Saturday, November 07, 2009

Cuban Dissident Beaten by Security Forces

Story here (via). The victim was a prominent political blogger on her way to a peaceful march.
“No blood, but black and blues, punches, pulled hairs, blows to the head, kidneys, knee and chest,” S├ínchez told El Nuevo Herald shortly after she and Orlando Luis Pardo were freed. “In sum, professional violence.”

“I, being a person of verbal pacifism, am shaken by this violence, because violence silences anyone,” the blogger declared in a telephone interview.

Thugs.

Halbertal Reflects on Goldstone

A very, very good piece by Moshe Halbertal -- professor of Philosophy at Hebrew University as well as at NYU law school -- giving his thoughts on Cast Lead and the Goldstone commission. Would that everyone approach the issue with such thoughtfulness.

At the highest level, his position is the standard one held by myself and most fair-minded progressives: that the report had severe problems shot through it, and that this fact has precisely zero bearing on Israel's obligation to fully and credibly investigate all allegations of human rights violations (including several very serious ones).

But another point the article raises in pretty stark terms is the degree to which asymmetrical warfare tactics are, in part, organized around taking advantage of the terrain of international law just as much as they are about taking advantage of topographical terrain. Halbertal's account of how Hamas militants, clad (of course) in civilian gear, did not carry arms while moving from position to position (instead relying on arms caches awaiting their arrival is a great example (I have to admit, my first thought on reading that was: "clever!"). The goal is to exploit the blind spots of the current legal regime so as to render ones opponents helpless and give your own operative impunity (in a way that nearly completely subverts the goal of the legal system it is exploiting). This is the logical extension of lawfare -- if law and legal categories are weapons, then we should expect savvy parties to manipulate their conflict so as to maximize their impact.

And this goes back to another problem with the Goldstone commission, and, I honestly suspect, with Judge Goldstone himself. Judge Goldstone, I genuinely believe, is an honest, conscientious man who really saw himself as simply applying facts to law. The problem is that international law is simply too weak at this point for the sort of staid formalism Judge Goldstone exemplifies to be effective. International law is still mostly political -- it doesn't have much existence beyond the specific political desires of actors powerful within UN institutions. This explains, at least in part, why (as Mr. Halbertal noted) Judge Goldstone was able to give so little guidance as to what sort of behavior would have been legally required out of Israel: what sort of civilian : militant death ratio is legally acceptable, what sort of precautions satisfy the obligation to protect civilian lives, and so on and so forth. The doctrine is worse than unsettled -- it is mostly applied in an ad hoc manner based on the political system's preconceptions of bad things and good things (it really doesn't get much more specific than that).

Judge Goldstone, I've often thought, is like a very judicious, public-spirited, personally fair-minded person who volunteers to be the judge at the Scottsboro trial.* The instinct is equal parts admirable, naive, and egomaniacal. Admirable, because of the belief (which I think Judge Goldstone had) that what the situation really needed was for someone who wasn't infected by the endemic prejudice to step in and be a fair arbiter. Naive, because it drastically underestimates the degree to which the prejudice infects the entire system, and thus is perfectly complimentary with formal legal categories -- Jim Crow ate up and spat out formal constitutional doctrine with a near-careless ease (it took rather dramatic changes in how we viewed American law for institutional racism to be rooted out). Egomaniacal, because of the belief that one messianic person could effectively counter an entire system simply by playing by its own rules. Formalism, no matter how judiciously applied, only works when the surrounding system is just. When that quality isn't present, following the rules will do virtually nothing, because they mean virtually nothing.

I really think Judge Goldstone was surprised and dismayed that the UNHRC completely ignored his comments on Palestinian war crimes, just as he, God bless him, continues to assert that his inquiry wasn't "judicial", despite being the only person on the planet who hasn't taken the report as a definitive pronouncement of guilt and innocence. It's because he's coloring inside the lines, and he thinks that if he is absolutely committed to dotting every i and crossing every t, then all the biases and problems and unfairness and double-standards will melt away.

Again, it is partially admirable. But it's far more naive and dangerous, and it just doesn't exhibit a handle on what world he's actually playing in. As they say, the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. If the system is corrupted from top to bottom, even the noblest paladin won't get anywhere from the inside.

* This article actually weakened that sentiment somewhat, because it presented decisions by Judge Goldstone that seemed like conscious injections of additional bias, rather than a mere unwillingness to transcend the straitjackets of the system imposed upon him.

Fun Fact

I feel like a failure when Wikipedia redirects me because I didn't type in an article title precisely right (e.g., misplaced capitalization, stage name to real name, etc.).

Friday, November 06, 2009

Goldstone Says Gaza Op Legal?

In a debate with former Israeli UN ambassador Dore Gold, Judge Goldstone stated (in response to criticisms that his report neglected Israel's right to defend itself):
"Israel not only has the right to defend its citizens, but the duty to do so according to international law. The military operation is legal. In this context, the committee found that Hamas and other organizations had committed war crimes against civilians in southern Israel. The rockets terrorized women and children every day. This was mentioned in the report in detail," the judge argued.

Emphasis added. It's a little unclear, but Judge Goldstone has persistently sought to distinguish the jus ad bellum aspects of the conflict (the decision to go to war) from the jus in bellum aspects (how the war is prosecuted), claiming his mandate was only to investigate the latter. Of course, he is perhaps the only person who has held to that distinction in the ensuing debate over the controversy. I think the contours of how Goldstone's report was received would have changed dramatically if he had written: a) Israel unambiguously was within its rights to launch a military strike into Gaza in response to rocket attacks, and b) the manner in which the campaign was prosecuted at times amounted to war crimes. Part "b" of that formulation came through quite prominently, part "a" not at all.

But the passage above is still slightly opaque, so I don't want to say with total confidence that Judge Goldstone is endorsing the jus ad bellum legality of Cast Lead.

Non-Goldstone Report

Ha'aretz reports that Israel was already investigating several human rights allegations regarding Gaza prior to the Goldstone report, but now is leery about continuing lest it be seen as caving to international pressure:
While the IDF is opposed, in principle, to setting up a committee of inquiry into the allegations against Israel made in the Goldstone Report on the fighting in the Gaza Strip, the military advocate general, Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit, has ordered investigations into a number of allegations, currently being carried out by the Military Police.

Mendelblit has ordered investigations into 12 incidents that were, even before the report, the focus of Military Police investigations or part of operational investigations. Two involved civilian deaths, based on Palestinian claims. In the 10 other incidents, Palestinians claimed their property had been destroyed. Coordination of the investigations is being handled by the chief of Military Police in the Southern Command, Lt. Col. Gil Mamon. Mendelblit is part of a team of senior legal experts the government established last week to formulate recommendations on dealing with the report. The findings are to serve as the backbone for a counter-Goldstone report that is expected to be ready in a month.

One of Mendelblit's arguments against creating a committee of inquiry following the Goldstone Report is that such a committee has never been set up as a result of external pressure, and says that surrendering to international pressure will constitute a dangerous precedent.

This is hardly a new problem. Our desire for formal international inquiries often conflicts with pragmatic considerations of what best will protect human rights on the ground. It's a delicate dance, particularly because its undoubtedly true that some amount of international pressure is likely a good thing, but too much and you start to see a backlash from the targeted nation.

I don't think anybody can really be that surprised that one of the net results of a UNHRC investigation was to make it near-impossible, politically speaking, for Israel to conduct a strong investigation of their own -- I honestly think it's less about it being "international pressure" per se and more about it being the UNHRC particularly, a body which Israel (rightfully) feels is entirely disrespectful of the rights of the Jewish state.

Does that mean that international investigations should be off limits? No. But there's a weighing that should be going on here -- between the need for international pressure and the need to account for pragmatic local political behavior -- and I don't think that it's actually being done, because there is little evidence that the policymakers at issue actually care about the on-the-ground effects of their actions on Israelis and Palestinians. Instead, the fingers on the scale press near-entirely on the side of isolating and humiliating Israel. It's like if America's policy towards Iran stopped being about whether they got nuclear weapons, and became solely focused on promoting the idea that Iran is evil and should be shamed (which, to be sure, seems to be a close approximation of what many conservatives want our Iran policy to be). That discourse always claims to be concerned about the human rights and non-proliferation issues, but it actually is quite willing to subordinate them on the altar of moral superiority. What should be a delicate balancing act between ideals and practices falls away, because we don't actually care about the "cash value" of the values we claim to be supporting.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Jews Being Jews

Dan Fleischer has a very good post up regarding the severe discomfort some on the left (including some Jews) have with the prospect of Judaism as an identity (see also). It is personally infuriating to me, this deep, deep refusal to acknowledge Jews as legitimate political subjects. Any Jewish action is seen as some sort of illegitimate external interference, because the basic acceptance of the idea that we have a right to any sort of communal action or agency is denied. Indeed, it is seen as the antithesis of a certain (cheap) cosmopolitan ideal which is superficially hostile to all particularistic action, but particularly so (ironically!) towards the Jews -- I suspect because other communities are too powerful to have their preferred form of social presentation challenged in so frontal a manner. The dreaded Zionist Lobby only seems so visible because the true powerful communities don't need a lobby at all to preserve their legitimacy. Nobody has to stand before the UN and argue that China (or the Chinese, for that matter) has the right to exist.

This all is ironic as well because of the historical tradition within nationalistic ethos' where Jews are often portrayed as irredeemably uprooted and cosmopolitan, thus not full members of the community. Jews are too particular for the cosmopolitans and too universal for the particularists, because ultimately, the problem is with Jews being Jews, and for not having already attained the utopian dream of the speaker (a dream that always transforms from aspiration to demand when applied to the Jews).

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Election '09 Recap

I had a bad feeling about yesterday, and it looks like my intuition was right (when folks start trumpeting a victory in a city ordinance measure in Kalmazoo, Michigan, that's a sign the night isn't going your way).

Obviously, the defeat of Maine's gay marriage law, again by a tantalizing close margin, is the biggest blow of the night. The cycle-to-cycle political jockeying -- a governor's seat here or a house seat there -- pales in comparison to a state's decision to strip a contingent of its citizens of equal rights and human dignity. Andrew Sullivan says to keep hope, and I have no doubt that this is a battle we will win in my lifetime. But I can't say it isn't frustrating when we keep falling right at the crest of the hill.

As for the political fallout from yesterday, I think the conventional wisdom pretty much has it. First and foremost, "an economic catastrophe is not a good time to be an incumbent elected official." Second, obviously, this is a good result for Republicans, flipping two governorships, if only because it shows that their brand is no longer entirely poisonous. Third, mediocre candidates lose elections (Deeds), unless their opponents are widely loathed incumbents (Corzine), in which case its a toss-up of which house voters want to see the pox fall harder on. Fourth, Republicans, it turns out, can't run psychopathic right-wingers in districts Obama won and expect to hold House seats.

The net upshot is this: objectively, little has changed -- Republicans netted two governorships, Democrats bagged a new House seat. Subjectively, Republicans are probably emerging from their nadir, but are going to have to grapple with the fallout from the NY-23 "purge the middle" decision which came close enough to working that it probably is going to cause quite a bit of consternation for the party. As for Democrats -- they're a gun shy bunch to begin with anyway, so last night's events probably won't help. But they need to wake up -- they've been sleepwalking this past year, and that just doesn't work in the political game.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Quote of the Evening

From Chicago's own Mary Anne Case:
Law is precisely that which fights against nature. If something were all that natural, a law would not be needed to bring it about. This is clear in almost every area of legal scholarship other than those pertaining to sex and gender. [The] evidence for natural human aggression is far strong than any of the evidence [in] favor of difference between the sexes. No one [would], however, suggest that just because human beings are naturally aggressive there should be no laws of murder and assault.

Mary Anne Case, Of Richard Epstein and Other Radical Feminists, 18 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol'y 369, 375 (1995).

Sort of reminds me of Don Herzog's admonishing anyone who wears glasses from complaining about modifying nature.

Congress Passes Anti-Goldstone Commission Resolution

The final tally was 344 in favor to 36 opposed (22 "present"). Among the nays were three Republicans: Charles Boustany (LA), Geoff Davis (KY), and Ron Paul (TX), with two more GOPers voting present (Walter Jones (NC) and John Duncan (TN)). All the folks who have represented me in Congress (Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), John Kline (R-MN), and Bobby Rush (D-IL) voted aye (full roll call here).

I blogged about the resolution here, but since that time the resolution was altered mildly to clarify Judge Goldstone's efforts to get the mandate expanded, and his relative lack of success in doing so.

Goldberg Interviews ATFP's Ibish

This is an excellent interview by Jeffrey Goldberg of the American Task Force for Palestine's Hussein Ibish. I've spoken positively about the ATFP before, and interviews like this help demonstrate why. Mr. Ibish is a clear and steadfast supporter of a peaceful, two-state solution, and it really comes through in this interview that he gets the conflict and he, from the position of a Palestinian advocate, gets the contours of the American Jewish community's stance regarding Israel. It's very true that with the exception of the ZOA on the right and JVP on the left [UPDATE: JVP emailed Mr. Ibish to say they are organizationally "agnostic" towards one states versus two states, and Mr. Ibish has corrected himself accordingly], pretty much every Jewish organization of substance is a supporter, in some way, of an end to the occupation and two states. It's also true that this represents a tremendous development in the positioning of the Jewish community compared to even two decades ago. And I particularly like that he aggressively goes after the one-state advocates -- be they Jewish or Palestinian -- as presenting a fundamentally unrealistic and unsustainable worldview.

It's a really good interview. The ATFP is really great organization.

UPDATE: Mr. Ibish sent me a very nice email, which also revealed he has a blog. How exciting! It is now on my blogroll (I briefly perused it -- it's quite good, unsurprisingly).

Monday, November 02, 2009

The NAACP's White Chapters

A neat article about one of the few predominantly White chapters of the NAACP -- the one chartered at a Maine state prison. The article kind of talks about the NAACP's efforts to reach out beyond its African-American base, though it doesn't give many details. And the background of the chapter itself is likewise pretty sketchy -- the White president of the chapter mentioned only that the NAACP seemed to have more outside support than any other prison-allowed organizations, but it is unclear how tied in he is with the group's broader history and ideology.

Still, neat.

I Have a Bad Feeling About Tomorrow

Tomorrow is the 2009 off-year election day, and I have a bad feeling about it. Too many close races, nothing important for the good guys that feels secure.

There are three high-profile races going down tomorrow: The Virginia Governor's race, the New Jersey Governor's race, and the special election to fill the NY-23 Congressional district (vacated by John McHugh, who became Obama's Secretary of the Army).

The Virginia race, everyone seems to agree, is done. Poll after poll has given state Attorney General Bob McDonnell a double digit lead over state senator Creigh Deeds, whose campaign was lackluster and never seemed to take off. This takes some of the shine off of my own gloating to my political operative friends when Deeds won the Democratic primary in a bit of an upset (I had told them he was the real thing). This will snap a sustained Democratic winning streak that started with Mark Warner winning the governor's seat in 2001, saw Tim Kaine hold in in 2005, and culminated with Democrats securing both Virginia Senate seats and an Obama victory in 2008.

In New Jersey, by contrast, we have a complete toss-up that strikes me as being akin to last cycle's Minnesota Senate race. Why? Because voters seem to loathe both candidates in roughly equal measure. Incumbent Jon Corzine was widely seen as dead in the water, skirting around (and even below) 40% in all the early polls. He didn't so much claw his way back as his opponent, former US Attorney Chris Christie, immolated himself, going from tough prosecuting corruption-buster to typical New Jersey GOP schmoe in seemingly an eyeblink. Now both candidates are stuck in the low forties (with an independent sucking up the rest of the vote), and nobody knows what will happen. New Jersey does have a history of breaking Republican hearts, so this might be the best shot of the night.

Then, there is the wild saga that is the NY-23. The Republicans nominated relative moderate Dede Scozzafava, who was expected to coast against unknown Democrat Bill Owenws in a district that voted for Obama but has been Republican at the Congressional level for ages (parts of it have been represented by a Whig more recently than a Democrat). But the tea-bag wing of the party hates her social moderation and puts up a Conservative Party challenger by the name of Doug Hoffman. Amazingly, Hoffman's campaign takes off, Scozzafava bows out then endorses Owens, and now nobody knows what the terrain is. This all happened the weekend before election day, and everything is in flux, but it looks like Hoffman might have a slight advantage. Some Democrats are excited by the prospect of a Hoffman victory, arguing that it will encourage the extreme right to nominate unelectable nuts countrywide. I, on the other hand, agree with Nate Silver, in that I think it is unambiguously bad when a psychotically right-wing nutcase with poor campaign skills and essentially no local ties wins in a swing district. If nothing else, the media spin will be horrific. And Congressional Democrats are already too gun shy for my liking.

Finally, Maine also will be voting on a referendum to overturn the state's democratic decision to legalize gay marriage. The polls on that also show things all locked up -- which is what they showed in California before that heartbreaking loss.

I'm pessimistic. Very pessimistic.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Jewish Terrorist Arrested

A fanatical right-wing Israeli terrorist has been arrested today, with allegations he was involved in attacks on targets including Palestinians, the LGBT community, leftists, and Messianic Jews. I am, of course, heartened by the categorical condemnation of this thug. Needless to say, I also endorse the sentiments of one of the terrorist's targets, Professor Ze'ev Sternhell, when he expressed his hope that the justice system will treat this man just as they'd treat any other terrorist that comes within their jurisdiction.

Quote of the Day

Demonstrating the mutability of anti-Semitic ideology, German Jewish novelist Jacob Wasserman asked, of the Jews, "shall we seek obscurity?"
It would be in vain, for they say, “He hides himself, the coward. His conscience must be troubling him.” Approach them, frankly, with outstretched and open hand? In vain. They will say: “What tactlessness! How clearly you see the insensitive Jew!” Help them to shake off their chains? In vain. They will say, “How much did he make out of it?” Be faithful to them in peace, faithful in war? In vain. They will say, “He can turn his hand to anything and everything. He is protean.” Live for them, die for them? In vain. They will say, “The Jew remains a Jew, first and last.”

Quoted in Murray J. Kohn, An Open Letter to the Anti-Semites, 1 J. Stud. Anti-Semitism 67, 68 (2009).

Journal for the Study of Antisemitism

Via my former co-worker Antoine, the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism has just published its inaugural issue. It looks to be quite interesting. I think it is very important for vigorous academic discussion of anti-Semitism to commence, as right now it seems like a bit of an academic wasteland: sort of a faux-oppression made up by devious Jews to defend Israel from all criticisms. This, of course, is a stunning example of the type of anti-Semitism that richly deserves critical interrogation, so I'm hopeful this new journal can provide it.