Did Ivanka Trump flunk world religion or is she asking a deeper question?

While discussing the father’s recent trip abroad, which she accompanied him on, Ivanka said, “To have covered the three largest world religions over the course of four days, it was deeply meaningful.” While referring to her meetings with religious leaders of Islam, Judaism and Christianity in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican last month, Ivanka incorrectly labeled Judaism as one of the world’s three largest religions. In fact, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism all have more believers than Judaism.

The show’s hosts did not comment on her gaffe. — Haaretz

Now, I want to be fair to Ivanka and the good folk at Fox and Friends. There are two rather messy questions that need to be answered before we can say what the “three largest world religions” are.

  1. What constitutes a religion?
  2. Who can be counted as a believer?

These sound like simple questions, but there are several complications. Most faith traditions have several schisms. Is mainline Catholicism the same religion as Unitarianism? What about the Eastern orthodox church, or its several variations (Russian, Greek, Syrian, Albanian, etc. etc.).  Did Jesus intend to found a new religion, or was it Paul’s idea? Is Shi’a Islam the same as Sunni Islam, or was there an irrevocable rift at the Battle of Karbala? A handful of extremly hard-line Sunnis would tell you Sh’ia are not Muslim. What about Sufis, or Isma’ilis, or Yazidis? What constitutes mainline Hinduism? What level of adherence to Vedic texts is required, what about the Puranas? Is Shaivism a sect or a different religion? If you accept an agnostic reading of the Nasadiya Suktam, are you still a Hindu? Are Buddhism and Hinduism two separate faiths or are they part of one tradition? What about Jainism? For that matter, are the three major Abrahamic traditions truly distinct? What distinguishes Halakhic (Jewish) law from Sharia (Islamic) law? When thinking of that question and its implications, this twitter thread is excellent:

How do we treat traditions that are syncretic to varying degrees? When considering the blended/syncretic faiths practiced by many indigenous peoples in IndiaAfrica, the Americas and elsewhere, do we count them as Hindu, Christian or Muslim? Or do we give equal weight to their ancient faith traditions? Several traditional faiths have adherents that number in the tens of millions. Traditional Bantu religions might make it into the top five if we counted them as such.

Why do we start with an Abrahamic mindset along with some allowances for large Asian faiths such as Hinduism and Buddhism? Is that a Euro-centric view of faith/religion? What would a non-Euro-centric view look like? How do we treat the fact that the spread of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism was, in many cases, associated with colonization, enslavement and conquest? If a person adopts a religion because they are compelled to out of need or pressure, do we count them as a believer/adherent? When we describe a conflict in religious terms (Sunni/Shia, Protestant/Catholic, Hindu/Muslim), is it truly a religious conflict, or is that a convenient way to avoid asking other questions about how political actors rally troops/support by using religion?

These are all really interesting and important questions. But I don’t believe Ivanka was really thinking about them. I think her narrow parochialism led the senior advisor to the president to assume the “three largest world religions” started in the Middle East.

Lastly, as an agnostic, I want to give a shout-out to this NY Times article: Religious Liberals Sat Out of Politics for 40 Years. Now They Want in the Game. I may not believe, but I recognize that when it comes to politics, I am on the same side as many who do, and I am glad to be in their company.

As military occupation enters 51st year, Trump administration wants UN to stop “bullying” Israel

Palestinians have lived for 50 years under a military occupation by a foreign government and there are no signs this will end anytime soon. The Israeli government has been busily dispossessing Palestinians as individuals and as a nation of land and resources. Three generations of Palestinians have lived the bulk of their lives (five decades) with their human and civil rights curtailed by the Israeli government.

The Trump administration believes the UN is “bullying” Israel by condemning these policies:

[US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki] Haley arrived in Israel to a hero’s welcome one day after warning that the United States might pull out of the U.N. Human Rights Council unless it changes its ways in general and its negative stance on Israel in particular.

Haley, a former governor of South Carolina who often is touted as a future Republican presidential candidate, has focused heavily on what she calls the mistreatment of Israel during her six months at the United Nations. Her efforts have made her a darling of Israeli leaders, and have endeared her to conservative pro-Israel organizations in the United States. […]

“You know, all I’ve done is to tell the truth, and it’s kind of overwhelming at the reaction,” she said. “It was a habit. And if there’s anything I have no patience for it’s bullies, and the U.N. was being such a bully to Israel, because they could.” — WaPo

Israeli policies towards Palestinians have many parallels with our own treatment of Native Americans. There are other parallels to our history too. For much of the 20th century, towns across the US systematically excluded African-Americans from living there. 

What Palestinians are allowed to do in the settlements is work, assuming they can pass a rigorous security screening and a get a permit. But the workers — mostly in construction and service jobs — are not allowed to drive in, and they can’t spend the night. During my two weeks in the West Bank, I learned that the best way to estimate the number of Palestinians working in a given settlement at any moment is by counting the cars parked just outside the gate. This underscored one of the ironies of the settlements, which is that Palestinian hands built most of them: their houses and synagogues, their community centers and shopping malls. — Washington Post

Palestinians are often building these houses for settlers on public Palestinian lands which the Israeli government or settlers have encroached on. In other cases, Israeli officials will condemn private Palestinian lands, establishing “nature preserves” which then turn into gardens or farms for Israeli settlers.

Across Israel proper, housing discrimination is pervasive and various types of discrimination are codified into law. Most housing is largely segregated, with Jewish Israelis living in separate towns and communities, from their Arab Muslim or Christian fellow-citizens. Of course, in the occupied territories, the Israeli army enforces such segregation, just as law enforcement and vigilante groups did in the US.

Such discrimination and oppression is only possible if you successfully propagate a supporting narrative through schools and media. Gil Gertel writing in +972mag discusses how the Israeli education system has helped sanitize Palestinian suffering:

In the wake of the 1948 War, the list of people we forgot only got longer — refugees whom we continued not to see. This is what students read about that period from the “Artzi” textbook, published in 1950: “It is very good that we found a desolate and abandoned land. It is good that every piece of land we obtained is for us […] none of those who hate us (and their numbers are great) can complain that we took someone else’s land.

This book was published two years after the Nakba, when 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes. The Israeli government subsequently razed to the ground hundreds of villages to prevent the inhabitants from ever returning. The JNF began a campaign to plant “forests” to erase evidence of Palestinian villages. Palestinian houses in urban areas were reassigned to Jewish persons.

Students, however, were told it was a “desolate and abandoned land”. In a way, this is analogous to the stories we still tell our students about early European colonization of this country and the impact on Native American peoples.

This is what we teach our children, from a fifth-grade textbook: “In 1967, following the Six-Day War, the territories of Judea and Samaria, which were not yet in Israeli hands, came under its control. Today it is populated by both Arabs and Jews. The Arab population, according to estimates, is comprised of 1.5-2.5 million people, who live mostly in urban areas […] the Jewish population is closer to 400,000, who live in approximately 125 settlements.” (pg. 156). How idyllic: those territories “came under our control,” a real miracle. Jews and and Arabs living side by side — the Switzerland of the Middle East.

Labour under Corbyn posts biggest gain in popular vote since 1945

Under Corbyn’s leadership, Labour won a bigger portion of the popular vote than it has in the past 15 years. Turnout was the highest it’s been over the past 20 years. The improvement over the prior result is the best for Labour since the post-war 1945 election.

196448.0%41.9%8.5%75.8%+ 3.9%2.3%
197043.1%46.4%7.5%72%– 4.9%2.8%
197437.2%37.9%19.3%78.8%– 5.9%2.7%
197439.2%35.8%18.3%72.8%+ 2.0%2.7%
197936.9%43.9%13.8%76%– 2.3%6.0%
198327.6%42.4%25.4%72.7%– 9.3%13.5%
198730.8%42.2%22.6%75.3%+ 3.2%11.7%
199234.4%41.9%17.8%77.7%+ 3.6%9.4%
199743.2%30.7%16.8%71.3%+ 8.8%7.7%
200140.7%31.7%18.3%59.4%– 2.5%5.2%
200535.2%32.4%22.0%61.4%– 5.5%4.7%
201029.0%36.1%23.0%65.1%– 6.2%7.7%
201530.4%36.9%7.9%66.4%+ 1.4%5.5%
201740.0%42.4%3.0%68.7%+ 9.6%4.7%

* Starting in 1981, the old Liberal party allied with and eventually merged with the SDP. Unemployment data is for Jan of each year.

Labour under Corbyn has done this while being almost universally maligned by the media and much of the party itself, including former party stalwarts from the Third-Way/centrist/New-Labour/Blairite wing. Much of the Labour establishment has spent the past year trying to brand Corbyn as unworthy of being Prime Minister. Over the past couple of years, Labour MPs have said he’s a union radical, an anti-semite and supports terrorism. Some are bothered by Corbyn’s unabashedly left-wing economic agenda, others by this anti-war stance, yet others by his criticism of western intervention and colonialism. A Labour donor and former candidate said Corbyn and his “arriviste followers” were  like Nazi Stormtroopers.

Until recently, most of the British center-left establishment was gleefully anticipating an electoral disaster, privileging their intra-party factional objectives over even a pretense at unity. The forced a leadership vote in 2016, which Corbyn won by over 60%, thanks to solid support from rank-and-file grassroots members.

There are multiple lessons US progressives can learn here:

  1. An unabashedly left-wing plank can be more compelling than one trying to pivot to the center.
  2. The entire third-way wing of your party punching left in unison can slow you down, but it won’t stop you.
  3. Authenticity matters. When people heard Corbyn unfiltered, he outperformed their expectations.
  4. Conviction matters. Voters can smell poll-tested positions or policies of convenience from miles away.

Some focus groups found that voters appreciated Corbyn’s apparent openness, in contrast to more than May’s relatively safe and sterile approach, which saw her rarely deviate from a limited palette of approved catchphrases. — www.theguardian.com/…

NY is one senate vote away from passing Single Payer Health Care

The New York Health Act passed the NY assembly this year, just as it has the past two years. The NYHA would establish a single-payer universal health-care system in New York, covering all New York residents. Every New York resident would be eligible to enroll, regardless of immigration status, age, income, wealth, employment, or other status. Coverage would include all services currently required by the state’s insurance laws and offered in the health-care plans offered to state public employees.

The plan would be funded through a progressive payroll tax/deduction that would replace health-insurance premiums for most employees. The tax would be graduated with surcharges for high-income New Yorkers. NYHA would serve as a base insurance plan for all New Yorkers and private insurance would only be available for additional services. Long term care isn’t covered initially, but the bill required a commission to propose a plan for LTC within two years.

The bill is sitting in committee in the NY senate with 31 co-sponsors. One more co-sponsor and the bill will have a majority of the Senate backing it. The entire Democratic and IDC caucus is sponsoring it, except for Simcha Felder.

Felder is a Democrat but caucuses with Republicans, largely because they redirect enormous amounts of cash to his district (go figure). Felder is getting flack from several sources for his stance:

For two weeks, the Voice called Felder’s office at least a dozen times, and each time his staff insisted they would “get back to us” if we left our number. We decided to drive up I-87 to Albany and find Felder ourselves, to try to get some sort of comment — to find out whether he was undecided, opposed, or in favor. Anything on the record would have been appreciated. — The Village Voice

The Voice was not successful in getting Felder to respond.

State Senator Simcha Felder, who was elected as a Democrat but caucuses with Republicans, currently faces enormous pressure to endorse the bill. Felder did himself no favors by thrusting himself into the spotlight this week when he called on the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference to rejoin the mainline Democrats —without committing to come back to the main Democratic faction himself. Felder ducked the Village Voice in person earlier this week in Albany, making use of the skills he honed in the City Council to avoid making hard or controversial decisions. — Gothamist

broad coalition of progressive organizations is pressuring Felder and moderate Republican senators who haven’t yet come out in favor of NYHA. The coalition includes several unions, dozens of community and faith organization, the Working Families Party, the Green Party and several towns and localities.

Last Friday, progressive organizations including Our Revolution began a “Call your Senator” campaign which resulted in thousands of calls to state senators to bring the last vote on-board for a majority. You can find your senator and their contact information here. The Campaign for NY Health has a sample script you can use for your call.

You can sign a petition to the Senate here.

Additional info on NYHA:

Third official explanation for US airstrike that killed 140 civilians in Mosul is also disputed

Back in March, a bomb dropped from a US aircraft hit a building in Mosul and caused it to collapse. The strike was called in because Iraqi force on the ground saw two snipers in the building. Once the smoke had cleared, neighbors began pulling bodies out of the wreckage and there were reports that 200+ people had perished, including many children. This was the only building in the area with a basement and over a hundred people were sheltering there.

The day the news broke, Iraqi forces told journalists that the building collapse was caused by a car bomb. This story, the first explanation, was immediately questioned since there was no tell-tale car bomb crater on the site. Civil defense officials were quoted as saying the damage was consistent with an airstrike, not a car bomb.

Then, US spokespersons claimed that families had been herded into the building to serve as human shields, by ISIS. Neighbors challenged that claim, saying militia fighting in the region had instead told people to clear the area, but the owner of the building had invited people to shelter in the building, probably believing it was safe. This was the second disputed explanation:

Although the U.S. has no video or eyewitness accounts of IS militants planting the explosives, Isler (the lead Pentagon investigator) said. Enemy fighters warned people in the building next door to leave the area the night before the explosion. IS militants knew there were innocent civilians in the building that collapsed, he said, and possibly gave them the same warning. He said the neighbors refused to leave and, as a result, were told by IS that “what happens to you is on you.” — WaPo

After an investigation, the Pentagon issued a report acknowledging its airstrike, but claiming the bomb, a 500lb explosive device, could not have caused the building’s collapse on its own. Other explosive residue was found on the site and the Pentagon claims militants had stashed explosives in the building, which then caused the collapse. But now neighbors are questioning that claim:

Manhal, who lives across the street from the destroyed house, heard the explosion, as did his father, Sameer. The two deny that the Islamic State moved any explosives into the building, however. Both recalled militants arriving the night before the airstrike, telling those still in their homes to leave before fighting began the next day. The snipers, they said, arrived at the house for the first time the morning of March 17, armed with rifles and little else.

“It was an airstrike,” Manhal’s father said of the incident. “There were no explosives.”

Brig. Gen Mohammed al-Jawari, the civil defense chief for Mosul, also disputed the U.S. report. “We were the first people who went to the site and evacuated all the bodies, and we didn’t find any explosives there, only a few grenades and IEDs that weren’t exploded. . . . What caused that destruction was an airstrike, nothing else,” he said. — WaPo

In its report, the Pentagon said there was no way the 500lb bomb it dropped on the building could have caused the collapse. It also said the 500lb bomb was the “proportionate” and “appropriate” response to two snipers:

The weapon appropriately balanced the military necessity of neutralizing the snipers with the potential for collateral damage. The GBU-38 entered the roof and detonated in the second floor of the structure.

Proportionality. The TEA selected a weapon that balanced the military necessity of neutralizing the two snipers with the potential for collateral damage to civilians and civilian structures. — Executive Summary of report from USAF

This was only one of 81 bombs dropped on the neighborhood of al-Jidada that day. The entire area is about 2 square kilometers, or about 500 acres. That is the size of 92 city blocks in Manhattan or about twice the size of the Washington mall. As per the USAF’s report, these 81 bombs were dropped to “seize the sector from 35-40 ISIS fighters controlling the area”.

The USAF’s characterization of the bomb’s impact on the building is strongly disputed by others.

A U.S. military pilot, who spoke on the condition anonymity because of his active duty status, said the report’s damage estimates for the initial airstrike were low and unrealistic. The pilot, who flew hundreds of combat sorties over Iraq and Afghanistan, said that using a GBU-type bomb on a residential structure ensures that there is an “extremely high probability” that the “entire building will be destroyed and every living entity inside would be killed.” — WaPo

The pilot’s perspective on the impact of dropping this bomb, equipped with a 500lb warhead, does comport to other reported uses of the GBU-38.

In a 2006 airstrike, two bombs, a laser-guided GBU-12 and the GPS-guided GBU-38 with 500lb warheads were dropped on a two story brick structure::

The bits and pieces scattered Saturday through the ruins in Hibhib were the remains of the American airstrike that killed Mr. Zarqawi and five others Wednesday, when a pair of 500-pound bombs obliterated the brick house and left a crater 40 feet wide and deep.

“A big hole, sir,” said Sgt. Maj. Gary Rimpley, 46, of Penrose, Colo., who reached the scene shortly after the bombing. — NY Times 

The house in Mosul was also a two storey structure. This is the third story presented by the US/Iraqi forces about this airstrike to be questioned by people on the ground. What do the neighbors and relatives actually think about the USAF report?

Idriss said the Pentagon investigation released Thursday that acknowledged 105 civilians were killed in the airstrike is relatively insignificant.

“It’s important to hear the Americans apologize,” he said, “but justice would be the government giving the people of this neighborhood money to rebuild their homes.” From where he stood at least five completely destroyed homes were visible. […]

“It wasn’t only this house where civilians died,” said Hamed Salah, approaching the building struck by the U.S. bomb. “In that house over there, more than 30 were killed and another family up there,” he said pointing down one street and up another.

— WaPo/AP

The Pentagon also said it will no longer confirm which airstrikes that kill civilians were caused by US forces.

As the result of a deal struck among the coalition partners, civilian casualty incidents included in monthly reporting will not be tied to specific countries. That means the United States will in the future no longer confirm its own responsibility for specific civilian casualty incidents either — a move toward greater secrecy that could deprive victims’ families of any avenue to seek justice or compensation for these deaths. — Foreign Policy