Friday, October 15, 2010

Abbas Admits Peace Could Have Come Long Ago?

In the course of reiterating his flat rejection of ever recognizing Israel as a Jewish state (I really don't think this is a preparation for a counter-offer), PA head Mahmoud Abbas appeared to make a startling admission:
"If we showed flexibility on these issues the peace agreement would have been signed a long time ago," Abbas said.

It would be one thing if Abbas believed, as Mr. Ibish apparently does, that this "Jewish state" thing is just a distraction to delay final resolution of the conflict. But Mr. Abbas does not seem to believe this. Indeed, much the opposite -- he seems convinced that the conflict could have ended years ago had Palestinians been willing to compromise on points such as this, but apparently recognizing Israel as a Jewish state is such a grave affront, such a impregnable red-line, that contra Ibish, it is "worth continuing the conflict and the occupation to refuse to try to find a reasonable formula" for characterizing Israel's Jewish status.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

More Unfortunate Typos

Rich Whitney, The Green Party candidate for governor of Illinois will show up on electronic ballots as "Rich Whitey". But not in every precinct, mind you. Just a few heavily Black ones in Chicago.


I've always felt like Rabbi Yehuda Levin -- the Orthodox Rabbi behind NY Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paldino's anti=gay remarks at a synagogue -- was part of a particularly obnoxious branch of Jews who seem to desperately want to be Christian. Sometimes, when we talk about "marginal figures" within a religious group, we mean those whose views are more extreme manifestations of the general norm. For example, there are preachers whose homophobia and hatred towards gays is so extreme that embarrasses Christians as a whole, but it's perfectly fair to say that anti-gay prejudice is mainstream in political Christianity. Levin, by contrast, doesn't even seem like an "extreme Jew", so much as a Republican operative/Jerry Falwell wannabe who likes to play dress up. I mean, look at this:
“I was in the middle of eating a kosher pastrami sandwich,” Rabbi Levin said. "While I was eating it, they come running and they say, ‘Paladino became gay!’ I said, ‘What?’ And then they showed me the statement. I almost choked on the kosher salami.”

Something about the way he's repeating "kosher" here seems awfully defensive -- like he himself feels the need to defend his Jewish bona fides. Which, in a way, he does -- since his views are so far out of the Jewish mainstream as to make him a laughable figure. Laughable, that is, if he weren't professionally devoted to tying the holy name to hatred of others.

UPDATE: Assuming I understand the meaning of "cooning" (unlikely), Ta-Nehisi Coates agrees.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ethics are for Chumps Roundup

I just found out that Maryland doesn't require one to take the MPRE. Guess where I'm taking the bar?

* * *

Interesting study out in the Journal of Social Issues on the conscious versus subconscious value people place upon their race (full text here, may be behind a pay-wall).

Howard Jacobson's "The Finkler Question" has won the Man Booker prize.

Mormon leader's comments on gays and lesbians spark an outcry. The church is responding with the usual pablum about how -- support for institutionalized discrimination notwithstanding -- they love and respect everyone, and it inspires the usual mix of bile and contempt in me.

Jon Chait is convinced a GOP-controlled Congress will attempt to impeach Barack Obama.

Harry Reid may finally be putting some space between himself and Sharron Angle.

Alex Knapp fisks the "education" Pam Geller (and, presumably, many others) have received about Islam.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dropped Letter

Here's a correction you never want to write:
This blog post originally stated that one in three black men who have sex with me is HIV positive. In fact, the statistic applies to black men who have sex with men.


On the "Jewish State" Demand

The US has officially backed -- or at least expressed its sympathy -- for Bibi Netanyahu's demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state in exchange for a settlement freeze. Hussein Ibish, on the other hand, thinks that it demonstrates Netanyahu isn't serious about negotiations at all. What gives?

I think Ibish's position, though characteristically well-argued, is not quite right. The strongest argument against Netanyahu's request is that it exchanges something effectively permanent (recognition as a Jewish state) for something temporary (a settlement freeze of indeterminate duration). That's a fair point, but, as I think we'll see, it is something that could be worked around.

Ibish's other arguments, however, are unpersuasive. First, he claims that Israel's Jewish character was never a sticking point in Israel's negotiations with Egypt or Jordan. But that's primarily because Israel's Jewish character did not touch on any core claims of Jordanian or Egyptian nationalism. By contrast, it is a significant thread of the Palestinian national project that all of what is now Israel should really be Palestine -- "a Palestine next to a Palestine", as BDS founder Omar Barghouti described his ambition. The "greater Israel" project has the same ambition in reverse, which is why any permanent settlement has to be phrased as two states for two peoples. Otherwise it will have the feeling of but a temporary cease-fire in a larger conflict (which, in all honesty, is not particularly far off from Israel's relationship with Egypt and Jordan, whose civil society has always been furious that Israel yet breathes).

Second, he says that the "Jewish state" declaration is not merely symbolic, but has tangible impacts on the final resolution of concrete status items like refugees and Jerusalem. The latter is left essentially unargued, and the former is an area upon which everyone understood Palestinians will have to make significant concessions anyway. Palestinians demanding a total right of return is like Israel demanding to keep every settlement in the West Bank -- it's beyond a non-starter, it's a joke.

But the biggest problem is that Ibish's entire argument doesn't warrant what the PA actually did -- wholesale rejection of Netanyahu's gambit, accompanied by accusations of racism. What it warrants, as the US intimated, is a counter-offer. Ibish already concedes that President Bush's rendition of the "Jewish state" (that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people). So why not say that? Or better yet: "We are open to recognizing Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people as a product of final status negotiations." Then they don't even have to make the permanent-for-temporary-concession trade. But the PA didn't even look for something that, which indicates what many have long suspected: They're opposed to this sort of deal as a matter of kind, not degree.

Monday, October 11, 2010

PA Rejects Settlement Freeze Deal

The Jerusalem Post reports that both Saeb Erkat and Mahmoud Abbas have rejected an Israeli proposal which would have extended the settlement freeze in exchange for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish national home. Erkat called the proposal "racist" and an "Israeli game", while Abbas' spokesperson was slightly more measured, saying that "The topic of the Jewishness of the state is not connected at all to the issue [of the building freeze]."

My main concern is that talks continue, so I'm consequently unhappy at Palestinian rejection here. Obviously, the question of recognition is highly symbolic -- but it is only symbolic, and it hardly strikes me as an unfair trade for tangible concessions (which are also, to be sure, highly symbolic in addition to their concrete weight). On the other hand, I doubt that the ultimate resolution of the conflict is going to hinge on the precise words Palestinians use to characterize the Israeli state.

In an ideal world, we would say Israel should simply freeze settlement development because it is the right and intelligent thing to do. In an ideal world, the two states for two peoples formulation would not be controversial. Alas, it's not the ideal world. The one thing I can say is that Israel appears willing to talk without any preconditions -- it merely is saying that, if we are going to play the precondition "game", the path has to go both ways.

Sack Him Sack Him Sack Him!!!!

Every day that Avigdor Lieberman remains Foreign Minister is a day I'm embarrassed for Israel. Even aside from the basic point that he's little more than a fascist thug, his tenure as FM can basically be characterized as one diplomatic catastrophe after another. In a world where Israel is verging on becoming a pariah state, the last thing it needs is a wretched incompetent like Lieberman as its public face.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Sunday Return Roundup

Jill's been out of town this week, which means we missed both Project Runway and Hell's Kitchen. Tonight will be epic.

* * *

Tennessee Mosque opponents plan to argue that Islam is not a religion.

Pam Geller is, as Jeffrey Goldberg correctly adduces, a "vile, racist creature".

A Colorado woman is charged with destroying a controversial piece of art which she says demeaned Jesus.

Dana Milbank argues that Glenn Beck is the conspiracy-theorists go-to source for mainstream validation.

Jon Chait shoots down a ridiculous Christopher Hitchens post attributing the passage of a resolution condemning the Armenian genocide to the nefarious "Isreal Lobby". I'd also refer back to this post.

I find it quite outrageous the fury with which some Orthodox groups react to calling ordained (whoops, apparently that word is taboo too) female religious leaders "Rabbas".

What Type of Slur is "Racist"

Commenting on yet another "I am not a racist" non-sequitur, Ta-Nehisi Coates wants to know
what it means among white people to be considered a racist. I don't mean under the sanction of black people. I mean in places where there are no black people. It almost feels like, among whites, to be accused of being a racist is a class slur. Like racist is short for "inbred uncultured hick."

It's an interesting analogy, but I'm not sure it gets quite at what's going on. My views have evolved since I wrote this post, but it captures a very real dynamic. There's indignation about the possibility of being labeled a racist, but there is also terror. The proportions may vary, but both feelings are definitely there. Racism is America's original sin, and the term "racist" has become emblematic of a supreme evil. To be considered "racist" is to be a Nazi, a slave-owner, or a Klansman. It is to be a person who must be shunned in public society.

All of this is amplified by the fact that there is no generally accepted definition of racist in the public discourse. The sanctions of being successfully labeled "racist" are high, but there really is no way to determine in advance who will be burned by it. Michael Richards' career is ruined, but Ann Coulter survives more or less unscathed. There is a wanton and freakish quality about the whole discourse, and I do think most White people view the accusation of racism as akin to a bolt of lightening: powerful, random, unpredictable, and deadly. They do not know what causes the blow to rain down (except that saying anything -- and I do mean anything -- related to race makes it more likely), so they intone their "I am not a racist" incantation to the heavens in panicked hope that it will serve as a ward. It's main quality is totemic.

And being subjected to such uncertainty, in turn, breeds resentment. It's simultaneously self-sustaining and self-serving. Self-sustaining because the resentment renders true dialogue about what "racist" means impossible, maintaining its mystical quality and preventing any sort of enlightenment. Self-serving, because the entire cycle serves as a warrant for the hostile sentiment in the first place. The anger and rage that those people seem to hold power over me -- that they can end my career, sever my friendships, and expel me from the community with but a "casual" word -- burns with a righteous fury. At that point, railing against the entire idea of racism becomes effectively a subspecies of populist anti-authoritarianism.