Category Archives: Discrimination

The Corporate Media’s World of Illusions

For several years now, I have been writing these regular blog posts with one end in mind: to help open a door for readers and encourage them to step through. I select issues, usually those that dominate western media coverage and represent a consensus that we might term the Great Western Narrative, and try to show how this narrative has been constructed not to inform and enlighten but to conceal and deceive.

It is not that I and the many other bloggers doing this are cleverer than everyone else. We have simply had a chance – an earlier one – to step through that door ourselves, because of a jarring life experience that the Great Western Narrative could not explain, or because someone held the door open for us, or more usually because of a combination of the two.

My personal awakening

It is easy for me to identify my own process of awakening. It began with the dislocation of moving to Nazareth and being immersed in someone else’s narrative – that of the Palestinians. Then, I faced for the first time in my career as a journalist an impenetrable wall of opposition, even from my own former newspaper, the Guardian, as I tried to explain that counter-narrative. In fact, I found that the Palestinian narrative was invariably misrepresented as anti-semitism. These were dark years of disillusionment and the loss of a professional and ideological compass.

It is in such a moment of bereavement – deprived of the consolation of the Great Western Narrative – that one searches for a door to enlightenment. It can be a long journey to find it. My door appeared while reading about the Propaganda Model of Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky in their book Manufacturing Consent, as well as stumbling across a website called Media Lens. They helped me understand that the narrative problem was not restricted to Israel-Palestine, but was a much more general one.

In fact, the Great Western Narrative has been developed and refined over centuries to preserve a tiny elite’s privileges and expand its power. The role of journalists like me was to keep feeding these illusions to readers so they would remain fearful, passive and deferential to this elite. It is not that journalists lie – or at least, not most of them – it is that they are as deeply wedded to the Great Western Narrative as anyone else.

Once one is prepared to step through the door, to discard the old script, the new narrative takes its hold because it is so helpful. It actually explains the world, and human behaviour, as it is experienced everywhere. It has genuine predictive power. And most importantly, it reveals a truth understood by all figures of spiritual and intellectual enlightenment throughout human history: that human beings are equally human, whether they are Americans, Europeans, Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Russians, Venezuelans, or Iranians, whether they are North or South Koreans.

The term “human” is not meant simply as a description of us as a species, or a biological entity. It also describes who we are, what drives us, what makes us cry, what makes us laugh, what makes us angry, what elicits compassion. And the truth is that we are all essentially the same. The same things upset us, the same things amuse us. The same things inspire us, the same things outrage us. We want dignity, freedom, safety for us and our loved ones, and appreciate beauty and truth. We fear oppression, injustice, insecurity.

Hierarchies of virtue

The Great Western Narrative tells us something entirely different. It divides the world into a hierarchy of “peoples”, with different, even conflicting, virtues and vices. Some humans – westerners – are more rational, more caring, more thoughtful, more fully human. And other humans – the rest – are more primitive, more emotional, more violent. In this system of classification, we are the Good Guys and they are the Bad Guys; we are Order, they are Chaos. They need a firm hand from us to control them and stop them doing too much damage to themselves and to our civilised part of the world.

The Great Western Narrative isn’t really new. It is simply a reformulation for a different era of the “white man’s burden”.

The reason the Great Western Narrative persists is because it is useful – to those in power. Humans may be essentially the same in our natures and in our drives, but we are very definitely divided by power and its modern corollary, wealth. A tiny number have it, and the vast majority do not. The Great Western Narrative is there to perpetuate power by legitimising it, by making its unbalanced and unjust distribution seem natural and immutable.

Once kings told us they had blue blood and a divine right. Today, we need a different kind of narrative, but one designed to achieve the same end. Just like kings and barons once owned everything, now a tiny corporate elite rule the world. They have to justify that to themselves and to us.

The king and the barons had their courtiers, the clergy and a wider circle of hanger-ons who most of the time benefited enough from the system not to disrupt it. The role of the clergy in particular was to sanction the gross imbalance of power, to argue that it was God’s will. Today, the media function like the clergy of old. God may be dead, as Nietzsche observed, but the corporate media has taken his place. In the unquestioned premises of every article, we are told who should rule and who should be ruled, who are the Good Guys and who the Bad.

To make this system more palatable, more democratic, to make us believe that there is equality of opportunity and that wealth trickles down, the western elite has had to allow a large domestic middle class to emerge, like the courtiers of old. The spoils from the rape and pillage of distant societies are shared sparingly with this class. Their consciences are rarely pricked because the corporate media’s function is to ensure they know little about the rest of the world and care even less, believing those foreigners to be less deserving, less human.

Nothing more than statistics

If western readers, for example, understood that a Palestinian is no different from an Israeli – apart from in opportunities and income – then they might feel sympathy for a grieving Palestinian family just as they do for an Israeli one. But the Great Western Narrative is there precisely to ensure readers won’t feel the same about the two cases. That is why Palestinian deaths are invariably reported as nothing more than statistics – because Palestinians die in large numbers, like cattle in an abbatoir. Israelis, by contrast, die much more rarely and their deaths are recorded individually. They are dignified with names, life stories and pictures.

Even when a moment arrives to single out a Palestinian from the mass of death, western corporate media show great reluctance to do so. Just take the case of Razan al-Najjar, the 21-year-old Palestinian medic executed by a sniper’s bullet as she tended to the unarmed demonstrators regularly being killed and wounded at the perimeter fence encaging them in the prison of Gaza.

Gaza is slowly sinking into the sea, but who cares? Those primitive Palestinians live like cavemen amid the rubble of homes Israel has repeatedly destroyed. Their women are hijabbed and they have too many children. They don’t look like us, they don’t speak like us. Doubtless, they don’t think like us. They cannot be us.

Even those young Palestinian demonstrators, with their faces covered with strange scarves, launching flaming kites and throwing the odd stone, look different. Can we imagine ourselves standing in front of a sniper to protest like that? Of course not. We cannot imagine what it is like to live in one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, in an open-air prison over which another nation serves as jailers, in which the water is becoming as saline as seawater and there is no electricity. So how can we put ourselves in the demonstrators’ shoes, how can we empathise? It is so much easier to imagine being the powerful sniper protecting the “border” and his home.

But al-Najjar undermined all that. A young, pretty woman with a beautiful smile – she could be our daughter. Selflessly tending to the wounded, thinking not of herself but of the welfare of others, we would love her to be our daughter. We can identify with her much better than the sniper. She is a door beckoning us to step through and see the world from a different location, from a different perspective.

Which is why the corporate media has not invested al-Najjar’s death with the emotional, empathetic coverage it would if a pretty young Israeli female medic had been gunned down by a Palestinian. It was that double standard in his own newspaper that outraged cartoonist Steve Bell last week as he noted in correspondence with the editor that the Guardian had barely covered the story of al-Najjar. When he tried to redress the imbalance, his own cartoon of her death was censored.

The Guardian’s editors argued that his cartoon was anti-semitic. But the deeper truth is that al-Najjar is dangerous. Because once you step through that door, you are unlikely to come back, you are unlikely ever again to believe the Great Western Narrative.

The true message of Israel

Israel-Palestine offered me that door, just as it has so many others. It is not, as Israel’s apologists – and the upholders of the Great Western Narrative – will tell you, because so many westerners are anti-semitic. It is because Israel lies in a grey zone of experience, one that is readily available to western tourists but can at the same time give them a chance to glimpse the dark underbelly of western privilege.

Israel is enthusiastically embraced by the Great Western Narrative: it is supposedly a liberal democracy, many of its inhabitants dress and sound like us, its cities look rather like our cities, its TV shows are given a makeover and become hits on our TV screens. If you don’t stand too close, Israel could be Britain or the US.

But there are clues galore, for those who bother to look a little beyond superficialities, that there is something profoundly amiss about Israel. A few miles from their homes, the sons of those western-looking families regularly train their gun sights on unarmed demonstrators, on children, on women, on journalists, on medics, and pull the trigger with barely any compunction.

They do so not because they are monsters, but because they are exactly like us, exactly like our sons. That is the true horror of Israel. We have a chance to see ourselves in Israel – because it is not exactly us, because most of us have some distance from it, because it still looks a little strange despite the best efforts of the western media, and because its own local narrative – justifying its actions – is even more extreme, even more entitled, even more racist towards the Other than the Great Western Narrative.

It is that shocking realisation – that we could be Israelis, that we could be those snipers – that prevents many from stepping through the door to see what is on the other side. Or, more troubling still, halting at the threshold of the doorway, glimpsing a partial truth without understanding its full ramifications.

Equally human

To explain what I mean, let us digress for a moment and consider the allegorical film The Matrix.

Neo, the hero played by Keanu Reeves, starts to realise that the reality around him is not as solid as it once seemed. Things have become peculiar, inconsistent, inexplicable. He is shown the door to an entirely different reality with the help of a mentor, Morpheus. Neo discovers that in truth he exists in a dark world taken over by computer-generated life forms that feed off the consciousnesses of him and the rest of mankind. Until then, he had been living in a dream world created to pacify him and other humans as they are exploited for their energy.

Neo and a small band of others who have liberated themselves from this false consciousness cannot hope to defeat their opponents directly. They must wage war through the Matrix, a digital world in which the computer life-forms always triumph. It is only when Neo finally grasps that the Matrix is an illusion too – that these life forms he is battling are simply binary code – that he becomes strong enough to triumph.

Back to us. On the other side of the door lies a truth that humans are all equally human. From this vantage point, it is possible to understand that a privileged westerner or Israeli would react exactly like a Palestinian if he had to endure the experiences of living in Gaza. From this location, it is possible to understand that my son might pull the trigger, just like most Israeli teenagers do, if he had been bombarded, like them, with brainwashing all his life from his media, school and politicians depicting Palestinians as primitive and violent.

From the other side of the door, Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Bashar al-Assad look as irrational, or rational, and as criminal as George W Bush, Tony Blair, Barack Obama, or Donald Trump. In fact, they look less criminal – not because they are better humans than their western counterparts, but simply because they enjoy less power and face more constraints in trying to impose their will. The issue is not about who is better. They are the same as humans. It is about who has more force at their disposal – and more will to use it – to perpetuate their power.

Enslaved to power

The conclusion from this is that the way to change our societies fundamentally for the better depends on a change in our consciousness, on liberating ourselves from false perspective, on stepping through the door.

If we remain in a world of illusions, of false hierarchies of virtue, oblivious to the role of power, we will continue to be like Neo living in his dream world.

And if we step only to the threshold, glimpsing the shadows on the the other side, we will be equally in thrall to illusions, just as Neo took his battle back into the Matrix, fighting ghosts in the machine as though they were flesh-and-blood enemies.

This danger can be seen in the case of Israel-Palestine too, where the horrors that Israel inflicts on Palestinians justifiably radicalise many observers. But not all step fully through the door. They linger at the threshold, angry with Israel and Israelis, and beatifying Palestinians as nothing more than victims. Some manage to find false consolation again, this time accepting ready-made conspiracies that “the Jews” are pulling the levers that make such outrages – and western inaction – possible.

To stand in the doorway is as bad as refusing to step through. The illusions are as dangerous, the false consciousness as profound.

Our planet and our children’s futures depend on us liberating ourselves, seeing the ghosts in the machine for what they truly are. We have to begin rebuilding our societies on the basis that we share a common humanity. That other humans are not our enemies, only those who wish to enslave us to their power.

Defining Israel as a “Jewish State”

Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians are also being criticized by prominent Israeli politicians. The below comments are from the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, on systemic racism in Israeli society and published in The Times of Israel.1

Israel’s president fills a largely ceremonial role — meeting with foreign dignitaries, representing the government at state funerals and other official gatherings. But the office’s new occupant has embraced a challenge not inherent to the job: curbing what he sees as an epidemic of anti-Arab racism.

“Israeli society is sick, and it is our duty to treat this disease,” Reuven Rivlin, 75, told a group of Israeli academics this week.2

Here is another comment from the award winning Israeli journalist Gideon Levy.

Now Israel is discovering that it’s no longer the center of attention as it always was before, and that the fate of its kidnapping victims no longer stops the world in its tracks, not even in the United States. The world is sick of Israel and its insanities. Unfortunately, the world has also lost interest in what happens here. When Israel was a more just country, the world identified with its victims. It continued to do so even when Israel became less just. But now, when Israeli rejectionism is hitting new heights and its oppression of the Palestinians is returning to what it was during the very worst periods, the world has started getting tired of it all…3

President Rivlin is not the only senior Israeli politician that has spoken out about racism against Arabs in Israel. In 2008 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is quoted in the largest circulation newspaper in Israel, at the time, as follows:

The prime minister said that over the years the State maintained a policy of discrimination, thereby creating a vicious cycle. On the one hand, the Arab community was unable to create management mechanisms, while on the other hand, Israeli governments deprived Arabs of rights that could help them improve their quality of life, he said.
 
“I feel great discomfort over the fact that the State conducted itself improperly for many years, and should have made a fundamental change,” he said. “We have not yet overcome the obstacle of discrimination. This is deliberate discrimination, and the gap is intolerable. There is no arguing that some government ministries did not hire Arabs for years.”4

There is lots of other evidence about racism and discriminatory views towards Muslims and Palestinians in Israel.5

The Palestinian Arabs also complain about laws in the “Jewish State” that discriminate against non-Jews. There is a Palestinian human rights organization called Adalah which documents Israel laws which are discriminatory. The following quote is taken from their website.

Adalah’s Discriminatory Laws Database (DLD) is an online resource comprising a list of over 65 Israeli laws that discriminate directly or indirectly against Palestinian citizens in Israel and/or Palestinian residents of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) on the basis of their national belonging. The discrimination in these laws is either explicit – “discrimination on its face” – or, more often, the laws are worded in a seemingly neutral manner, but have or will likely have a disparate impact on Palestinians in their implementation.

These laws limit the rights of Palestinians in all areas of life, from citizenship rights to the right to political participation, land and housing rights, education rights, cultural and language rights, religious rights, and due process rights during detention. Some of the laws also discriminate against other groups such as gays, non-religious Jews, and Palestinian refuge

Here is one article written by a prominent Israeli academic on the rise of fascism in Israel.

Like every ideology, the Nazi race theory developed over the years. At first it only deprived Jews of their civil and human rights. It’s possible that without World War II the “Jewish problem” would have ended only with the “voluntary” expulsion of Jews from Reich lands. After all, most of Austria and Germany’s Jews made it out in time. It’s possible that this is the future facing Palestinians.

Indeed, Smotrich and Zohar [two members of the Israeli Knessetviii] don’t wish to physically harm Palestinians, on condition that they don’t rise against their Jewish masters. They only wish to deprive them of their basic human rights, such as self-rule in their own state and freedom from oppression, or equal rights in case the territories are officially annexed to Israel. For these two representatives of the Knesset majority, the Palestinians are doomed to remain under occupation forever. It’s likely that the Likud’s Central Committee also thinks this way. The reasoning is simple: The Arabs aren’t Jews, so they cannot demand ownership over any part of the land that was promised to the Jewish people.

According to the concepts of Smotrich, Zohar and Shaked, a Jew from Brooklyn who has never set foot in this country is the legitimate owner of this land, while a Palestinian whose family has lived here for generations is a stranger, living here only by the grace of the Jews. “A Palestinian,” Zohar tells Hecht, “has no right to national self-determination since he doesn’t own the land in this country. Out of decency I want him here as a resident, since he was born here and lives here – I won’t tell him to leave. I’m sorry to say this but they have one major disadvantage – they weren’t born as Jews.”

From this one may assume that even if they all converted, grew side-curls and studied Torah, it would not help. This is the situation with regard to Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers and their children, who are Israeli for all intents and purposes. This is how it was with the Nazis. Later comes apartheid, which could apply under certain circumstances to Arabs who are citizens of Israel. Most Israelis don’t seem worried.6

Henry Siegman published a long article in the National Interest on the subject of Zionism and on US President Trump’s decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem.7 It is important because he is a prominent Jewish leader and a Holocaust survivor now in his late 80s. He was a Zionist leader and former head of the World Jewish Congress and is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Siegman endorsed the struggle for equal rights for the Palestinians and the end of Zionism. He says it is the right choice, for their struggle for a state of their own is one Palestinians cannot win, while a struggle to maintain an apartheid regime is one Israel cannot win. He sheds no tears for Zionism and issues a warning to American Jews to abandon Zionism. Siegman wrote:

If after what undoubtedly would be a long and bitter anti-apartheid struggle Palestinians prevail, they will be in the clear majority. Having established the principle that the majority can impose on the minority the religious and cultural identity of the State, Israel will not be in a strong position to deny Palestinians that same right. That will lead in time to a significant exodus of Israel’s Jews.

If Palestinians do not prevail, then the undeniable apartheid character of the state and the cost of the ongoing struggle will lead to the same result—an exodus of Israel’s Jews over time, creating an even greater demographic imbalance between the country’s Jewish and Arab populations. Palestinians will not leave because they will have nowhere to go.

The outcome is therefore likely to be the end of Israel as a Jewish state. If so, it will be an outcome brought about not by BDS movements but by Israelis themselves, not only because of their rejection of the two-state solution, but because of their insistence on defining Israel’s national identity and territorial claims in religious terms. A state that fast-tracks citizenship through government-sponsored religious conversion to Judaism, as Israel’s government now does, cannot for long hide that it privileges its Jewish citizens—just as the United States could not have claimed to be a democracy if conversion to Christianity were a path to U.S. citizenship.8

On the issue of differential treatment for non-Jews in the “Jewish State” the Israeli Minister of Justice Aydet Shaked made the following statement in a speech to the Congress on Judaism and Democracy, The following is quoted from an article published in the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Shaked said, “I think that ‘Judaizing the Galilee’ is not an offensive term. We used to talk like that. In recent years we’ve stopped talking like that. I think it’s legitimate without violating the full rights of the Arab residents of Israel.”

The justice minister made the remarks in a wide-ranging speech on the controversy over the Jewish nation-state bill.

She further said, “There is place to maintain a Jewish majority even at the price of violation of rights.” She added, however, that maintaining a Jewish majority in Israel and acting democratically “must be parallel and one must not outweigh the other.”

Regarding the nation-state bill, Shaked said, “I was disturbed at both the position of the state and the reasoning of the justices. The state did not defend the law for national demographic reasons, it claimed only security reasons.” Shaked told the conference that “the state should say that there is place to maintain the Jewish majority even if it violates rights.”

Shaked said she believed Judaism and democracy are values that can coexist. “From a constitutional point of view there is an advantage to democracy and it must be balanced and the Supreme Court should be given another constitutional tool that will also give power to Judaism.”

The purpose of the nation-state bill, she said, was to prevent rulings interpreting the Entry to Israel Law, or a ruling like the one in the Ka’adan case in 2000 that banned discrimination against an Arab family who wanted to move to a small Jewish community that sought to bar them.8

Gideon Levy writing in Haaretz made the following comment about Israeli Justice Minister Shaked’s position on the Jewish Nation State Bill.

Thank you, Ayelet Shaked, for telling the truth. Thank you for speaking honestly. The justice minister has proved once again that Israel’s extreme right is better than the deceivers of the center-left: It speaks honestly.

If in 1975, Chaim Herzog dramatically tore up a copy of UN General Assembly Resolution 3379, equating Zionism with racism, the justice minister has now admitted the truthfulness of the resolution (which was later revoked). Shaked said, loud and clear: Zionism contradicts human rights, and thus is indeed an ultranationalist, colonialist and perhaps even racist movement, as proponents of justice worldwide maintain.9

At the core of this issue is the contradiction between a “Jewish State” and a democratic state that treats all of its citizens as equals. Here is how one Israeli Political Sociologist Lev Grinberg explains the problem.

Just like the story about the late Israeli politician Moshe Sneh, who raised the tone of his voice because his arguments were not persuasive, Professor Shlomo Avineri raises the tone in his reply to Salman Masalha, both of whose opinion pieces appeared on these pages earlier this month, and paints him as a racist. But Masalha did not claim that there is no Jewish people or that Jews do not have the right to self-determination. His argument is simple: If the state is defined by religion, it cannot treat all its citizens equally, as required of a democratic system of government.

Its true that from its inception, Zionism intended to turn the Jewish people from a religious community into a modern nation, but Avineri ignores the regrettable fact that the project of secularizing the Jewish people has failed. Israel has no legal definition for Judaism other than the religious definition, it does not recognize an Israeli national identity defined on the basis of citizenship, and it does not recognize a Hebrew nationality that is culturally defined.

The comparison to other countries where religion and nationality are linked is irrelevant, because those countries have a secular definition of the state and citizenship. You can be a Polish Jew or an Egyptian Jew, but you can’t be a Jewish Muslim or a Jewish Christian.

In the attempt to make the Jewish people a nation like all others, Zionism strove to unite it through one language and concentrate it in one territory. There were arguments and struggles over this, and they were decided in favor of preserving the centrality of religion in the definition of the national collective. Instead of picking one of the languages that Jews spoke day in and day out, Hebrew, the holy tongue, was chosen.

Regarding territory as well, absolute secularists did indeed think that Jews could be settled in Uganda or Argentina, but the gravitational pull of the Land of Israel was decisive. The Bible was transformed from a religious text into Zionism’s title deed, the justification for the demand for ownership of the territory. In other words, instead of bringing about the secularization of Judaism, Zionism turned religion into the central element of the definition of national identity, and turned the State of Israel into a tool of the religious redemption project, especially after the capture and settlement of biblical areas since 1967.

Defining the State of Israel solely as democratic and revoking the special privileges of Jews does not contradict Zionism, and certainly not Judaism. The connection to Judaism will remain in the calendar and the Hebrew language, in the name of the state and in the Jewish majority (if we manage to free ourselves from our rule over the Palestinians in the territories).

Democracy is based on universalist Jewish values, such as “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” and “Ye shall have one statute, both for the stranger, and for him that is born in the land.” That requires separation of religion and state, something that will be good for both. Because in the current situation, not only does religion corrupt the state, but the state corrupts religion and pushes it toward nationalistic extremism.”10

The definition of what is a “Jewish State” and “what is a Jew” is a fundamental part of this debate. The “Jewish State” is like no other. It uses a concept of Jewish nationality which is like no other definition of nationality. It is the Jewish character of the State that is given preference to all other considerations and gives superior rights to Jews over the non-Jewish population in Israel.

The data on population in Israel for 2017 is that 74.7% is Jewish and 25.3% is non-Jewish.11 When you count the territories occupied or controlled by Israel there is already, or soon will be, a Palestinian majority.12 This fact helps explain the Jewish State’s obsession over demographics.13

Here is how journalist Jonathan Cook, who resides in Nazareth, Israel, describes the issue and the implications of living in a Jewish State. He is reporting on a decision of the Israeli Supreme Court which refused to recognize an Israeli nationality as it would undermine the “Jewish” character of the State.

Israel officially defines itself as a Jewish state, and authorities classify Israelis by their ethnic group

Nazareth, Israel – A court decision this month that rejected Israelis’ right to a shared nationality has highlighted serious problems caused by Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish state, say lawyers and human rights activists.

A group of 21 Israelis had appealed to the Supreme Court to demand the state recognise their wish to be classified as “Israeli nationals”.

Since Israel’s founding in 1948, authorities have refused to recognize such a nationality, instead classifying Israelis according to the ethnic group to which each belongs. The overwhelming majority are registered as either “Jewish” or “Arab” nationals, though there are more than 130 such categories in total.
Critics say the system, while seemingly a technical matter, has far-reaching effects. The citizenship laws, they say, undergird a system of systematic discrimination against the one-fifth of Israel’s population who are non-Jews – most of them belonging to Israel’s Palestinian minority.14

Cook also quotes Uzi Ornan, a retired linguist from northern Israel, the leader of “I am an Israeli” movement, The group includes both Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel, and they argued that they should be allowed to change their nationality to “Israeli”. “This ruling is very dangerous,” said Ornan. “It allows Israel to continue being a very peculiar country indeed, one that refuses to recognise the nationality of its own people. I don’t know of another country that does such a thing. It is entirely anti-democratic.”14

Ornan also is quoted as follows:

The “I am an Israeli” movement objects to Israel’s system of laws that separate citizenship from nationality. While Israelis enjoy a common citizenship, they have separate nationalities based on their ethnic identity. Only the Jewish majority has been awarded national rights, meaning that Palestinian citizens face institutionalised discrimination, said Ornan.

Ornan added: “It tells the country’s Arab citizens that they have no real recognition in their own country — that they will always be treated as foreigners and they will always face discrimination.”14

Cook writes as follows on this issue:

Leading Israeli politicians — including a recent prime minister, Ehud Olmert — have admitted that discrimination against Palestinians exists. However, they have suggested that it is informal and similar to the iscrimination faced by minorities in many democratic western countries.

Civil rights groups, on the other hand, claim that the discrimination is structural to Israel’s definition as a Jewish state. One member of parliament, Ahmed Tibi, has pointedly commented: “This country is Jewish and democratic: Democratic towards Jews, and Jewish toward Arabs.”14

There certainly has been a vigorous debate within the Jewish community over the question of political Zionism, which is a political ideology, and the creation of a “Jewish State.” The dark underbelly of Zionism is what to do with the Christian and Muslim Palestinian inhabitants of the land chosen to be the territory for the “Jewish State.” There are many questions about what rights Palestinians are to have in the “Jewish State” and the occupied territories that the “Jewish State” declares for itself and gives at best token lip service to the civil and national rights of the Palestinians.

Ben Ehrenreich, is a prominent Jewish American author of The Way to the Spring, the chronicle of heroic resistance to occupation in a Palestinian village. He spoke at Columbia’s Center for Palestine Studies and described Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as an “incremental genocide.” As reported by Philip Weiss a questioner asked about the Movement for Black Lives statement saying Palestinians are experiencing “genocide,” and asked Ehrenreich, would you agree? Ehrenrich said he agreed.

The question about genocide – yes, it’s an incremental genocide. And I think that’s a word that gives a lot of people pause and it certainly should. We don’t see the absolutely mass slaughters, although in Gaza I think we’ve seen something very much like it that we usually associate with genocide. But– the attempts to erase a people, to just erase them, to erase their history, I think follow a logic that can only be called genocidal. I mean, every time someone says– and people say it all the time, I get it on twitter all the time– “There’s no such thing as a Palestinian,” or “There was nobody there when the Zionists arrived”– these are genocidal statements, these are attempts to erase a culture, erase a history, decimate a people and I think they should be recognized as that.15

As a result of these questions that go to the heart of the Zionist project there are many criticisms over the treatment of the Palestinians in the “Jewish State” from Jews and many others who express concern over human rights violations. Palestinians, the victims of Zionism also have many criticism on how they are treated and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the massacres, the destruction of 531 villages and the theft of their land and property for which they hold the legal title to.16

One major study done in Israel reviewed all of the articles and books written on the Israeli War of Independence and examined the issue of the expulsion of the Palestinians:

… study showed that significant critical research on the Palestinian exodus was undertaken by Jewish scholars outside Israel in the 1950s, three decades before the emergence of the New Historians. In effect, this early use of the critical narrative led to the declassification of archival materials, the sources that were then used in books by Segev, Morris and others.

The study refutes the widespread claim that until the 1980s the Jewish-Israeli media were entirely beholden to the Zionist narrative. The paper shows that the vast majority of studies recognized that Israel had expelled Palestinians in 1948.17

Defenders of the Jewish State’s policies and treatment of the Palestinians do not want to discuss these questions and in an aggressive manner accuse Israel’s critics and critics of Zionism as being anti-Semites and try to silence any debate on these issues. The charge of anti-Semitism against critics is the preferred weapon, and perhaps the only weapon, as the evidence does not support the Zionist argument. Many prominent Israelis18 and many others have raised the specter of Apartheid to describe Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.19

Here is how Richard Falk describes the issue of Apartheid in relation to the Jewish State’s treatment of the Palestinians. Falk is professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, where he taught for forty years. He is also the author of 20 books on International law and human rights. From 2008 to 2014 Falk served as United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The following is taken from an article based on a talk given by Professor Falk.

… it is only correct to look at the Palestinians as a coherent people, wherever they live, and not provide tacit consent to the fragmentation both geographical and political to which Israel has subjected them. Viewed in those terms, ending the Occupation alone, without addressing the larger issue afflicting the Palestinian nation, is “a misunderstood pragmatism.”

That larger issue… is the structure of oppression itself, including physical displacement and all the policies and practices Israel promotes toward the Palestinian people. “The conflict is not purely territorial,” Falk says. The UN report that he co-authored with Virginia Tilley, professor of political science at Southern Illinois University, names that structure “apartheid,” meaning “separation” in Afrikaans.

The 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid does not speak only of South Africa. There the term is defined as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”20

In his capacity of special rapporteur for the Palestinian occupied territories Falk co-authored a report on the question of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians with Professor Virginia Tilley. The following is an excerpt from the article.

The Falk-Tilley report, “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” was released March 15, 2017, under the aegis of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). Its release caused an immediate firestorm, raising accusations of anti-Semitism against the authors (Falk is Jewish incidentally), and providing space for more UN-bashing especially on the part of Israel and the United States. Although the ESCWA countries unanimously endorsed the report, and although the report was issued as representing the view of the authors alone and not the UN per se, it was removed from the UN website under threat of U.S. withdrawal of UN funding; however, it is otherwise available.

Defenders of Israel are particularly sensitive about the word “apartheid,” citing factors that existed in South Africa but which do not exist in Israel, such as separate park benches and Arab representation in the Knesset. But as anyone who follows Israeli politics knows, leading figures in Israeli life, including prime ministers, writers and journalists from both the left and the right, have consistently used this word in Hebrew, addressing fellow Israelis, warning of the consequences of a failure to make peace leading to permanent apartheid. It’s when the word gets uttered in public forums in English that Israelis and their supporters hear the whole Zionist project being attacked. Jimmy Carter and John Kerry are only two American statesmen who have felt the brunt of Israel’s condemnation. In many other ways Israel has flouted the international community, for example, by referring to the occupied West Bank territories as “Judea and Samaria,” ancient Biblical terms which international law does not recognize as legitimate; and insisting on calling the Palestinians “Arabs,” as if to say they belong in other homelands, not in the Jewish state.20

Falk went on to say and is quoted in the article:

The problem of Israel,… is that the nationalism born in Europe in the 19th century made its way to the rest of the world by the mid-20th century and helped to create many newly independent countries in the wake of colonialism. But Israel, founded in 1948, came along at the end of the nationalist wave, and the global community had become skeptical of colonial projects in the underdeveloped world.

“The Palestinian people have been made to pay the price for the crimes of the Nazis,” ….

There is an inherent tension… between Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish state and its claim to be a democratic society. Especially as more and more Palestinians fall under direct or indirect Israeli control in the variously segmented entities between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, the contradiction between these two professed ideals becomes ever sharper.

In almost every case… where an oppressed people, with inferior arms and weak social institutions, sets out to oppose their colonial or neocolonial masters, they eventually win. The Palestinians will continue to resist, “and they are right to resist,”… From the Israeli point of view, the resistance is a challenge to the established order and must be put down. The United States, more substantively than anyone else in the world, gives Israel this unconditional mandate.

“Until that mandate is lifted there will be no peace. It’s our struggle here to end this destructive policy.”21

Most supporters of the Jewish State get incensed when the term “Apartheid” is used to describe the situation the Palestinians under the control of the “Jewish State.” They point to the absence of petty Apartheid structures like separate washrooms and benches for Jews and Palestinians and the fact that Arabs can vote in Israel and have members in the Knesset. They conveniently ignore the fact that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza they cannot vote in the Israeli elections that control their lives and while Jewish Settlers living in the West Bank can vote in Israeli elections. Here is how one commentator describes the situation.

The irony is that the idea of evoking the term “apartheid” to describe Israel’s treatment of Palestinians was not invented by Israel’s enemies, let alone Arabs and Palestinians, but by Israel itself. For decades, Israeli officials have employed the Hebrew term Hafrada (“Separation” or “Segregation”) to describe Israel’s governing policy in the West Bank and Gaza, and its attempts to separate the Palestinian population from both the Israeli population and the Jewish settlers population in the occupied Palestinian territories. The so-called Israeli West Bank Barrier, known in Hebrew as “Gader Ha-Hafrada” (“Separation Fence”), was built on this Hafrada vision….

The current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shares his predecessors’ infatuation with the principle of Hafrada. In 2011, he told members of his cabinet: “The debate over how many Jews and how many Palestinians will be between the Jordan and the sea is irrelevant. It does not matter to me whether there are half a million more Palestinians or less because I have no wish to annex them into Israel. I want to separate from them so that they will not be Israeli citizens.”

While some Israelis tend to distinguish between “hard separation” (Rabin and Barak) and “soft separation” (Perez and Olmert) the result has been one and the same: A rigid form of physical separation where one ethnic group enjoys more freedom than the other.

This is not to suggest that Israel’s Hafrada is identical to South Africa’s apartheid, but that apartheid, or separateness, as a system of enforced segregation based on ethnicity and imposed by a sovereign and dominant group over an impoverished one, can take myriad forms.

The term “Hafrada” has rapidly dropped from official use, apparently to avoid association with the notorious term “apartheid.” In Israel’s public discourse, though, the term has lost none of its force. Today, “Hafrada” is used as a broad term to describe Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, be they in the West Bank, Gaza, exile, or even in Israel. Indeed, as the U.N. report put it, Hafrada is no longer limited to describing Israel’s policy towards Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, but also applies to its treatment of its own Palestinian citizens.

This form of internal Hafrada has its origins in the military regime period (1948-1966), when Israel imposed a formal military administration on the majority of its Arab citizenry, putting in place a repressive apparatus of ethnic and economic segregation, land appropriation, and restrictions on movement and political activity. While less visible, internal Hafrada persists today in various forms. In 2005, an art exhibition organized by an association of Israeli architects in the city of Jaffa, aptly titled “Hafrada” (“Separation”), featured images of a dozen separation sites inside Israel, not only between Jewish and Arab towns, but between Jewish and Arab neighborhoods within Israel’s so-called mixed cities, including Haifa, Jerusalem and Lod.

Hafrada, Israel’s equivalent for ethnic segregation, is a purely Israeli invention whose basic etymology was coined for want of a practical and descriptive term that would better account for Israel’s policy towards Palestinians on both sides of the border. In Israel, the term is evoked by supporters and opponents of segregation alike. While in official discourse the term has been cloaked in softer and gentler expressions–– such as “convergence” and “disengagement”––to the average Israeli, the term simply meant, and continues to mean, one thing: “Separation” and “segregation.” In other words, “apartheid.”22

  1. Ben Sales, “New president seeks to cure ‘epidemic’ of racism” ‘Israeli society is sick, and it is our duty to treat this disease’ and ease tensions between Arabs and Jews, Rivlin tells academics,” Times of Israel, 24 October 2014.
  2. Ben Sales, “New president seeks to cure ‘epidemic’ of racism”: ‘Israeli society is sick, and it is our duty to treat this disease’ and ease tensions between Arabs and Jews, Rivlin tells academics,” Times of Israel, 24 October 2014.
  3. The World Is Sick of Israel and Its Insanities,” by Gideon Levy, Haaretz, June 26, 2014.
  4. Sharon Roffe-Ofir|, “Olmert: Discrimination against Arabs deliberate, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says longtime discrimination against Israeli Arabs seeking public service posts deliberate; PM says that complete absence of Arab employees at Bank of Israel ‘terrible’,” YNet News, November 12, 2008. See also “Olmert Decries ‘Deliberate and Insufferable’ Discrimination Against Arabs: PM says state acting improperly by denying Arabs civil service jobs, despite equal opportunity laws,” by Yoav Stern and Haaretz Correspondent, Haaretz, November 12, 2008.
  5. For example see, “Israelis shocked by racist football chants bringing shame to a once proud team,” by Harriet Sherwood, Guardian, 10 February, 2013; see also “Israel’s discrimination against its Arab citizens,” Middle East Monitor, May 11, 2014; Also see “No Time to Wait: Economic Discrimination Against Arab Towns Must be Fixed,” by Ron Gerlitz and Rawnak Natour, Jerusalem Post, November 23, 2016. “In Israel’s official portrait, only Jewish lives matter,” by Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man, +972 Magazine, April 30, 2017.
  6. See, “The Face of Israel’s Far Right Wants to ‘Abort’ Palestinian Hope and he thinks Netanyahu is a coward. Meet Knesset Member Bezalel Smotrich, who envisions a Greater Israel where the Palestinian Authority doesn’t exist and who believes Reform Jews and LGBT people are living a lie,” by Ravit Hecht, Haaretz, December 3, 2016.
  7. Zeev Sternhell, “In Israel, Growing Fascism and a Racism Akin to Early Nazism: They don’t wish to physically harm Palestinians. They only wish to deprive them of their basic human rights, such as self-rule in their own state and freedom from oppression,” Haaretz, January 19, 2018.
  8. Henry Siegman, “The Implications of President Trump’s Jerusalem Ploy,” National Interest, January 23, 2018. Quotes taken from “Struggle for equal rights for Palestinians is ‘right choice,’ and will lead to ‘significant exodus of Jews’ — Henry Siegman,” by Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss, January 27, 2018
  9. Revital Hovel, “Justice Minister: Israel Must Keep Jewish Majority Even at the Expense of Human Rights: Minister Ayelet Shaked addressed the proposed nation-state law, contending that Israel as a Jewish state must administer equal civil but not national rights,” Haaretz, February 13, 2018. See also “Gideon Levy calls out Israel’s fundamental, racist religion: Zionism, Israel/Palestine,” by Jonathan Ofir, Mondoweiss, September 2, 2017. There is an excellent discussion of this issue “Israel’s Justice Minister endorses apartheid — the Jewish state ‘at the expense of equality’” by Jonathan Ofir, Mondoweiss, February 13, 2018.
  10. “You Can’t Be a Jewish Muslim: Instead of bringing about the secularization of Judaism, Zionism turned religion into the central element of the definition of national identity, and turned the State of Israel into a tool of the religious redemption project,” by Lev Grinberg, Haaretz, August 23, 2010.
  11. See population figures for Israel at “Demographics of Israel: Jewish and Non-Jewish Population of Israel-Palestine 1517 to the Present.”
  12. “Palestinian Population To Pass Jews by 2017 in Israel and Territories,” Haaretz, January 2, 2016 reprinted in Forward.
  13. Israel’s Demographic Time-Bomb: An Arab-Majority State?” by Palash Ghosh. International Business Times, 1 February 2012.
  14. Court nixes push for ‘Israeli nationality,’ by Jonathan Cook, Al Jazeera, 18 October 2013.
  15. Israel’s efforts to erase Palestinian history reflect ‘incremental genocide,’ Ehrenreich says,” by Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss, February 9, 2017. For another example of his views see, “Zionism is the problem,” by Ben Ehrenreich, Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2009.
  16. The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, as well as the massacres, rapes and illegal confiscation of Palestinian property, is well documented by Israeli historians. Books published on the expulsion of the Palestinians by Israelis include Tom Segev, 1949. The First Israelis, (New York: Free Press MacMillan, 1986); Simcha Flapan, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities (New York: Pantheon Books, 1987); Benny Morris, The birth of the Palestinian refugee problem 1947-1949, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987); Avi Schlaim, Collusion across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement and the Partition of Palestine, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988); Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians, (Washington D.C.: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992); Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Original Sins, (New York: Olive Branch Press, 1993); and Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2006) — see review. There are many more Israeli authorities that confirm the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in 1947-1949 and again in 1967. See for example Ran Greenstein, “Dispossession in Palestine during the British Mandate Period,” Genealogies of Conflict: Class, Identity and State in Palestine/Israel and South Africa (Wesleyan University Press, 1995); Dominique Vidal, “Ten Years of Research into the 1947-49 War: The Expulsion of the Palestinians Re-examined,” Le Monde diplomatique, December 1997; see also Avi Shlaim, “The Debate About 1948” in Ilan Pappé (editor), The Israel/Palestine Question: Rewriting Histories (Routledge, 1999); Eitan Bronstein, “The Nakba — an Event that Did Not Occur (Although It Had to Occur),” 2004 posted by Nakba, In Hebrew, on December 14, 2005”; and also, Shlomo Ben-Ami, “A War to Start All Wars: Will Israel Ever Seal the Victory of 1948?” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2008. Shlomo Ben-Ami was Israel’s foreign minister in 2000-2001. He is vice president of the Toledo International Center for Peace, in Spain, and the author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli–Arab Tragedy; “When Israel Expelled Palestinians,” Randall Kuhn, Washington Times, January 14, 2009; and Carol Cook “The Nakba,” Haaretz, July 5, 2009.
  17. A softer touch on the Nakba,” by Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, January 24, 2012.
  18. Olmert Blasts Netanyahu’s Foreign Policy Warns of Risk of Apartheid in Israel,” Haaretz, October 02, 2015. See also “Barak: make peace with Palestinians or face apartheid,” by Rory McCarthy, Guardian, 3 February, 2010.
  19. See “Israel and Apartheid: Is It a Fair Comparison?,” by Edward C. Corrigan, Dissident Voice, March 1, 2010.
  20. Richard Falk speaks on Israel and the question of apartheid,” by Eric A. Gordon, Peoples World, February 9, 2018.
  21. Falk, Ibid. The Report, “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” was released March 15, 2017, under the aegis of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.
  22. Seraj Assi, “Is Israel an Apartheid State?Foreign Policy Journal, 7 April 2017.

Dial T for Tyranny: While America Feuds, the Police State Shifts Into High Gear

Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours. There is no need for wardens or gates or Ministries of Truth. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; a culture-death is a clear possibility.

— Professor Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Discourse in the Age of Show Business

What characterizes American government today is not so much dysfunctional politics as it is ruthlessly contrived governance carried out behind the entertaining, distracting and disingenuous curtain of political theater. And what political theater it is, diabolically Shakespearean at times, full of sound and fury, yet in the end, signifying nothing.

Played out on the national stage and eagerly broadcast to a captive audience by media sponsors, this farcical exercise in political theater can, at times, seem riveting, life-changing and suspenseful, even for those who know better.

Week after week, the script changes—Donald Trump’s Tweets, Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, Michael Cohen’s legal troubles, porn star Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit over an alleged past affair with Trump, Michelle Wolf’s tasteless stand-up routine at the White House correspondents’ dinner, North and South Korea’s détente, the ongoing staff shakeups within the Trump administration—with each new script following on the heels of the last, never any let-up, never any relief from the constant melodrama.

The players come and go, the protagonists and antagonists trade places, and the audience members are forgiving to a fault, quick to forget past mistakes and move on to the next spectacle.

All the while, a different kind of drama is unfolding in the dark backstage, hidden from view by the heavy curtain, the elaborate stage sets, colored lights and parading actors.

Such that it is, the realm of political theater with all of its drama, vitriol and scripted theatrics is what passes for “transparent” government today, with elected officials, entrusted to act in the best interests of their constituents, routinely performing for their audiences and playing up to the cameras, while doing very little to move the country forward.

Yet behind the footlights, those who really run the show are putting into place policies which erode our freedoms and undermine our attempts at contributing to the workings of our government, leaving us none the wiser and bereft of any opportunity to voice our discontent or engage in any kind of discourse until it’s too late.

It’s the oldest con game in the books, the magician’s sleight of hand that keeps you focused on the shell game in front of you while your wallet is being picked clean by ruffians in your midst.

Indeed, while mainstream America has been fixated on the drama-filled reality show being televised from the White House, the American Police State has moved steadily forward.

Set against a backdrop of government surveillance, militarized police, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, eminent domain, over-criminalization, armed surveillance drones, whole body scanners, stop and frisk searches, roving VIPR raids and the like—all of which have been sanctioned by Congress, the White House and the courts—our constitutional freedoms have been steadily chipped away at, undermined, eroded, whittled down, and generally discarded.

Our losses are mounting with every passing day.

Free speech, the right to protest, the right to challenge government wrongdoing, due process, a presumption of innocence, the right to self-defense, accountability and transparency in government, privacy, press, sovereignty, assembly, bodily integrity, representative government: all of these and more have become casualties in the government’s war on the American people.

All the while, the American people have been treated like enemy combatants, to be spied on, tracked, scanned, frisked, searched, subjected to all manner of intrusions, intimidated, invaded, raided, manhandled, censored, silenced, shot at, locked up, and denied due process.

None of these dangers have dissipated.

They have merely disappeared from our televised news streams.

The new boss has proven to be the same as the old boss, and the American people, the permanent underclass in America, has allowed itself to be so distracted and divided that they have failed to notice the building blocks of tyranny being laid down right under their noses by the architects of the Deep State.

Frankly, it really doesn’t matter what you call the old/new boss—the Deep State, the Controllers, the masterminds, the shadow government, the police state, the surveillance state, the military industrial complex—so long as you understand that no matter who occupies the White House, it is a profit-driven, an unelected bureaucracy that is actually calling the shots.

In the interest of liberty and truth, here’s an A-to-Z primer to spell out the grim realities of life in the American Police State that no one is talking about anymore.

A is for the AMERICAN POLICE STATE. A police state “is characterized by bureaucracy, secrecy, perpetual wars, a nation of suspects, militarization, surveillance, widespread police presence, and a citizenry with little recourse against police actions.”

B is for our battered BILL OF RIGHTS. In the cop culture that is America today, where you can be kicked, punched, tasered, shot, intimidated, harassed, stripped, searched, brutalized, terrorized, wrongfully arrested, and even killed by a police officer, and that officer is rarely held accountable for violating your rights, the Bill of Rights doesn’t amount to much.

C is for CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE. This governmental scheme to deprive Americans of their liberties—namely, the right to property—is being carried out under the guise of civil asset forfeiture, a government practice wherein government agents (usually the police) seize private property they “suspect” may be connected to criminal activity. Then, whether or not any crime is actually proven to have taken place, the government keeps the citizen’s property.

D is for DRONES. It is estimated that at least 30,000 drones will be airborne in American airspace by 2020, part of an $80 billion industry. Although some drones will be used for benevolent purposes, many will also be equipped with lasers, tasers and scanning devices, among other weapons—all aimed at “we the people.”

E is for ELECTRONIC CONCENTRATION CAMP. In the electronic concentration camp, as I have dubbed the surveillance state, all aspects of a person’s life are policed by government agents and all citizens are suspects, their activities monitored and regulated, their movements tracked, their communications spied upon, and their lives, liberties and pursuit of happiness dependent on the government’s say-so.

F is for FUSION CENTERS. Fusion centers, data collecting agencies spread throughout the country and aided by the National Security Agency, serve as a clearinghouse for information shared between state, local and federal agencies. These fusion centers constantly monitor our communications, everything from our internet activity and web searches to text messages, phone calls and emails. This data is then fed to government agencies, which are now interconnected: the CIA to the FBI, the FBI to local police.

G is for GRENADE LAUNCHERS and GLOBAL POLICE. The federal government has distributed more than $18 billion worth of battlefield-appropriate military weapons, vehicles and equipment such as drones, tanks, and grenade launchers to domestic police departments across the country. As a result, most small-town police forces now have enough firepower to render any citizen resistance futile. Now take those small-town police forces, train them to look and act like the military, and then enlist them to be part of the United Nations’ Strong Cities Network program, and you not only have a standing army that operates beyond the reach of the Constitution but one that is part of a global police force.

H is for HOLLOW-POINT BULLETS. The government’s efforts to militarize and weaponize its agencies and employees is reaching epic proportions, with federal agencies as varied as the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration stockpiling millions of lethal hollow-point bullets, which violate international law. Ironically, while the government continues to push for stricter gun laws for the general populace, the U.S. military’s arsenal of weapons makes the average American’s handgun look like a Tinker Toy.

I is for the INTERNET OF THINGS, in which internet-connected “things” will monitor your home, your health and your habits in order to keep your pantry stocked, your utilities regulated and your life under control and relatively worry-free. The key word here, however, is control. This “connected” industry propels us closer to a future where police agencies apprehend virtually anyone if the government “thinks” they may commit a crime, driverless cars populate the highways, and a person’s biometrics are constantly scanned and used to track their movements, target them for advertising, and keep them under perpetual surveillance.

J is for JAILING FOR PROFIT. Having outsourced their inmate population to private prisons run by private corporations, this profit-driven form of mass punishment has given rise to a $70 billion private prison industry that relies on the complicity of state governments to keep their privately run prisons full by jailing large numbers of Americans for inane crimes.

K is for KENTUCKY V. KING. In an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that police officers can break into homes, without a warrant, even if it’s the wrong home as long as they think they have a reason to do so. Despite the fact that the police in question ended up pursuing the wrong suspect, invaded the wrong apartment and violated just about every tenet that stands between us and a police state, the Court sanctioned the warrantless raid, leaving Americans with little real protection in the face of all manner of abuses by law enforcement officials.

L is for LICENSE PLATE READERS, which enable law enforcement and private agencies to track the whereabouts of vehicles, and their occupants, all across the country. This data collected on tens of thousands of innocent people is also being shared between police agencies, as well as with fusion centers and private companies. This puts Big Brother in the driver’s seat.

M is for MAIN CORE. Since the 1980s, the U.S. government has acquired and maintained, without warrant or court order, a database of names and information on Americans considered to be threats to the nation. As Salon reports, this database, reportedly dubbed “Main Core,” is to be used by the Army and FEMA in times of national emergency or under martial law to locate and round up Americans seen as threats to national security. As of 2008, there were some 8 million Americans in the Main Core database.

N is for NO-KNOCK RAIDS. Owing to the militarization of the nation’s police forces, SWAT teams are now increasingly being deployed for routine police matters. In fact, more than 80,000 of these paramilitary raids are carried out every year. That translates to more than 200 SWAT team raids every day in which police crash through doors, damage private property, terrorize adults and children alike, kill family pets, assault or shoot anyone that is perceived as threatening—and all in the pursuit of someone merely suspected of a crime, usually possession of some small amount of drugs.

O is for OVERCRIMINALIZATION and OVERREGULATION.  Thanks to an overabundance of 4,500-plus federal crimes and 400,000 plus rules and regulations, it is estimated that the average American actually commits three felonies a day without knowing it. As a result of this overcriminalization, we’re seeing an uptick in Americans being arrested and jailed for such absurd “violations” as letting their kids play at a park unsupervised, collecting rainwater and snow runoff on their own property, growing vegetables in their yard, and holding Bible studies in their living room.

P is for PATHOCRACY and PRECRIME. When our own government treats us as things to be manipulated, maneuvered, mined for data, manhandled by police, mistreated, and then jailed in profit-driven private prisons if we dare step out of line, we are no longer operating under a constitutional republic. Instead, what we are experiencing is a pathocracy: tyranny at the hands of a psychopathic government, which “operates against the interests of its own people except for favoring certain groups.” Couple that with the government’s burgeoning pre-crime programs, which will use fusion centers, data collection agencies, behavioral scientists, corporations, social media, and community organizers and by relying on cutting-edge technology for surveillance, facial recognition, predictive policing, biometrics, and behavioral epigenetics in order to identify and deter so-called potential “extremists,” dissidents or rabble-rousers. Bear in mind that anyone seen as opposing the government—whether they’re Left, Right or somewhere in between—is now viewed as an extremist.

Q is for QUALIFIED IMMUNITY. Qualified immunity allows officers to walk away without paying a dime for their wrongdoing. Conveniently, those deciding whether a police officer should be immune from having to personally pay for misbehavior on the job all belong to the same system, all cronies with a vested interest in protecting the police and their infamous code of silence: city and county attorneys, police commissioners, city councils and judges.

R is for ROADSIDE STRIP SEARCHES and BLOOD DRAWS. The courts have increasingly erred on the side of giving government officials—especially the police—vast discretion in carrying out strip searches, blood draws and even anal probes for a broad range of violations, no matter how minor the offense. In the past, strip searches were resorted to only in exceptional circumstances where police were confident that a serious crime was in progress. In recent years, however, strip searches have become routine operating procedures in which everyone is rendered a suspect and, as such, is subjected to treatment once reserved for only the most serious of criminals.

S is for the SURVEILLANCE STATE. On any given day, the average American going about his daily business will be monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways, by both government and corporate eyes and ears. A byproduct of this new age in which we live, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the corporate trackers that monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere.

T is for TASERS. Nonlethal weapons such as tasers, stun guns, rubber pellets and the like have been used by police as weapons of compliance more often and with less restraint—even against women and children—and in some instances, even causing death. These “nonlethal” weapons also enable police to aggress with the push of a button, making the potential for overblown confrontations over minor incidents that much more likely. A Taser Shockwave, for instance, can electrocute a crowd of people at the touch of a button.

U is for UNARMED CITIZENS SHOT BY POLICE. No longer is it unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later, often attributed to a fear for their safety. Yet the fatality rate of on-duty patrol officers is reportedly far lower than many other professions, including construction, logging, fishing, truck driving, and even trash collection.

V is for VIPR SQUADS. So-called “soft target” security inspections, carried out by roving VIPR task forces, comprised of federal air marshals, surface transportation security inspectors, transportation security officers, behavior detection officers and explosive detection canine teams, are taking place whenever and wherever the government deems appropriate, at random times and places, and without needing the justification of a particular threat.

W is for WHOLE-BODY SCANNERS. Using either x-ray radiation or radio waves, scanning devices and government mobile units are being used not only to “see” through your clothes but to spy on you within the privacy of your home. While these mobile scanners are being sold to the American public as necessary security and safety measures, we can ill afford to forget that such systems are rife with the potential for abuse, not only by government bureaucrats but by the technicians employed to operate them.

X is for X-KEYSCORE, one of the many spying programs carried out by the National Security Agency that targets every person in the United States who uses a computer or phone. This top-secret program “allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.”

Y is for YOU-NESS. Using your face, mannerisms, social media and “you-ness” against you, you can now be tracked based on what you buy, where you go, what you do in public, and how you do what you do. Facial recognition software promises to create a society in which every individual who steps out into public is tracked and recorded as they go about their daily business. The goal is for government agents to be able to scan a crowd of people and instantaneously identify all of the individuals present. Facial recognition programs are being rolled out in states all across the country.

Z is for ZERO TOLERANCE. We have moved into a new paradigm in which young people are increasingly viewed as suspects and treated as criminals by school officials and law enforcement alike, often for engaging in little more than childish behavior. In some jurisdictions, students have also been penalized under school zero tolerance policies for such inane “crimes” as carrying cough drops, wearing black lipstick, bringing nail clippers to school, using Listerine or Scope, and carrying fold-out combs that resemble switchblades. The lesson being taught to our youngest—and most impressionable—citizens is this: in the American police state, you’re either a prisoner (shackled, controlled, monitored, ordered about, limited in what you can do and say, your life not your own) or a prison bureaucrat (politician, police officer, judge, jailer, spy, profiteer, etc.).

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the reality we must come to terms with is that in the post-9/11 America we live in today, the government does whatever it wants, freedom be damned.

We have moved beyond the era of representative government and entered a new age.

You can call it the age of authoritarianism. Or fascism. Or oligarchy. Or the American police state.

Whatever label you want to put on it, the end result is the same: tyranny.

How Andrew Cuomo Helped Destroy Public Housing

During a sunny Saint Patrick’s Day weekend, reporters gathered anxiously outside of the monolithic Taft Houses in East Harlem waiting for the day’s main attraction: Governor Andrew Cuomo. When he finally arrived, in grand fashion with a posse of local politicians behind him, reporters were treated to an exclusive tour of some of the decaying apartments in the enormous complex. New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has been in a state of crisis over the past year dealing with a massive budget deficit of $286.6 million as well as being rocked by a lead paint scandal that saw the firing of top officials. Responding to the crisis, Cuomo has positioned himself as NYCHA’s savior in chief.

During the tour with reporters, the governor examined the plethora of problems plaguing the nearly 600,000 residents who depend on public housing in an ever more unaffordable city. From pealing paint, water leaks, vermin infestation and broken appliances the governor was given a firsthand look at the inhuman conditions many New Yorkers are forced to endure.

“There is no one who will see what I saw and allow it to continue”, the Governor said.  Later he said that the state of the disrepair was utterly “disgusting”.

After the tour Cuomo gave an impassioned speech and held a press conference with residents who were oddly wearing orange hats reading in bold print “TENANTS UNITED”, an obvious jab at Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hat. In his speech Cuomo vowed to take action by pledging an additional $250 million on top of the $300 million he already promised to invest in New York’s public housing stock. He made sure to remind reporters even though “the state has no financial responsibility” to fund NYCHA, he was going to fight to secure the funds anyway.

Refusing to take any responsibility for the crisis, Cuomo blasted the mayor for his inaction and challenged President Trump to put his money where his mouth is

“If he really wants to make America great again he should show the people more money,” Cuomo said.

The whole event seemed to be an elaborate photo op with the intention of portraying the governor as the great white hope for the majority color NYCHA residents.  It was an attempt of heroic posturing by an opportunist politician with presidential ambitions. His speech came across as self-serving and pompous. He also absolved himself of any blame for the crisis and acted as if he were surprised by the decay he saw even though he played a role in that decay.

“At one time, NYCHA was the model of public housing, and now conditions are at the worst they’ve ever been” he said. “Tenants living in these intolerable, inhumane conditions need help now – not in four years, and this administration is taking action to ensure a brighter future for New Yorkers,”

Cuomo’s allusions to the heyday of public housing and its prospects for a “brighter future” is rather ironic given the significant role Cuomo played in the federal divestment and dismantling of public housing across the country. The governor failed to mention that as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Cuomo oversaw the wholesale destruction of public housing in cities such as Chicago, Baltimore and Philadelphia. During the Clinton Administration Cuomo served as Secretary of HUD from 1997-2001. Before that he served as the Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development from 1993-1997. During his tenure, HUD underwent major policy shifts in accordance with the rise of the post-Cold War national neoliberal agenda that saw the decline in union membership, cuts to social safety nets, deregulation of the financial sector and the privatization of the public sector. Clinton’s HUD was no longer in the business of building public housing nor its upkeep. Making this perfectly clear during his campaign for president in 1992, Clinton portrayed himself as “a new Democratic” who was tough on crime and was keen to “end welfare as we have come to know it”. His White House began pushing major right wing “reforms” that made Ronald Regan look like FDR. One of Clinton’s most damaging attacks on poor and working-class Americans was the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWORA) that ended “welfare as we know it” and effectively make poverty a crime.

It was this pathological attitude towards the working-class and the poor that governed the policies that Cuomo actively supported as Secretary of HUD. As Assistant Secretary and then Secretary Cuomo oversaw the destruction of over 100,000 public housing units across the nation. Out of all the cities impacted Chicago was hit the hardest. In Chicago alone 60,000 people lost their housing along with their sense of community. HOPE VI, first implemented in phases back in 1992, was the federal program that incentivized cities to privatize their public housing by subsidizing mixed income developments. The policy became law in 1998 with the passage of the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act, leading to the accelerated demolition of public housing.

Another consequence of HOPE VI was the criminalization of public housing residents. Clinton promoted the false idea that public housing was infested with criminal gangs that were terrorizing helpless residents. He insisted upon a “One strike, you’re out” policy that would evict any public housing resident convicted of a crime. Six months after the passage of HOPE VI into law 3,847 people were evicted from public housing. Housing developments across the country saw a dramatic 84% increase in the number of evictions. HOPE VI left thousands of mostly black and Latino Americans hopelessly wondering why yet again their government was at war with them. It was not the first time urban America was displaced because of federal policy. Back in the 1960’s the federal government implemented the controversial Urban Renewal policies that reshaped the landscape of American cities. Local governments with federal approval sized land through eminent domain under the guise of slum clearance. Civil Rights activists were appalled at the hundreds of thousands of forced evictions and the destruction of historical black communities.

“Most Northern cities now are engaged in something called urban renewal, which means moving the Negroes out.” Author James Baldwin eloquently said. “It means Negro removal, that is what it means. The federal government is an accomplice to this fact.” HOPE VI is the modern equivalent.

As the public face of HUD, Cuomo’s role was to sell Americans on “negro removal” in a palatable way. The language used to justify HOPE VI was never overtly racist. In fact, HOPE VI was marketed as the best way to undo the mistakes made by previous HUD policies. Increasingly public housing was viewed, and still is viewed, as an antiquated policy disaster that increasingly concentrated poor people in isolated housing blocks. The problems of public housing had nothing to do, according to HUD, with underfunding and neglect. The blame fell on the design of the buildings and the concentration of poverty. Academics such as William Julius Wilson and Douglas S. Massey provided the research backing up the claims that the concentration of the poor lead to the supposed failure of public housing. If that were true, then the solution seemed simple: break up public housing. However, many academics have called concentrated poverty a myth that hurts the poor

“The theory of concentrated poverty is based on a faulty theoretical premise—namely, that concentrated poverty can be severed from its root causes and projected as the focal point of social policy” Distinguished Professor Stephen Steinberg at Queens College said. “It’s rather like diagnosing a melanoma as a blemish and treating it with a palliative.”

Still poverty as pathology served as the ideological impetus that justified the neoliberal destruction of public housing. Its outcome saw a large-scale land grab that transferred public land serving the public good into private hands for corporate profits. All of which was administered by the now governor Andrew Cuomo.  To this day Cuomo believes the myth of concentrated poverty and its supposed key role in the “failure” of public housing. In his book All Things Possible Cuomo said that “the projects are an example of good government gone bad. The people the government is trying to help are actually going to be hurt, and when it fails, it will destroy the surrounding neighborhood.”

In the speech he gave outside of the Taft Houses, Cuomo said that public housing was “really a home-to-prison pipeline.” And that crime starts “in the neighborhood. It starts in the housing complex, and it starts many times in public housing.”

Cuomo’s disdain for government-funded public housing was reflected in the polices he enacted while he was secretary of HUD. Instead of advocating for the construction of more public housing Cuomo was an avid cheerleader in its destruction. It’s their place. He publicly endorsed privately run mixed income developments that didn’t nearly begin to replace the housing that was lost. He promoted free market solutions to addressing urban decay with such schemes as the expansion of the Empowerment Zone Program (EZ). In a nutshell EZ’s incentivized business to locate to predominately black and Latino intercity communities by providing corporate income tax credits, property tax abatements, and other tax exemptions with the idea of spurring economic growth and providing poor people with jobs. It also allocated funds to non-profit social service agencies. Cities such as Baltimore were desperate for federal assistance and enthusiastically joined the program with mixed results. One study found that the program actually cost city governments $2.5 billion in tax revenue. Some Baltimore residents found the program to be undemocratic and failed to address or take into account the real needs in the community.

“The process must reflect a true perception of neighborhood needs from those who live there,” Baltimore native Leonard Jackson said.

In a 2001 study Howard Samuels State Management and Policy Center found that EZ’s programs were complete failures “Our findings suggest the EZ program has fallen far short of its stated goals” they said. “In fact, little changed in any of the cities or Zones with regard to the major goals set forth in the legislation and the regulations outlined by HUD.”

Besides Empowerment Zones there is some evidence to suggest that Cuomo’s polices at HUD may have contributed to the 2008 subprime mortgage bubble. Senator Jon Corzine believed that HUD’s policy goals throughout the 1990’s was focused on “integrating lower-income communities into the free market and creating renewal initiatives that spur private sector investment in both urban and rural communities.”

He goes on to say that “HUD has also helped America reach its highest homeownership rate ever–67.7%–and in the process helped African-American and Latino households attain record levels of homeownership.”

HUD achieved that homeownership rate by making a deal with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to increase the number of loans purchased by low-income borrowers. By greatly inflating the numbers Cuomo’s shortsighted tactics contributed in part to the Great Recession as well as the loss of the overall net worth for black families. From the years 2007-10 black wealth declined by 30% as a result of the economic crisis. After 2009 black median wealth fell from $12,124 a year to $5,677 a year. By comparison white median wealth fell from $134,992 annually to $113,149. Clearly Cuomo’s plan for “integrating lower-income communities into the free market” ended up becoming a nightmare for low-income black Americans.

All this to say for a man who now wants to make himself the avenger of public housing. Cuomo’s track record alone should make public housing residents run from his very presence at their door steps. None of this even takes into account the damage he has done as Governor of New York. Alarmingly at his press conferences over the past few weeks Cuomo has hinted and threatened to have the state directly take over NYCHA. Giving Cuomo more power over NYCHA is like making the fox in charge of the chicken coop. Who is to say what plans the governor might have to fix public housing. It would be easy for him to begin full scale privatization efforts under the guise of city mismanagement of the crisis. A crisis that could have been averted back in 2015 when Mayor De Blasio requested that the state provide $100 million in emergency funding for roof repair. Cuomo refused to fork over the cash unless the money was used for cosmetic upgrades such as landscaping and playground equipment. Now, three years later the governor wants to swoop in to NYCHA’s rescue? It would be wise for New Yorkers to be suspicious of the governor’s intentions. Public housing should not be used as a pawn in a political game for power. If Cuomo wants to truly help New Yorkers living in public housing, he would fully invest in a public housing Marshall Plan not more back door privatization.

Soul on Ice Goes to College, and the Murder of Dr. King

Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are enriched beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change, we are going to have to change the system.

— Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967

The murder of Dr. King on April 4, 1968, marked a  sea change in black America’s long, tortuous sojourn in this nation-state.  Of course, assassination of black leaders and sympathizers has been a mainstay of American life from even before this country’s inception.  Still, the Civil Rights and Black Power era of the ’50s and ’60s featured an especially gruesome series of murders that included, to name only a few of the most spectacular:

November 22, 1963,  A date seared into everybody’s consciousness.  We watched on live TV half of President John Kennedy’s head get blown off on that mid-morning in Dallas.

Robert F. Kennedy’s gut-wrenching take-down in Los Angeles a mere six weeks after Dr. King’s assassination.

Medgar Evers (top state NAACP executive) collapsed into a pool of his own blood under the relentless rain of rifle and shotgun fire on the steps of his own Mississippi home, also in ’63. Evers’ killing fit seamlessly between the rhythmic drumbeats of black church bombings across the south.

Then, on February 21 of 1965,  Malcolm X’s enormous black heart was  shredded by gunfire as he stood on stage in Harlem’s famed Audubon Ballroom.

Since 1955, I have been troubled by an indefinable pain as the sad, sad saga of the lynching of Emmett Till, in a place ominously called Money, Mississippi, played out on our eight-inch Motorola television set.  As a small child, I listened hard with little understanding while my elders recalled some of our own kinfolk who, unlike them, had opted to stay in the south (or had failed to escape) and therefore suffered fates identical to Emmett Till’s and so many faceless, nameless others.

Each of these murderous moments presented to our black consciousness as earth-rending points in time. But, again, none of these past or ongoing days and nights of terror affected, changed, black America as profoundly as the wholly expected, public, and unspeakably brutal execution of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

1968:  How to Avoid  the “Paralysis of Analysis”

I was a  junior at Indiana University’s main campus in Bloomington in that revolutionary year.  Our mass marches, demonstrations and protests, walk-outs, stand-ups, sit-ins, lay-ins,  strikes, boycotts, and occupation of buildings paralleled and, more often than not, spearheaded the campus Hippies’, Yippies’, etc. assorted protests.  They, understandably, were offended by the Vietnam War, and inspired by a renewed white Women’s Liberation Movement.

We black students protested unjust and racially discriminatory practices and policies of the University itself – especially its abominable admissions policy. There were 500 black students on this, the state of Indiana’s flagship and largest state-supported university, a campus of 29,000 students.  There were just three black professors, not one of whom was tenured. And, naturally, there were no courses, let alone curricula, which even pretended to address the 400-year-old history and contemporary lived experience of black folk in this nation-state.  Thus, another of our non-negotiable demands was establishment of a degree-granting Black Studies Department.

We refused to allow our protests to be dismissed as momentary expressions of youthful exuberance. Through our marches, meetings, poetry slams, and classes, we questioned the fundamental assumptions of the University, especially its historical embrace of white supremacy/white racism. And, in concert with the anti-War movement, we challenged those who provided the financial wherewithal for corporations like Dow Chemical to do its lethal, on-campus research for napalm gas, which engulfed untold millions of Vietnamese in excruciating, fiery injury and death. We were at war, all right…at war with campus honchos who made peace with the war, and who were more committed to keeping peace on campus rather than in exploring the ways in which the University collaborated with the war efforts and its deliberate mis-education of all its students.

“Soul on Ice” Goes to College

In late ’67, Indiana University’s Black Theater Workshop was organized by black students to produce plays, poetry and nonfiction that addressed this nation-state’s real history, our present condition, and hoped-for revolutionary future. We breathed deeply, freely, of the burgeoning Black Arts Movement as it raced through the blackosphere like a fast-moving river. Those black tributaries flowed from, to, and back again through Harlem, Gary, Oakland, Madison, Watts, Ann Arbor, Chicago’s South and West Sides, Ohio’s Central State University, and New Jersey’s newly christened “New Ark.”

Our literary high priests and priestesses included, but were by no means limited to:  Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Sonia Sanchez, Hoyt Fuller, Maya Angelou, Ishmael Reed, Rosa Guy, Sterling A. Brown, LeRoi Jones, Richard Wright, and, of course, the Master of them all, James Baldwin.

In ’68, the Black Panther Party’s Minister of Information published a black-busting tome entitled Soul On Ice. Eldridge Cleaver had done lots of California prison time, mainly for rape and robbery; but he was a powerful, even essential essayist.  Soul On Ice provided a first-hand look at the Panthers sans the usual establishment media bias.  Soul on Ice also chronicled Cleaver’s own astounding rise from prison inmate to Ramparts Magazine’s star, revolutionary writer.  

The BTW converted Cleaver’s book into a play.  Because his life and persona were so deeply conflicted, we divided the “Eldridge Cleaver” character into three parts:  The Rapist; The Revolutionary; and The Writer. Guess which part I played.

The Murder of Dr. King

On April 4, 1968, I was hiking – sans umbrella – across IU’s idyllic campus to play rehearsal. A light, steady Spring rain began to fall, so I decided to cut through the blocks-long Student Union building.

I passed through the giant cafeteria and approached an open-area TV lounge.  A large group of students stood gathered around a television. I stopped, but could hear only  muffled voices. Just as I came up directly behind them, Walter Cronkite said, “….and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.”

The students before me burst into loud, raucous whistles, hoots, and applause.  They cheered.  I stood directly behind them and watched and listened in open-mouthed shock….dumbfounded – not at the heart-stopping news  – that had not had time to register – but at the utterly appalling scene unfolding right before my eyes.

I never saw the TV screen and could no longer hear it.  I stared at the backs of these my fellow students for what seemed a long moment as some of them began to guffaw and slap each other’s backs.

Slowly….ever so slightly, the laughter began to subside.  And then, en masse, they turned their faces in my direction — as though they shared a single neck.  Their toothy, ear-to-ear grins looked weird, distorted. I could sense – feel –  sharp-edged daggers of hate radiating from them.  I could see their disgust at not just my presence among them but at my very existence. It was clear that I had intruded upon an electronic lynching and had inadvertently disrupted their blood lust.  It was only then, however, that I noticed the thing that has come back to haunt me each and every 4th of April since that night:  Every single one of these faces was “white.”

I dared not turn my back to these people.  I tentatively began walking backwards, furtively eying each one of them as I carefully placed one foot behind the other.  I made it out into the hallway and then sprinted to the nearest exit.

“Burn, Baby, Burn!” versus Learn, Baby, Learn!

I arrived at our director’s off-campus apartment soaking wet.  She was a strikingly beautiful, jet-black East Indian political science PhD. candidate, a devotee of both Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi. Although she was East Indian, she “identified” completely with “black” Americans. Indeed, she was so dark-complected (black) that when the sun touched her skin just right, she actually sparkled.

Standing there, just inside her pad, dripping onto the threshold, I watched  the girls gathered around the TV sobbing uncontrollably, hysterically. The guys, enraged, walked around the place pounding their fists into their hands, “We gotta get ’em!  We gotta get ’em,” they alternately mumbled or shouted. “How could they kill him?!” somebody said. “Not this man!”

The TV began showing scenes of riots breaking out across the country:   Chicago was ablaze; New York; L.A.; St. Louis; Detroit, even staid Indianapolis.  Later, we learned that over 110 cities had gone up that night.

“We can’t meet violence with violence,” the director said finally.  “If we even try,” she continued, “we will lose. They’ve got all the guns.”

“Not this one!,” a brother said, pulling out a shiny snub-nosed .38 pistol.

“Put that thing away!”, she ordered.  “The last thing Dr. King would want you young people to do is commit violence in his name,” she declared.  “Let’s use our heads! All of you must stay in school and graduate.  It’s more important now than ever before that we complete and present this play.”

Like so many other black people, that night changed my life.  I was one person before Dr. King’s murder, and a completely different person afterwards.

Racial Preferences: Peter Dutton and White South African Farmers

It has been the great misfit Australian policy since the 1990s: a refugee and immigration policy that shows itself to be scrupulously fair, calculable and clean.  Nothing shall be permitted to sully this presumption.  Even as refugees and asylum seekers gather dampness, decay and depression in Pacific camps, the Australian immigration policy shall remain, like Caesar’s wife, above reproach.

The comments of Australia’s Peter Dutton who resembles, with each passing day, a plumed and emboldened commissar, have given political figures pause for thought.  Openly, and without reservation, the Home Affairs Minister decided to bank for a particular racial group in the immigration stakes, namely those poor oppressed white farmers of South Africa.

This goes against the policy of ethnic caution and racial neutrality, albeit ensconced behind the customary prejudices typical of all stances on immigration.  Here was the most direct expression of race and culture as twin categories.

Dutton preferred the language of “special attention” for specifically white South African farmers suffering what he deemed to be “horrific circumstances”.  He spoke of damning footage and lurid stories.  They, he explained, needed protection from a “civilised country”.  South African farmers would be a good fit in Australia, integrating (note the stab against certain refugees) and avoiding the welfare rolls.  Perversely enough, the mantle of guardianship – that of Afrikaners overseeing the civilising mission in South Africa – seemed to have moved to the confused Dutton.

As a key proponent of apartheid, the South African prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd, would enunciate in February 1960, it was the white men who were “the people… who brought civilisation here, who made possible the present development of black nationalisation by bringing the natives education, by showing them the Western way of life, by bringing Africa industry and development, by inspiring them with the ideals which Western civilisation has developed for itself.”

Dutton’s remarks fell on the ears of the furious.  Ian Rijsdijk of the University of Cape Town’s Media Studies Centre found the remarks “incredibly retrograde.”  “The majority African population regard a reference to civilisation,” piped South African advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, “as an insult.”

Spokesman for South Africa’s Foreign Ministry, Ndivhuwo Mabaya, claimed in a statement that, “There was no reason for any Government anywhere in the world to suspect that any South African is in danger from their own democratically elected Government.  That threat simply does not exist.”

In fairness, the minister’s intervention had already been forecast by party machinations at the state level some months prior.  The West Australian Liberal Party had chewed over the issue of those colonial hangovers in South Africa and Zimbabwe in discussions in 2017.  A resolution at the party’s state council meeting last year called upon the federal government to “resettle persecuted European minorities” from those benighted states.

Not far from such considerations was the influence of South African expatriates in various seats, making their defenders sound much like advertisers pushing a flawed product.  Ian Goodenough, a WA Liberal representing the federal seat of Moore, opined to the ABC that, “Violence and suffering affects all people universally.” (This affected nonsense only extends to particular communities in such racial politics – violence is universal, but politics is particular.)  “Given our close connections to the South African community, consideration should be given to providing a quota of places.”

On March 15, the MP tweeted that “favourable consideration” be granted to “South Africans fleeing persecution who share our values and will integrate into Australian society.”  This was humanitarianism, washed marble and cultural white, with a handy number of additions to Australia’s conservative voting bloc.

Other conservatives decided to vent their fury at reports about violence against white farmers, sometimes careful to avoid racial tags and labels.  The sense behind such anger was undeniably strategic: the Coalition government is stuttering in the polls, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is looking for easy fodder.  To that end, Andrew Hastie expressed “outrage” and pressed Alan Tudge, Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, to visit his own seat of Canning.

The reasoning there, like that of a calculating Goodenough, was placating, keeping and even gathering, more conservative South African votes, a hoovering exercise of a local member thinking of the next election and whether he will survive the voter’s chop.  Dutton, claimed Hastie, was “going to hear from concerned citizens and expats about what is happening in South Africa.”

Queensland Liberal MP Andrew Laming has also gotten on the electoral stage to claim that he “called out South African politicians for their do-nothing approach to vicious attacks on farmers”. He suggested that Dutton was merely asking his department “to monitor and consider our offshore humanitarian program”.

This is not to suggest that the world of South Africa, in its post-apartheid torment, is not afflicted.  Crime and land redistribution remain enduring social headaches, though the new South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has told Parliament that “land grabs” would be intolerable, instancing moments of “anarchy”.  That said, the ownership of agricultural land in South Africa – with white South Africans having 72 percent of the portion despite making up some 8 percent of the country’s population, is an invidious formula.

The country’s politics is troubled, best exemplified by the presidential strife of the now departed Jacob Zuma.  But the hot-and-bothered gamesmanship of Dutton also ignores the role played by invigorated democratic health in South Africa itself – the movement against Zuma being evidence of it.  A civil society collective of investigative journalists, judicial officers, even police, were vital in showing that the Republic of South Africa, far being sworn enemies of civilisation, are its vigilant defenders.

Dutton’s ploy is preferential, cultural and obvious, an embrace of colonial, property-owning elites who have fallen on hard times.  His idea of civilisation, quite literally coloured, is inimical to democracy.  His adoration for the South African farmer has also had a confessional effect: behind the veneer of decent immigration policies will always be indecent preferences.

Where the Streets have No Name: Israel leaves Palestinians in Postal “Dark Age”

In the town of Umm al-Fahm, more than a third of all letters never reach their destination. Identity cards, passports and drivers’ licences go missing, welfare cheques are lost, appointments expire, and penalties mount up over unpaid fines.

GPS navigation apps like Waze fail, taxis struggle to find customers, and private delivery companies have to be met at the town’s entrance and escorted in.

It is scene of administrative chaos more appropriate for a village in remotest rural Africa than a town of 60,000 residents in central Israel, one of the wealthiest and most developed countries in the world.

For decades Umm al-Fahm’s 301 streets have lacked any names or house numbers. But five years after the municipality submitted a list of names for every street, Israeli government officials are still dragging their feet.

They have not yet given an official reason, but there seems little doubt about the cause of the interminable delay. The names of some 40 streets – including a Yasser Arafat Street – have enraged Israel’s right wing government.

Umm al-Fahm is the second largest Palestinian community in Israel, after Nazareth.

‘Denial of identity and history’

About a fifth of Israel’s population are Palestinians, remnants of communities that were not expelled during the Nakba – Arabic for “catastrophe”, the word Palestinians use to describe the creation of Israel on the ruins of their homeland in 1948.

But for decades, many Palestinian communities in Israel have been left in a kind of bureaucratic “dark ages”, noted Yousef Jabareen, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament who lives in Umm al-Fahm.

The cause, he said, was a combination of a lack of budgets and the interior ministry’s refusal to countenance street names for Palestinian political and cultural icons.

“This goes well beyond a technical matter of problems finding where people live and sending mail,” Jabareen told Middle East Eye.

“As a minority, we don’t have control over our education system or the wider public and cultural space, so it is important that in our own communities we are able to reflect our identity, narrative and history. We need cultural and national icons just like everybody else.”

Last year, the village of Jatt, near Umm al-Fahm, ran into similar difficulties. The municipality was forced to take down signs on a street it had named for Yasser Arafat after Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, declared he would not allow any street to bear the late Palestinian leader’s name.

Netanyahu threatened to pass legislation to outlaw such names, if necessary, saying: “We can’t have streets named after Israel’s enemies.”

Matan Peleg, head of Im Tirzu, a far-right group that originally raised the matter with the government, argued that “Arafat’s hands are stained with blood” and called the street signs a “disgrace”.

But Jabareen countered: “Yasser Arafat was a partner in the [Oslo] peace process, he won a Nobel peace prize, and he was the internationally recognised leader of the Palestinian people.

“It is entirely reasonable for Umm al-Fahm and other communities to name a street in his honour.”

No Mahmoud Darwish Street

Among the other 40 proposed names that have been rejected for Umm al-Fahm are Mahmoud Darwish Street, for the Palestinians’ most famous poet; streets honouring previous mayors of the town; and a handful of streets named for villages razed by the Israeli army during the Nakba and from which many of Umm al-Fahm’s families were displaced.

An objection has been raised too against a street commemorating 30 March, the anniversary of Land Day in 1976, when Israeli soldiers shot dead six unarmed Palestinian demonstrators during protests against the state’s confiscation of their lands. Land Day is marked by Palestinians around the world.

Although other Palestinian communities lack street names, the situation in Umm al-Fahm is especially acute, noted Jabareen.

Almost all residents belong to one of only four extended families: Aghbariyeh, Mahajneh, Mahamid and Jabareen. With potentially hundreds of Mohammeds, Mahmouds and Ahmeds in each family, finding the right person without an address often proves impossible.

In response, Adalah, a legal centre for Israel’s Palestinian minority, sent a letter last month to Aryeh Deri, the interior minister, as well as Israel’s chief law officer, Avichai Mandelblit, demanding that the street names be approved.

According to Adalah, the interior minister has exceeded his legal authority by blocking the names, effectively holding the town to ransom.

Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer with Adalah, told MEE: “Municipalities are required to inform the interior ministry of the street names they have selected, but the law does not authorise the interior ministry to veto them.”

She said the ministry was able to exploit its position because municipalities were dependent on the government for part of their budgets and for services.

The interior ministry, however, denied that it was overstepping its authority. “The ministry is allowed to examine, and in some cases even to intervene, in a decision by a local authority to decide on street names,” it said in a statement.

Jewish ‘terrorists’ honoured

Without addresses, Umm al-Fahm’s residents have had to rely on postal boxes. But the Israeli authorities have failed to provide enough boxes, leaving thousands of families without an address.

In Israel’s largest Palestinian city, Nazareth, most streets also lack names. It has avoided the interior ministry’s stranglehold by issuing many streets with numbers instead.

Palestinian leaders in Israel have accused the interior ministry of a double standard, noting that a large number of streets in Jewish communities bear the names of controversial historic figures.

Some were viewed as “terrorists” either by British Mandate authorities that ruled the area before Israel’s creation or by Israel’s founders themselves.

The towns of Or Akiva and Ashkelon have named streets for Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose vehemently anti-Arab Kach party was listed as a terrorist organisation by the FBI. One of his prominent followers, Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli army doctor, massacred 29 Muslims at worship in Hebron in 1994.

Many streets bear the name of two pre-state paramilitary groups responsible for killing civilians: the Lehi and the Irgun, also known by the Hebrew acronym “Etzel”.

The Irgun famously blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing 91 people, and carried out the Deir Yassin massacre, the most notorious single attack on a Palestinian community during the Nakba. It led to mass flight by Palestinians from their homes.

Lehi, meanwhile, regularly mounted lethal attacks on British soldiers and had a history of killing Jewish women who dated them.

Its leader, Avraham Stern, known by the nickname “Yair” was the inspiration for a new town dedicated in the early 1980s, Kochav Yair. Stern also has streets in his honour in many towns, including Petah Tikva and Kefar Sava.

Former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, who has streets, schools and medical centres named after him, was commander of the Lehi in 1948 when it killed Folke Bernadotte, a mediator in Palestine for the United Nations.

Rafael Eitan bridge at the entrance to Nazareth, named after an Israeli general who called Palestinians ‘drugged cockroaches’ (copyright: Jonathan Cook)

And when an elevated road to Nazareth was opened a few years ago, Israeli officials named it “Rafael Eitan” bridge, despite vehement objection from city leaders. Eitan, an Israeli general, famously advocated treating Palestinians like “drugged cockroaches” and founded an anti-Arab party.

‘Linguistic cleansing’

Like the residents of Umm al-Fahm, some 330,000 Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem have faced a series of battles over street signs.

Israel has been gradually replacing road signs using the Arabic term for Jerusalem, “al Quds”, with the Hebrew name “Yerushalayim” transliterated into Arabic.

Writing on the Israeli website Haokets, a Palestinian researcher of the Nakba, Umar al-Ghubari, observed that the Israeli authorities had erased Palestinian signs to make Palestinians “feel foreign” in their homeland.

“This is not your country, this is the country of the Jews – the signs report to us,” he wrote. “The process of linguistic cleansing … complements the acts of ethnic cleansing [of the Nakba].”

In recent years East Jerusalem has started being issued with its first street names after a leading human rights group, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), petitioned the Israeli supreme court over the lack of postal services there.

But Nisreen Alyan, a lawyer for ACRI, said East Jerusalem’s Palestinians had been forced to restrict the names to flowers, animals and stars to get them approved.

“It has taken more than 40 years of struggle to get street names for East Jerusalem,” she told MEE.

Even so, observed Alyan, 30 streets were awarded Hebrew names by the Jerusalem municipality, highlighting Biblical and Jewish connections. These were mostly in Palestinian areas such as Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, where Jewish settlers are trying illegally to take over homes and land.

Ahmed Tibi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, warned at the time that the measure was part of “ongoing efforts to Judaise al-Quds and falsify history”.

Bill to downgrade Arabic

Alyan said it was important to put the problems over signs into a wider context. Most Jewish communities and public institutions had avoided translating Hebrew signs or documents into Arabic, even though Arabic is an official language and the mother tongue of a fifth of the population.

She noted that there had been a storm of protest recently after a popular TV show, Fauda, about Israeli soldiers operating undercover in Palestinian areas, put up billboards in Jewish communities promoting the programme in Arabic. The posters had to be taken down.

“Right now there is a struggle over the status of the Arabic language in Israel,” she said, referring to a Basic Law the government is currently drafting to declare Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

“The government wants to downgrade Arabic from its position as an official language. It would prefer to exclude Arabic from all public space.”

• First published in Middle East Eye

Israeli Parliament Endorses Final Version of “Jewish Nation-State Bill”

After seven years of delays, the Israeli governing parties have agreed the final terms of controversial new legislation that would define Israel exclusively as “the nation-state of the Jewish people”.

The bill is now expected to be fast-tracked through the Israeli parliament and on to the statute books in the coming weeks.

Approval by the parliament’s justice committee this week of the Basic Law, which carries much greater weight than normal legislation, marks a dangerous turning-point for Palestinians, according to analysts.

Amir Ohana, the committee’s chair, called it the “law of all laws”, while a government minister termed it “Zionism’s flagship bill”.

It effectively blocks any chance for Israel’s large Palestinian minority – one in five of the population – to reform Israel in the future into a normal, Western-style democracy.

In the words of one of the handful of Palestinian members of the Israeli parliament, Aida Touma-Suleiman, the bill “institutionalises an apartheid regime in the most blatant way”.

But equally significantly, and largely unnoticed, the Basic Law paves the way for Israel’s right-wing government to consolidate and expand the annexation of Palestinian lands under occupation in East Jerusalem and the West Bank – and stymie any legal moves intended to prevent such efforts.

Arabic demoted

The weight of expectations on the new bill is part of the reason it has undergone such a lengthy
process of redrafting since a first version was introduced in 2011 by Avi Dichter, a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

The proposed Basic Law has attracted scrutiny chiefly for the unconcealed nature of its anti-democratic provisions.

The final version approved this week demotes the status of Arabic – the mother tongue of one-fifth of Israel’s citizens – so that it is no longer an official language alongside Hebrew.

It also promotes Jewish communities that strictly enforce rules to exclude Israel’s 1.8 million Palestinian citizens. It reiterates Israel’s mission to “ingather the exiles”, restricting immigration to Jews only, and prioritises the rights of Jews abroad over those of the country’s Palestinian minority.

Most significant of all, it dispenses with any “democratic” component in Israel’s self-definition. Israel’s “Jewishness” is made paramount.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who maintains close ties to Netanyahu, observed of the bill: “It will bring order, clarify what is taken for granted and put Israel back on the right path. A country that is different from all others in one way – that it is the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

Court challenges

As Levin suggests, while there is little ostensibly new in the bill, it “clarifies” and shores up Israel’s current anomalous political makeup.

The Arabic language is already invisible in most public spaces in Israel. Some 93 percent of Israel’s land is already reserved exclusively for the Jewish people around the world, not Israel’s citizens. The Law of Return already allows only Jews to immigrate.

And many critics, including Israeli scholars, argue it is impossible for Israel to be both “Jewish and democratic” – any more than it could be “white and democratic” or “Christian and democratic”. They describe Israel as a non-democratic type of state known as an “ethnocracy”.

So why go to such trouble to legislate the current bill when it changes so little?

There are several urgent impulses behind the Basic Law.

In part, it is the right’s response to a series of embarrassing legal and political challenges that have needed to be faced down since Israel passed a Basic Law on Freedom and Human Dignity in 1992.

After the law defined Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state”, legal rights groups initiated challenges in the courts for Israel to respect equality.

That gradually exposed the unresolvable contradictions between the state’s “Jewish and democratic” claims, according to Ahmad Saadi, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva.

Jewish-only communities

The first major crisis arrived at the Israeli supreme court in 2000, when a Palestinian citizen, Adel Kaadan, sued to be allowed to live in one of Israel’s 700 exclusively Jewish communities. Each community had set up a so-called “admissions committee” specifically to block access for Palestinian citizens.

Lawyers argued that, in excluding 20 percent of its population from almost all land in Israel, the state was enforcing residential apartheid.

The judges agonised over the case for years. In 2011, Netanyahu’s government finally took the court off this hook by giving the committees a statutory basis.

But the reverberations are still being felt. Last month, the far-right justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, cited the Kaadan case as a reason for the nation-state Basic Law, saying: “It’s all right for a Jewish community to, by definition, be only Jewish.

“There is place to maintain a Jewish majority even at the price of violation of rights,” she added.

Demand for reform

Political challenges have compounded the legal ones. In 2006, Palestinian leaders in Israel produced a document, the Future Vision, demanding that Israel reform from being a Jewish state into a civic democracy. They urged that Israel become a “consensual democracy”, where all citizens had equal rights.

In a highly unusual move, the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police agency, responded in public. They called the document “subversive” and warned they would “thwart” any activity, even if legal, to promote its aims.

Since then, the figurehead of the democratisation campaign, Azmi Bishara, has been forced into exile, accused of treason.

Israel has also passed a series of measures to weaken the standing of Palestinian politicians in parliament, including an Expulsion Law that allows Jewish legislators to oust Palestinian colleagues.

Saadi, the professor, told Al Jazeera: “The Israeli right understands the international political climate and believes it is far more conducive to violations of human rights and overt racism than it was a decade ago.

“It senses the direction the wind is now blowing.”

Judges’ hands to be tied

Additionally, Shaked, the justice minster, has linked the Jewish Nation-State Bill to revisions she is making to another constitutional-type Basic Law, one dealing with legislation.

Jafar Farah, head of Mossawa, an advocacy group for Israel’s Palestinian citizens, pointed out this would allow the governing coalition to reverse any ruling by the Israeli supreme court against a piece of legislation, even if it violated human rights. The court’s powers of judicial review would be voided.

“This legislation will tie the judges’ hands,” Farah told Al Jazeera. “They won’t be able to intervene in government decisions.”

In a Facebook post, Shaked said she was undoing the “constitutional revolution” instituted by the 1992 Basic Law on Freedom and Human Dignity – or in her words, “realigning the train track that was twisted a quarter-century ago”.

She added: “In the past 20 years court rulings have sharpened the universal values more than the state’s Jewish character.”

Tailwind from Trump

Which alludes to a likely second ambition for the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law. The restraining hand of the supreme court will be lifted just as the Israeli right enjoys the tailwind of US President Donald Trump’s administration.

Farah noted Israel has still not decided on its territorial limits.

“Israel refuses to define its borders and then states through this Basic Law that only the Jewish people have a ‘unique right to self-determination’ in the region,” he said.

That could open the door to Israel consolidating its hold on occupied East Jerusalem and accelerating a policy of creeping annexation of the occupied West Bank.

Trump is preparing to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, pre-empting in Israel’s favour one of the traditional final-status issues that were supposed to be settled in peace talks with the Palestinians.

At the same time, Israel is drafting legislation that would strip tens of thousands of Palestinians of their residency rights in East Jerusalem, while annexing parts of the West Bank to Jerusalem to skew the city’s demography towards a solid Jewish majority.

In the words of Nir Hasson, a veteran Israeli reporter on Jerusalem: “The Israeli political system has already understood that Jerusalem is an anomaly that has to be solved.” It intends, therefore, to provide a solution that refuses to “recognise the place of the Palestinians in the city”.

Proving Hasson’s point, the parliament passed last week a law empowering the government to expel Palestinians from Jerusalem.

Precondition for talks

These violations of human rights and international law would be hard for the supreme court to stomach.

But if the Israeli government carries on its current path, the courts will soon have no say on such matters, observed Farah.

The new Jewish Nation-State Basic Law may offer other advantages, Saadi pointed out.

Netanyahu has been trying to impose a precondition on peace talks with Mahmoud Abbas that the Palestinian leader first recognise Israel as a Jewish state. In recent years, Washington has sounded as if it accepts this idea.

By stripping Israel of even a pretension towards democratic principles, Netanyahu would place Abbas in an impossible position.

The new Basic Law includes all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and gives the Jewish people alone a right to self-determination in the region. No Palestinian leader could contemplate recognising a “Jewish state” defined this way.

“Neither Israel nor the US wants negotiations. They are interested only in the Palestinians submitting,” said Saadi.

Netanyahu and his allies on the right may hope to take advantage of Washington and European capitals’ blind acceptance of Israel on its own terms as a “Jewish and democratic state”.

Will they notice that through this latest piece of legislation Israel has quietly dropped the claim that a Jewish state even aspires to be “democratic”?

• First published in Al Jazeera

Old Movies and Patriarchy from the Days of HUAC and the Blacklist

Watching old movies is a journey back through time, revisiting the social attitudes of our past.  A lot has changed during the last six or seven decades, much of it for the better. Thank goodness I don’t have to wear a white shirt and necktie just to go downtown nowadays, but back in the 1950s that was the norm, the required male attire. I remember my father somewhat awkwardly putting on his dress-up clothes, struggling with his necktie. Being a former fisherman, Dad was skilled at tying all sorts of complicated knots, but that necktie was one he never quite mastered.

The differences between then and now are many, among the most significant being the gender roles.  Male dominance was the accepted norm; this comes out in most movies of the era, in some more intensely than others.  One that really lays it out thick and heavy is Fritz Lang’s 1952 film Clash by Night, produced nearly two decades before the feminist revolution of the late 1960s.

Clash by Night was filmed on location in Monterey and opens with picturesque shots of the seacoast, the fishing fleet, and Cannery Row, back then the center of a thriving fishing industry. The characters in this movie are fishing folk, the story centering on a love triangle in which Barbara Stanwyck plays a woman having an affair with her husband’s best friend. The lover, played by Robert Ryan, is an angry, cynical fellow, the kind of guy who’d seduce his best friend’s wife. The husband, Paul Douglas, is just the opposite; he’s a trustworthy, amiable guy, good-hearted but rather childlike and simple-minded. Ryan says to Stanwyck, “Your man is the salt of the earth, but he’s not the right seasoning for you.”

While Stanwyck, Douglas and Ryan are an ill-starred threesome who get things wrong, the movie also presents us with a counter-example of a couple who get things right, at least according to the ethos of the time. This couple, played by Marilyn Monroe and Keith Andes, have their conflicts, but they work things out: she accepts him as the boss, the dominant partner. Andes portrays the proper masculine ideal of that era — a guy who knows how to handle his woman and keep her in line.

Andes is Stanwyck’s younger brother; together they own a house, presumably inherited from their parents. He’s a crewman on a fishing vessel — a purse seiner. Douglas is the owner and skipper. We see the two men (Douglas and Andes) on deck, repairing nets, using the traditional wooden net-needles.

Monroe, Andes’ girlfriend, works in one of the sardine canneries along the waterfront.  We first see her and Andes together in a scene where he meets her after work and they stroll down Cannery Row, chatting as they go.  Monroe is telling Andes about a co-worker who showed up that morning with a black eye.  “That fellow she married,” Monroe says, “came down last night. Wanted her to go back upstate and live with him again. So when she wouldn’t, he just beat her up awful.”

“Well, he’s her husband,” Andes says in a matter-of-fact tone.  Here, in four short words, the movie gives us Andes’ philosophy of male entitlement.

A few scenes later they’re at the beach, where Andes playfully puts a towel around Monroe’s neck, as though to strangle her. He’s just kidding, of course, just having fun, his idea of harmless fun.  She seems to be okay with this; he now seems to have her in his grip, and it looks like she’s going to be the underdog in this relationship. (There’s a movie poster using that scene; it’s on the jacket of the DVD and also online.)

Andes strangling Monroe

Weeks and months pass. The couple become engaged, and Monroe proudly shows Stanwyck the ring she has just received from Andes. “We had a fight,” Monroe says, “and were never going to see each other again. At 10 o’clock [he] came to the house and was going to kick the door down. I never thought I’d like a guy who’d push me around.” Stanwyck admires the ring and tells Monroe that she’s made the right decision. “[He] will make you happy. He knows who he is and what he is. Some of us don’t. Always take the man who’ll kick the door down. Advice from Mama.”

Andes can be very sweet, Monroe says, but the movie doesn’t show us much of his sweetness. In scene after scene, he comes across as rigid, righteous, and abusive, a guy who could hardly be a joy to live happily ever after with, though he certainly does possess the manly qualities that were respected and perhaps even idealized in the ’50s. Or at least that’s my impression.  But what did contemporaries say about it? I went to the library.  A lot has been written about both Marilyn Monroe and Director Fritz Lang.  The film Clash by Night is mentioned in quite a few books, articles and reviews, but not much is said about the Monroe/Andes subplot.  What little I could find seemed to express approval of that relationship. A 1969 biographer of Marilyn Monroe described the Keith Andes character as “a stern young man of high ideals.” And in the view of film critic Lotte Eisner, Andes and Monroe “provide a tender comedy.”

Those are fairly old reviews; maybe the film critics, being people of their time, were oblivious to sexism. Attitudes changed radically during the feminist revolution of the 1960s. Nevertheless, Andes’ disposition does seem rather extreme, even by the standards of the early ’50s, when this movie was made, and I must wonder what could’ve motivated Director Fritz Lang to present that character as he did.

There was also Alfred Hayes, who wrote the script. I don’t know what discussions may have gone on between Lang and Hayes, but clearly, both were artists capable of putting negative traits to work in a positive way, bringing characters to life on the screen, and using the story to tell us something about the world we live in.

Relationships, not romance, is the theme of Clash by Night. Patriarchy is the kind of relationship this movie’s about, and it could be seen as intentionally promoting such values. Conversely, the exact opposite interpretation is also possible.  Could it be that Lang and Hayes subtly intended the Monroe/Andes subplot as social criticism? In considering this possibility, let’s remember that filmmakers had only limited freedom in what they could say or show on the screen. The First Amendment did not apply to film making.

Hollywood film studios were then governed by “The Code,” which required that the movie industry be “directly responsible for spiritual or moral progress, for higher types of social life, and for much correct thinking.” The Code’s notion of “correct thinking” included a bizarre list of dos and don’ts which today we can regard as ridiculous or even disgusting: Prohibitions concerning sex went to weird extremes; even married couples had to be shown sleeping separately, in twin beds. References to homosexuality were banned. Traditional religion could not be questioned. The laws of the land, including Jim Crow laws, were beyond censure.

Interracial romance or marriage was also a big no-no. When MGM made Pearl Buck’s novel The Good Earth into a movie, the studio considered Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong for the role of wife and mother. The story was about a marriage between two Asians, so an Asian actress would seem a logical choice; however, the husband’s role was played by a Caucasian actor. Even that, in the eyes of the Code, would’ve constituted an interracial romance, so to avoid such objections, actress Wong was rejected in favor of a Caucasian.

For two decades, from 1934 till 1954, the Code was rigidly enforced by Joseph Breen, a right-wing Christian moralist who inserted himself in the movie-making process at every step along the way, from start to finish. When a studio considered a novel for a movie production, it first had to get Breen’s okay. Then Breen would edit the script, censoring this or that. Finally, he’d screen the finished movie, imposing additional censorship, often butchering films, sometimes even rearranging scenes. (Ever wonder why some of those old movies contain non sequiturs, as if something were missing?) The details of Breen’s interventions were kept secret from the public till 1986 when files of censorship comments on about five thousand movies were finally released.1

Joseph Breen’s primary obsession had to do with suppressing sexual content. He was also a notorious anti-Semite.  “[T]hese damn Jews are a dirty, filthy lot,” he wrote to a colleague in 1932. “To attempt to talk ethical values to them is time worse than wasted.”  On the other hand, he was more tolerant of the Nazis, and during the rise of Hitler, managed to prevent the production of It Can’t Happen Here, The Mad Dog of Europe, and several other anti-Nazi films. A variety of right-wing pressure groups as well as the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover loved and approved of what Mr. Breen was doing. Despite such blatantly pro-fascist censoring, his tenure in office survived World War II. The end of the war found him still running the show as Hollywood’s censor-in-chief. The Cold War was beginning; that era became the heyday of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), with the jailing of the “Hollywood Ten,” and the blacklisting of actors, screenwriters and directors — a very repressive and scary time, especially for movie people.

HUAC, J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph Breen intended that Hollywood movies should serve as propaganda instruments for their agenda, and it might seem ironic that a society which touted its freedoms and democracy for all the world to see, admire and emulate would allow such totalitarians to tyrannize our film industry.  Actually, that was not an ironic anomaly; a lot more was happening behind the scenes.  There was “Operation Paperclip,” bringing hundreds of ex-Nazi scientists, engineers and intelligence experts to the U.S.  In 1947 the CIA was founded; it overthrew governments in Iran and Guatemala, created Operation Mockingbird to manipulate the media, and even promoted Modern Art.  All that and a whole lot more went on behind the scenes in our democracy, and speaking of democracy, or lack thereof, for black people there was Jim Crow and segregation.  Perhaps more than at any other time in our history, in the late 1940s and early 1950s we were effectively intimidated by our government.  It’s often called “the McCarthy Era,” though as bad as Senator Joe McCarthy was, his role was relatively minor.

And that’s when Clash by Night was made. The movie was based on an play by Clifford Odets, a former Communist. It was adapted for the cinema by screenwriter Alfred Hayes, also a former supporter of the Communist Party  and the poet who wrote the lyrics of “I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night.” Director Fritz Lang was an Austrian whose work had already achieved fame in the German cinema. Though apparently not especially political, Lang detested Hitler and refused to work under Joseph Goebbels. So he came to America, a refugee, where he found himself under the dominion of another Joseph — Joseph Breen, who had to be somehow accommodated.

It would seem that there was not much that Lang and Hayes or anyone else could do about this censorship. Nevertheless, even under that supposedly airtight system, Hollywood filmmakers often found ways to push the envelope and outwit the censors. In the classic noir film Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade (played by Humphrey Bogart) snarls, “Keep that gunsel out of my way!” Mr. Breen apparently assumed “gunsel” meant “gunman” and let it pass. The word is used three times in the script, referring to a young guy who’s the homosexual companion of an older man.

Some movie makers found subtle ways of getting around the censors.  They might make the bad guys sympathetic and lovable while presenting authority figures as distasteful and repulsive and stupid.  Meanwhile, the messages of some movies were quite overt. High Noon is the story of a man (and his wife) who are left to face the bad guys alone; it was written by Carl Foreman as an allegory about members of the Hollywood film community who abandoned their colleagues and failed to stand up to HUAC.  Foreman was summoned by HUAC, even as he was making the movie, and his partner in this production abandoned him.  Several of the actors were also “gray” listed.  Like many blacklisted movie makers, Foreman left the country and moved to England.

Carl Foreman was not the only one to speak out.  Playwright Arthur Miller took up the theme of the Salem Witch trials and wrote The Crucible as an allegory of the HUAC hearings, implying that the honorable congressmen of that committee were a bunch of witch hunters.  Though it wasn’t made into a movie till decades later, it was produced on Broadway in 1953.  The play was popular, but not with HUAC; Miller was blacklisted and denied a passport.

Among my favorite movies of that era is The Underworld Story in which a cynical reporter winds up doing the right things for his own opportunistic reasons, fighting the privileges of corrupt mainstream newspapers.  The movie is a biting exposé of upper-class privilege, racism and the media.  I really wonder how this movie got past Joseph Breen. Well, somehow it did, but HUAC didn’t overlook it.  Director Cy Endfield, actor Howard Da Silva and screenwriter Henry Blankfort, were blacklisted.

While these and some other movie makers inserted subversive messages into their movies, sometimes subtly, occasionally openly, many more went along with the HUAC program, ratted on colleagues, named names of co-workers and friends, and made propaganda movies for the national security state.  So much of Hollywood became part of that huge propaganda machine, along with radio, newspapers and even our schools, extolling the liberties which made this country so unique, constantly telling us how fortunate we were to live in this country we could speak freely without fear of retribution from the authorities.

So, in this situation, what did director Fritz Lang and screenwriter Alfred Hayes do?  I’m suggesting that in creating Clash by Night, they conspired to present a strong social criticism of patriarchy.  And they got away with it.  Of course, it wouldn’t have been wise for them to reveal such a ploy; it could’ve gotten them in serious trouble.  Even as it was, they were both viewed with suspicion by the FBI and HUAC.

Here’s what I think happened: Hayes and Lang knew the tastes of Joseph Breen, that he would find the Monroe/Andes subplot much to his liking, considering it a wonderful example of a relationship that would serve as the proper role model for young people. So what better way to ridicule Breen, that Nazi-loving fascist, than to present his beloved patriarchal values in the form of an abusive relationship? Satire disguised as a morality play.

In scene after scene where Monroe and Andes are together, we see Andes acting out his will to dominate her.  Capping it off towards the end of the movie, there’s a scene which plays like a parody of a HUAC hearing — one of those hearings where many intimidated filmmakers cowered before their inquisitors, trying desperately to present themselves as obedient citizens.

“Listen to me, Blondie!” Andes bursts out.  He rages on, berating her. This is not a gentle, kind and considerate lover asking for a commitment. He’s a patriarchal, authoritarian figure demanding an oath of loyalty. “Now which way is it gonna be?” he barks. Monroe looks at him aghast, then sobbing, throws herself into his arms. We see the expression on her face — sad, terrified, humiliated, perhaps feeling she has no place else to go in a world where every guy who seems worth having buys into those same abusive ideals.

The tragedy in Clash by Night is that we see the Monroe character, a feisty woman who is more than able to defend herself, end up dominated, beaten down, and resigned to her diminished role. It’s an incisive look at a culture where people wind up in dead-end relationships where they’re lonely, unhappy and abused. It’s also an allegory of our society’s mistreatment and subjection of film artists.

I was only nine when this movie was made, and I don’t recall seeing it back then. But I do remember the HUAC hearings, the loyalty oath requirements, and the experience of growing up in an atmosphere where you simply did NOT criticize the government. Fear alone was not what really kept people in line. The victory in World War II, the post-war prosperity, the end of the Great Depression and the automobile, plus the A-bomb, all contributed to an incredible mystique amounting to a moral force that held people in thrall, so much so that the adults around me perceived the powers that be as our benevolent protector, as the ultimate patriarch. People wanted to be in good with them, the way Monroe wanted to be in good with her abusive boyfriend.

  1. For a two hundred-page sampling of Breen’s comments, see The Censorship Papers by Gerald Gardner.

Israel: DNA Tests May Provide Answers on Missing Babies

Thousands of Israeli families who have been searching in vain for answers since their babies mysteriously disappeared in the early 1950s – shortly after Israel’s creation – have been thrown a lifeline.

The mystery of the missing children has plagued Israel for decades, with evidence mounting that at least some of the babies were trafficked by hospitals and orphanages – possibly with the connivance of Israeli officials.

Other documents indicate some children may have died during experiments conducted by hospitals without the parents’ knowledge or consent.

The families hope two new initiatives based on DNA testing – including the opening of graves – will reveal whether their children were abducted, as many have long suspected, or died of natural causes, as Israeli officials maintain.

The vast majority of the children – potentially as many as 8,000 – were from Jewish families that had recently immigrated to Israel from Arab countries such as Yemen, Iraq, Tunisia and Morocco.

The Arab Jews, known in Israel as the Mizrahim, have faced well-documented racism and discrimination from Israeli authorities.

Three official inquiries have concluded that most of the babies died, even though many families lack death certificates and were not told where their babies were buried. A number of mothers have told of nurses seizing a healthy baby from their arms, only to inform them shortly afterwards that the baby had died.

Israeli law has also hampered efforts to reunite families by making it nearly impossible for adopted individuals who suspect they were abducted to find out who their biological parents were.

Now the two separate gene-testing initiatives promise to shed light on what happened to the babies.

Stolen babies?

The creation of a DNA database of Mizrahi Jews led to the first breakthroughs recently in matching adopted children to their long-lost families, strengthening suspicions that a significant proportion of babies were given away or sold.

Varda Fox, 67, discovered through a gene test that she had been taken from Yemeni parents in 1950 when she was a few months old. She was sent to an orphanage run by the Women’s International Zionist Organisation (WIZO), a semi-governmental charity, where she was put up for adoption.

Both Fox’s biological parents are now dead. As she was reunited with a surviving sister late last month, she told Israeli media: “I so wanted to meet my mother. It was a lifelong trauma. Tearing an infant from his mother and father causes an internal rupture.”

MyHeritage, the company overseeing the database, said Fox was one of three missing children it had located so far.

Fox’s experiences echo the findings of an investigation in 2016 by Al Jazeera into the missing babies.

It reported on Gil Grunbaum, who discovered by accident in the early 1990s that his parents, who were Holocaust survivors, were not his biological family. A few years later, and over opposition from Israeli officials, he tracked down his original family, Arab Jews who immigrated from Tunisia.

There have been a number of similar cases reported in the Israeli media.

Grunbaum told Al Jazeera: “Thank god for DNA – it is now our best hope of getting to the truth.”

He added: “The hole in the dyke cannot be closed. It will only grow bigger. There is now a huge public demand [in Israel] for information on these missing children.”

Demanding answers

Pressure has been mounting on Israel’s right-wing government to provide answers in what Israelis call the Yemenite Babies Affair. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu relies heavily on support from Mizrahi Jews.

Last summer thousands protested in Jerusalem for more urgent steps from the government to provide answers and reunite families. Organisers have also demanded that the state acknowledge its responsibility for the children’s abduction.

In response, the Israeli parliament recently passed a law allowing the families of missing babies to seek permission to open graves for DNA tests.

The first 17 families received approval to take DNA samples from the disinterred remains late last month.

A small minority of the families who suspect their babies were taken have been notified of the official burial site since a state inquiry, the Kedmi Commission, issued its findings in 2001, said Yael Tzadok, an Israeli journalist and member of the Forum for the Families of the Kidnapped Children, a group helping the families find answers.

“This is an important first step,” she told Al Jazeera. “Now we can check if a grave in the name of a specific child actually contains that child’s remains. We can test whether the state has been telling the truth in these limited number of cases.”

Experts, however, have warned that the DNA tests on the remains may prove inconclusive. Given the long delay, the DNA samples may not be viable.

Tzadok noted in the case of a mass children’s grave in Jerusalem, containing 400 bodies, new corpses were interred above the children’s graves, effectively denying the families any hope of identifying the remains.

She added that some of the children’s burial sites were already known to be bogus. Some 20 years ago, as part of the Kedmi inquiry’s investigation, a handful of graves were opened. There proved to be no correlation between the missing children and the remains found in the graves.

Grunbaum observed: “Even if all the graves we know about are opened and if all the families find their children inside – which is unlikely – that will only be a small fraction of the total. Lots of families will still be no closer to finding answers.”

Baby trade

Some 50,000 Yemeni Jews were airlifted to Israel in the state’s first 18 months alone. They and new Jewish immigrants from Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia and the Balkans were housed in temporary absorption camps for long periods.

Officials have argued that in this chaotic period, with its low standards of hygiene, many babies died of disease. The problem was compounded by medical services that were overwhelmed and failed to keep proper records.

The case of Fox, who was reunited last month with her sister, Ofra Mazor, however, bolsters claims that a significant number of babies were abducted.

According to Mazor, their mother had often spoken of how she was told by the hospital where she gave birth that her baby had died.

A year ago, under public pressure, the government released thousands of documents relating to the three state inquiries that had been scheduled to remain under lock for another 50 years.

The files included testimonies from officials and medical staff indicating a trade in babies had taken place, with some given away or sold to childless European Jews in Israel and abroad.

Last October 83-year-old Shulamit Mallik, who was a child-care worker in an absorption camp in the 1950s, came forward to corroborate those accounts. She told a public meeting that delegations of overseas women visited, and shortly afterwards babies disappeared.

As well as an apparent trade in Mizrahi children, evidence has emerged that hospitals took some of the missing children for medical experiments.

According to documents unclassified last year, George Mendel, head of the Rosh Haayin hospital’s children department, testified to the Kedmi inquiry that he and colleagues performed experiments to determine if Yemeni children had “black blood” – an apparent reference to whether they were racially inferior.

A parliamentary committee found documents indicating some of the studies were paid for by the US National Institutes of Health. Mendel told the inquiry he had heard rumours that documents relating to the experiments were destroyed several years later.

‘Great crime’

The committee also uncovered a letter written in 1950 by a female physician by the name of Rothenberg to a senior official at the Rosh Haayin hospital warning that her colleagues were “murderers” of the children.

Photographs produced by the committee showed Yemenite children, apparently used in the study, with their internal organs marked on their skin.

The parliamentary committee’s chair, Nurit Koren, heavily criticised the Kedmi inquiry for not referring to the experiments in its conclusions. “It is increasingly apparent that the bodies of the children were used for research. … There was a great crime here that was never reported.”

Tzadok said racism was rampant against the Mizrahim among the European Jews who led the government at the time, including Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion. Quotes show him calling the Mizrahim “primitive” and “without a trace of civilisation”.

“The racism came from the very top, making it legitimate in the wider society,” she said. “The general view of the time was that we are taking babies from bad parents to give them to much better parents.”

Tzadok added that the government’s reluctance to come clean in the face of mounting evidence was out of concern for Israel’s “international image”. She said: “Just a few years after the Holocaust, the state that was supposed to offer Jews sanctuary was stealing babies on a racist basis.”

Grunbaum said he suspected economic considerations were behind the government’s reluctance both to be more transparent and to issue an apology.

“They are worried that there will be a flood of compensation claims that could reach billions of dollars if the truth comes out,” he said.

• First published in Al Jazeera

• See related articles here and here