Tag Archives: pope francis

Simone Zimmerman – how the Sanders campaign clarified their message

Trigger warning: Israel/Palestine conflict, antisemitism, islamophobia, racism

The Sanders campaign caught a significant amount of flack this weekend for his trip to Rome to meet with Pope Francis. Just in terms of the optics – the deference it suggested to an institution wracked recently and historically by criticism, particularly over its role in socio-economic inequalities – the meeting clashed with Sanders’ primary political message of the need for a popular voice in more spheres of life. Or did it?

A second scandal of sorts for his campaign broke earlier last week, and called into question whether Sanders’ campaign is about social and economic justice anymore. In short, what transpired was that his campaign hired a young Jewish activist, Simone Zimmerman, only to “suspend” her mere hours later over comments unearthed from her personal Facebook dating back to the spring of 2015. Angered over Israeli military policies, she typed this out, addressing then and current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

Bibi Netanyahu is an arrogant, deceptive, cynical, manipulative asshole. He is the embodiment of the ugliest national hubris and the tone-deafness toward the international community. Fuck you, Bibi, for daring to insist that you legitimately represent even a fraction of the Jews in this world, for your consistent fear-mongering, for pushing Israel, in word and deed, farther and farther away from the international community, and most importantly, for trying to derail the potentially historic diplomatic deal with Iran and thus trying to distract the world from the fact that you sanctioned the murder of over 2,000 people this summer, that a brutal military occupation of millions more continues under your watch, and that you are spending time and money on ridiculous campaign opportunities like this instead of actually working to address the real needs of your own people.

Netanyahu insulted our President but also much worse. He does not speak for me as a Jew, an American, and as a thinking person. #BibiDoesntSpeakForMe

She later modified it to cut out the swearing, saying instead “Shame on you”. The Sanders campaign is not just any campaign, and the decision to suspend Zimmerman over this discovered comment uniquely calls into question their political vision and policy prescriptions. In this race, his rhetoric has often been accused of being one note, with his emphasis on not only economic inequality but the need to reform the political process to limit campaign contributions. That is an important political question, and Sanders himself has spoken about the haunting questions is raises about whether we still live under a truly democratic system.

It’s also a loftily abstract issue in politics, that the average person contends with directly only once in a few years. A more every day issue of freedom of speech, tied into the reality of insurgent campaigns like Sanders, is whether people with less can be coerced into particular statements or political silence. In the age of the internet this has leaped from an issue about bosses demanding their employees take off the bumper sticker on their car, to now the ability of employers to fire or punish their employees over literally anything traceable to them online – like a Facebook post, even before it was edited. Sanders just made a statement about where he stands on the more colloquial experience average people have with the intersection of economic and political power.

Setting aside the issue of freedom speech, this speaks to the thorny place Sanders finds himself in terms of outreach towards Jewish communities. Reminiscent of the liberal if not socialist Zionism of a bygone era of Jewish politics, he has limited appeal to more modern Zionist circles. Given his policies on Israel, however, anti-Zionist Jewish activists, like Zimmerman, have historically found themselves in even greater dissonance with him. His choice to hire Zimmerman, in fact, was seen as a sign of changing ideas about which Jewish circles require outreach and what that would typically sound like.

2016-04-18_0746(From a New York rally held the year before, credit to Martyna Starosta.)

By pivoting back into staffing decisions in line with a more traditionally Zionist Jewish politics, the Sanders campaign has echoed what I’ve noted in their politics for months now: a focus on whittling down what the supposed political revolution will be about. Reparations have been declared as outside the purview of economic injustice, now implicit criticism of Zionism is beyond a similar pale. This is a facet of his political organization that’s increasingly hard to ignore.

In fact, one of the heralds of this moment in which Sanders’ revolutionary politics shrank back is eerily relevant. In one of the year’s first Democratic debates, Sanders spoke about the economic and political elites in Qatar and Saudi Arabia as if they not only were representative of the broader population, but also as ultimately responsible for resolving problems in entirely other states just in the same larger region of the world.

Now, he’s suspended a staffer, over her declaring that the head of a state in that part of the world, who claimed to speak for her, was not truly representing her. Sanders’ previous discussion of the region acted as if someone like Zimmerman, a person categorized on paper by certain ethnic or national words like “Qataris” or “Saudis” or “Jews,” was not meaningfully different from most others roped together with those words.

He sure showed her with a suspension.

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Looking away and laughing

TW: Argentinian “Dirty War”, torture, indefinite detention, police brutality, violence against protesters

So yesterday, amid assorted allegations (re)surfacing about the now sitting Pope, this happened:

Erick Erickson tweeting
(Tweet from yesterday, by former CNN commentator Erick Erickson.)

Um, okay then Mr. Erickson. There’s quite a few things that could be said about that type of joke, which I already jumped a bit into last week, but in the meanwhile let’s talk about the humor that people often deploy while trying to distance themselves from and trivialize violence. If you, as Erickson later explained himself, are able to somehow twist this into something else entirely, I honestly have no idea what to say to you.

For those of you who are still reading, allow me to clarify: some of the allegations against the current Pope are indeed false. The Guardian has retracted what they originally published about him in 2011 (namely that he might have allowed the Argentinian junta to move political prisoners onto Church-controlled islands in order to hide them, which seems to be what Erickson was basing his complaint off of). But aside from that, there’s the small matter of him having informed the Argentinian government of a fellow Jesuit he suspected of coordinating with feminine religious orders, guerrillas, and otherwise earned being deported (after being detained and tortured by Bergoglio’s own admission). Isn’t that pretty Pontius Pilate of him?

Bergoglio's memo to the Argentinian government urging the deportation of a Jesuit Priest
(The original document he had sent to the Argentinian government to request the deportation of another Jesuit priest.)

There’s a sort of confusing response that seems to typically crop up over these sorts of situations – where an ostensibly “conservative” or “traditional” government is killing and torturing thousands of people. It seems to be that many celebrate and are entertained by the violence against those they deem as deserving it, but on some level realize that that will be frowned on and deemed unacceptable. So, they joke about those disappeared, while denying that the disappearances happened (or, at least, that anyone prominent in Argentinian politics at the time could possibly have been involved). It’s a strategy of simultaneously reveling in and denying the existence of terrible violence.

That’s unfortunately a very relevant perspective to watch for appearing around Brooklyn today. In the wake of the police shooting Kimani Gray, a purportedly unarmed sixteen year old Black youth in the East Flatbush area, protests against those sorts of incidents failed to pass the police’s test of what was acceptable. As people were imprisoned and homes searched without warrants, the police also managed to remove most professional media from the area. In a very real sense, violence has been doled out in the past few days against an entire community in Brooklyn, and most our society has decided to look the other way.

Still, some accounts slip through. You can read descriptions like this one:

Towards the end of the night, a group of teenagers standing on a curb were taunting a few cops standing several feet away in the street. After a few minutes and seemingly unprovoked, an officer reached onto the sidewalk to grab one of the teenagers, who took off running. This sparked an all out foot-chase, with officers in hot pursuit of the runner and some of the NYPD’s less athletic members cheering their fellow officers on. The runner cut down a side street, media and police giving chase. The suspect got away, but about halfway down the street police briefly detained a separate young man who was going home for the night. He was black—as was the runner—and immediately informed the police that he wasn’t the person they were looking for. One cop was heard explaining that he was on orders from his sergeant to arrest him. While several white cops walked the wrong man toward a police van, they ultimately decided to let him go.

Or you can simply see a few of the clandestine photographs of the situation. Or you can hear about how everyone arrested under suspicion of “rioting” is being held for an extended period. Hopefully those sorts of depictions of what’s actually happening right now in one part of the most populous city in the United States will make you think.

Hopefully, the last thing they’ll make you do is laugh.

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A run down of the wars

TW: Korean War, Philippine-Malaysian tensions, Argentinian “Dirty War”, drone strikes

War was all over the news today, let’s just take a quick assessment of it all.

  • Just before joint military exercises between South Korea and the US, North Korea has sent several signals suggesting that they might be interested in reengaging the South in another armed conflict. The last time everyone considered that they were likely to do so (in 2010) more than a few people cited analysis from 2005 (again, when everyone expected something to happen) that suggested huge casualties would be likely if the war did reignite. Buried under all the paranoia is an actually important point: if the war, which technically has only ceased rather than ended, started again in earnest, hundreds of thousands are likely to die. That, among other pieces of evidence, does point towards this being yet another bluff on the part of the North Korea leadership. Unfortunately, there seem to be diminishing returns as North Korea has to increasingly concern China, South Korea, and the US in order to not be easily labeled as only being aggressive to jockey for aid.
  • Military conflicts between East Malaysians and militarized Filipin@ groups in the Sabah province have gotten the Philippine state involved now as unaffiliated Filipin@ individuals have been targeted by the Malaysian police. Ironically, exacerbating the land conflict wasn’t the intention of the Sulu Sultanate, the Filipin@ group in question, who simply wanted the regular allowance paid by the Malaysian government for having displaced their government to be raised. As tensions have worsened, that actually seems to be becoming a less likely outcome.
  • With the selection of the Archbishop of Argentina to hold papal office, many old wounds about the “Dirty War” in Argentina have been reopened. Was Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) among the high-ranking Catholics that sought to soften the blow of the military regime by keeping pregnant political prisoners alive, only to kill them after they gave birth? Is his sense of fidelity to Christian principles so thin?

What’s striking is how many of the instigators (or alleged accessory in Pope Francis’ case) were loath to actually initiate or perpetuate conflicts. They didn’t seem to be interested in killing or causing the death of anyone, but their political interests allowed them to risk that, or even cause or participate in it to maintain an unsustainable class division within North Korea, to lobby for greater dispensation from the Malaysian government, and to protect some perceived victims in the midst of state-sponsored killings.


(A Pakistani woman protesting the use of drones in 2011, from here.)

I think that’s an important thing to meditate on, when examining your own beliefs. Would they let you get to the same place as Kim Il-Sung, the Sultanate of Sulu, or Pope Francis?

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