Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Good News

Well I'll be. Ha'aretz is reporting that Israel will agree to some form of a settlement freeze. A lot of people were worried that this had become a white whale for the Obama administration, and would have gummed up peace negotiations indefinitely. Now it looks like their hard work and bold stance may have paid off.

I am guessing, incidentally, that the actual agreement between Israel and the United States will be slightly more complicated, and probably not perfect in every respect. To use that imperfection as an excuse to not reciprocate would be a dreadful mistake. Obviously, we have to see if this report shakes out first. But if it does, then I think it has to be recognized as a huge step in the right direction, and our next step must be measured accordingly.

A Quick Question

So if you watch a TV-sitcom with a laugh track, you'll notice that the jokes get varying laugh times. Some get only a brief chuckle, others a sustained guffaw. But without an actual audience watching the show, how do the producers decide which jokes are "funnier" than their peers? Are the decisions done purely for plot and pacing reasons, or do they actually try and gauge which jokes are their aces and which are the fillers?


Iranian Presidential candidate Mehdi Karoubi: Our security agents are "worse than Zionists".


Friday, July 24, 2009

Pantomiming to Peace

So Hamas apparently is shifting away from rockets to what it calls "cultural resistance". To some extent, it's posturing -- Hamas is hardly disavowing violence, and I'm confident much of it's "cultural" portrayal will continue to feature the anti-Semitism and violence-glorification that has characterized it in the past. But rocket fire genuinely is way down, and that's a good thing.
Because Israeli officials also believe that they must improve public relations and message management, the new focus on culture here sets up an intriguing battle for world opinion. Both sides argue that journalists show too much sympathy for the other.

And, perhaps, Israel will respond with some posturing of its own. Israel has been slowly relaxing its grip on Gaza for some time now. Maybe it will respond to Hamas' gambit with some well-timed PR moves of its own -- opening crossings or letting in more goods. And who knows? Maybe we'll bluff and perform and posture all the way towards peace.*

* Unlikely, but I can dream, can't I?

Does Race Have Everything To Do With It or Not?

A friend was surprised I haven't written on the Henry Louis Gates arrest. Meh, I've been busy. I think the arrest was probably a dumb move -- I'll agree with the President on that -- but in general this struck me as a confluence of unfortunate events where I'm not all that interested in talking about "fault".

But oblique to the topic, I wanted to comment briefly on this Ta-Nehisi Coates post, entitled "Stop Telling Me About The Racial-Profiling Course":
I don't care if the dude tried to take a bullet for Malcolm in the ballroom, and ran guns for Huey P. Either it's smart to arrest a dude for being rude to a cop in his own house, or it isn't.

Quite often, mostly in affirmative action cases but sometimes elsewhere, folks attacking the progressive vision on race relations (the one that says race still matters) argue "it's not race, it's class!" or "these things (police abuse, bad schools, job discrimination) are bad no matter who they happen to -- why you got to make it about race?" I've noted before that this is an argument which magically appears only in the context of trying to dismiss the minority claim. People who say that we should be focusing on improving urban elementary education instead of having high school affirmative action programs don't turn around and advocate for those improvements.

And so it is here. Just as we should be able to say "children of all backgrounds should have the opportunity to receive an excellent, top-notch education", we should also be able to say "arresting someone in their own home while investigating a suspected burglary after you know that they're actually the owner is bad police behavior -- even if they're yelling at you." Race doesn't enter into the general principle. Except it does -- because the people who are bent on discrediting Gates seem to think that race is the only relevant axis here. So if they show this cop doesn't harbor ill will towards Black people (and I'm sure he doesn't), that's game set and match.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Faculty Blog Two-fer

Two Faculty Blog posts went up today, though both on similar topics. You can read Bigelow Fellow Arden Rowell on the timing of preferences, or marvel as Eric Posner attacks feasibility analysis.

There's More To It

I did want to link to this Jerusalem Post broadside against Naomi Klein, specifically, her recent Ha'aretz interview. Now, I've already made my thoughts abundently clear on the matter, but I focused nearly exclusively on her apparent belief that protesting anti-Semitism is more "disturbing" than anti-Semitism itself. But there was a lot more to find despicable than that, and Noam Schimmel digs into it.

The claim that "[some Jews] even think we get one get-away-with-genocide-free-card," which is utterly risible, titles the article. But, related to my post, Schimmel also notes how Klein sloppily groups Jews together as a collective -- at Durban, "the Jewish students". Now, I stand by my claim that if Klein was seriously that distressed by the sight of protesters in clown outfits, she either has a severe undiagnosed case of coulrophobia or she needs a spine transplant, fast. But Schimmel accurately points out that, even if we do think she was justified in getting the vapors over protesters who had the temerity not dress in suits and ties, certainly not all the Jewish students wore the clown outfits, rendering her indiscriminate targeting of "the Jewish students" particularly hostile and bigoted (admittedly, she was just following the lead of the conference organizers). [further investigation seems to show that all the Jewish organizations kicked out were done so for cause -- i.e., for protesting. Klein's bigotry thus did not follow the UN, but was sui generis. I apologize to the UN for grouping them in with her.]

Naomi Klein is a servant of bigotry. I don't know what is in her own heart; whether she truly believes that she is treating the Jewish community in a fair and egalitarian manner, or whether she has convinced herself the ends justify the means. It doesn't matter. Either way, she is acting under the auspices of hate, and I will call her out on it until the day comes when she a) recants or b) is rendered totally irrelevant in her fanaticism.

Listen Up

I think this article by Evelyn Gordon, critiquing how liberal American Jews have responded to President Obama's pressure campaign challenging Israel over the settlements, is very important. Why? Well, primarily because it avoids falling into the trap that until now bedeviled every single one of its cousins:
Too many articles lambasting the continued Jewish support for US President Barack Obama have overlooked a crucial point: Many American Jews agree with his positions on Israel. Like him, they think Israel should completely freeze the settlements, withdraw to the 1967 lines and divide Jerusalem, and that peace would break out if only it did so. None of these views are shared by a majority of Israelis. But as long as American Jews hold them, expecting them to echo mainstream Israeli concerns over these policies is delusional.

Right-o. Particularly when the articles are written by Christians, there is a persistent emergence of J.D. Hayworth syndrome wherein non-Jewish actors seem to think they know more about how to be authentically Jewish than Jews do. Even the Jewish speakers, though, seem to have trouble fathoming that their position is not mainstream.

In any event, though, Ms. Gordon rightly disavows that stance. Her argument is that American Jews aren't paying any attention to the Israeli left, and what it needs to become a vibrant and salient force in Israeli society. I've already written about how the isolation of the Israeli left in the international community has caused its near collapse as a viable force, and we can group that into the same position. Gordon argues that likewise, Obama hasn't been in communication with progressive elements of Israeli society, which has greatly weakened their ability to mobilize on his behalf and raised concerns even among these progressives about whether Obama truly is an ally.
This impression was bolstered by "the administration's pathetic attempt to deny the existence of understandings on settlement construction" between Obama's predecessor and Israel: "It was possible to accuse Israel of violating its promises, or to say that the policy had changed and explain why, but not to lie." [said Israeli columnist Aluf Benn]

Meanwhile, the way the debate played out has effectively painted Israeli progressive elements into a corner, as their opponents can now cast them as kow-towing to foreign diktats rather than standing up for their own country -- a position which is always fraught with peril for a left-winger. The right has long made its rallying cry that Israel is "not the 51st state";* the current state of the debate makes the claim all the more resonant.

Again, this is a problem stemming from a failure to communicate effectively. I fully support America taking a more critical stance and not, as Obama put it so memorably, defining "pro-Israel" as "pro-Likud". But disengaging from Likud ought to have come paired with a corresponding attachment to more progressive elements in Israeli society, and that never happened. Consequently, Obama was left floating, issuing generic pronouncements that did not link up with what the activists on the ground needed to do their jobs effectively. Remember why we all supported Obama not shooting from the hip regarding the Iran protests? Same principle applies here. Subtlety is required; subtlety and coordination that takes as its first principle enabling change agents from below, not command and control from the top.

Do I think that Gordon is entirely right? No -- for starters, I think that the "foreign agent" problem is an inevitable one whenever an outside force puts any pressure to do anything. And the weakness of the Israeli left predates Obama considerably -- it is unclear that even with greater coordination it would be in any position to challenge Netanyahu right now. Finally, I don't actually believe that we should always defer to local actors, even local allies -- sometimes an external push is needed, and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a prime example.

But the point wasn't to say that Gordon was right or wrong. The point was to say that her article was important. And that it was. There isn't enough being done by pretty much anyone trying to resolve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to build ties with or hear the voice of the mainstream Israeli left. And that's a serious, serious mistake.

* This is always something that amused me. In American, "51st state" is a pejorative for Israel -- implying that Israel has so much power and influence, and gains so much American succor, that it might as well be a state. It is generally deployed by the anti-Israel far left and right. In Israel, "51st state" is also a pejorative, attacking those who would create Israeli policy based on American demands. The implication is that these people would have Israel in such a close and subservient relationship to Washington that the nation might as well just be another state. It's almost exclusively the province of the Israeli right.

Quote of the Day

I kept losing track of this one, so I'm glad I've nailed down the original source so I don't lose it again:
The Talmud tells us: “The righteous of all nations are worthy of immortality.”

....There are many mountain tops and all of them reach for the stars.

Morris N. Kertzer, What is a Jew? (1973), pg. 9.

There's a more recent version of the book from which this passage was apparently deleted. A shame -- it's a beautiful sentiment.

Upper Limits

Radley Balko wants left-wing bloggers to "state your limits" on the size of government (measuring by economic spending) they'd be willing to tolerate. But all the subparts (top marginal tax rate, inflation rate, debt-to-GDP) represent empirical questions the sort of which the average man on the street (left or right) isn't qualified to answer. So I'm not sure what the point of me throwing out a random figure is, rather than just deferring to progressive economists. I also highly suspect that the preferable number for all these questions is highly fact-dependent and variable over time, making it pretty useless for me to try and nail down one figure to the wall and hang it up for Mr. Balko.

It was Jon Chait who pointed out that liberals don't have any ideological commitment to big government, only an instrumental one -- we are willing to tolerate increased government spending when it leads to socially optimum results. There is no liberal who just wants government to be larger for its own sake; the debate is always tied up in some dispute over social utility. So my upward limit for the size of government is "when it stops being good to have government be larger" (needless to say, intrusions upon personal liberty are part of this calculus).

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Quote of the Day

[O]rganized baiting of minorities has been one of the levers for manipulating masses since the advent of modern politics. It represents, thus, a failure of politics not only in the nonprotection of the victim group, but also in the deflection and perversion of other public purposes. There are ways to block a message besides arresting the speaker, and one of them is to cry nigger.

Robert M. Cover, The Origins of Judicial Activism in the Protection of Minorities, 91 Yale L.J. 1287, 1296-97 (1982).

Castling Move

Republicans really want Rep. Michael Castle (R-DE) to run for Senate (attempting to secure Joe Biden's old seat). Barring that, they really want him to stay put in the House (he's contemplating retirement). Delaware is fertile territory for Democrats, and Castle, an eight-term incumbent whose district encompasses the entire state, represents far and away their strongest state-wide candidate for any race.

But you got to wonder after this experience whether he really wants any more part of the contemporary GOP. Castle's a lifelong moderate -- it's one of the reasons he's essentially untouchable in what is a solid blue district. But particularly if he ran for Senate, he'd have to come face to face with the fever-swamp that is the GOP base, and I doubt that Castle finds it any less sickening than I do. For a guy already contemplating retirement, this is really the sort of moment that I can imagine pushing him over the edge.

It's not your party anymore, Mike. Let it go.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Does this story warm your heart?
July 19 was the first day of a six day camp joining 32 Israeli kids, aged 12 - 14, from the poor southern towns of Yeruham and Sderot, and 28 Palestinian kids living in poverty and despair in the occupied territories.

The camp, held at Kibbutz Galon, is organized by the Peres Center's Sports Department. And as much as I read about this kind of program, no article I could read, or video I could watch, could in any possible way match the almost incredulous sense of wonder and inspiration aroused by seeing these sixty kids playing in Galon's pool together, and enjoying a multi-lingual Darbuka session with a Palestinian madrich (leader).

It was also fascinating and deeply impressive to speak at length with Issam, who works on a number of projects with the Peres Center. Issam grew up in Gaza and moved to Ramallah after Hamas came to power and he felt his life was in danger for his many years of reconciliation work. No doubt some of you know him.

His story is amazing. He sat in an Israeli prison and had a life-changing experience with an Israeli officer that put him on the path of working towards conciliation and peace. If I have the time I will write the story down and pass it along.

Issam reminded me again and again that not only was this the first time most of the Palestinian children had met an Israeli who is neither a soldier nor a settler - but for the great majority of them, this was the first time in their lives outside of their town or certainly the territories; the first time they had eaten in a restaurant; the first time they experience what even the lowest social and economic classes in Israel take for granted.

I have no illusions that the experience of these 60 kids, and that of the additional several hundred who will be treated to similar camps this summer, will make any serious dent in overall public opinion or attitudes, and certainly will not make the leaders on both sides more peace loving and conciliatory. But then, that (the latter, at least) is not the goal of the Peres Peace Center.

But this type of program most certainly changes attitudes (this is based on professional evaluation following multiple years of experience), and, if nothing else, humanizes the conflict for those who are involved in it; and injects a few rays of hope into our battered and shattered hearts and minds.

It does mine. But not everyone is like me. Some folks oppose efforts like this. And they are predominantly found within the anti-Israel BDS. Groups like the Alternative Information Center and PACBI have made it quite clear that they view these endeavors as incompatible with "Palestinian solidarity". For them, it is struggle or surrender -- anything that smacks of co-existence is an illegitimate move towards "normalization". Remember what happened to that Palestinian youth orchestra?

Normalization has been the "red line" for Arab and Palestinian groups since Israel has been founded. Even in the nations nominally at peace with Israel, Egypt and Jordan, take pains to demonstrate that the relationship isn't "normal". There is a certain logic to it: working with Israel ratifies as normal and legitimate a state of affairs these groups want to see changed. But in pursuing an "anti-normalization" posture for 60 years, these brigades have reinscribed their own "normal": a normal where Israelis and Palestinians alike are convinced that the other hates them, dehumanizes them, wants to see their blood shed, and contemplates their mass murder. So naturally, the BDS movement throws itself behind this monumentally failed strategy hook, line, and sinker.

It is a decision that makes no sense if the goal is to create a Palestinian state. It is one that makes quite a bit of sense if the goal is to insure the Jewish state is never treated as an equal. The BDS movement is actively hostile to peacemaking endeavors, because peace is not and has never been their ultimate objective. They may view it as a happy bonus if it comes about, but it isn't their ticker tape. The goal is a world where Israel is gone, destroyed, wiped off the map. And if that means sabotaging programs designed to foster peace and goodwill between Israeli and Palestinian children, so be it.

Quote of the Day

The abolition of private property in the means of production has in no way meant their immediate transformation into the property of the people. Rather, the whole society stands property-less against its state machine.

East German dissident Rudolf Bahro, The Alternative in Eastern Europe (1977).

What Might We Call This

Jordan begins revoking the citizenship of its Palestinian residents. In some other countries (well at least one other country) this would be called ethnic cleansing. But since it isn't that one other country, it presumably will be largely ignored.

Now, as per above, I want to say that I generally don't like taking policy stands based on what other people would call other situations -- I think it's lazy and unilluminating. So do I think it's ethnic cleansing? I tend to reserve words like that for very extreme cases, so I say no. But that doesn't mean it isn't an extraordinarily serious human rights violation and a rather clear manifestation of anti-Palestinian racism.

The Jordanians are justifying the move by blaming Israel (of course), saying that they are acting to insure that Palestinians are able to return to their homes in the aftermath of a final peace agreement (there's also something in there about an Israeli "plot" to make Jordan a Palestinian state, though it is predictably scant on the details of how Israel could enact such a plan). I call bullshit. If they're talking about homes in a future Palestinian state, then that isn't affected one whit by whether they have Jordanian citizenship or not, anymore than my ability to move to Israel would be affected by me having American citizenship (and while I appreciate the opportunity to move to Israel, that's a decision for me to make, not for the American government to make for me by revoking my citizenship). But it seems as if the Jordanian government is talking at least in part about resettling the Palestinians in homes in Israel proper (aka, the "right of return"), in which case they are actively sabotaging the peace process by increasing the pressure for a demand that everyone knows Israel can't (and shouldn't have to) meet.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Wrong for the Job

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is embarking on a tour of four South American countries in a bid to stem Iranian influence in the region. Because when I think of people well-situated to improve Israel's image vis-a-vis Iran, Lieberman is the first name that jumps to mind. (UPDATE: And we're off to a great start!)

In the related matter of people being bad at their jobs, Israel is accusing UNFIL (the UN "peacekeeping" entity on the Israel/Lebanon border) of cooperating with infilitrators who raised a Lebanese flag on Israeli territory. More disturbingly, the Israeli government also believes UNFIL has essentially turned a blind eye to Hezbollah weapons caches in the region -- a far more serious violation of its peacekeeping mandate, albeit one in keeping with the UN's generally astonishing lack of concern when the topic of Israel's security comes into play.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Story of the Weekend

My throat is scratchy from lots of yelling.

My body is sore from lots of dancing.

My face is burning from lots of sun.

And I'm exhausted because I got virtually no sleep.

It was a fabulous wedding celebration. Congratulations (again) Tim and Wendy!