Howard Zinn, 1922-2010
Editorial Board: The Nation
February 4, 2010: (In the February 22, 2010 edition)
Tasked with assessing the young administration of a young Democratic
president in these pages, radical historian Howard Zinn began, "My object is
not to denounce, but to clarify. It is important for American citizens to
know exactly how far they can depend on the national government, and how
much remains for them to do.... This government simply cannot be depended
upon for vigorous initiatives. It will, however, respond to popular
indignation and pressure."
The year was 1962, and the president was John F. Kennedy. Earlier that fall
the Kennedy administration had dispatched federal troops to Oxford,
Mississippi, to quell riots that erupted after the first African-American
student, James Meredith, enrolled at the University of Mississippi. At the
time many liberals portrayed the Kennedys as heroic allies of the civil
rights movement; Zinn observed a more complicated dynamic. He believed,
correctly, that the government would move to desegregate the South only in
"cases of extreme and admitted defiance of federal authority." Zinn argued,
again correctly, that this limit to federal action was not primarily a legal
matter but a political one, a matter of perception. A "less timorous"
administration, he wrote, "could find solid legal sanction" for more
assertive action if it were pushed to do so--by the people. And so, in that
article, among the earliest Zinn published in The Nation, he wrote to the
people, for the people: "My intention is...to light a flame under the rest
And that is exactly what Howard Zinn did--in the dozens of books he wrote
and edited, in the hundreds of speeches he gave, in his teaching and
activism and, later in life, in his role as the muse of history and politics
for a new generation of freethinkers and organizers. Over the past fifty
years, The Nation published Zinn on a number of subjects: from his early
dispatches from Atlanta's Spelman College (for example, "Finishing School
for Pickets," August 6, 1960), where he taught history and advised and
sheltered civil rights protesters, to his incisive and passionate articles
against US wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq (for example, "Vietnam: The
Logic of Withdrawal," February 6, 1967, and "The Others," February 11,
2002), to his pleas for a federal bailout for citizens instead of
corporations ("Beyond the New Deal," April 7, 2008).
Zinn has been labeled a dogmatic historian, but these Nation articles reveal
something else entirely: a pragmatic radicalism. He was interested in
inspiring people to be agents of change, and he assembled from history,
literature, philosophy and reportage a formidable intellectual and moral
toolbox for doing it. We were fortunate to call him a friend, and it fills
us with pride as well as sadness that the last article he published appeared
in our pages in a forum on the first year of the Obama administration
("Obama at One," February 1). Seeking to light a flame under the rest of us
once again, Zinn wrote, "I think people are dazzled by Obama's rhetoric, and
that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a
mediocre president--which means, in our time, a dangerous president--unless
there is some national movement to push him in a better direction."
Dispatches From The Edge
Israeli Crackdown; Landmines & Clusters, Oh My!
By Conn Hallinan
Portside: February 27, 2010
A heavy-handed crack down on Israeli dissidents is drawing sharp criticism
by human rights organizations and at least a mild judicial slap on the wrist
for the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. The authorities are targeting such
groups as B'Tselem, New Israel Fund (NIF), the Association for Civil Rights
in Israel (ACRI), as well as foreign activists in the occupied West Bank.
"There is an attempt to silence and crack down on dissent," B'Tselem
spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli told the Tobias Buck of the Financial Times.
"Since [the Gaza war], the political climate in Israel has become extremely
polarized. And this polarization has reached a level where anyone who is
critical is presented as a traitor."
The Netanyanu government has endorsed a bill that, if passed, will apply
onerous registration conditions on NGOs and subject violators to up to a
year in prison.
"These are classic McCarthy techniques, portraying our organizations as
enemies of the state and suggesting we are aiding Hamas and terror groups,"
ACRI head Hagai Elad told the Nazareth-based journalist Jonathan Cook.
On Jan. 15, police broke up a peaceful ARCI demonstration in East Jerusalem,
arresting 16 people. The rally was protesting the eviction of Palestinians
from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and their replacement with settlers.
Demonstrators were held for 36 hours until a judge from the Jerusalem
Magistrates Court released them without charge. The judge also
refused a police request to ban the demonstrators from the Sheikh Jarrah
Armored personnel carriers and a squad of heavily armed soldiers surrounded
the West Bank Ramallah apartment of Czech national Eva Novakova, forced her
to dress at gunpoint, and deported her to Prague for overstaying her visa.
Soldiers also seized an Australian and a
Spanish member of the International Solidarity Movement in Ramallah, but the
Israeli Supreme Court ordered their release.
Jared Malsin, a Jewish-American English language editor at the Palestinian
news agency was arrested at Ben Gurion airport and detained by Israeli
authorities for deportation. The arrest and deportation order were blasted
by the International Federation of Journalists as an "intolerable violation
of press freedom."
Israeli human rights lawyer Omar Schatz says the arrests are, "all about
fixing the mirror, not fixing the reflection Israelis see in the mirror."
The crackdown has even fallen on a group of women fighting ultra-orthodox
Jews for the right to pray at the Jerusalem's Western Wall. In November,
Nofrat Frenkel of Women of the Wall (WW) was arrested for carrying a Torah
and wearing a tallit at the site.
A week before the Sheikh Jarrah arrests, Anat Hoffman, director of the
Israel Religious Action Center, was detained, fingerprinted, and questioned
about the organization's support for WW protests.
Naomi Chazan, the Israeli president of the U.S.-based organization NIF, has
been subjected to a campaign of vilification, including posters depicting
her with horns. A government press agency distributed an article to the
foreign press accusing her of "Serving the agenda of Iran and
Hamas." She also lost her job as a columnist at the Jerusalem Post.
The attempt to smother any challenge to the Netanyahu government is a
reaction to the worldwide criticism Israel is harvesting in the aftermath of
the Gaza War. Tel Aviv's continued refusal to allow any reconstruction of
the more than 3500 homes destroyed in the Israeli invasion drew a letter
signed by 53 U.S. Congress members calling for an end to the "de facto
collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip."
U.S. Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wa) suggested taking forceful action to end the
Gaza blockade. "We ought to bring roll-on, roll-off ships and roll them
right to the beach and bring the relief supplies in, in our version of the
But there are internal tensions behind the crackdown as well. The long
occupation of the West Bank has begun to fray the Israeli military.
According to the head of the Israeli military's Personnel Directorate, Maj.
Gen. Avi Zamir, increasing numbers of Israelis are refusing to
serve in the Occupied Territories. Three years of military service is
compulsory for men, 21 months for women.
"Taking into consideration Israeli Arab youth, we're facing a situation in
which 70 percent of youths will not enlist in the military," the general
The "Courage to Refuse" movement has long supported soldiers who won't serve
in the Occupied Territories, and now there is an organization-Shministim-
that advises young people on how to become a conscientious objector and
supports "refuseniks" as well. Police have also detained several activists
for New Profile, a group dedicated to demilitarizing Israeli society.
A new law makes it a crime for Palestinians to observe "Nakba," or
"Catastrophe," Day commemorating the loss of their land when Israel was
created in 1948.
According to human rights groups, the polarization is a serious threat to
freedom of speech. A recent poll found that 57 percent of Israelis think
"national security" is more important than human rights. The country, says
Tel Aviv University politics professor and author Amal Jamal, is headed
toward what he calls a "totalitarian democracy."
These courageous organizations need help. Contact them
at; www.newprofile. Org
Portside aims to provide material of interest
to people on the left that will help them to
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