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.

Bring the fire

Last week’s debates featured a pack of twenty Democratic candidates for president. All these men and women deeply care about the United States and all would be an improvement over the incumbent. Regardless of the number of warts and blemishes I have already counted, I am almost certain that I will be canvassing door-to-door for whichever of these people ends up the Democratic nominee in 2020.

The debates were chaotic, with contenders interrupting and constantly talking over each other. Nevertheless, it was a valuable opportunity to see wits and bits of policy on display. To my thinking, only Julian Castro, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren survived the first night’s debate. And of the second night’s participants, only Kamala Harris and Pete Buttegieg came out relatively unscathed.

Neither of the two leaders in the polls — Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders — seemed up to the job. Biden is a gratuitous gift to Republican voters, has more baggage than an airport, and he deserved the thrashing he got from Kamala Harris. Twice Biden, outmatched or unprepared, saved himself by stammering “my time is up” — ironically defining his own fitness for the job.

And it breaks my heart to say this, but Bernie is who he has always been, with a message that never changes with the wind or polls. His policy prescriptions are wise and bold. But as the oldest presidential candidate ever, and without the ability to connect with a diverse electorate, Bernie is probably un-electable in 2020. Like Moses, Bernie has brought millions of progressives to Canaan, but he himself will never step foot in the Promised Land.

I am left with the mental image of Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg or Julian Castro running circles around Trump in a debate. I can also picture Kamala Harris cleaning off the ice pick she just shoved into Biden’s neck — the same one she used on Barr — and plunging it into Trump. I’m not alone in believing that the defense of what’s left of our democracy will have to be accomplished with some degree of ruthlessness.

I have already said what I think of Bernie Sanders’ chances of being elected, but for many white Americans electability is almost the only criterion for selecting a president. Both parties have forever preferred tall white males who say all the right things about Capitalism and the military.  But when all is said and done, it’s race that really matters to White America. Michael Harriot, writing in The Root, notes that working-class, soccer moms, rural voters, NASCAR dads, the religious right, moderate and suburban voters all “may sound phonetically different, [but] those categories all refer to white people.” With no one to represent them, it is little wonder that so many people of color sat out the last election. The next election had better address this failure.

Now is also not the time for the faint-hearted to abandon principles. Democrats can’t give in to the delusion that the so-called “never-Trump” Republican or the mythological swing voter will be swayed by sacrificing Main Street to Wall Street or by once again failing to address immigration and racial injustices. If these unlikely voters are truly worried about Trump — as they should be — then they’re just going to have to suck it up and vote for the lesser evil. Isn’t that what Democrats always tell the progressive wing of their own party? Universal health care won’t be half as painful as concentration camps and whatever follows that. Eugene Robinson, in his July 1st column in the Washington Post, nailed it when he wrote:

“Anyone who watched last week’s two-night candidates’ debate should be confident that the eventual Democratic nominee is virtually certain to support universal health care, comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform, reasonable gun control, measures to address climate change and bold steps to address income inequality. No, this is not a Republican agenda. Outcasts from the GOP will have to decide whether to accept it, in the interest of ending our long national nightmare, or reject it and stick with a president who kowtows to Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.”

This week a progressive Democratic Congressional delegation faced a snarling MAGA mob and aggressive Border Patrol agents in Texas when they went to visit a camp where there was no tap water and prisoners were being told to drink out of toilets. In the midst of hostility that concerned even their security details, these mostly young progressive lawmakers stood up and denounced the abuses they had just seen. The visit closely coincided with the anniversary of Frederick Douglass’ famous oration, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?,” in which Douglass intoned:

For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

Newly-elected Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who many Democrats initially thought was politically indistinguishable from the [white] man she replaced, showed voters on Monday just what the difference was when she directly addressed the MAGA mob, almost appearing to channel Douglass’ words:

“I learned a long time ago that when change happens it’s either because people see the light or they feel the fire. We’re lifting up these stories in the hopes that you will see the light. And if you don’t, we will bring the fire.”

It’s going to take a lot of Democratic soul-searching, courage and fidelity to principle, and a heaping scoop of ruthlessness to win the next election. Everything depends on it.

Bring the fire.