I’m a Jewish American Who Wanted to Visit Israel. I Got as Far as the Airport.


Members of the interfaith delegation denied transit to Israel for supporting the BDS movement. (Photo courtesy of Noah Habeeb, second from left.)

A few days ago I prepared to take my first trip to Israel-Palestine as part of an interfaith delegation of human rights activists. I got as far as Dulles Airport.

Four other faith leaders and I — three of us Jewish, one Christian, and one Muslim — were prohibited from checking into our Lufthansa flight at the demand of the Israeli government.

Offered no documentation or explanation by Lufthansa officials, we could only presume this was punishment for our support of Palestinian human rights. This was confirmed when the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs told Haaretz that the travel ban was due to our support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

In my Jewish American family, I learned to engage critically with Israel, and after many years, I was ready to go and see with my own eyes the good and the bad: the land and sites that are holy to many, as well as the realities of Israeli occupation and institutional discrimination.

Unfortunately, the Israeli government wouldn’t let me.

Banned in TLV

I am heartbroken and angry that we’ve been denied this opportunity to travel. But this is far from the first instance of denial of entry, and it comes as no shock to me.

Israel has long enacted travel bans, mostly against Palestinians. Many Palestinian refugees and their descendants, displaced from their homes during the Nakba in 1948 — when over 750,000 Palestinians were made refugees — are not allowed to return. Many of those displaced during the 1967 War are also unable to return, despite the rights of refugees in international law.

Israel has also denied entry to international observers and human rights organizations.

The UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, Makarim Wibisono, was denied entry in 2015. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both been denied access to Gaza — where, according to Robert Piper, the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities, “the ‘unlivability threshold’ has already been passed.” Gazans currently receive between two to four hours of electricity daily and lack clean drinking water, while living under Israeli occupation and siege.

Like the denial of entry to international observers, the activist ban is part of a “see no evil” strategy to deny access to the reality on the ground, and in doing so chill human rights activism.

Suppression of BDS Activism

The activist ban targets supporters of the BDS movement, a Palestinian-led movement for justice and freedom calling on Israel to end the 1967 occupation, end the institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians living in Israel, and uphold the right of refugees to return. Like all boycott movements — from the American South to South Africa — the goal of BDS is to become obsolete: When Israel stops infringing on Palestinian rights, BDS will end.

Today, the BDS movement counts 200 successes in the United States alone.

Campaigns have successfully targeted corporations like Veolia, G4S, and Sodastream for their complicity in Israeli occupation and apartheid; passed over 50 resolutions at universities and colleges, as well as academic associations like the American Studies Association, Women’s Studies Association, and Peace and Justice Studies Association; and led divestment efforts in faith communities, including major U.S. churches like the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church.

The success of the BDS movement is also evident in the repression faced by activists. In many states, legislation has been passed that punishes or suppresses BDS activism. And pending legislation in the U.S. Congress would criminalize BDS, with penalties as severe as 20 years imprisonment and $ 1 million in fines, which the ACLU deems “civil and criminal punishment on individuals solely because of their political beliefs about Israel and its policies.”

In Israel, an anti-boycott law allows for civil suits to be filed against anybody who supports boycotts, even those that only target illegal settlements. And in March, the Knesset passed a bill forbidding entry or residency to those who advocate for BDS — that’s the law which purportedly prohibits my entry.

Next Year in Jerusalem?

As my fellow delegate Shakeel Sayed said, “The holy land does not belong to any one group of people. All people belong to the holy land.”

My denial of entry makes even clearer what I already knew: Israel is not a democratic state where true dissent is allowed. Of course, a true democracy doesn’t keep millions of people under military occupation for decades or discriminate against them under apartheid either.

But perhaps just as significant is what my denial says about Israel as a Jewish state.

There’s no denying that barring Jews, including a rabbi, from the “Jewish state” is significant. As many have documented, Israel has always been for some Jews at the expense of Palestinians and other Jews. For example, many Mizrahim, or “Oriental” Jews, were settled in ma’abarot — transit camps consisting mostly of Mizrahim like themselves, who were expected to assimilate to European Jewish customs before becoming a part of Israel. A few resisted by demanding resettlement in the countries they’d come from.

Once again, as one Israeli minister warned recently, the “rules of the game have changed.” Israel is now only for Jews who don’t dissent.

“I promise that my activism to restore the dignity and honor of the people in Palestine will not stop, but will double down,” Shakeel vowed. And I promise that, too — so that if not next year, some day soon, all people will have access to justice and peace in Israel-Palestine.

Follow along with our #JustFaith17 delegation here to see what Israel was so afraid for the #interfaith5 see.


Why I’m (Reluctantly) Sitting Out ‘Wonder Woman’


(Photo: Flickr/ BagoGames)

If you’re anything like me, the release of a new superhero movie is one of the few things that will make you willingly spend $ 15 on a movie ticket without cringing too much. As a self-identified comics nerd and feminist, a Wonder Woman movie especially should have thrilled me.

Finally, this superheroine, who since her origin has been hailed as a symbol for femaleempowerment, is getting her time to shine in the Hollywood spotlight. And women everywhere are finally seeing themselves represented onscreen in a comic book superhero world that’s still dominated by men.

And they’re really turning out: Wonder Woman has already brought in over $ 600 million worldwide, putting it on track to be the highest-grossing film ever directed by a woman.

So, why can’t I bring myself to see it? Let me give a little context.

While it can seem contradictory given her status as a crime-fighting superhero, the original Wonder Woman (alter ego Diana Prince) — an Amazonian descended from Greek gods — is a heroine that embodies peace, love, and truth over violence and war. Since her first appearance in the 1940s, she’s symbolized self-reliance and the strength of women.

So naturally, Wonder Woman has been hailed as a significant moment for women in cinema. Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly had this to say about it: “How deliciously ironic that in a genre where the boys seem to have all the fun, a female hero and a female director are the ones to show the fellas how it’s done.”

Reviews for Gal Gadot, the actress playing Wonder Woman, are equally praiseful. Rafer Guzman from Newsday hails her “titanium-strength” performance, while Kate Erbland of IndieWire lauds the “gravitas and emotion” the Israeli actress brings to her character’s “insistence on battling for humanity (no matter how frequently they disappoint).”

How ironic.

Ironic that this movie, starring Gadot — a woman who served as a combat trainer for the Israeli Defense Forces — is being hailed as a triumph for humanity. Ironic that Gadot, who publicly stated her support for the IDF during some of its most controversial periods, seems to be personally against everything her character stands for.

As a feminist, I’d love more than anything to be excited about this movie. But as a Palestinian, I can’t set aside my identity for two hours and root for a character that now feels deeply compromised to me.

Israel has repeatedly transgressed upon the rights of Palestinians as people, particularly in its actions towards the Gaza strip. In the summer of 2014, as Israel launched an assault on Gaza that killed 1,500 civilians and wounded and displaced tens of thousands more, Gadot voiced her support for the IDF in a since deleted post on her social media. “I am sending my love and prayers,”  she wrote, “to all the boys and girls who are risking their lives protecting my country against the horrific acts conducted by Hamas, who are hiding like cowards behind women and children… We shall overcome!!! Shabbat Shalom!”

The post ended with a slew of hashtags: “#weareright #freegazafromhamas #stopterror #coexistance [sic] #loveidf.”

There are a few reasons I disagree with this specific post, but none of them have anything to do with Gadot being Israeli. It’s completely within her right to show support for her fellow Israelis, and I have no love for Hamas. What is problematic, however, is her stance that the IDF was justified in attacking Gaza because of Hamas’ alleged use of human shields, an idea that was debunked by reputable human rights groups.

In fact, while they also criticized Hamas, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both reported on Israeli war crimes during the 2014 conflict, in which the IDF repeatedly targeted civilians in schools and hospitals. Most of the civilians killed were women and children, the same group of people Gadot claimed needed freeing.

Of course, there’s a history here.

My family comes from Palestine, specifically from the city of Ramallah. Israeli forces pushed them out shortly after the 1948 war. They were forced to leave behind the only world they knew, walk to neighboring Jordan, and start a new life with nothing but the clothes on their backs and fears of the unknown that lay before them.

I’m not saying that someone who comes from the other side of that conflict, or someone whose views differ from my own, shouldn’t be able to become an actress or make movies. That would be ridiculous.

But for those calling Gadot a champion for women’s rights and a trailblazer for more feminist, female-led movies, I have to wonder: Is that feminism for everyone? Does it include women in Gaza and the West Bank, and women like me?

Truthfully, it feels like we’ve been swept to the side by white feminists eager to praise this movie at its surface level.

Yet despite it all, I’m conflicted. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t warm my heart to read about little girls dressed as Wonder Woman in awe to see a strong, female superhero representing them. I want them to see themselves onscreen and to know that women can absolutely be trailblazers and leaders. I just wish it wasn’t someone like Gadot at the center of all this.

So, for the first time ever, I’ll be keeping my $ 15 in my wallet and will not enthusiastically wait in line to see a superhero movie. My feminism is for everyone, and I can’t turn it off to see Gadot and her film receive applause for feminism they don’t deserve.


Why I’m Ready to Get Arrested with Restaurant Workers

John Cavanagh, director of the Institute for Policy Studies, at a rally with Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC).

John Cavanagh, director of the Institute for Policy Studies, at a rally with Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC).

Under the banners of Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening, we will be sticking our necks out to demand an end to the destructive influence of big money on our politics and the need to enfranchise all people.

I have signed up to risk getting arrested on April 13. Why that day? I want to show my support for the worker advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) as they take on one of the prime examples of excessive money in politics: the National Restaurant Association.

The “other NRA,” as ROC likes to call this corporate lobby group, is holding their own Washington mobilization on April 13. They will be the flooding Capitol Hill with hundreds of high-powered lobbyists attempting to buy congressional votes for policies that will increase profits for a $ 787 billion industry while trampling workers.

Here’s just one example of their staggering power: for a quarter of a century, this mouthpiece for the country’s largest restaurant chains has successfully commandeered members of Congress to keep the tipped minimum wage for restaurant servers and other tipped workers at the paltry sum of $ 2.13 per hour. Yes $ 2.13.

Even on the rare occasions when Congress voted to increase the federal minimum wage, the NRA has managed to get tipped workers excluded. The NRA has also used their financial muscle to oppose many other worker-friendly reforms, including paid sick leave and affordable health care, as well as a long list of food safety rules.

ROC’s irrepressible co-director, Saru Jayaraman, has written a riveting new book, Forked: A New Standard for American Dining, which contrasts the “low-road” approaches of many of the top NRA members with the growing number of “high-road” restaurants that are proving decent working conditions can be good for business.

Meanwhile, millions of restaurant workers, especially women and people of color, are still working under poor conditions. A ROC survey concluded that an overwhelming majority of women servers feel pressured to endure sexual harassment from customers, in order to not lose out on tips.

My colleague Marc Bayard, who runs IPS’s Black Worker Initiative, has also pointed out that women and minorities are overly represented in these “tipped wage” professions (i.e. bartending, waitresses), with women representing 72 percent of all tipped workers and minorities representing 38 percent. Overall, tipped workers are twice as likely to be impoverished and half of all bartenders and servers are in need of federal assistance.

Why doesn’t Congress act to protect restaurant workers instead of doing the NRA’s bidding?

The Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political spending, calls the NRA “a powerful force in the nation’s capital.” The Association spent $ 4.2 million lobbying at the federal level in 2015. More importantly, they coordinate and supply talking points for lobbyists employed by their 52,000 corporate members. The NRA also plays a major role in fighting worker and consumer protections at the state level.

In the face of this assault, ROC is also organizing the rest of us to use our power as diners to counter the power of the restaurant lobby. They are also partnering with a “high-road” restaurant owner network called RAISE, which is advocating for better standards in the industry and providing an alternative to the NRA.

This election season has exposed that millions of people in this country are fed up about corporate money in politics. Groups like ROC and the hundreds of others that are leading the Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening mobilizations are working to build the power that can counter the NRA and other corporate lobby groups.

Everyone who cares about the state of our democracy should join them.

The post Why I’m Ready to Get Arrested with Restaurant Workers appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

John Cavanagh is the director of the Institute for Policy Studies.


“Why I’m Fasting For Freedom” – by Katie Bergman

“A church that’s lost its voice for justice is a church that’s lost its relevance in the world.” (Richard Stearns, author of The Hole in Our Gospel)

As a young girl, I remember listening to missionaries speak to our church about their profound experiences while serving in developing countries around the world.  Their riveting presentations helped instill an irrepressible passion for justice in me, which I desired to turn into a vocation as I grew up.  Along the way, however, I began receiving the impression that people who gave up their income, sold their possessions, and left their countries to serve others were anomalies—they had some sort of special calling, while the rest of us were to be content with remaining in the pew.

Today, I consider this a fallacy.  It’s erroneous to believe that the extent of a Christian’s calling is to merely avoid the most serious of sins and to show up to church on Sunday morning.  Faith must have an element of action, an outward expression to some extent.  Unfortunately, many churches today find themselves immobilized and detached from effective methods of engagement.  Considering the total income of American churchgoers is $ 5.2 trillion, it is obvious that “a lack of money is not our problem” (Richard Stearns).  It’s a lack of will.

Retreating from the world’s problems is not an option for a person committed to following a God that calls for the “chains of injustice” to be untied (Isaiah 58).  Sacrificing comfort, stability, and security in order to actively serve others was Jesus’ mission statement.  With the Bible containing almost 2,000 passages pertaining to social justice, there is no rationalization for the Christian church’s apathy.

We can continue to pray for our missionaries, of course.  And naturally, we can send away a portion of the contents of the offering plate to them.  But what if a missionary didn’t have to be a person travelling thousands of miles across the ocean to foreign lands in order to ameliorate suffering?  What if we used the ground we are walking upon–right here, right now–as our own personal mission field?

In Luke 4:18, we are called to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners, to set the oppressed free.”  That is why I am choosing to stand in solidarity with thousands of others in the Abolitionist Faith Community who want to combine spirituality with direct, concrete, and meaningful action—by Fasting For Freedom.  During the 40 days of Lent, I am fasting from one meal a day and paying forward the amount of money I would’ve spent on that meal to Not For Sale.  The funds Not For Sale receives will be invested into creating and growing social enterprises that employ survivors of human trafficking and empower vulnerable communities.

Not For Sale is founded upon a clear, solution-based principle: we all have a role in the modern-day abolitionist movement.  We are all connected to the global slave trade, but we are also in the position to end it.  If you’re a person of faith, put it to action.  If you’re a student, then challenge your peers to become more educated and engaged.  If you’re a consumer, then make your purchase your advocacy.

Faith does not have to be legalistic.  Faith can transcend the rituals of attending church, studying scripture, and praying.  It can become a results-producing, world-changing, slavery-ending social revolution.

Katie is a member of the Not For Sale Fellowship. CLICK HERE to learn about how you can apply to be a Fellow, and visit their blog here.


Ella Silverman, World Of Good, Supply Chains, and Why I’m Going to SOCAP09


Ella Silverman, our Executive Director, will be presenting at the SoCap 2009 Conference in San Francisco on September 2. Earlier this week, Jon Axtell from SoCap interviewed her for a blog posting about the upcoming event. Check out Jon’s interview below. You can read the original posting here.


By Jon Axtell

How do we create effective social enterprises that reach to the core constituencies that need them most? Working with supply chains and logistics for 2 years, one thinks about how you can improve processes to be both more efficient but more importantly, more effective. This was at the forefront of my mind when I first attended SOCAP08 and it’s for this reason that I enjoyed speaking with Ella Silverman of World Of Good Development Organizationabout SOCAP09 this week. She focused primarily on effectively representing informal workers who are often overlooked by investors and supply chain managers. On an even bigger scale, she stressed the importance of building new corporate structures that grease and ease the capital and process flows of a social enterprise like World of Good Development Organization.

World of Good Development Organization has partnered with over 700 businesses and NGOs to increase wages for low-income homeworkers, especially women in 61 developing world countries leading to increased earnings for more than 25,000 workers by, on average, 20 percent.

Former TransFair fair trade chocolate program manager, Ella Silverman eventually joined the partnership with eBay to launch WorldofGood.com = “to create market opportunities for people and planet positive products.” She is now Executive Director of World of Good Development Organization (501c3), the sister non-profit of World of Good, Inc. Together these organizations form a hybrid enterprise that allows each entity to act in its own interests, while mutually supporting one another at key junctures to reinforce the overarching goal of large-scale poverty alleviation. Ella Silverman had a lot to say about the way in which World of Good Development Organization fits into the Social Capital spectrum and why she is anticipating her time at SOCAP09.

Q: Where do you see World of Good Development Agency fitting into the Social Capital MarketLandscape?

Ella Silverman: When we talk about Social Investments we need to talk about suppliers. Many organizations have standards for formal workers, but many do not represent informal workers. Informal workers play a major role in supply chains and we need to look closely at how our investments influence these individuals workers. Informal workers may be clothing makers, handicraft workers, or help to create other consumer goods. At World of Good Development Organization we seek to be a voice for the informal worker and seek to create real metrics that support these workers. We looked at Fair Trade standards for the non-commodities sector and created our own metrics for evaluation. We look at wages, the time it takes workers to create a good, their inputs, and help the investor measure the informal-workers working standards.

Q: What made you want to come to SOCAP09?

The thing I saw as different about SOCAP09 was that it wasn’t about baby-steps forward towards change, it was about a real push forward. The people and organizations involved in the movement are innovators and have the ability to influence the direction of the future. The way I view SOCAP09 is that it is a movement coupled with an industry.

Q: What questions do you hope to see raised at SOCAP09?

The painfully obvious question that I think we all have is, how will the recession influence the future? Launching into next year, what impact does the recession have on the way we do things?

Another topic that is on my mind, and on the mind of many others is how we will resolve the issues of social enterprise formation. World of Good has been a flagship for hybrid models and has worked hard to search for sustainable methods for dealing with the current legal situation for social enterprises. I’m very interested in hearing about new developments in corporate structuring because we all know this has to change. “

So why am I going to SOCAP09? I’m going so that I can be a part of the movement Ella Silverman spoke of.  The Social Capital Markets movement finds its effectiveness and efficiency in the fact that it is not just a fad, but a real industry that is developing rapidly.Join Ella Silverman, Martin Fisher of Kickstart, Scott Leonard of Indigenous Designs, and Wes Selke of Good Capital as they lead a panel titled “Supply Chains: How Do You Make Sure the Value Goes all the Way Down?” on day 2 of SOCAP09.

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