‘For many young American Jews, the Trump-Bibi axis is the enemy’

There have always been undercurrents of dissent within American Jewry when it comes to Israel. After all, it was progressive Jewish Americans, radicalized by the New Left of the 1960s, who became the avant-garde of the American Jewish Left, demanding that the Israeli government enter into talks with the PLO decades before it became Israeli policy. It was radical American Jews who, just a decade after protesting the Vietnam War, began demonstrating outside Israeli embassies and consulates during the First Lebanon War.

Decades later, we tend to hear a great deal about the changing relationship between American Jews and Israel, whether by those who feel let down by it, deceived by the stories and mythologies promulgated by their own communities, or those who are simply turning away from the Jewish state altogether.

What we hear far less about is progressive American Jews who have chosen to make Israel their home. How do American Israelis, particularly those thought leaders who have helped inform many of the changes bubbling up among their kin back in the U.S., feel about Israel today?

For Bradley Burston, making his Jewish American voice heard has become a mission of sorts — even when no one was really listening. Burston has become one of the most prominent voices of liberal Zionism (he rejects the term, calling himself “more of a post-labeling guy”) through his Haaretz column, “A Special Place in Hell.” Long before IfNotNow, Jewish Voice for Peace, J Street, and Peter Beinart blew the lid off a simmering crisis between American Jews and Israel, his writing served as a refuge for those who felt stranded between their values and Israel.

Bradley Burston outside the Haaretz offices in south Tel Aviv. (Oren Ziv)

Bradley Burston outside the Haaretz offices in south Tel Aviv. (Oren Ziv)

As Israel’s military dictatorship over the Palestinians grew more entrenched, Burston’s columns became more strident, warning Israelis — and their American Jewish patrons — of its dire repercussions. So it is somewhat incredulous to hear Burston declare that his views about Israel have not changed since 1971. After all, much to his chagrin, his name has become synonymous with a strain of liberal Zionism that has struggled to remain relevant in the Netanyahu era — one that believes in a two-state solution, a Jewish state that respects and empowers its minorities, and a healthy connection to the rest of the world.

Despite the political setbacks and the fading hopes for two states, however, Burston believes that deep down, most American Jews agree with that vision.

“The majority of American Jews want to see a democracy here, and they are tremendously embarrassed by the way things are going,” the Los Angeles native says, as we sit down for an interview in Jaffa, where he lives. “They are concerned about the asylum seeker issue and the relationship between Israel and American Jewry. For many if not most young American Jews, the Trump-Bibi axis is authentically their enemy.”

Yet on the Palestinian issue, Burston believes the majority of Jewish Americans still have a ways to go. It’s a slow-moving process, he says, but only a matter of time. “[American Jews] have been brainwashed into thinking that Israelis know best. But it’s only a matter of time. If Netanyahu alienates the American Jews on issue after issue, things are going to change. I hope we’re heading for something better — something more sustainable.”

Members of Jewish-American anti-occupation group IfNotNow protest Trump's decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Washington D.C., May 14, 2018. (Gili Getz)

Members of Jewish-American anti-occupation group IfNotNow protest Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Washington D.C., May 14, 2018. (Gili Getz)

“This country has changed tremendously since I moved here in the mid-70s,” he says, rubbing the sides of his salt-and-pepper goatee, as he tends to do while deep in thought. “Yet I still believe what I always have: that the best solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is two states, side by side. The problem is I don’t believe it is possible anymore.”

How did you come to the realization that there won’t be a two-state solution?

“I would like to have two states. But hundreds of thousands of Israelis said ‘you can’t have it,’ and they run the country. When Netanyahu won the election in 2015 following his racist campaign — that was when I knew it was game over. But it won’t be forever.”

Is the idea of a Jewish and democratic state sustainable in the long term?

“I believe there can be a confederation that makes it possible to have a Jewish and democratic state. I don’t want to throw out the baby with the horrible bathwater, but I believe that there is something positive about Jewish culture and the revival of Hebrew culture.

“You need to remember that something happens to Jews in Israel — whether or not they end up living here — which is extremely powerful. That’s not the bathwater. The bathwater is fascism, it’s ruling over another people. For Netanyahu, bathwater is the essence of this country.”

You have written that the country’s ruling ideology has become akin to racism. Do you still identify as a Zionist?

“I’m not sure that I ever did. I don’t have any problem with there being a Jewish state. I have a problem with a Jewish state that is oppressive. I have a problem with a Jewish state that fights against its own vestiges of democracy. I have a problem with a Jewish state that is exclusionary of Jews of all kinds. When Zionism becomes equated with support for settlements or the expulsion of asylum seekers, it becomes really easy for me to answer that question. If that’s what it is, then I’m not a Zionist.”



More than ever, American Jews are more willing to talk about the Nakba and the dispossession of the Palestinians. How does one reconcile progressive ideas such as equality with the history of how this country was founded?

“The truth of all of this is that it is an incredible mess. Benny Morris made a tremendous study of what happened in 1948 and what you realize while reading it is that there were instances of true nobility, and there were instances of terrible atrocities. People were suddenly given the opportunity to be themselves, and in many cases it ended in a terrible result, and in other cases it didn’t.

“It’s the perfect storm. Jews were legitimately worried about being exterminated again. If I believe that everybody is trying to kill me, I’m going to be terrible to them. There are enough people who are willing to say they want to kill the Jews and that we have no right to be here, to give Israelis the justification to do terrible things to them.”

Has that mentality persisted since 1948?

“Yes, and it explains why Israelis today don’t care about Palestinians being shot dead at the border with Gaza. That was the genius of cutting off contact between Israelis and Palestinians, because if you really want to make people to loathe and fear the other side, then you need to make sure they have no contact. Now we never see the other side. If I think the other side wants me dead, I will do terrible things.

“For good or ill, many of the Jews who came here did so because they deeply believed in this place, that they were of this place, even if they had never seen it. Just like the Palestinians holding on to their keys who are also from here. The Jewish man in Estonia who wasn’t allowed to be openly Jewish in the Soviet Union — he was from here. He was willing to go to jail in order to live here.”

But why should that matter to the Palestinian holding on to his or her key?

“The one thing that we can’t do is to unfairly dismiss the extent to which both sides are fully, emotionally imbued with this place. This is their place, on both sides. And that’s the problem. There must be some reason why this is the crappiest place in the world and it still has a hold on us. Part of it is some form of brainwashing that is part of Israeli culture, but it’s not only that. There is some mystical element here that people have an unbreakable connection to. The government can’t ruin that.”

Palestinian youth carry a wounded boy to receive medical care during the Great Return March along the Gaza-Israel border, April 27, 2018. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

Palestinian youth carry a wounded boy to receive medical care during the Great Return March along the Gaza-Israel border, April 27, 2018. (Mohammed Zaanoun/Activestills.org)

* * *

A few weeks after our initial interview, in a single day, Israeli snipers on the Gaza border killed over 60 protesters demanding the right of return for Palestinian refugees, wounding thousands more. I went back and asked Burston if the bloodletting had changed anything for him.

“I don’t know how we live with ourselves, knowing what’s happening to people who are essentially next door. I’m not talking in particular about the deaths and injured in the March of Return protests. I’m talking about the years and years that preceded them. The siege of Gaza was and is a terrible error, the worst error Israel has made in the last 12 years, not only morally, but also tactically and strategically, for Israel’s future as well as for the Palestinians. The government knows it.

“But the government is too scared to do anything about it. The army is continually pressing Netanyahu to boost humanitarian aid and work on international cooperation to rebuild the critical infrastructure that we’ve bombed into oblivion, power plants, sewage treatment plants, the drinking water system. But Netanyahu’s too scared. He’s too busy looking over his shoulder and trying to prove that he has more testosterone than Bennett, who’s trying to prove the same about his masculinity level relative to Lieberman.”

“There’s one other thing that makes me despair. For some leaders on the Israeli right, a high Palestinian casualty toll can actually be seen as a political asset. A poll taken after the bloodshed of the initial marches showed that 100 percent of respondents who had voted for [Defense Minister] Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, approved of the military’s actions. A hundred percent.”

* * *

Do you ever think about going back to America?

“There was a time during the Second Intifada where we were terrified for our personal safety or of letting our daughter ride buses in Jerusalem. But I suppose there is something that is holding us here. Everybody who is here and who is a progressive must be an out and out crazy revolutionary, because otherwise how are they able to stand it?”

And yet the feeling is that things are getting worse.

“I’m still holding out for something better. When I came to Israel I said ‘I’m going to give it a year and see what happens.’”

And you’ve been saying that ever since.

“Exactly. Every year around October I say ‘well, okay fine. I’ll give it another year,’ and here I am.”

In Two Mississippi Cases, Justice Breyer Renews Call to Review Constitutionality of Death Penalty

As its 2017-2018 term came to a close, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review two Mississippi cases that presented significant challenges to capital punishment as implemented in that state and across the country. Over the dissent of Justice Stephen Breyer (pictured), who renewed his call for the Court to review the constitutionality of the death penalty as a whole, the Court on June 29 denied certiorari in the cases of Timothy Evans and Richard Jordan. Reiterating concerns he first voiced in his landmark dissent three years ago in Glossip v. Gross (2015), Justice Breyer wrote: “the death penalty, as currently administered, suffers from unconscionably long  delays, arbitrary application, and serious unreliability.” Two Mississippi cases, he wrote, illustrate the first two of those factors. Evans and Jordan were both sentenced to death in Mississippi’s Second Judicial District, which—according to death sentencing data maintained by Mississippi’s Office of the State Public Defender—has imposed more death sentences than any of the 21 other judicial districts in the state and nearly 1/3 of all the death sentences imposed in the state this century. Evans’s petition for writ of certiorari had argued that his death sentence was unconstitutionally arbitrary because of the geographic disproportionality in the way in which the death penalty was imposed and carried out across the state. Jordan had asked the Court to review the constitutionality of his more than forty-year tenure on Mississippi’s death row for a crime committed in 1976. Jordan’s death sentence was overturned three separate times because of different constitutional violations in each of his sentencing trials. In 1991, after his sentence had been overturned for the third time, a special prosecutor agreed that Jordan should be sentenced to life without parole. However, the Mississippi Supreme Court vacated the life sentence saying the sentence was invalid because it had not been authorized by Mississippi law in effect at the time of the murder. The state then sought and obtained the death penalty against Jordan for a fourth time. “Jordan has lived more than half of his life on death row,” Breyer wrote, living most of that time “in isolated, squalid conditions.” Breyer said the cruelty of the conditions of Jordan’s imprisonment constitute an “additional punishment” that warrants review by the Court to address whether the lengthy delay, in and of itself, violates the Eighth Amendment. The geographically arbitrary death-sentencing practices in the Second District also warranted review, Breyer wrote. “This geographic concentration reflects a nationwide trend. Death sentences, while declining in number, have become increasingly concentrated in an ever-smaller number of counties,” he wrote. This arbitrariness, Justice Breyer explained, “is aggravated by the fact that definitions of death eligibility vary depending on the state.” As a result, in Mississippi, unlike most states, a defendant may be sentenced to death for a felony robbery-murder, which does not require that the defendant actually intended to kill someone. Justice Breyer also found evidence in Mississippi that the death penalty was not reliably administered. He noted that just “[f]our hours before Willie Manning was slated to die by lethal injection, the Mississippi Supreme Court stayed his execution,” and in April 2015, Manning became the fourth Mississippi death-row prisoner to be exonerated. With six more death-row prisoners exonerated throughout the U.S. since January 2017, the unreliability of the death penalty, Justice Breyer argued, provides a third reason for the Court to review the constitutionality of capital punishment. “[M]any of the capital cases that come before this court,” Justice Breyer wrote, “involve, like the cases of Richard Jordan and Timothy Evans, special problems of cruelty or arbitrariness. Hence, I remain of the view that the court should grant the petitions now before us to consider whether the death penalty as currently administered violates the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.” 

(Emily Wagster Pettus, US Supreme Court Rejects 2 Mississippi Death Row Appeals, Associated Press, June 28, 2018; Marcia Coyle, US Supreme Court Turns Down Challenges to Death Penalty, National Law Journal, June 28, 2018.) Read Justice Breyer’s dissent here. See U.S. Supreme Court.


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Roma communities fear deportation in post-Brexit Britain

Fascist favorite targets: Jews, Roma, Gays, Blacks, Browns… anyone one not fascist enough for them


Charities warn that many lack documentation required to gain settled status

Roma living in the UK are at risk of deportation following Brexit, charities have said, as they warn that many will be unable to provide the necessary documentation to be granted settled status.

Last month, the home secretary, Sajid Javid, said that EU nationals would be asked to answer “three simple questions” in an online form to continue living in the UK once it has left the EU.

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Why Young Feminists Are Sending Wire Coat Hangers to Susan Collins

Roe v. Wade is in danger. This is not a drill.

When Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement last week, he put an immediate target on reproductive rights. Kennedy, the longtime swing vote on the Court, was the crucial fifth vote recognizing a (limited) constitutional right to abortion. Trump has pledged to appoint anti-abortion conservatives in his place — and if he succeeds, the Supreme Court is almost certain to overturn Roe, allowing states to outlaw abortion.

We can’t stop Trump from nominating a right-wing zealot. That means our one, slim chance to save ourselves from a future of forced parenthood lies is to block anti-choice Supreme Court nominees in the Senate. If all 49 Democrats in the Senate vote against an anti-Roe nominee, we’d still need to flip at least one Republican. And that means the path to saving Roe depends on what passes for a moderate in the Republican party these days: Maine Senator Susan Collins.

Collins waffled throughout the weekend, saying she’d prefer a nominee who would “respect [the] precedent” of Roe, then refusing to commit to voting down a nominee hostile to abortion access. Women across the country immediately, organically responded by sending wire coat hangers to Senator Collins’ doorstep.

women are sending hangers to @SenatorCollins‘ office in response to her statement that she won’t take the next SCOTUS pick’s stance on roe v. wade into account https://t.co/8MtajPqZQZ

— Megan Magray (@megkmag) June 29, 2018

Sent mine. You sent yours? https://t.co/GyACBHZJjB

— Dana Bolger (@danabolger) June 29, 2018

It’s a powerful reminder of just how high the stakes are. If we lose Roe, people won’t stop seeking abortions — but many more will die doing it.

Today, abortion is a far safer procedure than childbirth. But it wasn’t always that way. Before Roe, when abortion was only available in a handful of blue cities, hundreds of thousands of women every year sought illegal abortions or attempted to self-induce. Self-induced abortions, sometimes performed with wire coat hangers, were incredibly dangerous. In just one year, one New York hospital treated nearly 1,600 patients for botched abortions. A single Los Angeles hospital admitted 701 patients with septic abortions.

As feminists have pointed out before: “a pro-life world has a lot of dead women in it.”

If Roe falls, unconstitutional abortion bans in twenty-seven states could be revived. Even if abortion remains legal in a handful of states, the women who would most likely need to cross state lines for an abortion would be those least likely to have the financial resources to do so: nearly 70 percent of women who obtain abortions live below 200% of the federal poverty line.  

Overturning Roe would kill some of those women. In the years immediately after Roe — when abortion was technically legal, but not widely available — people went to extreme lengths to end unwanted pregnancies. One Louisiana abortion provider described a woman who “unraveled a wire coat hanger and used it to break her water,” another patient who soaked a cotton ball in turpentine and inserted it into their vagina, and another who injected turpentine into her abdomen with a syringe. He treated one patient who had shot themselves in the stomach to end a pregnancy.  

Nearly one in four U.S. women will have an abortion by the time they turn 45. Some will get abortions because their pregnancies put their lives at risk. Some will get abortions because they’re terrified of what an abusive partner or parent will do upon learning they’re pregnant. Some will get abortions because they simply can’t afford a(nother) child. (Women who carry an unwanted pregnancy to term are three times more likely than women who receive a sought-after abortion to be below the poverty level two years later.) And some will get abortions because they want to. We should all have the right to decide when — and whether — to become parents, to control our bodies, and to control the arc of our lives.

If we lose Roe, none of the reasons people seek abortion will change. People will still need abortions and people will still seek abortions. But many of them will have to risk their lives to get them.

Under pressure, Collins had hedged her bets again, making a flimsy statement on Sunday saying she’d oppose a nominee with an anti-Roe “activist agenda.” But when every potential SCOTUS nominee has been screened by the White House for hostility to legal abortion, that just isn’t good enough, so women are keeping the pressure on and the hangers coming.

Let’s make sure Susan Collins — and other potential swing votes like Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and Arizona Senator Jeff Flake — know just what they’re deciding when they vote on Trump’s nominee.

You can order a wire hanger here. Susan Collins’ Maine and D.C. office addresses here. You can find Lisa Murkowski’s office addresses here.

Image credit: Tyler LaRiviere

Russian Censorship of Telegram

Internet censors have a new strategy in their bid to block applications and websites: pressuring the large cloud providers that host them. These providers have concerns that are much broader than the targets of censorship efforts, so they have the choice of either standing up to the censors or capitulating in order to maximize their business. Today’s Internet largely reflects the dominance of a handful of companies behind the cloud services, search engines and mobile platforms that underpin the technology landscape. This new centralization radically tips the balance between those who want to censor parts of the Internet and those trying to evade censorship. When the profitable answer is for a software giant to acquiesce to censors’ demands, how long can Internet freedom last?

The recent battle between the Russian government and the Telegram messaging app illustrates one way this might play out. Russia has been trying to block Telegram since April, when a Moscow court banned it after the company refused to give Russian authorities access to user messages. Telegram, which is widely used in Russia, works on both iPhone and Android, and there are Windows and Mac desktop versions available. The app offers optional end-to-end encryption, meaning that all messages are encrypted on the sender’s phone and decrypted on the receiver’s phone; no part of the network can eavesdrop on the messages.

Since then, Telegram has been playing cat-and-mouse with the Russian telecom regulator Roskomnadzor by varying the IP address the app uses to communicate. Because Telegram isn’t a fixed website, it doesn’t need a fixed IP address. Telegram bought tens of thousands of IP addresses and has been quickly rotating through them, staying a step ahead of censors. Cleverly, this tactic is invisible to users. The app never sees the change, or the entire list of IP addresses, and the censor has no clear way to block them all.

A week after the court ban, Roskomnadzor countered with an unprecedented move of its own: blocking 19 million IP addresses, many on Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. The collateral damage was widespread: The action inadvertently broke many other web services that use those platforms, and Roskomnadzor scaled back after it became clear that its action had affected services critical for Russian business. Even so, the censor is still blocking millions of IP addresses.

More recently, Russia has been pressuring Apple not to offer the Telegram app in its iPhone App Store. As of this writing, Apple has not complied, and the company has allowed Telegram to download a critical software update to iPhone users (after what the app’s founder called a delay last month). Roskomnadzor could further pressure Apple, though, including by threatening to turn off its entire iPhone app business in Russia.

Telegram might seem a weird app for Russia to focus on. Those of us who work in security don’t recommend the program, primarily because of the nature of its cryptographic protocols. In general, proprietary cryptography has numerous fatal security flaws. We generally recommend Signal for secure SMS messaging, or, if having that program on your computer is somehow incriminating, WhatsApp. (More than 1.5 billion people worldwide use WhatsApp.) What Telegram has going for it is that it works really well on lousy networks. That’s why it is so popular in places like Iran and Afghanistan. (Iran is also trying to ban the app.)

What the Russian government doesn’t like about Telegram is its anonymous broadcast feature­ — channel capability and chats — ­which makes it an effective platform for political debate and citizen journalism. The Russians might not like that Telegram is encrypted, but odds are good that they can simply break the encryption. Telegram’s role in facilitating uncontrolled journalism is the real issue.

Iran attempts to block Telegram have been more successful than Russia’s, less because Iran’s censorship technology is more sophisticated but because Telegram is not willing to go as far to defend Iranian users. The reasons are not rooted in business decisions. Simply put, Telegram is a Russian product and the designers are more motivated to poke Russia in the eye. Pavel Durov, Telegram’s founder, has pledged millions of dollars to help fight Russian censorship.

For the moment, Russia has lost. But this battle is far from over. Russia could easily come back with more targeted pressure on Google, Amazon and Apple. A year earlier, Zello used the same trick Telegram is using to evade Russian censors. Then, Roskomnadzor threatened to block all of Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud; and in that instance, both companies forced Zello to stop its IP-hopping censorship-evasion tactic.

Russia could also further develop its censorship infrastructure. If its capabilities were as finely honed as China’s, it would be able to more effectively block Telegram from operating. Right now, Russia can block only specific IP addresses, which is too coarse a tool for this issue. Telegram’s voice capabilities in Russia are significantly degraded, however, probably because high-capacity IP addresses are easier to block.

Whatever its current frustrations, Russia might well win in the long term. By demonstrating its willingness to suffer the temporary collateral damage of blocking major cloud providers, it prompted cloud providers to block another and more effective anti-censorship tactic, or at least accelerated the process. In April, Google and Amazon banned­ — and technically blocked­ — the practice of “domain fronting,” a trick anti-censorship tools use to get around Internet censors by pretending to be other kinds of traffic. Developers would use popular websites as a proxy, routing traffic to their own servers through another website­ — in this case Google.com­ — to fool censors into believing the traffic was intended for Google.com. The anonymous web-browsing tool Tor has used domain fronting since 2014. Signal, since 2016. Eliminating the capability is a boon to censors worldwide.

Tech giants have gotten embroiled in censorship battles for years. Sometimes they fight and sometimes they fold, but until now there have always been options. What this particular fight highlights is that Internet freedom is increasingly in the hands of the world’s largest Internet companies. And while freedom may have its advocates — ­the American Civil Liberties Union has tweeted its support for those companies, and some 12,000 people in Moscow protested against the Telegram ban­ — actions such as disallowing domain fronting illustrate that getting the big tech companies to sacrifice their near-term commercial interests will be an uphill battle. Apple has already removed anti-censorship apps from its Chinese app store.

In 1993, John Gilmore famously said that “The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” That was technically true when he said it but only because the routing structure of the Internet was so distributed. As centralization increases, the Internet loses that robustness, and censorship by governments and companies becomes easier.

This essay previously appeared on Lawfare.com.