Tuesday, November 19, 2013

An Anniversary Too Important to Let Slip By Unnoticed

I am blown away at how little attention is being paid to the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.  And so, I have been moved to words, and to sharing them through this too often ignored vehicle...

Sesquicentennial

7 Score and 10 years ago, today,
An American President –
A giant, both in his day, and in history –
Travelled to a blood-soaked battlefield in Pennsylvania –
Site of a critical moment in our nation’s history –
And began, while the war still raged around us,
The process of sanctifying the ultimate sacrifice of those who gave their lives,
And the holy work of reuniting and healing our nation.

Few gathered that day could have anticipated
What that visit, and the speech that he gave on that occasion,
Would come to be in our nation’s history and psyche.
How 10 sentences, scrawled by hand on an envelope back,
Could totally capture the gravity
Of the event being remembered,
And the site of the battle,
And the needs of all the American people
For wholeness and peace.
Nor would anyone in Gettysburg that day,
Have been able to believe
That the visionary, compassionate architect
Of this needed reconciliation
Would be taken from his country
Even as the embers of the last battle guttered down.

His simple words from the heart that day
Guided a people still divided,
To begin to find their way back to one another.
They turned those blood-stained acres
Into a national shrine –
One to which we all had equal access
and of which we could all claim ownership,
One which still awes its visitors with its immensity and quiet holiness today.

Today, we barely even pause to remember –
And if we do remember, we do so
Without looking inside of ourselves,
Without acknowledging our country’s reality –
We give no honor to the man nor to the moment we recall.
It is as if we do not remember,
Choose not to learn,
The lessons of that day --
The battle that preceded it,
And the war that raged around it still.
It is as if all of the herculean efforts of the man –
First to keep the Union intact,
Then to keep us from self-destruction,
And finally to bring us towards reconciliation –
Were nothing more than mere words
Scribbled on a piece of paper,
Destined to be only noted and remembered,
But sadly, still, never fully taken to heart in our national life.

And so, as we remember on this solemn day,
Let us pledge to ourselves and to each other,
To keep faith and make real his soaring words on this day –
To keep the memories of those he came to remember,
And what they gave their lives for, as well as he, his own --
That government of the people, by the people, for the people
Shall not perish from the earth.

Rabbi Stephen J. Weisman

November 19, 2013

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Morning After


The Morning After

It is the morning after the horrific and still unexplained shooting rampage at The DC Navy Yard yesterday.  Just after 7 AM, I am driving carpool, trying as best I can for myself and my teenaged son, to return to normal and go on living life.  As a Rabbi, days removed from Yom Kippur, the holiest, most reflective day of our year, it is what I expected to be doing today.  But not for these reasons; not in this way.

My favorite radio station (that doesn’t play songs), is not helping – they are still in “total coverage mode” – only traffic and weather on the 8s, sports at 15 and 45, and commercials breaking up their non-stop focus on exactly one story.  So I switch it off, and plug my iPod, on scramble, into the car’s sound system.  I smile at the familiar melody – Maureen McGovern singing the theme from “The Poseidon Adventure” – until the words start to register:

There's got to be a morning after, if we can hold on through the night --
We have a chance to find the sunshine.
Let's keep on looking for the light.

Oh, can't you see the morning after?
It's waiting right outside the storm.
Why don't we cross the bridge together, and find a place that's safe and warm?

Nice, prayerful words, but clearly we are not there yet, I am not there yet.  I snap off the iPod as well, and we drive on in silence.  Maybe it is the heightened focus that the absence of talk and music provides, maybe it is me projecting my own troubled soul this morning.  But it sure seems like more of the “drivers” with whom I am trying to share the road are being just a tad more aggressive than usual this morning.  Or maybe I am being a little more cautious, unconsciously overcompensating?

A quick look at the numbers flashing from the dashboard of my still new Prius-V reassures – it isn’t me.  If anything, I, too, am ignoring that feedback more than usual, driving a little more aggressively myself.  It is scant reassurance, as the BMW pulls out to speed around me on the left as I drive north in the left lane of Rte. 197, endangering all of us with her selfish recklessness.  I watch, bemused, as the only “normal” behaviors displayed on the drive are the slowing down for the speed cameras, and the compensatory drag-strip speeding to get to the single lane stretch of the road, seemingly on display from even more drivers today.

I look over at my teenaged son, reflecting on his reaction yesterday.  Sure, it was triggered by being told that the Nationals’ game we had planned to attend had been cancelled, because the ballpark is right next to the site of the shootings, but he has been in a deep funk ever since he heard what had happened.  I think to myself just how many times he and I had gone through yesterday’s drill – 9/11, the sniper, Sandy Hook, now yesterday – and too many other smaller ones in between to even remain distinct in my memory.

As I drop him off at school, and test news radio again for my trip home, I hear the questions about whether this shooter might have been suffering from PTSD, the concerns that those who innocently went to work yesterday, only to find themselves the focus of nation’s attention for the day through no fault of their own, might now similarly be impacted.  I find myself wondering if David’s response was, in itself, a form of PTSD – the product of too many such exposures.  And I find myself wondering how many others might be going through our day today, similarly suffering a low-grade form of the disorder.  Am I?  And what help is available for those of us who are?  Will they do something at school to help the kids recognize and deal with their thoughts and emotions?  Or will they, as I had earlier, try to make it just another normal day by ignoring it as best they can?

And then – what do I need to get myself back to normal?  How can I get it?  As a Rabbi, what can I provide for others?  Suddenly, my inner dialogue is channeling Howard Beale – Paddy Chayefsky’s brilliantly written character in “Network,” and the iconic monologue brought to life by Peter Finch.   I AM mad as hell, and I am NOT going to take it any more!  And I want EVERYONE to go to their windows, open them, and scream the words out with me.

But then, I want us to actually DO SOMETHING!  I find myself wondering if maybe, just maybe, this time, the close geographic proximity of Capitol Hill to the site of this tragedy might make it personal enough for our elected representatives to drop their partisan political stalemate, to ignore the craven efforts of the gun lobby to buy their votes, and FINALLY pass common sense gun regulation.  Real, enforceable laws that might begin to save lives.

I find myself ruefully admitting that even I have lost track of how many innocent Americans have lost their lives in gun violence since the Newtown, CT tragedy, and vow to look it up when I get home.  Slate reports the number is at least 8,238, but also notes the difficulties of keeping track, the historic underreporting of such events, and the comparison to the best CDC data, which suggests the actual number is three times as many, at over 25,000!  In less than a year!

Another sound byte draws my attention, even through the reverie.  As a more complete picture of yesterday’s shooter emerges, it becomes clear that he most likely acted alone.  The hysterical over-reactions in the heat of the moment yesterday are now giving way to the awareness, as my radio reports, that this was “just” another workplace related shooting, that happened to occur on a highly protected military facility.  “Just”?  Like somehow that makes it less painful, less significant, less tragic?  I want to call a VERY un-Rabbinic “BS” on that one!

But I listen to what else we have learned about the shooter over night.  The bizarre 2004 shooting he was suspected of being involved in, and his father’s response at that time, when questioned, that he was concerned his son was suffering from post-9/11 related PTSD himself.  The lack of an arrest in that case, which kept him free to purchase weapons.  The lack of evidence that the shooter was ever treated for this supposed PTSD, or whatever other emotional issues he manifested.  The equally bizarre incident in Texas a couple of years ago, in which a gun in his apartment discharged a bullet into the unit above his.  How that incident had been dismissed as being a gun-cleaning misfire, even though the woman in the unit above testified that there had been friction between them, and she was fearful of what he might do to her one day.  The long-term pattern of anger management issues, and difficulty accepting negative criticism from work supervisors and others he apparently evidenced, including the recent criticism of an installation job he had done at the Navy Yard.  That job apparently provided him with the credentials that he showed to get onto the base, the credentials that cleared him through the gate without an inspection of his vehicle, or the discovery of the three weapons he brought with him.

And I cry a bit.  WHY is it so easy to see the pattern through the tears shed in grief, when we look back, yet NOTHING prior to yesterday even raised a red flag that might have prevented yet another tragedy???  Once again, I realize, the high profile cases, like this one, even as they raise our awareness of the need for change, are actually the events LEAST likely to be prevented by any honest and enforceable changes in gun laws.

So I start to question what I can even say that will be of value.  My mind goes to the President’s words yesterday:  "These are men and women who were going to work doing their jobs and protecting all of us," Obama said. "They're patriots. They know the dangers of serving abroad, but today they faced the unimaginable violence that they wouldn't have expected here at home.”  As I marvel at the eloquence, and the honesty, it dawns on me – he stopped too soon!  There needed to be another clause or 2 at the end, delivered with appropriately dramatic ellipsis.  “… but today they faced the unimaginable violence that they wouldn’t have expected here at home…. That they shouldn’t NEED to expect here at home…. That NO ONE should have to expect here in America.”  Even Obama’s eloquent, heartfelt sadness failed to express our simple outrage that every life is too valuable to be sacrificed to political infighting and selfish lobbying!

Maybe it is the close physical proximity to me and mine this time.  Maybe it is the impact I fear I am seeing on my son, or am starting to realize may be affecting me as well.  If these are factors, then all too soon after the atonement for last year’s shortcomings, I find myself seeking forgiveness already again, for being motivated by personal and selfish factors.

Or maybe it is simply that proximity to Yom Kippur, during which my own sermon on the situation in Syria included a significant element on the dangers of remaining silent.  A sermon which quoted Edmund Burke, Pastor Martin Niemoller, and Pirkei Avot, and the amazing, if too-often overlooked, remarks of Rabbi Joachim Prinz that served as the warm-up to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he shared:

“…When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence….”

It also included a remarkable text from Exodus, chapter 5, and a mini-drash by my colleague, Rabbi Menachem Creditor, whose father was, amongst an incredibly gifted and caring collection of religious school teachers in my youth, my favorite and the most inspirational.  The younger Rabbi Creditor is also a tireless activist for gun reform, one who teaches and inspires me on a regular basis:

"[After Moses spoke to Pharaoh, Pharaoh increased the workload of the Israelite slaves.] Moses returned to God and said, 'God, why did You bring harm upon this people? Why did You send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has dealt worse with this people; and still You have not delivered Your people.' (Ex. 5:22-23)" -- When something is wrong, naming it usually makes it feel worse before there's any hope of things getting better. It's therefore tempting to not confront problems. But while acknowledgment is painful, living a redemptive life can begin no other way.”

Whatever the reasons – good, bad or indifferent; personal or inclusive – I can, I will remain silent no longer.  Nor will I stop at simply speaking and teaching.  I must act.  WE must act.  The ONLY way that needed change will come, the only way that this will be the LAST “morning after” one of these tragedies, is to change ourselves, to change our culture, to change our laws.  To become MORE aware of those around us, more sensitive when a fellow traveler is in need of help, more courageous in breaking the silence, and helping them get the help they need to heal BEFORE they go out and harm others.  To work HARDER, and more insistently, to change a culture that is more concerned with protecting the dubious right of an individual to hold weapons and ammunition that allow him to murder wholesale before he can be stopped than it is with our right to live our lives free from the fear of such attacks.

Because this morning I was reminded how blessed I am to have been once again spared direct, physical loss in such a tragedy.  But I was also made painfully aware that I, and all of us, are never completely spared.  This morning I grieve – for all the victims of this gun violence and their families.  But starting this morning, albeit it on a different level, I refuse to be conned into denial that I – and all of us – are NOT victims.  Until it stops, we are ALL victims.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Common Sense, Jewish Approach to Curbing Gun Violence


A Common Sense, Jewish Approach to Curbing Gun Violence
A First Draft to Start the Discussion
And Develop a Comprehensive, Ethically Based Model
Rabbi Steve Weisman
Temple Solel, Bowie MD

 DISCLAIMER:  I do not pretend to be an expert on gun ownership or operation.  As a kid, I once got an award for riflery at camp, but, ironically, had missed my group’s only visit to the rifle range!  I am concerned by what is happening on this subject in our country, and want to work for change.  I have followed, although hardly closely, the efforts of others within the religious and other communities to make intelligent and meaningful statements against gun violence, some (many?) of which have included significant parts of the specifics that follow.  My purpose here is to set up a comprehensive comparative model to govern this discussion, one based in reality rather than emotion, fact rather than rhetoric, a desire to improve the world rather than pandering to a least common denominator through fear-mongering.

I admit that elements of the following comparison may not be as viable for guns as for cars, but let's at least start with a system that works, and adapt it as needed!  Let the details here be the grounds for meaningful and appropriate debate designed to produce the best possible system, rather than allowing the debate to be pirated and sunk by those who would prefer the discussion not even happen!

By "common sense," can we PLEASE start with a system that isn't completely dysfunctional, but rather works fairly well (NOT perfectly) and apply it intelligently to gun ownership and operation?  Like, let's say, oh... owning and operating an automobile.  And can we please couch our discussion in a clear distinction between those items which MUST happen for meaningful change to be possible; those which SHOULD happen, to make sure the MUSTs can be achieved; and those which COULD happen, if we are serious about protecting the innocent and changing the culture of gun ownership and operation in this country?

And finally, because of my own limitations on this subject, I humbly present this merely as a first draft to START the discussion, and direct its progress.  I expect that some will be challenged or even offended by this effort, others troubled by parts of it.  I ask only that we channel that discomfort not into personal attacks, but into meaningful and useful thought and discussion, designed to take what seems like a good start, and make it even better, so that it can be of the most value to the greatest number of people and our society as a whole.


Let us begin by noting that when it comes to cars, ownership and operation are two separate items.  Owning a gun, like owning a car, must require not merely purchase, but also registration of that purchase with the state, not merely for creating a registry, but in a manner that allows the usage of that item to be tracked, if necessary, if that object is improperly operated. It should also include additional levels of action, parallel to the automobile requirements of regular mechanical and emissions inspection, and regular renewal of registration.  It could also include still other provisions that, when it comes to gun ownership, admittedly will have little advance deterrent value in preventing a determined shooter, but would, as part of a deliberate cultural shift, make clear that owning and operating a gun is a serious undertaking, with significant potential impact on the owner/operator and others, and allow easier and more effective follow-up to transgressions that would have the cumulative effect, over time, of making us all safer, by limiting the ability to commit and desirability of behaviors that hurt and kill others.

Automobiles carry VIN numbers, which are part of the registration, but are also stamped on multiple pieces of the vehicle, and coded to indicate characteristics of that vehicle, so that illegal chop-shopping can, at least theoretically, be tracked, unless the bad guys go to a deliberate extreme length to make it impossible.  So too, gun registration must require both responsible treatment of the weapon at purchase, and a mechanism for following up its usage and upkeep over time. 

Serial numbers are a part of this.   So too are the ability to produce registration documents if stopped and asked (for cause, not as a mechanism for abusing proper ownership), display of a registration mechanism on the weapon itself, which must be removed by the owner upon resale of the weapon (or else as far as the state is concerned, the weapon is still yours and its use is YOUR responsibility!), further identification methods including a registry of barrel groovings, regular renewals, and regular inspection of the viability and safety of the weapon.

In addition, there MUST be mandatory significant penalties, including fines, arrest, and loss of the privilege of ownership, for failure to follow these requirements.  Just as registration of a car must be preceded by inspection of the vehicle for function AND emissions, and proof of sale provided, gun registration must provide a clear path of legal possession, and proof that the owner is taking the steps needed to make sure the gun is kept properly in proper working order while s/he owns it.

Among other (potentially more controversial) elements in registration of guns might be:

1.     establishment of a pro-active national registry computer system, into which sellers must enter all weapon and ammunition sales.  The purpose of this would be to allow such a system to spit out to local law enforcement and registry officials when thresholds of sales behavior indicate that an owner has either a) moved into a position of acting as a de facto resale agent or b) has amassed a volume of materials far beyond what is necessary for hunting or protection (see below for licensing categories).  Failure to properly enter the needed info into the system must be punishable for such an effort to be effective;
2.     development of a system of mandatory insurance for ownership and operation of guns;
3.     requirements for proof of the ability to maintain guns safely in the home or on person of owner;
4.     categorization of weapons by capability and primary function, with specific requirements according to category (handgun, hunting weapon, etc.)

THEN we can talk about licensing usage, which, also patterned on cars, must include proof of accredited training and knowledge, passing written and physical tests, regular renewal and retesting, and multiple levels of user licensing.  It seems reasonable that a different level of knowledge, experience and awareness is needed for operating a hunting rifle in the forest as compared to keeping a hand gun in one’s home for protection.  And therefore, the expectations on these different users should be different, and also the responsibilities.

Only THEN can we reasonably talk about whether there are levels or classes of weapons and accessories that can or should be limited or prohibited.  Part of the problem with the current discussion, besides the lack of such an overarching comprehensive framework, and the obstructionism of the NRA, is that, because it is being driven by the emotion and reality of Sandy Hook, specific bans are far too prominent in the discussion and effort.  A legitimate and carefully defined system of categorizing weapons, accessories, and usages allows for clear definitions, and authentic, accurate distinctions.  Before we can agree to ban assault rifles, we need to have a valid, accepted, useful definition of the classes, one that allows us to determine which weapons fall into that category and which don’t.  And by anchoring it in an overall system of mandatory ownership and usage registration, each individual piece has its specific role reduced,

Right now, we are talking about a specific rifle because it was used in Connecticut, and by comparison (which may or may not be valid) to other, better known weapons from other (read “military”) environments.  Once we have such definitions and distinctions, then we can make statements like “Assault rifles have no place in public usage,” and seek to define the system in ways that their usage will be legitimately limited to those few specific areas in which they ARE necessary and appropriate.  We can seek to ban so-called “cop-killer” bullets, or limit the size of magazines, or put significant restrictions on usage of semi-automatic or automatic weapons (again, only AFTER clearly defining our terms).

The effectiveness of such efforts is predicated on an assumption which may not yet be valid, however.  That assumption is that a legitimate registration and licensing system will be accepted by the majority of owners and users, and seen as valuable.  This system is based on a prevailing culture in which gun owners and operators are willing to be part of the solution, that they find value and protection in such a system for themselves and others, and they are willing to put responsibility of ownership and usage ahead of an absolute right of gun ownership and operation.  It is far from obvious that such a culture exists at the present time.  And while it is easy to recognize and blame an NRA that has become far more a lobbying group for gun manufacturers and sellers than an advocacy group for owners and users, as it still pretends to be, it must also be recognized that, even in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, there has been a failure to put forward such a comprehensive system and compelling case that would persuade these owners to stand up for what is needed and right.

And lt us be clear yet again – this system, indeed NO system, could prevent Sandy Hook, or Aurora, or any of the far too many high profile incidents.  Or even any of the far too frequent and ignored individual tragedies involving guns that true common sense gun violence prevention measures are REALLY designed to reduce and prevent.

What it can, and will, do, is to change the prevailing culture, to make such behaviors less attractive, and less viable, to hold accountable more people whose negligence contributes to such tragedies, so that, moving forward, more people will take better care.  It will make it harder for abuses to occur, not impossible.  It will provide deterrence, in a manner that CANNOT be mistaken for random or vindictive, and therefore be used as propaganda AGAINST improvements.  And, it will do all this by requiring, encouraging, and rewarding responsibility and awareness, at least in the sense of protecting those who act in these positive ways from unnecessary or unjustified limitation on their rights and freedoms.

It seeks to act in accord with the teachings of the value of life found in most religious ethical systems, as contrary to the “value” of our current gun culture, perhaps best exemplified in the teaching of Talmud that “one who takes a single life, it is as if they have destroyed the entire world; but one who saves a single soul, it is as if they have saved the entire world.”  Just because we cannot prevent every soul who is willing to have their own life end in a perceived blaze of glory by taking out as many others as they can on the way to encouraging someone else to pull the trigger on them that they cannot bring themselves to do to themselves, does not remove from us the obligation to take this Talmudic teaching seriously.  For, indeed, the Talmud also teaches that we “are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are we free to simply walk away from it” without doing what we can to make things better.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Response to the Newtown Tragedy -- Based In Logic, Torah, and the Mayan Calendar


Od Avi Chai – Joseph, Newtown, and the Mayans
Sermon for the End of the World – 12/21/12
Rabbi Steve Weisman – Temple Solel, Bowie MD

So, we begin this evening with a riddle – what do Torah, the US Constitution, and an obscure Mayan calendric text have in common?  It is more than their convergence on this day – there is actually a message here, a message that virtually wrote itself in preparing for tonight.

I am pretty sure that we are ALL aware of the Mayan text by now – watching TV this morning with my kids, there were a shocking number of brand new commercials, unveiled for today’s “end of the world” prophecy.  I am also willing to bet that, no matter how little serious attention we all paid to this, how little credibility it had in or thinking and planning, many of us woke up this morning, and, even more than usual, asked “Am I still alive?”  And when, once again, we saw that we were, we went along with our normal routine and schedule for the day.  After all, here we are!  Not being Mayans, and not having taken it seriously, while this WAS still a moment of transition, it passed for all of us non-Mayans, relatively unnoticed.

Our Torah text, similarly, pivots on a poignant revelation, question, and transition.  Joseph, no longer able to maintain the charade of being an Egyptian prince before his brothers, reveals his true identity, and follows immediately with the question “Is my father still alive?”  This leads to the reunion, and a major transition for our ancestors, as they left the Promised land, and came to Egypt, in order to survive, starting the chain of events that led, ultimately, to the Exodus.

The Constitution is dragged into our discussion and our thoughts on this Shabbat in the aftermath of the tragic shooting rampage in Newtown, CT last Friday.  Our shock of last Shabbat has turned to profound sadness at the death of 26 innocent people, 20 of them first grade students, to anger at how such a thing could happen, and is hopefully now ready to turn to what can we learn from it and what changes can we make because of it.  Revelation of a tragedy, questions of why and what we can do, and now, the search for transition from the event to a better world.

Guiding that discussion, as it must, is the Second Amendment – so it becomes the text of focus on this issue.  We know it talks about the right to bear arms – but do we know what it REALLY says?  Do we know its interpretive history?  Do we understand how the current “gun culture” came to be what it is?  Can we get past our emotional reactions to a tragic event, and maintain context and perspective to get to appropriate and workable change?  These are the essential questions of the moment; the ones which, despite MANY political efforts at distracting us, need to stay in our view.

So let us begin with what the Second Amendment actually says:  A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”  As a Rabbi, I know a little bit about writing, grammar, and syntax.  And I HATE the structure of this sentence from a grammatical perspective.  However, it IS the text we have. 

If the URJ Biennial was being asked to move this amendment today, it seems likely that the first clause would have been preceded by the word “Whereas,” and the second by “therefore, be it resolved that….”  And that is how I have always read it.  The statement about a well regulated militia is a factual truth, being used to explain why the right in the second clause is being established.

And I am not the only one who sees it this way.  As Jeffrey Toobin points out in an excellent item from The New Yorker, posted online, until relatively recently, the prevailing judicial understanding of this amendment had matched mine.  And, as a result, says Toobin: “In other words, according to the Supreme Court, and the lower courts as well, the amendment conferred on state militias a right to bear arms—but did not give individuals a right to own or carry a weapon.”

So, how did we get from there to Newtown, to a prevailing gun culture in which, quoting Nicholas Kristof: "More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides in six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined?"  Or, as appeared in an article in Monday’s NY Times:  "Children ages 5 to 14 in America are 13 times as likely to be murdered with guns as children in other industrialized countries, according to David Hemenway, a public health specialist at Harvard who has written an excellent book on gun violence."

The answer, in a word, or more exactly, in 3 letters, is the NRA.  And no, this is NOT going to be a diatribe against the NRA.  Just an attempt to understand the truth about where we are today and why.  Again, quoting Toobin: “Before the nineteen-seventies, the N.R.A. had been devoted mostly to non-political issues, like gun safety. But a coup d’├ętat at the group’s annual convention in 1977 brought a group of committed political conservatives to power—as part of the leading edge of the new, more rightward-leaning Republican Party. The new group pushed for a novel interpretation of the Second Amendment, one that gave individuals, not just militias, the right to bear arms. It was an uphill struggle. At first, their views were widely scorned. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, who was no liberal, mocked the individual-rights theory of the amendment as “a fraud. 
“But the N.R.A. kept pushing…. Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 brought a gun-rights enthusiast to the White House. At the same time, Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, became chairman of an important subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he commissioned a report that claimed to find ‘clear—and long lost—proof that the 2nd amendment to our Constitution was intended as an individual right of the American citizen to keep and carry arms in a peaceful manner, for protection of himself, his family, and his freedoms.’ The N.R.A. began commissioning academic studies aimed at proving the same conclusion. An extreme constitutional theory, rejected even by the establishment of the Republican Party, evolved, through brute political force, into the conservative conventional wisdom.”

Ironically, given the oft-invoked conservative embrace of “originalism,” the belief that the proper meaning of the words of the Constitution was fixed at the time of ratification, and their scorn for “judicial activism,” it is hard to find a more significant example of ignoring original intent for the sake of using the judicial branch to create new law than this invented right of the individual to, without limitation, own and operate arms.

I happen to agree with a lot of what the NRA’s CEO Wayne LaPierre said today, in the organization’s first public statement on the subject, even if I reject his conclusions.  Blaming violent video games and movies, and the media is not inaccurate.  When he said that the students in Newtown might have been better protected had officials at Sandy Hook Elementary been armed, or that putting a police officer in every single school in America might make schools safer, he was expressing a speculative opinion with which I do not agree, but which is hard to refute, since it is cast in the speculative verb “might.”  I also happen to agree with his statement that "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

My problem is that we can, and need to do more to keep the bad guys from getting a gun in the first place.  We need to take steps to make everyone more secure, but also need to be careful not to create a “security state,” where we are forced to be comfortable being frisked every time we enter a building.  And my problem is that, bottom line, the NRA is nothing more than an advocacy group, and a lobbying group, for gun makers and sellers, who cloaks itself in the legitimacy of claiming to protect the rights of gun owners, and the 2nd Amendment, as they have helped to redefine it.

My problem is that our current public policy utter fails to recognize the impact of guns – real and theoretical – on our society.  Because I also agree with the following statements of inconsistent reality in our lives today.  All of these were taken off the Internet this week:

1.  “One failed attempt at a shoe bomb, and we all take off our shoes at the airport.  31 school shootings since Columbine and no changes in our regulation of guns.”  John Oliver

2.  (Picture of a senior citizen):  I have to show a photo ID at the drug store to buy Sudafed, so the government can track how much I buy, so they know I am not running a drug lab…
(Picture of a smiling young man):  I just bought 6,000 rounds of ammunition for my killing spree over the Internet.  No Id needed, and no way for the authorities to be tipped off that I might be planning something bad…

3.  “If a pre-school child hits another pre-school child with a rock, the solution is NOT to give every pre-school child and teacher a rock!”

Here is the truth – the Second Amendment still has relevance.  However, it is no longer the truth of the framers anymore, as we now HAVE both a national “militia” in the form of the Armed Forces, and local militias – the National Guard – neither of which require their members to own their own weapons.  Neither is it the absolutist vision of the NRA, in which their answer to Newtown is to arm educators and guards, and increase the armed police presence in public schools – in other words – selling more weapons.

As the 3 examples I just gave demonstrate, common sense and experience indicate that some level of governmental regulation Is possible without abridging the rights of individuals to own guns, because with that right must come responsibility.  The best model I can propose is that which goes into owning and operating an automobile.  Drivers must demonstrate proficiency and understanding of the laws of the road to earn first a learner’s permit, and then, after further testing, a license to operate.  In addition, proof of insurance and purchase must be provided to register a car before it can be legally driven.  The car must be regularly inspected to insure it safety on the road.

A gun ownership policy built on this same structure would seem to make sense.  Moreso, it seems appropriate and necessary.  However, let us be clear.  Such a system, by itself, will NOT solve all of our gun related problems.  People still operate vehicles that should not be, or drive without a license, or with willful refusal to obey the laws of the road.  Unless there are also enforcement and penalties that are balanced but perceived as a serious deterrent, such actions will not make a difference.

In addition, just as driver’s licenses exist in different categories for different vehicles, different weapons should require different approvals.  There is a difference between owning a single handgun, for personal security, or a single rifle, for hunting, and being a collector, or operating more lethal weapons.

I can see NO reasonable purpose for semi-automatic or automatic weapons in the hands of the vast majority of citizens.  Likewise, the huge ammunition clips for these weapons, or the purchase of wholesale quantities of any ammunition, or so-called “cop killer” bullets serve no useful public purpose either, and should be banned by law.

As one of my elementary school friends put it this week: “When a neighborhood has a "drug" problem... we go after the drug dealers. Well our neighborhood, the U.S. of A, has a gun problem, and we ought to go after the gun dealers. It's just that simple. Let's start talking about who sold the gun, who manufactured the gun, who made the bullets. Let's name names. Let's start shaming them into a new business. Since that's what it is. It's a business. And it kills.”

I am NOT willing to go that far.  BUT, there have to be limits.  And, if we are being honest, the NRA needs to be part of the discussion, if we hope to get the best possible results.  But, the NRA needs to stop being a lobbying group for the makers and sellers, and do what it claims to do – work for the protection of gun owners and the Second Amendment.  Otherwise, these efforts will fail, and other well-meaning Americans will come to the same conclusion as my friend, Mary.  The makers and sellers need to chose to be part of the solution.

And that brings me to my last point tonight – what can we do ourselves, to help make things better, and to feel like we are working to make a difference.  Because, if we do not, as the public, make clear our revulsion at the frequency of these massacres involving guns, do not make clear that even one Newtown is too many, then nothing will change.  Silence in this case will be interpreted as acceptance of the status quo.  And if there is ANYTHING we have all come to agree upon in the last week, the status quo is NOT acceptable.  When Joe Scarborough, who received the NRA’s highest ratings when he was in Congress, and Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, equally lauded by the NRA, both respond to what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School by saying that change is needed, then, clearly, change is needed!

But there is more.  We can, and need to continue to console ourselves and our families, and work to make sure that it can never happen in our back yard, or anywhere.  We need to remind our children, and ourselves, that we will be okay and safe, not because we wish it to be true, but because we have worked to make it true.

We need to have the other difficult conversations -- about mental health care in this country, a system gutted during the Reagan years, that still is in need of repair; about the politicization of our basic safety needs; about the glorification of guns and violence in movies, video games, and more; even about how the media handle such tragedies – how many of us know the name of the shooter last week, and how many know the name of a single victim?  These secondary issues must also be addressed as part of any effective solution.

And, we need to find little things to do to feel like we are being part of the solution.  Write letters to the editor, and lobby for common sense gun reform – in the upcoming Maryland legislative session, and from our elected national leaders.

But, and this one is so easy, and even fun, let us reach out to the victims in Connecticut.  After the vacation, the students at SHES will go back to school – in a new building, to limit the impact of being back in the place of such personal trauma and loss.  We can help to make their new, temporary home a little warmer, a place of caring and healing.

Over the break, sit down with family and friends, and make some paper snowflakes.  Send them to:

“Snowflake Project”
Bonnie Marsicano
22 Pine Tree Hill Road
Newtown, CT 06470

and they will become part of the fabric of their new school home.  The mailing information is available on sheets in the lobby, and will be included in this week’s news e-mail.

In this way we can take the poignant revelation of the tragedy in Connecticut, and allow the legitimate questions it raises for us become the catalyst for significant change and improvement – for ourselves, and our world.  We embrace the example of our Torah text, and allow the first days of the new Mayan world to gain dramatic significance.  Win-win.  KYR



 This is the flyer that our members received:

Ways to Help in the Wake of Last Week’s School Shootings

Looking for a way to do SOMETHING to feel like you are helping in the aftermath of the Newtown, CT tragedy?  Here is a simple – and fun – craft project that, in a small way, makes a difference, by sending a healing message of love and support.

“Snowflake Project”

The students at Sandy Hook Elementary School will return to school after the holiday, in a new physical location, to limit the trauma of returning to the scene of the shootings.  To help them be more comfortable in their new setting, the plan is to decorate the walls with snowflakes.  And we can help!

If you have the chance over the break, sit down with family – children, grandchildren, friends – and make some snowflakes!  Use our creative energies to help.  And when you have them done, send them, with a note identifying yourself as part of Temple Solel, to:

Bonnie Marsicano
22 Pine Tree Hill Road
Newtown, CT 06470

And they will be used to brighten the new school space.


If You Want to Make Your Voice Heard

If you want to be a part of the public discussion, or let our elected officials know how we feel, DO IT!  Our silence will only be heard as acceptance of the status quo!

Write a letter to any local paper – The Washington Jewish Week, Bowie Blade-News, Crofton Crier, Annapolis Gazette, Washington Post or others.

Contact our representatives in Annapolis or Washington – your voice will be heard!


In Memory Of:

Let us change the culture of glorification of the perpetrators, by remembering the names of the victims instead:

Charlotte Bacon, 6 
                        Daniel Barden, 7 

Olivia Engel, 6                                Josephine Gay, 7 

Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6 
           Dylan Hockley, 6

Madeleine F. Hsu, 6
                        Catherine V. Hubbard, 6 

Chase Kowalski, 7                          
Jesse Lewis, 6                                    

James Mattioli, 6 
                           Grace McDonnell, 7 

Emilie Parker, 6                              
Jack Pinto, 6

Noah Pozner, 6 
                             Caroline Previdi, 6

Jessica Rekos, 6                             Avielle Richman, 6

Benjamin Wheeler, 6                       Allison N. Wyatt, 6
Rachel Davino, 29

Dawn Hochsprung, 47, principal
Anne Marie Murphy, 52, special education teacher

Lauren Rousseau, 30, teacher
Mary Sherlach, 56, school psychologist 

Victoria Soto, 27, first grade teacher

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Responding to Reckless and Inaccurate Palestinian Propaganda

Friends:

 **First -- my apologies for my absence... my real job and real life have kept me fairly busy this fall, and I have been shifting my preaching style to more interactive, less texted forms.**

 **Second -- what follows is VERY long... I know. And I am sorry. But when people who should know better just pass along crap about the Middle East without checking it, or concern for the impact of the lies and inaccuracies, the "Big Lie" must be shot down... and then usually cannot be done quick and easy...**

 **Third -- I am NOT sure what is happening with the formatting here... I hope this last edit has fixed the paragraphs, but just in case, I am setting off MY paragraphs (as opposed to those from the article being critiqued) with beginning and ending "**" **

   **I have copied the “article” below, without consent, off a site called “AlterNet.org.” I have done this so that MY readers can see the bs that is being claimed as fact by this a$$clown. A note to Mr. Cole and the owner/operator(s) of AlterNet.org -- PLEASE come and try to attack me legally for this unauthorized copying, because, I promise, if you do, you will find yourself on the receiving end of multiple suits for libel and reckless endangerment, as well as wire fraud. Not a threat, an iron clad promise.**

 **To my chagrin, this "article" was posted to facebook by my friend, John Rouse, once a respected journalist, but these days, seemingly reduced to using the internet as I suspect that Henry Fonda’s character in “On Golden Pond” would have – to generate enough discussion that the alerts that someone has commented on something he posted would give him constant feedback that he is, in fact, still alive, and in John’s case, still relevant.**

 **John Rouse the newspaper editor would NEVER have allowed an article like this to run in his newspaper – the number of factual errors and examples where unsubstantiated opinion is presented as fact is egregiously large. Yet, in his new internet ambassador role, John simply comments after posting “I just found the piece interesting. Readers can make up their own minds. There was stuff in there I never knrw. [sic]” [note: He DID ix that typo later on.]**

 **The comment shows how far John has fallen – not only could he not be bothered to correct his obvious typo, but his lack of responsibility is painfully typical of how too many REPORT the “news” on facebook – simply passing along, not bothering to fact check. A side note to John: did it ever occur to you that the reason you "learned" so much stuff from this article that you had never heard before was because most of this article was pure, opinionated b.s., with little or no basis in fact or reality???**

 **So here, as a public service to John, and to others who might easily be taken in by this a$$clown, Juan Cole, and his lies, is a BRIEF, seriatum, fact check. [yes, I KNOW it is long... trust me, if I had the time or energy to waste on schooling this moron, it would have been MUCH longer!] Please note – the wide margins are from the original, the brown represent hyper-links to Mr. Cole’s alleged sources (which sadly did not translate over to this forum), many of which are, to a trained eye, on first blush, even more spurious than his own conclusions… my insertions will be obvious, marked with ** and indented.**

Informed Comment / By Juan Cole
Top 10 Myths About Israel's Attack on Gaza

     **The classic propagandist’s trick… accuse the other side of exactly the sin you know yourself to be committing. In this case, passing off myths as truth.**

These misconceptions are spread by the American media.

     **An even more outrageous and ironic twist of the knife, as the reason many people will be taken in by this crap is because exactly the opposite of what is being claimed here is true – the Western media (American included) has been guilty of under-reporting, especially when it comes to the real origins of the current (or any) fighting from the terrorists’ side.**

November 19, 2012 |

1. Israeli hawks represent themselves as engaged in a ‘peace process’ with the Palestinians in which Hamas refuses to join. In fact, Israel has refused to cease colonizing and stealing Palestinian land long enough to engage in fruitful negotiations with them.

     **It is true that SOME Israeli governments, have, historically, been guilty of allowing settlers to squat on land that is not legally theirs, or even, in earlier days, allowed the building of new settlements on unowned land in the West Bank. It is also true that THIS current Israeli government, has approved similar development of unowned land, which has been, and continues to be a deterrent to getting new peace talks started with Abbas, not Hamas. In fact, no Israeli, hawk or dove, will allow Hamas, identified by most Western nations that still have any sense of a moral compass, as a terrorist organization, to come to the table, until they denounce terror, cease rocket attacks, and clearly and unequivocally accept Israel’s right to exist as a free country in peace. The stalled peace process is with Fatah, over the West Bank – Israel unilaterally pulled out of Gaza in 2009. Gaza is where Hamas forces its will on the native Palestinian population. Having pulled out in 2009, Israel cannot possible be colonizing or stealing land – she is not a physical presence in Gaza until the unending rocket assaults from Gaza force her to send in troops to protect her citizens. Tel Aviv routinely announces new, unilateral house-building on the Palestinian West Bank.**
        **Routinely? See above. House-building? ROUTINELY, when settlers unilaterally ignore Israeli laws designed to prevent such actions, the Israeli Supreme Court rules against them, and requires them to stop and retreat. That the government is ROUTINELY incapable of forcing the settlers to abide by Israeli law simply is sad proof that ALL cultural and religious groups have their extremists who believe the law does not apply to them, usually because they claim to be doing “God’s work.” All such extremists are an impediment to peace. And, please don’t get me started on the quality of this “source,” although Reuters, unlike Mr. Cole, at least accurately limits the areas of such claims to areas completely divorced from what is happening in Gaza.**

There is no peace process. It is an Israeli and American sham. Talking about a peace process is giving cover to Israeli nationalists who are determined to grab everything the Palestinians have and reduce them to penniless refugees (again).

        **I almost don’t know where to start on this one. The first sentence is correct. While even I will admit that both sides bear the responsibility for this truth, there is no way that it is a 50-50 split. When virtually every third party who has attempted to bring peace agrees that “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” the breakdown starts to become clear. While it would help if the Netanyahu government would make a better overture, and take fewer actions that can be interpreted negatively by Palestinians (again, all almost exclusively in the West Bank, not Gaza), it is also clear that the situation on the Israeli side is a direct result of the previous failures to achieve peace, which are virtually all at the feet of Palestinian intransigence, and the lack of desire to settle for a 2-state solution.**
       **“Talking about a peace process” is an attempt by the world to push the parties towards the table. It is NOT, nor can it be, a cover to anyone, unless the admission here is that one party has no use for peace… and let’s be clear which party is holding out for a ONE-state solution (hint – NOT Israel!).**
       **And again, can we talk about the rhetorical inconsistency and stupidity inherent in the claim that Israeli nationalists “are determined to grab everything the Palestinians have…” after a) unilaterally leaving Gaza, and b) constantly making overtures to Fatah to come to the table…**
       **And again the propaganda tricks in “reducing them (the Palestinians) to penniless refugees (again)”… who made them refugees in the first place? NOT the Israelis (at least not for MOST of them… see below). Who KEPT them in refugee camps rather than resettling them from 1948 – 1967. Not the Israelis – these people were living in Jordan and Egypt! When did the standard of living RISE for Palestinians? After 1967, when Israel’s pre-emptive and defensive war succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams! Who abdicated responsibility for return of these people to the PLO, even as they made plans to fight for the return of the lands they were on? The Arabs, not Israel – in fact, in 1970, both Jordan, and to a lesser degree, Syria, forced Palestinians OUT of their countries out of fear that they would destabilize things, which is how Arafat came to be based in Tunisia! And where has the world’s significant aid to the Palestinians disappeared since Arafat shook hands with Israel on the White House lawn? Too much of it was deflected into the pockets of Arafat and other Palestinian leaders, leaving the people Palestinian people in need. If you want to claim they are victims, I am fine with that… just blame the real villains for victimizing them…**

2. Actions such as the assault on Gaza can achieve no genuine long-term strategic purpose.

       **Sorry -- where is the "myth" here?! Mr. Cole jumps right into his Pallywood inspired propaganda shrieking on this one!**
       **Opinion, and inaccurate at that, because it precludes any possibility of military success. That is NOT the position of an unbiased reporter, but of a Hamas sympathizer, who KNOWS that weapons caches are routinely stored in the basements of hospitals and schools, launchers placed in the middle of densely populated neighborhoods, and children used as human shields by armed Hamas soldiers and their proxies… all of which make the likelihood of a total Israeli military success in completely wiping out the installation that routinely launch rockets indiscriminately into sovereign Israeli territory slim at best. But such a total success WOULD BE a “genuine long-term strategic” victory.**
       **12000 rockets from Gaza into Israel over the last decade. Indiscriminately. But Israel drops one bomb, more carefully targeted than is required (or achieved) by ANY other military, and how quick Hamas is to cry foul… **

They are being launched to ensure that Jewish-Israelis are the first to exploit key resources.**

      **Again – what resources? This is Gaza, which has virtually no natural resources to speak of, besides 1.7 potential victims for Hamas to use and exploit. And an interesting rhetorical flourish here, that links Israel and Jewish… and in the process, exposes the REAL animus and bias of the “reporter.”**

Rattling sabers at the Palestinians creates a pretext for further land-grabs and colonies on Palestinian land. That is, the military action against the people of Gaza is a diversion tactic; the real goal is Greater Israel, an assertion of Israeli sovereignty over all the territory once held by the British Mandate of Palestine.

        **OMG – if this wasn’t so damned slanderous, it would be amusing for its stupidity, its inaccuracy, and its creative selection of the LEAST reputable source available to back his point. Further land grabs? Again – Israel LEFT Gaza… the OPPOSITE of land grab. Israel built (lamentably, but understandably) a separating wall between herself and the West Bank Palestinian population, to make terroristic incursions from that territory far more difficult. “Diversion tactic”? One side of the conflict has, consistently, over the last decade, used negotiations and cease-fires as a diversion… to give themselves time to re-arm, recoup, and make new plans for attack. And again, that side has been Hamas, NOT Israel. Trust me, if the goal was a “land grab” to create a “Greater Israel,” Israel would have done so long ago, and no Hamas or Palestinian effort would have stopped them. Who gave back the Sinai in return for peace? Israel. Who unilaterally left Gaza? Israel. Who has tried repeatedly to return most of the West Bank in return for a meaningful and sustainable peace? Israel. “Land grab”? Get real! And Israel has NEVER established “colonies” – in territory won in 1967 or anywhere else – since her independence was declared.**

3. Israeli hawks represent their war of aggression as in ‘self-defense.’ But the UK Israeli [note: in Mr Cole's original, Israeli is struck thru] chief rabbi admitted on camera that that the Gaza attack actually ‘had something to do with Iran.’

       **It was launched after yet another escalation in rocket fire from Gaza. That is not only self-defense, but it is LEGITIMATE self-defense. Clever use of the cross-thru to imply a cabal between Britain and Israel… except virtually every spurious article this clown brings to support his absurd arguments has a British source, which is far closer to the current political reality, at least as applies to the British media.**
       **And it is clear that the Israeli response DOES have “something to do with Iran,” since Iran is the source of the rockets currently being fired from Gaza that have now brought Tel Aviv and the outskirts of Jerusalem into range, increasing the number of Israeli citizens in target range from 1 million to almost 3 million.**

4. Israeli hawks demonize the Palestinians of Gaza as “bad neighbors” who don’t accept Israel. But 40% of the people in Gaza are refugees, mostly living in refugee camps, from families in pre-1948 Palestine that had lived there for millennia.

        **Again, the skillful and deliberate blurring of history… many families have roots in what was originally called Philistia by the Romans, to punish the Jews for their rebellion in 135 CE, but was not again called Palestine, even informally, until modernity, and not formally defined until the League of Nations broke Palestine out from the former Ottoman Empire and awarded Great Britain the Mandate for its oversight in 1920. Some of the families that can make that claim are even Jewish! However, there is no indigenous people who can claim an ethnic or cultural identity called “Palestinian.” It simply did not exist as an entity, at least not until the Arab countries exacerbated the refugee problem created during Israel’s War of Independence (the ONLY such war in modern history, btw, in which the country declaring independence was attacked by neighbors intent on making her disappear), when the majority of refugees CHOSE to leave their homes at the request of the attacking Arab armies, who wanted them out of the way so they would not be impeded in their presumed march to “push Israel into the sea.” When that did not happen, the refugee “problem” was created, and the failure of the surrounding Arab countries to normalize and settle the refugees amongst their own population created what is today referred to as the “Palestinian people.”**
       **Amongst those whose families voluntarily vacated and became refugees was Mahmoud Abbas himself. In recent days, he has publicly and clearly expressed that he would like to visit Safed, the city his ancestors vacated, but he has no claim on returning there to live.**
       **Bottom line, however, whatever the origins of the people currently living in Gaza, that does not excuse their inability to elect leaders who will recognize Israel’s legitimacy, or work to bring a peace that would help citizens on both sides. Neighbors who allow rockets to be launched from their territory into the country next door can hardly be seen, credibly, as anything but poor neighbors!**

They were expelled from what is now Israel in the 1948 Zionist ethnic cleansing campaign. Israelis are now living in their homes and farming their land, and they were never paid any reparations for the crimes done to them.[pdf] “Israel’s failure to provide reparations to Palestinian refugees over the past six decades is in blatant violation of international law.” Israel does not accept Palestine’s right to exist, even though it is constantly demanding that everyone, including the displaced and occupied Palestinians, recognize Israel’s right to exist.

      **On top of the clear evidence above, the opinions sited in these articles are, at best, minority opinions. Every framework towards a permanent peace agreement has made clear that the final resolution to the return question must be negotiated by the parties. Any serious attempt at reaching a negotiated agreement will require compromise and creativity from both sides – for the Palestinians to expect Israel to accept a stipulation that would, on demographic grounds, obliterate her character as a “Jewish state” is the logical equivalent of admitting that they really don’t seek a meaningful peace agreement. And again, see Abbas’ statement about his own personal “claim” to return as evidence that those who refuse to compromise on this issue are creating an invented excuse, designed to be used as a tool against Israel rather than a negotiating position.**

5. Israeli hawks and their American clones depict Gaza as a foreign, hostile state with which Israel is at war. In fact, the Gaza strip is a small territory of 1.7 million people militarily occupied by Israel (something in which the UN and other international bodies concur). Israelis do not allow it to have a port or airport, nor to export most of what it produces. Palestinians cannot work about a third of its land, which is reserved by Israel as a security buffer. As an occupied territory, it is covered by the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 on the treatment of occupied populations by their military occupier. Indiscriminate bombing of occupied territories by the occupier is clearly illegal in international law.

     **Now Mr. Cole has gone off the deep end, and is REALLY becoming offensive to anyone. “Israeli hawks and their American clones”?? Seriously? In fact, the US, and much of Europe, define Gaza as a disputed territory, whose ultimate resolution is still to be defined in negotiations, currently being ruled by Hamas, a recognized terrorist organization, with a clearly stated agenda to utterly destroy her neighbor, Israel. It is certainly foreign to Israel. It is clearly in a continuing state of belligerence towards Israel, defined by over 12000 rockets sent from Gaza into Israel at civilian targets – a clear violation of international law and every meaningful morality of western civilization.**
       **Whatever its size or population is irrelevant to the state of belligerence its government continues to foster, whether the UN and other international bodies concur or not.**
       **Militarily occupied? Again, do I have to repeat the argument? Israel unilaterally withdrew all forces. THERE IS NO MILITARY OCCUPATION!! Bring as many “witnesses” as you want - water will still be wet, the sky will still be up, and the sun will still “rise” in the east no matter what witnesses may claim to the contrary. Israel has NOT prevented the current elected leadership of Gaza from creating port or airport. I WOULD expect that, if Hamas had attempted such an effort, Israel would have done everything legally possible to blockade the effort, as there is already a steady stream of weapons entering the territory illegally, and to allow more would be a legitimate threat to her security. There is no credible evidence for the claim about preventing exports. Exporting products would add to Gaza’s economy, increasing her stability, which would be to Israel’s benefit, which is why, despite the continued state of belligerence a) Israel has encouraged foreign economic help for Gaza, and b) Israel is the leading conduit for humanitarian aid entering Gaza (NOT Egypt, as would be otherwise expected. In fact, when Israel pulled out, significant amounts of agricultural equipment were left behind, to assist the Gazan economy. That equipment has all been destroyed and repurposed to military usage by the Hamas regime.**
       **The claims about Israel’s incursion into “a third of [Gaza’s] land” for a “security buffer” are pure fabrication and antilogical, given that final borders of Gaza remain to be negotiated, if a legitimate leadership ever fulfills the necessary prerequisites to negotiations listed above (beginning with recognition of Israel’s right to exist, and cessation of rocket fire).**
       **And, since Israel has withdrawn troops from the area, the claims of Geneva convention violations must no longer be relevant, but that doesn’t stop Mr. Cole and other propagandists from repeating them as part of their “Big Lie.” As has been demonstrated, here, and elsewhere, multiple times, Israel's carefully targeted, multi-fail-safed targeting of strictly military targets in Gaza is hardly “Indiscriminate,” as Mr. Cole claims in raising his false Geneva Conventions claim. This moves from farcical propaganda to offensive irony in light of the completely indiscriminate and premeditated rocket fire that provoked Israel’s response.**

6. Israeli hawks see themselves as innocent victims of bewildering Palestinian rage from Gaza. But Israel not only has kept Palestinians of Gaza in the world’s largest outdoor penitentiary, they have them under an illegal blockade that for some years aimed at limiting their nutrition without altogether starving them to death. I wrote earlier: “The food blockade had real effects. About ten percent of Palestinian children in Gaza under 5 have had their growth stunted by malnutrition. A recent report [pdf] by Save the Children and Medical Aid for Palestinians found that, in addition, anemia is widespread, affecting over two-thirds of infants, 58.6 percent of schoolchildren, and over a third of pregnant mothers. “ If any foreign power surrounded Israel, destroyed Haifa port and Tel Aviv airport, and prevented Israeli exports from being exported, what do you think Israelis would do? Oh, that’s right, it is rude to see both Palestinians and Israelis as equal human beings.

     **Most of the blame for any accuracy in these claims (which is suspect at best), must go far more to the Hamas oppressors in Gaza than to any perceived continued oppression at the hands of a withdrawn Israel. The fact that the (fiction) author here quotes something he himself wrote earlier as “evidence” can hardly inspire confidence in either factuality or accuracy to his claims.**
       **Despite the totally gratuitous closing statement of this point, which, to any rhetoretician or anyone seeking truth about this subject, would disqualify the entire content as the biased opinion it is, allow me to answer his rhetorical question which precedes it… when that actual scenario DID play out in spring of 1967, Israel first appealed, through proper diplomacy, to the United Nations, to end the blockade peacefully. When that failed, Israel took the legal and moral step of launching a defensive and pre-emptive strike, which became the victory of the 6 Day War. In other words, instead of launching immediately into attack, or whining and claiming victim status, Israel, at all stages, acted responsibly, and took military action only as a last resort. So, thanks for asking!

7. Israeli hawks demonize the Palestinian residents of Gaza as followers of Hamas, a party-militia of the Muslim religious right. But half of Palestinians in Gaza are minors, who never voted for Hamas and cannot be held collectively responsible for that party.

     **A big, ironic LOL!! Again with the meaningless phrase “Israel (sic) hawks.” Clearly, the intent of the repeated, undefined refrain is to cast Israelis as hawks, or at least a portion of them.  However, the propaganda effect is a) to keep undefined what portion of Israelis are being blamed -- is it just hawks, the government, the entire population?  and b) to blur the lines.  Compare this to my VERY deliberate distinction between Hamas actions and impact on Palestinians in Gaza.  THIS is the difference between spouting propaganda and hiding behind rhetorical tricks to avoid acknowledging a lack of factual evidence, and reporting facts and data.**
     **Some in Israel do, in fact, demonize. Most, however simply call what they see. In the last elections, more Palestinians living in Gaza voted for Hamas leadership. No demonizing, simple and accurate reporting. Some even recognize the possibility that most Palestinians are every bit Hamas’ victims as Hamas hopes to make Israelis. NO Israeli defines Hamas as above – that is actually closer to Hamas' fatuous self-definition. Recognizing that he has failed to make any of his preceding 6 points effectively, the author now seeks to exempt the majority of the population from responsibility from Hamas – not by accurately blaming Hamas and distancing themselves, but rather, by spurious legal technicalities. Unlike Hamas, Israelis would never seek to blame minors for anything to begin with. Collective responsibility is a Hamas tactic, not an Israeli one.**

8. Israeli hawks justify their aggression on the Palestinians on grounds of self-defense. But Israel is a country of 7.5 million people with tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, helicopter gunships and F-16s and F-18s, plus 400 nuclear warheads. Gaza is a small occupied territory of 1.7 million which has no heavy weaponry, just some old guns and some largely ineffectual rockets. (Israelis cite hundreds of rockets fired into Israel from Gaza in 2012; but until Israel’s recent attack they had killed not a single Israeli, though they did wound a few last March when fighting between Palestinians and Israelis escalated.) Gaza is a threat to Israel the way the Transkei Bantustan was a threat to Apartheid South Africa. As for genuine asymmetrical threats from Gaza to Israel, they could be dealt with by giving the Palestinians a state and ceasing the blockade imposed on them, or in the worst case scenario counter-terrorism targeted at terrorists rather than indiscriminate bombing campaigns.

     **Aww – once again the world’s smallest, and most hypocritical, violin plays the martyr song for Palestinians in the absence of legitimate debate. The idea that the rockets fired on Israel are inaccurate enough to have killed anyone in Israel until the recent escalation is here used as PROOF that Hamas innocent of any provocation? What have they done to prevent their towns and cities and homes from being used as military sites to target (however ineffectually) Israeli civilians? Nothing – either because they themselves have been bullied by Hamas, or because they support the actions. At this point, no matter how much I WISH the former to be the case, the evidence does not support a firm conclusion either way.**
      **And then the truly offensive slander begins. The comparison to apartheid era South Africa, no matter how attractive to some, or how useful as propaganda, simply fails the test of accuracy and fact. 12000 rockets killed that analogy! The claim of asymmetrical threats is another deliberate inversion of reality – admittedly indiscriminate targeting of Israeli civilians responded to by carefully limited and targeted singling out of military personnel and installations is truly asymmetry. The Israeli withdrawal was designed to allow Gaza to demonstrate its readiness and willingness to achieve peace and statehood – her failure to do so must lie 100% at the feet of Hamas exclusively. To claim that what is Israel is ACTUALLY DOING would be sufficient if only Israel did it is the height of sophistry.**

9. Israeli hawks maintain that they were provoked into the attack. But actually Ahmad Jabari, the Hamas leader the Israelis assassinated earlier this week, had been engaged in talks with the Israelis about a truce. Assassinations achieved by the ruse of openness to peace talks are guarantees of no further peace talks.

     **The world is still waiting for the definitive evidence on this claim about Jabari. Mr. Cole cites the ONLY article making this claim that has been published to date. The Ha’aretz author had ample reason to self-promote and fabricate his claims in the article for his own advancement and self-aggrandisement. In addition, if such negotiations WERE going on, Israel’s military censor almost assuredly would have shut the story down, at least until after the cessation of hostilities. The overwhelming body of multiply proven and confirmed facts on the man is that he was responsible for Gilad Shalit’s abduction, he was the leader of Hamas’ military arm, and he was the architect of the rocket strategy. The fact that he was targeted and killed in his car makes unlikely that the Israelis used a “pretext” of negotiation as a ruse to expose him to the attack.**

10. Although most American media is a cheering section for the Likud Party,in fact the world is increasingly done out with Israel’s aggressiveness. Boycotts and sanctions will likely grow over time, leaving Israeli hawks with a deficit…

       **Again, where is the myth here? The only one that I see is the one HE has invented about the leanings of the American media, one which flies in the face of the empirical evidence.**
       **Huh? Has this moron actually read American media coverage of Israel, before and during this conflict? And what myth is he exposing here (or for that matter, in most of his screed?)?**

       **Bottom line, refuting the “Big Lie” takes far more effort and ink than making it, and this case is no exception to that truth. If the author has any sincere desire to bring peace, he would do better to shut up, or at least learn the difference between fact and fiction.**

Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the blog Informed Comment.

        **If this is accurate, it is truly a blot on academia. I certainly hope his efforts in areas he has actually studied or knows anything about are presented to students more professionally and without bias than is demonstrated here.**

        **Please -- do NOT give this idiot any more credibility that he does not deserve on his own. I have written this blog SOLELY for the purpose of being to post the link on Mr. Rouse's wall, to serve as an antidote to the real damage such reckless reposting of such foolish propaganda spouting can create. Please do NOT send your friends her to "learn the truth." We who support Israel, peace, and the truth are far better served by simply continuing to get the real facts out there, not by reposting crap like this and risking giving it traction by our attention.