Saturday, December 29, 2018

Falling on the Reputational Grenade

There is an interesting story to be written about a certain type of Trump administration official, with the following characteristics: They recognize the Trump administration is a moral catastrophe. They recognize that their participation in it will wholly ruin their reputation -- if history remembers them, it will be as a collaborator with evil. And yet they work in the administration anyway because, they believe, that if they don't do it, somebody worse will.

I suspect people like this exist -- Mattis could be one, though I don't have any interest in debating particular names and I certainly don't want to suggest that this is a common attribute of Trump administration officials.

But it's a fascinating possibility, isn't it? We talk a lot about people who sacrifice their safety or even their lives out of a sense of duty. But the idea of someone knowingly sacrificing their reputation -- wholly cognizant that they will be viewed as (at best) a schmuck and that it will be in a large sense well-deserved, but acting anyway because (they think) they're averting some greater evil -- that thought intrigues me.

Friday, December 28, 2018

(How) Do White Jews Uphold White Supremacy? (Part II)

In my post this morning, I explained how -- given the understanding of "White supremacy" and "upholding" that Tamika Mallory was using -- it is perfectly coherent to state, as Mallory did, that White Jews may "uphold White supremacy" even while we are (as Mallory also acknowledged) targeted by White supremacy. I argued that -- putting aside Mallory's own checkered history on the subject -- much of the present controversy was terminological in nature and that while such a semantic debate isn't unimportant, it is a far cry from the sort of overheated rhetoric whereby Mallory was accusing Jews of being tantamount to Klansmen.

In America, pale-skinned Jews of proximate European descent receive many (not all) of the day-to-day advantages of Whiteness. Insofar as White supremacy is understood more as a social condition than a social movement -- the state of affairs whereby White persons are systematically advantaged, not the cluster of individuals and organizations consciously and overtly ideologically committed to promoting the explicit ideal that Whites are superior -- it is fair to say (and almost unquestionably true) that White Jews who look like me are net beneficiaries of that system, and may well act in ways that (implicitly or explicitly) reenact or perpetuate that advantageous state of affairs.

This doesn't mean we don't also face antisemitism (any more than White women don't also face misogyny), and it is also wholly compatible with hating and being hated by groups like the Klan. And if you think the above paragraphs are reasonable, but blanch at labeling them "White supremacy", then the debate you're having is -- again -- primarily one of semantics, not substance.

That said, if the purpose of the first post was to work through how it is fair to think of White Jews "as Whites" (and thereby implicated in White supremacy), at the end of that post I suggested that there was a more layered and complicated discussion to be had about the relationship between Jews and Whiteness, one that can help explain why so many Jews react so fiercely against the label "White" and which puts important limits on the utility of "White Jews" as a concept.

This is a conversation that is short-circuited when people act as if White Jews are not White in any capacity -- a position which, as applied to American Jews with my skin tone, seems wholly at odds with reality. But it is also a conversation that can only occur if it is acknowledged that Whiteness is "of a different color" as applied to Jews -- that the characteristics of Whiteness, including what Jews can "do" with Whiteness, are different than how we might understand Whiteness simpliciter.

Start with the question of why many Jews who by all appearances look White seem to so fiercely reject the association. One explanation for this behavior is that it is a rather uninteresting permutation on the practice of many White people to deny the privileges they receive through Whiteness. The retreat to ethnic identity ("I'm not White, I'm Irish") or deracinated individualism ("I'm just a person") are ways to occlude the reality of how Whiteness continues to operate in America. And so, it might be thought, when Jews say "we're not White, we're Jewish", they're simply pulling their own version of that maneuver. Those who are familiar with Whiteness, are familiar with this move, and have long since learned not to take it very seriously.

Now sometimes, something like this account might suffice as the explanation for Jews who resist being labeled White -- particularly in cases where there is the most uncompromising insistence that White Jews are completely unassociated with Whiteness in America, that we gain nothing from America's racial bargain. But often, there's more to it than that. As someone who once rode the "I'm not White, I'm Jewish" train (and who tries to remember the I before I changed my mind), I know there's more at work here.

One problem with Jews-as-White, which has been raised quite a bit in response to Mallory or anyone else who tries to associate Jews with Whiteness in America, is that Jews have often been oppressed precisely because we haven't been viewed as White. White supremacist violence is an obvious case, the Nazi Holocaust is its apex. Given this history, there is something hurtful and insulting to cavalierly declare that Jews are simply "White". Anyone should understand why statements to the effect of "the Holocaust was White-on-White crime" or "we only care about the Holocaust because the victims were White" provoke an apoplectic reaction in the Jewish community. It is a disgusting erasure, and one that is teed up when Jewish Whiteness is assumed as an uncomplicated truth.

It shouldn't surprise, then, that many Jews rebel against being labeled "White" as a means of carving out and preserving space for full recognition of the realities of this persecution. As much as I say an American Jew like me today is functionally White in my day-to-day interactions, that hasn't always been true, it isn't always guaranteed to be true, and it isn't even wholly true right now. To the extent that insisting on Jewish Whiteness denies or diminishes the reality of very real and very live instances of antisemitism, it needs complication.

Another problem with Jews-as-White, less discussed but I think potentially more important, is that Jews are sometimes perceived as excessively White. Particularly in the Nation of Islam brand of antisemitism that Mallory has been associated with, Jews are often cast as embodying or exemplifying Whiteness -- the "iciest of the ice people", in Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s summation. Bootstrapping onto antisemitic tropes of Jewish hyperpower and control, Jews become a convenient and accessible stand-in for Whiteness at its worst -- its most domineering, its most overprivileged, and its most bloodthirsty (this is a problem I explore in detail in my "White Jews: An Intersectional Approach" article). Hence, calls to focus on Jewish Whiteness are sometimes heard as (and sometimes function as) calls to cast a very specific spotlight on Jews as the worst offenders of Whiteness (and look how they try to slither out of responsibility for it!), or as the focal point for an assault on Whiteness and White privilege. What is cast as a general critique of "White supremacy" ends up being a specific, concentrated attack on Jews as its supposedly paradigmatic constituency.

Hence, if one reason Jews try to downplay their Whiteness is that the concept of White Jews denies circumstances and scenarios where even pale-skinned Jews are not viewed as White, another reason is that concept of White Jews accentuates tropes and understandings whereby Jews are viewed as the most extreme, blinding iteration of White -- generally via exaggerated notions of Jewish hyperpower and privilege. These can and do very easily slip into their own forms of antisemitism, and so it shouldn't surprise that many Jews view the entire discourse quite warily.

These are some reasons why Jews have, I think, an earned skepticism towards Whiteness discourse directed at them, even as I continue to maintain that the concept of Whiteness is fairly and coherently applied to the life trajectory of Jews like me. But I suggested at the outset that I was making a more ambitious claim: not just that we need to be careful when speaking of Jewish Whiteness (lest we stumble into antisemitic tropes of Jewish hyperpower, or erase historical or contemporaneous cases where Jews really aren't being viewed as White), but that Whiteness is different in kind even for those Jews who are (in the American context) raced-as-White.

To drill down on this point, let's return to Mallory's original statement. One way of parsing her words -- and how I think many people think of the relationship between Jews and Whiteness -- is something like the following:
White Jews in America are White in all respects save the important fact that White supremacists want to murder them.
I don't mean for that to sound flip -- being the target of violent hatred by a domestic terrorist movement is no small thing! Rather, what characterizes this view is that the Whiteness of White Jews is identical to the Whiteness of any other White person in America save for a discrete and well-demarcated carve-out. Hence, whatever discourse is validly spoken of "Whites", generally, also applies to "White Jews", specifically (save, again, for the highly specific case of "being targeted for murder by White supremacists"). With very limited exceptions, there's nothing about how we talk about Whiteness that isn't applicable or needs alteration in the specifically White Jewish case.

But I think this view is wrong. Jews, even as White, are differently situated than other Whites, such that it doesn't always make sense to simply cross-apply a Whiteness frame even onto White Jews.

For example, one way it is often said that White people (particularly White women) "uphold White supremacy" is that the majority (or at least a plurality) voted for Donald Trump. To all the White women marching in their pink hats and calling themselves the "resistance", this fact has created a rather compelling demand that they "tend to [their] own garden." As a class, White women are not particularly progressive and not particularly reliable even in the really easy, straightforward case of "don't vote for a naked bigot and unqualified buffoon like Donald Trump."

Yet it should be very obvious why it's troublesome to extend this logic to Jews. Jews voted overwhelmingly against Trump in 2016 (and again against Republicans in 2018) -- 70% voting for Clinton overall (and, given typical gender breakdowns in voting behavior, Jewish women almost certainly went against Trump by even wider margins). With the exception of African-American voters, Jews are and have remained one of the most consistently progressive voting blocs in American politics -- voting Democratic at rates equal to or better than women, Latinos, and Asian-Americans.

I'm not saying that a Hillary Clinton voter can't be racist, of course. But if voting against Trump is one obligation (perhaps the bare minimum obligation) that any decent person must meet in order to not "uphold White supremacy", then it is fair to say Jews have by and large done our job discharging at least that one duty. That part of our garden looks pretty healthy, all told. So it is fair for White Jews to bristle a little bit when they're lumped in with a broader White demographic which has backed Trump. At least as far as voting behavior, "White Jewish" identity has not, by and large, obstructed White Jews from standing against the avatars of White supremacy.

And speaking of tilling your own garden, one common feature of Whiteness discourse is the assertion that White people have a particular obligation to challenge and dismantle racist practices by other Whites. This obligation inheres in part because Whites, as beneficiaries of these practices, have special duties to disgorge any ill-gotten gains, but also because in White supremacist system Whites often are accorded greater power, influence, and credibility enabling them to more effectively disrupt White supremacist practices. Claims or arguments that are made and ignored when raised by people of color are often able to gain consideration when raised by Whites (for example, if you read the arguments in my last post and thought "finally, someone making sense" -- without recognizing that my analysis wasn't really that different from how many Jews of Color had responded to Mallory (see, e.g.) -- (a) thanks for the compliment, and (b) welcome to the problem!).

So it could be said that White Jews, as Whites, have heightened obligations to publicly challenge and confront White racism, because (for better or worse) we're viewed as "insiders" with greater credibility and pull than non-Whites when making those challenges.

But is that actually true of White Jews? I'm skeptical. And, perhaps oddly, my skepticism has been most clearly crystallized through observing the Twitter experience of Sophie Ellman-Golan.

Among the many social justice campaigns and priorities of the indefatigable Ellman-Golan, one in particular she often promotes is that need to #ConfrontWhiteWomanhood. It is, as one might expect, a campaign centered around the need for White women to take stock of the ways in which their practices reify White supremacy and other oppressive institutions.

And pretty much every time Ellman-Golan tweets under the hashtag #ConfrontWhiteWomahood, she's immediately hit with a torrent of antisemitic abuse of the form "who you calling White, Jew?"

It seems (and not just from Ellman-Golan's case) that White Jews who try to confront other White people about racism "from the inside" ... pretty quickly cease to be viewed as insiders. We are in fact presented as the epitome of outside agitators, rabble-rousers, and elitist corrupters. The White Jew who confronts White racism becomes a lot less White, and a lot more Jewish, very quickly.

To be sure, I'm not saying its impossible to brush aside an "insider" anti-racism critique made by a White Christian American. But it sure is easier to do it if you can unleash a whole flotilla of "Soros-funded coastal elitist cosmopolitan cultural Marxist corrupting the youth committing White genocide and what about Israel!" antisemitic tropes at the drop of a hat. As it a result, Jews seem particularly poorly situated to engage in these sort of confrontations. Not just because we're at heightened risk of explicitly violent retaliation (though there is that), but because our White-insider status doesn't extend that far: Jews who challenge Whites, aren't recognized as White.

Consequently, if White Jews are not or are not successfully "confronting Whiteness", it might not be because we're indifferent to the project or half-assing it. It might be because even White Jews don't have full access to certain features of Whiteness; we are not White in the same way that other Whites are. And while I don't have direct evidence to support this, my strong suspicion is that if and when White identity becomes a more explicitly marked and salient feature of American discourse (whether via progressive efforts to remove it from an unmarked default and "confront" it, or by reactionary programs to reinvigorate avowed White identity politics), the perception of Jewish Whiteness will become considerably more tenuous.

In sum: clearly it is the case that White Jews in America are White in important respects -- including benefiting from many elements of White privilege and at least sometimes acting to maintain and buttress that advantaged status. At the same time, the frame of Whiteness is not one that can be plopped down on the heads of even White Jews uncritically or without alteration. For one, Whiteness discourse often genuinely does erase important facets of Jewish experience where we aren't deemed White. For two, Whiteness discourse, as applied to Jews, can act as an accelerant for antisemitic tropes insofar as Jews are cast not just as White but as hyper-White -- the epitome or apex of Whiteness via privilege, power, and domination.

Finally, White Jews simply do not experience Whiteness in the same way as do other Whites. If race is, in Sara Ahmed's words, "a question of what is within reach, what is available to perceive and to do ‘things’ with", then Jews simply are able to "do" less with Whiteness. We don't have the same capacities to "challenge from the inside", our position as White is too precarious -- and the allure of antisemitic dismissal too powerful -- to allow it.

What's necessary, then, is an analysis of White Jews as a specific case, one that isn't fully known even to those who are well-versed in the contours of "Whiteness" generally. A proper situating of Jews into Whiteness will not deny obvious realities about the racial positioning of Jews who look like me in America. But neither will it easily slide into the default modes of understanding of Whiteness, or assume that Jews like me are "simply" White save for a few piercing but ultimately idiosyncratic exceptions emanating from White supremacists.

The fact is, a lot of people like to talk about Jews without really knowing about Jews. And they're often buttressed by interpretive frames -- Whiteness very much included -- which purport to fill in those epistemic gaps for "free", without needing any specific knowledge about Jews. But knowing Whiteness doesn't mean you know Jews -- even White Jews. And consequently, if the hostile response by many Jews to being labeled "White" rings familiar to many experts on Whiteness, that familiarity is likely a deception. It seduces us into thinking that we already know what needs to be known about White Jews -- that we can draw on the same explanations, that we can identify the same behaviors, and that we can demand the same duties, without putting in any additional specific work.

The virtue of Mallory's statement is that it recognizes both that Jews can back and benefit from White supremacy and also be targeted and hurt by it -- an assertion that, in broad strokes at least, is clearly correct. Zoom in and there is a lot more work that needs to be done: first and foremost, the work of recognizing that there is a lot of work left to be done -- groundwork, foundational work where it accepted that most of us do not yet know what we need to know about the contours of antisemitism and Jewish experience.

If you enjoyed these two posts, you might find interesting my essay "White Jews: An Intersectional Approach", forthcoming in the Association for Jewish Studies (AJS) Review.

(How) Do White Jews Uphold White Supremacy? (Part I)

The fallout to the latest Women's March antisemitism controversy yielded a brand new Women's March antisemitism controversy, centering around the following statement by organizational co-leader Tamika Mallory:
[W]e’ve all learned a lot about how while white Jews, as white people, uphold white supremacy, ALL Jews are targeted by it.
I'm not exactly a Tamika Mallory fan on the subject of antisemitism. Nonetheless, I didn't really share the outrage that this particular quote engendered among many of my Jewish compatriots. That's not to say I think she's demonstrating some sort of penetrating insight or vision on the subject. But I did view the statement as representing a forward rather than a backward step for her.

Much of the negative reaction to Mallory centers on her relatively broad usage of "White supremacy" and "uphold". Many people hear those terms and think of consciously organized endeavors of racial terrorism designed to declare and enforce White dominance. The social movements who most clearly embody these practices -- the KKK, the Aryan Nation, etc. -- almost always target Jews as well. So, the argument goes, it is inaccurate, insulting, and hurtful to accuse Jews of being part of these movements and these practices. Indeed, it is so implausible that Jews are mass supporters of these sorts of far-right extremist organizations that the argument otherwise rings antisemitic -- how could one think that but through a sort of 7-dimensional "the Jews are behind all our misfortunes" conspiracy theory?

But that response relies on that particular understanding of "upholding White supremacy" as meaning overt participation in these sort of far-right violent movements, and Mallory was almost certainly thinking of those terms differently. For her, White supremacy less describes a movement, and more a social condition. White supremacy is the state of affairs where White people systematically occupy a superior social position vis-a-vis non-White people along the axis of race. Put differently, there can exist White supremacy (the social condition where White people are systematically advantaged) even in contexts where few if any people are White supremacists (avowedly ideologically committed to a state of affairs where Whites-qua-Whites are systematically advantaged). Consequently, the fact that White supremacists hate Jews doesn't necessarily mean that those Jews who are -- to most everyone else -- viewed as White will fail to reap the (majority of the) benefits of White supremacy.

Likewise, "uphold" might be thought to imply a conscious effort to facilitate and buttress conditions of White domination -- again, most obviously instantiated by membership in overt White Power organizations. But here too it seems clear that Mallory means to speak more broadly. There are all manner of ways to uphold an extant status quo without making that one's primary mission in life.

Most obviously, persons who are beneficiaries of a set of privileges -- for example, White people who benefit from living in a society where they are systematically favored -- might have little interest in disturbing that state of affairs, an indifference that manifests as apathy rather than public support. They might not notice the advantages they receive, and thus unknowingly reenact or support social practices that reify those advantages. They might deprioritize the struggle against racism, acknowledging the reality of certain unjust practices but viewing them as comparatively unimportant as sites for investing their energy and attention. Or they might recognize and frown upon certain practices they acknowledge as racist but be willing to overlook them in pursuit of more important agenda items (think the proverbial Trump voter who genuinely doesn't like all the racism, but just cares about getting his taxes cut more).

These all represent ways one can be complicit in, perpetuate, and uphold White supremacy that fall far short of joining the Klan -- that are, in fact, quite compatible with both hating the Klan and having the Klan hate you right back. If you're Jewish, think of all the times you've read something like "if you're marching in the Women's March" (or voting UK Labour) "that doesn't make you an antisemite -- it just makes you someone who doesn't care that they support antisemites". These are ways of talking about people "upholding" antisemitism without themselves necessarily being antisemitic or desiring antisemitism. They are targeted at people who do not share Mallory or Corbyn's views on Jews, and may in fact be repelled by them, but nonetheless think that on net that matters less than whatever other factors drive them towards the Women's March or Labour. If it is at least coherent to speak of that as "upholding antisemitism", then one should also grasp how one could speak of similar complicity in movements or practices that (among other things) rely upon, perpetuate, or act out a system where Whites are advantaged over non-Whites "upholding White supremacy".

The point is, upholding White supremacy, in this context, is not meant to solely encompass people "running around in white hoods or marching with tiki torches". There are no doubt extraordinarily few Jews playacting as Klansmen. But White Jews in America absolutely receive many -- not all, but many -- of the benefits accorded to White people in our society. We don't tend to be shadowed in department stores, we don't tend to be randomly stopped-and-frisked by police, we don't tend to have our murder victims cast as "not exactly angels". And so it is quite possible and plausible that White Jews can and do "uphold" White supremacy in that they are relatively content with a state of affairs where they don't (but others do) experience shadowing, stop-and-frisks, and insinuations that our crime victims were nothing but trash anyway.

When I frame the controversy in this way, many of my Jewish friends are relatively receptive to the basic thrust of these arguments -- but suggest that they aren't the things people generally associate with a phrase like "upholding White supremacy". Mallory's terms are misleading; the connotation is all wrong, suggesting far more explosive allegations than this. Sure, it is fair to say that many White Jews benefit from many White privileges, and may even act in ways that perpetuate this status quo, and all of that is worthy of critique. But to label it a case of Jews "upholding White supremacy" implies that they're doing something far worse than that -- something tantamount to being a Klansman or a White Power activist -- and that's wrong.

As it happens, I have some sympathy for this view -- persuasive definitions can be dangerous things. But note that if this is the gravamen of the controversy, then what we really have here is a semantic argument about terminology. I'm not saying terminological debates don't matter -- they can help avoid fiascoes like this -- but they're different debates than what we've been having, and hardly deserve the level of venom that's being directed towards Mallory. If we agree that White Jews can and do benefit from the prerogatives of Whiteness in our society, and that we often are complicit in allowing the social condition where that racially unequal distribution of prerogatives exists, then we agree with the thrust of Mallory's underlying point (even if we might have expressed it differently).

These are all ways of suggesting that it is entirely appropriate, even necessary, to consider (under whatever label) the fact that White Jews gain many (not all) of the privileges of Whiteness in America and are perfectly capable of acting in ways which perpetuate the continuation of that racialized hierarchy. None of this requires denying that White Jews also face antisemitism -- but that should be a mundane point. There are all sorts of oppressions that one can experience while nonetheless being White: White women still face misogyny, queer Whites still face homophobia, and White Jews still face antisemitism. Being White doesn't displace those oppressions; and those oppressions don't displace being White.

Simply put: those who flatly deny that White Jews in America are White in any capacity -- as if a Jew who looks like me is identically situated to an African-American in my interactions with the police, employers, universities, landlords ... -- are denying reality. They are only obstructing badly-needed reckonings with our community's relationship with racism and racial hierarchy, both in terms of how we relate to community outsiders as well as those Jews of Color inside our community.

But another thing they obstruct is a more nuanced conversation about the precise contours of the relationship between Whiteness and Jewishness. If it isn't the case that it's nonsensical to apply the label "White" to a Jew who looks like me, it's also not the case that one can uncritically apply it to those Jews who look like me -- that anything we know about "Whiteness", generally, we consequently know about the Whiteness of White Jews, specifically.

The obvious example is, of course, that unlike most White people, White supremacists hate me and want me dead. That's a rather significant deviation from standard-issue Whiteness!

But I suggest that it's much deeper than that. White Jews are not simply White people in all respects but-for the bizarre and inexplicable fact that White supremacists want to murder us. Jewishness does things to Whiteness (and vice versa). Understanding the unique cocktail that's created when these identities intersect is critical to understanding the limits of the "White Jew" frame and comprehending why so many Jews resist it with such ferocity. This is the project I will take up in Part II (which I plan to put up shortly).

UPDATE: Part II is now available here.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Nub of the IfNotNow/Birthright Dilemma

The crux of the dilemma in observing the fallout over the latest IfNotNow Birthright protest is as follows:
1) Everything I've seen from institutional and establishment Jewish organizations over the last few years indicates that a group like Birthright is wholly capable of wildly overreacting to perfectly legitimate demands that they take seriously the occupation and the equal standing of Arabs in Israel in Palestine.
2) Everything I've seen from IfNotNow over the past few years indicates that they're exactly the sort of organization whose activists would stage a preplanned massive disruption that completely obstructs the operation of their Birthright trip, then innocently bat their eyes at passing journalists while saying "we were only asking questions!"
Since both #1 and #2 are equally true, the fair-minded observer stands at an impasse. And impasses like these permeate this entire arena.

It is simultaneously true that open questioning and free inquiry are at the heart of any Jewish communal experience worth its salt, and true that operators acting in bad faith can hijack such openness and freedom in order to take over a space in service of a narrow ideological agenda.

It is simultaneously true that no understanding of Israel is complete without a fair and honest reckoning with the reality of the occupation and the continued unequal and subordinated status of Palestinians (both in the West Bank and Gaza, and in Israel proper), and true that not every single Israel-related experience needs to be constantly refracted through that lens at all times.

It is simultaneously true that participants signing up for Birthright presumably know that they are getting only a partial view of Israel (what curated trip could promise otherwise?), and true that Birthright would be betraying its own mission if it ever started to conceptualize itself as a propaganda vehicle sold via the bribe of a free vacation.

It is simultaneously true that there is something tacky about taking Birthright's money and then spitting in its face, and true that there is something tacky about acting like the young Jews who take Birthright's money are somehow cheating if they don't agree that they've been bought off.

These and these are the words of the living God.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Unprompted Media Reporting on Racism is the Exception, Not the Norm

I've said my bit on the Alice Walker controversy, but I did have one more thought to add on the meta-controversy -- namely, the complaint that the media hasn't (until the Tablet article, anyway) "covered" Walker's antisemitism. A similar hue and cry has gone up about the Women's March: until Tablet did its big expose, big media sources weren't "investigating" the Women's March for antisemitism.

The idea here is that there is something distinctively passive in the media's treatment of antisemitism. Had it been a different author who'd put up a racist poem on his blog, or had it been a conservative social movement whose leaders had a history of misogyny, the media would have been all over it -- there would have been an endless stream of reportings and investigations and think pieces. But on antisemitism? Silence.

I find this complaint a bit strange, as it appears to live in a media world I'm utterly unfamiliar with. Namely: one where the media, without any particular prompting and without some specific sharp instigating event, just runs a story about a given public figure or social movement's racism problem.

It's only in a world where that happens regularly -- where the New York Times, every other week or so, picks out some celebrated author or actor and of its own accord runs a story about their terrible racist or misogynist or xenophobia viewpoints -- where it seem remotely weird that they hadn't yet done that for Alice Walker. Right? Because otherwise, the failure of the media to run such a story here is utterly normal, and perfectly in keeping with their regular practices.

And the fact is that the media generally doesn't run such pieces. Unless there is a clear instigating event -- something like the Tablet article -- the New York Times doesn't just search about and look for social movements or public figures it can call racist. It mostly studiously avoids such "inflammatory" pieces unless and until it is absolutely impossible to hold off on it. Which is to say, exactly how it's handled the claims of antisemitism in the Women's March or for Alice Walker.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: Whatever they'd do or say about Jews, they'd do or say about others too (and vice versa). What we think is unique to Jews on matters of oppression -- whether we think it's uniquely favorable or uniquely disfavorable treatment -- very rarely is. One can very much believe that mainstream media sources should take on a more proactive posture towards reporting on prominent figures and movements who have problems of prejudice. But when they don't do so in the case of antisemitism, they're doing nothing more than what they fail to do for everyone else.

I Have No Holocaust Survivors in My Family

I have a confession to make.

None of my immediate family were (directly) impacted by the Holocaust.

All of my grandparents were born in the United States, before World War II. My great-grandparents were the immigrant generation, arriving just past the turn of the century. So when the Holocaust began, everyone was already here. I have some distant relatives who were (and are still) in Europe, so I assume they must have some survival story, but I don't know it.

And, weirdly, I feel a strange guilt about this.

The Holocaust, and being descended from survivors, is a huge, central part of the contemporary Jewish narrative (especially contemporary antisemitism). And while I don't feel alienated from it -- indeed, there's an obvious "there but for the grace of God" association -- sometimes I feel like I'm somehow cheating when I refer to it, as if it isn't truly "mine".

And worse still, I sometimes feel as if my very existence is a trap waiting to be sprung by Holocaust deniers. "The Holocaust never happened!" "Yes, it did." "Oh? Tell me you clever Jew: where was your family during this supposed 'Holocaust'", "Well, they were in America, but ..." "Aha!"

I'm not saying this is rational. But it is something I've felt for a long time. I wonder if other Jews with family backgrounds similar to mine feel the same way?

Monday, December 24, 2018

New Year's Resolutions: 2019 Edition

It's that most wonderful time of the year -- New Year's Resolutions! The 2018 edition is here, and the entire series of prior years are collected here.

As always, we begin by seeing how we did last year.

Met: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 (steak farm reopened!), 12, 14, 15 (and how!).

Missed: 6 (but I should be doing something early 2019), 13 (I think?)

Pick 'em: 4 (definitely an improvement on last year, though!)

Damn, I sure am resolved -- and/or, am good at picking resolutions I feel confident I can meet!

Onward to 2019!

* * *

1) Have completed drafts of at least three dissertation chapters.

2) Complete a draft of a political theory article (it's okay if it draws from a dissertation chapter, but it has to stand alone as an article).

3) Attend a hockey game.

4) Have a permanent plan of attack regarding at least one of the following bodily ailments: knee pain, sore calves/shins when walking up hills, cholesterol deposits around the eyes, and/or cross-link surgery for keratoconus.

5) Do one Vegas trip with friends.

6) Have one fantastic honeymoon in Hawaii.

7) Read a political theory book (broadly defined) by an author whom you've never read before.

8) Read a new political theory book (broadly defined) by an author whom you have read work from before.

9) Publish an article in a non-Jewish "popular publication" or appear on a television segment.

10) Organize one visiting speaker somewhere at UC-Berkeley.

11) Get over 2,500 Twitter followers (current count as of December 24, 2018: 2,298).

12) Add a new home-cooked meal to our regular rotation.

13) Find a new binge-able TV show.

14) Host a Passover Seder.

15) Put up the Mezuzah.

Boycott Buyers versus Boycott Sellers

Is there a difference between how we view buyers and sellers in a "boycott" campaign?

Arguably, a "boycott" only refers to a purchaser, not a seller to begin with. But I don't think in practice most people adhere to that distinction, which tends to melt as applied to more bilateral agreements anyway. There seem to be many boycott campaigns which urge a more broad refusal to transact with a given party -- refusing to purchase their goods and services as well as refusing to allow them access to your own goods and services.

But on face it seems to me at least that our intuitions are very different if the boycotter is buyer-side or seller-side, and I want to know if those intuitions hold.

For example: suppose John Smith refuses to buy a Sodastream because he's boycotting Israel. Many people would say "he has the right to do that", even if he's misguided. Indeed, on one level it's a bit perplexing to think through what it would mean to say he doesn't have the "right" to do that -- can he be compelled to buy a Sodastream? One Sodastream for every American, whether they want it or not?

Now imagine the reverse scenario: John Smith wants to buy a Sodastream, but Sodastream really dislikes his politics. So the company decides, unilaterally, "we won't sell to John Smith". Is that okay? Aside from some hardcore libertarians, I think this would be broadly condemned. There is an expectation that businesses which are generally marketed to the public will make their goods available to the general pubic in an open and non-discriminatory fashion.

Perhaps it's just our political sympathies driving this answer. But I'm dubious. When right-wing "Christian conservatives" tried to boycott Disney World for being too pro-gay, I thought that the boycotters were disgusting bigots, but I thought they had the "right" to express that bigotry via refusing to go to Disney World (again, what's the alternative? Mandatory Disney vacations?). But I'm not sure I would have been okay with Disney World deciding on its own to close its doors to conservative Christian families who otherwise are coming in and adhering to park rules. 

The same logic applies to conservative bakers who don't want to serve gay couples -- there is an asymmetry in that the gay couple could very much say "I don't want to patronize this business", but I'm warier of the business saying "I don't want these sorts as my customer."

Another possibility is that the distinction isn't really buyer/seller, but rather individual/business (or institution). This could cover cases of solo contractors -- an artist, say -- who limit who they'll accept commissions from to those who share their values. They're "selling" art, but do we view them same as a company? On the other hand, if that artist was on Etsy and just picked certain ethnic groups or nations or religions she'd refuse to ship her wares to -- how would we view that?

I don't have a clear answer to these questions. But I do think there are some intuitive distinctions that are driving a lot of public discourse. There's a naive (dare I say) neoliberalism that treats boycotts as simple a matter of free contract -- anyone can transact (or not) with anyone they want, for any reason; the decision to refrain from buying or selling from a given person is purely a matter of individual taste expressed through the market. But I don't think that view actually is sustainable, and doesn't account for our actual views on these questions. There's a clear difference between saying "John Smith can't boycott Sodastream" and "Sodastream can't boycott John Smith", one that belies any superficial parity between buyer and seller as free contractors.