From Other Sources: News For And About Amherst.  This Week: Local News Roundup, The Assault on DEI on Campus,  Gaza, and Police Reform


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Here are links to some local stories from the last week or so that we were unable to cover in the Indy as well as some worthwhile reading on the assault on free speech and diversity work on campus, The Gaza War, and Police Reform.

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Local Activist John Bonifaz: Colorado Supreme Court Ruling on Trump a “Victory for Democracy” by Alexander MacDougall (12/20/23). An Amherst attorney who has made the case that former President Donald Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021 constituted an insurrection against the United States called Tuesday’s ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court as a “victory for our democracy and our constitution.”The divided Colorado court declared Trump ineligible for the White House under the U.S. Constitution’s insurrection clause and removed him from the state’s presidential primary ballot, a ruling that will almost certainly be challenged by the nation’s highest court. John Bonifaz, an activist attorney in Amherst and president of the nonprofit organization Free Speech for People, has long maintained that Section Three of the 14th Amendment applies to Trump. His organization filed an amicus brief in the Colorado Supreme Court case supporting the argument that Trump violated the 14th Amendment, and has worked closely with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the nonprofit that filed the case in Colorado. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Fewer Breaking into Market as Home Prices Soar by Colin A. Young (12/20/23). Single-family home sales in Massachusetts were down markedly in November, while housing prices set record highs for the month. And if that sounds familiar, it’s probably because it was the sixth consecutive month to post a double-digit percentage decline in sales and a new monthly record high median sale price. The Warren Group reported Tuesday that there were 3,447 single-family homes sold in the state last month, a 10.6% decline from November 2022 and the smallest number of single-family home sales for any November since 2011. With inventories limited, the average sale price for a single-family home increased 8.4% over last November to $579,900, setting a new all-time high for November.The numbers in Hampshire County are similar, with 89 homes sold this November, a nearly 17% drop from the 107 homes the same month a year ago. The median price, however, has dropped by 5% when comparing the two Novembers, from $400,000 last year to $380,000 this year. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Nightclub, Restaurants Coming to Downtown Amherst by Scott Merzbach (12/19/20). Two Amherst restaurants that closed this fall will reopen with new names and under new ownership in the coming weeks, while a new nightclub is also coming to downtown. The Board of Licence Commissioners is holding virtual hearings Dec. 28 at 5:30 p.m. on liquor license transfers for 40 University Drive and 104 North Pleasant St. The transfer requests come from Paul Tupa, of Pembroke, who will manage both properties. Tupa and Peter Lucido, of Duxbury, co-own several restaurants in Plymouth.The former Savannas on University Drive will become the Amherst Public House, while what had been Amherst Burger Co. on North Pleasant Street will become the Uptown Tap and Grille. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Photos:  Hundreds March 25 Miles To Demand Gaza Cease Fire by Shelby Lee (12/18/23). On Sunday, hundreds gathered for a 25-mile march from Northampton to the Springfield offices of U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey to demand a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and an end to military aid to Israel.The march was made up of members of Jewish Voice for Peace, the Palestinian-led organization Within our Lifetime, the local Islamic community, and others across Massachusetts. The marchers expressed concern over the civilian death toll of Israel’s bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza, now estimated to be proportionately higher than any conflict of the 20th century. The route was chosen to represent the forced migration of Palestinians in northern Gaza to the south, a journey of about the same distance. Along the way were numerous stops where marchers could peel off, join in, learn songs and chants, and get food and medical care. The leaders estimate 500 marchers participated throughout the day. The Shoestring followed the march from end to end and spoke to participants about what brought them out that day. (The Shoestring)

Florence Synagogue Receives Second Bomb Threat by Alexander MacDougall (12/18/23).  Just days after an art installation/memorial was unveiled in support of the Beit Ahavah synagogue, following a bomb threat the Florence synagogue received last month, the congregation received a second bomb threat this past Sunday. According to Massachusetts State Police, bomb squads were dispatched after an email making multiple bomb threats to Jewish synagogues and affiliated centers across Massachusetts was sent out on Sunday, Dec. 17. The threats appear to have been sent from the same email address, police said. In addition to Beit Ahavah, bomb squads responded to three synagogues and a Jewish community center in Framingham and a Jewish cultural center in Tisbury. No explosives or hazards were located at any of sites, state police said. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Amherst Middle School Science Teacher Gone Without Explanation by Scott Merzbach (12/17/23). An Amherst Regional Middle School science teacher placed on leave in November, putting instruction of her students in limbo, appears to have lost her job, even after appeals from parents and the teachers union that she be allowed to return. With concerns that seventh graders are being shortchanged on their science education due to the absence of teacher Erin Lawler, and no notification that a substitute has been working since Nov. 9, parents pushed the Amherst Regional School Committee on the matter at a Dec. 12 meeting. “Erin is an excellent teacher, and her kids were excited to go to class every day,” said parent Jenny Franz. “It’s a shame that they’ve missed out on important curriculum, but they’ve also missed out on one of their favorite teachers.” “She simply disappeared one day, with no explanation to our children or our parents,” said parent Greta Biagi, who added that Lawler made a positive impact through her teaching and empathy and had been replaced with a “glorified study hall.” (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Expansive Housing Vision Unveiled for Leverett Estate by Scott Merzbach (12/15/23). Should the redevelopment of Juggler Meadow, the estate built for late Yankee Candle Founder Michael Kittredge, move forward with possibly hundreds of homes, those living in those future homes and apartments could access amenities including a stocked trout pond, an indoor water park, an arcade and tennis courts, and manicured greenspace and wooded areas. As a resident who grew up on Juggler Meadow Road in a home where her mother still lives, Jill Franks said such a project, resembling a planned community in Florida, is not something she would welcome. “This is an outsider’s vision,” Franks said. “This is not Leverett.” Franks was among around 100 people who gathered in the Leverett Elementary School gymnasium Wednesday for a two-hour Planning Board meeting to learn about the preliminary plans for turning the 60-acre estate, on the market for $23 million since the summer of 2022, into a housing development, potentially with 700 or more units. There were nearly 100 more participants via Zoom, posting periodic written comments when the audio  malfunctioned. Zoom initially reached capacity, possibly preventing even more people from joining via computers or phones. (Amherst Bulletin)

The Forest and the Trees: Western Mass’ Solar Siting Problem by Naila Mareira (12/13/23). I’m here because up to 360 acres of this forest are proposed to be clear-cut for five separate solar panel arrays totaling 45 megawatts of energy capacity. The land is owned by W.D. Cowls Land Company, Inc., the largest private landowner in Massachusetts. The sites, meanwhile, would be leased by PureSky Energy, a solar company co-owned by the multinational asset management firms Fiera Capital Corporation and Palisade Infrastructure Group. The solar project could become the state’s largest. In return, Cowls has agreed to place 5,000 acres of nearby land within Shutesbury, Leverett and Pelham under conservation restriction. Although that land can’t be developed, Cowls is allowed to log those acres. The solar installations would help, Cowls’ president Cinda Jones has said, in the fight against climate change, which experts say is fueling weather like this year’s excessive rain and flooding in New England. Yet reflecting activism across Massachusetts, rural residents in Shutesbury have resisted solar development on the town’s forestlands, including through a new bylaw restricting land clearing for solar. PureSky Energy filed a lawsuit against Shutesbury in land court over the bylaws, in which Cowls is named as a fellow plaintiff. In a separate development, the state attorney general’s office struck down the most recent amendments to the bylaw. (The Shoestring)

Republicans Are Weaponizing Anti-semitism to Take Down DEI by Fabiola Cineas (12/21/23). The discourse about antisemitism on US college campuses has arrived at an unlikely place. As Jewish students speak out about a rise in antisemitic sentiment amid Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, Republicans have placed the blame on diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, programs. According to conservative lawmakers, who have now held several hearings on antisemitism, these initiatives — meant to create welcoming learning environments for students from marginalized communities — are one reason some Jewish students feel fearful and unprotected on campus. “I think DEI is a fraud and what we’re seeing now on campuses is proof of that,” said Burgess Owens, the Utah Republican chair of the House higher education subcommittee, at a hearing in November. Since Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, critics have lambasted university administrators for doing too little to shield students from antisemitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab racism. Jewish students have said that rallies for Palestine have left them in shock, as some have seen or heard antisemitic language and watched peers brush off Hamas’s atrocities against Israelis. Muslim and Arab students told Vox about slurs being hurled at them, hijabs being snatched off, and unwelcoming institutional messages and policies that ostracize them as pro-Israel campaigns intimidate and dox them. They’ve lamented campus environments that seem silent on Israel’s war crimes against Palestinians. (Vox)

House Republican Details Plan to Crack Down on Elite Universities by Katherine Knott (12/20/23). U.S. representative Jim Banks, an Indiana Republican, told a group of business leaders that this month’s hearing on campus antisemitism was the first step in a broader plan to defund elite universities, CNBC reported Monday. Following the combative Dec. 5 hearing that featured the presidents of Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania, the House Education and Workforce Committee opened investigations into those institutions. Banks, a member of that committee, who is running for Senate in Indiana, said those investigations are the second step. The inquiries are centered in part on how institutions responded to reports of campus antisemitism, along with their policies and disciplinary procedures. Banks said the committee will be looking to see if the institutions are creating an unsafe environment for Jewish students. (Inside Higher Education)

Texas Colleges Prepare for the end of DEI by Johanna Alonso (12/19/23). For public colleges and universities in Texas, Jan. 1 isn’t just the start of the new year. It’s also the day the state’s anti–diversity, equity and inclusion bill, SB 17, will go into effect—a development many institutions have spent months preparing for.But that preparation has varied greatly depending on the institution. Some universities jumped into overdrive as soon as Governor Greg Abbott signed the bill in June, immediately cutting DEI and related offices, such as multicultural and LGBTQ+ resource centers. Other institutions remain in limbo, unsure what if any actions to take ahead of the Jan. 1 deadline. The result is a messy patchwork of campus policies, procedures and approaches designed to ensure compliance with the new law. Through interviews, analyses of university websites and reviews of official materials including press releases and memos, Inside Higher Ed has compiled this resource to provide a glimpse into what Texas’s 36 public four-year universities have done so far to implement SB 17. Hover over an institution’s name to learn what the DEI ban means for its campus. (Inside Higher Education)

The Selective Silencing of Campus Speech by Kevin Young (12/15/23). “Fears of Violence on Mass. Campuses Are Silencing Many on Israel-Hamas War,” reads a recent news headline from western Massachusetts. The article quotes several professors who say they feel silenced by those who criticize US-Israeli policy. It also quotes several critics of US-Israeli policy who say they feel silenced. What should we make of these dueling claims? The key practical question here is what campus leaders are doing to protect free speech. It’s problematic whenever an individual infringes on another’s free-speech rights, but what’s most important is how administrators respond. They’re the ones who set policies and they also exercise the most influence over campus culture. The problem with the “all-sides-are-being-silenced” argument is that administrators have responded differently based on whether the targeted individuals support or oppose US-Israeli policy. At UMass Amherst, where I teach, the administration has staunchly defended the free speech of supporters but has failed to defend opponents. When a student allegedly ripped an Israeli flag from a Jewish student’s hands on November 3, administrators sent an all-campus email condemning the action. They sent no such email after a faculty member, who is also Jewish, received threats of physical violence because she opposes US-Israeli policy. (Amherst Indy)

Anti-semitism and Free Speech Collide on College Campuses by Nicholas Confessore for The Daily. (12/13/23). Universities across the country strained under pressure to take a public position on the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas. Nicholas Confessore, a political and investigative reporter for The Times, explains the story behind a congressional hearing that ended the career of one university president, jeopardized the jobs of two others, and kicked off an emotional debate about antisemitism and free speech on college campuses. (The Daily / New York Times)

Some Facts for the Unconvinced. Why We Need a Gaza Ceasefire Now by Phyllis Bennis (12/23/23).
Why we need a ceasefire to save lives, release the hostages, prosecute war crimes, and follow international law: a guide for those still uneasy, unconvinced, or uncertain. (Portside / Foreign Policy in Focus).

Israel’s Military Campaign in Gaza Seen as Among the Most Destructive in Recent History by Julia Frankel (12/22/23). The Israeli military campaign in Gaza, experts say, now sits among the deadliest and most destructive in recent history.In just over two months, the offensive has wreaked more destruction than the razing of Syria’s Aleppo between 2012 and 2016, Ukraine’s Mariupol or, proportionally, the Allied bombing of Germany in World War II. It has killed more civilians than the U.S.-led coalition did in its three-year campaign against the Islamic State group.The Israeli military has said little about what kinds of bombs and artillery it is using in Gaza. But from blast fragments found on-site and analyses of strike footage, experts are confident that the vast majority of bombs dropped on the besieged enclave are U.S.-made. They say the weapons include 2,000-pound (900-kilogram) “bunker-busters” that have killed hundreds in densely populated areas. (AP)

Humanitarian Crisis In Gaza Worsens as Israel-Hamas War Rages by by Tara SubramaniamAditi Sangal, Jack Guy, Adrienne VogtElise Hammond and Matt Meyer, CNN. (12//22/23). All children under age 5 in Gaza at high risk of preventable death due to food insecurity, UNICEF says. (CNN)

Despite Backlash, Masha Gessen Says Comparing Gaza to Nazi Era Ghetto Is Necessary by Rachel Triesman and Leila Fadel (12/22/23). Prominent Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen received a prestigious award for political thought over the weekend, in a ceremony that almost didn’t happen due to backlash over their recent writings on Israel-Gaza.  Israel’s air-and-ground assault on Gaza has killed more than 20,000 people in the 10 weeks since the Hamas-led attack on Israel killed some 1,200 people and took more than 240 others hostage. Gessen, who is Jewish and whose family lost loved ones in the Holocaust, has been criticized for a New Yorker essay published earlier this month in which they likened the Gaza Strip to the WWII-era ghettos that Nazis developed to segregate and control Jewish people in occupied Europe. Gessen argues in the essay that treating the Holocaust as a “singular event,” unlike anything that has occurred before or after in history, not only is incorrect but makes it impossible to learn lessons from the Holocaust that are needed to prevent future genocides. (NPR)

Entire Gaza Population Facing Acute Hunger Crisis UN Backed Report Warns by Sharon Zhang (12/21/23).The entire population of Gaza is facing an acute hunger crisis, according to a new report by the UN-backed Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), making the food shortage in Gaza the worst the group has ever seen. The IPC report released Thursday finds that all 2.2 million people in Gaza are in what the IPC classifies as Phase 3 food insecurity, or “crisis” level, in which households are facing acute food shortage issues, or higher. This is the highest number of people at this level of food insecurity or worse that the IPC has ever observed, the group said. Among people in IPC Phase 3 or above, 50 percent are in Phase 4, or “emergency” food insecurity, while a quarter of the population, or about 570,000 people, are in a Phase 5 food “famine.” Phase 5 is the highest level of food insecurity, and is “characterized by households experiencing an extreme lack of food, starvation, and exhaustion of coping capacities,” the report says. This phase of hunger began on December 8, and is expected to continue until early February, the IPC found. (Truthout)

Public Fractures within Jewish Communities Provoked by Gaza Genocide Offer Lessons – and Paths Forward – for Progressives, Jewish or Not by Dania Rajendra and Rebecca Vilkomerson (12/20/23). As Israel ratcheted up the destruction of Gaza over the last two months, the news of the genocide itself has competed with the relentless coverage of the political divisions at elite institutions and among Jews. Meanwhile, in Queens, N.Y., far from the spotlight, working-class Muslims (joined by their Jewish, Christian, Sikh, Korean and Hindu neighbors) continued their weekly protests at the office of Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), who has not yet called for a cease-fire despite representing one of the most Muslim congressional districts in the United States. Similar solidarity was seen at Columbia University after the administration disbanded student chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine. In response, more than 80 multiracial and multiethnic student groups coalesced to support these chapters and continue their antiwar efforts. Thousands of Columbia alumni signed a petition decrying the administration’s action shortly after a ​“doxxing truck” targeted pro-cease-fire students and prompted a response from students across the political divide. For the first time, professors formed a Faculty for Justice in Palestine group. Both efforts — outside Meng’s office and at Columbia — offer critical and hopeful lessons for all leftists. (In These Times and Truthout)

Is What’s Happening in Gaza Genocide? by Solcyre Burga (11/14/23). Raz Segal, the program director of genocide studies at Stockton University, concretely says it is a “textbook case of genocide.” Segal believes that Israeli forces are completing three genocidal acts, including, “killing, causing serious bodily harm, and measures calculated to bring about the destruction of the group.” He points to the mass levels of destruction and total siege of basic necessities—like water, food, fuel, and medical supplies—as evidence. He says Israeli leaders expressed “explicit, clear, and direct statements of intent,” pointing to Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s statement during an Oct. 13 press conference. In his statement, Herzog said, “It’s an entire nation that is out there that’s responsible. It’s not true, this rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true,” Herzog said. “They could have risen up, they could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup d’etat.” (Herzog later said that he is not holding the civilians of Gaza responsible for keeping Hamas in political power, when asked to clarify by a journalist at the same press conference.) Segal says that this language conflates all Palestinians as “an enemy population,” which could help prove intent. (Time)

Ten Books to Help You Understand Israel and Palestine, Recommended by Experts by The Conversation

The Best Books for Understanding the Israel – Hamas War by Foreign Policy staff.

The Comprehensive Palestine Reading List by Decolonize Palestine

What to Read Right Now on Gaza and the Hamas Israeli War by LitHub


Surprise, Police Reforms Didn’t Work by Sonali Kolhatkar (12/20/23). To the surprise of no one but naive liberal backers of the police, expensive reforms to law enforcement have done nothing to curb the killings. So, what would actually keep police from killing? The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), in conjunction with GenForward at the University of Chicago, asked the group most victimized by violent police—Black Americans—what their opinions were on moving money out of policing and into the things that have been proven to foster safety (housing, health care, education, and other social services). The extensive survey, called Perspectives on Community Safety from Black America, found high levels of fear toward police among Black Americans. Younger Black people were the most fearful. This is not surprising given that they are the most targeted by police. More importantly, the survey found broad support for an  “Invest/Divest” approach to public safety. Specifically, this means, “86 [percent] of Black people support creating a new agency of first responders who specialize in de-escalating violence and providing mental-health support and other social services that would take over these responsibilities from police.” The survey also found that “78 [percent] support a process whereby city officials promote public safety by investing in solutions that do not rely on incarceration.” (Portside / Independent Media Institute)

Seattle Begins Hiring Alternate Response Teams to Respond to 911 Calls by Lindsay Kornick (8/23/22). 911 calls in Seattle could soon be answered by unarmed “crisis responders” instead of police officers through a new “alternate response team” spearheaded by a Democratic council member. Councilwoman Lisa Hebold announced on Friday that they are beginning to hire the first six new positions for a new pilot program to provide for unarmed “crisis responders” to respond to certain emergency calls.”Well, you know, usually I’m complaining about how delayed we are and how frustrated I am that we’re not meeting our benchmarks for developing this program. But today I’m really, really happy to report that the city is hiring for the six positions for its first pilot alternate response team. It’s going to be a way for 911 operators to dispatch calls to somebody other than police, somebody other than fire, a crisis responder who is unarmed,” said Herbold. (Fox News)

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3 thoughts on “From Other Sources: News For And About Amherst.  This Week: Local News Roundup, The Assault on DEI on Campus,  Gaza, and Police Reform

  1. I am mystified how Art Keene is able to publish dozens of articles in the Amherst Indy each week and also contribute several of his own carefully researched and written posts.

    This extensive selection of news stories demanding our attention reflects an editor who is deeply concerned about the state of the world and the town. Sincere thanks for your efforts, Art.

  2. I’ll second and third that from Jeff and Rob. Cheers to Art and Maura! Remarkable diligence…..

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