On July 3, 2010, I received an email from a friend informing me that Congressman Brad Sherman, who is seeking reelection to his 8th term in California's 27th Congressional District, was hosting a Middle East town hall on July 7th from 7-8:30PM at member-based Conservative Jewish Temple Ramat Zion, with Israeli Deputy Consul Gil Artzyeli as his guest.
Photo by Linda Milazzo
Acknowledging the lack of frequency of most Congress members' town halls, one might consider applauding Congressman Sherman for stepping up to interact with his constituents, for according to his website, Sherman has hosted more than 100 town halls since taking office 14 years ago.
Yet, despite Sherman's penchant for hosting and publicizing his many town halls, this July 7th Middle East town hall was conspicuously absent from Sherman's Facebook page and website. Its narrow Middle East focus was not germane to the majority of his constituents. It was a targeted single-issue event and not the more common multi-issue event pertaining to issues critical to his constituents. Indeed, this Middle East town hall didn't even comport with Sherman's own criteria for town halls as described on his website:
Listening to Valley residents is one of the most important parts of my job. Town Hall Meetings are an opportunity to discuss issues facing Congress, including health care, the economy, taxes and education. The meetings also are a chance for you to meet my constituent service staff and get help dealing with federal agencies.
Nowhere in this town hall description are the Middle East, Israel, Palestine or Iran ever mentioned. This event was clearly never intended for Sherman's full constituency, but rather for his pro-Israel constituents, from whom he enjoys wide support. This further explains why the Middle East town hall was being held at a temple, rather than a public venue more suitable to the wider demographic of the 27th CD. It elucidates why Sherman's guest speaker was the Israeli Deputy Consul, rather than an expert on health care, the economy, taxes and education -- the more traditional discussion topics Sherman references above, which are far more relevant to the needs of his constituents.
This also illuminates why the announcement my friend uncovered about the Middle East town hall was published in the July 2nd issue of the Jewish Journal and distributed via email to selected Jewish and pro-Israel constituents, who were the overwhelming plurality at the event. It further reveals why it was not posted on Sherman's website and Facebook page along with the invitation to a more traditional July 11th town hall at Reseda High School.
Here's the email of the invite Sherman sent to selected constituents for Wednesday's Middle East town hall:
As the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism and Nonproliferation, I work extensively on issues concerning the United States' relationships with countries in the Middle East.
On July 7th, from 7:00 - 8:30 PM, I will be joined by Gil Artzyeli, Deputy Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles, as I host a special town hall focusing on recent developments in the Middle East, including terrorism, the US-Israel relationship, Iran's nuclear weapons program, and sanctions against Iran.
The town hall will be held at Temple Ramat Zion, at 17655 Devonshire Street in Northridge. The event, kosher refreshments, and parking are free. I hope to see you on Wednesday, July 7th.
My constituent services staff will also be at the synagogue to help you deal with any problem you're having with any federal agency. If you have any questions, please feel free to call my office at 818-501-9200.
Congressman Brad Sherman
Not surprisingly in this election year, Brad Sherman is ginning up his Jewish constituency (who usually vote), and Jews in general (who usually donate), with his unrelenting support for Israel - including Israel's controversial boarding of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla's Mavi Mara and its killing of eight Turkish citizens and one Turkish/American citizen, an act internationally condemned by all nations except Israel's steadfast ally, the United States.
Sherman's unequivocal devotion to Israel even propelled him to request that the U.S. Justice Department investigate any American involved with the humanitarian flotilla for breaking U.S. law by providing aid to Hamas, the duly elected government of Gaza, and a U.S. and Israeli terrorist designee.
Because of Congressional pro-Israel stalwarts like Brad Sherman, who are driven by the undue influence of the Israel lobby (AIPAC), the United States continues its self-defeating bias towards Israel, which despite proclamations to the contrary, threatens America's security.
For decades, successive American and Israeli governments have claimed the relationship between the two countries is mutually beneficial. But growing numbers of Americans are now refusing to be part of the charade that the US/Israel relationship benefits America. These Americans now realize they've been pawns of Israel/AIPAC propaganda, which perpetuates the notion that the US and Israel are socio-political twins, and that somehow this foreign nation some 5,000 miles from the U.S. shore, that most Americans have never visited or have biological or ancestral ties to, is our kindred spirit. In reality the opposite is true. Israel, from its inception, has been predicated upon segregation, elitism and exclusion. The United States, in its ideal, strives for integration, equality and inclusion.
What's most troubling is the all-consuming pro-Israel hubris of Americans like Brad Sherman who are elected to serve America's interests but who state publicly, proudly and without fear of retribution that they take positions in Congress to serve Israel's interests.
Here is Sherman's opening statement at Wednesday's town hall, in which he explains how he turned down a seat on the Ways and Means Committee dealing with domestic issues in favor of the Foreign Relations Committee, which deals with issues relevant to US/Israel relations. In truth, anyone with a paperclip for a brain could understand that the term "US/Israel relationship" benefits Israel and not its powerful benefactor, and only friend, the United States. Mr. Sherman can try to code his language to sound pro-American, but his Israel-first bias is undeniable.
For those of you who I haven't met, I'm Brad Sherman, from America's best named city, Sherman Oaks. I have represented half the San Fernando Valley in the United States Congress for the last 14 years. One of the reasons I'm in Congress is to fight for a strong US/Israel relationship (huge applause). That is why I turned down a chance to serve on the Ways and Means Committee - because I wanted to continue to be a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and to Chair the Sub-Committee on Terrorism and Non-Proliferation.
What Mr. Sherman is essentially telling his receptive pro-Israel audience is that he turned down a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee that deals with social services, finance, health care, social security and taxes - issues most constituents care deeply about - in favor of a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee to promote the US/Israel relationship - an issue just a small percentage of his constituents give a damn about. Thus, Sherman chooses to represent 10% of his constituents with his seat on the Foreign Relations Committee for the single issue of Israel, and forfeit authority over multiple issues critical to perhaps 90% of his district by rejecting the Ways and Means Committee.
Three onerous conclusions can be drawn from this: one, that Sherman is using his time in Congress to serve Israel; two, that Sherman and his pro-Israel constituents are so Israel-centric that they put the interests of Israelis above the interests of Americans; and three, that Sherman and his pro-Israel constituents are so Israel-centric that they put the interests of Israel above the interests of America.
I questioned the Congressman on his choice of committee, and his potential pro-Israel conflict of interest, which was recorded in the following video.
In his tirade at me, the Congressman was correct when asserting he'd said "the US/Israel relationship" and that I'd misquoted him in my question. But as I've previously explained, the term "US/Israel relationship" is merely code for the best interests of Israel - and not those of the United States.
It's impossible to quantify Sherman's audacity in hosting this event at a Jewish Temple while campaigning for reelection. His disregard for the totality of his constituency is as repugnant as his allegiance to a foreign land. This Temple event, meant to garner votes from the pro-Israel community, drummed up animus for Iran, engaged in anti-Muslim rhetoric, entertained verbal assaults at Obama. Detractors (myself included) were ordered to move to Gaza. It was a 90 minute hate fest.
Unfairly, Sherman granted the same amount of time on July 11th for the rest of his constituents to discuss "health care, the economy, taxes, education, and all the issues facing Congress." So that's 90 minutes for all things Israel on the 7th for the pro-Israel community, and 90 minutes for all other things on the 11th for the regular folk. That's pretty unbalanced representation for the folks in the 27th CD from their Israel-firster representative.
Interesting that on July 1, 2008, during Sherman's last reelection, I attended another Middle East town hall - this one at Temple Judea - that also featured an Israeli official as guest speaker. That gentleman, much like Mr. Artzyeli, spent much of his time emphasizing the Iranian threat to Israel, the Arab world and the United States. That 2008 town hall also focused on Israel's interests and attacked Israel's dissenters. I regret to say that, at both events, had the attendees been empowered to attack Iran and close every mosque in America, I believe it would have happened. No wonder that in 2008, when I attempted to get Iranian residents in Sherman's district to go to his Middle East event, not one would attend. They knew what vitriol awaited them. This year I didn't even try. That's a pretty sad scenario -- when residents of a Congressional district with roots to the region being discussed are afraid to attend their own Congressman's discussion. What does that say about our democracy and the man they've chosen to represent it? Not much, I'm afraid.
As an American, it's difficult to digest how vehemently fellow Americans can support a foreign nation to the detriment of their own. Those in that sanctuary Wednesday evening wouldn't hesitate to use American blood and treasure to protect and defend Israel - even if it meant global hatred for America, our young Americans dying, our social services being cut, and our infrastructure further decaying. While Sherman and those in the Temple would allow Americans to die protecting rich, mighty Israel, they would readily punish Americans for non-violently helping the needy and inspiring good will through their work.
Sherman has not backed down one iota from his threat to investigate Americans involved with the Free Gaza Flotilla. On Wednesday he stated the following:
The 1996 Anti-Terrorism Act makes it a crime to provide anything to a terrorist organization. There's no exception that says, "Oh it's just school supplies, or, oh, it's just cement, or, oh, I have a pure heart. I've read Gandhi. I'm a man of peace." None of these are defenses and that is why I've written to the Attorney General and called him to say that every American on that Flotilla should be subject to criminal investigation (cheers and applause).
Even with that threat of retribution against human rights advocates, and Sherman and the Deputy Consul defaming human rights workers throughout Wednesday's event, there were at least two members in the audience who'd been to Gaza and who let Mr. Sherman, Mr. Artzyeli and the bigoted audience know what they had done.
Shae Popovich, Associate Director of the Office of the Americas, who went to Gaza in May, 2009, and attempted to return in January, 2010, made her actions known to the audience, then endured verbal jabs from her fellow Americans:
Video by Linda Milazzo
Unfortunately, the beginning of Shae's statement was cut off in the video. Here's her statement in its entirety:
You had mentioned that any American who gave aid to Hamas would be considered a terrorist. Well I guess I'm considered a terrorist, sir, because I went on a peace delegation in May in 2009 and I brought humanitarian toys and supplies to the children of Gaza, and I just want to let you know that I'm not a terrorist. I'm a human rights activist and you need to realize that these people are living in a virtual prison in Gaza, and I witnessed it first hand for myself so I know (audience interruptions). I have a quick comment. I don't have a question. I'm just telling you as a citizen activist I witnessed the destruction and devastation. I had friends on the Flotilla. They did nothing to be called (unintelligible due to interruptions).
Kathleen O'Connor Wong, a 67 year old great-grandmother who didn't get the opportunity to address the town hall audience, informed Sherman at the podium afterward that she'd been aboard a Gaza freedom boat with representatives from seventeen countries, most of whom were over 50. She told Sherman she'd spent a month in Cyprus and six days in Gaza, and that she was not a terrorist. Sherman took no action against Kathleen or Shae, although Kathleen did have a problem with the police when she exited the event.
Throughout the evening, the principal themes from Sherman, Artzyeli and the audience were an all too familiar mix of aggression, fear and victimhood. Everyone's a bigot, except Jews. Everyone's an aggressor, except Jews. Interesting sentiments from an audience that raged aggressively at everyone from Obama to Iran to the Saudis to Democrats and even to Sherman, who some saw as not pro-Israel enough. At what point do these people value America above other countries? Or will they ever?
For asking a question about Sherman's representation, I was told to "go live in Gaza." Maybe the next time I should respond with "go live in Israel." Why not? If Israel is their first allegiance, perhaps they should just reside there. My first allegiance is to the United States, which I won't sacrifice for Israel - and neither should Brad Sherman, Chuck Schumer, Joe Lieberman, Howard Berman, Jane Harman, Henry Waxman and more...
It's time to ask the question: When will Jewish and Israeli victimhood finally end? The victim card played out a long time ago. Jews, despite Sherman's demands for special protection on campuses for Jewish students, are in no more danger in the United States than any other group. Yet fear and victimhood permeate some people's lives.
Sherman's personal requests for pro-Israel call-ins to his television and radio appearances, and his offer of talking points to counter criticisms of Israel, are concerning coming from a Representative in the United States Congress. Why isn't Sherman more worried about restoring America's image than restoring Israel's? At what point does Sherman's American loyalty win out? Or does it?
Artzyeli ended the evening with these words:
I'll say again, Israel is not flawless. We made, throughout our 60 years, we made mistakes like any other country but trying to vilify Israel and to accentuate each and every (undecipherable) Israel does and to put a magnifying glass with each and every aspect of any action of Israel - this is un-proportional. This is an obsession with Israel. Again, criticize, if you have criticism of Israel it's legitimate. No problem. All countries can be criticized but this obsession is just beyond out of proportion and it's biased and this when it comes from Jews it's awful... Again, I'm referring to those who believe in the human rights of the entire world except of Israelis...
Here are the two telling examples of fear and aggression from incidents on Wednesday night:
The first involves Mark Reed, Brad Sherman's Republican opponent, who won his Republican primary handily. Sherman won't debate Reed, although I believe he should. Reed is a 40% Native American, self-described "conservative Constitutionalist who happens to be Republican." Reed is also a staunch supporter of Israel, who amazingly, believes he's a stronger supporter of Israel than Sherman - if that's possible. Reed is not Jewish.
Reed attended the town hall Wednesday evening and caused no disruption. At the end of the event he exited and entered the synagogue courtyard where he was met by Temple security who asked him to leave the premises and escorted him to the street where he was then met by LAPD officers, who threatened to arrest him if he didn't leave the area. Reed left, but has since filed a complaint against the LAPD officer. Here's Reed's press release detailing his several encounters, one of which was with Congressman Sherman's mother.
Media Contact: Jeff Marks
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE MARK REED REMOVED FROM PUBLIC TOWN HALL WITH INTIMIDATION AND THREATS BY ARMED GUARDS AND LAPD
Northridge, California (July 7, 2010)
Mark Reed, Candidate for Congress in the 27th Congressional District, was in attendance at a public town hall hosted by his opponent, incumbent Congressman Brad Sherman, this evening when private armed security guards escorted Mr. Reed off the property. There, LAPD officers waited on the street and threatened to arrest Mr. Reed if he did not immediately enter his vehicle and leave the area. As a constituent of the 27th District, Mr. Reed was within his rights to attend. He was not disruptive.
The meeting was being held at Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge California. It was a public forum open to all constituents of California's 27th Congressional District. The topic of the event was the Middle East, specifically, terrorism, US-Israel relations, and Iran's nuclear weapons program. The town hall was hosted by Congressman Sherman and featured Gil Artzyeli, Deputy Consul General of the State of Israel.
As the event was getting underway, Matt Dababneh, Congressman Sherman's District Director, along with an armed guard and two unarmed security guards, informed Mr. Reed that he could not display a sign on his vehicle. Mr. Reed removed the sign from the premises. The sign was then displayed on a van across the street legally parked on public property.
When Mr. Reed entered the temple, he was confronted by Lane Sherman, the Congressman's mother, who informed him that he was "Not welcome there," that he "should leave," and that he was a "bad man." An insult she repeated multiple times. Mr. Reed notified Mrs. Sherman and other bystanders that he was "there to listen." He also reminded Mrs. Sherman that Congressman Sherman has been "ignoring his requests to debate."
During the event, Mark Reed was quietly listening to the public discourse and comments. He was not disruptive. He did not attempt to engage Mr. Sherman or Mr. Artzyeli in dialogue. He was not campaigning inside the event.
At the end of the public forum, Mr. Reed went outside. Several of his fellow constituents engaged Mr. Reed in discussion about the event and the positions offered by Mr. Sherman. At that time, Frank Guzman, a private security officer employed by the temple from Nastec International Security, asked Mr. Reed to leave. Mr. Guzman was armed. Another armed guard, two unarmed guards, and a woman who claimed to be a staff member of the temple, accompanied Mr. Guzman in his request. When Mr. Reed inquired as to the cause for his ejection, the guard simply replied that it was private property and he had to go. Mr. Reed accommodated the request. The guards escorted him to the street.
When Mr. Reed stepped onto the public street, officers of the LAPD confronted him. The officers informed him that he had to "leave immediately or he would be arrested." When Mr. Reed inquired about the reason for his removal from a public area, the officers only responded with increased threats of arrest. Fearing they would take him into custody, Mr. Reed entered his vehicle and left.
Eyewitness Jack Marino of Burbank said, "Mark was talking to a group of people. Next thing I know, there's a group of people moving Mark down the pathway and out of the temple. I saw the guard and a woman in a blue shirt." When he went into the street, Mr. Marino adds, "I saw Mark's truck, and there were two (police) cruisers there."
Eyewitness David King of North Hills said, "A woman from the temple told Mark he had to leave right away or he would be arrested."
When asked about Mr. Reed's behavior at the event, eyewitness Jay Stern of North Hills said, "From everything that I have seen, if there was a disturbance or a concern, I don't know how Mark got fingered. Because he was standing at the back of the hall. I saw him. He didn't do anything. The next thing I know, he's not there."
For more information on Mark Reed visit MarkReedForCongress.com
■ JEFFREY J. MARKS
Office: 818.332.5543 // Mark Reed for Congress // www.markreedforcongress.com
The next incident involves Kathleen O'Connor Wong, the 67-year-old great grandmother who told Brad Sherman she'd gone to Gaza. Kathleen was met by police waiting at her car, which was parked on the street, because her car had two Free Palestine stickers, one Strength Through Peace sticker and no license plates on her recently purchased vehicle. Her new plates had yet to arrive. Someone at the Temple was so concerned about Kathleen's Free Palestine stickers that they called the police, who then barricaded one entire side of the street with a police car and flashing lights, and waited for Kathleen to return to her vehicle.
When Kathleen got to her car, the police explained there was a call made about a suspicious car parked on the street and they needed to run Kathleen's information - which they did, only to find out everything was in order. Kathleen was the owner, and for the second or third time that evening this 67-year-old non-violent peacemaking great grandmother needed to explain that she was not a terrorist.
Interestingly, for that entire evening in the Temple, Kathleen sat quietly. I was seated near her so I was aware of her decorum. She was one of the more respectful attendees in that sanctuary with a true air of serenity, yet she was the most under scrutiny. Those who were screaming for bombs, sanctions, curtailing freedoms, removing tax exempt status from mosques - those who were the most aggressive and angry - weren't bothered by anyone. But this one woman who'd put her life on the line on an uncertain journey for peace, became the perceived danger for displaying peace. It's time for an anger reprieve and a reassessment of our values.
Here's a photo of Kathleen's car. Would you have called the police? I wouldn't.
Photo by Linda Milazzo
Finally, as I ask my fellow Jews (yes, I'm a matrilineal Jew), to discard their victimhood and embrace empowerment through peace, I'd like to share the trailer to a great documentary by award winning Israeli filmmaker, Yoav Shamier that addresses the issue of anti-Semitism. It's a powerful journey in which Yoav searches for anti-Semitism amongst Israelis and Americans. I hope you'll consider giving it a view. You can stream it if you have Netflix.