This past week (so far) a bunch of big shoes have dropped, including:
— a huge war buildup;
— the sharks circling for the kill on health care; while
— even longtime peaceful immigrants living in fear;
— Muslims, even American-born ones, being harassed at the borders;
— clean air & water are gurgling down the tubes;
– more vote suppression is on the march, and
– I probably forgot several more —
But stop the presses–!!
The really big Quaker news is that the hardline evangelical caucus in North Carolina YM is upset (again) because they aren’t yet guaranteed “sufficient separation” from a handful of liberal meetings they’ve been trying to purge for more than two years. And so they’re pushing for yet another in the unending series of showdowns; it will come this Saturday, March 4, at the NCYM Representative body session.
Why? Because he’s having a public meeting. TWO, actually; one of them right here in Durham. And we didn’t even have to ask him!
Now, some fussbudgets might object that there’s nothing “heroic” about a Congressman meeting constituents. “Hey,” they grumble, “this is his JOB. It’s what he was elected to do: listen to us here, and work for us and for a better America in Washington.
Silly idealists. Especially this year. This month. This WEEK. It must be heroic, because so few of his colleagues are daring to do it.
(Has your Rep. been seen in public this week? Our two NC Senators have evidently fled the country. #notkidding.)
According to the Town Hall Project, Butterfield is the ONLY ONE of North Carolina’s 15 Members of Congress holding actual town hall meetings this go round. Maybe the others think it’s now illegal here, like trans-friendly bathrooms. With our current nutcase Legislature, it would be an easy mistake. (But you can bet they’re busy raising campaign money this week. You can take that to the bank.)
I hear that some of the few solons who ventured out have met with somewhat exuberant receptions. Well, we here in the NC First District can get excited too, but Rep. Butterfield will probably hear more applause than protests.
Far as I’m concerned he’s standing on the right side of most things that are important to me. I voted for him in November, and have no regrets. And he even knows how to tweet. Like this:
And that’s definitely not “fake news.”
The Durham session is tomorrow. And wouldn’t you know I messed around and made a commitment to go to another meeting, about some dismal Quaker breakup thing. So I can’t be there.
But I’m sure Rep. Butterfield won’t be lonely. And realizing I’d be away, I already shared some of my views with him. I did it by FAX; and it got through quick.
First I thanked him for holding the meeting, and for being on the progressive side. Then I talked about health care, and the plans to rip it up. And I ended with a request:
I want to tell you about what I would say if I could be [at the town hall]. It is about my grandson Calvin King, who is seven, and a NC resident. And it is about Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.
Calvin looks healthy and lively in this photo, which he now is.
But if it weren’t for Medicaid and the ACA, he would not look this way. He has had to have two unexpected, serious surgeries to bring him to his present state of health.
Without Medicaid & the ACA, Calvin would not have been able to have these procedures. It’s that simple.
My understanding is that you support the ACA and oppose plans to repeal it. Thank you for that.
However, I wish I had heard your voice on this more often, and more vocally. And I wish you would lobby your colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus to, borrowing the words of a famous populist, “Raise Less Corn and More Hell!” about this issue (and many others, but I’ll stick to ACA/Medicaid here.)
Pardon my language, & I meant no disrespect. But this is not something I feel calm & polite about.
We in your district need to HEAR YOUR VOICE on this issue, more often, and louder.
You’re on the right side. You’re doing your best. Let all of us – and those on the other side – hear it, every day, on this issue.
This is not an academic or “political” issue.
Lives hang in the balance. Lives in MY family & thousands more in this District.
Thank you and keep up the good work!
Charles Fager Durham NC First District NC
A North Carolina Member of Congress who actually wants to listen to constituents, in public. Right now, there’s only one.
After issuing a Holocaust Memorial message that didn’t mention its Jewish victims; and after very awkward comments about the Congressional Black Caucus at a marathon news conference last week, the president seems to have discovered these concerns; but not all are convinced. Here’s the latest:
President Donald Trump on Tuesday denounced the recent rise in bomb threats against Jewish community centers across the country, saying the anti-Semitism and racism that is troubling America must be addressed.
“Anti-Semitism is horrible. And it’s gonna stop and it has to stop,” Trump told NBC News in an exclusive interview, after touring the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
Federal authorities have been investigating a wave of phoned-in bomb threats at least 10 Jewish community centers, including in Alabama, Ohio, Illinois, Texas and New York. No one was injured, and the threats appeared to be hoaxes, the Jewish Community Center Association of North America told NBC News on Monday.
“I think it’s terrible,” Trump said of the threats. “I think it’s horrible. Whether it’s anti-Semitism or racism or any — anything you wanna think about having to do with the divide. Anti-Semitism is, likewise, it’s just terrible.”
He added, “You don’t know where it’s coming from, but I hope they catch the people.”
The director of the Anne Frank Center rebuked President Donald Trump’s statement denouncing a spate of anti-Semitic crimes, calling it a ‘Band-Aid on the cancer of Antisemitism.’
“The president’s sudden acknowledgement is a Band-Aid on the cancer of Antisemitism that has infected his own administration,” Steven Goldstein, the executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect in New York, said on Tuesday in a statement.
“His statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting Antisemitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the public record,” Goldstein said. “Make no mistake: The Antisemitism coming out of this Administration is the worst we have ever seen from any Administration.”
“Simply put, dismissing this issue as a political distraction or partisan concern does not change the fact that there has been a surge in anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions. Trump’s repeated failure to denounce anti-Semitism has consequences, emboldening bigots.
So it is honestly mind-boggling why Trump prefers to shout down a reporter or deride the concerns of the Jewish community. It is shocking to us that in this day and age, the president will not acknowledge — much less condemn — the rise in anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions. The issue of anti-Semitism is not a political one. But it is potentially lethal.
With the president’s leadership, it can get better. With his neglect or instigation, it can get worse.
In light of the rise of hate, there is a simple question that Trump should answer, not only for American Jews but to assuage Americans of all faiths — what will his administration do about the surge of anti-Semitism? What concrete steps will the White House take?”
Anti-semitism and racism. Very serious charges against a national administration. Looks like they’re not going away, despite the statement on Monday. And saying “it’s gonna stop and it has to stop,” isn’t the same as actually doing something to make it stop.
Racism and anti-semitism. They’re like the ghosts at his fancy table at Mar-a-Lago, and around the desk in the Oval Office.
According to the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), Sa’ed Atshan, the Palestinian Quaker professor of peace studies whose February 10 speech at Friends Central School (FCS) was canceled last month, is a Jew-hater in a class with –well, you know, the guy who had the pencil mustache:
“. . . if Palestinian speaker Sa’ed Atshan supports Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions – an international movement designed to delegitimize, weaken and ultimately destroy the Jewish State of Israel – then students at Friends’ Central School would be exposed to vicious, hateful lies with little hope that the same teachers who invited Atshan would offer students the actual facts about Israel, Palestinian-Arabs, and the Middle East that would set the record straight.”
Feldman is Director of the ZOA’s greater Philadelphia office.
And the college office of the ZOA has already devoted whole webpages to denouncing Atshan. A sample:
“Sa’ed Atshan is a leading activist in the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement, which spreads lies about Jews and Israel and seeks to destroy the only Jewish state.”
Indeed, to read these ZOA screeds, one would expect to find Atshan saying things like the following, which appeared in the Comments section of the Harvard Political Review in March 2013, while Atshan was a grad student there:
“The real issue is not The [Harvard student paper the] Crimson’s anti-Palestinian prejudice but the overrepresentation of Jews at The Crimson, in the Harvard student body and on the faculty.
We have to face the facts that . . .
Unqualified Jews are taking places from qualified white non-Jews, African Americans, and Asian Americans throughout the US academic system.”
Only, Atshan didn’t say that. A guy named Jonathan Affleck did. (Affleck said lots more like it. And he has a Facebook page that’s exclusively devoted to anti-Jewish fulminations, including a defense of the Nazi “Final Solution.”)
But Sa’ed Atshan did writeabout this. His Comment on Affleck’s statements was, in full:
“The Anti-Semitic comments of “Jonathan Affleck” here are morally reprehensible. As part of the Palestinian solidarity community at Harvard none of us would ever condone such racism. This is absolutely unacceptable (quotas against Jewish students, etc.). With “friends” like Affleck, we definitely do not need enemies. The struggle for Palestinian human rights is a just one based on universal values of equality and the fundamental dignity of all human beings…. and our movement should not be associated with Affleck and the like. NO ONE has authorized him to speak on our behalf.”
This exchange occurred before Atshan returned to his alma mater, Swarthmore College, as a professor, and long before the flap about a speech at Friends Central blew up. But it’s an intriguing and revealing item just the same. It’s a reminder that apples aren’t oranges.
And speaking of the FCS flap, that pot has continued to bubble since our last posts (here, here and here). Two FCS teachers, who protested the cancellation, have been suspended; their fate is still uncertain. There has been continuing media coverage. Op-eds and letters have made impassioned defenses of Atshan, as well as criticism. A petition signed by more than 400 FCS alumni, parents and other Friends has gone to FCS officials. Numerous private approaches have been made.
And yesterday, February 20, media reports surfaced that on Sunday, Atshan, who has maintained public silence amid the controversy, met with FCS head Craig Sellers to begin negotiations about resolving the controversy.
Mark Schwartz, a lawyer and friend of Atshan, said Sellers apologized to the professor and extended an invitation to speak at the school. He said Atshan maintained he was not comfortable accepting the offer unless two teachers who had been suspended over student protests that followed the cancellation were allowed to return to their jobs.
Atshan “has a strong conviction that the teachers should be back,” Schwartz said. “The reason he met with this guy, I’m sure, he was hoping this would get resolved.”
Friends’ Central spokeswoman Lisa D’Orazio gave a different account of what transpired. She said Sellers did not invite Atshan to give a talk but is “keeping the lines of communication open.”
A recently formed task force will look at all future programming, including speakers, at the school. “He’s still on the table,” D’Orazio said of Atshan.
That’s an unfortunate statement: “He’s still on the table.” The operating table? The autopsy table? Better try again.
In a letter Monday to Friends’ Central families, Philip Scott, clerk of the [FCS] board of trustees, said of the controversy: “Outside groups have tried to falsely paint this as a free speech issue. I want to be clear, this is not a free speech issue. It is about the school taking the time and effort to formulate and present intellectual, respectful, and comprehensive programs for its students.”
Well, I want to be clear too: I don’t believe Scott’s “not a free speech” meme for a minute.
One has to maintain a determined sense of isolation not to know that groups like the ZOA are working overtime to keep discussion of BDS and just about anything else that diverges from strong support of current Israeli government polices out of college and other educational spaces. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes not. And when they succeed, free speech takes a hit.
As it has at Friends Central School. This IS a “free speech issue.”
I hope Sellers and Scott can persuade those who forced the cancellation and suspensions to back off. Otherwise, this travesty can only further damage the school’s already battered reputation.
In a welcome letter on the FCS website, school head Sellers grandly proclaims that for FCS:
Our Vision: To awaken courage and intellect — and peacefully transform the world.
Nice words. But to get clear about that “vision” again, those in charge need to clean their glasses and see that they have screwed up bigtime here, both as carriers of Quaker traditions, and as educators.
They’ve got the intellect to fix this. What about the courage?
The Philadelphia Daily News is out today with a searing editorial about the ongoing flap involving Friends Central School, a cancelled speech about Middle East issues by a professor of Palestinian heritage, and the suspension of two teachers who supported his appearance.
The headline is biting:
DN editorial: Friends’ Central lacks integrity in shunning controversial speaker
“ANOTHER WEEK, another hit delivered to free speech, this one coming from an unexpected source – a Quaker school.
Last week, the head of Friends’ Central School, a Quaker private school in Wynnewood, uninvited a Palestinian who had been asked to speak by a student club. Students protested that decision, in part by walking out of an all-school gathering. This week, head of school Craig N. Sellers suspended two faculty advisers to the student group, saying – in effect – that they were inside agitators who had whipped up the student protest.
Or, as Sellers put it in a statement, the teachers disregarded “our guiding testimonies, which include community, peace and integrity.”
We see it differently. In our view, it was Sellers who disrupted the peace of the Friends’ Central community. And you can hardly call the muzzling of an invited speaker an example of integrity.”
Ouch. That hurts. It’s the kind of report that makes Quakers of all stripes cringe.
Back in the day, “integrity” was a key linchpin of the “Quaker way.” Maybe some of it was myth, magnified in the telling (there have definitely been some Quaker scoundrels; Richard Nixon?), but overall, the Society of Friends gained a kind of fame that money can’t buy, for being stubborn about the truth.
In practical ways, like Quaker shopkeepers setting fixed prices, rather than cheating uninformed customers.
In even comical ways, like carefully hedging their speech to be strictly factual (which this anecdote may not entirely be):
Once, it is said, Herbert Hoover (the Quaker president who wasn’t a crook) was riding across the prairie on a train, when another passenger spied some skinny-looking sheep in a nearby field.
“Looks like those sheep have all just been sheared,” said the passenger.
Hoover eyed them warily, paused, and then replied, “Yes, it does — at least on this side.”
Those were also the days when going bankrupt was not just a misfortune, but an infraction that would get a Friend “disowned.” That’s because it marred the Quaker “Reputation of Truth,” one item of which was that Friends always paid their debts.
Well, the Friends’ “Reputation of Truth” is pretty tattered in the eyes of this editorialist:
“The Quakers have always embraced free speech and espoused many unpopular causes. They opposed slavery and war at a time when you could get shot over those beliefs. William Penn went to jail in England because he would not give up his beliefs.
It would sadden Penn to see a school founded on his principles cowering in the corner, afraid to let students hear another viewpoint.”
They’ve got a point there. Who remembers Philadelphia 1838, when Quakers and other early abolitionists erected their own building, Pennsylvania Hall, because other groups wouldn’t let them speak or hold meetings? It opened in May, for a meeting of antislavery women: and was burned down the next night. The fires were set while Quaker Angelina Grimke was speaking.
Did this arson and attempted murder silence the women, or their movement? No.
But that’s not all. The editorial goes on:
“[Sa’ed] Atshan [the Swarthmore College professor whose talk was squashed] hasn’t spoken publicly about the controversy, but let’s assume that he is fervently pro-Palestinian, does favor economic sanctions against Israel and that he expressed those views before a group of high school students. So what? Would the students rush out of the room waving PLO flags? Would he convert them into rabid anti-Zionists? We think not.
Consider such a speech either food for thought or a foolish viewpoint, but it hardly represents a danger to the minds of these students. Being a student means being exposed to conflicting facts, theories and beliefs. It’s called learning.”
Yes it is. And here’s hoping the FCS leadership finishes this lesson in a hurry and fixes this mess, before their reputation, that of Friends Central School, and that of Quakers at large, suffer more harmful, unnecessary hits.
As is often the case in Quaker controversies, the officials blame “a fundamental breakdown in process,” adding “We simply did not approach this very sensitive topic with adequate community dialogue.”
In a departure from what has been earlier reported, the statement says “To be clear, our intention has always been to pause – not cancel – any speaker engagement on this topic.”
This “pause” was needed, the statement says, because “We felt it was important that more facts and input from community members be gathered to develop a thoughtful, respectful, and intellectual approach.”
However, “During this period of pause, two teachers were given explicit directives, which they ignored. As a result of their actions and their expressed intentions, these teachers have been placed on paid leave while we continue a more thorough review.”
[Note: I am not aware of any public comments by the two suspended teachers. And with their jobs hanging in the balance, they are likely being advised to keep quiet.]
The FCS Board held a called meeting yesterday to address this situation. And as Quaker bodies do in the face of almost all emergencies, they formed a committee, here called a “Task Force” tasked “to determine how we move forward.” Pledging to be “proactive,” further updates are promised. The rest of the statement is a set of broad generalities, concluding with:
“Our challenges reflect the world we live in. This moment presents an opportunity to demonstrate what defines Friends’ Central as a Quaker school.”
Full text of the statement:
Important Message from the Head of School and Clerk of the Board Posted 02/14/2017 02:59PM Dear Friends,
As Head of School and Board Clerk, we write to you today with an update on recent events within the Friends’ Central community involving students’ learning about the Middle East, campus speakers, and our path forward. While many have expressed concern, we believe this is an opportunity to live our Mission and emerge a stronger community.
We understand these are delicate issues and want to assure you that the physical and emotional safety of our community is our first priority.
There was a fundamental breakdown in process. We simply did not approach this very sensitive topic with adequate community dialogue. To be clear, our intention has always been to pause – not cancel – any speaker engagement on this topic. We felt it was important that more facts and input from community members be gathered to develop a thoughtful, respectful, and intellectual approach. During this period of pause, two teachers were given explicit directives, which they ignored. As a result of their actions and their expressed intentions, these teachers have been placed on paid leave while we continue a more thorough review.
Members of our community have reached out to share their views, while offering suggestions on how to proceed. To those individuals, we have heard you and we will invite participation shortly. At last night’s called meeting, the Board of Trustees began forming a Task Force to determine how we move forward. To lead this effort, Board members and current parents Fariha Khan and Elizabeth Cohen ’83 will serve as Clerks. The Task Force will broadly engage our community – including students, parents, faculty, administration, and alumni/ae – and bring together a wide variety of viewpoints. Our goal is to move toward and embrace the challenges of intellectual discourse with respect and empathy.
We commit to communicating more proactively. In the days and weeks ahead, you will receive more information about our Task Force and opportunities available to participate. Some may still have concerns and issues you would like to address directly with the School. Craig is available to meet with any member of our community who would like time to discuss these issues in further detail. This is a priority, and Craig is available in the coming days.
Our challenges reflect the world we live in. This moment presents an opportunity to demonstrate what defines Friends’ Central as a Quaker school. We must come together on how we teach our children, to ensure they meet challenges from a place of knowledge and constructive engagement.
Wynnewood (Philadelphia) PA, February 13, 2017: “Two Friends’ Central School teachers who supervised a club that invited a Palestinian speaker to the Wynnewood campus — an appearance the school canceled after some parents and students complained — were placed on administrative leave Monday morning.
English teacher Ariel Eure, 25, and history teacher Layla Helwa, 26, were called to an off-campus meeting with Craig Sellers, the head of school, and a human resources manager, and informed they were suspended indefinitely, said Mark D. Schwartz, a lawyer and former parent at the school who is representing the women.
Schwartz said that he tried to attend the 7:30 a.m. meeting at the Llanerch Diner in Upper Darby, but that school officials turned him away. The teachers were told they were being suspended for disobeying a supervisor and for having a “single-minded approach to a complicated issue for the community,” he said.
“This was done in a non-Quaker fashion,” Schwartz said. “It was more like storm trooper fashion.”
Late Monday afternoon, the administration released a statement: “As a Quaker school, we have long-standing expectations for all members of our community – especially for our teachers, who have the responsibility of guiding young minds. There are very real concerns about the conduct of Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa for their disregard of our guiding testimonies, which include community, peace, and integrity. As of today, Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa are on indefinite paid administrative leave while a more extensive review is conducted.”
The controversy has stirred passions at the school and shone a light on a thorny issue for many Quaker schools: While the American Friends Service Committee supports putting economic pressure on Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian territories, many students at Quaker schools are Jewish.
Sa’ed Atshan, a Swarthmore College professor and a Quaker, had been invited to speak Friday by the school’s Peace and Equality in Palestine Club, which formed last April. After parents complained about Atshan’s ties to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which advocates punitive measures against Israel, the school rescinded the invitation.
About 65 students walked out of a weekly Meeting for Sharing on Wednesday to protest the cancellation, while others stood and read a statement. Eure and Helwa walked out with the students. . . .”
East, West, North & South– Something’s Happening Here (& There . . .)
[On February 4] Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), one of the relatively few members of Congress who has held public town hall meetings in 2017, was beset by protesters in the city of Roseville, Calif. More than 1,000 people gathered in front of a venue that could seat 200, and many of those who got inside protested McClintock, a conservative who represents one of the state’s few safe Republican seats, for favoring the president’s executive orders on refugees and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Before Congress Repeals & Destroys My Family’s Health Care–
Let me say a bit about it.
I’m retired, age 74. Living modestly on Social Security and a bit more; breaking even, few luxuries, no complaints.
I have a partner, four children, five grandchildren, a great grandchild due next summer. I’m white, though my family is mixed.
Overall, we’ve been pretty healthy. No big catastrophes–car crashes, cancer, or crystal meth. So far.
But “stuff happens.”And some stuff has happened to us: two grandkids turned up needing serious surgeries. One of their parents collapsed & almost died from untreated hypertension.
And as for me, I’ve got stents in vessels around the heart. Been in three times for that. Plus a couple blood clots.
And don’t get me started about kidney stones.
But it could be worse.
It could be a whole lot worse for me without Medicare. And for several family members without the ACA and Medicaid.
How much worse? Let me mention one number about Medicare: $5000. That’s what my “gravy train socialistic” Medicare already costs me per year; or rather, this year.
(Again, no complaints; but when the talk turns toward “takers & freeloaders,” can we just skip that part?)
Now suppose these arrangements all get upended, as is on the table in many high places in Washington and seems all too likely. Consider:
Several of us, including me, have “pre-existing conditions,”potentially serious ones. And if Medicare was turned into something like vouchers, these would make premium costs jump even higher–if the others and I could get any coverage at all.
And what about the kids, those unexpected surgeries? And what if that “stuff happens” thing, happens again?
I’ve seen the bills for some of it: the tab on my first stent was around $50,000, before Medicare got hold of it. And one ER visit for a kidney stone attack ran over $1000 per hour. And those were several years back; hospital cost inflation “stuff” happens too.
Yeah. Without Medicare it wouldn’t take much such “stuff” to completely ruin me. Health effects aside, I could be bankrupted by one serious round of it.
Same goes for ACA and most of my family members, who are, remember, overall a pretty healthy lot.
I’m talking personally here because this issue quickly becomes about as personal as it gets. I read there’s twenty to thirty million Americans depending on the ACA; even more on Medicare. I’m concerned about them on a policy level, and hope I feel compassion.
But this ACA & Medicare repeal talk –it’s not just “policy.” Not just about “them.”
It’s about “us.” Me. It will affect me & my family.
My not particularly unusual family.
Directly, and bigtime; not someday, but immediately, and probably catastrophically.
So the drive for repeal is toying with the fate of real people with real lives. All over the country.
Including me and my family. (And maybe yours too?)
The impact of any such repeal will be coming right at us. Directly.
And we’ll remember.
I hope some folks in Washington keep this in mind as they prepare to destroy what keeps me, and us, going now. I’ve tried to let them know. The lines seem pretty jammed.