Shunned – October 22, 2018

first published in Mondoweiss 10/22/18

The email was concerning; it arrived in my personal inbox and that of Just World Books. And in the emails to Robert Shetterly (who painted my portrait as part of his Americans Who Tell the Truth project), and to an activist in the Boston area who had organized a presentation for me. The author stated he was, “the only Jewish criminal attorney at law in Vienna and member of the Executive board of Austria’s oldest, main and central synagogue, the famous Vienna “‘Stadttempel.’” He described the local Jewish community as small but wealthy and flourishing. He ended the first paragraph with: “But as the only child of Holocaust survivors I do not forget our history.”

The attorney expressed concern that my books and “the far left“ Jewish Voice for Peace, of which I am a member, are advocating for the boycott of Israel and that, “Boycott is a form of violence.” He noted that since January 2018 BDS supporters have been banned from entering Israel.

He reminded me that, “the Holocaust began with the boycott of Jewish shops, Jewish lawyers, Jewish doctors and Jewish institutions. Boycott of Jews was the beginning of the worst mass murder in history, the Shoah,” and that much of his family did not survive. “At that time your government refused to issue visas for Jews from Europe. You should remember this anti-Jewish policy of your homeland, of the United States of America during the Second World War.”

He ended with, “So please tell Dr. Rothchild and her friends not to come to our synagogue. These people are not welcome here. We do not want to see them, we do not want to hear them, we do not want to pray together with them. They can stay wherever they want, but please let them stay away from us.”

My first thoughts were how does an old Jewish attorney in Vienna find me typing away in my study somewhere in the Pacific Northwest? What Israel hasbara organization and/or perhaps Israeli military intelligence unit now has me in their radar? Will they send out their troops to disrupt the next time I am giving a presentation? The shunning, on the other hand, was all too familiar.

Besides being angry, this man is also in great pain; the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust wiped out much of his family and shaped his life and world view. I imagine there must be some kind of personal vindication to live in Vienna and rebuild a Jewish community in the belly of the beast. I have tremendous respect and empathy for that kind of suffering and strength and for what is required to survive and prosper. I also share his outrage at the immigration policies of the U.S. as well as other nations that refused or turned away Jews desperately fleeing certain death and disaster. I know from this attorney‘s further correspondence with Mr. Shetterly that he views the Palestinians as the new Nazis. This is a common feeling among many Jews, often expressed in Israel as, “When I see Arafat, I see Hitler,” and in the frequent use of the words “potential holocaust” to describe any perceived external threat to the state.

These ideas are a compounded tragedy and I would argue a grave misunderstanding. First, boycotts are a well respected, nonviolent form of protest that has been used for good, (Quakers against slave holders, African-Americans in Montgomery refusing to take the bus), and evil (Nazis against Jews). The strategy of boycott is not evil or inhumane in itself, but it can be used for a variety of purposes. The Nazis used “boycott“ not to protest for an oppressed minority or against some injustice, but as a governmental policy to discriminate and destroy another people. The boycott, divestment, and sanction of Israel was called in 2005 by over 150 Palestinian civil society activists seeking to end the second class citizenship of Palestinians in Israel, to end the occupation, and to resolve the multigenerational refugee catastrophe – without violence.

To equate Palestinians with Nazis, the attorney used the oft quoted example of Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem from 1921 to 1948. Al-Husseini is a complex, controversial figure, an Arab nationalist who actively opposed Zionism in the 1920s and also became an opponent of British colonialism in Palestine. During WW II he collaborated with fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, but after 1948 he was sidelined by the Palestine Liberation Organization. It is unclear how much of his political activities were grounded in Arab nationalism and anti-colonialism, and how much in anti-Semitism. The Arab nationalism and anti-colonialism are understandable responses to the British Empire and Jewish settlement in Palestine; the anti-Semitism is unforgivable.

That said, it is important to remember that there never was a Nazi party in historic Palestine and that Islam does not have the centuries old history of Jew hatred that is found in European Christianity. The call to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel also has an explicit statement against bigotry of all types and names anti-Semitism in particular. The anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism that can now be found in Muslim countries began almost entirely with the founding of the State of Israel and resentment in the Arab speaking world regarding the Israeli treatment of the indigenous Palestinian population. It is also a politically useful issue for autocratic leaders seeking to unite their restive citizens who have a lot of other political and economic matters to complain about. The Palestinians I have worked with in the region make a clear distinction between Jews (fellow Abrahamic religious people) and Zionists (people with the clear intent to dispossess Palestinians of their land and to erase their history and rights). This is an important difference.

The second big problem for me is that my accuser does not make a distinction between Jews (a people, a cultural group, an ethnicity, a religious community) and Israel (a country that claims to be a state of the Jewish people, that privileges Jews over non-Jews, but is none-the-less still a country). That is a critical distinction and I would argue that it is particularly the responsibility of Jewish people to call out the egregious policies of the State of Israel when the state claims to be speaking for us. It is a state not a religion after all. The recent passage of the Nation State Bill has also made it abundantly clear (as if it had not been already), that it is not possible to be a democracy (a state of equal citizens) and a Jewish state (a state that privileges the national aspirations, history, trauma and dreams of Jews only, despite its multicultural society). And if we are tax paying U.S. citizens, we have an added complicity given the billions of dollars of military aid as well as political cover that our government provides for the Israeli state and its war machine.

I fail to understand how a a brutal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and a crushing siege of Gaza keeps Israel safe. How arresting thousands of children, jailing tens of thousands of young people, restricting permits to travel to hospitals for treatment or travel abroad for study brings us closer to peace. How an aggressive Jewish settlement project in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is supposed to make Palestinians more willing to negotiate. How discriminating against 21 percent of Israeli citizens can be compatible with democracy. How refusing to take responsibility for the ongoing refugee crisis builds anything but another generation of angry, impatient, disillusioned young people and the hostility of surrounding nations.

Though I am not a religious person, (that ended a long time ago), and I actually have no plans to attend the synagogue in Vienna, or any synagogue for that matter, I do take the moral foundations, the prophetic traditions, of my Jewish heritage very seriously. When I see oppression and injustice and inhumanity, I am compelled to call it out and I will advocate whatever nonviolent means of resistance I have at my disposal. Ironically, my voice is often welcomed in churches and mosques. I hope someday to be welcomed in synagogues too. It would be nice to come home.

Reporting from Seattle: Seafair, Glory, and our Love of the Military – August 10, 2018

I feel the roar in my trembling sternum as a massive fighter plane screams past my window, my first-floor window. Forgive me all you veteran Seattleites, this is my second Boeing Seafair Airshow, (August 3-5). This is just the practice day before the real thing. I am still recovering from the Fourth of July. It seems that my new home is not only a Seafair flight path, but also fireworks central (the legal and extra-legal kind). Unfortunately on that long night, I could only hear the hours of gun powder exploding without evidence of the associated light show. My neighborhood felt more like Beirut during the civil war than a glorious national holiday. I kept peering off my deck to be sure this was really not gunfire.

The pinnacle of the airshow this past weekend is the arrival of the Blue Angels, six McDonnell Dougals F/A-18 Hornet Jets streaking across Lake Washington in various daredevil formations and then tearing off into the great beyond, only to return for another bout of chest pain inducing, ear throbbing, aerial aerobatics. Don’t get me wrong, the perfect balletic formations, the planes sometimes 18 inches apart and flying up to 700 mph are awe inspiring and a tribute to technology, the human imagination, and the willingness of (mostly) men to engage in a macho, testosterone driven display of skill and power. How else can I explain fighter planes hurtling towards each other, only to dip their wings and scoot past without a scratch or flying upside down in mind boggling, graceful loops and dives, etching puffy vapor trails on the cornflower blue sky? This is not normal. Your mother would not let you do this. The job is reported to have a 10% mortality rate.

The party begins with neighbors drinking beer and Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man blaring from someone’s deck. I feel very AMERICAN. As dogs bark and cower, the magnificent blue planes, US NAVY embossed in a bright banana yellow on their sides, thunder overhead. A thick jet fuel haze settles over the usually pristine lake.

As the shock and awe settles in I start worrying: how do the Great Blue Herons I often see standing stock still at the lake’s shore watching for dinner feel about all this competition? Can a bird die of fright? Will all the Common Mergansers, Canada Geese, and Large Mouth Bass have little heart attacks and turn belly up on the water’s surface? And what about the newly arrived from various war-torn countries? Are they hiding in their bedrooms, breathing deeply as their PTSD and flashbacks bolt out of their subconscious?

These are after all war planes. They are designed to drop bombs on the people below, to kill them and destroy the towns and cities where they live. Boeing is not only a major Seattle employer, but “the world’s largest aerospace company and leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners and defense, space and security systems.” This means that Boeing makes military aircraft, the electronics, launch systems, and advanced technology that makes war possible on a 21st century scale. And we are here celebrating all of this along with the US Navy and the heroic pilots that fly these fighter jets.

I think of Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Gaza. I wonder what these pilots have seen and what they have done. I think of apartments turned to rubble and wounded children screaming and fields poisoned by the detritus of war. I think of all the nuclear submarines lurking below the twinkling surface of Puget Sound, reportedly 20 minutes from downtown Seattle. I think of living in a culture that celebrates militarism and machismo and the fist over an outstretched hand.

Suddenly a thick flock of birds rises out of the trees, dancing, swirling, inches apart in perfect formation. A thing of awesome beauty without the jet fuel settling on all the garden tomatoes and scumming up the lake, the thunderous noise, and the obvious human danger.

As the final formation blasts back to Boeing Field, God Bless America blares from nearby speakers, the crowd tosses back another few beers, and heads back to their cars. My patriotic fervor is dwindling. My two-year-old granddaughter sleeps through the whole show. Perhaps that is a good thing.

Targeting the most vulnerable: Children in detention in the US and Palestine – June 28, 2018

First published in Mondoweiss

When kids are brown does anyone care?

Americans are grappling with the incarceration of 10-year-olds and the concept of “tender age detention centers” while morally bankrupt politicians wring their bloodied hands. As courts begin to respond, many folks across the political spectrum are wondering, “What happens to the children caught in this catastrophe?” Interestingly, there is much we can learn from research in the US and from the Israeli experience with regard to children and prisons. The US and Israel both perceive themselves as enlightened “western democracies,” yet both have high incarceration rates, particularly for children of color, sometimes involving the same global prison industries. In both countries, these kinds of children are perceived as the “other,” the “enemy,” the “invading hordes ready to destroy America,” the “Muslim terrorists seeking to kill Israelis.” They are presented as less human and less deserving than white and/or Jewish children and less likely to evoke an empathic reaction.

The New York Times reported that the approximately quarter of a million children with incarcerated single mothers in the US are at risk for ending up in foster care, and as with the recent children on the US/Mexico border, they have the potential to being lost. Stop a moment. Can you imagine losing your own child to bureaucratic chaos and mismanagement? The Dallas Morning News noted, “No one in the criminal justice system is responsible for the safety of children whose mothers go to jail.” It seems that misplacing children in the bureaucracy of prisons and foster care is not a new phenomenon.

Juvenile detention facilities in the US currently hold more than 30,000 children. The Sentencing Project reports that black children are incarcerated at a rate five times higher than white children. “More than 60 percent of child offenders are being held for nonviolent offenses like drugs, theft or even violations that only apply to minors.” Some facilities are still guilty of appalling conditions and practices such as the use of violence, restraints, solitary confinement, and the denial of education to a minor.

The approximately 400,000 children in the foster care system are often prohibited from any contact with their parents. Twelve percent of those live in group homes or institutional settings.

The Times article concluded:

These children are typically taken by officials they have never met, without warning, then subjected to intrusive interrogations, medical examinations and sometimes strip searches.

Some three-quarters of cases nationwide involve not abuse, but neglect, a “really broad umbrella” that “often just looks like poverty…There’s no consistent evidence that removing kids is, on average, beneficial, and there’s substantial evidence that it does harm.”

Much has been written about the extensive psychological and cognitive costs of abruptly removing children from their parents and placing them in prisons for indeterminate amounts of time. There is also significant trauma created by imprisoning families with their children indefinitely while basically the US justice system figures out a way to deport them to the dangers they fled, the gangs, rape, poverty, and domestic abuse. Additionally, it appears that the US government has no clear plan to reunite the 2,300 children separated at the border from their parents, including 400 children under the age of 12. Children are likely haunted by the experience of being abandoned and filled with self-doubt regarding their own worth.

In The New Yorker, one ER physician working in Colorado described what she was seeing as “government-mandated child abuse.” These children will be scarred for life because our President has created a false, racist narrative and incessant fear mongering regarding the dangers of migrants and asylum seekers. One could argue that this is a cynical move to keep his base happy as midterm elections loom ahead and as he plans for a glorious re-election. Famously, the President tweeted: “We cannot allow our Country to be overrun by illegal immigrants as the Democrats tell their phony stories of sadness and grief.”

This level of depravity should be met with universal condemnation by anyone with even a shred of moral fiber or perhaps a Christian understanding of our responsibilities towards the weak, the powerless, and the destitute. To have the Vice President invoking his wrathful God to justify such unconscionable policies would be shocking if we were not already so inundated with the daily shocks from the White House.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children should not be deprived of liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily and that arrest, detention, or imprisonment should only be used in extreme circumstances for the shortest period of time. Ironically, the US is the only country in the world that has not signed the treaty as reported by the ACLU.

But signing the treaty is clearly not enough. According to Defense of Children International-Palestine, last year an average of 310 Palestinian children were imprisoned for “security offenses” each month, with 60 children 12 to 15 years of age. An estimated 700 children are prosecuted each year in military courts with a 99+% conviction rate. The most common charge is stone throwing which can result in up to 20 years in prison. There have been multiple reports of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse during arrest and interrogation, with 74.5% of children reporting physical violence during arrest and 62% reporting verbal abuse, intimidation and humiliation. Solitary confinement during interrogation has been documented, with an average period of 12 days. The Israeli military courts also put children in administrative detention for months, basically imprisoning them without charges or trial.

To be absolutely clear on this, if a Jewish Israeli child was caught throwing stones at a PA security officer or a Palestinian farmer harvesting his olives, he would not end up in detention. Indeed, if he was from certain Jewish settlements, he would be celebrated as a hero. Such is the justice under military occupation. Jewish children live under civil law and of course are not viewed as the enemy.

According to Addameer, since 2000, more than 12,000 Palestinian children have been detained. The child’s sentence “is decided on the basis of the child’s age at the time of sentencing, and not at the time when the alleged offense was committed.” Children are arrested by Israeli security often in the middle of the night by a large and intimidating group of well-armed, helmeted soldiers. Families cower in the darkness of their homes while mothers and fathers scream to keep their sons from being blindfolded, handcuffed, and taken away. Targeting the most vulnerable puts pressure on the entire community to end any form of resistance. The soldiers also seek to force the children to become collaborators, to deter future participation in demonstrations and stone throwing, and to extort their families financially with large fines. In high conflict areas, there is a pattern of indiscriminate arrests and detention with little or no evidence except the testimony of a soldier.

The arrests are highly dangerous and traumatizing, leading to epidemics of bed wetting, anxiety, depression, PTSD, agitation, and dropping out of school. Childhood trauma also increases the risk of psychological and behavioral disorders in adulthood. Psychologists in the Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture in Ramallah note that targeting adolescents disrupts a critical point in character formation and disturbs the bonds between a child and his family and society. The arrest also causes havoc with the educational process as adolescents are often in the final stages of secondary school, preparing for exams and college.

While children from Mexico and Central and South America have different experiences from Palestinian children, they have much in common. One group is suffering from gangs, poverty, drugs, repression, and violent societies while the other is suffering from a brutal military occupation, recurrent IDF incursions, soldier and settler violence, home demolitions, and poverty. Under these circumstances, taking dangerous desert journeys at the hands of coyotes or heaving a stone at a jeep spewing teargas is an understandable response. Imprisoning either group is a political and racialized decision that creates deep and long-lasting trauma in the children and their families.

While the outrage builds in the US, will anyone pay attention to the fate of the children in the West Bank and Gaza? Their lives may depend on us.

IARPP clamps down debate on Palestinian mental health at its conference in NY

First published in Mondoweiss

On May 20, 2018, a disturbing press release came across my inbox, “IARPP attempts to squelch NYC meeting on Palestine.” The International Association of Relational Psychotherapists and Psychoanalysts has been making headlines over the past few months for scheduling their 2019 international conference in Tel Aviv. In January 2018, a protest was launched by the USA and UK Palestine Mental Health Network, in partnership with Palestinian psychiatrist Dr. Samah Jabr and Jewish Voice for Peace. A petition that has been signed by over 1400 mental health workers, clinicians, and professionals from all over the world called attention to the problematic nature of holding an international conference on mental health in a state where Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza and internationals involved in human rights struggles are unlikely to be permitted to attend. Given the current political climate, academic conferences in Israel as well as other cultural events are also seen as a tacit approval of the policies of the State of Israel. (see Netanyahu’s recent response to an Israeli performer winning the Eurovision Song contest)

While the IARPP claimed that its decisions were entirely apolitical, that conferences are located where there are large numbers of members, that they are solely interested in “open dialogue,” subsequent events have brought serious questions to these assertions. At the launch of the petition, the IARPP proceeded to forbid discussion of this topic on its own listserv after 24 hours.

Additionally, this year’s conference is being held this month in New York City, from June 14-17. The USA-Palestine Mental Health Network continues to be interested in creating a space for academic conversation on the impact of the Israeli occupation and siege on the mental health of Israelis and Palestinians. According to the press release, the group requested a rental for a literature table at the IARPP conference and this was denied. Then they contracted with the hotel to rent a conference room for a symposium of scholars, academics, and clinicians entitled “Voices on Palestine.” They scheduled this meeting so it would not conflict with any IARPP speaker within the main IARPP conference and invited the IARPP Board of Directors to attend.

A professional, international organization that is focused on the social and relational aspects of mental health might be expected to welcome a conversation that explores the impact of longstanding human rights abuses, military occupation and siege on a captive civilian population. Indeed, even the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder may not be applicable to a society where the trauma is ongoing and rarely “post”. The link between a respect for individual human rights and mental health has been foundational to the work of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, and Professor Rita Giacaman’s Institute of Community and Public Health at Birzeit University in the West Bank. Professor Giacaman has conducted pivotal research on the intersection of health and disease through the lens of military occupation and colonization. The researchers there have developed unique measures for the “wounds inside,” which impact “ease” and “dis-ease” such as suffering and humiliation.

But some staff at the IARPP responded more like an arm of the Israeli government than a professional mental health organization. They complained to the hotel that the “Voices” conference was designed to interfere with speakers at the main IARPP conference (it was not) and that the goal of the symposium was to “disrupt” the IARPP conference (it was not). Given these alleged risks, they informed the hotel that they had hired their own private security force and the frightened hotel managers followed their lead and arranged for a NYC Police Department presence to maintain order. The hotel then contacted the USA-PMHN and asked that they go elsewhere.

Fortunately, the USA-PMHN spoke with the hotel managers to counter the distortions and fear mongering raised by the IARPP and will be allowed to proceed with their symposium at the hotel as planned.

So what do we learn from this? Why is an academic discussion about political and social realities that impact mental health so threatening (the relational in the International Association of Relational Psychotherapists and Psychoanalysts)? Why is the IARPP acting like it is the group that is endangered, victimized, under threat by these colleagues who are asking important and challenging questions?

Not only is this kind of behavior dangerously manipulative and distorted (a la a Trumpian approach to inconvenient facts), this is classic Israeli hasbara. The danger is not the facts of occupation, restrictions of movement, the thousands of unarmed protesters injured in Gaza and over a hundred killed, the trauma to their families, the children incarcerated and tortured in Israeli jails, the loss of hope and possibility. The danger is the folks who are raising these uncomfortable questions. The IARPP is playing the victim (hence the private security) when their behavior is actually giving cover to the perpetrators. I would expect that psychotherapists and psychoanalysts would be interested in understanding this kind of psychopathology. It is pervasive in much of the Jewish community in the US and in Israel and supports the world view popular in the US Congress and Christian Evangelical movements that Israel (born from the ashes of the Holocaust) is justified in doing whatever it needs to do to survive with its “most moral army in the world.” If we as a community of therapists, clinicians, academics, and activists do not challenge these assumptions wherever they may occur, I fear that the patients may never be healed.

The New York Times can’t even report on the Eurovision Song Contest without resorting to Israeli propaganda – May 16, 2018

first published in Mondoweiss May 16, 2018

The May 13, 2018 New York Times article, “‘Next Year in Jerusalem!’ In Israel, Eurovision Win Is Seen as a Diplomatic Victory, Too,” has enough accuracy to sound credible, but reeks of the kind of bias and double speak that infects much of the main stream media. Isabel Kershner recounts Netta Barzilai’s stunning victory in the Eurovision Song Contest with her brash, glittery performance of “Toy.” It is inspiring that a larger than your average waif of an actress/singer belts out a song inspired by the Me Too movement and wins an international contest. Kershner does not mention that Barzilai is Mizrachi, but that is a victory of sorts too (of the Obama winning the White House variety) for a society that is struggling with Ashkenazi dominance and institutional racism towards Jews of color.

We should note, of course, that this was a Eurovision Song Contest and that Israel is somehow an honorary member (since 1973) along with Australia, perhaps a nod to other (white) settler colonial states born of European imperialism and colonialism. Kershner dually notes that this outburst of Israeli pride is happening while the US Embassy is opening in Jerusalem, there is “drama” around “stolen Iranian nuclear archives,” Israel is bombing Iranian targets in Syria, and (not mentioned in the initial list but acknowledged later in the piece) dozens of unarmed Gazans have been shot and thousands injured at the border during weeks of mostly nonviolent protest focusing on the Nakba and the decades long refugee crisis.

Kershner understands that having an Israeli star win big on the world stage makes anxious Israelis feel better, particularly with that powerful cultural boycott movement creating havoc: “…many Israelis hailed it as a diplomatic victory and national vindication.” On the other hand, it is important to remember that this is about an Israeli woman singing and winning a contest, not negotiating peace or ending the occupation. It is also a perfect distraction for Netanyahu and his growing legal troubles and corruption scandals.

Not surprisingly, the idea that next year’s Eurovision contest will now be held in (contested) Jerusalem made Netanyahu positively plotz with excitement. “‘Next year in Jerusalem!'” he chirped on Facebook. Kershner acknowledges that the phrase is traditionally sung at the end of the Yom Kippur fast and the Passover seder, but we all know that Israelis have a long tradition of using religion to advance nationalistic motives, starting with the birth of Zionism. This is reported without what I would consider the appropriate level of reflection or dismay.

But then things get even more complicated. When Kershner reports, “The country is bracing for mass Palestinian marches with the potential for bloodshed along the Gaza border and in other areas on Monday to protest the embassy move, among other issues,” she washes over a critical reality. When you have a massive amount of military hardware and sharpshooters lined up facing thousands of unarmed Gazan families and some increasingly angry young men, the “potential” for bloodshed is 100%. Plus the “other issues” really need to be clearly stated. A devasting siege and a flaunting of the international right of return are substantive topics that ground the Palestinian protests in the decades of historical injustices and suffering. Acknowledging this would take us beyond the Israeli Hamas terrorists invading Israel narrative.

Kershner notes, “…some Israelis said the victory helped bolster, even momentarily, a sense of belonging to a small but plucky country that punches above its weight and has outsize influence in the world.” This feeling is threatened by “international grumbling about the 50-year occupation of the Palestinian territories and the policies of Israel’s current government, including its campaign to expel African asylum seekers.” The word “grumbling” just stopped me in my tracks. How about major international criticism and concern over the egregious occupation and siege, serious human rights violations, abominable treatment of asylum seekers, detention and imprisonment of Palestinian children, torture in Israeli prisons, lack of drinkable water in Gaza, not to mention basic medications and supplies. “Grumbling” felt like an attempt to minimize what is a dire reality just a few miles from the plucky people celebrating in Tel Aviv.

Kershner also gives a nod to the trauma to Jewish Israelis created by Natalie Portman “taking a stand against ‘violence, corruption, inequality and abuse of power.’” Kershner writes of the “bruised feelings” that may be “soothed,” without any commentary about Portman’s actual critique of Israeli society and foreign policy.

Kershner again falls short when she writes that “hundreds of actors, musicians and artists critical of Israeli’s actions against Palestinians have endorsed the so-called B.D.S. movement.” What’s with the “so-called”? The B.D.S. campaign actually is a growing international movement to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel until some basic things change around the issues of civil and human rights and international law. The “so-called” feels like a way to discredit the movement without actually saying anything nasty. Perhaps Kershner should check out if she has further doubts.

I was happy to see her note that 28 member states in the EU have criticized the US decision on the Israeli embassy move to Jerusalem. To be entirely accurate, part of the embassy will actually be on land in the No-man’s-land between East and West Jerusalem. And of course there are the whole unmentioned topics of international law, occupied territory, Palestinian aspirations. Doing this move the day before the commemoration of the Nakba is really another middle finger to Palestinians everywhere, but this is not revealed in the feel good moment of Eurovision.

I understand that, much like the US, it is hard for the average man, woman, or screaming teenager on the Israeli street to remember all of this and the Likud party is “soaring in the polls.” With the death of the Iran deal and the move to Jerusalem in the same month, the hawks in Israel are reveling in their long-sought victories. A week ago, Netanyahu spent ten hours celebrating with his pal, Vladimir Putin. The fact that the world is now a more dangerous and unstable place is not even alluded to.

So what is a good journalist to do? Kershner is clearly trying to be “unbiased” but her choice of language and her unwillingness to poke below the surface on many issues is painfully revealing. I suggest that sometimes the right thing to do is to call out and report on the injustices and blindness, or as Portman said, the violence, corruption, inequality and abuse of power in Israel, particularly when it is staring you in the face.

Pressure mounts over psychoanalysts’ 2019 conference, slated for Tel Aviv – March 13, 2018

first published in Mondoweiss 3/13/18
The essay has been posted widely and was published 3/21/18 by the Israeli website Psikhologiya Ivrit (Hebrew Psychology), widely read by mental health professionals. The piece was translated by Lirona Rosenthal.
The essay was also translated into Arabic by Dalal Yassine and published on 4/16/18 on the Al-Quds website.

An extraordinary response has been unfolding around the scheduling of a mental health conference in Israel. The International Association for Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy announced plans to book its 2019 international mental health conference in Tel Aviv. Clinicians immediately began raising two major issues:

Why hold an international conference in a country where not all clinicians (e.g., Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, and internationals with a history of activism and/or support for the boycott, divestment, and sanction movement) will likely be granted permits or allowed entry into Israel?

Holding an international conference in a particular country implies some tacit support or at least acceptance of the policies of that country. This is particularly true of Israel where the Israeli establishment understands that conferences, performances, academic visits, cultural and scientific exchanges imply an acceptance of the status quo. The cultural boycott has made it clear that choosing to hold a major event in Israel is a political statement on the world stage. The fierce debate in Israel about the protest regarding the conference location only confirms this fact.

The IARPP has consistently responded that they do not choose locations for their conferences based on political considerations – rather, they hold conferences in countries that have large, thriving IARPP chapters (and Israel has one). Yet of the many countries that boast thriving IARPP chapters, Israel appears to be the only one where the professionals’ ability to access the conference would depend on their ethnicity and political views.

Clinicians also point out the particular irony that the IARPP focuses on relational psychoanalytic approaches to therapy. How paradoxical it is for a group of therapists grounded in “key relational concepts, such as intersubjectivity and mutual recognition,” who “appreciate the way that the relational theory and practice make room for thinking about the mental health impacts of social and political conditions,” to hold a conference in a country with a history of longstanding human rights abuses, occupation, and siege.

The other looming ethical issue revolves around what is the responsibility of medical and mental health clinicians to attend to the context in which their patients are being treated. How do the social ills, political struggles, economic restrictions, presence or absence of war affect the psychological health of patients? How can clinicians attend to the micro and macro dynamics of healing? One cannot possibly recover from PTSD if the trauma is recurrent and ongoing. What is the obligation of the therapist to address the environment in which the patient is living?

Israel claims to be a modern Western democracy and this is somewhat the reality for the Jewish Israeli population, particularly those of Ashkenazi descent (white Jewish people from Eastern Europe) who were some of the earlier settlers to Palestine and are now dominant in the political and socio-economic strata. At the same time, Israel is a complicated ethnocracy where Jewish privilege is the foundation of legal and cultural structures and the attitudes of the majority of the Jewish population. One of the consequences of seeing Arabs as less human and less deserving is Israel’s longstanding major violations of Palestinian human rights, the imprisonment and torture of Palestinian children, the widespread use of administrative detention, and a 99-percent-+ conviction rate in military courts. There are increasing legal threats to human rights organizations, racist language from the highest echelons of government on down towards Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers (who are currently facing the threat of forcible return to their countries of origin, where many will face torture, enslavement and death) and Palestinians. There is a disproportionate amount of power rested in the ultra-Orthodox, in the rabbinate and the Jewish settler movement, who are often the most racist, Islamophobic, homophobic segments of society.

So what happened? In January 2018, a protest was launched by the USA and UK Palestine Mental Health Network, in collaboration with a leading Palestinian activist clinician, Dr. Samah Jabr, and a petition was created with the support of Jewish Voice for Peace asking the IARPP to change the location of the 2019 conference. How about Jordan or Cyprus for instance? This stimulated a lively, wrenching, and honest debate within the mental health communities internationally and within Israel, a debate that brought a focus to the occupation of Palestine. IARPP responded by proposing to address the issues raised with pre-conference tours of occupied Palestinian territory, and panels addressing psychoanalytic aspects of occupation.

To date, over 1,300 concerned internationals have signed the protest petition. Even more remarkable, 24 Palestinian mental health clinicians with Israeli citizenship issued a statement “in solidarity with our Palestinian colleagues in the Occupied West Bank and Besieged Gaza, who suffer daily from oppression, denial of freedom and chronic violence, including frequent killings of civilians by the Israeli Army, which largely go unpunished. We assert that our Palestinian colleagues have a right to resist the Occupation.” They appealed to the IARRP to move the location of the conference to a country where their Palestinian associates would have a greater chance of attending. In addition, 33 Israeli members of Psychoactive: Mental health professionals for human rights, then issued a public statement concerning the contradictions and complications of holding the conference in Tel Aviv and asking for reconsideration of the location.

The Palestinian and Jewish Israelis who signed these letters took on many risks ranging from interpersonal conflict with their fellow clinicians to professional, legal and extra-legal threats. Their signatures could be seen as a potential response to the call for the boycott of Israel which is now a criminalized offense in the increasingly McCarthyite atmosphere of Israeli society and legal system. Internationals involved in the protest have tremendous respect for the perils that Israeli citizens face when speaking out and urge clinicians to work collegially and in parallel within their own personal limits and political beliefs.

This entire discussion also highlights the fact that the lack of access to the conference in Tel Aviv for clinicians from Gaza and the West Bank due to severe restrictions of permitting and movement mirrors the severe pressures facing clinicians in the region who are mostly unable to attend any international conferences or advanced training let alone obtain medical equipment, medications, etc.

Already the protest movement has created intense discussions and an increasing awareness of the realities on the ground for clinicians who are usually in the shadows. This is a difficult and healthy debate. More is sure to follow.

After Seattle Jewish Establishment Honors Police Department, Progressive Jews Honor Immigrant Rights Group – January 24, 2018

first published in Mondoweiss January 24, 2018

I am fully aware that religion has the capacity to inspire wisdom, kindness, and a sense of belonging and order to chaotic and confusing lives that are often filled with more suffering than joy. At the same time I must confess that I gave up on god decades ago despite my Orthodox Babbe and Zadie and years of Conservative Hebrew School and enlightened parents who found a Havurah that filled their intellectual and spiritual needs. And I gave up on the religion of Judaism the more I studied history and traveled to Palestine and grew to understand how organized religions (of all types) have repeatedly been tribalized and weaponized to inflict pain, control, and devastation.

But I never gave up on being a Jewish person, that is after all the lens that has shaped my history and I struggle with the question of living an ethical life without the trappings and user manual of organized religion. Thus it is not surprising that this week I found myself at a Seattle Reconstructionist Jewish community called Kadima celebrating Tikkum Olam – Repairing the World, which is a very Jewish thing to do.

To put this in context, Kadima is the community that worked with IfNotNow, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Jews Undoing Institutional Racism to oppose the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle awarding the Seattle Police Department the 2017 Tikkun Olam Award for Public Service. At that same time the Police Department was under a US Justice Department order and federal court supervision because of a history of excessive use of force and mistreatment, especially towards people of color. In fact, the previous week officers had killed Charleena Lyles, a deeply troubled, pregnant African-American woman who had called 911 to report a burglary. Not your typical synagogue.

As the evening unfolded, the guacamole and fajitas (chicken, beef, vege and vegan) were authentic Mexican, a celebration of our immigrant communities, (we are/were mostly all once them) and not your typical kosher over-cooked salmon. Again, not your typical…

The keynote speaker, Kirsten Harris-Talley, an inspirational community educator, focused on issues that empower communities of color, women, and youth. She is active in movements like #BlocktheBunker and #NoNewYouthJail. She emphasized the important questions: How Do We Survive the Era of Trump and How Do We Explain to Our Children What He Is Doing and How We are Going to Stop Him. She talked of the stages of grief on which we are all tossing, like rowers on a very stormy sea, and the importance of Resistance, Resilience, and Reliance as a community response.

The Tikkun Olam award was given to the Northwest Detention Center Resistance/Resistencia al NWDC, a grassroots, undocumented-led movement that works to end the detention of immigrants and all deportations, with their focus on the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Tacoma, where one of the largest immigration prisons in the country is located with a capacity of 1575. Up to 200 people primarily women, many seeking asylum, are transferred there from the US-Mexican border each month.

We are not talking some far off CIA black hole.

So here are some of the conditions reported at the Detention Center:

• Few legal protections, civil detainees are not entitled to an attorney at government expense
• Center operated by GEO group, the second largest private prison company in the US, of note GEO Group ran the Migrant Operations Center at Guantanamo Bay from 2006 to 2012
• Abusive treatment by guards
• Immigrants paid $1/day to maintain the facility
• Inadequate food in quantity and nutrition
• Inadequate access to quality medical care
• Prohibitive costs in commissary and for telephone calls
• Lack of soap and clothing
• Retaliatory solitary confinement
• Hunger strikes
• Threats of force feeding (internationally defined as torture)
• Some immigrants have lived in the US for decades, deportation can happen after weeks to years

The speaker (I do not have permission to use her name) spoke of shackled inmates. She called the place a concentration camp. She appealed to us as Jews who know the history of Hitler and the Nazi extermination camps to become abolitionists to this modern day slavery. She used the word fascism to describe the US government, ICE, and the military/industrial/prison complex.

I am struck by the parallels in the prisons of Israel where Palestinians face inhumane conditions, administrative detentions for months to years, children suffer in solitary confinement, there are hunger strikes, threats of force feeding. The heavily militarized occupying force is now training our police forces. The prison systems and rampant dehumanization are international.

In an alternative Trumpian universe, this week, shortly after creating (within the Department of Health and Human Services) the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, President T declared January 22 “National Sanctity of Human Life Day.”

Resistance, Resilience, Reliance, I think.

So how do we in this universe, honor the sanctity of human life? For starters we would fight the dehumanization of immigrants (documented and undocumented) who have been finding their way here, fleeing poverty, torture, gangs. They are building multicultural, vibrant communities who are strong because their families are strong and stronger when supported by those of us who got here a generation or two earlier. We would oppose the imprisonment of people who are productive members of society, who are raising families and going to church and picking lettuce and working in factories and organizing their communities and attending universities, and making mistakes and picking themselves up, and daring to dream.

The sanctity of human life. Let’s redefine that language. Support free and accessible contraception and abortion services so that women (who do have human lives) control their own bodies and every pregnancy is a planned and wanted baby. And if we want to make America strong, then guarantee and fund paid parental leave so that parents (who do have human lives) can take the best care of their blessed children (who are quite human in their extra-uterine existence).

And remembering that life exists beyond conception, how about free and accessible childcare and preschools so that parents (humans) can work to support their children (humans) and children can have the most safe, loving, and educational experiences during the critical time of early childhood.

Of course a strong democracy is grounded in an educated populace: High quality public education that includes paying teachers’ (who do have human lives) salaries that compete with other skilled highly trained professionals so that they can fulfill their promise as educators and their students can fulfill their promise as human beings and the future of our country.

And if we are really going for the big picture: End the practice of older mostly white men (who presumably have consciences and may profess to religious affiliations) sending young men, women, and trans people to fight bloody wars against the youth of other countries, which is the greatest challenge to the sanctity of human life we face today.

If you are a religious person, then we are all created in the image of God. If you are a free thinker, then every person is a treasure that needs to be revered and nurtured. That is what respecting the sanctity of human life could mean. And so much more…