Slavery and Liberation

Dan Petegorsky

On Saturday night Jews mark the beginning of Passover with the first Seder celebration. The holiday is always an extra special time for social justice advocates, since it celebrates liberation from slavery and encourages us to reflect on and connect past oppression and liberation to our current circumstances, urging us never to forget that our ancestors were once enslaved. Indeed, the very first of the Ten Commandments isn’t really a commandment at all: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

What do slavery and liberation mean to you, today?

Here’s my offering: The race to fill the open U.S. Senate seat in Colorado features Democratic Rep. Mark Udall going up against Republican Rep. Bob Schaffer. Schaffer recently suggested that we ought to help solve the immigration policy crisis by modeling our guest worker program on that of the Northern Mariana Islands – which, as Josh Marshall notes, “is notorious around the world for forced abortion, slavery, child prostitution, sex trafficking, beatings,” and more.

It’s recently come to light that Schaffer was among the biggest water carriers in the House fighting to uphold the abysmal conditions of literal servitude for workers in the Mariana Islands, (a U.S. Commonwealth whose capital is Saipan) – and to allow sweatshops there to continue using “Made in the USA” labels while exempting them from U.S. labor laws. Oh – and this was after he participated on one of Jack Abramoff’s now infamous junkets to the island.

So – a U.S. Congressman running for the Senate, arguing for expanding the enslavement of immigrant workers. Who stands out for you as a present day Pharaoh or Moses? (Please, no Charlton Heston jokes….)

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    Even people who are secularist need to acknowledge the power of story in meaning-making. The Exodus story has been central to America, both in positive and negative ways. For the African American community the Exodus story defined the struggle for liberation, freedom from oppression, and homecoming. The black spirituals are born of profound suffering and hope for justice and rebirth.

    The leadership and life of MLK was founded on the Exodus story. The story was redefined and universalized by his "I have a Dream" speech so that all of us could understand and join in the search for a just and peaceful society, based on the brotherhood and sisterhood of all humans. So the promised land is a homecoming, not so much to an external reality, but to an internal change of the soul of the individual to be born and shared in what he called "beloved community." This story and the values of it are all part of the prophetic tradition of the Jewish people. And whether we realize it or not, that tradition founded on a longing for peace and justice, has influenced American values. Jim Wallis, in his book, God's Politics, puts the vision of the prophet Micah at the center of what true security is in the age of fear and terrorism. That no person is secure, until all are secure. Today we face enslavement from our own government manipulated by fear. The way to a peaceful, just, and safe world is not by inflicting more fear on ourselves and others but by finding ways to help all peoples be secure.

    MLK's son, Martin Luther King Jr cited Micah in his sermon before the National Cathedral in Jan. 2003, " [ the Lord] shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.(Micah 4:3-4)

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    Schaffer certainly is a good suggestion. Although, he's merely follow the (spiritual?) path forged by Jack Abrahmoff and Tom DeLay. One of those two would probably better fit the Pharaoh with Schaffer perhaps as a Vizier.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)

    From nakba anniversary:

    "750,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants, over 7 million of them, still live today dispossessed and destitute in refugee camps throughout the region. Israel is in illegal occupation of Palestinian lands in violation of numerous UN resolutions - the longest... military occupation in history. It is still persistently and grossly breaching international law and infringing fundamental human rights with impunity, especially in the Gaza strip. Its own deeply racist society treats its Palestinian citizens with institutionalized discrimination."

    "Never Again" means for everybody. As Americans, our first duty must be to stop our own crimes and our support for others' crimes.

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    "Never Again" means for everybody. As Americans, our first duty must be to stop our own crimes and our support for others' crimes.

    Hear, hear!

  • jmal (unverified)

    Geez, louise, Dan - you been eating too many bitter herbs!!

  • mendez (unverified)

    "Never Again means for everybody. As Americans, our first duty must be to stop our own crimes and our support for others' crimes."

    how does Palestine fit into this personal critique? Imagine isolating and torturing an entire subset of peoples based on a misguided belief system...oh wait, that's Nazi Germany and Israel.

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    Since several contributors have brought up Israeli-Palestinian issues, let me shill for two groups organizing American Jews to counter the prevailing hawkish influence of the so-called 'pro-Israel' lobby:

    Brit Tzedek v’Shalom (the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace) educates and mobilizes American Jews in support of a negotiated two-state solution and has a very active Portland chapter.

    And the brand new J Street Project is developing a political arm of the movement to support a two-state solution.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)

    mendez asked, "how does Palestine fit into this personal critique?"

    Israel is little other than an offshore U.S. military base, what Noam Chomsky calls "a cop on the beat" for U.S. imperial interests (Read Fateful Triangle). It is only OUR military, political and economic support that allows the militarist and expansionist Israeli ruling elite to continue in power.

    Israel is perceived by U.S. policy-makers to be a strategic asset in the new "grand game", the attempt to control the world's remaining fossil fuel supply.

    U.S. Middle East policy is anti-Semitic in the broadest possible sense, i.e., it tortures and slaughters Arabs and it blames the Jews for it.

    <h2>Dan Petegorsky: Mazel tov. I would add to your list Jewish Voice for Peace.</h2>

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