March 31, 2014

Exposed them to all the cruelty

GUEST: Hannah Mermelstein, school librarian and Palestine solidarity activist who has lead 25 delegations to the West Bank, talks about her trips to Palestine and the film "The Great Book Robbery."

What makes a Jewish school librarian from Brooklyn lead 25 delegations to Palestine? It all made sense by the end of our interview with Hannah.

In a librarian's world of strict definitions, apartheid is wrong. And it's as wrong on the twenty fifth trip as on the first. 

We spent the interview, however, talking about those who went with her delegation. In the beginning, they were mostly young American Jews turned off by the "Birthright" trips to Israel, an all-expense-paid immersion in Zionist doctrine. For these young people, a trip to the West Bank exposed them to all the cruelty behind the apartheid propaganda of Israel.

As Hannah's trips continued, the makeup of the delegations changed. Participants became of all ages and faiths. The catharsis of discovery became something that all Americans could involve themselves in, and they did. Delegations, however, didn't include those still believing in Israel's right to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their land. As Hannah put it, the trips don't change people's minds as much as deepen their understanding of racism and colonialism. 

Hannah will be our special guest this Friday:
Friday, April 4, KINGSTON: Films of Palestine Series presents “The Great Book Robbery” from: 7:00pm - 8:30pm. "The Great Book Robbery” describes the theft of Palestinian culture, a multi-layered story that includes dramatic location filming, eyewitness accounts, archival footage, pictorial material, C.G.I. computer generated images, documents and culture critiques. (60 minutes). 

SPECIAL GUEST: Hannah Mermelstein, school librarian and solidarity activist who has led more than 25 delegations to Palestine. Sponsored by: Middle East Crisis Response and Hudson Valley Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

LOCATION: Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Catskills, 320 Sawkill Road, Kingston, NY 12401. Contact: or 518 678 2076 or

March 23, 2014

Dragged through the slime machine

GUEST: Fran Knapp, former Dutchess County Democratic Elections Commissioner, talks about local politics as well as the "partisan political warfare" at the Board of Elections.

Fran served six terms in the Dutchess County Legislature, and has worked for many years a leader of the County Democratic Caucus. She was employed for 10 years as the Democratic Elections Commissioner before being forced to resign in December of 2013. Fran was ultimaely charged with two misdemeanor violations. Was it a political coup or had she committed serious violations of state election law?

She had been very active in thwarting Republican attempts to block voter registration. In fact, students at four area colleges had won a big victory with her help (Pitcher v. Dutchess County Board of Elections). They had been arbitrarily denied the vote for years based on arbitrary criteria like the technical names of their dormitory buildings or their room numbers.

Fran was ordered to testify before a grand jury made up of Republican cronies, and then charged with over over 60 supposed violations. The Republican county executive, speaking on NPR, pronounced her "guilt" of serious violations before she was even tried, and the local newspaper ran scathing articles about her "corruption" without bothering to get her side of the story. What was worse, some Democrats who had cozied up to the Republican machine refused to back her, and the legal cost of defending herself was going to be at least $100,000.

In the end, Fran was given a weekend to decide on a "plea bargain" that involved a $175 fine and her resignation from the Board of Elections. All but two counts were dropped, and they involved two incidents of incorrect paperwork out of the thousands of voters registered by the county. 

Is our political process hopelessly corrupt, even at this local level? I felt sorry for Fran. She had given many years of her life to making voting registration fair, only to be dragged through the slime machine by the good old boy network of corrupt politicians and rubber stamp journalists. 

March 15, 2014

Mark of Cain

GUEST: Jeff Cohen, media critic, director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, and founder of the media watch group FAIR, talks about Palestinian nonviolent resistance against Israeli apartheid in the West Bank. (prerecorded)

Jeff spoke at a movie the Middle East Crisis Response showed in Kingston. He will be returning for a full presentation on Friday, May 2nd. 

This picture gives a glimpse of what Jeff talked about, the caging of millions of Palestinians based on their ethnic identity. Jewish immigrants from Brooklyn get immediate citizenship and are paid a sizable stipend to settle in the occupied West Bank. Here they turn into racist gangsters, encouraged and backed up by the Israeli Defense Force. They tear down Palestinian houses, burn their fruit trees and throw rocks at their children going to school. In short they become like animals, grabbing for more land and houses from an oppressed people. 

If you want to know how "good Germans" lived with themselves during the persecution of Jews prior to and during World War II, all one has to do is go to the West Bank. There is something about ethnicity, greed, and violence that brings out the beast in people. It is always there, waiting for the right circumstances to emerge. It is ugly beyond comprehension, and we can only return to our normal lives by averting our eyes and coming up with excuses for the suffering. 

But Germans never returned to that normal life, and neither will Israeli Jews. The mark of Cain will forever be part of both peoples' legacies.

March 7, 2014

Part of that miracle

GUEST: Rocky Schwartz, member of the Vassar Students' Class Issues Alliance, talked about private college education and the class devisions that often accompany enrollment in colleges that cost over $50,000 per year.

Gary and I talked to two students from the Vassar Students' Class Issues Alliance in the WVKR studio on campus. It was a wide ranging discussion about why class is so little talked about, even at an institution of higher learning. 

We covered the pain of being from a lower income family in a rich, private college. How to cope? In part, the Alliance is a way for students to recognize and discuss their feelings of alienation.

How different this is from looking at class as something to eradicate in a society. Maybe recognition is a first step, but shouldn't we as leftists be working towards the elimination of class in society? I talked about Cuba and how class differences seem so less destructive there. Education is a human right in Cuba, and your level of education doesn't depend on whether your family can pay. 

The doctor I talked to in Havana was from a very poor community in the countryside. As a young girl, she decided that she was a good enough student and wanted to earn a degree in medicine. The state paid for all of it, and there was a hint of pride in her story. Not pride that she had overcome barriers in fulfilling her dream, but that her country had made this miracle possible. She was proud of the revolution, and considered her achievement as well as her service to patients to be part of that miracle.