Ilan portrait


The week an immigrant family was brutally murdered in Arizona I got my new “green card” or Permanent Resident card. Though I have had permanent resident status since 01.09.84, I never bothered to apply for citizenship. Over the years, I tried to produce or even invent some rational explanations to questioning friends and family members. Recently, I just gave up, admitting that none of my explanations make any sense. There are obviously some deeper reasons that even I do not understand which somehow kept me a permanent resident for over 25 years, never applying for citizenship. I also realized that, apparently, there are millions like me. As I write these lines, I am holding the two cards in front of me. The old one, which is literally falling apart, shows an earnest young man of 34. It is called a RESIDENT ALIEN card, a title that always freaked out my two girls when they were young. Born and raised in NY, the idea that their dad was an “Alien” was unsettling. The new card is far more elegant, high tech, with different magnetic codes imbedded on the back and a picture of a bold, almost 59-year-old man on the front. By now I have been transformed from a “Resident Alien” to a “Permanent Resident”, a far more neutral title. I have lived in the United States for more years than I lived in my native country, Israel. Somehow, I seem to be more comfortable with a Permanent Resident status, while still traveling the world with an Israeli passport. There are several key differences between being a “permanent resident” and a citizen. For one I can not vote (though I am paying taxes) . The second big difference is that if convicted for a felony, I can be deported. I once did a film on the legal system in the Bronx, where one of the characters was indicted for possession of a few ounces of cocaine. He was sentenced to a long jail term but refused to plead guilty. If he had, he would have received a much lighter sentence but would have been deported after fulfilling his jail time. He decided to fight from jail to reverse his conviction rather than plead guilty and be deported. If deported, he would also have left behind a wife and three children and broken his family apart. I thought about all of that when reading about the Minutemen and the Arizona murders. Having been here for over 35 years, I was verbally attacked as an immigrant only once. “Go back to your country,” screamed some sound engineer on an outdoor stage being readied for a Rock Concert. Ironically, he was preparing the sound system for one of those worldwide, mega-media events raising money to fight World Hunger. The stage was set in front of the United Nations! I do not remember now what made this sound engineer lash out at me. Maybe I stepped on his cables or was bothering him with our huge video camera. I do remember that it was months after I got my “Resident Alien” card and since no one ever told me before (or ever since) to “go back to my country,” the incident stands out in my mind. I always knew that I have been privileged. I can only imagine the sense of terror and/or insecurity that non-white immigrants feel. Though hate crimes against immigrants are few and far between, every article I have read (some were published on this site) documents how the media and virulent, populist, political discourse prepare the ground for such attacks. The first Amendment protects freedom of speech in this country so any law designed to ban anti-immigrant rhetoric will be thrown out of court as unconstitutional. But a citizen boycott action rallying advertisers and sponsors for the immigrant’s cause can make this rhetoric economically very disadvantageous for a broadcaster or a media organization. However, if hate talk can be protected by freedom of speech, allowing a vigilante force like the Minutemen to “patrol” the border is entirely a different thing. In a society governed by laws, there is no place for any vigilante force. In a society of immigrants there is no place for any anti-immigrant vigilantes. I am sure the complex psychology of immigrants who live in and love this country for what it can offer is of no interest to Minutemen. Nor do they care about the subtleties between “Resident Alien” and “Permanent Resident”. If I lived near the US-Mexican border, my only protection would have been the color of my skin and this is unacceptable!


Ilan portrait

Last week shooting in  mayhem  at the  United States  Holocaust  Memorial Museum  in Washington  and the growing concern about  “supremacists rage”  reminded me of several  blogs  I  wrote  and articles we published a year ago  during the Obama’s election campaign.  A lof of water  passed  under the bridge since than, but re -reading it I felt that  that the issues I sensed  than are as relevant today. Reading  Frank  Rich : “The Obama  Haters’ Silent Enablers”(http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/14/opinion/14rich.html) convinced me that going back to the election  campaign  will not be a nostalgic walk down memory lane but  looking again at the forces in our society  that ferment “rage” rather  than fight it.

This is   is what I wrote on  10/18/2008

More than a year ago, and before the primaries kicked off, Beliefnet.com, a Web site dedicated to “inspiration, spirituality, and faith,” interviewed John McCain. The presidential hopeful claimed that the Constitution of the United States established a “Christian Nation,” a statement that caught my attention. As an avowed secularist, I rarely think about my “Jewishness.” Reading that statement was one of the few moments I did. I was reminded of McCain’s statement several times, the first while on the road working on my current documentary, Jesus Politics: The Bible & The Ballot (www.jesuspoliticsthemovie.com). We were filming some Evangelical activists who supported Mike Huckabee. It was primary day in Florida and the group was saying a prayer before fanning out to the streets to wave banners, distribute leaflets, and urge passers by to vote. “This used to be a Christian Nation,” said the man leading the prayer. “It used to be that you could not run for office unless your were a Christian.” His wife referred to Obama as “a Muslim.” I again thought of McCain’s statement watching the Al Jazeera English news report we feature this week on http://www.Executionchronicles.org. “It is a Christian Nation, ” said one agitated woman. “Obama is a Muslim,” another one said, “he befriends terrorists.” A young Obama supporter holding a sign for the Democratic candidate on the side of a road as a convoy of cars inched toward a Sarah Palin rally, expressed fear that “they will hurt Obama.” Thus the connection was established: “A Christian Nation” versus “a Muslim” Obama “who befriends terrorists.” More than a year has passed between McCain’s interview and Palin’s rally in rural Ohio. For me, this extraordinary year is symptomatic not only of the threat in this country to Senator Obama, but also to the very fabric of our society. John McCain knows very well that the Constitution never established the nation as a Christian one. Even the reference to God (never to a specific religion) was hotly debated among the Founding Fathers. Yes the majority in America has always been Christian, but the Constitution and the letters and documents of the Founding Fathers went to great lengths to ensure that this nation does not endorse one religion over another…. I spent more than five weeks and 4000 miles on the road filming Jesus Politics. Among the many things I learned was that the majority of divisive religious issues we’ve come to associate with the Christian Right were not raised by devout believers, but by the manipulations of conservative political activists, who are neither necessarily religious nor devout. Throughout American history, political assassinations were attributed to “deranged”, ” lone individuals”. Rarely if ever the socio political nature of the act and its context is discussed.”

Frank Rich  in his column  on Sunday June 14th quotes  the comments  of  Shepard Smith  FOX TV Anchorman on the murder of Dr. George  Tiller  who performed late term abortion in his clinic  in Wichita  KS  until he was gunned down  May 31st.

“If you’re one who believes that abortion is murder, at what point do you go out and kill someone who’s performing abortions?” An answer, he said, was provided by Dr. George Tiller’s killer. He went on: “If you are one who believes these sorts of things about the president of the United States …” He left the rest of that chilling sentence unsaid.These are extraordinary words to hear on Fox. The network’s highest-rated star, Bill O’Reilly, had assailed Tiller, calling him “Tiller the baby killer” and likening him to the Nazis, on 29 of his shows before the doctor was murdered at his church in Kansas

In October last year reporter  Gini  Sikes  wrote   in an  In Depth article for us.:

It’s comforting to dismiss verbal expressions of violence as the ranting of a few fringe individuals. Sadly, however, the world knows it only takes one who believes the mainstream has validated his thinking to turn harmful words into deadly action. After the 1995 assassination of Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at a peace rally in Tel Avi’s Kings of Israel Square, hundreds of articles and reports examined the incendiary atmosphere before the murder.

The road to Rabin’s assassination began as it usually does in the margins of society. Extreme right-wing groups condemned Rabin’s role in the Oslo Peace Accords with Yassar Arafat as a supreme betrayal, giving holy land to terrorists. Posters depicting Rabin as a Nazi, or effigies of him in SS uniform, appeared at rallies for “mainstream” politicians, among them Benjamin Nethanyu and Ariel Sharon, who ignored cries of “traitor!” Such charges seeped into the mainstream discussion and media. After Rabin’s death, journalists, government officials and others pondered whether they shared in the creation of an environment that allowed Rabin’s killer–who told the court Rabin wanted to “give our country to the Arabs” – to believe that his radical thinking was legitimized because it wasn’t condemned.

Words do matter and  until hate  talk or rationalization  of violence will not be eradicated from our political and social spheres the next  “lone gunner” will reappear. The question is not if but when .