Thursday, November 21, 2019

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume LVI: The Impossible Burger

Have you tried The Impossible Burger -- the plant-based veggie patty that actually tastes like a regular, meatified hamburger? I have -- at White Castle, of all places. Impossible Burgers are pricier than their dead-animal counterparts, and I figured a slider was a cheap way to try it out with minimal risk in case I didn't like it.

(A friend told me that I was especially brave to try an Impossible Burger at White Castle. I remarked that it would have probably been braver to eat the meat patties there).

How was it? Well, my assessment is in line with the conventional wisdom, I think: it's not the best burger I've ever had, but it's not the worst either, and most importantly it does taste like an actual burger. That puts it head and shoulders above any other competitor, as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway, if you're like me and you've had an Impossible Burger, take a moment to thank -- or blame -- your local Jew. Because ...
[E]nter a new food-borne Jewish plot: the menacing Impossible Burger.
You may recognize that creation as a non-meat-based patty that claims to be indistinguishable in taste and texture from a traditional hamburger.
But one Joseph Jordan and one Mike Peinovich claim to have uncovered the sordid truth. They announced on their paywall-protected white power podcast — that the fake meat is, as you may have suspected, part of a Jewish scheme to destroy the white race.
It is an odd accusation (aside from its essential oddness), since the scientist-founder of Impossible Foods Inc. is a lily-white gentleman by the name of Patrick O. Brown. But who knows? Maybe his decidedly un-Jewish name is as fake as his burgers, he has bleached his skin and hidden under his T-shirt lies a tallis kattan.
It’s not entirely clear how the newfangled burger ties into the Jewish plot. But it apparently has something to do with the purported dangers of soy and an intent to, as Messrs. Jordan and Peinovich assert, “make it impossible for working people to be able to afford meat, make it impossible for working people to drive automobiles, make it impossible for average people to live in an industrial society.”
And should that case somehow prove less than convincing, Mr. Jordan adds, “They wanna make us into India!”
Making things even more undeniable, he adds that “the new breed of hyper-wealthy Judeo-capitalists in the tech industries especially” want to usurp industries currently run by “goys.”
Mr. Peinovich then provides the coup de grâce: “Oh, you’re not gonna believe this: it’s kosher!”
I do believe it, actually, seeing as the Impossible Burger is -- again -- a plant-based product.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

"Pinkwashing", Hen Mazzig, and the Silencing of Mizrahi Jewish History

I have mixed feelings about Hen Mazzig. But I have unambiguous feelings about the justification SJP Vassar just gave for protesting his talk on "The Indigenous Jews of the Middle East: Forgotten Refugees." at Vassar College the other day. It really demonstrates the impossible toxicity of the manner in which SJP seeks to police Jewish -- and often especially minority Jewish -- voices.

The author, Ezra Mead, begins with the nominal affirmation that "[t]he stories of Mizrahi Jews and their struggle both outside and within Israel deserve attention." But by contrast, he argues, "there is no room for 'diverse viewpoints'" or "'free exchange of ideas'" around Israeli military actions in the Palestinian territories.

But of course, Mazzig's talk was not offering [SEE UPDATE BELOW] any viewpoint ("diverse" or otherwise) on the occupation or Israeli military policies, it was -- again -- a talk on "The Indigenous Jews of the Middle East" (i.e., Mizrahi/Sephardic Jews), and he was going to tell the story of his own families dispossession in Tunisia and Iraq that ultimately led them to come to Israel. Mead is engaging in a non-sequitur -- unless, of course, Mead thinks that the mere fact that Mazzig is an Israeli Jew who is not openly contemptuous of his state's existence automatically makes anything he chooses to speak upon an apologia for Palestinian dispossession.

Which is, of course, exactly what he thinks.

It is no surprise, then, that Mead also accuses Mazzig of "pinkwashing", for I've sometimes described "pinkwashing" as encompassing nothing more than being "gay, Jewish, and not visibly burning an Israeli flag". Again: Mazzig's talk was on the history of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East (with a particular focus on his personal family history). It's far from clear that he was going to offer any significant discussion of his sexuality, specifically -- it is certainly a part of his identity he is quite open about, but it did not seem to be the direct focus of the talk itself. But no matter: a gay Jew talking about anything Jewish- or Israel-related is presumed to be and intrinsically coded as part of a plot. You know Jews -- they're only after that one thing.

The fact of the matter is that SJP protested this talk because Mizrahi Jewish history is an uncomfortable subject for them. It does not fit comfortably in the boxes that anti-Zionists (or Zionists, for that matter) wish to lay out for it. Mazzig's talk probably wasn't speaking directly to the IDF or the settlements or the occupation or military operations in Gaza. But it would speak very directly to the brute fact that the most tangible social accomplishment that has occurred under an anti-Zionist banner has not been the enfranchisement of Palestinians (even in circumstances where they live under anti-Zionist political jurisdictions) but the massive dispossession and virtual eradication of ancient Jewish communities throughout the Middle East.

The last thing the SJP wants to do is own that history. So they obstruct that conversation by re-narrating Mizrahi Jewish political narratives generally as being right-wing apologias for Israeli state action no matter what their substantive content is, presumably with a narrow carve-out for those few Mizrahi Jewish activists whose politics are suitably harmonious with SJP's preconceived political commitments about Israel -- i.e., the ones in which they don't have to reckon with what anti-Zionism has tangibly, brutally, concretely meant for that community.

"There is no 'free exchange of ideas' to be had about forced dispossession and ethnic cleansing" indeed.

UPDATE: Hen says that at his talk "I did speak about the occupation and voiced my opposition to it and discussed Palestinians." My guess -- again, given the title -- is that this was not the primary focus of the talk (nor did it have to be!), but perhaps I am mistaken. The broad point remains (if anything, it is strengthened given that Hen contra his SJP "interlocutors" is not "ignoring" Palestinian issues): Mizrahi Jews, Hen Mazzig included, are entirely within their rights to narrate their own history without pausing every forty-five seconds to say "and by the way, the occupation is terrible".

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Labour Candidate Advised Holocaust Deniers on How To Avoid Being Expelled From Labour

This is a hell of a story:
A Labour Election candidate organised and ran a secret Facebook group which advises party members, including alleged Holocaust deniers, how to beat charges of antisemitism. 
Maria Carroll, a Jeremy Corbyn ally who is standing in the marginal seat of Camarthen East in Wales, co-founded and administered the site which instructed Labour Party members accused of antisemitism on how to avoid expulsion. 
Among those who joined the group are members who cast doubt on the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis and others who repeated the antisemitic trope that there is an international ‘Jewish conspiracy’ controlling politics, the economy and the media.
The Mail on Sunday has established that Carroll personally advised alleged Holocaust deniers. Yesterday she said she had not seen the social media posts in which they circulated these repellent views.
I want to sit on this last paragraph for a second, because what it means is Carroll's defense boils down to the following: "I was so convinced that all the Jews complaining about antisemitism in Labour were lying that I didn't even check what people were being accused of before I jumped to their assistance!"

Again, that's the damage-control version of this story. It really hammers home the depth of the problem here.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Deval Patrick and the Return of the Ballad of Johnny Unbeatable

Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has entered the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, thus joining the many, many candidates for the nomination who I (a) like and (b) am basically annoyed at for running.

For months now, I've been puzzled with every new entrant into the Democratic field. What's their lane? What makes them look upon the (literally!) dozens of excellent people who already declared for the race (and also Tulsi Gabbard) and think "there's a niche here that nobody but me would be occupying"? How can it be that we have what seems to be a historically strong primary field and yet people still cast their eyes outward for an option not on the menu?

But over the past few weeks, other aspects of my personal life have given me renewed insight into what I think is going on. Here's my best thrust:

Democrats want to beat Trump. That's all we want. We're desperate for it. This primary is barely about ideas or vision or policy disputes. The overwhelming question driving us is "which candidate will beat Trump in 2020?" And of course, since we expected Trump to lose in 2016, we're feeling especially anxious about our own apparently malformed instincts on the question -- we don't know how to answer the question we're asking.

What we want is "Johnny Unbeatable". Johnny Unbeatable is the candidate who is guaranteed to beat Trump. He (or she) has all upside, no downside. Every aspect of their biography, every vote they've taken, every policy stance they've taken, every speech they've given, is perfectly tailored to appeal to swing voters while revving up the base. They can lock down Wisconsin and Michigan while turning Arizona and North Carolina (and even Georgia and Texas!) blue; they are a comforting presence for Boomers and Gen-Xers while representing exciting, sweeping change for Millennials and Gen-Z. If Johnny Unbeatable was the nominee, we could rest easy knowing the election was safe in hand.

The problem, of course, is that there is no Johnny Unbeatable. There can't be, even in concept. Not only is nobody perfect, and not only do elections carry intrinsic uncertainty, but we don't know what Johnny Unbeatable looks like. Take gender as just one example: Is Johnny Unbeatable a woman, designed to rev up the base of pink pussy hat wearers radicalized after Trump's inauguration? Or is he a man, a safe choice who'd better appeal to heartland voters? It seems Johnny Unbeatable would have to be a woman and a man -- combining the "best" political attributes of both -- but for the love of God not non-binary (you see the problem?).

No candidate can be Johnny Unbeatable, which means all candidates who have declared will always have that residual feeling of existential dread -- they could well lose -- attached to them. The quest for another option, another choice, stems from that persistent feeling of dread and anxiety that none of the candidates can fully dispel. Those Democrats on the outside of the race can sense that anxiety as much as anyone else, and see -- in some ways accurately -- that none of the declared candidates has an unbreakable grip on their supporters. Everybody is looking for something they don't yet have. We're all still looking for Johnny Unbeatable.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Assorted Thoughts on the Sanders Antisemitism Essay

Bernie Sanders wrote a piece in Jewish Currents on antisemitism. People are talking about it. I read it this morning (I've been traveling -- I knew of its existence, but I only had time to actually read it today). Here are my thoughts:

1) It is, on the whole, a very good piece. I like it. It's not perfect, but I don't expect perfect pieces on antisemitism from my politicians. On the spectrum of political analyses of antisemitism offered from a progressive vantage point, it definitely falls on the good side. I'd frankly be hard-pressed to think of another such essay by a prominent politician on this subject that I like better.

2) While I liked the piece, the reaction by some of his supporters to the ensuing conversation about it -- that if you didn't snap your neck violently nodding in agreement with every word, you were a traitor to the progressive cause -- really encapsulates the giant gulf between how I feel about Bernie (positively!) and how I feel about "the Bernie movement" (decidedly more wary).

3) That notwithstanding, my impression is that the essay is generally being well received, though of course those commenting on it tend to emphasize their points of disagreement or where they think there needs to be an expansion (generally on a more robust tackling of distinctively progressive iterations of antisemitism) -- which is reasonable and how commentary works. This isn't to say that every reaction to it is a good one (it pains me to say it, but I found Deborah Lipstadt's reply to be actually quite tendentious). But there was a lot of good out there, and not just from those naturally disposed to be Sanders' allies. See, for example, pieces by Yair Rosenberg and Alex Zeldin, as well as (from a further-left perspective) Abe Silberstein.

4) In particular, it is extremely notable, and laudatory, that Sanders expressed admiration for Israel's founding, and the reality of antisemitism that manifests as "criticism of Israel" in terms of seeking dissolution of the state outright or conspiratorial assertions of Jewish hyperpower. And it's especially notable, and laudatory, that he did it in this forum, with this audience. He deserves tremendous praise for that, just as he did for going on al-Jazeera and rejecting BDS.

5) It is also striking how little pushback I've seen (though I confess I haven't had time to do a full canvass) from Sanders allies -- some of whom are publicly rather ... let's go with "zealous" ... on this issue -- regarding Sanders' positive statements about Israel, the importance of its founding, the reality that anti-Israel rhetoric can be antisemitic, and his own personal connection and attachment to the nation. There have been few howls of betrayal that I've seen, few angry denunciations. That, too, tells us that the demand for uncompromising anti-Israel positioning as a political litmus test is weaker than it's often made out to be, even on the political left that makes up Sanders' base.

6) Finally, on that note -- one thing I'm hearing a lot from Bernie's critics dismissing this article is something like the following:
"What do we make of Sanders' claims that he's pro-Israel, thinks we should respect the enormous achievement of establishing Israel, and opposes calls to dissolve it given that people like Linda Sarsour and Rashida Tlaib (etc.) are his surrogates?"
But this cuts both ways -- for we could and should also ask:
"What do we make of Sarsour and Tlaib's (etc.) supposedly extreme and uncompromising hostility to Israel and all of its supporters, given that they both have enthusiastically endorsed a Jewish candidate who has publicly and explicitly declared his affinity for Israel, the need for progressives to respect its accomplishments, and the antisemitism latent in calling for its dissolution?"
If you harmonize the two questions with the answer "it means Bernie Sanders is lying, and his surrogates know he's lying", ask yourself what reason he has to lie -- given this publication, given his base, given what you say is the current trajectory of the left wing of the Democratic Party. Why would he bother?

So no: I don't think he's lying, and I don't think his surrogates think he's lying. What does it mean, then, that he's telling the truth -- and that he is nonetheless drawing in the supporters that he is?

Well, maybe it means that Sarsour and Tlaib and their fellows are less uncompromising on this matter than one might think. Maybe everyone's views are more nuanced, or less rigid, than we make them out to be. Maybe there are opportunities to make connections and do work together that are being falsely portrayed as impossible -- and perhaps the tenacious clinging to the belief in their utter impossibility is really just an excuse to avoid doing the hard work.

That'd be what I'd make of it all, anyway.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Israeli Supreme Court Upholds Deportation of Shakir

The Israeli Supreme Court has upheld the Israeli government's move to deport Human Rights Watch activist Omar Shakir from the country, citing his alleged support of BDS. The Court declined to say that HRW was itself a "a boycott organization", and therefore noted "it can request the employment of another representative who is not involved up to his neck in BDS activity."

There are ample reasons why I think Shakir was a poor choice for HRW to send off as its representative in Israel, and plenty of occasions where I think the quality (and neutrality) of his work could be justifiably questioned. Nonetheless, the standard for "expulsion from the country" is not coterminous with "work I think is subpar", and healthy democracies do not fear criticism (even when sometimes ill-formed). This is a dark day for those of us trying to stem the increasingly-rapid erosion of Israel's liberal character.

On that note, here's Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, celebrating:
[A]nyone who works against the state should know that we will not allow him to live or work here.
Tell me that isn't creepy as all get out.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume LV: Chernobyl (and the Titanic, and 9/11)

A Russian television show ran a short film that, well, it mostly just tried to pack this whole "Things People Blame the Jews For" series into one segment:
Jews are responsible for the sinking of the Titanic, the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl and the terrorist attacks in the US on 11 September 2001, according to a short film broadcast recently on REN TV.
The documentary is an updated version of an earlier version broadcast in 2012, in which it was alleged that a group of “300 Jews, Illuminati and Freemasons” was behind the sinking of the British ship 100 years ago in order to cause an international crisis and take over the world.
We've already covered the Titanic here, and if 9/11 hasn't gotten an entry it's only because it was too easy. But I think Chernobyl, we genuinely haven't done before. Fukashima, yes (twice, in fact), but not Chernobyl.

So well done, REN TV, for keeping things at least a little fresh.

(Also, in a sign of the times, the Jewish Chronicle article linked to above was shortly after posting bombarded with social media trolls "thanking" them for their "revelation" about Chernobyl).

Almost Midway Roundup

It's been a hellacious semester for me -- I massively overcommitted, and have been traveling nearly every week for the past month or so. But we're approaching the end of the tunnel. This weekend I'm flying to Chicago for a conference, and then I have one more trip scheduled after that, and then I should be pretty well clear until Winter Break.

In reality, I'm probably past the midway point. But for the Chicago trip I'm flying into and out of Midway airport. Get it? Almost Midway? I know, I'm a riot.

Anyway, roundup time.

* * *

Last year, the University of Oregon Hillel was vandalized with the message "Free Palestine You Fucks". Everybody was appalled by this antisemitic act. But I noted that under certain relatively popular mantras about what antisemitism is, including those backed by groups like Open Hillel, one very easily could deny the antisemitic character of the incident. And lo and behold -- it appears the University of Oregon decided it could get away with not characterizing the event as an antisemitic hate crime.

Right-wing parties in Italy decline to support formation of a commission investigating antisemitism. BuT I ThoUghT aNTi-SeMitiSm iN EUroPe OnlY caMe frOM tHe leFT (and Muslims)!



This is not a parody: children attending the White House Halloween party were told to "build the wall". This is not a parody either: Trump staffer defends the decision by saying "Everyone loses their minds over everything, and nothing can be funny anymore."