Saturday, May 08, 2010

Senator Bennett Out in Utah

Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT), a reliable conservative who raised far-right hackles because he refused to publicly act like a psychopath, has lost a Republican Primary convention and is effectively out as the Senator from Utah.
Bennett's defeat marks the first time a sitting Senator has lost in an intraparty fight since 2006 when Sen. Joe Lieberman was ousted by wealthy businessman Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary. Lieberman went on to run and win as an independent; under state law Bennett cannot pursue that course.

It also marks the first major victory for the conservative wing of the Republican party, which has organized itself under the banner of the Tea Party movement to protest what they believe to be a government run amok.

Bennett, a reliable conservative on most issues, had repeatedly expressed exasperation at his predicament -- insisting that the ideological right's issues with him were less about his record and more about the tone he struck during the partisan warfare in Washington.

Actually, this is the second time in recent years something like this has happened in Utah -- Jason Chaffetz's primary defeat of arch-conservative six-term Rep. Chris Cannon (R) on grounds of insufficient conservatism had a very similar ring.

You Know It's Bad

Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), of all people, talking sense about Senator Joe Lieberman's (I-CT) proposal to strip alleged terrorists of their citizenship:
"If they're a U.S. citizen, until they're convicted of some crime, I don't know how you would attempt to take their citizenship away," House Republican Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) told reporters Thursday, according to Bloomberg News. "It would be pretty difficult under the U.S. Constitution."

Sentence first, verdict later, as the Queen says.

The Jordan Move Was Pretty Sweet Too

In my defense, "I'm not sure that's 100% safe" was only my second thought -- after "that's adorable" but before "wow, that's really awesome".


What Goldstone's Past Actually Teaches Us

An article in an Israeli newspaper digs into Richard Goldstone's past as a judge during South Africa's apartheid era. The story focuses on Judge Goldstone's role in sentencing several Black defendants to death, as well as other actions which seemed rather sketchy given the way they reified South Africa's racist structure:
Goldstone claimed that he never discriminated against black defendants and acted to the best of his abilities to act fairly, though he was sometimes morally opposed to the laws he was upholding. He noted that he was equally committed to maintain equality and to uphold the law, two principles that often clashed.

I think this is very important. Matt Yglesias dismisses the entire article because "an awful lot of people were in morally compromising situations" during the apartheid era.* And this is undoubtedly true. The ANC seems to think of Judge Goldstone as a good jurist and a friend, and that's enough for me to accept his anti-racist credentials.

But the importance of this article isn't really about somehow showing Goldstone to be a dreaded racist. Nor am I convinced that Goldstone's participation in the Gaza inquiry was meant to sanitize this unsavory past. Jon Chait gets it closest when he writes that "Goldstone seems to be disinclined to make a brave, lonely stand against the prevailing currents."

But what I was most reminded of was my own intuition on Goldstone's self-image of the role of law:
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.

The above block-quoted section fits this to a T. Goldstone, I think, rationalized his service as an apartheid-era judge because, in contrast to his explicitly racist fellows, he knew he was fair and judicious, and would follow the rules and dot every "i" and cross every "t". The overwhelming faith in formalism remains the blindspot. When the system is unjust, following the rules does surprisingly little. Judge Goldstone may be (or may not be) a meticulous technician within the system, but he has no view of the big picture. He can't fathom that simply playing by the rules isn't enough.

* The rest of Matt's piece is a rather half-hearted effort to swat aside the possibility that Israel is the victim of unfair treatment because -- well, he doesn't explain why, except to say that the folks who support Goldstone don't all hate Black people. Well, that's great, but it is entirely possible to hold egalitarian views towards one marginalized group and be prejudiced against another. I would never impeach Desmond Tutu's anti-apartheid credentials, but I sure as hell will impeach whatever credibility he has speaking about Jews and Jewish experience.

The question is whether the system we're working in -- international law as mediated through UN institutions -- is one that treats Jews and Jewish claims fairly, and it's not like this argument hasn't been made with considerable sophistication and evidence. Matt wants to force us into this binary where either we have to oppose the entire facial ideology of international law, or accept that the system as currently administered is meted out fairly. This doesn't so much answer the critique as sidestep it entirely, secure in the confidence that the ultimate response to claims of discriminatory activity is to mock the complainant.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Prom Night! the law school (well, for the law school. Thankfully, it's being hosted downtown).

To tide you over, the AJC's 2010 annual survey of American Jewish Opinion is chock full of interesting results.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Bleed American

Some California high schoolers decided to wear American flags all over their body during Cinco de Mayo. Eugene Volokh defends them from charges of discourteousness:
Even if the students wore American flag garb only on Cinco de Mayo, I take it that the message was “you want to stress your Mexican heritage, and we want to stress our American heritage” or at most “we don’t entirely approve of your stressing your ethnic heritage, since we should all think of ourselves as Americans.” This might convey some disagreement, but it hardly strikes me as discourteous; and to the extent that it’s a “rebuke,” it’s the sort of message that people are entitled — not just as a matter of law, but also of good manners — to send. Courtesy doesn’t require absence of disagreement. It requires that the disagreement not be framed in a rude way, and I don’t think there’s anything rude in the messages that I infer the clothes were trying to send.

I think Volokh is missing the most obvious potential message here, though, and it's one that is clearly discourteous: That unlike the Cinco de Mayo celebrators, the wearers here are real Americans. Volokh's claim that the message is that we should all view ourselves as Americans is, under this view, precisely the opposite message. The students may have been intending to send (or the recipients may have received, regardless of intent) the message that "people with your cultural heritage and background are something alien and external to 'American', which is what we represent."

Or maybe not. But it's a very plausible reading of the t-shirts, and one Volokh doesn't address. And needless to say, that message would be quite morally pernicious.


Anybody interested in subletting an amazing townhouse in Hyde Park?

* * *

DougJ looks at the polling regarding Arizona's anti-immigrant law, declares that "if it were up to white voters, we would be living under a Franco-style military dictatorship."

Incidentally, that same poll reveals that Blacks are even less likely to support the Arizona law than Latinos (whose own support can safely be characterized as minuscule).

Republicans discover one right for terrorists they can support.

South African human rights activist Rhoda Kadalie discusses her recent fact-finding trip to Israel.

Tzipi Livni calls for a Kadima/Likud alliance that can actually make peace, not to mention stem the poisonous tide of ultra-orthodox influence over Israel.

An element away from disaster.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Resurrected from the Depths

It seems appropriate to note at this juncture that Walt and Mearsheimer are not experts in the area that The Israel Lobby covers, and indeed, their analysis is fraught with embarrassingly elementary mistakes which have nothing to do with whether they are, in some sense, "anti-Semitic" or not. There's plenty to find morally condemnable in their outlook, but that debate shouldn't distract us from the fact that their analysis is just descriptively awful -- lest we get mired in hellish contrarian mush about how they are bold prophets providing the hard truths that everybody else is too cowardly (because of the Israel Lobby!) to say aloud.

Read the Fucking Constitution

The Onion hits it out of the park, again.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Legal Advancement Roundup

The Supreme Court sweepstakes draws closer to its conclusion, and meanwhile, I begin my quest for a clerkship.

* * *

Ken Waltzer takes on John Mearsheimer's ever-more infamous speech.

Another entry in the just give war a chance catalog.

Yes, we know that terrorist suspect in the attempted Times Square bombing Faisal Shahzad is an American citizen. But still, does he really need to be read his Miranda rights? That's reserved for White terrorists!

Meanwhile, retired general Paul Eaton blasts the anti-constitution wing of the GOP for putting American lives at risk.

Dennis Prager sees another data point for why Whites are smarter than Blacks -- they're tea partiers! Clearly, the only explanation for why Blacks wouldn't want to join a White-dominated movement is that they're irrational creatures.

Obama and Biden interview Judge Wood.

How many anti-Semitic themes can be fit onto one website? The Palestine Telegraph endeavors to find out.

The Phoenix Suns, whose top player is a Canadian immigrant (who wants odds on whether he'll ever be asked to show his papers?) denounce the new Arizona anti-immigrant law.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Rabbi Michael Lerner's House Vandalized by Right-Wing Thugs

In an email, I've just received word that the house of Rabbi Michael Lerner, of Tikkun magainze, has been vandalized by right-wing thugs:
Berkeley police today confirmed that the attack on Rabbi Lerner's home late Sunday June [sic] 2nd or early morning Sunday July [sic] 3rd was in fact a crime and was being investigated.

The attackers used a powerful form of glue to attach posters to his door and around the property of his home attacking Lerner personally, and attacking liberals and progressives as being supporters of terrorism and "Islamo-fascism." They posted a printed bumper sticker saying "fight terror--support Israel" next to a carcature of Judge Goldstone whose UN report on Israel's human rights violations in its attack on Gaza last year has been denounced as anti-Semitic and pro-terror by right wingers in Israel and the U.S.. The caricature has Goldstone talking about his being kept from his grandson's bar mitzvah, and the caricature of Rabbi Lerner responds by saying "any enemy of Israel is a friend of mine."

This is indeed a hate crime, and should be vigorously pursued with the perpetrators caught and punished to the fullest extent of the law. The Jewish community has no place for retrograde thugs who attack people due to having dissident political views. I may have my differences with Rabbi Lerner, but he is a Jew, and thus an attack on him threatens me as well.

Unfortunately, the end of the email alert concludes with the following suggestion: "What can you do? Let people know that this kind of thing is happening in the Jewish world to people who critique Israeli policies."

We are quite fortunate that this sort of thing, by and large, is not happening to "people who critique Israeli policies". The explosion of violent anti-Semitic incidents has by and large not been focused on Israel's critics. Actually, I take that back: for many of the victims may well have criticized Israel on numerous occasions -- I reject the notion that the average Jew is in that nebulous class of people who purportedly are "unable to critique Israeli policies". But it is true to say that when Jews are targeted for violence, it is not typically because they critique Israel. Insofar as I fear being targeted for anti-Semitic treatment or violence, it is not my criticisms of Israel that worry me. There are, of course, extremists who do undertake such violence for that reason -- Rabbi Lerner's attackers being one, the pipe bomb targeting Ze'ev Sternhell was another. But I do not feel besieged, and I do not accede to the notion that, as someone who has criticized Israeli policies in the past and plans to do so in the future, I should feel besieged as a result.

My Letter to Andrew

I just sent this email to Andrew Sullivan, regarding his defense of Professor Mearsheimer's recent division of the American Jewish community into its good and bad Jews


Regarding your defense of Professor Mearsheimer's division of the public American Jewish community into the righteous and the profane: You focus your attention on the folks Mearsheimer lumps into his list of "new Afrikaners" -- a group that ranges from Mort Klein (a despicable right-wing thug if there ever was one) to David Harris (whose organization, the AJC, vociferously denounced the Israeli government's announcement of new settlements during Vice President Biden's visit). But more interesting to me are the folks Mearsheimer lists as "righteous Jews", and how their own outlooks track what Mearsehimer claims to be his and their position on the optimal solution to the conflict.

The way I understand Mearsheimer's argument is that the first-best solution to the conflict is a two-state solution based on 1967 borders. However, he claims, this may be becoming impossible, forcing us to move to a decidedly second-best (to put it mildly) outcome -- the so-called "one state solution", whereby Israel is dissolved into a single (perhaps bi-national) state with Palestine. My understanding of your own position is that you agree that this would be a bad thing, but perhaps it is rapidly becoming the inevitable thing as the best solution grows ever-more distant (and agree with Mearsheimer as far as that goes).

The reason I find Mearsheimer's list of "righteous Jews" odd, then, is that far fewer of them would agree with the above paragraph than the names on the "new Afrikaners" list. While I admit I don't know the positions of all the folks on both lists, the only person I could say with confidence would disagree that the two-state based on '67 borders solution is the best outcome is Mort Klein. By contrast, several of the "righteous Jews" are either indifferent or outspokenly opposed to that position. To be sure, there are folks on Mearsheimer's list of righteous Jews that do agree with you and I that a two-state solution is the preferable one; that if we do enter a world where a single state was the only viable outcome, that would constitute a tragedy, not a triumph. And some of these folks are people I'm proud to associate myself with, like J Street (interestingly, the only group amongst the "righteous" that Mearsheimer equivocates on -- who, I wonder, does he think amongst the J Streeters is flying a false flag?). But opponents of this vision are well represented. Norman Finkelstein is indifferent but thinks a two-state approach is more practically feasible in the near-term. Tony Karon prefers a unitary state but also thinks two states are acceptable if that is easier to attain. Philip Weiss prefers one state. Tony Judt calls the idea of a separate Jewish state an "anachronism", he too thinks one state is the first-best outcome. Naomi Klein is indifferent between the two.

Mearsheimer also groups the entire list -- "righteous" and "Afrikaner" -- under the broader label of "American Jews who care deeply about Israel." This is the fulcrum of your defense of his delineation -- that Mearsheimer's objection to the "New Afrikaners" is that, within the broader class of people who care about Israel, their political prescriptions are deeply misplaced; the "righteous Jews" are the ones who truly care and know best. But again, to characterize them as folks who "care deeply about Israel" is simply not an accurate description of several of his "righteous Jews". I mean that in an entirely value-neutral way -- not that their politics are inconsistent with a deep concern for Israel (though I think in many cases they are), but simply that they wouldn't characterize themselves as folks who "care deeply about Israel". Finkelstein and Weiss, I imagine, simply think that Israel is responsible for a significant amount of evil in the world, and are working to try and rectify it -- there is no sentimentality behind it, anymore than efforts to end North Korean brutality are motivated by deep caring about North Korea. Naomi Klein got her start in this whole field by proclaiming herself to be a "Jew against Israel".

Put simply, by their own admission a goodly portion of Mearsheimer's "righteous Jews" are not folks who "deeply care" about Israel and are committed to achieving a two-state solution for as long as it is a plausible goal. Their commitments and desires lie elsewhere. They are not our friends. They are not our allies.

But allies do exist. J Street, and its new European cousin J Call are two. TULIP -- Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine -- is another. Engage and OneVoice are two more. They are the real deal. And now, more than ever, they need our help, and cannot afford that the folks who are true friends of Israel, who recognize the current path is unsustainable, dissipate their energy by affiliating with charlatans.


David Schraub
The University of Chicago Law School '11
Articles Editor, the University of Chicago Law Review
The Debate Link:

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Calling for JCall

A group of prominent Jewish leaders have announced the formation of JCall, meant to be a European equivalent of J Street. The new group will include several luminaries in the progressive pro-Israel movement, including French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy and David Hirsch of Engage.

“We are citizens of European countries, Jews, and involved in the political and social life of our respective countries,” the newly formed organization declares in its petition, which has already gathered over 2,000 signatures. “Whatever our personal paths, our connection to the State of Israel is part of our identity. We are concerned about the future of the State of Israel, to which we are unfailingly committed.”

JCall joins an already vibrant set of European institutions committed to a fair, just, peaceful settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians, including the already mentioned Engage and the international but largely European-focused TULIP. Welcome!