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).

Advertisements

Making America Puny, or Is the Emperor Naked

January 9, 2018

Trump talks tough. His world strategy seems to go it alone in every context.

  • He antagonized Canada over NAFTA and Mexico over the wall.
  • He antagonized Britain by forwarding Nazi propaganda.
  • He aggravates the international refugee crisis that is roiling Europe.
  • He withdrew from world agreements to combat global warming.
  • He denies that Iran has been living up to its obligations under the Iran nuclear agreement despite the conclusions of international inspection agencies.
  • After screaming about the size of his button, quiet and patient South Korean diplomacy forced Trump to agree to pick up a phone.
  • He withdrew from Asia and the Trans-Pacific alliance and left that part of the world to China’s tender hands.
  • He abandoned an international consensus over the status of Jerusalem. Israel has demanded a great deal from us, including the antagonism of the world’s billion Muslims. But nothing is too much.
  • He doesn’t like the UN or our support of it even though it has made this country central to international everything. But who needs everything?

Tough, tough, tough, he’s talks tough alright, but he is increasingly alone. Some Americans like to say we are number one. But with mounting disputes and fewer allies, are we more than a lone tough in a bar brawl?

If we are irrelevant to the free world, who’ll care what happens to us? If our policies undermine the free world, who will come to our defense? If our only friends are strongmen who repress their own people, will they turn on us whenever it suits them? Antagonizing the world, risks being swamped by a hostile world. This is not the America of George Washington which could avoid entangling alliances while protected by the enormity of the oceans. The oceans are puny now that tiny North Korea can aim across them.

True military power is based on industrial might, not exports or raw materials. You could read the emergence of Germany and America in industrial statistics before they became world powers. But Trump hasn’t yet brought himself to support investments that would strengthen industrial power at home, like new and renovated infrastructure, science and education. Expanding coal mining and gas pumping, of which we already produce plenty, serve the world market, not industrial power at home, while American industries have begun a massive shift to other sources of energy. Oil and gas have been staples of weak third-world nations that have descended into catacombs of corruption – much as we have been doing – corruption spurred worldwide by extractive industries.

True world power is a combination of industrial, military and moral power. It requires leadership, engagement and understanding of the complexities of other nations’ needs and values. The alternative is a war against all in which America, no matter how much it claims, can and will be swamped by a hostile world. Trump’s bluster exposes our weakness, not our strength.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, January 9, 2018.

 

 


%d bloggers like this: