The Zeskind Fortnight
10 November 2009|
A Re-Birth at IREHR.org
The Zeskind Fortnight No. 21
A Personal Statement by Leonard Zeskind
The Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) is a different kind of organization.
We didn't hesitate to point at the racism motivating the Tea Party protests. We are dedicated to countering the machinations of anti-immigrant organizations with hard facts and a principled call for human rights for all. We understand that the fight against ant-Semitism is central to any battle to curb white nationalism. We don't hesitate to expose efforts--whether from the right or the left--to undermine the sovereignty of native peoples; guarantees that were written into treaties long ago and violated by the United States government from the start. We support the reproductive rights of all women, and oppose doctor-killers, clinic bombers and bigotry against gay men and lesbians. And IREHR is just getting re-started. I invite you to take a look at www.IREHR.org to see what we are doing and how we are taking on these and other key issues.
The Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights began in 1983 as an effort to expose and fight racism and anti-Semitism and to educate the public about the dangers the far right posed to the promise of democracy in the United States. It was an all-volunteer operation, a rarity in the world of non-profit organizations where collecting a paycheck is often more important than fighting for a cause. It published nine issues of a magazine, with even the printing costs donated and a relatively small number of paid subscriptions and donations covering the costs of sending it to a mailing list of almost 2,000 individuals and institutions. When the farm and rural economic crisis of the early 1980s resulted in the growth of anti-Semitic organizing in the Great Plains-Midwest, we wrote, printed and distributed 5,000 copies of an indispensible pamphlet debunking the myth that "Jewish bankers" were responsible for this rural crisis. Entitled, "Who Is Behind the Farm Crisis," more than 40,000 copies were distributed by religious groups and farm organization as part of a successful campaign to counter the anti-Semites who were then trying to drive farm families into a complete political ditch.
During the 1990s, IREHR rarely acted in its own name. Instead, we focused on helping other organizations develop their strategies for countering far right wing bigotry. Just recently, however, we decided to rekindle our own more direct efforts. The board of directors, which I serve as president, did not treat this decision lightly. But we know that there is more than a little something unique that this organization will contribute. As such, we have started a serious institution-building effort.
We aim to broaden the strategic understanding of the issues at hand; to locate this battle against bigotry on the terrain of politics and history, rather than simply in the paranoia and personality disorders of violent perpetrators. You will notice, for example, that our effort to counter the anti-immigrant movement is situated in the context of citizenship and national identity. To help connect those who battle against racism directly and those who "fight the right," we have just started to build the analytical bridge necessary to connect the problem of prejudice and institutional racism with the more ideologically defined threat by the white nationalist movement.
We will continue to add an international framework to our program of countering the far right, racism, anti-Semitism and white nationalism in the United States. Consider in this regard our recent re-launch in Seattle, where a local meeting featured a presentation by Nick Lowles, editor of Searchlight magazine, an anti-fascist, anti-racist monthly based in London. A write-up of that event is on our website.
Rather than simply parrot the received wisdom on these issues, we at IREHR intend to take a new look at old problems. See for yourself and decide if this organization is going in a direction that you want to go. Sign up at www.IREHR.org
Leonard Zeskind is president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights.