Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Retirees United to Preserve Medicare Access and Got Shut Down by Their International


The Cross-union Retirees Organizing Committee supports the following statement by the DC 37 Retirees Association. The high-handed takeover of the Association by its parent union, AFSCME, is a major blow to union democracy. CROC stands with our DC 37 union brothers and sisters in our ongoing fight for health care and quality of life for all.




Retirees United to Preserve Medicare Access and Got Shut Down by Their International


Retiree Leaders Who Won't Be Silenced


Manhattan, Tuesday, February 27, 2024 - On February 22, AFSCME President Lee Saunders placed the DC37 Retirees’ Association under emergency administratorship. Eight AFSCME staffers barged into our office, seized books and records, and changed the locks to our office. This ended our ability to meet our members’ needs. Our staff on the job that day were shaken up by the way AFSCME staffers treated them and are still suffering mental distress. They even attempted to take away their personal phones. Contrast that with the efforts of our dedicated staff that kept our office open during the Covid pandemic to meet our members’ needs.


AFSCME’s statement says that all this was done because we failed to submit IRS 990 forms and our books had not been audited. AFSCME does not say there was any theft or wrongdoing. We gave our accountant the needed information to complete these documents. We never received notification from the IRS that there were any problems. We are not the only affiliate to have such problems. Usually help would be given to resolve the issue. When we learned there was a problem we started corrective action at once.


Ann Widger, who was named administrator of our association, said in her statement to our members, “I realize that some will say this is about the current debate around retiree health care for New York City Retirees. Make no mistake: it is not.” Our reply to Ann is that the healthcare issue is exactly what this takeover is about . What you call a “debate” is a matter of life and death for an older population whose health conditions will be compromised by switching from traditional Medicare to a Medicare (dis)advantage system known to put profits ahead of patients’ health needs.


One month prior to the AFSCME action, our board voted to resume contributions to help pay for the legal expenses of cases filed by the New York City Organization of Public Service Retirees. Those lawsuits have stopped the retiree healthcare changes in their tracks. Last June, Widger sent us a threatening memo warning us not to continue our contributions. After a serious discussion, we resumed our contributions. We support the fight against the deal agreed to by the Municipal Labor Committee (including our local AFSCME District Council 37) and the city. That is the real “crime" we are being punished for.


We would have hoped that our national union would stand with us in this fight. They say they are in favor of traditional Medicare. They have passed resolutions saying so at conventions over the years. Instead, they are punishing us for our fight to maintain it. Many of us have spent over fifty years as members of AFSCME fighting for the benefits we all need. Our retiree constitution says that we exist to protect and expand the rights and benefits of New York City retirees. We refuse to have our health benefits diminished by the privatized for-profit Medicare (dis)Advantage Plan!




Contact Information: For more information, interviews, or detailed discussions, please contact:


Neal Frumkin



Anna Berry



Bruce Heigh



Media Coverage

The Chief: DC 37 Retirees Association Taken Over by AFSCME

The City: Medicare Advantage Feud Looms Over Union Takeover of City Retiree Group


Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Bennet Fischer and Marianne Pizzitola on WBAI with Daniel Alicea "Talk Out of School"


I took a few notes but go listen here:


Bennett is up first and is running for Chapter Leader of the 60-70 thousand member UFT retiree chapter. Bennett describes his reasons for running for chapter leader of his school in order to lead a fight back against supervisor over reach. He makes an interesting analogy to his current run for RTC Chair, leading a slate of 300, as fighting back against the same supervisor type mentality by which Unity has been running the chapter.

What is wrong with Medicare Adv? Limited care ecosystem, gate keeper for care who can second guess your doctor, fully subsidized supplemental care by NYC Org of Public Service Retirees )NYCOPSR) -- people have planned based on a given assumption. A forced switch to Med Adv could cause irreparable harm and even death. Not only retiree think that but state courts, and even mainstream press reports on dangers and scams of MedAdv. 

Danial -- how would a victory change things? Look what we've done so far? Fought back, alliances with other unions and Marianne group, 300 delegates and honest information to members. May never be the union president -- we can have a strong chapter to guide and inform the leadership.

D: What does an effective CL look like? Listens to membership, guide to resources, will work with union leadership when it can but if necessary will stand up to leadership. Right now chapter does service things right and we will continue to do the same thing - serve members. The team RA will bring to the chapter is amazingly skilled and well qualified. Hundreds of years of experience. Former HSVP -- Michael Shulman. Arthur Goldstein. Gloria Brandman. People in union since 1964 -- Bobby Greenberg. 

Next step in campaign is to get information out to 70k members. Many are not even aware yet.  People leave job and often stop paying attention under assumption they have what they always had. We need to reach people before they open their ballot in mid May.

Daniel -- not just any election but a referendum on the UFT leadership and Unity Caucus. 

B: Unity Caucus pushing this entire MedAdv plan - they set this up by fudning raises in 2014 contract on the back of retirees.


Hey, union family:

I’m inviting to join me, tonight, Sunday, February 25th at 7 PM, for a very special broadcast of Talk Out of School on WBAI 99.5 FM.

I speak to retired educator and union activist, Bennett Fischer.

Bennett, along with over 300 retirees, is running on the Retiree Advocate slate to lead the Retired Teachers Chapter within the United Federation of Teachers.

Retiree Advocate (RA) is political caucus in the Retired Teachers Chapter (RTC) of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).

They will challenge Michael Mulgrew’s deeply entrenched Unity caucus with a full slate of three-hundred retired educators — teachers, paraprofessionals, therapists, counselors, nurses, secretaries and other UFT titles - in the triennial chapter elections this spring.

For nearly three years, Retiree Advocate/UFT and our allies from across the spectrum of NYC municipal unions, have been fighting to preserve our traditional Medicare benefits, as they face attacks from the mayor's office, the Municipal Labor Committee, and Mulgrew, the architect behind the city’s privatized Medicare Advantage plan (MAP).

Health care decisions should be between us and our doctors. Big private insurance corporations should not profit at the expense of our health. Thankfully, RA and NYC retirees are fighting to preserve and strengthen NYC laws that protect our benefits.

This upcoming spring retiree chapter election may have a big impact on our union leadership in regards to the fight to stave off attempts by the city to force all Medicare eligible city retirees into the highly litigated and much maligned MAP.

Learn more about RA

In the second segment, I speak to Marianne Pizzitola, president of the New York City Organization of Public Service Retirees. Her organization, comprised of NYC retirees from our city’s unions, has been leading the fight against the city and the top establishment union bosses who are partnering in cost savings healthcare givebacks that endanger the healthcare benefits of retired and active city workers.

She will share updates on the fight the NYC retirees are waging to preserve their hard earned benefits. We also have an very interesting conversation about the upcoming RTC election and the history behind the misuse of the Healthcare Stabilization Fund.

Learn more about NYC Retirees

You don’t want to miss tonight’s broadcast! You can listen to the livestream on your computer or mobile device at

The show will be available to download as a podcast on Apple, Spotify, and here, at The Wire.

Listen live

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Statement on ASFCME Trusteeship of the Retirees Association of DC 37

Some think this is a route for Unity to undermine an election outcome.


Dear Retirees & Retirees In Training -

The below email is from our Labor for Traditional Medicare Team.  Following their update is the recent article from The Chief Leader on this issue.  There will be more news coming! 

Statement on ASFCME Trusteeship of the Retirees Association of DC 37

We are alarmed by the decision of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to put the Retirees Association of District Council 37 under trusteeship today. Several AFSCME officials arrived unannounced at the association’s Manhattan office, and they took over the facility. They informed the association’s staff that they were suspended, took control of records, including email lists, and changed the locks.

The national union posted a letter about the takeover on the association’s website and released the names of the AFSCME representatives who will be running the association. ASFCME claims the trusteeship was carried out because the association failed to file certain tax records, something the national union knew about for some time but failed to act upon.

In fact, the true reason for the takeover is that the Retirees Association has supported a lawsuit against the city over its attempt to force city retirees into a profit-seeking Aetna Medicare Advantage plan. That change will result in the loss of their traditional Medicare coverage.

The association has supported the NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees’ lawsuit with a $2,000 monthly contribution. DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido has been one of the most outspoken municipal labor leaders backing Mayor Eric Adam’s privatization scheme.

Ironically, at annual conventions, AFSCME has opposed Medicare Advantage, and its flagship affiliate DC 37 opposed Medicare Advantage in its former official publication, Public Employee Press, years ago.

Retirees, who joined the city workforce with a promise that they would be taken care of with modest pensions and comprehensive health-care coverage in their golden years, feel betrayed by union leaders and the city.

In contrast to traditional Medicare, Medicare Advantage plans place restrictions on coverage, have bureaucratic loopholes to get through for treatment, and more frequently deny coverage. And they may have costly drug plans. Studies have pointed to billions of dollars in waste and corruption in Medicare Advantage plans. For retirees, preserving their traditional Medicare coverage is a matter of life and death.

We condemn the blatant takeover of the retirees association by its national union, AFSCME. It’s an outrageous anti-democratic and anti-union power grab.

Gregory N. Heires
Ray Markey
Labor for Traditional Medicare



DC 37 Retirees Association taken over by AFSCME

Tax issue cited, but opposition to Medicare switch could also be a factor

District Council 37’s Retirees Association, which has about 40,000 members, was placed under administratorship by AFSCME Thursday. In a note on the association’s website, an AFSCME official said that the union took over the association because it failed to file taxes for the last six years, and had not had an outside audit since at least 2017.
District Council 37’s Retirees Association, which has about 40,000 members, was placed under administratorship by AFSCME Thursday. In a note on the association’s website, an AFSCME official said that the union took over the association because it failed to file taxes for the last six years, and had not had an outside audit since at least 2017.
Posted Saturday, February 24, 2024 3:50 pm

This story was updated Saturday afternoon to include comments from the Retirees Association's president.

District Council 37’s Retirees Association has been put under administratorship for allegedly failing to file tax returns for the last six years. The association's president and others, though, say its opposition to the city’s effort to switch municipal retirees to a Medicare Advantage plan was an overriding factor in the takeover. 

Ann Widger, the international retirees director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, informed members Thursday that AFSCME President Lee Saunders has placed the Retirees Association under “emergency administratorship” and that she would serve as the association’s administrator. Terri Brady, AFSCME’s retirees field coordinator, will serve as deputy administrator.

“The International Union recently became aware that the DC 37 Retirees Association was not following AFSCME’s Financial Standards Code or Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requirements, which jeopardized the Retirees Association’s funds and assets,” Widger’s message notes. “Unfortunately, the IRS has revoked the Association’s tax-exempt status for failure to file its annual tax return for the past six years.”

The association has reportedly also not conducted an outside audit “since at least 2017,” according to the international.

“These are serious failings. In pursuing these matters with the Association, it became clear that there was no significant effort or progress being made to correct them,” Widger wrote. “While there is no evidence of any individual financial wrongdoing, these matters cannot go unaddressed.”

In a letter to the Retirees Association’s executive board obtained by The Chief, Saunders stated that the association’s officers were suspended and must turn over all records, funds, books and property belonging to the group, citing “an emergency situation … in that dissipation or loss of funds or assets is threatened.”

DC 37 represents approximately 80,000 retired city workers. The Retirees Association counts more than 25,000 members who typically pay $36 in annual dues that are deducted from their monthly pensions.

A spokesperson for DC 37 declined to comment on the announcement. AFSCME did not immediately return a request for comment inquiring why the international was unaware the association allegedly had not filed its taxes or been audited for several years.

Several officers of the Retirees Association, including the recording secretary, Bruce Heigh, and a former president, Edward Hysyk, who served in the position from 2018 until 2022, did not immediately return requests for comment.

Did Medicare Advantage play a role?

A source who wished to remain anonymous said there was another reason for the administratorship — notably the Retirees Association’s $2,000 monthly payments to the NYC Organization of Retired Public Servants, which is leading the fight against the city’s effort to switch retired municipal workers’ health-care coverage to a Medicare Advantage plan.

In a June email message obtained by The Chief, Widger wrote to the association's president, Bob Gervasi, and cited a portion of the international union’s constitution that notes, “no property of any subordinate body … shall be given, contributed, assigned, donated or result to … any seceding, dual or antagonistic labor organization group … which is in violation of the International Constitution.” 

The email did not reference the association’s failure to file its taxes.

Speaking to The Chief Saturday, Gervasi said the Retirees Association had in fact been making the monthly contributions to the retirees’ organization. 

Out of caution, though, he asked for the NYC Organization of Retired Public Servants’ financial statements and eventually decided to stop making the contributions. He also sent the language in AFSCME’s constitution to members of his executive board. But several board members pointed to the Retirees Association’s own constitution, which requires them to protect the retirees’ health care. The board voted in December to resume payments to the organization.

Gervasi said he found out that the association had lost its tax-exempt status soon afterward. 

“If AFSCME had called me up and told me ‘You have 30 days to fix this,’ I would have done so. The tax exemption could have been fixed — we would have paid our penalties. It’s really a shame it had to go down this way,” he said.

Gervasi added that he was told that other DC 37 locals using the same accountant as the Retirees Association reportedly had a similar problem with their tax status, and had fired the individual. He did not indicate which locals those were.

He believes that the association’s loss of its tax-exempt status was an excuse for the administratorship. “In my opinion, this is all about the resumption of the payments to [the retiree group],” he said. “Now AFSCME has control of the association’s money, and it all stops. That was the ultimate goal.”

Ray Markey, the former president of DC 37’s Local 1930, and a former DC 37 staffer, Gregory Heires, said in a statement on social media on behalf of Labor for Traditional Medicare, a group within the NYC Organization of Retired Public Servants, that “the true reason for the takeover” was because of Retirees Association’s support of the fight against the city’s Medicare Advantage effort.

“We condemn the [blatant] takeover of the retirees association by its national union, AFSCME. It’s an outrageous anti-democratic and anti-union power grab,” the statement said.

Widger, though, denied that AFSCME’s decision to place the association under administrationship was tied to the Medicare Advantage matter.

“I realize that some will say this is about the current debate around retiree health care for New York City retirees. Make no mistake: It is not,” the message reads. “It is about serious violations of AFSCME’s Financial Standards Code and the International Constitution, which has resulted in the IRS revoking the Retirees Association of DC 37’s tax-exempt status.”

Gervasi said he was angered by the way AFSCME officials came into the association’s office Thursday morning. “They were rude to my staff, who were in that office everyday during Covid helping people, and they changed the locks,” he said. “My employees didn’t deserve that.”

He added that, “Nobody did anything wrong. Nobody’s money is in danger.”

Gervasi blamed the mayor, the Municipal Labor Committee and former labor Commissioner Bob Linn for the rollout of Medicare Advantage. “I’m not totally against the Medicare Advantage plan, but I want choice,” he said. “The city picked the most vulnerable people to pick on. Our retirees, they need help. My concerns have always been for the retirees and their benefit.”

Donations are Needed! 



Donation Instructions to Support Our Organization and our Fight To Protect Our Retiree Healthcare:

We worked decades for our benefits! Let’s make sure the City and the MLC don’t take them away!

suggested $25 Donation* will help start the fight to keep our current benefits.

*Give more if you can, and/or often!  If you cannot meet the minimum suggested donation, we appreciate whatever you can give towards this fight for our benefits.  We also added the option to make your donation recurring (monthly) as was requested. 

We are incorporated as a Non-Profit, but not tax deductible. ALL proceeds go to fund the organization and its legal challenge. Volunteer retirees are running this effort. 


1.Zelle using email YOU CANNOT USE THE ZELLE APP!   You must use Zelle via your online banking. In some cases you cannot use the Zelle via the bank app either.   So if you're finding trouble, use the computer and make the payment via Zelle from your online banking. 

2. Make your check out to:
NYC Organization of Public Service Retirees 
c/o  JSH Accounting Services LLC
PO Box 143538
Fayetteville, GA 30214
(this is the organization's accounting professional)


3. Or click on this Paypal link:

4.  VENMO OUR Venmo Name changed!   Please take note!

VENMO is a Phone App or can be used on a PC or Tablet
You can download and install the Phone App from the Android Play Store or Apple App Store. There may be fees involved using this method.

Our NEW ID is: @NYCRetirees2

If you are on this list, it is because you subscribed to hear what we are doing as an organization that represents all NYC Municipal workers in protecting their Health benefits in retirement.   Currently, we have a FACEBOOK page located here:

If you are not on FACEBOOK, we will be updating you here. And Check our website for FAQ

Thank you for signing up for our newsletter and pass this to a friend to sign up too!

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PO Box 143538
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Our Correspondence ONLY Address is:
PO Box 424
Sharpsburg, GA 30277



Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Serious Medical Errors Rose After Private Equity Firms Bought Hospitals

Here is more important information in the battle for healthcare and counter to the lies from our union leaders that downplay the profit motive as a link to deteriorating healthcare. Aetna is not exactly the same as private equity but maybe not far off. And we often don't know exactly who owns what in healthcare.

What we do know is that Medicare is not owned but governed - not to say there are not political influences on Medicare either.

Serious Medical Errors Rose After Private Equity Firms Bought Hospitals

A new study shows an increase in the rate of inpatient complications, including infections and falls, though patients were no more likely to die.

Marianne --


Latimer Picks Anti-Union Consultant for Bowman Challenge


Latimer Picks Anti-Union Consultant for Bowman Challenge

Global Strategy Group, which once worked for Amazon to prevent union organizing in its warehouses, is doing polling for the pro-Israel candidate.


February 7, 2024

Pro-Israel groups have publicly declared war on progressive congressmembers critical of Israeli policy and the war in Gaza, vowing to spend nearly $100 million in the 2024 races to unseat them. Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York’s 16th Congressional District is a top target.

Bowman is facing a well-financed primary challenge from Westchester County Executive George Latimer, hand-picked and recruited by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). But while AIPAC’s $600,000 investment in Latimer makes the organization his largest donor, the candidate is also receiving help in the race from a top Biden polling firm with deep corporate ties and a long anti-union track record.

Federal Election Commission filings show that the Latimer campaign’s top consultant expenses went to polling and public relations shop Global Strategy Group, which received $34,200 for polling work in October of last year. Most famously, GSG’s extensive union-busting work single-handedly almost got a new rule passed by the Democratic Party in 2022 to blacklist consultants with anti-union clients.

“The corporate wing of the party has decided they’re more than comfortable engaging in GOP billionaire-funded primaries of Democratic incumbents and that’s a dangerous thing for our party,” said a senior progressive strategist.

More from Luke Goldstein

GSG conducted polling for a Biden super PAC during the 2020 race and has a long list of Democratic clients, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and even some progressives such as Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). GSG’s ties to the top brass of the Democratic Party extend to New York state as well. The firm’s founding partner Jeff Pollock was a longtime ally of former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and helped advise him on his response to sexual misconduct allegations before stepping down from office.

The firm’s reputation is what set off the firestorm in 2022, when reports surfaced that GSG was hired by Amazon, explicitly for its union-busting efforts at the Staten Island JFK8 fulfillment center. The reports revealed that GSG put out anti-union flyers and even went as far as to assemble videos for captive-audience meetings to dissuade workers from unionizing, which is against the law. “This is disgusting,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said at the time about GSG’s work for Amazon. Weingarten had reason to publicly lambast GSG, which worked against the AFT on charter school initiatives in a number of states on behalf of groups funded by the Walton and DeVos families.

The backlash over the Amazon story was so severe that it led to an official motion filed within the Democratic National Committee to ban consultants that had worked for anti-union clients, though the rule never got implemented. GSG denied the specific anti-union allegations at the time but ended up terminating its contract with Amazon shortly thereafter.

The Amazon incident wasn’t an outlier for GSG though, which has used its Democratic connections to woo corporate clients, from Big Tech to big banks. Both Uber and Lyft tapped GSG specifically to fight back against legislation and administrative rules that would reclassify drivers from independent contractors to employees.

UPDATE: In a statement given to the Prospect after publication, a Global Strategy Group spokesperson said, “ We are proud of our almost 30-year track record of working on behalf of progressive candidates and causes across this country.  We are currently working for many labor unions who fight every day for workers and support the right to organize.  We have language in our contracts that makes it clear we will not do any work that opposes efforts to organize, including participating in campaigns that make it harder for workers to organize or qualify for benefits. ”

GSG’s record puts daylight between the two candidates’ stances on workers’ rights if that wasn’t already apparent. But it’s also significant for a few other reasons.

After extensive encouragement, Latimer entered the race in December with a guarantee that his campaign coffers would be bountiful from AIPAC and related pro-Israel PACs. Recent filings confirm this premonition as Latimer’s AIPAC contributions alone account for over 40 percent of his fundraising totals. AIPAC remains a defining player in Democratic primaries despite the fact that it remains aligned with Republicans candidates whom it has funded just as much in past years as Democrats.

GSG taking on Latimer as a client shows that the Democratic Party’s top corporate consultants are willing to help unseat Democratic incumbents—a strategy that progressives were excoriated for just a few years ago by the very same people when the dynamic was reversed.

“It is telling to see that when everyday working-class people were challenging corporate incumbents, the DCCC made an entire blacklist to prevent our party to look more like the people that elect them,” said Usamah Andrabi, communications director with Justice Democrats. “Now, as AIPAC threatens to spend $100 million against progressive Democratic incumbents with Republican megadonor support, the DCCC is silent.” 

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Los Angeles DSA Censures Lawmaker Over Pro-Israel Group's Endorsement



Los Angeles DSA Censures Lawmaker Over Pro-Israel Group's Endorsement

Nithya Raman (Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Marie Claire)
February 5, 2024

The Democratic Socialists of America's Los Angeles chapter censured one of its members over the weekend because a pro-Israel Democratic group endorsed her reelection bid for L.A. City Council.

The DSA said in a letter sent Saturday to L.A. councilwoman Nithya Raman (D.) that she undermined the group's "commitment to overcoming imperialist capitalism and the exploitation of working people across the world" by soliciting and receiving support from Democrats for Israel-Los Angeles, an organization that describes itself as "fighting antisemitism in our party and in society at-large."

"This most recent action continues a pattern in which the Councilmember has avoided embracing and organizing alongside the movement, while accepting support from its enemies," the DSA letter said. Raman in 2020 became the group's first member to win an L.A. City Council seat.

This move by the DSA's L.A. branch, which now counts three L.A. city council members, two L.A. school district trustees, and the city controller among its ranks, comes as the national DSA finds itself in a financial hole after organizing against Israel. The group is grappling with a $2 million budget shortfall in the wake of its "All Out for Palestine" rallies, where protesters have waved swastika images and cheered terrorist "freedom fighters."

Los Angeles's DSA has been similarly focused on anti-Israel organizing. This week alone, the group has scheduled its "Palestine Solidarity Working Group" meeting, a "Palestine reading group session," and a protest for a ceasefire.

The chapter won't yet pull its endorsement of Raman. To restore her good standing in the group, leaders are urging her to help organize and push an L.A. City Council resolution for a "permanent ceasefire" and to reject the Democrats for Israel's endorsement.

The DSA's L.A. chapter, Raman, and the Democrats for Israel-Los Angeles did not respond to requests for comment.

Raman won her city council seat in 2020, as part of a local progressive wave that also elected anti-incarceration prosecutor George Gascón as L.A. district attorney. She faces a competitive race this year after her district was redrawn to include more moderate areas, and her leading opponent—a deputy city attorney—has attacked her over her DSA ties. Still, her progressive alliances have helped her raise cash from Hollywood stars such as Scarlett Johansson and Tina Fey, and she remains the best-funded candidate.


Friday, February 02, 2024

Why do America’s liberal hawks attack Russia while giving Israel a free pass?

Why do America’s liberal hawks attack Russia while giving Israel a free pass?

Liberal hawks like Michael McFaul, Max Boot and Anne Applebaum are quick to denounce Russian aggression but ignore Israeli crimes

On 7 January, Anne Applebaum, a historian and a staff writer at the Atlantic, retweeted a video of Russian missiles striking a Ukrainian hospital. Three days later, former US ambassador Michael McFaul, a Stanford professor and contributing columnist at the Washington Post, approvingly tweeted a sign demanding that Vladimir Putin be sent to The Hague. On 15 January, Post columnist Max Boot reminded readers that, according to the United Nations, Russia has killed more than 10,000 civilians in Ukraine.

These expressions of outrage were entirely justified. What makes them odd is that more than three months into the war in Gaza, Applebaum has still not acknowledged on X (formerly known as Twitter), where she comments frequently, that Israel has attacked hospitals there. She has not done so despite a Washington Post investigation in December that found that Israel has “conducted repeated and widespread airstrikes in proximity to hospitals”, thus contributing to a public health catastrophe in which, according to the World Health Organization, only 15 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals remain even partly functional.

Nor would a reader know from following McFaul on X that Israel is currently on trial at The Hague, accused by South Africa of committing genocide in Gaza. Boot has addressed Israel’s war more forthrightly: he largely defends it. One of the conflict’s lessons, he argued on 20 December, “is the need for a robust defense-industrial capacity, because high-intensity conflicts always consume vast quantities of ammunition”.

Applebaum, McFaul and Boot are liberal hawks. They claim to support a foreign policy devoted to defending democracy and human rights whenever possible, sometimes even at the point of a gun. (The line between liberal hawks and neoconservatives can grow fuzzy, but liberal hawks are more sympathetic to diplomacy and international institutions, and generally favor Democrats, not Republicans.) Not long ago, liberal hawks were considered a casualty of America’s military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, wars advertised as bringing freedom to longsuffering populations, which brought chaos and destruction instead. (I myself identified as a liberal hawk until those wars forced me to alter my worldview.)

But in recent years, liberal hawks have regained much of their respectability and power. Their resurgence has been fueled by Washington’s turn away from the “war on terror”, which for many Americans ended when the US withdrew troops from Afghanistan in 2021, and its focus on a new cold war. Because dictatorships rule Russia and China, and because Moscow and Beijing menace vulnerable democracies on their border, liberal hawks argue that preserving freedom requires deterring America’s great power adversaries.

Their argument has gained particular force since Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, which they see as a test case for the global struggle to come. “Liberals who once protested the Iraq War now urge Washington to dispatch more rocket launchers to defeat Russian imperialism,” the Atlantic declared in a September 2022 essay entitled The Rise of the Liberal Hawks. Last February, Britain’s the Critic argued that the “Russian invasion of Ukraine has sealed liberal hawk ascendancy”.

Liberal hawks enjoy particular influence in Washington because their worldview closely aligns with the Biden administration’s. It’s no surprise that both Applebaum and McFaul have been invited to private, off-the-record discussions with the president. Biden and his top foreign policy advisers share Applebaum’s belief that today’s great power contest pits the “democratic world” against the “autocratic world”. As Biden put it in a 2022 speech about Ukraine, the United States and its allies must “put the strength of democracies into action to thwart the designs of autocracy”.

This worldview contains important truths. Russia and China are far more authoritarian than the United States and many of its key European and Asian allies. They’re also far more authoritarian than Ukraine and Taiwan, imperiled democracies that deserve to chart their own path free from imperialistic aggression. Whether or not one agrees with the policies that Applebaum, Boot and McFaul advocate in eastern Europe and east Asia, they’re aimed at defending liberal democracy – a commitment that extends to the United States, where all three writers staunchly oppose Donald Trump.

But liberal hawks have a problem: the borderlands of Russia and China are not the entire world. In the global south, especially, the geopolitical boundaries between the US and its adversaries don’t map easily on to the moral boundaries between freedom and tyranny. When discussing countries outside Europe or east Asia, liberal hawks often strain to shoehorn them into a worldview that associates America and its allies with democracy’s cause.

In March 2022, for instance, when Applebaum delivered Senate testimony about what she called “the new autocratic alliance”, she included in its ranks China, Russia, Belarus, Venezuela and Cuba, all US adversaries, along with Turkey, an American frenemy. She never mentioned Saudi Arabia, a critical US ally that – awkwardly – scores lower in Freedom House’s most recent freedom rankings than all of the autocracies she denounced except Belarus, with whom it ties.

Never have these ideological contortions been as conspicuous as during Israel’s war in Gaza. Liberal hawks often profess their commitment to human rights. Yet they haven’t called for ending a war that is killing more people per day than any conflict this century. They haven’t done so because, like their allies in the Biden administration, they are wedded to a narrative about the moral superiority of American power that this war defies.

Liberal hawks want to preserve American primacy, which they associate with human progress. But Israel-Palestine reveals a harsher truth: that in much of the world, for many decades, the US has used its power not to defend freedom but to deny it. That’s why liberal hawks can’t face the true horror of this war. Doing so would require them to reconsider their deepest assumptions about America’s role in the world.

Since 7 October, liberal hawks have labored to analogize Israel’s war in Gaza to Ukraine’s defense against Russian invasion – a template that renders Israel an innocent victim of external aggression and places America on the side of human rights and international law. In his 19 October speech from the Oval Office, President Biden declared that “Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common. They both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy.”

Liberal hawks in the media have offered similar comparisons. In a column on 9 October, Applebaum suggested that “The Russian invasion of Ukraine and Hamas’s surprise attack on Israeli civilians are both blatant rejections” of a “rules-based world order”. On 3 November, McFaul described Hamas and Russia as part of an “Illiberal International” – which also includes Iran, Hezbollah and sometimes China – that “has come together again to attack democratic Israel”. Boot added on 20 December that “the wars in both Gaza and Ukraine should remind complacent western leaders that our adversaries do not share our liberal values”.

When Applebaum, McFaul and Boot call Hamas an illiberal movement that does not respect international law, they are correct. Its Islamist ideology is incompatible with individual freedom and equality under the law, and it blatantly violated the rules of war when it murdered civilians on 7 October. But to depict Israel’s war as another battle between a democratic, rules-abiding west and a lawless, illiberal axis that runs from Beijing to Moscow to Tehran to Gaza City, liberal hawks must ignore elementary facts about the Jewish state.

When detailing Russia’s crimes, Applebaum and Boot are fond of citing Human Rights Watch; McFaul boosts the work of Amnesty International. When it comes to Israel, however, the findings of the world’s leading human rights organizations become irrelevant. Israel is “democratic”, respects the “rules-based world order” and embodies “liberal values” – even though Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say it practices apartheid and has for more than 15 years held millions of Palestinians in Gaza in what both organizations call an “open-air prison”.

When discussing America’s adversaries, liberal hawks often warn Americans not to let their ideological preconceptions blind them to the harsh realities on the ground. But when it comes to Israel, they do exactly that. In recent years, Applebaum has written eloquently about the struggle between liberal democrats and populist authoritarians in Poland, Hungary and the United States. After traveling to Israel last summer, she projected a similar dynamic on to the Jewish state. Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempted judicial overhaul, she declared, risks creating an “undemocratic Israel, a de facto autocracy”. But this storyline only works if you ignore Palestinians. For more than 70% of the Palestinians under Israel’s control – those in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, who live or die based on the actions of a government for whom they cannot vote – Israel is an autocracy right now.

Among Applebaum, McFaul and Boot’s favorite epithets for Americans who disagree with them about Russia is “naive”. But when describing Israel, they conjure a fantasyland in which Palestinians either don’t exist or would soon have their own state if only they behaved themselves. On 4 November, McFaul suggested that if Hamas gave up power and released Israeli hostages it would “give new momentum to Palestinian sovereignty”. But Israel hasn’t elected a prime minister who supports Palestinian sovereignty in 15 years. And even Netanyahu’s leading centrist opponent, Benny Gantz, is careful to say that while he supports a Palestinian “entity” in the West Bank, it won’t enjoy the powers of a state.

On 17 October, Boot instructed Palestinians that “the most effective resistance against liberal democracies is the most nonviolent”. In so doing, he evidently forgot that the Palestinian Authority has been collaborating with Israel to prevent unarmed resistance in the West Bank since 2005, that Israeli sharpshooters and drone operators injured roughly 36,000 protesters in Gaza during the largely unarmed Great March of Return in 2018, and that Palestinians launched a nonviolent boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in 2005 – a movement Boot derided because it targets Israel, not China.

As the war in Gaza has ground on, depicting Israel as the embodiment of a rules-abiding, liberal democratic west has grown harder. But despite some initial warnings, Applebaum and McFaul have largely averted their eyes. On 13 October, Applebaum quoted her Atlantic colleague George Packer, who urged Israelis not to “assume that the world’s support will last a day longer if news emerges of mass civilian deaths in Gaza”. On 29 October, she tweeted a New Yorker essay about life in the Strip. But in the months since, as news has emerged of civilian deaths on a terrifying scale, Applebaum has said little. On 29 December and again on 7 January, she retweeted news that Moscow had struck civilian targets in Ukraine. Her feed contains no acknowledgment that Israel has done the same in Gaza.

Four days into the war, McFaul implored Israel to “abide by international law and minimize civilian casualties and civilian suffering”. In early November, he declared that the Biden administration was “right to pressure Netanyahu to take much greater measures to reduce civilian deaths” and even suggested that “future US aid to Israel should have conditions”. But since then, as civilian casualties have exceeded 20,000 and human rights groups have repeatedly accused Israel of violating international law, McFaul has used his X feed neither to endorse a ceasefire nor to endorse the actual legislation to condition aid voted on by the Senate.

Like Applebaum, McFaul has said barely anything. On 4 December, he applauded Senator Jim Risch for decrying “Russia’s brutality and continued war crimes against the Ukrainian people”. From McFaul’s online posts, however, you’d never know that Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and even Israel’s own leading human rights organization, B’Tselem, have accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza.

Boot has been more upfront. He hasn’t ignored the destruction of Gaza; he’s justified it. While acknowledging that “this is a great tragedy for the people of Gaza”, Boot alleged on 15 January that “primary blame must lie with Hamas, because it launched an unprovoked attack on Israel and uses civilians as human shields”.

Depicting Hamas’s massacre as “unprovoked” – and thus akin to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – requires ignoring that Israel has been occupying Gaza since 1967 and blockading it (with assistance from Egypt) since 2007. Justifying Israel’s destruction because Hamas embeds itself among civilians would justify the mass killing of civilians in most wars against a guerrilla foe because, as Mao Zedong famously declared, “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.” Indeed, the United States in the 1960s and 1970s used Boot’s argument about “human shields” to justify bombing villages that sheltered the Vietcong and Russia has employed it repeatedly to justify murdering civilians in Ukraine.

Boot also dismisses South Africa’s charge that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza because, he argues, civilian deaths there “constitute less than 1% of the territory’s population”. He contrasts this allegedly baseless charge with the US government’s claim that China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs, which he cites with approval.

But when the state department in 2021 accused China of genocide, it didn’t allege that Beijing had killed any particular percentage of the Uyghur population. It didn’t discuss mass slaughter at all but rather “forced assimilation and eventual erasure of a vulnerable ethnic and religious minority group” through forced sterilization and abortion; forced marriage to non-Uyghurs; separation of children from their parents; denial of freedom of speech, travel and worship; and mass imprisonment and torture in labor camps. By Boot’s standard, these horrors – which some scholars have called “cultural genocide” – wouldn’t constitute genocide either. In accusing South Africa of a “double standard”, Boot inadvertently reveals his own: one definition of genocide for America’s foes, another for its friends.

Why do commentators who write so passionately about the human rights abuses committed by Russia and other US adversaries find it so hard to oppose a war that, according to the United Nations, is putting half a million Palestinians at risk of starvation? It’s not that Applebaum, McFaul and Boot believe America can do no wrong. To the contrary, they warn that under Donald Trump, the US could go over to the dark side and join the autocratic world.

But they tell a particular story about America, and about the last century, which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict turns on its head. The story is that America’s rise to global pre-eminence ushered in a freer and more law-abiding world. Applebaum has applauded the “Pax Americana that accompanied the rules-based world order”. Boot argues that after winning the second world war, the US avoided “pursuing our narrow self-interest” and instead created “lasting institutions such as Nato and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (forerunner of the World Trade Organization) to promote prosperity and security for all”. McFaul insists that “the US has not for many decades engaged in annexation or colonization, does not attack democracies, and does not use terrorism deliberately as a method of war”.

But there are many places, especially in the global south, that do not fit this story of American power producing moral progress. The story doesn’t account for the 62 times, according to the political scientist Dov Levin, that the United States intervened in foreign elections between 1946 and 1989, nor the fact that, according to Lindsey O’Rourke’s book Covert Regime Change, many of the leftist parties the US sabotaged had “repeatedly committed themselves to working within a democratic framework, and, in some cases, US policymakers even acknowledged this fact”.

The story doesn’t account for US complicity in Indonesia’s killing of roughly 1 million alleged leftists in the mid-1960s or the CIA’s role in helping apartheid South Africa arrest Nelson Mandela. It can’t be reconciled with the Nixon administration’s decision to keep arming Pakistan’s war in what became Bangladesh when America’s own chief diplomat on the ground told them that the Pakistanis were committing genocide or the Reagan administration’s insistence on supplying weapons to President Efraín Ríos Montt, whom a Guatemalan court later convicted of genocide for his effort to wipe out his country’s Maya Ixil Indians.

The story doesn’t explain the George HW Bush and Clinton administrations’ sanctions against Iraq, which the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in that country warned were “destroying an entire society” or the Obama administration’s participation in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ blockade and indiscriminate bombing of Yemen, which left 18 million of the country’s 28 million people without reliable access to food.

Israel-Palestine is part of a darker history about the era of American primacy that liberal hawks celebrate and wish to preserve. For decades, the United States has used its unparalleled military might and diplomatic muscle to ensure that Israel can deny millions of Palestinians the most basic rights – citizenship, due process, freedom of movement, the right to vote – with impunity.

In 2020, the United States froze the assets of the prosecutor of the international criminal court, partly in retaliation for her decision to launch an investigation into Israeli war crimes. At the United Nations general assembly, the entire world – including virtually all the democracies on earth – regularly vote to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The tally last November was 145-7. But the US renders this global human rights consensus impotent by again and again employing its veto at the security council. Many US states bar individuals or organizations that support boycotting Israel – or even merely boycotting Israeli settlements – from conducting business with state government.

These are not the actions merely of Maga authoritarians. This intensive effort to protect Israeli apartheid has been broadly bipartisan and spanned many presidencies. It includes many of the politicians that Applebaum, McFaul and Boot believe embody the best of America – those dedicated to supporting Ukraine and keeping Donald Trump from re-entering the White House – chief among them Joe Biden. And since 7 October, these decades of near-unconditional US support have culminated in Biden rushing weapons to Israel even as, according to Oxfam, Israel kills more than five times as many people per day as Russia is killing in Ukraine. All this gravely undermines the moral dichotomy that structures liberal hawks’ view of the world. The more honestly one faces the horror in Gaza, the harder it becomes to draw a bright line between the way America wields its power and the way its adversaries do.

In 2021, Applebaum bemoaned the fact that “a part of the American left has abandoned the idea that ‘democracy’ belongs at the heart of US foreign policy”. She speculated that the left’s emphasis on America’s sins – its alleged belief that “the history of America is the history of genocide, slavery, exploitation, and not much else” – had convinced many progressives that the US lacks the moral authority to aid people suffering “profound injustice” overseas.

But because Applebaum focuses on the oppression committed by America’s adversaries, she ignored the possibility that American progressives might rise up in solidarity with people oppressed by America’s friends, and that they might draw inspiration not from a celebration of America’s past virtue but from those in prior generations who struggled against American genocide, slavery and exploitation.

In her 2021 essay, Applebaum criticized progressives for not producing “something comparable to the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s”. They now have. If a new generation of Americans eventually turns US policy against apartheid in Israel-Palestine, as their forebears turned US policy against apartheid in South Africa, it won’t be because they extolled American power. It will be because they confronted the “profound injustices”, committed under America’s auspices, which liberal hawks so often obfuscate or ignore.

  • Peter Beinart is editor-at-large of Jewish Currents, professor of journalism and political science at the Newmark School of Journalism at the City University of New York, and author of The Beinart Notebook, a weekly newsletter

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