Letters From the August 21/28, 2023, Issue

Letters From the August 21/28, 2023, Issue

Letters From the August 21/28, 2023, Issue

Suburban blight… Predatory financing… Dancing to AIPAC’s tune (web only)… A commitment to liberation (web only)…


Suburban Blight

P.E. Moskowitz’s article “America’s Suburbs Are Breeding Grounds for Fascism” [June 26/July 3] is an insightful, if still disheartening, addition to the loudening discussions surrounding urban planning in the United States, especially concerning the suburbs.

I’m a 24-year-old from a middle-class Midwestern suburb, and for a long time I didn’t know how to verbalize the feeling of malaise that suburbia conjures within me. But now the reasons are all too clear. In too many suburbs around the country, there are too few accessible public green spaces, a deluge of sparsely inhabited or lifeless commercial developments tied together by car dependency, and a pervasive air of individualist classism. From its terrible environmental impacts to its contributions to political elitism and social isolation, suburbia is a hidden blight on the lives of millions. I urge The Nation to further empower its readers to understand how their environment shapes their lives and to give them the tools to design (and redesign) the more sustainable, more fulfilling, and more accessible types of communities the US so desperately needs.

Chase Coselman
fenton, mich.

Predatory Financing

I’m glad Eileen Markey’s reporting revealed the impact of Freddie Mac’s overfinancing, and I’m furious that the lender is doing it again [“Investors Eat First,” June 26/July 3]. I helped organize around Freddie Mac’s irresponsible multifamily lending in the Bronx in the early 1990s with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition and have written about it. The parallels between then and now of overfinancing and the terrible results for the affordability and decency of people’s homes are very disturbing. In 1987, the NWBCCC and the University Neighborhood Housing Program realized that Freddie Mac was making very large mortgages on Bronx apartment buildings. By 1989, Freddie Mac held $663 million in debt on more than 700 buildings in the Bronx. To pay that debt, landlords raised rents (legally and illegally) and cut services to tenants. The tenants organized, confronting both the landlords and Freddie Mac. Freddie Mac said it knew what it was doing. But it didn’t: In 1989 and 1990, Freddie Mac lost $278 million on its multifamily portfolio—half its total losses for the period, even though multifamily lending was a small fraction of its lending. The real losses were felt by tenants who suffered poor housing conditions, faced higher rents, or lost their apartments. Freddie Mac should be using its government-backed financing to support quality affordable housing, not to enrich speculators intent on sucking the value out of apartment buildings that are also people’s homes.
Margaret Groarke
Professor, Political Science
Coordinator of Community Engaged Learning
Manhattan College
bronx, n.y.

Dancing to AIPAC’s Tune

We Need to Talk… About AIPAC—and Develop a Strategy to Defeat the Lobby Too” [online, April 10] by Justice Democrats leaders Alexandra Rojas and Waleed Shahid provides an urgently needed analysis of the threat AIPAC poses to the progressive movement. As Rojas and Shahid argue, AIPAC uses large amounts of dark money to defeat candidates who diverge, even minimally, from unconditional support for the Israeli apartheid state, as candidates who are progressive on other issues increasingly do.

Yet, as good as their piece is, Rojas and Shahid should have acknowledged that Justice Democrats has itself danced to AIPAC’s tune at times. In 2020, JD endorsed Georgette Gómez in California’s 53rd Congressional District, even as she accepted the endorsement of AIPAC affiliate Democratic Majority for Israel and then voiced DMFI’s anti-Palestinian bigotry. And for all of its keen insights, Rojas and Shahid’s essay sidesteps the vexed issue of where to draw the line on Palestine-Israel for candidates seeking progressive endorsements. For their part, Rojas and Shahid advocate conditioning US aid to Israel and argue, specifically, that progressives should support Representative Betty McCollum’s bill that would ban the use of US funds for putting Palestinian children into military detention. Several of the “progressive” candidates whose defeat by AIPAC Rojas and Shahid lament did not, however, meet even this minimal standard of support for Palestinian rights. Andy Levin, for example, offered merely rhetorical departures from unconditional support for the Israeli state, while telling voters (and perhaps himself) that he is somehow a supporter of both that state and Palestinian rights. A key lesson of Levin’s defeat in 2022 is thus that a candidate either fully joins in AIPAC’s anti-Palestinian bigotry or incurs AIPAC’s punishing attacks. There is, in short, no political gain in trying to have it both ways, as Levin did.

Beating AIPAC and its mega-dollars will not be easy, but progressives should take seriously that on Palestine-Israel, as on all issues, our best shot is to offer a principled and clarion vision of a humane future—one that necessarily includes freedom and full equality for Palestinians, no less than for any other human beings. To start, let us then agree on this much: No progressive endorsements in 2024 for candidates who fail to support McCollum’s bill that affirms that all children possess human rights, without a Palestinian exception. A candidate who will not support that proposition with their vote in Congress is no progressive.

Daniel Segal
Jean M. Pitzer Professor of Anthropology and History
Pitzer College, The Claremont Colleges
claremont, cal.

A Commitment to Liberation

I’m disappointed that The Nation published Alexis Grenell’s embarrassing article about CUNY Law’s class speaker Fatima Mohammed [“Does Fatima Mousa Mohammed Oppose Israel’s Very Existence?” online, June 8]. It was unnecessary (repeating already published right-wing talking points), full of obvious fallacies, and it further endangered a woman who has already been subjected to death threats since right-wingers branded her an “antisemite” for speaking the truth about American-taxpayer-funded Zionist violence.

Conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism is wrong and, in fact, antisemitic—and not just logically (Jewish people aren’t defined by a racist ideology) but also according to how Zionists themselves define “antisemitism.” Zionists have pushed governments to use the definition of “antisemitism” crafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which aims to discredit Palestinian advocacy. I don’t support its use. But note what they list as an example of antisemitism: “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.” Mohammed rightly criticized the violence perpetrated by the state of Israel, the indiscriminate bombings, the Nakba, colonialism, and white supremacy. Grenell conflates these critiques with a condemnation of Jewish people. The only way to make this logical leap is to accept what the IHRA calls antisemitic—that Jewish people are “collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.” Grenell also suggests that critiques of abuses of power within the NYPD or CUNY’s administration are coded attacks on Jews. Should we believe that Jews represent everything bad? I refuse to.

Speaking against Zionist violence does not, as Grenell suggests, make Palestinian advocates responsible for discrimination that Jewish people face in the Middle East or elsewhere. This is a lazy argument made to divert attention away from the extreme violence that Palestinians are subjected to by the Zionist state. Grenell wants anti-Zionists to be more direct: “If you don’t think Israel should exist, that’s fine. Just say it.” I’ll speak for myself: If Israel defines itself as an ethnostate—and it does—or if Israel is a state we aren’t allowed to criticize, then obviously it shouldn’t exist. Ethnonationalism is never legitimate.

CUNY’s Zionist-aligned board of trustees is responsible for the danger Mohammed now faces too, for reflexively condemning her speech. The board should resign. Describing Zionism as settler colonialism is not “hate speech.” It is constitutionally protected speech, and accurate. Our graduating class elected Mohammed because she represents the very best of the legal profession, and because we share her commitment to liberation. Silencing us won’t work.

Marcus Hyde
CUNY School of Law ’23
new york, n.y.

* * *

I agree with Grenell. Mohammed’s commencement speech was disturbing, filled with canards and half-truths and insinuations. Let me be clear: The 56-year occupation by Israel over the Palestinians is inhumane and wrong. I spend every day of my life, both personal and professional, fighting against it and against the right-wing neofascist regime that is currently ruling Israel. The occupation must be ended so that there can be national liberation by the two peoples who share the mass of land there: Jewish and Palestinian. But to deny one people’s nationhood at the expense of another’s, as Mohammed does, is the exact reverse image of what the right is doing in Israel to deny Palestinians their peoplehood. To invoke money—as if “investors” are behind this in a secret Jewish cabal—is the oldest form of antisemitism. Must it be pointed out that CUNY is a public university without investors? She also claims that the state is doing things done by individual settlers, and she is tarring the entire Jewish people for every action of the government of a state that she seeks to eradicate. Her indiscriminate attacks on Israel were not only racist themselves in smearing an entire people but simply wrong, and they would never hold up in any court of law.

It is just as important for us on the left to stand up for facts as for values. In an era where the right seeks to create fake facts, isn’t the very least we can ask of progressive lawyers that they defend actual facts and not resort to lazy and inciteful rhetoric? Thank you to The Nation for opening your pages to diverging columns and thank you to Alexis Grenell.

Jo-Ann Mort
brooklyn, n.y.

The writer is a board member of Americans for Peace Now.

* * *

I was entirely appalled by the piece The Nation ran by Alexis Grenell attacking Fatima Mohammed’s speech at CUNY Law’s graduation. Beyond being a screed filled with innuendo rather than fact, I found it shocking that The Nation, a progressive publication, is contributing to the intense attack of a student simply expressing her opinion about the actions of a state—a state that widely respected human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have documented as practicing apartheid. To “prosecute” such a state, as Ms. Grenell characterizes it, is entirely separate from antisemitism. And Ms. Grenell does not even display the intellectual honesty to acknowledge that Ms. Mohammed’s speech was fiercely defended by her Jewish classmates.

Ms. Grenell is of course entitled to her opinion. But I would hope the role of The Nation would be to help deconstruct and expose the lazy, damaging, and untrue assertions that have surrounded accounts of Ms. Mohammed’s speech, instead of contributing to them.

Rebecca Vilkomerson
brooklyn, n.y.

The writer is the former executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.

* * *

Grenell’s chief argument is that Fatima Mohammed’s heavy criticism of Israel implies that it does not have a right to exist. Setting aside the fact that there is no inherent right for any nation-state to exist, Grenell’s argument that anti-Zionists obfuscate their position on Israel’s “right to exist” because it would “complicate the narrative of oppressor versus oppressed” is a particularly insulting claim; it suggests that Israel—a state that shoots, bombs, imprisons, and tortures Palestinians with regularity—is oppressed by those who protest that it, as a settler colony built upon the dispossession and death of millions, should not exist.

Grenell also alleges that Mohammed’s lack of a stated plan for what should become of the Israeli settlers is further proof that her criticism of Israel is driven by antisemitism, rather than any principled belief. Grenell then inserts words and subtext into Mohammed’s speech, suggesting that by criticizing CUNY’s suppression of Palestinian student activism to placate donors hostile to such activism, Mohammed was equating “money” and “Jews,” and thus accusing Jews of controlling CUNY through donations. Further, Grenell deliberately mischaracterizes Mohammed’s criticism of “systems of oppression created to feed an empire with a ravenous appetite for destruction and violence” as a dog whistle to the antisemitic conspiracy theory of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, when Mohammed’s words were no doubt referring to America’s vast military empire.

These distortions are obscene on their own, but Grenell decided to attack Mohammed’s Arab identity as well. In a shockingly racist assertion, Grenell suggests that Mohammed’s Yemeni heritage renders her somehow inherently responsible for the massive decrease in Yemen’s Jewish population, ignoring that nearly 5,000 Yemenite Jewish children and babies were abducted by Israel between 1948 and 1954, and that much of the Jewish exodus from Yemen and across the Arab world was facilitated by Israel as it sought to increase its settler population.

The ignominious label of “progressive except for Palestine” is unfortunately far too common in American politics and media. The hiring of Mohammed El-Kurd as The Nation’s Palestine correspondent heralded that, unlike many of its contemporaries, The Nation would be an honest reporter about the ongoing occupation of Palestine and the attempts to stifle Palestinian activism in America and around the world. Unfortunately, Grenell’s article exhibits the same level of racism, untruthfulness, and Islamophobia that is more typical of outlets like Fox News and the New York Post.

R.C. Brindisi
new york, n.y.

The writer is a member of CUNY Law Students for Justice in Palestine.

* * *

I was deeply disappointed to see the latest hit piece against Fatima Mohammed appear in your magazine. Grenell’s analysis was severely lacking on a number of fronts, including its inclusion of the antisemitic trope that conflates criticism of or opposition to Israel with criticism of or opposition to Judaism more broadly. To answer all of the spurious charges Grenell makes in her piece would take an entire essay, but suffice to say this: Ethnic and religious nationalism should always be opposed. That includes Israel as well as Iran, Hungary as well as Saudi Arabia. Israel cannot be both a Jewish state and a democracy, because of the millions of disenfranchised people who live under its occupation. So, to come back to the central question of Grenell’s article—whether or not Mohammed thinks Israel should exist—let me state it plainly for myself: Israel, as a Jewish state, should not exist. The world is a big place with an enormous diversity of people in it, many of whom have a historical claim on the land Israel currently occupies. Principled people can oppose ethnonationalism in all its forms without being antisemitic. That includes opposing the current iteration of ethnonationalism and apartheid that holds sway between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
Nolan Bishop
portland, ore.

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