The Artful Dodge in Politics

Betty McCollum

Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN)

A brave Congresswoman from Minnesota (Betty McCollum) has introduced a bill to end the Israeli military detention of Palestinian children.  I wrote about H.R. 4391 here.

In January 2018, I delivered copies of a book (Dreaming of Freedom) about Palestinian children in Israel’s military detention to Representative McCollum and each member of Congress who has cosponsored her legislation. I also gave a copy to my Congresswoman, though she hasn’t cosponsored H.R. 4391. I asked her to sign on.  (I also gave copies to my two U.S. Senators with a cover letter but have never received a response.)


I’m pleased that two additional members of Congress have signed on to the H.R. 4391. Beyer, Donald [D-VA8] (joined Jan 16, 2018) and Johnson, Henry “Hank” [D-GA4] (joined Jan 22, 2018).

Yesterday, I received Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham’s response. She didn’t acknowledge the book, and the letter is the most artful dodge I’ve received in many months. She is going to “monitor H.R 4391 as it makes its way through the legislative process.” This letter should win an award for the most polite, congenial, non-answer answer in Congressional history. Her staff has learned their trade-craft well.

March 15, 2018

Dear Ms. Lucero,
Thank you for contacting me with your views on the Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act (H.R. 4391). The conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is highly complex and there are many strong opinions on both sides, so I appreciate the opportunity to respond.

     I am troubled by reports that approximately 10,000 Palestinian children have been detained and prosecuted since 2000, and that these children have been subject to abusive conditions. H.R. 4391 would prohibit U.S. assistance to Israel from being used to support the military detention, interrogation, and mistreatment of Palestinian children in violation of international humanitarian law. Specifically, the bill would require the Secretary of State to certify that American funds provided to Israel are not used to support these practices.

It is important for the United States to promote human rights across the globe. I am committed to working with Israelis and Palestinians to create the conditions for successful peace negotiations. Having travelled to this region, I understand how important it is to work toward a long-term plan that will ensure sustained peace and stability. I will keep your thoughts in mind, and will monitor H.R 4391 as it makes its way through the legislative process.

It is my honor to serve the 1st Congressional District of New Mexico. Your thoughts and comments on this and other issues are important to my work in Congress. Thank you for taking the time to share your views with me. I encourage you to visit my website,, where you can find updates on my work in Congress and sign up for my e-newsletter. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can assist you in any way.


Michelle Lujan Grisham
Member of Congress

Rep. Lujan-Grisham is leaving her Congressional seat to run for Governor of New Mexico. I suspect her talented staff-writers will be following her to Santa Fe if she succeeds.  New Mexicans can expect more artful dodging.

I hope the next Congressperson representing New Mexico’s CD-1 will hire and train staff-writers to provide direct tough answers to constituents’ questions. Constituents deserve respect and deserve to know (Yes or No) how their elected representatives feel about the issues.

Change Things



Filed under People, Politics, US Policy

AIPAC’s agenda

iStock 20492165 MD - American and Israeli flags

America and Israel flags

AIPAC — America’s Pro-Israel lobby — is as powerful (if not more powerful) in the halls of Congress as the NRA.  A 2016 article in the Foreign Policy Journal noted:

The AIPAC-led pro-Israel lobby is probably the strongest, best organized and most effective lobby network in Washington DC. For the 2015-2016 election cycle, the pro-Israel network has already dispensed $4,255,136 in contributions. The largest single amount ($259,688) went to Senator Charles Schumer of New York.

Among interest groups that lobby on behalf of a foreign government, none ranks higher in contributions to members of Congress than the pro-Israel lobby.

So it should come to no one’s surprise that most members of Congress on both sides of the aisle carry water for AIPAC. We can find AIPAC’s fingerprints on many pieces of legislation.

  • Opposition to Iran – Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Economic Exclusion Act (H.R. 5132)—authored by Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY).
  • The Taylor Force Act (S. 1697 and H.R. 1164) cuts funding to the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a result of the PA’s practice of paying families of Palestinian fighters who have died or been imprisoned.
  • The United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 5141 and S. 2497)—authored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chris Coons (D-DE) and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL). Includes $3.3 billion in military assistance to Israel and an additional $500 million in missile defense funding.
  • The House of Representatives and Senate both introduced bipartisan resolutions — H. Res. 11 and S. Res. 6, respectively — reaffirming this principle and opposing efforts at the United Nations to impose a solution on the conflict. The House overwhelmingly adopted H. Res. 11 on Jan. 5.
  • The Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.720 and H.R.1697) and the Combating BDS Act of 2017 (S.170 and H.R. 2856).
  • The Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017 (S.1595 and H.R. 3329)—that would impose additional sanctions on the terrorist organization and those that support it.

U.S. politicians are proud of confirming their support for Israel and boasting that there’s no daylight between Israel’s interests and America’s interests.

I’d feel a whole lot more confident of our “special relationship” with Israel if I knew that my elected officials were putting U.S. interests ahead of their allegiance to Israel.

Unfortunately, this is a good example of the tail (Israel) wagging the dog (U.S.) — with AIPAC establishing U.S. foreign policy by very clever messaging and lobbying tactics that sometimes borders on bullying.

If Congress was not tied to AIPAC at the hip, the 6 legislative priorities above might be recast as follows:

  • Iran is a growing power in the region with which diplomacy and negotiation is in our (the U.S.) best interest. Preventing a new nuclear power in the region is good for the community of nations and the U.S. There needs to be transparency and honesty in addressing Israel’s nuclear weapons too.
  • Payment to the families of soldiers in uniform is standard practice in the U.S. and Israel, there’s no reason why payment to Palestinian fighters should be treated any differently. Consistent treatment in our foreign policy enhances U.S. credibility.
  • Is it in the best interests of the U.S. to pay $3.3 billion+ annually to Israel? This represents by far the largest contribution to a foreign government at a time when the U.S. is running the largest deficit in its history and Congress is considering cut backs to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  At a minimum, there should be a public discussion about the pros and cons of U.S. financial support to Israel.
  • Resolutions are non-binding and some may think these resolutions condemning the United Nations are unimportant. However, Americans need to know that the U.S. (and particularly the U.S. Congress) stands apart from the vast majority of nations vis-à-vis criticism of Israel and its violations of international law. To rectify this criticism, the U.S. should be using carrots and sticks to convince Israel to comply with international law, not throwing its weight around with AIPAC-written resolutions.
  • AIPAC wants Congress to criminalize political speech that targets Israel. I’ve written about it here and here. While the NRA focuses on the Second Amendment, it appears AIPAC has set its target on the First Amendment. It will be interesting to see how members of Congress on both sides of the aisle justify this blatant attempt to undermine Americans’ right to express their political beliefs peacefully and nonviolently.
  • AIPAC wants Congress to sanction Hizballah in Lebanon. Yes, Hizballah may be a military mini-threat to Israel (“mini” — considering the disparity in the weapons between Israel and Hizballah) but the real threat to peace in the Middle East is the precarious situation Lebanon finds itself today.  “The problem for Lebanon, the world’s third most-indebted country, is that it’s starting to look more like Greece financially. And if Greece’s survival as part of the euro was crucial to the European project, Lebanon is key to keeping what’s left of peace in the Middle East.” So the U.S. Congress should be discussing ways to support Lebanon, not jumping on AIPAC’s wagon which will likely destablize Lebanon even further.

Is AIPAC’s agenda consistent with our best interests at home and abroad? I don’t think so, but at least Americans deserve an open and transparent discussion on the floor of the House and Senate before our elected members of Congress vote on these AIPAC-sponsored bills. They need to hear from intelligent, opposing viewpoints instead of marching lockstep down AIPAC’s misbegotten path.






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AIPAC wants to shut down political speech

AIPAC is meeting in Washington, DC (Sunday through Tuesday) amidst protesters gathered outside trying to disrupt their conference. Capitol Hill is AIPAC’s target on Tuesday, March 6, where its members will be pushing their anti-Palestinian rights agenda – part of which is criminalizing the right to boycott through the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. (S.720/H.R.1697)

Checking the links for both pieces of legislation, I learned that there are 290 cosponsors in the House and 51 cosponsors in the Senate. Thankfully, my Congresswoman and two U.S. Senators from New Mexico have not cosponsored.  Next step — a call to each office to ask them to oppose these bills.  The bill’s summary includes:

This bill declares that Congress: (1) opposes the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution of March 24, 2016, which urges countries to pressure companies to divest from, or break contracts with, Israel; and (2) encourages full implementation of the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014 through enhanced, governmentwide, coordinated U.S.-Israel scientific and technological cooperation in civilian areas.

The bill prohibits any U.S. person engaged interstate or foreign commerce from supporting:

  • any request by a foreign country to impose any boycott against a country that is friendly to the United States and that is not itself the object of any form of boycott pursuant to United States law or regulation, or
  • any boycott fostered or imposed by any international governmental organization against Israel or any request by any international governmental organization to impose such a boycott.

The American Civil Liberties Union wrote to the Senators last summer when the bill was first introduced to caution them that slapping civil and criminal penalties on individuals for expressing their political beliefs about Israel violates the First Amendment. Check out ACLU’s letter here.

The ACLU wrote: We take no position for or against the effort to boycott Israel or any foreign country, for that matter. However, we do assert that the government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, punish U.S. persons based solely on their expressed political beliefs.

Unfortunately, a number of states are taking their cue from AIPAC and these Israel Anti-Boycott Acts, and they’re passing similar versions. As of October 2017, Wisconsin was the 24th state to promulgate either a law or an executive order forbidding the state from conducting business with firms engaged in Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) activity targeting Israel.

The order states:  “Consistent with existing Wisconsin nondiscrimination provisions and regulations governing purchases… agencies may not execute a contract with a business entity if that entity is engaging in a boycott of Israel. Further, agencies shall reserve the right to terminate any contract with a business entity that engages in a boycott of Israel during the term of the contract.”

A teacher — Ms. Koontz — has taken the State of Kansas to federal court, challenging its anti-boycott legislation. She was qualified to train math teachers and accepted for employment, but when she refused to sign the state’s certification that she would not boycott Israel, Kansas wouldn’t hire her.

Esther Koontz Kansas teacher

Esther Koontz, Kansas teacher, credit to ACLU

In January 2018, the court ruled in her favor and granted her request for an injunction prior to trial. The Court ruled that a person doesn’t have to apply for a waiver in this type of case because of the chilling effect the Kansas law has on our First Amendment liberties. And Judge Crabtree said that Ms. Koontz is likely to win her case! Check out my blog post here for more details about her case.

Americans may have different opinions about Israel, about foreign policy issues, and about boycotts. But we should all have the same opinion about the sanctity of our right to express political opinions in whatever peaceful, nonviolent way we may choose, including boycotts. If the government comes for my speech today, it becomes much easier for the government to come for your speech tomorrow.

Change Things


Filed under People, Politics, Uncategorized, US Policy

Crumbling Silos

We are living in silos. Each hardened and impervious, it seems.


As long as we stay put in our comfort zones and don’t venture out, life is good.  We can ignore the other silos as full of irrelevant, idiotic, foolish “deplorables” — or maybe they speak another language and our attention span is short — or maybe they just don’t interest us.

OTHER (Verb)
1. To view or act towards another group as though they are intrinsically different, alien and separate from oneself.
2. To MARGINALIZE                           

Life in my silo is just fine, thank-you-very-much!  My silo has treated me very well all these 64 years. Here’s what it looks like:

  • Western, educated white woman
  • Middle-class, white picket fence and safe, bicycle-friendly neighborhood
  • Good schools (elementary, high school, universities)
  • Extensive travel at home and abroad
  • Loving nuclear and extended family
  • Freedom to pursue nearly any idea or dream
  • No fears for my personal or my family’s safety

Why would I ever want to leave? But my silo is crumbling, along with all of the others, and it’s clear to me that I have no choice in the matter.

I saw the cracks starting years ago but it was easy enough back then to ignore and pretend it wasn’t happening. Like watching a loved one die in front of my eyes and not registering the reality of her death until she was gone.

Now, there’s simply no denying that all of the silos are crumbling, crumbling at a faster pace than ever before. Some people may pick up torches or assault rifles to protect against the “other” and some may bury their heads to avoid the messiness of “politics.”

But everyone’s silo is crumbling and the undeniable truth is that we’re all facing the same challenges of a silo-free world together.

What’s responsible for these crumbling silos?

  • The relentless onslaught of a changing climate which so many people still deny.
  • The epic failure of capitalism that is currently destroying people and environments.
  • The war machine (aka military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about) and the destruction it has wrought in so many countries, including my own.
  • The blessing and curse of the Internet. It allows people to hide and listen only to Fox News (or NPR) in their silos if they choose, but it also allows people to reach across oceans and connect with people in other silos they wouldn’t have otherwise.

I’m nervous because the unknown is always scary. No one can predict what a post-silo world will look like. But I’m also excited because I catch glimmers of a much better world emerging.

This pilgrim is very thankful to be alive at this time.






Filed under Peaceful, Politics, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized

Outside the Margins – Beyond War


Students from the University of New Mexico have collaborated for the past two years on a project about the refugee crisis that has culminated in a new book — Outside the Margins.

Although you can purchase the book to support the good work of local groups working with refugees, the students are very clear that they want the contents and ideas of the book to get out into the world as far as possible, and so there’s no copyright restrictions. The book can be downloaded for free from the website

Outside the Margins

I attended the book’s launch at UNM on February 22, 2018.  This is a book unlike any other I’ve seen, on this topic or any other topic. Why?

Every page is a new way of communicating about the complexity of the refugee crisis in a way that attempts to be accessible to everyone, anyone.

Other define

As the students described their project and what they had learned, I thought about the lessons I first learned in Beyond War so many years ago in California.

Beyond War

The concepts in the book are difficult and simple — difficult because the world today is only beginning to understand or acknowledge these truths, and simple because these concepts are the foundation of the truth that future generations will take for granted. This book is a bridge between today and tomorrow, just as Beyond War was a bridge in the 1980s in California.



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Zero-sum logic – the existence of a people depends on the nonexistence of the other

A Palestinian scholar from Gaza, Jehad Abu Saleem, shared the following analysis in February 2018:

The collapse of life in Gaza has entered a critical stage. The eleven years of siege, isolation, and destructive wars of aggression are bearing their bitter fruits. What else but collapse will result from more than a decade of intense choking of a population of two million people. The collapse of Gaza manifests itself on every aspect of life there: rising suicide rates, crime, and new levels of poverty and impoverishment at unprecedented scales.

The siege on Gaza has become a forgotten part of the Palestinian experience under occupation. The siege was normalized despite several attempts to put an end to it. At this point, the fact that Gaza is under siege is a given. Gaza and siege became synonyms. The fact that the siege still persists despite all the attempts to end it should make us rethink the way we talk about Gaza, its history, and its place within the larger context of the Israeli occupation and control of Palestinian lives.

three evils

Much has been written and said about the siege from a humanitarian lens/framework. While a humanitarian framework can be useful when responding to urgent situations, sometimes it distracts us from the larger historical, political, and moral questions that need to be asked when we are faced by large-scale man-made crises like the one in Gaza.

The siege on Gaza is not an isolated event in the history of Palestine. It happened as part of the unfolding of a larger and much more complicated history and series of events. The siege on Gaza and its perpetuation to the current level is the logical conclusion of a situation that is inseparable from the logic that defines the relationship between Zionist Jews and Palestinian Arabs in historic Palestine. It’s a zero-sum logic, a mutually exclusive reality in which the existence of a people depends on the nonexistence of the other.


The question haunting people in Gaza now is what will become of them in light of any future escalation. No one knows what will this look like, but what we know for sure by now, and it’s a terrifying thing: we know that we are now in a region where people’s wishes for dignity and liberation no longer mean anything. The triumph of counter-revolution backed by regional and international players has normalized acts of mass murder and depopulation of millions of people for the sake of crushing demands for liberation. We know that Palestinians are vulnerable in light of the current alignment of powers in the Middle East. All this nonsense about a so-called “resistance” camp rushing to the rescue of Palestinians is pure nonsense in light of the current geopolitical context. Gaza might end up paying the price of the normalization of what we saw in Syria, Yemen, the Sinai, and Iraq under the pretext of “war on terror.”


Filed under Gaza, Occupation, People, Politics, Uncategorized

The magical Oud

Music can sooth the busy mind, and calm the tormented soul.  Music can bring people together, and it can lift them above their struggles.

oudFive years ago, on a beautiful evening in Gaza, I was serenaded by an Oud player and his fellow musicians for several hours. The event was a complete surprise to me, and was without a doubt one of the highlights of my visit.  I will never forget the magical feeling I had that evening. “This can’t be real.”  “This is too good to be true.”  “Someone pinch me and wake me from this dream.”

I haven’t stopped thinking of these wonderful musicians in Gaza, especially the Oud player, Yehal Adel.  You can catch a snippet of Yehal’s talent here. He composed the music and words to this beautiful song about his love for Jerusalem.

Recently I was reminded of the power of the magical Oud when I heard Rahim AlHaj play in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  He was playing with a group at the St. John’s United Methodist Church.

Rahim AlHaj is world famous and his performance at the Library of Congress is just a sample.  I hope I can introduce these two Oud players, and someday they may play together!

Rahim AlHaj was born in Baghdad, Iraq and began playing the oud (Arabic lute) at age nine. He moved to the US in 2000 as a political refugee and has resided in Albuquerque, New Mexico, ever since. Rahim has performed around the globe and is considered one of the finest oud players in the world. His compositions evoke the experience of exile from his homeland and of new beginnings in his adopted country. In 2015 Rahim was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship.

Sourena Sefati was born in Ramsar, Iran, and started playing santour (hammered dulcimer) at age 11. He won the award for best composer of Iranian music at Art University in 2006 and served as instructor at Art University and Elmi-Karbordi University in Tehran from 2008 to 2014. Sourena moved to the United States in 2014, and teaches Iranian music in Albuquerque.

Issa Malluf is a Palestinian-American native of New Mexico. Originally self-taught, Issa has become a highly skilled and internationally recognized specialist in Middle Eastern, Arabic, and North African percussion.

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Filed under Gaza, Peaceful, People, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized, Video