Meretz USA endorsed the Workmen’s Circle and Shalom Center’s “Jews Uniting to End the War and Heal America” conference of Nov. 23. And our immediate past president, Lilly Rivlin, participated in a panel on “Impacts of the Iraq War and Peace on the Broader Middle East.” Taken as a whole, it was a very impressive and successful event, filling its Manhattan venue to near capacity with about 350 registrants.
The conference concluded with a keynote address by “Democracy Now” newscaster Amy Goodman – a bravura performance received with a standing ovation. Ms. Goodman was funny, incisive, discursive and provocative as she moved from the thrill of Barack Obama’s election (“the community organizer in chief”) to the battles of Frederick Douglass and Rosa Parks against slavery and Jim Crow, and far beyond. She discussed her background as a granddaughter of an Orthodox rabbi, “davening” [praying] in the women’s balcony and how she and her brother recently visited their ancestral home country of Estonia and the Lithuanian setting where her grandfather studied in a yeshiva.
Her first mention of caution, of the need to counter conservative influences on Obama, was to refer to the nasty and thoughtless comment by the father of Obama’s new chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel: “Obviously, he’ll influence the President to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn’t he? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to be mopping the floors at the White House.”
She elided the two last sentences together to make the statement overtly racist. I can’t say that she meant to misquote Benjamin Emanuel (a pediatrician who grew up in pre-state Israel and was a right-wing Irgun supporter as a youth), but we don’t know from the syntax if he actually meant to emphasize that his son would be pro-Israel and that he’d be there to influence policy (not to mop the floors), or to insult Arabs by contending that they would only be in the White House to mop the floors. She didn’t blame the son for the father’s transgression, but made an issue in claiming that Rahm Emanuel took a week to apologize directly to the Arab community. (“From the fullness of my heart, I personally apologize on behalf of my family and me. These are not the values upon which I was raised or those of my family.”)
Still, in a marvelous turn, Goodman revealed the startling fact that Donald Rumsfeld is the current owner of a former Maryland plantation called Mt. Misery, where Frederick Douglass was once tormented as a slave. And she recalled recently interviewing South Africa’s Bishop Desmond Tutu as he proclaimed his joy at Obama’s victory; then, she said, Tutu immediately started “talking about Gaza. After all, he grew up in apartheid South Africa.”
Continuing in a brilliantly seamless stream of consciousness, she described how she and her two producers were arrested and manhandled by the police outside the Republican National Convention. She artfully interweaved the fact that Israel has recently closed off the Gaza Strip to journalists, as its blockade tightens. She entirely neglected to mention the new wave of Palestinian rocket attacks launched in response to Israel’s action against a terrorist attempt to tunnel into Israel.
Even recounting these interrelated actions and counteractions shows how complicated Israel’s situation is, but Amy Goodman consistently examines only one side – the damage done to Palestinians and their supporters. Ms. Goodman is absolutely correct in intoning some great aphorisms: “media covers power, [but] is not for power”; “media is the Fourth Estate, not for the state”; and “only through knowing can we repair.” But her extreme anti-Israel bias makes it impossible for her to be a fair and credible source of news and analysis relating to Israel. This is a shame, considering how earnest and well-meaning she surely is in her heart of hearts.
Since there was no Q & A following her speech, there was no opportunity for a public dialogue with her. I may return to say more on this conference. There was a lot to reflect upon. Happy Thanksgiving!