Israel deports refugees to Sudan despite threat to their lives.

At an anti-refugee protest in Israel. The sign reads: "To Sudan!"

At an anti-refugee protest in Israel. The sign reads: “To Sudan!”

Haaretz reported on Tuesday that Israel deported at least 1,000 Sudanese refugees to North Sudan via a third county, without informing the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees  (UNHCR) and despite the fact that “[Sudan] has vowed to punish any of its citizens who ever set foot in Israel”:

Though Israel claims the people’s return was voluntary, this claim was rejected by UNHCR, which says there is no “free will from inside a prison.”

Under a recent amendment to Israel’s infiltration law, asylum seekers can be jailed for years without trial. Testimony from within prisons indicates that detainees were also denied access to UNHCR, in violation of the UN convention on the status of refugees, which Israel has signed.

…Michael Bavli, UNHCR’s representative in Israel, warned the Population, Immigration and Border Authority that “deporting Sudanese to Sudan would be the gravest violation possible of the convention that Israel has signed – a crime never before committed.” [emphasis mine]

The U.N. refugee convention holds that even if an immigrant was not a refugee when he or she immigrated, he or she becomes such if being repatriated constitutes a threat to life and limb. As Haaretz notes, this understanding of international law has been upheld by Israel’s Supreme Court. Former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak wrote in one verdict that:

This is the great principle of non-refoulement, under which a person cannot be deported to a place where his life or liberty would be in danger. This principle is enshrined in Article 33 of the refugee convention.… It applies in Israel to every governmental authority that deals with deporting someone from Israel.

Many of the Sudanese who fled to Israel did so from Darfur, where American Jewish social activists have been deeply involved in the struggle against the Sudanese government’s genocidal policies; the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant against President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and genocide in Darfur. Refugees coming from other parts of Sudan

have also been subjected to brutal attack by the Sudanese government – including aerial bombing, the destruction of entire villages and mass arrests of hundreds of thousands of people – in an effort to suppress what the government terms rebellions.

Israel’s decision to send defenseless human beings back to this reality is disturbingly of a piece with the treatment it has long afforded African refugees: As mentioned above illegal immigrants may be detained for years without trial; the legal status of refugees has been manipulated so that they may not legally seek work; Minister of the Interior Eli Yishai and other coalition members have incited racial violence against the refugees; the police have distorted crime statistics; and in one horrific case, a group of 21 refugees was literally left to starve on the border before three were imprisoned and the rest forced to return to the Sinai, where human traffickers routinely torture and rape whoever falls in their hands.

This story has gone largely under-covered by the American press (though not, as some have suggested, entirely unreported, with the New York TimesLos Angeles TimesWashington Post all publishing articles just in the past year, to name three outlets), and I have some thoughts as to why: the story doesn’t fit into the usual Israeli-Arab conflict tropes; the American press continues to face enormous financial struggles and has been slashing foreign coverage for years; the world is a huge place with major disasters and human tragedies playing out every day; and finally, while the African refugees in Israel number in the tens of thousands, there are frankly much bigger refugee stories out there, with much less complicated narratives. These are not excuses, they are only possible explanations, and the fact is: the information is out there, should we care to look for it.

But mostly, American and Israeli Jews have not cared to look for it—and if we have, we’ve supported the Israeli government in what can only be described as shocking and unconscionable actions. We can agree that a country has a right to protect its borders and spend its budget on its own citizens, without agreeing to this. Virtually every Jewish family alive today has a story burned into its collective memory of pogroms, ethnic discrimination, official scapegoating, privation, starvation, rape, and murder.

Is this the Jewish State we dreamed of?

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

The delusions of Yair Lapid and AIPAC.

aipacSay this for AIPAC: They’re as delusional as Yair Lapid, the newly arrived king-maker in Israeli politics. Both Lapid and AIPAC appear to believe that if you wish something hard enough, say it often enough, or simply ignore that which doesn’t fit into your wishing strategy: Magic!

On Tuesday, Barak Ravid reported in Haaretz that

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid has ordered more than 10 Knesset members from his party to cancel a Jerusalem-area tour with the left-wing Geneva Initiative organization

Bearing in mind that members of both Shas and Likud (a party ostensibly far to the right of Yesh Atid) have recently gone on similar Geneva Institute tours, this is how Lapid explained himself:

At the present time of coalition negotiations, we cannot join a tour with an organization that supports dividing Jerusalem. After all, we are against dividing Jerusalem.

Which brings us to two different but equally important points: 1) Lapid appears to be of the opinion that if you so much as listen to an idea with which you disagree, you will get cooties, and 2) he continues to appear to believe quite sincerely it will be possible to reach a two-state peace with the Palestinian people without establishing a shared Jerusalem as the capital of both states—despite the fact that this is not unlike believing in the tooth fairy.

Cut to AIPAC, a place where you can call yourself the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and plan your annual conference, an event at which many Serious People will come together for “three of the most important days affecting Israel’s future”—and not place the Palestinian people on your legislative agenda. Not a single mention, as Ron Kampeas reports in JTA.

The same attitude that allows for a dismissal of the Palestinian people from conversations with American lawmakers about Israel’s future can be seen in a planned breakout session about the land’s spiritual dimension: “The Holy Land’s Historic and Religious Significance.”  Not only is there nary a Palestinian on the docket for this conversation, but the entirety of Islam is ignored. You have your Christians, you have your Jews… but those other people, for whom Jerusalem is a place of deep religious resonance, from whence tradition holds their Prophet rose unto the heavens and at the center of which Abraham bound his son for sacrifice? Yeah, not so much. Islam? What’s that?

AIPAC doesn’t entirely forget the Palestinians. There are panel discussions of the conflict, but per Kampeas:

This year’s “AIPAC action principles”… mention the Palestinians only in the context of keeping them from advancing toward statehood outside the confines of negotiations but do not explicitly endorse the two-state solution.

Yair Lapid and AIPAC don’t need to like the Palestinians. They don’t need to agree with the Palestinian narrative of the conflict. They don’t need to like Islam, either, come to that. But if they are to be of any actual service to Israel—the real Israel, the one that has been occupying another people for close to five decades and in which a third intifada is brewing even as we speak—they need to, at the very least, grapple honestly with the fact that Palestinians are autonomous actors, not flat characters in a play we’re writing. And the city of Jerusalem—both holy and secular—belongs to them, too.

The greatest threat to the continuing existence of a democratic, Jewish state is not Iran, and not U.S. budgetary concerns. The greatest threat to Israel is the occupation. If Lapid and AIPAC really want to secure Israel’s future, they’ll stop deluding themselves and their supporters, and start telling the truth.

I’ll just be over here, not holding my breath.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Black History Month – kind of a downer this year, no?

post_racial-name-tagSo, you know. It’s been a bang-up Black History Month for America’s Black community.

Let’s review, shall we? In no particular order, African-Americans have recently had to stomach the following entirely incomplete list of delights:

  • Comedian/Writer/Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane and Living Legend William Shatner made “you all look alike” jokes at the Academy Awards.
  • Comedian Lisa Lampanelli used the word “nigga” to mean “person I like who happens to be white” on Twitter and then defended her use of said term.
  • New York Assemblyman (and Democrat) Dov Hikind wore blackface on the Jewish costume holiday of Purim and then defended his use of said costume.
  • Todd Kincannon, former executive director of the South Carolina GOP, joked via Twitter that had murdered black teenager Trayvon Martin grown into adulthood, he would have become a drug-abusing prostitute. (Yes, really). And defended his tweets.
  • A white airplane passenger made the news when he called a crying, two-year-old black boy a “nigger baby” and slapped him.
  • High fashion magazine Numéro ran an editorial called “African Queen” featuring a white model slathered in bronzer. (Ok, this was in France, but thanks to the magic of the Internet, we got to read about it and see the pictures over here).
  • Tea Party/Fox News favorite Ted Nugent opined that it might have been better if the Confederacy had won the Civil War.
  • A Michigan hospital was sued for agreeing to a father’s demand that no African-American nurses tend to his baby.
  • CNN reported just today that “The wealth gap between blacks and whites has nearly tripled over the past 25 years, due largely to inequality in home ownership, income, education and inheritances.”
  • At the Supreme Court, also today, Justice Scalia likened Congressional support for the Voting Rights Act “to a ‘perpetuation of racial entitlement’.”

Yup. The times — they sure are post-racial.

In memory of Trayvon Martin & all American boys killed for being black: What is white privilege.

Trayvon Martin was killed a year ago today [February 26, 2013 ]. In his memory and in the memory of all the African Americans killed simply for having the wrong skin in the wrong place, I’m re-upping the following, written in the wake of Trayvon’s murder. May he rest in peace, may his family find some measure of justice and peace, and may we take upon ourselves the burden of making this country a better place. Stories like this give me hope.


Trayvon MartinWhen my husband and I came to Chicago from Israel so that I could go to graduate school, we had no intention of staying here permanently.

But then the second Palestinian intifada happened, and the Israeli government’s entirely irresponsible and deadly response to same, and we came to a conclusion: We no longer wanted to raise children in Israel.

At the time, we only had the one child, a round-cheeked toddler boy, but the fact of his boy-ness sharpened the point. Our choice came mostly out of a desire to educate him differently, to not sacrifice his up-bringing and our values on the altar of occupation and settlement, but there was an unavoidable sense of having also snatched our son from the jaws of war — because in Israel, of course, every 18 year old boy is drafted into the military. Girls go, too, but they don’t see combat. They don’t die.

I bring this up now because I’ve been thinking a lot about all the parents of African American boys who are holding their sons a little closer today in the wake of the horrible, heartbreaking Trayvon Martin case.

My aunt is one of those moms — white as me, but mom to a black man who was once young, a young black man who was stopped for jogging in his own neighborhood, a young black man for whom she would tremble a little whenever he went into the city.

Like every other parent of a young black man, my aunt knew that my cousin could be frisked, arrested, and even killed for little but his youth, gender, and skin.

Like Trayvon Martin.

Like Travares McGill.

Like Sean Bell.

Like Timothy Stansbury, Jr.

Like Amadou Diallo.

Like Oscar Grant.

Like Orlando Barlow.

Like Aaron Campbell.

Like Steven Eugene Washington.

Like Kiwane Carrington.

Kiwane Carrington was 15 when he was killed. Steven Eugene Washington was autistic. Orlando Barlow “was surrendering and on his knees.”

All were killed by people charged with protecting them, whether as law enforcement or law enforcement support of one kind or another. None were armed.

When I look at my boy — on the cusp of adolescence, at the brink of a teenager’s certainty and stupidity, about to try on the world in the guise of a boy-man — I can imagine what might have been: We might have sent him to the Israeli military, he might have worn that uniform, we might have sat by the phone and trembled in fear.

But we removed him and ourselves from those might-haves. We stayed in a place where just being a young man did not by definition mean offering yourself up to die.

For Trayvon Martin, Travares McGill, Sean Bell, Timothy Stansbury, Jr., Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Orlando Barlow, Aaron Campbell, Steven Eugene Washington, Kiwane Carrington, and countless others, however, there was never a choice.

These days, Americans spent a lot of time arguing about “white privilege” — if it exists, what it means, what its consequences might be.

But I think I know what white privilege is.

White privilege is never being frightened for my son’s life, simply because of the color of his skin.


Please also see: 

What is white privilege, pt II – “If you watch the following and realize that you have never needed to share any of these tips with anyone you love, you’re living with a very particular kind of privilege.”

Israeli-American company to drill for oil in occupied Golan Heights.

Golan mapWe don’t talk about it as much, but the West Bank and Gaza Strip aren’t the only territories Israel conquered in 1967 over which it’s still arguing. The Golan Heights was taken in the course of horrific battles with Syria, and though Israel annexed the land in 1981, international law (and, not for nothing, the Syrian people) still considers the Heights to be Syrian territory.

Which is why it’s kind of a big deal that Israel has decided to allow an American-Israeli firm to drill for oil there, as reported by Israeli financial daily Globes this week:

A month before U.S. President Barack Obama is due to visit Israel, the Israeli government has awarded the first license to drill for oil on the Golan Heights. The license covers half the area of the Golan from the latitude of Katzrin in the north to Tzemach in the south.

…the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources’ Petroleum Council recommended awarding the license to Genie Energy Ltd. (NYSE: GNE), headed by former minister Effie Eitam.

Globes suggests that “a drilling license on the Golan could cause an international fracas,” but I suspect that what with the daily mayhem and horror that Syria currently faces, it’s a good bet that Assad’s government won’t be able to do anything about it—and I further suspect that this fact crossed the minds of those deciding to award the license.

Some interesting personnel notes: Dick Cheney and Rupert Murdoch serve onGenie’s Strategic Advisory Board, as does Lord Jacob Rothschild, chairman of the Rothschild Foundation. Genie is also the parent company of Israel Energy Initiatives Ltd. (IEI), “which is moving forward on a venture to develop shale oil deposits in [Israel’s] coastal plain.” IEI’s Chief Scientist, Harold Vinegar, likewise serves on Genie’s Strategic Advisory Board.

In other personnel notes, as Globes reports,

Genie Energy’s win in the license is highly symbolic for Eitam, who resides at Moshav Nob on the Golan, and fought against the Syrian Army there during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, winning a medal for courage.

There’s another interesting bit of trivia about Eitam. In 2004 he said the following about Palestinian militants in a New Yorker interview with Jeffery Goldberg:

I don’t call these people animals. These are creatures who came out of the depths of darkness. It is not by chance that the State of Israel got the mission to pave the way for the rest of the world, to militarily get rid of these dark forces.

Goldberg wrote that Eitam clarified that “he believes there are innocent men among the Palestinians, but that they are collectively guilty.”

We will have to kill them all. I know it’s not very diplomatic. I don’t mean all the Palestinians, but the ones with evil in their heads. Not only blood on their hands but evil in their heads. They are contaminating the hearts and minds of the next generation of Palestinians.

So here’s what we have: a warmongering former American Vice President (and virulent opponent of the current President); a media mogul of dubious ethics; the head of an international Jewish philanthropic entity dedicated to (among other things) “the environment, sustainable development and green energy”; a tightly bound confluence of American and Israeli business interests; and a former Israeli governmental minister who is one caveat shy of advocating mass genocide, all about to benefit from exploiting the natural resources of a large chunk of land that, according to international law, actually belongs to another country.

Huh. That seems just a wee bit dicey to me.

Why white people can’t use the n-word.

n_wordMuch of my political commentary really boils down to: Don’t be an asshole.

So, honestly, my personal go-to response to the very notion that white people occasionally get wrought up over the fact that they really-but-really should not say the n-word under any circumstances, “friendly” or not, is: Don’t be an asshole. Because seriously, how hard is that? Millions of people are telling you that when you use that word, it’s painful and offensive. That should, in a perfect world, be enough.

I mean, come on! The n-word isn’t even like, I don’t know, “bitch,” about which there is real disagreement among women. Millions upon millions of black folks are pretty clear on the fact that white Americans should never ever put that word in our mouths. Ever. “But they say it to each other,” you say? So the effing eff what. You are not them. The English language is positively chock-a-block with words — words that don’t carry the lash, and centuries of systematic terrorism, and the rending of families, and the continued devaluation of people who happen to be going about the business of Being Human While Black — that you can use with your black friends. I promise! Do.Not.Be.An.Asshole.

Alas, the world is not perfect, and “don’t be an asshole” isn’t really much of an argument. Indeed, the argument could be made that understanding why a particular behavior is asshole-y is pretty useful in ridding ourselves of said assholery — and as he so often does, Jay Smooth has our backs on this. Give him a listen, and tell all your white friends.

And don’t be an asshole.

Seeking: Poorly paid position as lackey.

(Back in high school, I did actually work on a printing press for a couple of years. Not one quite this old, though).

Yesterday I learned that my friend Shaun, a writer, writing teacher, editor, and director of a small independent press, is looking for a (paid!) intern. I tweeted out the information and then tweeted that I really wished I could take the position — but alas, it’s not to be. Shaun and his small independent press are located in London.

Being my friend for something like (hold on – doing the math) 25 years or so, Shaun (or his current intern – who can tell!) tweeted back “we wish we could be your intern!” Which, you know, was very nice and all, and I certainly wouldn’t mind an intern, or at least a personal assistant, BUT — but it occurred to me that Shaun probably didn’t realize how dead serious I was.

I would love to be his intern — well, maybe not his intern, as we’d never get anything done for all the talking, TV watching, and chocolate-covered-almonds-consuming we’d be doing (you see, we also used to be roommates, because once upon a time I needed a wee bit of saving and Shaun saved me) (I seem to be digressing a lot. I’ll stop that now) — but I would actually love to work 10-15 hours a week at a small, independent press.

And this got me thinking: I’d love to intern just about anywhere, really. As long as you paid me enough to buy my supper and I got to learn something I’d never done before. I recognize that this would likely come bundled with a lot of envelope-stuffing and coffee-purchasing, but I can do that. Who cares about doing that? My masters degree hasn’t gotten in the way of running off photocopies when volunteering for my kids’ teachers — at least in my imaginary internship, I’d be getting paid!

In fact, two or three years ago I even tried to intern at WBEZ (the Chicago NPR affiliate). I got as far as a wildly successful interview, was told to expect a call about meeting the producer and — nothing. Silence. I followed up, I did everything one must, and all I ever got back was silence, and to this day, I kind of have a hard time listening to the show in question, because really, now — at least call me back, right? I really wanted that gig. Really, really, really.

But if I’m not going to learn how to produce a story for radio, I can think of a lot of internships/apprenticeships I’d like to try. I’d love to work alongside a carpenter, or at the aforementioned independent press, or maybe as a roadie, with a small film crew, on an archaeological dig, or for a handy-man (or, you know, -woman. No sexism). Florists, too — ooh! And hot air balloon rentals! That would be cool.

As long as I’d be learning new stuff, would be paid a little something, and would still have time to do some writing, I think any of those options would be just grand.

It just can’t be in London.

Kid President – now with more Real President!

Look at this adorable thing, posted to Youtube just today, in which the Real President is sweet as pie with Kid President, who is, in turn, adorable:

h/t Huffington Post’s Joshua Hersh, also via the Twitters.

It’s hamantaschen time. You all need my latke recipe.

latkesYes, it’s hamantaschen season (being nearly Purim, and all) and thus not the time for latkes. But there is a lively debate underway on Twitter as regards the relative worth of hamantaschen (three-cornered cookies with [usually] jam filling made in homage to the three-cornered hat said to have been worn by the Purim villan, Haman). (In Hebrew [fun fact!] they’re called oznei Haman, Haman’s ears, and I like that better).

This debate is something of an annual ritual in American Jewish circles, and really, the future of our people depends on all right-thinking Jews understanding the clear superiority of the latke. I mean, really.

HOWEVER – in the course of the Twitter debate, it has become clear to me that some poor souls have never had a decent latke! They have even been referred to as (gasp) “meh hash browns”! o_O

And so I have taken it upon myself to educate the unwashed Jewish masses with the following: my latke recipe. It is the best latke recipe in the world, and I can only take a little bit of credit because though I added one small tweak (flour rather than matza meal), I actually found it somewhere. I just don’t know where anymore, and so in the tradition of great chefs everywhere, I believe I’ll now take all the credit.

Und zo – just in time for your Purim celebrations, I give to you:

THE BEST LATKE RECIPE IN THE WORLD (the trick is in that second step)

2 lbs potatoes (about 8), peel if desired
1 T grated yellow onion
2 lg eggs, beaten
¼ C flour
1 t salt
½ t black pepper
Oil for frying

1.Grate potatoes (by hand or food processor).

2. Place grated potatoes in thin, clean dishcloth. Wring cloth with potatoes over small bowl. Set liquid aside and allow to settle. After a few minutes, discard water, but reserve collected starch.

3. Place drained potatoes in medium bowl. Grate onion into bowl, add onions, eggs, flour, salt, pepper, reserved potato starch, and mix well.

4. Heat oil in heavy skillet over medium flame (should be about 1 inch deep). Use ¼ C of potato mixture per pancake; form pancake with hands, keeping the thickness uniform. Let fry until golden (about 6 minutes), then flip. Keep warm in oven (200 F).

Serve with apple sauce and sour cream. Serves 4-8.

“Not cool, Robert Frost!”

h/t Aasif Mandvi, via the Twitters (because much as I wish I did, I don’t actually know Aassif Mandvi).

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