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What Might Be Done for Gazans Beyond Hamas?

1:16 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

This is a question many of us have asked ourselves.

Gazans have been equated with the people who are in political and paramilitary power there from the beginning of Hamas control, which was brought about by an election run more fairly than many in jurisdictions of the USA.  The three Israeli invasions of Gaza since Hamas’ electoral victory have not diminished Hamas’ control over the besieged enclave, nor provided more security to the citizens of the invading nation.  Polls in Israel show massive support for a military move that is being more universally condemned than any previous Israeli act of aggression.  Polls in Gaza show no diminution of support for Hamas.

Do Gazan Palestinians who would like to move beyond Hamas having eliminated Fatah corruption have any sort of chance or agency in forcing a change that would remove the onus of their being test cases for defending the bombing of schools, hospitals, EMTs responding, refugee collection centers and so on?  I’m not sure they do.  Hamas controls 99% of the weapons in the “Strip.”

A MyFiredoglake diary early Sunday provoked me into writing about this.  The author opened with:

There is a great divide between proof Islamists sacrifice their women and children, and those willing to believe it as they prefer to focus on blaming Jews and Israel at every opportunity.  Although the evidence of Islamist behavior is overwhelming, many prefer to blame the sticks growing that block their view of the forest–obviously because the sticks are a political tool of the ruling class.

Uh, sort of OK, but the author went on:

Elected governments who drag out people into the street and shoot them without due process, are accepted by the blogger crowd, because those elected officials say those killed were helping Jews and Americans.  The hell with due process.  And people are allowed to elect anyone they want–without being held accountable for the actions that follow, because they are fighting a war against Jews and Americans.

Not OK.  I was offended for a few reasons, and commented:

Liberal bloggers’ inability to frame Hamas accurately or with some sort of overall condemnation has more to do with not wanting to further right-wing myths and memes than with sympathy for the political position Hamas occupies and represents.

This diary links to some questionable documentation to back its thrust, as observed in comments above.

I’ve condemned Hamas on a number of issues in the past, and will probably continue to do that. I have no idea what it must be like right now in Gaza for the average well-educated Palestinian who is not comfortable with Hamas being in charge. The population at large is far worse armed than I am, or my neighbors, or most Alaskans and Americans, or – most certainly – almost any West Bank colonist. Hamas functionaries and apparatchiks have 99% of the weapons there, so I’m not sure how a rational person might take them out through some sort of resistance move or movement. Then again….

I take issue with the diary author’s use of the term “Jews.” It strikes me as borderline, as this blog and almost all credible lefty blogs don’t think of Zionist colonialism as a “Jew” issue. Partly because many of us are Jewish (I am not) and resent being co-opted by people who have hijacked one of history’s great faiths.

It isn’t like it up to liberal bloggers to help Gazan inmates figure out how best to get themselves delivered from the latest unruly iteration of their Kapos.

I am glad to see MyFiredoglake provide a forum for a writer who challenges what the author perceives to be some sort of blinders or blocked vision by “the left.”  I wish it had been better written.

Two Interviews with Max Blumenthal from Yafa-Tel Aviv and Ramallah

1:06 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

In the aftermath of the month-long Gaza slaughter, author and journalist Max Blumenthal is in Israel and Palestine.  Two videos have been posted on Youtube within the past few days which are important documents for at least a few reasons.

Longtime Firedoglake readers are probably aware that I have been following Blumenthal’s progress since he showed up at our door in September, 2008, looking for a Wasilla, Alaska base from which to investigate aspects of Sarah Palin’s Fundamentalist Christianist beliefs.

His two books, Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party, and Goliath:  Fear and Loathing in Greater Israel, were both covered here in our book salons.  Media reception of the two books could not have been more different than what occurred.

The first, a scathing look at racism, weird religious practices, intimidation and organizational modes among Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians within the framework of the GOP Right over the years, was warmly welcomed by the media.  The book, partially through media praise and coverage, became a New York Times bestseller.  It has turned out to be prophetic, and is widely regarded to be so.

His recent book, a scathing look at racism, weird religious practices, intimidation and organizational modes among Israeli and American Zionists within the context of Israeli history since the Nakba, was coldly, brutally treated by most of our American media.  Or ignored.  Soon after publication, with the events of this winter, spring and summer,  it has turned out to be profoundly prophetic.  But this resonance is largely being avoided, at least by our mainstream media outlets.

During the year-long bogus peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, the late Spring cynical Israeli rampage through the West Bank, and Operation Protective Edge, Max has written a series of articles on these events, while touching upon many other subjects about which he has gained familiarity or authority.  During the past week, in the wake of the heavy-handed police presence in Ferguson, Missouri, numerous articles have cited Max’s seminal 2011 article, From Occupation to “Occupy”: The Israelification of American Domestic Security.

The following two interviews contain some common material.  Rather than post just one,  I feel it important to post both, as each touches unique material the other does not.  It is important to note that among the most strident criticisms of Blumenthal’s Goliath were those claiming the book exaggerated or over-emphasized the degree of racism in Israel, that it underrated the extent of influence liberals have in Israeli society, or that it simplified something that is very complicated and cannot be understood without some sort of Zio-centric “context.”  In both interviews Max ties in the content of Goliath and its prophetic aspects with powerful, sordid and tragic events that have occurred since its publication last year.

I.  The German webcasters, Jung & Naiv, interview Max Blumenthal on a hill overlooking the port of Yafa and the settler city of Tel Aviv:

II.  Cenk Uygur interviews Max Blumenthal, who was in Ramallah,  on The Young Turks:

Talk by Ali Abunimah, FDL Book Salon Author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, Cancelled by Evanston Public Library – Updated X 2

10:46 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Ali Abunimah, Journalist

Author Ali Abunimah, who we hosted at a Firedoglake Book Salon on May 18th, has been rudely cancelled from giving an August 11th public talk on the book we featured, The Battle for Justice in Palestine, by the Evanston (Illinois) Public Library:

Evanston Public Library in the north shore suburbs of Chicago has canceled a talk I was scheduled to give on 11 August about my book The Battle for Justice in Palestine.

I consider this to be a politically motivated and blatant act of censorship.

It fundamentally contravenes the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights which states, among other things, that libraries “should challenge censorship” and “should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.”

I learned about the cancelation like everyone else, from a Tweet from the library’s account that my talk would be “rescheduled,” and from the fact that the event has been removed from its calendar.

I have written the following letter to the library’s Director:

Director Karen Danczak Lyons,

I was informed this morning that you have decided to cancel the upcoming book event featuring Ali Abunimah, who was to talk about his recent work, The Battle for Justice in Palestine.  In a Saturday tweet from Evanston Public Library’s Twitter account, it was announced that “We will reschedule Ali Abunimah’s talk. With this complex issue, we now plan to schedule more speakers on other dates too.” Apparently, the author found out about this cancellation through social media, rather than by a courtesy call from you or your staff.

On May 28th, I hosted Mr. Abunimah at Firedoglake’s weekly Book Salon.  The book salon’s editor understood that the book raises “complicated” questions, yet saw no need to cancel the author’s appearance or to “schedule more speakers” for some reason or another, to balance or offset what Mr. Abunimah has written about, or might have written in his salon comments.

Mr. Abunimah is a compelling writer, journalist and commentator.  I hope you are aware that in his many appearances over the past few months to speak or write about his book, no credible person has raised a single issue claiming Mr. Abunimah’s book is questionable in terms of accuracy, veracity or content.

To have cancelled this important voice on such a timely issue appears to me – and to a host of others – as blatant, perhaps even craven censorship.  The method of letting the word out on this cancellation through social media before ensuring the author had been informed should be held up as a sterling example of unprofessional behavior on your part, or on that of your staff.

Sincerely,

Philip Munger

Should you want to support Ali Abunimah, the Library Director’s work email address is director@epl.org.

Update – Monday morning:  Ali Abunimah updated his EI blog post to reflect that Lesley Williams, the library’s director of adult services has emailed him Friday, to notify him of the cancellation:

On Friday, I received an email from Lesley Williams, director of Adult Services at the library:

Dear Mr. Abunimah,

I am very sorry to have to write to you today. A few weeks ago, when I was talking to the Evanston Library administrative team about your appearance here, I told my director that I was looking for a pro Israeli speaker for sometime in the fall. She told me she would be more comfortable if we had that nailed down before your reading.

Today she told me that since I have not yet confirmed a pro Israel speaker she want[s] us to cancel your appearance on the 11th. This was of course an enormous shock. I am hoping she will allow us to still have the program, but sponsored by Neighbors for Peace and not as a library sponsored event, but merely a room rental.

Williams said that members of Neighbors for Peace were discussing that option, and added:

Please accept my abject apologies. I had no idea the program would be cancelled if I didn’t confirm an Israeli speaker before the 11th. I explained to her [the director] that re-scheduling a high profile writer and speaker like yourself will not be easy, but she is firm on the notion of “balance.”

I will keep you informed of what gets decided. Let’s hope for the best.

As noted, I learned from the library’s Twitter feed today that the event has now been canceled.

I called Ms. Williams this morning, noting that I had hosted the author here at one of our book salons in May, and that we felt no need to provide a so-called “pro-Israel” viewpoint to counter what the author has to say about his book or other events.

Update Two – Monday Evening, Cougar Mountain, Washington:

Late this afternoon, Evanston Library director Karen Danczak Lyons reported that she’d just spoken with Ali Abunimah by phone and that “we’re back on track.” The program has been rescheduled for the same date, August 11, at 7:00 PM in the large community room of the main library.

Danczak Lyons said she anticipates that demand may exceed capacity, and that tickets for the free event will be available at the library in advance; information about how to get them will be posted at the library website. She has also arranged for the program to be filmed, and Abunimah’s book will be available for purchase.

“This will be the first of a series of discussions that we’ll have in the coming months, which was always my intent, because this is an important topic,” she said. None of those programs have been scheduled yet.

Saturday Art: My Poem for Gaza

11:43 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Google map of Gaza

Google map of Gaza

Almost 40 years ago, after showing my girlfriend (now my wife) my latest poem, she diplomatically told me that poetry was perhaps “the least of my many artistic talents.”  Since then, I haven’t written many verses, though I’ve set over 50 by others to song.

However, the ongoing Gaza butchery has shaken me to the core.  I am not alone.  This has been a pivotal event for many others.

How dare this shitty little country, run by audacious ingrates and uncouth boors, dictate a new paradigm for blowing up hospitals?  How dare their ambassadors and spokes-creeps drive more stakes into the heart of what little remains of 21st century ethics and humanitarianism?

On the way to the Anchorage airport Wednesday evening, my wife and I cried as we listened to Democracy Now.  Ms. ET is far less political than me, but the stories of this atrocity cannot pass one by.

My poem is partially derived from the King James Version of the Old Testament books of Lamentations and Hosea.  The quote from Albert Einstein is from an April 1938 speech he gave at the Commodore Hotel in New York City, and is based on my own re-transcription of a long-ago deleted article on it in the New York press.

The poem is for Siun.

Poem for Gaza

Prologue:

Gaza, ancient city by the azure sea,
“How doth this city sit so solitary?

“She that was full of people!
How is she become as a widow,
a mother of countless orphans
and parents with unburied children!”

I.

The prophets warned the kings, the generals, the courtiers,
The scribes, the rabbis, the lesser soldiers and teachers.

Now, let these craven men come before the Lord:
“Let all their wickedness come before thee; and do unto them,
As thou hast done unto me for all my transgressions:
For my sighs are many, and my heart is faint.”

Her courtiers cry out: “Distant Brazil, you be a cultural giant,
A diplomatic dwarf, for daring to condemn our campaign
to make alien hospitals the newest baths of blood.”

Her generals cry out: “World, we demand one child per hour
to satisfy our replacement for YHWH – our Lockheed-HP-Motorola-
Caterpillar-SodaStream Moloch.”

Her rabbis call out: “Scalp their children’s foreskins,
make them trophies to your bravery,
rape their women, steal back their pride, for it is yours.”

Her soldiers call out: “Make your shots count.
Aim at the pregnant woman’s belly and you get two for one.”

Her teachers call out: “There is no Palestine, no Palestinians,
No people there, but rather our land waiting to be sanctified
By our return – when the other is no longer there.”

Her scribes write: “They are lesser beings than we,
Less deserving of life, happiness, health, pride or dignity,
for we are G*d’s chosen, they are scum between our toes.”

Yet G*d senses a flood of falsehoods from these flagrant proclamations:
“Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel:

“For the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land,
Because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.

“By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing rapine,They break out, and blood toucheth blood.

“Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwelleth therein
Shall languish, with the beasts of the field,and with the fowls of heaven; Yea, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away.”

II.

The prophets of ancient times are to become united
With the prophets of our own. Einstein was the harbinger:

I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs On the basis of living together in peace
Than the creation of a Jewish State.

Apart from practical considerations,
My awareness of the essential nature of Judaism
Resists the idea of a Jewish State,
With borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power,
no matter how modest.

I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain
Especially from the development of a narrow nationalism
within our own ranks,
Against which we have already had to fight strongly,
Even without a Jewish State.

We are no longer the Jews of the Maccabee period.

A return to a nation in the political sense of the word,
Would be equivalent to turning away from the spiritualization
of our community
Which we owe to the genius of our prophets.

The harbinger has not yet brought a Messiah,
And his message has been unheeded countless times.

Is the messenger who will bring peace yet among us?
Is it a man or a woman?
How long must we wait?
Read the rest of this entry →

Metropolitan Opera Censors Masterpiece by Renowned Composer John Adams

12:53 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

An actor leaps through the air on stage as two others in robes watch

A look at a great operatic composer’s most controversial work.

Every serious list of America’s greatest living composers has neo-Romantic post-Minimalist composer John Adams at or near the top. His 2002 commemoration to victims of September 11th, 2001, On the Transmigration of Souls, won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for musical composition. He has won five Grammies for recordings of his work. His most important orchestral works, Short Ride on a Fast Machine,  Harmonielehre, The Chairman Dances and Tromba Lontana are performed on a weekly basis all around the planet by the world’s top orchestras. His three full-scale operas and four other opera-like works are regarded as the most significant contribution to that genre by any American.

His three operas, Nixon in China (1987), The Death of Klinghoffer (1991) and Dr. Atomic (2005) are all held to be major masterpieces. His unique approach to opera, by basing them on real events and combination of real utterances by historic figures and fictional dialogue are all deep collaborations with poet and playwright Alice Goodman. Although all three are regarded as iconic in terms of the post-Minimalist music Adams created for them, one has stirred controversy because of its subject matter.

Since its premiere, The Death of Klinghoffer has had its detractors. The subject of the opera is the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, and the murder of one of its passengers, the disabled, wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer, who was Jewish. The hijackers were members of the Palestine Liberation Front. The Metropolitan Opera has a production of Klinghoffer scheduled for the upcoming season. However, on Tuesday, their management announced they will not broadcast the performances of it, because of “rising anti-Semitism in Europe.” You read that right:

The Met decided to cancel its planned Nov. 15 Live in HD transmission of Klinghoffer to movie theaters and a radio broadcast after discussions with the Anti-Defamation League. The league praised the Met’s decision, saying that ‘while the opera itself is not anti-Semitic, there is a concern the opera could be used in foreign countries to stir up anti-Israel sentiments or as a vehicle to promote anti-Semitism.’

Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, said that he remained a champion of the works of Mr. Adams, and that he does not believe the work is anti-Semitic. But he added that he was reacting to the concern among Jews that the live transmission to theaters around the world ‘would be inappropriate at this time of rising anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe.’

The composer is understandably upset: 

Mr. Adams, one of America’s foremost composers, said that he did not understand why the cinema transmission and radio broadcast were still being canceled if Mr. Gelb and the Anti-Defamation League agreed that the work is not anti-Semitic, though some critics have said otherwise. And he said he had been concerned by what he called ‘the really completely unjust charges’ about his opera, especially by people who have not heard it.

‘The really ironic and sad fact is that the content of this opera is more relevant in 2014 than it was even in 1991, when it was premiered,’ Mr. Adams said. ‘I think the people that are inflamed and upset about its production are people who are intent about trying to control their message. By canceling it, the Met has yielded to that intimidation.’

Mr. Adams, who praised Mr. Gelb’s support of his work and his ‘grit and determination’ to stage ‘Klinghoffer,’ said that he feared that without the global transmission, which is often followed by television broadcasts, many thousands of people would be deprived of the chance to see the work and make up their own minds about it.

‘I’m just afraid that most people will have a sort of Wikipedia opinion about this opera,’ he said. ‘They’ll say, “Oh, that’s the opera that’s been accused of anti-Semitism,” and leave it at that. And that’s really very sad — it’s very hard when something’s been stained with an accusation like that, it’s almost impossible to wash it out.’ [emphasis added]

I have tried to follow the performance history of Death of Klinghoffer since its premiere in 1991. At the time, I was seriously considering writing an opera about Edward Teller’s role in Project Chariot, a late 1950s plan to use four hydrogen bombs to create a new harbor in northwestern Alaska. I wanted to model it somewhat after John Adams’s first opera, Nixon in China, so was interested in how Adams’s voice was developing in his second opera.

All through its history, some individuals and Zionist organizations, and members of the Klinghoffer family have objected to one aspect of the opera or another. The first objection to which Adams responded was his depiction of some of the Klinghoffer’s friends, and his creation of fictional characters to portray them. They were perceived to be caricatures of some sort of Jewish stereotype. Adams deleted the scene. At least two scholarly papers have been written about how this deletion marred the opera’s form and balance.

The most authoritative person to claim the opera is anti-Semitic and romanticizes terrorism is the curmudgeonly Richard Taruskin, now a professor of musicology at Cal Berkeley:

Does The Death of Klinghoffer romanticize the perpetrators of deadly violence toward the innocent? Its creators tacitly acknowledged that it did, when they revised the opera for American consumption after its European premieres in Brussels and Paris. In its original version, the opening ‘Chorus of Exiled Palestinians’ was followed not by a balancing ‘Chorus of Exiled Jews’ but by a scene, now dropped from the score, that showed the Klinghoffers’ suburban neighbors gossiping merrily about their impending cruise (‘The dollar’s up. Good news for the Klinghoffers’) to an accompaniment of hackneyed pop-style music.

That contrast set the vastly unequal terms on which the conflict of Palestinians and Jews would be perceived throughout the opera. The portrayal of suffering Palestinians in the musical language of myth and ritual was immediately juxtaposed with a musically trivial portrayal of contented, materialistic American Jews.

As recently as last winter, the LA Opera pulled out of a co-production of the opera, leaving Long Beach Opera to produce it alone, which was a heavy financial burden for the company.

The most often-performed extract from the opera is a set of choruses, depicting displaced Jews and displaced Palestinians, in turns. They are choral masterpieces. Before September 11th, 2001, the Boston Symphony and chorus had programmed the work to be performed that fall. They cancelled after numerous complaints that the choruses “romanticize terrorists.”

The composer’s responses to criticisms and cancellations over the work’s 23-year history are studies in restraint. The opera is more like an oratorio or passion than what we generally consider an opera to be. More opera-like than most of those by fellow minimalist Philip Glass, Adams really does succeed in having a neutral point of view. Apparently that isn’t enough for some who are upset whenever Palestinians are treated even-handedly in comparison to Israelis or to Jews.

No doubt there will be new developments between now and the November production. Will any of the number of other living Pulitzer Prize winning American composers come to John Adams’s defense? There are at least 30 of them.

Or are they concerned about ruining their futures?

John Adams said he learned that the Metropolitan Opera was scrapping plans to transmit his opera The Death of Klinghoffer to movie theaters around the world when the Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, told him on Sunday by telephone that he had gotten ‘unimaginable pressure’ from some Jewish groups that oppose the work. [emphasis added]

The Chorus of the Exiled Palestinians, from Penny Woolcock’s film of the opera:

Photo by Robert Hubert Smith released under a Creative Commons No Derivatives license.

Firedoglake Book Salon Preview: The Battle for Justice in Palestine by Ali Abunimah

10:13 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Author Ali Abunimah

Please join us Sunday for Ali Abunimah’s The Battle for Justice in Palestine. I’ll be hosting. Of the FDL book salons on the subject of Palestine-Israel that I have hosted, I’m looking forward to this one the most. Ali has been in this battle for a long time. We will get to witness him explain the book’s bold opening sentence, “The Palestinians are winning.” And much more.

I.  2014 is a year seeing rapid changes in how the world views and reacts to relations between Israel and Israelis, and their co-inhabitants, in the so-called “Land Between the River and the Sea.” Terms used to describe Israeli policies and laws, words such as “racist” or “apartheid,” for instance, are quickly gaining more currency, more acceptance. Pushback against use of such terms by ardent Zionists seems to get less traction in the public at large by the day.

The main reason this is the case is simply grounded in abundant examples of racist and apartheid incidents, rules, policies and actions perpetrated daily in that land. The very recent assignment of blame on the breakdown of the Peace Process™ talks supervised by the U.S. State Department, between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Foreign Office on the Israelis, by Secretary of State John Kerry, lead negotiator Martin Indyk and others is unprecedented.

Every week more organizations become leery of dealing with Israel as if everything is normal there. Pension funds divest. Professional associations pass resolutions to cut ties with their Israeli counterparts. Churches pass resolutions of condemnation or divestment, even an unblushing published study guide labeling Zionism as “false theology.” College student government bodies debate the utility of the Global BDS Movement, and vote to participate in it – or not. The list of professional associations of college faculty boycotting Israeli institutions grows monthly. This trend will only accelerate, as Israel is plummeting over the edge, no longer able to hide the true nature of the country’s vision of Jewish supremacy at the expense of non-Jews. Just this Thursday, Israeli Economic Minister Naftali Bennett proposed, once again, to Prime Minister Netanyahu, to annex Area C, 74% of the West Bank:

Bennett has presented his plan in recent weeks to foreign diplomats stationed in the country. The proposal includes removing IDF roadblocks in the territory left under Palestinian control, Areas A and B, as well as investing in infrastructure there and pursuing massive economic development.

Annexing Area C, Bennett has said, will secure Israel’s vital interests by creating a buffer zone for Gush Dan and Jerusalem. It will also preserve Israel’s “vital” national heritage sites.

According to sources close to the Bayit Yehudi leader, he will push forward with the plan regardless of whether Hamas and Fatah implement their unity agreement, and regardless whether Israeli-Palestinian talks start anew. Bennett, according to sources close to him, believes those talks will ultimately fail.

Europe and the United Nations – which have indicated they view Area C as vital for the viability of a future Palestinian state – have in the last few years increasingly focused on shoring up Palestinian development there, including with financial assistance.

This annexation would result in the remainders of Palestine being something that looks like nothing in the world more than the former Bantustans of South Africa: Read the rest of this entry →

(Late) Saturday Art: Remembering Rachel Corrie on the 11th Anniversary of Her Murder

8:41 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Rachel Corrie - February 2003

I have posted my cantata, The Skies Are Weeping, here before.  It is my 2003-2004 tribute to the memory of Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall, killed by Israeli thugs in Gaza, during the run-up to the opening of the Iraq invasion, when the world was distracted elsewhere, and Brits and Americans could be murdered callously and with impunity.

Rachel was murdered 11 years ago Sunday.  Remember her.

More information on The Skies Are Weeping.

My denunciation before a joint session of the Alaska Legislature for having written the cantata.

You can donate to the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice here.

New Presbyterian Study Guide: Zionism is a “false theology”

1:51 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Palestine_www.palestineremembered.com_NK10355

Palestine


In mid-January, the Presbyterian Church (USA) announced publication and distribution of a new package titled Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study Guide.  The 74-page booklet with accompanying CD-ROM is intended to be a “how-to guide for class leaders and focused discussion prompts make it an ideal resource for multi-week exploratory education programs in churches, mosques, synagogues, and all classroom settings.”

I first read about the booklet and some of its endorsements back on January 15th, in a post at Mondoweiss by Annie Robbins.  Surprisingly, in the two-plus weeks since the announcement, the tract has apparently not been denounced as anti-Semitic by any leading Zionist organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League, for instance, which has vehemently attacked the church’s leadership in the past.

I haven’t ordered the booklet yet.  At the church’s mission network web page, the manual appears to be very well done – scroll down.

So I’ve been waiting for reviews of the material to show up.  On January 31st, Joe Catron published a sort of review for Electronic Intifada.  Catron has read the booklet and taken notes as he viewed the material on the CD.  He notes that the main issue the Presbyterian Church (USA) takes with what Zionism means is its mixing of selected religious beliefs, dogmas, passages and so on, with politics.  Catron quotes from the CD:

“With Zionism Unsettled, we are hoping to shine a light on the effects of Zionism as a political ideology that is justified by appeal to selective biblical texts,” Walt Davis, co-chairperson of the IPMN’s education committee and Zionism Unsettled project coordinator, told The Electronic Intifada.

“There’s a good deal of examination of various theologies in Zionism Unsettled, but through the lens of how they have been affected by a nationalist ideology,” Davis added.

“The problem now is that the issue is no longer just a secular political ideology; it has become an ideology infused with biblical and theological justifications. Therefore it now needs to be examined through a theological lens too.”

Apparently, the guide approaches Zionism as a sort of myth, similar to what led many Southern U.S. Christian churches to justify slavery before the Civil War, and led Afrikaaner Calvinists to embrace political apartheid as being warranted or even mandated by biblical teachings.  Catron quotes on myths:

“Israeli and American myths of origin are similar and derived from the same biblical sources,” Zionism Unsettled says, noting that “the history and ideology of settler colonialism have been so central to the political history of the United States that it is not surprising the political and religious leadership in the US has been predisposed to uncritical support for the Zionist movement.”

The publication and dissemination of this educational packet in the months before the church’s 2014 general assembly may or may not have been intentional.  I haven’t read anything indicating it was:

The 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will be held from June 14 to 21, 2014 at the COBO Center in downtown Detroit, Michigan.  This biennial meeting brings together commissioners and advisory delegates from all 172 presbyteries, as well as other delegates and observers from around the world.  We begin and end with worship, and in between there are celebrations, deliberations and inspirations for everyone. See the proposed docket.

Detroit, a city rediscovering its future and celebrating its rich diversity will play host to the assembly and provide inspiration to the church.  All of the general proceedings and worship will be streamed live, but you are invited to learn more here or to join us as we seek to hear scripture calling us to “abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

In 2012, the assembly narrowly voted down a motion to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlitt-Packard, but passed a motion to divest from any business with or investment in Israeli interests in the Occupied Territories.  At the time, an attendee noted:

It was interesting to watch the 2012 General Assembly debate concerning divestment. The Presbyterian Church has youth advisory delegates who don’t count on the final vote but vote before the voting delegates. The divestment motion for the Presbyterian Board of Pensions barely failed but the youth delegates nearly unanimously supported it. Generational overturn inside the Presbyterian Church will ultimately change things.

The list of Christian churches worldwide who view the “facts-on-the-ground” applications of Zionism with increasing concern is growing rapidly.  It is hard for wikipedia to keep up.

Catron concludes his EI review:

With divestment set to return to the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s agenda in Detroit this summer, two years of dialogue, e­ducation, and organizing by activists within the church may be nearing fruition.

Meanwhile, members, perhaps young delegates, will be studying the dangers of a myth called Zionism.
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Scarlett Johansson Breaks Up with Oxfam, Leaves Note on Pillow

8:32 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Scarlett Johannson in a shoulderless black dress, hands on hips.

Johansson chooses Sodastream over Oxfam.

Wednesday evening, actress Scarlett Johansson brought the nine-day dilemma over the conflict between her seven-year relationship with the global relief organization, Oxfam, and her new commercial relationship with the Israeli company, SodaStream, to a conclusion with this announcement:

A statement released by Johansson’s spokesman Wednesday said the 29-year-old actress has ‘a fundamental difference of opinion’ with Oxfam International because the humanitarian group opposes all trade from Israeli settlements, saying they are illegal and deny Palestinian rights.

‘Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years,’ the statement said. ‘She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam.’

Earlier this month, The Avengers and Her actress signed on as the first global brand ambassador of SodaStream International Ltd., and she’s set to appear in an ad for the at-home soda maker during the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.

Oxfam announced late last week that it was in discussion with Johansson:

While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador,” it added.

‘Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.’

Johansson responded to Oxfam without directly addressing the most pressing of Oxfam’s problems with the conflict:

SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbours working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights.

The workers do not actually enjoy equal rights with their Israeli employers:

One mid-level Palestinian employee who spoke to Reuters outside the plant, away from the bosses, painted a far less perfect picture, however.

‘There’s a lot of racism here,’ he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. ‘Most of the managers are Israeli, and West Bank employees feel they can’t ask for pay rises or more benefits because they can be fired and easily replaced.’

snip:

Israeli labor watchdog Kav LaOved says a lack of oversight over enforcement of minimum wages and worker rights in West Bank factories reflects Israel’s pro-settler policies.

‘The government wants incentives for Israelis to come and build and expand there. The government has demonstrated very clearly that companies in the West Bank will be allowed to have cheap labor,’ Kav LaOved head Hanna Zohar told Reuters.

Early this morning, Oxfam responded to Johansson’s pillow note, changing her page there to reflect that the relationship is over, while at the same time saying nothing new.  A row developed over the early part of this week, with Oxfam America concerned that putting pressure on Johansson over an issue concerning Israel might hurt fundraising activities in this country: Read the rest of this entry →

Is Scarlett Johansson’s SS Super Bowl Deal Blood Money? – UPDATED

11:27 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Scarlett Johansson endorsing Apartheid

Actress Scarlett Johansson‘s next premiere will be in an ad aired at Super Bowl XLVIII, on February 2nd, during the 4th quarter.  The sponsor, Sodastream, is an Israeli company whose main facilities are illegally located in Area C of the Occupied West Bank of Palestine, in the industrial zone known as Mishor Adumim.  Her involvement with a company being boycotted by the Global BDS campaign and others has garnered some attention since the relationship was announced earlier this month.  Most criticism has centered around Johansson’s volunteer role as a spokesperson and activist for Oxfam, a 72-year-old NGO that works to “find solutions to poverty and related injustice around the world.”  Oxfam regards Israeli industrial activity in the Occupied West Bank as illegal.  Such conflicts with Oxfam volunteers have come up in the past:

Oxfam objected in 2009 when another ambassador, the American actress Kristin Davis, agreed to endorse Ahava, an Israeli cosmetics company that also has a factory in a West Bank settlement. After a wave of negative publicity, Ahava and Ms. Davis quickly parted ways.

 Oxfam is in touch with Johansson about the conflict.  Her niche at the NGO’s web page had this added late Wednesday:

We are proud of our relationship with Scarlett Johansson who has worked with Oxfam since 2005 to support Oxfam’s mission to end poverty and injustice. As an Oxfam Global Ambassador, she has travelled to India, Sri Lanka and Kenya to highlight the impact of traumatic disasters and chronic poverty, and she has helped to raise critical funds for life-saving and poverty-fighting work around the world. We deeply value her support.

Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors. However Oxfam believes that businesses that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support. Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.

We have made our concerns known to Ms. Johansson and we are now engaged in a dialogue on these important issues.

Up until late Thursday the story hadn’t been covered by any major U.S. media outlets. The Electronic Intafada and Mondoweiss have both run a number of articles on this through the week.  But Thursday, the New York Times posted a detailed article on-line about the controversy.  Super Bowl commercials are big deals in the advertising and endorsement worlds.  Sodastream has posted Youtube and other media promoting the upcoming commercials:

I have a number of questions on this that haven’t yet been answered:

1.  Was Johansson aware of the true state of affairs for the Palestinian workers at the Mishor Adumim factory when she signed on with Sodastream?  Last year, Sodastream posted a video touting the boon Sodastream’s illegal facility is for Palestinians who are employed there.  An anonymous worker refuted the claim at Electronic Intifada:

A professionally-produced video recently appeared on YouTube, taking the viewer on a carefully-constructed tour of the production facilities for the Israeli companySodaStream, manufacturer of carbonated drink machines.

The 8.5-minute video focuses on the firm’s factory located in Mishor Adumim, the industrial zone of the illegal Israeli settlement Maale Adumim in the occupied West Bank, and its Palestinian workers. The underlying message throughout the video is that the company’s settlement factory is a “fantastic sanctuary of co-existence” and, despite being built on stolen Palestinian land, is beneficial to the Palestinian economy and workers.

The video was recently shown to M., a Palestinian employee of SodaStream who has worked on the assembly line at Mishor Adumim for a long time and lives under Israeli occupation in the West Bank. M. spoke to The Electronic Intifada on condition of anonymity.

His immediate reaction to the blissful setting presented in the video was one of shock.

“Lies”

“I feel humiliated and I am also disgraced as a Palestinian, as the claims in this video are all lies. We Palestinian workers in this factory always feel like we are enslaved,” M. said.

2.  Was Johansson aware that this lucrative product endorsement would most likely lead to a severance of her relationship with Oxfam?

3.  When working with Johansson on coming into a contract, was she informed by Sodastream’s agents, who must have been aware of a potential hazard, of the huge possible liability to the actress’s future career being their spokesperson represents? They certainly should have done that.  Johansson may be under pressure from her team for more public exposure, but Sodastream is under intense pressure.  Partially from BDS effectiveness, partially because the company’s model may have flaws, their stock is down 50% for 2013.

I’ve been a fan of many of Scarlett Johansson’s roles since The Horse Whisperer and Lost in Translation.  If she had better agents she might have won a major film acting award by now.

Whether or not she was a victim of people running her career here or knowingly has become a major spokesperson for Israeli apartheid will probably become known within the next ten days.

Too late to pull the ads.  Can Scarlett handle this upcoming blood money role well enough to actually do something positive for Palestinians living under apartheid in the weird zone her employer exploits 24-7?

UPDATE:  Friday 3:20 pm Alaska Time:

Scarlett Johansson has issued a statement which has been printed at Huffington Post.  It is brief and quite vague.  She does not appear to be ready to back away from SodaStream:

While I never intended on being the face of any social or political movement, distinction, separation or stance as part of my affiliation with SodaStream, given the amount of noise surrounding that decision, I’d like to clear the air.

I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine. SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights.

That is what is happening in their Ma’ale Adumim factory every working day. As part of my efforts as an Ambassador for Oxfam, I have witnessed first-hand that progress is made when communities join together and work alongside one another and feel proud of the outcome of that work in the quality of their product and work environment, in the pay they bring home to their families and in the benefits they equally receive.

I believe in conscious consumerism and transparency and I trust that the consumer will make their own educated choice that is right for them. I stand behind the SodaStream product and am proud of the work that I have accomplished at Oxfam as an Ambassador for over 8 years. Even though it is a side effect of representing SodaStream, I am happy that light is being shed on this issue in hopes that a greater number of voices will contribute to the conversation of a peaceful two state solution in the near future.

I’ll provide any further updates in the comments.