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Israel, Occupied Palestine and the Dred Scott Decision

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(NNPA) I found myself thinking about the notorious Dred Scott decision (1857) by the U.S. Supreme Court while traveling the streets of Occupied Palestine this past January. I was there leading a small delegation of African Americans who were trying to better understand the nature of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

There are many ways that the conditions of Palestinians have been described over time. Most recently the system of Israeli domination of the Palestinians (both internal to the state of Israel and externally through the occupation of Palestinian territories) has been characterized as an “apartheid system,” based on the criteria and analysis of apartheid that the United Nations established in the early 1970s. While I absolutely agree that apartheid describes the system in place, it was the Dred Scott decision that reverberated in my brain as I explored the reality of the conditions facing Palestinians.

As you will remember, the Dred Scott decision concerned the legitimacy of an African American slave’s assertion of freedom once he was in a non-slave state. In this famous decision the Court argued, among other things, that Blacks had no rights that a White person was bound to respect. While walking through Occupied Palestine I found myself confronting the reality that Palestinians have no rights that the Israeli authorities feel bound to respect.

In the interest of time and space, let me provide two examples. The first is land. Since 1948 there has been a systematic seizure of land owned by Palestinians, first in what is now known as the state of Israel, and later in the Occupied Territories. Rationales have ranged from alleging security concerns to the discovery of archaeological relics. Regardless of the rationale, once removed from the land, the Palestinians do not get it back. More than likely it is turned over to an Israeli settler in flagrant violation of international law, and sometimes even Israeli law.

The second example concerns checkpoints and roads. There are roads in the Occupied Territories that Palestinians are forbidden to travel unless they receive special permission. There are checkpoints throughout the Occupied Territories that Palestinians must walk through, in an atmosphere of humiliation, to be inspected, questioned, etc. Additionally, Israeli security personnel can feel free to stop any Palestinian, including in territory nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and interrogate them and/or seize them.

In each case, protests by Palestinians rarely result in anything approaching justice. If Palestinians are attacked by settlers in the Occupied Territories, the Palestinians have come to expect little or no justice from Israeli authorities. If, on the other hand, a Palestinian attacks an Israeli, they can expect retribution from the Israeli authorities and the settlers.

If you have any questions as to why the tide seems to be turning in favor of a rethinking of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and why growing numbers of people recognize the profound injustice in the treatment of the Palestinians, just remember the name “Dred Scott.” At that point it will all come together.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies. For more on his recent trip, see the interview Tavis Smiley held with him at: http://www.tavissmileyradio.com/bill-fletcher-jr-traveling-through-palestine/.

It’s Time to Reduce Tensions and Create Possibility

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(NNPA) The escalating crisis in the Ukraine has set off unseemly missile-rattling and muscle flexing in this country. Prominent neo-con Charles Krauthammer sees this as a Cold War faceoff, calling for the U.S. to ante up $15 billion for the Ukrainian rebels and send a fleet to the Black Sea. Sunday’s Washington Post headlined that the crisis “tests Obama’s focus on diplomacy over force,” quoting Andrew C. Kuchins of the Center for Strategic and International Studies decrying Obama for “taking the stick option off the table.” The right has been even more bellicose.

The Obama administration has responded to the crisis by flexing its own rhetorical muscles. When Putin ignored Obama’s warning that a “price would be paid” if he sent troops into the Crimea, Secretary of State John Kerry denounced the “brazen act of aggression,” vowing that “Russia is going to lose, the Russian people are going to lose,” suggesting “asset freezes, isolation with respect to trade, investment…” the rubble going down…economic isolation of Russia” while promising economic assistance of a “major sort” for whatever government emerges in Kiev.

OK, folks, take a deep breath. Shelve the Cold War textbooks. Let’s take a sober look before we commit treasure and prestige to an unknown and still unsettled coup in a country on Russia’s border, harbor to its fleet, that has had a fragile independent existence for barely 20 years.

Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was an unpopular, corrupt, compromised, but democratically elected leader of Ukraine. He was leading the country toward membership in the European Union, when under enormous pressure from Putin, he reversed course. That led to street demonstrations, clearly spurred on by the United States, and eventually to the coup that sent him packing.

The nature of the new government is far from clear. The country itself is deeply divided. As David C. Speedie, director of U.S. Global Engagement at the Carnegie Council of Ethics in International Affairs says, “In simple terms, half of the people in Ukraine look to Russia and the other half look to the West.” The new leaders in Kiev include ultra-nationalists who have already banned the use of Russian language in some areas. Not surprisingly, the coup is very unpopular in semi-autonomous Crimea, populated largely by Russian speaking people.

Yanukovych’s decision to postpone consideration of joining the European Union wasn’t irrational. The EU was forcing Yanukovych to decide between Russia and the EU, flatly rejecting Putin’s offer of a tripartite arrangement that would allow Ukraine to sustain its ties with Russia. In December, Putin then offered to rescue the bankrupt Ukraine. The Ukraine is totally dependent on Russia economically. The EU and the U.S. are not about to replace that with Western aid and trade. Americans will be less than supportive of sending billions to Kiev on the other side of the world, while we are starving investment in education, Head Start and other vital investments here at home. The EU, dominated by Germany, has inflicted a brutal austerity on members like Greece, Spain and Portugal. The Ukraine might get promises of aid in the crisis, but any sober government would be worried about how much support would be sustained over the next years.

Putin, of course, is the villain in the piece. The Ukraine only went independent when the Soviet Union imploded, but it remains central to Russian security. The Russian fear is far less about economic relations with the EU (Russia itself is a major source of energy for the Europeans), than the further extension of NATO to its borders. A hostile Ukraine might displace Russian bases in the Black Sea, harbor the American fleet, and provide a home to NATO bases. This isn’t an irrational fear. Despite U.S. promises by George Bush not to extend NATO when Germany was united, the reality is that nine former Warsaw Pact nations and three former Soviet Republics have been incorporated into NATO, with the U.S.-NATO even setting up a military outpost in Georgia. And the European pact, advertised as offering access to free trade and a free access, in fact called for integrating Ukraine into the EU defense structure, including cooperation on “civilian and military crisis management operations” and “relevant exercises” concerning them. No one should be surprised that Putin reacted negatively to that prospect. No U.S. administration would put up with Putin cutting a deal with Mexico to join a military alliance with Russia.

Some minimal hold on reality is needed. Obama hasn’t “taken the stick off the table,” for there is no “stick” in relation to the Ukraine. Americans have no desire and no reason to go to war with Russia over what happens in Crimea. The EU and the U.S. are not going to supplant Russia’s economic influence in the Ukraine. We’re not going to provide the aid, the trade or the subsidized energy — and the EU austerity regime doesn’t offer an expansive growing region to join. The new Ukrainian government is neither elected nor legitimate nor settled. An unpopular leader has been unseated. But before this new, fragile and bitterly divided country breaks apart, the international community should be pushing hard for new elections and compromise.

The neo-cons like Krauthammer, the frustrated cold warriors filling armchairs in the outdated “strategic” think tanks that litter Washington will continue to howl at the moon. But American policy should be run by the sober and the adult. The president would be well advised to probe now whether the EU, Russia and the U.S. can join together to preserve the Ukraine’s territorial unity, to support new and free elections, agreeing to allow the Ukraine to be part of both the EU and the Russian customs union, while reaffirming the pledge that NATO will not extend itself into the Ukraine. It is time to reduce tensions and create possibility, not draw lines, flex rhetorical muscles and fan the flames of folly.

“He’s going to lose on the international stage,” Kerry said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” referring to Putin. “Russia is going to lose, the Russian people are going to lose, and he’s going to lose all of the glow that came out of the Olympics, his $60 billion extravaganza.”

Economic sanctions and travel restrictions on individual Russians are one possibility, as is a U.S. and European boycott of planning meetings this week for the upcoming summit of the Group of Eight leading industrial nations in Russia.

The United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia are members of the G-8.

“There are visa bans, asset freezes, isolation with respect to trade, investment,” Kerry said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “American businesses may well want to start thinking twice about whether they want to do business with a country that behaves like this. These are serious implications.”

Kerry also said that the administration was ready to provide economic assistance “of a major sort” to Ukraine.

Jesse Jackson, Sr. is founder and president of Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

U.S. Seeks to Destabilize Venezuela

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(NNPA) Whether under Bush or Obama the U.S. appears determined to destabilize the Bolivarian government of Venezuela. The U.S. political establishment, including these two administrations, regularly provoke the Venezuelan government, make false allegations, and demonstrate their support for the opposition forces in Venezuela irrespective of the strategies and tactics which the opposition pursues. Enough! This must end.

The current clashes in Venezuela between pro-government and anti-government forces should be an internal matter of the Venezuelan people. The U.S. political establishment, including but not limited to the Obama administration, insists on caricaturing the administration of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, portraying it as authoritarian. Yet this was a democratically-elected government in a bitterly divided country. The Obama administration should know a bit about bitterly divided countries and about those who insist on the illegitimacy of a democratically elected president.

The Obama administration continues to fish in troubled waters when it comes to Latin America. In 2009, while at first orally opposing the coup in Honduras, the Obama administration undermined all efforts to return the legitimate president to office. With regard to Venezuela, despite the late President Hugo Chavez’s interests in a better relationship between Venezuela and the U.S.A,, the Obama administration has seemed to be more concerned with projecting its aggressive face. Rhetorical provocations, as well as U.S. hostility toward several of Venezuela’s chief allies in the region, have led to Obama successfully seizing defeat from the jaws of victory in Latin America.

This brings us to today. The opposition, once again, seems intent on provoking the Maduro government into an action that will make the opposition appear to be victims. The mainstream U.S. media and political establishment are cooperating in this effort. Despite the fact that the Maduro government has popular support, U.S. politicians are laying the public relations foundation for regime change. All those concerned about peace and justice should simply not let this happen.

The first step is to refuse to be silent. This means that we need to take concrete steps, including writing to the White House and making it clear that we oppose U.S. interference in Venezuela; sending “letters to the editor” to your local media outlets conveying the same point; and getting organizations to which you belong to pass resolutions that are sent to the White House expressing their displeasure with the manner in which this administration is carrying out its relationship with Venezuela. The bottom line is that silence and passivity in the face of U.S. provocations can simply not be options.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and atwww.billfletcherjr.com.

What the Dunn Verdict Says About Us

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“Jordan had no guns. He had no drugs. There was no alcohol. They were coming from the mall. They were being kids.” -Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis

Another mother’s anguish. Another unarmed Black teenager in Florida shot dead for no good reason. Another indefensible instance of Stand Your Ground rearing its ugly head. Eight months after the stunning acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, justice again has been compromised in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Jordan Davis.

On November 23, 2012, Michael Dunn, a 47-year-old White man, fired 10 rounds into a SUV after arguing over loud rap music coming from the vehicle with Jordan and three other unarmed African American teenagers.

Three of the bullets struck and killed Jordan Davis. Like George Zimmerman, Michael Dunn claimed self-defense and used Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law to bolster his justification of the killing, as his lawyer stated in his closing argument, “His honor will further tell you that if Michael Dunn was in a public place where he had a legal right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.”

Dunn claims Jordan Davis brandished a gun so Dunn shot first. But there is one big problem with his story. Jordan Davis had no gun and neither did anyone else in the SUV.

Two weeks ago, a jury found Dunn guilty of three counts of attempted murder, one for each of Jordan’s three friends, and shooting into a vehicle. But they deadlocked on the fifth count – first-degree murder in the killing of Jordan. Dunn could get at least 60 years and may spend the rest of his life in prison for the four lesser counts.

But the failure to convict him of murdering Jordan Davis raises critical questions about the devaluing of the lives of young Black males in America and confirms the need for a repeal of Florida’s repugnant Stand Your Ground law that sanctions the use of deadly force by anyone who merely thinks – or claims – they are in danger from a perceived assailant.

Regardless of whether Dunn or Zimmerman chose to fully exercise Stand Your Ground provisions in their defense, this law was very clearly at the center of both cases. It is even clearer that the “shoot first” laws across the country are contributing to needless bloodshed and are ripe for unequal application based on race.

A recent Urban Institute analysis found that in Stand Your Ground states, “When the shooter is white and the victim is black, the justifiable homicide rate is 34 percent. When the situation is reversed and the shooter is black and the victim is white, shootings are ruled to be justifiable in only slightly more than 3 percent of cases.”

Last September, the National Urban League, in collaboration with the bipartisan Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition and VoteVets, issued a report showing that in the 22 states with “Stand Your Ground” laws, the justifiable homicide rate has risen by an average of 53 percent in the five years following their passage. In Florida, justifiable homicides have increased by 200 percent since the law took effect in 2005.

These statistics and their underlying racial disparities, tell us that expansive self-defense laws such as Stand Your Ground are doing more harm than good, and when coupled with implicit racial bias and unfounded preconceptions, young Black males are especially at risk. Dunn’s own bigoted words in letters from jail clearly show his disregard for their lives, as he wrote: “The jail is full of blacks and they all act like thugs. This may sound a bit radical but if more people would arm themselves and kill these (expletive) idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.” and “The fear is that we may get a predominantly black jury and therefore, unlikely to get a favorable verdict. Sad, but that’s where this country is still at. The good news is that the surrounding counties are predominantly white and republican and supporters of gun rights!” This view and those like it are why we must commit today to action against the devaluing of our young Black lives.

Even as the Michael Dunn trial was getting underway, we learned that Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, had planned to capitalize on the death of a young Black male by participating in a “celebrity” boxing match – when his only claim to fame is killing an unarmed Black teenager – and getting off (The bout was later cancelled). Such a blatant disregard for the value of a Black male’s life should be a wake-up call to all Americans. We must intensify our fight against Stand Your Ground laws – and the underlying mentality – that justify the killing of young Black men whose only “offense” is being Black.

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

Can the Dominican Republic and Haiti Resolve Citizenship Dispute?

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(NNPA) Haiti and the Dominican Republic are locked in negotiations aimed at resolving a dispute that potentially has hemispheric implications. This all revolves around a court decision last September in the Dominican Republic that retroactively stripped thousands of their Dominican citizenship if they or their families entered the Dominican Republic illegally even if they, as children born in the Dominican Republic, have no relationship to their ethnic homeland. Based on a 2010 Constitutional change, the court’s rulings places people who may have been in the Dominican Republic since 1929 into a legal twilight zone. The main victims of this ruling are Haitians and people of Haitian descent. This action continues a long list of anti-Haitian moves over the years by various governments of the Dominican Republic.

According to news reports, the negotiations have been progressing, though the Dominican government is alleged to be arguing that the numbers of people affected by this ruling are far less than those suggested by the High Commissioner for Refugees for the United Nations: 200,000 people.

Though there has been some media attention in the U.S. the Dominican court ruling and subsequent talks, the gravity of the court’s ruling has been largely understated. Not to be melodramatic but the stripping of the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of people is not dissimilar to the actions that the Nazis took against Jews in Germany in the 1930s. And, while no one is suggesting that a mass extermination of Haitians or Haitian-Dominicans is in the works, the Dominican Republic is the land that perpetrated genocide against Haitians living in the Dominican Republic in the 1930s. The memory of that genocide and the on-going anti-Black sentiment in much of Dominican society is an ever present reality.

Permitting the Dominican Republic to remove from citizenship even the small numbers of people that the Dominican government projects – let alone the 200,000 that the United Nations’ Commissioner suggests – sets a precedent within the entire hemisphere. Migration is a reality throughout the hemisphere. Retroactively implementing constitutional changes is wrong legally and equally wrong morally. It is, however, precisely what some right-wing and wrong-headed individuals want to do in the U.S.

Specifically, there have been efforts afoot to alter the Constitution of the United States such that birth in the U.S.A. no longer guarantees citizenship. Efforts such as these and what we are witnessing in the Dominican Republic inevitably and, in fact, quite consciously pit populations against one another, blaming one racial or ethnic group for the problems faced by others. In the case of the Dominican Republic, it is fairly clear that this court decision is, more than anything else, a cynical political move rather than a considered, reasonable and fair decision.

The peoples and nations of the Western Hemisphere must stand up to this sort of xenophobic behavior. No country should be permitted to ride roughshod over human rights as will be the reality with the implementation of this court decision. There are certain moments in history where one can simply no longer be silent. This is one such moment.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and atwww.billfletcherjr.com.

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