Saturday, May 07, 2011

This Has Been Another Edition of Christians Lecturing Jews on Jewish History

Methodist Church (UK) edition!
Anti-Semitism in Europe, culminating in the Holocaust, is another factor that cannot be overlooked if Christians are to understand Jewish perspectives on the land of Israel. ‘Israel is the only real answer to the Holocaust’ is the message given at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Centre in west Jerusalem. Its location (on Mount Herzl, a hill which is home both to the tomb of the founding father of the Zionist Movement and the central military cemetery for members of the Israeli Defence Force) and its symbolic layout undergirds this message. A pilgrimage through the exhibition rooms of the Centre, which bring home both the horror of the Holocaust and the vigour of Jewish resistance, brings you out in the open air, overlooking the beauty of Jerusalem. This perspective is transmitted to young Israelis through visits to Yad Vashem organised by schools and other groups. When I visited the Centre with a group from Britain, I noticed that many visitors were not of European Jewish descent. As Michael Ipgrave, then Secretary of the Churches’ Commission for Inter Faith Relations, wrote in his report of the visit: ‘The Holocaust has come to serve as a national story embracing also Oriental Jews for whom this was not part of their family history.’ Peace groups in Israel have to work against this backdrop.

Wow. Okay, first, there were definitely non-European Jews (particularly in North Africa) for whom the Holocaust is most certainly part of, er, "their family history." Second, it is well-established that Nazi anti-Semitic ideology was deliberately exported to the Arab world, including to Palestinian leaders in mandatory Palestine, and that, too, had a real effect on the lives of the Jews living there (and continues to do so). Third, even to the extent the message was "there but for the grace of God go I", Jews who reside in locations Hitler did not manage to conquer (America, the Middle East) are perfectly within their rights -- and perfectly reasonable -- to recognize the vulnerability of their situation and the applicability of the Holocaust to their own family history. Empathy with one's cohorts who were massacred, paired with a recognition that it is more or less a historical accident we weren't included, is not a sign of psychopathy.

Church groups in the UK need to work against a backdrop where they couldn't care less about actual Jewish experience, and wish to persistently deny Jewish communal autonomy to identify their own life story -- even their own "family history". Church groups in the UK need to work against a backdrop where they observe Jewish communal practice and identification that clashes with their ideological priors and proceed to feverishly deny its relevance. Church groups in the UK need to work against a backdrop where their first, second, and last instinct seems to be that what Jews say about themselves ought have precisely zero impact on how church groups view the Jews. The only Jews who matter are the one's who promote alternate stories that better cohere with what the church groups already want to hear. Why, exactly, should I bother listening to the perspective of those so fundamentally disrespectful of me?

Friday, May 06, 2011

I Dream of Djinnis

Something is going on in Iran, where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is feuding with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The spate started when Ahmadinejad attempted to fire his intelligence chief -- a move vetoed by the supreme leader -- and now the Ayatollah is telling Ahmadinejad to reinstate the chief or resign. Meanwhile, several Ahmadinejad allies have been arrested on accusations of sorcery and invoking Djinns (call me an Ahmadinejad apologist, but I'm guessing the charges are trumped up).

Lest anyone get too excited, this appears to be a right vs. right war: President Ahmadinejad hsa been pushing Iran into a considerably more "pure" nationalist direction and has been attempting to arrogate state security power in his own hands; the clerical leadership wants to maintain the theocratic bent of the state and, of course, is less than thrilled to see Ahmadinejad trying to get out from under their thumb. The (relatively) progressive Green Movement is not part of the feud, and if the government does collapse, it will likely be barred from running in any elections.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

...Non-Jews Want To Be Us

Hebrew names dominate the top 10 (at least for baby boys -- but they get two in the female top 10 as well).

Is the BDS Threat Overblown?

The Forward conducted an investigation of North American campus-based BDS programs and highly implies the answer is "yes". The magazine found a grand total of seventeen BDS incidents on fourteen North American campuses since 2005 (when the BDS campaign began). Of these, none resulted in any actual divestment -- some were defeated outright, some were nonbinding resolutions, and some were modified so as to not specifically target Israel (instead generically targeting corporations which profit off of international law violations). Fourteen campuses is of course a drop in the American higher educational bucket, and the Forward indicates that BDS has had marked trouble getting off the ground in this country.

Of course, both supporters and opponents of BDS have an incentive to overstate its relevance. Supporters because it's hard to maintain a movement that has been primarily characterized by failure after failure (as Divest This loves to point out), and opponents because it gives them a foil against which to mobilize. I think BDS is threatening enough that we need to be vigilant against it, but I think casting it -- at least in the US -- as the crest of a wave of anti-Israel sentiment is descriptively inaccurate.

Sleepyhead Roundup

I have not been getting enough sleep lately. Today, I woke up early to attend a talk with Jack Balkin, whom I discovered is stunningly similar to Richard Epstein in appearance and demeanor.

* * *

The story of a Guinean migrant who was sold into slavery, only to escape and become an IDF officer.

Senator Harry Reid's decision to bring the Paul Ryan budget to a vote continues to look better and better, as it is wrecking wreaking havoc with the Senate GOP caucus.

I, too, am baffled by Jon Hunstman's (former governor of Utah and ambassador to China) decision to run for President next year. I think he'd be quite formidable in 2016, or 2012 if he manages to get through the primary, but ... yeah. He's not getting through the primary.

Expanding college opportunities to inmates would be a good thing.

The CUNY board of trustees has blocked an award to Tony Kushner on account of allegedly anti-Israel statements. Kushner responds here. Jeffrey Goldberg adds his contempt for this decision.

Donniel Hartman calls on AIPAC and J Street to end the beef.

BONUS: "As Mark squirmed into his cocoon, he thought of the many long-haired and bearded men whom he had defeated via fisticuffs over the years. But little did he know that he would soon be facing his greatest nemesis ever: Jesus Christ."

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Don't You Want Me as Your Friend?

Recently, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R) delivered a speech where he analogized failure to confront the mounting national debt to failing to intervene in the Holocaust. The ADL took exception, and Huckabee responded with the empathy and sensitivity that makes him so beloved in the Jewish community (via):
Governor Mike Huckabee said today, that the demand of ADL (Anti Defamation League) Director Abraham Foxman to apologize for his comments regarding the Holocaust were uninformed and misguided and called upon Foxman to apologize to him and retract his totally inappropriate and reckless attack issued recently.

Huckabee said, "Foxman could have done even a tiny bit of fact-checking and discovered what most people in the Israel and American Jewish community know quite well, that Israel and the Jewish people have no stronger advocate than Mike Huckabee. And to confirm that, they could start by actually listening to what I said, which is a strong affirmation of the Jewish people

"I have traveled to Israel numerous times since 1973, have spoken at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, met with several Prime Ministers and Presidents of Israel over the years, testified in committee hearing at the Knesset and have taken numerous groups and hundreds of visitors to Israel. I have been steadfast in my support not only of the Jewish people, but of my solemn remembrance of the horrors inflicted upon the Jews during the Holocaust and the need for all people of the world to stand with Israel for the right to their indigenous homeland with secure borders and sovereign control," Huckabee said.

"Foxman's remarks are not only factually wrong, but they are hurtful to me personally in light of my unequalled friendship with members of the Jewish community, and I ask Foxman to retract his statement as publicly as he issued it, and apologize for his lack of accuracy in issuing it and for the harm done by attacking the very strongest advocates for the Jewish people and Israel.

"Israel and Jewish people need to make friends, not insult the ones they have" said Huckabee. "Fortunately, Foxman doesn't represent the vast majority of well-informed friends I have in the Jewish community," he added.

Unbelievably, the ADL -- apparently having exhausted its spine quotient for the week -- capitulated entirely to Huckabee's bullying.

So putting the ever-more useless ADL aside, let's just focus on Huckabee's response to what is, by all accounts, an incredibly insensitive analogy. He basically lectures Jews on how we need every "friend" we can get -- regardless of whether they listen to us, respect us, or respond to our legitimate concerns. "Friendship" means we just accept whatever Mike Huckabee does, because he's a "friend".

Yeah, remember that thing about how we get to decide who our friends are? This is why that's so important. Mike Huckabee's positions overlap with those of the broader American Jewish community approximately 0% of the time. His support of a one-state solution makes him more of an ally to Hamas than Israel, and his apparent support for expelling Palestinians from the West Bank is "pro-Israel" only in the sense that most supporters of Israel desire ethnic cleansing (hint: they don't). Domestically, of course, Huckabee wants to "reclaim America for Christ" and adopts positions abhorrent to the Jewish community's generally liberal bent. And then we have this.

What exactly is Mike Huckabee's "friendship" giving me that's so important such that I should be forced to accept this tongue-lashing lecture because we don't like him casually flinging the Holocaust out in his speeches? Precisely nothing, that's what.

No Cheers

The U.S. Supreme Court turned away an appeal by a high school cheerleader who was kicked off the squad after refusing to cheer for the player who raped him (the student plead guilty to a lesser charge). She claimed the school was violating her free speech rights; a lower court had turned aside this argument (and deemed it sufficiently frivolous to require her to reimburse the school for its expenses).

The thing is, on the legal merits I'm inclined to think this is the right decision. A cheerleader acts as a mouthpiece for the school -- that's her job -- and it makes sense that she can be compelled to speak the message the school wants sent (cheering for the players).

Nonetheless, if I were on the Supreme Court, I'd be inclined to write an opinion concurring in the denial of cert, saying something like:
It is well-established that a denial of certiorari entails no judgment on the merits of the case. It should also be established that such a denial entails no judgment on the merits of the underlying conduct. The constitution permits people, as well as government agencies, to be stupid, foolish, irresponsible, insensitive, or flat-out jerks. The type of moral judgment that impels one to kick out a cheerleader because she refused to cheer on a man who was convicted of assaulting her is the sort that makes one shudder to think these officials are in charge of crafting any sort of educational policy whatsoever. Unfortunately, we lack the authority to order the officials to develop basic human empathy, and ultimately those sorts of failures often lie beyond the capacity of law to remedy.

Something like that, anyway.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

How Many Gay People Must God Create Before We Accept God Wants Them Around?

This is from Minnesota State Rep. Steve Hopkins (DFL), speaking against a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. And Rep. Simon also says -- and it needs to be said -- that the children and grandchildren of those who vote for this amendment will "justifiably" be ashamed of it.

Slaves to Fashion

Follow this -- Norwegian heavy metal band "Slaves to Fashion" discovers a professor already wrote a book with the same title (about sweatshop labor). Embarrassed, they offered to make amends -- by writing a song about the book. Slaves to Fashion is now preparing to release "Slaves to Fashion" about Slaves to Fashion.

Birthing a Reality-Based Community

Hey -- looks like the release of Obama's long-form birth certificate did have an impact on birther tendencies. The percentage of Americans who think President Obama was born in the US has moved up 12 points -- from 55% to 67%. And now a full 45 percent of Republicans are convinced of Obama's American provenance. Why, that's almost a majority! And it only took another heaping dose of incontrovertible evidence debunking a conspiracy theory that should rank right up there with "the Israelis destroyed the Twin Towers" and "the Moon Landing was faked," too.

There's Rape and Then There's Rape (Part II)

Remember when House Republicans were trying to draw distinctions in abortion coverage between "real" ("forcible") rape, and other forms of rape (such as statutory rape)? They had dropped it under massive public criticism, but now it looks like it's sneaking its way back. While the specific language was deleted, Republican Congressmen are trying to build a legislative trail to interpret the relevant provision as barring abortion coverage for statutory rapes. At times the euphemize it ("abortion based solely on the youth of the mother"), but elsewhere they're quite explicit (the bill will "not allow the Federal Government to subsidize abortions in cases of statutory rape.").

Incidentally, didn't I recall a campaign by pro-life organizations to send underage girls to abortion clinics, in order to expose what they claimed was a cavalier attitude by the clinics towards statutory rape? As I recall it, those groups claimed that the "youth of the mother" was on its own sufficient to declare the clinics soft on rape. My how times change.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Israeli Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran Speaks at UChicago

Today I attended a lunch talk by Salim Joubran, the first Israeli Arab to serve on the Israeli Supreme Court. Justice Joubran was invited by the Jewish Law Students Association (with the assistance of various Chicago Jewish organizations), and gave a very interesting speech on his perspective as a Justice and the role of the Court in protecting human rights for all of Israel's citizens. He also informed us that, because Talmudic Law is a source of Israel law, he is actually quite well versed in classical Jewish legal thought (he traded lessons with a Jewish friend, teaching the latter how to speak Arabic).

I noted that, unlike the last time a top Israeli official visited our campus, there were no protests that I could see. That could be because his visit was less publicized, but it also served as a data point regarding whether folks are interested in protesting Israelis, or just Israeli Jews.

Meanwhile, my favorite moment came when someone asked about emerging issues before the 15-member Supreme Court. One of the topics he raised was the question, "who is a Jew" -- often an easy question, but often surprisingly difficult. Justice Joubran mischievously noted the possibility that the other 14 justices on the Court might split on the question 7-7, and the official decision regarding "who is a Jew" in the land of Israel might come down to him, a Maronite Christian (good thing he's been reading up on the Talmud!).

The Great Exhale

Osama bin Laden is dead. Yesterday, I said there was little to say. Today, a few scattered thoughts come below, of varying degrees of seriousness.

* * *

* Last night, everyone was rushing to make grand strategic pronouncements about the implications of killing Bin Laden. Is the War on Terror over? Can we leave Afghanistan (or Iraq) now? Will al-Qaeda strike back stronger than before? I feel like everyone needs to take a deep breath about this, because for most of these questions the only answer is: time will tell.

* Count me in the "pro-celebration" camp. I don't think it is unseemly to celebrate a great American victory, anymore than it was inappropriate to celebrate on V-J Day. Somebody claimed it was "unseemly" for Americans to be acting like we just won the World Cup. I kind of think that killing one of the great terrorist masterminds of the world is a little less frivolous a reason for celebration than winning a soccer match.

* Folks who don't believe Osama is really dead will henceforth be known as "deathers".

* While most folks (across the political spectrum) were on their best behavior last night, there were a few grump-o-sauruses. Spot the differences between the far-right message board nuts, and the Jihadi message board nuts!

* Poll-wise, the CW seems to be "remember George H.W. Bush, who had rocket-high approvals at this point in his presidency due to a major foreign policy victory (winning the Gulf War)." The point is that a bad economy can still take down an incumbent, even one flush with success. Very true, but I want to push back a little. First, I think this is a symbolically bigger deal even than the Gulf War, though maybe that's just a lack of perspective talking. But more importantly, something like this can overcome some polling inertia, starting Obama from a higher base. If the economy tanks, he's still toast. But if the economy is simply "meh", it might not be enough to budge Obama's numbers either way. If, as appears, the trend of the economy is going to be slow improvement going into 2012 -- not enough to set off celebrations, but enough to stem serious electoral bleeding -- this could be a major difference.

* Once I heard Bin Laden wasn't killed by a drone strike but through a human operation resulting in a firefight, I immediately started wondering which video game would make this into a mission first. Seems to fit the Rainbow 6 oeuvre best to me.

* One of the better one-liners I read: "The guy who killed Bin Laden is going to get laid way more than 72 times.

* Another thing folks pointed out -- Obama knew about the operation during the White House Correspondent's Dinner (but obviously didn't know how it would turn out). Cool as the other side of the pillow.

* Meet the guy who accidentally live-tweeted the Bin Laden operation.

* Hamas condemns Bin Laden killing, Palestinian Authority praises it.

* Rep. Peter King (R-NY), whom I typically dislike, was impressively magnanimous -- when being interviewed by CNN, the anchors started talking about how this was a great accomplishment for Robert Gates and Leon Panetta as well as President Obama. Which is true, but Rep. King observed that if this operation went wrong, nobody would be talking about Gates and Panetta, but the Commander in Chief. Which means that since it went right, same rules apply.

* So in the same spirit of bipartisanship, I'll leave you with the words of Mike Huckabee: "Welcome to Hell, Bin Laden."

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Bin Laden is Dead

Not much to say. Obviously, this is a great day for America and all of the victims of Osama Bin Laden's terrorism, inside the United States and abroad. My thanks to the brave soldiers who conducted the operation, as well as all those who have risked their lives fighting the War on Terror.