In this season of turbulence, Americans have been thrust into a national discussion on racism. As a result, Americans are increasingly opening their eyes to the negative symbolism undergirding many of our institutions. This has caused an examination of the names, insignias and icons of an unequal and unjust past....
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's assertion that the Palestinian people were responsible for the Holocaust tells us not only what is wrong with the leader who made the statement, but reveals, twenty years after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the racial hatred that is undergirding the occupation, Israeli...
The recent events in Baltimore -- including the killing of Freddie Gray in police custody, and the protests and unrest that followed -- point to the need for community-based movement building. Baltimore, like many other cities in America, is hurting, and black people in particular are feeling the pain.
Meanwhile, a little over 100 miles to the north, Philadelphia -- the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection -- is offering a model for communities of faith to seek justice and transform the place in which they live. POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Power and Rebuild) is a grassroots interfaith coalition of congregations across the city. Part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, they are dedicated to bringing people together around social justice issues such as jobs with a living wage, fair funding and democratic, local control of the public schools and an end to police practices such as "stop and frisk."
POWER is an example of the type of coalition building that cities need.
Philadelphia has a long history as an incubator for social justice activism, from the abolition of slavery to the Black Power movement. Moreover, with its high unemployment and poverty, low wages, and high incarceration rate, the city could become another Baltimore. After New York and Chicago, Philadelphia has the third highest number of missing black men in America (36,000) due to the incarceration of black men, high mortality, gun violence and other factors. Baltimore is in sixth place with 19,000 missing black men.
Moreover, while Baltimore has been in the spotlight these days over cases of police brutality, most recently the Freddie Gray case, Philly has its own police problem. A report from the U.S. Department of Justice found "serious deficiencies" with police use of force, including With 394 police shootings since 2007 -- 15 percent involving unarmed suspects -- Philadelphia surpasses New York, a city five times its size. Yet, despite a drop in crime, shootings involving officers have climbed.
The report also faulted the police for failing to properly train officers in defusing tensions and handling violent situations, and seeking non-lethal means of resolving conflict. Further, identifying the public mistrust of the police, the Department of Justice recommends community oversight over law enforcement, an independent reviews of police shootings, and more consistent reviews by police when such incidents occur.
In December, Philadelphia had its own controversial killing of an unarmed black man. Brandon Tate-Brown, 26, was shot in the back of the head by police after being stopped for driving with his headlights off. The officers were not charged for wrongdoing, and Tanya Brown-Dickerson, the mother of the victim seeks justice through a wrongful death lawsuit.
"For far too long, police departments around the country have been, sort of, you know, you can't touch them. We need the police. And we have created a system where the police officers are above the law," said Bishop Dwayne Royster, Executive Director of POWER. "And we can no longer allow them to do that. They have to operate within the law, just as much as we expect every other citizen to operate within the law."
Bishop Royster said he was concerned about the report on the Philadelphia Police Department. He told PBS News Hour that lethal force always appeared to be the "best choice" for law enforcement, as opposed to finding other ways to work with those in the community who commit crime.
No stranger to police brutality, Philly has been marred by years of police corruption and racial violence. May 13 marked the 30th anniversary of the MOVE bombing, when the Philadelphia police dropped a bomb on the home of MOVE, a black power group. Eleven people, including five children, were killed, and an entire block of 61 homes was destroyed by fire. Yet, police abuse is merely the tip of the iceberg of a system of racial oppression, of economic exploitation and deprivation in Philadelphia and elsewhere. The seeming intractability of these problems requires community mobilization in order to overcome them, and transform society in the process.
"POWER is composed of people of faith committed to the work of bringing about justice here and now, in our city and our region. By strengthening and mobilizing our networks of relationships, POWER seeks to exercise power in the public arena so that the needs and priorities of all Philadelphians are reflected in the systems and policies that shape our city," said Rabbi Shawn Zevit of Mishkan Shalom, a multiracial, progressive congregation in Philadelphia and an active member of POWER.
"As people of faith, we must exercise our power to help lead this transformation. Side by side with fighting for a living wage and full fair funding for our schools, the issue of ending stop and frisk police tactics as well as racial injustice towards people of color, Black Americans in particular- especially through mass incarceration, is a campaign we have taken on," Rabbi Zevit added. "As a Jewish congregation, dealing with racism and injustice is something we know well from our Torah and tradition, as well as our history and must be involved with ending in our current reality."
As Martin Luther King urged, "we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered." Dr. King knew these evils are interrelated. Today, relying upon their religious traditions, congregations are fighting these triple evils, seeking justice and transforming their...
For all of the talk of American exceptionalism, the U.S. is exceptionally bad in the treatment of its workers.
America--the world's largest economy--is one of the few advanced nations without a national policy guaranteeing paid sick leave for workers. And the nation and its working families pay the price when they cannot take off the time they need to care for themselves or their children.
As part of a national tour to bring attention to the need for greater workplace flexibility for families, Valerie Jarrett--Senior Advisor to President Obama and Chair of the White House Council on Women & Girls--participated at a town hall discussion at Philadelphia's City Hall on April 21. The event was called "Lead on Leave: Empowering Working Families Across America." Jarrett was joined by Deputy Labor Secretary Chris Lu and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.
The Obama administration is making a push for a national leave policy. The Healthy Families Act would provide seven days of paid leave for all Americans. In addition, the president directed federal workers to provide employees with up to six weeks of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child, with the hope of extending this benefit to all workers across the country. Further, Obama has called on Congress to raise the minimum wage.
"Workplace policies make for happier, healthier and more productive workers," said Mayor Nutter, adding that advocating for "family values" mean valuing families.
"More productivity, of course, means a stronger economy here in Philadelphia, across Pennsylvania and the United States of America," said Nutter, calling such policies "an ultimate win win win." The mayor argued that Philadelphia's leave policies are one of the most progressive in the U.S., which includes four weeks of paid leave for birth and adoptive parents. In addition, city contractors are required to pay their employees and subcontractors a livable wage and sick leave.
"The United States is one of theonly developed nations that does not have a national policy of guaranteed paid sick time. And I believe this is really an embarrassment to our great country," said Philadelphia City Council member Bill Greenlee.
"It is unfair that if you go to work in a suit like this you most likely get paid sick days. But if you work in a smock a server's uniform or an apron and by theway also probably get paid less you don't have such a luxury of approximately 43 million American workers do not receive sick time benefits, which means they must come to work with the flu or worse, or face losing a day's pay and possibly the loss of their job," he added. "Parents are forced to choose between earning money for groceries or staying home to care for a child with the chicken pox. This is not ideal and not only unfair, it is not sound economic policy."
In her remarks, Jarrett noted she is going around the country, taking a look at cities and states that are providing leave and sick leave to their employees. Private sector employers that have entered the twenty-first century embracing innovative work flexibility policies have had more productive and loyal employees, less staff turnover and have become more profitable. One small company, the Obama adviser noted, gives every employee $3,000 which must be used for vacation.
These changes in culture are not niceties, Jarrett argued, but reflective of the broader issue of ensuring twenty-first workplaces reflect the needs and values of today's labor force. For example, half of workers are women. In 60 percent of families with children, both parents work, and 40 percent of working mothers are single mothers or the primary breadwinner. "Half of men and women have said that they've given up a new job opportunity because of work-life balance, which is encouraging to see that the men have the same challenge, I suppose, that the women have," Jarett added.
"More and more men want to take advantage of paternity leave, and not just because it's on the books of their company, but they want their company to embrace the value of both parents participating in those early moments of a child's life. They're unique and don't come around again," she said.
However, the issue of leave is only one of a number of issues of importance to working families. For instance, many working people are raising their children in poverty. Women only make 78 cents for every dollar a man earns, and women of color make even less. Often, childcare costs more than state college tuition, and women do not enter or reenter the workforce because they cannot afford to do so.
Making the case that America cannot afford to have 43 million Americans without a single day of sick leave, Jarrett mentioned the discussions she had with workers in a recent roundtable discussion. "In fact, one of them said to me it's been 23 years, and his employer has not provided sick leave, vacation time or healthcare. That is not who we are as a country.
Following the town hall, Ms. Jarrett mentioned in an interview that given the U.S. lags behind other nations on leave policies, she has examined best practices in other countries as well.
"Our companies are competing across the world. People want that 'made in the U.S.A.' stamp on their products," she noted. "That change will come from the bottom up. Change is always frightening until it becomes standard operating procedure."
"One of the strengths of the U.S. is we're innovators. We have to put a national spotlight on what works," Jarrett added. "States and cities are looking at this all over the county and want to know what works."
What has not worked is the squeezing of the American worker in recent decades. As corporations amass hefty profits, the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest among us widens, and labor is shortchanged. Poverty is on the rise, and Congress seems unable and unwilling to address this. Ordinary working people deserve at least what the rest of the world offers. The U.S. is playing catch up, and now is as good a time as any to enter a new...
In this community, like so many others, everyone does not look, act or think the same. The recent PBS documentary Little White Lie -- the story about Lacey Schwartz, a biracial black-Jewish woman who was raised white -- reminds us about the many hues in the Jewish community.
The organization Be'chol Lashon estimates that at 20 percent of Jewish Americans are of color, which includes Jews of African, Asian and Latino descent, Sephardic or Mizrahi Jews, multiracial Jews, those who converted to Judaism, and people who were adopted by Jewish families.
"I have a very, very strong Jewish identity, and it has nothing to do with the Jewish community," said Jared Jackson, the founder and Executive Director of the Philadelphia-based nonprofit, Jews In All Hues (JIAH). "My connection to Judaism and Jewish peoplehood is connected to my mother and my dad's support," he said.
JIAH is an education and advocacy organization that supports multiple-heritage Jews, those whose racial identity lays outside of what some consider "mainstream" Jewish people, and assists Jewish communities and organizations in creating sustainably-diverse communities.
Asserting that Judaism is increasingly diverse -- including not only multiracial Jews and Jews of color, but also the LGBT community -- the organization wants to create a future where a person's heritage is not a barrier to acceptance or integration into the Jewish community.
"We want to preserve and enhance the dignity of the Jewish people for people who are already a part of it and people who are yet to be," Jared said.
Born of a white Ashkenazi mother, and a black father who died when he was a child, Jackson experienced a great deal of intolerance from Jews and blacks in the community of Willingboro, New Jersey, where he was raised. "I grew up with a lot of racism and anti-Semitism from the African-American community.
"Where I grew up there were people trying to stone me, spit in my face, convert my mom. Why would you bring holy water to a supermarket?" Jackson said, also noting that some of his mother's coworkers attempted to convert her to Christianity at the public school where she worked.
In the Jewish community, there were lots of racial epithets being spouted as us. There were rabbis, congregants and board members who didn't think we belonged, and showed us in many ways.
Jackson asserts that he has a strong identity, which he attributes not to the Jewish community, but to his parents. "My connection to Judaism and Jewish peoplehood is connected to my mother and my dad's support." Jackson's late father had planned to convert to Judaism before he died, and his mother instilled in him a strong sense of social activism. "I can't separate human values from Jewish values," he said.
If my mother knew there were people who needed clothes, the basic stuff, she would give them clothes. There would be no second thought about it. They're in need, this isn't a matter of religion or race, but about basic dignity about showing up to school without clothes that weren't tattered.
After a 14-year absence from the Jewish community, Jared reconnected, as president of his college Hillel. And it was a trip to Israel -- where he met other multiracial Jewish Americans and Jews of color -- that this musician found his destiny.
"It is hard to have a strong connection to a community that shows you in words and actions that there is a prescription for how to be Jewish. You have to have this amount of heritage, this amount of knowledge, and there are all these contradictions," Jared said, also noting that he has not felt welcome in some Jewish spaces because he was made to feel his parentage was invalid, and told not to talk about his African-American father.
'If we want to have more people involved in the Jewish community, we have to change," he noted. Change means a shift in leadership, and many people, including black, Latino and Asian Jews, are not finding spaces where they can become leaders in the Jewish community.
Jackson notes that some people need a thoughtful invitation, and must be allowed to be who they are. "An invitation that says you can come in this space if you're just like me, or that you have to change who you are -- I would not accept an invitation like that," Jackson insisted.
"Are our goals just to fill the pews?. Is our goal to see that Jews and the Jewish people continue?" Jared asked.
If that's our goal, we have to recognize there are people who don't identify with a particular denomination. If we're for all Jews, not just Jews who are just like 'us,' whoever the 'us' is, then there needs to be an acknowledgement of that.
One issue facing the Jewish community is the notion that intermarriage is leading to its demise. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews, the Jewish intermarriage rate is 58 percent, 71 percent for non-Orthodox Jews. But Jackson notes that American Jewry is the product of a melting pot, and multi-heritage Jews, not to mention non-Jewish spouses married to Jews, help enrich the Jewish experience. "We're not living at the final stage of Judaism," Jackson said. "We have to dispel some fears. We are living at a point of departure for the future."
Jackson noted that while he was the product of intermarriage, he is also a product of love. "My father had no question about whether we would be raised Jewish," Jared said.
This conversation, this attitude is also disregarding history. Abraham and Sarah, intermarriage. Moses married someone who wasn't Jewish... Intermarriage has been a part of the Jewish people since the Jewish people began, and in some cases it has saved lives. Purim is a story of intermarriage saving Jews in Persia.
Jackson has participated in #BlackLivesMatter protests, including acts of Jewish support for the black community in light of Ferguson and the killing of black people by law enforcement across the country. And he believes the key to social change is in understanding others.
When you talk about #BlackLivesMatter and social change movements, when you understand people in those cultures, it moves beyond solidarity. When I stand in a rally with a bunch of Jews and they say there is solidarity between blacks and Jews, they're missing me.
Ultimately, Jews In All Hues believes change through the power of connectedness, and shifting mentalities and culture by reaching out and creating support systems for people, and new ways to welcome them into the community. The organization is conducting training for Jewish organizations and professionals, and is planning a certification program for synagogues and institutions who connect to make people a part of the community. JIAH also plans to branch out to other cities. The goal, Jackson said, is not to become a multicultural JCC (Jewish Community Center), or an organization that is separate from the Jewish community.
"I grew up with a very strong sense of peoplehood and humanity and justice, and being in a process that helps everyone along -- that's the life I live; that's how I want to approach every encounter," Jared said. "Every encounter is a treasure...
Jimmy Dennis has been a prisoner on Pennsylvania death row for 23 years. Dennis was convicted of the 1991 fatal shooting of Chedell Ray Williams, 17, a student at Olney High School in North Philadelphia, at a bus stop over a pair of $450 earrings. He was sent to death...
Brown lives matter, and Muslim lives matter. And homegrown domestic terrorism is a crisis which should concern us all, though not the type you might think.
Within the course of several days, three acts of violence underscore the problem facing people of color beyond the African-American community. On February 6,...
The vast majority of the wrongfully convicted who are exonerated through DNA evidence are people of color. The numbers don't lie.
At a time when the killing of innocent black men by police is causing many to question the fundamentals of America's criminal justice system, we are reminded that...
The U.S. death penalty has received a great deal of attention and scrutiny these days. And the problems are many.
This year, six innocent men were released from death row -- some of them spending up to four decades in prison for murders they did not commit -- raising the total number of exonerated death row survivors in America to 149. Hundreds more innocent people may remain. In addition, botched executions in a number of states have placed the spotlight on a form of punishment regarded as torture. Meanwhile, following a state appeals court decision denying a stay, Texas planned a December 3 execution date for Scott Panetti. Panetti, who has suffered from schizophrenia for 30 years, hears voices, believes he has a listening device implanted in his tooth, and thinks he will be executed to stop him from preaching the Gospel.
In light of the problems with the death penalty and the application of criminal justice, a small group of filmmakers decided to make a film, The Penalty, about a system of killing that remains a mystery to so many.
Last year, the team traveled across America, filming 10 death row survivors for the documentary project One For Ten, named for the one innocent person released from death row for every 10 people executed in the U.S. The critically-acclaimed project helped audiences understand the flaws of a system that would allow innocent people to be sent to their deaths.
"But we left that project with many more questions than we anticipated," said Will Francome of Reel Nice, the London-based production company behind One For Ten. "What about the costs of executions? Is death penalty use distributed equally across States that use it? What toll does it take on all involved, not just those on the row?"
In an effort to answer these questions, Francome and his colleagues decided to make The Penalty, a 90-minute feature length documentary which is halfway through filming. And the team has initiated a campaign on Kickstarter for supporters to help fund the project and ensure its completion.
This film attempts to go beyond capital punishment as an abstract and distant legal concept and delve into the human toll exacted by the death penalty -- the politics behind it and the people who are affected, including victims' families, attorneys and innocent men and women, and the priorities society makes in order to perpetuate this regime of government-sponsored homicide.
Given that a state sanctioned policy such as the death penalty is carried out in the name of the public -- yet has operated under a shroud of secrecy for far too long -- it is fitting that someone should examine the nuts and bolts of the machinery of death. Often, proponents of this ultimate form of punishment will argue it is necessary as a deterrent, and as a means for society to dispense with its worst elements.
Yet, those who trust the system may not know what really happens when we throw people away, or the toll that the process takes on lives across the nation. What if the institutions we have relied upon for so long do not deliver the true justice we have thought, but rather are costly, corrupt schemes that are prone to error?
The Penalty is a documentary that we all must...
A recent study found that wrongful death row convictions are higher than previously thought, with a conservative estimate that 4 percent of the roughly 3,000 prisoners languishing on death row across America -- at least 120 people -- are innocent.
And Jimmy Dennis is almost certainly one of...
The recent decision by the Philadelphia School Reform Commission (SRC) to unilaterally suspend the public school teachers' contract, unannounced, is a local issue with national implications. It speaks to a leadership vacuum, warped priorities, and a willingness to feed the prisons and allow the schools to starve.
In the United States, a black man is killed by the police or vigilantes every 28 hours. America has a problem -- a racial discrimination problem. And it is a question not only of civil rights, but of basic human rights and the nation's failure to meet its obligations under international law.
On August 13 and 14 -- only days after the tragic fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri -- the United Nations reviewed the U.S. government's compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, or CERD.
Many Americans may not have heard of CERD, which is an international human rights agreement outlining measures that nations should take to prevent, eliminate and redress racism and racial discrimination. Adopted by the UN in 1965, CERD became a part of U.S. law in 1994.
And the convention demands a much higher standard than U.S. civil rights law. CERD forbids any practices that have a disparate impact on people of color and indigenous groups, regardless of the intent. In addition, nations such as the U.S. that have signed CERD must safeguard against socioeconomic discrimination, such as promoting the right to a good education, adequate work with a decent standard of living, access to justice and voting rights.
As a panel of international human rights experts questioned U.S. government officials in Geneva, Switzerland on CERD compliance, a coalition of 80 U.S. civil and human rights advocates were there to hold their country accountable and improve its policies. Among the issues targeted were racial violence and violence against women of color, gun proliferation, racial profiling, the militarization of the Mexico border, mass incarceration, and the leadership crisis among law enforcement.
"We have a number of racial tensions right now flaring up in the United States, including Ferguson, Missouri and issues around violence and political violence directed at people of color... which really stems from a culture where we have criminalized the bodies of black and brown people," said Ejim Dike, executive director of the U.S. Human Rights Network.
"While we were here this week, the tragic shooting of Michael Brown and the events in Ferguson underscored the gap between what our constitution requires and what our society currently is confronting in terms of race discrimination," said Chandra Bhatnagar, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. Bhatnagar also took note of the gap between the United States' obligations under CERD and current practices, which is why the delegation of NGOs traveled to Geneva in the first place.
Further, many of the organizations present in Geneva called for the U.S. to create a national plan of action on the implementation of CERD, and a national human rights institution to field human rights complaints. And groups are calling for the Department of Justice to update guidance on the use of race by law enforcement, and close the loophole allowing for racial profiling in national security and immigration matters.
Immigrants' rights advocates are concerned about the criminalization of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. According to Carlos Garcia, the director of the civil rights group Puente Arizona, there are abuses taking place at the border, including denial of full legal representation to people crossing the border. Garcia is also asking the U.S. government to end deportations, and not allow local states to pursue their own punitive immigration laws.
Another issue on the minds of human rights activists are "stand your ground" laws in Florida and other states. These laws have resulted in an increase in homicides -- particularly of black people and other people of color who were fatally shot by those who claimed they feared for their lives. Often, the perpetrators avoid prison time when invoking the law, even if they kill innocent bystanders. "Trayvon was considered a threat only because of the color of his skin," said Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin -- a black Florida teen slain by a vigilante under stand your ground -- and CEO of the Trayvon Martin Foundation.
"I wanted the committee to see I'm a direct result of gun violence in the United States, as well as stand your ground, discrimination, and racial profiling," Ms. Fulton noted regarding her testimony before the UN in Geneva. Fulton added that stand your ground -- which she urges the federal government to repeal or amend "so people of color have a future" -- is a violation of Articles 2, 5 and 6 of CERD.
Also present was Ron Davis, whose son Jordan, 17, was killed at a Jacksonville, Florida gas station because of the color of his skin and for playing loud music. Davis -- who heads the Jordan Davis Foundation -- believes stand your ground is a human rights violation because it allows people to take action against those who are unarmed and doing them no harm based on an ambiguous standard of "reasonable fear."
"I think the shooter Michael Dunn was emboldened by the fact that when he took a concealed weapons class, they told him all you have to say when you shoot somebody is five things: 'I feared for my life'," Davis added.
For decades, American civil rights advocates have connected the dots between the domestic fight for civil rights and the international struggle for human rights. For example, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and Malcolm X suggested taking the plight of African Americans to the UN. The advocates and organizations who attended the CERD review at the UN are continuing in that tradition.
Meanwhile, as the United States preaches to other nations about human rights, it needs to get its own house in order on...
According to Colorlines, in a report by Seth Freed Wessler, the pro-Israel lobby is procuring black support. Faced with legitimate claims that Israel is an apartheid regime, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee -- or AIPAC -- is "recruiting black students as moral shields to make the case for Israeli impunity."
The most prominent pro-Israel lobbying group is reportedly courting students at historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, and predominantly Latino institutions. And its goal is to build a coalition of black elites who will proclaim that Israel is not racist, as they attack pro-Palestinian rights groups in the U.S.
As survivors of slavery and Jim Crow and beneficiaries of a civil rights movement, African-Americans have much to contribute to helping bring justice to the Mideast. But these students should not allow themselves to be used by AIPAC to assist Israel's right wing-controlled government and promote warfare and suffering. Dr. Martin Luther King's human rights legacy against racism, militarism, and economic exploitation simply would not allow it.
There is evidence the new AIPAC initiative will fail, as it should. A new Pew poll found that blacks and Latinos -- along with millenials, women and liberal Americans -- are more likely to blame Israel for the current violence.
We are all witnessing the blockading, bombing, displacement and erasure of Palestinian Arabs, also oppressed people of color, out of existence. What is framed by the Netanyahu regime as a war on terrorists -- Hamas -- is in reality war crimes, a policy to keep Gaza on the verge of a humanitarian crisis, with Israel counting minimum calorie requirements, and a land grab to control the extensive natural gas reserves found off the Gazan coast.
Meanwhile, the destruction of power plants, mosques, hospitals, schools, UN shelters and cultural institutions in Gaza, the wholesale slaughter of civilians, including hundreds of children, with thousands wounded and half a million homeless, has every appearance of a lynching -- complete with revenge killing for the murder of three Israeli teens, and picnicking Israeli spectators cheering the bombing of Gaza. This is the latest chapter in a 47-year-old occupation that the occupiers apparently have no intention of ending.
No one should underestimate the role of collective trauma in Israel and Palestine. For the Palestinians, the trauma is blatantly clear, as they are denied their basic rights, the right to self-determination and to ownership over the land they call home. Further, they are prisoners, unable to travel and crippled by an economic blockade imposed by Israel, hence the tunnels. With no hope for a better life, their punishment is for failing to cooperate in their oppression, daring to resist, and refusing to accept their captivity quietly. Meanwhile, Hamas is the creation of such harsh conditions, and was encouraged by the Israeli secret service as a counterweight to Yasser Arafat's PLO.
As for Israelis, their nation was founded amid the genocide of the Holocaust. Israel is a homeland for Jews, who were victims of white supremacy for centuries, including pogroms, and more recently the Nuremberg laws and the ghettos and death camps of Nazi Germany. This powerful narrative has defined Israel's self-proclaimed role as an underdog, a victim under siege, surrounded by hostile forces.
However, with the fiftieth largest economy in the world, and over $3 billion in aid annually from the U.S. -- its pusher and its accomplice -- Israel is not a helpless victim. As the largest military power in the Mideast with a nuclear arsenal, Israel is no David, it is Goliath. And unfortunately, with a colonial Bantustan system of occupation for the Palestinians, Israel is pharaoh.
With its extremist right in the political mainstream, Israel practices apartheid. Israeli Arabs face discrimination and second class citizenship in their own country, as evidenced by the 6-month suspension of Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian Israeli Knesset member and a vocal critic of the occupation. Over 1,000 Palestinian Israelis were arrested during Operation Protective Edge, and rightwing Israeli protestors commonly chant "death to Arabs" and physically assault Palestinians.
Contrary to IDF propaganda and AIPAC talking points painting the Israeli government as morally superior and acting in the spirit of international humanitarian standards, Israel arrests and tortures Palestinian children in custody and uses them as human shields, according to reports from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and UNICEF. One of those children was Tariq Abu Khdeir, 15, an American from Tampa who was arrested and beaten by Israeli authorities while attending the funeral of his abducted and slain 16-year-old cousin Mohammed.
And then there is the open talk among Israeli officials of genocide against Palestinians. For example, Moshe Feiglin, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, recently called for the ethnic cleansing of the Gazan population, and placing them in concentration camps. Ayelet Shaked, another Knesset member, called Palestinian children "little snakes" and called for genocide against the their mothers, while Retired Israeli Major General Giora Eiland, the former head of Israel's National Security Council said there is no such thing as an innocent civilian in Gaza. A number of prominent rabbis have also called for biblical retribution and mass murder of Palestinians, including the bombing of civilians.
In addition, Israel has a black people problem, including reports of segregated preschools for sub-Saharan African children in Tel Aviv, and discrimination against Ethiopian Jews, many of whom were forced to "convert" to Judaism and undergo HIV testing. Ethiopian immigrant women were injected with the birth control Depo Provera as official policy without their consent.
And over half of Israeli respondents in a non-scientific online survey said they wanted to give President Obama an envelope containing the Ebola virus for his 53rd birthday.
Meanwhile, mental calisthenics are needed to justify the slaughter of children in Gaza, and some have suggested that Israel has lost its soul. Eran Efrati, 28, an IDF combat veteran-turned-activist, articulates the trauma guiding Israel and its policy of occupation.
Efrati -- who was recently arrested for speaking out against the use of illegal weapons and revenge killings by the IDF in Gaza -- said that his grandmother, an Auschwitz survivor, would regularly wake up screaming from nightmares about the death camp. Efrati joined the IDF believing he was doing so to prevent a second Holocaust -- "never again." When he heard the screams of a Palestinian woman whose child was murdered by his fellow Israeli soldiers, she sounded exactly like Efrati's grandmother. Then, he realized he was on the wrong side of history and could no longer be the same person, so he decided to resist the occupation.
These are things black students must know about Israel when AIPAC knocks on their door.
African-Americans must choose a side -- the side of peace and justice and an end to the occupation. Millions of African souls lying in the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, perished in the Middle Passage, demand no less. This means working with Israeli and Jewish peace groups, Palestinian civil society and their progressive allies in the U.S., and the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement.
Like Palestinians and Jews, black people are the victims of hereditary, intergenerational trauma they continue to experience. All three groups have been dehumanized as the "other," the bogeymen that will destroy if they are not destroyed. And all of us know what it is like to be trapped in the ghetto and have the walls close in on them, and all know how it feels when the lynch mob comes. The Occupation represents the cycle of trauma that refuses to let go, the unlearned lessons from the past.
"Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding," Dr. King said. "Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the...
On July 16, a federal judge ruled that California's death penalty is unconstitutional, a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. In a nation in which the death penalty is under close scrutiny and already on the decline, the decision could have significant implications...
Among Jewish Americans and Israelis themselves, there is a diversity of opinion on the Israeli invasion of Gaza and on the Occupation of the Palestinian people. If there is to be any peaceful and just solution to the nightmare we are witnessing each day -- to senseless destruction, the bloodshed, the displacement of families, and the other atrocities and human rights violations taking place in Gaza -- these voices must be heard.
"To not be outraged at the killing of children is to risk your very soul," tweeted Rob Schneider, former Saturday Night Live comedian and actor, on the bombing of Gaza and the deaths of Palestinian children.
And Jon Stewart went out on a limb on The Daily Show recently with a sketch that parodied what passes for public discourse about Israel and Palestine these days. Although it was satirical, the segment, which was most effective, was the host's response to those who had condemned his criticism of the latest Israeli offensive in Gaza.
At least one athlete of Jewish descent has expressed opposition to Israeli military policy. New York Knicks player Amar'e Stoudemire -- who is also African-American, has applied for Israeli citizenship, and had to postpone hosting his upcoming basketball camp in Tel Aviv due to security concerns -- posted a photo on Instagram with a message that read "Pray for Palestine." The message was subsequently deleted.
Meanwhile -- Jews of conscience, initially a group of 200 peace activists, academics, religious leaders, journalists, Holocaust survivors and others -- have signed a petition on Change.org addressed to President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu "unequivocally condemning Israel's ongoing massacre in Gaza, whose victims include hundreds of civilians, children, entire families, the elderly, and the disabled." Invoking the tradition of the civil rights movement, the group quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who, in opposing the Vietnam War in 1967, said "For the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent."
This letter from politically conscious Jews characterizes the Netanyahu government as an "apartheid" government that does not speak for them, and calls for an end to U.S. military support for Israel. "In the face of incessant pro-Israel propaganda, we heed Malcolm X's warning: 'If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing'" the petition continued.
As progressive American Jews protest the occupation and the Israeli ground operation in Gaza, their Israeli counterparts are doing the same. In cities such as Tel Aviv and Haifa, hundreds of Jews and Arabs have rallied against the Gaza operation and have called for Israel's pullout from Gaza, resulting in arrests by police and physical attacks from right-wing and neo-Nazi protestors.
A most potent example of the Israeli peace movement is Breaking the Silence, the organization of veteran IDF soldiers who are exposing Israeli society to the realities of life in the Occupied Territories, and the human rights violations that are committed against the civilian population. The organization collects and publishes testimonies from soldiers who have served in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem since 2000, holds lectures and other events, and exposes the public to the humiliating and dehumanizing conditions faced by Palestinians that are not reported in the Israeli media, and to which society turns a blind eye and often chooses to ignore.
"Soldiers who serve in the Territories witness and participate in military actions which change them immensely. Cases of abuse towards Palestinians, looting, and destruction of property have been the norm for years, but are still explained as extreme and unique cases," according to the Breaking the Silence website. "Our testimonies portray a different, and much grimmer picture in which deterioration of moral standards finds expression in the character of orders and the rules of engagement, and are justified in the name of Israel's security."
So, in Israel and in the U.S., there are voices of conscience, those who do not like what the Likud government and its coalition of settlers, hatemongers and religious zealots is doing in their name. Those who seek peace are not ceding territory to the folks who bang the drums of war, whose only tools for conflict resolution are guns, missiles and F-16 jet fighters. It is painfully apparent their input is needed, in conjunction with Palestinian civil society, to help build bridges, break the cycle of violence and halt the land grabbing.
In Israel, if the reactionary political leadership have not lost their minds, then even worse, they know exactly what they are doing, as they engage in "mowing the grass" -- periodically killing Palestinians as a matter of policy. This, as the Israeli government attempts to manage in perpetuity an unsustainable Occupation and keep 1.8 million Gazans imprisoned in the back yard.
And in the U.S., a dysfunctional and spineless political elite still falls in line with AIPAC, as evidenced by the unanimous Senate vote in favor of Israel's Gaza invasion, although everyone insists they don't want to see babies...
When the family of kidnapped and lynched Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir recently grieved together with the family of abducted and murdered Israeli teen Naftali Fraenkel, we were reminded that the loss of a child is both painful and universal. All mothers mourn in the same way, and no child's death is any less tragic than another.
The recent events in Gaza and in Israel also serve to caution us of the consequences of policies that emanate not from a place that regards the interests of all children, but from a toxic space laden with tribalism, hate, greed and hubris. Coldhearted and coldblooded decisions are made by hotheads. What if the purveyors of policy would treat all children, particularly "other" people's children as their own?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his backers have waged another war on the civilian population of Gaza--an open air prison where people cannot escape--in an operation which is killing for the sake of it. As of publication, nearly 200 people, all Palestinians, have been killed by Operation Protective Edge, and thousands injured. Of these fatalities, 80 percent are civilians according to the UN, including over 30 children.
Israel's purported target is Hamas, and while Hamas is no innocent bystander, control of the oil and natural gas reserves discovered in the Occupied Territories is a more plausible backstory to the recent assault. After all, Operation Cast Lead did not eliminate Hamas in late 2008 and early 2009, but according to the human rights group B'TSelem it did take the lives of 1,387 Palestinians, 773 of whom were civilians, including 320 children and 107 women over the age of 18. Meanwhile, three Israeli civilians and six soldiers were killed, while four soldiers were victims of friendly fire.
Time and time again, these operations are a lesson in disproportionality. After all, Israel is a first rate military power thanks to American largesse and the F-16 jet fighters that are bombing Palestinian homes in densely populated urban areas.
Ultimately, the Occupation is the elephant in the room, a policy which deprives the occupied of their dignity and right to self-determination, and denies the occupiers their humanity and robs them of the opportunity to become a truly democratic state. In the end, both Palestinians and Israelis are imprisoned. And the Israeli government is attempting to do the untenable, which is pulling off colonization--against a soon-to-be Arab majority-- in a post-colonial era, all while painting itself through propaganda as a defenseless victim, or a humanitarian who bends over backwards to spare innocent lives.
The Occupation cannot succeed without the dehumanization of the other. The nationalist extremists, settlers and theocrats among Netanyahu's base believe in a Greater Israel extending from Egypt to Iraq, and an open Jim Crow system where Palestinians are disenfranchised. Netanyahu recently said himself that Israel can never unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank. Meanwhile, characterizing the Palestinian people as terrorists, including children, or even worse as animals that should be killed, the Israeli right justifies all of the violence and human rights violations visited upon Palestinians, whether by mob or by military. Separation walls, travel restrictions, the displacement created by the bulldozing of homes, encroaching settlements, and vengeance killings are all a reality of an unjust occupation.
"My mom told me that it feels and looks like a tsunami has hit the neighborhood. I thought if it was a tsunami; maybe the International community would have acted fast to save innocent lives," said Safa' Abdel Rahman-Madi, a Palestinian woman originally from Gaza who now lives in Ramallah.
"I do not understand how Israel is defending itself by killing entire families and children. If Israel has a right to defend itself as an occupier, why we are denied the very same right as the occupied," the mother of three girls wrote in conjunction with an open letter campaign by U.S.-based Jewish Voice for Peace. Safa' said the root of the recent attack is the notion that Jewish lives matter more than Palestinian lives. Further, she believed things will not change until the U.S. takes a strong stand against Israel's human rights violations.
If you want to judge a policy and the intent of those who promote it, observe its impact on the children. We must strive for a world where we protect all children as if they were our...
Environmental toxins and pollutants know no class or race, and yet government policies and corporate activities place an undue burden on the health of the poor and communities of color.
Throughout the United States, children of color and poor children are disproportionately exposed to health hazards while attending public school, placing them at high risk. Often, this problem is unaddressed in urban centers. However, one group of New York City parents is bringing attention to polluted schools, holding elected officials accountable, and in the process, becoming a focal point in the environmental justice movement.
Located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Public School 163 is a diverse elementary school consisting of children ranging from pre-Kindergarten to fifth grade. The student body is 46 percent Latino, 27 percent white, 17 percent African-American and 16 percent Asian-American. Over half of these youngsters (52 percent) qualify for free lunch.
The proposal by Jewish Home Lifecare to construct a 20-story nursing home tower next to the three-story P.S. 163 over the next few years raised red flags among parents, who collectively call themselves the Task Force for a Safe School (TFSS). TFSS is concerned the construction will bring toxic fumes, excessive noise and disruptive traffic, and negatively impact the development and learning environment of their children.
TFSS has called upon Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council to take a stand, with legislation to protect children from next door construction. Councilmembers Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal recently proposed such legislation. As for de Blasio, the circumstances are made to order. In contrast to his predecessor Michael Bloomberg, whose administration favored developers, de Blasio ran for office on a progressive agenda of protecting the underdog. With the P.S. 163 crisis, the new Mayor has an opportunity to show leadership in environmental justice.
This is not the first New York City school to seek protection from an environmental threat to children's health. For example, in 2011, students at P.S. 51 in Hell's Kitchen reportedly suffered from rashes, asthma and nosebleeds resulting from construction of a large residential development next to their school. Acceding to the parents' demands, officials moved P.S. 51 to the Upper East Side at a cost of millions of dollars.
In 2005, when a developer planned to build a 1.1 million sq. ft. residential project, including a 400 ft. condo tower near P.S. 234 in the tony Tribeca section of the city, a brokered deal ensured construction noise would be minimized through the use of sound barriers and alternative construction methods, and construction delays until after children completed their standardized testing. The $2.5 million "community friendly" noise reduction plan -- designed to minimize the impact on students and address the parents' environmental concerns -- was unprecedented.
Meanwhile, parents at P.S. 163 expect the same treatment for their youngsters. "Are my kids' lungs less precious than those of the kids in the Tribeca school?" asked Adina Berrios Brooks, co-chair of TFSS and whose child attends the school. "Shouldn't we protect all of our kids?"
Brooks noted that the P.S. 163 issue links environmental justice concerns to the national debate over charter schools and education reform. "This is a public school. Many of the children zoned for the school have no other options. They are told they cannot change out of that school," Brooks said, fearing the children could be exposed to toxic dust. Affluent parents would simply raise the necessary funds, or place their children in private schools to guarantee a safe learning environment.
The Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as "the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies."
A long legacy of environmental racism and injustice plagues the United States, with a history of housing segregation, discriminatory mortgage lending and land use policies setting the stage for toxic schools, according to Daria E. Neal of Lewis and Clark Law School. While blacks live in mixed-use communities -- including industrial, commercial and residential use -- whites tend to live in solely residential areas. Some schools in low-income, black and Latino communities are built near contaminated areas and pollution-generating plants.
Further, a 2006 AP study found that people of color are 79 percent more likely to live in areas with dangerous industrial pollution. In 19 states, the odds for African-Americans were double that of whites. The lower the average income, the higher the risk.
Children are exposed to poisonous substances such as pesticides, asbestos, mold and vermin while in school. Further, children breathe more rapidly and may inhale and absorb toxins more effectively than adults, impairing their development in the process, and leading to asthma, cancer, genetic mutations and other conditions.
According to a 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, asthma is most prevalent among Puerto Rican (18.4 percent), black (14.6 percent) and multiracial children (13.6 percent), as opposed to white children (8.2 percent). Among poor children, asthma disproportionately impacts Puerto Rican (23.3 percent), multiracial (21.1 percent) and African American children (15.8 percent) when compared to their white counterparts (10.1 percent).
According to the University of California, Los Angeles Civil Rights Project, New York State has the most segregated public schools, due especially to the school segregation of New York City. A "double segregation" based on race and class produces inequality, and intensifies the risk of children's exposure to health hazards, violence and other problems. Moreover, the predominantly black central Harlem has the nation's highest rate of asthma.
All children have a right to learn in a healthy, safe and quiet environment in order to thrive and become productive citizens. And yet, often their health is determined by their race, class, zip code and street address. This is why P.S. 163 is so...
In recent weeks there have been a number of news stories about young black men who were accepted to numerous elite colleges, including any and all of the blue chip, Ivy League schools of their choice. All of these positive news stories have provided a welcome respite from the usual...
America's community of death row survivors bids a farewell to another one of its own. Gregory R. Wilhoit, who had spent five years on Oklahoma's death row after being wrongfully convicted for the brutal murder of his wife, died...
Martin Luther King Day is as good a time as any to remind ourselves of certain inconvenient problems in America that are unfortunately not subjects for polite discussion. One of them is racial violence.
Dr. King preached and practiced nonviolent civil disobedience against unjust laws and a legalized system...