Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The History of "Israel-Firster"

For those of you unaware, there's been a recent flare-up over what people should and should not say if they have criticism of the Israeli-government or US policy towards Israel. I won't go into all the details; Glenn Greenwald covers it quite well here and here, and you can read Jeffrey Goldberg's accusations here, here, and here. One of the accusations Goldberg keeps making is that the term Israel-firster, a term that some critics of Israel have used, originates from neo-Nazis. I did some research and this is what I found. I couldn't access all the full articles, so I unfortunately had to rely on the blurbs for some.


It seems Israel-firster wasn't invented by neo-Nazis. From an article by The New Leader from 1952, the oldest use of the term I could find: "I still remember the scorn with which, four years ago, the more vociferous among the "Israel-firsters" would react to the suggestion that America's pro-Israel stand might prejudice her strategic position in the Near East." Here's more information on The New Leader, which lets you know its history (the first to publish Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the US, the first to publish Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter From Birmingham Jail". 

A 1961 American Jewish Year Book article, quotes Abram Sachar, a prominent Jewish leader, denouncing "Israel Firsters whose chauvinism and arrogance find nothing relevant or viable in any area outside of Israel."

It seems to have been not uncommon, and there are several phrases such as Egypt-firsters, Britain-firster, China-firster, Europe-firster, Formosa-firsters, Earth-firsters, and yes, I even ran across one of Palestinian-firsters: " 'Palestinian Firsters' Are Wrong about Mid-East"


And to through a curve ball out there, the Central Conference on American Rabbis wondered in 1967:
"Would a Zionist be ordained by a faculty dominated by "American Judaism" firsters?"

The term was used at least intermittently until recently, even amongst Jews. A 1987 article from the Washington Post about a performance for high school students in Tel Aviv includes the line "Matt Cohen proudly proclaims himself an "Israel Firster". And a Feb 17, 1995 article from Forward (now The Jewish Daily Forward), entitled "Jewish Agency Gives Big Nod to Burg" says:

This seemingly Israeli-centered vision of the problems of the Jewish world may be a stumbling-block to Mr. Burg's acceptance on the part of American Jews, although many Diaspora Jewish leaders, wishing to remain anonymous, had whispered their support of him in conversations with the Forward. Yet Mr. Burg denies that he is an "Israel-firster."

(Note: I used ProQuest to find this issue, I couldn't find a link to it elsewhere)


It's worth pointing out that "[Country]-firsters" seems to mean different things in different contexts. Sometimes, it seems to mean that someone supports that country above others; at other times, it seems to imply that they want to focus on that country.


The phrase does show up sometimes in neo-Nazi rags, but they don't seem to have invented or popularized it, especially considering how far back the phrase goes, how often it's used by Jews themselves, and it's connection with other "[country]-firster" phrases. It seems that the extent of their connection was that they sometimes used this phrase that others used.


Saying someone is using language that comes from neo-Nazis is a pretty serious accusation, and should not be thrown around lightly. Also, keep in mind the way the accusations were used - not merely to mute criticism and discredit individuals, but to imply that critics of Israel tend to congregate with anti-Semites.


Often times these are smokescreens used to obfuscate the real issue. The goal is to throw around as many accusations as one can, whether they are true or not. At best, people will assume you are a person of integrity, and believe your accusations. At worst, you manage to cause your opponents to chase controversy after controversy, and by the time they prove one of your claims as false, you have three others that you are making.


Too many have taken these accusations as truth without realizing that the burden of proof falls upon the person making the claim. One hopes that the next time falsehoods are used in an attempt to police the discourse, we will remember the history of the people we are arguing with.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Keystone XL Pipeline Wouldn't Make Any Noticeable Impact on Jobs

Whoever tries to hold up the Keystone Pipeline as a way to create jobs in this country is lying to you. According to Cornell University's Global Labor Institute, "The project will create no more than 2,500-4,650 temporary direct construction jobs for two years, according to TransCanada’s own data supplied to the State Department." 200,000 jobs were created in December 2011 alone. So he total amount of jobs created over the projects entire lifetime would only amount to around 1/43 of the amount of jobs currently being created in the US in one month alone. And most of these are just temporary jobs, with the amount of permanent jobs created in the hundreds. By contrast, the census created over a hundred times as many temporary jobs as the Keystone Pipeline would.


So whoever is telling you that the Keystone XL Pipeline would any noticeable impact on job creation is lying to you, and it's time to tell them to stop.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Deported American Teen Returns to the US

The teenager has been reunited with her family. According to the article:
People who are indigent, mentally disturbed, ex-convicts, or those who were born in the US but can't easily prove it are usually the most susceptible to mistaken deportations, which in the most egregious cases critics liken to state-sanctioned kidnapping. One study published last year looking at cases in which deported Americans have later been able to prove they're US citizens contends that about 1 percent of those detained and deported in any given year are, in fact, Americans. That's about 20,000 people since 2003, it concludes.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Voting Isn't that Important

Whenever election season rolls around, one hears the familiar refrain that no matter who you vote for, voting is important. After the election, we hear that if you didn't vote, you can't complain about the results of the election.

People should vote, there's no question about that.  If you are fed up with the two party system, then you should at least through your support to a third-party, or an independent candidate. At the very least, if one of them gained a decent amount of support, they would shake up the system a bit.

But voting isn't that important, and there tends to be too much emphasis placed upon it. As a single person, your vote will almost certainly make no difference. Keep in mind, the candidate with the most money usually wins.

Why should people vote if voting isn't that important? Because an engaged electorate is important to a healthy democracy, even if it doesn't guarantee a healthy democracy. Think of someone that drinks a couple of cups of water a day, never exercises, and only consumes junk food. It's good that they drink water everyday. If they were told that they need to do more about their health, and their response was, "But I drink two cups of water everyday, I have a right to complain about my poor health," would anyone  be in agreement?  Likewise, if someone spends only ten minutes every four years, or even every two years voting, should they feel like they have done all that they could?

We need to do more. We need to engage and organize in our communities. We need to educate people around us about what's going on. We need to find ways to influence the system outside of the voting booth. That's the only way that real change will happen.

So vote, yes. But don't pretend that it's anything more than the bare minimum - and probably less than that - of our duty as citizens.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Principles of Political Organizing

I attended a DC statehood meeting hosted by the ACLU this past weekend.  There was a panel of DC residents and activists, and in the audience there were the group of young people, connected to Occupy, that have been staging hunger strikes to draw attention to DC's lack of representation.  At one point one of the men on the panel turned to the hunger strikers and acknowledged their efforts, but said that action is useless by itself, that it must be part of a coherent strategy or else nothing will come from it. This point may seem obvious, but it's an extremely important statement, since there are many groups out there that  believe action alone will bring about change - that if they are doing something, they are making progress.

Action does not always progress ones cause.  Successful movements always employ action as part of a strategy towards a goal.  They know who they are pressuring, how they will pressure them, and what success looks like.  If they fail to achieve success, they reevaluate their strategy, and tweak it.  Action is not done for its own sake, it is done for a specific purpose. And if a certain action fails to achieve that, it is discarded in favor of a better one.

Another point that was made was that in order to have change, there must first be a movement.  Again, this may seem obvious, but it often gets ignored.  A movement doesn't mean a small insular group of people discussing things and sometimes engaging in action; a movement involves engaging the masses, explaining to them what's wrong and telling them how they can get involved. A large part is education, knocking on doors, talking to people, and finding common ground.  If you harbor a certain amount of contempt for the common person, or think that they are inferior to you, you will never succeed. Change requires empathy.

So, strategy, empathy, outreach, education, evaluation of progress, and replacing tactics that fail with ones that succeed.  The principles aren't complicated, but how many movements actually implement them?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Kennan and Dulles On the Benefits of a Multipolar World

Daniel Larison directs us to these two paragraphs from Christopher Layne's review of John Lewis Gaddis'  George F. Kennan: An American Life:
Here, Kennan understood that what international-relations scholars call polarity—the number of great powers in the international system—is a crucial factor for grand strategy. He realized that in the post–World War II bipolar system of two superpowers, there were no other independent poles of power to which the United States could devolve the responsibility for containing the Soviet Union, which meant that it would have to bear the lion’s share of the burden. Nor, in fact, did most policy makers in Washington wish it to be otherwise because they preferred a subordinate Western Europe to one that was a geopolitical equal of the United States. Simply put, most of them abhorred and opposed multipolarity. This, of course, is still U.S. policy even in today’s—rapidly waning—unipolar world. 
Kennan was a rarity among U.S. policy makers and grand strategists during the last seventy years. He appreciated that multipolarity favored the United States because, in a world of several great powers, others could assume many of the strategic burdens that otherwise would weigh on the dominant power. Although Kennan was unusual in seeing the advantages of restoring multipolarity, he was not alone. John Foster Dulles, President Eisenhower’s secretary of state, also championed a united Europe that no longer would need to rely on U.S. forces for its security. As Dulles said, “We want Europe to stand on its own two feet.” He added the United States provided Western Europe with perverse incentives to avoid the necessary steps to achieve political unity. The Marshall Plan and NATO, said Dulles, “were the two things which prevented a unity in Europe which in the long run may be more valuable” than continuing subservience to the United States.
The entire review is worth a read.  I'll comment more on Gaddis' book when I get around to reading it.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

US Immigration Deported 14 Year Old Who Doesn't Speak Spanish to Colombia

But now she's stuck in a Colombian detention facility which won't release her:

"They didn't do their work," Turner said. "How do you deport a teenager and send her to Colombia without a passport, without anything?" News 8 learned that Jakadrien somehow ended up in Houston, where she was arrested by Houston police for theft. She gave Houston police a fake name. When police in Houston ran that name, it belonged to a 22-year-old illegal immigrant from Colombia, who had warrants for her arrest.
So ICE officials stepped in. News 8 has learned ICE took the girl's fingerprints, but somehow didn't confirm her identity and deported her to Colombia, where the Colombian government gave her a work card and released her.  
... 
But that was a month ago, and the Colombian government now has her in a detention facility and won't release her, despite her family's request. "I feel like she will come home," the grandmother said with tears in her eyes. "I just need help and prayer.” There are still many unanswered questions about how an African-American girl who speaks no Spanish is mistaken for a foreign national. Immigration officials are investigating and released a statement late Tuesday.


Bryan Johnson points out that right to counsel should have prevented the deportation.  But hey, if HR 3166, the government can just take away our citizenship.

When Progressives Should Register As Republican

When someone on the left voices their their problems with Obama, a familiar refrain is usually heard.  "Who else is there?  Obama might have some problems, but the Republicans are much worse." The argument goes that voters must compromise - pick the lesser evil.

I can see the reasons for this argument, and it's not without merit.  However, though I've heard the argument many times, I've yet to hear of anyone that has actually followed through with it.

For example, let's look at the current Republican presidential primaries.  There are no Democratic presidential primaries this year. Since there is a chance that on of the winners of the primary could become president of the United States, and since the stakes are so high (as we're told they are every year...), it would only make sense for Democrats to register as Republicans and vote in the primary for the best choice. Sure, none are ideal, but lesser of two evils and all that.  It won't stop anyone from voting for Obama in the national election, and if he looses, at least the best GOP candidate will be the one replacing him.

What do you lose?  The ability to vote in the Democratic primaries?  Well, keep in mind how dangerous we're told some of these candidates are.  If we follow this logically, it only makes sense to register as Republicans.  Besides, if you live in a Red State, then voting in the Democratic primaries would just be a throwaway, "protest vote."

Is this the right thing to do?  I honestly don't know, but I do know that it makes sense from the "lesser of two evils" point of view.  Surprisingly, people that advocate the "lesser of two evils" approach don't do this themselves.

There is a possibility, though, that such an approach is more about intra-party discipline than about actually making a change.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

It "Would Perpetuate a Fraud on the American Voter"

The League of Women Voters used to moderate presidential debates, but couldn't handle the corruption of the two parties:
In 1988, the League of Women Voters withdrew its sponsorship of the presidential debates after the George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis campaigns secretly agreed to a "memorandum of understanding" that would decide which candidates could participate in the debates, which individuals would be panelists (and therefore able to ask questions), and the height of the podiums. The League rejected the demands and released a statement saying that they were withdrawing support for the debates because "the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter."
It was replaced by the Commission on Presidential Debates, currently headed by a former head of the Democratic National Committee (Paul Kirk) and a former head of the Republican National Committee (Frank Fahrenkopf).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

TSA Arrests Rape Victim After She Wouldn't Let Them Touch Her Breasts

But hey, at least it made the other passengers feel safer:
Claire Hirschkind, 56, who says she is a rape victim and who has a pacemaker-type device implanted in her chest, says her constitutional rights were violated.
... 
"I told them, 'No, I'm not going to have my breasts felt,' and she said, 'Yes, you are,'" said Hirschkind.When Hirschkind refused, she says that "the police actually pushed me to the floor, (and) handcuffed me. I was crying by then. They drug me 25 yards across the floor in front of the whole security." 
... 
"I understand her side of it, and their side as well, but it is for our protection so I have no problems with it," said Gwen Washington, who lives in Killeen.
"It's unfortunate that that happened and she didn't get to fly home, but it makes me feel a little safer," said Emily Protine.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

It Was a Nice Democracy While It Lasted...

So this is what it comes down to:
"My administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens," Obama said in the signing statement. "Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a nation."
How did we get to the point where our democracy rests upon a politicians word?  "Sure, I could throw you in a jail cell forever without a trial, but don't worry, I won't."  Is this supposed to be reassuring?  I keep thinking that it's impossible for them to get too authoritarian, because at some point they know public will rise up against them.  But if people give a collective shrug when a bill like this is signed, when do we expect that there will actually be push back?  Will people only get upset once dissidents start getting rounded up?