The Buck Stops Here: Democrats.Com’s First On-Line International Summit Reaches Past Reactionary Leaders and Out to the ‘Common Man’
Introduction by Cheryl Seal
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History keeps repeating itself, over and over, just like that recording you get if you leave the phone off the hook.“If you’d like to make a call, please hang up and dial again…” It seems someone has left the political phone off the hook in the Middle East, in Bosnia, in Ireland, in India/Pakistan and dozens of other “hot spots” around the world. We keep getting the same “recording” over and over: violence and reprisals, reprisals and violence, on and on and on.
But how is it possible in the 21st century, in the age of information and global consciousness, NOT to learn from one’s mistakes? It’s not as if the world doesn’t promptly point them out for you. Act out and there’s always someone waiting to catch it on video tape and run the evidence over and over on the nightly news. The fault does not lie with the majority of people. Most folks, be they Pakistani, Irish, Serb, Israeli, Arab or Indian, just want life to move forward in a peaceful and orderly manner. They abhor violence, are concerned about the quality of life and the environment and believe in justice. Mostly, they want to be left alone to raise their families in peace and worship as they please. They are also quite willing to let their neighbors raise their families in peace and worship as they please. So what’s the problem?
Unfortunately, in just about every culture today, there exists a small but obnoxiously noisy reactionary faction that screws it up for everyone. Just like the one or two school bullies who manage to intimidate an entire playground full of children, these reactionaries throw their weight around endlessly, determined to have things THEIR way. By reactionary, I mean those folk who are 1) terrified of change and anything or anyone they perceive as “different”; 2) wrapped up in their own narrow perspective to the exclusion of all others, 3) willing to do anything to get attention and control people and events, even if this means ruining daily life for everyone else.
The worst part is, this type is more attracted to politics than most (what better way to gain attention and control over others?) and so is more likely to shove their way to a position of power. Thus, the list of reactionary leaders in our progressive world is disproportionately long: George Bush, Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat, Slobodon Milosovic, Saddam Hussein, Jiang Zemin of China, Nawaz Sharif (former Pres.) of Pakistan, Iran’s powerful hardline judiciaries, the young leaders of the Taliban, etc. ad nauseum. Their names are all ( to varying degrees and in varying styles), associated with instability, hawkishness, bullying and intolerance. Other world leaders, such as Tony Blair, the recently deposed Wahid of Indonesia, and, possibly (though perhaps too soon to tell), Vladimir Putin of Russia, are rather like the easily intimidated kids on the playground who, though not really despotic themselves, are too eager to gain the respect and friendship of the bullies and so can do a great deal of damage in their own right by aping them or going along with their programs.
But, one wonders, if the majority of people are peaceful and tolerant, then how do these reactionaries get into power? Easy – they are opportunists, and wait for their opening – usually a period of national instability or political disenchantment. Then, usually through a mixture of propaganda, deceit, and/or fear-mongering, they manage to whip up their fellow reactionaries to a such a fervor that they become highly mobilized. Because reactionaries are universally enamored by power and money, they are generally supportive of big business. And, in return, big business showers support on them, facilitating their rise to power.
Bush, as a prime example, does not represent the majority of American voters by a long shot, despite what well-tweaked polls may suggest. However, when election day came, his reactionary supporters mobilized a nearly total turnout in their ranks, while Americans who were ambivalent about the whole political situation stayed away from the polls. Bush won less than half of the popular vote. But, only half of all registered voters showed up at the polls. This means Bush, in reality, only netted votes from 25% of all registered voters! And because a disproportionately high number of gung-ho rightwingers flocked out (we’d say a 75% turnout of reactionaries is a conservative estimate), that means that Bush’s total core support consists of somewhat less than one-fourth of all Americans! Yet, being a reactionary bully, he continues to behave as if he has a “mandate.”
A similar situation happened in Israel when Sharon was elected: reactionary turnout was very high, but overall voter turnout was very disappointing. Milosovic and Hussein, of course are extreme examples – they simply threatened anyone who might vote against them with imprisonment or death. (It is disturbing that many stories told by black voters in Florida echo stories told by voters in such fascist regimes).The secret behind the success of reactionary candidates is FEAR. It is the second most powerful motivation driving human behavior and is, alas, the platform upon which most reactionaries run. The most powerful motivation is fear’s opposite: faith. Although faith is (I believe) synonymous with love and courage, in the hands of the reactionaries, it is twisted and becomes synonymous with religious fanatacism (and thus hate) and fear-driven aggression rather than real courage.
Reactionaries all use the same general tactic: They convince their followers there is evil under every bush (pun intended!), that the world is a scary place full of people out to get the good guys (of course, they always set themselves up as “good guys”), and that nearly everyone except the members of their select group is an “enemy.” It is the fear-mongering of the reactionaries that keeps hatred alive and drives vicious cycles endlessly on.
On the other hand, progressives (the majority of human beings wish to progress, both figuratively and literally!), are more secure and optimistic, more open to the voice of reason and more willing to try new approaches. This very openness leads to uncertainty and much soul-searching when it comes to making important decisions. Although this is, of course, highly desirable in a complex, diverse world, it puts the progressive at a disadvantage against the fanatical, single-minded reactionary. Too many political contests thus become a battle of Hamlet versus Attila the Hun.
So what is the answser? To make sure the voice of the majority, the TRUE common man ,is heard. To that end, we would like to initiate a “people’s summit” here at our site. This will be a place where people can make their voices heard. As we are read by many people in positions of influence – few reactionaries, thankfully! – some of the ideas presented here by the people may well be used to help shape constructive change.
As the conflict in the Middle East shows no sign of slowing in its merry-go-round course of violence, our first summit will be devoted to trying to find ways to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people.
The People’s Summit: The Middle East Conflict
To maximize the constructiveness of our summit, we must lay down some guidelines for submissions. I can think of no better model to follow than that used by a very wise marriage counselor I once knew, whose father was Jewish and whose mother was Syrian. Afterall, the relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians is, in essence, very much like a dysfunctional marriage – one in which the “children” are suffering from the parents’ inability to get along.
My friend’s number one requirement from counseling participants was this: There must be a total commitment to success. Divorce (in this case, continuing conflict) cannot even be considered an option. Why? Because as long as either party even secretly harbors the idea that they can always just leave or bide their time and see if the other partner “improves,” no real, permanent progress is possible. In such a case, said my friend, each party always has “one foot out the door and the other restlessly twitching.”In the Middle East, it would be one hand held out in peace, the other clutching an Uzi, the trigger finger restlessly twitching!
Second, all old wrongs must be put aside. You cannot change what is already past; you can only change what is now and what is ahead. Thus, blame serves no constructive purpose. Besides, whenever you point your finger at someone else, there are always four fingers pointing back at you.
Third, all input must focus on the positive. To move forward, it is imperative to mobilize strengths and explore fresh possibilities. To dwell on what has already failed or project fears forward (assume the other guy will screw up) is to cast a shadow onto the future.
Last and most importantly, the “marriage partners” must learn to accept the other just as they are, if not embracing their differences, then at least truly accepting and respecting them.
In short, we are not looking for angry diatribes, blame game show contestants, or blueprints for a barbed wire-topped wall such as the one they tore down in Berlin! That being said, we welcome submissions from Palestinians and Israelis both in the Middle East and living anywhere else in the world. We also welcome input from anyone else who feels strongly about this issue.
To get the ball rolling, we offer the following interchange between a myself and a reader in Australia, which illustrates the misunderstandings and misconceptions that can arise in a highly-charged conflict such as that in the Middle East, but also how constructive a positive dialogue can be.
The Role of the Media in Perpetuating Conflicts and Fueling Misunderstanding
In early August, we ran a link to a story about the beatings of a couple of Egyptian journalists by Israeli soldiers. Here is the text of that link:
Taking a Page from the Wrong Book: Is Israel Mimicking the Bush Administration?
It's bad enough that the U.S. is alienating many nations around the world, even old friends, while completely antagonizing a few, such as China. The last thing the world needs is for any nation to IMITATE us. But, alas, it appears that Israel has been doing just that. First, it elected a political dinosaur who likes war (it saw us go for Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al.) Next, it threw aside any pretense of real peace talks, while claiming only to be defending itself more effectively (Bush and his Star Wars push). Now it is doing everything it can, to provoke an already unstable, desperate nation in a way sure to lead to all-out war (mimicking Bush's recent bombing of Iraq, perhaps?), and is subjecting journalists likely to give unfavorable coverage to rough treatment. If Israel wants to mimick something worthwhile, then perhaps they should have kept a page from the Clinton administration, which earnestly pushed for peace as the ONLY acceptable option.
We also ran an article on the pressure being exerted by the Israeli government on news outlets, even those here in the U.S., to slant coverage in favor of Israel. Within days, we had received several letters from angry Jewish readers, including one from Josh Brandon:
I found your Israel segment to be really offensive. I've been following the
situation for a long time and while I think it's okay to rip into the
Republicans (there are, after all, serious issues with these people and they
need to be addressed) I think it is really insensitive to use such a facade
to take a dig at the Israelis. Ariel Sharon has used far more restraint than
anyone expected of a right-wing Prime Minister ("Don't blame me, I voted for
Barak!"). He is shouted at by members of his own party for not using more
What do you expect them to do when suicide bombers get through into
the heart of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and kill 15-20 people at a time? In all
analyses of this confict, it is so fundamentally important to realise that
there are fundamentalists and extremists on both sides. However, if you want
to bring in the media, ask why the question being asked is "Is Israel
justified in assassinating militants?" when the question might also be "Is
Hamas justified in killing civilians?"
I respect your website a lot, and I am an avid reader. I have directed
many people to read your insights because there is a lot of important
information that you and other sites seek to share with the rest of the
world, but you did something wrong here: you tapped into a situation you
likely don't know much about (from the summary, anyway) just so you could
sling mud at politicians in your own country. I find that wrong and I find
it offensive. And I dare say that your Jewish readers will agree with my way
of thinking. Even the actual article you summarised spoke of how the Israeli
army disciplined the (obviously extreme) soldier who assaulted an Egyptian
camera crew. But you chose to single out the worst part to use as Democratic
political rhetoric. I agree with you on most issues but I expected more than
this - it is more something that Freepers would do.
I will still look at your website daily but I felt it very important to tell
you how I felt about this particular issue.
Having been the author of the offending links, I decided to write to Josh:
I am the author of that link and wish to clarify to you my position.
Thank you for taking the time to express your thoughts. We value every letter greatly because we know that it represents a person who truly cares enough to make this step.
The comparison between Sharon and Bush was not "gratuitously" designed to use the situation in Israel to blast the GOP. In fact, I have for quite some time had the growing misgiving that the whole changed tone in Washington is acting as a subtle sort of "permission" to the rest of the world to pull out the stops.
Sure, Sharon may have, as you say, 15 or 20 politicos egging him on to more extreme behavior - but then, so does Bush (he isn't, for example, nearly as outrageous in some ways as Tom Delay or the folks who want to turn the U.S. government into a Christian Doctrine Center). I honestly believe the point needed to be made, and used the situation with the journalists being beaten because it is just another example of the "Bushish" attitude that seems to be gathering steam around the world (remember the way the Italian police handled the G8 protestors?).
Next, I have a very strong vision of what I believe progressives should stand for and first and foremost, I think we must be FAIR. I get many letters from people around the world saying that the site is refreshing because we do try to be fair and consistent, not just politically self-aggrandizing. For example, we are hard on Democrats, like John Breaux or James Traficant whom we feel are failing to live up to the basic Democratic ideals. But we are also willing to give credit on occasion to Republicans who are trying to be reasonable and put the people first. If we are to be the all-inclusive party, we must go beyond just bashing the Republicans.
In your letter, you said, in essence, it's OK to trash the GOP, just leave the Jews alone. To me, being all-inclusive means not just embracing the good in everyone but also being willing to demand the same standard from everyone. I admire the Israeli people tremendously - their courage, tenacity, discipline and faith. That may be why I am so angered by what I perceive to be an overly hawkish stance by Israel. The only people who ultimately suffer are the innocents, on both sides.
I lived for three years in a neighborhood of orthodox Russian Jews in Baltimore, and found it one of the most rewarding experiences of my life to be a neighbor to such a wonderful community. These were the most family-oriented, spiritually dedicated and nonmaterialistic group of people I have ever been around. You will be interested to know that in the local shops, you were much more likely to hear ultra-hawkish Israelis decried as thugs and opportunists than you were to hear them praised. Thus I know that there is a very large body of Jews around the world who decry the violence on BOTH sides.
Finally, I believe that as an alternative arm of the American free press, Democrats.com MUST help to balance the mainstream media, which is not helping the situation in Israel because it is slanting the news in Israel's favor. Instead of helping, this actually just fuels the resents and frustrations of the Palestinians, who thus resort to the desperate outrage of suicide bombings. if you have not already, you should read the following article from "Tompaine.com." http://www.tompaine.com/news/2001/07/24/1.html
I think all nations and all presses must be held to the same standard. Look what a mess America has made by expecting the world to treat it as "special" and somehow above everyone else's ethical standards and laws. We are a strong and powerful nation, thus SHOULD be taking responsibility for upholding certain standards (Kyoto, ABM, et al.). I view Israel also as a strong, powerful nation who should, in their strength, be more aggressively seeking solutions.
I think the most productive thing would be to hold an open forum on this subject through our "Busting Out" letters and editorials section. I think healthy open debate is the best medicine for most political ills - and one that is too rarely used because everyone is entrenched in their own corners, suspicious of "the other guy." Would you be willing to allow me to use your letter to get the ball rolling? Maybe we will hear from some Palestinans and we can create our own "mini-summit" right here at Dems.com - you never know, the key players may even read it!
Thankyou so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and
All the Best,
Josh responded to my letter the next day:
Thank you for your reply. I would be interested in forming a forum on the Arab/Israeli conflict. However,
I take issue with only two of your points. You state that my argument was essentially to bash the GOP but to leave the Jews alone. My point here was that if you are going to give a treatise on the Israeli government, it should be about the Israeli government, not canvassed into an attack on the Republicans, which is what I perceived the article to be. This is not a major point, however, and I can appreciate your insights on your own experience with the Jewish community in the United States.
The second point is far more important, however. If such a forum is to be set up, or if any real investigation into this situation is to be organized, then you must very seriously look at the role of the media in the world. You state that it is slanting its coverage towards Israel but the situation could not be further from the truth. Look at a score of CNN articles of late: "At least 8 dead in attack on Hamas office", "Palestininan killed; Israel says he was planting a bomb", "Fighting Escalates in Middle East" (instead of, for this issue, "18 killed by Palestinian Suicide Bomber"), etc. The media is overwhelmingly against Israel and I am incredibly surprised you think otherwise. I can compile many many sources on this particular topic, if you would be interested in reading about them.
I attach here something I have saved from early when the Intifada broke out as a prime example. The media tends to want to portray Palestinians as lambs being slaughtered by the might of the Israeli army. I tend to believe it has something to do with an inherent anti-Semitism in the world.
That said, though, I am still a great fan of your site and I look forward to reading more excellent articles.
Josh included the following two letters to editor that were run in the “New York Times”:
Regarding your picture on page A5 (Sept. 30, 2000) of
the Israeli soldier and the Palestinian on the Temple Mount - that
Palestinian is actually my son , Tuvia Grossman, a Jewish student from Chicago.
He, and two of his friends, were pulled from their taxicab while travelling
in Jerusalem, by a mob of Palestinian Arabs and were severely beaten and
That picture could not have been taken on the
Temple Mount because there are no gas stations on the Temple Mount and
certainly none with Hebrew lettering, like the one clearly seen behind the
Israeli soldier attempting to protect my son from the mob.
Aaron Grossman, M.D.
Second Letter to the NY Times, this one from Oct. 2, 2000:
Even the typically biased and slanted NY Times
Middle East reporting has hit a new low. Since the Times wishes to convey the belief that the
Palestinians are all innocent lambs being tormented by an aggressive oppressor, it
can not even conceive that the wounded and injured
are NOT Palestinians. The current case in point is very personal to me. In
the Saturday's Times on page A6, the picture of the "wounded
Palestinian" is, in fact, my
nephew, Tuvia Grossman, an AMERICAN Jewish student
learning in Israel. His only crime was being Jewish. He was not in> "crossfire" but merely the target
of Palestinian lambs who stoned his cab, dragged
him from the vehicle, smashed
his head with stones and stabbed him in the leg.
The Israeli soldier,
whom you obviously wished to portray as victimizing the poor, wounded
Palestinian was actually saving my nephew's life. A casual
look at the background of the picture can tell anyone that it's not the Temple
Mount at all. I believe that a retraction, in a prominent position in
the paper, is necessary and an apology to the parents, forthcoming.
Brooklyn, New York
A glance at these letters made it clear to me that neither the media nor the leaders in the Middle East were doing their jobs!
Thanks for your note. I read the notes re: the NY Times coverage (which
misidentified the boy in the photo and the circumstances). My conclusion is
now that there is a lot of slant going on back and forth, and too little
constructive dialogue! (I think unfair slant sets up an environment where
constructive dialogue, in fact, becomes near to impossible!). This interchange makes an
awfully good example of the misunderstandings that occur but shows how they
can easily be solved by the open exchange of information.
I look forward to seeing what steps toward peace "everyday people" like
us can achieve !
All the best, Cheryl Seal
Final note from Josh:
You know what, though, Cheryl - . We've got to target such a forum away from "who's to blame" because nothing will ever get done that way. I'd hate to see another forum for Jews and Palestinians [that ends in all concerned] feeling they have a need to fight when they shouldn't, though I don't see any realistic way to create a forum that solely deals with finding peace without trading accusations. Perhaps it can be something like an online community stressing the need not to fight and that people do not need to die. The problem right is now is that the continuing violence just spreads hatred among the Jewish and Palestinian people. We need to show that these two sides can talk together and share ideas. I know Jews and Palestinians who are friends - it can be done.
Allright, readers! The “floor” at this summit is now open to YOU!