Thursday, August 16, 2018

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume XLVIII: Turkey's Currency Collapse

Turkey is going through a currency crisis. The causes are complex, as global finance often is, but one of the known triggers is tariffs imposed by President Trump in retaliation for Turkey's detention of an American pastor.

And another cause is, well, take a guess:
A senior Turkish official has blamed "Jewish-originated Zionist bankers" in a late-night rant for the currency crisis that saw the lira plummet against the US dollar in recent weeks.
Burhan Kuzu, a founding member of Turkey’s governing Justice and Development (AK) Party, made the remark in a series of late-night tweets in which he suggested US President Donald Trump was “not aware” his country was being managed by what he termed “Jewish banking families”.
[...]
“The American people believe the dollar is the US's currency,” Mr Kuzu wrote in one tweet in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
“In fact, the world is managed by the cash notes printed by twelve families of Jewish-originated Zionist bankers numbering not more than 300.” 
 In a later tweet, he said Mr Trump could demonstrate "courage" by wresting control of the US dollar from Jewish bankers and printing the notes himself — but that he would be likely be killed if he tried.
Hey, at least it's a step up from being blamed for Uber. Global currency manipulation is definitely a nod back to the classics.

In completely unrelated news, a full 10% of Turkey's remaining Jewish population has applied for Portuguese citizenship in response to rising tides of antisemitism in the country.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Who's Your (U.S. Citizen) Daddy?

The Second Circuit decided a very interesting case this week, concerning deportation proceedings against a man whom, it turns out, is a U.S. citizen. The litigant, Levy Jaen, was born abroad to a married couple; he and his family moved to the United States in 1988 when Jaen was 15. The husband was a U.S. citizen, and Jaen's father satisfied all the other requirements through which his citizenship would pass down to his son.

The problem was that Jaen's biological father was not the man her husband was married to. And the biological father (with whom Jaen's mother had an extra-marital affair) was not a U.S. citizen. So the question before the court was who, for the purpose of the federal statute governing citizenship in cases like Jaen's, was Jaen's "father"?

The court concluded that under well-settled principles of common law, the "presumption of legitimacy" that attaches to children born to married couples, Jaen's "father" is assumed to be the man married to his mother (the linchpin precedent for this proposition is a well-known family law case, Michael H. v. Gerald D., authored by Justice Scalia). And because Jaen's father was a U.S. citizen (and satisfied all other statutory requirements for transmitting his citizenship), Jaen was too -- and therefore could not lawfully be deported.

This is a happy ending, though it of course raises the question of circumstances where the facts are reversed (the biological father is a U.S. citizen but the "legitimate" father is not). Moreover, it is a happy ending to a grim tale -- Jaen was imprisoned for the entirety of his immigration proceedings and appeals, notwithstanding the fact that he had a colorable claim to citizenship that ended up being vindicated.

But a happy ending is a happy ending. Also, a shout out to my old firm Covington & Burling, which was on the brief for this case representing Mr. Jaen.

A Semi-Serious Question of Legal Strategy

One of the things Trump v. Hawaii does is that it seems to narrow the circumstances where we can infer discriminatory intent, at least in cases where the allegedly discriminatory-action does not wholly encompass all members of the putatively targeted group.

Of course, Trump is not the only precedent on that point, and in most cases it won't be dispositive one way or the other.

But here's my question: Suppose you were a plaintiff's attorney in a discrimination case, one which hinges on inferring discriminatory intent even though not all members of the protected class were targeted by the action you are challenging. And suppose you had a relatively liberal judge whom you were fairly confident detests the Trump decision. Finally, let's say that for whatever reason your case was somewhat politically contentious and so the judge might not be ideologically-predisposed to rule in your favor anyway.

Obviously, you can cite a string of precedent that supports a favorable ruling in your case. My question is: Would it be helpful to append a "but see" cite to Trump v. Hawaii at the end?

Of course, if Trump is a really powerful precedent for the defense, then one probably doesn't want to draw attention to it in this way. But if it isn't -- if the suggestion is more "in the evolution of anti-discrimination, the defense's argument takes us further down the road Trump v. Hawaii has paved" -- one might think that could be a savvy way of turning the judge against that approach.

I suppose this is another way of asking how quickly Trump v. Hawaii will become part of the anti-canon -- at least for liberal judges.

A Nice Rabbinical Lesson in Not Judging

I came across this earlier today -- it's from an Orthodox Jewish advice column where a woman asks how she can be less judgmental of other Orthodox Jewish women who don't dress according to her standards of modesty.

Obviously, on the substance of the issue I have no skin in the game. Modest dress -- by men or women -- is not a matter of religious significance for me, and indeed I'm not wild about religion arrogating to itself an opinion on the question at all.

But what I like about the answer is that -- putting the substance of the question aside -- I thought it was a great model in thinking through how to be kinder, more open, and less judgmental as a general matter -- something that no doubt we all have occasions to practice.

Anyway, here is the columnist's answer:
In terms of your question, I believe the answer can be found in Pirkei Avos. Our sages teach: “asay l’cha rav, u’konay l’cha chaver, v’haveh dan es kol adam l’kaf z’chus (make for yourself a rabbi, acquire a friend, and judge all men favorably).” Until today, I never understood why these three things are listed together, but upon trying to answer your question, a beautiful connection hit me. 
Let’s start with “judge all men favorably.” [It is] easy to think badly of others when we see them doing things which we consider “wrong,” but judging others favorably is a foundational Torah idea and the way you can do it in this case is: a) assume these women learned a different opinion than you did, because there are a range of opinions when it comes to the laws of modesty (the range is not infinite, but there is a range, which means there is more “grey” and less “black and white” than you may realize), b) assume they learned the same opinion you did but were never shown the beauty of modesty and Jewish law like you were and therefore don’t feel compelled to keep it like you do, c) assume they believe in the idea in theory, but it’s such a big struggle for them – much bigger than it is for you – that they haven’t conquered it yet, d) assume they are doing whatever their parents taught them and never looked into it further to realize there was anything problematic about it. 
Again, as applied to the "modesty" question this does nothing for me. But the core of the suggestion: that in matters of religious dispute, consider that the other person (a) has thought about the issue and has a different view; (b) has thought about the issue but doesn't view it as compelling in their life; (c) has thought about the issue and agrees with your view in theory but finds living up to it to be a greater struggle than you do; or (d) just never really thought about the issue at all -- all of these strike me as better and more charitable ways of approaching the matter compared to just assuming the person is willfully ignorant, obtuse, or wicked.

The questioner also suggested that seeing women who didn't adhere to her own standards of modesty made it harder for her to stay true to her own path. And the columnist gave advice on this matter as well:
But you can’t only judge others favorably without solidifying your own path. Just because these women have their reasons for doing what they do doesn’t (necessarily) mean that they should be your reasons. So “make for yourself a rabbi,” comes first. Find a rabbi (and rebbetzin) who are your speed that you trust as role models and stay close with them. Maintain a certain standard for yourself that your rabbi/community holds by. 
“Acquire a friend” comes after that because while it’s important to have a guide who can you look up to, it’s equally important to have close friends who have shared values so you can support each other even as you see that different “options” exist. It is possible to accept that there are differing opinions to the ones we follow and that there are opinions which we simply disagree with (but reserve judgment on those who follow them), while simultaneously maintaining a high standard for ourselves. Such a balancing act does not come very easily, but then again, nothing worthwhile in life ever does.
Anyway, it jumped out at me as something that was noticeably kind-hearted, even on a matter whose import is quite foreign to me, and so I figured it was worth sharing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

If Trump Used the N-Word, It Won't Matter

The debate of the day is whether, if a tape drops where Donald Trump uses the n-word, will it make a difference in how his supporters view him? Some say yes -- the n-word is such a redline that it removes all plausible deniability. I, however, am firmly on team Adam Serwer here:
Some have argued that Republican voters held their noses and voted for Trump because, while odious, issues dear to their hearts like religious freedom, or abortion, or taxes compelled them to make such a choice. But there’s no evidence a large number of Republicans object to Trump’s discriminatory policies, or to his frequent attacks on black public figures. According to one recent CBS poll, while most Americans disapprove of Trump’s record on racial issues, 83 percent of Republicans approve. The vast, overwhelming majority of Republicans aren’t quietly disgusted with Trump, but grateful for Neil Gorsuch. When Trump calls black athletes who protest police brutality “sons of bitches” and demands they be fired, they’re not embarrassed. They like it. Trump knows they like it. That’s why he keeps doing it. 
Given that, it’s hard to imagine that, even if a tape of Trump using the word nigger exists, it would substantially erode political support from his base. The idea that the word is some kind of red line that erases plausible deniability is an illusion. Every time Trump’s behavior violates some conservative value—from his alleged infidelity to his denigration of war heroes and gold-star families to his relentless crony capitalism— pundits predict his undoing, and Trump emerges unscathed. There’s no reason why many of Trump’s strongest supporters wouldn’t also be able to rationalize his use of a racial slur, especially given their enthusiasm for his culture-war provocations. 
It’s possible that this time would be different, that a recording of Trump using a racial slur would meaningfully alter his supporters’ perception of him. But given this track record, it seems very unlikely. 
The more likely outcome is the one that followed the recording of the president saying he likes to grab women “by the pussy.” Most Trump supporters easily acquiesced to the explanation that the remarks were mere “locker-room talk,” despite the more than a dozen women who said otherwise. This time, too, many would likely argue the tape is fake, or taken out of context, or that he’s being victimized by the political-correctness police. Or they’d simply change the subject. (Aren’t there lots of recordings of the Pulitzer Prize–winning artist Kendrick Lamar using the word? Checkmate, libs.)
The only thing I'd underscore here is that there is a propensity in the media to simply refuse to believe that sizable portions of the Republican base is racist. I think this stems from a lingering anxiety about being part of the "liberal media", all coastal elite-ish and out-of-touch with real America, and a corresponding skepticism about their intuitive instincts regarding the racial politics of middle White working class America. Sure, the most obvious reason for why they're attracted to Donald Trump is racism -- but that's such a mean thing to think! So media figures scramble about for alternative explanations that seem less judgmental and hostile -- hence how we've gotten years of "economic anxiety" narratives that just aren't backed by the data.

But the fact is, by and large Republicans like Donald Trump on race. It was racism, after all, that caused him to emerge from the pack of Republican candidates in the first place. Unabashed racism is and always has been Donald Trump's comparative advantage over other high-profile conservatives. And the past several decades have been one long campaign by conservatives in rationalizing what one might have thought would be indisputable cases of bigotry -- they're pros at it at this point.

So no, I don't think a tape of Trump using the n-word will have more than a marginal and fleeting impact on Trump's approvals. The people who like him already know who he is. That's why they like him.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Slowly Crumbling Arrogance of the Center-Right

Israeli Rabbi and pundit Daniel Gordis is not a liberal.

But he's not a dyed-in-the-wool conservative either.

He's a member of the center-right, which at this point means he basically believes in conservative policies while being committed in principle to the underlying liberal architecture of freedom of expression, democratic norms, fairness and factuality in politics, and respect for minorities.

And like many members of the center-right, he's starting to feel uneasy about the decay of this liberal architecture at the hands of his less "center" compatriots. Here's him writing on the recent spate of heavy-handed security actions Israel has taken at Netanyahu's behest against dissident voices (detentions at the border, expelling artists):
Although it is hard to know exactly who is issuing directives to the security services on this issue, the clumsiness leads one to suspect there is an unstated goal. It seems likely that Netanyahu has decided to stoke the embers of “Zionists versus Israel’s enemies” discourse, which will win him points with the right-wing factions of Israeli society he needs to win the next elections, scheduled for next year, but may be called early. 
The prime minister is playing with fire. More than half of Israel’s Jewish citizens are either immigrants from North Africa, Yemen, Iraq and Iran or their descendants. They come from societies where freedom of speech is not nearly as sacrosanct as it is in the U.S. Add in more than 1 million Russian immigrants, many of whom are comfortable with the sort of heavy-handedness President Vladimir Putin is displaying there. Israel needs a leader who can model devotion to the values of liberal societies, not undermine them for the sake of short-term political gains. Appealing to citizens comfortable with authoritarian-leaning regimes may earn Netanyahu short-term political gains, but could eventually yield a country which no one would call “one of the world’s most open democracies.”
The first paragraph can't be stressed enough. Netanyahu doesn't fear confrontation with BDS activists and strident Israel critics. He revels in it, because it allows him to pour gasoline on an "us-vs.-the-world" dynamic which both energizes the right-wing base and puts the squeeze on liberal Zionist voices. Israel's right and the global left exist in symbiosis with one another, and Bibi knows it.

The second paragraph, though, needs some unpacking, and brings us back to the title of this post.

The defining characteristic of the center-right over the past few decades has been confidence -- I'd say now revealed to be arrogance -- in the absolute stability of the basic liberal norms of Western society. Whether due to cultural chauvinism or something else, they were absolutely sure that the core liberal commitments weren't going anywhere.

This thread on Jonah Goldberg provides a good iteration of this issue in the American context -- Goldberg now is recognizing the danger of the decayed form of conservatism that now runs supreme on the right, but doesn't acknowledge how he was a key contributor to it. The reason is that, at the time, he probably thought his dalliances were harmless. A little rabble-rousing here, a little mob-baiting there -- what's the big deal? It's all in good fun, or the wink-and-nod of playing the democratic game to win. The institutions were durable, they'd hold up. The stability of the liberal order was taken for granted.

Now, we're finally seeing that confidence fade a little bit. It turns out that liberal and democratic values need work put into them; they don't defend themselves, and they do decay under constant pressure of xenophobia, chauvinism, conspiratorial thinking, and the like. Democracy, as my former professor Melvin Rogers (channeling John Dewey) wrote, is a habit -- and it needs to be practiced.

In Gordis' second paragraph you can see both the recognition of the danger but also the denial of it. He locates the danger to Israel's liberal democratic character in its Middle Eastern and Russian Jewish population -- they, you see, don't have the patrimony of liberalism that we otherwise could take for granted. The implication of the paragraph is that Bibi is playing a game, but alas the ostjuden might not realize he doesn't mean it.

But why assume Bibi is playing a game? Why assume he does, somewhere, deep down, care about or retain commitment to liberal ideals? It's a relic of the center-right arrogance that assumes the unshakable bond between its tribe and those liberal commitments. But if there's one lesson we've learned over the past few years, its that this connection is far frailer than we thought. Bibi may be playing with fire; but he might really be indifferent to that which gets burned. And since he's the one wielding the flame, it's more than a little arrogant to point to the Russians and the Mizrahim and say they're the real threat.

The fact of the matter is that in Israel, or America, or the UK or France or Greece or India or anywhere else that has been blessed even with a temporary and partial spark of the the liberal democratic ideal -- these things require work to survive. They do not persist on their own. The center-right assumed they would, and so did not see the danger that was boiling up in their own yard. And now that it has boiled over, the sobering truth is that there is no natural counterweight to it. The system will not readjust to a natural liberal equilibrium, there is no such equilibrium that exists. Liberal values need to be practiced and they need to be fought for, or they will disappear.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

"Hitler Was Right" Candidate Wins Missouri GOP Primary

This past week, Steve West, who has said "Hitler was Right" and that "Jewish cabals" harvest baby parts from Planned Parenthood, won the GOP primary for a Kansas City-area Missouri State House seat.

As many people know, there has been an uptick of racist and antisemitic extremist candidates running on GOP platforms this election cycle (the ADL rounds up some of them). Some of the most prominent, like Arthur Jones in Illinois, come with their own excuses: he was the only candidate on the GOP ballot in a overwhelmingly Democratic seat. In other cases, the seat is so lopsidedly Democratic that the GOP party is basically a random assortment of fringe cranks anyway, so it's arguably unfair to extrapolate.

But this is different. For one, West won a contested primary, taking nearly 50% of the vote in a four-way field. For two, while the 15th Missouri House District has gone uncontested the past two cycles, the last time there was a general election race the (current incumbent) Democrat won by a 56/44 spread. That's a comfortable margin, and in a strong Democratic year like 2018 the seat should be safe, but it is not an overwhelming figure (by comparison, the last time Dan Lipinski -- the Democrat Arthur Jones is running against in Illinois -- faced a general election challenger, he won by a 65/35 margin). Put another way, while this is a distinctively blue-tinted district, it is not the sort of place where Republicans don't exist beyond a bizarre fringe, nor is it the sort of place where it'd be implausible for the Republican to win.

So even though this is far less prominent a race than Jones' congressional campaign, in many ways its a significantly more dangerous signal. In a race where other Republicans were running, in a district where Republicans at least are conceivably competitive, GOP primary voters chose an unabashed, loud-and-proud antisemitic bigot.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Problem of "Centering" and the Jews

Note: I wrote this piece quite a few months ago, shopping around to the usual Jewish media outlets. None were interested, and I ended up letting it slide. But it popped back into my mind -- this Sophie Ellman-Golan article helped -- and so I decided to post it here. While I have updated it, some of the references are a bit dated (at least on an internet time scale). Nonetheless, I continue to think a critical look at how the idea of "centering" interacts with and can easily instantiate antisemitic tropes is deeply important.

* * *

In the early 2000s, Rosa Pegueros, a Salvadoran Jew, was a member of the listserv for contributors to the book This Bridge We Call Home, sequel to the tremendously influential volume This Bridge Called My Back. Another member of the listserv had written to the group with "an almost apologetic post mentioning that she is Jewish, implying that some of the members might not be comfortable with her presence for that reason." She had guessed she was the only Jewish contributor to the volume, so Pegueros wrote back, identifying herself as a Jew as a well and recounting a recent experience she perceived as antisemitic.

Almost immediately, Peugeros wrote, another third contributor jumped into the conversation.  "I can no longer sit back," she wrote, "and watch this list turn into another place where Jewishness is reduced to a site of oppression and victimization, rather than a complex site of both oppression and privilege—particularly in relationship to POC."

Pegueros was stunned. At the time of this reply, there had been a grand total of two messages referencing Jewishness on the entire listserv. And yet, it seemed, that was too much -- it symbolized yet "another place" where discourse about oppression had become "a forum for Jews."

This story has always stuck with me. And I thought of it when reading Jews for Racial and Economic Justice's guidebook to understanding antisemitism from a left-wing perspective. Among their final pieces of advice for Jews participating in anti-racism groups was to make antisemitism and Jewish issues "central, but not centered".

It's good advice. Jewish issues are an important and indispensable part of anti-racist work. That said, we are not alone, and it is important to recognize that in many circumstances our discrete problems ought not to take center stage. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be heard. It just means they should not be given disproportionate attention such that they prevent other important questions and campaigns from proceeding. Ideally, "central, but not centered" in the anti-racism community means that Jewish issues should neither overwhelm the conversation nor be shunted aside and ignored outright.

Yet it also overlooks an important caveat. Too often, any discussion of Jewish issues is enough to be considered "centering" it. There is virtually no gap between spaces where Jews are silenced and spaces where Jews are accused of "centering". And so the reasonable request not to "center" Jewish issues easily can, and often does, become yet another tool enforcing Jewish silence.

Pegueros' account is one striking example. I'll give another: several years ago, I was invited to a Jewish-run feminist blog to host a series of posts on antisemitism. Midway through the series, the blog's editors were challenged on the grounds that it was taking oxygen away from more pressing matters of racism. At the time, the blog had more posts on "racism" than "antisemitism" by an 8:1 margin (and, in my experience, that is uncommonly attentive to antisemitism on a feminist site -- Feministing, for example, has a grand total of two posts with the "anti-Semitism" tag in its entire history). No matter: the fact that Jewish feminists on a Jewish blog were discussing Jewish issues at all was viewed as excessive and self-centered.

Or consider Raphael Magarik's reply to Yishai Schwartz's essay contending that Cornel West has "a Jewish problem".

Schwartz's column takes issue with West's decision to situate his critique of fellow Black intellectual Ta-Nehisi Coates by reference to "the neoliberal establishment that rewards silences on issues such as Wall Street greed or Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and people." Magarik's reply accuses Schwartz of making the West/Coates dispute fundamentally "about the Jews", exhibiting the "the moral narcissism in thinking that everything is about you, in reading arguments between Black intellectuals about the future of the American left and asking: How can I make this about the Jews?"

Now, Magarik is surely correct that the Jewish angle of West's critique of Coates is a rather small element that should not become the "center of attention" and thereby obscure "the focus [on] Black struggles for liberation." But there is something quite baffling about his suggestion that a single column that was a drop in the bucket of commentary produced in the wake of the West/Coates exchange could suffice to make it the "center of attention". If Magarik believes Schwartz overreacted to some stray mentions of Jewish issues in an otherwise intramural African-American dispute, surely Magarik equally brought a howitzer to a knife fight by claiming that one article in Ha'aretz single-handedly recentered the conversation about the West/Coates feud onto the Jews.

What's going on here? How is it that the "centering" label -- certainly a valid concern in concept -- seems to routinely and pervasively attach itself to Jews at even the slightest intervention in policy debates?

The answer, as you might have guessed, relates to antisemitism.

As a social phenomenon, antisemitism is very frequently the trafficking in tropes about Jewish hyperpower, the sense that we either have or are on the cusp of taking over anything and everything. Frantz Fanon described antisemitism as follows: "Jews are feared because of their potential to appropriate. ‘They’ are everywhere. The banks, the stock exchanges, and the government are infested with them. They control everything. Soon the country will belong to them.” If we have an abstract understanding of Jews as omnipotent and omnipresent, no wonder that specific instances of Jewish social participation -- no matter how narrow the contribution might be -- are understood as a complete and total colonization of the space. What are the Jews, other than those who are already "everywhere"?

Sadly, the JFREJ pamphlet does not address this issue at all. When "central" crosses into "centering" will often be a matter of judgment, but while the JFREJ has much to say about Jews making "demands for attention" or paying heed to "how much oxygen they can suck out of the room", it does not grapple with how the structure of antisemitism mentalities often renders simply being Jewish (without a concurrent vow of monastic silence) enough to trigger these complaints. It doesn't seem to realize how this entire line of discourse itself can be and often is deeply interlaced with antisemitism.

JFREJ's omission is particularly unfortunate since Jews have begun to internalize this sensibility. It's not that Jewish issues should predominate, or always be at the center of every conversation. It's the nagging sense that any discussion of Jewish issues -- no matter how it is prefaced, cabined, or hedged -- is an act of "centering", of taking over, of making it "about us." When the baseline of what counts as "centering" is so low, I know from personal experience that even the simplest asks for inclusion are agonizing.

As early as 1982, the radical lesbian feminist Irene Klepfisz identified this propensity as a core part of both internalized and externalized antisemitism. She instructed activists -- Jewish and non-Jewish alike -- to ask themselves a series of questions, including whether they feel that dealing with antisemitism "drain[s] the movement of precious energy", whether they believe antisemitism "has been discussed too much already," and whether Jews "draw too much attention to themselves."

Contemporary activists, including many Jews, could do worse than asking Klepfisz's questions. For example, when Jews and non-Jews in the queer community rallied against the effort by some activists to expel Jewish and Israeli LGBTQ organizations from LGBT conference "Creating Change", Mordechai Levovitz fretted that they had "promoted the much more nefarious anti-Semitic trope that Jews wield disproportionate power to get what we want." Levovitz didn't support the expulsion campaign. Still, he worried that even the most basic demand of inclusion -- don't kick queer Jews out of the room -- was potentially flexing too much Jewish muscle. In this way, the distinction between "central" and "centering" collapses -- indeed, even the most tertiary questions are "centering" if Jews are the ones asking them.

This is bad enough in a world where, we are told, oppressions are inextricably connected (you can tell whose perspective is and isn't valued in these communities based on whose attempts to speak are taken to be remedying an oversight and whose are viewed as self-centered derailing). But it verges on Kafka-esque when persons demand Jews "show up" and then get mad that they have a voice in the room; or proactively decide to put Jewish issues on their agenda and yet still demand Jews keep silent about them.

Magarik says, for example, that Jews "were not the story" when the Movement for Black Lives included in its platform an accusation that Israel was creating genocide; we shouldn't have made it "about us". He's right, in the sense that this language should not have caused Jews to withdraw from the fight against police violence against communities of color. He's wrong in suggesting that Jews therefore needed to stop "wringing our hands" about how issues that cut deep to the core of our existence as a people were treated in the document. Jews didn't demand that the Movement for Black Lives talk about Jews, but once they elected to do so Jews were not obliged to choose between the right's silence of shunning and the left's silence of acquiescence. To say that Jews ought not "center" ourselves is not to say that there is no place for critical commentary at all. We are legitimate contributors to the discourse over our own lives.

I'm not particularly interested in the substantive debate regarding whether Cornel West has a "Jewish problem" -- though Magarik's defense of West (that he "has a good reason for focusing on Palestine" because it "demarcates the difference between liberalism and radicalism") seems like it is worthy of some remark (of all the differences between liberals and "radicals", this is the issue that is the line of demarcation? And that doesn't exhibit some sign of centrality that Jews might have valid grounds to comment on, not the least of which could be wondering how it is a small country half a globe away came to occupy such pride of place?). The larger issue is the metadebate about whether it's valid to even ask the question; or more accurately, whether it is possible -- in any context, with any amount of disclaimers about relative prioritization -- to ask the question without it being read as "centering". The cleverest part of the whole play, after all, is that the very act of challenging this deliberative structure whereby any and all Jewish contributions suffice to center is that the challenge itself easily can become proof of our centrality.

But clever as it is, it can't and shouldn't be a satisfactory retort. There needs to be a lot more introspection about whether and how supposed allies of the Jews are willing to acknowledge the possibility that their instincts about when Jews are "centered" and when we're silenced are out-of-whack, without it becoming yet another basis of resentment for how we're making it all about us. And if we can't do that, then there is an antisemitism problem that really does need to be addressed. When discussing their struggles, members of other marginalized communities need not talk about Jews all the time, or most of the time, or even all that frequently. But what cannot stand is a claimed right to talk about Jews without having to talk with Jews. The idea that even the exploration of potential bias or prejudice lurking within our political movements represents a deliberative party foul is flatly incompatible with everything the left claims to believe about how to talk about matters of oppression.

West decided to bring up the Jewish state in his Jeremiad against Coates. It was not a central part of his argument, and so it should not be a central part of the ensuing public discussion. But having put it on the table, it cannot be the case that Jews are forbidden entirely from offering critical commentary.

One might say that a column or two in a few Jewish-oriented newspapers, lying at the tertiary edges of the overall debate, is precisely the right amount of attention that should have been given. If that's viewed as too much, then maybe the right question isn't about whether Jews are "centering" the discussion, but rather whether our presence really is a "central" part of anti-racism movements at all.

Drawing the line between "central" and "centering" is difficult, and requires work. There are situations where Jews demand too much attention, and there are times we are too self-effacing. But surely it takes more than a single solitary column to move from the latter to the former. More broadly, we're not going to get an accurate picture of how to mediate between "central" and "centering" unless we're willing to discuss how ingrained patterns of antisemitism condition our evaluations of Jewish political participation across the board.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

I'll Tell You What's Really Detestable, Mr. Wiesenfeld

How is it that every time I see something embarrassing being done by an American Jew, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld's name pops up?
Trump isn’t perfect, of course, say some of his Orthodox supporters. Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a former political aide to Republicans and Democrats (Mayor Koch, Gov. Pataki and Sen. D’Amato), referenced the Trump administration’s family separation policy for arrested illegal immigrants, including asylum seekers, at the Southern border. “Yes, the policy was not carried out with finesse, no question about it,” Wiesenfeld said.... But, added Wiesenfeld, “what’s really detestable is when this gets compared to the Holocaust.”
Is it opposite day? Let me fix that for you:
"Yes, some of the comparisons have not been carried out with finesse, no question about it. But what's really detestable is ripping small children away from their families at the border."
You know what that's called? Perspective. Wiesenfeld should try it out.

Other Wiesenfeld highlights include trying to bar Linda Sarsour from speaking at CUNY's graduation and leading the fight to block Tony Kushner (whom he compared to a "kapo" -- though he chivalrously put the words in his mother's mouth) from receiving an honorary degree. More recently, Wiesenfeld was furious that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gave a speech at the Museum of the Jewish Heritage.

How Trump v. Hawaii Will Be Overturned

Leah Litman has a good essay up on Trump v. Hawaii and Korematsu. Litman persuasively demonstrates how the former is a continuation of the latter's legacy (despite the majority's attempt to disavow the connection), and in that respect it makes for a maddening read. But the good news is that, as Litman further argues, part of Korematsu's legacy is that it became part of the anti-canon and eventually overturned -- and that, she predicts, will be Trump's fate as well.

I agree with Litman on this front, and for me the only question is when. But my true fantasy -- which I doubt will come true but dreams are dreams -- is that Trump be overturned and disavowed while members of the majority (especially Roberts) remain on the Court.

They deserve that. They deserve to have to sit there are watch as their opinion is relegated to history's dustbin. If there's justice in the world, they will be there the day Trump v. Hawaii finishes Korematsu's arc.