Tuesday, November 22, 2016

We the people will bring down this hateful kleptocracy

"Drain the swamp" chanted supporters as the election wins rolled into the Trump headquarters in New York. The Clinton grifters would not be returning to the White House.

It turns out that the election was Trump's to lose because the Democrats had promised radical change eight years ago, only to betray middle America again by bailing out Wall Street and cheating main street. In fact, the last two Democratic presidents have advanced the interests of the corporate elite more than any politicians since the Gilded Age. Hillary was on track to push for even more fracking, "free" trade deals, endless wars abroad, the destruction of public education. And she had the backing of almost all the corporate controlled media.

What Trump offered was a rollback of any advances made by immigrants, minorities, gays and women over the last several decades. A crony capitalist and racist himself, he was able to direct middle American anger towards those who are different. It is a familiar political tactic in our pluralistic society, and a very dangerous one.

It is no coincidence that societies that are thoroughly corrupted by crony capitalism end up violent and racist. The elites often prefer a type of fascism to sharing the wealth with working people. Nixon and Reagan understood this well. So, of course, did Adolph Hitler.

Our current political system is illegitimate and our media is hopelessly compromised. But we the people will bring down this hateful kleptocracy before it destroys our lives and our planet.

Fred Nagel

Native Americans are again being brutalized

To the Editor:

Native Americans are again being brutalized and violently attacked.  At this very moment in Standing Rock,  North Dakota they are defending their sacred lands from the Dakota Access  Oil Pipeline which threatens to  contaminate the water supplies of millions of people.  

The  historical treatment of the Native Americans by the US government,  the US Army, and the white settlers is one of unspeakable brutality and horror.  Their lands  were stolen,  their cultures shattered, their way of life completely dismantled and disrupted leaving  them devastated and destitute . 

The Indians  protecting the water are called “water protectors” and they are peacefully protecting the water for all of us. Every pipeline is dangerous -  there have  been hundreds of ruptures, spills, and fires - one spill  was so bad that Alabama and six neighboring states declared  a state of emergency.  

The highly militarized police and private security forces have repeatedly attacked the water protectors with tear gas cannisters, vicious dogs,  flash/bang grenades,  rubber bullets, water cannons (in freezing weather), and  weaponized sound devices.  Peaceful protesters have been arrested,  beaten, locked in dog cage enclosures, and suffered hundreds of injuries in the last few days.  

The genocide and violence that occurred back in the 1800’s is history  we cannot change.  However,  it’s repetition is something we can stop.   Please visit  www.sacredstonecamp.org  to learn how to help.  The  corporate media has virtually blocked out all coverage of Standing Rock.  Don’t let this brutality continue.  Now is the time to speak up. 

Eli Kassirer

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Michelle J. Anderson President, Brooklyn College

Dear Students, Staff, and Faculty:

In early October, the David Horowitz Freedom Center from Sherman Oaks, California, published what it claimed was a catalog of “The Top Ten Schools Supporting Terrorists.” Brooklyn College led the alphabetized list. 

The Horowitz Center’s credentials to make such a claim are suspect. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Horowitz Center has “become the premier financier of anti-Muslim voices and radical ideologies, as well as acting as an exporter of misinformation.” This list is an example of misinformation.

Brooklyn College never has and never will support terrorism. Brooklyn Collegeis one of the most richly diverse academic communities in the world, where students of many races, nationalities, and religious faiths study and learn in peace. Yarmulkes and hijabs are as common as band t-shirts and studded leather jackets. Our nearly 18,000 students come from 150 countries and speak more than 100 languages. As a result, our students learn to engage with difference and complexity, which fosters their inter-cultural competence and enriches the educational experience for all. 

Brooklyn College has more than 100 student groups. These groups are not funded by the college or tax dollars, but by student fees. They span an array of interests and include student government, cultural and identity-based clubs, sports teams, spiritual and faith-based groups, including an active Hillel club, student newspapers, political and social organizations, and community-service clubs. The college also has a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which has engaged in demonstrations on campus to protest certain policies or actions of the State of Israel. 

I have spent time with Brooklyn College students and faculty members across the political spectrum on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and I have noted that they are often eager to befriend people with whom they disagree. A devout Muslim student, for example, told me he is deeply grateful for his Orthodox Jewish faculty mentor. An active Jewish student told me that she is friends with members of SJP. “We don’t fight about the Middle East,” she said. Jews and Muslims live with sometimes divergent and strongly held beliefs but engage one another with information, perspective, and respect. We are a racially, economically, religiously, and politically diverse community, and we aim to live in peace.

Some outsiders, however, wish to foster conflict and hate. In the early morning hours of Oct. 17, posters were hung outside the gates of Brooklyn College. Styled as apparent recruitment posters for SJP, they asked, “Do you want to show your support for Hamas terrorists, whose stated goal is the elimination of the Jewish people?” Then “Join Us,” they implored, listing the names of SJP student leaders and a faculty supporter. The Horowitz Center claimed responsibility for the posters.

Around the same time, Tufts, San Francisco State, Vassar, the University of Chicago, the University of Tennessee, Berkeley, UCLA, and UC Irvine all saw similar posters naming local SJP leaders deface their campuses.

In response to the posters, a recent graduate of Brooklyn College emailed me to express his pain, arguing that SJP does not advocate terrorism and that the posters are a form of “intimidation, by smearing these students as terrorists, in order to silence their political freedom in this country.”

And although the posters were designed to intimidate the leaders of SJP, they were at times read as expressing hatred of Jews, which pained others. One Jewish student emailed me to express sadness and alarm at the hashtag “Jewhatred” on the posters.

I unequivocally condemn the hateful content of these posters. The images and words were frightening and hostile to both supporters of SJP and advocates of free speech on campus, including many Jews. In particular, they targeted individual SJP leaders with the aim of bullying them and making them vulnerable to additional harassment or worse. 

Thoughtful people on all sides condemn this act. Nadya Drukker, executive director of Tanger Hillel at Brooklyn College, for instance, emailed to emphasize, “This type of action does not represent the views of Jewish students on campus, and it does not represent Hillel’s values.”

Meanwhile, on Oct. 25, a Brooklyn College student found four swastikas carved into a female bathroom stall on the campus. I unequivocally condemn this hateful act as well. Given the enormous tragedy that befell the Jewish people--and many others--under the sign of the swastika only 70 years ago, I must emphasize my disgust. Many in our community have relatives who suffered and died in the Holocaust. Let me underscore: Antisemitism has no place at Brooklyn College. Islamophobia or other forms of bigotry directed against Muslims or Arabs also has no place here.

In years past, some have felt offended by SJP’s protests and have asked the Brooklyn College administration to ban the student group. We cannot. In their “Report to Chancellor Milliken on Allegations of Anti-Semitism at CUNY,” federal judge Barbara Jones and former prosecutor Paul Shechtman found that most demonstrations on CUNY campuses are protected speech. The report explained: 
Die-ins, mock checkpoints, and the SJP banner may offend some, but the First Amendment does not permit a public university to take action against them. As the Supreme Court has reminded, free speech may “best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.” Political speech is often provocative and challenging, but that is why it is vital to university life. If college students are not exposed to views with which they may disagree, their college has short-changed them.
As a public university, Brooklyn College is bound by the strictures of the First Amendment. We cannot suppress speech with which we disagree based on its content or viewpoint. As the Jones/Shechtman report indicates, under the Constitution, “CUNY cannot punish such speech unless it is part of a course of conduct so pervasive or severe that it denies a person’s ability to pursue an education or participate in University life.”

Moreover, as an institution of higher education, we are deeply committed to robust discourse. We cherish open dialog and engagement with ideas that test and even contradict our own. We understand that speech can harm, but we believe that the vast majority of harmful speech is best countered with more speech. We trust that reason will persuade, even with regard to the most challenging geo-political conflicts of our time.

Academic freedom not only prevents the suppression of dissident views; it also forces us to confront those whose beliefs are antithetical to our own. The opportunity to have one’s beliefs challenged, to reflect, and to consider change is the very purpose of a university. Free speech, debate, and the open exchange of ideas are the oxygen of our existence on this campus. We must engage.

I encourage every one of us to reach out beyond our comfort zone and encounter someone who is different in some way. Exchange greetings of peace and spend some time talking and trying to understand the world from their perspective. Our ability to understand perspectives different from our own is crucial to developing our analytical skills and navigating an increasingly complex and interconnected world. Let us not just reject hate; let us approach one another with openness and compassion. 

In the coming months, I would like to work with a group of students, staff, and faculty to develop a series of lectures and events for next spring that elevates our discourse around these issues. If you are interested in helping shape the dialog, please reach out to me at BCPresident@brooklyn.cuny.edu. As a public institution, we are bound to uphold free speech, but we must ensure that extremists on all sides do not have the loudest voices. We must work together to elevate the debate and to enhance our historical, cultural, and political understanding of the issues.

Yours truly,

Michelle J. Anderson
President, Brooklyn College

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

To free the oppressed

This Fall, as I plant garlic in the fertile soil of Cody Creek Farm in Saugerties, I’m thinking of friends in Italy busy at the ‘raccolta’ in their olive orchards, the olive trees surrounded by ‘paracaduti’ (parachutes) to catch the hard green olives that will then be brought to the “frantoio” for pressing. I’m thinking also of families in Palestine harvesting olives with joyous shouts of “Yala!  Yala!”  “Let’s go!  Let’s go!” and many internationals who are helping with the harvest, protecting trees and harvesters from settler violence. I’m thinking also of the recently celebrated Jewish holiday of Sukkot, dual Feast of Tabernacles and of the Ingathering, where 40 years of Jewish wandering in the desert are commemorated and “booths” are built in memory of dwellings where farmers would live during the harvest. These are just a few examples from my own experience of the Fall harvest that carry mixed feelings of joy and sadness.

         I tend to see things cross-culturally and similarities and comparisons bring sorrow as well as joy.  Recent violence in North Dakota towards Native Americans of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and members of 100 more tribes throughout the U.S. and Canada by Dakota Access pipeline company security guards call up to me the past years of genocide of our native peoples and continuing indifference and inaction by us, the ‘powerful elite’ -- and also, those, like myself, who comprise the 99%! The Native Americans call themselves not ‘protestors’ but water ‘protectors’ and U.S. police have deployed tear gas, mace, pepper spray, grenades, bean bag rounds at them and shot rubber bullets at their horses. I regret that I have not been there to stand with our native peoples who are trying to save the water.  It happens that I was, however, a few years ago, in Bil’in, in the West Bank, walking peacefully with the Palestinian people on their land where their centuries’-old olive trees were being uprooted to fence them off from the building of settlements on their land; and tear gas, grenades, and ‘rubber’ bullets were used against these people trying to protect trees, land, and water. Devastation of the earth and people who tend the earth in both cases!

      There is a film “Two Blue Lines” to be shown this Friday night at 7 at the Woodstock Town Hall, filmed over 25 years that shows conflicting views: an entitlement to land versus a spiritual commitment to freeing the oppressed and asks whether people are safer segregated or connected to each other. Being both Jewish and American, I ask myself what am I doing to free the oppressed, what am I doing to protect our ancient landscapes, our water, our trees, our spring plantings, our Fall harvests?

Jan Toby

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Congratulations to the town of Woodstock and to the Woodstock Town Board for unanimously passing the Woodstock Free Speech Resolution. This Resolution is the first of its kind in New York State, and perhaps in the nation, to stand up to a direct attack on our First Amendment Right of Free Speech and its attendant Right to Boycott. Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order 157 of June 5 clearly tries to limit those First Amendment Rights by imposing economic retribution on those entities that support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israeli policies and its treatment of Palestinians. In addition, in a way reminiscent of the McCarthy era blacklist of suspected communists, this Executive Order creates a public list of all entities supporting BDS and only allows for those names to be removed from the list by those entities publicly renouncing BDS. 
Woodstock Free Speech introduced the Resolution to the Town Board on July 19 and then undertook an education campaign that consisted of three community events, appearances on local television and radio stations, online and paper petitions, tabling at the weekly Farmers’ Market, and entering into an extensive dialogue with the Town Board, which voted to pass the Resolution on September 19. In so doing, the Board stated that it makes no declaration in support of or in opposition to the BDS campaign and, in fact, acknowledges deep Board divisions on the matter.  
The Town Board, much to its credit, was open to exploring this issue and asked numerous probing questions, many of which were answered by a First Amendment Rights attorney. This was decided solely on the question of First Amendment Rights and the Board’s desire to protect its citizens against any and all abridgements of their civil liberties. 
So, congratulations to all of us who call Woodstock our home. Someday, Woodstock may be as well known for standing up for free speech as it is for the music festival that never happened here.

Nic Abramson

Friday, September 2, 2016

Woodstock Free Speech Resolution

 Woodstock Free Speech 

Thanks all of you who have signed our Woodstock Free Speech Resolution (woodstockfreespeech.org), which we put before the Woodstock Town Board in July. We based this Resolution on our First Amendment right of freedom of speech and opinion as set forth by the United States and New York State Constitutions and on the Supreme Court’s determination that advocacy of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions is a protected form of political speech. 

Civil rights proponents such as the New York American Civil Liberties Union; the Center for Constitutional Rights; Palestine Legal; and Abraham Foxman, the former national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), have each taken a principled stance against Governor Cuomo’s June 5 Executive Order 157. This Order directs NYS agencies to divest public funds from entities that support boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) against Israel (for its inhumane policies and for its mistreatment of the Palestinian people). Taking this one step further, Cuomo’s Order directs the Commissioner of the Office of General Services to publish an online list of companies/entities that engage in BDS and also of companies/entities that advocate for others to engage —“a definition that could encompass even institutions that have merely spoken out in support of boycotting Israel.”

Thankfully, in the United States and in New York State, our Constitutions protect our right of free speech and our right of political free speech as well as our right to boycott and divest and our right to urge others to do the same. 

Moreover, Alan Sussman, a former Constitutional lawyer and a well-respected Woodstock resident, recently wrote a letter to the Woodstock Town Board in support of the Woodstock Free Speech Resolution: “Thus EO 157 penalizes the legal advocacy of an activity which itself (boycott, divestment) is perfectly legal.” Sussman continued … “The additional and more serious effect is that people will be reluctant, and groups and corporations even more reluctant, to speak their mind for fear of incurring a state-imposed penalty.”

Each of us has an obligation to protect our precious freedoms. Thanks to all who embody integrity and are willing to stand on the right side of democracy and history.

Helaine Meisler

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Our Free Speech

If you’re someone like I, who, not only has opinions, but also wants to express them, then you’ll understand why the First Amendment is so important. When my government, or for that matter, when anyone, is committing horrendous acts, or simply acts of which I disapprove, I should have the inalienable right, and, in my mind, the obligation to loudly and clearly express my disapproval. My government neither has the right to censure me nor to limit my free speech by withdrawing their services or their financial support. And, this right does not apply only to me.

So, although I abhor Donald Trump and find his opinions and attitudes reprehensible, I fully support his right to say them and his supporters’ right to embrace them. And, I support the rights of David Duke, whom I condemn, and Joseph McCarthy, whom I condemned, as well as the free speech rights of everyone. Free speech is non-discriminatory. Free speech is not only an essential part of democracy, but the very bedrock upon which our other freedoms rest. So, I hope you’ll support my First Amendment rights, as well as your own, by urging our town board to pass the Woodstock Free Speech Resolution (woodstockfreespeech.org) that affirms our rights to free speech.

Nic Abramson

Saturday, August 20, 2016

To the Editor:

Sadly, Israel has become a rogue nation and a pariah state to much of the international community. Human rights abuses, military occupation, illegal settlements, home demolitions, brutal invasions (resulting in the deaths of over 500 children), and a cruel blockade that causes food and water shortages for more than a million Palestinians all contribute to Israel’s isolation in the world.  

Of course, Israel needs to be criticized and Israel needs to change. Any government (whether it be China, Saudi Arabia, Hondouras, or the US) needs to be criticized when repeatedly violating human rights and inflicting humiliation and suffering on innocent peoples. The state of Israel could not commit any of these abuses without the $3.5 Billion of US taxpayers dollars that go to Israel every year.  

Clearly, it is not anti-semitic to criticize the policies of the government of Israel. The sad truth is that Israel’s policies and actions have generated a worldwide backlash of antagonism and hatred towards Israel. And tragically, Israel’s policies and actions incite and provoke those who are genuinely anti-semitic.  

I would encourage Americans who truly care about the future of Israel to advocate for changes in Israeli policy that would promote real peace and justice for all. The future is indeed bleak for an Israel bent on maintaining an apartheid, colonial, settler state. The future Israel may not look like a Zionist dream, but hopefully, it will be a peaceful and just nation inhabited by both Jews and Arabs. 

Eli Kassirer

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Lest our government destroy our own First Amendment rights

Many of us watched the attack on free speech that took place over the last several years at Vassar College. An African American freshman was expelled and an entire student group, Students for Justice in Palestine, was stripped of its status as a campus organization. First, President Hill accused the group of lacking "curtesy on campus" and creating fear in Jewish students by talking about the plight of the Palestinians. Then came the Zionist placed articles in the media - "Hatred on the Hudson" in the "Daily News," and "Majoring in Anti-Semitism at Vassar" in the "Wall Street Journal." Finally, President Hill, pressured by pro-Zionist alumni , condemned a lecture by visiting Rutgers professor, Dr. Jasbir Puar. Unfortunately, the criticism was based on second hand reports of what the professor had actually said about Israel's mistreatment of Palestinians. Hundreds of academics across the country immediately signed a petition defending Dr. Puar's right for free speech on campus. President Hill's attack was particularly egregious since Jewish Studies Program faculty at Vassar had sponsored the Puar lecture.

When the student government passed a resolution last spring advocating for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, President Hill threatened to withhold funding for all student groups on campus. While Hill resigned a few months later, the battle for free speech on campus continues. 

Governor Cuomo's recent executive oder brings this fight closer to home. Indicating that any criticism of Israel is by definition anti-Semitism, he plans to defund all groups in the state that support boycott, divestment and sanctions. The order also establishes a vaguely defined "blacklist" of supposed anti-Semitic groups advocating BDS. Citizens of New York State haven't seen this type of government sponsored blacklisting since the McCarthy era.

No country should escape responsibility for human rights abuses. Invasions and occupations of other peoples have always been wrapped in the flags of nationalism, patriotism, and religion. We as free citizens of a democracy must always defend our rights to criticize such human rights abusers and apartheid states, lest our government destroy our own First Amendment rights for free speech and expression.

In the Mid Hudson Valley, the fight to preserve free speech starts with WoodstockFreeSpeech.org. Please sign the petition guaranteeing citizens the right to boycott racism and injustice wherever they rear their ugly heads. 

Fred Nagel

Each generation has had to demand their right to be heard

Historically, empires have viewed the rest of the world through a very narrow lens. Other lands are seen as opportunities to rob or enslave. In late empire, the treatment of foreign subjects becomes the norm for abuses of its own citizenry. 

With 800 US bases overseas, America can be viewed as the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. Its endless wars abroad has brought home a particularly vicious form of racism along with all the high tech weaponry to create havoc in a divided society. 

America's colony, Israel, is a perfect example. It's intense racism directed at its Palestinian minority gets defended by our Congress, setting an example for this country. Racism is OK if it targets a particular religious group or skin color; that's the way the empire works.

So it is no surprise that Governor Cuomo's recent executive order forbids groups or businesses to boycott Israeli products. Boycotts, part of many human rights campaigns, have always been viewed as threats by the elites. Outlawing the right to boycott is really the first step to criminalizing any speech that the empire deems offensive. What would happen if the majority of US citizens really demanded human rights in the rest of the world? Who could the empire assassinate with drones, or torture in hidden prisons? What countries could the empire invade and occupy, killing millions in the process? And how could it possibly protect its colony, Israel, with its sixty five year history of ethnic cleansing and genocide? 

The right of citizens to boycott is protected by our First Amendment and by various Supreme Court decisions on political speech. But that is clearly not enough to stop our governor from trampling on our rights. One town, Woodstock, is fighting back by considering a resolution that limits Governor Cuomo's executive order. 

You can do your part by signing the Town of Woodstock's resolution at www.woodstockfreespeech.org, and then by attending some of the events being planned. The resolution will be introduced at the July 19 town board meeting, and a panel discussion will be presented the following Friday, July 22, starting at 7 PM in the Woodstock Town Hall. 

Standing up for freedom of expression has never been easy, and each generation has had to demand their right to be heard. Now, it's our turn to ensure that the state does not destroy our First Amendment rights.

Fred Nagel

The basic racism in our political system

The Woodstock Town Board is discussing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions issue that is confronting state governments around the country. The right to express moral outrage at economic and social injustices has never been more under attack than it is today, when the NYS legislature and Governor are attempting to outlaw BDS.

How different this effort is to the use of boycott and divestment by state officials to pressure Swiss banks to do the right thing in 1997. A collaborative effort by NYC Comptroller Alan Hevesi, NY Comptroller Carl McCall, and the World Jewish Congress pressured Swiss banks to pay much more in Holocaust reparations. Hevesi was also the head of the US Comptroller's Association, with $30 trillion in pension investments. Soon officials from many states threatened to withdraw funds, leading to a settlement of $1.25 billion from Swiss banks that profited from genocide.

Now the NY State Legislature wants to criminalize the very same economic pressure to do the right thing for millions of Palestinians living under brutal Israeli occupation. Where did all the moral indignation go? Is the suffering of Palestinians somehow less compelling than the suffering of others? Instead of using pension funds as a moral weapon against racism and injustice, our legislature and governor are criminalizing such boycott and divestment, making it illegal for institutions or NGO's funded by the state to implement any form of BDS. 

This is a free speech issue, and a moral issue that explores the basic racism in our political system.

Fred Nagel

Letter to the Editor

By now I imagine many of your readers have caught the stream of information relating to the WoodstockFreeSpeech.org campaign. The campaign is a response to Governor Cuomo's Executive Order 157 which penalizes, and intends to blacklist,  institutions which engage in first amendment protected activities. Not only is this act illegal, it breeches a trust that is established between elected officials and civil society: that elected officials uphold their oath to office and protect the citizens they've been elected to serve. Rather, what has taken place is some not-well understood subservience to a foreign government which undermines the Bill of Rights and usurps the US and NYS Constitutions.

This subservience is being investigated in a Freedom of Information Act request by a number of legal and justice groups. Perhaps this FOIA request will shed light on the motivation for the Governor putting a foreign nation's security above our right to speak freely and act according to our sense of justice by engaging in politically motivated academic, cultural and economic boycotts of a country which engages in systemic gross human rights violations. 

Aside from the sad human tragedy of a belligerent occupier unable to see their brothers as sisters in humanity and aside from the grotesque distortions about culture, identity, victim and perpetrator sewn via the military industrial media academic complex, the core issue here is self determination – the principles of which evolved as part of our human intellectual, philosophical and moral dialectic leading to the establishment of democratic institutions and the conventions on international human rights law. 

To know, to think, and to feel the injustices that our brothers and sisters under military occupation are suffering is both mind blowing and spirit shattering. To know that our government is the primary support of the violence and oppression is intolerable. To see the Governor of NY state acting apparently at the behest of a foreign nation to undermine our rights is egregious if not treasonous.

Such actions require a greater and opposing force to restore our most basic rights: that the Governor should rescind his executive order (in the very least). To that end, WoodstockFreeSpeech.org will continue with it's public events around the issue; the next event (see website ) will be a World Cafe style community dialog about the Free Speech Resolution this Friday at the Woodstock Town Hall. 

Adam Roufberg

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Towns, like individuals, live in the sea of history and have identities that are defined over time. Towns, like individuals, are complex entities that function on many levels: physical, emotional, political, environmental, moral, spiritual, intellectual, to name just a few.

In fact, towns and individuals are not separate entities; rather they interact, intersect, and co-create as people come to identify with where they live, shape it, and are, in turn, shaped by their towns. Why do we feel we belong in some places and not in others? What are the attributes of towns and of ourselves that make us proud when we identify as inhabitants of a particular place?

When our family moved to Woodstock in the 1980s, we moved to a town defined by the 1969 Woodstock Concert and its symbol of a dove perched on a guitar. We were drawn to Woodstock from New York City by sentiments of peace and love, acceptance of diversity, and the anti-Vietnam War movement. Also, historically, Woodstock had been known as the Colony of the Arts. We were happy to say that those identities suited us well, and we were proud to say we were from Woodstock.

Today, we feel that those essential characteristics are not so apt, that they are mostly relics from the past and that we, as Woodstockers, need to invest ourselves in new or different identities of which we can be proud. One of those possible new identities is that of an engaged and well-informed citizenry, who are actively engaged in protecting their basic freedoms, as guaranteed by our Constitution.

When attempts are made to limit those freedoms, as Governor Cuomo did when he issued his June 5 Executive Order #157, it is up to us and our town to speak up and let our voices be heard. Let’s make Woodstock into a town where free speech is sacrosanct. Let’s make Woodstock into a town known for its love of free expression and its willingness to stand up against any and all government encroachments of our constitutional rights. This is an identity that we can be proud of and one that speaks of the very best in us.

Identities can’t be assumed as easily as putting on a new hat or coat; they aren’t mere masks, but are outward expressions of our beliefs. They must be earned over time by constant nourishment and reaffirmation. You can be part of fueling this new identity by getting involved with the Woodstock Free Speech movement. Please attend a meeting of the Woodstock Town Board (76 Comeau Drive), on Tuesday, July 19, when Jay Wenk will introduce a Free Speech Resolution. You can read the resolution and sign our petition at http://www.woodstockfreespeech.org/.

Nic Abramson
Helaine Meisler
Shady, NY

Friday, July 8, 2016

Then they came for me

Why Free Speech Now?

Normally I think about free speech about as often as I think about the air I breathe. It's in the background; I take it for granted. And it's only then, when I'm in the smog of Los Angeles or hiking at an altitude where the air is thinner do I become aware of the lack of oxygen. Sometimes, it is only when you are deprived of something that you remember how vital that thing is, that you once took for granted, to your well being...and sometimes to your very existence. And so it is with free speech.

My political sympathies generally align with the powerless, the less fortunate and oppressed members of human society, whose voices are less heard and less often represented. I am a supporter of justice for the Palestinian People, and I participate in their call for a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign against Israel. So, I was personally affected when Governor Cuomo issued an executive order that put limitations on the constitutionally protected right to boycott Israel. All of a sudden, I was faced with the fact that there wasn't as much oxygen in the atmosphere, that my right to non-violently express my opinions was being limited by my government, whose own Bill of Rights protects my right to freely express those opinions.

And then, as I thought about this, and realized that it's not just BDS that's at stake, but my freedom to exercise my First Amendment rights, did I remember the 1946 statement of Martin Niemoller, a German Lutheran pastor:

          First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -
          Because I was not a Socialist
          Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out -
          Because I was not a Trade Unionists
          Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -
          Because I was not a Jew

          Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me.
In this dangerous time, when our rights are under attack, when minorities are imperiled, when we live in constant fear and that fear is unnecessarily flamed by our "leaders," now is the time, this present moment, for citizens to speak up – to defend our rights and the rights of others. The Woodstock Free Speech (WFS) Campaign is a movement that encourages each of us to stand up against unconstitutional attacks on our First Amendment Right of Free Speech.

Please sign a petition at http://woodstockfreespeech.org/ 
and join in asking the Woodstock Town Board to adopt a Resolution that affirms our First Amendment Rights.

Nic Abramson   

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Woodstock Free Speech Campaign

The town of Woodstock office building on
the Comeau property, (Photo by Tony Adamis)

Dear Editor:

The Woodstock Free Speech Campaign seeks to have the Woodstock Town Board pass a resolution that states that the right to boycott, as a component of constitutionally protected free speech, is important enough to the town of Woodstock and its inhabitants that we are willing to take a stand against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s unilateral executive order that withholds state funding from organizations that promote boycotts against Israel for its human rights abuses of Palestinians.

Why should this campaign be important enough for Woodstockers and others to support? Why is it important for citizens to stop any and all encroachments on our First Amendment rights?

Free speech and the nonviolent expression of our views, whether popular or not, are the bedrock of our democracy. When the First Amendment rights of any one of us are limited or denied, can the denial of others be far behind? It’s the canary in the coal mine. It’s our early warning system. And if we ignore these first encroachments, then we are on a slippery slope.

In the next few months, there will be town educational and organizing events. Residents may sign a petition at www.woodstockfreespeech.org and share it with friends and neighbors.
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Nic Abramson

Shady, N.Y.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

See her film!

I believe in looking past my own culture to “the other side of the story.” Not long ago, I attended Bard’s first Palestinian Film Festival.  A small group of students gathered first to listen to a Palestinian American poet, Suheir Hammad.   Suheir combined the parlance of Brooklyn (where she was born in 1973 and grew up) with the ardent cries of her grandparents, refugees from Palestine.  With hip-hop beat in her spoken-word pieces, she brought in her family, her community, Palestinian women. “I grew up with a sense of loss,” she says “that you can work generations to build something and suddenly lose it all.”  

Suheir’s passionate voice rises out of her Muslim tradition, her Palestinian heritage, her Brooklyn upbringing.  The title of one of her books “Born Palestinian, Born Black” says it all. The students were enthralled with Suheir’s voice. From her poetry “Drops of this Story,” to the film in which she stars “Salt of This Sea” (to be shown this Friday night at 7 as part of the Palestinian film series at Kingston’s UU), Suheir challenges over and over again the dominant history that attempts to erase her culture.  She brings home to us “Do not fear what has blown up.  If you must, fear the unexploded.”   Watch her TED talk!  Listen to her!  Read her poetry!  See her film!  

Jane Toby

Part of the killing machine

We have to earn our living in this world. Some of us are reduced to drudgery, some make a reasonable living. What about those members of the population who feel unhappy or guilty about their work? I wonder how many Woodstockers fit into that category?

Our largest employer, Ametek-Rotron, manufactures war materials that are part of the killing machine that so much of this country’s endless war economy is based on. Has Ametek-Rotron ever considered conversion to peaceful production? Do any of the employees feel unhappy about the widespread murder of innocent children caused by the drones they help to construct? Do they rationalize those feelings with slogans, or do they ever imagine their finger on the trigger with the nearby Woodstock school blown to bits, with blood and fire and dust clouding the air over the golf course, or perhaps the restaurant there hosting a wedding party that has been attacked.

I can’t believe that any of them see themselves as happily maintaining that sort of life. So what do they think about in relation to their work? What do they feel? How do they resolve all this? Does conscience make cowards of us all?

Jay Wenk

Woodstock’s Bit Part In War Crimes In Yemen

Woodstock’s Bit Part In War Crimes In Yemen

This March, Amnesty International urged the US to halt all arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia, whose air force is leading an ongoing campaign of attacks on Yemen that have resulted in numerous civilian deaths (including hundreds of children). Hospitals and residential areas have been destroyed in what Human Rights Watch called “apparent war crimes”.

Amnesty added: “Saudi Arabia’s international partners have added fuel to the fire, flooding the region with arms despite the mounting evidence that such weaponry has facilitated appalling crimes and the clear risk that new supplies could be used for serious violations ... generating a humanitarian crisis on an unprecedented scale.”

Two months later, the Royal Saudi Air Force needed spare parts for the F-15s that are its preferred vehicle for the bombs. On May 24, Woodstock’s largest employer, the weapons contractor Ametek Rotron, obliged by signing a contract for a rush order of components for delivery direct to the Saudi Defense Ministry in Jeddah.

If this makes you feel an uncomfortable dissonance with Woodstock’s worldwide association with peace and love, it’s worth considering the broader picture. We are a small, but iconic, community; we make correspondingly small, but crucial, parts of most major American weapons systems including warplanes, tanks, nuclear missiles, nuclear submarines, and the rocket launchers that Saudi Arabia has also used to deliver cluster bombs in Yemen.

It’s time to move from a war economy to a peace economy. With our outsize reputation, our small town can take a lead in a wider movement towards creating an industrial base that produces windmills not weapons. A peace economy is a green economy. Companies, local governments, employees and residents can get together to envision a local economy that benefits everyone. A peace economy is a jobs economy.

May Peace Prevail On Earth, our Peace Pole proclaims. To get there we need to stop the flow of arms ... and where better than Woodstock to show the way?

Laurie Kirby

Friday, June 24, 2016

The true victims

And the hasbara (Israeli propaganda) is repeated. Same quotes from opinion writers and pro-Zionist sources which hardly constitute "facts." The reader should notice that rather then defend Israeli actions-- which are daily violations of International Law and the Fourth Geneva Conventions (Separation Wall found illegal by the World Court in 2004; collective punishment; settling land taken during an offensive war - 1967) and US law (using American weapons against civilian population) --claims are made that the true victims here, the Palestinian people, are the perpetrators.

What some do not want to understand is that an occupying power does NOT have a right under International Law to claim self-defense against those being occupied. Israel does this repeatedly. Israeli Zionists hope to sew confusion in America as to what is really happening. A fiction has been developed and spread far and wide in order to transform a brutal, criminal occupation into a benign partnership with many rewards IF ONLY those bestial Arabs weren't so ignorant.

I ask you this: Imagine after decades of illegal immigration, which the authorities would not stop, brutal acts of violence against you and your family led to your land, home, business and way of life being actually taken by those illegal immigrants. Any attempt by you to regain what was thieved was considered "terrorism" and was thwarted by not only the illegal immigrants but their superpower ally. International Law and the United Nations, while providing more than enough provisions for a legal rendering in your favor kept being ignored because, well, because that superpower ally wouldn't allow justice to prevail.

Would you simply give up? Or, would you be attempting to gain back what was illegally taken from you?

If you're honest, if you empathize with the true victims in the above scenario, then you should support Palestinians in their cause.

Steven L. Fornal

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Please sign our online petition

Free Speech

Our First Amendment rights are under attack. On June 5th Governor Cuomo signed executive order #157 that divests New York State funds from any companies that support Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against the State of Israel. It also creates a blacklist of those companies that is public and that will take input from the general public. And Governor Cuomo had the temerity to say that "we'll boycott those who boycott."

The Supreme Court in its 1982 NAACP vs Claiborne Hardware Co decision recognized boycotts as a First Amendment form of protected free speech. This means it is wrong for New York State to penalize those who engage in constitutionally protected free speech, whether Governor Cuomo agrees with their points of view or not. And having New York State assess our political motivations and then create a database of those it disagrees with is a serious threat to our civil liberties.

Boycotts have long been recognized as a legitimate and non-violent method of trying to change behavior. History is replete with examples: from our forefathers refusal to pay taxes to the British without representation, to Ghandi's Salt Strike, to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, to the boycotting of South Africa, to today's boycotting of North Carolina for its discrimination against the Transgender community.

In reaction to Governor Cuomo's boycott ban, I and other Woodstock citizens are organizing a campaign to have the Woodstock Town Board pass a resolution that reaffirms our rights to free speech and our rights to boycott. It is important for individuals and communities to defend their basic human rights when they are under attack. We are planning a series of informational sessions and a petition campaign as a show of community involvement in a lead up to the introduction of the resolution for a town board vote.

If you believe in free speech, please sign our online petition and follow our progress at WoodstockFreeSpeech.org. Please inform your friends and neighbors and ask them to join us.

Nic Abramson
Shady, NY

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

McCarthyism is wrong

Whatever your views on Israel/Palestine . . . , McCarthyism is wrong                                                                      
Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 157, which he signed on Sunday, June 5, should be of concern to each and every one of us. This executive order threatens the rights of Americans to take collective action to address injustice by using boycott as a form of free expression and as a powerful means of protest. Furthermore, the creation of the related discriminatory “blacklist,” which the New York Office of General Services will post on its website and update semi-annually, is blatantly dangerous.
Thankfully, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects our right to free speech. This means we are allowed to express, be exposed to, and receive a wide range of facts, opinions, and viewpoints – even when the ideas are unpopular.  Under this umbrella of free speech, Americans have the right to boycott, and we have a long history of using boycott as a tactic to achieve justice.  Let’s remember that before the American Revolution, colonists boycotted British goods (think, “no taxation without representation”?) and that, since then, American citizens (and corporations) involved in social justice movements have used boycotts for issues ranging from Animal Rights, Testing, and Welfare; to Civil Rights; to Environmental Health/Integrity; to Human Rights; to LGBTQ Discrimination; to Labor and Worker Rights; to . . .   
We can look back to the Montgomery Bus Boycott of the Civil Rights era to fight segregated buses; to Cesar Chavez’s boycott of grapes to fight the toxic spraying of insecticides; to the boycott of South Africa to end apartheid; to the more recent fast-food worker boycotts to raise the minimum wage; and to peoples/corporations current refusal to do business with North Carolina for its recent banning of local LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances and its requirement that transgender people use public bathrooms that match their birth certificates. The list goes on.
However, Governor Cuomo’s shameful signing of Executive Order No. 157 against institutions and companies that support Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), an international, grassroots, nonviolent movement to gain freedom, equality, and justice for Palestinians, goes against this history. Perhaps the only good news here is that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution still guarantees our right to advocate for change, to organize against injustice, to engage in boycotts, and, yes, to advocate for BDS. 
To learn more, go to palestinelegal.org/newyork
The #RightToBoycott is a constitutionally protected form of political free speech. 
We will not be silent.

Helaine Meisler

In a direct attempt at suppression of First Amendment rights

As veterans and as members of Veterans For Peace, we have not forgotten our oath to protect the Constitution, but even if we were not  veterans, there are fundamental rights that any citizen would not want to see violated. The First Amendment comes to mind.

In a direct attempt at suppression of First Amendment rights, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an Executive Order that would create a blacklist of groups, institutions, and businesses that support or advocate a boycott of Israel. It would also withdraw State funds from any organization or institution that in any way supports or endorses boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) as a tool in the struggle against Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.

The BDS movement, initiated in 2005 by Palestinian civil society, is now a global campaign using nonviolent means to place economic and political pressure on Israel to comply with international law; end the occupation of Palestinian land, including Gaza; grant full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel. and respect the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
For almost 70 years, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights of freedom, equality, and self-determination through ethnic cleansing, colonization, racial discrimination, and military occupation.

The right to express solidarity and join the BDS movement is a fundamental right of all people. It is also a clear expression of the First Amendment.  All veterans took an oath to defend the Constitution and to stand for the right of free speech, and many died thinking they were protecting those rights for all people.

It is worth noting that the New York State legislature failed to pass similar legislation making it illegal to advocate BDS largely because of obvious questions about its constitutionality.

Unfortunately Gov. Cuomo has surrendered to pressure from the powerful Israeli lobby and is disregarding both the U.S. Constitution and the illegality of the Israeli occupation.

In a classic example of hypocrisy and doublespeak, turning a blind eye toward blatant Israeli discrimination against the Palestinian people, Gov. Cuomo stated that “this state will not stand for the politics of discrimination in any form . . . and will do everything in its power to end the hateful, intolerant campaign.”

How different from the great South African civil rights advocate, Desmond Tutu, who said, "I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces . . . Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government."

Bishop Tutu early on declared his full support for the use of boycotts and economic sanctions as a nonviolent means to compel Israel to alter its policies, noting their effectiveness in the successful struggle against South African apartheid. Veterans For Peace fully supports peoples right to free speech and also stands with Desmond Tutu and many other human rights advocates who support the international BDS campaign.  

Tarak Kauff
Veterans For Peace
Board of Directors
Managing Editor
Peace In Our Times