Support Common Dreams Today
Journalism that is independent, non-profit, ad-free, and 100% reader-supported.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
"I stand here today because I can no longer stay silent about what Israel does to Palestinians in my name as a Jew," says Marty Levine, Former Director, Chicago-area Jewish Community Centers (JCC) (pictured above)
Chicago, IL: "Did you know that Gaza once had a thriving strawberry industry?" Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders posed this question to shoppers at today's Daley Plaza Farmers' Market in Downtown Chicago, as they participated in the American Friends Services Committee's #GazaUnlocked campaign. This followed a brief press conference addressing Israel's responsibility for the escalating crisis in Gaza and the violent crackdown at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque.
"Last week, U.S.-based Jews, Muslims and Christians were banned from entering Israel to participate in an interfaith delegation in solidarity with Palestinian human rights," said Rabbi Michael Davis of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council, "so we're engaging in Interfaith cooperation right here in the heart of Chicago." (pictured below)
The gathering took place the week after hundreds of Chicago-area Palestinian-Americans and allies protested Israel's violent suppression of peaceful mobilizations by Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. These were sparked by anger at the installment of "security measures" that, in the context of the ongoing military occupation of the West Bank, are meant to extend Israel's control of the Al Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam.
"We want our voice to be heard - what we stand for should concern all people of faith," said Abdullah Mitchell, Executive Director of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, "It is a matter both of religious freedom and of recognizing people's basic right to exist." (pictured below)
Israel's brutal policies toward Palestinians have led to a particularly acute moment of humanitarian crisis and instability.
"Palestinian sumud, or steadfastness, forced Israel to remove the obstacles in Al-Aqsa, but it is important to note that the Occupation of the West Bank and the military blockade on Gaza are still firmly in place," said Izabella Banka of American Muslims for Palestine, "the latest round of power cuts in Gaza announced by Israel is turning an already extreme humanitarian situation into a complete disaster." (pictured below)
Israel is currently limiting access to electricity to four hours a day for the two million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. Together with a decade-long military blockade on essential goods and multiple devastating attacks on civilians, this has led the United Nations to declare that the "unlivability threshold has been passed quite a long time ago."
"Israel's blockade and shutoff of electricity is devastating," said Reverend Lisa Lopez of Christ Presbyterian Church in Hanover Park, "it's not just a faith issue, it's a human issue and people need to speak out." (pictured below)
Participants urged Chicago-area faith leaders to move beyond dialogue efforts and address the issue of Israel's oppression of Palestinians head-on.
"I am committed to interfaith dialogue with Christians, Muslims and all other faiths. My Muslim dialogue partners tell me they are tired of interfaith dialogue where they are instructed what they may and may not say. Jews and Muslims may talk about music and the arts, religious ritual and books, cuisine and holidays....but a blanket of silence is thrown over one issue," said Rabbi Davis, "This rule of silence is very simple. It is just two words long: "No Palestine." It is unwritten - yet strictly enforced. 'No Palestine.'"
"Interfaith dialogue that is predicated on excluding Palestine from the conversation reinforces the idea that violence is the result of an intractable religious conflict, as opposed to Israel's brutality toward Palestinians as a means of maintaining total control over the land," said Rev. Donald Wager of Friends of Sabeel - North America. (pictured below)
After the press conference, the group split up and approached shoppers at the Daley Plaza Farmers' Market to educate them about the devastating impact of Israel's blockade on Gaza's once thriving strawberry industry, as a means of illustrating the crushing humanitarian crisis that has developed. (pictured below)
Lynn Pollack of Jewish Voice for Peace-Chicago and Izabella Banka of American Muslims for Palestine engaging market-goers.
Rabbi Michael Davis of Jewish Voice for Peace and Rev. Lisa Lopez of Christ Presbyterian Church engaging marketgoers.
Participants pledged to continue working to build an interfaith voice in solidarity with Palestinian rights.
Jewish Voice for Peace is a national, grassroots organization inspired by Jewish tradition to work for a just and lasting peace according to principles of human rights, equality, and international law for all the people of Israel and Palestine. JVP has over 200,000 online supporters, over 70 chapters, a youth wing, a Rabbinic Council, an Artist Council, an Academic Advisory Council, and an Advisory Board made up of leading U.S. intellectuals and artists.(510) 465-1777
"Ongoing climate change is keeping many people in the Global South in poverty, making it more difficult for them to migrate," said the co-author of a new study. "Thus climate change deprives people of an important way to adapt to its impacts and increases the gap between rich and poor."
As the worsening climate emergency creates an increasing number of migrants around the world, the economic effects of the planetary crisis are paradoxically making millions of people throughout the Global South too poor to escape its ravages.
That's according to a study published recently in the journal Environmental Research Letters by researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany.
"Climate change reduces economic growth in almost all countries of the world. But it has very divergent effects in poorer and richer countries," study co-author Jacob Schewe said Monday. "Overall, migration related to climate change has increased—but it has done so to a lesser extent than might have been expected. The reason is bitter: In poor countries, many people in need are lacking the means to migrate. They have no choice but to stay where they are."
\u201cStuck \u2013 #climatechange makes people too poor to #migrate. "Overall, migration related to climate change has increased - but it has done so to a lesser extent than expected. People in need are lacking the means to migrate," says PIKs Jacob Schewe.\n\ud83d\udc49https://t.co/cfAPjh4NUF\u201d— Potsdam Institute (@Potsdam Institute) 1674481326
Co-author Christian Otto noted that "economic growth affects national income levels, which in turn affect migration. Relatively few people migrate from high-income and from very low-income countries. In the case of poor countries, this is partly because many people simply cannot afford to leave. So very poor people often stay in their home country, even if they are in need or would like to migrate for other reasons."
Another study co-author, Anders Levermann, said that "ongoing climate change is keeping many people in the Global South in poverty, making it more difficult for them to migrate. Thus climate change deprives people of an important way to adapt to its impacts and increases the gap between rich and poor."
According to a 2017 study published by the British medical journal The Lancet, climate change could create a billion refugees by 2050. Other studies conclude the number could be even higher. Additionally, the World Bank says the planetary emergency could displace more than 200 million people within their home countries by mid-century.
"Thulani Maseko was a key pillar in the struggle for freedom in Eswatini. His death, which has already sent a chilling message to pro-democracy activists across the country, may signify an escalation in attacks against those who are openly seeking political reforms."
Human rights advocates on Monday implored Eswatini authorities to launch a swift, rigorous, and independent investigation into the recent killing of renowned pro-democracy lawyer Thulani Maseko.
Unknown gunmen murdered Maseko at his home in the city of Luhleko on Saturday, just hours after Eswatini's unelected leader, King Mswati III, "warned those calling for democracy that more trouble was coming for them," according to a local newspaper. Since protests against Eswatini's absolute monarchy erupted in May 2021, dozens of people peacefully struggling for political reforms in the country formerly known as Swaziland have been killed by Mswati's security forces.
"Thulani Maseko was a stalwart of human rights who, at great risk to himself, spoke up for many who couldn't speak up for themselves," United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said in a statement. "His cold-blooded killing has deprived Eswatini, Southern Africa, and the world of a true champion and advocate for peace, democracy, and human rights."
"Thulani Maseko was a stalwart of human rights who, at great risk to himself, spoke up for many who couldn't speak up for themselves."
After extending his condolences to Maseko's family, friends, and colleagues, Türk called on Eswatini officials to "ensure a prompt, independent, impartial, and effective investigation is held into his killing, in accordance with Eswatini's constitution and international human rights law, and to hold all those responsible to account in fair trials."
"Eswatini authorities must also ensure the safety and security of all Eswatini people, including human rights defenders, journalists, and political activists," the U.N. rights chief added.
Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty International's deputy director for East and Southern Africa, echoed Türk.
A probe "should be carried out by authorities independent of the government and any institution, agency, or person who may be the subject of, or otherwise involved in, the investigation." The final results should be "made public, and aimed at ensuring that justice for Maseko's killing is not denied," said Mwangovya. "Maseko's family deserves justice; his killers must be brought to trial."
“The cold-blooded unlawful killing of Thulani Maseko offers a chilling reminder that human rights defenders, especially those at the forefront of calling for political reform in Eswatini, are not safe," she added. "If they are not being persecuted, harassed, or intimidated by the state, they are at risk of losing their lives."
\u201cThulani Maseko was a courageous human rights defender who stood up against the state's abuse of power in Eswatini. His murder is a chilling reminder that those who call for political reform in Eswatini are not safe. His killers must be brought to trial. https://t.co/5bMCHMBOSl\u201d— Amnesty International (@Amnesty International) 1674489187
Lamenting his "tragic" murder, Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Callamard noted that Maseko was instrumental to the "ongoing struggle for democracy in Eswatini and a wonderful steadfast partner" of the prominent rights group. "We are all devastated," she wrote on social media.
Maseko had previously been prosecuted by the state for his efforts to build a more just society. In 2014, Amnesty declared Maseko and veteran news editor Bhekithemba Makhubu "prisoners of conscience" after they were sentenced to two years behind bars on contempt of court charges stemming from the publication of articles in which they questioned the independence and integrity of the country's judicial system. Both men were acquitted on appeal and released from detention in 2015.
Following the arrest of hundreds of pro-democracy protesters in the summer of 2021, Maseko "provided legal support, crisscrossing the country to observe summary trials," Callamard pointed out.
At the time of his death, Maseko chaired the Multi-Stakeholder Forum, a coalition of trade unions, political parties, and civil society groups organizing for democratic reforms to which Mswati's autocratic regime is opposed. Eswatini's king, in power since 1986 and routinely accused of human rights violations, commands the army and police and has the authority to dissolve parliament and appoint or dismiss judges.
As Amnesty noted: "The unlawful killing of Maseko follows a spate of attacks on opposition leaders and pro-democracy activists, all of whom have been challenging the monarch and demanding political reform in the country since May 2021, including through nationwide protests. In response to the demonstrations, the government launched a brutal crackdown on human rights activism. Some politicians have been jailed merely for being suspected of joining calls for political reform."
Maseko was an attorney for two members of parliament standing trial for offenses allegedly committed during the pro-democracy uprising of 2021.
"Maseko's family deserves justice; his killers must be brought to trial."
Amnesty "will leave no stone unturned until justice has been rendered for Thulani's murder," Callamard vowed. "Those who killed and ordered his killing must be held to account."
Maseko's attackers shot through the window of his home at close range. He was reportedly struck twice and died in front of his family. According to a local newspaper, the same pair of police officers who responded to the crime scene after Maseko was killed had earlier staked out his house.
As Al Jazeerareported, "The government sent condolences to the family, saying Maseko's death was a 'loss for the nation' and that police were searching for the killers."
Southern Africa-based rights group Freedom Under Law, however, said that "no one can be misled by the cynical message of condolence put out on behalf of the government."
Maseko's death came hours after Mswati threatened pro-democracy activists with heightened repression.
"People should not shed tears and complain about mercenaries killing them," Mswati said Saturday. "These people started the violence first but when the state institutes a crackdown on them for their actions, they make a lot of noise blaming King Mswati for bringing in mercenaries."
Last week, Al Jazeera reported, the Swaziland Solidarity Network alleged that "the king had hired mercenaries, mainly white Afrikaners from neighboring South Africa, to help Eswatini's security forces suppress rising opposition to his regime."
The government has denied the accusation.
"Thulani Maseko was a key pillar in the struggle for freedom in Eswatini," said Amnesty's Mwangovya. "His death, which has already sent a chilling message to pro-democracy activists across the country, may signify an escalation in attacks against those who are openly seeking political reforms."
"The Southern Africa Development Community and the Eswatini authorities must demonstrate that they are committed to protecting everybody in the country, including human rights defenders, opposition leaders, and pro-democracy activists," she stressed. "Nobody should be attacked or threatened simply for being critical and pushing for political reforms."
"Looks like the Blue Dogs are on their last leg," said one progressive. "It's a new day."
The Democratic Party's conservative Blue Dog Coalition has been slashed in half due partially to a disagreement within its ranks over efforts to attract more members, Politico reported on Tuesday, with a number of corporate lawmakers insisting on preserving the Blue Dogs' "longstanding legacy" and name despite its reputation as a "Southern 'boys' club'."
U.S. Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), Ed Case (D-Hawaii), David Scott (D-Ga.), Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), Lou Correa (D-Calif.), and Mike Sherrill (D-N.J.) all left the coalition earlier this month after the 15 members held a secret-ballot vote on changing the group's name to the Common Sense Coalition.
The name change, the departing members argued, would help the group to recruit more lawmakers as it has reached an all-time low, 16 years after the Blue Dog alliance was forced to impose a cap on its membership to keep it at 20% of the Democratic caucus.
Despite the group's large roster during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, a spokesperson for the Blue Dogs claimed Tuesday that they "have never prioritized having a large coalition" and are focused on what they refer to as "fiscally-responsible policies [and] ensuring a strong national defense."
"With a narrow majority governing the House, even a smaller group of members focused on getting things done for the American people on these issues can and will play a vital role," Andy LaVigne, the group's executive director, told Politico.
A desire to remain insular instead of appealing to a broader group of Democrats is "exactly the charge you'd expect centrists to lob at progressives," said Nick Field of Decision Desk HQ.
\u201cThe head of the Blue Dogs literally saying he'd rather his group stay small and pure than expand; exactly the charge you'd expect centrists to lob at progressives https://t.co/Y2qsTAmnjn\u201d— Nick Field (@Nick Field) 1674571327
While the Blue Dog Coalition has long claimed to represent "mainstream American values" and the "commonsense, moderate voice of the Democratic Party," the group's contraction in recent years has coincided with the steady growth of the progressive "Squad" in the U.S. House and a wealth of evidence that the majority of Democratic voters are not aligned with the Blue Dogs' longtime push of austerity policies.
Meanwhile, the informal Squad, whose members do not accept corporate PAC donations and are proponents of a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and other bold policy proposals, has grown to include lawmakers from states including Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Missouri since the group's first four members were elected in 2018. Around 10 lawmakers are now part of the Squad, which started with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and their influence has been made clear across the party as more than 70 Democrats in the 118th Congress have sworn off corporate PAC contributions.
While policies pushed by the Squad are broadly popular, the dwindling Blue Dog Coalition includes the last remaining Democrats who oppose abortion rights and marriage equality. The members who stayed after this month's vote include Reps. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Jared Golden (D-Maine), Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), and Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas). Rep. Wiley Nickel (D-N.C.) has not confirmed whether he'll stay or go.
The departure of nearly half of the coalition suggests that the Blue Dogs "are on their last leg," tweeted Lindsay Owens, executive director of the economic justice group Groundwork Collaborative.
\u201cLooks like the Blue Dogs are on their last leg. It's a new day.\u201d— Lindsay Owens, PhD (@Lindsay Owens, PhD) 1674570306
With the splintering of the conservative group, said Sam Shirazi, a civil rights attorney and commentator on politics in Spanberger's state of Virginia, "the long decline of the Blue Dog coalition continues."