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Politically Active Americans Facing Searches and Surveillance

September 30th, 2010

from Kevin Zeese

Trend of Activist Searches Began Under Bush, Continues Under Obama

Series of Inspector General Reports Shows FBI Violating Constitutional Rights of American Peace Activists While Raids Occur in Illinois and Minneapolis

Earlier this week the FBI raided six homes of eight peace activists in Minneapolis and Chicago as well as a Minneapolis office of an antiwar group. Agents kicked down doors of homes with guns drawn, smashed furniture, and seized computers, documents, phones, and other materials without making any arrests. These groups do not use guns and bombs. They are not terrorists. Their "weapons" are leaflets, newsletters, and nonviolent demonstrations.

The FBI searches highlight a dangerous trend that has been building for nearly a decade: domestic surveillance of peace and other activists. Americans need to understand the context of these raids so they can work to stop the infringement of constitutional rights.

The raids took place just a few days after a report of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice examined 8,000 pages of documents from 2001 to 2006 and interviewed dozens of FBI agents. The report blasted the FBI for spying on anti-war activists, animal-rights groups, and environmentalists, calling them improper "terror" investigations "unreasonable and inconsistent with FBI policy." Among those targeted were the anti-war Thomas Merton Center, the Quakers, the Catholic Worker, Greenpeace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and an individual Quaker peace activist. According to the Inspector General, there was "little or no basis" for the investigations.

Another report found that the FBI used lies and trickery to illegally obtain thousands of records, then issued after-the-fact approvals in an attempt to cover it up. Released in January of this year, the report was the result of another Justice Department investigation which built on a 2007 report covering similar matters. The Inspector General focused on the FBI’s unlawful misuse of the already-unconstitutional informal requests known as "exigent letters" to demand information which they knew was illegal. The DOJ report described a "complete breakdown" of procedures within the FBI. According to the report, the "FBI broke law for years in phone record searches." Agents repeatedly and knowingly violated the law by invoking nonexistent "terror emergencies" to get access to information they were not authorized to have.

This week another Inspector General report found that hundreds of FBI employees cheated on exams related to domestic surveillance. The report described how they consulted with others while taking the exam even though that was forbidden. Others used or distributed answer sheets or study guides that provided test answers. Still others exploited a computer flaw that revealed answers. The agents were being tested on 2008 guidelines that FBI employees must follow when conducting domestic investigations.

Nor do these reports cover all the incidences of domestic surveillance of civic activists. Former FBI special agent and whistleblower, Colleen Rowley, reports that "in 2008, we found out through a Freedom of Information request that there are 300 pages of . . . agents trailing a group of students in Iowa City to parks, libraries, bars, restaurants." The documents requested by David Goodner, a former member of the University of Iowa’s Antiwar Committee under the Freedom of Information Act, show, the investigation into activities of peace groups in Iowa City involved staking out homes, secretly photographing and video taping members, digging through garbage and even planting a mole to spy on the peace activists up close. Known as the Wild Rose Rebellion, the protesters were described by the FBI as an “anarchist collective.” In an interview with The Des Moines Register, the FBI defended its actions because of allegations that certain people were possibly going to engage in criminal activities to disrupt the national conventions of one or both major political parties. The group’s plans were to help organize nonviolent acts of civil disobedience, such as street blockades, at the 2008 RNC convention.

Pennsylvania awarded a $125,000 no-bid contract to an Israeli-American consulting firm called the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response, which spied on peace groups, citizen activists, civic groups and critics of the Rendell administration. The project was supposed to protect Pennsylvania citizens by gathering intelligence on potential terrorist threats, but the private contractor, hired by the state's Department of Homeland Security, fed information to state officials about the activities of religious groups, education advocates, BP protesters, anti-tax protesters, and just about anybody who criticized state government.

In Maryland, Homeland Security and Intelligence Division of the Maryland State Police conducted undercover operations to spy on people who support progressive viewpoints. Undercover Maryland State Police officers repeatedly spied on peace activists and anti-death penalty groups in recent years. The Maryland State Police classified 53 nonviolent activists as terrorists and entered their names and personal information into state and federal databases that track terrorism suspects, the state police chief acknowledged in 2008. In 2009, the state police acknowledged far more extensive surveillance with records showing that troopers monitored -- and labeled as terrorists – a wide range of activists. Investigators monitored activists protesting weapons manufacturer, Lockheed Martin. They watched two pacifist Catholic nuns from Baltimore, CODE PINK and the DC Anti-War Network, which was inaccurately, designated a white supremacist group. The surveillance program became public because of documents released during a trespassing trial for peace activist Max Obuszewski, the nuns and another activist arrested during an antiwar rally at the National Security Agency. The documents showed that Baltimore intelligence officers were tracking them.

In fact this type of surveillance by the FBI, NorthCom and state and local police have been reported in many parts of the country, among them are Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, New York and Washington.

This current escalation of domestic surveillance of U.S. citizens began under President Bush and has continued under President Obama. Throughout U.S. history there has been a constant battle between the constitutional rights of citizens and domestic surveillance of political activists, especially peace advocates. The FBI has a long history of abusing its authority. If we do not act to curtail these actions we are all in danger of being spied on and added to terrorist watch lists for doing nothing more than attending a rally, signing a petition or holding a sign.

Steps are urgently needed to protect the basic constitutional rights of peace activists and others. These include:

- President Obama needs to speak out against the surveillance of Americans who are merely exercising their constitutional rights. As a former law professor he knows the long history of such abuse and how important it is to contain enforcement.

- Removal of FBI director Robert Mueller. His tenure since 2001 has been littered with abuses of domestic spying. The Inspector General has concluded Director Mueller provided "inaccurate and misleading information" to Congress. Mueller also failed to put in place adequate procedures to ensure the law is obeyed and to ensure agents are aware of the laws regarding domestic surveillance.

- Congress needs to hold hearings to investigate the extent of domestic spying on Americans who are merely exercising the rights to free speech, to assembly, and to petition the government. These fundamental political rights need to be protected by tightening up the laws regarding domestic surveillance which were loosened by the PATRIOT Act.

You can send all three letters by clicking here.

The escalation of wars abroad by the Obama administration is moving forward alongside escalation against antiwar activists at home. The groups targeted in the most recent raids in Illinois and Minnesota, while Marxist in ideology, endorsed and supported the election of President Obama. Their Political Report noted "Obama’s election represents a rejection of the Bush administration policies and a desire amongst the people for a progressive agenda from the government." Now we know that the Obama administration is moving forward with Bush-era policies that target anti-war political dissent at the same time that more Americans oppose Obama’s wars.

Kevin Zeese is executive director of Voters for Peace (www.VotersForPeace.US).

New COICA Bill Would End Free Speech Online - Video

September 28th, 2010

Shelly Roche

A Look At The Technologies & Industries Senators Leahy & Hatch Would Have Banned In The Past from the dedicated-to-infringing-activities dept
The more I look at the "Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act," (COICA) bill proposed by Senators Patrick Leahy and Orrin Hatch (and co-sponsored by Sens. Herb Kohl, Arlen Specter, Charles Schumer, Dick Durbin, Sheldon Whitehouse, Amy Klobuchar, Evan Bayh and George Voinovich) the worse it looks. The idea behind the bill is to give the Justice Department the ability to avoid due process in shutting down or blocking access to sites deemed "dedicated to infringing activities."

With such a broad definition of offerings dedicated to infringing activities, I thought it might be worth running through a list of technologies that and services that were all deemed "dedicated to infringing activities" in their early days, to give you a sense of what these Senators would have banned in the past with such a law: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100925/12401911168/a-look-at-the-technologies-industries-senators-leahy-hatch-would-have-banned-in-the-past.shtml

Contact congress and tell them to vote against this monstrous (COICA) bill or say good by to freedom of speech on the internet.

Save American Democracy, or What’s Left of It

September 21st, 2010

from Kevin Zeese

In the First Election After Citizens United, Voters Need to Beware and Organized to Combat Massive Power of Concentrated Corporations

This is the first election after the Citizens United decision which gave corporations complete freedom to spend as much money as they want to influence the outcome of elections.

Citizens beware. Citizens get active. Citizens get organized. Our fragile democracy is at grave risk.

We’ve seen in Obama’s time and office (and before) how corporations dominate Washington, DC. The health care “reform” turned out to be a re-enforcement of the insurance company dominated health care industry. And finance reform had to get the approval of Wall Street and the Federal Reserve before moving forward. Corporate welfare to the weapons industry, coal, nuclear and oil have continued or even grown under Obama. The housing crisis which should have ended with the bail out of Wall Street is getting worse with record foreclosures last month. But that is not enough for the oligarchs who control government through concentrated corporate power. They want more and are using massive spending on elections to get it.

A coalition of organizations has come together to expose groups spending hundreds of millions on the mid-term elections in secret, unlimited donations that avoid campaign finance laws.

The most aggressive post-Citizens United elections operator is Karl Rove’s American Crossroads working with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber’s Chief Counsel, Steven Law, who is also a former chief of staff to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, was named CEO of American Crossroads. These groups take secret donations, sometimes create front groups to put out their views and are doing the work that political parties normally do – from advertising and data base management to getting out the vote – but without the restrictions on the size of donations or the need for transparency.

I wrote about how corporate power was creating deceptive elections on August 25, and now TIME Magazine is writing much the same story warning that several hundred billion will be spent by corporations and their executives in this election. In addition to mass advertising in at least six states they report that American Crossroads will be spending $10 million national get-out-the-vote campaign that will include 40 million pieces of political mail and 20 million phone calls to voters in key states. Essentially, Republican Party electoral operations have moved from the Republican Party to American Crossroads. Some have described this as a coup of Michael Steele’s Republican Party.

As a result, my organization, Prosperity Agenda, has joined, American Crossroads Watch, a sister group to Stop The Chamber. I serve as the spokesperson for both coalitions. We need your help in making this watchdog campaign effective. Please watch for actions being taken by American Crossroads and the Chamber of Commerce during these elections. If you see a suspicious new group – usually labeled “Citizens for . . .” or “Citizens against . . .” – that does not disclose who their donors are, you have most likely found one of their front groups. Let us know about it. Write me at KBZeese@gmail.com so we can look into it and report it. Part of our job is to let voters know how corporations are trying to deceptively influence Americans – usually to vote against the voters own interests.

Our watchdog campaign has put out rewards of $100,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Karl Rove and Tom Donohue, the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce. On August 4, 2010, we received a letter from a purported Chamber of Commerce insider who compares Tom Donohue to Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon and Bernie Maddoff, alleges fraud, campaign finance violations and financial impropriety. In a letter on behalf of our coalition I urged the FBI and DOJ to conduct an investigation of Tom Donohue and the Chamber based on this letter.

We have also requested the Department of Justice investigate the “shadow RNC”, American Crossroads. In a letter on behalf of the coalition I suggest formation of a campaign finance task force that investigates these groups, sets up a tip line to encourage information on violations of law, requires preservation of records and monitors their activities. We’ve also urged the Federal Elections Commission to find that these groups are doing the work of a political party and issue an opinion that applies campaign finance limits to their actions.

You can assist our efforts by joining us in writing the Department of Justice urging a criminal investigation. You can do so by clicking here. In addition, please write your member of Congress and urge that they push the Department of Justice to investigate American Crossroads. You can do so by clicking here.

This is the first election after the Citizens United decision allowed unfettered corporate spending on campaigns. Citizens who want people to control government and not corporations need to be organized in challenging the abuses of corporate funding of elections. Please work with us to put a spotlight on those abuses so voters know they are being manipulated and in getting the government to act to restrict corporate domination of elections.

Kevin Zeese is executive director of Prosperity Agenda (www.ProsperityAgenda.US)

Cut Social Security? Are the Democrats crazy?

July 22nd, 2010

from Kevin Zeese

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is sounding the alarm around deficit spending is using exaggerated rhetoric to heighten deficit fear at a time when more spending is needed.

The commission’s rhetoric is working against the antidote for the economy – spending to restart job and economic growth. Forty leading economists, including nobel prize winners, issued a statement calling for more spending in the short-term. They recognized debt as a long term problem, but urged immediate increased spending to avoid prolonging and deepening the economic collapse, writing:

“We recognize the necessity of a program to cut the mid- and long-term federal deficit but the imperative requirement now, and the surest course to balance the budget over time, is to restore a full measure of economic activity. As in the 1930s, the economy is suffering a sharp decline in aggregate demand and loss of business confidence. Long experience shows that monetary policy may not be enough, particularly in deep slumps, as Keynes noted.

“The urgent need is for government to replace the lost purchasing power of the unemployed and their families and to employ other tax-cut and spending programs to boost demand. Making deficit reduction the first target, without addressing the chronic underlying deficiency of demand, is exactly the error of the 1930s. It will prolong the great recession, harm the social cohesion of the country, and continue inflicting unnecessary hardship on millions of Americans.”

For list of signers and more information click here.

The Obama deficit commission is working against this urgent need. And, in pushing proposals that will weaken the middle class they risk real anger from American voters who are already unhappy with the administration’s handling of the economy. The commission is talking about cuts to Social Security, Medicare and middle class benefits like the home mortgage deduction rather then focusing on the three causes of the deficit: massive war and weapons spending, giant tax cuts for the wealthy and the faltering economy.

The time is now to build opposition to these recommendations and urge Congress and the administration to cut programs that will not make the economy worse for most Americans. When I testified before the commission I urged:

  • Cuts in military spending as this makes up half of U.S. discretionary spending and is filled with waste and bloat.
  • Cuts to corporate welfare, especially to the oil and gas industry which is scheduled to received billions in tax breaks despite massive profits.
  • Taxes on the purchase of stocks, bonds and derivatives where even a tiny micro tax could raise tens of billions annually.
  • Taxes on the estates of the wealthiest 97.5% of Americans which could raise more than $10 billion annually.

Click here to read my full testimony.

These are just a few of the areas where cuts in spending and taxes on wealth could balance the budget and avoid the need to cut Social Security and Medicare or tax the middle class.

In fact, Social Security is in good financial shape for upcoming decades and merely raising the cap on Social Security taxes will make the program secure for the 21st Century. In the long run the economy needs a stronger elderly economic class. The loss of pensions, stock market collapse and savings transformed to debt leaves too many Americans dependent on the measly $14,030 annual average benefits Social Security provides.

Medicare’s challenge is not the Medicare program but the cost of health care. Cuts to Medicare will make health problems and the cost of health care more expensive. Unfortunately, the new Obama health law does not control costs and the president did not even consider the real solution for health care: ending the waste of the private insurance industry by making improved Medicare available to all Americans.

The commission is preparing its report for after the mid-term elections this November. But, it is before the elections when voters have the most power. We need to demand elected officials protect Social Security and Medicare by cutting spending for weapons and war, and raising tax dollars from the wealthy – who profited from a decade of deficit spending, first. We also need to urge them to consider taxes on wealth before considering taxes on workers. We need to let them know that our votes are dependent on them taking these actions.

You can begin to respond to the deficit commission now by writing President Obama and your representatives in Congress. You can do so by clicking here. And, to begin to build opposition to the deficit commission and urge real solutions to the economy send this article to everyone you know and urge them to take action.

Tell elected officials that to solve the deficit problem, they should focus on the causes of the deficit: nearly the entire deficit for this year and projected into the foreseeable future are the result of three things: the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and the recession. The solutions are: end the wars, allow the tax cuts to expire and restore robust growth.

Stopping the deficit commission from making things worse is only a first step. Americans need to organize to re-make the economy. To end the wealth divide which has allowed the top 1% to hoard the nation’s wealth, end concentration of corporate power which not only adds to the wealth divide but stifles entrepreneurship and weakens democracy and stop crony capitalism which uses tax dollars to enrich a few. Much work is needed to democratize the U.S. economy so it is transparent and benefits all Americans not the economic elite. But the immediate task at hand is to stop the deficit hawks from making things worse as they are poised to do. An outcry from Americans can stop their worst proposals before they gain momentum.

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Kevin Zeese is executive director of Prosperity Agenda: http://www.prosperityagenda.us/

Take Action! How We Can Save OUR Economy

May 7th, 2010

By Tiffiny Cheng, David DeGraw and Kevin Zeese - foroureconomy.org

The next few weeks will culminate into a defining moment in American history and lay the course for our economic future. After two years of being asleep at the switch, Congress is finally stepping up and taking action on financial reform. The resulting bill will be a clear indication and definitive proof as to who is actually running our country. Will it reinforce the dominance of the Wall Street elite, or will it mark a rebirth of the rule of law and economic prosperity for millions of Americans who have seen their standard of living decline?

We cannot just sit back and let politicians, who are overly influenced by campaign funding and lobbying activities on the part of the big banks who have plunged us into this crisis, decide our future without us. Our passive unwillingness to stand up for our own rights is part of the reason we are in this crisis to begin with. Right now is the most pivotal time for us to make our voice heard.

This bill is where we draw the line and STAND UP.

Enough is enough! It’s time for Americans to take OUR economy back from the big banks and financial interests that have looted it. It’s time to restructure, decentralize and democratize OUR economy.

Wall Street has pillaged our country. It has been bailed out and saved from their casino gambling, Ponzi schemes and allowed to continue their plunder. They are the concentrated power that history has warned us about.

Trillions of our taxpayer dollars have been handed over from the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve to the Wall Street elite, handed over to benefit the very people who caused the crisis. The truth about how many trillions of our tax dollars have been “transferred,” and who exactly they have been given to, has been kept secret in the un-audited Federal Reserve. It is time to audit the Fed and either dismantle it or remake it so it reflects the interests of the people, not the big banks who have hijacked our economy.

How much do they have to steal before Americans say, ‘No more! It is OUR money, it is OUR economy’? How many more honest, law abiding, hardworking Americans have to lose their homes, jobs and struggle just to acquire basic necessities and make ends meet before these greedy bankers are held accountable?

Before laying out our 12-step program to take our economy back, let’s take a brief look at some of the devastating results of Wall Street’s greed:

  • Over 50 million US citizens are living in poverty;
  • The US now has the HIGHEST poverty rate in the industrialized world;
  • 50% of American children will need to use a food stamp during their childhood;
  • 30 million Americans are in need of employment, with 20% of Americans either unemployed, underemployed or without hope of finding work;
  • Foreclosure rates continue to break record after record. More than five million families have already lost their homes. A record 2.8 million properties were in foreclosure in 2009. The first three months of 2010 had the highest foreclosure rates ever, and 13-25 million foreclosures are predicted by 2014.
  • In the past two years, Americans have lost $5 trillion from their pensions and savings. They have also lost $13 trillion in the value of their homes.
  • Personal bankruptcies are rising. A record number of Americans filed for bankruptcy in March 2010. In fact, 6,900 Americans go bankrupt every day.
  • Due to this economic crisis, American workers have bought more on credit cards than ever before. We now have over $850 billion in credit card debt, as banks charge usurious interest rates on this debt.
  • The US now has the HIGHEST inequality of wealth in our nation’s history. The economic top 1% controls an all-time record 70% of all financial assets.
  • The average CEO salary, including stock options and incentives, has skyrocketed and is now 500 times more than the average workers.
  • While CEO salaries have been soaring and corporate profits are breaking all-time records, average worker pay is declining and incentives are being cut.

These are just some of the horrifying results of Wall Street’s rigging of the economy. The free-market is now a rigged-market ruled by corporate welfare and crony capitalists who are funneling wealth away from 99% of the American public and directly into their coffers on an unprecedented scale. Risk, losses and debts have been socialized, while profits have been privatized.

As a consequence of their continued looting, austerity measures are about to be implemented. In state after state across the country, and on a federal level, we are facing severe deficits. Mass school closings have already been scheduled for the end of this school year, as thousands of teachers have already been told that they will no longer have a job. Pension funds and medical programs are being slashed. Fire fighters, police and health care workers are being cut back . Six million Americans are on the verge of losing the unemployment benefits that they have been surviving off of and there are now a record six available workers for every one job opening. Unemployment insurance funds have already been depleted in 33 states, with more expected to go into the red within the next few months.

Draconian cuts in vital social programs and critical government functions are just beginning to be phased in, while our national wealth is still being transferred to the wealthiest. They are pulling out the social infrastructure from below us and are about to pile higher taxes on top of us.

While nearly 200 million, two out of three, Americans are struggling to make ends meet and currently living paycheck to paycheck, billionaires have increased their aggregate wealth by a stunning 50% during this economic crisis.

The Robber Barons of the Gilded Age have now been displaced as America’s greediest ruling class.

After trillions in bailouts – a cover for the greatest theft of wealth in history – we are seeing record-breaking profits and bonuses on Wall Street. We have the power to stop this looting, break up this concentrated power and take back the economy. We just have to stand up for ourselves – TOGETHER.

We can break the financial oppression, and here’s how we will do it.

The Mobilization for OUR Economy begins while the Obama Administration and Congress are debating reform of the financial industry. However, much more than what is being proposed is needed to give Americans control over their economic lives. To achieve these objectives, we are working to make the following common-sense reforms into reality:

  1. Break up the “Too Big To Fail” Banks. You can’t have free-market competition when a handful of big banks can rig the market and regulatory structure to benefit themselves at the expense of everyone else. We support the Kaufman-Brown SAFE Banking Act.
  2. Put in place a transparent open exchange for over-the-counter derivatives and ban High Frequency Trading (HFT). Investigate all prior HFT and frontrunning activities. Create a team of experts to analyze/restructure/dissolve existing derivative contracts to reduce risk. We support Senator Blanche Lincoln’s Wall Street Transparency and Accountability Act.
  3. Require stricter accounting standards so the real value and debt/liabilities of banks are understood. With this, a more responsible executive pay structure must be implemented. Investigate firms and hold them liable for accounting scams. Clawbacks must be implemented on bonuses and executive compensation that was based on false profits. Investigate the Federal Reserve’s role in covering up, aiding and abetting firms in accounting fraud.
  4. Rein in corporate power. Stop corporate welfare – no more bailouts! End
    corporate personhood and reverse the Citizens United court decision by a constitutional amendment. We must also make sure that all taxpayer funds and loans handed out in the bailout are returned with an interest rate that reflects current profit margins that were created as a result of our tax money.
  5. Audit the Federal Reserve. There should be zero secrecy in this private banking corporation that prints U.S. dollars and extends zero interest loans to a select few. The Fed should either be dismantled or re-made to represent the interests of the American people, not the banks, and include elected positions on their Board of Governors.
  6. Tax trading of stocks, bonds, derivatives and options. A small micro-tax applied to large firms would slow high-risk speculation and provide significant revenue, allowing reduction of income taxes, withholding taxes and adequately fund government operations.
  7. Corresponding to our second objective, close the casino by reinstating both a modernized version of the Glass–Steagall Act, which separated commercial and investment banking, and a strict Net Capital rule that limits wild risk-taking and speculating.
  8. Shut the revolving door and put up a strict firewall between finance executives and government regulators and officials.
  9. End usurious credit card and pay day loans. Cap interest rates and get rid of hidden bank fees.
  10. Create an empowered and independent Consumer Protection Agency (CPA). Investigate predatory lending schemes, liar’s loans and put a moratorium on home foreclosures, as the first steps in what will be many investigations into abusive practices. Credit rating agencies should be regulated by the CPA and function independently of the firms producing the products being rated.
  11. Urgently hire 1,500+ white-collar crime investigators to enforce existing laws.
  12. Fire, investigate and prosecute government officials like Tim Geithner, Ben Bernanke, Larry Summers and John Dugan, and investigate Hank Paulson, Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin, all of whom played a significant role in the financial collapse and the massive “transfer” of wealth to the finance industry. Also investigate and prosecute, under RICO statutes, top executives in financial firms who engaged in fraudulent activity. Appoint people like Elizabeth Warren, Simon Johnson, Joseph Stiglitz, William Black and Ron Paul to positions of authority over the economy.

These are our primary objectives and the necessary steps that must be taken to take OUR economy back. If the financial reform bill, that has been two years in the making, doesn’t live up to this 12-step program, we will know that our politicians have sold us short once again.

The Wall Street elite have controlled our political process for too long!

We must show them that we mean business this time, so STAND UP and fight for your future. Join us at sit-ins, protests and rallies across the United States. We can take back our country. We can regain control over our economic lives.

The time is now!

HISTORY IS CALLING YOU!

YOUR FUTURE IS CALLING YOU!

YOU ARE NEEDED!

SIGN UP NOW:


MobilizeDonate to forOUReconomy.org

Call to Action: www.forOUReconomy.org


For Further Information:
Kevin Zeese, 301-996-6582
David DeGraw, 631-790-1830
Tiffiny Cheng, 413-367-6255

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By Tiffiny Cheng, David DeGraw and Kevin Zeese http://foroureconomy.org/

Call for Margaret Atwood to Join Cultural Boycott of Israel

April 9th, 2010


Israeli war crimes in the Gaza concentration camp

Margaret Atwood

The Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott Initiative (PACBI) has issued a statement encouraging Margaret Atwood not to accept the Dan David prize, which is based at Tel Aviv University (TAU). The PACBI statement is reproduced below. At the same time, the Palestinian Students Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI) issued an open letter from students in Gaza urging Atwood not to stand on the wrong side of history. This letter was endorsed by the University Teachers' Association in Palestine.

As the PACBI statement concludes, we at CAIA are also appealing to Atwood's:

    “sense of justice and moral consistency, we hope that, until Israel fully abides by international law, you shall treat it exactly as most of the world treated racist South Africa, or indeed any other state that legislates and practices apartheid: a pariah state. Only then can there be a real chance for a just peace in harmony with international law and based on equal human rights for all, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or other identity considerations. We urge you to reject the prize and to refuse to participate in a ceremony presided over by the head of a state accused of war crimes and other serious violations of international law.”

— Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid - www.caiaweb.org.

Atwood – Do Not Accept Prizes from Apartheid Israel

PACBI

The Palestinian community of writers and intellectuals is highly disappointed by your decision to accept the Dan David prize, which is based at Tel Aviv University (TAU). Your writings exhibit a sophisticated understanding of colonialism, structures of political power and oppression, yet your visit to Israel comes just over one year after its bloody assault on the occupied Gaza Strip during which it killed and injured thousands of Palestinian civilians and caused massive destruction to homes, schools, mosques, hospitals, factories, UN buildings, agricultural fields and infrastructure. In this light, your acceptance of a prize administered by Tel Aviv University and awarded in the presence of the Israeli President Shimon Peres can only be interpreted by Palestinian civil society as complicity in whitewashing Israel’s crimes, colonization and system of apartheid. Your vast literary portfolio will forever be attached to the draconian machine of Israeli colonial and racist policy.

Last summer, following the assault on Gaza, the Israeli government announced a new effort to ‘rebrand’ Israel in the eyes of the world as a liberal nation enjoying membership in the Western club of democracies. In addition to the various forms of cultural outreach designed to highlight Israel’s achievements, this effort included inviting more writers and artists to Israel in order to show the ‘civilised’ side of Israel and help cover up the reality of occupation and the brutal treatment of the Palestinians. Your appearance in Israel would lend itself to this well-oiled campaign to whitewash Israel's grave violations of international law and basic human rights. Above everything else, it would serve to deflect attention away from Israel's three forms of oppression against the Palestinian people: the legalized and institutionalized system of racial discrimination against the Palestinian citizens of Israel; the military occupation of the West Bank, including East-Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip; and the continuous denial of the Palestinian refugees’ UN-sanctioned right to return to their homes and to receive just reparations.

These efforts cannot disguise the dark side of the story, the 43 years of an increasingly brutal military occupation, during which Israel systematically colonized Palestinian land with the goal of gradually emptying it of its original inhabitants in order to use it for the benefit of Jewish settlers. Despite the “peace process” which began years ago, Israel routinely violates the Palestinians’ most fundamental human rights with impunity, as documented by local and international human rights organisations. Israel extra-judicially kills Palestinian leaders and activists; keeps over 9,000 Palestinians imprisoned, including numerous members of parliament; subjects all Palestinians under occupation to daily humiliation, intimidation and military violence; and continues to construct and expand its colonial Wall, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague in July 2004.

Tel Aviv University, the institution administering this award, as other Israeli academic institutions, is notorious for its deep and well documented collaboration with the Israeli military and intelligence establishment, its racially exclusivist university policy toward Palestinian citizens of Israel, and its refusal to acknowledge its past and to commemorate the destroyed Palestinian village on which grounds it was built.

A comprehensive report by the Palestine Society at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) presents strong evidence of intensive, purposive and open institutional cooperation of TAU with the Israeli military establishment. TAU must therefore be condemned for providing cross-departmental legal, technological and strategic support for maintaining and deepening the Israeli occupation by assisting ongoing lethal assaults on the occupied Palestinian territories and by defending and justifying Israel’s occupation policies. These policies are implicitly and explicitly supported by TAU's Law Faculty which appointed an Israeli army colonel, Pnina Sharvit-Baruch, to its staff recently. As the army’s principal international law counsel Sharvit-Baruch is responsible for green-lighting the decision to target civilian infrastructure and for a ‘relaxing of the rules of engagement’ regarding civilians on the army’s International Law Division. The SOAS Report points out:

    “… (T)here is nothing unique about state institutions being implicated in the pursuit of state objectives, including security-related objectives. The tense military mobilisation of Jewish-Israeli society, its constant-war footing, and the closely related knowledge of circles which compose the defence research and development community in this comparatively small country, together amplify the role played by academic institutions in military affairs. TAU, as the largest university in Israel, is, unremarkably, at the centre of this militarization... Ultimately, …this collusion with the military amounts to the commissioning of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

With the Dan David Prize allegedly aiming “to foster universal values of…justice, democracy and progress and to promote the …humanistic achievements that advance and improve our world.” Tel Aviv University is only attempting to distract from its criminal record.

The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) National Committee recently stated that “Palestine today has become the test of our indispensible morality and common humanity.” In the face of decades of unrelenting oppression, Palestinian civil society has called upon supporters of the struggle for freedom and justice throughout the world to take a stand and heed our call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it recognises Palestinian rights and fully complies with international law. Many prominent international cultural figures including John Berger, Ken Loach, Arundhati Roy, Roger Waters, John Williams, among others, have declared their support for the boycott. Other renowned international artists, including Sting, Bono, Snoop Dog, Jean Luc Goddard and Joan Manuel Serrat have also heeded our call and cancelled their gigs or participation in festivals in Israel (see International Guidelines for the Academic Boycott of Israel).

In conclusion, and appealing to your sense of justice and moral consistency, we hope that, until Israel fully abides by international law, you shall treat it exactly as most of the world treated racist South Africa, or indeed any other state that legislates and practices apartheid: a pariah state. Only then can there be a real chance for a just peace in harmony with international law and based on equal human rights for all, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or other identity considerations. We urge you to reject the prize and to refuse to participate in a ceremony presided over by the head of a state accused of war crimes and other serious violations of international law.

Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) was launched in Ramallah in April 2004 by a group of Palestinian academics and intellectuals to join the growing international boycott movement. This statement was published on their website www.pacbi.org.

    An Open Letter to Margaret Atwood from Gaza: Don’t Stand on the Wrong Side of History

    Dear Ms. Atwood,

    We are students from Gaza representing more than 10 academic institutions therein. Our grandparents are refugees who were expelled from their homes in the 1948 Nakba. They still have their keys locked up in their closets and will pass them on to their children, our parents. Many of us have lost our fathers, some of us have lost our mothers, and some of us lost both in the last Israeli aggression against civilians in Gaza. Others still lost a body part from the flesh-burning white phosphorous that Israel used, and are now permanently physically challenged. Most of us lost our homes, and are now living in tents, as Israel refuses to allow basic construction materials into Gaza. And most of all, we are all still living in what has come to be a festering sore on humanity's conscience – the brutal, hermetic, medieval siege that Israel is perpetrating against us, the 1.5 million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip.

    Many of us have encountered your writing during our university studies. Although your books are not available in Gaza – because Israel does not allow books, paper, and other stationary in – we are familiar with your leftist, feminist, overtly political writing. And most of all, we are aware of your strong stance against apartheid. You admirably supported sanctions against apartheid South Africa and called for resistance against all forms of oppression.

    Now, we have heard that you are to receive a prize this spring at Tel Aviv University (TAU). We, the students of besieged Gaza, urge you not to go. As our professors, teachers and anti-apartheid comrades used to tell us, there was no negotiation with the brutal racist regime of South Africa. Nor was there much communication. Just one word: BOYCOTT. You must be aware that Israel was a sister state to the apartheid regime before 1994. Many South African anti-apartheid heroes, including Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have described Israel’s oppression as apartheid. Some describe Israeli settler-colonialism and occupation as surpassing apartheid’s evil. F-16s, F-15s, F-35s, Apache helicopters, Merkava tanks, and white phosphorous were not used against black townships.

    Ms. Atwood, in the Gaza concentration camp, students who have been awarded scholarships to universities abroad are prevented, every year, from pursuing their hard-earned opportunity for academic achievement. Within the Gaza Strip, those seeking an education are limited by increasing poverty rates and a scarcity of fuel for transportation, both of which are direct results of Israel’s medieval siege. What is TAU’s position vis-à-vis this form of illegal collective punishment, described by Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, as a “prelude to genocide?” Not a single word of condemnation has been heard from any Israeli academic institution!

    Participating in normal relations with Tel Aviv University is giving tacit approval to its racially exclusive policy toward Palestinian citizens of Israel. We are certain you would hate to support an institution that upholds so faithfully the apartheid system of its state. Tel Aviv University has a long and well-documented history of collaboration with the Israeli military and intelligence services. This is particularly shameful after Israel’s bloody military assault against the occupied Gaza Strip, which, according to leading international and local human rights organizations, left over 1,440 Palestinians dead and 5380 injured. We are certain you would hate to support an institution that supports a military apparatus that murdered over 430 children.

    By accepting the prize at Tel Aviv University, you will be indirectly giving a slight and inadvertent nod to Israel’s policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide. This university has refused to commemorate the destroyed Palestinian village on which it was built. That village is called Sheikh Muwanis, and it no longer exists as a result of Israel’s confiscation. Its people have been expelled.

    Let us remember the words of Archbishop Desmund Tutu: “if you choose to be neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” As such, we call upon you to say no to neutrality, no to being on the fence, no to normalization with apartheid Israel, not after the blood of more than 400 children has been spilt! No to occupation, repression, settler colonialism, settlement expansion, home demolition, land expropriation and the system of discrimination against the indigenous population of Palestine, and no to the formation of Bantustans in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip!

    Just as every citizen knew that s/he had a moral responsibility to boycott apartheid in South Africa after the Sharpeville massacre, Gaza 2009 was the world's wake-up call. All of Israel's academic institutions are state-run and state-funded. To partake of any of their prizes or to accept any of their blandishments is to uphold their heinous political actions. Israel has continually violated international law in defiance of the world. It is illegally occupying Palestinian land. It continues its aggression against the Palestinian people. Israel denies Palestinians all of the democratic liberties it so proudly, fictitiously flaunts. Israel is an apartheid regime that denies Palestinian refugees their right of return as sanctioned by UN resolution 194.

    Attending the symposium would violate the unanimously endorsed Palestinian civil society call for Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. This call is also directed toward international activists, artists, and academics of conscience, such as you. We are certain that you would love to be a part of the noble struggle against the apartheid, colonization and occupation that the Palestinian people have been subjected to for the past 61 years, a struggle that is ongoing.

    Ms. Atwood, we consider you to be what the late Edward Said called an “oppositional intellectual.” As such, and given our veneration of your work, we would be both emotionally and psychologically wounded to see you attend the symposium. You are a great woman of words, of that we have no doubt. But we think you would agree, too, that actions speak louder than words. We all await your decision.

    Besieged Gaza

    The Palestinian Students' Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI)

    Endorsed by The University Teachers’ Association in Palestine

Resources:

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Posted on: http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/337.php

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