Monthly Archives: March 2019

Presentation in Conjunction with the U.N. International Day Against Racial Discrimination, in Kitchener, Ontario

Good afternoon. 

I would like to start with some basic definitions, so we all have the same understanding.

  1. Semitic. This word has two, related definitions:
  2. Relating to or denoting a family of languages that includes Hebrew, Arabic, and, Aramaic.
  3. Relating to the peoples who speak Semitic languages, especially Hebrew and Arabic.

Based on this generally-accepted definition, we can see that it isn’t only Jews who are victimized by anti-Semitism. Hostility or prejudice against Arabs, many of whom are Muslims, is also anti-Semitism.

A few more terms:

  • Judaism:

Judaism is a monotheistic religion. Jews believe that God appointed the Jews to be his chosen people in order to set an example of holiness and ethical behaviour to the world. They believe that Moses was the prophet of the Jews.

  • Islam

Islam is also a monotheistic religioin that is the third of the Abrahamic religions. It teaches that Muhammad is the messenger of God. It is the world’s second-largest religion, with over 1.8 billion followers, or 24% of the world’s population. Adherents to Islam are most commoly knowns as Muslims. Muslims make up a mojority of the population in 50 countries. Islam teaches that God is merciful, all-powerful, unique, and has guided humanking through prophets, reveald scriptures and natural signs.

  • Zionism

Zionism started as a movement for the establishment, development and protection of a Jewish nation. It was established as a political organization in 1897 by Theodor Herzl.

I have not mentioned Christianity, and I don’t want to imply that Christians are not persecuted anywhere in the world; this is simply not true. But my focus today is on the anti-Semitism, as described above, that seems to be growing within North America, how it is growing and the way it is or should be being combatted.

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            In recent years, the term anti-Semitism has evolved slightly to denote prejudice against the Jewish people. This is only partially true, since Arabs are also Semitic. So prejudice, bigotry, and violence against Arabs, demonstrated most recently in the horrific massacre at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, where many of the victims were Arab, is anti-Semitism, and must be opposed as strongly as prejudice, bigotry and violence against Jews.

Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, envisioned a nation for the Jewish people, which eventually was established in Palestine. This action disregarded the basic human rights of the millions of mostly-Arab people already living in Palestine, so it was, by definition, anti-Semitic.

Anti-Semitism against Jews perhaps reached its peak in the years up to and including World War II, when an estimated 6,000,000 Jews were murdered by the Hitler regime. This unspeakable crime against humanity was, unfortunately, then used by Zionists to compound the crime by dispelling 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, with no recompense and no say in the decision, to establish the nation of Israel. Additionally, at least 10,000 Palestinians were slaughtered at that time. The victimization of one group, the Jews, in no way justifies the victimization of the Palestinians.

While one might say that, with persecution of the Jews a centuries-old problem, perhaps having its origins in some Christians or Christian sects blaming Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Jews needed a protected homeland. But one could also argue quite reasonably that that homeland could have been established somewhere in which the displacement of 750,000 people, and the murders of at least 10,000 more, wouldn’t have been required.

How is anti-Semitism manifested today? I have already mentioned the recent slaughter of 50 people praying in mosques in New Zealand. But white nationalism seems to be on the rise in North America, too; note the white-nationalist demonstration in Charlottesville, VA, in 2017, in which people were chanting ‘Jews will not replace us’, and which resulted in the death of one woman opposing the white nationalists. U.S. president Donald Trump, commenting on this event, said there were good people on both sides. This is hardly a ringing condemnation of the blatant anti-Semitism against Jews that was the foundation of this demonstration. One might expect better from the so-called ‘leader of the free world’.

Additionally, the U.S. government has worked with some success to block Muslims from travelling to the U.S. The regulation doesn’t say ‘Muslims’, but those prevented from such travel are from mainly Muslim countries, and this regulation keeps one of Trump’s campaign promises, that he would prevent Muslims from entering the country until the U.S. government could ‘figure out what was going on’. This is clearly, also, anti-Semitic.

In the U.S. and Canada, government officials are working to criminalize criticism of Israel. The government of Israel, with separate schools, roads, laws and regulations for Israelis and non-Israelis, is itself practicing anti-Semitism. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this year said this: “Israel is not the state of all of its citizens. According to the nation-state basic law that we passedc, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people – and of it alone.” This provides second-class status to nearly a quarter of the population of Israel. Imagine, if you will, the response in Canada and throughout the world if Canada determined that only 75% of its citizens could enjoy all the rights of citizenship. Would there not be widespread condemnation? Would other nations criticize Canada, or would they outlaw such criticism? Attempts in the U.S. and Canada to do the latter must be seen as supporting an apartheid regime, and are thus anti-Semitic, since the population being ostracized and oppressed is Semitic.

On a more anecdotal note, my wife and I have an old friend, a woman we’ve known for almost 30 years. She happens to be Jewish. She grew up in Chicago, but lived for the last 25 years or so in New York City. Following the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the rise in the number of swastikas and other anti-Jewish symbols and behaviors that she saw caused her to ask us if she could stay with us until she found a permanent place to live. She was with us for several months before moving to Columbia.

Whenever I attend a conference, I always want to come away not only with more information, but with specific things I can do to further the cause of justice. I will now list a few things each of us can do to fight racism in all its ugly forms here in Canada. My suggestions will focus on the topic of anti-Semitism, but can certainly be expanded to assist in combatting racism in whatever form we might encounter it.

  1. Talk about it. There is sometimes a tendency to avoid unpleasant topics, but this tendency has caused untold suffering throughout history. In the 1930s and 1940s, some people in Germany found it ‘unpleasant’ to recognize that their Jewish neighbors were disappearing. Today, some people find it ‘unpleasant’ to recognize that Palestinian homes in the West Bank are bulldozed to make room for new settlements that only Israelis can occupy. We must speak up.
  2. Defend. If you witness any act of racism, take immediate action. I’m not suggesting putting yourself at risk of physical harm, but often a few words from an uninvolved bystander will dispel an ugly situation, and bring it to an immediate end. Again, we must speak up.
  3. Take action. Demand the right to criticize racism in all its forms; don’t allow the government to take that from you. Let your government representatives hear from you, as you disagree with their support of any racist regime. We must make our voices heard.
  4. Look inward. Do you harbor any prejudices yourself? If someone makes a ‘raghead’ or similar insulting ethnic joke, to you smile, or do you immediately address it for what it is? Perhaps you have no prejudices, but are hesitant to speak out. I implore you once again to overcome your hesitancy, and speak.

Martin Niemöller was a prominent Lutheran pastor in Germany who was an outspoken critic of Hitler. As a result, he spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. You may not be familiar with his name, but you have probably heard his words:

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

“Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

“Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”           

            I am neither Jewish nor Arabic; I’m not Muslim. I’m a Christian of European descent, and yet I feel compelled to speak out against the blatant and growing racism against Muslim, Arabs and Jews that I see today. Like everyone here, I have an obligation to do so, regardless of how unpleasant it might be. I can’t enjoy my own privilege, knowing that, here in Canada and around the world, other people are suffering horrifically, simply because they happen to be Palestinian, or Muslim, or Jewish, or African, or something else that doesn’t fall into a privileged category. I urge you, and all of us, to act.

Thank you.

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The Circus that Never Leaves Town

The circus that is called U.S. governance continues to entertain with its bizarre acts. This week, an awestruck public witnessed yet another one, this time with the Cohen clown testifying before Congress.

Yes, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and ‘fixer’ (is that really a thing?) Michael Cohen stood before a Congressional committee and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This is the same man who, in May, will begin a prison sentence for, among other things, lying to Congress.

And what did we learn? Let’s look at just a few tidbits of information; we won’t call them facts, due to Cohen’s known record of lying to Congress.

+ Trump ordered Cohen to pay porn star and alleged former mistress (or perhaps one-night stand) Stormy Daniels, and then reimbursed him for that payment. Cohen claimed that his initial statements about that payment were not lies; he never said Trump didn’t reimburse him. He carefully said that no one from the Trump campaign reimbursed him. So there.

+ Cohen threatened people and organizations 500 times in ten years, under Trump’s direction.

+ Trump never tells people to lie, break the law, or even skirt it. He simply tells them what he expects as results. If achieving those results means his underlings must lie, or break or skirt the law, so be it. But Trump never tells them to do so.

+ When the infamous Billy Bush tape was made public, Cohen was immediately contacted by Trump aide Hope Hicks (a one-time member of his staff who, like so many others, became a victim of Trump’s employee revolving door), who told him to position Trump’s disgraceful, misogynist remarks as ‘locker room talk.’

Democrats on and off the House Oversight Committee, the hosts of this week’s spectacle, were gleeful; despite there being no actual smoking gun, there was enough innuendo for any normal person to conclude that Trump probably broke all kinds of laws, not only during his campaign for the presidency, but throughout his life as a real estate mogul.

These Democrats seem to forget that they were listening to testimony from someone who has been convicted of lying to them previously. Cohen may have been telling the truth, or he may not have been. His record in such things is not exemplary.

The Republicans, on the other hand, were filled with righteous indignation that anyone would dare to impugne the good name of St. Donald the Great. They were so outraged that they even arranged for one Matt Gaetz, a representative from Florida, to sit in the gallery, despite the fact that he isn’t a member of the House Oversight Committee. Gaetz, an ardent worshipper at the Trump altar, gained notoriety for threatening to expose Cohen’s extra-marital affairs, an accusation he made without any corroborating evidence. When asked for evidence, Gaetz replied: “As the President loves to say, ‘We’ll see.’“ One newscaster compared Gaetz presence in the gallery as akin to trials of organized crime figures, when enemies of witnesses were brought in to sit in the courtroom to intimidate the witness just by their very presence.

Today, some Republicans are referring Cohen and his testimony to the Justice Department, saying they have evidence that he committed perjury during his appearance this week. Whether or not their evidence falls into the Trump-Gaetz category of ‘we’ll see’, remains, ahem, to be seen.

Trump, meanwhile, was visiting his good friend Kim Jung-un, North Korea’s leader, to discuss nuclear disarmament. We must understand that this disarmament only applied to North Korea; Trump and most, if not all, of the U.S.’s elected officials only want the ‘bad guys’ (as they define them) to get rid of nuclear weapons, while the ‘good guys’ (again, by their twisted definition), can keep theirs. In U.S. parlance, the one nation that has ever used nuclear weapons, and on a civilian population no less, falls into the ‘good guys’ category. Go figure.

That this endeavor wasn’t successful, and that the world’s self-proclaimed best deal-maker wasn’t able to make any progress, isn’t too surprising. Additionally, while in Vietnam, Trump limited press access, because those pesky reporters wanted to ask about Cohen’s testimony. Why waste the president’s time with such trivia? Who cares about his relationships with porn stars, or his threats against people and companies? How dare that Cohen upstart attempt to upstage him? No wonder he fell into disfavor. The former ‘fixer’ better not expect a presidential pardon now!

This writer, watching such happenings from the relative safety of the U.S.’s neighbor to the north, is continually astounded. Republicans in Congress rally around their incompetent, petulant president, despite his erratic behavior and the fact they he can barely string two words together coherently. They attempt to explain away his behaviors or, worse yet, justify them.

On the other side of the aisle, the reality-show buffoon is universally despised, as the Democrats react in horror to each of his shocking behaviors, conveniently forgetting their own, and those of their past leaders. Democratic stars in the polluted firmament slowly announce to a world that hardly wants to hear the news, that they have decided to seek the party’s nomination for president, thus offering a viable alternative to the Great Orange one. Sadly, they seem to be stuck in the rut of believing that the voters will choose anyone other the current incumbent, as they hesitate to make any bold proposals, not wanting to alienate any voting bloc, and content not to please any, either. There are some exceptions, but most of them try to ride in the middle of the road, some being PEP (Progressive Except for Palestine), but mainly presenting themselves as the anti-Trump candidate.

Can neither member of either party learn nothing? Must they put party over principle? Why is this writer even asking? Of course they must! That is how they get re-elected, and for them, that is the highest goal. Statesmanship, integrity, the good of the people and other such lofty principles don’t have powerful lobby groups, and so such things are beneath notice.

The 2020 election is still a long way off; Trump may still be president by then, but his vice-president, Michael Pence, could assume that office if The Donald is found guilty of criminal activity and is removed from office. Pence, a conservative Christian, would probably be worse than Trump, if such a thing can be imagined. But in 2020, this writer, still a U.S. citizen despite his fourteen years living in Canada, will probably vote for a third-party candidate. That is where one looks for integrity, honesty and real caring for the people.

Originally published by Counterpunch.

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