Letters for the Week of April 27

Readers sound off on the Israel-Palestine conflict, taxing the rich, and Oakland trees.

“The Uncivil Debate,” News, 4/13

The Right to Speak Up

Well, the Bay Area defenders and enablers of Zionist exceptionalism and race-based privilege in Israel have done it again. Congratulations! This time they’ve once more revealed their true colors, in terms of tactics: 

Violent intimidation of Jews of conscience: i.e., recent third round of death threats, and recent third instance of house vandalism, against the prominent Berkeley Rabbi Michael Lerner, who publicly opposes the tactic of dehumanizing the colonized indigenous Palestinians as genetic Jew haters;  

Endlessly playing the victim card: i.e., arguing that past victimhood of a people morally and eternally exempts them from ever having to comply with international law, therefore justifying their state-sponsored illegal occupation over an indigenous people, their state-sponsored illegal Jewish-only settlements on legally indigenous land including East Jerusalem, and their state-sponsored illegal collective punishment of an entire indigenous civilian population as determined by the 2009 UN report of Zionist Jew Richard Goldstone (despite his recent retraction on a separate issue); and

Verbal maneuvers that are designed merely to stifle debate: because if the American news media (including the East Bay Express and reporter Judith Scherr) actually did their job and exposed the real issues — Israel’s decades-long apartheid and decades-long violations of international law regarding human rights, settlements, occupation, and the Right of Return, all of which trigger terrorist retaliation — US lawmakers would finally wake up, threaten to withhold foreign aid contingent on Israel’s compliance with international laws, and the conflict would be closer not to the hegemonic so-called “peace” that hawkish blind defenders of Israel claim to want, but closer to a true and lasting “just peace” for all of Israel’s citizens — Jews, and their Semitic neighbors, the Palestinian Arabs.

What are these tired debate-stifling verbal maneuvers? Smearing all Gentile critics of Israeli apartheid (including South African anti-apartheid crusader Archbishop Desmond Tutu) as “anti-Semites.” Smearing all Jewish critics of Israeli apartheid (including some Holocaust victims and their children) as “self-hating Jews.” And, when all else fails, characterizing the very existence of any conceivable moral criticism of Israeli apartheid as inherently “one-sided,” conveniently ignoring the fact that we US taxpayers have a very special and singularly unique stake in how the Number One foreign recipient of our tax dollars — Israel — spends our hard-earned money. Hey, Israel, if you don’t want to deserve my special criticism, stop being the fattest taker of my taxes! I work hard for that money, I have a right to my opinion how it’s spent! How dare any American try to diminish that right! 

I don’t oppose Israel’s existence within its legal pre-June 1967 borders. But in my opinion a country that gets away with murdering young unarmed US citizens engaged in non-violent protest like 23-year-old Rachel Corrie and 19-year-old Furkan Dogan, or that gets away with shooting tear-gas canisters into the faces of young unarmed US citizens engaged in nonviolent protest like 21-year-old Jewish-American Emily Henochowicz or Oakland resident Tristan Anderson (why didn’t you mention this local man, Ms. Scherr?), doesn’t deserve the Number One slot for my money. FYI, I also oppose my own country’s oppression of other peoples in the Middle East, and have been an anti-war activist over the past ten years, so at least for me, the “one-sided” verbal maneuver just doesn’t cut it. Sorry! Nice try. 

East Bay Express: Please be on the right side of history and write a real story about the Israel-Palestine conflict, one that actually focuses on the international law issues that the blind defenders of Israel have successfully kept hidden and incomprehensible to the American taxpayer for decades. Please be a pioneer instead of repeating the typical fearful US media capitulation to the intimidation tactics of the defenders and enablers of Zionist exceptionalism and race-based privilege in Israel. That story wouldn’t be about a local soap opera called “The Uncivil Debate” (it seemed to me that only one side is behaving in an uncivil and violent way, Ms. Scherr); it would be a law-based hard news story about “An Uncivil US Ally.”

Concerned Americans: Get past the smokescreen and check out web sites of American Jews of conscience (Jewish Voice for Peace, Democracy Now), other Americans of conscience (IfAmericansKnew.org), and the peaceful nonviolent BDS Movement which successfully blocked an Israeli commercial ship from unloading in Oakland in 2010 with the help of organized labor and people of color.

I’d like to close with a May 9, 2007, quote by Oxford professor Avi Shlaim, a Jew and former member of the Israeli Defense Forces:

“We must be very careful to separate questions of anti-Semitism from critique of Israel.  I’m critical of Israel as a scholar, and anti-Semitism just doesn’t come into it. And my view is that the blind supporters of Israel — and there are many of them in America in particular — use the charge of ‘anti-Semitism’ to try and silence legitimate criticism of Israeli practices. I regard this as moral blackmail. Israel has no moral immunity to criticism because of the Holocaust. Israel is a sovereign nation-state, and it should be judged by the same standards as any other state.”

Clarito Aradanas, Berkeley

No Room for Criticism

Perhaps the most relevant aspect of the article is the fact that it uses the words “Jew” and “Jewish” profusely, which means that the author must be a Jew for if anybody else uses these words the accusation of anti-Semitism immediately follows.

I’ve paraded at many demonstrations with my sign reading “Smash the Jewish State” and, in a smaller square, “It’s the Jews, Stupid.” This sign drives crazy the so-called “progressive” Jews, not to mention the fascist Jews. They immediately come to me in an aggressive manner. My first question to them is, “Are you here to support the Palestinian people or to defend the Jewish State?”

Jewish journalist Jeffrey Blankfort asked me to leave a demonstration because of the sign. At another demonstration in front of Oakland’s federal building, another Jew, Barbara Lubin of Middle East Children’s Alliance, asked me to put down the sign but she didn’t ask the fascist Jews, who were occupying the other half of the sidewalk, to put down their signs. At the same time, Nora Barrows–Friedman, of KPFA at the time, was denouncing my sign as “anti-Semitic” on the loudspeaker. I stood there taking it from the fascist Jews, as well as from the “progressive” Jews, with the encouragement of passersby until they all left. The “progressive” Jews are just the left leg of the criminal Jewish State.

The ideology of all Jews is Judaism, a xenophobic tale about the invasion of Canaan with a messianic justification for the murder of men, women, and children on behalf of Jehovah. That’s the ideology that’s made possible Part II, the invasion of Palestine, with imperialism’s help. They’ve all come out of the synagogues of many countries with the financial and propagandistic support of the ones that’ve stayed behind.

That guy Harris got it right: “All Jews are part of one people.” Yep, at least ideologically; their game is to control the discourse from the left and the right. Hence the rabid reaction when a non-Jew like myself criticizes Judaism.

Antonio Trossero, San Leandro

A Vocal Minority

Leftist writer Judith Scherr bases her entire article on an assertion she never proves — that the debate around Israel among Jews “is growing more difficult.” Of course, Scherr’s ultra-left buddies, Michael Lerner and Penny Rosenwasser, would like us to believe that their lonely voices are growing stronger. Based on my decades of experience in the East Bay Jewish community, the numbers of Jews opposing Israel has and remains infinitesimal. Lerner and Rosenwasser’s groups remain marginal at best and reviled outcasts at worst. They have zero standing or influence among the mainstream Jewish community. Indeed, Israel’s fortitude and ethical conduct in the face of continued attacks from Arab terrorists remain an inspiration to the overwhelming majority of East Bay Jews. Do you really think it’s a “best practice” of objective journalism to have left-wing writers covering left-wing causes? Scherr’s fawning homage proves it’s not.

Jim Sinkinson, Oakland

No Equality

The article paints the two sides of the Palestinian/Israeli issue as if they’re equal. In fact, they are far from it. As a Jew who’s obviously not anti-Semitic, it’s crystal clear to me that the Palestinians have gotten the worst of this by far since 1948. Israel maintains a state of apartheid in the West Bank and Gaza at the expense of the Palestinians. The whole world agrees with this point of view, with the exception of the US and Israel. This article was no more “fair and balanced” reporting than giving equal time to climate-change deniers, whose ridiculous claims also only get a voice in this country.

Your column mentions the Jews’ “expulsion” from Israel 2,000 years ago. This is such a mischaracterization that it’s a blatant lie. The Jews were not expelled from Israel as one thinks of expulsion by some big bad government; instead, they lost a tribal war that they’d been fighting for hundreds of years. If the Arabs had lost that war, would you give a voice to the ludicrous claim that they had a right to take the land back 2,000 years later?

The current state of Israel was formed after the largest genocide in history almost wiped out European Jews. One quarter of my family was killed by the Nazis. The Palestinians played no part in that genocide, but they suffered the retaliation for it. Palestinians were killed and chased from their homes in order to create what is now Israel. How is that in any way fair? If European Jews were to be given a homeland because of what the Germans did to them, they should have been given part of Germany, not Palestine.

A major issue missing from most of these debates is the underlying reason that Israel was created; the US and Western Europe wanted a client state in the Middle East in order to have some control over the oil. For anyone who thinks that the US doles out billions of dollars of military aid every year to Israel for benevolent reasons, I’ve got some bridges I’d be happy to sell you. Just like the US support of the repressive and brutal regime in Saudi Arabia, the US supports governments that further its business interests, no more, no less. Israel would never have been created if the West had not desired to control the oil in that part of the world.

All that said, the vast majority of the people alive in Israel and the Palestinian territories now were not born when Israel was created by stealing the Palestinians’ land. A fair and reasonable solution would be for Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, dismantle all settlements constructed after that time, and allow a fully autonomous Palestinian state outside of Israel. In exchange, the Palestinians must recognize the state of Israel and denounce any ideologies of destroying it. This would be the most fair and balanced solution that could be achieved, and is probably the only way that peace in that part of the world could ever happen.

Jeff Hoffman, San Francisco


“Tax the Rich!” Feature, 4/13

Fix Prop 13

There are solutions! Thank you for giving a platform to David Cay Johnston’s clarity about taxes in the US. Now please turn your attention to California and do an exposé on old Prop 13! California’s love for Prop 13 is unrequited. Well, it did love us some, by helping seniors on fixed incomes stay in their homes. Let’s keep that part, but other parts have been coddling instead of taxing the rich. Please expose how flattened property tax has disproportionately helped corporations, and how the two-thirds majority required to raise revenue has helped the super-rich at the expense of the rest of us. When we fix Prop 13, then we will be able to tax the rich as your front page commands.

Again, thank you.

Laura Wells, Oakland

A Specious Argument

David Cay Johnston throws together a barrage of facts, figures, and anecdotes to try to make the case that the “rich” should be paying more taxes. It’s a specious argument because it ignores the most salient fact: Government spending during the past thirty years has not suffered from any shortfall of revenue from the rich, but has in fact been growing rapidly, and at an accelerating pace.

Over the past decade, the percentage of GDP represented by federal government spending rose from 32 percent to 41 percent. During the same period, the share of total gross income earned by the top 1 percent increased from 20 percent to 23 percent. So while the rich are getting richer, the government is growing at an even faster pace. Even if you were to tax 100 percent of the income of the rich, you still would not keep up with the voracious spending habits of federal, state, and local governments.

While it’s tempting to look at countries like Germany and conclude that we should increase the size of our government so we can offer Americans the same social programs that German citizens have, the fact is that German government spending, currently at 42 percent of GDP, is not that different from what ours is already.

Clearly, we don’t need a bigger government financed by more taxes on the rich, we need a government that spends more wisely.

Gene Chamson, Oakland

“The Uncivil Debate,” News, 4/13; “The Fight Club,” Culture Spy, 4/13

Spite Club

Last week’s stories on anti-Zionism and also the creative fights were fascinating! I have a suggestion for an exciting tie-in. Why not invite Israeli ex-pats to duke it out with anti-Zionists? That would sell even more tickets than punks versus hipsters and no one would pull their punches, guaranteeing an exciting time for all! Let’s bring the Palestinian-Israeli conflict here to the East Bay!

Biff Stockton, Oakland

“Tax the Rich!” Feature, 4/13, “The Fight Club,” Culture Spy, 4/13

A Link Between Taxes and Violence

I believe a lot of the anger and frustration that motivates people to join a “fight club” can be traced to the economic and cultural disenfranchisement of multi-decade corporate economic policies as described in your cover story. And I’m sure the uber-wealthy enjoy watching the “lower” classes anihilate each other in the ring instead of cooperating to enact legislation that “taxes the rich.” As for “physical” entertainment, I think a sexual orgy (even in a boxing ring) where individuals and/or groups compete to see who can out-fuck the other would be a lot more fun.

Carl Martineau, Berkeley 

“Oakland Overgrown,” Feature, 3/6

Don’t Forget Urban Releaf

The piece by Nate Seltenrich did a good job of pointing out both the challenges faced and benefits received from urban tree planting. It is clear to me as a cyclist who has often had to steer out into traffic to avoid tree branches that there is value in making sure trees are properly trimmed. It seems that despite the difficulties in our current city budget that this is an issue that should be reviewed. That said, the benefits of the trees likely outweigh the challenges brought on by the need for maintenance.

In reading about the benefits I was surprised when Mr. Seltenrich named some tree planters but failed to mention the organization Urban Releaf. Urban Releaf is one of the largest tree planters in the city, having planted more than 15,000 trees in the last ten years in close cooperation with the community and in various areas of Oakland. In addition, they have consistently provided early tree pruning services to keep the trees healthy and manageable.

Despite the difficulties, it is important for us to expand our tree coverage. Due credit should be given to Urban Releaf, who has, to my knowledge, contributed more to this important natural infrastructure of ours than any other private organization.

Dave Alberts, Oakland


Avoiding a Slick Argument

With Japan’s nuclear crisis and a wave of instability crossing the Middle East, pols and pundits are turning again to the question of our energy future. Will civil war and strife disrupt access to oil and our way of life? Can the United States change its century-old pattern of relying heavily upon petroleum?

People will reach different answers to these questions and draw different conclusions about what to do. It would be helpful, however, if everyone could get the factual premises right.

Unfortunately, one thing all too many observers have in common is an erroneous understanding of what the term “proven oil reserves” means. The myths surrounding this oft-cited figure are pervasive. And there’s no way to have a realistic conversation about energy without getting facts and definitions straight.

Republicans for Environmental Protection is just one of many so-called expert groups that gets it wrong. “The notion that the United States, which sits atop less than 3 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves, can drill enough oil to drive down prices if the flow is interrupted from a region with 64 percent of the world’s reserves is a pipe dream,” David Jenkins, a vice president, recently wrote. He argued that supporters of drilling “all neglect to mention that the United States is already disproportionately depleting its scant 3 percent reserves to produce 8 percent of current global production.”

Jenkins paints a frightening picture of the future. But whatever good arguments there might be for keeping tight restrictions on drilling, his isn’t one of them.

That’s because the size of any nation’s proven oil reserves depends not only upon how much oil is contained in its borders, but also upon its government’s drilling policies.

Here’s how the Society of Petroleum Engineers defines it: “Proved reserves are those quantities of petroleum which, by analysis of geological and engineering data, can be estimated with reasonable certainty to be commercially recoverable, from a given date forward, from known reservoirs and under current economic conditions, operating methods, and government regulations.”

That last phrase is key. Our proven reserves are much lower than our actual reserves because government has blocked access, onshore and offshore. It’s silly to argue that there is no point to easing restrictions on drilling because “proven reserves” aren’t there. There’d be a lot more proven reserves if the restrictions were eased. Just in the past few years, we’ve started the process to extract a century-long supply of clean-burning natural gas we didn’t even realize existed.

Three years ago, Congress let expire the decades-long ban on leasing most of the Outer Continental Shelf. A study by ICF International found this could increase production of crude oil by nearly a million barrels a day and natural gas by 3 billion cubic feet per day. Yet legal delays still hamper extraction — like a lawsuit claiming the government didn’t adequately investigate the effect on global warming.

There are plenty of places that industry experts think contain oil where Congress hasn’t lifted bans on drilling. While companies can now plan to work in the Atlantic and Pacific, Congress insisted that most of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico remain undisturbed. The vast potential of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is untapped.

It’s estimated the Eastern Gulf of Mexico has a recoverable 3.7 billion barrels of oil and 55 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That ICF study estimated that if the ban on drilling was revoked in non-park federal land in Alaska and some Rocky Mountain states, America could produce 1.125 million barrels of oil and an extra 2.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day by 2030.

Even where drilling is allowed, companies slog through thick red tape, applying for 15 permits and meeting 90 federal regulations. That’s before state bureaucracies get involved, adding yet more sticky, tangled tape.

There is simply too much energy beneath American land and waters to take the current “proven oil reserves” at face value. You might support drilling, or you might oppose it. But no one can deny there’s plenty of fuel left to drill.

Donald J. Boudreaux is a professor of economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. He chaired the Department of Economics from 2001 to 2009. Previously, he was president of the Foundation for Economic Education.


In our 4/20 Culture Spy, “Heckler’s Ball,” we misspelled the name of the Punchline Comedy Club. Also, Brent Weinbach had objects thrown at him at the Fat Cat, not Hemlock Tavern. Also in that’s issue dance pick, we omitted the credit for the photo of National Dance Week. It was taken by Al Wright of Raintree Studios, at Dance/10 Performing Arts Center in Alameda.

In our 4/27 Raising the Bar, we misstated that Barry Bonds had been acquitted on three of the four charges against him. Instead, the judge declared a mistrial on three of the four counts.


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