Letters From the August 26-September 2, 2019, Issue

Letters From the August 26-September 2, 2019, Issue

Letters From the August 26-September 2, 2019, Issue

Eyes wide open… The other stain… Sanders’s exceptionalism?… Human rights v. propaganda (web only)…


Eyes Wide Open

I write to thank you for Arran Skinner’s beautiful and timely article about the victims of oppression who are being found on the riverbanks and beaches and in the detention facilities of autocratic regimes in many places [“On Not Looking Away,” July 29/Aug. 5]. This article reminds us, in nearly every sentence, of what is missing in the current political discussions. Compassion. Empathy. The recognition that each of these victims is as human and as valuable to the future of the planet as ourselves. America will never become great again until we absorb—and express—this truth.
Frank Southworth
new york city

The Other Stain

Eric Foner’s commentary “The Court: Grave of Liberty” [July 29/Aug. 5] quotes a scholar as saying that Oliver Wendell Holmes’s 1903 decision in Giles v. Harris “is—or should be—the most prominent stain on his reputation.” But surely in the running for that distinction should be Holmes’s 1927 decision in Buck v. Bell. Carrie Buck was a 17-year-old patient at the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, said to be, using the language of the times, the feebleminded daughter of a feebleminded mother, and herself the parent of a feebleminded child. In an 8-1 decision, Holmes argued that “three generations of imbeciles are enough.” The Supreme Court thus upheld a Virginia statute authorizing her eugenic sterilization—which led to the sterilization of at least 65,000 Americans against their will.
Joel D. Howell
ann arbor, mich.

Editor’s note: See the review of Stephen Budiansky’s new biography of Holmes that discusses Buck v. Bell in this issue.

Sanders’s Exceptionalism?

I have long been a fan of Greg Grandin’s historical writing, but his latest essay, “Bernie’s Challenge to American Exceptionalism” [July 29/Aug. 5], does not present a compelling argument that Sanders is unique among the candidates for the Democratic nomination or that he is the best choice to beat Trump in 2020.

While Sanders has been most aggressive in portraying himself as heir to Franklin Roosevelt’s call for an economic or social bill of rights, surely Elizabeth Warren is making the same pitch: Rein in corporate power, reduce income inequality, guarantee access regardless of income to social goods such as medical care and college, etc. And if our model for social rights is FDR, who compromised with Southern segregationists in ways that would make even Joe Biden blush, then most of the Democratic pack is far ahead in breaking the link Grandin identifies between racism and hostility to social rights.

Leftists, it has been said, can be categorized as either lumpers or splitters. Grandin here is among the splitters, emphasizing Sanders’s differences from his rivals because of his alleged ideological purity. Better that we be lumpers, emphasizing that most of the Democratic candidates (OK, not Biden) are far enough to the left that progressives could legitimately support any of a number of candidates.

Robert Shaffer
mechanicsburg, pa.

Human Rights v. Propaganda

Omar Barghouti misleads Western audiences by presenting BDS as a social justice movement when in reality it’s a political movement that seeks the destruction of Israel [“Why Americans Should Support BDS,” July 29].

He claims BDS doesn’t target individuals, yet athletes such as Lionel Messi and artists such as Paul McCartney received death threats from BDS activists.

He describes Israel as an apartheid state, denigrating the meaning of that term. With 1.8 million Arab citizens of Israel, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the population, Israel is the only real democracy in the Middle East, where Arabs sit in the country’s parliament and on its Supreme Court; while over 22 percent of the student body of the Technion, Israel’s version of MIT, are Arab students.

He talks of Palestinian self-determination, but has denied Jews the same right, claiming only Palestinians have “inalienable rights,” while Jews, despite over 3,000 years of historical ties to the land, have only “acquired rights,” stating: “Definitely, most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.” He considers Palestine to be Israel, Gaza and West Bank.

His talk of the right of return is as much an affront to a peace deal as the settler movement. He seeks to claim all of the land as Palestinian, stating: “If the refugees were to return, you would not have a two-state solution, you’d have a Palestine next to a Palestine,” and even states that “there is no reason why it should not be renamed Palestine.” His talk of a one-state solution as a means to peace is just empty rhetoric when he states: “I am completely and categorically against binationalism because it assumes that there are two nations with equal moral claims to the land.”

True peace will only come once people like Mr. Barghouti realize that Israel is a fact and pursue a genuine peace based on a two-state solution.
Ari Ingel
Director, Creative Community for Peace
los angeles

Omar Barghouti Replies

Official documents link Creative Community for Peace (CCfP) with the Israel Emergency Alliance, which is better known as the right-wing organization StandWithUs. According to a fictitious business name statement filed with the State of California in 2016 (and extending into 2021), the Israel Emergency Alliance is listed as the Registered Owner of StandWithUs, and CCfP is listed on that same form as an “Additional Fictitious Business Name.” In addition, a search for CCfP’s tax forms redirects to the 990 tax forms for the Israel Emergency Alliance, aka StandWithUs.

This is significant because StandWithUs—which joined forces on several occasions earlier in the decade with Israel’s Foreign Ministry and its representatives to produce Israeli “hasbara,” or what many call propaganda—has put forward material defending Israel’s settlement project and denying that there is an occupation. In addition, StandWithUs has a history of partnering for eventspanels, and videos with groups like Christians United for Israel (CUFI), whose pastor John Hagee is famous for combining anti-Semitism with Islamophobiasexism, and homophobia.

Contrary to CCfP’s propaganda, Israel’s more than 65 racist laws and its multifaceted racial domination over the indigenous Palestinian people make it guilty of apartheid, as defined by the UN.

South African leaders, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Parliament Speaker Baleka Mbete, have witnessed firsthand and condemned Israeli apartheid as manifested in ethnic cleansing, segregated roads, home demolitions, and Jewish-only colonies. “Apartheid in South Africa,” concluded Mbete, “was a picnic compared to what we have seen in the occupied [Palestinian] territories.”

The BDS movement, led by the largest coalition in Palestinian society, takes no position on the ultimate political outcome of our liberation struggle. I do.

AIPAC, Congress, The New York Times, CCfP, among others, have deceptively butchered my personal ethical vision for a shared democracy. Here’s what I actually said:

“A Jewish state in Palestine in any shape or form cannot but contravene the basic rights of the indigenous Palestinian population and perpetuate a system of racial discrimination that ought to be opposed categorically.

“Just as we would oppose a ‘Muslim state,’ or a ‘Christian state,’ or any kind of exclusionary state, definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.

“Accepting modern-day Jewish-Israelis as equal citizens and full partners in building and developing a new shared society, free from all colonial subjugation and discrimination, as called for in the democratic state model, is the most magnanimous, rational offer any oppressed indigenous population can present to its oppressors. So don’t ask for more.”

What’s so scary about a non-racial democracy and equal rights for all?

Omar Barghouti
Co-founder, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights

Editor’s note: The above letter has been updated to more accurately reflect the nature of the links between Creative Community for Peace and StandWithUs as well as past partnerships between StandWithUs and actors within the Israeli government.


The Distraction Distraction” by Eric Alterman [Aug. 12/19] misstates the title of Michael Lewis’s book about government agencies under the Trump administration. The title is The Fifth Risk, not The Undoing Project.

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