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.


Don’t Let Corporations Pick What Websites You Visit


(Photo: Flickr/ Backbone Campaign)

Think about the websites you visit. The movies you stream. The music you listen to online. The animal videos that are just too cute not to share.

Now think about the freedom to use the internet however and whenever you choose being taken away from you. That’s exactly what Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and other Internet Service Providers (ISPs), are trying to do.

Right now, those companies are constrained by a principle called net neutrality — the so-called “guiding principle of the internet.” It’s the idea that people should be free to access all the content available online without ISPs dictating how, when, and where that content can be accessed.

In other words, net neutrality holds that the company you pay for internet access can’t control what you do online.

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission adopted strong net neutrality rules that banned ISPs from slowing down connection speeds to competing services — e.g., Comcast can’t slow down content or applications specific to Verizon because it wants you to switch to their services — or blocking websites in an effort to charge individuals or companies more for services they’re already paying for.

But now the open internet as we know it is under threat again. Net neutrality rules are in danger of being overturned by Donald Trump’s FCC chairman Ajit Pai and broadband companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon.

But these corporations aren’t doing this alone. They’re getting help from at least eight handpicked members of Congress, all Republicans (Paul Ryan being the most notable), who’ve signed statements of support for overturning the neutrality rules.

Why? All we need to do is follow the money.

These eight lawmakers have all received significant campaign contributions from these corporations. That means the big broadband corporations and their special interest groups are attempting — and succeeding — to influence policymakers’ decisions on rules that affect us all.

The fun doesn’t stop there.

Ajit Pai — the FCC chairman bent on overturning net neutrality — is a former lawyer for Verizon, one of the very companies petitioning to have the rules changed. Lately Pai has been citing an academic paper arguing that the FCC “eschewed economics and embraced populism as [its] guiding principle” in making decisions on issues like net neutrality.

The catch? This paper wasn’t written by independent experts. It was funded and commissioned by CALinnovates, a telecommunications industry trade group. Their biggest member? None other than AT&T, which stands to benefit a lot if these rules are overturned.

This is just one example of “information laundering,” in which corporate-commissioned research is being used to further corporate agendas. It’s just another way corporations are using their money and influence to lobby members of Congress.

During a recent day of action, major websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google stood up in defense of net neutrality by using pop-up ads, GIFs, and videos to inform the public of the issue and ask them to tell the FCC to “preserve the open Internet.”

You too can fight back against corporate influence by calling the FCC and telling them you won’t give up your right to use the Internet the way you want.


Sunburn for March 28 – Gov. Scott signs raft of bills; Big reads about HIV, Visit Florida; Fundraisers and … – Florida Politics (blog)

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Hipocresia! A Revolutionary Perspective On Obama’s Visit to Cuba

A lot is being said about President Obama’s visit to Cuba, the increased engagement between the two countries, but I felt like there’s not enough of the conversation coming from those who are friendly to the Cuban revolution. So I first wanted to start with your assessment, overall broadly, about what you see happening, and particularly what you see given your long work with international political struggles, your work with the Cuban Five, your depth of knowledge with Cuban history and its relation to struggles in this country and around the world.

Watch the interview on the Real News Network’s website.

The post Hipocresia! A Revolutionary Perspective On Obama’s Visit to Cuba appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Netfa Freeman is a policy analyst and events coordinator at the Institute for Policy Studies.


On Heels of Obama’s Historic Visit to Cuba, Advocates to Gather in Washington

For immediate release: March 23, 2016


Washington, DC-The International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity is returning to Washington next month to increase pressure on President Barack Obama to do more to reduce the impact of the failed 55-year-old blockade against Cuba, and to encourage Congress to pass legislation to finally eliminate it entirely.

President Obama and the executive branch continue to announce new regulations that ease restrictions against Cuba in such areas as travel and commerce, yet the teeth of the criminal blockade against Cuba remains intact.

The International Committee, accompanied by dozens of supporters from across the United States and beyond, will descend on Washington from April 18-22 for a second “Days of Action against the Blockade.

They not only will undertake grassroots advocacy visits to the offices of Senators and members of the House of Representatives, but also stage a community forum, Through Cuban Eyes,” to provide Americans with a Cuban perspective on what’s been happening in Cuba and the real state of U.S.-Cuban relations.

The key note speaker at the April 22nd community forum will be  Cuban Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas. Invited guests from Cuba include medical professionals who took part in the fight against Ebola in West Africa and in restructuring the health infrastructure in Haiti, the Director of Havana’s Literacy Museum, a representative of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People (ICAP), and a Cuban journalism student with his own dramatic story to tell. Jorge “Jorgito” Jérez was born with cerebral palsy in Cuba in 1993, but today – thanks to Cuba’s health care and education system – he has become a “self-sufficient, independent young journalist.” The Power of the Weak, a documentary by German filmmaker Tobias Kriele about Jorgito’s life and the social supports available to him in Cuba, will be screened during the Days of Action.

While acknowledging the significance of President Obama’s decision in December 2014 to end, in his words, the United States’ “outdated approach [to Cuba] that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests,” and the President’s recent historic visit to Cuba, Alicia Jrapko of the International Committee explained there is much more Obama can do to help normalize relations with Cuba. “Although we applaud many of the steps taken, we urge the President to use his executive power to close Guantanamo Prison and return to Cuba the land it sits on. He should also end the preferential “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” Policy that encourages Cubans to embark on illegal and unsafe migration; end the Parole Program for Cuban Medical Professionals that encourages Cuban doctors to abandon Cuba’s medical programs abroad; and stop funding USAID and National Endowment for Democracy programs aimed at fomenting dissent in Cuba.”

Netfa Freeman from the Institute for Policy Studies, one of the groups organizing the upcoming April events in Washington DC, noted that a majority of Americans, including Cuban Americans, support ending the blockade. “Part of this support,” says Freeman, “is from heightened awareness of the hypocrisy in U.S. claims of wanting to encourage change for a Cuban society that is not experiencing a national epidemic of killings of people of color by police and mass incarceration or social ills like rampant homelessness. The overwhelming majority of Cubans are guaranteed shelter and healthcare as human rights.”Freeman pointed to the success of a recent whirlwind 10-day visit to the West Coast by Miguel Fraga, the first secretary of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., as another sign of the changing mood. Fraga spoke to close to 1,500 people at 20 different events, and was even introduced on the California State Senate floor. “The cold war is over!” declared Los Angeles State Senator Isadore Hall III as the Cuban flag was displayed in the chambers. “It is time to look forward and to look ahead to a future where Cuba is a partner, not an enemy to the United States.”

As part of the tour of the Cuban diplomat speaking at a conference in Seattle, Washington State’s veteran 7th District Rep. Jim McDermott urged the audience to “go to Washington in April to lobby to end the blockade.”

The post On Heels of Obama’s Historic Visit to Cuba, Advocates to Gather in Washington appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.


Obama’s Visit to Cuba: Dangers and Benefits to the Cuban Revolution

On Sunday, March 20, President Barack Obama traveled to Cuba, the first time the Caribbean nation has seen a U.S. president in 88 years. President Obama met with Cuban President Raul Castro and then convened with business leaders from both Cuba and the United States. On his last day in Cuba the president is expected to give a speech that will be broadcast throughout Cuba so that he can speak directly to Cubans, and he will meet with political dissidents before finally attending a baseball game and leaving for Argentina. The president’s trip is being hailed by some U.S. policy analysts as a shining example of soft diplomacy. Let’s see what our guests have to say about that.

Watch the interview on the Real News Network’s website.

The post Obama’s Visit to Cuba: Dangers and Benefits to the Cuban Revolution appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

James Early is a board member at the Institute for Policy Studies.


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A Visit with Swati Argade at Bhoomki Boutique in Brooklyn

I had the pleasure of speaking with Swati Argade, founder and creative director of Bhoomki at her brick-and-mortar shop in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The shop, which opened in October 2012, carries clothing and accessory brands dedicated to environmental and/or social responsibility, including its in-house line designed by Swati and her team.

The Bhoomki label sources and partners with fair-trade certified manufacturers who responsibly support traditional crafts like block printing, hand weaving, embroidery, and dyeing. It produces bimonthly, focused, capsule collections that not only support artisan communities in places like India, Indonesia and West Africa, but also producers of organic, recycled and low carbon footprint fabrics. Currently, Bhoomki cuts and sews its clothing locally in NYC’s Garment Center and in a labor compliant, woman-owned factory in Jaipur, India.


Photo credit: Bhoomki Photographer – Jennifer Trahan

From reading your website and blog it sounds like you’ve had a long career as a designer, can you tell me what inspired you as a young person to become a fashion designer? What path led you to starting your own line?

Wow, That’s a long answer! My interest began with textiles and the way that I learned Indian geography through my mother’s sari collection. She was very glamorous and would go out to a lot of parties in the 1970’s and 80’s. My sister and I would sit on our haunches as she unpacked pieces from her sari trunk and tell us “This sari is from Bengal, this sari is from Kanchipuram, this one is from Madurai” or she would point to a silk that had been passed on to her from her grandmother and say “They don’t even make these kinds of saris anymore”. This whole idea of a fabric becoming extinct, at the same time, as I was probably learning about animals becoming extinct made me very sad. To think this beautiful history passed down through our family no longer existed…

My mother owned and ran a classical Indian dance school. The costumes we wore for Bharat Natyam – a South Indian classical dance form – are very beautiful and elaborate and are cut from traditional handloom silk saris. My twin sister and I danced professionally for about 20 years and my first projects were actually designing our costumes for the stage, then probably 12 to 14 years ago I started designing them for other people in the theater. Some of them were really wearable and people would come up to me and say; ‘I love this outfit, is this something that I could buy from you?’ At that point the seed was planted that this might actually be a career for me.

In the meantime I went to study film at UC-Berkeley, and after I got my Master’s degree I went on a trip to India to work on a documentary project in some small temple towns. Temple towns and their textile traditions are inextricably tied because the patronage of temples was very much tied to the patronage of textiles; the kings and the queens needed to be robed in specific textiles and the gods in the temples needed to be robed with those same textiles. So it’s easy see how those two histories are connected. So I was in one of these temple towns where I met weavers whose families had been making beautiful silks for hundreds of years. I bought a bunch of that fabric and said; “What am I going to do with this?” There were many prior trips to India where I had similar experiences in the markets. So by then, I developed this collection of textiles, simply appreciating and loving the fabric and not knowing what to do with it. But luckily that last trip, I hooked up with some cousins who were professors at the local fashion college – where my family home is -and I made a small collection 10-12 pieces that I brought back to the USA where friends and friends-of-friends started buying them. This was 2001-2002, and with this encouragement, I started making my collections.

Image courtesy bhoomki_brooklyn Instagram

Image courtesy; bhoomki_brooklyn Instagram

What a great beginning! It’s wonderful that you were exposed to the local textile traditions in the areas of India that you visited and where your family is from. After you discovered that people were interested in what you were making, what initially made you aware of the fair trade, ethically produced aspects of the textile industry? What made you want to pursue this area?

After witnessing how large brands outside of India were treating workers and really pushing prices down, those things became important to me. Because I had the great opportunity to go into villages early on and develop textiles with artisans, I started creating relationships with people and understood how there is a very long supply chain, and the people at each link need to be treated really well. That’s what so strange and mystifying about fast fashion, that the product is so far removed from the manufacturing process.

When you have a relationship with every single person in your supply chain – which is what I am fortunate enough to have – everyone is humanized. That was a big part of why I took this direction, but for some reason I also think it was woven into my DNA to believe that the products that we buy, the consumer choices that we make have a trickle down effect. That whatever we put into our bodies has to have good karma running through it. I know I’m Indian so I probably throw around that word ‘karma’ a lot but I do feel that there is a charge and a vibration in everything we put in and on our bodies. If we are able to make responsible choices we will then support smaller businesses and in turn help them support their families. When we support small businesses and independent artisan groups, the money goes directly back into their communities, but when you’re buying from a corporation the majority of that money doesn’t go back to the community who made it. The majority of the businesses on our planet are small businesses; they’re the ones that make the world go round.

You mentioned you have a story about one of these more ‘corporate’ producers

I do have a story: After I had been producing my own collection for several seasons, for between 50-75 stores worldwide, I had been asking around for a leather producer, of export quality leathers because I really needed to make sure I could get consistent quality of product, as well as an on-time delivery. A friend in Kolkata (Calcutta) where most of the export tanneries are, had told me about this beautiful painted and engraved leather process that occurs in a place called Shantiniketan and recommended a particular company saying “These guys are some of the best in the business”. So I went into this world-class showroom, and I saw some of the most high-end, beautiful designer leather handbag lining the walls, the kind of brands you see and recognize in glossy magazine pages. This place could clearly create a great product. So I told them I would love to see their factory and I went to the back and it was all children working. At that point I became so disappointed and disillusioned that in order to become such a big huge brand, in order to afford those expensive magazine ads in Vogue and Elle among others, you actually had to work with producers where your bags are made by children. These were $ 3000-$ 4000 bags!

And all you had to do was to ask them; “I’d like to see your factory?” You didn’t have to connive them into visiting their facility; they just said ‘Sure, come on back’. It would have been just as simple for any of these other brand representatives and buyers to go back and visit the factory floor?

Yes. At that point it was 2007 and I was so disillusioned with the business, the economy was beginning to tank and I just felt that I had to do something different. At that point, I had small production runs, and I was able to work in a factory that could produce hundreds of garments, but when you get to a space where you have to produce tens of thousands of garments, that’s when things get really tricky. As an emerging designer there’s a point where you can only grow so much and I had been talking to an investor that summer but didn’t think I wanted to be pushed into those kinds of situations where I had to produce with a company with questionable ethics. If I wanted to stay in this business I had to decide how I wanted to move forward. So that was one of the signifying events in my life where I realized I didn’t want the brand to be about me anymore, as I had been designing under my own name, I wanted it to be about something greater. So in 2011 I founded Bhoomki and Bhoomki means ‘Belonging to Mother Earth’.

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 9.11.59 AM

Image courtesy; bhoomki_brooklyn Instagram


My next question was going to be; ‘What inspired you to open the shop’ but we were naturally getting there anyway. You didn’t want it to just be about you-

I feel like so many brands are all about the cult of the designer, which I feel is connected to a certain level of ego. I also found that if I gave the collection another name there would be more opportunities for partnerships and I also have a design team who works with me so I really want them to be a part of the brand instead of it just being about my name. I also wanted the brand to be about the planet and it’s people. I think about our vendors as partners, with some of our vendors and brands we have exclusive product partnerships; for example, maybe we use their fabric, or run an exclusive style or silhouette in collaboration with Bhoomki, I think that’s the really nice part about having a brand that’s not your name.

There was a time between 2007-2011 where I had been working in advertising and PR. I had just had a baby and I was sort of looking at my life and trying to figure out what to do. After the baby I had gone back to work for a few weeks and I realized that if I was going to be away from my child, I had to be doing something really meaningful with my life and for my professional development; advertising and PR weren’t doing it for me anymore. My husband, Alec Pollak, and I came up with the brand name before we opened the store in 2010. I had just designed a small capsule collection we were about to launch. But one day my husband and I were walking by this vacant shop here in Park Slope and it sparked this idea of “Hey, let’s create a space that’s not only about creating ethical fashion, but curating other like-minded collections as well.”

I thought this part of Brooklyn does not really have a central place to find ethical fashion. I have so many friends and contacts that I’ve developed over the years in this space so I thought it would be a great place to not only show Bhoomki’s work but also to support and represent great designers in this space.    

Seek Collective dedicated window. Image courtesy; @jynnne of @seekcollective

Seek Collective dedicated window.
Image courtesy; @jynnne of @seekcollective

Feral Child Studio dedicated window at Bhoomki Image courtesy; bhoomki_boutique Instagram

Feral Child Studio dedicated window at Bhoomki
Image courtesy; bhoomki_boutique Instagram

What are you looking for when choosing a new vendor and designers to be sold in your shop?

The most important thing for me is to offer beautiful, wearable clothing in tandem with making sure the designers I work with have a transparent supply chain. It’s very important that they have a transparent supply chain, that they can tell me who is making their clothes, where their fabrics are being sourced, what they’re made of, where they were made and I find that if there’s any kind of hesitation in sharing that story, not only by the designer, but anybody who works for them, at trade shows for example, then it’s not really the backbone of what they do.

On top of that, on our labels we have a checklist of what makes each piece an ethical fashion item; for example: If it is Artisan Made, Handmade, Made in the USA, Made in NYC, Organic, Repurposed, Women Made and there’s a blank space for anything else (Swati shows me a beautiful Bhoomki blazer with a draped lapel) for example this piece is made with Cupro fiber which is also recycled. We sell Tabii Just’s work; she has a zero waste line. There are a lot of things that fall under the ethical fashion rubric and in general most of our designers hit multiple categories. For example there are some vendors, who produce in China, but they are very familiar with their factories in China, they are using organic cotton or they’re using recycled materials. Some might be larger designers in this space such as ‘Organic by John Patrick’ as well as ‘Nau’, which is an outerwear brand that we do quite well with, and we’re proud to be a destination for these larger brands as well.  

My last question to you is; why is it important for you to be part of the New York City Fair Trade Coalition?

It’s really hard to do anything in isolation; I consider this part of the industry like a little island that is a little beacon of light. Community is so important, especially in getting to know the successes that people share in this part of the industry and what challenges people face and what we can learn from one another as we face those obstacles or to champion people as they are experiencing successes. That’s just a really important thing about being human and finding your community, whether it’s personally or professionally.

I’ve been in the fair trade space for 12 years, and in those years I’ve always felt like I’m learning new things. “Fair trade” is a term fraught with difficulties so not everyone can be certified as fair trade but we can do those things that we can afford to do to make sure that we have a transparent supply chain and that we can, for example, work with factories that are labor compliant. It’s really great to know how the industry is evolving; the most meaningful way to stay involved is through these relationships and this community.

Swati, is there anything else you’d like to add, any last words?

Creative communities are amazing things, and I think that fair trade certification is one of those devices that ensure these communities can survive. With these evolving certifications, the onus is placed on the suppliers and the distributors – like Bhoomki – to find fair-trade compliant brands, to stand behind and support those who made the product and ensure that everyone along the way was treated in a fair and meaningful way.

Bhoomki is located at 158 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY. Tel: (718) 857-5245. Hours: Mon-Fri: 11-7:30, Sat: 11-7, Sun: 12-7. www.bhoomki.com

This post was written by Amber Härkönen