Friday, November 3, 2023

Why Are There Still Refugee Camps in Gaza?

This week, we’ve witnessed the aerial attack by Israel against a refugee camp in Gaza under which Hamas built tunnels and other facilities. I’ll leave it to another day (and some of my previous posts about Israel) to discuss the use of refugee camps (and hospitals, schools, mosques, and other civilian infrastructure, not to mention the civilians themselves) by Hamas as shields for Hamas members and ammunition caches and whether it is legal and/or appropriate (morally and/or strategically) for Israel to target a refugee camp (or civilian infrastructure) in order to kill the leaders of Hamas or reduce the group’s fighting effectiveness (but see some of my previous posts on Gaza and proportionate response, such as What Is a "Proportionate Response" to Terror? (Repost), A Few Random Thoughts About Gaza, and Again, I Ask: How Should Israel Respond ).

Instead, I want to take a little time to think about a different question: Why, in 2023, are there still refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, and Lebanon? For today’s post, I’ll largely limit the discussion to Gaza (for obvious reasons).

The Israeli airstrikes targeted the Jabalya refugee camp in the northern part of Gaza. According to page 81 of the Preliminary Results of the Population, Housing and Establishments Census 2017 (a report prepared by Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics [under the heading “State of Palestine”]; I’ll leave it to each reader to determine the extent to which they trust statistics put forth by Palestinian authorities), the population of the Jabalya refugee camp in 2017, was 49,462. The camp should not be confused with the adjacent, much larger town, bearing the same name. The Jabalya refugee camp was established by the United Nations in 1948 following Israel’s War of Independence (or the 1948 Arab-Israeli War depending on your preferred terminology). At the end of the War, Gaza was controlled by Egypt and the camp was created by the newly established United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to provide shelter for Palestinians who had left what was now Israel. Again, the question of who qualifies as a refugee and just how many refugees there were following the War (overall estimates [i.e., not just refugees who sought shelter in Gaza] tend to range between 600,000 – 800,000, but there is a lot of nuance to and disagreement about those numbers) are discussions for another post. Let’s just agree that in 1948 a large number of people sought shelter and support in the newly established Jabalya refugee camp which was operated in the UNRWA in territory controlled by Egypt. I don’t think any portion of that statement should be controversial.

At almost the exact same time, India was being partitioned (also from British controlled territory and also administered, at least in part, by the United Nations). In the process of partitioning India, it is estimated that somewhere between 14 and 18 million people migrated (not all willingly) between the newly created nations. Refugee camps were established in India, Pakistan, and elsewhere to house this mass migration. Yet today, while tens of thousands of people still live in the Jabalya refugee camp, as far as I’ve been able to determine, none of the refugee camps established to deal with refugees following the Indian partition still exist. Oh, yes, there are refugee camps in Pakistan (for refugees from Afghanistan) and India (mostly housing Rohingya refugees), but not for refugees from the 1947 partition and its aftermath. Those refugee populations were incorporated into the population of the countries in which the refugees took shelter. The same can be said about virtually every other conflict between 1947 and the present day. Refugees often begin in refugee camps administered by the United Nations (but not by the same UN agency that administers Palestinian refugee camps) but are then resettled or absorbed into the population of the country in which they sought shelter.

But not in Gaza (or the West Bank). The refugees in the Jabalya camp were not incorporated into the Egyptian population, even though Egypt controlled Gaza. Nor was much of an effort made to create a permanent status for those refugees. Instead, they continued to live in a refugee camp as refugees, as did their children and the generations that followed (that descendants of refugees are considered, themselves, to be refugees, is the rule only with regard to Palestinians; no other descendants of refugees from any other conflict continue to be classified as “refugees”). In 1967, following the Six Day Way, Gaza fell under Israel’s control. However, unlike other areas (like East Jerusalem and the Golan), Israel did not annex Gaza. So, I suppose, the question might be why Israel didn’t try to build a more permanent form of shelter and housing to replace Jabalya during the period from 1967 through 1993 when Israel ceded local administrative control in Gaza to the Palestinian authority. And I suppose that’s a fair question. Though because Gaza was not annexed into Israel, there was no duty incumbent on Israel to incorporate the population of Gaza, refugee or otherwise, into the general population of Israel. But one might also inquire why UNRWA – which operated the camp (and still does) – didn’t do more to move the residents of the camp into a more stable and permanent situation. The same query should be applied to Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank, Lebanon, and Jordan. And query what, if any, success Israel might have had in efforts to “resettle” Palestinians in Gaza, had it tried. Of course, the next question is why the Palestinian Authority from and after 1993 didn’t do anything to close the refugee camp and why Hamas has continued that inaction since taking over control of Gaza in 2009. From 1948 – 1967 and then from 1993 to today, Palestinian “refugees” have continued to live in refugee camps notwithstanding that those camps are in an area governed by either an Arab country or a Palestinian governing body.

It’s worth noting that following the 1948 War, there was also enormous movement of Jews from throughout the Arab world and North Africa to Israel. Similarly, beginning in the 1980s, there have been mass migrations of Jews to Israel from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, many of whom had to flee from their homelands due to violence or other forms of persecution. Yet none of those hundreds of thousands (or more) of people still live in refugee camps in Israel.

Countries throughout the world, including the United States (which is the largest single donor country) provide literally billions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians. And yet tens of thousands of people still live in refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank. Could it be that the Palestinians chose to use the money either for weapons (Hamas) or other corrupt purposes (the Palestinian Authority)? Note that it is estimated that when in he died in 2004, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat had a net worth of over a billion dollars! Hmm. Where did that money all come from and what was it supposed to be used for?

Rather than use donor funds for their intended purposes, Arafat regularly diverted money to his own accounts. It is amazing that some U.S. officials still see the Palestinian Authority as a partner even after U.S. congressional records revealed authenticated PLO papers signed by Arafat in which he instructed his staff to divert donors’ money to projects benefiting himself, his family, and his associates.

Arafat's Swiss Bank Account. Current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is estimated to have a net worth in excess of one hundred million dollars. According to IsraelHamas leaders net worth: Abu Marzuk $3 billion [¶] Khaled Mashal $4 billion [¶] Ismail Haniyet $4 billion [¶] Hamas' annual turnover $1 billion. And note that none of those Hamas leaders live in Gaza. How many houses (even with bomb shelters!), how much clean water, how much infrastructure, could have been built in Gaza with those billions? Keep in mind that just a few days ago, a Mousa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official told Russia Today that “We have built the tunnels to protect ourselves from getting targeted and killed. These are meant to protect us from the airplanes” and that “It is the responsibility of the UN to provide [the Palestinians] with all the services as long as they are under occupation.” In other words, it is not the responsibility of Hamas to care for the people it governs or to use the money that it receives for their benefit.

I wonder. Is it possible that the leaders of Hamas (and the Palestinian Authority before them) don’t really care about the well-being of the Palestinian people, at least not to the extent that doing so would prevent them from lining their own pockets (or buying more rockets)? More importantly, is it possible that from a political or realpolitik perspective, there is a sort of perverse value in having Palestinians continue living in refugee camps? Just think of the visceral reaction that you probably had when you heard that Israel had bombed a refugee camp; somehow, that sounds so much worse that bombing a town, doesn’t it? Query further the attitudes and anger (or despair) that one can and should expect from people who have been living in refugee camps (along with several generations of ancestors) for seventy-five years at least in large part because their own leaders pocketed the money and made no effort to help them. It’s likely to breed a sort of resentment and anger that is easily targeted by those same corrupt leaders toward an external enemy instead of, perhaps, at those in leadership positions who have apparently chosen to keep those people in refugee camps.

One other point worth noting (though somewhat off-topic) for those who claim that Israel’s actions amount to a genocide against Palestinians. According to the Preliminary Results report referenced above, the Palestinian population has not been showing the sort of decline that might be expected were ethnic cleansing, let alone a genocide, occurring. According to page 11 of that report, the total population of the West Bank and Gaza increased over sixty-five percent (65%) in just twenty years!



% Increase

Cumulative % Increase










The current international definition of genocide (from the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide) provides that “genocide” means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” (Emphasis added.) Now, consider Israel’s actions largely designed to protect its own population (approximately 20% of which are Muslim and Christian Palestinians) taking note, in particular, of the increase in the growth of the Palestinian population, and ask yourself whether Israel’s actions really constitute genocide. Has Israel really been acting “with intent to destroy … a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”? By contrast, consider the actions (and statements in support of those actions) of Hamas, which include trying to murder the populations of entire kibbutzim and towns which is, itself, in furtherance of the stated goal of not only eliminating Israel but also of killing Jews. Who, then, is actually committing genocide?

Next time you hear people marching, Palestinians flags waving above their heads, to the chant of “From the river, to the sea, Palestine will be free,” think about how anybody could chant that they want a genocide and how any of us (or our institutions, like universities) could tolerate chants demanding a genocide.

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Friday, October 13, 2023

Reflections on Yet Another War Between Israel and Hamas

This blog has been on hiatus for several years (for reasons that I’ll one day discuss in more depth), but the current situation in Israel has motivated me to lift my head out of my burrow, at least for the moment. I don’t want to rehash (or completely rehash…) the many ideas that I’ve talked about, often at length, between 2008 and 2017. Look up the Israel and Anti-Semitism labels on this blog and you’ll find plenty of articles, many of which remain sadly relevant today. (Note that in recent years, I’ve begun using the more modern “antisemitism” in place of the hyphenated “anti-Semitism” but that label has been in use for a long time.) However, there are a few thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head over the last few days and this blog seems to be the perfect outlet.

Before I continue, I want to make it clear that I think it is possible to support Israel and the right of Palestinians to live in peace, with dignity, and the right to self-determination. These are not competing views. I believe in that a two-state solution is the only viable solution, but that it will take a lot of work – by both parties – to find the courage, common ground, and trust to make that happen.


First, one of the recurring themes that I’ve heard from those who oppose Israel and/or support the Palestinians generally or Hamas in particular is that Hamas’ actions are justified because Israel is an occupying colonial power that has been waging war on the indigenous people of the region (or some variation on that theme). This view (let’s call it the “Historical Justification” worldview) has several serious flaws (some of which I’ve addressed in the past), but I’m not going to use this time to rehash history or the reality of who Israelis are (with the exception of a brief discussion of the point, below) or whether the Arab inhabitants are “more” indigenous than the Jewish population (made up of European Jews, Arab Jews, Persian Jews, Ethiopian Jews, and Jews from many other ethnic backgrounds). Rather, I want to look at the hypocrisy of those who take espouse Historical Justification or what that position might really mean if equitably applied. So, solely for the sake of argument, let’s presume that Historical Justification is correct and agree arguendo that Israel is an occupying colonial power, that Israel has “waged war” on the Palestinians and in so doing has deprived them of self-determination and the ability to live share the same human rights as others (though it may be worth asking whether the human rights Palestinians desire – and are absolutely entitled to – are extended to the populations of other Arab and Muslim countries…). Again, I’m agreeing to the Historical Justification worldview solely for the purpose of argument and discussion.

I presume (perhaps incorrectly) that those who do advocate Historical Justification do so in good faith and would agree that a similar framework for Historical Justification should apply not only to Palestinians but also to other groups who are “oppressed” by “occupying colonial powers”. Thus, I take it, that those who condone the actions of Hamas because of Historical Justification would also condone Native Americans bombing busses in Minneapolis, firing rockets at Tulsa, and kidnapping babies from Phoenix, right? No? Please explain, with specificity, what is worse about the Palestinian situation than the Native American experience (from colonization to conquest to genocide to reservations and residence schools to loss of language to forced sterilization to broken treaties and on and on and on…) and then tell me why Palestinian use of force against a civilian population is acceptable but Native American use of force against America (or Canada) is not. When you’ve completed that assignment, please take a step back and apply the same rationale to other ethnic, cultural, or religious groups all across the globe who believe that they are oppressed or lacking in self-determination. Aboriginal Australians? Basque and Catalan people in Spain? Tibetans? Muslims in India or China? I’ll wait. And before you answer with something like “because Israel drops bombs on Palestinians” or builds a security fence, query whether violence directed towards Israel and Israelis plays any role in that aspect of Israel’s conduct.


I’ve written extensively in the past about the idea of a “proportionate response” and what exactly that means (for example, see What Is a “Proportionate Response” to Terror? (Repost) and Again, I Ask: How Should Israel Respond). Feel free to go back and look at those posts again and then consider how the idea of proportionality applies to the current situation. What is the proportionate response to an armed incursion that was directed at a civilian population and to whom apparently no quarter was given. Tossing grenades into bomb shelters? Check. Dismembering babies? Check. [Note: I recognize at the time of writing that there is some question as whether babies were actually dismembered or just burned and shot from point-blank range.] Kidnapping women and children and elderly Holocaust survivors? Check, check, and check. Taking refuge, hiding munitions, and then firing rockets from heavily populated areas where civilians have no choice but to act as human shields? Again, check. So, again I ask, how should Israel respond and what is the proportionate response? Should Hamas essentially benefit from hiding in and acting from heavily-populated civilian areas? Should Hamas benefit from hiding weapons in schools, from firing rockets from schools, from digging tunnels under schools? If so, what will stop this from happening again and again and again. Is Israel supposed to just shrug its collective shoulders and so, “Oh, well, nothing we can do other than build better bomb shelters or flee from our homes and return to Ukraine and Iran?” and then just await the next barrage of rockets, paragliders, and suicidal jihadis? Try telling that to the parents whose children were dismembered, to the husbands and wives whose spouses are currently being held somewhere in Gaza, to the residents of villages and kibbutzim that no longer exist. Or is Israel free to take such military action as may be necessary to once and for all eliminate Hamas as an effective fighting force?

After writing the initial draft of the preceding paragraph (news keeps happening…), I came across a quotation from Israel’s President Isaac Herzog who spoke about proportionality during a press briefing:

Herzog also got visibly agitated when responding to a similar question at the same briefing. Matt Frei, from UK broadcaster Channel 4, asked the Israeli president whether Israel is holding ordinary Palestinians in Gaza responsible for not removing Hamas. “With all due respect, if you have a missile in your goddamn kitchen, and you want to shoot it at me, am I allowed to defend myself?” Herzog retorted. “That’s the situation. These missiles are there. These missiles are launched, the button is pressed, the missile comes up from a kitchen onto my children,” he continued.

(Israel’s president says it is abiding by international law, when asked by CNN about war crime accusations, internal paragraph breaks omitted; story apparently no longer available because it was part of a running “live” news ticker. The quotation can be found elsewhere.)


I find it troubling that while everyone feels bad for the innocent in Gaza (as we should), there is no assignment of agency to any of the population of Gaza for any acts committed in the name of Islam, the Palestinians, or Gazans, as if that population plays no role whatsoever in Hamas’ actions, strength, or role within Gaza. Contrast, for example, how Jews – even across the globe (not just Israelis) are blamed for the actions taken by Israel.

Do Gazan mothers encourage their sons to join Hamas and praise them when they do join Hamas or do those mothers try to convince their sons to stay away from Hamas and find productive ways to work toward peace? Do international organizations staffed by Gazans (UNRWA among others) take affirmative actions – including telling their parent organizations – about Hamas weapons caches in or around their facilities or do they keep their mouths closed (see further discussion on this below)? Do Gazans push for Hamas, as the de facto ruling power, to build bomb shelters and other infrastructure to improve life in Gaza or do they just look the other way when Hamas uses donor funds to buy weapons, dig tunnels, and leave the civilian population in squalor? Do Gazans spend their days training for war or working to improve their own living conditions and infrastructure? Why hasn’t Hamas built its own water desalinization plant? Do Gazans march in the streets to demand more freedom from Hamas, to have elections, to engage in dialogue with Israel or do they sit by and allow Gaza to be run by a terrorist organization and willingly allow themselves to be used as human shields each time Hamas elects to open new hostilities? Do Gazans not aligned with Hamas and/or who want to live in a better environment, perhaps with peace as a realistic hope, have any obligation to make even minimal efforts to bring those ideas to fruition? Think about it: The people of Gaza are willing send their children off to die in order to “free Palestine” from “Zionist control”. They’re willing to die to kill Jews. They are willing to die to free Palestine but don’t seem willing to die to free Gaza from Hamas.

When Israel told Palestinians in northern Gaza to relocated to southern Gaza (where there is a fair amount of open space and farmland), even dropping leaflets telling Palestinians where to go and where not to be, did Hamas arrange for an evacuation of its citizens out of Gaza City? Of course not. Instead, Hamas told the people of Gaza City not to follow the Israeli instructions; Hamas told people to stay in Gaza City. Why do you suppose Hamas would rather that people stay in Gaza City rather than relocate to southern Gaza? Hmm. Could it be that the goal is to make it harder for Israel to target terrorist infrastructure, weapons caches, rocket launch sites? Could it be that the goal is to make it harder for Israel to engage in targeted assaults aimed at rescuing hostages? Could it be that Hamas knows the value of using the civilian as human shields? I saw a video of a woman in Gaza complaining about the Israeli airstrikes and noting that Gaza had no early warning system (air raid sirens) or bomb shelters. Why, do you suppose, Hamas has not built an early warning system or bomb shelters? Israel is castigated for inflicting “collective punishment” on the Palestinians of Gaza yet no similar castigation seems to be aimed at Hamas for using the entire population of Gaza as human shields. Collective punishment vs. collective sacrifice?


Another thing that has been forefront on my mind is the language that has been used to describe aspects of the current conflict. As you listen to or read about what’s happening, pay attention to the vocabulary both used and unsaid. For example, are the members of Hamas who shot concert-goers at point-blank range, who dismembered babies (or at least burned and shot them at close range), who threw grenades into bomb shelters, and who kidnapped women, children, and the elderly referred to as “militants” or “terrorists”? For example:

The BBC has defended its decision not to describe Hamas militants as “terrorists” in coverage of the recent attacks in Israel. UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said the policy is “verging on disgraceful”. A BBC spokesperson noted it was a long-standing position for its reporters not to use the term themselves unless attributing it to someone else. Veteran BBC foreign correspondent John Simpson said “calling someone a terrorist means you're taking sides”. But Mr Shapps said the BBC needs to locate its “moral compass … I actually think it is verging on disgraceful, this idea that there is some sort of equivalence, and they'll always say, well there’s two sides,” he told LBC.

BBC defends policy not to call Hamas ‘terrorists’ after criticism.

I don’t know about you, but to me there is an important distinction between a militant and a terrorist (and if there wasn’t, why would the BBC have a policy on the wording?). Pay attention to which word is used and by whom. Furthermore, in all of the discussions regarding Hamas’ actions, in particular the kidnapping of Israeli (and non-Israeli!) civilians and transferring them back to Gaza, there is a great deal of contempt being expressed – appropriately so – but how often have you heard those actions actually described as “war crimes”? The Geneva Conventions specifically identifies the taking of hostages as a war crime. I’m not talking about soldiers who may be captured and who are deemed “prisoners of war” (but for whom specific protections are mandated, such as from mistreatment, yet we’ve seen video of captured Israelis being beaten by their captors or even Gazan civilians), but soldiers appear to be a small percentage of the hostages taken by Hamas. And now Hamas is threatening not only to kill hostages (more on that in a moment) but to even do so in the brutal manner “popularized” by ISIS and to broadcast the executions on social media. Israeli parents are being warned to keep their children off of social media for fear that their children may inadvertently see Hamas commit war crimes and show them to the world. Ask yourself why, even as Hamas’ actions are being condemned, they are not being explicitly labeled as war crimes.

Another interesting word choice that I came across comes from the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), headquartered in a suburb of Indianapolis. ISNA published a letter on Twitter (sorry, but I refuse to call it X), but oddly not on its website, that largely blames Israel for the violence and demands that the United States stop its “one-sided and unconditional support for Israel.” No great surprise there. The parts of the letter that I found interesting were the opening where ISNA expresses deep sadness for the “recent outbreak of war and violence in the Holy Land and Gaza” before going on to express solidarity with their “brothers and sisters in Palestine” and conclusion where ISNA calls on “all parties and governments around the world to exert pressure on Israel to cease its violence and war on the Palestinian people.” It’s not surprising that ISNA puts all of the blame on Israel. But, at least according to ISNA, Hamas didn’t attack Israel and Israeli citizens. Nope. Instead, in ISNA’s worldview (and you’ll see this sort of language frequently), there was simply an “outbreak” of war. You know, everyone was sitting around having a lazy Saturday morning when suddenly, out of nowhere, war and violence just broke out, the same way a thunderstorm or an earthquake might. In ISNA’s worldview, no blame is assigned to Hamas for actually – well, anything. Israel is to blame for all sorts of wrongs and because of those wrongs, war and violence just … happened. Note further where ISNA thinks that the war broke out. Yes, in Gaza, but not in Israel; rather, according to ISNA war broke out in the “Holy Land”. Apparently, ISNA can’t bring itself to acknowledge that the land on the other side of the Gazan border belongs to Israel and was included as a part of Israel as far back as the UN Partition Plan in 1947. Which of course begs the question when ISNA states that it expresses solidarity with its “brothers and sisters in Palestine”. What, precisely, does ISNA mean when it says “in Palestine”? Is ISNA expressing solidarity only with its Muslim brothers and sisters in Gaza and the West Bank? Or is it also expressing solidarity with Muslims (what about Arab Christians?) who live in Israel and are Israeli citizens? Are they included or excluded from that expression of solidarity with those “in Palestine”? If they’re included, that would appear to suggest that ISNA is denying the very existence of Israel. Now, consider this while remembering that the Hamas emblem depicts all of “Palestine” rather than the region divided into two states: Israel and Palestine.

Oh, and the swords just scream “peace” don’t they?


Do you think that any mosques or Islamic centers in America are worried that they might be attacked by angry Jews? Are supporters of Hamas or the Palestinians worried that they’ll be attacked by a mob of Jews as they walk down the street or take their children to school? Yet virtually every Jewish installation across the country has had to increase security (and security at Jewish facilities has already been dramatically increased after all of the attacks perpetrated in recent years including the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh and the 2022 hostage-taking at a synagogue near Dallas by a Muslim man). Once again, to quote Arsenio Hall, “things that make you go hmmm.” And just a few hours ago, fear began to spread online after the former head of Hamas appeared to call for – well, it’s unclear exactly what he called for and whether it’s limited to the Middle East or across the world. But many are interpreting his statements as a call for terrorism or violent demonstrations. Can you imagine if the head of a Jewish organization called on Jews to attack mosques? No. You can’t. Because it doesn’t happen. But my daughter did call to ask me if she was safe in the large American city where she now resides.

Threats and Warnings

Beyond kidnapping civilians and taking them across the border back to Gaza, “The spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, Abu Obeida, said the group would execute a civilian hostage every time an airstrike hit Gazans ‘in their homes without warning.’” Israel Orders ‘Complete Siege’ of Gaza and Hamas Threatens to Kill Hostages. Did you notice anything interesting or unusual about that threat? Hamas didn’t threaten to execute a hostage for each airstrike; rather, the threat was limited to airstrikes that hit Gazans “in their homes without warning”. A few things. First, does Hamas give warnings to Israelis before rockets rain down? I believe that the general warning to civilians in Ashkelon a few days ago was a first. Did Hamas warn people at the open air festival or having breakfast in their homes on the kibbutzim? And, I suppose, you could read that threat as explicitly exempting Israeli airstrikes that either: (a) don’t hit homes; or (b) for which a warning is provided. Right? Remember as I’ve discussed previously, in the past Israel has directly warned occupants of buildings that are being targeted for airstrikes:

Israel often tries to warn civilians of an impending attack. Israel will often drop leaflets warning civilians to avoid a particular location because it will be targeted. And prior to targeting certain buildings, Israel has begun using a “door knock” or “roof knock” warning. Israel launches a non-explosive missile at the building to warn those who might be hanging around (or acting as human shields) that a more serious attack is imminent. Even the United Nations (not known as a friend of Israel) recognized that “In most cases, prior to the attacks, residents have been warned to leave, either via phone calls by the Israel military or by the firing of warning missiles.


I’ve also heard repeated, almost ad nauseum, that Gaza is the “most densely populated area” in the ___ (fill in the blank; I’ve heard “region,” “Middle East,” and even “World”). Much of the reporting is likely to give the impression that Gaza is densely populated from north to south, east to west, with barely any room to breathe. However, like so much else, the truth is a bit more nuanced than that. First check out the following map of population density in Gaza:

(From Maps show the extreme population density in Gaza). Only the area in purple is densely populated (and the darker the purple, the denser the area). Another map from the same article is also instructive:

The article also includes a comparison of the density of Gaza City (the darkest purple at the northern end of Gaza) with other cities: Dhaka, Bangladesh, Tel Aviv, Los Angeles, and Washington.

But why not compare Gaza City to any of the 235 (!) urban areas (from the same source) that are denser than Gaza City (including Jerusalem (!), Istanbul, Cairo, Seoul, Mexico City, Berlin, and New York City)? See db-worldua.pdf ( (Schedule 4 beginning on page 61). But I guess providing closer comparisons or examples from within the region doesn’t lend itself to the propaganda point quite as well.


Another thing that caught my attention and made me laugh (in that sort of morbid laughter that horrible situations sometimes require):

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday urged “both” sides in the fighting between Israel and Hamas to “minimize or reduce to zero” civilian casualties. Speaking from Moscow on the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Putin suggested the lack of a two-state solution has led to the current “explosion of violence,” saying, “Israel, as we know, was created, but Palestine as an independent sovereign state was never created, it did not happen…. We understand that the bitterness on both sides is very great, but no matter what the level of bitterness on both sides is, we still need to strive to minimize or reduce to zero losses among the civilian population, among women, children and the elderly,” Putin said. “If men decided to fight among themselves, let them fight among themselves. Leave children and women alone,” he added.

Putin calls to ‘minimize or reduce to zero’ civilian casualties in expanding conflict (internal paragraph breaks omitted). This caught my attention for two reasons. First, with regard to Putin’s suggestion that women and children should be left alone and that civilian casualties should be minimized or reduced to zero, one has to wonder whether Putin: (a) has looked at the civilian casualties caused by his military’s targeting of civilians in Ukraine (estimated at 9,806 as of October 8, 2023, including 560 children [Ukraine: Civilians endure ‘unbearable’ toll amid ‘unrelenting’ attacks], (b) is aware of the continued war crimes committed by his military as they kidnap Ukrainian children and transfer them to Russia (Deportation, Treatment of Ukraine’s Children by Russian Federations Takes Centre Stage by Many Delegates at Security Council Briefing), and/or (c) is familiar with the word “hypocrite”. But perhaps more troubling is Putin’s attempt to rewrite history (or his unfamiliarity with actual history). Putin claims that “Israel … was created, but Palestine as an independent sovereign state was never created, it did not happen…”. But we have to remember that the United Nations Partition Plan created both a Jewish and Arab state. The Jews immediately accepted the plan and announced the creation of Israel. The Arabs rejected the plan and attacked. So if “Palestine … was never created,” who is to blame? I bet I can guess who most people will blame.

Black Lives Matter

I want to touch on something that may be a little more controversial, but seems important. After the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, American Jewry was front and center advocating for the Black community. More than six hundred Jewish groups signed and published a letter supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, just as Jews had been actively involved in the civil rights movement, including being among the founders of the NAACP and the Freedom Riders to the south in the 1960s. The bond between Jews and the Black community has a long and vibrant history. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism!” Yet, even with all of that, it seems that some Black civil rights groups have become, if not fully antisemitic, at least anti-Zionist and/or supporters of the Palestinians (rather than supporters of a two-state solution and a peaceful resolution of the conflict). Now, in the wake of the recent attack by Hamas, some groups associated with Black Lives Matter appear to have amended a caveat to their view. Recall the anger when those on the right suggested that saying “Black lives matter” meant that “White lives don’t matter”? “Of course,” the Black community (and other communities of good will), answered, “all lives matter, but we’re not talking about all lives, we’re talking specifically about Black lives that don’t seem to matter to some.” Well, now it seems as if some in the Black Lives Matter community are amending that view to something more like “all lives matter … except Jewish lives.” How else to explain posts like this from a Black Lives Matter group:

Even when BLMChicago took down the post (quietly and under pressure) and then (finally) tried to walk it back, the best that they could come up with was (emojis of Palestinian flag and colors omitted):

Yesterday we sent out msgs that we aren’t proud of. We stand with Palestine & the people who will do what they must to live free. Our hearts are with, the grieving mothers, those rescuing babies from rubble, who are in danger of being wiped out completely

No condemnation of Hamas or the slaughter or kidnapping; no hope for a mutual peace. Just recognition of the plight of Palestinians and a green light for them to “do what they must to live free”. I can’t help but wonder if BLMChicago knows that the Jewish population of Israel includes about 133,000 Black Ethiopians (around 2% of the population) who were rescued from Ethiopia by Israel or that approximately 45% of Israel’s Jewish population is comprised of people of color (Mizrahi Jews from the Middle East and North Africa). So do groups like BLMChicago believe that Black lives (or the lives of people of color) in Israel don’t matter or that they matter, but just not as much as Palestinian lives?

Condemnation of Israeli civilians being slaughtered by Hamas should be the end of a sentence; it shouldn’t be followed with “but what about…” Condemning the actions of Hamas does not mean that Israel actions or responses are being condoned or that Israeli lives are more important than Palestinian lives.


One more quick point that I want to make on a subject that I kept meaning to discuss in more depth but never got around to (and which I alluded to above): UNRWA. As you follow coverage of the conflict, you’ll likely see or hear references to UNRWA (pronounced “un-ra”), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which is the United Nations organization created to address Palestinian refugees after the 1948 War and administer Palestinian welfare efforts. Yes, UNRWA remains actively involved in Palestinian lives seventy-three years after it began operations in 1950. Among other functions, UNRWA operates schools in Gaza; schools where Hamas has been caught hiding and firing rockets and building tunnels and which uses textbooks that incite violence. UNWRA has also been caught employing staffers who post antisemitic messages on social media. But, perhaps, the craziest part of all of this is that UNRWA exists solely for the relief and works of Palestinians. It has no part to play with regard to Jews who became refugees after the 1948 War. More importantly, all other refugees in the world come under the auspices of the UNHCR (United National High Commission for Refugees) which has a very, very different definition for “refugee” than the definition used by UNRWA (the UNHCR definition is far narrower and doesn’t generally include descendants of a person who fled conflict). Thus, the literally millions of refugees of wars across the globe after 1948 (estimated to be as many as 35 million by Refuge Point) are subject to a far more restrictive and limited regime than the Palestinians. (If the definition of “refuge” applied to Palestinians were expanded to other conflicts, my children and I might be able to identify ourselves as refugees from Ukraine or Poland.) Yet in virtually none of those other wars are people living in refugee camps decades and decades after the cessation of principal hostilities. But in Gaza and the West Bank (and Jordan and Lebanon), refugee camps exist to this day, most administered by UNRWA. Why haven’t those people forced the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and Jordanian and Lebanese governments to build the necessary infrastructure to dismantle the refugee camps or to take over providing and schooling these “refugees” in lieu of the United Nations?

And just for a note of comparison, when Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia massacred 460 – 3,500 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982, approximately 400,000 Israelis protested in Tel Aviv to demonstrate anger at the massacre and demand an investigation into Israel’s role and responsibility. And even today, Israel is still struggling with and coming to terms with those events as part of a inward-looking reflection not too dissimilar to that engaged in by Americans during and after Vietnam or now in the aftermath of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I haven’t seen Palestinians protesting to demonstrate anger at Hamas’ actions.


I’m sure that I’ll have many more thoughts and much more to say over the next days, weeks, and months. Whether I say it here or not remains to be seen. I will acknowledge, in advance, that some of my language in this post may not be as precise as it should be; anger and fear are emotions that can overwhelm caution and care. As always, I welcome discourse on the subject, but I’m not likely to respond favorably to those who choose simply to insult me, call me names, threaten me, and so forth. But I am very willing to engage in good faith discussions on solutions and ways to work toward peace.

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Monday, October 14, 2019


If not readily apparent, this blog is presently on hiatus. The blog is absolutely not discontinued. Unfortunately, for reasons that I choose not to discuss at the present time, I'm just not able to post my thoughts on the blog. When circumstances change, I intend to begin blogging again and there is the possibility that I may recommence writing on some subjects while avoiding others. We'll just have to wait and see. But I'm still around, still reviewing and responding to substantive comments (though most of the comments these days are spam), and still keenly interested in the topics on which I focused over the years.

So until later…


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Friday, January 19, 2018

Dumb Bill Alert: If Colts Kneel, Spectators Get Refunds!

One of the things that I prepare myself for at the beginning of each new year is the almost inevitable onslaught of stupid bills introduced in the Indiana General Assembly. In past years there have been bills to nullify federal laws, bills to require local sheriffs to arrest federal officials, bills to require that children in public schools say The Lord’s Prayer, and so on and so forth. Usually, these bills don’t become law, but given recent examples like RFRA or the annual attempts to unconstitutionally stop all abortions in the State, it isn’t a guaranty that the stupid (or unconstitutional) bills will be relegated to the trash.

So what is the early contender for dumbest bill of 2018? My vote would be for House Bill 1011.

An Indiana lawmaker is filing legislation that would require the Indianapolis Colts to offer fans refunds if Colts players kneel during the national anthem at home games.

Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, said his bill would allow fans who feel disrespected by the kneeling to ask for a refund during the first quarter.

"To me when they take a knee during the national anthem, it’s not respecting the national anthem or our country," Smith said. "Our government isn’t perfect, but it's still the best country in the world and I think we need to be respectful of it."

Smith and his daughter were attending the Colts' September game against the Cleveland Browns when a group of Colts players decided to kneel along with about 200 other NFL players across the country.

He was offended but stayed at the game.

"I'm pretty patriotic, and it didn't sit right with me," said Smith.

My initial reaction was to laugh. My next reaction was to joke that if spectators are eligible for refunds, it should be because of the poor performance of the Colts this year (leading to the team’s dismal 4-12 record). But then I remind myself that introducing a bill — proposing that something become the law of the State of Indiana — is neither a trivial nor laughing matter. And then I get angry.

First, let’s remember that Republicans claim that they want to disentangle businesses from the government. How often have you heard the mantra that “burdensome regulations” stifle business? Yet here is a Republican legislator seeking to impose potentially massive costs upon a single type of business because he was offended. He wasn’t physically harmed or forced to incur additional costs. Nope. He was offended. Just imagine living in America and having to put up with the idea that someone might have a different viewpoint that you don’t find to be patriotic enough. What kind of country would allow such a thing?

Apparently Rep. Smith (who, by the way, hails from the same city as Vice Pastor President Pence) isn’t offended at African American men and boys being shot by police; after all, he hasn’t introduced legislation to help remedy that problem or to require police departments (and, hence, the state) to better compensate those unjustly killed by police (or even to adjust the method by which we adjudicate whether a police shooting was “justified”). Nope. Dead black dude? Meh. Offended white dude? Refund my money!

So let’s look at the actual text of House Bill 1011 (HB1011):


Chapter 1. Professional Sports Anti-Patriotic Displays

Sec. 1. As used in this chapter, “professional sports athlete” means an individual who receives income for playing a sport from a professional sports team located in Indiana.

Sec. 2. As used in this chapter, “professional sports team” means a team that is part of the: (1) National Basketball Association; (2) National Football League; or (3) Women’s National Basketball Association.

Sec. 3. (a) If a person: (1) purchases a ticket to a game; (2) attends the game; and (3) is offended by a professional sports athlete, who is a member of the professional sports team hosting the game, not standing during the national anthem; the person may seek a full refund of the price of the ticket, stated on the ticket, from the professional sports team, within thirty (30) days of the sporting event. (b) A request for a refund described in subsection (a) must be in writing. (c) If the professional sports team does not refund the price of the ticket described under subsection (a) within seven (7) days of the refund request, the person may file an action in any small claims court within the county where the sporting event occurred, within one (1) year of the date of the sporting event. (d) If the court determines the professional sports team did not timely refund the price of a ticket after a person was offended, as described in subsection (c), and the person made a timely refund request, as described in subsection (a), the court shall award the person: (1) reasonable attorney’s fees; (2) court costs; (3) three (3) times the price of the person’s ticket; and (4) other reasonable expenses.

Let’s start with the actual title of the article and chapter of the Indiana Code that this bill would create: “Anti-Patriotic Displays”. Hmm. I don’t know about you, but the whole idea of a free, democratic society with notions like freedom of speech enshrined in foundational documents suggests that the idea of the government deciding what does and does not qualify as an “anti-patriotic display” seems a bit … troubling? Totalitarian, even? It seems that authoring a blatantly unconstitutional bill that proclaims which activity is unpatriotic is far more unpatriotic than kneeling during the National Anthem. This is probably a good place to remind readers (and certain Republican Indiana legislators, in particular) of what the Indiana Constitution says:

No law shall be passed, restraining the free interchange of thought and opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print, freely, on any subject whatever: but for the abuse of that right, every person shall be responsible.

Indiana Constitution, Article 1, Section 9. Read that again and think about HB1011 and the idea that the Indiana General Assembly would legislate which acts are unpatriotic and then punish a business that did not prevent its employees from “unpatriotic” actions.

Ask yourself further why it is only a failure to stand during the National Anthem that qualifies as unpatriotic? In my post To Kneel or Not to Kneel (November 10, 2017), I outlined a whole host of acts (and products) that violate the United States Flag Code, including displaying the flag horizontally as is done before virtually every Indianapolis Colts game. But that conduct isn’t “unpatriotic” in Rep. Smith’s worldview (or at least not unpatriotic enough to warrant a refund). In other words, conduct that Rep. Smith likes (or, I suppose, opinions with which he agrees) are patriotic but those that he dislikes or which challenge his opinions or demand better from our government are disfavored and, thus, unpatriotic. It’s a good thing that our system of government doesn’t allow people to express unpopular ideas. Oh, wait.

It’s also interesting to note that the bill, if passed, would only apply to the Indianapolis Colts, Indiana Pacers, and Indiana Fever (WNBA team). Oddly, the bill would not apply to the Indianapolis Indians or other minor league baseball teams in Indiana, it wouldn’t apply to the Indy Fuel or other minor league hockey teams in Indiana, and it wouldn’t apply to the Indy Eleven (a minor league soccer team), even though their players are individuals who receive income from playing a sport in Indiana. It wouldn’t apply to a Major League Baseball team that relocated to Indiana. It wouldn’t apply to the Indianapolis 500 or Brickyard 400 (or other races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway) even though the drivers are athletes who receive income for driving in the races. And most importantly, it wouldn’t apply to college or high school teams (and let’s face it, scholarship athletes are receiving “income” for playing sports)! In other words, if you get offended at an NFL game (and you were offended for the “right” reason), your delicate sensitivities are worthy of compensation, but if you are offended by the exact same conduct at an Indianapolis Indians game, Indy Eleven match, Notre Dame football game, or Indiana University basketball game, then I guess you’re just being overly sensitive. Or something. Snowflake. Or, perhaps, Rep. Smith doesn’t want the State of Indiana to have to refund tickets; only teams owned by billionaires should have to do that, right? And if you’re offended, but not for the right reason, then your sensitivities still don’t count.

And what if the reason that an athlete did not stand for the National Anthem had nothing to do with protest or patriotism? What if the athlete (who, according to the bill need only be a “member of the professional sports team hosting the game”) doesn’t stand because of injury? The language of the bill doesn’t even require that the athlete kneel or be on the field! The athlete could still be in the locker room or, for that matter, not even at the stadium! If the athlete is a member of the team and is not standing during the National Anthem, then the offended snowflake person has a right to demand a refund. It’s even crazier than that, though. For example, just imagine an athlete who wants to protest but is aware of this law. Were that athlete to hold up a sign during the National Anthem that said, “Fuck the United States” no right to refund would be created. Nope. Putting on a Nazi or KKK armband during the National Anthem wouldn’t create a right to a refund. Flipping off fans or singing the Soviet anthem wouldn’t create a right to a refund. Nope. Just not standing. So what then? Does the Indiana General Assembly outlaw all unpatriotic displays? Oh, and lest I forget, a spectator wouldn’t be entitled to a refund if a coach or water boy or mascot didn’t stand. Nope. Only a professional athlete is obligated to stand. “Unpatriotic” conduct by others is not sufficient unpatriotic, I suppose.

Seems that Rep. Smith believes that the “value” provided for the price of a ticket is the opportunity to see a semi-famous performer sing the National Anthem and watch athletes stand on the sidelines, rather than watching the athletes, you know, actually play the game itself. After all, HB1011 allows a person who has been “offended” to recover the “full refund of the price of the ticket”. Moreover, there is no obligation for the person to have left the game upon being offended. The person can stay, watch the game (which is, of course, what they actually paid to see), and then ask for a refund anyway. What? I ate the whole meal, but I didn’t like it, so give me back my money.

Furthermore, note that if you are given tickets to the game or win the tickets in a contest, they you don’t have the right to seek a refund because you didn’t purchase your ticket. I guess offense is only meaningful to those who pay, right?

Another minor point I find interesting about the language of HB1011 is that it doesn’t seem to require the “offended” person to actually proving that a player did not stand during the National Anthem; rather, the language requires the person to prove that the team did not refund the ticket price within 7 days of the written request. And then, to add insult to … um … being offended, HB1011 not only allows the poor, offended fan to recover not only attorneys’ fees (thus setting up an entire cottage industry for lawyers) but also entitling the snowflake to recover treble damages, something usually reserved for the worst sorts of civil violations (antitrust and racketeering being the prime examples).

Just think of the slippery slope that this bill creates. How long before other types of “offense” lead to the right to seek refund from other sorts of businesses? Offended by the “unpatriotic” message in a movie or book? Demand a refund. The waiting room at the hospital was airing “fake news” CNN instead of an approved national news source like FOX? Demand a refund! The bar served unpatriotic Mexican tequila instead of good ol’ fashioned Kentucky bourbon? Demand a refund! The school taught your child that independent thought was acceptable? Demand a refund!

The good news is that there are enough decent legislators in the Indiana General Assembly, especially in leadership roles, that HB1011 won’t go anywhere. Chances are that it won’t even be heard in committee (it was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, most likely to die a quiet death), let alone get a vote for passage. But the mere fact that a bill that is this blatantly unconstitutional would even be offered is a sign of just how little some members of our elected government understand how our government works and just what ideas like “freedom of speech” really mean. That we have elected officials that can’t see the difference between a democracy with freedom of speech and the forced patriotism of totalitarian societies is frightening. Frightening, but sadly, unsurprising.

Finally, query this: If this bill were to become law, how long before Indiana’s “professional sports teams” would be looking for homes in other states? I know that San Diego, St. Louis, and Oakland are looking for football teams. How offended might Hoosiers be at the economic impact to the city and state just so that Rep. Smith doesn’t have his patriotic feelings hurt?

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Friday, November 10, 2017

To Kneel or Not to Kneel

I apologize the delay since my most recent post. I’ve had … reasons. And writing this post took … way too long.

Before I discuss whether I think it is appropriate or acceptable for athletes to kneel rather than stand during the playing of the National Anthem prior to a game, I think it’s worth at least asking why we play the National Anthem prior to games. We seem to do so before virtually all sporting events (is the National Anthem played before golf tournaments?), but we don’t do so before many other large public gatherings. If I go to a high school football game on Friday night, there will be a rendition of the National Anthem, but at the high school choir performance the night before, there was neither a recital of the National Anthem nor a presentation of the flag. And if, the next night, I go to a theater performance, a TED Talk, or a beer festival in a local park, it is unlikely that there will be a recital of the National Anthem before those events. Youth soccer and baseball games don’t usually include a rendition of the National Anthem unless organized by a school. Similarly, before a group of friends gather to play a game of softball, ultimate Frisbee, flag football, HORSE, tennis, or bocce, they don’t usually stop and sing the National Anthem first. So why do we play and/or sing the National Anthem before some sporting events?* I don’t have an answer to that question but I do think that, whatever the answer may be, is at least worth considering when reflecting on the general question at hand.

It is also worth considering that playing the National Anthem before a sporting is not a universal behavior. It is my understanding that very few countries include a rendition of their respective national anthems prior to sporting events. An English friend once remarked that Europeans were often puzzled by the American practice of playing the National Anthem. Think for a moment about the Olympics, in which a national anthem is played after the event to honor the winning nation. It might be an interesting exercise to see which other countries do and do not routinely play their national anthems at public gatherings like sporting events. I’d be willing to bet (though not much…) that democratic nations (other than the United States) are much less likely to do so than totalitarian nations in which coercive patriotism (or nationalism) helps keep the ruling elite in power.

So, then, on to the propriety of an athlete protesting during the National Anthem. Sadly, I think the answer is actually much more nuanced than a simple yes/no answer, in part because the manner of protest can differ and thus the propriety may differ as well. For example, protest in the form of taking a knee is different than protest by remaining seated, turning one’s back to the flag, holding up a fist, making some other gesture or gesticulation (holding up a middle finger, for example), adding a verbal component to the protest, or other similar actions (or inactions). And, it depends on the context and the venue. Not all protests are the same and, thus, they should not necessarily be treated the same. A protest before the game is different than a protest during the game; a quiet, peaceful protest is different than a loud or violent protest; and a protest that only involves others to the extent that they become aware of, see, or hear the protest is different from one which does directly affect others (such as by physical contact, preventing them from using a public facility, preventing a speaker from speaking or game from being played, or the like). Unfortunately, when patriotism (or a perceived hostility to patriotism) becomes part of the discussion — not to mention issues like race — then it seems that the sort of nuance and careful consideration truly necessary to a proper discussion and examination of the issue becomes … unlikely.

For what it’s worth, and to eliminate the suspense: I think that … nah. You’ll just have to read to the end.

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When American soldiers stormed the beaches at Normandy or assaulted caves in Tora Bora, were they doing so for the flag, or were they doing so because of what the flag represents? Was their oath to defend the flag and National Anthem or the Constitution for which they stand? Maybe in our current civics-diminished culture, those differences are too subtle for some people to understand. To those who don’t readily recognize the differences, I’d strongly suggest that you put down whatever you’re doing and go read James Clavell’s short work The Children’s Story. I’ll wait.

Anyway, it seems to me that our soldiers fight — and die — for the ideal of America; they make the greatest sacrifice for the notion that all men (and women) are created equal and treated so under the law, that people are free to express their thoughts and their religious beliefs without fear, and that we are a nation of laws where no man (or woman) is above the call of justice. The flag and the National Anthem are mere symbols of that ideal, but they themselves are not the ideal and they are not what we seek to honor. Rather, we seek to honor the ideal that is America (or what American should be), that is the core of what we mean by American exceptionalism, and that sets America apart from so much of the rest of the world. Thus, when we stand for the National Anthem, we’re not honoring a song or a piece of cloth; we’re honoring what those things stand for. While I’m not a Christian — and I suppose my analogy could be off — I think it’s fair to equate honoring the flag instead of the ideal of America with honoring the cross instead of the ideal of Jesus.

Similarly, when people protest, they are (usually) not protesting the flag or the National Anthem; they are not protesting against our soldiers or veterans (Vietnam, perhaps, being the obvious exception). Rather, they are protesting what they perceive as injustice. They are protesting what they perceive as ways in which we as a society have failed to live up to and adhere to the ideals of America for which the flag and National Anthem serve as symbols. They are not protesting to tear down or to destroy; rather they are protesting in order to try to our make country better (Make America Great Again, anybody?), to help bring it closer to the ideal that the flag represents. Those who think that athletes are protesting the flag or veterans simply aren’t listening. Or perhaps they are listening, but the voices that they’re listening to are the ones opposed to the message the athletes are trying to communicate. After all, why spend so much effort discussing and railing against the protest itself and not having a substantive discussion about why athletes are protesting or whether their complaints have any merit. Wouldn’t it be more productive for us to ask whether there is racial injustice, whether young black men (in particular) are treated fairly or unfairly by the police and justice system, and whether these are systemic or isolated problems? And wouldn’t we be furthering the ideals of America if, rather than expending energy arguing about protest, we instead spent that energy trying to achieve the goals of American exceptionalism and the promise of equality?

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Let me address an element of the broader issue of “honor” and “respect” that has not received much attention. At many of the sporting events that I’ve attended, the formulation preceding the playing of the National Anthem goes something like this: “To honor America, please stand and remove your hats”. The precise words may change, but the request is mostly very similar as is the use of the word “honor”. That word is almost always used. Now imagine that you are an observant Jewish man who wears a kippah, an observant Muslim woman who wears a hijab, a Sikh man who wears a dastaar (turban), or any other person who wears a head covering for religious purposes. Or imagine that you’re a cancer survivor wearing a wig or scarf. Now how do you feel when the stadium announcer tells you that to “honor” America you must remove your hat? Do you choose to honor America at the expense of your religious obligations or personal health-related issues? Or do you stand, put your hand over your heart, but leave your head covering in place hoping those around you won’t think that you’re being disrespectful? Is this a choice any of your fellow Americans should be asked to make? For that matter, when and why did we decide that we “honor” America by standing and listening to a song rather than working to achieve the ideals upon which America was based? Or, why do we listen and not all join in the signing?

What about Jehovah’s Witnesses or other religious groups who, as a rule, don’t stand for the National Anthem or Pledge of Allegiance and who have fought, all the way to the United States Supreme Court, for the right not to be forced to stand (more on that at the end of this post). As we argue about the propriety of athletes standing or kneeling, what message are we sending to those who choose not to stand for religious or moral purposes other than protest? Are they “lesser” Americans or not “real” Americans? Are they disrespecting the flag, soldiers, or America? I wonder how those who object to player protests would react to a player who chose not to stand if that choice was based on religious views rather than a protest statement.

And what of a spectator or athlete at a sporting event who is not American? Is the message to that person that he or she should “honor” America by standing or … what? … get out? Go home? Really?

So what about Tim Tebow? I’ll readily acknowledge that I was critical of Tim Tebow taking a knee when he did something good on the field. I was not a fan of what I perceived as a sort of “in your face” Christianity. But there are two points worth making here. First, isn’t it interesting that kneeling is seemingly acceptable if the reason for kneeling is deemed to be acceptable. In other words, because Tebow was kneeling as an expression of faith, many of the same people who criticize players for kneeling during the National Anthem had no problem with Tebow kneeling. But more importantly, Tebow took a knee during the game when he knew the cameras would be on him because of what he did in the game. Compare that to players who are taking a knee before the game, when the cameras aren’t usually focused on players (ordinarily, television coverage only includes the National Anthem prior to Sunday night games and the Super Bowl), and when the cameras do focus on the players, it is because they are kneeling and not because of their efforts on the field. Hmm.

And of course that discussion of Tim Tebow inexorably leads to a discussion of Kim Davis. You remember Kim Davis, don’t you? She was the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because doing so “violated” her religious beliefs. Many conservatives cheered her, made her into a sort of folk hero for refusing to obey the law that required her to treat all people equally. Let me repeat: She refused to do her job. The football players? Are they refusing to do their jobs? No. Of course not. But the people who made Kim Davis a hero for refusing to recognize the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of marriage equality are criticizing athletes who are peacefully — and without directly harming others — protesting a system that they don’t believe treats all Americans equally. White Christian lady refuses to follow the law and treat people equally? Good. Black athletes protest inequality and the treatment of people of color by the law? Bad. Hmm.

♦ ♦ ♦

One person with whom I discussed this issue told me that she disagreed with players kneeling during the National Anthem, not because she disagreed with the subject of their protest, but because she found it to be “impolite”. She had essentially the same response to the cast of Hamilton making a plea to Vice President Pence about equality (alas, while I wrote a post on that episode, I never finished it…). I reminded her that people, especially white people, have been telling African-Americans when and how to protest for years. I reminded her that perhaps the most important element of a protest was a time and place when and where the protest would be visible by others, in particular those with the power to influence decisions and conduct. A protest from your living room couch or a protest in a neighborhood or park not frequented by those to whom the protester needs to address is essentially pointless. A protest needs witnesses in the same way a fire needs oxygen. Taking a knee in front of a banana at the supermarket to protest police brutality just isn’t going to have the impact that the same action will have prior to a televised football game in front of a massive audience. And I reminded her that it was not the function of a protest to make the the listener or viewer comfortable; rather, a sense of discomfort at the protest is precisely what is intended by the protest in hopes that those who are discomforted might, you know, help change things.

Don’t forget that protest is generally conducted by the minority or a group that perceives itself as being treated unfairly or poorly. The majority rarely needs to protest and popular views rarely need protest. A protest by the majority in support of a popular idea isn’t a protest at all; it’s a parade.

Oh, and how many of those who are angered at the protests have affinity for the Tea Party, a group named after perhaps the most famous protest in American history?

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I try (usually…) to avoid so-called “whataboutism” but in this case, I think it’s important to ask why some of those who are so offended by athletes’ decision to kneel rather than stand don’t show similar anger in other situations. Why, for example, have those who are offended by kneeling been silent when, at the end of the National Anthem, fans of the Kansas Chiefs replace “home of the brave” with “home of the Chiefs!” with that last word screamed in such a way that it drowns out “brave” by any who may be singing along with the National Anthem? In my experience at NFL games, when this happens, most people just laugh. But how is that conduct any less “disrespectful” than a player who kneels quietly? (And that query is without even touching on the idea that the Chiefs are named for the Native Americans who were displaced by the westward expanding United States; so isn’t replacing “brave” by “Chiefs” much more disrespectful of the National Anthem and flag or even of the ideal of America?)

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see just how many of the people who are angry about African-American athletes “disrespecting” the flag have a Confederate flag on their pickup truck.

More interestingly and importantly, though, is the question of why people who are angry enough to burn their jerseys and season tickets aren’t just as angry about unarmed, innocent people, including children, being killed by police? What is it about the protest action by players that engenders such visceral anger and even hatred while the basis for the protest is barely recognized by many?  I can’t help feel that for some — certainly not all, but some — their is a racist component to anger on one hand and lack of empathy or corresponding anger on the other.

♦ ♦ ♦

I want to address two further arguments that are being raised with regard to the issue of kneeling during the National Anthem: The First Amendment and the United States Flag Code. Let me be quite clear about one thing: This is not a First Amendment issue. Well, at least not directly, but see the huge caveats that I’ll discuss below. Yes, the First Amendment protects a person’s right to speech and that right includes the right to protest. Thus, the decision to take a knee is protected speech. But that doesn’t matter because the First Amendment addresses prohibitions or limitations on speech by the government. Here, the question is whether the NFL or an individual team should prohibit a player from kneeling or punish a player who does so. And that is not a First Amendment question.

The government cannot make people stand, salute, put their hand on their heart, remove their hat, or sing the National Anthem. Each of those requirements would violate the First Amendment. And the government cannot prohibit a person from kneeling during the National Anthem, either, as that would also violate the First Amendment. But an employer can do those things within the scope of the employer’s relationship with the employee and in the workplace. Now, I’ll admit that things can get a bit fuzzy around the edges (i.e., imagine an employer who says that employees can gather in the company break room for Christian prayer, but only Christian prayer, or an employer who tells employees that they must prove that they voted for candidate X or contributed a portion of their salary to charity Y), but as a general rule, so long as the employer is not engaging in certain forms of prohibited discriminatory action, the employer can adopt workplace rules that might include standing for the National Anthem if it is played in the workplace.

Now with all of that being said, there are several caveats that I’d like to offer to my general statement that this isn’t a First Amendment issue. First, I think it’s important to recognize that prior to 2009, the NFL players stayed in the locker room until after the National Anthem. Why the change? As I understand it, the United States military paid the NFL to add patriotic elements prior to games. I’m not sure what I think of the idea of paid patriotism. But more importantly, once you insert the government into the situation, then the analysis may change. Employers (the NFL and its teams) are now asking their employees (the players) to stand for the National Anthem at the paid behest of the government. That seems to be a dramatically different situation than an employer making a decision and acting on its own; the influence of the government (especially the military) cannot easily be ignored. To this point, it is probably worth adding that most of the teams play in stadiums owned and/or financed by the government. Though I haven’t researched the issue, I believe that there is some jurisprudence that limits an employer’s rights with regard to employee speech when the employer is relying upon government facilities, largesse, or funding.

Second, we can’t ignore President Trump’s decision to insert himself into this mess. Had he limited his remarks to “I disagree with the decision to kneel” or even “I think that it’s disrespectful for the players to kneel”, then the situation would simply be that of a government official offering an opinion on a matter of public debate and discussion. But Trump went beyond. He, in essence, told the NFL owners to fire players who kneeled. When the President suggests that a particular citizen or business take a certain action, that is not easy to ignore. And that form of governmental interference in business issues may bring First Amendment analysis into play.

For what it’s worth, I didn’t think that Trump violated the law with his statements suggesting or demanding that team owners fire players. Several complaints have been lodged on the basis of 18 U.S.C. § 227, but that statute requires that a government official acts “with the intent to influence … an employment decision or employment practice of any private entity” and does so “solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation” and that in so acting, the official “(1) takes or withholds, or offers or threatens to take or withhold, an official act, or (2) influences, or offers or threatens to influence, the official act of another”. Had Trump followed up his statement with any sort of threat to withhold government action or to take certain action, he might have met the second part of the statute’s requirements, but the requirement of “solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation” could be difficult to prove.

Of course after I wrote the preceding two paragraphs, Trump went even further, when he threatened to revoke the tax exempt status of the NFL (“change tax law!”) and tied that proposal to “disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country”. That thinly veiled threat does, I think, violate the statute cited above and, more importantly, looks an awful lot like a threat to enact legislation tied to the protected speech of individuals. Think of it this way: Would you be offended if a President said that he/she would change tax laws so that civic advocacy groups that criticized the government would lose their tax exempt status? What about religious groups that didn’t “honor” the President as a part of their religious service. What about youth groups who don’t begin their meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem? What about a threat to curtail government business with a company that refuses to fire an employee who privately expresses criticism of the government?

There is yet another factor that, unfortunately, must also be considered. We all recognize that private businesses are generally allowed to make workplace rules, whether in the nature of attire, use of company property, attendance, and so forth. But those rules cannot be discriminatory toward a protected class like race or religion. So the question, when applied to professional athletes, is whether a rule prohibiting them from protesting (or from engaging in certain types of protest) might be viewed as having a racially discriminatory motive or effect. I’m sure some will argue that race would have nothing to do with the imposition of such a rule, but given that virtually all of the players protesting are black (I think only one white player has taken a knee during the National Anthem) and that the protests are about racial inequality and injustice toward the black community, I don’t think that a racial impact or motivation can be so easily discarded.

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Much of the criticism directed at players has focused on the allegation that kneeling, rather than standing, is disrespectful. So let’s turn our attention to the United States Flag Code and, in particular, the section on respect for the flag:

No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.

(a) The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.

(b) The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.

(c) The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.

(d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.

(e) The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.

(f) The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.

(g) The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.

(h) The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.

(i) The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.

(j) No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.

(k) The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

It’s also worth noting the statute governing conduct during the playing of the National Anthem (which largely duplicates another section from the United States Flag Code):

(b) Conduct During Playing.—During a rendition of the national anthem—

   (1) when the flag is displayed—

      (A) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;

      (B) members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and

      (C) all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and

   (2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.

The most important thing to note about both of these statutes is the repeated use of the word “should”. In almost all statutes, the words used to direct or proscribe conduct are “shall” and “shall not”. I seriously hope that I don’t need to take time to explain the difference between “should” and “shall” (or “should not” and “shall not”). The point, however, is that neither of these statutes create obligations or prohibitions; rather, they present directives of how the United States wants people to act in certain situations, sort of like saying that pregnant women should not smoke or drink alcohol. But it is not a crime to act contrary to the instructions of the Flag Code and their is no penalty for doing so.

So, OK, the Flag Code and National Anthem statute provide that people should “stand”. Thus, athletes who kneel during the National Anthem are not following these guidelines. Thus, I suppose, criticism on that basis is fair. But… (you knew there would be a but…, right?). Did you notice anything else? First, if we’re going to criticize someone for failing to follow one of these guidelines and thus being “disrespectful,” then aren’t we being unfair if we single out the “offensive” conduct of that person without noting the ways in which others fail to follow the guidelines as well? I know, I know. More “whataboutism”. But is it fair to pick one provision of these guidelines and publicly rebuke those who don’t follow that guideline as being “disrespectful” while remaining silent when others fail to follow other guidelines and are, I suppose, not being “disrespectful” because … um … their conduct didn’t violate the particular guideline that you are focused on? I don’t think so. By way of simple example, note that the Flag Code doesn’t just say that a person should stand; rather the Flag Code says that a person should “stand at attention”. Hmm. When I look around stadiums, whether on the field or in the audience, I see a lot of people standing, but almost none of them are “at attention”. Many have removed their hats and placed their right hands over their hearts, but many have not. So why aren’t those people being criticized? Isn’t their failure to stand “at attention,” to remove their hats, and to place their hand over their hearts, just as much of a violation as those who kneel instead of stand? Why is kneeling disrespectful but failure to stand at attention, remove a hat, or place a hand over a heart not equally disrespectful?

But why stop with that analysis? Let’s look at some of those other guidelines from the Flag Code. For example, the Flag Code says that the “flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free”. So why aren’t NFL teams being criticized for holding large flags horizontally on the field? It seems even more outrageous that this sort of “disrespectful” display is happening at the behest of and following payment by the United States military and often with the cooperation of many military personnel. In other words, the military is paying the NFL and its teams to violate the Flag Code week in and week out and the NFL and its teams are, apparently, happy to do so if the money is right.


(This is what it looks like at most home Indianapolis Colts games during the playing of the National Anthem.)

The Flag Code says that the “flag should never be used as wearing apparel”. So why aren’t people being criticized for doing so?




Hey, nothing says “respect for the flag” like wearing it on underwear with a bald eagle covering your dick. But at least the girl in the bikini is saluting, right? And Dolly Parton is … um … Dolly Parton! And she has a theme park! So she can wear an American flag dress, right? Just remember, though, that a man who quietly takes a knee during the playing of the National Anthem to protest injustice is being disrespectful and worthy of scorn, termination of employment, and boycott, but none of these images are worth more than a shrug. OK.

What about the Flag Code’s guideline that the flag should not be used for “bedding, or drapery”?


I presume that those who plan to boycott the NFL because some players are being disrespectful also plan to boycott the stores that carry flag bedding and draperies (I specifically chose not to include links to these products because I don’t see any problem with them and don’t think that the stores should be subject to boycott or scorn just for selling American flag bedding or drapes).

Somebody really needs to tell these soldiers that the Flag Code says that the “flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling” (and I learned in some research that I did while writing this post that service members are not supposed to wear their hats [covers] indoors unless “under arms in an official capacity”).


I didn’t see an exception in the Flag Code for use of the flag on the ceiling if accompanied by a Confederate battle flag, but I’m sure that some “patriot” can explain why this is not being disrespectful.


“The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature”. Somebody needs to tell these Vietnam vets that they’re violating the Flag Code! (and then boycott them and demand that they be fired).


Though I do wonder whether there should be an exception in the Flag Code to permit the National Anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance to be written on the flag.


“The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.”

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Again, throwing your trash in a flag-themed trash can is apparently fine, just don’t take a knee to protest injustice.

“The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever…”.


Do I really need to provide more examples of the flag used in advertising? Yeah… thought not.

The flag “should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs…”.

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A bandana is essentially a handkerchief, right? So are you going to tell this guy how disrespectful he is?


And the flag should not be “printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard”. What percentage of households that have a July 4 party use American flag napkins? Time to boycott some parties!


“No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.”








In the process of researching and writing this post and while looking for some of the images that I’ve used, I came across an interesting story that I had to include. I think that it’s probably fair to presume that many (again, many, not all) of those who object to athletes protesting by taking a knee are on the right of the political spectrum. And I also think that it’s probably fair to recognize that many of those on the right of the political spectrum get their news from Fox Faux News. Now, recall that the Flag Code states that, “No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.” So imagine my … um … surprise, to come across a story about the time during the 2012 London Olympics, when a Fox host and Tea Party commentator criticized the decision of the US women’s gymnastics team to wear pink instead of the American flag uniforms worn in previous years. In other words, it’s not OK o violate the Flag Code if the “violation” is to protest inequality, but it is OK to violate if the “violation” is to show patriotism. Clear on that?

The Flag Code never mentions certain products or uses, but you do have to wonder how those who are so worried about disrespecting the flag would feel about American flag dildos or guns.


Scratch that last query. I’m sure they’d love, love, love, American flag guns. They’d probably propose legislation to require us all to carry one and to honor it daily. I think that’s what the Second Amendment requires, anyway, right? Do American flag guns use special American flag bullets?

Furthermore, I do find it striking that those who criticize a protest that, in their view “disrespects” the flag, don’t spend even a fraction of their righteous anger criticizing uses of the American flag that seem far more disrespectful than either peaceful protest or a bikini:

Neo Nazi Rallythe250517_p18_nazi


Recall that the night before Vice President (and former Indiana Governor) Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game because members of the visiting team knelt, there was a second gathering of white supremacists and Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia (sight of the white supremacist terrorist attack that killed a woman). However, Pence, who apparently had time to craft a statement against the “disrespect” shown by black athletes couldn’t be bothered to say anything about white supremacists rallying. Again.

Finally, I had to share this photo, apparently taken at or prior to an October 15, 2017, New York Jets game:

I Stand for the National AnthemIf you can’t quite make it out, his shirt says “I stand for the National Anthem” while he lounges on an American flag being used as a blanket. It would appear, then, that this Jets fan is simultaneously violating paragraphs (b), (c), (d), and (e) of the Flag Code while criticizing those who choose to kneel.

So if none of those other pictures make you want to boycott stores or criticize other “disrespectful” behavior, but you do want to boycott the NFL, then doesn’t that suggest that your problem is not so much with disrespect for the flag or National Anthem, but rather with the either the message the protestors are sending or the people sending that message?

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While we’re on the subject of honoring the National Anthem, I wonder how many of you can sing any stanza of The Star Spangled Banner beyond the first? I ask, not because I think you’re any less a patriot if you can’t sing the following stanzas, but rather because one of those stanzas can, in some ways, be seen to relate directly to the issues being raised by the current protests by athletes. I’m sure that many of us are familiar with the basic history of Francis Scott Key watching the British shelling Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 that prompted him to write The Star Spangled Banner. But what is less familiar (and I’ll admit to not knowing any of this before doing a bit of research) is some of the additional history that motivated his writing and that was reflected, in particular, in the rarely heard third stanza of The Star Spangled Banner:

No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Apparently, most historians agree that with this stanza, Key was addressing and taking aim at the British Colonial Marines, a company of  freed slaves fighting for Britain. Key was happy to see these freed slaves without refuge, in “terror or flight,” and with the “gloom of the grave” facing them. Think about that for a moment: Our National Anthem has lyrics celebrating the defeat and death of freed slaves. And now athletes are using the signing of the National Anthem as an opportune time to bring to attention the problem of African-Americans being killed by police officers who then suffer no punishment together with other perceived racial inequalities in the American criminal justice system.

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One thing that I’ve heard repeatedly, is that football games are meant to be enjoyable entertainment into which politics or other serious matters ought not intrude. And I’m sympathetic to that argument. I want to watch a football game for the action on the field; if I wanted politics, I could go to a speech or rally. But… We don’t seem to object to the NFL’s annual efforts to raise breast cancer awareness (or now, just general cancer awareness). We certainly don’t object to the NFL’s “salute” to soldiers and veterans. I don’t usually see people get upset when the teams take time to give special recognition to soldiers or vets recently returned from overseas (or their families). And if you watch a game on TV (where you usually do not see the National Anthem performed), you are very likely to see political advertisements, whether for or against a candidate or focused on a particular issue.Yet I haven’t heard the “it’s entertainment, keep politics out of it” come up to prompt people to boycott sports on TV. Don’t even get me started on the mass of advertisements, both at the games and during television broadcasts, that certainly detract from the viewing experience. 

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So what makes you a patriot? If you stand and salute the flag does that make you a patriot? Or is there something more to patriotism? What if you oppose some action that the government (or military) take; does that make you unpatriotic? What if you speak critically about a law, your member of Congress, or the President; does that make you unpatriotic? To me, it seems that the problem is that for too many people, it appears that failing to fall in lockstep with a particular view is unpatriotic. Many of those same people would likely view any effort to change the status quo as being unpatriotic if the status quo was a position supported by that person. From this sort of view comes the “love or leave it” sentiment, which of course presupposes that the only way to “love” America is to agree with one position, to never see fault or wrongdoing on the part of America, and not to try to seek change (other than, perhaps, threatening to secede when you don’t get your way).

Let me offer this observation from Ashley Nicolas, a 2009 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point who served as an Army intelligence officer and female engagement team leader, completing a tour in Kandahar, Afghanistan, before being named a 2016 Pat Tillman Foundation scholar:

Patriotism is recognizing that those men are taking a knee because our country is deeply flawed and that segments of our citizenry have suffered from systemic inequality for centuries.

Patriotism is asking hard questions and demanding that America do better. It is asking Congress how we continue to be involved in conflicts around the world without any congressional mandate.

Patriotism is demanding reform within the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is fighting homelessness and the opioid crises across the nation. It is demanding criminal justice reform and asking why, in 2017, the quality of your education is determined by your Zip code.

Patriotism is nuanced.

Slapping a “support the troops” bumper sticker on your car does not make you a patriot, nor does standing for the national anthem. These are symbols — meaningless without the values that underlie their existence.

Patriots are critical thinkers who hold leaders accountable by asking tough questions and recognizing the flaws in our democracy.

Criticism is deeply patriotic. It keeps our leaders accountable and forces us to recognize that we are still on the long, hard march toward a “more perfect Union.”

Patriots do not stand idle when there is work to be done. They find partners, build coalitions and make an impact.

In the United States, we do not force people to engage in rote ceremonies or stand at attention for the flag by force of threat. The beauty of America is that this is a nation where every citizen has the ability to voice dissent without fear of reprisal. That conversation propels us forward.

As someone who has worn the flag on my shoulder in combat, I feel a deep pride at the sight of it. To me, the flag represents a common bond of service between myself and my sisters and brothers in uniform.

I am proud to stand and salute the flag, but my discomfort with anyone who exercises differently pales in comparison to the feelings in the hearts of those who kneel because they cannot be proud of what America has been for them.

The most patriotic thing I can do, is listen.

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I want to finish this (overly long, I know…) post with a quotation from the Supreme Court’s landmark 1943 ruling West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette, in which the Court held in the midst of World War II, that a school could not require students to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance or salute the flag.

National unity as an end which officials may foster by persuasion and example is not in question. The problem is whether under our Constitution compulsion as here employed is a permissible means for its achievement.

Struggles to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essential to their time and country have been waged by many good as well as by evil men. Nationalism is a relatively recent phenomenon but at other times and places the ends have been racial or territorial security, support of a dynasty or regime, and particular plans for saving souls. As first and moderate methods to attain unity have failed, those bent on its accomplishment must resort to an ever-increasing severity. As governmental pressure toward unity becomes greater, so strife becomes more bitter as to whose unity it shall be. Probably no deeper division of our people could proceed from any provocation than from finding it necessary to choose what doctrine and whose program public educational officials shall compel youth to unite in embracing. Ultimate futility of such attempts to compel coherence is the lesson of every such effort from the Roman drive to stamp out Christianity as a disturber of its pagan unity, the Inquisition, as a means to religious and dynastic unity, the Siberian exiles as a means to Russian unity, down to the fast failing efforts of our present totalitarian enemies. Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.

It seems trite but necessary to say that the First Amendment to our Constitution was designed to avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings. There is no mysticism in the American concept of the State or of the nature or origin of its authority. We set up government by consent of the governed, and the Bill of Rights denies those in power any legal opportunity to coerce that consent. Authority here is to be controlled by public opinion, not public opinion by authority.

The case is made difficult not because the principles of its decision are obscure but because the flag involved is our own. Nevertheless, we apply the limitations of the Constitution with no fear that freedom to be intellectually and spiritually diverse or even contrary will disintegrate the social organization. To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds. We can have intellectual individualism  and the rich cultural diversities that we owe to exceptional minds only at the price of occasional eccentricity and abnormal attitudes. When they are so harmless to others or to the State as those we deal with here, the price is not too great. But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943) (emphasis added) (internal citations omitted).

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In conclusion, I’m not sure that kneeling during the National Anthem is the best way for athletes to voice their opinion and I’m not sure whether a similar sort of protest would be appropriate in all circumstances and for all reasons or at all times (e.g., I’m firmly against protests at the funerals of fallen soldiers, even if the protest is against the war in which the soldier was killed). But when it comes to the narrow question of whether I support the right of professional athletes to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem in order to call attention to their concerns with racial injustices within the American criminal justice system, then my answer is strongly in the affirmative. And if asked whether those same athletes should be punished for making their opinions known by kneeling or whether the NFL should be subject to repudiation or condemnation for allowing the protests or refusing to punish the protestors, then my answer is strongly in the negative.

Most importantly, I’d suggest that the best response to the protests is not to spend our time focusing on whether the protests should be allowed or the proper time and place to protest; rather, the best response to the protests is to listen to the concerns giving rise to the protests and then get down to the hard work of trying to do what is necessary to make those protests unnecessary and bring America closer to the ideals represented by the flag and the National Anthem.

That would be patriotic and respectful.

*Before Major League Baseball, NBA, and NHL games that involve one of the teams from Canada (including the All Star Games, I believe), both the American and Canadian national anthems are played. Yet before the Indianapolis 500 and other auto races, only the American National Anthem is played, even though in many racing series (other than NASCAR), many (or most) of the drivers are not American. So why do we honor Canadians in baseball, basketball, and hockey, but not in motor racing? And why don’t we honor those from other countries in all of our sports?

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