AOC is heckled, makes it a teaching moment on how funding cuts are designed to divide us.

AOC was hosting a town hall in her district and was talking about public schools. She talked about her dad getting into Brooklyn Tech (one of the selective NYC high schools). AOC then asks why every school can’t be like Brooklyn Tech, why NYC only has a handful of such selective high schools. She was heckled by some attendees who oppose changes to the testing program for these schools.

And this is the special moment, she points out that in many, many areas of public services, we have created an environment of scarcity. This ends up pitting communities against each other for resources. Instead, she suggests we should make the fight for more resources across the board, rather than fighting over scraps because funding has been slashed, and we’re letting plutocrats get away with rampant tax evasion aided by corrupt politicians. That’s not hyperbole, both the former NY Assembly Speaker and the NY Senate leader are in prison for corruption. 

It’s worth watching how AOC turns this conversation around, arguing that we bake a bigger and better public services pie rather than fight over small pieces of it.

As background, there is an enormous controversy around the schools at the moment. The chancellor and mayor wants to modify the way admissions are handled. Students currently take a standardized test (the SHSAT) to enter 8 of the 9 schools. The ninth school is Fiorello H. Laguardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. Laguardia admits incoming high-school students based on an audition or a review of their work. 

To improve diversity among the student body at the eight other schools, various proposals have been floated for alternate arrangements. Here’s one pitched by the mayor which is being challenged by a conservative, anti-affirmative action group:

Currently, specialized schools enroll tiny percentages of black and Hispanic students, even though those students make up about 70 percent of the school system. This past year, only 10 black students were offered seats at Stuyvesant High School, the most competitive of the eight test-in specialized schools.

Discovery allows mostly low-income students who just miss the cutoff for entry to enroll in summer classes aimed at preparing them for the schools’ academic rigor.

The current version of Discovery sets aside 6 percent of seats at specialized high schools for students who come from low-income families. Mr. de Blasio’s plan would expand that to 20 percent of seats at each specialized school, and require schools to reserve seats for more vulnerable students who not only come from low-income families but also attend high-poverty schools. — www.nytimes.com/…

The parents of some kids at these schools have opposed such moves. The Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a conservative outfit founded by former Reagan staffers has filed a challenge to the plans. PLF has previously challenged affirmative action and de-segregation policies in other states. 

Some aren’t pleased with the idea. Their view is that it would kill off a straightforward assessment of merit that applies across schools—the test is an objective measure, they say, and can’t be gamed the way interviews or grades can be, which can reward kids who are richer and/or white.

More specifically, de Blasio’s proposal has upset many Asian parents in particular and a great number of (though certainly not all) alumni and current students. Asian parents’ opposition to scrapping the test probably has something to do with the fact that, as data provided to us by the city’s Department of Education shows, 30 percent of Asian applicants in 2018 received offers to a specialized school, accounting for more than half of all offers. (And Asians are the minority group with the highest poverty rate in the city.) And there are plenty of elite public high schools across the country, but none are test-only, and none have the reputation nationally or internationally that New York’s specialized high schools do; many of the opponents of getting rid of the test believe—probably not incorrectly—that these schools’ reputation is in part a function of the formidable test. — www.theatlantic.com/…


— @subirgrewal

Activists who confronted Chelsea Clinton at vigil give their story

Full disclosure, I was an undergraduate student at NYU, where I very occasionally wrote for the student newspaper. In so many ways, this particular kerfuffle is happening in my backyard.

On Friday, a vigil for the Christchurch victims was held at New York University.

Rose Asaf is a senior at NYU. She is an Israeli-American Jewish woman, and she co-founded the Jewish Voice for Peace chapter at NYU.

Rose’s best friend is Leen Dweik, also a senior at NYU. She is a Muslim Palestinian woman whose main organizing centers on Palestine solidarity efforts.

When Chelsea Clinton arrived, Rose tweeted the video below, which shows Leen confronting Chelsea Clinton for her remarks about Ilhan Omar earlier this month. Leen said Clinton’s remarks had stoked Islamophobia. She went on to say the vigil was being held for “a massacre stoked by people like you and the words that you… put out into the world”.

My best friend @vivafalastin told @ChelseaClintonthat itâÂ?Â?s a disgrace that she came to the vigil, calling out ChelseaâÂ?Â?s Islamophobia and hypocrisy. pic.twitter.com/8sdWH86BhB

— Esor (@itme_esor) March 15, 2019

That video went viral and quickly led to intemperate responses from other celebrities rushing to Chelsea Clinton’s defense. 

Donald Trump Jr. jumped in, coming to Chelsea Clinton’s virtual aid. Several people then pointed out Cheslea Clinton’s long friendship with Ivanka Trump. Neera Tanden offered a competing explanation, suggesting Jr. might be trying to stoke division among Democrats (as if!). 

Mayor Bill DeBlasio came to Chelsea Clinton’s defense as well

Other celebrities and people with platforms decided to take it further. Kathy Griffin called Leen a “fucking pussy”. Robert Palmer, a political analyst called Leen a “fanatic”

A Hill journalist mocked Rose for her pro-Palestinian, pro-gay activism and later deleted that tweet after people highlighted its implicit racism and Islamophobia. 

The same journalist did leave up a tweet about other aspects of Rose’s pro-Palestinian activism. That bothered the acclaimed Jewish illustrator and comic book creator Eli Valley enough that he felt he had to jump in to defend the two young activists.

The executive editor of the Washington Examiner claimed Leen was advocating genocide. Within the space of a few hours, it felt as if most of “blue check twitter” seemed intent on putting the two young activists in their place.

And there was the usual Twitter mob who decided to dig up tweets from when they were 15 years old. To which Leen had this to say:

Finally, to add yet more flavor to the pot, a whole host of people noted that Leen was wearing a Bernie 2020 t-shirt. 

Let us all take a big step back.

Of course, the New Zealand incident was bound to touch the Israel-Palestine fault-line in American politics, if only for this: 

Then there is the fact that Leen Dweik is Palestinian, her best friend Rose Asaf is Israeli-American and they both advocate for Palestinian rights. Back in December, NYU’s student government voted for a resolution asking NYU to divest from Israeli companies. That effort was led, in part, by Rose Asaf and Leen Dweik as reported by the NYU student newspaper:

The students came to see the result of the “Resolution on the Human Rights of Palestinians,” presented by Senators at-Large Rose Asaf and Bayan Abubakr and Alternate Senator at-Large Leen Dweik. […]

“This resolution is for the human rights of all.” Dweik said. “We want to know that our tuition money is not being spent to kill brown people across the world.” […]

Political Action Chair for the Black Student Union Dylan Brown spoke second for the resolution. Brown mentioned that the struggles of black people in the United States cannot be separated from those of the Palestinian people.

“This body has a duty to all marginalized students on this campus to not be invested in systems of oppression,” Brown said. — nyunews.com/…

Given the nature of their political activism, it’s safe to assume that both young women are earnest in their concern for Rep. Omar. Campus activists for Palestinian causes often face charges of anti-semitism. Major pro-Israel organizations have funded an effort to create a blacklist of pro-Palestinian college activists:

For three years, a website called Canary Mission has spread fear among undergraduate activists, posting more than a thousand political dossiers on student supporters of Palestinian rights. The dossiers are meant to harm students’ job prospects, and have been used in interrogations by Israeli security officials. — forward.com/…

So they can be forgiven to seeing the bad-faith attacks on Rep. Omar as a higher profile example of the kind of things they have likely faced.

A number of people on the left believe Rep. Ilhan Omar was unfairly attacked by those with large platforms who have a pro-Israel view. Many also believe these attacks put Rep. Omar at great risk of physical harm, and that legitimizing such bad-faith attacks leads to a vicious cycle, which can trigger violence. This is the context within which we have to understand the video and Leen’s remarks. 

Leen and Rose were interview by the Washington Post and had this to say about that dynamic:

“She [Chelsea Clinton] was the one who made this a story,” Asaf said, especially by using “as an American,” which Asaf saw as an “anti-immigrant trope.” “To me, when speaking of someone who is a refugee, it’s a dog whistle, it’s signaling this is a patriotic issue and that nationalism excludes people like Ilhan Omar,” she said.

“I wanted to convey my grief,” Dweik added. “It wasn’t this planned attack. I very specifically waited until after the vigil. I wanted this person to know they’ve caused harm. You’ve done things that have hurt this community, and the grief people feel today you’re not separate from.” […]

Asaf said if she could do anything differently, it would be to frame the encounter to focus more on the grieving Muslim community and not on Clinton.
“I think one of the most important things we can do going forward is to listen to the people being targeted, to respect and center their narratives,” Dweik said. “When all of these people are grieving and when we’re thinking about how this person is feeling … we’re not centering the right voices.”

— www.washingtonpost.com/…

The Chelsea Clinton tweet Rose referred to was this:

Leen and Rose have also written an article at Buzzfeed, providing their perspective on the encounter they had with Chelsea Clinton, it is worth a read.

We did a double take when we first noticed Chelsea Clinton was at the vigil. Just weeks before this tragedy, we bore witness to a bigoted, anti-Muslim mob coming after Rep. Ilhan Omar for speaking the truth about the massive influence of the Israel lobby in this country. As people in unwavering solidarity with Palestinians in their struggle for freedom and human rights, we were profoundly disappointed when Chelsea Clinton used her platform to fan those flames. We believe that Ilhan Omar did nothing wrong except challenge the status quo, but the way many people chose to criticize Omar made her vulnerable to anti-Muslim hatred and death threats. […]

The reality is that many people aren’t doing enough to fight anti-Muslim bigotry. We need people to understand that you cannot be racist against Palestinians, and vilify people who promote their cause, while also being in solidarity with Muslims. You cannot contribute to the anti-Muslim, anti-Black, and misogynistic abuse of Rep. Omar while also being in solidarity with Muslims.

To Chelsea Clinton: We hope that our intentions in confronting you are now clear. We believe that you still owe an apology: not only to Rep. Omar, but also to Palestinians for using your platform to defame their cause. As an Israeli national and a Palestinian, we want you to know that it is dangerous to label valid criticisms of Israel and its lobby as anti-semitic. We know that this is a tactic to silence us and deny us our free speech.

— www.buzzfeednews.com/…

— @subirgrewal

Let Us Remember.

One of my most vivid memories as a child is of my grandmother meeting a friend of hers. They had met again after years, perhaps decades. My grandmother said to her friend “come let us remember”, and then they talked about the people in their past and those who were no longer among us. As a child, I was allowed to sit at their feet and listen.

That moment had a profound impact on me, perhaps because that act of remembering made me see my grandmother, for the first time, as a friend, a woman who had once been young, a woman who had loved and not just loved children like me. For the first time, I think, I saw her as a person and not merely as my grandmother. The recitation of those memories made her real to me, they made the people they spoke of real to me. Now I remembered them too, and the memory remains alive, though my grandmother died long ago.

I did not know any of the people killed in Christchurch on Friday in that way.

But I can learn, and we too can keep the memory of their lives alive.

So let us remember.

And may their memory be a blessing.

They don’t want you to ask where he was radicalized.

We all know. But it is remarkable that every right-wing provocateur has come out today to demand that we ignore where this man got his hateful ideas from. And of course, their gaslighting is wrapped up in virtue signaling, “starve them of attention” they say, just as they peddle the hate that fuels these attacks.

All the right-wing hate peddlers are on the same page:

Of course, they don’t want you asking questions. They didn’t want you to ask after Norway, or Charleston, or Charlottesville, or Quebec, or Pittsburgh. And now, they don’t want any questions after Christchurch either. And it’s worth asking why?

They don’t want you asking these questions, but they will demand that “Ceasar’s wife be above reproach” when a brown woman says something they can misrepresent. 

Of course, Donald Trump chose to say the quiet part out loud. Moments after news of the massacre broke, he tweeted out a link to Breitbart, almost exulting at the massacre.

As for the rest, their hypocrisy is blatant and staggering, out in the open for all to see.



And we should let one of our most prominent Muslim leaders have the last word.

— @subirgrewal

Wilbur Ross and Mark Meadows are deer in headlights during hearing with Cummings and AOC

Wilbur Ross arrived for his Oversight committee hearing with all the false confidence of a billionaire who’s operated with impunity for decades. During the hearing, Ross claimed that his attempt to insert a citizenship question into the 2020 census was:

  • Not influenced by Steve Bannon and Kris Kobach, both of whom urged him multiple times to include such a question to suppress immigrant response rates to the census
  • That the question was included to comply with the voting rights act, and not to reduce the representation of states/areas with immigrant populations
  • That in any case, he was merely reinstating a question from the 1950 census.
  • The fact that it was reinstated rather than a new question, meant that he did not need to inform Congress he was doing it.

There were several other fabrications and likely outright lies. 

And then AOC began her questioning (which you can watch below). Using both news reports and court records, she made clear he was lying about his contact with Bannon, Kobach and his reasons for including the citizenship question.

Then, she pulled out the 1950 citizenship question and noted that it was very different from the question proposed by Ross, therefore not a reinstatement.

Finally, the knife, AOC asks why Ross has failed to file a report required by law before changes are made.

At this point, Ross’s billionaire entitlement kicks in and he says she’s out of time, so he won’t answer. Which is pretty amazing behavior for a witness. Cummings steps in and says he will ask the question for AOC. Then Mark Meadows, who’s fumbling around, tries to raise a point of order because “we don’t know what she’s talking about”. Meanwhile Ross’ attorneys are furiously whispering to him. All gets shot down by Cummings, who demands Ross answer and also provide a written statement. All of it is worth watching, but the action starts at 5:30 or so in the clip below.

Goal Thermometer
Donate to AOC, Omar, Pressley and Tlaib

I’ve got to agree that AOC’s team demonstrates a level of preparation that you rarely see, even from very experienced members’ questioning. This is commendable and really underscores how much energy and dedication AOC, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Rep. Rashida Tlaib are bringing to Congress. You can donate to them using the link here.

In this case, AOC is doing a remarkable job protecting the interests of the many immigrant families in her community. People who would be materially harmed if Ross got his way with this census question. The Trump administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric would scare many immigrants away from the census, especially if a citizenship question were on it. That would mean fewer funds for those communities and a larger district with more people in it because the immigrant population would be undercounted.

AOC and her team know what is at stake and aren’t going to let a plutocrat like Ross harm the people of her district.

It’s great to watch how Cummings has her back, and fantastic to watch mediocre hacks like Ross and Meadows squirm under the pointed questioning.

— @subirgrewal

India takes voting rights seriously, wish we did too.

India is a poor country. Its per capita income ($2,000/yr) is just 3% that of the US ($60,000/yr).  Yet, despite its relative poverty, India takes the voting rights of its citizens far more seriously than our vastly wealthier country does. 

In April and May of this year, India will go to the polls to elect a new central government. That means almost 900 million eligible voters across its length and breadth will have a chance to cast their vote. And Indian officials will move heaven and earth to ensure every last soul has a reasonable chance to vote. 

Voters are electing lawmakers for the 543-member lower house of parliament, or Lok Sabha. In 2014, the Election Commission of India deployed 3.7 million polling staff, 550,000 security personnel, 56 helicopters and 570 special trains to conduct a five-week-long exercise in close to a million polling stations. — www.bloomberg.com/…

In 2014, the electorate was 830 million strong, voter turnout was 66.4%. 553 million Indians eventually voted. By comparison, in our own 2016 general election, a mere 138 million Americans cast a ballot and turnout was a comparatively low 55.7%.

20100115270100501.jpg
Political rally in Hyderabad

The scale of this election is almost incomprehensible. The picture on the right is an election rally in Hyderabad. I can say with some certainty that none of our Presidential candidates will attract a crowd close to that size to any rally this cycle.

The logistics and scale are so challenging that the polls simply cannot be conducted on a single day. Instead, the country will vote in phases over a five-week period.

And everyone will indeed be able to vote because the Election Commission of India runs the process. It is an independent entity vested with almost absolute constitutional authority over election mechanics. Removing the Chief Election Commissioner from his or her office is as arduous as removing a justice of the Indian Supreme Court. It takes its responsibility to guard the voting rights of Indian citizens seriously.

The EC will ensure that every single eligible voter has a polling station within 2 kilometers of their home. No matter how remote that home may be. This is done so that even the poorest, even someone who may not be able to ride a cart to the polling station, can walk or be carried if needed. This means poll workers carry polling machines high into the mountains, and deep into forests, often so a handful of fellow Indians can exercise their franchise.

Millions of poll workers, police and security personnel are deployed in cities, towns, villages and hamlets. They use planes, boats, trains, helicopters, elephants, and camels and travel by foot to reach far flung voters, from the snow-capped Himalayan mountains in the north to tiny islands in the Arabian Sea to the south, the desert in the west and the deep forests in the east.

This time, the commission will mobilize 11 million officials to conduct the election at 1.04 million polling stations which will use over 2 million electronic voting machines. — www.bloomberg.com/…

That is not a typo, literally millions of civil servants will be entrusted with portable polling machines and they’ll take helicopters, trains, cars, bullock carts, camels, horses, donkeys and sometimes walk to get to some of the most remote places on earth. It’s going to be relatively expensive to run for a poor country. But there are unusual expenses to cover, like elephant rental.

Some of that may be used for elephants to carry electronic voting machines to relatively inaccessible regions, and boats to ferry men and materials across the mighty Brahmaputra river in the northeast.  — economictimes.indiatimes.com/…

1920px-%E9%9B%85%E9%B2%81%E8%97%8F%E5%B8%83%E5%A4%A7%E5%B3%A1%E8%B0%B7Q30026988.jpg
Yarlung/Tsango weaving its way around Namcha Barwa

As an aside, “mighty” is not hyperbole. The Brahmaputra carves a route across Tibet and then cuts through the Himalayas. There it has created the longest and deepest canyon in the world, the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon. Its walls are 5,000 meters (16,000 feet) high. The river runs East across Tibet till it can slide past the Easternmost 25,000 foot peak in the Himalayas, Namcha Barwa. There it bends around this remote behemoth, which has been summited only once by humans, and enters India to become the Brahmaputra. Here, as it winds through the hills and valleys of Assam, one of the rainiest places on Earth, the river swells to a width of 5 miles at times. Then the river enters Bangladesh and splits in two. Its western branch joins with the Ganga. The Eastern joins the Meghna, and there it ends, having carried the snowmelt of the Himalayas 1,800 miles through three countries, to deliver it into the Bay of bengal.

Back to elections. Election spending is expected to exceed $7 Billion, which if realized would make it more expensive that the 2016 US election.

The highest polling station is in Hikkim, Himachal Pradesh, 4,400 meters or 14,400 feet above sea level. That’s high as Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in the Rockies, and about 100 feet lower than Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48. Hikkim is relatively accessible, other mountainous villages are even more remote.

The midday sun was blazing when Biswajit Roy, a middle-aged Indian high-school teacher, gingerly pulled himself, and two voting machines, into a modified dugout canoe.

His mission: Traverse crocodile-infested mangrove swamps, cross a stretch of open sea and then hike through a jungle to the remote village of Hanspuri so its 261 voters could cast ballots in India’s national elections. — www.wsj.com/…

Despite all its many flaws, when it comes to election mechanics, India gets a lot right.

Oh yeah, one more thing, Indians will vote on modern voting machines. No differing and complicated ballots. Since many older Indians are illiterate, each party picks a symbol which is represented on the machines. And every voter has biometric voter ID as well, it’s issued at no cost and the system is controlled by the election commission to prevent political parties from interfering.

during the last general election, air force helicopters carrying polling officials were unable to land in a remote region tucked in the high Himalayas in Ladakh. Undeterred, a polling team trekked for 45 kilometers through knee-deep snow in the high mountains to reach 35 voters.  […]

Deputy Election Commissioner R. Balakrishnan told VOA that traversing this last kilometer is not always easy. He cited the example of a polling station with just one voter in the western Gujarat state.

“This polling station is located 20 miles deep into the Gir forest jungle. To secure this one vote, we will send a team of officials. Even one voter we try and reach out, and then for reaching out that one voter we do what it takes. And it involves sometimes using all modes of transport, from helicopters and elephants and camels and what not and sometimes involves days of trekking,” said Balakrishnan. — www.voanews.com/…

Every single vote matters.

This is not to say the elections will be flawless, there will be fraud. Political parties in some places still make a habit of literally distributing cash to voters ahead of the election. Though gerrymandering is futile since an independent Boundary Commissiondraws the electoral map, past governments have delayed when new boundaries go into force for partisan advantage. That is still quite a lot better than the extreme partisan gerrymandering we in the USA have been subjected to. 

Reading about the extreme lengths Indian officials go to extend the franchise to each of their fellow citizens is both uplifting and inspiring. It reinforces your faith in democracy. In contrast it’s dejecting and depressing to consider the lengths to which American politicians and officials will go to to obtain partisan advantage by suppressing the vote or frighten their fellow Americans away from the polls. It makes us, as ordinary voters feel powerless.

In India, hanks to an independent, powerful election commission, most attempts to sap the power of the people in this way go nowhere. There are a lot of things that we do better, but on this one, we might want to take a leaf from India’s book.

PS. At some point I may do a diary about the parties and candidates in this election. That will be a lot more depressing than this I’m going to put it off.

— @subirgrewal

Netanyahu: We transfer cash to Hamas because it divides Palestinians, prevents statehood.

With the Israeli elections around the corner, the hits just keep on coming. In today’s edition:

The prime minister also said that, “whoever is against a Palestinian state should be for” transferring the funds to Gaza, because maintaining a separation between the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza helps prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. […]

The Blue and White Party’s platform calls to stop allowing the transfer of funds to Hamas, calling it mafia-style “protection” payments.
 — www.jpost.com/…

Sort of undercuts the Israeli propaganda that they “do not have a partner for peace” doesn’t it? To be clear, the funds being discussed here are tax/customs duties collected by Israel on behalf of the PA and aid from third countries primarily Qatar.

None of this comes as a surprise to long-time Israel watchers. It is merely another example of someone in Trump’s orbit saying the quiet part out loud. Fomenting division has always been a primary goal of Israeli policy towards Palestinians. That is part of the reason Israeli intelligence agencies helped Hamas in its early stages:

The PLO was known for being a Socialist organization whose sole purpose was the elimination of the state of Israel along with the establishment of a socialist state of Palestine where the constitution would be run by secular Marxism rather than Islam

Due to the short sidedness of the Rabin administration and later Begin there was an idea to bring about a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood into Gaza and the Palestinian territories to counter balance the strength and popularity of the PLO. […]

According to The Interceptor, ” Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Segev, who was the Israeli military governor in Gaza in the early 1980s. Segev later told a New York Times reporter that he had helped finance the Palestinian Islamist movement as a “counterweight” to the secularists and leftists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Fatah party, led by Yasser Arafat (who himself referred to Hamas as “a creature of Israel.”).” — blogs.timesofisrael.com/…

There is of course, a political purpose to Netanyahu’s statement. He wants to fend off criticism from politicians on both the left and right that sending funds to Hamas supports terrorism. Of course, the folks making those critiques are merely putting on a show. They know all too well how useful Hamas is to limiting sympathy towards Palestinians and muddying the waters around Israeli human rights violations. Netanyahu didn’t say the quiet part aloud for them, he said it for voters who need to be reminded by they should vote for Likud.

Voters who need reminding that Likud will go to every length possible to prevent Palestinian self-determination and facilitate the annexation of the West Bank. Annexation has been Likud’s goal since the moment it was founded. That is why, for instance Likud’s co-founder Menachem Begin allied with the Christian Zionist movement:

Of all the Israeli prime ministers since 1948, Begin stands out as the first to openly endorse Christian Zionist support and to seek to harness it in defence of the Jewish state. Others before him may have had connections to individual Christian figures, but the story of the Israel-Evangelical partnership as we know it today starts with Begin. […]

First, Begin realised that he shared a certain biblical worldview with Evangelicals. Dr. Gordis noted that Begin looked on the Bible as Israel’s title deed to the land and saw the Jewish return as fulfilment of the vision of the Hebrew prophets, just as many Christians did.

Second, Begin was surrounded by several close advisors who shared his friendly disposition towards pro-Israel Christians. This included Harry Hurwitz, who had been exposed to genuine Christian supporters of Israel in his native South Africa and was the key official within Begin’s inner circle who convinced him to approve the founding of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem in 1980. — int.icej.org/…

For more inside the Israeli elections, read this on the election commission’s decision to ban an Arab party ahead of this election. Meanwhile, they’ve approved the extremist right-wing “Jewish Power” party, which has allied with Netanyahu.

As he bans his opponents from competing in the elections, Netanyahu and his supporters keep insisting Israel is a democracy. 

“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” — George Orwell, 1984

— @subirgrewal

Rep. Eliot Engel maintains silence on Netanyahu’s Kahanist alliance and supremacist comments.

Rep. Eliot Engel (NY-16) is the Democratic chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. As such, he is the Democrat with the most power over foreign policy since the Senate and White House are controlled by Republicans.

Just a week ago, he spent significant chunks of his time working to pass another resolution aimed squarely at Rep. Ilhan Omar. Right wing media and Trump claimed Rep. Omar’s remark at the DC coffeehouse was anti-semitic or a “dual loyalty” allegation. Their hypocrisy on this issue was staggering, and misinformed, but Rep. Engel decided he would jump right into it without review, and condemned Rep. Omar’s remarks.

Which should lead us to ask where Rep. Engel’s loquaciousness is today. He’s previous waxed eloquent about Israel being a “true democracy”, blatantly ignoring the fact that for over 50 years it has ruled over millions of Palestinians who do not get a say in the oppressions visited upon them by the military occupation:

Now that PM Benjamin Netanyahu has clarified that Israel is a democracy, but really only for its Jewish citizens, Rep. Engel seems to have nothing to say. 

On Sunday morning, Netanyahu responded to Sela on his own Instagram. He uploaded a picture of himself against the backdrop of an Israeli flag, and wrote, “Dear Rotem, an important correction: Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the Nation-State Law that we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish People – and them alone. As you wrote, there’s no problem with the Arab citizens of Israel – they have the same rights as us all and the Likud government has invested in the Arab sector more than any other government.”

Likud only asks,” the post continued, “to sharpen the central point of these elections: it’s either a strong right-wing government led by me, or Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz’s left-wing government with the support of the Arab parties. Lapid and Gantz have no other way to form a government, and a government like this will undermine the security of the state and citizens. The decision – another month at the ballot box. Have a nice day.” — www.haaretz.com/…

Most of the commentary following these remarks has focused on Netanyahu’s statements that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens”. That will not come as news to non-Jewish citizens of Israel, they’ve lived under a supremacist system and policies all their lives. The explicit inclusion of such a statement in Israel’s supposedly democratic constitution, merely acknowledges what all observers have long known.

But the real political meat of Netanyahu’s statement is in the second paragraph.

In it, Netanyahu presents the mere prospect of a Blue-White/Labor coalition forming a government with the Joint list (consisting of Arab parties like Balad, Ta’al and the radical left-wing Hadash) as an apocalyptic outcome to be prevented at all costs. And it seems to be working. Netanyahu’s comments seem to have spurred his right-wing coalition into the lead, despite the fact that Netanyahu is likely to be indicted for corruption by July 10.

What Netanyahu is actually doing here is following his buddy Trump’s strategy of openly demonizing minorities and making an argument for supremacy. Supremacy of one group is antithetical to democracy, but that is exactly what Netanyahu says here is the sole acceptable outcome.

Of course, this is nothing new. Though Arab/non-Jewish persons make up over 20% of Israel’s citizens, not a single one has held any cabinet position in the 70 years of Israel’s existence. There have been several deputy ministers and a Labor MK who held the Science, Culture and Sports portfolio. Throughout the 70+ years of Israel’s existence, Arab/non-Jewish citizens have been shut out of wielding any actual power. This is one of the many reasons it is fair to say that Israel proper is a de-facto Jim Crow regime, and not, as Rep. Engel claims, a “true democracy”.

Worse yet, the specter of sharing power with their Arab/non-Jewish fellow-citizens is routinely presented as a dire, frightening prospect by Israeli governments. This is the context in which Benjamin Netanyahu said “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves” before the last election. That is why no single Israeli government has ever accepted an Arab/non-Jewish party as a coalition partner.

Of course, all this side-steps the fact that 4.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank/Gaza and 150,000 in East Jerusalem do not get a say in these elections to choose a government that holds sway over every aspect of their lives.

So how in what world does Rep. Engel get away with saying Israel is the “one true Democracy” in the Middle-East unchallenged?

In fact, like the United States, Israel is at best a flawed democracy, and even that is only credible if you ignore the apartheid it practices in the West Bank (where settlers can vote and have their own roads), and ignore completely the Israeli government’s pervasive human rights violations in Gaza.

Other senior Democrats, even those without Foreign Affairs assignments, have spoken about Netanyahu’s comments:

Rep. Engel, in contrast, has maintained a studious silence, despite being the most important Democrat holding a foreign policy role right now.

Rep. Engel didn’t even have anything to say about Netanyahu’s open alliance with a Kahanist party. Compare that with his colleague, Rep. Jerry Nadler:

Rep. Engel frequently has positive things to say about Israel and applaud Netanyahu. He rarely misses an opportunity to smack down any criticism of Israel (for eg. here and here). His website says Israel is a “close strategic ally” that shares an “unbreakable bond” with the US. Rep. Engel is ready to lead the charge against statements made by junior members of congress when they criticize the US’s Israel policy. A few weeks ago, Rep. Engel jumped to criticize Rep. Omar for suggesting AIPAC driven contributions played a role in lawmakers’ views on Israel/Palestine. The Guardian has done an analysis that seems to bear out her contention. But he has nothing at all to say when this close strategic ally’s government openly allies with a racist party founded by terrorists.

To be fair, Rep. Engel has occasionally criticized the Israeli government and petitioned Netanyahu. He’s taken the time to do this publicly when the Israeli government disallowed non-orthodox led prayers at the Western wall, when it stopped accepting Jewish-status letters from an orthodox rabbi and after its decision to deport tens of thousands of African refugees. But Rep. Engel has never, to my knowledge, had the time or seen fit to criticize any of Israel’s policies that impact Palestinians. He consistently sees every discussion about Palestinians through the lens of a “security threat” to Israel. He consistently blames Palestinians and other nations in the region for Israel’s current discriminatory, oppressive policies towards Palestinians. His silence on the most recent issues simply adds to that deeply one-sided pattern of priorities.

In contrast, Rep. Engel seems to periodically offer unsolicited advice on Israel policy via his official Twitter account to Palestinians and even to the tiny nation of Grenada/St. Kitts.

Perhaps Rep. Eliot can spare a brief moment to give some advice to Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he has met several times?

Let’s reiterate, Rep. Eliot Engel, in his position as chair of the Foreign Relations committee, is the Democrat with the most power on foreign affairs. When it comes to foreign affairs, he effectively controls the actual policy of the Democratic party. On Israel-Palestine, Rep. Engel simply does not have the record to be considered an honest broker.

As we approach 2020, Democrats should consider whether Rep. Engel is the right person to steer our policy towards Israel/Palestine. I believe the time has come for him to either:

  1. Credibly follow a more even handed approach championing equal rights of all people in Israel/Palestine. Or,
  2. Step aside and leave this important House committee chair to someone who can credibly present such an approach.

Lastly, I’m going to share a Palestinian perspective on this fracas:

— @subirgrewal | Cross-posted to TheProgressiveWing.com

For a moment, let us think about the feelings of our Israeli brothers and sisters.

Let us, for a moment, consider the feelings of our Israeli brothers and sisters.

When a Jewish-Israeli woman remembers the shoah, can you understand her feeling? She knows that her ancestors were singled out for extermination with industrial, inhuman precision.  She remembers that a society her ancestors had inhabited for centuries, one whose language, science and culture they helped enrich immeasurably, turned on them.

It turned on those who had assimilated, seeking to make it their own. And it turned on those who had chosen to faithfully and visibly preserve the old ways. It turned on the young, on the old, on the infirm, and it mauled them all, including the strong who tried to resist.

None were safe, and few, painfully few promises of sanctuary were honored. When her people needed them most, none who held the power to turn back the threat chose to answer her people’s anguished calls.

When the great powers did rise up against the threat, they were driven by self-preservation, not out of regard for her ancestors.

She understands that turning back the threat came at an immense cost. Thirty million lives in Europe, and as many or more in Asia.

So perhaps you can understand her desire to never put her people, and the world, in that position again.

When she recalls that this happened a mere two generations ago, perhaps you can understand why she is unpersuaded by your argument that she trust in others for her people’s security.

When she looks at the world around her, she sees the great powers have spent the intervening decades chewing up vulnerable, powerless peoples in wars across Asia, Africa and South America. They have armed and financed vicious men, in pursuit of ideological hegemony and lucre. Perhaps you can see why she doesn’t necessarily trust your reassurances.

When she views her country’s immediate neighborhood, absorbed in a violent conflagration to upset the illogical boundaries drawn by great powers a century ago, you can understand why she questions the honesty, ability and good faith of their current leaders.

When she looks at the world’s most powerful democracy, which half her people call home, she sees people openly flaunt the flags, salutes and chants of the scourge that sought to destroy her people. 

Perhaps now you can sense why she trusts no one else with her children’s safety. Perhaps you can understand the solace in knowing that her people too have weapons of mass destruction, that she herself and those she calls her own are not so powerless, so vulnerable. 

When an observant Jewish-Israeli man ends the week at Shabbat dinner with his family in Israel, can you understand the depth of emotion this evokes? For two thousand years, when his ancestors have celebrated this ancient, sacred, weekly ritual, they have thought of this land. They have imagined this moment, this prayer, this breaking of bread made with grain flowering under this sun, planted in this earth, tilled perhaps by his nephews and nieces. His family’s presence here is the distilled realization of all their hopes.

Every aspect of his faith is grounded in the history of his people on this patch of earth. This land is evoked in innumerable prayers his ancestors have repeated over millennia as strangers in strange lands. Do you know what it means for him to know that he and his children are the fruit of their patience and perseverance. They are Sabra, of and from this earth, and god-willing only to this earth, this land they were promised, will they return. Perhaps you can understand why he finds it offensive that some question his belonging and see him as an interloper.

Perhaps you can understand the promise and draw of this precipice, which is also a portal.

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— @subirgrewal 

This diary should not be necessary.

No thinking person, with even a basic knowledge of history, should have to be told this. We should feel it in our bones. But it is necessary. The past week has seen numerous new participants in I-P debates, and some have a very mistaken sense of where we are coming from and what we understand and appreciate. Some have been careless when discussing topics that should be approached with the awe that is due the memory of the dead.

History and our animal natures have set out for us the dangerous trap of tribal allegiance. It is laid deep in our psyches and evolutionary development. To avoid falling into this trap, to resist the inclination for supremacy, to consciously avoid propping up the indefinite subjugation of millions of fellow human beings, requires careful and effective analysis.

We must start from first principles. We must define the political principles that are inviolable for us. For those on the left, we have to start from a position that places equal rights above all. When we start there, and conduct an honest analysis grounded in the principle of universal human dignity, coupled with the Kantian imperative to accept each person as ends unto themselves, we can make our way through the morass of history.

So we can see the suffering of the whole world, past, present and future, in a single child’s eyes.

And that realization is the only thing that can bring us from the darkness into the light of a new country. Into a world where both our hearts and minds recognize solidarity.

Lastly, this comment should not be necessary. It is painful to add it as a coda to this diary. This diary is a heart wrenching thing to have to write. Its sentiment should and does stand alone, without reservation.

For a moment, let’s talk about Palestinians’ feelings

Over the past few days, we have discussed how the wrong words used in service of advocacy for Palestinian rights may cause offense to some Jewish-Americans. It is right and proper to have this discussion. In the pursuit of a better world, in our search for the right path to a better foreign policy, we should not inadvertently cause harm to our allies and innocents. Nor should we further any form of bigotry.

Let’s also stop for a moment and consider the feelings of Palestinians, Palestinian-Americans and their allies. They have been largely absent from most commentator’s consideration during this week’s debate. By conjunction, let us also consider the feelings of all people our foreign policy has materially harmed and those who feel for them. 

How do you think a Palestinian in the West Bank feels when they see Israeli settlers zip past checkpoints they have to stop at when traveling to university in the nearest town?

What do you think a Palestinian in Gaza feels when their home is destroyed by a targeted bomb made in the US? Or when they cannot buy ice-cream for their child’s birthday because none has made it past the Israeli checkpoints? Or when they can’t go to their uncle’s funeral because some bureaucrat refused their permit to travel to the West Bank? Or when their neighbor’s entire family is killed in a “targeted assassination”? Or when their orchards are uprooted and their water diverted?

What do you think a Palestinian feels, when they look around them and see the actual, material, harm being done to their communities day in and day out, by a regime that enjoys virtually unqualified support from the US government? 

What do you think they feel when they see more ink spilled in US newspapers and more hours spent on TV talking about tweets and tropes than about hundreds of Palestinians, including dozens of children, killed at protests?

What do you think they feel when they compare this outrage over these words, with the faintly discomfited expressions liberals offer to talking heads who casually call their brethren terrorists?

Would they be wrong to conclude that their feelings don’t matter?

Would they be wrong to conclude that their lives don’t matter as much?

And let’s stop for a moment again. Let us broaden our lens further, beyond Israel/Palestine.

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a child fleeing a war funded and supplied by the US, as most wars across the globe are in some form. Would that child be wrong to believe that their feelings, their well-being, nay their life does not seem to matter?

And if that child were ever to enter the halls of the US Congress as a legislator.

Would the moral authority of her outrage not be righteous?

When she expresses solidarity with all children harmed by oppressive regimes our government supports, is that not awesome to behold?

When you hear her call for justice on behalf of the war-torn and those weary of oppression, does that not leave you, whoever you are, awash in feeling as well?

— @subirgrewal