Saturday, June 13, 2009


I'm blogging from the room Jill is moving out of, but I just wanted to publicly congratulate her for graduating today. She is now an official alum of Carleton College -- magna cum laude, and with distinction in Political Science. Same honors as me, actually (but her GPA was a little higher).

Not that I needed any ceremony to know Jill was a baller -- but it is nice to have something official to lay on all y'all.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Unwitting One

Sean Wallis finally gave us the "context" to his infamous Lehman Brothers "joke" at the BRICUP fringe meeting to the UCU Congress. He had previously denied anti-Semitic intent but given no plausible alternative explanation for his remarks meant.

In my view, Wallis' "explanation" is precisely what you would expect out of someone who had maintained virtual radio silence for weeks while scrambling for a leg to stand on. But seeing that I had already expressed my ire, to him and to those who stand by him, I figured it wasn't worth posting on again.

However, the CST blog has a truly stellar post on the subject that really does capture the essence of what is going on here (from a position that is about as charitable towards Prof. Wallis as one could reasonably expect). It comes highly, highly recommended.

A Surge in Cooperation

I liked this article in The Forward, on the increased optimism by pro-Palestinian organizations in the US.
“The Palestinians should not sour U.S.–Israeli relations. That will not help anyone,” said Ghaith Al-Omari, advocacy director for the American Task Force on Palestine, a group now seen as the leading pro-Palestinian voice in Washington. He warned against Arab groups “gloating,” and expressed concern that one-sided pressure could lead to an “adversarial approach.” Al-Omari, a former Palestinian peace negotiator, recently participated in White House discussions in preparation of the Cairo speech.

He stressed that it would be a mistake for the administration and Congress to be seen as anti-Israeli. “It’s one thing for Congress to support a settlement freeze, but it will be a whole different story if the administration will be portrayed as leaning too strong on Israel.”

Areikat agrees. “I don’t like the word ‘pressure,’” he said. “This won’t help with either side.” The senior Palestinian representative cautioned that balance is needed in the administration’s approach to the conflict. “It won’t work if one side gets all its demands at the expense of the other side,” Areikat said.

This view seems at odds with statements by Abbas, who, in a May 29 interview with The Washington Post, said he believes that the Palestinians now need to sit and wait while the Obama administration pressures Israel to freeze settlement activity. Privately, advocates for the P.A. voice aggravation with the interview’s fallout.

Concerns within the pro-Palestinian community over the possibility of counterproductive administration pressure on Israel may stem from a surprising source: a little-known rapprochement process taking place between pro-Palestinian groups and Jewish organizations.

Palestinian activists have made a concerted effort to reach out to American Jews and to seek cooperation in promoting a two-state solution. While most of their outreach has focused on dovish Jewish organizations, Palestinians also have been trying to work with mainstream Jewish groups and with the pro-Israel lobby.

Together with Ziad Asali, president and founder of the American Task Force on Palestine, Al-Omari attended the May 4 gala dinner of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an event seen as the annual show of force for pro-Israel advocacy. ATFP also holds regular meetings with AIPAC staff members.

In December 2008, while he was serving on the PLO negotiating team, Areikat led a group of Palestinian officials who met with AIPAC board members in Washington. The AIPAC board members were later hosted by PLO officials in Ramallah.

Areikat believes that a new spirit in the Washington and Palestinian outreach efforts will help sway American public opinion toward more understanding of the Palestinian cause. “Americans are open-minded. They want to see the Palestinians treated justly while Israel remains protected,” he said.

I know of the ATFP -- they're a good outfit. And they're are showing why here. When you've been in conflict as long as the Israelis and Palestinians have, it is very tempting to use openings as a chance to entrench divisions and seek the temporary advantage. The ATFP, though, sees their newfound access as a chance to build bridges rather than burn them. The critique of "pressure" is on point here -- though I'm not adverse to "pressure" per se under the right circumstances, I understand the point that Mr. Areikat is making here: that the best way to proceed isn't through the expression of righteousness indignation and high profile diplomatic hijinks, but by building the sort of environment where the history, claims, and concerns of all sides are given weight, consideration, and respect.

Moving On Out

I spent most of today moving into the apartment I'm subletting this summer. But I'm not actually living there until Monday -- tomorrow, I fly out to Minnesota for Jill's graduation.

I hate moving. There is little in life I hate more. I find it unbelievably stressful, to the point where (as it finally did tonight) it can make me physically ill. Finals, by comparison, were stressful too, but they didn't cause me to boot all over the front steps (sorry if that's TMI).

The problem, I think, is that moving tends to involve the confluence of several events, all of which are among my least favorite things. On face, of course, the first thing I dislike about moving is the same thing that everyone else hates about it -- it takes time and effort and is really boring. But beyond that, there are some other more personal issues. I really dislike change, for one. Kind of odd for a progressive, I know, but I'm very easily contented and once I'm settled somewhere, I really hate rocking the boat. The irony, of course, is that after a few days I quickly settle in the new place and then don't want to leave there -- but the transition is rough.

Another problem is isolation: moving cuts you off from people, and when I'm stressed I really need my friends near by for support. Even this summer, when I'm moving literally less than 10 blocks away, this applies, because most people aren't living in Chicago for the summer. Jill will be moving in with me on the 22nd, but there is still a week gap when I'm mostly alone. And finally, whenever I move I'm filled with paranoid fears that a bunch of things will go wrong. I won't be able to get the door open. The stove won't work. The pipes leak and are flooding the place. I won't be able to get the internet to work (this is actually a huge deal for me, because surfing online is my primary destress mechanism -- if I can't do that, I start to melt down really quick). All this, of course, is happening at the point when I'm most vulnerable. The anticipation of it alone is enough to induce misery.

The point being, when the key to my new apartment turns Sunday night, I really really really hope everything goes smoothly.

Martha Minow New Harvard Dean

Obviously, my congratulations to the good great professor and scholar.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Thinking About Judaism

I blog a lot about Jews and Jewish concerns. But I rarely talk about my Jewishness in the abstract. But Daisy of Dear Diaspora points out that we are getting to the point where my generation has to take responsibility for Judaism writ large. That being said, she asks the following questions, which I'm answering from the hip, and I hope spark further conversation on the topic.

What do you like about Judaism and Jewish culture? What do you dislike?

I like that Judaism is a place of ideas. It is a place where intellect and argument are valued, and more importantly, not valued for their own sake but as a critical tool in the pursuit of social justice.

I dislike Jewish passivity. I think we are too tame in asserting ourselves as an independent perspective worthy of respect and dignity -- on concerns explicitly Jewish and not. For all the talk of Jewish pushiness, there is a definitive keep-your-head down mentality stemming from a desire not to reinforce stereotypes of power and neurosis. I don't fault folks for being cautious, but I don't have to like it either.

Why are Judaism and Jewish culture important? Why is it important to preserve them?

Whenever someone asks me why Judaism is important to me, I always respond first by citing Emil Fackenheim's 614th Commandment. I can't say much more about it except to say that it exhibits a genuine pull on me. I can feel it, as deep in my soul as it can get.

Beyond that, though, I think Judaism offers an important perspective on issues. We've been around awhile. We have a lot to say. It is good that we're here to say it, and it is good that we are still conversant in the history and practices which make our speech intelligible and give it context, nuance, and richness.

What is your relationship with Judaism as a religion? Do you feel connected to Judaism? To a temple community, to a minyan, to a study group? If not, would you like to be?

Are you affiliated with any of the movements? Which one, and why? If not, why not? What do you like and/or dislike about it?

I have home synagogue, which I like a lot, but I don't really go to synagogue that often. Again, my connection with Judaism is far stronger on the ideas side than it is on the ritual side (though that is important to me too). In terms of movements, my synagogue is Conservative, and I like my synagogue, so I'm a Conservative Jew. If I was picking out of the air, though, I'd probably identify closer with Reconstructionist Judaism -- I think they do the best job of taking Judaism seriously while still subjecting it to critical analysis.

How observant are you? How important is observance to you? How observant should others be? Are some kinds of observance more important than others?

I'm strangely observant. As you might have guessed, I care a lot about "thinking Jewishly" -- that is, it matters to me that my broader positions and ideologies cohere with my Jewish identity. In terms of ritualistic observance, I'm more haphazard. I don't keep any sort of strict Kosher, but I do avoid shellfish and pork, and cheeseburgers (but not milk & meat combos more generally). The specific anti-cheeseburger rule is a function of that food being the paradigmatic example of "things my friends could eat but I couldn't because I'm Kosher", so it matters more to me to keep that redline up.

What practices or ideas are most central to your Jewish identity? (i.e. eating bagels, loving books, celebrating the High Holidays, not celebrating Christian holidays, keeping kosher, fighting for justice, etc.)

Bagels are obviously important (and very difficult to find with any quality in the mid-west). I do tend to define a lot my Jewish practice in terms of distinctiveness -- namely, being distinctively not Christian. I don't celebrate Christian holidays with substantially more vigor than I do celebrate Jewish holidays. But that goes back to my desire to assert Jewish independence.

Ideally, what will Judaism and Jewish culture look like in 10 years? In 25 years? In 100 years?

Couldn't say -- I'd like to think it would be still evolving. And same in 1,000 years. Even ideally, things shouldn't be static.

What are most critical issues for the Jewish community to address right now? Israel, intermarriage, declining synagogue attendance, something else entirely?

Anti-Semitism matters a lot, and I do think we need to be vigorous in addressing it. But in general, I think it is critically important for Jews to establish and solidify our right to a positive, independent Jewish identity that is worthy of respect in of itself.

What are the key qualities for Judaism/Jewish culture to embody or functions for it to perform?

Judaism should be welcoming to all Jews, create space for Jews of diverse backgrounds and beliefs to enact their Jewishness in a variety of ways, and promote norms of fairness and justice throughout the Jewish community and the world.


There is not that much to say about the White Supremacist anti-Semite who opened fire at the Holocaust Museum today. I want to obviously give my thanks and respect to Stephen Tyrone Johns, the brave security guard who died defending the museum, as well as my condolences to his family.

As for the shooting itself, well, it is a very scary thing. Nobody should be under any illusion that a rise in right-wing extremism will not result in terrorist actions against Jews. Nobody should be under any illusion that we've gotten beyond anti-Semitism in America; that it is something Jews don't have to think about anymore.


1L year is officially over. And it ended on a nice high note. Not only did my Criminal Law exam seem to go well, but I won an award! The Morrison & Foerster Award for Outstanding 1L Bigelow Brief. Oh yeah, you read that right :-).

Then I went and picked up the law review competition packet. So that was a dash of cold water to the face. But still, overall, we call this victory. Holler.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

New Friendships

There has been some interesting syncing between the far-left and right over Israeli policy recently.

First, there was this fascinating article in Ha'aretz about the latest signatories to a one-state solution: the settlers!
[Uri] Elitzur rejected Obama's notion of a two-state solution, saying a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders would be a hotbed of terror. However, the status quo - which, he said, means an apartheid state - is also unacceptable to him. So what does that leave? A binational state.

Elitzur proclaimed that the Land of Israel is more important than the State of Israel, and a Jew's right to live any place in his land is more important to him than the desire for sovereignty. In order to make this concept more concrete, he compared the Land of Israel to his wife and the state to a cleaning woman. "I married my wife, not the cleaning woman," he said.

Elitzur is not the only veteran settler who would choose the Greater Land of Israel even at the price of the state losing its Jewish majority. Former MK Hanan Porat and other settler leaders have recently prophesied in a similar vein. If you like, this is nothing but a post-modern version of post-Zionism.

Well, I'm just glad that the settlers have definitively placed themselves on the side of those who wish to destroy Israel. It's easier to draw battle-lines when folks actually line up on their respective side. The game the settlers are playing is to stall for time until Israel is destroyed. The game some Palestinians are playing is to stall for time until Israel is destroyed. Call me the not-so-loyal opposition to that game.

Meanwhile, as I work to oppose a boycott of Israel, some Israeli MKs seem to want to do the left's work for it:
But in the interim, the minister [Likud MK Yossi Peled] suggests reconsidering military and civilian purchases from the US, selling sensitive equipment that the Washington opposes distributing internationally, and allowing other countries that compete with the US to get involved with the peace process and be given a foothold for their military forces and intelligence agencies.

Peled said that shifting military acquisition to America's competition would make Israel less dependent on the US. For instance, he suggested buying planes from the France-based Airbus firm instead of the American Boeing.

So the left doesn't want America to sell to Israel, and Peled doesn't want Israel to buy from the US. Everybody is happy! Except, you know, the non-crazy people.

Rush Limbaugh Reads Naomi Klein!

Rush Limbaugh raises the specter of boycotting GM because it is now owned by the government (and thus, the Obama administration). Not being a fan of boycotts in general, I'm not a fan of this one specifically, though I am curious why a boycott of American government-owned corporations would be less justified than a boycott of Israel (obviously Limbaugh's reasons aren't particularly strong, but would a similar boycott with more left-friendly motives pass muster?).

But let's put that aside, and instead parse this bit:
Limbaugh reassures any GM workers who might be listening that the boycotters aren't angry at them. "They don't want to patronize Obama. They don't want to do anything to make Obama's policies work!" he explains. "This is an untold story, by the way. Of course, the government-controlled media is not gonna report anything like this but there are a lot of people who are not going to buy from Chrysler or General Motors as long as it is perceived Barack Obama is running it, because people do not want his policy to work here because this is antithetical to the American economic way of life."

Klein, of course, likewise claimed that her boycott was targeted at the policies, not the people, which presumably is supposed to shield her from their ire and insure it is instead directed at the proper source. Now, raise your hand if you doubt GM workers are really going to care one flying fig that Limbaugh says he doesn't harbor any ill-will towards them, when it is their jobs that will be lost and their families who will suffer, and blame the Obama administration instead. Okay great. Now, anybody who thinks Israeli families will think differently, lower your hands. Everybody's hands should still be up.

Via Balloon Juice

Back to Better

Ed has apologized, publius has accepted. Everyone is moving on.

And I'm glad. Normally these things just turn into lingering bitterness, because normally people can't admit when they're wrong. It was big of Ed to apologize, and I admit that I wasn't expecting him to. This makes me think much more highly of him than I had before.

Obviously, I hope there are no long term repercussions for publius. Assuming that to be so, it's nice when things work out.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Anti-Settler State

Recent polling out of Israel finds that the settlers are more unpopular with the Israeli public than ever before, with nearly two-thirds of respondents calling them a liability rather than an asset to the state. Settler organizations are responding to this rationally: by initiating a PR campaign to encourage tourism in the West Bank ... and by launching a wave of violent protests and terrorist violence directed at their Palestinians neighbors and Israeli government officials who attempt to remove them.
Last summer radical settlers introduced “price tag,” a new campaign intended to disrupt evacuations of illegal settlement outposts by wreaking havoc on roads, burning fields, and attacking Palestinian people and property.

In a single day on June 1, as Benjamin Netanyahu pushed ahead with his promise to evacuate outposts, this strategy went into overdrive. Settlers began blocking roads and stoning Palestinian cars near Karnei Shomron, Kedumim and Yitzhar and Palestinians responded by throwing rocks at the settlers. Olive groves and fields belonging to Palestinian residents of Burin, near Yitzhar, were torched, allegedly by settlers. After soldiers and police removed three caravans from the Nahalat Yosef outpost, near Elon Moreh, settlers retaliated later in the day by torching Palestinian fields at various locations in the northern West Bank. In a statement sent to reporters, the perpetrators said this was “the price for harming our sacred land.”
Some settlers have also created conflict with police and soldiers. During the June 1 settler actions, lawmaker Michael Ben-Ari of the National Union alliance was arrested after he climbed onto the van in which police had locked a settler and refused to get off, claiming parliamentary immunity. Ben-Ari is now demanding a police investigation into his treatment, arguing he was beaten as he was removed from the van.

Fortunately, these violent acts are doing nothing but increasing the gulf between the settlers and the majority of the Israeli public. And the overall tenor of the article indicates that there is room for America and Israel, working hand in hand, to make a serious dent in the settler project.

On that note, The Washington Post has a good editorial sketching out a "compromise" that will overcome Israeli refusal to move.
Mr. Netanyahu should publicly acknowledge that the peace process will lead to Palestinian statehood, and should adopt a series of measures curtailing settlements. He should quickly dismantle those deemed illegal, end all government subsidies, prohibit the territorial expansion of all settlements, stop new construction in those outside Israel's West Bank fence and agree to a monitoring mechanism that will prevent cheating. Mr. Obama can reasonably accept that as a freeze, while not requiring that not a single brick be laid in any of the more than 120 West Bank communities. Then he can turn to the equally important task of pressing Palestinian leaders and Arab states for measures that match Israel's actions.

Basically, this comes down to the difference between "vertical" versus "horizontal" growth. "Vertical" growth doesn't involve appropriating any more territory; it simply involves increasing density within preexisting settlements. Horizontal growth involves actually expanding the borders of the settlements. The latter, obviously, is far more dangerous and inciting than the former. A true freeze on horizontal growth, paired with actual dismantling of illegal settlements and an end to subsidies, would be a major step forward. Permitting vertical growth will allow Israeli politicians to save face and head off obstruction from the right.

In making this claim, I'm not saying that vertical growth is politically neutral. Of course it isn't -- while it poses a less visceral and immediate threat to the peace process, particular when confined to the settlement blocs which are generally acknowledged to be ceded to Israel in an eventual agreement, so long as the eventual borders are not set, Israel doesn't get to unilaterally declare that any part of the occupied territories are permanently theirs.* But the point of a compromise is that it isn't going to be perfect; the benefits it gives us are worth more than what is being given up. And it is abundantly clear that the benefits of a horizontal settlement freeze, dismantlement of outposts, and end to subsidies easily outweigh the detriments of allowing vertical growth.

* Which isn't to say Israel is obliged to withdraw from every inch of the territories -- it is well established the UN Res. 242 requires no such thing and contemplates that the final borders be set by negotiation. I'm only noting that we can't assume the outcome of these negotiations before they happen.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

What is this "Obligation" You Speak Of?

On the outing-gate scandal that is consuming the blogosphere, Matthew Franck writes something very revealing:
[E]xploding someone's cover and revealing his identity breaches no ethical norm I can think of. Blevins had his reasons for writing as "Publius," but Ed had no obligation to respect those reasons, and he didn't have to catch Blevins in any form of unethical argumentation in order to "out" him. I'm sympathetic to Ed's view that Blevins "smeared" him, but I haven't weighed that matter very carefully, and I don't think it counts for much on the ethical scorecard one way or the other. Ed reported a fact he had a right to tell, for whatever reason it suited him to tell it—including no particular reason at all other than that he found it useful at the moment he did it.

The claim here, that we have "no obligation to respect" the decisions of our fellow human beings; that one's choice over how to present oneself in the public eye can be swatted aside for "no particular reason at all", is astounding to me. It represents one of the attributes I find most distasteful about the modern conservative movement -- the complete dismissal of interconnectedness, solidarity, or even respectful interaction. Anything I have the "right" to do, I should be able to do without criticism or compunction. Free speech means I can make a racist joke about a co-worker. Should I? Who cares -- it's free speech! The mechanics of the law and the marketplace mean that I can make billions of dollars destroying ecosystems and horde the entire thing, spending nary a penny on the public good. Should I? Who cares -- it's capitalism! Freedom is understood to mean not just legal autonomy, but moral autonomy as well -- a kind of sick Nietzcheanism that renders basic ethical interaction superfluous. For those of us who are not only for ourselves, this sort of mentality can't help but repulse.

And that's as a general matter. On the specific point of pseudonyms, Hilzoy's post on the matter shows how spectacularly irresponsible this is. Franck admits he wouldn't out a Chinese dissident who'd be tortured if his identity was revealed. But Whelan had no idea why publius chose to remain pseudonymous. His reasons turned out to be to avoid family strife, to protect the careers of (Republican) operatives in his family, and to avoid any tenure controversies. All solid enough reasons for me. But they could have been considerably more dramatic. He might have had a stalker. He might have a boss who swore never to hire Democratic scum (unlikely given that he was an academic, but a possibility for bloggers in fields without strong norms of academic freedom). The point is, we didn't know. And in absence of that knowledge, Whelan cavalierly decided to roll dice with publius' life. Because he had the right to. And that's all that matters.

Essentializing Jews

The Community Security Trust has started a blog. This is good! And I really like their first substantive post, though unfortunately its about something infuriating -- namely, The Independent's coverage of Obama's Cairo speech:
A double page spread on President Obama’s Cairo speech is headlined, “President stings Israel with swipe at settlements”. The sub-title tells us how brave this is, “White House shows willingness to ignore US Jewish lobby by risking confrontation with Netanyahu over Palestinian statehood”.

The opening paragraph tells us breathlessly:
THE CORDS [sic] that connect Israel to the United States were under unprecedented strain last night after Barack Obama risked the wrath of the Jewish lobby in the US by publicly chiding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu…

Two paragraphs later, we hear that “Mr Obama showed he is willing, perhaps more than any US president before him, to ignore the Jewish lobby domestically by getting firm with Israel. Thus he made public a festering and personal argument with Mr Netanyahu, who is refusing to heed his demands for a halt to all new settlements in the occupied West Bank”.

This reminds me of that Greek newspaper which celebrated Obama's victory as "the end of Jewish domination." I wrote that, were that the case, the 78% of Jews who voted for him must be very confused. Here, we see a similar game at work, with the Independent's writer assuming that American Jews (or their "lobby", whatever that means) are hell-bent on defending the settlements and will broke no criticism directed towards Israel in any way, shape or form. This would come as a tremendous surprise to the majority of Jews which oppose the settlements -- and to my knowledge none of the major pro-Israel organizations (with the possible exception of the ZOA) has ever invested any effort in trying to defend them. But bah! What does it matter what Jews actually think about thinks, when it is so much more satisfying to stereotype them as incorrigible warmongers so we can get the satisfaction of standing up to them!

Likewise, there has been virtually no indication that the American Jewish community as a whole, or the Israeli Jewish community for that matter, views Obama's speech as putting any sort of strain on America's relationship with Israel or that it was in any way contrary to the positions of mainline Jewish organizations. That's not to say that every Jew liked Obama's speech -- as difficult as this may be for entities invested in the view that Jews are a united, hive-like cabal (apparently like the Independent), Jews have diverse opinions about things -- but my reading was that the weight of the reactions leaned positive, though not ecstatic (which, for reasons I may or may not have time to get into, is roughly my reaction too).

The Jewish community is not a pack of neoconservative thugs (with occasional brave dissenter signing on to boycott positions). It represents a diverse array of views, perspectives, positions, and experiences. And though most Jews and most Jewish organizations do identify as "pro-Israel" in one form or another, that, too encompasses a wide range of stances that stretch well beyond the tired caricatures the Independent draws. Most Jews don't hold the opinions that critics of Jews ascribe to them. The fact that a newspaper like the Independent sees no problem in simply asserting Jewish views without thinking to ask whether or not we hold them is typical of the arrogant presumptuousness I have to deal with each and every day.

The Outing

The blogger known as Publius has been outed by conservative hatchet-man Ed Whelan. Whelan was upset that Publius had the temerity to disagree heatedly with his (inane) legal analysis. So he stripped his pseudonym away -- despite being informed by Publius that he had excellent personal and professional reasons to keep his identity shielded. Needless to say, this is a spectacularly dickish thing to do. All I can do is reiterate that Publius is a fabulous blogger, and he has my full support. As for Whelan, well, I doubt he has shame one can appeal to, so I have nothing to say to him.

I saw the news, by the way, through a post by Feddie's Southern Appeal blog. My relationship with Feddie is, I think, roughly parallel to Publius' (indeed, I may have originally been "introduced", electronically, to SA through Publius): I disagree heatedly with nearly everything he writes, but respect him as someone with a good heart and a genuinely fair-minded disposition. Unsurprisingly, his post is harshly critical of Whelan. Because people of all political dispositions know that, fundamentally, what Whelan did was wrong. And it should be labeled as such.