Zachor

“‘Never again’ means we cannot be bystanders when people are stigmatized, oppressed, excluded, or attacked because of their identity.” -Steven Spielberg, introducing President Obama today.

Today is the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Today we mark seventy-one years since the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp by the Red Army, making the final advance into Berlin to end the Third Reich. Our world is merely seventy one years removed from one of the starkest examples of an industrialized, institutionalized failure of a system. The Holocaust claimed the lives of eleven million people- people murdered for their religion, for their sexual orientation, for their class, for their mental/physical capability, eleven million lights extinguished by the hate of a regime that took manifestations of racism already seen in most of the West to its absolute extremum.

Seventy one years is a long time. But also it isn’t. Seventy one years is barely a lifetime. Seventy one years is just a blip in history, so close to our own minds that it is difficult to find anyone who wasn’t affected by the Holocaust or the Second World War in one way or another.

I don’t necessarily want to start a discussion with this post, I’m just looking to make my friends aware of this day. And its especially apt, given the state of our politics, the state of our social constructs, and even the state of polarization in the HM community. The lesson of the Holocaust is “zachor,” to remember. We say the words, “never again.” To me these words sometimes ring empty, and I’m sure people can point to many examples where we haven’t lived up to imperative they impose upon us (Rwanda, Darfur, etc). But to me the lesson of the Holocaust is far more than just providing a moral obligation to oppose genocide. Evil triumphs only when good people do nothing. I truly think that most people at HM, most people I know, and really most people on this planet are fundamentally good. But that isn’t enough. The lesson of the Holocaust is to realize that it isn’t enough to be good.

As a Jewish person, who lost over a dozen family members to the Holocaust and the war, I try to take this message to heart. I hope that I can live up to the principle of Zachor. I believe that entails forming a truly global community, where everyone is entitled to his or her own identity. Where everyone can speak freely about what they believe in. And that’s why on this day I think its so apt that the HM community is having conversations about identity and oppression, because it is the perfect time for us as a community to demonstrate the generosity and lovingkindness set by those whom Israel has deigned to call “righteous among the nations,” those who stood up to the atrocities they saw and saved those who were in need of saving. Jewish teaching tells us to pass knowledge and understanding “l’dor vador,” from generation to generation. I believe it is now our turn to take the lessons of the past to heart, and do our personal best to uphold the principles that come out of the darkest hours.

Oregon Standoff: What?

By Spencer Slagowitz, and Ethan Gelfer

As nearly everyone knows, an armed militia, on Saturday, seized a Federal Wildlife Refuge on Oregon because….Government Tyranny. (How DARE the Federal Government protect—gasp! —Wildlife!) Also, a Wildlife Refuge…really? That’s the last place I think of when tyranny comes to mind.

Put into the context of the federal government’s land use policies in Oregon and other states, the selection of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge makes a little bit more sense. But, the selection seems a bit—I don’t know—inconsequential? If someone told me that they were starting an anti-government movement by taking over a Wildlife Refuge, I would be more confused than anything else.

Sanhill-Cranes-Oregon-USFWS
The Face of Pure Evil

What really rubs me the wrong way is the abuse of the constitutional argument advanced by the members of the militia—that federal land use policies are unconstitutional and smack of tyranny. Not only is the very thing they’re protesting perfectly constitutional, but their very means of protest is not protected by the constitution, and furthermore, the seizure of public property with intent to kill or harm anyone near them in order to unilaterally effectuate policy change sounds more like tyranny than any government land use policy.

Firstly, the land use policies of the United States are unambiguously constitutional. Holding lands to preserve nature and protect against, say, strip mining, impacts interstate commerce and falls under numerous legitimate, precedent-grounded interpretations of the broad authority that the statute guarantees. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, which codified the federal government retention of the land in question, was passed by the U.S congress in a manner articulated by the constitution.

The real kicker is the passage in the constitution, which the militia members clearly did not read—or forgot about…conveniently. I’m referring to the part which unequivocally gives the U.S government the power to regulate and administer land—Article 4,  Section 3, Clause 2, which reads: “The Legislature shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States.” Looking at the transcript of the constitutional convention, it is clear that the clause is referring to the lands held by the U.S government is the “western lands”.

If that doesn’t satisfy you, just look to the numerous constitutional prerogatives to protect the environment imposed by the numerous treaties we’ve signed. Thanks, Supremacy Clause. Unfortunately, these domestic terrorists seem to be conflating unconstitutionality with things they don’t like. The fact is that, simply because you don’t like a certain policy, that doesn’t make it unconstitutional or government tyranny for that matter.

I guess it’s fun to protest the government. Overturn the establishment, eh? American citizens have the right to assemble, have the freedom to speak, retain the awesome power of standing up to the United States government, pointing a crooked finger and saying, “you are wrong.” Liberal democracy depends on this ingrained capability. Yet for all the world, watching anti-government protests, claims of establishment tyranny, and individuals staking themselves out in federal buildings, I just want to rip my own hair out. I stare at the title on CNN, “Armed Protesters Won’t Leave Federal Building in Oregon.” I think about what it means. Protestors of the Jade Helm 11 Exercises, Cliven Bundy, and now his illustrious son, Ammon, seem to believe that the liberal order is being threatened by either a) its own armed forces, b) grazing fees, and now c) wildlife refuges. Oh yes, the insidious manifestation of government overreach. I can sit back and snicker with a smile reflective of my sense of New York superiority. After all, they’re just ranchers, right? I’m actually really moved by the fact that this protest isn’t just put down immediately. They’re pretty obviously wrong, and the federal distribution of land is very constitutional, but that this protest is still happening is really heartening. What do you say about a government that protects the rights even of those who do everything in their power to try and destroy it? I’d say that’s a damn steadfast government indeed.