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How Community Schools Are Helping a Hard Hit City Dig Out of Tough Times

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How Community Schools Are Helping a Hard Hit City Dig Out of Tough Times
A first grade class in Providence.Credit...Brian Ulrich for The New York Times

Rocked by vanishing industries and charter school expansions, Erie public schools are fighting back with a “transformative” education approach.

Days after the GE Transportation plant in Erie, Pennsylvania, announced a round of crippling layoffs in 2013, an employee was found hanging from a crane in “Building 20,” according to the Erie Times-News. The image of a dead worker dangling from a crane in a dying factory seemed symbolic of a city going ever deeper into the depths of despair.

GE Transportation, once the largest employer in the county, has been shedding jobs for years, dropping from 20,000 workers, who were employed when the company was at its peak, to 3,000 in January 2017 after it “laid off 1,500 of its remaining 4,500 workers,” according to Yahoo News. Other plants in Erie—Hammermill Paper Company, a paper mill; Lord Corporation, a maker of industrial coatings, adhesives, motion management devices, and sensing technologies; and Zurn, a plumbing equipment manufacturer—were also shedding jobs or closing completely, according to a 2018 Associated Press article that appeared in the Pennsylvania newspaper the Morning Call. The layoffs and shutdowns affected blue-collar and white-collar workers alike.

As good-paying jobs left Erie, families increasingly left the local schools. By the 2016-2017 school year, the district estimated its schools were 5,000 students below capacity, reported the Erie Times-News, which meant less money was coming into the district from the state, compounding the district’s long-standing funding deprivation from the state—among the lowest in Pennsylvania, according to the Erie City School District’s assessment.
Asking local taxpayers to dig deeper was not an option in a city where almost 28 percent of residents lived below the poverty level, the median home value was significantly below the state average, and an abundance of government-related buildings made almost a third of the real estate tax-exempt.

Erie’s school district was also bleeding money to an expanding charter school sector, one of the largest in the state. In the 2015-2016 school year alone, Erie paid more than $22 million to charter schools.
Students remaining in district schools tended to be the ones who were the costliest to teach. In a 2016 report using data from the 2014-2015 school year, 80 percent of Erie K-12 students were classified as poor, and 17.6 percent qualified for special education services. The district was also in the top 3 percent among Pennsylvania school districts for the number of English language learners.

By 2016, the combination of the cratering local economy with declining school revenues had resulted in the district accumulating a debt load of $9.5 million in the 2017-2018 school year, according to the Erie Times-News.

So dire were Erie’s financial straits that in 2016, the then district superintendent, Jay Badams, went to the state legislature in Harrisburg, NPR reported, and threatened to close the district’s high schools unless the state came up with emergency funding.
When I interviewed Badams in 2017, he told me his startling proposal was an “ethical decision,” because the more affluent school districts that Erie students would transfer to were more generously funded and offered richer learning opportunities.

Shortly after our conversation, Badams announced he would leave the district at the start of the 2017-2018 school year, partially due to his frustrations with funding. But before he left, he put into place two innovations that would help pull the district out of its nosedive.
First, a fiscal rescue package that included state emergency funding and a plan to consolidate schools resulted in the district rebounding from a deficit to a budget surplus of nearly $714,000 going into the 2017-2018 school year, according to the Erie Times-News.
The second innovation would take longer to bear fruit but would nevertheless show how public schools can be a rallying point for communities traumatized by wrenching change.

‘A Greater Sense of Hope’

“The biggest difference between Erie schools in 2016 and now is that there’s a greater sense of hope and a feeling that we’re having a more positive impact in the community,” says Joelyn Bush.

Bush is the director of marketing and communications at United Way of Erie County, a local nonprofit that teamed up with Erie’s Public Schools in 2016 to help implement the second innovation Badams proposed before he left—a pilot project at five Erie schools testing an approach called community schools that helps schools in a high-poverty district address the needs of students who have increasingly difficult lives.

“In 2016, we knew the biggest challenge Erie families faced was growing poverty,” Bush recalls. “Whatever we chose to do would have to address that.”

The model would also need to work within the district’s ongoing financial constraints.
The community schools approach matched the district’s criteria because, by design, it repositions schools as neighborhood hubs, not only for education, but also for integrated health, nutritional, and social services. And rather than requiring significant new outlays from local taxpayers, the funding model relies by and large on establishing a network of donor sources, primarily government grants and donations from local businesses and nonprofits with strong ties to the community.

In Erie’s case, seed money of $1.5 million for the pilot was provided by local and regional nonprofits, according to the Erie Reader, and each school implementing the approach was paired with corporations and nonprofits that pledged to cover ongoing costs of $100,000 per school, per year. The entire effort would be coordinated and managed by the county United Way.

“We knew we had people, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that wanted to help Erie schools,” says Mike Jaruszewicz, vice president of community impact for United Way of Erie County. “The community schools model provides the framework to do that, so people who want to help see how they can.”

“This wasn’t just a patchwork of programs to implement here and there,” says Bush; it was a way to have “real collective impact.”

Erica Erwin, currently the coordinator of public relations and strategic communications for Erie’s Public Schools, was an education beat reporter for the Erie Times-News when the district announced its pilot program. “The idea that there was a way to address barriers to learning, like poverty, by establishing a network of partners to help address the barriers was fascinating to me,” she recalls. “The idea seemed transformative.”

‘Thank God You’re Here’

But if the community schools approach were to fulfill its lofty promises, it would need to be workable for the people who had to implement it.

One of those people was Amy Grande, the community school director at McKinley Elementary School, one of the five schools in the initial pilot.

Born and raised in Erie, Grande has lived in the community her whole life. Prior to being hired for her job at McKinley, she had volunteered in the district starting in 2009, and then was hired as a gym teacher and an athletic coach.

Although she felt she knew her community and its problems—and felt confident that the community schools approach could help address those problems—she wasn’t sure how teachers would welcome having yet another program come into their school, especially one that saddled the school with the responsibility to address community conditions outside of the school.

It turned out she didn’t need to worry: “The teachers’ first reactions were, ‘Thank God you’re here,’” she says.

What teachers appreciated about the community schools approach and Grande’s role was that it gave them a way—and a person—to address the nonacademic issues that interfere with student learning but can’t be addressed by time- and resource-constrained teachers.
For instance, because Grande took her position midyear, during the typically harsh Erie winter, there were students who came to school late, or not at all, because they lacked warm clothing.

“Right away, I had 30 students who needed coats, boots, gloves, and hats,” she recalls.
What also quickly came to her attention were the school’s ongoing needs for basic food items supplied by the in-school pantry. Safety issues—such as lighting, security, and accessibility—also needed to be addressed. Eventually, she found herself helping families with things like utility bills and homelessness.

Sometimes, the issues were more complicated than what Grande and the school’s partnership with the United Way of Erie County could handle. But the community schools approach offered ways to take on and address those bigger challenges, too.

A Walking School Bus

“Transportation is a huge barrier for our families,” Grande says.
Getting to and from school became harder for Erie families when the city’s financial collapse caused the district to limit school bus service to only those families living outside a one-mile radius of the school. Later, that limitation was raised to 1.5 miles.

“At McKinley [Elementary School], that excludes most of our families,” Grande explains. “So, you’re talking about children as young as kindergarten having to cross dangerous roads, including highways, to get to school. That’s an incredible impediment to attendance.”
Consequently, McKinley Elementary School averaged only 73.5 percent of its students attending regularly in the 2018-2019 school year, which was well below the statewide average of 85.7 percent, according to an email sent by Jaruszewicz.

To begin to tackle the challenge, Erie educators and administrative staff, along with the support of their United Way partners, secured a grant to conduct a safe routes assessment to note where students live, the intersections they had to traverse, and the stoplights and sidewalk conditions students encountered along the way.

To address how students would get to and from the school, Erie schools and United Way of Erie County staff created a walking school bus.

“A walking school bus is a bus without the bus,” Grande explains, adding that a walking school bus consists of a group of students walking to school escorted by one or two adult “drivers.” The “bus” has designated “stops” in the morning where children “board” and proceed to the next stops along the way to school.

When school ends, students gather with their fellow “passengers” and are escorted back to the stops closest to their homes. Bus routes change based on safety conditions and the transportation needs of families from year to year.

Adult escorts for the walking school bus were recruited from a local service-oriented organization called the Blue Coats. The Blue Coats, Bush explains, was an entity born out of the need for Erie to address issues of unruliness and violence in the schools. The organization recruited volunteers, mostly men, to stand on street corners and other key traffic areas to monitor the behavior of students going to and from schools.

In 2015, the Erie school district credited the Blue Coats “with a sharp decline in violence in and around the schools,” according to an Associated Press article that appeared in the Washington Times, prompting a local philanthropy to award the Blue Coats a $300,000 grant, “to shepherd Erie children” through school.

McKinley Elementary’s first walking school bus started in February 2021 with only four students enrolled, but by the end of the school year, there were 30 students enrolled, according to Jaruszewicz. Of the 30 students enrolled, 26 increased their attendance, and the average number of students attending McKinley regularly jumped to 86 percent by the end of the school year in 2021, besting the state average.

Other Erie schools involved in the community schools pilot had similar success with raising student attendance rates. Strong Vincent Middle School saw chronic absenteeism decrease by 20 percent, according to Jaruszewicz. Edison Elementary School saw chronic absenteeism rates drop from 22 percent to 11 percent between 2017 and 2020.

Giving Erie a Fighting Chance

In 2018 and 2019, Erie’s Public Schools added one new school each year to its group of schools using the community schools approach. In July 2021, the district announced it would expand the approach to five more schools, based on the success of its pilot program, according to the Erie Times-News.

The short-term goal of the approach is for all students entering Erie High School to have attended a community school in their elementary and middle school years, according to the article. But “the long-term goal is to grow academic success,” says Jaruszewicz.

That may “take years for the results to show,” he readily admits, and certainly the interruption posed to in-person learning as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help.
But the progress Erie schools have made on improving student attendance is encouraging, as numerous research studies have found a close association between attendance in the elementary grades and achievement and social-emotional outcomes in later grades.
But Erie advocates for the community schools approach also tend to frame their efforts in a narrative about the city’s financial comeback.
“The work of community schools is also an economic development initiative,” says Jaruszewicz.

Erwin elaborates, “Improving the walkability to the school campus has ripple effects on family employability. If parents know their children have safe routes to and from school, they know they are free to be at work. When we add after-school programs for kids, parents know they can work afternoon shifts.”

Bush says, “The community schools approach is not just a school issue; it’s a community issue and an economic development issue. Investing in these students and families now will pay off in the long run because, through the model, we’re supporting the community’s future workforce.”

If Erie still has a fighting chance, it will need that.


By Jeff Bryant is a writing fellow and chief correspondent for Our Schools. He is a communications consultant, freelance writer, advocacy journalist, and director of the Education Opportunity Network, a strategy and messaging center for progressive education policy. His award-winning commentary and reporting routinely appear in prominent online news outlets, and he speaks frequently at national events about public education policy. Follow him on Twitter @jeffbcdm.

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OPINION

The Damaging Conflation of Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism

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The Damaging Conflation of Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism
It is a bewildering and alarming time to be a Jew, both because antisemitism is rising and because so many politicians are responding to it not by protecting Jews but by victimising Palestinians. GETTY IMAGES

There is a famous story about the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl. As a young journalist in late 19th century Vienna, Herzl came to believe that the solution to the problem of Jewish emancipation in Europe was the creation of a Jewish state. His ideas remained fringe across European Jewish communities until after the Holocaust, but they did raise some eyebrows with Jewish leaders. 

Upon hearing Herzl’s plans to redeem the Jewish people, the chief Rabbi of Vienna decided to visit him. When he arrived on a cold December day at Herzl’s apartment, he found a Christmas tree in the living room. Legend has it that the Rabbi simply left and never even spoke with Herzl, believing him far too assimilated to Christian customs to be a savior for the Jews. 

This story highlights the myriad counter-narratives and differing opinions within the Jewish community over political Zionism. Since the earliest days of Herzl’s plans to create a Jewish state, Jewish communities have been divided on whether Jews even needed a state in the first place. Even today, there are almost equal numbers of Jews that live outside of Israel as there are living in the Jewish state. While many Jewish diaspora communities call themselves Zionist, the fact is that they refuse to realize the basic tenet of modern Zionist ideology and immigrate to Israel. 

Despite the deep difference inside the Jewish community over Zionism, the Israeli government and its allies have long pushed the idea that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are two sides of the same coin. The conflation of these terms over the last month of fighting in the Gaza Strip has reached fever pitch and is contributing to a flare-up of antisemitism worldwide. 

Professor Avi Shlaim, one of the revisionist Israeli scholars known as the “new historians,” spoke about the differences between anti-Zionism and antisemitism in a recent clip that went viral across the internet. Antisemitism, Shlaim notes, is the hatred of Jewish people because they are Jews. Anti-Zionism is opposition either to the Zionist ideology or, more commonly, criticism of specific policies of the Israeli government. While antisemitism is a grotesque form of hatred that should never be justified, anti-Zionist rhetoric tends to be evidence-based. 

The Israeli government and its supporters argue that anti-Zionism deprives the Jews of a state of their own because they are Jews. Thus, anti-Zionism is antisemitism because it singles out the group. This argument doesn’t hold much water as anti-Zionists don’t say that Jews can’t have their self-determination. Instead, the issue is how Zionism has sought to exercise that self-determination in a specific place at the expense of another people’s self-determination. 

The deep issue is how Israel deliberately conflates anti-Zionism and antisemitism to silence any criticism of the Israeli government or its policies of occupation vis-a-vis the Palestinians. When the UN secretary-general called for a ceasefire to protect civilians in the Gaza Strip early in the war, the Israeli representative immediately branded his position antisemitic. This is a clear example of how the conflation strategy is deployed to divert attention over legitimate criticism of Israeli policy. 

Israel’s aggressive PR tactics have allowed the far right to push antisemitic ideas without getting into trouble. For decades, far-right leaders worldwide have claimed to be pro-Israel while directly or indirectly supporting antisemitism at home. Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, is one of the most vocal supporters of Israel in the European Union and also flames antisemitism at home. 

Elon Musk recently found himself in hot water after agreeing with antisemitic comments on his social media platform X. Media watchdogs have since cataloged how antisemitism is flourishing on the platform. Musk says that X is a place for free speech, and that’s why such vile rhetoric is shared. Yet, in response to high-profile advertisers fleeing his platform, Musk announced that using terms like “decolonization” and “from the river to the sea” in support of Palestinians, will get you banned from X. So much for free speech. 

Musk is rushing to embrace pro-Israel positions in the hope people will overlook his antisemitic tendencies. The very fact he can do that is a by-product of the Israeli government’s conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

These dynamics are particularly concerning in light of rising antisemitism in the United States. In a piece for Futurism, Maggie Harrison notes that in 2017 “white supremacists marched on Charlottesville with their hands in Nazi salutes [and] shouted ‘Jews will not replace us.’ The next year, in 2018, a shooter motivated by the conspiracy killed 11 people at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. Shortly after that, in 2019, the theory was linked to yet another shooter who murdered a worshipper and injured three others at a California synagogue.” 

The Jewish people never elected the Israeli government to represent it worldwide. Given the varied nature of Judaism today, such an election would be impossible. Yet, Israel speaks in the name of all Jews to provide cover for its policies with the Palestinians. With rising antisemitism worldwide, there will need to be some sort of reckoning between Jewish communities and Israel but such an event feels far off. 

Joseph Dana is a writer based in South Africa and the Middle East. He has reported from Jerusalem, Ramallah, Cairo, Istanbul, and Abu Dhabi. He was formerly editor-in-chief of emerge85, a media project based in Abu Dhabi exploring change in emerging markets. X: @ibnezra

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OPINION

We Are Spartacus

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We Are Spartacus
Ilustration of Spartacus. Getty Images

Spartacus was a 1960 Hollywood film based on a book written secretly by the blacklisted novelist Howard Fast, and adapted by the screenplay
writer Dalton Trumbo, one of the ‘Hollywood 10’ who were banned for their ‘un-American’ politics. It is a parable of resistance and heroism that speaks unreservedly to our own times.

Both writers were Communists and victims of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House of Un-American Activities which, during the Cold War, destroyed
the careers and often the lives of those principled and courageous enough to stand up to a homegrown fascism in America.

‘This is a sharp time, now, a precise time …’ wrote Arthur Miller in The Crucible, ‘We live no longer in the dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world.’

There is one ‘precise’ provocateur now; it is clear to see for those who want to see it and foretell its actions. It is a gang of states led by the United States whose stated objective is ‘full spectrum dominance’. Russia is still the hated one, Red China the feared one. From Washington and London, the virulence has no limit. Israel, the colonial anachronism and unleashed attack dog, is armed to the teeth and granted historical impunity so that ‘we’ the West ensure the blood and tears never dry in Palestine. Members of the UK Parliament who dare call for a ceasefire in Gaza are banished, the iron door of two-party politics closed to them by a Labour leader who would withhold water and food from the children of Palestine.

In McCarthy’s time, there were bolt holes of truth. Mavericks welcomed then are heretics now; an underground of journalism exists (such as
this site) in a landscape of mendacious conformity. Dissenting journalists have been defenestrated from the ‘mainstream’ (as the great editor David Bowman wrote); the media’s task is to invert the truth and support the illusions of democracy, including a ‘free press’.

Social Democracy has shrunk to the width of a cigarette paper that separates the principal policies of major parties. Their one subscription is to a capitalist cult, neoliberalism, and an imposed poverty described by a UN special rapporteur as ‘the immiseration of a significant part of the British population.’

War today is an unmoving shadow; ‘forever’ imperial wars are designated normal. Iraq, the model, is destroyed at a cost of a million lives and three million dispossessed. The destroyer, Blair, is personally enriched and fawned over at his party’s conference as an electoral winner. Blair and his moral counter, Julian Assange, live 14 miles apart, one in a Regency mansion, the other in a cell awaiting extradition to hell.

According to a Brown University study, since 9/11, almost six million men, women and children have been killed by America and its acolytes in the ‘Global War on Terror’. A monument is to be built in Washington in ‘celebration’ of this mass murder; its committee is chaired by the former president, George W Bush, Blair’s mentor. Afghanistan, where it started, was finally laid to waste when President Biden shop-lifted its national bank reserves

There have been many Afghanistans. The forensic William Blum devoted himself to making sense of a state terrorism that seldom spoke its name and so requires repetition:

In my lifetime, the United States has overthrown or attempted to overthrow more than 50 governments, most democracies. It has interfered in democratic elections in 30 countries. It has dropped bombs on the people of 30 countries, most of them poor and defenceless. It has fought to suppress liberation movements in 20 countries. It has attempted to murder countless leaders.

Perhaps I hear some of you saying: that is enough. As the Final Solution of Gaza is broadcast live to millions, the small faces of its victims etched in bombed rubble, framed between TV commercials for cars and pizza, yes, that is surely enough. How profane is that word ‘enough’?

Afghanistan was where the West sent young men weighed down with the ritual of ‘warriors’ to kill people and enjoy it. We know some of them enjoyed it from the evidence of Australian SAS sociopaths, including aphotograph of them drinking from an Afghan man’s prosthetic.

Not one sociopath has been charged for this and crimes such as kicking a man over a cliff, gunning down children point-blank, slitting throats: none of it ‘in battle’. David McBride, a former Australian military lawyer who served twice in Afghanistan, was a ‘true believer’ in the system as moral and honourable, He also has an abiding belief in truth, and loyalty. He can define them as few can. On 13 November he is in court in Canberra as an alleged criminal.

‘An Australian whistleblower,’ reports Kieran Pender, a senior lawyer at the Australian Human Rights Law Centre, ‘ [will face] trial for blowing the whistle on horrendous wrongdoing. It is profoundly unjust that the first person on trial for war crimes in Afghanistan is the whistleblower and not an alleged war criminal.’

McBride can receive a sentence of up to 100 years for revealing the cover-up of the great crime of Afghanistan. He tried to exercise his legal right as a whistleblower under the Public Interest Disclosure Act, which the current Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, says ‘delivers on our promise to strengthen protections for public sector whistleblowers’. Yet it is Dreyfus, a Labor minister, who signed off on the McBride trial following a punitive wait of four years and eight months since his arrest at Sydney airport: a wait that shredded his health and family.

Those who know David and know of the hideous injustice done to him fill his street in Bondi near the beach in Sydney to wave their encouragement to this good and decent man. To them, and me, he is a hero.

McBride was affronted by what he found in the files he was ordered to inspect. Here was evidence of crimes and their cover-up. He passed hundreds of secret documents to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Sydney Morning Herald. Police raided the ABC’s offices in Sydney while reporters and producers watched, shocked, as their computers were confiscated by the Federal Police.

Attorney-General Dreyfus, self-declared liberal reformer and friend of whistleblowers, has the singular power to stop the McBride trial. A Freedom of Information search of his actions in this direction suggests an indifference to whether or not an innocent man rots.

You can’t run a fully-fledged democracy and a colonial war; one aspires to decency, the other is a form of fascism, regardless of its pretensions. Mark the killing fields of Gaza, bombed to dust by apartheid Israel. It is no coincidence that in rich, yet impoverished Britain an ‘inquiry’ is currently being held into the gunning down by British SAS soldiers of 80 Afghans, all civilians, including a couple in bed.

The grotesque injustice meted out to David McBride is minted from the injustice consuming his compatriot, Julian Assange. Both are friends of mine. Whenever I see them, I am optimistic. ‘You cheer me,’ I tell Julian as he raises a defiant fist at the end of our visiting period. ‘You make me feel proud,’ I tell David at our favourite coffee shop in Sydney. Their bravery has allowed many of us, who might despair, to understand the real meaning of a resistance we all share if we want to prevent the conquest of us, our conscience, our self respect, if we prefer freedom and decency to compliance and collusion. In this, we are all Spartacus.

Spartacus was the rebellious leader of Rome’s slaves in 71-73 BC. There is a thrilling moment in the Kirk Douglas movie Spartacus when the Romans call on Spartacus’s men to identify their leader and so be pardoned. Instead hundreds of his comrades stand and raise their fists in solidarity and shout, ‘I am Spartacus!’ The rebellion is under way.

Julian and David are Spartacus. The Palestinians are Spartacus. People who fill the streets with flags and principle and solidarity are Spartacus. We are all Spartacus if we want to be.

John Pilger

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OPINION

Condemning Israel’s Vengeance

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Condemning Israel’s Vengeance
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya, which houses the Israeli Ministry of Defence, in Tel Aviv, Israel on December 17, 2023. MENAHEM KAHANA/Pool via REUTERS

Among the many themes common to each of the Abrahamic faiths, found in the holy books of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, is the principle of proportional justice, enshrined in the ancient phrase, “An eye for an eye.”

 It’s a principle that appears to have been discarded by Israel as it ignores all calls for restraint in its determination to destroy all traces of Hamas, no matter the cost in innocent lives.

Rabbinic, Islamic, and Christian scholars argue among themselves to this day about the correct interpretation of an admonition first set down, literally in stone, in an Akkadian legal text written between 1792 and 1750 BCE.

 This is the Code of Hammurabi, a king of Babylon whose laws were etched in cuneiform onto a basalt stele, or stone column, which today can be seen in the Louvre in Paris.

 Hammurabi, by all accounts one of the more excessive of the extremely brutal rulers of ancient Mesopotamia, would have been puzzled by the modern queasiness occasioned by a legal code that could be described as harsh, but fair.

The Code of Hammurabi left no one in his time in any doubt about the consequences for a range of acts deemed over 3,800 years ago to be serious social transgressions.

“If a son strike his father, his hands shall be hewn off.” “If a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out.” “If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out.” And so on.

A word that appears often in the code is “death,” a penalty handed out for offenses including robbery, burglary, rape and, of course, death, no matter how caused.

To modern sensibilities, weighing the value of human lives like fruit on a scale seems abhorrent – until one considers the appalling alternative.

 In tragic recent history, that alternative was embraced by the United States following the 9/11 attacks, in which 2,977 were killed. According to the Costs of War project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, at last count, America’s post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost the lives of 14,490 US military personnel and civilian contractors.

 But even that exercise in disproportionality pales against the grotesque price extracted in Iraq and Afghanistan, where more than 350,000 national military, police, and civilians have paid with their lives for the carnage wrought in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia on September 11, 2001, by 19 Al Qaeda killers. 

Israel, bent it seems not on justice but on revenge for the 1,400 victims of the Hamas attack on October 7, has taken the same bloody, unconscionable path in Gaza.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says that more than 8,000 civilians, mostly women and children, have been killed by Israeli bombs and bullets since October 7. The figure is, of course, disputed. But whether it’s 8,000 or 4,000, the point remains – the loss of innocent Israeli lives is being avenged by a wholly disproportionate and indiscriminate massacre of innocent Palestinians.

The truth that ought to shock the international community is that such disproportionate slaughter is nothing more than business as usual for a state that prides itself on being “a light unto the world.” Instead, the world has been, and continues to be, complicit in outrageous Israeli acts carried out in the name of self-defense.

 According to OCHA, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, between January 1, 2008, and the end of September this year, 177 Israeli citizens were killed, and 4,735 were wounded, by Palestinian armed groups and civilians.

Over the same period, 3,754 Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli forces or settlers, and more than 152,000 were wounded. It is already clear that, when finally collated and confirmed, the figures from the current disaster will only add to this imbalance.

This is not justice. This is unbridled, unrestrained vengeance.

 Since the establishment of Israel in 1948 in the wake of the Second World War, many nations, tiptoeing around the elephant in the room that is the Holocaust, have turned a blind eye to Israel’s excesses in its relationship with the Palestinians. In doing so, Israel’s friends have let it down.

 It’s a central article of Judaism that the Jews are “the chosen people,” charged by God with the task of leading the world on the path of morality. 

 David Ben-Gurion, the founder of Israel and its first prime minister, spoke and wrote frequently of Israel’s responsibility to be an ethical and moral beacon – the “light unto the nations” referred to in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Isaiah. 

 This conceit of Israel as the moral light of the world has been passed down from leader to leader, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on September 19, 2017, on the eve of the Jewish new year, Netanyahu invoked the words of the Prophet and said that Israel’s “light is shining across the continents, bringing hope and salvation to the ends of the Earth.”

 But not, it seems, to its immediate neighbors in Palestine.

 A nation that cannot see the grotesque disparity in the scale of the death tolls in Israel and the Palestinian territories has not only lost sight of the ancient principle of an eye for an eye but has also forfeited its claim to being the world’s beacon of morality.

Jonathan Gornall is a British journalist, formerly with The Times, who has lived and worked in the Middle East and is now based in the UK.

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OPINION

Yusril And Prospective Companion for Prabowo Subianto in the 2024 Elections

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Yusril And Prospective Companion for Prabowo Subianto in the 2024 Elections
Prabowo Subianto rides a horse during a Gerindra Party campaign rally at a stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia on March 23, 2014. Beawiharta/Reuters

As the registration for presidential and vice-presidential candidate pairs approaches, only the Anies Baswedan-Muhaimin Iskandar (Cak Imin) duo has definitively emerged as candidates for the leadership of the nation.

While the prospective vice-presidential candidate for Prabowo Subianto and Ganjar Pranowo has not been specifically announced, the nation has various competent figures suitable for the role.

In a public discussion titled “Presentation of Research Results on Public Perceptions of the Vice-Presidential Candidate: The Opportunity of Yusril Ihza Mahendra as Prabowo’s Running Mate” by GoGo Bangun Negeri, it was revealed that Yusril Ihza Mahendra possesses the capabilities, professionalism, leadership, managerial skills, governance experience, and other qualities required to lead Indonesia.

Emrus Sihombing, the Founder of GoGo Bangun Negeri & Indonesian Communicologist, stated that there are at least seven main reasons for Prabowo to form a partnership with Yusril Ihza Mahendra in the 2024 Elections.

Firstly, Yusril Ihza Mahendra holds a significant electoral magnet, especially outside of Java, which is crucial for Prabowo’s victory in the upcoming 2024 Presidential election.

“Secondly, Yusril Ihza Mahendra has close relationships with religious figures and religious communities, the majority of whom are followers in this country. This is also an electoral political asset for the 2024 Presidential election. Furthermore, Yusril Ihza Mahendra is well-known nationally due to his prominent stature,” explained Emrus.

He added that Yusril Ihza Mahendra is recognized as a credible law professor and a seasoned lawyer who has gained positive attention and support from various segments of society due to his advocacy in various legal cases. “The views of this law professor often break legal deadlocks in the public sphere. He consistently offers legal ideas and solutions in discussions or dialogues.”

Another reason is that Yusril Ihza Mahendra could partner with Prabowo to advocate for legal sovereignty in the nation. Currently, legal handling in our country falls far short of the expectations of the majority of the Indonesian population,” he disclosed.

The seventh reason is that Yusril Ihza Mahendra, the Chairman of the Crescent Star Party and one of the parties supporting Prabowo, is very humble and avoids unnecessary controversies. Yusril even positions himself as an alternative vice-presidential candidate if a deadlock occurs within the Prabowo coalition.

“Because in this coalition, there could be power struggles with the sectoral political interests of each party. Yet, in reality, according to my opinion, Yusril Ihza Mahendra has the competence to be a presidential candidate,” Emrus explained.

In the same context, Effendi Gazali, an Expert in Public Communication, stated that based on his experience in running the government, Yusril Ihza Mahendra is deemed to play a significant role in assisting Prabowo Subianto.

“In addition to his experience as an intellectual and having run the government, Yusril Ihza Mahendra is seen as able to represent the voices of people outside Java. Since Prabowo is associated with Java, Yusri is seen as capable of dispelling the Javanese-centric stigma and also stepping in to represent the Muslim community,” he added.

This view was also supported by Fahri Bachmid, an Expert in Constitutional Law, who stated in this event that Yusril Ihza Mahendra is considered capable of representing a national voice, representing Indonesia’s diversity.

“The elected presidential and vice-presidential candidates must according to the law garner more than 50 percent of the total votes, with a minimum of 20 percent of the votes in each province spread across more than half of the total provinces in Indonesia. Yusril Ihza Mahendra is the last hope to inherit a strong constitutional system, capable of building a system that can embrace all parties and all potential of the nation,” said Fahri.

Meanwhile, Anggawira, the Secretary General of the Central Board of the Indonesian Young Entrepreneurs Association, stated that Prabowo needs a companion capable of accommodating all the needs of the nation.

“Yusril Ihza Mahendra is a strong leader, and based on his experience, he is capable of resolving all state problems. A solid combination with Prabowo and complementing each other, it is hoped to be able to accommodate all the needs of the nation,” Angga mentioned.

As of now, Prabowo Subianto, in coalition with the Indonesia Maju Coalition (KIM), is supported by Gerindra Party, Golkar Party, PAN, Democratic Party, Crescent Star Party, Gelora Party, and Garuda Party.

To date, the Indonesia Maju Coalition (KIM) is gathering public input regarding the prospective vice-presidential candidate for Prabowo Subianto in the 2024 Presidential Elections. Several names have entered the fray, including Yusril Ihza Mahendra, Erick Thohir, Sandiaga Uno, Gibran Rakabuming, Airlangga Hartarto, and Yenny Wahid.

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OPINION

The Diminishing Performance of Indonesia’s National Narcotics Agency

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The Diminishing Performance of Indonesia’s National Narcotics Agency

Telegraf – Indonesia’s National Narcotics Agency (BNN) has been under scrutiny recently, with concerns raised about the organization’s declining performance. The agency, which has facilities equivalent to a ministerial level and access to significant funding, has been accused of distancing itself from civil society organizations and the media.

This is a stark contrast to the practices of previous BNN heads, such as Ahwil Lutan, Anang Iskandar, and Budi Waseso, who actively involved the media and other civil society organizations to ensure the agency’s work was felt by the public.

Now, however, the continuity and sustainability of the agency’s programs are being questioned. The BNN’s reluctance to collaborate with organizations and the media is hindering its work, leaving many to wonder why the agency’s performance has become lacklustre despite having access to significant resources.

Budi Jojo, the founder of the Desa Cegah Narkoba initiative and publisher of a village newspaper aimed at educating communities about the dangers of drugs, has reminded the BNN that the success of their work depends on the involvement of communities. He suggests that the BNN should collaborate with various organizations to help prevent drug addiction in the country.

READ ALSO: BNN at Ministerial Level. Already Know?

The head of the Ridma Foundation, Ketum Ridma, has criticized the BNN’s current performance, stating that the agency has distanced itself from the media and civil society organizations. He notes that when the BNN lacked the resources it has now, previous heads ensured the media were involved in their work, which resulted in the public feeling the impact of the agency’s work.

The BNN is a non-ministerial government agency responsible for the prevention, eradication, and control of drug abuse and drug trafficking, excluding tobacco and alcohol.

To optimize the BNN’s performance, the government deemed it necessary to provide the agency with equal financial resources and facilities. In line with this, President Joko Widodo signed Presidential Regulation No. 47/2019 on July 4, 2019, amending Presidential Regulation No. 23/2010 on the BNN.

The regulation changed several provisions in Presidential Regulation No. 23/2010, including elevating the position of the BNN head to a senior leadership position. Despite having access to more resources and funding, the BNN’s performance has decreased, and its distance from civil society organizations and the media has contributed to its decline. It is time for the BNN to take a more proactive approach and collaborate with the public to combat the country’s drug problem.

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OPINION

Western ‘Naturalism’ Disrespects Nonhuman Animals And The Entire Natural World

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Western ‘Naturalism’ Disrespects Nonhuman Animals And The Entire Natural World
Madagascar Safaris in natural world. Copyright: © Robin Hoskyns

One species has transformed into a material backdrop for its tribulations the 10 million other species that constitute its extended family, its giving environment, and its daily cohabitants. More specifically, it is one small population of this species that has done so, the bearer of a merely historical and local culture. Making all other living beings invisible is a provincial and late phenomenon—not the product of mankind as a whole. Imagine a people approaching a land populated by a myriad of other related peoples, and declaring that they don’t really exist, and that they are the stage and not the actors (ah yes, it’s not a fiction that requires a lot of imagination, as it also comprises vast swaths of our history). How did we accomplish this miracle of blindness toward the other creatures of the living world? We could hazard here—to exacerbate the strangeness of our heritage—a rapid history of the relations between our civilization and other species, a history which leads to the modern condition: Once nonhuman living beings were debased ontologically (that is to say, considered as endowed with a second-order existence, of lesser value and lesser consistency, and thus transformed into ‘things’), human beings came to believe that they alone truly existed in the universe.

It simply took Judeo-Christianity to expel God from ‘Nature’ (this is the hypothesis of the Egyptologist Jan Assmann), to make Nature profane, then the scientific and industrial revolutions to transform the nature that remained (the scholastic phusis) into a matter devoid of intelligence or of invisible influences, available to extractivism, for human beings to find themselves as solitary travelers in the cosmos, surrounded by dumb, evil matter. The last act involved killing off the last affiliation: Alone in the face of matter, human beings nevertheless remained in vertical contact with God, who sanctified it as his Creation (natural theology). The death of God entails a terrible and perfect loneliness, which we might call the anthropo-narcissistic prison.

This false lucidity about our cosmic solitude put the final seal on the serene exclusion of all nonhuman beings from the field of the ontologically relevant. It explains the ‘prison house’ of the philosophy and literature cultivated in the great European and Anglo-American capitals. My choice of this expression is not arbitrary: Not only are these fields now a prison house or ‘closed room’ in the sense of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit”—but also the prison house is the world itself, the universe, which is populated only by us and the pathological relationships with our fellow humans entailed by the disappearance of our plural, affective, and active affiliations with other living beings, nonhuman animals and environments.

This ubiquitous theme in 20th-century literature and philosophy, which foregrounds the cosmic solitude of human beings, a solitude elevated to grandeur by existentialism, is intriguingly violent. Under cover of the heroism of the absurd (as Albert Camus defined it), under cover of having the courage to face the truth, this violence is a form of blindness that refuses to learn how to see the forms of existence of others, negating their status as cohabitants, postulating that, in fact, they have no communication skills, no ‘native senses,’ no creative point of view, no aptitudes for finding a modus vivendi, no political promptings. And this is the great cunning, and therefore the hidden violence of Western naturalism, which in fact aims to justify exploiting all of nature as a raw material lying to hand for our project of civilization—it means treating others as matter ruled by biological laws, refusing to see their geopolitical promptings, their vital alliances, and all the ways in which we share with living beings a great diplomatic community in which we can learn anew how to live.

The human subject alone in an absurd universe, surrounded by pure matter lying to hand as a stock of resources, or a sanctuary for humans to recharge their batteries spiritually, is a phantasmal invention of modernity. From this point of view, those great thinkers of emancipation, Sartre and Camus, who have probably infused their ideas deeply into the French tradition, are the objective allies of extractivism and the ecological crisis. It is intriguing to reinterpret these discourses of emancipation as vectors of great violence. Yet it was they who transformed into a basic belief of late humanism the myth that we alone are free subjects in a world of inert and absurd objects, doomed to giving meaning through our consciousness to a living world devoid of it.

This myth took away from that world something it had always possessed. The shamanists and animists described by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Philippe Descola know very well what this lost state had involved, namely complex social relations of reciprocity, exchange, and predation which are not peace-loving or pacific, and do not follow Isaiah’s prophecy, but are political in a still enigmatic sense, and call for forms of pacification and conciliation, of mutualist and considerate cohabitation. After all, there are meanings everywhere in the living world: They do not need to be projected, but to be found, with the means at our disposal—translation and interpretation. It’s all about diplomacy. We need interpreters, intermediaries, and in-betweens to do the job of starting to speak again with living beings, to overcome what we might call Claude Lévi-Strauss’s curse: the impossibility of communicating with the other species we share the Earth with. “For despite the ink spilled by the Judeo-Christian tradition to conceal it, no situation seems more tragic, more offensive to heart and mind, than that of a humanity coexisting and sharing the joys of a planet with other living species yet being unable to communicate with them,” Lévi-Strauss said in conversation with Didier Eribon.

But this impossibility is a fiction of the moderns—it helps to justify reducing living beings to commodities in order to sustain world economic exchanges. Communication is possible, it has always taken place; it is surrounded by mystery, by inexhaustible enigmas, by untranslatable aspects too, but ultimately by creative misunderstandings. It doesn’t have the fluidity of a café conversation, but it is nonetheless rich in meaning.

As an enigma among other enigmas, the human way of being alive only makes sense if it is woven into the countless other ways of being alive that the animals, plants, bacteria, and ecosystems all around us demand.

The ever-intact enigma of being a human is richer and more poignant when we share it with other life forms in our great family, when we pay attention to them, and when we do justice to their otherness. This interplay of kinship and otherness with other living beings, the common causes they foster in the politics of life, is part of what makes the ‘mystery of living,’ of being a human being, so inexhaustible.

Independent Media Institute_______________________

Baptiste Morizot is a writer and lecturer in philosophy at Aix-Marseille University in France who studies the relationship between humans and other living beings. His many books include Ways of Being Alive and Rekindling Life: A Common Front, both published in English by Polity Books.

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