THE FIRST REAL RAIN in nearly two months could hit later this week, ending an otherwise bone-dry January, forecaster Mike Pechner of Golden West Meteorology said Sunday. Pechner said the Northcoast could get as much as two inches of rain beginning Thursday.
JANUARY is on track to be the driest January ever recorded in Northern California and 2013 was the driest calendar year on record. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought in January and water agencies across the state are calling on users to cut their water use.
“We have a long way to go,” Pechner said. “Even if we hit normal for the rest of the year we would still be below 50% of normal. It will be enough rain to get the green grass going — it won't be that summer brown anymore — but not more than that.”
“We're up in the 30% to 50% range on Thursday,” she said. “The confidence in it is still on the low side. I don't want to get people's hopes up too much. The big question is still ‘How much and where?’ ”
“I would love to say the storm door is open after this event, but I don't think that is the case,” Pechner said. “But I would like to be proven wrong.”
A SEMINAR ON “MITIGATING DROUGHT: Optimizing Pasture, Supplemental Feed, and Managing Risk” is being offered Wednesday, at the Hopland Research & Extension Center. Aimed at ranchers and livestock producers, the program will feature presentations by UC Cooperative Extension livestock advisers, UC Davis animal science faculty, and others. Co-sponsored by the UC Cooperative Extension offices in Mendocino and Lake counties, the program will include a webcast originating from the UC Sierra Foothill Research & Extension Center. Local speakers at Hopland include Katie Delbar and Karri Bartolomei from the USDA Farm Service Agency, 1st District Supervisor Carre Brown, and Mendocino/Lake livestock and range adviser John Harper. The program will be held at Rod Shippey Hall at the Hopland R & E Center, 4070 University Road, Hopland, beginning at 8:45 a.m. and concluding at 3:30 p.m. A registration fee of $10 per person will cover handout materials. Participants are invited to bring sack lunches and participate in discussion over the noon break. Beverages will be provided. To pre-register, visit this web address:
before 5pm on Monday. For those unable to travel to the Hopland, the program will also be broadcast on the web. To view the webcast, go to http://ucanr.org/sites/sfrec/.
WRITING UNDER HER COLUMNIST PEN NAME, “Miss May B. Sough,” Ukiah Daily Journal Editor (and former KZYX programmer) K.C. Meadows wrote on Sunday:
“Dear Miss M: I got an email from a programmer at KZYX telling me to write to the FCC and object to the reissuing of the KZYX license. What's going on? — MA in Philo”
“Dear MA: When it comes to KZYX I can never be absolutely sure of what is going on, but here's what I can make out from emails I've seen.
“KZYX apparently had a major change in the membership of its board of directors. Under its bylaws, if there is a more than 50% change in board membership, the KZYX management must get approval from the FCC for a reissuance of its license. Therefore, last autumn, the KZYX management submitted a request to transfer its license from ‘Old Board’ to ‘New Board.’ I have nothing to say on whether this is actually necessary and have no inner knowledge of the board, its members or its elections.
“What is apparent is that KZYX programmer John Sakowicz has apparently interpreted the FCC license paperwork as an attempted coup of some kind by KZYX management and is urging everyone to object to the FCC license change.
“As far as I can tell, there are two very opposite groups at KZYX right now who each seem to think the other is determined to wrest control of the public radio station and ruin it for all time.
“I have long thought that KZYX is way too insular in its management and outlook and desperately needs new and varied voices to make it a truly public radio station. I would love to see KZYX with a Ukiah studio — which I am told is in the works. Alas, a Ukiah studio was in the works back in the early 1990s when a substantial Ukiah contingent almost pulled it off but the Philo traditionalists were so afraid of a Ukiah takeover that they managed to quash the idea for another couple of decades.
“What is going on now is another apparent shakeup with some confused characters on both sides. But, that's been KZYX from the start so maybe we should all just sit back, enjoy the theater and wait for the dust to settle.”
(Courtesy, the Ukiah Daily Journal)
JUST SAYIN', but when Pro-Life demonstrators turn out by the tens of thousands on Market Street as they did Sunday but only a couple of hundred Pro-Choicers show up to argue, maybe Bay Area public opinion on the issue isn't as liberal as San Francisco media assumes. Pro-Lifers, as they are every year, were bussed in from as far away as Fresno.
SF SUPERVISOR David Campos introduced a resolution last week opposing the dozens of “Abortion Hurts Women” banners that organizers hung from street lamps on Market Street.
CAMPOS'S RESOLUTION says “the prominent display of false anti-abortion statements on public property on Market Street misrepresents the City’s support for reproductive health.” That assertion, of course, could occupy the world's moral philosophers for the next hundred years, but it's another tiny example of how liberals shut down any speech that contradicts their particular catechism.
FOR SEVERAL DECADES, anti-abortion groups have focused on placing relatively small restrictions on abortion, especially in conservative states with Republican-dominated legislatures. But lawmakers in those states are under increasing pressure from activists to take stronger action to limit abortion.
BUT CALIFORNIA, which has a Democratic governor and Legislature, expanded abortion access last year with a measure that allows nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and physician assistants to perform a type of early abortion.
ABORTION STATISTICS for Mendocino County are a closely guarded secret, as is the process by which local women, including high school-age girls, get abortions in the county.
THE ANTI-ABDUCTION HAT.
Forget the tin foil hat and try one of these.
The thought screen helmet has effectively stopped several types of aliens from abducting or controlling humans with only one failure since 1998.
“A UKIAH MAN,” begins the Ukiah Police Department's press release, “suspected of stealing more than $1,000 worth of electronics from a local department store was arrested Wednesday.” The suspect was soon identified as Aubrey H. Thomas, 45, who not only admitted to the most recent thefts, but said he had been stealing similar items from other stores for the past two years, items he could quickly convert to cash. Thomas is a graduate of Anderson Valley High School where he was a star basketball player. He also played basketball at Mendo College, and has lived independently in Ukiah for many years. He was a resident of Boonville group homes throughout his childhood and was always a special ed student. In the current social work lingo he'd be classified as “developmentally delayed,” or something like that. A simple, gentle soul, it is not surprising that Aubrey immediately told the police what he'd been doing. I'm surprised that he wasn't apprehended on his very first foray into petty larceny. If the authorities just sat Aubrey down and told him it was bad and wrong to steal stuff from Kohl's, Aubrey would never fall afoul of the law again.
YOU DON'T HEAR much about Senior tweekers, but Jack Cardin, 64, seems to find Bingo at the Ukiah Senior Center a little too tame so he turned, at an age usually considered too old for go-fast powder, to a chemically enhanced encounter with little green men and the multitudes of insects the green invaders always in their company. Cardin was arrested early Saturday morning after calling 911 several times and hanging up. When officers showed up to find out what the prob was in the 200 block of Thomas Street around 1am, they found Cardin sitting in the backseat of his car in his carport holding a knife. Cardin told the police that certain someones were trying to get him, so he had hidden in his car. Quoting the police report, “Cardin said he could see people running in the street and could feel bugs crawling on him. He asked the officers to check his home for suspects, which they did, finding no one inside. However, they did reportedly find a baggie of methamphetamine and a pipe used for smoking the drug.” Cardin was arrested on suspicion of possession of meth, being under the influence of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.
SKAGGS GETS 13 YEARS IN PRISON
by Tiffany Revelle
A Redwood Valley man who drove a speeding Thunderbird while his passenger shot at a sheriff deputy's car was sentenced to 13 years in prison Friday in Mendocino County Superior Court.
Christopher Skaggs, 31, last month took a plea bargain that dropped attempted murder and vicarious arming charges in exchange for his guilty plea to first-degree burglary for breaking into a Potter Valley home earlier the same day and stealing guns — including the one passenger Walter K. Miller used in the shooting — and other items on the night of Feb. 25.
The plea came two weeks and a day after Miller was convicted of attempted murder, assault with a firearm, the same burglary and other charges.
According to witness accounts during Miller's trial, Skaggs sped away from a traffic stop south of Ukiah on the night of the chase just as Mendocino County Sheriff's Office Deputy Darren Brewster approached the driver's window.
Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster, who prosecuted Miller and handled Skaggs' case separately, gave Skaggs the benefit of the doubt after a jury heard Skaggs' then girlfriend, Tracy Cox, who was in the T-bird's back seat, testify that Skaggs drove away from the traffic stop because Miller had a gun in his hand and meant to shoot the deputy.
Skaggs also admitted committing the Potter Valley burglary while out on bail in another felony matter, a Nov. 14, 2012 incident where he led authorities on a high-speed chase that left a pursuing California Highway Patrol officer injured. The deal involved Skaggs pleading guilty in that case to charges of recklessly evading a peace officer causing injury and reckless evasion by driving in the oncoming lane.
The 13-year sentence included nine years and eight months for the November 2012 chase, and three years and four months for the February chase and shooting, with 666 days of credit for time served.
Eyster said previously that because the Potter Valley burglary is Skaggs' first strike under California's Three Strikes Law, he would serve half of the sentence and be eligible for release after six and a half years under the state's realignment initiative, designed to relieve overcrowding in state prisons.
Judge John Behnke said Skaggs wasn't eligible for probation, and noted that he had, as part of the plea arrangement, waived his right to appeal the sentence. Behnke scheduled a Feb. 28 hearing to decide on a restitution amount for the victim.
(Courtesy, Ukiah Daily Journal)
PRESIDENT OBAMA SHOULD TAKE THIS DOPE QUIZ ON DOPE
by Emily Hobelmann
Barack Obama, the captain of the U.S., speaks about marijuana legalization in “Going the Distance,” his New Yorker interview with David Remnick.
Here is part of the relevant passage:
“When I [that’s Remnick] asked Obama about another area of shifting public opinion — the legalization of marijuana — he seemed even less eager to evolve with any dispatch and get in front of the issue. ‘As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.’
“Is it less dangerous? I asked.
“Obama leaned back and let a moment go by. That’s one of his moves. When he is interviewed, particularly for print, he has the habit of slowing himself down, and the result is a spool of cautious lucidity. He speaks in paragraphs and with moments of revision. Sometimes he will stop in the middle of a sentence and say, “Scratch that,” or, “I think the grammar was all screwed up in that sentence, so let me start again.”
“Less dangerous, he said, ‘in terms of its impact on the individual consumer. It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.’ What clearly does trouble him is the radically disproportionate arrests and incarcerations for marijuana among minorities…”
Geeze, Mr. Obama. Way to shame cannabis users.
Is having fun a waste of time? Is finding relief from cannabis for whatever ailment a waste of time? Is blatantly defying nonsensical federal prohibition of a most useful plant a waste of time?
Is looking cool in high school a waste of time?
I don’t think so.
Oh, Mr. O, how I wish you would come tour cannabis country this summer. You could stay at the Benbow, you could see some weed trees, some redwoods. You could go to Reggae on the River — you’d be the most VIP attendee ever.
If only Mr. O could see the beauty of an outdoor cannabis plant that’s being cultivated in a sustainable way, in a way that’s respectful of the watershed, maybe then, the next time someone asks him about legalization, he would praise cannabis revolutionaries instead of slinging shame.
The wisdom of the Camo Cowboys is spot on here. Here is a lyric from their song “Cash’s Theme,” a track on their self-titled album that’s all about living the outlaw cannabis farmer life:
“The only laws I’ve broken are the ones that don’t ring true, laws without a victim of the crime. And so you’ll find me smoking a sweet puff or two. It’s OK with my conscience every time.”
All of us cannabis folk are outlaws to some extent, whether growers, consumers, processors or vendors. And there is a motherlode of us cannabis folk out there. Whether you deem any given cannabis associate as an outlaw, a hero or a douchebag, well, that’s your prerogative — you have stellar judgment, of course.
I’m definitely not trying to argue that all cannabis folks are saints, but should all of us be shamed for our involvement in cannabiz?
Wherever you may be coming from with your view on cannabiz, I want you to know that the following quiz is meant for cannabis-friendly folks that might actually find a bit of humor here. After all, there are so damn many cannabis associates in Humboldt County, some that might take pride in their outlaw status.
SO TELL ME, What’s Your Emerald Triangle Outlaw Status?
Q1. You get invited to work a season on an outdoor pot farm in Northern Mendocino. The digs are solid. Do you go?
a. I can’t. I have my own outdoor pot farm to tend to this year.
b. Well, I can’t be there for the whole season. I’m doing summer school at HSU. But I can come to the farm to work a few days each month…
c. Are you kidding me? Farming weed is felonious. But I do wish the farmer a good season.
Q2. Hauling pounds… Have you ever?
a. Yeah, I’ve moved a lot of weight.
b. I’ve moved a few pounds here and there — nothing maj. Just locally. I’ve trimmed a lot of pounds though.
c. No. Hauling weed is felonious. But my cousin Charlie does it, and I wish him well.
Q3. Your friend’s neighbor just finished up a run in her garage. She asks you if you want to trim up the pounds for market at a rate of $250 per pound (she’s generous). Do you take the job?
a. Pssshhhaaaawww… I’ve got this. I can trim two pounds a day, easy. I’m a professional.
b. Nah… I’ve trimmed weed a few times. I know it pays well, but personally, I think trimming weed sucks. Thanks anyway!
c. Trim weed? [Insert sideways glance here.] I don’t think so. I’ll stick to my job at the neighborhood Italian restaurant, thank you.
Q4. Would you ever live in a grow house?
a. Oh, sure. I’ve lived in a few already. There was that one in Trinidad, three different grow houses in Eureka, one in Portland, and shit, I’m growing weed in my spare bedroom right now.
b. I’ve definitely been to some grow houses and I know people who live in them, but I don’t necessarily want to live in one… That is, unless the terms are favorable.
c. Grow house?! (<- That’s an “interrobang.”) No thanks. Never. I don’t know how people live like that.
Q5. You think of a pound of weed as:
a. Your standard unit of measurement.
b. Always so exciting to behold. All I ever saw before I came to Humboldt was 1/8ths and ounces.
c. Something that belongs in the incinerator. No, that’s a joke. But seriously, don’t bring any pounds near me.
Q6. You think hash is:
a. Tricky business, but somebody’s got to make it. And mine is pretty bomb, I have to say.
b. Awesome! Especially that BHO stuff. Keep talking…
c. I’m sorry, are you talking about breakfast potatoes? Kidding, kidding. I don’t do hash.
Q7. You think medicinal cannabis is:
a. A good reason to grow in bulk — there are a lot of people that need access.
b. The best thing that ever happened to me. I’m so glad there’s decent access to medical marijuana in Humboldt.
c. OK by me, as long as medicinal cannabis users keep it low key and don’t flaunt their weed use.
Q8. Do you ever spend money on weed?
a. Never. Well, actually, I spend money on weed in order to earn money on weed.
b. Only if I have to.
c. Oh no, never. I only ever smoke weed like once in a blue moon, if I’m at a party or a show, or something.
• Mostly a’s? = “Emerald Outlaw.” You are a canna-risk taker, an Emerald Outlaw. You’re down to do what you gotta do, which is to do what you do. Whatever that may be. (Maybe, like Drake, you’re just doing you right now.) But you’ve seen some shit. You’ve pushed the limits (in totally sustainable and earth-friendly ways, of course). And maybe now you want keep growing weed beyond legalization…?
• Mostly b’s? = “Walking the Line.” You keep one foot in the outlaw pool. You dabble (Dabs… What?) in cannabis commerce, but you haven’t given all aspects of your life to cannabiz. You’re consistently involved on some level, though maybe that was in the past. Your outlaw connections in the cannabiz have kept you afloat during some hard times. You’re down with cannabiz, fa sho.
• Mostly c’s? = “Vanilla Outlaw.” You’re not all about the cannabis vibe and you think Cypress Hill is some of the worst music ever recorded. But you acknowledge that cannabis has medicinal value (Who doesn’t?) and you understand and can sometimes appreciate the function of marijuana in the community. However, you prefer to leave the weed stuff to the weed peeps.
* * *
Oh, snap. I know where I stand. Where do you fall in the spectrum?
* * *
Thought y’all might like to know that the Salmonid Restoration Federation (SRF) is hosting a Workshop to Explore Water Issues and Solutions for Rural Landowners on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, at the Beginnings Octagon in Briceland.
Topics include how to navigate water rights, conserving water in a time of drought, resources for rural landowners and local and regional water conservation efforts. For more info call SRF at 923-7501.
AFTER A COUPLE OF PEOPLE posted the silly suggestion that everyone chant “rain, rain, rain” ad infinitum on the Coast Listserve as a drought response, Eleanor Cooney of Mendocino took it a step further, hitting Coastlib where they live: “Big Rain Gods demand painful sacrifice. Leave your 18th-century Japanese rice-paper print outside overnight. Also your first-edition Mark Twain, your grandmother's lace wedding dress, your set of antique Tarot cards. … If you don’t have a first-edition Mark Twain, your 200-year-old Swiss music box will do.” But if they’re really serious, they’ll also leave their dried bud out. Surely, the Big Rain Gods won’t be able to resist that!
GORDY & GOD
AVA January 22, page 3: “It would help the station [KZYX] to have a capable board of directors, but Sakowicz is the only director who seems to care about doing the right thing.”
Bruce, you don't attend the meetings, so you're on the Ouija board again, regarding who “seems to care.” And the “right thing” is…?
I feel your wistful sentiment, but moods do evaporate. Can you support that concluding flourish: “…Sakowicz is the only director who seems to care about doing the right thing”?
Gordon Black, Mendocino
ED REPLY: As a faithful reader of Sheila Dawn's excellent coverage, and an occasional recipient of non-responsive communications from one or the other Silly Millies sitting as station trustees, please accept my apologies for not clearing my opinion with you, Emperor of Audio Lilliput, before rashly rushing into print. Yes, Sako, in my opinion has done a good job raising the hydra-headed issue of incompetent station management.
FROM GAIETY TO GAIETY we progressed, and they next asked if I had ever been inside a shebeen, or illicit drinking den, one of the most depraved spectacles, it seems, that civilization has to offer. As a matter of fact I had not seen one of them, but of course I had heard of them. That is, if they were the same things that we have at home and that we generally read of in the Sunday papers in connexion with marriages into the peerage or other intelligentsia. Anyway, it all sounded most awfully exciting. Here at last might be the adventure I was seeking. It begins unromantically enough. You go down quite an ordinary poor road, wide and well lighted and with a policeman all unsuspicious at the corner. Then you ask in one little shop, the sort of place where they sell firewood and the kind of vegetables that are not particular about their company, and after your cicerone has whispered mysteriously they shake their heads. Apparently their daughter has already married into the intelligentsia or else they have made their fortunes. But they nod and point to another place, the same sort of firewood and Woodbines shop, and with a little shudder in you go, prepared for any devilment. You buy your Woodbines or what not, and talk long and low to the lady in charge. And on her reluctant consent you go up to the door at the back of the shop and knock in a particular way. There is a glimpse of a face at the peep-hole and then the thing swings back, and Life lies before you. At first glance it rather resembles a quite ordinary kitchen with half a dozen quite ordinary but obviously uneasy gentlemen sitting round on hard chairs in dead silence. And then the hidden Iniquity begins to dawn upon you. For a comfortably middle-aged lady is making the round of the circle with a jug and glasses. And as you get your glass the full Sin of the business bursts upon you. A shilling, for that little lot of inferior stout, and then I will swear there was water in mine! In Dublin we may not get into the Sunday papers with the swell divorce cases and the bishops explaining why they do not believe in God, but we can make our few hundred per cent just as well as our luckier sisters in the West End. Round and round in silence goes the lady, and you get something of the impression of a handing round of hymn-books at a deacons' meeting for a new chapel organ, so eminently decorous is the whole business. Even the family cat cleaning its whiskers before the neatly polished grate seemed to share the general air of unctuous rectitude. Until in the end, as it happened, it was this very beast that unwittingly threw the Apple of Discord bang into the middle of the Mirror of Contentment. For as, its toilet complete, it paced mincingly across the kitchen floor, heavy-footed Hebe engrossed with her sordid shillings, trod upon its indignant tail. And as I jumped up to stroke it, I collided on my mission of mercy with the gentlemanly door-keeper as the same humane thought simultaneously struck him, too. There was a bump, and something fell from his open pocket. With a charming smile of apology he stooped to retrieve his knuckle-duster, an implement doubtless necessary in the profession but, like a dentist's drill, not lightly to be shown to the laity. I left just after that, and I only trust that with my departure the place grew merrier. For never have I drunk inferior stout in an atmosphere more funereal.
— John Gibbons, 1931; from "Tramping Through Ireland"
THE BLIND ALLEY OF J STREET & LIBERAL AMERICAN ZIONISM
By Abba A. Solomon & Norman Solomon
Since its founding six years ago, J Street has emerged as a major Jewish organization under the banner “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace.” By now J Street is able to be a partial counterweight to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The contrast between the two U.S. groups is sometimes stark. J Street applauds diplomacy with Iran, while AIPAC works to undermine it. J Street encourages U.S. support for “the peace process” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, while AIPAC opposes any meaningful Israeli concessions. In the pressure cooker of Washington politics, J Street’s emergence has been mostly positive. But what does its motto “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” really mean?
That question calls for grasping the context of Zionism among Jews in the United States — aspects of history, largely obscured and left to archives, that can shed light on J Street’s current political role. Extolling President Obama’s policies while urging him to intensify efforts to resolve Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, the organization has staked out positions apt to sound humanistic and fresh. Yet J Street’s leaders are far from the first prominent American Jews who have struggled to square the circles of the moral contradictions of a “Jewish state” in Palestine.
Our research in the archives of the American Jewish Committee in New York City, Johns Hopkins University and elsewhere shows that J Street is adhering to — and working to reinforce — limits that major Jewish organizations adopted midway through the 20th century. Momentum for creation of the State of Israel required some hard choices for groups such as the influential AJC, which adjusted to the triumph of an ideology — militant Jewish nationalism — that it did not share. Such accommodation meant acceding to an outward consensus while suppressing debate on its implications within Jewish communities in the United States.
In 1945, AJC staff had discussed the probability of increased bloodshed in Palestine — and a likelihood of “Judaism, as a whole, being held morally responsible for the fallacies of Zionism.” In exchange for AJC support in 1947 for UN partition of Palestine, the AJC extracted this promise from the Jewish Agency: “The so-called Jewish State is not to be called by that name but will bear some appropriate geographical designation. It will be Jewish only in the sense that the Jews will form a majority of the population.”
A January 1948 position paper in AJC records spoke of “extreme Zionists” then ascendant among Jews in Palestine and the United States: The paper warned that they served “no less monstrosity than the idol of the State as the complete master not only over its own immediate subjects but also over every living Jewish body and soul the world over, beyond any consideration of good or evil. This mentality and program is the diametrical opposite to that of the American Jewish Committee.” The confidential document warned of “moral and political repercussions which may deeply affect both the Jewish position outside Palestine, and the character of the Jewish state in Palestine.” Such worries became more furtive after Israel became a nation later in 1948.
Privately, some leaders held out hope that constraints on public debate could coexist with continuing debate inside Jewish institutions. In 1950 the president of the American Jewish Committee, Jacob Blaustein, wrote in a letter to the head of an anti-Zionist organization, the American Council for Judaism, that the silencing of public dissent would not preclude discussion within the Yiddish-language and Jewish press. In effect, Blaustein contended that vigorous dialogue could continue among Jews but should be inaudible to gentiles. However, the mask of American Jewry would soon become its face. Concerns about growing Jewish nationalism became marginal, then unmentionable.
The recent dispute in the Jewish student group Hillel — whether its leadership can ban Hillel chapters on U.S. college campuses from hosting severe critics of Israeli policies — emerged from a long history of pressure on American Jews to accept Zionism and a “Jewish state” as integral to Judaism. The Jewish students now pushing to widen the bounds of acceptable discourse are challenging powerful legacies of conformity.
During the 1950s and later decades, the solution for avoiding an ugly rift was a kind of preventive surgery. Universalist, prophetic Judaism became a phantom limb of American Jewry, after an amputation in service of the ideology of an ethnic state in the Middle East. Pressures for conformity became overwhelming among American Jews, whose success had been predicated on the American ideal of equal rights regardless of ethnic group origin.
Generally flourishing in a country founded on the separation of religion and state, American Zionists dedicated themselves to an Israeli state based on the prerogatives of Jews. That Mobius strip could only be navigated by twisting logic into special endless dispensations for Jewish people. Narratives of historic Jewish vulnerability and horrific realities of the Holocaust became all-purpose justifications.
***** ***** ***** *****
As decades passed after the June 1967 war, while the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza wore on, younger American Jews slowly became less inclined to automatically support Israeli policies. Now, 65 years after the founding of Israel, the historic realities of displacement — traumatic for Palestinians while triumphant for many Jewish Israelis — haunt the territorial present that J Street seeks to navigate.
The organization’s avowed goal is an equitable peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians. But J Street’s pragmatic, organization-building strength is tied into its real-world moral liability: continuing to accept extremely skewed power relations in Palestine. The J Street leadership withholds from the range of prospective solutions the alternative of truly ending the legally and militarily enforced Jewish leverage over Palestinians, replete with the advantages of dominance (in sharp contrast to the precept of abandoning white privilege that was a requirement in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa).
Every conceptual lane of J Street equates being “pro-Israel” with maintaining the doctrine of a state where Jews are more equal than others. Looking to the past, that approach requires treating the historic Zionist conquest as somewhere between necessary and immaculate. Looking at the present and the future, that approach sees forthright opposition to the preeminence of Jewish rights as extreme or otherwise beyond the pale. And not “pro-Israel.”
Like the Obama administration, J Street is steadfast in advocating a “two-state solution” while trying to thwart the right-wing forces led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A goal is to reduce his leverage by altering the political environment he encounters in the United States, where AIPAC — riding high astride much of the U.S. Congress — is aligned with the hard right of Israeli politics. In contrast, J Street is aligned with a fuzzy center that copes with cognitive dissonance by embracing humane rhetoric about Palestinians while upholding subjugation of Palestinians’ rights.
At J Street’s 2011 conference, Rabbi David Saperstein congratulated the organization: “When the Jewish community needed someone to speak for them at the Presbyterian Convention against the divestment resolution, the community turned to J Street, who had the pro-peace credibility to stunt the efforts of the anti-Israeli forces, and they were compellingly effective. They did so at Berkeley on the bus ad fights, debating Jewish Voice for Peace.” Saperstein — a Reform Judaism leader described by *Newsweek* as the USA’s most influential rabbi — lauded J Street for its special function among “the strongly pro-Israel peace groups that have the credibility to stand before strongly dovish non-Jewish groups and guide them away from delegitimization efforts.”
Such praise for being a bulwark against “delegitimization” is a high compliment for J Street. And it is surely gratifying for its founder and president, Jeremy Ben-Ami. When he reaffirms “our commitment to and support for the people and the state of Israel,” he frames it in these terms: “We believe that the Jewish people — like all other people in the world — have the right to a national home of their own, and we celebrate its rebirth after thousands of years.” His official J Street bio says that “Ben-Ami’s family connection to Israel goes back 130 years to the first *aliyah* when his great-grandparents were among the first settlers in Petah Tikva [near present-day Tel Aviv]. His grandparents were one of the founding families of Tel Aviv, and his father was an activist and leader in the Irgun, working for Israel’s independence and on the rescue of European Jews before and during World War II.” Readers are left to ponder the reference to leadership of the ultranationalist Irgun, given its undisputed terrorist violence.
Whatever its differences with the Likudnik stances of AIPAC and Netanyahu, J Street joins in decrying the danger of the “delegitimization” of Israel — a word often deployed against questioning of Jewish privileges in Palestine maintained by armed force. In sync with U.S. foreign policy, J Street is enmeshed in assuming the validity of prerogatives that are embedded in Netanyahu’s demand for unequivocal support of Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people.” In the process, the secular USA massively supports a government that is using weapons of war emblazoned with symbols of the Jewish religion, while the U.S. Congress continues to designate Israel as a “strategic ally.” An AIPAC official was famously quoted by Jeffrey Goldberg as boasting, “You see this napkin? In 24 hours, we could have the signatures of 70 senators on this napkin.”
J Street is aligned with more “moderate” personalities in Israeli politics, but what is considered moderate Zionism in Israel may not match sensibilities outside Israel. On a J Street-sponsored U.S. speaking tour, Knesset member Adi Koll said she is pleased that Palestinian refugees from 1948 are dying off, which she portrayed as good for peace: “This is what we have been waiting for, for more and more of them to die,” to finalize the War of Independence expulsion of Palestinians. J Street’s Ben-Ami has warned of “the ‘one state nightmare’ — a minority of Jewish Israelis in a state with a majority of non-Jewish residents.” For J Street, an embrace of perpetual Jewish dominance as imperative seems to be a litmus test before any criticism of the occupation is to be deemed legitimate.
A human rights lawyer active with Jewish Voice for Peace, David L. Mandel, sees a double standard at work. “Too many progressives on everything else still are not progressive about Israel and Palestine,” he told us. “And J Street, by making it easier for them to appear to be critical, in fact serves as a roadblock on the path to a consistent, human rights and international law-based position.”
Covering J Street’s annual conference in September 2013, Mondoweiss.net editor Philip Weiss pointed out: “J Street still can claim to be a liberal Zionist organization that wants to pressure Israel to leave the settlements. But more than that it wants access to the Israeli establishment, and it is not going to alienate that establishment by advocating any measure that will isolate Israel or put real pressure on it.”
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While evocations of the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel may sound uplifting, J Street ultimately lets the Israeli government off the hook by declaring that relationship sacrosanct, no matter what. The organization insists that political candidates funded by J StreetPAC “must demonstrate that they support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, active U.S. leadership to help end the conflict, the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel, continued aid to the Palestinian Authority and opposition to the Boycott/Divestment/Sanction movement.”
The sanctity of the proviso about “the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel” became evident to one of us (Norman Solomon) while running for Congress in 2012 in California. After notification that J Street had decided to confer “On the Street” status on Solomon and another Democratic candidate in the primary race, the group’s leadership suddenly withdrew the stamp of approval — after discovering a Solomon op-ed piece written in July 2006 that criticized Washington’s support for the Israeli bombing of Lebanon then underway. In a specially convened conference call, J Street’s top leaders told the candidate that one statement in the op-ed was especially egregious: “The United States and Israel. Right now, it’s the most dangerous alliance in the world.”
In December 2013, while visiting Israel, Secretary of State John Kerry affirmed that “the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable.” He added that — despite occasional “tactical” differences — “we do not have a difference about the fundamental strategy that we both seek with respect to the security of Israel and the long-term peace of this region.”
Two days later, on Dec. 7 at a Saban Center gathering in Washington, Kerry joined with President Obama in paying tribute to the idea of a nation for Jews. Obama endorsed the goal of protecting “Israel as a Jewish state.” (He sat for an interview with billionaire Zionist Haim Saban, who joked: “Very obedient president I have here today!”) For his part, Kerry addressed Israeli ethnic anxiety by urging that Israel heed U.S. advice for withdrawal from some territory, to defuse what he called the “demographic time bomb” — non-Jewish births — threatening the existence of a “Jewish and democratic” state.
Although “militant Islam” is common coin in U.S. discourse about the Middle East, militant Jewish nationalism lacks a place in the conversation. This absence occurs despite — and perhaps because of — the fact that militant Jewish nationalism is such a powerful ideology in the United States, especially in Congress. Yet recent erosion of the taboo has caused some alarm. In May 2011 the Reut Institute, well-connected to the Israeli establishment, held a joint conference with the American Jewish Committee and met with smaller organizations to formalize a policy of “establishing red-lines with regards to the discourse about Israel between legitimate criticism and acts of delegitimization.”
In its own way, J Street has laid down red-line markers along the left perimeter of American Zionism. For instance, some of the most telling moments of J Street’s existence came during the November 2012 Gaza crisis. As the conflict escalated, Israel threatened a ground invasion. J Street urged Israeli restraint but did not oppose the ongoing intense bombardment of Gaza. Instead, echoing President Obama, the organization endorsed Israel's “right and obligation to defend itself against rocket fire and against those who refuse to recognize its right to exist and inexcusably use terror and violence to achieve their ends.”
J Street’s statement, titled “Enough of Silence,” eerily mirrored the brutal asymmetry of the warfare then raging — and, for that matter, the asymmetry of the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While far more Palestinians than Israelis were dying (87 Palestinian and four Israeli noncombatants lost their lives, according to a report from the human-rights group B’Tselem), J Street condemned the killing by Palestinians but merely questioned the ultimate efficacy of the killing by Israelis. While J Street was appropriately repulsed by the bloodshed, it could not plead for reversal of the underlying, continuing injustice beyond its advocacy of a two-state solution. During the years ahead, J Street is likely to be instrumental in establishing and reinforcing such red lines.
A rare instance when J Street has not endorsed President Obama’s approach in the Middle East came in September 2013, when the administration pressed for U.S. missile strikes on Syria following claims that the Bashar al-Assad regime had used chemical weapons. J Street remained officially silent on the issue; Jeremy Ben-Ami reportedly pushed for endorsement of an attack, but many others in the organization were opposed. The *Forward *newspaper quoted a J Street activist: “Jeremy is a pragmatist. He wants to keep us as progressive as possible without going too far from the mainstream.”
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J Street is striving to support Israel differently than AIPAC: by fostering the more peaceful, humane streams of Zionism. But among new generations of U.S. Jews, the Zionist rationales for Israel as a whole are losing ground. In a 2013 Pew Research Center study, 93 percent of American Jews state they are proud of being part of the Jewish people — but only 43 percent say that “caring about” the State of Israel is essential to being a Jew, and the figure drops to 32 percent of respondents under 30 years old.
The Jewish establishment has always represented those Jews choosing to affiliate with institutionalized Judaism. More and more, this leaves out large numbers who don’t believe that blood-and-soil Jewish nationalism should crowd out their Jewish and universalist values. As the Pew survey shows, American Jews are less sympathetic than American Jewish organizations to enforcing Jewish political nationalism with armed force.
Last summer, Ben-Ami told the *New Republic*: “We are advocating for a balance between the security needs of Israel and the human rights of the Palestinians. It is by definition a moderate, centrist place.” Ben-Ami highlighted his strategy for practicality: “We have the ear of the White House; we have the ear of a very large segment of Congress at this point; we have very good relations with top communal leadership in the Jewish community. If you want to have a voice in those corridors of power, then get involved with J Street.”
We recently submitted three questions to Ben-Ami. Asked about the historic concerns that a “democratic Jewish state” would be self-contradictory, he replied: “J Street believes it is possible to reconcile the essence of Zionism, that Israel must be the national homeland of the Jewish people, and the key principles of its democracy, namely, that the state must provide justice and equal rights for all its citizens. In the long run, Israel can only manage the tension between these two principles if there is a homeland for the Palestinian people alongside Israel.”
Asked whether relations with non-Jewish Palestinians would be better now if Jewish leaders who favored creation of a non-ethnically-based state had prevailed, Ben-Ami did not respond directly. Instead, he affirmed support for a two-state solution and commented: “History has sadly and repeatedly proven the necessity of a nation-state for the Jewish people. J Street today is focused on building support in the American Jewish community for the creation of a nation-state for the Palestinian people alongside Israel — precisely because it is so necessary if Israel is to continue to be the national home of the Jewish people.”
The shortest — and perhaps the most significant — reply came when we asked: “Do you believe it is fair to say that the Israeli government has engaged in ethnic cleansing?”
Ben-Ami responded with one word. “No.”
“They have destroyed and are destroying ... and do not know it and do not want to know it,” James Baldwin wrote several decades ago. “But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.” Those who have seen to the devastation of “others” — and have even celebrated overall results of the process — cannot begin to atone or make amends without some genuine remorse. With a pose of innocence, in the absence of remorse, the foundation of J Street’s position is denial of the ethnic cleansing that necessarily enabled Israel to become what it is now, officially calling itself a “Jewish and democratic state.”
Population transfer of Arabs was part of the planning of Zionist leadership, and it was implemented. Benny Morris, the pioneering Israeli historian of the ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Israel, said: “Ben-Gurion was right. If he had not done what he did, a state would not have come into being. That has to be clear. It is impossible to evade it. Without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish state would not have arisen here.”
In a talk five decades ago at Hillel House at the University of Chicago, philosopher Leo Strauss mentioned that Leon Pinsker’s Zionist manifesto “Autoemancipation,” published in 1882, quotes the classic Hillel statement “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if not now, when?” — but leaves out the middle of the sequence, “If I am only for myself, what am I?”
“The omission of these words,” Strauss said, “is the definition of pureblooded political Zionism.”
The full integrity of Rabbi Hillel’s complete statement — urging Jews not to be “only for myself” — is explicit in the avowed mission of J Street. But there is unintended symbolism in the organization’s name, which partly serves as an inside Washington joke. The absence of an actual J Street between I and K Streets is, so to speak, a fact on the ground. And sadly, the group’s political vision of “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” is as much a phantom as the nonexistent lettered street between I and K in the Nation’s Capital; unless “peace” is to be understood along the lines of the observation by Carl von Clausewitz that “a conqueror is always a lover of peace.”
(Abba A. Solomon is the author of “The Speech, and Its Context: Jacob Blaustein's Speech ‘The Meaning of Palestine Partition to American Jews.’” Norman Solomon is the founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, cofounder of RootsAction.org and the author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”)