Prosecutorial zeal

On Tuesday Judge Katie Rayburn sentenced FANG activist Amory Zhou-Kourvo to ten days in jail for blocking the entrance to the Bristol County House of Correction. On August 20, 2018 Zhou-Kourvo and Holly Stein were arrested after cementing their arms to a concrete filled tire and fastening bike locks around their necks to a fence.

Zhou-Kourvo’s sentence will be shortened by two days already served and Judge Rayburn is considering a request to permit the sentence to be served in Norfolk instead of Bristol County out of concerns for a transgender prisoner’s safety in Bristol County. A dozen FANG supporters, several local activists, and representatives of the NAACP New Bedford attended the hearings.

After learning of the epidemic of suicides at the jail, widely reported in the Boston Globe and elsewhere, the Attorney General passed the buck to the Department of Corrections and the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security — both headed by Baker appointees. The State Auditor, to her credit, conducted a friendly “performance audit” which, like a previous one, found financial and managerial irregularities at the Sheriff’s Office, but it fell short of a complete investigation that would have shed light on the neglect and deprivation of prisoners.

The Office of the Inspector General — also headed by a Baker appointee — was given evidence of the sheriff’s financial abuses of taxpayer money, but again no action was taken. Legislation which would have stopped the sheriff’s giveaways of state money to ICE has been shelved in the Massachusetts House by Speaker DeLeo.

So it was amusing, to say the least, when Sheriff Tom Hodgson took to social media to lecture the public on the right ways and the wrong ways to protest injustice and work within the system. Given that not one branch of government has done anything to-date to stop the suicide epidemic at Hodgson’s facilities, his misuses of taxpayer money, and his habitual violations of the SJC’s Lunn decision, it’s clear that the system is not working.

In fact, I’m beginning to think it was designed to not work. So I take my hat off to these young people for temporarily inconveniencing a sheriff at the scene of his own crimes.

Sitting through the hearings on Tuesday morning, it took a while to get to Zhou-Kourvo’s case. Right before the nineteen year-old was sentenced to jail, attendees in Katie Rayburn’s court watched her give probation to a fentanyl dealer who had beaten his wife and had also been previously charged as an accessory-to-murder. Rayburn, who insisted on handling the FANG cases herself following the initial arraignments, seemed keen on sending a message — don’t mess with law enforcement, no matter how crooked it is.

If the name Katie Rayburn rings a bell, you probably just watched the HBO documentary on the Michelle Carter case. Rayburn was the ambitious Bristol County Assistant District Attorney who built a case around a story that a calculating 17 year-old ice princess convinced an adult “boyfriend” (who in reality she had met only a handful of times) to commit suicide by text message — from a 40 mile distance. The case raises so many questions that it is now headed for the Supreme Court.

The only expert witness in the case, psychiatrist Peter Breggin, who looked at the suite of medications both teens had been prescribed, came to a totally different conclusion about Carter’s culpability than in Rayburn’s tale. Even as Rayburn herself continued to try the case in front of the cameras, she slapped a gag order on Breggin. Rayburn was rewarded for her prosecutorial zeal (if not misconduct) with an appointment to the bench by Governor Charlie Baker.

Having seen the judge in action, it’s clear Rayburn still thinks she’s a prosecutor.

Rank hypocrisy

A year ago, on June 30, 2018, I attended a Families Belong Together rally in New Bedford, one of hundreds of similar events taking place nationwide. Between 400-500 people attended, overflowing into the balcony at the Bethel AME Church on County Street, to hear New Bedford’s expressions of solidarity and concern for families separated at the border.

Despite his actual history of voting for anti-immigrant legislation, one or more of the organizers invited U.S. Congressman Bill Keating to speak at the event. Keating shed his tie, rolled up his sleeves, and gave an energetic speech — all clenched fists and faux outrage at the Trump administration’s caging of six year-olds.

The only problem with this performance was not the dramatic oratory; it was the rank hypocrisy. Keating has voted repeatedly for GOP anti-immigrant bills. H.R.3009 punished Sanctuary Cities. H.R.4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, restricted absorption of Syrian refugees. H.R.3004, “Kate’s Law,” took a hard line against desperate people who re-enter the United States. And Keating’s “On the Issues” statement on immigration reads like it was written by Tom Hodgson:

“Bill Keating opposes amnesty. As a District Attorney, Bill Keating enforces our laws and believes that everyone must obey them. His office has prosecuted thousands of criminal cases that resulted in defendants being detained for immigration and deportation action. Bill believes that we must secure our borders, and wants to punish and stop corporations that hire workers here illegally. Bill does not support giving people who are here illegally access to state and federal benefits.”

On July 12th Keating was at it again. At a New Bedford rally called Lights for Liberty, some of the same organizers had again invited the Congressman, and there he was — delivering the same shtick in precisely the same way. This time he huffed and puffed at the concentration camps the Trump administration is running on the southern border.

But Keating himself just voted to expand them. The Washington Post reported “House passes $4.6 billion border bill as leaders cave to moderate Democrats and GOP.” Ninety-five Democrats opposed the legislation, which placed no constraints on how Trump could use the funding. House leader Nancy Pelosi even abandoned language to earmark funds specifically for humanitarian aid. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blasted the capitulation: “Well, too bad. This is our job. Cancel vacation, fly the Senate in. Pass a clean humanitarian bill and stop trying to squeeze crises for more pain.”

These appearances remind us how easily machine Democrats and their friends can so easily exploit and co-opt humanitarian issues they repeatedly refuse to fix. And Keating reminds me how little will change until these good buddies of the GOP are retired and replaced.

By coincidence, a day before Keating’s theatrical performance in New Bedford, Stephen Kinzer, a well-known historian of American Empire, wrote a blistering piece in the Globe excoriating the Congressman:

“My own representative, Bourne Democrat Bill Keating, takes campaign donations from arms makers and repays them by endorsing mind-boggling Pentagon budgets. He has cosponsored a bill promoting increased US arms sales to Ukraine, voted to allow the deployment of US troops to Libya without Congressional approval, and called President Trump’s 2017 missile attack on Syria ‘necessary and proportional’. […] Most recently he was one of 129 Democrats who voted with Republicans to fund the network of immigration prisons along our southern border without any requirement that inmates be given water, soap, blankets, or toothbrushes.”

We clearly need a new Congressional Representative in the 9th District. And, as luck would have it, Kinzer even wrote the want ad:

“Urgently Needed: Dynamic activist from Cape Cod, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, the South Shore, New Bedford, or Fall River. Job entails a year of 16-hour days, knocking on doors, and organizing to defeat Representative Bill Keating in the Democratic primary in the fall of 2020. Benefits include the satisfaction of speaking every day about the need to defend human rights, build strong communities, combat climate change, and end foreign wars. No pay, but seat in Congress if campaign succeeds.”

NOTICE: The Democratic Party does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, or any other status protected by law or regulation. All qualified applicants will be given equal opportunity and selection decisions are based on job-related factors only.

Just kidding. It will be an uphill battle all the way. But Massachusetts needs another Ayanna Pressley and one less Blue Dog.

Foreign meddling

“America’s Pro-Israel Lobby,” AIPAC, has long sponsored legislation to stifle the American public’s right to discuss or protest Israel’s abuses. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement’s founder Omar Barghouti, is prohibited from entering the US, while Israel’s lobbyists have successfully sponsored legislation in roughly 30 states and in both the US House and Senate to make BDS boycotts illegal. Amazingly, these lobbyists are not required to register as foreign agents under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). At the federal level, with AIPAC’s legislation opposed by numerous civil liberties groups, AIPAC is still trying to keep their foot in the door. Senate Resolution S.Res.120 and House resolution H.Res.246 still support criminalizing boycotts of Israel.

Perhaps the only silver lining in all this is that AIPAC just made it easier to decide the fitness of Democratic candidates in the coming election. Representatives Tim Ryan and Eric Swalwell, and Senators Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Amy Klobuchar are all co-sponsors of the AIPAC-written resolution. For me, human rights, foreign policy, and free speech are all litmus test issues. These candidates apparently have no respect for any of these concerns. Other Democratic presidential candidates have had their flirtations with AIPAC as well. Only Bernie Sanders — ironically the only Jewish candidate in the bunch — has refused to attend AIPAC conventions.

In Massachusetts, half the Democratic delegation support AIPAC’s assault on free speech. No surprise from the usual Blue Dogs — Representatives Bill Keating, Joe Kennedy III, Richard Neal, and Lori Trahan — but a shock to see Senator Ed Markey joining them — by supporting the AIPAC resolution, all just displayed their contempt for both human rights for Palestinians and Americans’ right to do something about it peacefully.

Regardless of what some Republicans think, Israel is a secular nation like any other. As such, it has all the usual warts — traffic jams, corruption, poverty, and pollution. But Israel also imposes martial law and has occupied Palestinian territory for generations, closely resembling South Africa’s Apartheid system — separate courts, separate roads, the original Trumpian wall, imprisonment without charges for parents and children alike, and Israel has enacted ugly race laws that determine who is a citizen. Naturally, not everyone thinks this is such a great thing. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a non-violent protest against Israel’s policies. AIPAC, which serves as Israel’s attack dog on BDS, does not even remotely represent any  shared value with the United States. But it certainly is an effective, unregulated foreign agent for Israel.

While the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) may be the best-known of BDS opponents, there are dozens of organizations that lobby for Israeli interests, foreign, military and economic aid — including changes to American laws. There are about three dozen pro-Israel political action committees that funnel millions of dollars to politicians of both parties. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (CoP) consists of over fifty organizations that advocate on behalf of Israel, all of whom sit on AIPAC’s executive committee.

The American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF) is a branch of AIPAC that runs free junkets for congressmen to Israel to hear from Israel’s Foreign Ministry and provides funding to AIPAC. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) pushes hard-line, anti-Arab, anti-Iranian Middle Eastern policies. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) used to be a civil rights organization, but now primarily attacks critics of Israel and promotes Likudnik foreign policy. The Israel Project disseminates Israeli propaganda, while the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces (FIDF) raises funds for a foreign military [!!] and brings Israeli soldiers to the US as good-will “ambassadors.”

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) links 125 Zionist organizations to 17 umbrella groups for 4 main Jewish religious currents in the US. The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) receives much of its funding from Sheldon Adelson and has embraced the American Far Right. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) describes its mission as “advocating for Israel and the Jewish people.” The Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) — like many of the others — conflates Jewish life with Israeli interests and functions primarily as an extension of Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

The Jewish People Policy Insitute (JPPI) is dedicated to “strengthening the attachment of young American Jews to Israel.” Its board of directors includes former US Ambassadors Dennis Ross and Stuart Eizenstat, Iran hawk Elliot Abrams, and other leading lights of US Zionist organizations such as Michael Steinhardt (Birthright Israel) and Steve Hoffman (Cleveland Jewish Federation). Interestingly, JPPI is critical of far-right politics — In Israel — but grateful for the help from the American far right.

And then there are the media watchdogs, which attack journalists critical of Israel. These include: the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which at times has provided questionable translations of news from the Middle East; the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) which often targets specific news sources as “antisemitic”; the Middle East Forum (MEF); and the Haym Salomon Center, which disseminates pro-Israel spin and Islamophobic content “in order to defend Western civilization.”

Campus organizations like Hillel used to provide a friendly place for Jewish students to come together. But, as right-wing benefactors have politicized and weaponized Jewish institutions, Hillel has now become a means of silencing Israel’s campus critics, including faculty. Hillel’s FAQ describes its mission: “Israel is at the heart of Hillel’s work. Our goal is to inspire every Jewish college student to develop a meaningful and enduring relationship to Israel and to Israelis.” Stand With Us and Israel on Campus Coalition likewise promote pro-Israel messaging on American college campuses.

In Congress itself we have the Republican Jewish Coalition — which, despite the word Jewish, does not study Torah but instead promotes pro-Israel policy. There is also the National Jewish Democratic Council, which “educates Democratic elected officials and candidates to increase support for Jewish domestic and foreign policy priorities” — as if all American Jews supported the Israeli occupation or its far right governments. American lawmakers frequently participate in all-expenses-paid economic missions to Israel courtesy of the Association of America-Israel Chambers of Commerce. Who, after all, would fault a politician for trying to drum up a little business back home?

Then there are the Christian Zionist groups — the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFC) — “be an advocate for Israel.” Christians United for Israel (CUFI) is run by Evangelical minister John Hagee, who is eagerly waiting for the Middle East to blow up to bring on the End Times. Passages “offers Christian college students with leadership potential a fresh and innovative approach to experiencing the Holy Land to make them “voices for Israel.” The Israel Allies Foundation (IAF) promotes “Judeo-Christian values” and, once again, is nothing but an unregulated foreign lobbying group.

In 2006. foreign policy scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt were commissioned by the Atlantic to write about the Israel lobby — and they covered many of the groups mentioned above. But the Atlantic refused to publish their article and it was left to the London Review of Books instead, a foreign publication, to give the essay an audience. The essay was later fleshed out in a much-maligned book that was savaged by most liberal newspapers and magazines.

A decade later the tide is turning on the acceptability of criticizing Israel’s occupation and treatment of Palestinians, Bedouins, and Druze. And some Israelis themselves are doing the same. As Americans come to terms with their own White Supremacy, many of the similarities between Israel and the United States have come into focus. After years of lying to ourselves about the meaning of words, some have refused to use “alt-Right” and instead write ‘fascist.” Journalists have begun to criticize their own timid use of “racially charged” and some opt for the more honest word “racist.”

Courageous legislators have become disgusted by the Orwellian term “detention facilities” and now simply call them what they really are — “concentration camps.” The freedom to use honest language has had a liberating effect on young Jews, who recently committed acts of civil disobedience in front of ICE facilities all over the country.

So it is long overdue that we had a long, hard look at Israel’s aggressive, unregulated “lobbying.” It’s time we confronted Israel’s relentless efforts to alter American law for its own benefit that it conducts in coordination with a sprawling network of American groups with ties to the American far right.

Let’s call it what it really is — foreign meddling.