Wednesday, July 23, 2008



So, there are a lot of thoughts that have been running through my head today, and I'll try to capture what I'm able here in words. (I believe that this blog has largely become my expressive outlet in lieu of discussion-oriented classes and people who are close to me with whom I can discuss these matters at length.)

First, I want to address something that happened in the news that reflects a topic covered in my Hebrew class. Today, one of my classmates gave a presentation on the Sticker Song, which is a terrific commentary on the political, cultural, religious, etc. climate in modern Israel (and was written in collaboration with David Grossman, who will be visiting UVA next year). While discussing the song, we entered into a conversation about the lack of a sense of "political correctness" in Israel resulting in a higher frequency of people saying whatever they want to say. Some argued that this was preferable to saying things that one doesn't believe while others argued that the fear of being called a racist is a valuable component of American society because it labels racism as an unacceptable position. Personally, I tend toward the latter argument, but that's actually not where I'm going with this.

The conversation continued to a discussion of the social ramifications of the societies. In Israel, "racism" is often quite blatant and makes its way into the highest levels of political discourse. In the U.S., racism is much more latent and perhaps therefore much more difficult to correct. With this conversation fresh on my mind, I read this article from To summarize:

Scott Nugent arrested Baron Pikes, a 21-year-old black man, for possession of cocaine. Apparently there was a fight, and in order to subdue the suspect, Nugent used his taser gun to stun Pikes. Within three minutes, Nugent sent six doses of 50,000 volt currents through Pikes' body and arrested him. When they arrived at the police station, Nugent tased Pikes a seventh time, and Pikes then had to be dragged, unmoving from the car. Then, while he was lying on the sidewalk, Nugent shocked him two more times. Pikes didn't have any physical reaction to those shocks, so he was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Said the police chief about Nugent: "He done what he thought he was trained to do to bring that subject into custody. At some point, something happened with his body that caused him to go into cardiac arrest or whatever." Compassionate, not to mention eloquent...

After six months of scientific review, the coroner has finally concluded that the shocks killed Pikes, and now Nugent might be facing charges of homicide. Oh, and one more thing: The locality in question has had tasers for over a year; in that time, there have been 14 cases of them being used. Twelve of those cases were against black subjects. Ten involved SCOTT NUGENT.

So, I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. It's obvious to me that Pikes was murdered, and although I can't say for certain, I do believe that race played a significant role in the problems that resulted in this death (at one or many levels). And, as I'm sure you can tell, I'm fairly riled up about the matter. Not only that it happened but that people are defending Nugent and that it's taken this long to gain significant press coverage (unless this is only the first time that I've heard of it).

Now, would this case be easier to solve if it were an open-and-shut case of racism? Although they're fairly different situations, I'd still like to compare the death of Baron Pikes with that of Ghassan Abu Teir, who was shot dead after his attack on Jerusalem wayfarers. In the video linked above, we see the tractor immobile while Israelis fire inside to kill the driver. Though he would certainly be considered dangerous, we nonetheless have an example of a "shoot first" reaction that is described in the following way in one news article:

The video shows Ganem fire at the terrorist from one side of the bulldozer. In the backdrop a man is heard saying "is there anyone here who can provide first aid? There's somebody wounded here."

Ganem is then seen moving over to the other side of the bulldozer, while an eyewitness tells him that the driver is still alive: "He's not dead, he's dead." Ganem then aims his weapon and fires several bullets, bringing the incident to an end.

The camera then shifts to a religious man who is asked for his name by the photographer. The man replies "Yaki Asael" and the photographer replies "Yaki, you were the first one to fire. Way to go." Asael gives the thumbs up signal and walks away modestly, without taking credit for shooting the terrorist.

Officer Ganem, who is Druze, said later that as opposed to the previous bulldozer attack he refrained from climbing on the vehicle and instead fired from several feet away. "The lesson from the previous attack was not to mount the bulldozer…I improved my position and fired at him," he said.

"After I fired and saw that he was neutralized, I attempted to open the bulldozer's doors, but apparently the terrorist also learned some lessons from the previous attack and locked the doors," Ganem added. "I then mounted the bulldozer, broke the windshield, and opened the door. I saw that he was no longer alive, so I didn't fire again."

Did Ganem shoot because he was racist against Arabs? I'm going to guess not. However, one may notice that in the article cited above, Abu Teir's name doesn't appear once, and his killers are unquestioningly treated as heroes. Does *that* have a basis in racism? Hard to say. In the end, though, I don't think that it was necessary to kill Abu Teir, and I do think that there won't be a second thought to be had by most of the Israeli public about the way this situation ended.

What isn't hard to see is that racism is to blame for an attack in Jerusalem of two Arabs a few hours after this horrific attack. Apparently, an argument at a hardware store attracted some orthodox Jewish bystanders, who began beating the Arab storekeepers. The two Arabs fled into the home of a Jewish family sitting shiva, and a Jewish man protected them from the mob even though he was stabbed for it. This kind of behavior disgusts me and shows that racism is a powerful and dangerous motivator wherever and however it's manifested.

Now, I had several other topics I wanted to discuss including our meetings with the heads of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, but it's getting late, and I have an early morning tomorrow. So, hopefully I'll find time tomorrow or Friday to write about those topics ... because they are of certain significance to me and probably my future.


Anonymous said...

Your sensitivity to racism in all its ugly aspects is well noted. The sanctity of LIFE, in all its many forms, must remain sacred to each of us. When a government, a people or a person ceases to honor this sacredness, it is to the detrement of that entity.

What unites us as human beings is far more important than what divides us. You are on the path of being an agent of this recognition.

As dismal and distressing as it is to witness the callousness of an uncaring public, it remains the duty of each of us to hold strong to the ideals we deeply believe in.

Thank you for having the courage to explore this difficult subject.

Jeff H. said...

NBC network news had video last night both of Barack Obama in a kippah at Yad Vashem, and of Palestinians documenting abuses by the army and by settlers, using video cameras provided to them by B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization.

Racism and tribalism (along with nationalism, their more respectable cousin) reflect powerful emotions. There's always a tension between sectarian loyalties and universal human aspirations. The challenge is love your own people, land, and heritage, while treasuring (or at least not disparaging) the identities of others.

Anonymous said...


Daniel, your post of July 25 is extremely thought-provoking. You have raised several significant issues, and for brevity's sake, I will respond to just one.

The concept of The Wall - and all that "walls" are supposed to be - both a barrier and a support. While Americans (and many Germans) cheered when the Berlin Wall was taken down, here, in America, a thousand mile wall is being erected across the borders of Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico to keep "aliens" out.

In Israel, the remnants of the Holy Temple, a piece of a wall, should be the least exclusionary one of all - not a barrier of any kind - but a support.

It should support the fervent prayers, the desperate pains, the ardent faith and the deep love that Jews feel as they stand before it.

Your explanation into the Orthodox's sense of ownership, and its rigid "dress code", with its subsequent judgemental atitude, is well said.

Your insight into the value of breaking down these walls of intolerance, so to speak, inspires me to believe that a better way is forming - and that you, and soon, Jessica, along with your like-minded counterparts around the world, are the beginning of a new day and a better way for world Jewry to refresh and renew itself.

Thank you, Daniel, for this hope.