Saturday, May 29, 2010

Open Thread for Joe and N. Friedman to Yell At Each Other

Y'all may have noticed that I post a lot on Israel, Jews, and anti-Semitism-related topics. Y'all also might have noticed that the comments to these posts have of late rapidly devolved into endless shouting matches between "joe" and "N. Friedman". These battles rage within a comment thread approximately forever, or until my next post on the topic, at which point they migrate seamlessly to the next thread and continue afresh.

Truly, their stamina is amazing. But it is also quite inefficient for the rest of us -- having to try and follow dozens of posts at a time to grasp every subtle maneuver and cutting insight. It would be far more convenient to have these arguments collected in one spot.

Plus, it might allow other folks to help develop a comment thread on what those posts are actually, you know, about (which, contrary to dominant belief, is not an overarching theorization of rights and wrongs in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict).

So, take it away boys. Be assured we're reading carefully.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Post-Panel Roundup

Today was a successful day. Aside from moving most of my stuff out of my apartment to the building I'll (hopefully) be living in next year, I also had my first academic panel. And it was great! Most shocking was the fact that people -- by which I mean, random people, people who had no connection to any of us or any reason to show up -- came to the talk. And they were attentive! And they asked great questions! And everybody was really positive towards all the papers! It was wonderful.

* * *

Sometime at Alas, a Blog (I forget if it was during my guest-blogging stint or in the comments), somebody responded to my critique that their position on Israel/Palestine was completely disengaged from mainstream Jewish experience by saying she could solve that simply by talking with and forming coalitions with leftist, anti-Zionist Jewish groups. I argued then, and still believe, that due respect for the Jewish community is not demonstrated when you only talk with those members who already agree with you -- particularly when that subset represents a tiny fringe of the whole. I thought of that event in reading this piece in the Forward, which makes it sound like the Presbyterian Church is going out of its way to avoid mainstream Jewish groups in formulating its Israel policy. And to the extent it does talk to them, it talks down to them. The bottomless pit that is Christian arrogance towards Jews never ceases to astound me.

Interesting post about an American Jew in Damascus.

Studies suggest that video gamers have better control over themselves in their dreams. I actually have had this experience, though I wouldn't have thought to associate it with gaming.

Twenty-somethings are not idiots about Elena Kagan. Yay my generation!

Leon Wieseltier correctly notes that the Sheikh Jarrah settlers are effectively claiming a right of return akin to that of the Palestinians. Having already established that reconciliation between Israel and Palestine means that not everybody gets to go home again, I can hardly making an exemption for a particular, formerly Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem.

I just can't get upset about the so-called Sestak-gate.

J Street disavows Marcy Winograd (see my prior post), but Democracy for America stands by her after she came out in favor of a single-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and implied that Reps. Jane Harman (D-CA) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) were not loyal to America.

The Episcopalian Church slaps the wrist of its American branch for ordaining a lesbian bishop.

Main Mission

There was one extremely depressing paragraph in a generally depressing story about a flotilla of ships seeking to breach Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip and deliver humanitarian aid:
Noam Shalit, father of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, told CNN he offered through his lawyer to attempt to convince the Israeli government to let the flotilla arrive in Gaza if participants would pass aid, including letters and medicine, to his son. The organizers of the convoy, including Berlin, refused, he said, telling him their main purpose is to break the siege.

This is highly indicative. To bring along letters and aid to Shalit is essentially a cost-free move by the convoy participants. It would signal nothing more than that its concern for human rights is universal, rather than particular only to when Israelis are wronging Palestinians (and not a particularly strong signal at that). And yet, they refused, because apparently it would distract from their "main purpose". I don't see how a proposal which would have made it more likely the convoy would reach Gaza shores would be in conflict with "breaking the siege", but I do see how such a proposal would distract from a main purpose of highlighting Israeli depravity and Palestinian innocence.

Oh, go to hell already. It's amazing how few people examining this conflict have a universal and principled concern for human rights and human dignity.

And also, I might add, the Israeli government claims it is perfectly willing to allow the goods into Gaza, so long as they are checked for security threats at an Israeli port. This probably isn't quite as one-sided as it sounds -- the convoy is bringing in construction materials, which Israel has been classifying as a security threat (one can use construction materials to construct bunkers), but it is meaningful information.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

And Another One Bites The Dust

2L year ... finished. Aw, yeah.

Also, Barack Obama is apparently coming to visit. Which means that my block is filled with police, secret service, and barricades. I don't mind, except it will make moving out this weekend considerably more complicated.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


The Forward has a solid piece up about the proposed new Mosque that will be built several blocks from Ground Zero in NYC. Unfortunately, while the local Jewish community seems to be primarily supportive, there was this rather misguided quote by a local rabbinical leader:
“The families of the victims of 9/11 don’t have to make distinctions about who in the Muslim community they’re dealing with,” said Rabbi Michael Paley, scholar-in-residence at UJA-Federation of New York. “And so I’m openhearted.

Um, actually, yes, they do. It is important to respect the victims of terrible tragedies, such as 9/11. But I'm not sure why victim status gives license to not "make distinctions" amongst members of the social group which perpetrated the harm. If I'm attacked by a group of Latinos, even a "Latino group" like the Latin Kings, that doesn't mean I get to make stereotypes of all Latinos. And if I do, even if you feel sympathy for me, it's not the sort of judgment that should get any sort of legal imprimatur.

The Rabbi does go on to say that the leaders of this new Mosque have been important players in interfaith dialogue and partners for building community understanding. That's great news -- and all the more reason why we need to reject folks who groundlessly group them in with radical Muslim extremists.

To Catch a Critic

Before today, I knew virtually nothing about Rep. Jane Harman's (D-CA) primary opponent, Marcy Winograd, except that she had recently received a boost in the form of an endorsement by the major progressive grassroots group, Democracy for America. Rep. Harman is known as a liberal on social issues, a moderate on economic mattes, and a foreign policy hawk -- enough to get her on the radar screen of the base. But more importantly for our purposes, she has been implicated (albeit the investigation never went anywhere) in an alleged quid pro quo scheme with AIPAC regarding alleged espionage by former AIPAC officials.

So that's a large part of why Winograd is challenging Harman. And I have no problem with that. I do, however, have a problem with her views on Israel and her rather unsubtle insinuations that a prominent Jewish politician possesses dual loyalties (Winograd herself is Jewish), in an interview with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg.
JG: Go this Henry Waxman question. Are you for a bi-national state or are you for a two-state solution?

MW: I consider myself a realist, okay? I'm Jewish. I've labeled myself as a Jewish woman of conscience who is compelled to speak out because of the suffering in the world. I support peace, so whatever both sides can agree to, which would probably be an agreement on a mutual exchange of territory, I would fully support, because I want peace. However, and let me share this with you, I grew up in a strong Zionist family, I sang at my brother's Bar Mitzvah, I sent my daughter to Jewish pre-school, I went to Israel when I was in my 20s. That's my background, and all that being said, I know that Israel was born on land where a million Palestinians lived. For many Jews the birth of Israel is a celebration, but for the Palestinians it was the nakba, a catastrophe. There's no safety or security in barring people from their homeland. Ultimately, Jews and Palestinians need to learn to live together, just as they lived in peace for many years.

JG: Can you be a liberal and a Zionist at the same time?

MW: Well, there's a less-harmful Zionism. I don't see Zionism as liberal. Zionism categorizes Jews as a race, which makes it easier for Jews to be targeted.

JG: Zionism doesn't categorize Jews as a race, it categorizes Jews as a nation.

MW: To me, there's no safety in creating a nation predicated on either racial or ethnic supremacy.

JG: How did you come to this view?

MW: I've been torn about this for a long time, and not really wanting to look at it, which a lot of Jews probably feel, wanting to turn away from it because it's too painful. It's too tied to our identity, to our neighborhoods, to our whole orientation. I My primary concern is peace. I don't feel comfortable advocating for a country based on ethnic and racial supremacy. Personally, I'm a believer in equality, one voice, one vote, Israelis and Palestinians, one voice, one vote, that's my personal position.

JG: Eventual bi-nationalism.

MW: Yes.
JG: Let's talk about what Henry Waxman said about you.

MW: I appreciate Henry Waxman, the fact that he pioneered generics, that he's concerned about the environment. However, on foreign policy we have strong differences. I would hope that all of our lawmakers would pledge allegiance to this country as the country they represent.

JG: Are you saying Waxman isn't loyal?

MW: I don't know. That's a question you have to ask him.
JG: Talk about Jane Harman's motivations. Is she in the same camp?

MW: I think she is a strong Zionist. I think she also profits off of war. She has helped build the aerospace industry's involvement in U.S. wars. She's a big supporter of aerospace in its present incarnation. I talk a lot about expanding aerospace into green technology.

In prior speeches Winograd has been unequivocal in her opposition to a two-state solution. This prompted Rep. Waxman to come out against her (this is the "Waxman question"), and eventually led her to insinuate quite strongly that he is not loyal to this country.

It is unfortunate to me that I don't think such charges necessarily are a poison pill amongst either the liberal or conservative base (don't pretend that the Paulite branch of the Tea Party wouldn't eat this up). Nonetheless, this represents an interesting litmus test regarding whether we're going to put forward another McKinney. The support Winograd is enjoying from DFA is troubling in this respect.

The candidacy also poses both promise and peril for groups like J Street. As far as I'm concerned, this is a gift-wrapped present for them: Winograd clearly opposes their vision of the conflict, and they have no interest in touching somebody who thinks Israel is "a state founded on the institutionalized superiority or exclusivity of one of [sic] religion, ethnicity or culture" that practices "crimes against humanity," "institutional racism" and "extermination." But despite their clear opposition to that outlook, Rep. Harman is not exactly the group's best friend -- indeed, she probably is representative of the sort of "pro-Israel" that J Street wants to undermine. Hence, they will be tempted to keep silent. That temptation is a mistake. J Street should, in its own interest, come out loud and hard against Winograd's candidacy and her repugnant views. This is not a tough call.

UPDATE: I should add that, wholly apart from her views on Israel and Waxman, Winograd sounds like, well, a nut. Her interview with Goldberg is full of flower-power-y statements opposing basically anything related to anything military, with a not-exactly-thought-out plan to induce aerospace companies to switch production to Green tech. When asked if there was anything she'd do to fight terrorists militarily, she responded by saying she'd join the ICC, which -- good idea or no -- is not exactly a military option (how exactly does she propose we get the terrorists to appear? Subpoena power?). She gap-fills a ton of her statements by saying she wants "peace", in the sort of manner that makes me hate the very word "peace" (and I hate hating the word "peace"). And when she lost the floor fight for the party endorsement for the California 36th primary battle, she alleged that the vote was corrupt. This is exactly the sort of person who, if given prominence, will come to humiliate the Democratic Party down the line. Mark my words on that.

Real Criminals Love it When The Police Are Busy

Police chiefs in Arizona and around the country believe that Arizona's anti-immigrant crackdown will lead to an increase in crime. That's no surprise. Aside from the fact that the supposed positive correlation between immigration and crime is mostly mythological anyway (indeed, if anything immigration is negatively associated with crime), the folks who actually are interested in committing violent crime are no doubt thrilled to know that the police will be wasting their time on trivialities.

Meanwhile, anything that increases distrust between immigrant communities and the police means that crime is less likely to be reported, that information that does come in will be sparser, less reliable, and harder to track down, and in general the job of cops policing immigrant-heavy communities will be made that much more difficult. But hey, what's the point of having baseless prejudices if you can't use them to enact policy?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Israel's Other Existential Threat

Jeffrey Goldberg in the NYT, circa 2008:
I am not wishing that the next president be hostile to Israel, God forbid. But what Israel needs is an American president who not only helps defend it against the existential threat posed by Iran and Islamic fundamentalism, but helps it to come to grips with the existential threat from within. A pro-Israel president today would be one who prods the Jewish state - publicly, continuously and vociferously - to create conditions on the West Bank that would allow for the birth of a moderate Palestinian state. Most American Jewish leaders are opposed, not without reason, to negotiations with Hamas, but if the moderates aren't strengthened, Hamas will be the only party left.
The people of AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents are well-meaning. But what's needed now is a radical rethinking of what it means to be pro-Israel. Barack Obama and John McCain, the likely presidential nominees, are smart, analytical men who understand the manifold threats Israel faces 60 years after its founding. They should be able to talk, in blunt terms, about the full range of dangers faced by Israel, including the danger Israel has brought upon itself. But this won't happen until AIPAC and the leadership of the American Jewish community allow it to happen.

As Matt Zeitlin correctly points out, the gap between the "Chait/Wieseltier/Goldberg wing and the Yglesias/Beinart/Ackerman/Klein wing of the American Jewish punditocracy" simply isn't that large, and I'm perplexed at efforts -- by anybody, from either side -- to exaggerate it.

Jewish Groups Urge Repeal of DADT

Once again Jewish institutions demonstrate that they just don't understand what it means to hold "Judeo-Christian" values.

Another Historical Figure

I had never heard of her until five minutes ago, but Joan Trumpauer Mulholland sounds like an amazing person (and an amazing story). Not only was she a White southerner who participated in lunch counter sit-ins, but she applied and was admitted to the historically Black Tougaloo College (Mississippi) on the theory that integration wasn't something that should only be done by Black people.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

On Liberal Versus Left Zionism

Spencer Ackerman's link to a post by Sean Lee critical of the entire concept of "liberal Zionism" gives me a wonderful opportunity to deal with a ton of wrong at once. Lee's post is long, but it boils down to a pretty simple claim:
The long and the short of it is that a liberal democracy is a democracy for all of its citizens equally. It does not accord privileges or rights based on race or religion. Israel is not that kind of a democracy. Instead it is explicitly an ethno-religious democracy, which is a direct consequence of the logic of Zionism, the logic of a Jewish state, as opposed to that of a state of its citizens.

A huge chunk of this dispute, obviously, can be chalked up to a slippage in the term "liberal", namely, whether we use it as a vague identifier for progressivism or other left-of-center philosophies, or whether we mean it in a very particular, Capital L sort of way, where it represents a particular normative philosophy predicated on governmental neutrality with respect to various identity affiliations and (non-harmful) life pursuits.

Insofar as this debate is purely descriptive, it mostly bores me, but it also reminds me quite strikingly of the recent Rand Paul controversy where everybody was wondering if his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act was required by his "libertarianism" or not. Now maybe that's a true description of libertarianism or maybe it isn't, but I think Matt Yglesias made the most cogent point on that dispute, namely, that if Paul's position is required by "libertarianism" or Goldwater conservatism or whatever, that doesn't let it off the hook, it just demonstrates that there is a fatal flaw in the ideology. Similarly, we can debate about what is included under the umbrella of "liberalism", but at the end of the day I'm less concerned with whether such things as nation-states, affirmative action, HBCUs, and the like are "liberal" than I am about whether they make a positive contribution to a fair, just, and egalitarian world. If it turns out they do and yet liberalism can't countenance them, that's a strike against liberalism, not the other way around.

Instead of starting with theory and then demanding practice catch-up, I forward a two-part criterion for evaluating proposals aimed at remedying anti-Jewish subordination: First, it has to start from the actual history and experience of Jews in the world, and second, it has to deal with the world as it is, not how we might like it to be.

From that framework, the liberal enlightenment model does rather poorly. It is a false promise (the "neutral", "liberal" state never actually extricates itself from the predilections of the dominant classes), and it is an unequal demand (nobody else is forced to make changes to accommodate the universalist ideal but the already-marginalized). As I put in my best post on the subject, The Superseded Jew:
[T]he liberal burden puts the onus on the oppressed class to craft a liberation agenda which maps perfectly onto an idealized fantasy that doesn’t exist and adhere to systematized rules and procedures which were crafted with reference to the current oppressive reality — they have to be both the paragons of idealized justice which nobody else practices and meet technical hurdles designed specifically to ratify an existing power structure which keeps Jews at the bottom.

I don't want to retread too much of the ground I covered in that post, but suffice to say I think that post really does a good job of interrogating this entire discourse of "liberalism" as applied to the Jewish experience. If you're skeptical of the point I'm making, I encourage you to read that post and then trot on back.

I will say here, briefly, that placing Jews at the mercy of others -- minorities governed by non-Jews -- tends to have a rather consistent result of Jews getting killed. Even subtracting publicly sanctioned discrimination, equal citizenship does very little to alleviate private anti-Semitism -- it isn't clear why this gets so little attention in Lee's post. Indeed, while he contrasts the position of minorities in the US or France (where, Lee says, the state has failed to live up to its ideals) to those in Israel (where the ideals themselves are supposedly flawed), I don't think he in any way establishes that this makes the liberal path obligatory. If the Black Power movement had won out in the 1960s -- if Blacks said "sorry, but we don't trust this liberal universalist model, so we're going to set off on our own" -- I think it would be arrogant to the extreme for Whites to say that Blacks had a moral obligation to accede to liberal prescriptions. They are in a better position than we to know, and we are in no position to (justly) superordinate our theory to their practice.

But I also think it's pretty clear that Lee is not operating from a standpoint that starts from the belief that one needs to take Jewish histories seriously in order to craft the policies and ideologies that will end up governing Jewish futures. Even putting aside his belief that it is "ironic" that the Israeli definition of Jew parallels that of the Nuremberg Laws (does he really think that's accidental?), the post is replete with analysis that does its best to run away from, not engage with, Jewish experience. Y'all might have experienced how angry I get when folks try to lecture Jews on what the Holocaust "taught us". Maybe the lesson European Gentiles needed to take from "the horrors of the first half of the 20th century" were that their nation-states needed to be replaced with multi-cultural liberal democracies. But why should Jews learn that lesson -- it wasn't our nation-state that fucked things up. The lesson most Jews seemed to take from the Holocaust is that all this talk of human rights and universal brotherhood and citizenship and enlightenment rationality counts for jack unless you've got some big fucking tanks backing you up. Where does Lee get off telling us that insight was wrong?

Later, Lee complains that Israel's social organization wouldn't be tolerable to us if Christians did it in America. When people run back to the sort of "you wouldn't tolerate this if it were Christians/Whites/Europeans/whoever" argument that Lee makes, nearly invariably they are doing their best to obliterate the experience of the Other -- trying to totalize the whole of existence under the ambit of majoritarian frames. The demand that we analogize a Jewish state to America as a "Christian" nation reminds me nothing more of the folks who think that Howard University is the equivalent of 1925 Ole Miss, and represents just as extreme a degree of lazy thinking.

Now, Lee does concede that the analogy might not work
because of Judaism’s unique history of persecution, and in particular, the Shoah. But that line of reasoning directly contradicts the idea that Jewish nationalism is just like any other nationalism and leaves us to ask the question: should we hold Israel to different standards than other countries that claim to be liberal democracies? And if so, doesn’t that directly contradict the underpinnings of universal liberalism and lead us to a cultural relativism in which liberals can no longer decry the lack of women’s rights in Afghanistan or human rights in Zimbabwe?

I think the real question this raises is why it is seen as some massive philosophical calamity that Jewish institutions might not aptly be judged via Gentile standards -- i.e., the very standards which have historically operated to keep Jews in a subordinated and oppressed position. Golly, it sure is mysterious why Jews might not want to accede to that state of affairs. And it is equally mysterious why non-Jews perhaps are more committed to preserving it. Look: The fact that your nationalism served no purpose but to subordinate and is entirely unnecessary except as a way of ratifying inegalitarian power arrangements doesn't mean that mine does. You deal with your shit on your own -- leave me out of it. (As an aside, I cannot tell you how pleased I am to have the binational approach endorsed by the sort of person who is horrified at the prospect of "cultural relativism" and thinks it means we cannot criticize Zimbabwe. Normally that's the sort of statement one finds in The National Review or the latest Camille Paglia screed.).

Matt Yglesias wrote a short while back:
I completely grasp the pull of radical cosmopolitan values, but I think people who think that the area west of the Jordan River would be a great place to try implementing them in the short-term are being a bit crazy. It’s not even clear that Belgium or Canada will be able to survive as bi-national entities.

In that vein, I'll conclude with a story a friend once told me about a group of German Anarchists who, like Lee, were opposed to nation-states (indeed, all states) as a matter of principle. Their political program was to abolish all states -- Israel last. They are an example of folks who held fast to theories but nonetheless took due account of the actual experiences of the oppressed. It's fine to have principles, and it's fine to adhere to moral theories. But I think the least we can ask for is to not use the most vulnerable as crash test dummies to test them out. If it turns out liberal enlightenmentism can lead us all to salvation, fantastic. But we are not your guinea pigs.

A New Low

I'm actually amazed (and it's tough for media depravity to amaze me) that the Washington Post managed to put together a whole article on how Elena Kagan doesn't cross her legs when she sits. You have got to be kidding me.