Category Archives: Activism, etc.

Chicago Hearing videos now online

The videos from the April 18 Chicago Hearing, which looked into whether U.S. policy on Israel upholds American values, are now all available through their website.
I really apologize to readers that I haven’t yet had time to write up my personal impressions of that amazing afternoon, when I was the moderator for all three of the panel discussions. But now, you can watch the sessions for yourself and have your own impressions, so maybe that’s better.
If you look at that portal page for the videos, you’ll see that you could organize a series of three (or four) viewing parties in your church, temple, mosque, school, or other community or neighborhood group. You could watch segments 1,2, and 3 at the first session (72 minutes total viewing time); segments 6, 7, and 8 at the second session (75 minutes viewing time), and segments 4, 5, and 9 at the third session (63 minutes). Having the video-viewing portion slightly shorter in that last session would give you more time to start brainstorming things your group could actually do to help organize and work for justice for Palestinians.
If you only have time (at first) to see just one of these segments, I urge you to go and watch this one.
If you noodle around a bit on the CH website you can find and download the truly excellent information sheets they produced on all the topics discussed. You can also find– right there on the front page– their suggestions of actions you and your colleagues and friends can undertake.
What a great initiative that was (and still is!) My biggest thanks to Jennifer Bing-Canar and all the other people who worked long and hard to organize the Hearing.
Of course, we’ll know the campaign has been making some real inroads once the relevant U.S, congressional committees themselves start organizing hearings like this, to hear testimony from people who have suffered directly from the use the State of Israel has made of all the many, many benefits it gets from the U.S. government.

In Chicago, for the Hearing

So I’m in Chicago, for the Chicago Hearing, which will be running from 1:30 through 5:30 this afternoon, CST.
Last night we had an interesting dinner at Dr. Ghada Talhami’s home. Jad Isaac of ARIJ and Mark Braverman of, um, Mark Braverman were there along with a bunch of other interesting people.
I hadn’t seen Jad in many years, so it was great to catch up with him. Back during the First Intifada he was one of the pioneers of organizing mass civilian (nonviolent) resistance. Last night he was talking very interestingly about (1) the apparent hopelessness of the PLO’s current negotiating strategy, but (2) the apparent usefulness and effectiveness of Salam Fayyad’s administrative and economic strategies.
I guess the big question I wanted to ask is how long you can continue with #2 there so long as #1 continues, since the horrible facts of continuing occupation, dispossession, expropriation, and Israeli control will always constrain Ramallah’s ability to exercise effective domestic governance.
A “well-run” ghetto– who wants that?
Anyway, this morning I had breakfast with a group of interesting Syrian Americans. On Friday, Norman Finkelstein was here. Chicago seems to be hopping with pro-justice activity!

Berkeley’s BDS epic continues; Despatches

The debate at U.C. Berkeley’s student Senate (ASUC) continued throughout last night, on whether to over-ride the veto the Senate president had cast against the recent divestment bill.
The divestment bill, if passed, would mandate that the ASUC divest from companies that actively support Israel’s occupation of the OPTs and the Apartheid Wall— and that it call on the far richer U.C. system as a whole to follow suit.

Continue reading

Divestment at Berkeley: Tutu weighs in

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has written a wonderful letter in support of the student activists at U.C. Berkeley who are working to get their student Senate– and beyond that, hopefully, the wealthy University of California system as a whole– to divest from companies that support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Tutu’s letter is important both because of the immense moral weight of his voice and because of its timing. Tomorrow (Wednesday), the Berkeley student Senate will be having a re-vote on the divestment decision, made necessary by the fact that an earlier 16-4 vote in favor of the divestment was vetoed by the Senate’s president.
Tutu’s letter was preceded by this one, also supporting the divestment campaign, that came from Naomi Klein. (Klein’s position on BDS has been evolving in a good direction, I think.)
Tutu wrote in his letter:

    I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.
    In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. Students played a leading role in that struggle, and I write this letter with a special indebtedness to your school, Berkeley, for its pioneering role in advocating equality in South Africa and promoting corporate ethical and social responsibility to end complicity in Apartheid. I visited your campus in the 1980’s and was touched to find students sitting out in the baking sunshine to demonstrate for the University’s disvestment in companies supporting the South African regime.
    The same issue of equality is what motivates the divestment movement of today, which tries to end Israel’s 43 year long occupation and the unequal treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government ruling over them. The abuses they face are real, and no person should be offended by principled, morally consistent, non-violent acts to oppose them. It is no more wrong to call out Israel in particular for its abuses than it was to call out the Apartheid regime in particular for its abuses.

Best of luck to all the pro-BDS activists at Berkeley on Wednesday!

Chicago Hearing, April 18: Be a part of this happening!

It’s now just 17 days and 18 hours till the start of the Chicago Hearing, a breakthrough gathering in the heart of our country where a number of singularly well-informed speakers will be addressing the question of “Does U.S. Policy on Israel and Palestine Uphold Our Values?”
The witnesses who’ll be giving their testimony at this citizen hearing include Jeff Halper, founder and director of the Israeli Campaign Against House Demolitions, Cindy Corrie, veteran Palestinian social activist Jad Isaac, and Amer Shurrab, a Palestinian activist from Khan Younis whose father and brother were killed during Israel’s “Cast Lead” assault.
You can be a part of this event, wherever you are! Organize a listening party in your home, congregation, or community center. The whole hearing will be live-streamed from the website, starting at 2:15 p.m. EST on April 18. So all you need is a computer and a web connection. (If you can hook it up to a big screen, so much the better. But not necessary.)
The “Listeners” at the hearing will include Prof. John Mearsheimer, and the “Introducers” will include Josh Ruebner of the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation. I can’t wait to be there.
Oh, did I tell you? I’m going to be the moderator. What a fabulous and timely initiative this is. Americans need to hear these people’s voices.

Great graphics for a BDS effort

Jam’a al-yad, an artists’ collective in Beirut, produced half a dozen powerful posters during the city’s recent Israeli Apartheid Week. Though the most prominent captions on them are in Arabic, those could easily be translated into other languages, too.
You can access and download PDF versions of the posters here. Peronally, I don’t endorse the one that seems to advocate stone-throwing, but the rest look great.

Berkeley divestment, contd.

Here (Doc) is the press release that U.C. Berkeley Students for Justice in Palestine put out about the historic, late-night vote in which the student senate last night voted to

    ensure that its assets, and will advocate that the UC assets, do not include holdings in General Electric and United Technologies because of their military support of the occupation of the Palestinian territories…

And here (Doc) is the whole, very carefully drafted text of the bill adopted by the senate.
The press release notes that,

    In 2009, Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, became the first US educational institution to divest from companies directly involved in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Hampshire College action was advocated by the group Students for Justice in Palestine, and ultimately adopted by the Board of Trustees. Today, through its Student Senate bill, UC Berkeley becomes the first large, public US institution to endorse a similar measure.

Bill supporter Liz Jackson reported that,

    The Senate meeting started at 9 pm, and it was packed with hundreds of students and community members. I think it went on all night but I left at midnight. Confrontations between Students for Justice in Palestine and the pro-Israeli students are always wired with intense vitriol. Last night was the same. The emotions of war, and history, of personal stakes, displacement and persecution are all right there in the room. The pro-Israeli students shock me with their hatefulness and violent energy. The Palestinian students impress me with equanimity and ability to turn the other cheek. Their life experience is their training. I know that characterization is probably unfair but it felt true last night. The room cheered and jeered at every speaker.
    I spoke as an American Jew and as the co-chair of the Berkeley National Lawyer’s Guild chapter. I based our chapter’s endorsement of the bill on the NLG fact-finding mission in Gaza, the first legal group on the ground to document human rights violations just two weeks after the attack on Gaza ended last January. I closed with something like, “When the next Israeli bomb lands on a house full of screaming children may it not be funded by one cent of UC dollars.”

Jackson described her elation at being at an important gathering where each person delivers the very best argument he or she can, in the two minutes each speaker is allowed. “Some of the older people there from Jewish Voices for Peace were really amazing,” she said.
She said that one of the most inspiring speeches came from Tom Pessah, one of the two co-authors of the bill (and an Israeli citizen.) She noted that Pessah recalled the important legacy established at Berkeley in the 1960s by the Free Speech Movement, and quoted from the historic “bodies upon the gears” speech made by FSM leader Mario Savio on the steps of Sproul Hall in December 1964:

    “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part.
    “And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop…”

Jackson also said that many of the speeches made by the anti-divestment speakers seemed like hostile, demeaning invective aimed at the 20 voting members of the senate, along the lines of “You stupid idiots! You don’t know anything about this matter! It’s so much more complicated than you think and you don’t have anything like the knowledge that’s needed to even talk about it!”
I guess those arguments proved less than persuasive…
It was a long night. It started at 9 p.m., and I think the vote was finally recorded at 4 a.m. or so.
Jackson noted that Students for Justice in Palestine has worked and organized on the campus for many years to reach the present point– and that a lot more, much broader statewide organizing still needs to be done to persuade the U.C. Regents to divest the whole of the university’s large assets from companies involved in providing military support to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
By the way, also note this in the third ‘Whereas’ in the text of the bill there:

    WHEREAS, within the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem), the Israeli government continues a policy of settlement expansion…

These Berkeley students really have a very clear-eyed idea of what’s going on in the occupied territories!
By the way, Jackson was one of many members of Berkeley SJP who took part in the campus’s recent “Israeli Apartheid Week”. Here is a photo of her taking part in a quiet standing action with her friend Sarah Abdullah:

BDS comes to U.C. Berkeley

Yes, Alan Dershowitz, eat your heart out, the student senate at U.C. Berkeley voted 16-4 last night to “urge the University of California to divest from companies who have supplied the state of Israel with materials used in alleged war crimes.”
Scroll down in the comments section here (Carl Randall) to get the news on the final vote.
That report, from the Daily Cal, says,

    proponents said the bill is the first step in an expected long-term process to convince the UC Board of Regents to pull total investments of about $135 million from five companies currently supplying Israel with electronics and weapons, opponents contended it unfairly targets Israel.

Also read Russell Bates’s comments there.

Mourning Jay (and Gene)

This afternoon my beloved friend Jay Worrall died. Jay was a shining, Light-filled elder of our Quaker meeting here in Charlottesville who in an earlier era played a pioneering role in the racial desegregation movement here in town and founded the important, statewide prisoner-aid organization Offender Aid and Restoration.
I am still crying. I happened to be the only non-family member who was present in the hospital room as he passed away. Shortly before he passed, the 15 or so family people in the room, the respiratory therapist, and I all stood in silent worship together with Jay, as he lay on his bed. I had a profound sense of the Divine Spirit/Light bursting out in great pulses from Jay.
When I joined the Charlottesville Friends Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), back in 1997, the meeting (congregation) had several really amazing, inspiring older members. Among them, Chic Moran, who had been a conscientious objector during World War II and had done some really important reconstruction work in Europe right after the war… Elaine Bell, who had worked with her husband Colin for many years for various Quaker service organizations in different places around the world… and Jay Worrall and his luminous wife Carolyn. They all meant so much to me. Chic died three or four years ago. Elaine died about 18 months ago. Now Jay, too, has passed. (Carolyn was at his bedside today, but she is in not in good shape.)
Jay Worrall was, I think, 96 years old. He had served in the U.S. military for many years in the 1940s and 1950s, including doing something in Ethiopia/Eritrea that always meant a lot to him afterwards. Then, fresh out of the military, he and Carolyn brought their five children to Charlottesville, where he got a job heading a pioneering organization called the Monticello Area Community Action Agency (MACAA) that worked to extend social-support services to all in the area, regardless of race… That, at a time of continued racial segregation in Virginia and much of the rest of the American south.
In 1956, Harry F. Byrd, Sr., a member of the U.S. Senate from Virginia, announced a policy of “massive resistance” to the federal court’s 1954 order that all the country’s school systems should end racial segregation. His followers in the Virginia General Assembly then enacted a series of laws forbidding any race-integrated schools from receiving state funds, establishing a board to determine which school each pupil should attend (based on her or his race, when this was in question), and offering tuition grants to pupils attending white-only schools.
The federal government ordered a number of school systems in the state, including the one here in Charlottesville, to desegregate their classrooms. Rather than do that, the state Governor ordered the closing of several key schools, including the high school and the premier elementary school here in Charlottesville.
There are still many older African-Americans here in town whose educations were grossly disrupted by the tensions of those years.
This was the racial cauldron in which Jay Worrall and his longtime African-American friend and collaborator Drewary Brown chose to work, building MACAA up into a powerful force for good in the community.
Jay carried on working on racial equality and racial healing issues throughout his life. He also did a lot of work on criminal justice reform and was a stalwart participant in all antiwar efforts. In the early 2000s, when I was participating in the weekly antiwar vigils here in town, he would quite frequently come by– though his legs were a little shaky and he found it hard to walk. And he’d stand with us for most of the hour, to give his public witness.
He was always keenly interested in the Middle East. As recently as last Sunday he was an active member of a group in the Quaker meeting who were discussing what campaigns can be mounted to address the current crisis in Jerusalem.
Oh, and did I mention that along the way there, Jay Worrall researched and wrote a compendious, beautifully written 630-page history of the Quakers in Virginia, an area where there has been a Quaker presence since almost the dawn of Quakerism in the mid-17th century.
So, Friend Jay Worrall has passed from our midst. Last night he had a fall, and he never recovered. I shall miss him so. My warmest sympathies go to Carolyn, their five children, and their many grandchildren.
… Last night, I was planning to write something to mark the recent passing of another man, someone whom I never knew in person, but who was another amazing force for good in our country. Gene Stoltzfuz was a member of another of the historic “peace churches”, the Mennonite church. He was the founding director of the Christian Peacemaker Teams from 1988 until 2004.
After Gene retired he started writing a blog called Peace Probe. His last post there is this quiet but profound reflection on torture and violence.

More ferment in the liberal establishment: Friedman!!

I’m late getting round to reading the NYT today. But credit where credit is due. Tom Friedman:

    I am a big Joe Biden fan… So it pains me to say that on his recent trip to Israel, when Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s government rubbed his nose in some new housing plans for contested East Jerusalem, the vice president missed a chance to send a powerful public signal: He should have snapped his notebook shut, gotten right back on Air Force Two, flown home and left the following scribbled note behind: “Message from America to the Israeli government: Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. And right now, you’re driving drunk. You think you can embarrass your only true ally in the world, to satisfy some domestic political need, with no consequences? You have lost total contact with reality. Call us when you’re serious. We need to focus on building our country.”