Friday, May 17, 2019

Who's Afraid of Valerie Plame's Antisemitism?

Two years ago, Valerie Plame -- previously best known as the CIA officer whose cover was blown by Bush administration officials in the run-up to the Iraq War -- got into a bit of trouble for sharing an article titled "America’s Jews Are Driving America’s Wars," published on the far-right White Supremacist website Unz Review.

Plame went through the usual cycle of "it's worth considering!" to "some of my best friends are Jewish!" to "I'm sorry -- but how could I have known an article titled 'America's Jews Are Driving America's Wars' might be antisemitic?" And then she disappeared again.

Now, she's reappeared, announcing a run for Congress in New Mexico's 3rd district. The New York Times did a 12-paragraph piece reporting on this reemergence -- and somehow "forgot" to mention the relatively recent antisemitism scandal she had been embroiled in.

As Yair Rosenberg points out, this is ridiculous and should be unacceptable. I'm actually more forgiving of the Times for not "contextualizing" Alice Walker's antisemitic book recommendation -- it was part of a series with a very particular structure that never included providing comment on the recommendations, so there the editors could plausibly say they were just following procedure. But this was a free-form story written on their own initiative -- it was entirely up to the writer and editors what information should be deemed important enough to include. That Plame's most recent emergence as a public figure came in the form of a high-profile antisemitism scandal should have garnered mention.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Let the Race for Hillel Presidency Begin!

Eric Fingerhut has announced he's leaving his post as head of Hillel International in order to assume the role of CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America. Fingerhut has led Hillel since 2013.

With his departure, Jewish students are gearing up for an exciting race to see who will be elected as the next Hillel President. Like the annual UJS elections, it should be a great opportunity for young Jewish students to make clear their priorities and exercise democratic oversight over the most important Jewish institution on American campuses.

Just kidding: Hillel isn't a democratic association, and so the students whom Hillel nominally serves will play virtually no substantive role in selecting who runs their organization. Fingerhut's successor will be chosen by a non-student body based on his or her appeal to non-student donors.

71% of Jews Must Be Very Confused

It feels like a lifetime ago that a Greek newspaper, writing on Barack Obama's 2008 election, heralded it as "the end of Jewish domination" (in fact, it was over a decade ago). I remarked then that if Obama was the loyal opposition to the Jewish people, then the 78% of us who voted for him must have been very confused.

Today, President Trump's approval ratings by Jews hover somewhere south of abysmal -- he's rocking a 71% disapproval rate (against 26% approvals).

And yet over and over again, I hear people -- usually non-Jews -- describe Trump as "the most pro-Jewish President in American history". Their rationale, I imagine, is that Trump has willingly backed the right-wing tendencies of the Netanyahu government, and that is all they think it takes to be "pro-Jewish".

Of course, it fails to register that many Jews don't actually like the Netanyahu government and thus don't view this joined-at-the-hip quality to be a perk. And beyond that, since American Jews are -- you know -- American, we understandably care far more about how Trump has affected the status of American Jews in America than we do about Trump's self-professed love for us when we're citizens of another country half the world away.

But if I were to describe American philosemitism ("a philosemite is an antisemite who [thinks he] loves Jews") in a nutshell, it's non-Jews completely ignoring what Jews thinks in order to anoint their own hero as the Jews' beloved. In the philosemitic imagination, the opinions of actual Jews are utterly unnecessary (if not actively obtrusive) to the project of declaring what is good for the Jews.

(Cf.: Alabama citing the Holocaust to justify its draconian anti-abortion ban without any regard to actual Jewish teaching and practice on abortion).

Monday, May 13, 2019

Inartfulness is a Human Condition

One thing we're going to have to learn, as Palestinian voices finally start to become a part of mainstream American politics through figures like Rashida Tlaib, is that they are going to be imperfect. And inartful, and awkward, and sometimes wrongheaded. It is a foolish myth to think that when voices-previously-unheard emerge onto the public scene, they do so in a pristine state of innocence and insight -- perfectly clear-eyed, universalist, and humanistic in orientation. Whether this purity is taken as a descriptor (as it is on parts of the naive left) or a criterion (as it is on parts of the reactionary right), it is equally unreasonable and distorted.

The historical fact is that Palestinians did not, in any meaningful systematic capacity, want to assist Jews during the Holocaust or provide them refuge. For the most part, they were actively against it. Haj Amin Al-Husseini is an extreme figure, and his "leadership" over Palestinians can be overstated, but he's not unimportant, and he implicates genuine collaborationist attempts between Palestinians and Nazis. That history needs reckoning with.

Yet the broader historical fact is that virtually no nation or people performed well on the metric of "giving Jews refuge". Not Americans, not Brits, not Australians, and not Palestinians. If it is self-soothing pablum for Palestinians to tell themselves that they tried to give Jews refuge from the Nazis, it is little more so than the British patting themselves on the back for the kindertransport as a means of ignoring their much broader hostility to taking in Jewish refugees -- a hostility which was explicitly antisemitic in character. Everyone prefers to think of themselves as solely the part of the hero (or at least the noble victim), but part of growing up means accepting the warty parts of one's own history.

But again, this is a very human foible. Awkward attempts at historical revision to make oneself feel better, but which have the effect of minimizing or downplaying the wrongs done to others, are an ever-present feature of political life. That doesn't make them unreal, it just makes them ordinary. If you're Jewish and Zionist, think of all the times you've heard and perhaps repeated the mantra "a land without a people for a people without a land." Imagine what someone like Rashida Tlaib thinks when she hears that. It is a mantra downplays hurt caused to another -- people who very much were also of that land. Eventually, upon encountering the narratives which inform us of how it hurts, the better among us shift to new language -- but that awkward moment of transition will always be there. And so when we hear tales of how Palestinians "gave" Jews refuge, and bristle as to the historical illiteracy of the claim, we are indeed experiencing something. The point, though, is that it is nothing different from what many others -- Palestinians (and Jews, for that matter) included -- have experienced before.

In reality, imperfection and awkwardness and partiality and belief in comforting myths that make one out to be the hero of the story is a human condition, not a specifically Palestinian one. The sooner we attribute it to being typically human rather than atypically monstrous, the better of we'll be.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

"And Never Rat on Your Friends!": NYC Sexual Harassment Edition

If you've ever taken a company- or university-mandated sexual harassment seminar, you probably remember those multiple-choice quizlets they always hand out. The option set usually comes with one or two reasonable-sounding answers, one answer which the facilitator drummed into you is the wrong answer, and then one answer that's just flat bonkers. For example:
[New York City] councilmembers were presented with a hypothetical scenario in which they were “asked what they should do if they overheard a chief of staff making sexually inappropriate comments in an elevator” that “visibly upset” a female staffer.... According to multiple city councilmembers present, [Ruben Diaz Sr.] interrupted the presentation to scream, “I’m not gonna rat my people out! This place is full of rats!”
Oooookay. And Diaz is not even close to a first-time offender here.

Sadly, he's also not a complete nobody. Diaz is running in the Democratic primary to replace retiring Rep. Jose Serrano in a deep-blue district. You'd think a guy who campaigned with Ted Cruz and talked about how much he liked Donald Trump would be toxic in New York City, but for whatever reason Diaz seems to have strong local backing in his corner of the Bronx. We'll see if it translates to an entire congressional district though -- Serrano, for his part, is a member of the House Progressive Caucus and sports an A "progressive punch" rating, so it's hard to see the district as a whole voting for a self-described "conservative" like Diaz.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume LII: Extra Fizzy Drinks at Ramadan

Ramadan has begun, and with it a month of daytime fasting. Speaking as a Jew, that doesn't sound fun (I only fast for one day -- during Yom Kippur -- but we go for the full 24 hours). But at least at night you can eat and drunk what you want.

Just watch out for fizzy drinks, apparently:
A man speaking in Urdu talks about the importance of not having fizzy drinks to open your fast.
He goes on to say cold and fizzy drinks can have a negative effect on your long-term health and could even cause death.
But then a link is made to the fact that many of the major fizzy drinks companies are owned and run by Jews. The speaker also claims that according to the Quran, Muslims are not permitted to have relations or friendships with Jews in any way.
It further adds that during the month of Ramadan they have ‘purposely planned’ to increase the gas content in fizzy drinks so whoever consumes them will be affected.
I don't know much about the health effects of fizzy drinks -- though to the extent they're unhealthy I suspect it's the sugar more than the carbonation that's doing the work, so increasing the gas content seems like more of an annoyance than a devious plot.

But then again, I rarely consume fizzy drinks -- an admission which in the antisemitic imagination probably ranks right up there with saying that I skipped work in New York on 9/11. So take my advice with a grain of salt.

Anyway, if you're Muslim and fasting this month, I hope it is an easy one. And if you do like to break fast with a soda, I'm pretty sure you're in the clear.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Quote of the Day: Sartre on Just Remembering Jews

See if this one resonates with anyone:
In my Lettres Francaises without thinking about it particularly, and simply for the sake of completeness, I wrote something or other about the sufferings of the prisoners of wars, the deportees, the political prisoners, and the Jews. Several Jews thanked me in a most touching manner. How completely must they have felt themselves abandoned, to think of thanking an author for merely having written the word "Jew" in an article!
Jean-Paul Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew: An Exploration of the Etiology of Hate (New York: Schoken 1995 [1948]), 72.

Why Bringing a Swastika To An Israeli Independence Day Celebration is Antisemitic (Really)

A student brought a swastika sign to an Israeli Independence Day celebration at UW-Milwaukee.

Confronted, he said the reason he brought the sign was actually not to make any commentary about Israel or Jews, but rather "because he knew it would draw attention at such a gathering and allow him to talk to the media about issues such as the rise in single mother homes, the opioid addiction and the high number of abortions."

Some might argue that this therefore was not an antisemitic act: the student was not motivated by a desire to hurt Jews, he was flying a swastika for idiosyncratic reasons. But these people are wrong. Though the student was not motivated by anti-Jewish animus, he still acted in a way that foreseeably and unreasonably would cause distress to Jews. He decided that this distress and hurt was less important than drawing media attention to himself and promoting his (unrelated) hobby horse. That sort of devaluing of Jewish sensibilities is itself antisemitic, albeit of a different kind from the explicitly-motivated sort. A person who acts in this way is a person who has shown themselves to be unreasonably cavalier and unconcerned with Jewish feelings.

It is an antisemitism of negligence, perhaps, but it is still antisemitic.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Israeli Supreme Court Overturns Ban on Palestinians Attending Joint Memorial Event (Again)

Last year, the Israeli government tried to ban Palestinians from attending a joint memorial service with Israelis from Tel Aviv. The Israeli Supreme Court overturned the decision. This year, Bibi Netanyahu tried to do the exact same thing. And the Israeli Supreme Court reversed him again, in a "re-run".
"It is not for the defense minister to intervene in how a family chooses to express their private bereavement, the sadness and grief that is present with the loss of a loved one," [Justice Isaac] Amit said, "The petitioners before us have gathered bereaved families who have chosen to express their pain and commemorate their dear ones in a joint ceremony, it isn't for us to intervene in that decision."
In court, the government claimed that the reason for the refusal was -- naturally -- "security", an argument which the court rejected and which Netanyahu pretty much abandoned following the decision in favor of the explicitly political rationale:
Netanyahu responded to the decision on Twitter, writing, "Today's High Court decision was wrong and disappointing. There is no place for a memorial ceremony that equates our blood with the blood of terrorists. That is why I refused to allow entry to the ceremony participants and I believe that the High Court has no place intervening in that decision."
Note that has nothing to do with security, and everything to do with to do with an ideological objection to Israelis and Palestinians grieving together. Whatever one thinks of that as a personal view, in a liberal society that state has no business imposing its judgment on individuals who view differently, and I'm glad the Supreme Court vindicated that right.

Quote of the Day: Sartre on Argument and the Antisemite

This is a pretty famous quote, but it tends to get cut off. I wanted to include the entire paragraph:
The anti‐Semite has chosen hate because hate is a faith; at the outset he has chosen to devaluate words and reasons.  How entirely at ease he feels as a result. How futile and frivolous discussions about the rights of the Jew appear to him. He has placed himself on other ground from the beginning. If out of courtesy he consents for a moment to defend his point of view, he lends himself but does not give himself. He tries simply to project his intuitive certainty onto the plane of discourse. I mentioned awhile back some remarks by anti‐Semites, all of them absurd: "I hate Jews because they make servants insubordinate, because a Jewish furrier robbed me, etc." Never believe that anti‐Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti‐Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past. It is not that they are afraid of being convinced. They fear only to appear ridiculous or to prejudice by their embarrassment their hope of winning over some third person to their side.  
Jean-Paul Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew: An Exploration of the Etiology of Hate (New York: Schoken 1995 [1948]), 19-20.