Category Archives: Environmentalism

For Tisha B’Av: “Lamentation for a New Diaspora”

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photo credit: NateHallinan.com

The Jewish festival of Tisha B’Av begins this Saturday evening, July 21. In anticipation of the day, I’m reposting the new poetic take on Lamentations that I wrote last year.

While this Biblical book is an expression of Jewish communal loss, my new version places these themes in a universal 21st century context, set in a not-too-distant future that I fervently hope shall never come to pass. In this reimagining, it is less an elegy for what was lost than a spiritual/poetic warning about a future cataclysm that is, in many ways, already underway.

May the grief of this Tisha B’Av give us all the strength to fight for the world that somehow still might be.

Click here for the pdf. Feel free to share.

Prayer for the Poor People’s Campaign

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photo: Clayton Patterson

(Delivered at the Poor People’s Campaign Rally for Action, Grace Lutheran Church, Evanston, March 22, 2018.)

Friends, let us bless:

This is a blessing for the ones
who stand up police lines and say:
you may invade our communities,
you may profile and survielle us
you may shoot at our black and brown bodies,
but you will never break us.

This is a blessing for the ones
who lose their homes to predators,
who lose their pensions and healthcare,
while the wealthy grow wealthier
but will never accept that this
is simply the way things must be.

This is a blessing for the ones
who live under the terror
of our drones and our bombs,
whose blood fills the coffers
of our war economy,
whose only consolation is the truth
that while empires may rise,
they are destined to fall.

This is a blessing for the ones
who stand on street corners,
who live in tent encampments
next to luxury condos that soar to the sky
yet refuse to surrender their humanity
to the gears of an inhumane system.

This is a blessing for an earth
that grows more inhabitable by the day
yet is still inhabited by those who struggle
for a planet that will provide a sustainable home
for their children’s children.

This is a blessing for the immigrants
who fear every knock on the door
every cop that pulls them over,
every job application they are handed
yet never give up on the dream
of a better future for themselves
and their families.

So let the justice
that trickles down shallow creeks
roar through the valley and saturate
the dry parched earth,
let it flow relentlessly throughout the land
where life once grew and will grow again.

Let those who cry out in pain
feel strength growing within their broken souls
like green stems shooting through
cracked pavement.

Let us live to see new life spreading
through abandoned streets and
neighborhoods and cities and nations and
let the promise of transformation beckon still
that we might finally take the first
tentative step into this new day, yes
let it be so.

Amen.

Lamentation for a New Diaspora

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photo credit: NateHallinan.com

I’ve just written a new poetic take on Lamentations, the Biblical book traditionally read on the Jewish festival of Tisha B’Av (The Ninth of Av). The context of Lamentations is fall of the 1st Temple and destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE; it is at once a funeral dirge for the fallen city, a lament over the communal fate of the people, a confession of the collective sins that led to their downfall and a plea to God to rescue them from their dismal fate.

When all five chapters of Lamentations are chanted on Tisha B’Av, its impact can feel shattering. Taken as a whole, it might be said that this epic lament has the raw power of a primal scream. As Biblical scholar Adele Berlin has described it:

The book’s language is highly poetic and extraordinarily moving. Even though often stereotypical, it effectively portrays the violence and suffering of the events. The experiences of warfare, siege, famine, and death are individualized, in a way that turns the natural into the unnatural or anti-natural—brave men are reduced to begging, mothers are unable to nourish their children and resort to cannibalism. The book’s outpouring is addressed to God, so that God may feel the suffering of his people, rescue them, and restore them to their country and to their former relationship with him. The entire book may be thought of as an appeal for God’s mercy. Yet God remains silent.

According to the Mishnah (an early rabbinic era legal text), Tisha B’v commemorates five historical calamities that befell the Jewish people, including the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples, and the crushing of the Bar Kochba rebellion. Over the centuries many other historical cataclysms have been added to be to be mourned on this day as well (including the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and the beginning of World War I in 1914). Although Lamentations was originally written to address a historically specific context, it’s popularity over the centuries testifies to a uniquely timeless quality.

While Lamentations is an expression of Jewish communal loss, this new version places these themes in a universal 21st century context, set in a not-too-distant future that I fervently hope shall never come to pass. In this reimagining, it is less an elegy for what was lost than a spiritual/poetic warning about a cataclysm that may be yet to come if our world does not turn from the perilous path we are currently traveling.

May the grief of this Tisha B’Av give us all the strength to fight for the world that somehow still might be.

Click here for the pdf. Feel free to share.

Reclaiming MLK’s Vision of Economic Justice in Chicago!

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It was my great honor to participate yesterday in the profound and important MLK commemoration: “Hope in an Age of Crisis: Reclaiming Dr. King’s Radical Vision for Economic Equality.”  On a cold Sunday afternoon, an SRO crowd of 2,000 participants streamed into St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church on Chicago’s South Side to reaffirm King’s unfinished work: the dream of economic equality for all Americans.

While few of us would deny the importance of devoting a National Holiday to the life and work of Dr. King, I believe this day too often sanitizes his legacy into meaninglessness. Even worse is the way corporate America has co-opted his name for its own profit and gain. (This morning, I opened the morning paper and was greeted by ads that invoked King to sell everything from cars to Macy’s merchandise.)

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It’s worse than ironic, when you consider how often King railed against corporate greed in this country – particularly toward the end of his life. Here’s but one example – a pointed MLK quote that was read aloud at yesterday’s gathering:

You can’t talk about solving the problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground then. You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism. There must be better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.

Our keynote speaker, Reverend Dwight Gardner, of Trinity Baptist Church in Gary Indiana, put it very, very well:

Today in this celebration we will not lift up the toothless, scrubbed and anesthetized Dr. King as created by the mainstream media and ruling elite but we will uncover the real Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his radical vision for economic equality.

In 1963 during the March on Washington, Dr. King gave an address that included a short section about a dream, but in the same speech he also declared that America had written the Negro a bad check that had come back stamped insufficient funds.  To paint him with only the hope that we could all just get along does his legacy a disservice and confuses Dr. King with Rodney King.

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And so our event, organized by the People’s Lobby and IIRON, brought together a wide range of citizens to reclaim King’s radical and unfinished legacy of economic equality. And more: to commit to creating a new movement to make it so.

Speaker after speaker spotlighted local Chicago and Illinois legislation that addressed issues ranging from corporate financial accountability, a living wage, public sector jobs, the prison industrial complex and environmental protection. One by one we invited elected officials to the stage and asked them tell us if they would support these legislative initiatives. Then we ended with a pledge to continue organizing to make this dream a reality.

One of our speakers, George Goehl, Executive Director of National People’s Action, correctly pointed out that the unprecedented inequities currently facing our nation are the product of a “masterful forty year plan hatched by CEOs and right wing politicians who were clear that they had to aggregate power to expand profit.”  Goehl noted that those of us who believe in a more equitable system will now have to develop our own long term plan for the “New Economy” with the following core goals:

– Everyday People Controlling the Economy

– An End to Structural Racism

– Corporations Serving the Common Good

– True Democracy – People in, Money Out

– Ecological Sustainability

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The power of these kinds of public meetings resides in their modeling of a system that is generated by people power. Unlike most political events, in which elected leaders or candidates drive the agenda, this gathering was driven forward by the people themselves. The politicians who participated were not allowed to give stump speeches but were rather asked to say aloud to the community whether or not they intended to support these legislative efforts. As King himself taught us, our elected leaders are not change agents – it is rather the popular movements that lay their demands at their door.

I encourage you, this MLK Day, to resist the corporate co-opting of King’s name – and to support efforts in your community to create true economic justice to our nation. Click here to learn about organizing initiatives near you.

Interfaith Coalition Launches Boycott of SodaStream

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Since my previous post on the SodaStream boycott, I’ve received a number of questions regarding which specific campaign/s to support. While there have been a number of great local actions around the country, I’m happy to announce that a new interfaith coalition has just launched a national boycott effort that includes a petition as well as a spoof ad contest. I hope you will join me in signing on to this important campaign.

For more information on SodaStream, here is an excellent point by point response to the claims made by the company, courtesy of Stop SodaStream – Italy:

1. “SodaStream is headquartered in Tel Aviv, Israel, and manufactures its products in 12 production plants distributed in many countries, including factories in China (2), Germany, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Netherlands, the US and two in Israel, one of which is Mishor Adumim … “

Even if there were hundreds of “production facilities” all over the world, it would not change the fact that the factory in Mishor Adumim is built on land stolen from the Palestinians and thus violates human rights and international law.

In any event, Sodastream’s annual report clearly demonstrates that the factory in Mishor Adumim is also the company’s main production facilities:

  • At 15,256 m2, the plant is four times larger than the headquarters in Tel Aviv, and eight times that of the other Israeli plant at Ashkelon, which produces only flavors for soft drinks.
  • The plant in China produces only “certain components”.
  • The “production facilities” in Germany, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, the Netherlands and the USA are mere sales and marketing offices and refill stations for CO2 cylinders.

Source: Sodastream International Ltd. Annual Report for the Fiscal Year Ended December 31, 2010, “Manufacturing and Production,” p. 37 and “Facilities,” p. 40.

2. “… where approximately 160 Palestinians receive full social and health services in accordance with, and exceeding, Israeli law, including pension contributions and insurance. Labor law in Israel requires an employer to pay wages and contributions 4 times higher than those required by the Palestinian Authority. If you consider that, on average, each employee is responsible for 10 Palestinian dependents, considering the rate of unemployment in the Palestinian Authority (estimated at 30%), the company provides food and shelter to 1,600 people. In addition, SodaStream also provides benefits that include: daily hot meals, clothing, transportation and overtime pay for up to 200% as required by Israeli law. “

The fact that a company such as SodaStream, which profits from the Israeli occupation regime, considers itself a benefactor of the Palestinians is downright bizarre. Even if working conditions for the Palestinians at the Mishor Adumim factory were as described (something that has been proven false in the past by the Israeli organization Kav LaOved), the fact remains that, as subjects an occupation regime, these workers do not enjoy civil rights (including the right of workers to organize) and are under constant threat of having their permits to work in the settlement revoked by the company at any moment.

Palestinian workers often have no choice but to work in the settlements, with high unemployment rates that are a direct result of the Israeli occupation. The 2011 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development report explicitly links the decline in Palestinian agricultural and industrial sectors and the dire humanitarian conditions with Israeli government policies, in particular the confiscation of land and natural resources, restrictions on movement of people and goods, and isolation from international markets. Only a colonial mindset could claim to provide jobs to the very same people whose land and freedom have been stolen.

Sources:
– Kav LaOved, “Palestinian Workers in Israeli West Bank Settlements – 2009”; “Employees at Soda Club fired without wages (follow up report)”
Report on UNCTAD assistance to the Palestinian people: Developments in the economy of the occupied Palestinian territory

3. “Among the 700 employees at the Mishor Adumim factory are Jews, Palestinians, Christians, Russians, Ethiopians, Bedouins, and Americans. In SodaStream’s view, this is a splendid example of peaceful coexistence that will lead to economic prosperity on which everyone benefits. The company regularly celebrates the holidays of all and has fostered cultural exchange.”

To speak of “peaceful coexistence” between people who do not have equal rights and equal social, economic and political opportunities is absurd. Among Sodastream employees, there is a marked difference between the conditions of the occupiers and those who suffer under occupation. For example, just as in Apartheid South Africa the black majority was allowed to enter areas reserved for whites only in order to work, so do the Palestinians depend on the occupying power for work permits.

Furthermore, the Jahalin Bedouin, who had already been driven from their lands in the Negev in the 1950s, were then expelled from the very area where the Sodastream has its factory.

Sources:
– Kav LaOved, “Palestinian Workers in Israeli West Bank Settlements – 2009”;
– Human Rights Watch, Separate and Unequal, “Jahalin Bedouin and Ma’ale Adumim”

4. “As you know, Sodastream recently decided not to expand the factory at Mishor Adumim, but rather to build one inside the Green Line. The construction is already underway, as decided by the Board of Directors.”

Committing to not to expand an illegal activity, which according to the company website, Sodastream has been carrying out since 1996, counts for very little. The fact remains that the main production facilities are located in an illegal Israeli settlement in violation of international law.

Source: Sodastream web site, History of the Sodastream Group

5. “SodaStream does not currently benefit from low rents and could rent other facilities in the uncontested territories of Israel for much less. The same applies to incentives, the company enjoys the same tax incentives as any other industrial area of Israel, regardless of whether it is located in the disputed territories or not.”

Sodastream’s annual report lists among its “risk factors” the possibility, due to negative publicity and boycotts, of having “to transfer a significant portion of manufacturing activities to a location outside of the West Bank” that would “limit certain of the tax benefits for which we are currently eligible”.

In fact, according to the web site for the Mishor Adomim Industrial Park, it is designated as “Development Zone ‘A'”, which enjoys the highest tax incentives from the Israeli state.

And finally, the Palestinian territories are occupied, not “disputed”, as recognized by the International Court of Justice, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Conference of High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, among others.

Sources:
Sodastream International Ltd. Annual Report for the Fiscal Year Ended December 31, 2010, “Risks related to our Location in Israel,” p. 17
– Adumim Industrial Park, Business Benefits
– International Court of Justice: Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory; International Committee of the Red Cross; Conference of High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention: Declaration,

6. “With regards to Coop Sweden, yes it is true that on July 19 they decided to suspend sales of these products, however it is also true that, after a brief investigation, they then decided to put them back on the shelves.”

Swedish activists inform us that COOP Sweden claims to have the results of an investigation that justify, in their view, the marketing of Sodastream products. COOP Sweden has refused, however, to share the report with the Swedish activists. If Sodastream would like to provide us with the report, we would be happy to comment on it.

7. “SodaStream is also under tight control by the Office for Environmental Protection of Israel, leading to surprise inspections, and the company adheres to the highest environmental standards.”

It is well known that Israeli and international companies consider Israeli laws on environmental protection inapplicable with regard to factories in the occupied West Bank. According to 2009 report by the Israeli organization B’Tselem, Israel does not enforce environmental laws in the settlements and industrial areas in the occupied West Bank.

As for surprise inspections, according to Bloomberg Businessweek and the Corporate Watch website, the Sodastream Factory in Mishor Adumim is “the most heavily protected in the area, with multilevel electric fencing protecting its perimeters and cameras monitoring everything going on outside of them.”

Sources:
– B’Tselem, “Foul Play: Neglect of wastewater treatment in the West Bank
– Corporate Watch, “Occupation Industries: The Israeli industrial zones
– Bloomberg Businessweek, “EU Eyes Exports from Israeli Settlements

8. “Following the publication of false reports, the company also decided to host visits and inspections, in particular social audits, including the internationally accepted BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative) audit, with the conclusion that they no corrective actions are necessary.”

Clearly, an auditing organization that certifies a factory located in the occupied Palestinian territories has no credibility whatsoever.

The Stop Sodastream campaign will continue to challenge the deceptions of Sodastream, organizing initiatives to reveal the truth that the company wants to hides and promoting a boycott of its products.

Why I’m Boycotting SodaStream

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Israel’s settlement juggernaut continues at full speed, creating apartheid conditions on the occupied West Bank while making a mockery of any hope of a two state solution. Since no nation or institution seems willing to hold Israel accountable, it seems to me the least any concerned citizen can do is to refuse to patronize companies that directly profit from this brutal and unjust occupation.

At the moment, Exhibit A is SodaStream – a company that produces home carbonating devices. Promoting its product as eco-friendly, SodaStream is sold in 39 countries in 35,000 stores worldwide, including Macy’s, Bed Bath and Beyond, Bloomingdale’s, Sears, and Kmart.

It is also manufactured in the Israeli settlement of Mishor Adumim.

A bit of history: Mishor Adumim is the industrial park section of Ma’aleh Adumim, the largest settlement in the West Bank.  The land for both of these settlements originally belonged to the Palestinian towns of Abu Dis, Azarya, Atur, Issauya, Han El Akhmar, Anata and Nebbi Mussa, but was expropriated by Israel in the 1970s.  Today, Ma’aleh and Mishor Adumim are a key part of the Israeli government’s plan to create Jewish facts on the ground around Arab East Jerusalem.

The SodaStream boycott is a particularly instructive action since the company actively promotes itself as an environmentally concerned enterprise. This is a tactic known as “greenwashing” – a cynical attempt to hide behind liberal environmental values in order to divert attention away from egregious violations of human rights. On this subject, I was profoundly saddened to read a post today by Rabbi Jason Miller, who sang the environmental praises of SodaStream and encouraged folks support Israel (and celebrate the Jewish festival of Tu B’shvat) by buying their product.

And what about the fact that the company says its product is “Made in Israel”, yet is based in the West Bank? By way of answer, Rabbi Miller approvingly quoted the company CEO Daniel Birnbaum, who he claims is “a strong proponent of human rights”:

(Birnbaum) said that thanks to SodaStream thousands of local Palestinians in Mishor Adumim have good paying jobs. Those workers, he explains, would not be able to support their families without their jobs in SodaStream’s manufacturing plant.

Wow. My jaw nearly hit the floor when I read that one. I’m not sure that resorting to a colonial “white man’s burden” argument is the surest way to defend entrepreneurial activity in occupied territory.

It’s also patently untrue. I strongly recommend this report by “Who Profits” for an important and in-depth expose of SodaStream, including the manner in which it exploits Palestinian laborers who come from the villages surrounding Mishor Adumim.

Jordan Ash, writing in the Twin Cities Daily Planet has also recently addressed this issue:

As with the Maquiladoras along the U.S.-Mexican border, the high unemployment rate means that many Palestinians are forced to try to earn a living through jobs in the settlements, despite the low pay and harsh working conditions.

Palestinian workers in the settlements do not enjoy the full protection of Israeli labor laws.   They must get special permits and security clearance just to be able to enter these factories.   Involvement in a labor dispute constitutes a security risk and can result in the loss of not only a worker’s current job but their ability to work in settlements in the future.   Thus, many Palestinian workers do not demand their legal employment rights due to fear of losing their work permit.

At the SodaStream factory, when workers protested that they were being paid less than half of the minimum wage and were forced to work 12 hour days, they were fired. On another occasion, when workers who were fired and were still owed a month’s wages went to the factory to request their pay, SodaStream had them removed from the factory and banned from the entire industrial park.

As with all business in the illegal settlements, SodaStream pays taxes to Israel, not to the Palestinian Authority.  The municipal taxes that SodaStream pays are used exclusively to support the growth and development of the settlement through things such as roads, education, and sewage treatment.

While I certainly don’t have any illusions that this boycott will bring the Israeli economy to their knees, I do believe it provides us with the means to take a public moral stand against the injustices Israel is committing in the occupied West Bank – and to stand in solidarity with those whose lives are impacted by this oppression.

It is a particularly timely action since the company has spent $3.8 million on a 30-second spot during next month’s Super Bowl. Apparently the commercial advocates “setting the bubbles free”. Those concerned with human rights should know that freedom for real, living breathing human beings is what is truly at stake here.

Getting Political with Sandy

Lots of pundits are cautioning Obama and Romney against “playing politics” with the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. I disagree. I’d say if there was ever a time to play politics, now is it.

As far as I can tell, neither candidate has broken their “climate silence” in relation to Hurricane Sandy – that is, explicitly connect the dots and say in no uncertain terms that Hurricane Sandy was, as George Lakoff so accurately described it, systemically caused by global warming:

Global warming systemically caused the huge and ferocious Hurricane Sandy. And consequently, it systemically caused all the loss of life, material damage, and economic loss of Hurricane Sandy. Global warming heated the water of the Gulf and Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in greatly increased energy and water vapor in the air above the water.  When that happens, extremely energetic and wet storms occur more frequently and ferociously. These systemic effects of global warming came together to produce the ferocity and magnitude of Hurricane Sandy.

The precise details of Hurricane Sandy cannot be predicted in advance, any more than when, or whether, a smoker develops lung cancer, or sex without contraception yields an unwanted pregnancy, or a drunk driver has an accident.  But systemic causation is nonetheless causal.

If we do believe that, in the wake of this devastation we must redouble our efforts to prevent future tragedies such as this from occurring, then the most important thing we can do is to play politics. And the first step is to break climate silence. Even if our leaders are unwilling, it is time for us to speak up and face down the deniers.

Please watch and share the clip above to everyone you know. Then help those who are advocating in no uncertain terms for public policies that will curb carbon emissions and promote alternative energies worldwide.