless to stop the Holocaust once Germans’ prejudices had spiraled so murderously out of control.

In our case, American students today must know that our government, even without changing the hearts of individual anti-Semitic Germans, could have saved many more of Hitler’s victims and that fighting prejudice, though immeasurably valuable, would not have been enough to compensate for the Allies’ failure to intervene on the victims’ behalf.

The US government’s shameful policy of proroguing on the Holocaust was underway by December of 1942 when President Roosevelt met with a Jewish delegation imploring him to stop the genocide. Although Roosevelt intimated at the meeting that his administration “shall do all in our power to be of service to your people in this tragic moment,” the proceeding few months panned out much differently.

In February of 1943, the Rumanian government suggested that it would transport 70,000 Jews into Allied territory in exchange for roughly 130 dollars per refugee. Though such a proposal probably would have required further examination and negotiation, Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles simply dismissed it out of hand, lambasting it as a hoax of “the German propaganda machine” to “create confusion and doubt within the United Nations.” The Nuremberg trials elucidated, however, that the offer was sincere and that, with only a little bit of extra research, the State Department would have known to capitalize on the offer.

With that in mind, perhaps we should be asking students what their forbears in the United States could have done to pressure their government to act on the Rumanian proposal.  When organizations pushing the United States to accept Rumania’s offer were denigrated as inflammatory and overdramatic, how could our forbears have normalized the struggle for genocide victims and defended the efforts of those who were advocating positive action?

It is no exaggeration to say that the Allies’ “efforts” at saving Hitler’s victims were laced with unconcern and faux-outrage at most key turns thereafter.  To the world, our leaders were “devastated” by what was happening to European Jewry, but, in private, they were much more insouciant about the matter. In fact, to absolutely no objection, British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden once said outright in a 1943 meeting with President Roosevelt that “we should move very cautiously about offering to take all Jews out of a country like Bulgaria.  If we do that, then the Jews of the world will be wanting us to make similar offers in Poland and Germany.”  When Eden expressed concern that “Hitler might take us up on any such offer” and that the Allied Powers would have to find new homes for Jewish refugees, he was greeted with nonchalance and tacit agreement.

Today, students of the Holocaust or any other systemic atrocity should not ask themselves only how more people could have acted individually to condemn incidental bigotry, as important as that question is; they should ask how thousands upon thousands of people could have acted in tandem to pressure their governments to save thousands upon thousands of victims.  We should remember that the Holocaust was not only an exercise of individual prejudice but also an exercise of systemic governmental apathy and an exhibition of societies’ unfortunate tendency to shrug their proverbial shoulders amidst large-scale suffering.