Laurence Kant (Larry Kant)

1. Laurence Kant (Larry Kant...

Engaged Mysticism and Scholarship in the Pursuit of Wisdom.

Creation

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Creation is a flow of multiplicity in an ocean of oneness.

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Breaking the Grind of Israel-Gaza Violence

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For those of you have seen my defense of the Operation Protective Edge, I also agree with what David Grossman says below. While Israel’s Gaza incursion is certainly justifiable, Grossman is also right when he says that Israeli leaders (especially Netanyahu and Likud generally) have not reached out anywhere near sufficiently to Palestinian leaders on the West Bank. This was short-sighted on their part, and it’s part of the problem now. They were missing in action when, in previous years, they should have been out there doing diplomacy and relating:

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/28/opinion/david-grossman-end-the-grindstone-of-israeli-palestinian-violence.html

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New Alliances in the Middle East

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It seems that Egypt, the PLO, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE–more or less in conjunction with Israel–now find themselves in alliance against Hamas, Qatar, and Turkey.

You would not know this from PLO rhetoric against the Israeli attacks on Gaza, but, behind the scenes, Netanyahu and the Israeli coalition are generally on relatively good terms with PLO/Egypt/Saudi Arabia/UAE at the moment. They are also all mad at Kerry and Obama for helping out Qatar and Turkey who are helping Hamas (at least that’s their point of view).

There is a powerful desire on the part of many Arab leaders, including the PLO, to get rid of Hamas once and for all. What no one says publicly is that quietly they support Israel’s incursion into Gaza.

It’s not clear, however, whether getting rid of Hamas is actually a good idea–which may be what’s motivating Kerry/Obama. In Hamas’ place, more radical leadership of Gaza could emerge, like Iranian-supported Islamic Jihad. Or Gaza could turn into Beirut from the 1970s and 1980s.

More likely the Egypt/PLO/Saudi Arabia/UAE/Israel alliance may be looking to weaken Hamas to such an extent that it can no longer threaten the PLO/Fatah or Israel. When you’re engaged in a massive operation like Protective Edge, that’s a narrow bridge to traverse (weaken, but don’t destroy, Hamas), and they may or may not find themselves successful.

I’m sure U.S. leaders are concerned about this. They also want to use Qatar and Turkey as intermediaries to reach out to Hamas. However, I’m not sure they know what they’re doing. By supporting the Qatar/Tukey proposal and dissing the PLO and al-Sisi (Egypt), they may (I worry) be undermining Netanyahu and Yaalon who have never wanted a full frontal attack on Hamas. But I don’t have all the information and reserve judgement at this time.

Of course, coalitions like these are moving targets and change shape at a moment’s notice. These could be alliances of very short-term convenience. We shall see where they all end up, but, given modern history, the newshape of Middle East diplomacy is fascinating (though painful and tragic), to say the least.

 

**I’m really not sure where Iran is on this. On the one hand, they are opposed to Hamas (Sunni Muslim Brotherhood vs. Shia; and Hamas supported Sunni insurgents against Syrian Assad). However, they have changed their tune a bit recently. By supporting Hamas against Israel and against PLO/Fatah, Iran could get a lot of brownie points from the broader Arab populace which supports Palestinians in general. The Iranians are probably playing it both ways actually.

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Gaza, Israel, and Media Coverage

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Why are the global protests all focused on Gaza? Many more are dying in Syria: 700 over a two-day period.

Israel is the bogeyman for world media, but no one gives a hoot if Arabs are slaughtering other Arabs. What does this say about Israel and about antisemitism (yesterday protesters looted and ransacked Jewish businesses in a Paris suburb)?

Part 1: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGING THAT MEDIA COVERAGE OF GAZA IS SO EXTENSIVE BECAUSE OF ISRAEL’S FAILURE TO AGREE TO A CEASEFIRE

I don’t agree with you that the ceasefire issue is what drives the media.

The reason everyone pays attention to Gaza, and not to Syria, is because no one in the West gives a darn about Arabs and Muslims dying, but they do enjoy scapegoating Jews wherever they are. Whatever problems there are in the Middle East, blame it on the Jews. Now Muslims and Arabs have joined in on this. Take a look at Paris and its suburbs, where protesters have now burned and decimated French Jewish businesses. This is not primarily because of Gaza, but because fundamentally, at root, people blame Jews for whatever problems exists in their communities and cultures.

It’s sad, but it’s a fact. I don’t see a lot of people in Europe attacking Russian churches and community centers, because Russian separatists shot down a passenger jet. Where are the protesters on Iran’s treatment of the Bahai? Israelis are trying to protect their civilian population. You can argue about their tactics and effectiveness, but they do have a good argument based on self-defense.

No, fundamentally, the media and most people are fixated on Jews. This is a 2500-year-old problem, deeply rooted in history and culture. Those of us who devote our lives to working on antisemitism, Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations, must face this on a daily basis. That’s the reality, and no amount of rationalizations get around this fact.

PART 2: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGUING THAT EXTENSIVE MEDIA COVERAGE OF GAZA IS DUE TO LIMITED FINANCIAL RESOURCES

a) It’s not just Syria that the media ignores. Last I heard France is pretty good digs for reporters. Yet how much media attention is focused on protesters burning down Jewish shops and businesses, calling Jews “pigs” and shouting “kill the Jews,” vandalizing and storming synagogues, and hunting Jews on the streets? There were similar (though less destructive) events in Germany. I don’t see much on the TV about that. Iran is a police state, but it’s relatively safe to travel in. Where is the attention on the Iranian treatment of the Bahai, who are viciously persecuted and murdered? What about the Iranian treatment of their native Arab population and political dissidents, whom they like to hang from cranes? Where is the attention on the destruction of indigenous communities worldwide (including in the US and Canada) for corporate profit (oil, minerals, gems, whatever)? What about China and Tibet? What about the treatment of women and gays in the Arab/Muslim world? How much media attention is there on that compared to Israel? I could go on and on. The fact of the matter is, the media, and people in general, are obsessed with Jews. Israel is a good proxy for that.

There is one financial factor you did not mention: Israel coverage markets well to a public that is focused on Jews and Judaism. In other words, “Israel” sells. As the newspaper people used to say, “Israel” makes good copy.

That said, I do agree that the safety and cheapness of travel to Israel is a factor in media coverage of Israel. Part of the attraction is also that Israel is a pleasant place to which to travel and a democracy with a free press. There’s just a lot more to it than your explanation.

b) Israel is in the news all the time. The media always has stories about the Palestinian situation–not as intensely as Gaza right now, but these stories are all over the place regularly. They’re hard to miss. I don’t see nearly as much attention on the stuff I describe above as I do on Israel, even when Israel is not involved in a war.

Beyond that, there has been massive violence (with concentrated deaths in short periods of time) in other locations over the past decades with relatively little media attention: Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Congo, Ivory Coast. Back in the 1960s through the 1990s we saw hideous numbers of deaths in conflicts in South America, Africa, and East Asia (remember East Timor) without comparable attention. Naturally disasters such as occur in Bangladesh and India attract relatively little attention. These are not all impossible to cover (not as easy as Israel, but not Syria), and yet we saw very little on them. I would not expect the equivalence of Gaza, but I would have expected a lot more than we got.

Somehow the media figured out a way to cover our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Vietnam. The media covered the breakup of Yugoslavia, including Bosnia/Serbia. They covered the Tiannamen Square uprising in China. They gave blanket coverage to the Indonesian tsunami. They focused on the 2009/10 election protests in Iran. In the U.S. the media covered the Tea Party, but much less the Occupy movement.

If it wanted to do so, the media could cover Syria to a greater extent than it has recently. Yes, it’s not easy, and, yes, it’s more expensive. Coverage of Syria would never equal coverage of Gaza, but the media could give Syria much more attention than it has–even without a lot of reporters on the ground. It chooses not to, because Syria, Arabs, and Muslims just don’t hold the attention of the public or of news decision-makers. They’re just not sexy or meaningful to enough people.

I’m not saying that it’s unreasonable to give Gaza a lot of attention. And I’m not saying that a Jewish fixation is the only reason the media focuses on Israel/Gaza/West Bank. I am saying that Gaza has attracted much more attention than other stories of similar magnitude and that part of it has to do with the public’s fascination (for both good and ill) with Israel and Jews. I’m also saying that the media picks and chooses what it decides to cover, in part based on what it thinks sells best. And Israel sells real well. And it has since 1948, especially since 1967.

And I can tell you this. Unless a miracle happens soon, stories about Israel’s conflicts with its neighbors will continue to abound (massive deaths or not), while stories about Ukraine and Russia will have long since faded into oblivion. This does have to do with the prominent place of Jews (in spite of their small numbers) and Israel in human culture and history.

c) All in all I just don’t buy this argument. It does not pass the smell test. The amount of coverage on Israel/Palestine (the former British Mandate), a tiny piece of land with a miniscule population of Jews and Arabs is massive and overwhelming, even without the current Gaza conflict. The overwhelming coverage cannot be explained away simply by reference to limited media resources. An alien from another solar system who dropped onto earth and saw the media coverage would assume that Israel/Palestine must comprise a large continent and a major portion of the world’s population. Obviously, that’s not the case. There are other reasons why the public and the media are obsessed with this little slice of our planet. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

d) I do think antisemitism is a major factor, but not the only one. It’s fixation on Jews that’s really at the core here. Even some supporters of Israel are motivated in part by the Bible and by their belief in Jews as part of God’s plan. And there are philosemitic non-Jews who focus on Jews and on Israel for a whole host of reasons. I wouldn’t call that antisemitism, but it does reflect a somewhat unhealthy obsession with Jews and Judaism. So fixation on Judaism is not simply antisemitism, but can actually be philosemitism as well. I would certainly rather have the latter than the former, but even that is a sword cutting more than one way.

I think it would be best for Jews if others would simply live their lives and leave us be. At the same time, I admit that Jews sometimes cultivate this fixation, and I’m certainly uncomfortable with that. There should be dialogue and conversation–not as an attempt to convert or to preach, but in order to learn and grow. I think it’s much better for Christians to become better Christians than to become Jews or something else, and I think it’s much better for Jews to become better Jews than to spend our time distinguishing ourselves from Christians and others.

As for one-sidedness, that’s a red herring. There are lot of one-sided conflicts in the world (some of which I already mentioned above) that do not get the same attention as Israel/Palestine. In Tibet, it’s mostly Tibetans getting killed, not Chinese. In Iran, no government officials get killed, only dissidents and disfavored minorities. In Central America, governments killed rebels and dissidents far more than the latter killed the former. In France, supporters of Israel are not attacking pro-Palestinian demonstrators, while Palestinians supporters are engaging in numerous attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions. Right now in Syria, ISIS seems to be inflicting most of the damage.

Actually, the death toll in Gaza is now over 700 Gazans and 32 Israeli soldiers, plus two civilians. Of course, that’s because Israelis try to protect their civilians, while the goal of Hamas is to have as many civilians as possible killed in order to promote their PR/media campaign. It’s amazing (though sadly not surprising) to me that the media mentions this only in passing or skeptically. Also, we have no way of knowing how many Gazan civilians vs. soldiers are being killed–Hamas is not exactly a trustworthy source for this kind of info.

In any case, the media would do well to spend more time looking more deeply at what’s going on and not simply reporting death numbers as if it’s a football game. From that perspective, however, Hamas is winning. For them the side with the most dead is the victor. So on the media scoreboard, Hamas is currently ahead of Israel, c. 1,058 vs. 53. That’s a lopsided victory for Hamas. I’m sure Hamas’ leaders are thrilled. The culture of death is winning in a landslide over the culture of life.

Perhaps, however, the distancing of other countries from Hamas that I have observed recently is a move in the right direction. That would certainly show some sophistication in not simply accepting Hamas’ explanations at face value. I hope the media will move in that direction as well.

 

PART 3: ON ISRAELI AND ARAB POSITIONS ON A PALESTINE STATE (INCLUDING THOMAS FRIEDMAN WHO WANTS ISRAEL TO FOCUS ON DEVELOPING THE WEST BANK AS A THRIVING DEMOCRACY)

I’m not a fan of Netanyahu and have never supported him or Likud. I’m not sure he’s as opposed to a Palestinian state as you think, but I’m not sure he believes in much of anything–except his own political survival. And I wrote on this blog that most Arab governments don’t want a Palestinian state either: see the same thing here-http://mysticscholar.org/whats-really-going-on-in-the…/

As far as the West Bank goes, Friedman is right in principle, but that’s no easy task either. Fatah is corrupt, inept, and non-democratic, and there is not much of a prospect for more salutary groups or institutions that could take the lead. The West Bank would need a massive shift in culture and outlook for what Friedman suggests to happen. And Arab governments, as well as Iran, have no interest in an autonomous, free, democratic Palestine. They will do everything possible to prevent that from happening. So that leaves essentially a mess for Israel to deal with. Netanyahu is not much of a leader, but I doubt that anyone or any Israeli party could deal with the current state of things. 

So what are the options? What should Israel do in light of all this? I have no idea. Neither does anyone else as far as I can make out. The best I can think of is play a waiting game and hope that the West Bank cleans up its act and that the Arab world develops some kind of democratic institutions (Tunisia??).

As far as handling Hamas, I don’t know what Israel should do. I’m not an Israeli, and I don’t live there. But I know I wouldn’t put up with rockets firing on my land and tunnels with terrorists pouring out. Perhaps there’s a better way to deal with Hamas, but I don’t know what it is, and I haven’t heard anything plausible. Demilitarizing Gaza would make sense, but that seems impossible, given Hamas and given the sentiments of Gazans. 

If you have something practical to suggest, I really would listen–really. But most of what I’ve heard out there is, quite frankly, naive, totally impractical, or simply wrong. I’m waiting–but sometimes, you just have to tread water for a while. 

Friedman can talk and talk, but his ideas are not really pragmatic or feasible; they just sound nice and thoughtful. He’s not really suggesting anything workable, just a lot of hopeful words.

In the meantime, I have to deal with the antisemitism that’s out there and that’s integrally related to the media’s depiction of Israel. France is a mess, and the attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions is reminiscent of Nazi-era events. And this is happening across Europe. The situation is ugly and screwed-up, and the media is making it worse by not explaining what’s going on.

It does bother me that Israel gets singled out for its deplorable conduct, while the other nations you mention get a pass. The BDS movement focuses on Israel, but shows no interest in advocating divestment in other countries with far worse human rights violations (in the Middle East, that would include Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, among others). This too is ugly and antisemitic, and the media does not address it at all. When you’re dealing with the detritus of the Holocaust that still remains with us and the burgeoning global antisemitism, this is very disturbing indeed.

 

Part 4: ON ISRAEL LEAVING THE WEST BANK AND THE CREATION OF A PALESTINIAN STATE THERE

The problem is: if Israelis pull out and declare a Palestinian state (so called Plan B, which many Israelis are discussing, by the way, including Netanyahu), then you are left with a disfunctional Palestinian government/society and major security issues right on Israel’s border. The West Bank Palestinian economy is not good, and no amount of help from Israel can fix a broken system. Israel has limited resources with its own enormous economic issues: a large population of young who do not have much upward mobility (just as is the case globally), an excessively high cost of living, a minority of ultra-orthodox who profit from the current welfare system without putting much back into it, an electoral system that promotes fragmentation (giving excess weight to small parties), and a military budget that will not diminish just because Israel leaves the West Bank.

Therefore, if Israel leaves the West Bank on its own or with an agreement, it will be faced with a restive, frustrated Palestinian population in the West Bank, a corrupt government that is anti-democratic and probably unable to improve the economy much at all, and the potential for a neighbor that will continue its war and terrorism against Israel as a way of casting blame away from itself. And you cannot forget that the Fatah government would have limited ability to govern, given that Hamas has considerable influence in the West Bank and that there are numerous other splinter groups in the West Bank committed to the destruction of Israel. There is no guarantee that Hamas, a fanatic group committed to the destruction of Israel and Jews worldwide, would not take over there. As we learned in Iraq, a democracy/free society does not emerge just because you wish it to be so. A lot has to be in place before that can happen. If it doesn’t, Israel will be in an even more precarious position.

Further, Arab/Muslim governments for the most part do not want an independent, free, democratic Palestinian state for a simple reason: they would be forced to face their own populations and explain themselves. Their opposition would create further difficulties for both Israel and Palestine and make the situation potentially even more volatile..

I do not support the continued building of new settlement outposts, and I’m not going to defend that. I think it’s wrong. But I don’t know what the way out is. There are many critics of Israel (including Israelis), but I have not heard much about how to solve this pragmatically other than hopeful words and pleasant thoughts. If anyone out there has read something or heard something that is practical and specific, I would be thrilled to read or hear it.

As to the media, I stand by what I’ve said. Israel/Gaza/West Bank is a tiny strip of land with a miniscule population. Even when there’s no major conflict, the media focus is enormous and disproportionate. That’s because it sells globally: in the U.S., in Europe, and in the Muslim world. It’s because it’s the land of the Bible. And it’s because Jews are involved.

PART 5: RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE ARGUING THAT THE CONCEPT OF THE “CHOSEN PEOPLE” AND OF “DIFFERENCE ARE WHAT DRIVE SOME OF THE ANIMOSITY TOWARD ISRAELIS AND JEWS

On the whole “chosen people” business, I rarely hear Jews, including most Israelis, talk about this. Most of the Israeli settlers are looking for suburban plots near Jerusalem and have no interest in theology. There are extreme settlers who talk about the Chosen People (Hebron, for example–and quite a number of them are American immigrants), but they are a small minority, and most Israelis (even religious ones) strongly dislike them.

It’s mostly Christians who talk about Jews as the Chosen People. I’ve led a lot of Jewish study groups, and that topic hardly ever comes us, except in response to Christians. Conservative/Evangelical Christians love the whole “Chosen People” trope and run with it non-stop. They have their own agenda, with end-time theology and mass conversion. Mainline and liberal Christians hate the whole idea of it and complain incessantly about Jewish superiority and tribalism.

Jewish sources talk about the Chosen People, but mostly not with pride. In Jewish tradition, God asked every other people to be the chosen ones, and they all refused. The Jews were the last, and they finally agreed to it–with a lot of complaints that have continued through the centuries. The concept of being “chosen” is not necessarily positive at all, but a burden that Jews are stuck with, forcing them to live difficult lives without much reward.

Even so, most Jews today don’t talk about it much, because it’s not an important part of daily life, of identity, or of practice. It’s mainly Christians (and now Muslims) who obsess over it.

Now, on the concept of “difference,” that’s a different matter. Lots of individuals and groups think of themselves as different. And, in fact, they are.

Teilhard de Chardin (who was a Catholic evolutionary biologist and theologian) had a concept known as the Omega Point, which he believed was the ultimate level of collective consciousness that human beings could attain in the distant future. He thought that collective consciousness depended not on homogeneity, but on hyper-individuality–each person’s authentic uniqueness.

We’re all different, and, yes, we’re all similar too, but Jews focus more on the “difference” part. They’re not the only group to do that. I don’t think that everyone should have to be the same. There should be a place (I hope) on the planet and in the human species for individuals and groups who focus more on difference.

 

ON THE DIFFICULTIES OF A TWO-STATE SOLUTION

The problem is: if Israelis pull out and declare a Palestinian state (so called Plan B, which many Israelis are discussing, by the way, including Netanyahu), then you are left with a disfunctional Palestinian government/society and major security issues right on Israel’s border. The West Bank Palestinian economy is not good, and no amount of help from Israel can fix a broken system. Israel has limited resources with its own enormous economic issues: a large population of young who do not have much upward mobility (just as is the case globally), an excessively high cost of living, a minority of ultra-orthodox who profit from the current welfare system without putting much back into it, an electoral system that promotes fragmentation (giving excess weight to small parties), and a military budget that will not diminish just because Israel leaves the West Bank.

Therefore, if Israel leaves the West Bank on its own or with an agreement, it will be faced with a restive, frustrated Palestinian population in the West Bank, a corrupt government that is anti-democratic and probably unable to improve the economy much at all, and the potential for a neighbor that will continue its war and terrorism against Israel as a way of casting blame away from itself. And you cannot forget that the Fatah government would have limited ability to govern, given that Hamas has considerable influence in the West Bank and that there are numerous other splinter groups in the West Bank committed to the destruction of Israel. There is no guarantee that Hamas, a fanatic group committed to the destruction of Israel and Jews worldwide, would not take over there. As we learned in Iraq, a democracy/free society does not emerge just because you wish it to be so. A lot has to be in place before that can happen. If it doesn’t, Israel will be in an even more precarious position.

Further, Arab/Muslim governments for the most part do not want an independent, free, democratic Palestinian state for a simple reason: they would be forced to face their own populations and explain themselves. Their opposition would create further difficulties for both Israel and Palestine and make the situation potentially even more volatile..

I do not support the continued building of new settlement outposts, and I’m not going to defend that. I think it’s wrong. But I don’t know what the way out is. There are many critics of Israel (including Israelis), but I have not heard much about how to solve this pragmatically other than hopeful words and pleasant thoughts. If anyone out there has read something or heard something that is practical and specific, I would be thrilled to read or hear it.

As to the media, I stand by what I’ve said. Israel/Gaza/West Bank is a tiny strip of land with a miniscule population. Even when there’s no major conflict, the media focus is enormous and disproportionate. That’s because it sells globally: in the U.S., in Europe, and in the Muslim world. It’s because it’s the land of the Bible. And it’s because Jews are involved.

 

ON PROSPECTS FOR A TWO-STATE SOLUTION

Actually, believe it or not, I think there will be peace some day. So I’m not pessimistic in the long term. I may be wrong, but, in my view, the Arab/Muslim world will have to move toward a more democratic system of governance before a two-state solution works. That’s going to take time. In spite of its shortcomings, the “Arab Spring” (which is not Spring in some places I realize) was a positive step. Tunisia will be interesting to watch.

Dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians will also help over time. This will not transform the region over night, but it is slowly affecting the situation and will continue to do so..

As for your idea, Ehud Barak offered something similar in 1999. Arafat and the PLO rejected it. It may not have been the right time, and Barak was a terrible negotiator.

Israel did not “seize” Gaza and the West Bank. Israel entered them in 1967 after facing a massive Arab attack. When the Arab world decides to accept a Jewish state in the Middle East (which governments are beginning to), then it will be easier to deal with the logistics of this problem.

On the Arab right of return, this is obviously a thorny issue and will involve compensation. The Palestinians are the only group in the world given “refugee” status after multiple generations of absence from a territory. When the Arab countries expelled Jews after 1948, Israel accepted them as full citizens of the state of Israel. On the other hand, Arab governments forced Palestinians to live in refugee camps and did not integrate them into Arab societies.

Israel will have to deal with this issue financially, but it’s not as one-sided as your words imply. There are two stories here, each having legitimacy: two peoples with two painful histories and competing narratives and claims to the land.

As for Hamas, I’m glad you’re confident in Gaza tossing them out under the right conditions. I’m not. And I don’t think Israelis can assume anything. All I have to do is look at other parts of the Middle East to draw another conclusion.

Nevertheless, at some point, the day will come when a two-state solution can be put into action. I just don’t think that day has arrived yet. Let’s hope it comes soon.

RESPONSE TO A COLLEAGUE WHO ARGUES THAT ISRAEL IS NOT A DEMOCRACY, COMPARING IT TO ALABAMA 100 YEARS AGO

KantGazaExchange1

On the Barak proposal and the Camp David Summit, most observers (including many Palestinians ones) lay the blame on Arafat–that he never offered a concrete counter-proposal and could not give up on the right of return. In the end, Arafat could not accept a Jewish state on land that he still considered as belonging to the Palestinians. In other words, he was not ready to make a deal–Barak was (even with his weaknesses as a negotiator).

As for democracy, Israel is not a perfect society, and there’s racism and prejudice there, along with at times poor treatment of its Arab population. And, yes, it is a Jewish state, with Jewish governing principles and a Jewish majority.

That said, Arab citizens in Israel have more freedom and rights than they do in almost any Arab/ Muslim society that I can think of. The rights of Arab Israeli women are far higher than in any Arab society. Arab Israelis also have a considerable higher standard of living than in the surrounding societies and can actually be openly gay without being murdered.

In 2011, the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion commissioned a poll of Arab residents of Jerusalem. A plurality indicated that, if given the choice, they would choose to live under Israel rather than the PLO and that they thought their neighbors would prefer Israeli citizenship to Palestinian citizenship. Most Israeli Arabs vehemently oppose an Israel-Palestine settlement, because they do not wish to live under the PLO. Senior PLO and Hamas leaders (including three sisters of Ishmail Haniyeh, the top leader of Hamas) have sought Israeli ID cards so that they can live in Israel if they choose. Many of them have done so, including Haniyeh’s sisters. (Haniyeh’s sisters currently live as Israeli citizens in the Bedouin town of Tel as-Sabi near Beesheva on the edge of the Negev in Southern Israel; several of their children have served in the Israeli Defense Force/IDF!). I don’t know what the polls are saying now and who is living where and who holds which ID cards, but not all Palestinians and Israeli Arabs view Israel as a authoritarian state (as you suggest). Further, their view of the Israeli government versus the PLO and Hamas is filled with complexity, nuance, and contradictions.

If we consider Germany a democracy or Italy or France or Japan or South Korea (countries that presume ethnic/linguistic/cultural majorities), then Israel is no less a democracy than any of those. Israel believes it has a right to preserve its Jewish character, that Jews need to have a place where they can live without fear of persecution, discrimination, and murder. I don’t think that’s unreasonable or contrary to democratic principles. Perhaps others have a new definition of democracy with which I am unfamiliar.

Would you really compare Israel to Alabama a 100 years ago– lynchings; micegenation laws; separate water fountains, bathrooms, park benches; not to mention effective voting prohibition? Are you sure that you thought this analogy through? I don’t think there are many objective observers who would consider your comparison legitimate or reasonable. You might want to try a new tack.

 

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What’s Really Going on in the Middle East and Gaza

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Arab governments, and even Iran, are keeping a distance from Gaza and especially Hamas. The Palestinian situation in Gaza is awful and cruel, but Arab leadership despises Hamas: its radical fundamentalism and fanaticism, its promotion of terrorism in the Sinai, its goading of Israel into war, its use of civilians as human shields, and its political alliances. In fact, many in the Arab world hope that Israel will crush Hamas once and for all. I doubt, however, that Israel wants to do that (unless there’s some other group in Gaza that’s actually sane).

What the article also does not mention is the dirty little secret of the Middle East: Most Arab governments do not really want an autonomous Palestinian state. They would much rather have Israel and the Palestinians at each other’s throats in small-scale conflicts. To have a Palestinian viable, democratic state would potentially show them up and would force them to deal with their own problems.

So what’s the solution? I have no idea. And, if they’re honest, neither does anyone else. This is so much more complex than the media let on. Maybe the reporters have no clue themselves.

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Writing Poems

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When writing a poem, I do not know what will unfold. The words popping out surprise me as much as my readers.

Writing a Poem and Dreaming

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Writing a poem is not unlike dreaming. There’s only one fundamental difference. When writing a poem, you have to activate both your conscious and unconscious mind.

Poetry and the Bible

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Poetry is the warp and woof of the Bible.

What are Symbols?

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What are symbols? The medium through which we see and create our worlds.

Feeling

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Feeling involves all the senses, including thought.

Sparks

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Each spark seeks another spark to make a fire.

Time Expands

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Time expands when you focus on what is truly important.

Poetry as Form

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For me poems are as much oral as visual, as much spoken as written. I need to perform them as much as I need to write them.

Symbols, Poetry, and Dreams

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Symbols fill the gap between raw energy and form. Poetry and dreams do the same.

Poetry and Dreams

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Poetry and dreams are two of the most potent vehicles for unveiling the unconscious.

Fear and Courage

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Fear is a cover for the courage that lies just beneath it.

Poems and Play

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Playing board games is great preparation for writing poems. They both involve play.

How Ideas Come to us

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The most powerful ideas come to us mysteriously–like dreams.

Persistence

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The definition of persistence: To move forward when you don’t feel at your best.

Poems and Dreams

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My poems are partly dreams in word form.

Evolution Gaining Greater Acceptance in the U.S.

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Public views in U.S. are shifting toward support for evolution. I never understood this one. Maybe it because I’m Jewish and the child of a scientist, but I never saw the conflict with Genesis or the Bible. Genesis doesn’t really weigh in on the subject. Even a literalist view (which I certainly don’t have admittedly) could leave a lot of room for alternative interpretation. Opposition to evolution in the developed world is peculiar to the United States and is primarily found among evangelicals. Most others do not share this belief. I would truly like to better understand the reasons for opposition to evolution, because it’s so foreign to me. Perhaps there is a much deeper issue at play. If we could get at that, we might be able to address the real difficulty.

http://www.pewforum.org/2013/12/30/publics-views-on-human-evolution/

Shabbat: When Time Stops

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Some physicists say that time is ultimately an illusion. Shabbat feels a little like that. Time seems to stop. That’s when life comes close to ‘Olam haba, the world to come, eternity, home.

The Play of Poems and Dreams

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Poems let you play with words, just as dreams let you play with images.

Finishing a Poem

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Whenever I complete a poem or any writing project, I feel as if I’m sending my child into the world.

Death and Rebirth

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How many times do we die before we die? Life is a series of transformations, shifting of shapes. We are constantly preparing for a next act.

Shape Shifting

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I love the protean quality of both dreams and poems. You never know what an image or word will turn into. Life is like that; only we don’t see it that way. Everything seems permanent and fixed, but it isn’t. As we get older and look back on our lives, we realize how much like a dream or poem it all is.

Change

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Human beings generally don’t like change, yet flexibility is the key to survival and flourishing.

Poetry as Fragments

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I love poetry in part because of its fragmentary quality, like dreams.

Being and Becoming

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Being is who we are authentically. Becoming is why we enter the cycle of life.

Time Never Stops: Except on Shabbat

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Time never stops. It is inexorable. In moments of joy and tragedy, the earth continues to rotate and the seasons continue to alternate. Shabbat and meditation offer a glimpse of existence outside of time. There we reside in the presence of the Source: no limits, no boundaries, only the vibrations of no/thing.

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Poems and Dreams

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Poems resemble dreams in the rich symbolism their words express and the protean quality of their embedded images.

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Poetry: What it Does

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At its most profound, poetry unites meaning, beauty, truth, wisdom, and love.

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Thinking is a Scion of Feeling

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Thinking is a scion of feeling, one of the senses, a metaphorical, symbolic realm filled with the vibrant colors of awareness, the smells of memory, the voices of inspiration, the touch of knowledge, and the light of clarity.

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Symbols

Fragmentation and Integration

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We don’t begin with integration. We conclude with it. Fragmentation is always a prelude to integration.

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Is Belief a Jewish Notion?

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A good discussion: Howard Wettstein argues that the question of belief is not important in Judaism. The question as to whether or not God exists is the wrong question. Rather the questions should be:  What is your experience of God? How do you relate to God? Judaism is experiential and practical, not theological: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/30/is-belief-a-jewish-notion/?

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Israel Ranked as Best Country in the Middle East for Women

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Israel far outpaces other countries in the Middle East when it comes to the position and treatment of women: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/178504#.UzrmE61dXDP

What is a Week?

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Six days and Shabbat: the many in the midst of the One.

PC-USA/Presbyterians Assault on Zionism and Judaism

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The Presbyterian Church/PCUSA has recently promoted as a congregational resource a booklet called “Zionism Unsettled.” This has caused an enormous amount of controversy in the Jewish community (from the left to the right), as it essentially denies the legitimacy of Jewish aspirations and questions the right of Jews to have their own state.The attack on Zionism is not a critique of particular Israeli policies, but rather an assault on Israel as a Jewish state and an attack on Jewish history. It is nothing less than open and unapologetic antisemitism. Among other things, it claims that European Zionism ruined the lives of Middle Eastern Jews and that blame for the suffering of those Jews (the Mizrahi) should fall on European Jews who are colonialist usurpers. According to this narrative, European Jews have duped poor, benighted Middle Eastern Jews who were living blissful lives until those nasty Euro-Jews came along. This is a lie, pure and simple. Middle Eastern Judaism has a long history of love for Israel and hope for a return to their homeland, as do all Jews everywhere on the globe. And Jewish history in the Middle East is complex and often harsh. For example, in Yemen, Jews faced vicious persecution and lived lives of abject poverty and constant harassment and intimidation. They were not even allowed to own musical instruments, and the men were relegated to working in sewers. And, although there were times when Jewish life flourished in the Middle East, Jews throughout the Middle East also faced regular pogroms and persecution for centuries.

Many Presbyterians (if not most at the local levels) do not support this antisemitic position, but a small group of advocates and ideologues have hijacked their church. I wish the challengers all blessings and offer my support in whatever way I can be of use.

For these reasons, I am giving you links to a series of articles that Middle Eastern Jews have themselves written on this topic. I hope you find them of interest.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lyn-julius/presbyterians-have-it-bac_b_4896724.html

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/open-letter-to-the-presbyterian-church-from-an-iraqi-jew/

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/presbyterian-churchs-guide-is-dead-wrong-about-iranian-jewry/

icscholar.org
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Reincarnation is a Jewish Thing

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Many people–including many Jews–don’t realize this, but it’s a fact (as the website below demonstrates). It’s actually the Orthodox who emphasize reincarnation, not liberal Jews.

tp://www.aish.com/sp/ph/Why-Reincarnation.html

Peace Protesters Sentenced to Excessively Long Terms

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I am certainly not a pacifist and would not agree with the protesters on several matters. This includes the notion that we can just unilaterally stop having nuclear weapons or that we should stop using drones.

Further, I expect protesters engaging in civil disobedience to be willing to accept reasonable punishment (which apparently these ones are). These sentences, however, seem retributive and excessive. How do we put individuals like this away for so long when we allow CEO bankers who have engaged in presumably criminal activity and thereby done infinitely more damage to millions of people and to the well-being of our nation and world to go scott-free? Not only do they have their freedom, but they even get to dine and schmooze with leading politicians, including the president, and other glitterati. There’s something wrong here.

Perhaps the government was simply embarrassed by their incompetent and ineffective security around the most powerful weapons in the world.

In any case, we apparently have a two-tiered society: one for the privileged, and one for the rest of us. This will have to change for us to meet our ideals.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/3-peace-activists-sentenced-for-breaking-into-nuclear-site/2014/02/18/13a6bb7a-9815-11e3-afce-3e7c922ef31e_story.html

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Everything is Forgotten — Nothing is Forgotten

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We all will be forgotten at some point. The memory of us will disappear. 100,000 years from now who will know about us? Even recollections of Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln may vanish sooner than we might imagine.

Nothing is really forgotten, however, even the smallest, tiniest acts, because we are always affecting and swaying the world in some way. Ultimately we are not really things or objects, but waves of energy shifting, recombining, and transforming again and again and again. What we do and who we are therefore affects the energy of the world and the universe. The energy we have reshaped and the energy of who we constantly become remains forever. Everything we do affects others and the planet in some way.

So, while memory may be fleeting, our legacy, our impact, our influence are total and world-changing.

That’s why we need to play close, conscious attention to all of what we do and say. Everything enters universal consciousness in some way. For this reason, humans and all sentient beings have tremendous creative capacity and healing power.

For me this is what “spirituality” and meaning are all about.

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What’s a Symbol?

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The universe and all that lies within it are symbols, including ourselves.

What is Compassion?

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What is compassion? Recognizing that you and I are related.

How to Respond to the Boston Marathon Bombings

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Whoever did the Boston Marathon bombings, lets make sure we don’t demonize a group of people, lump people into categories, or try to close ourselves off from the rest of the world. That would be the worst possible outcome I can imagine. Of course, we should protect ourselves and seek justice, but let’s make sure we keep our hearts and heads present and realize that we are living in a fragmented, broken, wounded world. We are all wounded. While we defend ourselves and seek to defeat terrorists, we also need to reach out to one another. It’s difficult to engage in battle and to reach out to others at the same time, but that is the task we have before us.

Is the U.S. Post-Christian?

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BarnaPostChristian1

Evangelical Christian demographer, George Barna investigates whether the US is a post-Christian nation. He concludes that the US is moving in that direction:

http://www.barna.org/culture-articles/613-how-post-christian-is-us-society

How We Should Respond to a Pro-Nazi Teaching Assignment

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This teaching assignment that compelled students to take a pro-Nazi position against Jews was obviously a bad mistake, but it is one in which we all of us (especially those in the Jewish community) need to demonstrate compassion and forgiveness to the teacher. Justification of hatred is not something that is legitimate in a class teaching students how to think, especially in a classroom of teenagers. Yes, we can justify any horrible action or idea through reasoned argument, but humanism and our ethical principles have to intervene at some point. At the same time, the teacher was probably not intending to promote antisemitism and hatred, but rather the opposite. Further, all the time we permit actors in theater and film to portray Nazis (think Ralph Finnes as Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List or Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler in Downfall [Der Untergang]), and we want them to do so in a convincing fashion. In fact, we applaud them for it and give them awards. This is not an easy topic, and it’s one where all of us can go astray. Let this event not be an opportunity for recrimination and shouting, but a teaching moment.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/13/nyregion/albany-teacher-gives-pro-nazi-writing-assignment.html?_r=0

Courage to Resist

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This is the story of those who plotted to assassinate Hitler. But it’s also the story of anyone who resists authority and conventional wisdom, of anyone who is a boat rocker. When you challenge what’s wrong, always be prepared to stand alone. In an ultimate sense you are not alone, but in the normal world you are. It’s a great lesson, though a very hard one:

http://www.truthdig.com/report/print/the_courage_to_resist_20130224/

 

This is a wonderful article by Chris Hedges, but I would also like to see attention drawn to Henning von Tresckow, who was the prime mover of the plot to assassinate Hitler (Operation Valkyrie) and a staunch opponent of antisemitism: http://mysticscholar.org/last-words-of-a-hero-general-hermann-henning-von-tresckow/

Environmental Prophets of Doom

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There is something I want to say about many in the environmental movement. I hear a lot of people predicting “The End” and the collapse of everything. In fact, I understand their point of view, and I have some sympathy with it. We as a species certainly can destroy the earth through pollution, nuclear catastrophe, destruction of eco-systems, and other means.

However, I don’t really see the value in this. What good does such pessimism and hopelessness do? If everything is going to be destroyed anyway in the near future, then please shut up and live your life. We don’t need to hear prophecies of doom any more than we need to have it rammed in to us that we are going to die some day. Yes, I know, but I don’t need someone screaming at me about it every minute of the day.

I guess I place these environmental prophets of doom in the same category as I place fundamentalist Christian evangelists who speak of the coming apocalypse. Doom-saying, apocalyptic Christians can go to Jerusalem or Texas or Salt Lake or wherever else they have a vision to await the return of Christ; ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch Hasidim can await the return of Rabbi Schneerson to Brooklyn and Jerusalem; Shiite Muslims (like the current President of Iran and many others) can go to Damascus to await the descent of the twelfth imam (the Mahdi); and perhaps secular environmental prophets should go to Greenland or the Antarctic or Alaska or Polynesia to await the final collapse of civilization and planetary life.

Yes, we have problems, and they’re serious, life-threatening, even cataclysmic. We’ve been around for a little while now, and empires comes and go, as do societies and peoples. But the earth has continued, so has life, in spite of what human beings have done to the planet (and they’ve done a lot even before now). And the earth is certainly not the only planet with life, nor is this the only universe, and there are other life forms we on the planet have yet to encounter (or perhaps don’t recall).

While there is reason for an apocalyptic voice now and throughout history, sometimes it enters into pointlessness, even silliness. Often it reflects a kind of species narcissism, as if our problems, however difficult, portend the end of all that is. There’s much we don’t know or remember about our our own lives, the history of our species, and the origins and characteristics of our solar system, galaxy, and universe. Yet we presume to predict future outcomes and events based on our own limited knowledge and life-experience.

Just because our efforts do not seem to have much affect, if any, does not mean that nothing is changing. When we assume we are failing or having no impact (and I’ve done that too), we are in fact acting selfishly, assuming the world depends on us, that we have some inherent right to see change, and that our individual lifetimes have a greater value than thousands upon thousands of generations that came before us and that will come after us–not to mention the millions upon millions of generations of every cell and life-form. Maybe we need to lighten up and enjoy the music. I know I need to do that.

Mali and the Cruelty of Fundamentalist Religion

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Mali is a wonderful African country with gorgeous music, a cosmopolitan history, and a diverse population, but Al Qaeda Islamists have wreaked havoc on the northen section, including the culturally renowned cities of Gao and Timbuktu. This is another warning about what happens when the fanatically religious take control of a society (take a look at Christian fundamentalists in Uganda who are persecuting gays). The embedded video is hard to watch, but powerful:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/24/world/africa/mali-victims-speak-out/index.html

 

Martin Luther King as a Visionary Activist, not a Domesticated Politician

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This article  puts MLK into perspective, reminding us that he was not a bourgeoise moderate politician, but a radical social and spiritual acitivist with an economic vision for justice and equality. Whatever one thinks of his economic solutions, there is no question that levels of inequality in our society threaten our way of life, our democracy, and our freedom. MLK was well ahead of his time on that. We need to remember who MLK was and his vision of a just society and not depict him as the main character in a romance novel in order to domesticate him for popular consumption.  .

 

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/martin-luther-king-jr-was-radical-not-saint

 

 

 

Political Leadership: Misconceptions and Myths

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Many environmentalists have criticized President Obama for not leading on climate change. I have defended him on this (see http://mysticscholar.org/climate/), arguing that environmentalists need to produce a movement that is politically effective. This is a question of what political leadership is: 1) having the courage to take positions that your constituents do not support in order to produce legislation that will have long-term positive affects; or 2) having the courage to wait until your constituents are close to supporting a position after you have guided them and persuaded them over time–then you can help them to get over the last impediments to produce the same legislation. It’s my view that #1 can produce short-term results, but cannot produce lasting political change, which only happens with #2.

Of course , there are times of crisis when #1 may be the way to go, in an emergency or a time of horror when waiting is morally and practically indefensible. However, helping people over the last hill that they need to get over is generally what political leadership in a democratic society is. I can’t think of many examples where political leaders in the U.S. have successfully advocated for a policy well beyond where people are ready to go. I include Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt in this. Each one of them took positions as they made sense both from both a moral and political point of view.

For example, it took Lincoln a long time to push for emancipation of slaves; he did not do so until he thought he could so successfully. Now you can criticize him for not doing this sooner given the horror and evil of slavery, but he successfully pulled it off where many others might not have. In the case of Roosevelt, many have criticized him for not intervening sooner in the Holocaust (e.g. not entering the war sooner or not bombing Auschwitz), but the U.S. eventually won the war and defeated Hitler, ending his reign of evil. That was not always a given–it wasn’t even a given that the U.S. would enter the war. It’s easy to criticize Roosevelt in hindsight, but the result was the end of the Nazis. Arm-chair theorists can hypothesize all they want, but political leadership involves difficult decisions that may seem cowardly, yet are in fact acts of courage given the time and situation.

Now, at the same time, it’s the job of activist leaders like Bill McKibben to persuade people to support their positions so that political leaders can act. That what abolitionist leaders in the nineteenth century did. It was true for civil rights leaders such as MLK. It’s the same for women’s rights advocates in the early 1900′s and more recently and for gay rights activists now.

Leadership is different when applied in different contexts. A political leader does not have the same role as an activist leader. Of course, some politicians can AFFORD to act, because their constituents will support them anyway. That was true of abolitionists, and it’s true today of many northeastern and west-coast politicians on the environment. But it’s different for politicians the bulk of whose constituents oppose a particular position and will continue to oppose that politician no matter how artfully or powerfully they craft their oratory.

Of course, many politicians misjudge events either by not acting whey could do so effectively or by acting before people are ready. For example, FDR might have been able to push for healthcare reform, while Bill Clinton did not have the political climate to win on healthcare. Of course, I could be wrong about that too (Clinton’s failure may have set the stage for Obama’s success): in the end, these leadership calculations are an art, not a science.

If you want to push for change before people agree with you, you should be an activist leader (or a writer or scholar or artist), not a political one. That’s one reason why I personally was never interested in professional life in politics. I do not have the patience to operate in such an environment, but thank God there are people who do. Politics is all about patience and the waiting game. It’s only in retrospect that political movements look as if they come from nowhere. They almost never do.

Republicans Trying to Rig the Electoral College

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PriebusRince1

I don’t normally focus on party politics here, but this story is particularly disturbing, because it strikes at the heart of American freedom and democracy. If Republicans succeed in rigging the electoral college so that Democrats win the popular vote by substantial margins but lose the presidency, the U.S. will no longer have a voting system that is free, fair, or representative. I know Republicans are upset about losing elections and the demographics that are making it more difficult to win in the future, but changing the winner-take-all system only in Democratic-leaning states (like Pennsylviania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginian, Florida, Ohio) will lead to a goverment that no longer represents the will of the people. It’s one thing to buy elections so that money rules, which is what we have now, but it’s even worse to set up a voting system that’s more likely to be found in third-world dictatorships. This is a time when Americans of all political stripes need to speak out and try to preserve some fragments of what makes us great and free. Destroying our voting system by ending ‘majority rule’ is a form of evil and ought to be labeled as such.

I see this as a spiritual crisis? Will Americans allow ourselves to have the voting process converted to a meaningless charade, or will we stand up and say that we may disagree on policies and politics, but we believe in the fundamental values of democracy and representative government? If we don’t have that, what’s left?
http://news.yahoo.com/gop-eyes-election-laws-091622720–election.html

Climate Change and Political Action

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Bill McKibben complains that Obama is too patient on global climate change in the Guardian article below. However, we can’t expect Obama or any president or congress to do anything on their own. Politics never works that way and never has. Churchill responded to Hitler only because he really had no other choice other than to surrender to a brutal, maniacal dictator.

Environmentalists complain incessantly about how little Obama has done for the planet. However, it’s not his job. It’s our job and the job of activists. If not enough people accept climate change or the urgency of solving the problem, it’s up to environmental leaders to change the discourse and persuade people otherwise. If they aren’t up to the task, it’s their fault, not that of Obama or any politician.

Politicians like Obama will respond, and respond with urgency, if enough people demand it. Right now there is insufficient political space for Obama to do anything on climate change. Environmentalists must stop whining about the failure of political leaders and create the space themselves. This kind of action is what the planet is calling for us to engage in.

The job of a president (or any political leader in a democratic society) is to push people when they are not quite ready to do something, but need the extra lift to get them going. A president cannot create something out of nothing (only God–maybe–can do that in Genesis 1). It’s the job of the rest of us to move us to a place where the president can act without getting totally eviscerated.

From a spiritual point of view, humanity needs to act locally as members of broad-based coalitions and groups. We have depended far too long on individual leaders to do this work for us. By acting on our own as part of collective movements that transcend nation states, ethnic groups, socio-economic classes, and religions, we move humanity toward authentic empowerment by serving as co-creators.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/06/fossil-fuel-special-interests-barack-obama?commentpage=1

Mormon Women Protest by Wearing Pants

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In a move to assert their rights in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and to bring attention to gender inequalities, Mormon women put out a call to wear pants to church. We may think of women as having achieved parity in many sectors of American society, but in religious institutions women often find themselves caught in the backdraft of ancient traditions and historical precedents.

In my own Jewish tradition, for example, women have found themselves arrested by Israeli police simply for wearing a prayer shawl (talit) while praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. In fact, there is nothing in Jewish law that would prevent women from doing this: it’s simply a custom that men in authority don’t like.

This is another example of religious institutions trailing behind other sectors of society in promoting economic and social progress. In the modern world, organized religion has in fact mostly stood as an impediment to the expansion of freedom and to cultural advancement. In contrast, spiritual thought and practice is much more attuned to the unfolding consciousness that is very gradually bringing humanity to a higher state of awareness and living.

Thanks to these Mormon women for helping humanity move forward just a little bit further.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/20/us/19mormon.html?_r=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/20/us/19mormon.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121220&_r=1&

 

 

 

Landfill Harmonic

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“People say that we shouldn’t throw trash away carelessly. Well, we shouldn’t throw away people, either.” Favio Chavez, Landfillharmonic.  This is an orchestra from Uruguay that makes its instruments from the trash in a landfill dump  (via Dianne Bazell who excerpted this quote)

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXynrsrTKbI&feature=youtu.be

 

 

Real Change

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In the post-Enlightenment era, at least in developed societies, most profound social and spiritual change does not come from religious institutions, but from the middle class.

Larry Kant, Mystic Scholar

The Middle East and the Israeli Political Scene

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THE MIDDLE EAST AND THE ISRAELI POLITICAL SCENE

Laurence H. Kant

Thomas Friedman is right on the mark in this recent New York Times article, “The Full Israeli Experience,” describing (on the one hand) the justifiable frustration Israelis have with left-wing Europeans who don’t understand what it’s like to live in the Middle East and (on the other hand) pointing out the depressing absence of significant political support for peace initiatives among Israeli parties and political leaders.

As Friedman explains, Israelis will not listen if you don’t demonstrate you have a clue as to what’s going on in the Middle East. In my view, most left-wing Europeans–and some left-wing Americans as well–haven’t got the foggiest idea. They just don’t. They live in la-la land without a meaningful sense of the history of the Middle East or of Jews (or of Arabs and Muslims for that matter). Further, their own self-confidence leads them to think that they are somehow exempt from the prejudice and antisemitism that so deeply inhabits their being. They are just too arrogant and self-righteous to see it.

I would add, however, that Israelis are themselves naive at times. They think the US religious right is on their side, and they’re wrong. As some have said, fundamentalist Christians may love Israel, but they don’t like Jews much. Or maybe they like Jews from the “Old Testament” (as they envision it), or if Jews look funny in black hats from another time. However, such Christians are not very comfortable with mainstream Jews (secular, Reform, Conservative, and some Modern Orthodox, among others) who participate in global society, wear modern clothing, and constitute the vast majority of worldwide Jewry. Many millennarian Christians are not that different from the Palestinians in an odd sort of way. The PLO and Hamas are ok with the state of Israel as long as it’s inhabited by Arabs and Muslims. These evangelicals just replace “Arabs” and “Muslims” with “Christians” (after Jews convert, and Israel becomes a Christian state in the millennial age). Other evangelicals just want all Jews to convert to Christianity. Nobody, it seems, can envision Israel as Jewish, or can see Jews as staying Jewish, much longer. Apparently that concept is verboten.

The Middle East climate is rough right now, with the Arab/Muslim world in a whirlwind of tumult. In the midst of that, Israeli politics is more confused and chaotic than usual, an environment that is, to put it simply, a crazy mess (a mischigoss, balagan).

The main thing Bibi Netanyahu seems to care about is winning elections, while Avigdor Lieberman and his party, Yisrael Beteinu, is racist and authoritarian (though Lieberman is progressive on reducing the power of the religious). Lieberman and Netanyahu especially use the settlers (who constitute about 10% of the total Israeli vote) to drive their foreign policy and keep them in power, because in the fragmented Israeli system relatively modest numbers can drive your vote numbers high enough to win a lot of seats.  Moshe Kahlon threatened a breakaway party that would espouse a challenge to corporate interests in Israel, but he decided to stay with Likud and not run this year. Recently emerging further on the right is Habayit Yehudi (The Jewish Home),  a coalition of the National Relgious Party and the National Union, which are further to the right of Israel Beteinu, but represent a religious Zionist approach (in contrast to Likud/Israel Beteinu, which is secular). Led by Naphtali Bennett, this party is a settlers’ movement (closely associated with the West Bank settler’s council, Yesha) that envisions a greater Israel including the West Bank, opposes a two-state solution (in a wierd way, aligning with Hamas),  and takes away votes from Likud/Israel Beteinu.

The religious parties (who represent the ultra-Orthodox Haredi), besides bent on discriminating against women, primarily want welfare for themselves and military exemptions. They are not Zionist or genuine supporters of the Israeli political system. These include primarily Shas (representing the ultra-Orthodox Sephardim, led byEli Yishai) and United Torah Judaism (UTJ, representing the ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi). They rely on the weakness of the Israeli political system to essentially shakedown whatever government (right or left) is in power. Despite the portrayals of them in Western media, these groups have very little interest in, or influence over, the debate on Palestinian statehood or on West Bank settlements.

The center- and left-wings of Israeli politics are splintered and in tatters, filled with narcissists and limelight seekers (there are plenty of them on the right also, but there are more constraints on them at the moment). Friedman’s favorite centrist, Ehud Barak just sold his Tel-Aviv apartment for 26.5 million shekels or 6.5 million dollars–now there’s a real man of the people at a time when many Israelis cannot make ends meet. Beside his fondness for intrigue and drama, Barak also badly misjudged negotiating tactics in the Camp David discussions with the Palestinians in 2000.  Tzipi Livni has added former Labor Party leader, Amir Peretz, to her new party (Hatnua) list so that we have two leaders whom many Israelis perceive as having failed miserably during the 2006 Lebanese war. Most Israelis naturally don’t want them in leadership. Shaul Mofaz, the current leader of Kadima, is not a popular leader, lacking charisma and political skills. Some have floated the name of Shimon Peres. While he’s been quite a statesman and leader (the man partly responsible for Israel’s nuclear program), he’s not at the right age to reenter politics at 89, and, though popular now, he did not inspire confidence in Israelis when he was in power as a Labor Party politician. Ehud Olmert has serious legal problems and his own political baggage. Shelly Yacimovich, the Labor Party leader, who is growing in popularity, has virtually no foreign policy or security experience. Yair Lapid, head of the new party, Yesh Atid, advocates for a secular society and for women’s rights in explicit opposition to the religious, but his platform is probably too narrow to attract enough  votes to make him a significant player. The left-wing party, Meretz, describes itself as the peace party and as socialist, but most Israelis view it as too idealistic and unrealistic.

Overall, most Israelis don’t particularly like Netanyahu, but at least he’s competent in their view.

HBO or Showtime could easily serialize Israeli politics into a weekly evening soap opera, with wild twists and turns, intrigues, plots and counter-plots, jam-packed with drama-kings and drama-queens.

At the same time, one can trace the currently disturbed state of Israeli politics back to the 1995 assassination of Yitzhaq Rabin by a right-wing settler (Yigal Amir) who was himself goaded by the inflammatory rhetoric of settler leaders, politicians, and rabbis. Many Israelis (and diaspora Jews as well) are still stunned by the idea that a Jew would murder the Jewish leader of a Jewish state. Just as it took the US a long time to recover from the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, it may take Israel a long time to find its political way after this traumatic event. The incapacitating stroke of Ariel Sharon in 2006 just after he had successfully led Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza further exacerbated the political trauma and left Israel without another of its seminal leaders. Rabin and Sharon may not have seen eye to eye, but they were powerful leaders who had a vision for Israel and its place in the Middle East. They had obvious military credentials, were tough individuals with strong egos, and possessed a willingness to fight in the political underbrush. They also believed in seeking peace through strength, taking measures to demonstrate both their toughness and their openness to reconciliation. Their loss has had a deeply depressive effect on the Israeli body politic. We should not forget this.

Of course, the structure of the Israeli political system is flawed, allowing for the proliferation of smaller parties some of which wield power well beyond the numbers of their supporters. It makes coherence, consensus, and political stability more difficult to achieve than it should be. What we end up with is an already fragmented electorate even more fragmented.

Israelis are particularly bleak at the moment about the Arab world and about Palestinian society. All you have to do is take a look at the recent statement of Hamas leader, Khalid Meshal, about Israel: “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on any inch of the land.” How do you have a rational discussion with a group that openly states that it wishes to annihilate you? Plus, Israelis have their own internal problems with an outrageous cost of living and enormous divisions between the secular and the religious.

Yet, in the final analysis, most Israelis want peace and will go a long way out of their comfort zone to make peace. Eventually the political culture will reflect that. Unfortunately, it may take more time. Given the situation in the Arab world and the lack of acceptance of a Jewish state, Israel’s neighbors are clearly in no mood to recognize a Jewish Israel. And, given Israel’s own divisions, Israelis find it difficult to harness a unified vision and national identity.

Things never move as quickly as we would like, but still they’re moving, however slowly. For example, attempts to bring Israeli Jews and Palestinians together are flourishing in all sorts of unlikely places in Israel and the West Bank. Within Israel we are seeing attempts from all sides of the political spectrum to lower the cost of living and help disadvantaged Israelis. And there are movements now to bridge the divide between the secular and religious in Israel.

Further, while the so-called Arab Spring could devolve into chaos or produce fanatic Muslim fundamentalist governments (see Iran, but this time potentially mostly Sunni rather than Shiite), it also presents the only real possibility for change in the Arab/Muslim world. The risks are enormous, but the previous corrupt, repressive governments of the Middle East (some of which still exist, with a few more barely holding on to power) would never have been able to bring about peace with Israel or democratic prosperity at home. Realistically, as dangerous and as anxiety-provoking as possible outcomes are, this change is the best hope Israel has for peace.

Part of the problem is that we can visualize peace, and that makes it seem closer than it actually is, but in reality peace is there on the horizon, just further out than we would like. Sometimes hope (as Pema Chodron says) holds us back and pushes us to do things which we should not. What we really need is neither hope nor despair, but an honest, clear-headed view of what’s in front of us, supported and nurtured by a fundamental trust in the universe (which is, after all, the Jewish way).

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/09/opinion/sunday/friedman-the-full-israeli-experience.html (Thanks to Nelson French! for this article)

Looking at Myself

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When I meditate, I look at myself. I watch myself breathe, sit, listen. So who is the one breathing, sitting, listening? Who is the one watching all this? I realize that I am neither the doer nor the watcher. I am the one who contains both the watcher and the doer. I exist somewhere else in another place, in another home, of which all this is but a small part.

We are each so small and so large, so near and so far. No/thing contains us, and we contain all that is.  We are right next to ourselves, yet an eternity away. We are bodies and DNA scrolls crossing space and time, conveying new stories as we compose poetry in energy, condensing and scattering, then reformulating ourselves in new patterns and structures, like a living kaleidoscope.

Israel, Obama, 1967, and Obama

Freedom from Bondage

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Freedom from bondage in Egypt still has not finished. We are still wandering in the wilderness to the extent that we are in bondage to the expectations of others. Such a plight might indicate “peer pressure,” but even more it refers to the manipulations of powerful cultural forces and vast corporate empires.

Yet, in the din and confusion of screeching bullies and con-men, it is within our power to listen to our own authentic voices and act accordingly. A difficult journey faces us, but the land of milk and honey beckons.

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