Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Elections”

Israel’s Election – A Path To Peace?

Israel went to the elections last month. Democracy is a beautiful thing to behold, especially in the Middle East. At the time of writing the parties are swiftly forgetting their pre-election promises and shamelessly bartering to be in the ruling coalition or in the vanguard of the opposition. It is a depressing process fit more as a soap opera than the establishment of a government.

Friends here in the US  ask me what the outcome of the elections might have on the peace process? It is difficult to answer because this election was never about foreign policy. There is a general consensus in Israel that there is no one to negotiate with, that every initiative is snubbed before anyone sits around the table. The instability in Egypt and the dreadful civil war in Syria (both border-sharing neighbors) do not add any sense of urgency to move the peace process forward. There is a sentiment that if a peace treaty is negotiated with one body, will they still be responsible for it six months later? After the recent campaign against Hamas in Gaza, the question isn’t whether they will return to launching missiles into Israel, but when. Partners for peace?

Israel’s economy has suffered in a similar way to the US. They saw an Occupy Movement emerge before it happened here in the US and the economy was the focus.

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I understand the need to shore up the economy. Israel suffers from a huge gap between richest and poorest. At some point when I was living there, it was greater than anywhere in Europe.

Benjamin Netanyahu has two options: a right wing government that includes many extremist elements and there is no peace process, or a coalition with the center and moderate left. While Netanyahu is perceived to have lost considerable ground to the center and left as a rejection of his tight fiscal policy, there is one important glimmer of light in all this.

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A right wing hawk with the help of the left and center signed peace with Egypt. If Israel can find a stable Palestinian leadership to negotiate with, perhaps there is a window of opportunity for peace.

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

National Sax Day – Joshua Redman

Three weeks ago, November 6th, was National Saxophone Day but we can be excused for being just too distracted. Here is my tribute to the day, better late than never, recognizing a great Left Coast local boy.

I have always prided myself with enjoying more than one genre of music. It seems a waste. I have my favorite heavy metal groups, punk, soul and R&B. I have flirted with country and now, with my son’s guidance, am tentatively learning to enjoy rap. Somehow, until I came to live in Berkeley, jazz just passed me by. So it is fitting that the first jazz artist that I learned to admire is Berkeley born and bred.

Joshua Redman is both African American and Jewish American. I have no idea how this fusion affected his music, but I am aware that African American Jews have additional obstacles within even the liberal Californian Jewish community. When it is only a second glance born out of reflex, it is still one glance too many. Sometimes it is more and I have had the misfortune to witness this while working with an African American Jewish student at the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center.

According to his biography Redman was exposed to many kinds of music at the Center for World Music in Berkeley, where his mother studied South Indian dance. He graduated from Berkeley High School [1], class of 1986 (my eldest son will study here next year). In 1991, Redman graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Social Studies from Harvard University, a path I would be happy for one of my boys to emulate.

Redman won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition, also in 1991, and began focusing on his musical career. I am not qualified to judge his music; I can only say that as a consumer, I have become captivated by it. When I return home from work, tired and facing making dinner and helping the kids negotiate their homework, Redman’s sax is often in the background.

Redman was an inaugural member of the Independent Music Awards’ judging panel to support independent artists. Unfortunately, with the decline of session studio work Redman’s contributions are gradually being replaced with computer-based synthesized music. While again claiming no musical talent or judgment, I have to share that I find the rise of computer-based synthesized music to be disturbing. If I can claim to play music because I own a certain computer program, then Houston we have a problem.

My youngest recently told me that he can choose a new instrument and can’t decide between a number of instruments including trumpet and sax. I thought of Joshua Redman and fired up my favorite Redman album, Freedom in the Groove, onto my stereo system. No pressure there, son.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

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