Friday, November 25, 2011

The New Definition of Zionism

"Zionism" is one of those terms that gets bandied about a lot, but doesn't seem to have much of a stable definition. The one I forward (inspired if not outright stolen from Phoebe Maltz Bovy, though I can't remember exactly where), and still think is pretty good, is "the belief that the establishment of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state was a good idea and it should stick around." That's deliberately quite broad, and is also deliberately agnostic to a whole range of Israeli policies. For obvious reasons, I reject the claim that the settlements are "Zionist" at all, much less intrinsic to the definition as some of their proponents claim. Zionism, at core, is about granting Jews national self-determination -- there is no rule that we have to use it to occupy the West Bank.

But of late, I think there is another definition of "Zionism" rising to prominence -- at least in some quarters. A "Zionist" is anybody who speaks out against anti-Semitism, no matter their politics on Israel. The CST blog forwards this claim with respect to the rhetoric employed by defenders of rabid anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon, in a post titled "You're all Zionists now". Atzmon has long been condemned even by Jewish anti-Zionists, and it's not hard to understand why, for the target of his vitriol is not (or not just) Israel, but "Jewishness" as a whole. That includes Jewish anti-Zionists, because for Atzmon the core sin that he opposes is "acting politically under a Jewish banner", and insofar as Jewish anti-Zionists identify as Jewish anti-Zionists, they qualify.

But when these anti-Zionist speakers speak out against Atzmon's inclusion in a "progressive" cultural festival called "Raised Your Banners", suddenly -- presto! They're "Zionists". The one thing I will say is that the CST is, if anything, too generous in calling this a "new low". It isn't particularly new at all: brushing aside accusations of anti-Semitism as "Zionism", even when the complainant is anti-Zionist, has a much longer pedigree (of course, the idea that only anti-Zionists have standing to have their claim of anti-Semitism taken seriously is itself a deeply reactionary position predicated upon denigrating Jews and enforcing the third rule of racial standing). Steve Cohen, introducing his classic text That's Funny, You Don't Look Anti-Semitic, recounts an early review his pamphlet received in a putatively "left" magazine:
There was a particular review—in Searchlight—one sentence of which I will never forget. Every Jew on the left will know that terrible syndrome whereby, whatever the context and wherever one is, we will be tested by being given the question "what is your position on Zionism?" Wanna support the miners—what's your position on Zionism? Against the bomb—what's your position on Zionism? And want to join our march against the eradication of Baghdad, in particular the eradication of Baghdad—what's your position on Zionism? And we all know what answer is expected in order to pass the test. It is a very strong form of anti-Semitism based on assumptions of collective responsibility. Denounce Zionism, crawl in the gutter, wear a yellow star and we'll let you in the club. Which is one reason why I call myself an Anti-Zionist Zionist—at least that should confuse the bastards. Anyhow this particular review, noting that my book actually did attack Zionism, said "It is not enough to trot out platitudes, as he does, about being against Zionism and in support of the Palestinian struggle". So I'm not allowed into the club even though I fulfil the entry requirements. I'm not allowed in because I recognise and oppose the existence of anti-Semitism on the Left—and this therefore renders all support for Palestinians a "platitude". Well it ain't me who's here confusing anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

Once you speak out against anti-Semitism, boom -- Zionist. But this is useful knowledge! As it happens, I am a Zionist (based on my own definition given at the start), and I feel no need to apologize for that. But it is important to know that when I say something is anti-Semitic, and it is dismissed as "Zionist", all we have is a tautology. My complaint against anti-Semitism is "Zionist" because it was a complaint against anti-Semitism. Nothing more is needed than that.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Turkey Day!

Happy Thanksgiving! Today we commemorate the perseverance of illegal immigrants who came to these shores in the face of incredible hardship in order to pursue a better life.




I'm in Newport, Rhode Island with my mom's family, who are getting the irreplaceable opportunity to meet Jill for the first time. It's very exciting. Personally, I'm thankful for Jill, my family, this wonderful job I have, and the fact that, though I probably won't be eating it today, I do know what "mac 'n cheese" is.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

ZOA: Honoring One-Staters and Anti-Semites Alike

The Zionist Organization of America is having its annual gala, and the theme seems to be "revealing ourselves to be a parody". Their first award went out to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. You may remember the good Representative from such pro-Israel actions as kneecapping efforts to improve relations between Israel and Cuba, apparently on the theory that what Israel needs most of all is more countries for it to be in an inexorable state of hostility. During her speech, Ros-Lehtinen proceed to hop into one-stater land, declaring that building settlements is "not an impediment, that’s the solution." The solution to what problem, exactly? Oh yes, the problem of a two-state solution where the same nation is not in control of Tel Aviv and Nablus. Which, in turn, can be recharacterized as the problem of there existing a Jewish, democratic state at all. Ros-Lehtinen and ZOA are now official members of the Hamas wing of the "pro-Israel" camp.

Oh, but it gets better. The next honoree was none other than Glenn Beck. The Forward informs us that part of the reason for his award was Beck's flagrantly anti-Semitic attacks on George Soros, so it is good to see that the ZOA also endorses that sort of behavior. Beck, for his part, went on one of his typical reality-deprived tirades about how the status of Jews is more precarious now than it was in 1939. Such a serious organization they're running.

Eat Your Veggies!

Yesterday, in response to the UC-Davis pepper spraying incident, Jeffrey Goldberg tweeted "Pepper spray is made from peppers, peppers are a vegetable, kids need vegetables, therefore schools should pepper-spray kids."

Hahaha! Oh that's hilarious. And as if on cue, we turn to Fox News' Megyn Kelly: "I mean, [Pepper Spray is] like a derivative of actual pepper. It's a food product, essentially."

Life imitates parody, brought to you daily on Fox!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Kauft Nicht Bei Araber!

I don't like adopting Nazi analogies. I really don't. And people who assert that Israel is a Nazi state are, I think, suffering from -- being generous -- a gross lack of proportion. Less generously, they're simply being anti-Semitic.

But to say that Israel is not the sum of its worst elements is not to say that its worst elements don't exist. Israel has its fascists, same as everywhere else. And right now, a group of far-right extremists are mapping out businesses in Jerusalem which employ Arabs, the goal being "to warn the public" against buying from them. In every respect, it is reminiscent of the anti-Semitic boycotts against Jewish shops that were Nazi bread-and-butter (and live on in the BDS movement).

The persons behind this boycott call hail from the Yitzhar settlement -- a center of Jewish extremist activity and noted terrorist hotspot. Indeed, many of the activists are currently in Jerusalem because they've been barred from the West Bank, on suspicion that they were plotting terrorist attacks. So they likely aren't just racist extremists, but violent racist extremists too.

I ask again -- what is the policy for excommunication? How do we formally expel these insults to Judaism from the faith? They don't deserve to be considered part of our people, and if the Israeli government isn't willing to crackdown against "price tag" fanatics, then its the religious bodies that are going to have to step up to the plate.

The End of the World Draws Nigh

I don't drink coffee, so it is tempting to just snicker at the coming apocalypse of rapidly increasing coffee prices. But if this is what it takes to get conservative folks to recognize that global climate change is a threat, so be it. On the other hand, since the most common coffee bean in the world is named "Arabica", perhaps they'll simply retreat to the old "blame the Muslims" standby.

Close That Gap

The NYT has a good profile on Elizabeth Warren, the highlight being this:
Congress remains only 16 percent female, and Massachusetts has an especially long and rotten history of women in politics. Since Puritans settled there in the early 17th century, more Massachusetts women have been hanged in the Salem witch trials (14) than have been elected to the House of Representatives (4), the Senate (0) or the governor’s mansion (0, though Jane Swift served as acting governor from 2001 to 2003)

I think Warren has to be favored against Brown. Because he's a Republican who won in Massachusetts, Brown has the rep as a great politician, but I think he benefited from a perfect storm of (a) a historically good year for Republicans and (b) an incredibly uninspiring Democratic opponent in Martha Coakley (see also: Robert Ehrlich winning the Maryland governor's mansion in 2002 against Kathleen Kennedy Townsend). Obviously, he's component, but I don't think he's anything special. And while inexperienced candidates always have the potential to flame out in spectacular fashion, I think Warren has a ton of upside. And in this time of economic crisis, it'd be good to have one of America's foremost experts on bankruptcy in a position of influence.