With children being separated from their parents at the border, with the President's rampage through the institutions that hold our society together, with nuclear war with North Korea even a topic of conversation, many might think this essay is trivial. Think of it instead as about what Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil," her recognition that evil is not done by the devil incarnate, it is done by small people, often very ordinary people, often just going along.
This column is about betrayal, about lack of principle, about pettiness, about inside the Beltway stuff. So let me step back for a moment and put it in a larger context. It is also about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, about the utter corruption of Congress and most of the top political figures in this country. It is about AIPAC, an Israel-solidarity organization that has a right to exist that is just as strong as any Palestinian-solidarity organization, but which, astonishingly, has come to totally dominate Congress, and corrupts every future Presidential candidate.
Case in point: Nikki Haley's appearance at the AIPAC conference where she repeatedly shouted out to the crowd, "I love you too," after her talk, detailing how she stands up for Israel at the U.N., was repeatedly interrupted by shouts of "WE LOVE YOU Nikki." Or Chuck Schumer, thankfully not a contender, a slick embarrassment, who brought the 20,000-strong AIPAC multitude to their feet, in roaring affirmation, when he told them that there was only one explanation of why the UN unfairly picks on Israel: "ANTI-SEMITISM." He, and they, could think of no other reason, such as "because they can," because in the real world, in the face of what they see as an injustice to the Palestinians that was nothing less than having their entire country stolen from them, -- in the face of this, the countries that were once colonial possessions, are totally impotent -- and so, in the General Assembly, with their votes for symbolic resolutions, they compensate.
And the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how important is that? I'll pass on the Evangelical-Dispensationalist view of Mr. Pence that it affects when, or perhaps whether, Jesus will return to earth and All Time may come to end. And I'll pass on our coming war with Iran. Instead let me approach it as a Jew and as a human being. What the conflict is about is the story that gets written through policy. It is first and foremost a story about the Jews, (at least for us, if not for the Palestinians) about what happened to us, and what did not. In a nutshell it is about a people who lost their country and never again controlled their destiny, who did not have a state for 18 centuries, and who suffered unspeakable onslaughts from so called "Western Civilization." It is about what happens when after all this, this people retains its identity and miraculously returns to state-power. And the question is this: Has all this suffering, all the raw injustice we suffered, made us any different from anyone else? Is there any lasting transformation for the better, which in any small way, can serve as redemption from the horrors of our history? Or are we, even now, just one of the multitude of states, no better, no worse? Concretely, how do we respond to the undeniable injustice that we did to the 700,000 largely innocent, largely uncomprehending, Palestinian peasantry, some of whom we expelled from their homes, but all of whom we prevented from returning, with lethal force.
And for mankind as a whole, who are we human beings? What happens in history? Can we learn? Do we evolve morally? Or is it just one big farce? How can we know? Are there other stories than the 1800-year story of the Jews to enlighten us? Not many for sure. Thus the Jewish story is really humankind's story as well.
And what has this to do with the Maryland senate election? Only this. As much as my newly found Socialist Voice has much to say about schools, and jobs and The American Dream, the guts of the campaign against Cardin is the struggle to liberate Congress from AIPAC. And to do that I don't even have to win. I just have to show that someone, a nobody, if you will, just with his own funds, just on his own, can decide to go after the second strongest lobby in the country, and teach that lobby and all of Congress a lesson: There is a risk. There may be a cost. An AIPAC crony could lose his seat because he is an AIPAC crony. And for sure, in a contest for an open seat, years of cow towing to the super lobby may come back and bite you, all you ambitious Congresspersons.
And if I can do this to AIPAC, anyone can do it to the NRA, a parallel super-lobby that also suffers from excess power, one that has similarly lost any moral restraint. Cutting the NRA down to size would be much easier as no one needs to be convinced, just channeled into productive action: Pick out the big dog that pulls the NRA sleigh and send him into retirement. Courageous students of Parkland, listen up: Act not just through voter registration, but also by running candidates, perhaps yourselves, when you reach 18, to finish the job. One victory and the mystique of the super lobby is broken.
So indeed - J'Accuse, some accusations and some disappointments:
- The Washington Post, and Editors Fred Hiatt and Marty Baron, j'accuse of total absence of news judgment, and total failure of the obligation of a great paper to promote an informed electorate, for The Washington Post's decision to simply not cover the Maryland Senate race.
- And of Jamie, no accusation at all, just disappointment that Jamie is not to be found; Jamie, who I have know for 36 years, since the time I worked with his dad to organize the first Jewish-American protest against Israeli-governmental policy in front of the Israeli Embassy; Jamie who knows the truth of everything I say about AIPAC; Jamie who is the best person in the entire Congress. Jamie, Jamie, Jamie.
- J-street, and its President, Jeremy ben-Ami, j'accuse of betrayal of principle, for inviting Ben Cardin to give a keynote address at its Annual Convention and for denying me, any opportunity to address the Convention at all; me, a member of J-street, and the founder of The Jewish Peace Lobby, which was J-street before there was J-street; and for kicking me out of the Conference for distributing leaflets. But most essentially, for not lifting a finger to help me raise money from its 200,000 members, who for only $25 each could have provided $5 million, enough to have beaten Cardin, hands down.
- To Our Revolution, especially the national officers, Larry Cohen and Nina Turner, j'accuse of malfeasance in creating a progressive organization with no foreign policy program, and of excessive wheeling and dealing in thwarting the call from the Montgomery County Chapter of OR that the leadership examine the candidates for the next Senator from Maryland and endorse the best of them.
- To all the organizations around town who have the word "Progressive" in their names and decided to follow OR's lead and not endorse anyone in the Senate race, j'accuse of shameful neglect.
And while not an accusation, an expression of growing sadness, that my hero, Bernie, at least, so far, seems to have not understood the importance of this race, and who may have remained wedded to his concerns about not alienating his colleagues in the Democratic leadership, by supporting a challenge to a member of the club, but who could still surprise all of us.