Letters Blogatory

The Blog of International Judicial Assistance | By Ted Folkman of Folkman LLC

See Something, Say Something, 2021 Edition

Posted on May 30, 2021

I wrote my first “see something, say something” post in December 2015, warning of the incipient catastrophe of Donald Trump, who at that time was promoting registration of American Muslins and exclusion of non-Christian refugees. I wrote another one in July 2020 about the importation of beauty products from western China that our government suspected contained hair taken from Uighur people detained in camps. There are of course other occasions on which I could have written similar posts, perhaps most notably, in the last year or so, the George Floyd murder we all witnessed on video.

But today I want to bring you a “see something, say something” post that I hope will worry you and cause you to think a little about where we are headed and what you might do to change the direction of the ship. What is happening to the Jews in America? America has long been the “goldene medine,” a “golden land” in the diaspora, where the Jews were able to escape from persecution in Europe and elsewhere and to prosper and live in peace both as Americans and as Jews. We have been part of the American story since before George Washington wrote, in his famous letter of 1790 to what is now Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island: “For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” But trouble has been brewing for a while, from the far-right “Jews will not replace us” marches of the Trump era to the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and the vandalism of many other American synagogues, to attacks on Jews in the streets following the latest wave of violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

This is not a post about Israel or the Palestinians. It is not a post about “comparative victimology.” It is a post about being beaten up in the streets, their synagogues vandalized, and in general, being made to feel unwelcome and unsafe. The attacks come from the right and from the left. As the President said recently: “ These attacks are despicable, unconscionable, un-American, and they must stop.” If you see something, say something.

What do I demand of you? Nothing. This is just an appeal to the reader’s conscience. But if you see an antisemitic act or hear or read someone spouting antisemitic views, speak up! And perhaps most importantly, try to avoid the ever-present temptation, when the Jews are the subject of discussion, to say “yes, but.” I would never presume to speak for anyone but myself, but there is nothing more disheartening, when there is a criminal attack on the streets of New York City, or a criminal throwing a brick through the window of a synagogue, to hear a “yes, but” that involves a complicated discussion of the role of the Jews in American society or on the world stage. The Jews aren’t symbols of anything else or props in some political debate. Let’s nip this in the bud, America.

Steven Donziger

At the Donziger Trial

Posted on May 12, 2021

I spent the day yesterday in an overflow room watching the criminal contempt trial of Steven Donziger. The day lacked the drama of Day 1 of the trial. No one was chanting in the street. I did not see Roger Waters or Susan Sarandon. There were no dramatic opening statements. Still, it was interesting to see the real world of the case up close, which is dramatically different from the Donziger Twitterverse. Here is my account.

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Oil barrels in Ecuador
Credit: Julien Gomba (CC BY)

Lago Agrio: Last-Minute Developments Before the Contempt Trial

Posted on May 7, 2021

Steven Donziger’s contempt trial begins in New York on Monday. In the days leading up to the trial, there have been two new developments. First, the New York Court of Appeals has denied Donziger leave to appeal from the lower court’s judgment disbarring him. This is perhaps the end of the line for his career as a lawyer, although it may be that there are pathways to reinstatement after disbarment in New York—I am not sure. Second, Judge Preska has denied Donziger’s motion to dismiss the charges against him on grounds of vindictive and selective prosecution, his motion to recuse her as judge, and his motion to take discovery. So it seems that the trial will begin on Monday.

Judge Preska’s order is a pretty thorough recitation of what the case is about. I also encourage you to take a look for “Donziger” in your social media feeds for a masterclass in good internet PR. We will see whether what happens in the courtroom next week has any relationship to what is happening on Twitter.