Friday, July 02, 2010

Times Have Changed

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), flashing that "country first" maverick streak for which he is renowned, won't support the comprehensive immigration reform package he's pushed for years because ... well, because it's no longer in his political interest to do so. And, I suspect, because supporting it would mean helping Obama, which is the most deadly sin of all in the modern Republican Party (the excuses of the other 10 Republican Senators who used to support comprehensive immigration reform, but have mysteriously flipped, are equally pathetic).

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Premature SCOTUS Roundup

I thought I was taking a SCOTUS tour tomorrow, but it's next week. Sorry for forcing folks to rearrange their schedules because I can't successfully read outlook.

* * *

The top rate of the original income tax, established in 1913, was 7 percent. Four years later, it was 67%. Cynics might suggest that, given the timing, and the fact that the bill which hiked it was called the "War Revenue Act", this increase probably was attributable to the US entering into, you know, a war. Silly liberals.

Neat-o story about an Israeli law school with a program focused on providing legal education to religious leaders (Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and otherwise). Israel (regrettably, in my view) maintains a system of religious courts (each religion controls its own members' affairs), but many of the religious leaders who serve on these courts have no legal background.

The big polling news is not a poll at all, but reports that Daily Kos will be suing its former pollster, Research 2000, for fraud.

Without commenting on the underlying case itself -- you can be charged with being an "unruly child" in Ohio? Really?

The Vatican is angry at one of its Cardinals who helped expose sex abuse inside the Church. Perhaps it come steer some of that ire towards the abusers (and their enablers) instead?

"The Green Prince" -- the son of a top Hamas leader who became a spy for Israel -- has been granted asylum in the US.

Geneva Polls

The Geneva Initiative, a comprehensive peace plan for resolving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, just released a poll measuring Israeli and Palestinian support for the plan, both as a whole and broken down into its constituent parts. It makes for very interesting reading.

The plan itself has roughly six elements. First, Israel withdraws from virtually all of the West Bank (1:1 land swaps for the rest) and the Gaza Strip, creating territory for a Palestinian state. Second, East Jerusalem would be split between its Jewish and Arab quarters, the former going to Israel and the latter to Palestinian state (the Temple Mount would be under Palestinian jurisdiction, but the Western Wall would remain in Israeli hands). Third, Palestinian refugees (no word on their Jewish counterparts) would have the right to return to areas under the control of the new Palestinian state, or else, with the permission of the desired country, resettle in Israel, their current host country, or a third country. All refugees would enjoy compensation rights. Fourth, the Palestinian state would be demilitarized (no army, but a security force and a multinational force deployed in its borders). Fifth, while Palestine would maintain sovereignty over its own air, land, and water, Israel would be able to use its airspace for training purposes and would maintain two early warning stations in the West Bank for 15 years. A multinational force on the border of the two countries would help maintain security. Sixth, and most importantly, acceptance of a permanent status agreement on these lines would represent "the end of the conflict and no further claims will be made by either side. The parties will recognize Palestine and Israel as the homelands of their respective peoples."

The levels of support for each individual provision vary wildly, as you might imagine, amongst Israelis versus Palestinians and from clause to clause. Yet, two things stand out. First, despite several provisions that are tremendously unpopular (Palestinians are strongly opposed to a demilitarized state and the security guarantees, Israelis are deeply opposed to the refugee provisions, and both sides don't like the Jerusalem compromise), the plan taken as a whole carries with it majority support amongst Israelis (52/38), with Palestinians in a dead heat (49/49). For both populations, this represents a significant uptick in support from last year -- a 14 point swing for Israelis and a 23 point shift for the Palestinians.

Second, the one area that both sides both expressed strong agreement on was, in my view, the most important clause: the one asserting that any such agreement would represent the final resolution to the conflict. This carried a 62/30 support split in Israel and a 63/35 split in Palestine -- both numbers far higher than any other provision or even the package as a whole, indicating that even many people who would not support the peace deal itself still would accept it as bringing closure to the conflict.

Overall, this poll presents excellent news, and I hope it gets more publicity.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Israel Flotilla Panel Shows Some Spine

After the presiding judge threatened to resign his post, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu looks set to broaden the commission's mandate, "including the authority to subpoena any witnesses or evidence it requires and to take testimony under oath." The new mandate is supposedly akin to the powers possessed by the panel that investigated Israel's behavior in the Second Lebanon War.

Of course, it won't matter. I'm convinced that the panel will level some relatively harsh criticism at the operational quality of the flotilla incident, but will uphold the legality of the raid itself and the blockade generally. And no matter how independent or objective that decision is -- indeed, regardless of whether that ruling is, as a matter of law, correct -- it will be raked over the coals by folks for whom an "investigation" is only worthwhile if it leads to a guilty verdict.

Does Malaysia Matter?

Matt Yglesias has a short bit on a column detailing Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's increasingly virulent anti-Israel stances. Yglesias thinks the column is worthwhile, but finds odd the concluding graf, which argues that Ibrahim's stances are emblematic of a "transition from pro-American democrat to anti-Israeli zealot."

On the "democrat" side, Yglesias argues, Ibrahim is clearly just being responsive to democratic pressures inside Malaysia, whose citizenry is itself becoming more and more virulently anti-Israel. This is well-taken. We often use "democracy" as a loving, catch-all term of rainbows, but of course when bad ideologies are popular, they will be well-represented in a democratic context. That's why sometimes "democracy" gives you Hamas. It shouldn't surprise us that in areas where Israel is deeply unpopular, democratic politicians are deeply anti-Israel. Similarly, while Ibrahim's recent forays into Jew-baiting are deeply disturbing, and seemingly flow out of this rise in anti-Israel sentiment, there is nothing suggesting they're anti-democratic.

Turning to "anti-American", though, things are a little more complicated. Matt is certainly correct that this is a nebulous and ambiguous phrase -- particularly given my belief that American interests are constructed and thus are open to contestation: we're allowed to say that we, as a nation, are interested in Israel being treated fairly, if that's what the American people through their elected representatives decide is important to our country. But even from a more standard perspective on American interests, I think Matt is looking through a very narrow lens.
Clearly, though, Malaysia is very far away from Israel and not the kind of country that’s engaged in global power projection. I would think that we would therefore judge the pro-Americanness or not of a Malaysian politician primarily in terms of his attitude toward regional issues in Southeast Asia. Perhaps a “pro-American” Malaysian leader is one who wishes the United States to play a robust security role in the region in order to counterbalance China. Presumably there are some specific issues in the area that we care about. But certainly it would be odd to make Israel the top agenda item during a discussion with Malaysian officials (one striking thing about being in China during the Gaza flotilla raid is that nobody there cared at all) or the main criterion by which we judge a politician.

Without objecting to Matt's point that the US has many interests with regard to Malaysia, simply noting that it is far away from Israel hardly means that the US is entirely uninterested on its position towards the Jewish state. Fanning extremist attitudes in that region is bad for the US on a host of levels, and that can be done by leaders near and far from the region (see also: Hugo Chavez). Malaysia's important role in the OIC also means it has disproportionate impact on how Israel is treated in international fora beyond what one might expect from mere geographic proximity. Using Israel as a scapegoat and focal point for any and all international ailments likewise is a barrier to the US accomplishing its foreign policy goals. The way in which Israel is constructed as the linchpin of all that is evil in wrong is turning it into an organizing point for reactionary movements worldwide, and that is exceedingly dangerous for the US even if we did an entire 180 on our position regarding Israel.

And finally, one would hope that the overt anti-Semitism that Ibrahim and others have engaged in (talking about "Jewish-controlled" organizations pulling the strings of the government) would be something the US would be "interested" in opposing if for no other reason than that we should be interested in insuring that Jews can live and travel safely to any country in the world without fear, and that ideal is threatened by such rhetoric.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Two State United

TULIP reports on the superb victory supporters of a just, lasting peace between Israel and Palestine just scored at the International Trade Union Confederation.
A vehemently anti-Israel resolution submitted by the Congress of South African Trade Unions never made it to the floor.

And in a stunning blow to pro-Hamas activists in some unions, the Israeli national trade union center Histadrut was honored by the global trade union movement.

Its leader, Ofer Eini, was elevated to the ITUC’s 25-member Executive Board as well as its General Council. Eini was also elected as one of the organization’s Vice Presidents.

The ITUC has 312 affiliated organizations in 156 countries and territories representing 176 million workers.

Eini’s election followed calls by major unions in the UK and elsewhere for the Histadrut to be boycotted. Instead, the international trade union movement has embraced the Israeli unions, understanding them — correctly — to be important partners in building peaceful relations between Israelis and Palestinians.

In a resolution adopted by the ITUC congress, the positive role of the Histadrut was made explicit:

“Congress welcomes the landmark agreement between Histadrut and the PGFTU on the rights of Palestinian workers, which was finalised with the assistance of the ITUC in August 2008, and initiatives by Global Union Federations in their sectors to support cooperation in defence of workers’ rights. This agreement, and other actions to promote decent work and end discrimination, are crucial to building the basis for just and equitable economic development.”

For the future, the ITUC resolution declared:

“Congress commits the ITUC to continue to support the strengthening of cooperation between the Palestinian and Israeli trade union movements and calls upon the international community to support Palestinian economic reconstruction and development, including through the ILO Palestinian Fund for Employment and Social Protection.”

In addition, the world’s trade unions

  • Called for a two-state solution — and “universal recognition of Israel’s right to exist, next to an independent viable Palestinian state”
  • Rejected “the extremist policies of Hamas
  • Condemned the Egyptian “decision to impose heavy restrictions on its border with Gaza”
  • Acknowledged that Israeli’s December 2008 attack on Gaza came “in response to rocket attacks”
  • Supported the 2002 “Road Map” for peace proposed by the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union

The resolution adopted was highly critical of many Israeli policies, calling for an end to illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories, rejecting the blockade of Gaza and the building of a security fence, and so on.

But what stands out clearly is the commitment by the vast majority of the world’s trade unions to a two-state solution and to strengthening Israeli-Palestinian trade union cooperation.

This is fantastic, fantastic news. Nobody has any objection to the trade union movement criticizing unhelpful and unproductive Israeli actions, so long as it clearly comes within the context of a just, negotiated settlement to the conflict, rather than naked attempts to delegitimize Israel. The decision by the ITUC is a resounding triumph for the forces of justice in the trade union movement, and a testament to the ability of the trade union movement to change things for the better.

The Pendulum Swings

Some folks were very excited the other day when Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, a radically anti-Israel group which supports the BDS campaign against the people of Israel (I reject categorizing BDS as anything but a campaign against the people of Israel -- indeed, as anything but a campaign against peaceful coexistence), was allowed to march at a Toronto Pride festival. Organizers (and the Toronto city government, which had provided funding to the march) had previously worried that the group's positions were incompatible with city anti-discrimination ordinances.

Canadian free speech norms are considerably different than American ones, but nonetheless there is a fair case to be made that QuAIA should be allowed to march, and that the proper response to their repulsive, hateful speech would be more speech -- speech that mobilizes the progressive, pro-peace community and demonstrates strong support for both Israeli and Palestinian rights. I do find it disconcerting that some folks seemed excited that QuAIA could march not on free speech principles, but because they sympathized with the particular message QuAIA represents. Nonetheless, that people with hateful views, or people sympathetic to hateful views, happen to line up on the side of an otherwise good principle does not necessarily mean that the principle is worth abandoning -- even where, as here, the group that cries for open speech for itself simultaneously seeks to silence, through the BDS campaign, the voices of those whom it seeks to crush.

But it would be nice to see the principle enforced universally. Fresh off the banning of an Israeli gay organization marching in the Madrid gay pride parade, another pro-Israel gay rights group, StandWithUs, has just been expelled from the U.S. Social Forum under pressure from anti-Zionist groups (StandWithUs's press release is here). The "more speech" element isn't at issue here -- USSF already is marketing itself as a meeting point for anti-Zionist Jews promoting a BDS agenda (once again, the irony). And compounding said irony, the USSF justified its exclusion on the grounds that SWU tries to "censor" pro-Palestinian viewpoints. Alas, it does not seem like, in the queer community, this is the primary problem that needs to be dealt with.

I should add that, like with QuAIA, I don't need to agree with SWU to support a principled free speech position. My brief perusal indicates a lot to dislike -- such as their hit piece on J Street. They are at least marginally better than groups like QuAIA and IJAN insofar as their stated end goal isn't to my eyes facially unjust, although one questions how sincere their devotion is to a two-state solution. But certainly, if we can excuse QuAIA's one-sided and obsessive focus on Israeli wrongs, we can likewise excuse StandWithUs' overwhelming focus on Palestinian wrongs. And at an event like the USSF, it seems like SWU would have provided at least a counterweight to an environment overwhelmingly hostile to Israel and to equal treatment in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Idaho Eyes a Ban on Transgender Marriage?

A panel of Idaho Republicans want the state to rewrite its marriage laws to hold that it is "a bond between a 'naturally born' man and woman". (Via). Part of me hopes that this does pass, just because I think that it may actually be more vulnerable to challenge than typical laws "merely" prohibiting gay marriage. Because the law at least potentially prevents transgender individuals from marrying anybody -- man or woman -- it doesn't even have the (facially ridiculous) defense that it doesn't exclude anyone from marriage (just their preferred partner). If that's the case, it is tough to see it standing against constitutional challenge. And that, in turn, would be one hell of a precedent.

Then again, maybe I'm being too indulgent in formalist fantasies. Transgender rights are still pretty controversial, and I suspect a reviewing court, particularly in Idaho, will search long and hard for a "neutral" reason for upholding this law too. Best to not push my luck.