BiBi’s Betrayal


I converted to Judaism in the Spring of 1980, when Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority were bullying those of us who were not Christian lovers of Jesus in the United States.  That group included my wife and son by birth, and me by choice.

I became a Jew after years of searching and study.   Coincidentally, I completed my conversion from Catholicism when Christian fundamentalism was raging out of control in a country founded, ostensibly, on keeping the Church, and organized religion, separate from matters of State.

At the same time, my work as a labor journalist led me to do an article revealing the right-wing web of organizations behind fundamentalist Christian groups, and their connection to Republicans crusading for office in 1980.   My passion for Judaism drove me to compile the first Holocaust Education curriculum ever produced for the National Education Association, for use in classrooms across America.  Intentionally, I set aside a portion of the curriculum detailing the Nuremburg Laws—State sponsored laws, which, essentially, criminalized being a Jew.

That spring, when Israel bombed an Iraqi nuclear reactor, I considered the Israeli raid as a matter of self-defense, necessary for the security of Israel.  Friends and colleagues accused me of becoming a Zionist since my conversion to Judaism.  “I was a Zionist before I was a Jew,” I replied.  “I have always believed in the necessity for and the legitimacy of the State of Israel.”

Thirty-five years have passed since my conversion to Judaism.  In the decades since becoming a Jew by Choice, I was blessed to work on a project for peace with the heroic writer Elie Wiesel, and to be mentored, almost daily, by Mario Cuomo’s kind and wise Community Relations Specialist, Rabbi Israel Mowshowitz of Queens, NY, who arranged a fact-finding trip to Israel for me in 1991, with the Jewish Community Relations Council of NYC.   On that mission, public officials from across New York met with such Israeli Leaders as Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Interior Minister Arik Sharon,  Health Minister Ehud Olmert,  Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, Shimon Peres, and Israeli-born Arabs who were members of Israel’s Knesset.  The following year, I accompanied Governor Mario M. Cuomo on a trade mission to Israel, meeting with a wide array of Israeli officials in a new, more progressive  government, led by the former military leader, now peace advocate, Yitzhak Rabin.

I sat next to Prime Minister Rabin, while Mario Cuomo sat across from him, and Matilda Cuomo sat next to Rabin’s wife, Leah.  I studied Rabin’s face line by line, his eyes full of sadness from witnessing too much death and suffering.  Later, I learned that Rabin, haunted by the thought that he was leading young Israeli soldiers to their slaughter in the 1967 War—Israel’s greatest military victory—experienced a nervous breakdown during the War.

I followed Rabin’s face carefully in our meeting with him in September, 1992, and saw the sadness slip away each time he spoke of his hopes for bringing peace to the land of his birth, the land he loved and for which he risked his life.  I can still hear Yitzhak Rabin’s somber voice warning us of the grave threats to peace posed by political extremists among Jews, Palestinians and others.  Just the day before, in a public park in Jerusalem, we witnessed right wing Jewish extremists shout down then 80-year old Mayor Teddy Kollek, because Teddy believed all faiths, not just Jews, should be able to worship freely at their Holy sites in that Holy City.

Our meeting ended, and Yitzhak Rabin shook our hands.  The last word he uttered to each of us was “Shalom.”  Four years later, Rabin was assassinated by a fundamentalist Jew, the very kind of Right Wing political extremist—on either side– he foresaw as a threat to peace.

Now, BiBi Netanyahu is poised to put his political career above the security interests of Israel by snubbing an American President and interfering in the foreign policy of the United States by campaigning with US right-wing extremists in Congress to invoke new sanctions against Iran—sanctions which could push the Middle East closer to a regional war, at a time of intense instability.

Yitzhak Rabin, who knew the horrors of war first-hand, would have batted back the bellicosity of Bibi and Speaker Boehner, and, instead, seized the opportunity of creating a nuclear-free Iran and the slender possibility of  “Shalom” for Israel, and the world.  To do any less, is to betray the legacy of Israel’s founders, freedom fighters, soldiers, citizens and Jews, in Israel and elsewhere, who believe that the path to peace is a sacred obligation.


Is the Koch Cartel a Terrorist Cell?

Are the Koch Brothers terrorists?

Two Japanese citizens kneel next to “Jihad John” as he demands $200 million from Japan to spare their lives. In Paris, 17 citizens are assassinated and hundreds more are slaughtered in Nigeria. ISIS, Al Queda, Boko Haram and terrorist cells around the world are a clear danger to international security, world order and human life. Such acts of terrorism, wherever they occur, are amoral, destabilizing and inhumane.

In his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama identified another present threat to national security: “The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. Let’s act like it…” Such an expansion of the definition of national security risks is consistent with statements on climate change made by Pope Francis last summer.

“This is our sin, exploiting the earth,” Pope Francis said. “This is one of the greatest challenges of our time…Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.”

The popular Pope and the President have formed an alliance, combining moral authority, with military and diplomatic might. They’ve declared saving the earth to be a fact-based, moral crusade, in the interest of international security and human life. In this war, the terrorists are fossil fuel companies like Koch Industries whose business success, depends upon destroying the earth, the air and the oceans.

In a follow-up to two major scientific studies on the catastrophes of climate change—on land, and in the oceans—released within days of each other, President Obama underscored the battle lines:

“…No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change. 2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record,” he said referring to the recent NASA study. Congressional climate change deniers, busy tweeting out denials, stopped mid-tweet.

“Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does: 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century,” Obama emphasized. We’re literally boiling in oil, the President could have said.

In late 2014, Pope Francis, not a scientist himself, was more direct than the President: “The monopolizing of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth.”

Expected to make climate change into a moral crusade during 2015 to influence the global conference on climate, Francis continued: “Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness.”

Perhaps emboldened by having Pope Francis on his side in normalizing relations with Cuba, President Obama doubled-down:

“I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists, that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist either. But you know what? I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA and at NOAA and at our major universities, and the best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we don’t act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration and conflict and hunger around the globe.”

Then, the President who commands a different set of troops than the Pope, and is duty-bound to act on issues of national security, pointed to the Pentagon’s national security threat assessment.

“That’s why,” Obama said, “ I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts. I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action.”

If Congress won’t be permitted to “endanger the health of our children,” why allow the Koch Brothers? If the Pentagon considers climate change to be a threat to National Security, doesn’t that make the Koch cartel a well-financed force of global destabilization? Are the fossil fuel feudalists a new kind of “terrorist” cell? Are they holding us all for ransom?

The Pope, the President, the Pentagon, leading scientists—even China, a fossil-fuel producing nation choking on its own waste—agree that climate change is a dangerous threat to global security and human life. Yet, accelerating that threat is part of the Koch/fossil fuel business plan. By comparison, Jihad John’s demand for $200 million more to operate his business, looks like a bargain.


“Je Suis Human.”

The ruthless slaughter of 17 French citizens by members of an international terrorist organization was a barbaric act, deserving of condemnation, retaliation and protest by more than the one million people who packed the streets of Paris this weekend. We are all humans, and should all be horrified by such inhumanity against even one of us. Terror, torture and murder, regardless of who commits it, or where it occurs, merits unrelenting opposition. It is the most fundamental of all human rights violations.

Yet, as more facts continue to emerge in the jihadist attack against journalists and Jews in Paris, the more it appears that the assassination of the artists & writers at Charlie Hebdo, a self-proclaimed “Irresponsible Journal,” may have been an enormous and deadly hoax perpetuated by the terrorists on a media-obsessed world, to cover-up a coldly, calculated plan carried out to kill more Jews across Paris, and anyone the murderers considered “infidels.” While one-wing of the jihadists were slaughtering journalists for negative portrayals of Mohammed and all Muslims, another terrorist cell was assassinating Jews in another part of Paris, with the intent and means to execute more innocents at Jewish schools.

Outside of the offices of the magazine, the Hebdo assassins rejoiced at their murderous act, and proclaimed victory for avenging Mohammed. Inside a Paris Kosher supermarket, the killers methodically murdered Jews while the world was horrified by the death of “free expression.” Even if one entertained the notion that Charlie Hebdo’s offensive cartoons of Muslims could be understood to provoke such violence against the journalists, what was the justification for the jihadists killing Jews? As usual, Jews were targeted by terrorists because they were Jewish.

“Je Suis Charlie,” may be a catchy hashtag and a social media sensation, but it does nothing to sympathize with the most important form of free expression, the right for human beings to live without fear of death because of who they are, or which God they worship, if they choose to worship at all. The more appropriate phrase of sympathy, solidarity and support—which covers Jews as well as journalists—is “Je Suis Human.”

In fact, with Muslims outnumbering Jews in France five million to five-hundred thousand, or 10-to-1, and with acts of terror against Paris’ Jewish community escalating over the past several years, Charlie Hebdo’s taunting of Muslims may have been tantamount to shouting “FIRE” in a crowded movie-theatre, or the classic example of irresponsible speech, not “free expression.” Honest journalists respect standards of independence, freedom, accuracy AND responsiblility. Hebdo’s self-avowed mission of “irresponsibility” moved them in the opposite direction, disqualifying them from the protection of the bulwarks of artistic license or free expression. Group libel is inherently dehumanizing, whether practiced by journalists, jingoists, or jihadists.

There is no justification nor defense for any act of deadly terror. All acts of terror, whether carried out by a fanatical group of religious fundamentalists, a state, or an ideologically-driven individual like the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh or Anders Breivik, the anti-Muslim, anti-Zionist Norwegian extremist who gunned down some 70 teenagers at a youth camp in 2011, deserve swift condemnation, counter-action and certain punishment.

Millions need not march because they consider an act of terror a symbolic act against free speech; millions need to mobilize because terrorist acts are terrible acts of violence against human beings, humanity and life itself. I am not Charlie Hebdo. I am a responsible, free human being who respects the dignity of all people. I am Jew, and Muslim and Christian; I am Buddhist and Hindi, humanist and atheist. “Je Suis Human.”

Mario Cuomo Dies, and Andrew Cuomo is Re-born…

Mario Cuomo died this week, and Andrew Cuomo was re-born.

Andrew Cuomo’s simple and eloquent eulogy to his father on January 6, 2015, was a bold and loving seizing of the the torch of humanist leadership his father ignited 33 years ago. In a remarkable love song to Mario Cuomo, Andrew Cuomo became his father.

That chiseled, stately, large and determined face was the same look I witnessed up close on Mario Cuomo, many, many times. Snow falling on Andrew’s dark hair, and dark suit, dramatized the somber yet historic nature of what was about to happen even more. I witnessed Mario Cuomo prepare for, and deliver, hundreds of speeches during the eight years I worked with him; I studied each line in Mario Cuomo’s face as he read each line of his speeches, and as he black-lined out others. Getting what he “needed to say” just right was of great importance.

Up until this week, few of Andrew Cuomo’s speeches were memorable. Actions counted more to Andrew than words. Speech-making was often just another tool in the second Governor Cuomo’s operational repair kit for government. All that changed with Andrew’s eulogy for his father.

For once, Andrew Cuomo’s words and emotions moved us, and, more importantly, they may have moved him toward his father’s progressive, other-centered, enlightened form of leadership. Andrew’s words, personal and powerful, were a radical departure from his pedestrian prose of the past. His words were transcribed from his heart to the page from which he was reading, just as his father advised.

“Mario Cuomo was at peace with who he was and how he saw the world. This gave him great strength, and made him anything but a typical politician,” Andrew Cuomo said, after recounting his father’s advice about speechmaking to him. “Who cares about what the audience wants to hear; it’s not about what they want to hear–it’s about what you want to say.”

“And that, my friends,” Andrew Cuomo said to a church-full of mourners, including Bill & Hillary Clinton, “was the essence of Mario Cuomo.
He was not interested in pleasing the audience: not in a speech, not in life. He believed what he believed and the reaction of the audience or the powers that be, or the popularity of his belief was irrelevant to him.”

Andrew elaborated: “He wasn’t really a politician at all. Mario Cuomo’s politics were more a personal belief system then a traditional theory. It was who he was. Not what he did. My father was a humanist. He had strong feelings of right and wrong based on his religion, philosophy and life experiences. He was very concerned with how people were treated and that was the arena that drew him in….”

Then, Andrew Cuomo shared the essence of Mario Cuomo: “At his core he was a philosopher and he was a poet, an advocate and he was a crusader. Mario Cuomo was the keynote speaker for our better angels. He was there to make the case, to argue and convince, and,in that purist he could be a ferocious opponent and powerful ally. And, he was beautiful. He believed Jesus’ teachings could be reduced to one word, and the word was love. And love means acceptance, compassion and support to help people.

Then, Andrew Cuomo gave everyone insight into his relationship with his father: “It is this simple. I was devoted to my father, from the time I was 15 joining him in every crusade. My dad was my hero, my best friend, my confidante, my mentor. We spoke almost every day and his wisdom grew as I grew older. . But we carried the same banner. I helped him become a success and he helped me become a success and we enjoyed deeply each other’s victories and we suffered the pain of each other’s losses. My only regret is that I didn’t return from Washington to help in his 1994 race. Whether or not I could have helped, I should have been there. It was the right thing to do and I didn’t do it.” Powerful, and deeply personal, and unlike anything Andrew Cuomo has said before.

“Why didn’t he run for President, people asked? Because he didn’t want to,” Andrew Cuomo said. He was where he thought God wanted him to be. For Mario Cuomo, the purpose of life was clear — to help those in need and leave the world a better place.”

“I believe my father’s spirit lives,” the son said, citing family and community examples. “I will listen for your voice. You taught us well, you inspired us, we know what we have to do and we will do it. On that, you have my word, as your son. I love you pop, and always will.”

Saul Alinsky is My Yoda

The Radical Correspondence of Saul Alinsky

One of the most talked about philosophical/political figures of the past several years (not counting the Right Wing’s agnostic, anti-social, failed fiction-writing muse Ayn Rand) is Saul Alinsky. Not bad for an Orthodox Jewish kid from Chicago who’s been dead for 40 years.

Well, I know Saul Alinsky, and few people on the Right or Left have done him justice. I was weened on his teachings; trained in the Alinsky Method of Organizing when I was a labor organizer for the National Education Association; and taught Alinsky’s book “Rules for Radicals” for 22 years for Cornell University’s ILR Schools’ Labor Studies Program. Saul Alinsky is my Yoda.

I taught teachers and Teamsters, truck-drivers and electrical workers all about the works and tactics of Saul Alinsky, who was never a Communist nor a Socialist because he hated all dogma and prized his independence and freedom of thought and action. Alinsky was an archeologist by education, a criminologist by training and an organizer of the “have-nots” by choice.

“As an organizer,” he wrote in his seminal work, “I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be…that means working in the system.” For Alinsky, radicalism was not found in burning down ghettos, as happened across the country three years before he wrote “Rules” in 1971, but in organizing them. For him, the meaning of the word “radical” was elemental: getting to the root of the problem.

“One never reaches the horizon,” Alinsky wrote in one more philosophical paragraph, “ it is always just beyond, ever beckoning onward; it is the pursuit of life itself. This is the world as it is. This is where you start.” I followed Saul Alinsky to Rochester, New York, two months after his death, and several years following his successful FIGHT campaign in that upstate city where Blacks were marginalized and left out of the kindnesses of the Eastman Kodak Company, the Eastman School of Music and virtually every other opportunity in town. FIGHT: Freedom, Integration, God, Honor, Today–began to change that.

Corporations and right-wing politicians, then, as now, tried to paint Alinsky as a negative force. Yet, his work, his teachings, his tactics and his philosophy proved otherwise. “ My personal philosophy is anchored in optimism,” he wrote. It must be, for optimism brings with it hope, a future with a purpose, and therefore, a will to fight for a better world.” That may explain why leaders of Freedom Works, the conservative non-profit organization which supports the Tea Party, gives copies of Alinsky’s “Rule for Radicals” to all of its Tea Party Leaders.

Alinsky’s chapter of “Rules for Radicals” entitled ‘A Word about Words,” is a masterpiece on the use of language and semantics. In it, he exposes the tricks politicians play with words to lie and mislead, which is probably why deceivers like Newt Gingrich and Dinesh D’Sousa are alarmed by Alinsky so much. The little Jewish organizer from Chicago strips phonies bare, and, it’s often not a pretty sight. When Bill Mahrer admitted a few years back that he never heard of Saul Alinsky, nor read his work, he unwittingly presaged the basis for his ignorant and prejudiced remarks about Muslims in 2014.

What must greatly gall Gingrich, D’Sousa and other slippery types is Saul Alinksy’s Fourth Rule in the chapter of “Rules for Radicals” entitled “Tactics”: “The fourth rule is, make the enemy live up to their own book of rules”–an impossible standard for many to meet since they fundamentally believe, and act, as if no rules apply to them: on marriage, on lobbying, on examining facts, or telling the truth.

Forget about Alinksy’s allure for Cesar Chavez, Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama, all of whom were influenced by his writings, teachings and tactics to varying degrees. What the shrivel-souled gang Saul has galled can’t stand, is the clarity of Alinksy’s vision, especially as he foresaw the need to organize America’s middle class to achieve social good. “To reject them,” Alinsky wrote, “is to lose them by default. They will not shrivel and disappear. You can’t switch channels and get rid of them….” No one understands this fundamental Alinsky-truth better than Elizabeth Warren, and its why in her calm, fact-based, Midwestern, motherly way, she terrifies the Wall Street, banking and corporate interests who have pulverized the middle class over the past 30 years.

I know Saul Alinsky. He is, and has long been, my Yoda. And, corporate propagandists of the Far Right fear him still– more than 40 years after his death–because the truths he taught have gotten tougher and larger, and cannot be erased by changing the subject, buying the channels or the chattel Members of Congress who recite scripts written by Citibank or the folks at Fox News.