Never Again Means Never Again

September 10, 2019

I joined a demonstration Sunday afternoon. It was called partly to make clear that Jews are not slaves to Trump regardless of his policies toward Israel. It was part of Never Again Action across the country to protest the use of concentration camps to hold people fleeing from persecution, now most urgently on our Mexican border. We were joined by good people of all colors, origins and faiths, many of whom I know and admire.

Justice Jackson, chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, told the world in his opening statement that “civilization cannot tolerate … [the Nazi’s wrongs] being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.”[1] Never again and condemnation of the Holocaust was never just about Jews. These were crimes against all humanity. ICE, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Trump get no atrocities pass.

Never Again protested holding kids in cages, separating children from their families, keeping immigrants in concentration camps, plus denying them everything from soap to medical care. It is not OK to do that to people whatever they look like or the language they use to speak or pray. It’s not OK to refuse to help people who are fleeing for their lives. It’s not OK to rename refugees “illegals” and treat them as if they have no rights even to the basics for survival. And it’s not OK for Sheriff Russo to assist ICE to round up decent, law-abiding people fleeing for their lives to the country that promised the world to advance life, liberty, freedom from fear and freedom from want. And yes, I did call them law-abiding – it’s not a crime to cross the border.

So we congregated at a park in South Troy and then marched to the Rensselaer County Correctional Facility. Rabbi Gordon reminded the crowd that when Rabbi Heschel was criticized for marching on the sabbath in the Civil Rights Movement, he responded, “I prayed with my feet.”  We prayed with our feet, as appropriate when our voices are not enough.

When we reached the jail, we were reminded of the names of people who died in US custody near the Mexican border. We remembered them with the Kadish, the ancient Jewish prayer for the dead. It’s a prayer I recite tearfully as I have recited it for my parents and others I held dear.

The march was peaceful and we had been instructed to obey the laws. But a group sat across the road leading to the jail and eventually people from the county police came to talk to those blocking the road. I saw Mark Mishler, as attorney for the demonstrators, come to join the discussion. I heard them discuss alternatives available to the police. When they got to the possibility of arrest, I heard Mark tell the officer that “There are people here who lost their families in the holocaust…. As Jews we have seen these things before and we are not going to be like the ‘good Germans’ who stood by and let it happen in Germany, that we will not allow detentions and family separations happen in our country without taking a stand. And, that’s why the people blocking the road are not going to leave.” If they left, they would be tortured by the thought that they had not done everything they could to stop others from being confined in inhumane conditions as their families had been.

Never again means never again, anywhere. It means that at home as much as anywhere else. We will not be complicit.

[1] Opening Address to the International Military Tribunal at the Nuremberg Trials (10 November 1945).

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Trump’s attack on refugees

July 22, 2019

Just received a letter worth passing on, given that the US has made many of the world’s refugee problems worse: by our history of throttling democracy and supporting dictators in Central America who have ruined the lives of their people; by  our share in global warming that has destroyed the ability of many areas to support themselves; and by our resort to arms especially, recently, in the Middle East.

From: capital-district-coalition-against-islamophobia@googlegroups.com <capital-district-coalition-against-islamophobia

Please join me in doing everything/anything  you can to  fight against this latest effort to destroy our fundamental American values.    Yes, we have US Senators and Congressmen who will fight hard to ensure this does not happen, but I’m sure they would be grateful for a call of support from their constituents.

Please share with your networks.

Charles Schumer:

E-mail:  https://www.schumer.senate.gov/Contact/email-chuck

Albany Office:  (518) 431-4070

Wash. D.C. Office: (202) 224-6542

Kristen Gillibrand

E-mail: https://www.gillibrand.senate.gov/contact/email-me

Albany Office: (518) 431-0120

Wash. D.C. Office: (202) 224-4451

Paul Tonko

E-mail: https://tonko.house.gov/forms/writeyourrep/?zip5=12202&zip4=

Albany Office: (518) 465-0700

Wash. D.C. Office (202) 225-5076

Please share with your networks.

Thank You,

Dahlia Herring

Co-Chair, Capital Region Refugee Roundtable

From: Eskinder Negash, USCRI <uscri@uscridc.org>
Sent: Friday, July 19, 2019 1:05 PM
To: Dahlia <dmazengia@nycap.rr.com>
Subject: BREAKING: Refugees not welcome here?

BREAKING: Trump Administration Considers Slashing Refugee Admissions to Zero

News just broke on Politico that the Administration is considering shutting down the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. 

According to the report, for the first time since the program was established in 1980, we would close our doors to refugees. Officials are proposing to allow ZERO refugees into the United States of America. This would amount to a functional shut down of this vital program for refugees and eliminate our historic role as a humanitarian leader in the world.

This is a defining moment in our country’s history. How can we turn our back on the world’s most vulnerable people—refugees who cannot go home? How can we toss aside the fundamental values that built this country from the ground up? Right now there are thousands of refugees in the U.S. waiting for their family members to join them. Will we keep these families separated forever?

Right now, TODAY, is the time to stand with USCRI and mount a robust opposition to this proposal. We are asking you to amplify our message to the Administration to change course and continue this time-tested humanitarian program.

How can you help?

  • Call your members of Congress today and let them know you support increasing, not decreasing, the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. Locate your members of Congress here.
  • Speak out in support of refugees. Use your social media and other platforms to follow USCRI and let this Administration know you are one of the many Americans who welcome refugees into this country.
  • Donate to USCRI and support our efforts on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people. As a nonprofit organization, we can’t do it without you. Help us continue our work as advocates and allies for refugees and immigrants. Donate now at refugees.org.

It is critical that we join together and make our voices heard.

Eskinder Negash
President and CEO

P.S. USCRI’s official statement may be seen here.

 


The “Caravan”

November 13, 2018

Only Trump could turn a line of destitute and terrified people walking thousands of miles in hopes of finding safety in the America that all admired until recently, into a caravan of desperados bent on breaking laws, robbing, stealing and raping Americans.

Actually that’s wrong – the last time I know of was when Gen. Douglas MacArthur ran the bonus marchers off the mall in Washington, D.C. The bonus marchers were veterans of World War I, trying to survive the Great Depression. They came to Washington to petition their government to give them their promised World War I bonuses a little early, since they were desperate and destitute. Disobeying orders, MacArthur ran them off. MacArthur disobeyed four presidents until Truman finally fired him for insisting on widening the Korean War into China.

But the Bonus marchers and the Caravan both remind me more of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath – farmers who lost their lands to the banks after drought, the dust bowl and the Great Depression made it impossible to farm or earn a living in those farming communities. They joined a sad and sorry march from Oklahoma to California. They were farmers, not thieves or rapists. But they were vilifield as beggars. Oakies, originally meaning from Oklahoma, became an epithet. To the loss of their income, the loss of their farms, often the loss of their families, they now added the loss even of human empathy. Cold and hungry, the migrants gathered in shantytowns they called Hoovervilles, named for the president in office when the Great Depression began. They lit fires in steel drums to keep warm. I wish Steinbeck had written a sequel. He described great suffering and often death. Yet some percent of them survived and eventually melded into the population of California.

I thought we had outgrown demonizing the homeless and destitute, but not Donald Trump.

I thought we had outgrown running off the homeless and destitute like vermin, but not Donald Trump.

I thought we had learned that the problems of massive unemployment are not the workers’ making, but not Donald Trump.

I thought we had learned that farmers who’d lost their lands, shopkeepers, factory workers and miners who lost their jobs, were decent people suffering from forces beyond their control, but not Donald Trump.

Come back John Steinbeck and remind us all of our humanity.

Come back Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and show us how to care for our fellow human beings and build a better world out of love and compassion.

Come back America and show a large heart to each other and to the cold and desperate trying to reach the safety of our shores.

We can do it. There is no economic reason why we can’t. We could get to work rebuilding our infrastructure and make plenty of work for everyone. This is America. Si se puede; yes, we can and be stronger for it.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, November 13, 2018.

 

 


The Sacredness, and the Uniqueness, of Brotherly Love

July 17, 2018

The ethnic slaughter in so many parts of the world – Kenya, Myanmar, Rwanda, Sudan, the former Yugoslavia, the “troubles” in Ireland, Ukraine, the blood shed at the separation of Pakistan and India – make the uniqueness of American anti-discrimination rules stand out both for their moral high ground and for their protection of human life.

They provided a way to live together in peace, even if getting there has been difficult. They provided a beacon, a light to the world, on living together. Conceived in part as a city on a hill; America was to light the world with our example. Indeed it has. That strong belief in the equality of mankind and the welcome to people from all across the globe has always been attractive.

The Enlightenment in Europe was largely about the idea of equality and learning to live with people despite differences in religion and diverse origins. America was founded on that Enlightenment ideal and, while never quite satisfying its own ideals, to an appreciable extent lived it. In the colonies, after the Revolution and until modern times, the U.S. has welcomed immigrants. Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and other faiths were here from the Founding and helped build this country. It is an experiment both in peacefulness and in the Biblical injunction to love thy neighbor, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. It has been a religious enterprise, a nation building enterprise, and an enterprise in foreign affairs for which this nation has been justly celebrated.

Until now.

Would Ireland, India and so many other places have escaped their rivers of blood had their colonial rulers sought to bring people together in fairness, and ruled from the moral high ground, rather than striving to divide that they might conquer? To imagine is to wish for them the brilliance of the American solution.

America has brought peoples together for centuries. Public schools were conceived to bring together rich and poor, and they were soon called to bring together boys and girls. The military and large businesses made it their mission to bring people together across ethnic, religious and language boundaries that they might have unified armies and a unified workforce. Businesses created Americanization programs from which immigrants emerged proud Americans. Teddy Roosevelt told America that nothing brings men together like the military tent. Even racial prejudices have been receding in the face of integration – this nation has been celebrating African-Americans in music and the arts from the beginning of the twentieth century if not before, in sports especially since Jackie Robinson joined the Dodger lineup in 1947, and in many other areas since as having colleagues, bosses, employees, neighbors, friends and even spouses from different communities of race, religion and ethnic identity has become much more common. This march toward realizing the promise of equality has been going on for two hundred fifty years. Much of America has been shaped by that march, by its progress, by its moral growth.

Nothing has been more American than reaching out – in private groups and NGOs that have provided services abroad, and in government groups like the Peace Corps, US AID, Volunteers in Service to America, programs to acculturate immigrants here, provide the tools to leave poverty behind, and bring people from all cultures together in our schools and businesses.

Nothing has been so attractive to the world, as the fact that people everywhere could see themselves in us. It is a great heritage, a bulwark against all the beasts of the world; we must not forsake it.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, July 17, 2018.

 


The Middle East, European Colonialism and the Result of Blank Checks

February 27, 2018

Steven Pinker, in The Better Angels of our Nature, argued we’ve become less bloody over the centuries. But so many issues involve life and death. For two weeks this country has been discussing how to stop school shootings. This week let’s address life and death in the Middle East. Next week, events permitting, let’s discuss two issues that threaten life worldwide.

I can count on hate mail whenever I speak about the Middle East. But let’s put some things in perspective.

The world’s refugee problem swamps most countries’ willingness to take people in. Our government wants to restrict immigration and we fight over who and why. Reaction to flows of refugees threaten democratic governments across Europe and contributed to the vote for Brexit. In addition to their own disputes, the American military footprint has aggravated war and population displacement in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Palestine among many countries in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Stepping back historically and geographically, most countries are dominated by conquering populations. This country conquered and decimated Native Americans to create our bi-coastal America. A succession of warring populations, Huns, Visigoths, Franks, Saxons, Vikings and more, fought for Europe long before the modern wars.

This has hardly been a good way of solving problems or competition for land. But even more harm lurks in the suggestion that we undo it.

The creation of Israel was plainly the result of European refusal to accept its Jewish population. Historically, the Turks in the Ottoman Empire, and the Moors in Spain, before Ferdinand and Isabella Christianized it, were much more hospitable to Jews. The twentieth century brought the fate of the Jews to a head. Europe could have solved its integration problem. But seeing the handwriting on many walls in the 1930s, people like Justice Brandeis, then on the U.S. Supreme Court, were telling friends in Europe to get out quickly. But where to? Franklin Roosevelt, despite close personal and professional relationships with many Jews, blocked boatloads of Jewish refugees from our shores for political reasons.

So the west solved its problem by exporting it – to Palestine. Everyone was a victim in this process. Jewish refugees were uprooted and they in turn uprooted Palestinians. What to do?

At about the same time, Britain was facilitating the breakup of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan. It cost something like a million lives and uprooted many times that. The two countries still find it difficult to get along, but undoing 1948 is not on the table. It cannot be.

It is not true that whatever is, is just. That was proposed by the conservative philosopher Robert Nozick and I most emphatically reject it. But redressing all the wrongs of the past comes at a cost which will involve many who themselves were neither perpetrators nor victims and sometimes both. The argument about who was right and who was wrong in Palestine is not a soluble argument. No one was treated as they should have been. But even more important, fixing those wrongs implies a fight to the death of everyone there. That I cannot wish.

I cannot support complete and utter conquest for either side. We might once have insisted on an enforceable compromise. America once played a role as an honest broker and could have maximized the chance for peace. But we could not continue to play that role while giving Israel a blank check to violate its promises about settlements. The result, I fear, is going to be tragic. It may simply be too late to avert widespread disaster.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, February 27, 2018.


Threats to Democracy – The Shadow Knows How to Divide and Conquer

January 16, 2018

Right after Trump won, a cousin offered to send me some anti-Hillary literature that she thought I’d find convincing. I responded that if Hillary had won, she and I would be safe. But Trump’s victory emboldened those who would be perfectly happy exercising what Trump euphemistically called their Second Amendment rights, getting rid of people who don’t fit their racial and religious criteria. They were already on the streets. That left neither of us safe.

Nor is the problem just what some of his supporters believe and do. His campaign and rhetoric were about who should not be here. He continually appeals to his most extreme supporters, people who barely conceal their admiration for Hitler.

Many of us have been talking about how polarized our politics have become. Polarized politics is dangerous because it is a predicate for autocracy. If people become convinced that they can’t live with the other side’s victory, that life is too dangerous, democracy becomes unsustainable. When a live and let live attitude is gone, democracy can’t be trusted.

Trump can’t be trusted. Trump stands for exactly the kind of politics that makes democracy feel more dangerous than valuable. During the campaign, he told his supporters to express their “second Amendment rights” at the polls, sending chills down the spines of loyal Americans. When neo-Fascists showed up to demonstrate in Charlottesville fully armed to sow fear and intimidation, and one of their sympathizers murdered a peaceful and unarmed woman in the crowd, Trump blamed their opponents for the carnage. To Trump and his white supremacist supporters, evil is racial – Hispanic, immigrant, Puerto Rican, or Muslim, Blacks, Jews, minorities and women. When he tried to export his racist friends to the Brits, they told him to stay out of Britain. Bless the Brits. They get what this country used to stand for – we are [quote] “one nation … indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Liberty and democracy are “indivisible”; they are and must be for ALL.

A descent into racism, Nazi or otherwise, would not make America great again. It would destroy our country. One of the things I found fascinating in the papers of the UN Commission on Human Rights which produced the UN Declaration of Human Rights, was that human rights was not an American idea foisted on the world. Hatred of the Nazis came from across the globe, all continents, all its peoples. What they saw, regardless of economic or political system or religious or ethnic heritage was that the Nazis were a threat to everyone. All countries worked with the single-minded goal that there should be no more Hitlers, no more Nazi control of any country. The world had defeated the Nazis and they weren’t about to have to do it again.

Trump doesn’t get or care that democracy depends on our agreement that all Americans are legitimate Americans, all Americans need to be respected and cared about, and all Americans need to feel safe here, or he is wielding the demonization of some of us precisely to end self-government.

When I was a kid, there was a radio program that some of you will remember. It’s tag line, voiced by actor Frank Readick Jr., was “what evil lurks in the hearts of men, the Shadow knows.” I make no claim to knowing what evil does or doesn’t lurk in the heart of Trump. But threatening America from the inside, he is the biggest threat to the survival of America since our Civil War.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, January 16, 2018.

 

 


A Scary Election

October 25, 2016

Over a century ago, populism was sweeping the country, with white and African-American workers standing together, until a scared Southern aristocracy started race-baiting. Whites took the bait, breaking the back of Southern populism. The rest of the country surged forward because their governments cared about the people, the regular people, not just the fancy financiers. But not in the South, which languished.

That race-baiting aristocracy also killed political competition, leading to the one-party South. No democracy, no concern for the people, no progress. Because race-baiting broke the back of Populism.

Trump uses rhetoric to divide the people hoping he and his cronies can conquer while the rest of us fight each other. Trump attacks everyone – immigrants, African-, Hispanic-, and Muslim-Americans, women, hard-working, warm-hearted, caring Americans of every background.

Democracy is in danger when people can’t accept the legitimacy of disagreement, drown out and threaten opponents, and don’t respect the right to vote of other people because of where they live or where their parents came from. Losing respect for others threatens democracy. Most of us believe that everyone has a right to their opinion. Democracy is in trouble when some try to shut down that right.

Democracy is threatened by campaign crowds yelling “Lock her up” and “Hang her in the streets.” Promising to appoint a special prosecutor to go after Hillary, Donald feeds their hostility to democracy. Like Italy’s Berlusconi, Donald tries to cover revelations about his behavior by throwing hate to angry crowds. Hillary responds “That happens in dictatorships, not democracies.” She’s nailed it; Trump does not want to lead a democratic country; he’s trying to sabotage it.

Trump’s racism and nativism has broken the back of the movement for economic justice. His invitation to settling the election by beating people up and using their Second Amendment rights encourages force, intimidation and even guns, to take Hillary out. Telling his supporters to prevent the polls being rigged codes Trump’s message to control the election by threats and intimidation.

Democracy is in serious trouble when police and military institutions take sides. Individuals in the uniformed services have every right to their political views. But we’ve had a tradition of keeping the military out of politics. We should be able to rely on them to protect every voter’s rights regardless of politics. The military and police need to be above politics or democracy is at risk.

Trump is trying to forge a coalition to muscle democracy out of the way.

If the self-proclaimed rich guy wins, he knows how to enrich himself and his cronies. But he pulls his supporters along with constantly repeated half-truths, lies and fabrications until they seem true because he says them so often – stringing them together like a rant overwhelming any attempt to answer because there’s too much to deal with.

Economic desperation leaves many open to his lies. But they cannot put a populist program together on the back of a divided America. They cannot get government to work on behalf of all the people, not just the super rich, by dividing over skin color, national origin and gender.

The Constitution, the Declaration, the Founders’ legacy, are in trouble when despondent and demoralized people lose faith in self-government. When democracy is in trouble, everyone is in trouble because dictators don’t take care of their people – they take care of themselves.

These same patterns have brought democracy down in many parts of the globe. But for Mr. Trump, we’re all losers and our democracy is a loser too. For Trump, only Trump counts.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, October 25, 2016.


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