Sunday, May 3, 2015

Police fire stun grenades as Tel Aviv protest by Ethiopian Israelis turns violent

from Ha'aretz
Home News Israel

Police take harsh action against protesters hurling rocks and bottles; 30 people injured; earlier, thousands blocked roads in rally against police violence and racism.
By Shirly Seidler | May 3, 2015 | 11:02 PM

Clashes erupted in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Saturday as thousands of people gathered to protest police brutality toward Israeli Jews of Ethiopian descent.
23 police officers and seven protesters sustained light injuries. Police made 15 arrests.

Police fired stun grenades and tear gas while some protesters tried to break into the Tel Aviv City Hall, located at the square. Other protesters hurled rocks, planks and plastic and glass bottles at police.

The protest began near the Kaplan Interchange, where protesters blocked major arteries and junctions, including the Ayalon South freeway and Hashalom Interchange, as well as surrounding streets. Protesters also marched along Derech Begin towards the train station but were blocked by police.

Later on, the protest moved to Rabin Square as police gradually opened the blocked roads.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for calm on Sunday evening, saying that all complaints must be investigated "but there is no place for such violence and lawlessness."

Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino said on Sunday evening that the police will bring to justice anyone who hurt civilians and policemen, adding that the rally "was not a legitimate protest in a democratic state" and blaming a handful of agitators for harming the Israeli Ethiopians' struggle. He added that "most of the claims made by Ethiopian Israelis are not police-related at all. There is a deeper problem here of their assimilation. I do take responsibility and I think we have a problem with some of the cases mentioned, and we will handle it."

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitz said on Sunday that "some of the complaints against the police were justified. There were events that need to be examined, and the police also has to check itself. All government and municipal offices need to provide a comprehensive solution."

On Monday, Netanyahu will host a meeting attended by Ethiopian Israeli community leaders as well as Demas Fekadeh, the soldier who was filmed being beaten by police officers. The meeting will also include representatives from the Public Security Ministry, the Welfare Ministry, the Absorption Ministry, the Interior Ministry, municipal offices and police command.

'We're not Baltimore'

Speaking ahead of the demonstration, organizers rejected comparisons with recent events in Baltimore but said the protests will continue until their messages sink in and the government takes action to foster equality. “The fact that we’re black doesn’t mean that we’re Baltimore,” one of the organizers, Inbal Bogale, told Haaretz. “In Jerusalem we didn’t ‘do a Baltimore’ as people are saying, that’s not what it was about,” she said, referring to protests in the capital on Thursday night that turned violent. “The police documented every moment of the demonstration and I want to see the documentation, whether we really started the violence as the police claim. We marched in the streets and they fired stun grenades at us.”

Bogale said Sunday’s protest was expected to be loud but nonviolent. “We cannot use violence when we’re demonstrating against it.” Another organizer, who did not want his name used, said that over the weekend a disagreement arose among the organizers after several human-rights organizations expressed an interest in joining the protest. He said there was a fear of diluting the message and losing focus on the main objectives of the protest.

Around 20 young members of Israel’s Ethiopian community initiated the protests, but refused to take the credit and saying that they don’t want to be labeled as leaders. “There are no politicians here and no distinguished members of the community, as they like to say,” said Misganaw Fanta, one of the organizers. “We’re part of a community that has experienced and is experiencing these things, that’s hurting and wants to cry out, to go out to the streets together and to protest against the way we are treated."

“There’s no single leader behind the demonstration, it’s an entire community that is coming out to demonstrate,” added Bogale. She and Fanta say the trigger for the protest was the video that was made public last week, showing police officers beating an Ethiopian-Israeli man, a young man serving in the Israel Defense Forces and in uniform, but it was preceded by years of frustration. “It’s a pressure cooker that exploded. There are hundreds of young Ethiopians the police open case files against for no reason, and that ruins their lives. They’re good guys who want to get ahead, to study, to contribute to the state, but they can’t be combat soldiers, they don’t study, they’re called criminals,” explained Fanta.

Bogale said the promise by national police commissioner Yohanan Danino to reexamine such case files exposes the community’s lack of trust in the police. “From our perspective, the video with the soldier was the last straw” and Danino’s statement after Thursday’s demonstration in Jerusalem “shows that he has no confidence in his officers,” Bogale said, adding that the measure was insufficient.

Fanta said that removing the police officer who beat up the soldier in the video would not satisfy the community. “You have to recognize that they committed a crime and should be punished, not only dismissed.”

Some of the organizers have known each other for a long time and tried to help the family of Yosef Salamseh in their quest for answers surrounding his death. Officers used a stun gun on Salamseh while arresting him on suspicion of breaking and entering. He committed suicide a few months later. “We saw what happened to the Salamseh family, they went to half the country and nobody gave them answers. We insist that the family receive answers, we’re going out to battle so that cases like Yosef’s are not repeated.”

“In general I have nothing against policemen, but there’s the handful that has to be taken care of, and that’s our goal,” explained Fanta, and Bogale added that the goal is “to reach a situation where they won’t discriminate based on skin color, where racism doesn’t become routine. The policemen have to undergo training so that they won’t judge a person by his color.”

A large majority of those attending the demonstration last week in Jerusalem were young people, many of whom were born in Israel but continue to suffer from discrimination. “As opposed to Baltimore,” said Fanta, “we’re focusing on the goal of bringing equality and justice, and preventing them from embittering the youth. The youth are our future and when the police open files for no reason, in effect the government pushes them into crime, where they’ll find their place.”

A wider struggle

In addition to the struggle against police violence, the organizers want to air a variety of issues that contribute to the community’s absorption and integration difficulties, such as the poverty-stricken neighborhoods, for example.

“We don’t want favors, we want to be like everyone else.” A few hours before the demonstration, and after they had received the appropriate permits, they make sure to explain that the protests will not end until the goal is achieved. “We’re peace-loving. We’re part of this nation, Jews who want justice, to take to the streets and cry out for change. We have enough enemies outside the country and don’t need enemies from within, but the handful who are against us must be held responsible. We’re calling on everyone to behave with restraint and without violence, because that’s not the way. Violence will not necessarily achieve better results. We’re disappointed by the results of the demonstration on Wednesday, apparently it still hasn’t penetrated and therefore we’ll continue to demonstrate.”

Despite the call to avoid violence, Meni Yasu, another organizer, said he’s afraid of violence, especially because the police don’t exercise restraint either. “We’re trying to achieve important goals, and the demonstration could spin out of control. The young people, the new generation that is leading the protest, has a bellyful about all these years and wants to let off steam, the police are not known for restraint and things could get out of control.”

Therefore, said Yasu, the government should come out with a declaration as to what they will do in order to help, “and not silence us with another investigative committee, because we know how that will end.” He said that the local authorities must be the first to act. “We see in certain cities that there’s a wide-scale concentration of racism, and if the local councils address the problem in depth, in the areas of education and employment, it will be easier and simpler to address it on the national level.”

No Arab Bolivars: As Region Implodes, Arab Socialism Fizzles out

Apr 29 2015 / 7:43 am

By Ramzy Baroud
A student group recently asked me to address socialism in the Arab world. This with the assumption that there is indeed such a movement capable of overhauling inherently incompetent and utterly corrupt regimes across the region. But today such a group, or configuration of socialist groups, exists only in name.
I recall a talk I delivered in London soon after Hamas was placed under siege in Gaza in 2007. “Hamas is the largest and most effective socialist movement in Palestine,” I said to the surprise of some and the agreeing nods of others. I was not referring to Hamas’s adherence to Marxist theory but rather to the fact that it was the only operating grassroots political movement that had in some ways succeeded in lessening the gap between various social and economic classes that were all united by a radical political agenda.
Moreover, it was a movement largely made of Palestine’s fellahin (peasants) and workers who were mostly centred in refugee camps. If one is to compare them to the detached, elitist, largely urban-based “socialist” movements in Palestine, the mass of Islamists in the occupied territories is as socialist as a movement can be – under the circumstances.
But what do I tell the student group, made of young, enthusiastic socialists who are eager to see the rise of the proletariat?
A starting point would be that there is a difference between western socialism, and “Arab socialism,” which is a term coined by Arab nationalists in the early 1950s. A merger between nationalist and socialist movements began to take hold, ultimately leading to the formation of the Baath parties of Syria and Iraq. The idea was originally framed by Salah al-Din al-Bitar and Michel Aflaq, founders of the Baath Party.
Socialism in its western forms seemed unappealing to many Arab nationalists. Not only was it intellectually removed from the cultural and socioeconomic contexts of Arab peoples, but it was also politically unpromising if not altogether chauvinistic. Many western socialists romanticised the creation and meaning of Israel, a colonial implant that has united colonial and neocolonial forces against Arab aspirations for many decades.
But Arab nationalism also failed, for it neither offered a compelling alternative, nor had it practically championed a serious paradigm shift. Aside from some land reforms in Egypt after the 1952 anti-King revolt – among other gestures – Arab socialism could neither break free from the confines of good-sounding ideals nor from outside influences that vied to control, influence or crush these movements.
Later, that failure became even more pronounced as the Soviet Union’s influence began to wane in the late 1980s, until its complete collapse in the early 90s. Arab socialists, whether they were governments who adopted that slogan, or organisations that revolved around Soviet agendas, were too dependent on that relationship. With the absence of the Soviets from the scene, they had little chance of surviving the rising dominance of the United States.
However, that failure was not just the outcome of the socialist bloc’s crumbling geopolitical regional models, but also due to the fact that Middle Eastern countries – under the influence or because of pressure from western hegemons – were experiencing a rethink. That was the time of the rise of the Islamic alternative. It was partly a genuine attempt at galvanizing the region’s own intellectual resources, and partly steered by funds coming from rich Arab Gulf countries to regulate the rise of the Islamic tide.
That was the time when the new slogan: “Islam is the Solution” became quite dominant and pierced through the collective psyche of various Arab Muslim intellectual groups throughout the Middle East and beyond, because it seemed to be an attempt at tapping into the region’s own historical and cultural references.
The general argument was: both US-western and Soviet models have failed or are failing along with their client regimes, and there is an urgent need for an alternative.
Arab socialism would have survived, had it indeed been predicated on strong social platforms, propelled by wide-popular support and grassroots movements. That, however, was not the case.
Generally speaking, there was a relatively strong intellectual component of the left in the Arab world. But the intellectual left hardly ever managed to cross the divide between the world of theories and ideas – which was available to the educated classes – into the work place or with the peasants and the average man and woman on the street. Without mobilising the workers, peasants, and oppressed masses, the Arab left had little to offer except for rhetoric that was largely devoid of practical experience.
Of course, there were exceptions in every Arab country. Palestine’s early socialist movements had a strong presence in the refugee camps. They were pioneers in all forms of popular resistance, a situation that can be explained around the uniqueness of the Palestinian situation, as opposed to reflecting a larger trend throughout the entire region.
Another important thing to note is that oppression tends to unite oppressed groups, no matter how seemingly insurmountable their ideological differences may be. In fact, because of that shared oppression between political Islam and the radical left, there was a degree of affinity between activists from both groups as they shared prison cells, were tortured and humiliated together.
The turning point, however, could arguably be the early 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed. That freed much political space while oil money continued to pour in. Many Islamic universities opened up all over the world, and tens of thousands of students from across the Middle East received higher education degrees in various fields, from Islamic Sharia to engineering.
Look at Hamas in Gaza. Many of their leaders and members are educated in fields such as engineering and medicine. And that has become very common among all Islamic groups’ supporters in Palestine, Egypt, Morocco and so forth. So the hegemony over education and over the articulation of political discourses was no longer in the hands of the political or intellectual elites. On the other hand, a political agenda that was predicated on Islamic ideals was born.
With time, socialists were faced with stark choices: either live on the margins of society – imagine the stereotypical maverick communist intellectual sitting in a coffee shop in Cairo theorising about everything – or join NGOs and official or semi-official institutions in order to remain financially afloat or relevant. Those who opted for the latter needed to compromise to the extent that some of them are now mouthpieces for the very regimes they once fought.
As a result, the thrust of the socialists’ political power as a group has diminished greatly throughout the years. Being more institutionalised, they became further removed from the masses in whose name they continued to speak. In Egypt, one can hardly think of a single powerful leftist organisation that operates there. There are “leftists” but they hardly register as movers and shakers of the current political landscape.
Wishful thinking alone will hardly revive the socialist tide in the Arab world. There are few signs that the decline will be soon reversed, or that a homegrown interpretation of socialism – think of the considerably successful Bolivarian movement of Latin America – will mould together nationalistic priorities and socialist ideals into a workable mix.
But of course, the Middle East is experiencing its greatest political upheaval and socialist influx in a hundred years. New variables are added to the multifarious equation on a regular basis. While the present remains grim, the future seems pregnant with possibilities.
- Ramzy Baroud – – is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of He is currently completing his PhD studies at the University of Exeter. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).

40 Years After End of Vietnam War, Let's Not Forget

Merle Ratner, Azadeh Shahshahani
May 29, 2015

The war continues in those still suffering from its legacy of unexploded ordnance and Agent Orange.

Forty years ago, on April 30, 1975, the U.S. war against Vietnam finally ended with a victory for the national liberation forces. After decades of struggle against French and U.S. intervention, Vietnam was finally independent and at peace.

Millions of Americans took part in anti-war activities during the 1960s and early ‘70s. Together with the civil rights movements, this activism changed the body politic in this country. It made it harder for U.S. administrations to wage full-on land wars until the Persian Gulf wars. Today as the U.S. wages simultaneous land and drone wars in several countries, the lessons of the Vietnam War are under attack as never before.

The U.S. Department of Defense has a website commemorating the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Vietnam War. Dedicated to whitewashing history, the website's goals are, “to highlight the advances in technology, science, and medicine related to military research conducted during the Vietnam War.” One wonders whether these advances include the development and use of napalm, Agent Orange and other weapons that killed millions of Vietnamese people along with U.S. veterans. Veterans For Peace, and its many members who fought in Vietnam, is fighting against this revisionist history though a campaign called Vietnam Full Disclosure.

The U.S. government clearly has an interest in obliterating the lessons of the war as it slogs on with brutal interventions in the Middle East and attempts at intervention in Latin America. American drones, white phosphorus, depleted uranium, and other weapons of destruction are built upon the “advances” in technology lauded by the DoD’s 50th anniversary website.

The DoD and others are working hard to obscure the history of the Vietnam War because they seek to blunt criticism of unpopular U.S. interventions and to give the Pentagon a freer hand in conducting future wars. They seek to spend more of our tax dollars on military hardware and weaponry for use in their wars. What are some of the myths that the right is trying to spread about the Vietnam War?

A major general in the U.S. Air Force who served in Vietnam told an anti-war veteran recently that the U.S. could have won if it had committed enough resources to achieving victory. During the war, General Curtis LeMay suggested that the U.S. could bomb Vietnam “back into the stone ages.” While the U.S. did not use the atomic bomb due to international pressure, it did everything short of this, deploying more air and ground munitions than were used in all of World War II.

Despite overwhelming U.S. military superiority, the Vietnamese liberation forces won because they had the support of the people. Use of more U.S. firepower and troops might have prolonged the war and the killing, but it would not have changed the outcome. A people who are organized and dedicated to winning their independence cannot be truly defeated—a lesson the U.S. government has yet to learn in conducting its international affairs.

Another shibboleth of the right is that the U.S. conducted an “honorable” war in Vietnam with only sporadic human rights violations such as the massacre at My Lai. The Winter Soldier Investigation, conducted by Vietnam Veterans Against the War in 1971, painfully documented the massive scale of the massacres, torture of civilians and other war crimes perpetrated against the Vietnamese people.

Testifying before Congress on April 22, 1971, a young John Kerry, then representing VVAW, spoke of, “war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.” He went on to describe the testimony of his fellow veterans, who, “personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.”

Nick Turse’s well-documented book describing U.S. atrocities in Vietnam, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam is a more recent recounting of the war crimes Kerry testified about. The book has unsurprisingly been attacked by conservative pundits.

Connected to the whitewashing of U.S. war crimes is a denial of how U.S. racism fueled the war in Vietnam. General William Westmoreland, the four-star general who was in command of all U.S. military operations from 1964 to 1968, famously said, “The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient."

Vietnamese people were referred to by the racist expletive “gooks” and outright murder of civilians was justified by the “mere gook rule” which held that the death of any Vietnamese person, including women and children, was justified. Today, bigotry directed at Arabs and Muslims in countries the U.S. has attacked and occupied and at home eerily echoes such racism as does the police murders of black men in cities across the U.S.

Perhaps the most tired of all the myths the right is trying to perpetuate is that anti-war activists’ actions dishonor U.S. soldiers. This goes hand in hand with the myth that U.S. soldiers returning from Vietnam were routinely spat upon by anti-war activists. Soldiers involved in illegal and immoral wars benefit greatly from anti-war movements (which they often lead upon their return). Ending U.S. wars of intervention saves human lives abroad as well as the lives of our soldiers.

The soldiers who come back from U.S. wars are not dishonored by anti-war movements, but by the callous disregard for their welfare shown by the U.S. government which refuses to provide adequate treatment, rehabilitation and jobs. The impact of the violence of unjust wars echoes long after the wars are over and beyond the ranks of the soldiers and their families. Seymour Hersh, the reporter who documented the My Lai massacre, told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now that when he spoke to a mother whose son had been involved in the massacre, she told him, “I gave them a good boy, and they sent me back a murderer."

The final lesson that is being undermined by the revisionists is their contention that the war is long over and is ancient history. In fact, wars are not over until those harmed by them receive justice and compensation. The Vietnam War killed four million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans. But the war continues in those still suffering from its legacy of unexploded ordnance and Agent Orange, a dioxin-laden chemical weapon.

Agent Orange causes cancers and other diseases as well as horrific birth defects in the children and grandchildren of those exposed. The U.S. government has done precious little to provide redress to the Vietnamese victims or to Vietnamese-Americans who were exposed. While U.S. veterans fought for and won some compensation from the Veterans Administration, the children of U.S. veterans who suffer with disabilities due to birth defects related to exposure to Agent Orange receive no aid at all. To address this, Representative Barbara Lee is introducing the Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2015 to provide medical, rehabilitative and human services to several generations of Vietnamese and Americans suffering with diseases and disabilities. The Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign is working to build public support for U.S. aid to the victims to heal the wounds of war.

Progressives also espouse myths about the war. One that some among us perpetuate is the portrayal of the anti-war movement as a mainly white student movement and ignorance of the leading role of black and other movements of color. While students did play an important role, the role of returning anti-war veterans, the Vietnamese-American anti-war movemen, and movements of color was crucial.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech in 1967, Beyond Vietnam, helped turned the tide of public opinion in the U.S. against the war. Even before Dr. King, the Southern Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) came out against the war in 1965 as did Malcolm X. Muhammed Ali lost his heavyweight title and was convicted for refusing to fight in Vietnam. While there was media coverage of the National Guard shooting of unarmed white anti-war protesters at Kent State, scant attention was paid to the killings of black anti-war students at Jackson State. Vietnamese-Americans, particularly the Union of Vietnamese in the U.S., played a crucial role in analyzing the events in Vietnam even as they were often sidelined in some rallies for fear they would be identified with the “enemy.” The national veteran’s anti-war movement, led by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, brought formidable credibility and a working-class base to the anti-war movement. Seeing and giving voice to those who truly made up the anti-war movement is crucial if we are to build a strong and successful diverse anti-war movement today.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once called the United States, "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world." He noted that "a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of peace and independence in Vietnam, it is important that we bring the unadulterated and true lessons of the war forward as we build the movement to end wars of aggression and to invest our resources in projects of social uplift.

Merle Ratner is the co-coordinator of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign, a project of Veterans For Peace.

Azadeh Shahshahani is a human rights attorney based in Atlanta and President of the National Lawyers Guild.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Don't misinterpret the showing of the "Arab List" in Israel's election

I've recently seen some facebook posts and gotten email talking about the "big breakthrough" and supposedly exciting new development of the "Arab List" coming in as the 3rd largest party in the Knesset. This, some pro-Palestinian activists think, could usher in a new political alignment that could advance the Palestinian cause.

However, a look at the hard reality should dispel these illusions. The fact is that this recent election shows a stronger than expected drive to the far right, and more intransigence among Israeli Jews to not only continue to deny basic human rights to Palestinians, but to go further down the road to outright theft of all remaining Palestinian land and ethnic cleansing.

Why was there an Arab List? Because in hopes of reducing the number of Palestinians elected to the Knesset the minimum per cent of the vote required to get elected was raised.

The previous Knesset had 11 Palestinian members divided into 4 different parties. In order to keep from being decimated, the Palestinian parties (including the Israeli Communist Party which also had a Jewish MK) agreed to form a single ticket to improve their chances of at least holding on to their seats in the Knesset.

The result was 13 seats for the Palestinian representatives. The fact that they came in as the 3rd largest party is meaningless. Parties in Israel are very numerous and governments are always formed by a coalition of several parties. At least 6 parties have formed the new Netanyahu government, there isn't much ideological reason to prevent them all from merging into one big party, but that's not how Israeli politics work.

The 4 Palestinian parties didn't dissolve their identity into one big slate--they ran on one ticket for practical purposes. Their ideological differences remain (Communist...whatever that means in today's world), religious (two of the parties) and nationalist (Balad).

Another fact is important to note. No zionist party (and they are ALL zionist including Tzipi Livni's and Labor...Meretz, with 4 seats, is liberal/zionist) has ever and will never collaborate with Palestinians to achieve any goal, large or small. They are boycotted and isolated by all the other parties. Palestinian MKs are also often denied the right that take their seat in the Knesset and also expelled or suspended for being too vigorous in defending Palestinian rights (Haneen Zoabi of Balad has been the main target of zionist MKs).

The elections results have created a pure far rightist majority with no moderates. Two-states, even as a phony bargaining chip is out the window. None of the parties (except the Arab List, of course) campaigned on improving relations between Palestinians and Jews, be they Jewish settlers or plain old Jewish citizens who are increasingly trampling on the right of Palestinian citizens of Israel (who aren't real citizens with full rights..the trend is, in fact, to pass more laws taking away rights from non-Jewish citizens).

This is what's happening in Israel. It shouldn't be sugar coated, but exposed for what it is. Don't sew illusions about some new "progressive development" that doesn't exist.

We all should listen to what MK Haneen Zoabi, of the Balad Party, the person I consider the most outstanding leader of the Palestinian people in Israel (and maybe of all of Palestine). She is currently on a speaking tour of the US. I heard her talk to a packed auditorium at NYU last week.

What did she say about the showing of the Arab List in the last election? She said it doesn't change anything. Being in the Knesset gives her and her colleges a platform, and some publicity to fight for basic equality and democracy for all. Aside from a handful of Israeli Jews of conscience, who are not to be found in the Zionist parties, Palestinians have no allies inside the zionist state.

Zoabi put it to the audience at NYU, "it is not possible to change things from within Israel. It is up to you in the USA and around the world to pressure Israel from without." She urged the audience to support the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

You Will Be Surprised Who the Outside Agitators Really Are in Baltimore

OpEdNews Op Eds 4/28/2015 at 16:47:20

By Max Blumenthal

Reprinted from Alternet

The mayor of Baltimore was right to blame outsiders for causing trouble, but got it wrong.

On Monday, the country watched as a band of outside agitators descended on the streets of Baltimore, attacked locals with blunt force, intimidated innocent bystanders, and even threw rocks at native residents. Every day, these gun-toting rogues come from as far as New Jersey and Pennsylvania to intimidate the good people of Baltimore, forcing communities to cower under the threat of violence. The agitators are known for their menacing dark blue garb, hostile behavior and gangland-style codes of secrecy and silence. Though many of these ruffians have attempted to conceal their identities from their victims, they can be easily spotted by the badges that signify membership in the widely feared Baltimore Police Department.

According to data posted on the city of Baltimore's OpenBaltimore website in 2012, over 70 percent of Baltimore Police Department officers live outside city limits, with at least 10 percent living over state lines, in places as far away as New Jersey and Pennsylvania. By contrast, almost all of those arrested in ongoing protests sparked by the police killing of the unarmed Baltimorean Freddie Gray reside firmly within the city. These facts were apparently lost on Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake when she blamed "outside forces" for all the looting of local businesses and attacks on cops. Similarly, the Baltimore Police Department claimed that "outside agitators continue to be the instigators behind acts of violence and destruction," even as it conceded in the same statement that "the vast majority of arrests reflect local residency." No evidence of outside agitation was produced by the mayor or the police, and none was demanded by much of the media covering the ongoing troubles.

This week's scenes of mostly white cops battling the African-American youth of Baltimore captured a legacy of deeply entrenched racism that stretches back to Maryland's Antebellum days. Though Maryland ended the slave trade in 1783, over 40,000 slaves remained in bondage in its Eastern Shore, near the border of Virginia, until Emancipation Day.

When the Sixth Massachusetts Militia marched through Baltimore on April 19, 1861 on its way to protect Washington DC from advancing Confederate forces, the Union troops were attacked in the center of town with rocks, bricks and even pistols by local Southern sympathizers. Maryland's last recorded lynching of a black man occurred in the town of Princess Anne on the Eastern Shore in 1933, when a thousand whites dragged assault suspect George Armwood from his jail cell, tortured him, hacked his ear off and hung him from a tree. It was the 33rd documented lynching in the state since 1882.

Gerald Horne, a professor of history and African American Studies at the University of Houston, sees the legacy of slavery as an underlying factor in the policing of majority black cities like Baltimore. "The origins of the urban police department lies precisely in slavery," Horne remarked in a recent interview with The Real News founder Paul Jay. "That is to say, slave patrols that were designated to interrogate, to investigate Africans who were out and about without any kind of investigation. You fast forward to 2015 and you still see more than remnants of that particular system."

The Gilmore Homes area where Freddie Gray was violently apprehended and later killed by Baltimore police officers is one of the city's most heavily policed areas. Eddie Conway, a local civil rights activist who served 43 years in prison after a dubious conviction for killing two cops, explained in an interview with Democracy Now! that Gilmore Homes is "a 'broken windows' police area in which people and residents in that area are arrested for sitting on their own steps. They are loitering in their own community, on their own steps, and they're harassed constantly."

"[Cops] won't let us go nowhere," one young Gilmore Homes resident complained to The Real News, "They'll tell us, 'Move, we gotta go here, you gotta move off there.' We ain't doing nothing!"

When Paul Jay relocated The Real News operations to Baltimore in 2013 and initiated a series of roundtable discussions with local cops, he learned about the hostile racial attitudes white officers were importing into the city. "I've talked to some black cops in Baltimore and one of them told me that in the locker room," Jay said, "and when they're getting ready to go on their shift, some of the white cops joke...'Time to go back to work in the zoo.'"

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While the Baltimore Police Department recruits its manpower outside city limits, its leadership is regularly junketed to training tours in Israel, the occupying power whose hyper-militarized settlers act as some of the Middle East's most aggressive outside agitators. In September 2009, members of the Baltimore PD "toured [Israel] and met with their Israeli counterparts to exchange information relating to best practices and recent advancements in security and counterterrorism," according to the trip's sponsor, Project Interchange. A separate Israel tour organized by the neoconservative Jewish Institute for National Security saw members of the Baltimore PD "begin the process of sharing 'lessons learned' in Israel with their law enforcement colleagues in the United States."

Back in Maryland, the rate of citizens killed by police officers is skyrocketing. A report by the ACLU has found that 109 people died after encounters with Maryland police between 2010 and 2014, that almost 70 percent of those who died were black, and that over 40 percent of them were unarmed. In Baltimore alone, the city was forced to pay $5.7 million in lawsuits by suspects who accused police officers of beating them brutally and without cause.

Even after the National Guard vacates the streets of Baltimore and the state of emergency is lifted, vast swaths of the city will remain under occupation. Rather than return to a deadly status quo, the city could start answering the crisis by enacting residential requirements that force police officers to live in the neighborhoods they patrol.

Outside agitators have caused enough trouble in Baltimore. It's time to send them back where they came from.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Truth-teller Cornel West stands up to Israel lobby bullies

from electric intifada
Submitted by Ali Abunimah on Fri, 04/24/2015 - 12:26

Cornel West (Bradley Siefert/Flickr)

Cornel West has hit back at criticism from anti-Palestinian organizations and Obama supporters who have tried to smear and silence him – including by citing a fabricated quote.

This comes as the Jewish studies center at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), has rejected calls to cancel a high-profile lecture by West because of his support for Palestinian rights.

“The escalating deaths and sufferings in Black and poor America and the marvelous new militancy in our Ferguson moment should compel us to focus on what really matters,” West, a celebrated public intellectual and professor emeritus of African American studies at Princeton University, wrote in a message on his Facebook page: “The life and death issues of police murders, poverty, mass incarceration, drones, TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] (unjust trade policies), vast surveillance, decrepit schools, unemployment, Wall Street power, Israeli occupation of Palestinians, Dalit resistance in India and ecological catastrophe.”

“Character assassination is the refuge of those who hide and conceal these issues in order to rationalize their own allegiance to the status quo,” West continued in an apparent, though indirect, reference to recent attacks that have targeted him personally.

These have included, most prominently, an essay in the conservative magazine The New Republic, by Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson, accusing West of being too harsh in his criticism of the administration of President Barack Obama.

Rather than refuting West’s often searing critiques of Obama’s policies, Dyson pathologizes West in personal terms for “narcissism” and “self-destructive hate.”

Targeted by Israel lobby

It is notable that West, unlike the overwhelming majority of public figures in the United States, has been forthright in criticizing Obama’s support for Israel’s massacre in Gaza, and recently urged Princeton University to divest from companies complicit in Israeli human rights crimes.

“[Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu is a war criminal not because he’s Jewish but because he has chosen to promote occupation and human annihilation,” West said at a mass rally during the Israeli attack on Gaza, in Washington, DC, last August.

“Barack Obama is a war criminal, not because he’s Black or half African and white but because his drones have killed 233 innocent children and because he facilitates the killing of innocent Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank,” West added.

It is precisely because of his support for the Palestinian struggle that West has also become a target of Israel lobby groups.

Pressure to cancel UCLA lecture

UCLA’s Center for Jewish Studies has rejected pressure to disinvite West from giving a lecture on the legacy of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel on 3 May.

“It is with dismay that we have been confronted by the outrageous pronouncements of Cornel West, a keynote speaker at the Heschel Conference,” Hillel at UCLA said in a statement that called West’s views on Israel “an affront to Rabbi Heschel’s pursuit of truth.”

Hillel, a national network of campus centers for Jewish students, staunchly opposes the Palestinian-led movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel and works to silence critics of Israeli policies in Palestine.

“No matter how eloquent your speech and how crafty your words, the audience you will face at UCLA will not be able to take them too seriously in light of your recent decision to become a leading propagandist for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement,” Judea Pearl, a UCLA professor and president of the pro-Israel Daniel Pearl Foundation, wrote in an open letter to West in Jewish Journal.

But Todd Samuel Presner, director of the Center for Jewish Studies, rejected the attacks and affirmed that the invitation to West would not be withdrawn.

In an article in Jewish Journal, Presner took issue with some of West’s views and affirmed that neither he nor his center supports the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

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“At the same time, the center does not apply a political litmus test to potential speakers, faculty, students or members of the general public,” Presner wrote. “At a university committed to academic freedom, we do not insist that our speaker’s views be aligned with our own.”

Presner also noted West’s long engagement with the work of Heschel, a leading twentieth century American Jewish philosopher.

Both Presner and West have recently canceled appearances at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign over its firing of Steven Salaita.

Fabricated quote

Presner also points out an apparently fabricated quote that has been used to attack West.

“The Israeli occupation of my Palestinian brothers and sisters is a crime against humanity,” The Times of Trenton claimed West said at a Princeton panel where he endorsed divestment, “They are killing hundreds daily – but where are the voices?”

“To the best of my knowledge, the claim appears to be invented by Kevin Cheng, a reporter who covered West’s participation in the 8 April 2015 event,” Presner writes.

Presner points to a video of the panel at which “West speaks of his ‘moral outrage’ against what he sees to be ‘a crime against humanity,’ referencing the deaths of 500 children during the fifty-day Israel-Gaza conflict of 2014.”

“Yes, this is highly impassioned language, but the facts are not, according to many credible accounts, inaccurate,” Presner states.

The false claim that West accused Israel of killing hundreds daily – and Dyson’s hit piece – were both cited in another Jewish Journal article denouncing UCLA’s invitation to the professor.

Cornel West, Princeton Professors Support Divestment

At about 2:00 into the video of the Princeton panel, West says: “The Israeli occupation, the vicious Israeli occupation of my Palestinian brothers and sisters, for me, is a crime against humanity. Killing two thousand folk within fifty days, 500 babies. Something is not just wrong, but where are the voices?”

The panel, organized by Princeton Divests, also featured Princeton professors Robert Tignor, Molly Greene and Max Weiss, alumnus and anti-apartheid campaigner Larry Hamm and Goliath author Max Blumenthal.

“Neither saint nor prophet”

“I am neither a saint nor prophet, but I am a Jesus-loving free Black man in a great tradition who intends to be faithful unto death in telling the truth and bearing witness to justice,” West says in his Facebook posting.

“I am not beholden to any administration, political party, TV channel or financial sponsor because loving suffering and struggling peoples is my point of reference. Deep integrity must trump cheap popularity. Nothing will stop or distract my work and witness, even as I learn from others and try not to hurt others.”