Deplorables IIIb – Birtherism and Bruce LeVell

Deplorables IIIb – Birtherism and Bruce LeVell

by

Howard Adelman

In mid-August in the aftermath of the Democratic nomination that had been so devastating to his campaign, Donald Trump did a reset and appointed the media bomb-thrower, Stephen Bannon, executive chair of Breibert News, as his campaign CEO. In 2012, a year after Barack Obama released his long form birth certificate, Breibert promoted a book claiming that Barack Obama had been born in Kenya. Breibert News was dedicated to usurping and destroying the liberal narrative that Barack Obama had so clearly articulated at the Congressional Black Congress meeting. Breibert News was rooted in blogger journalism which offered an outlet for rage against government, politicians, journalists and Democrats.

These bloggers were not bounded by norms of truth, coherence, consistency or any other recognized norm for protecting the values of truth and integrity. They form the basis for Trump expressing birthism by stating, “Many believe…Instead, conspiracy theories abounded and Breibert News promoted rage rather than reason as a foundation for politics. These people of passion rather than reason constituted the solid core and base of the Trump campaign. This explains in part why Donald Trump kept his link with the birthers and lent his brand until his very recently to the belief that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and was an illegitimate president way after Barack Obama released his long form birth certificate on 27 April 2011. 23% of Republicans continued to express this view well after Obama tried to put to rest this effort at delegitimation.

How can a Trump surrogate defend such blatant untruths as those constituting the birthism movement? In Trump’s version: Hillary started the birther movement. I stopped it when I forced Obama to release his birth certificate. The people should be grateful. How can a pencil-mustached black apologist for Donald Trump, Bruce LeVell, an African-American Georgia businessman and Trump’s executive director of his National Diversity Coalition (NDC), deal with this flagrant violation of integrity and sensitivity? By engaging in flim flam. First the name of the organization.

The National Diversity Coalition (NDC) includes: The African American Economic Justice Organization (AAEJO), Asian Journal, The Chinese American Institute for Empowerment (CAIE), Cornerstone Church of San Diego (6,500), the Ecumenical Center for Black Church Studies at Laverne University, the Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership at Vanguard University, The Los Angeles Latino Chamber of Commerce, MAAC Project, The National Asian American Coalition, and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. One only needs to read this list and wonder how such an organization that engages in advocacy on behalf of charitable service organizations and educational units in universities dealing with minority issues can have as its Executive Director a surrogate for Trump. The answer, to put it simply, as a representative of one of the above organizations in Daly City told me, is that Donald Trump stole their name.

The name of Bruce LeVell’s organization is really the National Diversity Coalition for Trump financed by the Trump campaign and consisting of a variety of individuals from different ethnic groups. It was organized in April. Bruce LeVell is the Executive Director of an organization that employs two other members of his family. While predominantly Black, the members include individual supporters for Trump from various minority communities and from all across the country: Michael Cohen, Eve Stieglitz and Michael Abramson, Jewish; Sonya Elizabeth, Arab; Narender Redy, Indian; Jo-Ann Chase, Puerto Rican; Kevin Do, Vietnamese; Rabia Kazan and Albert Sirazi, Turkish; Sajid Tarar, Muslim; Joe Perez, Cuban; Lovilla Santiago, Filipino; Dahlys Espriella, Hispanic; Chandhok Singh, Sikh; Carlos Limon, Chris Garcia, Debe Campos-Fleenor, Gloria De Mummey, Mexicans (apparently the largest number of individual members other than Blacks); Lisa Shin and Kun Kim, Korean; Quinn Nii and David Tian Wang, Chinese; Zoya Conover, Russian; Francisco Semiao, Portuguese; Christos Marafatsos, Greek; and Angel Boey, Bulgarian.

All, or almost all, are there in an individual capacity. Almost all were flown to Trump Tower in April to form the organization in Trump’s efforts to create a visual impression of wide, even if shallow, support among ethnic minorities in the US. Bruce LeVell is the individual face of an organization that is not a coalition of minority organizations. It is not a coalition in that sense at all. Its members are individuals, not groups. It is an organization conceived and created by Donald Trump this year by recruiting individuals from across the country who come from minority communities and support Donald Trump. As Trump has learned over the years as a crackerjack salesman, one does not need substance; one only needs the wrap and the correct brand.

LeVell told Hallie Jackson of MSNBC in an interview that the “Hillary campaign surrogates, whoever you call it, started this nasty whisper campaign. Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton started this. And unfortunately it perpetuated into this.” When Jackson stopped him and pointed out that the statement was a blatant lie, instead of defending himself when proven to be a liar, he tried deflection and referred to Obama in his Senate campaign in 2004 questioning Alan Keyes right to run in Illinois because he had not been a resident in Illinois, but had just recently moved from Maryland to take up the candidacy of Jack Ryan over a scandal. But whatever the details of that issue, it had nothing to do with birtherism. As Jackson pointed out, birtherism is not a matter of vetting a candidate.

LeVell then shifted ground again and insisted that Trump’s raising the issue of Obama’s birthplace had nothing to do with Obama’s race. When Jackson asked why Trump did not raise the issue of the birthplace of Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, LeVell went back to his starting position and insisted the colour issue came from the Clinton campaign. Finally, in that 16 September interview, LeVell committed the ultimate Trump sin, confessing ignorance and owning up to having made an error. LeVell collapsed intellectually and said that he didn’t know “what was going on when Trump was running or thought about running” for President.

Why are Trump surrogates so determined to lie and obfuscate when defending Trump against charges of racism that focus on the birther issue? The answer is that Trump Two-Two is in a very difficult corner. If he admits the birther issue was wrong, never mind even apologize for it, he would be crucified by a significant part of his core voter support. On the other hand, the birther issue is a front for racism just as the National Diversity Coalition for Trump is a false front for multiculturalism. Though 23% of Trump’s supporters may be hard core racists, 53% of Republicans are soft core racists who deny race is relevant, showing in that figure alone how relevant it is. 21% of Democrats say race is no longer relevant as well. That is the group which Trump must enlist in his campaign to marry hard core and soft core racists. Trump strategists have determined that it is better to lie and bully oneself out of the corner than have to do battle on the issue of racism. The birther issue had to be abandoned, not through admission and apology let alone compensation, but by declaring victory.

It does not seem to matter that the issue has provided steam, energy and motivation to the Clinton campaign. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie might declare after Trump Two-Two’s statement that Obama was born in the US, period, that, “The birther issue is a done issue.” But you have to be suffering from mindblindness to fail to recognize that, without Trump accepting responsibility, without acknowledging his leadership role in perpetuating a lie, without apologizing, and without being sensitive to the feelings of the vast majority of Black voters, the issue will not go away. Why doesn’t Trump really care?

Clinton has never explicitly branded Trump a racist. Her supporters have.

Val Deming, former Orlando police chief running for Congress in Florida: “He’s a hater. He’s a bigot and he’s racist.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.): “We will not elect a chief bigot of the United States of America.”

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.): “Donald Trump is nothing more than a two-bit racial arsonist.”

As Bernie Sanders said in appealing to young voters, “You cannot elect a president of the United States whose campaign is based on bigotry. What they were trying to do, led by Donald Trump, was delegitimize the presidency of the first black president we’ve ever had.” Given this anger, even an apology, assuming that Trump was capable of offering one, would not suffice. Even if it were heartfelt. Even if there was some expression of a desire to make restitution. But that would give lie to his posing as the strong unapologetic leader who holds the fort at all costs.

And the reason, quite aside from Trump Two-Two’s personality and unapologetic bullying and lying, if you examine an important battleground state like Florida where Clinton is only leading Trump by 1% in one recent poll, Trump’s path to victory is not through increasing his support among minority voters. His gestures towards them are just to soften his image in the eyes of white voters. For Hillary has been bleeding white supporters with a college education to Trump so that she now only has the support of a minority of those male voters in Florida. And Trump needs to increase his support among such voters to win. A softer more presidential tone combined with his take-no-prisoners hard stance is the source of his appeal to those voters – not his policies and certainly not his integrity.

“Among Republicans and Republican leaners, 52% said the nation had made the changes needed to give blacks equal rights, while 39% said it had not. On this question, there were only modest differences in the views of white Republican college graduates (60% of whom said the nation has made needed changes) and white non-college Republicans (53%).”

Why? Because of race. Because there is some explicit and a great deal of latent racism among such voters. That group has become increasingly enlightened towards women. So Trump’s misogyny, now suppressed, used to turn them off. But the fact that he led a birther campaign riddled with racism does not turn away a majority of them. A majority of Republican male voters believe that the country has made enough gestures towards Blacks and wish to end that period of American history. Though the proportion of non-college voters on this issue is higher, the differences are not that significant; both groups get turned off the Democratic campaign when using birthism to charge Trump with racism.

That means that if Trump is to both hold and increase his vote among this group, a real prospect, he merely needs to become a clutch boxer in the racial corner, conceding little, offering few opportunities to strike back, while not coming across as a brutal hockey player on the issue of race. So while it appears that on this issue, Trump has been cornered, it really is the Hillary Clinton Democratic campaign. For Hillary needs the racial issue to mobilize Black voters. But in using the birther issue to do so, she turns off more and more white male voters, including 23% of Democrats who want to remove racism staring in their faces. She is the one in the no-win situation.

That is because this presidential race is at heart about race. Other than LeVell and a few others like Ben Carson, Trump’s minions are overwhelmingly whitebread, quite aside from the unrepresentative faces of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump. Though there are a number of white hosts who have taken on Trump or his surrogates, all the analysts and commentators that I have cited are Black. Further, it is they who occupy the high ground of morality and dogged adherence to truth and reason. The surrogates are defenders and users of irrationality. The old stereotypes have been inverted. Those driven by passion at the cost of reason have been overwhelmingly white. Those most upholding enlightenment values have been disproportionately Black.

So America now faces a choice, not simply in having a Black president, but in adopting liberal and enlightenment values and conceding that the leadership in this area is largely coming from the Black community. But Hillary already has them in her pocket. The Clinton campaign is stymied on how to counter-punch to win back more of these college-educated white males without alienating Black voters who she needs to mobilize to turn out and vote. That is why she, like the Republican contenders who ran against Donald Trump, have been put off their game. The Tea Party Conservatives succeeded in their purism in making the Republican Party ripe for a takeover as the party lost all disciplinary power. The Tea Party Conservatives thrived on protest and made room for the most protestant candidate of all protesting against the whole edifice of Washington built on order and institutions. The Tea Party constituted the shock troops that prepared the Republican Party for a takeover based on a strong self-interested individualist who used the defeat of the ruling whites to lead a campaign to take back the country in their name. Parochialism had to be his trump card rather than universalism. Hence the birther issue as the main initial highway to accomplishing his takeover first of the Republican Party and then of America.

X: Combating BDS: International Diplomacy

X: Combating BDS: International Diplomacy

by

Howard Adelman

Let’s begin by recognizing that while BDS advocates boycotts, sanctions and divestments, Israel actually appears to enforce boycotts and implement sanctions against both the PA and the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip. The latter is well known, the former less so. As a case in point, Israel refused in the first four months of last year to transfer tax revenues collected as customs duties on goods transiting Israeli ports destined for territory controlled by the PA. These are legally Palestinian funds. As a result of the 1994 agreement between the PA and Israel, Israel generally transfers tens of millions per month for these custom duties levied on goods transiting the Israeli port destined for the Palestinian market. On several occasions in the past, the transfers were stopped for a month or two. Last year, the boycott lasted four months and the PA had to reduce the pay of civil servants (200,000) to 60% of normal salaries.

There were two reasons offered to rationalize the sanction. The first was political, punishing the PA for using the international legal and diplomatic system against Israel. The cessation in the transfer of funds was allegedly because the Palestinians sought to join the International Court to pursue war crimes charges against Israel. A second reason was economic – a claim for non-payment of long-outstanding electrical and gas bills owed to those respective Israeli utility authorities. The PA sued the Israeli government in an Israeli court. Justice Menahem Mazuz ruled that the Israel government had breached the terms of a contract between the two parties. The duties collected could not be used to pay other debts owing. The ruling also undermined the legality of withholding the funds for political reasons.

After the court ruling, Israel made a large first installment payment towards the past debt by transferring the duties withheld in March and April 2015. Monies withheld from duties collected from December to February were transferred as soon as both parties agreed on the debt owed to the utilities and deducted those monies from the monies owed to the PA. In addition, a joint committee was set up to resolve other claims between the PA and Israel. The above and other issues must be understood within the terms of the Oslo Accords, more specifically, the 1994 Paris Protocol on Economic Relations. It established an effective customs union between Israel and the PA. In contrast, municipal, income and corporate taxes from Israelis and Israeli entities in the settlements were, in accordance with the agreement, collected by Israel and not transferred to the PA, but used to benefit those settlements.

Whereas Israel periodically for short periods sanctions the PA, it boycotts the Hamas government that is not a party to the agreement. Because of the Paris Protocol, most BDF information and efforts have focused on Gaza where the effects of the Israeli boycott are so harsh in reprisal for Hamas rocketing Israel and to prevent Hamas with being resupplied with materials that could be used in its offensive attacks against Israel. Hamas has an ideological determination not simply to tear up the Paris Protocol, but to eliminate Israel as a state.
From the other direction, the PA boycotts the import of settler-made goods primarily through an educational and witness campaign by government leaders. There is no legally sanctioned economic penalty on Palestinians importing, selling and using such goods. Nor are Palestinians who work in Israeli settlements (36,000) penalized. They earn three time what they would earn working in the West Bank but receive no health or pension benefits or unemployment insurance. Many of the 1,000 businesses established in the West Bank are partnerships between Palestinians and Israelis.

BDS has been mostly silent about the work force, but strongly critical of the “educational” and witness campaign of the PA, characterizing it as a meaningless publicity stunt – such as the Karama or Dignity Pledge to boycott settler goods. BDS objects to any normalization of arrangements with Israel and implementation of the Paris Protocol. As a result, the PA denounces the much broader BDS campaign. Abbas has said, “We are not boycotting Israel, because we have agreements and imports from it” and openly endorses the principle of “adherence to signed agreements.”

At the instigation of the PA, in March the United Nations Human Rights Council approved the creation of a database of companies that do business in areas under Israeli occupation by a vote of 32 in favor with 15 countries abstaining. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, slammed the initiative claiming that, “The Human Rights Council has turned into an accomplice of the BDS movement, and its conduct is both anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic.” BDS joined in the criticism, but for very different reasons. Such an action was not extensive and was not a boycott, just an information offering procedure. In November of last year, the EU itself passed a regulation that required an indication of origin label on goods from the occupied territories with enforcement left to the individual states. That regulation required labeling merchandise or food products originating in West Bank or Golan Heights settlements as: “product from the West Bank (Israeli settlement)” or “product from the Golan Heights (Israeli settlement).”

BDS, on the other hand, pushes its boycott, sanctions and divestment strategy “on companies to cease doing business within Israel, to stop selling Israeli products, for international performers not to perform in Israel, for academics to refuse cooperation with Israeli institutions and for cultural institutions to boycott Israeli government-sponsored events aimed at prettifying Israel’s apartheid practices.” The BDS movement insists that it will continue its campaign until Israel ends its occupation and colonization of all Arab land [not just land in the West Bank], recognizes the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, and respects, protects and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. This would mean the effective dismantling of Israel as a Jewish state. The return of refugees has never been imposed on any government in the world. The BDS campaign is clearly not just about settlements in the West Bank, but about the very nature and even existence of Israel.

This is not widely recognized as Palestinian sympathizers pick from the smorgasbord of moderate to extreme methods of confronting Israel through sanctions, boycotts and divestments. Israel, in turn, tries to brand BDS as an anti-Zionist movement and not just a critic of Israeli policies. Further, efforts are made to equate that anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and, most recently, with anti-Judaism. I will turn to this topic in my next blog.

I want to finish this blog by documenting the efforts of each side to either confront BDS (Israel) or to bypass BDS (PA) through diplomacy in the global arena, primarily in the United Nations. Like Russia and the U.S. engaged in a renewed lukewarm non-military war, Israel and the PA, whatever their differences on the international stage – and they are at loggerheads on many issues – are both opponents of BDS.

Recently, at the end of May, Israel’s Mission to the United Nations and the World Jewish Congress joined together with a plethora of Jewish organizations in the diaspora in hosting a one day anti-BDS “summit” at the United Nations entitled, “Building Bridges, Not Boycotts.” A strong motivation for organizing the meeting was not just the efforts of BDS. Danny Danon, Israel’s UN ambassador, placed the UN Human Rights Commission in bed with BDS because the former, he declared, decided to blacklist anyone who does business in Judea and Samaria. And that is the Achilles heel of the anti-BDS camp. Instead of dividing those who criticize the settlements from those who would boycott Israeli goods, academic institutions and institute a cultural boycott against Israel, unsurprisingly he put relative moderates, including, in part, the PA, in bed with its enemy, the BDS movement. And he called them both anti-Semitic.

Yesterday evening, I watched the opening of the Republican Convention in Cleveland. The speech of Melania Trump, Donald’s wife, though lacking a few needed intimate anecdotes, and, as revealed quickly afterwards, in part plagiarized Michele Obama’s 2008 Democratic Convention speech, was otherwise superbly crafted and extremely well delivered. Other speeches simply demonized Hillary in a world aflame with mostly extremist Islamicist violence. Speaker after speaker reiterated the theme of making America great and safe again. In contrast, Hillary was portrayed as the devil incarnate, pilloried for her alleged failures and reiterating Donald’s claims that she is a crook. “Lock her up,” they shouted.

“Building Bridges, not Boycotts” (BBnB) was like a Trump rally, a gathering of the converted, of anti-BDS forces of which the vast majority were Jews, 1,500 students, but without the advantage of a single star performer. Jewish reggae singer, Matisyahu, did perform in the morning in the General Assembly Hall. Matisyahu had been targeted himself by BDS and, for a short period in 2015, a Spanish organization cancelled his scheduled appearance before the cancellation was reversed under pressure from the Spanish government. What made BBnB most akin to the first night of the Republican Convention was the effort to totally demonize BDS and all boycotts against Israel as anti-Semitic. The principle of these exercises in a collective harangue seemed to be, keep it simple, paint only in black and white colours and, through repetition after repetition, drive home a single atrocious association with whatever and whoever is being targeted. Of course, it is ironic to compare BBnB to a Trump rally since Trump is bent on building walls not bridges.

Several months earlier, when Danny Danon denounced the UN effort at labelling goods originating in West Bank settlements, he did not differentiate between such efforts and the BDS much wider goals. Further, even these UN efforts were labelled as anti-Semitic. In his speech at the end of May at the BBnB, conference, the Israeli Ambassador to the UN and the main force behind the rally, gave the opening speech and characterized BDS as anti-Semitic. He recalled the passage of the Zionism is Racism motion at the UN forty years earlier and the victory in getting the UN to revoke that motion in 1991. He depicted BDS as a new threat to Israel and the Jewish people based on lies and distortions and hiding behind the mask of human rights and peace activism when it was just a global effort to delegitimize Israel. BDS’s campaign of hatred was the face of modern anti-Semitism, he declared.
Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress, elaborated on the reasoning for this. He made the following points:

1. The United Nations was created 70 years ago out of the carnage of World War II. It was created on the broken bones of the Jewish people, with the pledge that the world would never see again the kind of human destruction that the Nazis forced on our people.
2. Today, the UN has singled out the only Jewish State in the world – Israel – with lie, after lie, after lie.
3. We chose to look at an equally dishonest campaign against the Jews – the BDS movement – right here at the United Nations.
4. Those who chose are no longer victims and no longer have to rely on others to protect us; we are no longer ghetto Jews, no longer willing to be quiescent, no longer timid, but new Jews. “And we are absolutely done being quiet! Enough is enough!!!”
5. Enticed by the seduction of fighting for rights, of fighting for justice, those who support BDS do not listen to the BDS chant: “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free!”
6. Expanding on the theme of BDS as not only anti-Zionist but anti-Semitic, he insisted that the current boycott against the State of Israel is no different from Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism of the 1920s or the Soviet bloc’s anti-Zionism of the 1950s and 60s.
7. BDS is not concerned about the rights of Palestinians, but denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination in the exclusive focus on Israel as distinct from all the other vicious states that abuse of human rights.

It was a rallying speech, not an analytic one. It is not simply a distortion; it is a falsification to say that the UN was created on the broken bones of the Jewish people when the issue for the UN in the aftermath of WWII was not the Holocaust at all but what to do with 250,000 Jewish refugees in Europe that no one wanted. It may be true that the UN has disproportionately, and enormously so, singled out Israel for condemnation, but it is a distortion to suggest – though not actually assert – that Israel is the only state condemned for human rights abuses. Iran and North Korea have both been chastised, and Iran is the only state for Iranians just as Israel is the only Jewish state. Whether true or not – and no documentation was offered to support the thesis – there is the question whether equating UN activities with BDS was diplomatically astute? It would not likely win over strong UN supporters who are not particularly antithetical to Israel and who do not support the wider goals of BDS. The problem was multiplied when Lauder used the old canard that the old Jew was quiet and passive in the face of oppression. BDS may indeed be anti-Zionist as I contend, and possibly anti-Semitic, which I question, but assertion is not the same as argument.

Elyakim Rubinstein, Vice-President of the Israeli Supreme Court Justice and formerly the Attorney General of Israel, took a different path and provided a detailed account of the lawfare fight with BDS in the international legal arena. (See my previous blog.) Further, calling for a boycott of Israel was not protected as a right in the U.S. under the First Amendment. He also characterized BDS as “political terrorism under the guise of freedom of speech.” He came to the same conclusion, that BDS was out to destroy Israel, but did not confuse the labelling issue of goods from the West Bank with the BDS program.

The conference also evidently heard from Mosab Hassan Yousef, now living in the U.S., “The Green Prince” who worked undercover for ten years for Israel’s internal security service, Shin Bet, from 1997 to 2007. He was the son of Hamas leader, Sheik Hassan, and is credited with hunting down many militants. I could not find his speech on the internet, but in other settings he has excoriated Hamas and claimed BDS was a front for Hamas. On the other hand, a second Palestinian in attendance, Bassam Eid, founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, joined the chorus of Jewish speakers who criticized BDS and the Palestinian leadership without distinction.

This theme was echoed in the 30-page guidebook handed out to attendees, but was focused on BDS as a movement of hate accused of being anti-Semitic while characterizing BDS as “all-powerful” with tentacles everywhere in language usually characteristic of anti-Semitic rants against Jews. The booklet stressed the use of state legislatures to boycott entities that boycotted Israel. So if BDS works to delegitimize Israel, this movement headlined in the 31 May 2016 meeting at the UN was focused on delegitimizing BDS. Students were encouraged to contact legislators to make efforts at boycotting academics illegal. And, in contrast to the main thrust of the conference, students were advised to drive a wedge between critics of Israel and BDS delegitimizers of Israel. Label BDS as anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic.

With the help of Alex Zisman