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A. Philip Randolph Was Right: ‘We Will Need To Continue Demonstrations’

A. Philip Randolph

A. Philip Randolph, national president of the Negro American Labor Council and director of the March on Washington (AP Photo)

On the morning after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, its initiator and director declared no victory.

Indeed, A. Philip Randolph announced, “We will need to continue demonstrations.”

Randolph, who was born 125 years ago today, took the long view.

“Legislation is enacted under pressure,” argued the labor leader and civil rights pioneer who had first called for a March on Washington in 1941, when he was advocating for the integration of defense industries. “You can’t move senators and congressmen just because a measure is right. There must be pressure.”

Randolph, who from his initial days in the 1920s as the essential organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters made the union both a labor and civil rights organization, played the pivotal role in making the 1963 march a reality. He insisted on its extended message: that of a campaign for “jobs and freedom” that recognized the vital significance of linking economic and social justice.

Randolph believed in making concrete economic demands, and in following them up with pressure for specific and meaningful action by presidents and senators, governors and mayors. As a Socialist Party stalwart, who backed the presidential candidacies of Eugene Victor Debs and Norman Thomas over those of the major party contenders, Randolph had no allegiance to Democrats or Republicans. He put his faith in organizing, demonstrating and marching. He was a partisan on behalf of economic justice and democracy.

Late in the day of August 28, 1963, after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had finished his “I Have a Dream” speech, Randolph and King joined civil rights and labor leaders for a visit with John F. Kennedy at the White House. The invitation was important, as it represented a presidential embrace of a march that Kennedy and his cautious aides had initially dismissed and discouraged. But Randolph did not imagine that the official welcome meant that the whole of the march’s agenda had been embraced. He and his allies kept the pressure up for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, signed those measures.

But Randolph kept making demands.

Along with other key figures from the March on Washington, labor allies and top economists, he returned to the White House in the fall of 1965 and began outlining a “Freedom Budget For All Americans” that had as its goals

the abolition of poverty

guaranteed full employment

fair prices for farmers

fair wages for workers

housing and healthcare for all

the establishment of progressive tax and fiscal policies that respected the needs of working families.

The Freedom Budget was a visionary document—so visionary that, even now, its language and its ambitions read like excerpts from a speech by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a call to organize fast-food workers or the agenda of Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and the “Fight for 15” drive to establish living-wage protections.

It proved, however, to be too ambitious for the 1960s.

Lyndon Johnson gave Randolph a Medal of Freedom but not a full embrace of the Freedom Budget. While the War on Poverty was surely influenced by Randolph’s advocacy—along with the writing of the labor leader’s friend and ally Michael Harrington—it never saw the commitments that the aging labor leader or the young writer sought.

Nothing saddened Randolph more, as he believed that the Freedom Budget was essential to making real the full “jobs and freedom” promise of the March on Washington, a promise expressed by Dr. King in his stirring plea “to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

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Interviewed in the mid-1970s, as he was nearing his ninetieth year, Randolph explained, “My philosophy was the result of our concept of effective liberation of the Negro through the liberation of the working people. We never separated the liberation of the white working man from the liberation of the black working man.”

“The unity of these forces,” argued Randolph, “would bring about the power to really achieve social change.

The March on Washington was an epic event in American history. It occurred on a single day, but it was part of an arc of history that began long before August 28, 1963, and that extends to the present. A. Philip Randolph, who lived until 1979, was able to reflect on a good measure of that history. But he was not inclined toward self-congratulation. Rather, in his last interviews and speeches, he recalled the Freedom Budget and he spoke of the work yet to be done.

Among all the reasons for recalling Randolph’s remarkable contributions, it is perhaps most important to remember that Randolph was not satisfied. The March on Washington bent the arc of history toward progress, but Randolph never stopped applying pressure—to Democratic and Republican presidents, to members of Congress of both major parties and every ideology. He was an independent radical who always believed, as he said on that morning in 1963, “We will need to continue demonstrations.”

 

Read Next: Thomas Piketty and Millennial Marxists

We Are Witnessing Civil War in Ukraine

Donetsk, Ukraine

Pro-Russian demonstrators take part in a rally in central Donetsk, March 8, 2014 (Reuters/Konstantin Chemichkin)

Friction between Russia and the West remains high as Ukrainians prepare for a presidential election scheduled for May 25. Russia has mobilized as many as 40,000 troops along Ukraine’s eastern border and NATO is making moves along Ukraine’s western border. Pro-Russian demonstrators have seized government buildings in several towns in Eastern Ukraine—Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk—and de facto government in Kiev is calling for United Nations peacekeepers to intervene. The Nation’s editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel joined Sonali Kolhatkar on Uprising Radio to discuss this unfolding crisis.

“We are witnessing civil war,” vanden Heuvel says, one that was “triggered by the European Union’s reckless ultimatum—despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer of a tripartite agreement—which compelled an elected president of a deeply divided country to choose economically between the West and Russia.” She says that a cooling of tensions is still very much within the realm of possibilities, but cautions that peace has its preconditions. First, diplomacy between Ukraine, Russia, the US and the EU needs to proceed in good faith. Additionally, all Ukrainians must be fairly represented in the upcoming presidential elections—and Kiev must take seriously the idea of granting more autonomy to regional administrations.

For more on the US’s role in the crisis, read vanden Heuvel’s post, “Thanks to Republicans, the World Just Got a Little More Dangerous.”

—David Kortava

Today on the Action McNews Network: The Disappearance of Democracy in the US

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What the French E-mail Meme Reveals About America’s Runaway Culture of Work

French workers take part in a demonstration over labor reforms in Toulouse

French workers take part in a demonstration over labor reforms in Toulouse (Reuters/Jean-Philippe Arles)

Last week, a dazzling meme captured the viral hive-mind of an overstressed generation: French workers had adopted a new labor policy to ban work-related e-mail after 6 pm.

The rule would supposedly force managers of workers in tech and consulting jobs to stop sending e-mails and other business communications outside of designated work schedules. It was described as a mandate for workers to “resist the temptation to look at work-related material on their computers or smartphones—or any other kind of malevolent intrusion into the time they have been nationally mandated to spend on whatever the French call la dolce vita.” Awkwardly Italian slang-reference notwithstanding, the Brits aired classic bon mots about France’s notorious leisure culture had led them to “[ban] bosses from bothering them once the working day is done.”

In a half-jeering, half-envious tone, commentators trumpeted France’s hardline defense of living well and “life after 6 p.m.” You could almost hear the champagne glasses clinking at the strike of six as Vuitton-clad employees powered down their mobiles in lockstep and promptly flipped off the supervisor.

In reality, France’s off-clock life remains essentially unchanged. The image of legions of French office grunts downing smartphones en masse was, alas, slightly hyperbolic. As Buzzfeed and others pointed out, this was not a law, but something known as a “labor agreement.” On behalf of a group of organized professional employees, the CFDT (Confédération française démocratique du travail) and CGC (Confédération générale des cadres) unions engaged employer’s associations via collective bargaining and agreed to an “obligation to disconnect from remote communications tools” outside of normal working hours, which professionals measure by days worked annually (no set hours, much less a post-6 pm ban). The measure, aimed at preserving workers’ health and wellness, now awaits approval by the Labor Ministry.

The agreement covers mid-managerial professionals whose schedules tend to be more erratic—or what corporate America terms “flexible.” The 250,000 affected employees represent some of the most stressed-out “knowledge economy” workers, and the labor arrangement simply aims to limit stress by placing some restrictions to how much work intrudes on the personal lives of workers. Besides, France’s famous thirty-five-hour workweek does not apply to these workers, and they are generally allowed up to seventy-eight work-hours in a given week—hardly a life of leisure. And the policy is not unprecedented. The German Labor Ministry and Volkswagen’s administration have recently enacted similar curbs on after-work contact between staff and higher-ups.

There are, as one French worker told the BBC, “moments when you just need to chillax.… Good for business, good for people, as well.”

More curious than the e-mail proposition was the grossly inaccurate media portrayal—echoing a time-honored tradition of deriding the French as effete snobs on the one hand, and retrograde European welfare spongers on the other. The trope of the atrophying welfare regime has long played opposite the can-do vigor of American-style capitalism.

Outside commentators tend to fixate on France’s robust labor protections, such as its religiously observed Sunday work holiday—as if they were bizarre medieval lost rites (conservatives deploy terms like “anti-growth” and “dangerously uncompetitive”). Last year saw a rash of “lazy French” headlines, stemming from the embittered commentary of Morry Taylor, CEO of the tire company Titan, who railed in a published letter: “They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three.… They told me that’s the French way…!”

And yet, the pathos of la belle vie has not stopped the OECD from ranking France among the most “productive” countries in terms of GDP per hour worked. And according to 2011 data, the French actually work about forty hours per week, despite the thirty-five-hour limit—somewhat below Germany but about comparable to the EU average.

From a historical standpoint, America is the outlier. As The New Yorker reports, during the last century, working hours declined on both sides of the Atlantic. But as neoliberalism crystallized in the 1980s, “Europe consolidated its generous welfare state, and the US, under Ronald Reagan, began dismantling its own in the name of making its economy more competitive.” And American work schedules have accelerated toward an ever-more feverish pace (even as actual earnings sag).

Americans might rethink France’s reputed “laziness” as efficiency tempered by joie de vivre. Compared to US quality of life, French people spend hundreds more hours annually on leisure and personal care, enjoy over twice as many vacation days and yet end up with a third more disposable household income. And, The New Yorker observes, they maintain “a stronger social support network and a much better work-life balance than Americans (not to mention better bread, cheese, and wine).”

While unapologetically suckling from the state’s teat, French workers also benefit from fiscal stimulus at a high rate, with some 240,000 jobs directly generated by government in 2011. Of course, some Americans may recoil at such Keynesian interventionism. But from a labor standpoint, this demonstrates the maintenance of the state’s essential role in safeguarding workers from the volatility of the Eurozone crisis—a crisis that, while certainly disrupting France’s economy, is also a product of the very same breakneck “growth” that free-marketeers tout as the solution.

The fundamental difference between French and American work cultures lies in collective consciousness. French workers saw about 700 work stoppages, including strikes and lockouts, in 2004 (the last year for which official data is available), compared to less than 140 for the Brits and a piddling seventeen for Americans.

French labor’s militancy, not sloth, is likely the true source of Titan’s scorn. Taylor’s missive grumbled about “the crazy union” for rejecting the firm’s attempt to cut hours and ultimately refusing to negotiate on job cuts, leading to a breakdown of contract talks in 2011. So the French workforce was hardly lazy about defending what mattered.

Yet French labor is fighting a war of attrition, and the new e-mail rules reveal that the professional class is on the defensive. As in the United States, hypercompetitive, 24-7 startup culture is driving France’s white-collar workers toward that all-too-familiar obsessive, lethal workaholism.

Gerald Friedman, a specialist in French labor history at University of Massachussetts-Amherst, says via e-mail that organizing around the issue of off-hours work time is “a new area for wage labor,” arising in response to the “gig” economy. Today’s professionals jockey for work, and “if they don’t take every available job, they risk having no work at all.” Setting reasonable limits on off-clock time, he adds, “is an area that needs to be addressed through collective action.”

The agreement to control out-of-office communications represents the concerns of France’s “cadre” class, a distinct sector of French organized labor comprised of technicians and managers. (It is yet to be seen whether similar regulations will be expanded to include lower-level office workers.)

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For France’s ordinary proles, the labor conflicts of the past few years have not ended with mutual agreement. Last year, controversy erupted over a proposal to loosen the six-day workweek rule. Street protests roiled over plans to weaken labor protections that shield workers from being sacked—a move designed to enhance “flexibility” in the labor market.

That French workers still cling to what’s left of decades of labor struggles may invite ridicule from American counterparts, but the laughter masks a latent unease, perhaps yearning. Alongside the newsfeeds spitting headlines about France’s zany e-mail ban, how many articles fret over waning work-life balance, or recommend techniques for “self-care,” meditation or even the modern rite of “unplugging.” These faddish self-help tactics suggest workers’ internalization of bone-crushing stress, viewing it as an individual flaw to “cope with,” rather than a larger social problem. Now some French workers have developed a modest proposal to manage stress. Is that the nanny state or human reason at work?

Labor historian Richard Greenwald suspects the gawking public response to the French e-mail pact exposes Americans’ imbalanced concept of a healthy work life: “Many Western democracies have attitudes towards work and workers that consider health and well-being. They protect workers, have traditions of collective bargaining and a healthier sense of balance between work and home. We on the other hand see all of this as old, out-dated notions.… We work longer hours, take less vacation and report more stress than Western Europeans. So… Maybe they aren’t so ‘crazy’.”

Bottom line: workers on both sides of the pond recognize the finer things in life, but only one society is still bold enough to demand a little civilité as policy, not just a perk.

Read Next: Michelle Goldberg explains “The Rise of the Progressive City.”

‘Bogus and Unconscionably High Fees’: How Tax Preparers Are Preying on Low-Income People

The estimated $300 billion in anticipated tax refunds this year is irresistible to predatory preparers targeting the poor. Stephen Black, director of the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility at the University of Alabama, appeared on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry to discuss this “wild west” of an industry that leeches money from impoverished communities. Families expecting the earned income tax credit, in need of help with tax preparation but without access to the certified CPAs that do taxes for the wealthy, turn instead to shady pop-up operations that sprout during tax season. “The average single mother working at Walmart making $19,000 a year, raising two kids, goes into one of these places,” says Black, “and will come out $300” poorer.
—Corinne Grinapol

North Carolina Supreme Court to Decide the Fate of 4 Inmates Whose Lives Were Spared by the Racial Justice Act

NC Supreme Court

North Carolina Supreme Court building in Raleigh (CC, 3.0)

North Carolina’s Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in the cases of four capital defendants who had their sentences commuted to life in prison under the state’s since-repealed Racial Justice Act (RJA). If the inmates lose, they could be sent back to death row.

The Racial Justice Act, passed in 2009, allowed death row inmates to challenge their sentences if they believed racial biases played a significant role before or during their trials. The state legislature narrowed the law in 2012 before Republican Governor Pat McCrory signed a repeal of RJA last year.

The state Supreme Court will review two separate cases involving three African-American men and one Lumbee Indian woman who all successfully argued in a lower court that racial biases affected prosecutors’ jury selection for their trials. The first case involves Marcus Robinson, who was the first prisoner to have his sentenced reduced under RJA, before it was amended to narrow the scope of permitted evidence proving racial discrimination. The second case involves Tilmon Golphin, Christina Walters and Quintel Augustine.

Attorneys representing the inmates cited a Michigan State University study finding that prosecutors struck qualified blacks from serving as jurors in capital cases at nearly twice the rate of other races from 1990 to 2010. About 53 percent of North Carolina’s death row inmates are black, despite only making up 22 percent of the state’s population.

Representing Tilmon Golphin, Quientel Augustine and Christina Walters, Attorney Jay Ferfuson presented handwritten jury selection notes from a prosecutor that suggested he viewed white and black jurors “through a different lens.” He described one potential juror as a “blk wino,” (sic) while another black juror from a “respectable” family was “ok.” Another prosecutor, when asked to explain why she struck some black jurors, read straight from a “cheat sheet” of defenses to accusations of discriminatory strikes.

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The high court’s decisions could have far-reaching consequences for the more than 150 death row inmates in North Carolina who have filed for relief under RJA. The state has not executed anyone since 2006.

In a 2012 court order reducing the sentences of three of the defendants, Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks explained the necessity of the Racial Justice Act.

“Our system of justice is still healing from the lingering effects of slavery and Jim Crow,” Weeks wrote. “In emerging from this painful history, it is more comfortable to rest on the status quo and to be satisfied with the progress already made. RJA calls upon the justice system to do more.”

Read Next: The “real racists” have always worn suits.

The Outrageous Trial of Cecily McMillan

Occupy Wall Street protesters Eric Linkser and Cecily McMillan

Occupy Wall Street protesters Eric Linkser, left, and Cecily McMillan, right, take turns shouting information to protesters on November 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Two years ago, a young activist named Cecily McMillan attended a protest at Zuccotti Park marking the six-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. When police moved in to clear the demonstrators, a cop roughly grabbed her breast—photos show an ugly bruise—and she ended up being injured so badly that she had a seizure and ended up in the hospital. In a just world, she would be getting restitution from the City. Instead, in a grotesque act of prosecutorial overreach, she’s currently on trial for assault and facing up to seven years in prison.

According to prosecutors, McMillan, now 25, intentionally attacked her arresting officer, Grantley Bovel, by elbowing him in the face, and was then hurt when he tried to subdue her. She says that she instinctively struck out when she felt his hand on her breast, not knowing that he was a cop, and was then further assaulted.

Her story is more convincing for a number of reasons. McMillan, a veteran of the anti–Scott Walker protests in Wisconsin, was a dedicated pacifist; in Dissent, her masters thesis adviser Maurice Isserman writes about the “many and long discussions Cecily and I have had about nonviolence.” Her injuries, which you can see in this Democracy Now! piece, are indisputable, particularly the hand-shaped bruise on her right breast.

Meanwhile, The Guardian, which has covered McMillan’s case closely, reports that Bovel has twice been investigated by Internal Affairs, including for one incident in which he and his partner were alleged to have run down a 17-year-old on a dirt bike. He received a “command discipline” for failing to radio that they were in pursuit. In another case, he was filmed kicking a suspect on the floor of a Bronx bodega. (Unfortunately, the judge in McMillan’s case has ruled against turning Bovel’s internal disciplinary file over to the defense.) Austin Guest, a protester who was arrested the same day as McMillan, is currently suing him, claiming that Bovel purposefully bashed his head into the seats of a police bus as he was dragged down the aisle.

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In her opening argument last week, assistant district attorney Erin Choi tried to use McMillan’s outcry during the arrest against her. Choi quoted McMillan asking onlookers, “Are you filming this? Are you filming this?” Choi’s implication was that McMillan didn’t want her premeditated attack on tape. But anyone who has ever covered a protest knows that this is what demonstrators say when they feel they’re being mistreated—it’s a call for documentation, not for turning the cameras off.

Now, with the trial entering its second week, McMillan and her supporters are once again asking for people to witness an unfolding injustice. “It is important that the jury see that Cecily is not some isolated kook, but has a community behind her,” writes Isserman, noting that the trial runs daily at the New York Criminal Court at 100 Centre Street. “I urge anyone concerned with Cecily’s case, and the broader issues it raises about civil liberties and police violence, to attend for a day, or even just for an hour or two.”

Read Next: How is it that about one-third of police reports in Albuquerque involved unreasonable uses of force?

The Tea Party’s New Hampshire Circus Takes On the GOP Establishment

Tea Party flag

The Tea Party flag (Reuters/Brian Snyder)

It’s always a good idea to bring fruitcakes to a tea party. At least, that’s the way it seemed this weekend in New Hampshire, when the fruitcakes on the far right of the Republican party assembled to perform in front of an audience of 700 gathered together by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation and Citizens United, at the first annual Tea Party “Freedom Summit.” Present were Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, Utah’s Mike Lee and other wild-and-crazy would-be candidates and spokespeople for the far right of the Republican party.

Here’s the context for that meeting. Tea Party and its allies are so far zero-for-everything in running candidates in 2014 Republican primaries in House and Senate races around the country. What seemed like an unstoppable wave of rightist frenzy in 2010, when the Tea Partyers managed to elect a lot of folks to Congress, has virtually collapsed. By helping odd, fringe candidates win nominations, especially for the Senate in 2010 and since, the Tea Party has guaranteed that Democrats were able to hold onto the Senate majority, and in 2014 the Republican establishment is determined not to let that happen again, since this year the GOP has a real shot at retaking the Senate. So the Tea Party finds itself pitted against that establishment in primaries across the country, and it’s losing big. In 2016, the GOP mainstream, including the US Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, The Wall Street Journal and others, aren’t going to let the Tea Party hijack its presidential candidate either.

So the Tea Party’s Freedom Summit in New Hampshire is nothing more than an exercise in irrelevancy. None of the candidates who appeared there have a prayer of being elected president, especially when matched against Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street–funded, foreign policy hawk–dominated, Establishment-backed juggernaut. And the GOP, Sheldon Adelson included, has figured that out.

According to The Washington Post, the big stars at the Freedom Summit were Ted Cruz, Mr. Government Shutdown, and Rand Paul, the kooky libertarian-isolationist who dearly wants to eliminate America’s entire social safety net, including Medicare and Social Security. But Trump weighed in, too, and he made news when he ridiculed former Florida Governor Jeb Bush for his support for immigration reform. The crowd booed and hissed when Trump said that Bush had said last week that immigrants often come to the United States as “an act of love.”

And here was Paul’s message, accusing the GOP establishment of being weak-willed:

Some say we just need to dilute our message, let’s just be a little more like the Democrats. You think that’s a good idea? Hogwash. It’s exactly the wrong thing to do. Our problem isn’t that we are too bold. Our problem is that we are too timid.

Likewise, Cruz seemed to tailor his message not against Democrats but against his fellow GOP colleagues:

You want to know why people are frustrated out of their mind in Washington? The biggest divide we have is not between Democrats and Republicans. It’s between entrenched politicians in both parties, and the American people.

If that’s their message, Paul and Cruz will guarantee that they remain angry young men shouting into the Republican winds. Though both have the ability to raise substantial funds through direct-mail appeals and the like, neither one can assemble the vast sums from billionaires and millionaires who’ll pour dollars into the coffers of whatever establishment candidate emerges in the campaign. Indeed, the Tea Partyers only hope is that the mainstream candidates falter—specifically, that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is too badly wounded by scandal to run, that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker fails to get re-elected in 2014 or otherwise drops out, that Jeb Bush stays put in Florida and that other, relatively mainstream candidates such as Paul Ryan and John Kasich don’t get traction. But the likelihood of every one of these potential candidates failing is vanishingly small.

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Interestingly, though Christie is still hampered by an expanding series of investigations by US attorney’s in New Jersey and New York, he’s now got two aides placed in New Hampshire. Christie Watch already reported, back in February, about the fact that Matt Mowers, a former Christie political aide who’s himself caught up in Bridgegate, is in place as executive director of the New Hampshire Republican party. Now CBS reports that another Christie aide, Colin Reed, the deputy spokesman for Christie, has taken a job as Scott Brown’s campaign manger in a senatorial race against Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

Fact is, the GOP standard-bearer in 2016 is far more likely to be chosen among Christie, Bush, Walker and the others willing to kowtow to the Republican party’s big-money people and its establishment backers. But they’ll need the votes of the Tea Party masses, so events such as the Freedom Summit will serve only to rally the GOP’s base for another version of Bob Dole, John McCain or Mitt Romney.

 

Read Next: Why do Republicans no longer support voting rights?

Will Obama and Kerry Play Their High Cards Against Israeli Hardliners?

Obama with Netanyahu and Abbas

President Obama with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. (Reuters/Jason Reed)

The deadline, supposedly April 29, for a deal of some kind between Israel and the Palestinians—what Secretary of State John Kerry calls a “framework agreement”—is close, and although the talks appeared to have fallen apart earlier this month, the two sides held what The Wall Street Journal calls “a rare meeting without U.S. mediator Martin Indyk present” on Sunday. It isn’t clear what the meeting means, and it may be too late for any deal to be reached by the end of April, but at least Kerry is putting the blame for the roadblocks where it belongs: on Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

To recap: last week, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he used to chair, to howls of outrage from Israel and from its American partisans, Kerry directly blamed Israel for sabotaging the talks, by announcing the construction of 700 settlements in occupied territory outside Jerusalem. “Poof!” said Kerry, describing how the talks came to a sudden halt. “That was sort of the moment.” Israel also threw a tool-box full of monkey wrenches into the talks by refusing to release a fourth group of Palestinian prisoners, though they had pledged to do so as part of the Kerry-led talks. Following those actions by Israel, the Palestinians announced their intention to apply for membership, as a state, in more than a dozen United Nations organizations, and then Netanyahu escalated by declaring his intent to take more “unilateral” actions that would further throw the talks into the deep freeze. But it was clearly Israel, and its intransigent prime minister, who was chiefly to blame for wrecking the talks.

It wasn’t only Kerry who put the blame on Israel. As The New York Times reported last week:

Tzipi Livni, the justice minister and the government’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, said she believed that Uri Ariel, the housing minister, had acted deliberately to sabotage the peace effort.

Hardly a liberal peacenik, Livni is a former member of the ultraright Likud coalition. But more recently, she’s emerged as a strong advocate for a two-state solution, and the fact that she was named as Israel’s chief negotiator was thought to be a good sign, at the start of the talks in 2013. Now, Livni is engaged in political warfare with the far-right components of the ruling coalition—not only Housing Minister Ariel but Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, too, who Livni says is the representative of Israel’s fanatical settler movement, including the settlement of Yitzhar, where settlers attacked security police recently, and not of Israel itself. According to Haaretz, the Israeli daily, Livni added:

And so everything is connected. This man and his party are damaging Israel’s security. They’re the ones trying to make sure that there’s no peace agreement—that the young men of Yitzhar become official Israel. I won’t let this happen.

Bennett, the leader of the hardline Jewish Home party, closely affiliated with the settler movement, and other extremists inside Netanyahu’s coalition, are the ones sabotaging the talks, says Livni. Reports The Times of Israel:

She also accused the hard-line “Jewish Home,” a pro-settler party, of trying to thwart her efforts. She took special aim at the party’s leader, Naftali Bennett, and Housing Minister Uri Ariel, a strong supporter of Jewish settlements.

“There are people in the government who don’t want peace,” Livni said. “Bennett and Uri Ariel represent those who want to prevent a peace process.”

So far, it seems that Netanyahu is leaning toward the hardliners. But Livni’s courageous stand provides crucial cover for Kerry’s decision to blame Israel for the breakdown. And that’s important, because even a slight move by Kerry to take the Palestinian side in the talks will terrify Israeli politicians and political powers. Although it often seems as if Israel is immune to American pressure, in fact that pressure is rarely applied, and Israel is so dependent on the United States for political support—in the UN, say—and for American economic and military support that even a slight indication that the United States is reviewing its Israel policy will send chills down Israeli spines. The problem, historically, is that the United States has rarely been willing to use that influence.

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Kerry, naturally, is under fire from the Israel lobby’s partisans on Capitol Hill. But they’re greatly weakened, because of their opposition to the ongoing US-Iran talks, which appear to be progressing successfully. When the Israel lobby on the Hill and its organizer, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, tried to sabotage the Iran talks by legislating yet another round of anti-Iran sanctions, President Obama’s White House in January suggested that backers of those sanctions want war with Iran, and called their bluff. As I reported back in January, a White House statement said:

If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so. Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.

That statement shocked AIPAC and its allies to the core. Right now, despite Israel’s intransigence, Obama and Kerry hold all the high cards. Let’s see if they lay them down.

 

Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss on how to break the Israel-Palestine deadlock.