As a Jew, I’m grateful that Joe Biden used the word ‘Shylocks’

17 Sep

US Vice President Joe Biden shakes hand with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the state memorial service for former prime minister Ariel Sharon at the Knesset in Jerusalem on Jan. 13, 2014 [AFP]

US Vice President Joe Biden shakes hand with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the state memorial service for former prime minister Ariel Sharon at the Knesset in Jerusalem on Jan. 13, 2014 [AFP]

Joe Biden, once again, pulled a Joe Biden, (made a gaff) when he referred to predatory bankers as shylocks. During a Tuesday speech at the Legal Services Corporation’s 40th anniversary conference, Biden said that his son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, heard stories about banks preying on fellow servicemen and women when he served in Iraq:

People would come up to him and talk about what was happening to them at home in terms of foreclosures in terms of bad loans that were being – I mean, these Shylocks who took advantage of these women and men while overseas.

Of course, Shylock is a fairly charged reference, as it refers to the Jewish, interest-charging, money-lender in Shakespeare masterpiece The Merchant of Venice. There is much debate over whether the character is an anti-semitic stereotype, or a sympathetic character through whom Shakespeare critiques anti-semitism. But, to be sure, when people use the word, they mean it pejoratively. They are describing someone who takes advantage of others and not someone who highlights the inhumanity of anti-Semitism. You will not, for instance, hear anyone ever describe Anne Frank as a Shylock, though she certainly humanized Jews and indicted anti-semitism.

Predictably, Abraham Foxman, who is still the president of the Anti-Defamation League despite announcing his retirement last year, had something to say about this:

When someone as friendly to the Jewish community and open and tolerant an individual as is Vice President Joe Biden, uses the term ‘Shylocked’ to describe unscrupulous moneylenders dealing with service men and women, we see once again how deeply embedded this stereotype about Jews is in society.

Biden issued an apology and a “Jews love me” #HumbleBrag: Continue reading

Ex-gay movie star tells Lady Gaga to “shut up”

16 Sep

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I was already sooooo excited to see the pro ex-gay-conversion “documentary” Such were Some of You. But after seeing the latest clip of the film that appeared on today’s 700 Hundred Club, I’m ecstatic. The clip opens with an enthralling image: white letters spelling out “Born Gay?” amidst a pitch black background. Then we see a random white dude on the street who says, “I believe they were born that way.” As the exciting soundtrack draws you in with its insistent violin and drums, a certain Doctor Michael Brown explains that “there’s absolutely no evidence” that anyone is born gay. And then, for some reason, the editors thought it would be a good idea to drive home Brown’s point with a fairly contradictory one as a woman says, “I didn’t want to be gay.” But by far, the best part is when a former gay young man with very engineered eyebrows (I’m thinking waxed but threaded is definitely a possibility) delivers this zinger: I have to say, Lady Gaga, shut up. I was not born this way.” Oh no he didn’t! Continue reading

Statistic of the Day: 1 in 5 American men admit to domestic violence

16 Sep

domestic-violence1People are justifiably outraged by Ray Rice’s treatment of his then-fiancee Janay Palmer. But what’s even scarier is that one out of five men admit that they’ve committed domestic violence against a partner or spouse. A new nationally-representative study by the University of Michigan asked 500 men the following question:

 Over the course of your relationship, how often have you ever done any of these things (pushed, grabbed, or shoved; threw something; slapped or hit; kicked, bit, or hit with a fist; beat up; choked; burned or scalded; threatened with a knife or gun) to your current spouse/partner?

Nineteen percent, or one out of five men, admitted to doing so at least once. And, of course, these were just the men who were willing to report it to the researchers, which means that the phenomenon is likely ever more common. The lead author of the study, Vijay Singh, explains, “If men could enter responses in a private way, (the percentage) could have been even higher.” The rate would also go up if it included other kinds of abuse: “It did not ask about emotional abuse. It did not ask about sexual abuse,” Singh said.

But even one out of five is unacceptably high. To put it in perspective, domestic violence is more common than diabetes. Continue reading

Adulterous Rep. Mark Sanford breaks up with fiancee via Facebook post with 10 god references

15 Sep

Mark Sanford screenshot

WWJD? What Would Jesus Do? Well, according to former Governor and current Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.,) he would let his fiancee know it was over through a Facebook post heavily steeped in Christianity. He cites Jesus once, Christ twice, prayer twice, and “God” five times.

You may remember Mark Sanford from back in June of 2009 when, as governor,  he went AWOL for six days. No biggie. His spokesman stated he had gone to hike the Appalachian Trail. But that wasn’t true. Or the spokesman is a big fan of sexual innuendo. Either way, it turned out Sanford had redeemed his frequent flyer miles and flown to Buenos Aires to spend some much-needed quality time away from his wife and children and with his girlfriend, journalist Maria Belen Chapur.

The fallout for Sanford wasn’t bad. Because only democrats get in trouble for infidelity even though they don’t legislate people’s love or sex lives, he remained governor. In 2012 the by now divorced Lothario became engaged to Chapur and in 2013 he won a special election for Tim Scott’s seat in congress.

But on Friday, Sanford’s Facebook friends learned there was trouble in paradise. In an oversharing, TMI and yet self-aware post, Sanford writes, “I apologize for the length of this post, but given the gravity of the issue at hand when I sat down to write late last night a long list of things came to my mind.” He goes on to explain how his decision was grounded in Christianity, history and conflict resolution: Continue reading

What if a Muslim comic said about Jews what Joan Rivers said about Palestinians?

12 Sep

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A week after her death, Joan Rivers remains in the headlines. The exact cause of her death is still being debated. And reports of her star-studded theatrical funeral continue to emerge. Howard Stern delivered the eulogy, Hugh Jackman sang and people like Sarah Jessica Parker, Carolina Herrera, Whoopi Goldberg, Barbara Walters, Kathie Lee Gifford, Hoda Kotb, Kelly Osbourne, Andy Cohen, Donald Trump, and Diane Sawyer paid their respects.

Rivers deserves the attention she is getting. She was hilarious, brave, and an undeniable trailblazer. And the funeral was  a perfect fit.  But I can’t help but wonder how different the event would have been if a Muslim comedian had said about Jews what Joan Rivers recently had said about Palestinians.

In August, when a TMZ reporter approached Rivers at an airport and asked her what she thought of the casualties in Gaza, the comedian responded,

Good. Good. When you declare war, you declare war. They started it. We don’t count who’s dead. You’re dead. You deserve to be dead. You started it. Don’t you dare make me feel sad about that. You can’t get rid of Hamas, you have to say you do not recognize them, they are terrorists … They were re-elected by a lot of very stupid people who don’t even own a pencil… They were told to get out and if you don’t get out you’re an idiot. And at least the ones who were killed were the ones with low IQs.

Rivers issued a statement that was more damage control than apology. But, the truth is, it’s not Joan Rivers’ statements, per se, that I find so horrifying. It’s the response, or lack thereof, from Rivers’ peers and the double standard and pervasive dehumanization of Muslims that it reveals. Let’s imagine that there was a very famous  Muslim-American comedian, of Joan Rivers proportions. Then let’s imagine this comedian  had been asked to share his thoughts on an attack which killed over 2,000 Israelis, the majority of whom were civilians. Imagine that the response was,

Good. Good. When you declare war, you declare war. They started it. We don’t count who’s dead. You’re dead. You deserve to be dead. You started it. Don’t you dare make me feel sad about that. You can’t get rid of Israel, you have to say you do not recognize them, they are terrorists …

Now, imagine that a month after these statements are made, the comedian dies. Can you imagine the stars mentioned above attending the funeral? Or if attending, not at the very least clarifying that they disagreed with the anti-Jewish statements? Wouldn’t the ADL launch a campaign?

There was, indeed, a very strong response to what Rivers said on social media. One friend of Rivers claims that the comedian received death threats and hired a body guard, though Rivers’ publicist has said she was not aware of this.  Yes, among the social media comment were those that were clearly vitriolic, misogynistic, and/or anti-Semitic, as is often the case in online comments.  In contrast, no respected leaders, no celebrities, no organizations, no parts of any establishment have felt the need to at all dissociate themselves from the hateful comments made by Rivers.

For some reason, most people, even people who are usually intelligent, become incredibly dense when comedy is being discussed or analyzed. So, allow me to clarify a few things. This is not a debate about free speech. Nobody is debating whether Joan Rivers has the legal right to say what she said. This also isn’t an issue of outrageous humor. Comedians trade in transgression, at least the great ones like Rivers.  But Joan Rivers was clearly not joking when she made her comments that the civilians in Gaza “deserve to be dead.” Perhaps she was being slightly hyperbolic. But she was not being sarcastic or ironic. She was being genuine. Her comments were offensive, but for what? They were shocking in their cruelty. But did they challenge anyone’s ideas or prejudices or go against the status quo? No. They confirmed and perpetuated them.

I am sad that Joan Rivers is dead. I don’t speak ill of the stupendous woman and comedian. It’s the the U.S. media and entertainment establishment’s blind spots about its own prejudice and callousness that shocks me in the aftermath of Joan River’s death.

Watch Heather Gold and me debate the Joan Rivers controversy on this week’s Morning Jew.

Originally posted on RawStory

Morning Jew Ep. 50: Joan Rivers, Jack the Jewish Ripper & Gwyneth Paltrow

12 Sep


Comics Heather Gold (@heathr) and Katie Halper (@kthalps) look at the headlines and ask: Is it good for the Jews? This week we look at the Air Force’s intolerance of atheism; get kind of excited about Jack the Ripper being a Jew; get offended by Gwyneth Paltrow; and discuss what Joan Rivers’ funeral would look like if she had been a Muslim comedian whose statements were about Jews.
Subscribe to get the shows in your inbox plus a nosh at http://morningJewz.com

The other September 11th: Chile, Cuba and the United States

11 Sep

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Today is September 11th. As almost everyone in the world knows, on this day, thirteen years ago, two planes crashed into the World Trade Center, tragically killing nearly 3,000 people. The aftermath of these attacks had national ramifications– racial profiling, stifling of dissent, squashing of civil liberties– as well as international ones– an invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with September 11th, and Afghanistan.

​In the United States, we mourn those that were lost on September 11.  However, many of us are unaware that for Chileans, September 11th had become a day of tragedy decades before.  In 1973, the Chilean army flew fighter jets over Santiago and bombed its own presidential palace during a coup to overthrow its own legal elected president, Salvador Allende.​

Augusto Pinochet, who Allende had appointed to Commander-in-Chief, seized power, put all political parties “in recess” and killed, tortured, disappeared and forced into exile thousands of Chileans. He would remained in power until 1990.

The United States played a significant role in both the coup and the dictatorship. In his book Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability,  Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Chile documentation project at the National Security Archive, uses archival material and declassified documents to expose the complicity of the United States:

  • eight days after Allende’s election [in 1970], Kissinger initiated discussion on the telephone with CIA director Richard Helm’s about a preemptive coup in Chile. “We will not let Chile go down the drain,” Kissinger declared…

  •  Three days before President Nixon, in a 15-minute meeting that included Kissinger, ordered the CIA to “make the economy scream,” and named Kissinger as the supervisor of the covert efforts to keep Allende from being inaugurated.

  • Kissinger ignored a recommendation from his top deputy on the NSC, Viron Vaky… against covert action to undermine Allende… Vaky wrote a memo to Kissinger arguing that coup plotting would lead to “widespread violence and even insurrection.” He also argued that such a policy was immoral: “What we propose is patently a violation of our own principles and policy tenets .… If these principles have any meaning, we normally depart from them only to meet the gravest threat to us, e.g. to our survival. Is Allende a mortal threat to the U.S.? It is hard to argue this.”

  • After U.S. covert operations, which led to the assassination of Chilean Commander in Chief of the Armed forces General Rene Schneider, failed to stop Allende’s inauguration on November 4, 1970, Kissinger lobbied President Nixon to … regime change in Chile…[:] “the election of Allende as president of Chile poses for us one of the most serious challenges ever faced in this hemisphere” and “your decision as to what to do about it may be the most historic and difficult foreign affairs decision you will make this year.”

  • Not only were a billion dollars of U.S. investments at stake, Kissinger reported, but what he called “the insidious model effect” of his democratic election. There was no way for the U.S. to deny Allende’s legitimacy, Kissinger noted, and if he succeeded in peacefully reallocating resources in Chile in a socialist direction, other countries might follow suit. “The example of a successful elected Marxist government in Chile would surely have an impact on — and even precedent value for — other parts of the world, especially in Italy; the imitative spread of similar phenomena elsewhere would in turn significantly affect the world balance and our own position in it.”The next day Nixon made it clear to the entire National Security Council that the policy would be to bring Allende down. “Our main concern,” he stated, “is the prospect that he can consolidate himself and the picture projected to the world will be his success.”

  • In the days following the coup, Kissinger ignored the concerns of his top State Department aides about the massive repression by the new military regime. He sent secret instructions to his ambassador to convey to Pinochet “our strongest desires to cooperate closely and establish firm basis for cordial and most constructive relationship.” When his assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs asked him what to tell Congress about the reports of hundreds of people being killed in the days following the coup, he issued these instructions: “I think we should understand our policy-that however unpleasant they act, this government is better for us than Allende was.” The United States assisted the Pinochet regime in consolidating, through economic and military aide, diplomatic support and CIA assistance in creating Chile’s infamous secret police agency, DINA.

  • At the height of Pinochet’s repression in 1975, Secretary Kissinger met with the Chilean foreign minister, Admiral Patricio Carvajal… Kissinger opened the meeting by disparaging his own staff for putting the issue of human rights on the agenda. “I read the briefing paper for this meeting and it was nothing but Human Rights…The State Department is made up of people who have a vocation for the ministry. Because there are not enough churches for them, they went into the Department of State.”

  • As Secretary Kissinger prepared to meet General Augusto Pinochet in Santiago in June 1976, his top deputy for Latin America, William D. Rogers, advised him make human rights central to U.S.-Chilean relations and to press the dictator to “improve human rights practices.” Instead… Kissinger told Pinochet that his regime was a victim of leftist propaganda on human rights. “In the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here… We want to help, not undermine you. You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende.”

And this week, the Cuban people can mourn another brutal blunder in U.S. policy and fear mongering.  Well, my fellow Americans, if you’ve been sleeping particularly well the last few days, it’s probably because on September 9th, President Obama made the world and our nation safe by extending the over 50 year-long embargo on Cuba for yet another year. Continue reading

Maus creator Art Spiegelman comes out of the Israeli-Palestinian closet with this image

10 Sep

beyond-maus

Art Spiegelman who was the first person to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for a graphic novel, has come out of the closet on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. The son of Holocaust survivors, Spiegalman told the story of the Holocaust through his brilliant graphic novel, Maus, which uses allegory to portray Jews as mice and Germans as cats.

Spiegelman has been reluctant to think about Israel. But recently he he came out of the closet, posting on Facebook a collage he had done for The Nation magazine.

He comments that

I’ve spent a lifetime trying to NOT think about Israel—deciding it has nothing more to do with me, a diasporist, than the rest of the World’s Bad News on Parade. Israel is like some badly battered child with PTSD who has grown up to batter others.
But… here’s a collage I did for last week’s Nation magazine.

The image is called Perspective in Gaza (The David Goliath Illusion). Mira Sucharov writes in The Forward,

the Biblical-style art image consists of two panels. On the left is a traditional rendering of David facing Goliath. The right-hand panel presents a shrunken Goliath brought closer to the foreground. Using the tricks of size and perspective to make what is surely not an original political point, it’s a clever play on Spiegelman’s life’s work as an illustrator.

Perhaps what is most profound in Spiegelman’s collage is not the binary view of flipping the David and Goliath metaphor on its head, but rather his use of the word “perspective.” Maybe where you stand is indeed derived from where you sit. But that’s not quite right either, since one Diaspora Jew would depict Israel as a monstrous Goliath while another would cling to the view that Israel remains small and moral David, and one Holocaust survivor sees genocide being committed by their own people while another sees the killing as self-defense against a Philistine-like enemy.

I wonder if this image will be able to reach people in a way that an intellectual argument can’t. Screen shot 2014-09-10 at 3.11.15 PMOriginally posted on RawStory

Media manages to make Senator Gillibrand’s teachable moment about sexism all about her mistakes

9 Sep

The media never ceases to amaze me. Its victim-blaming knows no bounds. Whether its Ray Rice’s then-fiancé who got herself attacked by not taking the stairs, or female celebrities responsible for getting hacked because they had naked photographs of themselves, the women who are assaulted and/or violated are always the focus.

This victim-shaming is so egalitarian and so equal-opportunity, it applies to extremely powerful people — like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Yet again, as Senator Gillibrand tries to raise the issue of sexism within the Senate, the media responds by blaming her for the way she’s doing it. Because… it’s a Tuesday. 

As we’ve covered before, Gillibrand’s new book, Off the Sidelines, recounts how she had to deal with comments about her weight and physical appearance, as well as touching, from her male colleagues. And, as we also covered, several politicians and pundits have responded by casting doubt on her claims, or by shifting the focus onto what Gillibrand is doing wrong. Today, MSNBCS’s Morning Joe show joined this cacophonous chorus. And remember, MSNBC is supposed to be the progressive channel. Host Joe Scarborough is, perhaps, the token conservative, but he is meant to be balanced out by co-host Mika Brzezinski, who is supposed to represent the liberal perspective and the woman’s view (problematic as that concept is…but that’s for another post).

Brzezinski did not hold back in accusing Gillibrand of doing the wrong thing: “Why wouldn’t you name names here?” Gillibrand tried to explain, “I want to elevate the debate. It’s not about a specific insult about one person… What this is about is how we elevate the debate to talk about these broader challenges.” Mika then replied by asking, “Wouldn’t you elevate the debate by naming names?” And Gillibrand said, “I want to talk about the bigger challenges, the fact that we don’t have equal pay in this country.” Continue reading

Video: Governor Cuomo fears for his life, screams out for Mayor de Blasio

8 Sep

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Some people like to face their fears. Others like to ignore them and pretend they’re not there. And now we know that Governor Andrew Cuomo definitely belongs in the second camp.

We knew that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) was too afraid to debate his primary challenger, Progressive Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout. But we didn’t know that he was so afraid of her, her mere presence causes him to  shut down, pretends she’s not there, and screams for help.

Until this weekend… when Teachout threatened Cuomo with an attempted “hello,” at New York City’s Labor Day Parade on Saturday.

NYTrue.com captured the video of the terribly scary exchange. Here’s a blow by blow.

Teachout and her running mate Tim Wu menacingly approach Cuomo and his running Kathy Hochul.

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Cuomo’s campaign manager, Joe Pecoco, protects the Cuomo and Hochul, putting his life on the line as he bravely places his body between Teachout and Cuomo.

Teachout harasses the Governor and his staff, shouting aggressive, inappropriate things like, “Hi, how we doing?”

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Unable to get through, Tenacious T, doggedly pursues her victims through another route. Understandably scared for their lives,  Cuomo and Hochul turn away from Teachout.

Teachout then assaults Hochul with a brutally light tap on the arm. Continue reading

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