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In electric atmosphere, Medea Benjamin takes over the president’s speech

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Medea Benjamin shouts as President Obama speaks at the National Defense University in Washington, DC, May 23, 2013. (Photo: AFP)

An almost unheard of thing happened near the end of President Barack Obama’s much anticipated speech on counterterrorism Thursday: a critic publicly challenged him on the ongoing detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and the use of drones in targeted killings. And in the charged confusion, something resembling an exchange occurred.

“You are commander-in-chief! It’s been 11 years; release [the Guantanamo inmates] today!” Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin bellowed at the National Defense University in Washington DC. 

“We’re addressing that, ma’am,” the president answered, struggling to get a word in. He then went on to directly address the issue:

 “I know the politics are hard. But history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who fail to end it. Imagine a future — 10 years from now or 20 years from now — when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not part of our country. Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike. I’m willing to cut the young lady who interrupted me some slack because it’s worth being passionate about. Is this who we are? Is that something our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave our children?”

Incredibly, and somewhat surreally, Benjamin was allowed to stay, only to pounce again.

“Can you stop the signature strikes killing people on the basis of suspicious activities?” she called out.

As security ultimately escorted her away, Benjamin continued: “… thousands of Muslims that got killed — will you compensate the innocent families? I love my country.  I love the rule of law. Abide by the rule of law! You’re a constitutional lawyer!”

And, again, Obama did not entirely brush her off:

“The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to.  (Applause.)  Obviously, I do not agree with much of what she said, and obviously she wasn’t listening to me in much of what I said.  But these are tough issues, and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong.”

In the aftermath, the exchange has been dismissed as a “heckling” event. But the truth is that for a brief time the atmosphere in the room was electric. And, everyone present was transfixed, with every camera, and most every eye, trained on Benjamin. It was bizarre to see the leader of the free world struggle to continue this most important of speeches with the majority of his audience looking the other way. 

The term “speaking truth to power” is much bandied about, often by self-congratulatory journalists. But rarely do we witness an exchange that actually lives up to the spirit of the phrase.

Whatever you think about Benjamin’s tactics, they nevertheless spurred a riveting exchange. And they arguably could not have come at a better time on a more crucial set of issues: a president’s power to kill or indefinitely detain without due process.

As it happened, Obama’s chief of staff was sitting directly behind me, and I couldn’t help but catch some of his reaction. Not only did he seem unfazed, he even wondered aloud if he should call off the encroaching security guards. 

One was left to wonder if some quick political calculus was at play, not only because the confrontation offered Obama an opportunity to answer his harshest critics, but also because it was a gripping exhibition of democracy in action… even if it was freedom-of-speech by accident.  (“How did she get in here?” many a scandalized journo uttered in the aftermath.)

Explaining her actions after the speech, Benjamin told the New York Times:

“People around the world are tired of nice words from President Obama, and they want some concrete action….Some say it’s rude to interrupt the president, but it’s rude to kill innocent people with drones.” 

Even before Benjamin injected herself into the proceedings, the speech was compelling. Obama addressed many of the deep concerns about his counterterrorism policies to date, including their constitutionality and their morality.

The president called for an end to the perpetual war footing the country has maintained since 9/11. While admitting and defending his “lethal targeted action with drones,” Obama also said he would move to significantly circumscribe their use with new guidelines for transparency and accountability. He also said he would begin anew the effort to end the scourge that is Guantanamo.

“So America is at a crossroads.  We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us.  We have to be mindful of James Madison’s warning that ‘No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.’ Neither I, nor any president, can promise the total defeat of terror.  We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society.”

Obama acknowledged the “hard fact” that innocent civilians had been killed by U.S. drones. 

“And for the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss.  For me, and those in my chain of command, those deaths will haunt us as long as we live, just as we are haunted by the civilian casualties that have occurred throughout conventional fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.”    

He used the targeted killing in Yemen of the U.S. citizen Anwar Awlaki to address a core anxiety about his policies.

“For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen — with a drone, or with a shotgun — without due process, nor should any President deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.”

Because Awlaki was actively trying to kill Americans, Obama said, his citizenship should have offered no more of a shield than the citizenship of a deranged domestic sniper as a SWAT team approached.

Still, Obama appeared to recognize that the unchecked use of drones could be corrosive to the nation’s democratic underpinnings.  “To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power — or risk abusing it.”

“Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states,” Obama said, regarding the need to dial down the unchecked power that Congress delivered to the Oval Office 12 years ago via the Authorization for Use of Military Force.

He called for revisiting the rules so that lethal force would only be used on those who pose a “continuing and imminent threat,” and that there must be a “near certainty” that no harm would come to civilians.

“America does not take strikes to punish individuals; we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people, and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat,” Obama said.

In regard to the last line, Democracy Now noted a McClatchy newspapers report that said, “Obama’s speech appeared to expand those who could be targeted in drone strikes and other undisclosed ‘lethal actions.’ Up until Thursday, Obama and his top aides have said that drone strikes are restricted to killing confirmed ‘senior operational leaders of al-Qaeda and associated forces’ plotting imminent violent attacks against the United States. But Obama dropped that wording Thursday, making no reference at all to senior operational leaders.” 

Obama also offered a variety of possible new drone oversight approaches, one being the establishment of a new a special court, and the other an in-house group within the executive. 

Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman spoke to a number of administration critics after the speech. They were in the main critical of these proposals, suggesting that they were tantamount to asking judges for “death warrants.” 

Obama went on to point out the fiscal absurdities involved in keeping Guantanamo open —$150 million each year to incarcerate 166 prisoners. But, beyond the money, to the rest of the world, Guantanamo stands for an “America that flouts the rule law.”

For her part, Benjamin objected to the NY Times and others calling her a “heckler”:

“I think a heckler is a very negative term, and I think it’s a positive thing when people find the courage to speak up to leaders who are not leading. And I didn’t do what I did to embarrass the president. I did it because I feel that he needs to be pushed more, that it has been over four years now of policies that have been killing innocent people with drones. It has been now over 11 years that innocent people are still being held in Guantánamo and now being force-fed. These are crisis situations, and it requires more from us as citizens.”

Peter Voskamp

Peter Voskamp is a freelance writer based in Washington, DC.

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65 Responses

  1. rsmatesic on May 24, 2013, 3:09 pm

    When do you suppose was the last time the man who makes his living speaking from a podium began his address without a prepared rebuttal to any potential hecklers?

  2. Justpassingby on May 24, 2013, 5:03 pm

    Brave and hard-working woman that Medea Benjamin.

  3. gingershot on May 24, 2013, 5:19 pm

    Medea Benjamin makes me proud to be a human being.

    During the campaign Michelle Obama said: “for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback”

    Now that Barak has been president for 5 yrs – I think he and Michelle have a lot to learn from Medea. Obama needs to ‘Be the Change’ for something positive for America – instead of getting in the way.

    • Kathleen on May 25, 2013, 10:18 am

      Medea became more vocal in the run up to the invasion of Iraq. Although she and her ex were both co founders of Global Exchange and have been working on human rights issues for a long time. It has just been in the last 10 years that she has become vocal or involved with the I/P issue. Her silence as well as others who are as bright and as much in the know as she is has been complicit in the oppression of Palestinians for decades. But when Medea gets involved clearly she goes deep and wide.

  4. Kathleen on May 24, 2013, 5:35 pm

    “Whatever you think about Benjamin’s tactics, they nevertheless spurred a riveting exchange.” The first Code Pink march in D.C. that took place over a decade ago I asked Medea what is with all of the bangles, jangles, pink this and that. Her response “we want their attention.” And over and over her efforts and other activist with powerful, factual voices have interrupted congressional hearings etc with their messages and facts that would more than likely not get out if there was not a scene. Kudo’s to Medea a powerful and brilliant activist. So glad that she decided to get on the Palestinian solidarity band wagon in the last 10 years. This lady knows how to step up to the plate and be effective. Go Medea!

    • Kathleen on May 25, 2013, 8:57 am

      Why is this comment taking so long to get up? Is it true that at Mondoweiss as Gilad is saying that there is no willingness to tell the truth about how many Jewish individuals are totally new to this movement and want to spin it as if they have been. Unwilling to admit that their silence has been complicity. Medea is wonderful but her silence for decades has been complicity. What is wrong with bringing that up? Or are you folks trying to make heroes out of Medea, Phil, etc

      • philweiss on May 25, 2013, 10:45 am

        Just getting on moderation now. And I think you’re right to ask where Jews were on Zionism in their community 10 years ago. I was passive; never went to the place, still had Zionist materials given to me at my bar mitzvah, but never read them; and yes, surely stymied by community inscriptions, some unconscious.
        But if someone arrived yesterday, I want them here. What does that matter? Is this about chest ribbons?
        And where were you Kathleen?

      • Daniel Rich on May 25, 2013, 11:39 am

        Man up, buddy. Kathleen has the balls to ask you questions you’ve never been asked before. I [for 1], applaud her line of questioning, and your answers make me want to join Peris [clownzzzzz].

      • Kathleen on May 26, 2013, 12:50 am

        No this is not about “chest ribbons” but this should not be about making those who have been complicit for decades new heroes either. Which at times it seems that some are trying to create out of Beinart, Medea etc And Phil I have generally admired that you admit you were complicit. I think this is important

        I ask this because the gathering here in Boulder with Gilad Atzmon this issue came up. Really knew little about the guy until I read more recently. Disagreed with things that he said but he sure does not mind a solid argument coming back at him. He said a great deal about the progressive Jewish Left now trying to spin their complicity as if they were just unaware of the crimes against humanity being committed by Israel, for decades and brought up the point that some Palestinians make that it is important for them to take the lead on these issues and that the newly involved Jewish left are co-opting what is being said. What do you think about that opinion Phil?

        And where was I? Have not been complicit and proudly not complicit as soon as Vanessa Redgrave spoke about this issue in 76 or so. Also owe awareness to those who were really out on the edge early on. For 30 years following Art Gish’s footsteps, creating petitions in support for the Palestinians Lobbying representatives many many times in D.C. on the issue, calling into national radio programs about the issue, attending Palestinian solidarity marches, passing out accurate information on college campuses etc….for decades at this point. Will absolutely sing the praises of the so called Jewish left that have taken this issue up a notch the last ten years and as Phil has pointed out so often taken this discussion loud and clear into the American Jewish community. But really think we need to be careful about turning people into heroes for finally doing the right thing.

        Phil what do you think about the need for Palestinians to be taking the lead on this issue?

      • Shmuel on May 26, 2013, 9:01 am

        And where was GA 30 years ago? Raping Lebanon with the IDF. Why is it so important in every single comment on Medea Benjamin (an amazing woman today!) to mention that she has “only” been defending Palestinian rights for a decade? Who the hell cares? It’s not about how “the progressive Jewish left spins” the exact date of its having joined the struggle. It’s about Palestine. Here, now, today, tomorrow.

      • rsmatesic on May 26, 2013, 3:17 pm

        What Kathleen describes suggests to me that we’re only spurred to act on our professed commitment to basic human decency when the perceived benefits of action outweigh the perceived costs.

        And that’s nothing to shout about.

        Defend the victims as much as you can. But if you stand in the way of them leading their own cause, then you’re leading for yourself, and not for them.

      • Danaa on May 26, 2013, 3:44 pm

        Shmuel, I am with you on this. All I can think of is – where was I until a little more than a decade ago? My mental transformation was near complete as much as 2 decades ago, yet, it took much more time to figure out who to travel with and where. For that and other reasons, I am glad to see any and everyone show up at whatever time they are ready and in whatever capacity they can contribute. As things stand, many more drops will need to be assembled before we have enough of an ocean and the dam finally starts to give. For the Palestinians’ sake, one can only hope this process doesn’t take too long.

      • Shmuel on May 26, 2013, 5:11 pm

        As things stand, many more drops will need to be assembled before we have enough of an ocean and the dam finally starts to give. For the Palestinians’ sake, one can only hope this process doesn’t take too long.

        Which is why it is such a waste of time and energy to focus on the motives or personal history of activists. So what if someone is a media-hungry egomaniac (a purely theoretical example)? So what if the “limelight” is “stolen” from activists who have been at it “since the days of Ticho” (as the Hebrew expression goes)? Do they get the job done? Do they draw attention to the issues of Palestinian reality (ongoing ethnic cleansing, apartheid, torture, collective punishment, daily harassment major and minor) and rights? Do they mobilise others? That really should be all that matters. All the Palestinians need is a fight between Euros over recognition of their efforts.

      • Citizen on May 26, 2013, 9:32 pm

        I think Kathleen is right to ask, why not sooner? It’s a key question. We can all learn from honest answers, the better to speed up growing awareness by adopting relevant tactics. Medea Benjamin could help this process encouraging courage by writing an article as to why she came comparatively late to the I-P issue, which is at least as important as all the other issues she has tackled over the years. Phil knows this, and he’s tackled the subject (somewhat) numerous times on this blog.

      • Shingo on May 27, 2013, 2:22 am

        I think Kathleen is right to ask, why not sooner? It’s a key question.

        Key to what exactly? What does does it matter?

        You could ask anyone their reasons for taking an interest in this topic and they would all give you an answer that it personal to them and unique. What one can say about Medea is that she is putting herself on the line more than most of us put together, so even if she arrived to the party last week, I still regard her courage and conviction as beyond reproach.

        Seriously, I cannot understand what the fascination is other than being driven by a misguided need to scrutinize the motives of others.

      • Shmuel on May 27, 2013, 2:33 am

        I think Kathleen is right to ask, why not sooner?

        I don’t think that is what Kathleen has been doing. Simply mentioning the fact (repeatedly) – as criticism or a backhanded compliment (‘Medea’s great, but …’) is not the same as asking. And speculating at MW is also not the same as asking.

        I don’t know very much about Medea Benjamin. A quick trip to Wiki told me that she is a lifelong activist, who has been involved in many important issues. Why some issues at certain times and not others? That’s a no-win question, akin to the hasbara crowd criticising people for “singling Israel out” – i.e. if you are not engaged in every single justice-related issue on the planet, you must be criticising Israel because you hate Jews.

        And what about Medea’s most recent action? Drones and Guantanamo was it? What about Palestine? What about poverty? What about the environment? What about Africa? What about South America? The only possible conclusion is that she must be a hypocrite, no? Although we’re really glad she’s on board about drones. By the way, how long has she been shouting about drones? Long enough? From the very beginning? Sounds like complicity to me.

        The idea that she bears greater responsibility for Palestine, because she is Jewish is very debatable (with the affirmative view having more than a little in common with the Zionist view of the relationship between all Jews and the State of Israel), and the accusation that she may be trying to cover up her supposed past lack of involvement on this issue because she’s trying to protect Jews (casting aspersions on her motivation and activism in general) is simply offensive.

      • Shingo on May 27, 2013, 2:47 am

        The idea that she bears greater responsibility for Palestine, because she is Jewish is very debatable (with the affirmative view having more than a little in common with the Zionist view of the relationship between all Jews and the State of Israel), and the accusation that she may be trying to cover up her supposed past lack of involvement on this issue because she’s trying to protect Jews (casting aspersions on her motivation and activism in general) is simply offensive.

        Perfectly put.

        If we are to be consistent in this regard, we should all have to fill out a questionnaire before being granted the privilege of posting comments and MW.

        I would also be curios what Kathleen would consider to be an unsatisfactory answer, and what should be Medea’s sentence were Medea to submit to such interrogation.

      • Kathleen on May 27, 2013, 11:29 am

        Great points

      • Citizen on May 27, 2013, 1:57 pm

        Medea’s been in the public eye with Code Pink since 2002 as to a bunch of really important issues that takes on US foreign policy but, as far as I’ve been able to determine, she didn’t tackle the I-P aspect of that policy until end of 2008. Given her displayed attack on US foreign policy from the beginning of forming Code Pink, it would be instructive to know from her own mouth why she attacked that aspect of US foreign policy relatively late, considering how long the special relation with Israel has been going on, and that even the 9/11 Commission named US policy re Israel as a key, if not the key, motive for 9/11. She was quick to protest the war on Iraq, and point out the Bush Jr regime linking that to 9/11 was a fraud, so, didn’t she asked back then, why? Come into awareness of PNAC? Pretty hard to ignore Israel’s and AIPAC’s hand in the matter–for five years?

      • Woody Tanaka on May 25, 2013, 11:35 am

        “Medea is wonderful but her silence for decades has been complicity.”

        This is totally unfair. You can only claim that silence is complicity if you assume a fiction: that the person your talking about is omniscient and omnipotent. One might be silent because one is under-informed about the situation or simply has no ability to be active on the question.

      • Les on May 25, 2013, 1:00 pm

        Better late than never. The new arrivals should be welcomed as they come through the doorway no less than those who entered earlier.

      • Kathleen on May 26, 2013, 11:40 am

        Absolutely welcomed but they should step up to the plate and be honest as Phil has been about being complicit for decades. Medea is a very bright person, well informed she knows what has been going on in the I/P issue for decades and only until recently has she taken it on and good that she is but she should be honest about her silence for decades.

        A question for the “better late than never crowd” is what is it that motivates you a real sense of responsibility, compassion, empathy or that it is far safer to jump on this issue now and is there a personal agenda. But as is almost always the case “better late than never.”

      • Shingo on May 26, 2013, 8:00 pm

        Absolutely welcomed but they should step up to the plate and be honest as Phil has been about being complicit for decades.

        I recall that Phil cited 911 as the pivotal moment for him, which I totally relate to because it was for me too. It wasn’t that I was holding my tongue or shying away from debate – it was that 911 and the aftermath was a catalytic event which woke me up.

        While I am technically Jewish (my mother was Jewish by lineage) I was not raised Jewish or practice Judaism, I don’t regard myself as complicit. I simply was not politically active in matters of foreign affairs.

        I think the same can be said of many Jewish people.

        Medea is a very bright person, well informed she knows what has been going on in the I/P issue for decades and only until recently has she taken it on

        What do we know about Medea Benjamin’s political activities prior to 911? Are you suggesting Kathleen, that being Jewish in itself meant she was automatically an active participant in support for Israel’s crimes? There are many intelligent people who have taken no interests in this subject – myself included until 911.

        Have you heard Medea explain what it was that sparked her to take on this cause?

        I simply don’t accept that Medea should be scrutinized more than anyone else simply because she’s Jewish. And to be perfectly honest, if we are going to obsess about setting these ridiculous moral bench marks for Jewish people who have experienced as moral awakening, for barriers of entry to Palestinian solidarity, then we are simply setting ourselves up for continued failure.

      • Kathleen on May 27, 2013, 11:33 am

        Come on many so called “liberal” Jews in congress and allegedly committed to the human rights of all have willingly ignored this critical issues for decades. This silence has not only been complicity but has built up the infrastructure here in the states to not question, not address, not shine the light on the issue. Clearly this is changing but not copping to the silence and how that has helped sustain the injustices is cowardly

      • RoHa on May 27, 2013, 9:18 pm

        “While I am technically Jewish (my mother was Jewish by lineage) I was not raised Jewish or practice Judaism, I don’t regard myself as complicit. ”

        Are you suggesting that you have to be Jewish to be complicit by silence? Anti-Gentilist!

      • Danaa on May 25, 2013, 4:13 pm

        Kathleen, you are not being quite fair. For one, it’s better late than never. For another, some things take time – especially in the face of the barrage from the MSM we have all been subjected to. When you grow up and live all your life in a cave it takes more time for some to accept that there is a world outside it, even as others, often the silent majority retreat deeper into the cave as the light becomes brighter and harder to resist.

        Truth is, most people are not all that “political action inclined” to start with and/or there are so many worthy causes to choose from out there, for those who are. Medea picked her battles as she was cutting her teeth as a movement person and coming to know her own courage in the process. To have reached the place she had – where she is not summarily ejected for heckling during a presidential speech – took a lot of work. Becoming a credible action oriented person takes time, and each does it their own way and at their own pace.

        As another aside – there is no time stamp or expiration date on “heroism”. Any time is a good time to step up to the plate in whatever form one can contribute. Phil is here, now and his reflections upon the reasons it took as long as it had have been enlightening to many who found it resonated with their own experiences.

        We are all human, Kathleen. Even the seemingly superhuman….

      • Shingo on May 26, 2013, 5:07 am

        I agree Danaa and I don’t really understand the indignation against Philand Medea.

        Look at Miko Peled. He hasn’t even heard about the Nakba until he left Israel and moved to San Diego. In fact, he hasn’t even met a Pslestinian Arab.

        Yet look at the journey he himself embarked on. Personally, I think it takes far kore courage to genuinely question your own belief system and change it based on evidence.

        People like Phil and Nedea are an inspiration in my book.

      • Antidote on May 26, 2013, 8:28 am

        “Kathleen, you are not being quite fair. For one, it’s better late than never. For another, some things take time – especially in the face of the barrage from the MSM we have all been subjected to.”

        I spent a few weeks in the Caribbean recently, and the only radio station I could get in my humble beach hut was Fox. A lot of Rush Limbaugh. The basic message, repeated ad nauseam, was this: America is the greatest country in the history of the world. It’s all been about freedom, and defending and spreading the idea of freedom and democracy, peace and justice around the globe.

        It was unreal.

        Limbaugh may be an extreme case, but pray tell me: what excuses Obama – liberal, highly educated, and presumably familiar with the darker side of his country’s history – from spreading the same tale?

        He said:

        “So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us. We have to be mindful of James Madison’s warning that ‘No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.’ Neither I, nor any president, can promise the total defeat of terror. We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society.”

        Or:

        “I’m willing to cut the young lady who interrupted me some slack because it’s worth being passionate about. Is this who we are? Is that something our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave our children?”

        You’d think being at war for more than 10 years, or detaining people for many years without charge is anything new in US history. But it isn’t. In fact, there has hardly been a decade in US history when the country was NOT at war against internal and external enemies (all haters of freedom and democracy, of course)

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_involving_the_United_States

        And Kathleen is complaining about the splinter in Medea Benjamin’s eye?

      • MHughes976 on May 26, 2013, 10:49 am

        A splinter long ago removed, leaving no impairment of vision as far as I can see. It took me at least as long to get my vision of these things clear and I have not done half or a quarter as much as MB has to draw the attention of others and get them to see things as they are.

      • Betsy on May 26, 2013, 11:25 am

        Let’s not personalize this. I didn’t hear Kathleen calling for chest ribbons, with dates on them. I hear Kathleen trying to ask about the big trends, the collective patterns in American Jewish life, and, in American collective life. Her questions are important at that level — and, Phil has been at the forefront of asking them, through reflection on his experience, others writings, & what community norms allow to be said, and what unsaid. Kudos to Phil for this!

        It’s not about blaming individuals. It’s about trying to understand the collective forces & community patterns that shut down people’s ability to question, to have doubts, to feel empathically. It was very important in the 60’s & 70’s that white liberals in the civil rights movement were pushed to not make their faces the face of the movement, to recognize their long complicity within structural racism. White women in the feminist movement also benefitted from being pushed to reflect on the structures of race & class that made them complicit in sidelining women of color.

        Given the incredibly positive contributions of Jewish Americans to America’s ethical life — the deafening silence (until recently) on I/P is actually fascinating. I think we can all learn a lot from understanding how this kind of collective silence comes about. It’s an urgent question, so that we can learn to stop doing it. Why has there been so little open debate within temples & synagogues? I find it very hard to understand. It’s almost as if now, that the Jewish voices of conscience are more likely to come from secular voices. For decades, those of us in the Christian Left have been toiling away on I/P issues — & it’s only recently, that we’ve been given cover, when we’re smeared. As a social justice Christian, to keep interfaith community, I have been periodically attending temple with a good friend. It’s been a wonderful experience. But, it feels like there’s some kind of code of silence re/ I/P (and I’m sure not about to bring it up, as a polite guest).

        I hope that Kathleen & others keep bringing these questions up again & again — and that they not get personalized, but get deepened into ongoing structural, collective reflection on how things can go so wrong collectively.

        Kathleen is lauding Medea as a person — as when she says:

        Kudo’s to Medea a powerful and brilliant activist. So glad that she decided to get on the Palestinian solidarity band wagon in the last 10 years. This lady knows how to step up to the plate and be effective. Go Medea!

      • Kathleen on May 26, 2013, 11:45 am

        It is not unfair at all. Medea has been well informed about this issue for a long time I have heard her speak many times. And yes her “better late than never” and very effective actions should be celebrated. Along with the acknowledgement really should be by her that she ignored this issue for decades. If she can call Obama out in a public way I can certainly call her silence as complicity out publicly. Or are there different rules for her than the ones she applies to Obama?

      • Kathleen on May 26, 2013, 11:57 am

        Of course it is the issue and specific comments that Medea made that are the real issues. So why not mix up the activist who go into those Presidential speeches, congressional meetings and speak out. There is some personal need there, some self promotion , some other intention. Gilad talked about this the other night and something other activist have noticed….

      • Kathleen on May 26, 2013, 12:00 pm

        I admire people who acknowledge their silence has been complicit. Much bigger people. Silence from those in the know ( and Medea has known) have very much helped maintain the apartheid system in Israel for decades. All I am saying is it much better to acknowledge that silence and that compliciity

      • Shingo on May 26, 2013, 8:19 pm

        It is not unfair at all. Medea has been well informed about this issue for a long time I have heard her speak many times.

        There are many issues that people remain silent on. Look at all the US military entanglements since WWII. The public, made up of well and no so well informed people, were brainwashed into supporting these adventures. Does it make them culpable for not knowing that they were being lied to?

        Again Kathleen, I draw your attention back to 911 and the Iraq war. I don’t think one can full estimate how much impact that event had on alternative media and information sharing. The mainstream media was exposed as an instrument of government propaganda and trust in it’s legitimacy suffered a mortal wound that it will never recover from. Blogs sprung up everywhere and Youtube was subsequently born. The sharing of information has exploded.

        My interest in the I/P conflict was ignited by those events and an article I read on Counterpunch by Antony Lowenstein. I had a uneasy feeling about the I/P issue for years prior to it, but he articulated what I felt in a concise and eloquent manner. It was a clarifying moment that changed my outlook forever.

        What you are also overlooking is that even intelligent people have been poorly informed about the topic. How many articles have you read by so called experts on the matter that are full of BS and historical untruths – even the ones who were not deliberately lying?

        Look at even people like Jerome Slater, who has been active on the subject for so long – yet even he is still struggling to shake off the cobwebs of the Zionist supremacist mentality.

        Even if you assume Medea had been made aware of the realities decades ago, have you considered how much time she would have required to inquire, investigate, question and assimilate the information to become an effective activist?

        After reading Lowenstein’s piece, I was to discover that it would take me the better part of a decade just to educate myself on the complexities of the issue just to be able to debate the matter competently with a typical Israeli propagandist – and I didn’t have to deal with the backlash from a Jewish community that would alienate me.

        And to make matters worse, we all know that reading and researching this topic is fraught with landmines of myth and false narratives, that we have to navigate.

        I haven’t had the experience of knowing what it is like to confront what you have been raised to believe and questions it’s validity, but I would imagine that it can be a traumatic and excruciating process.

        I really think you are being realistic Kathleen, and I say that as someone who has the utmost respect for you.

      • RoHa on May 26, 2013, 8:57 pm

        I have not been complicit since about 1965 or so (as a result of reading Childers’ The Other Exodus) but I haven’t done much about it. A letter or two in The Times and other newspapers, steadfast refusal to buy Israeli products, and vocal support for the Palestinians whenever the topic came up.

        Phil and Medea have done a lot more in a much shorter time.

      • American on May 27, 2013, 10:41 am

        “There is some personal need there, some self promotion , some other intention. Gilad talked about this the other night and something other activist have noticed”

        I dont think that is necessarily true about Meda or other individuals….but as I have said before about the liberal zionist, (and some anti zionist) they do take pains to try and keep the Isr issue a Jewish ‘only one……they dont want any gentile americans in it telling them whats what on Israel.

      • Kathleen on May 27, 2013, 11:37 am

        Thanks. I do admire Medea’s abilities. The woman is amazing when she takes an issue on. But have always felt it important for all activist to reflect upon their motivations, their personal awakenings and what may have kept them from stepping up to the plate earlier.

        Medea a community organizer taking on Obama a community organizer.

      • annie on May 27, 2013, 2:04 pm

        kathleen, i’ve noticed it’s practically impossible to cover medea’s activism here without it devolving into another one of your “better late than never” discussions. frankly, i’m tired of this obsession. you won’t ever get over it will you? you want her “acknowledgement” and if you don’t get it every single time she makes any action the threads will go down this road, won’t they?

        Along with the acknowledgement really should be by her that she ignored this issue for decades.

        and what about me? i’m the same age as medea. do you need some public acknowledgement from me too, or am i off the hook because i am not jewish? isn’t this really about acknowledging activists that have been working on this for decades and decades who have not been roundly acknowledged?

        well, i for one would like to acknowledge all your activism. it’s been exemplary.

      • Citizen on May 27, 2013, 2:27 pm

        @ Annie Robbins

        It does not hurt to address Kathleen’s question. We all need to know why, considering how long this I-P situation has been going on, and the extent of our own government’s hand in it, and why, we woke up so late. One simple reason is that, while we were all sleeping, Israel has grabbed more land for 45 years, and we, US taxpayers, paid for it, (today’s Memorial Day in USA–Nuremberg Trials, which the “greatest generation paid for with their lives” established no principles applicable to Israel [or US]?) and the Palestinian natives have been suffering accordingly all this time, and down to this day. Not to mention, the impact of PNAC, the neocons, the PEP partners, the Iraq war, the current war drums for war on Iran, all those US SC vetos against making Israel accountable like any other nation state. Jeez.

      • Shingo on May 27, 2013, 5:15 pm

        But have always felt it important for all activist to reflect upon their motivations, their personal awakenings and what may have kept them from stepping up to the plate earlier.

        Agreed, but that’s quite a bit different from having to confess to complicity in the past.

      • Citizen on May 28, 2013, 10:16 am

        @ Shingo
        True. But writing about one’s earlier ignorance of an important issue like US foreign policy wrt Israel & the history of its conduct is important. Why? Because unlike, e.g., the tide that grew against the Vietnam war due to the Draft, well-intentioned average citizens need to know what our main media and government never tells them, and psychologically, it helps to know how hard it was for somebody like a Medea Benjamin (a member of the privileged from day one, compared to most everyday Americans), slowly grew to see the light, that is, they would know it’s just because they are stupid, but rather because they’ve been misinformed by the government and press for a very long time. Even today, with the all-volunteer military, it’s so easy to ignore foreign policy and blowback–only 1% of US is directly involved on the ground, so to say. Phil has bothered to somewhat explain how his own early upbringing and sheltered life kept him from becoming aware earlier. That’s good to know for lots of folks who slowly come, even if late, to awareness. I mean like, Col Smedley wrote his book on how he had been duped fighting wars for the 1-5% for years, way back when. Most Americans have never heard of him or his book. That’s not good. Same re Rachel Corrie, or the USS Liberty, etc. There’s a lot of Americans who still don’t know we were lied to seducing us into attacking Iran–they still think it has something to do with 9/11. And so on. At an AAA meeting, don’t individuals get up and talk about their prior addiction, and how hard it was to get over it? Get it? That encourages positive conduct, weaning oneself from propaganda, etc.

      • Shingo on May 29, 2013, 8:13 am

        But writing about one’s earlier ignorance of an important issue like US foreign policy wrt Israel & the history of its conduct is important.

        That’s debatable because it is largely personal. Every one of us on this forum arrived at the same place, but how we got here is unique to all of us. While it might be instructive to others to hear it, I don’t believe it has to scrutinized as a condition of membership.

      • American on May 27, 2013, 10:17 am

        I dont know what Meda knew or when she knew it but I think a good number of us knew nothing, paid no attention, until 911 made us focus on the ME and we started investigating US ME policy, which brought Israel and I/P and the Lobby and the whole can of worms onto our radar screens.
        Unless someone had a specific interest in Israel, and the average person didnt, they would have known nothing or next to nothing because the media for the most part blacked out I/P and Israel’s occupation.

      • Citizen on May 27, 2013, 2:19 pm

        @ American
        And the main media still blacks out I/P and Israel’s occupation, not to mention the seminal Nakba. Hard to believe, given Israel is the # 1 beneficiary of US foreign aid in all of US history yet in many ways it surpasses the US as a socio-economic model–you just have to ignore the US $ aid & diplomatic aid to give this credibility.

  5. gingershot on May 24, 2013, 6:07 pm

    Paul Jay, anchor of TheRealNews – gives a brilliant statement on Ms Benjamin’s effect on Obama and then goes on to have a great interview with Michael Ratner regarding Obama’s speech and American policy in the Middle East

    They hit on all the problems with the Pro-Israel ‘War Against Islam for Israel’ throughout the Middle East …

    Very well done

    ‘Yes Mr President, This Is Who We Are’
    http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=767&Itemid=74&jumival=10232

  6. just on May 24, 2013, 6:48 pm

    Thanks for this Peter.

    As I said yesterday, Medea spoke for millions around the world, and for me. I thought the speech and its content good– overdue– but darn good. I hope he can follow through, and that Congress will get their collective heads out of their a$$e$. I was so very glad that Mr. Obama listened to Medea and acknowledged her right to express herself and speak, instead of her being escorted out lickety split.

    And I agree with Medea, she did not ‘heckle’. She asked the appropriate questions that so many have just become complacent about.

    Thank you Medea Benjamin.

  7. Citizen on May 24, 2013, 8:42 pm

    O’Reilly, on The Factor show last night, didn’t know who the heckler was, but he wondered, more than a few times, was she Code Pink? Hard to believe his staff didn’t give him the name, Medea Benjamin.

    Given Code Pink’s tactics, over and over again, it really is curious how Medea got in there. And why she was not immediately whisked away. Don’t get me wrong, I am totally behind Code Pink and Medea Benjamin is a wonderful citizen.

    • chocopie on May 25, 2013, 1:08 pm

      She said on CNN, when interviewed by Carol Costello, that she was invited to the event. She didn’t say who invited her.

    • Kathleen on May 26, 2013, 11:47 am

      I am amazed by her ability to keep getting in. Chris Matthews mentioned the heckler several times the other night but not by name. I actually wish Code Pink would mix up their hecklers (Colonel Ann Wright would be great) but she may not be willing to do this.

  8. Citizen on May 24, 2013, 8:48 pm

    Medea’s comments as she was led out were recorded and reported by Slate:
    Can you tell the Muslim people their lives are as precious as our lives?
    Can you take the drones out of the hands of the CIA?
    Can you stop the signature strikes that are killing people on the basis of suspicious activities?
    Will you apologize to the thousands of Muslims that you have killed?
    Will you compensate the innocent family victims?
    That will make us safer…

  9. Les on May 24, 2013, 10:50 pm

    Speaking of James Madison, there is this from John Quincy Adams on the dangers of seeking out enemies abroad

    Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit . . .

  10. American on May 24, 2013, 11:22 pm

    Go Meda! Bravo! Bravo!

    And this..?
    ““The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to. (Applause.) Obviously, I do not agree with much of what she said, and obviously she wasn’t listening to me in much of what I said.”

    Yadayada, we hear O and we’ve had enough of O speeches. Walk the walk gutless one or shut up.

  11. ritzl on May 24, 2013, 11:55 pm

    What an iconic photo of Ms. Benjamin. Iconic in the highly-flattering, get-off-your-ass-and-lead! (I mean YOU!! pissed-off-citizen) sense.

    You just get the sense that she’s going to be morphed into that Uncle Sam finger-pointing poster soon, if she hasn’t already.

    • Citizen on May 25, 2013, 2:16 pm

      @ ritzl
      Yep. She looks like the Liz Phair of cutting edge flair re US politics re Israel. Sexy, smart, direct!
      I agree with Kathleen she’s late to the “party” but also with Phil: better late than never. She sure knows how to get her message out. It’s uncanny how she gets in places most cannot to protest. I gather, therefore, she must have some inside fellow travelers who cannot come out in the open without big risk to their careers.

  12. eljay on May 25, 2013, 12:17 am

    I congratulate Ms. Benjamin for her courage and resolve. But I find nothing to praise in Mr. Obama’s words.

  13. Philip Munger on May 25, 2013, 11:24 am

    I created a petition late Friday at the White House niche, We The People.

    We petition the Obama Administration to Invite Medea Benjamin to the White House for a beer.

    On May 23, 2013, President Obama gave an important address at the National Defense University. Near the end, indefatigable peace activist, Medea Benjamin, pled with the President to consider important issues he had not addressed directly in his speech. The President stated, “The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to.”

    We the undersigned believe the same. We encourage President Obama to invite Ms. Benjamin to the White House for a beer or two, so that he may redeem his pledge.

    https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/invite-medea-benjamin-white-house-beer/9KHr2H9w

    I also posted two diaries about the petition – one at firedoglake, where I write often, and the other at Daily Kos, where I very seldom write:

    http://my.firedoglake.com/edwardteller/2013/05/24/we-petition-obama-to-invite-medea-benjamin-to-the-white-house-for-a-beer/

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/05/25/1211569/-We-Petition-Obama-to-Invite-Medea-Benjamin-to-the-White-House-for-a-Beer#comments

    The FDL diary is inspiring mostly crickets so far. The diary at DK, however, is – predictably – eliciting a lot of condemnation of Ms. Benjamin.

    • Kathleen on May 26, 2013, 12:46 pm

      Investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill is who I would like to see invited to have a beer with Obama. Guess I should start a petition on line

      Last time I was at Daily Kos most participants were such Obamabots anyone else generally finds it hard to breathe over there.

  14. Kathleen on May 26, 2013, 12:41 pm

    I was struck by the fact that Obama said that folks should listen to that woman (Medea) but he also said to Medea you should listen to what I am saying about the choice to use drones vs other methods to go after alleged threats to the U.S. etc. While I think it is critical to confront the Obama administration about their choices allegedly going after specific targets who pose a direct threat to the U.S. and yet avoiding talking about the thousands of innocent people killed in the process. The U.S. press does avoid this critical issue. Medea also shouted out a question about compensation for the families of the innocent people the Obama administration has killed. I have read a few articles about how a couple of thousand dollars are given to innocents killed family members along with a few goats etc. So absolutely disgusting that this is the way the U.S. measures an innocents life.

    The other night Carol King was on Chris Matthews Hardball and she brought up how she encourages the left to imagine what is like to be in Obama’s position, his job is supposed to be protecting the American people. I have always tried to imagine what it must be like to be in that position where you know that Obama (and other administrations) and his administration have information and threats that we will never see or find out about. Now do we have administration after administration protecting corporate interest over seas interpreted as “U.S. National Security interest” with our military etc. Yes we do. So the issue of protecting American lives vs U.S. corporate interest with the U.S . military is an ongoing struggle for administrations and protecting corporate interest has won out for decades. I do not think that the Obama administration would deal with these drone killings honestly if not forced to. The UN announced an investigation into these drone killings months ago. I think the UN investigation into U.S. drone killings along with activist and investigative reporters like Jeremy Scahill who has so bravely and repeatedly brought attention to this issue has forced the Obama administration to respond. Ultimately a great effort

    • American on May 27, 2013, 10:00 am

      ”I have always tried to imagine what it must be like to be in that position where you know that Obama (and other administrations) and his administration have information and threats that we will never see or find out about. ”

      I try to imagine what kind of brain doesn’t understand we created all these threats to ourselves by our own actions..
      I also try to imagine what kind of brain does understand we created these threats by our own actions and keeps on doing more of the same anyway.

      I have no sympathy for our gutless, brainless ‘protectors’.
      Just like Israel, they could stop doing what they’re doing any time.

      • Citizen on May 27, 2013, 10:24 am

        McCain would say you, American, are naive, like Obama talking about limiting POTUS power re terrorists and use of torture and drones.

  15. maz on May 27, 2013, 2:12 am

    http://www.politico.com/blogs/jonathanmartin/0608/Code_Pink_cofounder_is_Obama_bundler.html

    Code Pink co-founder is Obama bundler
    June 11, 2008
    A co-founder of the anti-war group Code Pink, which has made a name for itself by interrupting hearings on Capitol Hill, is a fundraising bundler for Barack Obama.

    Jodie Evans has pledged to raise at least $50,000 for Obama, according the Democrat’s campaign site.

  16. Arnon Shwantzinger Too on May 27, 2013, 6:31 am

    Obama says:
    “For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen — with a drone, or with a shotgun — without due process, nor should any President deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.”

    This is meaningless!!
    Obama passed a law that allows the president of the United States to do EXACTLY that.
    Obama won’t act on it and says it’s unconstitutional. This has no bearing on what future US presidents will be allowed to do with Obama’s law.
    Worse than Bush.
    Before Obama walked into office, Bush could be tried for his actions (at least on paper, theoretically, sometime in the future). Obama has made it impossible to try Bush for his crimes. Obama has made Bush’s crimes legal. Part of law.

  17. Citizen on May 27, 2013, 8:59 am

    Code Pink was founded in 2002, so it’s just over a decade old. It first engaged in protest re I-P in December of 2009, helping to organize the Gaza Freedom Flotilla then. Medea’s co-founder was a donor bundler in behalf Obama (in 2008), as maz informs us. If you go to wikipedia, you can see the impressive list of very important protest activity by Code Pink since it’s founding. As to her amazing access to disrupt tight governing arenas, I conclude from her success that Medea Benjamin has at least a good handful of secret supporters in Congress, and maybe in the WH, including Obama. Did you watch her last protest directly to Obama? A guy was there, right next to her, allowing her to protest on; he only later commenced getting her “off stage,” all the time cameras whirring directly on her. Remember, Obama told the Jewish Israeli students they needed to push Israeli politicians if they really wanted peace, and he prefaced it by saying all politicians can’t do it alone, they need to be pushed. He tried, without such grass roots backup, it seems, at Cairo, and when he first met Netanyahu and requested he stop the settlements…

  18. chinese box on May 27, 2013, 10:43 am

    I knew vaguely that something was “off” about Israel for a long time–it was just a little too pat the way the PLO was reflexively dismissed away as a terror group by “right thinking” people–but it wasn’t until the 1996 shelling at Qana that I began to really learn about the issue. So I’ve been involved in this longer than some people here, and for a much shorter time than others like Kathleen. However my activism has been limited to marching in some protests, trying practice BDS as a consumer, and making some donations for Gaza relief. Phil and Medea have put themselves on the line much more than I have, and I’m sure they’ve had to endure opprobrium from relatives, and perhaps lost some relationships because of their stances, so I’m uncomfortable judging someone by the length of their involvement/knowledge of this issue. Also I don’t think we should assume that someone was “complicit” in the occupation just because they only recently became involved in this issue–they may just not have known much about I/P in the first place.

    I understand what Kathleen is saying, but I think one has to accept that being an activist or devotee for a cause often means being an unsung hero, even if one was involved in it for a long time. It’s entirely possible that if a democratic 1ss or a viable 2ss does manage to come into being that the US government will somehow manage to take credit for it (“spreading freedom” and all that) despite decades of open obstructionism. Or some Tom Friedmanesque opportunist(s) will glom onto the cause and receive undeserved praise in the MSM. We have to be prepared for that possibility and remember that the end goal is what’s best for Palestine, not recognition of our personal efforts or dedication.

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