Sunday, June 16, 2019

On the Oberlin Verdict

You might have seen the news that a bakery won a $44 million dollar judgment ($11 million in compensatory damages, plus $33 million in punitive damages) against Oberlin College (under Ohio law, the punitive damages are capped at $22 million, so that will likely be reduced).

The short background is this: An Oberlin student tried to buy alcohol at the bakery with a fake ID. The ID was rejected, and he tried to leave with the bottle anyway. A store employee gave chase, a scuffle ensued, and the student and two friends (all who were Black) were arrested. Many on campus believed the incident was one of racial profiling, and protests by Oberlin students against the bakery quickly ensued. The bakery was labeled a "racist" institution, and the college briefly suspended its contracts with the bakery.

Ultimately, the students plead guilty to a crime; and follow-up investigations suggested that there was no pattern of profiling by the bakery.

Under these facts, it seems pretty clear that the bakery was treated poorly by the Oberlin community. That said, a damage reward of this magnitude poses a massive threat to free speech on campus -- a concern that many of those crowing over the verdict seem worryingly unconcerned about.

The evidence that Oberlin, as an institution, was responsible for the allegedly libelous statements by the students (and we should wonder whether claims of racism--an evaluative opinion--can qualify as libelous, though in context it's arguable that here it was an opinion based on undisclosed facts) is quite thin. Not non-existent, but thin. The administration let students use the copiers. They didn't censor the student government (an independent body) which issued a condemnation of the bakery. Administrators were "present" at the protests and didn't try to shut them down. One reportedly helped pass out fliers, and then wrote a remarkably bratty message considering "sic[cing] the students" on a dissenting professor before deciding that the college needed to "put the matter behind us."

Some of this -- like the "sic" message -- is genuinely bad behavior. Some of it is the college not proactively censoring its students. None of it comes close to justifying an eight-figure damage verdict.

But if the idea is that this verdict "sends a message" to colleges, what is the message they're likely to receive? Put differently, what is the compliance takeaway here, if you're a college administrator?

Here's a hint: it isn't "don't libel local businesses". It's "don't do anything -- whether in the form of action or inaction -- which could even hint at tolerating speech that the most hostile possible jury could consider to be libelous towards a sympathetic plaintiff." The latter is quite different from the former.

One thing I've learned from spending some time in "free speech" oriented social movements is that free speech has a lot of fair-weather friends. There are some principled actors. There are many more whose avowed commitment to free speech is in fact wholly one-sided, and in fact are eagerly insistent that colleges and universities in particular act against student or faculty speech that they dislike. They want faculty to be fired and students to be punished, suspended, or expelled; they want their clubs defunded and their newspapers pulled from the shelves; they harbor a deep populist resentment towards the entire modern educational system which yearns for an outlet.

That doesn't describe everyone, but it describes enough potential jurors that -- when tens of millions of dollars are on the line -- colleges are pretty much going to be forced to accommodate them. All the more so in communities where town-gown relations are frayed. I've heard that was already true in Oberlin. Certainly, the decision by a local judge to disallow the students what seemed to be a perfectly normal plea deal because doing so would supposedly validate the student protests -- something that I've mostly seen to underscore the community "standing up" to campus bullies -- to me instead underlines a deep-felt hostility and antipathy towards Oberlin, a desire to show those snooty hippies what's what.

(Likewise, if my alma mater of Carleton College -- which in many ways has a similar profile to Oberlin as a rural, highly-ranked national school with a liberal student body, an elite reputation, and iffy town-gown relations -- got sued by a local business, I imagine any trial attorney they'd hire would try to do anything and everything to keep the case away from a local jury).

And when you're trying to comply with that juror in mind, the need not to just avoid bad actions, but also avoid anything that the most negative possible factfinder could stretch to interpret as bad, ends up encompassing a lot of wholly innocent (or even laudatory) conduct. For example, having administrators observe student protests without interceding might seem to be a responsible, mature decision -- unless a hostile jury views it as a tacit endorsement and wonders why the administrators didn't try to proactively tamp down on the student speech. Which, in many circumstances, would itself be a free speech violation -- a fact which in turn emphasizes the impossible situation colleges will find themselves in.

Or another: in a bid to reduce tensions, Oberlin tried to cut a deal with the bakery where it wouldn't push to criminally prosecute first-time shoplifters. The bakery refused, saying shoplifting was a major source of lost revenue. They had every right to give this answer, but again, I've seen Oberlin's gesture interpreted in the most hostile possible light -- as granting all of its students a "get out of shoplifting free" card -- as if nobody had ever heard of alternatives to prosecution for first-time, low-level, non-violent offenses (let's not forgot the other side of the coin of bringing the full hammer of criminal law down upon every single shoplifting case).

I actually suspect that at least some, if not all, of the verdict won't survive an appeal. The damages are just so wildly out of sync with the college-qua-college's bad conduct, and the line between what the college did and the alleged libel so attenuated, that it seems very vulnerable. Plus, the conservative lawyers who've been backing the bakers have already got their headline, so I think they'll be more amenable to settlement than they had been before.

All of this is fully recognizing that the bakery was -- again, to reiterate -- treated poorly by the Oberlin community. The sort of conduct that many Oberlin students engaged in isn't just righteous anger or blowing off steam -- it hurts real people and impacts their real livelihood. But this verdict isn't about making a wronged bakery whole. It's a shot across the bow at institutes of higher education which many people simply loathe -- loathe for censoring speech and loathe for tolerating it, loathe for strangling student freedom and loathe for letting students run wild, loathe for their liberal uniformity and loathe for their diverse students bodies, loathe for thinking they're special and loathe for not making their specialness sufficiently accessible. That sort of loathing isn't healthy. And when it can get its hands on massive tort verdicts, it's positively dangerous.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Off To Minnesota

It's double-Minnesota-trouble!

I'm heading off to Minnesota tomorrow. First item on the agenda: a wedding in Lutsen (way in the northeastern corner of the state). That's this weekend. But next weekend is my college reunion, down in Northfield (pretty far south, relatively speaking). We'll be staying with my in-laws in Owatonna (as featured in the New York Times!) for the interim.

So I'll be pretty busy. Looking forward to the trip, but not looking forward to the long flight or equally long car rides. Minnesota is actually pretty big, especially once you stop ignoring the northern two-thirds of it!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

What Do Holocaust Museums Do?

I thought this was a very powerful line from Dara Horn's criticism of Holocaust museums as a presumed panacea for curing antisemitism:
That the Holocaust drives home the importance of love is an idea, like the idea that Holocaust education prevents anti-Semitism, that seems entirely unobjectionable. It is entirely objectionable. The Holocaust didn’t happen because of a lack of love. It happened because entire societies abdicated responsibility for their own problems, and instead blamed them on the people who represented—have always represented, since they first introduced the idea of commandedness to the world—the thing they were most afraid of: responsibility.
Then as now, Jews were cast in the role of civilization’s nagging mothers, loathed in life and loved only once they are safely dead. In the years since I walked through Auschwitz at 15, I have become a nagging mother. And I find myself furious, being lectured by this exhibition about love—as if the murder of millions of people was actually a morality play, a bumper sticker, a metaphor. I do not want my children to be someone else’s metaphor. (Of course, they already are.) 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Arkansas Anti-BDS Law Exposes Rifts in the First Amendment -- and Anti-Discrimination -- World

Arkansas is one of several states to have passed laws restricting state contractors from engaging in BDS (its law is, I think, unique in that it doesn't prohibit such contracts outright, but instead requires that the contractor give the state government a substantial discount). It is unique in that it is, to my knowledge, the only state that has so far prevailed in litigation -- a decision that now goes up to my old court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Aside from its juicy public salience, the case is interesting for how much it has divided First Amendment scholars -- and not along "typical" lines. The Knight Institute for First Amendment Law at Columbia filed an amicus brief urging that the Arkansas law is unconstitutional, signed by some major First Amendment luminaries. These include Katherine Franke -- a prominent BDS supporter -- but also Geoff Stone, who was keynote speaker at the annual conference of the anti-BDS Academic Engagement Network a few years back, as well as UC-Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, another high-profile boycott opponent.

Meanwhile, another smaller group of First Amendment scholars filed their own brief defending the constitutionality of the law. While it's only signed by three people, they're quite serious names in their own right: Eugene Volokh (UCLA), Andrew Koppelman (Northwestern), and Michael Dorf (Cornell). Volokh is a libertarian-conservative, but Koppelman and Dorf are high-profile liberals -- and Koppelman in particular is a major figure in anti-discrimination law.

And the threat to anti-discrimination and public accommodations law is the major theme of their brief (in this, it is actually Volokh's sign-on to the brief that is most intriguing, as he has long been concerned that anti-discrimination laws intrude on First Amendment-protected speech). Dorf wrote an explanatory post that he opposes laws like Arkansas as policy, but crafting a doctrine that renders them susceptible to First Amendment challenge but doesn't open a wide door to challenging a raft of anti-discrimination law is hard -- and harder still with a Supreme Court that seems very thirsty in the latter regard. Says Dorf:
I agree that there is no compelling interest justifying the Arkansas law or others like it. Indeed, I think such laws are unwarranted. I oppose them on policy grounds. I also agree that there is a compelling interest in public accommodations laws. However, one must think strategically about such issues. The question is not what some liberal law professors regard as a compelling interest but what a majority of the Supreme Court will ultimately regard as compelling. I have no confidence that the Court would find a compelling interest in forbidding discrimination on the basis of LGBT status.
This dovetails with a more general worry about the Lochnerization of the First Amendment -- something I've written about as well -- which ought give pause about expanding the sorts of expressive-refusals which qualify for First Amendment protection. The more we're willing to code conduct as speech because it's done for expressive purposes -- well, can refuse to care for a trans patient for expressive reasons; one can refuse to enroll in Obamacare for expressive reasons; one can refuse to offer contraceptive coverage to one's employees for expressive reasons; one can refuse to transport a Muslim or Jew or Christian in your taxi for expressive reasons ... it goes on. Some of these we already are seeing, and seeing ratified by the conservative judiciary. If that's a trend that alarms you, one might hesitate about creating new doctrine that appears to accelerate it.

This is a risk I think that the anti-anti-BDS campaign simply has not paid sufficient attention to, in part because it bristles at the suggestion that it is defending a form of "discrimination". But the fact that it's been generally overlooked is precisely why it's so important that it be expressly grappled with as the doctrine starts to settle. There are, after all, elements of BDS campaigns which in my view represent quite straightforward cases of national origin discrimination, and to the extent that people are starting to reflexively cry "First Amendment" because the discrimination is expressively-motivated, that's a big problem.

To be sure, I'm not fully convinced by the Volokh/Koppelman/Dorf argument (and there's a serious problem with the "dueling hypocrisy" issue surrounding Masterpiece Cakeshop). There clearly seems to be something different about applying an "anti-boycott" law to a consumer buyer versus demanding a business be neutral in who it sells to (much less hires). How does one even police a consumer boycott (people don't buy Sodastreams every day!)? Perhaps the issue is that the laws targeting a consumer boycott takes otherwise clearly lawful conduct (not buying a Sodastream) and subjects it to civil sanctions solely based on the surrounding expression (I'm not buying a Sodastream because I'm anti-Israel, versus because I don't like carbonated beverages).

Yet as I've previously observed, this actually isn't that far off what discrimination law does on a daily basis: it's legal fire someone, but not legal to fire someone if one's doing it to "express the message" that "I hate Latinos". The latter, too converts conduct from licit to illicit based on something that very easily could be described as "expressive". This is why I find this issue to be genuinely nettlesome.

Of course, Dorf himself notes there might be a valid First Amendment claim against these laws "if the record contained evidence of censorial motivation on the part of the [state] legislature," namely, if the law was passed "for the purpose of suppressing the message sent by boycotts of Israel rather than because of what they regarded as the economic impact of boycotts of Israel." I think the evidence of such an expression-based motive is pretty strong in many of these cases (note how easily it could be avoided if legislators took my advice in crafting these bills!). So perhaps that's our out.

But the crux of the issue, for me, is that however this gets resolved, the resolution better take an eyes-wide-open approach to how the new doctrinal rules interrelate with anti-discrimination law, especially in the context of the ascendant conservative judiciary. So I am very glad that we are seeing someone raise the issue of how the anti-anti-BDS argument might threaten anti-discrimination law.

There are very good reasons why we intuitively think of boycotting as an expressive act that should be protected. There are also very good reasons why "boycott = expressive" runs the risk of taking a torch through important areas of anti-discrimination and public accommodations law. It is hence very important -- especially if we end up taking the boycott-protective position -- that we do so in a way that is careful and conscientious of the discrimination issue.

Botswana Court Decriminalizes Homosexuality

The law, a relic of British colonialism which carried a prison sentence of up to seven years, was tossed by the high court as a violation of the dignity, privacy, equality, and liberty to gay and lesbian:
"A democratic society is one that embraces tolerance, diversity and open-mindedness," Justice Michael Leburu said, according to CNN. Discussing the broad costs of discrimination, he added, "Societal inclusion is central to ending poverty and fostering shared prosperity."
Botswana is Africa's oldest continuous democracy.

Is Biden Lying About Bipartisanship?

Kevin Drum makes an interesting point, regarding Joe Biden's oft-mocked paeans to bipartisanship and the supposed willingness of Republicans to "work with him" once the Trump era has passed.
I have no idea what Joe Biden “really” believes about working with Republicans. But I will say this: he’s a politician. There’s zero reason to think he truly believes what he’s saying here. There’s also zero reason to think he doesn’t believe it. The fact that he said it is simply a null input. 
At the same time, Biden isn’t an idiot. Of course he knows what the modern Republican Party is like. But like Obama before him, he also knows that lots of people really like to hear paeans to bipartisanship. We political junkies may hate it, but ordinary people who don’t inhale cable news are suckers for the idea that we can all get along if we just give it a try—and there are way more of them than there are of us. Biden knows this, so that’s what he tells people. Whether he really believes it or not matters not a whit.
It is strange, when one thinks of it, that the possibility that Biden is simply mouthing a platitude that appeals to Joe Average Voter but which he knows full well is probably BS doesn't even occur to us. After all, I myself have talked a bit about the importance of being earnest -- of keeping a straight face and talking about bipartisanship and norms and neutral rules of procedure, even if one really is planning to string the opposition up by its entrails.

I'm not saying Biden is making this play. He's certainly the sort of beltway lifer that could be convinced that the modern GOP can be bargained with. But he also might be the sort of savvy inside player who understands that's now impossible. The whole problem is that either possibility should observationally yield Joe Biden singing the praises of bipartisanship.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Role of Jewish Activists at the DC Dyke March

One thing that's been bandied about in the controversy about the DC Dyke March's decision to ban Jewish Pride flags (for being allegedly too similar to an Israeli flag) is the role that Jewish members of the DCDM played in proposing the policy, defending it public, and later in enforcing it, as part of the group of bouncers seeking to keep Jewish counterprotesters outside of the event.

But "role" is a vague term, and I'm curious about the specifics. Specifically, I can imagine three potential roles the Jewish members could have played in bringing about the Jewish Pride flag.

  1. The policy banning Jewish Pride flags was proposed by other members, and the Jewish members agreed to it, ratified it, or otherwise signaled it was permissible.
  2. Some policy regarding Jewish symbols was proposed by other members, and the Jewish members modified or modulated it -- possibly to make it more limited (i.e., initially it was a ban on all Jewish symbols), or possibly to make it more expansive (i.e. initially it was solely a ban on the Israeli flag, as such).
  3. The Jewish members proposed this policy sua sponte -- it was their idea to have a policy whereby Jewish Pride flags were banned; DCDM wasn't really considering having a policy regarding Jewish Pride flags until the Jewish members brought it up.
In all of these, to one extent or another, the Jewish members might be thought of as having "set up" the DCDM, at least to the extent they presented the policy as a valid compromise that would be viewed as permissible within the Jewish community when anyone could have known it would provoke a furious backlash. But in some they have considerably more agency than others.

On that note, though, the third possibility -- or the "more expansive" iteration of the second -- is the most interesting, because it raises the possibility that the DCDM as a whole viewed itself as deferring to its Jewish members and might have even been taken aback by the strength of the broader communal response. That's hard to process because it's so obvious to us the way in which a policy like this is harmful to Jews, polices Jews, and gatekeeps Jews. But I have to remind myself that most non-Jews don't know that much about Jews, and in particular don't know enough to necessarily realize that the Jews in their little circle who are assuring them "this is fine, this is okay, if anyone gets upset it's just the usual right-wing rabble-rousers" aren't actually representative.

And likewise, remembering that Jews generally pay more attention to Jewish issues than non-Jews means the Jewish DCDM members were among the most likely to have vivid memories of Chicago, and most likely to have strong opinions about what the Jewish Pride flag represents. It strikes me as entirely plausible that they leveraged their "insider knowledge" to present a narrative where this flag was the banner of the infiltrators and the pinkwashers -- a threat that they knew of and were doing the service of warning DCDM about in advance. From their vantage, they were dissipating a threat to Palestinian or Arab safety at the march that otherwise might have gone unnoticed -- like someone who knows a subtle "insider" gesture of White supremacy that, precisely because of its superficial banality, can normally be made in public settings without challenge.

Or maybe not. The Jewish members could have been in reactive role, agreeing with a proposal made by others, and had little to do with placing this issue on their agenda. Most obviously, this could have been a position spearheaded by Palestinian members (or people who identify strongly as "pro-Palestinian" -- though the latter group, of course, overlaps significantly with the Jewish members). As I said, the particular role that the Jewish members played in promulgating this policy is opaque -- other than that they stood (literally) on the front lines to defend it.

But I don't think that it's implausible that their role was a relatively active one -- that at least in part this happened because they wanted it to happen. It is an interesting fact about what I call "dissident minorities" that they often have a material interest in not making the spaces they occupy inclusive to the broader membership of their minority group. A DCDM where more Jews feel comfortable marching is a DCDM where these Jews, in particular, are less influential and less powerful. And so, far from being the brake that prevents the space from going to far, often times they're the accelerator pushing it forward and the bouncers standing between their "compatriots" at the entrance (as was quite literally the case here).

So it's reasonable to wonder if that's what was going on here -- anti-Zionist Jews, in a sense, egging the march on, trying to maneuver it into an antagonistic position towards the broader Jewish community while simultaneously using their own identities to ratify the legitimacy of the posture.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

I'm Taking A Break

I just took my Twitter account private (thread here) and announced that I'm taking a break from that site for an indeterminate period of time.

I do not intend for that break to apply to the blog -- though since virtually everyone who reads my blog nowadays gets to it via Twitter, it may be a bit of a moot point (ironically, since the blog auto-posts to Twitter, anything I write here becomes the exception to the general "Twitter break").

In any event, I wrote a long (like, 3,500 words long) essay explaining exactly why I was departing -- but it's sitting in my draft folder for now. Maybe I'll publish it later. Maybe not. Maybe I'll do it with some deep editing. Depends on how I feel.

I am going on vacation later this week -- a wedding in (far) northern Minnesota (like, way-past-Duluth-northern-Minnesota), followed by Carleton reunion. So even absent this formal break, I might have been quieter anyway.

I mentioned in the thread that I was -- in large part due to how I was relating to Twitter -- feeling sad, and that's true, but I do want to stress that I'm not in any serious emotional crisis or anything like that. So, while I would appreciate any nice thoughts that might be sent my way, I don't want any of y'all to worry on that front.

Friday, June 07, 2019

When It Comes to Demographic Doom, Conservative Pundits Really ARE Whistling Dixie

Responding to David Brooks' fear of an upcoming GOP apocalypse, Daniella Greenbaum Davis might have written the least self-aware pollyanna account of Republican prospects I've ever read. It's almost -- not quite, but almost -- Liel Leibovitz-level bad.

Brooks' argument is simple: young people hate the Republican Party. And as this generation becomes the dominant force in American politics, it becomes a bigger and bigger problem if they hate the Republican Party. If there is to be a conservative appeal to this generation, it has to be one that can speak in the language of pluralism and diversity -- a project that the contemporary Republican Party is racing away from at top speed.

Davis is not convinced. First of all, we get the standard chestnut that even if Trump alienates the youth, he doesn't count because he isn't really "conservative". Specifically:
Trump is not conservative in the strict sense of the word; he’s a libertarian and a libertine.
Trump is a libertarian? Are you kidding me? Trump represents conservativism at roughly its furthest possible distance from libertarianism. His signature policy is a massive increase of state repression at the border. Most recently, he's wreaking havoc on the economy with a threatened tariff war. He pairs a massive ramp up of the security apparatus with targeted economic bailouts and distortions aimed to assist politically-connected and favored industries (like coal). This is the least libertarian posture imaginable.

Moving on:
We don’t need data to show us that young Americans are over-represented on the left. But it was a wise someone — not Winston Churchill, who usually gets credited, but the French historian and prime minister François Guizot — who coined the Burkean insight that anyone who is not a liberal at 20 years of age had no heart, and anyone who is still a liberal at 40 has no head.
Well, I'm glad we got it straight that it wasn't Churchill who said it! What's amazing about this is that Brooks directly addresses this point: He specifically observes that the popular belief that young are always more liberal is actually a myth (see: Israel). Instead, the first few elections a person votes in tends to calcify their political affiliation for the rest of their life -- so if young people learn early on to vote Democrat, it becomes much harder to dislodge them from Democratic affiliation later on.

So the GOP can't just wait for the kids to grow up and get more conservative. Indeed, the reason the younger generation is more liberal is because it is (a) more diverse and (b) more likely to have personal encounters with people of other backgrounds, races, etc. on a regular basis. But that's not going to change over time -- the youth might be older in fifteen years, but they're not going to become Whiter.

In any event, Davis thinks that the growing progressive bent among the youth will eventually implode on itself because it will be too socialist and, as time goes by, will eventually "consume its young". Of course, this directly contradicts the "young people will mellow out as they age" hypothesis, which would instead suggest that the harder edges of Millennial politics will instead get filed off as time goes by -- a more sustainable progressivism replacing certain youthful idealisms. It also has the convenient property of not necessitating a GOP response, since the failure of the progressive wave is axiomatically assured. So no need to tamp down on nativist or flatly racist elements in the GOP coalition -- which one would think would be a necessity of they're ever going to appeal to a generation that either is or is friendly with immigrants and either is or is friendly with non-White people. Instead, it allows the GOP to continue to respond to growing diversity in America by literally whistling Dixie.

Regardless, Davis foresees a purge where the radicals oust the moderates, who are left looking for someone -- anyone -- to carry the torch of classical liberal values. And enter the GOP!
Those exiles might abhor social conservatism, but they would be wrong to define conservatism purely by a handful of socio-religious issues, some of which exercise only the GOP’s powerful but numerically small Evangelical wing. It’s those other conservative specialties — defending free speech, championing a diversity of opinion and faith, defending free-market capitalism — that are the issues that can win back the voters.
This might have some plausibility except that the contemporary Republican Party has never been less well positioned to attract an "exile" interested in these values. We already noted that Trump -- with eager buy-in from the GOP caucus -- has pursued an economic policy of crony capitalism and a social policy of big government repression. And now we see a growing faction of conservative voices -- like Sohrab Ahmari and  Liel Leibovitz -- just openly declaring war against whatever remains of classical liberal conservatism. The ideology that wants to upend libel laws, ban entire academic disciplines, and wreck energy markets to protect polluters can no longer claim to "specialize" in free speech, diversity of thought, or even free markets.

Davis does allow that, eventually, Republicans will have to offer an agenda beyond opposing progressive "nihilism". But it speaks volumes that her survival plan for the GOP depends less on anything they might do, and instead relies on the unshakable faith that eventually Democrats will destroy themselves. Growing progressivism won't last because it can't last. That sort of outlook, ironically, is exactly the sort of docile quiescence that's allowed modern conservatism to decay into the shell of an ideology that it is today. Not free markets, not free speech, not free movement, and not free people. Just Cleek's Law, in ever-purer forms.

The Constructed Semiotics of Flags

Some Jews are uncomfortable when they see a Palestinian flag.

For some, that's due to naught but raw prejudice.

But there are some Jews -- queer and not -- who have directly experienced violence, harassment, displacement, and even death that has occurred under the auspices of the Palestinian flag, whether literally or, as a stand-in for anti-Zionism, symbolically.

For these Jews, I can imagine how seeing a Palestinian flag might be triggering or traumatic. They see people wave it, and they interpret it as a threat.

And to them, in the interest of sensitivity, I have a simple message:

Suck it up.

I'm not saying your trauma isn't real. But the Palestinian flag is much more than, and means much more than, your particular narrow experience, and there isn't any justifiable way to ban Palestinian flags in deference to these "sensitivities" that is compatible with allowing Palestinians to take pride in their identity and peoplehood. So suck it up.

This, of course, is also my posture towards those who see a Magen David and can only imagine it as a symbol of Israeli state repression. It's not that these associations aren't real. But they also by no means represent the totality of what the Magen David represents, and allowing this particular and narrow interpretation of the symbol to occupy the entire field is incompatible with allowing Jews to take pride in our identity and peoplehood. So suck it up.

The point is, we can say that these negative meanings are extant and say there is no need to privilege this particular, negative interpretation. And so one of the great sins of the DC Dyke March's position on the Jewish Pride flag is that it helps construct and bolster a semiotic meaning of the Jewish Star of David and the Jewish Pride flag as a form of aggression against Palestinians and Arabs. I'm not saying that potential meaning was wholly absent before -- obviously, there are people who really have experienced violence, harassment, displacement, and death under (literally or symbolically) a Magen David.

But in privileging that semiotic interpretation, the DC Dyke March enhances its power. It makes it so that more people are more likely to see this flag as more intensely expressing that message. And it won't just be in the eyes of the beholder. No doubt some people who bring a Star of David pride flag to a LGBT rally now do so not simply to express Jewish Pride, but also as a point of defiance -- "you hate this flag? Well nyah nyah nyah."

In a sense, it's like that time a Texas Republican put out an Israeli flag on her desk to ward off Muslim community members coming to visit her office. The sheer pettiness of the action -- as if an Israeli flag scatters Muslims like Vampires and the cross -- masked a deeper evil: the politician, by using the Israeli flag in this way, was constructing a meaning of the flag where one of its uses is to signal "I don't want Muslims to be comfortable here". That's terrible. But it is not, at the end of the day, much different from what the DC Dyke March is doing -- entrenching and congealing a meaning of the Jewish Pride flag whereby its symbolism is "aggression towards Muslims, Palestinians, and Arabs."

And as it generates this semiotic meaning for the Magen David, it does something similar to the semiotic meaning of a Palestinian flag. It bolsters its symbolic meaning as a gesture of defiance against the Jews, against those who would proudly carry a Star of David. If -- as I suspect is likely -- more Dyke Marchers carried Palestinian flags upon hearing that Jewish marchers were going to insist on carrying a Jewish Pride flag, part of the reason they're doing so is to communicate this reactive, aggressive posture: "You're coming in, with that flag? Well I've got my own flag for you right here!" Again, it's not that these meanings were wholly absent before. But actions like that taken by the DC Dyke March help congeal and entrench them, they create a world where they may well be the primary meaning -- and that's destructive.

Each time this happens, this antagonistic, deleterious meaning gets further amplified, and so each time it becomes harder and harder to say "suck it up".

But that's all the more reason why we have to hold the line now. The more controversies we have like the DC Dyke March, the more difficult it will be to ever extract ourselves and our symbols from these horrible semiotics.