On September 29, CODEPINK activist Rae Abileah spoke at Beyt Tikkun synagogue-without-walls in Berkeley, to mark the start of Rosh Hashanah. In the course of her remarks—on her long fight against Israel’s occupation of Gaza—she talked about that day last May when Benjamin Netanyahu spoke in Congress, and she stood up against him:
Which brings me to the incident for which I’ve become most recently notorious. Four months ago I received a ticket to hear Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu address a joint session of Congress. When I entered the Capital building in DC on that bright and sunny morning in May I could not have predicted what was to happen.
I sat in the Congressional Gallery alongside K Street’s finest array of right-wing lobbyists, many of whom were touting AIPAC badges, and watched our elected officials give Netanyahu a hero’s welcome. During the talk, when Netanyahu was praising young people rising up for democracy in the Middle East, and I took my cue to stand up, unfurl a banner, and shout, “No More Occupation! Stop Israeli War Crimes! Equal Rights for Palestinians!”
Immediately, I was pulled, gagged and flung to the floor by other members of the audience. Police dragged me out of the Capitol, and an ambulance whisked me to the hospital, where I was treated for neck and shoulder injuries and put under arrest for disrupting Congress. After I disrupted, Netanyahu said to his Congressional audience, “You can’t have these protests in farcical governments of Tehran or Tripoli; this is real democracy.”
Abileah: I called for equal rights for Palestinians (Photo: EPA)
That righteous honk of self-congratulation might have been a little less Orwellian if Abileah weren’t just then being mauled by AIPAC goons and White House cops—an application of “democracy” that put her in the hospital with neck and shoulder injuries. (She was arrested while receiving treatment there.)
As Abileah noted at the time, and then again last week, Netanyahu’s paean to “real democracy” was quite a hoot not just because a dissident was getting pummeled right before his eyes, but, of course, because of Israel’s routine handling of “nonviolent protesters in the West Bank—where marches are met with tear-gas, rubber bullets and arrests.”
“What kind of a democracy do we live in when free speech is met with brutality and arrest?” Abileah asked in Berkeley. Whether it’s in Gaza or this nation’s Capitol (or in downtown Manhattan, for that matter), such treatment of dissent is clearly not “democracy” at all, but something else.
And to see exactly what it is—and how AIPAC and its supporters really think about democracy—we needn’t look so far away as Gaza. To see how AIPAC really feels about democracy, let’s look back at another moment when another idealistic young American, and Jew, dared (or tried) to speak out publicly against a brutal movement:
IT CAN HAPPEN HERE — and it did when violence flared at this Nazi meeting in New York
These pictures show what happened at the “Americanism” meeting of the Amerikadeutscher Volksbund (German-American League) at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 20, when a 26-year-old unemployed plumber’s helper named Isadore Greenbaum rushed Fritz Kuhn, Bund head, as he was vilifying Jews. Newsreel shots of this violent scene were withdrawn from theaters after two days when managers complained they incited audiences to riot.
As Kuhn spoke in his thick German accent, Greenbaum sprang towards the rostrum. Catching Kuhn’s uniformed storm troopers (Ordnungsdienst) off guard, he got to within six feet of Kuhn before a storm trooper tackled him. Four more rushed at him, dragged him down, beat him. Above the shrieks of women and the uproar of the crowd, Greenbaum, fighting furiously, shouted, “Down with Hitler!” Police finally arrived, dragged storm troopers of Greenbaum and took him to court. Next day he was released after he was fined for disturbing the peace.
That account from 1939 (in Life) does not make clear that Greenbaum stormed the stage to grab the microphone, and not to take a swing at Kuhn. “I went down to the Garden without any intention of interrupting,” he said at his arraignment, “but being that they talked so much against my religion and there was so much persecution I lost my head and I felt it was my duty to talk.”
“Don’t you realize that innocent people might have been killed?” Magistrate Andrews asked him.”
“Do you realize that plenty of Jewish people might be killed with their persecution up there?” Greenbaum replied.
Thus Greenbaum got beat up by Nazi thugs, and then arrested by the cops, for speaking out against a brutal movement; and he was not the only one, as many others, mostly leftists, came to protest that night’s rally—and the cops came down on them. They presented affidavits charging that “numbers of anti-Fascists who were doing nothing but exercising their constitutional right of picketing the meeting in a peaceful fashion were ridden down and trampled by mounted police and brutally beaten by uniformed and plainclothes policeman.”
So what’s the difference between Rea Abileah’s experience in Congress, and Isadore Greenbaum’s in New York, decades earlier?
Certainly the two were speaking up for different peoples—Abileah for the Palestinians, Greenbaum for the Jews—and so the likes of AIPAC will no doubt hail him while damning her, since they see everyone as either Friend or Traitor to “the Jews” (i.e., themselves), and, obviously, Greenbaum = Friend, while Abileah = Traitor.
Thus blinded by that livid tribal view, AIPAC can’t (and/or won’t) see that, even though they would have been on Greenbaum’s side back then (or like to think they would have been), today they’re no more tolerant of “real democracy” than Fritz Kuhn and his comrades were back then (the only difference being that those ebullient fascists never would have paid lip service to “democracy” as Netanyahu did). In both cases, someone had the guts to stand up and say no—and got beat up for it, and dragged away, and everybody there was glad to see it.
Code Pink Activist Rae Abileah addresses members of the Network of Spiritual Progressives at Beyt Tikkun High Holiday services Sept. 29, 2011
by Michael Lerner
October 3, 2011
Shana tova! I am so moved to be here in prayer with this vibrant, strong, brilliant community, and to be standing here on the bima in front of you all is something I could never have dreamed of.
I feel I am in the company of friends, of family, speaking with you all, as I know that a central tenant of this community is a dedication to tikkun olam, to the practice of repairing and healing the world and ourselves. The common ground we walk on is the commitment to creating a more just and joyous world. And this morning I want to share my story with you – the abbreviated version – I promise! – and besides folks I haven’t lived that long yet… — and I want to share my process of t’shuvah with you.
I was born and raised in the rocking era of the 1980s in a land not very far, far away from here – but with an intimate reverence for a land very far away – the country of Israel. Even in the small coastal town of Half Moon Bay where I grew up, there was some occasional anti-Jewish teasing on the playground. So the idea of a Jewish state fortified by an army to protect the Jews from future annihilation felt comforting. And the concept, as it was explained to me, of “a land without a people for a people without a land” seemed to make sense.