Category Archives: NYC

JLC Labor Seder

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[H/t to A.L.]

My wife and I went to a labor Seder earlier in the week that was organized by the organized by the United Hebrew Trades – New York Division of the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC). It was the first labor Seder for either of us and we had a nice time. The labor Seders were organized to provide an opportunity for “members of the Jewish community and members of the trade union movement to sit down together for a Seder meal and explore the relationships between the traditional story of Pesach and more recent struggles for freedom and dignity”. Labor Seders were held across the country from San Francisco to NYC.

Participants read from a Haggadah published by the JLC which made connections between the Jewish experience of slavery and Diaspora and contemporary immigration reform, the working conditions of Jewish sweatshop workers and those toiling in sweatshops today and anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination and prejudice. In addition to spilling wine to remember the plagues meted out against the ancient Egyptians, we also spilled to acknowledge hunger, slave labor and ethnic cleansing.

We had to leave before the end of the Seder as my wife is getting tired rather early in the evening. The baby is due in about two months and staying out past 8:30 is a stretch. Hope to see all of you (old friends and new) again next year.

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Remembering the 98th Anniversary of the Triangle Fire

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[H/t A.L.]

On March 25, 1911, 146 young immigrant workers died in a tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York’s Greenwich Village. Within minutes the fire spread to consume the building’s upper three stories. Firefighters who arrived at the scene were unable to rescue those workers trapped inside because the doors were locked and their ladders could not reach the factory floor.

This tragedy galvanized a city to fight for labor reform and safety in the workplace. In 2006, 99 NYC workers were killed on the job, one-third of them from a fall. Today, unions are desperately fighting to prevent the senseless deaths of workers.

Join us as we honor those who were killed on the job and fight to prevent the killing of more workers in New York City.

WHEN Friday, March 27, 2009 • 12 – 1:00 pm

WHERE Corner of Washington Place & Greene Street—just east of Washington Square Park

More here.

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ISM Activist Tristan Anderson Critically Injured

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I have been reading on the IMCs and in the mainstream media about Tristan Anderson, an International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activist from the SF Bay Area who was hit in the head by a high-velocity tear gas canister while attending a protest in Ni’lin.

When I first read about his injuries in the NYT, the paper noted his previous stint as a tree-sitter at the University of California, Berkeley. The SF Chronicle published a similar story. As I dug deeper I discovered Mr. Anderson had much wider activist experience, including protests in Mexico and South America as well as the “Battle of Seattle.” Given my own history I wondered if I had met Tristan in the past, maybe at a demonstration or meeting the two of us had attended. I am fairly certain friends in the Bay Area know him and are concerned about his condition and hope he makes a speedy recovery.

YNet reports:

An American national was seriously injured Friday during a rally against the separation fence being built in the West Bank village of Naalin, apparently after being hit by a tear gas canister.

The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) identified the man injured as Tristan Anderson, 37, of California. He was rushed to the Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer for medical treatment.

The Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Office confirmed the report, adding that the incident was being looked into. The army also said that some 400 left wing Israeli, Palestinian and foreign activists had arrived at the area while violating a closed military area order, and that some of them, who were veiled, had hurled stones at the security forces, who responded with crowd dispersal means.

Anarchists Against the Wall notes:

The impact of the projectile caused numerous condensed fractures to Anderson’s forehead and right eye socket. During the operation, part of his right frontal lobe had to be removed, as it was penetrated by bone fragments. A brain fluid leakage was sealed using a tendon from his thigh, and both his right eye and skin suffered extensive damage. The long term scope of all of Tristan’s injuries is yet unknown.

I could not help but notice numerous mainstream media reports of the ISM as a “pro-Palestinian” organization but mention nothing of the group’s anti-Zionism or the recklessness of its confrontations with the IDF. If you did not know any better you would think they represent the second coming of the Civil Rights Movement. However, the ISM is a known supporter of Palestinian terrorism and the vast majority of ISM activists are aware of this support when they volunteer.

Alex Stein (False Dichotmies) who has been to similar demonstrations in the past had this to say:

I can testify to the heavy-handed tactics employed by the IDF, tactics that are not employed when it comes to dealing with settler demonstrations…Most of the forty protesters were drawn from the anarchist movement, a fact reflected in their incendiary slogans, in which the IDF was frequently referred to as a “terrorist organisation”. While I do not share the politics of Anarchists against the Wall,  it’s a shame that other groups (Peace Now, Meretz etc) weren’t represented.

Regarding the settlers, how many times have their demonstrations resulted in the deaths of Israeli soldiers or civilians? If the answer is none, that might explain why the IDF is not as heavy-handed as when they are dealing with demos organized by Fatah, Hamas, or the ISM. As to why less radical groups avoid these gatherings, perhaps they are all too aware of the ISM’s tactics.

Here is comment from the Anderson family posted on Indybay:

We are deeply grateful for the love and support pouring in from Tristan’s friends and fellow activists around the world. It is moving to see how many people care for Tristan and are moved by his work championing social justice issues. We are proud of Tristan’s fierce courage, adventurous spirit, and his many travels to all corners of the globe.

Fierce courage? How about reckless stupidity? I can empathize with the family’s pain but not their failure to look honestly at what led to their son’s injury. Mr. Anderson willingly placed himself in the middle of a combat zone.

As I commented at Roland’s and Noga’s blogs (with some editing):

When Tristan and other ISM volunteers placed themselves in the mix with people throwing stones at the IDF, they knew they were asking for trouble. They knew these disturbances can escalate rapidly. But they volunteered to put themselves in harms way.

Some see this as valorous. I see it as lacking judgment.

I am sad Anderson was injured but activists need to be aware what happens when they play with folks security. They think they have the right to go to countries that are experiencing intense conflicts and expect special treatment. But the situation in Israel is not the same as that of UC Berkeley or UC Santa Cruz or the streets of Seattle.

Israel is very serious about security. Facing daily terrorist threats will do that. When American and European activists go overseas and align themselves with Israel’s enemies they need to think very carefully about what they are doing and why they are doing it.

Is it really in the name of peace or in order to reinforce their own delusional radical politics?

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[ISM volunteers]

Hope Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance

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[H/t Congregation Beth Elohim]

This is happening at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, Brooklyn tomorrow night (7:30PM). I have not read the book but it sounds interesting and it is always a joy to hang with Rabbi Bachman. Maybe I will see you there?

From the website:

In Hope, Not Fear, internationally renowned philanthropist and community leader Edgar M. Bronfman proposes a new direction in Jewish life for the open societies of North America–a direction in which Judaism will not merely survive but will in fact flourish. Arguing that the Jewish future cannot be grounded in fear of anti-Semitism and intermarriage, Bronfman reexamines important texts and interviews Jewish leaders to identify a new course for revitalizing the faith and community.

Rabbi Bachman will moderate the discussion.

For more information about the book, please click here.

Campus Protest Roundup

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[To the barricades!]

A roundup regarding the protests and occupations taking place at colleges and universities in the UK, US and Canada. Many of the protests focused on Israel and developing scholarships for Palestinian students. Some added demands specific to their institution. For example, students at NYU demanded the Bobst library opened to the public:

Bob from Brockley on Goldsmiths and the politics of Anti-Zionism.

Insider Higher Ed has a bit regarding Gaza Protests in the UK and US.

Roland Dodds (But I am a Liberal!) on the End of the Take Back NYU! (TBNYU!) occupation:

Throughout the whole video, the “activists” keep reminding the university security that they are on camera, and that it will reflect poorly on them in the future. I figure most folks will view the footage as a wonderful illustration of just how brainless these self proclaimed “student leaders” are, and not an indictment on any security personnel.

Ned Resnikoff (Campus Progress, “How Not to Protest”) opines:

The TBNYU! protest was one of the strangest farces in NYU’s 178-year history. By the end of the 40-hour occupation, only 10 protesters remained, which NYU security* unceremoniously removed from the building. Each one was suspended and kicked out of campus housing, and NYU did not meet a single one of the group’s demands. Nevertheless, the official TBNYU! blog, with characteristic detachment from reality, insisted that the occupation had “made a difference.”

Which relates to one of my comments at Roland’s:

You can already read on rad left sites like the IMCs that the protests– even if they did not achieve their demands–were a “success.” As I’ve stated many times here and elsewhere, a large measure of what drives radical activism in the U.S. is not the achievement of demands/goals (political or other) but the validation of an individual’s identity and radical ideology. In other words, it is more about how protesting makes them feel then actually achieving anything concrete. You know, “demand the impossible,” and all that.

Noga (Contentious Centrist): Two Posts on Anti-Semitism at York University.

More on the situation at York here and on anti-Israel activities at Carleton University here.

ADDED:

Bob provided some more links in the comments.

Elder of Zion on Israel Apartheid Week

ZWord on Israel Apartheid Week

Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926-1933

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[Portrait of Jimmy Durante, 1926. Photo courtesy of the Calder Foundation]

My wife and I went to see “Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926-1933” at the Whitney Museum. I have been fascinated with Calder’s work for many years and have seen his mobiles and stabiles in a variety of museums. His circus (part of the Whitney’s permanent collection) is always a joy to see but the most intriguing pieces for me at this exhibition were his wire sculptures, especially the portraits.

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[Portrait of Joan Miro, 1930. Photo courtesy of the Calder Foundation]

If you are unfamiliar with the artist, here is a bio:

Alexander Calder was born in 1898, the second child of artist parents—his father was a sculptor and his mother a painter. Because his father, Alexander Stirling Calder, received public commissions, the family traversed the country throughout Calder’s childhood. Calder was encouraged to create, and from the age of eight he always had his own workshop wherever the family lived. For Christmas in 1909, Calder presented his parents with two of his first sculptures, a tiny dog and duck cut from a brass sheet and bent into formation. The duck is kinetic—it rocks back and forth when tapped. Even at age eleven, his facility in handling materials was apparent.

Despite his talents, Calder did not originally set out to become an artist. He instead enrolled at the Stevens Institute of Technology after high school and graduated in 1919 with an engineering degree. Calder worked for several years after graduation at various jobs, including as a hydraulics engineer and automotive engineer, timekeeper in a logging camp, and fireman in a ship’s boiler room. While serving in the latter occupation, on a ship from New York bound for San Francisco, Calder awoke on the deck to see both a brilliant sunrise and a scintillating full moon; each was visible on opposite horizons (the ship then lay off the Guatemalan coast). The experience made a lasting impression on Calder: he would refer to it throughout his life.

Calder committed to becoming an artist shortly thereafter, and in 1923 he moved to New York and enrolled at the Art Students League. He also took a job illustrating for the National Police Gazette, which sent him to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus to sketch circus scenes for two weeks in 1925. The circus became a lifelong interest of Calder’s, and after moving to Paris in 1926, he created his Cirque Calder, a complex and unique body of art. The assemblage included diminutive performers, animals, and props he had observed at the Ringling Brothers Circus. Fashioned from wire, leather, cloth, and other found materials, Cirque Calder was designed to be manipulated manually by Calder. Every piece was small enough to be packed into a large trunk, enabling the artist to carry it with him and hold performances anywhere. Its first performance was held in Paris for an audience of friends and peers, and soon Calder was presenting the circus in both Paris and New York to much success. Calder’s renderings of his circus often lasted about two hours and were quite elaborate. Indeed, the Cirque Calder predated performance art by forty years.

Calder found he enjoyed working with wire for his circus: he soon began to sculpt from this material portraits of his friends and public figures of the day. Word traveled about the inventive artist, and in 1928 Calder was given his first solo gallery show at the Weyhe Gallery in New York. The show at Weyhe was soon followed by others in New York, as well as in Paris and Berlin: as a result, Calder spent much time crossing the ocean by boat. He met Louisa James (a grandniece of writer Henry James) on one of these steamer journeys and the two were married in January 1931. He also became friendly with many prominent artists and intellectuals of the early twentieth century at this time, including Joan Miró, Fernand Léger, James Johnson Sweeney, and Marcel Duchamp.

[more here]

About the exhibition:

When Alexander “Sandy” Calder (1898–1976), arrived in Paris in 1926, he aspired to be a painter; when he left in 1933, he had evolved into the artist we know today: an international figure and defining force in twentieth-century sculpture. In these seven years Calder’s fluid, animating drawn line transformed from two dimensions to three, from ink and paint to wire, and his radical innovations included openform wire caricature portraits, a bestiary of wire animals, his beloved and critically important miniature Circus (1926–31), abstract and figurative sculptures, and his paradigm-shifting “mobiles.”

This is short video of the Cirque du Calder:

Part II is here.

I know a few readers of this blog are interested in the Spanish Civil War. Calder designed a mercury fountain commissioned by the Spanish Republic for the 1937 World Exhibition in Paris. The artwork is a memorial to the siege of Almadén by the forces of General Franco. At that time, Almadén supplied 60% of the world’s mercury. The fountain is located at the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona. Calder also supported Spanish Refugee Aid.

Political Cults: NATLFED

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I was involved with a variety of organizations on the radical left for close to fifteen years. Some were genuinely enjoyable (working with a radical press) others less so (attending meetings at the “revolutionary collective”). But the craziest experience, one that led me to challenge the alphabet soup of revolutionary organizations in the U.S. (what Ron Radosh terms the “leftover left”), was my time spent volunteering with a front group of the National Labor Federation.

The front group, or “entity” in cult jargon, will remain nameless. Like so many San Francisco Bay Area radical sects, they promoted an ultra-left, anti-imperialist line. What made them stand out was the services they provided in the community including food and clothing distributions and medical care. As a young urban radical, dedicated to the struggle for social justice™ and eager to work with a local, community-based organization, I called a number in their newspaper and arranged to meet with representatives of the organization. We met at their office. They talked about their projects (many), their need for volunteers (great), and the possibilities for organizing in Oakland (endless). What they failed to mention was this was not an independent organization, it was part of a larger group called the National Federation of Labor (NATLFED), a group that I later found out was a political cult.

At my first meeting they claimed the organization was independent and community supported. I wondered how they could pay for an office, publish a newspaper, and pay their staff? Did they get government grants? They said they refused government funding and all of the people in the organization were volunteers. Then they slowly let you know the organization is part of a larger organization of “strata-organizing entities” seeking to “organize the unorganized.”

Entities? Strata-organizing? WTF? If it sounds strange, it is. The organization operates with a vocabulary laden with acronyms and arcane terminology. Here are some examples from The Essential Organizer, NATLFEDs bible:

benefits program: Claimed program or programs for organizing people as members and providing them with medical, dental, legal, food, and clothing.

blue-sky briefing: Meeting held in an open field to avoid feared electronic eavesdropping.

cadre: A committed, Provisional Communist Party-dedicated member of the cult. “A cadre’s life goal and the organization’s goal are the same. A cadre’s lifestyle is the same as the organization lifestyle.” — The Essential Organizer

canvassing: A term common to all political groups for soliciting support. NATLFED canvassing is unique in its strident demands on front volunteers and cult members to canvass, and for the strident tone of canvassers toward potential donors. NATLFED canvassing can be door-to-door, or it can be street tabling — if the latter, often in front of banks and supermarkets.

Central Committee: Governing body of the Provisional Communist Party.

constitution: Putatively governing document of the cult. The Essential Organizer actually has more day-to-day relevance. The constitution includes a death penalty and says that you may criticize and leave the organization only within your first year, after which either is forbidden.

DOT: The time a NATLFED member has been committed to the inner organization, as distinct from the time the person was simply volunteering.

entity: A front of the national organization. Entities solicit resources for themselves and for the national organization, and recruit volunteers into cult membership. Publicly called a mutual benefit association.

The Essential Organizer: The secret, micromanaging organizational manual of NATLFED.

FIIN: Financial input, a form or system for managing expenses and income. Also a technique to raise money: “A FIIN tactic.”

FOP: Friend of the Party. Aware of the Provisional Communist Party and in agreement with its politics, but not ready to join.

member: NATLFED calls “member” someone who signs up to be part of a mutual benefit organization. Such “members” are little involved: they still have normal lives and are barely indoctrinated with the public goal of the group (to organize without revolution), never mind the secret goal (to organize with revolution). Cult watchers would call “members” people who accept the secret goal of the group and have structured their lives around it. NATLFED calls such people cadre.

mutual benefit organization: Public name for a recruiting entity. MBAs claim to be unionlike groups offering benefits to the needy in exchange for membership of $0.62 a month (said to be the average wage of a farm worker in the early 1970s). MBAs beg donations of cash or supplies from local residents and businesses. The needy receive negligible aid, however, and when they do get aid they are expected to return the favor with exhausting support of the MBA. Most resources are kept by the organization. When aid is given, it is to maintain the illusion of MBAs as charitable to the poor, or to propagandize, as in free mass Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners followed by lectures about strata organizing.

National Labor Federation: the network of local entities. NATLFED is a fraction of the Provisional Communist Party, the central, controlling core of the cult.

NOC: East Coast base of national operations for NATLFED. Pronounced “knock”; stands for “National Office Central.” Located in Brooklyn. Often called the Cave in press reports, but “cave” is a police term for any suspected group’s headquarters, and reporters have talked more to police more than to cult members. One room of NOC is indeed called the Cave, though. See also COSHAAD.

OPS: Operations manager. Also synonym for “operations” in general.

propaganda: “Information released at a time or a manner to sustain, create, or enforce an effect. Example: for us to write in the newsletter nice things about reformist groups is propaganda, because by doing it we hope that the reformists realize we are willing to talk to at least establish polemics . . . even if they are ignorant, self- serving assholes . . . or think we are, whatever the current dialectic of position may be.” — The Essential Organizer.

Provisional Communist Party: The core of the cult. Centrally governs all branches of the greater organization, of which NATLFED is its largest and most active fraction. Only committed, viable party members are officers of an entity, but volunteers of an entity may know nothing of the Party or even of NATLFED. Also known as the Communist Party of the U.S.A, Provisional; Provisional Party of Communists, the Formation, etc.

The front groups do not let you know anything about their connection with NATLFED when you walk in the door. Nor is NATLFED mentioned on any of their literature. Over time, they let volunteers know a little here and there and start to lay on a heavy pressuring technique along the lines of, “the world is going to hell and unless you become a full-time volunteer (cadre) it will only get worse!” For stubborn people like me, the more they laid it on, the less I volunteered. When I stopped completely they would call me three or four times a week but eventually cut back to calling once a week, then once a month, then they gave up. Others were sucked right in by this badgering. I met more than a few people who basically admitted, “yeah, they are crazy but they are doing really good work in the community.”

Reflecting on my experiences with radical groups in the U.S. I began to wonder, why do people get involved with political organizations that are so far on the margins? Do they believe the far-out goals of these groups will ever be attained? Or do they join for the sense of belonging and identity these groups provide? I think the latter plays a much larger role than most recognize.

[Read the FBI files on NATLFED and LARGO, a related group]

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[Logo of the National Equal Justice Association, or, NEJA. The organization’s money laundering wing or entity in cult jargon.]

Part II: Inside NATLFED (coming soon)

Ahmadinejad in NYC

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In case you didn’t see this

Jodi Evans, a founder of the radical anti-war group Code Pink and “bundler” for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Wednesday.

“It’s rare for a head of state to take time during an official U.N. visit to meet with the peace community, especially in a situation where the host government—represented by the Bush administration—is so hostile,” Evans said in a statement. “The fact that the meeting took place and was so positive is, in itself, a major step forward.”

[Read it all here]

This is some of what Ahmadinejad had to say at the United Nations General Assembly:

The Zionist regime is on a definite slope to collapse, and there is no way for it to get out of the cesspool created by itself and its supporters…

The only sustainable way to the betterment of mankind is the return to the teachings of the divine prophets, monotheism, respect for the dignity of humans and the flow of love and affection in all relationships, ties and regulations, and to reform the present structures on this basis…

To fulfill this objective, I invite everybody to form a front of fraternity, amity and sustainable peace based on monotheism and justice under the name of “Coalition for Peace”, to prevent incursions and arrogance and to promote the culture of affection and justice.

[Feel the love? You can read the full text here]

Editorial from the New York Sun on Ahmadinejad’s visit to our fair city:

The American Jewish community has fallen into a paroxysm of recrimination in the aftermath of Senator Clinton‘s dropping out of the rally against Iran, and of the disinvitation to Governor Palin that followed. A long article in the newspaper Yated Ne’eman asserts that “the real culprits in this story” were “the die-hard Democrat partisans within the three sponsoring groups” — the United Jewish Communities, the UJA-Federation of New York, and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs — “who were determined to block Palin’s appearance at the rally.”

Some Palin fans are blaming the rally’s organizers, including, improbably, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, one of the most tireless and shrewdest American Jewish leaders we know, and a longtime pioneer in confronting Iran.

Others are blaming Mrs. Clinton for dropping out or the Obama campaign for not making Senator Obama or Senator Biden available to appear at the rally with Ms. Palin. And we don’t mind saying it’s an important moment. We characterized it in an earlier editorial as a “disgrace” that the political constellation couldn’t figure out a way for Ms. Palin to express her sentiments and those of Senator McCain before the thousands of demonstrators making a protest against Iran.

Amid all the searching for villains within America, we’d venture a reminder that it is important to keep an eye on those we’d call the real culprits, President Ahmadinejad of Iran and the supreme leader to whom he reports, Ayatollah Khamenei. Mr. Ahmadinejad made his purpose clear with his speech at the U.N. General Assembly seeking to blame the Jews for the financial crisis. The key for all Americans concerned about stopping Iranian terrorism and the Iranian nuclear program will be to keep our eyes on the real enemy.