Thursday, December 29, 2005

Assorted Jewish Blogging

A few Jew-related blog posts and articles I've stumbled across these past few days...

Julia Gorin writes a piece entitled "Dumb Jews"--presumably, she is the paradigmatic example because it is just awful (H/T: Feministe). I mean really, I have rarely seen idiocy on such a grand scale. Net story, she apparently cannot conceive that Jewish leaders can criticize both Evangelical Christians AND radical Islamists--and then (I swear I'm not making this up) she thinks that God has abandoned his "Chosen People" because we don't vote Republican. Yeah, I can imagine that ticking Him off. She continues:
Foxman also noted that 70 percent of weekly churchgoers and 76 percent of Evangelicals "agreed that 'Christianity is under attack' in this country -- a conclusion that is hard to square with their growing influence in Congress, the White House and the courts, he said."

With attacks on religion that target "In G-d we Trust", "Under G-d", tiny crosses on county seals, Christmas trees and the 10 Commandments, Christians really have nothing to fear.
[...]
There is only one group in America that is victim to bigotry on a massive scale, and that is the Christians. For those who think the minority can't oppress the majority, think again. The minority with its various minorities can oppress an entire nation.

Is she stoned? Or is this from natural causes? Somewhere along the line, getting rid of "Under G-d" has mutated into "bigotry on a massive scale." Next step, Stalinist Russia (a claim she, unsurprisingly at this point) makes as well. I'd like to think anyone with a passing knowledge of Jewish history knows that "bigotry on a massive scale" encompasses slightly more than removing overt state support for religion. Those little things like death camps, and burning Jews at stake, and tearing down synagogues--that's religious bigotry. And would someone introduce this woman to a inquisitor, so she can get off from the notion that wherever Christians are safe, Jews are too? I mean, honestly.

Fortunately, the remaining posts were slightly less likely to get my blood pressure up. David Bernstein remarks on the growing integration of Ethopian Jews into Israeli public life. This is important on several counts. First, Israel has had an unfortunate history of discrimination by the (European) Ashkanazis against the (African and Middle Eastern) Sephardim. That they are starting to move past this tradition is great news by itself. But also, Israel represents perhaps the best model of what a racially integrated society could look like. This isn't to say it is all that great--but then, no country is. Rather, I think would could plausible argue that on the race issue alone, Israel might have made more strides toward full integration than any other country in the world. People who criticize Israel as a "racist" or "apartheid" state would do well to remember that--and remember that their rhetoric completely writes out of existence the Sephardic Jewish population. They're people too, and they deserve to have a role in our political/historical dialogue.

On the subject of Israel, Iowa Law Professor Adrien Wing has given "part one" of her trip to Israel. Though this part is positive, it ends with the ominious "Unfortunately, we did not feel peace in the Holy Land." I had recalled from looking over Professor Wing's C.V. that she had done a lot of work on Palestinian legal issues, so I am particularly curious to hear her first-hand opinions of the current status there. I will admit that when I see a Professor who specializes in "constitutionalism in...Palestine...legal decision-making in the Palestinian intifada...and women's rights in Palestine" (among many other things) I get suspicious of how fairly they will treat Israel in their scholarship. It isn't fair of me, and I desparately hope to be proven wrong (I can't fiat my prejudices out of existence, but I can acknowledge them and hope to keep the suppressed until factual backing comes out). I firmly believe that there are persons who are personally invested in seeing Palestine become a stable, progressive, and democratic state that also harbor no ill will toward Israel and recognize its legitimate security and political interests as well. In fact, I'd like to think I fall into that category as well. So I eagerly await this next post by her that she claims is forthcoming.

David Kopel inquires about that prevelance of the phrase "First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people" in Palestine and the surrounding areas. The good news is that the consensus seems to be it's rather rare. The bad news is that this seems to be more a function of anti-Christian sentiments lagging far behind anti-Semitic sentiments than any true repudiation of violence. Ah well.

And there you have it--the complete blog-day in Judaism. Consolodated for your pleasure by your friendly Debate Link staff.

How I Spent My Winter Break

One Florida High Schooler decided "Hey! Why not take a trip to Iraq?"

Part of me admires him. Another (larger) part thinks he's insane. Favorite excerpt from the article:
"I want to experience during my Christmas the same hardships ordinary Iraqis experience everyday, so that I may better empathize with their distress," he wrote.

Farris Hassan says he thinks a trip to the Middle East is a healthy vacation compared with a trip to Colorado for holiday skiing.

"You go to, like, the worst place in the world and things are terrible," he said. "When you go back home you have such a new appreciation for all the blessing you have there, and I'm just going to be, like, ecstatic for life."

Hey...don't be so hard on Colorado skiing. It's got...hardships...

So, yeah. Craziness of it aside (and admittedly that's a big aside), I think he demonstrated an extraordinary character in taking this trip. And hopefully he will in the future apply that character toward making the Middle East and the world a bit better for all its inhabitants.

Only "Radical Feminist Women" Need Apply

Well, I nearly managed to avoid blogging throughout this whole vacation. But alas, I have succumbed on what would have been my last ski day. I woke up with a sore throat and aches all over from 4 straight days of almost nothing but black diamond runs. So I decided to take the day off. And here I am, back on the blog--posting away. How sad for me.

One of my favorite feminist blogs, Alas, a Blog, is mulling over having "radical feminist woman only" threads. I am not a fan of the proposal on several grounds. First of all, it strikes me as needlessly exclusionary. Flame wars are frustrating--having participated in a few, I know. But it is always possible to ban trolls. And unlike many of the boards cited by the post author (Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff, whom I believe is at this point only guest-blogging), the odds that it will be the feminists being kicked out strikes me as rather slim at this particular site. And this particular group: "radical feminist woman" strikes me as far too narrowly tailored. I consider myself a feminist who occasionally flirts with being radical--though as one might expect, both terms are quite fluid [UPDATE: Immediately upon posting, I realized that the author meant "radical" referring to a specific branch of Feminist Thought, as opposed to a more generic signifier. I don't think I am all that close to a Radical in this respect--I'm too anti-essentialist and too much of a third-waver/intersectionality fan to really fit the category. But by the conventions of ordinary political discourse, I'd be a small "r" radical. It doesn't seem like this oversight really affects the post content--the author mentioned below was definitely a big R Radical, and the denotation of a specific feminist branch is, if anything, more exclusivist than radicals in general.]. Alas, I'm not a woman. And I'll admit that, having taken Feminist Theory last term, there are certain radical feminists whom I find to be appalling creatures (the author who tempered her proposal to bring about the "political suppression of men" by assuring her readers that she meant methods other than "genocide" was my particular anti-hero in that class). But I do believe that I have things to add to the discussion. Perhaps it's my debate background, but discourse and argumentation are fields where I am most leery of even partial exclusion and marginalization. And I think that AAB is first a site about discussing these issues, and only second an activist front. Otherwise, they wouldn't tolerate anti-feminist posters at all. I am fine with AAB's experimentation in limiting explicitly anti-feminist arguments to certain threads--the "sidetracking" problem is a legitimate one. But establishing insider/outsider forums that precede political positioning I find a tad bit scary.

I also worry that such discussions discourage outreach to the very communities that feminists need to dialogue with. Outside a separatist movement (which I, for obvious reasons, don't subscribe to), any effort to dismantle patriarchy has to at some level deal with the patriarchs. Not just them either--the sympathetic but undecided liberal male, the uncertain moderate women--there are many groups whose support is necessary for the feminist project to succeed. I make this same argument with regard to racial hierarchy--yes, it is true that minority discourse and scholarship need to have greater currency in society at large. But that goal can't come at the expense of (and I'd argue, should operate concurrently with) the meta-project of fixing the problem. Making males (or non-radical feminists, for that matter), feel like outsiders or enemies or otherwise unwelcome is antithetical to that project. Marginalization operates in many ways--radical feminists have to recognize that creating this exclusivist forums will exact costs in terms of how much non-radicals are willing to engage them. I am not at all confident that these costs will be outweighed by whatever benefits are accrued from an incestuous mini-circle of political allies. I know that Amp and I don't see eye-to-eye on everything, but I like to think we've learned from each other precisely because we disagree. Bouncing ideas off each other, so long as it is honest and respectful, is a boon to any intellectual movement, not a curse.

Third, these boards strike me as a Siren's Call. Assume that AAB does establish these boards. I predict they will be very popular, for the simple reason that it is far less stressful to chat with one's intellectual allies than it is to hit the trenches and battle with enemies (or negotiate with the moderates, which in some ways may be even harder). So after a suitable period of trial, Amp may ask for feedback on the threads. And the participants will be very happy to have a respite from the muck and grime of political warfare present elsewhere. So they'll give positive feedback. The excluded persons will at this point have already made our reaction to the forums--we'll either have left the site or acceded to their presence. So our response will be muted--and will be generally less compelling because we don't have access to the benefits the threads offer (ironically, because one of their primary reasons for existence is to prevent us from reaping said benefits). So we "just won't get it." In the end then, all the really important things will be said in the exclusivist forums--the discussions, the hashing out of positions, the refinement, the whole shibang. And there will be little incentive to go out into the world (or in this case, the other comment threads) and actually do the hard work of bouncing the ideas off maybe non-allies or non-sympathetic ears. It's too tempting to stay in the cocoon. As I said before, I think an apt analogy is to incest, and it will have the same effect--weakening the movement, isolating its participants, and depriving the whole endeavor of fresh ideas, opinions, and blood.

It might not be fair, given the contemporary political landscape, to apply this standard to AAB. After all, its not like an open policy at AAB will convince mainstream institutions of the error of their sexist ways and bring about an equitable playing field. But again, ultimately the goal isn't "eye for an eye" political justice, it's about laying the framework for real social change. I think exclusionary thread policies are generally opposed to that end.

UPDATE: I also offer my concurrence to Rachel S. and Dorktastic in comments. I'm only part way through, but as usual their comments section is superb.

UPDATE 2x: The updates are coming quick because the more I think about it, the more complex I realize this issue is. I do see the benefit of exclusive discussion groups. I'm not sure AAB is the right place to host them, because I think it has a different role to play. An explicitly activist site strikes me as a better host for such a forum--less likely to fall prey to the problems I outlined above. But I think at AAB, the net effect may be to dilute a rare site that encourages and fosters debate on these critical issues.