Thursday, April 10, 2008

REFUSENIK: The Story of How Grassroots Activism Blossomed into an International Human Rights Campaign to Free Soviet Jewry

Last night I had the privilege to watch the North American premiere of Refusenik, directed by Laura Bialis at the Seattle Jewish Film Festival. It was apropos for Seattle and the Jewish Film Festival to be the first to present this landmark documentary, since Senator Henry 'Scoop' Jackson hailed from Washington State, and was so instrumental in the fight to free Soviet Jews. This incredibly moving documentary points to the power of ideas, demonstrating how history can be changed when idealism, perseverance and perhaps a bit of naivete converge, creating the groundswell for what developed into an international movement.
There are lessons for us today as the Jewish community engages in battles to safeguard the rights of Jews around the world, including ironically, those of our brothers and sisters in Israel. Thanks to Laura and all those involved in the creation of this wonderful film for helping show us the way forward.
Here's to the incredible courage and indomitable spirit of all the Refuseniks!
David Brumer

REFUSENIK -- the amazing story of the activists who led the three decade international struggle to free Soviet Jews
Exclusive Engagement at Landmark's Varsity Theatre
Opening Night Friday, April 11, 2008

Director Laura Bialis will be in person for Q&A Friday, April 11, at the 7:10 & 9:50 shows

Landmark Varsity Theatre
4329 University Way, N.E.
Seattle, WA 98105
(206) 781-5755

click here for map
ShowtimesApril 11: 2:00, 4:30, 7:10, 9:50April 12-13: 2:00, 4:30, 7:10, 9:40

April 14-16:
7:10, 9:40

Advance ticket purchase at
Landmark Theatre box office
click here for trailer

About the Film
REFUSENIK is the first retrospective documentary to chronicle the thirty-year movement to free Soviet Jews. It shows how a small grassroots effort bold enough to take on a Cold War superpower blossomed into an international human rights campaign that engaged the disempowered and world leaders alike. Told through the eyes of activists on both sides of the Iron Curtain - many of whom survived punishment in Soviet Gulag labor camps - the film is a tapestry of first-person accounts of heroism, sacrifice, and ultimately, liberation.The campaign to free Soviet Jewry is a major event in Jewish history. By 1992, one and a half million Jews had left the Soviet Union to live in freedom as a direct result of what was likely the most successful human rights campaign of all times.REFUSENIK illustrates how individuals can utilize the power inherent in a tolerant democracy and literally change the world. The tactics and methods developed by activists in this struggle became examples to the rest of the world, forever changing the human rights landscape.One of the proudest chapters in Jewish history, the story of the refuseniks demonstrates the need for Jewish solidarity, the importance of the State of Israel, and the responsibilities we face as individuals living in a democracy.Much of the material used in REFUSENIK is unique and exclusive to this film. Interviews with key leaders in the movement are some of the first ever to be recorded. Many of the photographs and covert film footage – some of it smuggled out of the Soviet Union – have never been seen before by a large audience, and help make REFUSENIK a unique portrait of this amazing story.

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Friday, April 4, 2008

Unique Perspective on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict from an Arab-Israeli

Khaled Abu Toameh came to Seattle earlier this week as part of a speaking tour sponsored by Stand With Us (SWU). Khaled, an Arab-Israeli journalist who lives in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev, explained that his father was born in Israel and his mother is from the West Bank, which, he said, makes him an Arab-Israeli Muslim Palestinian. What it also makes him is someone who offers a unique perspective to the Palestinian-Israeli and Arab-Israeli conflict.
According to Khaled, the Palestinian people are the victims of corrupt leadership in the West Bank and now fanatical radical Islam in Gaza. It didn’t have to be this way. Frustrated by over a decade of Arafat’s corrupt and unproductive rule, Palestinians yearned for real change (Khaled pointed out that that in the Oslo Years Arafat didn’t build one housing unit for refugees, one road, one University or College; one hospital or clinic—he only managed to build a casino in Jericho, and to add insult, right across from a refugee camp) and in early 2005 they voted for Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) because he promised a change from the old ways of doing business. He ran on a platform of ending corruption and cronyism. But once in office, he surrounded himself with the corrupt old guard from Arafat’s day, and again the Palestinian people felt lied to and cheated. So a year later, when Hamas challenged Fatah’s power, Palestinians said to themselves, let’s give these guys a chance. Hamas ran on a platform of ending corruption, change and reform. Sound familiar? Since they already had a reputation for not being corrupt, ordinary Palestinians decided to give them a chance and they won the elections by a sizable majority.

Khaled found it striking that the Bush Administration--and particularly Condoleezza Rice-was caught off guard. He said that any Palestinian child on the street could have told you Hamas would win the elections in January of 2006. The handwriting was on the wall; very large and in Arabic. In fact, the day before the elections, on January 24th, 2006 he wrote, Regime Change in Palestine? for the WSJ. And again the Palestinian people emerged as the big losers. While Hamas did prove themselves untarnished by corruption, they certainly have not furthered the goals of the Palestinian people, either by advancing the prospects of a Palestinian State or by improving their quality of life. In fact, they’ve further impoverished the Palestinians, aside from being an ongoing nightmare for Israel.

But Khaled doesn’t understand why the West continues to lavish money on the Palestinian Authority. Why throw good money after bad? Especially without banging their hand on the table and demanding something to show for the billions. Nothing is likely to change with the current PA leadership. Abbas is a weak and ineffective leader who cannot leave Ramallah without the permission of an Israeli army officer, let alone rally his own people. He has never visited a refugee camp or ordinary Palestinian village. He's traipsed around Europe and the Middle East, but has done nothing to advance his people’s cause. And the more the Palestinians see America and Israel supporting Abbas, the more he is seen as a puppet and collaborator in their eyes. The West Bank is effectively ruled by gangs, thugs, and rogue militias, Mafia style, says Khaled. If it weren’t for the IDF, Hamas would topple Fatah in a heartbeat, just like they did in Gaza, with barely a struggle.

The Palestinians received $6.5 billion in aid under Arafat's reign and have nothing to show for it. Now the West is talking about as much as another $8.6 billion in assistance. It boggles the mind. Any CEO in his right mind would do more than bang his hand on the table for a lot less. Where's the transparency, not to mention results to show the shareholders, we the taxpayers?
Those who've followed this blog also know I've hammered away at this from the point of view of the principle in psychology known as 'enabling.' We don't help the addict by bailing him out time and again. Only by demanding responsibility and accountability is there hope for real and lasting reform.

Khaled told his audiences that when asked about Arafat by his colleagues 15 years ago, in the euphoric early days of Oslo, he noted that having worked for him as a journalist long ago, he didn't trust the man. His advice: if you're going to deal with Arafat, don't give him money without demanding strict accountability and don't give him weapons. Just what we're doing yet again. He also spoke at Oregon University on April 2nd.

Arab-Israeli Journalist: Education on Peace Is the Key to Resolving Conflict -
Anastasia Strgar (University of Oregon Daily Emerald)
In light of the continuing stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians, Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh told a University of Oregon audience he believes that change must come from teaching the next generation of children not to hate their neighbors.
To achieve peace, Abu Toameh emphasized educating the next generations of Palestinians to be more accepting of their Israeli neighbors.
He said Israel has changed a lot in the last 15 years. "If you had told me 16 years ago that Israel would have brought the PLO to the West Bank and moved 10,000 Jewish refugees from the Gaza Strip, I would have asked you what kind of medication you were on," Abu Toameh joked.
One audience member asked how many generations will need to be educated before peace can ever be found; he replied, at least two, if not three.

Interesting side note: Recently in the news, Israel has been criticized for expanding 'settlements' and 'disputed areas' in the West Bank, including Pisgat Ze'ev, the neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem where Khaled lives with his family. Does that make him a settler?
For more on Khaled, listen to the podcast below from his appearance on the Dave Ross Show, KIRO 710 Seattle, on April 1st.
david brumer
10:00 am-11:00 am Download mp3

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